A film that screened earlier this week, For the Love of Movies, is about film criticism in America, from the early beginnings in the 20th century to the present day. Another group a documentary with the title “For the Love of Movies” could be be about is the die-hard movie buffs, cinephiles, and film connoisseurs in the Twin Cities—myself included. MSPIFF continues to bring more films to the St. Anthony Main Theatre for another week of over 130+ time slots from Friday to Friday, with close to 80 different films showing during its concluding week.
Festival director Al Milgrom said that the opening weekend of the festival is definitely up attendance wise, but he added a funny antidote about their opening night guest, Gunnar Sonsteby from Max Manus. “Everything is going quite well this year. We’ve heard from many of the patrons that this has been the smoothest opening night they’ve seen in a long time, and Gunnar seemed to really enjoy the reception. Due to overflowing crowds, the film was shown in three theaters and when Gunnar got to the last theater to introduce the film, he was getting loosened up. When he did the third introduction, he seemed to do a little dance in front of the crowd.”
Here is a preview of what to see (and what not to see) during the second week of the “other” Great Minnesota Get-Together.
From Belgium, The Misfortunates has a decent enough set-up but is ultimately somewhat a disappointment, and a bit hard to sit through. Gunther is a 13-year-old boy growing up with his grandmother, an alcoholic father, and his three (also alcoholic) uncles. Gunther’s one real passion is writing. When we see a grown-up Gunther, we understand who he really wanted to be all along. The Misfortunates has some funny moments, including a naked bicycle race with plenty of spectators drinking along with the naked racers, but the jokes are far and few between. In fact, much of the film drags trying to find its focus. A likeable story, but poor execution.
Another “misfortunate” situation could be an encounter with a walking zombie like the so-called “zom-com” in the U.S. buddy zombie comedy The Revenant. When Bart Gregory is shipped back home after he (supposedly) dies in the Middle East, his friends and girlfriend give him their best regards at his funeral—only Bart isn’t really dead. Waking up shortly after the funeral, Bart finds himself very much alive and wants to reconnect with his girlfriend Janet and his best friend Joey. Much to his friends’ surprise Bart is just like them, only he needs to feed on human blood. Knowing Bart needs fresh blood, he and Joey decide to take to the streets of L.A. to become a crime-fighting duo, cleaning up the streets and wreaking havoc along the way. Taking the buddy comedy into new territory is always a nice surprise, but the screenplay is as past its due date as Bart himself. There are some great gory moments and a few laughs, but after an hour of The Revenant, you still have close to another hour of recycled and stale material that overstays its welcome.
From Mexico, a simple film with a giant heart is the sensational Northless. Its opening shot is a beautiful gaze at a rising sun as we see a lone person walking down a dirt path. It may be nothing new, but it feels as important as any film in MSPIFF right from the beginning. The story is one that has been told before—of a man, in this case named Andres, trying to get across the U.S. border—but we really come to care for Andres and we want him to succeed. When he is captured within the first 20 minutes, he is brought back to Tijuana, where two women who run a market befriend and help him in his attempts to get across the border, taking him in to help with their store. Director Rigoberto Perezcano’s startling debut feature is a wonderful achievement: keeping the story moving forward while taking time to get to know all of these characters—especially Andres, played perfectly by Harold Torres. Torres gives a new identity to Andres and makes sure every moment could be his last attempt, although he never gives up. The cinematography is gorgeous, and for a film that takes its time, Northless really comes alive and deserves recognition for turning the corner in its last half hour and showing the beauty in commitment and friendship.
The completely twisted and uproarious The Bone Man, another film from Austria (same country as last year’s Oscar-nominated masterpiece Revanche), is based on a series of novels by Wolf Haas. What could be categorized as a cross between the French cult classic Delicatessen and the recently released Danish film Terribly Happy, The Bone Man blew me away with how diabolical and entertaining crime can be. This is a film with many tricks (and cleavers) up its sleeve. Debt collector/detective Brenner (played by comedian Josef Hader, the film’s co-writer) is assigned to find the owner of a yellow Volkswagen Beetle—a man named Horvath—and finds the car parked at a resort inn. When he asks the locals about Horvath, all of them give him the cold shoulder—except for one female worker, Birgit, who is married to the owner son, who is hatching his own plan to take over the family business from his scheming dad. Mix in some eerie moments comparable to The Shining and a bit of Coen Brothers mischief; director Wolfgang Murnberger ratchets up the tension in the second half of the film, when many of pieces start to fit into place—especially an opening scene that could be watched and re-watched again—while piling on more deceit and lies. The Bone Man is a thrilling film that should not be missed.
A filmmaker whose films impress me more and more is Minnesotan documentarian Paul von Stoetzel. His latest film, Scrap, is a uniquely shaped film about Tom Every and Jim Bishop, two inventors (geniuses?) who take ordinary objects—scrap metal and bricks, clay, and anything else they can find—to build their creations. Originally Scrap was going to be a travelogue documentary highlighting roadside attractions in the Midwest until von Stoetzel came across these two subjects. Coming off its well-received world premiere screening at the Wisconsin Film Festival two weeks ago, von Stoetzel’s film is so honest and sympathetic towards its subjects that no viewer should be baffled by these men. Tom Every, or Dr. Evermor, created a time machine called “The Forevertron” that he put together from salvaged metal. Every says that once he dies, he’d like his ashes shot into space; this may sound nuts, but after listening to his ex-wife talk about his life work, it’s compelling nonetheless. Bishop, on the other hand, has built a castle with his own hands over the decades since the late 60s. His castle stands 160 feet high near the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and is built mostly of bedrock. The amazing thing about “Bishop Castle” is that as he continues to build it, he allows people to come to the attraction for free (he does accept donations) and even has wedding ceremonies in the space. With documentaries, not only should the subjects challenge the viewers but the films should open minds—and von Stoetzel’s film most certainly does that, in high style. Join me and Paul von Stoetzel following Scrap‘s Minnesota premiere screening at MSPIFF, April 29 at 8:45 p.m., for what sure is to be an entertaining Q&A.