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Gerald Cooperberg
04-20-2007, 06:31 AM
The 25th annual Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (or MSPIFF as it's called by people who want to irritate me) starts this weekend... I don't know how many of the films I'll see, but I will dutifully report on the screenings that I do make. There's nothing on the schedule that I'm absolutely dying to see, so I will probably end up going to a few randomly chosen films based on when they fit my schedule...

Here's the festival's official website: http://www.mspfilmfest.org/2007. (http://www.mspfilmfest.org/2007/)

-Coop

Gerald Cooperberg
04-21-2007, 09:08 AM
4/20 - Paprika - We attended a sold-out screening of Satoshi Kon's newest anime mindbender last night. The plot involves a device called the "DC-Mini" that allows the user to enter and participate in another's dreams (supposedly for advanced psychotherapeutic uses). When one of these devices is stolen from the lab where it is kept, it is up to scientist and "dream detective" Dr. Chiba Atsuko and her alter-ego Paprika to track it down before the thief uses it to enter others' minds uninvited and terrorize their dreams. The plot hardly matters, however, as it's just a construct to allow Kon to take his characters on a wild goose chase through all manner of psychedelic dream imagery, including one dream sequence that cycles rapidly through images of classic cinema. I probably should've known better on this one... I've always had friends that have sworn by previous Kon films like Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers, and Millenium Actress, and have made me sit through them to try & appreciate their merits, but I have yet to be won over. You can add this one to the "no exception" list... I won't dispute that there are some eye-popping visuals, but it's all too hyperactive and incoherent. Maybe someday Kon will learn how to tell a basic story in service of his imaginative imagery. Perhaps some of this resonates better with Japanese audiences, but I can't help unconsciously comparing it to the work of Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli cohorts, where the same inventive visual flair is employed along with engrossing plot construction and a true sense of wonderment that Kon seems not to have time to slow down for. Anyway, not for me, but if you're used to this ADD-afflicted style, you'll probably find that this is Kon's most ambitious film to date and probably succeeds on his terms if not mine.

-Coop

Gerald Cooperberg
04-22-2007, 07:18 AM
4/21 - The Boss of It All - Another night, another sold-out screening; this time it was Lars Von Trier's The Boss of it All. I've had a pretty negative reaction to most of Von Trier's recent work (especially Dogville and Dear Wendy, which he penned but didn't direct). Still, I couldn't resist checking out how he brought his sensibility to what was billed as a screwball comedy. It turned out to be a pretty run-of-the-mill affair... in the set-up, a successful businessman has remained popular with his staff by blaming every unpopular decision on a nonexistent company president, a tactic which works until a deal with an Icelandic buyer hinges on the buyer's insistence that the president appear in person to sign the paperwork. The businessman is forced to hire an out-of-work actor to play the part of the president just until the ink dries, a deception which spirals out of control when the actor, an über-serious "thespian", inadvertently introduces himself to the entire staff and has to remain in the office for a week while they air their various grievances. What results is a standard-issue fish-out-of-water farce with a few of Von Trier's characteristic jabs at capitalism and artistic artifice thrown in. Peter Ganztler and Jens Albinus (of The Idiots) do solid work as the businessman and the actor, respectively, and there's good supporting color around the edges including High Fidelity's Iben Hjejle and Friğrik Şór Friğriksson as the Icelander. Overall, I was left feeling that it was a welcome diversion as a Von Trier film but an average comedy in the broader sense. Still, worth checking out if the premise makes you curious or if you're a fan of the awkward situational comedy seen in shows like The Office (which this bears a passing resemblance to).

-Coop

Gerald Cooperberg
04-22-2007, 05:56 PM
4/22 - Opening - An afternoon screening today, and not nearly so crowded. The film this time was an effort by experimental ultra-indie filmmaker Rob Nilsson. Conceived, shot, and edited in the space of 72 hours, the film features all local performers from Kansas City's Jubilee troupe. It was shot on a handheld mini-DV cam and has a largely improvisational feel. The plot centers around an opening at an art gallery in Kansas City's West Side, where the pall of imminent urban redevelopment casts a shadow over the usual bull****ting and backstabbing. The actors do a good job evoking recognizable archetypes from the art world but don't fall prey to one-note characterizations (supposedly many of the characters were based on the actors' real-life personas, which seems easy to believe). The initial hour is consumed with an Altman-esque introduction to the myriad cast of characters (at least two dozen, it seemed like) before the deus ex machina of a sudden tornado warning forces everyone into the basement and into a lair of heightened tensions and emotions. It would've been easy to send this into the realm of hammy improv comedy or mean-spirited satire, but the group actually catches some revealing moments of what feels like real truth. All the more impressive given the clearly miniscule budget and artificial time constraints of the production. Not a classic by any means (well, not in my book-- I like my cinema a little more cinematic) but definitely an effort that everyone involved should be proud of and a diverting way to spend a rainy afternoon.

-Coop

Gerald Cooperberg
05-06-2007, 05:24 PM
Oh yeah, I never got around to finishing this. We saw one more film during the fest, the closing night selection The Ten.

Those in the know have probably already figured out that I'm a big fan of David Wain & his cohorts from The State. Their first feature film, Wet Hot American Summer... well, let's just say that I've watched it more times than is probably healthy. This sophomore effort doesn't replicate the sustained high of that film, but it's fitfully hilarious. It's basically ten short films about breaking each one of the Ten Commandments woven together with interludes featuring Paul Rudd that eventually start to bleed into the stories themselves. The usual suspects like Wain, Michael Showalter, Ken Marino, Michael Ian Black, A.D. Miles, and Joe LoTruglio are all present along with help from the likes of Winona Ryder, Ron Silver, Jessica Alba, Rob Corddry, and Liev Schrieber. Given the film's episodic nature, it's no surprise that some of the segments hit while others miss-- the "Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me" (featuring Adam Brody as a wannabe skydiver with some bad luck) and "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Possessions" (detailing an increasingly ridiculous game of one-upmanship between LoTruglio and Schrieber) bits start strong but don't really have much teeth beyond their initial conceits. And the "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Wife" segment is an agreeably surreal mashup between gritty prison flicks and high-gloss soapy melodrama, but trades a little too heavily on the idea that anal rape is inherently hilarious. The rest pretty much had me rolling in the aisles... my favorites were "Thou Shalt Not Lust" (in which Gretchen Mol has a torrid affair with a handyman named Jesus on a trip to Mexico who turns out to possibly be the real enchilada), a pitch perfect parody of Y Tú Mamá Tambien, "Thou Shalt Honor thy Father and Thy Mother", in which Kerri Kenney's efforts to explain to her two sons why she & their father are white while they are black results in an unexpectedly convoluted ruse, and "Thou Shalt Not Lie", featuring some eye-popping animation by Aaron Augenblick and spoofing seedy cartoon fare of the 70s along the lines of Fritz the Cat.

I imagine that this film will be getting a wide release sometime this summer and I'd probably recommend it to anyone who isn't too squeamish about the sometimes ribald humor. Lots to like for fans of Stella or The State, movie buffs who will enjoy its many winking cinematic in-jokes, and anybody who has a particular axe to grind with Christianity.

-Coop