Sounds of the Silver Screen: The Music Fan's Guide to SLIFF

The 21st St. Louis International Film Festival officially kicked off last night. There was a line down the block at the Tivoli, news crews were on hand and it took us forever to navigate the traffic. Safe to say this is a big deal. For the uninitiated, SLIFF is a ten-day mega-celebration of films, held at six theaters in the St. Louis area. The full, impressive schedule, along with ticket information, can be found at the Cinema St. Louis website.

Of particular interest to us here at RFT Music is the litany of music-related offerings, both in the form of rock documentaries and fictional films with thematic relevance. The Voice Media Group film critics have weighed in on a few of these, including A Late Quartet, Grassroots (featuring an out-of-work music critic running for political office) and Hipsters (not what you're thinking). Those capsule-length reviews, along with a few of our other picks, are below.

A Late Quartet. (R) Woody Allen has been known to suggest that, in directing a good movie, much of the battle lies in casting. Were that entirely true, the Philip Seymour Hoffman-, Catherine Keener-, and Christopher Walken-starring A Late Quartet would be phenomenal. As it is, the film about a New York City string quartet whose future is thrown into question after the cellist (Walken) is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and the two married members' relationship (Keener and Hoffman) begins to unravel is a mixed bag. Always stately, occasionally stuffy, co-writer/director Yaron Zilberman's chamber drama expresses every real-world problem via musical metaphors and is prone to occasional bouts of grandiosity not quite befitting its stripped-down scale. This tonal back-and-forth is in some ways reflective of the group's music but impedes us from getting a meaningful hold on what these people are feeling and why we should care. Zilberman is often too tasteful to dig into the scandal and melodrama that eventually mires A Late Quartet's plot, but an exceptional finale bucks this trend by acting more as a catharsis than a climax, making up for prior shortcomings and fulfilling much of the film's promise. It's something of a relief that little is actually resolved in A Late Quartet; Zilberman is at his best when leaving narrative threads hanging rather than trying to tie them together. (Nordine) 7 p.m. Friday, November 9, Hi-Pointe Theatre

Fame High Trailer from scott kennedy on Vimeo.

Fame High 7 p.m. Friday, November 9, Plaza Frontenac

Grassroots. (R) You can tell outsiders from the establishment by the quality of their facial hair in Grassroots, an adaptation of Phil Campbell's nonfiction book about scruffy Grant Cogswell's (Joel David Moore) upstart July 2001 campaign -- managed by scraggly bearded ex-reporter Campbell (Jason Biggs -- to unseat the dapper, mustached Richard McIver (Cedric the Entertainer) on Seattle's city council. Director Stephen Gyllenhaal, despite celebrating by-the-people activism (which apparently involves lots of heavy metal and vandalism), hews to a rather standard us-versus-them template. Gyllenhaal's shaky-cam cinematography doesn't amplify the material's DIY spirit, and both Biggs and Moore argue, preach, and ramble on with affected fervor. Meanwhile, by ultimately softening its stance toward McIver, Grassroots disingenuously has it both ways, reducing politics first to a David-versus-Goliath adventure, and then to an everyone-is-cool bowl of mush. (Schager) 8:45 p.m. Saturday, November 10, Plaza Frontenac

Paul Williams: Still Alive 8:30 p.m. Monday, November 11, Moore Auditorium at Webster University

Hipsters. (Not Rated) "Every hipster is a potential criminal," warns a student communist in Valeriy Todorovskiy's musical period piece. These "hipsters" are, in style and substance, the polar opposite of today's artfully disheveled gentrifiers: In a post-war Moscow where consuming Western products is considered a form of treason, their insouciant fetishization -- and charming lost-in-translation misinterpretation -- of American jazz culture is a legitimate form of political rebellion. This punch-drunk, decadently designed slice of eye candy loosely traces a year in the life of sexually repressed, socially oppressed baby-faced Mels (Anton Shagin), a gray-suited Young Communist League deputy who shifts allegiance when he falls in love with "real cool chick" Polly (Oksana Akinshina). Although a few of the film's musical numbers are framed around Mels's budding career as a jazzman and the gang's nightly rendezvous at underground club The Pompadour (where they live out the fantasy of, as one lyric tells it, "strolling down Broadway, leaving all those miserable squares behind"), many explode in full choreographed splendor out of ordinary spaces (a classroom, the shared hallway of a communal tenement), splitting the difference between sexually charged fantasy and historically haunted reality and boldly defying narrative convention. The closing number, in which Mels and Polly finally get to stroll down a Broadway that only exists in their dreams, is both hilariously absurd and rousing, an unironic swoon at the notion of any subculture -- regardless of the fashion, music, and sex that separate kids across decades and continents -- as a form of inclusive resistance. (Karina Longworth) 9:30 p.m. Monday, November 12, Hi-Pointe Theatre

The Sapphires 7 p.m. Saturday, November 17, Hi-Pointe Theatre

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