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Our series Beauty is Everything: Vincente Minnelli closes Thursday night at the Heights Theater with a screening of the 1958 Oscar winner for Best Picture, Gigi.

Review by Trylon volunteer Geoffrey Steuven.

Alternately remembered as a late, great MGM musical and one of the worst films to ever win the Best Picture Oscar, Gigi, our further evidence of Vincente Minnelli at play in the land of the auteurs, currently finds itself at both its highest and lowest ebb in the public imagination. The low ebb confounds me, though it probably has something to do with the movie’s general lack of self-awareness, this quality being an essential component for delivering musicals to audiences in the 21st century. Said lack extends with dire misfortune, they say, to the movie’s opening number, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” Except not really. It’s a lively tune, charmingly sung by Maurice Chevalier!

But if you’re looking for a winking approach, you’ll have been better served by every other Minnelli musical at the Heights this month (save Meet Me in St. Louis, maybe, which has Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” to melt any undue resistance). Gigi is certainly the least “cool” of the bunch, but before you flip that and call it “stuffy,” citing the fact that every song in the movie is sung by actors in positions of sitting and standing, please note the sophisticated performances and cinematography that attend all this sitting and standing. Particularly lovely is “I Remember It Well,” during which a golden sunset lights the serene and nostalgic faces of the film’s oldest lovers, Chevalier and Hermione Gingold, who sit and then sit some more while remembering and misremembering the details of their tryst. It’s the way they sit.

The movie’s other pair of lovers is Gigi and Gaston, played with youthful discontent by Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan, but seemingly destined for a similar kind of weary satisfaction. Gigi, as in the Colette novella on which the movie is based, is a courtesan-in-training, and most of the movie’s perceived problems stem from the fact that a work of literature has been scrubbed for the sake of the censors and mass entertainment, even as aspects of the novella’s plot and characterization stick out in the ensuing product, untamable. Gigi and Gaston’s age difference, for example. You might find yourself resistant or even hostile to their love affair but conclude that, as an excuse for Minnelli’s deft touch and visual splendor, it passes code.

Or you might feel something. The high ebb of Gigi’s current reception finds its voice in Julia Holter’s Loud City Song, a wonderful album from last year with many overt references to the movie. These occur in the way Holter inhabits the voice of Gigi and excavates new, almost undeserved layers of feeling in the film’s central romance, or, more generally, in the way the music’s elaborate instrumentation and studio effects express something akin to Minnellian mise en scene. Meanwhile, the lyrical strategies suggest Frank O’Hara and perhaps do the most work to make Gigi cool again, by opening it up to the wider world of 1950s metropolitan expression.

It’s almost a cinematic achievement. Holter represents a hope for the return of the MGM musical, immediately dashed by her rarity. She’s not a movie director, but her project requires a similar kind of passion and command of a broad range of material. The vacancy of a less remarkable era has a certain advantage; the death of the musical and the grand entertainment makes room for an album like Loud City Song.

What could interest Holter in the story of a girl who hates love and a man who hates routine (hence, both longing for the impermanent and undefined), bound to come together by mutually steadying each other for the society they can’t take alone? When she sings about love, she produces a similar sentiment. On “This Is A True Heart,” she is Gigi: “Let’s not insist on “love.” We’re just alive.” In a broader sense, Gigi is a musical with no dancing, this more than made up for by the movie’s bold choreographic gestures—climactically, Gaston’s reversal by the fountain at night, his pointing cane (a moment of clarity, as his loud city song plays). Holter makes music heavy with movement, with many climactic moments but few expected rhythms or openings for dancing.

Back to Gigi: I could go on, but what’s needed for enjoyment, clearly, is not extensive analysis, but rather deactivation of certain areas of the brain (we’ll label these “modern sensibility”) via careful conditioning. Please note the sign as you enter the Heights: “This theater forbids condescending and/or uncomfortable laughter.”

Geoffrey Stueven remembers romantic scenes from his life in Minneapolis, but not very well. He writes about music at The Big Takeover and might have stolen a few words from his Julia Holter review.

Gigi screens Thursday night at 7:30 at the Heights Theater. Purchase tickets here.

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The Trylon’s Jim Jarmusch: No Answers Provided series continues with one of our absolute favorites, Down by Law.

Review by Trylon Volunteer Michelle Baroody.

When Down by Law was released in 1986, Roger Ebert wrote that this “is a movie about cheap whiskey and black coffee, all-night drunks and lost jobs.” While these beverages and occupations rarely make an appearance in the film, they capture its essence—and perhaps the effect of the Jarmuschian film more generally. Down by Law looks amazing. It feels like a series of black and white photographs, as it is pulled together through lovely long takes with a motionless camera; its low-angled and off-centered shots are beautifully composed to capture the heat of each room and the discontent of each character. Cheap whiskey served best on 35mm on the big screen.

Down by Law is an artful take on the buddy genre, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, and bearing all the marks of his aesthetic and mood. The film’s slow and stylized build-up leads to a barely planned, yet successful jail break, where three previously unacquainted men—who are not particularly fond of one another—casually discuss their escape after meeting in a jail cell in Orleans Parish Prison.

Shot mostly in New Orleans, the film begins with a tracking shot of the city, cruising through blocks of two-story buildings with iconic French Quarter balconies to the tune of Tom Waits’ “Jockey Full of Bourbon.” We learn in the first few minutes that two of the men are on the outs with their ladies, and in their vulnerable states, they apathetically make lousy decisions that land them in the clink. Zack, played by Tom Waits is a radio jockey who makes bad career moves, and Jack, played by John Lurie, is a pimp who seems more than disenchanted with his profession. The third, Roberto (or Bob), an Italian immigrant played by Roberto Benigni, is a loud and excitable addition to their cell who speaks in clichés about ice cream and friendship. Zack and Jack are unimpressed with “Bob” until they learn that he may be the only one of them in jail for the crime he committed. The men form an indifferent bond, one that leads them on a trek through the bayou to an Italian restaurant on a dirt road, where they enjoy some pasta and decent night’s rest. The end quite literally brings the men to a stunning shot of “two roads diverged in a wood,” as poetry becomes the reality of their new lives and their new wardrobes (“The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost).

Michelle Baroody is from Chicago, currently in Minneapolis, a graduate student, and the coordinator of the TC Arab film fest. She is quite fond of geriatric cats, coconut oil, and the newspaper.

Down by Law screens Monday and Tuesday at 7:00 & 9:00 at the Trylon microcinema. Purchase tickets here.

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The Trylon’s Jim Jarmusch: No Answers Provided continues this week, with his masterful acid western, Dead Man.

Review by Trylon volunteer Caty Rent.

Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Morn & every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight.
–William Blake, Augeries of Innocence

Dead Man is Jim Jarmusch’s cameo studded, somewhat comical, and modern approach to the Western. Filmed in black and white with a soundtrack by Neil Young, this film is a powerful portrayal of a lost soul on the path to a final resting place. Crisp and slowly paced fade outs are a continuing delicacy throughout this feature, as well as the frequent thunderclap of gunshot that can break up the dirge-like pace.

Johnny Depp plays the main character, William Blake, a mealy-eyed everyday man that follows a Kafka-esque Wild West experience with the ghost of death looming over him. In the beginning, Blake is an unassuming accountant from Lake Erie decked out in a plaid suit with a bowtie. With his round little spectacles and John Bull Topper hat, Blake patiently sits on a train at the beginning of the film. The long side shots coming from outside train are just plain beautiful. Blake passes the time by staring, sleeping, reading, and even playing solitare. He’s heading for the end of the line, the town of Machine. He has a new job at Dickinson’s Metal Works.

The first words in the film are spoken around the five minute mark. It is the coal stained Train Fireman played by Crispin Glover with whom Blake has his first conversation. The Fireman is shown Blake’s letter of employment, to which he (Glover) replies, “I wouldn’t trust no words written down on no paper.” The Fireman also suggests that Blake is just as likely to find his own grave.

When Blake finds Dickinson’s Metal Works, he discovers, much to his dismay, that the job was given to someone else. He insists on speaking with Mr. Dickinson, and enters his office. Robert Mitchum plays John Dickinson, in the last role of his life. Dickinson is a gruff and mean (but respected) man who owns most of the town. He tells Blake, “The only job you’re gonna get here is pushing up daisies from a pine box.”

Down on his luck, Blake spends the last of his money on a bottle of alcohol and sits on the stoop outside the bar to drink it. While he is deciding his next move, a woman named Thel Russell (Mili Avital) gets thrown out of the bar and called a whore. She lays in the mud, despondent, surrounded by paper flowers she peddles for almost no money. Blake awkwardly stares at her until he thinks to get up and help her. He offers his flask and they find their way back to her place.

Later, another man, Thel’s lover, barges in the door while they’re in bed. The stranger tries to kill Blake, but Russell covers him with her body and is shot and killed. Blake shoots at the stranger several times and finally hits him, but not before getting shot himself–the bullet has hit him near the heart. Blake is able to get up, flee through the window, and steal the stranger’s horse.

Blake wakens to find a burly Native American man, named Nobody (Gary Farmer), attempting to extract the metal from around his heart. After hearing Blake’s name, Nobody becomes the helpful guide and leads Blake on a spiritual quest because Nobody thinks our hero is William Blake the poet, painter, and now killer of white men. Nobody is charismatic, eccentric and was abandoned as a child. He is such an intriguing character for Jarmusch that he is also in Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai.

Dickinson hires the three most ruthless killers he can find to hunt down Blake. It turns out that the stranger he shot was Charlie Dickinson, the powerful man’s youngest son. Blake is also accused of the murder of Charlie’s finance, Thel Russell. Dickinson made it clear he doesn’t care if Blake is dead or alive, but he wants the horse.

Dead Man continues with Blake as a wanted criminal, an outlaw who merely found himself in poor circumstances. Blake is slowly dying of his gunshot wound along with lack of food and water. He breaks out of his awkward, quiet self and transforms into a confident killer looking for answers and a place to finally rest. Before he kills a white man, he will ask innocently, “do you know my poetry?”

Caty Rent pretty much lives coffee and is obsessed with the Batman.

Dead Man screens at the Trylon Monday and Tuesday night at 7:00 & 9:15. Purchase tickets here.

Dead Man Official Trailer #1 – (1995) HD

pic_giant_020212_BThe Trylon is celebrating the work of comedian/writer/director Harold Ramis this weekend with two of his funniest movies–Stripes and Groundhog Day.

Review by Trylon regular Aaron Vehling.

There’s a point in Harold Ramis’ 1993 film Groundhog Day when arrogant Pittsburgh weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) posits that the omniscience and omnipotence of God is a gift of his age: “He’s just been around so long he knows everything.”

Connors is potentially thousands of days into what seems like an infinite loop of Feb. 2, and during that time he has learned new things about himself and the world around him. He knows exactly when a waitress will drop her dishes on the floor of a restaurant, what his television news colleagues will say at the table and pretty much how everything else will shake out in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Connors knows all.

The way things are going, it’s no stretch to consider that perhaps Connors has become a deity; at least of this particular town. Perhaps this misanthropic meteorologist, stuck on-assignment in a town he despises among people he can’t stand, is locked in purgatory. There’s another possibility: Like Siddhartha Gautama who became Buddha, he’s going through a process to toward enlightenment.

During his journey, Connors kills himself, robs, steals, messes around with women and treats people like dirt. The only consequence is that his days repeat. Death only means he wakes up again on the same day, as if nothing ever happened.

Connors faces the temptation of easy money, sex and power. He uses the repeating days to glean information that will help him get into the pants of Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell), his producer and love interest who is essentially his opposite. Although the Buddha didn’t give in along his own path, Connors tries on the hedonism with only the space-time continuum to keep him in check.

At some point along the way, though, Connors finds that no amount of women or money gleaned through illicit means is worth living that same day on repeat. So he decides to try something different and embark on an effort to do good will.

Connors is given the opportunity, or maybe he creates it himself somehow, to achieve a level of interconnectedness and cosmic understanding that evades those of us on the linear timeline. Those who encounter him are in awe of the compassionate, laidback and intelligent man who seemingly knows everyone and has scores of useful talents. He is purified.

Groundhog Day, like Kingpin and Wild Things, stands in the Bill Murray canon as that period of the 90s just before Murray reaches his own enlightenment (at least in his career). The latter two aren’t starring roles, but they all represent Murray wringing out most of the remnants of simple comic fare in exchange for something more — whether that something more is tragic, ridiculous or malicious.

Rushmore would soon follow, kicking off Murray’s becoming who and what we know him as today — “Bill Murray,” the dramatic actor with comedic talent and not the comedy actor serving as a tourist in dramatic fare. This is the man who starred in Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers.  Murray graduated from Ramis comedies, whether those the late comic genius wrote or directed, like Ghostbusters, Stripes and Caddyshack, and moved onward. Perhaps Murray realized that after doing the same sort of films it was time to get out of his own cycle.

Aaron Vehling is a former journalist and current communications professional who loves the music of Johnny Jewel and the films of Lars von Trier. Though he’s from Longfellow, Minneapolis, he now lives in Harlem, New York, on the same block as the mansion fromThe Royal Tenenbaums.

The Harold Ramis weekend screens at the Trylon, with Stripes on Friday at 7:00, Saturday at 9:00, Sunday at 7:00–purchase tickets here; Groundhog Day screens Friday at 9:00, Saturday at 7:00, Sunday at 5:00–purchase tickets here.

 

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Our Jackie Chan Adventures series closes with the eponymous action star’s first American vehicle, Rumble in the Bronx.

Review by Trylon volunteer Thorn Chen.

Almost immediately as he gets to the Bronx, Ma Hon Keung (Jackie Chan) gets on the bad side of neighborhood motorcycle thugs and its head Tony (Marc Akerstream), who leads his followers in a go-cart. Jackie beats up some gang members for roughing up a grocery store, and things go south from there. The fact that he runs off with the gang leader’s girlfriend Nancy (Françoise Yip) does not help matters.

The neighborhood bickering—and near lethal fights between Jackie and the gang—gets overshadowed when Angelo, whose nose Jackie broke in the first fight, gets everyone accidentally mixed up in a multimillion dollar diamond heist and a criminal syndicate whose thugs wear suits, ride around in Lincoln town cars, and impersonate FBI agents. Jackie’s new girlfriend and her wheelchair-bound little brother are taken hostage, and Jackie finds himself in an epic hovercraft chase in order to get the bad guys and rescue the hostages.

That’s about all there is in terms of plot. As with most films starring Jackie Chan, Rumble in the Bronx is thin on narrative, for which it compensates with well-choreographed (and ridiculous) fight sequences, complete with the requisite props.

Jackie is, in fact, helpless without his props. Cornered in a dead end of an alleyway by the biker gang, he is almost killed as the gangsters bat empty liquor bottles his way (literally, with a baseball bat). When he goes after the gang in a used appliance store, he is golden: refrigerators, TVs, ladders, and hanging lamps all become his allies and accessories. Not to mention, the props make the brawls interesting. And there are a lot of brawls, in the typical Bronx locales—a supermarket, a parking garage, graffiti-filled alleyways, a boathouse, a beach.

Rumble was the first of Jackie’s films to break into the U.S. market, and this significant fact shows in its narrative geography. Title credits pasted over a plane flying against the sunset cuts to the airport, where Jackie gets a ride from his uncle. On their way across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan (taking a very inefficient route from JFK airport to the Bronx), Jackie marvels at the downtown Manhattan skyline; his uncle says, “This is Manhattan. I could only dream of having a market here… my market is in the Bronx.”

Hence the film’s stand in the inter-borough rivalry, where Jackie puts aside his differences with the biker thugs from the Bronx in order to fight the suit-and-tie mafia, with its leader “White Tiger,” obviously more at home in Manhattan. After all, Jackie Chan and Kung Fu cinema fit in better with the racially diverse biker gangs of the Bronx than the town car driving diamond dealers. All this doesn’t prevent gems of moralizing dialogue, like when Jackie tells the gang (after he has beaten them up): “don’t you know you’re the scum of society?”

Thorn Chen is from New York, now in Minneapolis pursuing a PhD at the U, where he studies Chinese cinema, reads continental philosophy, and scrounges for funds to support his coffee addiction. 

Rumble in the Bronx screens Monday and Tuesday at 7:00 & 9:00. Purchase tickets here.

Rumble in the Bronx – Theatrical Trailer