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Reel lives

Three to watch at the RIIFF
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  August 2, 2006

A DATE WITH FATE? Robert A. Guthrie and Sascha Knopf in Expiration Date.
The 2006 Rhode Island International Film Festival is screening 282 films selected from more than 2000 submissions from more than 62 countries and 34 states. Organizers stress that more than 90 percent are chosen from these submissions rather than from other film festivals.

This year’s features are as varied as two narratives about the Holocaust — Steve Palackdharry’s Journey to Justice and Tim and Karen Morse’s Secret Courage: The Walter Suskind Story — to documentaries about a champion Alpine skier and an oceanographer — W.C. Rogers’s Flying Downhill: Bode Miller and Bill Haney’s A Life Among Whales.

Below are three feature films worth seeing, from among the 46 narrative features and 29 feature-length documentaries on display.

Caffeine | 2006, USA, 88 min | Directed by John Cosgrove | Written by Dean Craig | Aug 10, 9:15 pm | Columbus Theatre, Providence
First-time feature filmmaker John Cosgrove’s background as a documentarian shows: he likes to watch. Caffeine sets some quirky characters loose in a London café amidst fraught circumstances for each, mostly involving sexual relationships or dalliances, and we wince or grin as they cope. The central character is Rachel (Marsha Thomason), who runs the place. Through the mayhem she is waiting for the owner of a posh restaurant to show up and see how she manages, so he will hire her. But she has fired her boyfriend/cook for guiltily confessing his ménage a trois of the night before, so the hungry customers are getting surly and the staff is getting homicidal.

A commitment-phobe is despondent after breaking up with his girlfriend, who is across the room with a blind date from Purgatory. A jealous boyfriend finds out that his fiancée used to be a porn star, but she’d rather study for a class than argue with him or fend off advances from those who have admired her work. The conversation and wisecracks are serviceable, a la the observation that “men can’t see beyond their own dicks — which in most cases isn’t very far.”

Sweet Dreams | 2006, USA | 115 min | Directed by Erik Scott Latek | Aug 13, 12:30 pm | Columbus Theater
This film might technically be a documentary, but it tells its story with much of the technique and payoff of a fictional feature. Gary “Tiger” Balleto, 27, runs a North Providence construction company with his brother for most of his days. But what we follow is the time he spends training and fighting, literally, to break out of the ordinary life he won’t settle for. The film takes two never-boring hours to get him across to us but saves the Rocky and Raging Bull ring footage until we’ve gotten to know the guy we’re rooting for. An Italian-American who hangs around a lot with a young bookie pal, his boxer grandfather was killed by the Mafia, Balleto says. When his nine-year-old son, jumping on his bed in Superman pjs, says that school is “all bullshit” and that he’s going to be either a boxer or a hockey player, Balleto looks pummeled.

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