BIG-SCREEN EPIC

Comprehensive coverage of the Eighth Annual St. Louis International Film Festival

9:30 p.m.: Bobby G. Can't Swim. John-Luke Montias, U.S., 1999, 89 min. The "G." in Bobby G. Can't Swim stands for Grace. Still interested? Small-time drug dealer Bobby G. (writer/director Montias) has the kind of complications that small-time drug dealers have in movies like this: His hooker girlfriend wants to return to Puerto Rico to raise a family; Bobby's one-off big score has gone to hell, leaving him in debt to a big-time drug dealer; and the mobster who promised Bobby $30,000 for a hit won't pay up. So Bobby hits the mean streets, encountering a bunch of "interesting" and "unusual" characters and chasing a couple of last-reel switch-ups so obvious that you can spot them from here. Actually, Bobby G. Can't Swim isn't so much bad as rote, content to plod along, hoping that if it doesn't call attention to itself, the viewer won't notice that there's really just nothing here to notice. Introduced and discussed by Montias. (JH)

9:45 p.m.: Joe the King. Frank Whaley, U.S., 1999, 93 min. Actor Whaley's debut as a writer/director cuts awfully close to the bone, I suspect. Set in the '70s and carefully described as "loosely autobiographical," this harrowing tale of an abusive father (Val Kilmer), a defeated mother (Karen Young) and a criminally neglected 14-year-old (the extraordinary Noah Fleiss) has the jolt of truth about it, like a lot of thinly veiled fiction. Kilmer is scary as an explosive, drunken school janitor, Fleiss heartbreaking as his bewildered delinquent son. When young Joe tries dancing at a roller rink, it looks as if he's shaking himself to pieces or trying to throw off demons. In fact, that's what his life is about, and this admirably blunt and obvious movie reveals to us just how blunt and obvious life is for troubled kids like Joe. (BG)

Saturday, Oct. 30

Blueberry Hill

9:30 p.m.: Spin Magazine Party: Meet the Filmmakers and Stars. A gathering of festival guests and attendees.

Plaza Frontenac

1 p.m.: In the Navel of the Sea (Sa Pusod Ng Dagat). Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Philippines, 1997, 114 min. This is the Filipino version of a Costner film -- big, bright, mythy, overacted and a little corny -- but instead of Dances with Wolves, this is Dances with Mermaids, Sharks, Snakes and the Ghost of Father. And Babies -- the narrator, Pepito (Jomari Yllana), helps his mother deliver all the babies on the island, and his mother's illicit pregnancy after the death of his father provides the plot's pivotal moment. What cast members lack in subtlety, they make up for in beauty, particularly Elizabeth Oropesa, who plays Pepito's mother. Admirers of babies -- a good many bloody newborns wriggle onscreen -- or South Pacific human beauty of either gender will find enough eye candy here to forgive the heavy-handed filmmaking. In Filipino with English subtitles. (CK)

3:45 p.m.: Naturally Native. Valerie Red-Horse and Jennifer Wynne Farmer, U.S., 1999, 108 min. Considering that there are almost no films available about modern Native American life, it seems almost churlish to criticize one that, in trying to make up for this lack, bites off more than it can chew. But that's the problem with this nicely mounted, if overly circumspect, family drama. Writer/co-director/co-producer/star Valerie Red-Horse cuts an attractive figure as a middle-aged woman who decides to go into the cosmetics business with her equally enterprising sisters (Irene Bedard and Kimberly Norris Guerrero) using recipes handed down from their tribe. Having been raised by an adoptive white family, our heroines are to some degree estranged from that tribe. And so their efforts to set up their business with tribal help runs parallel to their personal "coming home." There are also subplots involving child-rearing, the risks of dating people you've met on the Internet, and the ways a Victoria's Secret catalog can spice up your marriage. Nothing wrong with any of this, save for the way the filmmakers have of setting up problems whose tidy solutions are always easily at hand. But moviegoers looking for something ever-so-slightly different might want to give this worthy effort a try. (DE)

6:30 p.m.: East Is East. Damien O'Donnell, U.K., 1999, 96 min. In 1971 working-class Salford (northern England), a seething, intolerant Pakistani father clashes in increasingly contentious ways with his seven children, who embrace the culture of their more open-minded British mother. Daughter Meenah hates saris and loves playing soccer. Instead of studying engineering, rebellious Saleem sneaks to art school to mold shocking sculptures. Tariq nurtures his reputation as an irresistible Romeo, and the youngest boy hasn't undergone traditional rites of manhood. Alternately cohesive in their escalating resistance and desperately dysfunctional, the Muslim-raised children rebel by eating bacon and refusing to visit the mosque. George Khan, the dogmatic father dubbed "Genghis," reasserts his authority, including arranging marriages. At times broadly humorous, the narrative astutely dramatizes contemporary culture clash. Based on Ayub Khan Din's acclaimed autobiographical play, East Is East packs an emotional punch because of its compassionate presentation of a man desperate to dominate a family already beyond his control. (DC)

9 p.m.: DS: Get Bruce! Andrew J. Kuehn, U.S., 1999, 75 min. Bruce Vilanch is one of Hollywood's top gag writers: He may be unknown to the general public, but for nearly three decades he has written material for Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, Billy Crystal and numerous other high-profile types, as well as churning out reams of endlessly revised material for the Oscar and Emmy shows. He seems an unlikely subject for a documentary, but now we have Kuehn's loving tribute to him. Onscreen, Vilanch makes a curious -- screw it, bizarre -- presence: a decidedly full-figured kind of guy, middle-aged, flamboyantly gay, always clad in a T-shirt (even when in evening dress), with shoulder-length hair of ever-shifting colors (few of them occurring in nature). Kuehn talks to Goldberg, Midler, Crystal, Robin Williams, Nathan Lane and others (including Vilanch's doting mother), both in and out of Vilanch's presence, and the results are, not surprisingly, often howlingly funny, even if you start without the least curiosity about the subject himself. The film makes a good case for Vilanch's talents; its only real misstep is the overly long tribute song that Ann-Margret croons under the closing credits. It would have been irritating at half the length. (AK)

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