Ali (R) Sitting through all two-and-a-half hours of director Michael Mann's Ali is a lot like being locked in a small room with a feisty 8-year-old with Attention Deficit Disorder. Between the jittery, distracted style-gymnastics and a story line that flits willy-nilly from one event to another, Ali gives us a scattershot picture, at best, of this iconic figure. Will Smith is passable as Ali, but fails to bring the considerable grandeur, gravity and, frankly, raw charisma that this role demands. Also stars Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight and Mario Van Peebles.
Amelie (NR) Plucky, quintessentially quirky Amelie (saucer-eyed Audrey Tautou) spends her time choreographing good deeds and love connections for her neighbors and, eventually, herself. Amelie, which is as much a fairy tale as it is a cartoon, brims with imagination and emotion.
A Beautiful Mind (PG-13) A Russell Crowe performance that has Oscar written all over it is the main reason to see this atypically twisty Ron Howard production about an emotionally fragile genius whose life spins out of control in all sorts of unexpected ways. The movie takes so many curious detours, in fact, that it's difficult to describe without giving too much away. Suffice it to say that it's nice to see the director-formerly-known-as-Opie flexing his filmmaking muscles with something this interesting. The movie's later sections feel a little too close for comfort to a disease-of-the-week movie, and the whole thing could be shortened by at least 20 minutes, but A Beautiful Mind is still rarely less than engaging. And did we mention Russell Crowe's performance? Also stars Jennifer Connelly.
Beauty and the Beast (G) The modern Disney classic is alive with great scenes, songs and characters, and features a script by turns clever and emotionally resonant, and stripped down the essence of its timeless tale. Playing at IMAX Dome Theater and at Channelside Cinemas IMAX. Call theaters to confirm.
Beauty and the Beast (R) Yankee fly-boy Owen Wilson during a routine reconnaissance mission over Bosnia. Wilson then spends the entire movie on the run from his vicious pursuers while his NATO superiors bicker over the delicate particulars of his rescue. The movie has little depth, but director John Moore shoots the action in such a blatantly visceral, hyper-kinetic manner that we just can't look away.
The Birds (NR) Alfred Hitchock's classic horror tale of feathered fiends screens at the Tampa Theatre Sunday, Feb. 3, at 3 p.m.
Birthday Girl (R) The less one knows about Birthday Girl the more one is probably apt to enjoy it, so don't expect a full plot run-down here. Suffice it to say that the movie starts out being about the oddly touching romance between a bashful British bank clerk (Ben Chaplin) and his Russian mail order bride (Nicole Kidman), and then transforms into something quite different and, in its way, exciting. The movie's just kinky enough to keep us on our toes, and Kidman is marvelously expressive, especially considering she's either silent or speaking Russian for the entire first hour of the movie. The writing style is just a touch too glib and stage-bound to be completely effective as cinema (writer-director Jez Butterworth's roots are deep in the theatre, after all), but Birthday Girl is charming without being sappy, with more than its fair share of pleasant surprises. Also stars Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz. Opens Feb. 1 at local theaters.
Black Hawk Down (R) If you're one of those people who thinks that the opening 20-plus minutes of Saving Private Ryan is the most horrific — and therefore best — simulation of wartime combat ever captured on screen, then prepare to have the bar raised again. Black Hawk Down takes the opening sequence of Spielberg's modern war classic and basically extends it into a 143-minute movie, prolonging and amplifying the graphic intensity into a rush of sheer adrenaline and consummately crafted chaos. Black Hawk Down is basically just a breathless account of the last hours of a small group of American soldiers trapped deep within enemy territory in Somalia and brutally besieged by hordes of unseen enemies hell-bent on making them bleed. For most of the movie's running time, there is only noise, speed, fire, confusion and grimy bodies being blown apart. It's horrible and ugly and utterly undignified, and probably uncomfortably close to what it actually feels like being in the middle of a down-and-dirty shooting war in today's treacherous and tragically hostile world. The movie's agenda is a purely visceral one, putting us squarely into the fray, and Scott films it all in a pumped-up but gritty, claustrophobic manner that seems to suck all the air out of the room. Stars Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore and Sam Shephard.