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Hot To Trot

CFS slate offers yuks and yaks

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An American classic, two foreign Oscar nominees, and a movie about movies -- these are the choices during the Charlotte Film Society's "Second Week" series beginning this Friday at the Manor Theatre. And if you miss them there, you can catch them the following week during the Society's "Second Chance" series, which extends the run of the months' films for another week over at Movies at Birkdale. (If this lineup looks familiar, that's because it was originally scheduled as the September program until that month's tragic events resulted in its postponement.)

For more information, call 414-2355 or go to www.charlottefilmsociety.com.

Some Like It Hot Billy Wilder's immortal screen opus from 1959 was voted the best comedy of all time by the American Film Institute, and why not? It's certainly near the top of the heap, spinning a provocative, even risque yarn about a pair of musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) who elude gangsters by donning dresses and joining an all-female band. Curtis has never been better (dig his crazy Cary Grant impersonation!), and neither has Marilyn Monroe, whose smothering sex appeal as the sensual Sugar Kane never obscures her oft-overlooked comedic ability. Clearly, though, it's Lemmon who owns this picture, whether lusting after Monroe ("like jello on springs" is how he describes her hip-wiggling walk) or, in his "Daphne" disguise, offering her friendly advice ("If I were a girl... and I am. . .").

Shadow Magic It's hard to believe (and depressing to contemplate) that after a century-plus of cinema -- unquestionably one of the great innovations of modern times -- we find ourselves having to sit through stuff like Inspector Gadget and Little Nicky. This lovely film, loosely based on real events, transports us back to a time full of genuine promise: 1902 China, when a Westerner (Jared Harris) arrives in Beijing to introduce the locals to a newfangled invention known as moving pictures. Some embrace this innovation, others are frightened by its direct threat to long-held traditions -- yet everyone is clearly mesmerized by the wondrous sights it presents. Director Ann Hu's film is embracive enough to include a touching romance involving a local lad (who'd be a diehard movie buff by today's standards), yet its greatest strength rests in its ability to make us see this towering art form in all its virginal glory. 1/2

Divided We Fall A nominee this past spring for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, this Czech import takes the opposite stance of those vintage World War II flicks in which the lines between good and evil were never in doubt. Here, there are no larger-than-life heroes or wholly venal villains, only ordinary folks doing their best to make it through a horrendous war. Set in an occupied Czech village, the film centers on a happily married couple who do their best to hide a Jewish fugitive from the Germans who are crawling all over their town. Telling a serious story with a noticeably light touch, Divided We Fall manages to include an admirable dollop of complexity in the character of the couple's best friend, an overbearing collaborator whose obnoxious behavior would drive anyone crazy -- yet whose innate (if well-hidden) decency allows him to shine at the most pivotal moments.

Himalaya Among xenophobes, the standard line regarding foreign films is that they're usually boring movies focusing on the plight of yak herders in Nepal. Except for the "boring" part, that description pretty much fits this 1999 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. Himalaya isn't dull, but it is overly familiar, playing like a subtitled, cut-rate version of Howard Hawks' Red River. Instead of John Wayne and Montgomery Clift coming to blows while on a cattle drive across the American West, we get an elderly village chief and a sensible, young man at odds with each other as they try to lead a caravan over the treacherous Asian mountains. The journey is fairly interesting, even if the path is well-trodden. 1/2

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