October 29, 2010

Carlos @ the Walker - This Weekend Only

Tell you what, if I'm going to spend 5+ hours in a theater for one film, I'd much rather it be in the comfort of the Walker Cinema than in the chiropractic-certified Uptown Theater, where I saw Steven Soderbergh's epic, Che. So if back pain is your excuse not to see Carlos this weekend in its exclusive engagement at the Walker, you better come up with another excuse.

And I better come up with a worthier excuse for missing the Regis Dialogue with director Olivier Assayas last week, in which he must have given terrific insight into his latest film. If you haven't seen any of the Assayas films being screened at the Walker this month, this weekend is your last chance to see his newest critical darling, which will premiere on the Sundance Channel and Video on Demand later this year.

What I appreciated most about Carlos, aside from its impossibly quick 319-minute running time, is that it tells so much critically important world history while also illuminating the inner life of "Carlos the Jackal", one of the most notorious international terrorists of the last generation (to me, the potential similarity to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda is striking). Assayas has somehow made a historical film more action-packed than it should be, and an action thriller more historically relevant than it should be. And in addition to its watchability, Carlos features one of the flat-out best performances of the year by Édgar Ramírez as the title character (incidentally, he also starred in Che).

Granted, before the first scene we read that there is no way to accurately portray two decades worth of Carlos' exploits, and yes, much of the political dialogue is as subtle as a sledgehammer. But to me this is an ambitious, original film that doesn't substitute entertainment for art - something Soderbergh may have wisely considered before Che landed with a bit of thud to restless audiences. People have assumptions and mythical ideas about terrorists, after all, and artistically painting them in a sympathetic light isn't likely to do much but confuse and disengage. Assayas understands this desire on the part of the viewer (kind of strange considering the art-value of his other films), and essentially delivers the made-for-TV version - just done really well. We can only hope other marathon movies follow suit.

Carlos screens Sat 10/30 and Sun 10/31 at 1:00 PM,
with a 15- and 30-minute intermission.

October 28, 2010

Dispatch: You Are In Control 2010

[Note: Colin Covert, chief film critic at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and friend of Getafilm, recently hopped the pond to Reykjavik, Iceland, taking in both the 2010 Reykjavik International Film Festival and You Are in Control 2010, an annual conference on creative technologies. The following is his report on the latter.]

Iceland's two greatest natural resources are geothermal heat and creativity. In fact, Iceland heads the Global Innovation Index, a study by international business school INSEAD and the Confederation of Indian Industry released in March. Despite its deep economic woes, the tiny volcanic outcropping in the North Atlantic topped the international ranking in criteria including patents filed, R&D spending and published scientific research. 

And as ever hipster knows, it has a kickass indie rock and filmmaking scene.

Tapping the earth's natural heat profitably is a pretty straightforward engineering issue. Tougher is the problem of empowering filmmakers, musicians, game designers and others whose creations can be digitally ripped off and anonymously distributed. It's such a pressing challenge that the Icelandic government convened a new media conference earlier this month during the Reykjavik International Film Festival to address the matter. After all, if Sigur Ros and Baltasar Kormakur can be ripped off, it's not just the artists who suffer; their homeland's balance of trade takes a hit, too.

The You Are in Control conference addressed legal, investment and marketing issues but the most engaging presentations came from entertainment industry stars. 

Ian Livingstone, whose Eidos videogame empire spawned such bestselling titles as "Warhammer," "Hitman" and the iconic Lara Croft, discussed the staggering intellectual property value of successful game franchises. Hollywood originally created its own characters, then turned to books, then comics, and now taps popular gaming characters.His buxom "Tomb Raider" heroine was originally introduced to replace a he-man adventurer whose resemblance to Indiana Jones worried Eidos'legal department. Lara's blend of strength and sex appeal made her a fanboy favorie, then a household name, and now a global brand worth $1.5 billion annually. There's a powerful synergy between Lara's life as a game character, a Hollywood heroine and a spokesbot for energy drinks. In one recent personality poll, she beat the Pope for name recognition.

Imogen Heap
Husky-voiced Grammy winner Imogen Heap explained her strategy for constant fan contact, building an army of loyalists through virtually 24/7 connection via social media. There's not much about her creative life that she hasn't processed into a blog post or video communique or online poll. When the English singer-songwriter hand-built her new in-home recording studio, she kept her followers up to date with an ongoing web show detailing the project's progress. She draws fans into her creative process by letting them contribute album art and vote on her concert setlists. Heap collated her official biography Wikipedia-style from their Twitter posts. When she needed a cellist on tour, she invited musical fans to audition for the gig and let the rest vote among the candidates. Far from being selfish about copyrights, Heap encourages would-be DJs to remix her songs and post them with her blessing.

It's not all fun and viral publicity, however. When Pakistan suffered devastating floods, she rounded up her pop star friends and quickly mounted a do-it-yourself 5-hour fundraising webcast. By interactively involving fans in every career step she takes, Heap converts them into teammates with a powerful emotional investment in her success. 

For filmmakers and other artistic types, there were several key lessons. Hold on to your creations; the Eidos artist who conceived and drew Lara relinquished his rights to the company and never participated in the windfall his character created. Don't hold on too tight, though. Encourage your fans to use your original work in their mashups while gently reminding them to give credit where it's due. Learn to adapt your work across multiple media platforms. Finally, be excellent. Everyone has the ability to create and broadcast content as never before. You've got to cut through the digital clutter with something that commands attention. And though heap and Livingstone didn't come right out and say it, it doesn't hurt to have a hot babe rep your product.

For details about next year's conference, visit http://youareincontrol.is/.

- Colin Covert

October 25, 2010

Citizen's Arrest: Catch The Robber 10/27 @ the Walker

A bank, a mask, and a bag - your typical afternoon jog? 

How many great Austrian crime thrillers about brooding bank robbers who find solace in the forest and romance busty brunettes can there be? Apparently more than one. Götz Spielmann's Revanche received an Oscar nomination two years ago and Benjamin Heisenberg's Der Räuber (The Robber) is nearly as good, losing a little novelty because it's such a similar story (both films also star Andreas Lust as main characters who jog on woodsy trails). But while the films may be similar on screen, only one of them is based on a true story: the one about the competitive marathon runner who makes a living as a notorious bank robber.

October 15, 2010

300 Words About: Howl

Hmm...people had a hard time understanding my poetry...how will they understand this film?

To be perfectly honest, I went into Howl at a distinct disadvantage: I've never connected much with the Beat Generation, and I find a lot of poetry just plain bewildering. Put it to music or use imagery that I understand and I'm good, but meditate on "peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns", as Allen Ginsberg does in his infamous poem, "Howl", and I'm lost.

Call me culturally illiterate, but I'm afraid that while I understand the social significance of the poem in its time (both as a cathartic statement and as a legal precedent), it just has no emotional resonance for me at all. Should this have affected my viewing of Howl? Probably, but since much of the film is animated I didn't have to do much heavy lifting anyway. The metaphors and raw passion were brought to life for me, so all I had to do was try and understand, which I did with infrequent success.

In theory I love the idea of bringing poetry to cinematic life for the very reasons I've mentioned: it helps me make some sense of the underlying meaning. But "Howl", with its huge cultural and historic significance, may not have been the best poem to explore in this way. The entire film should have been animated, or the entire film should have been a legal drama about obscenity and censorship in the 1950's, or the entire film should have been a biopic of Ginsberg (heck, maybe it just should have been a documentary).

Instead, Howl is all three, and suffers because of it (even if I admire the fact that none of the dialogue was scripted). I was tossed around from the courtroom to a living room to a coffeehouse to an animated nightmare. It was disorienting and, apart from James Franco's committed performance, it made disappointingly little use of a terrific cast featuring Jeff Daniels, Jon Hamm, and David Strathairn.

The end of the film is much tidier than the rest of it, and underscores, at least to me, that directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman were more interested in telling the story of the poem than exploring the poem in the story, as if the meaning of the lines in "Howl" should be obvious to anyone who reads them (in a Q & A after the screening I attended, the directors talked almost exclusively about the technical aspects of making the film). Well, consider this viewer a little more enlightened about why "Howl" received so much attention, but still pretty much in the dark about what half of it actually means.

October 11, 2010

Viking Madness: A Fan for All Seasons

A Minnesota tradition since 1961

"The Vikings are the number one team at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory," laments Jesse Logan as he watches his home squad struggle against the rival Green Bay Packers. It's near the midpoint of the 2005 Minnesota Vikings season, and this pivotal game can make or break the Vikes' playoff chances. The objective truth is that one regular season game is equally important as any other to a team's success, but objectivity is nonexistent when it comes to to the NFL, where every game is "do or die" and "make or break" (such as, not coincidentally, tonight's Vikings game against the New York Jets).

I've been a Minnesota Vikings fan for as long as I've lived in Minnesota (a little more than half my life), but I'm not a season-ticket holder or face-painter. I don't own a jersey or know all the lyrics to "Skol, Vikings", but I watch the games at home and I hate the Packers. All of this to say that I while cheer for the Vikings every Sunday, I'm not at the level of Logan and his peers featured in Aaron Lubarsky's A Fan for All Seasons. These people are crazy not because of their individual game-day traditions (be it face painting or horn blowing), but because they sacrifice their time, money, and in some cases dignity to one of the most storied franchises in the National Football League that, we must always remember, has never won a championship.

October 7, 2010

Sound Unseen 11: Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

Screening as part of Sound Unseen 11 - Sat., Oct. 9, @ 5:00 PM @ the Trylon

Trivia question: What music was John Cusack blasting from his boombox in that iconic scene in Say Anything? If you think it's "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel, you're right - kind of. That song was reportedly added in post-production, while the music that was actually playing during filming was by a band named Fishbone, "one of the most distinctive and eclectic alternative rock bands of the late '80s", according to their allmusic profile.

This anecdote perfectly exemplifies the life of the band: loved by all the cool kids, but inevitably overshadowed by the radio-friendly pop music of the day. I myself knew little about the band, and even less about the world that shaped them, before seeing Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone. It's a great documentary not only because it chronicles Fishbone's career in an interesting way, but because it also appropriately addresses social issues like race and power, and reveals historical nuggets such as the African-American migration to Los Angeles and the birth of the punk scene in the San Fernando Valley.

October 6, 2010

Sound Unseen 11: Do It Again

Screening as part of Sound Unseen 11 - Sat., Oct. 9, @ 3:00 PM @ the Trylon

Often you hear about middle-aged guys and their garage bands trying to make it big after years of trying, or middle-aged former rock stars trying to keep it big after years of succeeding. Or, as seen in last year's excellent Anvil! The Story of Anvil, middle-aged rock stars trying to make it big after years of hopeless failure.

Here's a new one, then: a middle-aged fan trying to bring back some old rock stars fifteen years after they broke up. The band is none other than The Kinks, while the fan is Geoff Edgers, an arts and entetainment writer for the Boston Globe who considers the band to be the greatest of all time (incidentally, he does a fantastic job outlining their history and their impact on the music world). Although the storyline and characters of Do It Again (cleverly named after one of the band's many hits) are a little different than the other examples, the journey is comprised of the same hope, determination, dejection, relief, joy, confusion, and musical passion. In short, Do It Again shows that while the life of a rock star may be taxing, it ain't much easier to be a fan of a band that no longer exists.

October 4, 2010

Sound Unseen 11: Wheedle's Groove

Screening as part of Sound Unseen 11 - Thu., Oct. 8, @ 8:45 PM @ the Trylon

When people talk about "discovering" music, I think they typically mean hearing a song they like in a commercial or at a bar and tracking it down, or reading about an up-and-coming artist and checking out their MySpace page for a free listen. Rarely is the case, I would imagine, when one actually physically discovers the music - as in, buried in a record store after years of neglect. Wheedle's Groove, winner of the Jury Award at Sound Unseen Duluth last summer, is the story of what happens when that music is found, and what it can mean to the people who lost it.

If I were to ask you to list the most influential cities for the emergence of soul and funk music during the 1960's and 70's, I would bet with some confidence that a few places would go unmentioned: Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle. But ah, how wrong you would be to omit the Emerald City: Seattle was, shockingly, home to some of the funkiest bands of the era, and involved musical giants like Quincy Jones and Kenny G (yes, that Kenny G). Few people remember this, of course, which makes Wheedle's Groove both extremely depressing and extremely important to the historical records of the city and the genre.

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