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.
Brotherhood of the Wolf (R) Imagine a vintage '60s Hammer horror flick starring Peter Cushing, albeit a buffed-up, ass-kicking Cushing trading moves with Bruce Lee (or even Jet Li), and with production credits shared by Merchant-Ivory and John Woo. That's The Brotherhood of the Wolf, a big-budget French import constructed from elements that will appeal to art film buffs and popcorn movie fans alike, although for completely different reasons. Taking as its source a famous French legend, Brotherhood takes place circa 1765 in rural area in France being terrorized by what is said to be a monstrous, wolf-like creature. Hot on the beast's trail are the naturalist Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan, sporting a tres unfortunate David Lee Roth coiffure) and his Iroquois blood brother Mani (Mark Dacascos of Crying Freeman fame) — both of whom just happen to be world-class kung-fu experts. The fighters all move like dancers (thanks in no small part to the efforts of veteran martial arts choreographer Philip Kwok), and the camera takes it all in from an assortment of oddly stylish angles and artful, stop-and-start motion techniques equal parts Guy Ritchie, John Woo and The Matrix. Some of the special effects are a bit cheesy and the movie's overall shape ultimately feels a bit ungainly, but Brotherhood is generally very entertaining as it cruises along juggling genres, genetically engineering arthouse, kitsch and popcorn sensibilities. Also stars Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci and Jeremie Renier.
Charlotte Gray (PG-13) Cate Blanchett stars as a Scottish woman searching for her missing lover while on a secret mission in German-occupied France during World War II. Also stars John Benfield and Ron Cook.
The Count of Monte Cristo (PG-13) Director Kevin Reynold's big screen adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic plays even more like a Cliffs Notes version than we might have imagined, although that doesn't necessarily make the film unwatchable. The movie looks good, the action scenes are fairly well choreographed and some of the performances are worth a look. Jim Caviezel, in the title role, starts off typically wispy and whiny and grows believably more confident as the story unfolds, while Guy Pearce makes one of the most memorable screen villains since Tim Roth in Rob Roy or Gary Oldman in almost anything (he's as malevolently regal as Brian Jones in his dark prime). Also stars Michael Winnicot, effectively demonstrating that he might well have been the best choice to play DeSade in Quills.
Gosford Park (PG-13) Just a few years shy of his eighth decade of life, Robert Altman has ventured into virgin territory once more in Gosford Park, although the results lack the fire and sheer imagination of Altman's best works. Gosford Park is Altman's spin on one of those English dramas where a bunch of well-heeled types congregate at someone's swanky country estate for the weekend and, eventually, someone gets murdered. The characters are intriguing, the ensemble cast wonderful, but it all peters out in the last act. Gosford Park is rarely less than entertaining, but the film frequently seems a touch too rigid in a way that's at odds with this unique filmmaker's real strengths. Stars Emily Watson, Ryan Phillippe and Helen Mirren.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (PG) A wizard, a true star. Living up to the hype in almost every way, Chris Columbus' big screen adaptation of the first Harry Potter book is a rousing blend of fantasy, mystery, action and pure charm that puts the film in a league with modern adventure classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark or the original Star Wars trilogy.
Heist (R) David Mamet is back with a crowd he clearly loves — con artists and crooks — but don't expect the metaphysical mind games of The Spanish Prisoner or House of Games this time around. Heist is about as close to a no-frills action movie as Mamet's likely to come, with a number of set pieces revolving around finely tuned robberies, and a relative minimum of angst or stylized chat (although it does contain its share of prime Mametspeak).
How High (R) Rappers Redman and Method Man smoke weed that has the effect of making them so smart they can get into Harvard. When their stash runs out, they're left to fend for themselves in the elite halls of higher education.
I Am Sam (PG-13) Sean Penn gives Dustin Hoffman a run for his money, offering up a respectable Rain Man routine in the otherwise unremarkable I Am Sam. Penn plays a lovable, mentally challenged adult who struggles with being a single father to a 7-year old girl who's smarter than he is. The movie alternates between father-daughter moments of teeth-tingling sweetness and overblown scenes in which Sam becomes traumatized by new situations, switching gears midway through to focus on a troubled yuppie lawyer (Michele Pfeiffer) who takes on Sam's case when his daughter's taken away. The movie's intentions seem to start out from a halfway respectable place, but the film soon winds up tripping all over itself in a rush to push our buttons. Weirder yet, in a bizarre effort to give the movie the veneer of toughness or artistic credibility, the film is shot with a jumpy, handheld camera that's all over the place (possibly in an over-obvious attempt to mirror Sam's own perpetually disoriented state). The mock cinema verite aesthetic couldn't be more out of place with the blatant emotional manipulation and generally syrupy tone of the movie. Also stars Dianne Wiest and Dakota Fanning.
Impostor (PG-13) In the not-too-distant future, a patriotic weapons designer (Gary Sinise) finds himself the object of a massive manhunt when authorities come to believe that he's a cyborg assassin planted by nasty aliens. For the most part, Impostor is dull, murky looking, confusingly shot and features the worst performance by the normally dependable Vincent D'Onofrio. Also stars Madeline Stowe.
In the Bedroom (R) A remarkable drama by turns subtle and fearsomely intense, Todd Fields' directorial debut always seems to be one step ahead of our expectations. In a manner strangely similar to that of another very good recent American film, The Deep End, most of what's truly intriguing about In the Bedroom lies just below the surface and is gradually revealed in a sly, sure way that invests every detail with maximum impact and mystery. Fields' thoroughly character-driven film introduces us to a handful of small-town folks (mostly the members of a white collar family living in a predominantly blue collar New England town) and then, just when we think we've figured out who and what the movie's about, we find the rug's been pulled out from under us and the movie's main focus is really somewhere else entirely.
Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius (G) It takes a little while for this computer-animated feature from Nickelodeon to find its groove, but once it does, it rarely lets us down. The brisk little romp of a story will appeal to adults almost as much as to kids (a pint-size savant with a hairdo like a scoop of softserve leads a rescue mission for alien-abducted parents) and it all cruises along nicely on a steady stream of nifty 3-D visuals and highly entertaining gags. Directed by John A. Davis.
Joe Somebody (PG-13) Lost-in-the-crowd loser Joe Sheffer (Tim Allen) finds himself slapped around by the office bully (Patrick Warburton, a.k.a. Puddy from Seinfeld). To save face he challenges the thug to a rematch and suddenly becomes the office star.
Kate and Leopold (PG-13) A retro fairy tale (fashioned as a sci-fi love story) designed to have us yearning for a kinder, gentler time when chivalry wasn't dead and men charged to the rescue of women on speedy white steeds. Meg Ryan stars as successful but emotionally frustrated modern-day businesswoman who falls for a well-mannered 19th century duke (Hugh Jackman) who mysteriously materializes in her apartment building one day. The film is ridiculous but just charming enough to offer some pleasure.
Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (PG-13) The martial arts genre gets the broad spoof treatment — a la Scary Movie — but with reportedly not the same level of skill. The plot, such as it is, revolves around a guy called The Chosen One who sets out to avenge his parents' death at the hands of an evil kung fu legend.
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (PG-13) The first of Peter Jackson's long-awaited adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy succeeds on just about every level it's supposed to. For virtually its entire three-hour running time, Jackson's epic fantasy keeps us happily immersed in the stuff of legends, sort of like a Harry Potter for grown-ups.
The Majestic (PG-13) Jim Carrey stars as a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter who loses his memory and winds up washed ashore in an idyllic little town where he's mistaken for a long lost war hero. Carrey's character soon discovers that it's a wonderful life — only problem is it isn't his. This latest effort by director Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption) has its heart solidly in the right place, but the movie seems to just coast along on elaborate padding and sugary frills.
The Man Who Wasn't There (R) The Man Who Wasn't There is about as close to classic film noir as the Coen Brothers have ever come (Blood Simple included) albeit with a few flying saucers and Lolita-esque nymphets thrown in, just to screw with our heads. Billy Bob Thornton is just about perfect as a milquetoast husband trapped in a loveless marriage and a joyless job, while Roger Deakins' black-and-white photography is lush and mesmerizing.
Maze (R) Rob Morrow, the doc in Northern Exposure, wrote, directed and stars in this reportedly touching story of an artist with Tourette's syndrome who falls in love with his best friend's pregnant girlfriend. Also stars Laura Linney and Craig Sheffer.
Monsters, Inc. (G) Imagination runs rampant in the best possible way in this latest animated treat from the folks at Pixar Studios (Toy Story 1 & 2, A Bug's Life). Cute, likable monsters that is, who belong to a community of multi-shaped beasties who accidentally come into contact with one of the adorable little children they're charged with scaring.
The Mothman Prophecies (PG-13) Welcome to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, creepiest little community outside of Twin Peaks. Strange things have begun happening here — people having visions, folks bleeding from the ears and eyes, mysterious messages foretelling the future, not to mention the occasional eight-foot tall winged creature turning up in the back yard. Richard Gere plays a Washington Post reporter who's sucked right into the mystery, and Laura Linney is the local cop at his side. The movie starts and ends on a fairly predictable, even generic note, although in between there's enough odd and unsettling atmosphere to keep us mildly interested. Bottom line is the film would have made a much better half-hour Twilight Zone episode. Also stars Will Patton and Alan Bates.
Mulholland Drive (R) David Lynch's latest exercise in non-linear dream logic features an amnesiac woman dubbed Rita (Laura Harring) and her perky friend Betty (Naomi Watts) playing Nancy Drew in an effort to discover who the memory-challenged lass is. The material that comprises Mulholland Drive isn't exactly what might be called fascinating in and of itself, but there's a relentless, slow-motion car-crash momentum at work here that's highly watchable. Also stars Ann Miller and Dan Hedaya.
Not Another Teen Movie (R) A spoof of all those teen-of-the-month-movies, from the spoof specialists responsible for Scary Movie, and pretty much in the same mold. Just about every convention and cliche of every teen movie of the last few years is skewered, with humor that veers from the extremely raunchy boobs and bodily function variety. Some of the jokes hit home, but t after 45 minutes or so we're ready for it to be over.
Ocean's Eleven (PG-13) Steven Soderbergh's briskly entertaining remake of the 1960 Rat Pack vehicle is about as disposable as the original but, as with the original, it's so much fun you'll hardly notice. About all that really happens here is the planning and execution of an elaborate Las Vegas casino heist, but Soderbergh stages and shoots the action with such an appealingly economic style and immediacy that we find ourselves sucked right into the proceedings.
Orange County (PG-13) A smart surferboy has just 24 hours to get into his dream college by proving that his high school guidance counselor accidentally sent in the wrong transcripts. Stars Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Catherine O'Hara and Lily Tomlin.
The Royal Tenenbaums (PG-13) Tragedy has rarely been so much fun as in this latest black comedy extravaganza from director Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore). This time out, Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson (who also stars) give us the epic tale of the rise and fall of a brilliant, relentlessly bizarre and fatally damaged American family — the cumulative effect of the film being a sort of cross between The Magnificent Ambersons, a J.D. Salinger short story and The Addams Family.
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (PG) An engaging mix of history, drama, fascinating archival footage and breathtaking, state-of-the-art photography, Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure tells the incredible true tale of an epic battle for survival in the wake of a failed expedition to cross Antarctica in 1914.
Slackers (R) A terminally obnoxious nerd (Rushmore's Jason Schwartzman) threatens to expose a trio of college con artists unless they hook him up with the girl of his dreams. Outside of a few scattered moments of inexplicable savvy, this is an astonishingly inept and unfunny comedy in which perhaps one joke out of every 10 manages to not fall flat on its face. The movie is filled with the requisite poop, fart and blow-job jokes, but still can't quite seem to make up its mind if it wants to be an American Pie-styled gross-out comedy or something more meaningful. It's not very good at either. Also stars Devon Sawa, James King and Jason Segel. Opens Feb. 1 at local theaters.
The Shipping News (PG-13) A film about the ties that bind and blast families apart, director Lasse Hallstrom's dysfunctional dish du jour stars Kevin Spacey as an aimless screw-up who takes off with his aunt and young daughter to make a new start in the frozen expanses of his family's old stomping grounds, Newfoundland. The Shipping News doesn't add up to all that much, but the movie delivers an engaging and often mysterious atmosphere. Also stars Cate Blanchett.
Sing-Along Sound of Music (G) This interactive theater experience guarantees to be a hit with gay men, drama geeks and just about anyone else who secretly belts out Climb Every Mountain in the shower. What it entails: The musical numbers in The Sound of Music are subtitled in English (lo siento, amigos) for the audience to sing along to. For those of you who don't know this movie ... insert puzzled look here ... it's the 1965 Academy Award-winning, Rodgers and Hammerstein classic about a single dad, his impertinent ex-nun nanny and Nazis. Other tunes include the famous title track, My Favorite Things and 16 Going on 17. Stars handsome man Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews as the saucy babysitter who gets crafty with curtains. Watch and sing in the splendiferous glory of Tampa Theatre, but be sure to down a few stiff ones at the nearby Hub beforehand for optimum camp enjoyment. The premiere benefit opening of this special feature is Jan. 31 at Tampa Theatre. $20. Regular run begins Feb. 14. Call 813-274-8981 for more info.
Snow Dogs (PG) Cuba Gooding Jr. plays a Miami dentist who inherits a team of sled dogs, and must learn to race them or lose the pack to a grizzled old mountain man.
Vanilla Sky (R) Tom Cruise chews up the screen in this faithful-to-a-fault remake of a Spanish cult film about a self-obsessed playboy who finds reality and fantasy blurring after he's involved in a terrible accident.
A Walk to Remember (PG) High school romance between the coolest guy in class (Shane West) and a preacher's daughter (pop star Mandy Moore). Also stars Peter Coyote and Daryl Hannah.
—Reviewed entries by Lance Goldenberg unless otherwise noted.