The Fest That Ate South Florida

This year's Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival is bigger and... well, bigger

It's Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival time again: Time for more than a hundred movies from dozens of countries. Time for screenings at locations from southern Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade's South Beach. Time for foreign and domestic features, documentaries, and short subjects, along with the affiliated parties and other festivities.

And time for my familiar complaint that the festival, now in its 15th year, has gotten pretty much out of hand. As a veteran of at least ten previous festivals, I've long lamented the festival's transformation from a more intimate, focused affair into the sprawling extravaganza it has become in the past few years. I'm not about to change my tune, despite the festival's proud claim that, at nearly four full weeks, it's now included in The Guinness Book of World Records as the world's longest film festival.

Such is the festival's growth that it now includes preview "minifests" in Hollywood, Pembroke Pines, South Beach, Sunrise, and Boca Raton, along with one specifically geared to children. In fact it's possible to see dozens of films in the 17 days before the festival's official "opening night" November 3. (The official "closing night" of November 11 is similarly, illogically, followed by another full day of screenings.)

Ready to bare: High-fashion gets another look in The Intern
Ready to bare: High-fashion gets another look in The Intern
The touchy-feely Breaking Out has uplifting written all over it
The touchy-feely Breaking Out has uplifting written all over it

Details

Officially opens November 3 and closes November 11. For details call 954-760-9898 or log on to www.fliff.com

Obviously there's no turning back. So do what I do: Arm yourself with the festival's hefty program, which now runs to nearly a hundred pages, and try to make some judicious selections, hoping you'll strike gold occasionally. Here's our first installment (look for a more extensive part two in next week's issue) of what this year's Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival has to offer.

The Intern
This glib comedy breathlessly delivers a piece of information its makers apparently consider shocking news: The fashion industry is riddled with shallow, cutthroat people who will stop at virtually nothing to advance their careers, not to mention their own fashion agendas.

The setting is the offices of Skirt, a thinly disguised clone of Vogue and its ilk run by some extremely obnoxious people, including an imperious editor (Peggy Lipton of Mod Squad and Twin Peaks fame) who looks suspiciously like Vogue's Anna Wintour and a megalomaniacal creative director (Joan Rivers, hamming shamelessly), among others. They're surrounded by a staff of sycophants and hangers-on, one of whom is the naive title character, Jocelyn (Dominique Swain, who also played the title character in the recent remake of Lolita).

Jocelyn is less odious than most of the other people in this threadbare story, but only slightly. First-time feature filmmaker Michael Lange would have us believe that she lives in this glitzy fashion milieu but is not necessarily of it -- that she somehow remains purer than her environment -- even though she ends up ascending through the ranks at Skirt by means almost as devious as those of her cohorts.

The picture is sprinkled with mostly pointless cameos, including such fashion celebrities as designers Tommy Hilfiger, Diane Von Furstenburg, and Kenneth Cole, and editors from such magazines as Vogue, Marie Claire, and Harper's Bazaar. Gwyneth Paltrow puts in an inexplicable appearance as herself, and André Leon Talley, the flamboyant editor of French Vogue, has a few grand moments as himself. (The presence of so many of these people in such a mediocre, unflattering movie suggests a certain cluelessness.)

No less a filmmaker than Robert Altman has already braved this territory, in his disastrous Ready to Wear. Lange brings nothing to it here other than more tired stereotypes and obvious gags, and the Cinderella-style ending is completely unearned. (Thursday, October 26, 9 p.m., Shadowood, Boca Raton; Friday, November 3, 1 p.m., Galleria, Fort Lauderdale; Saturday, November 4, 9:15 and 11:15 p.m., Galleria; Sunday, November 5, 9 p.m., Galleria; 90 minutes)

The Prompter
A few scenes into this slow-moving drama, which was Norway's submission for last year's Academy Awards, it's easy to see that the title character, Siv (Hege Schayen), whose job is to cue the singers at the opera, and her soon-to-be husband, a recently divorced doctor, are more or less doomed as a couple. It's equally obvious that there's chemistry between Siv and the tuba player who has just joined the opera's orchestra.

Unfortunately it takes Siv another hour and a half to reach the same conclusions. By then she has married the dullard doctor and moved into his home, where she's surrounded by things that constantly remind her of his ex-wife, not the least of which are a sullen son and an intractable young daughter.

But even that's not enough: An accident leaves the ex-wife wheelchair-bound, and before you know it, the doc agrees to let her move back in. Faced with these indignities, poor Siv is still deep in denial, even when the mysterious tuba player makes his feelings for her clear.

All this is set against the backdrop of Siv's job, where she peeks out from her little booth at the edge of the stage. The company for which she works is in rehearsal for a production of Verdi's Aida, and there are some heavy-handed attempts to draw parallels between Siv's and Aida's tribulations -- which, in case you need warning, means we get exposed to a lot of opera.

The best scene is near the end, at the premiere performance of Aida. When the opera's leading lady, a true diva, continues to flub her cues, the exasperated Siv climbs out of her booth and storms onto the stage to correct her. It's a priceless moment in an otherwise unexceptional film. (Thursday, October 26, 7 p.m., Shadowood, Boca Raton; Thursday, November 2, 3:15 p.m., Galleria, Fort Lauderdale; Sunday, November 5, 5 p.m., Westfork, Pembroke Pines; Monday, November 6, 5:15 p.m., Galleria; Tuesday, November 7, 3 p.m., Galleria; 97 minutes; in Norwegian with English subtitles)

State and Main
Playwright-filmmaker David Mamet's latest isn't as intricate and involving as his House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner, but it's a lively piece of entertainment. Nor is it the definitive satire of contemporary Hollywood, an honor that has to go to Altman's The Player, even though it often hits its targets with deadly accuracy.

The prolific Mamet must have had some sour experiences since he took up moviemaking in 1987, and this is his vehicle for venting his frustrations with the ways Hollywood does business. It's about what happens -- what goes wrong, mostly -- when the cast and crew of a production called The Old Mill descend on a tiny, picturesque New Hampshire town to make a movie.

Or more accurately, to prepare for making a movie. The time frame is the final few days before shooting actually begins, and the company is under increasing pressure to get things right. For reasons never made fully clear, this gang has just been run out of Vermont, and quaint Waterford, known for its old mill, appears to be their perfect location, with a mayor and residents eager to cooperate with the production.

The picture is populated with "types" that are no less amusing for their familiarity. Alec Baldwin (who executive-produced) is a lothario of a leading man whose taste runs to underage girls. Julia Stiles is a teenage temptress more than willing to oblige him. Sarah Jessica Parker is a temperamental actress who suddenly turns prudish, demanding an additional $800,000 to show her breasts on screen even though, as we are repeatedly reminded, countless moviegoers could sketch them from memory. Charles Durning and Patti LuPone are the starstruck mayor and his wife.

More fully fleshed out (and far funnier) are The Old Mill's director and producer. The former is played by Mamet mainstay William H. Macy as a veteran show-biz pro who can shift gears in a flash, going from unctuously caring and supportive to acid-tongued and unforgiving. The latter is portrayed with relish by David Paymer, who arrives midstory to administer Hollywood-style ruthlessness when required.

A major subplot involves the strange relationship that evolves between the first-time screenwriter, gently underplayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and an enigmatic bookstore owner with encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything, played by Mamet's wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, much more effective here than she was in The Spanish Prisoner.

State and Main is patchy, with stretches that drone and drag, and its Hollywood insiderism may not be for mainstream tastes. But hey, that's what makes it an ideal film festival selection. (Friday, October 27, 7 p.m., Shadowood, Boca Raton; Friday, November 10, 9 p.m., Galleria, Fort Lauderdale; 106 minutes)

Breaking Out
If elements of this Swedish drama seem vaguely familiar, it's because the story is a loose variation on the 1987 American movie Weeds, in which a playwright/ prison inmate played by Nick Nolte forms an acting troupe made up of ex-cons after he's released from jail. Here the scenario is about an unemployed actor named Reine (the overly earnest Björn Kjellman) who accepts a three-month temporary job as recreation director at a maximum-security prison, in hopes he can use prisoners in his ward to realize his dream of staging a play.

Not surprisingly Reine runs into resistance from a veteran guard and the tough guy who controls the ward from the inside by intimidating the other prisoners. And even though the warden, nicely portrayed by Viveka Seldahl, is intrigued by Reine's proposal, she's been burned before: "When I came here I led a beautifying project for the basement corridors. They were to be painted by the prisoners.... It ended up with them sitting in a corner sniffing solvents. Since then we are a little more cautious about new suggestions."

We are thereby cued that the underdog actor will somehow pull off his unlikely stage production. In the process he'll also somehow redeem the hardened criminals who sign on to work with him, even though their ulterior motive is to stage an escape when the play is performed in the outside world.

The material has uplifting written all over it, and sure enough, in amazingly short order, the cons are bonding and performing goofy exercises to get in touch with their emotions. The spectacle is sometimes embarrassingly touchy-feely, and you'll probably be able to guess the ending well in advance of its arrival.

Still, the half-dozen actors playing Reine's ragtag troupe have their moments. There's a surprisingly touching bit in which, before a field trip to a theater, the cons are reunited with the clothes they wore when they first came to the prison, and they revel in the feel and smell of their street clothes. And a hulking blond inmate, winningly played by Shanti Roney, gets to explore a broader range of personality than most of his fellow prisoners.

But most of the characters are so sketchily defined that it's hard to get much of a handle on them. Had the filmmakers given their clearly talented players more to work with, Breaking Out might have transcended its formula. (Sunday, October 29, 7 p.m., Shadowood, Boca Raton; Saturday, November 4, 5:30 and 9:30 p.m., Gateway, Fort Lauderdale; Sunday, November 5, 1:30 p.m., Gateway; 108 minutes; in Swedish with English subtitles)

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