Category: movie roundup

A guide to the 2012 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival

Sure, taking a trip around the world sounds awesome, but there are also many potential hassles: losing your passport, drinking strange water, and maybe even being kidnapped by pirates. Better to let the world come to you, as it does every spring with the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, an always-reliable showcase of not-often-seen indie films and foreign cinematic gems. Opening with the hit French buddy comedy The Intouchables on April 12, the festival will show more than 250 films from 60 countries through May 3. The festival will also offer plenty of chances to hobnob with visiting filmmakers at screenings, parties, and other events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the fest’s parent organization, the Film Society Of Minneapolis-St. Paul. All films screen at the St. Anthony Main Theatre; for a complete, up-to-date schedule, visit the festival’s website at Here’s a taste of what this year’s festival has to offer.

Originally published April 11, 2012 on Read the complete article.

The A.V. Club’s MSPIFF shortlist

Without access to a time machine, there’s no way to see every film shown at MSPIFF, although this year’s expanded schedule means that, unlike previous festivals, each film will screen at least twice. A complete list of titles and showtimes can be found here, but if you need a little help making your own choices, here are 12 movies that seemed especially intriguing to us.

Originally published April 14, 2011 on Read the complete article.

Comets and cannibals: Best disaster movies

‘Unstoppable’ and its runaway train are latest in a proud, terrifying tradition

It’s a disaster in the making: A runaway freight train carrying tons of hazardous chemicals is rocketing towards a populated town, threatening thousands of lives.

In “Unstoppable,” based on a true Ohio incident, Denzel Washington plays a veteran train engineer who joins conductor Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) in a daring plan to prevent the disaster. The duo’s efforts are complicated by their own bosses, who are more concerned with their corporate image than saving lives.

Reteaming Washington for the fifth time with director Tony Scott, “Unstoppable” harkens back to the heyday of the disaster-film genre, in which the danger comes not from criminals or other human antagonists, but a large-scale catastrophe. Here’s a look back at the genre’s greatest hits — and crashes, booms, and bangs.

Originally published on Nov. 3, 2010. Read the complete article.

Inventory: The Old Cult Canon: 16 cult films that paved the way for the new cult canon

5. Aguirre, The Wrath Of God (1972)

A line of Spanish conquistadors and their Indian porters wind their way down the mountainous slopes of Amazonian Peru, nearly swallowed up by the jungle like a puny stream of ants. This long, unhurried, and gorgeous tracking shot opens Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, the breakthrough movie for Werner Herzog, one of the leading lights of the New German Cinema movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. Aguirre was also the first of five movies teaming Herzog with Polish-born actor Klaus Kinski. Herzog’s bleak view of human nature was enlivened by, and gave shape to, Kinski’s uncontrolled ferocity. Their relationship was stormy, to say the least; they loved each other like brothers, hated each other like enemies, and together made the best work of either man’s career.

Kinski stars in Aguirre as a mutinous, scheming soldier in Pizarro’s army. Sent into the rainforest to find the illusory golden city of El Dorado, he seizes the opportunity to rebel and claim South America for himself. Inspired in part by Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, it’s far from an action film—it’s moody and slow, with long stretches of inactivity. But it builds to a suspenseful, dreamlike state of dread—the cruel, seemingly infinite jungle makes a mockery of Aguirre‘s dreams of conquest, as his expedition descends into chaos before they see a single native to oppress.

Does it work at noon as well as it does at midnight? Sure. Existential dread doesn’t follow a clock.

Films that couldn’t exist without it: Apocalypse Now, Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Mission, The Blair Witch Project, Herzog’s blistering documentary My Best Fiend

13. Suspiria (1977)
The Italian film genre known as giallo enthusiastically embraces the most lurid, trashy side of the scary movie, thanks in part to the abiding influence of the particularly sex-and-violence-crazed Italian pulp fiction that was its immediate predecessor. Dario Argento crowned himself king of the giallo film with his 1977 masterpiece Suspiria, the first in a loose-knit trilogy based on three female spirits of darkness mentioned in Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions Of An English Opium Eater. Jessica Harper stars as an innocent young woman who discovers that her new ballet school is also the home of a murderous coven of witches, and works to uncover its secret while the body count rises and supernatural menaces loom ever larger. Suspiria‘s plot is often thin, and the acting is haphazard at best (all the dialogue was dubbed in postproduction), but logic has never been Argento’s goal. He thinks on a grander scale to create a nightmare world that feels like a monstrous version of a fairy tale. He achieves this through a bold, inventive mix of bright colors (using a palette based on Disney’s Snow White), whip-crack editing, and an aggressive, creepy score by Goblin, the rock band that also worked on George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead.

Does it work at noon as well as it does at midnight? Not really. Almost all horror is more effective in the dark, and this is no exception.

Films that couldn’t exist without it: Halloween, Nightmare On Elm Street, the slasher-film craze of the 1980s

15. Plan Nine From Outer Space (1959)
Ed Wood’s sci-fi crapterpiece has often been called the worst movie ever made, which isn’t quite true. There are movies with worse scripts, flimsier set design, clunkier acting, and more boneheaded directorial choices—several from Wood himself—but Plan Nine From Outer Space is entertaining nonetheless, because the sheer volume of incompetence makes the film more loveable. Wood’s catalog of blunders and heroically misjudged attempts to overcome disastrous setbacks are seemingly innumerable, starting with the basic storyline, a nonsensical plot about aliens whose previous eight attempts to conquer Earth have failed, and who have decided to try reanimating the dead this time. The script is full of clumsy lines and howlers, such as the narrator’s solemn pronouncement “Future events such as these will affect you in the future.” The flying saucers are clearly on strings, and the cardboard gravestones in the cemetery set tend to wobble when the actors lurch past them. The tiny budget left room for only a single take of most shots, resulting in reams of flubbed lines, visible boom mics, and other mistakes. Most egregiously, Wood’s plan to have Plan Nine star his friend Bela Lugosi, the iconic star of Dracula who had since fallen into Z-grade obscurity, were scotched by the actor’s death. Instead, Wood used a few minutes of previously shot Lugosi footage and filled the rest out by recasting the role with his chiropractor, who was a foot taller than Lugosi and “disguised” his lack of resemblance by keeping his cape over his face at all times. It wasn’t meant as a comedy, but Plan Nine is best viewed as an unintentional one: Call it a secret success.

Does it work at noon as well as it does at midnight? This movie doesn’t work no matter what time it is. But this is really a midnight flick: Plan Nine is best enjoyed with a crowd of fans who will laugh when Tor Johnson trips over the gravestone.

Films that couldn’t exist without it: Without Plan Nine to cap his career, Wood’s legend might not have lasted long enough for Tim Burton to memorialize him with the biopic Ed Wood. The movie’s more lasting influence is probably subtler: Who knows how many budding filmmakers were emboldened by Plan Nine? After all, if Ed Wood could make movies, anyone can.

Originally published on Sept. 11, 2008 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the sections on Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Suspiria. Read the complete article.

Land before time: 11 great prehistoric flicks

On March 8, moviegoers will jump back in time to an age of mammoths, saber-tooth cats and Stone Age humans fighting for survival in “10,000 BC,” the latest movie from director Roland Emmerich. It probably won’t be a paragon of scientific accuracy, judging by Emmerich’s previous track record on “Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Godzilla.” But Hollywood has a history of mining prehistory for entertainment value over archaeological exactness — or, as legendary animator Ray Harryhausen once put it, “professors probably don’t go to the cinema anyway.” To extend your travels through the ancient world, here are some earlier high points of Hollywood’s trips back to the ages of cavemen and dinosaurs.

Originally published on March 10, 2008. Read the complete article.

10 great Asian horror films

Just as the vitality and bold style of manga has swept through the formerly American-dominated field of comic books, Asian cinema has left a lasting stamp on the horror-film genre — especially the violent and distinctively spooky movies currently coming out of Japan, known by their fans as J-horror. Hollywood has made English-language remakes of some of the bigger J-horror hits, including “The Ring” and “The Grudge,” but why not check out the originals? After all, you only need to fear a few subtitles.

Originally published on Oct. 29, 2007. Read the complete article.

Buried treasure: 12 pirate flicks to dig up

Few people expected “Pirates of the Caribbean” to be a hit, let alone the record-breaking smash that it is. But one reason that the trilogy has been successful is the way it embraces the best trappings of the genre while jettisoning the worst. The creators of the series clearly know their pirate-movie history, and it’s worth taking the time to check out some of the films that inspired them. So let’s set a course for adventure: Here are 12 pirate films worth their sea salt.

Originally published on May 29, 2007. Read the complete article.

Back to school 101: Watch these flicks

Let’s face it: It’s August, and the summer is slipping inevitably into fall. For a lot of us, this means heading back to school for another year of toil in the salt mines of the intellect. It’s vitally important that you be mentally prepared for what awaits you in those hallowed, ivy-covered halls. Oh, sure, you could do something practical like brushing up on your term-paper skills, but we’ll leave the practical recommendations to others — our job is to fill your head not with Socratic philosophy, but quality light entertainment, and to that end, here are a few of our favorite movies set at (or near, anyway) college and high school. Yes, they will be on the final exam.

Originally published on Aug. 16, 2005. Read the complete article.

Seen ‘Revenge of the Sith’? Now see these

Whether you’re a “Star Wars” fanatic who’s been camped out in front of the theater for months, or a casual moviegoer who just wants some popcorn and a few starship battles, it’s a sad mathematical truth that there are only so many times you’re going to want to watch “Revenge Of The Sith.” How, then, can you fill the long hours that stretch ahead of you until the end of your days? Well, here are a few films, all available on DVD or video, that should pique the interest of moviegoers.

Originally published on May 13, 2005. Read the complete article.

Nine to tingle your spine: Slasher flims that are a cut above the rest

Let’s face it, Halloween just isn’t complete without a scary movie. A crazed killer with a chainsaw is just the thing to round out this ghoulish holiday. Here’s a few of our favorite films from the slasher genre, that knife-wielding set of horror flicks that includes the infamous “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. Read along as we take a stab at the nine of the genre’s best moments.

Originally published on Oct. 27, 2004. Read the complete article.

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