Short reviews of movies playing throughout the Tampa Bay area

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HIDE AND SEEK (R) Robert De Niro stars as a distraught father realizing his little girl's imaginary friend might actually be some sort of terrible, unknown entity - and not nearly so imaginary after all. Also stars Dakota Fanning and Famke Janssen. (Not Reviewed)

HOTEL RWANDA (R) The first film about the Rwanda genocide of 1994 - when nearly 1 million Tutsi were slaughtered by Hutu tribesmen in barely 100 days - is earnest, informative and well-meaning, but ultimately just a bit toothless. Don Cheadle gives a nicely understated performance as the manager of an upscale Rwandan hotel secretly transformed into a refuge for those facing extinction, including his own family. The film takes a Schindler's List-lite approach to its tragic topic, focusing on relief efforts and survivors, with little overt violence or gore on display and just a sprinkling of scenes hinting at the real extent of the horror that's occurring. We know the situation is terrible mainly because various characters keep telling us that it is in a series of melodramatic and/or preachy monologues that turn the film into a message movie that's more tearjerker than jaw-dropper. Also stars Nick Nolte and Sophie Okonedo.

THE HOUSE OF FLYNG DAGGERS (NR) With Hero and, now, the immensely entertaining House of Flying Daggers, Chinese director Zhang Yimou morphs from art house auteur to popular entertainer, completing his conquest of the West by beating Hollywood at its own game - sheer, kickass spectacle. Zhang's movie is the latest in a modern cycle of art-fu epics that, at their best, turn swordfights and hand-to-hand combat into acts of transcendental poetry. Simpler and less demanding than any of its immediate predecessors, Flying Daggers offers less characters and fewer sub-plots to keep track of, with a central storyline that simply involves a man and a woman falling in love while making a dangerous journey together in Ninth Century China. There are also some 11th-hour twists where the secrets fall so thick and fast it nearly spoils the movie's effect, but it all resolves itself in a grand finale that's operatic in the best sense of the word, leaving us satisfied and a little excited.


IN GOOD COMPANY (PG-13) Dennis Quaid stars as a middle-aged, old-school (tough but fair) executive who finds himself demoted to being the underling of a brash, twenty-something hotshot (Topher Grace) when his company is bought out by a Mega-Conglomerate run by a Rupert Murdoch-like marauder. Director Tom Weitz does a nice job contrasting the parallel paths of the younger man and the older one, with the private lives of each rising and falling in exact disproportion to what happens in the public arcs of their careers. There's also an amusing subplot that makes the most of Quaid's reactions to his young boss' romance with his daughter (Scarlet Johansson), but much of the movie falls into the realm of the predictable or toothless. Also stars Marg Helgenberger, Selma Blair and Malcom McDowell.


LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS (PG) Morbidly witty, imaginatively stylized and with surprisingly little pandering to tiny or otherwise tiny-minded viewers, there's much to enjoy in this dark-but-not-too-dark fantasy about the trials and tribulations of a trio of ingenious orphans. Jim Carrey dons a series of elaborate disguises as the young pups' nemesis, an evil actor who keeps putting the kiddies in a succession of increasingly harrowing predicaments from which they must use all their considerable, McGyver-like resources to escape. The film is a production designer's dream, with wonderfully odd little Edward Gorey-esque flourishes and filigrees loitering about the edges of nearly every frame. Also stars Liam Aiken, Emily Browning, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Meryl Streep and Jude Law.

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