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BEYOND BORDERS (2003). It's been awhile since we've had an all-consuming romantic epic set against an international backdrop, and while Beyond Borders doesn't come within even 100 kilometers of the power of, say, Reds or The English Patient, it's a solid, second-tier effort far more involving than its critical and commercial drubbing last fall would suggest. Angelina Jolie headlines as a pampered rich girl whose dormant humanitarian spirit gets a rude awakening once a compassionate doctor (Croupier's Clive Owen) involved with international relief efforts forces her to open her eyes to global atrocities. The movie's toughness and refusal to compromise occasionally recalls the gut-wrenching might of The Killing Fields and other politically charged thrillers prevalent in the 80s. And while the story's globe-hopping seems almost too calculated -- our heroes journey from Ethiopia to Cambodia to Chechnya, threatening to turn this into a Berlitz Travel Guide of the World's Hot Spots -- director Martin Campbell and writer Caspian Tredwell-Owen are mindful not to let the central romance subjugate the movie's humanist spark. Jolie (a real-life UN spokesperson) clearly responds to her character's finer traits, while the magnetic Owen tantalizingly remains just one breakout role away from becoming a major star. DVD extras include a pair of making-of specials, an interview with Tredwell-Owen, and a short piece on Jolie's role as Goodwill Ambassador.
Movie:
Extras: 1/2

BROTHER BEAR / THE CAT IN THE HAT (2003). Two deadly kid flicks are hitting DVD at the same time; thank goodness the delightful Peter Pan will be released in early May to provide some semblance of balance. Brother Bore, um, I mean, Bear, is a soggy Disney dud which finds the studio raiding its own tombs for material, cobbling together pieces of The Lion King, Pocahontas and other hits to create a yawn-inducing yarn about an Eskimo warrior who's transformed into a bear. The human characters are dull, the bear cub is cloying, the comic relief (doltish moose voiced by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) is annoying, and the songs by Phil Collins -- how do I delicately put this? -- suck. The fact that this earned a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination points out (as did Treasure Planet the previous year) that there simply may not be enough worthy contenders to justify the existence of this category. The two-disc DVD set isn't bad, full of fun activities for kids and informative making-of features. The Cat In the Hat, meanwhile, needs no introduction or analysis. Arguably the worst-reviewed picture of 2003 -- its only serious competition was Gigli, which is still easier to take than this -- Cat doubtless had Theodore Geisel spinning in his grave at mach speed. Except for a pair of features on Dr. Seuss himself, the extras on the DVD (hosted by the insufferable brats from the movie) are almost as annoying as the film itself. Twenty outtakes? Sixteen deleted scenes? Is this a DVD or an instrument of death?
Brother Bear: 1/2
Extras:

The Cat In the Hat:
Extras: 1/2

HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (2003). Based on the novel by Andre Dubus III, this powerful movie -- one of last year's best -- casts Jennifer Connelly as Kathy Nicolo, a recovering addict who through petty circumstances ends up losing her house. Placed on the market for public auction, it's snatched up by Massoud Behrani (Ben Kingsley), an Iranian refugee trying to make a better life for himself and his family. Kathy wants her house back, Behrani refuses to relinquish it, and the movie's chess game is set. But this gripping tale has more on its mind than standard thrills. Among other issues, the film offers a scathing indictment of an American bureaucratic system so rigid in its ways that it inadvertently encourages its citizens to trample all over each other while trying to make their own lives more palatable. Racism rears its head in different forms, and the ideal of the American Dream is bastardized beyond recognition. The picture's greatest strength, however, is the brave manner in which it shifts our loyalties from one character to the next, never allowing us to view either Kathy or Behrani as a villain (or hero) for too long. DVD extras include audio commentary by Kingsley, Dubus and director Vadim Perelman, 10 minutes of deleted scenes, and Oscar nominee Shoreh Aghdashloo's screen test.
Movie: 1/2
Extras:

THE RUNDOWN (2003). Toward the beginning of The Rundown, there's a cameo by an A-list action star, who nods at The Rock as they pass each other in a bar. The gag falls flat, but we get the drift: With most of our matinee heroes getting older, the baton must be passed, and why shouldn't The Rock be included on the short list of newcomers primed for action flick supremacy? The wrestling superstar is certainly no more immobile than, say, Schwarzenegger or Stallone, and he has enough innate charm to carry an undemanding picture on his wide shoulders. And The Rundown is certainly undemanding, with The Rock cast as an amiable debt collector who would rather talk through a situation than engage in fisticuffs. He's sent to Brazil to bring his employer's brash son (Seann William Scott) back to the US, but his mission is hindered by a ruthless American expatriate (Christopher Walken) and a Brazilian freedom fighter (Rosario Dawson), both of whom want the kid kept in the Amazon for their own purposes. Director Peter Berg makes a jumble of the action scenes, meaning this is one of those failed adventure yarns in which the character interaction is forced to make up for other shortcomings -- a tall order indeed. DVD extras include audio commentary by The Rock and Berg, deleted scenes, and various pieces on the film's sets, stunts and location shooting.
Movie:
Extras: 1/2

SHATTERED GLASS (2003). Fresh off its Charlotte Film Society showcase, one of 2003's top films has just hit the home theater market, where its low-key appeal (read: no fancy special effects that will be diminished on the small screen) will hopefully help it locate an appreciative audience. During the 1990s, writer Stephen Glass fabricated 27 of the 41 stories he had penned for The New Republic before finally getting caught. It would be logical to assume that writer-director Billy Ray's detailed examination would rake the fourth estate over the coals, illustrating how it had continued to shift from a venerable source of reliable information into a circus act of celebrity reporters riding unicycles of distortion and deceit. Yet the surprise behind this fascinating film is that it's ultimately a celebration of journalistic integrity, focusing not only on Glass (Hayden Christensen) but also on Charles Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), the honest editor who helped bring him down. DVD extras include audio commentary by Ray and Lane, and the 60 Minutes interview with Glass.
Movie: 1/2
Extras:

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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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