When Southern-born, New York-based film critic Godfrey Cheshire learned that his North Carolina cousin Charles Silver was going to literally uproot the family's ancestral mid-19th century plantation home called Midway and haul it to a quieter location -- far from the encroachment of real-estate developers -- Cheshire's documentary instincts kicked in. And thankfully so, because "Moving Midway," his engaging chronicle of the physical, historical and psychological effect of the undertaking, is also an invitation for a film buff to meditate on the antebellum South's mythic power in stories and film (from "Birth of a Nation" to "Roots"), and a personal genealogical inquiry that uncovers a parallel family line of slave-descendant cousins he'd never met.
One is New York University professor Robert Hinton, whose insight from the African American perspective is enriching and often funny, as when he challenges Cheshire's steel-magnolia mom at a Civil War reenactment on her love of the typically white-only spectacles, and the notion that the conflict was about states' rights more than slavery. Says a smiling Hinton to Cheshire later, "I'm perfectly happy to have them keep fighting the war, as long as they keep losing it."
In this potentially monumental election year for racial progress and demographic change in North Carolina, "Moving Midway" and its house-relocating metaphor plays its own quirky yet thoughtful part in the question of how much the South has truly moved. Wide load indeed.
-- Robert Abele
"Moving Midway." MPAA rating: unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. At Laemmle Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.
Politics and the tainting of youth
Luke Eberl's "Choose Connor" is a real stunner, an unusual coming-of-age story that packs a wallop in unexpected ways. It is all the more remarkable because writer-director-editor and co-producer Eberl was only 20 when he made it.
Eberl has both a dryly cynical grasp of how the world of politics can work and a gift for complex characterization coupled with an ability to draw from actors spot-on portrayals of much range and depth. He can suddenly unleash a jolting fear yet not let his film lapse into a standard suspense thriller; he is skilled at the visual as well as the verbal, a filmmaker of formidable powers of persuasion.
After a prologue that is daringly disturbing, Eberl cuts to a middle-school graduation where U.S. Senate candidate Lawrence Connor (Steven Weber) gives a speech and presents 15-year-old Owen (Alex Linz) with an award -- and ends up recruiting the admiring Owen as the spokesman for his youth campaign. Owen is a brainy but innocent idealist bedazzled by a glib politician who sees himself heroically walking a tightrope between high principle and necessary compromise.
That Owen learns politics can be a dirty business -- and hidden within that world much darker secrets -- is not all that shocking, but what makes "Choose Connor" so special and unsettling is the consistent adroitness and perfect timing with which Eberl makes his revelations. As equally impressive as Weber in the role of Connor is Escher Holloway as his troubled adopted nephew, a talented artist of dark visions.
-- Kevin Thomas
"Choose Connor." MPAA rating: unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. At the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.
Everything isn't connected in this
"Mattie Fresno and the Holoflux Universe" could have been the name of your music nerd cousin's high school synth-pop experiment. It's actually a slick but muddled indie (that only sounds as if it was scored by the aforementioned hypothetical band). Pitched as a crypto-scientific yet sentimental satire about perception and reality, it's really just an unfunny, jumbled Charlie Kaufman-esque rip-off centering on the titular character (Angela Pierce), a public relations worker who -- despite being accused of murdering a famous talk show host (Carol Alt), having a controversial physicist grandfather (Orson Bean) communicating from beyond the grave, and occasionally experiencing rabbit-hole hallucinations -- is a dullard as a protagonist.
Co-writer-director Philip Gerard Gallo is an ambitious cook prone to gross overseasoning, throwing in Eastern European perfume factory explosions, conversations about theoretical physics, goombahs masquerading as fashion designers, television show parodies and Ellen Cleghorne as Mattie's narrative-prodding cellmate. You may wonder why it all adds up to a smiling Bean gooey-ly preaching how everything in the universe is connected, especially since the movie itself is so hopelessly disjointed.
-- Robert Abele
"Mattie Fresno and the Holoflux Universe." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. At Laemmle's Grande 4 Plex, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown L.A., (213) 617-0268.
Hearts, minds and gay marriage