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4/14/2005

Film > Movies

SWEET EMULSION

 

AFTER INNOCENCE
Directed by Jessica Sanders
7 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Enzian Theater

Lenny Bruce, the legendary comedian and social commentator of the 1950s and '60s, once opined: "In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls." It's a piquant phraseology, albeit one whose black humor could easily be lost on an innocent man who has been languishing in a prison cell for a couple of decades.

The documentary After Innocence follows the after-jail experiences of a handful of seven such men, whose exoneration for crimes they did not commit only came about through the interference and sponsorship of the Innocence Project, a group of lawyers dedicated to freeing the wrongfully imprisoned via the use of DNA evidence. Director Sanders (Sing!) chronicles her subjects' battle against the American system of (in)justice that put them behind bars for years, based upon faulty eyewitness testimony and abetted by poor defense lawyers, overzealous prosecutors and misguided judges. It's a sobering but ultimately uplifting tale of the use of advocacy and science in the pursuit of truth and fairness.

What is most fascinating is the lack of bitterness and anger displayed by all seven of the freed prisoners, whose lives were ruined by a legal system that took them from their friends and families and then offered no apologies, compensation or government support after their hard-won release. The film is an evenhanded but nonetheless startling depiction of a system that isn't merely blind – it's deaf, dumb and stupid, as well.

— Al Krulick

APRÈS VOUS (AFTER YOU)
Directed by Pierre Salvadori
6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Regal Winter Park Village Stadium 20
2 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Regal

Taking its cues from the old saw that no good deed goes unpunished, Après Vous has enough honest laughs to earn it a place in the pantheon of well-regarded French-language comedies – The Dinner Game, for instance – that find their humor in mounting complications. In this case, it's a suicide attempt by unlucky-in-love sad sack Louis (José Garcia) that grabs the attention of Good Samaritan Antoine (Daniel Auteuil), a maitre d' at a posh restaurant who makes the grave error of taking sympathy on the wannabe corpse. A temporary cohabitation arrangement follows, with Antoine volunteering all manner of favors for his new roomie, from setting him up in an undeserved restaurant job to intervening on his behalf with his estranged ex. Naturellement, all this do-gooding translates into nothing but trouble for poor Antoine, whose own life starts to go into the dumpster with frightening speed even as Louis is finding his feet.

Director Salvadori's dryly malicious take on the buddy picture sags a bit around the two-thirds mark – he's attempted to hang more on the film than its basic framework can support – but there are still plenty of rib-tickling highlights, like a wonderfully uncomfortable pantomime routine performed by Auteuil. Besides, a sweet center rests beneath the film's crusty exterior; Salvadori clearly wants us to recognize that self-sacrifice is a noble ideal no matter how likely it is to put one's croquettes in a vice.

— Steve Schneider

CAMA ADENTRO (LIVE-IN MAID)
Directed by Jorge Gaggero
4:45 p.m. Friday, April 15, at Regal
1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Enzian

Financial crises in Argentina are like blizzards in North Dakota: You might hear about them, but rarely do you realize how they affect people's lives. In modern-day Buenos Aires, fading divorcee Beba Pujol (Norma Aleandro) struggles to make ends meet by selling off trinkets and Mary Kay cosmetics. It's been months since she's paid her faithful live-in maid, Dora (Norma Argentina), who is fed up and could use a bit of cash herself. The peso tends to ride a roller coaster, but this week it's down; now Beba can't even keep up on her liquor bills, never mind placate the electric company. Though she hits up everyone she knows, push eventually comes to shove, and she has to downsize. But even her new apartment is unacceptable: The piano won't fit. Ever generous, Beba takes her furniture down to Dora's little rural town, and there she finds her ultimate answer: She'll move in with her old maid. Want to bet she doesn't pay there, either?

Director Gaggero builds this story of loyalty and commitment slowly – so slowly that you occasionally wonder if it's going anywhere, and find yourself wishing he would compress time just a bit more. Beba and Dora are both sympathetic, as are the members of the loosely coupled social circle that revolves around each. But you sometimes feel as if you're watching a soap opera and could flip to another channel to check the weather without missing anything.

— Al Pergande

CRÓNICAS
Directed by Sebastian Cordero
9:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, at Regal
5 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Regal

Actor John Leguizamo has all the right moves to play hero reporter Manolo Bonilla (think a young, taut Geraldo Rivera), the star of a sensational news show produced by a Spanish-speaking TV station based in Miami. (The film is in Spanish with English subtitles.) Ego gets the better of Bonilla when he lands in a poor village in Ecuador to document the burial of yet another victim of the "monster of Babahoyo," a serial child killer and rapist who's never been caught. Bonilla's crew – a sexy producer and a laid-back guerrilla cameraman – becomes part of the grisly story when a man in the village accidentally runs over the twin brother of the just-buried boy. The TV camera captures barbaric footage of the angry mob pulling the unresisting man (who mumbles a Bible phrase or two) from his car, brutally beating him and setting him on fire in front of his pregnant wife before the authorities rescue him and place him in jail.

Bonilla's boss back in Miami eats up the coverage and orders the team to head for Colombia to interview some drug lords. But when Bonilla instead sticks around to talk to the imprisoned man, he becomes caught up in his mysterious knowledge of the monster. As it turns out, they're both victims of faulty insight. This suspenseful film and its star are as sharp as razors as they delve into the dark corners of life.

— Lindy T. Shepherd

FEARLESS FREAKS –
FEATURING THE FLAMING LIPS

Directed by Bradley Beesley
Midnight Friday, April 15, at Regal
7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Regal

The Flaming Lips sing feel-good songs about death and alienation, accompanied by a stage show cobbled together from twinkle lights, Styrofoam and bunny suits. Director Beesley's love letter to the band shares their lopsided vision of homemade nirvana; it's sweet, funny and occasionally terrifying.

Shot over 16 years, this film comprises interviews shot by Beesley as well as footage of very early Lips shows and interviews with the band's friends, relatives and countless admirers: Gibby Haynes, Thurston Moore, Beck, Jack White, etc. Home movies from the band members' childhoods (especially head Lip Wayne Coyne's dazed and confused adolescence) illuminate the family atmosphere that is an integral element of the band today. Coyne is straightforward in his discussion of the various drug habits, imprisonments and suicides in the band members' personal histories; ugliness is as much a part of the Flaming Lips' aesthetic as beauty, and one gets the impression that they don't differentiate as such. Head wounds, waterbugs and evil robots share space in their eccentric universe with sunshine, balloons and Santa Claus. This film will convert the uninitiated into the ranks of the faithful while confirming the allegiance of the already beguiled.

— Jessica Bryce Young

HOUSE OF D
Directed by David Duchovny
7 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Enzian
4:30 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Regal

The once and future Fox Mulder makes many mistakes in his big-screen writing/directing debut, including assigning himself the role of narrator of a coming-of-age tale set in the Greenwich Village of the early 1970s. Duchovny's droning monotone is no match at all with the largely playful story of Tommy Warshaw (Anton Yelchin), a fatherless delivery boy trying to solve the mysteries of puberty while caring for his barely functioning mom (Téa Leoni, the filmmaker's real-life missus – and ain't that a Freudian kick in the head).

Not only is this a movie about a 13-year-old-boy, but it often appears to have been assembled by one, as well: The female characters are drawn without any insight, and the plentiful genitalia jokes are no less lame for being acknowledged as such. Moments of credible tenderness fall victim to Duchovny's amateurish reliance on heavy-handed visual motifs and dialogue. Some of the biggest flubs are in the area of casting: Tommy is supposed to mature into a grown-up character played by Duchovny in the film's framing sequences, but kid actor Yelchin is far too animated to pass for a larval-stage version of old stone-face; he looks and sounds far more likely to one day become Crispin Glover. And Robin Williams is all kinds of wrong as Pappas, Tommy's mentally challenged buddy, who ironically comes off as one of the least retarded characters Williams has ever portrayed.

— Steve Schneider

KUNG FU HUSTLE
Directed by Stephen Chow
7 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Regal

The latest offering from writer/director/producer/action star Chow is his best film yet. Following the highly underrated (and tragically Miram-axed) Shaolin Soccer, Hustle casts the prolific jack-of-all-trades as the unlikely hero of a story set in the slums of 1940s Shanghai. As always, it's Chow's sense of humor that separates the movie from those of other Hong Kong directors. His slapstick leanings, sprinkled with tongue-in-cheek jokes, are funny regardless of language barriers. But what tickles our funny bones the most is the way Chow's style of storytelling breaks stereotypes and social archetypes: Where else can you see two (count 'em!) "gay" kung fu masters, a gang of dancing thugs or a chain-smoking landlady who can kick anyone's ass?

Chow's trademark "props," which appeared in notable early films like God of Cookery and Justice My Foot!, are still here: the ugly girl with horse teeth, the really fat guy, the smart weakling, the very strong but very stupid villain. Some clichés never get old in China. And for this film, they've never been funnier.

Even an homage to 1930s to 1940s-era Looney Tunes cartoons works, thanks to the heavy (but not irritating) use of CGI. Meanwhile, keep your eyes on Yuen Wah and Yuen Qiu, who steal the show in their roles as Landlord and Landlady. (Word has it that they are to play the leads in the upcoming Saint of Mah-Jongg.) It's quite the comeback for Yuen Qiu in particular, who was last seen in 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun.

Don't expect a masterpiece of an action movie, but a masterpiece of a comedy that happens to take the martial arts as its theme. You'll laugh, you'll cry and you just might pee your pants.

— J. J. Marley

MURDERBALL
Directed by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro
7:15 p.m. Thursday, April 14, at Enzian
9 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Regal

Every once in a while, the Florida Film Festival makes a sterling contribution to the can't-believe-I'm-seeing-it school of shock documentary. This year, our jaw muscles are tested by the spectacle of quadriplegics in reinforced wheelchairs mercilessly slamming into each other on a basketball court, sending each other's already diminished bodies hurtling to the floor in a quest for points and prestige.

Such are the ways of quad rugby, formerly known as murderball and a sport highly unlikely to be immortalized on a Wheaties box. As we learn in filmmakers Rubin and Shapiro's vibrant, kinetic doc, the vicious sport has been a global affair for over a decade; the United States has won every international title awarded in that time. (We're No. 1!) In prepping us for an all-important trip to the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, the movie introduces us to some of the game's most fascinating personalities, including Floridian Mark Zupan, who suffered a debilitating accident that inhibited his natural mobility but not his bristly personality. But it's mostly the story of Joe Soares, a polio survivor and Great Santini type who was bounced from the American team, only to take on a coaching assignment with the Canadian squad for the express purpose of humiliating his former compatriots.

Some onscreen titles that could have used a good proofreading don't drastically impede the movie's high-impact approach to visual sophistication. Use is even made of a chair-cam that deposits us in the thick of the carnage. Yet the movie's best special effect is the players' own moxie. Compare their sissy-shunning activities to the Special Olympics at your own risk; as one Athens-bound combatant defiantly declares, "We're not going for a hug. We're going for a fuckin' gold medal."

— Steve Schneider

NINA
Directed by Heitor Dhalia
7:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, at Regal
9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Regal

Nina is sad. Nina is penniless. Nina is hungry. Nina has a landlord from hell who is completely uninterested in her problems and her inability to get her act together. When Nina comes home from her psychedelic rave parties, she finds the refrigerator locked. The quiver of her lower lip suggests her unhappy acceptance of this cruel fate.

Drug-induced paranoid fantasies – exacerbated by insufficient caloric intake and a dream life that suggests some dark, painful childhood traumas – drive Nina deeper into her own wounded psyche. Her more lucid moments are spent creating violent, fetishistic art.

The movie's creepy cinematography, ghoulish characters and graphic, comic-book animation work to create a dreadful vision of São Paulo, Brazil – a place where one weak and lonely soul can find nothing but continued torment and failure. Though Nina's descent into madness was supposedly inspired by Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, director Dhalia's movie is a depressing chronicle of a luckless loser. Who is Nina? How has she come to this pass? And what is the meaning of all those horse-torturing people who invade her dreamscapes? Dhalia doesn't seem to care about answering any of these questions, and it's a 50/50 chance that a viewer of this quirky urban fantasy will likewise stop caring about Nina somewhere along her walk into film-noir insanity.

— Al Krulick

ONE MISSED CALL
Directed by Takashi Miike
7 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Regal
9:30 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Regal

If celluloid pleas for therapy like Audition and Gozu led you to always expect innovative weirdness from Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, be forewarned that his far tamer One Missed Call is yet another pretender to The Ring's crown, with a dash of Final Destination thrown in. This time, it's mysterious cell-phone messages that warn a bunch of college kids of their impending deaths. Not exaggerated enough to qualify as a Sino-Scream send-up, the slowly unfolding story of doom by lifestyle accessory – which really should have been titled The Ring Tone, when you think about it – contains nods to everything from reality-TV voyeurism to Munchausen syndrome by proxy. But all we really learn is that Japanese scream queens and kings can act as poorly as their stateside counterparts.

Subpar subtitling exacerbates the outwardly simple plot's descent into the convoluted, and just when you think Miike may have trumped the Nakata/Verbinski paradigm by gifting his film with a legitimately rewarding conclusion, he tags it all with a pat gesture that manages to both pander and confuse. A few more Missed Opportunities like this one and you can take him out of your memory.

— Steve Schneider

WILD GIRLS GONE
Directed by John Ennis
Midnight Saturday, April 16, at Enzian
10 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Regal

Upright Citizens Brigade "wrote" and star in this tale of Spring Break broken, and the results are … mesmerizingly unfunny, with momentary flashes of amusement. UCB, who are all ex-members of Chicago's ImprovOlympics, remain devoted to the improv form, specifically the long form invented by Second City co-founder Del Close and known as "the Harold" … oh, I'm sorry, did you just fall asleep? See, if you're not an improviser (Don't call 'em comedians!), you aren't going to give a damn about how flawlessly UCB executes not just a 30-minute Harold (its usual time limit), but a two-hour version. All you care about is, is it funny? Only if you enjoy loooong stoner takes and non-sequitur pileups.

Amy Poehler stars as Doreen Moran, a former party girl now married to the sheriff (Matt Walsh) of a Florida beach town. Missing the days when she reigned as the thrice-crowned "White Sands Ass Queen," Doreen now spends her days slugging rum out of the bottle while her husband, a candidate for mayor, works to revoke the rump-shaking rituals that prop up the town's economy. Across town, a video-store clerk (Ian Roberts) who fancies himself a documentarian teams up with a scheming pothead (Matt Besser, suspiciously convincing) to capture said rituals on digital video – and hijinks ensue!

Perhaps I'm being harsh; it's frustrating to see talented people disappoint. But I cannot forgive the inexplicable musical number, "The Whipped Cream Ass Contest Operetta," complete with Sharks versus Jets-style choreography and painfully stupid Broadway-belted lyrics and …

Aah, what the hell. It's a midnight movie. Just don't forget the munchies.

— Jessica Bryce Young

WRITER OF O
Directed by Pola Rapaport
7 p.m. Friday, April 15, at Regal
9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Enzian

Arguably the most famous erotic novel ever written, Story of O was published pseudonymously in Paris in 1954, and speculation as to the real author's identity raged immediately. The book was a literary-award-winning best seller in France, but was later banned in Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom. Director Rapaport details her long-standing fascination with the novel; when its real author, Dominique Aury, was revealed in 1994, Rapaport was seized with the desire to meet and interview her.

Aury was a well-respected literary personage in post-World War II France, but she was also quiet, self-effacing and completely dazzled by leading literary light Jean Paulhan. Aury describes her 13-year affair with Paulhan, a married man, the way a love-struck teenager might; she states that he was the only man she ever loved. O was written late in the affair, when she feared Paulhan might leave her: "I wrote it to interest him, to please him, to occupy him. I hadn't much to offer – I wasn't very young nor especially pretty." (Not true, as period photographs show.)

Rapaport's treatment of the fictional material is sometimes squirm-inducing – she intercuts Court TV-style re-enactments from the novel with horrific footage of a flayed cow, swarming bacteria, religious self-flagellants and a butcher's hands sorting through organs. But the interviews are marvelous. The luminous Aury is beautiful and charming at 90, and her matter-of factness blows away the mist of ideology that swirls around her "little book." Other experts interviewed in the film bend O to fit their own philosophical agenda, calling it everything from great literature to a blow against censorship to a fearless work of self-determination. All of these things are true, yet none are the truth. Story of O, in the end, is just the story of a girl in love.

— Jessica Bryce Young

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