These reviews are part of New Times' continuing coverage of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.
Fling — Formerly called Lie To Me, this is one of those loathsome movies full of improbably beautiful young people in improbably beautiful apartments having improbable amounts of sex with other improbably beautiful young people. The premise — "hot couple in open relationship experience difficulties when they begin shagging people hotter than their partners" — reeks of "high concept" marketeering. But the movie's a lot better than that. Thank a stable of combustible actors, especially Courtney Ford and Steve Sandvoss, who's found both dramatic wisdom and grit since he played a closeted gay Mormon in Latter Days. These guys know, maybe from experience, the volatility of sex, youth, and utter amorality, and every frame of Fling is drenched in danger and desire. Mostly desire, at first. Our unheroes float from one artsy party to another (all their parties are artsy: Sandvoss' character is a novelist and all of his friends are smart and literary, though their conversations never linger over anything so unsexy as literature), fucking and drinking and fucking again. Director John Stuart Muller actually makes you think that these solipsistic dick monkeys might somehow do all right for themselves: unfettered hedonism looks like fun. They really seem to know what they're talking about when they explain how passé jealousy really is and how love cannot be confined by anything so medieval as monogamy. But Muller has a card up his sleeve: human nature. And when human nature comes into play, all the intellectual abstractions become merely so many pretty words. Then Fling turns ugly, and you realize that the filmmakers' intentions were never to overwhelm us with sex, but to seduce us with it, and then take us someplace else. (Friday, November 7, 9 p.m., Cinema Paradiso, 97 minutes) Brandon K. ThorpClick below to see a trailer of Fling
The Map Reader — "You can go anywhere with a map," says the teenage protagonist of this coming-of-age story. "You can do anything if you know something about a place." Well, maybe. The would-be cartographer and moody title character is Michael (nicely underplayed by Jordan Selwyn), a small town New Zealander with not a lot going for him. His dad, a pilot, split years ago, and his boozy mom (Rebecca Gibney, who's also one of the producers) means well but is mostly ineffectual. Michael appears to have a mild crush on a gal pal (Mikaila Hutchison) but can no more bring himself to act on it than he can embark on the journeys teasingly promised by his vast collection of maps. He's in a rut, and as a few flashbacks to him as a relentlessly serious little boy demonstrate, this is not a new development. An American version of this story might find Michael on a hilarious quest to lose his virginity; here, getting laid for the first time is merely a pleasant diversion that occurs unexpectedly while the kid is getting acquainted with a bubbly young blind woman (Bonnie Soper, who brings to mind Gwyneth Paltrow). Harold Brodie, who wrote, directed, and edited, has a nice feel for atmosphere, and although a few times he comes close to squandering the good will he generates, he makes Michael appealing enough to carry the ever-so-slight material through to its satisfying, if not entirely unexpected, conclusion. (Saturday, November 8, 3 p.m., Cinema Paradiso, 90 minutes.) Michael MillsClick below to see a trailer of The Map Reader
I Do & I Don't — The best thing about I Do & I Don't is Jane Lynch. She plays Nora Stelmack, the wife of Dick Stelmack (Matt Servito), and their union could be the basis of a fine film all its own. In I Do & I Don't, however, they are supporting characters in a tale of a far less interesting couple: two soon-to-be-marrieds directed by the Catholic church to take "marriage counseling" from the Stelmacks in preparation for their nuptials. That other couple, played by Bryan Callen and Alexie Gilmore, has no spark, no fire. They are perennial straight-people for the dysfunctional Stelmacks, and their allegedly "outrageous" antics are tame and predictable. Try not to laugh as Callen's character, the unlucky Bob Jacobs, slams his car into his would-be mother-in-law's Mercedes, or spills wine all over her expensive pantsuit. It's Meet The Parents, minus the inspiration. The Stelmacks, though — they are an artful study in the grotesque. Dick takes weekly trips to a doctor to have his prostate "milked." In a vacuum, a detail like that would be merely repellent. Surround it with other, equally repellent details, however, and it becomes funny: the Stelmacks' every scene is a protracted rape of propriety and good taste, and it's exhilarating. Lynch is a drunken old cougar with an overwhelming sex drive and no dignity at all. She has the eyes of a particularly resentful corpse, and comes alive only when she senses that some kind of rough, illicit sex may be in the offing. She does this so joyfully, with such verve and frequency, that by the end of the film she's succeeded in making dessication look sexy. Maybe that's not the highest goal to which a movie can aspire, but it's something. (Friday, November 7, 7:15 p.m., Cinema Paradiso, 83 minutes) Brandon K. ThorpClick below to see a trailer of I Do & I Don't
Strength and Honour — This is an Irish movie about a boxer named Sean Kelleher, played by Michael Madsen, who has not set foot in a ring since accidentally killing his sparring partner seven years ago. Now, he is a widower trying to rear his young son, and he pays his bills by working as a mechanic at a car dealership. Despite his regrettable boxing slip-up, Madsen's character is beloved everywhere he goes. "You're the best we've got," his boss tells him; "Your money's no good here," a bartender tells him. And so on. Kelleher's son has a congenital heart defect that will kill him in a year or so; his only hope is to get to LA to have experimental surgery, which will cost some $300,000. Kelleher has no money. However, very soon there will be an underground fighting tournament — called "The Puck" — that will award $250,000 Euros to the winner. Problem is, only "Travelers" can participate. A "Traveler," apparently, is a kind of mean, alcoholic gypsy that lives in an RV and fights all day. So, Kelleher buys himself a doublewide, and is subject to relentless scorn from his new Traveler family as he trains to unseat the reigning Puck — a comic book villain of a character named "Smasher," played by Vinnie Jones (whose noodley arms look more like an accountant's than a boxer's). You never see much of Kelleher's training; you don't see much fighting. You do see scenes in which a Traveler boy tells Kelleher: "You're like the father I never had." You do see a scene in which Kelleher's old trainer tells a boxing newbie: "(Kelleher) was the best I ever had," to which Kelleher responds, "I'm retired. It's all over for me, now." You do see the haunted look in Michael Madsen's eyes as, midway through the film, he realizes that yes, he has actually signed on to a movie about a fighting tournament run by an underworld cabal of super-violent Irish trailer people. If you visit the film's IMDB profile, you will see offended Celts asking each other in wonderment, "Is this the worst movie ever?" You are unlikely to see the end credits: My guess is, you'll leave long before they start rolling. (Saturday, November 8, 7 p.m., Cinema Paradiso, 90 minutes) Brandon K. ThorpClick below to see a trailer of Strength and Honour