New in Film for Friday, June 25, 2009

American Black Film Festival

South Florida is home to more than a few film festivals. Whether you're a woman or a Jew, gay or Brazilian, there's a celebration of your group's cinematic acumen. This weekend, the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) will shine the spotlight on films produced and directed by, starring, and featuring the African-American community. From June 24 to 27 at various locations around South Florida, tune into world premieres of feature films, documentaries, and shorts; panel discussions; and seminars led by silver-screen legends such as Robert Townsend. There will also be exclusive events and parties. Former Heat center Shaquille O'Neal and comedian D.L. Hughley will host the All-Star Comedy Jam at the Fillmore (1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach) this Friday. And on Thursday at 9 p.m., the 12th Annual ABFF HBO Short Film Competition will take over the Colony Theatre (1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach). Luminaries such as Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, and Morgan Freeman have attended in the past, so it's beyond time you made a cameo. Visit abff.com for a full schedule of events and to purchase tickets. Raina Mcleod


Chéri

For the first time in my life, I felt morally certain of having written a novel for which I need neither blush nor doubt," Colette said of Chéri, her 1920 novel of the Belle Époque Parisian demimonde. Stephen Frears' anemic adaptation, written by Christopher Hampton (who also folds in 1926's The Last of Chéri), would most likely make the author nod off or plug her ears. Chéri, the most celebrated of Colette's male characters, is a louche 19-year-old millionaire played by Rupert Friend, acting opposite Michelle Pfeiffer as Lea, a courtesan d'un certain âge who has a six-year affair with the insolent androgyne until he's married off. Frears and Hampton's missteps begin immediately, with the director providing pinched narration as he recounts, over so many cartes de visite, the histories of other famous ladies who made a handsome living on their backs. It's the first of innumerable auditory assaults, continuing with Alexandre Desplat's frantic score and the clash of English and American accents (especially puzzling in the scenes with Brit Friend and Kathy Bates as his retired-prostie mother). Pfeiffer, uncertain how to convey the older, wiser erotomane, resorts to sounding like Samantha Jones auditioning for Masterpiece Theater, her décolletage the only part of this movie getting any air. Melissa Anderson


Il Divo

Hard on the heels of the acclaimed Gomorrah, Italian corruption gets a much quieter but equally vigorous workout in Paolo Sorrentino's highly stylized portrait of the country's most enduring political leader, Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. Teflon doesn't begin to describe the Christian Democrat who led one after another of Italy's rapid succession of administrations and survived a major bribery and corruption investigation while opponents and former allies dropped mysteriously dead around him. Il Divo plays like an elegantly ritualized black comedy, with Sorrentino deploying every formal tool in his arsenal to disrupt facile interpretations of Andreotti's strategically opaque character. Toni Servillo plays Andreotti with brilliant restraint as a physically disconnected man whose curling ears and still, round-shouldered gait hilariously — and pathetically — recall desiccated food critic Anton Ego from Ratatouille. We learn that Andreotti was a cultured wit with a gift — like this movie — for aphoristic quotation; that he suffered from debilitating headaches; that, in his way, he loved his wife, who loved him back in hers. His solitary nocturnal strolls, surrounded by burly blokes with machine guns, offer one of the movie's few clues to the price he paid for his obsessive lockhold on power. Aside from an imaginary "confession" in which he grows momentarily unhinged, Andreotti remains a properly unknowable monument on his country's shadowy, shady political landscape. Ella Taylor


My Sister's Keeper

Eleven-year-old Anna Fitzgerald's parents didn't just plan for her — they customized her in utero, with the specific end of providing spare parts and infusions for her leukemia-sick older sister, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva). When Kate relapses, experiencing renal failure, Anna (Abigail Breslin) defies her birthright duty to play donor and cough up a kidney. She contracts TV-spot lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin, possibly the only actor who doesn't cry on-screen), who agrees to help her win medical emancipation. Before mom Sara (Cameron Diaz) quit work to scrutinize her daughter's cell count, she was a lawyer herself, setting the stage for a family catharsis in the courtroom. Screenwriter Jeremy Leven and director Nick Cassavetes, who previously jackpotted with The Notebook, reunite to adapt another heartstrings molester. From a 2004 Jodi Picoult bestseller, My Sister's Keeper mashes Death Be Not Proud with Irreconcilable Differences. The film is extraordinarily explicit in showing the effects of disease and what's involved in caring for the sick. You don't usually see this unblinking attention to the progress of physical decay in a PG-13 wide-release movie, and to the degree that it represents a real aspect of human experience generally curtained out of sight, it is, in the language of movie people, a brave decision. But makeup-department realism alone can't redeem the dramatic fallacies surrounding it. Nick Pinkerton


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Michael Bay's 2007 Transformers was a mostly capable commercial for Hasbro toys and Bay's previous films, from which most of the iconography was lifted as the man continues to pay homage to his favorite filmmaker. It also offered Bay at his most surprisingly reflective and unexpectedly restrained — the domestic scenes involving Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) felt particularly sincere — and also his most ingenious, as he merged man and machine in beautifully choreographed fight sequences to get us wondering, "How'd he do that?" Well, he's done it again — it, and nothing more — and so the trick no longer dazzles. It bores. Which isn't to suggest that Bay's not entirely into it — there are scant moments in this, um, story about a matrix keymajiggy that unlocks the sun-killing whoziwhatsis when he seems to be paying attention, such as a sequence during which a resurrected Megatron (hoo-boy) kidnaps Sam and fills the kid's orifices with insect-like Decepticons who slither around his innards for a look-see. Bay's in touch with his inner Cronenberg during this lone, profoundly isolated moment, the one scene during which you can actually tell what's happening — and to whom, because he lets the gross-out speak for itself. But why speak when you can scream for almost two and a half hours? Robert Wilonsky

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