Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area.

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LOST IN TRANSLATION (PG-13) Sofia Coppola's playful and elegantly deadpan film is a cinematic poem for people who don't think they like poetry. Half comedy, half something else entirely, the film is about two people, of very different ages and circumstances, who meet in a strange, faraway place and make a connection. The movie's not-so-secret weapon is Bill Murray, who plays a burned-out movie star a decade or two past his prime and reduced to hawking whiskey for Japanese television. Murray's character hooks up with another American stranger in a strange land, (Ghost World's Scarlett Johansson), and the movie follows the two jet-lagged and utterly disoriented Yanks running wild through the sensory overload of downtown Tokyo and, in their down time, back at the hotel. Coppola's eccentric little wisp of a film is a pure beauty, achieving a seemingly effortless balance of understated wit, lyricism, and off-the-wall absurdity. Also stars Giovanni Ribisi. 1/2

THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST (NR) Never mind that the film is already out on DVD. Better late than never is the bottom line here, since the appearance in the Bay area of any film by the wonderful Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki is reason enough to celebrate. Kaurismaki's new movie doesn't quite rank with The Match Factory Girl, Ariel or the director's other best films, but it is an odd and delightful little gem in its own right. The comedy is understated almost to the point of flat-lining (think Jim Jarmusch on downers) and the narrative is barely a wisp — an amnesiac and a Salvation Army worker find romance among the ruins — but Man Without a Past is rich in clever, quirky details and in heart. And if you can't manage to find time to get over to Tampa Theatre, do yourself a favor and at least get yourself a copy of the DVD. Stars Markku Peltoal and Kati Outinen Kuosmanen. 1/2

MYSTIC RIVER (R) Clint Eastwood's latest directorial offering dives into somewhat unfamiliar waters, with mostly successful results. Mystic River is an epic tragedy about how two devastating events, a quarter-century apart, change a handful of lives in a Boston working class neighborhood. Eastwood's film is uncharacteristically filled with charged symbols and nakedly emotional Big Speeches, but the top-notch ensemble cast is good enough to pull it off and leave us wanting more. Tim Robbins is particularly effective as the damaged man-child who never quite recovered from being molested as a child, and Sean Penn burns up the screen as a man with a dead daughter and one too many secrets. Also stars Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Gay Harden. 1/2

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS (R) Intermittently effective but muddled British comedy about the romantic trials and tribulations of a small group of mildly eccentric working class stiffs. The movie applies an epic, spaghetti-western-ish feel (hence the film's Leone-like title) to supposed ironic effect in recounting the efforts of a lowly auto mechanic to keep his girlfriend from returning to her ex. The characters are mostly interestingly drawn, but the movie's mix of high drama, quirkiness and borderline soap operatics don't always work particularly well. Stars Robert Carlyle, Rhys Ifans and Shirley Henderson.

OUT OF TIME (PG-13) Carl Franklin's slick, moderately engaging thriller stars Denzel Washington as a small-town police chief racing against the clock to vindicate himself when he becomes the primary suspect in a murder investigation. The convoluted plot twists fall thick and fast, beginning with the fact that the female detective hot on Washington's trail is none other than his soon-to-be ex-wife. Everything falls into place a little too neatly, though, and most of the characters don't exactly display much depth, but the whole thing's entertaining enough, in its way, and the Florida locations are nicely photographed. Also stars Eva Mendes and Dean Cain.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (PG-13) The story here isn't much more than you'd expect from a theme park ride turned big screen blockbuster, but so what? The real reason to see Pirates of the Caribbean is Johnny Depp, who's a total gas-gas-gas as the Keith Richards-inspired rock "n' roll pirate Jack Sparrow. Geoffrey Rush is no slouch either as the scenery-chewing leader of a pack of zombie pirates straight out of an old Scooby Doo cartoon. The rest of the movie basically amounts to a skillful and modestly engaging blend of battle scenes and comedy (with just a sprinkling of romance and horror thrown in), all given a nice spit-and-polish thanks to director Gore Verbinski's usual high production values. Also stars Keira Knightley. 1/2

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