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One Day Like Rain (87 minutes). From the auteur of the 1999 Steve Zahn comedy Freak Talks About Sex, which featured footage shot at Carousel Center, writer-director Paul Todisco’s hard-to-peg new feature is an exercise in cultish weirdness. The initial sequences seem to be charting the familiar territory of aimless adolescence, as teen gal pals Gina (Samantha Figura) and Jen (Marina Resa) hang out in Laguna Miguel, Calif., a cookie-cutter suburb of conformity and new-money wealth. But Gina’s a wild child given to bizarre fits of rage, perhaps because she’s buckling under the knowledge that an apocalypse is right around the corner. More strangeness kicks in later, with animated passages concerning dinosaurs, scenes devoted to a deep-in-the-woods commune with stoic hermits who share Gina’s despairing vision and dialogue that recalls the spacey profundities of a Billy Jack epic. (“Am I saving or destroying them?” “Is there a difference?”) Todisco employs actress Figura’s curvy eyeful to his advantage, as elements of Gina’s troubled persona eventually fall into place, similar to Tuesday Weld’s provocateur in 1968’s Pretty Poison. Still, mood overtakes momentum by the time this movie reaches its end of the world, which, in a place like Laguna Miguel, might seem redundant. The otherworldly score is by Lavender Diamond; frontwoman Becky Stark will soon appear in City of Ember, a Tom Hanks production with Bill Murray. Palace, Friday, April 25, 10 p.m.; Saturday, April 26, 9:30 p.m.
Americano (110 minutes). In Carlos Ferrand’s incredibly ambitious road movie, the Montreal-based director hooks up with various friends and extended family members from his past in an emotional voyage that takes him through Latin America to both coasts of the United States and wraps up at the Arctic’s top of the world. Ferrand returns to his native Peru and locates his family’s long-ago cook, Fortunata Gomez, which cues in a profile of Lima’s hillside sand-dune slums that are bisected by a never-ending series of yellow-painted steps. A stop at Chile includes a visit with his film-school chum Pablo Perelman, who recalls the brutal legacy of Pinochet and how Perelman’s murdered brother helped indict, in a posthumous way, the dictator. Ferrand also shows Cesar Paris, a director of photography in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, filming a documentary about women breaking free from decades of being marginalized; his California pals Carol Cruickshank and Fred Adler, both social justice activists contending with the increasingly draconian Bush doctrine; Hisani and Ajuba Bartley, making a difference with have-not kids at a music school in Brooklyn; and life with Eusapi Ishulutak and her Inuit family. Ferrand uses clips from his own previous documentaries that some of his friends had also worked on, a cinematic return of sorts that has yielded benefits for other auteurs such as Michael Apted (the 7 Up series) and Michael Powell (who filmed a sequel to his 1937 The Edge of the World 40 years later). It’s harder to link these vignettes into a unified theme, although Ferrand’s focus on recurring motifs such as political oppression, racist genocide and westernization’s slow erasure of cultural identity help smooth out Americano’s meandering yet bracing journey. A. U.S. premiere. Palace, Saturday, April 26, 4 p.m.; Delavan, Saturday, May 3, 11:30 a.m.
Crosses to bear: A memorial for female victims of violence in a sobering image from Americano, Saturday at the Palace.
Swing State (92 minutes). Behind-the-scenes documentaries of America’s electoral process are nothing radically new, and now with MSNBC junkies getting their daily political dose of punditry, there’s scarcely anything that isn’t discussed ad infinitum. That’s where Swing State makes its difference, by humanizing and making relatable the politicians who grovel for our votes. Jason Zone Fisher, a recent Syracuse University Newhouse grad, profiled the six months of his dad’s 2006 campaign, as Lee Fisher ran for Ohio’s lieutenant governor slot alongside Democrat gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland. Papa Fisher knew what it was like to lose, since he failed to win the Buckeye statehouse during a 1998 run—and the younger Fisher, then a precocious 14-year-old with a videocamera, followed his old man’s campaign back then, too, with those clips sandwiched amid Swing State’s running time. And with Ohio’s 21st-century emergence as a battleground state, expect plenty of cameos from Barack Obama, John Kerry, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and many more. Fisher, who collaborated on this fresh and timely project with John Intrater and H. Spencer Young, had plenty of access to make this very personal and partisan documentary happen, and that’s what makes it so accessible. His dad occasionally gets perturbed by the reality-TV treatment (at one point he’s shirtless and in front of a computer, fretting over the campaign’s lack of a clear and concise message) and he gets really ticked when Republican nominee J. Kenneth Blackwell (then serving as Ohio’s secretary of state, who allegedly rigged the 2004 presidential election in Bush’s favor, and reportedly had stock in Diebold voting machines) resorts to baseless mudslinging aimed at Strickland during the gubernatorial debate. Yet he also comes across as both fallible and real; when Jason corrects him for mispronouncing “tsunami” on a morning-drive radio show, Lee Fisher replies, “I think they have to change the spelling.” A warm family movie in the best sense, Swing State also shows the genuine importance of a state’s lieutenant governor, who is literally a heartbeat away. Just ask David Paterson. Palace, Saturday, April 26, 6:45 p.m.; MOST, Saturday, May 3, 6:45 p.m.
From Beantown to the Buckeye State: Sen. John Kerry attempts to aid the candidacy of Lee Fisher for Ohio’s lieutenant governor in Swing State, running Saturday at Eastwood’s Palace Theatre.
Ivory Bastards Against Extinction (30 minutes). Humorously presented as a lost episode from a 1972 Mexican TV series that has been recently unearthed and lovingly restored, this lampoon of the masked wrestler genre features intentionally awful dubbing, cheesy sound effects and reddish, grainy photography a la Grindhouse to go with its deliberately nonsensical plot. A coke-snorting U.S. president and a stolen fetus are some of the ingredients stirred by Jonathan Case (who directed, edited and co-wrote the work) and Timothy Ferlito (a co-writer and producer), which also features Johnny Butler as Fango Electrico (with that mask on, he looks like Mandy Patinkin), Ferlito playing El Cojo Mente, James Lee Walker II as Cancera (he thrills two barroom pickups with his obscene text messages) and Michael Harris and Tom Olson taking turns portraying Dr. Head. The comic highlight of this retro silliness has the stars wrassling “transanimals,” actually two performers underneath horse and elephant costumes, yet the slyest joke comes from the film’s alleged distributor, CinemaNational, a gag aimed at aging baby boomers who still recall that local multiplex chain. Palace, Saturday, April 26, 6:45 p.m.
Masked mayhem: The faux Mexican wrestlers of Ivory Bastards Against Extinction, Saturday at the Palace.
The Father. (82 minutes). Director Ivan Solovov’s postwar drama concerns life and love during wartime, specifically decommissioned Russian captain Alexei Ivanov (Alexei Gustov) and his transitional difficulties following the end of World War II. From the outset it’s obvious that Alexei has followed what 20 years later would become a hippie mantra, “Love the one you’re with.” A female soldier bids a heartfelt farewell (“Thanks for your friendly support,” she says with a sigh), and it’s obvious the two were sharing far more than foxholes. Traveling homeward by train, Alexei also befriends a pregnant female ex-soldier, Masha (Svetlana Ivanova); he impulsively agrees to escort Masha to her own village and even pass himself off as her husband. Finally reaching his own emotional destination, Alexei is met by his young daughter (Alexandra Karlikova), who understandably treats him like a stranger, and his teen son (non-professional actor Vassili Prokopiev in a terrific performance), who has grown up too fast to become the erstwhile man of the house. Alexei also receives hints from neighbors dealing with his wife Lubya (Polina Kutepova) and her possible infidelities during his many years away; he can’t handle that news despite Lubya’s pleas (“You were fighting and I was dying here without you!”), although a female barkeep puts it all in perspective: “All men are the same: You can play around but your wives shouldn’t even think of it.” Gustov’s fine turn heightens Alexei’s sense of disfranchised ennui (“It’s all so strange: It smells the same but everything looks different.”), while director Solovov gets the visual textures right and tosses in a few war-is-hell ironies, like the early shots of sheep mingling with Nazi tanks. The Father’s most pertinent historical tidbit? Unlike the picket-fence Americana that greeted U.S. veterans in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Soviet soldiers returned to bombed-out homes and towns reduced to rubble. Palace, Wednesday, April 30, 7 p.m.
Rita Working Title. (101 minutes). Michal Bat-Adam serves as author, director, co-producer and leading lady for this airy character study of a movie scripter snagged by writer’s block as well as her own self-identity issues. Yigal Sadeh plays Gadi, an actor who is always heading for auditions (“I can’t find my way into the character,” he says early on, a foreshadowing of thematic things to come), who aids Rita in her creative process. Yet Gadi also pops up during Rita’s writing fantasies, always playing a roguish charmer for her affections. Bat-Adam’s real-life spouse, Israeli director Moshe Mizrahi, also appears in an extended dog-walking cameo, as he lends the advice, “Movies are like life but life isn’t like the movies.” Bat-Adam never gussies up the dream sequences with stylized flourishes, preferring to merge both fantasy and reality with her straightforward approach. During one clever moment at a Parisian canal, the dream characters played by Mizrahi, Sadeh and Bat-Adam look at Rita the auteur, seemingly wondering what their next plot move should be. A U.S. premiere. Palace, Wednesday, April 30, 9:15 p.m.; Friday, May 2, 5:15 p.m.
Double your pleasure: A writer (Michal Bat-Adam, right) imagines her own literary creation (left) during a fanciful moment in Rita Working Title, to be shown on Wednesday, April 30, at the Palace.
Collegiate movie directors strut their considerable stuff during the Carol North Schmuckler VPA New Filmmakers Showcase, an eclectic ensemble of short films created by students at Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. The 18th annual edition will again be a component of the 2008 Syracuse International Film Festival, with a 9:30 p.m. show on Friday, April 25, at Gifford Auditorium, inside HBC Hall on the SU Quad. Here’s the lineup:
Dan in Real Life (Touchstone-Disney/Focus; 98 minutes; PG-13; 2007). For this poignant relationship comedy with thematic similarities to The Graduate, The Office star Steve Carell has a much better vehicle for his talents than he did in the special-effects goofiness of Evan Almighty. Newspaper advice columnist Dan Burns (Carell) gets plenty of material for his articles from the fact that he’s a widower with three daughters: teen Jane (Alison Pill), who wants to drive; middle kid Cara (Brittany Robertson), who drives daddy Dan crazy because she’s madly in love with a young suitor; and fourth-grader Lilly (Marlene Lawston), who’s growing up fast, too.