Florida Film Festival:4-11-2010

April 11

Don't Let Me Drown (***) E.J. Bonilla and Gleendilys Inoa play Latino star-crossed lovers in New York, one month after 9/11 in this unimposing story of fledgling teen romance. Writer-director Cruz Angeles presents a sweetly naturalistic lower-class setting that's far from both Neil Simon's sparkling city and the exploitative squalor of Precious, and while the kids' homes are both reeling from the recent disaster, their relationship begins to look like a rose that grew from charred concrete. All of which is perfectly fine, and the performances, including Gina Torres and Ricardo Chavira, get the job done. But the material never rises above affability, a feeling reinforced by the lack of a solid ending. JS (12 p.m., Regal Winter Park; also 6:30 p.m., April 13 at Regal Winter Park)

The Lottery (**) There are over 300,000 children on waiting lists for public charter and magnet schools around the country, but in Harlem the luck of the draw could mean the difference between college and jail. This documentary follows several children and their struggling families as they wait to find out whether or not they got in to the neighborhood's wildly successful charter program. Along the way, the filmmakers introduce the complex, emotional fight between these charters and the teacher's union. Despite momentum on their side, the filmmakers get caught up in the fight between unions and charters, and they lose the plot quickly. By the time they refocus on the fateful lottery drawing, we've forgotten the hopeful faces in the crowd. JS (12:30 p.m., Regal Winter Park; also 4:30 p.m., April 15 at Enzian Theater)

Dumbstruck (****) You hate ventriloquists, right? What a useless skill and waste of time. This incredibly heartwarming — and occasionally heartbreaking — film will change your mind about ventriloquism. Dumbstruck follows the journey of five vent artists — some professional, some aspiring — over the year between their annual Kentucky conventions. It's a hard road to journey for all involved, but we get to see a real family born in this community. RB (2:30 p.m., Regal Winter Park; also 9:45 p.m., April 15 at Enzian Theater)

Cooking with Stella (***) A Canadian diplomat's family moves to India and discovers that it's hard to find good help. Stella (Seema Biswas), the trusted cook and housekeeper who's a treasured jewel on the High Commission compound, is actually running a complex system of cheats: selling Johnny Walker and maple syrup out from under her bosses — until a seemingly unimpeachable, sweet young nanny enters the household. In the meantime, the Canadians are upsetting Stella's boundaries. This movie can't decide what it wants to be. Is it a primer on cultural imperialism? Is it a foodie movie? Or is it Dirty Rotten Scoundrels 2: Port of Call New Delhi? The twists and turns are rarely surprising, and some of the portrayals smack of half-baked racism. JBY (3 p.m., Regal Winter Park; also 5 p.m., April 17 at Regal Winter Park)

The Young Composers Challenge (**) There's a mission accomplished in the coverage of the annual Young Composer's Challenge, presented by the unappreciated Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. The opening sets it up: The masters of classical music are old and romanticized, and a new generation of composers is necessary for the evolution of the art form. With serious structural changes and a chop by at least half of the 90 minutes, the splices of interviews and music could be entertaining as well as informative. As it stands, however, the film's lack of a dramatic hook renders the proceedings agonizingly dull. LTS (3:45 p.m., Enzian Theater; also 1 p.m., April 18 at Regal Winter Park)

Obselidia (****) Cruiser bikes, ugly eyewear, a score comprising toy instruments and typewriter keys, and a vintage Polaroid SX-70 camera: These are some of the elements that disguise Diane Bell's debut feature as an entrant in the twee sweepstakes. But Obselidia is no 500 Days of Summer. Its color palette is too dour and bleached, its mood too somber. When George, a standoffish oddball compiling an encyclopedia of obsolescence, takes a road trip with a beautiful free spirit, there are moments of summer-movie magic. But the heart of the film is existential panic, as George frantically builds his ark as a bulwark against … the end of the world? (This screenplay was written by Bell during the writers strike, which may account for the pervasive sense of anxiety.) JBY (4:30 p.m., Regal Winter Park; also 1:30 p.m., April 16 at Enzian Theater)

No. 4 Street of Our Lady (**) This documentary follows Holocaust survivors who hid on a small farm property owned by Polish-Catholic Francisca Halamajowa. As the escapees and their descendents revisit the ruins of their shelter and their town, they tearfully recount who could not be trusted and trying not to cry at dangerous moments, as well as the overall fear, confusion and horror, but it all feels very familiar. This is an important story to keep and pass along. However, when the filmmakers leave in footage of people sleeping on the flight to the Ukraine, maybe the film could use some edits. TF (5:15 p.m., Regal Winter Park; also 1:30 p.m., April 15 at Enzian Theater)

Lovely, Still (**) This gentle, sweet, almost saccharin story of lonely, broken seniors (Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn) finding love carries you slowly along until the rug is pulled out mid-stride. The balance shift in this film is so thoroughly upsetting to what preceded it that it's almost a case of two separate films. But there is nothing plausible in the cinematic arsenal preceding the shift to approximate what happens to Robert, or what Mary or his family goes through because of it. It falls flat and borders on unnecessarily cruelty to the audience.
RB (6:30 p.m., Enzian Theater; also 1:30 p.m., April 14 at Regal Winter Park)

Con Artist (**) At some point during director Michael Sladek's sketchy account of sketchier art-world megalomaniac (and game show host?) Mark Kostabi, the subject utters a phrase more cliché than his entire commerce-as-controversy empire ever was: "I want to be loved." That's virtually impossible. Kotsabi emerged like a particularly transparent strain of mold from the philosophical discontent of Warhol, taking only the worst parts of the wigged man's Factory methods and spinning them into spineless confrontation. Sladek's documentary successfully captures the con job, but suffers under the weight of Kostabi's influence in doing so.
BM (7:30 p.m., Regal Winter Park; also 9:30 p.m., April 13 at Enzian Theater)

Cummings Farm (*) First-time director Andrew Drazek starts by introducing three couples of 20-something hipsters, all of whom populate a spectrum of grotesquery — a doormat and an abuser, a pixie and an isolationist, an alcoholic and an apologist — and then sets them on an interesting mission: to meet at a cabin in the woods and have group sex. With a dose of amphetamines, a series of confessions, and an appalling sequence of racial panic, their experiment first turns dark then veers into downright psychopathology. Sitting through this cross between mumblecore and Baumbachian indulgence is an exercise in masochism, and not in a sexy way. JS (9 p.m., Enzian Theater; also 9 p.m., April 13 at Regal Winter Park)

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky Not screened for critics. (9 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Select a date below to read the reviews on the corresponding films

Films on 4/9

Paper Man

Films on 4/10

The Secret of Kells, How to Fold a Flag, Homewrecker, What's ‘Organic' About Organic?, My Suicide, Winter's Bone, The Tiger Next Door,The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Drones, Cleanflix, The Revenant and Cropsey

Films on 4/11

Don't Let Me Drown, The Lottery, Dumbstruck, Cooking with Stella, The Young Composers Challenge, Obselidia, No. 4 Street of Our Lady, Lovely, Still, Con Artist, Cummings Farm and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

Films on 4/12

Lost Sparrow, Mid-August Lunch, Bomber, Best Worst Movie, I Am Love and Punching the Clown

Films on 4/13

The Wind Journeys and Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields

Films on 4/14

Racing Dreams, Harry Brown and The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls

Films on 4/15

Waking Sleeping Beauty, New Low and K-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces

Films on 4/16

The Sun Came Out, A Million in the Morning, Space Tourists, Welcome, Leaves of Grass, and Solitary Man

Films on 4/17

The Warlords

Films on 4/18

Wild Grass Not screened for critics. (6 p.m., Regal Winter Park)
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