It's a Wrap

The Mpls/St. Paul International Film Festival swaddles the Cities in cinema


Minnesota Short Film/Video Showcase I

Heights Theater, Saturday at 7:00 p.m.

Michael Dvorak

In an underwhelming year for local features, this first of the fest's three Minnesota shorts packages (cosponsored by IFP/North and Intermedia Arts) contains the most promising new homegrown work I've seen in 12 months. As a hypercaffeinated meditation on the similitude between a battlefield and a French bakery in St. Paul, writer-director Tim McCusker's "Napoleons" may be the most outrageously verbose local movie ever made--and it runs only 20:15. "The redeeming roll is sweet, it's true," says the pastry-loving, clock-punching protagonist (played by McCusker) to the cabbie who whisks him away to a long lunch hour at the titular bakery, "yet so balanced in its attack of toothsome flavors [that] it's hard to know what to appreciate most: the cinnamon-dusted dough, baked to almost-golden perfection, or the tray-fresh roasted walnuts, strewn with decadent abandon atop the glistening surface of rich and plentiful caramel--caramel that trails in long, stretching strands, photogenically, as the hefty confections are lovingly selected by the rare, polite teenagers who..." Obviously, this guy is wound a little tight. Yet the film itself is a clear-eyed satire of the consumer culture that renders every cash transaction as akin to a power play, not least in our fair state. Between this and his stark, seasonally affected "Winter" from 1996, I'd say McCusker is emerging as our most articulate cinematic chronicler of Minnesota Mean. Among the other noteworthy works in the showcase are James Stanger's and Ace Allgood's comedic mock-doc (and D.L. Mabery award-winner) "The Chromium Hook"; Darren Roark's cleverly conceived and extremely funny mock-educational film circa 1955, "A Young Man's Guide to Dating"; and Peter Giebink's and Brian Sobaski's "Dick Franks' 'Talking Out Loud,'" a seriously perverse riff on the kids' puppet show, index finger included. Rob Nelson


The Big Kahuna

Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 9:15 p.m.

Rarely going beyond a serviceable form of Mamet-lite, this Glengarry Glen Ross by way of Stephen R. Covey is nonetheless notable for giving red-hot Kevin Spacey his first lead role since American Beauty. Yet another noble sufferer of male midlife syndrome, Spacey's Larry is the brashest of three industrial-lubricant salesmen ensconced in a shabby hospitality suite. Here Larry and his partners, the morose Phil (Danny DeVito) and the neophyte Bob (Peter Facinelli), endlessly philosophize the ABCs of business ("always be closing," per Glengarry) while awaiting fresh leads from an imminent manufacturers' convention. The swaggering alpha-male dialogue is incessant without being terribly snappy, until a more sober sort of drama emerges out of the salesmen's differing strategies for landing the titular kingpin, a.k.a. Dick Fuller. Near the climax, the twentysomething Bob imparts some steadfastly held religious beliefs that seem to mirror the movie's own. The best thing about this claustrophobic equivalent of a filmed play is DeVito's emotionally strangulated performance; the worst is its overearnest moral posturing, which extends to the end-credit use of Baz Luhrmann's excruciating "Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen)"--as if to give any immoral power players in the audience something to think about. Rob Nelson



Heights Theater, Saturday at 9:15 p.m.

Walk up to any white heterosexual North American male around the age of 30 and utter these words: "Gambling is illegal in this state and I never slice!" Or: "Nice hat...looks good on you, though!" Caddyshack (1980), beamed into millions of adolescent brains on the crest of that new invention known as cable TV, is a coming-of-age fetish object for Gen X and -Y guys--including locally based writer-director-impresario Tim VandeSteeg (known as "Vandy" throughout the credits), whose Subway-financed debut feature is a sort of indie rip on that secret handshake. In it, a quartet of aging high school jocks (Steve Lattery, Joshua Will, Trei Christian Michaels, Cedric Yarbrough) who collectively look like Hootie and the Blowfish swing their nine irons, encounter the Fairy of the Green (guess what that entails), ogle the asses of some would-be hotties, pontificate on relationships, and scratch their nuts. I can see Vandy bolting awake in the middle of the night: "I got it! Kevin Smith's sloppiness! Ed Burns's maudlin-frat-boy shtick! All of it wrapped around...Caddyshack!" The one and only oddity of Mulligan is the way it treats one of its twentysomething crew's born-again Christianity as wholly normal. After hearing MTV's Carson Daly and the members of Blink-182 spout off this way, it makes me wonder: Aren't personal relationships with Jesus frowned on anymore? VandeSteeg will be present at this IFP/North-sponsored screening. Matthew Wilder


Eternal Memory: Voices From the
Great Terror

Heights Theater, Sunday at 3:00 p.m.

Narrated in appropriately somber tones by Meryl Streep, this 1997 documentary begins with the exhumation of an unmarked grave near a Ukrainian village. The remains, Streep informs us, are those of three peasants murdered during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. The Soviets will never be accused of thinking small: Their en masse pogrom, which lasted until the beginning of World War II, claimed the lives of roughly 20 million people, 1.5 million of whom were executed by secret police and plowed into unmarked pits around the countryside. Yet, perhaps because of the vast scale of this atrocity, Eternal Memory relies far too heavily on statistical and anecdotal evidence for its emotional effect: We are told that millions were tortured and shot to death, but without knowing the history of even one of these anonymous victims, the fact becomes as dry and distant as a history textbook. It doesn't help, either, that the documentary is constructed in the overly familiar PBS style--a pastiche of grainy archival footage and talking-head sound bites, mostly from American academics. Stalin himself famously said that one death is a tragedy and a million deaths a statistic. Eternal Memory demonstrates that unhappy truth. Peter Ritter

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