ARCHIVED REVIEWS (Ba-Be)
Baby Boy
Bachelor, the
Bad Company
Bait
Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever
Bamboozled
Bandits
Banger Sisters, the
Barbershop
Basic
Battlefield Earth
Beach, the
Beautiful
Beautiful Creatures
Beautiful Mind, a
Beauty and the Beast
Bedazzled
Before Night Falls
Behind Enemy Lines
Being John Malkovich
Best in Show
Best Laid Plans
Better Than Chocolate
Beyond the Mat

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Archived Video Reviews (Ba - Be)
 

BABY BOY - B
Starring:
Tyrese Gibson, Omar Gooding, Ving Rhames, A.J. Johnson, Snoop Dogg, Taraji P. Henson, Tamara Laseon Bass, Angell Conwell
Directed by:
John Singleton
Drama, 130 min (18A) (Columbia Tristar, 2001)

Following the high gloss action of Shaft, writer-director John Singleton returns to his Boyz N the Hood roots with this brave and compelling drama. Set in crime-plagued South Central L.A., Baby Boy focuses on what Singleton feels is a growing problem in the inner city: emotionally stunted, fatherless black men who simply refuse to grow up. One such man is Jody (Tyrese Gibson), an unemployed 20-year-old with two children from two different relationships who continues to live at home with his mom (A.J. Johnson) thanks primarily to a complete lack of ambition to strive for anything else. Baby Boy is too long by at least 20 minutes (the film runs 130) and the screenplay is slightly self-indulgent, but Singleton nevertheless draws his serious issues from real emotions and situations, often leaving the audience feeling like something of a voyeur to Jody's relationships, fights and feelings. Model-turned-actor Gibson occasionally isn't up to the challenge (at times, his performance seems a bit too thoughtful), but Singleton surrounds him with a stellar supporting cast including Snoop Dogg as a venomous sociopath and Ving Rhames in his best performance since Pulp Fiction as Johnson's ex-convict boyfriend. (top) (back)


BACHELOR, THE - D+
Starring:
Chris O'Donnell, Renee Zellweger, Hal Holbrook, James Cromwell, Artie Lange, Edward Asner, Marley Shelton, Stacey Edwards
Directed by:
Gary Sinyor
Comedy, 101 min
(14A) (New Line, 1999)

Throughout this strained romantic comedy, Chris O'Donnell is so earnest and relentlessly eager to please, he's like the world's most annoying puppy. Unfortunately, the film seems to be working in the same spirit, displaying no charm and far too much effort in it's story of a frat boy (O'Donnell) who has to find a wife within 24 hours in order to inherit $100 million. O'Donnell spends the rest of the movie tracking down ex-girlfriends in the hopes that one of them will walk down the aisle with him. But what about the long-time girlfriend (Renee Zellweger) who recently left him over a lack of commitment? Isn't she the one worth marrying? Well, duh. Limply directed by Gary Sinyor, The Bachelor is one flat joke after the next, with much of the film just being a case of waiting - and waiting - for the inevitable. Worse, the film is an insult to both sexes since all men here are commitment-phobe jerks and the women all come across as desperate individuals who need a man for happiness. (top) (back)

BAD COMPANY - C
Starring:
Chris Rock, Anthony Hopkins, Gabriel Macht, Peter Stormare, Kerry Washington, Brooke Smith, Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon, Irma P. Hall
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Action, 117 min (14A) (Touchstone, 2002)


Yes, Bad Company falls victim to poor timing (even postponed after 9/11, a terrorist plot to blow up New York City is too much for an action comedy to shoulder). More than anything, though, this picture disappoints due to poor filmmaking, specifically a cut-and-dried adherence to the buddy comedy blueprints of 48HRS, Rush Hour, Blue Streak and so on that never allows the story or actors to gel. Anthony Hopkins, a little too grizzled at 64 to be acting as action hero, plays Gaylord Oakes, a veteran CIA operative whose undercover associate, Kevin, was murdered just before the completion of a major international nuclear-weapons deal. Enter Jake Hayes (Chris Rock), a savvy ticket scalper and the twin brother of the murdered man, enlisted to transform himself into the straight-arrow Kevin and help seal the deal. Bitingly sarcastic, Rock does what he can with the inane story (he's a much more worthy predecessor to Eddie Murphy than Martin Lawrence will ever be), but he hits a brick wall in trying to work off the detached Hopkins. Director Joel Schumacher keeps things moving at a brisk clip, particularly in the first third, but the action pieces all too often seem to be just going through the motions, never creating any real suspense or thrills. (top) (back)

BAIT - C
Starring:
Jamie Foxx, David Morse, Doug Hutchinson, Megan Dodds, Jeffrey Donovan, Mike Epps, Kimberly Elise, David Paymer
Directed by:
Antoine Fuqua
Action, 119 min
(14A) (Warner Bros., 2000)

With the exception of his forceful dramatic turn in Any Given Sunday, Jamie Foxx has always specialized in rambling, light-as-a-feather comedy, often taking a punchline and peppering it with enough side jokes that you forget what he was talking about in the first place. Because of this, Foxx is poorly served by Bait, an overcooked Enemy of the State-meets-48 HRS. action-comedy that is directed by Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers) with such a heavy hand that any attempt at a laugh fails miserably. In Bait, Foxx plays Alvin, a small-time crook who is released from prison by a conniving Treasury agent (David Morse) in an attempt to lure out a computer-genius criminal (The Green Mile's Doug Hutchinson, seemingly channeling the spirit of John Malkovich) whose former partner - and the only man who knew the location of $42 million in stolen gold - happened to be Foxx's cellmate. Generic action fodder all the way, this Bait is not worth catching. (top) (back)

BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER - D+
Starring:
Antonio Banderas, Lucy Liu, Ray Park, Terry Chen, Talisa Soto, Aidan Drummond, Gregg Henry
Directed by: Wych "Kaos" Kaosayananda
Action, 91 min (14A) (Warner Bros., 2002)


In films like Spy Kids (2001), The Mask of Zorro (1998) and Desperado (1995), Antonio Banderas has made for an action hero whose smoldering good looks are matched only by his charisma. Just as often, however, Banderas seems inclined to simply sleepwalk through his roles and in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, like The 13th Warrior (1999) before it, Banderas is too lazy to give any sort of performance beyond his stubble and greasy hair. A thrill-deficient, non-humourous take on Spy Vs. Spy (based on a Game Boy game and baring far too much of a resemblance to Banderas' 1995 actioner Assassins), Ballistic has been directed by Thai filmmaker Wych "Kaos" Kaosayananda with far more attention placed on racking up the bullet holes than any sort of cohesive narrative or drive. Banderas plays Jeremiah Ecks, an ex-FBI agent who goes head-to-head with a killing machine codenamed Sever (Charlie's Angel Lucy Liu) before teaming up with her for a common enemy. Bullets zip left and right, but to say that Ballistic makes no sense is an understatement (Why, for starters, does the FBI have any right to shoot up Vancouver? And what the heck is up with Banderas' allegedly killed wife who actually turns out to be alive and still living nearby?). (top) (back)

BAMBOOZLED - C+
Starring:
Damon Wayans, Savion Glover, Michael Rapaport, Tommy Davidson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mos Def, Kim Director
Directed by:
Spike Lee
Drama, 136 min
(14A) (New Line, 2000)

With Bamboozled, writer-director Spike Lee is working at his most audacious, most critical and, as it turns out, his most heavy-handed, serving up a striking satire of black and white images in predominantly white pop culture and then hammering home his message to the point of tedium. Damon Wayans, saddled with a fake "cultured" accent, plays Pierre Delacroix, a Harvard-educated TV writer who, hoping to get fired, pitches a shucking and jiving sketch show performed in blackface by black actors (street artists played by Tommy Davidson and Savion Glover are enlisted). Lee's comical depiction of Delacroix's clueless white boss (Michael Rapaport), an angry rap group and the resulting variety show are biting, vicious and delirious, but it isn't too long before the filmmaker loses his direction and muddles his message with a useless backstage love triangle and fits of cruel mockery. Worse still is the film's final act, a violent and unnecessary cop-out that further dilutes the picture's stinging social commentary. (top) (back)

BANDITS - B-
Starring:
Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, Troy Garity, Bobby Slayton, Azura Skye, January Jones, Brian F. O'Byrne
Directed by:
Barry Levinson
Comedy, 123 min (PG) (MGM, 2001)

Bruce Willis smirks and Billy Bob Thornton quirks throughout Bandits, a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-style caper that may fall slightly on the bloated side, but still has its share of comic pleasures. Willis and Thornton (former Armageddon costars) play Joe and Terry, a pair of bank robbers who believe that good manners are more effective than violence. Their plan is to kidnap bank managers at night, stay in their homes and then grab the cash first thing in the morning, but the clockwork soon gets knocked off course with the arrival of Kate (Cate Blanchett), a bored housewife who insists on being taken hostage and soon has Joe and Terry fighting for her affections. Directed by Barry Levinson, a filmmaker who easily slides between hot (Wag the Dog) and cold (Toys), the colourful Bandits opens strongly, but eventually cools down to a lukewarm level, thanks primarily to a meandering screenplay and Levinson's inability to reign it all in below two hours. Not surprisingly considering his established comedic skills, Thornton hits the most highs here as a motormouthed hypochondriac, but Blanchett isn't given enough moments to shine (when she is, she does) and Willis lets his smirk and wigs give the performance for him. (top) (back)


THE BANGER SISTERS - C
Starring:
Goldie Hawn, Susan Sarandon, Geoffrey Rush, Erika Christensen, Robin Thomas, Eva Amurri, Matthew Carey
Directed by: Bob Dolman
Comedy, 98 min (14A) (20th Century Fox, 2002)


If Cameron Crowe were to make a sequel to Almost Famous set 30 years ahead and focusing on the future of the Band-Aids, the result may - on the surface - bare a resemblance to The Banger Sisters. Chances are, however, that any film with Crowe's name on it would be far more complex than The Banger Sisters, a hollow feel-good comedy that is jarringly fake for a film that preaches about staying true to oneself. Goldie Hawn - whose daughter, Kate Hudson, played groupie Penny Lane in Famous - stars as Suzette, a bubbly-free spirit and former groupie still trying to live the rock 'n roll life she should have outgrown. When Suzette loses her job, she decides to track down her old best friend Vinnie (Susan Sarandon), now keeping her past hidden as a conservative suburban mom. Improbably, it takes only a few hours for Suzette to break Vinnie out of her shell, along the way freeing the spirit of a failed screenwriter (Geoffrey Rush) thrown into the story for no discernable reason. It is all far too difficult to swallow and, though Hawn, Sarandon and Rush don't embarrass themselves, director Bob Dolman, in his feature debut, doesn't capitalize on them either, treating Hawn in particular as little more than a tight bum and wide smile. (top) (back)

BASIC - C-
Starring:
John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielson, Harry Connick Jr, Taye Diggs, Timothy Daly, Giovanni Ribisi, Dash Mihok
Directed by: John McTiernan
Suspense, 98 min (14A) (Columbia, 2003)


John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson may costar in Basic, but don't go thinking this military thriller is a reunion between the Pulp Fiction costars. Not only do the two actors' stories take place in different times in Basic - Jackson's tale is told in recent flashback - but this rote and nonsensical film doesn't deserve mention in the same breath as Quentin Tarantino's 1994 masterpiece. A mishmash of Travolta's The General's Daughter (1999), Jackson's Rules of Engagement (2000), The Usual Suspects (1995) and Rashomon (1950), Basic stars Travolta as a DEA agent called into a Panama military base in the middle of the night to investigate the murder of several Army Ranger cadets and their drill sergeant (Jackson) during a military exercise. Basic unfolds as Travolta and Connie Nielson (One Hour Photo) grill the survivors for answers and the story takes on supposedly surprising twists with every recollection. Problem is, all of the sweaty atmosphere courtesy of director John McTiernan (2002's Rollerball) can't hide the fact that Basic is all smoke and mirrors, a bunch of ludicrous clap-trap that gets more and more ridiculous with every encounter, finally imploding in on itself with its aggravating twist of a conclusion. (top) (back)

BARBERSHOP - B
Starring:
Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Jazsmin Lewis, Troy Garity, Keith David
Directed by: Tim Story
Comedy, 102 min (PG) (MGM, 2002)


All too often associated with crude and obnoxious comedies like Next Friday and All About the Benjamins, Ice Cube finally gets his chance to headline a worthwhile picture with Barbershop, a likeable and good-natured comedy that, though set in present-day Chicago, has an old-fashioned, where-everybody-knows-your-name spirit. Like an episode of Cheers with clippers and razors, Barbershop doesn't focus on plot so much as sharply cut characters, including Cube as the third-generation owner of a barbershop who doesn't realize the importance of the place until he sells it to a loan shark (Keith David), Cedric the Entertainer as an opinionated elder barber, rapper Eve as the shop's only female clipper, Sean Patrick Thomas (Save the Last Dance) as a know-it-all-student and Troy Garity as a white barber that none of the African-American customers trust to cut their hair. Barbershop too often cuts to a subplot involving Anthony Anderson (Me, Myself & Irene) and a stolen ATM machine, leaving the narrative feeling overly disjointed, but the lively and easy-going conversation between the shop's workers and clients - they riff on everything from the optimum size of a woman's bottom to Rosa Park and O.J. - acts as reasonable compensation. (top) (back)

BATTLEFIELD EARTH - D
Starring:
John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates, Sabine Karsenti, Richard Tyson, Kelly Preston, Michael Byrne 
Directed by:
Roger Christian
Action, 119 min
(PG) (Warner Bros., 2000)


Not since Kevin Costner's The Postman has there been a big-budgeted vanity project as colossally dumb and overwrought as Battlefield Earth. But at least The Postman, given a decent script and a less self-serious director, could have been watchable. Sadly, it's hard to say the same for Battlefield Earth, a trashy, dismal and derivative sci-fi epic based on a novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Scientologist John Travolta, in an act of both hubris and stupidity, produced and stars as an evil member of an alien race that has taken over Earth, destroying most of the human population (though not our revolutionary hero, played by Barry Pepper). Haplessly directed by Roger Christian, Battlefield Earth shows no understanding of tone (playing the story for laughs one minute and as a dramatic plea for freedom the next), offers ziltch in terms of excitement and is relentlessly drab and muddled visually. Simply put, it's a piece of sci-fi trash that almost begs to be shot into the sun and destroyed.
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THE BEACH - C+
Starring:
Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet, Robert Carlyle, Paterson Joseph
Directed by:
Danny Boyle
Drama, 119 min
(14A) (Twentieth Century Fox, 2000)

After his success with Titanic, one might think that any combination of Leonardo DiCaprio and water would work wonders. After his success with Trainspotting, one might also think that director Danny Boyle would be the perfect choice for a film about a man who is slowly driven crazy by his own selfishness. Alas, what sounds good in theory doesn’t necessarily work in execution, as evidenced by this weak adaptation of the Alex Garland novel about paradise found and lost. DiCaprio takes on the film’s lead role as an American who stumbles upon a utopian society near Thailand populated by a multicultural group of Gen-Xers, but the film is annoyingly vague when it comes to filling in any questions about the character’s past and Boyle unfortunately spends more time on a conventional romance than on getting a handle on the complexities of the material. Although there are some good ideas here, far too few of them make it to the surface. (top) (back)

BEAUTIFUL - C-
Starring:
Minnie Driver, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Joey Lauren Adams, Kathleen Turner, Bridgette Wilson, Leslie Stefanson, Ali Landry
Directed by:
Sally Field
Comedy, 112 min
(PG)
(Dimension, 2000)

Sally Field makes her feature directorial debut with this crass beauty pageant comedy that, like its satire sister Drop Dead Gorgeous, makes the mistake of subjecting all of its characters to harsh mockery. Minnie Driver plays Mona, a single mom who has spent her entire life working towards being a beauty pageant winner, even if it means hiding her daughter (Pepsi spokeskid Hallie Kate Eisenberg) by passing her off as the daughter of her best friend (Joey Lauren Adams). Driver, unfortunately, is too demanding a performer to pull off this selfish and unlikeable character, leaving the film without a protagonist to root for. Worse, the screenplay drags out every stereotype in the book, with Kathleen Turner's pageant coordinator and Leslie Stefanson's news reporter being subject to particular cruelty. As a director, Field shows little expertise in shaping a scene and, unforgivably, she allows for a preposterous climax so ham-fisted it makes Fields' "You like me, you really like me" Oscar speech look restrained. (top) (back)

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES - C
Starring:
Rachel Weisz, Susan Lynch, Iain Glen, Alex Norton, Maurice Roeves, Tom Mannion
Directed by:
Bill Eagles
Suspense, 95 min
(14A)
(Universal, 2001)

Thelma and Louise-style girl power meets Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels-style madness with Beautiful Creatures, an empty third-generation Tarantino-wannabe that is not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. Beautiful Creatures tells the story of two abused British gals - one a Marilyn Monroe-style secretary having an affair with her boss (Enemy at the Gates' Rachel Weisz), the other a plain hairdresser (From Hell's Susan Lynch) - who get embroiled in a kidnapping and ransom scheme after they accidentally murder a boyfriend and decide to stick it to the men in their lives by profiting from the crime. British TV director Bill Eagles (Touching Evil), making like a poor man's Guy Ritchie in his feature debut, tries to escalate the tension by slowly revealing each character to be even more sleazy and selfish than the last, but the effect is decidedly minor, reducing all of the players to stock types (the lying cop, the menacing businessman, the strung-out ex) and never establishing the leading ladies as smart women who are worth rooting for, with Lynch failing to make an impression and Weisz - a charmer given the right material - being overshadowed by her bleach-blond hair. (top) (back)

A BEAUTIFUL MIND - A-
Starring:
Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Adam Goldberg, Paul Bettany, Christopher Plummer, Judd Hirsch, Anthony Rapp
Directed by:
Ron Howard
Drama, 133 min
(14A) (Universal, 2001)


It takes a certain degree of movie magic for a film to really get inside the head of its protagonist and, in the case of the Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind, the factors in the equation add up wonderfully, deeply immersing viewers in a story about math, education and schizophrenia that is at once moving, entertaining and thrilling. Though too muscular for an obsessive scholar, Russell Crowe outshines his Oscar-winning work in Gladiator and Oscar-worthy work in The Insider with his superb and superbly understated performance here as John Nash Jr., a mathematician whose brilliance was undermined by schizophrenic delusions. Best Director winner Ron Howard eventually drives the story towards sentiment but here, as in Apollo 13, he deserves it, thanks not only to Crowe and Best Supporting Actress winner Jennifer Connelly (as Nash's committed wife Alicia), but also the acute, perceptive and ingeniously handled screenplay by Akiva Goldsman (who also took home an Oscar) based on Sylvia Nasar's 1998 Nash biography. Just before the Oscar race, a lot of mud was slung about how accurately A Beautiful Mind represented Nash's real story, but even knowing this does little to diminish the film's surprises, emotional connection and depth.
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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST - A
Voices:
Robby Benson, Paige O'Hara, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Richard White
Directed by: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Animated, 90 min (G) (Walt Disney, 1991/2001)


There's recently been a drought in terms of quality Disney musicals (with the exception of Fantasia 2000, you would have to go back to 1998's Mulan), but the studio hit its peak in 1991 with Beauty and the Beast, a magical retelling of the classic story that soared on the wings of gorgeous animation and the musical collaboration between composer Alan Menken and the late lyricist Howard Ashman (who also worked together on 1989's The Little Mermaid). Released theatrically in IMAX theatres in 2001 as a "Special Edition" with the addition of the delightful song "Human Again," Beauty and the Beast remains as much of a beauty as ever, charting the love story between the bookish belle and cursed prince with glorious attention to detail (that ballroom scene is still a wonder to behold), delightful secondary characters like candlestick Lumiere, Cogsworth the clock and teacup Chip, and, of course, those musical numbers, each one as memorable, perceptive and sweeping as the next. Not for nothing did the film become the first (and, so far, only) animated picture to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award and inspire an acclaimed, long-running Broadway show. Even on video/DVD, Beauty and the Beast truly is the belle of the ball. (top) (back)

BEDAZZLED - C+
Starring:
Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O'Connor, Orlando Jones, Gabriel Casseus, Miriam Shor
Directed by:
Harold Ramis
Comedy, 108 min
(PG) (20th Century Fox, 2000)

Bedazzled may be based on a 1967 Dudley Moore film but, more than anything, this devil comedy resembles an episode of Saturday Night Live, often coming across as a series of extended skits, each one less funny than the last. Brendan Fraser plays Elliot, a dorky loner who makes a deal with Satan (Elizabeth Hurley) in exchange for seven wishes he hopes will help win him his dream girl (Mansfield Park's Frances O'Connor). Directed by Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day), Bedazzled features a lively performance from Hurley and charming work from Fraser, particularly when a wish for being sensitive leaves him bawling at sunsets (though, truth be told, Fraser overdoes many of his character's quirks). Where Bedazzled stumbles is in the screenplay department, riddled as it is with bad puns and never really coming together as a cohesive whole. Worse, because all the characters have complete makeovers with every wish, most of them - particularly Elliot's dream girl - have absolutely no definition. (top) (back)

BEFORE NIGHT FALLS - B+
Starring:
Javier Bardem, Olivier Martinez, Andrea DiStefano, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Michael Wincott, Vito Schnabel, Najwa Nimri
Directed by:
Julian Schnabel
Drama, 133 min
(18A) (New Line, 2000)

As he did with his debut film, 1996's Basquiat, painter-turned-director Julian Schnabel once again turns to the life of a downed artist for inspiration, this time focusing on the story of Reinaldo Arenas, a celebrated Cuban writer whose imagination and homosexual lifestyle were hardly welcome under Castro's regime. Born dirt-poor, Arenas won one of his country's top writing awards at the age of 20, but his life after that was decidedly more restricted and unfortunate, leading him to a hellhole prison for two years before he fled for the US in 1980 and died of AIDS ten years later. As Arenas, Oscar-nominee Javier Bardem is brilliant in his conviction, honesty, wonderfully unconquerable spirit and masterful ability to age from 18 to 47 without the artifice of makeup. Purposefully disconnected and dreamlike, Schnabel's direction is occasionally on the confusing side (the lack of identity he gives to Arenas' friends isn't much help), but this does little to harm the devastating power of this celebration of art and life. (top) (back)

BEHIND ENEMY LINES - C-
Starring:
Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, David Keith, Gabriel Macht, Olek Krupa, Shane Johnson, Vladimir Mashkov
Directed by:
John Moore
Action, 105 min (14A) (20th Century Fox, 2001)

As he has proved with solid comic performances in films such as Shanghai Noon and Meet the Parents and top-notch screenwriting with Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Owen Wilson is a clever and crafty comedian, always taking an appropriately loopy touch to dialogue and his costars. Why, then, would he star in Behind Enemy Lines, a rote and impersonal action picture that essentially plays as Run Owen Run, with the actor given virtually no chances to speak or interact with his costars. Taking a cold stance on the war-ravaged Balkans that should be an insult to anyone with a touch of political morale (Who are these people? What are they fighting for? Who cares? Let's just blow them up!), the film casts Wilson as a pessimistic Navy flyboy who gets shot down in hostile Bosnia, left with little to do besides run for his life, dodging bullets, mines, tanks and a ludicrously perceptive mute sharpshooter (Vladimir Mashkov). Gene Hackman is here as well, giving a by-the-book performance as Wilson's commanding officer, but there's really not much he could have done with the jingoistic screenplay and ungainly flash of John Moore's direction (though, truth be told, the crash sequence is quite gripping). (top) (back)


BEING JOHN MALKOVICH - A-
Starring:
John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, Orson Bean, Mary Kay Place, W. Earl Brown
Directed by:
Spike Jonze
Comedy, 112 min
(14A) (USA Films, 1999)

Seeing as how the bulk of movies are simply churned out by the Hollywood food processor, it can be said, without hesitation, that there are no pictures out there quite like Being John Malkovich. Marking the splendid feature film debut of music video wiz Spike Jonze and written with an engaging zaniness by Charlie Kaufman, Being John Malkovich is like a wonderful trip down a more demented version of Alice's rabbit hole. John Cusack stars as Craig, a down-on-his-luck puppeteer who finds a strange portal in his office building that actually slides people into the mind of actor John Malkovich. It sounds nuts and it is - thrillingly so. Watching the film, one never knows where the film is going to turn next and there are spot-on performances by Cusack, a nearly unrecognizable Cameron Diaz (as Craig's frumpy wife), Catherine Keener (as a scheming co-worker) and Malkovich himself, who takes a role he was born to play and runs with it, gleefully mocking himself in the process. (top) (back)

BEST IN SHOW - B+
Starring: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Catherine O'Hara, Michael McKean, John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard
Directed by:
Christopher Guest
Comedy, 90 min
(PG) (Warner Bros., 2000)

Considering the cult status of This is Spinal Tap (1984) and critical acclaim of Waiting for Guffman (1997), it's hardly a surprise that Christopher Guest (star of Tap, writer/star of Guffman) has chosen to take the mockumentary route once again. This time, Guest's cameras are turned on the participants of the annual Mayflower dog show and, reteaming with many of his Guffman costars, he has once again mined pure comic delight out of improvised performances and dialogue. Among the standouts of this ensemble: Guest, as a fishing store owner/bloodhound owner/wannabe ventriloquist; Eugene Levy as a terrier owner with a slutty wife (Catherine O'Hara) and two left feet (literally); Michael McKean as the understated half of an acerbic gay pair; and Fred Willard, who steals the show as an ignorant, bone-headed broadcaster. Best is Show is awfully light stuff, but the offbeat laughs come quick and, at a running time of only 90 minutes, this is one of those rare comedies that actually leaves you wishing it were longer. (top) (back)

BEST LAID PLANS - C-
Starring: Allesandro Nivola, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Rocky Carroll, Michael G. Hagerty
Directed by: Mike Barker
Suspense, 92 min
(14A) (Fox Searchlight, 1999)


This low-budget thriller is all about friends that double cross one another, but the only one who will really feel cheated by all of the foolishness is the audience. Marking the feature debut of director Mike Barker, the film casts Alessandro Nivola (Face/Off) as a small-town loser who stumbles into a heinous dilemma involving a bunch of drug dealers and who goes to extreme lengths, many involving his girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon) and selfish old friend (Josh Brolin), to work his way out. Screenwriter Ted Griffin tells the story in flashback and, in trying to keep the audience on its toes, he doesn't take one twist too many, he takes three or four too many, each time dropping one's interest in the plot and the characters. Since she almost always finds a way to make her characters interesting, Barker lucked out by getting Witherspoon to play the lead's girlfriend, but the performances from Nivola and Brolin are a lot like the film itself - unappealing, stiff and far too full of themselves.
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BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE - B-
Starring: Karyn Dwyer, Christina Cox, Wendy Crewson, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Peter Outerbridge, Jay Brazeau, Kevin Mundy, Marya Delver
Directed by: Anne Wheeler
Drama, 101 min
(18A) (Trimark, 1999)


A semi-sweet comedy-drama from Canadian director Anne Wheeler (Bye Bye Blues), Better Than Chocolate dives headfirst into the complexities of modern romance, telling the story of a lesbian romance between a free spirit (Christina Cox) and a university drop-out (Karyn Dwyer), the unsuspecting and experimental mother (Wendy Crewson) that moves in with the two and a pre-op transsexual (Peter Outerbridge) who wants to have an operation so that he can be a lesbian. Better Than Chocolate works best in its scenes involving the colorful supporting characters - Crewson is particularly hilarious as a well meaning but confused mother, Outerbridge is sincere and heartbreaking as a "woman" still trying to find "her" place - but it comes up short in its central romance. Despite some sensually filmed love scenes, the relationship between Dwyer and Cox doesn't have enough twists to be particularly engaging (for the most part, their relationship is perfectly happy and dull) and Dwyer lacks conviction.
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BEYOND THE MAT - B
Starring: Terry Funk, Mick Foley, Jake Roberts, Roland Alexander, Vince McMahon, The Rock
Directed by: Barry Blaustein
Documentary
(14A) (Lions Gate Films, 2000)


No matter what your thoughts on professional wrestling (admiration, disdain, indifference), those thoughts will likely have a larger scope (both for the better and the worse) after sitting through this lively documentary. Directed by screenwriter Barry W. Blaustein (The Nutty Professor), Beyond the Mat focuses on three wrestlers at different points in their careers. There’s Mick Foley, a friendly father of two who also happens to be Mankind, a masked, toothless star of the World Wrestling Federation; Terry Funk, a religious Texas in his early 50s who keeps flinging bodies around the ring despite his weakening health; and Jake "The Snake" Roberts, WWF star turned pathetic drug addict desperately clinging to his old fame. Throughout the film, Blaustein doesn’t ask the types of hard-hitting questions a journalist might pursue, but he nonetheless gets to the heart of the "sport" to find a mix of spectacle, celebrity and very real violence found nowhere else.
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All reviews by Mike Boon.  

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