Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Update No One Has Been Waiting For

Despite the pathetic appearance on my blog, I have been doing a little writing here and there, as well as toiling away trying to find a job (yes, still looking and still failing.) Here is the rundown of the writing:

Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival
Remember MSPIFF? I covered the festival for a few places, tallying up a total of 20 reviews. Fun! I very favorably reviewed Pema Tseden's Old Dog (pictured below), which played early in the fest, and then got to overhear hilarious quibbles with what many thought were unwarranted accolades on my part. I stand by my praise!

Minneapolis Star Tribune - My 100 Word Wonders (sorry, slideshow scrolling to find the actual review required)
City Pages - Slightly More Indulgent Reviews (once again, you'll have to scroll down to find my prose)
Twitch - Free Reign, No Scrolling

I spoke with MN native Billy Rosenberg, producer for The Spectacular Now, for the Walker Art Center, who hosted an early screening of the film with Rosenberg and James Ponsoldt in attendance. 

And I continue to contribute regular reviews for In Review Online

And two entries in our Wong Kar-wai Directrospective:
And at the six month mark, I provided my best of the year so far with other InROers:

I also will have a piece in a new publication coming in October called The Third Rail Quarterly. As of yet, there is no sign that this publication exists, but I will be sure to point it out when it does. I am, of course, on Twitter and Letterboxd, although my activity is anything but prolific or profound. I continue to program, project and make merriment at the Trylon microcinema. Unfortunately, I will not be traveling to any of the IFFs this fall (see lack-of-job lamentations at the top of this page) but as an interesting consolation prize, I will be going to the Orphans Midwest Symposium and covering the activities for Keyframe.

If any of this impresses you, please hire me. XO

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Shane Carruth's UPSTREAM COLOR

(A commission to interview Shane Carruth on his new film Upstream Color fell through earlier this week, leaving me with some useless research and words. In other words, the perfect thing for my blog: shit other people don't want! Upstream Color is now available online via iAmaGPlay, but see it in theaters if you can.)

“But while we are confined to books, though the most select and classic, and read only particular languages, which are themselves but dialects and provincial, we are in danger of forgetting the language which all things and events speak without metaphor, which alone is copious and standard.”      —from Walden, Chapter IV “Sounds”
"They could be starlings." Kris and Jeff of Upstream Color.
Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color is a one-of-a-kind wonder. Modest in means but opulent in delivery, it’s a transcendental blend of science fiction, thriller and romance in the best possible ways. On the surface, the film is about Kris (Amy Seimetz), a young woman who at the beginning of the film suffers a psychological trauma with economic and physical consequences. As if someone hit the reset button on her life without her agreement, Kris starts over and in the aftermath fosters a connection with Jeff (Carruth) who seems to have had a similar experience. Parallel to Kris and Jeff’s developing attachment, the narrative explores the organic agents of cause-and-effect in their relationship: the harvest of psychotropic worms, the transference of DNA from human to pigs, and the spontaneous growth of an exotic flower on the banks of a river. If that sounds elusive, it’s because Upstream Color’s unique development is best experienced without a preconceived notion of plot.

But I already feel like I’ve said too much. Regardless of what you read before seeing Upstream Color, the web of ellipsis and referential sparks will allow for myriad discoveries. Fans of Carruth’s debut feature, Primer, will understand the enthusiasm. Primer, a surprise Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, generated a fervent following (check your interwebs) for similar reasons. An indie sci-fi mindbender, Primer was made on a well-documented shoestring that challenges its audiences to intellectually meet it halfway. Those who were willing to do so no doubt found inspiration in its wickedly smart DIY aesthetics—those of Carruth’s filmmaking as well as those of the characters’ who engineer time travel in their garage. But where Primer is a cerebral puzzle locked to left-brain mechanics, Upstream Color forges a far more intuitive path. Although structured on a scientific framework of entanglement, the narrative implies that within the symbiosis of physics is something quite spiritual. The requirement for audiences of Upstream Color is to emotionally meet it halfway.

Free and trapped: the pigs of Upstream Color.
Upstream Color premiered at Sundance earlier this year largely under a cloud of well-controlled secrecy. It had been nine years since Primer, and while the rumor mills and news feeds were churning with Carruth’s activities (including helping Rian Johnson with effects on Looper) there seemed to be nothing in the hopper for finished material. As if stuck in one of his own Primeresque time loops, Carruth fell silent in the years that followed his award winning film. But instead of wiling away his time in hotel rooms and libraries like the characters in his film, he was running the Hollywood treadmill trying to finance his next project, the now fabled and likely shelved A Topiary. When the verbal support—including Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher signing on as producers—failed to produce monetary support, Carruth went the other way and built his film from the ground up, much like Primer but far more refined in almost every aspect.

If Upstream appeared seemingly out of nowhere, it was because it was a production so far outside of the Hollywood system, it failed to exist within normal networks. Working as producer, director, writer, composer, cinematographer, editor and actor, Carruth was able to keep the project under wraps until he was ready. When a couple of minute-long teasers arrived online late last year, both fans and the uninitiated were intrigued. Those early glimpses, as well as the eventual full-length trailer, were faithful to the ambiguous, and glorious, mysteries of the film. Carruth has created a multilayered world around Kris and Jeff that is aware of both the macro and the micro of their lives and their relationship. They are connected by an intangible experience (the aforementioned trauma) that they themselves don’t even acknowledge. Their kindred paths create a bond so strong that their individuality starts to blur, but, similarly, their relationship to the world is heightened. When Kris is kept awake at night by a sound, is it because a part of her now flows in the ground water? Does Jeff also hear the resonance of himself there too? Maybe.

An event that speaks with metaphor from Upsteam Color.
Henry David Thoreau’s Walden plays a prominent role in the film as a perfunctory tool for mind control, but on closer inspection the book and film share an overall ethos, to the point where you can nearly connect any sentence found in Walden to Upstream Color. Perhaps it’s the underlying transcendental intentions of the film that so easily associate with a text considered a spiritual autobiography. (Here is where I would have asked if Upstream Color was a spiritual autobiography.) There is a shadowy principal character in the film simply referred to in the credits as The Sampler who (among other things) spends his time carefully recording ambient sounds. His obsessive pursuit is none other than recording the language that Thoreau worried that we would forget—a language that is elevated in The Sampler, Kris and Jeff for reasons that are locked inside the enigma of the film.

The film uses an immersive technique of both sight and sound that works emotionally on your subconscious. One of the most striking aspects of the film is the intimacy built not only between the characters, but also within their environment that goes beyond the frame. In a brief, disconnected sequence in the film, an unnamed man keeps replaying a scene with his wife in his head: he is leaving and she is making a sincere attempt reach out. She is going to try harder, and most importantly she loves him. He can’t go back and extend his own openness to her; he leaves; he shuts the door; it’s too late. Even as a minor moment in the film, every ounce of this interaction feels honest. This extends to Kris and Jeff where their convincing amity is constructed with performance, editing and a sound design where every interaction is tethered to the surroundings.

Like Primer did nine years before, Upstream Color will appeal for repeat screenings in order to discover or patch together the answers to its secrets. But defining those answers will be harder than mapping the time sequences in Primer, with many of the emblems of Upstream Color being abstract or obscure. There’s a lot to contemplate, and I’m not entirely sure an analysis can be anything but personal. I left the film thinking about Guinea worms, the relationship that I have been in for over 20 years, economic dependence and corruption, and the life-affirming co-habitation with my dog. Themes and evocations of Upstream Color are scattershot. Revenge, redemption and awakening are all paths Kris travel, but describing the film with those terms is reductive. To go back to Thoreau: “The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of our residual statement.” Upstream Color works on a visceral level, inciting something that is not easily explained. And maybe it shouldn’t be.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ready. Set. MSPIFF!

Local movie yokels unite in a grad spectacle of film gluttony! The Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival starts tonight in the winter wonderland that is Minnesota in April. With over 200 films to surf, here are a few recommendations from the peanut gallery called me:

Highly Recommended

Leviathan (USA/France/UK) d. Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel Trailer
Friday, April 12, 2:00pm
Sunday, April 14, 10:00pm

Film goes physical...big time

The Last Time I Saw Macao (Portugal/France) d. João Rui Guerra da Mata, João Pedro Rodrigues  Trailer
Friday, April 12, 4:15pm
Sunday, April 14, 2:45pm

Film noir by way of a film essay

Old Dog (China) d. Pema Tseden Trailer
Saturday, April 13, 12:30pm
Wednesday, April 17, 9:30pm

Subtle political protest from Tibet

Student (Kazakhstan) d. Darezhan Omirbayev Trailer
Monday, April 22, 7:00pm
Sunday, April 28, 9:00pm

Bresson meets Dostoyevsky via modern Kazakhstan

The Capsule (Greece) d. Athina Rachel Tsangari Trailer
(screens with F*ck For Forest; don't ask me why, it just does)
Monday, April 22, 9:45pm
Friday, April 26, 10:00pm

Surreal world of feminine rights of passage

Worth Making Time For

Laurence Anyways (Canada/France) d. Xavier Dolan Trailer
Saturday, April 13, 8:00pm
Sunday, April 21, 9:00pm
Love, music and beauty conquers all

Augustine (France) d. Alice Winocour Trailer
Sunday, April 14, 4:45pm
Friday, April 19, 4:20pm
Better than A Dangerous Method

Cutie and the Boxer (USA) d. Zachary Heinzerling Sundance "Meet the Artists" Video
Friday, April 12, 9:45pm
Monday, April 15, 7:00pm
With charisma to burn

Hannah Arendt (Germany/Luxembourg/France) d. Margarethe von Trotta Trailer
Sunday, April 14, 3:15pm
Sunday, April 21, 4:40pm
History dramatically directed (with Barbara Sukowa!)

And finally, if you made it through all of that hoo-ha, a few films that I am looking forward to seeing (but too lazy to add photos or trailers or times):

  • In the Fog (Russia/Germany/Latvia/Netherlands/Belarus) d. Sergei Loznitsa - First of all, look at those country credits. Second of all, from the director of My Joy.
  • Your Ain't Seen Nothin Yet (France) d. Alain Resnais - It's the second coming of this master filmmaker. Go rent his last two films now!
  • Museum Hours (Austria/USA) d. Jem Cohen - I'll admit, I'm a little bitter about museums these days, but maybe Jem Cohen can snap me out of it via Vienna. 
  • Ceasar Must Die (Italy) d. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani - Julius Caesar in a prison.
  • Persistence of Vision (USA) d. Kevin Sheck - Missed this at VIFF; I like animation and I like obsessions.
If you wanna toss some salad about my recommendations, catch me at the festival - I'll be there. In the meantime, I've got some short but sweet reviews in the Star Tribune and the City Pages of some of these films and more.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Linkdom Hearts: Dream Eaters and Nobodies

We'll see what that title does to my stats and comments. Other than eating bon bons, shoveling snow and getting laid off, here's some other stuff I've done:

Mama on In Review Online
The other Jessica Chastain film that was kicking around earlier this year about two creepy little kids. If you missed it, you didn't miss much. Out on DVD and on various streaming sites in May.

Parker on In Review Online
I like Jason Statham. I want him to make better choices. When will he get that great role in that great film? This is not it. J-Lo costars. Watch Crank or The Transporter instead.

11 Flowers on In Review Online
I had low expectations for this film and I was pleasantly surprised. I have been disappointed in Wang Xiaoshuai's films since Frozen (1997) and So Close to Paradise (1998) set the standards pretty high. Set in the waning days of the Cultural Revolution, 11 Flowers is coming-of-age story that draws heavily on Wang's own life. This film went into limited release last month and should see a home release in June.

Here's a piece that I did for the Walker Art Center on Chris Sullivan and his amazing animated feature Consuming Spirits. I had a great time talking with Chris before his visit to the Walker and then subsequently had a great time hanging out with him. Chris is definitely the guy you want to have around for piano bar karaoke. You can also read my transcription of our rambling discussion here: Chris Sullivan on Michael Jordan, Jean Piaget and The Sapranos.

We also had Bill Morrison and Luther Price in the Walker house earlier this year and I posted these random questionnaires with the two of them here and here. Two more people I feel lucky to have met and hung out with.  

I also traveled to Columbia MO to the True/False Film Festival, but that turned into a little bit of a disaster as the hammer of the Walker lay offs came down in my first day there. So much for that. Maybe I will try again next year.

The Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival (which, to set the record straight, is not in St Paul at all) is less than a month away and I'm gearing up to do some rip-roaring capsules for the Star Tribune as well as the City Pages, if they will have me.

And finally, I am not too proud to broadcast that I'm looking for a job. My dog is trying to make the case for a stay-at-home mom, but that just ain't possible. I'm good at lots of things, but I really like films! Keep me in mind!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My 2012 in Film

I watched 330 films this year, and this is what I have to show for it. God love the the Trylon, the Walker and the Heights for keeping this town interesting film-wise. 

My top 25 films of 2012, within the machine of US distribution, ranked, with a few notes there at the end:

  1. This is Not a Film / Jafar Panahi 
  2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia / Nuri Bilge Ceylan 
  3. Tabu / Miguel Gomes 
  4. Cosmopolis / David Cronenberg 
  5. Neighboring Sounds / Kleber Mendonça Filho 
  6. Attenberg / Athina Rachel Tsangari 
  7. Consuming Spirits / Chris Sullivan 
  8. Deep Blue Sea / Terence Davies 
  9. Let the Bullets Fly / Jiang Wen 
  10. Elena / Andrey Zvyagintsev 
  11. The Day He Arrives / Hong Sang-soo 
  12. Wuthering Heights / Andrea Arnold 
  13. The Turin Horse / Bela Tarr 
  14. The Color Wheel / Alex Ross Perry 
  15. Girl Walk // All Day / Jacob Krupnick 
  16. Damsels in Distress / Whit Stillman
  17. 4:44 Last Days on Earth / Abel Ferrara
  18. The Raid / Gareth Evans 
  19. I Wish / Hirokazu Koreeda 
  20. Post Mortum / Pablo Larrain 
  21. Whore’s Glory / Michael Glowogger 
  22. Killer Joe / William Friedkin 
  23. A Simple Life / Ann Hui 
  24. Two Years at Sea / Ben Rivers 
  25. Miss Bala / Gerardo Naranjo 
(Why 25? Because I hated the idea of not giving those last 5 a mention. I have yet to see Zero Dark Thirty, so take that for what you will; otherwise, I also feel it necessary to state that I didn't fall head over heels with the cinephilia for cinephilia's sake in Holy Motors - as a matter of fact, I found most of it tedious - and nor was I moved by another man-child's kitschy love for himself - I'm talking about Wes, not young Sam - in Moonrise Kingdom. Sorry about that.)

Best viewing 2012, regardless of distribution and release date, alphabetically:

Beautiful 2012 (2012) / Gu Changwei, Ann Hui, Kim Tae-yong, Tsai Ming-liang
Emperor Visits the Hell (2012) / Li Luo
Faust (2011) / Alexander Sokurov
The Gang's All Here (1943) / Busby Berkeley
Grey Matter (2012) / Kivu Ruhorahoza
Guilty of Romance (2011) / Sion Sono
In April the Following Year, There Was a Fire (2012) / Wichanon Somunjarn
The Land of Hope (2012) / Sion Sono
Laurence Anyways (2012) / Xavier Dolan
Leviathan (2012) / Lucien Casting-Taylor, Verena Paravel
Margaret (2011) / Kenneth Lonergan
Mekong Hotel (2012) / Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Memories Look at Me (2012) / Song Fang
Napoleon (1929) / Abel Gance
No (2012) / Pablo Larrain
small roads (2012) / James Benning
Target (2011) / Alexander Zeldovich
Three Sisters (2012) / Wang Bing
The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012) / João Pedro Rodrigues, João Rui Guerra da Mata
When Night Falls (2012) / Ying Liang

And finally, my two most anticipated films for 2013 are Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmasters and Matt Porterfield's I Used to Be Darker.