Highlights of Central Standard Film Festival
Time's almost up for the Central Standard Film Festival. The program, celebrating independent movies made outside the New York/Los Angeles axis, runs through Sunday. There are 40-odd screenings, all at the Apache Theater in Columbia Heights except where noted below. With psychological thrillers, rural documentaries and quirky comedies competing for your attention, here are short reviews of some of the films.
** 1/2 out of four stars
Zenith, a small Kansas wheat-farming community, is coping with hard times. Commodity prices are down, the cost of machinery is up, and bankruptcy is never more than a few hailstorms away. As in many small towns, the church is a cornerstone of social life, and Zenith's elaborate Passion Play of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection helps the community find the strength to carry on. The film tellingly intercuts scenes from the theatrical production with the daily lives of the cast and crew. "I wish I could heal my checkbook," chuckles the farmer who portrays Jesus. The open-air production's most powerful image -- a spotlighted Jesus seemingly floating above the audience on a cherry picker -- has a powerful emotional punch. As one lady observes, "There's a little spark of divinity in each of us, and it must be fed." (7 p.m.)
It's not hard to goof on low-budget action movies, but this Baltimore-area chopsocky comedy satirizes its targets with sass and style. The plot focuses on -- nothing. There is no plot. The whole stinkin' movie is about gangsters and hit men kicking the snot out of one another. It exists solely as a vehicle to lampoon spaghetti westerns, James Bond pictures and exploitation classics such as "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" Fans of Hong Kong action movies will love Cash Flagg Jr.'s indestructible Asian-American hitman and the sappy John Woo flashback montage establishing two killers' bond of friendship -- soulful smiles and happy slo-mo memories of shootouts past. The film has its share of zero-budget flaws, but most of them are placed there deliberately to honor the cheesy movies "Lethal Force" so affectionately and cleverly mocks. (10:30 p.m.)
Eastern European emigres Luda and Nik flee their war-ravaged homeland for the safe haven of America in this allegorical drama. But the New World has its share of snares. Their professional training is useless here, so the pair settle for jobs as velveteen rabbits. In a bizarre, symbolically freighted public-works project, they squat on big-city street corners while troubled folks pour out their woes. I guess it's something like all those statues of Peanuts' Lucy in St. Paul. Anyway, absorbing all that grief in nonjudgmental silence pushes the couple apart, and they have no one to confide in. There's something wacky about dressing glum Slavs in sprightly pink Easter drag, but the film doesn't achieve the absurdist resonance it aims for. (7:30 p.m.)
"Last Seen," a Twin Cities film about the mysterious disappearance of a high-school girl. (5 p.m.) "Hell House," a documentary about a haunted house produced each Halloween by a fundamentalist church in Texas. (6 p.m.) "Alcatraz Is Not an Island," a documentary about the 1969 takeover of Alcatraz Island by a small group of American Indian activists. (6:15 p.m.) "Riders." Writer/director Doug Sadler's road movie-cum-melodrama about two sisters fleeing their mother's abusive boyfriend is alternately tense and meditative, a showpiece of very good acting and photography. *** (Eric Hanson) (7:15 p.m.) "Urban Warrior." Minnesota director Matt Ehling's film succinctly shows how the police and military, which are constitutionally separate, have been made less so with the proliferation of special quasi-military units that formed in response to the riots of the 1960s. ** (E.H.) Showing with "Bike Like U Mean It," a portrait of bike advocates in Austin, Texas. (8:15 p.m.) "Adrift." In this tepid but heartfelt documentary, John Curran elegizes his charismatic father, who died when John was 12. ** (Claude Peck) (8:30 p.m.) "Shades of Gray," the lives of five gay men in Lawrence, Kan., showing with "Daddy and Papa," about gay marriage. (9 p.m.) "The Last Big Attraction," a comedy about a 25-year-old slacker who works at his father's Michigan tourist trap. (9:15 p.m.) "The Poor and Hungry," portrait of the Memphis underground. (9:30 p.m.) "Crushed," an improvised comedy about a Chicago ad agency's Christmas party held on the night the agency is forced to shut down. (10:15 p.m.)
It all comes down to whether you can tolerate Arthur Artemis. I rather like the boozing, grouchy, eternally tardy elementary-school teacher. An aspiring actor, he's infuriated when an uptown theater rejects him for a role in Molire's "The Misanthrope." When he's pressured into directing the school play, Artemis spitefully chooses the same bitter comedy, putting cynical aphorisms in the mouths of his sixth-grade students. Which will he ruin first: the professional performance, his ex-girlfriend's new marriage, the school play or his teaching career? Ali Farahnakian is wonderful as the plump, untidy Artemis, a man so intensely irritating that he's somehow endearing. (7:45 p.m.)
Inspired by Roman Polanski's 1962 psychodrama "Knife in the Water," the cast and crew improvised the script of this thriller. A yuppie couple head to the Catskills to conceive a baby. En route they pick up a hitchhiker who oh-so-gradually turns their romantic getaway weekend into a nightmare. Co-directed by St. Paul native Peter Olsen, it's nicely crafted, with a spare, tingly musical score by Twin Cities guitarist Steve Tibbetts. (2:45 p.m.)
"The Poor and Hungry," see Today. (11 a.m.) "Shorts Program Two," short films. (Noon) "Shorts Program One," short films. (12:30 p.m.) "Bunny," see Today. (2 p.m.) "Paperboys," a documentary about Stillwater paperboys, and "Barberland," a documentary about old-style barber shops. (3 p.m.) "Riders," see Today. (4:30 p.m.) "Go Tigers!" Football is king in Massillon, Ohio, a town of 30,000 people rabidly in love with their high-school team. ** 1/2 (Tim Harlow) (5 p.m.) "Urban Warrior" and "Bike Like U Mean It," see Today. (5:45 p.m.) "Last Seen," see Today. (7 p.m.) "The Last Big Attraction," see Today. (7 p.m.) "Spellbound." Filmmaker Jeffrey Blitz chose a wonderful array of subjects in this profile of eight young contestants in the National Spelling Bee. *** 1/2 (C.P.) (7:30 p.m.) "Seed." A fictional everyman walks up to ordinary people and begins a dialogue by saying "I'm dying." (8 p.m.) "Hell House," see Today. (8 p.m.) "Photos to Send," Irish-American director Dierdre Lynch retraces photographer Dorothea Lange's footsteps through Ireland. (9 p.m.) "Soft for Digging," an elderly man wanders into the woods and stumbles onto a mysterious child and a bizarre giant, followed by the short film "Joy's Journey." (9:30 p.m.) "Crushed," see Today. (10 p.m.) "Existo." A performance artist and former revolutionary who has been institutionalized and has undergone a lobotomy, returns to save our world. (10:15 p.m.)
LIVE AND LET GO: AN AMERICAN DEATH
Hollywood shows us thousands of deaths in a year. This documentary on doctor-assisted suicide shows the real thing, and what an emotionally wrenching experience it is. Writer/director Jay Niver recorded his father's agonizing battle with cancer and his decision to end his pain through an overdose of pills. His planned death and the aftershocks it creates for his family are riveting, unsettling and portrayed with unflinching honesty. (1:30 p.m.)
"Shorts Program One," short films. (11 a.m.) "Shorts Program Two," short films. (11:30 a.m.) "Shades of Gray" and "Daddy and Papa," see "Today" listing above. (12:30 p.m.) "Zenith" and the short "Moderndaydreams," see "Today." (1 p.m.) "Purple Haze," a Minnesota-filmed 1983 drama by David Burton Morris and Victoria Wozniak about a law student facing the draft during the Vietnam War. (2 p.m., Heights Theater.) "Photos to Send," see Sat. (3 p.m.) "Alcatraz Is Not an Island," see Today. (3:15 p.m.) "Kaaterskill Falls," see Sat. (3:30 p.m.) "Tully," a Nebraska farmer and his two sons struggle to understand how love both unites and separates them. (7 p.m., Heights Theater)
IF YOU GO
Central Standard Film Festival
When: Thru Sunday.
Where: Apache Theater, 2101 37th Av. NE, Columbia Heights. Heights Theater, 3951 Central Av. NE., Columbia Heights.
Tickets: $6 for most screenings. $30-$50 for festival pass. 612-343-3390
Web site: http://www.centralstandardfilmfest.com/
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