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February 17th, 2010 WW Screen Staff | Featured Stories
 

Beer Brawl

Our movie critics argue about our movie critic’s film festival.

     
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BRING ME THE HEAD OF A JAPANESE SCHOOLGIRL: Two unwitting victims of House.
IMAGE: Courtesy of Janus Films

Forget lights, camera, action. I want beer, movies, argument. For the past year, I’ve been working with local promoter Jacques Boyreau on starting a new film festival, dedicated to reveling in Portland’s unique custom of drinking in theaters, while showcasing the greasy, forgotten, disreputable pictures we grew up thinking would look great on the big screen, and even better with suds. This week, we’re launching BAM: Beer and Movie Fest at four theaters—Cinema 21, Bagdad, Academy and Mission—with each place serving microbrews from sponsors like Ninkasi and New Belgium. (Nine breweries have tapped in, with Laurelwood Brewing crafting a new IPA called “Alien vs. Pale Ale” specifically for the festival.) I’d love to champion the movies we’ve curated, but if I reviewed them myself, this newspaper would have to set fire to every ethics code in the building. So I asked my WW Screen colleagues to rate BAM’s paramount pictures, with the explicit understanding that their critiques would be candid and unmerciful. They did just that. It’s my hope their polemics will ignite larger, longer debates about what makes a good movie, and that those bouts will last long into the nights. This round’s on me. — Aaron Mesh, WW screen editor

White Lightnin’



LIFE’S A GAS: Edward Hogg as Jesco White in White Lightnin’. IMAGE: Courtesy of IFC Films
15 Oh-so-loosely based on the life and crimes of one Jesco White, the tap-dancing gas huffer from Appalachia who clicked his way into small and fleeting fame as the subject of the PBS documentary Dancing Outlaw, White Lightnin’ is a shrill hissy fit of half-assed adolescent shock tactics and sneering disdain. Imagine, if you will, that Tom Hanks got high on lighter fluid and ditched Forrest Gump to narrate a witless version of Gummo that looked like something David Fincher sharted in his sleep while having a nightmare about a Stone Temple Pilots video circa 1994. Now imagine that the result is not even a fascinating failure or an unintentionally campy mess. Good. There is no longer any need for you to see White Lightnin’. Desaturated until only a hint of color remains and hacked into brief and often bloody vignettes, Jesco’s wild life becomes a pretext for a “white trash” minstrel show of yelping hillbillies and toothless psychotics. Sure, West Virginia, like anywhere, might be home to just such a slice of the human pie, but it also gave us the real Jesco White, a cussed and complicated man for whom dancing is salvation and even, sometimes, happiness. But it is much easier to paint the blackness from which a man emerged than to render the haphazard joy he seeks, and White Lightnin’ is only too eager to wallow in colorless simplicity and shallow darkness. CHRIS STAMM. Cinema 21. 7 pm Friday, 1 pm Sunday, 6 pm Monday, 7 pm Tuesday, and 8:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 19, 21-24.

House (Hausu)


97 John Lennon claimed it was a drawing by his son, not drugs, that inspired “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Likewise, Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi claimed his 1977 hallucinogenic horror comedy House was inspired by his 7-year-old daughter. In both cases, it’s easy to call bullshit. Even if House wasn’t inspired by drugs, its Dario Argento-meets-H.R. Pufnstuf lunacy is the kind of kaleidoscopic nightmare that most truly simulates a nightmarish acid trip. In telling the story of a group of giggly Japanese schoolgirls visiting a haunted house, Obayashi unleashes waves of kitsch and blood in equal increments, and sets it all to a bubbly J-pop soundtrack. Detailing the specifics of House will only spoil the fun, but suffice it to say an ass-munching flying head, a feline pianist, blood-spewing art, a dancing skeleton, a slow-motion white pony and a killer baby-grand recital all figure prominently into one of the weirdest films ever crafted. It’s a forgotten gem, a total fever dream that, like a predecessor to Sam Raimi, refuses to take even the most ghastly situation seriously. What we get is a deliriously fun, twisted exercise in “what the fuck?” that can only get better when viewed with a large crowd. Just leave the cat at home. AP KRYZA. Cinema 21. 9 pm Friday-Saturday and 7:45 pm Sunday, Feb. 19-21.

The Deadly Spawn


19 It’s morning in America, but there’s a monster in the basement, eating your parents. No, not Walter Mondale. Just a giant slug from outer space, with a mean set of chompers and no use for birth control. The Deadly Spawn is itself a deadly spawn, one of those suburban, Reagan-era knockoffs of Ridley Scott’s Alien. The only “red scare” on display is the cherry syrup, the gore that seemed to replace thought and emotion for Generation VHS. The low-budget craft of this rainy New Jersey production is undeniable. It would have terrified me as a kid. The filmmakers have framed every shot. The amateur actors seem right for their parts. The little boy even brings his Famous Monsters magazine to the breakfast table, to show that he watches B-movies just like we do. But we don’t read Famous Monsters magazine now, if we ever did, and this movie is a bloody two-shoes, with none of the imagination or perversion or incompetence that would give us the midnight giggles. The monster is an artful arrangement of teeth and slugs, expensive-looking but with no personality. When it bites off someone’s head, we’re less interested than when someone says a naughty word, because that only happens once. “Fuck!” ALISTAIR ROCKOFF. Cinema 21. 10:45 pm Friday, Feb. 19.

In a Lonely Place


88 “The Bogart suspense picture with the surprise finish,” promises the mendacious poster for this dark gem by Nicholas Ray. At least they got the actor right. As for suspense, it’s virtually nonexistent. And the ending is only surprising if you are expecting a surprise. In a Lonely Place begins in the standard noir mode, with the midnight strangling of a bright-eyed Hollywood naif who spent her few final minutes on Earth with the cantankerous screenwriter Dixon Steele (Bogart). Luckily for Dix, his svelte neighbor Laurel Gray (a glowing Gloria Grahame) saw the doomed dame leave Dix’s apartment alone, so there’s little doubt Dix is innocent. There’s also little doubt Dix is a world-class dick. He’s a brawler with a hot head and a cold heart—of course Laurel falls head over heels—and Bogart digs into the bastard with that famous brow furrowed so intensely it looks like the accordioned hood of a wrecked Packard. This is the Bogie show, dammit, and Ray knows it. So the mystery falls away and Laurel falls into Dix and Ray zeroes in on the darkness at the center of Dix, in the heart of Bogart, at the edges of our more morbid moments, and it is, in fact, very lonely there. CHRIS STAMM. Cinema 21. 7 pm Saturday, Feb. 20.

Sonicsgate


74 Apparently, Clay Bennett has seen Major League. Probably more than once. The super-rich Oklahoma City businessman must have used the Charlie Sheen romp as a blueprint to buy the failing Seattle SuperSonics, have them play like shit, isolate fans, claim financial loss and then move the franchise to Oklahoma. Sonicsgate examines in meticulous detail the process by which Bennett purchased the team from Starbucks mogul Howard Schultz, promised to stay in Seattle, then took a chainsaw to the Sonics’ 40-year roots. Director Jason Reid masks neither his love for the Sonics nor his utter disdain for Bennett, Schultz, NBA Commissioner David Stern or anyone else involved in the deception perpetrated on Sonics fans, the government of Washington and Seattle as a whole. Appropriately one-sided, Sonicsgate is a film about jilted basketball fans for jilted basketball fans. But like a miffed fan at the bar, Sonicsgate tends to ramble, and watching rich fat cats fuck over a community for two hours can be draining. The doc will hold mass appeal for basketball fans, but for those without the love, it plays out like a funeral procession for a bygone era, with fans, former players and politicos looking back bitterly on what was and what might have been. AP KRYZA. Bagdad Theater. 7:15 pm Saturday, Feb. 20.

The Human Centipede


20 I was afraid I wouldn’t have the stomach for a film about a deranged surgeon who kidnaps tourists and sews them together, ass-to-mouth-to-ass-to-mouth, into a “Siamese triplet” of shared digestion, but I needn’t have worried, because director Tom Six was the gutless one all along. I’ve seen more disturbing anal play on YouPorn—the acting is better there too. It is appropriate that a film so fixated on coprophagia is itself a kind of sagging colostomy bag of shitty horror film clichés: the dark country road, the naive girls, the flat tire, the dead cell phone, the failed escape, and the hallway chase all slither out of The Human Centipede’s clenched asshole at some point. Boredom sets in long before Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a fey Mengele in shades, puts the finishing touches on his very German masterpiece, which, it turns out, is not gross or shocking at all. With bandages hiding the grisly grafts, the titular creature resembles, more or less, a very intense version of that party game where people pass an orange around the room with their chins. Not for one second does Six’s meager film attain the transcendentally morbid heights of Nacho Cerda’s Aftermath or Takashi Miike’s finer moments of bloodletting. In the parlance of our times: torture porn FAIL. CHRIS STAMM. Cinema 21. 10:45 pm Saturday, Feb. 20.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia


29 The title waltzes right off the tongue with the rat-tat-tat poetry of Sam Peckinpah. This director styled himself the last Hollywood outlaw, becoming the James Cameron of the Vietnam era. Peckinpah’s violent, slow-motion Westerns and thrillers showed a fascist contempt for women and moneymen. Critics and studios eventually sent him packing to his beloved Mexico to make this self-indulgent cheapie, a therapist’s delight. No cowboy symbolism here, just Warren Oates hiding behind Peckinpah’s trademark sunglasses and a piano. Acting through his teeth, Oates plays a starving artist named Bennie, with a whore for a girlfriend. Dissatisfied by this earthly paradise, Bennie commits Peckinpah’s cardinal sin: accepting money from gay guys who look like movie producers. They pay Bennie to bring them the head of Alfredo Garcia, a local “stud” who impregnated a gangster’s daughter. Things go horribly wrong, as indeed they must for any man who sells out to big business. A decent rebuke to Peckinpah’s fantasy might come from Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men. In that movie, the last American cowboy gets a scolding. “It ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.” As strange vanity projects go, Alfredo Garcia is surely some kind of a stud. ALISTAIR ROCKOFF. Cinema 21. 5:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 21.

Cracked Actor


84 How did the Thin White Duke maintain his thin white figure? After watching Cracked Actor—a 1974 BBC special following David Bowie on his criminally under-documented Diamond Dogs tour—my hypothesis is a steady diet of milk and cocaine. “It sure would be nice to talk to somebody who’s not being evasive and discussing riddles,” complains one journalist following a particularly rambling river of twitchy Bowie babble—but mystique is half of Bowie’s appeal. The film’s portrait of art and addiction, mixed with stellar concert footage, examines the Man Who Sold the World at a mental breaking point (though no drug use is actually shown). Fortunately, Bowie prevailed and went on to star in Labyrinth and romp with Mick Jagger, making Cracked Actor just another gem in his freaky, freaky time capsule. AP KRYZA. Cinema 21. 7:45 pm Monday, Feb. 22.

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story


64 Stefan Forbes’ talking-heads documentary, which belongs on television, succeeds despite its left-wing hysteria. Profiling Lee Atwater, the devious country boy who supplied the campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush with dirty tricks, Forbes captures the desperate compulsions of the political animal. Atwater’s friends and foes describe his traumatic childhood and lust for power, but the man speaks for himself in the vintage footage and photos. Always plastered with the weary smile of the spin doctor, he had a habit of gnawing at the air like some comedy rodent, begging for a crumb. One incredible image shows Barbara Bush, visibly appalled by Atwater to her left, this crude redneck on whom her husband relied. A lifelong blues musician with black friends, Lee Atwater was not himself racist, yet he exploited Southern racism to get votes for his candidates. The film, released during the 2008 election, scolds this political cynicism on the part of Republicans, but also revels in it, scoring Atwater’s rise and fall to the strains of “Bad Man Walking.” A pundit named Eric Alterman remarks, “Isn’t it a shame that he didn’t decide to become a Democrat?” ALISTAIR ROCKOFF. Cinema 21. 9 pm Monday, Feb. 22.


SEE IT: BAM: Beer and Movie Fest continues Wednesday-Saturday, Feb. 17-27, at Academy Theater, Bagdad Theater, Cinema 21 and Mission Theater. For a list of all 25 films, see Movie Times and visit bamfestpdx.com. WW rated the films above on a 1-to-100 scale.
 
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