Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Orphan is Jaume Collet-Serra's third film and I'm willing to hazard a guess that it is his best despite the fact that I haven't seen House of Wax (Paris Hilton style) and Goal II (?). Collet-Serra's latest is not one that you should judge by its cover or by his previous works. A shrewd sense of detail and pacing combined with solid acting go a long way, especially in a horror film where it is so unexpected.
The Colemans are a perfectly flawed 21st century upper class cultured family. Patriarch John (Peter Sarsgaard) is a designer, presumably of houses based on the looks of their home, and matriarch Kate (Vera Farmiga) is a composer who taught at Yale until the traumatic death of their third child in birth. She suffered a breakdown of sorts that caused her to—as her mother-in-law resentfully puts it—find her moment of clarity. Their two kids, tween Daniel and young Max who happens to be hearing-impaired, seem perfectly adjusted to the dysfunction. Amongst the infidelity, therapy, addiction recovery and other unspoken problems, the couple has decided that adopting a child will help them resolve their issues. Enter Esther: a 'different' child originally from Russia who lives in a home for orphaned children. Wise beyond her years, Esther seems like the perfect fit for the Colemans.
It's hard to know writer David Johnson is mocking the new American nuclear family or reveling in it. Regardless, in a very short amount of time the film is able to build enough sympathy for this family that we really start hoping we got the synopsis wrong. That Esther turns out not the polite and charming child that the Colemans want is not a big secret or surprise. What you are likely to have wrong about the film, however, is just how maniacal this little girl turns out to be. Without reveling specific plot points, I'll just say that Esther has now replaced Oh Dea-su (Oldboy) as the icon with the hammer. There is an unapologetic physicality to the brutality that will cause even the most jaded to squirm.
Orphan roles the dice pretty hard with an opening scene that might send some for the exit, but only does so to make sure you are awake. The reigns are pulled in pretty quickly allowing the story to build in a very organic manner. Instead of building characters out of superficial tags and soliloquies, Orphan lets the scenarios do the talking. This is especially true with the three kids, Daniel, Max and Esther. The audience is permitted to be an observer rather than an information receptacle. A pivotal scene in a playground is a study in patience. You know what is going to happen (especially if you have seen the trailer) but the build up is a series of visual and aural montages that are savvy in their simplicity.
Sarsgaard and Farmiga do their part as a comfortable couple, but it is the blunt acting from kids that carry this film. Max is the emotional center of Orphan as she slowly moves from naive and trusting to suspicious and scared. Coerced into being Esther's ally, Max simply wants to be loved by her new big sister. Although older and more distanced, Daniel is no less fragile and susceptible to Esther's bizarre scare tactics. Esther fills out the triangle with a frightening chameleon-like performance that is able to shift from good to evil at the drop of a hat.
As you might expect, there is a puzzle to be solved and the clues are doled out slowly, allowing time to chew on the nagging questions of why. Due to the fact that she is a child, there is a real need for a rational explanation for why Esther is the way she is, whether it be supernatural or psychological. When the explanation arrives, it does so not to satisfy the audience, but to allow Orphan to shift into overdrive. The last fifteen minutes is nothing but classic horror film fodder that has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with adrenaline. It's a struggle not to say too much about this film, because there is a sly cognitive shift that occurs with the big twist. Horror films tend to be throwaway money machines that are hardly ever allowed the space to be crafty without being overtly crass. Orphan belongs in a class with Them (aka Ils) and The Descent that offers a brain-powered punch.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunn O)))’s new release, Monoliths & Dimensions, is a musical departure for the band. Amongst the amplified guitars, they find room for the delicate sounds of strings, horns and even a women’s choir to stunning effect. You would think such nuances would give naysayers reason for pause. Apparently not everyone: disappointingly, one of the local capsules for the upcoming show described Sunn O)))’s music as inaccessible to unlistenable, sarcastically joking about the notion of the band playing “songs.” Her loss, I guess, but also everyone who decided not to go to this show based on an extremely narrow view of music.
The Varsity Theater in Minneapolis is a beautiful space that has, over the past couple of years, transformed itself into one of the coolest live music venues. Adorned with swags of velvet cloth and plush vintage sofas, it’s not exactly a space you would expect for a drone metal band. Although Sunn O))) has some undeniable ambient undertones, judging from the t-shirts—that’s what t-shirts are for, right—the crowd was decidedly metal. I got there early, looked at the crud for sale, and made my way up to the front. I started chatting up the friendly security guy, and asked him if he had been at the sound check. His eyes opened wide and then rolled around in the back of his head, and he said “In thirty years of doing this kind of stuff, I have never heard anything like that!” Exactly the answer I was looking for.
Stacks of amplifiers arced around the back of the stage. Hard-hitting duo Eagle Twin opened the show with an hour-long set of ferocious well-scribed thunder. The band agreed to do one more song, and Greg Anderson rushed the stage beside me (sans robe) to give Eagle Twin a cheer of camaraderie. Both the band and Anderson were laughing, and then he disappeared as quickly as he appeared. Eagle Twin finished with little fanfare, except for mentioning that their new CD, to be released later this summer, was for sale: “Buy 20 copies and sell ‘em on eBay. I don’t give a shit.”
This was the point in the show where the fog machines were turned up to eleven. O’Malley, Anderson and Steve Moore took the stage fully cloaked in black robes. Steve Moore was receded center stage on the electronic machine (I have no idea what to call these things anymore), Anderson right in front of me and O’Malley on the far right…I think. The fog and the robes impeded my identification, but it hardly mattered. Whoever was in front of me was swilling from a full bottle of wine, or maybe it was the blood of Christ. They immediately ripped into “Aghartha” and the sound was literally vibrating against every surface of my body. I have never been so aware of the physical presents of sound before. You could feel the sound pushing air through small cracks and holes around the stage. It was completely exhilarating and overwhelming at the same time.
Vocalist (or invocationist) Attila Csihar joined them after five or ten minutes, but even this is unclear. Enveloped in sound, time was also becoming abstract. Closing my eyes had a surreal effect, as if floating. My natural impulse was to lie down, curl up and enjoy this pulsating embryonic sound pod. I was not alone. Many of the people around me either had their heads down with eyes closed or were completely spaced out. The guy at center stage had sort of draped himself casually over the monitor speaker at edge of the stage. I was thinking that it was a really long version of “Aghartha” when I looked down at my watch and realized they had been performing for an hour.
The song that had started out as “Aghartha” transformed into an improvised monster of sustained decibel and depth. Csihar gave way to yelping as the band wrapped up an hour-and-a-half non-stop free-form experience. Near the end, Anderson and O’Malley impulsively each hung their guitars from two cheesy chandeliers on each side of the stage, allowing them to catch the reverberations from the air. It was an eerie image with the guitars hanging like dead members. Whether exhausted or overwhelmed or both, the crowd seemed stunned when the music had stopped and there was a pregnant pause before the outburst of applause. The four pulled off their hoods and gave a bow. Both Anderson and O’Malley gave Csihar a big pat on the back for what was an incredible performance. They were all smiling and confirming that the show was not just for the audience.
An encore was out of the question. I don’t think anyone expected it or wanted it. The experience, a sonic head-trip, was hardly something you would ask them to embellish upon. Although my hopes of live horns and violins were dashed, I was completely blown away by what had just happened. When I got outside to my bike, I’m pretty sure it took me 15 minutes to get my lock off and put my lights and helmet on. I was functioning a sheer unadulterated music high. The night stayed with me well into the next day as I tried to diagnose exactly what had happened. Was it spiritual? Was it cerebral? Or was it merely adrenal? One thing is certain, it was unlike anything else and that’s enough for me.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Yasmin Ahmad is well-known in Malaysia for her television commercials and is known internationally for her award winning films: Rabun (2003), Sepet (20o4), Gubra (2006), Mukhsin (2007), Muallaf (2008) and Talentime (2009). On her own blog The Storyteller she describes herself: "I am optimistic and sentimental to the point of being annoying, especially to people who think that being cynical and cold is cool. Everyday, I thank Allah for everyday things like the ability to breathe, the ability to love, the ability to laugh, and the ability to eat and drink." Her creative career was led by her heart.
The news is sudden and shocking. She was an artist in her prime.
Surprisingly, my Italian friends visit my blog more than any other non-English speaking country. Dan over at Barren Illusions won me over not only by the title of his blog (an obscure Kiyoshi Kurosawa film that some friends and I had fan-subbed eight years ago) but also his friendly and active participation here on these pages. His eclectic blog is accentuated by beautiful photos that need little translation. I nonetheless send the text through an online translator to make sure I get the general gist.
The biggest surprise however was when Alessio Galbiati and Roberto Rippa contacted me from the online magazine Rapporto Confidenziale with an interest in translating my review for Limits of Control. The possibility that I would write anything worth translating never even crossed my mind, let alone someone actually doing it! And so it is, and let me tell you, I have never had a review look so good or sound so smart! A big thanks to Alessio and Roberto, and Paola Catò for translating. More collaborations are in the works, and I hope I able to continue to come up with things of interest.
Check out the translated Limits of Control review in Issue 15. (Scroll down and use full page reader - better than a glossy magazine!)
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Yes folks. This weekend is the grand opening of the Twin Cities newest movie house, the little theater that could, the Trylon Microcinema! Opening with a Buster Keaton series with live music played by the Dreamland Faces, you could hardly ask for more. I proposed an after party involving kegs and dancing girls and smashing champagne bottles over the projectors, but Barry said no. Next best thing? Head down to Lake Street to the Town Talk Diner for some designer drinks and you're invited!
If you are as excited as me and Daniel over at Getafilm, join us Friday night post-screening for conversation and drink. Daniel and I are going to the 7pm show (sold out) and will be heading down to the Town Talk after. Don't worry, we'll still be there after the 9pm show (almost sold out) in hopes of bringing Barry, Trylon mastermind, out for a celebratory cheer. Don't know who the hell I am? I'll wear a Radio K t-shirt, so come and find me.
Want a little more info on the Trylon? Here's a primer:
- Peter Schilling's article in the Star Tribune: "Trylon: Small in size, large in ambition"
- Rob Nelson's article on MinnPost: "Screen of Dreams"
- Erik McClanahan's multimedia article on MNDialog: "Trylon Microcinema: Videos, Some History and Dreamland Faces" (nice photo)
- Daniel Getahun's recent interview with Barry Kryshka on Getafilm: "Local Theater Love: The Trylon Microcinema"
- Fox 9 profiles the Trylon (TV news is so weird)
- And, jeez, if you missed it, my post on the Voltaic screening: "Voltaic, a Trylon preview"
The Great Stone Face:
Six From Buster Keaton
Accompanied by the music of Dreamland Faces
Starting July 17th
The Trylon microcinema
3258 Minnehaha Ave S
Suggested donation for live music: $2
The all-volunteer staff of Take-Up Productions has worked for three years to put together the money for our own theater. On July 17th, we're opening The Trylon in south Minneapolis, a few blocks from the Lake Street LRT station. We've decided to open our microcinema with a film series starring Buster Keaton, featuring the accompaniment of Dreamland Faces on accordion and singing saw.
Sherlock Jr (1924)
July 17 and 18 at 7pm and 9pm
Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo is a delight, but Buster Keaton did it first. Projectionist Buster — dreaming he’s an ace detective — jumps right on to the movie screen, finding himself furiously edited from garden bench to city street to cliff — but finally becoming the ace detective of his wildest cinema fantasies.
Preceded by the short: The Electric House (1922) Buster designs a house with all the latest gadgets for a real estate tycoon who will buy thousands if the model home impresses him. But during the demonstration, everything that can go wrong, does - hilariously!
The Navigator (1924)
July 24 and 25 at 7pm and 9pm
Keaton’s top money-maker began with the biggest prop of his career: an ocean liner. Pampered playboy Buster is stranded on same with equally helpless airhead Kathryn McGuire. The ship finally runs aground on a desert island where the two unfortunates are chased by cannibals. One of Keaton's most revered films.
Preceded by the short film: The Ballonatic (1923) Buster rises to new heights as he sails heavenward in a balloon. He bumps into clouds, and in trying to bring down a duck, punctures the gas bag and crashes in the woods where he saves Phyllis Haver from a bear and falls in love. His courtship and the 'balloonatic' events that follow are hilarious!
Seven Chances (1925)
July 31 and August 1 at 7pm and 9pm
Buster gets word that if he can be married by 7 o'clock that evening, he will inherit $7,000,000. When his sweetheart refuses, he proposes to everyone in skirts, including a Scotsman! Hopeful still, he advertises for a bride and is horrified to discover 500 would-be brides hot on his trail in a hilarious chase to the finish!
Preceded by the short film: The Goat (1921) A mistaken-identity crisis precipitates an almost continuous - and continuously brilliant - chase through two adjoining towns where Buster is taken for 'Deadeye Dan, Public Enemy'."
Advance tickets are now on sale at Take-Up's brownpapertickets.com page.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
In its ninth year, the Bicycle Film Festival now travels to 39 cities worldwide. The BFF was founded in 2001 after Brendt Barbur, Founder and Director, was hit by a bus while riding in New York City. He admirably channelled his energy from this experience into creating a festival that celebrates the bicycle through music, art and film. The Minneapolis leg of the BFF draws some of the largest crowds and best attendance of any city on the tour. It is pretty awesome to attend one of the screenings and just what the bikes pile up around the venue! Plan ahead for parking!
The Festival kicks off Wednesday, July 8 with an opening party at the 501 Club. If you are a brainy biker, try your luck at bicycle trivia at 7pm. The trivia will just be a primer for a free show of blissful punk pop from with our local pride and joy Knife World and Gay Witch Abortion opening for No Age. The film fun starts Thursday at the Riverview opening with the unparalleled The Triplets of Belleville. This is a film that I would gladly see on the big screen again and again. After a full slate of films at the Riverview on Thursday, the Festival moves to the Cedar Cultural Center where an amazing number of titles will be shown Friday night and all day Saturday. Each night is capped off with an after party and the chance to socialize and indulge with fellow bikers and friends of bikers. If you spend too much time in a dark room on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, plan on signing up for the BFF Co-ed Bike Polo Tourney on Sunday at 11:30am.
Opening up the foldout Festival program is pretty daunting. With over 40 titles, many of them shorts, its really hard to find any that don't sound interesting. Personally, I'm excited about Keirin Queen (1956), "a classic Japanese Keirin track film screened for the first time in the United States." Wow. Show me a Japanese film I have never heard of, and I'm happy. (The other thing that I want to point out is the after party on Friday at the Nomad World Pub where they will be hosting Coldsprints, indoor bike racing. For anyone who thinks this is just a beer soaked evening of people on exercise bikes, click on the link above and check out the video. Seriously.)
To help me navigate the program and offer a few highlights, Amy Kuretsky, local Producer of the Bicycle Film Festival, was kind enough to take some time out of her holiday weekend to answer a few questions:
How does the programming for the Twin Cities edition of the BFF differ from others?
One of the main differences in the Minneapolis programing (as opposed to the NYC programing) has always been our inclusion of older films that we show in their original 35mm format. We are lucky to have the opportunity to house our festival in a venue like the Riverview Theater and therefore we like to show feature length bike films in a setting they deserve. This year the 35mm print we are showing is The Triplets of Belleville (Thursday, 7pm, Riverview). Also, this year Minneapolis is really lucky to have three films from local filmmakers: Something Bright to be Seen in Our World (Dir. Mike Hazard & Emily Rumsey; Thursday, 9pm, Riverview), A Gentleman Never Sweats (Dir. Alice Shindelar; Friday, 9pm Cedar), and Down by the Weep Hole: The Story of the Stuporbowl (Dir. Nathaniel Freeman; Friday, 9pm, Cedar). The Stuporbowl movie has already gained a lot of attention in the bike community and we're thrilled to be premiering this local film at the BFF.
There is such a huge number of shorts! Can you highlight maybe two or three that should not be missed?
Wow, this year I think we have some of the best short films we've ever shown at the BFF. Here are just a few of my favorites: Train Trip (Dir. Joe Rich & Ruben Alcantara; Friday, 7pm, Cedar) is beautifully shot on Super 8 and miniDV and documents two of the best in the BMX scene travel through Europe with nothing but their bikes, a backpack, and a camera. Red Hook Criterium (Dir. Kalim Armstrong; Friday, 9pm, Cedar) is shot and edited to look like a segment from ESPN and is one of the funniest shorts we're screening. Broadway Bomber/Bridge Battle (Dir. Lucas Brunelle; Saturday, 9pm, Cedar) weaves the viewer through the crazy streets of NYC on a helmet cam worn by BFF fan favorite, Lucas Brunelle. Anima D'Acciaio (Soul of Steel) (Dir. Daniel Leeb; Sat, 9pm, Cedar) is a fantastic documentary about one of the last living master frame builders from Italy.
The Cedar is a new movie screening venue: how did you get involved with the Cedar?
I'm pretty sure that the Cedar used to be a movie theater way back in the day. When it got turned into a music venue they basically flattened out the floor, built a stage, turned everyone to face the side stage, and built a brick wall right over the old screen. Recently, they've been doing a bunch of remodeling to the Cedar and they came across the original screen behind the wall. The screen still intact! We won't be using that screen (AVS is supplying all our AV equipment) but I thought that the history behind the building was really interesting. We really loved using the Theater de la Jeune Lune last year (unfortunately for the whole city that theater is no longer open) and that opened us up to the option of using stage theaters instead of just movie theaters. I really like the idea of having a home base for the BFF for the weekend and I think that using both the Cedar and the Nomad for event locations just made sense. The West Bank has always been known for being bicycle friendly - the Hub, Freewheel, the Grease Pit are all located on the West Bank - and we thought the BFF would fit in perfectly.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Pick Up the Mic (2005) directed by Alex Hinton
First pick of the month is one for those celebrating Pride. It has taken four years, but this independent documentary about the queer hip-hop scene is finally out on DVD. The fact that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are infiltrating every aspect society is thankfully taken for granted, but in other cases it is an extraordinary act of bravery and confrontation. Such is homohop, where being out means challenging the homophobia that permeates the scene. Pick Up the Mic profiles over 17 hip-hop artists, their music and what it means to be an out MC. Standing up against the stereotype of being ‘gay’ and the stereotype of being a hip-hop artist, all these individuals are forging a new road. Pick up the Mic is a powerful celebration of diversity.
Last Year at Marienbad (1961) directed by Alain Resnais
At long last, Alain Resnais elusive and mesmerizing film Last Year in Marienbad is available domestically on DVD, and available in a very big way. Criterion packages a restored transfer and all the extras you might expect available on Blu-Ray, or just a plain ol’ 2 DVD set. I still find it shocking (and further proof we are moving backwards) that Alain Robbe-Grillet’s surreal script was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for the 1963 Academy Awards. (Just as amazing is that it was beat by Divorce – Italian Style.) The film was incredibly controversial at the time with most critics finding it pretentious and incomprehensible. Time has been kind to the film as it slowly transitioned from being considered one of the worst films ever made to one of the best. Having just seen the film six months ago during a Robbe-Grillet retrospective, I can attest that its enigmatic narrative and haunting visuals are as cutting edge now as they were 30 years ago.
Waltz With Bashir (2008) directed by Ari Folman
Equally as haunting as Last Year in Marienbad but immeasurably more relevant is Ari Folman’s memoir to the 1982 Lebanon War, Waltz With Bashir. Chasing after a phantom, Folman goes on a personal journey in search of the memories of the war he has lost. Painstakingly animated at a rate of 4 minutes per month by a 10-person crew, the result is visually unbelievable. As a person who watched a fair amount of alternative animation, I was completely blown away by the look of the film. Being snubbed at the Academy Awards in favor of the Japanese tearjerker Departure was a huge, if not predictable, injustice to most. Waltz With Bashir confronts the very personal and subconscious effects of war that we should all be thinking about. Experimental composer Max Richter contributes an engrossing soundtrack.
Une Femme Mariee (1964) directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Tapping into what seems an endless mountain of films, comes yet another elusive Jean-Luc Godard film. Personally I can’t keep up, although Une Femme Mariee (A Married Woman) hardly emerged out of nowhere. Made between Band of Outsiders and Alphaville, Une Femme Mariee is at the heart of Godard’s most influential filmmaking period. As you can guess from the title, the film centers on a woman and the various men that revolve around her. Originally titled A Married Woman: Fragments of a Film Shot in 1964 in Black and White, the film follows this mode, pulling together vignettes that make up a less-than-straightforward narrative.
Evening’s Civil Twilight in Empires of Tin (2009) directed by Jem Cohen
Jem Cohen is an experimental filmmaker that you really don’t expect to find on DVD. Maybe the times are a changin’. Empires of Tin is less a film and more of a performance. Commissioned by the Vienna International Film Festival, Empires utilizes film, live music and live narration for what he calls “a documentary musical hallucination.” Without a doubt, ‘Empires’ is a heavily theoretical project marrying the decline of the Habsburg Empire with the crumbling of our own American empire. But the performance is something completely unique and, until now, only witnessed by a handful of people worldwide. Furthermore, it is bolstered by an incredible group of musicians including Vic Chestnut, Guy Picciotto, and musicians from The Quavers and Silver Mt. Zion.
Henry Hills: Selected Films (1977- 2008)
Also in an experimental vein is this new compilation of Henry Hills’ videos. Associated with the Downtown improvisers and the “Language” poets of New York City, Hills is a mind-boggling visual innovator. Hunt down his frenetic 1985 fourteen minute Money on the web and you might be the first to plunk down your hard earned cash for a personal copy of this DVD.
The Seventh Seal (1957) directed by Ingmar Bergman
The most iconic foreign film of all time gets the extra special 21st century Criterion treatment. Well-loved and well-parodied, The Seventh Seal is timelessly allegorical. The well stocked Blu-Ray and DVD set includes: introduction by Bergman, commentary by Berman and Peter Cowie, documentary Bergman Island (2006), audio interview with Max von Sydow, 1989 tribute from Woody Allen, video filmography Bergman 101, an essay by Gary Giddins, and of coarse a restored high-def transfer that includes uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-Ray.
Kaidan (2007) directed by Hideo Nakata
If there is a king of contemporary J-horror, it is Hideo Nakata. Ring (or Ringu if you prefer) brought with it a flood of remakes and formulaic imitations that all contained the elements of women and hair. With Kaidan Nakata takes a right turn with a period horror film in the tradition of Nobuo Nakagawa. It is a grand homage, not only to the origins of Japanese horror but also to classic Japanese cinema, referencing the austere and precise aesthetic not only of Nakagawa, but also masters like Kenji Mizoguchi and Masaki Kobayashi. Nakata pays tribute without parody creating a visually stunning experience with every frame. Although the most memorable elements of Kaidan may be the aesthetic, the remaining components render nothing less than an absorbing film.
The Strange One (1957) directed by Jack Garfein
A film lost to history until its uncelebrated release on DVD this month, The Strange One was Ben Gazzara’s first feature film, and, wow, is he young and handsome. Homoeroticism, hookers and a producer’s strong will seems to have sent this film down the road to no success when it was released in 1957. Put together by the Actor’s Studio in New York, The Strange One is a dark misanthropic look at the manipulative psychology of young men. Gazzara plays a ring leading bully who gets a young classmate expelled and wages an atmosphere of fear so others won’t squeal. Thankfully resurrected, The Strange One may have a second life 50 years after its release.
Hansel and Gretel (2007) directed by Yim Phil-sung
In the vein of Pan’s Labyrinth, Yim Phil-sung attempts to create a fairy tale for adults. When a young man is in a car accident, he wakes up only to be charmed by a young girl who takes him to her strange house. You brace for the worst when it becomes more than apparent that not all is well at the quaint cottage home. The overall style of Hansel and Gretel is absolutely lavish in its visual detail. Unfortunately, the narrative is a little lacking with weak writing and acting. The DVD is a Canadian release, but not too hard to find State side.