Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I miss the old Oak Street....

...words I thought I would never utter. But while reading about the Shohei Imamura retrospective happening at BAM Rose Cinemas at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I sadly relized that it will never come to the Twin Cities. Of course that wasn't always true. In the Oak Streets previous life, that ended not so long ago, the Imamura retrospective would have been something they would have gotten around to screening. As much as I really disliked the totally schizophrenic weekly schedule they used to keep and even though the Oak-Street-ego (you know what I mean) was maybe a little too big for this town, I wish they were still holding on in that repertory dysfunctional way that they were. Instead I am left lamenting all the retrospectives that have no place in this town.

The same goes for the Mikio Naruse retrospective that that included 22 new prints of the rarely seen and insanely unavailable films in his repertoire. Criterion has taken the lead on releasing some of the Naruse films on DVD in the US, but it will be years before they all show up. If the industry is so concern that people are not going to the theater to see films anymore, maybe they should start showing something other than the same old shit. I am still holding out for the possibility of a Hong Sang-soo retrospective. As a filmmaker, he is gathering some momentum internationally as an auteur. Retrospectives of his work are starting to show up, and I can't think of another relatively new contemporary filmmaker who's work deserves complete review from start to finish. None of Hong's seven films have played theatrically in the Twin Cities.

For every retrospective I am pining for, there are a dozen others I would like to see. But who cares? I am realistic enough about my influences and abilities to know that there is nothing I can do about it. If anything, I would blame the apathetic venues and programmers who are unwilling to protest against the status quo. Despite the way venues are treating the Twin Cities' film goers, there is a very adventurous and lively film community here that is up for the challenge.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Catalyst and Hijack @ Rouge Buddha

Rogue Buddha Gallery in NE Minneapolis has been hosting some dance and performance events recently. Although the space is not very big, I was surprised at how spacious it could be when things get cleared out of the back half of the gallery. About 30 people comfortably fit in the front half for a show tonight with Catalyst and Hijack.

The program was called "Windfarm Series #2, part 1, New work by Catalyst and Hijack: one solo. one duet." I can only assume there was a Windfarm #1, but who knows. Windfarm is, to paraphrase the program notes, a dance series presented by Catalyst at the Rogue Buddha with the simple goal of of providing an informal performance space for experimental dances. Catalyst is Emily Johnson and Hijack is Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder, all three icons of the local dance scene.

Hijack's work has the most brilliant combination of absurdity and physicality, and this new piece, Colin Rusch, was no different. Colin Rusch is also a local dancer/performer, but what this performance has to do with him is beyond me. Van Loon and Wilder came out dressed in some pretty ridiculous clothes with clear packing tape wrapped around them, so that every move was accompanied by the crackle of the tape. With three props (a chair, an eight foot pole, and a map of world population density from like 1972) the two reacted with and against one another in a way that I can only describe as 'Hijack style.' Despite the avant-garde nature of their dances, there is also a formalness to their movements and use of space that I appreciate.

Johnson performed her new piece One For Resolve/Emily. I'm less familiar with her work, but know that she shares some of the same sensibilities as Hijack. The element of absurdity is definitely their, but it is also combined with a tinge of sadness.

Future Windfarm events:
March 27 - Hannah Kramer, Jessica Cressey and Emily Johnson perform Pamela and Mad King Thomas performs Cover your head and kiss your ass goodbye.
April 24 - Sarah Baumert performs One for Resolve/Sarah.

I can only assume these event start at 8pm. Sorry for the lack of visuals; author forgot her camera.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Anticipation can be killer for a movie. Such is the case with WisitSasanatieng's Citizen Dog. I can't overstate how enamored I was with Sasanatieng's debut feature Tears of the Black Tiger. Four years after Tears when Citizen Dog debuted in Thailand, I was more than ready. However, two years past before it finally showed up on DVD with English subtitles, and last week when I finally got a chance to sit down and watch it, I think I was already prepared for the disappointment.

The story follows Pod, who is a country boy who moves to the city despite his grandmother's warning that he would grow a tail. Pod falls for a cleaning lady named Jin. But Jin is hopelessly distracted by a book she can't read that was dropped from the sky. When a mysterious ex-pat (played by former ex-pat Chuck Stephens) shows up, Jin believes he hold the key to her book. She joins the environmental movement in order to find her mystery man and leaves Pod in the dust. Hearts are won, hearts are lost and hearts are won again. Lots of other stuff happens too: Pod looses his finger in a sardine factory (that is later retrieved and reattached); Pod's regular motorbike taxi is driven by a dead man (because he was caught in a storm of falling helmets); Pod's grandmother shows up in the form of a gecko (via an absurd journey of death and reincarnation, and death and reincarnation, and death and reincarnation); Pod meets a cigarette smoking teddy bear owned by a child who says she is an adult; Jin's obsessive collecting of plastic bottles results in a huge mountain that towers over Bangkok; everyone grows tails except for Pod, making him a celebrity...I could go on, but you get the point. Details like these more than allow the film to live up to its tag line of 'A surreal love story.'

Regardless of my disillusionment, Citizen Dog is not all bad. As a matter of fact, it is full of charm, whimsy and visual bravado. The absurd humor had me laughing out loud by the opening credits. Unfortunately one cannot survive on whimsy alone, and Citizen Dog is little more than a pretty package. It offers some of the same stunning visuals offered in Tears, and you would be hard pressed to find one frame that wasn't visually captivating or lyrical, but there is not much resonance beyond that. The two leads are adorable geeky loners that never rise above empty caricatures, and the never ending stream of side-stories diluted the so-called love story that we are supposed to be invested in. The vignettes are just chaff, albeit, very interesting chaff. Citizen Dog's biggest fault is being too lighthearted; it's sweet and cute and quirky and totally forgettable.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


February 18th is the start of Chinese New Year. It's out with the Dog and in with the Pig. (Blog editor is sad about that.) On the Chinese lunar calendar it is year 4705 (or 4706 depending on which geomancer you check with). Eat some noodles or some dumplings or, if you are lucky enough, some Nian goa and wish your neighbors and friends good luck. Personally, I am going to take the occasion to check out the new Chinese restaurant Little Szechuan that Dara raved about in last week's City Pages.

Jet Li says "Gong hei fat choi"

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Too many films, not enough time

If it's feast or famine for interesting film viewing, then this next week looks to be feasting time here in the Twin Cities. Lots-o-good things opening tomorrow, and most with "one week only" runs. Here's the list in no particular order:

Inland Empire @ the Oak Street
Okay, this is at the top of this list and my list. Lynch's DV extravaganza is something I wouldn't miss for the world. As a matter of fact I might go twice.

Documentary Shorts Oscar Nominees @ the Riverview Theater
The Riverview has been doing a great job at presenting this program every year before the Oscars for a while. Now when the director you have never heard of comes up to accept the award you will know whether or not he or she deserves it.

Le petit lieutenant @ the Parkway Theater
Someone at the Parkway is still making some interesting program choices, even under new ownership. It looks like this film is actually out on DVD, but go to the Parkway instead, it is more interesting than your house.

Iraq in Fragments @ the Bell
This highly praised documentary finally makes its appearance in the Twin Cities. Touted as a documentary with fine craft and powerful content, I am excited to see this film even if it is at the Bell.

Animated Shorts Oscar Nominees @ the Lagoon
Live Action Shorts Oscar Nominees @ the Lagoon
Sure, you could probably check these out on YouTube, but here's a great chance to see them as they should look. I feel like the people who work on these films are the most deserving of the Academy's recognition. Skip Babel and go see one of these.

Have fun!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

300 the movie, you've been warned

"If Braveheart were stripped of its meat, spray-painted gold and served as the poorest of value meals at McDonalds, there's a good chance you'd end up with something resembling 300." (Cinematical) Ouch. The trailer for this (yet another) Frank Miller adaptation by Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead 2004) has been around for a while. It was playing heavy at the cineplex a few months back, and my first impression was "cool!" Okay, maybe not. But then you have one of the fine journalist from Ain't It Cool News reporting: "I just saw a movie that'll give your eyes boners, make your balls scream and make you poop DVD copies of The Transporter. It's called 300. I don't know what the title has to do with the movie, but they could've called it Kittens Making Candles and it'd still rule." Right.

Whether it is good or bad, I'm pretty sure my balls won't scream. In my opinion, neither of the above takes on the film bode too well for 300. Which is too bad, because Snyder has signed on to adapted Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' awesome graphic novel Watchmen. I would love to see Watchmen adapted to film, but not if it's going to be a bucket of crap.Judge for yourself when 300 opens March 9th.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Pi, Minneapolis' coolest bar has arrived!

I can't say that opening a bar has ever been on my list of things I could do, but that is not the case with friend Tara. She took the bull by the horns and her new bar Pi (pronounced 'pie') opened this weekend at 2532 25th Ave South. And, wow, it looks amazing.

We went to a little preview party Thursday and the space that used to be an American Legion has just been transformed.

There is the bar/eatery.
The pool room (6 pool table, 2 pinball machines.)
And the dance floor with bar at one end.
I've signed up to program movies for a Monday night dinner and a movie deal starting sometime in March. Yes, it's a bar for the ladies, but everyone is welcome. It sounds like Pi did some smash up business over the weekend, and it couldn't be more deserved. To everyone that has worked on Pi in the last six months, congratulations! It looks awesome!

Pi MySpace
Pi article in Star Tribune

Mastodon @ First Avenue

Mastodon is serious about music. No, really, they are serious. This is the main thing that struck me about Mastodon’s show last Monday at First Ave. Playing in front of a packed house of revelers, none of the members of this critically acclaimed metal quartet were concerned with looking good or acting cool or saying anything clever or even making a personal connection with the audience that I find so rewarding at live shows. Maybe I’ve been missing the point: it’s about the music.

Drummer Brann Dailor, guitarist Bill Kelliher, bass player Troy Sanders and guitarist Brent Hinds powered through an hour of songs with barely a breath between tracks. At one point Hinds must have taken a drink because I saw it spray out as the lyrics erupted from his mouth. While Sanders played and sang with a sort of urgency I expected, Hinds looked as if he was giving birth to the vocals as he pushed them up through his chest with the look of concentration and struggle on his face. It was clear that these guys were here to perform for us, no less and no more. And they were serious. Kelliher, who was right in front of me, looked as though he was out for a Sunday drive as he ripped through songs like nobody’s business. He would occasionally look up from his guitar or put one of his feet up on his monitor speaker in a stance that said ‘This is me. This is what I do.’ The whole show was a refreshing atmosphere music appreciation devoid of the hipper-than-hip hipster attitude that so often fills up First Ave. Fans and band alike were there for the music.Ultimately the show is just a snapshot of a much larger picture, including my own discovery of Mastodon and the flurry of praise that has surrounded them the last six months. Of course to imply that Mastodon was “discovered” this past year would be wrong. Mastodon has been around for almost 8 years and has a loyal fan base that is either loving the much-deserved attention that the band is getting or hating the popularity that is bringing in fans like me. However, I think it is significant that people like me, who are not your traditional metal fan, gravitate towards Mastodon despite genre trappings.

Blood Mountain exploded on the music scene like no other. Anyone paying attention in September found the CD hyped at almost every corner. I listened to the geek-wad duo on Sound Opinions gush over Blood Mountain and then I turn around and read an interesting musing by friend and mentor Martin Wong on his blog about metal and Mastodon. After spending a week with the CD, I could see what the critics were talking about: from the rapid-fire drum intro of The Wolf is Lose, Mastodon sounds like a band unleashed but not without a certain measure of undeniable dexterity. In the end, it was Martin’s comments that stuck with me. His analogy that metal is the new punk has a certain ring of truth to it. Punk has been corporatized in mass media just like so many things that start out anti-establishment but get sucked into the money-generating machine. Metal, in all its different forms, still has an air of authenticity. It is firmly grounded in working class roots with very little pretenses. Except for Metallica’s anti-Napster stance, you rarely hear of metal bands standing on any sort of soapbox. (Except crazy right wing Ted Nugent who wants to shoot everybody with a bow gun and just negates himself by being an idiot.) The suits simply don't see a commodity in metal. Like Martin says, it is really hard to imagine metal being ripped for a deodorant or VW commercial. (Or is there a commercial that uses
Crazy Train?)

Of course the praise for Blood Mountain reached a fever pitch at the end of the year. NYT critic Ben Ratliff epitomized Mastodon’s status by including Blood Mountain in his jazz-heavy top ten list. But it didn’t stop there. The local press went a little jolly bananas on the eve of the February 5th show. Both the City Pages and the Star Tribune laid out red carpets for Mastodon in the form of congratulatory A-list write-ups. As much as I believe it is all well deserved, there does seem to be a bandwagon that people on jumping on. Top it all off with a Grammy nomination for Colony of Birchmen for Best Metal Performance. To what end, we will have to wait and see.

(Check out friend and co-rocker Joe Tompkins review of the show here.)

Thursday, February 8, 2007


Although I am a huge fan of the Quay Brothers animation, Institute Benjamenta, their first live action film, left me cold. However, early reports of The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes caught my eye. I caught the film at the Walker a couple weeks ago and I was not disappointed. Read on:

Is it melodrama? Is it a mystery? Is it science fiction? The easy answer is all of the above. The more difficult answer lies in the problematic attempt to define what the Quay Brothers do, and, more specifically, what they did in The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes. This enigmatic film is sure to frustrate some with its difficult narrative and deliberate pace, but it is also sure to enchant others with its dreamlike images and fairytale-like structure. The heart of the film is probably best described in the eclectic nature of specific influences that the Quays drew from: the literary (The Invention of More by Adolpho Bioy Casares, Le Château des Carpates by Jules Verne, Locus Solus by Raymond Roussel), the visual (paintings Island of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin and The Empire of Light by René Magritte) and the fantastical (the fictional “Stink Ant” of Cameroon from the Museum of Jurassic Technology in LA).Stephen and Timothy Quay have been working in animation for over twenty years. They are best known for their atmospheric stop-animation shorts (Street of Crocodiles), various music videos (Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer) and supplementary work to other features (dream sequences in Frida), but in 1995 they broke into live action with their moderately received first feature Institute Benjamenta. The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, their second (mostly) live-action feature, proves that they are not giving up easy.

Dr. Emmanual Droz is a god-like genius who reigns over an island where he commands his gardeners/patients around like dogs. Dr Droz is obsessed with Malvina, a beautiful operatic singer who he stalks and eventually abducts to his island. Dr. Droz has a number of intricate automatons that he has constructed around the island that function like kinetic dioramas creating fanciful scenes and sounds. But these automatas also have some mysterious metaphysical connection to the world they inhabit. The piano tuner is summoned to “tune” the automatons that have seemingly just gotten dirty but need the sensitivity of the gifted piano tuner, Adolfo. All of this comes together with an eventual endgame of earthly desire and enlightenment…or something like that.

The magic of this film is, without a doubt, its ability to place you into a dreamlike world that is neither past nor present, neither real nor fake: fog as thick as cotton and light as brilliant as gold. The atmosphere achieved in the Quays animation is incredibly rich and indicative of working on a scale where set design is a little more practical, but taking on the same such ambiance in a live action film is a totally different story. Working in a studio in Leipzig Germany the Quays designed mobile facades not unlike a theatrical set, and created backgrounds digitally using green screen. Small cinematic sleights of hand in the form of reverse play and loops have the look of filmmakers who have cut their teeth on analog technology. The Quays envisioned a scenario that was “like having live actors walk around puppet sets.” Ironically, it is the puppets that seem out of place in these puppet sets, as opposed to the actors. The characters with their stilted affectations seem to fit perfectly into this netherworld. This is especially the case with the regal Gottfried John, who plays Dr. Droz, and perfunctory Cesar Sarachu as the piano tuner, Adolfo.
Despite the intellectual right-side of the brain influences sited for The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, it’s hard not to think about the film as a self-reflexive allegory. Through their animation the Quays serve as creators of a world that I’m sure reflect a personal version of perfection and beauty, not unlike the pursuits of Dr. Droz. But getting caught up in the mire of the narrative would be a shame–the backbone of the film is its visual decadence. Few films are able the boast such frame-for-frame beauty as The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes. Whether or not Adolfo and Malvina are caught in a perpetual cycle of blissful innocence or trapped in a world of servitude (or both or neither) is a question like many others that may or may not be clearer on second viewing. Hindered by the accessibility of the narrative, The Piano Tuner will never find anything close to mass appeal, but it is the Brothers Quay. And for fans of the Quays, no more needs to be said.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Quietest Sound @ The Varsity Theater

Almost everything I do seems to be on the margins, and not on the margins, as in it is really "edgy", but on the margins as in no one really knows about it. So it feels pretty good when I am actually involved in something that seems not only important to me but may have some sort of appeal and interest beyond the margins. This is how I feel about screening James Vculek's The Quietest Sound this Tuesday at The Varsity Theater.

Not only is it a local premiere, but it is also a pretty unique film and it is a local filmmaker to boot. Mr. Vculek will be at the screening Tuesday for a Q&A after the film. He doesn't have a distributor and doesn't have any other local screenings of the film coming up, so please come down and check it out. The more people we have, the more likely The Varsity will be above 50 degrees!

City Pages Review
Star Tribune Review
Film School Rejects Review
MPR's Euan Kerrs' mention
Cinema Revolution information