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Lars and the Real Girl, Across the Universe, The Assassination of Jesse James, others

New Releases

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL How is it even possible to make a PG-13 movie about a man and his plastic sex doll? To their (sort-of) credit, director Craig Gillespie and writer Nancy Oliver give it a shot by fashioning a gentle parable about an introvert whose relationship with said object is actually a cry for help – plus, it doesn't hurt audience acceptance of the film (and the character) that he never uses the faux-female for what she was intended. In a performance that's as calculating as it is sweet-natured, Ryan Gosling plays Lars, a shy man who cringes at the mere thought of interacting with other humans, whether at the office, at parties, or even in the home of his brother (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer). Lars ends up purchasing a sex doll online, but rather than using her to satisfy God-given urges, he maintains a platonic relationship, escorting her all over town and introducing her to bewildered townsfolk as his Brazilian girlfriend Bianca. Rather than shunning Lars, his family and neighbors go along with the delusion, coaxing him (and Bianca!) into becoming more involved with the community even as a psychiatrist (Patricia Clarkson) attempts to uncover the source of his behavior. An often clumsy fable about the sting of loneliness and the welcome balm of selfless intervention, Lars and the Real Girl can't quite manage a gimmick that's well-suited for a short film but thin when stretched out over 105 minutes. The supporting cast is fine, especially Schneider and Mortimer as Lars' perplexed family members and Kelli Garner as a co-worker who could use some of that love and affection that Lars bestows on Bianca. **1/2

Current Releases

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE Fashioning a story around a catalogue of classic Beatles tunes, Across the Universe proves to be a magical mystery tour with the power to restore one's faith in both movies and music. One can nitpick about the thin plot, though it's sturdy enough to function as a support beam to director Julie Taymor's outlandish ideas. Taking place in the late 1960s, the story, credited to Taymor and the team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (the blokes responsible for the smashing Irish R&B flick The Commitments), finds Liverpool laborer Jude (Jim Sturgess) traveling to America, whereupon he finds a best friend in college kid Max (Joe Anderson) and a lover in Max's kid sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Eventually, the three end up in New York, at which point Jude develops his passion for drawing, Max gets drafted into the army, and Lucy finds her political consciousness awakened. The movie takes great care to not only honor the music of The Beatles but also to pay tribute to other musical staples of the period, among them Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival and even the Apple Records logo. Combining the song sampling technique of Moulin Rouge with Forrest Gump's journey through the turbulent 1960s (and owing reams to Hair as well), Across the Universe serves up some truly staggering images, achieved through an eye-popping mix of computer graphics, oversized puppets and color-saturated set decorations. But while there's plenty of hallucinatory material, there's also plenty of heart, not to mention a handful of respectable covers of Fab Four tunes. ***1/2

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD So much for all that talk of a troubled production, studio hesitancy (Warner Bros. took forever to nail down an opening date) and a monumental misfire-to-be on the order of Heaven's Gate. While it's unlikely to make any sort of dent at the box office, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford is no turkey; on the contrary, it's a sterling example of accomplished filmmaking on a grand scale, wielding a lengthy running time that allows it to explore its themes and characters in satisfying detail. Adapted from Ron Hansen's novel by writer-director Andrew Dominik, this comes from the same school of Westerns as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Unforgiven and Lawrence Kasdan's underrated Wyatt Earp: Hardly a straight shoot-em-up, it instead serves as a commentary on the manner in which Western fact morphed into Western myth even as the ink was still drying on that particular time in American history. It also explores the allure of celebrity, using its powerful final half-hour (after the outlaw has been killed) to recount how Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) was vilified while Jesse James (Brad Pitt) was elevated to legendary status. Aided by stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins and a music score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis that grows in stature as the film progresses, The Assassination of Jesse James also benefits from Hugh Ross' sturdy narration, which adds depth to a movie already awash in it. Pitt makes his mark via a skillfully etched portrayal yet top honors go to Casey Affleck, who's as impressive here as he is in Gone Baby Gone. ***1/2

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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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