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The "world's longest film festival" needs to tighten things up a bit

As the 17th-annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival nears its end -- oh, wait a minute! Just because the "closing-night film" screens on Saturday, November 9, that doesn't mean the festival is really over. That would be too easy -- and too sensible.

No, "the world's longest film festival," as it continues to bill itself, also continues to confound logic by beginning about a week and a half before its official "opening-night film" and meandering on for more than two weeks after that "closing-night film." The cover of the festival's bulky, cluttered program indicates that the event runs through November 24, and the updated website confirms that date.

About that program and that website: Neither does much to promote the festival as a class act. As early as page 3, a photo caption identifies actor Armand Assante as "Asanti." Similar careless errors litter a publication that is presumably expensive to produce and is one of the festival's highest-profile pieces of publicity. Don't even get me started on the program's cover, which features a disturbing image of a young woman's head with her eyes and mouth bound, hostage-style, with strips of celluloid.

Then again, you get an idea of the priorities at play when you see that the program's "Parties" page precedes any listings of films playing in the festival. If you have trouble navigating the lengthy program, which organizes pictures by theme, you can resort to the "Film Index," tacked on as if an afterthought to the form for ordering tickets at the end of the book. Not that the index is reliable: If you're looking for the French film Cavalcades, for instance, it's listed in the index under its English title, Get a Way.

When confronted with program inconsistencies, I resorted to the website. Bad move. There I learned, under "Retrospectives," that Friday, November 8, would bring us a "David O Selsnick Double Header." Is this the same David O. Selznick who produced Gone with the Wind?

Am I nitpicking? You bet. If a film festival wants to be taken seriously as a world-class event, shouldn't it pay a little more attention to detail? Maybe, just maybe, the "world's longest film festival" has gotten complacent as it nears the end of its second decade. That's unfortunate, because the festival continues to showcase some wonderful movies that might not otherwise get exposure in South Florida. It just needs to make sure it can live up to its own hype.

Blind Spot

A poignant bit of voice-over sets the tone for this highly stylized American drama from promising first-time filmmaker Stephan Woloszczuk: "They say that the human heart only weighs about three-quarters of a pound. It's funny how something so small can make you feel so happy and then turn around and tear you right apart." The speaker is a precocious but troubled 17-year-old skateboarder played, rivetingly, by James Franco (a Golden Globe winner for last year's made-for-TV movie James Dean who looks more like a young Tom Berenger) whose prep-school life is overshadowed by his infatuation with Darcy, an older man who's seen almost entirely in flashback. "I didn't care where we went. I just couldn't wait to see him again," the young man says, and he makes us feel the intensity of his feelings for his enigmatic lover. The teen then forms a seemingly unlikely alliance with Darcy's despondent girlfriend and another man whose relationship with Darcy remains obscure for most of the movie, as they try to track down the elusive mystery man. At times, the story is overly reliant on narration, but the stylization and the mournful musical score make this a surprisingly haunting piece of work that beautifully captures the nuances of obsession. (Friday, November 8, 9:20 p.m., Riverfront; Saturday, November 9, 9 p.m., Riverfront; 91 minutes)

The Choice of Hercules

It's rarely a good thing when a movie feels like it's taking place in real time, especially if it's a presumed action movie taking course over a period of more than a week. This based-on-a-true-story Japanese "thriller" makes a good case for taking greater liberties with the truth. It's set in 1972, when a group of Red Army extremists took a reported three to five hostages in a mountainous Nagano resort village (there turned out to be a sole hostage). Much of the early part of the film is consumed by a turf struggle between Nagano and Tokyo bureaucrats, with lots of talky squabbling over who'll handle the crisis. "Think of yourself as Hercules, with labors to perform," the hapless officer dispatched to handle the situation is told. About 90 or so minutes into this two-hour-plus movie, there's finally the prospect of some real action -- which is subverted by sequences shot so confusingly that it's almost impossible to discern what's really going on. Writer-director Masato Harada, whose Inugami was a standout at last year's festival, seems to have forgotten that it's best not to represent real-life chaos with on-screen chaos. It hardly helps that the hostage and her abductors remain so resolutely anonymous that their plight never rises above a sort of philosophical abstraction. (Friday, November 8, 7:30 p.m., Riverfront; Saturday, November 9, 3:15 and 5:40 p.m., Riverfront; 133 minutes; in Japanese with English subtitles)

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