Lights Out, Flick Fancier!

The Palm Beach Film Festival asks for only a week of your time

Eight days, 150 films, you know the drill. It's the tenth year for the Palm Beach International Film Festival, with movies from Boca to Belle Glade and Lake Worth to Jupiter. The festival opens with When Do We Eat?-- a Sabbath meal, a tough father, and a son perhaps too liberal with his ecstasy stash. It ends with Checking Out-- in which the suicide party for an old Shakespearean actor (played by Columbo's Peter Falk) is transformed by his life-affirming children.

In between, expect premieres, parties, and obligatory celebrity visits, including Checking Out's Judge Reinhold and Clint Howard and Linda Blair from locally filmed Hitter's Anonymous, about a 12-step program for assassins. One of the best cost-to-celebrity ratios is probably April 17's free tenth-anniversary party and outdoor showing of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein at Mizner Park Amphitheater, with an appearance by Peter "Everybody Loves Raymond" Boyle. He played the monster in the 1974 movie.

As in previous years, the local angle is strong, with short and long films by South Floridians. For a distinct intersection of community service and film, however, check out the April 20 reception and screening of shorts by at-risk youth produced in association with the West Palm Beach-based Center for Art & Media Literacy. Fifty middle and high school kids worked after school on the two films -- about teenage drinking, pregnancy, and gang violence -- in every aspect from directing to sound production. According to center director William King, filmmaking "builds up self-esteem and gives them credibility with their peers and experience working on a team." Perfect goals for any film festival.

Cast of When Do We Eat?: There's something about a seder.
Cast of When Do We Eat?: There's something about a seder.
Marie Matiko: Hooked up with a malevolent wreck
Marie Matiko: Hooked up with a malevolent wreck

Details

Thursday, April 14, through Thursday, April 21, at Muvico Parisian 20, CityPlace, West Palm Beach; and at Sunrise Cinemas, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Call 561-362-0003.

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Most of the festival's movies will be shown at Mizner Sunrise Cinemas (301 Plaza Real, Boca Raton) and the Muvico Parisian 20 -- CityPlace (545 Hibiscus St., West Palm Beach). For a full schedule of films and locations, go to www.pbifilmfest.org, or call 561-362-0003. -- Dave Amber


When Do We Eat?

This is one of those lighthearted family dramas in which, after a series of breakthroughs, a generation of resentment and anger evaporates just in time for the credits and everybody is left with a warm glow. Fortunately, where the rest of us see triteness, writer and director Salvador Litvak sees a challenge: Make a feel-good family drama that's actually worth discussing. In other words, wade through the sea and come out dry. In need of a miracle, Litvak calls on God. When Do We Eat? tells the story of the Stuckmans, a family of eight who don't particularly enjoy one another. The parents are disappointed in the offspring. The offspring resent the parents. And there are two forms of communication: sarcasm and, when that can't be conjured, yelling. The story opens with them all begrudgingly gathered on Passover where the father, Ira Stuckman, promises them the "world's fastest Seder." The prayers, the reading of the Haggadah, and the passing of the matzo all commence with the solemnity one would reserve for an oil change when his older rebellious son asks Ira: "Why have a Seder if all you're going to do is rush through it?" To which Ira snaps, "Because that's what Jews do." And it's here where the movie gets good. When Do We Eat? poses the question: What is a family so clearly rooted in the world to make of a holiday so clearly not of this world? For the Stuckmans, communing with the supernatural requires a little bit of the unnatural. Looking to take his father down a notch, his other rebellious son slips Ira a tablet of ecstasy. And, as the evening progresses, Ira sees the light, the Seder goes awry, and the feel-good movie falls into place, complete with requisite humor and charm. But along the way, we also explore two generations of Stuckman history, extraordinary depth of character, and a family reflecting on its ritual and finding that which is spiritual. It takes remarkable filmmaking to accomplish all that in an hour and a half. (7 p.m. Thursday, April 14, at Muvico Parisian) -- Jason Cottrell


The Civilization of Maxwell Bright

Movies like this are cinematic gems. They leave the viewer dazzled and shaken, unsure of what they've seen or how to feel about it. That is to say, it is a film so unspeakably horrible that it stands out among simply badmovies and becomes something mythic, unspeakable, nay eternal. Directed by David Beaird, a man who never met a jump cut he didn't like, the film attempts to tell the story of Maxwell Bright, a man so vicious, so violent, and so misogynistic that he could be played only by Patrick Warburton, David Puddy of Seinfeldfame. David Puddy, you ask? Yeah, that's right. Bright is the type of man Neil LaBute wouldn't hang out with: an expletive-spewing wreck so malevolent that his girlfriend assaults him with a garden hoe. It's an act we will soon not only understand but wish had been successful. From this opening sequence, the film degenerates with blinding speed. Bright, sick of American women and their pesky inability to stomach him for extended periods of time, invests in a Chinese mail-order bride, who arrives in the form of the beautiful Mai Ling (Marie Matiko). Before coming to America, Ling was a virgin Buddhist nun, which does nothing to slow Bright's unexplained nastiness or to explain her refusal to return to China when given the chance. The rest is an overwrought mess that defies description. Bright goes bankrupt, losing his company and his house; in the midst of a laughably bad police standoff, he collapses from chest pains. Thankfully, Jennifer Tilly arrives as Max's doctor, and we learn he has cancer in almost every possible organ. With the help of Bright's friend Arlis (the esteemed Eric Roberts in another showstopping performance), Ling, the stereotypically mystical Easterner, guides Bright into the light and us blissfully out of the theater. (9:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, at Muvico Parisian and 7:45 p.m. Monday, April 18, at Sunrise Cinemas) -- Larry Carrino

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