Friday, March 28, 2008

Sweet Escapism: Mondays at the Parkway

Leave your calendars open for the next five Mondays as the Parkway embarks on yet another brilliant series to feed the repertory soul. Take-up Productions presents Sweet Escapism: Screwball Comedies of the Great Depression. All films are at 7:30 and cost a sweet 5 bucks! (For those who have been carrying around the postcard fliers, there is one change to to screening schedule on April 21.)

Here is me just ripping the info from Take-up's site:

March 31, 7:30pm
Easy Living (1937) directed by Mitchell Leisen, written by Preston Sturges, with Jean Arthur, Ray Milland, Edward Arnold
"Funny and gracious and generous in the best Sturges tradition; it is also velvety smooth and comfortably movie-ish...Jean Arthur gives Easy Living much of its spunky-elegant resilience." (Andrew Sarris.)

April 7, 7:30pm
Twentieth Century
(1934) directed by Howard Hawks, written by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur, with John Barrymore, Carole Lombard
"Twentieth Century was one of the earliest screwball comedies and was performed with the frenetic pacing that typified [director Howard Hawks's] later efforts in the genre. Hawks can take credit not only for John Barrymore's best comedy performance, but also for the film that first established Carole Lombard as one of the finest comediennes of the thirties." (Andrew Sarris.)

April 14, 7:30pm
His Girl Friday (1940) directed by Howard Hawks, written by Charles Lederer, based on "The Front Page" by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, with Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell
His Girl Friday is one of the greatest dialogue comedies ever made; Hawks had his cast play it at breakneck speed, and audiences hyperventilate trying to finish with one laugh so they can do justice to the four that have accumulated in the meantime. Russell is triumphant in the part, holding her own as "one of the guys" and creating an enduring feminist icon. Grant is a force of nature, giving a performance of concentrated frenzy and diamond brilliance.
"Some of the best farce lines ever written in this country." -- Pauline Kael

a last minute substitution
April 21, 7:30pm
The Whole Town's Talking (1935) directed by John Ford, with Edward G. Robinson and Jean Arthur
When the last circulating print of The Awful Truth was suddenly declared out of commission, we couldn't resist adding a little more Jean Arthur to the series. Edward G. Robinson stars as a law-abiding man who bears a striking resemblance to a killer in this 1935 comedy. Not available on DVD.

April 28, 7:30pm
You Can't Take It With You (1938) directed by Frank Capra, written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, with James Stewart, Jean Arthur
Jimmy Stewart's legendary career was just beginning when he co-starred in this Frank Capra classic, a loving and wacky paean to nonconformity. Jean Arthur plays a member of the blissful Vanderhof household who falls in love with a rich man's son (James Stewart) and brings him into her nutty home. Lionel Barrymore, who played such a bad guy eight years later in Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, is the wonderful Grandpa Vanderhof, who addresses God during the dinner prayer as "sir" and speaks plainly and beautifully of why it's good to be alive. This was the first of three masterful collaborations between Capra and Stewart, and Capra's third Best Director award in a five year span.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hong Kong International Film Festival

Once again, it saddens my heart that the Hong Kong International Film Festival has started without me. Again. My polite requests for free festival pass and airfare and a full month at The Peninsula Kowloon go unheard. Seriously though. Every year when I look at the program, I have the same reaction: giddy excitement like I am 10 years-old and it is the night before Christmas and extreme panic that the world is turning without me and I am living in some sort of void.

What's the big deal with the HKIFF? Well, no doubt most of it has to do with my personal preferences. First, it's in Hong Kong. I love Hong Kong - it is really an amazing city even without the Film Festival. Second, is the HKIFF's wide range of programs with a natural penchant for focusing on the locals, specifically the Mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong itself. What other film festival has programs on Maya Deren, Ishii Yuya, Gus Van Sant, Zhu Shilin and Eric Tsang.

Because I like to wallow in the misery, I'm going to highlight some of the things I will be missing:

Epic Times, Simple Stories: The World of Zhu Shilin
This program is the gem that will very likely not be repeated anywhere else. Hosted by the HK Film Archive (which has cool programs 365, and a great library), this program includes 24 films starting with Two Stars (1931) for which he wrote the screenplay and ending with his last film Garden of Repose (1964). When the HK Film Archives does something they do it right: to accompany this retrospective, they have also published a book on Zhu Shilin. I would be at every one of these screenings with book in hand.

Asian Digital Competition, Chinese Renaissance, Young Taiwanese Cinema
These three programs are just full to the rim with films that look interesting but may easily fade away after their moment in the sun. The Asian Digital Competition has four Mainland entries, two Japanese and two Malaysian. Malaysian Flower in the Pocket got quite a bit of attention at Rotterdam and Mainland Little Moth was nominated for screenplay at the Asian Film Awards, but in reality any one of these could be a hidden gem. Right now it is the Chinese Renaissance section that is getting the most attention due to quintessential Mainland maneuvering of pulling a film, Lost, Indulgence by Zhang Yibai, because it had not been cleared by sensors. (The film is scheduled to play at Tribeca next month. The screen shots look awesome, and it stars one of my favorite actresses Karen Mok.) Of the films not canceled in this category: a new film by Wang Xiaoshuai, In Love We Trust; a wing-nut, two-part deal by Ning Hao entitled In the Soul Ultimate Nation/In Dreams Begin Responsibility (claiming to contain Tianjinese, my trained dialect!) that looks cool; Night Train by Diao Yinan which I have been dying to see, and the totally distasteful poorly timed propaganda film A Railway in he Cloud. The Young Taiwanese Cinema contains Lee Kang-sheng's as-sexy-as-you-can-get Help Me Eros, a couple of films with girls looking longingly at each other, which I have always advocated for, and five other films that look equally as interesting. I really really wish access to films from Taiwan wasn't non-existent.

Special Presentation: Wang Bing's Crude Oil
Wang Bing's Fengming is also screening, but Crude Oil is more like Wang's West of the Tracks kicked up a notch. I have looked at the web page like six times, and unless I am mistaken, this documentary about oil production in western China is 14 hours long. I don't even know what to say about that, other than I would love to see it.

The One and Only Edward Yang
The HKIFF presents a full retrospective of Yang's work. I can't say that I am a fan of Yang's, but I don't really feel like I have been given an opportunity. I've seen A Brighter Summer Day with a very young Chang Chen, but it is a distant memory at best, and of course I have seen A One and a Two which I didn't really care for. At the very least, I hope his death will bring about the release of his films on DVD somewhere in the world.

This is really only the tip of the iceberg. Browsing through the titles is somewhat overwhelming. Other films screening that make me wonder why I didn't just load up my credit card and go: Peter Greenaway's Nightwatching; new film from Ann Hui The Way We Are; Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg; Masayuki Suo's critically acclaimed I Just Didn't Do It; omnibus films The State of the World and Memories (both with an entry by Pedro Costa); Hong Sang-soo's Night and Day; Carlos Reygadas Silent Light; cult-o-rama galore in the Midnight Heat section; socially relevant documentaries that seem to be off the radar in the Humanitarian Awards for Documentaries program; a showcase on Czech films and Israeli films...should I go on? Well you get the point.

I'm pretty sure I said it last year, so I may as well say it again: next year I am going!

On that note, there is really no point in my lamenting the fact that I am not in Hong Kong , especially when there is plenty going on locally to keep me more than occupied. Case and point: Naomi Kawase's visit to the Twin Cities along with screenings of four of her breathtaking films.

Friday, March 21, 2008

DVD releases for March 18

Still here. Not asleep. Here are the goodies for your home theater:

Antonio Gaudi (1984) directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
A documentary on architect and artist Antonio Gaudi may not sound like an exciting release, but with recent releases of Teshigahara's Pitfall and The Face of Another, I have become quite a fan. Teshigahara directed the well-know Woman in the Dunes (which I also love) but his other films have been sadly unavailable until recently. The man is nothing short of a master. Gaudi's aesthetics match those of Teshigahara's visual flare, so it is no wonder why he made this documentary. This is the full sha-bang 2 DVD Criterion set (spine number 425, if you are keeping track) that is loaded up with various materials. Those worth noting are a documentary made by Teshigahara on his father who was a sculptor, and another documentary on Gaudi by Ken Russell.

Tongues Untied (1989) directed by Marlon Riggs
Wow. I saw this video when I was in art school in 1989 when the AIDS crisis and queer activism was at a fever pitch. Video art was also at a fever pitch of sorts, and the result were some amazing videos like Tom Kalin's They Are Lost to Vision Altogether, Catherine Saalfield and Zoe Leonard's Keep Your Laws Off My Body, and Marlon Riggs' Tongues Untied - all videos that I never dreamed I would get a chance to see again. Tongues Untied attacks the stigma of being black and gay with personal profundity. The DVD also includes a 1991 interview with Marlon T. Riggs and interviews with Issac Julien, Filmmaker; Phill Wilson, AIDS Activist; Juba Kalamka, Spoken Word and Rap Artist; Herman Gray, Cultural Critic. Riggs died at the age of 37 in 1994.

Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005) directed by Katsuhiro Ishii, Hajime Ishimine, Shunichiro Miki
Better late than never, Funky Forest arrives! Words fail to describe this mixed bag of wonder. If three hours of bizarre for the sake of being bizarre sounds good to you, check it out. This film is an absolute hoot. I've watched it three times and have yet to tire of its audacity.

Southland Tales (2006) directed by Richard Kelly
At the very least, people who wanted to see this movie now have the chance. It played a very short run in very few theaters. The disappointing thing about this release is the lack of a director's cut, which would be the longer cut screened in Cannes. I loved Southland Tales, but even at 144 minutes, it felt rushed. I was hoping that Kelly would push for a nice two disc director's cut, but Kelly has moved on to his next film The Box. Southland seemed like a bitter ordeal for him, first bombing at Cannes and then, a year and a half later after much wrangling, bombing theatrically.

Battlestar Galactica - Season 3
I am making Battlestar Galactica my personal project for next winter. I really really want to watch this series, and everything I have read only confirms my desire.

Operation Pussycat (2004) directed by Ryuichi Honda
No guarantees on this one. Here is the only info I can find on this one: "Filmed as an homage to the late Russ Meyer, Ryuchi Honda's 2004 film Operation Pussycat follows 3 girls as they plot to kill a rich man's servant and steal all his money."

After Dark Horrorfest: 8 Films to Die For (Borderland/Unearthed/Tooth and Nail/Crazy Eights/Nightmare Man/The Deaths of Ian Stone/Lake Dead /Mulberry St.)
Yes, all the films from the Horrorfest are out, if you are interested. These played around town last Fall, and the two that I saw (Mulberry St and Crazy Eights) failed to impress.

Also this week: I Am Legend, Atonement, The Ice Storm (Criterion), Mafioso (Criterion), Love in the Time of Cholera.

...and for those who were waiting for the CBS News to come out on DVD, your time has arrived: CBS has enter an agreement with and CustomFlix to make over 50 years of the CBS News available on DVD. You can basically order up to 90 minutes of the specific day(s) or week(s) of news you want. I'm sure there is someone out there who is excited about this, but I can't say it's me.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Anthony Minghella R.I.P.

In an out-of-nowhere report, director Anthony Minghella died today at the age of 54. The spokesperson's statement went like this: "Anthony Minghella died this morning at Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith, west London. He was operated on last week for a growth in his neck, and the operation seemed to have gone well. At 5am today he had a fatal haemorrhage."

Minghella is best known as the director of the award winning The English Patient, but he had his hand in many aspects of the movie business. He was a producer, most recently for the fantastic Michael Clayton. He was chairman of the British Film Institute. He ran Mirage Enterprises jointly with Sidney Pollack. Minghella most recent production, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, is scheduled to air on the BBC next week.

Mingella had many irons in the fire and no doubt had many more movies to make.

Monday, March 17, 2008

2nd Annual Asian Film Awards

The 2nd Annual Asian Film Awards were held last night in Hong Kong, and Lee Chang-dong won big for his film Secret Sunshine, which won best film, best director and gave Jeon Do-yeon best actress for her role in the film. Secret Sunshine is a poetic and emotional film that relies heavily on it's indelible characters. Song Kang-ho was beat out for his performance in Secret Sunshine, but Tony Leung for his sexy bad guy role in Lust, Caution. The big news was that Tang Wei was snubbed for best actress on the heels of the big China ban smackdown. Although I have seen some of these films on DVD, most (with the exception of Lust, Caution) are shamefully without legitamate US release as of yet. Here's the full list of nominees and winners in bold:

Best film:
Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (Iran)...playing at the Walker on March 29, BTW
I Just Didn't Do It (Japan)
Lust, Caution (Taiwan-China-United States)
Secret Sunshine (South Korea)
The Sun Also Rises (China-Hong Kong)
The Warlords (China-Hong Kong)

Best director:
Peter Chan (The Warlords)
Jiang Wen (The Sun Also Rises)
Ang Lee (Lust, Caution)
Lee Chang-dong (Secret Sunshine)
Masayuki Suo (I Just Didn't Do It)
Zhang Lu (Desert Dream)

Best actor:
Jack Kao (God Man Dog)
Ryo Kase (I Just Didn't Do It)
Tony Leung Chiu-wai (Lust, Caution)
Jet Li (The Warlords)
Song Kang-ho (Secret Sunshine)
Joe Odagiri (Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad)

Best actress:
Joan Chen (The Home Song Stories)
Jeon Do-yeon (Secret Sunshine)
Kirin Kiki (Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad)
Kim Yun-jin (Seven Days)
Deepika Padukone (Om Shanti Om)
Tang Wei (Lust, Caution)

Best supporting actor:
Chun Ho-jin (Skeletons in the Closet)
Kaoru Kobayashi (Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad)
Mario Maurer (Love of Siam)
Sun Honglei (Mongol)
Shin'ichi Tsutsumi (Always: Sunset on Third Street 2)

Best supporting actress:
Joan Chen (The Sun Also Rises)
Kong Hyo-jin (Happiness)
Kim Hye-soo (Skeletons in the Closet)
Apinya Sakujaroensuk (Ploy)
Hiroko Yakushimaru (Always: Sunset on Third Street 2)

Best Screenwriter:
Au Kin Yee/Wai Ka-Fai (The Mad Detective)
Im Sang-soo (The Old Garden)
Peng Tao (Little Moth)
Masayuki Suo (I Just Didn't Do It)
Wang Hui-Ling/James Schamus (Lust, Caution)

Best Cinematographer:
Hooman Behmanesh (Those Three)
Chankit Chamnivikaipong (Ploy)
Liao Pen-jung (Help Me Eros)
Shanker Raman (Frozen)
Arthur Wong (The Warlords)

There are more. Check out the much prettier page HERE.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Charlize Theron as the Kind-Hearted Geum-Ja

Charlize Theron is on the press junket for her new film Sleepwalkers, which opens here next week, but by far the most interesting bits coming out of the interviews are about her intention to produce and star in a remake of Park Chan-Wook's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. My first response was an eye role that is invoked every time I hear news of another Asian film remake. But upon further investigation, it seems that Theron, and Park himself, have the best intentions. Check out this from an MTV interview:

MTV: Is it true you are going to produce and star in a remake of "Lady Vengeance"?
Theron: Yeah, I'm very excited about it. We're in the very early stages of developing it right now, but I'm a huge fan of director Park Chan-Wook. I really love that whole trilogy, but really love that last one.
MTV: He's got quite a style and a fervent following. It's going to be a tall order to remake that.
Theron: We're intimidated almost beyond belief. He made an almost perfect film. I wouldn't do it if it wasn't for him and his encouragement. He came to me and said he really wanted us to do this. He didn't want to direct it. He really wanted to see that story told in an American society. If he wasn't so encouraging, I don't think I could go through with it. It'll be a different director.

Wow. She's not just a fan, but "a huge fan" of Park Chan-Wook, and from the sounds of it, Park has the same curiosity as Micheal Hanake in the US test market. (No doubt, Charlize will provide a bigger draw in the US than Lee Young-Ae, who starred in the original.) I thought Sympathy for Lady Vengeance was a tour de force that stylishly capped off Park's trilogy, but many critics disagree, finding it a slicked-up, heavy-handed empty shell, and the weakest film in the trilogy (which included Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy.)

I suppose if anyone can pull off the role of the Kind-Hearted Geum-Ja, it would be Charlize Theron. Of coarse, who knows when this remake will see the light of day, and, let us not forget, the all important decision of director has yet to be made.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

...and a retraction from Al Milgrom

Because not everyone gets the Minnesota Film Arts e-mail newsletter, I thought I would post what Al Milgrom had to say about recent rumors about the fate of the Oak Street being sold to non-film-loving developers. In a meandering and mind-boggling verbosity all his own, here is Milgrom's "message of encouragement:"


As sure as the swallows return to Capistrano, the annual "Nightmare on Oak Street" stories surfaced again this year in the papers, not long before we launch the 26th Annual Mpls./St.Paul Int'l Film Fest Apr.17 - May 3, 2008

As per print, do we qualify for "arts whipping boy of the year" in this self-congratulatory arts-lauded Twin Cities? (Yours truly, with a near-50-year programming-track record, back in town for more than two weeks before certain articles and blogs appeared, missed being quoted in his own personal vernacular.)

Let me assure you faithful supporters and film friends, contrary to impressions left, both the Oak St. Cinema and Bell Aud. will be (and are) in business after the fest in May and who knows how long after? Expect programming to continue as before. Nothing is written in stone in this current real estate market, as you well know. (Yes, the Oak will eventually be sold. How else can we continue our mission given our current deficit?)

To switch to a positive note, the website is carrying some fest info now. We hope to have most of the program up around March 28, with more than l00 titles, over 40 countries. The venues include: Oak Street Cinema, St. Anthony Main's five screens, (easy day-long & night parking for only 50 cents total), spot satellite screenings Kerasotes Block E, and the possibility of a screen at the Riverview and AMC Roseville.

The Festival is set to include Oscar nominees (Katyn, Beaufort, others); Sundance titles: (Nerakhoon, the Betrayal, an epic Hmong story, and more), other top fest pics, expected visiting directors: China, Africa, Russia, Canada, Czech Republic and U.S.

Thanks for your continuing faith in the organization and your support.

Al Milgrom,

MFA Artistic Director & one time east-city-editor, Washington Post

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

DVD releases for March 11

Look, it's Tuesday! Look, it's Tuesday's releases!

No Country for Old Men (2007) Joel and Ethan Coen
Without a doubt, the movie of 2007. No Country not only cleaned up at the Oscars, but also cleaned up with the critics. If you haven't seen this film yet, go out and see it in the theaters - it is still playing and probably will be for a while. If you can't make it to the theater, just buy the darn DVD.

Lake of Fire (2006) Tony Kaye
Hailed as one of the most comprehensive documentaries on the controversial subject of abortion. Everyone has an opinion about abortion, but apparently Kaye keeps his opinion out of the picture. Self-financed and 17 years in the making, Lake of Fire looks at the history of this embattled issue.

Fox Film Noir: Daisy Kenyon (1947), Dangerous Crossing (1953), Black Widow (1954)
Fox has put out over a dozen titles in this series, and here are the most recent three.

Five Days (HBO miniseries)
Five Days is a miniseries that originally aired in the UK, and then aired on HBO last Fall. The five episodes are each dedicated to one random day in an investigation into the disappearance of a young woman. Reviews, which are careful not to give anything away, unanimously speak to the riveting suspense of this series.

Magic Blade (1976) directed by Chor Yuen
Not-to-be-missed classic Shaw Brothers film.

Other releases than you can watch if you want: August Rush (2007), Dan in Real Life (2007).

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Oak Street Cinema gets sold down the river

It was bound to happen sooner or later, and, in my mind, the reports that surfaced Friday that the Oak Street had in fact been sold came later than expected. The Oak Street has been limping along for more than two years with burst of renewed energy waining to near inactivity. Some might say that the Oak Street has been limping along for longer than two years, but it was the Great Jamie Hook Debacle of 2005 that seemed to push the Oak Street and Minnesota Film Arts into an irreparable financial state. A developer has reportedly put down earnest money for the building which will be sold at the conclusion of this year's Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival. The fate of the building is unclear, but you can bet your festival pass that no one has visions of keeping it a theater.

Everyone better get their hankies ready for an emotional MSPIFF full of speeches and tears. The Festival, originally scheduled for April 10 - 26, has been moved back a week to April 17 - May 3 with details trickling in on a new website. As sad as it is to see the Oak Street go and to see the Twin Cities lose yet another independent theater, I am going to stop short of jumping on the nostalgia bandwagon. It is time to move on. I have very fond memories of the Oak (most of them in the form of Hong Kong films presented by Asian Media Access), but I also have fond memories of seeing films in Nicholson Hall in the U Film Society days and seeing films in that Film in the Cities space in downtown St Paul. The Oak Street has had its day, and, at this point, I really wonder if it could be viable under any circumstance.

Hopefully if there is any energy that remains in the film community for the Oak Street, it can be guided to the few independent one-screen theaters that we still have and probably have no less of a struggle in keeping their doors open. To be more specific, The Parkway, The Riverview and The Heights.

(Moses is waiting for you at the Heights!)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Too many films, not enought time: March 7-13

The Spring thaw always brings better films, and as much as I am always trying to get in touch with my inner neanderthal, I'm not talking about 10,000 B.C. All of the sudden there are films playing in the Twin Cities that deserves more attention than they are getting. Be warned, if you blink you will miss them:

Taxi to the Dark Side @ the Parkway
Probably one of the most repulsive things about our current administration is its blatant and cavalier use of torture. It is one thing that makes me embarrassed to be an American; the fact that we cannot stand up for basic human rights makes me feel like we have lost any sense of compassion. The horrific story of Dilawar, an innocent taxi driver who was tortured to death in 2002 at Guantanamo Bay, is at the center of this documentary. Surrounding it is awful truth about what is gong on behind closed doors. The Lagoon had a very short and quiet one week run of Taxi to the Dark Side a few weeks ago; a week later it defied odds and won Best Feature Length Documentary at the Academy Awards. (The Parkway is also reprising Marion Cotillard's award winning performance in La Vie En Rose if you missed it or want to see it again.)

The Ten Commandments (1956) @ the Heights
I like to supplement my lack of religious learning with the Hollywood versions of the Bible, and this is the granddaddy of them all. In preparation for the Easter bunny, it is the perfect film. Cecil B. DeMille's last film was an amazing undertaking. Tom Letness at the Heights promises that they are getting "the absolute BEST 35mm print that Paramount Pictures has on this film." Yes, it is over three hours, but when you bring together movies and religion, martyrdom is inevitable.

George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead @ Block E and Brooklyn Center
I will admit that the main reason to see this film is the first part of the title, but it is a pretty big reason. George A. Romero, who just turned 68, cranks out yet another zombie movie for his curriculum vitae. While people were predicting that this would be his last, Romero was already busy announcing a sequel. In a vacuum, Diary of the Dead might not mean much, but the cumulative significance represented in Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead and Diary is undeniable. Considering the lack of marketing for this film, it looks like the target audience is the teenager who is dropped off at the mall. Looks like I'll be joining them.

Women With Vision @ the Walker
The Walker's annual Women With Vision film festival starts this weekend and will provide one of the most eclectic mixes of films from the homogametic gender. If you made it into the packed house on Friday night's screening of Older Than America, directed by Georgina Lightning and filmed locally, consider yourself lucky. The screening was a sneak-peak before it hits the festival circuit starting with South By Southwest next week. Saturday will be packed with screenings celebrating International Women's Day: at 2pm the first of two Short Film Programs, this one featuring five shorts, including one by local filmmaker Jila Nikpay; at 4pm is the Women in Film and TV International Short Film Showcase celebrating women filmmakers and looking back at decades of struggle for women’s equality, peace, and justice; and finally the local premiere of Maria Speth's Berlin Film Festival hit Madonnas (pictured left). Lastly for the weekend, the Walker presents in conjunction with the Sabes Foundation Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival the documentary Making Trouble. There is plenty more to come! Women With Vision runs through March.

Teeth @ the Uptown midnight Saturday
I would be remiss if I did not mention this screening. If you haven't heard of this film, here is the synopsis: "High school student Dawn works hard at suppressing her budding sexuality by being the local chastity group's most active participant. Her task is made even more difficult by her bad boy stepbrother Brad's increasingly provocative behavior at home.A stranger to her own body, innocent Dawn discovers she has a toothed vagina when she becomes the object of violence. As she struggles to comprehend her anatomical uniqueness, Dawn experiences both the pitfalls and the power of being a living example of the vagina dentata myth." How can you pass that up? Teeth was scheduled to have a "limited release" and I guess that means a midnight screening at the Uptown for us.

If that is not enough for you, Academy Award winning Best Foreign Film The Counterfeiters opens this weekend at the Edina and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days continues at the Edina.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

DVD releases for March 4

Culling through the releases for the week, it is hard to come up with anything very exciting or anything I am willing to whole-heartedly recommend. However, there seemed to be a large number of b-horror films and middle-of-the road festival films new to DVD this week, so lets look at those:

Watch at your own risk horror films:

Automaton Transfusion (2006) directed by Steven C Miller
"In director Steven C. Miller's indie scarefest about science gone awry, a U.S. Army experiment to turn corpses into a military fighting force unleashes bloody hell on a small Florida community. As the rampaging undead begin to terrorize the town, a trio of resourceful high schoolers takes it upon themselves to end the carnage once and for all." For fans, this one looks the most promising. I mean, just look at that cover!

Carver (2007) directed by Franklin Guerrero Jr.
"When a group of young campers takes a detour en route to an isolated mountain range, it turns out to be the biggest mistake of their lives, as they ultimately become the targets of a homicidal family with a taste for blood. Based on actual events, this terrifying tale from director Franklin Guerrero Jr. follows in the tradition of landmark horror flicks such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Friday the 13th series."

Mega Snake (2007) directed by Tibor Takacs
"Les has been terrified of snakes since he was a kid, when a bite killed his father. Nevertheless, he's intrigued when his snake-wrangling brother steals a rare specimen. But the terror begins anew when the reptile escapes. It grows to hundreds of times its original size, slithering through town and leaving carnage in its wake. Now, Les must find the courage to confront the beast before it strikes again." I suspect that the horror does not outweigh the silliness of Mega Snake.

Satan's Whip (2006) directed by Jason Maran
"Seminarian Claude desperately wants to join a secret religious order committed to protecting humanity by fighting evil. But to be accepted, he must first perform a service for the sect: locate a missing member of the group. As he sets off on this quest, Claude soon finds himself on a grisly journey that tests his faith in unexpected ways when he faces witchcraft, cannibalism and insanity in this blood-drenched shocker."

Torment (2008) directed by Steven Sessions
"After a prolonged stay in a mental hospital, Laura Wiggington follows her husband, Ray, to a remote cottage by the river for an intensive recovery session. But a sinister clown named Dissecto has other plans. Dissecto wants nothing more than to perform unimaginable "tricks" for his captive audience. But is his terrifying presence an actual threat…or merely a figment of Laura's addled mind?" Sinister clowns? Addled minds? Sounds good!

Arthouse films that might make you laugh, might make you cry, or might make you fall asleep:

Khadak (2006, Belgium) directed by Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth
"Set in contemporary Mongolia, this imaginative fable follows 17-year-old Bagi, a nomadic shepherd who possesses untapped transcendental powers. After the military forces Bagi and his family to abandon their way of life and resettle in a mining town, he crosses paths with a beautiful coal thief who helps him find his destiny." This film got some decent reviews with Sid Smith of the Chicago Tribune saying "It gorgeously recalls Fellini and Koyaanisqatsi and hauntingly pits ancient tradition against science, oppression and industrial rot." Maybe.

The Eighth Color of the Rainbow (2004, Brazil) directed by Amauri Tangara
"To buy medicine to relieve his ailing grandmother's pain, a determined Brazilian boy travels to the capital to sell the family's only valuable possession -- a goat -- encountering unexpected challenges along the way. After arriving in the big city, he experiences the best and worst of the unfamiliar urban environment."

My Beautiful Jinjiimaa (2007, Mongolia) directed by Ochir Mashbat
"When Jinjiimaa shot the politician that raped her, Sukhee defended her and accepted the responsibility for her "crime." Now, after serving a six-year conviction, Sukhee leaves prison with hopes that the bond between he and Jinjiimaa remains intact. Shooting on location in rural Mongolia, director Ochir Mashbat and crew braved the subzero temperatures of the Siberian winter to create this touching story of hope, retribution and unconditional love."

Overlookers (2004) directed by Christopher Warre Smets
"Writer-director Christopher Warre Smets's low-budget drama follows the intersecting lives of several strangers who employ the services of a company called Attractions, a dating agency that investigates prospective mates for their clients. Among the lonely souls looking for love are a shy computer geek, a love-bitten closeted lesbian, a young Turk weary of the dating scene, a jaded fashion photographer and a forlorn housewife."

Surveillance 24/7 (2007) directed by Paul Oremland
"When Adam has a fling with Jake on a night out in London, he doesn't give it much thought. But now he's being watched everywhere he goes, by people he doesn't know. His paranoia increases when Jake is found dead, and Adam discovers that he's carrying information that someone is willing to kill to get back. Simon Callow and Dawn Steele co-star in this stylish Hitchcockian thriller." I love 'Hitchcockian!'

In notable mainstream releases: Into the Wild (2007) directed by Sean Penn, Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) directed by Susanne Bier, and doc My Kid Could Paint That (2007) directed by Amir Bar-Lev.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Good riddance to February!

Okay. Personally, February sucked. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, I'm just going to recap some interesting tidbits from February that I might or might not have posted on if I wasn't distracted by funerals and illness and thievery:
  • The caucuses were fun! And exciting!
  • Lost started back up. I was very very very unsatisfied at the end of the last season. If I hadn't been sick and stuck on the couch for the season premier, I would have skipped this season altogether. I'm glad I didn't. The mystery is back, and the pacing has quickened from the slow-as-molasses flow of Season 3. Admittedly, I am not as engaged as most, but I enjoy the weekly distraction. (Also big points for abc offering the episodes for free online.)
  • The amazing 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (I got it right that time) screened at the Walker as part of their Expanding the Frame series and then it opened at the Edina this weekend. My recommendation is to go see this film. Really. (Judging from the sparse audience at the Edina on Saturday, it will be a short run.)
  • Some dude named Ocrilim has provide one of the most intense listens I have ever experienced. No need for drugs with CDs like this in the world.
  • The power of Mia Farrow should not be underestimated. Steven Spielberg stepped down as "artistic advisor" to the Beijing Summer Olympics, siting China's unwillingness to take a stand against the atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan. China has been mum on the issue for some time, despite (or in light of) having a very large stake in oil production in the region. Certainly something needs to be done to end this conflict and bring some stability to the region, but I don't think pissing off the Chinese is necessarily the best route. I applaud Farrow's efforts, but "Genocide Olympics"? I don't know. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is doing his best to work diplomatic side of the issue. (More info on the issues at Save Darfur.)
  • In a related story that I hardly think is a coincidence, China's Film Bureau blocks Mikael Hafstrom's Shanghai from shooting on location in the Mainland. Shanghai is the first blockbuster resulting from The Weinstein Company's "Asia fund." It's unclear whether this is due to a riff between the Film Bureau and TWC or concern about the further degradation of the national image (sex! drugs!) or simply just a show of power. If a compromise can not be made, the Weinstein's will take the shoot to Hong Kong (where apparently we see the 'one country, two systems' at work.) The film stars John Cusack, Gong Li and Ken Watanabe. (My post on the production here.)
  • Even though the Timberwolves have not won many games, they are playing well. Most of the time.
  • News of Tran Ahn Hung's (Cyclo, The Scent of Green Papaya) new film, I Come With the Rain, has started to surface and make me very excited. I Come With the Rain is an international thriller of sorts staring Josh Hartnett, Lee Byung-Hyun, Takuya Kimura, Elias Koteas, Tran Nu Yen Khe and Shawn Yue. Wow. This is Tran's first film in eight years. The plot goes something like this: "Kline, an ex-cop in Los Angeles traumatized by slaying a serial killer, is hired by a powerful corporate boss to go to the Philippines and find Shitao, his missing son. Kline’s leads take him to Hong Kong. Torn between good and evil, caught in the crossfire between a mafia drug ring and the police, he tracks down Shitao, who has become a mysterious vagrant." (Photos of the production on Twitch here.)
  • I am in love with Black Mountain, and I wait in anticipation, with ticket in hand, for their show at the Entry on March 24th.
  • Amongst a Britney-like scandal in Hong Kong, 27 year-old pop star and actor Edison Chen retires. Edison made the mistake of having his computer (with private photos) serviced. Photos that circulated on the internet like mad included Edison with the likes of Gillian Chung and Cecilia Cheung in compromising situations. Edison is apparently very popular with the girls, and I guess he took lots of photos. The scandal was front page news for more than two weeks after the photos were leaked. Arrests have been made and almost everyone who is anyone has voiced their opinion of the situation. Edison made a statement that he is going to retire as soon as he finishes current commitments. He may not be the best actor in the world, but he is certainly not talentless. He showed true grit a got critical acclaim in Soi Cheang's Dog Bite Dog. Edison's biggest exposure in the US would have been his role in Infernal Affairs (as the young Andy Lau) and as the investigator in the US remake of The Grudge 2. (More info and thoughts on the scandal on The House Where Words Gather blog.)
  • The New York Philharmonic played an unprecedented concert in North Korea. And to everyone who says its no big deal, I say hogwash. The current cult of personality of Kim Jong-Il and unconscionable repression of the masses in North Korea is only possible through the isolation that it has maintained for the past 50 years. Whether it is families visiting from the South or the New York Philharmonic, the more people going to North Korea, the better.
  • Actress Lydia Shum, affectionately known as Fei Fei, died on February 19. Although largely unknown on these shores, she has been a fixture in Hong Kong TV and cinema for 40 years.
  • David Fincher has signed on to direct an adaptation of Charles Burns' graphic novel Black Hole. Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery will write the script for this downward spiral of teen sex and violence. It is sure to be crazy and controversial.
  • The Oscars were good! Although there were no huge surprises, when you take a step back and look at some of the choices that the Academy made, it is encouraging. All four actor/actress awards went to foreign actors. Taxi to the Dark Side, easily the darkest documentary in the category, won. The award for short documentary award went to Freeheld, about one dying woman's fight for the rights of her partner (with the award ironically being announce by troops in Iraq.) And No Country for Old Men, the big winner of the night, is a great film.
  • And lastly, with March finally here, Spring is really right around the corner. Thank God!