Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area


CALLAS FOREVER (R) Fanny Ardant portrays notorious opera diva Maria Callas in this film by director Franco Zeffirelli. Also starts Joan Plowright and Jeremy Irons. Opens Dec. 17 at Burns Court Cinemas. Call to confirm. (Not Reviewed)

CONDEMNED (NR) Here's something you won't likely see in a promotional brochure on life in Sarasota. Local filmmakers Diane Mason and Darryle Saffer uncover life behind the closed doors of the Janie Poe housing project, where children and families make their homes amid roach- and mold-infested quarters. The filmmakers place Janie Poe within the context of the larger debate around public housing, while tossing questions to the Sarasota Housing Authority, such as — how did this happen? One showing only, at 10 a.m. Sat., Dec. 18, at Burns Court Cinemas in Sarasota. Viewing is free.—ALLYSON GONZALEZ

ENDURING LOVE (R) Director Roger Michell is an almost too-eclectic filmmaker who makes very good mainstream genre movies, such as the romantic comedy Notting Hill and the thriller Changing Lanes, and somewhat less successful art films like The Mother and now this one. Enduring Love features some fascinating ideas and a delicately unhinged performance by Rhys Ifans, but the film, despite its pretensions of being something grander, is basically just an artier Fatal Attraction. Daniel Craig stars as a troubled academic haunted by a recent tragedy and being stalked by an enigmatic stranger (Ifans) who experienced that tragedy with him. The film throws enough twists and turns at us to keep things interesting, but for most of its running time it can't quite seem to make up its mind whether it's going to be some moody, metaphorical think piece or something more along the lines of an old fashioned thriller-diller. Eventually it settles for the latter, sort of. Also stars Samantha Morton and Bill Nighy. Opens Dec. 17 at Channelside Cinemas in Tampa and Regal Hollywood in Sarasota. Call theaters to confirm. LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS (PG) Morbidly witty, imaginatively stylized and with surprisingly little pandering to tiny or otherwise tiny-minded viewers, there's much to enjoy in this dark-but-not-too-dark fantasy about the trials and tribulations of a trio of ingenious orphans. Jim Carrey dons a series of elaborate disguises as the young pups' nemesis, an evil actor who keeps putting the kiddies in a succession of increasingly harrowing predicaments from which they must use all their considerable, McGuyver-like resources to escape. It's not exactly Shakespeare, but there are lots of curious characters, bizarre and outlandish landscapes, and a tone that's more or less faithful to the dark, disarmingly dry sensibility of the original books. The film is a production designer's dream, with wonderfully odd little Edward Gorey-esque flourishes and filigrees loitering about the edges of nearly every frame. Also stars Liam Aiken, Emily Browning, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Meryl Streep and Jude Law. Opens Dec. 17 at local theaters. 1/2

SPANGLISH (PG-13) James L. Brooks' new movie is terrible because it's long-winded, pointless, shamelessly manipulative and not particularly funny, but it's also something new and even more terrible: a mean-spirited feel-good movie. The basic scenario here is pure sitcom — mildly eccentric yuppie couple hires beautiful, fiery Mexican housekeeper and mayhem ensues — but the execution is flat and extremely unpleasant, with a 130 minute running time that leaves little doubt that Brooks feels he's doing something important here. The characters are, without exception, either underdeveloped or drawn in ridiculously broad strokes, particularly Tea Leoni's hardbodied queen bitch of a hausfrau, who crosses the line from quirky to just plain cruel early on and leaves the movie with a big, fat hole in its emotional center. The plot stumbles along with all the predictability and shallowness of a grade-C TV sitcom but very little of the snap, while the dribs and drabs of affection passing between the characters — particularly Adam Sandler and Paz Vega — aren't particularly satisfying or convincing. Brooks was apparently going through a messy divorce while he was directing Spanglish and was trying to "work something out" in the film, but the result is far and away his worst movie. Also stars Cloris Leachman and Sarah Steele. Opens Dec. 17 at local theaters. A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (R) Set in France near the end of World War I, A Very Long Engagement tells the story of a woman's moving and sometimes comical search for her fiance, one of five French soldiers who have mysteriously disappeared. Opens Dec. 17 at Burns Court Cinemas. Call to confirm. (Not Reviewed)


AFTER THE SUNSET (PG-13) Although there are worse ways to while away 90-some minutes, After the Sunset isn't really exciting or original enough to engage us as a heist movie, and it's not funny enough to succeed as a comedy. Pierce Brosnan (further distancing himself from the 007 image in flip-flops and a gray, gristled chin) and Salma Hayek are retired jewel thieves playing elaborately pointless cat-and-mouse games with FBI agent Woody Harrelson while they consider that inevitable one last heist. The movie is pleasant to look at (particularly the island locations and a frequently semi-clad Hayek), and some of the dialogue is fairly clever and quirky, but we've seen this Elmore Leonard-lite shtick too many times before. Also stars Don Cheadle. 1/2

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