Off the path

Weekend festival celebrates nonblockbusters.


runs Nov. 29-Dec. 2 at Little Theatre

IT'S A SLOW week, filmwise, with family vacations and turkey-induced immobility keeping big Hollywood releases to a minimum. Most pictures are being held for closer to Christmas, with the expectation that Harry Potter, Monsters, Inc., and Spy Game will sate us until the mid-December onslaught. What better time, then, for the Little Theatre to program a weekend of easily overlooked, less publicized fare? The only theme to the six titles below is that they're distributed by Outrider Pictures, a company that was, until quite recently, based here in Seattle. Several played at SIFF; some are available on video; take your pick. (See Movie Times, p. 80, for further information.)

Along for the Ride Two estranged brothers barrel through a Mexican desert with their dad's corpse in the backseat. Sounds like another Tarantino knockoff, but Ride ain't black comedy. Director Bryan W. Simon saddles his protagonists' engaging dysfunction with melodramatic Oliver Stone-lite hallucinations. The only common ground the Cowens boys have is resentment for their father, Jake. Terry, formerly a major league pitcher, is now a detached millionaire; Vance, formerly a nonathletic jazz freak, is now a nomadic world traveler. They detest each other's lifestyles but have to make nice after removing Jake's body from girlfriend Maria's freezer and driving off in search of a local mortician. Sure, they could just call one, but that would prevent Jake from coming alive and settling various scores when the boys nod off. Their progress is intercut with painful scenes of Maria smiling/frowning knowingly into the camera. Too bad. Some insightful drama ends up buried right alongside Jake. Andrew Bonazelli

Amargosa If the gist of this inspirational documentary is that nothing can keep a true artist from pursuing her dream, then director Todd Robinson has accomplished something rare and beautiful. At 76, Marta Becket is a ballet dancer, painter, singer, and pianist. She is also the owner of Death Valley Junction, Calif. (pop. 10), a haunted mining town formerly named Amargosa ("wasteland"). Her fortuitous stop for gas in the late '60s led to an impulsive relocation from N.Y.C. and the $45-per-month lease on a crumbling theater. There, the talented Becket sought refuge from her troubled parental relationships in her "world of illusions" and transformed the building with stunning hand-painted murals across its walls and ceiling. Becket is a vivid, theatrical presence whose story of artistic survival is as unforgettable as the "let's put on a show" spirit she's used to sustain herself and her fellow townsfolk. Don't miss this one. Emily Baillargeon Russin

Certain Guys Five 30ish guys, pals for decades, gather for a Dallas wedding. Groom-to-be Mitch owes his job, his house, his car, and his pool to his father-in-law and worries about being just another item on his yuppie fianc饧s lifestyle checklist. His friends include a conservative dentist, a smooth-talking wastrel, a loserish accountant, and a former football hero-turned closeted lawyer (played by writer-director Stephen James). As if to compensate for the film's tight indie budget, James didn't skimp on the subplots; every character's assigned three or four, all interwoven and untangled without too-obvious contrivance. If there were a Lifetime Network for men, Guys would be perfect for it. The film's most interesting point concerns the serendipitous nature of friendship: how people who have very little in common other than junior-high school can have such an impact on one another's lives for so long. (With Traci Lords.) Gavin Borchert

East of A More theater piece than film, with only one set and locked-off cameras. Three roommates spend a decade in N.Y.C., bound by their loft's 10-year lease—do those really exist?!? Anyone who spent time in Manhattan's Lower East Side in the late '80s and early '90s can remember it wasn't the hip yuppie outpost it is today, which East accurately reflects. The roomies are a pretty messed up bunch—having sex with everyone who enters their dumpy apartment, doing drugs, and drinking nonstop. With a period soundtrack and intertitles explaining the years' passing events, the three gradually morph into—you guessed it—yuppies! There are notable performances here (especially that of Nadine Van der Velde) and some great dialogue, but the all-too-cute ending leaves something to be desired. I, for one, am unconvinced that greed, selfishness, and irresponsibility went out with the '80s. (Look for some well-known faces in fleeting cameos.) Orianda Guilfoyle

The Magic of Marciano Bad title, good film. Writer-director Tony Barbieri, whose minimalist One played here in 2000, almost completely drains the melodrama out of potentially maudlin, tear-jerking material. Nine-year-old James' dysfunctional waitress mom (Nastassja Kinski) has serious problems beyond her no-good boyfriend, so it's no wonder that the fantasy-prone lad clings to Henry (Jackie Brown's Robert Forster, radiating warmth and integrity), a widower who's retired and planning to sail around the world. "He's like my father," the kid says wishfully, and Marciano builds upon that desire without letting the child actor turn treacly or the movie mushy. Plot turns are a tad too convenient, but Barbieri shows a light, dry touch with what might've been a Hallmark after-school special. Essentially the story of a lonely, damaged kid poised to slip through the cracks of the social services system, Marciano recalls L.I.E.—without the gay subtext—in its even-handed depiction of both victims and victimizers. Brian Miller

Postmark Paradise If you caught February's fine Last Resort (about a Russian immigrant woman stranded in England), Paradise bears occasional points of comparison—while falling short of that standard. Here, Ukrainian chanteuse Natalia Nazarova plays a mail-order bride, Viktoria, arriving in rural Michigan as the result of a boorish practical joke played on a drunken but not bad-hearted bachelor. Broke and despondent, Viktoria bonds with Reenie (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman's Tantoo Cardinal), a sage Indian woman and cynical waitress who gets her a job at the local bar. Their friendship develops like an uplifting made-for-cable movie, echoing The Spitfire Grill, but with some genuinely affecting moments. "Michigan is not so different from Ukraine," Viktoria realizes, and her resilient spirit—plus a healing touch with local pets—soon proves infectious to Reenie and others around her. It's pretty PG stuff, a few cuss words aside, culminating with Nazarova belting out a rousing, Russian-language cover of "Stand by Your Man." B.R.M.

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