Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Savannah Film Festival: Chapter 4

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 9:00 PM

(For Chapter 1, go here. For Chapter 2, go here. For Chapter 3, go here.)

The 15th Annual Savannah Film Festival continues, but my work is done.

Although the event runs through next Saturday, my wife and I headed home Wednesday, with six features, one short and several celebrity sightings under our collective belt (a belt greatly expanded by the treats found here).

The highlight of the festival? It would have to be witnessing the great Stan Lee accept a Lifetime Achievement Award in front of an appreciative crowd. Lee was as charming, funny and gracious as always, noting the quality of the many films based on his comic books (“If I had known I was that good, I would have asked for a raise”) and acknowledging the prize bestowed upon him (“I want to thank you for your taste, your judgment, your acumen in deciding to award this to me”). Now 89, he’s long been a national treasure, and it was a kick seeing him in the flesh.

And now, on to the remaining films.

ON THE ROAD — There was enough of a hint of all that jazz to director Walter Salles’ 2004 effort The Motorcycle Diaries, a look at the early years of Che Guevara, to signal that he might have been the proper person to bring Jack Kerouac’s landmark novel On the Road to the big screen. Instead, this look at the Beat generation ends up missing too many of its own beats to ever succeed. Enlisting his Motorcycle writer Jose Rivera as his accomplice, Salles approaches Kerouac’s raw, restless and spontaneous work in such a staid and conservative manner that the movie might just as well have been directed by the stodgy Richard Attenborough. Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund deliver underwhelming performances in the two roles that simply must engage audiences from the get-go. Riley is aspiring writer Sal Paradise (the character based on Kerouac himself), who longs for the freedom of the open road; Hedlund is irresponsible hedonist Dean Moriarty (aka Neal Cassady), who joins him on many of his cross-country adventures. Salles and Rivera chart the men’s encounters in acceptable vignette fashion, but there’s very little sense of the thrill of discovery in what’s presented on screen, with the filmmakers dutifully checking off a CliffsNotes highlight before moving forward. I wonder what a director like David Cronenberg might have brought to the party; his whacked-out 1991 version of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch wasn’t a complete success, but it exhibited a go-for-broke strategy that’s sadly missing in On the Road. Speaking of Burroughs, he appears here in the form of junkie-poet Old Bull Lee, played with the proper measure of eccentricity by Viggo Mortensen. And while it’s open season on Kristen Stewart these days, with the put-upon actress having to contend with hatred generally reserved for al-Qaeda operatives, she’s just fine in her too-few scenes as Dean’s first wife, the teenage Marylou; ditto for Kirsten Dunst as Dean’s second wife, Camille, Amy Adams as Old Bull Lee’s spouse, and Steve Buscemi as one of the bisexual Dean’s johns. These supporting players all add color and dimension to an otherwise sterile piece, not unlike interesting footnotes found peppering the pages of a dull college textbook.

Review of Quartet after the jump.

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Halloween Countdown: All 31 Titles

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 3:00 PM

(In anticipation of the coolest day of the year, this month-long series offered one recommended horror flick a day up through Oct. 31. Here's the complete rundown. Click on the title to be taken to the review.)

Day of the Dead
  • Day of the Dead

Oct. 1: Day of the Dead (1985)

Oct. 2: Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

Oct. 3: The Thing from Another World (1951)

Oct. 4: Count Dracula (1970)

Oct. 5: Cat People (1942)

Oct. 6: Homicidal (1961)

Oct. 7: The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Oct. 8: Piranha (1978)

Oct. 9: Willard (2003)

Oct. 10: House of Wax (1953)

Oct. 11: Dead Alive (1992)

Oct. 12: "Manos" The Hands of Fate (1966)

Oct. 13: Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Oct. 14: The Body Snatcher (1945)

Oct. 15: The Host (2006)

Oct. 16: I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

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Oct. 17: Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

Oct. 18: The Mist (2007)

Oct. 19: Horror Express (1972)

Oct. 20: Phenomena (1985)

Oct. 21: Slither (2006)

Oct. 22: Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (1964)

Oct. 23: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Oct. 24: The Descent (2006)

Oct. 25: The Howling (1981)

Oct. 26: Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2002)

Oct. 27: The Orphanage (2007)

Oct. 28: Black Sunday (1966)

Oct. 29: The Fly (1986)

Oct. 30: Vampyr (1932)

Oct. 31: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

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Question the Queen City: The haunting of Love’s Pass

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 11:00 AM

Editor’s note: In this series, local author David Aaron Moore answers reader-submitted questions about historic places in Charlotte. Submit inquires about unusual, noteworthy or historic people, places and things to davidaaronmoore@post.com.

There’s a story I used to hear when I was kid growing up in Charlotte about a haunted railroad crossing on Old Dowd Road near the airport. Are you familiar with the tale? — Marie Oxendine, Hempstead, N.Y.

I came across this story while researching a book about Charlotte for History Press a few years ago. The location you’re referring to has been the site of at least 14 automobile-train crash deaths (and probably more, according to locals).

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Obama with noose: the worst Halloween 'decoration' EVER

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 10:03 AM

You and the family pile into the trusty Subaru Outback and drive around Plaza Midwood to check out everyone's Halloween decorations.

Oh, honey, look, you tell your wife. The Smiths each carved a pumpkin for their porch. (They always do the sweetest things together.)

The Johnson family transformed their front lawn into a cemetery, complete with cobwebs and bats hanging from trees. How adorable.

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Election 2012 Notebook: Anthony Foxx, a houseful of committed volunteers and Obama’s shadow

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 9:01 AM

Mayor Anthony Foxx, who raised his profile as host of and speaker at the Democratic National Convention in September, was no less committed to the president at a far smaller gathering in a Charlotte home. On Tuesday, a week before a national election being fought in part on a North Carolina battleground, he was firing up — to use an Obama slogan — a few dozen volunteers who share his goal.

Foxx
  • Foxx

“Do we want to see America, the country that can do the impossible, continuing moving forward with the values and ethics of generations that preceded us? Or do we want to change the nature of the American dream?” Foxx said. That’s how he and the volunteers who have been canvassing and phone banking frame the choice as they work long hours to win the state’s 15 electoral votes for Obama. Whether his 2008 narrow win can be repeated has been a matter of dispute and gamesmanship between the Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns, but polls remain close so no one’s letting up.

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Today's Top 5: Wednesday

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Here are the five best events going down in Charlotte and the surrounding area today, Oct. 31, 2012 as selected by the folks at Creative Loafing.

* MxPx All Stars, Unwritten Law and more at Milestone

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* CLT Zombie Crawl at Heist Brewery

* Pop Life: Wonderland Costume Halloween Party at Re:Public

* 5th Annual Haunted Harbor at Snug Harbor

* Villians Halloween Party at Suite

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Halloween Countdown: Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 9:00 AM

(In anticipation of the coolest day of the year, this month-long series will offer one recommended horror flick a day up through Oct. 31.)

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WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (2005). To wrap up this series, how about a tasty treat for the whole family? In this Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature, Wallace (voiced as always by Peter Sallis) and his silent canine sidekick have taken it upon themselves to rid their burg of its rabbits by forming a pest control outfit called Anti-Pesto. Using Wallace's latest invention, the Bun-Vac 6000, the team is able to humanely capture all the bunnies that have been helping themselves to the neighbors' garden patches. But shortly before the annual Giant Vegetable Competition is scheduled to take place, one of Wallace's experiments goes horribly awry, and the result is a monstrous rabbit that eats its way through the townspeople's prized possessions. Creator Nick Park and team work some amusing horror-film references (King Kong and Frankenstein among them) into the movie, and Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes gamely throw their vocal chords into the project. Tom & Jerry? Mutt & Jeff? Chip & Dale? Amateurs all. It appears that in the toon world, the clay's the thing, with Wallace & Gromit as the new pioneers of Plasticine.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Savannah Film Festival: Chapter 3

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 10:00 PM

(For Chapter 1, go here. For Chapter 2, go here.)

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I have to say, I can’t think of a better way to spend my * cough cough * ...th birthday than attending a premiere film festival in a beautiful city with my lovely wife Natalie by my side. But while I did receive two cards from her (one pictured above; incidentally, the inside reads, “'It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.’ Here’s to Being Well-Traveled. Happy Birthday”), most other celebrations will have to be delayed until we’re back in Charlotte, as Savannah Film Festival screenings wait for no man (or woman).

I actually saw the following films earlier this week, not on my actual birthday (Tuesday the 30th), but bear with me: There’s been so much going on that I’m still playing catch-up.

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  • GreeneStreet Films

VIOLET & DAISY — Geoffrey Fletcher, who won a Best Adapted Screenplay for Precious a couple years ago, here makes his directorial debut with an original script he penned himself. Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan play the title twofer, about the unlikeliest pair of killers yet seen on the screen. Violet (Bledel) is in her 20s while Daisy (Ronan) is just celebrating her 18th birthday — together, they rank among the nation’s top 10 paid assassins, although their off-the-job behavior largely consists of playing patty cake and holding out for new dresses from their favorite label. Their latest assignment requires them to kill a sad sack named Michael (James Gandolfini), but because he welcomes extermination, they find themselves hesitating, unsure how to approach a man who wants to die. Fletcher’s idea of having two female assassins as his leads turns the Tarantino template on its head, and in that respect, it’s a better watch than many of the countless rip-offs that have materialized in the roughly two decades since Pulp Fiction. But while Bledel and Ronan are both fine — the former gets to exhibit all the attitude as the vet of the team while the latter gets to display more emotion as the na├»ve recruit — Fletcher doesn’t allow us to get inside their minds to the extent required. We learn more about Michael than the ladies, which aids Gandolfini as he delivers the movie’s most soulful performance.

(The screening of Violet & Daisy was accompanied by appearances from Geoffrey Fletcher (above left), who received the festival’s Cinevation Award, and James Gandolfini, who joined Fletcher for a post-show Q&A.)

Reviews of When You Find Me and Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines after the jump.

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Savannah Film Festival: Chapter 2

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 4:20 PM

(For Chapter 1, go here.)

Now here’s a sign after my own heart:

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  • Photo by Natalie Joy Howard

Alas, all creative loafing would have to wait, since the 15th Annual Savannah Film Festival was beckoning with its cinematic siren song. Here, then, are the first couple of films I caught at the event.

Silver Linings Playbook — Writer-director David O. Russell, who makes decent movies when he’s not being a complete jerk behind the camera (his temper tantrums with Lily Tomlin and George Clooney are well-documented, with the former skirmish captured for immortality on YouTube), follows The Fighter with this disarming seriocomedy about Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a former teacher who’s been released after a stint in a mental facility. Pat lost it after catching his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) in the shower with a fellow instructor, and no one’s quite sure if he’s really ready to be back in the real world again. His dad, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), suffers from OCD, resulting in a prickly relationship between the pair. Pat eventually meets someone who’s apparently as off-kilter as himself: Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who’s had her own share of mood swings ever since the death of her husband. Adapted by Russell from Matthew Quick’s novel, Silver Linings Playbook easily overcomes its familiar beats (a sports brawl, a missed appointment, a climactic competition) thanks to a real attention to character detail, a nonjudgmental approach to all the flaws plaguing the players, and a cast that works beautifully together. Chris Tucker, who’s appeared in nothing but Rush Hour movies for the past 15 years, is a welcome addition as Pat’s buddy from his institution days, while De Niro’s late-career mugging actually works for a character who spends every moment fretting over the Philadelphia Eagles. Cooper’s fine as well, although it’s Lawrence who explodes off the screen. Already an Oscar nominee for Winter’s Bone and a franchise star due to both The Hunger Games and X-Men: First Class, she’s likewise solid gold in Silver.

Review of Flight after the jump.

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Atlantic City's boardwalk suffers fate similar to Charlotte's

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 2:49 PM

Hurricane Sandy has battered the East Coast, from North Carolina to Maine, severely damaging some of America's most iconic places. One, Atlantic City's legendary boardwalk, is destroyed, maybe even gone forever.

Charlotte once had its own version of New Jersey’s boardwalk, known as Lakewood Amusement Park, that suffered a similar fate.

Lakewood Park
  • Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library
  • Lakewood Park

Opened on Aug. 9, 1910 and located about five minutes northwest of the city's center, just off Tuckaseegee Road, the park featured a lake, the surrounding boardwalk and numerous attractions, including a roller coaster, row boats, a zoo full of exotic animals, a casino, a stage for live performances and nightly dance contests. It was a playground for all ages, complete with a ferris wheel, a sizable carousel, a shooting gallery, a bowling alley and a swimming pool. The 200-deep animal collection included water buffalo, a brown bear, a gila monster, deer, ring-tail monkeys and a stately white swan named Christopher Columbus purported to be over a century old.

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