MSPIFF37 – Documentary Reviews: ‘Silicone Soul’ + ‘A Work In Progress (Al Milgrom’s Cinema Journey)’

I’m still playing catch-up with MSPFF a month after it’s over. Well that’s life, always a juggling act between my full time 9-5 job, blogging, writing, and just life’s business in general. I still have a few MSPIFF interviews to be transcribed, so stay tuned for those!

Today we’ve got reviews of two more documentaries I enjoyed, both have a strong MN connection, made right here in Minnesota and well worth checking out!


MSPIFF Reviews

Silicone Soul

Directed by: Melody Gilbert

When having a relationship with a real human being is too hard, where do you turn?

That’s the question this inherently thought-provoking documentary poses. The first thing that might come to your mind seeing stills or even hear about silicone dolls is perhaps not a positive one. I have to admit, it conjures up something provocative, sexual and perhaps even the word ‘icky’ comes to mind. But as great documentary filmmakers do, its role is not to label or judge their subject.

The main subjects featured in its poster John and his ‘wife’ Jackie is perhaps the most similar to Lars and the Real Girl (that fictitious film would make a good companion piece to this doc). John is a tender man who’s disappointed by his past relationships and and he treats his synthetic companion with such loving care. He’d take her to nice restaurants, the zoo, etc. on her wheelchair, and he’d shrug off people’s obvious confusion, even disgust, nonchalantly. “It is weird… but it’s good weird. Weird doesn’t mean bad.” So he’s well aware of this unusual relationship but he’s comfortable enough in his own skin that he doesn’t care what others think.

Then there’s Davecat and his wife & mistress, which is obviously a very sexual relationship. I gotta say I cringe as he talked about some of the most um, gross aspects covered in the film. In contrast however, there’s the segments where silicone babies are used to recreate the love between mother and child in senior homes. The look on the older residents, some with dementia, as they hold a ‘baby’ in their hand tugs my heartstrings. The dolls look so lifelike some couldn’t figure out they aren’t real, but the emotion they feel definitely are real.

I think one of the most fascinating segment for me is the part involving a female artist who used to work on Wall Street. I’m glad Melody included a woman as one of the human subjects because it kind of presents something entirely unexpected. The artist/photographer based in NYC uses the dolls for various artistic photoshoots in her studio, stating that the dolls are basically replacements to friendships she wished she had.

Despite the provocative nature, Melody didn’t sensationalize the subject matter, but instead captures the various stories with an astute yet tender lens. There are also some fun and insightful animation by local filmmaker Beth Peloff that really helped illustrates some of the situations the film simply couldn’t capture. The themes of love, secrets, loneliness and social acceptance…are all universal which we can all relate to and struggle with at some point in our lives.

As I left the theater though, I did ponder about the relationship between John and his female neighbor who also lives alone. She totally accepts John’s wife Jackie and she and John seem to have a good rapport together. It did make me wonder why John wouldn’t consider perhaps starting a relationship with his human neighbor instead. But perhaps that is the point of the film, who are we to judge who…or what…people choose to love?

I had the privilege of knowing about this project months months before it premiered at MSPIFF, when I attended a Film Fatales panel where filmmaker Melody Gilbert  was one of the speakers. In fact, I introduced the composer of my short film Hearts Want, Charlie McCarron, to Melody at another film event and he ended up doing the music for the film. Suffice to say, this documentary also boasts great music to go with its intriguing imagery.

Silicone Soul upcoming screening:

Duluth Superior Film Festival (Duluth, MN)
June 2, 2018 – 7pm – Zinema 2

Visit its official website for more screening location/dates and other info.


A Work In Progress (Al Milgrom’s Cinema Journey)

Directed by:  Phil Harder

I had known who Al Milgrom is for a long time, but I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting the man himself last year (at another film festival event) where he asked where I was from. When he found out I’m from Indonesia, he proceeded to tell me he’s befriended some of Indonesia’s most celebrated filmmakers and actors. One thing that’d strike people about Al would be his amazing memory. At 95 he’s still as sharp as ever. He not only remembered who I am at our next meeting weeks later, but he actually remembered where I’m from!

Everyone who’s been in the film business in Minnesota likely has an ‘Al Milgrom story.’ That’s why I took a few hours off from work specifically to see this documentary. Director Phil Harder followed the 95-year-old Milgrom as he gave us a fascinating tour to his personal home in Minneapolis where he kept decades-worth of film archives. I sincerely hope one day his house would become a film museum, and if someone were to do a fundraising to make that happen, I’d readily contribute! A quintessential cinephile whose cinematic heroes include Fellini, Bergman, Truffaut, John Waters, as well as classic silent filmmakers Erich von Stroheim, his deep, singular passion for films is palpable. His first intro to film is Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, which led him to become the ‘Minnesota Godfather of Cinema’ as it were. He’s the founding father of the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul itself back in 1962.

I could’ve easily watched this film again as there are so many I’ve missed. Mr. Milgrom has brought the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, and Milos Forman to the Twin Cities. There are footage of a Godard interview here in town, and there’s even sound footage of him interviewing the then still-emerging filmmaker Martin Scorsese (where Mr. Milgrom had to ask how Scorsese spell his name). Sadly, the 1970 protest documentary Scorsese was working on at the time never aired. Mr. Milgrom himself was a photojournalist for the US Army, on top of being a documentarian, world traveler and cinema pioneer in his illustrious career.

But the most fascinating parts of this doc has to be Al’s trip to Russia in 1959, which he’s still working on to this day. Hence the self-described term “The World’s Oldest Emerging Filmmaker” as he’s working on Russian Journey: The Story of a Filmmaker’s Travels Behind the Curtain. He definitely has the gift of capturing intriguing subject matters through visual medium. Those close-ups of various Russian citizens simply living their daily lives are full of intriguing untold stories waiting to be uncovered. Unfortunately, Al revealed in this doc that he’s lost the audio file to complete the project. The good news is, he (with the help of other filmmaker friends) are working on getting that resolved, so hopefully we get to see the finished film soon!

This 70-minute documentary definitely left me wanting more. I could’ve watched another half hour of just watching Mr. Milgrom give commentary about cinema, filmmaking, etc. in his museum-like home, and even commenting on some of the plethora of photos he’s taken in the past. I’m glad the filmmaker wisely chose to confine the film to just within Al’s home, which is a fascinating character in and of itself.

P.S. MSPIFF made the mistake of inserting a short documentary Influenced which is about how some MN business uses social media. It’s only 7 minutes long but its message seemed to be in such a contrast of who Al Milgrom is all about that people were chanting ‘we want Al!’ in protest!

I also got to take part of the Q&A with Al Milgrom, as well as the director Phil Harder and producer Mike Dust. It was well worth staying for!


A Work In Progress (Al Milgrom’s Cinema Journey) upcoming screening:

Duluth Superior Film Festival (Duluth, MN)
Sunday, June 3rd at 3pm – Zinema

Visit DSFF website official website for more details


 

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The Flixlist: 10 reasons ‘Deadpool 2’ won us over… again

Post by Vitali Gueron

In February 2016, our own Ruth wrote a review of the movie Deadpool by titling her post “10 reasons Deadpool movie won me over” and she made a top 10 list praising the movie. I went ahead and re-read her post, and then I realized – almost everything she listed in her post applies to the sequel. Deadpool 2 is all that but there are even more laughs and there is even more thought behind its writing.

Here’s my take of Ruth’s top 10 list…

Here are 10 reasons why the Deadpool 2 won me over:

1. The self-deprecating humor

Yes, there is plenty of that in Deadpool 2. Ryan Reynolds, as Deadpool, continues to relentlessly poke fun at himself, the actor playing him, and even the studio that made it. But many things have happened since 2016. Deadpool was very successful for the studio – it shattered the box office record with $150 million domestic gross and $264 million worldwide (not as impressive for 2018 with Avengers: Infinity War topping $500 million in just 15 days domestically). Then 20th Century Fox came out with the another very successful movie Logan in 2017, where the X-Men character Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) dies and was said to be Jackman’s final portrayal of the character on-screen.

The ‘original’ Deadpool w/ Wolverine in X-Men Origins (2009)

That fact is not lost of Reynolds, who co-wrote the script of this movie alongside the first Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. There are many references to the X-Men franchise, the character of Wolverine and living in the Xavier Mansion. Be on the lookout for a hilarious Logan-inspired “musical ballerina” in the first part of the movie.

2. The retro throwback to 80s pop culture

While the first Deadpool relied heavily on 80s pop culture music, including George Michael’s Careless Whisper and You’re the Inspiration by Chicago, the sequel instead brought out heavy-hitter Celine Dion with her new power ballad Ashes, played during the movie’s opening credits.

Just as in the first Deadpool, where Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning is featured during the hilariously memorable title credits, Celine Dion’s Ashes is featured as Deadpool 2 opens. In the opening scene, Deadpool decides to kill himself by blowing up his apartment while lying atop of several barrels of explosives. Cue Celine Dion!

3. That it IS a love story

Yes, Morena Baccarin returns as Vanessa Carlysle, Deadpool’s fiancée. Unfortunately, she is not featured as much in this movie as she was in the first Deadpool, but when we do see her – she makes it count!

There are other relationships explored in Deadpool 2; Brianna Hildebrand returns to play Negasonic Teenage Warhead and this time she has a girlfriend Yukio, a female ninja of Japanese origin and a member of the X-Men. Deadpool really likes and respects Yukio and clearly lets us know about it. This leads us to number four…

4. There are some bad ass women in this movie

Having already mentioned Morena Baccarin and Brianna Hildebrand, I want to focus on the other bad ass women in this movie – namely Zazie Beetz as Domino, a mercenary with the mutant ability to manipulate luck, who joins Deadpool’s X-Force team. Beetz is a fantastic addition to the movie and could easily start her own franchise if she wanted to – she is that good.

The other is Leslie Uggams, who returns from the first film as Deadpool’s elderly roommate Blind Al. Uggams is hilarious as Blind Al and continue to play the smart-ass, feisty roommate who isn’t afraid to point a gun – even if it does point in the wrong direction.

5.  I actually care about Wade Wilson

Yes, in the first movie we realized why Deadpool is a character worth caring about. But in Deadpool 2, there is another character that is worth caring about – the same character Deadpool teases during the first movie’s post-credit scene, about him being in the sequel – his name is Cable.

The Cable character (Josh Brolin) is a time traveling cybernetic mutant soldier, who returns to this exact date and time from the future to kill Russell (played by Julian Dennison), a young mutant who Deadpool tries to save. This mutant, Firefist, is portrayed as a teenager who possesses fire controlling ability. And he is the key to the storyline in this movie between Cable, Deadpool and Vanessa Carlysle.

6. The awesome opening credit

Having already talked a bit about the opening credit scene, I won’t spot it for you any further. Instead, I will focus on the post-credit scene. While I won’t tell you what it is about, let me just say that yes, it does live up to the hype – and it actually occurs during mid-credits! As previously mentioned in the self-deprecating humor section, Ryan Reynolds isn’t afraid to go after himself or any other X-Men characters.

7. Hilarious supporting characters

Having already mentioned some, there are other new and returning supporting characters that make Deadpool 2 worthwhile. First are returning characters Dopinder, the Indian cab driver (played by Karan Soni) and Weasel, Deadpool’s best friend (played by T.J. Miller).

Both help Deadpool as he recruits for his X-Force team. The other parts of that team are the aforementioned Domino, Zeitgeist (played by Bill Skarsgård), a mutant who can spew acidic vomit from his mouth, and Bedlam (played by Terry Crews), a mutant can generate a bio-EM field that wreaks havoc with electrical and certain mechanical systems. Also returning is Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapičić), an experienced member of the X-Men with the mutant ability to transform his entire body into organic steel. All supporting characters add a new dimension to Deadpool and make him realize he is part of a team, whether it’s called X-Force of not.

8. Biting wit delivered with fun action sequences

Certainly the protagonist of the first movie – the one who is constantly wise-cracking as he shoots and makes human kabobs out of people – is back. Although director Tim Miller, who helmed the first film didn’t return, director David Leitch (John Wick with Chad Stahelski, Atomic Blonde) does use his experience as a stunt coordinator to deliver some stylish action sequences, as did Tim Miller in the first movie. Also with Reynolds as one of three credited writers, he takes more creative control with the sequel. And he makes good points about the mindless punching and grating of dubstep music cues.

9. Ryan Reynolds is perfect in the role

Ah yes, as much as it was true in the first movie, it’s even more obvious in this movie. While in the first movie we saw what Ryan Reynolds does best — showcase his comedy, Deadpool 2’s greatest strength is its restraint. As co-writer, Reynolds has less of an impulse to go for the obvious joke all the time. That being said, this sequel is funnier and filthier than the first film, and it capitalizes on its plot and supporting characters that make Reynolds shine.

10. The fact that it turns the conventional superhero formula on its head

If you can make the case that the first Deadpool was a raunchy superhero movie, Deadpool 2 is its more refined, more R-rated older brother. The film makes it a point for not taking itself or its humor too seriously, which can be harder than it looks. As Ruth said in her original review:

I think the fact that the movie IS relentlessly hilarious means the humor hits the mark. The “breaking the fourth wall” style also works well for the movie, which apparently is loyal to the comics.

Deadpool 2 continues that tradition of “breaking the fourth wall” and does it even better than the first one. Fans of the first Deadpool will not be disappointed with the sequel and by the looks of it, we have at least several more Deadpool movies to look forward to.

4Reels

A quick note from Ruth:

Having seen this last Saturday night, I definitely agree the sequel is even funnier than the original! I thought the humor would be derivative and his constant fourth-wall breaking and self-deprecating humor would annoy me but I’m glad I was genuinely tickled the entire time. The opening credits was just as hilarious as the first one, too! I like the kinetic action sequences by David Leitch (who gave us the super fun John Wick!) and so fun seeing Julian Dennison who was terrific in Hunt for the Wilderpeople (which I recently rewatched). I wonder if Reynolds even consulted w/ Taika Waititi as Julian’s character referenced some of the humor from that movie.

I also really LOVE Zazie Beetz‘s Domino! The German-African actress lives up to her über-cool name as Domino is so fun to watch and spin-off worthy! I gotta mention another new character that made me laugh: Peter (Rob Delaney) whose lack of superpower is more than made up by sheer enthusiasm! And you know what, despite all the meta zany-ness, the plot actually holds up, imagine that!

Of course, if you’re not a fan of the Merc with a mouth and his raunchy brand of humor to begin with, I’m not sure this one will change your mind.


So, what do you think of Deadpool 2?

……

RIP Margot Kidder – she shall always be my favorite Lois Lane

I just flew home from vacation today and as I was browsing the internet briefly as I boarded the plane, I read that Margot Kidder has passed away at the age of 69. I knew she had some health problems and that she had stepped away from acting and focused more on political activism in her later years. It seems that just like the most famous role she portrayed, Margot Kidder also courageously fought for what she believed in.

I was saddened by this news particularly because how her portrayal of Lois Lane in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (my all time favorite Superman movie) and basically made the role as iconic as Christopher Reeve did as the Man of Steel. I mentioned in this 2011 post when Amy Adams was cast that Kidder was my favorite Lois Lane. Well, I think she always will be and I tell you why.

From the first moment we saw Lois in the 1978 Superman movie, we saw her in her element. She’s hard at work at Daily Planet, doing what she loves and does best, surrounded by people who relies on her and trusts her. We saw how her photographer colleague Jimmy Olsen adores her (probably has a secret crush on her) and how her boss Mr. White values her work. She’s the best reporter of the paper, and perhaps even the entire Metropolis.

This quote is from Superman II which best defines Lois according to her boss:

Perry White: If Paris is going to go kablooey I want my best reporter right in the middle of it… No offense, Kent. You’re good, but Lois Lane’s better.
Clark Kent: No, I mean uh, isn’t that a bit dangerous, sir?
Perry White: That goes with the territory, Kent. Don’t worry; if I know Lois Lane, she’ll not only come back with a Pulitzer Prize story, but a one-on-one interview with the hydrogen bomb titled “What Makes Me Tick.”

So when she meets Clark Kent for the first time at Mr. White’s office and he spills his new boss’ drink all over himself, she was focused on her work. Her career is the most important thing for her, not because she cares about being at the top, but because she is absolutely passionate for the art of journalism. In other words, she’s already a super woman before she meets Superman, and she doesn’t need a man (no matter how super) to define who she is.

Now THAT is what inspires me the most about Kidder’s Lois Lane. In fact, I was so inspired by her that for as long as I could remember I had always wanted to be a journalist. Never mind that I was barely in grade school when I saw Superman: The Movie, that film made such an impression on me I thought her Lois was (and still is) the coolest gal ev-er!

When I went to college years later, I even put down in journalism as my major on my I-20 (for those not familiar w/ being an international student in the US, that form is a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students). I ended up switching to Advertising with Graphic Design minor, but for one quarter, I did take journalism and broadcasting courses and I’m so glad I did! As I became a film blogger over a decade ago, the journalistic principles I learned in school proves to be quite beneficial.

So yeah, I did have a massive crush on Christopher Reeve’s Superman for years (he remains the only actor I’ve ever written letters to), but I was just as influenced by Kidder’s portrayal of Lois. I think to this day, no other actress can top Kidder’s portrayal of Lois, just as no actor can top Reeve’s Superman for me.

I mentioned in that 2011 article that I love the contrast of Kidder’s acting with Clark Kent vs. Superman. How she’s domineering and bossy to Clark, but then goes all googley-eyed in front of Superman. But what I didn’t mention is, that  Superman and his alter ego was just as mesmerized by Lois. I believe he’s drawn to her not only for her looks (though she’s indeed gorgeous), but because of her spunk, her no-nonsense attitude and simply her zest for life. Yes, Supes has saved Lois a few times, but no, she’s not some damsel in distress. She may be a bit ruthless when she pursues a story, but that’s because she always gives a hundred and ten percent to her work and is driven by the passion for uncovering truth just as Supes does.

All of those elements makes Lois Lane a heroine to me… who needs superpowers when you’ve got cojones like that?

No wonder Margot Kidder wasn’t enthused with the way DCEU portrayed Lois. As she mentioned in this article, despite casting a strong performer like Amy Adams, Lois was mostly relegated as ‘the girlfriend’ which seems like a step back in time.

Kidder’s Lois Lane was not ahead of its time, it’s timing was just right and therefore it’s timeless. She is strong as well as vulnerable, which makes her relatable. She is feminine (in her own sassy way), as well as a fierce feminist who’s comfortable in her own skin and knows her worth, no wonder Supes’ willing to give up his superpower just to be with her.

I feel like I’ve been rambling on when now all I want to do is rewatch Superman: The Movie. In sum, I just want to say THANK YOU Margot Kidder, for your inspiration and for defining a role of a strong woman for a generation and beyond.

May you rest in peace.


Have you been inspired by Margot Kidder as Lois Lane or otherwise? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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FlixChatter Review: You Were Never Really Here (2018)

Lynne Ramsay’s movie making career could’ve ended after she abruptly quit Jane’s Got A Gun and sued that movie’s producers. That kind of public dispute between a director and producers probably would’ve ended many filmmakers’ career in Hollywood. But after a seven-year hiatus, Ramsay is back with another dark-themed film that could put her career back on track.

As the film begins, we see Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) finishing up some sort of a task and we later found out he’s rescued a kidnapped child from some very dangerous people. With small clips of flashbacks, we learned that Joe is a disturbed person who has a rough childhood. As a grown-up, his career as a military man also scarred him. He keeps hearing the voices of the dead people he’d witnessed while in the service and constantly contemplates suicide. The only thing that keeps him going now is caring for his elderly mother (Judith Roberts). To earn a living, he uses his special skills to rescue young children from sex traffickers. For his next job, his handler John (John Doman) tells him that a senator’s daughter has been kidnapped and he’s willing to pay big bucks to get her back. Joe took the job and was able to locate the senator’s daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov). But once Joe rescued Nina, things went south quickly, and he realized he’s in over his head and some very powerful people wants him dead.

Based on the short novel of the same name by Jonathan Ames, Ramsay who also wrote the screenplay, kept the story solely on Joe’s point of view and his thoughts. Some scenes played out like a dream and other times, it’s something from Joe’s memory. This is my first time seeing Ramsay’s work and I do like her style. She’s obviously channeling the films of Kubrick, Malick and especially Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. In fact, some might call it a Taxi Driver for the 21st century. While I agree these two films shared similarities, I do think Scorsese’s version is a much better film. I’ve never read the book version, so I don’t know how faithful it is to the source material, but I felt like Ramsay could’ve expanded the story a bit more and give us some details of what’s really going on. I understand this is more of a character study, but I would’ve liked to see more characters’ involvement and thicker plot. I felt like when the plot finally gets going, the film is almost over. Now, maybe I think Ramsay just didn’t want to tell a straight-up revenge action thriller story and went the opposite of what was expecting. I respect her decision, but I still prefer to see story expanded a little bit more.

Performance wise, Phoenix is very good as the silent and violent character. He tends to mumble a bit too much though. It wasn’t an over the top performance and I appreciate that. He’s pretty on the screen 100% of the time and he kept my attention. The supporting characters didn’t have much to do since the story is all about Joe, but I did like Roberts’ and Samsonov’s performances.

I also have to give praises to Jonny Greenwood’s excellent score and Tom Townsend’s great cinematography. I thought the haunting score and beautiful cinematography really helped the film.

I really had high hopes for this film and even though it didn’t meet my expectations, it’s still a solid thriller. I found it to be a frustrating film but admired Ramsay for not going the generic thriller route. Maybe with a better screenplay, it could’ve been something special.

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So have you seen You Were Never Really Here? Well, what did you think?

MSPIFF37 – Quick Recap + Reviews: ‘Montparnasse Bienvenue’ + ‘Les Affames’ + ‘Room 213’

The last two weeks truly have been a whirlwind for me thanks to MSPIFF. Practically every single day there’s some kind of film-related activities, whether it’s watching/reviewing films, attending panels or interviewing filmmakers. And since this year is also the first time I actually have a short film playing at the festival, that means I’m also wearing multiple hats as a blogger AND filmmaker.

It also happens to be a really busy time at the office for me that prevents me from attending most afternoon screenings (on top of that crazy blizzard that grounded even the most ardent MN cinephiles!). Thankfully it was a relatively warm (50 degrees!) and sunny day for Hearts Want‘s screening last Tuesday (April 24). The Looking In Short Block turned out to be a sold-out screening so it was cool to see a packed house!

On top of showcasing over 200 films, MSPIFF also has a plethora of film-related panels available for FREE to the public. I had set out to attend three of them but was only able to make it to one of them. But to me, as a female film blogger, writer AND aspiring filmmaker, the Film Fatales panel is one not to be missed!

Members of Film Fatales, a global community of women filmmakers, reflect on the process, challenges and joys unique to directing feature films. They will discuss the structure of the organization it’s mission, goals, and their films and the filmmaking process.

Two of the panel speakers, Melody Gilbert and Dawn Mikkelson, have their films (Silicone Soul and Risking Light, respectively) made the Best of Fest! Risking Light‘s producer Miranda Wilson was also one of the panelists, as well as Maribeth Romslo, whose debut feature Dragonfly premiered at MSPIFF a couple of years ago.

The Film Fatales panel with inspiring Minnesota’s #womeninfilm

MSPIFF Reviews

Montparnasse Bienvenüe

Directed by: Lénor Serraille

It’s tradition that every year at MSPIFF I have to watch a French film w/ Juliette Binoche, but her film Let the Sunshine In happens to screen at the exact same time as Hearts Want :\ But hey, the French film I did end up watching turns out to be an intriguing one, and it’s also written/directed by a female filmmaker.

hot mess

noun

USinformal
  1. a person or thing that is spectacularly unsuccessful or disordered, especially one that is a source of peculiar fascination.
    “this outfit is definitely a hot mess”

Few would argue that Paula, amusingly played by Laetitia Dosch, is a hot mess. She is down on her luck after having broken up (well ditched) by her now famous photographer boyfriend. The film is a character study that starts off with a bang (or thud) that lands Paula in the hospital. She’s one of those girls who simply cannot stop talking, regardless whether the person on the opposite side is willing to listen or not. So we quickly learnt that she had been in a relationship with her boyfriend for 10 years and now she’s broke and utterly lost as to what to do with her life.

Being a Francophile that I am, simply watching scenes of Paula yelling at her ex boyfriend Joachim outside his flat and stumbling around on Parisian streets with her ex’s cat is amusing to me. But Dosch herself is a fascinating actress who mesmerizes even at her lowest moments. Somehow Paula always looks chic too (she is Parisian after all) in her stolen brick-red coat and wooden clogs.

After drifting from place to place for days, she finds work as a nanny in  the Montparnasse neighborhood, hence the title. She also lands part time work at a lingerie boutique where she befriends a security guard Ousmane (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye).  The more people she encounter, even a case of mistaken identity on a bus, the more we learn just how unpredictable Paula can be.

One thing I’m frustrated with however, is how deliberately vague this film is. There’s obviously a major conflict between Paula and her estranged mother, who adamantly refuses to see her, but it’s never fully explained why. The film also takes its time introducing us to Paula’s ex, which seems rather uneventful after she spends most of the movie wanting to get back with him.

But what’s certain is, by the end of the film, she’s no longer the same Paula I saw in the beginning of the movie. Whether or not she’s actually ‘grown up’ is up for debate, but then again the filmmaker doesn’t make a moral stand about her protagonist. In the end, Paula remains quite an enigma, observed through an astute but impartial lens. But the film’s charm lies in the colorful chaos our heroine often finds herself in, which reminds us how life’s riddles don’t always have a neat resolution.

Director Bio: Lénor Serraille was born in 1980 in Lyon, France. She has produced several shorts during her career, including Body (’16), which she also wrote. Montparnasse Bienvenue serves as her feature-film debut.


Les Affamés

Directed by: Robin Aubert

Les Affames takes place in a small countryside village in Quebec overrun by zombies. The movie follows a group of survivors (Marc-Andre Grondin as Bonin; Monia Chokri as Tania; Charlotte St-Martin as Zoe, Micheline Lanctot as Pauline, Marie-Ginette Guay as Therese, Brigitte Poupart as Celine, Edouard Tremblay-Grenier as Ti-Cul, and Luc Proulx as Real) as they struggle to avoid these new enemies and find a safe location.

The profile for this film on the MSPIFF website describes it as “a contemplative take on the zombie apocalypse” that “does not rely on the shock factor familiar to the popular, and some would argue overspent, genre.” I want to know who wrote this, because nothing about this description is accurate. I’m pretty sure that by “contemplative” they just mean “French” and “containing pretty shots of nature.” The description goes on to say the zombies are “a constant reflection of what has been lost,” but that’s hardly a unique concept in zombie films, and it’s not really that focused on throughout the movie.

And it certainly relies on the same shock value other movies in this “overspent genre” does. Les Affamés definitely isn’t the gore fest the Romero-type zombie movies usually are, but there are still plenty of jump scares throughout the film, although, to be fair, they mostly do these well, thanks to a sparse use of background music and some well-paced scenes. Just because they do them well, though, doesn’t make the movie less reliant on shock value than any other zombie flicks.

The biggest problem with this movie, though, is how aimless it is. There’s no clear goal or story arc. The closest we get to one is when one of the survivors mentions knowing of a bunker they might be able to run to, but once they find it, they move on for no solid reason. The majority of the film is spent watching the survivors drive, run, and hide with no real resolution.

If you like zombie movies and want to see one in a slightly different style, you might enjoy this. It is a well-shot and well-acted film, but overall, it really doesn’t bring anything new to the genre.

Director Bio: Canadian-born Robin Aubert is a diversely talented actor, writer and director. His work includes Saint Martyrs of the Damned (’05), Tuktuq (’16) and several short and television projects. His latest, Les affamés, earned the Best Canadian Film award at the Toronto International Film Fest.

Room 213

Directed by: Emelie Lindblom

Room 213 follows Elvira (Wilma Lundgren), a shy 12-year-old girl, to summer camp, where she and her bunkmates and new friends Meja (Ella Fogelstrom) and Bea (Elena Hovsepyan) begin to notice strange things happening in their room (the titular 213). Are the occurrences just adolescent pranks, or is there a more supernatural explanation?

This movie is proof that you can make a solid horror film while still keeping it kid-appropriate. It’s a simple story, but it’s incredibly well-paced and the scares are slowly built up, keeping the suspense high throughout. The movie keeps you guessing throughout whether the room is actually haunted, and that subtlety is rare in a lot of horror movies, especially in ones aimed at younger audiences. The three leads are believable and relatable, thanks in no small part to the young actors’ skills, although some of the dialogue does feel a little unnatural.

My one other critique is that the ending kind of breaks the overall tone of the film. For the most part, it’s pretty dark and subdued, but the explanation at the end feels lazy, tacked-on, and childish (spoiler ahead): the ghost, Mebel (Agnes Mikkeline), haunted the girls because she was lonely and wanted friends. It’s kind of an overly cutesy ending to a mostly grim-feeling movie. This is an adaptation of a book by Ingelin Angerborn, and maybe it’s better explained or better developed in the original format, but the film version doesn’t handle it very well.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this movie. I would have loved this movie as a 12-year-old, and I would absolutely recommend it to any budding young horror fans, especially ones who enjoy more paranormal/supernatural sub-genres.

Director Bio: Emelie Lindblom is a Swedish script writer and director who graduated from the School of Film Directing, Gothenburg University in 2011. Her latest short 2 was in competition at Gothenburg International Film Festival 2014 and was called a “masterpiece” at Seoul International Women’s Film Festival 2015. Room 213 is her debut feature film.
(courtesy of MSPIFF)


 

FlixChatter Review – Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers: Infinity War. It’s not just a movie… it’s an event. The buzz is quite overwhelming even when I only occasionally browse Twitter & Facebook as I’ve been preoccupied with a local film festival. The nice thing about being busy is that I barely have time to read any articles on it, and given how even Marvel studio has been begging fans NOT to spoil anything, it’s best to go into Infinity War not knowing much about what’s going to happen to earth’s mightiest heroes.

On that note, I’m going to keep this review relatively brief and I won’t go into any details. I’m also not going to put the actors’ name as most of you already know who they are anyway, or you can easily just go to IMDb if you forget.

Now, there are apparently 40 characters featured in this movie, which is absolutely insane! Yep that is waaay more than in DC’s Justice League, however, the advantage of this latest Avengers film is there have been two films done previously with multiple heroes, AND many of the heroes featured here have had their own individual films (even a trilogy). Therefore, we already know quite a bit about some of their background and why we should care. That is I think, one of the reason Infinity War is not a huge jumbled mess that was Justice League. The Russo Brothers miraculously able to juggle a dizzying number of MCU heroes, and also presented an adversary that poses enough threat to warrant this huge assembly.

I’d imagine one of the toughest tasks for the directors (good thing there’s a PAIR of them, two heads are always better than one) is how the heck do they transition from one to the next? I think for the most part the transition work pretty well with using certain music and superimposing the location at the start of a scene. Some of the character entrances are better than others. I particularly love how Steve Rogers  & his besties are introduced, but then again Capt is easily my fave Marvel hero of the whole bunch. He looks even more bad ass with longish hair and scraggly beard, yowza!

It’s also exhilarating to see T’Challa and Wakanda again after having enjoyed Black Panther relatively recently, and the battle against Thanos’ army is quite exciting. You could say Thor is perhaps the MVP in this assembly, and there’s also a new character we haven’t seen before that’s made a pretty big impact in the movie. I’m going to let you find out for yourself who that is but it’s definitely a memorable one.

Another mighty challenge to get this film right is the tone. I think it’s admirable that the Russos + writing team Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely can balance the lighter tone with the more emotional scenes. Admittedly, some of the humor are on the goofy side, such as whenever the Guardians of the Galaxy posse show up. That bit when they meet Thor for the first time is quite hilarious, yep even amongst a throng of heroes, Chris Hemsworth’s physique is quite something to marvel at. The one liners and repartee between superheroes are a hit and miss, though the banter between Dr Strange and Iron Man did make me laugh. Bruce Banner/Hulk is especially hilarious here and Spider-Man also continues to be a comic relief. His relationship with Iron Man has grown to the fact that Tony Stark’s practically his adopted (billionaire) uncle. The relationship between Wanda and Vision is explored more here as well, but thankfully it didn’t make me cringe the way Black Widow + Hulk was in Age of Ultron.

For a film called Infinity War, naturally you can expect a long battle sequence. Fortunately, there’s more that happened leading up to it that isn’t all about action, action, action. That fact alone is quite a feat, but that’s been the strength of the last two Captain America films that the Russos directed. The action, no matter how bombastic, has to punctuate and support the story instead of overpowering it, and the writers didn’t lose sight of that here. Yes there are perhaps too many plot threads that at times feel overkill, but I’m glad that there is still a singular focus and that is to defeat Thanos. Now, as I mentioned above, despite that rather ridiculous chin, he is actually not just a odd-looking monster hell-bent on taking over the world, but there’s surprising ‘humanity’ to him despite his decidedly twisted logic. I remember cringing every time I see an image of Thanos in all the promos because he looks so silly to me, but fortunately, in the film he’s much more menacing.

What makes a superhero film worth watching is that there’s an actual grave threat that actually requires their superpower. The film also asks just what it actually means to be heroic? It’s not enough that one simply has a superpower, but how much is one willing to sacrifice in order to help others? For some of the Avengers, this battle is a personal one. The personal sacrifice narrative is what gives this gigantic movie its heart and emotional resonance.

Now, as far as all the suspense of which Avengers die in this movie? Well, I gotta say, I did gasp a few times and even shed a tear or two. I wouldn’t say this is a brutal film given it’s a PG-13 flick, but there are some darker moments the fact that there’s a lot at stake for even the most powerful team in the universe and beyond. For the most part, it’s a mostly-thrilling roller coaster ride for Marvel fans, though I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite in the MCU canon. Some parts are overlong and some went by way too fast. Given there are SO many plots to cover, there’s barely any time to immerse in a single one as by the time that happens, it’s already moved to the next one.

Still, I applaud the filmmakers tasked with this gargantuan task of bringing the pinnacle of 19 (nineteen!!) Marvel films. That’s a colossal ambition equal to Thanos wanting to collect ALL infinity stones! I also love the rousing music by Alan Silvestri who’s done the first Captain America and The Avengers movie). As far as the ending, well, they certainly made sure that you know that the war goes on. This is just Part I so things are deliberately left on a major cliffhanger. If you stick around for the end credits, you just might get a hint on what’s in store for the next installment.


So have you seen Infinity War? Well, I’d love to hear what you think!

First half of MSPIFF – Recap + Reviews: ‘Have a Nice Day’ + ‘Anna Karenina: Vronsky’s Story’ + ‘Risking Light’ doc

Wow, time flies when you’re having fun! Despite the initial weather snafu in its first few days of MSPIFF37 (freakin’ blizzard in April!!), the largest film festival in the Twin Cities keeps going strong. I did miss a few events and films last weekend and some films were postponed to the Best of Fest period after the official film fest is done due to poor weather. But fortunately I did get screeners to some of them (nice perk of getting a press pass 😀 )

I also got a chance to interview some filmmakers (best part of being a film blogger!), thanks to MSPIFF Publicity/Outreach Coordinator Peter Schilling and Nemer Fieger. I’ll post the interviews once I’m done transcribing them.

It was so inspiring to chat with Debra Granik, an Oscar-nominated writer/director (for Winter’s Bone) who’s all about the craft of filmmaking and lives ‘off the grid’ from the Hollywood hustle and bustle. Her latest narrative feature Leave No Trace brings to life the story of a young girl, Tom (newcomer Thomasin Mckenzie) and her war-vet father, Will (Ben Foster). The two live off the grid, led by Will’s PTSD, which has rendered him incapable of rejoining civilian life. Instead they spend their days in the wilderness, practicing survivalist skills and keeping away from the crowds.

I have to hold off the review for it but let me just say it’s an astounding film that once again feature a phenomenal young talent (not unlike Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone) in New Zealander Thomasin Mckenzie.

Here are some reviews from the first half of MSPIFF, starting w/ one from FlixChatter’s blog contributor Laura S.:

HAVE A NICE DAY

Have a Nice Day is an animated film about a young man named Xiao Zhang (Changlong Zhu) steals a bag containing a million yen in order to pay to fix his fiance’s botched plastic surgery. Unfortunately for him, the bag belongs to local mobster, Liu Shu (Siming Yang), who, of course, sends some of his people after Xiao Zhang to retrieve the bag. Liu Shu and his team aren’t the only ones Xiao Zhang has to watch out for, as he encounters several people on his journey just as desperate to get the bag from him.

For the most part, this is an enjoyable film. The score is fantastic. Making a gritty film noir-style movie as an animated feature makes for a visually interesting experience; the animation uses striking colors, and the backgrounds are beautifully detailed while the characters are very simply designed, creating a unique contrast. The one problem with the simple character design is that they have very little movement, especially facially, which makes it hard to connect what the characters are saying with what they’re feeling. This isn’t helped by the fact that, according to IMDB, the voice cast is made up by non-professional friends of writer/director Jian Liu, and the lack of voice acting experience is evident, although, to be fair, it brings a more genuine feel to the dialogue at times.

My one other gripe has to do with the movie’s tone. Overall, Have a Nice Day is a straightforward mobster thriller, but there is one “what the hell?” moment that is pretty jarring. There’s a musical number that comes out of nowhere halfway through the movie that is never addressed afterward. It’s clearly supposed to be a fantasy sequence/daydream for a couple of the characters trying to get the money, but it’s the only one like it in the film. If they were going for a more surreal feel, they could have included a few more unusual scenes like this (not even necessarily musical numbers, but fantasy sequences). But because it’s just the one, it feels confusing and out of place.

Despite my couple issues with this movie, I would still recommend it, if only for the aesthetic value. The animation is great, the music is gorgeous, and the plot keeps you on the edge of your seat.

You have one more chance to catch Have a Nice Day at MSPIFF on
Sunday, April 22 at 9:50 PM at St. Anthony Main Theatre 2
Get tickets »


ANNA KARENINA: VRONSKY’S STORY

I’m a sucker for tragic romance and it doesn’t get more harrowing than Leo Tolstoy’s classic. This time it’s told from Count Vronsky’s perspective, and made by the filmmakers from Tolstoy’s own homeland of Russia.

Set in Manchuria in the midst of Russian-Japanese War in 1904, the film opens in a makeshift hospital led by Sergei Karenin. One of the patients Karenin encountered turns out to be Count Vronsky, and this unexpected meet-up is what intrigues me most about this adaptation. At 138 min, this is sumptuous, lush drama that’s told in flashback. It traces back to how Anna and Vronsky first met, their tumultuous affair, up until 30 years later when Vronsky finds himself under the care of Anna’s son. Visually-stunning with meticulous details to its gorgeous set pieces and costumes, it’s fun to be transported to the opulent world of aristocratic Russia for a couple of hours.

However, the film often feels too indulgent, director Karen Shakhnazarov‘s filmed the scene of Anna in a carriage on the way to the train station with such slo-mo style, as he did with the horse race sequence where Vronsky is thrown from his horse. As a fan of romantic period dramas, I enjoyed many aspects of the film, but wish it offers more than just Vronsky’s remembrance. I also wish Vronsky displayed more emotion as he tells his story.

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The fragment of scenes of Anna/Vronsky’s romance isn’t always captivating, especially as Anna becomes such a nag the more her distrust continue to smother Vronsky and doom their affair. But that first meet-up on the train and the dance at the ball is the stuff epic romance is made of. They barely spoke but their physical chemistry sucks the air out of the room. Elizaveta Boyarskaya (Anna) and Maksim Matveyev (Vronsky) are absolutely stunning as the doomed lovers, though Anna comes across as a mentally-unhinged woman here. I was also quite taken by Kirill Grebenshchikov‘s soulful performance as Sergei, which made me wish there’s more to his interaction with Vronsky. Their story, which sets it apart from other Anna Karenina‘s adaptation, seems like a missed opportunity overall, down to its rather anticlimactic ending.

In the end, this Russian literary adaptation proved to be too melodramatic, but not as emotional as it could’ve been. Apparently there’s also a Russian TV series version of this adaptation, and perhaps this lavish story is best told in a miniseries format. Despite its flaws, I’d still recommend this to fans of Tolstoy’s classic and those who enjoy elegant period dramas.

RISKING LIGHT

As MSPIFF says on their documentary promos, few genres have the raw emotional power of documentaries. Facts are often stranger than fiction, and in many ways, real life stories can be more powerful than narratives, especially when they deal with sensitive subject matter as those presented in Risking Light.

MN filmmaker Dawn Mikkelson’s beautifully-shot documentary is a meditation on forgiveness, layered with a theme that is rarely seen on the screen—forgiving the unforgivable. The film featured three stories from Cambodia, Australia and here in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Out of the three stories, the story of Mary Johnson and O’Shea Israel absolutely took my breath away. A story that made headlines as they both ended up being on The View and featured on People magazine, it’s one that definitely made you reflect on what you would do if it happened to you. As with the other two stories dealing with those who were part of Australia’s Aboriginal “Lost Generation” and a survivor of the Cambodian genocide Khmer Rouge, how does one forgive such evil being done not just to them but their entire family?

Forgiveness, compassion, kindness… all universal themes that everyone from every background can relate to and learn about. I love that the documentary also transport us into three different worlds that couldn’t be more different from each other, but yet carry a similar thread. On top of being substantially profound, this is also a visually-stunning film shot on location in three different continents. Definitely a feast for the eyes and nourishment for the soul. Bravo Dawn Mikkelson and team!

Risking Light has two more screening times at MSPIFF at St. Anthony Main Theatre:

Sunday, Apr 22 9:30 AM
Sat, Apr 28 7:05 PM
Get your tickets »


 

FlixChatter Review: Rampage (2018)

I donʼt get Hollywood obsession with turning video games into films. Most of them were met with little box office and/or critical success, yet each year we seem to get one or two films based on video games. Last monthʼs reboot of Tomb Raider barely made a dent at the box office, now we get another film based on a video game that I doubt the target audience would remember or know much about it. But this one stars the always charismatic Dwayne Johnson and it just might turn out to be a big box office success than previous video game-based films.

After an experiment in space gone wrong and the space station was destroyed, debris containing mysterious chemicals fell to different parts of the United States. One landed near a San Diego zoo where Primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson) is running the show and his albino ape named George was exposed to the chemical. George is a friendly ape but after the exposure, he became more aggressive and growing bigger and bigger each day. Then a doctor named Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) showed up at the zoo and told Okoye she knows whatʼs wrong with George and can help cure him. Meanwhile in downtown Chicago office, leaders of the company that owns the destroyed space station, Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and Brett Wyden (Jake Lacy) are planning to recover those chemicals.

They dispatched some military men lead by Burke (Joe Manganiello) to recover their product. Unfortunately for Burke and his men, when they arrived at the location, they found a giant wolf that was exposed to the chemical and had to fight for their lives. Back at the zoo, George became even more aggressive and starts attacking people but a group of mysterious agents was able to sedate him. The agentsʼ leader named Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) decided to arrest Okoye and Caldwell, he believes theyʼre responsible for Georgeʼs erratic behavior. Of course they couldn’t contain George and heʼs able to escape and itʼs up to Okoye and Caldwell to save everyone from the monsters, including a giant crocodile.

Four screenwriters were credited for the screenplay, so that means several drafts of the script were written before it got approved. Now I donʼt envy them on how to come up with engaging story based on a video game about giant animals smashing things. I guess what they came up with worked well as a big budget action/adventure, although I thought some parts of the story was too serious for its own good. Director Brad Peyton did a good job of not making this into some kind of serious picture, he knows heʼs making a movie about giant animals smashing things and he didn’t hold back on the mayhem. I do wish heʼd came up with something more inventive for the big climatic action sequences in downtown Chicago. The action scenes reminded me of Man of Steel where Superman and General Zod were fighting one another and just got too repetitive and boring. Otherwise, he put together a decent action picture that would satisfy the intended audiences.

For the human characters, well, unfortunately most of them were pretty one dimensional. Dwayne Johnson always seems to know heʼs in a silly movie and heʼs having a good time playing another larger than life action hero. Naomie Harris is your typical sidekick/love interest character but thankfully they didn’t turn her into a damsel in distress and needs a rescue. Both Akerman and Lacy are your typical villains, theyʼre greedy and will do anything to save their own butts once they realized their products are responsible for the mayhem. As for Jeffrey Dean Morganʼs mysterious agent character, Iʼm not sure why they even included him in the story, Morgan looked like heʼs having a good time playing the role but heʼs kind of just a wasted character. Now maybe he might be a major player for the sequel, assuming this one makes enough money and turn into a franchise for the studio.

Rampage is nothing more than a silly action picture, it reminded me of last yearʼs Kong: Skull Island, if youʼre going into it expecting to see some kind of great cinema than youʼll be disappointed. Itʼs full of plot holes and one dimensional characters, the people who makes Honest Trailers should have a lot of fun when they release the trailer for this movie. If youʼre in the mood to see some crazy action scenes and a fan of Dwayne Johnson, then you might enjoy this.

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So have you seen Rampage? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – Truth or Dare (2018)

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Directed By: Jeff Wadlow
Written By: Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz, Christopher Roach, Jeff Wadlow
Runtime: 1h 40min

When I first saw the preview for Truth or Dare, I thought it looked pretty stupid, but I did my best to keep an open mind going into the screening. I’ve been surprised before by horror movies that ended up being better than I expected, like Ouija: Origin of Evil and Annabelle: Creation. Plus, it’s from Blumhouse Productions, a company that specializes in horror movies, including the Oscar-winning Get Out. Maybe there was hope for this cheesy-looking teen horror film. Spoiler: there was not.

In Truth or Dare, a group of college students (Lucy Hale as Olivia, Tyler Posey as Lucas, Violett Beane as Markie, Sophia Ali as Penelope, Nolan Gerard Funk as Tyson, Hayden Szeto as Brad, and Sam Lerner as Ronnie) go to Mexico for spring break, where they join a stranger from a bar, Carter (Landon Liboiron) to an abandoned church, where they play the movie’s titular game. What seems like an innocent activity is something much more sinister that follows them home and forces them to continue playing, answering heartbreaking truths and performing life-threatening dares. If they refuse to play, they die.

The idea of a horror movie centered around truth or dare isn’t awful. If they had kept most of the action in one location-namely, the abandoned church- it could have felt more claustrophobic and tense, and it would have given them more time to develop the characters and make the stakes feel higher. However, this movie feels more like a lazy CW or MTV teen melodrama with demonic possession sprinkled in. The characters range from painfully bland to irredeemably unlikeable. If they were just going to make another horror movie where a bunch of teens are killed off (and there have been so many over the past few decades), they should have done something new with it-like maybe don’t kill off the few queer or POC characters in the film, or develop the characters better so there’s some emotional impact when they die.

I could almost forgive the boring “teens die one by one” storyline if the movie was at least consistently scary, but it really isn’t. The majority of the film is taken up by cheap jump scares. To be fair, there are a few genuinely suspenseful moments; there’s one longer scene that is really well done where an extremely drunk Penelope (Sophia Ali) is dared to walk around the edge of a roof until she finishes drinking the bottle of vodka in her hand, and there’s some buildup to an actually good jump scare involving Brad (Hayden Szeto) and a corpse in a hospital. However, scenes like this are few and far between, and they’re mostly buried in bad dialogue and cheap jump scares.

The worst part, though, was the face. Oh, God, the face. Whenever anyone is possessed by the demon forcing the students to play the game, that person’s face is contorted into this wide, warped smile that I assume is supposed to be creepy and unsettling, but it’s just hilarious. All I could think was that it looks like the troll face meme.

IT’S SO STUPID. One of the characters mentions the face looks like a bad SnapChat filter. ACKNOWLEDGING IT DOESN’T EXCUSE IT FROM BEING BAD, YOU GUYS. Come on, Blumhouse! I know you can do better! I’ve seen movies you’ve produced with truly chilling special effects! This just looks like when we all discovered you could add goofy filters to your Mac Book webcam ten years ago.
f you’re very easily scared and are bored, maybe catch this once it’s on Netflix, but don’t waste your time or money on seeing it in theaters.

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Have you seen ‘Truth or Dare’? Well, what did you think? 

MSPIFF 2018 opens today! Showcasing WOMEN & FILM, MN-MADE FILMS & Tribute to INGMAR BERGMAN

Drumroll please… the 37th Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival opens today! From April 12-28, MSPIFF is showcasing 158 new feature films and 120+ shorts representing 70+ countries to audiences throughout the Upper Midwest. The Film Society is making things easier to watch movies and participate in a plethora of events and parties! You can catch a free ride on opening weekend with Metro Transit, you can download the PDF of the entire schedule, or better yet, get the Film Society App … a new tool to fest year round.

Check out the official trailer:

The opening night film is RBG, the acclaimed documentary celebrating the life and lasting influence of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

From filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West, this documentary feature showcases the life and lasting influence of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also known as RBG and “the notorious RBG.” With unprecedented access to Ginsburg, the filmmakers chart her life as she grows up in Brooklyn, pursues an education, falls in love, accepts an appointment to the Supreme Court, and establishes a friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

The film and opening night reception and party will take place at St. Anthony Main, a beautiful venue by the river in downtown Minneapolis.

WOMEN & FILM

MSPIFF’s showcase of female directors from around the globe continues to grow every year, and 2018 is no different, featuring a wide variety of outstanding narratives and documentaries from around the world. MSPIFF programmers have brought in women-directed films that are in the vanguard of global contemporary cinema.

“The #MeToo movement has underscored the inequalities in the film industry like never before. Our Women & Film and Chasms and Bridges programs examine the chaotic and divisive world we live in today, as well as the resistance movements that seek to affect change, and we have sought out films that invite discourse and understanding.”
– Susan Smoluchowski, Executive Director of the Film Society.

There’s a specific ‘women directors‘ tag on the MSPIFF schedule page that shows ALL the films by female filmmakers. Here are some of them:

SILICONE SOUL

Let me start w/ this documentary… not only because it’s made right here in Minnesota, but I also happen to know the woman who made it! Melody Gilbert is an acclaimed documentary filmmaker and teacher, and her latest doc is certainly a thought-provoking one. I made a small contribution to its Kickstarter campaign and it’s also scored by Charlie McCarron, who also did an outstanding job scoring my short film Hearts Want.

Love comes in many forms, and in Silicone Soul, the need for companionship and understanding is shown in the bond between humans and their synthetic companions. Tenderly captured by Gilbert, the bonds shown in the film are diverse and layered: from romantic relationships, to friendships, to a recreation of the love between mother and child. Silicone Soul does not allow for its subjects to be easily labeled or judged. Instead, the film is a collection of resoundingly human stories that reflect universal themes—the desire for love, compassion and communication.

ANGELS WEAR WHITE (JIA NIAN HUA)

Xiaomi, a motel cleaner, watches as a district-commissioner checks in alongside two girls, Xiaowen and Xin Xin. On the surveillance monitor, Xiaomi sees the commissioner push his way into the girls’ room, and she decides to record the event with her smartphone. In the wake of the assault, Xiaomi’s story does little good for the girls as they face their unconcerned families and a society that would rather put the blame on them than offend their attacker.

Director Vivian Qu is fearless in her all too true-to-life portrayal of violence against women and how both law and society so often fail to act.

THE BLESSED (LES BIENHEUREUX)

In postwar Algiers, Amal and Samir are a middle-aged couple hoping to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary. Drifting through their day, they eventually find themselves at a restaurant. Here, they confront their differences and disillusionment, threaded with the unsettled atmosphere of postwar society. Outside, their teenaged son Fahim and his friends, Feriel and Reda, spend their day on the streets of Algiers. They too reveal ideological differences among them, their banter soon leading to the reveal of hidden wounds left by the Algerian Civil War that shaped their current world.

Sofia Djama’s debut feature employs this multi-layered narrative to craft a stirring drama that illuminates the generational states of unrest left in the wake of the Algerian Civil War.

LET THE SUNSHINE IN

It wouldn’t be MSPIFF without Juliette Binoche! I have seen three of her films at the festival in the last four years.

Joining two icons of French cinema, filmmaker Claire Denis and actor Juliette Binoche, Let the Sunshine In is far from your everyday romantic comedy. Binoche takes the leading role as a newly divorced Parisian artist named Isabelle, who finds herself at a crossroads. Isabelle longs for another chance at love but is not willing to entertain the rolling list of hapless bachelors that drift her way, such as an actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a banker (Xavier Beauvois), and a kindred spirit (Alex Descas) who won’t commit.

 

MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS

I can’t wait to see this one as the filmmaker is from my hometown Jakarta!

Hailed as the first Satay Western, Indonesian director/writer Mouly Surya’s Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts follows a widow’s quest for justice after a brutal home invasion. A multi-national production (co-produced by Indonesia, France, Malaysia and Thailand), Surya’s feature film charts one woman’s fight to reclaim her body, identity and home after a drifter, Markus, and his gang overtake her world.

Told across four acts, Marlina transforms from a docile victim into a lethal avenger, targeting her oppressors with calculating precision. Marlina, having taken vengeance on Markus and his gang, makes her way to the police station to turn herself in and meets her pregnant friend, Novi, along the way. As the two embark on a journey across the land, we are spectators to Marlina’s emotional journey as she comes to terms with her actions and their consequences.

RISKING LIGHT

Another MN female filmmaker made a thought-provoking documentary that’s filmed in Cambodia and Australia to capture stories of forgiveness from two members of Australia’s Aboriginal “Lost Generation.”

Dawn Mikkelson’s Risking Light is a meditation on forgiveness, layered with a theme that is rarely seen on the screen—forgiving the unforgivable. Five years prior to making the film, Mikkelson met Mary Johnson and O’Shea Israel, a meeting she describes as a life-changing event that would lead to the development of Risking Light. It was then she learned that Johnson had chosen to forgive Israel for the murder of her son, which motivates the tone of humanistic mission in the film.

THE RIDER 

I saw this trailer weeks before it was announced it’ll be the CLOSING NIGHT film at MSPIFF. So I absolutely can’t wait to see this on the big screen!

In Chloé Zhao’s resoundingly human film The Rider, the narrative is framed as both documentary and drama focused on 20-year-old rising rodeo star Brady Blackburn (played by Brady Jandreau) as he undergoes a crisis of identity. In America’s heartland, Brady suffers a head injury that almost kills him; forcing him to pick up the pieces of a life that has forever changed. A truly unique feature, the characters in The Rider, including Brady, are members of the actual Jandreau family, who have experienced events identical to many in the film.


MN-Connected Films

One of the highlights of MSPIFF is of course the MN-connected films. I want to highlight a few films either made by or shot in Minnesota that are playing at MSPIFF this year.

Virginia Minnesota

I’ve got my ticket to see this one and I’m looking forward to it!

A story of a fragmented friendship finding new ground, director Daniel Stine’s feature film debut Virginia Minnesota begins with a young woman at a crossroads. A local production, the film was shot during the fall on Minnesota’s picturesque Lake Superior coastline.

My Aqal

For one night, a small hand-crafted shelter glowed in the night. Somali refugee artist Ifrah Mansour, who was behind the project, speaks to art, tradition and collaboration in the face of adversity. Directed by acclaimed MN filmmaker Maribeth Romslo, who’s one of the directing duo of the wonderful feature drama Dragonfly that premiered at MSPIFF in 2016.

CLEAR and Through the Banks of the Red Cedar

Filmmaker Maya Washington actually has TWO films playing at MSPIFF, wow!

CLEAR is a dramatic short under the Chasms and Bridges II block. Synopsis: Ember’s first day home after a 16-year prison sentence for a crime she didn’t commit is bittersweet as she uncovers how her family’s lives have gone on without her after all these years.

Through the Banks of the Red Cedar is a documentary feature. Synopsis: In 1963 at Michigan State University, Head Coach Duffy Daugherty chose 23 black men to play on the college team. From this move came legends Gene Washington, Bubba Smith, George Webster and Clinton Jones. Director Maya Washington, Gene Washington’s daughter, charts the legacy of her father’s career and influence, along with the impact the events of 1963 have shown in the present day.

Grandpa Ben

This film is loving portrait of 92-year-old Minnesota artist, Benjamin Vickery Jr. Directed by MN filmmaker and projectionist Justin Christopher Ayd, this sounds like an intriguing and heartwarming documentary short.

Part of the Freewheelin’ short block.

911 

A 911 dispatcher answers a distressed call from a couple stopped for a suspicious car reported. That’s the premise of this short doc by Alison Guessou and Justin Christopher Ayd. 

Part of the Looking Out shorts block.

Of course I’m also thrilled to have my short film be a part of MSPIFF this year! As I’ve mentioned in this post, MSPIFF played a key role in this film as that’s where I first met Sam Simmons who became the lead actress. It was a few months before I finished the feature script, but I felt like I had just met my character Lily when I saw Sam who’s also from the UK! But aside from that, it’s a huge honor to be able to screen my indie romance at this esteemed film festival alongside a variety of international shorts from all over the world.

Two former lovers reunite for a play by the drama teacher who first brought them together. They still carry a torch for each other, but will their love survive after the truth is revealed about their past?

Thanks to Jason P. Schumacher and our team of talented MN filmmakers/crew who brought my vision to life. Click on the banner to get tickets!


MASTERS OF CINEMA TRIBUTE

For the 2018 Master Honoree, MSPIFF will honor the memory of the great Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman. As we near his centennial on July 14th, Bergman films take centerstage, not only here but in venues across the world. A prolific craftsman, with over 60 projects to his name—from narratives to documentaries, theatrical to television—Bergman was also an unapologetic inquirer in the affairs of the heart and the depth of the soul.

I’m thrilled for this as I have a huge blindspot on Bergman [gasp!] Yes I know, I know, I feel bad that I haven’t followed through on people’s recommendations that I should see his films! But hey, there will be THREE screenings of Bergman’s films at MSPIFF, which then leads to a 16-film Bergman retrospective on May 25-June 7. The Film Society is bringing to the Twin Cities the Swedish master’s iconic classics and lesser-known titles in his oeuvre, a feast for cinephiles and admirers of Swedish culture.

  • Summer with Monika—Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1953, Narrative
  • Persona—Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1966, Narrative
  • Trespassing Bergman—Jane Magnusson, Hynek Pallas, Sweden, 2013This documentary feature from Jane Magnusson and Hynek Pallas highlights the legacy of Ingmar Bergman’s career through the eyes of a group of filmmakers, creatives and artists inspired by his work. “Trespassing” into Bergman’s home, the filmmakers gather together to share their own experiences with the filmmaker’s collection of work, all arguably masterpieces, and what the films meant to them and the wider world of cinema.


Hope to see you at MSPIFF! The full schedule is now online and they even have an MSPFilmSociety app that’ll surely come in handy in the next three weeks!

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