Friday, October 23, 2009

Film feature: Lauderdale fest shorter, but movie quality is high

Michelle Monaghan and Jimmy Bennett in Trucker.


By Hap Erstein

Now in its 24th year, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival no longer talks about being the Guinness Book of World Records-sanctioned festival of longest duration.

Cuts in state government arts funding, the dwindling of corporate donations and the economy in general makes this such a bad year that FLIFF is forced to fall back on touting the quality of its films.

The festival, which kicks off today, runs a “mere” 20 days, and the number of films has been reduced 10 percent to only a 100 or so. But 50 or those are premieres of some sort -- either World, United States, Southeast, East Coast or Florida. And the Fort Lauderdale fest still has clout overseas, drawing entries from more than 30 countries.

The recession has done little to dampen FLIFF’s ability to draw celebrities with the lure of awards. Actor Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Best Man) and cinematographer Mario Tosi (Carrie, MacArthur) with each receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Producers) will pick up a Career Achievement Award and Michelle Monaghan (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Gone Baby Gone) has been selected for the Star on the Horizon Award.

The latter two will also be appearing in support of their films in the festival. Monaghan stars in the independent drama Trucker, playing a tough-minded interstate big rig driver whose estranged 11-year-old son turns her life upside down when he appears on her doorstep. And Broderick headlines Wonderful World, about a deeply cynical proofreader and chess player whose pessimistic view of life seems confirmed when he loses his job.

Whether or not the films prove to be worthy, the Lauderdale festival knows that you can always compensate with parties. In fact, there is a reception or party almost every night of the festival. Often movies are matched with venues, like Black Dynamite at Bova Prime on Las Olas, An Englishman in New York at Pillars on New River Sound and a Queen to Play bash at Smith and Jones.

All screenings will be held at Cinema Paradiso, 503 S.E. 6th St., Fort Lauderdale, with the exception of opening night, when the film Timer will be shown at the Miniaci Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Nova Southeastern University in Davie. Tickets are available at (954) 525-3456 or online at www.FLIFF.com.

Here are a few thumbnail reviews of films made available by the festival for advance screening.

* Official Rejection (Noon, Sat., Oct. 24) -- Talk about the ultimate film festival film. Check out Scott Storm’s tongue-in-cheek documentary expose of the way film festivals really work and why he had such difficulty getting his 2004 crime flick, Ten ‘til Noon, accepted into any of the major fests. And if the film they made is half as entertaining as the chronicle of their rejection, you’ll wonder why it never received much love, too.

The serious message is that the studios have co-opted the Sundances and their ilk, so do not look for the next Kevin Smith (Clerks) or Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) to emerge from festivals anymore. Still, it is possible we will hear more from Storm, who makes being turned down very entertaining.

* Trucker (6 p.m., Sat., Oct. 24) -- Remember how you thought of Charlize Theron differently after she showed what acting skill she really had in Monster. Well, Michelle Monaghan is unlikely to cop an Oscar for her performance as interstate big rig truck driver Diane Ford, but she gives a who-woulda-thunk-it powerful performance that is light years above her work on the enjoyable Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or even the worthy, but little-seen, Gone Baby Gone.

She plays a tough, free-spirited loner whose only goal seems to be arriving at her destination promptly and picking up her “on-time” bonus. Naturally, then, her life is due for major upheaval when her former husband (Benjamin Bratt) contracts cancer and her brat of an 11-year-old estranged son gets dropped off on her doorstep and he is reintroduced to his highly unmaternal mother. James Mottern’s script and direction are both lean and taut, but it is Monaghan who owns the film.

* When the Evening Comes (6 p.m., Thurs., Nov. 5) -- Walking a tightrope, director Craig Geraghty turns what could have been a formulaic comedy or even an overly sentimental tale into a very human slice-of-life drama. Charlie (Leo Marinello) is a 39-year-old “successful” New York lawyer, but he lives with his overbearing grandparents (Philip Bosco, Anne Meara) who cannot help but meddle in his life.

Charlie dotes on the two of them, but when grandma Marion cannot hide her contempt for his gir friend, trying to correct the mistakes she make raising her own daughter, the relationship is strained to the breaking point. The dialogue seems honest and spontaneous, or maybe that is just Bosco and Meara demonstrating what old pros they are. Still, you will find yourself rooting for Charlie, even as you sense that happiness is not in the cards for him.

Scott Storm in Official Rejection.

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