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Friday, October 17

Girl 6

Spike Lee directed (and reportedly did an uncredited rewrite on) this mainly comic script by playwright Suzin-Lori Parks, about an aspiring actress (Theresa Randle) who becomes a phone sex worker to pay the rent. Perhaps because Lee seems less ambitious here than in previous features, I found myself enjoying this film more; for all its hit-or-miss quality it offers a dreamy playfulness and stylistic inventiveness as well as a satirical edge that kept me interested. (Lee is particularly provocative when he cuts between film and video in highlighting some of the ideological preconceptions we have about both media.) Lee himself and Isaiah Washington costar; among those in smaller roles are John Turturro, Jennifer Lewis, Debi Mazar, Ron Silver, Peter Berg, Richard Belzer, and, in cameo parts, Naomi Campbell, Halle Berry, Madonna, and Quentin Tarantino. (JR) (Noon)

Jungle Fever

Spike Lee's high-powered, all-over-the-place 1991 movie about interracial romance (Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra), crack addiction (a remarkable turn by Samuel L. Jackson), breaking away from one's family (a theme that crops up in at least five households, with Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Anthony Quinn, and Frank Vincent among the parents), and corporate advancement for blacks (Snipes again), chiefly set in two New York neighborhoods (Harlem and Bensonhurst). The disparate themes never quite come together, but with strong and inventive direction, juicy dialogue, and many fine performances--John Turturro as Sciorra's ex-boyfriend is especially impressive, Lonette McKee is good as Snipes's aggrieved wife, and Lee is also around briefly as Snipes's best friend--you won't be bored for a minute. There's also a richly upholstered score featuring Stevie Wonder, a huge orchestra, and the Boys Choir of Harlem, along with recordings by Mahalia Jackson, Frank Sinatra, and others. Overall the film suggests a kind of living newspaper, with stories and subplots crowding one another for front-page space. There are so many voices you may think you're swimming through a maelstrom, but thanks to Lee it's all superbly orchestrated. (JR) (2:00)

Jump the Gun

Veteran British director Les Blair is more akin to John Cassavetes than just about any filmmaker working today; Blair's most powerful films are based on improvised scenes that eventually coalesce into wonderfully rambling narratives populated by offbeat characters, though he usually foregrounds his social and political beliefs, making them an integral part of the story. But in Jump the Gun Blair eschews any overt political message as he travels to Johannesburg, foregrounding characters instead of their circumstances. Clint (Lionel New-ton), an Afrikaner oil-rig worker, has returned to "Jo'burg" after being away for several years and is shocked to find a city very different from the one he left before apartheid ended. Minnie (Michele Burgers), the prostitute he falls in love with, has taken the changes more in stride. The two eventually hook up with Gugu (Baby Cele), who has fled her village and her husband to try to make it as a pop singer in the big city, where she becomes involved with Zoo, a freedom fighter turned gangster. Never judgmental, Blair gives his characters room to play out their strengths and weaknesses, creating a fascinating glimpse of a city in profound transition. (JK) (4:00)

Post coitum, animal triste

This superb second feature by Brigitte Rouan is a daring exploration of the ecstatic if self-destructive impulses of l'amour fou, complicated here by dovetailing issues of feminine desire, sexual expression, and class. Rouan (who collaborated on the script with four men) plays a 40ish editor, wife, and mother who enters into a torrid affair with a handsome 25-year-old engineer (Boris Terral). The flow of movements leading up to the affair--physical, sexual, and intellectual--is beautifully modulated, the political and class connotations deftly woven in. Initially the affair is presented as a means of liberation, but increasingly it denotes a perverse self-paralysis, suggesting the woman's inability to function in any other capacity. Rouan delineates the conflict between self-definition and social and personal accountability, as the woman's desire for individual expression and freedom complicates every social, sexual, and professional relationship, and the affair's inevitable disruption occasions the woman's severe emotional disengagement. Post coitum, animal triste establishes Rouan as an exciting new French director. (PM) (4:00)

D.A.N.G.A.N. Runner

A sharp and often funny film from Japan by first-time writer-director Sabu, about three losers fate brings together with disastrous results. A would-be bank robber forgets his mask on his first big heist, then screws up his attempt to shoplift one from a convenience store. The store's clerk, a washed-up rock star, begins to chase the thief and literally runs into a thug from the Japanese mob he owes money to. This starts a three-way foot chase through the streets of Tokyo that lasts through the night and into the next day, eventually dragging in the Yakuza and the Tokyo police. The relationships between the characters are gradually revealed by flashbacks interspersed throughout the chase. Sabu's lean, economical style keeps the story moving along at a lively clip, with much of the humor supplied by the script's trenchant take on the male ego. Only toward the very end, when the film succumbs to some trendy nihilism, does the story falter. Still, D.A.N.G.A.N. Runner is an enjoyable directorial debut--definitely worth checking out. (RP) (4:30)

Three Days

Yet another comedy-drama about people in their 20s realizing that it's time to stop slacking and grow up, this one directed by 25-year-old Chicago filmmaker Adrian Fulle. The loosely structured plot, set in a Chicago suburb, covers the crisis experienced by Andrew Foley (Steve Key) after his mother dies in a plane crash. The funeral and related events become something of a reunion for Andrew, complete with old high school buddies and dotty relatives. Dropped into the mix are Andrew's long-distance girlfriend, who arrives and announces that she's engaged to someone else, and Mark DeCarlo (former host of the TV show Studs) as a Corvette-driving god who gives Andrew a few pointers. For a low-budget independent, this is a polished piece of filmmaking, but it travels some very worn terrain and the forced humor undermines its effectiveness as a coming-of-age story. A large part of the problem is that Fulle invests little warmth or personality in his characters, most of whom come across as caricatures. The exceptions are Key, who makes an appealing lead, and Elizabeth Laidlaw, who gives a fine performance as Andrew's new love interest. (RP) (4:30)

Clockers

Though it's no disgrace, Spike Lee's reworking of Richard Price's adaptation of his own novel, a project originally developed for Martin Scorsese, comes across as neither fish nor fowl--unsatisfying as a Price script, but not entirely a Lee movie either. The story involves a Brooklyn crack dealer (Mekhi Phifer) caught between his boss (Delroy Lindo) and a police detective (Harvey Keitel) investigating a local murder. The film is ambitious in exploring an ambiguous and complex situation that also involves the dealer's respectable brother (Isaiah Washington), who unpersuasively confesses to the crime, and Keitel's sidekick (John Turturro), but the sheer unpleasantness of the story isn't always justified by its insights. The performances are strong, but the spectator often feels adrift in an overly busy intrigue; with Keith David. (JR) (4:30)

Moonlight Serenade

Directed by Masahiro Shinoda, Moonlight Serenade is an attempt to capture the social and cultural fragmentation of Japanese society in the wake of World War II. The story is seen through the eyes of a young boy named Keita, whose family embarks on a pilgrimage to its ancestral home to bury the ashes of its eldest son, who died in combat. They're surrounded throughout their journey by a kaleidoscopic swirl of people--soldiers returning home, housewives, businessmen, prostitutes, American GIs, con artists of all stripes. Keita and his older brother are fascinated and lured by the changing culture, while their bewildered father, a stern policeman, struggles to keep the family together by toeing the traditional line. Shinoda conveys the sense of restlessness and change in postwar Japan well, though he displays an annoying tendency toward melodrama. When it's not being sentimental or straining to be profound, Moonlight Serenade is fairly enjoyable, at times even touching. (RP) (4:45)

Trouble on the Corner

Alan Madison's macabre comedy reconfigures the intensely subjective, claustrophobic menace of Roman Polanski's 60s features within an aggressively 90s New York setting. The film isn't terribly original or deep, and Madison can't manage the sudden tone shifts, but it's watchable and capably made. Tony Goldwyn plays a psychologist overburdened by a sexually unresponsive wife, a roster of clients--pedophiles, nymphomaniacs, and criminals--he's incapable of helping, and neighbors in his cramped apartment complex who seek his assistance. The film charts the therapist's gradual collapse into madness, but Madison borrows so much from Hitchcock, Fellini, and Scorsese that his film has no voice of its own. Moreover, there are no layers to the psychologist's breakdown, no exploration of the promising suggestion that his pathology is a function of his own inadequacy. The film is most trenchant as a kaleidoscopic portrait of New York, capturing the quiet desperation and abstract weirdness of the city, and the cast--Giancarlo Esposito, Edie Falco, Debi Mazar, Joe Morton, and Anna Thomson--is exceptional, giving the film its shape and offbeat humor. (PM) (7:00)

Two Girls and a Guy

It must have seemed like a witty allusion when he was discussing it with his set designer, but James Toback didn't do himself any favors when he prominently featured the poster for Truffaut's Jules and Jim (two guys and a girl, get it?) on the wall of the massive loft that's the sole set of Two Girls and a Guy. This airless and dark--literally and figuratively--little movie consists of two women (Heather Graham and Natasha Gregson Wagner) haranguing their mutual boyfriend (Robert Downey Jr.) about why he's spent the last several months assuring each of them that she was his one and only lover. Before the dull and repetitive real-time conversation concludes, there's an unconvincing sex act, an offer to have a menage a trois, and Downey making faces at himself in a mirror. Meanwhile it may occur to you how much more Truffaut got into his little movie. (MB) (7:00)

The Wings of the Dove

This British film updates Henry James's late novel in more ways than one--not only setting the story several years later (mainly, it seems, to make a nonanachronistic reference to a Klimt painting) but also inverting the morality of the original: in keeping with 1990s ethics, the gold-digging villains have been transformed into sympathetic heroes. By literary standards this is a disgraceful job, but for armchair tourists and oglers it's a nice, glossy spread. Apparently director Iain Softley and screenwriter Hossein Amini decided, contra prudish James, that marrying a dying American heiress for her loot is exactly what a penniless English journalist should do, even when it involves the collusion of his mistress. Ergo, heiress Milly Theale, the soul of the novel, barely exists here. This movie had more traditional music when I saw it, before Miramax decided to muck around with it and "update" it still more, but I can't imagine this change matters much: the film has little to do with art, intelligence, or values (except for the kind found in department stores). It's about pretending to catch up with what you didn't read in college, and oohing and ahhing over conspicuous consumption and pretty sites in Venice, including one or two glimpses of Helena Bonham Carter's bare ass. Others in the cast include Linus Roache, Alison Elliott, Elizabeth McGovern, Charlotte Rampling, and Michael Gambon. (JR) (7:00)

Crooklyn

Spike Lee goes on automatic pilot, chewing over sweet-and-sour family memories with two of his siblings, cowriters Joie Susannah Lee and Cinque Lee, and it's difficult to tell whether the problem here is lack of artistic distance or simple exhaustion. Either way, despite very good performances from Delroy Lindo and Alfre Woodard as the parents, this is anemic and uninspired filmmaking: shapeless as narrative, awkward and drifting as drama. Much as Lee's compulsive avoidance of silence supersedes any creative decisions about his sound tracks (and for the record, Terence Blanchard's score here is virtually interchangeable with the scores for most of Lee's other pictures), his use of a distorting anamorphic lens for the daughter's trip to visit an aunt and uncle isn't so much a creative decision as a gimmick designed to free him from making creative decisions. (Disappointingly, his role as an actor, this time as a neighborhood glue sniffer, is kept to cameo proportions.) With Zelda Harris, Carlton Wil-liams, Sharif Rashid, Chris Knowings, and David Patrick Kelly. (JR) (7:00)

3 The Life of Jesus

Despite its title, Bruno Dumont's extraordinary first feature is not about Christ, at least not on any literal level. Nor is it about the Antichrist, though to some, the loutish young men tooling around Flemish backwaters on their motorbikes would appear to announce his coming. At the center of the group and the film is Freddy, a semiautistic epileptic who lives with his mother at the local bar. Freddy and his friends have little prospect of employment, so there's nothing much to do with a day except ride around, go to the beach, or watch a friend's brother die of AIDS in the hospital, though Freddy also has mindless, almost brutal sex with his girlfriend Marie at every opportunity. Yet Freddy is capable of great tenderness. He and Marie have an amazing ability to stand around silently for hours, holding or touching or leaning on each other as if connected in a closed circuit to the earth. Freddy's stillness is part of the incredible sense of corporeality Dumont is able to evoke. It's in the faces of his nonprofessional cast, particularly in the brooding presence of David Douche's Freddy. It's in the flatness of the CinemaScope landscape, in the insistent austerity of the sound track, and in the inertia that explodes into violence. The Life of Jesus may not be about religion, but like the films of Bresson, it is about redemption. (RS) (7:15)

Somersault in a Coffin

A Turkish feature by writer-director Dervis Zaim, winner of several prizes at Turkey's main film festival, about an itinerant man struggling to survive. (7:15)

Untitled Agnes Merlet Project (Artemisia)

Director Agnes Merlet has been obsessed with the true story of 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi since she saw Gentileschi's violent, baroque Judith and Holofernes and learned that her painting teacher Agostino Tassi was tried for rape at the behest of her father, himself a noted artist. Merlet previously made a half-hour nonfiction film of the story; now she's turned it into a sweeping romantic-political epic, with characters running wildly across windswept beaches toward their separate destinies. Intensely acted, beautifully photographed, and quite intelligent, but not entirely compelling. (MB) (9:00)

Jump the Gun

See previous listing. (9:00)

Little Book of Love

A Brazilian feature directed by Sandra Werneck about a couple who meet, fall in love, and then proceed to question their feelings for each other. (9:15)

D.A.N.G.A.N. Runner

See previous listing. (9:30)

Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist

One of the many questions raised by this film concerns the nature of the collaboration between Flanagan, his lover/mistress Sheree Rose (a video maker and documenter of Flanagan's activities), and filmmaker Kirby Dick. The world of sadomasochism is a very private one; how can an outsider--and here Dick acts as a stand-in for all the nonmasochists in the audience--penetrate the inner workings of the love and desire that that world creates? A lifelong sufferer from cystic fibrosis--the painful disease that eventually killed him in 1996 at the age of 43--and a dedicated "supermasochist," Flanagan turned his suffering into performance art. In his relationship with Rose, whom he made a dominatrix, spectacle was always part of the game, with the audience--but an art audience, already familiar with body art--as a third party. Something was lost in the translation to film, but something was also gained, as evidenced by the success of Sick. Flanagan is an endearing ham, a genuinely cinematic subject, though in our sympathy for the man we may lose sight of the subversive aspects of S-M. A lyrical exploration of Flanagan's last months, Sick offers some insights on the slow, inexorable work of death, and it resonates with unanswered questions. Not for children, not for the fainthearted, but not designed for sexual outlaws either. (BR) (9:30)

3 Voyage to the Beginning of the World

Born in 1908, Manoel de Oliveira is the only working director anywhere in the world who started his career in the silent era. For this meditative feature he enlisted the somewhat younger Marcello Mastroianni--in what proved to be Mastroianni's last performance--to play someone very much like de Oliveira, an aging film director named Manoel setting out on a car trip with a few of his coworkers. Basically an exploration of the director's Portuguese roots and the French and Portuguese roots of one of the actors, the film is laden with memories both personal and historical and associations both cultural and familial; a moving (as well as slow-moving) road movie, it resembles many of de Oliveira's other works in its paradoxical combination of 19th-century modernism and aristocratic Marxism. Not the least of its oddities is the fact that it starts out as a film about Manoel, then shifts focus halfway through to the French actor Jean-Yves Gautier, whose father was Portuguese and who's meeting his Portuguese aunt for the first time. On the basis of a single viewing, I wouldn't call this a great film on the level of de Oliveira's Doomed Love or Francisca, but it's easily his best since The Valley of Abraham and one of his most accessible. Strand has picked it up for U.S. distribution. (JR) (9:30)

Saturday,

October 18

3 I Hate Love

Laurence Ferreira Barbosa's second feature (after Normal People Are Nothing Special) manages to strike a unique tone somewhere between melodrama and farce--an out-of-body experience might have the same effect. At the film's center is a doctor (Jeanne Balibar) making her rounds--house calls, hospital visits, office appointments--on a scooter, riding through the streets of Paris in August, when most of the country is on vacation. Although Balibar is in virtually every scene, it's extremely hard to identify her emotions, since as a doctor her subjectivity never enters into the equation. The one time she does talk about her feelings toward her terminally ill patients, at a dinner party, she brings all conversation to an embarrassed halt. Her private life evolves from nonexistent to impossibly stressful as she becomes involved with two men, one who's afraid to live and one who's afraid to die. I Hate Love is a comedy about coping with death, disease, and commitment. It's also a marvelous case history of the ultimate bad date. (RS) (1:30)

The Wide Oak

Set in Italy during World War II, The Wide Oak follows the ordeal of a large extended family as they move from war-torn Rome to the relative safety of their country estate. The movie's central focus is on the children, who spend their days exploring the countryside, making friends with a group of local soldiers, and causing a fair amount of innocent mischief. Meanwhile the adults are quietly involved in the underground resistance against Mussolini, which has the father going to Rome on treacherous secret missions. This part of the story is extremely thin and is brought to a ridiculously hasty conclusion--but ultimately it doesn't matter, because the adult drama is secondary. Director Paolo Bianchini elicits some enjoyable, natural performances from the kids--there's none of the kind of cloying mugging that often plagues movies like this. In all, nothing special, but still fairly charming. (RP) (1:30)

The Land Whose King Is a Child

A first-time effort by French actor-director Christophe Malavoy, The Land Whose King Is a Child is a handsomely filmed yet ultimately hollow morality play. Preoccupied with probing notions of good and evil, Malavoy sets the story some 60 years ago in a Catholic boys' school, a cold place with rigid rules. But beneath the veneer of enforced conformity are tensions generated chiefly by a friendship between two students that seems rooted in their budding homosexuality and by the keen interest a supervisor takes in one of the boys. This should be enough to create a passionate tale of love and betrayal, but no such tale ever fully materializes. Malavoy unfortunately decided to make the story a chamber drama of hidden passions, reined in further by the formal rigor of the visual representation and the emotional flatness of the repetitive dialogue. Curiously, with the exception of occasional singing by the schoolboys, the film uses no music--as if hoping that silence alone could convey a spiritual vacuum. (ZB) (2:30)

Short films 4: The Spitball Story and Other Short Documentaries

Jean Bach, director of the remarkable A Great Day in Harlem, utilizes the same techniques of oral history and thumbnail jazz portraiture to tell the story of why Dizzy Gillespie was fired from the Cab Calloway band and how this transformed his career. This isn't on the same level as Bach's previous film, but it's still a precious document, especially for its footage of Gillespie shortly before his death. To be shown with two other American documentaries. (JR) (2:30)

Stowaways

A Swiss-Canadian-French-Belgian production, directed by Nicolas Wadimoff, about a half dozen illegal immigrants--two men, two women, and two children--hiding in a crate in an attempt to smuggle themselves into Canada. (2:30)

Jump the Gun

See listing under Friday, October 17. (3:30)

Bag of Rice

In recent years Iranian filmmakers have found international success at festivals with works such as The White Balloon and Children of Heaven, moral tales about children with a mission to accomplish. This has inspired other Iranian directors to attempt to reproduce what they see as a winning formula, resulting in a plethora of films with young protagonists that lack freshness, insight, and sincerity--the most egregious example of which is this Iranian-Japanese production directed by Mohammad Ali Talebi. Bag of Rice follows an old woman determined to redeem a pension coupon for her ration of rice. Instead of waiting until her son has time to take her shopping, the stubborn Mrs. Khanoon ventures out with Jairan, the obnoxious little girl next door. After several misadventures, the pair finally find a shop far from their neighborhood that will accept the coupon. Now burdened with an enormous bag of rice, they must rely on the kindness of strangers to help them haul their purchase home. Back in 1992 Talebi made a small masterpiece called The Boots, which featured a rambunctious little girl, charm, humor, and a concise parable. Sadly, Bag of Rice has only a little girl. (AS) (4:00)

Post coitum, animal triste

See listing under Friday, October 17. (4:30)

Trouble on the Corner

See listing under Friday, October 17. (4:30)

Devil's Island

Iceland's most acclaimed director, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, is a minimalist by nature, but he greatly expands his scope for Devil's Island, drawing inspiration from John Ford's tragicomic white-trash classics, The Grapes of Wrath and Tobacco Road. Fridriksson packs his frame with squabbling, hard-drinking, economically downtrodden families who make their homes in an abandoned U.S. Army barracks on the edge of Reykjavik in the 50s, among them an aging dockworker, his fortune-teller wife, and their out-of-control kinfolk. Like Ford, Fridriksson creates a whole ensemble of colorful, raucous characters and gets us to care for them. Alternately farcical and tender in his tone, he deftly juggles a complicated story, when he's not busy assembling a fabulous sound track of 50s rock 'n' roll. (GP) (4:45)

The Dog in the Manger

This production of a comedia by the prolific Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, a contemporary of William Shake-speare and Spain's first great dramatist, tells the story of Diana, a beautiful, capricious noblewoman who falls in love with her secretary and tries to find a way to make him worthy of her hand. Director-adapter Pilar Miro uses exquisite costumes and a period setting for this intricately plotted tale, which is spoken in verse. As with the plays of Shakespeare, it combines comic and tragic, intellectual and popular elements. Emma Suarez and Carmelo Gomez, two of Spain's most sought-after young actors, perform their roles with brio. The film seems a tad hampered by its stage origins and doesn't make terribly exciting cinema, but it's pleasant enough to watch. (AS) (4:45)

3 4 Little Girls

This surprisingly humble documentary by Spike Lee--made for HBO and scheduled to open at the Music Box later this month--is arguably his best film to date, apart from Do the Right Thing, because it doesn't have an ounce of flab or hype and because the story it tells is profoundly affecting. On September 15, 1963, four little black girls attending Sunday school at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, a central meeting place in the civil rights movement, were killed in a racist bombing. This is a detailed portrait of what that event meant 34 years ago--to family, friends, and the movement--as well as what it means today. Like the only picture ever painted by Charlie Parker--a beautiful portrait of his daughter who died in infancy that imagined what she might have looked like in her 30s--4 Little Girls gets us to imagine something comparable. Lee uses John Coltrane's "Alabama" with tact and sensitivity, making up for his crude use of the piece in Malcolm X, and he seems to have learned a fair amount about my home state. Perhaps for the first time, Lee actually finds something to say about history (my only quibble is that he doesn't tell us more about the belated sentencing of the bomber). A must-see. (JR) (6:00)

The Supermarket Woman

This romantic story (1996) about business practices reunites former school friends whose spouses have died. Goro's grocery store is threatened by the opening of a competitor, and Hanako's advice about how he should run it leads to moving moments between the store's staff and customers and an incisive yet gentle examination of how economic relationships are also personal relationships. Excitingly bright colors and lots of neon dominate the production design, and a persuasive score builds an enjoyable anxiety level with percussive interludes, bending your emotions as the two businesses compete and Hanako (Nobuko Miyamoto, A Taxing Woman) tries to dissuade Goro from courting her. An exhilarating chase scene has much more resonance than these suspense spectacles usually do because the conflicting motives of those involved have been compellingly developed by writer-director Juzo Itami long before the vehicles take off. (LA) (6:30)

Untitled Agnes Merlet Project (Artemisia)

See listing under Friday, October 17. (7:00)

3 The Sweet Hereafter

Adapting a beautiful novel by Russell Banks, Atom Egoyan (Exotica) may finally have bitten off a little more than he can chew, but the power and reach of this undertaking are still formidable. At the tragic center of the story are the deaths of many children in a small town when a school bus spins out of control and sinks into a frozen lake (depicted in an extraordinary single shot that calls to mind a Brueghel landscape)--and what this threatens to do to the community, especially after a big-city lawyer (a miscast, albeit effective, Ian Holm) turns up and tries to initiate litigation. Egoyan restructures Banks's novel (which is narrated by several characters in turn and proceeds chronologically) into the kind of mosaic narrative used by Egoyan in his recent features and by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. in most of his novels (in which several different time frames and narrative lines are intercut and proceed simultaneously) and adds some material about the Pied Piper, capturing the essence of some parts of the book but simplifying most of the characters and making the mountainous setting more mythical. Virtually all of Egoyan's features revolve around emotional traumas, but this one seems less obsessive--for good and ill. Ever since Calendar Egoyan has grown in stature by confronting the real world rather than creating phantasmic allegories, making the pain less narcissistic and more explicitly concerned with the way we live together. The Sweet Hereafter is no exception, and this film has potent things to say about communal ties and the repressive machinations of capitalism that can sever them. (JR) (7:00)

Somersault in a Coffin

See listing under Friday, October 17. (8:00)

Three Days

See listing under Friday, October 17. (8:15)

3 I Hate Love

See previous listing, this date. (9:00)

Chicago Cab

Mary Cybulski and John Tintori direct a screen version of the long-running Chicago play Hellcab, featuring cameos by John Cusack, Gillian Anderson, and Laurie Metcalf. (9:30)

Knockin' on Heaven's Door

This is exactly the kind of festival crowd pleaser that makes a critical reviewer look like a major party pooper, but I couldn't help feeling pissed off by its smug dishonesty about death and dying. Two young guys who learn they have terminal cancer and a very short time to live decide to whoop it up one last time in this "bittersweet" comedy directed by Thomas Jahn. While getting to know each other in the hospital's terminal ward, mild-mannered Rudi confesses to brash bad boy Martin that he's never been to the ocean (setting up the beach sequence every movie about a dying patient seems to have to have). Martin decides that he wants to present his mother with a pink Cadillac just as Elvis did and persuades Rudi that they should flee the hospital and follow their hearts' desires. Along the way they steal cars, rob banks, lie, humiliate strangers, and have sex with hookers. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would be proud. (RP) (9:30)

3 Love and Death on Long Island

A reclusive, old-fashioned, intellectual widower-novelist living in London (John Hurt) stumbles accidentally into a screening of Hotpants College II at his local multiplex and becomes hopelessly, obsessively enamored of one of its young American costars (Jason Priestley). Fan magazines and the purchase of a VCR fail to satisfy his longings, so he travels to the Long Island town where his beloved resides and plots to encounter him in the flesh. This perfectly realized, beautifully acted, sweetly hilarious first feature by English writer-director Richard Kwietniowski, adroitly adapted from Gilbert Adair's short novel of the same name (a comic variation on Thomas Mann's Death in Venice), is a witty, canny meditation on the power of pop culture in general and the rationalizations of cinephilia and film criticism in particular. What makes it perhaps even better than Adair's clever novel, which is somewhat limited by its first-person narration, is the beautiful balance of humane sympathies Kwietniowski achieves; at no point does the foolishness or vanity of either central character wipe out our sense of his dignity, and Fiona Loewi as the movie star's girlfriend is no less touching. A "small" film only in appearance, this is as solid and confident as any first feature I've seen this year, and it looked even better on a second viewing. It's been picked up for U.S. distribution but is unlikely to open before February. (JR) (9:45)

Short films 3: Freek Out!

"Weird" short films from Switzer-land, Canada, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, Great Britain, and the U.S. (9:45)

Clandestine Stories in Havana

Four love stories set in Havana--about an Argentinean divorcee who meets a taxi driver, a filmmaker who plans to kill himself, a closeted gay couple, and a straight couple shooting a documentary. Diego Musiak directed this Cuban-Argentinean production. (10:15)

Sunday,

October 19

Clandestine Stories in Havana

See listing under Saturday, October 18. (12:45)

The Supermarket Woman

See listing under Saturday, October 18. (12:45)

Long Day's Journey Into Night

This Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Bravo! adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's semiautobiographical play about a family's slow, agonizing dissolution is serviceable if rather bloodless. The performances are uniformly good, with William Hutt excellent as the clan's ineffectual patriarch, Martha Henry fine as the morphine-addicted mother, and Peter Donaldson a real standout as the alcohol-besotted eldest son. But there's a curious lack of tension among the characters for much of the movie. O'Neill clearly has his characters avoiding confrontation as long as possible, yet there's always a sense of anger building under the surface. But director David Wellington has his actors so reined in that the tension often dissipates. The film is largely faithful to the play, though some cuts have been made, many of which involve political and class issues. It's hard to fathom whether the cuts were made for the benefit of Canadian audiences or because it was assumed that U.S. audiences would be uncomfortable with references to socialism or simply wouldn't care. Either way, they take some of the edge off the story. On the whole, a respectable adaptation, but Sidney Lumet's 1962 version with Katharine Hepburn and Jason Robards is a meatier production. (RP) (1:00)

Little Book of Love

See listing under Friday, October 17. (1:15)

Moonlight Serenade

See listing under Friday, October 17. (1:15)

The Ride

Craig Boyd and Michael Shannon do competent, low-key versions of John Travolta's and Samuel Jackson's Pulp Fiction characters in this slow though not unfunny crime comedy written by Kris Kondrad and directed by Jeff Myers. The coincidence-laden plot unites a number of aspiring and reluctant criminals in the pursuit of a convertible that belongs to a troubled young fundamentalist who's got relationship problems. But after a private investigator who's modeled himself after fictional gumshoes gets involved, the tone yo-yos from scene to scene as Myers alternates contrived grittiness with over-the-top reflexive styling--and it's hard to keep readjusting. (LA) (1:30)

The Long Way Home

A documentary about the liberation of Jewish concentration-camp survivors in 1945 and their immigration to what would become the state of Israel. Written and directed by Mark Jonathan Harris. Critics have been requested not to review this movie for the festival because it's scheduled to have a theatrical run later this month. (2:30)

Knockin' on Heaven's Door

See listing under Saturday, October 18. (3:15)

The Dog in the Manger

See listing under Saturday, October 18. (3:30)

The Land Whose King Is a Child

See listing under Saturday, October 18. (3:30)

Somersault in a Coffin

See listing under Friday, October 17. (3:30)

Bag of Rice

See listing under Saturday, October 18. (4:15)

Hugo winner

An additional screening of one of the festival prizewinners. (5:00)

The Supermarket Woman

See listing under Saturday, October 18. (5:15)

Chicago Cab

See listing under Saturday, October 18. (5:30)

The Wide Oak

See listing under Saturday, October 18. (5:30)

Four Days in September

Brazil's entry for the 1997 Academy Awards, this is the kind of controlled, authentic political drama nobody makes anymore. Bruno Barreto (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands) returns to an incident in Brazil's history that continues to resonate: in 1969 a Marxist guerrilla cadre kidnapped the American ambassador to Brazil, Charles Burke Elbrick, and demanded the release of 15 political prisoners. Barreto adheres closely to the autobiography of Fernando Gabeira, one of the kidnappers, and the scenes of the young revolutionaries are credible and claustrophobic; particularly effective is Fernanda Torres as Comrade Maria, the cadre's most strident ideologue. Alan Arkin turns in a surprisingly winning performance as the Republican ambassador, who proves a model prisoner. (GP) (6:00)

Stowaways

See listing under Saturday, October 18. (6:00)

Still Breathing

The festival's "surprise screening" is an American independent feature by writer-director James F. Robinson about a San Antonio street performer, who's searching for the love of his life, and a woman in Los Angeles, who matches his image of that love but whom he's never met--a disillusioned former artist who cons wealthy art patrons out of their money. Eventually the two characters meet at the Formosa Cafe in Hollywood. With Brendan Fraser, Joanna Going, Celeste Holm, and Ann Magnuson. (8:00)

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