Cheers Virtual Cinema! Minnesota Film Festivals go online

In this strange and difficult times, it’s particularly tough for movie fans everywhere as movie theaters are closed and new movies are being delayed as we’re all in lockdown mode. But hey, I just thought how we should still be grateful we live in the age of the internet! Imagine if this happened in a time where there’s no online content to help us cope and escape from our every day life… I mean Coronavirus or not, I honestly can’t imagine life without having internet access!

The MSPIFF tag line for this year’s fest is ​Adjust Your View… I can’t imagine whoever came up with that has a crystal ball to predict that we’ll be in this um, predicament. Nor would that person realize how fitting that tagline as the audience is called to adjust our view as to how to experience a film festival. Per this MNDaily article, The MSP Film Society’s Virtual Cinema Collection platform, which went live March 20, offers access to what programming director Jesse Bishop calls “festival-style content.” It will be open 1-3 new movies every Friday, with most films running for at least two weeks. Ticket prices range from $10 to $12, and films are available for viewing anywhere from 48 hours to a few days after purchase, depending on the film. Here are just a small sampling of the lineup…

BALLOON

A thriller-like true story of one of the most spectacular escapes of the 20th Century.

With a theatrical release to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Germany’s reunification, Balloon is based on the true events of one of the most daring escapes of the Cold War in which two families living in Communist East Germany sailed over the heavily fortified border in a homemade hot-air balloon.


THE ROADS NOT TAKEN

Now this one is by an acclaimed female director with a star-studded cast!

Sally Potter’s The Roads Not Taken follows a day in the life of Leo (Javier Bardem) and his daughter, Molly (Elle Fanning) as she grapples with the challenges of her father’s chaotic mind. While they weave their way through New York City, Leo’s journey takes on a hallucinatory quality as he floats through alternate lives he could have lived, leading Molly to wrestle with her own path as she considers her future. Also starring Salma Hayek and Laura Linney.

 


The Etruscan Smile will be ready for home viewing starting tomorrow. I love Brian Cox, so definitely intrigued by this.

The Etruscan Smile stars Brian Cox (HBO’s Succession and recent Broadway leading man in The Great Society) as Rory MacNeil, a rugged old Scotsman who reluctantly leaves his beloved isolated Hebridean island and travels to San Francisco to seek medical treatment. Moving in with his estranged son, Rory’s life will be transformed, just when he expects it least, through a newly found love for his baby grandson.


MSPIFF isn’t the only MN film festival that offers online programming. Twin Cities Film Fest also launched its own independent movie streaming platform, called TCFF Streams, on April 6. Not only would the platform offer thought provoking and entertaining American independent storytelling content, it will also spotlight past TCFF films and filmmakers, alongside other award winning content from across the country. Best of all, TCFF will revenue share with our artists!

Check out some of the best indie docs, feature films and shorts that have screened at TCFF. Even as we’re self-quarantining amidst state-mandated lockdown, we can still support local non-profit organizations AND the filmmakers that made the films!


What are YOUR thoughts about film festivals going virtual? 

FlixChatter Review – Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil was at once my most anticipated and most dreaded film of this year. Disney has a long history of over saturating the market with quickly produced sequels, prequels and even midquels of films that have been successful. These sloppily made seconds have left me with a bad taste and a severe distrust of Disney sequels.

I loved the first Maleficent and feel rather protective of it. In a pre-me too and pre-times up world, Maleficent brought us face to face with the disturbing reality of our culture and wrapped it up in a way that would be understandable and affecting to young children. The violence during the wing scene is as confronting as a Brothers Grimm tale and just as truthful, exploring the ideas of betrayal and assault, and the subsequent psychological toll, as well as the ideas of consent, choice and ownership over one’s body. Although it was widely panned as an over produced mess, it addressed some heavy issues of our time and for that reason is still very valuable. Would the sequel do the same?

Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Rønning, Mistress of Evil has an amazing cast of Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Lindsay playing Phillip’s parents with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ed Skrein, and Sam Riley in supporting roles. Distractingly, Brenton Thwaites as Prince Phillip has been replaced by Harris Dickinson due to scheduling conflicts.

Like its predecessor, this film is a bit of a jumbled mess. It starts off with with Philip proposing to Aurora and we are dragged into rom-com inspired dinner scene. In a painful exchange Aurora asks Maleficent to cover her horns and lessen parts of herself that make people uncomfortable. Although watching Maleficent practice her smile and tone is meant to be comedic, it is also a very pointed assimilation. Aurora and Maleficent are expected to change in order to fit in.

Despite her best efforts to be a cordial guest, Maleficent is as impulsive and quick tempered as ever. Queen Ingrith gets the fairy queen so upset she flies the castle, ultimately seeks refuge in a hidden community of dark Fey. The last of their people, they come from all over the world.

Like Maleficent, they have been cast out and marginalized. Although overreaching, Disney is transparent in their intention that the Fey are meant to collectively represent all marginalized groups where Aurora, Phillip, Ingrith and other “humans” in the film are meant to symbolize  western colonial/imperialists. A narrative that is all too easily resolved by the end.

It is here with the Fey that a new side of Maleficent comes to light. A more introspective, open and vulnerable character emerges. She often sits alone, her wings engulfing her in a protective cloak; standing as a champion of morality while the world would yet again cast her as the villain.

Ejiofor as one of the Dark Fey leaders

This film follows the first, challenging the idea that women must be at odds with one another and can share deeply intimate bonds. Maleficent and Aurora relationship breaks boundaries and is constantly under attack by patriarchal forces hiding in a legend (Sleeping Beauty) that is also a lie.

At the same time, back at the castle, King John mysteriously falls ill and in reaction, to their king’s sudden demise, the entire and kingdom is armed and ready to wipe out the fairy kind. SPOILER ALERT [highlight to read] This genocide is particularly frightening to behold as one watches a room full of creatures ravaged by a poisonous powder. Thus begins the war movie phase of our film that culminates in a completely unnecessary epic CGI-rich battle (similar to those found in Marvel movies.

The socio-political themes in Maleficent are a bit mature for this film to address, which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t make the film fit together well. Nevertheless, I think it raises important issues and creates a space to safely have discussions with children. I really appreciated that Philip and his fathers are cast as allies and work to fight the stigma and spread love and understanding. I think the representation of their relationship, love and accountability as males and leaders in their community in itself is a huge paradigm shift in cinematic feminism.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen Maleficent: Mistress of Evil? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review – LEAP (2017)

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Directed By: Éric Summer
Written By: Éric Summer
Runtime: 1 hr 29 minutes

I had no idea what I was getting into when I volunteered to review Leap! for this blog. I just saw that the screening was on a morning I had free, so I said I could go, then looked it up and realized it was a cartoon movie about ballet, which made me a little nervous. I’d never reviewed a kids’ movie before, and I didn’t want to be too hard on it, but I also didn’t want to let certain things slide just because the film is aimed at a younger audience. Fortunately, this movie gave me plenty to work with to strike a happy medium.

Leap! follows French orphan Felicie (Elle Fanning) who runs away from her dreary orphanage to Paris with her best friend Victor (Dane DeHaan) to pursue an education in ballet at the Grand Opera house. She steals the identity of a rich, spoiled girl named Camille (Maddie Ziegler) to secure a place in a ballet class, where she auditions for the coveted role of Clara in The Nutcracker and is trained by the once-great ballerina turned house cleaner Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), who teaches her to hone her enthusiasm into skill, and helps her understand where her passion for dance comes from.

Overall, this is a nice, original story, if a bit cliche. However, there are several bits of dialogue that feel awkard and unnecessary, but because the film was originally written and released in French, it could be a translation issue, or they needed filler for the animation when the English dubbing didn’t quite match the French in length. Most of the characters are well-written, although Victor’s subplot of being in love with and being “friendzoned” by Felicie throughout the movie made me roll my eyes regularly. This is a kids’ movie; why does there need to be a romantic subplot between two characters who have barely entered puberty? Maybe it’s too much to expect a movie with a boy and girl being friends with no romantic inclination.

Most of the acting is well-done. Elle Fanning and Dane DeHaan hold their own in the leads, and it’s a lot of fun hearing Kate McKinnon in a villainous role rather than a comedic one; she has such a rich, expressive voice that works perfectly for Regine, the cruel, controlling mother of Camille. Carly Rae Jepsen as Odette and Maddie Ziegler as Camille are both a little wooden in their performances, considering neither of them have much acting experience (voice or otherwise), but they’re not awful. Some of my favorite performances actually come from minor characters: Luteau (Mel Brooks), the head of the orphanage; and Nora (Shoshana Sperling), a friendly, quirky ballet student in Felicie’s class. They only have a handful of lines, but they made me laugh the hardest.

Of course, I can’t talk about an animated movie without talking about the animation itself, which is mostly beautiful. There are tons of gorgeous wide shots of the scenery, lots of fun action scenes, and incredibly realistic detail, especially in the clothing and hair. My one critique has to do with the characters’ faces, which are the most cartoon-y part of the animation. While that’s not a bad thing- it gives the film a unique look, and I prefer the cartoon-y faces over the horrifying, uncanny valley style you see in movies like The Polar Express-it does look plastic-y and doesn’t allow for much facial expression, which is a pretty big problem.

Lastly, I have to compliment the soundtrack, which is so fun and upbeat. I was a little hesitant about having so many modern artists in a movie about 19th century France, but all of the songs they use are very fitting of the tone, and the one used in the finale (Cut to the Feeling by Carly Rae Jepsen) is so enjoyable that I’m willing to forget Call Me Maybe ever existed.

While this movie has some obvious flaws, it’s one of the most enjoyable non-Disney animated films I’ve seen in a long time. If you have kids, it’s definitely worth seeing.

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Have you seen ‘LEAP’? Well, what did you think? 

Weekend Roundup & Review of Disney’s Maleficent

Hi everyone! Hope you had a lovely weekend. Well it’s sort of the calm before the storm as Twin Citians are bracing for the first snow storm of the year. We’re supposed to get anywhere between 6-12 inches, ugh! I ran a bunch of errands today just so I don’t have to go anywhere besides to and from work, though even THAT is gonna be quite an adventure tomorrow.

In any case, well it’s been quite a busy week for me movie-watching wise. Like many of you, I saw Interstellar on Saturday night in the AMC IMAX theatre. I’m still trying to process it, but I’m gonna try to review it this week, along with Big Hero 6. Y’know what, this time I’m agreeing w/ the critics in placing the Disney animated feature ahead of Christopher Nolan’s big space drama (91% for Big Hero Six vs 73% for Interstellar)

Friday night, my hubby and I opted for a fairy-tale reimagining that we’ve been wanting to see for some time. Boy it took forever for this movie to be available on iTunes, who knows why Disney delayed the rental release for SO long as the movie was released back in May. So here’s my review:

MaleficentPoster

As a huge fan of Sleeping Beauty, which is my favorite Disney fairy tale, I’m curious to see the backstory of Maleficent, which is also one of my fave Disney villains. The twist of the story itself is a hit and miss. I thought that the unlikely relationship between Maleficent and Aurora is interesting and also kind of hilarious. I mean before Maleficent curses Aurora to die on her 16th birthday upon pricking her finger on a spinning wheel, she also confirms one of the three good fairies’ blessing that she will grow in grace and beauty and that she’ll be loved by ALL who meets her. Well I guess that includes Maleficent herself as she can’t help to also grow to love Aurora in the end. Therein lies the issue I have w/ the plot – Maleficent isn’t so much an evil sorceress we expect from the animated version, as she never really did anything evil at all despite her vengeful quest. She’s portrayed more like a victim of the ambitious Stefan who betrays her to become King and he’s definitely the malevolent one in the story.

Jolie_Maleficent

That said, there are quite a few enjoyable moments to be had and Angelina Jolie is mesmerizing as Maleficent. I really can’t imagine anyone else in the role and she handles the dramatic as well as the mischievous moments brilliantly. The scene when she discovers her wings are cut off is quite heart-wrenching, but she also seems to be having fun with the more whimsical moments in the movie. The rest of the casting doesn’t fare as well, I’m so baffled why Sam Riley agrees to do the role of Diaval, Maleficent’s shape-shifting crow as it’s such a thankless role. I really thought there’ll be more to that character later on, but it never happened. Seems that all the guys in this movie are either evil or pointless, including Prince Philip, Aurora’s supposed suitor. Sharlto Copley’s plays Stefan with a sheer madness about him, consumed by paranoia and contempt against Maleficent that he seemingly forgot about his own family. I wasn’t crazy w/ Elle Fanning as Aurora, as she’s more cute than beautiful, but I guess they’re going for more an innocent girl so I warm up to her as the movie progresses. Given this is Maleficent’s story, all three gifted actresses (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple) weren’t given much to do here.

The visuals are basically a CGI extravaganza, which is not surprising given first-time director Robert Stromberg worked extensively in the visual effects department most of his career. The flying sequences are great to look at and there are some beautiful scenery and set pieces. That said, I’m still partial to the animated version from 1959 with its hand-drawn illustrations. Even by today’s standards, I’m still in awe how lush and beautiful it is. I like that the movie pays homage to the original in some ways though. Per IMDb, Jolie apparently insisted that the dialogue in Aurora’s christening sequence has to be written word-by-word and based exactly from the original animated film because she feels that it was the main core and setup of the entire film.

Maleficent_Stills

So overall I think this is a decent film if you’re willing to accept the reimagining of the fairy tale classic for what it is. The ending is kind of predictable and the ‘true love’ aspect seems to be borrowing from Frozen from a year before. But if you want to see this for Jolie’s performance as Maleficent, she certainly doesn’t disappoint.

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Have you seen Maleficent, well what did you think?