The following are capsule reviews of movies showing at this year’s festival:
SUPPORTING CHARACTERS (unrated) * *
Film editing has often been called “the invisible art,” a reference to the anonymous nature of the craft and an acknowledgment of the often thankless task that these industry veterans perform when they’re paring down hours of footage into a marketable piece of entertainment. The observant but flavorless indie drama Supporting Characters shines a spotlight on these unsung heroes of the cutting room floor, but director Daniel Schechter takes so many detours into their personal lives that he obscures any insights he might have had on their unglamorous line of work.
Nick (Alex Karpovsky) and Darryl (co-screenwriter Tarik Lowe), a New York City-based post-production team, have been brought in to fix a banal rom-com suffering from low test screening scores. Schechter peppers the scenes depicting the interracial duo’s complementary work ethic with engaging conversations between the two men that occasionally add up to a reasonably engrossing portrait of life as an extended editing gig. Instead of focusing on Nick and Darryl’s day-to day occupational challenges, however, Supporting Characters concerns itself way too much with their romantic entanglements. Nick, for instance, is engaged to needy, career-minded Amy (Sophia Takal), but he allows his wandering eye to fixate on Jamie (Arielle Kebbel), the lead actress of the film he’s trying to salvage. The stale storyline is even more tiresome than it sounds.
These skilled hired guns are fond of comparing what they do for a living with cancer surgery. “We get in there and cut out the malignant cells,” Darryl boasts at one point. Schechter could have started with excising these two zeroes from his movie and giving us people worth rooting for instead. Coming across like David Schwimmer’s uncharismatic long-lost cousin, Karpovsky looks disengaged even when his character is supposed to be in the middle of a heated argument with his fiancée. The most distressing part of Schechter’s halfhearted trifle is not that Nick and Darryl turn out to be self-absorbed jerks, but that their sense of entitlement is so dull.
Cast: Alex Karpovsky, Tarik Lowe, Arielle Kebbel. Director: Daniel Schechter. Screenwriters: Lowe and Schechter. Running time: 87 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, some sexual references, adult themes. Plays at 8 p.m. Oct. 22 at Muvico Pompano 18, 8 p.m. Oct. 23 at Cinema Paradiso, and 7:45 p.m. Oct. 28 at Sunrise Civic Center Theater as part of FLIFF.
STUCK (unrated) * 1/2
The traffic forecast for this morning-after romantic comedy is bumper-to-bumper clichés with a heavy probability of lousy one-liner gridlock. The bulk of writer-director Stuart Acher’s grating, aggressively stylish feature debut, this year’s Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival Centerpiece selection, takes place inside a silver-and-black Honda Element that’s trapped with a few hundred other vehicles on the L.A. Expressway. Because there’s nothing like enduring a never-ending traffic jam to force you to become acquainted with that one-night stand you’d rather forget.
Unfolding with non-linear restlessness, Stuck pieces together how Holly (Madeline Zima) and Guy (Joel David Moore) met at a bar, went back to his trendy apartment and indulged in decadent binge drinking and spectacularly awful sex, all of which Acher captures in excruciating shakycam detail. The filmmaker, who never lets you forget this is his calling card film, throws in every technical trick in the book, but once his two snippy lovebirds hit the road so that Holly can get back to her car, you realize he’s overcompensating for an utter lack of substance. Instead of illustrating how an attractive career girl like Holly would go for a bourgeois dweeb like Guy, Stuck’s fractured narrative generates migraines. Zima and Moore attempt to ground Acher’s overcaffeinated romp in something resembling reality, but they’re only convincing when their characters can’t stand each other — their mutual contempt is contagious.
Cast: Madeline Zima, Joel David Moore. Writer-director: Stuart Acher. Running time: 85 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, some heavy drinking. Plays at 7 p.m. Nov. 1 at Cinema Paradiso, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2 and 9:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at Muvico Pompano 18 as part of FLIFF.
AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT (LA CHISPA DE LA VIDA) (unrated) * * 1/2
Looks like one of Spanish cinema’s bad boys is trying to go commercial. No, not Pedro Almodóvar. Álex de la Iglesia ( The Perfect Crime, The Last Circus) might not enjoy the same name recognition as his older colleague, but the former comic book artist has quietly built a niche for himself as a ruthless satirist whose violent sensibility brings to mind a pre- Pan’s Labyrinth Guillermo del Toro. As Luck Would Have It is the Bilbao native’s most mainstream effort. Inaccurately billed as a wacky spoof of reality TV, the film is actually a strange hybrid of deadpan social satire and domestic melodrama, and as such allows de la Iglesia to display a newfound maturity and restraint that might have some of his fanboy admirers crying foul. Sincerity becomes him.
The plot kicks into gear when unemployed ad executive Roberto Gómez (José Mota), devastated after a job interview with a former colleague doesn’t go his way, drives to Cartagena to seek out the hotel where he and his Mexican wife Luisa (Salma Hayek) spent their honeymoon. Much to his surprise, the restored ruins of a Roman theater stand in its place. After sneaking away to a restricted area, Roberto finds himself the victim of a freak accident that lands the once-successful inventor of soft drink slogans on top of a platform with an iron rod stuck in the back of his head. The stage for a media circus has been set, quite literally. If the ensuing time-sensitive situation sounds familiar, that’s because de la Iglesia, working from Robert Feldman’s screenplay, is borrowing the story template of Billy Wilder’s film noir classic Ace in the Hole, in which a newshound played by Kirk Douglas exploited the life-and-death struggle of a treasure seeker trapped in a cave. What’s novel about de la Iglesia’s approach is that in his film, Mota’s hanging-by-a-thread opportunist is the victim and the media whore.
Hayek, who acts as the movie’s conscience in the face of her husband’s eroding moral compass, persuasively tones down her star appeal, but she is also saddled with spouting most of de la Iglesia’s heavy-handed, almost-all-mass-media-are-evil agenda. The filmmaker seeks to retain the biting irony of his earlier films while also getting the audience to empathize with Roberto and his family. The gambit works for awhile, but eventually de la Iglesia is unable to sustain this delicate balancing act between satire and pathos. As Luck Would Have It’s inconsistencies, however, are redeemed to a large extent by the movie’s final 10 minutes, in which the director briefly reverts to his old bloodletting ways and delivers some of his least sardonic, most assured work to date.
Cast: José Mota, Salma Hayek, Blanca Portillo. Director: Álex de la Iglesia. Screenwriter: Randy Feldman. Running time: 95 minutes. Vulgar language, disturbing images, gore, momentary smoking, a scene of peril. In Spanish with English subtitles. Plays at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at Cinema Paradiso, and 6:15 p.m. Oct. 25 at Muvico Pompano 18 as part of FLIFF.
ALL IN (LA SUERTE EN TUS MANOS (unrated) * * *
Singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler ( The Motorcycle Diaries) makes an auspicious acting debut in this winning romantic comedy from Argentine director Daniel Burman ( Lost Embrace). Ostensibly a lighthearted tale of a commitment-phobic poker player reconnecting with a former flame, the film reveals unexpected layers as it delves into its lead characters’ baggage-heavy pathology with far more nuance than its narrative would suggest.
A compulsive liar in his 40s who keeps an emotional distance from friends and loved ones alike, divorced financier Uriel Cohan (Drexler) has allowed his talent at cards and anonymous motel sex take top priority in his life. (The film’s jagged editing captures Uriel’s jumpy personality.) At the end of the day, though, he still yearns for Gloria (Valeria Bertuccelli), the girl he dated in his 20s who abruptly gave him the boot. A chance to rekindle the relationship materializes when he runs into his ex, who has returned from Europe to settle her late father’s estate. Gloria, however, is struggling with her own issues, neatly encapsulated in her testy relationship with her mother Susan (Oscar winner Norma Aleandro), a literary radio host.
Even though Burman follows some of the genre’s familiar story beats, the way Uriel and Gloria’s courtship plays out appropriates the rhythms of everyday life. Drexler does a commendable job of balancing Uriel’s insecurities with a genuine desire to self-actualize, and Burman’s direction turns potentially superficial subject matter into a profound, keenly observed character study without sacrificing the film’s scrappy, easygoing charm.
Cast: Jorge Drexler, Valeria Bertuccelli, Norma Aleandro. Director: Daniel Burman. Screenwriters: Burman, Sergio Dubcovsky. Running time: 110 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, suggestive dialogue, adult themes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Plays at 8 p.m. Oct. 26 at Muvico Pompano 18, 5:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at Sunrise Civic Theater and 4 p.m. Oct. 28 at Cinema Paradiso as part of FLIFF.