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Film Reviews

125 Movies!

Hope you didn't plan to work on your tan this week. It's time for the ninth-annual Palm Beach International Film Festival, which promises 125 features, documentaries, and shorts -- including 15 world premieres, four U. S. premieres, and 19 Florida premieres -- and free events like an outdoor, summer-loving Grease sing-along. Even if your doppelgänger is in town, the two of you couldn't actually see all 125 films in seven days.

Indie queen Nia Vardalos stars in the festival's opening-night feature, Connie and Carla (see review below). Then there's the world premiere of Shut Up and Kiss Me, which was filmed where it's set -- in Palm Beach County. The movie, about two mismatched friends helping each other through dating adventures, is based on the friendship of executive producers/writers Howard Flamm and Steven Chase, who work out of Sunrise. About the challenges of making movies in Florida, Flamm says, "Films made around here are usually tiny or huge, like Bad Boys II. We spent just enough -- got some stars -- but have a more independent vision. For films like ours to be done, you usually need an area with a film culture -- which is only a seedling here right now."

Other festival movies filmed in the land of Jeb include features Off the Chain (Delray Beach), Dropped Frames (Orlando), and Redemption (Palm Beach and Martin counties); documentaries The Yoko Theory Documentary (about the South Florida band) and Lolita: Slave to Entertainment (about whale captivity at the Miami Seaquarium); and shorts Love Thy Neighbor (Broward County), A Hard Place (about the very local topic of hurricanes), Breakfast with My Love (Coral Springs), and A Reminder (West Palm Beach).

Most of the festivals' flicks will be shown at Mizner Sunrise Cinemas (301 Plaza Real, Boca Raton) and the Muvico Parisian 20 -- CityPlace (545 Hibiscus St., West Palm Beach). Get tickets at the theater box offices. For more information, visit www.pbifilmfest.org or call 561-362-0003. -- David Amber

Connie and Carla

When we first see the title characters of this penny-dreadful imitation of one of Hollywood's most inimitable comedies, they are loud-mouthed junior high girls mugging in the school cafeteria. A minute later, they are loud-mouthed grownups screaming out show tunes in a passengers' lounge at O'Hare Airport while half a dozen jet-lagged businessfolk snooze. Five minutes after that, these goofy showbiz wannabes are suddenly on the lam from a Chicago drug dealer who wrongly thinks they've filched a kilo of his coke. Starting to sound familiar? Inevitably, the two fugitives flee (loudly) to Los Angeles, where, in a lousy writer's idea of a contemporary twist on an old theme, they disguise themselves as drag queens in a gay nightclub.

At that moment, a fantasy of deliverance and delight sprang to my mind. To wit: In the next scene, Tony Curtis, the only surviving principal from Some Like It Hot, storms into the joint and does a Mrs. Bates number on the stage-struck impostors with his huge kitchen knife. The movie's over.

Alas, Connie and Carla is just getting started. There are 80 more minutes of torture to endure. Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe would be appalled. Connie and Carla doesn't do violence just to the memory of Wilder's brilliant sex farce; it's so clumsy, it might give cross-dressing itself a bad name -- and not just among the Rush Limbaugh-Bill O'Reilly set.

The perpetrator and plagiarist here is Nia Vardalos, the out-of-nowhere writer/actress who scored an unexpected success with My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Connie and Carla has the unmistakable odor of a dusted-off vanity project bankrolled by a studio (Universal) that hopes to catch her while she's hot.

Not. As an actress, Vardalos (who plays the overwrought Connie) seems incapable of restraining any impulse, no matter how florid or garish, and her choice of a screeching-mate is even more unfortunate. As Carla, Toni Collette maintains such a high pitch of hysteria throughout this hour and a half that you may expect her inch-long eyelashes to pop off her face at any minute or her lavishly bewigged head to simply explode. It is one of the movie's many conceits that corn-fed Connie and Carla not only convince a far hipper, more observant transvestite crowd in West Hollywood that they too are men impersonating women, but they wow the locals with their unbridled caterwauling. The struggling club, the Handle Bar, is suddenly packed. But if you think Liza Minnelli's theatrical posing has always been over the top, wait'll you get a load of Vardalos attacking the scenery like a starved hyena or Collette shrieking like a banshee with her jaw three inches from the camera. Stagecraft is one thing, phony-boys; you gotta bring it down.

Accessories to the crime include an uncomfortable-looking David Duchovny, who bravely essays the part of a bewildered straight guy whose older brother (Stephen Spinella) has vanished into the L.A. drag queen scene and who falls for Connie without quite knowing why. Agent Mulder tapping his foot to a gay-chorus version of "Nothing Like a Dame"? Go figure. Happily, the best, most authentic performers here are the real cross-dressers, an irony Billy Wilder himself would likely savor. (7 p.m. Thursday, April 15, Muvico Parisian) -- Bill Gallo

Grace and the Storm

Pipe's not such a bad guy. I mean, he moves major amounts of illegal drugs, and he's not above having his bodyguard, a bullet-headed dude named Roman, gut-punch a street dealer because the payoffs are too slow. But Pipe (Christopher Amitrano) is a real softy. Really. In this veteran drug dealer's chest beats a sensitive heart. He keeps a picture of his ex-girlfriend Ashley in a dresser drawer. And he muses about leading a straight life. "I'm going to buy a tie and a fuckin' alarm clock," he says, only half joking. And there's the God thing, which keeps popping up in conversation (and in his voice-over narration). This is all fascinating enough -- underworld angst, a complex goodness at the heart of darkness, a story that would have thrilled Graham Greene -- but writer/director Christopher Baldi keeps slipping into unintentional parody. It's classic noir with a frisson of silliness. For instance, Pipe suddenly plugs two cops after realizing their bound-and-gagged "perpetrators" are the real cops. "Most bad guys don't sweat when you tie them up," he says, smoking gun in hand. "Only cops do." The story centers around the pursuit of a drug called "Grace," a narcotic so powerful that it offers glimpses of paradise. It's like being present at your own conception, the story goes. "I've proven the existence of God," says a blitzed-out druggie named Rich Karma (Dean Cameron), the only character in the movie who actually gets to try the stuff. Pipe -- who, as played by Amitrano, is a bit of a stiff and, worse, really hard to like -- sees a big shipment of the stuff as his road to retirement. But Pipe's associates start turning up as corpses, the saintly Ashley (Ashley Yeater) reappears, Roman (Clarence T. Jones Jr.) has a sinister secret -- and, hell, it wouldn't be noir if things ended happily. (2 p.m. Saturday, April 17, Muvico Parisian; see listings for other showings) -- Edmund Newton

Girls from Ipanema

Rio de Janeiro has changed a lot since, 40 years ago, Vinicius de Moraes and Tom Jobim penned that bossa nova classic about the tall and tan beauty strolling to the beach. Australian documentarian Wendy Dent makes that clear right from the get-go. Rio has become one of the most dangerous cities in the world, with 800 murders a month, most of them related to drug trafficking. Overflowing favelas spill into rich neighborhoods, homeless kids are assassinated by death squads, and diseases like dengue fever run rampant. So, we're finally going to get a true, up-to-date picture of this lovely city, which First World tourists have glorified as a soft-focused mecca of tropical sensuality, right? Wrong. What we get here -- after the alarming information at the start -- is the same old drivel, with booty shots of Ipanema bathing beauties, pseudo-philosophizing about the Brazilian fun-loving character, and lots of rambling conversation about nothing. Do you like the really skimpy "dental floss" bikinis, or do you think it's sexier to cover up more? Which is better -- bossa nova or disco? There's even a long, unexplained sequence of Rio-at-sunset shots that the local tourist and visitors bureau might have produced. There's one riveting scene, with a teenaged street rapper leaping into spontaneous recitation about Rio's homeless children, "the abandoned boys who wake up with the sun," but then the film resumes its unbridled silliness of runway models and Ipanema boutiques. Shots of beautiful Brazilian buttocks make you happy? This is the movie for you. (10:15 p.m. Sunday, April 18, Muvico Parisian; see listings for other showings) -- Edmund Newton

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