Here are reviews of some of the films screening at this year's festival, which runs March 1-10. Keep checking back for more reviews daily.
Venus and Serena (PG-13) ***
Sometimes, documentary filmmakers get really lucky. When directors Maiken Baird and Michelle Major signed on to follow tennis champion sisters Venus and Serena Williams for an entire year (2011), they couldn’t have known what a traumatic and eventful 12 months awaited.
Culled from 450 hours of footage, Venus and Serena opens with Serena, 31, being hospitalized with a potentially fatal blood clot in her lung. Venus, 32, is starting to suffer from old injuries that refuse to heal and an auto-immune system disorder that gives her spells of great fatigue and joint pain.
Most athletes who had accomplished what they had at this point — Serena has 15 singles Grand Slam titles, Venus has seven — might decide to retire and enjoy the fame and reward they had reaped. Product endorsements, along with their tournament winnings, turned them into millionaires. They became fashion icons after Vogue editor Anna Wintour showcased them in the magazine. And they remain idols for girls of all races but especially African-Americans, who dream of becoming professionals in a sport that has historically been dominated by Caucasians.
But by July 2011, the sisters had returned to the court, still under the guidance of their father Richard, who had started to train them from childhood in their crime-ridden neighborhood of Compton, begging country clubs to let him have their used tennis balls for the girls to use.
The bond between the sisters, who share a home in Palm Beach, is so strong that Gay Talese speculates they are probably destined to marry brothers; because they’ve lived in the shadow of each other’s lives for so long, separating seems inconceivable.
Alternating between vintage videos of the sisters as 14-year-olds and more recent footage, Venus and Serena expresses awe and admiration at the two women’s accomplishments. The movie delves into their competitive nature, which is loving and collegial even on the court, and explores how racism sometimes interfered with their success, but they simply plowed ahead.
What’s missing from Venus and Serena is a sense of intimacy. Their father, a domineering and controlling figure, pushed the girls hard and deserves great credit for their success. But the movie is halfway over before we learn that he is divorced from their mother Oracene Price, who also helped train the sisters and has an entire family neither Venus nor Serena are close to. After the filmmakers turned in their first cut, the sisters demanded some edits and changes in the way Richard came off. The directors complied and made some trims, which helps explain why the film works better as a thrilling but superficial celebration of two incredible athletes instead of a personal portrait of two world-famous women who continue to make sports history.
Directors: Maiken Baird, Michelle Major.
Screenwriters: Cliff Charles, Stephanie Johnes, Rashidi Harper.
Producers: Michelle Major, Maiken Baird.
A Magnolia Pictures release. Running time: 100 minutes. Vulgar language. Plays at 7 p.m. Saturday at Gusman.
THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL (unrated) ***
The Artist and the Model (El artista y la modelo) is the quietest, most austere film Fernando Trueba has directed. It may also be his most personal. Although he’s usually associated with colorful movies filled with music and vibrancy (Chico & Rita, The Girl of Your Dreams, Belle Epoque), Trueba shot this film in gorgeous black and white and uses no musical score. Here, silence is eloquent, and images do most of the talking.
Set in the French Pyrenees during World War II, the movie centers on Marc (the great Jean Rochefort), an aging sculptor who lives with his wife Lea (Claudia Cardinale, still vivacious) and their Spanish housekeeper (Chus Lampreave, the source of much of the film’s humor). When Lea crosses path with Merce (Aida Folch), a homeless refugee from Spain, she recognizes the girl’s great beauty and brings her home, hoping to reawaken her husband’s artistic spirit.
In exchange for room and board, Merce agrees to pose nude for Marc, who barely speaks to her other than telling her how to pose. At first, Merce is understandably nervous. Gradually, though, she begins to understand what Marc is looking for — a vision that will compel him to sculpt — and slowly becomes his muse.
In turn, Marc begins to open up to the young woman, taking a simple Rembrandt sketch and showing her what makes it great art, name-dropping Matisse and Cézanne and, in a glorious monologue that Rochefort totally nails, laying out the two reasons why he believes God exists.
There isn’t much plot in The Artist and the Model, nor do the expected things happen (no, the pair do not fall in love). Instead, there are incidents: Marc catches a group of boys spying on the nude model. Merce brings home a soldier she helps get across the Spanish border, and a German friend makes an unexpected visit on his way to the front lines.
The Artist and the Model is an ode to creativity and imagination, to the ability to convey meaning and feeling through art. Trueba chooses his shots carefully, allowing us to see Merce through Marc’s eyes and helping us understand the artistic impulse, which can be indomitable and stubborn. It is also what keeps people like Marc living: He must be able to create or else a part of him dies
Cast: Jean Rochefort, Aida Folch, Claudia Cardinale, Chus Lampreave.
Director: Fernando Trueba.
Screenwriters: Fernando Trueba, Jean-Claude Carriere.
A Cohen Media Group release. Running time: 101 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity. In French and Spanish with English subtitles. Plays at 7 p.m. Friday at Gusman as part of the festival’s Career Achievement Tribute to director Fernando Trueba.
VINYL DAYS (unrated) **1/2
As childhood pals, the four protagonists of Vinyl Days (Días de vinilo) bonded over their shared love of vinyl records. Now grown up, the men lead different lives. One is a DJ for a radio station; another is a filmmaker of romantic comedies who wants to make a serious movie; another sells cemetery plots and is preparing to marry his longtime girlfriend; and the fourth is John Lennon in a Beatles cover band who dreams of winning a competition in Liverpool.
Vinyl Days marks the debut of Gabriel Nesci, who wrote and directed this amiable, if overlong, comedy lined with classic pop songs (including Queen, INXS, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins and others). The movie takes awhile to get going: The initial contortions of the plot, such as the groom-to-be’s last-minute wedding jitters, or the filmmaker’s meetings with Argentine heartthrob Leonardo Sbaraglia (playing himself), whom he hopes to cast in his movie, aren’t promising and come off as overly familiar and clichéd.
But once the complications start to pile up in the second hour — the DJ suddenly goes deaf but keeps going to work, the John Lennon impersonator meets an Asian woman whose initials are Y.O. — Vinyl Days begins to pay off with laughs. The movie never becomes the romp Nesci intended, and the ending is awfully limp, but it’s a promising start for Nesci, who proves he can juggle a large cast and intertwining storylines without losing track of the overall picture.
Cast: Gastón Pauls, Fernán Mirás, Ignacio Toselli, Rafael Spregelburd,Emilia Attías, Leonardo Sbaraglia.
Writer-director: Gabriel Nesci.
Running time: 119 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, adult themes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Plays at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Regal South Beach.
AMOR CRONICO (unrated) **1/2
This film is — or attempts to be — many films in one. It’s an adoring musical documentary of flamboyant Cuban-American singer Cucu Diamantes’ 2010 tour of her home island. It’s two ironic, Fellini-esque love stories, one the star-crossed yearning between the towering Diamantes and the short Guarapo (Liosky Clavero), the other a visually lush but satirical ode to present-day Cuba. It’s a tribute to Cuban music and film history. Plus there’s a surreal filmmaking-within-a-film conceit and a critique of the embargo and how politics keep us apart.
This would be s confusing if all these strands weren’t so obvious. Amor Cronico is best enjoyed on its fabulous surface, for its terrific concert sequences and visual jokes. But the talent behind it, the brilliant music producer Andres Levin, co-founder of Cuban-funk group Yerba Buena and Diamantes’ husband, and director/screenwriter Jorge Perugorria, the actor best known for his star turn in Strawberry and Chocolate, seems to want the movie to be more profound.
Amor Cronico is richest in its portrayal of Cuba, deadpan hilarious scenes of crowds gathering in town squares to sing to Diamantes, lush glimpses of the countryside as the band, gigantic high-heeled shoe in tow, treks from town to town. There’s light but sharp satire of the system, like a beachside restaurant that only serves croquettes, with utensils chained to the table. And there are tons of references, appearances and in-jokes for Cubaphiles. Best to enjoy Amor Cronico not as a longterm relationship, but as an absurd and seductive fling. - JORDAN LEVIN
Cast: Cucu Diamantes, Liosky Clavero, Andres Levin, Jorge Perugorria, Mirtha Ibarra. Writer/director: Jorge Perugorria. Running time: 81 minutes. Brief nudity, adult themes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Plays at 9:45 p.m. Thursday at Gusman.
BLACKFISH (unrated) ***
According to the documentary Blackfish, there is no record of a killer whale attacking a human in the wild. They’re only killers in captivity, driven mad by being kept in tanks that are too small. Sometimes they attack each other. Sometimes they turn on their trainers.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite uses the death of Sea World lead trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was pulled underwater and killed by a whale in 2010, as a framing device for this eye-opening expose on the abuse the animals suffer and the dangerous side effects that result. A retired fisherman, now deeply repentant of his former work, explains how the whales are captured (they take babies, not adults, who cry out when separated from their offspring). A slew of former trainers, many of them ex-Sea World employees, reveal how the parks’ managers and lawyers explain away every mauling and death by blaming them on human error.
Blackfish argues that killer whales have a sophisticated language and a sense of self and family — they even have a part in their brains that humans lack — which is why trainers develop such a strong attachment to them. But they are also unpredictable and aware — one whale attacked its trainer when it realized she was running out of fish rewards. The movie follows the life of a male named Tilikum, who was abused by other whales as a baby and grew up displaying unpredictable behavior. He was used by Sea World as a breeder, which made him worth millions of dollars. Today, 54 percent of Sea World’s whales have Tilikum’s genes, which is a terrifying thought. Blackfish doesn’t include interviews with Sea World executives, who declined to participate. Their silence speaks volumes.
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Screenwriters: Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Eli B. Despres. Running time: 82 minutes. Graphic descriptions of killer whale attacks and animal abuse. Plays at 1 p.m. March 10 at South Beach.
DARK BLOOD (unrated) **1/2
When River Phoenix died in 1993 of a drug overdose, the filming of the movie he was making, Dark Blood, was about 80 percent complete. Production halted after his death, and the film was seized by financiers and locked away, destined never to be seen. Mere days before the footage was scheduled to be destroyed, director George Sluizer (The Vanishing) broke into the insurance company’s vaults and ran off with the movie, believing it could still be salvaged.
The film was never going to be perfect — there were several scenes that were yet to be filmed, and even some of the footage Sluizer had shot was missing — but the existing version of Dark Blood is fascinating precisely for its tortured history. In a voiceover at the beginning, Sluizer describes his cut of the film as a three-legged chair: One leg is missing, but you can still sit on it. The movie centers on a married couple (Jonathan Pryce and Judi Davis) driving through the Los Alamos desert on their way to Los Angeles when their car breaks down.
As day turns to night, the pair begin bickering (in one shot, Davis tries to use her cellphone, which is the size of a brick, but she can’t get a signal). Eventually they encounter a curious young man (Phoenix) who lives in a ramshackle house, within eyeshot of the nuclear testing grounds from the 1950s. He tells them he’s one-eighth Hopi Indian (“I’ve got dark blood in my veins”) and that his wife died of cancer. Although he is clearly disturbed, he seems harmless and offers to help them with a ride to a nearby town.
Periodically, the movie freezes, and Sluizer narrates the missing scenes, allowing us to follow the plot (unfortunately, one of the gaps involves a critical scene that played an important role). Gradually, the loner’s behavior becomes more erratic — in another missing scene, he cooks a rat for Davis and forces her to eat it — until things turn violent.
Even if it had been completed, Dark Blood was never going to be more than a slight, odd story that served primarily as a showcase for Phoenix. It’s startling to see the actor looking so young and healthy (he was 23). His performance as the unpredictable desert dweller plays a wide range of notes, from kind and gentle to angry and insane. In its current form, Dark Blood may not work well as a movie, but it’s a melancholic testament to the talent of an actor who seemed headed for greatness.
Cast: River Phoenix, Jonathan Pryce, Judi Davis. Director: George Sluizer. Screenwriter: Jim Barton. Running time: 82 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, brief violence, adult themes. Plays at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Gusman.
FAR OUT ISN'T FAR ENOUGH: THE TOMI UNGERER STORY (unrated) ***
In the 1950s, Tomi Ungerer was one of the most famous children’s book authors and illustrators in the world. In the early 1970s, he disappeared.
What happened in between is one of those stories that seems too wild to be true — except that writer-director Brad Bernstein tracked down Ungerer, who now lives in Ireland, and convinced him to sit in front of a camera and recount his life story.
Fortunately, Ungerer, 82, is a chatty fellow with a razor-sharp memory and a tendency to say outrageous things (“I’m sure he deserved it,” he says about a sketch showing a kid being boiled alive in a cauldron). Growing up between France and Germany during World War II, along with the traumatic death of his father, led to his fascination with dark stories and drawings. When he moved to New York in 1956, he started working for advertising agencies and magazines and eventually submitted his first children’s book, about four cute piglets who get slaughtered by a butcher.
The publisher rejected the book but asked if he could rewrite it with a happy ending. Thus began a long streak of increasing success, influencing peers such as Maurice Sendak, who says Ungerer’s tendency to use ugly animals as protagonists — vultures, octopuses, boas — liberated his own imagination.
But the social tumult of the 1960s, combined with the Vietnam War, inspired Ungerer to do other work — controversial anti-war posters that used shocking images to clearly communicate protest messages. He also began drawing erotic art, publishing collections of sketches such as Fornicon and The Party filled with graphic depictions of sex and sadomasochism.
What’s amazing is that no one connected his work — the children’s books and the adult fare — until he was invited to speak at a children’s book convention and someone in the audience attacked him and accused him of being a pervert. Suddenly, all his children’s books were banned, The New York Times stopped reviewing his work and he was blacklisted from the industry.
Ungerer doesn’t apologize for anything — he’s proud of his art and continues to sculpt and draw prolifically — and his children’s books, unavailable for decades, are now back in print. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough, which borrows its title from one of his collections, could have lost 10 minutes: The film spends a little too much time on his stint living in Nova Scotia, for example. But the movie succeeds as a celebration of the artistic impulse and the courage of a man who dared to follow his, no matter where it led him.
Writer-director: Brad Bernstein. Running time: 98 minutes. Vulgar language, extremely graphic art of sexual nature, adult themes. Plays at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Miami Beach Cinematheque and 7:15 p.m. March 8 at South Beach.
NO (R) ***1/2
In 1988, after 15 years in power, Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet caved in to world pressure and agreed to a plebiscite that would allow the people to vote yes or no as to whether to extend his rule for another eight years. The vote was rigged from the start — Pinochet had no intention of leaving power, no matter the result — but his government played along. Each night, over the course of a month, each side would be given 15 minutes of television air time to make their case in whatever style they chose.
The government opted to portray Pinochet as a hero of the people. The opposition, made up of several different political parties, took a different approach. They hired Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), an advertising executive who made his living coming up with campaigns for soft drinks and microwaves, to serve as a consultant.
At first, Rene commits only to give his opinion on their campaign: Montages of citizens being brutalized by police, testimonials by the mothers and wives of missing political activists and an attempt to demonize Pinochet and his regime. But once he sees what they’ve come up with, he starts to become more involved with their cause. He insists the “no” campaign has to be bright and cheerful, not dark and heavy-handed. The only way to get young people, who have no faith in the system, and the elderly, who are afraid to rock the boat, is to make voting “no” seem fun and exciting.
Gripping and suspenseful even though the ending is already known, No was directed by Pablo Larraín using a video camera from the 1980s, which gives the movie a low-resolution, grainy look. The approach allows him to show you the actual ads that aired during the month-long campaign, with each side responding to their opponents’ tactics from the previous night’s footage. The segments are fascinating, literally a nightly tug of war broadcast on state-controlled media outlets. Although his friends and his boss advise him to not get involved, and he starts receiving threats to him and his young son, Rene perseveres with the campaign. At first, he was doing it out of curiosity. By film’s end, he’s doing it out of a sense of patriotic duty. No is an exploration of the power of the media to manipulate hearts and minds. The moral of the story: Always go positive.
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Luis Gnecco, Marcial Tagle. Director: Pablo Larraín. Screenwriter: Pedro Peirano. Based on the play “The Referendum” by Antonio Skarmeta. Producers: Juan de Dios Larrain, Daniel Dreifuss. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 117 minutes. In Spanish and English with English subtitles. Vulgar language, violence. Plays at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Gusman.
AT ANY PRICE (R) ***
Some parents hope their children will follow in their footsteps and continue the family business. Other parents don’t give their kids a choice. In At Any Price, Dennis Quaid plays Henry, an Iowa corn farmer and salesman who prides himself on being the chief seed provider for seven counties. Henry is a hustler, a mover — you can’t imagine him ever sitting down to read a book or watch a movie. And he expects the same things from his two boys.
His eldest son went to Iowa State University on a football scholarship and never came back, opting to go mountain climbing in Argentina instead. His youngest, Dean (Zac Efron), dutifully does what’s expected of him, but he yearns to be a NASCAR driver, not sell corn, and has come to resent his father for it (“I don’t want to be a part of this family,” he mutters).
Eventually, Dean’s frustration explodes, and he breaks into an auto parts store and steals an engine that will allow him to compete in a racing trial. Henry, meanwhile, starts losing ground to his competitor and is pressured by his own father (Red West) to get his game together and regain the crown.
At Any Price teaches you a lot about the business of corn seeds and genetic manipulation, but what interests director Ramin Bahrani most are the dynamics of this deeply dysfunctional family. Henry is having an affair with a local woman (Heather Graham), and his wife (Kim Dickens) knows but turns a blind eye, the way people do when they dread confrontation. Dean’s fixation with racing could have come off as a plot device to separate father and son. But Efron sells his character’s inner turmoil and churning anger, which grows over the course of the movie until it finally bubbles over.
And Quaid buries his boyish charm to play a conniving, unlikable man willing to do anything to keep his business afloat — even approaching mourners at a funeral about buying the deceased’s land. The relationship between Quaid and Efron is initially reminiscent of The Great Santini, another story about a son trying to win the approval of his father. But this one ends in a radically different manner, suggesting that underneath those golden fields of swaying cornstalks, darkness sometimes lurks.
Cast: Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid, Kim Dickens, Heather Graham, Kim Dickens, Red West. Director: Ramin Bahrani.
Screenwriters: Ramin Bahrani, Hallie Elizabeth Newton. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 105 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. Plays at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at South Beach.
BROKEN (unrated) ***
At the start of Broken, the North London cul-de-sac in which the movie takes place looks peaceful and ordinary. That doesn’t last long, though. Seen primarily through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl named Skunk (Eloise Laurence), director Rufus Norris tracks the increasing tensions between three neighboring families. Skunk lives with her dad (Tim Roth), brother and live-in nanny (Zana Marjanovic), who is dating a schoolteacher (Cillian Murphy).
Next door is a widower, Bob (Rory Kinnear), with three daughters and an explosive temper that can be set off by the slightest provocation. Across the way is a couple with a son, Rick (Robert Emms), who is mentally handicapped but is cheerful — and good friends with Skunk.
Based on the novel by Daniel Clay but often reminiscent of the short stories of Raymond Carver, Broken shows how the lives of ordinary middle-class people can clash and collide with tragic consequences. Norris has a keen eye for details that give the three families distinct dynamics and personalities. Bob’s teenage daughters have picked up his boorish behavior and love to torment other people for fun. Skunk and her brother have developed a bond with their nanny that is half motherly, half sisterly. And Rick’s parents have devoted their lives to help their son with his illness, which seems to be getting worse.
Broken is as good at portraying the fantastical worlds of children and the trouble they can get into as it is at depicting adult affairs and the complications of relationships. The movie is amazingly rich, packing a lot of story and character into 90 minutes, and it opens with an explosion of violence that hangs over the rest of the film. The overall aura is one of dread, and you gird yourself for something awful to happen. When it does, Broken devastates you, just like life sometimes does.
Cast: Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy, Eloise Laurence, Rory Kinnear, Robert Emms, Zana Marjanovic. Director: Rufus Norris. Screenwriter: Mark O’Rowe. Based on the novel by Daniel Clay. A BBC Films release. Running time: 90 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, sexual situations, adult themes. Plays at 7 p.m. Sunday at Coral Gables Art Cinema and 9:15 p.m. March 9 at South Beach.
GHOST GRADUATION (PROMOCION FANTASMA) (unrated) **
As a teacher, Modesto is a failure, a milquetoast who can’t maintain control over his students. He keeps getting fired, and his shrink insists Modesto’s problem is that he’s gay and won’t admit it. But the truth is far stranger. Like the kid from The Sixth Sense, Modesto sees dead people — or at least the ghosts of five teenagers who died in a fire in the school library in 1986 and are cursed to roam its halls until they get their proper graduation.
So Modesto decides to become their teacher and push them toward their diplomas. Ghost Graduation is primarily a comedy (the dead kids are awed by iPods compared to their ancient Walkmans), but the jokes aren’t inspired. One ghost makes a skeleton move and the biology teacher gets so scared she jumps out the window; another ghost is a teen mom who has been pregnant for 24 years. Director Javier Ruiz Caldera makes good use of pop music and captures the feel of high school, but his protagonists are caricatures more than characters, and the movie falls into the trap of turning serious and dramatic near the end, when the laughs should be at their loudest.
Cast: Raúl Arévalo, Alexandra Jiménez, Jaime Olias, Alex Maruny. Director: Javier Ruiz Caldera. Screenwriter: Cristobal Garrido, Adolfo Valor. Running time: 88 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, nudity, drug use, adult themes. Plays at 7 p.m. Friday at Coral Gables Art Cinema and 6:30 p.m. March 9 at South Beach.
HALLEY (unrated) ***
Here’s a twist on the zombie genre I guarantee you’ve never seen: Being undead as a metaphor for loneliness and isolation. Beto (Alberto Trujillo) works as a security guard at a neighborhood gym, but he’s started to look awfully sickly. He has a gray pallor. There are strange bruises all over his body. He smells bad, and when he trims his nose hairs, a big chunk of something falls out. Beto can’t keep any food down — unlike most zombies, he doesn’t eat anything, not even human flesh — and at home he plugs himself into an IV filled with embalming fluid.
One day at the train station, Beto collapses and is declared dead. But at the morgue, he sits up and shakes it off, as if he just had a bad hangover, and the mortician, who should normally be horrified, takes his reanimation in stride.
Halley was directed by Mexico’s Sebastian Hofmann, who clearly loves horror movies (especially the work of David Cronenberg) and uses a quiet, contemplative tone to mirror Beto’s state of mind. As his body continues to deteriorate (the makeup effects are superbly gross), he becomes more estranged from people and decides to quit his job. His boss (Luly Trueba), who seems oblivious to his physical state, invites him out for a goodbye dinner, and he reluctantly accepts, leading to the movie’s most shocking and devastating moment — Beto’s ultimate degradation. Halley should have ended there, but Hofmann adds a coda intended to be poetic that feels superfluous. The rest of the movie haunts you, though. Feeling alone has never been this painful.
Cast: Alberto Trujillo, Luly Trueba, Hugo Albores. Director: Sebastian Hofmann. Screenwriters: Sebastian Hofmann, Julio Chavezmontes. Running time: 84 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, nudity, extreme gore. Plays at 9:30 p.m. Friday and 11:45 p.m. March 9 at O Cinema Wynwood.
SANITARIUM (unrated) no stars
“Insanity is a disease that spreads through the mind,” Dr. Stenson (Malcolm McDowell), head psychiatrist at a gloomy sanitarium, informs us at the start of this trilogy of horror tales. Insane would also describe anyone foolish enough to sink money into this straight-to-video-caliber turkey. The first story centers on an artist who doesn’t want to exhibit his work (dolls with hollow eyes) at a gallery in New York. The second tells of an 8-year-old boy haunted by a creepy hooded figure. The third — and, at an hour, interminable — tale stars Lou Diamond Phillips as a scientist preparing for the end of the world. Each segment was made by a different director, but none of them approaches anything that could be remotely described as horror. Excruciating boredom would be more appropriate.
Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Robert Englund, John Glover, Chris Mulkey, Malcolm McDowell. Directors: Bryan Ramirez, Bryan Ortiz, Kerry Valderrama. Screenwriters: M. Bratton, Kerry Valderrama, Bryan Ortiz, James Hartz, Evan Boston, Scott Marcaro. Running time: 106 minutes. Violence, nudity, sexual situations. Plays at 11:30 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday at O Cinema Wynwood.
THE FUTURE (IL FUTURO) (unrated) **1/2
After their parents die in a car accident, a brother and sister are left to fend for themselves in Rome. Bianca (Manuela Martelli) is 18 and old enough to serve as legal guardian to the teenaged Tomas (Luigi Ciardo). Their father’s pension allows them to keep their apartment and pay the bills. In adapting Roberto Bolaño’s novel, writer-director Alicia Scherson uses slightly surreal touches (Bianca dreams of solar flares) to give the story a mythical feel. When Tomas decides to take up bodybuilding, he brings home two physical trainers and asks Bianca if they can move in. Although they seem sinister at first, the two men turn out to be good roommates (they even cook).
They also have a shady plan: To persuade Bianca to befriend the reclusive Maciste (Rutger Hauer), a retired movie star and former Mr. Universe, and find the hidden safe where he stashes his fortune. Their gradual relationship, which inevitably turns sexual, hinders Bianca from carrying out the heist. The Future relies too heavily on voiceover narration, presumably lifted from the book, to make us privy to Bianca’s thoughts (“I will be a delinquent now, without fear,” she says). And the story feels more than a bit contrived: What works on the page doesn’t always work on the screen. But Martelli has a quiet, entrancing screen presence that keeps us engaged. She’s a young woman stranded in a situation dominated by physically imposing men, and her solution is surprising and deeply humane.
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Manuela Martelli, Luigi Ciardo, Alessandro Giallocosta, Nicolas Vaporidis. Writer-director: Alicia Scherson. Based on the novel Una Novelita Lumpen by Roberto Bolaño. Running time: 94 minutes. In English, Italian and Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. Plays at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Tower and 9:30 p.m. Monday at Coral Gables Art Cinema.
THE MIDNIGHT GAME (unrated) *
A strong contender for the least scary horror film ever made, The Midnight Game centers on a group of teens that performs a supernatural ritual one of them read about on the Internet. The rite is supposed to make their worst fears come true, which sounds like a really bad idea for a house party. The process requires them to spill a drop of their own blood on a piece of paper bearing their names, lighting candles and knocking on the front door 20 times at midnight. But the spell only lasts until 3:30 a.m., and if they get in trouble they can protect themselves by standing in a circle of salt.
The procedure is ridiculous, but what happens next is even dumber. The Midnight Game was directed by A.D. Calvo, who doesn’t understand how horror films work and doesn’t have a clue about scaring his audience. Lots of eerie things happen, accompanied by an annoyingly repetitive piano score, but the movie never rises above a mild simmer — Look! That crucifix fell off the wall! — and even though the film runs a brief 74 minutes, a night has rarely felt this long.
Cast: Renee Olstead, Shelby Young, Guy Wilson, Valentina de Angelis, Spencer Daniels. Director: A.D. Calvo. Screenwriter: Rick Dahl. Running time: 74 minutes. Vulgar language, brief violence, adult themes. Plays at 11:50 p.m. Saturday and 10 p.m. Sunday at O Cinema Wynwood.
FILL THE VOID (PG) ***
In Tel Aviv, 18-year-old Shira (Hadas Yaron), the youngest daughter of an Orthodox Hassidic family, is preparing to be married to a nice young man (she spies on him at the supermarket like an excited schoolgirl). But on Purim, her older sister Esther dies while giving birth, and the tragedy forces the family to postpone the wedding.
Esther’s husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein) is too grief-stricken to think about remarrying, although he considers a union with a widow from Belgium. If he accepts, though, he will take his child, an act the family cannot accept.
Fill the Void, which has been directed clearly and simply by Rama Burshtein, is about the clash between cultural duty and personal desire. When Shira’s mother proposes she marry Yochay, she is taken aback, and he rejects the idea outright. Their first meeting alone goes badly; the situation is simply too awkward. But the pressure from their families intensifies, gradually robbing them of any choice. The wonderful final shot in the movie is eloquent without using any dialogue, illustrating the great sacrifices we sometimes make for the people we love.
Cast: Hadas Yaron, Yiftach Klein, Irit Sheleg, Chaim Sharir. Writer-director: Rama Burshtein. Mild adult themes. Running time: 90 minutes. In Hebrew with English subtitles. Plays at 1 p.m. Sunday at Coral Gables Art Cinema and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at South Beach
THE HYPNOTIST (unrated) **
The Hypnotist opens with a sudden, savage, bloody stabbing, followed by the discovery of an entire family that has been slaughtered in their home. What is going on here? Has director Lasse Hallström, who has always specialized in kinder, gentler movies (My Life As a Dog, The Cider House Rules, Safe Haven) suddenly gone all Tarantino on us?
The answer, sadly, is no. After that brutal start, The Hypnotist slows to a crawl, which is Hallström’s preferred speed of pacing. The only survivor of the massacre is a 25-year-old man who lies comatose in the hospital. With no DNA or fingerprints at the crime scene, the cops turn to a hypnotherapist, Erik (Mikael Persbrandt), to see if he can extract any information from the victim. This annoys Erik’s wife Simone (Lena Olin), who disapproves of her husband’s work and the fact he needs to take sleeping pills every night.
The Hypnotist gradually splits into two movies: A police procedural in which suspects run around wearing hoods for no other reason than to keep the audience guessing who the killer is, and a marriage-on-the-rocks drama in which Simone plays passive-aggressive games on her husband to express her displeasure. Neither half fares well — the character played by Olin, who is married to Hallström, is an annoyance you wish would get killed off — and the resolution is so preposterous, it more than defies belief: It’s laughable. At least The Hypnotist lives up to its title: As you watch it, you may find yourself growing sleepy...
Cast: Mikael Persbrandt, Lena Olin, Tobias Zilliacus.
Director: Lasse Hallström.
Screenwriter: Paolo Vacirca.
Running time: 122 minutes. In Swedish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, violence, gore, adult themes. Plays at 7 p.m. Sunday at Gusman.
TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM (unrated) ***
Imagine the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger trolling for Satisfaction at the mic. Unimaginable.
Now imagine the band’s Vietnam-era classic Gimme Shelter without Merry Clayton’s piercing cry in its chorus: “Rape! Murder! It’s just a shot away.” Equally unimaginable. Yet Clayton is relatively unknown.
Take away Darlene Love’s lead vocal on The Crystals’ 1962 chart-topper, He’s a Rebel, and you’d have the sound of silence. Literally.
Music documentarian Morgan Neville hopes to correct the egregious oversight that has kept names like Clayton’s and Love’s — as well as those of Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Claudia Lennear, Janice Pendarvis and The Waters Family — obscure. Twenty Feet From Stardom, the opening night film for the Miami International Film Festival, is Neville’s crusade to celebrate some of the greatest — and unrecognized — voices in popular music.
Neville’s passion for his subject makes an infectious and compelling film with a killer soundtrack as it brings to the fore the familiar voices behind the hits. The singers, most of whom are black and trained in churches, elevated the music of such A-listers as the Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Sting, who talk candidly about the contributions to their recordings and tours. These voices, in many instances better than the names out front, helped mold the sound of popular music during tumultuous periods in American history. Clayton’s first impression after being asked to sing on Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1974 anthem Sweet Home Alabama, was one of incredulity. “Alabama? I certainly don’t want to sing about Alabama,” Clayton mused. But she relented, and the song’s all the better for her contribution.
Love’s story is equally interesting. The personable vocalist, who backed Sam Cooke and Frank Sinatra, once left the music business in frustration to clean houses for rich folk not long after producer Phil Spector denied her an artist credit on the He’s a Rebel single, preferring to credit the group instead. Love eventually was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and her ultimately upbeat outcome adds dimension to these life stories of joy and disappointment. Neville’s sole mistake is to devote too much time to newcomer Judith Hill, who has turned down paychecks to sing backup for Elton John and Stevie Wonder in order to avoid becoming typecast.
“We were the ones who sang the hooks,” insists Janice Pendarvis, who has backed major stars, including Ray Charles, Carly Simon and Steely Dan. Those hooks will have you singing your way out of the theater. - HOWARD COHEN
Cast: Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Claudia Lennear, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Sting.
Director: Morgan Neville.
Producers: Gil Friesen, Caitrin Rogers.
A Radius-TWC studios release. Running time: 90 minutes. Mild vulgar language, brief partial nudity. Plays at 7:30 p.m. March 1 at Gusman.