Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area

click to enlarge Primer - TH!NKfilm


THE BIG RED ONE (R) Restoration of director Samuel Fuller's 1980 World War II epic staring Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill (yes, that Mark Hamill). This re-release, containing over 40 minutes of footage originally hacked out by the studio, follows the American First Infantry Division as they fight their way from North Africa to Czechoslovakia, hitting several major battles in between. Many of the film's episodes were drawn from the director's personal experiences in the war, and this new cut is said to be significantly closer to Fuller's original vision then the earlier release. (Opens Dec. 3 at Burns Court Cinemas. Call theater to confirm.) (Not Reviewed)

CLOSER (R) Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen play sexual (and maybe, just maybe, romantic) musical chairs in a raw-boned ballet of what director Mike Nichols probably intends as modern alienation. Law's would-be writer and Portman's off-and-on stripper are Couple No. 1, and Robert's long-suffering photographer and Owen's rude-and-crude dermatologist are Couple No. 2, although each time the movie jumps forward in time it seems like someone is screaming at someone for screwing someone else. The whole mess is set in motion by Law's ungentlemanly vacillation between Portman and Roberts, but no one is blameless here: Owens is a boiling kettle of hostility and id, Roberts reciprocates Law's advances and then lies about it, and Portman does a few naughty things, too. Nichols and writer Patrick Marber give us some moments of genuine, albeit vicious, power here (particularly in the film's later stages), but Closer's basic take on self-destructive relationships often seems like it's been chiseled with a sledgehammer — and it's certainly nothing new. The film's two male characters could be a watered-down fusion of Jack Nicholson's needy, controlling man's man from Nichol's own (and much better) Carnal Knowledge from decades past, while the film's females are either underdeveloped (Roberts) or way too enigmatic for their own good (Portman). (Opens Dec. 3 at local theaters.) 1/2

FADE TO BLACK (R) Documentary/concert film that follows Jay-Z as he records The Black Album and performs an unprecedented sold-out show at Madison Square Garden. The concert is loaded with big production numbers and guest stars, but it's the candid in-studio moments (an interesting debate about the effects of some lyrics; producers playing Jay new beats and hoping for approval) that provide the most interesting bits. For the fans, the concert is beautifully shot and edited, and there are plenty of high-energy highlights. Beyonce shakes, Mary J. Blige lends some soul, and at the center of it all is Jay-Z, the enigmatic rapper who has decided to hang it up at the height of his success. While the film attempts to understand his retirement, the vibrancy of Jay-Z and his material make this retirement seem destined to last about as long as any of Michael Jordan's. Everybody Bounce, y'all! (Opens Dec. 3 at local theaters.) 1/2—Joe Bardi

PRIMER (PG-13) A big hit at Sundance, this made-for-$7,000 project offers an intriguing premise in addition to all the buzz, but precious little reward. Writer-director Shane Carruth — who also produced, edited and photographed the film, as well as composing the music and acting in it — attempts to give us the more utilitarian, underexplored aspects of one of sci-fi's favorite what-if stories: the one about time travel. Carruth doesn't go for the big hooks or price-prohibitive special effects here; instead, we get a couple of techno-babbling geeks who just happen to whip up a time machine in their garage, as the movie spins a convoluted narrative that focuses on the practical considerations and potential problems of the invention. There are some fascinating thoughts here, but they're mostly buried among a faceless blur of awkward storytelling, nondescript visuals, dry and clunky dialogue, and acting that is generally pretty terrible. Primer isn't exactly your typical, low-budget independent movie — which is probably exactly why the folks at Sundance responded so favorably to it — but it could certainly take a lesson or two from those same indies in generating some cinematic pizzazz. Also stars David Sullivan. (Opens Dec. 3 at Sunrise Cinemas. Call theater to confirm.) 1/2


AFTER THE SUNSET (PG-13) Although there are worse ways to wile away 90-some minutes, After the Sunset isn't really exciting or original enough to engage us as a heist movie, and it's not funny enough to succeed as a comedy. Pierce Brosnan (further distancing himself from the 007 image in flip-flops and a gray, gristled chin) and Salma Hayek are retired jewel thieves playing elaborately pointless cat-and-mouse games with FBI agent Woody Harrelson while they consider that inevitable one last heist. The movie is pleasant to look at (particularly the island locations and a frequently semi-clad Hayek), and some of the dialogue is fairly clever and quirky, but we've seen this Elmore Leonard-lite shtick too many times before. Also stars Don Cheadle. 1/2

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