Reeling In the Mpls./St. Paul International Film Festival

Ninety-three films, three projectors, and the whole wide world


Welcome to Woop Woop

Like director Stephan Elliott's previous film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, this bawdy hoot boasts an unexpectedly resonant emotional oomph. In the Australian outback, a petty con man (Jonathon Schaech) on the lam from the Mob shags a cheeky (in more ways than one) hitchhiker and wakes up drugged and betrothed in a pigsty in Woop Woop, a desert town that has literally been wiped off the map. While some of the human grotesquerie and gross-out imagery is reminiscent of the Farrelly Brothers (for instance, the motley Woop Woopians make their living turning kangaroo roadkill into dog food), the integrity of the narrative and the quirks of the characters are attuned sharply enough for Woop Woop to avoid outright caricature. But Elliott's greatest triumph stems from the casting of '60s leading man Rod Taylor as the debauched Daddy-O, the town leader who tap-dances with jumper cables on his heels and guns down any person trying to scale the hill leading out of town. Looking like Joe Cocker on his third morning-after, Taylor delivers the performance of his career. His speech describing how his ragtag crew took back the town after it was condemned as a toxic asbestos mine is the sort of preposterously gorgeous soliloquy that crystallizes why a good indie is such a durable delight. (Britt Robson) Oak Street Cinema, Friday at 9:30 p.m.


World's Best Commercials 1998

I counted no fewer than five nude, bald, heavy white guys featured in this year's Best Commercials collection (all modeled along the lines of Miller Lite's popular "Twist" dude), plus a good eight ads poking fun at macho men in the service of Volkswagen, "Bachelors' Noodles," the Weather Channel, and Japp candy ("more energy, more balls")--not to mention two cross-dressers employed to promote an Animal Placement Service ("That's the great thing about pets. They really don't care") and a wet-vac(!). Does this signal the dawning of a new gender-bending era for advertising? Hardly, since the dumpy male butts of ad men's jokes embody a class-at-a-glance technique designed to assuage viewers' own body complexes while reminding them of their "weight" as consumers. And family-friendly, class-happy ads directed at Visa cardholders and Hallmark card buyers trump the hip spots in any event. Perhaps that's what's most disappointing about the '98 crop: While the "world's best" ads promise to undermine traditional expectations, they use the likes of Muhammad Ali and Bob Dylan (Apple), Cat Stevens (Telecom), and Beck (Volvo), together with the cinematic tricks of Spike Lee (HBO) and Quentin Tarantino (Pillsbury Pizza Pops), to sell some awfully familiar formulas. (Leslie Dunlap) Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 3:15 p.m. and Tuesday at 9:40 p.m.


The Man Who Drove with Mandela

"I got out with the help of my gay networks...and the diamonds in my underwear," recalls the title character of his flight from South Africa in 1962. No, it's not a scene from a sexy spy thriller, but a moment in the life of Cecil Williams, a gay Communist, theater director, and freedom fighter who posed as Nelson Mandela's white "boss" in order to smuggle the black revolutionary back into South Africa. Directed by Greta Schiller (Paris Was a Woman, Before Stonewall), this exhilarating docudrama recounts Williams's story via interviews with lovers and comrades, in addition to rare home movies, newsreels, apartheid propaganda films, and fictionalized monologues drawn from his diary entries and letters (enacted here by Corin Redgrave). At a time when gay sex was as politically dangerous as anti-apartheid activity, Williams combined the two, struggling to close the distance between black comrades and wealthy white queers. For its part, the film offers some stunning glimpses into South Africa's gay underground of the '50s, as well as a subtle history lesson on the mechanics of apartheid and its destruction. (Dunlap) Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 5:15 p.m., Sunday at 1:00 and 5:00 p.m.


Desert Blue

If you can't say anything nice, a film's distributor is wont to argue, then don't say anything until after the movie opens its official run. But that's always sounded like censorship to us--so how 'bout if we bury the lead instead? Fair enough. Moving on, what we can report is that with this feature-length followup to his rigorously urban Hurricane Streets, writer-director Morgan J. Freeman reveals that he can make a film set in the opposite sort of environment--that is, the fictional desert town of Baxter, California (pop. 89), renowned for the giant pink ice-cream cone erected at its border. And as further proof of his range, Freeman has cast some pretty cool actors this time out, including Brendan Sexton III (who wasn't quite as cool back when Freeman cast him in Hurricane Streets), Christina Ricci (who was cool before she was cast in this), and the evidently emerging comedy team of Kate Hudson and Casey Affleck (who were cool mainly for being related to other cool actors when they were both cast in 200 Cigarettes). These four performers, along with John Heard and Sara Gilbert, appear as highly eccentric characters in an independent motion picture, opens in June. (Nelson) Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 7:15 p.m.

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