These reviews are part of our continuing coverage of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.
Berkeley There is a lot of sweetness in this uneven film, an autobiographical tribute to the U.C. Berkeley of 1968 that hits as many false notes as true ones. For one thing, protagonist Ben (played by Nick Roth, son of writer/director Bobby Roth) is a charmer a soft-spoken and thoughtful young man who, as he meanders through the rocky landscape of sex, love, music, and politics, retains a healthy dose of self-respect. (He's cute too.) There is a lovely performance by Henry Winkler, playing a concerned Jewish father with both gravity and a sense of humor. Laura Jordan, playing Ben's once and future girlfriend, is lovely, appropriately mysterious, and ethereal. (A boy his age, and at that time, would see a girl that way.) Some of the dialogue turns gracefully on a dime, suddenly rising from awkward self-importance to become light, new, and real. The problem is that much of the dialogue does not, and the plot, which follows a passive meanderer, is itself largely aimless. Berkeley seems to want to be about the intersection between the political and the personal and the impact that a culture in revolution can have on a young man in pursuit of himself, but it's too diffuse for that. In fact, the film as a whole is suffused with an unreality, a simultaneously dreamy nostalgia and reflexive self-consciousness that keeps it constantly above its subject, never quite sinking in. In other words, you never feel that you're witnessing the Berkeley of 1968; it's all too clear that you're watching a movie about Berkeley in 1968. (November 12, 7 p.m., at AMC Coral Ridge 10; and November 16, 7:30 p.m., at DeSantis Center at FAU.) Melissa Levine
Breakfast on Pluto Irish novelist and filmmaker Neil Jordan (Michael Collins, In Dreams), who says his constant concern is "how individuals work with what they've been given," returns to top form with this bittersweet, gender-bending drama about a transvestite trying to negotiate the lanes of rural Ireland, the streets of London, and the unresolved traumas of his childhood in the 1960s and 1970s. But Patrick "Kitten" Braden, with his carefully applied mascara and his semifabulous wardrobe, is no mere victim. Ever the optimist, he faces down the tormentors and bigots who would destroy him with such wit and grace that we come to recognize them, not Patrick, as the grotesques of the piece. Cillian Murphy (the survivor of doomsday in 28 Days Later) puts in an energetic, multifaceted performance here that would make a nice companion piece to Felicity Huffman's terrific turn as a pre-operative transsexual in Transamerica. Among Jordan's films, which characteristically combine explosive Irish politics and personal crises, this one actually bears less resemblance to his surprise gender-switch hit The Crying Game than to 1997's less heralded The Butcher Boy, in which an emotionally unbalanced Irish boy is driven to act out his murderous fantasies. Like Pluto, it too was adapted from a novel by Patrick McCabe, a writer who obviously shares Jordan's fascination with misfits and outsiders. Like Eamonn Owens in The Butcher Boy, Murphy commands our attention, but he must share the screen with some heavyweights: The splendid supporting cast includes Jordan regulars Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, and Brendan Gleeson. (Saturday, November 12, at 9:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 13, at 7 p.m. at AMC Coral Ridge 10.) Bill Gallo
Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
Barry Dingle This is a bizarre, twisted film with few redeeming qualities. Even for those of us going to the movies in search of something other than redemption, good taste, or character development, it poses an intriguing challenge. Barry Dingle is a comedy about rape. The main character, played by Barry Shurchin, who wrote and directed the film, is the misogynist, lounge-lizard son of a conniving East Coast socialite who desperately wants her son to marry the daughter of a senator. She plots while Barry commits serial date rape. Meanwhile, a crosstown rival socialite tries to get each of her three sons to marry the same daughter. What follows is a series of bizarre, sometimes amusing episodes out of the Ken Russell or David Lynch tradition. People will say Barry Dingle is offensive, and, true, if it should ever get wide release (don't bet the farm), many will walk out after 15 minutes. But the filmmaker never presents the Dingles as anything but loathsome. Barry suffers brutal consequences because of his actions, and we see the damage he does to his victims. The problem isn't that the film is offensive; it's just not very good. The Dingles are presented as cretins who want money and power. From there, the audience is stranded, witnessing only their absurd behavior. The driving force is the Dingles' gratifying demise. They're rotten. They're miserable. Good. Let's move on. Of course, defenders will say, "Relax, it's a comedy." But consider the film's most memorable scene, when Barry, serving time for one of his date rapes, is raped by another inmate in the kitchen. His assailant has his way with him, and Barry, holding a ladle and wearing a Chef Boyardee-style hat, wails. Indeed, the ladle and hat make the scene less sordid, but it still falls far short of funny. (Saturday, November 12, at 3 p.m. and Sunday, November 13, at 1:30 p.m. at AMC Coral Ridge.) Jason Cottrell
Aaltra This is the kind of movie that film festivals were made for. Filmed in black and white in French (with English subtitles), with slow-paced, ponderous stares from the camera, it's a cineaste's dream come true. Aaltra is not cinema vérité, but it's done in that tradition, filmed on location with little director intervention. The film is about the tenuous relationship between the non-handicapped and the handicapped. It begins with a confrontation between two rural neighbors who have little in common one operates a harvester; the other telecommutes to nearby Paris. A silly dispute leads them to come to blows, and in the confusion of their foolish brawl, a piece of farm equipment collapses on them, paralyzing both from the waist down. After leaving the hospital, they meet again while traveling, and this time, having very much in common, they set out together rolling their wheelchairs toward their destination. What ensues is a refreshing, funny take on a road movie. Mostly, we see the pair solicit help from strangers and then exploit the strangers' sympathies. One of the funniest scenes involves a sympathetic motocross star lending one of the pair his special bike that can be ridden without the use of one's legs for a three-minute ride. Hours later, after a frantic, enraged search for the stolen motorbike, the owner finds his precious machine and the rider in a ditch. A screaming tirade ends with, "It's people like you that give fucking people in wheelchairs a bad fucking name." It's this dichotomy that Aaltra explores so keenly and where its documentary style thoroughly delivers. We never find out the names of the two men. The only difference between us and the strangers they encounter is that we saw their lives before the accident. But like most movies interested in the truth, Aaltra doesn't start with the answer in mind. And like most good road movies, Aaltra finishes with a few revelations and a trunk full of more interesting questions. (Saturday, November 12, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 13, at 1 p.m. at AMC Coral Ridge.) Cottrell
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Lost Dogs Films from the U.K. seem to come in two speeds: slow, as in careful dramas and character studies (Howard's End, Secrets & Lies), and fast, as in the recent wave of highly stylized, plot-driven flicks, with loads of eccentric characters and fast-action cuts (Trainspotting). Falling into the latter category is Lost Dogs, a film yearning to channel the mojo of a director like Guy Ritchie. The action opens with the exploits of ne'er-do-well Spook (Martin Trenaman), who teams up with his hippie girlfriend, Nora (Karen Graham), and slightly mad anarchist Dennis (Tom Watt) to nab and hold ransom a set of prized bulldogs from a wealthy antiques dealer and his wife. But the dog-owning couple are having money troubles of their own, with wise-guy loan sharks coming around to collect on unpaid debts. When the couples' son, a tightly wound police detective, steps in, the dognappers get more than they bargained for. With its bungling criminals and darkly comic plot twists, Lost Dogs has set itself up for obvious comparisons to other Brit-flick capers like Ritchie's Snatch, which is both good and bad. The film manages to maintain a certain amount of suspense and surprise, which is good. But with characters that are either annoying or unsympathetic, you may not care. It has a made-for-TV feel, with pacing not as consistent as a Ritchie film and plot turns not as clever. But you can still manage to have a little low-rent fun along the way. (Friday, November 11, at 9:30 p.m. at AMC Coral Ridge.) John Anderson