Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Best of the Fest Schedule

The MSPIFF Best of the Fest schedule is now available. All the screenings will take place at the Oak Street. (If you are interested in a lively discussion on the Oak Street's demise check out linked article and the many comments here at MNspeak.) Unfortunately the schedule is pretty disappointing, but it will be your chance to bid farewell to the Oak. More info on the MSPIFF site.

Sunday, May 4
1 pm - Circumcize Me! and Apparition of the Eternal Church
3 pm - Witness to a Secret War (Dir. Present: Deborah Dickson)
4:45 pm - Katyn
7:15 pm - The Sea Within
9 pm - Happy Family

Monday, May 5
5 pm - Travelling
7 pm - Full Scope
9 pm - A Man's Job

Tuesday, May 6
5 pm - Wind Man
7 pm - The Betrayal
9 pm - International

Wednesday, May 7
5 pm - Orquesta Tipica
7 pm - At the Death House Door
9 pm - Just Sex and Nothing Else

Thursday, May 8
5 pm - Full Metal Village
7 pm - (Reserved for previous group rental.)
9 pm - Punk Rock Funk

Monday, April 28, 2008


Just reading about Polonium-210 reads like sci-fi to me, and if you add the component of a former Russian KGB officer poisoned by the radioactive element, it starts to read like a very disturbing science fiction. The story of Alexander Litvinenko is so deeply troubling and fascinating that this 106 minute documentary, Poisoned by Polonium (aka Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case), makes your head spin with the layers of corruption and the confusing cast of dubious characters.

Like most people, I had heard the shocking news of Litvinenko's poisoning in 2006, but I knew little beyond the headlines. Andrei Nekrasov's documentary starts way before Polonium even enters the picture. Litvinenko published a book, Blowing Up Russia: The Terror Within, that exposed the corruption of the KGB (aka KSB, FSS, FSB), and specifically its part in the Moscow bombings blamed on Chechen rebels. Nekrasov was shooting his documentary Disbelief about these same bombings when he tracked down Litvinenko in London. Nekrasov's interviews, not only with Litvinenko, but also murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovski, Litvinenko's colleague Mikhail Trepashkin, and many other players, shed light on a picture much larger than a simple case of spy vs spy.

The level of corruption is pretty unbelievable, and as an American viewer it's easy to be an impotent observer to the screwed up politics in Russia. But it doesn't take long for this story to sound very familiar in respect to our own administration. When a philosopher is discussing how a society could allow such injustice without revolt, he likens it to "the crime of indifference" that took hold of people in Nazi Germany. He could have easily been talking about the US.

Poisoned by Polonium
is a revealing and powerful documentary about the rancid politics of power. To its credit, it plays out as a very personal film for Nekrasov who no doubt want s to shake people out of their indifference. Check out the interesting website for the film here.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

MSPIFF: Secret screening revealed THE WACKNESS

For those of you who were curious (but not curious enough to spend your hard earned cash) about the secret screening at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival on Saturday night, it was the hip new film from Jonathan Levine (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) entitled The Wackness that apparently was a hit at Sundance. Personally, I was hoping for something a little more edgy a little less off the mainstream grid, but whatever.

I'm categorizing The Wackness as a male Juno. The film is hip and the dialogue is apparently how the kids talked in NYC in 1994. The lead character is Luke, a sensitive high school boy who sells pot. Ben Kingsley is Dr. Squires, the juvenile ex-hippie shrink who gives Luke free therapy for weed. The love interest is Stephanie, Dr. Squire's step daughter who, of course, also buys weed from Luke. Stephanie is also responsible for the title, who explains to Luke that his problem is that he always focuses on the wackness of things, whereas she focuses on the dopeness. Right. Yo. Focus on the dopeness, dude. Oh, and Mary-Kate Olsen is in it, too. It's a sweet film, but about the guarantee about not being disappointed.....

The Wackness will open later this summer at a Landmark near you.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Anyone who gets the Facets newsletter knows it can be a bit of a slog to make your way through the titles. As a result, many times I can't even face taking the time to scan the e-mail despite the gems they usually list. Today was no different, but I decided to take a look and I'm glad I did. Right at the top, under "Facets DVDs Coming in July" is Bela Tarr's Satantango, and that is something to celebrate.

The short history on this saga is that Facets announced almost two years ago they would release Satantango on DVD. Release dates came and went and were periodically changed and still no DVD. Facets is somewhat notorious for average standards on their DVDs, and although I was frustrated by the indefinite postponement on the DVD, I wasn't surprised. Fortunately, those in the Twin Cities who wanted to see Satantango got three opportunities last year, and my need to see the film was satiated. I had given up on the DVD until a couple months ago when I read in Jonathan Rosenbaum Cinema Scope column that Facets was still hard at work on the DVD but repeatedly unable to get Bela Tarr's needed seal of approval. All of the sudden the mysterious disappearing of the Satantango DVD was becoming crystal clear.

Facets' announcement is good news. Although I am not holding my breath, I highly doubt that Facets would list the DVD without some certainty. There is further encouragement on the page listing the four DVD set and the special features:
Fully Restored, Director-Approved Edition. Letterboxed. Includes Macbeth (1982, 64 mins.), Tarr's rarely seen interpretation of Shakespeare's tragedy famously captured in two shots; Journey on the Plain (1995, 34 mins.), in which actor-composer Mihaly Vig revisits the Satantango locations; Prologue (2004, 5 mins.), the director's stunning contribution to the omnibus Visions of Europe; About the Restoration (5 mins.); and a Facets Cine-Notes booklet with essays by prominent film critics.

Release date is 7/22/08 and the price is $79.95.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Carlos Reygadas' SILENT LIGHT

If you're slummin' it at the Film Fest tonight, you will probably be missing the best film in town. Across the river at the giant metal box in the sky, the Walker will be screening Carlos Reygadas' new film Silent Light. As if that is not enough, the man himself will be on hand for an introduction and presumably a post screening Q and A. The screening is part of the Walker's under appreciated Cinematecta series.

It's hard to believe that Silent Light is only his third feature. Reygadas' first feature Japon rightfully earned him critical praise from the highest of ivory towers to the lowest of critical hacks, and seemed to give him instant auteur status. Critics retreated a bit with Battle in Heaven, but converts, myself included, were not disappointed. Reygadas is a cinephile's director, raising film to the art form that it deserves to be: unapologetically spiritual and allegorical visual elegance.

Although I am making assumptions, from everything that I have read, Silent Light is no less prophetic. (Riffing off of Dreyer's Ordet, no less.) If you haven't heard of Japon, Battle in Heaven or Silent Light, it is because Reygadas' films haven't the commercial potential to even make a good run at arthouse theaters. Silent Light, as far as I can tell, has yet to get a US distributor and the screening at the Walker tonight may be your only chance to see it. If it's not too late, do not miss it!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

One Day of Rest

I can not be everything to everybody, and I can't see nearly as many movies as I would like. After a shit day at work (such a shame I need an income), I decided I needed a good meal, a shower and an evening away from St Anthony Main. My report so far for the Festival: pretty good. Here are just a few of my thoughts on MSPIFF '08 so far:
  • Those poor employees at the St Anthony Theater. It goes without saying that most people get their britches in a bunch before they even consider thanking these people. Although screenings aren't always sold out, the theater is really busy. It is definitely managed chaos with the staff doing everything in their power to make things go smoothly.
  • Alexandra was shown on video. That really sucks. It was good quality video, but the color scheme of the film is so specific, that I can't help but think I was missing some of the richness of the image. Seriously not okay. Especially since format is not noted anywhere. Just the fact that most are 35mm makes the fact that Alexandra was on video just that much more painful.
  • Mahamat-Saleh Haroun will not be present for the Dry Season screening due to visa problems. Does everyone know how easy it is for Americans to get visas almost anywhere? Does everyone know how hard it is for everyone else to get a visa to the US? Totally stupid. Just to secure the fact that my bag and person will always be search, even though it is anyway: I hate US Immigration.
  • Postman From Shangri-La was perhaps the biggest head scratcher so far. Where the hell did this film come from and why is it being screened? Because I had never heard of this film and I'm supposed to be something of an authority, at least at home, on Mainland film, I decided to go to this screening. Not only was it subpar in content, but it was screened from one of the worst quality DVDs I've seen, and I have seen some bad ones. To make things worse, you get to dramatic epicenter of the film at a pivotal scene and whoops! the DVD freezes!
  • Box of Surprises? There is something kind of endearing about the fest trailer(s) so I can't condemn it like I would like to. But I'm definitely hoping there are more than just two versions.
  • Awesome list: The Way I Spent the End of the World, You, The Living, Son of Rambow, Alexandra, And Along Came the Tourists.
There are ten days left in the Fest (I counted) and there is still plenty to be excited about. I've seen eleven films, and hope to see about 20 more before it is all said and done. Although it may sound like a disclaimer, I mean it when I say that despite some groaning on my part, the Festival is an amazing undertaking on everyone's part and I am just as thankful for the misses as I am the hits.


Andrzej Wajda's newest film is worth a mention, even if it is only a mention. Wajda just turned 82 and needless to say he has made a few films in his lifetime. He has won his fair share of awards in his 50 year career, capped off with an honorary Oscar in 2000 for his contribution to cinema and also an honorary Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2006. Given his body of work, I looked forward to Katyn with anticipation, but knowing that his best films are probably behind him, I had few expectations.

The title refers to the Katyn Forest where over 15,000 Polish troops were executed by the Soviet Army in 1940. Few countries felt the effect of World War II worse than Poland with the Soviets to the east and the Nazis to the west. After the Russians marched into Poland and took control of the bordering regions, all Army personal were captured and took prisoner. After the mass graves were discovered in the Katyn Forest, the Russians blamed the Nazis for the killing. (It was only in 1990 when Mikhail Gorbachev admitted this was a lie.) So started the game, even though everyone knew the truth, in Soviet controlled Poland you were not permitted to even elude to the guilt of the Russian Army, and in Nazi controlled Poland, you dare not blame the Nazis for the Katyn massacre. Wajda's own father was a captain in the Polish Army and was killed in Katyn. More to the point, Wajda states, "I never thought I would live to see the fall of the USSR, or that free Poland would provide me with the opportunity to portray on the screen the crime and lies of Katyn."

The film takes place in 1939 and follows several storylines of women connected to the men captured by the Soviets. They each have their own way of processing the fates of their loved ones while also dealing with the repression of the War. Katyn is international cinema at its best, but it is also international cinema at its most mundane. This is your stock in trade nostalgic war film where men are heroes and women are martyrs. Make no mistake, this film is categorically beautiful with it's sepia toned antiquity and admirable camera work, but that is to be expected. As if admitting to this facade, the swoony two hours resigns itself to a finale that empowers the film with its brutality. It is certainly one thing to say that 15,000 people were executed, but it is a whole other thing to imagine an execution happening 15,000 times.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Son of Rambow is one of those rare films that is sweet, but not saccharine, and sophisticated, but not patronizing. It reminds me of Danny Boyle's under-appreciated Millions: a story that is told selflessly through the eyes of a boy where cynicism and irony have no place. Son of Rambow is set to open at one of the Landmark Theaters in a couple weeks, so this is hardly a film that is going to disappear. Quite the opposite, Son of Rambow has the potential to be an arthouse hit.

Will is a boy who has lead a sheltered life. His family is a member of the Brethren which forbids television and music and all that popular culture mumbo jumbo. Nonetheless, Will's creativity is scrawled throughout his bible with drawings and doodles that would make Henry Darger jealous. Lee is the school bully and ne'er do well who can easily con Will into doing just about anything. Will's innocence turns out to be a good match with Lee's precociousness. After Will inadvertently sees part of Rambo: First Blood, a spark is lit in his imagination and he and Lee embark on shooting their own version of Rambo.

If you have read rave reviews about this film, they do not lie. The two young leads are just amazing, especially Bill Milner who plays Will. His character is just so full of heart and joy it is infectious. Watching this skinny little kid become his version of Rambo is priceless. Even the most jaded movie-goer will be smiling. For once, "fun for the whole family" is not just bullshit.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Inspired by true stories, The Pope's Toilet focuses on the events, some real and some imagined, that surrounded the Pope's 1988 visit to Uruguay where the anticipation for huge crowds sparked the entrepreneurial spirit for the people in economically depressed town of Melo. Beto and his family sustain themselves from the money he earns smuggling goods from Brazil on his bike. But the papal visit sends everyone into a frenzy preparing food and merchandise, overextending themselves financially with the dream of getting rich quick. Beto is no different, but he has a different idea: build a public toilet for the throngs and charge a small fee. Fallen on hard times, Beto will do anything he can to come up with the money to construct the commode in time.

The most compelling moments of this film are the depictions of Beto and his friends making the 40 mile trek with their bikes, loaded with goods, through pastures and rivers. The bikes are their livelihood, and the boarder patrol is their enemy. The opening sequence when the smugglers are being chased by the motor patrol is absolutely captivating. However, as the film settles into Beto's hair-brained idea, and his character goes from being abusive to lovable and then back to abusive, the film loses some of its energy. Beto takes out his insecurity and failure on his wife and daughter, who, unbeknown to him, have dreams of their own.

Needless to say, the crowds do not arrive, no one buys the food, no one buys the merchandise, and no one needs to use the toilet. The people of Melo, both real and fictionalized, are no doubt victims of circumstance. The Pope's Toilet shows their situation with unvarnished sincerity, but fails in the follow through, resigning to melodrama and the need for closure.


I'm thinking of dedicating my entire blog to Roy Andersson, simply because I like his work that much and there is easily that much that could be written about his films and advertisements. The Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival was able to prove its worth on its very first day of screenings with this film alone. (I had gotten wound up by a rumor that Sukoruv's film Alexandra would be shown from a tape rather than a 35mm print. This would be awful. I have yet to confirm or dispel this rumor, but I am glad to report that all three of the films I saw Friday night were from a 35mm print.)

You, The Living opens with a Goethe quote that is not only the namesake of the film but a rather light-hearted summation the content: "Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe’s ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot." You, The Living focuses entirely on the escaping foot, with no warmth in sight. In a series of vignettes, Andersson addresses human frailty and misery with uncompromising banality. Although it seems somewhat random, it is all tied together by the 20 to 30 actors who all show up at least a few times to either make an appearance in a bar, a doctor's office, a funeral or face to face with the camera.

Andersson's genius is in his aesthetics. Every shot is a carefully designed composition that rarely moves. His color palette goes from light blue to grey, with no full blacks and no full whites. He works entirely indoors, creating sets to suit his needs. The result is completely unique to Andersson's work, a look that is not only formally beautiful, but unsettling in it's deathly pallor. The same could be said about the characters who exist is a permanent purgatory of "Leth's ice-cold wave."

Andersson's previous film, Songs from the Second Floor, is arguably much more complex. With more of a narrative strain to work your head around, the style played second fiddle to the absurd and much more comedic thread. You, The Living frees you from bothering with any silly story to just enjoy the scenes, if you can, for what they are. Some might find Andersson's observations cruel, but personally I find his depiction of human fragility and peculiarity not only heartwarming but life affirming.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I saw this preview before Doomsday a couple of weeks ago, and it looked pretty good but I totally spaced on the name. I was convinced it was called The Visitors which only led me to that Thomas McCarthy film that opens at the Landmark in a couple week. Finally I saw an add for it on IMDB, so I was able to check out the trailer again. The Strangers seems like a substance before splatter kind of horror film starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman by first time director Bryan Bertino. There are a couple of scenes in the trailer that look seriously creepy. (Like when Liv is standing there and creepy masked person is in the doorway behind her, although she doesn't see them.)

But the thing that really caught my attention was the choice of music: as the trailer sets up the mood and things are starting to look scary, cue up Joanna Newsom! With the finale being tagged with the queen of scream Gillian Welch! I laughed out loud when the Joanna Newsom song come up on the trailer in the theater. Don't get me wrong, I love Newsom and Welch, it just struck me as kinda odd. But now after seeing the trailer for a second time, I've warmed up to the idea that their hybrid versions of alt-folk-country could be used to create an eerie ambiance.

We'll have to wait until the end of May to see if the movie lives up to the interesting trailer.

Monday, April 14, 2008

MSPIFF 2008: tickets for sale, program for download

As a reward for doing my taxes this morning, I allowed myself to start planning my viewing experiences at the upcoming Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival. First let me say how thrilled I am that the vast majority of the screenings are happening at the St Anthony Theaters, a mere 5 minute bike ride from my house (if I hit the green lights at Broadway and Central!) Despite the proclamations that the Oak Street is fine and well and will be bustling with activity for the foreseeable future, the simple fact that there are only four screenings at the Oak from April 18th to May 1st might suggest otherwise. To be fair, the Festival moves to the Oak after May 1st the festival moves to the Oak for its two day "festival wind down" and it looks like the "best of the fest" screenings will happen there too. Block E will, oddly enough, host the opening and closing films with the Riverview nowhere in sight.

Tickets and passes are up for sale online. Festival passes are a cool $225 for the bad people and $175 for the members. (Or the bad people can throw in 50 bucks for a membership and pay $175 for the pass - you pay the same amount, but you are no longer a bad person.) Punch cards are available also available: 10 pack for $90 ($60 members) and 5 packs for $45 ($30). Single ticket prices could feed a family of four in a developing country, but don't let that stop you from paying $10. I insist on making tasteless jokes only because I am stretched pretty thin myself, but every dollar you spend at the Festival is going toward the ideological notion that films like these deserve to come to Minnesota. The Festival has some awesome titles, most never returning here to the big screen and many never seeing the light of DVD.

I downloaded the catalog a few days ago, but haven't had much of a chance to look at it before yesterday. Warming the cockles of my OCD soul, I have already penned in a planned attack for the screenings: earmarking must-sees and filling in the gaps with other interesting prospects. There's a lot to be excited about, and here are some of the screenings that I feel are worth mentioning:

You, The Living
I posted about my pining for this film last September, and I am thrilled it is playing. I loved Songs From the Second Floor, and have since been waiting for Roy Andersson's next film of wonderment. Be it good or bad, You, The Living doesn't sound like much of a departure from Songs - bleak, surreal and darkly humorous. I'm going to miss Chuck D because of it, but Chuck will probably be back, You, The Living will not.

Son of Rambow
Todd over at Twitch has been raving about this film since he saw it last September at the Toronto International Film Festival. That in itself is enough for me, it is just an added pleasure that director Garth Jennings will be on hand for the screening.

Andrzej Wajda is still at it. I was blown away by Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds when they came out on DVD and am more than willing to see this film simply on the merits of those films he made 50 years ago. Katyn was up for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Woman on the Beach
Because I am a geek and a skeptic, I have already seen this film on import DVD, but I wouldn't miss the screening at MSPIFF for anything. This is Hong Sang-soo's seventh film, but the first to screening in the Twin Cities. Hong is one of the most interesting directors working today, but I'm afraid it took seeing more than one of his films to come to this conclusion. With each film I see, the more my respect grows and I have seen all his films except his newest Night and Day, just out in South Korea. A fair number of Hong's films are available on DVD here in the US and well worth checking out if you have the chance. Better yet, I would love to see a retrospective of his films (and a dialog would be nice too!)

Yet another film I am giddy about seeing. Aleksander Sokurov's last film The Sun, never screened here and has yet to even make it to DVD in the US. Thanks to the Brit's, I was able to low value of the dollar to the pound to good use and see The Sun (worth every penny and more.) I feared that Alexandra would be the same situation. I'm glad I'm wrong.

Dry Season
Another of the Crowned Hope films makes its way to the Twin Cities (the first being I Don't Want to Sleep Alone by Tsai Ming Liang witch screened last year at the Walker.) Although I screened this film and you are likely to read my stupid thoughts on it in the Strib, I wouldn't miss the Thursday screening with director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun present. Really a once in a lifetime experience.

Boarding Gate
Olivier Assayas is inconsistent in my opinion, but how can one not be curious about this film. Starring Asia Argento as the sexy globe-trotter. I'm banking on a wider release (or at least a DVD) on this one, because the only screening coincides with the Silent Light screening at the Walker, and there is no way I am missing that or anything Carlos Reygadas wants to say after the screening.

Still Life
Yet another film that I bought on DVD when it came out in China last year. (The DVD is accompanied with Jia Zhang Ke's companion documentary Dong.) Although I work on Sundays, I am going to try and finagle an early leave to see this one on the big screen. Still Life is so quiet and sanguine that it's big ideas, hidden just beneath the surface, will take you by surprise.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life
I have no idea if this is a good documentary or not, but Patti Smith pretty much dominated my jaded youth. The first time I heard Horses in junior high, I just about couldn't believe it.

Savage Grace
The story doesn't sound like much to me, but I more than welcome a new film from Tom Kalin who, as far as I can tell, has been busying himself with short and experimental films since Swoon (1992). Starring my favorite soap star Julianne Moore.
Little Moth
Thus is one that I screened as well, and I was blown away at this film's candor, fragility, and verisimilitude. Films like this have been coming out of China for a while, but Little Moth is wholly unique. This film will not come around again.

This film definitely has a target audience, but I don't think there is anyone out there (at least in the pool of people that will be attending the Festival) that wouldn't enjoy this documentary about Miss Gay USA. If the Film Fest is seeming a little heavy, this doc will perk you right up!

Encounters at the End of the World
Herzog is obviously a man that wears many film hats, and I am always excited to see what he is up to. This documentary is bound to be visually stunning and I'm glad I will get to see it in the theater.

Secret Screening.....
I don't know what this is all about, but the blurb says I won't be disappointed. I guess we'll see about that.

No doubt there are many more worthy films to see, and here's hoping that I stumble into them by chance.

Friday, April 11, 2008


I am not embarrassed to admit that I am a total sucker for a good cinematic thrill, whether it's action, horror, thriller or some combination of the three. The same is true for books. I'm guilty of reading just as many low-brow fiction novels as high-brow. So when The Ruins came out in paperback, I snatched it up because I had heard it was a good read ("if you are into that sort of thing.") Indeed, it was a good read. It was the kind of book that was pretty hard to put down and an easy book to barrel through. I wasn't surprised when I saw a trailer for the film adaptation of The Ruins. The book has screenplay written all over it. If done right it could be an interesting film, and needless to say, if done wrong it could be really really bad.

I am here to report what is now probably pretty obvious: The Ruins is not very good. Hollywood takes the book by the throat and does its traditional shakedown, discarding anything subtle or interesting. Living carnivorous vines is really not that much of a stretch, but with an overt script and blatant special effects it becomes pretty silly very quickly. Everything discarded from the book is meant to move the plot along, but it does just the opposite, giving the viewer little of no identification with these characters and their plight. The nature of this production is epitomized by the formulaic needs to spill blood sooner, to change the hysteric from a man to a woman, and to allow someone to survive. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the book to the film, but without the book The Ruins is a total disaster.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

DVD releases for April 8 and more

Man, I really been slacking in this department. Fortunately there hasn't been anything super duper interesting...until this week. If you, like most cinephiles, are frustrated by the lack of Chris Marker available on DVD, things got much much better. Don't look for it on or at Best Buy or even at Nitwitflix. Three new DVDs (and one more on the way) of Marker's work are now available at the "Chris Maker Store" run by the Wexner Center for the Arts. Sure these DVDs are a little spendy and the shipping costs suck, but it is probably worth it. Here's what you get for $99.44:

The Case of the Grinning Cat (2004)
Marker's newest film is an investigation into the appearance of some grinning cat street art in Paris. This film played in NYC and other locations more important than the Twin Cities and was pretty widely reported on. The exciting thing about the Grinning Cat DVD is the fact that you not only get Grinning Cat but you also get "7 bonus films!" I love bonus films.

The Sixth Side of the Petagon (1967) and The Embassy (1973)
I don't know any more about these two short film than what is included in the synopsis on the page that I have linked to.

The Last Bolshevik (1993) and Happiness (1934)
This two disc set includes Marker's film about the Russian film director Alexander Medvedkin as well as Medvedkin's silent film Happiness. There are also a host of extras that will probably make more sense once I get the DVDs: Medvedkine and the Ciné-train adventure: Watch Your Health!Journal No. 4How do you live Comrade Minor? The Conveyor Belt; the entire Alexander Ivanovitch Medvedkine monologue (extract from the film The Train Rolls On by Chris Marker with the voice of François Périer); and 2 reenactments by Nikolaï Izvolov of lost films of Medvedkine: Stop the Thief!The Story of Titus.

If you are not satisfied by Chris Marker goodness, here are some other DVDs that have come out and deserve a little blah blah blah:

There Will Be Blood (2007) Paul Thomas Anderson
You have probably heard of this film. Don't be fooled by the "collector's edition," as there is really not much there. Personally, I want to let some time pass before I watch this again.

Manda Bala (2007) Jason Kohn
Hey, this was a good documentary that kind of came and went. Also known as Send a Bullet, it focuses on the cause and effect of rampant kidnapping in Sao Paulo. It's quite a sprawling topic and it does a good job of covering the bases while opening doors to the implications. Want to know why the best plastic surgeon for ears is in Sao Paulo? Check out this movie.

Nana (2005) Kentaro Otani
Maybe save this one for the fans of the manga. It's a notable release, as it was a big hit in Japan. It is pretty schmultzy stuff and there are some pretty funny moments that are supposed to be dramatic, but if you happen to watch it and like it, Nana 2 came out last year in Japan and is readily available on DVD from you favorite Asian DVD importers.

Heroes Two (1973) Chang Cheh
Another Shaw Brothers film that is worth taking note of starring Chen Kuan Tai and a very young Alexander Fu Sheng. There is nothing too extraordinary about this film, but the final fight makes watching this movie more than worth it.

The Mist (2007) Frank Darabont
This came out a few weeks ago, but I think there are a couple things that make this movie worth watching. First is it's lack of star power, which it could have easily exploited, while still having decent acting. Second is the social microcosom that emerges that may not be wholly original, but is interestin. And lastly is very very unconventional ending that I have no problem reading into. The Mist is not your average horror/end of the world filck, deviating from the formula. Oh yeah, and there are cool monsters.

Ils aka Them (2006) David Moreau, Xavier Palud
At some point I must have read something that caught my attention regarding this French/Romanian production that made me write it down and underline it twice. Well, here it is on DVD. Them seems to be one of those on-the-edge-of-your-seat well-crafted horror films that stands out from the rest. It's worth noting that these two also directed the recent US The Eye remake.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Charlton Heston R.I.P.

Charlton Heston died yesterday at the age of 84. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and pretty much retreated from the public sphere in 2002. Heston's acting legacy is nothing short of iconic, but unfortunately it is overshadowed, in my opinion, his political rallying for an individual's ridiculous right to bare arms. For me his reputation went down the tubes with his interim as president of the NRA. If he had not been in Touch of Evil and Planet of the Apes, I wouldn't have even bothered with the post.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Hou Hsiao-hsien's newest film Flight of the Red Balloon opened in NYC yesterday and is scheduled to make a Landmark Theater appearance here soon. First reports about this film surfaced at last year's Cannes Film Festival, ridiculously lumping it together with Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights (the other Asian director working outside his home territory.) Hou's film is the first in a series of films commissioned by the Musée d'Orsay to celebrate its 20th anniversary. (Each film will star Juliette Binoche and must feature the Musée d'Orsay is some way. Other directors to participate are Jim Jarmusch, Oliver Assayas and Raul Ruiz.)

Flight of the Red Balloon is inspired by Albert Lamorisse's 1956 classic The Red Balloon (which I feel totally stupid for missing when they played it at the Oak Street last fall.) Hou's last film was the elegant Three Times, but Flight seems to bare the most semblance to his 2004 film Cafe Lumiere. Whereas Cafe Lumiere was shot in Japan, his first film shot outside Taiwan, Flight was shot entirely in France. More importantly, Flight seems to mirror Cafe Lumiere's unassuming concerns of individuals, in this case a mother and son and a nanny, against a much larger backdrop, in this case is Paris.

The big news in Flight of the Red Balloon seems to be Binoche's performance which goes against the grain of her typical romantic/quiet/introspective beauty. In this case, Binoche plays a wing-nut single mom, Suzanne, whose volatile personality is displayed in the trailer. The character of Suzanne was apparently a collaboration between Hou's vision and Binoche's innovation. Hou has always been a director willing to give over to actor's instincts or ideas.

I have been a fan of Hou Hsiao-hsien's ever since I was allowed to ride on the back of the train in the opening scene of Goodbye South Goodbye. I have since been able to see most of his films (save a few from the 80s, most notably Daughter of the Nile and The Green Green Grass of Home) and I have yet to be disappointed. As a matter many of the images and scenes of his films have stuck with me. The anticipation for Flight of the Red Balloon is enough, but to make things even sweeter, Hou has announced that his next film will be a wushu film starring Shu Qi and Chang Chen. I can't wait!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Not so funny FUNNY GAMES

Under the impression that tonight was my last chance to see Haneke does Haneke in Funny Games American style in the theater, I shuffled into the Lagoon on probably the nicest afternoon we've had in six months. (Not to worry, Funny Games' didacticism will play out just as well, if not better, on DVD.) Surprisingly there were six other people up for the martyrdom in the theater, and based on the fact that no one walked out or was vocally appalled, I'm assuming most were conscious martyrs, like myself. It is within these limited statistical confines where Michael Haneke's experiment fails the most: playing to a handful of people who, like Tim Roth's character, "gets it."

This film was never going to get wide release, and if someone promised that to Haneke, they lied and Haneke was stupid. It is too bad that Funny Games couldn't have gotten at least a little bit of an update from it's 1997 original. It's almost like everyone (well, the seven of us) was waiting for the rewind scene, and that is the last thing you want for a gimmick that is meant to provoke. Much has happened in ten years and I think the climate has changed as our complicit involvement in torture is not only more than evident, but absurdly passé. Torture in films is nothing new and perhaps torture as a tool for the military is nothing new either, but there seems to be something a little more systematic about the Saw films, for example, (although I judge them without having seen them) and the blatantly vague policies of interrogation.

I am not a fan of the original Funny Games and found it's patronization totally distasteful. (Ha. The joke's on me!) This viewing was much different. I knew exactly what was going to happen and actually found some sort of kinship with Haneke as an omniscient patron. The US version is reportedly a shot-by-shot remake, and my memory of the original is not clear enough to prove that wrong. However, I did make note of more audience engagement where the lead antagonist either looks at or speaks to the camera: lead bad boy Paul not only speaks to the camera directly twice, but we also get two wink-wink looks for approval. This may be nit-picky, but I really only remember one time in the original when the character speaks directly to the camera, and one wink-wink. Or perhaps I was just looking for it, which is a problem within itself. You can't really compare the two versions without bringing up the familiarity of the actors. At the very least, three of the actors are going to be recognizable (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and Michael Pitt) further distancing the audience from any sort of visceral response. All of the sudden it becomes a well-acted movie with stars.

Nathan Lee has an interesting article in the new Film Comment about horror film remakes and how they actually work, or in the case of Funny Games, they don't work. (My only reason to take issue with Lee's lambasting of Funny Games is his perplexing appraisal of Rob Zombie's Halloween.) The truly regrettable part about this whole Funny Games remake hullabaloo is that Michael Haneke has sold out as a filmmaker to some sort of juvenile need to make a point. Haneke seemed to be moving toward ever more sophisticated subject matter with The Time of the Wolf and Caché, and as a result Funny Games is nothing more than a movie we saw ten years ago.