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NEW RELEASES

BUGS! / ROAR: LIONS OF THE KALAHARI The renovations that recently took place at Discovery Place's IMAX Dome Theatre (formerly the OMNIMAX Theatre) are nice enough, but the big news is that, following these upgrades, the venue has elected to premiere two of its best offerings in ages. The "ick" factor is sky-high -- or at least Dome-high -- with Bugs!, which features gargantuan shots of insects that are yucky enough when they're merely the size of an infant's finger. But the creep factor is easily overtaken by the wow factor, as this movie presents stupendous close-ups just as impressive (if not more so) as the groundbreaking work featured in 1996's Microcosmos. With Judi Dench providing the often playful narration, Bugs! unfolds as much as a Hollywood melodrama as a documentary (indeed, there's an unwelcome calculation to a couple of the "plot" twists, and some of the scenes were filmed inside a studio rather than deep within a rainforest), focusing on the intertwined fates of a ferocious praying mantis and a peaceful caterpillar. Forget Friday the 13th or Dawn of the Dead: You haven't experienced true cinematic gore until you see a mantis merrily chewing off a fly's head in this house-sized format. Roar: Lions of the Kalahari likewise weaves a narrative through a nonfiction template, centering on a real-life lion king and the events that transpire when a younger male threatens his supremacy. The entire picture takes place around a waterhole that provides a respite from the harshness of the parched desert yet also holds danger for the animals willing to risk becoming a lion's dinner as they strive to quench their thirst. Boosted by excellent cinematography as well as a fascinating peek at the structure of the animal kingdom (note: elephants really don't like lions), Roar allows the IMAX Dome Theatre to trumpet its return in grand fashion. Both movies: 1/2

CURRENT RELEASES

AFTER THE SUNSET As a celebration of the incomparable beauty of Salma Hayek, After the Sunset surely ranks as a four-star affair, lovingly photographing this earthbound Aphrodite as she sashays around the film's tropical setting in any number of bikinis and low-cut gowns. Oglers of Pierce Brosnan should also find this a thumbs-up affair: While the retiring James Bond has apparently made the switch from martinis to milkshakes, he's still dashing enough to provide the necessary yang to Hayek's sensual yin. But beyond the eye candy represented by the stars and their sun-soaked surroundings, there's little else that's memorable about this disposable tissue of a movie in which an FBI agent (an overripe Woody Harrelson) tries to trip up a pair of jewel thieves living it up in the Bahamas.

ALEXANDER Suddenly, Caligula is starting to look good. Alexander is unremittingly dull, visually unappealing, narratively muddled, inadvertently campy, indifferently acted -- and that's just for starters. Colin Farrell gets trampled under the weight of director Oliver Stone's expectations in tackling the role of the warrior king whose claim to fame was conquering most of the known world by the time he was Ashton Kutcher's present age. Anthony Hopkins provides the doddering exposition -- lots and lots of exposition -- and, as Alexander's parents, Angelina Jolie (sporting an accent that suggests she's channeling Bela Lugosi) and Val Kilmer get to bellow and howl and gnash their teeth, to little avail. As for the murky battle sequences, they seem to have been shot by a camera while it was tumbling around inside a dryer.

BEING JULIA It's not entirely accurate to state that Annette Bening is the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show, but let's just say that without her presence, the curtain would fall a lot faster on this adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's book Theatre. She's awfully fun to watch as she whirlwinds her way through this backstage yarn (set in 1938 London) about an aging actress whose young lover (Shaun Evans) might be using her. The film's greatest strength rests in its intricate character dynamics (aided by such luminaries as Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon); its biggest flaw comes from the miscasting of the bland Evans, whose flat performance makes it impossible to believe that the dynamic Julia would fall so strongly for such a drip.

BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON This follow-up to the delightful Bridget Jones's Diary is the laziest sort of sequel, lifting episodes wholesale from the original before spinning off in directions that don't even begin to make sense. So even though the film opens where the original ended, with Bridget (Renee Zellweger) finding true love with lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the writers create a series of unlikely conflicts between the couple, simply so they can rehash the same scenario where Bridget has to choose between Darcy and bad boy Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). It all culminates with Bridget landing in a Thai prison, where she leads a chorus line of hookers in a sing-along to Madonna's "Like a Virgin" -- a ludicrous sequence that suggests there wasn't enough cogent material to fashion a sequel in the first place.

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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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