Picks and Pans Main: Screen

updated 11/06/2000 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/06/2000 AT 01:00 AM EST

Blair Witch 2 Book of Shadows

Erica Leerhsen, Jeffrey Donovan, Tristen Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner, Kim Director

Arriving in theaters just in time for Halloween, this disappointing sequel to last year's cheapie chiller hit The Blair Witch Project is more trick than treat. Its biggest achievement is coming up with a follow-up plot to the first movie, no minor feat given that all three leading characters in BW1 presumably died by its end. But the story that BW2: Book of Shadows throws up on the screen is no better than those already seen in countless recent slasher films ("Whoa, the corpse count is climbing. Who in our little group might be the killer?"), and the mishmash of contrasting styles used to tell it results only in a confusing mess.

Weepy Heather and her scruffy B Wl cohorts don't get resurrected for BW2: Book of Shadows. Rather, director-cowriter Joe Berlinger, a documentarian {Brother's Keeper) making his feature-film debut, has devised a winkingly self-referential scenario in which four rabid fans of the original movie (Leerhsen, Skyler, Barker Turner and Director) sign on with a local tour guide (Donovan) to head into the woods near Burkittsville, Md. They plan to retrace the footsteps taken by B Wl's fictional trio of filmmakers, who in the first film disappeared while investigating local legends of the supernatural. When the new quintet ventures into the forest, bad things—involving sex, lies, videotape and murder—happen.

What made the original movie downright scary was its power of suggestion. Nothing horrible was ever actually shown, so everyone filled in the gaps with his or her" own personal terrors. And that is exactly where B W2 gets it wrong. Early on, Book starts downloading glimpses of bloody corpses, crimson-stained knives, bodies being tied up and other grisly stuff. The cast of newcomers, all again called by their own real first names, seem capable but have little with which to work.(R)

Bottom Line: Get the broom

Bedazzled

Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O'Connor

Brendan Fraser may yet turn out to be the next Tom Hanks. Handsome but no pretty boy, he's a dexterous actor and genuinely likable. But even Hanks wasn't Hanks from the get-go. First he had to wade through a bunch of enjoyable but shallow mid-'80s comedies like Bachelor Party, Turner & Hooch and The Money Pit. Fraser, in Bedazzled, is still wading for his chance at superstardom.

Bedazzled is an updated remake of the 1967 comedy of the same name that starred Dudley Moore as a short-order cook and Peter Cook as the devil, who grants Moore seven wishes in exchange for his soul. The Faustian plot remains in the new movie, but with the millennial twist of Lucifer as a leggy minx (Hurley). Ms. Satan purringly promises Fraser's computer nerd his wishes but then mischievously botches the execution. When Fraser asks to become rich and powerful, for example, she transforms him into a Colombian drug lord.

As directed bv Harold Ramis (Analyze This), Bedazzled devolves into a series of sketches, one per wish and each a little less funny than the last. The whole, though, is darned good-natured, clocks in at a breezy 93 minutes, and both Fraser and Hurley have charm to spare. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Devilish fun

Animal Factory

Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong

There are only so many plots and settings out there, but a skilled filmmaker can make even the hoariest seem new again. That's what actor-turned-director Steve Buscemi does with that old standby the prison drama in Animal Factory, a harrowing portrait of life behind bars that aired on Cinemax last month and is now showing in theaters.

Almost novelistic in the attention it pays to the psychological development of its characters, Factory charts the devastating effect jail has on Ron (Furlong), a 2-5-year-old middle-class guy incarcerated for drug dealing. In a capable cast that includes surprisingly effective turns by both Mickey Rourke and Tom Arnold as convicts, Dafoe, playing a wily veteran inmate, stands out. (R)

Bottom Line: Deserves to be a breakout success

Boesman & Lena

Angela Bassett, Danny Glover

A raggedy couple, their few possessions tied in bundles, trudge down a dusty road until they find a spot that seems as good a place as any to pitch camp. They are Boesman (Glover) and Lena (Bassett), a middle-aged black couple living under South African apartheid who have been uprooted—again—by whites and must now wander until they can find another shantytown to call home. Over the course of a single very long night, the two will rage against each other, Lena desperately trying to remind both herself and Boesman of when life was good, and Boesman wanting only to forget.

Based on a 1970 play by Athol Fugard and directed with elegant economy by the late John Berry (Claudine), Boesman & Lena starts out stagy but, thanks to a magnificent performance by Bassett and a solid one by Glover, quickly draws you into this couple's endless struggle. There are echoes of Beckett here—can't go on, must go on—but with an added layer of hurt because the duo's situation is so inextricably tied to living in a country where they never had a chance to count. (Not Rated)

Bottom Line: Bassett is brilliant in a wrenching drama

Sound and Fury

Documentary

Featured attraction

"I don't care what hearing people think," Peter Artinian, a deaf man, angrily tells his mother in sign language. They are debating whether he and his wife, also deaf, should have a cochlear hearing device surgically implanted in their deaf daughter, Heather, 6. The couple fear, as do many in the deaf community, that cochlear implants, which allow the deaf to hear, will spell the end of sign language and the vibrant, if separate, deaf culture.

This is one of many moving scenes in Sound and Fury, an extraordinary film by director Josh Aronson that examines the implant controversy by showing the struggle over the issue within the Artinian family. The fight comes to a head when Peter's brother, Chris, who is hearing, unhesitatingly opts to have the device implanted in his deaf infant son. (Not Rated)

Bottom Line: Gives a fair hearing to an important issue

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