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BIG-SCREEN EPIC

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

10 p.m.: Cannibal! The Musical. Trey Parker, U.S., 1996, 90 min. Before he hit the big time, South Park co-creator Trey Parker directed, co-wrote and co-produced this 1993 musical-comedy spoof of the story of Alferd (sic) Packer, the 19th-century miner who was the first American to be tried for cannibalism. (Parker also wrote the songs and plays the lead, under the pseudonym of Juan Schwartz. South Park partner Matt Stone co-produced and plays one of the victims.) The premise is simple -- an Oklahoma! about the real West at its worst -- and the humor is equally directed at movie musicals, Western conventions and gore films. As a whole, the movie is wildly uneven, but its unabashed sophomoric silliness -- after all, it began as a student project -- gives it a certain charm. Parts are terrifically funny, particularly the musical numbers. Parker plays Packer as a perpetually dazed naif, sort of an insecure Dudley Do-Right, and his performance is what holds the film together -- to the extent that the film can be said to be held together. The filmmakers get pretty good value from their reported $100,000 budget, and midnight-movie audiences may fare as well. (AK)

West Olive

1:15 p.m.: Under California: The Limit of Time (Bajo California: El Limite del Tiempo). Carlos Bolado, U.S., 1998, 96 min. A heavy, gorgeous dream of a film, Under California is a deeply archetypal tale of lost and found. When Damian (Damián Alcázar) accidentally hits a pregnant woman with his car, he cracks, leaving his pregnant wife for Baja on a quest for his ancestral roots. Early into his journey, he abandons all but the necessities, making his way on foot, sleeping and eating wherever he lands. Deep in southern Baja, Damian meets a member of his extended family, who takes him on a tour of remote and mystical ancient cave paintings. It's the perfect thing for Damian, himself an artist: We watch him come to his truest, oldest home. This is a slow, patient, ultimately overloaded film, where images are so drenched with significance that they sometimes smother us with weight. But Under California is also lovely and wise, and very warm -- in the end, worth our time and patience. Introduced and discussed by Bolado. In Spanish with English subtitles. (ML)

2 p.m.: Shorts Program 1. The festival remains committed to narrativity in this year's short film offerings, even though the format has traditionally allowed adventuresome artists much more creative leeway. As stories go, however, Program 1 offers many more pleasures than the three programs that follow. Grafting Kafka onto Capra proves to be a surprisingly productive artistic conceit, so much so that the Academy recognized "Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life" (by Peter Capaldi) as Best Live-Action Short in 1995. Although Webster University's Film Series featured it years ago, it's worth a second look, if only for the spider solo at film's end. A lifer condemned for fratricide and a lonely spinster reunite in Andrew Kazamia's rather light "Gooseberries Don't Dance." A future society whose inhabitants plug in, turn on and drop out of reality is the setting for "Plug." This seamless mix of live action and computer animation by Meher Gourjian is the program's most visually exciting offering. The sentimental, overdrawn "A Mile in My Shoes" is a bit too reliant on voice-over narration, but Denise Plumb saves her three-character play with a poignant payoff just before the closing credits. Deadpan humor and clever dialogue propel "Big Canyon" (by David Agosto), a vignette on two con artists in love and obsessing over worst-case scenarios until they finally meet one head-on. (RDZ)

4 p.m.: CC: The Tall Guy. Mel Smith, U.S., 1990, 92 min. In this delightful offbeat comedy, second-rate actor Dexter King (Jeff Goldblum) pursues Kate Lemon (Emma Thompson), fighting his own paralyzing ineptitude as much as Kate's lack of interest. Seldom has Goldblum used his gangly body and goofy nonverbal communication to such hilarious ends. In stark contrast to the love story with heart is the backstage world with none. Drawing on years in the theater, director Smith satirizes agents, casting calls, rehearsals, fawning audiences, starstruck actors and awards shows (the story escalates into a production of Elephant! The Musical, an adaptation of The Elephant Man, replete with sidesplitting musical numbers). Though some jokes fall flat and a few are repeated one time too many, when one idea fails, another comes along quickly. From start to finish, The Tall Guy sparkles with upbeat humor and empathetic characters. It doesn't shine with the brilliance of a major treasure, but this minor gem does radiate a pleasing glow. Presented by Joe Pollack. (DC)

4:15 p.m.: AA: Dumbarton Bridge. Charles Koppelman, U.S., 1998, 98 min. Vietnam veteran John Shed (Tom Wright), settled resolutely into his narrow life, doesn't drink anymore, but neither does he sing. When the daughter he left behind seeks him out, she drags with her the history that Shed has so assiduously sought to avoid. Deliberately halting, with rhythms keyed to its characters' sometimes cautious, sometimes heedless advances and stumbling retreats, real-world ambivalence runs through Dumbarton Bridge like an erratic pulse. Although it doesn't necessarily make for scintillating film work, it does yield subtle pleasures. Even when simple, nothing about the film seems easy. Credit writer/director Koppelman for skirting the saccharine in his various "resolutions," even if by the narrowest of margins. And although one might wish for a bit more consistency, especially in the performances, it all somehow hangs together. Dumbarton Bridge's refusal to settle in is, ultimately, its strength. Introduced and discussed by Koppelman. (JH)

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