Half Past Dead
Halloween: Resurrection
Hanging Up
Happy, Texas
Harry Potter... Chamber...
Harry Potter...Philosopher's
Hart's War
Head of State
Head Over Heels
Hearts in Atlantis
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Here on Earth
High Crimes
High Fidelity
Hollow Man
Hollywood Ending
Holy Smoke!
Hot Chick, the
Hours, the
House of Mirth, the
House on Haunted Hill
How High
How to Lose a Guy...
Hunchback of Notre Dame II
Hunted, the
Hurricane, the

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Archived Video Reviews (H)

Steven Seagal, Morris Chestnut, Ja Rule, Kurupt, Nia Peeples, Claudia Christian, June McPherson, Tony Plana, Mo'Nique
Directed by: Don Michael Paul
Action, 98 min (14A) (Columbia Tristar, 2002)

Teaming with rapper DMX in the moderately commercial (though hardly critical) hit Exit Wounds (2001) artificially extended Steven Seagal's long-dormant theatrical career, but the same formula brings even smaller returns with Half Past Dead, a ludicrous actioner that pairs Seagal with rap stars Ja Rule and Kurupt. Seagal, moving with all the grace and energy of an intoxicated bear, plays a Russian (!) inmate in the new Alcatraz who gets caught up in a scheme involving a group of thugs (led by Seagal's Under Siege 2 costar Morris Chestnut) who have broken into the prison to locate millions of dollars worth of stolen gold. When you get right down to it, though, it is Seagal's stunt doubles that appear to be doing most of the work here since watching the bloated ex-action star lumber and mumble around, he barely seems able to walk, let alone kick butt. For what it is worth, Ja Rule does add some energy to the project as Seagal's buddy, but this is such ridiculous action cheese - featuring, among other inanities, perky Nia Peeples as a supposedly heartless villainess and a prison set that looks about as high tech as a station wagon - that the film never accomplishes anything besides living up to its title. Bury this one in an unmarked grave. (top) (back)

Jamie Lee Curtis, Busta Rhymes, Tyra Banks, Bianca Kajlich, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Sean Patrick Thomas, Brad Loree
Directed by: Rick Rosenthal
Horror, 89 min (18A) (Dimension, 2002)

You can't keep a good villain down and, as this eighth edition in the Halloween saga illustrates, you can't keep a bad one down either. Long since stripped of the spooky presence he once had in 1978's Halloween, masked knife-man Michael Myers is now as decrepit and dull as Friday the 13th's Jason, a one-note boogeyman too old to be stalking teenagers and too dull to warrant any more chills. In this boneheaded sequel - so idiotic it rips off the spectacularly bad Blair Witch sequel Book of Shadows - Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks play Web entrepreneurs who enlist a group of nubile, fame-hungry teenagers (including Bianca Kajlich and Sean Patrick Thomas) to spend Halloween night in Myers' old childhood home while their activities are broadcast on-line. Since it turns out that the man Jamie Lee Curtis beheaded in 1998's Halloween: H20 wasn't actually Myers (don't you hate it when that happens?), one doesn't have to put much effort into predicting where this is going, namely stabbings, beheadings, sex and blood all live for an Internet audience. Directed by Rick Rosenthal, who also had the dubious honors with 1981's Halloween II, Resurrection is about as lifeless and rote as slasher movies get. Die Michael die. (top) (back)

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Venora, Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Steve Zahn, Bill Murray, Sam Shepard
Directed by:
Michael Almereyda
Drama, 111 min
(14A) (Miramax, 2000)

Many time-altering interpretations of Shakespearean works tend to get by on sheer inventiveness alone (1996's Romeo + Juliet, 1999's Titus), but director Michael Almereyda wants more than to update Hamlet for modern-day Manhattan - he wants to reimagine it for our media-soaked times. As a result, the Danish prince bent on revenge is now a moody video artist (Ethan Hawke) whose murdered father (Sam Shepard) was the CEO of the mighty Danish corporation and who's businessman uncle (Kyle MacLachlan) recently married his mother (Diane Venora). Among the talented cast, Hawke proves to be the biggest disappointment - offering a monotonous performance only occasionally fuelled with rage or sorrow - but, for the most part, Almereyda's vision works to spin the original play into new directions. Among his more inspired touches: setting Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy in the action section of a Blockbuster, Hamlet's use of an shocking short film to expose his uncle's guilt, and the concept of envisioning Polonius (Bill Murray) as a corporate weasel who uses wiretaps on his own daughter Ophelia (Julia Stiles). (top) (back)

Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow, Walter Matthau, Adam Arkin, Cloris Leachman, Jesse James
Directed by:
Diane Keaton
Drama, 95 min
(PG) (Columbia Tristar, 2000)

From the posters and advertisements for Hanging Up, one might expect the film to be a fast and loose female comedy along the lines of The First Wives Club. But oh, how looks can be deceiving. Although Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton and Lisa Kudrow all get prominent billing, this slow-moving and sentimentally bloated picture doesn’t focus on the relationship between its kooky sisters so much as the struggle of one of those sisters (Ryan) to cope with the wild mood swings of her ailing father (Walter Matthau). Directed by Keaton from a semi-autobiographical screenplay by Delia and Nora Ephron, the film doesn’t contain a single moment that rings true and none of the emotions run deeper than the superficial mark. Ryan, Keaton and Kudrow are all talented actresses, but the screenplay stifles any humour they may bring to the picture and most of their scenes are linked by endless telephone conversations. Hang up already. (top) (back)

Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Giancarlo Giannini, Ray Liotta, Gary Oldman, Frankie Faison, Zeljko Ivanek, Francesca Neri
Directed by:
Ridley Scott
Suspense, 131 min (18A) (MGM, 2001)

Considering the critical acclaim of The Silence of the Lambs, it could have easily been predicted that this gruesome sequel, based on the novel by Thomas Harris, would disappoint. What is surprising is the fact that, for the most part, the filmmakers here seem to have forgotten what made 1991 picture so successful in the first place. In Silence, Jonathan Demme drew a lingering nightmare intensity from the mind-bending relationship between psychiatrist-turned-psycho cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and steely FBI agent Clarice Sterling (Jodie Foster in Silence, Julianne Moore here). For much of Hannibal, however, Lecter and Sterling are on different continents, with Lecter on the loose in Italy and Sterling back on his trail after 10 years. Because of the characters' almost separate stories, Hannibal offers little sense of impending terror, with director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) dishing out gore instead of complex psychological interaction and never really overcoming the pointless of the entire story. That's not to say Hannibal is without its rewards - there are some genuine thrills, all of them filmed beautifully, and the performances are top-rate - it is just that, considering this film's pedigree, it all should have been much tastier. (top) (back)

Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn, William H. Macy, Ally Walker, Illeana Douglas, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainley
Directed by:
Mark Illsley
Comedy, 98 min
(14A) (Miramax, 1999)

It's too formula-driven to be a runaway success, but an inspired comic cast ensures that this southern-fried comedy has its share of 10-gallon laughs. The Winslow Boy's Jeremy Northam and the wonderfully zany Steve Zahn (Out of Sight) play a couple of Texas convicts who break out of prison, highjack an RV, and wind up posing as a couple of gay pageant directors in order to rob a small town bank. There's a little romance along the way (Northam falls for Ally Walker's bank teller, Zahn for Illeana Douglas' sexually hungry school teacher) and all of the principal actors are so spirited that it is easy to get caught up in the hijinks. Among the standouts are Zahn, who buzzes about with against-the-grain comic timing, and a blissfully touching William H. Macy as the nice-guy local sheriff. Happy, Texas may have an uneven screenplay that restricts the comedy from reaching extremely silly heights, but it is certainly entertaining enough to leave you feeling, well, happy. (top) (back)

- C
Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, D.B. Sweeney, John Hawkes, DeWayne Warren, Mike McGlone, Julian Griffith, Michael Perkins
Directed by: Brian Robbins
Comedy, 106 min (PG) (Paramount, 2001)

After having only recently paid tribute to/ripped off the Bad News Bears with The Replacements, Keanu Reeves returns to the ragtag-group-learns-to-act-as-a-team-and-emerge-victorious genre with Hardball, a baseball-in-the-ghetto tale that may be inspired by a true story, but reeks of only-in-the-movies clichés. Reeves plays Conor O'Neill, a compulsive gambler who, in desperate need of some money, agrees to coach a group of underprivileged kids from the Chicago projects. There's far more inner-city grit here than you would find in, say, The Mighty Ducks, but Hardball is just as simplistic and formulaic as that earlier film, spending far more time hitting every play in the book (the coach's redemption in the hands of his team, a pointless romance with schoolteacher Diane Lane, the trip to a major league game…) than attempting to bring depth or a novel idea to the predictable story. Reeves, taking a step down following his terrifying work in The Gift, is outperformed here by the young cast, even if most of the young actors are playing standard sports movie "types" instead of characters. The MVP trophy here goes to little DeWayne Warren, a pint-sized scene-stealer who contributes more than his share of laughs and some genuine heart. (top) (back)

Daniel Radcliffe, Kenneth Branagh, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Drama, 161 min (PG) (Warner Bros., 2002)

Fans of Harry Potter and the entire gang at Hogwarts have every reason to rejoice: though affected by many of the same limitations as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (particularly an unwarranted epic running time and occasionally constrained direction by Chris Columbus), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is an altogether more magical, looser and better effort than the first film in the series. Daniel Radcliffe, starting to resemble a young John Lennon in his round spectacles, leads the returning cast of wizards and Muggles as Harry, legendary boy of magic, best friend to Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson), and second year student at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft. There's a sinister evil at work this semester, however, and the ethnic cleansing overtone of J.K. Rowling's novel adds new layers of darkness and shadow to the characters. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson have developed into a charming team and British acting heavyweights such as Richard Harris, Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman return as members of the Hogwarts faculty, but here they are all overshadowed by the scene-stealing antics of a hilariously egocentric Kenneth Branagh as Harry's new teacher, a grinning Dr. Phil figure for the magic crowd. (top) (back)

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ian Hart
Directed by:
Christopher Columbus
Drama, 152 min (PG) (Warner Bros., 2001)

It may fall shy of being a Wizard of Oz of its time, but Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (known as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the US) is nonetheless an enchanting and magical interpretation of the first installment in J.K. Rowling's wildly popular book series about a boy wizard. Daniel Radcliffe has welcome maturity and self-possession as Harry, a bespectacled orphan with a Dickens-like background who learns he is a wizard and heads to an elite school for the magic-inclined. As Harry's new friends Hermoine Granger and Ron Weasley, newcomers Emma Watson and Rupert Grint prove to be skilled scene-stealers, and there is expert, wizened support by established actors like Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman as the authority figures at the school. One could quibble that, at 2 hours and 22 minutes, the film has its draggy spots and that the proficient direction by Christopher Columbus (Home Alone) occasionally feels more constrained by Rowling's story than inspired by it, but such thoughts matter little when it comes to such a fun-filled, beguiling, dazzling and yes, even heartwarming, piece of entertainment. Potter fans of all ages will eat it up like Harry's Every Flavour Jelly Beans. (top) (back)

- B-
Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard, Cole Hauser, Vicellous Shannon, Marcel Iures, Linus Roache, Rory Cochrane
Directed by:
Gregory Hoblit
Drama, 125 min (14A) (MGM, 2002)

The ads for Hart's War may make it look like another battle-heavy war film along the lines of Black Hawk Down, but the filmmakers here had other plans, crossing Stalag 17 with A Few Good Men, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Great Escape and a fairly blunt message about racial tolerance. Needless to say, this is a bit too much for this competent but unfocused drama to handle. Set in 1944 Belgium, the film focuses on Lt. Thomas Hart (Colin Farrell), a U.S. Senator's son and law student who is captured by German troops and transported to a German POW camp also holding career soldier Col. William McNamara (Bruce Willis). About an hour in, the film's central story finally kicks into gear when a racist prisoner is murdered and an African-American pilot (Terrence Howard) is accused of the crime. The Germans allow for a court-martial, with Hart acting as defense, and the film evolves into heavy-handed courtroom drama about honor, courage and race. Willis' Unbreakable-style minimalist performance contributes little to the proceedings, but Farrell (Tigerland) sustains one's attention and, even when the screenplay shoots off in a multitude of directions, the staging by Frequency director Gregory Hoblit is competent and earnest. (top) (back)

Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, Dylan Baker, Lynn Whifield, Robin Givens, Tamala Jones, James Rebhorn, Tracy Morgan, Stephanie March
Directed by: Chris Rock
Comedy, 95 min (14A) (Dreamworks, 2003)

As anyone who has seen one of Chris Rock's standup performances can tell you, this is one comedian with real wit, a real voice and real stinging venom (especially when compared to something like the one-note concert film Martin Lawrence: Runteldat). Problem is, Rock has yet to find a vehicle that doesn't render his voice rather toothless and, unfortunately, this complaint even extends over to Head of State, a political comedy that marks Rock's debut as a writer-director. Taking its cues - and, unfortunately, a bulk of its laughs - from Eddie Murphy's The Distinguished Gentleman (1992) and Warren Beatty's Bulworth (1998), the slapdash Head of State casts Rock as a Washington, D.C., alderman who is enlisted to run for President. You see, the political party bigwigs figure it is a losing battle, so having an African-American candidate will only help gain support for the long-term future. Of course, it is only so long before Mays has all those stuffy white people getting jiggy with it, but Rock's satire is generally too predictable and tame, with the big laughs in the screenplay all having been exhausted in the trailers. The one exception: Bernie Mac as Rock's running mate/older brother, whose just shrewd enough not to get washed out by the screenplay. (top) (back)

Monica Potter, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah O'Hare, Shalom Harlow, Ivana Milicevic, Tomiko Fraser, China Chow, Raoul Ganeev
Directed by:
Mark Waters
Comedy, 87 min (PG) (Universal, 2001)

If there is one thing Freddie Prinze Jr. has going for him (that is, aside from that innocent smile), it is consistency. Not only does he give the same wooden performance in film after film, but each of his recent pictures (Down to You, Boys and Girls and now this) shares a common trait: they are all awful romantic comedies that show little understanding of romance or comedy. In Head Over Heels (which reteams Prinze with his House of Yes director Mark Waters), the actor plays Jim, a fashion executive in the midst of a blooming romance with a lovelorn art restorer (Monica Potter). Their relationship takes a twist, however, when Potter's character begins to believe that Jim may be a cold-blooded murderer and she enlists her dim supermodel roommates to help her find out the truth. As written, directed and performed, however, the twist in the romance doesn't make the film any more interesting, offering only a lame, Rear Window-esque variation on an extremely familiar romance, overused comic devices, crass bathroom humour, and a climax so ludicrous you don't want to laugh, but rather shake your head in disbelief. The likeable Potter, destined to someday be cast as Julia Roberts' younger sister, deserves better. (top) (back)

Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Gene Hackman, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee, Nora Dunn, Anne Bancroft, Kevin Nealon
Directed by:
David Mirkin
Comedy, 122 min (14A) (MGM, 2001)

Thirteen years after Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, it is time for women to really get into the con game and this light but amusing comedy brings us the cleavage and mini-skirts of a mother-daughter con artist duo. Sigourney Weaver, seething with contempt for all mankind, plays the resourceful mother, a well-aged knockout that marries wealthy men then, with the help of her flirtatious daughter (Jennifer Love Hewitt), catches them in compromising situations that promise quick divorce settlements. Heartbreakers focuses on two of their marks, Ray Liotta's hot-headed chop-shop owner and Gene Hackman's wheezing, tobacco-obsessed old coot, and director David Mirkin (Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion) lets all of the actors have real fun with their roles, with Weaver's Working Girl bitchiness and Hewitt's sex-kitten features playing well off of Liotta's short-fuse and Hackman's hilarious grotesqueness. When Hewitt's character falls for a sweet beach bum (Almost Famous' Jason Lee), Heartbreakers unfortunately loses a lot of comic momentum, exchanging naughty laughs for soft romance and familiar coming-of-age conflict, but even at its most uneven, Heartbreakers has enough laughs to be a pleasant cinematic escape. (top) (back)

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin, Hope Davis, Mika Boorem, David Morse, Alan Tudyk, Tom Bower, Celia Weston, Adam Lefevre
Directed by:
Scott Hicks
Drama, 101 min (PG) (Warner Bros., 2001)

It's the sentimental Stand By Me side of Stephen King (as opposed to the spooky Carrie or ghastly Pet Semetary sides) that steps up to the plate with Hearts in Atlantis, a nostalgia-drenched King-adaptation that lays on the coming-of-age clichés with a trowel (first kiss, new bicycle, beloved baseball glove), but has real poignance in its central relationship. The Remains of the Day side of Anthony Hopkins (as opposed to his menacing Hannibal side) plays a secretive mystery man who rents out the attic room in the home of Bobby (Anton Yelchin), an 11-year-old with a deceased father and cold mother (Hope Davis). Before long, a friendship is established between the codger and the boy and Bobby becomes witness to the older man's ability to read the minds of everyone he encounters. Scott Hicks, who last worked on the ponderous Snow Falling on Cedars (1999), directs Hearts in Atlantis at a snail's pace, never suitably building upon Hopkins' mystical abilities, and the eventual appearance of the "low men" tracking him down is a bunch of hooey. That said, thank heavens for Hopkins, who instills the entire picture with a quiet dignity and establishes a vivid, comforting sense of feeling with the curly-topped young Yelchin. (top) (back)

John Cameron Mitchell, Stephen Trask, Andrea Martin, Miriam Shor, Michael Pitt, Michael Aronau, Alberta Watson
Directed by:
John Cameron Mitchell
Musical, 91 min (18A) (Fine Line, 2001)

The easiest way to explain this Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert-meets-This is Spinal Tap rock musical is to start with the title. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is an "internationally ignored" Pan-Slavic band. Hedwig is the lead singer and songwriter, an East German-born, emotionally lost rock fan once known as Hansel. The angry inch is what is left of Hansel's manhood following a botched sex change operation. Following Hedwig from her upbringing in a communist country to her marriage with an American GI that left her stranded in a Kansas trailer park to her relationship with a confused teenager (Dawson's Creek's Michael Pitt) who stole all of her ideas to become a rock star, Hedwig is one heck of a trippy adventure, but it is also as exhilarating, foot-tapping, and heartbreakingly touching as anything Baz Luhrmann kicked up in Moulin Rouge. Director John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote the original Off Broadway play with songwriter Stephen Trask and dons layers of makeup and hair to play Hedwig, does a magnificent job here of opening up the source material for film, making terrific use of lilting animated offshoots and stirring everything into a dazzling, dizzying, and undeniably original piece of work. (top) (back)

Starring: Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay, Patti Lupone
Directed by:
David Mamet
Suspense, 109 min (14A) (Warner Bros., 2001)

As it was with The Score and Sexy Beast, it's time once again for a "one last score" heist picture, this time courtesy of David Mamet, a writer-director who, in such head-trips as The Spanish Prisoner (1998) and House of Games (1987), has shown that he is more than capable of handling the mind-games and reverse cons that usually mark the genre. Problem is, Mamet gets so caught up in the double-, triple- and quadruple-crosses in Heist that the film eventually lands slightly off the mark, a real shame considering the skills on display here with regards to the screenplay and performances. Gene Hackman stars as Joe Moore, an aging professional thief who wants nothing more than to retire peacefully and hit the seas with his wife (Mamet's spouse, Rebecca Pidgeon). Joe's powder-keg fence (Danny DeVito), however, has different plans and, before long, Joe is on another job with his usual gang and a firecracker new addition (Galaxy Quest's Sam Rockwell). Eventually the story twists become tiresome, but the key element here is the screenplay, dotted as it is with bullets of witty tough-guy dialogue ("He's so cool, sheep count him") that really allow the actors to shine. Hackman and DeVito in particular are working at the top of their games here. (top) (back)

Chris Klein, Leelee Sobieski, Josh Hartnett, Bruce Greenwood, Annette O'Toole, Michael Rooker
Directed by:
Mark Piznarski
Drama, 96 min
(PG) (Twentieth Century Fox, 2000)

Considering the weightless teen comedies that usually come down the pipe, this photogenic high school drama – fraught with heavy issues such as death, forgiveness, illness and life-or-death choices – certainly earns points for good intentions. Unfortunately, there is no forgiving the fact that all of these issues are merely glossed over in Here on Earth and that very little of the film, much of it taken straight out of Love Story, is actually grounded in reality. Attractive teen actors Leelee Sobieski, Chris Klein and Josh Hartnett – playing the three corners in a small town love triangle – are all fresh from strong performances elsewhere (Joan of Arc, Election and The Virgin Suicides, respectively), but they are out of their league here because the screenplay strands them with awful dialogue and tired characters. Love means never having to say you’re sorry and never making your loved one see this film. (top) (back)

Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Jim Caviezel, Amanda Peet, Adam Scott, Bruce Davison, Tom Bower, Juan Carlos Hernandez
Directed by:
Carl Franklin
Suspense, 115 min (14A) (20th Century Fox, 2002)

A legal drama that combines the recipes of Sommersby (1993) and The Rules of Engagement (2000) with a little of 1997's Kiss the Girls sprinkled on top, High Crimes is pure middle-of-the-road filmmaking, so bland and uninspired that it basically sweeps from the mind before the credits are even over. Ashley Judd plays Claire Kubik, a successful lawyer who is surprised to learn that her contractor husband (Jim Caviezel) is a former Special Operations soldier wanted by the FBI on charges of mass murder. With the help of a recovering alcoholic with former experience in Army trials (Morgan Freeman), Claire sets out to prove her hubby's innocence, all the while unsure how much she can trust him herself. The gears in the storyline all wind and whir exactly how one would expect them to, with Devil in a Blue Dress director Carl Franklin (working from a 1998 novel by Joseph Finder) ultimately getting too bogged down by the excessive plot and irrelevant characters for a consistent pace. Caviezel uses his moist eyes to good effect and Judd has some moments of touching vulnerability, but their performances rest too securely on the surface, leaving the always-consistent Freeman (Judd's costar in Kiss the Girls) to bring any depth to the proceedings. (top) (back)

Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black, Todd Louiso, Tim Robbins, Lisa Bonet, Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones 
Directed by:
Stephen Frears
Comedy, 114 min
(14A) (Touchstone, 2000)

If Lloyd Dobler, John Cusack’s character from Say Anything..., ever grew up, he would be a lot like Rob Gordon, the record store owner Cusack plays in this relationship comedy. Directed by Stephen Frears (who also directed Cusack in The Grifters), High Fidelity tells the story of Rob, a neurotic fellow as obsessive about his life as he is about his record collection, who decides to determine what it is exactly that makes him completely unable to sustain a relationship. This obsessive quest involves catching up with his five most memorable girlfriends and trying to get to the center of why they broke up with him. The parade of women in Rob’s life include Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lisa Bonet and Lili Taylor, many of whom strike just the right chord and assist in highlighting Cusack’s quirky charm (even stronger are Jack Black and Todd Louiso, as Rob’s hilarious music store assistants). There is no explanation, then, for why the bland and amateurish Iben Hjejle was cast as the great love that Rob keeps returning to throughout the film. She’s a major low in a movie stacked with highs. (top) (back)

Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, Kim Dickens, Joey Slotnik, Mary Randle, William Devane, Rhona Mitra, Greg Grunberg
Directed by:
Paul Verhoeven
Thriller, 113 min
(18A) (Columbia Tristar, 2000)

If you had the chance to be invisible, would you a) have some innocent fun by scaring strangers on the streets, b) spy on celebrities in all their naked glory, or c) go on a wild rampage, killing everyone with the random blood-lust of a creature from Alien. If you are Kevin Bacon's character in the missed-opportunity thriller Hollow Man, you unfortunately take the last option. This violent and shallow picture casts Bacon as a scientist who tries an invisibility serum on himself before the cure has fully been tested. Left invisible, he begins to lose all sense of sanity, recklessly torturing people like his ex-girlfriend (Elisabeth Shue) rather than having a little amusement with the scenario. As a result, Hollow Man starts well but soon drops its intriguing premise in exchange for hollow slasher movie thrills. Worse yet, the film never really has fun with its rather nifty special effects because Bacon's character spends much of the movie stranded in a cold, dull research lab (yawn). (top) (back)

Woody Allen, Tea Leoni, Treat Williams, Debra Messing, George Hamilton, Mark Rydell, Tiffani Thiessen, Isaac Mizrahi
Directed by: Woody Allen
Comedy, 115 min (PG) (Dreamworks, 2002)

In Hollywood Ending, Woody Allen plays a once-celebrated filmmaker who has gone blind, but it seems to be the Woodman himself who has lost his vision. How else could he be blind to the fact that his mannered and neurosis-heavy performances - now little more than irritating self-parodies - keep deep-sixing his films? Unlike Small Time Crooks and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, however, there's little in Hollywood Ending to make up for Allen's complete lack of appeal because he is too content recycling gags from previous pictures, skewering Hollywood at a surface level only and, as usual, casting attractive women (Tea Leoni, Debra Messing and Tiffani Thiessen) as unlikely love interests. Allen stars as Val Waxman, a washed up moviemaker who gets one last chance at redeeming himself thanks to the efforts of his executive ex-wife (Leoni). Just before the cameras start rolling, though, Val gets hit with hysterical blindness and, at the urging of his agent (Mark Rydell), he decides to make the picture anyway. This could have led to some inspired slapstick, but Allen misses many opportunities, instead sticking to repetitive visual gags like having Val never look at the person he is speaking to and all the usually grating Allen tics. (top) (back)

Starring: Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel, Sophie Lee, Julie Hamilton, Tim Robertson, Pam Grier, Dan Wyllie, Tim Rogers 
Directed by:
Jane Campion
Drama, 114
min (14A) (Miramax, 1999)

Seeing as how this psychological drama features such out-there sights as Kate Winslet peeing on her own naked body and Harvey Keitel prancing around in a tight red dress, perhaps a more appropriate title would be Holy Cow! Directed by Jane Campion, this art-house absurdity casts Winslet as Ruth, a young Australian who has fallen under the spell of an Indian guru, and Keitel as P.J., the "exit expert" hired by Ruth's family to deprogram her. Drenched in many of the same themes as the director's The Piano and Portrait of a Lady (the battle between men and women, forbidden passion, sex versus spirituality), Holy Smoke! is at times difficult to turn away from (Winslet turns Ruth into a true force of nature) but the film is too laughable to take seriously (Keitel, in particular, almost seems to be doing a parody of himself). Maybe it's time Campion moved beyond the same tired themes to grow as an artist. (top) (back)

Rob Schneider, Anna Faris, Matthew Lawrence, Eric Christian Olsen, Robert Davi, Michael O'Keefe, Rachel McAdams, Adam Sandler
Directed by: Tom Brady
Comedy, 104 min (14A) (Touchstone, 2002)

When it comes to films by Adam Sandler and his cronies (Punch Drunk Love excepted), one celebrates the small successes. Case in point: The Hot Chick, a dumb comedy that certainly isn't worth recommending, but deserves notice for at least packing some laughs in with the idiocy. Another Rob Schneider-in-an-unlikely-body comedy along the lines of the comic's Deuce Bigalow (1999) and The Animal (2002), akin in spirit to '80s switching bodies comedies like Big (1988) and Like Father, Like Son (1987), The Hot Chick casts Schneider as a hairy loser who, thanks to a pair of magical earrings, switches bodies with Jessica, a shallow blond cheerleader (Rachel McAdams). Rather than morphing into a leering sexcapade, however, The Hot Chick turns the tables and focuses on the girl in a man's body, completely unfamiliar with urinals, how to fight without pulling hair, and his/her own anatomy. Watching Schneider prance around in some of these situations is, truth be told, quite funny, as is the reaction of Jessica's best friend (Scary Movie's game Anna Faris). So why isn't The Hot Chick hot? Blame it on a large number of dry comedic spells and a screenplay that uses a crayon to moralize about being comfortable in your own body. (top) (back)

Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels, John C. Reilly, Allison Janney
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Drama, 114 min (PG) (Paramount, 2002)

No matter what accolades a novel receives - critical applause, the Pulitzer Prize, rankings on bestseller lists - some works simply cannot be transformed into a fully successful film. A case in point is The Hours, a high-class production that may have led Nicole Kidman to take home the Best Actress Oscar, but still comes across as an episodic and restricted picture virtually designed to win awards. Handsomely directed by Stephen Daldry (2000's Billy Elliot), The Hours follows the stories of three women linked by literature: there's Virginia Woolf (Kidman, sporting an oft-discussed prosthetic nose) as she is writing Mrs. Dalloway in the 1920s; a claustrophic 1950s housewife (Julianne Moore) whose only escape is reading Mrs. Dalloway; and a modern-day Dalloway figure (Meryl Streep) preparing for a party for her ex-boyfriend (Oscar-nominee Ed Harris, overdoing the dying artist routine). Kidman, Moore and Streep provide predictably thoughtful performances, but the film ultimately ends up being so literary, ambitious and fraught with symbolization that it sticks in the head instead of moving to the heart. (top) (back)

Starring: Gillian Anderson, Eric Stoltz, Dan Aykroyd, Laura Linney, Eleanor Bron, Terry Kinney, Anthony LaPaglia, Elizabeth McGovern
Directed by:
Terence Davies
Drama, 140
min (PG) (Sony Pictures Classics, 2000)

Beneath the dark FBI suits and broody stares Gillian Anderson sports on TV's The X-Files lies a terrific actress just waiting to jump from the shadows and, with this delicately harrowing drama, the splendid performer hiding within emerges into the light. Based on Edith Wharton's first novel and set in 1905, The House of Mirth casts Anderson as Lily Bart, a single, 29-year-old woman whose fate depends on her ability to marry rich, but whose attempts at romancing the wealthy are impeded by her own overdeveloped soul and emotions. Like Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence (also based on a Wharton novel), The House of Mirth is slow-moving at times, but director Terence Davies does a magnificent job of using gorgeous period detail as a mask for the character's true feelings, be they of selfishness, jealously, passion or foolishness. Just as importantly, most of the performances are superb, with the standouts being the exquisite Anderson and You Can Count on Me's Laura Linney as Lily's malicious rival. (top) (back)

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Peter Gallagher, Chris Kattan, Bridgette Wilson, Max Perlich, Lisa Loeb 
Directed by:
William Malone
Horror, 93
min (18A) (Warner Bros., 1999)

Just when you thought haunted house movies couldn't get much worse than the big-budget dud The Haunting, along comes this tepid horror schlock - featuring actors like Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs and Peter Gallagher who should have known better - to prove you wrong. Based on a 1958 Vincent Price shocker, House on Haunted Hill casts Rush as a devious roller coaster ride developer who invites five strangers to a creepy, cavernous mansion (and ex-insane asylum) with the promise of one million dollars if they last the night. The original version of House on Haunted Hill looks pretty cheesy these days and, despite the heavy emphasis on effects, this update looks almost as chintzy. Directed by William Malone with nothing in terms of imagination, the film offers a storyline that's not so much a thrill ride as it is a monotonous streak of one person mindlessly being killed off after the next. On the plus side, Rush seems to be having fun. That's more than can be said for the audience. (top) (back)

Method Man, Redman, Obba Babatunde, Mike Epps, Fred Willard, Lark Voorhies, Jeffrey Jones, Hector Elizondo, Spalding Gray
Directed by: Jesse Dylan
Comedy, 96 min (18A) (Universal, 2001)

No matter how you package them, stoner comedies always owe more than a little debt to the Cheech and Chong cinematic oeuvre from three decades ago (Up in Smoke, Still Smokin…) and the weedy How High is no exception. Rap artists Method Man and Redman put a ghetto spin on the Cheech and Chong perspective as Silas and Jamal, party-hearty friends who, with the assistance of some intelligence-enhancing reefer, turn in perfect scores on their college entrance exams and are soon on their way to Harvard. While there, the duo proceed to predictably turn the joint inside out, earning a little respect and a little love along the way, but the direction by Jesse Dylan (Bob's non-Wallflowers-related son) is sloppy, neither Method Man or Redman are charming enough to drag viewers past the dull spots, and the screenplay is thin at best, repeating the same juvenile gags over and over again when there isn't anything new to add to the stash. And though the supporting cast consists of some proven comedic support (including Jeffrey Jones, Tortilla Soup's Hector Elizondo and Best in Show's Fred Willard), most of them are given almost nothing to work with. I don't want to be blunt, but the half-baked How High is a drag. (top) (back)

Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Adam Goldberg, Thomas Lennon, Michael Michele, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Klein, Shalom Harlow
Directed by: Donald Petrie
Comedy, 115 min (PG) (Paramount, 2003)

Kate Hudson is a bright and sunny personality in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, at times infusing just the right amount of sparkle into her role as a magazine writer who does everything feasible to try to make a man run away from her (you see, she is writing about the experience for an article about all the mistakes that women make when seeking commitment). Matthew McConaughey, meanwhile, gives one of his most charismatic performances as the subject of Hudson's little experience. It is frustrating to report, however, that How to Lose a Guy doesn't deserve either of these actors, saddled as it is with a contrived, strictly-in-the-movies storyline. It turns out that not only is Hudson trying to lose McConaughey, but he is also trying to keep her as part of a bet to win a large advertising account. Isn't that's how good business decisions are always made? Anyways, director Donald Petrie (2000's Miss Congeniality) does little to help the matter, all too often directing the film according to romantic comedy blueprints, right down to the eye-rolling, chase-down-the-streets conclusion. Hudson occasionally elevates the material above its roots - her girlfriend-from-hell routine has some funny spells - but this is strictly Romantic Comedy for Dummies. (top) (back)

Tom Hulce, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Kevin Kline, Demi Moore, Jason Alexander, Haley Joel Osment, Michael McKean
Directed by:
Bradley Raymond
Animated, 68 min (G) (Walt Disney, 2002)

When it comes to direct-to-video, made-on-the-cheap animated Disney sequels, you take what you can get and The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, coming on the heels of the cloying Cinderella II, is about as good as they get. Sure, the songs here are tepid and the film lacks the glorious detail, wonderfully dark tone and emotional complexities of the too-often-overlooked 1996 original, but it earns points for reuniting the entire original cast (including Kevin Kline, Demi Moore and Jason Alexander) and for following a storyline that does more than just rehash the original (which is more than could be said for, say, The Little Mermaid II). The story picks up about 6 years after the first film (judging by the age of Esmerelda and Phoebus' son) and Quasi (voiced by Tom Hulce) is still yearning for a love of his own, possibly finding it when he meets Madellaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a member of the circus troupe that is planning on stealing a bell from Notre Dame. Considering the bittersweet ending of the first film, it is inevitable where this leads, but there's still enough of a hook in the story to interest the young ones and, despite the cut-rate animation and Hewitt's syrupy ballad, it won't be too painful for their parents. (top) (back)

Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielson, Jenna Boyd, Leslie Stefanson, Jose Zuniga, Robert Blanche
Directed by: William Friedkin
Action, 94 min (18A) (Paramount, 2003)

Why would one cast two Academy Award-winning actors in a movie and never get them to actually act? That's but one of the many questions that race through the mind while watching The Hunted, a Fugitive-meets-First Blood action picture that puts so much emphasis on the chase that there is no room for characters. The idea has its potential: Tommy Lee Jones plays an expert tracker hired by the FBI to track down knife-wielding murderer Aaron Hallam (Traffic's Benicio Del Toro) in the woods of Oregon. Problem is, Jones' character actually trained Aaron as an elite Special Services killing machine for the U.S. government and now that something in Aaron's head has snapped, he's not going to go down without a fight. Though even Sylvester Stallone had some time for reflection in 1982's First Blood (the first Rambo film), director William Friedkin (2000's Rules of Engagement) has no use here for background and his movie suffers from providing no context for its characters. Because of this, one spends most of The Hunted focusing on the screenplay's unintentional humour. Biggest laugh: With FBI helicopters tracking their every move, Jones finds the time to build his own knife so he and Del Toro can fight man to man. (top) (back)

Starring: Denzel Washington, Dan Hedaya, Deborah Kara Unger, Lieve Schreiber, John Hannah, Vicellous Shannon, David Paymer, Rod Steiger 
Directed by:
Norman Jewison
Drama, 146
min (14A) (Universal, 1999)

In The Hurricane, Denzel Washington plays Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a world heavyweight title contender who was convicted of murder in the 1960s only to become embroiled in a fight for freedom many years later, and he gives a knockout performance marked by a compelling combination of pride, loathing, anger and disbelief. His performance is so superb, in fact, that it almost makes you want to forgive the film's many flaws. Directed by Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night), The Hurricane does a disservice to Washington in that Carter's real-life story has been told in simple black and white, oversimplifying characters and situations in the name of inspirational drama. Dan Hedaya's role as a racist cop, for example, is stock villainy all the way and the Canadians who championed Carter's release come across as tireless angels. Throughout it all, though, Washington stands tall - a proud and powerful actor who effortlessly energizes weak material. (top) (back)
All reviews by Mike Boon.  

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