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.

 

Horace Parlan by Horace Parlan

BELL AUDITORIUM, SATURDAY AT 2:00 P.M.

The premise of this hourlong documentary is simple: Jazz pianist Horace Parlan--who, in addition to compiling his own distinguished catalog, has played with the likes of Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Archie Shepp, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk--performs some original compositions at his Danish country home and talks about his life and his music. Both subjects are fascinating. Polio struck Parlan when he was five years old, leaving his right hand paralyzed at an awkward angle from the wrist and restricting the use of his fingers; a creative piano instructor taught him how to compensate with unorthodox left-hand techniques. But instead of diving into a de rigueur account of an artist conquering a disability, Parlan merely cites the facts and moves on--his physical limitations obviously aren't a big deal to him, and thus they aren't to the film, either. He'd rather reflect on the influence of Vladimir Horowitz and Bud Powell; the genesis of Blue Note Records; and memories of the New York jazz scene of the Fifties and Sixties, where he and Mingus once interrupted a set and began playing chess onstage in order to reclaim the attention of a particularly distracted audience. Best of all, there's Parlan's playing: precise, subtle, and inventive, with more than a few nods to the blues. Director (and Minneapolis native) Don McGlynn will appear in person to introduce the film, which will be followed by another McGlynn doc, The Legend of Teddy Edwards (reviewed on p. 15). John Pribek

 

The Atlas Moth

BELL AUDITORIUM, SATURDAY AT 9:15 P.M. AND FRIDAY, APRIL 13 AT 11:15 P.M.

Comparisons to Spin¨al Tap notwithstanding, Dark Horse frontman Dan Cleveland has no foil-wrapped cucumber to unzip for us--just a delusional optimism that we could all use as a survival tool. About halfway through this moving and hilarious sequel to the nonfiction heavy-metal portrait Driver 23, Cleveland offhandedly remarks that his singing is better than Madonna's, his point being that successful songwriting involves something more than talent. The comparison is interesting, and not only because Truth or Dare ranked right above Driver 23 in this paper's all-time rockumentary Top 10. Madonna's creative mania derives from an acute awareness of her spectacle; Cleveland's spectacle derives from an acute lack of awareness of his creative mania. He knows he has problems, at least. And the hobbies of his sidemen--bassist Sean Cassidy breeds moths, drummer Jonathan Mortenson photographs nature--indicate the reserves of patience required to follow an obsessive-compulsive visionary. (When Cleveland fusses interminably over a recording glitch, the sleepy-eyed Mortenson deadpans to the camera: "Sooner or later we'll work this out.") Credit the similar persistence of director Rolf Belgum for giving us a "II" worthy of Led Zeppelin or The Godfather--for offering, to quote the best Dark Horse song, "Variations on an Ancient Theme." Peter S. Scholtes

 

Together

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

A richly textured human comedy about counterculture hangover in mid-Seventies Stockholm, director Lukas Moodysson's followup to his exceptionally sweet Show Me Love could be the Swedish cousin to The Ice Storm, only without that film's heavy moral foreboding. Acerbically funny yet disarmingly tender and generous in spirit, Together takes place in a hippie commune long after such utopian endeavors have fallen out of fashion. But being fashionable was never the point for its vaguely Marxist residents, who forsake their individual needs for the good of the patchwork collective. Sharing everything from domestic chores and vegetarian meals to sexual partners, these Swedish peaceniks have the noblest of intentions, although human nature dictates an opposing agenda. Long-gestating tensions begin to bubble over when the de facto leader adds his sister and her two children to the already teeming household. As in The Ice Storm, the kids are left to fend for themselves, and they're markedly more mature than the adults, not to mention more politically savvy: Fed up with the living conditions, they draw up placards and protest for their right to consume meat and television. Poking holes in rigid ideology seems too easy and even a little cruel, but Moodysson isn't a misanthrope; on the contrary, he embraces his characters in all their fallibility. With warmth and bracing humor, Together suggests that healthy families of any variety are built on compromised values. Scott Tobias

 

101 Reykjavik

OAK STREET CINEMA, SUNDAY AT 11:30 A.M. AND MONDAY AT 9:30 P.M.

To call this scroungy, sexy black comedy the funniest movie to come out of Iceland all year sounds like a flip dismissal. But 101 Reykjavikis a worthy addition to slackers-of-other-lands cinema, thanks largely to Hilmir Snaer Gudnason's lead performance as Hlynur, a perpetual dweeb who collects disability checks so that he can beat off to workout tapes in his mom's apartment. (Slack transcends all cultures.) For the Christmas holidays, his mother's friend (played by Almodóvar hottie Victoria Abril) shows up to stay, and the resulting one-night stand jolts Hlynur out of his stupor. But to the defrosted Icelander's dismay, the houseguest also stirs the passions of a far more alluring rival: his own mom. An actor making his directorial debut, Baltasar Kormakur has a wicked sense of the time-killing debauchery of Reykjavik nightlife, as well as familial tension: The mother's coming-out scene, played off Hlynur's dumbfounded incomprehension, is a real beaut. And as a bonus, the engagingly odd score by Blur's Damon Albarn and the Sugarcubes' Einar Orn Benediktsson features what sounds like the Kinks' "Lola" played on a security alarm. Jim Ridley

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