Saturday, March 31, 2007

Abbas Kiarostami's FIVE DEDICATED TO OZU

When I first read about Abbas Kiarostami's Five (aka Five dedicated to Ozu) after it's 2004 Cannes screening, I thought, "Ooo, Kiarostami made a film for me!" From what I have read, Five is a 75 minute film divided into five segments of visual meditation. In another sad tale of waiting for a film that never arrives, I gave up on ever seeing this film a year ago. What a difference a year makes. MOMA has a film retrospective of Kiarostami's films (including a screening of Five) and a multi-channel installation version of Five in the gallery, and MK2 just released Five on DVD in France with English subtitles (although I'm not sure what there is to subtitle, as the film reportedly has no dialogue.)

I have Jonathan Rosenbaum to thank for this discovery. Rosenbaum his to be the most obsessive of DVD diggers, finding gems from all over the world. He reports his findings not only on the Chicago Readers blog, but in his column "Global Discoveries on DVD" in each issue of CinemaScope. My first quick scan of the Spring issue of CinemaScope (cover Paul Verhoeven!) quickly found Five in Rosenbaum's column. Little did I know, this DVD came out in at the end of December in France. As mentioned, the DVD includes English subtitles, which French DVDs are notorious for not having. (France is a treasure trove of fantastic DVD editions with no English subs.) I'm not sure what to expect, but I can't help to feel some fateful anticipation in reading Mr. Rosembaum's notion that Five's "ideal venue is in fact on a DVD player at home, with a good sound system, not a movie theater or a museum, where being a part of an audience only becomes a distraction." I will light the candles and get ready to lock my doors in anticipation of the arrival of my DVD via alapage.


The Devil Came on Horseback had a special screening tonight as part of the Fourth Arab Film Festival at the Heights Theater. The film was finished just in time for Sundance a few weeks ago and is still being fine tuned for further release. What should have been a humanitarian rally cry against the atrocities in Sudan became a heated debate largely discrediting the film and the director, who was present. While lines were being drawn on who was an Arab and who was an African and who was a black person and who was a white person in the post-screening "discussion", our little microcosm could have stood for any conflict where blame becomes the focal point. I'm a white person who has never been to Africa, and I think The Devil Came on Horseback is an important film. Blame me.

The Devil Came on Horseback follows former US Marine Brian Steidle as he takes a job as a cease-fire monitor in Sudan and then takes the job as a African Union observer in the Darfur region. He photographs what he sees and files reports together with his team members. Brian could not be more of a flag waving American, but he does everything to break the uncompasionate racist stereotype that I have about young men in the Marines. In many ways, I think the power of the film is seeing GI Joe take the role of humanitarian. This film reminded me so much of Peter Raymont's Shake Hands with the Devil that followed Canadian Lt-General Romeo Dallaire, who led the pathetically unarmed UN peacekeeping mission to Rwanda in 1994. The guilt of helplessness that has haunted Mr. Dalliaire for years will no doubt haunt Mr. Steidle. Shouldn't it haunt us?

It is estimated that 450,000 have been killed and 2.5 million people have been displaced. Even assuming those numbers aren't totally accurate, I think we can all agree that this is not a good thing. But fixing it, means finding the cause, and that is not so easy. In the latter half of the film, Brian decides he can't go on in Darfur and leaves. He quickly realizes that what he has witnessed must be shared. After Nicholas Kristof printed Brian's story and some of his pictures in the New York Times, he was quickly pushed to the forefront of the issue. The film shows Brian in a talk at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, where, in the Q&A, Sudanese get up a start to discredit everything he has said. One man even uses the statement that he "does not trust this man 100%."

This scene was reenacted in the post-screening Q&A. Much of the passionate discussion stemmed from the simplification of Arabs vs. Blacks that demonized Arabs as conspirators with a corrupt government. It seemed as though many took this personally, especially audience members from Sudan, and in what is a very emotional and volatile topic, even for the uninvolved, I can't say that I blame them. The "moderator" denied the term genocide for the situation in Dafur and then furthermore accused some of the refugees in the film of acting. One of the most unfortunate comments came from a member of Mizna's film committee that discredited the film because it was narrated by a white person and directed by a white person. I can't believe how quickly people needed to point fingers. Director Annie Sundberg maintained diplomacy, but defended her film as an attempt to reach the American public. That is the point. The people who need to see this film are not people who would be attending an Arab film festival. The people who need to see this film are kids who can not find Iraq on a map (let alone Sudan), people who can identify with Brian Steidle, and the people who have ignored the news about Darfur. This film has the best chance of reaching those people.

Other opinions where certainly being offered up and occasionally a person would actually ask the director a question, but overall the conversation was very heated. On a positive note, many stuck around to hash out their differences.

Friday, March 30, 2007

In case you were wondering...

...this is not me: Kathie Smith on flickr

I have never looked like this and never will, so stop the love letters already.

(Thanks to Bryan for the flickr-eagle-eye.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Twin Cities Fourth Arab Film Festival

Mizna's Fourth Arab Film Festival hits town this week end at the Heights Theater some buzz films to catch and buzz people to see. One example is the . The Festival is a good chance to see a group of films that fly far below the radar. Most are below my radar, for sure, but there are definitelySundance superstar The Devil Came on Horseback (Friday night at 9pm, directors Annie Sunberg and Ricki Stern appearing), and another example is the appearance of Sweet Land director Ali Selim to introduce opening night film Heaven's Doors (Thursday night at 7pm).

I wish there was more press about the festival and that I could offer a more intelligent analysis. Go take a chance on a film you have never heard of: The Twin Cities Fourth Arab Film Festival Schedule. See you there.

EDIT: Here's an article in the City Pages about the important work Mizna does.

(Ignore the "read more"...there is no more to read in this post. Please read another!)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Wolphin No. 3

When the good people at McSweeney's came up with Wholphin, their "DVD magazine of rare and unseen short films", I was excited. I love McSweeny's intelligent aesthetic mojoe, and was hoping for the same in Wholphin. But I took Wolphin No. 1 home and was fairly unimpressed. I filed it away and forgot about it...until last week, that is. I was casually hanging out/browsing my favorite Twin Cities independent bookstore, Micawber's, when I picked up Wholphin No. 3 for an examination. What I found reinvigorated my interest and enthusiasm, and I bought a copy faster than you can say "Bonus Disc: The Power of Nightmares." I have since revisited Wholphin No. 1, and realized I didn't give it a fair shake, and put in an order for Wholphin No. 2, and am anxiously awaiting Wholphin No. 4.

I like the format of DVD plus a booklet. I personally can't stand reading content from a DVD. If it is printed material, just print it. So each segment has some info or an interview or some factoids. The Wholphin website is also a wealth of supplementary content if you just can't get enough. The content of Wholphin No. 3 runs the gamut. Here is a brief rundown of the contents:

Menus - There are three menu loops that I guess would be hidden content for the impatient. Once the menu runs through one loop (about 30 seconds), it launches into a video. The first is called Tactical Advantage by Daren Rabinovitch; it shows what happens when God gets a little bored (or busy) up there in the clouds with his angel...and rifle. The second is Ballistic Jaw Propulsion of Trap-Jaw Ants by a team from UC Berkeley, CA Academy of Sciences and U of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; these people used a video camera that essentially shoots at 100,000 frames per second to capture 145 mph action of this ants pinchers; this is definitely a moment when art meets science - amazing! Third is Flotsam/Jetsam by David and Nathan Zellner; this is a two part "story" that has the feel of an art school video project.

The Russian Suicide Chair - Performance by Dennis Hopper. Now here's an oddity. In 1983 at Big H Speedway in Houston Texas, Dennis Hopper curls up under a chair that is lined with 17 sticks of dynamite and lights the fuse. Why? Who knows. Contains footage from the performance and a more current interview about the incident.

The Passion of Martin - Written and directed by Alexander Payne. Payne's mean-spirited student film he made at UCLA. This actually screened here at the Walker before Citizen Ruth as part of an Alexander Payne retrospective.

A Bee and a Cigarette - Directed by Bob Odenkirk. A funny short about two losers who can't shake their fate.

A Stranger in Her Own City - Directed by Khadija Al-Salami. This documentary is one of the show-stoppers of the DVD. Khadija Al-Salami follows a 13 year old girl who refuses to wear a veil around the streets of Sanaa, Yemen. She rides a bike, plays soccer with the boys, and plays outside her home; all activities that are unheard of for girls her age, and she receives constant criticism from everyone as a result. The courage and spirit of this girl light up the screen in a very intimate portrait of her life. With an epilogue that ends up being a sad ending, there is an eventual post-epilogue that is hopeful.

Excerpts from Funky Forest: The First Contact - Directed by Ishii Katsuhito. Funky Forest was one of my favorite films from last year. There are two excerpt here from the 3 hour film, and they don't even come close to doing it justice. Hopefully this is a sign that someone will pick this film up in the US.

Kitchen - Directed by Alice Winocour. This simple, dark, French short is one of my favs of the DVD. The battle between lobster and housewife has never been more funny.

Walleyball: "Yeah Yeah, We Speak English. Just Serve" - Directed by Wholphin. A friendly game of volleyball over the fence that separates the U.S. from Mexico at the Pacific serves as a commentary on immigration and the the U.S. built paranoia on illegal immigrants.

Never Like the First Time! - Directed by Jonas Odell. Swedish director Jonas Odell takes four stories told by four individuals about losing their virginity and illustrates them with animation, each with characteristics that match the narrative.

Bobby Bird (in The Devil in Denim) - Directed by Carson Mell. Another great animation where the menu is a drawing of Bobby Bird in the buff. You click on one of his tattoos to get the story behind the tattoo and inevitably the story about Bobby Bird. Now, I can't really tell you if Bobby Bird is a real person, but Carson Mell also did an illustrated novel about Bobby Bird called Saguaro.

And now, about that bonus disc....I have to admit that the real reason I was causing a ruckus about Wholphin was what was printed in the lower left hand corner. The Power of Nightmares was a three part BBC production made in 2004 that "explores the origins in the 1940s and 50s of Islamic Fundamentalism in the Middle East, and Neoconservatism in America, parallels between these movements, and their effect on the world today." There was lots of press about this series when it aired on BBC1 and also made it on many top ten lists for the year. The documentary uses lots and lots of stock footage from myriad of sources, so it got caught up in a copyright conundrum. It seemed that it would never be released on DVD because of all the clearances a distributor would have to deal with. So it ended up on the internet, and you can download it or watch it for free. I'll admit my laziness in not wanting to deal with all that, and also use the excuse that I don't like watching things on my computer. I'm big on kickin' back on the couch and watchin' the big screen. It's a good way to see and own this important documentary. Part 2 of The Power of Nightmares is included with Wholphin No. 3 (and part 1 with No. 2 and part 3 with upcoming No. 4.)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Minneapolis/St Paul International Film Festival website is up!

The website is up for the 2007 Minneapolis/St Paul International Film Festival scheduled April 19-29. It's pretty bare bones and only lists 15 films so far, but it's better than nothing. I don't mind eating a little crow (I'm sure it won't be the last time) for predicting MSPIFF doom only a few posts back. This early list is far from inspiring, but here are the highlights for me thus far:

Paprika - If nothing else, this film makes the fest for me. One would think Landmark would pick up this animation from Satoshi Kon. I wasn't too keen on Millennium Actress, or Tokyo Godfathers (both visually stunning, but narratively bland), but his amazing first feature Perfect Blue is a landmark, and his animation series Paranoia Agent is nothing short of brilliant.

Bamako - After reading an extensive article about Abderrahmane Sissako in CinemaScope 29, and having seen none of his films, I am very much looking forward to seeing this film. Danny Glover is scheduled to appear.

Waitress - This will no doubt have some sentimental value with Adrienne Shelly's untimely death last year, but that's okay by me. Her murder was nothing less than tragic; this was her directorial debut.

Bothersome Man - Okay, I really don't know anything about this film other than I received it a couple weeks ago from Film Movement. I haven't watched it yet. They usually make good choices.

The other films just say blah to me, but that doesn't mean I won't go to confirm that.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The First Annual Asian Film Awards

The prizes were handed out this week for the first annual Asian Film Awards, held in conjunction with the 31st Hong Kong International Film Festival. It is not surprising that Bong Joon-ho's The Host was a big winner (Best Film, Actor, Cinematographer, and Visual Effects) enjoying financial and critical success all over the world, including the US. Jia Zhangke won best director, in a catagory where I feel all the nominees deserved the award: Hong Sang-soo for Woman on the Beach, Johnnie To for Exiled, Jafar Panahi for Offside, Tsai Ming-liang for I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul for Syndromes and a Century. Wow.

As outlined on the AFA website, "The initiative is to acknowledge the finest of Asian Cinema, and bestow honour in various categories to film artists from across Asia, in the company of distinguished celebrities from around the world as guests and presenters." It is long overdue and it will be interesting to follow over the coming years. Also included in the program was special awards to Josephine Siao for outstanding contibution (being awesome), David Bordwell for excellence in scholarship (taking HK films beyond chopy-socky) and Andy Lau for box office star (making $).

Full list of nominees and winners:

Best Film
Curse of the Golden Flower, Hong Kong / Chinese mainland
Exiled, Hong Kong
The Host, South Korea
Love and Honor, Japan
Opera Jawa, Indonesia / Austria
Still Life, Chinese mainland

Best Director
HONG Sang-soo, Woman on the Beach, South Korea
JIA Zhangke, Still Life, Chinese mainland
Jafar PANAHI, Offside, Iran
Johnnie TO, Exiled, Hong Kong
TSAI Ming-liang, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, Taiwan / France / Austria
Apichatpong WEERASETHAKUL, Syndromes and a Century, Thailand / Austria / France

Best Actor
CHANG Chen, The Go Master, Chinese mainland
RAIN (JUNG Ji-hoon), I'm A Cybord, But That's OK, South Korea
Shahrukh KHAN, DON, India
Andy LAU, A Battle of Wits, Japan / Hong Kong / Chinese mainland / South Korea
SONG Kang-ho, The Host, South Korea
Ken WATANABE, Memories of Tomorrow, Japan

Best Actress
GONG Li, Curse of the Golden Flower, Hong Kong / Chinese mainland
KIM Hye-soo, Tazza: The High Rollers, South Korea
LIM Soo-jung, I'm A Cybord, But That's OK, South Korea
Rie MIYAZAWA, Hana, Japan
Miki NAKATANI, Memories of Matsuko, Japan
Ziyi ZHANG, The Banquet, Hong Kong / Chinese mainland

Best Screenwriter
Mani HAGHIGHI, Men at Work, Iran
HONG Sang-soo, Woman on the Beach, South Korea
Tetsuya OISHI, Shusuke KANEKO, Death Note: The Last Name, Japan
SOHN Jae-gon, My Scary Girl, South Korea
Prabda YOON, Invisible Waves, Thailand / The Netherlands / South Korea / Hong Kong
ZHANG Cheng, YUE Xiaojun, NING Hao, Crazy Stone, Hong Kong / Chinese mainland

Best Cinematographer
KIM Hyung-goo, The Host, South Korea
Andrew LAU, LAI Yiu-fai, Confession of Pain, Hong Kong
LIAO Pen-jung, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, Taiwan / France / Austria
Sayombhu MUKDEEPROM, Syndromes and a Century, Thailand / Austria / France
WANG Yu, The Go Master, Chinese mainland

Best Editor
Lee CHATAMETIKOOL, Syndromes and a Century, Thailand
KIM Sun-min, The Host, South Korea
Angie LAM, Dog Bite Dog, Japan / Hong Kong
PARK Gok-ji, JEONG Jin-hee, A Dirty Carnival, South Korea
Patrick TAM, After This Our Exile, Hong Kong

Best Composer
JEONG Yong-jin, Woman on the Beach, South Korea
Peter KAM, Isabella, Hong Kong
LIM Giong, Still Life, Chinese mainland
Rahayu SUPANGGAH, Opera Jawa, Indonesia / Austria
Tamiya TERASHIMA, Tales from Earthsea, Japan

Best Production Designer
CHO Keun-hyun, Forbidden Quest, South Korea
Towako KUWAJIMA, Memories of Matsuko, Japan
Patrick TAM, Cyurs HO, After This Our Exile, Hong Kong
WADA Emi, The Go Master, Chinese mainland
Tim YIP, The Banquet, Hong Kong / Chinese mainland

Best Visual Effects
Angela BARSON, CHUNG Chi-hang, Curse of the Golden Flower, Hong Kong / Chinese mainland
DTI (Digital Tetra Inc.) ETRI, The Restless, South Korea
Tetsuo OHYA, Makoto KAMIYA, Katsuro ONOUE, The Sinking of Japan, Japan
The Orphanage, The Host, South Korea
YANAGAWASE Masahide, Memories of Matsuko, Japan

Honary Award for outstanding contribution to Asian cinema: Actress Josephine Siao Fong-fong (Hong Kong)

Honary Award for excellence in scholarship in Asian cinema: Film academic David Bordwell (United States)

Nielsen Box Office Star of Asia Award: Actor Andy Lau

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

OUR DAILY BREAD @ the Walker

One of the most anticipated films, to me at least, will be screening this weekend at the Walker Art Center. If you read the New York Times or follow the festivals, Our Daily Bread will sound familiar. But for most this film will be coming out of nowhere due to the fact that it does not fit neatly into the US film distribution schemata. It is a brutally honest documentary about the current state of food production. To quote Manohla Dargis' review from the NYT "Our Daily Bread can be extremely difficult to watch, but the film’s formal elegance, moral underpinning and intellectually stimulating point of view also make it essential."

Working at an organic produce warehouse, I am only too aware of the politics of food facing our country and the world. In my opinion, the issues involved in food safety and distribution are going to out way those of global warming very soon. Recent outbreaks of E. coli in both conventional and organic greens have brought to light just how complicated our growing, harvesting, cleaning, packaging and distribution system is, and how reliant we are on it. The meat industry is no better.

The film was made by Austrian director Nikolaus Geyrhalter, and, for better or for worse, uses footage from European industrial food production. Go see the film. Buy local when you can.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Aqua Teen Hunger Force the movie

I have seen two previews in theaters for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, due out on April 13, and they are both hilarious. It is not often that I am surprised by the cleverness of film trailers, but this is definitely an exception to the rule. Here's the first one I saw before The Host at the Uptown that had me in stitches. There's another one out there somewhere (that I saw before 300) where a man is interview a woman about the ATHF movie and she honestly seems like she has no idea what he is talking about. Too funny.

Even the full title of the film, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, cracks me up. My sad TV-less self doesn't know the first thing about ATHF other than two of the characters are a carton of fries and a cup that is supposed to be a shake, and that like-humored friends enjoy this show. I've never given it much thought, but now I feel like I have honestly been missing out. Thank god for DVDs. Until then, bring on the movie!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Florida wildlife

I've been going down to Florida for a while now. My sister has lived there for over ten years, and it is a nice reprieve in the winter. If you ignore Mickey Mouse and the tourists, which is pretty easy to do at my sister's house, Florida is pretty cool and the wildlife is crazy.

Where else do you have lizards and jellyfish?

But that's not all of the Florida wildlife. This is Jughead - he is a badass. He catches squirrels, rats and snakes...and always leaves behind a snack for his people.

Pumpkin doesn't know how he does it; King White Fur doesn't care.

If you go to Florida, keep your eyes peeled for this wildlife, but approach with caution!

MSPIFF for Sale

Anyone tired of hearing about the Oak Street Cinema's demise? Like some sort of deja vu, the Oak Street is once again in the spotlight as the time for the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival approaches. It seems pretty obvious that the Oak Street could limp along for a while doing weekly runs like Inland Empire and Army of Shadows. No offense to anyone, but you could give a monkey a film magazine and a Landmark schedule and it could program weekly runs in this town. If there has been a spike in attendance, it is probably because your average Twin Citian has just now come around to the fact that the Oak is still open. ("Didn't the Oak Street close last year?" "I thought they were trying to do some sort of 'Save the Oak Street' fundraising that didn't work, or something.") But wait, what about the film festival? Minnesota Film Arts may be the organization that runs the Bell and the Oak, but it is also the organization that runs the film festival. Let's be totally honest, you can't limp through an International Film Festival unless you want to dig your grave.

I have never been a fan of the MSPIFF or it's previous incarnation The Rivertown Film Festival. The programming choices always seemed as bland as Midwestern salsa, focusing on watered-down middle of the road films that just happened to be in a foreign language. The best festival I've seen in my past 16 years in the Twin Cities was without a doubt Jamie Hook's 2005 cash cow. Granted, 2005 may have been more about quantity that quality, but within that quantity was some some films that actually has resonance on the world stage - A Tout de Suite, Clean, The Edukators, The World, 5 x 2, Kings and Queen, Kontroll, The Soup One Morning, Schizo, The Taste of Tea, and 15 just to name a few. (To be fair 2004 had some killer titles too: 9 Souls, The Corporation, Distant, Dogville, The Five Obstructions, Goodbye Dragon Inn, I'm Not Scared, The Return, The Story of the Weeping Camel, and Zatoichi.) The inspired schedules pointed to better and, yes, younger programmers than have since left or been canned from Minnesota Film Arts.

Which brings us to the 2006 MSPIFF. Reeling from the Jamie Hook explosion, board member Tim Grady bailed MN Film Arts out of imminent danger with his own funds, and took it upon himself to pull up his boot straps and rally the troops for the 2006 MSPIFF. Glossy program aside (you can still pick one up in the basement of the Oak Street), the festival was late out of the gate and lacked the monumental push that a festival needs. Crowds seemed to be good and there were some good films to be had, but I think it was far from a barn-burner.

So where does that leave us now? We have Al Milgrom standing up during a screening of Satantango proclaiming that there would be a the 24 1/2 MSPIFF in April and then a gala 25th MSPIFF in the fall. We have rumors that the Oak is for sale. We have rumors that Minnesota Film Arts missed renewing their nonprofit status. We have an organization that is still operating in the red. And we seem to have a festival slated for April 19-29 with no schedule and very little staff and one (unpaid) programmer. I appreciate Al Milgrom trying to assure people that things are okay in a recent Strib article that quoted him in saying, "People need to know that there is no problem with the festival and that it is going to be as good as ever." But how can this be anywhere near the truth?

More than ever the Twin Cities needs an International film festival. The Twin Cities has hit a dry spell in retrospectives, repertory screenings, and interesting programming in the Landmarkization film community. With the Lagoon closing (or is it?) for constuction of the mega-condo-complex, choices will be even fewer. The Walker seems to be carrying the torch for programming, but there is only so much that one screen with an average of 15 days of programming a month can do. My question for the Film Fest has always been, why do 150 mediocre films that most have never heard of when you could do 50 awesome films that already have a fair amount of cinefest-style hype behind them? Maybe the money factor and scheduling issues does come into play, but I could easily make a wishlist of 100 films, based mostly on educated hearsay, that would be festival-worthy, buzz-worthy, media-worthy, screen-worthy, and Twin Cities-worthy.

It has been reported in the City Pages and the Star Tribune that Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako will open the festival, which is exciting. But Euan Kerr reported on his Movie Natters blog that some of the "favorites" for the upcoming festival are The Sugar Curtain (France/Spain), Kamone Diner (Japan), Yacoubian Building (Egypt) and the The Story of Pao (Vietnam)....huh? If those are the highlights, I am really worried, plus The Story of Pao is playing this weekend. But then again, what kind of film festival do we expect from a bankrupt and unorganized MN Film Arts? The next question is, of coarse, if Minnesota Film Arts doesn't/can't do the Film Festival, who will? Time will tell for 2007, but what about 2008? Anybody have a couple hundred thousand dollars burning a hole in their pocket?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Payola smackdown

There is something about payola that is so 1950s. Sure, a law was made in 1960 that forbid record companies from giving money or gifts in exchange for radio play, but we are so far from the notion that the airwaves belong to the people, the law seems pointless. But maybe the law is pointless because it has never been enforced. Personally I think the FCC should reassess the ownership rules and deal with what is clearly a monopoly. At this point four companies own 99% of the commercial radio stations in the country, and probably the same could be said for the record companies that control the majority of the market. When you have billions and billions of dollars controlling an industry, I get pretty skeptical about any change. That all changed last week when Clear Channel, CBS, Entercom and Citadel (the aforementioned companies) agreed to pay the FCC a total of $12.5 million dollars in fines and offer 8,400 half hour segments for independent record labels and local artists.

What does it mean? I won't go far as to say it means nothing, and at the very least it is a good start. It does requires the big four to think a little differently about the way they program music, but not much. As mentioned in the City Pages article, the amount of time that stations have to give to local music is really just a drop in the bucket. The evidence in the case points the pay-for-play finger at J-Lo, Maroon 5, John Mayer, Jessica Simpson, and Franz Ferdinand. (I don't even know where to start with the irony of that list...) I don't think we will see those five just drop off the charts, and in reality, I don't think anyone cares about payola. People who like John Mayer are still going to like John Mayer, and people who listen to commercial radio don't want any change or they wouldn't be listening.

Fortunately in the Twin Cities we do have some options, especially when it comes to stations that do support local music. My love for Radio K knows no bounds, and if you like music, you will hear something new everyday. The Current is the other station in town that play lots of local music and highlight lots of local events. And of course there is also KFAI that is all local in one way or another; if it is not your neighbor at the mic then it is your neighbor they are talking about or playing. And, hey, what do you know! All those stations are non-commercial radio. So I say let the FCC have their fun and maybe they can get a little money to help out with national debt. Me, I'll stay out of it and support the stations that actually have roots in Minnesota.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


I am a fan of Takashi Miike although he has disappointed me as many times as he hasn't. So I approached his "banned from cable broadcast" Imprint with some hope and some trepidation. Read on:

I can't say I really cared when Showtime announced it was going to commission thirteen directors to create new for a series called "Masters of Horror". It seemed like a marketing scheme that didn't really have much sway with me. But when Showtime announced it would not air Takashi Miike's piece, without further comment, I had a good laugh. Maybe before giving him carte blanche, they should have watched more than Audition. I imagine Miike getting the call from Showtime and immediately sitting down to make a list what most repulses American audiences: abortion, torture, pedophilia, incest, rape, violence toward women...yup, that should do it.

Who knows whether or not this is an accurate notion of how Imprint came about, but after seeing the film I am even more convinced that Miike is having a little fun, and, as a result, selling himself short. The film starts out promising enough with a scene reminiscent of the atmospheric Japanese ghost stories of the 50s and 60s, but all that falls away as Billy Drago's terrible acting reveals itself and as the Japanese cast stumbles along in poor English, even to each other. Set at the end of the Edo period that we all know and love from the movies, Drago plays Chistopher who is searching for the woman he loved, but abandoned. Stranded on an island, he has no choice but to choose a prostitute and spend the night. His fateful choice not only uncovers the demise of his beloved, but also the freakish secrets about his courtesan and eventually the truth behind his own brutish nature.

The story, adapted by Daisuke Tengan (who also wrote Audition, and is the son of Shohei Imamura), is not so bad. Not unlike Rashomon, the characters are slowly revealed for who they are by the stories they tell, be them true or false. Although it is far from original, the story is able to weave multiple lines of evil begetting evil. Unfortunately, under Miike's not so subtle direction many of the nuances are lost and it quickly becomes an endurance test for the audience - if the poor acting doesn't do you in, the absurd torture will. I am willing to acknowledge that the violence in Imprint has long roots in Japanese soft core film, but I also think Miike knew exactly what he was doing. There is something haphazardly calculated about Imprint by the fact that it panders to the US audience with its English language dialog, an obvious concession, where as the shock factor, which is at best gratuitous, is totally in your face. There is no doubt in my mind that this film was withheld from Showtime because of the very prolonged torture scene. Rumors that a US audience wouldn't accept the themes on abortion are totally bunk. The fact that a character in the film performs abortions and dumps the fetuses in the river is relatively minor compared to needles slow being pushed under fingernails and into gums.

The payoff is little more that a laugh at how ludicrous things can get. When an evil twin sister appears in the form of the McFries puppet from the Happy Meal Gang popping out of the female leads head, any possibility of this film being taken seriously is out the window. In Miike's very inconsistent repertoire, Imprint fits right in. Despite his intentions for his episode in Showtime's prepackaged Masters of Horror series, Miike is certainly the one having the last laugh: Imprint (aka "the Banned Episode") is by far the most most talked about of the series.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

What is the deal with Myth?

I don't like this trend that the club Myth has started: shows in the suburbs. Mastodon just announced new tour dates and if I wanted a second chance to judge if Mastodon sucks or not, guess where I will be going? You guessed in: Myth in Maplewood. Myth also hosted the other most-talked-about metal band, Wolfmother a couple weeks back. Needless to say, Myth is another Clear Channel muckety-muck making just-say-no-to-Ticketmaster harder and harder.

I was mildly interested in seeing Wolfmother, but as of yet there haven't been any shows there that I couldn't live without seeing. I guess I shouldn't criticize until I go and check it out. I know there a re just as many people in the suburbs that feel stigmatized by 'the city' as I do the suburbs, but it just doesn't seem right to have cool shows outside of St Paul/Minneapolis proper. (That is unless they build a stadium out there and they can have all the stadium shows.) Am I being an asshole? Probably.

I am ready to be told I am wrong. Myth's official website boasts that it "is the Midwest's finest entertainment venue." It does look nice, in a suburban kind of way. I love this quote about the place: "Size does matter, but it is also how you use it." They also assure people that they have a "sexy and attentive staff." Well, I don't think they are marketing to me (or maybe they are and they just don't know it.) I just can't be too serious about a place that has 'full contact cage fighting' and their tag line 'Myth: Night. Life. Style.'

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Find the little house

Just a couple more inches and our house would have been swallowed up!
I'm going to have to say that the onslaught of snow in the past week has made life pretty sucky. Shoveling this driveway is no fun and it is downright stupid. It is definitely one of those stories we can tell when we are old.

There is the hard working shovel on the left with some of the mountains of snow behind our house. And on the right is the daunting view from the bottom of the drive. Spring can not come soon enough!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Too many films, not enough time; No.2

The second edition of must see movies in the Twin Cities for the week, and my own personal list of things to see:

The Aura @ the Oak Street
Argentinian director Fabian Belinsky died last year at 47 after making only two features, this and thiller Nine Queens (2000), sadly cutting his rising career short. I heard good things about this film when it played last year at Sundance.

El Topo
@ the Oak Street
If you go see one film this week, go see El Topo. To call this film a cult classic does not do it justice. It is a story of one man's religious jouney in the form of a surreal western that is unlike anything else. Long unavailable on film or DVD, the Oak Street will be screening a new print of this mind trip masterpeice. Don't miss it.

The Lives of Others @ the Uptown
The Best Foriegn Film winner continues and moves to the Uptown. This may be one film worthy of an Oscar.

Tears of the Black Tiger
@ the Lagoon
I may have just dissed Wisit Sananatieng's Citizen Dog, but that's mostly because his Tears of the Black Tiger is such a show-stopper. This Thai Western melodrama is nothing but good honest cinematic fun. It's came out in 2001 but is just now making it to theaters in the US. A big screen must see!

Women With Vision @ the Walker
Where to start? The Walker is offering up 18 films over the next couple weeks made by the best and brightest women filmmakers around the world. Here's what stands out to me, but by all means check out the schedule and do your own deciding: Red Road, Day Night Day Night, Daniele Huillet films, Music of Regret, Boxers, In Between Days, and Urban Exploreres.

Have fun!

Thursday, March 1, 2007


A Hole in My Heart came up the other day 'in the office', (like it does in most offices, I'm sure) and I thought I would throw this review up that I wrote a for a now de-funked website. I bought and watched the R2 UK DVD when it came out in May 2005. Moodysson's film has yet to find a release here in the US, and I doubt that it ever will. If you don't like spoilers and you plan on borrowing this DVD from me, maybe wait to read this review. I'm going to have to say that the full impact of not knowing what you are getting into with this film is pretty incredible. Read on:

Moodysson doesn’t take long to set the tone for A Hole In My Heart. A tranquil opening scene of two people lying in bed together is jolted from its peacefulness with a showering of cacophonous sound and image. Such is the structure of the film: a waxing and waning between gentle and aggressive, fragile and coarse. While I am willing to admit that Hole is much more than a divisive montage, the oblique structure and evasive imagery are stumbling blocks for me.

The narrative meanders around four people living in a small apartment in which the main activity is shooting a porn video. The action (non-action) swings from mundane conversations to provocative play. The drab day-to-day of these four somewhat interesting characters reveals ‘behind the scenes’ porno production and symbolic theatrics with dolls and a prosthetic torso. Interspersed are some ambiguous (and not so ambiguous) clips from actual surgery footage. This is all done up with some very frenetic editing (in an attempt to seem amateur?) and is combined with a deliberately jarring soundtrack.

If the the words ‘labial surgery’ make you squirm, believe me, the images will make you squirm even more. Although other shots are not as specific, they are nonetheless a ful
l frame of throbbing red flesh and organs being surgically invaded. Moodysson’s very intentional juxtaposition of these graphic and clearly authentic images overshadows anything else going on the film. The images are an assault on the senses that set me on edge and never allowed me to settle into some of the subtleties that the film possesses.

A Hole in My Heart is a much more interesting film to analyze intellectually and formally than attempting to under stand the broad emotional and social territory it covers. Moodysson is obviously a fearless filmmaker. He pushes the boundaries of traditional narrative film structure and content while seeming to embrace the popular means of reality TV and pornography. I appreciate directors that challenge the way we see and watch films, and perhaps this is Hole’s biggest success.

I am an adventuresome film viewer with an open mind, but this film tested my limits. As with most avant-garde film, intellectual engagement is just not enough for me. In the end, Moodysson’s cerebral exercise does little more than dampen my joy of watching film.

Interesting interview with Moodyson in the Guardian.