New Releases

ANNAPOLIS (PG-13) This predictable drama chronicles the tale of a working-class kid (pretty boy Spiderman star James Franco) who just barely makes it into the United States Naval Academy. Defiant but determined, he proves himself by boxing his way to respect. There aren't too many surprises here: the comic relief is handled by the fat guy (played by Vicellous Reon Shannon), the hero gets the girl (a too-tan Jordana Brewster) and every student at the Naval Academy could moonlight as a model. Perfectly timed to inspire young bucks to trade in their baggy jeans for starched white sailor suits, this family-friendly film is Rumsfeld-approved. Justin Lin directs; also stars Tyrese Gibson and Donnie Wahlberg. Opens Jan. 27 in local theaters. 2 stars

Erin Rashbaum

THE MATADOR (R) Director Richard Shepard's new movie is nothing if not image conscious, with Pierce Brosnan chewing the scenery as an eccentric professional assassin who takes the piss out of his famous 007 persona at every opportunity, and Greg Kinnear. who seems to have found his niche in the movies playing straight men, doing just that in grandly bland style. A half-humorous, half-serious study in contrasts, The Matador features Brosnan as a seedy, burnt-out hitman who meets up with a thoroughly average businessman (Kinnear) and can't resist rocking his world by telling him what he does for a living. What ensues is an inconsequential but mostly appealing odd-couple buddy movie bolstered by likable performances from Brosnan and Kinnear. The movie strains a bit mixing its black humor with some thoroughly sudsy dramatics, but it all looks very nice, with vibrant pop-py colors and lively editing, and some fine chemistry between its leads (which, in movies like this, is at least half the battle). Also stars Hope Davis. Opens Jan. 27 at local theaters. 3.5 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. Opens Jan. 27 at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa and Burns Court Cinemas in Sarasota. 3.5 stars


AEON FLUX (PG-13) Based on the popular MTV animated series of the '90s, Aeon Flux takes us 400 years into the future to the last city on Earth. Charlize Theron, making her debut in the sci-fi action genre, stars as an underground operative leading the rebels against totalitarian rule of a seemingly perfect society. Also stars Martin Csokas, Jonny Lee Miller and Frances McDormand. (Not Reviewed)

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. Heath Ledger's mush-mouthed Ennis is a classic western hero, a strong, silent type who barely says anything, but who manages to communicate worlds of conflicted pain and longing with a minimum of dialogue or actorly fussiness. Several of the movie's performances are outstanding, but Ledger's sublimely understated, heartbreakingly physical performance is as much a force of nature as the Wyoming landscapes that dominate the film, calm and tender one moment, exploding in pent-up fury the next. Also stars Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway and Randy Quaid. 4.5 stars

CAPOTE (R) Anyone who has read In Cold Blood or seen the 1967 movie version will be basically familiar with the raw material here — a pair of drifters reveal themselves to a reporter while awaiting execution for the senseless slaughter of a Kansas family — but Capote yanks the focus away from the killers and puts it squarely on the writer and his process. That writer is Truman Capote, portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in a performance that gives us traces of all the Capotes that we think we know — the narcissistic dandy, the sensitive artist, the twee fop with the whiney baby voice, the literary powerhouse — and fuses them all into a character too complex and human to be pigeonholed by any of those descriptions. Also stars Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr and Chris Cooper. Currently playing at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. Call to confirm. 4.5 stars

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (PG) Although it gets off to a decidedly slow start, this big-screen adaptation of C.S. Lewis' beloved book turns out to be pretty smashing entertainment. Four heroic young siblings stumble into the film's magical realm of talking animals, evil queens, fauns, gryphons, centaurs, satyrs, Cyclopses and even a stripped-down Kris Kringle. The sheer profusion of fantastical beasties on display is worth the proverbial price of admission. It all culminates, as if you couldn't guess, in a massively proportioned Lord of the Rings-lite battle royale between the forces of good and evil, but hey, you could do a lot worse. Stars Tilda Swinton, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Anna Popplewell, William Moseley, James McAvoy and Jim Broadbent. 3.5 stars

THE FAMILY STONE (PG-13) The basic set-up here involves a yuletide reunion with the Stones, a mostly good-natured and open-minded bunch who nevertheless find themselves deeply offended when one of the adult siblings (Dermot Mulroney) brings his painfully uptight fiancée (Sarah Jessica Parker) home to meet the family. Also stars Diane Keaton, Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams and Luke Wilson. 2 stars

FUN WITH DICK AND JANE (PG-13) A sad and pointless remake of the 1977 George Segal/Jane Fonda comedy about nice middle-class folks reduced to robbery when the economy crashes. The original was no great shakes itself, but the 2005 version is a chore to sit through, as well as a terrible waste of two good performers, Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni, neither of whom has ever been less funny (at least in a movie that's nominally a comedy). The first half of the film joylessly details the couple's descent into fiscal hell (culminating in scenes of self-mutilation played for laughs), while the second half features a series of painfully unfunny slapstick robberies and brazenly unsubtle satires of corporate greed. Unpleasant and depressing stuff recast as comedy for America's New Dark Ages. Also stars Alec Baldwin and Jeff Garlin. 1.5 stars

GLORY ROAD (PG) Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Walt Disney Pictures produce a tale of athletic and social advancement about the struggle and triumph of black players breaking into a sport primarily dominated by whites. Glory Road is based on the true story of Coach Don Haskins (played by Josh Lucas of An Unfinished Life), who took the first all-black lineup to the NCAA basketball championship in 1966. Elaborating on the importance of camaraderie among teammates and of loving and respecting a man regardless of his skin color, Glory Road suggests that there are beautiful moments in and outside of discontent, and does so in a way that's far from disappointing. James Gartner directs; also stars Tatyana Ali, Emily Deschanel, Derek Luke and Jon Voight. 3 stars

Adam Capparelli

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. 3 stars

GRANDMA'S BOY (R) A 35-year-old slacker moves in with a trio of high-spirited female octogenarians in what sounds like it might just be a little too close for comfort to Golden Girls meets Three's Company meets American Pie. Cross your fingers. Stars Allen Covert, Shirley Knight, Shirley Jones and Kevin Nealon. (Not Reviewed)

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (PG-13) The new Potter adventure moves at a brisk clip, re-establishing old characters and introducing new ones while supplying an abundance of those purely fantastic flourishes that fans of the series have come to expect. Director Mike Newell pares away Rowling's gratuitous sub-plots and paces what's left beautifully, segueing from moments of light comedy and budding romance to sequences of unexpected intensity. Stars Daniel Radcliff, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes and Michael Gambon. 4 stars

HOODWINKED (PG) A clever but overly convoluted kiddie flick that re-envisions the Red Riding Hood story as a Rashomon-like conundrum of competing and overlapping narratives. Everybody tells their side of the fairy tale — Red, the wolf, the woodsman, the grandma — as secrets are revealed, stories dovetail and cancel each other out, and, ultimately, some sort of paltry pay-off takes place. The film tries to balance physical comedy and other kid-friendly humor with elements aimed at older viewers, but there's not much middle ground here, and the movie winds up feeling compromised and more than a little confused. Featuring the voices of Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Jim Belushi and Andy Dick. 3 stars

HOSTEL (R) Cabin Fever writer/director Eli Roth enlisted executive producer Quentin Tarantino and a savvy Internet buildup to make Hostel one of the most anticipated horror flicks of the New Year. In it, three backpackers (Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson and Eythor Gudjonsson) leave the standard European student haunts in search of carnal pleasures, only to end up the object of others' infinitely darker desires. Hostel takes a little too long to build, and depends more upon tension and revulsion than outright scares, but once the blood starts to flow Roth gets a lot of mileage out of the idea (not to mention the visuals) of human torture. Also stars Barbara Nedeljakova, Jana Kaderabkova, and Jan Vlasak. 3.5 stars

Scott Harrell

KING KONG (PG-13) Director Peter Jackson goes back to the basics here, re-setting this classic tale in its original timeframe and remaining extremely faithful to the original story, while giving it lots of room to breathe. Besides the seriously hefty running time (nearly every minute of which deserves to be there), Jackson ups the ante in other significant ways, intensifying the action on all fronts and clarifying the beauty-and-the-beast bond that is key to the story. King Kong is basically beautifully realized old-school filmmaking with a 21st-century facelift, and Jackson segues skillfully from humor to horror to adventure to romance. Adrien Brody is well cast as the sensitive hero, as is Jack Black, and Naomi Watts exhibits star power to burn. But the real star here is Kong himself. Also stars Jamie Bell, Colin Hanks and Andy Serkis. 4.5 stars

LAST HOLIDAY (PG-13) Director Wayne Wang's well-meaning misfire is gentler and more appealing low key than you might imagine, but it's also lazily scripted and stocked with cardboard-cutout characters who are either saints or demons. Saintliest of all is Georgia (Queen Latifah), a humble, self-sacrificing everywoman who, upon discovering she has three weeks to live, flies to Prague with the express aim of throwing caution to the wind and living life to the fullest. Despite some early promise, the movie winds up as predictable and maudlin as the trailers make it out to be, and not even the normally nimble Wang (Chan is Missing) or the larger-than-life Latifah can turn that around. Also stars LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton, Alicia Witt and a slumming Gerard Depardieu — saddled with moronic speeches in which he compares Latifah to a humble, underappreciated turnip. 2.5 stars

MATCH POINT (R) Woody Allen's latest is a smart movie, but smart in ways we don't typically associate with this filmmaker. It's also filled with passion (!), murder (!!), sex (!!!), and there's not a single stammering neurotic in sight. Match Point is set in London, far from Allen's usual Manhattan haunts, and concerns a young working class stiff (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who ingratiates himself with an upper crust families and then threatens to topple his own house of cards because of an uncontrollable urge for a husky-voiced American femme fatale (Scarlett Johansson). Match Point unfolds like film noir crossed with one of those tragic Verdi operas that its characters are constantly listening to, and although are a handful of lighter moments as well, one person's tragedy is another's comedy (as with all of Allen's films). Essentially, though, the glass is not only half-empty but decidedly smeary in Match Point, with a tough, engrossing, pretense-free story the likes of which we've really never seen before from this famous filmmaker. Also stars Brian Cox, Matthew Goode and Emily Mortimer. 4 stars

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (PG-13) Beautiful to look at and with barely a thought in its pretty little head, Memoirs of a Geisha takes place in Japan around the time of the Second World War, but it's a Hollywood fantasy-Japan, where everybody speaks English and acts like they're in an American movie. We're thrust headlong into the tale of Sayuri (Zhang Zyiyi), a penniless waif who is forced into service at a geisha establishment and eventually inducted into their ways. An overlong film that feels rushed at all the wrong moments, Memoirs turns out to be a visually impressive but hopelessly generic soap gussied up with a few superficial exotic flourishes. Also stars Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li, Koji Yakusho and Kaori Momoi. 2.5 stars

MUNICH (R) Director Steven Spielberg focuses on the aftermath of the slaughter of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics — when a hit squad was dispatched to assassinate the Palestinian organizers of the massacre — but Munich is less concerned with creating a visceral thrill ride out of the often horrifying mechanics of revenge than with grinding our noses in the pointlessness of it all. Spielberg leans over so far backward in an effort to be evenhanded that there's really no one to root for or against, a problem exacerbated by too many forgettable characters saddled with flat-footed dialogue endlessly re-stating the movie's thesis that violence begetting violence can only be wrong. Stars Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Ayelet Zurer and Michael Lonsdale. Currently playing at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. Call to confirm. 3 stars

THE NEW WORLD (PG-13) Terrence Malick may be the unofficial poet laureate of American cinema, but his latest film often feels fluid to the point of formlessness, a series of gorgeous landscapes for its characters to wander through. The setting is 1607 Virginia, and what the filmmaker is showing us is that historical moment when Native American and European cultures first collide, a cataclysmic event filtered through the celebrated cross-cultural romance of John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher). The love story helps ground things, but The New World's naïve mythmaking and metaphysical meandering is still a touch-and-go proposition. Walking a fine line between mesmerizing and monotonous, the film revels in long, trance-like passages complete with whispering choruses of multiple voices layered over the fray. Malick is so consumed with poetizing the sublime tragedy of it all that he forgets about basic minimum requirements for engaging an audience, such as coherency, conciseness, and the little matter of that love story he promised to tell. Also stars Christian Bale and Christopher Plummer. 2.5 stars

THE PRODUCERS (PG13) A shrill and shambling attempt to bring Mel Brooks' much-loved Broadway production to the big screen, The Producers arrives feeling like a thing embalmed. The story concerns a second-rate Broadway producer (Nathan Lane) who, upon discovering he can make more money from a sure flop than he can from a sure hit, teams up with his accountant (Matthew Broderick) to stage the worst show ever seen. The movie now seems as dated as it is lifeless and, without the hugely magnetic presence of Zero Mostel (who starred in the original film version), Brooks' faux-Marx Brothers borscht-belt shtick sinks like a rock. Also stars Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Gary Beach and Richard Bart. 2 stars

SYRIANA (R) A film that attempts to be the last word on that scariest of unholy trinities — oil, money and blood — Syriana sometimes seems less like a political art-film and more like a thinking man's horror movie (think Land of the Dead with less cannibalism and where the zombies are rewritten as CIA agents). Writer-director Stephen Gaghan, screenwriter of Steven Soderbergh's similarly timely Traffic, throws together an almost unmanageable ensemble of some two dozen characters, from American politicians and oilmen to Arab sheiks and suicide bombers, in an ambitious attempt to offer up a mosaic of the enormously complicated forces (economic, religious, cultural, etc.) fueling immoral acts on both sides of the ongoing War on Terror. There's much that's thought-provoking and even important about Syriana, but the effect of the film is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle that disorients us so much in the beginning we begin to lose patience with seeing it through to completion. Stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, William Hurt, Mazhar Munir, Tim Blake Nelson, Amanda Peet and Christopher Plummer. 3.5 stars

UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION (R) Kate Beckinsale returns in the sequel to the 2003 horror-action epic about a world where a blood feud between werewolves and vampires rages. Also stars Scott Speedman and Bill Nighy. (Not Reviewed)

USHPIZIN (NR) A poor, ultra-Orthodox Jewish couple in Jerusalem discover the hard way to be careful what you wish for (or pray for) in this modern folk fable from Israel. Financially strapped Moshe and his wife Malli (real life couple Shuli Rand and Michal Bat Sheva Rand) consider the sly low-lifes that show up at their door as a "gift from God," but eventually find their saint-like patience taxed when the uninvited guests begin turning their world upside down. Ushpizin (literally Holy Guests) was made with the cooperation of Jerusalem's notoriously publicity-shy Hassidic community, and the film offers, beyond the modest charms of its story, a rare look at the inner workings of a rarely seen culture. Also stars Shaul Mizrahi and Ilan Ganani. Currently playing at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. Call to confirm. 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, but there's a generic feeling to the movie very much at odds with the edginess of its subject. 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

WOLF CREEK (R) Despite the considerable buzz generated at Sundance, there's not ultimately much separating director Greg McLean's nasty little thriller from your standard garden variety kids-stalked-in-the-wilderness-and-hacked-to-bits flick. The story here (based on true events, we're solemnly assured) is basic and simple: three young pals (Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi), on vacation in the Australian outback, find themselves stranded and then pursued by a sadistic and seemingly invincible killer. The killer gloats, the kids die and that's really about it. 2 stars

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