Sunday, June 28, 2009

Moving Midway (2007)

What starts as a straightforward documentary about the logistics of safely moving a large historic home, eventually morphs into a profound and inspirational story of racial and cultural healing. Faced with commercial encroachment from the rapidly growing Raleigh suburb of Knightdale, Charlie Silver plans to move his family’s 200 year old home, known locally as Midway Plantation, several miles away to a more quiet and verdant site and away from it’s current frontage on busy Hwy 64.

Silver’s cousin, NY based film critic Godfrey Cheshire, chronicles the plans and preparations for this herculean task, and at times the entire idea seems like an insane folly. But Cheshire’s research into his family tree reveals an unknown and surprising branch, one that unites his relatives with the present day descendants of the slaves that originally built Midway.

As moving day approaches, Cheshire seeks out those that share his bonds of blood and history, and a number of happily tearful reunions occur. Meanwhile, the plantation house is slowly lifted from its centuries-old moorings, and a new, much richer, chapter of this family’s history begins.

Moving Midway is a fascinating amalgam of Fitzcarraldo and Roots and offers clear and welcome evidence that the American South, like Midway Plantation, is ready to reconcile and move on.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Days of Future Passed Part 3

Growing up, I had led a rather sheltered life. I had never traveled more than 200 miles from my home. The most exotic place I'd ever been was Myrtle Beach. To me, Roanoke was a city of electrifying splendor.

I was a farm boy. And after 18 years of cows, chickens, church suppers and weed pulling, I was finally off to college and a life of my own.

On a very humid day, I wandered into a movie theatre, hoping simply to escape the swampy Virginia heat for a couple hours. What I saw that afternoon changed my life:

How ya gonna keep'em down on the farm?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gospel Hill (2008)

Set in one of those failed southern mill towns that the textile industry built and then coldly abandoned, Gospel Hill is a well meaning and competently produced film that addresses large social and economic shifts with a clear and simple grassroots scale story. As the town prepares to honor a civil rights activist slain 40 years earlier (played in flashbacks by Samuel L. Jackson), his surviving son (Danny Glover) is forced to confront his long simmering resentment and suspicion of the town's racist former sheriff (Tom Bower). Meanwhile, a citizen group led by Glover's wife (Angela Basset) attempts to stop the taking of their community by a group of golf course developers.

Director Giancarlo Esposito does a good job of presenting the complex layers and hidden agendas in a straightforward manner, and bravely casts himself as one of the film's most unsavory characters while, interestingly enough, casting Adam Baldwin in one of the few sympathetic roles of his career.

Ultimately, the film hints that the younger generation, open minded and unscarred by the racial conflicts of the 1960s, may hold the key to America's redemption. The film also makes clear that while their elders were busy fighting culture wars, both real and imagined, American big business was quietly busy sending our jobs away and dismantling the social contract.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Water Lilies (2007)

Three teenage girls from the architecturally challenged Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise cope with evolving emotions, hormones and body parts in this smart and engaging drama.

Lanky Marie (Pauline Acquart) finds that her interest in self-styled bad girl Floriane (Adele Haenel) is something far different than the childhood friendships she has experienced previously, and Marie's efforts to sort out those feelings are central to the film.

Sexuality is approached frankly and honestly, and that approach, contrasted with the budding maturity of these very young girls, serves as a clear reminder of what a confusing and scary time adolescence can be. First time Director Celine Sciamma has done a wonderful job of combining lyrical eroticism and teenage angst in a tasteful and thoughtful manner.

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