Stranger Than Fiction

February 13, 2014 § 2 Comments

While most people are scrambling to see this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees, I’ve quietly made my way through the Best Documentary category.

I’m disappointed “After Tiller” (about late-term abortion providers) and “In No Great Hurry” (a profile of Saul Leiter, a New York photographer whom I greatly admire) were not nominated, but the films selected this year are all worthy of the nod (some more than others).

My synopsis of each film with links to the trailers:

The Act of Killing” Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen — A strange and disturbing concept — the directors asked Indonesian death squad leaders and gangsters central to the killings of many locals in 1965-1966 to re-enact how they interrogated, tortured, and killed. Never convicted of their crimes, the killers were given artistic license to depict their atrocities.

The warnings that the film was disturbing almost kept me away, but the re-enactments are simply crude, not grotesque (at least by most Hollywood standards). It’s the celebration of their killing and the lack of sympathy for the victims that is gut-wrenching and nauseating. At the end, their strange film glorifying their acts is complete, and the viewer is left with the small consolation that one of the characters finally realizes the horror he perpetrated.

Of particular note was the complete silence of the audience after the film ended.

* * *

Cutie and the Boxer” Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher — If I were giving out the Oscar, it would go to this film. It doesn’t deal with war or revolution or genocide. It’s just a simple profile of the marriage of New York artists Noriko and Ushio Shinohara. Ushio, Noriko’s elder by 20 years, is the more well known of the two. Through archival footage and Noriko’s art and animation, we see what she has sacrificed for him and their son over the decades. It beautifully weaves their complex relationship and striking artwork together, and it left me intrigued by the artists’ flaws and internal demons as well as their deep love and affection for each other.

* * *

Dirty Wars” Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill — The film investigates a night raid by U.S. troops in Afghanistan that led to the killing of several innocent villagers. Scahill uncovers the perpetrators of the raid — a powerful group called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), later celebrated for their role in the killing of Osama Bin Laden. At issue is their growing kill list, their terrifying raids, and a lack of accountability for their actions at the highest levels of the military.

* * *

The Square” Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer — For 2.5 years, the filmmakers followed several activists fighting for their future and the future of their country during the Egyptian Revolution. It begins with the protests in Tahrir Square that led to the overthrow of President Mubarak and continues through the election of President Morsi and others representing the Muslim Brotherhood. What transpires is the disillusionment and violence of the protesters hoping for a more democratic government and their continued struggle to fight for what they believe in.

Particularly interesting is the growing conflict between two of the activists who are friends — one opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood and the other a long-time member of it.

* * *

20 Feet from Stardom” Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers — The film pairs great music with profiles of background singers for some of the best rock, pop, and Motown songs of the 1960s and later. It highlights the frustration for those who have the talent to be headliners, but maybe not the ego or that extra something to get them in the spotlight. The film dragged in places for me, but overall did a nice job conveying the highs and lows of a background singer’s life as well as the admiration many rock stars have for this group’s incredible talents.

* * *

All of the movies except “20 Feet from Stardom” are available through streaming on Netflix.

Also, if you’d like to learn more about these films and the directors’ experiences creating them, WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” is in the midst of its annual series profiling the Best Documentaries — podcasts of each are available at the show’s website.


October 12, 2013 § 3 Comments


Crisp night for watching pop-up cinema behind Forage (and enjoying libations at Burch)


August 30, 2013 § 3 Comments


Letter “j”

Gender: male
Personality: class clown
Best uses: jabberwocky, jejune, jodhpur, jujube, juxtapose
Favorite movie that begins with “j”: Junebug (2005)

Jaurnte (Art in June): Day Eighteen

June 18, 2013 § 1 Comment

I’m a film lover, and I’ve had my eyes on Trylon Microcinema in Minneapolis for some time now. Tonight my June art tour finally led me there for a screening of the documentary Sign Painters.

Trylon is a tiny movie theater that seats only about 50 people. It’s operated by Take-Up Productions, a nonprofit that screens independent and classic films. It’s an artistic little number sandwiched between Peace Coffee and Studio MPLS — a design firm that gets my vote simply because the cutest black-and-white dog was frolicking around inside. The theater itself is intimate and dark and attracts the right kind of crowd, i.e., people who actually come to see the movie, not text or yak about their personal problems as the opening credits roll.

Trylon hand-painted sign on side of building

Trylon hand-painted sign on side of building

Not surprisingly, all of the Sign Painters showings at Trylon quickly sold out. It’s a fantastic film about the lost art of sign painting and its recent revival. The film profiles sign painters from across the United States engaged in and talking about their artful trade. Two Twin Cities painters featured in the film stopped by afterward for a lively Q&A with the directors.

Trylon movie posters

Trylon movie posters

As someone who swoons over old faded hand-painted signs, I couldn’t be happier to see sign painting making a comeback and attracting a new generation of artisans. The film not only profiled these artists lovingly but also reminded viewers of the gifts we all possess to create something beautiful.

Trylon Microcinema
3258 Minnehaha Avenue

Sign Painters
Directors: Faythe Levine and Sam Macon

Nightstand 2013: Week Twenty-One

May 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

What I’m reading this week:

And a movie to adore:



April 4, 2013 § Leave a comment


Frances Ha! Frances Ha! Frances Ha! The best movie I saw last year and one of my all-time favorites has finally made it to Minneapolis and is nearing national release (go see it — it will make you smile and long for NYC) — at the Walker Art Center


December 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

How was yours?

Best food/wine:

  • Chocolate hazelnut torte — Prairie Kitchen
  • Fondue — Barbette
  • Prosecco/cava

Best sighting:

Hundreds of geese and one lonely beaver on Powers Lake in Woodbury

Best drive-by:

Como Lake, late evening

Favorite non-daily photos (from the last week):

Biggest disappointment:

No sunshine


  • Discovering a body of water hidden in the city
  • Deep, funny discussions with good friends and my mom
  • Cute Uniqlo outfits
  • Long run
  • Movie on a big screen

Best movie: 

Anna Karenina — pure art and theater; a feast for the eyes

Best re-discovered song (while listening to The Current):

All Things Must Pass” by George Harrison

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