FACTORY FILMS The Light Factory film series presents "The Best of Full Frame," featuring two Audience Award winners from this year's Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Movies will be shown June 3-4 at Spirit Square; call 704-333-9755 for schedule and other info.
* BORN INTO BROTHELS Between that title and the film's topic -- children who are the offspring of hookers living and working in Calcutta's red light district -- it'd be reasonable to expect a documentary that takes audience depression to a whole new level. Yet this powerful work from co-directors Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman isn't merely a rapid downward spiral of a film; instead, it details Briski's remarkable attempts to help these kids (especially the girls, who will inevitably follow their mothers and grandmothers into prostitution) out of their dire surroundings by teaching them photography and attempting to place them in respectable boarding schools. It's a given that not all these children (most of them personable, talented and wise beyond their years) will be able to escape their lot in life -- a heartrending coda reveals which ones were unable to make the break -- yet there are numerous scenes of inspiration and uplift, and the efforts of Briski and her non-profit outfit Kids With Cameras (www.kids-with-cameras.org) continue to this day. 1/2
* WORD WARS The phenomenal documentary Spellbound focused on students doing their best to win the national spelling bee, and as audiences members, we were actively rooting for all of them to win. Word Wars holds the opposite effect: Watching these otherwise aimless adults pour all their efforts into winning Scrabble tournaments, we finds ourselves realizing that we don't want any of them to emerge triumphant. That's the strange appeal of this documentary that centers on four hardcore Scrabble players and follows them as they work their way toward participating in the ultimate Scrabble competition. These four men are largely presented as annoying, petty, whiny and unemployable, and it's difficult to remain in their presence for long spells. Yet the particulars of how they prepare for the word matches -- and the clever way in which directors Eric Chaiken and Julian Petrillo make the board games visually come alive on screen -- help turn Word Wars into an entertaining peek at a cerebral subculture.
I'M NOT SCARED Or, It Takes a Village to Abduct a Child. On the outskirts of a rural Italian community in 1978, 10-year-old Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) is startled to discover there's a boy (Mattia Di Pierro) his age who's chained in the cellar of an abandoned farmhouse. Blissfully naive (or simply wary?), he leaves the lad in his prison but befriends him and carts him food and water on a regular basis. But before long, he begins to pick up clues that the adults in his tiny town, including his own parents (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon and Dino Abbrescia), are responsible for the child's incarceration, and he's forced to race against time to devise an appropriate course of action. Based on the novel by Niccolo Ammaniti (who co-wrote the script), this material sounds like prime fodder for a fast-paced thriller, but the movie is actually something more special: a tender-hearted rumination on the loss of innocence among children once they're confronted by the vices of the adult world. As he did in his previous film, the forgettable Oscar winner Mediterraneo, director Gabriele Salvatores uses plenty of film stock to capture the unsullied beauty of nature and the characters' desire to lazily lounge around in its sun-soaked embrace. Yet here there's a pointed dichotomy, as the splendor in the grass is in sharp contrast to the deceit, sorrow and broken trust that Michele experiences as he learns that childhood doesn't last forever, parents aren't perfect, and, in the film's memorably staged finale, true friendship can flow from either direction.
SOUL PLANE This urban comedy might have been successful had it taken off in one of two distinct directions. It could either have been a gently rollicking comedy filled with endearing characters -- a la Barbershop -- or it could have been a balls-to-the-wall satire that came up with clever new ways to gross out an audience -- like the original Scary Movie. Instead, it waffles between the two camps, resulting in an imbecilic film that's about as punishing as a four-hour flight delay. Bland Kevin Hart stars as a young man who, after winning millions in a lawsuit against a major airline, decides to use the settlement to create his own afro-centric company, NWA Airlines. The maiden voyage (Flight 069 -- how ingenious!) is packed with nothing but formulaic figures: a dope-smoking pilot (Snoop Dogg), a randy homosexual flight attendant (Gary Anthony Williams), a dope-smoking lavatory assistant (D.L. Hughley), a randy security guard (Mo'nique), and a white nerd (Tom Arnold) who's actually named "Elvis Hunkee" (pronounced "honky," of course). Writers Bo Zenga and Chuck Wilson should be ashamed of themselves, not only for a lazy script that staggers between brain dead crudity and cheap sentiment but also for reinforcing infinite stereotypes. And while I generally applaud a movie's right to offend, a gag involving the harassment of a Middle Eastern passenger simply because he "looks" like he could be a terrorist seems in especially poor taste, and made me wonder if Donald Rumsfeld was one of this film's financiers.