"Animal Factory" -- Character actor Steve Buscemi directs this raw, no-nonsense look at life in a Pennsylvania prison. The tone of "Animal Factory" is reminiscent of the acclaimed HBO series "Oz," an episode of which Buscemi directed. The film follows the relationship between a lifer who rules the place (Willem Dafoe) and a rich, educated young man (Edward Furlong) sent there recently for drug trafficking. Buscemi and director of photography Phil Parmet approach prison life as if they were documentary makers, depicting the routine and the violence with simplicity. This independent film with big Hollywood stars covers no new ground, but it presents the subject in a refreshing, enthralling way. R. 94 min.
"Pay It Forward" -- It would take a hard heart not to feel moved by the weepy ending of "Pay It Forward." And it would take a hard head not to think you've also been shamelessly manipulated. Kevin Spacey stars as a teacher whose assignment in altruism prompts a student (Haley Joel Osment) to come up with a plan to spread kindness by "paying forward" good deeds. Helen Hunt plays the boy's boozing single mom. All past Oscar-winners or nominees, the three stars deliver admirable performances and could be in the awards chase again. The movie itself, though, is fitful. Director Mimi Leder strings together emotive scenes, but they come off like a series of contrivances, setups to tug clumsily at the heartstrings. Many moviegoers will drench their hankies at the syrupy ending. Many more will choke back gags over its mawkishness. PG-13. 122 min.
"Bedazzled" -- Brendan Fraser is as a social misfit whom nobody really likes, including his secret love, Frances O'Connor. So in "Bedazzled," he makes a desperate contract with the devil, played by Elizabeth Hurley. (Why not a female devil?) The deal: He gets seven wishes; she gets his soul. The results are disastrous. 1967's "Bedazzled," directed by Stanley Donen, was played amusingly by Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, who also wrote the script. The 2000 version had help from Harold Ramis ("Analyze This"), who directed, and Larry Gelbart ("Tootsie"), who wrote the script with Ramis and Peter Tolan. But the result is surprisingly flat and humorless. PG. 93 min.
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