Apache 6 Theaters, Thursday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m.
Shot in Stillwater--though it could be Anywhere for how little our river town appears onscreen--this off-puttingly arty documentary portrait of a half-dozen preteens with paper routes is more conceptual experiment than slice of life. The experiment: What if the real (i.e., the rural and ordinary) were rendered in slick 35mm and styled to resemble fiction? The result: a little yucky. Rock-world hipster Mike Mills (not the one in R.E.M.) comes on like a film-school Larry Clark here, fetishizing his smooth-skinned subjects and generally sticking his boom mic where it doesn't belong. Favoring slo-mo Steadicam shots of the bike-riding paperboys pedaling their hearts out, Mills limits his use of jiggly vérité to scenes at the family dinner table--an unconscious acknowledgment that reality is harder to finesse under parental supervision. --Rob Nelson
Apache 6 Theaters, Thursday at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
A sad-sack stranger tells people he's dying, then sits back to await their responses. What the various interviewees don't know--supposedly--is that the stranger is an actor (John Michael Bolger), and that director Bobby Sheehan is filming them. If Sheehan were less fascinated by greeting-card symbolism and demo-reel gimmickry, he might notice what a horribly manipulative idea this is: an emotional variant of those bum-fighting videos wherein street people are harassed on tape. Seed knows no depths when it comes to extorting sympathy: One infuriating scene finds Bolger crying while a companion comforts him, unaware--supposedly--that the whole thing is a candid-camera stunt. The subjects' responses aren't without interest, but Sheehan has a hack's knack for finding real people and reducing them to sound bite-spitters and stereotypes. --Jim Ridley
CS -LAST SEEN
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 5:00 p.m. and Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
Directed by Twin Cities-based filmmaker Eva Ilona Brzeski, this Blair Witchy mock-doc tries so damn hard to do whatever it's trying to do that I wanted to like it more. But the movie (based on a short story by screenwriter Holiday Reinhorn) is mainly jumbled as it strains to tell of the disappearance of a high school volleyball player (Leah Curney) and the effect that it has on her friends and family. Shot interview-style and "hosted" by a freelance journalist who deploys cagey reenactments and home movies of the missing girl, Last Seen really lost me when the reporter reveals a secret agenda (imagine Robert Stack getting emotionally involved in his Unsolved Mysteries), and the plot takes a confounding turn that has to do with abduction by angels. That's right: angels. --Joseph Golden
CS -HELL HOUSE
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 6:00 p.m. and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
The elders of a Texas church decide to raise money and save souls by fighting fire with fire--that is, battling an ungodly culture through a Halloween pageant that suggests Harmony Korine and Marilyn Manson collaborating on a community-theater extravaganza. In the titular spook house, a dying AIDS patient screams out a big "F.U." to Jesus while a rubber-masked devil and a blond-bomb angel literally wrestle for his soul. And more. Much more. The fascination of Hell House comes in watching these Bible-bangers give in gaily to their wildest fantasies. And while the documentary's attitude toward the Christians is casually mean-spirited, it's also precise rather than cartoonish. Hipsters in the audience will have a good, smug snicker. And when the red-state opposition is as depraved and ignorant as it's depicted here, why the hell not? --Matthew Wilder
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
Passion plays--dramatic portrayals of Christ's life, crucifixion, and resurrection--are traditionally performed in Catholic countries. But this documentary by Kirsten Tretbar observes an elaborate production in the small Kansas town of the title. Farmers, grain elevator managers, oil-rig workers, bankers, and other local folk get together to combine their talents, all the while poking fun at one another's makeup and costume. Yet the passion play is, as one participant puts it, "a ministry for the people in it." The pressures of rural life have contributed to divorce, bankruptcy, alcoholism, and loss of faith; the redemption offered by the play helps the residents of Zenith to get through the rest of another long, hard year. Tretbar, a native Kansan, purveys plenty of homespun humor and a deep respect for a way of life that's rapidly disappearing. --Caroline Palmer
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 7:15 p.m. and Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
Troubled, volatile teenager Alex (Bodine Alexander) finds herself fearing for her younger sister's safety when their mom shacks up with a gruff new boyfriend (Don Harvey). Frustrated by the man's menacing duplicity, Alex takes her younger sibling, and the two of them hit the road to New Orleans, hoping to find their estranged father. Doug Sadler's DV feature begins as a heartfelt family drama, turns into a thriller, and then becomes a road movie. Though held together by the chemistry of its young leads, Riders never quite plants itself firmly within the ground of any one genre. And that's probably intentional, but the improvised feel of the story works against a movie that's eerily deliberate in style. The result is a beautifully shot and supremely well-acted tease. --Bilge Ebiri