“Where’s Al?” That was the question on the minds of many Twin Cities cinephiles when the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival launched two weeks ago without its founding father, Al Milgrom, banging the gong that has echoed through so many opening nights. And that was our question this week as I.W. wandered the labyrinth of a St. Paul care center. “He’s great!” a nurse said brightly as she directed us to a room where Milgrom, 90, looked leonine even in a flesh-colored neck brace. Until just a few days ago, he was marooned in Germany, where he traveled in early February for his annual scouting trip to the Berlin Film Festival. Jet-lagged, he checked into his hotel but had trouble sleeping. He took an Ambien, then stumbled in the dark and fractured his neck. Surgery was successful, but he developed pneumonia. Two months later, Milgrom appears frail but mentally vibrant. He even gave I.W. a few tips on what to see at the film fest.
The James gang
What’s riskier than going out on the football field and smashing into bodies at full speed? Agreeing to do a reality series about your love life. Eric Decker, who played both football and baseball for the University of Minnesota, will star in “Love and Other Contact Sports: Eric and Jessie,” an E! series expected to debut in late summer. Decker has made a name for himself as a receiver for the Denver Broncos, but it’s safe to assume that the real draw here is fiancée Jessie James, a country singer who’s known more for her racy videos than her songs. Decker, who went to high school in Cold Spring, Minn., got engaged to the entertainer last April. The show will chronicle the couple’s wedding, which is expected to take place this summer.
More than most big-shot musicians who tour infrequently, Johnny Marr seemed to really show an appreciation for Minneapolis on Wednesday. The former Smiths guitarist started the day at Twin/Town Guitars, where he gave a little demonstration and then cordially answered questions and posed for photos for about two hours. Later that night at his gig at the Varsity Theater, Marr welcomed a guest Minneapolis musician to perform “I Fought the Law” with him: Howler frontman Jordan Gatesmith, who happens to be the beau of Marr’s daughter, Sonny Marr, but instead was introduced by the star of the show as “one of my favorite musicians.”
A spoonful of Mary
Tuesday’s performance of “Mary Poppins” at the Orpheum Theatre had an unusual and very noticeable assortment of expectant mothers. I.W. wondered if the moms-to-be wanted to get a fairy nanny’s blessing to ensure that their kids would be well-behaved. “It can’t hurt, can it?” said Kelly Danielson of Little Canada. She is due May 6. “Mary’s so magical with kids, maybe some of it will rub off on us,” she said. Her husband, Chris, nodded.
It’s free, take one
Tuesday during World Book Night, 25,000 volunteers across the country handed out 500,000 special editions of 30 different titles. Up in Duluth, Lucie Amundsen carried a chicken purse and brought along her 9-year-old son, Milo, to help break the ice. “When approaching strangers on World Book Night, there’s a disquieting for a few seconds just before people get it,” she said. “You’re not selling anything, you’re not panhandling, it’s just a free paperback – no strings attached.” At Edina High School, student Emma Westbrook handed out copies of “Looking for Alaska” by her favorite author, John Green. And in Jerusalem, which technically doesn’t celebrate World Book Night, former Minnesotan Michael Dickel left copies of his own book for his favorite barista. “Here’s to reading,” he said.
Ratting on Augie
Good thing for Neal Karlen that Israel “Icepick Willie” Alderman no longer roams Hennepin Avenue. Ol’ Icepick — whose specialty was ramming a you-know-what into the eardrums of his victims to avoid obvious signs of murder — wouldn’t have taken kindly to Minneapolis author Karlen’s spilling his secrets recently at the Mill City Museum from the new book, “Augie’s Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip.” The “Augie” in the title — Karlen’s great-uncle Augie Ratner — owned the strip club that still bears his name, though he sold it in the 1960s. Karlen spoke of how Augie’s, along with long-gone establishments like the Persian Palms, was a watering hole for infamous mobsters, including Isadore “Kid Cann” Blumenfeld. Kid Cann gave money not only to synagogues, but also to churches, because he said he “liked to play all the angles,” Karlen said, adding that the Jewish mafia weren’t alone in their shady deals: “There were some corrupt Scandinavians, too.”
Art for a good cause never goes out of style, especially when the cause is Simpson Housing Services, which helps shelter the homeless in the Twin Cities. For the third year, the Art 4 Shelter benefit will sell more than 1,000 original works of art — drawings, paintings, photos — to raise money for Simpson. More than 500 local artists have donated work, including nationally known photographers Alec Soth, Paul Shambroom and Petronella Ytsma; painters Andy Evanson, Vesna Kittelson, Dan Mason and Rod Massey, and sculptor Perci Chester. Everything will be sold anonymously at $30 or $150. After you’ve paid, check the back for a signature and discover if you’ve fallen in love with a famous talent or a newly minted genius. The free party — 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Burnet Gallery in the Le Meridien Chambers Hotel in downtown Minneapolis — is not to be missed.