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WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF May I please go ahead and openly declare my unwavering adoration for Shirley Henderson? She's the new Helena Bonham-Carter, a pale-faced, dark-browed Brit with an off-kilter beauty and enough acting chops to waylay a dozen Hollywood starlets in one fell swoop. Terrific in such diverse projects as Topsy-Turvy, Bridget Jones's Diary (where she played one of Renee Zellweger's best buds) and the recent Intermission, she's equally memorable in Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, a curious piece of whimsy that isn't nearly as straightforward as its title. Not always successful but also never uninteresting, the film casts Jamie Sives as Wilbur, a Glasgow resident who's generally giving those around him the cold shoulder when he's not busy devising new ways to commit suicide. His eternally patient brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) devotes himself to Wilbur but also finds time to romance single mom Alice (Henderson), yet once they're wed, Harbour is forced to confront his own medical misfortune while Wilbur and Alice explore their mutual attraction behind his back. The gallows humor provided by writer-director Lone Scherfig and co-scripter Anders Thomas Jensen is the film's strongest suit, followed by its gallery of sympathetic characters, most of whom are simply seeking companionship in a cold world. Less successful is its eventual segue way into melodrama, with an inherently tearjerking development bucking awkwardly against Scherfig's chilly direction.


THE ALAMO Forget The Alamo... again. John Wayne's 1960 take on the historic battle of 1836 was fairly useless as history and barely involving as entertainment, but it at least had the benefit of a sterling cast and a marvelous Dimitri Tiomkin score. This version can't even match those modest achievements -- it's the equivalent of one long drone from a stiff Social Studies teacher who can scarcely be bothered to add any sort of relevancy to the topic. Even with his charisma kept in check, Billy Bob Thornton still fares best as Davy Crockett. The other leads -- Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston, Patrick Wilson as William Travis and especially Jason Patric as Jim Bowie -- resemble waxworks at a history museum; if the characters they're portraying had been this boring, they simply could have lulled the Mexican army to sleep. 1/2

CONNIE AND CARLA Although it cribs shamelessly from Some Like It Hot and Victor/Victoria, this at least finds writer-actress Nia Vardalos breaking away from her bread-and-butter -- on the heels of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the TV series My Big Fat Greek Life, I was dreading My Big Fat Greek Divorce, My Big Fat Greek Funeral, etc. Instead, this finds Vardalos and Toni Collette cast as airport lounge singers who take it on the lam after they witness a murder. Hoofing it to LA, they hide out as drag performers -- in short, they're girls pretending to be guys pretending to be girls. As writer, Vardalos couldn't be less interested in the plot -- the crime escapades wouldn't even have been approved for an episode of Hawaii Five-O -- but the characters are engaging and the musical routines fun to watch. 1/2

DOGVILLE The latest drama from writer-director Lars von Trier, following the powerful Breaking the Waves and the insufferable Dancer In the Dark, is equally guaranteed to disturb and divide audiences. Nicole Kidman (in a strong performance that goes with the flow) plays a Depression-era fugitive who shows up in a small Rocky Mountain town, whereupon the locals grudgingly come to accept her as part of their community. But as time progresses and suspicions are aroused, the residents eventually turn on her, treating her as nothing more than a slave and laying the groundwork for the film's cathartic climax. Armed with the minimalist trappings of a filmed stage play, this is a movie of our times, a cautionary tale railing against the uninformed conformity that too often soils the legacy of this great country. 1/2

ELLA ENCHANTED Freely adapted from the book by Gail Carson Levine but completely owing its body and soul to Shrek, this is yet another fractured fairy tale designed for kids living in a postmodern age. Anne Hathaway, the wide-eyed star of The Princess Diaries, plays Ella, a young woman who tries to break a spell that forces her to obey every command directly aimed at her. The film is largely missing any semblance of a through line -- plot points are brought up and then abandoned, and characters appear randomly for no pressing reason other than the story requires their presence at that exact moment -- but the movie's still reasonably entertaining, thanks to an able cast as well as its own infectious commitment to Happily Ever After principles. 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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