A Frenetic Fest, Part 3

The curtain closes with class on the area's top film showcase

And what characters they are: an angry, brooding cop (Anthony LaPaglia) caught up in a joyless affair with a woman (Rachael Blake) central to solving the mystery; the cop's unhappy wife (Kerry Armstrong), who's secretly in therapy with the shrink; another patient (Peter Phelps), a gay man seeing a married man; and the psychiatrist's dour husband (Geoffrey Rush).

Several other characters come into play, including the estranged husband of Blake's character and the couple's neighbors, a young nurse and her husband, who's implicated in the psychiatrist's disappearance. The lives of these characters grow as tangled as the plants of the title, spiky flowering weeds that grow rampantly in parts of Australia. The people are rarely what they seem, and almost everything they say is fraught with implications and multiple meanings.

LaPaglia, Hershey, and Rush give outstanding performances, and the lesser-known Australian players contribute equally stellar work. This is only the second feature from Aussie director Ray Lawrence, and he handles the material -- based, amazingly, on a play by screenwriter Andrew Bovell (Speaking in Tongues) -- with a remarkably assured touch. (Saturday, November 10, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront, Fort Lauderdale; Sunday, November 11, 5:30 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront; 120 minutes)

Soul Bowl

If you still have doubts that MTV has forever dramatically changed the face of American moviemaking, look no further than this locally made documentary about the longstanding rivalry between two predominantly black Broward County high school football teams.

All the hallmarks of the "MTV style" are here: jittery, hand-held camera work; choppy, frenetic editing; abrupt shifts between color and black and white; seemingly arbitrary special effects; and blaring snippets of music mixed with sometimes-incomprehensible speech.

It's too bad the filmmakers got so caught up in stylistics, because they have a good story and a wealth of regional history at their disposal. If you can get past the picture's indulgences, there are some great moments (and some great characters).

The movie is anchored by the 1999 Soul Bowl match at Lockhart Stadium between Fort Lauderdale's Dillard Panthers and Pompano Beach's Blanche Ely Tigers. Included are interviews with players, coaches, local residents, family members, classmates, principals just about anyone who happens to get within camera range.

The inevitable benchmark for such sports documentaries is Hoop Dreams, the outstanding 1994 film that follows two young Chicago black men as they pursue basketball stardom. Although much more conservative and traditional in style and technique, it's also more thought-provoking and emotionally satisfying. Soul Bowl could use a few pages from its playbook. (Sunday, November 11, 3 p.m., Cinema Paradiso, Fort Lauderdale; 112 minutes)

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