FLIFF: Kids in Foreign Lands

The Story of an African FarmThe fine British actor Richard E. Grant chomps his way through vast swaths of the landscape in this leaden drama set in the 1870s in the Karoo, a desert-like plateau region in southwestern South Africa. Although Grant has fared well in his share of period pieces, he's at his acid-tongued best as a borderline nutcase in such dark contemporary comedies as The Player, Withnail & I, and especially the cult classic How to Get Ahead in Advertising, in which he's nothing short of brilliant as an unhinged ad exec whose neuroses manifest themselves as a talking boil on his neck. Here, his bravura threatens to overwhelm the simple story of an archetypal, mysterious stranger who arrives -- clad all in black and with a top hat, no less -- and changes the lives of everyone he touches. It's clear from the start that this ratty-looking schemer is bad news for the isolated clan that takes him in, and so there are no surprises when his actions start revealing his agenda. The tale is told from the point of view of one of two adolescent girls who live with their stepmother, a coarse, heavyset Boer woman to whom the stranger ingratiates himself by cooing, "Big women have always been so good to me." There are some nicely observed bits involving the girls and a young black boy who works on the farm (he's an aspiring inventor), and the photography gives a good sense of what it might be like to live in such an isolated, harshly beautiful place. But the movie collapses in a heap of sitcom corniness at the end. Reliable character actor Armin Mueller-Stahl has a thankless role as the ineffectual man of the household. (Wednesday, November 10, 5:30 p.m., AMC Coral Ridge 10; 94 minutes) -- Michael Mills

Heart of the StormThere's not a shred of originality in this sodden would-be thriller, in which a recently separated woman (Melissa Gilbert) and her two teenaged daughters ride out a hurricane in their home near New Orleans, where they become the captives of a trio of escaped convicts. Call it Big House on the Bayou by way of the 1955 Humphrey Bogart classic The Desperate Hours, another family-held-hostage saga. The howling of the storm is easily outdone by the howlingly bad acting, particularly that of Ritchie Montgomery, whose hammy portrayal of one of the cons redefines such terms as bumpkin and yahoo. The deck seems hopelessly stacked against the hapless females: Their phone service has been discontinued because of an impending move, one of the girls is mentally disabled as the result of an accident, and the unannounced arrival of the family's estranged husband and father (Brian Wimmer) further complicates the scenario (he promptly gets himself shot). The laughably bad storm effects conveniently come and go, then abruptly disappear, leaving the survivors to stagger outside and find a few pieces of debris. The movie's sole saving grace is a menacing performance by Tom Cavanaugh as the ruthless, sadistic leader of the escapees, a man who grasps the true meaning of desperation, and even his work is something we're familiar with from countless other movies. (Friday, November 5, 9 p.m., Parker Playhouse; 91 minutes) -- Michael Mills

Bogie, we need you.
Bogie, we need you.

Details

Through Saturday, November 20, at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale; AMC Coral Ridge, 3401 NE 26th Ave., Fort Lauderdale; and Regal Delray Beach, 1660 S. Federal Hwy., Delray Beach. Call 954-525-FILM, or visit www.fliff.com

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