Power to the Dreamer

Berkeley in 1968 seems more nostalgia than grit

 These reviews are part of our continuing coverage of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.

Berkeley There is a lot of sweetness in this uneven film, an autobiographical tribute to the U.C. Berkeley of 1968 that hits as many false notes as true ones. For one thing, protagonist Ben (played by Nick Roth, son of writer/director Bobby Roth) is a charmer — a soft-spoken and thoughtful young man who, as he meanders through the rocky landscape of sex, love, music, and politics, retains a healthy dose of self-respect. (He's cute too.) There is a lovely performance by Henry Winkler, playing a concerned Jewish father with both gravity and a sense of humor. Laura Jordan, playing Ben's once and future girlfriend, is lovely, appropriately mysterious, and ethereal. (A boy his age, and at that time, would see a girl that way.) Some of the dialogue turns gracefully on a dime, suddenly rising from awkward self-importance to become light, new, and real. The problem is that much of the dialogue does not, and the plot, which follows a passive meanderer, is itself largely aimless. Berkeley seems to want to be about the intersection between the political and the personal and the impact that a culture in revolution can have on a young man in pursuit of himself, but it's too diffuse for that. In fact, the film as a whole is suffused with an unreality, a simultaneously dreamy nostalgia and reflexive self-consciousness that keeps it constantly above its subject, never quite sinking in. In other words, you never feel that you're witnessing the Berkeley of 1968; it's all too clear that you're watching a movie about Berkeley in 1968. (November 12, 7 p.m., at AMC Coral Ridge 10; and November 16, 7:30 p.m., at DeSantis Center at FAU.) — Melissa Levine

Breakfast on Pluto — Irish novelist and filmmaker Neil Jordan (Michael Collins, In Dreams), who says his constant concern is "how individuals work with what they've been given," returns to top form with this bittersweet, gender-bending drama about a transvestite trying to negotiate the lanes of rural Ireland, the streets of London, and the unresolved traumas of his childhood in the 1960s and 1970s. But Patrick "Kitten" Braden, with his carefully applied mascara and his semifabulous wardrobe, is no mere victim. Ever the optimist, he faces down the tormentors and bigots who would destroy him with such wit and grace that we come to recognize them, not Patrick, as the grotesques of the piece. Cillian Murphy (the survivor of doomsday in 28 Days Later) puts in an energetic, multifaceted performance here that would make a nice companion piece to Felicity Huffman's terrific turn as a pre-operative transsexual in Transamerica. Among Jordan's films, which characteristically combine explosive Irish politics and personal crises, this one actually bears less resemblance to his surprise gender-switch hit The Crying Game than to 1997's less heralded The Butcher Boy, in which an emotionally unbalanced Irish boy is driven to act out his murderous fantasies. Like Pluto, it too was adapted from a novel by Patrick McCabe, a writer who obviously shares Jordan's fascination with misfits and outsiders. Like Eamonn Owens in The Butcher Boy, Murphy commands our attention, but he must share the screen with some heavyweights: The splendid supporting cast includes Jordan regulars Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, and Brendan Gleeson. (Saturday, November 12, at 9:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 13, at 7 p.m. at AMC Coral Ridge 10.) — Bill Gallo

Breakfast on Pluto
Breakfast on Pluto

Barry Dingle — This is a bizarre, twisted film with few redeeming qualities. Even for those of us going to the movies in search of something other than redemption, good taste, or character development, it poses an intriguing challenge. Barry Dingle is a comedy about rape. The main character, played by Barry Shurchin, who wrote and directed the film, is the misogynist, lounge-lizard son of a conniving East Coast socialite who desperately wants her son to marry the daughter of a senator. She plots while Barry commits serial date rape. Meanwhile, a crosstown rival socialite tries to get each of her three sons to marry the same daughter. What follows is a series of bizarre, sometimes amusing episodes out of the Ken Russell or David Lynch tradition. People will say Barry Dingle is offensive, and, true, if it should ever get wide release (don't bet the farm), many will walk out after 15 minutes. But the filmmaker never presents the Dingles as anything but loathsome. Barry suffers brutal consequences because of his actions, and we see the damage he does to his victims. The problem isn't that the film is offensive; it's just not very good. The Dingles are presented as cretins who want money and power. From there, the audience is stranded, witnessing only their absurd behavior. The driving force is the Dingles' gratifying demise. They're rotten. They're miserable. Good. Let's move on. Of course, defenders will say, "Relax, it's a comedy." But consider the film's most memorable scene, when Barry, serving time for one of his date rapes, is raped by another inmate in the kitchen. His assailant has his way with him, and Barry, holding a ladle and wearing a Chef Boyardee-style hat, wails. Indeed, the ladle and hat make the scene less sordid, but it still falls far short of funny. (Saturday, November 12, at 3 p.m. and Sunday, November 13, at 1:30 p.m. at AMC Coral Ridge.) — Jason Cottrell

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