Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area

click to enlarge RAY - Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures


AROUND THE BEND (R) Just in time for Halloween comes the inaugural film from writer/director Jordan Roberts. It's about spooky skeletons — no, not the ambulatory remains of the dead — the kind that reside in proverbial closets. This type of skeleton waits for a prime opportunity to emerge and reveal discomforting, fundamental truths about its owner, spawning films with pathos-invoking plots and soul-searching characters. That Christopher Walken fills a primary role in this movie should make it just a smidge creepier. Also stars Michael Caine and Josh Lucas. Opens at Burns Court on Oct. 29. Cal to confirm. (Not Reviewed)

BIRTH (R) Ponderously artsy and turgid almost beyond belief, Birth is a very beautiful and very boring movie that can't make up its mind whether it's a psychological thriller, a bizarre love story or some big, fat, metaphysical statement on the nature of the universe. Nicole Kidman stars as an upper-crusty Manhattanite whose seams begin cracking when a 10-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) shows up at her door claiming to be the reincarnation of her dead husband. The mood is heavy and the pensive characters speak in terse, dense, oddly balanced cadences that seem lifted from a mid-'60s Ingmar Bergman film — or, more specifically, from Woody Allen doing Bergman. The whole thing frequently borders on unintentional parody, an investigation of spiritual dread on the Upper West Side a la Allen's Interiors, where every character's request to pass the salt is supposed to be charged with enigma. Birth is elegantly shot and lushly scored, but the movie doesn't seem half as meaningful as it wants us to believe, and could certainly have benefited by allowing a glimmer of humor to poke through on occasion. The film is a radical and not particularly satisfying change of pace and direction from Jonathan Glazer, director of the ferociously energetic Sexy Beast. Also stars Danny Huston, Anne Heche and Lauren Bacall. Opens Oct. 29 at local theaters.

HEAD IN THE CLOUDS (R) Charlize Theron, Stuart Townsend and Penelope Cruz star as a trio of lovers in 1930s France in this war drama by director/writer John Duigan. Opens Oct. 29 at Sunrise Cinemas and Burns Court Cinemas. Call to confirm. (Not Reviewed)

RAY (PG-13) While not quite the modern American classic we were hoping for, Ray is still solid entertainment and a particular joy for Ray Charles fans (and who isn't these days?). The movie presents Charles as a fusion of musical genius, tortured soul and Daredevil/Zatoichi (with an impressively developed hearing sense compensating for his blindness), and then dutifully walks us through the high and low points of his life. We get the music (thankfully, and lots of it), the childhood traumas, the drugs, the womanizing, the refusal to see blindness as a handicap, and the eventual rise to fame. We watch as Charles finds his own sound, pioneering a fusion of gospel and R&B that paved the way for the Sex 'n' God funk of Prince and a million others. Then there's the break-out to a blacker shade of pop music gobbled up by white kids at the cusp of the '60s, the controversial crossover into country and western, and the inevitable move to a big label and what many perceived as the middle of the road. The music is glorious, of course (with a heavy concentration on Ray's brilliant mid- to late-'50s period), and Jamie Foxx's performance/impersonation ranks with Jim Carrey's impeccable Andy Kaufman, but Ray is not immune to many of the problems that inevitably plague bio-pics. As is common with this form, the movie tends to play like a greatest hits (and flops) of Charles' life, with equal weight given to nearly everything, too much crammed in, and too little transitional material. The movie makes a stab at a narrative center, supplied by Ray's lifelong battle with heroin, but it's a battle we barely know is being waged until the movie's last few scenes. There are also some hackneyed attempts at pop psychology (in which an annoying succession of flashbacks loom large), but these are basically minor bumps in what is for the most part a pretty groovy road. Also stars Kerry Washington and Regina King. Opens Oct. 29 at local theaters. 1/2

THE YES MEN (R) Two regular guys pretend to be corporate bigwigs in order to expose the evils of powerful corporations (and to have some fun, of course), in this documentary by filmmakers Chris Smith and Sarah Price. Opens Oct. 29 at sunrise Cinemas. Call to confirm. (Not Reviewed)


BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS (R) Adapted from Evelyn Waugh's 1930 novel Vile Bodies, this feature-film debut for British writer/actor Stephen Fry follows an ensemble cast of witty, literate partygoers through 1930s London. Stars Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer and Peter O'Toole, with cameos by Dan Aykroyd, Stockard Channing and others. Held over at Sunrise Cinemas. Call to confirm. (Not Reviewed)

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