Opens Fri., Oct. 8, at Varsity
"We've got a full-scale revolution going on," exclaims Anton Newcombe, the singer/songwriter/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/ mastermind of Los Angeles' Brian Jonestown Massacre, at the beginning of Ondi Timoner's superb documentary about the friendship and rivalry between the Massacre and their Portland pals/nemeses, the Dandy Warhols. The joke, unfortunately, is on Newcombe. Not only did the Warhols end up being (minor) rock stars, a status the Massacre failed to attain, but by the evidence of this movie, they also figured something out that eluded Newcombe: Neither group was going to revolutionize anything. Both bands' blatant neo-'60s garb, sound, and sensibility made them copycats, not innovators; the difference is that the Warhols' crisp hooks and echt-late-'90s cynicism gave them the personality and a level of popularity that eluded the all-over-the-place Massacre.
Newcombe's self-destructive behavior— which intensifies severely over the seven years Timoner spent filming Dig!—didn't help his band any, either. In fact, as Timoner shows in no uncertain terms, the Massacre (whose inclusion of a member who served essentially no purpose— tambourine player Joel Gion—was at least as quixotic as Newcombe's revolution talk) were detonated by their leader's seemingly ceaseless, bottomless capacity for jerkiness. He chides his bandmates onstage, fights with audience members (at one point he's shown kicking a show attendee in the head; the concertgoer's priceless reply: "He kicked me in the head!"), and—oh, yeah—gets addicted to heroin.
All of which contrasts starkly with the Warhols, who sign to a major label, make an expensive video directed by David LaChappelle, and get a fluke European hit thanks to the song being used in a European television commercial (a major detail that Timoner conveniently overlooks), before becoming regulars on the Euro-festival concert circuit. The Warhols' Courtney Taylor even narrates the movie—after all, history is written by the victor, however minor. (R) MICHAELANGELO MATOS
Runs Fri., Oct. 8–Fri., Oct. 15, at Northwest Film Forum
In its beautiful if scruffily unfinished new movie house/production space at 1515 12th Avenue between Pike and Pine streets, the Northwest Film Forum presents Wigglyworld's seventh annual confabulation of homegrown movies, sponsored by Altoids, the Curiously Strong Mints. The flicks I previewed were more often curious than strong, but most showed some promise.
William Weiss' five-minute Have You Seen Me? is inspired by those junk flyers you get in the mail urging you to hunt for lost souls. The camera ransacks its memory for random people it's glimpsed on the street, checking them against the flyer. It's a one-joke flick, but not bad in its jittery little way. It makes you want to check out the other eight Weiss shorts in the festival. Dave Hanagan's 15-minute Circadia Sees the Moon is a hallucinatory fable about a virgin imprisoned by her David Lynchian mom. The writing is faux-poetical, but there are some giddily mad Guy Maddin moments. Danielle Morgan's three-minute Les Nanas is sort of a takeoff on The Stepford Wives done with a stop-motion technique that gives its robotic women a herky-jerky look I like.
The big world premiere is Webster Crowell's Borrowing Time, a 100-minute epic pastiche of no-budget midcentury SF movie serials. Another appointment forced me to leave after about 90 minutes, and candidly, I was partly relieved to escape—and yet strongly curious about what I missed in the finale. The shaggy-dog plot taxes one's patience with its aimless chases, ambushes, power reversals, time trippings, and gizmos that zap you and imprison you inside a vacuum cleaner for eternity. The dialogue goes to show that ironic, mock-bad dialogue is every bit as bad as just plain bad dialogue. The scenes don't even try to make collective sense, only to leap stylishly from one bit to the next.
Even so, many of the scenes work well for minutes at a time. Seattle has never looked end-of-the-world cooler, not even in Alan Rudolph's steadier hands. Crowell makes his intentionally, self- consciously lousy/pulpy actors dance to a vigorous post-apocalypso beat. We get a palpable sense of otherworldly place, and Crowell evinces an intriguing visual imagination. Not to blow the suspense, but when it turns out that robotic ants or termites have taken over the world, they skitter amusingly sinisterly, and the director's retro-futuristic gizmo-mongering is often a lively eyeful. If only the murky story did not make one feel like William Gass did when reading Proust: One wonders at first if it will ever end, and then, in growing despair, if it will ever begin.
As for the last 10 minutes of Borrowing Time, and the other 86 or so flicks in the fest, you're on your own. I do know that the Richard Peterson street-musician bio, Big City Dick, is a must-see, and I'm intrigued by the documentary Poetry in Wartime, by Rick King, who once made Roger Ebert's 10-Best List. In any case, you can't miss visiting NWFF's new theater. It's an instant Capitol Hill landmark, and the fest could be a landmark party. TIM APPELO
Opens Fri., Oct. 8, at Varsity
Lots of critics have been sniffing that Nicotina, Mexico's big-buck blockbuster of the year and sextuple Mexican Oscar winner, is nothing but a quick sprint in the aesthetic footsteps of Quentin Tarantino and the brothers Coen. I say, so what? That's more than you can say for most of the sluggish, bloated opuses those guys have made lately. Nicotina's director- producer-writer trio, Argentine émigrés Hugo Rodriguez, Laura Imperiale, and Martin Salinas, are light on their feet; they remember that movies are supposed to be bloody fun. And there's just enough Coen brothers funny business and two-fisted Tarantino talk to bring off their featherweight stylistic heist without a hitch.
Y Tu Mamá También punk Diego Luna stars as Lolo, a computer nerd who hacks into Swiss banks to buy diamonds from Russian mafiosi. That's his job. His passion is his neighbor, an ambitious musician working her way up by lying down for distinguished conductors. He peeps on her via spycams, yet somehow we're more amused than repulsed by him. Luna's got such an artless, open face, we forgive him practically anything, the scamp.
Just when Lolo's peeping project heats up to a rolling boil, he gets dragged off to work on a diamond buy by his bosses, two guys who quarrel and quibble like the Pulp Fiction hit men, though their relationship is more like the father-son thugs in Nurse Betty. Lolo and his bosses hook up with a Russian mobster, who leads them, by a series of gory misunderstandings, to the Rooskie's favorite local barbershop, run by a kindly drudge and his grasping, film-noir wife. Chance drives the crooks into the lives of a second bickering married pair, a pharmacist and his perpetually peeved squeeze (Rosa Maria Bianchi of Amores Perros).
The ostensible thread connecting everybody's stories is cigarette craving, but it's a wispy thread. Jokes about smoking only get you so far, and the thematic links between nicotine and greed, lust, and rage are halfhearted. The larger theme of chance versus fate is quarter-hearted. It's all just pasted on. There is no deeper connection between the movie's concatenating random crimes, only coincidences briskly orchestrated in the manner of farce.
Nicotina lacks the high gloss and personal signature of Tarantino and the Coens, but it's a crisp yarn efficiently told. I dig the cheesy gimmick of highlighting a significant detail in a scene with a little blinky rectangle (a rip-off of The Six Million Dollar Man). This movie is fast, cheap, and under control. (R) TIM APPELO
Opens Fri., Oct. 8, at Metro
The best romances, and the worst tragedies, include an air of the surreal. You just can't believe this is happening. First-time feature director Christoffer Boe has captured this, expertly and exquisitely, with Reconstruction, Denmark's official entry to the Academy Awards and the winner of several small independent cinema festival awards. Reconstruction is a study in the way that one's life can change in a split second—and how impossible it can be, in the days following that split second, to regain any sense of normalcy.
While rooted in a fairly mundane story line, the film is often either completely fanciful or nearly nightmarish in tone. Alex, a photographer, is compelled by a stranger, the noirish and beautiful Aimee. As he impulsively abandons his girlfriend to pursue Aimee through a subway station into the dark streets of Copenhagen, he seems like a character in a romantic video game. You're not sure what's driving him, and he doesn't seem quite sure, either. In the midst of this, an incidental character in the subway station keeps a cigarette suspended in midair between the palms of his hands. The viewer is left to wonder: Is it a magic trick, or is it magic?
People fall in love and leave their safe, comfortable relationships for the allure of the mysterious all the time—though perhaps not in quite the short order that Boe has outlined here, and never with the bizarre repercussions that Alex faces. Early in the opening sequence, the narrator says, "I know I don't need to say so, but remember, it is all a film." He's right, he needn't say it. Like Sliding Doors crossed with Memento, in Reconstruction the linear plot is never fully eclipsed by the fantastic, but it's a damn close race all the way to the end. Boe illuminates small details and everyday circumstances, and in that light, they become every bit as complex and irresistible as Alex's unraveling drama. (NR) LAURA CASSIDY
Opens Fri., Oct. 8, at Seven Gables
It's not that the Holocaust is so sacrosanct that only a select few movie directors are allowed to touch it. After all, the guy who made Jaws tackled Auschwitz just 11 years ago. Later, Italian funnyman Roberto Benigni took a dreadfully unfunny and misguided approach to the same subject. While Roman Polanski's Oscar-winning The Pianist is the most unflinching Holocaust film in recent memory, the subject contains at least 6 million stories—one for every victim, plus multitudes more about those who survived or helped others survive, not to mention those who orchestrated the genocide.
German director Margarethe von Trotta is wise to focus her film on a particular, historically confirmed event: a loosely organized protest in which Gentile women called for the release of their Jewish husbands, who were left in a makeshift prison on Berlin's Rosenstrasse (Rose Street) to await deportation to a concentration camp. The most moving scenes are those in which the women—first a few, then a dozen, and ultimately a formidable crowd—find within themselves a remarkable kind of courage. After crying out pitifully ("We want our husbands back!") for days, they begin calling the prison guards murderers; eventually, they force a confrontation that ends at gunpoint.
Unfortunately, von Trotta surrounds Rosenstrasse's fact-based central story with an intergenerational soap opera marred by middling dialogue and direction. Thirtysomething Lena (Katja Riemann) fights to free her husband, Fabian (Martin Feifel), while in the contemporary framing story, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Hannah (Maria Schrader), tries to track down Lena—now 90 and played by Doris Schade. Rosenstrasse also gets bogged down in sentimentality and Hannah's pretentious e-mails to her boyfriend, Luis. Did I mention Luis? He's a Gentile whom Hannah's mother rejects, much as Lena's anti-Semitic father previously disapproved of Fabian. Bottom line: There's just too much story here. If you're unfamiliar with the totalitarian brutality of the Holocaust, there are dozens of better documentaries on the subject. Whether fictional or biographical, Holocaust art is always a challenge; only when it stays on the street does Rosenstrasse rise to meet it. (PG-13) NEAL SCHINDLER