A Frenetic Fest
At the risk of sounding like an old-timer reminiscing about the good old days, I remember when the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival was a relatively small, intimate affair called the Greater Fort Lauderdale Film Festival -- and you actually stood a chance of taking in a good portion of its lineup. Now, as its organizers celebrate the event's 16th season, they delight in reminding us that it's the longest film festival in the world, encompassing more than three weeks of screenings of more than a hundred movies.
Having covered the majority of the 16 seasons for one publication or another, I've grown used to the litany of numbers. This year, for instance, the festivities include nearly three dozen galas, receptions, and parties; two five-day "mini fests" in Pembroke Pines and Boca Raton, with more than two dozen screenings; an Asian Pacific Film Festival within the festival, including more than 50 screenings; nearly a dozen U.S. premieres and a trio of world premieres; three film-related seminars; eighteen short subjects, eight documentaries, and four films by Florida filmmakers. The list goes on and on.
I long ago gave up hope of making sense of a bulky schedule that includes an "opening night" that's two weeks into the festival and a "closing-night film" that screens twice the night before the final night. Instead I focus on trying to find a few films that provide a generous cross-section of the festival. Here is our first installment of what this year's festival has to offer; additional chapters will appear in the next two issues.
If you thought American moviemakers had cornered the market on silly teen sex comedies, think again. This Swedish export proves otherwise. It's essentially a Scandinavian take on the familiar idea that teenage boys are driven primarily by their hormones.
In this case Anders and Börje are the two horny buddies who quell their frustrations by jerking off and thinking about naked women. Enter Sofia, a beautiful young woman who comes to their sleepy little town as a foster child. She's like a more wholesome version of Brigitte Bardot with a dash of Gwyneth Paltrow, and she sends the boys' fantasies into overdrive.
The obsessed 15-year-olds hatch a scheme to make their own movie starring Sofia, conveniently including a scene in which she goes skinny-dipping and has to be rescued by the hero, who just happens to be Anders. Soon the whole town is caught up in the melodrama of its budding filmmakers.
Despite its appealing leads, the movie never rises above its basic hokiness, and it veers between halfhearted raunchiness and strained sincerity. You probably won't leave the theater thinking Anders will grow up to be the next Ingmar Bergman. (Saturday, October 27, 1:30 p.m., Shadowood, Boca Raton; Friday, November 2, 1:30 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront, Fort Lauderdale; Saturday, November 3, 5:45 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront; 89 minutes; in Swedish with English subtitles)
Drive-In Movie Memories
According to this lively documentary based on a book by its producers, Don and Susan Sanders, the first drive-in movie theater opened in Camden, New Jersey, in 1933. Within a few decades, the number of drive-ins in the United States had soared to more than 5000.
Today, of course, fewer than 500 drive-ins remain in business, many surviving only as adjuncts to flea markets such as Broward County's Swap Shop. An amazingly diverse history between then and now speaks volumes about American popular culture.
The producers and their director, Kurt Kuenne, combine archival footage, photography, advertisements, live interviews, and other materials to provide an overview of this history. The eclectic bunch of interview subjects include critics Leonard Maltin and John Bloom (better known as Joe Bob Briggs), producer Samuel Z. Arkoff, and actors Robert Fuller, Beverly Garland, and Barry Corbin.
But the most interesting things here are the bits of historical trivia: drive-ins with in-car heating and air-conditioning systems, others with laundry and bottle-warming services, concession stands with increasingly varied fare, and the ritual of intermission. The movie also chronicles the factors that led to the virtual demise of drive-ins: the rise of television, the deterioration of expensive equipment, the advent of home video, even daylight-saving time.
This is fascinating stuff, all of it packed into less than an hour. That's the problem. Kuenne directs with the restlessness of an MTV-generation kid with attention deficit disorder, to the point of cutting off people in midsentence. His rapid-fire editing and noisy sound effects get to be annoying, but with material this good, I'm willing to forgive him. (Friday, October 26, 3:30 p.m., Westfork, Pembroke Pines; Sunday, October 28, 5:30 p.m., Shadowood, Boca Raton; 58 minutes)
The protagonist of this pleasingly low-key Japanese drama is Daisuké, a cranky, pimple-faced teenager who wearies of school and sets off to have an adventure, much to the chagrin of his family and friends. (In a nice touch, one classmate puts a bowl of goldfish on Daisuké's desk to keep it from looking so empty.)
The young runaway hitchhikes first from Yokohama to Osaka, then on to Kyushu, where he catches a ferry to the small island of Yakushima. There his adventure culminates in a rugged mountain hike that takes him to a remote cedar tree, which, at more than 7000 years old, is supposedly the longest-lived plant on earth.
The story is structured as a series of encounters with people who befriend Daisuké in various ways -- they become, in effect, mentors -- and fortunately the life lessons they impart to him are simple and understated. His brief stay with a female truck driver and her withdrawn son is especially effective.
But the movie veers off course near the end with an overly long sequence in which Daisuké becomes a sort of surrogate son for an ailing elderly man whose eccentricities are downright bizarre. Until then Jugosai glides by on its modest charms. (Friday, October 26, 5:30 p.m., Shadowood, Boca Raton; Saturday, October 27, 1:30 p.m., Westfork, Pembroke Pines; Sunday, November 4, 3:45 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront, Fort Lauderdale; 120 minutes; in Japanese with English subtitles)
The Perfect Son
Don't be put off by this film's confusing opening shot. It's really the closing shot as well, and it doesn't make sense without the context of the rest of the story.
That caveat aside, The Perfect Son is a downbeat but deeply affecting drama featuring two of the festival's strongest performances. It's the story of two long-estranged brothers -- Theo, played by David Cubitt, and Ryan, portrayed by Colm Feore -- who finally overcome their differences after one learns that the other is not only gay but also losing his ten-year struggle with AIDS.
The twist is that the ailing brother, Ryan, is a conservative lawyer, while Theo is the hedonistic black sheep of the family. That contrast would be a bit too tidy if it weren't for the delicately shaded work of both Cubitt and Feore (a dead ringer for Michael Gross of Family Ties), whose interplay strengthens as the story progresses.
A subplot involving the rocky on-again, off-again relationship between Theo and a nurse (nicely played by Chandra West) is a little shaky, and at times the increasingly melancholy tone becomes almost unbearable. But Cubitt and Feore make this emotional journey worth the trip. (Friday, October 26, 7:30 p.m., Westfork, Pembroke Pines; Saturday, November 3, 1:30 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront, Fort Lauderdale; Saturday, November 10, 9 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront; 93 minutes)
Given the current state of world affairs, a movie set during the Iranian hostage crisis of the late 1970s is a little unnerving to see. Even more unsettling, one of the main characters is a young Iranian zealot who, in one sequence, sets out to infiltrate the Manhattan hospital where the ailing Shah is housed in order to assassinate the deposed leader.
In other circumstances it might be tempting to write off this sequence as ludicrous. But the fervor of the would-be assassin, Ali, is chillingly similar to what we've seen in the terrorists now wreaking havoc across the world. His extremism is something with which we've become all too familiar.
Ali is a college-aged cousin of the title character, a teenager born in Iran but raised in America, and when he reluctantly comes to live with her family in New Jersey, the differences between the two cultures are etched in sharp relief. Unfortunately the culture-clash material is heavy-handed, and most of the secondary characters are broad and cartoonish. (Saturday, October 27, 3:30 p.m., Westfork, Pembroke Pines; Saturday, November 3, 3:45 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront, Fort Lauderdale; Sunday, November 11, 3:30 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront; 87 minutes)
You'd need a comprehensive family tree to make sense of the tangle of relationships in this lush Japanese melodrama -- which is exactly the point. It's a seething saga that includes not one but two incidences of incest; a ghost or two; an ancient curse; various rivalries, rituals, and romances; and angry household gods. In other words it's a sort of deranged cross between Shakespearean drama and prime-time soap opera, and I mean that in a good way.
The Bonomiya family is the focus, and what a family it is. Miki is a hauntingly beautiful paper maker whose dark past includes a teenage pregnancy; Takanao is the adulterous (and ultimately murderous) family head, and Sonoko, his angry, miserable wife. Tomie, Miki's long-dead mother, returns to counsel her daughter. And the spark that ignites this volatile clan is Akira, a handsome young schoolteacher who arrives in the village.
To reveal more would spoil the film's richly intricate maze of subplots, which unfold slowly and elliptically. Director Masato Harada clearly realizes he's dealing with over-the-top material, and he punches it up even further with a visual style that can be described only as painterly. (Sunday, October 28, 3:30 p.m., Westfork, Pembroke Pines; 105 minutes; in Japanese with English subtitles)
In the Eye of the Storm
Movies about people trying to make movies are often -- I'm tempted to use the word usually -- risky business, and the festival has a shaky track record when it comes to such fare. (Last year's State and Main, from David Mamet, was a notable exception.) This stark drama is a variation on the genre, with a story that focuses on a playwright trying to get his play produced.
The movie's setting makes the material seem even more precarious: a Florida beach house in the path of a major hurricane. The playwright is summoned there by his wealthy mother, with whom he has long had an antagonistic relationship, and the two end up literally trapped together, forced to hash out a lifetime of differences as the storm rages outside. It doesn't help that the son is also pushing the mother to finance his play.
The force that combines all this surprisingly well is filmmaker Mark Richardson, a Martin Scorsese protégé who not only wrote, produced, directed, and edited the picture but is also the male lead. Richardson has rugged good looks and a considerable screen presence that occasionally verges on menacing, and he hits his stride in the acerbic exchanges between the bitter playwright and his ice queen of a mother -- played, in an inspired bit of casting, by Richardson's own mom, Margaret.
At his best Richardson the writer summons up Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee, two of his acknowledged influences. He falters in the scenes that bookend the film, involving the playwright's estranged wife and their son, but he compensates with a solid center that includes a real hurricane: He shot the storm footage during Hurricane Floyd's 1999 brush with the Florida coast near Vero Beach. (Wednesday, October 31, 7:15 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront, Fort Lauderdale; Saturday, November 3, 3 p.m., Las Olas Riverfront; 105 minutes)
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