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