That FLIFF Fling
Editor's note: The sprawling Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival continues through November 21. Here are reviews of some of the films that will be shown this week.
Where have all the great Italian directors gone? And what's happening with Italian cinema post-Fellini when the most notable film produced in the past ten years was 1994's Il Postino, a waifish and sentimental remake? And while the film was pleasing enough and certainly played well with American audiences, there's been nothing substantial of late for the Italian film industry to hang its hat on.
In Liberi, directed by Gianluca Maria Tavarelli, Italians will just have to keep looking for their next Sergio Leone. Not that Liberi is a bad film. It ultimately wins you over with its warmth and charm about those first difficult steps into adulthood, despite its problems. But it falls most definitely in the camp of latter-day Italian films that are largely whimsical, romantic, and insubstantial.
The story follows 20-year-old Vince, newly liberated from a high school sweetheart, who suddenly finds his hometown life much too small and confining. His father, Cenzo, has just lost his factory job of 30 years, and his mother, Paola, has had enough of her mopey husband and boring village and leaves for a new life in a seaside resort town. Vince follows her, gets a job in a restaurant, and tries to figure out what to do with his life. He meets the ravishing Genny and tries to figure out what to do with her while dealing with his parents' marital troubles (Cenzo arrives at Vince's doorstep to try to win back Paola).
It's a simple film with smart dialogue that captures reasonably well the confusions of young adulthood. But it relies too much on narration from Vince and feels aimless at times, getting bogged down with way too many scenes of Vince helping Genny overcome her panic attacks. By the end, though, the film redeems itself with several sweet and sentimental scenes. And that's pleasant. (7 p.m. Friday, October 29, Regal Delray; 3 p.m. Thursday, November 11, AMC Coral Ridge 10; 108 minutes; in Italian with English subtitles.) -- John Anderson
The Accidental Diva
The fascinating title character of this straightforward, 60 Minutes-style documentary is a sort of Cinderella of the opera world: Veronica Villaroel, a working-class girl from Santiago, Chile, who's transformed into an international star. Writer-producer-director Lydia Bendersky shows us images chronicling Villaroel's rise to fame before backing up for a portrait of the artist as a young party animal, dancing the night away to 1970s disco. Then comes a Zen moment in the shower, singing along to the Bee Gees' "Staying Alive" and realizing she has a voice. That soprano voice and her perfect ear turn out to be her passport out of class-bound Chile and into show business. After paying her dues in zarzuela (light Spanish-language opera), television, and film, Villaroel -- who insists at one point, "I never wanted to be an opera singer" -- finds herself a protégé of the likes of Plácido Domingo and Renata Scotto. Fame and fortune are not without their costs, however, as Villaroel realizes the loneliness of life as an international transient -- even when she returns to visit her beloved family, it's clear that in a very real sense, she can never go home again. (8:30 p.m. Thursday, October 28, Regal Delray; 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 10, AMC Coral Ridge 10; 58 minutes; in English and Spanish with English subtitles.) -- Michael Mills
Cuba Mía: Portrait of an All-Woman Orchestra
This modest but respectable 2002 documentary from Cuba is obviously a labor of love for writer-producer-director Cecilia Domeyko, who gives us snippets of the lives of nine musicians and their conductor as they prepare for their chamber orchestra's annual December concert. The group -- named the Camerata Romeu after the conductor (and the film's narrator), Zenaida Romeu -- is made up of ordinary women brought together under extraordinary circumstances. Not only is the ensemble all female but it specializes in the music of Cuba and other Latin American countries. The musicians also play from memory -- no sheet music is allowed beyond the rehearsal phase. Romeu, whose husband is the orchestra's manager, originally envisioned a full symphony orchestra composed entirely of women, but you never get the sense that settling for a smaller configuration forced a compromise in her standards. The women are uniformly talented and dedicated, and when they play, the emphasis on Hispanic compositions is a startling reminder that there's much more to the world of classical music than the work of dead white European men. Despite the occasional tinniness of the sound recording, the music itself is first-rate. (7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 28, Regal Delray; 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 10, AMC Coral Ridge 10; 56 minutes; in Spanish with English subtitles.) -- Michael Mills
There's nothing like a good sociopolitical satire a week before Election Day to get the juices flowing, especially in a year with a presidential race as bitterly contentious as this one. And while we've seen our share of documentaries this election season on everything from the Iraq War to swiftboats to Dubya's inglorious past, a good satire can be an even more effective means of getting a point across, if only because the message comes wrapped in a cloak of entertainment in which the first priority is laughs.
Such is the idea with the independent feature Terrorists, a satirical comedy on life after 9/11. Set in the fictional City of Junction, any small-town America, the story unfolds when overzealous police Chief Curtis Gorfurter gets the notion that the town is ripe for a terrorist attack and raises the alert level from brick to tangerine. At the same time, an unwitting graduate student arrives to study the town's ludicrous stool -- a three-legged example as tall as a water tower -- that sits on the edge of town and verify it as the world's largest. His suspicious behavior -- being swarthy and taking pictures -- is enough to send the chief and half the town into a frenzy.
Written and directed by Jay Martel, who consulted on Fahrenheit 9/11 and has worked with Michael Moore on other projects, the idea for Terrorists is a good one -- like an episode of The Andy Griffith Show where Barney Fife deputizes Otis and Gomer to catch a big-city criminal. But with amateur actors delivering unfunny dialogue and overused jokes (like a line about "partying on the stool" that's barely humorous the first time around), there are not enough laughs to hide the director's true conceit -- to expose the absurdity of homeland security -- and the film falls flat. Filmed in digital video, Terrorists has the look and feel of a show produced for Comedy Central that didn't quite make the cut. (5:30 p.m. Sunday, October 31, Regal Delray; 5:30 p.m. Sunday, November 14, AMC Coral Ridge 10; 72 minutes.) -- John Anderson
Still Doing It
To hear these ladies tell it, sex after age 65 is incredible. Wrinkles be damned! There are no periods, no menstrual cramps, can't get knocked up! Orgasms come easier, last longer, and blow your mind more readily. "I became much more sexual after menopause," one senior citizen says. "I think I'm going to get involved with some kinky stuff."
True -- a movie about grannies getting it on has serious gross-out potential. But Still Doing It, a documentary starring women in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, black and white, gay and straight, comes off as fascinating and funny. Face it: Old-people sex is a subject we'd be ultracurious about -- if we weren't so afraid of it.
Unless you count the naked 65-year-old taking a shower, the visuals aren't particularly exciting -- footage of women gardening, writing, or taking the grandkids for a walk. But that's OK, because it's the interviews that suck you in. Subjects opine about plastic surgery, death, and pleasuring themselves: "Thank God for these little vibrators! They're marvelous!" A woman in a wheelchair talks about nookie in the nursing home. Lesbians describe their decision to come out to their adult children. The 73-year-old poses nude with her boyfriend -- a six-foot-tall 26-year-old. "I don't give a rat's ass what anybody thinks," she says. "I've never had a more compatible lover."
Mostly upbeat but sometimes sad, the movie does convey the isolation of old women in a youth-obsessed world. It offers grim statistics about the unbalanced male-female ratio of older adults (widows outnumber widowers five-to-one) -- but interesting predictions about what might happen when the liberated baby boomers hit retirement age (man-sharing, anyone?). Since we're all slowly marching toward the AARP and then the grave, we might as well deal in a no-apologies way -- and keep on "doing it." (5:30 p.m. Saturday, October 30, at Regal Delray; 5 p.m. Friday, November 12, AMC Coral Ridge; 54 minutes.) -- Deirdra Funcheon
Prey for Rock & Roll
You know the deal: To gain success in a rock 'n' roll band, it helps to have looks. Once men hit that certain age when they might want to hang up their axes and retire to the garage, it's still acceptable for them to stuff themselves into leather pants and flick their tongues at teenage girls. For women, though, the industry is not so forgiving. Such is the dilemma of Prey for Rock & Roll, a film about Clam Dandy, an all-girl glam punk band in L.A., and its leader, Jacki (played by Gina Gershon), a tattooed and bleached tough-as-nails broad whose impending 40th birthday makes her reexamine the years she's spent playing her heart out at clubs.
Along the way, we meet the rest of her band: Tracy, the bass player (Drea de Matteo), is a trust-fund baby moonlighting as a poster child for Narcotics Anonymous, with the obligatory controlling boyfriend; Faith (Lori Petty) is "a guitarist by night, a guitar teacher by day" and just happens to be dating Sally (Shelly Cole), the cute-as-a-button drummer who is part Shirley Temple and part Keith Moon.
With various scenes of sex, drugs, and tossed off three-chord rock as the backdrop, Jacki mulls her Catch-22: get signed and be marginally successful or jump out of the great rock 'n' roll swindle with a shred of dignity left. At the beginning of the film, Jacki ponders her dilemma in a monologue so colored with cynicism, it could be one of her tattoos: "Bitter rock chick in a band... bitter rock chick without a band. Either way, bitter and rock 'n' roll end up together."
Bitter comes out a lot in the film. Issues of rape, molestation, emotional and domestic abuse, and exploitation are recurring themes for the female characters. But again and again, the point is made that just, ya know, rocking out will help these women through it. We get to see only a sliver of these women's emotions, their confusion, the joy they have for playing, so any feelings of empathy are fettered by the stereotypical male behavior and the women's acceptance of it. Prey would be a decent flick if it could translate leather, bleach, and petty revenge into true grit. (9:10 p.m. Thursday, October 28, Regal Delray; 9:30 p.m. Sunday, November 14, AMC Coral Ridge, 104 minutes) -- Audra Schroeder
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