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Film Society offers degrees of separation with Bus 174, The Statement, more

Watching the riveting Bus 174 (***1/2 out of four) on the heels of the Oscar-nominated City of God, it becomes clear that one of the world's major war zones can be found not across endless oceans but on the continent next door. Like the based-on-fact City, this documentary concerns itself with the "invisible people" of Rio de Janeiro -- homeless orphans and runaways who must contend with extreme poverty, police brutality and a general populace that wishes they would simply disappear. One such person, a 21-year-old named Sandro, attempts to rob a group of bus passengers, but when that plan goes awry, he ends up taking them hostage, leading to a standoff that was captured moment-by-moment by the multiple news cameras positioned all around the vehicle. Given the level of police incompetence on display, as well as Sandro's own confused state of mind, it was probably a foregone conclusion that the incident would end in tragedy, yet this movie, as thoroughly researched as any documentary in recent memory, looks beyond this episode to offer a scathing indictment of a nation's indifference to its own offspring.

When the First Family -- any recent First Family, not just the present one -- settles in for movie night at the White House, one has to assume the featured attractions are the run-of-the-mill blockbusters being enjoyed by the rest of the nation. But just once, I'd like for some brave soul to sneak in a copy of a film like In This World (***), just to bring a slap of reality to the residents of the presidential plastic bubble. Michael Winterbottom's grim tale, filmed in the popular docudrama style, starts out at a camp for Afghan refugees, many of them there because of US bombings of their cities. It then quickly zeroes in on two boys -- innocents who have nothing to do with rabid terrorists or political opportunists or dead soldiers -- and follows them as they make their way across increasingly hostile terrain in order to reach England and, they hope, a better life. Winterbottom, a socially conscious Brit, has made a movie that isn't much different than the rash of humanist dramas that have been pouring out of the Middle East in recent years, but that doesn't make its issues any less relevant -- or potent.

A mere plot synopsis is all that's required to show that writer-director Don Coscarelli was shooting for instant cult status with Bubba Ho-Tep (**1/2): Tucked away anonymously in a nursing home, an elderly Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) partners with a man claiming to be John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) to take down a resurrected mummy who stomps around sporting a cowboy hat. The premise is loopy enough to offer some diversion, and Campbell has one of his best roles to date as a crotchety Elvis whose quickness with the quips masks his concerns about his advancing age. But hampered by either its low budget or a reluctance to go for broke (something a true cult film would never do), Bubba Ho-Tep never quite lives up to its whacked-out potential, though you gotta love the end credit that promises a sequel called Bubba Nosferatu.

Michael Caine may be one of the most consistently dependable actors around, but even he couldn't save The Statement (*1/2) from ranking as one of last year's biggest disappointments. Directed by In the Heat of the Night's Norman Jewison, written by The Pianist's Ronald Harwood (based on Brian Moore's novel), and populated by an impressive cast that also includes Charlotte Rampling, Tilda Swinton and the late Alan Bates, this stale drama nevertheless gets its only juice from Caine, who's cast as a former French officer who assisted the Nazis with their extermination of Jews during World War II. Now he's on the run from both a dogged judge (Swinton) and a gang of Jewish vigilantes, and even the right-wing hardliners within the Catholic Church -- the same people who have been sheltering him for decades -- have decided to cut off his support system. What should have been, at best, a scathing indictment of the knotty affiliation between religion and politics and, at the very least, a breathless thriller is instead a listless melodrama that smothers its own potential with too much vague moralizing and too many cut-and-dry chase sequences.

The Charlotte Film Society's Second Week/Second Chance series begins this Friday at the Manor Theatre and continues the following Friday, April 16, at Movies at Birkdale. For details on prices and times, call 704-414-2355 or go online to http://charlottefilmsociety.com.

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