ICE AGE 2: THE MELTDOWN (PG) The further adventures of Sid the Sloth and his lovable pals from the original Ice Age movie — Manny the wooly mammoth, Diego the saber-toothed tiger and that weird little over-caffeinated squirrel-thingie who's always obsessing about his nuts. In this installment, the weather appears to finally be warming up, and our furry heroes are having to adjust. Features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Dennis Leary, Drea de Matteo and Queen Latifah. Opens March 31 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)
NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD (PG) A simple and simply lovely portrait of an artist coming to terms with his life and his legacy, Neil Young: Heart of Gold is a concert film that even non-Young fans should admire. Director Jonathan Demme, employing an elegant, no-frills approach similar to what he accomplished with Stop Making Sense, puts us up close and personal with Young, documented in performance (over two nights in Nashville) right around the time the musician was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain aneurysm. There's not an electric guitar in sight, the back-up musicians are mostly longtime collaborators, and the feel is quiet, contemplative and wonderfully intimate, like a group of old friends playing songs in the living room by the fire. Young is in top form here, and the songs (mostly from the recent Prairie Wind, along with standards like "I Am a Child" and a devastating "Old Man") gently bring home homespun truths about family, love, mortality and the passing of time. I'll still take On the Beach or Zuma any day, but this is awfully fine stuff. Opens March 31 at Tampa Theatre. Call theater to confirm. 4 stars.
16 BLOCKS (PG-13) Bruce Willis plays a cynical NYPD vet with a bum leg, a drinking problem and a hairline that's receded back beyond the outer rings of Saturn. Mos Def's character, Eddie, is a somewhat simple-minded guy whose disposition is every bit as sunny as Willis' is terminally sour. Naturally, the two wind up on the run together, learning valuable life lessons from one another as they try to avoid legions of dirty cops trying to keep Eddie from testifying against one of their ranks. Willis isn't acting so much as retreading a slightly older, gloomier version of his stock type, and his performance is mainly defined by an ability to appear paunchy and shriveled simultaneously. Def affects a nasal, nerdy persona that makes us occasionally feel like we're watching Forrest Gump stuck in a Bruce Willis shoot-'em-up. Both actors remain curiously watchable, though — that's the eternal mystery of star power for you, folks — and even when the movie tests our patience with leaps in logic and lack of originality, 16 Blocks works fairly well as a tautly crafted feature-length chase, with just enough human drama to ground things in the end. Also stars David Morse, Conrad Pla and Cylk Cozart. 2.5 stars.
AQUAMARINE (PG) It's Splash for teens when a pair of starry-eyed 13-year-olds (Joanna Levesque and Emma Roberts) make friends with a totally hot mermaid looking for the meaning of true love. Also stars Sara Paxton and Jake McDorman. (Not Reviewed)
ASK THE DUST (R) Robert Towne returns to his old Chinatown stomping grounds — romantically seedy 1930s L.A. — but this time the legendary writer-director doesn't seem to have much of a clue as to what he's doing there. Most of Towne's new film is devoted to the weirdly passive-aggressive relationship of struggling writer Arturo Bandini (Colin Farrell) and Mexican sexpot Camilla (Salma Hayek), but the filmmaker doesn't seem to have a handle on either of his characters or on the dynamics of their relationship, which seems to change from moment to moment. It's nearly impossible to figure out what's going on with Farrell and Hayek, but all of the characters in Ask the Dust manage to behave in ways that are enormously odd without being particularly interesting or appealing. Everyone speaks in a stilted, stagey way that bears no resemblance to the way people talk in real life, as the movie flits from self-consciously enigmatic musings on the vaguely sado-masochistic relationship of its leads, to weighing in on social ills such as discrimination. Nothing really connects to anything else, the tone shifts from irony to deadly seriousness with no warning and, frankly, it's all so scattershot that it's hard to know what to make of any of it. Also stars Donald Sutherland, Idina Menzel and Eileen Atkins. Held over at Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. Call theater to confirm. 2 stars
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (R) As nearly everyone in North America has probably heard by now, Ang Lee's new movie is the epic tale of two rough and tumble cowboys who discover, to their great amazement, that they only have eyes for each other. A delicate study in repressed emotions, Brokeback Mountain follows the star-crossed Jack and Ennis (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) over the years, through loveless marriages, failed attempts to forget one another, and covert reunions where passions are quickly reignited. If it's subtext you're after, there's subtext aplenty here; American iconography inevitably takes on interesting new shapes while the whole movie occasionally feels like a vintage Douglas Sirk melodrama-cum-social-critique, gently massaged into a realm where men and women have so little interest in one another that they can't even be bothered with the so-called war of the sexes. At root, though, Brokeback is something profound in its simplicity, a deliriously romantic and deeply elegiac tale of a love that dares not speak its name. Also stars Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway and Randy Quaid. 4.5 stars