By Alan Scherstuhl
By Chuck WIlson
By Amy Nicholson
By Chris Klimek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Stephanie Zacharek
Midnight: 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, originally a music student, actually has some chops as a tunesmith: The ballads, despite their self-mocking lyrics, are pretty, and the lead-off anthem, "It's a Shpadoinkle Day!", is almost irritatingly catchy. 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)
7:15 p.m.: Free Enterprise. Robert Meyer Burnett, U.S., 1999, 100 min. This sometimes inspired, sometimes dull, always slick little film glorifies the misunderstood lifestyle of twentysomething sci-fi junkies, grown men whose lives revolve around unchecked obsessions with popular culture, who live by the wisdom of Spock and Yoda, who fill their apartments with still-in-the-box action figures. Writer/director Burnett and co-writer Mark Altman try here to recast the American Nerd as something much cooler than he actually is, and although the film comes off as a sort of Swingers-lite, two hours of hipster banter moving from one location to the next, it delivers the goods. Our two heroes spend a lot of time in bars and Toys R Us and Jerry's Famous Deli talking about relationships and Star Trek and relationships and Star Trek, and, well, that's about it. Oh yeah, and then they meet William Shatner, the William Shatner, who's reading porn in a bookstore and, though he doesn't know it, is in desperate need of their help and insight. These guys are all about models and laser discs, letterbox and directors' cuts, THX home systems and hardcover Sandman graphic novels. They live on a diet of the good stuff, the old stuff, the classics, and their relationships with women (um, duh?) suffer as result. The constant references, no matter how obscure or insightful, are no excuse for dialogue, and the love story's no fun, either, missing any drama or dimension. But Shatner's so much fun as a down-and-out version of himself, obsessed with bringing a six-hour musical Julius Caesar to the big screen, that you can easily forgive the overlong monologues and lame love story. (GG)
9:45 p.m.: The Terrorist Santosh Sivan, India, 1998, 98 min. Trained from birth to believe in "the cause," a beautiful young woman is tapped for the suicide- assassination of a prominent politician. NR.
Saturday, Nov. 6
10 a.m.: NFF: Coffee with the Filmmakers. A discussion with Eight Lanes in Hamilton producer Mark Yaney, The Corndog Man writer/director Andrew Shea and Roberta writer/director Eric Mandelbaum, moderated by He Said, She Said screenwriter Brian Hohlfeld.
2 p.m.: DS: Kurt Gerron's Karussell. Ilona Ziok, Germany/Netherlands/Czech Republic, 1999, 65 min. This documentary, which mixes videotaped material with archival film footage, follows Kurt Gerron from his days as the corpulent darling of Berlin cabarets to his debarkation at Auschwitz as a skeleton too ill to work -- he was therefore put to death immediately. As the man who first sang "Mack the Knife" onstage and played opposite Marlene Dietrich on the screen, Gerron was a celebrity when the Nazis came to power and sequestered Jews in ghettoes. He ran his own cabaret in the concentration camp (the "Karussell" of this film's title) and even collaborated with the Nazis by making a propaganda film about the ghetto, wrongly thinking it would save his life. His actors began disappearing during the filming, and when the film was finished -- it included his last performance of "Mack the Knife" -- Gerron himself was sent to Auschwitz to die. The power of the subject more than compensates for some lazy editorial moments, and the archival material is haunting beyond words. In German and English with English subtitles. (CK)
4:15 p.m.: West Beirut (West Beyrouth). Ziad Doueiri, Lebanon/France, 1998, 105 min. Adolescence is tough under the best circumstances, but imagine adolescence in a war zone, as your country falls to pieces. Such is the situation for Tarek (Rami Doueiri), a middle-class teenager in Beirut in 1975. When tensions -- between Moslems and Christians, among other sets of enemies -- divide the city into Islamic West Beirut and Christian East Beirut, Tarek and best friend Omar (Mohamad Chamas) are energized, moving their prankish exploits out of the schoolyard and into the real world. They should be worried about getting killed, but they're obsessed like hormonally driven boys everywhere: Who will win the affection of the dazzling new neighbor girl (Rola Al Amin), and how will they get their Super-8 films of Omar's sexy new aunt developed? First-time writer/director Doueiri -- a Lebanese émigré who went to UCLA and worked on all of Quentin Tarantino's features -- has fashioned his memories of youth into a surprisingly entertaining and accessible film, with excellent performances from all his young actors, including his own little brother in the lead. For American audiences, the film sometimes assumes too much knowledge of the situation in Beirut a quarter-century ago, and one plot development at the very end is slightly confusing. But these are the only minor missteps in an otherwise first-rate film. In Arabic and French with English subtitles. (AK)
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