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The Golden Compass, Margot at the Wedding, others

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BEOWULF For the record, this isn't a review of Beowulf. It's a review of Beowulf in Digital 3D, and I have to assume that might make some degree of difference. Director Robert Zemeckis, whose 2004 The Polar Express felt like an animated feature that had been embalmed, again employs the "performance capture" technique with far greater success, overlaying real actors with a cartoon sheen and placing them in the middle of a CGI landscape. In 2D, which is how the film is being shown in most theaters, this runs the risk of looking as soulless as many other CGI works, but in 3D (at select venues), it results in a positively astonishing experience. Tossed coins roll directly toward the camera, spears poke directly out at audience members, and even an animated Angelina Jolie's, umm, assets seem more pronounced than usual. Based on the ancient poem, the script by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary doesn't always match the movie's visual splendor, but their modifications to the text are more often than not respectful. After the gruesome monster Grendel (snarled by Crispin Glover) wreaks havoc on the castle of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), the heroic (and boastful) Beowulf (Ray Winstone) arrives to save the day. Yet he finds himself not only having to confront Grendel but also the misshapen creature's mother (Jolie) and, in the climactic pièce de résistance, a fierce dragon. Given the massive advances in 3D technology, it's possible that more and more movies will be presented in this format. Anyone up for Shortbus 2 in Digital 3D? ***

ENCHANTED It's a nice touch having Julie Andrews serve as narrator in Walt Disney's Enchanted. Andrews played the title nanny in the studio's Mary Poppins, which contains the famous phrase "practically perfect in every way." And I can't think of a better way to describe Amy Adams' performance as Giselle, the animated damsel who doesn't long to be a real girl but becomes one anyway. This begins in the style of the classic Disney toon flicks of yore, with the beautiful Giselle, at one with nature and its furry inhabitants, longing for "true love's kiss" from the lips of a handsome prince. She gets her wish when she meets Prince Edward, but his scheming stepmother, Queen Narissa, banishes Giselle to a faraway land, which, it turns out, is our own New York City. Now flesh and blood, Giselle turns to a stranger, a buttoned-up divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey), to help her survive in this bewildering city; meanwhile, others arrive in pursuit of Giselle, including Edward (James Marsden) and the evil Queen (Susan Sarandon). Bill Kelly doesn't come to exploiting this rich premise for all it's worth, but that's not to say there aren't moments of genuine inspiration, such as when Giselle calls out to the creatures of NYC for help and instead of the expected rabbits, deer and chipmunks gets rats, roaches and flies. But what pushes the film over the top is the terrific turn by Adams, who really seems like a Disney heroine come to life (as the preening prince, Marsden also displays fine comic chops). Her performance is every bit as enchanting as one dreams it would be. **1/2

THE GOLDEN COMPASS There's been a lot of talk surrounding this movie as it compares to Philip Pullman's original novel – what's been taken out, what's been watered down – but let's remind ourselves of the bottom line: A movie is a separate entity from a book and as such deserves to be judged on its own terms. And on that level, The Golden Compass is an acceptable piece of fantasy fluff, a cluttered mishmash that nevertheless can lay claim to its own scattered charms. An ambitious tale set in an alternate world, this is basically yet another tale about an unassuming youth who emerges as the only person able to vanquish the evil force that's poised to conquer all (Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Frodo, etc.). Top-billed Nicole Kidman plays the villainous Marisa Coulter, but the lead is actually Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra, the spunky lass who lands in the middle of a large-scale skirmish that finds the fascistic members of the religious ruling body (with the aid of the aforementioned Mrs. Coulter) fighting all manner of outsiders in an effort to not only hold onto power but insure that they eliminate the notion of "free will" entirely. For all the narrative shortcuts taken by director-adapter Chris Weitz, the movie still works fairly well as a high-flying fantasy tale for the younger set. As for adult audience members, they can enjoy the fine work by Kidman, who's all slinky, silky menace as the purring Marisa Coulter. Whether displaying a false maternal front to the motherless Lyra or slapping around a moody monkey, she's a movie villain worth remembering – in fact, if she were any more evil, she would have to change her name from Marisa to Ann. **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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