Saturday, May 26, 2007


The announcement that Sony Pictures Classics picked up Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights for US distribution was followed by the fact that they also picked up Wong's Ashes of Time Redux due to be finished in the fall. Ashes of Time Redux is a reworking of Wong's 1994 Ashes of Time and is suspected to be a re-edit that includes footage not in the original. Ashes boasts the amazing cast of Tony Leung Kai-Fa, Leslie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung Chu-Wai, Charlie Yeung, Jacky Cheung, Carina Lau, and Maggie Cheung. (Joey Wong also starred but her scenes were deleted in the original; one can only hope she will resurface in Redux.) Sony Pictures Classics, who also released 2046, will probably keep Ashes of Time Redux in their back pocket pending My Blueberry Nights success.

Ashes of Time is loosely based on the very popular martial arts novel by Jin Yong, that usually gets translated to Eagle Shooting Heroes. I see Ashes as Wong's martial arts version of In the Mood For Love, with lots more characters. It is equally contemplative and full of longing and sorrow. The embattled production of Ashes mirrors that of ITMFL with the big difference being that the Cannes Film Festival wasn't waiting for it. Wong spent two years in the Western provinces of China shooting the film, and a good six months at the editing table. The stalled production gave birth to three films: Jeff Lau's hilarious Eagle Shooting Heroes incorporating not only the same story but the same cast as Ashes with Wong as producer; Wong cranked out Chungking Express in two months during an editing break in Hong Kong; and eventually Fallen Angels was the result of an extra vignette he could not work into Chungking Express.

Ashes of Time is my personal favorite Wong Kar Wai film, but its sublime and convoluted nature turns most people away. I'm in love with this movie in many ways: the images, the music, the soulful characters, and of course the romance of the knight errant in the form of a swordsman. But this film has been in desperate need of a decent DVD for years. Although I have been lucky enough to have seen Ashes twice on the big screen, I am embarrassed how many time I have watched the deplorable DVD versions of this film. Both available versions from Hong Kong are pan scan to the point where the image gets cropped on the top, bottom, left and right at some point. There was a French DVD that came out about a year ago that reportedly has a much better image, but alas, was cut by about eight minutes and has no English subs. Rumors abound when Criterion put ITMFL out with bonus features that included what seemed like remastered clips of Ashes, but has yet to come to fruition.

Who knows what changes Wong has in mind for Ashes of Time, and I'm oddly at ease with a new version of a film that I hold so near and dear to my heart. I guess I feel that if there is something Wong would like to change, I would like to see it. I also know that the chances of getting a remastered version of the original on DVD just got better.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Cannes 2007

The flood of reports from Cannes 2007 are all over the web, and the sting of jealousy and anticipation is already too much. If someone would please just give me a private screening of these films first in the company of the director, everything would be fine....but I digress. As with every Cannes, early reports fill me with hope on the state of foreign film. At this point, whether or not they will ever play in the Twin Cities is a non-issue. For not it is only excitement for the films themselves.

Cannes 2007 finds two of my favorite directors venturing outside of their homelands for seemingly drastically different films. Wong Kar Wai, working in the good ol' US of A, screened My Blueberry Nights with no last minute drama that came with his last film 2046. My Blueberry Nights is being described as a road movie and stars Jude Law and Norah Jones as well as a dozen other interesting stars. The critics have weighed in with a sort of frenzy that doesn't match the lukewarm tenor of most of the reviews. (Check out GreenCine's amazing synopsis of everything My Blueberry Nights on their blog HERE.) I think the love affair that critics (and myself) have with Wong is a love affair that is simultaneous with Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and, in the case of 2046, Zhang Ziyi. Being asked to snap out of that transfixation is a hard, but maybe necessary jump for fans and for Wong. (Trailer HERE.)

Then there is Hou Hsiao Hsien's taking a jump from Taiwan, to Japan (for his Ozu homage Café Lumière) and now to France with Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge (Flight of the Red Balloon.) Hou's Red Balloon is a variation on the much-loved 1956 short by Albert Lamorisse titled Red Balloon. The film is the first in a series initiated by the Musée d' Orsay in celebration of the museum's 2oth anniversary. The only stipulation was that the museum appear in the film. (Other directors lined up for the series are Olivier Assayas, Raoul Ruiz and Jim Jarmusch.) Similar to reports on My Blueberry Nights, reviews echo the same sentiment that Hou's film does not have the gravity of the films shot in his native country. In this case I am particularly skeptical of the disappointing reviews for the simple fact that I have learned to love Café Lumière, which the critics largely discredited. Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge stars Juliette Binoche. (YouTube trailer HERE.)

There are s-loads of films in competition, out of competition, and un certain regard that are worth paying attention to. There are also some things that make me cringe a bit. I think we will see Michael Moore taking advantage of all the press he can get at Cannes with his documentary about the health care system entitled Sicko. He has already made a point in noting to the press that he is under federal investigation (who isn't?) and that his film is very cloak-and-dagger with certain documents kept in "safe places" etc. While I think Moore's films are thought provoking, he is by-and-large an opportunist at every angel. Similarly, my bias against Julian Schabel just wont let up. I disliked him as an artist (poser) and still have trouble facing his films with out that history. He presents his bio-pic, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, on Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of ELLE, who suffered a massive stroke and wrote a book with the mere facilities of being able to move his head a little, grunt, and blink his left eyelid.

But enough of the complaining and pretentious hemming and hawing. Following is my list of films that I am extremely enthusiastic about:

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)
Another Romanian masterpiece? It seems so. A year after The Death of Mr Lazarascu left critics hesitating, it was able to catch a momentum that had most calling it one of the best, if not the best, film of the year. Critics are not hesitating this year with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days with critics calling it "a stunning achievement" (Variety) and a "precisely tuned work" (Screen Daily) right out of the gate.

Alexandra (Alexander Sokurov)
Set in present day Chechen Republic; about a grandmother amongst army men; Alexander Sokurov.

The Banishment (Andrei Zviaguintsev)
I was definitely late in discovering Zviaguimtsev's amazing The Return from 2003. A friend had recommended it after it came out on DVD and I was very moved. The Banishment seems to have the same sort of surreal and allegorical family suspense in the vein of The Return.

Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant)
Van Sant is still gravitating toward young men with this film about a skateboarder. He is teaming up again with Chris Doyle as cinematographer (who he work with on Psycho) and Leslie Shatz for sound design (easily the best attribute to Last Days) and starring mostly unknowns that he recruited from MySpace.

Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud)
Go animation! Go Persepolis! I am very encouraged by original author Marjane Satrapi's involvement in the film. The graphic novel certainly had its share of deserved success; hopefully the film will bring even a wider audience. The version screening at Cannes is in French and stars Chiara Mastroianni as the voice of the independent Marjane, Catherine Deneuve that of her worried mother, and Danielle Darrieux that of her irrepressible grandmother. Word is there are plans for an English dubbing.

Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-Dong)
It has been five years since Lee made Oasis, and there is much anticipation for this film that has already received critical acclaim from those who have seen it. It is a shame that his Peppermint Candy is still widely unknown outside of Korean film enthusiasts. Secret Sunshine stars the incredible Song Kang-Ho (The Host, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance). (YouTube trailer HERE.)

Breath (Kim Ki-duk)
I have been generally underwelmed by Kim's work for the past five years. The promising component of this film is that it stars Chang Chen.

Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas)
A film professor once told me he believed that any great filmmakers best work was his first film. Although I am skeptical of this proclamation, there are many cases that prove his theory right. With time, Reygadas may be proof positive that his first was his best. But with only two films under his belt, (Silent Light being his third) I think it is too early to say.

The Man from London (Bela Tarr)
At this point Bela Tarr seems like a mythic figure to me and it seems impossible that he would have a new film. Averaging a film about every seven years, his last Werkmeister Harmonies in 2000, The Man from London seems to be the film that will push him beyond his current circle of fans/fanatics. Or maybe not.

Boarding Gate (Oliver Assayas)
Did I mention I love Hong Kong? I think Olivier Assayas does too. Asia Argento is the globetrotting lost girl. Also starring Kelly Lin and Kim Gordon.

Go Go Tales (Abel Ferrara)
The screen clip of the catty dialogue between the "go go girls" is enough for me. I would at least expect something interesting from Abel Ferrara.

Triangle (Johnnie To, Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam)
These things rarely work, the shorts often just seem like unfleshed-out sketches of features, but these are three heavy hitters in my book. Johnnie To is the anchor in this omnibus with Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam both without very impressive projects for the past seven years.

He Fengming (Wang Bing)
Wang Bing's first film since West of the Tracks. We will have to wait and see if the scope is equally as epic. This is a very intimate portrait of one woman, He Fengming, looking back over the past thirty years of her life. When I was in China in the late nineties I would often think about the history those in their later years had witnessed, and this film seems to follow that train of inquiry.

Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine)
I like Harmony Korine, and I like the sound of this movie: "A Michael Jackson impersonator (DIEGO LUNA) lives alone in Paris and performs on the streets to make ends meet. At a performance in a retirement home, Michael falls for a beautiful Marilyn Monroe look-alike (SAMANTHA MORTON), who suggests he move to a commune of impersonators in the Scottish Highlands. At the seaside castle, Michael discovers everyone preparing for the commune's first-ever gala - Abe Lincoln, Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Stooges, the Queen, the Pope, Madonna, Buckwheat, Sammy Davis Jr… And also Marilyn's daughter Shirley Temple and her possessive husband Charlie Chaplin (DENNIS LAVANT)." Come on, that sounds awesome!

That's a short list, and I could go on, but sometimes you have to stick a sock in it and finish the post. (This is an overt act of using someone's photo when I probably shouldn't, and I will remove it if necessary, but what a great photo! That's Gong Li, by the way.)

Monday, May 21, 2007


This is my first Art-a-Whirl as a full-fledged Northeast resident, and I have to admit the festive atmosphere was contagious. Good press and good weather seemed to draw out the crowds once again for this Northeast Minneapolis Arts extravaganza. I remember attending about ten years ago and being overwhelmed, but it seems to have reached new heights not only with the number of artists and locations participating, but also the amount of music, performances and parties. (What would NE be without the trains.)

There are a massive number of options at Art-a-Whirl. The California Building has been the anchor and around for more than 20 years as an artists hub; then the Northrup King just exploded about five years ago and now boast a huge number of studios in one building; and now the new kid on the block is the Casket Arts Building, in the Northwestern Casket Company building on Madison and 17th. The building is owned by the same couple than owns the California Building, which can only mean good things. (Their motto is "Where you can work in eternal peace.")

Of course the epicenter of my activities was Eleanor's studio at Northrup King. I spent most of Friday night there, and when things wrapped up we headed over to the Casket Arts Building to check out the VitaMN party. After a cup of Grain Belt and attempting to look like scenesters, we headed over to Psycho Suzies to chow down on a pizza and chug some fancy drinks.

Saturday I went back to the Casket Arts building to check out Deborah Jinza Thayer's performance that she was doing in someone's studio. Here's how the performance started, and finished. Deborah's great. Don't miss an opportunity to see her work.
I also picked up this awesome t-shirt designed by Margarita Faustino. It was from a print that was in a show at One on One Bike Shop a few months ago. (I wish I looked as good in the t-shirt!)Then I headed to NKB to check in with the artist. Things can get a little crazy with so many people in your studio.
I walked around and checked out the places on Quincy and caught some drumming.
We ended our NE Saturday by busting into the Modern Cafe with everyone else and having some great food. (Me: roasted chicken with morels. Eleanor: nettle ravioli.) The temperature did some serious dropping, so the bike ride home at 11:00pm was a little chilly!

The Art-a-Whirl continued on Sunday, but alas, I spend my Sundays working for the man.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Summer's not all bad...

Sometimes I lament the coming of summer. It cuts down on good projector hours in the evening (too much west sun) and generally lots of crappy movies. On the other hand: my truck stays parked in the drive and I am on my bike; nothing is better than grilling and eating outside; and it is easier to choose which movies to see. First let me make clear that I like crappy movies as much as the next person, but so far this summer is proving me wrong about the crappy movies (by this I mean overblown Hollywood mega-movies) out balancing decent ones. If I look at my choices for the weekend, Spiderman 3 is way down the list. There are a handful of critically acclaimed films and much more interesting films hovering in theaters. Still playing: Black Book, Red Road, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, and two films I have already seen, Man Push Cart and The Valet. Opening: Away From Her, Waitress, and Offside. Oh yeah, and then there is the Tibetan Film Festival. I'm excited that summer might be full of nuggets like these. As long as everyone else is doing it, here's my summer movie preview with my limited knowledge of what will be playing:

The A-list:
I Don't Want to Sleep Alone/Spider Lilies/Itty Bitty Titty Committee
By far my most anticipated films of the summer are in the form of the Walker's Queer Takes next month. Tsai Ming Liang's new film, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, was part of a larger series commission for the Toronto Film Festival last year. His last film never screened here, so this is progress. Spider Lilies is from Taiwan and won the Teddy Award for Best Feature at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival. And Itty Bitty Titty Committee is new film from Jamie Babbit (But I'm a Cheerleader) and it looks like a total hoot.

Day Watch
Night Watch was certainly not the best movie I had ever seen, but it wasn't bad and it begged for a sequel. Word is number two in this trilogy is better than the first, and by the looks of the trailer, nothing was spared for special effects. The fact that it is Russian is just icing on the cake (as Tarkovsky roles over in his grave.) Let's hope the story holds up next to eye-candy.

Triad Election (aka Election 2)
I guess they didn't want people to think this was a sequel to the Alexander Payne film.... Although I have seen Johnny To's Election 2, and generally think it is inferior to the first Election (and Exiled), I am willing to be won over by this film on the big screen. Either way, it's a shame that this is the first To film to hit the big screen in the Twin Cities since Asian Media Access stopped their Cinema With Passion series.

Paris, je t'aime
Sure there are 20 segments (or is it 18) to this film, but when you start looking at the list of directors and actors, how can you not get excited. No doubt some will be better than others but who cares. And who doesn't love Paris - the city of love and the city of film.

Killer of Sheep
I have heard so much about this legendary film, it is hard to believe that I (and everyone else) will finally get to see a restored version this summer. Charles Burnett's student film about life in 1970s Watts is not to be missed.

Yes, it is about bestiality, and yes, it is kind of a documentary, and yes, I am curious. The real question is whether or not midwestern morality will get in the way of a screening of this film. We will have to wait and see. (Great interview with director Robinson Devor in current issue of Cinema Scope, by our very own Rob Nelson.)

Summer standouts list:
Private Fears in Public Spaces
The new film by Alain Resnais has been playing in NYC for about a month and gotten quite a bit of press from it. I am interested in how a modern master will update his oeuvre with this "comedy of manners" about individual connections/disconnections.

Away From Her
I missed Sarah Polley's debut feature at the MSPIFF, but never fear it is playing in Edina now.

Fay Grim
I like Hal Hartley, and I like Henry Fool, and I love Parker Posey. Word is this film is not so good, but the preview looks pretty funny and I'm willing to give it a chance.

Rescue Dawn
Werner Herzog never ceases to amaze me. (Talk about updating his oeuvre - anybody see Wild Blue Yonder?) Herzog turns one of his documentaries, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, into an action drama staring the ever impressive Christian Bale.

Forget the happy-go-lucky summer movies, and let's have a film about international sex trafficking. The New York Times article, "The Girls Next Door", that this film was inspired by was devastating. Although this film is fiction, the situation in human trade is not.

Maybe bad, maybe good list:
Luc Besson needs a good movie. Maybe this is it, maybe it isn't.

I liked Rob Zombie's Devil's Rejects more than most (lots more), and although I am befuddled by his choice to remake this horror classic I am convinced Zombie has the goods. (Trailer on YouTube.)

William Friedkin's big return or big flop. I just re-watched The Exorcist recently and it is still pretty damn scary. Since then Friedkin just seems like director for hire, having nothing that really stands out. Will this be it?

This is a total wild card. Transformers either your thing or its not. Michael Bay is either your thing or not. Here's what I expect: good special effects, terrible script.

A Mighty Heart
Everything about this movie just screams exploitation, and Angelina Jolie has yet to prove she is a decent actress....but it is Micheal Winterbottom.

And last but not least, there is the Cannes Film Festival

No silly, I'm not attending, but it is exciting nonetheless. Loads of films I'm really excited about are playing, and this will be everyone's first crack at thumbs up or thumbs down. As much as I hate it, I have no choice but to live vicariously through critics who go and write about it. The blog has yet to garner the support for my trip to the south of France.

Friday, May 4, 2007


The last decade has seen much intellectual teeth-gnashing about the so-call Chinese diaspora in film and much critical ballyhooing in the direction of Southeast Asia, and for good reason. Global film fans and Festival curators alike have made more space for films from Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia with fresh takes on everything from dramas to documentaries. Thailand might be leading the way with such directors as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Wisit Sasanatieng, and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, but Malaysia is not far behind. The past few years has seen a surge of interest in Malaysian film with directors like James Lee, Ho Yuhang, Amir Muhammad, and Tan Chui Mui, reaching a fever pitch at 2006 Pusan Film Festival and 2007 International Film Festival Rotterdam. Ho Yuhang's Rain Dogs seemed to have started the wave last year.

As for Malaysian films that have hit the screens here in the Twin Cities, they have all been in the form of the International Film Festival. In 2005, the Film Festival screened Amir Muhammad's very intimate and more-than-meets-the-eye documentary The Big Durian and hosted the US premiere for Ho Yuhang's subtle Min. The Big Durian had me packing for KL, but Min was slight and ultimately forgettable. As I now try to conjure up more images from the Min, I now blame myself for not locking Min into my movie memory databank, and not the unmemorable characteristics of the film itself. After seeing Ho's remarkable Rain Dogs, I have no doubt that Min contained hints of great things to come.

Tung is a young man on the brink of adulthood. Leaving his quiet hometown to visit his brother in Kuala Lumpur is just his first test. Tung's wish to hide from the world and while away the time fishing is shattered by a series of of irrevocable events. Rain Dogs is a coming of age story that is anything but ordinary. Tung discovers very quickly that his naiveté will not protect him from growing up, and the world is going to be thrust upon him whether he likes it or not. The leisurely but deliberate pace is nonetheless engaging and spotted with forks in the road, not only for Tung, but for the film also. Ho shows admirable restraint in shunning the sensationalism and melodrama hanging around every corner, forsaking blockbuster mentality for a more moving and, dare I say, realistic approach. Ho punctuates his disregard for convention when the title screen shows up 38 minutes into the film, as if a forgotten detail or a reminder of who's in control.

Rain Dogs is one of six
Chinese language films in a High Definition project for emerging filmmakers called First Cuts funded by heavenly king himself Andy Lau. The HD video is perfect for the lush images in Rain Dogs. The assured camerawork hardly seems that of an emerging filmmaker though. Still shots have artfully calculated compositions and the pans have a confident grace. It is understandable why critics and film fans (myself included) used this film as a prompt or a push for a building excitement for Malyasian film. Unfortunately, this film only seems available on DVD from Hong Kong, and if it hasn't hit a film fest near you, it probably won't. That being said, it is a region free DVD and most savvy video stores would be able to order it. Or spend the 12 bucks yourself and have a great movie in your collection.