These reviews are part of our continuing coverage of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.
Hair High Bill Plympton has been making animated movies shorts and features for more than 20 years. But Hair High, with its all-too-conventional storyline, showcases his limitations more than his abilities. The story is a high school love triangle that begins with the hulking quarterback Rod and vapid cheerleader Cherri (together they are the school's ordained royal couple) tormenting the skinny new kid, Spud. Rod sentences Spud to be Cherri's slave and, understandably, Spud complies, carrying her books and spit-polishing her shoes. But Spud and Cherri fall in love, and Rod seeks revenge. The problem is that, after 78 minutes, there isn't much more to it than that. We don't learn a thing about high school, and Rod, Spud, and Cherri never veer from the archetypes seen in most high school movies. Some of the trite ideas: high school football is violent, the science teacher seems to enjoy his job a little too much, the faculty accepts Spud's bullied position in life. We do get to watch Plympton's trademark animation, which can be humorous simply in its bizarre perspectives and irreverence for the human form. He's a master at turning people inside out and capturing bodily fluids and pimples. And some will argue that his grotesque style itself is a satire of high school life. But the reality is that filmmakers working in animation or live-action need more than style to satirize something as silly as high school. What you need is a screenplay as clever as Plympton's images (see, for example, Heathers, Election, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High). Fortunately, also being screened with Hair High are two inspired examples of Plympton's work, including the five-minute short Guard Dog, which takes us inside the brain of an incessantly barking pooch, and The Fan and the Flower, a seven-minute story of an ill-fated affair between the mechanical and the botanical. This is where Plympton is at his best, exploiting the boundlessness of animation not confining it to a retread high school drama. (9 p.m. Tuesday, November 8, at AMC Coral Ridge; 90 minutes, including shorts.) Jason Cottrell
Aurora Borealis Like a diamond in a field of coal, Aurora Borealis is a small, unassuming film without any grand ambitions but hitting its mark in satisfying ways. The film unfolds over a few snowy months in Minneapolis, as the film's protagonist Duncan Shorter (Joshua Jackson) bounces from one slacker job to another finally landing as a handyman at his grandparents' retirement building. The idea is to keep an eye on his grandfather Ronald (Donald Sutherland), whose declining health and depression is more than his grandmother Ruth (Louise Fletcher) can handle. There he meets home health-care worker and chronic transient Kate (Juliette Lewis), and the two fall into a romance as she tries to convince Duncan to get serious about his life. It's a thoughtful script full of intelligent dialogue (even in the incidental scenes between Duncan and his friends) with well-developed characters. The latter owes much to solid acting, especially the remarkable portrayal of the ailing Ronald by Donald Sutherland, culminating in one of the most extraordinary and emotionally charged scenes in recent memory. Lewis is perfectly cast as the brassy girlfriend, playing to her acting strengths as the story's main catalyst. Jackson is a bit vanilla as the lead, and there's an ending that's much too tidy. But the film is so full of heart and easy charm, it's one trip to the Twin Cities you'll be glad to take, even in winter. (5 p.m. Saturday, November 5, at Broward Center for the Performing Arts; and 5 p.m. Friday, November 11, at AMC Coral Ridge 10; 109 minutes.) John Anderson
Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
Keep Your Distance Whatever happened to Gil Bellows, the suave, charming lawyer who was Ally McBeal's love interest in the television series? He's shown up as radio DJ David Dailey, the lead character in Keep Your Distance, a mystery thriller set in Louisville, Kentucky. It seems David has an ideal life, and a great job with adoring fans; he's a prominent figure in the community and has a wonderful marriage with a beautiful wife. But when anonymous cryptic notes start appearing on his car, his desk, and in his mailbox, his perfect life starts to fray at the edges. The notes lead him to the discovery of his wife's affair and other stuff we're never quite sure what to make of. Around the same time, he meets Melody (Jennifer Westfeldt), who is having her own relationship troubles with a manipulative rich-boy, and the two strike up a friendship as they try to solve the mystery of the notes. It all leads to a dramatic final scene and the identity of the bad guy. This is a long way from those heady Ally McBeal days for Bellows, who does as good a job as could be expected from such limited material. Westfeldt also provides an assist in keeping the film from complete disaster. But the story has little focus, and the script is just plain bad. "I'm thinking of taking a vacation to Europe," says Melody. "Wow, so much history, so many cultures," says Bellows, who does a masterful job of not laughing, or crying, at such bad dialogue. You might want to keep your distance from this one. (8 p.m. Saturday, November 5, at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale, and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, November 20, at DeSantis Center, 777 Glades Rd., at the FAU Campus in Boca Raton; 95 minutes.) Anderson
The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (through November 20) features more than 200 independent, foreign, classic, short, and documentary films from around the world. Normal theater admission prices are in effect for all shows, except for free shows (noted). Call 954-525-FILM, or visit www.fliff.com.
Note about locations: This week's screenings are spread among Cinema Paradiso (noted as "CP," 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale), the Broward Center for the Performing Arts (noted as "BC," 305 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale), and the AMC Coral Ridge 10 (noted as "AMC," 3401 NE 26th Ave., Fort Lauderdale).
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3
3 p.m.: Student films
5 p.m.: Student films
8 p.m.: Transamerica One week away from a procedure that will make him a woman at last, Bree gets a phone call from New York. A young man jailed for turning tricks has named Bree as his father, and would she come bail him out? (BC)
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 4
7:30 p.m.: Tell Me I'm Pretty Fanny invites an office colleague over for a one-night stand, but he's looking for a real relationship. With just two characters and one setting, high tensions run in this romantic comedy the centerpiece film of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. (BC)
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5
10 a.m.: Max Rules Three best friends spy on their families, sneak into one another's houses, and organize elaborate pranks. (CP) FREE.
Noon: Pelicanman A pelican lands in Finland and becomes so fascinated by humans that he decides to learn to live and be like them. The pelican gets a job at the opera house, befriends two children, and falls in love with a ballerina. (CP) FREE.
1 p.m.: Parnikoviy Effekt A small-town girl arrives at the Moscow train station and finds that her baggage is stolen. She has no papers and no money. A homeless boy comes to her rescue. (BC)
2:45 p.m.: Hawaii Oslo The story of a handful of people who cross one another's paths without necessarily knowing one another, during the hottest day of the year in Oslo. (BC)
5 p.m.: Aurora Borealis His buddies are growing up and beginning lives of responsibility, but Duncan is still looking for that spark. His life becomes affected by his dying grandfather and a relationship with his grandfather's feisty nurse.
7:15 p.m.: La Role de Sa Vie Two great actresses clash over work and romance. (BC)
Frenching On the last night of summer camp 1988, Robby and Stephanie face the greatest challenge of their young lives to French or not to French. (BC)
8 p.m.: Keep Your Distance In the perfectly normal town of Louisville, Kentucky, there is a perfectly normal man living the perfect life. Until he is plunged into a harrowing web of desire, deceit, and paranoia. (CP)
8:55 p.m.: Swindled Three con artists in Madrid hatch a plan that will net them millions. The only hitch is that they need the assistance of Federico's ex-lover Pilar, a former con artist herself. (BC)
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 6
Noon and 2 p.m.: Before the Fall Set during World War II, this movie follows German teenagers who attend a Napola a special institution for gifted boys that turns them into the Nazi elite. (CP)
6 p.m.: Love and Happiness Two friends roam the streets, have tedious jobs, and try to entertain themselves by falling in love with the wrong men until one realizes she has to break away. (BC)
7:30 p.m.: Play A young nurse with big eyes and even bigger headphones walks the streets of Santiago like a silver ball in a pinball machine, shooting from one person's life to another's. When she is not reading National Geographic articles to her Hungarian patient or flirting with a gardener in the park, she is following a 33-year-old architect whose wallet she finds after he is mugged. (BC)
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 7
1 p.m.: Tell Me I'm Pretty Fanny invites an office colleague over for a one-night stand, but he's looking for a real relationship. With just two characters and one setting, high tensions run in this romantic comedy the centerpiece film of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. (AMC)
Six Months Later A romantic comedy about a dysfunctional bachelor who comes to terms with the fact that he's in a committed relationship. (AMC)
1:30 p.m.: Tickets Three highly acclaimed directors join together to direct three interwoven stories that take place during a journey from Central Europe to Rome. The characters connect through casual encounters and set forth a story of love, chance, and sacrifice. (AMC)
3 p.m.: La Role De Sav Vie Two great actresses clash over work and romance. (AMC)
3:30 p.m.: Deadly Passion Documentary about the fatal bear maulings of bear activist Timothy Treadwell and his companion that occurred in October 2003 in Katmai National Park, Alaska. (AMC)
5 p.m.: Hamoudi & Emil Twelve-year-old buddies Hamoudi and Emil are hell-bent on a mission to score the girl of their dreams. Unfortunately, they haven't decided who will go first or what they will do about her husband. (AMC)
Circuit Riders A wicked spoof of the controversial pay-to-audition acting workshops. (AMC)
Cherry on Top A tale of hunger and desire juxtaposed against heavy consumerism in urban India. The film traces a day in the life of a rag picker who goes against all odds to feed his hungry friend and himself. (AMC)
5:30 p.m.: Tell Me I'm Pretty see 1 p.m. (AMC)
7 p.m.: The Touch Hannah Moore had to fight to build an existence on her own terms and keep at bay the grief of being used by her father and then by a succession of boys and men. Inspired by a true story at the First Baptist Church in Lake County, Florida. (AMC)
7:30 p.m.: Tickets see 1:30 p.m. (AMC)
9 p.m.: Liberated Zone A bubbly comic soap opera outfitted with a sprightly assortment of zooms, flashbacks, and photo montages, the film takes place in an East German town that's developed an almost psychotic obsession with its local soccer team and its key player, a black superstar. (AMC)
9:30 p.m.: Go West Two homosexuals a Serb and a Bosnian attempt to flee the besieged capital Sarajevo. (AMC)
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8
1 p.m.: The Viewing No description. (AMC)
The Search Sarah travels back to her family's native country, Austria, in search of answers about her grandmother's unspoken past. (AMC)
1:30 p.m.: Incantato A comedy set in the Rome and Bologna of the 1920s. A shy and clumsy man goes to teach at a high school in Bologna in the hope that the city will allow him to find a wife at last. (AMC)
3 p.m.: Double Shift A feel-good story about two deadbeat dads who become prophets of child care. (AMC)
3:30 p.m.: Switch Off No description. (AMC)
5 p.m.: Quitters Two chain-smoking roommates make a friendly bet to see who can go longer without smoking a cigarette. Days pass; tension mounts.
Canta No description. (AMC)
The Apology A man drives cross-country. He seems obsessed about getting somewhere by some time. As the story unfolds, we learn in 19 short minutes what happened 17 years ago and the reason for his quest. (AMC)
5:30 p.m.: Damn Good Dog A look at the life and times of Uga, the world-famous mascot of the University of Georgia Bulldogs. (AMC)
7 p.m.: What's Bugging Seth Nothing can stop a young deaf man from forming a successful bug extermination business. He finds comfort and romance with a double amputee until an ex-lover steps back into the picture. (AMC)
The Mirror A twisted journey of desperation, disaster, and destiny, following the lives of three men over the course of one night. (AMC)
7:30 p.m.: Incantato see 1:30 p.m. (AMC)
9 p.m.: Hair High George Plympton's animated tale about a 1950s high school romance turned horror. (AMC)
Guard Dog Why do dogs bark at such innocent creatures as pigeons and squirrels... what are they afraid of? An animated film from Bill Plympton. (AMC)
The Fan & the Flower An ill-fated and unconsummated romance between a fan and a flower magically creates a fairy-tale ending in this animated film from Bill Plympton. (AMC)
9:30 p.m.: Lost in Plain View Two female college students are stopped by a cop, who escorts them to the stationhouse to "pay their ticket." When the cop goes from charming to seductive to psychotic, the girls try to escape across the desert. (AMC)
Raveling Eighty-five-year-old Eldridge Von Waistcoat sits dejected on his couch, feathers floating about his destroyed apartment. Something seems odd about the motion of the feathers, until we realize that everything is moving in reverse. Only at the close of the film in a bittersweet, comic twist do we learn the reason for his tantrum. (AMC)
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9
1 p.m.: Hidden Children A true story about 40 Jewish children on their way to Palestine who were blocked by the German and Italian occupation of Yugoslavia in 1941. (AMC)
1:30 p.m.: Kilometre 0 Iraq, 1988. Young husband and father Ako, who has a Kurdish background, is forced to join Saddam Hussein's army. Ako thinks it's his lucky day when he receives orders to escort the return of a fellow soldier's corpse to his family. But his driver turns out to be an anti-Kurd Arab. The mismatched duo take an unexpected voyage across the majestic Iraqi landscape. (AMC)
3 p.m.: Love and Happiness Two friends roam the streets, have tedious jobs, and try to entertain themselves by falling in love with the wrong men until one realizes she has to break away. (AMC)
Frenching On the last night of summer camp 1988, Robby and Stephanie face the greatest challenge of their young lives to French or not to French. (AMC)
3:30 p.m.: Play A young nurse with big eyes and even bigger headphones walks the streets of Santiago like a silver ball in a pinball machine, shooting from one person's life to another's. When she is not reading National Geographic articles to her Hungarian patient or flirting with a gardener in the park, she is following a 33-year-old architect whose wallet she finds after he is mugged. (AMC)
5 p.m.: What's Bugging Seth Nothing can stop a young deaf man from forming a successful bug extermination business. He finds comfort and romance with a double amputee until an ex-lover steps back into the picture. (AMC)
The Mirror A twisted journey of desperation, disaster, and destiny, following the lives of three men over the course of one night. (AMC)
5:30 p.m.: Off-ramps More and more cities across the United States are criminalizing the day-to-day activities of the homeless.
Never Doubt The inspiring story of the rebirth of the southernmost AIDS Ride from Miami to Key West and the man who did what no one else could to make it happen. (AMC)
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7 p.m.: Fame At the New York City High School for the Performing Arts, students get specialized training that often leads to success as actors, singers, dancers, and musicians. This movie follows four students from the time they audition to get into the school through their graduation. (AMC)
7:30 p.m.: Kilometre 0 see 1:30 p.m.
9 p.m.: Dirty Love In this slapstick comedy, Jenny McCarthy (as Rebecca) is gorgeous, goofy, and gross. Devastated when she finds her supermodel boyfriend engaged in sexual acrobatics with another woman, she takes a strange and wild trip of funny sexual encounters. With the help of a bossy psychic and offbeat friends, Rebecca finds that the path to true love is right in front of her. (AMC)
9:30 p.m.: Manual for Love Stories No description. (AMC)