Beloit International Film Festival: “Virginia Minnesota” is an engaging comedy-drama from next door


Take a Wendigo, a wisecracking robot and a few old secrets, and you might just have the makings of a superior comedy-drama.

Or Superior comedy-drama.

“Virginia Minnesota,” which plays Saturday at the Beloit International Film Festival (its second-ever screening after premiering at Cinequest earlier in the week) is an engaging movie from writer-director Daniel Stine that takes place in the title town, of course, as well as on the shores of Lake Superior in Grand Marais. A more welcoming invitation for the region is hard to imagine being filmed.

Lyle (Rachel Hendrix) is a travel blogger who tours the country with an unlikely companion, a “robot” (really just a rolling suitcase with a Siri-type device attached). But her travels are taking her back to Minnesota, to the reform school she was once placed in as a girl.

The woman who ran the home has died, and Lyle and several of her classmates have returned home for the reading of the will and to reconnect. (Stine has a small role as the woman’s son.) The visit stirs up memories, not all of them pleasant. Honestly, the repartee between the women is so engaging that I would have been happy to just keep the movie there and let the wine flow.

But one woman is absent – Addison (Aurora Perrineau), the wild child of the bunch, a free spirit and loose cannon who hops from tourist job to tourist job. Lyle is sent to go fetch her, and as the two old friends take a meandering road trip back, dig deeper into the buried secrets that have kept them apart since childhood. The journey gets progressively more and more zany, including an apparent run-in with a Wendigo (although Addison’s mother may be more ferocious).

Tone is a tricky thing to manage, and “Virginia Minnesota” sometimes swerves over the lines. Sometimes the drama veers into sentimentality and pathos. Sometimes the jokes feel too silly and sitcommy for such a character-driven film. (On the other hand, the robot, voiced by Aurora’s father, “Lost” actor Harold Perrineau, is the silliest running joke of all, but still had me chuckling throughout.)

But the chemistry between the female-led cast is so strong that it carries the film over any narrative bumps. The film also has unusually tight and sharp editing for such a low-budget indie, the shots capturing the idiosyncratic beauty of the region and giving the film a snappy rhythm.

“Virginia Minnesota” has its premiere at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Beloit International Film Festival with an encore screening at 5 p.m. Sunday. For locations, tickets, and other information about the festival, visit


“In the mixture, there is beauty”: ‘Red Trees’ is an evocative tale of survival and migration


Alfred Willer was extraordinarily lucky. But, in the context of the Holocaust, “extraordinarily lucky” still means living with almost unimaginable loss.

Marina Willer’s impressionistic documentary “Red Trees,” now out on Blu-Ray from Cohen Media Group, aims to tell the story of her father and her family’s Holocaust story in a highly unorthodox way. Its visual daring sets it apart from other documentaries about the Holocaust, and justifiably so, since it’s a very unusual story.

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Vice Principal Vernon and Carl the Janitor, the sixth and seventh members of “The Breakfast Club”


Watching the new Criterion Collection edition of John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club,” I was struck by something I had never noticed before. The opening credits list all the main actors in the film in alphabetical order, starting with Emilio Estevez as jock Andrew and ending with Ally Sheedy as “weird” kid Allison.

But there are seven names listed, not five. In between are Paul Gleason, who plays vice principal Richard Vernon, and John Kapelos, who played Carl the janitor. That seemed weird to me – “The Breakfast Club” is those five young actors, made iconic as the avatars of ‘80s teens. You don’t see Vernon or Carl peeking in on the movie posters – why would they be billed at the same level as Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson or Anthony Michael Hall?

Rewatching the film as a middle-aged man, it’s perhaps natural that I saw those two adult characters differently – or, indeed, I saw them at all. When I saw the film in 1985, the two adults just seemed to hover in the background, indistinct. Now I see their importance to “The Breakfast Club.”

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Terry Gilliam gyres and gimbles through his 1977 debut “Jabberwocky”


As Hollywood desperately tries to find more and more properties to turn into movies (Board games! Apps! Emojis!) it’s surprising they don’t buy the rights to more poems to turn into blockbusters. How about a rip-roaring “Ozymandias” about a team of adventurers trying to find the “two vast and trunkless legs of stone?” Or Russell Crowe as the “Ancient Mariner,” beset on stormy seas by a giant CGI albatross?

Terry Gilliam beat them all to the punch with his first film as a director, a very loose – indeed, pretty much entirely unraveled – adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” The 1977 film was just released this past week on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.

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Shout! Factory saves the best for last (and the last for last) with “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXXIX”


It’s fitting that, as we all settle in to celebrate Turkey Day, Shout! Factory has saved the best for last when it comes to its “Mystery Science Theater 3000” DVD sets. And also saved the last for last.

The new “Vol. XXXIX,” which came out this week, is the last scheduled of the four-disc sets to be released by Shout! Factory. They’ve now put all of the original “MST3K” episodes they have the rights to out on disc, ending with this set.

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Deeply misguided “Churchill” puts the “wince” in “Winston”


We’re awash in Churchills right now in pop culture. There’s John Lithgow scowling away on Netflix’s “The Crown,” and later this month Gary Oldman will pile on the prosthetics in “Darkest Hour.”

But if there’s an actor who seems most suited to play the gruff but charismatic bulldog, called the greatest Briton of the 20th century, it would be Brian Cox. And he wouldn’t even need much makeup or prosthetics, having arrived to the set pre-jowled.

So it’s baffling, almost angering, that the movie “Churchill” so completely wastes Cox’s performance as Churchill. Cox’s performance is just fine in the movie (out now on DVD from Cohen Media Group). But the movie itself is so incredibly misguided, so willfully ignorant of the history both as it was and as the audience perceives it to be. It fails as drama because it fails at history.

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Kristen Stewart haunts “Personal Shopper,” a very French ghost story


In her last collaboration with director Oliver Assayas, “Clouds of Sils Maria,” Kristen Stewart’s character literally disappeared halfway through the movie.

While watching the pair’s next film, the haunting “Personal Shopper,” one half-expects her to vanish before our eyes in this movie, too.

“Personal Shopper” is a ghost story, elliptical and surprising, and it’s not always clear that Stewart isn’t the ghost. The film is out now in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection.

Assayas says in an interview on the Criterion disc that he wanted to make a ghost story that was quintessentially French. That included the Paris setting, and references back to the 19th century, when Europeans would regularly hold seances and even craft crude portraits in which their deceased loved ones “appeared.” In “Personal Shopper,” the ghosts seem to be all around us.

Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, an American living in Paris who works as a personal shopper to a wealthy celebrity philanthropist, Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz). Since Lara is too famous to go out in public, Maureen goes out and buys expensive clothes and jewelry for her. We hardly see Lara in the film, and she hardly sees Maureen, and each is an almost spectral presence in the life of the other.

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