The Three Rivers Film Festival opened a week ago with two sellouts and one near full house, along with the usual traffic detours and tie-ups that could bedevil the most devoted of moviegoers.
The second week brings a fresh crop of movies, with still more in store before the Nov. 17 closing. Here is a sampling of reviews.
3 1/2 stars = Very good
In a world where animation is often 3-D, candy colored and aimed squarely at children and families, this feature is a rarity for adults -- and a recommended one, at that.
In Spanish with English subtitles, it's set largely in a nursing home where newcomer Emilio, a retired bank manager with early Alzheimer's, struggles to adjust to his new surroundings and mental limitations. He lands in a room with Miguel, a never-married jokester and huckster in far better shape than most.
Miguel, a keen observer of the goings-on, has a jaundiced view of old age: "You spend your whole life working like an animal and when you can't be the grandchildren's nanny anymore, the dear family locks you up in here and forgets about you. It's beautiful!"
The residents, all of whom fear being moved upstairs with the more severely impaired people, include a woman who has retreated to the past and believes she's on the Orient Express, a onetime disc jockey who can only repeat what he hears and a healthy woman who tenderly cares for a disabled childhood pal.
"Arrugas," based on Paco Roca's graphic novel, is sobering, stinging (even those with big families only get visitors at Christmas), occasionally funny and touching. Being at someone's side through the long goodbye may be the true sign of friendship, measured in decades or perhaps just years.
In Spanish with English subtitles.
3 stars = Good
Whether there was a real pregnancy pact at Gloucester High School or 17 girls just happened to be expecting babies at the same time, the Massachusetts school found itself in the middle of a firestorm in 2008.
Those real-life events inspired this French film, written and directed by sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin and set in their seaside hometown of Lorient, France. That is where teenager Camille (Louise Grinberg) finds herself pregnant after a single night of sex with a boy and a "condom accident."
"I think it'll be cool. It'll push me to do something with my life," she says. "I'll have someone who loves me my whole life, unconditionally." Soon, her inseparable pals hatch a plan to get pregnant, too, so their children will grow up together and they can all share a house "like one big happy family."
As the school realizes the growing number of baby bumps, parents become outraged as one father challenges, "Do you think you nutcases can change the world?" Camille's brother, acknowledging the limited economic options of Lorient and their single-parent family, asks, "Will it be an unemployed girl or a soldier boy?"
"17 Girls" tells its story from the viewpoint of the teens -- the outcast suddenly welcomed because she announces she's pregnant, the newfound power the girls feel in public and their secret doubt in private, the way ranks close when parents try to take control, the flare of jealousy between two girls over one boy, the unexpected twist at the end.
It's a fascinating, fictional depiction of teenage mothers, a story played out across the country and world. Ready or not, here they come.
In French with English subtitles.
This is a work in progress (which is why it doesn't have a star rating yet) about the David vs. Goliath fight to save Braddock Hospital from the wrecking ball.
In the end, David lost and David won. UPMC closed and demolished the century-old landmark; the hollowed-out shell crumpled in a cloud of smoke in March 2011. That was less than 15 years after UPMC announced it was merging with the Braddock hospital and would invest $10 million to upgrade it.
But David -- in the form of the Save Our Community Hospitals group -- made sure its case stayed in front of the public and media with marches, rallies, street theater and even zombies. Its fight for local hospitals continues and it raises funds for a free clinic in Braddock sponsored by the Muslim Council of America since August 2011.
"We Are Alive" reflects the point of view of Tony Buba, who made the documentary with Tom Dubensky to pay tribute to the people who fought to save the hospital. Mr. Buba, a Braddock native and prolific filmmaker, was among those warriors and his documentary shows the passion, indefatigability, occasional pique of anger and suspicion about end runs being made around Braddock residents.
You may wish for a Michael Moore-style ambush of UPMC CEO Jeffrey Romoff, whose salary is nevertheless reported, but in today's climate (where security is tight and access carefully controlled) that is probably unlikely to happen.
No matter where you stand on UPMC's actions, it's hard to argue with Ray Henderson and what he said at a 2009 citizens meeting at the Braddock library. The little "beat-up, burned out borough" had gumption and still does.
2 1/2 stars = Average
You may never again skip a CD release party or an invite to turn up at Club Cafe or the 31st Street Pub to hear a band play after watching this nearly hourlong documentary.
Filmmaker Frank Ferraro interviews Pittsburgh-area musicians along with their (sometimes former) significant others about the toll the devotion to their craft takes on their personal lives and the hard choices they face about settling for a day job rather than scraping along on the night gigs that feed their soul.
Some acknowledge the healthy egos necessary for their profession along with hours and temptations not conducive to normal lives or marriages.
A couple share telling, touching anecdotes that could inspire a song or two: A drummer who wanted to be part of Kiss from age 10 or 11 and "used to practice sleeping on the floor so I could get my body in shape for the tour bus," and a rocker whose heart and hopes swelled and sank with the Graffiti Rock Challenge results, as announced on the radio by DJ Sean McDowell.
"Wine & Dust," which takes its name from a John Webster quote and courses along on a river of music, could use more background and context for newcomers to the rock scene. At roughly 54 minutes, it's more economical than it needs to be.