Sunday, April 29, 2007

MSPIFF faux roundup

Considering that I only saw about twelve films, and I totally bailed on the last three days of the Film Fest due to a cold and springtime gardening duties, I hardly feel able to comment on the Fest as a whole. I still plan on catching a few holdover films Tuesday and Thursday, but for now, here is how the later part of the Fest went for me:

Ghosts of the Cité Soleil
I can't believe there isn't more talk about this documentary. Not only is it well made, but intense in every aspect. The documentary tells the story of the Chimeres: gangs in the Cité Soleil district of Port au Prince that were hired (and armed) by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristite to attack those who opposed him, and especially protesters. The impoverished youth of Cité Soleil had nothing to lose, making them all the more volatile. When Aristide fled the country, the reigning powers were committed to dis-arming (and as a result dis-empowering) the Chimeres. The leaders of the Chimeres, intimately portrayed, wore many different hats: civic leader, common thug, celebrity, outlaw, and narcissistic power hungry men. There is some very brave filmmaking in this film where it seems pretty obvious they were in danger. The heartwenching reality of life in Cité Soleil then, and more than likely now too, is just a harsh reminder of the injustice that happens daily behind our back.

Chinese Botanist's Daughter
This heavy-handed love story between two young women in 80s post-Gang of Four era China was just too much for me. Min is an orphan who has been given the chance to study with a botanist. It turns out that the botanist has a daughter about her age. The two secretly fall in love. Their days are filled with illicit trists and being scolded by stern but "caring" teacher/father for gathering the wrong herbs or serving him his breakfast a half an hour late. Enter the botanist's unmarried son, who takes a shine to Min. The remainder of the film shows how the two young woman attempt to navigate this patriarchal mess. Mylène Jampanoï, who plays Min, was obviously chosen for her physical attributes than her appropriate performing abilities. The poor dubbing job was more distracting than poor Mandarin. And while I'm sure Dai Sijie had the best intentions of representing the plight of two women in love in Communist China, the images of these two women sweating together in their herbal sauna just made me feel like I was watching a guy's wet dream. Dai should stick to the novels; these things translate better to the page.

A moving drama from Germany that tells the story of a family torn apart from the war in Bosnia. Senada, now 30, is still searching for her daughter who she was separated from nine years earlier. Although her search seems endlessly in vain, she finally stumbles across a lead that sends her to Germany. Labina Mitevska is great as the unflappable young woman who has lived beyond her years.

On a Tightrope
The filmmakers of this documentary take no time at all establishing that the Chinese authorities are not keen on what they are doing. But the subject matter is not all that furtive. It is hard times in the western province of Xinjiang in China, and when it is orphanage of Uighur children, it is even harder times. Like most large groups of minorities in China, the Han do everything possible to assimilate them into good communist soldiers and keep them from getting ahead. Although this very important issue of the repression (and rebellion) of the Uighurs seems to be the motivation for the film, that focus is lost due to the captivating personalities of these children who want to learn the tightrope. It's a fascinating documentary on many different levels, but maybe a little misguided in it's goals.

Summer Palace
What the big deal about Summer Palace and why are the Chinese censors so upset? Sex. Lots of very frank sex. Lou Ye took his unauthorized edit of Summer Palace to Cannes last year and got in trouble. As usual, it was not the politics the censors were upset with, it was the sex. In fact, even though the heart of the film takes place at Beijing University in 1989, there is not much in the way of politics involved. No heated discussions about democracy, or the death of Hu Yaobang, or how they were going to change the world, etc. The protagonists of this film were only discussing who was sleeping with who. Summer Palace breaks the mold for contemporary Chinese film, and while it captures the social revelry of the time it doesn't wallow in it. And I think Lou takes some artistic license in order to push mainland Chinese film into what may be a new phase. A film about longing and regret, I think this film does wonders with an incredible cast of unknowns.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

MSPIFF report No. 1

I can't say I've seen as many films as I would have liked in the last four days, but prior commitments kept me out of the theater for two of those days. Overall, the 25th Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival has been pretty impressive knowing the fragile infrastructure of MFA. The number of minor technical difficulties (reel changes seem to be a problem at the Oak...) is actually an improvement over years past, and attendance has been really high at the screenings I attended. In addition, out of the six films I attended, I would rank three as great. Not bad odds.

Opening Night @ The Riverview
The hubbub and fanfare was not without good reason. Danny Glover was there as producer (and he also had a very small role) to introduce Bamako, the opening film, to a full Riverview Theater. Starting about 15 minutes late, Al Milgrom took the stage first (with some person in a big mask, that was never explained; see photo above) by saying a few words, a few thanks, and introducing Danny Glover. Soft spoken and personable, Mr. Glover was a pleasant surprise. He talked briefly about meeting the director Abderrahmane Sissako and how he got involved in Bamako. The film itself was fantastic. This unconventional film centers on a court proceeding that the citizens of Mali have filed against the World Bank for the institutional oppression it has imposed on Africa. Meanwhile everyday life continues in and around the court proceeding, producing comic relief, melodrama, and absurdity alongside the passionate argument against the World Bank. This film could not be shown at a better time as Paul Wolfowitz tries to defend his actions as the President of World Bank who was supposed to put an end to corruption. Mr. Glover came back after the film to do a little Q & A moderated by Anjali "the Queen B" of B96. Glover talked about everything from his grandkids to his acting career to our responsibility as global citizens. The Riverview, who had a late screening, had to (gently) ask that things be cut short around 10pm.


I chose to catch Vanaja because it was conveniently located at the same venue as the film I really wanted to see at 9:30. Vanaja told the story of a lower caste girl intent on learning traditional Indian dance. But when she is raped by the son of the landlady she works for, her plans to become a dancer fall away. I can't say this is the most original story and takes the form of many non-Bollywood dramas, but the acting (all by non-professionals) and overall production values are very impressive for a first feature film. The director, present for a Q & A after the film, shot the film for his masters thesis at Columbia University.

Paprika is one of the films that I have actually been waiting to come to town. It will return to town in June for a run at the Lagoon. Fans of animation turned out in droves for Satoshi Kon's new feature. Kon broke barriers with his first feature animation Perfect Blue in 1998 by tackling a mystery thriller with animation. Kon's next two features, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, offered some of the best looking animation around, but IMHO lackluster narrative. However, Kon took a surreal turn with his first series Paranoia Agent, a wholly original take on pop culture in the era of fear and paranoia. Paprika follows this surreal trend, painting a picture of a future where dreams start to turn into reality...sort of. Some of the most fantastic images that challenge the work of Miyazaki. Paprika opens at the Lagoon in June.

Gardening; Deborah Jinza Thayer performance at Gallery 13; too tired for the 11:30 screening of Black Sheep.

The Turkish comedy The Magician was canceled, and replaced by a much better option (although I'm not sure my fellow movie goers would agree) Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates. I saw Ceylan's Distant a couple years back and thought pretty highly of it. With Ceylan and his wife playing the two leads, I thought Climates was just stunning. In this case, it is the emotional climates between two people that the film is concerned with. Quiet and understated, Climates is full of the most amazing shots: long ambiguous still shots, and creative framing with zooms and pull backs. By far my favorite film of the fest so far.

The Valet
Pleasant French farce that I intended on leaving a little early to catch the next film, but really couldn't tear myself away. Sold out crowd. The Valet opens at the Lagoon pretty soon.

Filmmakers in Action
A dry and somewhat esoteric documentary may have not been the best choice after a full day of work and two other films, but interesting nonetheless. It was somewhat unfocused and it could have used a little editing and kind of hard to pin down at first. (Even the description in the catalogue had me a little confused.) Essentially it was a film about the push to maintain and preserve the artistic integrity of films in Europe, specifically when it comes to presentation in original format and aspect ratio. I found it fascinating that lawsuits had been filed (and won) against television stations attempting to broadcast films in improper aspect ration. TV stations have also been banned from putting their logo in the corner during a screening of a film. Numerous examples of how films have and have not been manipulated without the directors permission were discussed. Lots of fascinating interviews with the likes of Sidney Pollack, Woody Allen, Bernardo Bertolucci, Truffaut's daughter, Marcel Carne's granddaughter, and so on. Some very interesting bits in a convoluted documentary.

Great screening at Pi of Venus of Mars; Emily Goldberg and Venus were present; Venus even sang a few songs. No Festival films for me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Gearing up for MSPIFF

Yes the time is here, and the 25th Minneapolis/St Paul International Film Festival did not fall into a black hole. Tonight kicks off the whole 10 day, 86 film extravaganza with Opening Night film Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako and actor/executive producer Danny Glover scheduled (operative word) to appear at the Riverview Theater 7pm sharp. All the credit to Al Milgrom who probably did damn near everything himself for little or no compensation.

In a huge show of support for the beleaguered Film Fest, the local press is doing everything possible to promote the event, the films and the cause. I'm glad. Who knows, maybe the possibility of not having an international film festival in town has alarmed enough people to give it a much needed popular rebirth. Putting my chronically cynical attitude about the state of Twin Cities film aside, I have high hopes of attending at least 20 film that I know little or nothing about. Look for me at the films and my reports on this blog!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

26th Hong Kong Film Awards

The 26th Hong Kong Film Awards were held the other evening. The nominees were what you would expect, but most of the winners were a surprise. Patrick Tam was the big winner with his film After This Our Exile winning Best Film and Best Director. After This Our Exile, Tam's first film in over 15 years, was an art-house Hong Kong anomaly that did rather poorly at the box office. Superstar Johnny To got nixed for director and picture (Election 2 and Exiled was up in both of those catagories.)

Other surprises included Lau Ching Wan winning against Aaron Kwok, Tony Leung, Chow Yun Fat anf Jet Li; Zhang Yimou's sentimental Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles won Best Asian Film in an odd group of nominees (The Host, I Not Stupid Too, Crazy Stone and Death Note.) Daniel Wu deservedly won Best New Director for his psudo-documentary Heavenly Kings, and Gong Li won Best Actress for her over-the-top portrayal of a matriarch in Curse of the Golden Flower. Overall the nominees and the awards represent a pretty interesting year in Hong Kong film.

Full list of nominees and winners:

Best Film
After This Our Exile
Election 2 / Triad Election
Curse of the Golden Flower

Best Asian Film
I Not Stupid Too Singapore
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles China
Death Note Japan
Crazy Stone China
The Host Korea

Best Director
Patrick Tam Ka Ming (After This Our Exile)
Johnnie To Kei Fung (Exiled)
Johnnie To Kei Fung (Election 2 / Triad Election)
Zhang Yimou (Curse of the Golden Flower)
Jacob Cheung Chi Leung (A Battle of Wits)

Best New Director
Law Wing Cheong (2 Become 1)
Daniel Wu (The Heavenly Kings)
Patrick Kong (Duk ga si oi / Marriage with a Fool)

Best Actor
Aaron Kwok (After This Our Exile)
Lau Ching Wan (My Name is Fame)
Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Confession of Pain)
Chow Yun Fat (Curse of the Golden Flower)
Jet Li (Fearless)

Best Actress
Teresa Mo Shun Kwan (Men Suddenly in Black 2)
Rene Liu (Happy Birthday)
Isabella Leong (Isabella)
Angelica Lee Sin Je (Re-Cycle)
Gong Li (Curse of the Golden Flower)

Best Supporting Actor
Gouw Ian Iskandar (After This Our Exile)
Simon Yam (Election 2 / Triad Election)
Nick Cheung Ka Fai (Election 2 / Triad Election)
Jay Chou (Curse of the Golden Flower)
Liu Ye (Curse of the Golden Flower)

Best Supporting Actress
Kelly Lin (After This Our Exile)
Isabella Leong (Diary)
Candice Yu (My Name Is Fame)
Zhou Xun (The Banquet)
Kristal Tin Yui Lee (The Mother Is a Belly Dancer)

Best New Performer
Gouw Ian Iskandar (After This Our Exile)
Huo Si Yan (My Name Is Fame)
Pei Pei (Dog Bite Dog)
Sun Li (Fearless)
Matthew Medvedev (Rob·B·Hood)

Best Screenplay
Patrick Tam Ka Ming & Tian Koi Leong (After This Our Exile)
Sylvia Chang, Mathias Woo & Theresa Tang (Happy Birthday)
James Yuen Sai Sang, Jessica Fong & Lo Yiu Fai (My Name Is Fame)
Yau Nai Hoi & Yip Tin Shing (Election 2 / Triad Election)
Felix Chong & Alan Mak (Confession of Pain)

Best Cinematography
Mark Lee Ping Bing (After This Our Exile)
Charlie Lam (Isabella)
Cheng Siu Keung (Exiled)
Andrew Lau Wai Keung & Lai Yiu Fai (Confession of Pain)
Zhao Xiaoding (Curse of the Golden Flower)

Best Film Editing
Patrick Tam Ka Ming (After This Our Exile)
David Richardson (Exiled)
Azrael Chung Wai Chiu (Confession of Pain)
Eric Kong Chi Leung (A Battle of Wits)
Virginia Katz & Richard Learoyd (Fearless)

Best Original Film Score
Peter Kam Pui Tat (Isabella)
Tan Dun (The Banquet)
Chan Kwong Wing (Confession of Pain)
Shigeru Umebayashi (Curse of the Golden Flower)
Kenji Kawai (A Battle of Wits)

Best Original Film Song
“Heavenly Kings” (The Heavenly Kings)
Composer Davy Chan
Lyric Li Jin Yi
Sung by Alive

“Sun yat fai lok / Happy Birthday” (Happy Birthday)
Composer Chan Fai Yeung
Lyric Lin Xi
Sung by Rene Liu

“Only for Love” (The Banquet)
Composer Tan Dun m
Lyric Fan Xueyi
Sung by Zhang Liangying

“Ju Hua Tai” (Curse of the Golden Flower)
Composer Jay Chou
Lyric Vincent Fang Wen Shan
Sung by Jay Chou

“Huo Yuan Jia / Fearless” (Fearless)
Composer Jay Chou
Lyric Vincent Fang Wen Shan
Sung by Jay Chou

Best Art Direction
Patrick Tam Ka Ming & Cyrus Ho Kim Hung (After This Our Exile)
Man Lim Chung (Isabella)
Tim Yip (The Banquet)
Man Lim Chung (Confession of Pain)
Huo Tingxiao (Curse of the Golden Flower)

Best Costume Design / Make Up
Stephanie Wong (Isabella)
Tim Yip (The Banquet)
Man Lim Chung (Confession of Pain)
Yee Chung Man (Curse of the Golden Flower)
Tong Huamiao ( A Battle of Wits)

Best Action Choreography
Tony Ching Siu Tung (Curse of the Golden Flower)
Stephen Tung Wai (A Battle of Wits)
Yuen Wo Ping (Fearless)
Donnie Yen (Dragon Tiger Gate)
Jackie Chan, Li Chung Chi & JC Stunt Team (Rob·B·Hood)

Best Visual Effects
Jiang Yanming (The Banquet)
Ng Yuen Fai, Chas Chau Chi Shing, Emil Yee Kwok Leung, Alex Lim Hung Fung (Re-Cycle)
Angela Barson, Frankie Chung Chi Hang, John Leonti & Sze Cheuk Wah (Curse of the Golden Flower)
Clement Cheng, Victor Wong & Eddy Wong (A Battle of Wits)
Koan Hui (Dragon Tiger Gate)

Best Sound Design
Wang Danrong (Ye yan / The Banquet)
Nakom Kositpaisal (Re-Cycle)
Tao Jing & Roger Savage (Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia / Curse of the Golden Flower)
Steve Burgess & He Wei (Muk gong / A Battle of Wits)
Richard E. Yawn (Huo Yuan Jia / Fearless)

Century Achievement Award: Producer and studio head Run Run Shaw

Professional Spirit Award: Makeup artist Sis Chun

Sunday, April 15, 2007

MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS scheduled for Cannes

Wong Kar Wai's new film My Blueberry Nights is scheduled for Cannes 2007. To say that My Blueberry Nights is a departure for Wong may be an understatement, even though I am sure, despite my lingering doubts, this film will be Wong Kar Wai through and through. He is working not only with an entirely new crew, but a new cast that includes Norah Jones, Jude Law, David Strathairn, Tim Roth, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, and Ed Harris. My Blueberry Nights, shot in the U.S., will be Wong's English language debut.

My unconditional love for Wong Kar Wai does not prevent me from feeling apprehensive about My Blueberry Nights. I don't like Jude Law and if I have to here that Norah Jones album one more time, she is going on the hate list too; somehow these two working with my icon just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. My love for Wong's films is synonomous with my love for the actors he works with: Maggie Cheung, Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Wong Faye, Carina Lau, Chang Chen, and even Jacky Chueng. I would be the first to admit that one of my reasons for favoring Asian films, and in particular Hong Kong films, is symbolic of my rejection of American films and the Hollywood industry. The other very important reason is that I have spent time in that part of the world and am very fond of it. But My Blueberry Nights turns the tables on all of that: it is Wong who is rejecting Hong Kong for the U.S.

That being said, everything that I have read about the production makes it very clear that Wong has not sold out to U.S. filmmaking values. Law and Jones have been though signature WKW rigors of shooting ambiguous scenes over and over again. Wong himself has stated that he is using this experience as a creative springboard, which I can appreciate. I have no choice but to anxiously await its U.S. release. It will play at Cannes in May and hopefully hit screens here late 2007.

Friday, April 13, 2007

RIP Kurt Vonnegut

There are definitely enough eloquent obituaries for Mr. Vonnegut at this point, and I certainly would be able to add much, but I was saddened enough by his death that I felt I had to write something. Mr. Vonnegut left a huge impression on me as a teenager. I found so much pleasure in his wit and imagination, and was always struck by the brilliance behind the bafoonery. Cat's Cradle was something of a personal intellectual landmark for me, representing possibilities in literature that I was not taught in school. And of course, the more I read, the more I appreciated his work. I'm sorry to say that I haven't read a Kurt Vonnegut novel in some time, but have vowed to revisit some of those books I found so important.

Little did I know, Mr. Vonnegut suffered a fall a few weeks ago. He had been hospitalized and finally succumbed to brain injuries from the fall yesterday, April 12, 2007. He was 84.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Viz Pictures wins a gold star

Viz Media, mostly known as a distributor of anime and manga, steps up to the plate with Viz Pictures and picks up three of the best Japanese films in the past few years (and films that I whole-heartedly love.)

  • First in line is the charming Linda Linda Linda (out on DVD May 8, 2007) about the four peice girl band that could.
  • Second is Katsuhiro Ishii's Taste of Tea (out on DVD July 3, 2007) that is equally charming and quirky. Taste of Tea played a couple years ago at the MSPIFF and I implored everyone I knew to go see it. If they missed it, I invited them over to my house to watch the Japanese DVD. Now you can own it for yourself. A special edition promises a 91 minute "Making The Taste of Tea" with fancy subtitles.
  • Third and certainly not least is Ping Pong (out on DVD in September), the best sports movie ever! I know this is a pretty loaded statement, but you just can't underestimate this great film about the game of ping pong.
Buy all three or ask you local independent video store to pick them up when they come out. No one will be disappointed.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Dérive @ Northwestern Casket Company

Having a performance in a near empty Casket Company warehouse seems like some kind of crazy joke. But given the lively nature of the dance/performance community in the Twin Cities and the fact that said Casket Company is getting a new life very quickly, it's not so crazy. Last night I attended a performance put on by Flaneur Productions called Dérive that included five performances from local artists. I selfishly enjoyed seeing the rebirth of the Northwestern Casket Company, which is in my neighborhood, almost as much as I enjoyed the performances.

Dérive presented new work from Venessa Voskull performed by Robert Harmon, Charles Campbell of Skewed Visions, HIJACK, Christian Gaylord of Flaneur Productions, and John Bueche with Bedlam Theater crew. (Elliott Durko Lynch was also to perform but could not due to an injury.) The overall idea for the performance, as noted in the program notes, has seeds in the Situationists' notion of dérive or reacting to the psychogeographical effects on a journey or a stroll. Unless you are interested in
Guy Debord and Situationist theory, this probably doesn't really matter. The performances were as varied as the performers, and needn't have a theme. The raw space was open and seating arrangements changed with performances from sitting in chairs on one side of the room to sitting on three sides of the performance space to sitting on the floor. The HIJACK piece was the same as the one I had seen at Rogue Buddah, although here it is entitled Prick and Cellulite. Dérive continues next weekend, April 12-14 7:00pm. Tickets are $14.

I had heard last
year at a neighborhood meeting that the Northwestern Casket Company had been bought by John Kremer and Jennifer Young who own the California Building and had similar plans for the newly named Casket Arts Building. On the corner of Jefferson and 17th in Northeast Minneapolis, this is nothing but good news. Northeast is carrying the torch for artist space in a town where everything else is being gentrified into condos. Although I hadn't seen much activity around the building, lots of work has been done. The interior is just fantastic. The building has been around since the late 1800s and made caskets up until a couple years ago. The Casket Arts Building will be open for Art-a-Whirl May 18-20. Go check it out.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Hello April 4, 2007

High of 35 degrees.
Low of 19 degrees.
It's not the first time it has snowed in April, and it certainly won't be the last, but that doesn't make it suck any less. The record highs from last week just makes it that much more painful. Weather in the Twin Cities will creep up into the 50s by next week.

Monday, April 2, 2007

More information on MSPIFF

Al Milgrom was working the crowd at the Arab Film Festival this weekend and handing out flyers in that way he does. Because the information does not seem available anywhere else, I'll transcribe the contents of the flyer here (and I will even be kind enough to leave out my editorial comments):

"The 25th Annual Minneapolis-St Paul International Film Festival will take place this year April 19-29 at four venues in the Twin Cities. Featuring 80 films from more than 45 countries, the festival will once again bring the best in international cinema to Twin Cities moviegoers as the most important film event of the year in the Upper Midwest.

"Scheduled for opening night Thurs., April 19, is the Danny Glover produced film Bamako, an exquisite film from the West African country of Mali, is directed by widely-known director Abderrahmane Sissako. Mr Glover is scheduled to be on hand for the opening night gala. Screening venues to date include the Oak Street, the Bell Auditorium, St Anthony Main theaters and the Riverview Theater.

"Film fest lovers should note:
  • Many Oscar submission hits
  • Mid East "stew": Films from Turkey, Israel, Tunisia, Armenia and Iran.
  • Twin Cities premiere of Lars Von Trier's new film Boss of It All
  • Several Sundance prize winners
  • Chinese panorama with director Yang Zazhou invited
  • Minnesota's Norwegian "rock star" Ole Bull and Minnesota director's "world premiere"
  • VHS Kahloucha, premiere from Tunisia
  • Spotlight: Canadian/Netherlands/India/China
  • Ruby's Town, Worthington, Minn. Vs. Cuero, Texas world's championship turkey race
  • Closing Night film The Ten with director David Wain scheduled to appear
  • Perverts Guide to Cinema (tell all your pervert friends) featuring international guru Slavoj Zizek.
"Check the film web site - - for show times, tickets and venue information."