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Crash, Inside Deep Throat

CRASH (2005). A genuine sleeper hit whose positive word-of-mouth kept it in theaters throughout the summer, Crash emulates such ambitious efforts as Short Cuts and Magnolia in the manner in which it uses a sprawling cast of characters to make its salient points about modern-day malaise in America. Here, the hot-button issue is prejudice, as various Los Angelenos must cope not only with the rampant racism around them but also the bigotry that rests within themselves. Among those on the frontlines are a detective (Don Cheadle, who also co-produced) investigating a possible hate crime, a cynical cop (Matt Dillon) and his greenhorn partner (Ryan Phillippe), a progressive district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his brittle wife (Sandra Bullock), and a Hispanic locksmith (Michael Pena) who, despite being the least prejudiced person in the film, comes closest to losing the most. Writer-director Paul Haggis, best known for his Oscar-nominated script for Million Dollar Baby, has made an important movie that would be even better had he eased up on the gas every once in a while: For all its relevant themes and clever plotting, the film's overly didactic nature and moments of whopping coincidence dilute some of its impact. Among the powerhouse cast, the standouts are Hustle & Flow co-stars Terrence Howard (as a timid TV director) and Ludacris (as a philosophical carjacker). DVD extras include audio commentary by Haggis, Cheadle and co-writer Bobby Morosco, a pointless DVD introduction by Haggis and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Movie: ***

Extras: **

INSIDE DEEP THROAT (2005). "[Porn] lived in some mid-world between crime and art, and it was adventurous." So states novelist Norman Mailer in Inside Deep Throat, the fascinating new documentary from the directing team (Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato) who previously brought us The Eyes of Tammy Faye. This time, the pair unearth plenty of archival material and shoot yards of new interviews to add some perspective to the saga of Deep Throat, the 1972 hardcore sensation that briefly legitimized porn (everyone went to see it, not just shifty men concealed under dark raincoats) while also becoming the centerpiece in any number of culture wars. At the time, it was a given to many of those interviewed that porn and mainstream cinema would eventually merge, creating works of art that were unabashedly adult in nature. Instead, the dark forces of censorship and repression (led by Richard Nixon and Charles Keating, two corrupt individuals naturally painting themselves as paragons of virtue) quickly put the kibosh on that notion, which helps explain why modern cinema is more Ace Ventura and less Last Tango in Paris. The porn industry's ties to the mob aren't sufficiently fleshed out, and the feminists who appear throughout the film to either defend pornography (Helen Gurley Brown further editorializes by declaring that "ejaculate is good for the complexion") or denounce it are ultimately given short shrift -- indeed, Bailey and Barbato often have trouble corralling the diverse opinions in order to make any sticking points. Yet what's most memorable about this documentary is noting the ordinariness of those involved in the X-rated feature (director Gerard Damiano, stars Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems), guileless folks who had no idea that their modest cinematic romp would change not only their lives but the culture of the country. DVD extras include audio commentary by Bailey and Barbato, 14 short vignettes that appear to be deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ***

Extras: ***

THE INTERPRETER (2005). An interpreter (Nicole Kidman) working at the United Nations overhears a plot to assassinate the tyrannical president of her African homeland, but the Secret Service agent (Sean Penn, more relaxed than usual) assigned to the case thinks she's hiding more than she's revealing. As a thriller, The Interpreter never matches the sweaty-palms intensity of director Sydney Pollack's excellent Three Days of the Condor, though it largely gets the job done. But between the soft-hearted assessment of the UN, the creation of a fictional African nation to propel the narrative (why not employ an actual country that's had to deal in modern times with ethnic cleansing?), and an ending that takes the easy way out, it's clear that the Sydney Pollack behind The Interpreter isn't the same Sydney Pollack behind Three Days of the Condor. Just because a man mellows with age doesn't mean his movies should. DVD extras include audio commentary by Pollack, deleted scenes, Pollack's discussion of widescreen versus pan & scan, and a look at real-life interpreters.

Movie: ** 1/2

Extras: ** 1/2

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976) / BAD TIMING (1980). The directorial talent that exploded during the 70s has been well-documented, but although the early achievements of Scorsese, Coppola and Spielberg continue to garner most of the retro-raves, let's not forget the contributions of Britain's Nicolas Roeg, whose distinctive style seemed to align itself more with the alternative visions of Ken Russell, Bernardo Bertolucci and even Derek Jarman than with any of our American auteurs. Walkabout (1971) and Don't Look Now (1973) remain my favorites of his rather scant output, but his next two pictures, both just released on DVD on the Criterion label, yield their own share of pleasures. The Man Who Fell to Earth, a key cult offering of the decade, casts androgynous rocker David Bowie as an androgynous alien who arrives on Earth with the sole purpose of finding a way to transport water back to the dying members of his planet. Instead, as the years pass, he becomes corrupted by human vices (booze, sex, endless TV watching) and finds it increasingly difficult to return home. Bad Timing, meanwhile, finds Roeg working for the third time with a major music star -- first Mick Jagger (1970's Performance), then Bowie, and now Art Garfunkel, cast as a psychiatrist whose twisted affair with a free spirit (Theresa Russell, fantastic as usual) leads to a suicide attempt and a subsequent investigation by a seemingly detached detective (Harvey Keitel). Both films are stylized, elliptical and slowly paced, but those who can hop aboard their wavelengths are sure to be impressed by Roeg's refusal to cut any artistic corners. The two-disc Man DVD set comes with a paperback edition of Walter Tevis' original novel; other extras include audio commentary by Roeg, Bowie and co-star Buck Henry, interviews with co-stars Candy Clark and Rip Torn and scripter Paul Mayersberg, and an international poster gallery. DVD extras on Bad Timing include interviews with Roeg, Russell and producer Jeremy Thomas, deleted scenes and an international poster gallery.

The Man Who Fell to Earth: ***

Extras: *** 1/2

Bad Timing: ***

Extras: ** 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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