AGENT CODY BANKS (PG) TV's Frankie Muniz (Malcolm in the Middle) stars as a typical teen living a not-so-typical secret life as a CIA agent, complete with cool spy gadgets, dangerous missions and hot babes at the ready. Also stars Hilary Duff and Darrell Hammond. (Not Reviewed)
A MAN APART (R) Vin Diesel and Larenz Tate star in this action movie revolving around the drug underworld. (Not Reviewed)
BLIND SPOT: HITLER'S SECRETARY (PG) In April and June of 2001, 81-year-old Traudl Junge, who served as Adolph Hitler's secretary from 1943 to the end of the war, broke a 50-year silence and granted the series of interviews that became this film. Traudl is both articulate and infinitely remorseful, so much so that the film sometimes has the feel of an extended penance for sins both real and imagined (it should be noted that Junge died the morning after the film's premiere at the Berlin Film Festival). Still, Blind Spot is considerably less than it should have been. There's not much more to the movie than Junge sitting in her apartment and talking for 90 minutes — Austrian filmmakers Andre Heller and Othmar Schmiderer don't even bothering to cut away to any archival footage — and what is revealed isn't exactly revelatory. Most of what Junge has to say is far too general, with little of the personal details that might have actually revealed something new or significant about Hitler or the phenomenon surrounding his appeal. There are moments of interest here, but, in all, the film is far too flat and dry. Plays April 6, 8 and 10 at Tampa Theatre. Call theater to confirm.
BOAT TRIP (R) Cuba Gooding Jr. and Horatio Sanz attempt to end a run of bad luck with women by going on a cruise, but they're unaware that their vengeful travel agent has booked them on an all-gay voyage. (Not reviewed)
THE BREAD, MY SWEET (PG) Director Melissa Martin's low-budget romantic comedy about Italian-Americans has all the depth, originality and ethnic authenticity of a commercial for canned spaghetti sauce. Scott Baio stars as a corporate ax man with a heart of gold (he really just wants to bake bread) who decides to marry the wildcat daughter of his terminally ill surrogate mother. Baio is surprisingly good, but most of the other performances are amateurish. The indisputable highlight of the film is actress Rosemary Prinz, who though not given much to work with, lights up the screen like Giulietta Masina every time she smiles. Also stars Kristin Minter and John Seitz. 1/2
BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE (PG-13) Steve Martin and Queen Latifah star in what the previews reveal to be the standard Hollywood comedy that starts with a wacky Internet match-up but winds up with Ms. Latifah as helper-to-the-rescue a la Mrs. Doubtfire. (Not Reviewed)
*THE CHECKIST The Tampa International Film Festival continues its tribute to Russian director Alexandr Rogozhkin with The Cuckoo, a bird of a much different feather than many of his other films. This is a sometimes overly sweet charmer bursting with life, humor and mild eros, about an earthy young peasant woman tending to a couple of soldiers on opposite sides of a conflict. Plays April 6, 8 p.m., Channelside, as part of the Tampa International Film Festival.
CITY OF GOD (NR) We've seen this story before, more or less — the blood, psychopaths, the budding psychopaths, the all-too-young victims of urban decay — but never quite like this. City of God is a movie bursting with life in all its nuances, often entwining beauty and ugliness in complex ways that are going to make a lot of audience members somewhat less than comfortable. The movie covers several decades in the lives of various low-level gangsters who inhabit a seedy housing project on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro and takes its shape from a series of tales as richly drawn as anything from Faulkner's Okefenokee County. The stories flip back and forth through the years, giving the film a fluid, elastic sense of time, recalling the postmodern playfulness of Pulp Fiction or Amores Perros, and the style is frequently dazzling. Director Fernando Meirelles' movie comes off as a compelling social history as eccentric and epic in scope as P.T. Anderson's Boogie Nights, but it also succeeds on a very personal level. This is a comic tragedy about people who appear to change and to speed along at the speed of sound while, in actuality, they're standing absolutely still. Stars Alexandre Rodriguez, Matheus Nachtergaele, Seu Jorge and Leandro Firmino da Hora. Held over at Burns Court Cinema in Sarasota. Call to confirm. 1/2
THE CORE (PG-13) See Rome's Coliseum destroyed by freak lightening! See the Golden Gate Bridge melt and collapse! See the space shuttle skid to a landing in downtown L.A.! All that really does take place in The Core, but you'll have to wade through a lot of excruciatingly boring pseudoscience and predictable plot "twists" to get to the good old-fashioned disaster flick lurking within. The movie also owes considerably to Fantastic Voyage, although the journey taken by our heroes here is not into the human body, but into the earth itself. See, it seems the Earth's core has stopped spinning (don't ask), resulting in a disintegrating electromagnetic field, resulting in the impending end of the world. That means it's up to hunky genius-boy Aaron Eckhart, pixie-cute astronaut Hilary Swank and a team of disposable sidekicks to hop into what looks like a giant drill bit and get on down to the planet's center to make things right. The special effects and dialogue are often cheesy enough to generate a smile or two, but the movie is mostly just too long and tedious to really be much fun. Also stars Delroy Lindo and Stanley Tucci. 1/2
*THE COW (KRAVA) (NR) A fable-like tale from the Czech Republic about the trials and tribulations of a simple peasant, the woman he loves, and the buddah-like bovine that silently takes it all in. There's not a tremendous amount of depth or complexity to director Karel Kaychna's film but its performances are convincing, its imagery is lyrical, and its emotional power is undeniable. Plays 8:30 p.m. on April 8 at the University of Tampa's Reeves Theatre, as part of the Tampa International Film Festival. 1/2
*CUCKOO (NR) Alexandr Rogozhkin's grim account of the brutalities of the proto-KGB organization charged with eliminating enemies of the young Soviet state. The film offers up more naked bodies than you'll find in a Peter Greenaway film, although here they're just so much flesh to be disposed of. The film is beautifully shot but verges on bombastic freak show, as it graphically depicts the routine mechanics of evil whereby lists are drawn up and bodies are stripped, shot and hoisted into carts. Plays at 7 p.m. on April 5 at Tampa Theatre, as part of the Tampa International Film Festival. 1/2
DAREDEVIL (PG-13) The latest Marvel superhero to hit the big screen is by far the most dour and exquisitely tormented of them all. "I'm not the bad guy," Daredevil tells us (and himself), but that's debatable, considering how much he obviously relishes inflicting pain upon the scummy lawbreakers scurrying through the city. A blind lawyer by day, a costumed, superpower vigilante by night, Daredevil has a thirst for justice that borders on the pathological, so that our vicious, crime-fighting hero often seems to have crossed the line from self-doubting neurotic (a la Spider-Man) to full-blown nutcase. Daredevil is a violent, relentlessly downbeat and dark movie on almost every level (amazingly, it wasn't rated "R"), often coming across like Death Wish crossed with vintage film noir, with just a bit of extreme sports thrown in the mix. Ben Affleck is surprisingly effective as the tortured title character, and he's surrounded by a well-cast ensemble including Jon Favreau, Michael Clarke Duncan and Colin Farrell. Only a handful of overly cartoon-y moments and a generic soundtrack mar the final effect. Also stars Jennifer Garner. 1/2
DARK BLUE (R) Ron Shelton sets his new thriller at the time of the Rodney King trial, and the movie's tale of police corruption and racial divisions dovetails neatly (a little too neatly) with that very public event. Kurt Russell stars as a hardboiled Los Angeles cop battling his inner demons while tracking down some killers and getting sucked deeper and deeper into the messy politics of the LAPD. The movie gets the details right, painting the various black, white, Korean and Mexican L.A. subcultures in vivid colors, but fails to supply a script that offers much in the way of surprises or originality. The overly broad strokes used to depict the shady process by which cops, judges and lawyers do things may well be accurate, but the lack of narrative subtlety drags the movie down. Also stars Ving Rhames, Scott Speedman and Brendan Gleeson.
DREAMCATCHER (R) Although it starts out intriguingly enough, director Lawrence Kasdan's sci-fi/horror blowout quickly reveals itself as a disaster of Battlefield Earth proportions. Based on one of Stephen King's weaker efforts, this astonishingly bad movie crudely mashes together recycled tidbits from Stand By Me and The Tommyknockers with Alien, John Carpenter's The Thing and even a bit of Kasdan's The Big Chill. The resulting flick is a kitchen sink horror filled with exploding body parts, ubiquitous X-Files-esque alien viruses and vaguely psychic childhood pals who turn into lovable thirtysomethings and are promptly killed. It's boring, scatterbrained and an embarrassment to everyone involved. Stars Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis and Tom Sizemore.
GANGS OF NEW YORK (R) Martin Scorsese's enormously ambitious new film about mid-1800s blood feuds and power struggles is a huge, magnificently sprawling thing that manifests all the power and resonance of classical myth. The movie's focus is the love-hate relationship between the characters played by Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio, but Scorsese constantly layers his cinematic mural with additional characters, historical nuances and stories within stories. Gangs of New York is certainly History Writ Large, but the bulk of it is as accessible as anything this director's ever done. The movie is big, bloody, ornate, passionate and full of over-the-top emotions, like a grand opera re-imagined as a really cool comic book. Also stars Cameron Diaz.
HEAD OF STATE (PG-13) Are you ready for Presidential candidate Chris Rock? If so, this latest Rock comedy might be for you. Also stars Bernie Mac and Dylan Baker. (Not Reviewed)
THE HOURS (PG-13) The film interweaves moments from the lives of three women living in three separate times and places, straining to establish unifying themes involving feminine strength (or lack thereof), motherhood, lesbianism and suicide. In the best segment, the writer Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) skulks about in1923, chain-smoking and mulling over ideas for a new book. In the worst segment, a contemporary New York publisher (Meryl Streep), nicknamed for a character in Woolf's book, prepares a party for Ed Harris' dying writer. In between, there's Julianne Moore as a 1950s housewife who reads Woolf's book, quietly cracks up, and checks into a hotel with a year's supply of sleeping pills. Also stars Toni Collette and Claire Danes.
HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS (PG-13) This one marks the first time that Kate Hudson has truly been able to command the screen: She's utterly winning as a women's magazine columnist who, for the sake of a story on what females shouldn't do when dating, hooks up with a guy with the intent of driving him away within ... well, check the film's title. She settles on a slick ad man (Matthew McConaughey), unaware that he's made a bet that he can get any woman to fall in love with him within the same time period. For a film that wallows in the usual male/female stereotypes, this one's surprisingly light on its feet, thanks in no small part to its well-matched leads. Alas, the third act follows the exact pattern as almost every other romantic comedy made today: The deceptions become unearthed, the pair break up, some soul searching takes place, and bliss arrives after a madcap chase. Leave before this excruciating finale and you should have an OK time. 1/2
LOVE LIZA (R ) A movie about one man's reaction to a personal tragedy, Love Liza initially gives the impression that it's going to take us on a journey structured according to the classic stages of grief. The movie's problems are numerous, but they begin with the fact that it never really gets beyond the first or second stage. There's a whole lot of avoidance and denial going on here, but not much else. Philip Seymour Hoffman's the whole show here, but it's really more of an anti-show, like some mutated off-Broadway one-man production where the performer stands on stage the entire time, mumbling with a bag over his head. Hoffman is on screen for almost every second of Love Liza, but, perversely, isn't allowed to really stretch or to show his chops. The movie unfolds like a 93-minute love letter to Hoffman (or, more specifically, to Hoffman's ability to communicate pain), and it's often not all that clear what mood the film's trying to express. Todd Louiso's essentially glum direction frequently seems to be attempting to conjure up a spirit of black comedy, but the spirit is weak and generally unwilling. Also stars Kathy Bates, Jack Kehler and Sarah Koskoff.
*JAPON (NR) This astonishing debut from Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas is a prime example of what the Tampa International Film Festival does best. The film's narrative is minimal and deliberately paced — a nameless, self-destructive drifter finds solace in his relationship with an elderly widow — but the story is primarily a gateway into a sublimely shot no man's land where spirituality squares off with existential dread. The film's effect is both visceral and highly poetic, and it all occasionally feels like a spaghetti western written by Camus and directed by Tarkovsky. That's a good thing, by the way. Plays at 9 p.m. on April 9 at Tampa Theatre, as part of the Tampa International Film Festival. 1/2
*JLG/JLG (NR) Cinema's grand old man, Jean Luc Godard cooks up another wise, mysterious, melancholy, sensuous and highly literate collage of sounds and images. Some of them are familiar, some startling, some oblique, some profound, and some apparently just there to take the piss out of us. Like so much of Godard's recent output, the film is more of an essay or a notebook than anything else, and the director's whispered voice-over tells us to expect a self-portrait of a man who claims to be "already in mourning for myself." The creative juices streaming through this rich little film put the lie to that. Florida premiere. Plays April 8, 6 p.m., Reeves Theatre at UT, as part of the Tampa International Film Festival. 1/2
*LA COMMUNE, 1871, PARIS (NR) An actor directly addresses the camera (and us) at the outset of Peter Watkins' nearly six-hour tour de force, introducing himself, telling us who he plays and describing exactly what the film's about, both on and below the surface. La Commune is both passionate and unavoidably postmodern as it assembles some 200 actors on a stage-like set, offering personal perspectives from the rebels who rose up and attempted to establish a proletarian government in 19th Century Paris. The past isn't so much evoked as it's used as an all-too-clear commentary on the present, and Watkins' rigorously researched, relentlessly experimental epic turns out to be as much about process as it is about history or politics. A sometimes off-putting experience, but as unique as they come. Plays at 6 p.m. on April 7 at the University of Tampa's Reeves Theatre, as part of the Tampa International Film Festival. 1/2
OLD SCHOOL (R) Returning to his distinguished oeuvre of college comedies, director Todd Phillips (Frat House, Road Trip) takes a promising gimmick of three thirty- something friends (Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn) who decide to start their own fraternity. Phillips unfortunately forms that tasty notion into a bland soy retread inspired by films like Animal House, but without the brains to retool the collegiate comedy genre. Vaughn and Ferrell, however, make an honorable effort to inject some much-needed goofiness into their parcel of the film. 1/2 —FELICIA FEASTER
*ONE MORE MILE (NR) This thoughtful, articulate and passionate examination of the doomed rebuilding process in devastated and divided Bosnia is made even timelier by our impending role as "nation builders" in Iraq. Elizabeth Coffman and Ted Hardin's documentary is energetic enough to allow us to forget (or at least forgive) what is basically a traditional talking head structure, and the film is filled with intriguing contradictions within contradictions. The festival screening will be the film's North American premiere and the filmmakers will be present. Plays at 7 p.m. on April 8 at the University of Tampa's Reeves Theatre, as part of the Tampa International Film Festival. 1/2
OPEN HEARTS (NR) Those wacky Dogme 95 boys and girls are back again. (Instant refresher course: Dogme is that movement of self-declared iconoclasts who follow a Manifesto dictating no artificial lighting, no gratuitous music, no studio sets and nothing that isn't shot handheld on digital video, and only later blown up to 35mm film.) In Susanne Bier's Open Hearts, the Dogme methodology is applied, somewhat awkwardly, to what basically amounts to a simple tearjerker about a young woman who becomes involved with a married man after her fiance is paralyzed in a car accident. Plotwise, the film might as well be a more pedestrian reworking of Lars Von Triers' Breaking the Waves, with an emphasis on the marital infidelity angle, and a smattering of teen angst thrown in. As if to compensate for the soap-operatics of the basic story, the style here is particularly extreme, including a relentlessly nervous editing approach and a camera that flits about urgently as if something were about to happen at any given moment. The performances are uniformly strong, and the reality-enhancing Dogme approach does give the movie an undeniable intensity and authenticity, but the narrative is hopelessly mired in its soapy origins. Stars Sonja Richter, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Mads Mikkelsen and Paprika Steen. Opens April 4 at Channelside. Call theater to confirm.
THE PIANIST (R) Roman Polanski's film is based on the memoirs of Polish-Jewish classical pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, who continued to be devoted to his art even as he watched his world crumble and suffered an endless series of horrors and humiliations designed to rob him and others like him of dignity, humanity and, ultimately, life. The film's cool, reserved and utterly unsentimental style might sound at odds with the extremity of the subject matter, but it's all the more haunting for it. Stars Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Ed Stoppard and Frank Finlay.
PIGLET'S BIG MOVIE (G) Audiences may feel exhausted at the prospect of another journey into the Hundred Acre Woods and at the feeling they'd seen all the Heffalumps and Woozles they could handle. But director Francis Glebas does a remarkable job injecting a much-needed dose of reality into A.A. Milne's tales of honey-crazed bears and manic-depressive donkeys. Stepping out from behind Pooh's shadow, Piglet proves himself a uniquely gifted and engaging performer, bringing poignancy to this story of a piglet who feels unappreciated and overlooked by the friends who eventually understand how much they need him. Bring a hankie. —Felicia Feaster
THE QUIET AMERICAN (R) In a stunning one-two punch that began with Rabbit-Proof Fence, director Phillip Noyce follows through with this evocative Graham Greene adaptation, filled with the writer's trademark intrigue and sophisticated, world-weary wit. On the surface, the movie's a romantic triangle set in early 1950s Indochina, with titular quiet American Brendan Fraser moving in on Brit journalist Michael Caine's young Vietnamese mistress (the lovely Do Thi Hai Yen from Vertical Ray of the Sun). The woman's a not-so subtle stand-in for the country of Vietnam, of course (mistress to a variety of Westerners, colonized by the world), and the film plays out as an intimate account of the battle for her soul. The movie's elegantly mysterious atmosphere is due in large part to cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the Caucasian master of Asian imagery. Also stars Rade Serbedzija. 1/2
*SATANTANGO (NR) Simply put, Satantango is one of the greatest films ever made. Hungarian director Bela Tarr's seven hour opus focuses on a motley crew of East European farming collective members, using the characters' plotting and petty bickering as a reflection of the collapse of Communism, and repeating events from multiple perspectives and in what seems to be real time. Beyond that, the film is something of a mystical experience, as bleak as it is beautiful and as stunning a piece of filmmaking as you will ever see. An absolute must-attend event for anyone interested in cinema as great art. Plays at 6 p.m. on April 10 at the University of Tampa's Reeves Theatre, as part of the Tampa International Film Festival.
SHANGHAI GHETTO (NR) Unknown to many, a community of Jewish exiles hid in Shanghai, China, during World War II. Filmmakers Dana Janklowicz-Mann and Amir Mann revisit the Jewish Ghetto with their digital camera, capturing shots of places unchanged since World War II. With them were two former inhabitants who discuss their impressions. The film includes never-before-seen footage of Shanghai and explores how the Jewish exiles interacted with the Chinese and Japanese occupying army. Held over at Burns Court Cinema in Sarasota. Call to confirm. (Not reviewed)
SPIRITED AWAY (PG) This Academy Award-winning film from revered director Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro) unfolds a dream logic as memorable as that of Alice in Wonderland, which seems to be the model here. The film is a wonderfully odd, extended journey, in which a young girl named Chihiro watches her parents transform into pigs and then enters into a surreal world of giant babies, big-headed witches, wolf-dragons, enchanted balls of soot, and incredible spirits of all make and manner. It might be a bit too long or too unusual for some small children, but others are bound to be absolutely enthralled. My 3-and-a-half-year-old liked it almost as much as I did. An instant classic. Featuring the voices of Daveigh Chase (the weird girl in The Ring), Michael Chiklis and Jason Marsden. Playing at AMC Veterans and Muvico BayWalk. Call theaters to confirm.
TALK TO HER (NR) The "new" Almodovar all the way, a natural evolution of the more relaxed and emotionally direct approach that the director's been steadily honing over the past several years. It's a curiously restrained film for Almodovar, almost fragile in its way, but still bursting with life and fully informed by the juicy, overwrought passions and fabulous theatricality. In Talk to Her, Almodovar gives the male perspective for a change as two men express their love for women in comas. Almodovar skillfully zigzags through time, offering up strange little narrative detours and flashbacks within flashbacks but never allowing anything to get in the way of the movie's forward momentum. Stars Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti, Leonar Watling and Rosario Flores. Held over at Burns Court Cinema in Sarasota. Call to confirm. 1/2
TEARS OF THE SUN (R) Antoine Fuqua directs the carnage in a thriller that attacks with careful timing and impeccable pacing. From its tense beginning to gung-ho ending, Tears of the Sun promises much and nearly delivers. Bruce Willis stars as a career soldier sent into Central Africa to retrieve an American care worker in the middle of a bloody civil war. Inevitably reluctant to abandon her charges, Dr. Kendricks (Monica Bellucci) manages to convince Willis to hike for three days through the jungle, all the while pursued by a gang of heavily armed but expendable extras. Watching Willis go from hard-nosed soldier to humanitarian takes some doing, but thereafter Willis and his band of men deliver one of the most suspenseful war flicks in recent memory. Cinematographer Mauro Fiore delivers lovingly shot panoramas of the would-be victims, but the script is lacking. Fuqua fastidiously avoids the question of U.S. involvement in wars with humanitarian repercussions. Tears of the Sun is considerably more concerned about the horror of war than its bombastic and far less interesting cinematic contemporaries, but nonetheless still falls short of being the sensitive and shocking tour de force that it threatens to be. —DAVE STEVENSON
TILL HUMAN VOICES WAKE US (R) Guy Pearce stars in a man who returns to his hometown and finds he just can't get a childhood sweetheart out of his head. Only problem is she's dead. Also stars Helena Bonham Carter. (Not Reviewed)
VIEW FROM THE TOP (PG-13) Part Miss Congeniality, part Bring It On, View From the Top is Bruno Barreto's tale of a small-town girl who works her way up the flight attendant ladder. Mike Myers does his cross-eyed best to haul this average movie out of the quagmire but doesn't, and the upward mobility of Donna (Gwyneth Paltrow) is rarely matched by the movie itself. More a collection of passe stewardess jokes than an entirely self-supporting movie, A View From the Top is bighearted enough to transcend its slapdash approach to structure and script. Unfortunately, the bad casting, silly jokes and laughably improbable ending prove more difficult to transcend, leaving us with a frustrating misfire.
—Dave StevensonWHAT A GIRL WANTS (PG) Stuffy English stereotypes galore in this excruciating Romantic Comedy Writing 101 exercise from Dennie Gordon, who inflicts intelligence-insulting and blindingly obvious father-daughter humor by way of Daphne (Amanda Bynes), the illegitimate child of a New York hippy and her dad (Colin Firth), a distinguished MP. The British stereotypes fly thick and fast, from the crusty old grandmother to the rather charming British stuttering so perfected by Hugh Grant, but offered here by Firth. I laughed. I cried. I tried to fashion a crude noose from the threads of the theater seat. Firth does his level best with what little script and cooperation from the surrounding cast he gets and lends credibility and comic timing to an exercise that would barely even raise an eyebrow without him. What a Girl Wants isn't a bad idea for a film; it's tremendously warmhearted and well intended. The script is workable, and if some of the more heavy-handed Brit-stereotypes were ripped from the screenplay (and preferably stuffed down the throats of the writers), this would be the bubblegum-chewing crowd pleaser that it has the potential to be. —Dave Stevenson
WILLARD (PG-13) OK, let's see: Crispin Glover in full-blown fruitcake mode and a whole bunch of nasty rats. So how bad could it be? Unfortunately, a more appropriate question here is how good could it be? Glover stars in this remake of the 1971 oddity about a put-upon loner who cultivates rodents as friends. The movie's sufficiently pop-culture-savvy to toss around allusions not to the original Willard only but to everything from Psycho, The X-Files and Glover's own heavily baggaged on-screen persona, while retaining the grubby emotional essence of the original movie. Glover's well cast (although he often seems to think he's in a David Lynch film) and plays up his character's seething mass of pent-up rage to the hilt. The movie drags badly after its initial setup, though, largely because nothing much really happens. Also stars Laura Elena Herring, R. Lee Ermey and Jackie Burroughs. 1/2
—Reviewed entries by Lance Goldenberg unless otherwise noted