The Twin Cities Film Festival is sometimes confused with the bigger, older Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival held each April. But the five-year-old TCFF has its own distinct character.
The fall fest, held at the Showplace ICON cineplex in St. Louis Park, attracts its crowds by mixing a few highly anticipated studio releases with rougher-hewn indies, adding plenty of homegrown Minnesota flavor as well. After a rocky start, ticket sales have grown just over 20 percent each year, with more than 6,200 attendees expected this year. At least four screenings were sold out as of last week.
"We draw moviegoers, as opposed to cinephiles," said executive director Jatin Setia. "We want the people who go to see 'Gone Girl' and 'Batman' to come and appreciate indie films, and you get them to take that leap by showing the Oscar-worthy movies that generate buzz."
This year's 10-day event, which begins Thursday with a gala premiere of Jason Reitman's ensemble drama "Men, Women & Children," features nearly 80 films, including area premieres of "Wild" starring Reese Witherspoon and "The Imitation Game" starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
Nine documentaries being screened include the controversial "The Syndrome," which explores the possibly faulty science behind shaken-baby syndrome.
Artistic director Steve Snyder has programmed an unusually large number of films this year, just over half with local connections. The weirdly magical "Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter," shot partly in and around wintry Brainerd, is inspired by the true story of a Japanese woman who believed the movie "Fargo" to be real. "Wild" is based on a book of the same name by Duluth native Cheryl Strayed, about her solo backpacking trek along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Several Minnesota-raised directors and actors are scheduled to introduce or otherwise appear in conjunction with their films, including singer/ songwriter Maria Isa (crime thriller "Strike One"), Tim VandeSteeg, producer of the documentary "Hunger in America," and Ryan Kiser, star of "House of Manson," now screening twice.
Other Minnesota talent on the schedule who might pop up: actors Mark Webber (the comedy "Laggies"), Seann William Scott ("Just Before I Go," directed by Courteney Cox), Molly Ryman (the gangster drama "Ink & Steel") and a group of Guthrie Theater veterans in the short film "Trapped." A documentary short by local film-fest legend Al Milgrom looks at the life and work of celebrated, troubled poet John Berryman, who taught at the University of Minnesota.
There truly does seem to be something for everyone in the lineup. "BFFs," directed by Andrew Putschoegl, who grew up in Oakdale, is a sendup of marriage-mending couples retreats that will appeal to middle-aged women. The mind-bender "Time Lapse" chronicles the dark path traveled by three twenty-somethings after they discover a dead neighbor's camera that takes pictures of events a day before they happen.
Horror fans will want to check out "V/H/S Viral," the third installment in the frightful found-footage series. And for subject matter even more shocking, "Old Fashioned" follows a former frat-boy party monster turned Christian romantic who woos his free-spirited new neighbor in a traditional style that's the antithesis to "50 Shades of Grey."
Here are short reviews of a few noteworthy TCFF offerings. Longer reviews will appear when they open theatrically.
"Men, Women & Children" (7:30 p.m. Thu., opening-night gala): This dramatic multigenerational commentary on how Internet obsession has changed us is surprisingly heavy-handed, coming from "Juno" director Jason Reitman, and a too-large ensemble cast (including Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Dean Norris of "Breaking Bad" and a finally grown-up Adam Sandler) that can't finish everything it starts. But it's a snapshot of modern life in which most people will recognize themselves. ⋆⋆ ½ out of four stars
"BFFs" (6 p.m. Sat.): What to do when you and your boyfriend are split up, but your Mom gave you a trip to a couples retreat? Invite your best girlfriend instead and pretend to be lovers, then wonder if perhaps maybe you should be. Longtime pals Kat (Tara Karsian) and Samantha (Andrea Grano) grapple with their relationship amid plenty of laughs, mostly brought on by their fellow couples in distress. Bring a friend, not a date. ⋆⋆ ½ out of four stars
"The Young Kieslowski" (3 p.m. Sun. ): The success of this "boy virgin meets girl virgin, gets her pregnant with twins" scenario hangs on the screen presence of baby-faced Ryan Malgarini as college student Brian, who effortlessly exudes the charisma of a young Vincent Kartheiser. Haley Lu Richardson, who is coming to the fest and also appears in "The Well,"is effectively low-key as Leslie, torn between becoming a very young mom or having an abortion. ⋆⋆ ½ out of four stars
"Rediscovering John Berryman" (5:45 p.m. Oct. 23): It's a shame that what is remembered most these days about brilliant poet and beloved U Prof. John Berryman is that he killed himself in 1972 by jumping off the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis. "His suicide is one of the least interesting things about him," says Berryman scholar Richard J. Kelly, and this documentary by Al Milgrom backs him up. Berryman said of his famous "Dream Songs" that they weren't meant to be understood, but to "terrify and comfort." What did he want to be remembered for? "The fact that I worked hard," he is filmed saying. "That's quite enough for me." ⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
"Time Lapse" (8:30 p.m. Oct. 25, closing-night gala): The cozy friendship between artsy young couple Finn and Callie (Matt O'Leary and Danielle Panabaker) and their gambler roommate Jasper (George Finn) starts to unravel after they start experimenting, for personal gain, with their dead neighbor's camera that can see into the near future. Even discerning sci-fi fans might be pleasantly surprised at director Bradley King's ability to maintain suspense, surprise and realism on a shoestring budget. ⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars