Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Kozyndan @ Toomer Gallery

Last Friday I missed the first opening at the Toomer Gallery, a collaboration between ROBOTlove and the Soo Visual Arts Center, because, well, Kenneth Anger would not get off stage and we were all mesmerized. When I stopped by the next day, Kris of ROBOTlove implied I didn't miss much at the opening, unless I liked being in small spaces with lots of people, but he is being modest. The inaugural show at this small space in the Soo has the fantastic work of Kozyndan. It looks like the Toomer is making good strides in filling the gap left by the OXOP Gallery, which closed last year.Kozyndan really do some fantastic illustrations: very graphically pleasing with a world of detail that is just waiting to be discovered. Although they have a bunny obsession, the show is not very bunny-centric.Kozyndan got my attention on the front of Giant Robot 23 (Spring 2003). Eric and Martin both speak very highly of Kozyndan, and never for a second regret having this unknown illustration team on the cover. The cover is a great take on Hokusai's The Wave, with bunnys. (Check it out here - under "Magazines, Books and Ads", second row, first image.)

Goodbye Grady

Sadly, Grady Hendrix calls it quits on Kaiju Shakedown, his Asian film blog for Variety. I appreciated Grady not only for his humor and cheeky-ness but also his insight into the comings and goings of all things film-like across the Pacific, no matter how obscure. I was happy to see him sign off with an image that reoccurs on his blog - Hello Kitty Darth Vader! Visit the blog while you can.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Kenneth Anger @ the Walker

Kenneth Anger is the maverick of avant-guard filmmaking. It is hard to imagine seeing Fireworks in 1947, which still seems so bold and shocking. To quote Anais Nin who saw the film at the time "At someones house I was shown [Anger's] film Fireworks. The sadism and violence revolted me, but the film has power and is artistically perfect. It has a nightmare quality. Everyone had mixed feelings, horror and recognition of Kenneth Anger's talent." That talent is still easy to see today.

Having a cha
nce to meet Dr. Anger was one of those special moments that can only be described as a true feeling of being in the presence of a legend. Listening to his stories that include such names as Francis Ford Coppola, "Marty" Scorsese, Dr. Alfred Kinsey, Francois Truffaut, etc. left me in awe at the life Dr. Anger has lived. Indeed, at the presentation at the Walker Cinema on Friday night I think the audience was just as enchanted, if not more so, with Dr. Anger's storytelling as they were with the restored 35mm prints of his films.

Unfortunately Dr. Anger's arrival coincided with a DVD release of his work that he is seeing no benefit from. He is getting none of the proceeds from the recent DVD release, which he fully deserves. Furthermore, the person doing the liner notes for the DVD is someone Dr. Anger feels does not fairly represent his work. The injustice is even more so now that I have met the man and truly believe he could use the money. (As if my blog would have any resonance to a social movement, please e-mail Fantoma with your concerns.)

Seeing Fireworks, Rabbit's Moon, Scorpio Rising and Kustom Kar Kammandos restored was like seeing them for the first time. (Okay, well, it was my first time seeing some of these films.) For the people who were at this sold out event, I think there is no denying how special the night was.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Asobi Seksu @ Triple Rock

I'm pretty disconnected with music scenes in other places, but I feel like in the Twin Cities there is a wealth of opportunities to see national acts in intimate settings like The Turf Club, 400 Bar, 7th Street Entry and The Triple Rock. I like being able to see what the musicians are doing, and to inspect what kinds of instruments people are playing, and occasionally to hear the off-mic comments. I'm always amazed to see bands set up before the show - the logic behind the chaos of chords and wires and plugs and amps. This couldn't be more true for Asobi Seksu. Armed with effects pedals galore and flashing Christmas lights, the entire stage at the Triple Rock was filled with a sea of power strip enabled gadgets.

Asobi Seksu is know for fuzzy guitars and the ethereal vocals of their lead singer. Referential comparisons to the so-called shoegazers may be apt, but so are the comparisons to new wave Brit-pop of the late eighties and early nineties. However, this also falsely implies that their music is something of a rehash. With Yuki's airy voice switching been Japanese and English (not to mention their Japanese name), this NYC quintet could easily be confused with some sort of alternative Japanese pop band. Their second pass through the Twin Cities since the release of their very assured sophomore effort, Citrus, was at The Triple Rock this past Thursday (with Story of the Sea and The Appleseed Cast).

Asobi Seksu powered through most of the songs on Citrus as well as a few from their self-titled debut. As a band they certainly have a sound to be reckoned with - they are every bit as delicate as they are bold with the wall of sound they build with guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. The highlights of the show would be when they would launch into rapturous segues of strobe light induced lousness (see photo to right) in the middle of Red Sea or the end of Strawberries. The anchor for Asobi Seksu, both live and recorded, is Yuki's swooning vocals have a breathy power that was fully apparent live.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Run Wrake's Rabbit

It used to be that short films were something for the very connected. Short films have always been the orphan children of art museums, film festivals or here-today-gone-tomorrow underground venue. You wouldn't be seeing these at your local theater and nor would you be able to rent the latest "shorts" VHS at the video store. Things have changed. The digital age has not only brought us the affordability of video, but also YouTube, $2 short films on iTunes, and DVDs laden with shorts options. Now the problem is not being able to see the shorts, but wading through the sea of them. Seeing Run Wrake's recent short Rabbit at this week's experimental shorts program at the Walker entitled Cut-n-Paste and Draw reminded me that there are things worth looking for in that sea.

This isn't a wholly original find on my part, of course. Run Wrake obviously has the attention of film curators, as well as the attention of many others: he was featured on the cover Res Magazine for Fall 2006; ABC news recently did a piece on him; and he has traveled all over the world with his films. For those who are looking for the nostalgia of the tactility of film in their shorts, this film is not for you. Rabbit is all about the dissolution of tactility into the digital world, and Run Wrake makes it seamless. Sure, you can watch Rabbit on YouTube, but it looks like crap, but you can also visit Run Wrake's awesome website (check out the resume!) and support the artist by buying a DVD.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The world is watching...and so am I

Sunday's article in the New York Times by A.O. Scott (The World is Watching. Not Americans) mirrors many of my concerns about the waning interest in foreign films. As the global village of film viewing gets smaller and the dissemination of information gets more plentiful, the more reticent the US market seems to be. "The movies are out there, more numerous and various than ever before, but the audience - and therefore box-office returns and the willingness of distributors to risk even relatively small sums on North American rights - seems to be dwindling and scattering." Indeed, I see it as a very cyclical effect: the more fickle distributors are, the more film fans who have a true interest or even passion to see these films will seek out other means. (See my previous post.)

But is it all that bad? I would be the first to admit that there seems to be more and more films out there every year, and as a result more and more films that never see the light of a distribution day in the U.S. But I would also bet my large DVD collection that armchair film fans have more power than back in the olden days: not only can I read almost instantaneous report on any given major film festival, but I can also nurture my own film blog (and pretend people are reading) and order DVDs from all over the world thanks to the internet. As a result I think publications have had to respond to this homegrown saviness of film fans. What about Joe and Betty Moviegoer? The people who just look in the local paper for a good film to see on a Friday night? I still think there are good options.

I tend to believe the more screenings you have in a town, the more you will have people leaving their homes, the more press you will have on said screenings, and the more diverse and sophisticated a film community will be. Specifically here in the Twin Cities we are seeing fewer and fewer venues and organizations that have the ability to create this culture. Sure, you can say that this is the market economy at work, weeding out the independent and giving us the chains. But obviously in the divisive nature of our "market economy", it is more complicated than that. Unfortunately, the screen-it-and-they-will-come philosophy simply does not hold water. The much-lauded Death of Mr. Lazarescu did screen here for two weeks at the crumbling Parkway Theater (a perfect setting if you ask me), but the night I attended there were maybe four other people in the theater, and I have no reason to believe that other screenings were not the same. Ditto for Colossal Youth at the Walker: minus the three friends I brought on comps, there was maybe six people in the audience.

I might be frustrated about the films that don't get distribution in the U.S. or don't get screen time in the Twin Cities, but that doesn't mean I make it to every film I want. I pride myself in catching the one-time screenings, or one-week-only runs in this city, but I nonetheless miss films. Case and point is Tom Tykwer's Perfume: it got bad reviews but I was very interested in seeing it, but oops! it's already gone! And I even had a two-week window for that one. What would I do in New York City? Miss a lot of movies, no doubt. I’m thankful that the Walker is brave enough to screen Colossal Youth and that the Parkway thought so highly of Death of Mr. Lazarescu to keep it around for two weeks, but is there a saturation point for this kind of diversity? Obviously it can't be sustained on good samaritanship and bravery alone.

On the other hand, there is Pan's Labyrinth. I am sure it is going to be this year's foreign-language film star-child. Granted it has a huge marketing budget behind it, but it is still a foreign-language film with subtitles! At the Uptown this weekend it drew record crowds. One of the ticket sellers told me that one of the screenings on opening night sold out - something that hasn't happened for three years. As I stood in line for Pan's Labyrinth I had the same quizzical feeling that I sometimes get standing in line at the (dead?) Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival: Who are these people? Why are they coming to see this film? Where are they at the other cool films in town? I don't know. I don't know.

(Read my less opinionated version of this same issue on WAC blog.)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hot DVD realeases across the Pacific

Keeping an eye on my budget and ignoring the twitch to visit (money-sucking) DVD retail websites, some very cool releases have snuck up on me:

  • The Host (Bong Joon-ho) Actually, I've had this one on pre-order for about a month now and it just shipped out yesterday. With the US theatrical release of this film getting pushed back a couple months, I am betting on the import DVD as my best way to see this film. If you haven't heard about this Korean blockbuster monster-movie cum dysfunctional-family-drama, check out rave reviews from people who have seen it: Variety, Reverse Shot, Twitch, Darcy Paquet, Grady Hendrix etc. (See the preview in Landmark Theaters near you! Looks awsome!)
  • Citizen Dog (Wisit Sasanatieng) The Host may be a big release in the real meaning of the word, but Citizen Dog is even bigger in my book. The long long long awaited follow-up to the fantastic Tears of a Black Tiger has been at the top of my wish list for over two years now. Tears (2000, yeah that was 6 years ago) is just now making a theatrical appearance in the US. If the film wasn't so utterly awesome, I would suggest that people tell Miramax to take their wait-for-six-years ticket sales and shove it up their arse...but it is not to be missed on the big screen.
  • Memories of Matsuko (Nakashima Tetsuya) When Grady Henrix from Kaiju Shakedown ditched his 2006 top ten list for naming this film the movie of the year, I immediately wrote it down. I am willing to admit that he sees more Asian films than I do, and, as a result, there must be something to this. I'll let you know.
  • Still Life + Dong (Jia Zhangke)I am 100% with Jia Zhangke. Critics poo-pooed The World as his main stream sell-out, but I think otherwise. When Jia won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival last year for his fictional film Still Life (a companion piece to his documentary Dong), I couldn't be happier.
  • Rain Dogs (Ho Yuhang) This film piqued my interest a few months ago when certain people took note when it opened in Malaysia and screened at Toronto. All reviews seemed to contain my favorite buzz words: meditative, beautiful, lethargic, spare.

With the exception of The Host, none of the films above have much of a chance of seeing any US distribution. Hopefully I will be proven wrong, but I am really unwilling to wait for some movie executive to figure out how to market these films. Case and point: last year's Cannes winner The Wind That Shakes the Barley by Ken Loach has not only screened in most countries but at this point is available on DVD in most countries....oh, except the US. Any wave this film could have ridden for ticket sales is way over.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Eleanor McGough at the Bloomington Art Center

Bloomington is a long way away, but if you can go to the Mall, you can go to the Bloomington Art Center. Eleanor's work will be there until February 16.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

If time is money, I wouldn't call this event free. If you wanted to see Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean at the Walker Art Center tonight, you had to show up early. When I arrived at 5:45, the line for free tickets wound 'round and 'round the main lobby. The whole experience seemed a little more like Valley Fair than an artist talk at the Walker. Nonetheless, an hour and fifteen minute later about 300 of those people waiting were sitting in the Walker cinema ready to listen to whatever Gaiman and McKean had to say.

Dave McKean first got up and showed a short reel of animation and then went into a slide slow of his work, from album covers to more personal illustrations. Next Neil Gaiman got up and talked about his friendship and creative relationship with McKean, and also read some poems he had written. They then sat down together and attempted to start a discussion together, but it became very clear that these guys know each other too well to have an informative conversation in front of strangers. They launch into a Q&A that lead to more interesting discussions.

Both of these guys are charming, interesting and in the end make the world a more interesting place with their creativity. I'm more of a Dave McKean fan and really think his drawings are nothing short of fascinating. I could sit down any day with his massive book Cages and lose myself in his world. McKean's feature MirrorMask seemed to me a little restrained from his natural surrealist tendencies but is nonetheless visually amazing.
It seemed pretty obvious that McKean is a film fan. Upon showing a slide of his cover design for Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou, he declared it on of his favorite films. In addition, he also made multiple references to Jan Svankmajer who is obviously something of a kindred spirit. He recalled running into Svankmajer walking his dog in Prague: Gaiman and McKean joked that one would suspect Svankmajer's dog to have nails protruding from it or something. In response to a question regarding violent images and mature content in their work, McKean admitted there was a limit without fully condoning censorship. His example was Gasper Noé's Irreversible: a film he regarded as incredibly well-made, but he wishes he had never seen (and also implied maybe it shouldn't have been made).

I casually wondered if McKean knew of Run Wrake's work (showcased on the Fall issue of Res, and one of his shorts will be screened at an upcoming Walker event). Wrake has a similar sense of the surreal and absurd.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Cinema Scope 29

Cinema Scope 29 hit my door yesterday. Without exception, this is my favorite film magazine. It consistently offers thoughtful commentary (without being too academic) on a wide range of films. More than anything the magazine seems to exude a passion for film that I understand. Just reading Mark Peranson wax poetically about the unadulterated image "in proper aspect ratio" on the front of the magazine is enough to make me swoon.

Here are some highlights from Cinema Scope 29:
  • Interview with underappreciated Korean director Hong Sang-soo.
  • Shelly Kraicer writes about Jia Zhangke's Golden Lion Winner Still Life.
  • An overview of little-talked-about Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako.
  • For the TV watcher, Chuck Stephens writes about HBO's The Wire.
  • An homage to Danièle Huillet, who died in October last year, with a previously recorded dialogue and an article on Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub's film These Encounters of Theirs (see cover image).
  • An article on Tony Scott, in respect to his recent film Deja Vu.
  • Jonathan Rosenbaum's excellent column "Global Discoveries on DVD" focusing on "Perversities".
  • Feeding his ego, more on Slavoj Žižek.
...and so much more. Some of this is accessible online, but do yourself a favor and subscribe.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

The inevitable...The Best of 2006

With no apologies, here are my favorite films from 2006 (in alphabetical order):

On Screen

  • 4 (Ilya Khrjanovsky) In a very uninspiring year at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival, there was this Russian gem. 4 may represent some sort of post-modern Communist conundrum, but more importantly it is a visceral experience that is equal parts disturbing, mundane, bizarre and totally engrossing.
  • Casino Royale (Martin Campbell) It is time for me to admit that guilty pleasures have equal merits as the highbrow arthouse cinephile brain vomit. Bond has never been better. Daniel Craig gives a much needed swagger to our favorite debonair secret agent. If you aren't hooked by the first amazing foot-case, just leave the theater.
  • Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa) Sitting in an almost empty house at the Walker Art Center, I felt almost as dislocated as a film lover as the protagonist in this amazingly beautiful and mesmerizingly cyclical film. I realize that this film of non-action would make most want to poke a stick in their eye, but what isn't interesting about that? I was pumped to see this film after reading Mark Peranson's ode to Pedro in CinemaScope 27. I was not disappointed. Costa's film gave me visual and narrative fat to chew on for days.
  • The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu) Two and a half hours of looking at death (or a life lived) right in the face. The Parkway, with all its various spores floating though the air, wins the award for the most daring programming. Once again, one person's stick in their eye is another person's fire in their heart. This very personal journey for Mr Lazarescu is also story of humanity, in all it's failures and glories.
  • Gabrielle (Partice Chéreau) In trying to support the Oak Street in it's programming decisions, I went to see a film that I didn't have much interest in. But it turns out that turn-of-the-century Paris and failed marriages have more to offer that I expected. Chéreau takes the simplest of plots and turns it into a tour de force thriller, slyly masquerading as a lazy day period piece. Gabreille is anchored by its namesake with the powerhouse performance of Isabelle Huppert.
  • Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola) Guilty pleasures abound! Despite what you (or I) think about the young queen director of girl nostalgia, this is nothing but intoxicating superficial sensory entertainment. Like we used to say in art school: fuck art, let's dance!
  • Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt) Screened at the Sound Unseen festival, this gentle, poetic film examines two men who have grown apart since their idealistic college days. If the premise sounds ho-hum, think again; this film is brilliant! Beautifully shot with candid portrayals by Daniel London and Will Oldman (aka Bonnie Prince Billy), Old Joy is an homage to the bittersweet beauty of life and friendship.
  • The Proposition (John Hillcoat) Hillcoat's brutal and unapologetic Aussie Western is spot-on perfect. Penned by Nick Cave, it is dark and unforgiving.
  • The Queen (Stephen Frears) Who would have thunk it: a riveting film about the Royal Family's response to Princess Di's death. Helen Mirren simply disappears in the film and embodies her character.
  • Volver (Pedro Almodóvar) In my perfect world both Helen Mirren and Penelope Cruz would get Oscars for their performances. Almodóvar is back in fine form (with Carmen Maura) and Cruz is unlike you have ever seen her. Easily the most charming movie of the year.
  • Workingman's Death (Michael Glawogger) This highly aestheticized documentary was meant for the big screen. (Unfortunately, staying true to the state of screening options in the Twin Cities, Workingman's Death screened at the lowest common denominator of a big screen in the Bell Auditorium.) The film focuses on five different types of manual labor in five different locations: Ukraine, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and China.
On DVD (aka the films no one has the sense to release here in the US)

  • Election 2 (Johnny To) Proving that he can follow up a Cat III hit with an even better Cat III hit.
  • Exiled (Johnny To) Hong Kong belongs to Johnny To. And so does Macau. A very worthy follow-up to The Mission, that far exceeded my expectations. To's version of a post-modern pastiche action film comes naturally, and for the viewer the result is euphoric.
  • Funky Forest: The First Contact (Ishii Katsuhito)Redefining what film and narrative can be, all of Ishii's finest skills come together in this film for on of the funniest, smartest, bizarrest and coolest films of the year. Never coming to a theater near you.
  • Hanging Garden (Toyoda Toshiaki) Toyoda's films just keep get better and better, as he further hones his edgy filmmaking into some sort of quirky family drama.
  • The Sun (Aleksandr Sokurov) This should have been the film to make Sokurov an arthouse star. Ogata Issei gives one of the most amazing performances as the defeated Emperor Hirohito. Diplomacy meets a tyrant.
Very Very Honorable Mentions
As always, I don't see as many movies as I would like and there are all those stupid distributors that like to put things out at the very end of the year, which means the beginning of the next year for most mortals.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Go Timberwolves!

This may not be the best year for the Timberwolves, but they pulled off a near defeat in overtime the other night: Wolves 103 Spurs 101

This photo not only displays our God-like position in the Target Center, but also KG shooting a free throw in the crucial last minute of regular play (with the score cut off by the ace photographer.)

Monday, January 1, 2007

British Television Advertising Awards 2006

Go figure. Another successful run of the British Television Advertising Awards just concluded at the Walker Art Center last month. The irony of people paying to see advertisements is a little too obvious not to point out, but I can't just leave it at that. Not being a television viewer myself, I feel like I might be the perfect person to enjoy the novelty of the BTAA. But, alas, I just don't get the popularity. In the end, they are still just advertisements, and a little underwhelming.

I will say that the British have a delightfully heightened sense of absurdity, and an ability to stomach the harshness of reality. Many of the PSAs dealing with drunk driving and smoking and war are so brutally honest that I don't think a US audience would ever stand for them. One such example is the International spot for the UN regarding land mines entitled Kick Off: after a land mine goes off in the middle of a girls soccer game, the obvious question come on the screen "If there were landmines here, would you stand for them anywhere?" Another, entitled Fingerlegs, addresses smoking related impotence in a simple but disturbing ad.

Although I didn't find the program earth-shatteringly good, there were a few highlights:
  • Two ads directed by Errol Morris for (surprisingly) AOL entitled Good and Bad. One taking a pro-internet stance and the other taking a con-internet stance, very convincingly in both cases. The end tag line send people to to discuss the issue.
  • A very short ad for Vodafone entitled Gay. Promoting short calls or something, this ad is short, funny and very British.
  • CGI fun with Return of the Train, Easy Life and Singin' in the Rain.
  • And for those of us who life to project our human-selves on animals, more CGI fun with the Country Life Butter advert Animals.
As a final note, I would just like to state how much I dislike all Stella Artois ads. I blame this 100% on Landmark Theaters. The program contained a Stella ad directed by hot shot Jonathan Glazer that was just like nails on a chalkboard for me.