Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area

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-Joe Bardi

POOH'S HEFFALUMP MOVIE (G) Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and company are back with some more important life lessons about the value of friendship, sharing and buying as many tickets as possible to Disney movies. Featuring the voices of Brenda Blethyn, Jim Cummings, Ken Sansom and David Ogden Stiers. (Not Reviewed)

RACING STRIPES (PG) A young girl adopts a baby zebra, introduces him to a farm full of wacky barnyard animals (all of whom can talk), and dreams of turning him into a champion racer. Featuring the voices of Frankie Muniz, Michael Clarke Duncan, Dustin Hoffman, Jeff Foxworthy and Whoopi Goldberg. (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. 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. 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 biopics. 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. Also stars Kerry Washington and Regina King. 1/2

RED LIGHTS (NR) Based on a novel by Georges Simenon, Red Lights is an austere, oddly gripping blend of mystery, marital drama and psychological thriller that's not quite any of those things. Director Cedric Kahn begins by focusing intently on his two main characters, an alcoholic husband and his somewhat frosty wife (Jean-Pierre Darrousin and Carole Bouquet), placing them in a car together in the middle of the night and simply watching the kinks and cracks in their marriage reveal themselves as their nocturnal ride progresses. The film goes in all sorts of unexpected directions from there, throwing a few more or less traditional scares our way (an escaped prisoner figures prominently in the proceedings), but mostly discovering its suspense in small details, silence, real time and other unlikely places. Kahn cops out with a lackluster final act, but the first two-thirds of Red Lights takes Sartre's "Hell is other people" line and runs with it, creating a delicately shaded atmosphere of tension and unease where all sorts of terrible things are not only possible but deliciously probable. The score by Debussy is a nice touch, too. Also stars Vincent Denlard.


THE SEA INSIDE (PG-13 A much-acclaimed performance by Javier Bardem is the centerpiece of this film by Chilean-born Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar (The Others). He plays a man paralyzed in a diving accident as a teenager who, after 26 years confined to his bed, insists on his right to die. (Not reviewed)

SIDEWAYS (R) Alexander Payne's latest film, like the director's previous About Schmidt, is a road movie that easily transcends its own sub-genre, a tragi-comic quest with no clear objectives but lots of priceless detours. There's no real end in sight, but it hardly matters; the fun is all in how we get there (or not). Sideways is also a buddy movie of sorts, a testosterone comedy that serves as a playful, sometimes painful and always spot-on dissection of the male psyche as it lurches toward middle age. The aging male buddies in question are a classic odd couple, depressed wannabe author Miles (Paul Giamatti) and cocky, washed-up actor Jack (Thomas Haden Church), two old pals spending some time together in California's wine country during the week before Jack's wedding. Also stars Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. Currently playing at Burns Court Cinemas.


SON OF THE MASK (PG) This sequel to the popular Jim Carrey special effects extravaganza doesn't seem to have been able to make up its mind about where to put its central narrative focus, so it wound up putting it everywhere. The movie zips around like an ADD kid, with a maximum of noise and a minimum of effectiveness, generating an uncomfortable fusion of kid-friendly fare (cute dogs, snot and pee-pee jokes) and more adult material ("hip" cameos by the likes of Stephen Wright and Ben Stiller, a story stuffed with raging oedipal complexes, and, despite the PG rating, a darker, meaner feel than the original). The movie is most successful in its middle sections, when it's aping Chuck Jones and Tex Avery with some outrageously cartoonish dog vs. baby battles, but the rest is mostly just sound and fury lite. And I'm sorry, but the movie's main special effect - a digitized dancing baby apparently scavanged from old Ally McBeal reruns - is just plain creepy. Also stars Alan Cumming and Traylor Howard.

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