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Thread: The 2007 Miami International Film Festival

  1. #16
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    FICTION (Spain)

    Alex, a 39 year-old film director, comes to a village at the edge of the Pyrenees to spend a couple of weeks with Santi, an old friend. Alex hasn't seen Santi for years and doesn't feel completely at ease around him, but needs a respite from the wife, kids, and big city pressures. Also at the village is Judith, Santi's best friend and a former acquaintance of Alex, and Monica, a musician from Madrid visiting Judith. Fiction concerns these four characters and how they relate to each other, but gradually the main focus becomes what develops between Alex and Monica. They get ample time together when they become separated from Santi and Judith during a mountain hike and get lost. They spend the night in a shelter where each realizes separately there is something special between them, something that is perhaps better left unacknowledged. Later, Judith's girlfriend returns from a trip abroad and Alex's wife makes an impromptu visit.

    Ficcio (fiction in Catalan) is the third solo effort from director Cesc Gay (In The City, Nico and Dani). All three films revolve around characters who either are not the type to show their feelings openly, or choose consciously to repress them. Only the spectator is truly privy to certain emotions felt by key characters. In Fiction, Gay explores the nostalgia felt by people at mid-life for a time when all the roads were open. Any road taken closes the door on other possibilities because we can never really go back. This is the third script co-written by Gay and Tomas Aragay. It typically avoids any semblance of stiff theatricality or literary wit. Gay's method of shooting chronologically to allow for improvisation without creating continuity problems again pays dividends. The tone is consistently understated and sober, probing character nuance without histrionics or genre twists. Fiction is the type of film in which it's almost unfair to single out any of the actors because the whole cast is impressive. Having said that, Fiction features, arguably, the two best Spanish actors working today: Eduard Fernandez (as Alex) and Javier Camara (as Santi).

    Catalan is the prevalent language in Fiction, which is no small matter. Catalan is spoken by less than 5 million people. The mere use of the language spoken in Catalonia means reduced box office potential and distribution for any film, not only in Spain but also in Latin America and the USA. Perhaps Fiction will eventually be released on dvd in the US (like In The City, which is also in Catalan). For the time being, it will delight festival goers looking for refined adult fare. Fiction is one of the best films of the festival.

  2. #17
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    OUR FATHER (Chile)

    Pedro, Roberto and Meche have been summoned to Valparaiso after their 72 year-old father is hospitalized. The first half of Our Father (Padre Nuestro) is a road movie as the siblings, along with Pedro's Argentine wife Maite, make the hour-long drive from Santiago. The drive is interspersed with flashbacks to each receiving a phone call from Rosa, Caco's second wife. Pedro, the oldest, has lied to Maite about undergoing fertility tests because he believes he's sterile and fears Maite will leave him when she finds out. Meche, who suffers from bulimia, is the one who found out about her father's affair with Rosa when her parents where still married. She is still quite angry at her father and has kept a distance from him for years. Roberto, the youngest, has not told anyone that he separated from his wife months ago. Caco turns out to be quite a character, a gregarious bon vivant with a great sense of humor. He is on the verge of dying but vows to go his own way. After the others return briefly to Santiago, he gets Roberto to "borrow" an ambulance and take him to his old haunts by the waterfront. They have a ball at a bar owned by an old friend of Caco's and visit a lively bordello. At sundown, Caco gets Roberto to drive him to the beach town where they used to go on vacation. Caco's dream of reuniting the whole family one last time is realized there.

    This film, written and directed by Rodrigo Sepulveda, shares thematic elements with The Royal Tenenbaums and The Barbarian Invasions but can't quite reach their high level of artistry. Our Father is impeccably directed and thoroughly enjoyable though. Veteran Chilean thespian Jaime Vadell seems to be having a blast playing Caco, and Cecilia Roth (as Maite) is always a welcome presence. The problem with Our Father is that the compelling issues raised during its first half are abandoned in order to grant Caco one last joyride and the conflict-free reunion that is his final wish.

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    SERAMBI (Indonesia)

    Serambi (Veranda) was shot in a town in the Aceh region referred by Indonesian Muslims as the Veranda of Mecca, the point of departure for their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It is, historically, an important center of trade between East and West. On December 26, 2004, the town was ravaged by the tsunami that killed over 200,000 people and left many more homeless in the Indian Ocean region. Home video footage shows crowds running away from waves of water carrying cars, piles of debris, and people down the streets. After the water recedes, the corpses that litter the street are taken away and survivors look for missing friends and relatives.

    Director Garin Nugroho, returns to his documentary roots after successful forays into fiction features (including the critically acclaimed musical Opera Jawa). He focuses primarily on three survivors from different generations. Reza, a middle-aged man who makes a living delivering goods in a small motorized vehicle, misses his wife terribly, and eats food he buys at street stalls at the ruins where his house used to be. Usman, a college student who worships Che Guevara and attempts to restart a relationship with his despondent ex-girlfriend. Tari, she's about 9 years old, lost most of her family during the tsunami and now lives in a UN shelter. The devout girl prays for "God to love my parents like they loved me when I was little". Serambi follows its three subjects around town as they attempt to cope with their many losses and reorient themselves to the environment. Some of the most interesting issues that come up refer to how the disaster challenges certain religious beliefs of the survivors. Nugroho's approach to the documentary form is anecdotal and poetic, which may disappoint viewers looking for a comprehensive, informational point-of-view of this terrible natural disaster.

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    I AM THE OTHER WOMAN (Germany)

    Robert (August Diehl), a civil engineer, travels to Frankfurt on business. At the hotel bar, he meets Carlotta, a platinum blonde in a red dress and they share a night of kinky sex. She's gone by the time he wakes up. Robert goes to his scheduled meeting with Carolin Winter (Katja Riemann), who looks just like Carlotta (remember Vertigo?) except her attire and demeanor are completely different. Carolin accepts an invitation to dinner, where she denies any connection with "the other woman" and resists Robert's persistent attempts to seduce her. Undeterred, Robert visits the Winter estate and meets her ditzy, alcoholic mother (Karin Dor, making a comeback to the big screen) and creepy, wheelchair-bound father Karl (Armin Muller-Stahl, perfectly cast). Also living in the household: a mute, glowering manservant, who turns out to be Mrs. Winter's longtime lover, and a fortyish secretary who, we will learn, was a teen prostitute Karl met during a trip to Morocco and brought home with him. The intriguing plot of I am the Other Woman is propelled by Robert's erotic obsession and by Carolin/Carlotta's need to escape the clutches of the dementedly possessive Karl.

    I am the Other Woman is an adaptation of a novel by Peter Merthesheimer who collaborated with F.W. Fassbinder on several projects. Perhaps Fassbinder could have made art out of this lurid, grotesque, sometimes preposterous material. Veteran director Margarethe von Trotta was perhaps attracted by the theme of male oppression in the story_a topic she explored in some of her best work. Here she seems content with delivering outrageous entertainment and directing an amazing veteran cast. File under guilty pleasure.

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    ANTONIA (Brazil)

    A hiphop band allows their four backup singers to play one song to open a concert. The talented girls get an enthusiastic response from the audience and hire a manager. They sing at private parties and get gigs at clubs and festivals. Then the group starts to fall apart. Preta (Negra Li) catches Mayah (Quelynah) flirting with her husband and a rift develops between the two childhood friends. Mayah ends up leaving Antonia, as their group is called. Lena (Cindy Mendes) gets pregnant. Her boyfriend agrees to live together and recognize the child if she stops performing. Barbarah (Leilah Moreno) gets taunted in the street by a boy who claims responsibility for the beating of her gay brother. A fight ensues in which Barbarah pushes the boy against a concrete wall and dies. She is sentenced to jail for manslaughter. Preta performs solo while manager Marcelo tries to keep up her spirits. Antonia jumps to moments of crisis resolution, and rushes to Antonia reunited to deliver two outstanding numbers at a music festival.

    Antonia, a musical directed by Tata Amaral, is grounded on life as lived in the hilly working-class neighborhoods of Sao Paolo, South America's largest city. Dramatic situations are familiar and handled conventionally. Key to Antonia's ability to deliver solid entertainment is the casting of the four attractive and talented singers, none of which has previous acting experience. The dramatic scenes are delivered with conviction and credibility, perhaps a sign that that Ms. Amaral is a skillful director of actors. The musical numbers, a mix of rap, ballads, and r&B, exude on-stage chemistry.

  6. #21
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    LA LUPE: QUEEN OF LATIN SOUL (USA)

    World premiere of this hour-long documentary about legendary Afro-cuban pop singer Guadalupe Yoli (1940-1992). La Lupe was not a musical genius like Benny More or a consummate pro like her rival Celia Cruz. La Lupe was a flamboyant, extravagant woman with great stage presence and a powerful voice. La Lupe: Queen of Latin Soul, on the other hand, takes a conventional approach, providing a chronological view of her tempestuous life via photographs, performance footage, and interviews. La Lupe's fame was both based on her singing and controversial aspects of her life: her devotion to Santeria, her exhibitionism, her drug abuse, and her late conversion to Christian fundamentalism. La Lupe: Queen of Latin Soul was directed by Cuban-born, New York-based Ela Troyano, whose previous works include the award-winning short Carmelita Tropicana and disposable, gay-camp feature Latin Boys Go To Hell. She plays particular attention to La Lupe's years in New York, when she was a key figure in the emergence of "salsa" as the predominant Latin music genre. During the late '60s and early 70s, she was a highly sought out performer. La Lupe: Queen of Latin Soul includes footage of her appearances in "The David Frost Show" and "The Dick Cavett Show". The clip from the latter is hysterically funny, and revealing in more ways than one. La Lupe:Queen of Latin Soul will have its broadcast premiere on PBS on June 5th.

  7. #22
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    JINDABYNE (Australia)

    Jindabyne is a township in New South Wales, originally inhabitated exclusively by aborigines. European immigrants gradually settled there. In 1964, the old town was drowned by rising waters caused by the construction of the Snowy Mountains Dam; the town had to be relocated. Jindabyne Lake now covers the sacred ground of the aboriginal population, who live scattered in the surrounding area.

    Director Ray Lawrence's film transplants American writer Raymond Carver's short story "So Much Water So Close To Home" to this locale (it was also used by Robert Altman for one episode of Short Cuts). The opening scene shows a man, who turns out to be the town's electrician, forcing a car driven by a 19 year-old aboriginal woman to stop on a lonely stretch of road. Soon thereafter, he dumps her corpse in a river. The film introduces the four men (and their families) who simply won't allow their finding the corpse to disturb their fishing expedition. The men report it to police two days after finding the body and securing it to some branches with fishing line so it won't flow away and crash against the rocks. A police chief is only shown once, angry at the men for waiting so long to contact authorities, since Jindabyne doesn't concern itself with finding and catching the killer. It mostly focuses on the impact of the morally-questionable decision on the biracial community, and on the relationship between Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney). The Irish gas station owner and his American wife are richly drawn, and provided with significant backstory. They experienced a painful separation following the birth of their 6 year-old son Tom, and have tentatively managed to stay together despite lingering tensions. A possible new pregnancy and Claire's befuddlement and disappointment by Stewart's insensitive action precipitate a new crisis.

    Lamentably, Lawrence and scriptwriter Beatrix Christian pile up the characters and can't possibly begin to explore all the baggage they carry. Secondary characters are given protagonist-size issues and the filmmakers are simply not up to the challenge. For instance, the wife of one of Stewart's buddies has adopted her granddaughter but seems to hate her. The little girl has unresolved bereavement issues following her mom's death. She and little Tom stab the school's pet hamster with a fishing knife and kill a bird. Like the Japanese girl in Babel, these characters deserve their own movie, one that cares about them, one that takes an interest in what afflicts them. Several dramatically weak scenes appear more so due to the ponderous fade-to-blacks that separate them. Jindabyne boasts very good performances and evocative use of landscape. It's an imaginative re-thinking of Carver's original story that serves as an allegory of the history between Europeans and aborigines in Australia. The film generates great interest when focused on the crumbling marriage of Stewart and Claire, but the flaws abovementioned render it ultimately unsatisfying. Particularly so, coming from the director of the superior Lantana.

    Jindabyne is scheduled for release on April 27th by Sony Pictures Classics.

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    DARK BLUE ALMOST BLACK (Spain)

    Jorge (Quim Gutiérrez) aspires to be a business executive. Seven years ago, his dad suffered a stroke which left him incapacitated. With older brother Antonio (Antonio de la Torre) seving a jail sentence, Jorge had no choice but to take care of his dad and work as a janitor. Unwilling to abandon his dream, the persistent Jorge has managed to obtain a business degree but the job search has thus far failed. The title of Daniel Sanchez Arevalo's film refers to a suit Jorge wants to wear to work. In the meantime, Antonio has joined a theatre group for the purpose of meeting immates from the female wing of the penitentiary. He hooks up with Paula, who wants desperately to get pregnant. Antonio is sterile, so Paula suggests they ask Jorge to bat for him. Afraid to lose Paula, Antonio reluctantly agrees. Once the "vis-a-vis" meetings are approved, Paula and an ambivalent Jorge meet for weekly, hour long, private sessions. The decision is complicated by the return of Jorge's childhood crush after years living in Germany.
    An additional plot thread concerns Israel (Raul Arevalo), Jorge's best friend. He has taken to spying on and taking pictures of the masseur in the adjacent building, whose clientele is exclusively male. Israel is simultaneously repulsed and fascinated when he notices the service includes sexual favors. He is shocked one day, when he recognizes his father being serviced. The conflicted Israel attempts to blackmail dad with the photos taken to get a car, then schedules an appointment with the masseur.

    This is highly original material with a few plot developments that might seem improbable. Perhaps it's the assured direction and naturalistic ensemble acting that contributes to my willingness to believe the narrative as presented. Anyway, it is said that life is stranger than fiction, and what transpires in jail is credible in the context of Spain's liberal policies towards inmates. Dark Blue Almost Black is a film bursting with the unpredictability of life, with likable-but-flawed characters forced to make life choices they could never anticipate. This highly enjoyable film manages to instill humor into the proceedings without detracting from the substantive issues inherent in the plot. Dark Blue Almost Black nabbed the award for best European film at the Venice Film Festival. At the 2007 Spanish Academy Awards, it took home three Goyas: the Best New Director award went to Daniel Sanchez Arevalo, Best New Actor to Quim Gutierrez, and Best Supporting Actor to Antonio de la Torre.

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    ANGEL-A (France)

    Luc Besson once announced he'd direct no more than ten features. Angel-A was the 9th and the recently released (and poorly reviewed) Arthur and the Invisibles is the 10th. We'll see if he sticks by his statement. I won't grieve if he does.

    Andre (Jamel Debbouze) is a scam artist with low self-esteem who owes thousands of Euros to some bad guys. He begs his way out of being thrown from the roof of a building by thugs. He can't possibly raise the dough he owes so he decides to commit suicide. As he is about to jump off a bridge into the Seine, he watches a leggy blonde (Rie Rasmussen) do the same and rescues her. She turns out to be an angel on a mission to restore his self-esteem and save him from the villains. She'll do anything for him, including beating up his enemies and raising money by screwing every guy at a swank nightclub. Andre falls in love with Angel-A, but she says that's against the rules.

    Many films have explored the premise of an angel on a mission to earth, but none as poorly imagined and vulgar as this one. Angel-A has two redeeming features: a lively, jazz-inflected score by Anja Garbarek, and gorgeous, widescreen lensing of an eerily depopulated Paris in crisp black & white.

    European critics have not been kind to Angel-A. Expect their American counterparts to follow suit when Sony Pictures Classics releases the film in the USA. Announced date of release is May 25th, but it may be limited to NYC and LA if the film performs poorly.

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    THE MOST BEAUTIFUL OF MY VERY BEST YEARS (Bolivia)

    The availability of digital video technology is helping to create a wave of independent cinema throughout Latin America. Aspiring filmmakers from countries like Peru and Bolivia often do not have the financial backing of their counterparts in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. Filmmakers like 26 year-old Martin Boulocq, writer/director/cinematographer of The Most Beautiful of My Very Best Years, perhaps could not get a feature made if it wasn't for the newer and cheaper DV cameras.

    The Most Beautiful of My Very Best Years is a highly personal generational portrait: middle-class, 20-somethings from Boulocq's hometown of Cochabamba. He calls them "the disinterested generation". Victor and Berto are best friends. Berto is an introverted young man who has decided that his future is in Madrid. He plans to sell the '65 Volkswagen he inherited from his grandfather to buy a plane ticket but selling the jalope proves more difficult than he anticipated. Meanwhile, he hangs out with Victor at home, at the park, at video arcades and bars. Berto has quit his job in anticipation of his departure so he kills time at the tiny video store where Victor works_once Berto tells Victor to steer customers away from popular action and porno flicks by introducing them to quality cinema. Won Kar Wai's Fallen Angels, an obvious influence, gets referenced. Unlike Berto, Victor is gregarious, inquisitive, and a bit wild. The balance is upset when Camila, Victor's girlfriend, arrives from abroad for a visit. She's a vivacious and worldly brunette who seems compatible with Victor but gradually tires of his aimlessness and refusal to move from Cochabamba. Camila starts to date other men and flirt with Berto. This causes a rift between the two friends even though Berto resists Camila's advances. The narrative is, like real life, complex and inconclusive. This is the type of film that may have inspired this year's festival's motto: "Films that leave something to the imagination". Any attempt at synopsis can't help being somewhat reductive.

    The Most Beautiful of My Very Best Years achieves the spontaneity Boulocq intended by shooting chronologically in real locations with a small crew, and keeping the non-professional actors in the dark about the plot. The mode is detached observation of human relationships within a small social circle. The dialogue seems mostly improvised, with humorous banter that may remind Americans of Kevin Smith's Clerks. The visual point of view is that of an insect buzzing around the characters with no established flight plan. Lensing is sometimes hyperactive, with highly mobile displacement of mini-DV cameras. At times I wished Boulocq would provide respite by moving back from the action and letting a scene unfold more statically. He was inspired by Christopher Doyle's lensing and achieves some attractive, artful visual effects that provide a counterpoint to the wholly realistic, almost documentary content. Martin Boulocq is a filmmaker to watch.

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    ACCIDENT (Brazil)

    Directors Pablo Lobato and Cao Guimaraes are natives of the large state of Minas Gerais located in southeast Brazil. From the hundreds of towns there, they selected twenty whose evocative names were used to write a poem. Turned out neither Lobato nor Guimaraes had visited any of them. They decided to create a portrait of Minas Gerais composed of 20 sequences shot in Super-8 representing the towns selected. They arrived without expectations as to what they would find, without a plan or a method. "We had to unlearn how to look", they explain. Whatever they'd capture would be by accident, in a spirit of total freedom. The resulting 72-minute documentary/film poem is a fascinating experiment. The information about the land and its people is almost exclusively conveyed visually, in a tradition that goes all the way back to silents like Berlin:Symphony of a Great City. The directors asked no questions but did not discourage subjects who wished to address the camera, as when a gay man discusses the difficulty of finding true love in a small town. Accident captures slices of village life, like a religious procession and passion play, a rodeo in which a transvestite is one of the participants; a man gets off his truck barefoot and dives into a natural pool on the side of the road, people buy bread as the sun begins to rise, vehicles of all kinds go up a steep cobblestone road, a folk band plays inside a dingy bar, nearby forests disappear under heavy morning fog...At times, Guimaraes and Lobato hold a shot longer than the content merits. And too often, the filmmakers indulge their penchant for abstract photography, closing up on random objects for no discernible reason. Accident is inconsistently inspired and rewarding.

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    AFTER THE WEDDING (Denmark)

    Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) has been living modestly in Bombay for many years. He runs an orphanage in desperate need of funding. A potential benefactor named Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard) turns up in his native Copenhagen. Jacob hates to leave the kids and travel to the materialist first-world he disdains, but it must be done. Upon arrival, Jacob is picked up by Jorgen's future son-in-law and brought to a luxurious hotel. The next day he pitches the project to Jorgen, a confident and casually arrogant man who claims he is considering several options. Jorgen insists Jacob attend his daughter Anna's wedding the next day. Arriving late at the church, Jacob locks eyes with Helena (Sidse Babett Knudsen), Jacob's wife, and it's clear they share a past history. At the reception, Jorgen's toast casually reveals he is not Anna's biological father, which surprises no one but Jacob. Jorgen gradually emerges as a master of manipulation, a man with a grand scheme based on weighty reasons revealed methodically over the gripping two-hour duration.

    With After the Wedding, director Sussane Bier continues to build her reputation as one of the pillars of modern Danish cinema. She specializes in films in which complex individuals face tragic situations within the context of family life. If you watched her previous two films (Open Hearts, Brothers), you know she's attracted to desperate characters experiencing strong emotions. At key moments, Bier gazes at their facial features with hand-held cameras as if conducting research through a microscope. There are some brief, abstract nature shots that serve as mere punctuation between scenes. Bier takes credit for the premise or story of her films, but the scripts are written in collaboration with Anders Thomas Jensen. They manage to take material that could easily generate a soap opera or black comedy and produce something fresh, deeply affecting, even insightful at times. Good writing is paramount, but a film like After the Wedding depends greatly on the actors. They are invariably superb. Mikkelsen, who played the compassionate doctor in Bier's Open Hearts, is an actor of great range_he played the villain in the recent Casino Royale. Lassgard, who looks like Lars von Trier's older brother, plays the most demanding role, the powerful and pitiful man who serves as the catalyst of this interesting story. After the Wedding was one of the five pictures nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. IFC Films will distribute the film in the USA beginning on March 30th.

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    Bella and Full Grown Men are being shown as part of a series called "Touching Florida" that celebrates the latest works of filmmakers from the State, or films "whose subjects touch on Florida". I'd be proud to hail the work of these filmmakers if it was merited, as I have admired the films of Victor Nunez, Julian Goldberger, and other Floridians. I'd like to acknowledge, to be fair to those involved, that critics from serious publications like Variety, LA Weekly, and New York magazine had more positive evaluations of both films than I do. Neither film has been picked up for distribution.

    BELLA (USA)

    Jose, a handsome Latin man, and his slick agent are riding on a vintage Chevy while discussing his new $2.2 million contract with a NY soccer team. Bella cuts to a busy restaurant, owned by Jose's brother Manny, where the footballer now works as a cook. Manny is angry because Nina, a waitress, is late again. We see her buying a pregnancy kit and rushing to her small flat. Manny fires her when she gets to the restaurant and Jose rushes after her. They hang out and have conversations that reveal why Jose had to give up soccer and why Nina wants an abortion. Meanwhile, Manny fumes. Jose invites Nina for dinner at his parents' home. The warm embrace of the traditional Latin family is like a healing balm to the lonely Nina.
    Bella boasts appealing performances by Eduardo Verastegui and Tammy Blanchard (the deaf girl in The Good Shepherd), competent direction by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, and excellent use of New York locales. It's not enough to recommend the film. The story contains implausible twists, vague character motivations, and forced moments of whimsy. The script piles up the cliches, and aims for maudlin sentiment at every turn. Is this what people want? Perhaps, Bella won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

    FULL GROWN MEN (USA)

    There is no character like 35 year-old Alby (a well cast Matt McGrath) in film history. There have been many immature male characters who need to grow up and face adult responsibilities, and kids trapped magically in a man's body, but this guy is truly something else. Unlike the protagonists of Chuck & Buck and the recent The Science of Sleep, this man-child is not recognizably human. All he wants to do is play with his action figurines and have what a typical 9 year-old considers to be fun. Inexplicably, he has managed to marry and have a son, whom he treats like a puppet. When his wife kicks him out, he contacts his boyhood friend Boliche (Cuban for "pot roast"). Boliche is planning an excursion with the mentally disabled kids he teaches. They're going to Diggityland, Alby's favorite place in the world, so he invites himself.Full Grown Men becomes a road comedy full of grotesque characters and zany situations, none of them remotely plausible. Alby proves at every step of the way that he is not only terminally child-like, but also an insufferable jerk with psychopathic tendencies. I do admit experiencing perverse enjoyment out of watching him get his ass kicked by two dwarfs, but just about everything else made me groan. To be fair, production values are excellent, and cameos by Alan Cumming and Miami-born Debbie Harry brighten things up momentarily. Otherwise, Full Grown Men is a dud.

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    BLUFF (Colombia)

    Nicolas, a fashion photographer, catches his girlfriend Margarita and his boss Pablo making out. He loses job and girl. Pablo and Margarita get married but one year later, Nicolas' spying on Pablo pays off when he catches him with his lover and takes pictures. He threatens to show them to Margarita but Nicolas rebuts by offering him $1 million to kill Margarita. You get the idea, more characters are introduced and the twists multiply and I didn't buy any of it or cared about a single character. All the characters look good, but the girls are invariably gold-digging bimboes and the guys are horny, violent and greedy.

    Bluff attempts to be a black comedy, but it generated very few laughs. It moves at breakneck speed, with the quick editing style typical of music videos. Bluff was shot with handheld cameras which are placed very close to the actors' faces most of the time. All these close-ups make the histrionic acting style much more difficult to ignore. The use of an English word as the original title of a Spanish-language film probably indicates the film aspires to distribution in English-language territories. It would not be deserved. It's a slick, cynical, and contrived movie, but it's supposed to be all that. The problem with Bluff is that it's neither funny nor engaging.

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    EL BENNY (Cuba/Spain/UK)

    Bartolomeo "Benny" More (1919-1963) was the greatest Cuban singer and bandleader of the mid 20th century, a period of intense socio-political turmoil in the island. This biopic, made in Cuba and financed by Spanish and British production companies, was reportedly seen by half a million Cubans during the first month of release. Almost half a century after his death, the public's admiration for the charismatic singer endures. Benny, a self-taught musician proud of his country roots, was a man of the people who refused to join the throng of artists who emigrated during the early years of the revolution.

    El Benny starts during what would be his last concert performance, and quickly flashes back to a decade earlier, in 1952, when Benny had already achieved wide popularity in Latin America. We witness scenes of marital strife due to his alcoholism and womanizing, his breakup from the Cuban National Orchestra and his efforts to form his own band. Director and co-writer Jorge Luis Sanchez's strategy soon becomes evident: to dramatize key episodes from More's adult years. The resulting film is intentionally episodic, like most musician biopics. What might set it apart is the scrambled chronology, but it seems to serve no artistic purpose. El Benny is bookended by a dubious scene in which a nurse hands Benny a bottle of aguardiente that leads to his collapse on-stage and precipitates his death. It's a misstep designed to provide closure and synthesize Benny's losing battle against alcohol-induced liver disease.

    The film is a success due to its casting, performances, and art direction, key aspects of a musical biopic. The period recreation is precise to the last detail whether the action is set in swank Havana clubs or the humble country shack where Benny grew up. Renny Arozena, a young theatre actor with little film experience, prepared for over two years to play Benny. Arozena's performance is a triumph. His Benny is multifaceted_ brilliant, proud, generous, but also petty and weak. A number of contemporary Cuban musicians are responsible for the magnificent music, old Benny More hits interspersed with new compositions. None deserve more credit than singer Juan Manuel Villi, in charge of imitating the voice of "El Barbaro del Ritmo", the great Benny More.

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