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Home From The Holidays 

CFS series returns with strong slate

After wrapping up its November program, the Charlotte Film Society wisely followed the national trend: It took time off for the holidays.

Perhaps electing not to deal with the distractions of Christmas shopping, awards season and potentially foul weather, the CFS's Second Week/Second Chance series bypassed a winter program altogether and simply waited for the thaw. But now it's back after a three-month hiatus, rested and ready to offer Charlotteans an intriguing spring season, one diverse enough to include Michael Caine as a Nazi collaborator, Bruce Campbell as Elvis, and Anakin Skywalker as a reporter.

The March lineup begins this Friday at the Manor and continues the following Friday at Movies at Birkdale. Here's a look at this month's offerings, followed by the remainder of the spring program. For complete details, including times and costs, call 704-414-2355, or go online to http://charlottefilmsociety.com.

The absorbing drama Shattered Glass (1/2 out of four), which placed on my 10 Best list for 2003, played Charlotte briefly last year, but so few people saw it during its initial run that its inclusion here is much appreciated. Based on the real-life scandal involving writer Stephen Glass, who had fabricated 27 of the 41 stories he penned for The New Republic in the 1990s, it would be logical to assume that this film would rake the fourth estate over the coals, illustrating how it had continued to shift from a venerable source of reliable information into a circus act of celebrity reporters riding unicycles of distortion and deceit. Yet the surprise of Shattered Glass is that it's ultimately a celebration of journalistic integrity, emulating All the President's Men in the way it presents most of its characters as moral crusaders who will do whatever it takes to uncover the truth. Hayden Christensen, whose solid work here confirms the suspicion that his Anakin Skywalker was weakened not so much by his own thespian abilities but by George Lucas' clunky dialogue, stars as Glass, whose empathetic nature and self-effacing personality make him a favorite around the New Republic office. Yet when his latest story, a popular piece about a computer hacker, begins to raise red flags among the members of an online publication, TNR editor Charles Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) is forced to look into the matter and accept wherever it leads him. Writer-director Billy Ray (working from Buzz Bissinger's Vanity Fare article) makes the movie as much about Lane as Glass, a sound decision that allows audiences to admire one man's commitment to integrity even as it disapproves of his colleague's immoral actions.

Not since Francis Coppola's sharp take on Bram Stoker's Dracula has there been a vampire flick as deliriously off the wall as Guy Maddin's Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (1/2). Produced for Canadian television and featuring the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, this film does for ballet what Robert Altman's recent dud The Company couldn't: It brings the dance form alive on screen, at once making it sexy, stylish and relevant. Yet this isn't merely a filmed stage play -- most of the time, the dancing is so minimal that you forget you're even watching a ballet. Instead, Maddin has integrated a new reading of the text with an old-fashioned shooting style straight out of the silent era. Influenced by the 1922 classic Nosferatu, this version employs black-and-white film stock (with the occasional striking burst of color), simple title cards and often overripe performances to convey the cinematic experience of a century ago. Yet where Maddin (working from Mark Godden's stage show Dracula) ventures out on his own is in his casting of Zhang Wei-Qiang as Dracula (conveying the fear that the Western world often exhibits toward immigrants from the East), and in his portrayal of the good guys as humorless puritans straight out of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. The rigidness of Dr. Van Helsing (David Moroni) is far more disturbing than the sensuality of Dracula and his brides, and it's no coincidence that the dancers are most alive after they've been involved in a little neck-nibbling.

A modest, unassuming film, To Be and To Have () would initially seem to have trouble stepping out of the shadow of Spellbound, which ranks as one of the best documentaries of recent times. But this French import, which likewise takes an intimate look at schoolchildren in all their gawky glory, commands great respect not only for filmmaker Nicolas Philibert (whose presence never seems to distract his young subjects) but also for the movie's primary figure, Georges Lopez. The sole teacher in a middle-of-nowhere village in the south of France, Lopez is a man clearly enamored of his profession, a soft-spoken educator whose class consists of roughly a dozen kids ranging in age from 3 to 11. Whether mediating a conversation between two combative older kids or dealing with the antics of a born scene-stealer named Jojo, Lopez is just the sort of hands-on teacher these kids need before they're eventually shipped off to the impersonal atmosphere of the region's middle school. The American school system would do well to take a page from Mr. Lopez's slow-but-steady curriculum -- these kids don't have to deal with administrators' testing-fueled hysteria the minute they walk through the classroom door -- but ultimately, the movie is more personal than political, showing the difference one caring teacher can make in the lives of his young charges. Mr. Chips would be proud.

The Upcoming Lineup:

April: Bubba Ho-Tep, in which Elvis (Bruce Campbell) and a man claiming to be JFK (Ossie Davis) team up to stop a cowboy mummy; Bus 174, a Brazilian documentary about a hostage situation that ended in tragedy; In This World, in which two Afghan refugees attempt to make it to England; The Statement, Norman Jewison's drama about the search for a Frenchman (Michael Caine) accused of aiding the Germans during World War II.

May: Buffalo Soldiers, a dark comedy set on a US military base in Germany and starring Joaquin Phoenix and Ed Harris; Demonlover, a twist-filled thriller in which two corporations fight over the acquisition of an Internet porn site; The Son, a French-Belgian production (and Cannes Festival hit) about the strained relationship between a carpenter and his apprentice; Together, about a promising Chinese violinist and the father who's willing to make sacrifices to ensure his son's success.

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