12.30.2013

favorite films of 2013


FAVORITE FILMS OF 2013
1. The Act of Killing
2. The Last Time I Saw Macao
3. The Great Beauty
4. Spring Breakers
5. Leviathan
6. Like Someone in Love
7. her
8. Evil Dead
9. Stoker
10. The Great Gatsby

Act of Killing is an absolute miracle of a movie.  I am baffled at its existence.

But anyway.  Onwards toward Godzilla.

'TORQUE' OF 2013
(the year's most misunderstood movie)

The bizarre, big-budget Dead Man homage The Lone Ranger

FAVORITE THING OF 2013

A toss-up between Kentucky Route Zero and "Most Cans Opened in 3 Seconds"

12.28.2013

favorite music videos of 2013

Beyonce - "XO"


Blood Orange - "Chamakay"


Child of Luv - "Fly


The Color Pharmacy - "Aperture"


Houses - "Beginnings"


Justin Timberlake - "Suit & Tie"


Miley Cyrus - "We Can't Stop " (Without Music)


Robin Thicke - "Blurred Lines"


Yo La Tengo - "I'll Be Around"


Young Galaxy - "New Summer"


If I had to choose a favorite, it would probably be Houses or Blood Orange. And regardless of the controversy of "Blurred Lines," I do admire the sheer absurdity in its every moment.

12.02.2013

a touch of sin

So I did some guest-writing on the Trylon Microcinema's Perisphere blog for the new Zhangke Jia film, A Touch of Sin . . .

Legendary Japanese film director Takeshi Kitano unexpectedly comes to mind throughout Touch of Sin, the new film from Zhangke Jia who has long been considered China’s (and possibly the world’s) most important living filmmaker. The connection is not simply due to the opening credit appearance of Kitano’s production company Office Kitano (whom Jia has worked with on numerous past occasions), but rather in the violence that punctuates the proceedings. 

 Jia has never been one to utilize physical brutality, pointing his camera instead at lost, wandering souls within China’s ever-shifting social and political climates. But make no mistake, Touch of Sin‘s four main characters (from all corners of China) are as confused and dislocated as ever, mirrored by various animals of the zodiac that appear in many of the film’s most beautiful shots. It is a strange new world that has grown beyond past philosophies, whatever they might have been. 

 What makes this movie unique among Zhangke Jia’s filmography is that it finds the director at his angriest. No longer can his characters sit by idly while drowning in change. There are repercussions, and it is in them that a reflection of Takeshi Kitano can be glimpsed.  The violence of both is brief and shocking, striking without warning and dissipating just as quickly. It can be almost amusing, as in Touch of Sin‘s reprehensible game of golf, and most certainly surreal, as Jia’s style and genre-at-play seems to transform at every instance of bloodshed. 

 This violence, however, has a tie to reality, as the four events portrayed here are based on true events. Jia claims that sporadic violence in China has increased in recent years, and I am inclined to believe him. His work has always reflected contemporary China like no others, and Touch of Sin feels no different.  It is at once gorgeous, harsh, and esoteric. Such is the world. 

 Joseph Larsen currently works at the Uptown Theatre, curates movies at the University of Minnesota, and on occasion makes a film.  He is particularly fond of VHS.

11.26.2013

Marker

I was recruited to write descriptions for the Trylon Microcinema's Chris Marker series.

CHRIS MARKER: CITIZEN OF EVERYWHERE, CITIZEN OF NOWHERE

Once described as “the prototype of the 21st century man,” the elusive writer, photographer, and documentarian Chris Marker got his start in the 1950s as a member of France’s Left Bank Cinema. An obsession with the power of editing led to a career full of works that resist categorization, masterfully transforming images and tangents into witty historical and philosophical explorations of the 20th century.  
Mondays & Tuesdays in January at the Trylon



LE JOLI MAI

Mon Jan 06 7:00
Tue Jan 07 7:00

(1963, HD, 165m) dir Marker & Pierre Lhomme. Following a ceasefire in the Algerian War that left France without a conflict for the first time in 23 years, Chris Marker took to the streets to capture the moods of ordinary citizens. The result is one of cinema’s most revealing looks into the psyche of an entire nation.



FAR FROM VIETNAM

Mon Jan 13 7:00 9:15
Tue Jan 14 7:00 9:15

(1967, HD, 120m) Directed by a collection of French New Wave all-stars including Godard, Resnais, Varda, Claude Lelouch, William Klein, and Joris Ivens was "assembled" by Marker to protest U.S. military action in Vietnam. Interviews, documentary footage, and fictional vignettes come together to form a one-of-a-kind anthology of political activism.


TO CHRIS MARKER: AN UNSENT LETTER

Mon Jan 20 7:00 9:00
Tue Jan 21 7:00 9:00

(2012, HD, 78m) dir Emiko Omori. While Marker passed away this year at the age of 91, director Omori provides a heartfelt tribute to the reclusive artist (who never actually appears on camera). Captivating images of travel are juxtaposed with recollections from fans and friends that illuminate the mysteries, contradictions, and importance of cinema’s greatest essayist.


SANS SOLEIL

Mon Jan 27 7:00 9:00
Tue Jan 28 7:00 9:00

(1983, HD, 100m) dir Marker. “I've been around the world several times and now only banality still interests me.” A meditation on the fickle nature of time and memory, Marker’s travelogue masterpiece explores everywhere from Tokyo to Africa to the San Francisco of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

8.29.2013

wild cherry



What is this monstrosity that now appears before me?

I purchased a bottle of Wild Cherry Pepsi at a gas station in Milwaukee, WI this morning and it is hideous.  A while ago I expressed my worries over the new Pepsi design, but I did not foresee it going this far.

The last Wild Cherry Pepsi design was a true marvel, but alas, no longer.  Gone is the wonderful wave of red riding into the trademark dark blue, now reduced to mere top-and-bottom borders.  The cherry, once kept far away from the Pepsi symbol, now does its best to crowd it over.  And the 'wild cherry' writing . . . good god, not only have they colorized it red, but they've gone so far as to italicize the damn thing.

This is not my Wild Cherry Pepsi.

8.08.2013

press

From Sheila Regan from the City Pages' Dressing Room blog . . .

This Saturday, at the 'Scenes from the Telescreen' Short Film Marathon, cinephiles can get a small taste of works by some of their favorite filmmakers, and maybe discover some new ones. The new event is presented by the University of Minnesota's Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature Association (CSCLSA). Here, you'll have a chance to check out films by the likes of Wes Anderson, Werner Herzog, Jane Campion, David Cronenberg, Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, and more in a five-hour program that includes discussions. Pop in late, leave early, or watch the whole marathon. 

 The CSCLSA became official this year, according to filmmaker Joe Larsen, who's part of the group. His role with the association is to program the screenings. He has a video and arts degree from MCTC, and is currently finishing up his senior year at the U before he goes on to graduate school. 

 Part of the thinking behind presenting short films was that the association could get more filmmakers into the mix, and provide more room for discussion than it could with full-length films. The format also allows the event to be presented in a four- or five-hour block, so people can come and go as they may. 

Larsen chose all of the films. He made a point to select lesser-known works by very famous filmmakers, as well as shorts by people such as Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson and Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke, whose names might not be as recognizable. The marathon includes a blend of dramas and comedies, with a few documentaries as well. 

 Larsen's favorite film is Herzog's Le Soufriere. It's the longest piece in the program, clocking in at 30 minutes, and will be shown last. The documentary follows the filmmaker as he goes to an island, where a volcano is supposed to erupt, and interviews the people who have remained there to die. 

 This fall, Larsen says the association will be running a weekly film series on Mondays from 4 to 6 p.m. at Nicholson Hall in room 135. In the spring, they'll be presenting tribute to Roger Ebert.

7.05.2013

cobra rage

I had a dream the other night in which I discovered the location of everything I owned as a child.

The details of the preceding dream tale are mostly lost, save only a memory of a flooded parking ramp (that had open sides, which made it weird).  But I clearly remember discovering a two-story house a few blocks from my childhood home in Rib Mountain, WI.  It would seem that I had also lived there as a child at some point, having just somehow forgotten until now.  I must have left in a hurry, as everything that I once but no longer owned was stashed away within drawers and closets.

The first item I discovered was the Cobra Rage.  Made in 1990, it was described as an, "urban assault vehicle with land mine dispenser!"  The above picture can do the toy no justice, so instead look to this YouTube video review.  The amount of details and moving parts on the vehicle are spectacular.  I loved this thing to pieces, and might still have one of the detachable missiles in my bag of neat LEGO parts that I still carry with me.

There were other items, most of which are fading from memory.  Case after case of nice pens and pencils, which I never owned, that I had used during my hobby phase of drawing, which I never had.  The closest I achieved to it was using trace paper to draw video game pictures copied out of Nintendo Power.  During middle school, I copied images of Batman and his Rogues Gallery, made the slightest modifications with no thought to texture or shadowing, and sent them to DC Comics as a proposed comic book idea titled 'Sugarbuzz Sam.'  He had two sidekicks, Milkdud Kid and Gumdrop Girl.  His nemesis was Hyper Lord, a name I was never too pleased with.

I still have copies of some of those pictures.  The other items in the house, not so much.  It was relief, in this dream, in this house, to finally know what happened to my belongings that were long since lost, because otherwise it just doesn't make sense.  Where did it all go?  How did so much stuff just disappear?  I have a vague memory of attempting to convince myself that I was too old to hang on to my G.I. Joes, and I remember cutting down my Nintendo Power and LEGO collection to the essentials before I made the move to Minneapolis.  But alas, that is it.

I woke up confused.

According to ebay, I can purchase the Cobra Rage for around $20, though that is without the box and most likely some of its parts.  No matter.  I became nostalgic for G.I. Joe a few years earlier and purchased the Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe, complete with pictures so I can revisit what once was mine without having to sacrifice the money and space to retrieve these glorious items (most of which are broken by now, due to the tiny rubber band keeping the figurines together aging quickly and without grace).

I have done similar things for other items . . . just recently, for my birthday, I had a sudden urge to re-purchase all of my old Mighty Max and LEGO sets.  I instead found pictures online and saved them on my computer for revisiting, cost-free.  It is a weird sort of compromise.

Anyway.

The dream is haunting.

6.17.2013

16 oz Pepsi


The 2008 redesign of the Pepsi-Cola logo is a grand monument of graphic design, more of an art piece than a simple rebranding.  The company's logo work has always been top-notch - the 1973 style being a particular favorite - and both its fascinating history and abundance of strange flavors in Japan certainly helped win me over to their products.  But it was the combination of minimalism, font choice, and color palette five years ago that were the large reason of why I first opted for them as a preferred beverage choice which has now led to minor obsession.

And so I am worried.  An announcement back in March declared that Pepsi bottles would take on a new shape with a swirled grip and would first appear in a new 16 oz size.  However, their press release seems to ignore two disconcerting aspects.  First off, the plastic label has shrunk to make room for the swirl design, and in doing so has taken away from the wonderful use of negative space.  Also - and I am unsure if this will carry over into the 20 oz bottles - the label's shade of blue has been lightened.

This may not sound like a big deal, but it is indeed a Big Deal.  The previous design - especially on the 12 oz can - is one of the few images - or perhaps things in general - that I have come across in my life and can say with confidence is Perfect.  By playing around with these two elements, it steals away the inherent beauty, and I fear that this design will make its way all the way, somehow, to its aluminum brethren.

This unfortunate situation is reminiscent of the 2008 change to the Super 8 logo, which went from a - not perfect, but spectacular look to something one would expect to find on a supermarket.  I hold a certain affinity to that particular motel brand, but don't see myself ever happily returning.  This decision of mine will not be applied to Pepsi- the taste itself is not changing, after all - but it remains a disappointment.

One cannot fight the evolution of consumer culture, unfortunately, but one can stock up on certain designs and keep them for purely nostalgic reasons.  If a frame exists to hold the modern Pepsi can, I shall place it in one.  Perhaps a glass box.  It might just be the pinnacle of consumer creation, after all, and we must not let it be lost to the cruel indifference of history.

5.29.2013

rating the world


I recently visited the Pacific Northwest and have decided to review it, because.

Seattle = A-

Seattle is second only to the astoundingly fascinating Atlantic City as my favorite city in America.  I have been there once before, years ago, to see Ryan Adams and Oasis play in concert, and this return visit has only reaffirmed by admiration.  The waterfront is beautiful, each area of the city has something of interest to offer (from the spectacular International District to the Locks in Ballard to Fremont's Gas Works Parks and antique mall to even Capitol Hill's indie shops), and even the touristy areas such as the Pike Place Market are tolerable.  What makes everything particularly special is how it's hung onto a vintage aura of its World's Fair past much more visibly than Chicago and New York.  The only downside that I encountered was the needlessly confusing public transportation.

Food is what largely motivates my city explorations.  The clear winner in Seattle, found at the pinball-filled bar Shorty's, was the Number 3 - a hot dog with cream cheese, tomatoes, and peppers which is the most delicious goddamn hot dog I might ever have eaten, rivaled only by the chicago-style dog at Hot Doug's.  Other exemplary finds were the meatloaf sandwich at the tiny basement deli Bakemans, the giant porchetta sandwich at Salumi, and the dessert offerings at High 5 Pies.  This was the location where I finally had my first slice of cherry pie, which was quite fitting considering this is Twin Peaks country.  My one big miss was the bourbon butterscotch pie at A La Mode Pies, whose path I unfortunately was not able to cross.

Also of note were some nice gas station selections.  Though nothing could compare to the one and only chocodile of my life which I discovered on my last trip, I did come across RC cherry cola, Mexican Pepsi, and Australian licorice in the regional flavor of marionberry, which was a nice touch.

On a final note, the city includes a nice array of indie theaters including the Cinerama (one of only three in the world, I believe) and the historic 7 Gables and Harvard Exit Theaters.  I have never encountered cinemas quite like those, as both are holed up in what resemble big old houses.  Hard to explain, but some of the best ambiance I've experienced in a movie theater.

Portland = C-

I am probably being too harsh on this city, as it does have some wonderful things to offer.  The gargantuan Powell's City of Books, for instance, where I finally attained a copy of The Glove of Darth Vader.  And that collectable store down the street which had packaged Dino Riders figurines.  And yes, there is also the impressive Ground Kontrol arcade, the ice cream heaven that is Salt & Straw, and a vast array of food carts - the Grilled Cheese Grill offered my favorite item, a grilled cream cheese, nutella, and banana sandwich.  Praise can also be heaved upon the fried chicken at the Screen Door and the breakfast options at the Byways Cafe.  And then I guess there are the bridges, which are pretty pretty.

But then there is the combination of dreadful public transportation and massive overflow of traveling punk kids.  Every moment I thought I was starting to enjoy Portland, I would just need to attempt to travel a short distance to dip back into my pit of rage.  Whereas I received nothing but kindness in Seattle (save for, strangely, the staff at the Egyptian Theater), I dreaded any amount of interaction here.

There are indeed cities that I would visit Portland over if forced into the opportunity - Vancouver and Washington D.C. come to mind - but that is because those other cities are boring.  Portland offers a few bright spots, but is also perhaps the only city which actively makes me angry.

These thoughts have led me to evaluate my current place of living, which amounts to -

Minneapolis = B+

I most certainly gave this city an A- upon moving here in 2004, but the loss of Rock & Roll Ray, the Uptown Bar, and the pre-renovation Uptown Theatre have left their marks.  Regardless, we still have the best repertory film scene that I have encountered (even over New York, but that might be because I wasn't paying enough attention), with the Heights and the Trylon in particular being able to stand alongside the very best theaters in the world.  The art museums are nice, the food scene is pretty great, the Mall of America is the Mall of America, and the public transportation isn't so mediocre once you consider that it runs a hell of a lot later than Portland's.  A big downside is the terrible filmmaking community at large, but who knows, maybe every city is this bad on average.

I like Minneapolis.

The only cities which I would hand out an A to would be Kobe, Tokyo, and Atlantic City.  I am also quite fond of Shenzhen, Osaka, St. Paul, Chicago and my stupid hometown of Wausau due to my stupid nostalgia (maybe it would be better to substitute it with Green Bay/Appleton, but whatever).
(2015 Update: scratch those two & add in Florence and San Francisco to round out a Top Ten)

As long as I'm reviewing things . . . ice cream played a big role in this Pacific Northwest journey, and I realized at one point that I had tasted ten different flavors why not a ranking?

1. Strawberry Honey Balsamic (Salt & Straw, Portland)
2. Whiskey (Kiss Cafe, Seattle)
3. Honey Lavender (Mandy Moons, Seattle)
4. Rhubarb Crumble (Salt & Straw)
5. Sea Salt & Caramel (Salt & Straw)
6. Olive Oil (Salt & Straw)
7. Coffee & Bourbon (Salt & Straw)
8. Pear & Bleu Cleese (Salt & Straw)
9. Vanilla (Byways Cafe, Portland - it came with a delicious Strawberry Rhubarb pie)
10. Strawberry (Mandy Moons, ranked last because it was supposed to be Strawberry Balsamic)

5.16.2013

business trip



My favorite episode of sitcom television is season 5, episode 8 of The Office, "Business Trip."

There are others that perhaps come close.  Some BBC Office episodes, the early years of Roseanne,  or season 2, episode 22 of Parks & Recreation, "Telethon."

But no, it is "Business Trip," an episode that I find myself watching the most when boredom strikes which exemplifies all that is good about this particular show, mainly wonderful character dynamics and a lack of fear regarding poignant dramatic moments.

Every story in "Business Trip" is a delight.  The cold opening features Meredith's spectacular line reading of "Hello," Ryan and Kelly get back together as Daryl saunters off into the sunset, Pam returns from New York, and Oscar and Andy join Michael on a business trip to Canada.  Perhaps it is my love of hotels, but that one really takes the delicious cake.  On one hand, there are the interactions between Andy and Oscar which turned the latter into my favorite character for the remainder of the series.  On the other hand, there is Michael and the hotel concierge, which leads to a phone call with David Wallace that stands as my favorite moment of the show. In an instant the episode slips from hilarity to heartbreak, showcasing what made it stand out from the pack over the last decade of television.

A story: I abandoned television for six years following the disappointment that was the 8th season of the X-Files.  I finally returned in late 2006, thanks in part to The Office.  On November 9, 2006, I offhandedly watched the 7th episode of season 3, "Branch Closing," whose cold opening concerning Future Dwight remains my favorite of the series.  There was no turning back.  It became one of the few shows that I viewed on a weekly basis, and I caught up by watching the second season on Netflix (backwards though, for no particular reason).  Repeat episodes on late night TV and online have become the equivalent of my comfort food.  And now, the final episode airs tonight.

Here is a list of what I remember to be my favorite episodes of The Office, after briefly glancing at wikipedia episode synopses.

Season 2, Episode 7 - "The Client"
Season 2, Episode 11 - "Booze Cruise"
Season 2, Episode 12 - "The Injury"
Season 3, Episode 7 - "Branch Closing"
Season 3, Episode 17 - "Business School"
Season 4, Episode 12 - "The Deposition"
Season 4, Episode 13 - "Dinner Party"
Season 5, Episode 8 - "Business Trip"
Season 5, Episode 25 - "Broke"
Season 8, Episode 16 - "After Hours"

Also, that opening Creed segment in Season 7, Episode 25's "Search Committee."

I thought I would have something more to say.

5.10.2013

a personal history of anime


I recently traced back and discovered what the very first anime is that I consciously remember watching. Macross Plus in 1998, at GenCon in Milwaukee, WI.  I always thought that my first anime was Galaxy Express 999, but I would' ve caught this on Sci-Fi Channel's wonderful Saturday Anime block, consisting of a plethora of works from the 80s and early 90s.  However, this doesn't add up, as my family did not get cable until the summer of 1998.  I had gotten my mom hooked on X-Files and she wanted to see the 5th season finale before the film came out.  I don't believe I discovered the anime block until months later, but that GenCon would've occurred in August.  So there you go.

I also discovered that I came into anime fandom right when the new 'golden age' had just begun to fall apart.  Throughout the 80s and 90s, more anime appeared on OVAs - Original Video Animations made direct-to-video - than TV series'.  Much like the live-action Japanese counterparts where filmmakers such as Takashi Miike and Kiyoshi Kurosawa got their start, these OVAs allowed for greater creative freedom and variations from established formulas.

This all changed in 1995 with Neon Genesis: Evangelion.  A mammoth phenomenon, it not only reinvented how both mecha and psychological issues would be dealt with in the medium, but also how basic narrative arcs would play out (except for those last two episodes).  While TV anime at the time continued to showcase a wide variety of styles (Lain and Escaflowne, for instance), this was the beginning of its slow decline.

1998 not only marked my entry into anime, but was also the first year that the number of TV series outweighed OVAs - and by quite a significant number.  This is also reflected in their live-action cinema counterparts, as the OVA market in Japan saw a massive decline as the 2000s began (which would lead to far less quality in Japanese cinema, as still seen today).  And with this brought problems.  With TV studios now in charge, basic successful formulas would soon be relied on again and again, phasing out radical shifts in narrative and style in favor of what was known to be bankable.  To make another comparison, one could look at modern Hollywood.  Filmmaking is a business, and this is what happens time and again.  So it goes.

I did not anticipate this at the time.  In 1998, thanks to cable, I was exposed to the wonder of Sci-Fi Channel's Saturday anime and Kiki's Delivery Service on the Disney Channel.  In 1999, I knew someone who worked at a Blockbuster who nabbed a VHS copy of Princess Mononoke before it hit shelves.  But it was in 2001 when my love truly blossomed, as I began to see more of old high school friends that exposed me to (in chronological order) Dual, Trigun, Escaflowne, and Lain.  Later that year, Cowboy Bebop would be aired as part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim line-up, which began the massive influx of anime on American TV.  I did not care for the first two episodes, returning for episode 5 only because a website I don't remember called it one of the greatest episode of anime in existence.  It was pretty much right.

It should be noted that 2000 also saw the release of Love Hina, which was the template for what all anime comedies would follow from there on out.  It in itself took from Tenchi Muyo, but there was an 8-year difference between the two so this new series could be attributed to the modern boom.

2002 exposed me to the familial ties that an otaku culture, at its best, is capable of creating.  My friends had a habit of purchasing one anime and sharing it with the whole group, thus cutting down costs for everyone.  I joined the fray with Boogiepop Phantom, which I knew nothing about, and boy was I ever lucky.  I followed it up with Now & Then, Here & There, which continued the luck, and Soultaker, which ended my tiny streak. Anime could be bad and boring, I discovered.

2002 was also when I began to regularly attend anime conventions, which were more fun (only in my head, perhaps) back in the day.  That year was before anyone really cared about official licensing, so the newest bootleg anime could be screened without a moral quandary.  I remember watching RahXephon, Azumanga Daioh, and .Hack//Sign at that year's GenCon.  It was glorious, and I fell right into the close-knit community feel of these events.

2003 would mark the beginning of a massive downward spiral.  Not only did Naruto premiere, that never-ending anime which brought on a new, young, abrasive generation of fan, but also Fullmetal Alchemist.  The anime in itself is not bad, but its narrative and stylistic formula - passed down a bit from Evangelion - would begin to stick to most releases onward.  I was still oblivious, however, admiring bootlegs of Voices of a Distant Star and finally appreciating Mamoru Oshii through his life action film collection.  When I moved to Minneapolis in 2004, I brought with me a stack of bootlegs to keep me busy.  X, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Agent, Paranoia Agent.  But there was also the onset of worry.  In Noir, Last Exile, and Scrapped Princess, I recognized a very similar narrative formula, and this led to lesser enjoyment.

And then 2005, where it all went to hell.  Not only did I attend an abhorrent anime convention in - Ohio? I forget - where I was filming a documentary on cosplaying that first began to turn me off of the new otaku fanbase, but Air! was released in Japan.  Created by Tatsuya Ishihara and KyoAni, it was the first to establish a super-cute - kawaii, as the kids say - style of drama that would be the template for all dramas to follow.  On the other hand, 2006 saw the release of Code Geass, whose sleek style and action formula remains in my head as what everything else looks and feels like ever since.  These were both massive hits, so replication of such became the first order of business.

I spent 2005 still enjoying Beck, Monster, and Honey & Clover, but also saw disappointment in Speed Grapher, Basilisk, and Trinity Blood.  These three titles were picked up by FUNimation, and I was able to have a conversation with their vice president at the time who hinted at this acquisition.  It was a joy, being kind of in the know, but it only led to disappointment.  These offered nothing new.

It was all downhill from there.  Less and less anime felt interesting and unique, while the fanbase grew younger and younger.  2006 had Bartender, 2007 had Bokurano.  2008 even had Kaiba, a series I never got into but at least admired its spectacularly original vision.  But that was it.  In 2008, Ghost Hound was the final anime series (to this day) which I wholly enjoyed.  I did continue to attend the occasional anime convention for a while, though it always led to a vague sense of loss and disappointment.  2009 then saw the collapse of ADV, the once-behemoth of American anime distribution.  The modern golden age of anime was surely long over.

It is not that anime back then is better than the anime of today, though I believe that to be true.  It is that the intentions behind the creation and marketing of anime has shifted, and in doing so, so has the basic construction of the medium.  Anime is now a brand, something to uphold and keep unchanged because this is what the people know and love.  It happens in every entertainment medium, at one point or another.  I'm sure it happened with anime in the past, long before I was a fan.  And anyway, at least the anime film industry continues to produce stellar work.

All of this does not make me any less melancholy.

August will be my 15th anniversary of seeing Macross Plus.

Cheers.

5.01.2013

VCR in the corner


There is a Hitachi VT-M273A VCR in my apartment hallway.

It was placed there close to two months ago, alongside a small television, a silver briefcase, and a blender with a sign exclaiming, 'free.'

The VCR is all that remains.

It was originally placed against the wall next to the back exit of the building.  However, it now rests against a wall on a landing down a small set of stairs, halfway to the laundry room.  I am unsure how it got there.

I fear that this VCR will remain there for the forseeable future.  I myself would save it, except that I own 2 perfectly functional VCRs already.  There must exist a trip to a Goodwill at some point down the line, and I suppose it can travel with me to be donated.  Still.  Nobody in my building desires it.

A history of the decline of VHS.  The last film put out on the medium by a Hollywood studio was The History of Violence in 2005.  On December 31, 2008, the final load of VHS in America were shipped out by Distribution Video Audio.  The last VCR-only unit was produced on October 28, 2008.  I have heard rumors of VHS/Blu-Ray combo units, though the only one I can locate is the Panasonic DMP-BD70V that is currently selling on Amazon for $3199.99.

However.  VHS have still appeared, now and again.  Hayazo Miyazaki's Ponyo was released on VHS in Japan, as was Paranormal Activity in the Netherlands.  House of the Devil and Trash Humpers made it to the format, and other independent horror films have followed suit, many through the Mondo division of the Alamo Drafthouse.  There also seem to be VHS conventions and fests in such places as Stroudsburg, PA and Syracuse, NY.

None of this information helps the VCR propped up in a corner of my apartment building.

4.30.2013

Influence


There is the matter of films that have most influenced my movie tastes, for various reasons.  I remember making this list long ago, on myspace.  Again in alphabetical order . . .

Bright Future
Brown Bunny
Chain
City of Lost Souls
Dead Man
The Fifth Element
Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Rear Window 
Stroszek
Whose Utopia?

4.10.2013

movie titles



I came to the sudden realization a while back that my favorite movie title was probably Riding in Cars with Boys.  Upon further pondering, I lengthened the list to fifteen.  Sort of.

All About Lily Chou Chou
Crazy/Beautiful
Detour
Eight Diagram Pole Fighter
Electra Glide in Blue
Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom
Last Life in the Universe
Late Spring
Lost Highway
The Man Who Wasn't There
Once Upon a Time in the West
Record of a Living Being
Riding in Cars with Boys
Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl
Snake of June

Also, most Giallo titles, but there are too many to narrow down.

4.05.2013

on ebert




At the tail end of 1998, Roger Ebert declared Dark City the best film of the year.

Dark City had been released that past February 27 and I had seen the show where Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs up. That was enough of a joy for someone who felt like the film was a secret discovery of all that was good in cinema. But I was shocked during that that fateful Best of 1998 show, where Siskel even admitted he did not even remember the film but would give it another watch due to his cohort's high accolades.

I had only become consciously in love with cinema a year before on May 9, the opening day of The 5th Element. Dark City was the next in line for my obsession. Witnessing a legend like Ebert mirror my own thoughts instilled in me a slight sense of legitimacy. Maybe there's a possibility that I might know what I'm taking about when it comes to the world of film.

I'm not sure I did then, looking back, but it sure felt like it.

As time went on, Ebert slowly became the only film reviewer I would read on a regular basis. Not that I took his advice - we disagreed on a large number of works because he had his weaknesses and I have mine - but the very best of his writing flowed like short stories. I've never read any other reviewer like that.

Also as time went on, Werner Herzog slowly became my favorite filmmaker. Naturally I wandered more into the writings of Ebert, as the pair were quite close. Ebert greatly admired Herzog's work for the same reasons I do, and again the validation was appreciated. Herzog even dedicated Encounters to the End of the World to Ebert, and in return Ebert wrote the most perfect thank you letter. I imagine them to have had the most delightful of friendships, the best of all in the film world.

Ebert once declared Errol Morris' Gates of Heaven as one of the ten greatest films ever made.

He was right.

On November 5, 2008, Ebert wrote a review for Synecdoche, New York. He declared it the best movie of the year, and then the best movie of the decade. When I first viewed it at the Uptown Theatre I found it to be ambitiously muddled and uneven. I did not read Ebert's review then, and I do not remember how I came across it years later. But his writing of it is beyond beautiful. I returned to the film and found it to be crushing and miraculous. I am unsure that there is a movie more attuned to how life works out. As I get older, perhaps I will find one. For now, there is not.

But the review. It may be best to not even attempt to put it into words. Because of that review, I look at life now differently than I looked at life before. This is a rare power that does not come along too often. Over all of my years I have been fundamentally changed by rare few movies. By rare few books. But only one article.

Farewell, Roger Ebert.

3.16.2013

terror of mechagodzilla


I just guest reviewed the classic Terror of Mechagodzilla over at All-Star Video.

Read it over HERE.

1.30.2013

goodbye, blue monday


I discovered this edition of Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions yesterday. It is not pleasant.

I have little information about the particular book, as I did not bother to look up the year and publisher inside the front cover. I assumed there would be some database on the internet that meticulously followed the number of Vonnegut novel covers throughout the years. It appears that I was wrong.

I thought it was a new edition, as I had also recently spotted what I thought to be new additions of Vonnegut's Galapagos and Sirens of Titan, but this was also wrong. However, that does not make the covers any better. The SF Masterworks edition of Sirens of Titan is bland compared to the book's long history of delightfully misleading sci-fi covers, and the Galapagos cover had too much going on to accurately represent Vonnegut. Nothing sums his work up better than simple and streamlined.

Perhaps the new(ish) Breakfast of Champions cover is just that. Unfortunately, it is also hideous. I have discovered that it belongs to the 'Vintage' series whose cover was made by Michael Salu. It might be from the U.K. Regardless, it represents nothing of what can be found inside and comes across as something akin to a goofy Chuck Klosterman read. Not that I have much against Mr. Klosterman, it just seems like an accurate observation. Not only that, but this edition's paper is cheap and flimsy. An insult to what used to be my favorite book, and still might be.

Oh well. So it goes.

That last line was a Vonnegut quote.

As for the best of all Vonnegut covers, the old paperbacks of Sirens of Titan and Mother Night are topped only by the wonderfully minimal Galapagos hardcover.

1.22.2013

death is a lonely business


I purchased a used copy of the 1985 1st edition hardcover of Ray Bradbury's Death is a Lonely Business. I made a mistake.

A detail in its description was overlooked, which was 'no dustjacket.' I did not realize my error until the book arrived in the mail. This will not do.

Another 1985 1st edition hardcover copy arrived today. Dustjacket intact.

There was probably no other novel that I checked out more often at the Marathon County Public Library than this. Despite the dustjacket, which freaked me out when I was younger and caused me to always set it front cover down on a surface when taking a break from reading.

Times change. I do not believe there is any more iconic book cover in my mind than this, the 1985 1st edition hardcover version. I'm still not quite sure what those eyeballs are doing there, but they certainly add to the glory.

Years ago, wanting a copy of my own to travel around with me, I purchased the 1999 paperback edition. In all of my years of ownership, I never read it once. The book is gone now, lost to some Half-Price Books, because it wasn't the same. There was no rollercoaster. There were no eyeballs.

Funny how nostalgia effects so many things such as this. Or the time I purchased Jaws on DVD to finally replace my VHS copy, but it didn't look right, so I sold it the next day. I still have that VHS.

Death is a Lonely Business is not one of Ray Bradbury's more popular books, despite him writing two sequels. It is my favorite of his works. The title and 1985 1st edition hardcover dustjacket help.

. . .

There are only two book covers that come to mind which are anywhere as close as memorable as this. They are the 1995 paperback cover of Haruki Murakami's Dance Dance Dance, my favorite of his works, and the 1979 paperback cover of V.C. Andrews' Flowers in the Attic, which I have never read. I think the cover reminds me of the 1988 board game Shrieks & Creaks.

I am probably forgetting something.

1.14.2013

context


Goodbye, Uptown Theatre is my short film focusing on the last night of a run-down movie theater. I screened it yesterday at the Trylon Microcinema. I decided not to provide any sort of context when introducing the work, despite it being comprised of eight minutes of the 1971 film Omega Man playing on the screen, followed by Yao Lee's unsubtitled "Liu Lien" playing over a darkened Uptown sign which does nothing. This led to twelve minutes of awkward chair shifting.

So. Belatedly . . .

Omega Man was the first film I ever viewed at the Uptown Theatre on August 14, 2004. I had only lived in Minneapolis for two weeks. Nine days later, they hired me on staff due largely to the fact that I had named Takeshi Kitano's Kikujiro as my all-time favorite film on my application.

While I no longer consider Kikujiro my absolute favorite, it still remains in my top ten.

The second film I ever viewed at the Uptown Theatre was another midnight, this time 1963's Zatoichi 5: On the Road. Anyway.

Goodbye Uptown Theatre is an homage to Tsai Ming-Liang's Goodbye, Dragon Inn, which also focuses on the last night of a run-down movie theater. Like all of the director's work, the film is comprised of incredibly long takes and only features eleven lines of dialogue. "Liu Lien" plays as the theater shuts down and the movie comes to an end. As the Uptown shuts down and my movie comes to an end, it does the same.

Goodbye, Uptown Theatre was banned from YouTube due to copyright violations against Warner Brothers through the use of Omega Man's audio. The film will most likely never be screened again.

1.10.2013

mn unearthed showcase at the trylon


Two of my films - Goodbye, Uptown Theatre and the music video for Complexes' "Doublemint" - are screening at the Trylon Microcinema this Sunday, January 13 as part of the MN Unearthed Showcase, a one-off return of the film series that myself and Dan Schneidkraut curated at the Trylon two years ago. Shockingly, this event received some press.

City Pages . . .
This Sunday, MN Unearthed Film Series returns to showcase unusual award-winning films by local filmmakers. The evening, however, will open with a screening of two films penned by British scholar Neil Fox: the mourning-themed It's Natural to Be Afraid and the French new wave/noir style Clandestine (scored by Sigur Ros). Both pieces will serve as reference points, as his latest work, A Passing Place, will be screened tonight as well. The piece was directed by series curator Dan S. The Uptown Theater will also feature heavily during the event: Three showcased films — Ned Abdul Needs More Retail Space Or: How To Say Goodbye to an Old Friend; Goodbye, Uptown; and Double Mint, a music video for Complexes — were shot in the old theater before renovations began last summer. Finally, McKnight Fellow Stephen Gurewitz will screen his new film, Madison St., a documentary about a 76-year-old man who moves to Tucson, Arizona, leaving his older brother to live in their childhood home on the eponymous street. — By Jessica Armbruster

Vita.mn . . .
Something of a local edition of "New York, I Love You," the MN Unearthed short-film showcase offers some brief odes to Minneapolis by Twin Cities directors. Films include the New Yorker-praised Stephen Gurewitz's 30-minute documentary "Madison St.," which depicts the history of the Northeast street; Joseph Larsen's love/hate letter (NOTE: this is not true) "Goodbye, Uptown" and Daniel Schneidkraut's Uptown Theater documentary "Ned Abdul Needs More Retail Space or: How to Say Goodbye to an Old Friend." Judging by their titles, the films look to offer a bittersweet mix of affection and loss. - JAHNA PELOQUIN

L'Etoile Weekend What's What . . .
If you want a different movie experience but tire of the same old offerings of black and white classics and cult films, perhaps you should go for a tasting menu (so to speak) of local talent: MN Unearthed features short films, music videos, and documentaries. Local filmmakers Joe Larsen and Dan Schneidkraut created and curated the series in hopes of putting independent, low-budget films on a deserving screen. So let the cozy Trylon be your host for the evening and get ready for an eclectic mix-tape of films about local spaces, culture and music. -Chloe Nelson

Buy tickets HERE.