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Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films currently playing in Charlotte

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Current Releases

THE DARK KNIGHT Given the fact that Christopher Nolan's 2005 Batman Begins ranks as one of the best superhero flicks ever made, then where does that put this sequel that manages to be even more phenomenal than its predecessor? Certainly, it places it somewhere at the head of the class, and there's a nice symmetry to its release date: After all, it was 30 years ago that the Christopher Reeve version of Superman – still the greatest of all comic book adaptations – was released, and now we have its equal on the other side of the aisle, a superhero saga that's as dark and deep as its forefather was cheery and colorful. In fact, this might be the first superhero movie that exudes a palpable sense of dread and menace that tugs at our nerves in a way that both disturbs and delights us. Even in superior entertainment like Spider-Man and Iron Man, there's a feeling that it's all make-believe, but The Dark Knight offers no such safety net – it wears its danger on its sleeve. In this outing, Batman (Christian Bale) has done a fine job of tightening the reins around the mob bosses who have long controlled Gotham City, and he's soon aided in his efforts by idealistic district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). But their combined attempts to corral the city's crooks are hampered by the presence of a murderous psychopath known as The Joker (Heath Ledger). Eckhart stands out in what proves to be the picture's most fully realized characterization, though we all know who's the MVP of this particular show: The late Ledger is simply mesmerizing as this whirling dervish of cackling, lip-smacking, cheek-sucking sin. ****

DEATH RACE Look, there's nothing wrong with producing cinematic trash as long as it delivers, but Death Race, like most of director Paul W.S. Anderson's pictures, is about as much fun as having two flat tires during rush hour traffic. Yet it's not like Anderson didn't start with a reasonably sturdy foundation: The original film, 1975's Death Race 2000, is trashy fun, a campy Roger Corman satire with David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone as rival drivers in a nationally broadcast sport where the purpose (along with taking out fellow speed racers) is to run over as many people as possible. In typical Corman fashion, this cult item even made some sociopolitical statements amid all the carnage; this Race, on the other hand, is so thematically tired that in a few months, it will be impossible to separate it in the mind from other junky action flicks. Here, the hero is Jensen Ames (Jason Statham), a working joe who's falsely accused of murdering his wife and sent to a maximum-security prison, where the best drivers compete for their freedom in a three-day demolition derby that's televised to over 50 million Americans. On the track, Jensen's arch-nemesis is Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson); off the track, it's the sadistic Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen, WTF?). The most interesting aspect of this stupid and obnoxious film? It's set in 2012, when our present Bush-driven economy finally collapses, crime is running too rampant to control, and this country has basically gone to hell. Reading between the lines, does that mean this movie is predicting that John McCain (aka the bearer of Bush's third term) will win come November? *1/2

ELEGY Eloquent and understated, Elegy is an adaptation of Philip Roth's The Dying Animal, and it shares some similarities to 2003's fine filmization of Roth's The Human Stain. Both movies focus on the relationship between a worldly college professor and a beautiful younger woman, but Elegy is even more memorable than its woefully underrated predecessor. Its central character is David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), an English professor who avoids emotional attachments by partaking in one-night stands with nubile students. David becomes involved with Cuban-American student Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz), but this time, there's a difference: There appears to exist a real affinity between this aged instructor and this woman who's three decades his junior. But David, incapable of dealing with his feelings, almost sabotages the relationship from the start. The character of the aging intellectual becoming involved with a younger woman is hardly an original one, but between the sensitive direction by Isabel Coixet – and how interesting to see a female ably tackling material by an author who's repeatedly had to fight charges of misogyny – the smart screenplay by ace scripter Nicholas Meyer (who also adapted The Human Stain), and the terrific performance by Kingsley, David Kepesh emerges as one of the most complex and fully realized screen characters of the season. As for Cruz, she's a revelation in this role. It's a given that she's always been wonderful in Spanish-language films and wooden in English-language ones, but on the heels of her scene-stealing work in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, she seems to have finally broken through the language barrier. ***1/2

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