It's weeks like this one that we can be thankful for local film entrepreneurs who work overtime to bring diversity to Charlotte's cinema scene. Here I have an ample amount of prime real estate – about two pages to dedicate to current filmic happenings – and the only major Hollywood release on hand is the limp animated feature Horton Hears a Who!, the latest bastardization of a beloved Dr. Seuss tale. Two pages for a Horton review? I mean, would you want to read approximately 2,000 words about this tiresome turkey?
Horton Hears a Who! has been shuffled to the Film Clips page, where 303 words are more than enough to dissect its, uh, merits. Far more worthy of attention are the trio of events taking place across town over the course of the next seven days. These special showings consist of an indie film legend's latest low-key effort, a handful of cult flicks, and a quartet of locally produced pictures. Best of all, there's not a fast food tie-in in sight.
Here, then, is a look at what's taking place around the Queen City starting tonight.
Where: Spirit Square, 130 N. Tryon St.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 19.
How Much: $9.
Contact Info: email@example.com.
The Lowdown: Sponsored by the Charlotte Reel Soul Film Festival, the latest picture from writer-director (and indie god) John Sayles (Lone Star, Eight Men Out) is coming to Charlotte for a one-time-only showing.
An equal opportunity filmmaker whose works have covered a startling range of different cultures, countries and time periods, Sayles is no stranger to wading knee-deep into the currencies of the African-American experience, as evidenced by City of Hope, Passion Fish and The Brother from Another Planet. With Honeydripper, he takes the full plunge, offering up an atmospheric tale set among members of the black community in a small Alabama town in 1950. Tyrone Purvis (Danny Glover) is doing his best to hold onto his club, the Honeydripper Lounge, but his sole attraction, an elderly blues singer (Mable John), is no match for the rockin' jukebox at the joint across the street. So Tyrone sends the woman home and arranges for the popular Guitar Sam to play one night at his venue. This is unfortunate timing for Sonny Blake (Gary Clark, Jr.), a guitar-slinger who has just stumbled into town looking for work. Tyrone shoos away Sonny, but once his problems (not the least being that he might lose his club) start piling up, it appears that he and the eager young guitar wiz might be able to help each other out.
A subplot about the spiritual quest of Tyrone's wife (Lisa Gay Hamilton) feels superfluous, and the character of a blind street musician, while well played by Keb' Mo', adds a small measure of mysticism that the picture doesn't really need. But after all these decades, Sayles' mastery at turning a phrase still excites, and it's a pleasure hearing these accomplished actors (the cast also include Charles S. Dutton and Stacy Keach) deliver his memorable dialogue. And while the movie ends, as expected, with a roof-raising concert, that predictable path hardly poses a problem. Because of the efforts of Sayles and his performers (especially Glover, essaying his best part in ages), here's an instance in which familiarity breeds not contempt but contentment.
Sound + Vision Film Festival
Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.
When: 8 p.m. Monday, March 24, through Wednesday, March 26 (doors open at 7 p.m.).
How Much: Monday admission, $10; Tuesday and Wednesday admission, free.
Contact Info: 704-358-9298 or www.nodafilmfestival.org.
The Lowdown: The NoDa Film Festival's latest outing, Sound + Vision proves to be as inviting for music fans as it if for movie lovers. On consecutive nights, the Neighborhood Theatre will serve up an intriguing aural and visual experience, as three bands will each score the background music for a heady mix of unconventional film fare. (Admittedly, the NoDa Fest folks aren't the first ones to try this approach locally, since pianist Eytan Uslan has recently been scoring silent flicks for the Main Library's movie programs over at ImaginOn.)
The main event takes place the first night, when the seminal punk band Pere Ubu will perform the soundtrack for Roger Corman's 1963 X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, a cult offering starring Ray Milland as a scientist whose latest formula blesses -- and later curses -- him with the power to see through anything. After the screening, the band will regroup for a short concert.
The following night, Charlotte's own Calabi Yau will lend their sounds to a mix of surrealistic short films from the 1920s. The three-night engagement wraps up on Wednesday with the local jazz outfit Tenspeed Orchestra scoring 1926's The Adventures of Prince Achmed, a silent animated feature from Germany.
The Big Shorty
Where: Ballantyne Village Theatre, 14815 John J. Delaney Drive.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, March 20. A pre-event social and an optional light dinner start at 7 p.m.
How Much: Free. The optional dinner costs $10.
Contact Info: 704-369-5101.
The Lowdown: With apologies to Elmore Leonard, this event could just as easily have been called Get Shorty, since the point was to collect enough locally produced short pictures to fill out an evening of entertainment. With that in mind, event coordinator Renee Bollten of ProductionMama and filmmaker David Temple of Temple Media have assembled quite a tantalizing package, made all the more palatable since the mini-fest is free for anybody who cares to check it out. Four directors -- Rick Fisher, Jason King, Shea Sizemore and Temple himself -- will be on hand to present their films, a lineup in which all four shorts are of comparable quality. And since that quality thankfully hums along at a satisfactory level, there's really no excuse for local film aficionados to pass up this reel deal.
Jason King's Monopolian presents its satiric edge with a straight face, which makes the piece all that more enjoyable. It's as if a gambling flick like Rounders or Lucky You had been tossed into a blender with an earnest documentary like Spellbound or Wordplay, as the movie focuses on a disparate group of unsavory characters who gather in a seedy backroom to play Monopoly. The stakes are high, the tension is palpable, and the sense of absurdity is refreshing.
Shea Sizemore's Occupato is clearly the work of a young filmmaker: Like others who came of age in the modern movie era, he combines a fluid storytelling style with a fearlessness that allows him to view anything as being worthy of a narrative treatment. Occupato is the result of that outlook, a tongue-in-cheek terror tale about a ... portable toilet. That kills people. By strangling them with toilet paper. And dragging them into the bowels (pun so not intended) of the toilet bowl. The folks at Troma Entertainment must be green with envy.
David Temple's Poke the Sleeping Bear is described in the media plot synopsis as a "short film/television pilot hybrid," and that sounds about right: With its large ensemble cast exploring a variety of real-world issues, it's easy to see how this could be expanded into a weekly series. Temple himself appears as a pet psychologist, and the picture examines the usual topics (love, family, career) in a disarming and even freewheeling manner.
Rick Fisher's Rewind, produced and co-written by Temple, originally premiered at the Visulite Theatre back in the fall of 2003; from there, it went on to nab the Audience Award for Best Short at the Asheville Film Festival. A thriller about a scientist who offers an elderly couple the chance to sample his "fountain of youth" formula, this manages to pack a dizzying amount of plot pirouettes in a 17-minute running time.