Go FLIFF Yourself
As the 17th-annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival nears its end -- oh, wait a minute! Just because the "closing-night film" screens on Saturday, November 9, that doesn't mean the festival is really over. That would be too easy -- and too sensible.
No, "the world's longest film festival," as it continues to bill itself, also continues to confound logic by beginning about a week and a half before its official "opening-night film" and meandering on for more than two weeks after that "closing-night film." The cover of the festival's bulky, cluttered program indicates that the event runs through November 24, and the updated website confirms that date.
About that program and that website: Neither does much to promote the festival as a class act. As early as page 3, a photo caption identifies actor Armand Assante as "Asanti." Similar careless errors litter a publication that is presumably expensive to produce and is one of the festival's highest-profile pieces of publicity. Don't even get me started on the program's cover, which features a disturbing image of a young woman's head with her eyes and mouth bound, hostage-style, with strips of celluloid.
Then again, you get an idea of the priorities at play when you see that the program's "Parties" page precedes any listings of films playing in the festival. If you have trouble navigating the lengthy program, which organizes pictures by theme, you can resort to the "Film Index," tacked on as if an afterthought to the form for ordering tickets at the end of the book. Not that the index is reliable: If you're looking for the French film Cavalcades, for instance, it's listed in the index under its English title, Get a Way.
When confronted with program inconsistencies, I resorted to the website. Bad move. There I learned, under "Retrospectives," that Friday, November 8, would bring us a "David O Selsnick Double Header." Is this the same David O. Selznick who produced Gone with the Wind?
Am I nitpicking? You bet. If a film festival wants to be taken seriously as a world-class event, shouldn't it pay a little more attention to detail? Maybe, just maybe, the "world's longest film festival" has gotten complacent as it nears the end of its second decade. That's unfortunate, because the festival continues to showcase some wonderful movies that might not otherwise get exposure in South Florida. It just needs to make sure it can live up to its own hype.
A poignant bit of voice-over sets the tone for this highly stylized American drama from promising first-time filmmaker Stephan Woloszczuk: "They say that the human heart only weighs about three-quarters of a pound. It's funny how something so small can make you feel so happy and then turn around and tear you right apart." The speaker is a precocious but troubled 17-year-old skateboarder played, rivetingly, by James Franco (a Golden Globe winner for last year's made-for-TV movie James Dean who looks more like a young Tom Berenger) whose prep-school life is overshadowed by his infatuation with Darcy, an older man who's seen almost entirely in flashback. "I didn't care where we went. I just couldn't wait to see him again," the young man says, and he makes us feel the intensity of his feelings for his enigmatic lover. The teen then forms a seemingly unlikely alliance with Darcy's despondent girlfriend and another man whose relationship with Darcy remains obscure for most of the movie, as they try to track down the elusive mystery man. At times, the story is overly reliant on narration, but the stylization and the mournful musical score make this a surprisingly haunting piece of work that beautifully captures the nuances of obsession. (Friday, November 8, 9:20 p.m., Riverfront; Saturday, November 9, 9 p.m., Riverfront; 91 minutes)
The Choice of Hercules
It's rarely a good thing when a movie feels like it's taking place in real time, especially if it's a presumed action movie taking course over a period of more than a week. This based-on-a-true-story Japanese "thriller" makes a good case for taking greater liberties with the truth. It's set in 1972, when a group of Red Army extremists took a reported three to five hostages in a mountainous Nagano resort village (there turned out to be a sole hostage). Much of the early part of the film is consumed by a turf struggle between Nagano and Tokyo bureaucrats, with lots of talky squabbling over who'll handle the crisis. "Think of yourself as Hercules, with labors to perform," the hapless officer dispatched to handle the situation is told. About 90 or so minutes into this two-hour-plus movie, there's finally the prospect of some real action -- which is subverted by sequences shot so confusingly that it's almost impossible to discern what's really going on. Writer-director Masato Harada, whose Inugami was a standout at last year's festival, seems to have forgotten that it's best not to represent real-life chaos with on-screen chaos. It hardly helps that the hostage and her abductors remain so resolutely anonymous that their plight never rises above a sort of philosophical abstraction. (Friday, November 8, 7:30 p.m., Riverfront; Saturday, November 9, 3:15 and 5:40 p.m., Riverfront; 133 minutes; in Japanese with English subtitles)
Every Stewardess Goes to Heaven
Some early moments in this sort-of comedy suggest that filmmaker Daniel Burman may be an Argentine Pedro Almodóvar in the making. No such luck. A young girl's tart retort to a fellow traveler on an airplane, for instance -- "Because I'm an insolent child, and I want to know everything" -- turns out to be a fluke joke. The story brings together a female flight attendant who's quite content with her jet-set lifestyle and a man who has recently lost his wife, who was also a flight attendant. They meet on a snowy mountainside as they're both trying to kill themselves in an extremely eccentric fashion (don't ask). The movie lightens up for a bit after this strange encounter, but then the slow, elliptical storytelling grows heavier and heavier. Not even the presence of the luminous Norma Aleandro (The Official Story) as the flight attendant's somewhat bewildered mother can save the picture. (Wednesday, November 13, 5 p.m.; Thursday, November 14, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, November 16, 9 p.m.; Wednesday, November 20, 5 p.m.; Thursday, November 21, 5 p.m.; Friday, November 22, 5 p.m.; Saturday, November 23, 5 p.m.; Sunday, November 24, 5 p.m.; all at Cinema Paradiso, Fort Lauderdale; 98 minutes; in Spanish with English subtitles)
The subject of this fine no-frills documentary is David "Honeyboy" Edwards, a Mississippi blues musician who's one of the last of his kind. At 87, Edwards has lived through quite a lot of what contributes to the formation of a great bluesman: in his case, losing his mother when he was 12, growing up in a family of sharecroppers, hitching rides on freight trains for decades, facing the prejudices inevitably incurred by blacks in the Deep South. Edwards is philosophical as he gives the benefit of the doubt to whites: "We had some good white people, and we had some mean ones. Not all of them was alike." And he's highly engaging when he talks of the sly ways downtrodden black musicians addressed their precarious relationship with "the bossman." "Oh, baby, I'm gonna leave you," for example, might not necessarily refer to the singer's beloved. There's footage of Edwards performing live and talking about women's involvement with the blues, and the great B.B. King weighs in with his views. A minor drawback is Edwards' thick accent and the fast-paced editing, which often make it difficult to understand this fascinating figure. (Friday, November 8, 5:10 p.m., Riverfront; Saturday, November 9, 7:40 p.m., Riverfront; 82 minutes)
Mighty Times -- The Legacy of Rosa Parks
Clocking in at a mere 40 minutes, this documentary packs more punch per minute than many much longer, more complicated movies. It's a straightforward portrait of Rosa Parks, an ordinary black seamstress who, on December 1, 1955, refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. She was not the first black person to do so, nor was it her first clash with the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system -- in 1943, Parks had been thrown off a bus for refusing to comply with the bizarre rules that required blacks to get on at the front of a bus, pay, get back off, then get back on at the rear of the bus (unless the bus had roared away before they could board). But Parks' defiance came at the right time and place, and as one of the film's many interviewees puts it, "In one amazing moment, she changed the course of American history." Three days later, with the support of idealistic preacher Robert Graetz -- a 26-year-old white man -- a 381-day boycott of the city's bus system was launched, and the repercussions for segregation and the fledgling civil rights movement were far-reaching. The documentary, made with the help of the well-known civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center, combines period footage with reenactments "using vintage camera and film stocks," and it's a stirring collage of reminiscences from young and old, black and white, pro and con, with the charismatic Martin Luther King Jr. (27 years old at the time) becoming part of the drama. It's also a portrait of Parks as an unwitting pioneer feminist. (Thursday, November 7, 1:40, 5:40, and 9:40 p.m., Riverfront; 40 minutes)
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