It's a Wrap

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


Into the White

Heights Theater, Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

Michael Dvorak

Co-written and -directed by Hinckley native Steve Kroschel, and billed as "the true story of a snow job," this opportunistic cross between Everest and The Blair Witch Project is an obvious consequence of those new, product-starved suburban gigaplexes, two of which have seen fit to open it for exclusive runs. (The film is also playing once at the Heights as part of the Mpls./St. Paul International Film Festival.) Set in the avalanche-prone mountains of New Zealand and the Canadian Rockies, itís a torturously fictionalized documentary of Kroschelís experiences shooting nature footage for other films and TV commercials while falling for one of his loyal crew members (Carrie Paulson, now engaged to the auteur and credited here as his collaborator). In between shamelessly staged scenes of the filmmakers reacting in mock panic to "life-threatening" polar bears and avalanches (often filmed in close-up by another, evidently safer documentarian), Paulson delivers the sort of cheesy diaristic voiceovers that would give even Ed Wood pause. "Some of the memories of this place are so poignant," she says at one point, "I canít even tell you." (No, reallyódo tell!) The Colorado-set final reel, in which Kroschel (or his character?) orchestrates a passive-aggressive ploy for Paulson while recovering from injuries real or imagined, climaxes with the heroineís sorely needed housekeeping efforts and selfless trip to the ATM. A snow job it is, indeed. Rob Nelson



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

The recurring visual motif of this Chilean drama is a panoramic sweep across the sunbaked desert of Arica, a landscape so forbidding that human inhabitants end up looking like travelers on the face of the moon. Judging from the rest of the film, one might also venture a guess that the image sums up director Ricardo Larrain's view of Chilean modernity as at once alluring and achingly desolate. That paradox is personified in Larrain's relentlessly enthusiastic protagonist, Fernando (Alvaro Escobar), a Gatsbyesque schemer who hatches a plan to build an "independent republic"--a resort-cum-commune--along the barren Chilean shoreline. His optimism is counterbalanced on one side by a gloomy, gorgeous woman (Maribel Verdu) who has trouble keeping her clothes on; and on the other by a childhood friend (Alvaro Rudolphy) who has chosen a life of quiet longing rather than plunging into Fernando's ill-fated entrepreneurialism. There's a strong whiff of political allegory here, but Larrain (La Frontera) doesn't push for either narrative cohesion or surrealist dystopia. The result is, like Fernando's republic, a grand idea that's dwarfed by the scenery--nice to look at, but as flat as the Arican wasteland. Peter Ritter


Welcome to Alaska

Heights Theater, Monday at 7:15 p.m.

Jumping on Mulligan-maker Tim "Vandy" VandeSteeg's Park City bandwagon in January, Little Canada-based identical twins Roger and Rodney Johnson screened an S-VHS tape of this 50-minute, semiautobiographical comedy before the hotel conference-room showings of Vandy's epic, and even found an appreciative audience in one of the closet-sized "theaters" at the declassé No Dance Film Festival on Main Street. Co-produced by Vandy, directed by Rodney, and co-written by Roger, the film stars the lanky Roger as a man obsessed--as Roger was in real life--with completing a collection of photos that reveal him standing before the Welcome signs in all 50 states. As it opens, only the Alaska sign remains unphotographed. But, as bad luck would have it, the governor of the state is planning to have it dismantled as part of a "highway beautification project," and the klutzy protagonist, who's further waylaid by a fanatic Sasquatch scout, remains a few cards shy of a full deck. Handsomely photographed on location, highly good-natured, and impossible to dislike, this comedic Blair Witch bears out its makers' modest wishes as expressed in Park City: "We want people to leave with a smile on their face." Both Johnsons will be present at the screening. Rob Nelson



Oak Street Cinema, Monday at 9:30 p.m.

Touted as an unofficial entry in the gleefully subversive Dogme 95 movement, this Dutch effort is a thoroughly modern bit of satire that inventively takes the piss out of both independent and commercial filmmaking. At its center is Max (Jack Wouterse), an obsessively overbearing actor who, in the process of shooting a "spontaneous" pitch for a stilted, action-packed feature debut, winds up documenting his own half-baked careerism and deep disdain for the American movie machine. A quippy mix of Dutch and English dialogue, as well as some dizzying handheld-camcorder work, bolster the surrealism of this Enigma, suggesting a witty, somewhat cynical cross between Bowfinger, Blair Witch, and The Kingdom. Granted, the film is a bit preoccupied with its own unconventionality, but it reads even better on repeat viewings, with Wouterse and costar Ariane Schluter delivering deceptively complex turns. James Diers


A Summer by the River

Bell Auditorium, Tuesday at 7:15 p.m.; and Heights Theater, Wednesday, April 19 at 7:00 p.m.

This drama set in Fifties-era Finland amounts to Disneyesque fare for Finns seeking a glimpse of their homeland in the days before cell phones. The story begins when ten-year-old Topi, following the death of his mother, leaves Finland's urban south in the company of his distraught laborer father Tenho, and the two head north to seek employment on a log-rolling squad. Based on the director's personal experience, A Summer by the River is less an exploration of the pathos of loss and reinvention than a rollicking vehicle to showcase the time-honored, colorful, and dangerous profession of log rolling. The northland is, as you might suspect, rife with lovably dotty characters, from the kindly old foreman who takes Topi under his wing to the rough, provincial log men who give klutzy Tenho a hard time. The river, serving as all-purpose metaphor, does an exemplary job of churning--diverting logs into jammed coves, dragging men and boys nearly to their deaths (this is Disneyesque fare, remember?), and radiantly reflecting sunlight as Tenho and his new love Hikka splash away their loneliness and swim into an easily assumed happy ending. Laura Sinagra

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