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New Releases

EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED Well, not quite everything, but almost enough to provide this ersatz road film with the gravitas it clearly seeks. Based on Jonathan Safran Foer's book, this directorial debut from actor Liev Schreiber is an odd meld of cinematic whimsy and Holocaust tragedy, relating how Jewish Jonathan (Elijah Wood), a meticulous collector of his family's history, journeys to the Ukraine to locate the woman he believes saved his grandfather's life during World War II. His guides turn out to be a real odd couple: Alex (Eugene Hutz), a gangly guy decked out in hip-hop duds who champions the contributions of American "Negros" such as Michael Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal, and Alex's grandfather (Boris Leskin), a cantankerous old man whose apparent anti-Semitism masks a long-buried secret. Also along for the ride is the elderly man's "seeing eye bitch," a yappy mutt named Sammy Davis Junior Junior. Burdened with a deadly beginning, this emotionally muted film improves as it progresses, though the stabs at humor run hot-and-cold and the climactic sequence (in which the ghosts of the past are laid to rest) fails to pack the wallop it desperately requires. Wood's performance is monotonous by design, leaving the energetic Hutz (frontman for the gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello) as the closest thing to an audience surrogate. Rating: ** 1/2

THUMBSUCKER Did we really need yet another coming-of-age tale, especially one from the indie circuit? (See also: Tadpole, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, House of D, etc.) Not especially, but as long as they're entertaining like Thumbsucker, there's no harm in continuing to mine a field that's been fertile ever since James Dean first bellowed, "You're tearing me apart!" to his perplexed screen parents. Adapted from Walter Kirn's novel by director Mike Mills (making an assured debut after twin careers as a graphic designer and music video helmer), Thumbsucker tells the story of 17-year-old Justin Cobb (Lou Pucci), a withdrawn kid whose habit of sucking his thumb perturbs his parents (Tilda Swinton and Vincent D'Onofrio) and hinders his self-confidence among his peers. Various adults, from his New Age orthodontist (Keanu Reeves) to his demanding debate coach (Vince Vaughn), try to help Justin overcome his mental roadblocks, but it isn't until after he's diagnosed with ADD and prescribed pills that he breaks out of his shell. But with this newfound success comes newfound problems, and Justin must look within himself to locate the person he wants to become. The script's pat, symbolic overtures (the mad rush to curb Justin's bad habit is a condemnation of society's insistence on blanket conformity) aren't nearly as interesting as its exploration of the various roles that adults can adapt as they seek to establish any sort of rapport with younger versions of themselves. Rating: ***

WAITING "If this is gonna be that kind of party, then I'm gonna stick my dick in the mashed potatoes!" That's the rallying cry (made popular years ago by the Beastie Boys) heard at the start of Waiting, and be aware that this is one of the better lines you'll hear during the course of this movie. Writer-director Rob McKittrick obviously views his pet project as the new Clerks (citing that film as an inspiration in the closing credits), but whereas that Kevin Smith gem featured genuine wit (not to mention some killer quips) beneath the rampant vulgarity, Waiting is merely puerile, crammed with incessant employment of the "F" word (fag, that is) and featuring more unkempt pubic hair (male and female) than any picture this side of a 50s-era stag film. Ryan Reynolds, recycling every smart-ass cute guy dating back to Tim Matheson in National Lampoon's Animal House, plays the veteran employee at Shenanigan's, an eatery in the Applebee's/Bennigan's mold. He's assigned to show the new kid (John Francis Daley) the ropes, and the story kicks into high gear once he explains to the rookie that every male employee must try to trick the other guys into looking at his exposed genitalia. (As a compelling plotline, I think it's safe to say it doesn't quite compare to Chinatown.) It's depressing to see such likable performers as Chi McBride and Justin Long stranded in this toxic dump, but the biggest casualty is Anna Faris -- an adept comedienne in Scary Movie and Lost In Translation, she deserves better than this. Even Luis Guzman, one of my favorite character actors (Boogie Nights, Traffic), tests the patience as a pervy cook who convinces his girlfriend to give him a handjob at a relative's funeral. Rating: *

Current Releases

FLIGHTPLAN On the heels of Red Eye comes another aerial thriller. Both films require some suspension of disbelief, but Red Eye at least took care to dot every i, cross every t, and shovel dirt into every gaping plothole. This one, about a widow (Jodie Foster) whose daughter disappears during an intercontinental flight, quickly begins its narrative descent and eventually explodes on contact, creating fireballs of flaws so massive that they obliterate entire theater auditoriums and even singe the concession stands. Foster's performance deserves a better showcase -- instead, she's much like the lone suitcase that's left on the baggage claim belt, circling wearily while surrounded by an atmosphere of indifference. Rating: **

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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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