THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (R) A remake of the much-loved but not very good haunted house flick from 1979, this new Amityville hails from the team responsible for the recent revisiting of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which undoubtedly accounts for the copious amounts of gore, grisly sadism and generally messed-up atmosphere. The remake begins with creepy noises and quickly escalates into squabbles and open rifts between the various family members inhabiting a malignant house that's clearly seeking to possess and destroy them. Shortly thereafter, Amityville '05 tips its hand and then peaks way too early - less than half an hour in, the house is dripping blood all over the place and ghostly, ghoulish visions are leering over every shoulder - all but deflating the movie's more subtle, psychological side, particularly its Shining-lite proposition that true horror is what lurks beneath the surface of the All-American Happy Family. 1/2
THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE (R) Daniel Day-Lewis was coaxed out of semi-retirement to act in this new project by his director-wife Rebecca Miller (Personal Velocity), making it all the more disappointing that the film turns out to be not particularly good. Basically shapeless and heavy-handed at all the wrong moments, The Ballad of Jack and Rose is about, among other things, the fading dreams and perhaps too-intimate relationship of a terminally ill, hippie-dippie dad and his precocious, nearly-grown daughter. Day-Lewis plays the dad, Jack, a chain-smoking environmentalist living in something approaching total isolation with his beautiful, budding daughter, Rose (Camilla Belle). It all feels rather airless; the characters' "lively" quirks are supposed to keep us engaged, but even the good performances here can't disguise the rambling self-consciousness of what amounts to a seriously flawed script. The film opens up, briefly, when Jack brings a woman into the house to act as a surrogate wife-mother (a pair of teenaged boys are attached, providing some amusing interactions), but Day-Lewis' central character remains too vaguely drawn and unsympathetic, and the movie's core father-daughter dynamic is a mess. Things only get worse as Jack gets sicker, and the movie becomes simultaneously sappier and more scattered. Also stars Catherine Keener and Jena Malone.
CITIZEN VERDICT (NR) Reality TV and the American legal system are the primary targets in this bungled project, set in Tampa but shot mostly in South Africa and Canada, from South Florida filmmaker Phillippe Martinez. Jerry Springer references himself, playing a sensationalistic TV personality who hooks up with a tough-on-crime Florida governor (a sleepwalking Roy Scheider) to produce a new show where viewers put someone on trial, vote on the verdict, and then get to witness a pay-per-view execution. Citizen Verdict's themes are undeniably important but they've all been tackled many times before, usually with significantly more skill and imagination - and even if the movie's attempts at satire weren't so over-obvious and out of date they'd still be watered-down to the point of no return. Ill-considered scenes designed to assure us of the movie's patriotism pop up every so often for no apparent reason other than to atone for the film's periodic jabs at America's bad habits. It's hard to say whether Citizen Verdict lacks the courage of its convictions or if it simply lacks vision, but the movie seems to be working overtime to please all the people all the time, and, as is usually the case with something so transparently desperate, fails. The clumsy editing, mediocre performances and erratic pacing don't help either (the film veers haphazardly from satire to melodrama via glimpses into the cliché-ridden personal lives of its characters), and the numerous shots of South Africa unconvincingly standing in for Tampa don't exactly add much local color. Also stars Armand Assante and Justine Mitchell.
CRASH (R) In a nutshell, Crash is a sort of A-Z guide to racial tensions in modern America, and about how even the best of us sometimes use those tensions to drive ourselves and each other crazy. The movie takes the form of an Altman-esque ensemble piece a la Short Cuts, with writer-director Paul Haggis (screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby) introducing some dozen characters of various ethnic backgrounds, and then elaborately interweaving their lives over a brief period of time. Haggis constantly complicates the playing field, exposing ethical dilemmas, supplying extenuating circumstances that effectively alter what just a scene or two ago appeared to be the rules of the game. The movie is all about tensions between black and white, certainly, but the shifting context in Crash leaves no doubt that what we're really dealing with is mostly shades of gray. Ultimately, everything is laid out in a manner that's just a bit too symmetrical, with all of the stories neatly counter-balanced and with the narrative-advancing coincidences piling up so thick and fast it's nearly overwhelming. Still, it's hard to complain too loudly about a filmmaker trying to do too much for once as opposed to too little. Stars Don Cheadle, Ryan Phillippe, Terrence Howard, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Esposito, Larenz Tate, Thandie Newton, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Brendan Fraser. 1/2