Festival Seating

I live in South Miami. The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival has always bugged me because it presents a nasty dilemma: I love movies, but I hate to drive. In the past, my I-95 aversion has usually won out. And I'm fairly comfortable making the assumption that I'm not the only Miamian who feels this way.

But in this, its tenth year (can it really be ten years?), the Fort Lauderdale festival folks have taken pains to ensure that even a Dade-centric recluse such as yours truly will partake of their cinematic feast. To wit: They've worked out an agreement to exhibit fourteen of their films at UM's newly renovated Cosford Cinema.

The Cosford has always been a sentimental favorite of mine, and not just because I attended classes and watched literally hundreds of films there as a UM undergraduate (back in the prehistoric, pre-Schnellenberger era when the football team sucked and the university had to depend upon its sterling reputation as a party school, rather than its renown as a gridiron powerhouse, to attract students). It was called Beaumont Cinema back then, and it was roomy and musty and full of seats that creaked and occasionally collapsed when you sat in them. But since it reopened back in January of this year following extensive renovations financed in large part by the family of late Miami Herald film critic Bill Cosford, the mustiness has vanished, comfortable new seats have replaced the dilapidated old ones, and the screen, sound system, and projection equipment have all been upgraded. I no longer have to bore people with tales of my collegiate shenanigans to justify my affection for the on-campus movie palace. It's big, it's new, it's comfy, it makes the movies that play there look and sound great. And it's five minutes from my house. I can ride my bike.

Pillar of the film criticism community though I am, I doubt that the organizers of the Fort Lauderdale fete had my personal convenience foremost in mind when they reached the agreement with UM. They were probably a bit more concerned about trying to tap Dade's vast but fickle art film market.

The tenth annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival officially kicks off with a screening of Live Nude Girls on Friday, November 3, at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale. Had truth in advertising outweighed titillation in the choice of a title, this film would have been called Five Women Get Drunk and Talk About Sex. The occasion is a bachelorette slumber party for Jamie (Kim Cattrall), a B-movie actress about to marry for the third time. Georgina (Lora Zane), a chef, hosts the shindig at her handsomely appointed suburban home. Georgina's lesbian lover Chris (Olivia D'Abo) is not thrilled with the idea of all these giggly breeders monopolizing her lover's attention, and spends most of the film sulking in her bed. One by one the guests arrive and commence to dishing: Jill (Dana Delany), a bored housewife and mother who couldn't keep a secret if her life depended upon it and who has recently discovered she is pregnant again; Jill's sister Rachel (Laila Robins), who envies her sibling's marriage and kid; and Marcy (Cynthia Stevenson), an accountant whose housepainter is stalking her because she broke up with him after a brief sexual relationship.

They eat, they drink, they argue, they laugh, they cry, they skinny-dip. Despite her lesbianism, Georgina reveals she has developed a crush on a male coworker; Marcy's latent bisexuality surfaces when she finds herself alone with Chris; Jamie imagines the worst about her groom-to-be and the bachelor party his friends are throwing for him; Rachel and Jill do the acrimonious sibling-rivalry thing. It's all far tamer than the title implies, although to be fair there are live nude girls on display at times; there's also much raunchy talk and even a simulated sex act or two. Ironically enough, this "illuminating look at female sexuality" (according to the press release) plays out more like a soft-core male fantasy than a female one -- two gorgeous lesbian babes doing it here, five sexy chicks skinny-dipping there. A woman named Julianna Lavin directed Live Nude Girls, but it could just as easily be Russ Meyer's handiwork.

Despite a few good one-liners and a poignant observation or two, the film ultimately leaves you feeling like the only sober person at a party where everyone else is drunk. You keep wondering when they're going to realize how pointless and unfunny the conversations are, but they just keep yakking and giggling.

Cosmo (Jason Priestly), on the other hand, doesn't talk much. The taciturn protagonist of M. Wallace Wolodarsky's Coldblooded works as a mob bookmaker and lives alone in the basement of a senior citizens' center. His only forms of recreation are watching TV and occasionally trysting with his hooker pal Honey (Janeane Garofalo). Then one day his boss gets bumped off, and Gordon (Robert Loggia), his new chief, promotes Cosmo to hit man (which occasions the following exchange: "Congratulations! You're getting a promotion!" "Thank you." "Have you ever fired a gun?"). Cosmo receives a crash course in the fine art of murder from veteran hit man Steve (Peter Riegert). To the surprise of both of them, Cosmo displays an uncanny aptitude for his new line of work.

Most of the hype surrounding Coldblooded has centered on Beverly Hills 90210 hunk Jason Priestly's willingness to take on a role that represents such a departure from his 90210 Brandon Walsh persona. And Priestly is a gamer, disguising his pretty boy good looks under ill-fitting clothes, a bad haircut, and a dopey expression. But credit for the film's subversive humor belongs to writer-director Wolodarsky, a two-time Emmy winner for his work on TV's The Tracy Ullman Show and The Simpsons. The filmmaker has crafted a darkly funny morality play out of this tale of a simple man with a talent for a very complicated job. The characterizations could have run a little deeper, and the pace could have used a little speeding up, but Coldblooded is a droll black comedy to die for.

There's nothing funny about Sister My Sister, however. Like Live Nude Girls, this British production was written by a woman (Wendy Kesselman), directed by a woman (Nancy Meckler), and stars women, but that's about the only thing the two films have in common. Sister My Sister portrays a pair of sisters driven to pathological extremes by the collision of their emerging incestuous sexuality with Victorian propriety (in the person of tyrannical Madame Danzard and her bratty daughter Isabelle, the fussy, soulless, sexless bourgeois owners of the house where the sisters toil as maids). At first Christine (Joely Richardson) and Lea (Jodhi May) delight Madame Danzard (Julie Walters) with their devotion to duty and attention to detail. But she rewards their loyalty and hard work with only a few hours of free time per week. The oppressive housework and the overbearing Madame take their toll on the young womens' psyches; Christine and Lea increasingly turn to each other for emotional support. Eventually their obsessiveness rounds the corner and enters into a sexual realm. Madame Danzard feels her authority slipping away. Something has to give, and when it does, the results aren't pretty.

The film painstakingly creates a suffocating, claustrophobic world inside Madame Danzard's house. You can almost feel the explosion coming as the sisters' frustration, desperation, and anger mount. But the movie never really reveals what makes Madame Danzard tick, and as a result the mistress of the house comes off like a two-dimensional old crone, which mutes the impact of her final comeuppance.

Mexican director Roberto Sneider's Dos Crimenes follows the convoluted trail of Marcos, a womanizing murder suspect (he's been framed) who finds temporary refuge of sorts in the house of his rich, dying uncle. But several of Marcos's long-lost cousins have gathered round as well to await the old man's demise so that they can collect their inheritances, and they view Marcos as a potential threat to their booty.

The movie shifts tone rapidly and without warning, from the straight-ahead suspense of early scenes in which Marcos and his girlfriend get framed for the murder of a bureaucrat, to the dry comedy that ensues when Marcos and his shrewd uncle outfox the plotting family members. Just when you think it's settled on humor, the story takes a melodramatic turn and opts for a funny-ironic postscript. Sneider's plot becomes muddled, his intentions unclear, and his resolution less than satisfying. But Marcos's exploits provide fodder for some subtle character-driven humor, as well some broader, bawdy bits, and ultimately the comedy rescues Dos Crimenes from its own murky intentions.


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