Feast of Film

The Miami International Film Festival, now over at Miami Dade College, turns yet another leaf

The comparatively static settings of the houses and apartments of the dancers in Europe and the United States -- and the mournful original score composed and performed by Chucho Valdés -- reinforces the heartbreaking paradox that Dreams of Flight implies, without ever needing to make explicit: How can anyone make the choice between the vitality of life and dance in Cuba and the promise of political freedom outside? Why should anyone have to? -- Celeste Fraser Delgado

Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight screens at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 3, and at 9:45 p.m. on Thursday, February 5, at the Regal South Beach Cinema, 1100 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach.

Festivalgoers seeking a quick nip of American indie cinema might want to catch Milwaukee, Minnesota, an offbeat tale of hustlers and scammers set in decidedly nonglamorous Wisconsin in the dead of winter. Mentally challenged Albert Burroughs lives in Milwaukee with his overprotective mother Edna, who worries that he can't make it alone in the world. Albert works a part-time job for a crotchety old bachelor, Mr. McNally, but his real avocation is ice fishing, a hobby that has brought him fame and a hoard of cash in prize money. What's Albert's secret? He puts his ear down to the ice and listens as the fish talk to him. Albert's not-so-secret stash attracts some out-of-town grifters, including a sleazy sister/brother team, Tuey and Hank, and a smarmy salesman, Jerry James, who show up just before Edna dies in a hit-and-run. As Albert struggles to cope with the death of his mother and a new, frightening world of self-reliance, the rival hustlers close in on him.

Dance on, Cuba; he's Not Scared
Dance on, Cuba; he's Not Scared
More beauties from Bhutan; a road movie Brazilian 
style
More beauties from Bhutan; a road movie Brazilian style

Allan Mindel, an experienced producer here in his directing debut, delivers a nicely paced, engaging film that's especially effective in evoking a sense of place. This Wisconsin may not be the real one, but it seems real, a frigid, forlorn planet of battered apartments and lonely streets. R.D. Murphy's screenplay suffers somewhat from overly cute dialogue and one or two implausibilities, but the plotting is well structured and the story gets better as it goes along.

Cinematographer Bernd Heinl gives the picture a striking look, especially for an indie, favoring mirrors and reflective surfaces contrasting with the blank whiteness of the ice fishing scenes. All three appear to borrow heavily from classics of the past, referencing everything from Chinatown to The Grifters to Fargo. Production support is excellent here, though the minimalist musical score, heavily influenced by gamelan, has all the charm of a slow-dripping faucet.

Mindel has assembled a strong acting ensemble, anchored by Randy Quaid, thoroughly sleazy as Jerry, the bloated, cunning con man; Bruce Dern as the troubled Mr. McNally; and Debra Monk as Albert's ever-fretful mother. Troy Garity gives an effective, understated performance as Albert, though he's hampered somewhat by his resemblance to both the young Dustin Hoffman and Adam Sandler, leading to obvious comparisons. (His costuming, which looks a lot like Rain Man, seems to intentionally exploit this.) Alison Folland's Tuey is more erratic, with forced acting in some early scenes, driving home a few of the jokes, before settling down to a more effective naturalism. Holly Woodlawn makes a brief appearance as -- who would have guessed? -- a transvestite.

As cinema there's nothing startling or particularly fresh about this film, which keeps to the indie status quo of small-time crooks and visual style over substance. This film establishes a world of greed and selfishness but doesn't go anywhere with these subjects. Milwaukee, Minnesota doesn't have much to say, but nowadays what American indie does? -- Ronald Mangravite

Milwaukee, Minnesota screens at 9:45 p.m. on Sunday, February 1, at the Regal South Beach; at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, February 2, at the Cosford Cinema on the University of Miami campus; and at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday, February 7, back at the Regal.

Travellers & Magicians

Most movies, when it comes down to it, are probably motivated by a search for "cool girls"; certainly that's the quest that sets off the first feature film ever made in the tiny Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan. The followup to director and writer Khyentse Norbu's 1999 debut The Cup -- a look at the love of World Cup soccer among a community of exiled Tibetan monks in northern India -- Travellers & Magicians explores more carnal obsessions. The film offers views of a breathtaking landscape much lovelier than any of the scantily clad women whose posters hang on the bedroom wall of protagonist Dondup. Yet the frustrated young bureaucrat is sure all his dreams of hot chicks and rock and roll await him in the United States. So he plots his escape.

Dondup, played by dashing reporter for the Bhutan Broadcasting Service Tshewang Dendup, is prevented from catching his bus to the big city and then on to America by a series of village rituals that include dancing with an enormous phallus. Forced to continue on foot, he attempts to hitch into the city in the unwanted company of an apple-seller and a mischievous monk. The monotony of the trek is offset by a Buddhist fable the monk tells to pass the time about another young dreamer who left his home in search of a land of beautiful women. Magician-in-training Tashi (played by BBC producer Lhakpa Dorji) loses his way in a claustrophobic dreamscape and is reluctantly taken in by a cranky old farmer who has sequestered his beautiful young wife far from civilization.

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