Friday, November 3, 2000

Almost Famous / **** (2000)

Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” is the movie we’ve been waiting for amongst a muck of recent cinematic nightmares: the one so well made, so enticing and intelligent, that there comes a moment when you want to stand up and erupt into thunderous applause. It is one of the year’s crowning achievements, a film that not only builds on its characters but involves them in a compelling story that discovers rich messages through human drama and sophisticated comedy. That it has taken ten long months to arrive here makes the dismal experiences prior seem worth all the pain and suffering.

Bedazzled / *** (2000)

“Bedazzled” is a comedy about an ordinary single working male whose life is turned into a three-ring circus when he is given the opportunity to make seven—not three, but seven!—of his wishes come true. The catch? His soul will belong to the devil for an eternity as a result. In this case, the Prince of Darkness is given a new twist as a tall and luminous brunette, whose all-red wardrobe is seductive and chic, but isn’t nearly enough to convince an entire movie audience (much less the main character) the extent of her potential. Yet in a movie where diverse comedic exploits are executed so well and so vividly, does it matter that the villain lacks personality and comes off as a stale imitation of something much greater? Not really, and we can thank the off-the-wall, energetic protagonist because of this.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 / *** (2000)

The phenomenon that is “The Blair Witch Project” may have scared the pants of countless viewers when it hit theaters last year, but few people realize that it also opened up a floodgate on the grounds of the film’s base setting—a small community in Maryland that the filmmakers had designated “Burkittsville”—where avid fans of the movie flock in droves year-round to, optimistically, catch a glimpse of something that gave the innovative horror flick its profound atmosphere. Now comes “Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” which makes a descent into the lives of five such individuals who were spurred by the popularity of the first film, and are now on a journey through the fictitious Burkittsville woods to see all the famous locations where the mockumentary was initially shot (all while the masses argue over the authenticity of the legend, too). Their trek is built on the same innocence and naivety that the three student filmmakers took with them when they went in search of the Blair Witch, but now with different results. In the first movie, our protagonists disappeared without a trace; this time around, the fate of curious eyes is more visible, but perhaps more tormenting as well.

Lost Souls / *1/2 (2000)

There is a background history attached to “Lost Souls” that may be long and involved, but is certainly more entertaining to hear about than watching the movie itself. Because religious thrillers have been showing up in theaters over the past year quite frequently, the movie’s makers chose to postpone the intended release date—late 1999—until the calendar was cleared of anything similar. Only one problem, though: trailers had already surfaced on new releases late last summer, and with the eminent delay, moviegoers could have easily grown tired of the wait and forgot about the picture altogether. Now that it has finally arrived in theaters, hopefully audiences will do just that.

Nurse Betty / **** (2000)

Neil LaBute’s “Nurse Betty” is one of the most audacious, bizarre and effectively conducted motion picture’s I’ve seen since “Pulp Fiction,” an over-the-map lampoon so well grounded on so many different levels, you gawk at it with a sense of sublime (but curious) appreciation. It tells the tale of a quirky housewife named Betty, who witnesses the brutal murder of her husband, and then drowns out her sorrows by absorbing the substance of several episodes from her favorite television soap opera. Daytime shows are generally used as innocent tools for escapism from some of our very own warped, complex lives, but Betty’s trauma has been so great, so extreme and hard-edged, she slips into a realm that mingles fantasy with reality, and actually begins to believe that she is linked to one of the show’s own characters. This inspires an intricate, offbeat storyline that operates on a consolidation of black comedy, satire, drama, romance, and at some points, even wild adventure.