When the Little Theatre first opened in 1929, its mission was to show "art films that appeal to the intelligent and sophisticated," and more than 80 years later it still strives to do just that. Yeah, there was that brief porn interlude in the 1960's, but who hasn't had one of those?
These days, however, the harsh reality is that for every movie that plays at the Little, approximately 1 zillion just won't. Happily, the Project 5 series enables the Little to showcase films that might otherwise fly under the radar for logistical reasons entirely unrelated to their quality. So read on for a peek at a handful of films showing as part of the latest Project 5, which will also debut hometown boy Matt Ehlers' clever promo short "Mime Flyer," then visit the thelittle.org for the full screening schedule.
A minimalist mash-up of sleek Kubrickian future and slimy Jodorowskyish past, Canadian writer-director Panos Cosmatos' eye-popping debut feature "Beyond the Black Rainbow" has "midnight movie" written all over it. Set in 1983, a creepy doctor (Michael Rogers) engages in a battle of wills with the mute young woman (Eva Allan) he's allegedly helping, him observing her from a safe, walled distance in deference to her deadly power. Claustrophobic close-ups and spooky electronic music set the mood for this ambitious film — that blindingly achromatic flashback is beyond trippy — which unfolds at a willfully slow pace and possibly raises more questions than it answers. (Saturday, August 25, 9:30 p.m., and Thursday, August 30, 9:30 p.m.)
Back before the phrase "independent film" became a buzzy marketing term, "The Color Wheel" is what they meant. Bold, frustrating, and often very funny, the second feature by Alex Ross Perry deploys the road-trip motif for a study of the complicated relationship between two equally directionless siblings. Perry and his co-scripter Carlen Altman play Colin and JR, who bicker their way through a mission to retrieve JR's stuff from the home of her pompous ex. Despite the occasional flat line delivery, the characters are refreshingly and recognizably flawed, and the penultimate scene, featuring an unbroken monologue by JR, contains such subtle shifts in tone that its coda comes as a total shock. This is one of the best films of my year. (Saturday, August 25, 7 p.m., and Sunday, August 26, noon.)
"Falling Uphill," the promising first feature by Rochester native Richard J. Bosner, seems like something you've seen before: heartsick boy loves oblivious girl and only has a small window of time to confess his feelings. But it's quickly apparent that this story, in which the quarter-life crisis meets the financial crisis, comes from a very personal place. Writer-director Bosner wisely sketches his unpredictable characters in shades of gray that don't automatically hint at a happily-ever-after. Jessiqa Pace gives the film's standout performance, taking her manic Sara from intolerable to sympathetic on an honest path. (And we believe that Ari Kanamori's Robert would overlook her pathological peskiness in favor of her energy.) Meanwhile, San Francisco finally looks lived-in rather than postcard-perfect. (Tuesday, August 28, 7 and 9:15 p.m.)
The generically named but absorbing documentary "The Jeffrey Dahmer Files" isn't so much about the late serial killer as it is those who were left in his notorious wake. Opting for respectful over salacious, director Chris James Thompson speaks to three key people in the case — a doctor from the medical examiner's office, a neighbor, a cop — and chronicles their recollections of dealing with Dahmer and his crimes, weaving through the interviews unsettlingly banal reenactments of Dahmer going about his days riding the bus, swilling beer, and buying an awful lot of bleach. Shedding light into the mind of Dahmer is not the idea here; it serves as a powerful reminder that victimization never stops with the actual victims. (Saturday, August 25, 1:30 p.m., and Sunday, August 26, 7 p.m.)
High-level drug dealers, help me out here: isn't there a more efficient way to test a parcel of cocaine than by jamming a switchblade into it? That's always how they do it in movies like the new camp classic "Miami Connection," an unintentionally hilarious 1987 flick about criminal ninjas, bikers, and the heroic deeds of a terrible band called Dragon Sound, who all know martial arts. Everything truly ridiculous about the 80's is on proud display, and the nearly incomprehensible plot allows for some of the worst acting you will ever witness, as well as the priceless suggestion to "write another tae kwon do song." (Friday, August 24, 10:30 p.m.)