Lights Out, Flick Fancier!
Eight days, 150 films, you know the drill. It's the tenth year for the Palm Beach International Film Festival, with movies from Boca to Belle Glade and Lake Worth to Jupiter. The festival opens with When Do We Eat? -- a Sabbath meal, a tough father, and a son perhaps too liberal with his ecstasy stash. It ends with Checking Out -- in which the suicide party for an old Shakespearean actor (played by Columbo's Peter Falk) is transformed by his life-affirming children.
In between, expect premieres, parties, and obligatory celebrity visits, including Checking Out's Judge Reinhold and Clint Howard and Linda Blair from locally filmed Hitter's Anonymous, about a 12-step program for assassins. One of the best cost-to-celebrity ratios is probably April 17's free tenth-anniversary party and outdoor showing of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein at Mizner Park Amphitheater, with an appearance by Peter "Everybody Loves Raymond" Boyle. He played the monster in the 1974 movie.
As in previous years, the local angle is strong, with short and long films by South Floridians. For a distinct intersection of community service and film, however, check out the April 20 reception and screening of shorts by at-risk youth produced in association with the West Palm Beach-based Center for Art & Media Literacy. Fifty middle and high school kids worked after school on the two films -- about teenage drinking, pregnancy, and gang violence -- in every aspect from directing to sound production. According to center director William King, filmmaking "builds up self-esteem and gives them credibility with their peers and experience working on a team." Perfect goals for any film festival.
Most of the festival's movies will be shown at Mizner Sunrise Cinemas (301 Plaza Real, Boca Raton) and the Muvico Parisian 20 -- CityPlace (545 Hibiscus St., West Palm Beach). For a full schedule of films and locations, go to www.pbifilmfest.org, or call 561-362-0003. -- Dave Amber
When Do We Eat?
This is one of those lighthearted family dramas in which, after a series of breakthroughs, a generation of resentment and anger evaporates just in time for the credits and everybody is left with a warm glow. Fortunately, where the rest of us see triteness, writer and director Salvador Litvak sees a challenge: Make a feel-good family drama that's actually worth discussing. In other words, wade through the sea and come out dry. In need of a miracle, Litvak calls on God. When Do We Eat? tells the story of the Stuckmans, a family of eight who don't particularly enjoy one another. The parents are disappointed in the offspring. The offspring resent the parents. And there are two forms of communication: sarcasm and, when that can't be conjured, yelling. The story opens with them all begrudgingly gathered on Passover where the father, Ira Stuckman, promises them the "world's fastest Seder." The prayers, the reading of the Haggadah, and the passing of the matzo all commence with the solemnity one would reserve for an oil change when his older rebellious son asks Ira: "Why have a Seder if all you're going to do is rush through it?" To which Ira snaps, "Because that's what Jews do." And it's here where the movie gets good. When Do We Eat? poses the question: What is a family so clearly rooted in the world to make of a holiday so clearly not of this world? For the Stuckmans, communing with the supernatural requires a little bit of the unnatural. Looking to take his father down a notch, his other rebellious son slips Ira a tablet of ecstasy. And, as the evening progresses, Ira sees the light, the Seder goes awry, and the feel-good movie falls into place, complete with requisite humor and charm. But along the way, we also explore two generations of Stuckman history, extraordinary depth of character, and a family reflecting on its ritual and finding that which is spiritual. It takes remarkable filmmaking to accomplish all that in an hour and a half. (7 p.m. Thursday, April 14, at Muvico Parisian) -- Jason Cottrell
The Civilization of Maxwell Bright
Movies like this are cinematic gems. They leave the viewer dazzled and shaken, unsure of what they've seen or how to feel about it. That is to say, it is a film so unspeakably horrible that it stands out among simply bad movies and becomes something mythic, unspeakable, nay eternal. Directed by David Beaird, a man who never met a jump cut he didn't like, the film attempts to tell the story of Maxwell Bright, a man so vicious, so violent, and so misogynistic that he could be played only by Patrick Warburton, David Puddy of Seinfeld fame. David Puddy, you ask? Yeah, that's right. Bright is the type of man Neil LaBute wouldn't hang out with: an expletive-spewing wreck so malevolent that his girlfriend assaults him with a garden hoe. It's an act we will soon not only understand but wish had been successful. From this opening sequence, the film degenerates with blinding speed. Bright, sick of American women and their pesky inability to stomach him for extended periods of time, invests in a Chinese mail-order bride, who arrives in the form of the beautiful Mai Ling (Marie Matiko). Before coming to America, Ling was a virgin Buddhist nun, which does nothing to slow Bright's unexplained nastiness or to explain her refusal to return to China when given the chance. The rest is an overwrought mess that defies description. Bright goes bankrupt, losing his company and his house; in the midst of a laughably bad police standoff, he collapses from chest pains. Thankfully, Jennifer Tilly arrives as Max's doctor, and we learn he has cancer in almost every possible organ. With the help of Bright's friend Arlis (the esteemed Eric Roberts in another showstopping performance), Ling, the stereotypically mystical Easterner, guides Bright into the light and us blissfully out of the theater. (9:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, at Muvico Parisian and 7:45 p.m. Monday, April 18, at Sunrise Cinemas) -- Larry Carrino
The Real Dirt on Farmer John
A cross between a Merry Pranksters home movie and a Whole Foods infomercial, this documentary is the lovingly shot story of pleasantly eccentric organic farmer John Peterson. Set in Peoria, Illinois, Peterson's story, and that of the family farm he was born and raised on, is as rocky as the land he cultivates. Depicted in a straightforward, no-frills style, the film charts Peterson's humble beginnings as a farmer's son, alternately struggling and thriving in his father's shadow. A child of the '60s, Peterson is a walking dichotomy -- an earnest man of the land seemingly at ease both on a tractor and dancing pagan-like before a roaring bonfire. Like Ken Kesey with a backhoe, he tills the soil while simultaneously arousing the suspicions of his neighbors and town sheriff. After all, there's nothing more paranoia-inducing than a Doors-lovin' hippie who works the land while wearing a singlet and feather boa. To delve any deeper here would only spoil this quiet film's simple pleasures. Oddly enough, that's its primary drawback. The Real Dirt aspires to capture more than the human drama of Peterson's story and his accomplishments (he helped pave the way for the now über-chic organic farming movement) but falls just short of the mark. Obviously in love with the subject matter, director Taggart Siegel focuses too much on Peterson the man and, as a result, falters in his handling of the film's overriding theme, what one farmer eloquently calls "the death of the farm culture." Luckily, for both Peterson and viewer, The Real Dirt ultimately overcomes its minor shortcomings -- flirtations with melodrama and New Agey hokum -- and delivers a wonderful jolt of homegrown sweetness. (4 p.m. Monday, April 18, at Muvico Parisian and 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, at Sunrise Cinemas) -- Larry Carrino
The Girl from Monday
While it poses a bleak future, this movie leaves you with the overwhelming impression that anything's better than the present. Although slick-looking and ambitious, it's 80 minutes without suspense or charm. There's a cast, but there are no characters. The audience doesn't learn a thing about anybody. The actors merely serve to drive the unremarkable, overly complicated plot. Set in the near future, Triple M (like 3M, get it?) is now the Orwellian supercorporation. With the proliferation of the Internet, bar coding, and target marketing, a corporate revolution has taken place in which market research has gotten so efficient and penetrating that Triple M knows everything about everybody. And because desire is so readily quantifiable, a person's economic potential is constantly readjusted in terms of how others desire them. So, if you want to get ahead, fornicate with someone who is more desirable than you. How did we sink this low? Triple M's market value is so pervasive that it's managed to tie human needs and emotions directly to transactions. There's no need now for a currency to measure market desires. Whew! Talk about sigh-fi. And we haven't even gotten to the aliens. They arrive from a planet in Galaxy Monday. Their purpose in the film? The best guess is they are noble savages, symbols to show humans the error of their ways. Why the filmmakers had to go to another galaxy to get that symbol is a mystery. The strength of the movie is its heavy-handed but rather funny satire. Criminals are sentenced to teach high school. Ritalin is now required. Advertising people are heartless monsters. The jabs are deft, but the targets are big. The problem is that the filmmakers seem to suffer from what they're condemning. They've made a movie devoid of feeling or any reason to engage. (9:45 p.m. Friday, April 15, at Muvico Parisian, and 1 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at Sunrise Cinemas) -- Jason Cottrell
The White Horse Is Dead
It's a raw, beautiful title for a film about bitterness without a shred of hope. All that's good is in the past. All that remains are the discarded pieces. Writer and director Pete Red Sky brings us the story of Naya, a pretty, intelligent, more-nervous-than-usual 17-year-old at odds with her overbearing, overmedicated monstrosity of a mother. Naya wants to be an anthropologist. Her immigrant mother, Giselle, wants Naya to be a model. But the tensions run deeper than that. We find out later that the white cross in the front yard marks the grave of Naya's father, a scientist who was experimenting with the anticlotting agents found in the saliva of leeches. Longing for her father, Naya keeps the leeches in tanks by the hundreds, talks to them, and places them on her naked body to suck her blood. And then things get weird. The tensions between Naya and Giselle escalate with the hiring of Vince, the new gardener. The introduction of a male into the house destabilizes what was a dysfunctional rut. We learn of a suicide, incest, and imprisonment. Without giving away the end, let's just say things get violent. The actors and dialogue have some rough spots, but the real problem with White Horse lies with the mother. She drives the plot, but we don't know what drives her. Does she want Naya to suffer? Or does she just not get it? What is plain to everybody else isn't plain to her. Why? Without understanding her, the violence in the final act has no payoff. And all the bizarre, intriguing events leading up to it simply evaporate. The White Horse Is Dead is a near miss, but hopefully Red Sky will continue filmmaking. (10 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Muvico Parisian and 3:45 p.m. Monday, April 18, at Sunrise Cinemas) -- Jason Cottrell
The Amazing Floydini
When you're a middle-aged guy living in a squalid New York City apartment and asking Mom to pay for your shrink, things can't get much worse. But they don't get any better for Floyd (Gabriel Barre ) when he announces, upon turning 40, that he wants to be a professional magician. After trying a series of really odd odd jobs (sperm bank donor, nude model), the incessantly brooding Floyd takes the advice of his psychologist, Linda (Andrea Barnes), who tells him to do what he loves. Floyd does just that, although his first attempt at a magic show -- performing at a birthday party for a pimp's kid -- ends in humiliating failure. So when Floyd meets the similarly downtrodden Lulu (Barbara Christabella), she quickly convinces the magician that his only recourse is pickpocketing. Soon, the two are romantically involved and criminally engaged, stealing wallets in elevators and bathroom stalls. Floyd still has an itch for straight magic, much to the chagrin of Lulu, who scoffs at his relentless talk of the m word. But by this point, Floyd has begun to lose his way; he can't even keep his appointments with Linda (and it's obvious she fancies him as more than a regular patient). The Amazing Floydini is a skewed coming-of-age tale about a guy who should have come of age 20 years ago. Writer and director Brent Nemetz eschews the fancy smoke and mirrors and draws from the only bag of tricks a good movie needs -- a solid plot line, multidimensional characters, and a heavy dose of humor. It's never too late to find your role in life -- even if that means sawing your girlfriend in half just to keep the electricity on in your apartment. (7:15 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Muvico Parisian 20 and 1 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at Sunrise Cinemas) -- Jason Budjinski
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