It's a Wrap

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

 

Poles Apart

Heights Theater, Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

This documentary by Minnesota-based director Greg Stiever follows Ann Bancroft--leader of the AWE (American Women's Expedition), and the first woman ever to reach the North Pole--along with three other adventurers on the first all-gal trek across the tundra of Antarctica. Most of us couldn't make it across a frozen Lake Harriet, let alone 600 miles of ice, but Bancroft, Anne Dal Vera, Sue Giller, and Sunniva Sorby prove plenty fierce under pressure, each pulling at least twice her own weight on sleds. Although much of the film is devoted to the daily hardships of working as a team in order to survive and then succeed, Poles Apart falls short in explaining the reasons behind a dramatic breakdown of group dynamics that causes tensions to run high. In any case, the guilty pleasure of a hot bath after this movie would seem well in order. Both Stiever and Bancroft will be present at the screening, which will be preceded by "Grandfather's Birthday," a 17-minute dramatic short by Minnesota filmmaker Gayle Knutson. Caroline Palmer

 

Somewhere Over the Rainbow:
Harold Arlen

Bell Auditorium, Sunday at 5:15 p.m.

Although Harold Arlen wrote the songs for The Wizard of Oz, as well as such standards as "Stormy Weather" and "Accentuate the Positive," his name doesn't ring as many bells as those of Gershwin, Porter, or Berlin--a situation that this documentary by Minneapolis native Don McGlynn seeks to remedy. Compiled mostly from interviews (including archival footage of Arlen, as well as present-day talks with his family members and his biographer, among others), the film also features a star-studded array of talent--Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand--performing Arlen's songs. Rainbow also discusses the roots of the composer's style, tracing it to his father's career as a cantor, and to the wide range of milieus (the Cotton Club, Broadway, and Hollywood) in which he worked. Although McGlynn initially avoids delving too deeply into his subject's personal life, he does eventually deal with the devastating mental problems and early demise of Arlen's wife. Unfortunately, the film is no more cinematic than the average episode of Biography on A&E, which won't do much to attract those who aren't already interested in Tin Pan Alley pop. McGlynn will be present at this "Jazz Showcase" screening sponsored by the Dakota Bar and Grill. Steve Erickson

 

Honour of the House

Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 7:00 p.m.

Imagine that Ingmar Bergman and Anton Chekhov are locked in a room together, forced to collaborate on a story. Then, let's say an ancient Greek--Euripedes, for instance--stops by to add his two cents' worth of family betrayal and tragedy. The result would be not unlike this costume drama by Icelandic director Gudny Halldórsdóttir (Under the Glacier). In a tiny seaside town where everyone seems to know everyone else's business, Thuríd (played to teeth-gnashing perfection by Tinna Gunnlaugsdóttir) is preoccupied with preserving her family's image. But her spinster sister Rannveig (Ragnhildur Gísladóttir) threatens the family name by shirking marriage in favor of her needlepoint and handmade lace. Undaunted, Thurid convinces her father to send the reluctant Rannveig to Copenhagen, with the secret intention of gathering news about an old lover. All of her best-laid plans are dashed, however, as Rannveig returns pregnant (by the very same lover). Halldórsdótttir adapted this bleak story by her father, Halldór Laxness, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955. The film moves at a quick pace, and the actors fully embody their parts--especially Gunnlaugsdóttir, who evinces absolutely no pity in her conscience-free role. Honor of the House also provides a fine opportunity to view the rustic Flatey Island off Iceland's west coast, a barren yet appropriate locale for this old-world comeuppance tale. Caroline Palmer

 

Louis Prima: The Wildest!

Bell Auditorium, Sunday at 7:15 p.m.

Minneapolis native Don McGlynn's other new documentary (besides Somewhere Over the Rainbow, reviewed above) teasingly provokes a fascination with the life and times of its "wild" subject while ultimately failing to deliver the goods. Louis Prima does find a hook in tracing the singer/trumpeter's childhood in New Orleans's French Quarter (which was actually more of an Italian Quarter in the early 20th Century). The talents of the budding musician became as diverse as the stew of styles that surrounded him: Italian opera, New Orleans jazz, rhythm and blues, black gospel, and more, not to mention the enterprising musicians who sold their talents "for all occasions." No wonder he became part of the vanguard that took swing to the borders of rock 'n' roll, and almost singlehandedly pioneered Vegas-style entertainment--all this while promoting his ethnicity in the Forties and Fifties, when assimilation was the rule. Prima's talent and charisma are made evident through plentiful footage, and McGlynn interviews writers, academics, and two of Prima's five wives, as well as various other family and band members. Yet there remains little insight into what made Prima tick, either as a musical wild man or a legendary womanizer. Rather than enlightening viewers, Louis Prima: The Wildest! settles for merely informing them. McGlynn will be present at this "Jazz Showcase" screening sponsored by the Dakota Bar and Grill. Julie Caniglia

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