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Sony Pictures cancels theatrical opening for 'The Interview'

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: December 17, 2014 - 5:42 PM
James Franco and Seth Rogen in 'The Interview.' Sony Pictures Wednesday announced the film wil not be released. Ed Araquel/AP

James Franco and Seth Rogen in 'The Interview.' Sony Pictures Wednesday announced the film wil not be released. Ed Araquel/AP

Following ongoing online hacks and threats to attack screenings of "The Interview," the Sony Pictures conflict reached a new level of havoc Wednesday afternoon.

After afternoon cancellations of earlier agreements to screen it by four of the nation’s largest movie theater chains, Sony  cancelled the film’s scheduled Christmas Day opening. Earlier in the day the studio withdrew scheduled press screenings. It appears that there are no plans for any type of theatrical exhibition.

The $42 million film, a satiric political comedy, stars James Franco and Seth Rogan as TV journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. It was called “an evil act of provocation against our highly dignified republic” in late November on Uriminzokkiri, a North Korean government-controlled website. While Kim announced "merciless counter-measures" if the film was released, North Korea has denied involvement in the anonymous corporate hacks.

The U.S. movie theater chain leaders AMC, Carmike, Cinemark and Regal announced earlier Wednesday that they had abandoned their bookings. 

"In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film ‘The Interview,’ we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release," Sony announced in a written statement Wednesday.

“We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome."

The film debuted at the Ace Hotel theater in Los Angeles for press and film executives last week to uneven reaction. Online critic Jeff Wells wrote after the screening, “I never once laughed. Yes, the opening 20 or 25 minutes is mildly entertaining and yes, at heart 'The Interview’ is anti-Kim, pro-anti-Kim revolution and pre-people power and all that, but it never rises above the level of a good-enough programmer.”

Touching new Elliott Smith documentary opens Sound Unseen

Posted by: Chris Riemenschneider Updated: November 12, 2014 - 11:27 AM

A confession that might get me banned from some of the best coffee shops in town: Elliott Smith’s music never did much for me. It was unquestionably heartfelt and pure, and his DIY ethic was admirable, but I often found the dour bend of the lyrics and the softly sung aesthetic too down-tempo, mundane and flat.

All of which I only say to enhance my recommendation of the new documentary on Portland’s late indie-folk icon, “Heaven Adores You,” screening tonight at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul as the opening film in the Sound Unseen festival (7 p.m., $20-$25, details here).

“It was difficult to see how difficult the fame was for him,” one of Smith’s associates says early in the 104-minute movie, from Portland-bred first-time director Nickolas Rossi (who will answer questions after tonight’s screening).

The film opens with footage and recollections of Smith’s fateful appearance at the 1998 Academy Awards, where he performed “Miss Misery” from the “Good Will Hunting” soundtrack -- ostensibly the beginning of the end. It then goes back and recounts his transformation from another noisy post-grunge alt-rocker to the acoustic bard of lore, with fun insights into Portland’s then-insular music scene and all-too-appropriate rainy, scene-setting imagery. Along the way, we see and hear Smith’s growing discomfort with the music industry and cultish yet sometimes fanatical fame, with some old interview footage that’s sometimes painful to watch.

Rossi found the right people to comment lovingly but candidly about Smith’s personality and eventual demise, leaning more on close personal friends than famous musician friends. The movie solemnly builds to details of the singer’s suicide in 2003, which is absolutely heartbreaking but not over-dramatized. There’s a noticeable lack of performance footage -- which seems ironic given that he would eventually play on one of TV’s most watched global telecasts – but Smith’s presence is nonetheless deeply felt.

Click here for full details on Sound Unseen 2014, also featuring movies on punk, jazz, ska, metal and shoegazer bands. Here's the schedule for the rest of the week:

  • Thursday, Nov. 13 @ The Trylon
  • 7 p.m.: Instrument (Fugazi documentary, 10th anniversary screening); Directed by Jem Cohen
  • 9:15 p.m.: Looking for Johnny (Johnny Thunders documentary); Directed by Danny Garcia
  • Thursday, Nov. 13 @ McNally Smith
  • 7 p.m.: Metalhead (Feature film); Directed by Ragnar Bragason
  • 9 p.m.: Well Now You’re Here, There’s No Way Back (Quiet Riot documentary); Directed by Regina Russell
  • Friday, Nov. 14 @ The Trylon
  • 7 p.m.: Homemakers (Feature film); Directed by Colin Healey, who will be in attendance
  • 9 p.m.: The Case of the Three Sided Dream (Featured film); Directed by Adam Kahan
  • Friday, Nov. 14 @ McNally Smith
  • 7 p.m.: Beautiful Noise (Shoegazer bands documentary); Directed by Eric Green
  • 9 p.m.: Salad Days; (Washington, D.C., punk scene documentary); Directed by Scott Crawford
  • Saturday, Nov. 15 @ McNally Smith
  • 1 p.m.: Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound Directed by William J. Saunders
  • 3 p.m.: Short news.
  • 7 p.m.: The Other One: Bob Wier; Directed by Mike Fleiss (Competing)
  • 9 p.m.: I Am A Knife With Legs (Feature film); Directed by Bennett Jones (Competing)
  • Saturday, Nov. 15 @ The Trylon
  • 7 p.m.: Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio (Documentary on New York studio that has hosted Sonic Youth, Afrika Bambaataa, Brian Eno); Directed by Sara Leavitt & Ryan Douglass
  • 9 p.m.: Rye Coalition: The Story of the Hard Luck Five; Directed by Jenni Matz, who will be in attendance
  • Sunday, Nov. 16 @ McNally Smith
  • 1 p.m.: The Ballad of Shovels and Rope (Minnesota Premiere); Directed by Jace Freeman (Competing)
  • 3 p.m.: Legends of Ska (Locally produced documentary); Directed by Brad Klein, who will be in attendance.
  • 5 p.m.: Eternity: The Movie (Feature film; Directed by Ian Thorpe
  • Sunday, Nov. 16 @ The Trylon
  • 5 p.m.: Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women In Jazz (Midwest Premiere); Directed by Kay D. Ray
  • 7 p.m.: The Possibilities Are Endless (Edwyn Collins documentary); Directed by James Hall & Edward Lovelace

Deep documentary and Casbah comedy: A week of films by and about Arabs

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: November 5, 2014 - 10:23 AM
"Rock the Casbah," the opening night presentation of the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival. Photo: Pathe Films International.

"Rock the Casbah," the opening night presentation of the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival. Photo: Pathe Films International.

The St. Paul-based arts organization Mizna has presented its Twin Cities Arab Film Festival since 2003, making it the nation’s second longest running program of Arab cinema. Returning Thursday with a four day run, it continues its presentation of over two dozen features and shorts from across the Middle East. This year’s assortment of Minnesota premieres includes dramas and shorts from Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia and Syria, including the 2014 Oscar Documentary Short Subject nominee “Karama Has No Walls,” showing lethal government violence against Arab Spring protesters in Yemen’s capital.
There’s even a lively French-Moroccan comedy-drama featuring Egyptian film legend Omar Sharif. The opening night presentation is “Rock the Casbah,” a handsome coproduction about three upper-class sisters torn between Muslim traditions and Western mores. Sharif jauntily plays the trio’s late father, whose passing unites the family (including brats, egotists and kind souls) for three days of mourning at his lavish estate in Tangiers. Youngest daughter Sofia (Morjana Alaoui) hesitantly returns to the family villa after years of working as an actress in the US. (As it’s pointedly noted, she’s usually typecast as a terrorist – “But in Hollywood!”) (7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6. In subtitled French, Arabic, and English.)
The festival runs through Sunday at the St. Anthony Main Theatre. For a complete schedule and ticket information, visit mizna.org/arabfilmfest

"Interstellar" offers futuristic space travel, old school film presentation

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: October 29, 2014 - 5:18 PM
Matthew McConaughey in "Interstellar." Photo: Paramount Pictures.

Matthew McConaughey in "Interstellar." Photo: Paramount Pictures.

If you don’t want to wait for the much ballyhooed space drama “Interstellar” on its opening Nov. 7, you can see it in Plymouth on the 5th. Or Apple Valley on the 4th.

The highly anticipated film starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain will be debut in early screenings two or three days before it hits major theaters.

Director Christopher Nolan, a true believer in the heritage of 20th century film, rather than digital camera work, is the best way to capture and present images. He remains one of the last filmmakers to shoot exclusively on celluloid, along with Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson and J.J. Abrams.

Nolan hopes to draw viewers into theaters with the top projection equipment to demonstrate how much better that film form is. He persuaded the “Interstellar” production partners, Paramount Pictures Corporation and Warner Bros. Pictures, to back his old school release idea even though the vast preponderance of U.S. theaters have converted to digital projection systems and can no longer show film.

Apple Valley’s Great Clips IMAX at the Minnesota Zoo is the only statewide cinema presenting it in 70mm IMAX projection Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 8 and 11:15 p.m.. Only 37 nationwide are hosting such premieres three days in advance of the standard format opening.

If you’re not an IMAX enthusiast, there’s another local option just for you. Plymouth’s Willow Creek 12 will be the sole theater in the state, and one of just 10 theatres in the country, playing “Interstellar” in classic 70mm motion picture film format. It shows the film at 1:30, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5, two days before its wide release.

Death becomes her: Two odd women's takes of Halloween horror

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: October 24, 2014 - 1:34 PM
Sheila Vand prepares for a night on the town in the Iranian-themed vampire film "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night." Walker Art Center

Sheila Vand prepares for a night on the town in the Iranian-themed vampire film "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night." Walker Art Center

Two female-themed, foreign-focused spook films, one a new feature and one a restored video rerelease, have made it to town just in time for Halloween. Each is a ferocious feast of idiosyncratic entertainment.

“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” showing Oct. 24, 25, 26 and 31 at Walker Art Center, imagines an Iranian crime haven called Bad City invaded by a seductive, skateboard-riding  vampiress. Though it features an Iranian cast, it was actually shot in California, usually in the dark. It delivers its tale in the hip, downbeat tones of a Jim Jarmusch avant-garde satire. Ana Lily Amipour, who wrote and directed, aims of cool tones throughout. American actress Sheila Vand, whose pretty face resembles a cloudy night with cold rain threatening, plays a lonely blood drinker whose fangs are triggered by abusive male seducers. Moving through a subculture of drug junkies, prostitutes and gangster bosses, she slowly and gradually brings the townspeople to her form of justice. But how will she respond to the sincere admiration of a handsome, honest young lad? The film, with references to New Wave revenge thrillers and stylized pop soundtracks, gradually takes its time but doesn’t outlast its welcome.  For screening and ticket information, visit http://www.walkerart.org/calendar/2014/girl-walks-home-alone-night

Minneapolis-based Euro-film marketer Raro Video’s fresh offering “Werewolf Woman” is a 1976 Italian grindhouse shocker of stupendously overwrought bloodshed and nudism. It may be the most wildly sexist and hilariously awful horror film ever made. Would-be actress Annik Borel plays an Italian heiress who fantasizes that she is the spirit of an ancient lycanthrope, killing every man and woman with a seductive attraction to her. She baffles medical science, causing her physician to declare "It's imperative to make sure her brain's energy isn't released due to tension the cause of which we don't really know." During her regular losses of conscience she delivers naked hula dances. In spite of that, she remains the most relatable character in the film. Director Rino Di Silvestro (a Quentin Tarantino exploitation idol) displays a homemade dramatic style, meat-cleaver editing and dime store makeup effects that make a film watched for nonstop humor, not terror. Available from rarovideousa.com

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