New Releases

ICE AGE 2: THE MELTDOWN (PG) The further adventures of Sid the Sloth and his lovable pals from the original Ice Age movie — Manny the wooly mammoth, Diego the saber-toothed tiger and that weird little over-caffeinated squirrel-thingie who's always obsessing about his nuts. In this installment, the weather appears to finally be warming up, and our furry heroes are having to adjust. Features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Dennis Leary, Drea de Matteo and Queen Latifah. Opens March 31 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD (PG) A simple and simply lovely portrait of an artist coming to terms with his life and his legacy, Neil Young: Heart of Gold is a concert film that even non-Young fans should admire. Director Jonathan Demme, employing an elegant, no-frills approach similar to what he accomplished with Stop Making Sense, puts us up close and personal with Young, documented in performance (over two nights in Nashville) right around the time the musician was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain aneurysm. There's not an electric guitar in sight, the back-up musicians are mostly longtime collaborators, and the feel is quiet, contemplative and wonderfully intimate, like a group of old friends playing songs in the living room by the fire. Young is in top form here, and the songs (mostly from the recent Prairie Wind, along with standards like "I Am a Child" and a devastating "Old Man") gently bring home homespun truths about family, love, mortality and the passing of time. I'll still take On the Beach or Zuma any day, but this is awfully fine stuff. Opens March 31 at Tampa Theatre. Call theater to confirm. 4 stars.

Recent Releases

16 BLOCKS (PG-13) Bruce Willis plays a cynical NYPD vet with a bum leg, a drinking problem and a hairline that's receded back beyond the outer rings of Saturn. Mos Def's character, Eddie, is a somewhat simple-minded guy whose disposition is every bit as sunny as Willis' is terminally sour. Naturally, the two wind up on the run together, learning valuable life lessons from one another as they try to avoid legions of dirty cops trying to keep Eddie from testifying against one of their ranks. Willis isn't acting so much as retreading a slightly older, gloomier version of his stock type, and his performance is mainly defined by an ability to appear paunchy and shriveled simultaneously. Def affects a nasal, nerdy persona that makes us occasionally feel like we're watching Forrest Gump stuck in a Bruce Willis shoot-'em-up. Both actors remain curiously watchable, though — that's the eternal mystery of star power for you, folks — and even when the movie tests our patience with leaps in logic and lack of originality, 16 Blocks works fairly well as a tautly crafted feature-length chase, with just enough human drama to ground things in the end. Also stars David Morse, Conrad Pla and Cylk Cozart. 2.5 stars.

AQUAMARINE (PG) It's Splash for teens when a pair of starry-eyed 13-year-olds (Joanna Levesque and Emma Roberts) make friends with a totally hot mermaid looking for the meaning of true love. Also stars Sara Paxton and Jake McDorman. (Not Reviewed)

ASK THE DUST (R) Robert Towne returns to his old Chinatown stomping grounds — romantically seedy 1930s L.A. — but this time the legendary writer-director doesn't seem to have much of a clue as to what he's doing there. Most of Towne's new film is devoted to the weirdly passive-aggressive relationship of struggling writer Arturo Bandini (Colin Farrell) and Mexican sexpot Camilla (Salma Hayek), but the filmmaker doesn't seem to have a handle on either of his characters or on the dynamics of their relationship, which seems to change from moment to moment. It's nearly impossible to figure out what's going on with Farrell and Hayek, but all of the characters in Ask the Dust manage to behave in ways that are enormously odd without being particularly interesting or appealing. Everyone speaks in a stilted, stagey way that bears no resemblance to the way people talk in real life, as the movie flits from self-consciously enigmatic musings on the vaguely sado-masochistic relationship of its leads, to weighing in on social ills such as discrimination. Nothing really connects to anything else, the tone shifts from irony to deadly seriousness with no warning and, frankly, it's all so scattershot that it's hard to know what to make of any of it. Also stars Donald Sutherland, Idina Menzel and Eileen Atkins. Held over at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. Call theater to confirm. 2 stars

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (R) As nearly everyone in North America has probably heard by now, Ang Lee's new movie is the epic tale of two rough and tumble cowboys who discover, to their great amazement, that they only have eyes for each other. A delicate study in repressed emotions, Brokeback Mountain follows the star-crossed Jack and Ennis (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) over the years, through loveless marriages, failed attempts to forget one another, and covert reunions where passions are quickly reignited. If it's subtext you're after, there's subtext aplenty here; American iconography inevitably takes on interesting new shapes while the whole movie occasionally feels like a vintage Douglas Sirk melodrama-cum-social-critique, gently massaged into a realm where men and women have so little interest in one another that they can't even be bothered with the so-called war of the sexes. At root, though, Brokeback is something profound in its simplicity, a deliriously romantic and deeply elegiac tale of a love that dares not speak its name. Also stars Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway and Randy Quaid. 4.5 stars

CURIOUS GEORGE (G) Apparently aimed squarely at the very youngest of young viewers, this feature-length family affair won't likely reach out to many beyond hardcore fans of that mischievous little monkey who's been around in book form since the 1940s. The trailers display lots of cheap-looking 2-D animation, a few mild mishaps and, if you listen closely, Will Ferrell as the voice of the man in the yellow hat. Also features the voices of Drew Barrymore, David Cross and Joan Plowright. (Not Reviewed)

DATE MOVIE (PG-13) A couple of the screenwriters behind the Scary Movie movies (as the ads and trailers so gleefully point out) are on hand to apply their patented spoof-and-burn formula to the romantic comedy genre. Stars Allyson Hannigan, Jennifer Coolidge and Fred Willard. (Not Reviewed)

DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY (R) Hip-hop, humor and a whole lot of socially conscious music are featured in this live concert film shot by cutting edge image-maker Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Acts include Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Big Daddy Kane, The Roots, Kanye West and a reportedly stunning reunion of The Fugees, with concert organizer Chappelle making with the funny stuff in between the music. I wasn't able to screen the film in advance, but of the dozen or so colleagues I've talked to who have seen it, not a single one has been less than enthusiastic. Also features Talib Kweli and Jill Scott. (Not Reviewed)

EIGHT BELOW (PG-13) Paul Walker is the nominal star here, but the bulk of the movie is devoted, happily so, to the trials and tribulations of a sled team of dogs stranded and struggling to survive in the Antarctic winter. Don't expect March of the Penguins, but you will find an unexpectedly satisfying sense of authenticity to this project, with moments that are both exciting and (yes, you knew this was coming) inspirational grounded in events that feel not so far removed from real life. There are a few false notes (including an awful CGI misfire) but the story has a nice, Jack London-esque feel, and the film's cinematography is almost as gorgeous as its husky and malamute heroes. Also stars Bruce Greenwood. 3 stars

FAILURE TO LAUNCH (PG-13) Surprisingly quirky, this flick rides the wave of your basic romantic comedy, but with exciting and unexpected twists. While Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker play familiar roles — Matthew as the hot, laid-back leading man content with living at home forever, Sarah as the sexy leading lady hired on by his folks to get him out — the supporting actors, namely Zooey Deschanel, Terry Bradshaw and Kathy Bates, are luminous. There are a few Ben Stiller-esque moments of physical comedy and one too many shots of middle-aged male ass, but overall, it's a fun movie. 3 stars Erin Rashbaum

FIREWALL (PG-13) Harrison Ford stars as a bank security expert forced to hack into his own computer system by bad guys who have taken his family hostage. A toothless and generic fusion of home invasion movie and high-tech heist flick, Firewall is mainly notable for its numerous plot holes and bizarre leaps in logic that will have audience members scratching their heads or tittering. There's a paltry pay-off to the slog in the last 30 minutes, at which point Ford gets to haul his grizzled carcass across the screen for a few scenes in an unconvincing attempt to make like an action hero. Also stars Virginia Madsen, Paul Bettany, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Robert Patrick. 2 stars

GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK (PG-13) Ostensibly, actor-turned-director George Clooney's remarkable new film is a more-or-less true account of that pivotal moment in American politics when CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow dared speak out against Joseph McCarthy, the Commie-hunting U.S. Senator who turned paranoia into a national pastime. David Strathairn is an effective presence as Murrow, a 1950's proto-liberal media star (Murrow might just be the Anti-O'Reilly) who spoke his mind and crusaded tirelessly for the truth, brow furrowed earnestly and a burning cigarette permanently wedged between his fingers. Clooney chose to shoot in black and white, a wise decision that lets us know that Good Night and Good Luck is art, too, while blending seamlessly with the extensive archival footage of McCarthy incorporated into the film. Also stars Robert Downey Jr, George Clooney, Ray Wise, Patricia Clarkson and Frank Langella. 4 stars

THE HILLS HAVE EYES (R) Alexander Aja, the French filmmaker who some would argue deconstructed the slasher flick with High Tension, takes a stab at remaking the granddaddy of the genre, Wes Craven's 1977 love letter to inbred mutant cannibalistic families. The big questions here are how straight Aja will play things this time, and whether the French-speaking director is up to dealing with a cast of English-speaking actors. Stars Aaron Stanford, Vinessa Shaw, Kathleen Quinlan and Emilie de Ravin. (Not Reviewed)

INSIDE MAN (R) The usual good guy/bad guy bank robbery is turned on its ear in Spike Lee's gritty dramatic thriller. With his knack for making typically-clichéd racial issues interesting and creating comedic moments at unexpected times, Lee's fast-paced movie keeps you guessing 'til the very end. Denzel Washington plays the cop who's brought in to handle a hostage situation that's been meticulously organized by Clive Owen's mysterious character. Jodie Foster is compelling as a power broker protecting the interests of the obscenely-wealthy bank owner (Christopher Plummer in a role just like every other he's ever had). Sure, Willem Dafoe deserves more camera time and there are enough product placements to make you wanna stick that iPod up the producer's arse, but Inside Man has a strong plotline and good acting. And Jodie Foster's legs ... well, they're nice, too. 3 stars Erin Rashbaum

THE LIBERTINE (R) There's less shagging and more bragging about shagging going on in the not-nearly-as-naughty-as-it-wants-to-be The Libertine, but there's still plenty of bad behavior to go around. Johnny Depp stars as the defiantly degenerate title character, a jaded aristocrat prancing about 17th-century London in wig and frilly clothes, drinking, whoring, blaspheming and generally just indulging in excess of every form. There's far too little life in the characters' mannered actions and silver-tongued soliloquies, however, so the film basically winds up feeling like a freak show in fancy dress, much of it photographed in a nervous, Dogme-esque style that's too contrived to hold our interest. Depp is worth watching, as usual, but the story's flaws get the better of him, particularly when his character undergoes an utterly unconvincing transformation and falls in love with an aspiring actress (Samantha Morton). From there it's a short, predictable trip to heartbreak, disillusionment and syphilitic madness. Michael Nyman contributes another lovely, minimalist score that strives to give an air of significance to the film's seedy doings, but can't quite manage. Also stars John Malkovich and Rosamund Pike. 2.5 stars

NANNY MCPHEE (PG) The screenplay here, which Emma Thompson adapted from Christianna Brand's Nurse Matilda books, begins in a place just macabre enough and even a wee bit perverse — much like the seven supremely naughty children featured in Nanny McPhee. This unmanageable brood pride themselves on having driven away scores of hearty nannies screaming in terror. Enter the eponymous Nanny McPhee, a snaggle-toothed, warty, anti-Mary Poppins played by Thompson herself as a cross between a drill sergeant, a Zen master and a troll. As expected, the supernaturally-powered uber-nanny butts heads and eventually bonds with the wild beastie-boys-and-girls, magic is unleashed, and tough love conquers all. Also stars Colin Firth, Angela Landsbury, Kelly MacDonald, Imelda Staunton and Derek Jacobi. 3 stars

THE SHAGGY DOG (PG) A lot of people will tell you that Tim Allen has been going to the dogs for some time now, so it's only fitting that he finally gets a chance to prove it in style. Allen stars as a canine-phobic family man who morphs into a big shaggy sheepdog in this remake of Disney's much-admired 1959 comedy-adventure. The movie's copious special effects seem ripe for a CGI updating, and the remake may have another secret weapon in the form of the reliably manic Robert Downey Jr. as the resident evil genius. Also stars Kristen Davis, Zena Grey and Danny Glover. (Not Reviewed)

STAY ALIVE (PG-13) Frankie Muniz (Malcolm in the Middle) and a bunch of his pals discover that the videogame they're playing has deadly consequences in the real world. As the characters' cyber-surrogates bite the dust in the videogame, the players themselves begin dropping like flies in exactly the same manner. A concept whose time has come. Also stars Samaire Armstrong, Adam Goldberg, Jon Foster and Sophia Bush. (Not Reviewed)

THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA (R) An old-school western for new-school sensibilities, Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut cleaves fairly close to classic western models, but not without a few idiosyncratic detours along the way. Jones himself takes the lead as a grizzled Texas ranch hand whose personal code of honor demands he abduct his dead friend's presumed killer and force him along on a trek to Mexico to give his pal a proper burial. That journey is at the heart of the film, but the movie sets it all up from multiple, Roshomon-esque perspectives, employing a fractured chronology in keeping with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga's previous time scrambling in Amores Perros and 21 Grams. All of the film's individual stories eventually intersect, with the teasing tail-chasing of the first half crystallizing as the strange odyssey of two men and a corpse trekking across the Tex-Mex landscape. The movie segues neatly from neo-western to Greek tragedy to macabre, absurdist farce, as notions of revenge, redemption and other frequent staples of the western genre are gently shredded and manipulated with considerable black humor. Also stars Barry Pepper, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Dwight Yoakam Melissa Leo and January Jones. Showing at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. Call to confirm. 4,5 stars

TRANSAMERICA (R) Felicity Huffman, who just snagged a well-deserved Golden Globe for her performance here, is the main reason to see Transamerica, but the rest of the film isn't too shabby either. Huffman stars as a woman trapped in the body of a man, and whose long-awaited sex change surgery is put on hold when a troubled teenaged son (Kevin Zegers) appears out of the blue and demands rescuing. Father/mother and son pack up their belongings into a beat-up car and head for the coast, as Transamerica becomes an episodic and pleasantly eccentric road movie (is there any other kind?) in which the characters eventually reveal themselves to each other. The film strains a bit to work out the correct balance of sweet and sour, and nothing in the movie even begins to measure up to Huffman's tour-de-force performance, but Transamerica is a trip well worth taking, filled with moments both whimsical and penetrating. Also stars Graham Greene and Fionnula Flanagan. 3.5 stars

TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY (R) From the politically charged noir of Welcome to Sarajevo to the pop culture craziness of 24 Hour Party People to the pornographic mood swings of 9 Songs, director Michael Winterbottom is a prolific artist who never seems to be in the same place twice. His latest celluloid experiment, Tristram Shandy, sounds audacious even by Winterbottom's standards — a meta-adaptation/deconstruction of a landmark 18th-century novel that's been declared unfilmable by almost everyone who's bothered to read it. Steve Coogan stars (reportedly in numerous roles), along with Elizabeth Berrington, Gillian Anderson and Rob Brydon. Showing at Burns Court Cinemas in Sarasota. Call to confirm. (Not Reviewed)

V FOR VENDETTA (PG-13) Taking the political flirtations of movies like Syriana and The War Within one giant leap forward (or backward, depending on your perspective), V For Vendetta gives us a bona fide hero who is also a bona fide terrorist. His cause is a just one (overthrowing a tyrannical dictatorship), and he's one of us (freedom-loving Westerners) as opposed to one of them (dogma-toting jihadists), but V For Vendetta still means to have us pumping our fists in support of the symbolic power of blowing up landmark buildings. There are some marvelous bits and pieces here, but what you're more likely to remember are the swathes of poorly paced storytelling and pompous speeches replete with simple-minded politics. By the time V's final credits roll to the tune of the Stones' Street Fighting Man, the whole thing may seem about as convincing as the notion of Sir Mick the revolutionary. The film moves forward and backwards simultaneously, chronicling the rise of a fascist, post-apocalyptic Britain, the armed struggle of the masked insurrectionist V (Hugo Weaving), and the gradual consciousness-raising of V's young cohort Evey (Natalie Portman). Portman's performance here isn't one of her best (the English accent is iffy) while Weaving struggles to engage the audience while wearing a mask the entire time, and the chemistry between the two is minimal. Still, the couple's peculiar love connection does have a certain kitschy appeal, if only in a Phantom of the Opera/English Patient sort of way. It's not much, but it's enough to keep us interested while we're waiting for the next building to explode. Also stars Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry and John Hurt. 3 stars

WALK THE LINE (PG-13) Walk the Line is an engaging, star-studded production that gives us a more or less accurate accounting of Johnny Cash's life. The movie follows Cash's rise to stardom in the '50s and his subsequent fall, duly noting the marital problems, the drug problems, the inevitable cold turkey turn-around and the eventual comeback. The film is a little too concerned, though, with creating an overly tidy arc out of the events of Cash's life, and there's little here of the epic scope of Ray, no real sense of why Cash was important. Joaquin Phoenix does a serviceable job evoking Cash's physical presence, and Reese Witherspoon's perky Carter is a lot of fun to watch (and fun to listen to; she's a surprisingly strong country singer) — but, frankly, this couple could be almost any pair of innocuously attractive lovebirds. 3 stars

WHY WE FIGHT (PG-13) The starting point here is Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address of nearly half a century ago, in which the former president warned of the dangers of allowing a then-nascent Military Industrial Complex to grow unchecked. As Why We Fight would have it, Eisenhower's warning went disastrously unheeded, resulting in the MIC — that corporate-driven feeding frenzy that keeps American in a state of perpetual war — becoming this country's single most important defining characteristic. Why We Fight would like us to consider it a thinking person's Fahrenheit 9/11, but, despite some undeniably salient points, the film is so obviously working backwards to prove its pre-conceived conclusion that it's hard to take seriously. Carefully edited sound bites culled from an impressive collection of talking heads trace a conveniently straight line from WWII to Vietnam to Iraq that strongly suggests the only real reason for war is to keep American business booming. Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki isn't particularly subtle about any of this, repeating arguments ad infinitum, leaving out crucial bits of information that would throw his thesis into question, and occasionally indulging in blatantly manipulative edits cutting between heavily armed, stony-faced G.I.s and adorable Iraqi children staring into the camera with sad puppy-dog eyes. Held over at Burns Court Cinemas in Sarasota. Call to confirm. 3 stars

THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN (PG-13) The Indian in the title of Roger Donaldson's new film isn't even human, although you'd be hard pressed to deny it possesses a personality. What we're talking about is a vintage Indian Scout motorcycle owned and operated by one Burt Munro, an eccentric old New Zealander who traveled all the way to Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats and, against all odds, set a land speed record in 1967 that still stands. The World's Fastest Indian is based on fact and seems to have gotten most of the talking points of Munro's life right — but more important, the movie itself is a lot of fun. Stars Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Lawford, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Rodriguez and Diane Ladd. Showing at Beach Theatre in St. Pete Beach. Call to confirm. 3.5 stars

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