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The best and worst of 2008, and a NC premiere

by Mark Burger

I may be a little late into getting to my “Best” and “Worst” lists for the movies of 2008, but I’ve needed a little time to catch up on screeners and screenings. Besides, if anyone out there is waiting on the edge of their seats, a little suspense won’t hurt them.

It wasn’t a bad year at the movies, nor was it a particularly good year. As has become the Hollywood custom, most of the potential Oscar candidates (i.e. the really good films) were released late in the year and many of them haven’t yet been released here in the region. At the top of my list was Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, a dramatization of the 1977 television interview between David Frost (Michael Sheen) and former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella). True to form, it hasn’t been released here yet, but I don’t believe I enjoyed a movie more than Frost/Nixon during all of 2008. (Incidentally, I’m also old enough — just barely — to remember the actual Frost/Nixon interviews, which truly were a television milestone at the time.) Also among my 10 best of the year, in alphabetical order: Defiance, Doubt, Gran Torino, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, Synecdoche, New York, The Visitor, Wall-E and The Wrestler. Of course, there was the other side of things — the dark side… the bad side. And no movie seemed worse to me in 2008 than Shutter, an appalling “Americanized” version of a popular 2004 Thai shocker of the same name. Having not seen the earlier film, I would have to assume that absolutely everything was lost in translation. Of all the bad movies I watch — and believe me, I watch a lot! — this was the only one that I legitimately wanted to get up and walk out. Surely I could find something, anything, better to do with my time. Were it not for my buddy Richard Clabaugh, who frequently tags along for horror and sci-fi films (he being a life-long devotee of the genre), I might well have taken a walk. Luckily, the film provided us with the backhanded opportunity to provide our own “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” commentary during the show. I daresay it was more entertaining. A major complaint about movies that he and I share is that too many stories are propelled forward by the stupidity of its characters. Shutter was unbearably stupid, and so badly paced that it almost seemed to be moving backwards. But we toughed it out. The only time I ever walked out of a movie was back in the summer of ’87, with Ishtar. That was because my girlfriend (as gorgeous now as she was then) fell fast asleep and I decided to take pity on her — and on myself! Incidentally, I have since seen the rest of the film, and I didn’t miss much. Although they may not have scraped the barrel’s bottom as thoroughly as Shutter did in 2008, the following films (also listed alphabetically) were enough to make one long for something more entertaining — like watching a blank screen for two hours: Beverly Hills Chihuaha, The House Bunny, The Love Guru, Never Back Down, One Missed Call, Prom Night, Saw V, Strange Wilderness and Transporter 3.

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While you’re waiting for some of those good movies to be released hereabouts, and perhaps grousing that it takes so long for them to come out here (join the crowd), you can console yourself — and soothe your cineaste tendencies — with the North Carolina premiere of Fiona Cochrane’s Aussie thriller Four of a Kind, which will be screened at 7 p.m. on Jan. 22 in the Drama Workshop of the Salem Fine Arts Center, located on the campus of Salem College (601 S. Church St., Winston-Salem). This is the first event of 2009 for the Revolve Film and Music Festival (but certainly not the last), having teamed up with the Salem College Center for Women Writers for this special screening. Be aware that this is likely the only time this movie will be screened in the area, which certainly lends the Revolve Festival a nice cache. This film focuses on four longtime female friends (played by Nina Landis, Leverne McDonnell, Louise Siversen and Gail Watson) who share a dark secret from their past — a secret whose repercussions continue to haunt each of them. To what extent? Well, you’ll just have to see the movie to find out. (I haven’t, so I honestly don’t know.) The film marks the debut of screenwriter Helen Collins, who adapted her play. Admission is $5, and can be obtained at the door or via www.revolvefestival.com/. Salem students, faculty and staff will be admitted free. There will also be an informal post-screening get-together at the Salem Fine Arts Center after the show. For more information about this presentation or any of Revolve’s upcoming events, just check out the website noted above.

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