The Reel Deal

With films from fourteen countries, the Miami Film Festival features a volatile mix of love, lust, and crime

Four Weddings and a Funeral
Written by Richard Curtis; directed by Mike Newell; with Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, and John Hannah. Screens Sunday at 7:00 p.m.

When Elton John saw an early cut of this film, he was so captivated by the witty, romantic comedy that he ran off to a studio to record a song for the opening titles. But don't hold that against it. Even Captain Fantastic can exhibit good taste once in a while.

Charlie and Carrie (Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell) are veterans of the war between the sexes who meet each other at the wedding of mutual friends in England. It's love at first sight for the quick-witted Brit and the alluring American. They tryst immediately (MacDowell makes one persuasive seductress), but it takes a series of encounters at three more weddings and a funeral over the course of a year and a half for them to realize -- or admit -- their mutual ardor.

Along the way author Curtis and director Newell (Enchanted April) alternately skewer and celebrate the institution of matrimony more sharply than any English-language movie in recent memory. All the familiar elements take their turn, from the wedding-reception-from-Hell to the nervous priest who blesses husband and wife "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Goat."

The outstanding ensemble, which in addition to Grant and MacDowell features roughly a dozen supporting actors in prominent roles, wrings every ounce of piquant jocularity and bittersweet irony from Curtis's waggish wordplay. (Example: A grief-stricken lover eulogizes his deceased paramour: "His recipe for duck Ö la banana thankfully goes with him to his grave.") From opening titles to closing credits, Four Weddings is a caustic comedy that cracks the combination of holy wedlock.

Suture
Written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel; with Dennis Haysbert, Mel Harris, and Dina Merrill. Screens Sunday at 9:30 p.m.

The nature of human identity is the thematic thread that runs through Suture. Steven Soderbergh was the executive producer of this oddball suspense flick stitched onto a tired mistaken identity-amnesia premise. The central inside joke -- a pair of identical-looking brothers are played by a black actor (Dennis Haysbert) and a white actor (Michael Harris) who look nothing alike -- enables the filmmakers to poke fun at racial stereotypes. The camerawork is fluid and lyrical, almost hypnotic. But the story is tired and the acting is inconsistent, and the decision to film in black-and-white appears to have had more to do with budgetary constraints than with artistic considerations. The result is a flawed but interesting debut from McGehee and Siegel.

El acto en cuesti centsn
(The Act in Question)
Written and directed by Alejandro Agresti; with Carlos Roffe. Screens Monday at 7:00 p.m.

Cinema doesn't get much more curious than this quirky fable by the Argentinian director Alejandro Agresti. Main character Miguel Quiroga has a peculiar habit: He loves books so much he steals them from second-hand shops by day and reads them by night. In one text he learns a secret that enables him to make anything, even people, vanish. He converts that knowledge into a magic act and quickly becomes world famous. But he is haunted by the fear that another copy of the book exists somewhere and his secret will be revealed.

Shot on the fly in black and white, El acto en cuesti centsn feels unfinished by design. The technique takes a while to get used to, as do the Spartan sets and elliptical conversations. In the end it's hard to define exactly what Agresti's intentions are, but you can't resist trying.

Johnny cien pesos
Written by Gustavo Graef Marino and Gerardo Caceres; directed by Gustavo Graef Marino; with Armando Araiza and Patricia Rivera. Screens Monday at 9:30 p.m.

Would you like some Chile on your Dog Day Afternoon? This relentless thriller is based on a true story that took place in Santiago, Chile, in 1990. A hapless band of would-be desperados led by a seventeen-year-old student named Johnny Garcia rob a small business that turns out to be a front for money laundering. Something goes wrong; the robbers are trapped inside and forced to take hostages. As hundreds of well-armed police arrive, so do the TV cameras. A nation of ten million witnesses the tense standoff. (Documentary footage of the actual coverage is interspersed throughout the narrative.) Chile's 1993 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar entry.

The November Men
Written by James Andronica; directed by Paul Williams; with James Andronica, Paul Williams, and Robert Davi. Screens Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.

A high curiosity factor is about all November Men has going for it. Back in the Sixties Paul Williams wrote and directed a trio of films that gave future stars such as actor Jon Voight and director of photography John Avildsen (who would go on to direct Rocky and The Karate Kid) their big breaks. He's been out of the theatrical film directing business since 1974's Nunzio, written by November Men author and costar James Andronica.

The November Men is an unfortunate choice for a comeback vehicle -- a film-within-a-film political assassination thriller, complete with every cliche the genre has to offer. Williams himself stars as an egomaniacal director who will stop at nothing to get his film made. It's a bad casting decision. Williams's screen presence is not what you'd call riveting. Andronica's dialogue is by turns contrived and stilted; at least he acts better than he writes. After viewing The November Men, you may be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Williams's twenty-year absence from the big screen was not entirely his own decision.

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