CHARLOTTE FILM SOCIETY Movies begin this Friday at the Manor and continue the following Friday at Movies at Birkdale. Call 414-2355 for details.
* TOGETHER (TILLSAMMANS) Last year, the CFS graciously unearthed a little-known gem from 1998 called Show Me Love. That film's writer-director, Lukas Moodysson, gained slightly more exposure (in bigger cities, anyway) last fall with Together, which the Society has now brought to town. Almost on a par with his previous effort, Moodysson's remarkably deft comedy-drama, set in a commune in 1975 Stockholm, initially looks as if it's going to be a rampant attack on the perils of extreme politics: The lefties living in the crowded household are so PC that you want to throttle them, while the conservatives constantly sniffing at their door are so humorless, you want to give them a smack as well. Yet as the film progresses, hypocrisies are dealt with, conflicts are defused, and deeply committed relationships are forged -- and as a result, the film soars on the strength of its own eagerness to display goodwill toward all its characters, including an abusive, alcoholic husband who discovers his inner mild, an open-minded chap who's so absurdly accommodating that he gives all nice guys a bad name, and, most pointedly, the various children forced to put up with the adults' nonsense. Both funny and poignant, this is probably the only film ever made in which a boy is named Tet after the 1968 Offensive, or where two kids take turns playing Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in a game of torture. Moodysson also gets extra points for cannily using ABBA's "S.O.S." and Nazareth's "Love Hurts" so that, in the context of the film, they come off as the two most relevant pop songs ever written. 1/2
* Also: MAELSTROM, a Canadian feature about a businesswoman coping with a series of disasters; THE WAY WE LAUGHED, an Italian drama about the unique dynamics that constantly unite two brothers; and YANA'S FRIENDS, an Israeli import about an abandoned Russian immigrant trying to make it on her own in Tel Aviv. (Unscreened)
THE CAT'S MEOW A fictional spin on a factual event, this adaptation of Steven Peros' stage play focuses on an event that took place in 1924, when mogul William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) invited a group of colorful celebrities aboard his yacht for a pleasure-filled cruise. Among the guests were Hearst's mistress, actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst); film legend Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard); movie pioneer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes); gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly); and novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley). But what started out as fun and games eventually turned serious, with one of the party guests turning up dead and Hearst using his influence to cover up the details of the demise. To this day, no one knows the real story, but Peros' script forwards the oft-discussed theory that the death was an accident, a "wrong place at the wrong time" scenario that came about because of Hearst's jealous rage when he found out that Chaplin, a notorious womanizer, was putting the moves on his beloved Marion. As the basis for a motion picture, it's a heckuva zinger, providing plenty of fodder for oversized characterizations, inventive bits of trivia, and an opportunity for director Peter Bogdanovich to helm his first noteworthy film in ages. Looking like a great unmade bed, Herrmann handles the story's trickiest role with all the complexity it requires, while Dunst offers a touching portrayal as Hearst's pragmatic lover.
CHANGING LANES As first, it looks like it'll take a few minutes to figure out who's the good guy and who's the bad guy: After all, both protagonists -- a rising lawyer portrayed by Ben Affleck and an insurance salesman played by Samuel L. Jackson -- are initially revealed to be sensitive, caring men. But wait a second: If we're to believe the chaotic trailer and the grim poster, we're not settling in to watch a "buddy" flick; these men are primed to be enemies, meaning that, by Hollywood standards, one of them has to earn the brunt of our contempt. Instead, this turns out to be that rare bird: a studio product that largely steers clear of black and white by adorning itself in an appealing shade of gray. A traffic accident involving both men is what sets off a chain of events that finds them constantly trying to one-up each other in a dangerous game rife with long-reaching implications. Yet as the movie progresses, there's genuine push-pull tension not only between these two characters but also between our own constantly shifting allegiances, and the picture doesn't squander its chance to make a point about the need for people to take responsibility for their own actions in this modern world that's more about passing the buck of blame to the next fellow. Admittedly, the film requires a couple of leaps of logic, but for the most part, it refuses to pull its punches, and in this day and age, that qualifies as taking the road less travelled.