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.

 

Crazy

HEIGHTS THEATER, TUESDAY AT 7:00 P.M.; AND
BELL AUDITORIUM, THURSDAY, APRIL 12 AT 7:15 P.M.

Boys will be boys and girls will be mysterious objects of desire in this overly familiar school-days dramedy from Germany (not to be confused with the Dutch Crazy, reviewed above)--a film that should appeal to former frat boys who still remember those carefree days when their innocence was on the brink of being sullied. Benni, the handicapped hero who narrates in voiceover, is bad at math and has always been unpopular with both sexes. Attending a new countryside boarding school, the sullen boy perks up once his punkish roommate Janosch accepts him into a ridiculously individuated clique that also includes a fat kid, a budding homosexual dandy, and a mute bedwetter. With his touchy-feely bonhomie and constant opportunities for reckless adventures (sexy sex-ed teacher, strip clubs, tequila, rock 'n' roll--yeah!), Benni experiences the school as "a beautiful cage with bars of gold." His parents go through a messy separation, and he and Janosch fall for the same leggy girl, foreshadowing their even more complicated future. I'd have considered this simplistic story and its lame, earnest telling to be deeply profound if I had written it when I was 16--so it's no surprise that Crazy is based on a best-selling autobiographical novel. Mark Peranson

 

Porno Film

BELL AUDITORIUM, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11 AT 9:15 P.M.

The collected works of Dirk Diggler have more professionalism per inch than this Slovene slide into the skin trade: There may be an ickier romantic comedy on record, but damned if I can think of it. A bunch of Slovene hooligans decide that the way out of their rut is to make a porno flick; they hold auditions, and the sensitive guy of the bunch, who resembles "Weird" Al Yankovic with a worse coiffure, falls in love with a Russian "actress." The movie consists largely of the Weird Al guy mooning at the Russian girl, who smiles at him uncomprehendingly. Those who are extremely lenient may see a kinship between Porno Film and the bleaksville comedies of the Finnish Aki Kaurismaki. Those who are less lenient may note that, probably because of a shortage of money and time, this may be the only romantic comedy assembled entirely out of master shots. (Suffice it to say that the stylistic palettes of Hou Hsiao-hsien and Sleepless in Seattle don't really work in conjunction.) Like an actual porno film, Porno Film features a static camera grinding away as amateur actors take long pauses and look frightened. In its loutish literalness, it's a movie that suggests a Nora Ephron screenplay directed by Sergeant Schultz of Hogan's Heroes. Matthew Wilder

 

Little Cheung

WALKER ART CENTER, WEDNESDAY AT 7:30 P.M.

Completing Hong Kong director Fruit Chan's 1997-set "handover trilogy" (which also includes Made in Hong Kong and The Longest Summer--not to mention the semi-sequel Durian Durian), this riff on the hardships of lower-class living in HK's Triad-spotted slum of Mongkok is the filmmaker's most laid-back and finest accomplishment to date. It follows the cocky seven-year-old restaurant delivery boy of the title as he hangs out with his Filipina housemaid, a young dishwasher who's an illegal immigrant from the mainland, and his grandmother, who loves to watch old films starring the boy's namesake, Cantonese opera star Brother Cheung. As the eponymous ne'er-do-well hero, Yiu Yeut-Ming gives a truly courageous performance, one that peaks when Little Cheung is forced by his tyrannical father to stand perched on a pillar in the rain, sans pants, as punishment for trying to run away from home. While urinating, he belts out a song popularized by Brother Cheung, as the scene finalizes the restlessness of the city's population around the imminent territorial handover to China. Plaintive nods to political questions of Chinese identity notwithstanding, Chan's range of focus is narrower than usual--and this may be exactly what he needed to make his most holistic film: a cinematic bildungsroman that magically mixes comedy and sadness and hangs together for supremely touching effect. Mark Peranson

 

Women's Paradise

WALKER ART CENTER, THURSDAY AT 7:30 P.M.; AND OAK STREET CINEMA, SATURDAY AT 3:30 P.M.

Resembling a Muslim City of Women, this Uzbek comedy opens with a writer, academic, and notorious womanizer dangling on the ledge of an apartment complex, while, inside his mistress's room, his wife gives birth to their son to the strains of Beethoven's Ninth. The death of his oldest, closest friend reawakens the writer's conflicted and tormented feelings toward his friend's widow, whom he sees while caught in an exotic dream world of beautiful, available women. First-time director Yusup Rasykov alternates between beguiling landscapes that invoke Sergei Paradjanov and the cramped, surreal entrapment of Federico Fellini. Like his protagonist, the director has an eye for beauty, and the movie is studded with spellbinding images. Unfortunately, Women's Paradise doesn't work as well in narrative terms: Rasykov lacks the sense of rhythm, space, and movement to deepen the action and the characterizations. But as the illustration of a time, place, and culture unknown to most of us, the film has moments of both subtlety and trenchant observation. Rasykov will appear in person to introduce each of the two screenings. Patrick McGavin

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