Your M-SPIFF 12-Pack

A dozen discerning film fest picks

Tom Charity

 

Mountain Patrol: Kekexili

THE BELL, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 26 AT 7:00 P.M.

A film of startling textural power, this Chinese adventure epic takes on the poaching of the endangered Tibetan antelope and the volunteer force that struggled to stop it. Director Lu Chuan, shooting on location in the Kekexili highlands, has an unerring eye and a knack for remorseless realism. Alas, for all of its well-schooled orthodoxy and visual splendor, the movie remains somewhat off-kilter: The passionate wartime camaraderie and doomed sense of martyrdom seem misplaced, and the real villains—the government that provides the west-China populace few other options for sustenance, and the international consumers who pony up for pelts—are left unaddressed. Nevertheless, no film in the last decade—not even Terrence Malick's The New World—has displayed such a ferocious intimacy with extreme landscape.

Michael Atkinson

 

Mongolian Ping Pong

RIVERVIEW THEATER, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 26 AT 7:30 P.M.

The most magnificent rainbow the movies have ever seen touches ground in a place scarcely seen by the art-house demographic: the magnificent grasslands of Mongolia, across which a group of young boys volley for a ping-pong ball that floats into their lives from destinations unknown. Scarcely changed since the days of Genghis Kahn, this terrain exists simply and purely, mystically resisting media saturation. A child's Mets cap sticks out in one scene, but then you remember that it could have been made in Beijing, the city where the film's troupe of naive younglings wishes to return the "national ball of China." Director Ning Hao snaps a pretty picture, tinged with bittersweet growing pains. His stunning capper to the film is the visual equivalent of a familiar spiritual axiom: To thine own self be true.

Ed Gonzalez

 

I Am a Sex Addict

THE BELL, FRIDAY, APRIL 28 AT 9:15 P.M.; AND OAK STREET CINEMA, SATURDAY, APRIL 29 AT 11:00 P.M.

A micro-epic autobiography of broken relationships and sexual hang-ups, encapsulating 20 years of its maker's life, this one-of-a-kind movie from San Francisco writer-director-actor Caveh Zahedi (A Little Stiff) aims for truth by wrecking its own verisimilitude. Juxtaposing the admittedly fake with the appallingly intimate, Zahedi casts himself as a guy who ducks into confessional booths to masturbate and compulsively gets himself sucked until he looks like he's going to yodel. If the film had been played as melodrama, its sexual politics would have been risible. But as Zahedi bravely lays open his libido, the guiding spirit of this funny, inventive, ground-shifting hybrid of a movie is Jonathan Richman, whose impish love ballad helps give our horny hero a new kind of happy ending.

Jim Ridley

 

Street Fight

THE BELL, SATURDAY, APRIL 29 AT 5:30 P.M.

This engrossing documentary by first-time filmmaker Marshall Curry follows Newark, New Jersey's 2002 mayoral race between longtime incumbent Sharpe James and City Councilman Cory Booker, whom Curry supported. Both candidates are African American Democrats, but they're portrayed as near opposites. James is an up-from-poverty Newark native; he's also a mendacious creep and a dirty campaigner who runs the city with a Boss Tweed-style iron fist. The suburban-raised Booker has Clintonian charisma and confidence, but no apparent Clintonian vices; he lives in the city's poorest housing project in order to be closer to his constituents, though some voters are suspicious of his inspiring, even presidential brand of ambition. While Curry's examination of the city's economic deficiency comes up short itself, Street Fight is vividly rendered and hugely entertaining.

Dylan Hicks

 

The Hole Story

THE BELL, SATURDAY, APRIL 29 AT 9:15 P.M.

And you thought Unknown White Male was a snow job. Here, wintry Brainerd plays host to a low-budget riff on Albert Brooks's Real Life, with Bostonian writer-director-actor Alex Karpovsky ingeniously fictionalizing his own formerly pitiable filmmaking career and shooting it as a mock-doc based on the Blair Witchy phenom of a "wound" in North Long Lake. Karpovsky is hilarious in the role of a narcissistic karaoke-video editor who arrives too late in Paul Bunyanville, where he had hoped the lake's legendary hole would allow him to make and sell a TV pilot called Provincial Puzzlers. Alas, the nonexistent hole becomes a metaphor for zilch, our desperate hero eventually reduced to whispering drunken, depressive, pseudo-philosophical confessions on the motel toilet. Increasingly existential, at once melancholic and gut-busting, this triumphant indie gets more from nothing than any in years.

—Rob Nelson

 

My Dad Is 100 Years Old

THE BELL, SUNDAY, APRIL 30 AT 4:00 P.M.

A brilliant marriage of convenience between Isabella Rossellini and her Saddest Music in the World director Guy Maddin, this 15-minute short uses all of the Winnipeg auteur's magic to conjure up the star's highly subjective memories of her father, the great Roberto Rossellini, an anti-Hollywood idealist who renounced entertainment in favor of realism and morality. (He appears here as a talking belly.) Of course Isabella plays her own mom Ingrid Bergman; in fact, she plays all the characters, including Hitchcock, Selznick, Fellini, and Chaplin, who memorably ascends to the heavens brandishing wings. If her dad was a visionary, Rossellini wonders, why isn't his model of cinematic austerity being followed today? A hundred years after the birth of a director who believed that cinema would eradicate ignorance in the world, this question has never been more relevant.

—Mark Peranson

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