Tuesday, July 31, 2007

DVD releases for July 31...sort of

There is really nothing of note coming out this week, unless 300 and Hot Fuzz are releases you have been waiting for. (And if they are, you don't need me to tell you about them.) Instead, I'm going to give some posthumous recommendations for the two great film directors that passed away this week, Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni.

First here's four for Ingmar Bergman:
Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (1962) directed by Vilgot Sjöman
Forget about the films for a moment and get a better picture of the filmmaker. Vilgot Sjöman (I am Curious Yellow) was asked by Swedish television to document Bergman at work. The result is this five part, two-and-a-half hour making of Winter Light. This intimate portrait of Bergman and his working process includes everything from rehearsals to post-premiere reaction to Winter Light. Prior to Criterion's release of this DVD (available with The Silence/Through a Glass Darkly/Winter Light box set) this documentary was unavailable in the US.

Cries and Whispers (1972)
A personal favorite of mine. It is one of Bergman's most beautiful films, but also one of his most painful. Focusing on the relationship of four women, three sisters and one maid, as every facet of the human condition (or the soul, as Bergman himself would say) is explored with devastating results. Some might find this film depressing, but, for me, it is just an affirmation of my pessimism.

Wild Strawberries (1957)
Much lighter than Cries and Whispers, Wild Strawberries is Bergman's road movie. An elderly professor examines his life on a cross country trip with his daughter-in-law. Full of archetypal dream sequences, this austere film has just the slightest edge of tenderness, that is hardly recognizable in this day and age. Bergman wrote the screenplay for Wild Strawberries while he was in the hospital for two months in 1956. Even at the young age of 39, Bergman ponders the notion of a life lived and the need for redemption. Wild Strawberries came on the heals of his award winning The Seventh Seal.

Fanny and Alexander (1982)
Bergman made Fanny and Alexander with the intentions that it would be his last, and in many respects it was, although he continued to work. Told through the eyes of a child, this film has a childlike quality of imagination and eventual defiance that was not typical of Bergman. Three hours long, Fanny and Alexander is nothing less than an epic family drama that Bergman takes great pains with, for reasons that are probably more personal than artistic. Criterion put out the most amazing 5 DVD boxset of Fanny and Alexander that included the theatrical cut, the longer cut for Swedish television that runs over 5 hours, and a full length Making Of.

And then three for Michelangelo Antonioni that are very predictable. Unfortunately, many of Antonioni's films are unavailable in the US. Even if you have seen these three, I believe there is great re-watch value here:
L'Avventura (1960)
L'Avventura got the kind of jeering at Cannes that one would associate with contemporary bad-boys of cinema. Antonioni and lead actor Monica Vitti reportedly fled from the cinema after the screening. It was quickly vindicated by critics and the press, but that initial screening was no doubt symbolic of how original Antonioni's vision was. I've always contended that the director that challenges his audience the most is the director that respects his audience the most, and within this ideology Antonioni showed great respect. Forty seven years later, L'Aventua continues to challenge. As the major narrative thrust (a woman gone missing) falls away, we are left with the aimlessness of our beautiful but vacant lead characters. Our viewership seems as desultory as Claudia and Sandro. Is this a reflection we see? Or acute observation of the morally and spiritually empty upper class? Antonioni seems to be chasing our existential decline with delirious visual beauty.

Blow-Up (1966)
Blow-Up has a playfulness that is really hard not to enjoy, even if the details, or lack thereof, cause a little confusion. A thriller infused with drugs, sex and rock and roll, Blow-Up does seem a bit dated, in a cool, mod sort of way.

The Passenger (1975)
The Passenger offers a more concrete plot to follow even though the outcome is no more fulfilling and its "meaning" is no less ambiguous. Jack Nicholson is amazing as the man at the end of his rope, but finds a new lease on life. Or maybe not. Antonioni finds a brilliant marriage between narrative and form that allows the underlying questions of fate and identity percolate just below the surface. The final seven minute shot is a force to be reckoned with: beautiful and haunting. I was completely blown away when I saw this two years ago in the theater when it was re-released. The re-release brought Antonioni's preferred cut of the film for the first time to US theaters, and subsequently, on DVD.

>A note about links to the films: I have linked film titles to GreenCine, the alternative to Netflix. Want to rent it today? There are lots of great local video stores that are independently owned and operated: Box Office Video in St Paul and Cinema Revolution in Minneapolis and my local lazy favorite Video Stardom in the Quarry (yes, it is independently owned.) That being said, I am a subscriber to GreenCine and have a great amount of respect for GreenCine's amazingly comprehensive and informative website.

Michelangelo Antonioni R.I.P.

Jeepers. This blog is starting to look like an obituary page. While the death of Bergman is sad, the death of Michelangelo Antonioni breaks my heart. Antonioni's films are timeless and are as enigmatic today as they were twenty, thirty or, in the case of L'Avventura, forty-seven years ago. In looking at his filmography, I realize how few of his films I have seen, many unavailable in the US. Antonioni has an inquisitiveness about the world and the human condition and this translated into his art. Life's ambiguity was a stage for Antonioni's visual poetics. His 1975 film with Jack Nicholson, The Passenger, was given a re-release in theaters with a restored print a few years ago, and I was stunned at how amazing this film was on the big screen. His most well-known work is from the 60s, including L'Avventura (1960), L'Eclisse (1962) and Blow-Up (1966). A stroke kept his work to a minimum in recent years. His last film was a short contained in the omnibus film entitled Eros. He will be missed, but his art lives on.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman R.I.P.

Possibly one of the most iconic contemporary filmmakers died today. My introduction to Ingmar Bergman was in the late Eighties, only after he had made Fanny and Alexander. I've always known Bergman as a "classic" filmmaker. Unfortunately, his films don't hold up very well by contemporary standards, where the need for irony outweigh compassion. The Seventh Seal may be one of the most parodied films for its unapologetic allegory and honesty. Bergman set himself apart as a filmmaker who was unafraid of putting his heart on his sleeve and making art; he will be missed.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Sometimes, instead of watching soap operas and eating bon bons, I like to pull out old film magazines and reread articles about films that I have subsequently had the chance to see first hand. Despite my distribution whining, most films eventually make their way through the Twin Cities sooner or later. When I went back through magazines from Summer 2006, there were two big films that were talked about at Cannes but did not hit the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. The first is Bruno Durmont's most recent, Flanders. I'm no fan of Durmont, but feel that, much like Catherine Breillat, he is a director with a very acute sense of the audience. Flanders was released in more important parts of the US earlier this summer. The second film that has not made the rounds, I can at least say has not made the rounds anywhere in the world. Ironically, it was one of the films that got the most press (be it bad, good or ambivalent) and seemed the most likely film to be released sooner than later, especially here in the US: Southland Tales by Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales landed in Cannes with a resounding two hour and forty minute critical thud that could be heard around the world. Regardless, anyone with half a brain should realize that the potential audience for the film could care less what the critics thought at Cannes and might actually revel in the fact that is was dismissed. Everything I have read about this film makes it seem not only very interesting but maybe even important. The good news is that, a year and a half later Southland Tales is set for a November 9th US theatrical release. The real question and the potential bad news is how the 'final' version will differ from Kelly's Cannes premiere and how close it is to his ideal.

In an interview in Cinema Scope taken just after the screening of Southland Tales, Kelly already seemed resigned to making some very painful cuts that the studio had probably asked him to make even prior to Cannes: when the standing ovations didn't happen, he knew his ship was sunk. When asked whether he would be forced to cut the film, he very pragmatically said, " I think I have no choice in the matter because I want this movie to be seen, and I want the people who invested in it to recoup that investment, and I want the actors who worked so hard to get the exposure and recognition they deserve." At this point the version screened at Cannes is being called a "work-in-progress print" and Kelly now admits that "The time and additional visual effects that were added have allowed me to achieve my original vision for Southland Tales."

Southland Tales is a sci-fi film that takes place in LA, June of 2008 (uh, yeah, that's next year...), three years after the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Texas. The US has been pushed over the line resulting in something resembling a fascist state. It is hard to summarize a film I haven't seen, but from what I can garner, Kelly takes everything that is already staring us in the face and shoves it down our throat (government oppression, obsession with violence, preoccupation with celebrity, overt corporate authority, etc) accompanied with the same time and spacial ambiguity that made Donnie Darko so compelling. Southland Tales is told in six parts, with the first three (Two Roads Diverge, Fingerprints, and The Mechanicals) in the form of graphic novels (illustrated by Brett Weldele) and the last three (Temptation Waits, Memory Gospel, and Wave of Mutilation) with be addressed in the film. The soundtrack was the consensual heartbeat of the film, from the few who championed it at Cannes. Moby does all the original music, and non-original music includes songs from The Killers, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Radiohead, Muse and others. The cast is nothing short of amazing, and from interviews with Kelly, it seems most were committed to the project.

Richard Kelly is the thinking man's populist, delving into guilty pleasures without the guilt. To call Southland Tales anything but ambitious, would be underestimating him. I'm more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and can't wait to see the film. Until then check out the graphic novels (available locally at Big Brain Comics) and keep your eyes on the various websites that are sure to come to life as the release date approaches:

Southland Tales official website (Trailer to hit mid-August)
USIDent website (this is the overseeing government agency ala Patriot Act; I like how it is a dot org site)
Boxer Santaros' myspace page (This is the character played by the Rock; loads of info here)
Krysta Now's website (Ex-porn star/product played by Sarah Michelle Gellar; hilarious stuff)
Treer Products website (The company who has harnessed the ocean for an unlimited supply of energy; "There is no alternative")

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Comic Con 2007

All the cool kids are in San Diego right now, and I wish I was one of them. One of these years I will make it to Comic Con. It's only four days and that's if you include the Thursday "preview." Friend and fan-subber Jim Diaz has told me stories of the size of this thing, and I'm sure it is not getting any smaller. Sure, Comic Con is about comics, but it encompasses so much more: anime, toys, gaming, film, art, books, and anything that comes close. Buy a ticket for one day at Comic Con and you can go to a seminar on intellectual property concerning comic books, take part in a Tekken tournament, watch an episode of Oh! My Goddess, go to a round table composed of comic book writers and artists, see George A Romero give a talk, meet Jamie Hernandez of Love and Rockets (the comic, not the band), and then stroll around the merch tables looking at all of the cool stuff for sale....and all that before noon. Comic Con is made for people like me. Some might argue that Comic Con has gotten too big. Maybe I will just go next year and decide for myself.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

DVD releases for July 24

First, let me just say that I am getting tired of the Blu-Ray vs HD battle already, and I'm sure from a business standpoint it hasn't even heated up. Whether one format or the other or both prevail, I really don't care. I just want hit fast forward and the DVD format competition and get it over with. I ain't buying anything until the dust has settled, and I don't think I'm the only one.

Okay, on to the cool things out this week:

Five Dedicated to Ozu (2004) directed by Abbas Kiarostami
I have to eat a little crow for saying this film would never ever ever come out in the US, because here it is. Let it be known, I was saying this only out of the frustration of not being able to see the film. Alas, it was only a few months ago when I was ecstatic about the realization that this Kiaostami film had been released in France. And off I went spending too much money importing a DVD I was sure would never reach these shores. (I like the cover of the US release.) Thanks to Kino, Americans can relax that this film is finally available here. Some might like to dub this Five Dedicated to Boredom, but for those who like their films more visual than narrative, this is a gem. Poetic and meditative, I found this film very pleasant.

The Host (2006) directed by Bong Joon-ho
The great success story from South Korea. It may not have done so well State-side, but who cares. The Host is part monster movie, part family drama and part social commentary and I enjoyed every second of it. While you are at it, check out Bong's other film Memories of Murder, that focuses on a well known murder investigation (well known in South Korea). What non-South Koreans miss in familiarity with story may be significant, but not essential, in appreciating Bong's very deliberate pacing and style.

Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and To Live (1994) directed by Zhang Yimou
Now available on DVD. Although these films are nothing new and I suspect these DVDs are nothing to write home about, but there probably are a handful of people who haven't seen Zhang's pre-Hero films. If anyone was amazed at the huge amount of extras involved in the battle scenes in The Curse of the Golden Flower should check out the scene of the Red Army coming over the hill in To Live. Wow. These are both awesome films, full of style and substance. My only gripe with these two DVD releases is the weird airbrushed/photoshop covers: that picture on the front of Raise the Red Lantern is like some sort of combination of Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi.

Hard Boiled (1992) and Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979) directed by John Woo
Two more titles from Dragon Dynasty, the Weinstein's distribution company for all the Asian titles they own. These are two great films from John Woo. Last Hurrah for Chivalry perhaps most directly reflects the influence Chang Cheh had on Woo, and Hard Boiled probably best shows how Woo translated Cheh's heroic knight-errant into a style all his own. However, Harvey and Bob Weinstein's are some of the biggest hacks in the business. Don't get me started. Options? Rent it, don't buy it. (Just as an example of how insidious the Weinstein's are, they have blocked the most commonly used importers of Asian DVDs from selling different versions of titles they own. But not this SITE and this SITE; both are retailers I have used and would recommend.)

Renaissance (2006) directed by Christian Volckman
I had almost forgotten about this animation. I was lucky enough to catch it on the big screen last year when it played for a week and then vanished. Possibly one of the most stylish animations I have ever seen. The storyline may get a little cheese-ball, but it is totally worth it for the visuals. To top it all off, the lead is voiced by my new favorite Bond man, Daniel Craig.

The Grindhouse Experience 20 Film Set
Now maybe this release was banking on Tarantino and Rodriguez making grindhouse the family favorite genre, but I can not ignore 20 films for 25 bucks. Whether or not these films suck is obviously part of the adventure. If you are a fan of the genre, you can't go wrong.

And one last release that I missed last week:

Turning Gate (2002) directed by Hong Sang-soo
Hong Sang-soo is a tough cookie to crack and a hard director to ask to like with only one viewing. However, Turning Gate may be one of his most accessible films and I would encourage anyone to give it a look. But I would also recommended not giving in if the film leaves you luke-warm: watch another one of his films (Woman is the Future of Man and The Power of Kangwon Province are also available in the US) and I guarantee by the third Hong film, you will be convinced. Hong is one of the most interesting directors making films today.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Caution: Spoilers Ahead!

Harry Potter dies! (Note to Potter's voracious fans and Scholastic's lawyers: This is a joke; I do not have and have not read any of the Harry Potter books, let alone Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.) I'm just trying to one-up the New York Times and Baltimore Sun with that first line. J. K. Rowling and fans were "staggered" (Rowling's word) that the New York Times and Baltimore Sun published early reviews containing "purported spoilers." The New York Times' Michiko Kakutami posted a review online Wednesday night and it was published Thursday and the Sun's review followed the same timeline. In both cases they denied printing any kind of plot spoilers. I do feel really really bad for anyone who was forced to read either one of these reviews, just like all the people who have been forced to rabidly search the internet for information and theories on the last Harry Potter book. To everyone else, all I have to say is, calm down.

I'm just guessing that Harry dies, and that seems to be the overwhelming opinion of Harry pundits. Of course the real question is the circumstances leading to his probable death. Half of the English speaking world will have read the book by tomorrow, so lets talk about spoilers after that. As someone who has yet to crack the cover on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I have no doubt that I will learn what happens to Harry before I even start the series. But that is the world we live in, and I'm content to having those avenues of information open, be it the internet or radio or newspaper, even if it means it might destroy some sort of pure experience that I think exists either in film or literature.

Most of my spoiler experience is in watching movies, and I have many times when I felt I knew too much going into a film. Although I had read very little on the French/Georgian film 13 Tzameti, the screen shot I had seen from the film gave away much of the mystery. I enjoyed the film and loved it in many ways, but I was nonetheless left wondering how my experience would have been if I had not known what kind of competition the lead character was mysteriously heading off to. The mystery of the first half of the film lead to a shocking reality that I don't think anyone could have guessed. This is an example of a film fanatic seeking out obscure films. On the flip side, Children of Men, a film in wide release, was a film full of discovery for me, despite reading reviews and interviews prior to seeing the film. And then there is William Friedkin's most recent film, Bug, that was marketed like a horror film instead of the social commentary thriller that it was. Whatever the case may be, whenever I watch a trailer or read an article prior to seeing a film, I am fully aware that there will probably be plot spoilers. Unless you wait outside the theater until the previews are over (and, yes, I know people who do that) you really do not have too many choices: you will see previews and they will give away the story. There is, however, a choice when it come to reading an review.

Spoilers for films mostly come in the form of dumbed down marketing; a push to get as many people possible interested in the film, which often times translates to revealing everything about the film. With Harry Potter, the phenomenon was way beyond the marketing. No amount of marketing could overcome the shear popular demand at this point. Kids and adults alike will be lining up at 12:01am to get their new copy, with or without marketing, press or reviews. The saddest thing about the whole thing is that independent booksellers will make hardly anything on Deathly Hallows. Most independent bookstores, without the huge buying power of big box stores and massive e-tailers, are paying more for Deathly Hallows at cost than what it will be selling for retail at places like Walmart and Amazon.

My point? Don't read the friggin' review if you don't want to. Enjoy the book. Find out how Harry dies. Buy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from a local independent bookstore, even if it cost a little more. If you live in the Twin Cities, go to the best bookstore in town with the nicest people: Micawbers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

DVD releases for July 17

Here's the new releases of note:

Ace in the Hole (1951) directed by Billy Wilder
This Criterion release is by far the star of the show. Now lauded as one of Wilder's best film, it's overt cynicism made it a commercial flop at the time. Kirk Douglas plays a down on his luck reporter, Charles Tatum, who stumbles upon a news-worthy event only to exploit it for all it is worth in order to rebuild his career. This is a two DVD set that includes commentaries, documentaries, interviews, booklets and the likes. To be more specific and to add a little more credibility to this release: a 1980 documentary about Wilder entitled 60% Perfect Man: Billy Wilder; 1984 interview with Kirk Douglas; audio interview with co-screenwriter Walter Newman; video 'afterword' by Spike Lee; and a essays by Molly Haskell and Guy Maddin.

Avenue Montaigne (2006) directed by Danièle Thompson
This film is unbelievably cliché and cute. If you can handle that, this French city of love-fest is for you.

47 Ronin (1994) directed by Kon Ichikawa
This is another rendition of the classic Japanese tale about the 47 heroic (or not so heroic, depending on how you look at it) samurai who avenged the death of their leader. Kon Ichikawa has been making films since the 50's, with over 80 films to his name. That being said, only a few are available here in the US: Criterion has released Burmese Harp (1956), Fires on the Plain (1959), and Tokyo Olympiad (1965), and Animeigo has released Dora-Heita (2000) as well as this release.

Yo-Yo Girl Cop (2006) directed by Kenta Fukasaku
I have no dellusions that this film is probably not good, but nonetheless, my curiosity gets the best of me. Kenta Fukasaku is the son of the late Kinji Fukasaku. He made a disaster out of his father's sequel to Battle Royale after he passed away, and I suspect the same kind of mess with this film. Riki Takeuchi has a bit part in this film which might be one reason to waste 99 minute...but it can't be worse that the Transformers movie, and I spent way more that 99 minutes on that.

Poison Friends (2006) directed by Emmanuel Bourdieu
This film seems interesting. I remember reading the review in the NYT earlier this year, but I don't think it ever played in the Twin Cities. They called this smart, cynical and nasty film "atmospherically and unmistakably French." And more from NYT: "A coming-of-age comedy with the pace and structure of a thriller, Poison Friends casts a knowing, sympathetic eye around the fevered precincts of youthful literary and academic ambition, a realm of passion, jealousy and ambiguous motives. It has a degree of energy, an appetite for strong feelings and big ideas, notably missing in American movies about the young and overeducated, which tend to specialize in mumbled ironies and tiny epiphanies."

And if you have $15 burning a hole in your pocket, you better go out a buy the new Showgirls Fully Exposed Edition.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Battles @ The Triple Rock

I'm old; I have a job I have to be to at 8am, no sooner, no later; and my days of going to shows and drinking my face off are over. But I am proud to say that I can still sustain a late show at the Triple Rock without too much pain and annoyance. Specifically in this case, the groggy morning was totally worth it. Battles is a relatively new band, but all four members carry with them their own cache of experience. Front and center, both literally and figuratively is ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier, pounding out the framework of the music on his safety yellow drum kit with the highest cymbal in the world. Not far behind is Ian Williams of Don Caballero working the guitar, keyboard, computer and a whole host of effect gadgets. Tyondai Braxton has his own experience as a musician, but also a genetic gold star being the son of avant-garde jazz musician Anthony Braxton. Tie it all up with guitarist Dave Konopka, and you get some pretty mad music.

Battles is a math rock band, and contrary to popular belief, this does not just mean the members can do math. Generally, math rock function outside of the normal 4/4 meter music, but mostly I'm just talking out my ass, because I don't know what meter these guys play in. I can say that their music has a more free-form structure
and some pretty complicated layering. There were many times during the show I couldn't figure out who was looping what. Three out of four members had guitars slung over their shoulders and a multitude of pedals and looping devices. Guitarist Dave Konopka actually spent much of his time on the floor messing with something I couldn't see. The only thing I was really sure of was who was drumming. In the end, it didn't really matter who was doing what because it was easy to get lost in the patterns and layers and rhythms.

Incredibly rockin' Building Better Bombs and space-jammin' Singer opened the show.

Monday, July 9, 2007

DVD releases for July 10

There is really not much for big releases this week, but on closer inspection there are quite a few hidden gems. Here are eleven worth checking out:

Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara: Pitfall (1962), Woman in the Dunes (1964), The Face of Another (1967)
This is a four DVD set from the good people at Criterion, and might be worth the fifty clams if this is your type of thing. Teshigahara is best known for Woman in the Dunes, but the set bookends his best known film with two lesser known films, Pitfall and Face of Another. As one might expect, the set is full of worthy special features. If you haven't seen Woman in the Dunes, by all means rent that one first. It is truly an amazing film. I will be in line to rent the other two, if I don't pick it up myself.

Wild Tigers I Have Known (2006) directed by Cam Archer
Kudos to Wellspring for releasing this touching coming of homo-age film. This screened last year at the Walker's Queer Takes series. If you missed that screening, here is your second chance to see this unique film.

Sweet Land (2005) directed by Ali Salim
Ali Salim's it'll-make-you-laugh-it'll-make-you-cry drama finally comes to DVD. If you missed the one-year run of this film, like yours truly, rent the DVD and pretend you saw it at the Edina, like everyone else. Alim Salim is, of course, from Minnesota and has done us proud with this film. Reliable sources have boasted about the sheer visual beauty of this film and I'm embarrassed that I missed it in the theaters.

The Page Turner (2006) directed by Denis Dercourt
I was intrigued by this film when it opened, but it was gone before I could get a chance to see it.

Princess Raccoon (2005) directed by Seijun Suzuki
How, at the age of 82, a man can shoot this kind of film, I really don't know. Princess Raccoon is a surreal colorful whirlwind of love and song and dance and Zhang Ziyi. Suzuki is one of the most under-appreciated directors out there, and this is demonstrated by the lack of international attention he has gotten for almost all his films. Princess Raccoon may very well be his last film. After shooting this film Suzuki only expressed an interest in taking a rest. Do yourself a favor and watch this film and Pistol Opera and the Taisho Trilogy, all available in the US.

Iraq in Fragments (2006) directed by James Longley
There are a lot of documentaries out there addressing the current problems in Iraq from just about every angle. This is an intimate look at the ordinary people involved from three perspectives: Sunni, Shia and Kurd. And while this film draws no conclusions, it does draw a pretty complex picture of the situation. Another aspect of this doc that makes it stand out even more is how well it is made. If you have seen screen shots of the film, you know that it is visually captivating.

Hana and Alice (2004) directed by Shunji Iwai
This film may not be for everyone, but I am a Shunji Iwai fan and find his films so utterly against the grain: unabashedly beautiful and sentimental. And for the most part, he pulls it off. With the exception of All About Lily Chou Chou, none of his other films are available in the US.

Police Beat (2005) directed by Robinson Devor
You can watch this film and get ahead of the curve. Robinson Devor most recent film, Zoo (about a zoophile), is sure to be one of the most controversial releases of the year, providing it gets released. Unfortunately I have heard no rumblings about Zoo since it screened at Sundance. In the meantime, we can all check out his prior film, which at the very least seem interesting.

That's all for now. Please support you local independent video stores, and if they don't have these releases, request them. Tell them I sent you.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Cinema Scope 31

It seems so stupid to continually extol the virtues of Cinema Scope, but I can't help it. I don't think I could wish for better articles on film, always including things at the forefront of mind mind and things I have never heard of. After seeing Sicko, I'm wondering if they are hiring (as they are located in Canada.) Everyone needs a committed janitor. My copy of Cinema Scope Issue 31 landed last week, and it is already dog-eared from being carried around in my backpack all week. What the hell is on the cover, you ask. Well, that is Aisa Argento locking tongues with a dog (an image from Abel Ferrara's new film Go Go Tales) on top of a birthday cake for Cannes. I honestly don't know any place that carries this magazine, so do yourself a favor and subscribe. Here is the page by page details of what is inside:

  • "The Show Must Go On - Abel Ferrara's Go Go Tales" by Dennis Lim This is a pretty great article and interview focusing mostly on Ferrara's new film Go Go Tales which screened at Cannes to mixed reviews.
  • "Beyond Brut - The Art of Cornel Wilde" by Andrew Tracy I haven't seen any of Cornel Wilde's films, but now his films are at least on my radar.
  • "Regarding John Wayne" by Tom Charity John Wayne's hundredth birthday would have been in May; Charity takes an arms-length look at John Wayne.
  • "Human, All Too Human - The Re-imagined Battlestar Galactica" by Christoph Huber For real. This is a serious and entertaining article about the TV series I have never seen.
  • "Straightening the Picture of Africa - Chad's Mahamat-Saleh Haroun" by Emilie Bickerton This is what I count on Cinema Scope for: introducing me to important contemporary filmmakers. This is a lengthy interview with Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. His latest film, Daratt, was part of the New Crowned Hope series. I would really like to see this film and all the films in the series.
  • "Hot Docs 2007 - Experiments in Trusted Realities" by Brandon Wee The title says it all.
  • "Original Pirate Material - Twelve Rounds with William E. Jones" by Michael Sicinski Well, what a coincidence. Three of Jones' films just screened at the Walker as part of the Queer Takes series, and his work is included in a exhibition called "Modes of Disclosure" at Form + Content Gallery.
  • "Cannes 2007 - Hell Is Not Other People" by Mark Peranson Cinema Scope's editor's take on Cannes.
  • "Trials and Tribulations - Lee Chang-dong on the Making of Secret Sunshine" by Mark Peranson I am a Lee Chang-dong fan and can't wait to see his new film.
  • "4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days - Cristian Mungiu, Romania" by Scott Foundas Report from Cannes about this Palme d'Or winner.
  • "Import Export - Ulrich Seidel, Austria" by Christoph Huber Another report from Cannes on this "standout" film.
  • "Continental Drifts" - by Kent Jones Another report on Cannes focusing on new films from Wong Kar-wai and Hou Hsiao Hsien. Get ready to have your suspicions confirmed or jolted down to Earth. I was hanging my head for most of this article.
  • "Terror's Advocate - Barbet Schoeder, France" by Richard Porton Another report from Canes focusing on this doc about Jacques Vergès, the controversial lawyer and former Free French Forces guerrilla who has defending unpopular figures such as Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy.
  • "Night Train - Diao Yi'nan, China" by Shelly Kraicer From the man most likely to take over Tony Ryans post at the Vancouver International Film Festival, this entry from Cannes.
  • "Ghost Stories - Wang Bing's Startling New Cinema" by Robert Koehler This report focuses on Wang's new documentary, Fengming: A Chinese Memoir, his first since the epic West of the Tracks.
  • "Control - Anton Corbijn, UK/USA" by Jason Anderson Yes, it is the biopic about Ian Curtis, Joy Division singer, by hot shot video director Anton Corbijn.
  • "Ploy - Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Thailand" by Kong Rithdee Rithdee weighs in on Ratanaraung's new film.
  • "Global Discoveries on DVD" by Jonathan Rosenbaum An invaluable feature in every issue of Cinema Scope, Rosenbaum details DVD finds from around the world.
  • "Line Describing a Casablanca - Pierre Bismuth's Other Feature" by Andrea Picard Art/film, film/art by the man better known for co-writing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
  • "Books Around" by Olaf Moller Another regular feature, squaring up new books on film.
  • Knocked Up review by Jessica Winter
  • Rescue Dawn review by Adam Nayman
  • Killer of Sheep review by Andrew Tracy

Friday, July 6, 2007

Marnie Stern @ 7th Street Entry

Marnie Stern definitely feels like an artist on the verge of something. Whether it is indie stardom or technical brilliance or both, I'm not sure. You would think that a big write up in the Sunday New York Times Arts & Entertainment section would mean she is beyond the verge. But the sparse attendance at Monday night's show at the Entry proved she is still relatively unknown, at least in fly-over land. Part rock star, part girl next door, Marnie Stern blew me away with her sound check. She and her fellow guitarist shredded through 10 second of speed guitar, looked up at the audience, grinned and said "Okay" and launched into her set.

You do not want to duel banjos with these two unless you have a death wish. Stern's guitar playing has a deceptive metal sound to it with the fast and fluid notes she produces by "tapping" the fretboard (something I guess Eddie Van Halen was known for.) Her vocals, however, are decidedly punk and maybe a little pop. Hailing from NYC, Stern released her first album earlier this year, In Advance of the Broken Arm, to great critical acclaim. (For the record, I love that title.) Her music is anything but ordinary and it will have most rock critics scrambling to come up with a new 'prog' category to fit her in. Joining her on stage was no less than a kick ass duo of Zach Hill (from Hella) on drums and Robbie Moncrieff on guitar. The only thing disappointing about the set was that it was way to short.

I think Stern was enjoying playing as much as everyone was enjoying watching her play. Of course, that is how it is supposed to be, but I think we have all seen bands or performers who look like they are having about as much fun as doing their laundry. Not Marnie Stern. Even if she was just being polite, she seemed modestly thrilled to be rocking out. I was modestly thrilled too.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Brasa Premium Rotisserie now open

Alex Roberts, award winning chef and owner of the much loved Restaurant Alma, opened his new restaurant, Brasa, last week without much fanfare but plenty of business. I showed up on the second day of business around 5:30 and the place was bustling. Housed in the former Betty's Bikes and Buns on Hennepin where it converges with Central, Brasa is small but very airy due to the two garage doors that open up onto a nice patio. When I arrived Alex was busy putting together patio tables. He no more than got one put together before two people sat down at it.

Brasa is a much more casual affair than Alma. As stated on the front of
the menu, "Our menu is inspired by the diverse and wholesome home cooking found throughout North America, the Caribbean and South e supply our kitchen with local naturally raised free range meats, organic produce, fair trade and sustainable agriculture minded products." Right on! You basically have a choice between Marinated and Spice Rubbed Rotisserie Chicken (from local producers Kadejan) and Slow Roasted Glazed Pork Shoulder (from Berkshire Pork Coop) and a dozen sides. I opted for the 1/4 Rotisserie Chicken Plate with a side of Crispy Fried Yuca and a side of Black Eyed Peas and Local Berkshire Bacon and it was fantastic. The real way to experience this place, and Alex agreed, is to bring a group and order family style, sampling a little of everything. There is also a nice list of wines and beers available.

Of course the best thing about Brasa is that it's in my neighborhood. And no matter where I am going, my commute almost always takes me a block away from Brasa. That area is turning into quite the hub, already boasting a handful of great restaurants. With the addition of Brasa and opening soon Red Stag, it's hard not to caught up in the isn't-Northeast-cool mentality.

Rick Nelson had a small blurb about Brasa in the Stib today. Check out Brasa before the crowds swamp the place (:

Open Monday - Saturday, 11am - 11pm. Closed Sunday.
600 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55414, 612-379-3030

Monday, July 2, 2007

DVD releases for July 3

Welcome to the first edition of my personal list/recommendations for weekly US DVD releases. Living in my import vacuum, many of the US releases pass me by. This is a good week to start because there is literally only two items I would even recommend looking at, and one of them has a very narrow viewing demographic. Because everyone is too preoccupied with making my dog a neurotic mess with fireworks and eating hot dogs, movies, at least in the form of DVD releases, get put on the back burner. That being said here are the highlights for Tuesday, July 3:

Taste of Tea (2004) directed by Katsuhito Ishii
This film gets my overwhelming unapologetic recommendation. I really can't imagine someone not liking this film. It showed here at the Mpls/St Paul International Film Festival a few years ago, and I've had the Japanese DVD for just as long. Taste of Tea is Katsuhito Ishii's third feature film after making the very sharp Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl and the inconsistent Party 7. Taste of Tea is a true unique gem: charming without being overly sentimental and quirky without being ironic. Ishii has since made a forth feature, Funky Forest, which takes all the best elements of his first three films and throws them all together to make a three hour mind-boggling non-sequiter. VIZ has released two versions of Taste of Tea: one with just the film and another that includes a feature length Making Of.

Ghost in the Shell - Solid State Society (2007) directed by Kenji Kamiyama
Another addition to the Ghost in the Shell franchise; in this case a feature based on the Stand Alone Complex series produced by Production IG. Solid State Society picks up two years after the series ends with the boys in Section 9, sans Major Kusanagi. The Major is no doubt lingering seeing that she is included on the cover art of the DVD. Given the money spent and the production company involved in Solid State Society, there is no doubt that the animation will be fantastic. Some familiarity with SAC series will probably be helpful, but not essential if you are a fan of animation. Apparently this played on the Sci-Fi Channel early in June.

If neither of those releases strike your fancy, just wait a week: loads of cool things coming out July 10.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Edward Yang R.I.P.

Edward Yang, award winning Taiwanese director, died today from complications from colon cancer. Best known for his film Yi Yi (A One and a Two...) 2000, which won best director at the Cannes Film Festival, Yang was a member of the so-called Taiwanese New New Wave film movement along with colleagues Ang Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien. Yang was born in Shanghai, but moved to Taiwan during the civil war and later moved to the US to study and become a citizen. His film career however was firmly embedded in Taiwan, with many of his films unavailable in the US: In Our Time (1982), That Day on the Beach (1983), Taipei Story (1985), The Terrorist (1986), A Brighter Summer Day (1991), A Confucian Confusion (1994), and Mahjong (1996). He is credited for giving Chang Chen (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Three Times) his start in A Brighter Summer Day. He was planning on working with Jackie Chan on an animated feature entitled The Wind. For me, the news in quite shocking. As a director that I feel the world had yet to discover, Mr. Yang will be sorely missed.