The Greatest Shows on Earth

Uzbek beauties! Swedish peaceniks! Iranian mummies! A guide to the high-wire act otherwise known as the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival.

 

Calle 54

OAK STREET CINEMA, SUNDAY AT 7:30 P.M.

Grace Maksimik

This beautifully shot documentary on Latin jazz in America is made up of live, private performances from a series of Latin jazz luminaries and mortared with short biographical introductions. Saxophonist Gato Barbieri crustily explains how European cinema and jazz were once symbiotic; Tito Puente gives a quick overview of Latin jazz's pillars; Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés has a five-year reunion with his brilliant son, Chucho, and their father-son piano "conversation" is the film's sweetest moment. Calle 54 has a sexy, leisurely pace, and teaches its history lessons mostly through music. For example, the African foundations of both jazz and Latin music are explained eloquently in concert: Tribal drums blend with European instruments (and two African-based dancers) in one section, while, in another, Spanish flamenco meets bebop on common rhythmic ground--magnified, again, by dancers. The film is obviously similar to Buena Vista Social Club in some ways, but certainly not in its production values, which are polished to a high sheen. The rhythmic camerawork and quick cuts can be hypnotic or distracting, depending on your tastes, but the personal interludes, narrated by director Fernando Trueba, are poetic and fascinating--and all too brief. Kate Sullivan

 

Connemara

HEIGHTS THEATER, SUNDAY AT 9:00 P.M.; AND
GALTIER PLAZA CINEMA, FRIDAY, APRIL 20 AT 7:15 P.M.

What a bunch of blarney. After a young Berliner divorces, he heads west in search of greener lands and lost love. When he finds his old Irish flame, Maria, living comfortably with husband and daughter in rural Ireland, he moves in with her uncle next door, aiming to win over her family with his oddball charm and then seduce her. He even sweet-talks her husband into starting a tourist business with him and sleeps with her best friend. Then Maria's world begins to collapse as she falls for the sly German. The film itself shouldn't dupe us so easily. Connemara moves at the lax pace of its west Irish setting, its poor production values actually complimenting the depiction of an authentic old-fashioned community. Still, while the movie endeavors to capture the quaintness of Irish culture (plenty of peat digging, stout drinking, and Gaelic speaking included), it doesn't move much beyond the standard-issue tourist trash you'd find at the local all-things-Irish novelty store. Jeremy Swanson

 

Mummy III

OAK STREET CINEMA, SUNDAY AT 9:30 P.M.

The title of this Iranian Naked Gun might call to mind Brendan Fraser and some high-priced digital effects, but the movie itself suggests what a homegrown Soviet comedy circa 1975 might have looked like had it been specially tailored to the tastes of Mr. and Mrs. Brezhnev. Despite the comic potential of attempts to hijack a newly unearthed mummy, it seems the only kind of zany farce Iran's mullahs will allow involves a big-nosed cop walking into a glass door, flattening his schnozz like pizza dough. Oh yeah, and there's one other gag: A detective squeaks, "The thought of losing that mummy makes my hair stand on end!"--whereupon his hair stands on end. The rest of the movie records long scenes of dopey bumblers bumbling and pompous cops pontificating, without a comic point in sight. This Mummy is to be fled like a mad-cow Whopper with Cheese. Matthew Wilder

 

Angels of the Universe

HEIGHTS THEATER, MONDAY AT 7:00 P.M.; AND
OAK STREET CINEMA, FRIDAY, APRIL 13 AT 9:30 P.M.

If nothing else, this largely facile treatment of mental illness offers a surprising tourist's tip: The president of Iceland is so accessible, you can actually walk right up to his front door and pay him an unscheduled visit--even if you're temporarily on leave from an institution. The rest of Fridrik Thor Fridriksson's stylish melodrama, from its assortment of quirky nutcases to its indictment of psychiatric medicine and its society-as-real-asylum metaphors, is familiar from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and countless other films on the subject. The movie begins with promise, detailing a young man's tenuous grasp on reality and the slippery clinical distinctions between sanity and madness. Its hero, a gifted painter who lives with his working-class parents in Reykjavik, shows signs of unraveling when his girlfriend's bourgeois mother forces her to abruptly end their relationship. His erratic, often violent behavior lands him in a local psychiatric hospital, where he befriends a number of high-concept inmates, including a man who sends hit singles to the Beatles via telepathy, and another who believes he's Hitler. Other than the impromptu presidential visit, the film's only truly inspired scene finds the trio taking canny advantage of their institutionalized status for a luxuriant night on the town. Fridriksson, who showed a talent for the deadpan in 1994's Cold Fever, could have used more episodes like these to break from the predictable story. Then again, the less said about the film's supernatural elements, the better. Scott Tobias

 

Anna

GALTIER PLAZA CINEMA, SUNDAY AT 7:15 P.M.; AND HEIGHTS THEATER, TUESDAY, APRIL 17 AT 7:00 P.M.

Bad American films and bad European films are usually bad in very different (and possibly instructive) ways. American hack movie producers at least have the courage of their convictions--even when said convictions are limited to the inherent values of car crashes and bare tits--and their failures tend to be grandly, extravagantly awful, making no pretense to art. Their European counterparts, meanwhile, tend to labor under the impression that they're artists, and their films are, consequently, airless and dull, without even the redeeming value of lively trash entertainment. Such is the case, anyway, with this ponderous Danish entry, which, if it had any sense of humor, could almost play as a parody of European art cinema. The director, Eric Wedersøe, is an occasional collaborator of the Euro cinema's number one killjoy, Lars von Trier. His lead, Pernilla August, who plays an angst-ridden expatriate with more going on between her thighs than between her ears, is a favorite of the Grandfather of Weltschmerz, Ingmar Bergman. (August's appearance as Mother Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode I proved that she can be uninteresting on either side of the Atlantic.) The marriage of von Trier's stylistic asceticism and Bergman's navel-gazing pomposity produces, as might be expected, one very dull Dane. Some pretty European scenery can't disguise the fact that, if Anna were an American film, it would be playing on Lifetime rather than at film festivals. Peter Ritter

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