M-SPIFF: MORE TINY REVIEWS
The Taste of Tea [Japan]: 5 out of 5 sunflowers! A film bursting with magical fruits. Jonathan says Napoleon Dynamite meets Amelie. Who am I to argue? I also saw traces of Magnolia and... a zen nature film? A wee bit too long, and yet I entirely had patience for it. Apparently Tarantino is a fan of the director, and now, so am I.
Smoke and Mirrors: A Geisha Story [USA]: Kiharu Nakamura, an old geisha who lived in Queens, NY until her recent death, is an interesting subject. But despite some cinematography by Albert Maysles, the film is not visually interesting and is not told in a very compelling fashion.
The girl from monday [USA]: Sex increases your market value. On Walden Pond is forbidden revolutionary literature. The latest from Hal Hartley is a dystopian sci-fi tale about consumerist culture taken to extremes, told in Hartley's cool, sparse style. That doesn't appeal to everyone, but it sure appealed to me and I was not disappointed. Hartley's slow-shutter technique didn't really work for me, but the story is absolutely brilliant and vital for these times.
Bitter Dream [Iran]: This is a refreshingly simple, morbid-yet-comical film about a corpse washer facing his own death, having not treated people as well as he should have. He also has a strange relationship with his television set, which drifts from documentary about his town to showing his own funeral. Films like this make the festival a real treat, since they may never see distribution.
See also: Matt Clayfield reviews Deadroom. My reaction was nearly identical to his, though I won't be able to express it as well. Also? In case you forgot, Green Cine Daily is just chock-full of cinemtic goodness. Every day. Overflowing with creamy celluloid nougat and crunchy pixels.
M-SPIFF: WIM WENDERS' LAND OF PLENTY
Let me state the obvious: 9/11 threw this country into crisis. Leave it to German filmmaker Wim Wenders to hold a mirror up to America, particularly his home of Los Angeles. Land of Plenty brings together two extremely divergent, but perhaps not irreconcilable, strands of the post-9/11 American psyche.
Paul (John Diehl) is a grizzled Vietnam vet. Jaded and paranoid, he spends his days as a surveillance vigilante in the hopes of protecting America from anything in a turban. Lana (Michelle Williams) is his estranged niece. Eternally hopeful, trusting, and devoutly Christian, she finds herself trying to make a difference at a homeless shelter and reconnect with her freaky uncle. They witness a homeless Pakistani murdered before their eyes and embark on a roadtrip with very different motives. Lana wants to find the man's brother and give the body a proper burial. Paul is convinced they're going to find a terrorist sleeper cell. Paul's increasing paranoia finally comes to a head in the deserted arid landscape of Trona, California.
The opening scenes of surveillance really drew me into this film. All the spy technology and Lana's (for some reason surprisingly realistic) laptop/iPod action reminded me of The Conversation and Until The End of the World. The acting is really fantastic, particularly Michelle Williams who shines whenever she's onscreen. I don't doubt for a second that there are wacko vigilantes out there like Paul, but he'd come off as a caricature were it not for John Diel's solid performance.
Ultimately all the right ingredients are here. Fresh, tasty, and necessary. But eventually they blend together and lose some of their charm. The film becomes very plot-driven and concerned with the action, and I found myself waiting for Paul to go nuts and bring the film to a climax. What happens is more complicated, and finally leads to an uncomfrtable but cathartic conversation between Lana and Paul about what happened on September 11, 2001. There was something tenderly sweet and strange seeing two wandering souls talk about that day on the big screen. I'd have liked the film to end on that note, but Wenders goes a bit overboard with a Leonard Cohen song and sudden trip to Ground Zero in NYC. Still, it was a special and satisfying film.
Wenders was on hand to present the M-SPIFF screening and was terribly likable and funny. Here are some tiny muffled video clips. Of note, Wenders said distributors like it and don't mind the liberal message, but they all say the same thing: They don't know how to market it, because it's both liberal and Christian, and those two things don't go together. (WTF?!??!?!) Also the original title of the film was not very catchy: Angst and Alienation in America.
Wim Wenders introduces the film [MPG, 9.5 MB]
Wim Wenders answers questions [MPG, 9.3 MB]
Wim Wenders on America's freedom and isolation [MPG, 2.3 MB]
What a relief! I can retire as a filmmaker now, and so can all other filmmakers. The best film has now been made, by the French of course: Genesis. Origins of life, origins of the universe, told by an African griot. The directors of Microcosmos and Winged Migration train their crystalline lenses on microscopic rivulets of human and avian blood cells, only swoop above the strikingly-similar deltas of Madagascar. The strike of a match is the origin of the universe; a whisp of smoke becomes the galaxy. But a flippety-floppety mudskipper is the real star. Watch for it in the M-SPIFF Best of Fest.
Would you believe Microcosmos is only now (May 3) coming out on DVD in the U.S.? Nine frigging years? Let's hope Genesis doesn't take that long.
TINY M-SPIFF REVIEWS
Here's my (and Lorika's) first installment of reviews from the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Film Festival. Attending the opening night and party really makes me feel like this is a real film festival. More films, more pazazz, more filmmakers present, more expensive - all around I give huge props to MN Film Arts for giving Minnesota film lovers a big sloppy wet kiss.
Childstar [Canada]: An entertaining jab at Hollywood with a great cast. Lost a bit of steam at the very end but overall I'm won over by director/star Don McKellar's charm and wit.
The Great Communist Bank Robbery [Romania]: An interesting and educational story revealing the dark side of life in Socialist Romania. But, I fell asleep.
McDull, Prince de la Bun [Hong Kong]: Utterly creative, playful, confusing, and surreal. Switch off comprehension and enjoy the wild, wiggy weirdness of a bun-headed pig and a pizza-headed turtle.
Melinda & Melinda: Well... all the early-eve M-SPIFF films sounded depressing so we opted for the new Woody Allen film. Lorika and I have had many cozy evenings watching Woody Allen films. I think Celebrity was the last Allen film I enjoyed, but Melinda & Melinda is a satisying return to form. I liked the comedy vs. tragedy structure, and aside from a bit of stiff dialogue I liked everything about this film. It's not great, but it's very good and deals with Allen's familiar relationship/life/death themes in his trademark style.