Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Opens Fri., Feb. 27, at Meridian and others
First things first: Yes, it's shitty. Unfortunately, this retread of 1987's most beloved chick flick isn't shitty enough—you don't get the dumb, pop enjoyment of laughing at something totally inept. After an opening title informs us that the film is "Based on True Events," virginal Katey Miller (Romola Garai) tells us that it's November 1958, her senior year in high school, and all she's doing is "reading Jane Austen and dreaming of college." Her auto executive father has just accepted a position in Havana as the movie begins. Cue the hot waiter, Javier (Y Tu Mamá También's Diego Luna), who will teach Katey about pride and prejudice when, naturally, they decide to enter a spectacular dance competition.
Fine, but then nothing happens. You start begging the movie to lean on any one of the clichéd conflicts it initially establishes—her meddlesome sister, his revolutionary brother, the pool full of rich white kids, etc.—but the movie drops them all, as if to say, "Look, you know how this goes, right?" From the evidence here, the Cuban Revolution consisted of one misfired gunshot and a big parade. Luna is a little hottie, but Garai is the most sexless ingenue since Ione Skye in Say Anything. (Knockout Sela Ward is far more of a catch as Katey's disapproving mother.) Looking like Siegfried or pre-Montecored Roy, Patrick Swayze has a waxy, frightening cameo in the dance studio, further proving that 17 years was just too long to wait for a DD redux. (PG-13) STEVE WIECKING
7 and 9 p.m. Fri., Feb. 27–Sun., Feb. 29, at Little Theatre
Tijuana is the bastard child of America and Mexico, or at least that's what certain cultural myths would have you believe. Not part of the United States, but not really part of Mexico, Tijuana is a border town still on the edge of its own identity. The documentary Frontier Life explores the region's development of its hybrid culture through three distinct strands: "Nortec" music, drag racing, and water treatment (thankfully, the latter is kept to a minimum). An amalgam of norteño (traditional folk music from the Monterrey region) and Western techno, Nortec proves to be the most interesting subject examined, perhaps best reflecting Tijuana's unique mongrelized culture. Car racing is less interesting, a phenomenon that takes place anywhere young men, cars, and boredom exist. In Tijuana however, one guy has built his racer entirely from discarded and free parts. Perfectly poised to receive the runoff from our virtually infinite American excess, Tijuana is quietly creating a treasure out of its position. (NR) GRANT BRISSEY
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Runs Fri., Feb. 27–Thurs., March 4, at Varsity
Talk about being in the right place at the right time. An Irish documentary crew happened to be in Caracas profiling Venezuela's populist president Hugo Chavez when a coup broke out during April 2002. Democratically elected three years earlier, Chavez, the buddy of Fidel Castro and bane of the Bush administration, suddenly finds himself trapped in his palace by an opposition mob stirred to frenzy by commentators on the nation's TV networks, who say things like "I think Chavez is mentally unbalanced" and "Chavez has a sexual attraction to Fidel Castro." Forget journalistic fairness—it's the oil-oligarchy elite pulling the strings behind this ersatz revolution, and the U.S. administration is quick to embrace it.
Televised is hardly a model of impartial filmmaking, either. The winner of SIFF's audience documentary prize, it sides entirely with Chavez and his supporters without examining any of his policies in detail. The filmmakers repeatedly note that Venezuela is the fourth-largest petroleum exporter to the U.S. market, and suggest that country's inconveniently nationalized oil supply matters more to Dubya than a nascent democratic movement. As depicted here, Venezuelan society is clearly divided between the light-skinned haves and the far greater number of brown-skinned have-nots, who support and adore Chavez as one of their own. He's literally, physically a man of the people, given to constant hugging, touching, and backslapping. (He makes Clinton seem shy.) What are his flaws as a leader? The film isn't saying. What's Venezuela like two years later—better or worse off? You'll have to do your own studying on that.
But Televised boasts unbelievable access and drama, a you-are-there intimacy that the White House press corps could only dream about. Here is Chavez talking frankly about his grandfather, reputed to be a killer. Here are his ministers grimly waiting for the palace to be bombed. "They can't destroy history," says one, and this documentary is unquestionably historic. However incomplete and unruly, it reveals democracy in action—a process that, perhaps like Chavez himself, is fundamentally imperfect. (NR) BRIAN MILLER
Tiny Plastic Rainbow
8 p.m. Fri., Feb. 27–Sun., Feb. 29. $5–$7, at Consolidated Works, 500 Boren Ave. N., 206-381-3218
Associated with its "Suspension" exhibit, ConWorks' six-weekend "Beyond Disbelief" film series begins with this experimental DV feature by Ohio filmmaker Jennifer Reeder, who will attend and introduce its screenings. Rainbow straddles the line between bad art and trance cinema. In one recurring vignette, an off-duty clown describes his erotic dreams to his therapist, who looks bored and has an unexplained nosebleed. This pairing might suggest a comic tone, but Reeder seems to take existential loneliness—her chosen theme—much too seriously to reduce it to a punch line. Then again, two of her other characters are a lousy nightclub comedian and a wanna-be comic who practices jokes, pathetically, in his car—so maybe the whole thing is just a drawn-out gag. Rainbow is willfully cryptic, with a few touches reminiscent of David Lynch: The aspiring funnyman's ear is mysteriously bandaged; and the soundtrack consists of a creepy ambient thrum. The film also has a way of fetishizing the banalities of life—a marching band, a pair of shoes, a simple gesture—that recalls Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle. However much Reeder may have learned from those two influences, they succeed where she largely fails, by transforming ordinary objects and actions through their inspired fixation. Still, there are one or two exceptions—as when Reeder's narrator intones, "An airplane is like a gigantic stray bullet," while people shoot hoops, so that the basketball becomes another kind of random projectile with an odd menace to its arc. At moments like this,Rainbow approaches something profound: a web of images and words describing every individual's solitary, chaotic path through life, making stray bullets of us all. But these instances are maddeningly few. (NR) NEAL SCHINDLER