MSPIFF 2012: Reviews

Headshot, Unforgivable, Natural Selection, and more

Saturday, April 21, at 10 p.m.
Tuesday, April 24, at 9:45 p.m.

The first few scenes of Kill List may have you thinking you have wandered into a British domestic drama with an odd name, but it doesn't take long for the sense of unease to spread far beyond the confines of the swank home shared by Jay and Shel. Jay is an ex-soldier turned hired killer, one who has hung up the high-powered rifles following a disastrous mission to Kiev. Finances are low, and his killing partner Gal convinces him to do another job. Ben Wheatley's film slips quickly from modern-day crime drama into something darker and more sinister, as the mysterious (aren't they always) client literally seals the deal with Jay's blood. As the pair move through the titular list, they begin to uncover evils that shake even our hired killers to the core. While the final twists of the plot aren't as satisfying as the buildup, the middle portion of Kill List is as unsettling and frightening as a dozen American PG-13 horror flicks, as the director often keeps the terrors just off screen, heightening the tension as he goes. Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley make a perfect tandem as Jay and Gal, whose sometimes banal talk doesn't hide the fact that the back of the car is loaded with guns and other tools of the trade. It's like the thugs from Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter wandered into The Wicker Man, and that works remarkably well. —Ed Huyck

Death of a Superhero

Saturday, April 28, at 5 p.m.
Tuesday, May 1, at 9:20 p.m.

Natural Selection
Natural Selection
Bert Stern: Original Madman
Bert Stern: Original Madman


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:

Based on a novel by Anthony McCarten, this 2011 film from director Ian FitzGibbon deals with both of the subjects identified in its title, but in unexpected ways. Donald (wise-beyond-his-years Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is a teen living with cancer, and he often retreats into the violent fantasy world of his graphic comic-book-style drawings to battle his anger, suicidal tendencies, and simmering sexual awakening. But relationships with an unconventional therapist (Andy Serkis, Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy) and an adventurous new girl at school (the fearless Aisling Loftus) give Donald reason for joy even as his young life is coming to an end. Superhero is at its most compelling when FitzGibbon delves into Donald's dark illustrations — they give poignant shape to his roiling feelings and fears. Oddly, as things start to improve for the teen — and his art plays a diminished role as both his tormentor and coping mechanism — the story seems to have less to offer beyond the usual end-of-life emotional reckoning. Serkis stands out not just because he makes a meaningful connection with Brodie-Sangster but also convincingly locates, and puts back together, the pieces of his broken character scattered along the way. —Caroline Palmer


Journey to the Fallen Skies

Wednesday, April 25, at 7 p.m.

Native Minnesotans Bryan Vue and Mong Vang explore powerful personal history and Hmong traditions with this 2010 film. A Hmong American man, Leng (Wa Yang), travels to Laos to connect with his father's burial place while coming to grips with his own mortality. An incurable cancer threatens his life, and the story unfolds as a journey from one realm of being to the next. In fact, that's the most notable characteristic of the film: its sense of displacement on a variety of levels. Leng has a cultural connection to two worlds but may not feel comfortable in either one. As a dying man he may be dreaming of this trip to Laos or he may already be making the passage into an afterlife. Reality becomes less certain for both the viewer and the characters as time goes on. Leng's spiritual guide is the patient innkeeper Khais Vang (Joua Pao), while a local woman, Gao Hlee (Dib Thao), gives the young man a reason to want to hold fast to this mortal coil. Journey is slow-paced throughout, but the sense of deliberateness is integral to the story. It gives space for symbolism and contemplation. Both living and dying have a process all their own — unique to each individual circumstance. —Caroline Palmer

King Curling

Tuesday, April 17, at 9:45 p.m.
Wednesday, April 25, at 9:30 p.m.

Curlers are crazy! This Norwegian comedy takes a page (or rather a book) from the Will Ferrell sports comedies to turn the winter sport on its head. Truls Paulsen (Atle Antonsen) was Norway's greatest curler until his determination to perfect his score down to the millimeter leads to a Ferrell-esque mental breakdown; i.e., he runs around screaming and eventually strips down to his underwear. He is institutionalized and banned from the sport. Ten years later, an old coach is in desperate need of money for an operation, and Truls must face his fears and pick up his broom once more. The film is slickly shot and handsomely produced, and Truls makes for a lovable buffoon. But we really aren't offered anything here we haven't seen five or six times before. —Andrew Newman

Love in the Medina

Friday, April 13, at 9 p.m.
Thursday, April 19, at 2:15 p.m.
Saturday, April 21, at 4 p.m.

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