MSPIFF 2012: Reviews

Headshot, Unforgivable, Natural Selection, and more

Monday, April 30, at 9:45 p.m.
Wednesday, May 2, at 9:45 p.m.

Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang crafts a modern-day film noir with Headshot, one that merges familiar tropes — the femme fatale, the main character trapped in a plot not of his making — with a meditation on the endless cycle of violence brought out by revenge. The fractured narrative slowly fills in the story of Tul, an assassin who targets corrupt, otherwise untouchable members of Thai society. His latest mission ends in disaster, as Tul is, as the title says, shot in the head. He wakes up three months later from a coma with his world literally turned upside down, as his sight has completely flipped around. It's a not particularly subtle symbol of what has happened to him in the past decade, as he was once a cop who fought corruption but ended up in prison for his efforts. The manipulations are easy for the audience to see, and that seems to be intentional. This isn't as much a puzzle for us to solve (though the temporal jumping does make some of the clues obscure) as it is a look at an honest man's descent into a world he once fought against, and his first attempts to possibly dig himself out. Nopachai Chaiyanam gives an arresting performance as Tul, whose must contend with a constantly shifting world at every turn. —Ed Huyck


Part of the MPSIFF short-film program "Let's Keep It Brief: U.S. Short Narratives"

In Organic We Trust
In Organic We Trust


Festival Essentials

Dates: April 12-May 3

Location: St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 Main St. SE, Minneapolis

Admission: $11 ($10 for students and seniors; $6 for kids under 12). Visit the MSPIFF website for prices on opening- or closing-night films and multiple-show packages.

More info:

Saturday, April 28, at 2:45 p.m.
Sunday, April 29, at 5 p.m.

Brothers Jared and Justin Varava pay homage in this seven-minute short to the unsung heroes of the West — those omnipresent, floating balls of desert legend known as tumbleweeds. Poking fun at educational films and the omnipresent documentaries of Ken Burns, director Jared Varava and screenwriter Justin Varava present a completely fictional seminar on the discovery, root, and life cycle of the tumbleweed. Gabriel Mayer narrates with appropriate solemnity, and cinematographer Damien Acevedo captures the desolate beauty of the abandoned (fictional?) town of Alacrity, Texas. The Varavas have achieved a deftly crafted short whose only missing ingredient is "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," the cowboy song that opened The Big Lebowski (it is featured in the menu to the DVD, though). —John Ervin

Journey on the Wild Coast

Friday, April 20, at 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 29, at 2:30 p.m.

The notion of traveling 4,000 miles by foot, ski, and inflatable raft is enough to make most folks nuzzle deeper into the couch cushions. When those 4,000 miles represent the largely untamed span between Seattle and Alaska's Aleutian Islands, it sounds downright insane. Director Greg Chaney makes good use of husband and wife team Erin McKittrick and Bretwood Higman's extensive video record, condensing their yearlong journey into a tight, engaging diary of a trek through some of Earth's most fragile ecosystems. Perhaps the biggest surprise of Journey on the Wild Coast is that their travel doesn't come off as some sort of superheroic endeavor or new-age vision quest. The physical difficulty is undeniable, and there are some moments of genuine tension courtesy of frigid temperatures, dwindling food supplies, and curious bears, but this is mostly a straight-faced document of how much a pair of physically fit, mentally prepared people can accomplish when they set their minds to it. —Ira Brooker

Brooklyn Castle

Sunday, April 15, at 9 p.m.
Monday, April 16, at 6:45 p.m.

Katie Dellamaggiore's 2012 documentary about an inner-city public school known for turning out some of the country's top junior high chess players makes you want to jump for joy and cry in frustration. Over the course of a year the director and her crew followed several students, led by their dedicated teacher-coaches John Galvin and Elizabeth Vicary, as the team worked to defend national titles and deal with deep budget cuts. Life and chess, Dellamaggiore shows us, have much in common. A player might rely on strategies but there are also surprises and calculated risks to take into account. The kids in this film each have burdens to bear, from the pressures that come with being a chess prodigy to financial stresses at home to the difficulties of focusing a mind addled by ADHD. They don't need the extra challenge of fundraising to keep their nationally recognized chess program alive, and yet this extracurricular activity, like so many others important to students across the nation, remains threatened by shrinking school resources. Brooklyn Castle underscores the difference chess has made in the lives of these young people. To think their peers may be denied a similar opportunity shows just how much our society stands to lose in the face of misplaced priorities. —Caroline Palmer

Vinylmania: When Life Runs at 33 Revolutions Per Minute

Wednesday, April 25, at 7:45 p.m.
Saturday, April 28, at 2:30 p.m.

Even for those who have no intention of ever taking part in or returning to the joys of collecting and spinning vinyl records, Paolo Campana's ode to the platter is a treat. This is, in part, because the documentary is structured like a 10-to-12-track LP, with the "needle" hitting 20 lovers of vinyl in 11 cities around the world. Campana, who is never seen but is heard from time to time reflecting on his love of 33 rpm records, locates a vast array of DJs, musicians, technicians, album cover artists, collectors, and at least one hoarder, who demonstrate their devotion to "the groove" in vastly different ways, with vastly different attitudes. Bob George, director of the Archive of Contemporary Music in New York, is self-deprecatingly humorous about his thousands of expertly cataloged acquisitions and about his fellow hunters ("Collectors are lonely people. They need sexy album covers"), while Eddie Pillar, a DJ in England, provides a withering, convincing diatribe against the music industry's Big Lie about digital sounding "superior" to analog. Even hawkers of newfangled MP3 players at an expo praise vinyl as reflecting what music is supposed to actually sound like. In addition, there are intriguing side discussions, such as an examination of the world's most famous crosswalk (the one that four guys, one of them barefoot and "dead," trod for an album cover). Campana's feature is fast, furious fun and will make you wonder if those 50,000 songs on your thimble-sized hard drive are as cherished as those 100 LPs gathering mold in your weird uncle's basement. —John Ervin

Sleepless Night

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