The weekly “best bets” column took a few weeks off during the thick of the holiday season, but there are still plenty of cinematic presents under the Twin Cities tree. Like Bob once sang, “keep cinephilia with you, all through the year.” Shouldn’t be too hard with some of the flicks available for public viewing this week … with one incredibly irritating exception. Read on.


Monday, Jan. 7 & Tuesday Jan. 8: Funny Games (Trylon Microcinema)

The term “best bets” doesn’t exactly apply in the traditional sense with this recommendation, the reason being that I hate this movie with the fury of the counter-protesters at any public appearance by the Westboro Baptist Church. Naturally, that’s likely the response Austrian arthouse terrorist Michael Haneke sought when he directed this smug 1997 shocker. (The Trylon kicks off their month-long Haneke series in honor of his newest movie, the far more defensible provocation Amour.) I have only seen it once, and will never watch it again, so here’s an excerpt from my old notes: “Funny Games, a tightly wound Teutonic exercise in sadism in which a sterilized, rich, single-child family finds their home invaded by two pranksters-cum-murderers who place a bet they won’t survive twelve hours, is like Lars Von Trier at his least controlled trying to fashion a Marxist grindhouse homage. It succeeds in inciting anger and forcing viewers to consider their own relationship to violence, but it makes the fatal error of assuming that audiences, like the central affluent family unit, are too privileged and comfortable to be either capable of or considerate enough to be initiated into a class dialogue without someone sticking a gun into their nasal cavity. Funny Games is frustrating, effective in its streamlined shock quotient and, in the end, adds little to your understanding of cinematic violence other than maybe the desire to return to the naiveté of cheap kicks rather than have to suffer through another half-baked dissertation.” Man, oh man, do I hate this movie, and bear in mind I found things to like about Cannibal Holocaust.


Monday, Jan. 7 through Thursday, Jan. 10: Promised Land (St. Anthony Main)

For everyone who has been waiting patiently for Gus Van Sant to get back into his comfy Finding Forrester slippers, I give you Promised Land. Co-written by stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, Promised Land tells you very little about the nitty-gritty of fracking, the process by which natural gas is released from the land. For that, you’ll probably have to rent Gasland, the Oscar-nominated documentary that no doubt spurred Damon and Krasinski’s interest in the topic. No, what you get here is a sort of Thank You For Smoking scenario played straight, wherein you’re led to sympathize with the characters positioned by the movie’s own internal politics to be the bad guys. Van Sant demonstrates his jaundiced eye for small town idiosyncrasies, but the script’s gotcha moments ensure this will remain “preaching to the choir” fodder.


Wednesday, Jan. 9: Beware of Mr. Baker (Trylon Microcinema)

One of the titles I didn’t get to screen in time for last year’s Sound Unseen Fest, Beware of Mr. Baker showcases the life and times of Ginger Baker — rock drummer, co-founder of the influential trio Cream, patron saint of ornery recluses. This doc doesn’t shy away from Baker’s less valiant qualities. In fact, it seems built around them. Did Michael Haneke ghost direct? Watch the preview here. (Note: Language NSFW.)


Friday, Jan. 11: Tabu (Walker Art Center)

I’ll be writing more about this one later this week, but for now, suffice it to say that Tabu (both named and loosely modeled after F.W. Murnau’s final film) has been called one of the most visually rapturous films of 2012, and one of the best (Sight & Sound ranked it second in their year-end list).


Friday, Jan. 11: Once Upon a Time in the West (Trylon Microcinema)

I’ve seen Sergio Leone’s towering spaghetti western described as 1968’s unlikely companion piece to Stanley Kubrick’s mind-expanding 2001: A Space Odyssey. I can see it. Once Upon a Time is about as much a western as it is an Antonioni-tinged revenge saga, with otherworldly panoramic expanses doubling as a psychologically mutable topography, or externalized human condition. And there is sort of a High Noon showdown near the climax of 2001 between man and machine. Even if the comparison yields nothing more than a snapshot of a particular moment in cinema, by all means head to the Trylon this weekend to catch Leone’s monumental epic on a big (or thereabouts) screen.


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