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NEW RELEASES

CHARLOTTE FILM SOCIETY Movies begin this Friday at the Manor and continue the following Friday at Movies at Birkdale. Call 704-414-2355 for details.

* BUFFALO SOLDIERS The TV movie The Reagans wasn't the only Hollywood project from the past year to largely vanish because of fears it would anger our Republican friends in charge. Improbably, Miramax Films, once the most cutting-edge of all studios, cowardly gave the boot to Buffalo Soldiers, releasing it to only a handful of cities before sending it packing to Videoland. The movie's crime? It dares to show the military in a less-than-flattering light, as an institution in which some of its officers are incompetent or psychotic and many of its foot soldiers corrupt and drug-addled. Imagine if Robert Altman's M*A*S*H had been stifled back in 1970 because its studio was afraid the movie would offend Nixon with its thinly veiled digs at the Vietnam War, and you can see the absurdity of the current climate. At any rate, Buffalo Soldiers is no M*A*S*H, but it's still a sharply scripted serio-comedy in which an opportunistic GI (Joaquin Phoenix), running illegal operations under the nose of his inept commander (Ed Harris) right before the end of the Cold War, runs afoul of a hardnosed officer (Scott Glenn) and escalates the antagonism by dating his daughter (Anna Paquin).

* Also: The Chinese import TOGETHER (1/2), from director Chen Kaige (Farewell, My Concubine), is a modestly pleasing tale about a peasant trying to guarantee that his son, a violin virtuoso, has the opportunity to succeed in life. The ending, meant to be inspirational, is instead problematic. France's DEMONLOVER () stars Connie Nielsen (Gladiator) in a slick corporate thriller about a double-dealing businesswoman's discovery of a website that specializes in illegal activities. This convoluted picture starts out strong by keeping the viewer off-balance, but it ultimately leads nowhere, and the ending can be figured out before the movie's even half over. And THE SON () comes from Belgium's sibling team of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who are favorites at Cannes (their earlier film Rosetta took the top prize) but not with me. This one is a similarly lethargic drama about a carpenter (Cannes Best Actor winner Olivier Gourmet) who takes under his wing the teenager who killed his own son years earlier. God knows I'm usually a sucker for leisurely paced character studies, but with most of the running time devoted merely to endless scenes of Gourmet silently driving his car, silently climbing stairs, silently doing sit-ups, etc., I was ready for a naval battle or an Orc attack just to shake things up -- and to insure I hadn't lost my hearing.

CURRENT RELEASES

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

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

ENVY Simply put, Envy is a steaming pile of celluloid crap. The excrement reference is appropriate, since the plot centers on a loudmouth (Jack Black) who invents the Vapoorizer, a spray that makes dog doo disappear into thin air; his creation makes him rich, which in turn makes his best friend (Ben Stiller) insanely jealous. Barry Levinson, an accomplished director whose bombs are now starting to outnumber his hits, can do absolutely nothing with newcomer Steve Adams' perfectly dreadful script. It really says something when a movie manages to snag the services of both Stiller and Black and then squanders their talents by forcing them to play unlikable, uninteresting characters who come across as irritating rather than amusing. The sooner they Vapoorize this movie from their resumes, the better off we'll all be.

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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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