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DREAMER: INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY Considering that every third movie made these days seems to have been "inspired" by a true story (as opposed to "based on," thereby allowing for even more mangling of the actual facts), it's amusing that this film goes ahead and places its disclaimer right in the title. It's a curious decision, especially since the target audience for this particular picture will find itself too uplifted to worry about historical veracity. Taking a well-worn formula and adding some flavor through the rich characterizations of its leading players, Dreamer centers on the circumstances that transpire when horse trainer Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) and his young daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) elect to nurse an injured race horse named Soñador (Spanish for Dreamer) back to health. Planning to use the mare for breeding purposes until learning she's infertile, the financially strapped Ben, with constant prodding by his daughter as well as his own crusty dad (Kris Kristofferson), decides to take a chance on prepping her for competition contention -- with the Breeders' Cup Classic just around the corner. Many child stars are either sloppily sentimental or coldly calculating, and while Fanning has occasionally veered toward the latter, she delivers her warmest and most natural performance in this picture. And although Elizabeth Shue (as Mom) is once again wasted (has no one in Hollywood seen Leaving Las Vegas and what this actress can do?), there's a heartwarming family dynamic between father and daughter, and the scenes between Russell and Fanning are especially good -- so memorable, in fact, they occasionally make us forget we've seen all this before. HH 1/2

ELIZABETHTOWN Many directors reveal little about themselves through their motion pictures. Cameron Crowe isn't one of them. He has consistently made movies that tap into some aspect of his personal life, with this autobiographical penchant reaching its pinnacle via his Oscar-winning screenplay for Almost Famous. With Elizabethtown, Crowe seeks to honor the memory of his father, who died of a heart attack in 1989. It's a noble endeavor but a disappointing movie, as engaging individual scenes fail to disguise either the slackness or superficiality of the piece. Orlando Bloom, nothing special but getting the job done, stars as Drew Baylor, a failed shoe designer who temporarily shelves his own demons in order to attend the funeral of his dad back in the title Kentucky town. Along the way, he meets a chatty flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) who stirs him out of his stupor -- she's the new constant in his life as he attempts to do right by his various relatives, including his grieving mother (Susan Sarandon). Crowe, a former Rolling Stone writer, is renowned for his films' savvy music selections, yet here he overplays his hand: The final portion of Elizabethtown is one long road trip in which Drew explores the country while his car CD blasts a multitude of diverse tunes, and the overriding feeling is that Crowe simply wanted to impress audiences with cuts from his personal music collection. Dunst is passable as Drew's kooky, life-loving confidante, though I preferred Natalie Portman in the role in the similar (and superior) Garden State. HH

Current Releases

EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED Well, not quite everything, but almost enough to provide this ersatz road film with the gravitas it clearly seeks. Based on Jonathan Safran Foer's book, this is an odd meld of cinematic whimsy and Holocaust tragedy, relating how Jewish Jonathan (Elijah Wood), a meticulous collector of his family's history, journeys to the Ukraine to locate the woman he believes saved his grandfather's life during World War II. His guides turn out to be a real odd couple: Alex (Eugene Hutz), a gangly guy decked out in hip-hop duds, and his cantankerous grandfather (Boris Leskin). This emotionally muted film improves as it progresses, though stabs at humor run hot-and-cold and the climactic sequence fails to pack the wallop it desperately requires. Wood's performance is monotonous by design, leaving the energetic Hutz (from the gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello) as the closest thing to an audience surrogate. HH 1/2

FLIGHTPLAN On the heels of Red Eye comes another aerial thriller. Both films require some suspension of disbelief, but Red Eye at least took care to dot every i, cross every t, and shovel dirt into every gaping plothole. This one, about a widow (Jodie Foster) whose daughter disappears during an intercontinental flight, quickly begins its narrative descent and eventually explodes on contact, creating fireballs of flaws so massive that they obliterate entire theater auditoriums and even singe the concession stands. Foster's performance deserves a better showcase -- instead, she's much like the lone suitcase that's left on the baggage claim belt, circling wearily while surrounded by an atmosphere of indifference. HH

THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED Based on a true story, this handsome drama centers on the 1913 US Open and how a 20-year-old American lad named Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf) finds himself pitted against two British pros -- one being six-time British Open winner Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) -- for the championship. On paper, it sounds like the usual "brash Yankee upstart shows the stiff-upper-lip Brits a thing or two." But Francis and his two opponents all spring from humble origins, fighting prejudice every step of the way as their grit and determination allow them to beat the ruling class at its own game. It's an American story in the truest sense: Championing the underdog, it depicts the struggle between the haves and the have-nots -- and for once, it's the haves who are left wanting. What could be more inspiring than that? HHH

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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