Noah Baumbach says his films often end up sadder than he wants, but his latest "Frances Ha" is different. (MPR photo/Euan Kerr)
"I don't know. I try not to describe it," laughed Noah Baumbach when asked to about his latest film. Nonetheless the director and writer of such cinematic depictions of modern angst as "The Squid and the Whale," "Margot at the Wedding" and "Greenberg" sits a room in his Minneapolis hotel and considers.
"Frances Ha" is the critically acclaimed movie he co-wrote with Greta Gerwig who also plays the title role. Baumbach was in town for "Visibly Human" a retrospective and dialog at the Walker Art Center recently. Now "Frances Ha" opens this weekend theatrically in the Twin Cities.
"I think the movie for me in many ways was dictated by the character and by Greta," Baumbach said. "And as the character was formed in our writing process it was very clear to me that the movie should celebrate her and I also felt like the movie should reward her too."
"Frances Ha" follows a few months in the life of a 27 year old woman living in New York who is coming to terms that she is on the cusp of adulthood. It's not easy for her. She believes she is a dancer, despite strong evidence to the contrary available just by looking at the other members of her company. She is so close to her best friend Sophie that she breaks up with her boyfriend rather than risk damaging the platonic love she has for her friend. Then Sophie ditches her. Frances is also beset by money problems. Yet throughout it all she remains happy, and optimistic.
Greta Gerwig as the ever optimistic title character in "Frances Ha" (Image courtesy IFC Films)
The film shows Frances soldiering on despite an ongoing series of humiliations both minor and major. Baumbach says the spirit, the buoyancy and the joy of the movie really was inspired by Gerwig initially and then by Frances. Audiences tend to leave the theater in a good mood.
This feeling of contentment may be unsettling to Baumbach fans who appreciate the way the director's past work dwelt on the troubling sides of life. Another surprising thing is the movie seemed to appear as if by magic last year at the Telluride Festival.
Baumbach says he never meant to keep the production hidden. He says the reason no-one knew about it is simple.
"Nobody asked." he said. "We were there. We were making it. It was not as if we were setting out to make a secret movie."
He did however have some goals in how he made the film and says that could have played into the fact that people missed he was shooting a movie on the streets of Manhattan.
"I wanted to do something somewhat intimate." he said. "I wanted it to be a smaller production. I wanted to have a production that was fleet-footed; something we could take on the subway and shoot. Something where we could take our time."
While the film looks almost laid-back, it was shot with such a stripped down crew everything had to be carefully planned.
"There is a lot of work goes into making it seem so informal,' he said. "We did a lot of takes. All those scenes and all those shots I spent a lot of time getting them as close to what I have in my head as possible. It's some level of chaos and control that you are always working with on a movie. When it happens, when you hit it, it creates this great moment."
"It was all scripted, there was no improvisation," insisted Baumbach. "I have always really believed in getting the script as good as I can get it, then going to war with the army you have. Lets make this material work. But I am interested in a kind of informal feeling dialog."
Baumbach says the project was born out of a desire to work with Gerwig, who also starred in "Greenberg." He says as they developed the character, sending ideas and possibilities back abd forth, he quickly got a feeling of Frances, and how Gerwig would appear as her in the film.
"Greta is nothing like Frances," he recalled, "But I had a sense of how she would play it. She just seemed clear to us."
He says characters have always dictated how his films go.
"For instance like the last movie I made 'Greenberg' was about a 40 year old guy who hasn't been able to get out of his own way, and whose ideas of himself and his ideas of how his life would turn out have not come to fruition. And he's having a hard time with that and he's not able to fully acknowledge that. And when he does acknowledge it he becomes angry," he said.
"You know, I love that character but maybe it was a pricklier character to some people than a 27 year old girl who can't get out of her own way, and has ideas of how her life should be, and doesn't know how to maneuver herself in the world. But the character of Frances produced the joy and the hopefulness of the Frances Ha movie. I think that Greenberg got the movie that he should have too. I mean I think Greenberg is ultimately a hopeful movie but it's a different path."
'Frances Ha' represents something different of a different path for Baumbach: the film turned out the way he expected.
"Sometimes I'm not totally aware of the tone. I think this is going to be funnier than it turns out to be. They often feel sadder than I intend them to. But Frances, the final product, is the closest to what I envisioned going into it than anything else I have made."
Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) playfight in Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha" (Image courtesy IFC Films)
He says the decision to shoot the film in black and white was intuitive.
"I have always loved black and white movies, contemporary movies as opposed to black and white evoking a period because there is something that is already past tense about it once it is in black and white,' he said. "And I think maybe it was my approach to the material because I am no longer 27 and at that point in my life so that the black and white in some ways for me made it past tense. But at the same time the movie is very of the moment, not that it is topical, but I feel like it is very active movie, it doesn't feel like an artifact, it feels very alive and so I like that kind of contrast."
When asked who "Frances Ha" might be for Noah Baumbach says he made it for everybody.
"I didn't do this movie to take on the current generation and tell their story. I really did it because I felt the characters were interesting and funny and charming, and I wanted to work with Greta."
"These are the things that interested me and the hope is that they interest as many other people as possible."
This week, a Bloomington art exhibition arising out of the despair of imprisonment, a Mankato festival celebrating films which strictly limit dialogue, and another festival which places women who rock on a pedestal.
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Ex-Soviettes drummer Danny Henry has played with and admired women rockers for years. Danny, co-host of the Jazzed Up and Bonkers podcast, is giving advance notice for the Girls got Rhythm Fest Rock and Roll Weekend at the Amsterdam Bar in St. Paul, May 10th and 11th. Danny is particularly interested in San Francisco punk rockers The Avengers, who are appearing at the fest on Friday, May 10. He says The Avengers introduced him to punk rock.
For revealing, disturbing, sometimes painful insights into life behind bars, artist and curator John Schuerman highly recommends "Out of the Abyss: The Prison Art Project" at the Bloomington Art Center. John says the exhibition was expertly curated by William Murray, an instructor at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater for 30 years. Murray has divided the show into his personal collection of art gifted to him by inmate students, and his own unsettling mixed media pieces reflecting on his tenure at the prison.
Gibbon, Minn. painter Gwen Ruff thinks that removing an essential component from an art form can pose an interesting creative challenge for artists. So it makes sense Gwen would be drawn to the Speechless Film Festival in Mankato, which consists of films which have little or no dialogue. The Speechless Film Festival is being presented by Bethany Lutheran College at the Mankato Place Theater and the Mankato Event Center on May 3rd and 4th.
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This week, globalization as interpreted by the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, The Morris Park Players are dressing like nuns, and a producer drops his DJ moniker and embraces minimalist piano at the SPCO.
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Charisse Gendron thinks the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, even in its remaining four days, has a lot to teach would-be citizens of the world. Charisse, an MIA grant writer and local film blogger, advises to pick films and directors from countries with the richest film traditions. Through April 28th at St. Anthony Main Theater in Minneapolis.
Arts public relations consultant Christopher James says the St. Paul Chamber Music Series Liquid Music Series provides a unique glimpse at the broadening horizons of classical music. Christopher is especially excited about the next installment, which features Jace Clayton, aka DJ Rupture, electronically experimenting with the minimalist piano pieces of African American composer Julius Eastman. Tonight at 7:30pm and tomorrow at 8pm at the SPCO Center.
Twin Cities costume maker and visual artist Kathleen Richert was caught a little by surprise by the Morris Park Players' production of the classic musical, "The Sound of Music." Kathleen says the more-than-40-performer production by the more-than-50-year-old Northeast Minneapolis community theater was absolutely top notch, even though there were no Alps in the background.
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Adam Pogoff admits he is hooked. His addiction? The Serbian brass music he discovered as a teenager growing up in Minnesota, which he now explores in his new movie "Brasslands" which screens Saturday evening at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival.
"For people who have listened to klezmer music, I describe it as klezmer on speed," he said from his current home in New York. "It's incredibly contagious. It's incredibly hard NOT to like because of the fast driving rhythms and the interactions between these really fiery, incendiary, virtuosic soloists."
He says when the trumpets start, you can't help but react.
"Something like a switch goes off, and I have to move," he said. "I have to dance and I have to immerse myself in the sound."
"Players in the crowd at the Guča trumpet festival in "Brasslands." (All images courtesy Adam Pogoff)
His musical obsession and his career as a film maker came together with a bang one day about five years ago.
"I found out about the 50th anniversary of this largest brass band competition in the world and it took me about 30 seconds to decide whether or not I was going to go over there and document this occasion."
In "Brasslands" a US musician likens the Guča trumpet festival to Woodstock in its scale and cultural importance in Serbia. Hundreds of thousands of people descend on a small Serbian town to listen drink and dance.
Guča trumpet festival in full swing
Pogoff began filming long before he went to Guča however. The New York based band Zlatne Uste (which means 'Golden Lips' in Serbian) first appeared at the festival almost three decades ago
""I started by signing up to do Balkan folk-dancing classes so I could get to know the members in the band who also taught the classes," Pogoff said.
The band show befriended him and Pogoff arranged for his film crew to travel to Serbia with them. He says they tried to work out which other bands they should film when they got there, but then reality kicked in.
"Once we got to Serbia, it was a case of see what happens as we go along," he said. We got very lucky in who we got matched up with, the best trumpeter in the world in 2010."
"We had a total 10 people in four separate film crews that we would dispatch in the morning and reconvene and find out what we had gathered," Pogoff continued. He admits even as a lover of the music, the festival was overload. "It was overwhelming all the time."
Zlatne Uste joins the parade at the Guča trumpet festival
On returning from Serbia the hard work continued. "Brasslands" was made by the Meerkat Media Collective, an film organization which depends on voluntary work from a lot of people. As executive producer Adam Pogoff worked with a core team of 10 writers, who gathered every week for almost three years.
They knew they had a great story with the music and the musicians, but they always talked about how to mix in Serbia's volatile politics and recent history. Pogoff said as they edited the film they kept showing the cuts to members of the Serbian community, and cultural historians to get their feedback.
"Most people in the States, what they know of the Balkans, and Serbia in particular, is war," said Pogoff. He says the writers wanted to strike a balance where the film acknowledges the legacy of the war, but focuses on the music.
"It de-emphasizes the really complex history, but instead references rather than dwell on it," Pogoff said.
When asked who might be the audience for "Brasslands" he says there are many Serbian music fans out there. He also sees the music's influence in a lot of it in popular music with bands like Beirut, Gogol Bordello, and Balkan Beat Box.
The Saturday night "Brasslands" screening at the Minneapolis Saint Paul International Film Festival will be the documentary's first public showing.
It's also Pogoff's first trip back to Minneapolis in five years. Is he nervous?
"Hell, yeah I am nervous. I am super nervous," he laughed. But he also thinks it will be fun.
"I am going to be reconnecting with a lot of people who I haven't seen since high school," he said. He's looking forward to hearing reactions to the film. "I think the scale of the movie will be a surprise to everyone. It's really an epic journey, and I can't wait to bring it home."(1 Comments)
The Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival continues its new-found streak of getting the word out early by publishing its full schedule on-line today. The entire 2013 festival catalog is on the MSPIFF website, as well as here.
There are some 200 films in the festival which launches April 11th with a screening of the new Ken Loach comedic drama "The Angels' Share," a heist movie about very rare single malt scotch. (Be warned there is some bad language in this trailer.)
Another highlight will be the April 18th mid-festival screening of "Midnight's Children" the long awaited Deepa Mehta adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Booker Prize-winning novel.
The festival's closing gala April 27th is "In a World," director/star Lake Bell's comedy about a female vocal coach. (Movies will keep screening through the 28th.)
In between there is a huge selection of features, shorts, documentaries, panels, and parties.
A not very scientific selection: there is the new film from Phil Harder about the Duluth band Low with the enigmatic title "Low movie (How to Quit Smoking.)"
It's just one of a host of locally produced films which make up the MN Made portion of the festival. There is a geographic and sociological focus for "Songs of Exile: Cinema of Displacement and Dispossession" which will feature 15 documentaries and features looking at the way populations movie, or are sometimes pushed, around the planet.
Smaller series include a short series linked to the "More Real" exhibit at the MIA called "More REEL", screenings of many of the Oscar nominated foreign language films, and the Childish Festival for younger audiences. There will also be the return of the Late Night screenings for people looking for something more in the horror line.
As ever there will be many visiting film makers, and a number of after-parties. Details are all available at the MSPIFF site.(0 Comments)
For someone about to launch a film festival Mohannad Ghawanmeh seem remarkably calm. The curator of the 10th Mizna Twin Cities Arab Film Festival says the movies are all here, and everything seems set.
He is however brimming over with expectant excitement. The festival is marking its decade point tomorrow night with a gala opening screening of the Lebanese film "OK Enough Goodbye" at the Walker Art Center.
It's just one of the signs that the festival has arrived.
"The Walker Arts Center's willingness, I would like to say eagerness, to collaborate with us on delivering this opening with us at the Walker is indicative," said Ghawanmeh.
The rest of the festival (Thursday through Sunday) is presented at it's traditional home at the Heights Theater in Columbia Heights. On Saturday night Ghawanmeh will screen another of his prize catches this year.
"I am really excited about the indication of renown if you will, or heft, in our having secured the US premier of "Horses of God," It was easily the best reviewed Arab film in the most recent edition of Cannes," he said. "It is really heartening to know that a festival such as ours will be the first festival in the US to screen this film."
"I am also really enthusiastic about our screening of three films by local representatives," he continued. There is'Sirocco' by Hisham Bizri. There is also a short abstract film "Home, Not Home" which draws on the situation in Gaza by Andrea Shaker, who teaches at the College of St Benedict. Finally there is journalist Jacob Wheeler with the documentary "The People and the Olive." All three will be at the Walker opening and at the presentation of their films.
While Mohannad Ghawanmeh has not curated all of the Twin Cities Arab Film Festivals, he is known for his connection with it. He's been hearing from the local Arab community that they are looking forward to the event.
"The excitement is palpable," he said. "I have had people, young Arabs, while going about in the Twin Cities saying 'Oh, I can't wait for the film festival to arrive, I am so looking forward to it.' I think that many of them recognize that this isn't their parents Arab cultural event, that the Arab film festival is run by a progressive, artistically mindful, politically engaged and a rather hip organization that speaks to them as well as their parents generation."
There are only half a dozen similar festivals in North America and few have the scope of the Twin Cities event. Ghawanmeh puts the success down to hard work, and high standards. he thinks the event has a good reputation amongst film fans in the larger Twin Cities community. He says the festival has a reputation for being "really selective and that the films that get into our festival are not simply promotional vehicles for Arab Americans, but are veritable appreciable and notable works of art."
Ghawanmeh is particularly pleased about one more film, a surprise screening of a short as part of the last bill on Sunday night.
"We have wrapped it in that sort of paper," laughs Ghawanmeh, who says he cannot reveal what it is because of contractual restriction. However he says he agreed to show it because he believes it is so good.
"It may be my favorite Arab short of all time," he said. "It's a stunning piece of elegiac cinema, it really is. It's breathtakingly shot and subtly harrowing."
And when someone like Mohannad Ghawanmeh says that, you sit up and take notice.(0 Comments)
Artist Ai Weiwei isn't afraid to speak his mind.
For instance there's his self-portrait. It features him naked, jumping in the air, holding a llama doll in front of his private parts.
The caption reads in "Grass mud horse covering the middle" which, when said in Chinese, sounds an awful lot like "F*** your mother, Communist Party Central Committee."
Weiwei has publicly criticized the Chinese government for, among other things, the shoddily built schools which collapsed in a 2008 earthquake, killing more than 5,000 students in Sichuan.
Tonight at 10:30pm tpt2 will broadcast Alison Klayman's documentary "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" which won the Sundance Film Festival's Special Jury Prize. It profiles this man who continues to challenge oppression with irreverence, and sometimes an almost childlike glee.
The documentary is being broadcast as part of the Independent Lens series.(0 Comments)
Last night our Cube Critics partnered with Trivia Mafia to test their movie knowledge against the many teams that came to challenge them. The Cube Critics managed to come out on top and now we can't get them to stop peppering us with obscure Oscar facts. So naturally we asked them to channel that energy and put together a quiz for you.
How's your Oscar trivia knowledge? Take the quiz to find out:(0 Comments)
Minnesota has virtually no connection to the Oscars this year -- save for a cinematography nomination for native son Drew Kunin.
So ahead of this weekend's Oscars and tonight's Cube Critics Trivia Mafia extravaganza, we thought we'd take a look at the widely-released movies that have been filmed (or at least partially filmed) in Minnesota and those that are set here (but filmed elsewhere). Did we miss any? Let us know!0 Comments)
Mu Performing Arts the nationally acclaimed Asian-American compant based in St PAul today named Randy Reyes to succeed founder Rick Shiomi as artistic director.
In a release this afternoon Shiomi praised Rayes' talents.
"Over the past six years, Randy has been deeply dedicated to Mu as an actor, director, administrator, and member of our Core Artistic Group. A critical player in Mu's success, he is blessed both with great artistic talent and organizational skills. It is my great pleasure to see him take Mu Performing Arts to the next level."
Reached by phone this afternoon Reyes (above) said he knows he has some big shoes to fill.
"Yeah, it's 20 years worth of shoes," he laughed.
Reyes is a well-known face on the Twin Cioties stages, most recently in "Servant of Two Masters" at the Guthrie. He has also directed at many local theaters, including the Mu and the Gurthrie.
Reyes says he's learned a great deal from Shiomi who founded the group in 1993. Since then it's grown to be one of the largest Asian-American arts organizations in the nation, and is known for its groundbreaking theatrical work, and its drumming ensemble Mu Daiko.
But Reyes knows there is a lot of work still to be done.
"We need to continue to nurture more playwrights and more ways of telling our story and producing, and educating the community about Asian American theater, and continue to tell our story, because our stories haven't been told nearly as much as other stories," he said
Shiomi will remain Mu's artistic director through August 31st. The company will pay tribute to his work at the Mu Gala on April 27th.
(MPR file image of Randy Reyes)(0 Comments)
Mohannad Ghawanmeh is a serious guy when it comes to film. Not only has he curated Mizna's Twin Cities Arab Film Festival, he teaches film, and is also the author of the eclectic Arab film blog Cinema Arabiata. He was also the star of "Triumph 67" a Minnesota made film which premiered in 2011.
However, Ghawanmeh also has a wicked sense of humor, which is evident from the promo he has put together for this years Arab Film Fest.
The dates for this year's events are March 13-17. Opening night will be at the Walker Art Center, and then the rest of the event will roll out at the historic Heights Theater in Columbia Heights.(0 Comments)
What Art Hound wouldn't be interested in a festival of playlets written and directed by Minnesota women, a Minneapolis psychedelic rock band whose stage show nearly distracts from the music and a documentary about the Motor City that captures both its decay and potential? None, we tell you. None.
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It's easy to poke fun at Detroit. But if you're a Michigan native such as Trylon
Microcinema projectionist Peter Schilling, you're relieved and excited when a documentary comes along that doesn't exploit Motown's tragic fall as a great American city. Peter says based on advance notice, Detropia is one such film. Detropia is being screened at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis on Feb. 8 and 9th at 7pm as part of its [[ RE ]] FRAME series.
Picture it, says Twin Cities actress Michelle Guertin, an evening of bountiful theater created and directed by women who are fellow Minnesotans, neighbors, maybe even friends. Michelle says that's what the "After the Apple" theater festival promises, with each performance containing nine separate playlets. The festival was put together by Table Salt Productions and is on stage at the Playwright's Center in Minneapolis Feb. 7 - 23.
Chances are pretty darn good that if the Minneapolis indie rock band Bollywood has a local gig, writer, artist and musician Sarah Moeding will be there. Sarah confesses she's been captured by the group's swirling psychedelia and video enhanced stage shows. Bollywood celebrates the release of its new EP, "OK Animal" at Cause Spirits and Sound Bar in Minneapolis on Saturday, Feb. 9th.
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(Trailer for "Beware of Mr Baker" Warning: contains repeated bad language and violent images.)
A couple of years back Jay Bulger contacted legendary rock drummer Ginger Baker at his home in South Africa and told him Rolling Stone magazine had commissioned him to write a profile.
It wasn't true. However he was able to use the carrot of coverage into getting Baker, a man with an infamous volcanic bad temper, to allow him to stay at his house for several weeks.
"What possessed me to do that? I don't know. Seemed like a challenge!" Bulger laughed this week. "And I like a challenge. I like villains and he is the ultimate villain."
Bulger did write that profile, and Rolling Stone published it. Bulger turned around and went back to South Africa with a film crew and the result is "Beware of Mr Baker" which screens in Minneapolis this weekend at the Frozen Docs series at the Film Society of Minneapolis and St Paul.
For decades Baker has pounded out the intricately syncopated pulse of a host of innovative rock bands. He formed Cream with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, bullied his way into Blind Faith with Steve Winwood, and moved to Nigeria to work with Fela Kuti.
"Ginger Baker is the original rock and roll madman junkie drummer superstar," said Bulger. "He invented the rock and roll drum solo. He was the greatest drummer by far of his generation. A legendary ghoulish figure."
All of that comes through in "Beware of Mr Baker." Bulger's film opens with Baker attacking him with a walking cane - and breaking his nose.
"I never felt unsafe," Bulger told me. "I felt maybe physically and challenged at times. But that's pretty fun, especially coming from someone so much older. It gives me hope that one day when I am 75 or whatever I might be able to break some noses with canes myself."
Bulger says he first saw Baker in a documentary which followed Baker's trip across the Sahara desert in the first Range Rover to come off the production line. Bulger says the trip was to get Baker to Lagos, Nigeria so he could join Fela Kuti's band. It was also a way to wean him off heroin.
"He looked like something right out of Charles Dickens' (bodily reference deleted), or something," Bulger said. "You could tell that he was meant to die in the 60's by the video I saw and so the fact that he was still alive was just remarkable."
In fact Bulger says he believes there's a reason why Baker has survived.
"He can't be killed. He's unstoppable. He's made a deal with the devil," Bulger laughed.
"Beware of Mr Baker" is filled with interviews with rock luminaries ranging from Clapton and Bruce to Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. Bulger said initially people were reluctant to talk to him.
"It was difficult. It was really difficult," he said. "But it was no more difficult than convincing Ginger to let me live with him."
However once people heard Baker himself had talked, usually in loud and lurid terms, Bulger said more people were willing to sit for his camera.
Everyone describes Baker's drumming talent in glowing terms. Some are more circumspect on his social skills. Baker is described as beating up fellow band members (including Bruce who he stomped on stage one time.) A string of former wives outline his shortcomings as a life partner, and his now adult children outline the way he has repeatedly disappeared from their lives.
Bulger says many people who see the film come away wondering just what to think.
"For me it's not about me liking him, and hopefully it's not about the viewer liking him either. It's about understanding him. He is so complicated it is really difficult for me to sit there and say do I like him or not. I find him to be one of the greatest comic geniuses of the 20th century as well as potentially one of the most despicable human beings that I have ever come across."
"He can only express himself through beautifully smashing things."
Bulger describes Baker as smart, and unlike anyone else on the planet.
"And I love him for that. As well as, I hate his stinking guts too. But it's more complicated than just yes or no."
Bulger is now looking to other projects, both documentaries and feature films. But he's blunt when comparing them with the current film
"Probably nothing as good as this Ginger Baker project, for the rest of my life. But I'd be totally OK with that," he said. "I'd be happy never doing another thing for the rest of my life, it's that good. And I'm not bragging."
Jay Bulger isn't kidding.(0 Comments)
We've asked our Art Hounds to tell us about their Minnesota arts and culture highlights of 2011. Here is the second on-air installment (listen to part one here, see additional theater highlights here and look for more music and visual art highlights tomorrow):
"Mantrap" at the Heights Theatre
Leave it to Tom Letness, owner of the Heights Theatre, to program a totally amazing silent film which was virtually unheard of amongst members of the local film community. "Mantrap" is a marvel, a strange drama mixed with riotous comedy, and featuring Clara Bow, the famous "It" girl, who might've been the sexiest actress ever to grace the silver screen (and perhaps its most gifted comedienne). "Mantrap" was one of several obscure silent films the Heights screened last spring, each accompanied by their Wurlitzer Organ, and each one a revelation.
-Peter Schilling, writer, projectionist and board member at Take-Up Productions
Jim Denomie's "Off the Reservation (or Minnesota Nice)"
Imagine being called upon to create art reflecting a horrific history that resulted in the deaths, forced internment, and dislocation of members of your ethnic group and then to present that work to the public in the context of a 150th anniversary of the largest mass execution in U.S. History. Now imagine Jim Denomie's enormous and vivid canvas titled "Off the Reservation (or Minnesota Nice)" depicting with sardonic humor, the events (starvation, swindling,encroachment) that triggered Dakota attacks and the persons responsible for U.S. retaliation. Denomie shows all on an enormous map-like landscape that remains the most remarkable art I experienced in 2012. Denomie's painting, part of "Ded Ungk'ungpi--We Are Here" originated All My Relations Arts in Minneapolis and is on view until January 13 at James J. Hill House Gallery.
-Heid Erdrich, writer, teacher, editor, curator
Dirty Baby at the Walker Art Center
Dirty Baby is a collaboration between Nels Cline (guitarist for Wilco), David Breskin (poet, producer), and Ed Ruscha (painter). Part of it was just to get three different artists from three different mediums to collaborate and see what could come out of that process. It originally started off as a book featuring visual art, poetry and music and they decided to bring it ot the stage. At the Walker there were overhead projections of Ed Ruscha's paintings, Breskin's poetry was recited and Nels Cline and company performed the music. Seeing these three artsits work together and the idea that it might not be performed live again really made it an exgtremely exciting once in a lifetime experience.
-Dan Marshall, photographer
Legacy: A Tribute to the King of Pop at Theatre L'Homme Dieu in Alexandria
The best thing I saw all year was Legacy. It is the brainchild of the amazing choregrapher and dancer Luis Castillo. Everything about this show surprised and delighted me. He embodies Jackson in a way that will catch you so off guard. Each of the numbers in the show recreated famous videos or moments in Jackson's career perfectly. Castillo's choreography and performance itself as Michael Jackson was mesmerizing and breathtaking. The best thing is they're bringing it back again to L'Homme Dieu next summer and you can bet I'm driving back up to Alexandria to see it again.
-Zach Curtis, director and actor
While 34-year-old Franco is best known for his work in 127 hours and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, the actor is also a writer, director and painter with a near-obsessive passion for learning. He holds an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College and an MFA in creative writing from Brooklyn College.
James Franco as Allen Ginsberg in the movie "Howl"
Franco's work in film has often involved poetry, whether he was portraying Allen Ginsberg or Hart Crane, or directing films inspired by poetry.
Directing Herbert White is scheduled to be published in April 2014. Graywolf editor Jeffrey Shotts describes the poems as a series of portraits of American successes and failures from within Hollywood.
"They are also smart and highly aware notes of caution of what can happen when the filmed self becomes fixed and duplicated, while the ongoing self must continue living and watching," added Shotts in a press release.
In 2010 Scribner published a collection of Franco's short stories titled Palo Alto to mixed reviews. He's also published a chapbook of poetry titled Strongest of the Litter.
Graywolf plans to bring Franco to Minneapolis for a book launch event in the spring of 2014.
The expression "one man's trash is another man's treasure" finds new meaning in the documentary "Landfill Harmonic"
The film - which is still in production - centers around the town of Cateura, Paraguay, which is dominated by the presence of an enormous landfill.
When a new music program started up at the local school, the teachers soon had fifty students and only five violins. That's when they met Cola, a man who makes his living rummaging through the landfill, finding new uses for discarded things. Using aluminum cans and forks, he built them a violin.
Now they have an entire "recycled orchestra" making beautiful music together.(1 Comments)
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in "The Silver Linings Playbook."
Author Matthew Quick has an easy description of his best-selling novel "The Silver Linings Playbook."
"My one line pitch is that it's about a man who thinks his life is a movie produced by God," he said during a recent visit to the Twin Cities.
The novel is the basis for the romantic comedy "Silver Linings Playbook" opening around the country this week, although Quick admits the part about deity as movie producer doesn't appear in the screen adaptation.
It's the story of Pat (Bradley Cooper) whose manic behavior has led to a brush with the law, a restraining order from his wife, and a few months of court-ordered treatment in a secure unit at the local mental health institution. On his release he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who has just gone through her own brush with mental health issues after the death of her husband. Together Pat and Tiffany prove to be an explosive combination, and the film is a rollercoaster ride of humor and pathos.
"Their struggles in many ways mirror a lot of my struggles," Quick (left) says, then continuing that the issue of mental health is near and dear to his heart.
"I consider myself part of the mental health community," he says. "I deal with depressions and anxiety. I have worked in the mental health community, I counseled troubled teens for seven years when I was a high school English teacher."
"For me, you always want to be laughing at the absurdity of the situation, you mine the comedy from the absurdity of life. You don't want to be laughing at these people, because they are people, they have real struggles, and I think they are depicted that way in the novel and the film, but we can laugh at just how absurd these situations are, and how wild life often is."
Quick has just gone through the experience of having a celebrated director David O. Russell ("The Fighter") make a movie out of his novel without consulting him.
Quick told the audience at an advanced screening of the film in St Louis Park about how Hemingway described selling the movie rights to a novel as being like a bank robbery, where an author walks up to a wall and throws his book over the top. Someone on the other side then throws a bag of money back, which the author should grab and run away as fast as possible.
It wasn't quite that way for the Silver Linings Playbook. Matthew Quick is very pleased with how the movie has turned out.
Russell called Quick before the author saw the finished flick, and talked Quick through how he had written the screenplay. Quick says while Russell changed some things from the book were changed, at it's center the movie preserves the important things about the story.
Quick describes Pat as "a guy who is trying to reinvent himself, and he is trying to practice being kind rather than right, he is trying to get physically fit, he's trying to learn how to treat women well, and kind of atone for some of the past sins that he had."
Pat has to do this despite being surrounded by a family whose members have their own sets of foibles, not least his father, played by Robert de Niro. He's a bookie, whose love of the Philadelphia Eagles verges on the obsessive compulsive.
Quick says he was very pleased by how Russell and his actors filled out the characters.
"Jennifer Lawrence's Tiffany is probably the most authentic rendering of my character from book to screen. It was clear to me that she embraced that character."
"Pat in the movie is a little bit different than the Pat in the novel. I think Bradley Cooper did a phenomenal job," he said. In keeping with the novel's theme of reinvention, Quick says Russell wanted to re-introduce Bradley Cooper as a performer.
"And so David wanted the audience to see Bradley Cooper, not at 'People's Sexiest Man' but as this new character. That's why in the first scene when you see the movie come up, you are on Bradley Cooper's back, because David consciously wanted to evoke this question 'who is this guy?'"
And it really works. Cooper gives one of the best performances of his career so far.
Matthew Quick has been touring the country for previews of the film and has loved audience reactions. He says it's allowing people to speak openly about troubling issues - while also having a good time.
"The silver lining of that if you will is that I think we are really getting people to talk," he said. "When people are seeing something on the screen that they feel is authentic in some cases things that they are struggling with at home, be it bipolar disorder, or depression, and they say 'that was really authentic, that represents what I am going through, any yet I am leaving the theater with a smile on my face and feeling uplifted.'"
Quick says he believes romantic comedies have been demonized by some people, as incapable of being important or significant. He hopes that changes with "Silver Linings Playbook."
"I would like my readers and the viewers of this film to leave feeling maybe a little bit better than they came in. And there is nothing wrong with that. I think that's beautiful."
(All images courtesy the Weinstein Company, except for image of Matthew Quick which is an MPR photo/Euan Kerr)
Alexandria native John Hawkes likes a challenge. But the actor who received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of an Appalachian meth addict in "Winter's Bone" initially felt the role in his new film "The Sessions" might be beyond him. Hawkes told MPR's Euan Kerr that he had misgivings about taking on the role of poet and journalist Mark O'Brien, a man ravaged by polio who decided he didn't want to die a virgin.
He told Lewin he should cast an actor with disabilities in the part. Lewin told Hawkes he had searched extensively for such a person, but no one was right.
"When he told me that he had done his due diligence, that took some of the hesitation away on my end," said Hawkes.
Hawkes faced other challenges, like the responsibility that comes with portraying a real person. O'Brien died in 1999, but Hawkes met several of the people involved in the story, including the surrogate Cohen Greene.
In addition to reading O'Brien's articles, Hawkes watched an Oscar-winning short documentary about O'Brien called "Breathing Lessons." For an actor who loves to research his roles it was a huge gift.
"There was his body. There was his attitude. There was his voice and his dialect. All those I was able to study and emulate and put to use," Hawkes said.
Still, Hawkes had to learn how to play a character who had almost no ability to move. He also had to perform a series of intimate scenes for the story. He said there was no spoken agreement, but he and Hunt somehow realized they should have little contact before filming.
"We didn't know each other," he said "And we didn't rehearse. And so all of that awkwardness, the unfamiliarity, the nervousness, the, even, humor at times, well, it was all there."
And it worked. "The Sessions" took the coveted Audience Award and the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. And Hawkes' name keeps being mentioned as a likely best actor Oscar nominee.
You can find out more about the movie, and John Hawkes preparation for the part, here.(1 Comments)
Posted at 2:15 PM on October 12, 2012
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
Editor's note: This story is courtesy of MPR reporter Julie Siple who covers hunger and related issues in Minnesota. Thanks, Julie!
Filmmaker Lori Silverbush still remembers the phone call.
She was mentoring a young girl named Sabrina in New York when Sabrina's principal called with news: The girl was scavenging for food in the lunchroom trash. Silverbush often sent the girl home fed, but she knew it wasn't a solution.
"What about the next morning, when she would have to wake up and go to school?" Silverbush wondered. "And what about the next evening, and what about her brothers and sisters?"
Now in its third year, the festival will show 40 features and 20 shorts at St. Louis Park's ShowPlace ICON tonight through October 20. Traditionally, the festival opens with a film about a pressing social issue.
Hunger, Silverbush said, is just that.
"Fifty million Americans - that's not a fringe, that's not the screw-ups, that's not the people you probably have in your head as the hungry people - 50 million Americans have to wonder, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, how they're going to get food on the table for their families," Silverbush said. "And that's energy they're not devoting to their work, to parenting, to their communities. It's a great drain."
Silverbush and co-director Kristi Jacobson followed three Americans struggling with hunger. Barbie is a young mother in Philadelphia who swore she wouldn't feed her kids canned spaghetti every day, but sometimes can't get by any other way. Rosie is a Colorado fifth grader who has trouble concentrating in school. Tremonica is a Mississippi second grader whose obesity and asthma are made worse by the empty calories her mom can afford. Collectively, they paint a picture of what it means to be hungry in America today.
"Being hungry in America doesn't look like what it looks like in Sub-Saharan Africa or in a developing nation," Silverbush said. "It's not the kid with the swollen belly and flies on his face. It's actually a kid who might look just like your kid in school, but is unable to focus... because they didn't get breakfast that morning."
Across the country, hunger means sacrificing food for rent, she said, or medical care to put breakfast on the table.
It's a problem that still carries with it great stigma - something Silverbush saw as she traveled America untangling the causes and consequences of hunger. At food pantries in middle-class suburbs, hunger relief workers asked the filmmakers not to come, lest the cameras keep those in need away.
"One of our biggest surprises in making the film is that hardworking people, people who are playing by all the rules, and absolutely fulfilling their end of the social contract as most people would describe it, are still not able to get by," Silverbush said.
The film weaves together portraits of hungry families with an exploration of the root causes of -and possible fixes for-- hunger. It takes a close look at the political history of hunger in America, as well as the country's agricultural policies and food systems.
"We really like to believe that people deserve credit for their own success and deserve blame for when they're not making it," Silverbush said. "But the truth is, there's so much that goes into why someone might not be able to feed their family. The system is a little bit broken and the game is a little bit fixed."
The documentary features scores of leading experts on hunger, including "Stuffed and Starved" author Raj Patel and "Sweet Charity?" author Janet Poppendieck. It lacks, however, any conservative voices that might argue against the expansion of nutrition programs such as food stamps.
Lori Silverbush is in town to promote the film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was produced with Participant Media, the company also responsible for "Waiting for Superman" and "Food, Inc." She'll speak on a panel with Minnesota hunger relief experts tonight in advance of the 8:30pm showing. The film opens in theaters next spring.
Earlier this month Jane Minton, Executive Director of IFP Minnesota, an organization supporting independent filmmakers and photographers, was dismissed by the organization's board after serving it for 25 years.
While for the past week Minton has remained quiet about the controversial firing, today she decided to speak out, posting this letter on her Facebook account:
Dear Friends and IFP Members,
Many of you have been asking for answers regarding my termination last week from IFP. I've maintained my silence, hoping to come to a reasonable separation agreement with the organization I've served for 25 years. Now that such an agreement has been denied to me, I owe you an explanation.
First, IFP Minnesota is healthy and stable. Despite the challenges for most nonprofits in this tough economy, as of August 10th, IFP's Business Director projected a one-month cash shortfall ($15,000 of the $750,000 budget) in May 2013; a shortfall that I would have easily addressed long before that date.
One reason for the shortfall flows from a small decrease in the revenue from the education program, which is down $10,000 in 2012 from its heyday in 2009, when it earned $80,000. Expertly programmed by Education Director Reilly Tillman, the education program remains healthy, viable and responds to the education needs of beginners as well as advanced filmmakers. This year's Producers Conference was the best ever.
Despite the overall vitality of IFP, the Executive Committee brought their concerns of impending financial crisis to me in late June. I proposed ways to reconfigure the organizational structure of IFP, including focusing my energies full time on fundraising. However, it was clear to me that the Executive Committee wasn't looking for solutions. It was looking for a scapegoat.
It now appears that board/staff protocols may have been violated, and that a plan to oust me had been afoot for months, surfacing June 27th with that meeting called by the Executive Committee. This is not unusual. It happens in not-for-profits: a board member joins an organization out of enthusiasm and a few years down the road believes he or she could run it better. Everyone serving on a board would do well to read an old but still true chestnut by Bruce Dayton, "Governance is Governance."
I am leaving IFP Minnesota in a stable financial position, and more importantly as I leave, the organization is fulfilling its mission of serving filmmakers, photographers, emerging artists, and film and photography. I am proud of the 2002 merger we accomplished with the Media Artists Access Center, the vibrant Youth Media Program, the McKnight Fellowship Program, Cinema Lounge, MNTV, the Photography Exhibition Program, IFP's member services-including Fiscal Sponsorship and the EFlash, the annual fundraiser with over 500 attending this year, among other accomplishments. I'm also proud of the millions of dollars we have raised to put IFP Minnesota and our media arts community on the map.
My dismissal at the hands of this Executive Committee is not the way I wanted to leave IFP Minnesota. But that is the hand that has been dealt to me. After receiving a proposed separation agreement on August 14th, which began with the words: "You agree that you have resigned," I retained legal counsel so that I could negotiate on a level playing field with the Executive Committee to preserve my reputation, my legacy at IFP and to protect my family financially upon my termination.
As soon as I hired counsel, I was informed by IFP's attorney at Lommen Abdo that there would be no further negotiation of any kind and that I was not to return to my office, effective August 17. I worked on and built an organization for 25 years, and on August 17, it was determined that I would have nothing to show for it.
The manner in which I was treated was heartless, cold, mean, and calculating. I know well that all businesses, nonprofits included, need to be run like businesses. But the reason some of us spend our careers working with nonprofits is HEART. What you don't make in salary, you gain in a common mission and collegiality. This has been missing in my recent situation.
That said, what's made all these years worthwhile for me are the people in the community-filmmakers, photographers, educators, IFP instructors, vendor companies such as Cinequipt, Blue 60, Fredrikson & Byron, and Pixel Farm, to name but a few, funders such as McKnight and Jerome Foundations, volunteers and interns, board members, and members.
The filmmakers and photographers in Minnesota are so talented, giving, and tenacious -- you're inspiring, and you will continue to inspire me. I'm grateful for every minute I've had to interact and work with you, and I deeply appreciate the many comments, emails and phone calls over the past week or so. Ah, there was the heart! Thank you!
I read that Andrew Peterson is taking over the reins of IFP as Interim Executive Director. Andrew is great and I have much respect for him. I also have deep respect, admiration and affection for the remaining staff at IFP. They're brilliant and dedicated. The IFP Board has a wealth of talent and I've enjoyed working with them. Many of IFP's board members have given generously to IFP, and I've benefitted from their wisdom. I wish the board, Andrew and IFP well. But most of all, dear filmmakers and photographers, I wish you the whole wide world of success.
On the very same day as the opening of the Minnesota State Fair, the first trailer for a new movie called "Butter" is released. Coincidence? You decide...
As part of the partnership, the Film Society's St. Anthony Main Theatre will become the new home for the filmed-theater series NT Live originating from the National Theatre of London. "Theatre Thursdays" will begin on September 20 with "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," based on the novel by Mark Haddon.
The Film Society will also present films inspired by the Guthrie's upcoming 2012-2013 season. It's programming begins later this month with a retrospective of films by David Cronenberg. Cronenberg's film "A Dangerous Method" featured a screenplay by Christopher Hampton, who's work for the stage is being honored at the Guthrie Theater this fall.
Western and central Minnesota is the Art Hounds domain this week as the hounds uncover a young artist who tells her life story in vivid, abstract paintings, a funky, classic rock oriented classical concert and an art festival in one of central Minnesota's artsiest communities.
When Fargo artist Emily Wheeler went to see fellow painter Trudy Johnson's exhibition "Tell-Tale Art," at the Spirit Room gallery in Fargo, she didn't read Trudy's artistic statement until the end. Emily promptly went back through the show with a new understanding of the dramatic, at times disturbing auto-biographical story Trudy was telling through her vibrantly colorful paintings. On view through Aug. 31.
Did you know New York Mills, Minn. is right on the Continental Divide? No? New York Mills artist Pam Robinson suspects there's more about this central Minnesota arts enclave you don't know, so she's recommending the Continental Divide Music & Film Festival, Aug. 17-18. The festival will feature a free corn feed, music, including acts such as Eric Koskinen, Haley Bonar and The Cactus Blossoms, a puppet pageant, printmaking, and locally made films.
This Tuesday evening, Aug. 21, The Fargo-Moorhead-based Post-Traumatic Funk Syndrome will be laying down a groove alongside the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra in the beautiful clean air of the Bluestem Amphiheater, and Margie Bailly plans to revel in the rock and funk. The concert is called "Symphony Rocks." Margie, the recently retired executive director of the historic Fargo Theater, says you can expect renditions of Mozart, Procol Harem, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Peter Gabriel, among others.
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David and Jackie Siegal in "Queen of Versailles" (All images courtesy Magnolia Pictures)
While Lauren Greenfield has been using photography to explore the sociology of American life for 20 years, it turns out that one of her pivotal pictures was of a handbag.
Greenfield, who was working on a project about wealth and consumerism and the American Dream, found herself at a Donatella Versace event in Beverly Hills, where she met one of the designers biggest customers, a woman called Jackie Siegal.
"And I made a photograph of her purse and two other purses, very gold, very blingy purses, that Time Magazine used in their photos of the year to illustrate what they were calling the New Gilded Age" said Greenfield. "This was in the end of 2007. And when Jackie told me they were building the biggest house in America I was hooked."
It turned out that Siegal, and her husband David, the president of the largest time-share organization in the world, were in the process of building a huge edifice on a large lot in Orlando Fl. using a design based on the palace of Versailles in Paris, and the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas
Greenfield (right) asked if she could make a film about the house, and the Siegals agreed.
Greenfield says she was interested in the way that homes had become not just a place to live, but a symbol of success and identity. During the real estate boom a few years ago the Siegals took the phenomenon to new heights.
They decided they needed more space, and designed their 90,000 square foot dream home, complete with grand staircase and stained glass domed roof. Even as builders worked on putting up the walls the building was eye-popping.
However Greenfield soon saw her film would revolve round Jackie. She's a woman who had survived a hard-scrabble upbringing, and a bad first marriage to become a beauty queen and then wife of a billionaire 30 years her senior. At times she is quite humble, and at others wildly ostentatious. She relates how she never wanted to have many children, but when she married David she knew she didn't need to worry about money, so she had seven, and then had a troubled teenage niece move in too.
Jackie Siegal and some of her children in "Queen of Versailles"
The film crew got to follow Jackie as she purchased truckloads of furnishings for the uncompleted house. It was a garish mixture of valuable antiques and 21st century knick-knacks where volume was as important as quality. She also took the crew on tours of the cavernous skeleton of the house as work continued, pointing out her enormous closet which a friend mistakes for a bedroom. There is even a special balcony designed so the family can watch the nightly fireworks over Disney World.
Then the real estate bubble burst, and Lauren Greenfield found herself making a very different film.
Work stopped on the house, David laid off thousands of workers in the time-share business, and the giant Siegal household had to downsize. Things got so tight, David realized he had to sell Versailles
"In 2010 when they had to put their house on the market, when Jackie and David had to put their dream house of Versailles up for sale and had to give up that dream, at that point I realized that their story was really an allegory for the overreaching of America, and a supersized version of what so many people had gone through," said Greenfield.
"The Queen of Versailles" follows the Siegals increasingly desperate attempts to stay above water. Because the Siegals are so open, and in many ways like the family next door, Greenfield found she could relate to the family's troubles.
"It begins as something you might take vicarious pleasure in," said Greenfield. "And by the end you realize its the story that happened to all of us and when David says no-one is without guilt, this is a vicious cycle, we can all put ourselves in that place too, whether it's spending too much on your credit cards or using our homes as piggy banks."
She describes it as the hardest project she has ever done, but now the film is done, and has been drawing great critical attention, Greenfield says it's been worth it.
"Making a documentary is kind of an existential experience in that you don't really know if it will see the light of day and if anyone will care," she said. "And so to have a documentary being released in the theaters is a filmmakers dream, and the fact that it opened Sundance is a huge honor for me."
Of course the story isn't done. The house went into foreclosure, but since the film was completed David found a way to get it out. He says he still intends to finish it, even though it will take $30 million more to do that.
"It does seem, in the post-crash world, it seems very ambitious to the point of irrationality to finish the house," says Greenfield.
Meanwhile David Siegal is suing Greenfield for defamation, even as Jackie is making publicity appearances on behalf of the film.
"Despite the lawsuit," she said "I am very very grateful to the Siegals for the access that they gave me and the candor with which they shared their lives."
"They are at once completely outsized and in a fantasy, and at the same time strangely familiar and even down to earth in a crazy way. That is the contradiction of the American dream."
This week's hounds are pointing us in the direction of an artist whose works emit light, a traveling Twin Cities reading series and a rock supergroup in love with our national pastime.
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Mankato painter and painting instructor Brian Frink is mysteriously moved by the work of fellow Mankato artist Allison Henline. Brian went see Allison's exhibition, "Archetypal Consonance," at Twin Rivers Council for the Arts in Mankato. He was enthralled with Henline's subtle digital prints, watercolors, and pen and ink drawings, which all play with light in some way. Her show in Mankato closed yesterday, but you can see her work next weekend at Ad Hoc Art Gallery in Minneapolis.
The Cracked Walnut Reading Series has piqued the interest of Minneapolis performance artist Diane Anderson. Diane is intrigued by the way the series travels to different, unusual venues around the Twin Cities and brings disparate audiences and writers together to focus on individual subjects. The next Cracked Walnut installment happens Friday, July 27 at 7:30pm, at the Braemer Ice Arena in Edina, with writers such as Geoff Herbach, Michael Kiesow Moore, Alison Morse, and Shannon Schenck reading works about bullying. There will also be a screening of the locally made anti-bullying film, "MN Nice?"
Mix together members of former alt rock stalwarts' Dream Syndicate, Young Fresh Fellows and R.E.M. with an undying devotion to the game of baseball and what do you have? One of Minneapolis musician Jim Bradt's favorite rock supergroups, The Baseball Project. Jim, who's the drummer for local indie rockers The Whole Lotta Loves, says the primary purpose of The Baseball Project is to transform baseball history and lore into catchy, rocking pop songs. The Baseball Project pays a visit to the 400 Bar in Minneapolis on Friday night, July 27.
Art Hounds is powered by the Public Insight Network.(1 Comments)
Posted at 5:30 PM on June 25, 2012
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Jack (Mark Duplass) Iris (Emily Blunt) and Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt) contemplate a difficult situation in "Your Sister's Sister" (All images courtest IFC/Sundance Selects)
Director Lynn Shelton doesn't agree when it's put to her that she puts her characters in difficult situations and then turns up the screws.
"It's really usually them tightening their own screws," she laughed. "It's usually the characters digging themselves deeper and deeper into whatever hole they have started."
Shelton (right) was in the Twin Cities last week to talk about her new movie "Your Sister's Sister" which opens Friday.
It's an intimate little story about how some best intentions are hijacked by human weakness, family tensions and a bottle of tequila.
The film stars Mark Duplass (Humpday, Safety Not Guaranteed) Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, The Adjustment Bureau,) and Rosemary DeWitt (Rachel getting Married, United States of Tara.)
It follows the misadventures of Jack (Duplass,) a man grieving a year after the death of his brother. His best friend Iris, played by Blunt, sends Jack to spend so alone time in her family's cabin in the woods. Jack knows he needs a life change. He is torn because he is attracted to Iris, but feels awkward about acting on those feelings because she once went out with his brother.
Things go awry when he discovers Iris's sister Hannah (DeWitt) already in residence in the cabin. She's trying to gather herself after leaving her girlfriend of seven years. Then Jack and Hannah share that bottle of booze and end up in the sack together. The next morning when Iris, who has her own complicated feelings for Jack, turns up to surprise him that hole Shelton mentioned has become a mineshaft.
"This film in particular I feel ultimately is about how flawed we all are as human beings," said Shelton, "And that despite our best efforts and our best intentions we tend to make a bungle of things along the way. And these folks certainly do."
"Your Sister's Sister" is a raw story where the characters humanity shines through. A lot of the dialog was improvised, although Shelton stressed it was "very, very, structured."
"In this case because I had two actresses, in addition to Mark, who were less versed in that way of working, I had about 70 pages of dialog written out," she said. However Shelton said the words on the page were just a jumping off point, and she encouraged the actors not to stick to it too much.
"The motto that I have is 'Whatever works.'"
Shelton faced the challenge of having three very talented actors who come from very different parts of the acting spectrum. Duplass who starred in Shelton's "Humpday" three years ago, is best known for small indie films. He is a stalwart of the Mumblecore movement. Blunt has done everything from costume dramas to action flicks, and DeWitt who has a long filmography has been getting a lot of facetime in Diablo Cody's multiple personality comedy/drama "The United States of Tara."
"There were times when I was on set when I did feel like I was making three different movies because there performers were so different, they have such different processes and they come across very differently on screen," Shelton said. While she admits to being mildly concerned about this, she found their talents balanced neatly.
"As a director I feel like, my chief fascination, the reason I love directing, is because it's like opening a drawer and looking for the right key to unlock or help unlock open that particular performers best ability to shine and find the shape of the scene."
Shelton found she could build on her actors to create what she says is her ultimate goal: real characters.
"You know as opposed to these kind of white washed or like sanded down, you know the rough edges sanded down characters that you see in a lot of Hollywood movies that aren't really like real people at all, they are sort of stand ins, Hollywood stand-ins for real people. And then if you can root for them, then maybe you can root for people in real life."
Rosemary Dewitt and Emily Blunt in "Your Sister's Sister"
"Your Sister's Sister" is very funny at times, but Shelton says she never sets out to make a comedy. She tells her actors to play it straight, and work for the truth of the moment
"I therefore have no idea how humorous a film is going to be," she said
But often there is humor in that truth as the characters stumble along.
"We are rooting for them, but you sort of 'cringe-laugh.' I call it the cringe-laugh, you are like cringing and wincing, and saying 'Oh honey' and at the same time laughing at them" said Shelton.
This was what happened with "Humpday" which drew Shelton fans and a certain amount of notoriety. It is the story of two former high school friends who bump into each other years later just as age the siren song of middleclass respectability is becoming worryingly attractive.
Their reunion results in a regression of sorts which in turn produces a dare, to make an amateur gay porn film together for the annual "Humpday" competition. As both are straight they announce they are making it as an art film. Neither man is comfortable with the situation, but neither want to back down.
The film made audiences squirm and laugh. Stephen Shelton in New York Times wrote "the movie's unblinking observation of a friendship put to the test is amused, queasy making, kindhearted and unfailingly truthful."
Finding that truth is vital for Shelton. She says some people have likened her films to plays because they have just a handful of characters. But she doesn't buy that. In fact she said "I have a big problem with movies that feel like plays, because I want them to be plays."
During her own career as a theater actor she was often encouraged to go in front of a camera because the often had problems projecting. She laughs as she says she was told "You are not an actor that finds it organically easy to communicate with the back row."
However she says it was because she had a desire to keep that projection close to her.
"I really was looking for the authenticity of the performance and there honesty which was all right here." Which is why she says film is so different from theater.
When asked at whom "Your Sister's Sister" is aimed Shelton laughs and says "It's really for anyone." The she pauses and giggles,"Anyone who has a sister. It's sort of the perfect movie to see with your sister."
Posted at 4:11 PM on June 21, 2012
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
A new romantic comedy poses an apocalyptic question.
"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" brings together an unlikely pair (Steve Carell and Keira Knightley) as they spend their final three weeks on Earth.
Keira Knightley and Steve Carell play an unlikely pair thrown together by circumstance in Lorene Scafaria's "Seeking a Friend For the "End of the World."
Photo courtesy of Focus Features/Darren Michaels
MPR's Euan Kerr reports that while the movie is a romantic comedy, it also asks some serious questions, including 'what do you do when it's only three weeks to the end of the world?'
[Director Lorene] Scafaria said while writing the script she posed that question to many people and got answers profound and mundane. She wants the film to spur further conversation.
"I hope this movie doesn't bring about some divorces or anything like that," she laughed. "But at the same time, part of it really is about are you the person you want to be and are you with the person you want to be with?"
She said the film was inspired partly by a co-worker who told Scafaria that when faced with the apocalypse he would go in search of a high school girlfriend that he now knew was the love of his life.
MPR also asked listeners the same question, and Euan Kerr brought their responses to Scafaria:
To Minneapolis resident Jodie Ebert's response, "I would quit working, spend time with my family, and also go to a park, lay back and look at the clouds," Scafaria says it's wonderful - but why wait for a disaster?
"I mean why not go right now? Go lay in the park and look up at the sky? It doesn't have to be falling, I think," Scafaria said.
You can find out more about the movie, and read other people's responses to Scafaria's question here.
This week, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley joined members of the Minnesota Opera to work on a new adaptation of his play "Doubt."
Director Kevin Newbury, left, discusses a point with librettist John Patrick Shanley and composer Douglas Cuomo. Conductor Christopher Franklin works with singers in the background.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr
MPR's Euan Kerr met up with Shanley, who says that telling the story through opera allows him to further explore nuances in the tale.
Shanley is unusual in the writing world. Not many playwrights get to write the screenplay for a movie based on their play. Even fewer get to write the operatic libretto. It's been a learning experience.
For the movie, Shanley says he has to re-write the story so that the dialog-heavy scenes work better for the camera. For the opera, he has had to learn new ways of working with nuance as the story is sung.
"I said to Doug Cuomo the composer that two people in the scene can be in complete disagreement but in musical terms they are very much in agreement, and that is a fascinating different kind of subtext," he said.
Each version of the story has built on the one before, Shanley said.
"I would say it would be rough to go in reverse order, because it's hard to give things up, and in opera you got it all."
You can read/listen to the full story here.
The hounds highlight a wild piece of theater by some radical 20-something practitioners, a film festival dedicated to a '40s-era screen star who sang and acted her way into the hearts of her admirers, and a local cellist who can improvise in a number of genres.
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mnartists.org editor Susannah Schouweiler says "Care Enough," the latest production from the Minneapolis group Savage Umbrella Theater, is not theater for the faint-hearted, or for your children. It's an incredibly ambitious, somewhat non-linear collection of ideas, scenarios and states of mind that form a portrait of the state of our world. And it's the kind of risky theater Susannah yearns for.
Shahzore Shah, a tenor with the all male Twin Cities vocal ensemble Cantus, deeply respects musicians who effortlessly glide from genre to genre. Shazore says Cory Grossman is one such cellist, a classically trained artist who can also improvise within a broad stylistic spectrum of music. Grossman will perform as part of his cello duo with Liz Draper, Grossman Draper, on Tuesday June 12 at Cafe Maud in Minneapolis. He also be performing on Wednesday, June 13 at the Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar in St. Paul with poet Lisa Brimmer and friends.
Singers Maria Jette (left) and Maud Hixson (right) so admire the singing and acting chops of their '40s-era idol Deanna Durbin, they took a tag team approach to talking about the festival of her films at the Heights Theater in Columbia Heights. "Deanna Durbin: The Queen of Universal," will feature a Deanna Durbin movie every Thursday in June and the first Thursday of July.
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Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) sees signs of success in "Hysteria" (All film images courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
Tanya Wexler admits it's hard to keep a straight face when talking about her movie "Hysteria."
"The puns are numerous and I go headlong into them," she said when she visited the MPR studio recently.
Why? Well, her film is a romantic period comedy about the machine which she says was granted just the third ever patent for an electrical device, and has been sold ever since as a "muscle relaxer."
She got the idea from a producer friend who turned up at her doorstep and announced she had the perfect topic for her next film.
"She said 'It's a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England,'and I laughed and I said, 'No, really. What's it about?' And she said, "No, really!' And I said 'That's amazing. You are absolutely right!'" Wexler recalled.
Despite said device's long history, and wide use, it's still not considered a polite topic of conversation in many places, which Wexler admits made the movie a tough sell. She spent a long time getting the tone right in the script: bawdy but not puerile, entertainingly informative but not lecturing.
It took seven years from that initial conversation to the point now when the movie, which stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett and Jonathan Pryce, is opening in the Twin Cities.
"It was really, really tricky," Wexler said. "I don't know why really because (the movie's) fairly innocent. Truthfully, there is no bad language, there is no nudity. The women are wearing hats for God's sakes!"
Tanya Wexler in the MPR studios (MPR photo/Euan Kerr)
The story revolves around on Dr. Mortimer Granville (Dancy,) a forward thinking young physician in London in the 1880's who keeps losing his job for insisting things like germs exist, or that many patent medicines prescribed by his bosses are quackery.
He is very pleased to get a job as an assistant to Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Pryce) who has an extraordinarily successful clinic treating what was then known as hysteria. It was a catch-all diagnosis only applied to women which covered everything from headaches and cramps to depression.
"I say it was a diagnosis for the condition of being a woman, and some of our characters say that possibly half the women in London at the time were effected," Wexler said.
Hysteria, which was believed to originate in the female reproductive system, was taken very seriously and in some cases was used as an excuse for confinement, hysterectomy, and even lobotomy. However in the movie Dr Dalrymple is an exponent of a simpler, hands-on approach which Wexler said many clinics offered at the time to deal with what we would now recognize as sexual frustration.
"They would do 'manual massage to paroxysm,' as they called it," she said.
According to Wexler it wasn't considered sexual as most doctors seriously believed women were incapable of sexual response.
"Hysteria" follows young Granville's initial meteoric success at the clinic. Yet his life is soon complicated by the attentions of his boss's two daughters.
There's Emily (Jones) a demure young woman and enthusiastic phrenologist who believes she can predict a person's lot in life through feeling the bumps on their head. There's also Charlotte (Gyllenhaal) a headstrong activist who dedicates her life to caring for the needy at a nearby settlement house. It has to be said that as advanced as Granville's medical thinking may be, when it comes to other matters he is very much in the Victorian mold. He quickly finds himself engaged to Emily but fascinated by Charlotte.
"I made somehow a feminist romantic comedy about a guy at the center," Wexler laughed. "I don't know how I did that!"
Mortimer (Hugh Dancy) and Edmund (Rupert Everett) take a scientific approach in "Hysteria"
The film is a lot of silly fun, particularly as the young doctor becomes so successful at what he does, that he develops carpal tunnel syndrome. He turns to his eccentric inventor friend Edmund (Everett) for help. What Edmund produces makes them all a lot of money - all in the name of medical science of course.
"For me really the big joke was the cultural denial," Wexler told me. "You know this sense the truth was right in front of your face, and we are going to medicalize it, we are just going to just pretend it's something else, not call it its name."
While the story seems outlandish now, Wexler says it's made her think about some of the things people do today, like Botox treatments.
"Sometime in the not-to-distant future will we look back and say 'can you remember when everyone was putting botulism in their forehead? It's just crazy!" she laughed.
While "Hysteria" is mildly risque and laugh-out-loud funny at times, it is also about some very serious issues about how women were treated at the time.
"I think in many ways it's a story about women's right to their own happiness, maybe," said Wexler, shown here during the shooting of the movie.
When I told her "Hysteria" reminded me of "A League of Their Own," she liked the comparison. She sees it as sharing the same cultural space as "The Full Monty," being a little bawdy, but with heart.
As a mother of four she said she knows there is an audience out there comprised of parents who rarely get out to the movie theater because of the young ones in their houses, and who don't want to squander the opportunities they do have. These are the people for whom she made "Hysteria."
"I wanted something that spoke to me as a woman, that had a little bit more to say, but was entertaining," she said.
Wexler says she didn't want to make a battle of the sexes movie, and she's been surprised how well the movie has done with men, and young men in particular.
While she admits her movie still faces some obstacles even now over the subject matter, she has a plan she thinks could well work for "Hysteria."
"If I can get every woman who went to the Avengers for their boyfriend to now bring their boyfriend to our movie then we'll do just fine," she said.
Roger (Aksel Hennie) spills some milk in "Headhunters" (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)
Just when you think you have The Cube Critics figured out, Stephanie Curtis, the Movie Maven, and arts reporter Euan Kerr come along and surprise you. Today it's all about a Norwegian art thief, a rock and roll love story, and Muslims and Christians in a desolate Lebanese village.
You can hear it all here.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Cue the Cube Critics, Stephanie Curtis the Movie Maven and arts reporter Euan Kerr anytime you want instant conversation on drive-ins, movies, and everything related to film culture.
Cube critics Euan Kerr and Stephanie Curtis
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts
Today, a navy battle board game comes to life on the big screen, and so does a fictitious farcical tyrant.
Cube Critics was created and produced by Chris Roberts. The Cube Critics theme was written by Chris Roberts and produced by Marc Sanchez. Music performed by Marc Sanchez and Chris Roberts.
Editor's Note: This piece by Nikki Tundel is part of a series called Minnesota Mix. Minnesota Mix is a project of Minnesota Public Radio News that examines the way youth and ethnic diversity are influencing Minnesota arts. Enjoy...
A scene from Amanda Hang's short film "One Ball Day." Hang's work is part of the third annual Hmong film festival, or Qhia Dab Neeg, which runs from May 17 to 19, 2012, in St. Paul, Minn.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Hang
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The third annual Hmong film festival screens this weekend at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. The event showcases films and videos produced by Hmong artists -- from students to seasoned professionals.
The festival's 22-year-old coordinator said the event shows the evolution underway in Hmong filmmaking.
Like generations of Hmong living in Southeast Asia, Kao Choua Vue's relatives passed their family history down orally. But as a Hmong-American girl growing up in St. Paul, Minn., Vue didn't quite trust that tradition.
"My parents, they never went to school and they don't have an understanding of how we can pass on our history," she said. "Our history wasn't written in the history books. For me, as a daughter to my father, I sought to go into filmmaking so I can actually tell his story for him."
And that's just what she did, capturing her father's tales with a video camera, and turning them into a documentary.
Vue is now a digital filmmaker and the coordinator of the Qhia Dab Neeg Film Festival in St. Paul. Qhia Dab Neeg means "storytelling" in Hmong.
"It goes back into the oral tradition of how Hmong people used to tell stories in Laos and China," Vue said. "With my parents' generation and before, there was really no written language, so the film festival really embraces telling stories in a new way for the Hmong in America."
Many of the festival's films were produced by Minnesotans. Others come from California and Taiwan. They're all in English or have English subtitles. This year's crop includes a variety of films, from documentaries to animated shorts to horror flicks.
That variety, says Vue, symbolizes a huge transition in Hmong filmmaking, which used to focus primarily on the history of the Hmong people and their plight as Southeast Asian refugees.
"The older generation of Hmong filmmakers tends to focus more on videos from Thailand and Laos," Vue said. "I think a lot of the older generation (of films) cater to them as an audience because they miss that connection with the homeland."
Vue says the younger Hmong filmmakers, most of them first-generation Americans, are turning their cameras to life in the United States. Emerging artist Amanda Hang falls into that category. Her non-narrated, dramatic film is being shown at this year's festival.
"It's a short film that follows an ordinary man in his day-to-day struggles," she said "It's more of a mainstream piece. It doesn't blatantly touch upon traditional Hmong themes and I hope the other people can relate to it.
"And it's a little quirky, it's not too heavy handed but it's a nice short film and I'm really proud of it, especially because it's my first film I can call my own."
The way Hang sees it, she's a filmmaker who happens to also be Hmong.
"For me it's about normalizing the perspective of a Hmong-American here in the U.S," she said.
It doesn't matter what perspective Hmong filmmakers take, the 27-year-old Hang just wants to see them getting their work in front of audiences -- both Hmong and non-Hmong.
That's the message festival director Kao Choua Vue wants to send to Hmong filmmakers.
"We want your stories heard," Vue said. "We want you to be recognized as a filmmaker so you can continue making films and telling your stories.
And, in today's multimedia world, Vue said, there is no reason for Hmong stories to go undocumented any longer.
Editor's Note: This piece by Euan Kerr is part of a series called Minnesota Mix. Minnesota Mix is a project of Minnesota Public Radio News that examines the way youth and ethnic diversity are influencing Minnesota arts. Enjoy...
On May 4, 2012, White Space Poetry Project writer / director Maya Washington addresses the class at Sheridan Arts Magnet School in Minneapolis, as student Garrett Berg looks on.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel
MINNEAPOLIS -- In the black box theater at the Sheridan Arts Magnet School in Minneapolis, the sixth-grade class warms up with an exercise.
"Poetry is! Poetry is!" exclaims Maya Washington as the students clap in rhythm.
Washington, a local actor, leads the students in calling out one word which describes poetry to them.
"Love!" calls one student. "Kind!" calls another. Others offer "happiness," "peace," "creative," "beautiful" and "sparkling" as their words.
Washington is in the classroom as a result of an epiphany she had a few years ago. She grew up in Minneapolis and performed at the Penumbra Theater, the Guthrie and others. Then she moved to Los Angeles and found work doing television. However, she thought it was unsatisfying.
"I, one morning, woke up with a dream or just this image in the waking hours of the morning of this deaf performance poet going to perform at an open mike night for a hearing audience," she says.
Washington turned that image into a short film called "White Space," named for the relationship poets have with the blank page. The film shows a young deaf man trying to find the courage to get on stage to perform. (He is so late he almost misses the show, but he gets there just in time.}
"For the first time on the sweet alabaster stage welcome my man," says the MC. "He calls himself the poet, y'all."
He initially stuns the audience by delivering his verse in American Sign Language. But that surprise turns to appreciation as he gets a standing ovation.
Ryan Lane as a deaf performance poet appearing before a hearing audience for the first time in Maya Washington's short film "White Space."
Image courtesy Maya Washington
Washington directed and acted in the film. But as someone who had worked as a motivational speaker, she wanted to take it further. She drew together three things: the film, an accompanying poetry anthology, and, she says, "The third component is to take the work, the anthology and the short film into schools, into communities and expose people both to deaf and hearing artists and specifically in the medium of poetry and film."
The staff at Sheridan Elementary heard about White Space and got a State Arts Board grant of Legacy Amendment funding to pay for Washington's residency.
And at Sheridan, Washington found an appreciative, if boisterous, audience.
"Focus!" she calls.
"Check!" the students respond.
White Space Poetry Project writer and director Maya Washington, second from left, leads students through poetry exercises at Sheridan Arts Magnet School in Minneapolis, on May 4, 2012. Washington snaps her fingers after hearing one student read his poem aloud. Here the snapping of fingers is used to indicate applause.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel
"Focus!" she repeats.
As the sixth grade class progresses, Washington works to keep the students' attention. There's a lot of emotional energy on this Friday afternoon. In fact a few of the children are sniffling because they just learned a beloved student teacher in another class is about to leave the school. But Washington draws them in.
"Are we in a space where we need to collect ourselves, or are we ready to get on it?" she asks.
"Get on it," a couple of students respond.
These students watched the "White Space" movie. Sheridan's theater teacher, Kathleen Hession, who has been working with Washington, says the film left them mesmerized.
"You know they are a rowdy bunch of kids that have a lot to say," Hession says, "and when we screened the film, it was the quietest, stillest moment I have ever seen here." A few days later the students present name poems in which they, like the poet in the film, describe themselves to the world. The pieces are short but revealing. A number talk about family members no longer in the home. Some of the students rush through their work or mumble shyly. Others, like Ajoyia Hand, speak loud and clear.
"My name is Ajoyia. It means giggly, loving and caring.
"It is like a flamingo, or like eating a watermelon.... " she says.
The students listen and applaud using sign language when she finishes. The class learned some signs, and teachers report seeing the students signing outside the classroom.
Students, from left, Kia Lor, Laresha Jones and Sunnie Austin are among those participating in the White Space Poetry Project at Sheridan Arts Magnet School in Minneapolis, on May 4, 2012.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel
Washington says she has been careful as a hearing person in her portrayal of the deaf community. She worked with several non-hearing artists as she prepared the project, including Twin Cities-based filmmaker and poet Raymond Laczak.
Speaking though an interpreter, he says she has done a good job. "So it's not just just her coming in and portraying the community as a hearing person. I think it's been done in a respectful manner, and I think that's the way to do it," Laczak says.
And Luczak says getting sixth-graders to consider poetry is a good thing.
"I think at sixth grade that was when I started to identify as a writer," he said.
While "White Space" is based in poetry, it's also a lot about identity. Not just who you are but who you could be. Washington says it's also about perspective. She says that as an African-American woman, it can be tough to get good acting jobs, but she knows if she were deaf, it would be much more difficult. It's a message she wants to pass on to the students.
Tiaira Martin holds her poetry assignment in front of her face and giggles as she gets up the courage to share her writing with her classmates at Sheridan Arts Magnet School in Minneapolis, Minn., on May 4, 2012.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel
"You think you've got it so bad," she says. "You think it's so hard to speak up in class or read a line from your poem. But imagine if you spoke a completely different language and you had to get up and attempt to communicate. But you are communicating in a language we all understand, and so you can do it."
However, Hession, the theater teacher, sees a further advantage to having Washington in the classroom. Many of the questions in class have been about making the film itself. It's the first time many students have seen someone acting in a film and then been able to ask talk to that person. Hession says this led the children to consider their own futures.
"It was very clear that a lot of them began to think on this is a real life possibility," Hession says. "This is something I could do. Something people do, rather than something I pay money to watch other people do."
After completing classes at Sheridan, Washington will present "White Space" to the Young Authors Conference at Bethel University in St Paul.(1 Comments)
The hounds make their feelings known about a new way to see somewhat obscure but decent indie films, an art installation in a home destined for demolition, and Minneapolis indie rock that's a stylistic smorgasbord.
The Red Sky Lounge in Mankato has come through again for area musician and visual artist Amanda Gullixson. This Saturday night, May 12, there will be a free concert featuring a trio of Twin Cities bands; The Evening Rig, The Prissy Clerks and The Bombay Sweets. Amanda is especially interested in The Bombay Sweets' unique blend of '60s surf rock and bossa nova melodies.
Minneapolis writer and occasional filmmaker Ben Van Santen says Altsie serves a dual purpose by presenting hard-to-find indie films at local coffeeshops and bars he had previously been unfamiliar with. Altsie partners with Twin Cities establishments to present weekly screenings of a new indie movie every month. On Thursday, May 10, at The Crooked Pint in Minneapolis, you can see "Silver Tongues," about a psychotic couple who terrorize everyone they meet.
Twin Cities artist Jehra Patrick admires the guts and ambition of fellow artist Lauren Herzak-Bauman. For her installation "This is Disappearing," Herzak-Bauman leased a soon-to-be-demolished home in North Minneapolis and asked a handful of artists to make art inside the house that responds to its existence and destiny with the demolition crew. You can see the work by appointment or go to a public closing on Saturday, May 26 from noon to 4pm.
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The Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival is over and Stephanie Curtis doesn't have to feel guilty anymore about all the films she's not seeing.
MPR's Euan Kerr and Stephanie Curtis
In this installment of Cube Critics, the Movie Maven and Mr. Kerr chat about two films in which some aging Brits take a trip and a conglomeration of super heroes decide that several is better than one.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Cube Critics was created and produced by Chris Roberts. The Cube Critics theme was written by Chris Roberts and produced by Marc Sanchez. Music performed by Marc Sanchez and Chris Roberts.
They're back in the saddle; Arts reporter Euan Kerr is back from a restful vacation in his homeland, and the Movie Maven Stephanie Curtis is going through withdrawal after a week with no movie banter.
The Cube Critics; MPR arts reporter Euan Kerr (left) and live events producer and Movie Maven Stephanie Curtis.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts
This week, John Cusack enters the ranks of literary super sleuth-dom, and a Canadian film about an Algerian immigrant.
Cube Critics was created and produced by Chris Roberts. The Cube Critics theme was written by Chris Roberts and produced by Marc Sanchez. Music performed by Marc Sanchez and Chris Roberts.
Posted at 4:03 PM on April 13, 2012
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
St. Paul, Minn. -- With arts reporter Euan Kerr on vacation, the Movie Maven Stephanie Curtis has been wandering through the MPR wilderness, looking for someone to banter with. Thankfully she found The Current's Jill Riley.
Stephanie Curtis and Jill Riley
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts
This week we hear more on the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, plus a cabin getaway replete with blood, horror and humor.
The Cabin in the Woods
A Girl Like You
Cube Critics was created and produced by Chris Roberts. The Cube Critics theme was written by Chris Roberts and produced by Marc Sanchez. Music performed by Marc Sanchez and Chris Roberts.
MPR's Euan Kerr and Stephanie Curtis
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- MPR arts reporter Euan Kerr and Stephanie Curtis the Movie Maven may be mired in the movie doldrums this week, but Minnesota's biggest film event of the year, The Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, opens this Thursday. That's what dominated the dialogue on this edition of Cube Critics.
Trailer for "Italy: Love It or Leave It"
Trailer for "The Ecstasy of Order"
Trailer for "Majority"
Renée Falconetti as Jeanne d'Arc in Carl Dreyer's 1928 film, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (Image courtesy of the The Criterion Collection)
The hounds are following a tragic, yet engagingly theatrical love story, a silent film classic with a local soundtrack, and an '80s New Wave superstar who's still going strong.
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Twin Cities actor Emily Dussault went to see The Moving Company's latest production "Werther and Lotte: The Passion and the Sorrow," at the Lab Theater in Minneapolis and was transfixed. It's a tragic love story and original work inspired by the writings of Goethe and Thomas Mann. Emily says she was captivated by the chemistry between company regulars Nathan Keepers and Christina Baldwin, as well as the inventive, playful staging of the play. "Werther and Lotte" is on stage through April 15.
Lawrence Lee is interested in any art that has Joan of Arc as its subject. So the Duluth actor, writer and director is thrilled about a screening of the 1928 silent film "The Passion of Joan of Arc" at Zinema 2 twin art house cinema in Duluth on Friday at 7pm. Lawrence says the Minneapolis indie rock band Zoo Animal has put together a soundtrack for the film, which it will perform live at the screening.
Twin Cities guest conductor-at-large Bill Eddins was hooked back in 1981 when Thomas Dolby released his dawn-of-the-video-era defining hit, "She Blinded Me with Science." Eddins remained glued to Dolby's career after most everyone else lost interest and will be rewarded this Friday when Dolby plays a rare concert at the Cedar in Minneapolis. Unfortunately for the rest of you Thomas Dolby fans, the show is sold out.
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This is the time of year many Minnesota film fan anticipate as much as the coming of spring: the unveiling of the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival schedule.
The festival runs April 12th through May 3rd this year, primarily at the St Anthony Main theaters in Minneapolis, but with some screenings at the historic Heights Theater in Columbia Heights.
Now to be completely candid, as of this moment the films and the time they are screened are listed on the MSPIFF website but the full schedule is not there yet. A downloadable schedule is promised soon.
However MSPIFF Executive Director Susan Smoluchowski, and Programming Director Jesse Bishop gave a rundown of some of the highlights the other day.
The festival will open with "The Intouchables" a controversial French comedy about a man paralyzed from the neck down and his unlikely friendship with a man recently released from prison. The movie is the second highest grossing film in France of all time.
The opening weekend also includes the latest from director Fred Schepisi (Last Orders, Six Degrees of Separation, Roxanne) called "Eye of the Storm." The director will introduce the film.
Also Saturday the 14th has been declared Milgrom Day to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the U Film Society by Al Milgrom, which in turn spawned the MSPIFF. In addition to a number of screenings there will be a party with special music guest Willie Murphy.
The festival includes a focus on the Middle East, including the closing film from Lebanon "Where do we go now?" the hit at the Toronto International Film Festival from the director of "Caramel" Nadine Labaki.
There will also be a focus on music, including "King for 2 days" which was shot in Minneapolis a couple of years ago during the Walker Art Center's celebration of drummer Dave King. He will play at the Astor Cafe after the film. The new Andrew Bird film is also on the docket, as is the world premier of a new documentary "The Entertainers" on the best ragtime piano players in the country. For that show several of the musicians will be present, as will a piano.
Susan Smoluchowski pointed out three panels during the weekends of the festival. First up will be a discussion on Sunday 15th at noon entitled "Muslims and the Media" featuring US Representative Keith Ellison and documentary director Daniel Tutt who's "Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World" will screen both at MSPIFF and on PBS this summer
During the second weekend directors Peter Raymont, and Steve Ascher will discuss "The Doc and the Artist" during a panel on directing documentaries and particularly about filming artists.
The final weekend will be a panel Conversations with Minnesota Feature directors.
There's lots, lots more in the schedule and it's well worth a scan.
Jiro Ono in "Jiro Dreams of Sushi' (Image courtesy Magnolia Pictures)
When film maker David Gelb decided to make a movie about the best sushi in the world he started by approaching Tokyo food writer Masahiro Yamamota. He asked the writer which eateries he needed to visit.
"And he told me that he only had one sushi restaurant that I needed to go to,' Geld told me recently from New York.
It was the restaurant run by Jiro Ono, in a tiny spot tucked away beside a subway station. Gelb had heard of the place. After all it does have three of Michelin's coveted stars.
He's also heard of the septuagenarian owner who is a living legend.
"Chefs from all over the world revere him and travel to his restaurant just to try the purest most delicious sushi," said Gelb.
However he was not prepared for the experience of eating there. He says he was absolutely blown away.
"The sushi was both beautiful to behold and absolutely delicious to eat," he said.
He asked Jiro-san as he calls him if he could make a film about how he does what he does. It was a bold move, as Jiro is known for being a no-nonsense kind of guy who is only interested in improving his craft.
Amazingly he agreed, and the result is "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" a remarkable 90 minute documentary opening in Minnesota this weekend.
"I think that Jiro was into the idea that he would be able to tell his story from his perspective and be able to show sushi from his perspective," said Gelb.
David Gelb in a Tokyo fish market (Image courtesy Magnolia Pictures)
"Sushi is very misunderstood," Gelb continued. "A lot of people think it is just fish and rice. What I hope the film does is that it shows the amount of thought and effort that goes into not only selecting the fish but preparing the fish so it can be in it's most delicious state at the moment of service."
Jiro only buys the best and freshest fish, and then makes sure it is prepared perfectly. For instance any octopus coming into the restaurant gets a 45 minute kneading from one of his apprentices.
The same thought and preparation goes into making the rice which is bought from a special dealer and then cooked in a very specific way. The temperature of the rice and the fish are both monitored carefully so they will be served in the best possible way.
"And then the rice and the fish are paired together specifically in order to bring out the flavor of the fish," said Gelb. "So what appears to be simple requires a vast amount of work and Jiro has been working on these balances for 60 years."
Now Gelb faced the challenge of trying to convey those sensual delights in a medium which allows for no sense of taste or smell.
He says he shot the food using a very limited depth of field, which allows the eye to linger on the most succulent spots in each piece of sushi. They are incredibly beautiful, so much so one critic referred to Gelb's movie as "food porn," which makes him laugh.
"Well I find that flattering," he said. "Because again if you are able to take a visual image and create a reaction in an audience member that makes them very, very hungry, I think that's a successful moment."
But Gelb says in a way the eye-catching food food is just a means to an end for him
"I think the movie is more than food porn, but there is food porn in it surely. You can consider the food porn to be sort of like the action scenes in a thriller but there is still a human story that carries it through and gives a context to the food porn so it is meaningful."
That is the story of how Jiro developed his skills and his reputation through incredible hard work, and how he has drilled his staff, including his two sons on the art of sushi making.
An important part of the films is the fact that Jiro is well past retirement age, and his oldest son Yoshikazu, now in his fifties and a sushi master himself, has had to live in his shadow for decades. Japanese tradition decrees that he will take over the business, but no-one, even Jiro, knows when that might be.
Jiro at work with his son Yoshikazu (Image courtesy Magnolia Pictures.)
Gelb says he and his crew bent themselves to Jiro's philosophy of hard work in making the film. He shot 60 hours of video during a visit to Japan, and then brought it back to the US to edit. He calls it a master class in the philosophy of hard work. First they had a team of experts translate every second of video they had. Then they began cutting.
"We were building and taking the film apart and then rebuilding it over and over again all just to make it a little bit better and just to mean a little bit more," Gelb said.
After eight months they were in good shape with just a few holes to fill. Gelb returned to Japan to shoot the extra material. It would be 30 hours at most he thought. He says it would have been much easier if the footage he shot could have fit in easily to the holes, but as is often the case in documentary making, it didn't.
"So what was originally meant to be 30 hours of targeted footage became another 60 hours of story, and so the movie completely transformed again when I brought this material back," Gelb said. He can kind of laugh about it now, but he says his editing crew were not happy on his return.
But they got the job done, and "Jiro Dream of Sushi" has been drawing raves wherever its been shown.
"But what I was most surprised by was how much people who don't eat sushi, or don't even like sushi have still enjoyed the film," said Gelb. "I think that's the greatest compliment we have received because it has transcended the subject."
And perhaps most gratifying of all to Gelb is Jiro Ono likes the film.
" I wanted to make sure that Jiro would still be around to see it and fortunately he is and he is still working every day as hard as he can. He works at the restaurant 6 days a week doing lunch and dinner."
Not only making the best sushi in the world, but striving to make it even better.
>"Return to the Aeolian Islands" trailer in Italian (Films at the festival will be shown with subtitles.)
Anna Bonavita says the US has been missing out, and this weekend, along with her friends at the Italian Cultural Center, she hopes to change that a little.
"Italian film has been under-represented in the United States for years," she told me the other day.
She says while there was huge interest in Italian film in the days of Antonioni and the like, the modern marketplace means it's rare for contemporary Italian movies to appear in US theaters.
"And there has been this vacuum, after the great Italian Cinema which reached America there was this silence, emptiness," she said.
Bonavita grew up in Europe and says she was aware of the great film-making still going on in Italy.
"And especially now with the economic crisis," she said. "There are a lot of problems in Italy, there are some fantastic movies which never reach America. So we see this gap and we see this opportunity to introduce Italy, not the glossy one, but the real one with all it's problems but also all it's beauties to Americans."
To that end the lights will go down Friday for the opening of the short but intense program of movies Bonavita, who co-chairs the festival, has put together with her colleagues. The event features film, music, a visiting director and expert speakers to round out the program.
Friday night features the Angelo Longoni's 2007 movie on the life of Renaissance painter Caravaggio, famed for the way he used light in his paintings, and infamous for his use of prostitutes and vagrants for his models in religious paintings.
"And this is the time when the Cardinals were all collecting art, and they were competing for who will have the best painters," said Bonavita.
The painter was also known for his violent outbursts, which led to accusations of murder and a life on the run.
"A very difficult, very volatile personality, and at the same time very talented," said Bonavita. "It's just amazing to see how calm and concentrated he could be when he was working on a piece, and how volatile and aggressive he could be the moment he finished a piece of art. So he had to run from city to city to save his life, and even though he had protectors he eventually ran out of chances."
The evening will feature music of the period performed by Consortium Carissimi, a talk on Caravaggio and his times by U of M Visiting Associate Professor Roberta Bartoli, and a display of Baroque clothing on loan from the Guthrie and the CTC.
Bonavita is also very excited about the screening on Saturday of "Return to the Aeolian Islands" a documentary by Giovanna Taviani, who will be present. (See the trailer above.)
"It's a journey in a beautiful boat with red sails though this archipelago of volcanic islands off Sicily," said Bonavita who goes on to stress that this is much more than a travelogue.
"So here comes history," she said, "Of immigration, of exile. And the history of Italian cinema is there. Antonioni shot movies there." She continues that Rossellini first met his future wife Ingrid Bergman when he took her to the Islands to film "Stromboli." "And 'Ill Postino' which the American audience knows very well and loves a lot what shot there."
Taviani, who is the daughter of one of the famed Taviani brothers, will lead a master class in film making on Sunday.
Bonavita also admits to a special liking for "20 Cigarettes" a movie being shown on Sunday about a politically active young man whose life is changed radically when he gets a job on a crew filming a documentary about an Italian army unit in Iraq.
"20 Sigarette" trailer in Italian (Films at the festival will be shown with subtitles.)
The full details of the festival can be found here.
While this is the fourth festival in the Twin Cities, it's the first time the Italian Cultural Center in Minneapolis has arranged pretty much everything by itself. Anna Bonavita is hoping for great things.
"This is where we see the value of the festival," she concluded. "Look at Italy, look at the real problems that people encounter there: laugh, think and feel enriched through the whole experience."
With the media build-up to the opening of the movie "The Hunger Games," it was no surprise that the dystopian film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' book did exceedingly well on its opening weekend.
But is it any good?
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games"
Photo credit: Murray Close
Reviews are generally positive; certainly that's the case with reviews by local critics Colin Covert and Chris Hewitt (look at that - they agreed on something!).
But some noteworthy national critics found the movie lacking depth; read on to see a range of opinions, and be sure to leave your own in the comments section.
I don't think there has been a studio sci-fi film this idea-rich since "The Matrix." Viewers who like a side order of political allegory with their science fiction will find much to savor here. So will romantics, fans of feminist heroines and action enthusiasts. "The Hunger Games" is that rare creation, an event movie of real significance.
"Hunger Games" pulls off the rare trick (filmmaker Francois Truffaut said it was impossible, in fact) of depicting violence without celebrating it. There's a reason it takes more than an hour for the movie to get to the event that gives it its title. Without stinting on the action, Ross' film shows us a sick, brutal society and then introduces us to a few characters who might be ready to start doing something about it.
What invests Katniss with such exciting promise and keeps you rapt even when the film proves less than equally thrilling is that she also doesn't need saving, even if she's at an age when, most movies still insist, women go weak at the knees and whimper and weep while waiting to be saved. Again and again Katniss rescues herself with resourcefulness, guts and true aim, a combination that makes her insistently watchable, despite Mr. Ross's soft touch and Ms. Lawrence's bland performance. One look at District 12, which Mr. Ross conceives as a picturesque old-timey town -- filled with withered Dorothea Lange types in what was once Appalachia -- and it's clear that someone here was enthralled with the actress's breakout turn in "Winter's Bone" as a willful, resilient child of the Ozarks.
"The Hunger Games" is an effective entertainment, and Jennifer Lawrence is strong and convincing in the central role. But the film leapfrogs obvious questions in its path, and avoids the opportunities sci-fi provides for social criticism; compare its world with the dystopias in "Gattaca" or "The Truman Show." Director Gary Ross and his writers (including the series' author, Suzanne Collins) obviously think their audience wants to see lots of hunting-and-survival scenes, and has no interest in people talking about how a cruel class system is using them. Well, maybe they're right. But I found the movie too long and deliberate as it negotiated the outskirts of its moral issues.
Hunger Games Tributes prepare:what will they read when they are done? (Image courtesy Lionsgate.)
As a buyer at the Red Balloon Bookstore in St Paul Julie Poling was one of the people who received an advanced readers copy of Suzanne Collins "The Hunger Games." She says she knew immediately it was going to be a huge hit.
"I just knew," she said. "It was so well written."
It was late 2007, or early 2008 and she read it aloud with her daughters who were then 11 and 13.
"We just plowed through it," she told me the other day. "Loved it. Every minute of it. They were just blown away by it, And my daughter said at the end 'This is it. This is the kind of book I ant to read,' and she has been into that dystopian thing ever since."
She admits they did the same with "Catching Fire," and "Mockingjay," the other books in the Collins trilogy, but they had to swear in advance to the distributors that they would not reveal anything about the books till they were released to the public.
Poling says there is nothing new about young readers fascination with dystopian portrayals of our world could go horribly wrong. She points to how Orwell and Bradbury produced the stories which thrilled and chilled slightly older generations.
Which led to the inevitable question to someone sitting before a wall of books: given that many fans have already inhaled the Hunger Games trilogy, what does she recommend to readers with a dystopian appetite?
"The best book ever written, I say, or the best book written so far, and I have been reading books for a long long time, is "Knife of Never Letting Go." by Patrick Ness," Poling said.
It's the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. It's about a boy called Todd Hewitt growing up on a planet where due to a strange germ everyone can hear what everyone else is thinking. They can even hear and understand what the animals around them are thinking. Todd has to learn how to deal with what they call the Noise that is all around him, and as he does he begins to learn the dark secrets of his community.
"And then there is "Maze Runner," continued Poling. The James Dashner book about young people living in a maze filled with hideous monsters is a 2011-2012 Maud Hart Lovelace nominee in the Minnesota Youth Reading Awards. As a result Poling says it sells well on its own.
"There's a new one just out that's just fantastic called "Divergent"" Poling continued. The Veronica Roth book is set in a dystopic Chicago where young people are assigned to warring factions based on an aptitude test.
So gentle dystopian reader, what might you recommend? Please post your answers below!
Posted at 4:44 PM on March 22, 2012
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
The Coen brothers are looking for a few good men, including one John Goodman look-alike.
John Goodman - with facial hair - in the Coen brothers' film "The Big Lebowski"
The one-line summary for the film is "A singer-songwriter navigates New York's folk music scene during the 1960s."
According to the casting department, facial hair is a plus. The deadline to apply is Monday, March 26. Here are the details:
Coen Brothers film, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2nd unit) seeks PHOTO DOUBLES in MN. Should be available Thurs 3/29, Fri 3/30 &/or Sat, 3/31. Submission instructions below (deadline: Mon March 26. 1pm EST).:
-- ROLAND TURNER (John Goodman): SALT & PEPPER GOTEE/MOUSTACHE! 6'1'', 275-300lbs (Jacket-57. Pants-56 waist. Shirt-20/35).
- LLEWYN DAVIS (Oscar Isaac): Dark brown thick to black hair, longer on top/shorter in back, TRIM BEARD/MOUSTACHE, some facial hair. 5'8", 165-170lbs (Jacket-40R. Pants-34/32. Shirt-15.5/32).
- JOHNNY FIVE (Garrett Hedlund): Dark blonde/light brown hair. TRIM MOUSTACHE/SLIGHT GOTEE, some FACIAL HAIR, incl sideburns. Ht- 6'2", 178lbs (Jacket-41L. Pants-33/33). * MUST BE COMFORTABLE DRIVING W/O EYEGLASSES (may wear contacts) & have valid drivers license.
There is PAY.
Men w/longer hair & facial hair/beard welcome to submit! Must be willing to cut/trim, as appropriate (to match our actors/reference photos).
To submit: Send email to Debbie DeLisi, CD, at firstname.lastname@example.org. In subject line put: "MN PD / character name - Your first & last name." Body-of-text must include: Your name, contact info, hair color, ht/wt, sizes/measurements. Also, measure your torso (while sitting on a flat surface, measure from surface to top of head, along backside. You must confirm you're willing to shave or trim hair/facial hair, as needed. Note if you are union (indicate which) or non-union & available all three days. You must include two CURRENT photos (as of TODAY!), one face & one full length. Do NOT send headshots. Informal, quick snapshots are best!
* "Johnny 5" character submissions must confirm having valid drivers license/comfort level driving.
Please do not submit or inquire about other roles, as we are shooting in NYC & casting is complete. Inquires of this nature will automatically be deleted.
You may FWD this email. But please do not fwd this email with your contact info as the "casting director" or any such related claim or title. We are the official casting representatives. Any other claim is fraudulent.
Thank You & Best wishes!
Debbie DeLisi, Casting Director
Kati Batchelder, Casting Associate
Adam DeLisi, Casting Asst.
Posted at 11:30 AM on March 22, 2012
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Bela Tarr was very emphatic about the use of terms on the phone from Budapest the other day.
"I am sorry, I am not a storyteller, I am a film maker," the man known to some as the greatest living Hungarian director growled down the line.
He paused then laughed softly. "Excuse me."
We were talking about Tarr's latest, and he says last, movie "The Turin Horse." Co- produced by Minneapolis-based Werc Werk Works , and a hit on the European festival circuit, the movie opens tonight for its local theatrical run this weekend at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
Tarr first heard about the horse in question in 1985 at a lecture which concluded with a story about how in 1889 the philosopher Friedrich Neitzsche stepped out of the house where he was staying in Turin in Italy and saw a coachdriver mercilessly whipping his collapsed horse. Neitzsche rushed in to stop the violence and ended up sobbing with his arms wrapped around the animal's neck. Taken back to his rooms he lay silent on his bed for two days, said a few words, and then didn't speak again for the ten years until he died.
And that's when the lecturer added an idea which was to obsess Tarr and his friends.
"We don't know what happened with the horse."
Bela Tarr makes movies which are the antithesis of Hollywood action flicks. They are long, and beautifully shot, allowing audiences to spend time in his characters lives. It's the kind of material which hardcore art film fans love, and the kind of stuff which some people point to as why they hate art film. One of his movies lasts five hours. A couple of years ago, after 34 years of film making Tarr announced he was about to make his last, and he said it could really only be about the horse.
"When I knew the last film will come, we had to turn back to this question," Tarr said, his Hungarian-inflected English thickening the cadences of the words.
"The Turin Horse" opens with the coachman driving his horse and cart back to his remote home in the countryside. As a storm gathers, the wind lashes at man and beast turning the journey into a purgatorial slog. It's shot in black and white which adds to the stark effect. Tarr's camera is relentless, swinging alongside the travellers, closing up to their faces blinded by the rain, then swinging back, unblinking to reveal their slow, desperate, progress.
It's classic Tarr. As the film continues we learn the coachman is disabled, he has lost the use of one arm. He lives with his daughter, where all they have to eat is potatoes. And they all know as they stare out the window as the storm keeps rising, that the horse is old, spent and dying.
"He needs his horse because without this horse he has no job. He has no money, he cannot eat, he cannot do it, he can't do anything," Tarr explains.
The Turin Horse is almost two and a half hours long, but it only has 30 carefully choreographed shots. Tarr says he and his crew filmed the entire thing is just six days.
"You can see the whole movie is just very pure actions," he said "No dialog, nothing. Very simple. The people are just doing the simple daily life."
When asked if that simplicity is deceiving, and that the story touches on deeper more complex themes, Tarr gets testy. Again it's about terms
"Not a story! Being!" he barks "Please do not use this word with me, which is called story, because I don't like this word, story. What is means story? What is the story? The Old Testament? We are just listening for the life and we are just listening for the situations. Why we are using this stupid word which is called story? This is just an American showbusiness word. It's not connecting to our life. Your life is a story? No, you have days. And my life is also not a story. We have no stories."
At first he sounds as if he is angry, but it then becomes clear he's trying to explain how he makes movies.
"I am just telling to you the logic, our logic," he continues. "How we are thinking about the pure situations. This one is painful. This one is joyful. This one deeply touched me. It's a lot of things. Life is very rich."
Part of the tension is how Tarr sees the world. When asked if the film is really about mortality, he says it's about something simpler.
"No, just the end. How we are disappearing from the world. Because we will. All of us," he muttered. "And this is the most tragical thing, to know it. That we must leave from here. It's enough reason to be not really happy."
"The Turin Horse" won the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival when it premiered there last year. Now it's making the rounds in the US.
The show at the Walker continues a relationship begun in 2007 when Tarr visited Minneapolis as the subject of a Regis Dialog and retrospective.
His connection with Minnesota continued with Werc Werk Works co-producing the film. When asked how he felt about working with the company Tarr again defines his terms.
"First of all you are not working with the company. You are working with persons," he stressed. "I was working with Elizabeth (Redleaf) and Christine Walker. They were perfect partners. They trust me and they believed me and I believed them and this was perfect."
When he talks about himself as a film maker he is already using the past tense. He said his work has to be regarded as a spectrum, and now he has reached the point where he has done what he needed to do. The Turin Horse is his last film, he said. There will be no more.
"This definitely looks like a last sentence. I just said, OK that was the filming in my life. And the life is very rich. I want to do another thing. Why is it necessary always to be a film maker? That's all what I want to say to you. It's done."
There will still be film in his life however. He says he loves the cinema, and now he is going to teach at a new school in Split.
(Image credits: all images courtesy Walker Art Center, except picture of Tarr which is an MPR file photo)
"The Hunger Games" opens across the nation at midnight tonight, and thousands of people, young and old, can't wait to see the movie version of the beloved book by Suzanne Collins.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) waits nervously as names are drawn at the annual Hunger Games lottery known as the Reaping.
Photos courtesy of Lionsgate Films
MPR's Euan Kerr spoke with young adults who lined up for hours to see the cast of the movie at the Mall of America:
University of St. Thomas senior Andrea Gussell caught the Hunger Games bug from her younger brother:.
"Some people are saying that there's more of a political undertow to this series," she said. "It is a little bit more aimed towards adults and not as much children, even though children are getting into the series."
Gussell went early to the recent Mall of America appearance by stars from the film. She soon discovered 4 a.m. wasn't early enough.
"There were thousands of people; the line wrapped at least halfway around the mall," she said.
How is the cast of The Hunger Games handling all the pressure? Kerr got a chance to find out, when he sat down with Jennifer Lawrence and other stars from the film:
You can listen to Kerr's story by clicking on the audio link, and watch an interview with other cast members here.
A hard partying pop metal purveyor, a multimedia narrative about grief and bowling, and a solo performer's exploration of the 'happiness industry,' have whetted the hounds' art appetites this week.
St. Paul photographer Julie Caruso admires artist Anna Eveslage's ability to weave a poignant, personal tale about grief, healing, and bowling, through pictures and audio. Julie says Eveslage's installation "FRANK: A Photographic Story of Love, Death, and Bowling" is the story of a man who copes with the death of his wife by immersing himself in their favorite hobby, bowling. It's on view at the Trylon Microcinema on Thurs. March 22 every half hour from 6:30 to 10:30pm.
How much is your contentment dependent on the happiness industry? Comedic musician and storyteller Courtney McLean says powerhouse solo performer Seth Lepore will help you clarify. Courtney says Lepore's new show, "SuperHappyMelancholyexpialidocious" skewers mega-churches, self-help books and the positive thinking movement with a zeal that will bring you happiness. On stage at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis on March 22, 24 and 25 at 7pm.
Freelance music writer Jon Garrett says if you look close enough, deep below the surface of pop metalist Andrew W.K.'s wild, hedonistic exterior, and between the lines of his party-till-you-puke lyrics, you'll find a theme that unites all his songs...the need to PARTY! HARD! Andrew W.K. will be holding court in First Avenue's Mainroom on Thursday and you're invited to get your PARTY on. Jon says Andrew W.K. will be playing his seminal first album, "I Get Wet," in its entirety.
Art Hounds is powered by the Public Insight Network.
Andrew Stanton knows how to tell a great story. He's done it in his animated films "Toy Story," "Finding Nemo" and "Wall-E."
In this TED talk, Stanton tells a story from the end to the beginning and shares some of his best tips for storytelling, including "know where you're headed," "make your audience work for the story" and "make a promise to your audience."
Note: This talk includes some graphic language!(1 Comments)
Lynne Ramsey cuts to the chase in a conversation in a way that's both refreshing and startling.
"Kids can be pretty cruel, ghastly creatures, you know," she said on the phone from London recently, "As well as beautiful lovable ones."
Ramsey is the director and screenwriter on "We Need to Talk About Kevin," a deeply disturbing film opening in Minnesota this weekend.
Critics have lauded the film, and in particular the performance of Tilda Swinton as Eva, a mother dealing with the aftermath of a high school massacre perpetrated by her son Kevin. Many tipped Swinton as a likely Oscar contender, but the Academy passed over her when announcing the best actress nominees.
Ramsey adapted Lionel Shriver's novel of the same name which was a best-seller in the UK, and much lauded in the U.S.
"I thought it was a modern classic in a way," said Ramsey in her soft Glaswegian accent. "It picks up in these ideas that I think are pretty taboo but really struck a chord with people."
The taboo is not the violence however. "We need to talk about Kevin" explores the world of a woman who is deeply worried about her antipathy towards her first-born child. Ramsey says she was attracted to the novel in the way it peeled back layer after layer of how what many people consider a basic human interaction can go horribly wrong.
"form>"It's kind of a fantasy about your deepest fears as a parent," Ramsey said. "What if you don't feel that instant bond? What if you don't feel that instant connection you are meant to feel? And what if the child perceives that? And on top of that the child is a very difficult child?"
Ramsey says Shriver's epistilatory novel proved a challenge to adapt. In letters to her husband Franklin Eva writes about what it's like to live in the community devastated by her sons actions, and how her own fears about Kevin grew over the years. Eva began worrying that Kevin is manipulative and antisocial very early on, but Franklin never witnesses Kevin's malicious side, and becomes feels Eva is imagining things.
Ramsey liked the subjective ambiguity the letters introduce into the story, but felt simply reproducing the letters even in part would make for a weaker film. She didn't even want to use any voiceovers because she believed that too would lessen the sense of subjectivity
She decided that she had to write from a viewpoint right inside her character's head.
"What if I put myself completely in Eva's position: almost take the form of the book and smash it up but in the way keep the same structure. It's very much she's looking back and trying to figure this out one way or the other. You are never quite sure whether what she is seeing is reliable or not."
In time though she also found she had to get inside Kevin's head.
"Sometimes it was thinking about almost having an empathy for him almost was very strange. To me I almost thought of it as a perverse love story."
"He knows that she doesn't like him," she continued. "She might be his mother and through that bond even love him, but liking and loving are very different things."
Ramsey says she didn't immediately think of Swinton as a potential Eva. However they are friends and when she sent the script to the actor Swinton responded with immediate interest.
"We naturally gravitated to one another and I guess I didn't know what a coup that was at the time.," Ramsey said.
It seems like every day there's a new release talking about how a certain famous person will be blessing the Twin Cities with his or her presence.
Here's who I've heard about in just the past week:
Right now: Actress Tippi Hedren - star of Alfred Hitchcock's movie The Birds is in town.
On March 16 Harry Belafonte will be at the Walker Art Center for a screening of his new documentary.
The very next day (March 16) First Lady Michelle Obama will be at the Walker Art Center for a fundraiser for her husband's re-election campaign.
Kathleen Turner will star in the national tour of the stage drama "High," which runs April 18 through 22 at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis.
Just yesterday Hennepin Theatre Trust announced that acclaimed singer/actress Kristin Chenoweth will be stopping in Minneapolis on her world tour. She performs at the State Theatre on June 17; tickets go on sale Friday.
So who are you excited to have come to town?
Some helpful Minnesotans may not have quite realized just whom they were aiding over the last couple of days.
"They are so helpful. I am in Minneapolis right now," Tippi Hedren said on the phone Tuesday. "And I was walking through the Skyways and trying to find something, and I had a map as to where I was going, and several people helped me. They just stopped and and said 'Can we help you? Are you lost?" And these are the kind of people I remember as Minnesotans."
Hedren who shot to worldwide fame when she appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller "The Birds" lived in Minneapolis as a girl. She moved there when she was five, from the southwestern part of the state.
"I lived in the little town of Lafayette," she said. "But Lafayette was so small it didn't have a hospital that I had to go to New Ulm to be born. But I never lived in New Ulm."
Hedren is in Minneapolis to introduce a screening of "Marnie," the second, and final film she made for Hitchcock. The free event at the Heights Theater in Columbia Heights is part of a nationwide series of screenings to promote the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood in April. Hedren will join critic and TCM host Leonard Maltin to talk about the film, and what it was like to play the title role.
"Marnie" tells the story of a young woman whose deep psychological scars as a result of a traumatic childhood incident cause her to behave in a variety of strange ways, not least that she becomes an expert at stealing from businesses where she works. It's only with the intervention of the dashing owner of a company she's trying to rob (played by a post-Dr No Sean Connery) that she begins to come to terms with her life. Its psycho-sexual undertones were cutting edge when the film came out in 1964.
"Looking back at it now, and how films are made today, it was very tame" Hedren said. "It really was."
However Hedren flung herself into preparation, starting with the original Winston Graham novel which the writer sent to her personally. "It was an incredibly intriguing story," she said.
"I studied Marnie at great length through the book. I talked to psychiatrists about her, just to get kind of an idea just how this would manifest itself into a later life. But it was a really treasured role. Every actress in Hollywood wanted to do that role."
Hedren had already experienced the wonders, and the horrors of a plum role after Alfred Hitchcock spotted Hedren while she worked as a model, and cast her in "The Birds." She remembers how all went well until they had to shoot the climactic scene of her climbing a tower alone where she was to be attacked by the birds. Hitchcock promised her they would use mechanical birds for the scene.
Then on the day of the shoot the assistant director came to her and told her the mechanical birds didn't work and they would have to use real ones.
"And I picked my jaw up from the floor and went out to the set," she recalled. "An they had no intentions of using mechanical birds. There was a cage built around the door that I come in, and there were three or four huge cartons of ravens, and seagulls and a few pigeons thrown in. Bird trainers who had leather gauntlets up to their shoulders, and they hurled birds at me for a week."
Much has been made of Hedren's tense relationship with Hitchcock, who tried to control not just her performance, but also her career. However Hedren is generous in crediting him for teaching her the job of being a film actress.
"I had technical background," she said. "But not how do you get into a character, how do you break down a script, how do you analyze the relationships between the different characters in the film. So Alfred Hitchcock was probably the finest director I could have possibly had."
Hedren was delighted to hear the Guthrie is presenting a stage adaptation of "The Birds" and is hoping to take in the show during her visit.
Tickets for Thursday night screening of "Marnie" are free, but need to be reserved through this site.
March 7 - 15, the Walker Art Center is screening four films featuring Harry Belafonte, including the area premiere of his new biographical documentary, Sing Your Song.
Image courtesy Walker Art Center
Today the Walker announced that Belafonte himself will be in town for the documentary screening on March 15. The film will be followed by a "Regis Dialogue" in which Belafonte will talk with Scott Foundas, associate director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and take questions from the audience.
Since Belafonte is a longtime advocate for humanitarian causes (he was blacklisted in the McCarthy Era), Sing Your Song is not just about music, but about protest.
Sing Your Song was produced by Minneapolis native Bill Eigen, who also produced the documentaries Isn't this a Time and the Emmy Award-winning Pete Seeger: The Power of Song.
Last night marked the second annual awards ceremony for Videotect, a video competition that was created to get people thinking about urban design issues.
Last year's topic was skyways; this year it was transportation.
This year I had the pleasure of being one of the judges, and after biting my tongue for several weeks I can now finally share the winners. Here you go!
The Grand Prize Winner: Saddlebag
Honorable Mention: A Fistful of Asphalt
Honorable Mention: Over/Under
Honorable Mention: Church of Automobility
Honorable Mention: Sustainable Transportation
Last but not least, attendees to last night's awards ceremony got to vote for their favorite. The Popular Choice winner was Twin Cities Trails:
Congrats to all the winners!
Most of the Oscar news we read earlier this week was about The Help, or The Artist, or Hugo, so you're forgiven if you didn't notice the winner for short animated film: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
The film is a charming homage to the joy of reading, your local library and the secret lives of books. It was inspired in part by Buster Keaton, Hurricane Katrina, the Wizard of Oz, and children's books publisher William Morris.
Yet it only takes fifteen minutes to enjoy:
Interestingly enough, while the film obviously praises the physical book, it also has an iPad app, where you can interact with the story. In a story for the LA Times co-creator William Joyce said "There was some trepidation about doing the app -- we didn't want to kill the thing we love -- but at the same time we thought, 'This new technology could very well be a way to help save publishing. But we're not sure. Let's dive in and see.'"
Posted at 11:23 PM on February 26, 2012
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
Actress Meryl Streep accepts the Best Actress Award for 'The Iron Lady' onstage during the 84th Annual Academy Awards.
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
LOS ANGELES (AP) - "The Artist" won five Academy Awards on Sunday including best picture, becoming the first silent film to triumph at Hollywood's highest honors since the original Oscar ceremony 83 years ago.
Among other prizes for the black-and-white comic melodrama were best actor for Jean Dujardin and director for Michel Hazanavicius.
The other top Oscars went to Meryl Streep as best actress for "The Iron Lady," Octavia Spencer as supporting actress for "The Help" and Christopher Plummer as supporting actor for "Beginners."
"The Artist" is the first silent winner since the World War I saga "Wings" was named outstanding picture at the first Oscars in 1929 had a silent film earned the top prize.
"I am the happiest director in the world," Havanavicius said, thanking the cast, crew and canine co-star Uggie. "I also want to thank the financier, the crazy person who put money in the movie."
The win was Streep's first Oscar in 29 years, since she won best actress for "Sophie's Choice." She had lost 13 times in a row since then. Streep also has a supporting-actress Oscar for 1979's "Kramer vs. Kramer."
"When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America go, `Oh, no, why her again?' But whatever," Streep said, laughing.
"I really understand I'll never be up here again. I really want to think all my colleagues, my friends. I look out here and I see my life before my eyes, my old friends, my new friends. Really, this is such a great honor but the think that counts the most with me is the friendship and the love and the sheer joy we've shared making movies together."
Streep is only the fifth performer to receive three Oscars. Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman and Walter Brennan all earned three, while Katharine Hepburn won four.
The 82-year-old Plummer became the oldest acting winner ever for his role as an elderly widower who comes out as gay in "Beginners."
"You're only two years older than me, darling," Plummer said, addressing his Oscar statue in this 84th year of the awards. "Where have you been all my life? I have a confession to make. When I first emerged from my mother's womb, I was already rehearsing my Oscar speech."
The previous oldest winner was best-actress recipient Jessica Tandy for "Driving Miss Daisy," at age 80.
Completing an awards-season blitz that took her from Hollywood bit player to star, Spencer won for her role in "The Help" as a headstrong black maid whose willful ways continually land her in trouble with white employers in 1960s Mississippi.
Spencer wept throughout her breathless speech, in which she apologized between laughing and crying for running a bit long on her time limit.
"Thank you, academy, for putting me with the hottest guy in the room," Spencer said, referring to last year's supporting-actor winner Christian Bale, who presented her Oscar.
Dujardin became the first Frenchman to win an acting Oscar. French actresses have won before, including Marion Cotillard and Juliette Binoche.
"Oh, thank you. Oui. I love your country!" said Dujardin, who plays George Valentin, a silent-film superstar fallen on hard times as the sound era takes over. If George Valentin could speak, Dujardin said, "he'd say ... `Merci beaucoup, formidable!"'
Claiming Hollywood's top-filmmaking honor completes Hazanavicius' sudden rise from popular movie-maker back home in France to internationally celebrated director.
Hazanavicius had come in as the favorite after winning at the Directors Guild of America Awards, whose recipient almost always goes on to claim the Oscar.
The win is even more impressive given the type of film Hazanavicius made, a black-and-white silent movie that was a throwback to the early decades of cinema. Other than Charles Chaplin, who continued to make silent films into the 1930s, and Mel Brooks, who scored a hit with the 1976 comedy "Silent Movie," few people have tried it since talking pictures took over in the late 1920s.
The only other filmmaker from France to win the directing Oscar is "The Pianist" creator Roman Polanski, who was born in France, moved to Poland as a child and has lived in France since fleeing Hollywood in the 1970s on charges he had sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Hazanavicius, known in his home country for the "OSS 117" spy comedies but virtually unheard of in Hollywood previously, won a prize that eluded half a dozen of France's most-esteemed filmmakers, including Jean Renoir, Francois Truffaut and Louis Malle, who all were nominated for directing Oscars but never won.
Martin Scorsese's Paris adventure "Hugo" won five Oscars, including the first two prizes of the night, for cinematography and art direction. It also won for visual effects, sound mixing and sound editing.
Woody Allen earned his first Oscar in 25 years, winning for original screenplay for the romantic fantasy "Midnight in Paris," his biggest hit in decades. It's the fourth Oscar for Allen, who won for directing and screenplay on his 1977 best-picture winner "Annie Hall" and for screenplay on 1986's "Hannah and Her Sisters."
Allen also is the record-holder for writing nominations with 15, and his three writing Oscars ties the record shared by Charles Brackett, Paddy Chayefsky, Francis Ford Coppola and Billy Wilder.
No fan of awards shows, Allen predictably skipped Sunday's ceremony, where he also was up for best director and "Midnight in Paris" was competing for best picture.
Best-picture front-runner "The Artist," which ran second to "Hugo" with 10 nominations, won two Oscars, for musical score and costume design.
"Rango," with Johnny Depp providing the voice of a desert llizard that becomes a hero to a parched Western town, won for best animated feature.
"Someone asked me if this film was for kids, and I don't know. But it was certainly created by a bunch of grown-ups acting like children," said "Rango" director Gore Verbinski, who made the first three of Depp's "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.
"Undefeated," a portrait of an underdog high school football team, won for feature documentary.
Each week MPR movie buffs Stephanie Curtis and Euan Kerr give their take on the latest movie releases in a radio segment called "Cube Critics" (named so because they sit near each other in the newsroom's cube farm).
This week the duo have put together a special two-parter in anticipation of the Oscars this weekend, and they invited two other noted movie critics to chime in.
Star Tribune movie critic Colin Covert (center) visits the Cube Critics
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel
Yesterday, the Star Tribune's Colin Covert weighed in with his thoughts on who will - and who should - win in the category of Best Actor.
Covert says he doesn't imagine the Oscars for the actors will vary in any way from the Screen Actors Guild awards.
Stephanie Curtis threw in her vote for Albert Brooks in "Drive"
Euan Kerr cast his vote for Tilda Swinton in "We need to talk about Kevin"
Tonight, the Pioneer Press' Chris Hewitt will give his nominations for Best Film.
So who do you think will win the Oscars this weekend? And who should win, but won't?
Posted at 7:00 AM on February 24, 2012
by David Cazares
Filed under: Film
The classic bolero "Sabor a mi" was written by Mexican composer Alvaro Carrillo, but it is the perfect song to begin an Afro-Cuban love story.
Part of the Afro-Cuban musical repertoire during the Golden Age of Cuban music, the song would have been a natural for a young songstress in Havana whose purity of voice and words of enduring love quickly win our young pianist.
The song is among those expertly employed by Spanish Director Fernando Trueba in his latest film, "Chico y Rita," an ode to jazz and the heady days of Cuba in the 1940s and 50s. It was a time of musical discovery on the island, when North American jazz artists frequently visited, opening a door to inventive collaborations in New York.
An Oscar nominee for best animated feature, "Chico and Rita" is a film for adults. It recounts the stormy relationship of the two lovers and of those around them while also telling the story behind some of the most innovative jazz of the era. Sexy and provocative, the Spanish-language film opens a fresh and inventive window to musical history and Cuban culture. It opens today in an exclusive showing at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis.
Employing film footage of Havana street scenes and actors whose moves helped guide the movements of the animated characters, animator Javier Mariscal presents an authentic portrait of the Cuba of 60 years ago when the island was a playground for North American whites. It subtly explores the racism prevalent in Cuba and the United States.
Mariscal also presents scenes from present-day Cuba, where young people listen to rap music on Old Havana Streets, a stone's throw from the hotels where big bands once entertained the elite.
The 94-minute film, which alternates between then and now, opens with an elderly Chico Valdes thinking wistfully of the days when he met - and lost - Rita.
It is inspired by the life of pianist Bebo Valdes, 94, an elderly statesman of Afro-Cuban music. Valdes built his reputation in the 1940s and 50s as musical director of Cuba's famed Tropicana nightclub. He is also the father of pianist Jesus "Chucho" Valdes, founder of the Afro-Cuban group Irakere and one of the island's most renown musicians.
After the island's 1959 revolution, Bebo Valdes left Cuba and settled in Sweden, where he played in bar lounges and was largely forgotten. He was rediscovered in 1994, when at age 76 he had a hit with the album Bebo Rides Again.
Trueba, a devotee of Latin jazz, has used jazz artists to score his various films. The director included many of his favorite Latin jazz artists in the 2001 documentary "Calle 54," which featured interviews and performances in New York City. Among them were Bebo and Chucho Valdes, saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera and the late Tito Puente.
The documentary and recording also included Cuban greats Chico O'Farrill and Orlando "Cachao" Lopez and New York-based Fort Apache Band, led by Nuyorican trumpeter and conguero Jerry Gonzalez.
He followed with "Old Man Bebo" in 2007, a film that explored the evolution of Cuban music by exploring one of its key contributors.
"Chico and Rita" isn't about the life of Bebo Valdes, who performs half of the music used in the film. But it evokes the era that produced him and led jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie to work with Cubans, giving birth to a new kind of jazz.
Trueba uses elements of the period to move the story, among them an appearance by famed Afro-Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo, who composed the classic tune Manteca with Gillespie, and met an untimely and violent end.
He also uses recordings of people playing in the style of the era, among them singer Freddy Cole. In Chico and Rita, he sings for his brother, Nat King Cole, who performed in Cuba, in Spanish.
The film also subtly addresses the racism that blacks experienced in Cuba, and the United States, where Rita briefly becomes a film star and Chico makes his living as a jazz pianist, in painful separation. It includes scenes of desire, hope and betrayal.
Masterful music from jazz composers - from saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianist Thelonious Monk, saxophonist Ben Webster and others -- helps carry the story and moves it from scene to scene. It's a character in Cuba, New York City and Las Vegas, where a lonely Rita laments the plight of a black artist who has to "sleep in a hotel out of town."
Torn apart, the lovers may never see each other again. Chico returns to the island after the 1959 revolution, only to be told by a fellow musician that "they don't like this music anymore. Jazz is considered imperialist music, music of the enemy." For decades, that was the prevailing official view in contemporary Cuba.
Like so many real life Cuban musical greats, Chico fades into obscurity.
But like the lyrics of the opening song, he knows he'll always carry the essence of his love with him.
The State of the Arts blog will be a little slow this week, but it's all for a good cause.
This week I'm filling in as host of Midday, and every day at 11am we're taking on a different arts-related topic. I'll also be joined by a different co-host for each hour.
Today we talked about what happens when classical music is performed outside the concert hall. My co-host was Minnesota Orchestra violist Sam Bergman, who hosts "Inside the Classics". Joining us as guests were cellists Matt Haimovitz and Laure Sewell. Matt Haimovitz is known for performing Bach in bars and clubs; Laura Sewell performs with the Twin Cities' based Artaria String Quartet, and this summer they started performing "flash concerts" in bookstores, wine shops, and even a gym!
If you missed it, not to worry - you can listen to the audio here:
Tomorrow we're going to talk design when look at "surplus space." How can we best take advantage of abandoned strip malls, empty parking lots, and even closed down overpasses in ways that benefit our community? This conversation is inspired by a New York Times piece by Michael Kimmelman
My co-host will be architectural historian Larry Millett, and our guests will be Thomas Fisher, Professor of Architecture and Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota and Jay Walljasper, a writer and speaker focusing on urban and community issues and sustainability.
Wednesday we'll talk about songwriting - how do you write a song that stands the test of time? My co-host will be local songwriter Jeremy Messersmith. Guests: TBD.
And on Friday we look at the legacy of the Black Arts Movement, and how it's impact is still felt today. My co-host will be performer/arts educator T. Mychael Rambo. Joining us in studio will be Penumbra Theatre Artistic Director Lou Bellamy, who just launched a series of conversations on this very topic. Playwright and Scholar Paul Carter Harrison will join us by phone from New York.
So if you can, tune in to Midday this week at 11am, and join the conversation!
MPR's Cube Critics, Euan Kerr and Stephanie Curtis, always have an opinion when it comes to movies, and this year's Oscar nominations drew plenty of reaction from the duo.
Euan seems to think the nominations were all "safe" - meanwhile Stephanie can't believe John Williams was nominated for the War Horse soundtrack (he was also nominated for "The Adventures of Tintin").
Take a listen, and share your thoughts on the Oscar nominees.
A small secret about the do's and don'ts of book interviews: avoid asking about the cover. OK, perhaps it isn't a rule. Yet just about everyone in public radio has talked to authors over the years who are overjoyed at meeting someone who has actually read the book in preparation for an interview. And then those authors almost inevitably relate a tale of meeting an interviewer who hadn't and then resorted to asking about the cover. So it's almost a matter of honor to avoid asking cover questions.
However, it's impossible to look at the cover of Steve Boman's memoir "Film School" and not have your curiosity piqued.
It's the story of how a Minnesota-born lad faced down a mid-life crisis by taking himself off to film school at USC. He went in with some expectations, but he anticipated few of the curveballs which flew in his direction. They ranged from equipment problems, whacked-out fellow students and bullying instructors to the fact that at age 42 he had a stroke just as he began his second semester.
Then just months later in a twist which Boman says is reminiscent of a Hollywood plotline, he found himself writing a new series for CBS, based on a pitch he'd made in film class. You can get some of the details in our interview.
When Boman came in to chat about the book I couldn't resist asking him to describe the cover, and the thinking behind it, particularly because the towering figure on the cover is clearly him.
"It's an incredibly Conan the Barbarian-like figure wearing a ripped USC shirt," he said, "Ripped just enough so you can't have copyright infringement for USC, holding a perfect representation of an Ariflex 16 millimeter camera. And at this heroic figure's feet there's four women, girls. Three girls and a beautiful woman - a representation of my wife and kids."
"In the background Hollywood is burning and there's sort of a nemesis character in a Che shirt and a beret. And it's over-the-top, and it's a great cover because people either love it or hate it."
This apocalyptic scene is capped by the blood red title "Film School."
Boman admits to having asked the artist to lard on a few extra muscles.
But what is also quite eye catching is the subtitle "A memoir that will change your life." It's quite a claim, and it's one that causes Boman to roll his eyes. Believe it or not the subtitle is a compromise between him and his publishers.
"I wanted to say 'A true story,'" Boman relates. "And they said, 'The sales people don't like that. They need a memoir.' And I said 'I hate the term 'a memoir' - it makes it sound so self-important. And this is not as much a memoir as a story that happens to be true. So I said 'In all memoirs it's implied that this is very important,' so I thought 'this will be a memoir that will change your life.'"
He thought it up as a joke.
"And they put it on the cover," he said.
Actually the over-the-top feeling of the cover neatly captures the tensions and roiling sense of crisis in the book. Boman says he really likes the cover, although his wife isn't so sure. He admits to getting a little queasy however every time he sees the book in the stores.
"I feel squeamish sometimes because it's pretty personal. But I thought if you are going to write something, you've got to have a point of view and tell the story. I also thought if I was a reporter and someone came up and said 'Here's my story,' and I interviewed them and reported on it, I'd certainly tell these stories, and I thought ok I have an obligation to tell it, for good and for bad."(4 Comments)
It's much more than flipping a switch. For Tom Letness, projectionist and owner of the Heights Theater on Central Avenue in Columbia Heights, film projection is a craft.
Every film Letness receives, he manually inspects "on the bench" -- the work table in the booth -- to make sure the film doesn't contain bad splices or damaged sprockets, and to ensure it has cue marks, those black dots that appear in the upper-right corner of a film frame to help projectionists start a new reel during reel-to-reel changeovers.
Projectionist Tom Letness inspects a film "on the bench."
Letness then previews at least two reels of the film to make sure the aperture, focus and sound levels are properly set. "Time you spend checking the film saves a lot of grief during the presentation," he explains. "I believe that if people are going to come back on a regular basis, you have to have good presentation."
Inside the projection booth at the Heights are two Philips Norelco model AAII 35/70mm mechanical film projectors, both dating from the 1960s. "It's the greatest projector that was ever made, hands down," Letness says. "They are still running and they show a great image and I'm able to do so much with them."
Letness uses his Norelcos for many purposes: to screen new 35mm releases -- on this night, a print of Clint Eastwood's biopic J. Edgar is prepped and recumbent on an adjacent platter; to screen classic silent films and 1930s Hollywood fare; to project the Fifties' widescreen Cinemascope and Vista Vision films; and to show 70mm prints that became popular in the '60s and '70s and ended with 1997's megahit Titanic.
The Philips Norleco AAII projector can play either 35mm or 70mm film. Letness added several different audio readers to enable multiple soundtrack formats.
Having two projectors allows Letness to do reel-to-reel changes, a necessity for screenings of archival films, which are often from such sources as the Library of Congress, the UCLA Film and Television Archive and New York's Museum of Modern Art. Those archives enforce strict rules that prohibit projectionists from automating -- essentially, taping together -- film reels. "A lot of these classic films, it's the only print they have left," Letness explains.
Alongside the Norelco projectors, the cooling fans whirr on a DLP Cinema projector, which just completed a screening of The Nutcracker ballet. A hulking black block aimed out a porthole, the DLP slightly resembles a 19th-century naval cannon; as a digital projector, however, the DLP is strictly 21st-century technology. Next year, Letness plans to upgrade the eight-year-old DLP to Digital Cinema.
"Avatar was the big game-changer because it was making so much money," Letness says. "We want to be able to show any 3D if it comes out. In order to do that, we have to be digital because that's where the technology is going. ... For the average cinema, the average multiplex, their film days are, if not done, almost done."
At the AMC Southdale 16 in Edina this week, Jason Reitman's Young Adult -- partially shot on location in Minnesota -- is being shown on film. But according to Ryan Noonan, director of public relations at AMC Theatres, film presentations are becoming less common for the cinema chain. "Approximately two-thirds of our auditoriums at AMC Theatres are digital as the conversion process is ongoing," Noonan explained via e-mail. "With a few exceptions, it's AMC's goal to be fully digital during the next few years."
In his recent book, The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex, BBC film critic Mark Kermode cautions about the rapid proliferation of digital cinema and what that means for projectionists. "The great profession of projection (in the traditional sense of the craft) is in the process of becoming obsolete," Kermode writes.
Letness, however, believes digital and film can peacefully coexist.
"Digital is not the enemy," Letness insists. "I think for a new release, if your digital system is set up right, if you have a bright lamp house, if everything is the way it should be, I think it looks really great."
Letness says digital will enable him to start a showing at the Heights from vacation in Florida using his smartphone; he also says digital provides many more opportunities for contemporary alternative programming, such as operas, ballets, concerts and stage plays.
"I think for actual mainstream theaters, film will be gone forever," Letness says. "But for theaters like mine and other theaters that already specialize in film and archive screenings, film will continue."
The Heights Theater
One pervasive attraction remains, no matter the format: "I think the biggest thing is the community event," Letness says. "It really is the communal event of watching the film together, even though I don't know if people necessarily realize that."
What do you think about digital cinema versus film? Share your thoughts and experiences below.
We've asked our Art Hounds to tell us about their Minnesota arts and culture highlights of 2011. Here is the first installment (look for parts two and three next week):
Center of the Margins Festival at Mixed Blood Theatre
This one-of-a-kind theatre festival featured three plays delving deeply into disability. One play spotlighted Asperger's, autism, and what is "normal," another show was performed completely in American Sign Language, and the third dealt with race, adoption, and disability -- both mental and physical. Each piece challenged the audience and their conceptions of disability. Part of Mixed Blood Theatre's new Radical Hospitality concept, Center of the Margins pushed Minneapolis theatre into new directions.
-Michael Merriam, author and storyteller
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg at Orchestra Hall
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's performance at Orchestra Hall on October 22 blew me away...all the way to Buenos Aires! She is likely the only solo violinist on that stage to wear bright red leather pants, and her energetic performance was just as fiery, with spirited movements and enthusiasm accompanying every note. Astor Piazzolla's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires was an ideal choice for the dynamic musician, seducing us with tango and Latin rhythms that flowed into or were interrupted by familiar Vivaldi melodies.
-Laura Westlund, managing editor of University of Minnesota Press
The Free Range Film Festival in Wrenshall
It's a film festival showcasing many local filmmakers, created by local filmmakers, taking place in a barn outside of Wrenshall. What's more Minnesotan than that? Also: they had good popcorn.
-Joshua Carlon, filmmaker and film editor
Posted at 10:33 AM on November 30, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
From One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to Melancholia, there are a myriad of films out there that portray characters suffering from mental illness.
Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
Midmorning host Kerri Miller talked with both Bob Mondello, NPR's movie critic, and Lisa Brown, artistic director of Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival, about how films often sensationalize mental illness, but sometimes do a compelling job of getting it right.
Bob Mondello wrote about the recent surge in films depicting mental illness for NPR, which you can read here.
Some of the films discussed on Midmorning:
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
A Beautiful Mind
Drop Dead Fred
A Soldier's Heart
You can listen to the show by clicking on the link below:
One of Minnesota's musical traditions for the holidays is going national.
Some 500 St. Olaf College students sing in five choirs and play in the orchestra during the annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival
The St. Olaf Christmas Festival will present "Rejoice, Give Thanks, and Sing" live in movie theaters across the country, as part of its 100th anniversary celebration.
The concert will be broadcast on Sunday, December 4 at 2:30pm CT from Skoglund Center Auditorium on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, as per usual. But now people will be able to hear - and see - the concert in such widespread locations as Anchorage, Alaska and Honolulu, Hawaii.
The two-hour program of hymns, carols, choral works and orchestral selections will be performed by St. Olaf Choir, the Viking Chorus and Chapel Choir, the Cantorei, and Manitou Singers, along with the St. Olaf Orchestra.T the event will begin with a special half-hour retrospective focusing on the 100-year history of the Christmas Festival.
You can see the complete list of participating venues here.
This week's hounds are into Mexico's master cinematographer, a strange fairy who knows how to push the laugh button and theater that turns public policy into improv comedy.
(Want to be an Art Hound? Sign up!)
As far as actor, teacher and improv artist Jen Scott is concerned, anything can be the source of improv comedy. Even, or maybe especially, public policy. Jen says "The Theater of Public Policy," on stage at Huge Theater in Minneapolis every Thursday through Nov. 17, serves up useful info along with its humor. It features a conversation with a policy expert, followed by an interpretation by a team of improv artists.
Twin Cities photographer Manuel Castillo calls Gabriel Figueroa the best cinematographer Mexico ever produced. Figueroa is well known for his 'film noir' aesthetic and his work on such notable movies as "Night of the Iguana" and "The Fugitive," directed by John Ford. Figueroa's son, Gabriel Figueroa Flores, will discuss 20 original still photographs from his father's classic films, Friday, Nov. 4, at the Minneapolis Photo Center.
Tim Carroll, Minneapolis performance and installation artist, was having a bad day when he went to see "The Learning Fairy" at Open Eye Figure Theatre in Minneapolis. Tim says once the show started, he was laughing so hysterically he forgot all about it. Who is the Learning Fairy? Tim's still not sure, but she's here from another world to help change ours. All ages welcome....through November 12.
And you can get an early sneak peek at the Art Hounds' picks every week by texting the word ART to 677-677.
Art Hounds is powered by the Public Insight Network.
The cast of Abel, a film by Mexican director Diego Luna
By Carolina Astrain
A new tradition for the Twin Cities film community could take hold Thursday, when the first Latin Film Festival kicks off at the St. Anthony Main Theater.
The 13-day festival begins with a narrative film by Mexican actor-turned-director Diego Luna. His first narrative film, Abel (2010), follows the wild imagination of a young boy grappling with the absence of his father.
Luna has shown the film at several festivals including Sundance and Cannes. Many Latinos, particularly Mexican immigrants, are pleased to see it in the new festival.
"This is a great way for Minnesotans to learn more about Latino culture," said Abel Ordaz, a Mexican immigrant who lives in Minneapolis and has no connection to the movie that shares his name.
The festival is sponsored by the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The Minnesota Cuba Committee is hosting four films at the festival, including: Habana Eva, La Salsa Cubana, Unfinished Spaces and Battleships.
Following the screening of La Salsa Cubana, local Cuban choreographer Rene Thompson will lead a discussion on the political implications of salsa music on Cuban society.
Carla Riehle, secretary of the Minnesota Cuba Committee, said the film offers an interesting look at the island's culture.
"They're immersed in a way of life that's very foreign to us," said Riehle, who has been to Cuba. "We're so used to competing with each other. That is not so in Cuba, it's a much more cooperative way of life."
Most of the films in the festival come from Latin American directors, but there a couple of others in the mix. Solar System, directed by German-born filmmaker Thomas Heise, is a silent film chronicling the lives of the Kolla people of Argentina's Salta Province. Much in the tradition of Werner Herzog, the film uses stunning photography to tell the story.
Closing the festival on Nov. 12 is Elite Squad: The Enemy Within by Brazilian director Jose Padilha. Padilha gained international recognition in 2002 for his documentary Bus 174, which weaves together live news coverage of a man who kept bus passengers hostage for four-hours. Padhila's latest production features the lives of a crack team from Special Police Operations attempting to clean up Rio de Janeiro's drug scene.
Whether the Latin Film Festival has a future is uncertain, said Susan Smoluchowski, executive director of the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
"These festivals, supported in part by Legacy funding, represent the growing international communities here in Minnesota. We were planning for another in this series of festivals next year focused on films out of Africa," Smoluchowski said. "However I think we're getting such a large response from the Latin American community on this one that we may want to do both."
Editor's note: MPR's Carolina Astrain writes occasionally for State of the Arts. Her editor is David Cazares.
Tune in to Morning Edition tomorrow to hear Euan Kerr's report on both the Latin and Arab film festivals launching this weekend.
On October 19, Saint Anthony Main Theater will screen a documentary titled "Miss Representation." It's a provocative and compelling look at how the media shapes the way women are viewed, and indeed, how they view themselves. Here's the trailer:
Posted at 10:17 AM on September 28, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
Dollhouses aren't just for happy wannabe homemakers.
A new Twin Cities-made documentary called "Of Dolls and Murder" reveals how important one particular set of dollhouses has been to solving untimely deaths in the U.S. for 70 years.
Detail from a nutshell crime scene
Image courtesy 'Of Dolls and Murder'
MPR's Euan Kerr spoke with director Susan Marks, who said she knew she had to make a film about the dioramas the first time she heard about them.
"Well, the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death were created by a woman called Frances Glessner Lee who was this wealthy heiress to the International Harvester fortune, who had a life-long interest in crime, and the pursuit of justice, really."
This was back in the 1930s, when forensics was known as police science. Lee was one of the few women involved in the detective business, but she taught at Harvard.
Marks said Lee realized homicide detectives needed careful training in looking for clues at crime scenes. Over a number of years Lee painstakingly hand-built 20 of the nutshells. Each is based on a real crime and is accurate down to the tiniest of details. Susan Marks said the dioramas are very low tech.
"And yet they are still used today," she said. "Because no matter how advanced our technology becomes in the realm of forensics, it still all goes back to the investigative skills of what people are observing."
Marks and her crew got to film The Nutshells at their new home in Baltimore. They also filmed some of the detectives who come from all over the country to train by poring over the miniature scenes of murder.
You can hear more about how the dollhouses help detective work, and about the documentary, by clicking on the audio link below:
Martin Sheen in "The Way"
Martin Sheen and his son Emilion Estevez are on a journey across America promoting their new film about a different kind of journey.
Called "The Way," the movie follows the father (played by Sheen) as he retraces his dead sons steps on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The son is played by Estevez, who also directed the film.
On Midmorning today, Estevez says in his mind "The Way" is in some ways loosely based on "The Wizard of Oz." Like Dorothy, Martin Sheen's character meets a series of characters on his journey along the yellow-marked camino.
Making this movie was a personal journey for the actors, who have family history in Northern Spain.
The conversation was wide-ranging, including the nature of pilgrimages and personal discovery, Sheen's family history, acting, and of course Estevez and Sheen's father-son relationship.
What didn't get discussed? Mention of Sheen's other son, Charlie, was noticeably absent from the conversation.
You can hear the hour by clicking on the audio link below:
Posted at 1:23 PM on September 6, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
Sometimes treasures come with a curse attached.
For instance, While Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney was thrilled to get his hands on raw footage of a legendary 1960s road-trip, the find led to one very tedious production session.
This 1934 International Harvester school bus, named "Further" became an international icon of the hippy movement after the Merry Pranksters drove it from California to New York and back in 1964. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
Ken Kesey and the Merry Band of Pranksters drove from California to New York and back in an old school bus, filming and audio-taping much of the experience.
As Euan Kerr reports, Gibney and co-director Alison Ellwood had to find a way to distill it all down into one documentary:
They had 50 priceless hours of film and 150 hours of audio tapes, captured by very good cameras and microphones. But that thing filmmakers do with the clapperboard at the beginning of a shot to synchronize images and sounds -- well, the Pranksters felt that was unnecessary.
"They didn't do the clap. Ever," Gibney said.
"Once!" interjects Ellwood.
"Sorry, they did it once," Gibney corrects himself. "And that was when they brought in a professional soundman for the day, who promptly quit when he saw how disorganized everything was."
They went to great efforts to find places where the sound matched up with the images.
"We hired a lip-reader to come in and spent half a day and they gave up," Ellwood said.
They found some synch points, including a wild sequence where Cassady drove the bus while high on speed. Listening to music on huge headphones Cassady raps into the on-board public address system, waving his arms and howling into the microphone, only occasionally looking at the road. Gibney admits it's quite frightening.
Mexican director Pedro Reyes and his crew, who have been hard at work on his project Baby Marx at the Walker Art Center for the past couple of weeks, have now released the first couple of clips from the film they are creating.
The idea is to have economic giants Karl Marx and Adam Smith wander the Walker in puppet form to argue economic theory, while maybe critiquing art, and the modern world.
The first clip released today involves their reaction to Andy Warhol's silk-screen of Jackie Kennedy.
You can also follow the Marx and Smith argument spawned by a cookie here.
Can't wait another week for your annual dose of the Minnesota State Fair?
It turns out you don't have to.
This Sunday the Southern Theater premieres a new film that distills all twelve days of Great Minnesota Get-Together into just 25 minutes.
Ochen Kaylan recorded over 1,000 hours of footage at last year's Minnesota State Fair. He set up more than 20 stop-motion cameras around the grounds to capture the process of constructing and dismantling the 320 acre festival, which brings in 1.8 million people each year.
You can find out more about the film, and the instpiration for its name, here.
The Bentson Foundation has granted the Walker Art Center $1 million to "enhance the presentation and preservation" of the Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection.
According to a release from the Walker, the funds will be used to digitize selected films and upgrade the Walker Cinema. Improvements include the addition of high-definition digital projectors, a redesign of the cinema's acoustics, and new seats.
A razor is drawn towards a woman's eye in this still from the film Un Chien Andalou by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel, 1928.
The Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection was established in 1973 by a gift from Edmond R. Ruben, a leading figure in film exhibition in the Upper Midwest. The Rubens' daughter and son-in-law, Nancy and Larry Bentson, were also longtime supporters of the Walker whose major gift in 1998 allowed the Walker to acquire, conserve, and present film/video materials. The Bentson Foundation was established in 1956 to support a range of philanthropic causes throughout the state.
The Walker's Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection now includes more than 850 titles, from classic to contemporary cinema as well as documentaries, avant-garde films, and video works by artists.
A classic American musical, a live silent film score from a Minneapolis chamber folk group and a group of visual artists interpreting a poem, have all captured the hounds' attention this week.
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Bloomington Civic Theatre is on a roll, according to actor, director, and Normandale College film and theater teacher Sean Byrd. Sean says not only is BCT staging excellent productions, it's improved its outreach to the community. Sean is excited about BCT's upcoming production of Oklahoma!, which marks the return of director Gary Gisselman, who served as BCT's artistic director way back in 1964. Oklahoma! is on stage Aug. 19 - Sept. 18.
Nordic roots artist Kari Tauring is going to the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts in Fridley on Saturday, Aug. 20th, to watch a cross-discipline artistic dialogue unfold. Poet Kathryn Kysar has published a new book of poems entitled "Pretend the World," and she's asked a group of visual artists from different media to respond to one in particular. Kysar plans to continue the call and response in the future. The exhibition, also called "Pretend the World," is at Banfill-Locke through Sept. 30.
The slightly eerie yet elegant Minneapolis chamber folk group "Dark Dark Dark" has long struck a chord with freelance arts journalist Christopher Matthew Jensen. Christopher says the band will truly get to stretch its wings on Monday, Aug. 22, when it headlines the final installment of the Walker Art Center's popular "Music and Movies in the Park" series. Dark Dark Dark will be joined by 30 to 40 members of the "Modern Times Spychestra" in creating a live score to Fritz Lang's silent movie "Spies." The performance will take place in the Walker's Open Field, not Loring Park.
And you can get an early sneak peek at the Art Hounds' picks every week by texting the word ART to 677-677.
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Posted at 11:51 AM on August 15, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
What would it be like to have a sibling who was in the same business as you, but was having a lot more luck at it?
MPR's Euan Kerr found out when he spoke to screenwriter John Michael McDonagh.
Don Cheadle and Brenden Gleeson appear as an unlikely pair of crime fighters in John Michael McDonagh's "The Guard." (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)
For a long time McDonagh was having a hard time getting his scripts turned into films. When one finally did get bought by Hollywood, the director botched the production. Now nobody was interested in McDonagh's work.
To make things worse, McDonagh's brother Martin had become an overnight sensation in London and New York with a series of award-winning plays, including "The Cripple of Inishmaan" and "The Pillowman."
"I hate the theater," John Michael McDonagh states bluntly. "I only go to the theater when he gives me free tickets for his own plays. Because I find it really boring. So he could have had all the success he wanted in the theater world and I wasn't bothered."
But then, Martin McDonagh started making movies.
"I think when he won an Oscar for his short film, that's when I say a little ulcer started in the pit of my stomach, and it grew when he got 'In Bruges' set up," said John Michael.
"In Bruges," a dark comedy about two Irish hitmen hiding out in Belgium, was an indie hit in 2008, snagging Martin McDonagh a best screenplay Oscar nomination.
John Michael says he's close to his brother, but they rarely talk about work.
Now John Michael is getting back in the spotlight with his new movie "The Guard," which he's directed himself.
To find out more about the movie, which stars Don Cheadle, click on the audio link below.
Dial-jumpers will be aware that our colleagues on Classical MPR Lynn Warfel and Bill Morelock have a new show featuring the delights of movie music.
Roll Credits which runs on Monday evenings (and all the time on the webpage) has explored the music of comedy films, science fiction, the year 1939, and a host of others.
Now to add to the fun they've launched a quiz, based on the most recent show. Let me tell you it's no pushover - but every answer is accompanied by a chance to enjoy a little musical film clip.
This is one of them (and it's not a spoiler as it won't really help you to answer the question,) so enjoy!
Posted at 8:52 AM on August 8, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
If you could visit a parallel universe, and meet another version of you, what would you say?
Such is the premise behind the movie Another Earth, which opened this past weekend.
Euan Kerr recently met with Brit Marling and Mike Cahill, who co-wrote "Another Earth." Marling plays the lead role and Cahill directs.
Cahill and Marling are self-described space geeks who met in college at Georgetown. They collaborated on short films, but often spent time just shooting the breeze, making up stories they'd build around space factoids.
They became fascinated with the idea of another earth, Earth 2, and the implications of speaking with the person who would have the greatest empathy with you - yourself.
"From there we worked our way backwards into what is the human drama where meeting yourself with the possibility of confrontation would have the greatest emotional resonance?" Marling said. "And that seemed to be a story a girl who couldn't forgive herself for something she had done."
They wrote the story of Rhoda Williams, a young woman who on the eve of going to MIT to study astrophysics hears scientists have discovered Earth 2. That night she also makes a terrible mistake that not only wrecks her life, it destroys a stranger's family.
You can hear the rest of their conversation, including one 12-year-old's rave review, by clicking on the audio link below:
Some people make a fuss when they leave town: others just slip away.
Ryan Oestreich, who has been a pillar of what's now known as the Film Society of Minnesota for the last four years, tried the latter approach, but we found him anyway.
He says leaving the Film Society was hard.
"We probably are in the best position we have been in in the last seven years," he said this morning on the phone from Chicago.
Oestreich is heading via a roundabout route to Denver where his girlfriend is entering grad school.
The last few years have been pretty wild at what was once Minnesota Film Arts (and before that the U Film Society.) During Oestreich's time there the organization went from presenting programs at two theaters, the Bell and the Oak Street, while mounting the annual Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival, to being an organization focused primarily on the Festival, to where it is now, doing repertory programming at St Anthony Main across from downtown, where it shares space with the regular multiplex fare. Then at Festival time in the early spring it takes over the entire complex.
"The film festival that just wrapped is now the biggest it's ever been," he said. "With over 200 feature films and 80 short films, and then you have year-round programming."
Oestreich says 2011 could be shaping up to be a record year for number of movies shown, very different from four years ago when he first began working with founder Al Milgrom, where he admits things were "kind of stop and go."
While he says its hard to point to one thing which changed everything, he says there is now a clearer direction to the organization and with the help of the board, and Executive Director Susan Smoluchowski's grant-writing expertise, Oestreich says the Film Society is on firmer financial ground.
"The idea was, let's raise more money with the film festival so that can influence the year round programming." Oestreich said. "What happened was the members and the patrons noticed. So the membership doubled and is now is only increasing."
He says a lot of people are discovering, or rediscovering, the Film Society.
"And suddenly you have the best outcome which is more films, more programming, more diversity," he said.
For a long time what was then the MFA was locked in an internal struggle between factions who passionately believed the organization had to focus on the Festival, and those who just as passionately believed in repertory film year-round as the foundation. There were passionate meetings and ruffled feathers.
Oestreich says time has shown a need for both.
"The idea of bringing back repertory is coming along," he said, pointing to recent programs where current releases are paired with similarly themed classics. But what had to happen first was, you sort of have to throw everything out of the house before you start rebuilding it."
"Yeah, there was probably a concern on many people's parts," he admits. "But in time everything came back around, and is sort of getting back into a rhythm that I think people recognize."
He believes the move to St Anthony Main also helped, giving a focus both to the festival and the programming the rest of the year. He says it is a product of the audience wanting a central location.
"It's a place people want to go," he said, pointing to the availability of restaurants, bars and even Segways nearby.
"It's a very strong organization again, and so it's hard to leave at this moment," he said. "And the people that are there are extremely passionate about the mission."
He said he recognizes his own passion for film in the staff he leaves behind and that makes make him feel he's leaving the organization in good hands.
He's hoping to latch onto something in film in Denver, but doesn't have anything set up yet.
When I ask him if there is anything else we should talk about as he leaves town, he counters with the true cineaste statement: "I don't know - have you seen anything good lately?"
Oestreich says he doesn't know what the future will bring, but he's not ruling out a return to the Twin Cities at some point.
This week's hounds embrace the notion of not only presenting cinema, but defending it in a screening room full of film aficionados, they endorse a series that plucks emerging talent from the local dance scene, and they open their ears to a national handbell conference in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
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The Walker Art Center's Momentum: New Dance Works at the Southern Theater is perhaps the biggest dance event of the year, according to dance and theater videographer Ben McGinley. Ben is thrilled with this year's line-up, which includes choreographers Chris Yon, Kenna Cottman, and Kaleena Miller, plus the zany three-woman troupe Mad King Thomas. Momentum: New Dance Works 2011 is on stage at the Southern July 14 - 23.
Attention, movie geeks! Cheapo music clerk and former film student Jon Gilbert wants you in on The Defenders, a series at the Trylon Microcinema in Minneapolis. It's a monthly get-together of cinephiles in which one local film personality presents a movie of his or her choosing and then defends it in a vigorous, rigorous post-screening discussion. The next installment of "The Defenders" happens Wednesday, July 20th at 7pm, and features Star Tribune Movie Critic Colin Covert.
As music director at North Como Presbyterian Church in Roseville, Sean Johnson knows a good handbell choir when he hears one. But do you? Sean says you'll have abundant opportunities to refine your taste in handbell music this weekend, July 14-17, when the Handbell Musicians of America holds its annual conference at the Minneapolis Hilton.
And you can get an early sneak peek at the Art Hounds' picks every week by texting the word ART to 677-677.
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While the Harry Potter series of books is an international phenomenon because of J.K. Rowling's writing and imagination, the movies have had to add great acting, filming, and of course, a compelling film score.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Recently MPR Classical's Julie Amacher spoke with composer Alexandre Desplat, who created the score for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, parts 1 and 2. He said the first thing he did with part 2 was find a central musical theme to tie the score together.
The thread that we decided to have was Harry Potter's mother, Lily, who's connected to another character in the film. I wanted to find a theme that had a lullaby quality to it, something very gentle and tender. A bit ancient, maybe Celtic, but with no Celtic reference in terms of instrumentation. It is of the first hearing, a haunting melody sung by a female voice with no lyrics.
This pure crystal clear voice, that to us was the echo, the mist of Lily's presence which has been near Harry all around the years, and maybe also near another character that we discover near the end of the film. Lily is not only the reason he is fighting, he wants to know why his parents died. He also knows he's been protected by his mother's benevolence.
Later in the film you will hear it played by full orchestra in a very epic moment when a dragon is flying with the three heroes on his back. It has both qualities of being very gentle and being very wide and large.
You can hear more about Desplat's score, and listen to some of the music, by clicking on the audio link below, or you can read the text version here.
Posted at 9:41 AM on July 11, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
Writer and film director Mirand July was in town this weekend to introduce her new film "The Future" to audiences at the Walker Art Center.
Miranda July in The Future
"The Future" which July wrote, directed and in which she performs as Sophie and the voice of the cat, revolves round an earnest, self-absorbed and not very bright couple who decide to adopt an older cat, who has been given a month to live. Then Sophie and Jason learn the cat might live for another five years. They can't adopt the cat for a month, so they decide to quit their jobs and fulfill their life goals in the next thirty days.
MPR's Euan Kerr caught up with July to talk about the new film, and the future:
Miranda July is an unlikely provocateur, which is probably why she is so good at it. She's a slender woman who wears carefully considered outfits. She stares in a disconcerting way, almost as if she's been startled by a random thought, about say "The Future," the concept, not the film.
"Well, I like that the second we start talking about the future you are automatically talking about people's hopes or their fears, you know?" she said. "But pretty much never anything real."
Because the future never arrives?
"Right," she said, "And so even though it's such a kind of mundane common word, it immediately puts you in a sort of interior, esoteric space."
Interested in finding out about your own future? Try Miranda July's online prognosicator.
This week the hounds track down a weekend iron pour in Lanesboro, an installation piece at the Walker that defends artistic freedom, and a throwback sci-fi film made in the Twin Cities about moon zombies....ATTACKING!
Twin Cities artist Mike Tincher wants you to grab a chair from home and bring it to the Walker Art Center's Sculpture Garden on Tuesday, July 12, to take part in the installation piece, "1,001 Chairs." The chairs represent artists around the world whose voices have been silenced. It's an homage to a work by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who in April was detained by the government and recently was released.
Adrienne Sweeney, artist administrator at the Commonweal Theatre, says it gets really hot this time of year in Lanesboro...molten hot. That's because a bunch of metalsmiths from around the country (led by Art Hound Karl Unnasch) will be conducting an iron pour in Sylvan Park. Unnasch will be giving an artist talk on Thursday, June 7 and the iron pour itself is on Saturday, June 9. There will also be public workshops on how to craft ironworks. The event is sponsored by the Lanesboro Art Center.
If you're charmed by the over-the-top melodrama, cornball comedy, and cheesy special effects of the '50s-era sci-fi movie ouevre, big band drummer Kerry Johnson predicts you will love "Attack of the Moon Zombies." It's another in a series of locally produced horror/sci-fi movies from Twin Cities writer/director Christopher Mihm. "Attack of the Moon Zombies" will be screened July 14 at the New Hope Cinema Grill in New Hope, but Kerry wanted to give you advance notice because when the film premiered in May, it sold out.
For more Art Hounds' recommendations, check us out on Facebook and Twitter.
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Playwright Christopher Hampton
Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp
You'd think one requirement for a book being translated into a movie is that it be really well written.
Not necessarily so.
Today on Midmorning Hampton argued that, when looking for a book to adapt for the screen, great writing is one thing you don't want.
Sometimes you have to be careful of a book that's really well written, because that's the one quality that won't show in a movie. If the prose is beautiful, that's a novelistic thing, not a dramatic thing, so you look for... the novels that work when they're translated to theater or to film are novels with a dramatic line. And often a beautifully written book or even a powerful book that will haunt you for years will not work as a movie.
Hampton is in the Twin Cities this week in preparation for an upcoming celebration of his plays at the Guthrie Theater. He'll be seeing God of Carnage. a play that he translated into English, at the theater tonight.
You can listen to Kerri Miller's entire conversation with Christopher Hampton by clicking on the audio link below:
This week on Cube Critics, Euan Kerr and Stephanie Curtis talk about the movies Page One and Transformers 3, as well as the DVD release of Barney's Version. Take a listen and find out why Curtis says she won't go see Transformers 3, even though Kerr recommends it.
And here, for your viewing pleasure, are their trailers:
The new movie "Earthwork" opens this weekend at the Film Society in Minneapolis. It stars Alexandria native John Hawkes, who received an Oscar nomination for his role in the film "Winter's Bone."
Oscar nominee John Hawkes plays a Kansas farmer and crop artist trying to work in Manhattan in "Earthwork" (Image courtesy Shadow Distribution)
Hawkes is returning to Alexandria this week to present "Earthwork," and MPR's Euan Kerr caught up with him to talk about the new film, and how he went from life in rural Minnesota to that of a movie star.
Hawkes said he was a high school wrestler, but looked for something else when he gave that up. He said that the reason he became an actor was because of the Guthrie Theater.
In his sophomore year, he got on a bus with his classmates and traveled to Minneapolis to see Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." He said he had never seen a real play before.
"And I was just so amazed that day," he said. "I just kind of couldn't shake the feeling of how I felt and how those people had stirred emotion in me and kind of wondered if someday I could do that for someone else."
Hawkes credits his drama teachers at Jefferson High school in Alexandria for getting him started. He moved to Texas and helped launch a theater company in Austin.
You can read the full story here, or listen to it by clicking on the audio link below:
Okay, those folks over at MPR Classical are having more fun than should be legal.
A while back I wrote about how Emily Reese is interviewing composers who create scores for video games, in a series called "Top Score." The show brings together two Reese's great loves - classical music, and gaming.
Bill Morelock and Lynn Warfel, hosts of Roll Credits. Oh wait, that's Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh...
Knowing Morelock and Warfel, the show will be a witty and entertaining exploration of some of the most memorable movies in history, and the music that helped make them so.
Tonight at 8pm the show gets underway by looking at some of the films of 1939: Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, Of Mice and Men, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Wizard of Oz.
Posted at 10:39 AM on June 10, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
Super 8 opens in theaters this weekend. It stars a group of misfit kids and a mysterious and dangerous creature that escapes from the U.S. Air Force in a train crash.
In an interview with Michele Norris, director J.J. Abrams revealed that it's really two different movie ideas combined:
"The idea at first was just a small intimate story," he says. "A story about first love, a story about a broken family."
But the film was missing something, he explains: "I wanted something external, something physical that would represent ... the struggle happening internally with the main character." At the time, Abrams was also mulling over another plot: A U.S. Air Force train transporting contents from Area 51 crashes and its content escapes. "It occurred to me," Abrams says, "that if I combined these stories ... this creature that is out there in this world really does represent all this pain and this agony of the loss this boy is suffering."
Abrams goes on to say that in many ways this film is a tribute to the classic movies that Steven Spielberg made under the Amblin Entertainment label (E.T., Back to the Future, and The Goonies, among others).
..."the feeling is a feeling of infinite possibility," Abrams says. Sure, there were scary moments, but in Amblin films, "you always felt you were in good hands."
Abrams is shooting for heart and wholesomeness -- the kind of film you want to see with the whole family on a warm summer night at a drive-in. "The idea [is] that at the end of the film you feel better then you did when you got there," Abrams says. The experience should feel communal, whether you're in a car or a theater -- and it's one that Abrams hopes diverse audiences will enjoy. "As with Amblin movies, there is no one audience," he says. "The movie is for everyone."
This week's hounds have their eyes on a Duluth screening of the documentary about painter Philip Pearlstein, an art show in which paper takes on an added, more playful dimension, and an encompassing American Indian art festival in Minneapolis.
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Minneapolis Institute of Arts curator Joe Horse Capture has been waiting a long time for a festival that cuts as wide a swath through American Indian culture as the Twin Cities American Indian Arts Festival. It'll be held this Saturday and Sunday on the corner of 16th Avenue South and Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis.There will be music from six native bands, a hand drum contest, native food, and a fine arts plaza, which will feature more than 30 Native American visual artists.
Kelly Krantz is always on the lookout for shows at the Pink Hobo gallery in Minneapolis because she says they offer affordable art and never disappoint. Kelly, who makes zines and mini comics and blogs about theater for Metro Magazine, says Pink Hobo's "Paper Toy II" will feature cut, folded and manipulated paper sculpture, wall pieces and toys. It's a great opportunity to start an art collection, according to Kelly. The show opens on Saturday and runs through July 29.
Peter Spooner, curator at the Tweed Museum of Art at the University of Minnesota Duluth, says the documentary "Naked Vision" is a compelling portrait of a 20th century master who's still going strong. Philip Pearlstein was an Andy Warhol contemporary who started as an abstract expressionist but moved into realism at a time when it wasn't cool. "Naked Vision," from Minnesota filmmaker and artist Jen Dietrich, will be screened at the Sound Unseen Festival in Duluth on Saturday, June 11, at Spirit of the North, at 2:30pm.
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James Stewart in Hitchcock's "Rear Window," 1954
Co-presented by 89.3 The Current, the program runs the first four Mondays in August (August 1, 8, 15, and 22). Music begins at 7 pm, films begin at dusk (approximately 8:30 pm).
Monday, August 1
Music: Haley Bonar
Movie: Rear Window
Current DJ: Bill DeVille
Monday, August 8
Music: No Bird Sing
Movie: 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse
Current DJ: Mary Lucia
Monday, August 15
Music: Buffalo Moon
Current DJs: Steve Seel and Jill Riley
Monday, August 22 (Open Field, Walker Art Center)
Music: Dark Dark Dark and the Modern Times Spychestra
Current DJ: TBA
Perpich senior Ben Schultz and Dame Julie Andrews
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson
This afternoon, the students at the Perpich Center for the Arts were treated to an appearance by theater royalty. Dame Julie Andrews visited the Golden Valley school, which draws students from across the state.
She was there thanks to senior Ben Schultz, who has been corresponding with Andrews' agent for the past two years in the hopes of convincing her to visit.
So why is Schultz such a big fan?
She's always conducting herself with grace and poise. Everything you see her in - it's not a skanky role, it's not dirty. Every time she's on tv - like Oprah - she's never snotty or rude. Every single student here, we look up to her just because of the work she's done for theater and how successful she's become.
Andrews is in Minneapolis in part for a visit with Target Corporation, and also to promote her most recent children's book; it's thanks to Schultz she added the school visit to her itinerary.
The student body leapt to its feet with a roar when Andrews walked on the stage of the school theater.
She spoke to the students about the importance of the arts, and how they are a force for good in the world. When asked for her advice to budding performers, she offered this:
I think that if you're passionate about what you do - opportunities will float by when you least expect them. Since those moments could happen at any time, my best advice is do your homework. Learn what it is you love. Learn all about it, read as much as you possibly can, be ready because you never know when that special moment is going to be offered to you.
Afterwards, sitting in the makeshift "green room" (the boy's locker room), Andrews admitted that, while she attended an arts school herself, it was her family that played the most formative role in her career.
My mother was a fine pianist, my step-father was a wonderful tenor and he began giving me singing lessons when I was about seven years old - my mother's sister, my aunt was a ballet school teacher - actually she ran the local village ballet school and she did it very well. They encouraged and inspired me, and it just so happened that I was blessed with a kind of freak soprano voice that spanned four octaves. I didn't know anything else but theater growing up.
At the age of 75, Andrews is still looking at future film roles as well as directing opportunities. All this in addition to the more than twenty books she's published with her daughter.
I'm still learning, and I've worked my whole life. - I don't know how I would feel if I wasn't doing something that turned me on, so I'm always looking for the possibility of something fresh, something new something that I could embrace - I really love it.
Here's the audio from her talk to the students at the Perpich Center for the Arts, which includes a lovely recollection of her late husband Blake Edwards:(6 Comments)
It takes a lot of courage to be a Vikings fan. And for some, rooting for the team isn't just a pastime, it's a full-time passion. The documentary "SKOL" follows some of the Vikings' most dedicated fans through last year's season - you know, the one in which Coach Brad Childress was fired, Randy Moss came and went, and the roof collapsed?
As University of Minnesota sports sociologist Doug Hartmann says, "You can change your religion and your wife way easier than you can change your football team."
Even the Vikings' website admits:
Sure, part of being a Vikings fan is having the ability to feel comfortable on football's emotional roller coaster, but if you're a Vikings fan, you can't ever say you've been bored.
The documentary gets its premiere at 8 pm on Thursday, May 19, at the Heights Theatre. Will you be there? Can you bear to watch?
Posted at 2:41 PM on May 4, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
Riverview Theater, beloved destination in the Twin Cities for cheap movies after they've made their first run in the main houses, is considering hosting a Harry Potter marathon this summer, as the movie series wraps up with its final episode "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2."
However, with seven films in the series, scheduling is going to be a bit of a challenge. And of course, Riverview wants to find the best schedule for its fans.
So, it's put up a poll on Facebook, and the staff are hoping you'll cast your vote.
Here are the choices:
Two Sundays, one week apart (all day)
One movie per night for a week (7pm showtime)
Saturday afternoon and all day on Sunday (3 films on Sat, 4 films on Sun)
Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons (2-3 shows per day)
Tuesday and Wednesday the week before the new film released (all day)
Can you imagine sitting through seven movies straight? Wouldn't you have a serious headache? Or would it be spellbinding?
For a Midwesterner Jed Schlegelmilch is getting remarkably used to people seeing him in emotional distress.
"Yeah, it's all out there,"he told me recently. "I guess I'm used to people see me cry now."
Sitting in the upstairs lobby of the Edina Theater where he is the manager, recounts how he came to make the autobiographical documentary "Absence/Presence" which will screen tomorrow at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival.
It's the story of how he set out to deal with the horror of his brother's apparent suicide at a party almost 20 years ago in their hometown of Appleton Wisconsin.
It began after he bumped into a friend of his brother completely by chance. he describes it as a surreal moment.
"We only talked for about a minute or so: our encounter was very brief," Schlegelmilch said. "But, after that, I couldn't stop thinking about my brother. It brought back all these memories again, memories of how he died. It also brought to mind how much I was starting to forget about him."
He decided he had to do something. So he took a 10 day road trip to talk to people who had been around at that time to see what he could learn about what happened, and possibly set his own demons to rest.
"And I thought, if I am going to do this, I want to document it in some way, and I might as well do it in the form that I love, and that's the movies," he said.
"Absence/Presence" is a tough movie to watch. It's a raw film, both in its content and in the way it's shot and edited. But the emotion of what Schlegelmilch is experiencing, along with everyone else in the film burns through it all.
Originally Schlegelmilch just thought he'd make the film for his own family members, but several of them encouraged him to see if he could show it to a larger audience.
He's had a number of screenings, but he admits he's a little surprised he was invited to show the film at MSPIFF.
"It's really the most unlikely of films I think to be selected for the festival," he said. "Because it started as such a personal thing for me, and when you watch it you kind of feel like you are watching a home movie. It's very intimate and personal."
He did get some big time help though when members of Cloud Cult gave him permission to use the band's music in the film.
Unlike some film makers who dream of huge distribution, Schlegelmilch sees the future of "Absence/Presence" in high schools.
"Ultimately I just want it to help people," he said. "I want people to watch it and be moved by it: call a friend, call a family member who they haven't talked to in a long time, or something. I feel it could help in that way."
Here is an extract from the film
The Minnesota Opera may be deep in the throes of "Wuthering Heights" on stage at the Ordway in St Paul, but back at the Opera's rehearsal rooms in Minneapolis they've been knee-deep in the trenches of World War I.
This week singers and orchestra have been running through "Silent Night," the latest Minnesota Opera New Works Initiativecommission. The multi-million dollar program aims to develop and perform new American operas.
"Silent Night," based on the 2006 film "Joyeux Noel," tells the story of the 1918 Christmas Truce, where soldiers laid down their weapons, to cross no-mans-land, and celebrate the holiday with the men they had been shooting at just hours before. The production will receive its world premiere at the Ordway on November 12th.
In addition to all the people involved in the Minnesota production watching the workshop representatives from other US opera companies were also in the audience listening in to see if "Silent Night" might be a good fit for them in the future.
Of course listening most intently of all were composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell. Two earlier workshops held over the last year were just for singers and piano, so this was the first time they'd heard the whole production with orchestra.
Puts, who has been working on the score for two years, describes it as an amazing opportunity to have this happen some seven months before the opera opens.
"To try everything with orchestra and just to get an idea of the colors I am using, and if they work," he said. "And other things too that aren't just orchestral: issues of pacing and timing, and issues that Mark finds related to the libretto."
And the libretto is far from simple. As befits a story of the Great War, no fewer than four languages are heard: English, German, French, and Latin.
Campbell says he decided early on that he had to do it in so many tongues.
"I thought it was a very important aspect of these three cultures trying to communicate with each other, and not necessarily knowing each other's languages," Campbell said. Starting out with his own French skills he also used translators to make sure everything was correct. He believes the work is worth it though for strengthening the depth and meaning of the opera.
"It made it incredibly challenging," he said, but he thinks Puts had the tougher task. "Kevin had to set these words and keep the sound of the language in his music."
Puts says his French is stronger than his German, but the French has been more of a problem as he has tried to match the rhythm of the language to the tempo of the music.
"Essentially everything is, sort of, an equal syllable," he says of French,"But music is in rhythm, and it's in meter, and there are divisions of the bar, so you have to choose some syllables that are on strong beats and that's actually difficult know where those should be sometimes."
Luckily Campbell says he and Puts collaborate well, almost on an instinctual level, and they have been able to work through the kinks efficiently.
They have discovered a few other hurdles they will have to leap, such as the problem of the bagpipes. The instruments were used by Scottish regiments on the battlefield, even in World War I. Puts said hearing the pipes played in the rehearsal was a learning experience.
"I guess I underestimated the volume of them," admitted Puts with a smile. "It's a wonderful color and something we think we need in the opera. Unfortunately you can't hear the singers when the pipes are playing."
Puts has some ideas about how they'll deal with this, but he and Campbell want to keep them quiet for the moment.
Campbell's work is essentially now done for "Silent Night" until the last minute tweaking at rehearsals later this year.
But Puts is going to be very busy, working through the things they discovered during the workshop.
"There are moments that just are sort of dead," he said. Those moments will need to be changed. He says he will have to remove the dead time and tie the musical ends together.
"It sounds kind of easy, but it takes some effort," he grins. "And then some orchestral colors that weren't just the way I wanted."
There are moments where he wants to add more time, to let the emotion of a scene expand a little more. In coming months he'll rewrite the entire orchestral score, and the piano-vocal score which the singers will use for rehearsal, beginning in October.
"A lot of trees get killed," Campbell laughs.
"But fewer than they used to," Puts counters. He says he's though about counting how many emails are in his Minnesota Opera folder after the production is done.
"I think there are about 1500 at this point," he says.
There's a lot of work ahead they say, but they like where they are now, and they are looking forward to November.
Posted at 3:22 PM on April 15, 2011
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Mohannad Ghawanmeh wears at least two hats when it comes to "Triumph67" the new Minnesota-made picture getting it's world premier tonight at MSPIFF.
He is both the producer and lead actor.
"Producing is a much more organizational, cerebral, and socia activity," he told me the other day. "And to me acting is a much more intensely psychological experience."
"The film tells the story of two Palestinian-American brothers," he continued, "Whose lives encounter an event that hurls a nmber of consequential events as well as delivers them to states of being they wouldn't have predicted."
Ghawanmeh says at its roots its also an examination of the state of the Palestinian people at this point in history.
"But only in passing really," he adds.
What is remarkable is the film was shot almost entirely in Minnesota.
"Lets not forget that Minnesota, and the Twin Cities in particular is home to a great many people from all over the globe, and I think there is a global consciousness that might surprise some people, given its distance from the coasts."
The genesis of the project is quite remarkable given it's small beginning.
"The film began in the mind of director Dan Tanz who had conceived of a rather artsy, avant-gard film involving an Arab character riding a motorbike through the Midwestern plains, particularly in the Driftless Area by the Mississippi River."
That image expanded after Tanz invited others to take part including Ghawanmeh to help develop the idea and ultimately a script. He jokes that's when he learned he was going to have to do more than scowl and snee, he was going to have to utter lines.
"I think it worked out for all of us," he laughs. "I still mope,' he says almost with relief.
The crew also used a Kickstarter website to help fund the project. It raised $12,000 for the project which Ghamanweh says came in very handy during post production. He believes the crew's enthusiasm for the project infected supporters and that helped raise the money.
"I think that our film involves people who have proven themselves on the local film scene," he said. "And I think that a lot of people sensed that we were really going for something, that this was an ambitious project."
A certain amount has been made of the fact that Tanz is Jewish and Ghamanweh is Palestinian, but he plays it down a little.
"We think that it might call attention to the film, and of course attention is something that we seek, because there's so many films in the marketplace" he said. "But it's an entirely organic, and authentic collaboration. Dan and I share similar perspectives along lines political and socio-economic and the like, and share our view of the trauma that has befallen the Palestinian people in both the 20th and 21st centuries."
Tonight's screening of "Triumph67" is sold out, but there are still tickets available for the second screening on Tuesday afternoon.
As to the future, the crew hopes to get the film out on the festival circuit and then take it from there.
You can see the trailer here.
Ryan Oestreich looked remarkably calm the other day, nestled behind his desk in the corner of the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival. He's the festival co-ordinator, and for the moment he's a happy guy.
A huge board festooned with Post-it notes hung nearby. It's the festival schedule, and a very full schedule at that.
"Two hundred and forty, 250 films," Oestreich said. "Last year we were at 170, so this is a big jump. A really big jump. But we have three weeks."
There are flicks coming in from all over the world, and Oestrich points out that almost all of them will get two screenings, and some three. When asked about possible strategies for wading through the offerings he suggests going with what you love, to see where it takes you, at least on the MSPIFF schedule.
"Basically find a film that you like," he said, "And search by like a title, or a director, or a theme that fits that."
He also suggests checking out movies where the people involved will be there to present their work.
"We have not a few, but 40 to 60 film makers," he said. "Lots, I think 20 to 25, just Minnesota film makers."
When asked why he looks so remarkably calm, he launches into a discussion of what he calls 'the festival high.' He says he only usually notices it when it's gone.
"You only know you have it, when you don't have it," he said. "So two days after the festival you realize you are not feeling as much stimulation, you're just kind of like, moping around. And you think to yourself 'why is this happening?' And you realize 'Oh, it's because I'm not stressed out, I'm not seeing a million movies, and I'm not running around trying to schedule all these things. And that's because of the festival, and it's very strange."
Oestreich describes it as an unquantified fact about film festivals. He smiles and sits back in his seat. We'll have to check in with him in a few days, after tomorrow nights opening festivities if he still doesn't know if he has it.
A musical set during the Balkan war, an early music festival focusing on a forefather of 20th century composition, and a German filmmaker and VocalEssence give Bach's Mass in B-Minor a cinematic treatment.
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Get in touch with "Art Hounds." That's the first thing Children's Theatre Company Director of New Play Development Elissa Adams did after she saw the Flying Foot Forum's production of the musical "Heaven" at the Guthrie's Dowling Studio. Alyssa says with choreography by Joe Chvala and songs from Chan Poling, the show brings the Balkan War and its impact to life on stage in a truly moving way. It's on at the Guthrie through April 10.
Composer Randall Davidson says Henry Cowell played such an enormously influential role in the evolution of 20th century American composition, more people need to know about him. Randall will be in attendance all four nights at Studio Z in Lowertown, St. Paul, for Zeitgeist's "Early Music Festival," April 7-10. The festival will feature Cowell's music.
Patricia Mitchell, president and CEO of the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in St. Paul, is already a big fan of one of Bach's masterpieces, "Mass in B Minor." Patricia says German filmmaker Bastian Cleve and VocalEssence will make the work a feast for the eyes and ears in "The Sound of Eternity." VocalEssence will perform the piece while Cleve's 27 short dialogue-free films inspired by the Mass are shown on the big screen. "The Sound of Eternity" will be performed Friday and Saturday at 8pm at St. Olaf Catholic Church in Minneapolis.
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The folks at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival are now in the final stretch leading up to the opening of the 2011 edition, and there in their midst is long-time doc-maker Melody Gilbert.
Gilbert (pictured left while shooting her film "Urban Explorers") is programmer of the Mn-Made portion of the Fest, (although she immediately sprang at the opportunity to be called the curator when I asked her if that was her title.)
She's very excited about the huge selection of films now included in the program. "I'm really passionate about this," she says, adding she jumped at the chance to do the programming thinking it might be a chance to, as she put it, "give more opportunities to people locally who may not have a chance to screen otherwise."
She had a lot from which to choose,
"A lot of people submitted films, and I had to go look at all of those," she said. "And after that I went around looking for films from people who I knew who are in the community who may mot have submitted right away, or whose films were not on the radar of the film community."
She found a lot, particularly short films, and she has used that as a reason to expand the shorts programs. In the past she says there's just been one show of Minnesota shorts, with genres all mixed in. This year she's put together five shows, each featuring a different kind of film-making: narrative, documentaries and animation, an all-music video program, and two emerging film maker programs.
The shorts include local pieces which premiered at SXSW, new work by Twin Cities stalwarts Phil Harder, and Patrick Coyle, as well as experimental films such as one featuring punk poet Paul Dickinson walking through the streets of St Paul.
She runs through some other of her favorites including "Keys" by MCAD grad Ned Hurley "It's just this beautiful film, about a piano in a warehouse," Gilbert says. Then there is "Waiting" which she describes as "a musical journey through the delays of life."
"It really hurts not to show them all," she said. "You know ideally we'd have a film festival here that just focused on Minnesota film makers only. There are plenty more films I would have liked to put in here."
Then we move on to the feature presentations, which also includes something new.
"This year we created for the first time ever a 'work in progress screening,'" Gilbert says. "That film is called 'All over the Walls.' Basically it's a documentary that follows a mixed media artist and body painter named Jacob as he pursues his dream of building an art gallery." It will be a free screening where people can come and help the film makers by giving them feedback about their rough cut. "It kind of opens up the process to people who don't normally get to see that."
"We have 'Broken Dreams.' It's about the vanishing Somali Youth that left Minneapolis, and went back to Somalia," Gilbert says. The film is directed by first time film maker Fathia Absie. "This is an important story to our community in Minnesota," Gilbert continues. "I wouldn't want to show a film that some one else came in and did. She is Somali and got right in to the heart of the Somali community and we are really proud to be showing this film."
Then there is "Incredibly Small" which Gilbert describes as "A fun 'mumblecory' film by Dean Peterson, (which) features Alex Karpovsky who is well-known for his most recent appearance in the indie hit 'Tiny Furniture.'"
Gilbert says she is also very excited about showing "Thicker than Water" about an 11 year old boy from White Bear Lake who loves playing hockey who tries to lead a normal life despite the risks associated with his hemophilia.
"The director who is actually from here, and is related to the family, shot this ten years ago, and then decided not to do anything with it." Gilbert says the subject matter just proved to painful for a while, but he finally took it off the shelf and worked with an editor to make the film. The boy is now a student at the U of M, and will be coming to see it as will many family members who have not see it yet.
Then there is "Triumph67" a narrative drama about two Palestinian American brothers. "One of the things I love about this film is it is very beautiful, first of all," Gilbert says. "But the story behind the making of the film is very interesting because it's a first time film from a Jewish director and a Palestinian producer. The director wanted to have this collaboration to prove it could be done."
She also points to "I'm not Black, I am Colored" Twin Cities resident Kiersten Dunbar Chace's documentary about mixed race people living in South Africa who find themselves caught in a limbo within the community.
Perhaps Gilbert's biggest prize will be kept for the end. The closing night screening is "Stuck Between Stations" which she saw as a rough cut in the last year. It was shot in Minneapolis and stars Sam Rosen, Zoe Lister-Jones, Michael Imperioli and Josh Hartnett.
The program synopsis describes it thus: Thanks to a chance encounter, two former high school classmates have one night to experience what could've been if Casper (Sam Rosen) never enlisted in the fight overseas (Zoe Lister Jones plays the other half of this unexpected romance). Initially agreeing to keep their emotions from overcomplicating their rendezvous, nothing about their night turns out as they planned it. The stars, skyscrapers and an uncertain future loom large over their journey through the unsympathetic, urban landscape.
Gilbert hoped to get director Brady Kiernan to premier the film at MSPIFF, but then it got accepted for the Tribeca Film Festival where it will get its world premier on April 22nd. The May 5th screening in Minneapolis is described as a 'sneak peak.' No doubt it will sell out fast.(1 Comments)
"People always ask, 'What's a gaffer? What is a best boy? What is a grip?'" says writer/producer/director Wade Barry. "Those are questions that come up all the time."
Today we'll answer those questions and more as we continue our series explaining unusual words and phrases in the arts by looking at the language of film and video.
Barry, of Minneapolis, has worked as a producer on Hometime, a home-improvement series for PBS. Currently, Barry is working as a writer on the Food Network series Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and he's also in development on a film he'll write and direct for PBS that's based on the life and work of Charles Dickens.
Wade Barry of Minneapolis has worked in nearly every facet of film and video production.
Italian director Marco Amenta -- recently in Minnesota for the Italian Film Festival of Minneapolis/St Paul -- was also interviewed for this post.
Director Marco Amenta (R) was in Minneapolis to introduce and discuss his film, La Siciliana Ribelle (The Sicilian Girl). He was accompanied by his sister, Simonetta Amenta (L), a producer on the film.
This term is not quite as perplexing to British film audiences as it is to American ones; in the U.K., a gaffer is common slang for any kind of boss or manager. On a film set, however, the gaffer is the head electrician; i.e. the person in charge of all the lighting on a set.
"Best boy is the gaffer's right-hand person," Barry says. "It's an assistant, basically. But you don't always have a best boy when it's a small crew. You'll just have a gaffer and electricians."
A grip on a film set is analogous to a stagehand in live theater. In various productions, Barry has worked as a grip, a key grip and a dolly grip. "A grip is somebody on set who sets up equipment," he says. "A dolly grip is specifically in charge of operating the camera dolly if there is one. The key grip is the head grip that all the other grips answer to."
Wade Barry (L) working on a production for the Food Network. (Photo by Julie L. Swanson-Andersen; courtesy Wade Barry)
On a film or video set, a stinger is an extension cord.
Everyone knows that Hollywood is the film-production hotbed in California or the metaphorical place that is shorthand for the world of major-release motion pictures, but did you know that Hollywood can also be a verb? "If somebody tells you to 'Hollywood' something on a set," Barry explains, "it means don't take the time to put it on a stand, just hold it and hold it where it needs to be."
Barry says the reasons for Hollywooding a light or other piece of equipment range from being in a hurry to working in a space where there isn't room to set up a lot of stands and other gear.
"A Dutch angle is basically just the camera tilted at a weird angle," Barry chuckles. "The old Batman TV series was famous for that!"
A jib arm is a counterweighted beam onto which a camera can be mounted. "They're sort of like a mini-crane," Barry says. "It can swing around through space and give you really interesting moving shots."
Wade Barry operates a camera mounted to a jib arm. (Photo by Jamie Vincent; courtesy Wade Barry)
A foot-candle is a unit of measurement that describes light output. As a director, Barry doesn't get too concerned about foot-candles. "But a directory of photography might be," he says, "because they're dealing with the minutiae of the image, and they want to know how many foot-candles a certain light is putting off."
Barry says this technique is used extensively in television and film. A rack focus involves setting up a camera with a limited depth of field, then shifting the focus somewhere else in the scene. "It directs your attention from one object to another," Barry says. "It's very dramatic and visually interesting."
Barry (behind camera, at left) says that rack focuses are more difficult to do on digital cameras because they lack the limited depth-of-field found on film cameras -- although he says the technology is changing to be more like film. (photo by Jamie Vincent; courtesy Wade Barry)
Marco Amenta adds that the construction of images -- through techniques such as rack focus -- speak volumes. "These things express meaning without words or facts," he says. "They talk not to your brain but to your gut."
This term refers to an effect often seen in old black-and-white films. "In the old days, the way light would bounce around in the emulsion of the film created almost a halo around a brightly lit object," Barry explains. "They used to like to do that in black-and-white films because the actors sometimes, with that lighting, would kind of bloom a little bit and it makes them looks almost angelic."
A word the English language borrowed from Italian, chiaroscuro (key-AHR-oh-SKOO-roh) refers to the light and dark within a shot. "As soon as you put light on something," Marco Amenta says, "there is a light zone and there is a dark zone. It's also like life; in life, you have a dark side and a light side."
In Amenta's film, La Siciliana Ribelle (The Sicilian Girl), a young woman finds herself standing up to the Mafia. As the Mafia's pernicious influence intensifies during the course of the film, the scenes get darker. "The audience may not see it directly, but you feel it," Amenta says. "You have to feel this darkness that is all around the protagonist."
Trailer for the U.S. release of The Sicilian Girl. Even in this trailier, note Amenta's use of light and dark -- aka chiaroscuro. (Music Box Films, via YouTube)
A honeywagon is often seen parked near a film set. "That's the RV that the actor stays in," says Wade Barry. "When you're working with celebrities, the star gets his or her own RV, and it's called the honeywagon."
Next Tuesday, we wrap up our series on arts lingo with a look back and a fun quiz.
This week's hounds sniff out an indie film fest in Brainerd, a western of mythic proportions and a Super Mario Brothers/ Michael Bay mash-up.
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It's not Sundance or Cannes, but Brainerd fiber artist Lisa Jordan thinks EgoFest is a pretty nifty short film festival. EgoFest, which is in its second year, will be held at the CLC Chalberg Theatre on the campus of Central Lakes College in Brainerd on Friday, March 18th and Saturday, March 19th. The festival features filmmakers from across the U.S. and Canada.
Improv artist, actor and musician Courtney McClean is in the mood for some comic relief this weekend, which is why Courtney's seeking out Comedy Suitcase's "Michael Bay's Super Mario Armageddon." Courtney says the show satirizes blockbuster action flicks and video game geekdom while reminding you why both are so popular. On stage through March 26 at the Bryant Lake Bowl.
Live Action Set's 7-Shot Symphony is like a movie western, says Twin Cities theater and improv artist Jen Scott, only the cowboys are mythic heroes from nearly every culture around the globe. Jen says Live Action Set's ability to create images with physical theater is magical. You can see it at the Loring Theater (formerly the Music Box Theater) in Minneapolis through March 27.
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Mumblecore is one of those terms that elicits one of three reactions:excitement, horror, or bewilderment. Members of the low-budget, low-tech, high-concept movement (although 'movement' may be too strong a word) produce movies about people drifting through life, looking for meaning and fulfillment, without finding much. If you are a fan, it's a comfortable reflection of real life. If you're not there's an infuriating lack of explosions or resolution. If you don't know anything about mumblecore, you might want to check out "Wah Do Dem"
tonight next Tuesday (March 15th) at the Trylon in Minneapolis.
"Wah Do Dem" is the story of Max (Sean Bones,) a mopey 20-something, who finds himself on a cruise to Jamaica. He's there because he won two tickets, but he's alone because his girlfriend Willow (a brief appearance by singer Nora Jones,) dumped him just before departure, and none of his friends can, or will take the time off to go along. Max believes himself a sophisticate of sorts, but he soon gets lost in the very different Jamaican culture, which at one point leaves him stranded alone on a beach, with literally only a pair of cut-off shorts to his name.
Writer/directors Ben Chace and Sam Feischner capture Max's predicament as he works his way out of trouble. It's a gently funny film, with moments of discomforting mysticism, which Max tries and usually fails to embrace.
The "Wah Do Dem" screening is part of the Trylon's Premiere Tuesdays series where the microcinema screens interesting movies which otherwise might bypass the Twin Cities. It's an opportunity worth checking out.(2 Comments)
Posted at 4:42 PM on March 1, 2011
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Matt McCormick admits his movie "Some Days Are Better Than Others" might seem like a hard sell sometimes. The film, which is screening in the Sound Unseen series at the Trylon in Minneapolis on Wednesday, follows the misadventures of three misfits in McCormick's hometown of Portland, Ore.
One blurb for a screening in New York described them as competitors in a 'saddest job in the world' contest, but McCormick says he thinks that's unfair.
"I hope it's not entirely a sad film. It deals with some sad issues, but I don't think its a sad film. I think its more about the process of dealing with unfortunate situations," he told me over the phone from Portland. "It's a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve, and its not a feelgood comedy by any means."
In reality "Some Days Are Better than Others" is a beautifully crafted exploration of unfulfilled dreams. We meet a young woman who works in an animal shelter whose boyfriend just dumped her. As she tracks his new found freedom on social media she convinces herself she can escape from her misery by getting on a reality show. There's an aging hipster who believes if he can just get a production job on a local film crew his life will change forever, and then there is the woman who works sorting donations in a thrift store who finds a discarded object which begins to consume her.
"Something that is very important to the movie is all of these various abandoned objects," McCormick said. "Whether its the dogs at the Humane society or the objects at the donation center or the buildings that are boarded up and being demolished. I wanted to have this real life reflection where the audience had to deal with that."
McCormick says each of the stories has roots in real life, but then he abstracted and played with them until the movie came together.He wanted to explore the melancholy mundane feelings people often experience. "Knowing that things are not going the way you want," he said, "But knowing they could be a whole lot worse."
"There's a little stress that comes with that, and it's part of growing up. And I think we are always growing up, whether you are 25 or 40 or 60, you are always going to be facing that reality of where you are at compared with that idealized image you had of yourself 20 years earlier, or whatever, and how you thought things would work out."
Getting back to the idea of selling the film to an audience, McCormick says he didn't make it with that in mind. He just made a movie he wanted to make.
"It relies on the audience doing some of the work as well," he said. He says he doesn't think his audience is necessarily filled with cinephiles. He's looking for an audience like those he finds in Portland
"They are just smart curious people who want to go and find entertainment, whatever, art film music that speaks to them more directly and satisfied them both in terms of entertainment and also intellectually."
He's finding that audience all over. After screenings around the country (including at Sound Unseen Duluth showing last year) the film was due to be released nationally this month. However then it was selected for the New Director New Screens series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and so the broader release is being held for a couple of weeks until after the showings at MoMa and Lincoln Center.
He says that larger release will likely include the Twin Cities, although it all depends on how it goes in the first few cities.
McCormick has made many films in recent years, and a lot of music videos. He actually worked with two of his actors in their other lives as musicians, Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and James Mercer of the Shins and Broken Bells.
He says he enjoys making videos because they are face-paced to make, and you can push the creative envelope. Making a feature is very different he says because of dealing with the emotion action and reaction to actors working with their lines.
"And so as a result a narrative work is much more delicate but that's not to say the video work didn't have a big impact on it," he said. "As film makers we are always learning. Any project that I do whether it's a documentary or a more experimental piece, or music video, or even some of the commercial work I do, every project that I do I walk away learning something."
Matt McCormick is always trying something new. He's just opened a gallery show in Portland which is based on a the remarkable story of a group of women who in 1958 set off in a car to explore the Northwest. They drove 3,500 miles and then made the scrapbook to commemorate the trip.
"That scrapbook somehow ended up in a thrift store and I found it, and I retraced their trip and did their entire roadtrip in 2010 and made this project which is one part documentary film, and one part visual art collage, and made this immersive gallery installation show."
He used the trip to document what has changed and what remains the same.
So what's next. He laughed and said he needs to get some busy work done. Like his taxes. The life of a film director isn't always glamorous.
It's been a long time since I've been so excited to see a new film. But Pina, by Wim Wenders (director of Wings of Desire and Paris,Texas) promises to be a singular event. The film is dedicated to the life and work of choreographer Pina Bausch, with whom Wenders had a decades-long friendship before Bausch died in 2009.
Wenders had long planned on bringing Bausch's dance to the movie screen, but struggled for years on how to do it justice. It was after seeing U2's 3D concert-film that Wenders realized he needed that third dimension to give the film new life. But even looking at 2D clips of the film, the energy, movement and filming is simply stunning.
The King's Speech took home Academy Awards for best film, best actor, best director and best original screenplay
Well it appears that Academy Awards was, for the most part, predictable. There was a lot of momentum behind the King's Speech, Colin Firth, and Natalie Portman respectively. In truth, what I found more interesting was to look at who local critics thought should win. In doing so, they reveal their own personal preferences, and how they compare to industry/popular standards. Here's how they spread out in the top three categories:
In the category of Best Picture
Colin Covert of the Star Tribune
Should and/or Will win: Toss up between Social Network and True Grit
Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press
Will win: The King's Speech
Should Win: Toy Story 3
Euan Kerr, MPR Arts Reporter
Will win: The King's Speech
Should win: Winter's Bone
Stephanie Curtis, MPR Movie Maven
Will Win: The Social Network
Should Win: Winter's Bone
The winner: The King's Speech
In the category of Best Actor
Will win: Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
Should win: Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"
Will win: Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
Should win: James Franco, "127 Hours"
Will win: Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
Should win: Javier Bardem, "Biutiful"
Should and Will win - James Franco, "127 Hours"
The Winner: Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
In the category of Best Actress
Should win: Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"
Will Win: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Should win: Annette Benning, "The Kids Are All Right"
Will Win: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Should win: Annette Benning, "The Kids Are All Right"
Will Win: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Should win: Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"
Will win: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
The Winner: Natalie Portman
Earlier this morning I posted a link to Chris Hewitt's predictions for tonight's Academy Awards. While Hewitt's predictions were in article form, Covert did his on video. So without further ado, here's Covert's take on the Oscars, including who he thinks should win versus who he believes will actually take the little gold guy home.
Doug Block's daughter Lucy is no stranger to cameras. With a documentary maker for a dad that's not surprising.
"She always loved being on camera, and we always enjoyed shooting each other over the years," he told me from New York the other day. Block (left with Lucy as a girl) says video was just part of their lives. "I really liked interviewing Lucy periodically, and she really liked to interview me."
While he wondered over the years about whether these chats could turn into something more, he always dismissed the idea because he didn't think anyone else would want to watch it.
However the idea never totally disappeared. He says while he has seen many movies about parenting, in fact he'd even made one himself called "51 Birch Street," he'd never seen a film about the subject actually from a parent's perspective.
Then when he woke up one morning and realized it was just about a year till Lucy was likely to head to college. The idea of doing a sweet little film about his child evaporated as he realized how much he worried about what was going to happen. Another movie idea began to form.
"It was probably a bit more bittersweet film about bringing a child up, only to let her go" he said. He decided that could work and he swung into action.
Block will introduce the 7.15 screening of the resulting film "The Kids Grow Up" at the Film Society at St Anthony Main tomorrow night. .
The movie tells the tale of that last year, mixing the narrative with the material Block has gathered throughout Lucy's girlhood. In some ways she has changed a great deal, in other ways the same personality shines through.
Lucy then and now Images courtesy Shadow Distribution
That final year wasn't a simple shoot. As Block's anxiety mounted Lucy began to chafe. With the time of her departure drawing near, she suddenly announced the filming was weighing down on her, and tore into her father as his camera rolled.
"Suddenly I was confronted with that nightmare of the documentary film maker which is what do you do?" Block said. "I am a parent first and a film maker second. Yet we are right at the end of the shooting and the film has become my baby, and you are protective of the film as well. It just caught me totally off guard."
It's tough to watch, but Block says she never explicitly told him to turn off the camera. He went with his gut and kept rolling, knowing he was on dangerous ground..
"You are trying to live your life and at the same time film it and be objective: stand at a distance and see yourself as a character in a film and yet really the top priority is that you are living your own life, and you are really there for your own family. I don't recommend it," he said.
It's then the film takes on a subplot of whether it will ever get finished.
There are other tough moments in the film, including some scenes where his wife Marjorie deals with a depressive episode which confines her to bed.
Block admits many people might feel the scenes of Lucy's meltdown and Marjorie's illness are to use his words "wildly inappropriate." However he says neither of them stopped him from including them in the film. In fact he says Marjorie is proud that what happened to her is shown.
This isn't the first film Doug Block has using his own family as subject matter. "51 Birch Street" began as an exploration of his parent's long marriage. However it developed a twist after his father married his former secretary very shortly after he mother died.
Block says he doesn't film his family continuously, just five minutes here and there, before he quickly puts the camera away. However he now has a huge archive of material on which to draw as he considers his personal history.
He believes the film making has actually brought his family closer together. He says Marjorie told him he never listens more carefully to her than when he interviews her.
"And so we have these very honest conversations on camera. It gave me the chance to watch and observe my family," he said.
In "The Kids Grow Up" the conversations between husband and wife are brief but intense, as they navigate what turns out to be a tumultuous year.
Block says Lucy was shown the first cuts, including the toughest scenes, and she was given the chance to nix the film if she didn't want it to go forward. She gave the project her blessing.
The film premiered last year, and Block says he's now taken it to about 20 different cities. It will air on HBO in June around Father's Day. He says people really like it when they see it in a theater.
"Now and again we run into someone, usually when they have seen it on DVD, not in a theater, who gets a little taken aback at my seemingly excessive recording of my daughter and probably thinks I am the worlds worst parent and should be locked away forever," he laughed.
The critics have loved it too. Block says the reviews are the best he's received in his career.
He's now working on the DVD of "The Kids Grow Up," which includes the only interview he's done with Lucy since the day they dropped her off at college. It answers the question he is always asked at screenings about what she thinks of the film. Block admits Lucy's reactions are mixed.
"On the one hand she thinks its a really good film, and she's happy that audiences really respond to it," he said. "On the other hand there's one or two scenes that embarrass her."
While he's now making a film about long term marriages, drawing on wedding videos he's shot over the years to supplement his other work, Block also says the Lucy project is truly over.
At the end of "The Kids Grow Up" he talks about how he looks forward to having wonderful conversations with his daughter without the camera rolling.
"And," he said, "That's exactly what we've had for the last three and a half years."
Image courtesy of Walker Art Center
MPR's chief art hound Chris Roberts has this news on one of the most popular events of the summer.
Twin Citians take their beloved cultural traditions very seriously. Especially a particular warm weather event that pairs the brightest lights in local music with classic films. We're very protective. We're sentimental. So when the Walker Art Center put its longest running and perhaps most cherished program, "Music & Movies in Loring Park" on hiatus last year, we were sad and upset. Granted, City Pages admirably filled the breach with a summer surrogate, "4 Nights in Loring Park," but it wasn't the same.
Thankfully, the piercing, anguished cries of disappointment that echoed in 2010 will be replaced by joyous hallelujahs because the Walker is back in the game! Today it announced it will host "Music & Movies' the first four Mondays in August (August 1, 8, 15, and 22).
There's also a nod to 'Music & Movies' 1973 origins, when all the screenings were silent films with live accompaniment. On Aug. 22, the Walker will wind up the series by moving it from Loring Park to its own green space for a silent movie with a live band soundtrack.
Specific films and bands will be announced in May.
Posted at 1:30 PM on January 28, 2011
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
One of the mild irritations of the Oscar nominations was the omission of Giamatti in the Best Actor category. Starting this weekend Twin Cities audiences can catch the performance which netted him the Best Actor Golden Globe for the title role in "Barney's Version."
Barney (Paul Giamatti) meets the love of his life Miriam (Rosamund Pike) just minutes after marrying his second wife in "Barney's Version." (Image courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
Based on Mordecai Richler's last novel, "Barney's Version" is a glorious romp through the questionable life of the producer of a highly successful, but artistically dubious, Canadian soap opera. Barney Panofsky (Giamatti) is smart in business, but unlucky in love, a man who takes care of his friends and family, while alienating almost all of them, and whose crowning achievement may be falling in love with the woman of his dreams at his own (second) wedding reception.
Director Richard J. Lewis weaves a decades-long story back and forward through his film in such a way that Barney's knotted life tightens ever more grimly around him. There are his hippy adventures, and first marriage, in Italy, followed by re-entry into the strictures of Montreal life and the expectations of a tradition-bound Jewish community (leading to wedding two) and then Barney's comically frantic pursuit of true love.
It's a complex plot, spiced with great actors (Dustin Hoffman as Barney's street-wise cop father, Minnie Driver as wife number two, and Rosamund Pike as the love of Barney's life.)
Yet it's Giamatti who carries the two hours plus of the film with his incredible portrayal of a flawed man who is smart enough to know the right thing to do, but often lacks the strength to follow through. Barney is a complicated man who is driven by love, but continually disappointed in himself and the way the world treats him. Giamatti's strength is in showing Barney's utter humanity and playing a character to whom many of us will feel uncomfortably close.
And yes, if it does win the Oscar for best make up, it's well deserved.
"I don't want you to understand my poetry. I want my poetry to understand you." --Roy McBride
POETRY is one poem in a film about Roy McBride called A POET POETS. Directed by Media Mike Hazard, the world premiere will be at Intermedia Arts this Sunday with shows at 3pm and 4pm. Enjoy the words and the music!(1 Comments)
Painter and film director Julian Schnabel will visit the Twin Cities in mid-March for a Regis Dialog at the Walker Art Center. The event will be the culmination of three weeks of a retrospective of his acclaimed film work.
While he prefers to see himself as a painter, Schnabel is now better recognized for his film-making. The Walker retrospective will include all five of his features so far, including his latest "Miral" which tells a very personal history of Middle Eastern conflict through the eyes of four female characters.
Schnabel's best known film is the multiple-Oscar nominated "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (2007) which tells the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a high-flying magazine editor almost completely paralyzed by a massive stroke. The film is based on Bauby's memoir, which he dictated by blinking to an assistant.
The Walker retrospective will open with his first film "Basquiat," (1996) followed by "Before Night Falls" (2000) which drew Javier Bardem's first Oscar nomination. It's followed "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and then a free screening of "Berlin" (2007) which captured Lou Reed's first live performance of his famous album in 30 years.
The final weekend of the Schnabel event includes a screening of "Miral" on March 18th, and then the Dialog between Schnabel and Walker curator Darsie Alexander on March 19th.
It's normally not my style to post a Yahoo! video clip, but I found this interview with Natalie Portman fascinating. She began training for her role in "Black Swan" a full year before the shoot, cross-training and practicing ballet for 5 hours a day, and working with a series of professional teachers on such things as "pronation" and hand movement. Portman says she did take dance as a child, but quite at the age of 13 and so essentially had to "start from scratch" - given the results, that's an impressive amount of catch-up.
Posted at 1:30 PM on December 16, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Derek Jarman at a screening of "Blue" before his death in 1994 (Image courtesy of Walker Art Center, copyright Zeitgeist Films)
Amidst the kafuffle about "Fire in my Belly" opening at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis today, another movie being screened just a few yards away in another WAC gallery has been lost in the shuffle.
That's unfortunate because Derek Jarman's "Blue" (1993) is by all accounts an extraordinary film. Jarman, an activist moviemaker who prided himself for having been denounced on the floor of the British Houses of Parliament, created the film as he was dying from AIDS-related complications.
He was also losing his sight in those final months, and he reacted by creating a feature length film which consists of a single shot of a deep blue color which fills the screen.
"And that is all there is," says Walker Film Curator Sheryl Mousley. "There is no other image, and you are really bathed in this blue light."
However "Blue" is constantly in motion through the soundtrack, which mixes music with the writings, memories and recordings gathered over a period of 10 years leading up to just before Jarman's death. Watchers hear Jarman's voice, and those of others, including his long-time collaborator and friend Tilda Swinton.
Jarman was a noted writer and speaker too, and it all blends in to the "Blue" package.
Mousley says it carries the audience along.
"With stories that are told about everyday life, the world events, as well as the rituals that Derek Jarman is going through as he is saying goodbye to his friends," she says. "He knows that he is dying. He is going through the process of a lot of medical treatments. He is also using a particular eyedrop that causes his sight that he is losing, he sees this cerulean blue."
Jarman talked about Yves Klein blue, which is a big feature of the Klein exhibit in another part of the Walker. Jarman also talks about Klein's courage and his insistence of leaping into the void of the unknown.
Mousley describes "Blue " as "a really lovely end-of-life" transition."
She says "Blue" belongs to the activist art movement spurred by the rise of AIDS in the 80's, and so it is appropriate for the screening room in the three year long "Event Horizon" show which draws on items from the Walker's collection.
"And the idea of it was those things that are in our history that have caused change," she says, "And change in many ways."
Mousley points out that "Fire in My Belly" came out of the same movement.
While"Blue" is set up so visitors can slip in and out of the room, Mousley hopes people will stay for all 90 minutes.
"It really does alter your color perception," she says. "When you leave it takes a bit of time for your eyes to readjust."
You can get a sense of the film from this opening extract
Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"
I usually try to limit the reviews I collect to those of local productions, but "Black Swan" - a film which explores the world of professional ballet - seems ripe for contemplation. Pair it with the recent scandal of NY Times' Alastair Macauley criticizing two ballet dancers for being fat, and the film's paranoia and self-mutilation becomes even more timely. Read on for excerpts from a variety of reviews, and click on the authors' names for the full review.
One of the pleasures of "Black Swan" is its lack of reverence toward the rarefied world of ballet, which to outsiders can look as lively as a crypt. Mr. Aronofsky makes this world (or his version of it) exciting partly by pulling back the velvet curtains and showing you the sacrifices and crushingly hard work that goes into creating beautiful dances. Nina doesn't just pirouette prettily, she also cracks her damaged toes (the sound design picking up every crackle and crunch) and sticks her fingers down her throat to vomit up her food. Mostly, though, she trains hard, hammering her toe shoes into floor much as Jake La Motta pounded his fists into flesh. She's a contender, but also a martyr to her art.
...It's easy to read "Black Swan" as a gloss on the artistic pursuit of the ideal. But take another look, and you see that Mr. Aronofsky is simultaneously telling that story straight, playing with the suffering-artist stereotype and having his nasty way with Nina, burdening her with trippy psychodrama and letting her run wild in a sexcapade that will soon be in heavy rotation on the Web. The screenplay, by Mark Heyman, Andrés Heinz and John McLaughlin, invites pop-psychological interpretations about women who self-mutilate while striving for their perfect selves, a description that seems to fit Nina. But such a reading only flattens a film that from scene to scene is deadly serious, downright goofy and by turns shocking, funny and touching.
...director Darren Aronofsky ("The Wrestler") fashions an excellent, thoughtful work of art with the giddy urgency of a slasher movie. Using a handheld camera, Aronofsky shoots intense, intimate close-ups that hold the characters in a clinch. In tightly framed shots of Nina performing, we don't see her dancing so much as her absorption in it -- the concentration of a professional who has become almost selfless. As the camera moves acrobatically through the performance, we experience Nina's ecstatic abandon. And when her grip on reality loosens, Aronofsky's camera recoils in horror along with his heroine.
Portman's performance as the psychologically disintegrating dancer is beyond praise. Her worry, guilt and grief are so potent they're nearly unbearable. Nina's not all that articulate, which makes Portman's accomplishment all the more impressive. She has to communicate volumes through expression alone, and she carries it off brilliantly.
Everything in "Black Swan" is designed to put us on edge, right where Nina is. There's her fragile body, which seems to be sprouting rashes and sores. There's a startling sound design that incorporates effects where there couldn't possibly be any -- Winona Ryder, who is smashing as a washed-up dancer, shows up at a party accompanied by a noise that sounds like hundreds of cellos being pulverized. There's the color palette, with Nina nearly always in white and everyone else in black, until she starts ominously donning black, too. And there's the stylized acting, which is just unreal enough to remind us we're seeing people as Nina thinks they are, not as they really are.
Not since "Shine" have I seen a movie so enthusiastically mud-wrestle with lugubrious orchestral classics: Tchaikovsky thunders on the soundtrack as Aronofsky's camera stays tight in on the dancers' spinning heads and limpid limbs. Aronofsky's approach to ballet is like George Lucas's approach to space combat: even if you wouldn't hear those loud wooshes in real life, they sure make for some exciting cinema.
Have you seen "Black Swan?" If so, what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
Posted at 2:27 PM on December 14, 2010
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
A study on women and girls in children's movies finds that most female characters are either unrealistic objects of desire, or - like "Ursula" in the Little Mermaid - evil.
For many parents, their dvd player can be a godsend when it comes to getting their kids to sit still for a couple of hours, thereby freeing themselves up to tackle projects around the house, or simply cook the evening meal.
And as long as it's a kid movie, there's no need to worry about what they're watching, right?
An article in today's New York Times profiles the efforts of actress Geena Davis who, once she became a mother herself, was curious to find out how kids movies portray women and girls. In turns out, for the most part, they don't.
[Davis] founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2006 and sponsored an academic study -- enlisting professors at the U.S.C. Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to analyze the content of 101 children's movies released between 1990 and 2004. Last year she followed up with an analysis of films from 2004 to 2009. Both reached the same conclusions. Of the 5,554 speaking characters studied, 71 percent were male and 29 percent were female. That's a 2.42 to 1 ratio, which has not changed much in 20 years.
Not only were female leads in short supply, researchers found, but in crowd scenes and group scenes only 17 percent of characters were women. In addition, female characters were far more likely to be "hypersexualized" -- 25 percent were wearing tight , provocative, revealing clothing, compared with four percent of males -- and physically attractive (14 percent versus. 3.6 percent). The female characters were younger than their male counterparts, and the sole goal of the females was usually to find romance. Not one of the animated female characters had a shape that was possible in real life.
Davis is taking the results of her institute's study to meetings of screenwriters, actors and animators in the hopes that they'll make an effort to make more of the characters in their movies female.
Posted at 4:00 PM on December 2, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Greg Yolen is proud that, now in its third year, the primary aim of the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival is unchanged.
"We have basically one goal," he says, "Which is to inspire people to make movies. If you make a movie, it will be shown."
As the MUFF's founder and director it simplifies things in some ways.
"Just like in previous years, the festival just programs itself," he laughs.
But Yolen says there's a serious point here too.
"There are so many ways to get movies. Film festivals kind of forgot what started them in the first place, to show work that just can't be seen anyplace else."
The Festival which launches tomorrow at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design has once again attracted a wide range and large number of movies.
But the MUFF offers features and documentaries from all over.
There's even "Macumba" a film by Yolen himself. He says it came about following a moment of post-festival exhaustion last year.
"I am yelling at filmmakers saying 'Here I am, I've got this environment for you to show a film at and I said, 'Wait a minute, I'm a filmmaker why am I not stepping up to the plate too?"
So he bought a $250 HD camera on Craigslist and convinced a friend to go with him to Costa Rica, telling him they were going to make a movie.
"It turned into a documentary and there are fires and murders, and it just gets out of control. It's a really interesting film about what happens when young Americans go to a foreign country and mess with black magic. It just gets insane."
Fires and murders? Black magic? I press for details but Yolen doesn't want to reveal any more about his 17 minute film.
"Have you ever had the feeing 'I wish I had a camera to capture all this crazy stuff that's going on? Well I actually did," he teases.
There is one new thing at the MUFF this year- the entry judged best film by the audience wins seven days use of a soundstage for the filmmakers. It's a pretty sweet deal. Yolen is already making jokes about a recount taking months.
At least I think he is joking....
Posted at 6:20 PM on November 30, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
"That's a fancy word, retrospective," Melody Gilbert chuckles. "I'm too young for a retrospective really. I like to think of it as a movie marathon."
These include "Into the Darkness" (seen at left, Gilbert's the one with the camera.) It's her portrait of the world of urban exploration.
There's also "A Life without Pain" which examines the consequences of a rare affliction which leave some children without the ability to feel pain, with often tragic results, and "Whole" the film about the little-known group of people who believe they should be amputees. Both films are emotion-packed and thought-provoking.
The Melody Gilbert Marathon is part of the Parkway's ongoing series showing the work of local filmmakers. When the theater staff talked to Gilbert which of her documentaries to screen they eventually decided just to show them all.
There was more than just an unwillingness to choose behind the decision.
"People always ask me 'what happened to the people on your films?'" Gilbert says. So the marathon is an opportunity for an update. Not only will Gilbert be present at all the films, some of the people in her films will be there too.
"At least one of the couples from "Married at the Mall" will be there -and yes they are still married." Gilbert made that film back in 2002, profiling couples who enter into the joys of matrimony at the Chapel of Love at the Mall of America in Bloomington.
"Every time I watch it it just makes me laugh," she says, " And it captures the joy that I felt the first time I made an independent film."
The marathon also includes a screening of "Fritz" Gilbert's film about Walter Mondale looking back on his political career, and "Disconnected" a documentary Gilbert made with a group of Carleton College students who followed a trio of scholars who tried to survive for a month without using computers.
There is also a chance to get a sneak peak of Gilbert's latest project, which she insists is "gonna be big!"
"The last couple of years I would say I have slowed down a little bit, where I am not obsessively making films that way I have for the last 10 years. I have been advising and assisting other people making their films," she says.
Two years ago she was approached by Phil Lawrence, who had been filming his experiences weaning himself off anti-depressants.after using them for 10 years.
Gilbert says it was amazing and intense to watch.
"And while he was filming himself going through which was essentially withdrawal, he also did interviews with people trying to understand how did we get to a place in our country, in the world really, where we are taking so many anti-depressants and don't know what that means."
Gilbert became executive producer for the movie which is now titled "Numb." She helped re-edit it and found a distributor interested in putting out the film. Gilbert will host a sneak preview for "Numb" at the Parkway on Wednesday December 8th to get audience feedback and to raise money to finish the film.
She's expecting a strong response. Gilbert says when word got out about the subject matter before another sneak peek, the screening sold out. There was also a long discussion after the film about the pros and cons of anti-depressants. Gilbert says it's a rarely discussed topic, but one which touches a lot of people.
"I asked folks in the theater, 'How many of you know someone who has been on anti-depressants, or has been on antidepressants yourself?' And every hand went up in the room."
Gilbert points out that "Numb" isn't part of the Marathon, but she hopes it will draw people who have had their appetites whetted by the six films in the big event.
Posted at 11:31 AM on November 26, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Alex Gibney's new documentary "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" wrestles with some troubling issues - and prostitution isn't even in the top five. The film works through dirty politics, financial double-dealing, corruption, the hubris of the powerful, and the use of scandal as a modern political tool.
The Oscar-winning director examines the story of ambitious New Yorker who took on Wall Street as state attorney general, then as New York governor trained his guns on a political quagmire at the State Capitol in Albany, only to crash spectacularly when his regular use of high-priced prostitutes came to light.
Gibney, who brought us "Enron: the smartest guys in the room," "Taxi to the Dark Side" (which won him the Oscar,) and "Gonzo: the life and work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson." admits to being pro-Spitzer. That doesn't mean he is easy on him.
Spitzer did five interviews with Gibney, but his trademark eloquence disappeared every time Gibney tried to dig into the reasons why Spitzer, who some people saw as a likely presidential candidate, and pre-Obama, arguably the Democrat with the highest profile, risked everything through his actions.
What Gibney has more success uncovering is what he sees as the campaign by Wall Street leaders who Spitzer attacked as attorney general to discredit him, and bring about his downfall.
Nobody comes out looking good. What is remarkable is the willingness of all sides to talk about what happened, and their own part in the drama. We meet investment banker Ken Langone, former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg, and New York state Senator Joe Bruno who all who openly delight in Spitzer's downfall. And there is self-styled political hit-man Roger Stone, the man with Richard Nixon tattooed on his back, whose alleged chance meeting with a call-girl in a Miami swingers club led to the public revelations of Spitzer's indiscretions.
These are real characters who some fiction writers might set aside as too outrageous.
Gibney's movie is fast-paced, but very dense. A second viewing is as revealing as the first, as brief references early in the film become more telling given subsequent revelations.
He also dances along the challenging re-enactment line. One of his most intriguing characters talked at length to Gibney, but refused to have her face or even voice used in the film. The director finds away around this hurdle, but it's going to leave some viewers feeling uncomfortable, particularly as this is already a story about duplicity.
Eliot Spitzer says in "Client 9" that his is an old story, with themes little changed from ancient Greek tragedy, of hubris and how the mighty can fall. Gibney shows this is true, but how in the 21st century the process can be much faster. It's also clear, with Spitzer now embarked on a new TV career, that the story is far from over.
Ryan Oestereich wants to enhance the Guthrie experience, which is honorable given he works with Minnesota Film Arts, an organization which might be seen as competing with the flagship theater.
He's doing this by screening the Alfred Hitchcock film "The 39 Steps." The film is the basis for the Guthrie's theatrical spoof of the same name.
"When you go and see the play, it's a riot, a ton of fun," said Oestereich of the Joel Sass-directed production.
But Oestereich believes his organization can enhance the stage experience.
"There's these inside jokes, you know particular characters, the funny relationship that goes between the two characters, in that Hitchcock thriller sense that gets a little lost, or goes over your head. However, if you have seen the film, and it's great of course to always see a classic film on the big screen, then it becomes a better event. A more fun interactive, entertaining play."
"And you know we are right across the river from the Guthrie so you could actually almost do a double feature."
There certainly seems to be a renewed local interest in the 1935 classic film, based on the John Buchan novel. As of this writing the DVD is top of the Netflix rental chart in St Paul, and number 2 in Minneapolis (after local filmmaker Patrick Coyle's 'Into Temptation.')
A spokesman from the Guthrie said they knew about the short three day run starting this evening at the MFA's St Anthony Main complex, and thought it was a great idea.
Oestereich, who has learned the art of movie promotion from the grand old man of Twin Cities cinema Al Milgrom, knows how to build on something.
"Thanksgiving has become a juggernaut for Hollywood," he said. "Everybody loves to go to the movie theater on Thanksgiving. It's actually becoming more popular than Christmas."
So that's why he's making a double feature with Wes Anderson's portrait of familial dysfunction "The Royal Tennenbaums."
"I can't say how exactly it's going to make you think about things," he laughs. "Because it's really two different ways about how humanity treats each other."
Actually there is a little method behind the madness. These screenings are a prelude to new projectors being installed in one of the theaters in St Anthony Main which will allow more actual film, and as a result more repertory programming at MFA.
"I know a lot of people know Film Arts from the Oak Street's great repertory calendars. We are going to create an incredible program that is going to balance both new international, documentaries and independent cinema with those classic films from all over the world that either you grew up with, or that you need to watch - it's on the 1001 must-see movie list. But it's going to be that brand new, beautiful, pristine print and the best way to see it of course is on the big screen."
That will be early in the new year, and not long before the Guthrie launches its production of "Arsenic and Old Lace." So might there be a screening of the Cary Grant movie version of the play?
"If you were a betting man, I would bet on that," Oestereich says confidently.
You can see selected extracts from the Guthrie "39 Steps" here, and get a sense of the original below.
"Open Season" gets an encore screening at "In Search of Asia" at Minnesota Film Arts on Sunday at 3.30 (Image courtesy Lu Lippold)
When asked what reactions have surprised her to "Open Season," the new documentary on the violent confrontation near Rice Lake Wi, which left six people dead, co-director Lu Lippold pauses for a moment.
"After the last screening at St Anthony Main we had a lot of very sad people," she says.
She realized that after working for five years on the film she had become inured to the material, which includes video of the crime scene which was included in the trial of Chai Vang.
"Maybe I had forgotten that it did pack an emotional wallop," she says.
An extra screening of the documentary at 3.30pm Sunday at the "In Search of Asia" film Festival after a strong reaction at the first screening
Lippold says the incident where Hmong hunter Vang killed the members of a group after a dispute as to whether he was trespassing has been largely forgotten by most people, but to the communities involved, it's still very fresh.
"It's interesting how recent this is in the Asian community for sure, and every anniversary in the Rice Lake community as well," she says.
"It's very present and it's somewhat I would say, unresolved as I'm learning as we show it around town and people have very strong reactions."
She says seeing the film has also proved uncomfortable for many of the non-Hmong audience members.
"I think for the urban progressive white audience there is a lot of unpleasant revelation about what I think just has to be called racism. And possibly anti-immigration sentiment that is a little more close to the surface than we'd like to acknowledge in most cases."
She stresses this was not just during the confrontation, but again and again as they worked on the film she and her co-director Mark Tang ran into stories of racist attitudes towards Asians.
She stresses everyone agrees this in no way justifies what happened in Rice Lake. However they did come upon members of the Hmong community who still feel the legal system did not treat Vang well.
"They really feel that this was not a fair trial, like the OJ trial," she says. "People just don't see (the trial) the same way."
Lippold says they are still working on the final sound mix of the film, and fundraising for to cover the final costs. The plan is to put the documentary on the film festival circuit, and then local and potentially a national broadcast on Public Television.
"But there are no guarantees," she says.
There is also the possibility of screening the film in Wisconsin, near where the crime took place.
"We have not shown this in Rice Lake or the surrounding communities, so I don't know what the the reaction will be like there," she says.
Lippold says they want to show the film to two members of the victims families who they interviewed for the documentary. They will then decide about showing it in Hayward or Rice Lake.
"With some sort of protective discussion around it I hope," she says.
Mark Tang will be present at Sunday's screening. Lippold who will be travelling also hopes to be back in time for the q and a afterwards.(2 Comments)
This past weekend Twin Cities Public Television screened a new documentary on Latino artists working in Minnesota. Latino Arts: A Community Vision features twelve artists, including such local luminaries as Doug Padilla, Maria Isa and Sandra Benitez, talking about the importance of heritage, culture, education and multigenerational relationships.
This week's hounds look beyond the Twin Cities for art, including a film fest on the shores of Lake Pepin, four accordionists on one stage in Zumbrota and an experimental painter in west central Minnesota.
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Posted at 3:06 PM on October 19, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
The Jackal makes a point in Olivier Assayas' movie "Carlos" (Images courtesy Walker Art Center)
Sheryl Mousley who heads up the Walker Art Center's film program is brimming with excitement about the imminent arrival of French director Olivier Assayas. He'll appear tomorrow (Wednesday) at the WAC in a Regis Dialogue as part of the retrospective "Between Love and Terror."
"He, almost effortlessly, has made this extremely diverse range of more than 20 films. And we are just showing 10 of them," says Mousley. "They go from 'Irma Vep' that parody of the New Wave to that erotic fast-paced corporate espionage thriller 'Demonlover.' And now on to 'Carlos.'"
We'll get back to "Carlos," the five-and-a-half-hour epic film about the international terrorist known to many as "The Jackal" in a moment.
When asked how Assayas maintains such a range of subjects, Mousley says the director's diversity does not mean there is no through-line in his work.
"One of the things I love about a retrospective like this is you get to see how films, even as they seem very, very different, have these internal links. And he just loves to explore all the various things that are going on in life."
Mousley points to the issues of globalization which weave through the Assayas films. Yet she also sees his ability to switch styles and subjects as a rejuvenating force in itself.
"I think it keeps him energized not to take on the same film again and again."
Mousley notes that Assayas (right) is the son of a screenwriter who worked in the stricter times before the New Wave changed French film. The younger Assayas came of age as Goddard and his colleagues changed the rules about what a director could and could not do. Assayas is part of the next generations she says.
"He is the sort of child of that moment in time, and he has very much taken on the mantle of being very much an auteur himself, but he also relies somewhat on novels and other sources."
Now comes "Carlos" which has induced swoons around the globe. The Walker will show it in its entirety twice on Halloween weekend.
"We get the exclusive local premier of the full five hours and I think it's the way it should be seen. They are going to make a two hour version, that will be released in movie theaters, but people really should see the whole thing."
The film will be begin at 1 pm and shown with a couple of intermissions so people can stretch their legs, and also talk about the experience.
Mousley says in an age where movies are available everywhere, including a phone, some people are looking for more when they go to the movies.
"What I am sensing is that the audience wants more than just a single film. They want some kind of an event almost."
Mousley says "Carlos" is an engaging story which shows how in the 1970s a young Venezuelan with revolutionary tendencies was moved to terrorism through ideology.
"But became very infatuated by it," she says. "And becomes almost narcissistic. He becomes a different kind of terrorist."
Mousley says Carlos changed how terrorists behave, and laid the groundwork for the complex world where we now live.
"We get to see there's a sophisticated system of power that controls international politics through terror and it really sets the stage for contemporary terrorism."
Olivier Assayas is only appearing in three cities during his current visit to the US, and Mousley is honored that he has accepted the Walker's invitation. He'll talk with writer Kent Jones who is currently writing a book about the director.
You can hear my chat with Mousley here:
Richard Kadrey relaxes at home (Image courtesy HarperCollins)
Richard Kadrey writes what he calls modern urban fantasy novels, so don't go expecting much Tolkeinesque prose in his new book "Kill the Dead." What you'll find is much more Chandler-like.
"Really what the book came out of was American crime fiction, the stuff from the 50's really up to the stuff from the 70's," he says on the phone from San Francisco. "That stripped down writing style, which has nothing to do with what most people think of as fantasy writing."
"The character named Sandman Slim is actually a man named James Stark who describes himself as a magician, because he refuses to use the words like wizard or warlock, because he thinks those are way too Harry Potter," says Kadrey running through the backstory. "He's very powerful but he has never been to rigorous because magic has always come very naturally to him, so he is very sloppy about it. He's like a lot of young men, he's very arrogant about it."
This arrogance leads him to ruffling the wrong sets of feathers, and Stark finds himself banished to Hell, where he earns a living (if that is the correct term for employment in Hades) as a hitman.
"'Sandman Slim'" the first novel picks up 11 years later with him escaping from Hell, and coming back to find all the people who sent him there, and killed his girlfriend while he was gone," Kadrey continues.
Like he said, not a lot of Harry Potter. And just to end any other Hogwarts thoughts, his tale is set in Los Angeles, a city with which Kadrey admits a real love/hate relationship. .
"I can't think of any other place other than LA and New York where people have such a strong impression without having been there," he says.
"It's fun to play off their assumptions and fun to play off the realities, so walking that weird line between the commentary, the reality and just nonsense you made up."
"Kill the Dead" opens with Stark chasing a Valley Girl vampire through a rundown Los Angeles shopping mall, which turns into a running battle which even the hardened locals can't ignore. As the story unfolds Stark runs into hoards of zombies who are appearing all over the city even as Lucifer is preparing for a biopic he's developing with a top Hollywood producer.
Kadrey has a great talent for taking what might be seen as stock characters by other writers and re-imagining them. He says the secret for him is to take away the characters supernatural elements, and then work out how their personalities fit into the plot.
"Is it going to be a smart vampire, or it is just going to be a dumb guy?" he asks himself, although he admits "It's an odd balancing act."
And like the great crime writers before him, the story examines more than the simple whodunit aspect of his stories.
"There's a lot of commentary about your basic class structure in LA," he says.
There is also a great deal of classical and biblical scholarship behind Kadrey's characters. He says he became interested in the topics as a result of the 2000 election.
"I owe George W.Bush a drink," he laughs. Kadrey says he couldn't understand the world-view of Bush supporters, and the conservative Christian right so he started to do a lot of reading. Beginning with the Bible, then on through the Gnostic Gospels, into Jewish mysticism and beyond.
"It all gets mixed up into the weird brew which really changes how you see, not just the religious part of things, but the society built on top of all those theories has been shaped and changed over time," he says.
But he funneled his new knowledge into novels rather than politics, saying he had a lot of fun playing with the ideas. And when it gets down to it, he wouldn't mind shaking things up a little bit.
"I am a very big believer in the power of trash: trash pop culture, trash literature," Kadrey says. "I really have a lot of affection and belief in that stuff, because art scares people. Trash, pop culture doesn't. You can put in all the subversive crazy stuff you want in trash culture that will change people's perceptions of the world, and they will read it and they will take it in. Whereas in art they are going to run from it. So subvert the world through trash. I'm right there with you on that."
Kadrey describes himself as the classic tale of the overnight success that came after 15 years of work. He's been working as a writer for years, but it's only now he knows his place in the writing firmament. He says he once had dreams of being the next J.G. Ballard, but no longer.
"I much more think of myself as Mickey Spillane than James Joyce," he says. And he uses the Spillane name with pride, saying he was a smart writer who knew his craft.
"One of the best pieces of writing advice you could ever get was this offhand thing he said: 'The first chapter of a book sells the book. The last chapter of the book sells the next book.' That's a little piece of writing advice every young writer needs."
Even as Kadrey pokes fun at Hollywood though the Sandman Slim stories, he's delighted that Dino De Laurentiis has optioned his first novel, and he has hopes it may even make it to the screen someday. He says he's enjoying the process as the producers oversee the creation of the script.
"Even though its really slow - it's glacial - I am really rather fascinated by it," he says.
Richard Kadrey will arrive in Minnesota having just finished the third Sandman Slim novel, which at the moment bears the spritely title "Aloha from Hell."
After that he's got a bunch of ideas, including for more Sandman Slim stories, and a screenplay he's going to try on his own.
Of course that's all after the upcoming book tour, comfortably leading up to, what else, Halloween.
You can hear the first part of our chat, about Sandman Slim and his origins here:
And then the second part about his classical and biblical studies here:
I love vampire films and in college I actually took a class on the gothic novel, where we looked at how vampire legends and other horror stories were created, in part to help explain what happens to a body after death.
In this Big Think interview filmmaker Guillermo del Toro talks about the role monsters play in helping us to understand the world by becoming "living, breathing metaphors." He also explains how he creates his own monsters, and gives advice to budding filmmakers.
In particular I was fascinated by his response to the question "why are vampires so popular right now?"
I think that, you know, the moment of the birth of the vampire myth in English literature is with essentially there is few writings here and there, a poem and this and that. But in fiction most everyone agrees that it was birthed by John W. Polidori with a short story, "The Vampyre." Now, the fact that Polidori had an ambivalent relationship with his master and friend, Lord Byron and he based the character of the main vampire in that story, Lord Ruthvren on Lord Byron, you know. Immediately gave birth to a vampire that was both a loathsome parasite and a dandy. A seductive character that is later absorbed by a Stoker in "Dracula" and you know, you can trace it all the way to Anne Rice.
And I think that right now, we have an unbridled sort of melodramatic, romantic, fantasy with the vampire is only one half of the myth. The bad boy romantic lead myth, which is essentially Gothic fiction. You know, it can be Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights," or it can be Robert Patterson in "Twilight."
The thing that it tells you right now is that human relationships, intimate relationships have become so completely demythified, they have become so prosaic, you know, whenever you talk about a relationship, you're talking about it in very prosaic terms. How much does he or she make? What job security? Nest egg planning. It's all very materialistic. Double-income household, it all becomes very prosaic and it's almost impossible to dream romantic things without sounding corny.
So you know, of the fascination of romantic fiction with a bad boy gets sumlimated and dark angels are created, angels of the night that create a spiritual and physical bond with a love interest that is permanent and eternal. So through that fiction you can abandon yourself to the lull of a romantic fantasy without feeling silly or stupid.
What I find symptomatic I think for the... I daresay, for the first time in the culture of mankind, the vampire has been sort of defanged by making them celibate and asexual as opposed to polysexual, like Anne Rice did and they have been Mormonized, so to speak, into being a sanitized creature. And you know, I'm not in favor or against it. I'm fascinated by it, because I do think it is a very strong symbol of where we are. And I find it intriguing and I try to watch the phenomenon without judging it. But it's quite peculiar.
Posted at 2:51 PM on October 6, 2010
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
A clip from the documentary "Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II" directed by LeAnn Erickson
In today's world we think of a computer as a thing, but back in World War II a computer was a person, and in many cases it was a woman.
Tonight Minnesota Film Arts is hosting the screening of "Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II" directed by LeAnn Erickson.
Erickson says she stumbled across the story while interviewing twin sisters who owned the first women-run real estate agency in Philadelphia, and were key in integrating Philly neighborhoods, or "blockbusting" as it was called.
It turns out those twin sisters - Doris and Shirley Blumberg - had spent their first years out of high school serving their country with their math skills. Their computations of complex ballistic calculations eventually led to the development of the world's first modern supercomputer, ENIAC (short for "Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer").
It's common knowledge that women took on men's jobs in factory lines during World War II, but not many know they also took on jobs involving complex math and science.
The thousands of women who used their mathematical talents to help figure out when to release a bomb from a plane took oaths of secrecy, and didn't even share the details of their work with their family and friends for decades after the war had ended. Erickson's documentary interviews four of them about their experiences, and the work they did happily in service to their country.
Erickson says in large part, their work has gone unrecognized, and unappreciated.
It's harder for us from that distance to understand what daily life was like for women at this time. When I was looking at the ads right before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there were not only "men only" jobs and "women only" job listings, but as soon as the war happened, and they needed to have all these different high end high tech positions filled, you start seeing all these ads for "women engineers" - where did they think all these women would be coming from if they hadn't had the opportunities beforehand?
While Erickson expects many people to see her documentary as a historical film, she believes the story has even greater relevance for women today.
When you look at the fact that something dismal like 27% of people holding jobs in the high tech industry are women, when 52-53% of all the college graduates are women; it's pretty shocking that they're so underrepresented in a field that's so important. I feel that if girls in high school or even junior high knew that some 18 year old girls helped win WWII because of their math smarts, that the first computer manual was actually written by a woman...that that would actually help inspire them.
"Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II" screens tonight at St. Anthony Main Theaters at 7:15pm. Director LeAnn Erickson will be there to present the film and answer audience questions.
When they visited the Walker Art Center last year Ethan and Joel Coen(right) said they wanted to remake "True Grit" because they felt the Henry Hathaway directed adaptation of the Charles Portis novel wasn't true to the book.
Now the St Louis Park natives are giving a little sneak peak of what they were talking about with the release of the trailer for their remake. While you can see small references to John Wayne's Rooster Cogburn in Jeff Bridges' portrayal, you get the sense there's a lot more "No Country for Old Men" than "McClintock" in the new film.
You can check it out the trailer here. The movie is released on December 25th.
An old home in New London that houses new artworks, one of the nation's premier film archivists shares some gems at the Heights Theatre, and a folkie with a knack for pop hooks, all get the coveted Art Hounds endorsement this week.
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If you have a tank full of gas and maybe a little wanderlust, you can join Jamie Lang's caravan to New London, Minnesota to experience ARThouse. Jamie, who's the exhibition director for the Northern Clay Center, says ARThouse is actually the home of artists Lisa Bergh and Andrew Nordin. Four or five times a year, they convert it into a gallery and invite artists from across the region to show their work in a one-night only exhibition. This Saturday, Sept. 25th, 5-8pm, ARThouse owners Bergh and Nordin will be the featured artists.
Elk River arts writer Britt Aamodt calls Bob DeFlores one of the foremost film preservationists in the nation. DeFlores' personal film archive goes deeper than many of the major studios' in Hollywood. On Sunday, Sept. 26, you'll likely find Britt at the Heights Theatre in Columbia Heights to see some of DeFlores' rare footage of composer George Gershwin, as well as the last movie Gershwin wrote the music for, "Damsel in Distress." Be there, so you can wish Gershwin a happy birthday.
One of St. Louis Park singer-songwriter Dan Israel's favorite artists, John Prine, will make a return visit to the Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 25th. Dan says Prine's extensive catalog of material, hook-laden folk songs, heady lyrics, and hilarious banter will make for an incredible evening of music.
Director Amir Bar-Lev doesn't mince words about the central character in his new film, which opens in the Twin Cities this weekend.
"The icon Pat Tillman is a guy the real Pat Tillman would have hated," he says over the phone. "Because Pat Tillman was by all accounts a guy who was incredibly loyal, incredibly driven, and had incredibly strong beliefs. But one of his greatest qualities was he was always willing to challenge his own beliefs."
Tillman was the talented football player who caused a sensation by setting aside a contract with the NFL to join the US Army after the September 11th attacks. He served a tour of duty in Iraq and then died during his second tour, this time in Afghanistan. At first the US Army reported he died protecting his platoon. Weeks later the military changed its story and admitted "friendly fire" killed Tillman.
The admission came with an apology, but Bar-Lev says it's not worth much.
"If you look back over the last four or five years you'll find that the military, the government have repeatedly apologized to the Tillman family for the mistakes that they have made. This is one of these apologies that's not an apology at all. It's actually a piece of the deception."
Bar-Lev's compelling documentary "The Tillman Story" explores what happened, before during and after Tillman's death. He's also blunt about what he sees as a government cover-up.
"The smugness with which they lied to the American people, it reflects poorly on all of us really," he says.
"The Tillman Story" points its finger all the way up the chain of command, and attacks the claim that the generals and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld didn't know about an effort to suppress the fact that Tillman died as a result of his own side's attack.
Yet Bar-Lev says the responsibility needs to be shared even further.
"I think it's all to easy to try to chalk this up on the last administrations or something like that. But look, their lies worked because the press ate it up, and the press ate it up because we ate it up."
He readily admits the film's debt to Danny Tillman, Pat's mother, who never accepted the official line on what happened. Bar-Lev says the military made a major miscalculation about Danny.
"They handed over 3500 pages of documents related to Pat's death, over to Danny, expecting that she would never actually pour through them," he says.
But go through them she did, despite the fact that many of the pages were black with redactions. She enlisted help from a former Army Ranger who explained and further researched what the official documents said. Bar-Lev says his film stands on the shoulders of Danny Tillman's work.
Bar-Lev says his own view of Pat Tillman changed as he learned more.
"The more we got to know Pat, the more we liked him, the more human he got and the more heroic we actually felt he was," Bar-Lev says. "You know it's hard to emulate a cartoon character. That's one of the things this family's been struggling to correct. If we want to have heroes we can live up to, who we can try an teach kids about, these have to be people who aren't one dimensional caricatures, and that's exactly what Pat has become in his death."
Bar-Lev's last film "My Kid Could Paint That," explored the story of Marla Olmstead, a young girl whose abstract paintings began fetching huge money from collectors. Then people began questioning whether she was actually creating the pictures.
Bar-Lev says there are real parallels between the films. Both are about story-telling he says, and they are both about people who didn't talk publicly about their motivations, Tillman because of his personal philosophy, and Olmstead because she was eight.
"Neither of them said much," Bar-Lev explains. "And in their silence the rest of us came in and spoke volumes about them while disregarding who they actually were, or what were the actual facts."
When asked what impact he hopes for "The Tillman Story" Bar-Lev says he wants members of the public to be more skeptical about what they are told.
"This is a story which should cause people to question something the next time it sounds like a Hollywood thriller," he says.
He also says the story isn't over. He expect there will be more revelations in time.
"When you hear that word 'mistakes' and you'll hear it more and more as this film gets more widely disseminated, you know that the government has not yet come clean," he says.
He has a couple of other things he wants to come of the movie.
"What we hoped would happen with this film is in a way we are giving Pat back to his family and taking him away from this realm of the mythological."
"Because I think we all kind of grabbed at Pat after his death. The Right grabbed at him. Then the Left grabbed at him. The press grabbed at him and he doesn't belong to us. He belongs to his family."
You can hear the first of my conversation with Amir Bar-Lev here: Listen
And here he talks about the iconography surrounding Pat Tillman: Listen(1 Comments)
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Wadena artist Kent Scheer says the Whiskey Creek Film Festival has spiced up the cultural life in his neck of the woods for the last five years. This year the festival runs September 10-16 at Wadena's art deco movie house, the Cozy Theatre. All six films being screened are brand new, including "Winter's Bone," "The Kids are Alright," and "Around a Small Mountain." It also includes short films from Minnesota filmmakers. Kent Scheer has even offered to help with your travel arrangements; contact him here.
Jane Froiland thinks the Phoenix Theater Project has chosen a great play for its inaugural production: "Proof." It's about a daughter who's wondering and worrying about the genetic legacy of her recently deceased father. Jane, a Twin Cities actor, says the characters of the father and daughter will be played by an actual father/daughter duo, Kurt and Amy Schweickhardt. The show will be at the People's Center Theater in Minneapolis through September 25, with a pay-what-you-can performance on September 13th.
How about a salon done the old fashioned way, with less talk, more music? Minnetonka Civic Orchestra Music Director Scott Winters recommends Muse Salon's next installment at the Schubert Club in St. Paul's Landmark Center. It'll feature the music of Quilter, Schumann, Argento, Shostokovich and others performed by such standouts as vocalist Maria Jette, cellist Tom Rosenberg and violinist Orieta Dado. There'll be lots of room for discussion as the performance proceeds on Wednesday, September 15th at 7pm.
Posted at 2:19 PM on September 3, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
The first is the latest tongue-in-cheek gorefest from Robert "Planet Terror" Rodriguez, and the second a much-lauded bio-pic about the real French hoodlum who terrorized both his homeland and Canada for a couple of decades.
Both delight in their blood-soaked tales, but their impact is very different.
"Machete" which first appeared as one of the gag previews in the Rodriguez/Tarantino "Grindhouse" B-movie homage, follows the exploits of a former Mexican Federal police officer, played by Danny Trejo, the actor with one of the most fascinating faces in modern movies.
As his name suggests Machete prefers blades to guns when he is out chasing bad buys, and Rodriguez makes sure his hero has an endless supply of sharp objects to slash, stab, and chop his way out of trouble.
It's a bizarre tale about how Machete, on the run in the US after a Mexican drug lord wiped out his family, gets mixed up in a Texas-sized border dispute dreamed up by a racist state senator (Robert De Niro) with the help of Von (Don Johnson) who leads a vigilante group patrolling the border. Machete falls in with "the Network" which tries to protect Mexicans working along the border, and the stage is set for battle.
It's a goofy, completely over-the-top story which allows Rodriguez to use big name actors to have fun with B-movie stock characters (Jessica Alba, Lindsey Lohan, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, and Michelle Rodriguez all appear.)
This is a world where machine gun toting women in leather bikinis head into battle with an army of low-riders bouncing down the street; where elected officials have themselves video-taped while committing capital offences; and where Machete, who is apparently impervious to all sorts of hideous wounds, is also irresistable to young women a third of his age. I think we can guess which demographic is the target of this film.
It's a lot of silly fun, if this is what suits your mood.
Jacques Mesrine is not that dissimilar from Machete in many ways, except he has no illusions of being on the right side of the law, and he's a real person.
A violent thug with a flair for the dramatic the real Mesrine's career spanned two decades and three continents, rising from small-time burglar to gaining the title of France's Public Enemy No. 1. He did this through multiple murders, kidnappings, bank robberies, prison escapes and his association with various terrorist organizations. The media became obsessed with him, a fascination which proved mutual. He wrote a best-selling autobiography, and in later life went out of his way to grant interviews to major publications including Paris Match.
Vincent Cassel carries off the title role with deceptive ease, from Mesrine's almost naive entry into the criminal life, developing over the years to the suave gangster sophisticate. He maintains tension with his underlying capacity for sudden anger and violence, which can explode a friend or foe alike.
Mesrine story is long and complex, so long that it's told in two films ("Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1" opens in the Twin Cities next week.) It's also told in a fleeting style, with director Jean-François Richet moving quickly from incident to incident, and character to character, leaving little time for reflection. However the tale is so long this almost pointillist approach gives us a larger impression of a dangerous renegade. Mesrine saw himself as a revolutionary struggling again the system committing what he saw as victimless crimes.
We know it's going to end badly for him. Richet opens both films with clear clues as to how it will happen. Yet the director tells Mesrine's story in such a way that we can examine the evidence of Mesrine's self-propagated legend for ourselves, and determine if there is any substance to Mesrine's worldview.
As with Machete, a host of other stars fill out the cast, including Gérard Depardieu, Mathieu Amalric, and Cécile de France, although they are each charged with bringing real people to life.
So two views of brutal violence, one played for shock and laughs, the other played for art and pathos. They share a great deal, but probably won't share audiences.
This charming film is reminiscent of Magritte on a tour of great buildings, in a universe devoid of any other people. Created by Alex Roman, the twelve and a half minute homage to line and form is almost entirely made with CGI (computer generated imagery). Throughout the course of the piece, Roman plays with ideas of light, wind and water, all to captivating effect.
For the full impact, follow the link back to the video's home page on Vimeo and hit the "fullscreen" option. That's unfortunately unavailable in the public version.
This week's hounds hunt down a fashion photographer who travels back in time, top-notch Middle Eastern dance from Minneapolis, and a bicycle built for music and cinema.
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Two-time Guggenheim fellow and photographer Stuart Klipper doesn't normally traipse into beauty salons seeking art. But Stuart recently went to Rue48 Salon on 48th and Chicago in Minneapolis to see photographer Timothy G. Piotrowski's vintage fashion shots and, needless to say, was extremely impressed. Piotrowski employs young women who wear vintage clothing in his pictures.
One of Carstens Smith's favorite dance groups in the Twin Cities is Jawaahir Dance Company, which specializes in Middle Eastern dance. Carstens, who's development coordinator for the St. Paul Art Crawl, says she lives vicariously through Jawaahir's dancers, who are performing a piece called "The Dark Nightingale" through September 5 at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis. It focuses on the music of the late Egyptian vocalist Abdel Halim Hafez.
Jenny Jenkins is a photographer and textile artist in Minneapolis who often uses her bike to get around. A few weeks ago she was riding on the Midtown Greenway when she ran into Andrea Steudel and Luke Anderson of "Urban Caravan." Steudel and Anderson ride on a specially equipped bike with turntables and a projector, creating soundtracks on the fly and screening films on the sides of buildings and bridges. Cool, eh?! You can ride along and catch Urban Caravan's next 'performance' this Saturday night, Aug. 28. They'll be meeting at 9:45pm at the Martin Olaf Sabo bridge on the Greenway.
Paul Reubens in Todd Solondz' film "Life During Wartime." (Images courtesy IFC films)
Director and screenwriter Todd Solondz says he was a little surprised when he found himself writing about people who originally appeared in his 1998 movie "Happiness,"
"I never imagined I would revisit those characters or storylines," he says on the phone from New York. "But that just goes to show my imagination wasn't fertile enough, because in fact, about 10 years later I found myself just writing the first scene of this movie which involves some of these characters."
"Happiness" explored the troubles of three middle class New Jersey families. Actually troubles is a weak word to describe the tale of child abuse, betrayal, and other sordid goings-on. A decade later Solondz decided there was more material to mine and explore.
The result is "Life During Wartime," a disturbing but compelling film which looks at how the characters have developed and changed (or not,) in the ensuing years. It opens in the Twin Cities this weekend.
Solondz (left) recast the characters, drawing in a host of very fine actors for the roles, ranging from Charlotte Rampling, Alison Janney and Ciaran Hinds to Michael Kenneth Williams and Paul Reubens,
All of the characters are flawed people, but with good traits. Some of them have behaved despicably towards people they love. Solondz' question is whether they can forgive and forget.
Central to this is Bill (Hinds) who is in prison for sexually abusing a family member. Solondz says pedophilia serves as a metaphor for all that is demonized, feared and loathed.
"It's hard to beat," he says. "I think most Americans would feel more comfortable having Osama bin Laden at their dinner table than a convicted pedophile, so it becomes a kind of crucible, a test in some sense for those of us in questioning the extent when we say we embrace humanity and love mankind, to say what extent are we capable? What are those limits? Because to be human, of course, is to recognize and to be defined by those limitations. It's a kind of moral exploration."
And Solondz' exploration does a remarkable job of drawing in the audience. The film is filled with twists, turns, and revelations. . As the multi-part story spins out we see each character in very different lights. Not everything is as it first seems - although a lot is. Everyone has much to forgive - and much for which to be forgiven.
Solondz says the situations he deals with in "Life During Wartime" may be unpleasant, but they are constantly in the media, so he thinks audience members are well aware of the issues. Looking for new ways to explore those questions in an accessible drama.is what interests Solondz.
"When I go to the movies, I do want to be provoked and engaged in fresh ways. That's what I look for. In a sense the movies can make you feel a little more alive for those 90 minutes, because they have the power to articulate things that remain unspoken even amongst our intimates."
He admits casting Paul Reubens in the film brought an added element given the actors much publicized fall from grace after an indecency arrest.
"You are not just aware of the talent, but also the so-called baggage that everybody comes with," he says.
"With Paul Reubens, he had read for me years ago for something else. And what I liked here was first of all being able to share with audiences some of what he is able to do as an actor which I don't think anyone had ever imagined. But beyond that his whole history lends a certain poignancy and pathos, and sorrow to his performance, which I think would be absent from most other comedic actors of his stature."
"They financed the film so I am very fortunate that during very difficult economic times they were able to pay for this movie," Solondz says. "Because I really don't think it would have been financed otherwise."
"Life During Wartime" has done well on the festival circuit, taking the award for best screenplay at the Venice Film Festival where it was also nominated for the best film.
When asked what he hopes people will take away from the film Solondz responds this way:
"I suppose in some sense with movies there is always one message that comes loud and clear to anyone who feels very responsive to a film, and that's 'you are not alone.'"(1 Comments)
I'm often left a little empty after watching video of dance productions; for me they often fail to capture the raw energy and intense physicality of a production. Perhaps that's because so often the camera sits at a distance, trying to capture everything at once, rather than diving in to explore certain exquisite moments.
Not so with this short film. In just five minutes "Folies D'Espagne" uses a Baroque sense of style to set the scene for an exploration of contemporary issues of sexuality and class, creating a modern "Dangerous Liaisons" storyline. The piece is choreographed by Austin McCormick, and the film received a jury prize nomination at the 2008 Dance on Camera Festival.(1 Comments)
Need a little break from your afternoon slump? Check out this charming short film by a Munich design student (on Vimeo the student simply lists himself as "yo man"). The combination of music, stop animation, and tag art shows an impressive attention to detail, and works together to create a compelling scene. Enjoy!
Posted at 4:30 PM on July 30, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Paul Rudd and Steve Carell consider questions of taste and intelligence in "Dinner for Schmucks." (Image courtesy Paramount Pictures)
This is a week for musing on offensiveness. Here is a true story from the world of radio. I know it is true because I was there.
I was doing a piece for National Public Radio. To be honest I can't remember what it was about, but it did contain a snippet of someone speaking in German. As I worked through the piece with the editor, I felt I should in all good conscience, point out the phrase contained what we in Scotland call sweary words. It was a joke as I recall. Crude but funny
As a result, the editor, following his good conscience, made me take out the piece of tape and use something else. His reasoning is we shouldn't run the risk of offending someone. (This was in the pre-Bono dropping the F-bomb days, where life was a little simpler and less financially dangerous for broadcasters.) I made the change. It was not as fun, but definitely not crude.
So imagine my surprise a short time later when I heard a snippet in another story, this time done by a US reporter in Scotland, which contained some Scots dialect which was every bit as funny, and possibly more offensive than my German tape. "Ah, but almost no-one will have understood that," came the response when I pointed out the double standard.
So if a tree swears as it drops in the forest and nobody hears is it still offensive?
I don't know.
The reason I have been musing about this is because of the confluence of two news items this week. The first is the release of "Dinner for Schmucks" the new Steve Carell Paul Rudd vehicle. The second is the death (I think he would have hated the word 'passing,') of cartoonist John Callahan.
"Dinner for Schmucks" which is based on "The Dinner Game" a French movie from 1998, has Rudd playing Tim an ambitious young executive eager to find his way upwards in the cut-throat financial firm where he works. He learns to succeed he has to bring someone outlandish to a private dinner where the other execs, with their own misfits in tow, will get an evening's enjoyment out of ridiculing the luckless guests.
It's a creepy idea, about which Tim has qualms, particularly after his girlfriend informs him she finds it repugnant. However when Tim literally runs into Barry (he hits him with his Porsche whilst texting and talking on the phone at the same time) he can't resist. Barry (Carell) makes sentimental dioramas out of stuffed mice, posed to replicate great works of art, or people of significance in his life. Tim invites Barry to the dinner, launching a series of unfortunate encounters which allow Barry to burrow like a tick into Tim's life, threatening his relationship, his job, and (horrors!) his Porsche.
Unfortunately for the film it's clear Tim believes he deserves everything he gets. We feel sorry for him, when really we should be hating him. Yes, the dinner for idiots is an offensive premise, but if you are going to do it, go for the gusto.
This was something John Callahan understood. A quadriplegic as a result of a car crash he drew devilishly funny cartoons which set out to smash any and all ideas of political correctness. He would have had little time for this dinner.
A lot has been made of how much of "Dinner" was improvised. And there are moments of comedy. Jemaine Clement ("Flight of the Concords") and David Walliams ("Little Britain") bring some edge to their characters, as does Steve Carell on occasion. Yet much of the film seems to have become movie mush through comedy by committee.
The sad thing is the most offensive thing about the film may be its title, which people with a little yiddish will recognize as having a couple of meanings. But perhaps "almost no-one will have understood that."
Rachel Weisz is blunt about the subject of her character in "Agora," which opens in Minnesota this weekend.
"I had never heard of this Hypatia, this 4th century philosopher," she says. "I must have missed that day in school. So when I read the script it was news to me that she had ever existed."
"Agora" is Spanish director Alejandro ("The Sea Inside," "The Others" Amenábar's epic story of the clash between religion and science in Alexandria in Egypt. It's set at the time the Roman Empire was in decline and Christianity was taking hold as a major religion.
Weisz (pronounced VICE "Like the opposite of virtue," she jokes) who has delighted audiences in an array of movies ranging from "The Mummy" franchise, through "The Brothers Bloom" and "The Constant Gardener" (which netted her a best supporting actress Oscar) to Wong Kar-wai's "My Blueberry Nights."
In "Agora" she plays Hypatia, a philosopher who is fascinated by the movement of the planets. She works at Alexandria's famed library, teaching the sons of the city elite, who in time will rule. It's a true story about a unique woman at a pivotal moment in history.
"As well as being a philosopher she was a magical teacher," Weisz says. "I had one very magical teacher when I was at school who really inspired me. I think there are not many films about magical teachers - or not enough."
Not surprisingly several of Hypatia's students have crushes on her, although as Weisz points out for Hypatia knowledge trumps everything.
"She's not interested in love and she is very passionate about her work. Meanwhile she lives at this time which is at the end of the age of enlightenment and the beginning of I guess what we call the dark ages, which was the rise of Christian fundamentalism."
Hypatia's story spins out over several years as she continues working even as the Parabolani, a hardcore Christian militia becomes the defacto power in the streets under the command of the Archbishop Cyril.
Anyone who opposes them risks being denounced and physically attacked. In time the Parabolani set their sights on the most senior Roman in Alexandria, the Prefect, who has converted to Christianity, but has not bowed to their rising influence. Weisz says this larger conflict leaves Hypatia increasingly vulnerable
"So she lives at this extraordinary moment in history, so you see through her story how attitudes to a woman who is a pagan, who won't convert to Christianity, and who is also looking at the stars, and basically they thought she was a witch."
Outside the Alexandria Library (Images courtesy Newmarket Films)
The role of Hypatia brought a number of challenges. Not only does Weisz have to present what is a very intimate story of an individual in turbulent times, she also has to do this within with director Amenábar's huge cinematic vision, which includes spinning the audience out into space to look back on the tiny individuals shaping the philosophical future of western civilization.
"I guess I was just up for the challenge," she laughs.
And as the central character Weisz really does have to carry the whole film - a task in which she delighted.
"It's really fun to carry a film. It's really fun. It's exhilarating. It's terrifying as well. I once worked with Dustin Hoffman and I asked him, 'Does it get any less scary?' And he goes, 'No. Every time I do a job I'm terrified.' And you need that. You need the fear to fuel the energy to do it. But it's delicious fear."
Part of Weisz's interest in the project is how the story is centuries old, it has a very modern ring about a culture clash.
"As soon as I finished reading it, I closed the script and I thought 'Oh, my goodness, this is a contemporary story, set in the 4th century. Because really, obviously, what it's about is how little has changed."
"It's really about how in a way, we can go to the moon and we've got antibiotics, and freedom of speech most places, but there's a lot that really hasn't changed. Religious tolerance is one of them."
She says she knew she wanted to make the film as soon as she read the script, particularly because she has long wanted to work with Alejandro Amenábar. She admits though there's no guarantees of success in moviemaking.
"Making a movie is alchemy. You can have a great script, great director, great actors and the movie can completely suck. There's no recipe for a movie, which is why it's so interesting."
Released in Europe last year "Agora" has done well, winning critical praise and a ton of awards. The new challenge is now America, and Weisz admits she has no idea how it will play here.
"What do you think?" she asks.
It's a question which Hypatia would ask, but only time and the box office will answer.
Posted at 9:00 AM on July 23, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Who is Salt? Well, Angelina of course, which really says as much as you need to know. (Image courtesy Columbia Pictures)
Want to know how to really wreck a CIA super-agent's day? Walk into the Agency HG and announce said spook is really a double agent, trained from birth by the Russians to take out heads of state.
The world will know this to be true if it believes the central premise of "Salt" the relentless new action thriller starring Angelina Jolie. She plays Evelyn Salt, the agent accused by a loose-lipped Russian informer who knows enough to convince. Salt takes off, saying she wants to make sure her husband is safe. Soon everyone is chasing her including her longtime friend and colleague Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) and counter-intelligence agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is charged with shooting first and asking questions later when it comes to possible foreign agents wandering around the nation's capital.
So is she a Russian agent or not? Kurt Wimmer's script keeps us guessing by repeatedly lobbing red herring into the series of frenetic chases which become a central feature in Salt's life. Her loyalties may be open to question, but Ev Salt's amazing ability to run, jump, drive, crash and any other possible ways of getting out of trouble cannot be challenged. She's pretty darn amazing, constructing large ordinance weapons out of household objects, and leaping across lanes of speeding traffic from truck to truck. And she does most of it with ne'er a grimace.
In other words it's classic Jolie. The day after I saw the preview I was astonished to see the movie being shown on the TVs at my local gym. Taken aback by the speed of this jump to video, even in this day and age, I paused to take in a couple of scenes. It was only after a short while that I realized this wasn't "Salt" on the telly, but "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" where Ms Jolie played exactly the same character.
As with most summer films "Salt" is best enjoyed by sitting back and not thinking too hard. There are some great thrills and spills during the epic chase scenes. There is even some tangible angst portrayed by Schreiber and Ejiofor as they wrestle with what to do as a colleague apparently goes rogue.
It's hard to stave off those glimmers of curiosity and wonder. How can someone blast away at a wall at short range with a machinegun without being worrying about ricochets? Can we really believe the intelligence services would be unaware of a decades long effort to plant huge numbers of moles inside Washington?
It can be done with a little effort (although I did start at when Ms Jolie, who is after all a United Nations Goodwill ambassador, growled "I will kill them all" at one point) and it's an effort that's probably worthwhile if only for the sake of summer fun.
There was a welcome sound at the end of the advance screening of "Inception" the other night - people coming out of the theater talking animatedly.
Christopher Nolan's film explores the dreamscape through the eyes of Don Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio,) a gentleman who makes his living by extracting information from people's dreams. He's on the wrong side of the law, both because what he is doing is industrial espionage, and he's on the run from his past in the US.
This complicates matters no end, because entering dreams tends of have unforeseen consequences and the past can come back to bite you if you aren't prepared. Cobb is tormented by the death of his wife and his estrangement from their children, but he can't admit how much this may effect what he is doing.
Cobb assembles a team of fellow extractors to try something never done before: to plant an idea in the subconscious of another person. The client is a hard-as-nails executive Saito (Ken Wantanabe) who wants the job done on the heir to the founder of a competitor company. Cobb knows from the start it's not going to be easy.
Cobb's world is fascinating. He is a master at entering and manipulating the subconscious mind of his victims, but he can't do it alone.
He enlists his old compatriot Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt,) Eames (Tom Hardy) an old-style British adventurer abroad, Yusef (Dileep Rao) a brilliant pharmacologist who induces the sleep in which to dream, and Ariadne (Ellen "Juno" Page,) a young designer who comes up with the architecture of the dreams where the team members will work their deception.
As with Nolan's 2000 hit "Memento," "Inception" is a film which demands careful attention. To make the deception work takes a lot of careful planning. It also demands that the team create dreams within dreams, going deeper and deeper into the subconscious, and shifting in time and space.
The film is action packed, as the team takes on the fearsome figures we all know from our own dreams. Yet the real action ends up being philosophical. From the beginning sequence the audience is challenged to work out what is reality and what is a dream.
Nolan, who also wrote the script, has wicked fun with his characters, throwing well-aimed wrenches into their carefully built plan.
One hugely entertaining action sequence is predicated on something which is happening to the physical body of a character in another dream, creating a gravity-defying fight which has to be seen to be believed (or not, if you follow the film's philosophical viewpoint.)
Which brings us back to that chattering audience. This is a film which makes you think, and then discuss what you have seen.
At one point Cobb is challenged to choose between what he knows and what he believes. That question, never straightforward in the best of circumstances, becomes even more difficult in the dream world. It's a lot of fun to see what Christopher Nolan does with it, and even more fun to play with it in those post-movie discussions.
Somewhere you get the sense that the late great Chuck Jones is smiling. The creator of Daffy Duck and longtime Wile E. Coyote torturer would surely approve of Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud's hilarious "Despicable Me."
It's the story of Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) a super-villain on a mission to steal the moon. It's never really explained what he'll do with the celestial body, but it certainly looks good as he rolls out the project to his assembled Minions in a manner not unlike Steve Jobs at an Apple sales meeting.
Actually Gru is facing what turns out to be a bigger challenge than mere lunar larceny. His claim to be the world's baddest bad-guy is being challenged by a Bill Gates-like super nerd usurper called Vector. Not only does Vector repeatedly out-villain Gru, he delights in humiliating the older criminal mastermind in a manner anyone who has spent time on an elementary school playground will recognize.
Complicating matters further is Gru's decision to adopt three girls from a local orphanage. He thinks they would be useful in his plan to undermine Vector, but as tends to happen in animated films, the girls have other plans.
There is plenty of slapstick, especially amongst the endless supply of accident prone and trigger-happy minions to keep young eyes interested (particularly in the 3D version.) There's also enough of an undercurrent of wry humor, old movie references, and winks at the trials of middle age and the dire economy to keep their attending adults engaged too. The film revels in its cliches, even putting cast and audience though a roller coaster ride just in case the 3D wasn't being tested enough.
The film is such fun, it makes one wonder whether Steve Carell's movie career might improve if he no longer actually appeared on screen, and just did voice work. It's just a thought.
Posted at 5:26 PM on July 1, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Tilda Swinton contemplates food and the future in 'I am love.' (Image courtesy Magnolia Pictures.)
If there is one thing you can say for sure after seeing "I am love," it's Tilda Swinton makes a very fine Russo-Italian quasi-aristocrat. The movie opens in Minnesota this weekend.
After that the way you respond to director Luca Guadagnino's tale of passion and tears amongst members of the Ricchi family depends where you stand on Italian art film. It's a stylish soap opera set in Milan, and other picturesque spots, which follows the internal and external struggles of a family of old school textile tycoons trying to find a way forward in the modern world
They live in a house which is so luxurious it even has a custom designed wooden platter matching the dining table to map out the seating plan. The family is wrapped in a blanket of calm privilege, even as all around them servants scurry too and fro through the maze of doors and corridors to see to their every need.
In the midst of this is Emma (Swinton) a stunning beauty who has apparently bent herself simply to serving her husband and now grown children. It is only as they go out into the world and ask questions about what they see, and begin to fall in love, that she begins to chafe in her own gilded cage.
A startling seafood dish cooked by one of her sons business partners changes her life. As she eats she seems to awaken to the possibilities of life outside the family. (The scene has been described by some as 'prawnography.') Things do not go as she intended.
The film is absolutely gorgeous, paying homage to mid-20th century Italian film through its sweeping camera work, and juxtaposition of designer dresses in primary colors set against the washed out hues of the natural world. There's a lot of time spent playing with very selective focus too. And on top of that there is the John Adams score sending hearts into overdrive too.
Some people are going to love it. Yet it was clear that some people around me in the theater when I saw the film were a little bemused by the experience. Yes there are lessons in the script about the challenges of family, the responsibilities of wealth, and the boundaries of love.
But this is more a film of sensual experience than philosophical depth. As Freud once said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes you just have to watch Tilda Swinton move through a story and simply enjoy it.
Cruise and Diaz catch some air in "Knight and Day" (Images courtesy 20th Century Fox, photos by Frank Masi)
I spent the first few minutes of "Knight and Day" trying to work out on whom Tom Cruise had modeled his character. He plays Roy Miller, a rogue U.S. government agent who has filched a super-duper mega-battery which will change the future of humanity. He's the kind of guy who wears sunglasses inside so he can scope out all the angles, and sees little problem in taking out a planeload of former colleagues sent to stop him.
He enlists the help of a ditzy hot-rod restorer June Havens (Cameron Diaz) whose early impression of Roy as a dreamboat sent to cure the romantic vacuum in her life is soon replaced by the realization there's a pretty calculating assassin behind the boyish smile.
Roy tells June the government folks will try to convince her he is crazy, and then behaves in a way which seems to prove his erstwhile employers are right.
June does try to do the smart thing and run away screaming, but Roy keeps coming back, having identified some sort of cosmic connection between them. (The ex-who-doesn't-know-when-to-quit motif will no doubt resonate with the teenage demographic so necessary for summer blockbuster success.)
It's his non-stop barrage of cool, calm advice and encouragement as he helps June through yet another gun battle which reveals Cruise's character-building inspiration - a kindergarten teacher. Again this may help the teenage comfort level with the movie.
It's a device which not only helps June master the subtleties of shooting an Uzi from the back of a speeding motorbike, but also lulls the audience through the increasingly silly plot mix of deceptions, double-crosses, coincidences, and iPhones which can track people half-way across the continent using multiple cameras.
That lulling is all to the good though as director James Mangold ("Walk the Line", "3.10 to Yuma") takes the film on a whirlwind global tour of the beautiful places where spies apparently hang out. The fact that there's not a lot of chemistry between June and Roy also gets obscured in the movie's breakneck pace.
But the car chases are spectacular, and there is even a vaguely pleasing resolution to the whole thing, with enough of the loose ends tied up to make it unlikely there will be a sequel. Which in this day and age is usually no bad thing.(1 Comments)
Four organizations have stepped forward to ensure that the summer tradition of movies and music in Loring Park continues this summer.
City Pages, Lunds, Lay's and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board have organized what they're calling "Four Nights in Loring: Local Bands, Local Films" which will take place four consecutive Tuesdays this summer, August 3, 10, 17, and 24.
In the spirit of the Walker's "Music & Movies" series, the festival will showcase bands from the Twin Cities' music scene followed by a movie. In a twist, the movies will be selected by Twin Cities residents who vote on the City Pages website. The movies will all have a Minnesota connection.
So how does the Walker feel about this new development? Ryan French, the Walker's Director of Marketing, sent me the following note:
It's wonderful that the community will have the opportunity to come together for these four nights. We look forward to bringing back the Walker Art Center's Summer Music & Movies series next year.
And for those who are counting, this will actually be the 33rd year of movies and music in the park, not the 34th, as popularly believed.
So what do you think of the new festival stepping in? And how do you feel about the public deciding which movies make the festival? If you were running the series, what movies would you show?(1 Comments)
Posted at 10:00 AM on June 11, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
The A-Team (Image courtesy 20th Century Fox photo:Michael Muller)
It's all about expectations really. Sometimes you go into a movie not hoping for much and leave pleasantly surprised. "The A-Team" was such an experience.
Being old enough, sadly, to have seen George Peppard and Mr T in the original "A-Team" TV series in my young adulthood it was clear the 21st century adaptation would have to walk a fine line between the expectations of two centuries.
First it has to capture the original's preposterous premise (heavily armed former soldiers on the run from the law running around doing good deeds with high explosives) laced with cornball humor spouted by one dimensional characters (Mr T's catchphrase "Pity the fool" still rattles around in many brains.)
Yet it also has to feed the modern appetite for a little more depth of plot and a lot more spectacle.
Director Joe Carnahan ("Smokin' Aces") gets it right in this summer audience pleaser. Liam Neeson plays Col. Hannibal Smith leading his volatile but effective team of renegades whose loyalty is apparently based on the fact they have matching military tattoos.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson steps into Mr T's shoes as the mohawked B.A. Baracus, Bradley Cooper plays the smooth talking Face, and Sharlto Copley (recently seen herding prawns in "District 9") plays the crazed pilot Murdoch. Jessica Biel weaves into the plot as one of Face's many former girlfriends. She also happens to be a high-level government operative who has more than a passing interest in the A-Team's activities.
They are an appealing bunch, and Carnahan drops them into various hotspots around the world, which provide attractive backgrounds for the ensuing mayhem.
The plot has an appropriate level of preposterousness, with the team laying out hugely complicated plans which often depend on anticipating quixotic reactions by several different groups of highly intelligent and malevolent people all out to kill them. Yes, there's something about a plot of print billions of dollars worth of counterfeit US currency, but the possible collapse of the US economy is just a small thread in the larger A-Team web.
The special effects are magnificent, and Carnahan amps up the action wonderfully as the story continues. It says something that the flying tank comes only half way through the film.
Silly isn't the word for it. Fun is. As plans and counterplots pile one on top of another you just have to go with the flow, which after all is the summer movie experience in a nutshell.
The character of Mame, portrayed by Rosalind Russell in 1958, Angela Lansbury in 1966 and Kevin Hanson in 2010.
If you have never seen the story of Mame, either as a musical or as a play, on stage or on film, you are missing out.
First written as two books by Patrick Dennis, the story of Mame is that of an eccentric woman who raises her nephew amidst a life filled with parties, artists and adventure. In the course of his alternative education, nephew Patrick learns to live life to the fullest and not attempt to be anyone other than himself. The first novel, "Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade," published in 1955, spent 112 weeks on the bestseller list.
Over the next two decades the story of Mame and Patrick was transformed into a Broadway play, a film, then a Broadway musical, and a movie musical. But in the years since, Mame's outrageous personality has faded in contrast to our modern world. What was unconventional in the 1950s is well, unremarkable by today's standards.
However, Steven Meerdink and Kevin Hansen, the co-founders of Minneapolis Musical Theater, thought the message of the story was still worth telling. And, Hansen says, it's simply a great musical:
It's a little bit too much of a lost gem - people don't realize how many of the songs they know are from this show.
The soundtrack to Mame features songs like "Bosom Buddies," "We Need a Little Christmas" and "If He Walked Into My Life."
So how to update the show so that Mame seems as outrageous as she did back in 1955? The music is too specific to the time period to change the setting of the story.
For Meerdink and Hansen, it only required one simple change. Hansen would play the lead role. Meerdink explains:
This is not a "wink wink - she's a man! show." Mame is all about "be who you are" and this just happens to be who she is. She's an advocate for everybody.
Other than a few key changes to accomodate Hansen's range, nothing else about the story has been altered. No line changes whatsoever. Hansen says it's really the same story:
That's the intent. It's more to highlight what's been muted, so we're going back to the original intent of the show and that character, going back to its roots.
Meerdink and Hansen say it's fitting that the show will be up for Twin Cities Pride, which marches right past the Illusion Theater's front door on Hennepin Avenue, where the show is being staged.
So what's the most challenging aspect of taking on the role of Mame? Kevin Hansen says it's all about stamina:
You start and two and a half hours later you stop and it feels like 10 minutes. The only breaks Mame gets from stage are for lightning fast costume changes, and there are about 16 of them.
Meerdink says Hansen's Mame is probably more actively involved in the dance numbers than Angela Lansbury was on Broadway, yet Hansen is actually five years older than Lansbury was when she took on the role.
Meerdink adds the real balancing act for this production has been to make Mame outrageous while not letting her turn into a charicature. Hansen agrees:
You can get tripped up by starting with "wild, eccentric, crazy." Nobody starts there, they start with "this is who I am." It's a real person with real relationships. So we started from there and it's only in the last couple of weeks that we've been adding some eccentricities to her character. And we make sure those traits come from the inside, not the outside.
"Mame" runs June 11 - 27 at the Illusion Theater in downtown Minneapolis.
Posted at 2:29 PM on June 7, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Just as the top soccer players on the planet gather in South Africa for the start of the month-long World Cup, a smaller but some would argue equally intriguing soccer event occurs Thursday evening at Brit's Pub in Minneapolis.
It's the screening of "Pelada," a new documentary about pick-up soccer shot in 25 countries all over the world. Gwendolyn Oxenham, one of the players featured in the film, will introduce the event.
"Literally the word means 'naked,'" says the movie's producer and co-director Ryan White. It's Portuguese, and a word the "Pelada" crew learned in Brazil.
"That's what they call pick-up soccer there," White continues, "because it's the purest form of the game."
"It's the side of the game without uniforms and without referees. It can be a game between two people, it can be a game between 20 people. Goals can be made out of anything. Rules are made up every game."
The movie came about because the two central figures in the film, college stars Oxenham (shown above in Bolivia,) who played for Duke and Luke Boughen, who played for Notre Dame, had come to the end of their playing careers.
White says that's when they asked themselves a question.
"Kind of a last hurrah to soccer, before they moved on with their lives, if they could do anything combining their passions of film making and soccer, what would they do?"
They recruited another former Duke player Rebekah Fergusson and White to run the cameras then set off on a global expedition.
White says due to the spontaneous nature of pick-up soccer they couldn't really plan. They would pick a likely country, and city, learn the local word for pick-up soccer, and then see what they could find.
"Most of the stories that made the final cut are stories we happened upon. Basically our job for two years of travelling around the worlds was to wander."
White says they found some amazing stuff.
"For instance Luke and Gwendolyn in La Paz, Bolivia, bribed their way into a prison. They heard that the best soccer happens on the prison courtyard."
Then there was the slum in Kenya best known for moonshine production where locals gathered for games, and bet heavily on the outcome.
There were the South African construction workers who played in their lunch break while building the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town for the World Cup.
"They would use their hard hats as the goals, and play in their complete overalls, and they had 25 minutes to play before their lunch break was over and the bell rings, and so that was kind of the perfect story for us in the limelight of the professional game. Literally in the shadow of the stadium these guys, many who were 40, 50 years old and overweight were still out there playing for the love of the game."
And finally there was their trip to Iran, where, despite it being technically illegal for men and women to play in the same game, Gwendolyn was invited to join a group of male players.
White says as their journey continued it was fascinating to see how people reacted to Luke and Gwendolyn. Both are talented players, but she evoked the most interest.
"Luke could go out there and score 10 goals in a game and no-one would bat an eyelash," White says. "And Gwendolyn would go out there and do one quick move around a guy and the whole crowd would go nuts."
The quartet learned how to make the most of their opportunities. They had to be ready for anything, but they also had to be safe. He says they rarely went in telling people what they were doing from the outset.
"We kind of disguised ourselves as backpackers."
Only when they felt they had something good would they break out the cameras, which were, again to remain inconspicuous, consumer models. White says he and Fergusson can now shoot a pick-up game well at the drop of a hat.
"Pick-up games, they might only last three of four minutes, so you have to have it down to a science, to cover all your shots, to make sure you are getting that game and all the shots you need to portray it in the film."
Despite the limitations of time and their equipment the Pelada crew got amazing footage. White says the real problem was deciding what to use, and what to leave on the cutting room floor.
The Minneapolis screening on Thursday is part of a multi-prong approach to distribution. The film is being shown all over the country at special events linked to the World Cup. It's also available through video on demand, and DVD. White says if all goes well there could be a theatrical release, and maybe a broadcast too. PBS is distributing the film internationally, and he hopes there could be enough interest for a domestic airing too.
White says the Minneapolis screening is in part a thank you to supporters in the Twin Cities. Local soccer fans, including the "Inside Minnesota Soccer" blog have thrown their weight behind the film, with some Minnesotans supporting the film financially too.
You can listen to my conversation with Ryan White here;
And here is the trailer:
It's an all-festival installment this week as the hounds look forward to an international childrens fest, a festival of films about music and an experimental theater festival.
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Sharon DeMark has gotten in the habit of going to the annual Flint Hills International Children's Festival at the Ordway in St. Paul, and her family is usually in tow. Sharon, the arts program officer for the St. Paul Foundation, says the five dollar ticket price for some incredible international children's acts is amazing, as is the number of free performances happening in Rice Park. The festival runs June 1-6.
Jean Sramek predicts the hipster-friendly yet encompassing Sound Unseen International Film and Music Festival will be a hit when it makes its inaugural appearance in Duluth June 2-6. Jean is a Duluth theater artist and music buff who describes Sound Unseen as a festival of films about music from around the world, coupled with live music, of course. Sound Unseen has migrated north after being a mainstay in Minneapolis for the last decade.
Minneapolis dance and theater videographer Ben McGinley says an unpredictable, rich experience awaits you at the Red Eye Theater in Minneapolis as its New Works 4 Weeks Festival unfolds during the month of June. Ben is particularly interested in the "Works in Progress" series, June 3 - 6, in which five artists will each have 15 minutes to give audiences a glimpse at new work they're developing.
When news broke last week that the Walker Art Center was putting its annual Music and Movies in the Park series on hiatus this summer, an outcry immediately rose up amongst Twin Cities residents. Here's just a sampling of some of the comments that shot out across Twitter:
aulku: Noo! :( Summer RUINED
meretewells: WHAT?! Not cool, Walker.
AlludedInSquint: Riot in the park, anyone?
When Matt Barthelemy heard the news, he sprang into action. Along with friends he created a facebook page to organize people interested in making the festival happen this summer - with or without the Walker Art Center.
As of this writing, his group "The 34th Year (of Movies & Music at Loring Park)" has 1700 members. Barthelemy says he's "super-excited" to see people joining the cause.
The community doesn't want to burn any bridges with the Walker Art Center - I'm a huge fan of the Walker - and the best thing that they do is movies and music in the park. But they cancelled it without allowing the community to have a voice in the decision. If funding was an issue, or logistics was an issue, they could have at least brought other people to the table to help out.
Barthelemy is now working to form a non-profit, and get a park permit. He says he'd love for the Walker Art Center to at least be involved in the conversation.
Barthelemy says Minnesotans live for summertime and, like the May Day Parade, the Loring Park series is a significant part of the Minneapolis summer experience.
The Walker Art Center's Rachel Joyce says the PR department was contacted by Barthelemy, and has responded to him.
We know about the page, we're aware of it, and it sounds great. We support anyone doing anything in the community around the arts. Obviously it wont be the Walker's movie and music series, so it won't be the Walker's "34th year of movies and music." The next one we host will be "the 34th" - this is their first year."
Walker Director Olga Viso wrote on the museum's blog that she appreciates the special significance of the movie and music series to the civic life of the metro area and is extremely grateful to the community for embracing it all these years:
As a contemporary art center committed to bringing art, artists, and audiences together in innovative ways, we think it is critical to re-evaluate all of our programming from time to time and experiment with new ideas that inspire us as individuals, cultures, and communities... Summer Music & Movies and other Walker programs--Rock the Garden, Momentum, and Choreographers' Evening--have taken hiatuses in the past only to return reinvigorated and better than ever. We hope you'll take part in the many free activities planned at the Walker all summer long as we re-envision how a popular program like Summer Music & Movies can be even better in the future.(4 Comments)
The Walker Art Center's longstanding film series is "on hiatus" this summer, according to an e-mail sent out by a Walker staffer.
The event - which featured live bands followed by classic movies - has been cancelled, according to the e-mail, "due to the density of programming being organized by the Walker."
No mention was made of when (or if) the film series would be reinstated.
The Walker Art Center's line-up live events this summer includes a free concert featuring Tapes 'N Tapes and Total Babe on July 11, mnartists.org's Field Day on August 19, and a performance by tropical electronica chanteuse Juana Molina on June 26.(9 Comments)
Posted at 1:57 PM on April 16, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
This weekend Minnesota film audiences who can't decide what to pick at the MSPIFF might want to check out two very different takes on mortality opening this weekend.
Martin Lawrence (l) and Chris Rock (r) deal with a family problem in "Death at a Funeral." (Image courtesy Screen Gems)
"Death at a Funeral" is the latest Chris Rock/Martin Lawrence vehicle, a painfully funny tale about a family trying to deal with the demise of the family patriarch. As the guests pour in for what should be a celebration of the departed's life, family problems and external circumstances conspire to throw the whole thing into chaos.
Now some of you may have seen the Frank Oz directed movie made in the UK in 2007. Director Neil Labute's 2010 Americanized version hews very closely to the same plot. (The scripts is written in both cases by Dean Craig.) There is even a reappearance of the superb Peter Dinklage playing the same pivotal role as he did in the original, although his character is now called Frank instead of Peter.
Watching the new version is a like going to see a remounting of a classic play, with the cast throwing a different interpretation on the words. The first movie examined British middle class suburban angst. The new version is based on middle class African American angst in Los Angeles. It's a tribute to the script that both takes work well.
The ensemble cast of the new "Death," Rock, Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover and Luke Wilson, to name a few, are pitch perfect. You'll probably never have a better time at a funeral.
If you want a much bleaker view on death, and if you are prepared to make a committment, the Red Riding trilogy also comes to town this weekend.
Sean Bean (r) is just one of the suspect characters sitting in smokey rooms in the Red Riding Trilogy.(Image courtesy IFC Films)
Based on novels by David Peace, the three movies each examine life in the West Riding of Yorkshire in Northern England, an area which has been afflicted by a series of grisly murders over the years. Each of the films is set in a different year: 1974, 1980, and 1983. Each has a different director, and each stands alone. However they also interlock and build to a conclusion which gradually reveals there is a greater evil afoot than serial killers.
This is a world of tough people living in a dying coal-mining economy, beset by violent horrors perpetrated by one of their own. We meet victims and their families, police officers and journalists all trying to make sense of what is going on. It's a grim and compelling tale, played by host of top acting talent including Sean Bean, Warren Clarke and Mark Addy. The Red Riding experience is far from comfortable, but you'll think and talk about it for weeks.
Posted at 6:24 PM on April 9, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Tina Fey and Steve Carell get down and dirty in "Date Night." (Image courtesy 20th Century Fox, photo Myles Aronowitz)
Despite singular success on television Tina Fey and Steve Carell have repeatedly stumbled when trying to make the leap to the big screen.
The ease which Fey showed in "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock," and Carell's angst on "The Office," didn't translate into big laughs in movies such as "Mean Girls" and Baby Mama" for Fey and "Even Almighty," "Dan in Real Life," and "Get Smart" for Carell.
Yet in Shawn Levy's new comedy "Date Night," Fey and Carell take off as Claire and Phil Foster, a New Jersey couple who believe a night on the town in Manhattan will revitalize their marriage. Lacking a reservation at a hip eatery, they pretend to be another couple to get a table. But what they see as a minor and excusable breach of etiquette drops them into a Gotham underworld where a lot of people seem really upset with them, and many of those people have large guns.
It's a formula which has been tried before, but Fey and Carell are able to apply their 'inner nebbish' to the situation. It seems that screenwriter and director Levy gave his actors room to improvise, and they use that freedom to deliver some spectacular lines.
Thrown in a little action from the Blues Brothers school of automotive care, and some great bit parts by Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, and Mila Kunis, and you have a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours.
Say, on a date night?
Photo courtesy of Filckr/Jana Mills
This week the hounds are pitching a non-narrated documentary about Cuba, a storyteller who embraces her inner Wisconsinite, and a musical steeped in suburban culture.
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What would you call a musical about life in the suburbs? How about "Suburb?" It's being performed by The Chameleon Theatre Circle at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center April 9 - May 2. Twin Cities theater artist Laura Bidgood predicts the production will make audiences not only laugh about suburban life but better appreciate its nuances.
A cold war and a trade embrago have gotten in the way of Americans learning more about Cuba. Nick Zdon, a graphic designer in Minneapolis, thinks one way to remedy that is to go see "Suite Havana." It's the culminating film of the Cuban Film Festival at St. Anthony Main Theater in Minneapolis. "Suite Havana" was made in 2003 by acclaimed Cuban filmmaker Fernando Perez, and relies exclusively on footage and music to tell the story of a day in the life of Havana. You can see it tonight at 7:30pm.
Molly Priesmeyer is an arts writer, storyteller and performer in Minneapolis. Molly is a big proponent of the storytelling stylings of Mary Mack. She says Mack crafts uproarious stories and sing-alongs that reveal the subtle eccentricities of upper midwestern culture. Mack is performing at the Acme Comedy Club in Minneapolis through April 10th.(2 Comments)
The trailer for the upcoming doc "Babies" has been floating around the internet for a few months now, but after watching it a few times today, I am curious how it makes people feel.
The premise of the movie is simple - and smart: Send crews out to follow the first year in the lives of four babies living in very different parts of the world, and then compare and contrast. Thus we meet Ponijao in Namibia, Bayarjargal in Mongolia, Mari in Tokyo, and Hattie, who lives in San Francisco.
Can there be a more important issue than the way children are raised? Possibly not. I am keen to see the film, but I have to admit my heart-strings were being yanked pretty hard by this trailer, almost to the point where it feels like manipulation.
Of course, that's the whole point of a trailer: manipulate your interest so you'll go see the film. But for some reason this feels different.
Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." (Image courtesy Music Box Films.)
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and "Repo Men" will pull in very different audiences, yet they share one thing: a story based on two people who have to deal with the moral challenges of their work together.
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's hugely successful novel, the first in the Millenium trilogy. It's the story of a disgraced investigative journalist Mikael Blomquist who sets out to solve a 40 year old mystery, the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a 16-year-old member of a powerful family of industrialists. He's hired by Harriet's uncle who believes one of his close relatives killed the girl. Blomquist's efforts attract the attention of Lisbeth Salander, she of the tattoo, who is a brilliant but eccentric investigator. She is so successful because she is a hacker who has no qualms about diving into other people's hard drives. Salander is perhaps the most anticipated character in Scandinavia, and certainly amongst fans of the books.
"Repo Men" is a very bloody futuristic tale of a world where medicine can provide replacements for just about every human body part. That's the good news. The bad news is they are expensive devices, so expensive in fact that most people have to get them on a long term payment plan. If you don't pay, then the company sends the Repo Men to take back its property. Few patients survive the repossession. Jude Law plays Remy, a repo man who loves his work. His partner Jake (Forest Whitaker) loves what he does even more, even taking on extra repos on the weekend, much to the disgust of Remy's wife.
Things go well until Remy has an accident and wakes up with an artificial heart in his chest. He's suddenly on the other side of the fence, and sees things very differently as he struggles to pay his bills. In time he has to start worrying about whether Jake will hew to his mantra of 'a job is a job.'
The plot of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is known to many of the people who will see the film, and "Repo Men" plays out in relatively predictable ways. What makes them interesting is the relationship between the two central characters. In "Tattoo" Michael Nyquist and Noomi Rapace make for a compelling couple, in part because Rapace is wonderful at maintaining her character's glowering distance from Blomquist, even as they become physically entangled. The film explores themes of violence against women, and the ethics of modern journalism, and where to draw the line in dealing with the first and preserving the second.
Law and Whitaker also are the most compelling thing in their film, adding levity to what might be seen as a heavy-handed commentary on healthcare funding. They face their own moral dilemmas too, and if you can stomach the blood, there's some food for thought here too.
It'll never happen, but one has to wonder about how much fun it would be to have a post-screening discussion on morality, and whether ends justify the means, involving audience members from both of these movies.
Thanks to PBS' blog "Art Beat" for this chat with MoMA film curator Ron Magliozzi. You can read the whole post on the museum's retrospective of Tim Burton here.
Posted at 3:16 PM on March 5, 2010
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
After reading Euan's post, a colleague passed along this skit from College Humor. It's a great jab at the filmmaker, with quite a bit of insight.
"Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Dormouse, and the White Rabbit seem mystified in Tim Burton's adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland." (Images courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures)
There's a danger in messing with childhood favorites, no matter how much they may deserve it. As Spike Jonze showed with "Where the Wild Things Are" it can work very effectively to take a beloved story and flesh it out in ways that add whole new dimensions.
However adding that flesh has to add muscle to a whole body. Tim Burton's adaptation tries to do this, but just succeeds in adding appendages which get in the way.
Burton's Alice is not a girl, but a 19-year-old, who is chafing against the plans the rest of the world has for her. When she discovers she is being railroaded into marriage with a chinless wonder of an aristocrat she bolts, chasing a white rabbit she's noticed running through the bushes.
Moments later she falls down a rabbit hole and her adventures begin
Or re-begin. Alice, played by Mia Wasikowska (pictured here with Burton,) apparently has been here before, she just doesn't remember it. This isn't Wonderland, but Underland, a place which holds much more menace for someone with Alice's now adult understanding of the world. She meets Lewis Carroll's characters, many of them augmented with the wonders of modern CGI wizardry. Johnny Depp becomes an eye-bulging, fright-wig body-popper of a Mad Hatter, who is still keeping company with a tea-cup hurling March Hare, and a mildly homicidal Dormouse.
It is they who tell Alice how they are also struggling against the murderous Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) whose obsession with beheadings has the entire country trembling. Alice also learns she is the one who prophesy has anointed as their savior - if she is indeed 'the right Alice.'
Burton is exploring issues of growing up, responsibility, conspiracy theories and responsibility, yet the film doesn't add up, and lapses into a fantasy action film near the end.
You can't help but wonder if this movie had come out 6 months ago, before "Wild Things," before "Avatar," indeed before the whole new 3D revolution, whether this film might have sparkled. But it didn't, and despite some great performances from Depp, Bonham Carter, and Wasikowska, "Alice in Wonderland" just doesn't satisfy.
As ever we want to know, if you have seen the film, what did you think?(2 Comments)
So many things to do and so few hours. How does one choose?
One theatrical treat opening this weekend is the annual Teatro del Pueblo Political Theater Festival. The company is offering three programs and a total of seven different plays in two locations. The theme is "Across the Divide" which will be explored in plays by both local and national Latino writers. The festival runs through March 13th and you can find details here.
Ongoing at Pillsbury House Theatre "No Child...." features Sonja Parks (left) in a powerhouse performance playing 16 characters in a New York school.
The play by Nilaja Sun is based on her time teaching theater to students in New York public schools, and it has thrilled audiences with the way it celebrates the power and hope of youth despite the challenges thrown in their way by the society, the school system, and just life in general.
A great deal of the acclaim has come about through Parks' performance. An acting mainstay in Twin Cities theater in recent years she's won critical praise for her ability to inhabit her characters. In City Pages Quinton Skinner described her as "a unique and captivating talent, full of barbed charisma, sweetness, and unflinching powers of observation."
At the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis two new shows open this weekend. One called "Abstract resistance" features pieces, mainly from the Walker's collection, by artists who have as the catalog puts it "resisted against the aesthetic orthodoxies of their times." That resistance takes many forms as you would expect from the likes of Francis Bacon, Kara Walker, and Willem de Kooning, amongst many many others.
If interactivity is more your style, check out "Contact" the other show opening at the Walker. This includes two large scale installations by Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica and Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija.
Oiticica has created a homage to Hendrix (right,) using 10 hammocks and a multimedia system. As viewers lounge in the hammocks they can watch images of Hendrix spill across the walls and ceiling as his music plays in the background.
Tiravanija created a thought-provoking environment out of a table under a shelter based on prefab designs meant for use in Africa. On the table sits the thousands of pieces of a huge jigsaw of Delacroix's iconic image of Lady Liberty. There is a deliberate juxtaposition which raises issues of colonial history. However it's likely many people will just get engrossed in the puzzle. (Click on the picture to see the full image.)
If you don't want to spend admission money you might want to check out Thomas Mullen author of "The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers," a pulsating new novel which while set in the gangster era of the early 20th century draws some clear parallels with the situation where we now find our ourselves. He'll be reading at 7pm Thursday night (2/25) at the Bookcase in Wayzata.
If you are more inclined towards the movies, how about this: a collaboration between Werner Herzog, David Lynch, and Academy Award nominated actor Michael Shannon. The film opens at Minnesota Film Arts this weekend in the MFA's new home at St Anthony Main. We'll let the trailer speak for itself.
And if none of this appeals there is always the kaleidescope game.
The State of North Dakota is offering film makers the chance to make a movie inside the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site. This is one of the decommissioned missile silos which were once the both the backbone of the USA's nuclear deterrent, and the source of great peacenik discomfort.
Now the North Dakota Historical Society and Friends of Oscar Zero are calling for independent film makers to submit proposals to make films at the site. The crews selected will be able to shoot later this year, and into the spring of 2011. The finished films will then be submitted by the end of June. Those films will then compete for cash prizes.
The competition rules do not restrict the kinds of film to be made, but the silo has been a historic site for some time and film makers will have to follow state guidelines. The aim of the competition is to as the call for entries states "enrich the interpretation of the site by cinematically presenting aspects of the tense and complex interplay of military preparedness, politics, culture, and social life during the Cold War period."
It will be very interesting to see what comes about as a result of this unique opportunity. You can find details here.(1 Comments)
"Logorama" (Image courtesy Shorts TV UK)
The nominees for the Short Animation Oscar are delightful (if a little on the dark side.) They will be screened starting this weekend at the Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis and the Zinema 2 in Duluth.
There's always a danger of spoilers in a post like this, so I will attempt to step lightly:
French entry "Logorama" hurls us into a bizarro world Los Angeles where trademarks and company logos have come to life. The cops are Michelin Men, the buildings are all corporate signs, and even cars take some corporate shape. When a well-known fastfood figure goes rogue, things get even crazier (and foul mouthed.) Just to add to the wackiness, the film is in English with French subtitles.
"Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty" from Ireland retells the fairy tale in a peculiarly wondrous way
Likewise "The Lady and the Reaper" from Spain presents a very modern take on what some people daintily call 'end of life issues.'
"French Roast" is another French entry, although curiously the director Fabrice Joubert worked with Nick Parks of Wallace and Gromit fame. Joubert casts a curious eye on the goings-on in a small Paris cafe.
And finally Parks, Wallace, and Gromit return in "A Matter of Loaf and Death," a half hour wild adventure involving yeast, windmills, and crocodiles.
Watching these movies allow us to see how animation has changed in recent years, and how it has attained incredible heights. It also shows how fierce the competition has become in this category. It's a win-win for animation lovers.
(You can get a taste of each film here)
The Oscar ceremonies are a few weeks away yet, but later this week Twin Cities and Twin Ports audiences will get their fleeting chance to check out the contenders for the short live action and short animation prizes.
The live action nominees form a lively, if dark, selection, featuring entries set in India, Australia, Russia, Sweden, and the USA, although several of them have international production teams. The stories range from a social commentary piece on child labor practices ("Kiva,") to a twisted tale of apartment living adapted by, and starring, David Rakoff called "The New Tenants." There is the story of a lonely grade schooler in an Australian school "Miracle Fish" and a tragic tale of a family caught in an environmental disaster ("The Door.") A tale of a wannabe magician trying to survive his parents demands he get a real job, "Instead of Abracadabra," rounds out the pack.
Once a staple of the silver screen, the short film is not so well known to many filmgoers nowadays, which is a real shame. Like a great short story, a great short film delivers a slice of life with at least one twist to give viewers a small glimpse of a greater truth or absurdity. All five of the live action short nominees deliver.
The films open this weekend at the Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis and the Zinema 2 in Duluth. Also after a couple of weeks in the theaters the movies will be available for download through iTunes on March 2nd.
I'll write up the animation (which includes a new Wallace and Gromit episode from Nick Parks) tomorrow.
Posted at 6:01 PM on February 12, 2010
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Gwen (Emily Blunt) discovers it's a scary world in "The Wolfman." (Image courtesy Universal Pictures)
There's lots to be scared about in the Wolfman world. After a while it actually gets a little hard to remember the entire list of people and things fingered as potential dangers in Joe Johnston's lush remake of the Lon Chaney classic frightener.
Let's see: werewolves of course, quickly followed by gypsies, bears, villagers, (both commoners and gentry,) police officers, mentally ill people, scientists, psychiatrists and fathers. Oh, and standing stones are creepy too. It's all quite exhausting because "The Wolfman" is chock-a-block with worrying weirdness.
Sadly that's about as deep as this film gets.
The plot is set in 1891 at Blackmoore, a rundown estate in England where long absent son Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) returns after hearing of the mysterious and bloody death of his brother. The locals suspect a performing bear, but Lawrence's father Sir John (played with chilling smile by Anthony Hopkins) seems to know it may be something much more unsettling. Laurence begins to delve into the mystery even as he finds himself falling for Gwen, his late brother's lady friend (Emily Blunt.)
As the fog draws in around the estate and the full moon begins its ascent, it's clear something supernatural, and clawed, is stalking the grounds.
Director Johnson plays the gothic horror to the max, creating a candlelit world where dangers lurk in every shadow. Yet "The Wolfman" doesn't add anything to the werewolf story other than thoroughly modern gore-splashing. That is a shame, because lycanthropy, to give werewolfism its scientific name, would seem to be an area which could do with a 21st century re-analysis.
The film looks amazing, but just for once wouldn't it be great to have a horror movie where people don't decide to go for a stroll to explore werewolf habitat just as the full moon is rising. Or where police officers cock their eyebrows and tersely ask each other "I don't suppose we have any silver bullets?"
Del Toro doesn't bring much to the role of Lawrence other than a close resemblance to Lon Chaney at certain points in the film. It's also a little distracting that he has an American accent (explained by the claim he's been working as an actor in the US for years,) while his father sports a Welsh lilt, and the village seems filled with transplanted Londoners. It just never quite gels.
Many years ago my mother told me the real reason for scary movies was actually to give people on dates an excuse to hold each other just a little tighter. So perhaps that's the real reason to go see "The Wolfman." Happy Valentines day......
Hal Holbrook in "That Evening Sun" (Image courtesy of Dogwood Entertainment)
Making independent movies is hard work, then distributing them is even harder. Just ask Larsen Jay.
But he believes his current project is worth the effort.
"We call it the little movie that could," laughs Larsen Jay, executive producer of "That Evening Sun." "It keeps sort of a slow burn. Everybody, once they see it they start talking about it and we keep building and building and building."
The movie stars Hal Holbrook as an old Southern farmer who decides he can't stand living in an old folks home any more. He sneaks out and heads back to what he thought was his home.
"And when he gets there he realizes the farm is being rented out by the son of his arch rival," Jay says. "and instead of leaving he sort of squats on his own land, and thus ensues this great mental battle between this old salt of the earth character and this young buck both claiming the land for their own. It's a really powerful drama with great characters and a really true depiction of the South."
The film has been winning awards on the festival circuit, including a couple from SXSW. Now Larsen and others involved in the film are doing a 30 city roll-out of the film, playing in arthouses around the country. They are also going to cities where Holbrook performs his Mark Twain show, which he has been doing for 55 years.
As part of that effort Jay will introduce the movie at Minnesota Film Arts in its new home at St Anthony Main tonight at 7.30
He says he believes this is a different kind of a movie, and that was clear on the set.
"This is a storytelling film, and so it's a little different from being on a movie set where there is a whole lot of glitz and glamor. I mean, Hal Holbrook is a craftsman, and he is prepared and he is the character," Jay says."Everyone was very serious about making sure the story was told right, not just making a movie."
Jay is please with the finished film, but now there is a lot more work to be done.
"The response we get after people see the film is wonderful and it continues to build, but it does require a lot of travel, it requires a lot of dedication, time, money, effort. People are not going to find your film just because you made it. You have to go present it to them. You have to go talk to them. You have to explain why this is a story worthy of being seen."
The trick he says is to get people in the door.
"It's hard to market and introduce people to a Southern story about an 80 year old man who is fighting for land. It's not cool and sexy like "Avatar." But it is real life and it is a really powerful story. And when people leave the theater the best reactions we've received are "That made me think," he says. "And that's a really powerful tool if they are going to recommend it to someone else."
For those of you who are waiting with baited breath for the release of the Luc Besson-scripted parkour thriller "District 13 Ultimatum," which opens in Minneapolis next week, here is a little video to ease your anticipatory pain. Parkour is sometimes defined as moving through space in interesting ways, and this seems to fit the bill.
While I'm not a huge fan of documentaries, I am looking forward to the release of "The Art of the Steal" at the end of this month. It tells the story of the Barnes Foundation, the amazing art collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes (now valued at more than $25 billion), and how many people are dying to get their hands on it. The documentary promises an insightful look at the business of art, and how greed and corruption have a seat at the table whenever profit is on the menu.
Two of the 10 nominees for best picture have heavy Minnesota connections: "A Serious Man" and "Up." The former is the Coen Brothers' homage to life (although they claim not their own) in 1960's St Louis Park, and the latter is Bloomington native Pete Docter's animated exploration of old age, balloons, and to hear him tell it, Midwestern sensibilities.
Now of course we will get into our regular debate as to whether Minnesota can really claim people who have not lived here for years, but let's leave that aside for a while.
Both "A Serious Man" and "Up" are little cinematic gems and if the nominations get a few more people to see them it's no bad thing.
Of course, with 10 nominees, and with "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker" in the mix, both of them have to be considered back in the pack, despite their great merits.
The same sadly is true for "Coraline," up for the best animated feature award, which is based on the gloriously creepy novella by Neil Gaiman, who tells people he lives in Minneapolis in part I believe to avoid having to explain he's really living in Wisconsin near the Twin Cities. "Coraline" was one of the first in the new wave of 3D movies which really uses the extra dimension to enhance the storyline. However it's up against Pixar's "Up," Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox," Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" and "The Secret of Kells."
A similar writerly connection links Minnesota and "Up in the Air" which is based on a novel written Walter Kirn who hails from Stillwater. (H/T Curtis Wenzel.)
One other local connection is St Paul native Joe Chisholm who masterminded the clandestine operation needed to get images of a dolphin slaughter which is chronicled in the controversial film "The Cove," which is nominated in the best documentary category.
In the same category "Food Inc." an exploration of the impact of factory farming on the health of consumers, was producer by Minneapolis native Bill Pohlad.
Update: Lucinda Winter at the Minnesota Film and Television Board points out another two we should mention:
1. ART DIRECTION, MAKE-UP, COSTUME DESIGN (3): YOUNG VICTORIA (Apparition is the US distributor, Bill Pohlad is a partner with Bob Berney in Apparition)
2. COSTUME DESIGN - BRIGHT STAR (Apparition is distributor, Bill Pohlad is a partner with Bob Berney in Apparition)
The Movie Maven and I were looking for other vague Minnesota connections. She came up with the fact that "The Hurt Locker" star Jeremy Renner was in "North Country" the Charlize Theron vehicle about sexual harrassment on the Iron Range. And of course "Crazy Heart" writer/director Scott Cooper, says he learned the importance of story while working on "Bill's Gun Shop" in the Twin Cities.
What is remarkable is the number of people from these films who have been on the MPR airwaves over the past months. We've had Peter Docter, members of the cast from "A Serious Man," and "Up in the Air" writer/director Jason Reitman.
We had writer director Oren Moverman talking about "The Messenger," which snagged a best original screenplay nomination (and a best supporting actor nod for Woody Harrelson.) We had writer/director Armando Iannucci talking about "In the Loop" which is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. There is also an interview with Christophe Barratier director of "Paris 36" which scored a nomination for best song.
And then in the longest Minnesota stretch ever, we should mention Helen Mirren, who is nominated for Best Actress for "The Last Station" She has a tattoo on her thumb, which she recently declared she hates because as she told Good Morning America "I decided to get a tattoo because it was the most shocking thing I could think of doing. Now I'm utterly disgusted and shocked because it's become completely mainstream, which is unacceptable to me."
And where did she get that tattoo? Many years ago while travelling through Minnesota.
Little is as it seems in the village at the center of Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon." (Images courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
Director Michael Haneke creates quiet worlds where nastiness if not flat out evil erupts for reasons which the audience only gradually come to learn. They are deeply disturbing works, scarring even, which can slither back into a person's consciousness weeks, months even years after seeing them.
I still think of scenes from "Cache" which give me goosebumps, even though I saw it in September 2005. Ask my colleague Chris Roberts about "Funny Games" (which Haneke made first in German in 1997 and then remade in English in 2007) and he physically shudders.
So why torture ourselves? Because Haneke's bleak view of the world tells us so much about the human condition.
His latest film "The White Ribbon," which opens in the Twin Cities this weekend, takes us through a few months in a village in northern Germany just before the outbreak of World War I. Outwardly it's an idyllic place, a quiet community where flaxen-haired children play in large courtyards amongst the chickens, as their parents work hard but cheerfully on the Baron's estate.
Yet very quickly we learn the village is uneasy as the result of a bizarre attack on the local doctor. Someone stretched a wire across a path near his home which trips his horse, and lands the doctor in a remote hospital.
It's just the first of a number of incidents which spread fear through the community, which (as it is after all the 20th century) is beginning to chafe under the semi-feudal system which has them under the thumb of the Baron. Suspicion swirls through the village, but as with all Haneke stories there are no easy answers.
As the film unfolds he provides glimpses into the families: the pastor who rules his children like a tyrant. There are the workers who are torn between their loyalty to and their resentment of the Baron. And there is the village teacher who gets to witness far more of this than he really wants.
At the center of the story are the children, who live a dual existance. When they are with their parents they are yoked into their place as determined by their family's social position. But away from the adults they have their own society, and it seems their own secrets - many of them quite ugly.
Haneke weaves the multiple stories of the villagers into a dense clump, using the soft tones of his black and white film to highlight the secrecy and hypocrisy of the place.
While he resolves some of the mystery, he leaves his audience teetering with the feeling that something worse is on the way. These are people who are about to be plunged into a world-changing war. And these are the children who will in a few short years be flocking to support Hitler and the fascist cause.
"The White Ribbon" has been hailed as Haneke's masterpiece, and it's easy to see why.
Detail of self portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889, Oil On Canvas
For 40 minutes this morning I was transported from the icy streets and gray skies of downtown St. Paul to the sun-drenched fields of wheat and sunflowers in southern France. And I was immersed in the colors and brush strokes of one of the most popular painters of all time.
Detail of "Undergrowth with Two Figures" by Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas
The film, created by French filmmakers Peter Knapp and François
Bertrand, takes viewers not just to southern France where Van Gogh painted some of his best work, but to Musée D'Orsay in Paris and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, where many of his works hang today. We move from the actual fields in which he painted, to the paintings themselves. Often the shot of the painting is so close up that it stretches across the entire dome of the Omnitheater, giving viewers the sense that they are standing in a painted cornfield, or walking through a painted room. It's as though you're seeing the world through Van Gogh's eyes - an intimate perspective that simply isn't possible when you are in front of the original work.
Above, a shot of the Church at Auvers-sur-Oise... below, a detail from the painting it inspired
The film serves as a reminder of Van Gogh's amazing productivity; in just under ten years he painted more than 900 canvases. In the last months of his life he was finishing sometimes three works a day. The creative frenzy ceased abruptly when he shot himself in the chest. He was just 37.
A close up look at Van Gogh's letters
Perhaps the only flaw to be found in the film is the conceit on which it is made - as an "entertainment experience." Indeed, this is no documentary. The film features three characters - Ellen, a fictional museum researcher (portrayed by actress Hélène Seuzaret), Peter, a film director ("played" by Peter Knapp, the co-director of the film), and the narrator, supposedly Vincent van Gogh himself (the voice is that of 52 year-old Jacques Gamblin, making Van Gogh sound far older than he ever was). When Van Gogh admires Peter Knapp in the course of his narration, I personally was left skeptical. Really? Would Van Gogh have liked this director? Isn't that a bit vain?
While the debate around what exactly happened to Van Gogh's ear still continues, in this film "he" says he cut it off himself, and makes no allusion to the fact that some believe his friend and fellow painter Gaugin did it in a drunken fight (this may in part be due to the fact that this film came out last year, around the same time as the most recent academic arguments).
Regardless of its artistic license or the distraction of both fictional and factual characters, the film succeeds at doing something truly remarkable. That is to take the work of a painter, and turn it into a world unto itself for us to explore.
"Van Gogh: Brush with Genius" runs January 29 - March 11 as part of Omnifest 2010.
Posted at 10:09 AM on December 24, 2009
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Penelope Cruz as Lena in 'Broken Embraces' (Images courtesy Sony Pictures Classics),
It's always an event when a new Pedro Almodovar movie hits the theaters, and this Christmas he presents Minnesota with "Broken Embraces." It's the story of a writer Harry Cain (Lluis Homar) who was a film maker until he lost his eyesight. We quickly learn Harry is a complicated character, successful with women, but carrying the weight of a torrid and tragic past.
Over the course of the next couple of hours we get to examine Harry's life and regrets. This is no simple journey however. As only Almodovar can the story unfolds like an amphetamine-fueled telenovella, leaping across decades, and between a host of characters, many of whom carry secrets as dark as Harry's.
Along the way we meet Lena (Penelope Cruz), the mistress of a wealthy tycoon, for whom Harry immediately falls head over heels. Soon Harry casts Lena as the lead in his latest comedy, and things get really complicated.
The breakneck pace of the plot, and the twists and revelations, both dark and humorous, make this a hoot to watch. Yet unlike a soap opera there is a lot of depth to Almodovar's romp. He explores the intricacies of forbidden love, the niceties of Spanish life, and the creative process both in terms of writing and film making.
Almodovar (pictured left on set with Cruz) uses his stars effectively as foils in his exploration. They come across sometimes as tragic figures, but just as often as capricious childish. While the always watchable Cruz becomes the central focus of the film, Homar carries much of the narrative, and convincingly places a man who changes through time and tragedy.
This film is much more complicated than "Volver," and less immediately satisfying. However "Broken Embraces" will no doubt draw repeated viewings and reveal more each time.
Many of us have Christmas viewing traditions. My sister and one of her best pals always watch "It's a Wonderful Life," a tradition that is now decades old. Some people have the "Ronia, the Robber's Daughter" at the Oak Street, and there's of course "A Christmas Story" or even the viewing of the Lord of the Rings trilogy at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis which happened last Sunday.
Some people flock to the end of year lists, or in this case, end of decade lists to pick something they missed.
My family tries to sit down together with something we have all loved in the past, or that one of us feels everyone will really enjoy. We were going to watch "Clueless" in memory of Brittany Murphy, but decided that was too sad, and so we somehow settled on "Death at a Funeral" which perhaps says something about how we think.
But what about you? What movie traditions do you share with your family at this time of year?
And while you are thinking about that, have a listen to Tay "Cherry Chocolate Rain" Zonday sing a seasonal favorite. Happy Holidays.(1 Comments)
The Floating Mountains of Pandora, just one of the wonders of "Avatar" (Images courtesy 20th Century Fox)
I left "Avatar" scratching my head a little. The movie is breathtaking. Director James Cameron and his crew have created a stunningly beautiful film, filled with images of fantastic animals, and incredible landscapes. For people of my age they conjure fond memories of the Roger Dean illustrations on Yes albums from the 1970s. What's more the visual feast just keeps coming at you for almost three hours and in 3D too.
The headscratcher is for all the money spent on this film, hundreds of millions reportedly, why wasn't some of that money spent on creating a better story?
It starts out with such promise: a marine who uses a wheelchair after some vaguely defined incident in his past finds himself transported to another world. He's there because he has the same genetic make-up as his scientist brother who trained to be an avatar driver to explore this planet, but was murdered. The avatars are very expensive and built specifically for each driver, so it's a lucky break for the human explorers to find someone who can take over the job.
Thus the grunt finds himself reborn inside the 10 foot tall body of a Na'vi warrior, complete with blue skin and a tail. He sets off and soon finds himself caught between the mining company from Earth desperate to get at the minerals under the Na'vi's sacred sites, and the Na'vi who he grows to respect and love.
It's not that the "Avatar" plot doesn't hold together. It's just predictable. Perhaps huge battle scenes are inescapable in movies like this, but it would have so wonderful to have them come up with some other way of dealing with the conflict. Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke" deals with many of the same issues as "Avatar" and came up with a much more novel solution to the conflict.
This is the second time in recent months that a movie with incredible visuals has been lacking a spectacular script. "9" suffered the same fate, although at a much smaller cost.
"Avatar" is definitely worth seeing, on as large a screen as possible, and preferably in 3D. But it's tantalizing to think about what might have been. And maybe that's just what we have to hope for in the future.
Posted at 5:58 PM on December 18, 2009
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
You had to look very closely at the Minnesota Film Arts newsletter to see that after years of teetering on the edge the Oak Street Cinema is closing. Once the battleground for strident Twin Cities film fans, the future of the Oak no longer seems to whip up the cineaste blood.
Instead the newsletter focused on the screening of the new print of "Ronia the Robber's Daughter" a quarter century long holiday tradition at the MFA, and before that at the U Film Society. There's a new print this year, and once again the MFA anticipates large crowds for the classic adaptation of Astrid Lindgren's tale. It turns out these screenings may be the last for some time at the Oak Street
The release then mentions the MFA is relocating to an office next door to the St Anthony Main theaters which has served as the base for the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival for the last couple of years. There is a small aside that this is where the MFA will now do its year round programming.
MFA programmer Ryan Oestreich says there is actually more to the story. Reached by cell phone as he helped with the move to the new offices, he says he is also taking over as the general manager for St Anthony Main, so he'll have two employers.
He sees the new arrangement as advantageous to MFA. He says having several screens available will allow him flexibility in scheduling movies which he didn't have at Oak Street. Oestreich says an MFA film can be blended in with the more commercial fare at St Anthony, and perhaps offer more opportunities for the arthouse crowd to catch it.
"One screen is great for now," he said, "But there is a huge possibility to go two, three, maybe even four screens, if this venture is very successful.
He says St Anthony is also just a more attractive location. When asked if it's a loss to no longer be on campus, given the decades long association with the U of M, Oestreich says St Anthony has long been the easy option for U students wanting to catch the latest Hollywood fare, so he sees it as a de facto campus theater.
He also stresses the Oak Street isn't going away. It will be part of future MSPIFF's and other MFA events.
"The Oak Street will be used for galas, and parties, special events and rentals," he said. "So it's still kind of the jewel of the organization."
he says the plans to demolish the Oak and redevelop the block are now abandoned, and now he says he wants to make sure it remains a viable venue to be available for big events. However he admits the long-term future of the Oak is still very much in the air.
Oestreich says he hopes to develop St Anthony as a place where there will be an arthouse feel, and provide venues for movies not picked up by the Landmark chain which runs the Uptown, Lagoon and Edina theaters. he hopes to arrange theatrical premieres and arrange visits by directors in support of their films.
In the meantime Oestreich is just getting pumped for the screening of "Ronia" and seeing families who have made the screening an annual holiday treat. He says there are families where the tradition now spans generations.
He also says to keep watching the MFA web site for updates as things develop. Or, he says, he hopes people will just drop by the new offices at St Anthony Main.
There's a danger that you suck the life out of a video installation by describing it. With that caveat let me suggest that a few minutes spent with Zhao Liang's "Heavy Sleepers" which opens this evening at the Walker Art Center is time well spent.
Zhao is a Beijing-based artist who captures on video the parts of China people in the West rarely if ever get to see, even by travelling to China.
"Heavy Sleepers" is a two-channel video installation, displayed along opposite walls in one of the Walker galleries. They are long tracking shots taken inside a workers dormitory.
One channel (immediately above) shows the dorm filled with sleeping workers. They lie side-by-side sleeping fully clothed among the detritus of their everyday existance. These are workers brought in to help with Beijing's building boom. Hard hats, eating utensils, and water bottles lie strewn about the rough wooden pallets where the exhausted men slump against dirty cushions. Are they heavy with sleep or heavy with responsibility?
The other (top of the post) shows the same dorm, now empty of sleepers, although many of the same utensils and bottles sit in the same place. The workers are gone, but it's not clear if it is just to work, or whether they have gone forever. Apparently these construction workers cannot get permits to live in the already crowded metropolis.
The piece is disorienting, not least because the images on walls keep tracking together so you feel you are moving, even if you are standing quite still. This cognitive dissonance is heightened by the apparent disappearance of the people. There is also the sense you are trespassing on these sleepers, who are unaware of the eyes upon them. Yet for all this it is hard to stop watching, at least for a while as the panorama moves on by.
It is footage shot of the Great Wall of China, in the spots where the tourists don't get to go. These are parts where time and the elements have cracked and bowed the walls, sometimes spilling bricks across the grass much like the personal items in the workers dorm. As the video progresses the snow begins to fall, and the stark bulk of the wall blends into the scenery. Sometimes it seems almost organic, like a vine or a skeleton stretched across the ground. Sometimes, as in the picture at left, you have to really stare to pick out the wall at all.
It's a meditation on the huge task of building the Great Wall, which took countless workers, the predecessors of the heavy sleepers, centuries to complete. Huge effort went into maintainance too, but clearly, even as the snow swirls around and coats the rubble, that work has been abandoned.
Walker Film and Video Curator Sheryl Mousley first met Zhao Liang a few years ago when she visited China. She says his documentary work then was much more "MTV-like," cutting quickly between the images. Now his work has taken on the more contemplative aspect displayed in these two pieces.
Mousley has invited Zhao to visit the Walker in the news year, and he will present two of his films.
"Petition-The Court of the Complainants" premiered at Cannes this year, and follows some of the people who come from all over China to Beijing to lodge complaints about the local authorities where they live. The process can take months, and they complainants live in make-shift shelters as they wait, facing intimidation from the people about who they are complaining.
"Crime and Punishment" is Zhao's film about the guards working the border between China and North Korea, a place swarming with people, some looking for help, and some a quick profit. The films will screen on the weekend of January 29th.
Zhao will do a gallery talk about "Heavy Sleepers" on January 30th.
This time I caught him eating breakfast in a hotel in Milwaukee, where he spoiled the rhapsodic description of his steal-cut oatmeal and fruit by admitting a 3 am chicken strip eating contest had taken the edge of his appetite.
This is just all part of life when you are trying to re-calibrate the movie distribution system in America.
Sklar is on his way to the Trylon Cinema in Minneapolis tonight where he and his pals on the Range Life Entertainment bus will end their 2009 national tour by showing two movies: the comedy noir "Assassination of a High School President" (with Mischa Barton and Bruce Willis) and the air-drumming comedy "Adventures of Power" (with Michael McKean and Jane Lynch.)
They are two of the 14 films which Sklar has had on the road since early September. (This is the second visit to Minnesota on the tour.)
The movie theater isn't big but the idea is to build buzz. When Sklar went on the road last year he took movies that didn't have distribution deals. This year that's still true of about half his stable, but the other half do have deals, and as in the case of both "Assassination" and "Adventures" got a lot of festival love before falling foul of the economy.
"While we were kind of honing in and figuring out how to make this little road apparatus work as a distribution method," Sklar says, "I think the rest of the distribution landscape continued to fall apart. I think they thought that everything bottomed out and levelled out last year, but the sky was still falling apparently because at this point it's interesting that a lot of the larger films, and even the films that we are working with partners on, are even more excited and more aggressive on what they are doing with us than some of the smaller ones."
Sklar admits that sometimes he's not as convinced as the folks he's working with that what they are doing is working.
"I don't know that I necessarily feel that it's working, but everybody else feels like it is," he laughed. "I know we all feel like there's a lot more to improve."
Sklar says some of the films had offers from companies which then went bankrupt. He says films which might seem like naturals for the movieplexes have ended up sitting on the shelves for months. He calls them "PoW's of this whole thing."
Sklar claims that there are now so many gatekeepers in the distribution business that it makes it hard for some worthy movies to get into theaters. So that's where Sklar comes in with his quick hit shows at colleges and art houses.
"It's easier for us to do that than for a distributor to open for a week in 40 cities," he says. He points to "Assassination" as a case in point. After several attempts to get it into theaters failed, the distributor asked Range Life to take it on the road.
"We have no business being a part of a movie like that," Sklar says. "But at the same time it's very indicative of the current state of the film industry." He immediately agreed to the deal.
Sklar says Range Life offers a low-cost, high efficiency way of generating interest in a movie before it comes out on DVD.
Meanwhile he is still promoting his original mission, promoting low-budget movies that don't have a distributor, but he thinks deserves an audience.
Another less publicized part of this tour is Sklar and his associates have been creating a network of people in each city they visit which they hope they can use to promote some of the movies when the Range Life van isn't on the road. He hopes they can be showing films, or even making films which can come together through this network.
"A little 'Range Life' army around the country," Sklar says. He hopes it could lead to what he calls a whole new generation of content. He says he couldn't have made his own first feature without help and this could provide a framework for future film makers.
As for his own film work it has been on hold because of the touring, but he hopes to have a couple of pieces in play soon. He just produced a film with writer/director Dean Peterson called "Incredibly Small" which he hopes will be out in the spring. He is also writing a film with one of the stars of "Box Elder" which they will shoot in the summer. "It's taken a lot longer than it probably should have," he says.
He promises a Minneapolis show.
"The Twin Cities is the core of what we do," Sklar says. "You've got to bring it back home.
Sklar and his pals will be at the Trylon tonight at 7 for "Adventures of Power" and 9 for "Assassination of a High School President."
Greg Yolen (above) has a simple programming philosophy for the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival.
"The films just kind of programmed themselves," he says
He put the MUFF's address on the web site and received 45 films from nine countries.
"Everyone else can judge the work," he says. "I just want to show it."
All of them are in the 2009 festival which runs this weekend at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Audiences will be asked to vote on the films to decide prizewinners at the event.
He says he learned a lot last year.
"Basically I saw this real interest in films, not only local films, but international underground films, that I didn't know existed," he says.
He also learned about timing, and how an event in August, like the first MUFF has to compete with a lot of other distractions. Thus the new December date.
Yolen says the digital revolution has leveled the movie-making playing field, with people making quality flicks in their homes. He says the problem of independent film has usually been story, or lack of it. However he says this year's entries show film makers are working hard to change that.
He has scored a coup in getting local director John Koch, of Cinema Revolution fame, to present the world premier of his just completed film "The Seducer."
"He took the whole problem of story out of the equation," Yolen says. "He's goy the best writer in history. He shares a writing credit with Fyodor Dostoyevsky. So you've got a great story, just put it in a modern context."
Yolen says he's a huge fan of Koch's film making and the special way he tells stories.
Another of his top picks is "Paddle to Seattle," and adventure documentary made by two friends who built their own kayaks and paddle from Alaska through the inland passage to Seattle.
"It's just beautiful," Yolen says, who also recounts terrifying scenes of suddenly finding themselves in the midst of a school of humpback whales.
The MUFF also offers the opportunity to catch up on some locally made films which you may have missed earlier. Melody Gilbert's "Disconnected" gets a screening, as does "Living Arrangements," about a vegan couple in Minneapolis who find their deep committment to animal rights is tested when they discover a werewolf living in the attic of their new home. There is also a screening of James Vogel's "The City."
The festival is also showing a pile of short films, and some grittier material at its late night screenings.
The full schedule is here, including a number of trailers.
Yolen says he hopes the MUFF will grow and become an important event. He also hopes it will serve as an inspiration for local film makers. He says he's already encouraging people to make piece for the 2010 festival. He sees it all as part of developing and maintaining a thriving film scene.
"I'm just trying to get through this weekend," he laughs. "Then I'll figure it out."
Posted at 11:50 AM on December 1, 2009
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
In a list obsessed world the New Yorker's Richard Brody is to be commended for his courage in releasing his list of the best films of the decade.
He immediately states that this is a list deserving of an asterisk as it was compiled in part while writing a book, "Everything is Cinema," a huge tome on Jean-Luc Goddard, which also explains how "Eloge de l'amour" Goddard's 2001 film tops his list.)
The comments following the posting are fun of course, as there are few things many cinephiles love to do more than hold up their own lists along with an explanation as to why theirs is better.
I also love this post, which actually touches on a larger problem: i like two other films, both french, both by the same director. I don't remember their titles. In one, based on a huge scandal by a large french multination, a female prosecutor is slowly demoralized as she investigates the corrupt corporation. In the other film, an old, famous French philosopher seduces a young, innocent girl. They are great films.
This comment, along with Brody's eclectic list, point to the huge challenge facing movie fans, which is the massive volume of film flooding through the theaters, TV, the internet, the mail and the few remaining video stores.
Of the 26 films on the Brody list, only a handful had more than a one-time screening here in the Twin Cities, and many have not been shown. Yes, we can add them to our Netflix queues, but there are only so many hours in the day when you can watch movies.
The bottom line is it is impossible to see everything, and so every "best of list" has to have an asterisk.
Of course from a movie-watcher perspective, it's better to have too much choice, than too little.
Things are about to get messy in "Ninja Assassin" (Image courtesy Warner Bros.)
For those who believe nothing quite says Thanksgiving like a martial arts movie, we have not one but two rock 'em sock 'em extravaganzas opening in Minnesota this weekend: "Ninja Assassin" and "Red Cliff."
Both are directed by big names: James McTeigue of "V for Vendetta" fame, and action film maestro John Woo ("Broken Arrow," "Face/Off.")
They also share a number of attributes: high flying stunts, intricately choreographed fights, and a lot of blood.
What they are unlikely to share is much of an audience. They are designed for different demographics.
McTeigue's "Assassin" is a tale of a highly trained ninja, played by Korean pop star Rain ("Speed Racer") who has broken with the sadistic leader of the Azuno ninja clan. The clan has a centuries old business model of bumping people off for the all-in price of 100 lbs of gold. That gets you a group of ceiling-hugging sword-swinging guys and gals in black catsuits and facemasks who make short and bloody work of just about anyone. As shadow warriors, the ninja like things dark. The power goes out a lot, and the blades start swinging. These are not people you want to rub the wrong way - which, of course, is exactly what our hero does.
"Ninja Assassin" is a gore-fest, pure and simple, aimed at teenagers. There is so much blood and viscera it quickly descends into horror flick territory.
The plot doesn't even try to make sense. Why is it that while a ninja hit essentially redecorates a room with bodyparts, Europol the crack investigative unit seems to have missed any evidence of a millennia of such incidents? And why do the ninjas who have the ability to blend into the background so well they disappear suddenly forget all that when they are attacked at home?
This will matter little though for the "Ninja Assassin" audience. The splatter eye-candy is going to sell a lot of tickets.
The army prepares in "Red Cliff" (Image courtesy Magnolia Pictures)
"Red Cliff" has an older target audience, one with more of an interest in history, and a sense of old-fashioned spectacle.
It has plotting problems too, but for another reason. The film is an amalgamation of two epic films made for the Chinese market. The story of a pivotal battle in Chinese history in the year 208 was originally five hours long, but has now been telescoped into a more cineplex friendly two-and-a-half. You can never escape the sense that you are missing something.
"Red Cliff" has a lot going for it. There's the star-studded cast including Tony Leung, Takeshi Kuneshiro, and Zhao Wei.
It is visually stunning. Woo captures the spectacle of thousands of soldiers in hand to hand combat unflinchingly. He uses a host of special effects to take the audience through clouds of arrows, and across the battlefield with a messenger pigeon. He takes us through the dramatic landscape of the river gorge as the battle approaches and deep into the horrors of the climactic battle on land and water. It's breathtaking.
This shortened version of "Red Cliff" does allow for some of the political subtlety of the story, but we never get very deep into the minds of the characters. This is a titanic struggle, involving thousands of people. Yet other than occasional back hand remarks, we never get to hear about the human side of the battle, and that's a shame.
It's not often that I leave a movie of this length wanting more, but I did after seeing "Red Cliff." There are DVDs of the original two movies available. Of course, that can't replicate the big screen experience.
So who will win the "Ninja Assassin" "Red Cliff" smackdown? The ninjas will be carving up the audiences this thanksgiving, but Red Cliff is here for the long haul. And for all the non-martial arts fans, there's always "The Road" and "The Fantastic Mr Fox."
Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in "The Road" (Image courtesy Dimension Films
There are weeks when the movie theaters seem filled with visions of a post-apocalyptic world, the likes of "Zombieland" and "2012." But few pack the punch of John Hillcoat's "The Road."
The blogosphere has been full of questions as to whether he could capture Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of a father and young son's determined march through a ravaged America. The simple answer is he has done a remarkable job.
The story is set several years after the world has been devastated by earthquake and climate change.
With animal life pretty much wiped out, and farming impossible, the remaining humans are left to scavenge for ever-dwindling supplies of food. Some have turned to cannibalism. This is truly the Hobbesian world, where life is nasty brutish and short.
The unnamed Man (Viggo Mortensen) and Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) live in constant fear as they push a supermarket trolley loaded with their possessions across the country. They are headed for the ocean, believing that if they get there life will be better.
Yet they are always prepared for the worst. The Man carries a pistol with two bullets, which he has told the Boy are meant first and foremost for taking their own lives should the need arise.
Travelling the road they talk about right and wrong, bolstering each other to survive, and to live as 'good guys,' a code which gives them a glimmer of hope in a hopeless world.
Mortensen and Smit-McPhee are both dead-on in their portrayals. Mortensen carries himself with the look of someone who has to dig to the bottom of his soul each day to go on, but will not give up because of his son. On the other hand Smit-McPhee's open earnestness, which occasionally slips to reveal the youngster still surviving inside is gripping to watch.
"Are we still the good guys?" asks the Boy after they survive a violent confrontation with marauders.
"And always will be, no matter what happens," replies the Man.
As the story progresses, the important subtleties of their relationship emerge. The Man provides protection and wisdom for the Boy. Yet it is the Boy who provides the pair their real strength, demanding that they live up to their ideals even in the face of bleak reality.
Along the way they meet others who test their humanity. They have to dodge terrifying groups of armed men and women who have crossed the line into murder for food.
Mainly there are just loners scrabbling to get by themselves. Michael K Williams, the fearsome Omar Little of "The Wire" appears as a thief. And there is Eli, an elderly invalid, they pass one day. The Man wants to ignore him, but the Boy insists they share some food.
As they eat the Man asks Eli (Robert Duvall) "Did you ever wish you would die?"
"It is foolish to wish for luxuries in times like these" he replies.
Ultimately "The Road" is about hope, and how little you need to keep going.
It can be argued that Hillcoat's "The Road" is slightly less bleak than the McCarthy novel, although it is by a very small measure. And opening as it does the day before Thanksgiving it will no doubt make many of us realize just how much we have for which to be grateful.
Posted at 4:15 PM on November 20, 2009
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
I have never seen people flinching in a press screening of a movie until this week, when a group gathered to watch Lee Daniels "Precious."
It's probably a good sign that even today in the age of 3D gorefests cinema has not lost its ability to shock with an all-too-real story.
The tale of Claireece "Precious" Jones is brutal. She's a 350lb teenager pregnant with her second child by her now absent father. She lives at the beck and call of her monstrous mother Mary. She sees Precious as a servant, and simply a way to squeeze extra money out of the welfare office. When verbal abuse doesn't produce the results Mary wants, she turns to violence.
Precious escapes into herself, sitting at the back of her classroom she dreams of being a celebrity, dressed to the nines and dancing with handsome young men. She goes there too when the blows fall about her head.
All might seem lost, but Precious catches a glimmer of hope when she transfers to a special school dedicated to getting at risk youngsters their GED. But can she make it through without her mother dragging her back into her old life?
Gabourey Sidibe (right) is simply astonishing in the title role.
She shows how tough Precious can be, displaying her determination mixed with a vulnerability which can set her back as quickly as push her forward. For a first time screen actor to carry this film is remarkable. To portray this character and turn in her into a symbol of hope is even more so.
She get a great deal of help from Mo'Nique who gives a nuanced performance as Mary, eventually explaining how she became the depraved individual she is. Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz both shed their musical personas to portray a social worker and a nurse who try to help Precious. Don't be surprised if you hear these names again come awards season.
Precious is not an easy film, but if it provokes discussion of the abuses which are sadly all too common through out all strata of society then it will have done a service. And if it convinces even one person that there is hope that is even better.
You can watch the trailer here.
A couple of years ago Curt Ellis (left) and his friend Ian Cheney decided to teach themselves about agriculture by planting, growing, harvesting, and selling an acre of corn in Iowa. They filmed it all of course and released a documentary about the experience called "King Corn."
The neophyte farmers travelled the country with their movie which explored the impact of subsidies on US farms, and on food choices for American consumers.
Now they are back with a sequel. Curt Ellis admits that's a little unusual in the documentary game.
"I think that's probably for good reason," he laughs.
Yet they have done it all the same.
"I guess from the minute we finished 'King Corn' we had a realization we hadn't told the full story. 'King Corn' is really the food story of one acre of Iowa farmland, and we spent a year growing one acre of corn and following our harvest off the farm. But by the end of the year, having learned our harvest was going to become high fructose corn syrup and corn-fed confinement-raised meat, we realized there was something else at least as valuable as the corn we had grown, and that was the land we had tended and the way we had tended it."
Ellis and Cheney went back to Iowa and explored the ecological impact they'd had on their acre of soil, through the way they had plowed it and applied various chemical herbicides and fertilizers.
"We really only spent two hours over the course of the year actually farming," he says. "And most of that time was spent spraying things, injecting anhydrous ammonia, or spraying a cocktail of herbicides on our field of corn that had been genetically modified to make it withstand a direct spray. So there was clearly a chemical process as much as a biological process going on. "
Ellis and Cheney followed the run-off from their land through the watershed and into the Mississippi. They also talked to various experts about the health impact of modern farming methods.
"The goal of the "Big River" film was to create a follow-up to "King Corn" that would introduce people to these consequences that are hidden behind our everyday meals," Ellis says. He talks about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the flow of fertilizers in the run-off from Midwestern farms, and about reports of cancer clusters in some farm communities.
Ellis will bring both films to a screening at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis on Wednesday. Several local organizations are sponsoring the show, which will include a panel discussion of some of the issues raised.
He says at other similar events there have been a number of farmers in the audience and there has been a great discussion. He expects that to be the case in Minneapolis too.
"It's not always friendly," he says. "But I've been pretty amazed by how friendly it is. Both "King Corn" and "Big River" are pretty moderate films. We are not taking a finger-wagging approach to these problems. You know we are really all in this together. The reality is our food system is in trouble right now, and the only people who can fix that are all of us coming together."
"Big River" is just 30 minutes long and Ellis hopes it will have use as an educational tool in schools and for environmental advocacy groups.
Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis look to the future in "Big River" (Image courtesy WickedDelicate Films)
Ellis laughs when asked if there will be a King Corn III, but then mentions the next big project will be called "Truck Farm" which is about how the two film makers took the rust 1986 Dodge pick-up truck which appeared in "King Corn" and put a roof on it so they could grow vegetables. In time they turned it into a community supported agriculture subscription farm serving 20 people. This maybe the only farm which can actually drive around town.
"It started just because Ian and I moved to Brooklyn after we finished our film projects and we wanted to grow food, but we didn't have any land, so we turned to the only open space we knew of which was the bed of the old pick-up truck."
You can see episodes from the project at WickedDelicate films. Ellis sees it as a fun way to spur discussions of the very real problem of so-called 'food deserts,' areas in cities where healthy food is hard to find.
"We had a neighborhood kid who kept eating the parsley down to a stump," Ellis says. "So that was our only pest problem."
The hour-long version of "Truck Farm" will probably premier next spring. They are also working on a film about light pollution from urban areas.
You can hear our conversation here: Listen
It was a strange night at the Mall of America last evening. "Twilight Saga:New Moon" fans filled the rotunda for the appearance by Edi Gathegi and Jamie Campbell Bower. Meanwhile upstairs in the movie theater a wondrous collection of pumped-up Boondock Saints fans were howling at the arrival of director Troy Duffy and star Sean Patrick Flanery (pictured above.)
Duffy and Flanery came to introduce "Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day," and to grow the legend of one of the stranger film stories in recent years.
In case you missed it, here's the thumbnail: in the late 1990's Troy Duffy became a Hollywood hot property because of his "Boondock" script. The story of a pair of gun-toting Irish vigilantes blasting Boston baddies seemed ideal for studios eager to build on the success of "Pulp Fiction." He got a huge advance from Miramax, a budget for his film which he was also to direct.
Then things went south real fast.
Duffy alienated Miramax with his behavior, and the studio pulled out. He also had agreed to let some friends make a film of his experience in the Hollywood limelight, and when things went bad it got captured on film. The resulting documentary "Overnight" portrayed Duffy as an egomaniacal bully. Duffy made his film on half the budget he's had from Miramax, but then found in post-Columbine days no distribution company would touch a movie about a pair of black coat clad guys shooting people. The film opened briefly on a handful of screens, got ripped by critics, and that appeared to be that.
However as Duffy and Flanery told the MOA crowd, that's when the Boondock fanbase began kicking in. As the film appeared in video stores it began to attract fans who made sure their friends all saw it. Then they in turn turned on their friends. Official estimates say about $50 million worth of discs have sold over the years since. Duffy and Flanery toss around much larger numbers than that.
Now after a decade, and lawsuits, and a lot of other strange stuff the Boondock Saints are back, and judging by the reception the movie got from the Minnesota crowd it's not a moment too soon.
The Troy Duffy who appeared in the movie theater was not a monster. In fact, while he does delight in the use of expletives, he was thoughtful, and even charming in a blunt kind of way. Flanery was also clearly having a ball, and described making Boondock 2 as the best experience he ever had making a film, with Boondock 1 being the second.
"It was like they gave a bunch of blue collar dudes the keys to Hollywood," he proclaimed at one point.
After the q and a and a signing where the Boondocks posed for dozens of pictures, they sat down with me for a long chat. We'll air some of it tomorrow evening.
As they left, I mentioned the Twilight Saga folks were there too.
"So who would win in a fight?" I had to ask. "The Boondock Saints or the vampires and the werewolves?"
Sean Patrick Flanery smiled back and said, "I could take five of them myself."
Jason Reitman says as the son of "Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman he felt uncomfortable about following his father's footsteps into the film business.
"Right when I got to college I started getting nervous that I shouldn't be a director," he said today during a visit to the MPR studios.
"I was well aware about the presumptions about the children of famous people, that if you are the son of a famous film director, most likely you are a spoiled brat, you have no talent, and more than likely you have an alcohol or drug problem. And I thought why go into a career where these are the presumptions going in? Best case scenario I live in my father's shadow. Worst case scenario I fail on a very public level."
So he went to college as a pre-med student.
Then his father stepped in.
"He's the first Jewish dad in the history of Jewish dads to tell their son 'Don't be a doctor. Be a film maker,'" Reitman smiled.
It turned out Ivan Reitman was following in his own father's footsteps who had advised him against sinking money into a submarine sandwich shop he was considering.
"There's not enough magic in it for you," Jason Reitman says quoting his grandfather. Ivan Reitman, who was a music major who ran a film club, began developing his interest in movies and eventually became a hugely successful director. He told Jason that he would be immensely proud of him if he did decide to be a physician.
"But," says Jason, now quoting his father,"'There's not enough magic in it for you. You have to follow your heart. You have to be a storyteller.'"
Three days later Jason Reitman was out of his pre-med classes in New York, and talking his way into English classes at USC in Los Angeles. He made short films, and in time was able to parlay that into feature films.
First there was "Thank you for smoking," which was funded by David Sacks, one of the guys who had just sold PayPal to eBay, and had some money to invest in a film as a result.
"I've been accused my entire life of having a career that undoubtedly came from nepotism," Reitman laughs. "And nepotism didn't deliver. It was supposed to bring me a career and it didn't work! Come on nepotism! It ended up being an internet millionaire from San Francisco who started my career."
Then came his meeting with Diablo Cody.
"I remember being very intimidated to meet her. She's covered in tattoos, and she's kind of hyper-cool. And I'm the last thing from that," he said. "I just kind of fell in love with her because she is just so funny and so direct. Her ability to come up with clever dialog in the moment was unmatched by anyone I've ever met."
That meeting resulted in "Juno," and a shower of Oscars.
Now Reitman is publicizing "Up in the Air," a dark comedy about a man who makes his living travelling the country firing people, starring George Clooney. It's based on a Walter Kirn novel
When asked about his apparent attraction to writers with Minnesota ties he responded "I really should live here. I don't know why have been avoiding this so long. I seem to be a natural. Maybe it's because I'm Canadian."
In all seriousness though he says he learned a lot about the trauma many people are going through as a result of the losing their jobs.
"Of the 27 people fired in "Up in the Air," 22 of them are real people who actually just lost their jobs. They are not actors," Reitman says. The film makers recruited the people through a newspaper ad, and then had them come in to be interviewed and then fired again on camera.
It's a tough sequence to watch. Reitman says he had assumed that the worst thing about being fired was the loss of income.
"But it wasn't that. It was actually a loss of purpose. The question they would ask was 'I don't know what I'm supposed to do. Where am I supposed to go after this interview? I get in my car but I don't have anywhere I'm supposed to be."
The film doesn't fit easily into categories. It's funny in parts, and quite dark in others.
On that note, it's intriguing to take a look at the two trailers for the film available one line. The first one focuses much more on the tougher edge of "Up in the Air."
The second, which is in theaters at present is much lighter, although you can still see the edge.
"Up in the Air" opens in the Twin Cities on December 4th. We'll air the interview closer to that time.
Walker Art Center film curator Sheryl Mousley recalls what she had to do when she travelled to China in 2001hoping to see some of the underground social issue documentary films she'd heard were being made at the time.
She made some contacts and was told "This is totally illegal to show these films in China. But if you show up at this bar at noon, anybody who MIGHT want to show you something MIGHT be there."
Mousley says she was there at noon, and found a VCR set up. Over the next few hours, a stream of people turned up to show her their films. She brought some of the tapes back and screened them at the Walker.
Her interest in Chinese film has resulted in the latest Walker Film event "The People's Republic of Cinema" which celebrates the 60 years of movie-making in mainland China since the Revolution in 1949.
Mousley says she hopes the event will offer a chance for people to learn a little more about China through the stories it has told about itself.
"The very first one, made in 1949 tells us of the coming revolution," she says of 'Crows and Sparrows.' The early films capture the stylized look of socialist realism. Later films from the Cultural Revolution have a starker appearance.
"Then the reaction to that by the next generation of making films, but still working within the government system, making films that were classic rural films of still challenging the system, but in a revolutionary way," Mousley says. "And then the next generation comes along and it's urban and gritty and making films about what they are seeing now."
The images are remarkably recognizable, but Mousley says that's perhaps not surprising when we think of how much of US history has come to be thought of in terms of cinematic scenes.
"Going back to the Civil War, we would probably show 'Gone with the Wind' and it would be that great image of Tara, and then we would show 'Bonnie and Clyde' in the thirties. We have all these iconic images of our own history through the cinema as well and so that is what we know."
Some of the films in "The People's Republic of China" are well known here, but some have never been screened in the US before. In fact some of them haven't been shown much even in China.
"So we are seeing a China that not even Chinese people always see," says Mousley. "So it's a very interesting mix of information."
She says repeat attendees will be able to follow the evolution of Chinese cinema. She saw it herself. When she went back to China just four years later in 2005 to do an artist-in-residence program and she asked to see some work in advance. She was expecting trouble again, but that time round the film makers told her they would just post them to her web site.
The People's Republic of Cinema runs through November 23rd in association with the University of Minnesota. Some of the films will screen at the Walker and others at the Bell Auditorium at the U.
George Clooney (left) and Jeff Bridges star in the new film adaptation of Jon Ronson's book "The Men Who Stare at Goats." (Image courtesy Overture Films)
Jon Ronson says initially it didn't occur to anyone that there was an irony in hiring Star Wars star Ewan McGregor to play a role in "The Men Who Stare at Goats."
The movie is based on Ronson's non-fictional account of efforts within the US military to train soldiers to develop paranormal powers and become what the military called Jedi warriors.
"Nobody had sussed it out," Ronson said to me during a phone interview today. "Only after Ewan had been offered the role did he mention it. Total coincidence. May God strike me down if I am lying," he laughed, and then quickly admitted he doesn't believe in God.
It's just one of the many strange things about Ronson's story. He is a writer and documentary maker who began his explorations into the psychic soldiers shortly after 9/11 when he ran into the infamous silverware bender Uri Geller who had long claimed to be a psychic spy.
When Ronson asked him about it, Geller would only say a) that he had been 're-activated' and b) he would deny making his first statement if Ronson told anyone.
This set Ronson off on a series of adventures meeting some of the people who had tried to do such things as pass through walls, make clouds disperse, make people forget about what they were thinking (especially if that thought was about killing you,) and yes, trying to kill goats, and possibly people, by staring at them.
Ronson knows people will be skeptical about the story. "My own skepticism is utterly intact," he says. "I firmly believe that all the things I say happened in the book did happen, but what I don't believe for a second was that any of this paranormal stuff actually worked."
Such was his confidence in this he actually submitted to being a subject by one of the 'goat-starers.' The man said he would enter Ronson's mind and make him so fearful that when he touched him Ronson would fly across the room.
"And indeed that's what he did," Ronson says.
However on reviewing the videotape he had made of the interaction Ronson saw something different happening. He described the soldier in question as 'an enormous Special Forces martial arts trainer.' he describes himself as being quite small. On the tape he saw that the soldier actually hit him quite hard and it wasn't surprising he flew through the air.
"It was an interesting lesson in a kind of pragmatic application of paranormal techniques, which was basically freak somebody out and they will be debilitated and you'll be able to have your way with them," he says.
The movie based on Ronson's book opens with a declaration "More of this is true than you would believe." The film takes Ronson's true tales of paranormal experimentation and builds a fictional story of a mildly hapless journalist Bob Wilton (McGregor) who stumbles across the remnants of a disbanded supersecret psychic soldier group, including Lyn Casady (George Clooney) who takes him into Iraq. Along the way Casady relates the history of the First Earth Battalion and its founder Bill Django (Jeff Bridges.) Things don't go terribly well, all in all.
Ronson says he was advised by his friend Nick Hornby that he should just relax and not worry about the whole film making process. He decided to just enjoy the adventure.
"I think they have made a really nice film," he said. "It's a very sweet, funny warm film that I think people will engage with. Even though my book is quite dark, the film is light. And I think that is fine."
"Because I am such a sceptic, I don't believe for a second that people could actually have these paranormal powers, " he continued. "But I loved that the movie toyed with it: that you don't really know at the beginning of the movie whether its going to change into a kind of X-Men and these people will have these amazing powers and they kind of toy with that possibility in a very funny engaging way."
The movie opens this weekend across the country, and anyone eager for a brush with stardom can meet one of the goats used in the film at the Mall of America this evening. Word is you can try to 'drop the goat' yourself if you are so inclined.
But Jon Ronson isn't holding his breath.
Posted at 11:28 AM on October 30, 2009
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
In "An Education" Carey Mulligan plays a girl who longs for a life of sophistication, and then has second thoughts when she gets it. (Images courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
Carey Mulligan stars as Jenny, a bright teenager who, in the London of 1961, is tantalized by the world just beyond her grasp.
She is immersed in taking classes to prepare her for the Oxford entrance exams, but still finds time to lie on the floor of her bedroom listening to Juliette Greco, and dreaming of a sophisticated life far from her overbearing father (played with perfect pomposity by Alfred Molina.)
Her dreams apparently come true one day when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), a man almost twice her age. He takes her to concerts after having charmed her parents, and introduces her to nightclubs, and a life of excitement which Jenny finds increasingly hard to leave to return to her studies.
Of course David is too good to be true, leaving Jenny with some difficult decisions. Her education in the university of life is both eye=-opening and chastening.
Director Lone Scherfig uses the Nick Hornby script, and a cast which also includes Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson, and Sally Hawkins to great effect.
While the world of the film may be inhabited by sultry songstresses like Juliette Greco, it is also the Britain which was still recovering from the horrors and hardships of World War II, mixed with the growing realization that the Empire was gone, and the pressure of post-colonial responsibilities are growing. Scherfig gives Jenny glimpses of that new reality, and maybe even some 21st century viewers too.
It is however Mulligan who shines, taking her character from a state of naive self-confidence, through a series of switches and false starts to that of a wiser, worldly young woman. This is Mulligan's first starring role, but will surely not be her last.
Max in his wolfsuit (All images courtesy Warner Brothers)
Max, the young man at the center of Maurice Sendaks classic tale, gets into a snowball fight with a group of older kids. Everyone is having fun, and Max's excitement mounts to the point of mania. Then it all ends, and the shrieks of laughter turn onto howls of anger and frustration.
In seconds Max experiences the switch between the joy and powerlessness of being a kid We've all been there and it's an agony which remains with many through adulthood. In that moment Jonze captures us all.
Max is a lonely young fellow. His older sister is paying him less attention as she enters teenhood. His stressed mother is trying to keep earning a living, and even find a replacement for Max's father who is painfully absent. When Max wears his wolfsuit and throws a tantrum with the new boyfriend in the next room, something has to give. He runs away, and after a stormy sailboat ride ends up with the Wild Things.
Jonze took on a huge challenge when he signed up to do "Wild Things." He's working with what amounts to being a sacred text to many people young and old. He also faced the task of taking Maurice Sendak's handful of pages and creating a cohesive motion picture lasting an hour and a half.
Mercifully he has not only succeeded, he has added new layers to the storyline which elevate the Sendak original. The Wild Things who barely speak in the picture book emerge as fully formed characters with their own strengths and foibles. Most of the time they are low-key doofusses, who take just a little too much pleasure in petty bickering.
Many adult viewers will no doubt be reminded of some recent moment where people were behaving in much the same way.
The Wild Things are naive enough to believe Max when he tells them of his magical abilities and experience as a king, so they quickly decide to set aside their original plan to eat him, and instead give him a crown. Max sees he can use their formidable strength to fulfill some of his own dreams, including building the ultimate fort. It's only later that it dawns on him that a beast which can tear a tree out by its roots could pose quite a threat to him if he's not careful.
Spike Jonze knows it's a lesson everyone needs to learn at some point.
The film is gorgeous in the way it echoes Sendak's drawings. Max Records who plays his namesake is brilliantly believable in the wolfsuit, as are the voices behind the Wild Things including James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, Catherine O'Hara, Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano and Forest Whitaker.
This is a film people will be watching in years to come.(1 Comments)
Okay, the comparative literature geek in me thinks this is just brilliant. This month the Hennepin County Library is hosting two "literary smackdowns" in which teams of teenagers will debate and defend their favorite fantasy series/publishing & film phenoms -- Harry Potter or Twilight. The audiences will pick the winning team. And of course, teens are encouraged to wear costumes supporting their favorite characters. The public debates take place on October 20 at Central Library and October 27 at Ridgedale Library in Minnetonka.
Either way, Robert Pattinson wins, doesn't he?(1 Comments)
Posted at 12:53 PM on October 6, 2009
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Rick Vaicius, who runs the film program at the Lake Pepin Art and Design Center, admits that some people think his programming can sometimes be too serious. So the organizer of the Flyway Film Festival decided to do something about that.
He's inviting zombies from all over the world to attend the International Zombie Summit in Stockholm, Wis., on October 24.
He says it all got started when his wife and sister went to see "Dead Snow" at the Sundance Festival. It's the Norwegian film about a community whose zombie problems take a really nasty twist when it turns out they're are being besieged by Nazi zombies left over from World War II. Vaicius says his wife said afterward it would never show in Lake Pepin, and he said don't be so sure.
He had recently met Pericles Lewnes, the brains behind Troma Films' "Redneck Zombies" (tagline: "They're Tobacco Chewin', Gut Chompin', Cannibal Kinfolk from Hell!"), and together they decided to put together a day of zombie films and panels as part of this year's Flyway Festival.
"We live in interesting and peculiar times, and there is some thought that the type of times that we are living in now is the reason why zombie films have become so popular," Vaicius says.
He says that people seem to feel some affinity with the struggle represented in zombie films.
"I will say that a fair number of the zombie films that are out there now do have lots of very interesting political undertones," Vaicius says. "And in particular "Pontypool," which is another of the films which we will be screening at the weekend, where there is a virus that causes the people in the community to turn into zombies. Although Bruce MacDonald the film maker resists calling them zombies and calls them conversationalists, but the virus is the English language. And I think that is very pointed in its political nature."
Vaicius points out a lot of early zombie films in the '30s were French and Italian, but then the genre took hold in the U.S. during the McCarthy era.
"And then of course we have the late '60s, where George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" came out in 1968, another interesting cultural and political time in our country," he says.
Intriguingly many of the films being shown at the summit are from outside the U.S. "Dead Snow" is of course Norwegian, "Pontypool" is Canadian, and "Colin," a breakout at Cannes this year, was made in Wales.
"That is another really interesting take on the genre, because that's a film that is actually told from the perspective of the zombie," Vaicius says, while also pointing out it was reportedly made for just $70.
The summit is attracting attention from all over. The Facebook page for the event has attracted fans from as far away as the Ukraine and the UK.
So how many people will turn up?
"To be quite honest I have no idea," he laughs. "And our venue is small, so if we have 500 people show up in Stockholm, Wis., 350 of them are probably going to be disappointed, because our venue has 150 seats."
He says he doesn't anticipate they will have a problem as he's assuming people traveling from further away will order tickets online. He's also hoping people will stick around for the other films in the Flyway Film Festival
There will be what amounts to zombie royalty at the event, in addition to Lewnes as host there will be Ed Bishop, his production partner in Redneck Zombies. Justin Johnson of "Zombie Girl" is anticipated, as is Jeffrey Coghlan the producer of "Pontypool." The panel will also include Gary King, who was born in Rochester Minn., and is showing his film "New York Lately," in the full festival, but has been hired to direct a zombie film and so will add a different perspective.
And of course Rick Vaicius is excited about the fans who come down for the event
"What will be really fun is to see if people turn up in zombie make-up. I think it will be really fun to have Stockholm Wi, the tiny village of Stockholm Wi be overrun by zombie movie fans in zombie make-up."
Photograph by Matthew Bakkom
Artist Matthew Bakkom isn't one to lay it all out for his public.
"We're a really highly educated audience now," he said in conversation earlier this week at Chambers Hotel in Minneapolis, "and we don't suffer lightly being told what to think."
Chambers' Burnet Gallery is presenting an installation Bakkom designed specifically for the space. It mixes together pieces from previous his bodies of work, along with new material, to create a setting that's both elegant and unsettling. The installation is called "Strange Victory."
Photograph by Matthew Bakkom
The inspiration for the installation comes in part from a 1961 surreal French film called "Last Year at Marianbad," but you wouldn't necessarily pick that up from walking through the room. The biggest clue comes from a panel on which is written a summary of the film's plot.
Bakkom says he thinks there's a constant tension at play between an artist, the artist's audience, and each of their own expectations about what art should be. Bakkom says he's a follower of DuChamp in that he believes he only does half the work when he creates a piece of art - it's up to the viewer to do the rest.
The room is dotted with images of a baroque chair, a slide of an old painting, and hand gestures. They're each quite suggestive, but suggestive of what? Curator Jennifer Phelps says of Bakkom's work:
I am drawn to work that is composed of various levels... that does not reveal itself to the viewer at first glance. Work that twists and surprises me. I feel Matthew's show does all of this for me. I want to spend time in the gallery trying to absorb his stories and the stories that are generated within me by his artwork. I also find his images quite serene, though they involve a scanner and gestures and information that can not be clearly deciphered.
Photograph by Matthew Bakkom
Bakkom says he has many ideas, trains of thought, and sources of inspiration that go into his work, but ultimately that background information shouldn't be necessary for the viewer to enjoy the work. What is necessary is an open mind, and a willingness to explore some foreign terrain. The story you come up with will be all your own.
"Strange Victory" will be on display at the Burnet Gallery through November 8th - the opening reception is tonight from 6-9pm.
The best in the world of music on film blossoms on Twin Cities movie screens tonight with the opening of the 2009 Sound Unseen Festival.
There is a huge spread of material, ranging from the opening show, the world premiere of "R.E.M. This is not a Show" at the Cedar Cultural Center tonight at 7pm, to "Died Young, Stayed Pretty" at the Walker about music posters, to "In Search of Beethoven" at the Oak Street.
There are also a host of special events including live performances by The New Standards and Tortoise amongst others.
You can find details about times, locations and all the other goodies at the Sound Unseen site
At the beginning of "Fargo," a story of kidnapping, murder, and an infamous incident with a woodchipper, a title splashed across the screen claims it is a true story. Many people still believe it.
"I'm surprised that lasted so long," Joel Coen said at the Walker Art Center last night.
However Ethan Coen went on to say the claim of truth was very important for their main purpose - to tell a good story. He said if audiences believe a story is true, it gives them as film makers much more latitude .
"They (the audience) allow you to do things they won't let you do if they think you made it up," he said.
This was just one of the many insights the Coen Brothers provided during almost two and a half hours in conversation with broadcaster and film critic Elvis Mitchell at the Walker. The event was the 50th Regis Dialog at the Walker, and the central event of "Raising Cain," a month long retrospective celebrating the 25th anniversary of the release of the Coen Brothers first feature "Blood Simple."
A great deal of the conversation focused on the Coens attention to the specificity of a story. Their scripts often grow out of a sense of place, such as the West Texas of "Blood Simple" and the Minnesota of "Fargo." In fact Joel Coen said the "Fargo" story grew out of wanting to tell a story about Minnesota in winter. That desire for specificity has also led to them doing what might be described as period pieces, set in the recent past.
Ethan Coen said setting a movie in the present is like an off switch to them as writers, because it makes a story more generic for an audience. Joel Coen followed up by saying one of the pleasures of film making is creating a world, and none of their movies are exercises in naturalism.
Elvis Mitchell's questions and choice of film clips drew some surprises from the Coens. They laughed out loud at some of the scenes, saying they hadn't seen some of the work since completing the film in question. Ethan Coen particularly enjoyed a sight gag from "The Big Lebowski" where Jeff Bridges in the title role gets a shock when he discovers what has just been drawn on a notepad.
They also talked about the challenges of writers block, admitting that they were stuck for months on how to proceed with the "Fargo" script after a scene where one of the characters has sex with an escort. Ethan says they would switch on the computer every morning to see the same somewhat lurid line, and couldn't find a way to go forward.
A similar block in writing "Millers Crossing" led to them setting the movie aside and they wrote most of "Barton Fink" before breaking the block on the "Miller" script.
Joel Coen also said "It took us a while to realize we were writing "The Odyssey," while they were scripting "O Brother Where Art Thou?"
Ethan continued saying they had been writing what he described as a 'three-dopes-chained-together' script and it was only later it came to them that their plot line was echoing the classical tale.
The conversation returned repeatedly to the brothers voluminous reading habits and the works of great writers.
Joel Coen said when they think of storytelling its often in terms of the depth of a novel rather than the simplified plots of movies. While they write, they have to pare out a lot more, but they can find that specificity of story they always seek.
There were also clearly surprises for the Coens themselves during the evening, particularly when Elvis Mitchell posed to them that all their films, with the exception of "A Serious Man" are basically chase movies.
The brothers didn't exactly endorse the idea, but it prompted Joel to quote his son who once asked "Is this going to be another one of your depressing movies where everyone dies in the end?"
There were no clips from "A Serious Man," which will be released in theaters next week. However the Coens talked about seeking to recreate an environment that they render from their own experience. They said though that while they grew up in the 1960s in St Louis Park as the children of two academics, and the central character is a physics prof in the same time and place, that is as autobiographical as the new film gets.
They talked about getting their first Super 8 camera in their early teens and making films inspired by things they experienced. There was their three minute remake of "The Naked Prey" which they did the day after seeing the Cornel Wilde vehicle on TV. They remade the political drama "Advise and Consent" again just a few minutes long, and complicated by the fact it was silent.
They also created original stories including "Henry Kissinger:Man on the Go" with Ethan in the title role, which they shot around the terminals of the Minneapolis St Paul International Airport, which Ethan Coen pointed out would be impossible today.
"It was about shuttle diplomacy in between the flights," Joel Coen deadpanned.
There was also "Lumberjacks of the North" which produced the comment "We had flannel shirts. You use what you have," from Ethan.
Returning to "The Naked Prey," Joel described how they used a parallel shooting technique where they did all the scenes in sequence. It meant they had to keep moving back and forth between two different locations. "The big advantage was when you got it back from the drugstore the movie was finished," he said to laughter from the audience.
The Coens talked a great deal about how they read a lot as children, and how they see many of their films as being in the style of certain writers. The acknowledged the echoes of Isaac Bashevis Singer in "A Serious Man" and after Mitchell brought him up Philip Roth.
They talked about the challenges of capturing the St Louis Park of their youth for "A Serious Man." The suburban architecture is still there, but there are now a lot more trees. They ended up shooting in as many treeless spots as they could, actually removing a few real trees in some cases, but also using a lot of special effects techniques to paint out the trees in other scenes.
Next up for the Coens/ They said it looks as though they will be doing an adaptation of the Charles Portis novel "True Grit."
"Raising Cain" continues at the Walker through October 17th.
Joel and Ethan Coen on the set of "A Serious Man" (Image courtesy of Walker Art Center)
Oscar-winning Twin Cities natives Joel and Ethan Coen spent almost two and a half hours with Elvis Mitchell and a sold-out theater at the Walker this evening, talking about films, film-making, and where they find inspiration.
It was a fascinating and at times surprising conversation, not least for the Coens themselves. A number of times during the evening they considered the interpretations of their work which Mitchell posed to them, and more often than not they came away agreeing.
The one that seemed to give them biggest pause was his contention all their films have been at their heart chase movies, barring the latest one, "A Serious Man." Ultimately they didn't argue very hard on that one.
More details tomorrow when I have had time to decipher my notes.(2 Comments)
So what are the Art Hounds recommending this week?
Veteran Twin Cities actor Joey Metzger gives the thumbs up to Theater Unbound's "Aphra's Attic: Plays by Early Women Playwrights."
Poet Juliet Peterson is recommending the upcoming reading by Kate Greenstreet and Norma Cole who bring their cutting edge poetry to Micawbers Books in Minneapolis on Tuesday evening. It's part of the Rain Taxi Reading series.
Composer and educator Randall Davidson says we should take to opportunity to check out the Oslo Chamber Choir, a world-renowned Norwegian vocal ensemble touring Minnesota this week..
The 1968 Project: The Minnesota Historical Society presents all 24 films made for its national competition to capture the spirit of 1968. There is a free screening from 1 to 4pm at the History Center in St Paul. Then at 5 pm the final awards ceremony will present the winners who will share $10,000 in prize money. Both events are free.
And check out The Global Roots Festival at the Cedar Cultural Center, starting tonight and running all weekend. The Cedar is bringing in world-class bands from all over the globe, as well as some local stars, for a weekend of incredible music.
Oh, and we need more Art Hounds! Sign up here.(1 Comments)
Posted at 7:28 PM on September 22, 2009
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Thomas Turgoose considers his options in the Movie Natters Poll while on the set of "Somers Town" (Image courtesy Film Movement, photo:Dean Rogers )
There's not quite as much choice as in some recent weeks, but still there's a lot at which to look.
There's the new Bruce Willis sci-fi on having your own personal robot, "Surrogates" Shane Weathers take on modern teenhood in London in "Somers Town", a French film on how impending mortality can change your perspective, "Paris," Charlize Theron and Kim Bassinger work a script about adultery from the writer of "Babel" and "21 Grams," in "The Burning Plain," the director of "Notes on a Scandal" also takes on adultery in "The Other Man," and finally, a monsters in space frightener, "Pandorum."
And if you are moved to give us some reasons behind your pick, please comment below.
Minneapolis film maker Patrick Coyle says he doesn't know what it is, but "Into Temptation," the small budget film he wrote, directed, and acted in, seems to have grown legs. The film's run at the Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis has just been extended again.
"I had to use all my powers of persuasion to get one week," he says. "And it's turned into five and going strong."
The film follows a young Minneapolis priest as he tried to find a young woman who comes into the confessional to ask for absolution for a sin she has yet to commit. She says she is going to kill herself on her birthday, but then runs out of the church before he can identify her.
The film has now screened in Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles, and Coyle's hometown of Omaha. He says the film seems to hook people, and not only do they encourage their friends to see it, they appear to be coming back to see it again.
"The gratifying thing is it's not just Catholics," Coyle says. "It's kind of cross-demographic. Age and gender and religion. So I don't know. It's really fun. That's all I know for sure, it's really fun," he laughs.
"I do think that people are hungry for a story that resonates truthfully with people you care about, that speak in complete sentences."
The big numbers in Minneapolis and Omaha have apparently attracted the attention of First Look the film's distributors, and the Landmark chain, so plans are already underway for runs in other cities, including Duluth and Fargo.
"We don't have national release, but we are going city by city, and we are trying to get to as many cities before the DVD comes out."
Coyle describes it as a race against time, because that release date is October 27th. It's been a busy time for Coyle because even as he is pushing his film, he also plays Lou Grant in the Torch Theater production of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," which has also become a hit.
Coyle was speaking to me from Omaha where he is scheduled to introduce the film tonight. "Into Temptation" smashed the Dundee theater's box office record over the weekend.
"They grossed more Friday, Saturday and Sunday at "Into Temptation" than they ever had at this theater and it's been open since the Depression," Coyle says. He admits his family publicity machine has probably helped, but now word of mouth has taken over.
Coyle admits he is mystified as to what the secret is behind the films success.
"One day I might understand it, but I don't now. People see it, they love it and they are telling people about it."
Which makes it a challenge to recreate for his next project. But Coyle is happy that this success improves the chances that will happen.
"I love film making, and think this is definitely going to get me to my next project, and that makes me very happy," he says.
The run at the Lagoon is now scheduled to end on October 1st, but Coyle says he is looking into screenings at other theaters in the Twin Cities.(4 Comments)
The original plan was everyone would see the film "Capitalism: a love story" and then he would do interviews.
The plan got changed when someone realized he wouldn't make the last plane out to get him back home to Michigan. He thanked everyone for being flexible, and said the set up allowed would allow him to sleep in his own bed for the first time in three weeks.
Moore says he began making "Capitalism" six months before the economic crash, because it seemed obvious to him that something bad was on the way. His film examines the causes and effects of what happened from an unabashedly leftist viewpoint.
We meet people who have lost their homes to foreclosure, pilots who are so poorly paid they have to augment their income with food stamps, and hear Moore's analysis that the worst may be still to come. He's particularly concerned about the mountain of credit card debt out there and the crippling healthcare costs hanging over the heads of many working families.
Occasionally as we talked Moore looked tired, and he admitted the past few years have taken a toll. He has to travel with a couple of security guys because he has been so vilified on talk radio and other right-leaning media he fears for his safety.
"They have created a fictional character called Michael Moore and they lie about him," he told the crowd at the Lagoon Theater during a q and a after the film.
However he says he hopes his film will encourage people to take action. He jokes that he's assuming theaters will be stocking up on pitchforks and torches to replace Twizzlers and Goobers at the concession stands.
Back at the interview room Moore was still concerned that the journos were missing the film. As each interview finished he looked at his watch and said, "OK this is what has happened so far," and then caught every one up. He may be wanting to hand out pitchforks, but Michael Moore is very much a film maker at heart.(1 Comments)
I think my belief that "every story has a Minnesota connection" was cemented the day I learned (many years ago now) that Terry Gilliam is a Minnesotan. The Monty Python alum and epic film-maker ("Brazil" is one of my personal all-time faves, but I also love "12 Monkeys" and "Time Bandits") was born in Medicine Lake, Minnesota. He moved to California with his family at the age of twelve.
Something about Terry Gilliam's overwrought and baroque imagery emerging from the belly of "Minnesota Nice" seems wholly incongruous to me, but also wonderfully appropriate. It takes a truly fertile field to give rise to such a creative crop!
Gilliam's latest movie "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" may be his most epic in vision yet. Mysterious Doctor Parnassus runs a travelling show and is able to guide people's imaginations. He makes a bet with the devil not once, not twice, but three times, and his luck appears to be running out.
Over the course of the film we travel through centuries and universes and the infinitely imaginative landscape of Terry Gilliam's mind. But the movie returns again and again to the backdrop of modern-day London.
The film stars Christopher Plummer as Doctor Parnassus and Tom Waits as "Mr. Nick" (the devil). Due to the untimely death of actor Heath Ledger, his character is alternately played by himself, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law.
You can see Terry Gilliam talking about his creative vision for "Imaginarium" here.
"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" opens mid October in England, but an exact release date in the U.S. has yet to be set.
FYI, in 2006 Terry Gilliam renounced his U.S. citizenship (he's quoted as saying it was a political act, but he's also admitted it has tax benefits), so his visits here are limited to no more than 30 days each year.
Odd thought: it seems like a very balanced trade that England should get Terry Gilliam while the American midwest gets Neil Gaiman.
The crowds at the Toronto International Film Festival have just seen "A Serious Man" set and shot in the Twin Cities. Cinematical has this early glowing review.
It describes the film as the culmination of the Coen brothers 25 years of film making:
It grabs the magic of local flavor and charm we saw in "Fargo" with a cast widely filled with unknown names (that pack as much of a cinematic punch as any star-studded roster you can think of), to the rapidly escalating drama of "Burn After Reading." A Serious Man is cohesive and slick from stem to stern.
The film opens in Minneapolis, New York and Los Angeles on October 2nd.
And just in case you haven't seen it, here is the trailer for the film.
The phones keep ringing, but Minnesota Film Arts Program Coordinator Ryan Oestreich looks relaxed and ready as he contemplates the series of events which mean he not only has a theater, but also funding to run it.
While MFA's Minneapolis St Paul's International Film Festival keeps rolling along, the organization's Oak Street Cinema on the U of M campus has been on the verge of closure for years it seems.
But in one of those curious twists of economic fate, things now look better than they have for a while. The proposal to buy the Oak Street and all the other buildings on the block to make way for student housing has been put on hold for the moment.
Oestreich says he knows times are tough, but it's working out for the Oak Street at least in the short term.
"We have been pushed off for at least another year so with a year, we said, 'OK, we had a very successful festival. We had really good showings at the Oak Street of theatrical exhibits from the festival and other films. So we said, let's just take a little bit of a pause and work on a fall program."
The State Arts Board is also helping out with an institutional support grant which is funding the fall season. Oestreich says it's not a complete reprieve, but he aims to make the most of it
"We don't quite know when the Oak Street will be sold, but in the meantime we are going to program it whether it be obscure titles, big titles or foreign titles, the best we can do."
And Oestreich wants to push the envelope a little. "We can take risks," he says with a smile.
The fall season opens tonight with Canadian director Kari Skogland's "Fifty Dead Men Walking" a political thriller set against the Troubles in Ireland in the late 1980s starring Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess.
The following week the Oak will present John W. Walter's documentary "Theater of War" about the Tony Kushner production of Berthold Brecht's "Mother Courage and her Children" at New York's The Public Theater. The film follows Meryl Streep in the lead role aided by Kevin Kline. (It's probably a little different from when they worked together on the A Prairie Home Companion movie.)
Oestreich is excited about his program, but gets even more animated when he moves onto what is a blast from the past. As a student himself in years past Oestreich used to come to the Oak for late night fright nights. Those screenings fell by the way, but now he's bringing them back with a twist.
"Something I wanted to bring back was horror films but in particular, let's do some international stuff so some foreign horror films that never get played in theaters."
The screenings will start on Thursday 17th, with the 9.30 shows on Thursday through Saturday set aside for scary stuff. It starts with the British grave-robbing film "I Sell the Dead" starring Dominic Monaghan, best known as Merry Brandybuck in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Then there's a Canadian take on zombies with Bruce MacDonald's film "Pontypool" and then a Norwegian film "Dead Snow" which moves into the area of Nazi zombies.
The Oak is then moving into a two week "French Crime Wave" series of French noir films, in early October. Titles include "Bob Le Flambeur" ("Bob the Gambler," 1955, Jean-Pierre Melville); "Le Cercle Rouge"("The Red Circle", 1970, Jean-Pierre Melville); "Classe Tous Risque" ("The Big Risk", 1966, Claude Sautet); "Le Doulos" ( The Finger Man", 1963, Jean-Pierre Melville); "Pepe Le Moko" (1937, Julien Duvivier); "Touchez Pas Au Grisbi" ("Don't Touch the Loot", 1954, Jacques Becker).
There will also be a music week in late October featuring films about classical and world music subjects. And every Wednesday will be experimental film night, where a program of rarely seen films will screen.
One of the interesting challenges this year will be the opening of the new TCF Bank Stadium which Oestreich has been watching grow through his office window.
It's going to bring huge crowds down to the Stadium Village area six times a year on Gopher game days. The facility could be a mixed blessing for the Oak. The theater will be sending out e-mails warning patrons to plan ahead on certain Saturdays. Oestreich says they will encourage film goers to come early, use public transportation, or carpool, and at the very least give a little extra time.
Of course having thousands of alums walk by your front door can't hurt, especially for an organizations which has struggled to fill it house sometimes in recent years.
Oestreich says that the MFA's long-time leader Al Milgrom knows where there are 16 mm films of the old games at Memorial Stadium, and they considered showing them for fans on game days, but eventually decided to hold off as it may interfere with regular customers. traffic.
Oestreich admits they are going to just see how things go. He hopes they can keep the programming go through the spring. And of course in the new year things get busy with preparations for the film festival
"I don't see anything slowing down in the film festival word. Probably another 150 titles to come up for April," he says with a smile.
Yes, against all odds, it's going to be a busy year at Minnesota Film Arts.
You can listen to our conversation here: Listen
I'm feeling a little immersed in the Coen brothers at the moment. Anticipation abounds for their latest film "A Serious Man," which is set in their home town of St. Louis Park and features some great local actors, including Ari Hoptman and Claudia Wilkins. The film opens on October 2.
But if that seems like forever-and-a-day away, not to worry - in the weeks leading up to the premiere, the Walker Art Center is hosting a Coen brothers retrospective, called "Raising Cain." That begins September 18th.
This weekend, fans of the Coen brothers' movie "The Big Lebowski" are dressing up as their favorite characters and heading out to "Lebowski Fest." Friday night features a movie party at First Avenue, while Saturday night is all about bowling at Memory Lanes.
But wait, there's more! Tomorrow I'll be filling in on Midmorning, and at 10am I'll be interviewing the author of "The Dude Abides," an exploration of religious and moral themes in the Coen brothers' canon. Author Cathleen Falsani is an ordained priest of "Dudeism" (as well as the religion columnist for the Chicago Sun Times).(1 Comments)
Posted at 10:10 AM on September 8, 2009
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Film
Image detail from the poster for the film "Food Fight"
We love our food. Especially when it's larger than life (dare I say, "Supersized?"). Some of our (ok, my) favorite films include such delectable delights as "Babette's Feast," "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman" and "Chocolat." And of course, foodies everywhere are now extolling the virtues of "Julie & Julia."
But there's a new trend emerging in food films, and it has less to do with a beautiful plate than it does with land rights, the environment, and battling obesity. Tomorrow night and the following Wednesday night, Gardening Matters and Midtown Farmers' Market are cohosting a two-part movie series at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis. The Midtown Farmer's Market website explains the impetus for the event:
Our current food system has had an impact on more than just our personal health. Environmental pollution, sharply attenuated bio-diversity, the ruination of rural economies, and the concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a few are all consequences of the way our food system has been reshaped in order to deliver the cheap and abundant calories upon which Americans have come to rely.
Against the tide, there has been a burgeoning movement to reclaim control over our food supply. Central to that movement have been friends, neighbors, and whole communities that have invested in commonly shared spaces to grow vegetable gardens, create opportunities for urban agricultural enterprise, and establish community farmers markets. In short, many Americans are now looking for innovative models to stimulate the growth of small-scale agriculture while coloring in some of the nation's food deserts with fresher, healthier food.
Tomorrow night the film series begins with "The Garden," in which a group of community gardeners in south central Los Angeles fight to keep the 14 acre piece of land on which they farm.
Next Wednesday the series concludes with "Food Fight," a look at the agricultural industry's methods of providing food at a profit, and how that affects the quality of what Americans are eating.
In addition to the two films in the series, there's also Food, Inc which is already showing at the Riverview. For those people who still haven't had enough of Michael Pollan, this fall the film "Nourish" is expected to get an airing on PBS.
By the way, MPR's Euan Kerr is the local expert on all things cinema, and has some related stories worth checking out. He reported on the recent screening of the movie "Fresh," a movie about the threat industrialized food production poses to food safety and community health. And he interviewed one of the movie's stars, Will Allen, when he came to town. In addition, Kerr has also taken a look at the hard-to-watch documentary "The Cove" which captures an annual dolphin slaughter in Japan (done primarily for the meat) on tragic detail.
Seeing all this promotion for activist films makes me wonder - how affective are movies in changing people's minds? How likely is it that the people the film producers want to reach - need to reach in order to fulfill their agenda - will actually buy a ticket? And if film is not the right medium for the message, what is?
Walk into the new Zinema 2 on downtown Duluth's Superior and you can't escape the huge mural splashed across the back wall, and stretching down into the basement. It's the work of Rory Skagen and Blue Genie Art Industries of Austin Tx.
It's just one of the little touches (or in the case of the mural big touches) brought in by Tim Massett, looking a little pensive at right.
He moved to Duluth a year ago to prepare and program Duluth's brand spanking new art house cinemas which are now enjoying what Massett calls their 'soft' opening.
There are two theaters. One seats 98, the other 66. Massett says the idea actually came from the Zeppa Family Foundation's Alan Zeppa.
The facility will also include a restaurant and a theater. Massett credits Zeppa with a vision to bring back some life to the rundown side of Superior Street
"And his interest in putting together some place where you can have something to great eat and also experience a good play, because there is a blackbox theater also on the first floor, or descend the staircase into the cinemas."
Massett says people trying to revitalize an area often see a theater as an important element.
"You are bringing 100, 150 people there a couple of times a night on the weekends hopefully and there's just more of a population circulating in the evening," he says.
Putting on his programming hat Massett says the new theaters will fill an important niche in Duluth. Like many smaller cities, Duluth suffers from a lack of screens, and as a result many interesting independent films never get shown in town.
"I think if there were more screens at the multiplex maybe they would allow for smaller specialty films," Massett says. "But the case is they have 10 screens and four of them will play the same movie."
He will also feature the work of visiting film makers. For the official grand opening, likely in late October or early November, Massett's bringing in animator Brent Green.
"He travels with a group of musicians and performs the voiceover live, the Foley work live and the music live," Massett says.
A tour of the Zinema 2 doesn't take long, but it's impressive. Massett leads the way into the huge projection boxes that look more like locker rooms than the traditional cramped dank spaces tucked away at the back of the theater
"This is the biggest booth I've ever been in," Massett says. "Usually they are closets."
The booths are set up to play a host of different formats from regular theater prints, through archive material and video.
There is a concessions stand, complete with liquor license just outside the two theaters which sparkle with the crackling newness of their red and blue seating.
Massett who also runs "The Talkies" series in the Twin Cities says he's confident the theaters will be a success, although he says he is going on instinct more than anything else. He's been meeting with great enthusiasm as he talks to people in the community and some 600 people have signed up as fans on the Zinema's Facebook page. However he admits he has no hard evidence as to the demand for the Zinema fare.
Yet with a facility like the Zinema 2 he is definitely off to a stellar start.
You can hear our conversation here:(3 Comments)
Image courtesy of imdb.com
He's the Chinese good guy - or bad guy - in about every Hollywood film made in the past 60 years. From "The New Adventures of Charlie Chan" in the 1950s (he was Barry Chan, "Number One Son") to Kung Fu Panda (as the voice of Mr. Ping).
Inbetween, he's graced the sets of "Dragnet," "Zorro," "Bonanza," "Wagon Train," "Perry Mason," "The Fugitive," "I Dream of Jeannie," "I Spy," "Mission Impossible," "Kung Fu," "Hawaii Five-O," "The Rockford Files," "Baa Baa Black Sheep," "Starsky and Hutch," "Bionic Woman," "Wonder Woman," "Charlie's Angels," "Lou Grant," "Taxi," "Different Strokes," "Fantasy Island," "Chinatown," "The Two Jakes," "Bladerunner" ...in total, imdb.com has him down for 341 different roles in television and film. Impressive, no?
It turns out James Hong was born in Minneapolis and was part of Central High School's Class of 1947. Hong will be returning for a class reunion (billed as the "Everyone is 80 (or almost) Celebration!") on Wednesday, September 9. So the question is, will his classmates recognize him? Or will they say "I swear I know you but I can't place a name with the face..."
Posted at 6:00 PM on August 14, 2009
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is an unlikely hero for our time. He's a slightly dim bureaucrat who is assigned the job of clearing the aliens from a shanty town just outside Johannesburg, and frankly he blows it.
Part of the problem is he's got the job through nepotism. His father in law is a high government official. The other thing is the aliens are from outer space, and Wikus, and the entire human race are over in over their heads.
Writer/director Neill Blomkamp has deftly created a film which provides the thrills and special effects which sci-fi fans crave. Yet it also delivers a parable about tolerance and the importance of looking at what lies beneath the surface (in this case quite literally.) Seen against the legacy of apartheid, Blomkamp's film carried even more power.
This is a director to watch in the future.
(500 Days of Summer/Fox Searchlight Pictures)
What if people did break into song and dance when they were really happy? Or sad? Or angry?
"500 Days of Summer" is the most recent film to use a sudden song and dance number to convey the unbridled joy of one of its main characters.
Such scenes do more than express a heightened feeling; they also give us a sense that we're all connected. Suddenly we're all singing the same song and moving to the same beat. We belong to something bigger than ourselves, and we know exactly what we're supposed to do. That sounds pretty reassuring to me.
So what if like was really like that? Well, it would probably look something like this:
The above is courtesy of Improv Everywhere, a group based in New York City whose mission is "to create chaos and joy in public places." Other spontaneous events include large crowds boarding a subway with no pants on, and throwing a wedding reception for a random couple just married at city hall. You can watch the art gallery opening they hosted on a subway platform here.(1 Comments)
The name Van Vicker might not set your pulse racing, but apparently in Ghana, indeed in Africa, Van is the man. Now the Twin Cities Black Film Festival is bringing him the the Twin Cities for the local premier of his new film "Raj the Dancer."
Van Vicker (Image courtesy VanVickerLive.com)
Van Vicker (he has dropped his first name Joseph) is a 32 year old star of the up-and-coming Ghanaian movie industry. He has made 50 movies, usually playing the romantic lead. You can get a sense of how his fans feel by visiting his web site.
"He's the Denzel Washington of Africa," says the TCBFF's Natalie Morrow, shortly after admitting she hadn't heard of him until recently either. This is Vicker's second trip to the Twin Cities. He was here two years ago to promote his movie "American Boy." Apparently fans spotted him shortly after he arrived at the airport.
"He was pretty much mobbed," said Morrow. "He's a good actor - and he's a good-looking actor. I think that's what's the draw." She says his fan base is overwhelmingly female, but not just African. She says his visits to the US have earned him fans from all over.
Morrow says she has been dealing with Vicker personally as they organize the screening. "He's such a nice guy," she said.
The screening of "Raj the Dancer" will be at 7pm at the Earl Brown Community Center in Brooklyn Center on Sunday evening. There will then be a meet and greet at the Blue Nile restaurant on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis from 10 until 2 am.
The Van Vicker event is just a warm up for the TCBFF, which is set for September 18th-20th. The event will open with a special showing of "The Wiz," the Michael Jackson Diana Ross reworking of "The Wizard of Oz."(3 Comments)
Earlier today I mentioned A.O. Scott's article in the New York Times about the prevalence of pablum on movie screens this summer. Scott blames the movie industry for retreating to guaranteed formulas to get butts in seats. Thus the sudden abundance of movies based on kids toys and stories.
The article pairs quite nicely with Roger Ebert's latest blog post, "The Gathering Dark Age." Ebert posits the lack of compelling cinema is also the result of an ignorant audience:
If I mention the cliché "the dumbing-down of America," it's only because there's no way around it. And this dumbing-down seems more pronounced among younger Americans. It has nothing to do with higher educational or income levels. It proceeds from a lack of curiosity and, in many cases, a criminally useless system of primary and secondary education. Until a few decades ago, almost all high school graduates could read a daily newspaper. The issue today is not whether they read a daily paper, but whether they can.
This trend coincides with the growing effectiveness of advertising and marketing campaigns to impose box office success on heavily-promoted GCI blockbusters, which are themselves often promotions for video games. No checks and balances prevail. The mass media is the bitch of marketing. Almost every single second of television coverage of the movies is devoted to thinly-veiled promotion. Movie stars who appear as guests on talk shows and cable news are almost always there because they have a new movie coming out. Smart-ass satirical commentary, in long-traditional in places like Mad magazine and SNL, is drowned out by celebrity hype.
What do you think of the selection of movies available these days? If you find it lacking, who do you blame? What, if anything, can be done to change the quality and selection of movies in major theater houses across America?
I'm all ears (and eyes).
Posted at 6:17 PM on August 7, 2009
by Euan Kerr
Filed under: Film
There are a lot of films about food and love opening locally this weekend - although it may surprise you which movie is on which subject.
For example "Julie and Julia" is about love, pure and simple. It's impossible to avoid the subject of food when talking about Julia Child who is magically portrayed by Meryl Streep. Yet the film's stories, for there are two, are each about loving couples working through difficult times.
Streep and Stanley Tucci as Paul Child light up the screen with a love affair fanned by the excitement of being two Americans living in Paris. The luminous days of the Childs in France light up the story of Julie Powell (Amy Adams) who tries to escape the despair she feels in post- 9/11 New York by attempting to cook all of recipes in Child's book on French cooking in one year.
Writer and director Nora Ephron faces her own challenges twining these two tales together, but has created a tale which while showing that life isn't easy, having a goal and a good attitude can take you a long way.
"Paper Heart" (above) is all about love, of course, although there are some moments when Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera dine together which really make you wonder about modern courting rituals.
Deep down "The Cove" and "The End of the Line" are about food. In "The Cove" Louis Psihoyos has made a engaging thriller about the relationship between humans and dolphins. The discussion of the film has centered on the slaughter of dolphins at a small village in Japan, but the movie is really part of a much larger debate over what different societies consider vital to preserve their food supply.
"The End of the Line," Rupert (Unknown White Male) Murray's troubling documentary about the impact of overfishing explores the subject at great length. At one point a researcher in the film points out that most people would be horrified to learn of humans killing endangered land animals, however there is little outcry when equally endanger sea creatures are caught and served at high end restaurants. It's a thought-provoking film.
Here is Kenneth Turan's review of "Julie and Julia"
I just discovered the work of Urbanscreen, a group of German video installation artists, and I'm hooked. As you'll see in the piece above, Urbanscreen manages to combine movement, architecture, film and public art into something wholly engaging and fantastic.
Below is a piece titled "How would it be, if a house was dreaming?" which projects an incredibly convincing 3D video onto the building, creating what appears to be a living, breathing structure. The sounds of the bricks sliding in and out of place really just puts it over the top. Enjoy!