Two films that recently hit streaming services have Minnesota ties. Neither is what you expect going in. Both are worth seeing.
“The Ringmaster,” a documentary filmed partly in Worthington, is an object lesson in how not to make a documentary.
Las Vegas-based Zachary Capp is a recovering gambling addict with fond memories of onion rings he enjoyed as a child on visits to his wealthy grandparents in Minnesota. The rings were made by a man named Larry Lang, using a secret recipe and doing everything by hand in his family’s restaurant. People came from miles around to eat Larry’s rings. A Washington Post food critic once called them “so good, they belong in the halls of the Smithsonian.”
When his grandfather leaves him an inheritance, Capp is free to pursue his dream of being a filmmaker. He decides to make a movie about Larry, now an aging fry cook. Along the way, Capp determines to change Larry’s life for the better, to raise him out of Midwestern obscurity to onion-ring stardom. He concocts all kinds of outrageous schemes: having Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS sample Larry’s rings. Working a deal with the NFL and turning Larry’s rings into Raiders’ Rings. Flying Larry to and from Las Vegas in a private jet.
Except Larry is a shy guy, easily overwhelmed and confused. His sister Linda, with whom he lives in Worthington in a house 90 feet from his family’s former restaurant, has her own dimming dreams of fame. They go along with Capp’s plans as best they can. Watching the results is a bit like watching a train wreck happen in slow motion.
Capp has hired a professional crew to help him make his film, and they slyly turn the camera on him, making Capp’s story a story about Capp, whose failure to see Larry’s limitations ends up being terribly sad. The crew – including Molly Dworsky, originally from Minneapolis – is refreshingly honest and regretful about their own complicity.
There are moments of hilarity in this film, and sweetness. It’s not all a downer. Capp isn’t a bad person. He doesn’t want to hurt Larry. He really wants to help him. But that’s not his job as a documentary filmmaker. Bottom line: “The Ringmaster” is as irresistible as a plate of Larry’s rings. Watch on Prime and Vimeo.
And now for something completely different: “3 Day Weekend,” an escape room of a thriller from filmmakers Wyatt McDill and Megan Huber. They split their time between Los Angeles and Minnesota, but “our work is all centered in Minnesota,” McDill said in an email.
They made their latest film in Park Rapids, mostly in the forest. It’s full of twists and hairpin turns. And there is no dialogue. As in zero. None, for 80 minutes. One character can’t speak. The others say a few words, but to themselves, not to each other. (Well, once, but there’s no answer.) Information, cryptic and/or misleading, is delivered as texts over cellphones (received, but never replied to), a handwritten note, photographs of a map tattooed on someone’s back and a single piece of popcorn on the counter of a camper trailer.
The story, loosely: Ben, an amateur camper, has just broken up with his girlfriend (or she’s broken up with him) and has gone to the woods for a weekend to get away from it all. After setting up his tent by the side of a lake (ineptly; he really is an amateur), he returns to his car and discovers what appears to be a kidnapping in progress. There’s blood, a dropped cellphone, a few mysterious Polaroids and a woman – alive – in the trunk of another car. When he goes to help her, as she frantically seems to wave him away, someone shoots an arrow from a crossbow into the car. Gunshots follow.
The story folds in on itself, moving back and forth in time, scattering red herrings, interpreting events from each character’s perspective. One has just gotten out of jail and can’t spell. Another likes popcorn. There’s a safe buried in the forest, but what’s inside?
“3 Day Weekend” screened at the 2019 Twin Cities Film Fest, where it won the Best Screenplay Award (remember, no dialogue). The cast is Morgan Krantz (“In the Dark”), Maya Stojan (“Agents of Shield”), Nathan Phillips (“Snakes on a Plane”) and Scott MacDonald (“Jarhead”). It’s diabolical and brilliant, and it delivers a gigantic “Aha!” at the end.
If you’re not good at solving puzzles, you can watch it, then watch it again to see what you missed. (Like “Memento” or “The Spanish Prisoner” or “The Usual Suspects.”) That can be fun, and what else have you got to do? This film is just what we all need to take our minds off of absolutely everything else right now. Watch on Prime, Vimeo, or the filmmakers’ pay-per-view screening site.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
V Tonight (Thursday, Oct. 15) on Zoom: UMN English Writers Series: Ada Limón. One poet (“The Carrying,” “Bright Dead Things,” “Sharks in the Rivers,” “Lucky Wreck,” “This Big Fake World”) in conversation with another, U of M professor Ray González. 7 p.m. Free. Register here.
L Friday (Oct. 16) at Icehouse: Dosh with JT Bates, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Chris Thomson and Charlie Lincoln. Winter is coming and outdoor concerts, at least in Minnesota, can’t last forever. You want to squeeze in as many as possible and still be selective. If you have big ears, you can’t do better than an evening with these five masters and experimenters with music and technology. 7 p.m. in the courtyard, with socially distanced seating. $20 cover. Dress warm and wear a mask.
V Starts Friday (Oct. 16) online: The Moving Company: “Liberty Falls 2020.” Successor to 2015’s “Liberty Falls,” this is the Moving Company’s first-ever web mini-series. The cast includes Christina Baldwin, Joy Dolo, Jay Eisenberg, Steven Epp, JuCoby Johnson and Nathan Keepers. Watch the first three episodes for free. Pay $6.99 for the fourth on Vimeo if you want to see how things turn out. 7 p.m. on Fridays, Oct. 16, 23, 30 and Nov. 6. FMI here and on Facebook.
V Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 17 and 18) online: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: “Love’s Longing.” Second in the SPCO’s Fall 2020 series of performances livestreamed from the Ordway Concert Hall stage. The music will include Billy Childs’ String Quartet No. 3, “Unrequited,” the world premiere of Adolphus Hailstork’s “St. Paul’s Blues for Solo Flute” (featuring Alicia McQuerrey), and works by Brahms and Clara Schumann. 8 p.m. Saturday, rebroadcast 2 p.m. Sunday. Free in the concert library.
V Opens Saturday (Oct. 17) online: Posters for Parks 2020. Love our Minneapolis parks? Buy a park-inspired, limited-edition poster by a local artist. Proceeds are split 50/50 between the artists and the People for Parks Fund. This year’s show will be virtual. with posters from 33 artists available for $45 each. The new art will be revealed and sales will begin at 5 p.m. on Saturday. So will a kick-off cocktail hour on Zoom. RSVP/register here. View previous years’ posters here. Sales end Oct. 24 or sooner, if posters sell out.
V Opens Saturday (Oct. 17) online: Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company: “Operation: Immigration.” As a young man searches for information about the life of his late father, an Iranian-born Jew, he struggles to find himself. Avi Aharoni (MJTC’s “Natasha and the Coat,” Dark & Stormy’s “The Norwegians”) wrote and performs this one-man show, expanded from an award-winning 2019 Fringe Festival hit. Directed by Robert Dorfman, this is a filmed performance. FMI and tickets ($15/10 subscribers). 8 p.m. Saturday; other times on other days. Ends Oct. 25.
V Sunday (Oct. 18) online: The Lied Society: “We Are the Change: A Historic Concert.” Broadcast from the Ordway as a live audio stream, hosted by Garrett McQueen, this concert will feature African American singers Marsha Thompson, Raehann Bryce-Davis, J. Warren Mitchell and Thomas Cannon and pianist Byron Burford-Phearse in a program of art songs and arias. Among them will be the world premiere of “We Call the Roll” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis (“The Central Park Five”) and Grammy-winning librettist Thulani Davis. The new song was co-commissioned with the Schubert Club. 4 p.m. on the Lied Society’s website. Free.
V Monday (Oct. 19) online: The Theater of Public Policy: “What Is the Future of Public Media?” with MPR President Duchesne Drew and TPT President Sylvia Strobel. Both leaders are new to their roles; Drew since April, Strobel since January. Drew especially has been in the spotlight with the recent turmoil at MPR. So it should be interesting to hear what each has to say and see how the geniuses at T2P2 turn their words into comedy improv. 7 p.m. on Facebook and YouTube. Free to watch, donations welcome.