Double Feature

The St. Louis International Film Festival enters its second thought-provoking week

Nov 16, 2005 at 4:00 am
Feature Films
April's Shower (unrated) Trish Doolan. Take a roomful of good-looking lesbians, a porn star named Spring Dawn, a parade of firemen, a hunky pizza guy and a bisexual call girl, and what have you got? Clearly, a wedding shower. April's Shower tries so hard to make its lesbian romantic comedy mainstream that any social value it might have brought to mainstream audiences is wiped out. Scenes that could be provocative — you know, like the outing of the title character in front of her mother at her own (hetero) bridal shower — are made so slapstick that not even a Bollywood-style dance scene (not kidding) can redeem them. With so much gender-bending and cheap wine, April's Shower resorts to stereotypes instead of creating viable characters with believable relationships. It's not even brave enough to make the one love scene steamy. If Doolan was trying to make just another B-movie (only with lesbians!), then she succeeded in that. April's Shower is a funny romp, but it reaches mainstream B-status at the expense of integrity. Screens at 3:45 p.m. Sunday, November 20, at the Tivoli. (Anna Teekell)

Breakfast on Pluto (R) Neil Jordan. Irish director/writer Neil Jordan revisits his 1992 Crying Game territory in this tangled intermingling of IRA politics and gender identity. Emphasizing the episodic structure, 36 distracting, onscreen chapter headings chart Patrick Brady's numerous adventures, from his abandonment as an illegitimate baby at Father Bernard's door to varied transvestite performances as "Kitten." Traveling from conservative Tyreelin, Ireland, to glam-rock London in search of his mother, Kitten remains frustratingly resistant to complex ideas and maddeningly devoid of psychological insights. Fabulous '60s and '70s music keeps the tempo upbeat while an extraordinarily accomplished, energetic performance by Cillian Murphy is complemented by minor roles featuring Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea and Brendan Gleeson. Entertaining, even surprising, Breakfast on Pluto has humor and wit, political tragedy and social commentary but fails to probe the depths of its subject. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 17, at the Tivoli. (Diane Carson)

The Friend (unrated) Elmar Fischer. On the political spectrum somewhere between Fahrenheit 9/11 and (we're guessing) the upcoming Oliver Stone/Nicolas Cage Hollywoodized saga of Port Authority police officers falls The Friend, a German nonlinear narrative that addresses the September 11 aftermath by following the ups, downs and ultimate disintegration of the relationship between German student Chris and his Yemeni roommate, Yunes, who suspiciously disappears without a trace five days before the attacks. Navid Akhaven (Yunes) is particularly impressive in the gripping, if slightly heavy-handed exploration of a place where politics, religion, race and personal friendship unite and ultimately divide. Screens at 5 p.m. Thursday, November 17, and 2:45 p.m. Saturday, November 19, at the Tivoli. (Julie Seabaugh)

Iron Island (Jazire Ahani) (unrated) Mohammed Rasoulof. With transparent metaphoric parallels to and indictments of contemporary Iran, Iron Island isolates a complex, struggling community on a multi-story, crumbling, abandoned oil tanker slowing sinking into the sea. Patriarchal, dictatorial Captain Nemat forcefully settles squabbles and arbitrates disputes for Muslim inhabitants whose beliefs and subservience work against even minimal self-determination. Benevolent when deferred to and brutal when challenged, Nemat retaliates in one haunting, gut-wrenching scene with unmitigated cruelty against a teenage boy who pursues a girl promised to another. Writer/director Mohammed Rasoulof's dazzling, provocative film includes a cross-section of Iranian society, including an isolated seer who stares futilely into the blue while numerous groups of social outcasts struggle with physical and social challenges. In Farsi with English subtitles. Screens at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, November 17, and 9 p.m. Friday, November 18, at the Tivoli.(DC)

Little Jerusalem (unrated) Karin Albou. Laura is an eighteen-year-old philosophy student living with her extended family in a Jewish suburb of Paris dubbed "Little Jerusalem." Karin Albou's semi-autobiographical film is lyrical in its depiction of Jewish ritual and straightforward in showing how the pressures of orthodoxy have stifled Laura and her married sister Mathilde's sexual evolution. Laura's lust for a Muslim coworker is antithetical to both her Jewish upbringing and her Kantian mindset, and it almost makes the film exciting. Somehow, though, the austerity of religious modesty and of Kantian reason manage to filter through the plot and into the direction, leaving the viewer as frustrated as the heroine. The cinematography verges on a stark beauty, but the scenes are shot in such darkness or low light that the film is often difficult to see. The confusion of the blackness and the scant provision of subtitles leaves the film too cryptic to enjoy fully. In French and some Arabic and Hebrew, with English subtitles. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, November 18, and 1:15 p.m. Sunday, November 20, at the Tivoli. (AT)

Rounding First (unrated) Jim Fleigner. A strange, amateurish amalgam of Stand by Me and The Bad News Bears that is deeply flawed yet oddly intriguing. The plot, which involves three kids cutting out on baseball camp in small-town Pennsylvania to track down their courtroom-bound parents, is patently ridiculous. The three main child actors, one of whom is a ringer for Mikey from the Life cereal ads, overact as though they' re belting out Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on a junior-high gymnasium stage. The D-list adult actors are equally inept, and the ending is clumsily drenched in overwrought melodrama. This is, in short, the stuff of crappy after-school specials. And yet, there is a passel of cleverly written dialogue between the three prepubescent protagonists, and the sets are meticulously rendered to look like it's actually 1980, seemingly utilizing every still-operable late-'70s Oldsmobile in North America. They even let REO Speedwagon's "Roll with the Changes" play during the closing credits, the rights to which must have blown at least half the film's budget. Now that's a period-specific commitment to cheese to which you've gotta tip your hat. Screens at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, November 19, and noon Sunday, November 20, at the Tivoli. (Mike Seely)

As Is: A Downsized Life (unrated) Maryanne Galvin. This documentary is "Weekend Update" with its focus split between human interest and Mr. Bill. A somber Tina Fey-type follows the recently down-and-out as they cut their losses and reassess their lives, including downsized Disney designers and a laid-off Winnie the Pooh. Despite the hilarity of the latter's costume, the meat of the unemployment matter is depressing. It's difficult to not feel for the victims of downsizing; but just when the heartstrings grow a bit too taut, inexplicable animation makes its entrance, including stop-motion shoes, environmental awareness comics and Claymation where the subject shaves off his facial features. Ooooh noooooo! Screens at 8 p.m. Friday, November 18, at the Moore Auditorium on the campus of Webster University. (Kristyn Pomranz)

Derailroaded (unrated) A grating but nonetheless worthwhile documentary about obscure '70s joke-rock icon Larry "Wild Man" Fischer, who suffers from both paranoid schizophrenia and manic depression. Fischer's music — a crude precursor to Weird Al Yankovic's — goes down like gravel to the uninitiated. It would have served first-time filmmaker Josh Rubin well to not pound Fischer's cacophonous soundtrack into the viewer's head so doggedly, but he's a true believer, so he throws caution to the wind — which may or may not annoy certain theatergoers into walking out of any given screening. Still, it's a neat slice of Los Angelino subculture reminiscent of (but far inferior to) George Hickenlooper's Mayor of the Sunset Strip, and Rubin rescues his film in its final trimester by tenderly focusing on Fischer's life-threatening bout with mental illness, splicing in thoughtful commentary from Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh and a hilarious Afro-American freak named Freak. In any other city, Fischer may have had his illness properly treated long ago. But because he lives in LA, a twisted pack of quasi-famous enablers and fans keep Fischer's "pep." Their insistence upon keeping the nut out of the nuthouse for their own sick amusement almost kills Fischer. They're more fucked up than he is, and Derailroaded — intentionally or otherwise — illustrates this poignantly. Screens at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, November 19, at the Tivoli. (MS)

The Self-Made Man (unrated) Susan Stern. On the eve of surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm, and facing a worsening, though not terminal, case of prostate cancer, 77-year-old Bob Stern set up his video camera and explained to his wife and three adult children that he had decided to kill himself. This remarkable document is the spine of Susan Stern's brief, but utterly absorbing, documentary. Through a collage of interviews, home movies and her own reflections, she examines her father's life from his Depression childhood to his success as an opportunistic businessman, a visionary entrepreneur and a demanding, though loving, husband and father. Stern wisely downplays the larger ethical questions that her father's case raises, and at the end her father's suicide, the ostensible reason for the film's existence, is but the punctuation to a much deeper story, as human — and as humane — a portrait of one man's life and death as you will ever see. Screens at 5 p.m. Wednesday, November 16, at the Tivoli. (Ian Froeb)