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6:45 p.m.: CC: Without Limits. Robert Towne, U.S., 1998, 117 min. A bookend to Personal Best, Towne's earlier paean to track-and-field Olympians' rarefied world of exquisite pain and ecstatic triumph, Without Limits fulfills the usual biopic expectations -- relating the story of Steve Prefontaine (Billy Crudup), the charismatic '70s distance runner who ran hard and died young -- but the film's concerns are as much metaphysical as physical: about defining yourself through action, about finding success through failure, about (as the title says) refusing to acknowledge limits. Towne and the extraordinary Crudup never sentimentalize Pre, who remains throughout a maddening, bull-headed egoist, but present him as a messily realistic contradiction -- charming, funny, obstinate, hard-working, stoic, shiftless. As Pre's coach (and Nike founder) Bill Bowerman, Donald Sutherland -- who's too often prone to the histrionic gesture -- gives a beautifully nuanced performance, and his scenes with Crudup, as they court, wrangle and reconcile, exemplify the film's easy naturalism, a verisimilitude absent from most clichéd sports movies. With his editors and brilliant cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, Towne invests Pre's races with surprising emotional power and communicates their multiact drama to even non-track fans. Presented by Cliff Froehlich. (CF)

7 p.m.: The Third Miracle. Agnieszka Holland, U.S., 1999, 120 min. Holland (Europa Europa, Total Eclipse) directs the story of a cynical priest who investigates a series of what appear to be miracles and finds that a dead woman is behind the events. With Ed Harris, Anne Heche and Armin Mueller-Stahl. NR.

9:30 p.m.: Deterrence. Rod Lurie, U.S., 1999, 101 min. A snowy night in the middle of Colorado, early in 2008. A blizzard forces campaigning U.S. President Walter Emerson (Kevin Pollak) to take refuge in a roadside diner ... just as an international crisis hits the colloquial fan, courtesy of Iraqi dictator Uday Hussein (Saddam's son). Working with only two advisors (Timothy Hutton and Sheryl Lee Ralph), a batch of telephones and a TV-news crew, Emerson issues an nuclear ultimatum to Baghdad: Back down or be blown up. Lurie's one-act/one- set drama aspires to the tension and topicality of Fail Safe but never amounts to more than a juvenile game of "what if?" Lurie, a former film critic for Los Angeles magazine, has loaded his plot with so many coincidences, red herrings and catches that any claims to relevance slip away, and not even the reliable Pollak can bring it to life. Credit Lurie with a bit of foresight in speculating a candidate named Trump for the 2008 elections, as well as Vice President Buchanan, who left office in disgrace. Sadly, nothing else in the film matches even that slight bit of humor. (RH)

9:45 p.m.: Erskineville Kings. Alan White, Australia, 1999, 90 min. Barky (Marty Denniss) returns to his hometown Erskineville for the burial of his violent, abusive father. This means a confrontation with memory, with the life and lives he left behind and with his older brother Wace (Hugh Jackman), who tended to the old man through a slow, humiliating death. In the hands of director White, Erskineville is the land of many assholes -- gross, beefy guys who debate the flushing of a turd, and the women who hang with those guys like decorative linoleum. After the long, nearly interminable exposition -- Hopperesque cityscapes accompanied by a perpetually strummed guitar -- when the actual showdown between brothers ensues, the film catches some spark, but not enough to make up for all the bleak, and boring, excess. (ES)

Friday, Nov. 5

Blueberry Hill

9:30 p.m.: NFF Opening-Night Party. A gathering of NFF filmmakers, judges and attendees. Tickets are $20.

Plaza Frontenac

7:15 p.m.: The Auteur Theory. Evan Oppenheimer, U.S., 1999, 80 min. A film about making a film about making a film, The Auteur Theory is a satirical feature about a documentarist whose subject is a student film festival. Framing the movie is a pitch to BBC executives, in which filmmaker George Sand (Alan Cox) narrates the plot of his documentary, The Auteur Theory, to a threesome of skeptical executives. As Sand's film catalogs the events at a film festival, his narration is peppered with excerpts of the student films shown there -- ridiculous, overwrought pieces of work that include the pseudo-feminist "Hamlette" and a neo-expressionist Hasidic victim short by Spike Levy. Obviously, this film has something to say about filmmakers' obsession with themselves; it's so self-referential that it's circular, always turning back on itself. It means to be funny; it scarcely is. The problem with satirizing overwrought student films is that you end up forcing your audience to watch overwrought student films. (ML)

9:30 p.m.: Such A Long Journey. Sturla Gunnarsson, Canada, 1998, 113 min. This is a film that is shot in India with Indian actors but in English; based on a novel by Rohinton Mistry, an Indian-born American; and directed by Gunnarsson, a Canadian born in Iceland. Mistry's novels usually involve microscopic details about the lives of ordinary Indians against a backdrop of political upheaval. The ordinary Indian here is Gustad Noble (Roshan Seth), a bank clerk in Bombay, who is blissful when the film opens because he loves -- and feels loved by -- his family. The political backdrop is the impending 1971 war between India and Pakistan, which ended with the establishment of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan). The conflict intrudes into Gustad's life when a mysterious old friend, Jimmy Billimoria (Naseeruddin Shah), asks him to do a favor. Jimmy works for the secret service trying to help the rebellion in East Pakistan. Gustad's life begins to fall apart as the favor turns to trouble, his son runs away, his daughter falls ill and his wife (Soni Razdan) begins to dabble in black magic. Although the pacing is slow, the film has plenty of surprising plot twists and intensely emotional scenes. An added plus are scenes of Bombay in all its unvarnished glory. (SA)

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