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Society Celebration 

Local outfit turns 20

Twenty years ago, Ronald Reagan was still president, Dallas and Dynasty ruled primetime television, and the independent film movement was still a couple of years away from exploding all over the American landscape. But while names like Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee had yet to find their way into national newspaper reviews and magazine essays, a group of Charlotte movie lovers felt there were enough foreign and classic pictures needing local exposure to warrant the formation of an organization devoted to bringing such works to town. Thus, the Charlotte Film Society was born, and in the past two decades it has graciously made sure that numerous foreign, independent and classic titles that otherwise might have never played town all had their moment to shine on a Charlotte silver screen.

Last month actually marked the 20th anniversary of the CFS, yet their official celebration won't be held until Thursday, October 17. That's when the Manor, the latest and most logical of the handful of venues that have sheltered the Society over the years, will host a party paying tribute to the group's longevity in a city whose appreciation for alternative cinema has over time been, at best, lukewarm. Thursday's gig will include a reception (naturally, popcorn and soft drinks will be offered, but hors d'oeuvres, coffee, beer and wine will also be available) beginning at 6:30pm, followed by a screening at 8pm. Those in attendance will have the choice of watching either Heaven, directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and starring Cate Blanchett as a teacher whose plan to kill a drug dealer backfires, or Bloody Sunday, a drama centering on that infamous day in Irish history. The event is for members only, but anyone who joins the organization before then will be welcome to attend.

Before next week's celebration, however, the society has its regular business to conduct -- namely, its monthly "Second Week/Second Chance" series. The current slate begins this Friday at the Manor Theatre and continues the following Friday at Movies at Birkdale.

For information on membership, programming or other matters, call 704-414-2355.

Cinema Paradiso

Miramax, which last year released an expanded version of Apocalypse Now, now does likewise with its immensely popular Oscar winner from 1989. Interestingly, the extra hour of material changes the entire intent of the movie, making it less a heartfelt ode to cinema itself (as represented by the central relationship between Salvatore Cascio's little boy and Philippe Noiret's movie projectionist) and more a meditation on the vagaries of love (the extra footage centers on the kid as an adult, pining away for his childhood sweetheart). This version's no classic like its predecessor, but its pleasures are still plentiful. ***1/2

The Piano Teacher Scoring thrice at last year's Cannes Film Festival (Grand Jury Prize, Best Actress, Best Actor), this French import doesn't live up to its initial reputation as a shocking piece of cinema, yet it still remains a fitfully watchable drama that's primarily bolstered by Isabelle Huppert's risk-taking performance in the title role. Huppert's no stranger to playing withdrawn characters, yet here she outdoes herself as a sexually repressed woman who enters into a potentially dangerous relationship with a young student (Benoit Magimel). ***

Les Destinees Sentimentales Three-hour movies have been common at the Manor as of late (Cinema Paradiso, The Fast Runner and Lagaan, the last-named actually clocking in closer to four), but this is the first of the bunch that doesn't wear its length well. A decades-spanning look at an affluent French family in the early part of the 20th century, this stately drama never bores but it also never soars, forever remaining at emotional arm's length and feeling more like an empty shell of an epic rather than the real deal. **

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