For the rest of the country, the Oscars mark the end of an intensive moviegoing period. But in South Florida, we’re just getting started. The 31st Miami International Film Festival, presented by Miami Dade College, kicks off Friday, March 7 with a screening of Elsa & Fred at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts with its two stars, Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer in attendance.
From now until March 16, 93 feature-length and 28 short films from 38 countries will unspool at various venues around the city. Among the expected guests are Mike Myers, John Turturro, Andy Garcia, Tom Brokaw, John Stockwell and Ti West. There will be the usual assortment of panels and parties, and a special slate of films curated by Lee Brian Schrager will feature five food-related movies followed by a three-course dinner inspired by the films.
Below you’ll find reviews of some of the festival selections. Keep checking miami.com/movies during the event for more reviews, and visit www.miamifilmfestival.com for a complete schedule of events. Let the movie binge begin.
WE ARE THE BEST! (unrated) [3 stars]
Much like its title implies, We Are the Best! is a lively, feel-good lark from Swedish director Lukas Moodysson, who returns to the upbeat vibe of his early films (Show Me Love, Together) with an altogether new kind of exuberance (the exclamation mark in the title is well-earned). Set in 1982 Stockholm, the film centers on two misfit best friends, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin), who are mocked by their schoolmates for their punk hairstyles and androgynous looks (“Just go die somewhere!” one mean girl tells them).
As a form of rebellion, the two pals decide to form a rock band, even though they know nothing about music (“What are chords?”). For help, they recruit the shy Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a classically trained guitarist and strict Christian whose conservative values initially make for an uncomfortable fit.
Based on the graphic novel by his wife Coco, Moodysson uses We Are the Best! to explore the complicated bonds that form between 13-year-old girls and how they are willing to swear allegiance to each other forever, until puberty starts getting in the way. The movie has an infectious sense of humor — one of the band’s songs ridicules the attention boys pay to sports (“Children in Africa are dying, but all you care about is balls flying!”) — and the film has a feel for the way young adolescents see the world, savoring any victory, no matter how trivial, as a triumph. In a few years, these three will have probably gone their separate ways. But for right now, together, they really are the best.
Cast: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne. Director: Lukas Moodysson. Screenwriters: Lukas Moodysson, Coco Moodysson. Running time: 102 minutes. In Swedish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, adult themes. Plays at 7:15 p.m. Friday at South Beach and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Paragon Grove.
CANNIBAL (unrated) [3 stars]
Unlike his infamous cohort Hannibal Lecter, Carlos (Antonio de la Torre), the protagonist of Cannibal (Caníbal), isn’t much of a chef. He prefers to eat human flesh straight up, medium rare, without any garnishes or accompaniments other than a glass of cheap red wine. The meat looks gray and unappetizing, but that’s the only thing Carlos eats each night, alone in his apartment, his refrigerator stuffed with body parts wrapped in plastic.
By day, Carlos is a respected tailor, a skill that comes in handy when it’s time to carve up his victims, whom he stalks in various ways (he eats only women, never men). He leads a solitary life like most psychopaths do, minding his own business until he gets a new upstairs neighbor (Delphine Tempels), a beautiful masseuse from Romania trying to drum up new business.
Cannibal was directed with subtlety and restraint by Manuel Martin Cuenca, who is more fascinated by the psyche of his anti-hero than his revolting appetite (there’s little violence or gore in the film). Once Carlos makes the critical mistake of forming a slight connection with another person, complications immediately start to snowball. He can no longer continue to keep the world at bay and secretly go about his monstrous business. The suspenseful question that looms over the movie as Carlos is gradually backed into a corner is: Does this creature have a heart, or is he completely beyond redemption?
Cast: Antonio de la Torre, Olimpia Melinte, Delphine Tempels, Gregory Bossard. Director: Manuel Martin Cuenca. Screenwriters: Alejandro Hernandez, Rafael de la Uz. Based on the novel by Humberto Arenal. Running time: 116 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, nudity, brief violence, gore, adult themes. Plays at 9:15 p.m. Saturday at South Beach and 9:15 p.m. March 16 at Paragon Grove.
THE SEVENTH FLOOR (SEPTIMO) (unrated) [3 stars]
Sebastian (Ricardo Darin) is a defense attorney in Buenos Aires preparing for a deposition in a high-profile case. Before heading into court, though, he makes his usual visit to the apartment of his estranged wife Delia (Belen Rueda) to pick up their two young children and take them to school.
Delia is pushing Sebastian to make their separation final and sign the divorce papers, but he’s not quite ready yet. Like he does almost every day, he plays a game with his kids: He takes the elevator and they run down the stairs from their seventh-floor apartment to see who makes it downstairs first.
Except that today when he reaches the lobby, the elevator doors are open and the children are nowhere to be found. The concierge who has been manning the building’s entrance hasn’t seen a thing. A woman who lives on the sixth floor says she saw them run past her door, but no one else can provide a clue. Where did the kids go?
From that simple setup, The Seventh Floor (Septimo) spins an elaborate thriller full of red herrings and fake-outs that are constantly two steps ahead of the audience. Every time you think you’ve got it figured out, the movie one-ups you by proving you wrong. Who kidnapped Sebastian’s kids? Is it the corrupt cop who lives in the building with whom he once argued? Is it the over-possessive nanny who used to watch them? Could the concierge be lying? Does this have anything to do with the case Sebastian is working on?
Director Patxi Amezcua, who also co-wrote the script, toys with the viewer in a playful manner and uses simple sleight-of-hand tricks to keep you from looking in the right direction. The Seventh Floor is slight, but it’s aided immeasurably by Darin’s typically fine performance, this time as a distraught father who is used to being in control of things and can’t figure out how his world suddenly turned upside-down. If you can guess the ending of The Seventh Floor before the movie makes its big reveal, you’re a sharper viewer than I am.
Cast: Ricardo Darin, Belen Rueda, Luis Ziembrowski, Osvaldo Santoro, Jorge D’Elia. Director: Patxi Amezcua. Screenwriters: Patxi Amezcua, Alejo Flah. Running time: 88 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, adult themes. Plays at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at South Beach and 7 p.m. Monday at Paragon Grove.
THE SACRAMENT (R) [2.5 stars]
When a photographer (Kentucker Audley) gets a note from his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) informing him she has joined a commune and left the country, he heads out to find her with the help of a Vice magazine reporter (AJ Bowen) and a cameraman (Joe Swanberg) who is going to surreptitiously film their entire adventure in hopes of landing an exposé.
But when the trio reaches the commune (located in an unnamed country), everything seems to be swell. Caroline greets them happily and promises to try to get them an interview with “The Father” (Gene Jones), who is the leader of the group. Faster than you can say “Jim Jones,” The Father’s grip over his flock becomes clear.
The Sacrament is the latest slow-burn horror picture by writer-director Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers), who specializes in taking familiar genres — Satanism, haunted houses, cults — and exploring them with subtlety and a quietly ratcheting tension. West’s movies require patience, and some critics claim the payoff isn’t worth the effort.
But even though you know where the story is heading, The Sacrament manages to creep you out thanks to Jones’ magnetic performance as the group’s vaguely menacing leader and West’s careful pacing, which builds and builds until, finally, mayhem explodes.
Cast: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones, Kentucker Audley, Kate Lyn Sheil. Writer-director: Ti West. A Magnolia Pictures release. Running time: 99 minutes. Vulgar language, brief violence, gore, drug use, adult themes. Plays at 7:15 p.m. Saturday and 9:45 p.m. Sunday at South Beach.
IN DARKNESS WE FALL (LA CUEVA) (unrated) [1 star]
The found-footage genre continues to develop a bad rep with the Spanish import In Darkness We Fall (titled La Cueva, or The Cave, in its native country), the story of five fun-loving tourists from Madrid who go on vacation and get lost while exploring a cave that turns out to be an inescapable maze. Director Alfredo Montero tries to rattle the viewer via claustrophobic shots of people squeezing through tight spaces and the possibility of shadows harboring monsters. But the mounting desperation among the group as they start to realize the gravity of their situation is more tiresome than it is suspenseful, and the movie doesn’t so much build as it does peter out, a repetitive and dull exercise in the perils of spelunking.
Cast: Marta Castellote, Xoel Fernandez, Eva Garcia, Marcos Ortiz, Jorge Paez. Director: Alfredo Montero. Running time: 80 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, frightening imagery, adult themes. Plays at 9:50 p.m. Saturday at South Beach and 9:45 p.m. Sunday at O Cinema Wynwood.
FADING GIGOLO (R) [3 stars]
In Fading Gigolo, writer-director John Turturro turns what could have easily been a crass and unpleasant comedy into something soulful and substantial — with a lot of laughs, too. Turturro stars as a flower vendor who, on the advice of his out-of-work bookseller friend Murray (a wonderful Woody Allen), becomes a high-class male escort. Adopting the working names of Virgil and his pimp Bongo, the duo fares well at pleasing the likes of Sharon Stone, finally sexy again, and Sofia Vergara, who is able to make you laugh with every line of dialogue.
But the situation gets more complicated and personal when Bongo hires Virgil out to Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), the widow of a Hasidic rabbi who has crawled into a ball of self-repression after the death of her husband. Just the touch of Virgil’s hand is almost overwhelming for her, and their relationship grounds the comedy with a sweet, tender center (Liev Schreiber plays a neighborhood watchdog who harbors a secret crush on Avigal). By the time Virgil is having to defend himself in front of an Orthodox tribunal, Fading Gigolo has transformed into the kind of wise, observant comedy Allen made in the middle of his career. His performance as Turturro’s mentor is also his best screen turn in ages, keeping the humor spinning with his trademark, eloquent fussiness.
Cast: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara. Writer-director: John Turturro. A Millenium Entertainment release. Running time: 98 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, brief nudity, adult themes. Plays at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Gusman as part of the festival’s Career Achievement Tribute to John Turturro.
CITY OF GOD: 10 YEARS LATER (unrated) [3 stars]
When it was released in 2002, Fernando Meirelles’ City of God felt like a revelation — the arrival of a major filmmaking talent who did for the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro what Martin Scorsese did for Italian mobsters in Goodfellas. Part of the movie’s dynamic realism, which earned it four Oscar nominations, is that its actors were all nonprofessionals who lived in the mean streets where the film took place. They weren’t acting so much as re-enacting what a lot of them had witnessed first-hand, which helped give the film a ferocious, dangerous edge.
Since then, Meirelles has gone on to direct several high-profile films including The Constant Gardener. But what about the actors? In City of God: 10 Years Later, director Cavi Borges catches up with the cast of the original film to find out how the movie affected their lives.
The answer: in every way possible. Some of the actors, like Alice Braga, went on to have successful Hollywood careers (she most recently co-starred opposite Matt Damon in Elysium). Seu Jorge became a huge pop singer in Brazil and also occasionally acted in American movies (including Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou).
Others didn’t fare so well. Felipe Silva, who played the memorable role of the little boy who is forced by thugs to choose whether he wanted to be shot in the hand or in the foot, now works as a concierge at a luxury hotel and speaks longingly about an acting career that never materialized. Others wound up in jail for petty crimes, having spent the modest salaries they were paid for the film on computers and skateboards. Alexandre Rodrigues, who played the lead role of aspiring photojournalist Rocket, recalls how the filmmakers offered him the choice of a flat salary or a percentage of the grosses and he took the paycheck (roughly $4,000). The movie went on to gross more than $30 million worldwide.
The actors also recall the disorienting experience of attending the Cannes Film Festival and walking the red carpet (for many of them, it was their first time on a plane), then having to return to the grim reality of their lives. City of God helped make the favelas into tourist attractions and, as this documentary shows, forever changed the lives of all its cast members —fortunately, in most cases, for the better.
With: Alexandre Rodrigues, Alice Braga, Seu Jorge, Leandro Firmino, Douglas Silva, Thiago Martins. Director: Cavi Borges. Screenwriter: Gustavo Melo. Running time: 90 minutes. In English and Portuguese with English subtitles. Plays at 4 p.m. Sunday and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at South Beach.
LOCATIONS: LOOKING FOR RUSTY JAMES (un
rated) [3 stars]
When it premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1983, Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish, his stark, black-and-white adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel, was booed by critics. The moody, experimental movie opened theatrically a few weeks later and quickly disappeared, earning just over $2 million.
But then a curious thing happened. In Argentina, the movie became a huge hit, playing to sold-out houses for weeks. And when it came to Chile, Rumble Fish blew up in that country’s popular culture, selling out the prestigious art house theater Cine Arte Normandie in Tarapacá for more than two months, then brought back by popular demand several weeks later.
Alberto Fuguet, writer-director of Locations: Looking for Rusty James, was one of the Chileans who fell in love with the film. Much like Room 237 did with The Shining, laying out bizarre conspiracy theories and interpretations by people obsessed with that film, Looking for Rusty James consists of people talking about why the movie became such an important part of their lives, why they were affected by it and why it speaks to them.
Juxtaposed with scenes from the film and Fuguet’s recent footage of Rumble Fish’s shooting locations in Tulsa, the aural accounts of how people came to discover the movie reveal how art can affect us in unexpected ways. Coppola was experimenting with form and style when he made Rumble Fish — he called it “Camus for teenagers” — but even if his efforts went largely unappreciated in the United States, the movie curiously resounded with Chilean audiences, especially Fuguet, who was inspired to make his own cinematic Valentine to a film that unexpectedly changed his world.
Writer-director: Alberto Fuguet. In Spanish with English subtitles. No offensive material. Plays at 7 p.m. Sunday, 9:30 p.m. Monday and 4 p.m. March 15 at South Beach.
DOM HEMINGWAY (R) [3 stars]
Jude Law looks strikingly different in the opening shot of Dom Hemingway — thicker, older, burlier, with a receding hairline and noticeable wrinkles that didn’t seem to be there last time we saw him in a movie. The actor is pulling a radical change of pace in writer-director Richard Shepard’s dark comedy. Like Ben Kingsley did in Sexy Beast, Law emanates a thug vibe as the eponymous character: He’s a profane, violent, short-tempered safecracker who has just served 12 years in jail instead of ratting out his fellow criminals and now wants to be rewarded for his loyalty — handsomely.
Pairing up with his former partner (Richard E. Grant), who has lost a hand since Dom last saw him, the pair pay a visit to the crime boss (Demian Bichir) for whom Dom took the fall. But prison has made him coarse and rude. Dom has forgotten how people act and behave in the real world — he acts like he’s still behind bars, having to prove himself constantly. To say his behavior causes problems does not begin to describe the mayhem that ensues.
Dom Hemingway is often viciously funny in unexpected ways, and every time you think the movie has run out of steam, Shepard spins things in a new direction, keeping the energy from flagging. The film is stylish and beautiful to look at, and Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke does well with the supporting role of Dom’s estranged daughter, who is now married and wants nothing to do with him. But the movie is ultimately Law’s show: The actor, known for being so elegant and suave, reveals a whole new dimension here, radiating genuine menace and danger. You wouldn’t want to get this Dom angry.
Cast: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke, Kerry Condon. Writer-director: Richard Shepard. A Fox Searchlight release. Running time: 93 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, nudity, violence, drug use, adult themes. Plays at 7 p.m. Sunday at Coral Gables Art Cinema and 9:15 p.m. March 16 at South Beach.
CLUB SANDWICH (unrated) [3 stars]
All of Club Sandwich unfolds at a small beach resort during off-season, when a single mother (Maria Renee Prudencio) and her 15-year-old son (Lucio Gimenez Cacho) have come to vacation. The pair is inseparable, although there are signs the maternal bond is starting to strain (he asks her not to call him “honey bun” anymore).
Still, mother and son seem to fulfill each other’s needs, whether they’re lounging by the pool or staring blankly at the TV. Then the boy meets a girl (Danae Reynaud) who offers to take him up to her room to apply some suntan lotion. He’s smitten, although he doesn’t let on. But while his mother is asleep, he spies on the girl from his hotel room window and masturbates. And gradually — inevitably — he starts losing interest in hanging out with mom all the time.
Club Sandwich was written and directed by Fernando Eimbcke in the same droll, subtle style of 2004’s Duck Season, although this movie has even less of a story arc than that one. The movie, which unfolds over just a couple of days, is an intense, close-up look at the exact moment when a son starts to love a woman other than his mother, and the effect that has on the parent, who has devoted her entire life to her child. Eimbcke loves long silences and takes in which we observe stillness (there are lots of shots of people sitting quietly). And there’s a surreal streak of humor coursing through the picture, like in a scene in which the mother and son have an awkward dinner with the girl’s parents, that gives Club Sandwich a subversive edge. You’ve seen coming-of-age stories like this one before, but rarely one writ this precise.
Cast: Lucio Gimenez Cacho, Maria Renee Prudencio, Danae Reynaud. Writer-director: Fernando Eimbcke. Running time: 82 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Sexual situations, adult themes. Plays at 7:15 p.m. Monday at South Beach and 6:45 p.m. March 12 at Paragon Grove.
THE DOUBLE (R) [2 stars]
The shadow of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil looms large over The Double, director Richard Ayoade’s adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novella. Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) stars as Simon, a mousy office drone who plugs away at his humdrum job, lives in a drab apartment and spies via telescope on a beautiful co-worker (Mia Wasikowska) who lives in the apartment building across the street. He’s so generic, even his boss (Wallace Shawn) can barely remember his name.
None of this is played as straightforwardly as it sounds. The Double is set in an alternate reality filled with industrial noises, dank colors and old-fashioned technology. Clearly we are in some kind of fantasy world, somewhere close to where Eraserhead took place. The weirdness heightens when his boss hires a new employee who looks exactly like Simon but is everything he’s not: funny; charismatic; well-spoken; popular. Simon is baffled no one but him seems to notice the two men are identical, and there’s a malicious glint in his twin’s eye, too: He’s potentially dangerous. But can Simon snap out of his timidity and do something about it?
The Double is a one-note movie — the same drumbeat over and over again, with diminishing results. It’s fun to watch Eisenberg act opposite himself — like Jeremy Irons did in Dead Ringers, he always shows you which version of Simon is which — but the mood is oppressive and the story thin. Ayoade lacks the grand vision Gilliam brought to Brazil, another story about a corporate bee yearning to break free. The picture curls into itself instead of expanding: It’s an exercise in rigorous style, but there’s no pleasure or purpose to it. The Double is, much like Simon, instantly forgettable.
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Chris O’Dowd, Sally Hawkins, Wallace Shawn. Director: Richard Ayoade. Screenwriters: Richard Ayoade, Avi Korine. Running time: 93 minutes. Vulgar language. Plays at 9:15 p.m. Thursday at South Beach and 6:45 p.m. March 15 at Paragon Grove.