Film Reviews

Out of the Dark

Wouldn't you know it? I finally saw a selection from the "18th Annual Fort Lauderdale Film Festival" that really knocked me out, only to discover that it was too late to review before it played at the festival. Such are the vagaries of festival screenings. No matter. Since it appears to be a likely candidate for at least a limited commercial run in the near future -- the gay-friendly Sunrise Gateway is probably its most likely venue -- I'll weigh in now and recommend The Event as an indie flick worthy of your attention.

It's a low-budget black comedy (the humor gets darker as it progresses) about an HIV-afflicted young gay man (Don McKellar) whose meds are no longer working, prompting him to plan his own "death with dignity" exit party. Yes, we've seen it before -- in Randal Kleiser's uneven but moving 1996 It's My Party -- but writer-director Thom Fitzgerald structures The Event as a nonlinear narrative that becomes increasingly powerful as it builds to its inevitable emotionally devastating conclusion. The cast includes indie favorite Parker Posey as an unsympathetic assistant D.A. and Olympia Dukakis in yet another extraordinary performance, as McKellar's mother. See it when and if you get the chance.

No Safe Place: Six Lives Forever Changed

This straightforward documentary was made for the Jewish Television Network and runs less than an hour, but it packs a wallop, despite some blatant tugs at our heartstrings. Its subjects are half a dozen Israelis who have learned, painfully, to live with terrorism as a fact of daily life, and the variety of their experiences reinforces the idea that no one is ever completely safe in such an environment. One woman was at a Jerusalem bus stop with her two children and her mother when a suicide bomber struck, killing the mother and one of the children. Then we meet a 7-year-old boy who lost his father in the 2002 Passover Massacre in the Park Hotel in Netanya. Footage of a woman in her early 20s dancing vigorously at a party is juxtaposed with footage of her now, missing both legs after a suicide bomber blew himself up at a restaurant where she was having a pizza with a friend, who died in the explosion. A bus driver talks about the constant fear he and his family endure because of his line of work. One of the most wrenching stories is that of an 18-year-old girl who survived a bus bombing that burned more than half of her body and required her to undergo eight skin transplants. The movie concludes with a teenage boy's achingly articulate account of how his father, who was on the way to pick him up, was ambushed and killed. (Sunday, November 9, 1:30 p.m., Cinema Paradiso; 49 minutes)

King of Bluegrass: The Life and Times of Jimmy Martin

There are good reasons why you may not have heard of Jimmy Martin, the subject of this roughly hourlong documentary from first-time filmmaker George Goehl. One, Martin comes across, as the movie presents him, as an obnoxious blowhard whose main claim to fame is that he has never managed to become a regular at the Grand Ole Opry. Two, contrary to the picture's claims on his behalf, Martin doesn't seem to be an especially gifted musician himself, although he has a knack for surrounding himself with solid musical talent and ingratiating himself to bigger and better stars. He earned his stripes as a backup singer and guitarist for bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, but the 76-year-old Tennessean -- whose lack of modesty is astonishing -- never scaled the heights to which he aspired. Country stars from Tom T. Hall to Marty Stuart sing his praises, but in the end, Martin still seems like a bitter old man who has never forgiven the Opry for snubbing him. (Sunday, November 9, 5:30 p.m., Cinema Paradiso; 66 minutes)

Mulher Polícia (Police Woman)

If you can figure out why the title of this Portuguese drama refers to a character who doesn't even enter the picture until very near the end, and then only as a secondary character, drop me a line. I'd like to hear some theories. The movie I saw was the story of a mother and her 9-year-old son, a budding burglar whose several brushes with the law have him on the verge of being sent to a reformatory. The panicky mom decides instead to flee, the boy in tow, to Lisbon. An older girl who's friends with the boy accompanies them briefly. Pretty much everything that can go wrong on the road does, right up to the film's sad bitter end. There are poignant moments scattered here and there, and director Joaquim Sapinho has a nice feel for the landscape of rural Portugal. But the three main characters, attractive as they are, are so sullen and withdrawn that it's difficult to muster much sympathy for them, despite their plight. If any of this sounds vaguely appealing, by all means catch this one at the festival -- given its overall bleakness and the especially grim ending, I can't imagine the film having any commercial potential whatsoever. (Thursday, November 13, 9 p.m., Parker Playhouse; 84 minutes; in Portuguese, with English subtitles)

Un Secreto de Esperanza (A Beautiful Secret)

A shaky beginning and ending only slightly mar this Mexican drama, which chronicles the unusual friendship that develops between an adolescent boy and a mysterious elderly woman inhabiting a crumbling estate widely believed to be haunted. The story is told in flashback, with our first glimpse of the protagonist, Jorge, as a grown man standing in the rain and holding a bunch of flowers. Then we see him as a 12-year-old in 1984, dancing around to the Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited." There are some strange Omen-esque moments involving the so-called haunted house and some plot contrivances before Jorge meets Esperanza. She turns out to be a reclusive eccentric, a writer who once kept company with Dalí, Luis Buñuel, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and their ilk before walking away from fame and fortune; she was also the first Latin American woman to win a Nobel Prize for literature. The boy is beautifully portrayed by Jaime Aymerich, but much of the movie's resonance comes from another bit of inspired casting: Katy Jurado as the enigmatic Esperanza. Jurado, who died in July at the age of 79, had been a film star in her native Mexico and a movie journalist for years when she was "discovered" in 1951 by Western director Budd Boetticher, who cast her in The Bullfighter and the Lady. She went on to have a spotty Hollywood career, including High Noon (1952) and Broken Lance (1954), for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination -- the only Mexican performer to achieve that distinction. She was also briefly married to Ernest Borgnine. She's exceptional in this, her swan song to the movies, which features long luxurious stretches with Esperanza simply reminiscing; the audience is likely to be as entranced as the wide-eyed young Jorge. (Sunday, November 16, 3 p.m., Parker Playhouse; 128 minutes; in Spanish with English subtitles)

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Michael Mills