By Amy Nicholson
By Chris Packham
By David Kipen
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Caira LaVelle
By Zachary Wigon
By Scott Foundas
The eighth annual St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) continues Nov. 7 at the Plaza Frontenac (210 Plaza Frontenac, Lindbergh Boulevard and Clayton Road), Tivoli (6350 Delmar Blvd.) and West Olive (12657 Olive Blvd.) theaters. Tickets for fest events (including seminars and coffees) are $7 each and available at the venues one hour before the event. A variety of passes are also available: a six-film pass for $36; a 12-film pass for $72; and a gold pass, which includes all films and special events, for $300. (Discounted passes are available to Friends of SLIFF.) New Filmmakers Forum (NFF) passes, which include all NFF films, seminars and special events, cost $50 for the general public and $30 for students. Passes are available throughout the fest at the three main venues.
Special events include an Alliance Française-sponsored happy hour before the Nov. 4 Tivoli screening of Train of Life at Brandt's Market & Cafe (6525 Delmar Blvd.); an NFF opening-night party at Blueberry Hill (6504 Delmar Blvd.) on Nov. 5 (cost is $20); four NFF seminars at the Tivoli on Nov. 5; coffee and conversation with NFF filmmakers at Blueberry Hill on Nov. 6 and 7; a screening of The Brian Epstein Story at St. Louis University High School (4970 Oakland Ave.) on Nov. 6; and a free closing-night awards party at the Sheraton Clayton Plaza Hotel (7730 Bonhomme Ave.) on Nov. 7.
Sidebars to the festival include the New Filmmakers Forum (NFF), a juried competition showcasing work by emerging directors; the Documentary Sidebar (DS), an audience-vote competition of nonfiction films; the African- American Sidebar (AA), a selection of films focusing on the theme of "Sights and Sounds of Urban Realism"; and the Critic's Choice Showcase (CC), selections by area reviewers of underappreciated or underseen films of the past 15 years. Films appearing in these sidebars are noted by an acronym preceding the movie's name.
For more information, call the festival hotline at 367-FEST (3378).
Capsule reviews are written by Safir Ahmed, Diane Carson, Cliff Froehlich, Bill Gallo, Glenn Gaslin, Frank Grady, John Hodge, Brian Hohlfeld, Robert Hunt, Chris King, Andy Klein, Melissa Levine, Kevin Renick, Randall Roberts, Joseph M. Schuster, Eddie Silva, Luke Y. Thompson and R D Zurick. "NR" indicates the film is not reviewed.
Wednesday, Nov. 3
7:30 p.m.: DS: Speaking in Strings. Paola di Florio, U.S., 1999, 73 min. Whoever first thought of the metaphor "heartstrings" must have had the violin in mind, and after viewing this portrait of the tempestuous Nadja Salerno- Sonnenberg, it is the violin manipulated by her frenetically precise hands that most graphically expresses that image. Salerno-Sonnenberg appears possessed by spirits when she plays -- a singularly compelling, and frightening, figure. Musical purists find her mannerisms affected -- a criticism that follows exuberance around, it seems. But those willing to enter into her passion in the concert hall are mesmerized, as those who take in this intimate documentary will be as well. This performance is sold out. (ES)
9:30 p.m.: P. Tinto's Miracle (El Milagro de P. Tinto). Javier Fesser, Spain, 1998, 109 min. Producing Communion wafers and raising large families are P. Tinto family traditions. But the youngest P. Tinto, now 70, and his wife, Olivia, have yet to produce a child after 50 years of marriage. In Spanish with English subtitles. NR.
7 p.m.: CC: Down by Law. Jim Jarmusch, U.S., 1986, 106 min. Jarmusch's minimalist comedy pares its jokes -- a slightly raised eyebrow, a contemptuously repeated phrase, a shock of hair left uncombed, an empty-eyed stare -- to the funny bone, inducing both laughter and pain. The film's troika of stars -- out-of-work DJ Zack (Tom Waits), goodtime pimp Jack (John Lurie) and happy-puppy Italian tourist "Bob" (Roberto Benigni) -- land, through setups and mishaps, in a Louisiana prison cell, where they form a grudging union and eventually escape into the surrounding swamp country. After much backbiting and circular trudging, the trio miraculously happens on a safe haven in an Italian diner glowing warmly on a backwater road. The film not only traces a journey but arrives at a destination: Without promising a better existence for its protagonists, it strongly implies that their lot has improved through trial and mutual trust. As its open-ended conclusion indicates, Down by Law -- for both heroes and audience -- doesn't dramatically alter but enhances our perceptions. Presented by Joe Holleman. (CF)
7:30 p.m.: DS: American Movie. Chris Smith, U.S., 1999, 104 min. With the success of The Blair Witch Project leaving the vogue for "indie" product with nowhere to go but down, the latest trend in independent chic appears to be the self-reflexive documentary in which struggling young filmmakers film other struggling young filmmakers as they speak earnestly and/or ironically about the long, hard road to Sundance. Mark Borchardt, the subject of the sad, funny American Movie, is no less earnest, but somehow the motivational speeches come out scrambled. Borchardt wants to make movies in the worst way, as the joke goes. Living in Menomonee Falls, Wis., where he drinks, piles up debts and works at the local cemetery, he refuses to let these or any other obstacles -- his apparent lack of talent, for example -- get in his way. With a cast of characters that resembles a live-action episode of Beavis and Butt-head, American Movie follows Mark over several years as he struggles to finish his horror featurette Coven (which he pronounces "koe-ven"; when a cast member corrects him, he thinks it's a joke) ... and a struggle it is. As absurd as Mark and his friends are, American Movie never seems to ridicule them (though some would argue that its exploits their dull-wittedness). So what is it saying? Although the film lacks a coherent point and drags in spots, behind the low comedy and spectacle it offers a glimpse of -- to use one of Borchardt's favorite clichés -- the American Dream, but wrecked and abandoned in a trailer park. Unfortunately, the joke becomes strained if you've actually seen Coven, which accompanies American Movie at both festival screenings. Although Smith's film holds out the possibility that Mark might actually make a worthwhile film, Coven shatters that promise. For all of Borchardt's pretensions, he proves to be so totally inept and his film so misguidedly awful on every level that I began to wonder how Smith resisted the urge to step in and take over. Introduced and discussed by Smith, Borchardt and American Movie producer Sarah Price. (RH)
9:45 p.m.: DS: Creature. Parris Patton, U.S., 1999, 64 min. Parris Patton, who evidently now works with Disney, spent four years filming the pilgrim's progress of Stacey Hollywood/Kyle Dean, who ran away from a rural North Carolina home for a series of lives in LA as a transvestite prostitute, drag-club diva and pre-op transsexual. Patton's low budget and the extended shoot make Creature a collection of minidocumentaries that testify to the fluidity of identity and to the varieties of denial. The final portion records Stacey's first trip home in more than three years to see her devout mother and born-again father, whose Fu Manchu moustache is a relic from his time in prison: Although sure that what Stacey has done is contrary to God, they're just as sure that, this being America, she has every right to do it. (FG)
7 p.m.: CC: Unmade Beds. Nicholas Barker, U.S., 1997, 93 min. An acidly funny group portrait of four lonely, self-deluded New Yorkers looking for love through the personals, Unmade Beds exploits and empathizes, abuses and exalts, distorts and clarifies. Although technically a documentary, the film presents such a highly mediated view of its subjects -- images refracted through the sharp lens of director Barker -- that they become fact-based fictional creations: characters carefully shaped as much as persons closely observed. The film divides its time between two men -- an intense, humorlessly self-deprecating 40-year-old who believes he owes his bachelorhood to his short stature and a gruff, laconic would-be screenwriter who dresses like a Scorsese wiseguy -- and two women -- a young, savvy but overweight professional grimly determined to marry before she's 30 and a buxom, hilariously forthright divorcée who's on the hunt for a man with money. Although Barker gleefully shares his subjects' uglier traits and views, he constantly undercuts our first impressions by providing a fresh perspective, by softening a hard edge, by opening emotional veins and letting these people messily bleed. Unmade Beds may provoke its share of laughter, but it's at all of our expense. Presented by Ellen Futterman. (CF)
7:30 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)
9:45 p.m.: The Lighthouse (El Faro). Eduardo Mignona, Argentina, 1998, 110 min. Somewhere in the middle of this meandering movie, it makes a point: We should cherish what is crooked, not try to straighten it out. This idea dawns on Meme (Ingrid Rubio), an orphan with a crippled leg and missing lung, so she should know what she is talking about. And this movie that follows the rhythms of Meme's aimless life in Uruguay with her kid sister and cigarette habit does, occasionally, cherish the crooked. At times it feels like an oddball delight -- like actually enjoying the friendship of this offbeat, lovely person. Then all charm disappears without warning into flat dialogue, simpering stares and soap-opera- esque plot turns (unenlightening boy trouble and stagy pregnancies). What could have been a nifty, crooked short film gets straightened out into an overly long yawner. In Spanish with English subtitles. (CK)
9:45 p.m.: Wicked. Michael Steinberg, U.S., 1998, 96 min. Ellie Christianson's (Julia Stiles) particular teenage wasteland is a gated community called Casa del Norte. She doesn't care much for her mother, and a little too much for her father, so when mom's found bludgeoned to death, the plot thickens. When Ellie takes to wearing Mom's slinkiest and asking Dad to kiss her "like a movie star," it curdles. Directed with demo-reel effusiveness by Steinberg, the dark and intermittently comic Wicked is not without its guilty pleasures, derived mostly from its excesses. At once slight and ponderous, the film manages to "succeed" by dint of sheer perversity, juicing its suburban gothicism to the point of genuine discomfort. Still, the style-to-substance ratio is so rich that by the time Wicked's plot exhausts itself in a final ridiculous twist, the viewer is left less satisfied than queasy. (JH)
Thursday, Nov. 4
Brandt's Market & Cafe
5:30 p.m.: Happy Hour. The Alliance Française sponsors a happy hour, with music by the Poor People of Paris, before the screening of Train of Life at the Tivoli.
7:15 p.m.: Three Men and a Leg (Tre Uomini e Una Gamba). Aldo Baglio, Giovanni Storti, Giacomo Poretti and Massimo Venier, Italy, 1998, 89 min. This Italian farce represents the feature-film debut of a popular team of TV comics known in Italy as Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo, who also directed. The three play bumbling hardware-store clerks who are scheduled to marry their boss' three daughters. But on the way to the wedding, they must pick up a tacky sculpture -- a crudely carved wooden leg -- that their boss is certain will increase in value on the sculptor's imminent death. Trying to hang onto the leg and get to their destination safely proves a challenge for these well-intentioned but hopelessly inept bozos as they stumble into one absurd situation after another. Billed as sort of an Italian Dumb and Dumber, the film is indeed very silly, but there are enough genuine laughs to make its brisk running time easy to tolerate. A scene with a car and a dog is probably ripped off directly from National Lampoon's Vacation, and countless other scenes recall lowbrow American comedies that have already been there, done that. Still, the energy level is high, the opening sequence is a minor classic, and the direction is efficient enough to maintain viewer interest. Don't look for multiple layers, though; this film is all surface shenanigans. In Italian with English subtitles. (KR)
9:30 p.m.: All About My Mother (Todo Sobre Mi Madre). Pedro Almodovar, Spain, 1999, 101 min. In his most mature, least manic film to date, acclaimed Spanish director Almodovar uses the accidental death of an adored teenage son to send distraught mother Manuela on a journey of symbolic and literal discovery. Searching for the absent father now known as Lola, Manuela builds a substitute family, including a nun and her agitated mother, a famous actress and her junkie, and a transsexual prostitute. Coping with grief through new friendships and an admirable resilience of spirit, Manuela reinvents her life through the theater and its community. All About My Mother celebrates and moves us with joyful and humorous, ironic and sad moments in Manuela's struggle. Superb performances by all, accomplished cinematography and art direction, Alberto Iglesias' effective music and, above all, heartfelt empathy for the human struggle earned Almodovar this year's best-director award at Cannes. In Spanish with English subtitles. (DC)
7 p.m.: Train of Life (Train de Vie). Radu Mihaileanu, France, 1998, 103 min. Because we need another Holocaust comedy, France brings us Train of Life, a rollicking tale of an entire Jewish town that attempts to escape the Nazis by staging its own deportation. Led by Shlomo, the village idiot (as usual, the smartest member of the town), these resourceful people sew Nazi uniforms, buy and renovate their own cattle train, forge papers and set off for Palestine. Along the way, they confront members of the Resistance, gypsies and, of course, actual Nazis. Although the film relies heavily on stereotypical jokes and predictable Jewish cultural references, it's often warmly funny, and there are some moments of sheer exhilaration. On the other hand, the fantasy is soon and often wearying in the face of what we all know to have been grim reality. Whether the shocking ending redeems the film is hard to say, but it's definitely a bold move on writer/director Mihaileanu's part. In French with English subtitles. (ML)
7:30 p.m.: That's the Way I Like It. Glen Goei, Singapore, 1998, 91 min. In late '70s Singapore, mild misfit Ah Hock (Adrian Pang) becomes entranced with the world of Saturday Night Fever and molds himself in the image of John Travolta. Goei's lighthearted movie is one of the few feature films to emerge from that country's tiny film industry in the past decade and presumably the first to receive commercial distribution in the U.S. since the two Cleopatra Wong action movies of two decades ago. You have to give Goei points for the film's good-naturedness and its slickness in the absence of money. Unfortunately, the movie isn't so much an homage to Saturday Night Fever as it is a remake, which makes things awfully predictable. And although the cover versions of Bee Gees tunes with which Goei has had to make do on the soundtrack are acceptable, the presence of an imaginary John Travolta (Dominic Pace) as Hock's spiritual advisor (à la Play It Again, Sam) is a problem; Pace's Travolta imitation just isn't good enough to pass muster, at least to American ears. In Hokkien and English with English subtitles. (AK)
9:30 p.m.: The Wisdom of Crocodiles. Po Chih Leong, U.K., 1999, 99 min. In Po Chih Leong's post-Bram Stoker, post-George Hamilton, post-Coppola view of vampirism, it's high time for Vlad the Impaler to go completely postmodern in the '90s. Steven Grslcz (Jude Law) has ditched the black cloak for designer threads. He sacks out not in a musty coffin but in a decorator- furnished London flat. He's playboy-slick, and he speaks in dense, ironic riddles that not even he seems to understand half the time. Self-conscious and tormented about good and evil, he bamboozles a trusting cop (Timothy Spall) but not the plucky heroine (Elina Löwensohn). She's no swooning Victorian maiden but -- we're not kidding -- an asthmatic structural engineer who's developing a new kind of waterproof concrete. One day, maybe she can start patching up Dracula's unsightly castle with the stuff. Meantime, this pompous and dispassionate movie leaves you longing for something besides a grandiose philosophical construct to sink your teeth into. (BG)
9:45 p.m.: Laura. Otto Preminger, U.S., 1944, 85 min. Too elegant to properly be labeled noir and too willfully perverse to fit in with the conventional drawing-room mystery, Preminger's 1944 classic finds a nearly perfect balance of Hollywood glamor and dark obsession. Though the story follows all of the usual mystery-novel steps, Preminger is less interested in exposing a murder than in creating a sense of collective guilt. The dead Laura, a tangible presence throughout the film thanks to her portrait on the wall and David Raksin's ever-present theme music, is the figure of desire that links cop and criminal and makes every character a potential lover or murderer. The flamboyant Clifton Webb steals the film, but Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney are at their best as well, and those who know Vincent Price only for his charmingly campy presence in horror movies of the '60s and '70s will be surprised to see what a delightful -- if somewhat mannered -- actor he could be when he played it straight. Introduced by Vincent Price's daughter, Victoria, author of Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography. (RH)
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
9:30 p.m.: NFF Opening-Night Party. A gathering of NFF filmmakers, judges and attendees. Tickets are $20.
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)
12:30 p.m.: NFF Seminar: Lights, Camera, Civil Action. A panel on the legal aspects of filmmaking co-moderated by Alan S. Nemes and Jill L. Selsor of Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin LLP Entertainment Law Group, with panelist Kjehl Rasmussen (executive producer of The Corndog Man).
2 p.m.: NFF Seminar: My Shorts Are Showing. A panel on short films and their potential rewards moderated by Kathy Corley, professor of film at Webster University, with panelists Jonathan Buss (director of "Express: Aisle to Glory") and Veena Sud (director of "One Night").
3:30 p.m.: NFF Seminar: Following: How a No-Budget Film Becomes a Festival Darling. A case study on Following, with producer Emma Thomas and Next Wave Films' Mark Stolaroff.
5 p.m.: NFF Seminar: Studio Films, Indie Films and Me. A panel on criticism with critics Rich Cline of BBC Radio, Diane Carson of The Riverfront Times, Joe Holleman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Audrey Hutti of KSDK (Channel 5).
7 p.m.: NFF: Following Christopher Nolan, U.K., 1998, 70 min. Bill (Jeremy Theobald) -- out of work, lonely and with a vague notion of becoming a writer -- develops the habit of following strangers down the streets of London. One of his subjects turns out to be Cobb (Alex Haw), a slick young burglar who, as a result of his professional skills, quickly spots Bill and confronts him. He ends up taking Bill under his wing, showing him how a real invader of privacy works. Seduced by what he learns, Bill goes even further and violates one of Cobb's cardinal rules: Based on photos and belongings, he grows so infatuated with Lucy (Lucy Russell), one of their victims, that he contacts her and insinuates himself into her life. The rest of the plot unfolds as a series of genuine surprises; first-time writer/director Nolan packs an amazing number of complications into a film that barely times out at 70 minutes. Despite working on the lowest of budgets, Following hasn't a hint of amateurism, technically or aesthetically. If it has a major flaw, it's that the story is too compact to absorb in a single viewing. Like Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects, which was almost certainly an influence, the movie's plot revelations make us repeatedly reevaluate our assumptions about what we've seen. Things that may have appeared improbable become more rational as further layers of deception are peeled away. Nolan tells his story out of chronological order, somewhat in the manner of Kubrick's The Killing. At first, this intercutting makes the story hard to comprehend, but, on second viewing, Following almost seems like a different film -- an even more intriguing one. Introduced and discussed by producer Emma Thomas. (AK)
7:15 p.m.: Streetheart (Le Coeur au Poing). Charles Binamé, Canada, 1998, 97 min. Good films frequently begin with an interesting premise, and this French-Canadian offering posits a doozy: What if an attractive but disconnected young woman named Louise (Pascale Montpetit) were to invent a game in which she offered one hour of her time to strangers on the street at random? For that hour, people could do whatever they wanted with her. Naturally, one expects the sexual possibilities of this scenario to dominate, but Streetheart has much broader designs: to explore the responses of the surprised recipients of the offer (they range from stunned disbelief and rejection to curious choices for utilizing "Rose," the name Louise adopts for the game); the diverse character of modern society, from the innocent to the malevolent; and, ultimately, the soul and character of Louise herself, a complex woman longing for transcendence and deeper meaning than what her sheltered life offers. Louise lives in a rundown building that houses a dance school, and relationships with her sister Paulette and her older lover, Julien (Guy Nadon), are less than fulfilling. Her forays into the lives of myriad strangers give her life an exciting dimension but ultimately lead to emotional turmoil, grave risk and a climactic existential confrontation. Montpetit, a striking cinematic presence, gives a remarkable performance as the tormented Louise, and the film seizes on a truly compelling premise and sends it down all sorts of interesting side streets. In French with English subtitles. (KR)
9:30 p.m.: DS: American Movie/Coven. See Wednesday, Nov. 3, Tivoli.
9:45 p.m.: Shorts Program 2. Program 2 starts off with "Whacked," an outrageous one-joke film by Rolf Gibbs that explains why so many New Yorkers are dropping dead in the middle of the street. The paradoxical "Five O'clock Shadow" (by Traci Carroll) is a fine example of pure cinema, as it tells its creepy story with hardly any dialogue, leaving viewers to ponder what was real and what was dream. Sophia Trone stars in her own worst nightmare, "The Deformation of Myrna Brown," which finds a rash way of proving that you are literally what you eat. Kids suffer untold indignities from their insurgent inflatables in "Billy's Balloon," a twisted but inexplicably funny cartoon by Don Hertzfeldt. "Last Words," by Belgian artist Wim Vandekeybus, is a stagebound and hectic tribute to the Theater of the Absurd. It tells the story of a scream seller and his confrontation with the local tyrant, who attempts to purchase his own dying words in order to cheat death itself. Presented in the form of an educational filmstrip, "Das Clown" (by Tom E. Brown) delivers an AIDS parable of a kindly old shopkeeper's clown doll who comes to life one stormy night to wreak predictable havoc. Swiss composer Dominik Scherrer directed his own noisy opera, "Hell for Leather," substituting grungy bikers for Satan and his followers, who brutally torment the pious in a purposefully bleak London setting. Introduced and discussed by Carroll and Trone. (RDZ)
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)
7 p.m.: The War Zone. Tim Roth, U.K., 1999, 98 min. Dramatizing the repulsive, rarely examined horror of father-daughter incest, first-time director and veteran actor Roth doesn't flinch in his presentation of its ugliest moments in The War Zone. Isolated physically in the British countryside and emotionally by repeated denial of the abuse, this perverse nuclear family includes father and mother, 18-year-old daughter and the 15-year-old son from whose viewpoint the narrative unfolds. As in Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth (which this film resembles in its uncompromising courage), Ray Winstone is again the terrifying, victimizing father. Tilda Swinton is the willfully oblivious mother, preoccupied with her third pregnancy. A fearless director, Roth makes Alexander Stuart's screenplay, based on his 1989 novel, appropriately horrific. Keeping the camera at a respectful distance, Roth uses the characters' silence and gestures, the father's intimidation and brutality to build inexorably to a climactic confrontation. This is a very tough, painfully honest and eminently praiseworthy film. (DC)
9:30 p.m.: DS: Get Bruce! Andrew J. Kuehn, U.S., 1999, 75 min. Bruce Vilanch is one's 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 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. Williams, as usual, has a hard time restraining himself from upstaging the star, and ABC standards-and- practices head Susan Futterman manages to come off pretty well for a censor. 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)
St. Louis University High School
12:30 p.m.: Zacharia Farted. Michael Rohl, Canada, 1998, 110 min. The title of this production might lead you to believe it's a lowbrow comedy filled with adolescent antics, but nothing could be further from the truth. Zacharia Farted is actually a thoughtful, leisurely paced road movie about what happens when two friends, Brian (Benjamin Ratner) and Michael (writer/producer Colin Cunningham), embark on what's supposed to be a simple weekend fishing trip and find an unmarked gravestone that serves as the catalyst for an unexpected journey. On a rambling trek across the Southwest, the two friends encounter a variety of folk who shape their destiny in some way; each character is given distinguishing traits that elevate them above being merely plot-squatters, and their dialogue and behavior have the unmistakable feel of real life. In fact, the most notable thing about the film is the authenticity of the action and the pacing. Although nothing truly astonishing or spectacular happens, the film accurately captures the small surprises and fateful developments that occur on a loosely planned road excursion such as this. A compassionate, subtly meditative experience, Zachariah Farted wants to say something about fate, about keeping an open mind about people and places, about embracing the notion that although the destination you may set out for is not necessarily the one you'll reach, that doesn't mean you'll have any fewer life-enriching experiences along the route. Introduced and discussed by Cunningham and actor Madison Graie. (KR)
12:30 p.m.: Shorts Program 3. Arriving late to Program 3 should not be a problem for movie lovers; the initial offering, "The Gift" (by Gita Donovan), is not just about a dead dog but is one. The short emulates silent-film techniques but supplies a sappy piano score and unnecessary intertitles, resulting in a 20-minute snooze. "Half Full, Half Empty" (by Lisa Mulcahy) makes no significant contribution to cinema, either; its three minutes of dialogue would work just as well as radio. "Express: Aisle to Glory" (by Jonathan Buss) wakes up the proceedings, particularly for the anal-retentive among us. This comic delight should be an inspiration to bag boys the world over as it chronicles the successes of a now-legendary supermarket bagger. "'Amplifier'' (by Glenn Forbes) is a gripping extension of the horrors inflicted on us by the invention of television, a solid piece of filmmaking juxtaposing four levels of time. Seth Wiley's "P.1" darkly elevates the nature of autoeroticism to new parking levels, and Rick Dublin's equally sarcastic "Bubblepac" investigates mankind's obsession with this plastic marvel over one's regard for humanity itself. The program concludes with Oscar Moore's "The Indescribable Nth," a sweet tale of a young man' s heart with rather simplistic -- indeed, at times unfinished -- animation. Introduced and discussed by "Express: Aisle to Glory" writer/director Buss and producers Michael Sarner and Stephen Goldstein. (RDZ)
3 p.m.: NFF: Eight Lanes in Hamilton. Aslam Amlani, U.S., 1999, 90 min. Charming hustler Sandy (Joe Garcia) returns to his hometown after an eight-year absence and insinuates himself back into the life of his best friend, his ex-wife and, most important, his teenage son, Billy (Mickey Blaine), who's at a crossroads. Billy can either make something of his life or follow in his father's crooked footsteps; it's a mythic problem played on a small-town scale. Everybody knows that Sandy is seedy and untrustworthy, but it doesn't keep them from falling for his charms even as he's tearing apart their relationships. Eight Lanes benefits from Garcia's low-key performance (which recalls the anti-hero films of the early '70s), and a terse, insightful script. This may seem like unlikely material for a Ugandan-born director, but Amlani, in his feature debut, has a sure touch with his ensemble cast, slowly heating up the material until we know it's bound to boil over. Introduced and discussed by producer Mark Yaney. (BH)
4 p.m.: DS: Genghis Blues. Roko Belic, U.S., 1999, 84 min. In the mid-1980s, San Francisco-based Paul Pena -- a black blues singer/guitarist, best known for writing the Steve Miller Band hit "Jet Airliner" -- was listening to shortwave radio when he came upon a broadcast of "throatsinging," a vocal style from the tiny region of Tuva, then part of the Soviet Union. The technique enables a single singer to produce multiple tones simultaneously, thus harmonizing with himself. With barely any resources to work from, Pena figured out the method, becoming so proficient that he was invited to participate in Tuva's triennial throatsinging competition. Pena, blind since birth, made the trip accompanied by some associates and documentarian brothers Roko and Adrian Belic, Pena charmed Tuvan audiences and won his division in the contest. It is not too much to say that Genghis Blues, the Belics' record of this excursion, is utterly irresistible and, for its first two-thirds, uplifting. (A series of catastrophes darkens the last part of the trip.) The travelogue aspects, the music and culture, would have been enough, but holding everything together is Pena, a complicated personality whose huge talent for, and joy in, music is mixed with a well-earned bitterness over the Job-like misfortunes that have marked his life. The Belics organize their already-rich material for maximum effect: It's hard to imagine any music or documentary fan being less than enthralled by the whole. (AK)
6 p.m.: NFF: The Corndog Man. Andrew Shea, U.S., 1998, 83 min. How sweet revenge is, especially when perpetrated on a cowardly racist redneck by his illegitimate, unacknowledged biracial son, the result of a rape long forgotten. This stranger tracks his father (called Ace for his sterling sales record at the KKK Marina) to Bougherville, S.C. Tediously, phone call after phone call, the anonymous caller baits, harasses, illuminates and drives his father insane while he amuses himself selling corndogs (hence the title). Flashbacks to seminal events, police involvement, booby traps, vandalism, moronic fellow employees and another sexual encounter with a black woman provide brief digressions. Despite Noble Willingham's intensely dark performance, The Corndog Man is relentless and annoying -- both in its intended plotline and its effect on the audience. Ace's monotonous, uninspired cursing in response to the tiresome calls and the unrelieved persecution amount to nothing more than wallowing in sadistic retribution. Introduced and discussed by Shea. (DC)
6:30 p.m.: SS: Go Tell It on the Mountain. Stan Lathan, U.S., 1984, 100 min. Originally an American Playhouse adaptation of James Baldwin's semiautobiographical novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain explores the relationship between young teen John (James Bond III) and his harsh stepfather Gabriel (Paul Winfield), a dour deacon at the local storefront Pentecostal church in 1930s Harlem. Winfield plays a man caught between his present righteousness and his past failures, implacable and frustrated; he considers this one of his best performances. A very strong ensemble cast includes Rosalind Cash, who shines as Gabriel's older sister, and early appearances by Giancarlo Esposito, Alfre Woodard and Ving Rhames as the young Gabriel. Introduced and discussed by Winfield, who will be presented with the African-American Sidebar's Distinguished Filmmaker Award. (FG)
9 p.m.: NFF: Roberta. Eric Mandelbaum, U.S., 1999, 87 min. An elegant study in obsession and morality that plays like a quiet thriller, Roberta premiered at the 1999 Sundance Festival. In an understated yet gripping performance, indie veteran Kevin Corrigan plays Jonathan, a man who decides to help a prostitute he knew when she was a girl. Risking his business and girlfriend, he moves Roberta (Daisy Rojas in a remarkable acting debut) into his apartment and starts her on a new life. But as Roberta resists his help and altruism turns to obsession, Jonathan's life unravels and his motivations become suspect: Is he atoning for his father? Does he desire Roberta sexually? Does motivation matter when the desired result is worthy? And at what point do good deeds become bad? Roberta is excellent -- well written, haunting, cinematic in the old- fashioned sense of the word, bold and refreshing in its simple choices. Mandelbaum is a talent to watch, and Roberta is not to be missed. Introduced and discussed by Mandelbaum. (BH)
9:15 p.m.: Earth. Deepa Mehta, India, 1998, 110 min. An Indian Gone with the Wind. Set against the backdrop of India in 1947 when the British moved out shortly after dividing their colony into India and Pakistan, Earth examines the ensuing violent turmoil through the eyes of 7-year-old Lenny-Baby (Maia Sethna, making an impressive acting debut), the daughter of an affluent Parsee couple. As the nation is divided along religious lines, the Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians previously united against the British turn against each other in an effort to seize land for themselves and expel any dissenters (a brief reference to the A-bomb early on serves to remind us that the situation is still far from settled more than 50 years later). Lenny-Baby's family, like the rest of the Parsee minority, struggle to remain neutral even as their land is declared part of the new state of Pakistan and their friends turn on one another. It's quite a challenge to take on such a sweeping historical event, and director Mehta wisely keeps most of the story on a human level, occasionally giving us enough of a glance at the big picture (a city on fire, a train filled with slaughtered Muslims) to allow us to imagine the rest, which we hear through anecdotes and gather, by way of its effect on Lenny-Baby and her family's everyday life. Based on the semiautobiographical novel Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa, Earth marks the second installment of Mehta's "Elements" trilogy, following 1996's Fire. (Yes, the next one will be called Water.) In Hindi and English with English subtitles. (LYT)
1:45 p.m.: Erskineville Kings. See Thursday, Nov. 4, West Olive.
3:45 p.m.: Via Satellite. Anthony McCarten, New Zealand, 1998, 90 min. New Zealand has contributed some fine films to the world -- Smash Palace, Utu, Once Were Warriors -- but Via Satellite will not be added to the list in the future. This labor of love (it's adapted from McCarten's stage play) was a labor to sit through. The film is about the dysfunctional family of an Olympic swimming medalist: The Dunn household is preparing for a satellite linkup that will broadcast their reactions simultaneously as daughter Carol takes the gold she seems certain to win. Mama Dunn, a little mentally slow, is justifiably proud of her daughter; Carol's twin sister, Chrissy (Danielle Cormack plays the twins), is an angry, bitter dropout who wants no part of the broadcast until some questions about her dubious parentage are cleared up; eldest daughter Jen (Rima Te Wiata) is a homely, put-upon sort married to Ken (Timothy Balme), an errant, disconcertingly mild-mannered lout; and middle sister Lyn (Jodie Dorday) is a smart-mouthed looker, very pregnant. And, hey, who the heck's the father? The Dunns bicker, reveal and react to icky revelations, survive a near-electrocution, make the TV director's job hell, etc. But, by golly, they'll pull together for that glorious televised moment with Olympic star Carol, won't they? After all the neurotic unpleasantness, though, will you care? Although the film is billed as a comedy, you'll probably sit mute throughout. The awful closing song, "See What Love Can Do," features the unintentionally funny lyric "When you tell your story, make sure the story's right." Note to McCarten: Heed this advice next time out, because Via Satellite is ponderous and, um, over-Dunn. (KR)
6 p.m.: Nà. Robert Lepage, Canada, 1998, 82 min. Alternating between Osaka during Japan's Expo 70 and Quebec at the height of the Quebeçois separatist crisis, Nà charts the troubled course of the relationship betweeen Sophie (Anne-Marie Cadieux) and Michel (Alexis Martin). Sophie, in Japan as part of a Canadian theater troupe performing Feydeau (badly), discovers that she is pregnant. Michel, a Quebec Liberation Front sympathizer and struggling playwright, becomes embroiled in a ramshackle bombing plot. Sophie is self-absorbed and distraught; Michel is self-absorbed and distracted. Lepage cuts between the two, forcing parallels and accumulating subplots. The problem is that Nà never strays far from the farcical, even, or especially, when a more delicate touch is required. With the exception of Sophie's blind translator and her sweetly goofy boyfriend, the ancillary characters are caricatures, deployed to set up romantic confusion and homo jokes. And it doesn't help that there's a terrible punning coda that could have spoiled a better movie than this one. Burdened by cleverness, Nà sinks under the weight of its contrivances. In French with English subtitles. (JH)
8:15 p.m.: DS: Meeting People Is Easy. Grant Gee, U.K., 1999, 95 min. When British band Radiohead's 1997 album OK Computer was released, the critics went gaga. They propped the band up on their shoulders as heroes who had just scored a game-winning goal. The crowd rushed the field, and chaos ensued. Meeting People Is Easy documents the five individuals inside this mass. Critics, talk-show hosts, industry execs and fans -- a monolith of others -- surround Radiohead throughout, and the band walks through dazed and confused, politely posing for the cameras, answering the interview questions and performing the record live. Director Gee films the crannies inside of this chaos, and the result reveals a surreal kind of tedium, beautifully imagined, stylized and edited to create an exquisite cinéma verité portrait. Fans of the band will no doubt be fascinated, but fans of documentary film in general will be treated to a nearly perfect film, a post-MTV Don't Look Back. (RR)
Sunday, Nov. 7
11 a.m.: NFF: Coffee with the Filmmakers. A discussion with Snake Tales writer/director Francesca Talenti and Road to Park City writer/director Bret Stern, moderated by He Said, She Said screenwriter Brian Hohlfeld.
1 p.m.: CC: Pleasantville. Gary Ross, U.S., 1998, 116 min. To escape his unpleasant home life, teenager David watches reruns of a 1950s sitcom, Pleasantville. One night, after a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts) visits, he and his sister, Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon), are transported into the series, where they become the children of the principal family. Into this black- and-white world the two introduce sex and the concept of free will; slowly, the world, then characters, turn to color. Once the siblings are in the series, the film is a right-on parody. Later, however, Pleasantville becomes a political tract: As characters begin to change color, the black-and-white characters become prejudiced against "the coloreds." The message is obvious, but the film doesn't stop there; at one point, Bud makes an impassioned speech on The Value of Difference. Ross may have a point, but it seems he's lost faith in his audience to understand the film's meaning. This is too bad, because Pleasantville was on its way to being a great film. Presented by Harry Hamm. (JMS)
3:30 p.m.: Tumbleweeds. Gavin O'Connor, U.S., 1999, 100 min. Tumbleweeds is as surprisingly fresh as it is touching in its presentation of a symbiotic but never naively idealized relationship between single mother Mary Jo and her precocious 12-year-old daughter, Ava. A committed codependent, Mary Jo runs from one abusive male relationship into another -- driving from her home in the Deep South to Starlight Beach, San Diego, to make yet another optimistic start. Predictably, geographical change fails to repair her emotional problems, especially her knack for connecting with volatile men who initially seem irresistibly seductive but who eventually become aggressively controlling. Ava's determination to succeed at school provides a revealing contrast to Mary Jo's mercurial conduct at her job. Angela Shelton and director O'Connor adapted Shelton's childhood memoir, creating carefully observed, fully realized individuals and events. Though at times relentlessly chirpy, through entertaining performances (especially Janet McTeer as Mary Jo) and lively dialogue Tumbleweeds unsentimentally presents flawed personalities as entertaining as they are cautionary. (DC)
6 p.m.: DS: Genghis Blues. See Saturday, Nov. 6, Tivoli.
Sheraton Clayton Plaza Hotel
9:30 p.m.: Closing-Night Awards Party. Admission is free.
1 p.m.: Shorts Program 4. A couple of gems can be found in the relatively uneventful Program 4. One of them, "Cousin," filmmaker Adam Elliott's recollection of a childhood playmate afflicted with cerebral palsy, is surprisingly very funny and moving for just four minutes of clay animation. The other is Robert Peters' "Mutual Love Life," which spoofs the insurance industry with a clever idea for romance policies. Changhee Chun's "The Earth Is Not Round" takes a long time getting around to identifying mystical associations between two house burglars, but he does offer clever tips for thieves among us. Scott Campanella's "Fighter" is an exercise in endurance for both the subjects and the audience. Charlie Call dregs up every unfortunate female stereotype in an attempt to place humor in his "Peep Show." Ken Boynton uses the now-tiresome technique of Shakespearespeak in modern-day settings to have fun with a group- therapy session in "William Psychspeare's The Taming of the Shrink." And although there is much to appreciate in the gritty reality captured by Veena Sud's camera in "One Night," one is left with too many questions when that night is over. Introduced and discussed by Chan, Campanella, "Fighter" producer/actor James White and Sud. (RDZ)
3:45 p.m.: NFF: Snake Tales. Francesa Talenti, U.S., 1998, 91 min. In this loopy, entertaining, homegrown Texas variation of Arabian Nights, Lizzie (Arnalia Stifler) is arrested while passing through Pandale, Texas, for accidentally running over an endangered snake. On trial in a town where the courtroom doubles as the saloon, she begins to spin her defense, a tale within a tale within a tale. Just when we start to wonder where it's all going, the stories begin to overlap in a way that lets us know all these dots will eventually be connected. The fun is in watching it happen. Snake Tales is a sunny, sun-baked celebration of storytelling. Everybody has a story to tell, some more interesting than others, but all part of the curving highway of life. Talenti, a professor of film at the University of Texas at Austin, used a mostly student crew to make her film, and the cast runs the gamut from good to "what were they thinking?" But that can be overlooked when the sum of the parts is this much fun. Introduced and discussed by Talenti. (BH)
6:45 p.m.: NFF: Road to Park City. Bret Stern, U.S., 1999, 83 min. Undertaking the herculean labor of low-budget filmmaking, director/cinematographer Stern makes the pseudo-documentary Road to Park City an amusing, informative pleasure. Though would-be director John Viener has no idea what crossing the line, high boys, points and the DGA entail and though he's ignorant of insurance requirements, shooting permits and distribution deals, he remains undaunted by obstacles and irrepressibly cheerful. Intent on getting into the prestigious independent-film festival called Sundance (hosted by Park City), he doesn't recognize the Sundance director's name and can't even choose an entry category. No matter. John figures he'll slip the responsible folks a cheap bribe and mention Sundance scores of times in his work and, presto, he'll have a festival winner. John's lost in the filmmaking maze without a compass, but watching him blunder his way through agents, producers, DPs and naysayers makes R2PC more fun than most slick, mindless $50 million throwaways. Introduced and discussed by Stern. (DC)
2 p.m.: DS: Speaking in Strings. See Wednesday, Nov. 3, Plaza Frontenac.
4:15 p.m.: Man of the Century. Adam Abraham, U.S., 1999, 95 min. Man of the Century, a charmingly bizarre little film, is the story of a newspaper reporter named Johnny Twennies (Gibson Frazier) who speaks and acts like it's the 1920s though he lives in present-day Manhattan. The film is shot in black-and-white, the soundtrack consists entirely of swing tunes from the '20s and '30s, and Johnny dispenses anachronistic observations like countless wiseacres from Hollywood's golden age. At one point, a frustrated photographer asks, "Do you spend all day watching old movies on cable?" But that's virtually the only acknowledgment by anyone that Johnny is, well, different; otherwise, his machine-gun banter is met with either impatience or bemused tolerance. This contrast between Johnny's film noir witticisms (and behavior!) and the normalcy of everyone else ranges from amusing to cloying, but you have to admire the single-mindedness of the conceit. Johnny works at the New York Sun-Telegram, but his cocky self-assurance is jeopardized when he's told that poor circulation figures may make his position obsolete. He promises the "scoop of the century" if he's given one more chance, and indeed, when approached by some lowlife thugs claiming to have the dirt on a public official, that scoop materializes. Those nostalgic for old movies should enjoy Man of the Century; for others, it'll be little more than a harmless diversion. (KR)
6:30 p.m.: Last Night. Don McKellar, Canada, 1998, 93 min. What would you do if you knew the world was going to end at midnight tonight? How would you spend your last hours? With whom and where? What record would you want to play as time ran out? These are the questions posed in the award-winning Canadian film Last Night, a touching, funny, heart-wrenching and ultimately life-affirming film set in Toronto during the last six hours of life on Earth. The reason for the planet's demise is never revealed, and it doesn't matter; instead, filmmaker McKellar, who also stars, focuses on a handful of characters and their ultimate choices. At the same time, McKellar invites us to look at our own lives. Midnight comes daily, after all, and the choices we make in the hours preceding are just as revealing and important as they would be on the last night of our lives. (BH)
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