Sunday, November 27, 2011

Maybe it's the cooling weather, or maybe it's because I haven't written in a while.  Or maybe it's because Chris may finally be getting my workspace together, but I've been feeling this desire to create.  Create what?  I'm not sure yet. 

I'm just looking forward to having, after more than a year and a half, a functioning space that I can use for reading, writing, etc. in this house.  I don't have "a space" and the lighting and (probably more so) my eyes are so bad that it's impossible to read anywhere, and my laptop has been firmly planted on the dining room table since we moved here. So, if I don't watch tv, I have to sit in the dining room and...that's about it.  So now that there's been some movement from Chris working on the den (though even this weekend it's been slow going... "ten minutes of messing around on the computer" has now turned into an hour) I have hope.  I really, really hope.  The situation has become kind of desperate, and even though I may not spend all of my time in there (that would be pretty isolationist of me) I just want an option.  Plus, it may kickstart some other improvements we should be making around here as well.

Here's hoping.

Monday, October 3, 2011

MFF Film #28 Outrage

OUTRAGE
Japan, 2010
Japanese with English subtitles
Director: Takeshi Kitano

At a gathering with Mr. Chairman, the head of the Sanno-kai syndicate that rules over Tokyo, one of the crime bosses is admonished for his ties with an outsider and warned that he has to sever this relationship or suffer the consequences.  What begins as a fake attempt to do this turns into an all out war, with allegiances changing and people in power playing with human lives as if they were pawns.

Outrage doesn't have a tremendously deep story, though the intricate plots that are conceived in order to move in on others' territory and advance within the yakuza are entertaining.  The manipulation of outsiders is particularly scary (think "protection money" schemes by the mob, only more scary and desperate) and the power structure of the yakuza is actually kind of fascinating.  In one scene, a man can ruthlessly kill four or five people in the span of 30 seconds, and in the next he is cutting off his finger as a sign of honor and sitting prostrate at the feet of Mr. Chairman.  It is this kind of dichotomy that makes the relationships within the organization so complicated.

Outrage is sleekly shot and just plain cool looking, but it is extremely violent; not just people getting shot violent, but really up close and personal violent, so it's not a film for people with weak stomachs.  There are so many characters involved that there is no one who stands out as a great villain (other than maybe Mr. Chairman, who is the craftiest of all of them) or anyone to root for, but I don't think it was director (and writer and star) Takeshi Kitano's intent; we're just supposed to experience them as a group of gangsters and not really "root" for anyone.

This isn't a film for everyone, and truthfully, it doesn't have a lot of story, but if you're looking for a well made, entertaining film that is full of action and violence, Outrage is a good one to watch.  Plus, there are some really creative torture methods that will make you cringe but think, "Wow, THAT was clever..."  And let's face it: despite its shortcomings, Outrage is better than 80% of the action films that are released in the United States any day. 

MFF Ballot Rating: 3 out of 5

MFF Film #27 - Becoming Santa

BECOMING SANTA
USA/Canada, 2010
English
Director: Jeff Myers

Jack Sanderson is a 44 year old man living in Los Angeles who, after losing his father (his mother passed away 10 years prior)decides that the best way to capture the Christmas spirit in a time when it's hard to find it would be to become Santa for a Christmas season.  The result is Becoming Santa, a documentary that chronicles Sanderson's journey, from getting his hair and beard bleached to attending an official Santa school in Denver.

Becoming Santa not only features Sanderson's journey, but features a large number of interviews with other Santas around the country, including some niche Santas like, "Civil War Santa".  Director Jeff Myers also delves into the history of the Santa story, dating back to St. Nicholas and even examines some of the racially provocative elements of the story, most specifically "Black Peter" who started out as a bad guy, but after some outcry over having a black person as the "bad guy" compared to the snowy white St. Nicholas, history was altered and now Black Peter is St. Nicholas' helper.  Never mind the mind-numbingly horrifying tradition of kids and adults alike dressing in black face to play the part, mainly in Europe. 

The film primarily focuses on Sanderson, however, and what a gem this guy is.  He possesses an amazing sense of humor, and is an incredible wit.  His comments and facial expressions had the audience I was in laughing, and I was in tears most of the time.  I genuinely wanted to be this guy's friend.  Though he is going balls out in his quest, (though he looked really cool, bleaching the hair and beard was just an astounding commitment) he is also very grounded and throughout the film, expresses indecision and doubt over whether this is something he would want to continue, despite everyone "in the know" asserting that he could be one of "the world's top Santas" if he stuck with it. 

Becoming Santa is one of the most enjoyable films I've seen in a long time, and it charmed me to death.  I don't think there was a time when I wasn't smiling while watching, (and usually laughing) and it exuded joy.  I'm not known for being a big fan of children, but seeing the pure, unadulterated joy and excitement on the childrens' faces when Sanderson would appear as Santa was incredibly heartwarming and it really hit me right in the heart because when was the last time you were that unabashedly happy about anything?  Becoming Santa made me happy and I not only loved it, but it may go into my coveted Christmas film yearly viewing schedule from now on.  See this movie, you won't regret it.  Better yet, wait until you need a pick me up and then see it.  You'll thank me.

MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5

MFF Film #26 - The Human Resources Manager

THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER
Israel/Germany/France/Romania, 2010
Hebrew/English/Romanian with English subtitles
Director: Eran Riklis

When a suicide bomber is killed in Jerusalem, her death is partly blamed on her former employer, a bakery, because she had been recently terminated.  As part of a public relations cleanup, the human resources manager is dispatched to identify her body and transport it back to Romania, her native country.  He never knew the woman, yet to save his job, he accepts the assignments and embarks on a strange  road trip involving an equally strange cast of characters who are picked up along the way.

I enjoyed The Human Resources Manager, but was led to believe that it was going to be more humorous than it turned out to be.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the overall tone of the film was very dry.  I did appreciate some of the sight gags (the replacement vehicle for their broken down van being an enormous, military-issue Humvee was a nice touch).

I didn't feel like I saw an outstanding film after seeing The Human Resources Manager, but it was an average, decent film that did the most with a minimal story, partly due to a good pace.  Unfortunately, the biggest problem with The Human Resources Manager is its distance and slight coldness.  None of the main characters were really fleshed out, so there wasn't a lot of sentimentality nor much to relate to beyond the most superficial level. 

The Human Resources Manager is efficiently made and enjoyable on some levels, but walking out of it, I didn't have any strong feelings about it.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) I expect a film to have at least some residual effect on me, and The Human Resources Manager simply didn't do that for me.

MFF Ballot Rating: 3 out of 5

MFF Film #25 - Shorts: Out of this World

SHORTS: OUT OF THIS WORLD
Various Countries/Languages




Pioneer
A father tells an unusual bedtime story to his son.  This was beautifully filmed and intimate, with two endearing characters and an unbelievable story.  MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5.

Time Freak
A man invents a time machine, but finds that he's not using it as he originally planned.  Clever, funny and entertaining - I really enjoyed this one.  MFF Ballot Rating: 4 out of 5.

Grandpa's Wet Dream
A Japanese grandfather's late in life obsession with porn leads him to become in actor in his favorite production company's films.  At first I thought the title was going to be a clever play on words, but nope, it was aptly named, This was a good short - funny and odd.  MFF Ballot Rating: 4 out of 5.

When the Wind Changes
After two annoying guys get on their friend's nerves one time too many, something happens and they receive their punishment in spades.  I loved this short and laughed really hard during most of it.  It was such a clever idea and really enjoyable - definitely an audience favorite.  MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5.

Bukowski
While on vacation at a hotel with his family, a young boy finishes reading Charles Bukowski's book, Pleasure of the Damned.  He then takes on the persona of Bukowski and roams the hotel, encountering many of the hotel staff who are amazed when he introduces himself as Bukowski.  I absolutely LOVED this film and was both charmed and bowled over by it.  It was so clever and original, and I'm afraid that its nuances may have gone over the heads of anyone who doesn't know Bukowski or his work, but I thought it was absolutely brilliant.  MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5.

West of the Moon
An old man narrates his life, which is full of fantasy, with a killer ending.  This short was creative, incredibly beautiful and so visually stunning.  Outstanding.  MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5.

Yuri Lennon's Landing on Alpha 46
An astronaut is launched into space to explore and retrieve something for the space program, but ends up finding something completely unexpected.  This short was awesomely filmed and riveting from start to finish.  I thought the scenes in the rocket were cool, but once Yuri landed, the cinematography got even cooler.  MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5.

MFF Film #24 - A Good Man

A GOOD MAN
USA, 2011
English
Director: Bob Hercules, Gordon Quinn

A Good Man documents the conception of and rehearsals for legendary choreographer Bill T. Jones' new piece about Abraham Lincoln's legacy, which premiered at the Ravinia in Chicago.  The contemporary dance piece is ambitious enough, but Jones' uncertainty over his true feelings about the subject, particularly after exhaustive research, leaves him uncertain about what direction he wants the piece to take.

Bill T. Jones is a fascinating person, and though I am not the biggest fan of modern dance, nor pretend to understand most of it, A Good Man was incredibly interesting.  Jones is incredibly accomplished, driven, a true intellectual and a strict perfectionist, which, rather than alienate the dancers in his company, commands the respect of his dancers and inspires them to strive for more.  Regardless of one's appreciation level for modern dance, it is impossible to not be impressed by the dancers' fluidity, talent and sheer athleticism.  Because Jones was still conceptualizing the piece as rehearsals continued, they were required to be extremely adaptable and improvisational, which is one of Jones' own strong points.

A Good Man is not a biography of Bill T. Jones, in fact, the bits and pieces we learn about him are really only revealed because of their relevance to the work he is currently producing.  Rather, it is a front row look at the creative process and motivations behind an art form that is normally very subjective in its interpretation.  Though "A Good Man" is the term for Lincoln that Jones grapples with, it is undoubtedly an appropriate term for Jones as well.  Produced by Kartemquin Films, which releases amazing documentaries, A Good Man is a superb film that deserves its spot in their pantheon.

MFF Ballot Rating: 4 out of 5

2011 Milwaukee Film Festival - Day 8


2011 Milwaukee Film Festival - Day Eight (Final Day)
Noon

So I decided to embark on my last day early so I could finish my reviews from yesterday.  When I pulled in the parking lot I was the only car here, and when I looked up next after writing for a while the lot was full.  LOL concentrate much?

So it's the last day of the festival and I've had a great time and seen some good movies.  But I'm definitely wiped after trying to balance seeing films, home life and writing reviews quickly enough so I can get it done before returning to work on Tuesday.  I can't deny that I've felt a little isolated, despite being surrounded by people.  I love films so much and love nothing more than talking about them, but it's a lot more fulfilling when you're discussing them with someone you actually saw the film with. 

Though I'm tired and have a ton of writing to do, I'm working on seeing all five movies today, because that will make 30 films seen, and if I don't get a round number in, that makes my OCD itch! 

2:25pm

Really nice crowd for the shorts program, and it's a really mixed bag, which is kind of fun.  Shorts programs seem to traditionally attract a younger crowd, so it's refreshing to see a fair amount of "seasoned" members in the audience.

I'm alert, but man, when I looked at the clock and saw it was just 2:25 I really have to wonder how I'm going to make it through four more movies and 10 more hours...yikes.  Water may have to be substituted for some good old fashioned caffeine.  Unfortunately, Marcus Theatres have Pepsi products and fountain-served Diet Pepsi is akin to drinking a soda that's had ice melting in it for three hours, so maybe not.  Anyway, I'm boring myself with this conversation so I'm going to sit back and see if I can eavesdrop on a more interesting conversation...

Bonus!  A woman behind me just shrieked because she spilled cheese on herself less than two minutes after her husband brought her nachos.  I knew if I paid attention something more entertaining than me would happen.

Sorry, but thank god this is my last day of the sponsor trailer.  Man.

7:15pm

I didn't get a chance to blog before my last movie because I was joined by my boss and her husband.  Our company sponsored the screening of the 4:30 movie, and while it was well attended, it was unfortunately a mediocre movie.  It was nice actually talking to someone though (even people who choose to be anti-social crave companionship sometimes) and I genuinely really like her so it was really nice.

Just two movies to go.  Now I just have to keep the sound of my stomach growling from overpowering the sound of the film.  I'm kind of looking forward to returning to what I had previously deemed my boring rut of workworkwork, come home, zone.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ah yes, my day was just further made by hearing one 60 year old woman say to the other, "Give me knucks!"  LMAO

Let's get this show on the road!  Every single screening was late today and I'm running on fumes so this cannot move on fast enough.

11:30pm

Just made my last trek to my car from the North Shore Cinemas for quite some time.  Great theater, but I overstayed my welcome by just a bit.  The last screening went well, and since it was a Japanese film about the yakuza, it was populated by 20-something guys who undoubtedly still live at home, one of which let out a huge fart in the middle of the film.  Klassy with a capital K.  Time to drive home (I won't miss this drive, either) collapse and get up the next morning to do some cram writing. 

Good times.

MFF Film #23 - Shorts: Let's Get Animated

SHORTS: LET'S GET ANIMATED
Various countries/languages




Heirlooms
Several stories of the heirlooms people hold dear and the reason for their importance.  It was more notable for their stories than the actual animation, and it went on a little long.  MFF Ballot Rating: 2 out of 5.

Marvin
a boy is born with a hole in his head, and though he is accepted, a mishap causes him to literally lose his common sense, which he sets about finding.  This was a really cute short film that was funny, and had a nice message.  I also liked that it was told in rhyme.  MFF Ballot Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Deep
A couple of minutes in the life of the deep sea, only the sea life are made out of household tools.  It was interesting idea, but there wasn't much involved.  MFF Ballot Rating: 2 out of 5.

Bike Race
A friendly bike race among two friends ends up in a love triangle.  Told with simple white line drawings on a black background, and using real audio of the three main characters, both narratively and during the races, this was funny and really charming.  MFF Ballot Rating: 4 out of 5.

Chief Serenbe
A man goes hitchhiking in the city.  That's really all there is to it, and though some of the animation techniques were cool at the end, it was pretty forgettable.  MFF Ballot Rating: 2 out of 5.

A Family Portrait
A family sits for a professional portrait, but cracks appear in their relationships with one another, with an unexpected ending.  I loved this one, from its grotesque character designs to its cleverness.  There is a lot of story told in under five minutes and it is dark and shocking.  MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5.

Something Left, Something Taken
A couple visiting San Francisco become convinced the man driving them from the airport is the Zodiac Killer.  This one was so clever and absolutely hilarious.  The animation was perfect for the story and i totally loved it.  MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5.

Malban
A young man visits a widow and her two children looking for the name of the secret island her husband conducted ornithology research at.  The eldest daughter has to decide whether to reveal the location of the secret place she cherished with her Dad.  There wasn't much of a story, but the animation was beautiful.  MFF Ballot Rating: 3 out of 5.

Luminaris
A day in the life of the unusual profession of lightbulb makers.  The animation was stop-motion and used what looked like photographs.  It was strange and extremely creative.  MFF Ballot Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dot
A little girl has to run from the danger as life is literally unraveling behind her.  This was another stop-motion film that was cute and creative, and notable in that it is in the Guinness book for being the smallest animated film made.  (The materials were so small they were literally film through a microscope.)  MFF Ballot Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Eagleman Stag
A sardonic man narrates his life and accomplishments, including discovering a method of cell regeneration that he doesn't share with the world, out of spite.  This was really clever and funny, and extremely cerebral, with a cool black and white claymation-looking style.  MFF Ballot Rating: 4 out of 5.

2011 MFF Film #22 - Miss Tacuarembo

MISS TACUAREMBO
Uruguay/Argentina/Spain, 2010
Spanish with English subtitles
Director: Martin Sastre

Natalia is a 30 year old woman who is chasing her dream of being a singer, but her reality is that she is an entertainer at a failing Catholic theme park.  She works there with her best friend of more than 20 years, Carlos, who shares her dream and always has been her biggest fan.  She finally gets her chance at national stardom, but it comes with strings attached that bring up a past that threatens her success.

Miss Tacuarembo is a strange but somewhat entertaining film, and during its best moments, it's reminiscent of the 2001 French film Amelie.  Unfortunately, those moments are too rare, and the majority of the film is more like Strictly Ballroom, with corny comedy, flashy dance numbers and some characters that are obscenely overacted.  Walking into the film, I heard someone describe it as "like an Almodovar film, only really Catholic."  The Catholic thing I get, but the only comparisons I could see to Almodovar, one of my favorite contemporary directors, was Sastre's use of Rossy de Palma, one of Almodovar's go-to actresses, and the fact that the film was in Spanish.

The majority of the film is spent in flashback, and these scenes were sometimes cute, but the musical numbers were odd and out of place and didn't have the charm of most musicals - it seemed kind of force.  As a whole, Miss Tacuarembo was entertaining enough, well paced and had a charming lead, but it really was just average, story-wise and overall, nothing spectacular.

MFF Ballot Rating: 3 out of 5

MFF Film #21 - Pianomania

PIANOMANIA
Germany/Austria, 2009
German/English with English subtitles
Director: Lilian Franck, Robert Cibis

Pianomania is a documentary that follows Stefan Knupfer, Steinway's master tuner in Vienna, as he works with various famous pianists to achieve the perect sound they require, which usually varies according to the musician and/or the pieces they are playing.

Though Pianomania is an interesting film, there really is a specific audience it caters to - and that's not even just classical music lovers.  It's directed more to classically trained musicians which, despite several years of playing the saxophone, I am not.  Therefore, a lot of things went over my head, but there seemed to be a lot of reactions within the audience so I guess this film played to the right people.

Though frankly, Pianomania was pretty dull, and didn't help itself by letting the audience know the names of people who were interviewed or featured yet gave us no idea who they were, what they did and therefore, why we should care what they have to say, the film was redeemed for me by its subject, Stefan.  He was passionate about his craft, and handled every situation with an affability that I not only made him extremely endearing, but made me envy him his incredible patience.  He really kept me focused on a film that normally would have been kind of a snoozer for me, regardless of how well executed the film making was. 

There are no frills to Pianomania;it's purely about the intricate sounds of pianos, so I wouldn't recommend it to anyone other than hardcore piano lovers or musicians who find the subject of piano tuning an interesting one.

MFF Ballot Rating: 3 out of 5

MFF Film #20 - Mysteries of Lisbon

MYSTERIES OF LISBON
Portugal, 2010
Portuguese/French/English with English subtitles
Director: Raul Ruiz

Mysteries of Lisbon is a sweeping tale of love, deceit and the class system in 19th century Portugal.  Pedro, a young boy who thought he was an orphan, learns the truth about his parents from the priest who oversees the orphanage/school he attends, and as characters are introduced into this story, their backgrounds unravel into an interweaving tale that all comes back to Pedro, years later.

At a staggering four and a half hours, Mysteries of Lisbon attempts to be an epic, but the only epic thing about the film is its ridiculous length.  Mysteries of Lisbon is a story that could have easily been told in half the time, yet instead dragged from scene to scene with long shots of nothing, or lingering on scenes that should have ended long ago.  Despite its attempt at connecting the characters, the film runs off the rails several times, causing confusion and showcasing how irrelevant so many scenes were.  It got to the point where the words, "I have a story to tell you" began to cause laughter in the screening I attended, because if the people laughing were thinking what I was thinking, it was "Oh here we go again!"

Frankly, I couldn't stand this film.  However, I do have to give credit to director Raul Ruiz for creating a beautifully shot film, with exquisite cinematography and incredibly lit scenes that, if not actually natural light, aped the effect perfectly.  The beauty of Mysteries of Lisbon is the only thing that saved this film from getting the lowest rating I could give.  There were so many times when I just wanted to walk out, but it would have made me angrier to invest as much time as I had and not seen it all the way through to its long-awaited (and wholly unsatisfying) conclusion.  Unless you are under duress, as in strapped into a chair and forced to watch, I wouldn't recommend wasting your time with this film. 

MFF Ballot Rating: 2 out of 5

2011 Milwaukee Film Festival - Day 7



Saturday, October 1 - Day Seven
(well, for me... it's day 10 of the festival)
11:50am

I'm really slow moving this morning.  It doesn't help that the Brewers are playing their first playoff game this afternoon and here I am sitting down to a 4 hour movie.  Ugh.  I hope it's good!

I skipped the festival last night because I just needed a break.  Unfortunately, I chose a night that was going to have at least two good movies, and I was kind of regretting it all night.  But I think it was all for the best because I got to bed at a decent hour and am not going into a full weekend of movies with reviews to write.  The goal for this weekend, in order to keep on track with finishing my reviews on Monday, is to get as much writing done between films as possible so I just have to write a couple and flesh out the rest.  Chris and I have a date to watch City Lights Monday night and I intend to keep it.  I'm going to have so much work to do this week in order to make up for my week off and then my "real" vacation I'm taking the following week. 

Ballot speech again.  Doesn't this woman ever take time off?

5:15pm

Well, that sucked.  On the schedule, that colossal movie was supposed to go until 4pm, however we got out at 5pm, giving me 15 minutes between movies after sitting through a 5 hour film.  That's great.  Really good for my review writing too - I was really counting on that time between movies to write, instead I was running around just to slip into a screening that, for some reason, is packed.  I really hope THIS movie is good because I was thinking of calling it a day about 10 minutes ago.  I'm also starting to wonder why, if the ball speech, etc. is going to go on for five minutes, that they don't start out earlier? Bah.  I'm crabby.  But I can hear other people bitching about that last movie too...haha.

7:30pm

So I decided to do a slight change of plans based on the little time snafu this afternoon.  Though I would much rather see Sound of Noise at 9:30, I'm going to skip that and see the animated shorts program instead since reviews of those are usually limited to about three sentences or less.  Yikes, I'm starting to feel the pressure now - so much for zen!

9:30pm

Hey, I won a $50 gift certificate to a spa at the last screening, based on having seen the most films so far out of the audience.  Hey, I would take some public nerd humiliation for an unused Kleenex, so I wasn't going to pass this one up.

This has been a really rough day and I would love to bag the shorts program, but I just can't since I'm skipping a film I wanted to see in favor of doing something practical.  So, in I go.

11:30pm

Of course, when my goal was to have something easy to review, I get the ballot for the shorts program and there were 11 freakin' shorts on it.  Argh.  And most weren't real notable either.  I'm going home and laying face down and not moving until I have to.

Friday, September 30, 2011

MFF Film #19 - Wish Me Away

WISH ME AWAY
USA, 2010
English
Director: Bobbie Birleffi, Beverly Kopf

After struggling with coming to terms about being gay for decades, country music star Chely Wright did the unthinkable in that community: she came out of the closet, and in epic fashion, releasing a book about her life and her most personal CD yet, and appearing on myriad talk shows and magazine covers.  The world of country music isn't known for being the most tolerant of the gay lifestyle, so Wright was understandably reluctant and terrified to take this giant step.  Wish Me Away chronicles the months leading up to her public outing and the struggles Wright experiences, mostly with herself.

Wish Me Away was an interesting documentary that, while not necessarily thought-provoking or overly complicated, sheds light on a really important issue.  Country music tends to make my ears bleed and frankly, though I feel very strongly about gay rights, I'd never even heard of Chely Wright before this film.  Wright grants amazing access to her life, even providing the filmmakers with a video diary she had created, and the results aren't always pretty.  She is clearly unsure of her decision and suffered incredible depression during filming.  Having grown up in the bible belt of Kansas, as a devout Christian herself, she was afraid of what her family and friends would say, but mostly, she was terrified of the bible loving, mostly Republican people that generally tend to buy country music records and who essentially control what the radio stations play.  Looking at what happened to the Dixie Chicks when the lead singer criticized George W. Bush at an overseas concert, Wright was understandably scared to lose her fan base.

Wright is an extremely candid and likable person who seems really down to earth and genuinely wants to help people in the gay community, particularly children struggling with their sexuality the way she had for years.  That is why, when she finally comes out publicly at the end of the film, it is great to see her so exhilarated that she doesn't just come out, she kicks the door down and says, "Here I am!"  Since filming ended, she has become a leading gay advocate but appears to have been frozen out by the country music community, which is a shame since that was her passion, but I think she's developed a new fan base and will do just fine, especially now that she's fine with herself.

MFF Ballot Rating: 3 out of 5

MFF Film #18 - Vincent Wants to Sea

VINCENT WANTS TO SEA
Germany, 2010
German with English subtitles
Director: Ralf Huettner

Vincent, a 27 year old man who struggles with Tourette's, is admitted into an institution by his father when his mother dies.  He had a very close relationship with his mother, particularly after his father left them, but has, at best, a strained relationship with his distant and cold father.  Vincent desperately wants to cure his Tourette's but knows that the best he can hope for is to be able to control it slightly.  At the institution, he has a roommate with crippling OCD and meets a woman with anorexia.  When the woman steals their doctor's car keys, she, Vincent and his roommate embark upon a soul-searching and sometimes hilarious road trip to the place where he knew his mom was happiest, to Italy, and the sea.

Vincent Wants to Sea is a wonderful film that addresses diseases that society tends to avoid or look away from.  The film does this is in a real and positive way, with the characters attempting to live an existence where they are not defined by their disease.  The screenplay by Florian David Fitz, the film's star, is brilliantly subtle, with every character achieving self-actualization and improvement in really organic ways instead of the miraculous self discovery that plagues so many films. 

Vincent Wants to Sea won Germany's Best Picture award and Florian David Fitz won for Best Actor.  I can understand why both awards were won because it really is an amazing film and Fitz did an amazing job portraying a Tourette's sufferer.  Despite the heavy themes addressed in the film, Vincent Wants to Sea is actually an incredibly positive and uplifting film that had the audience laughing many times.  By the time the film ended (unfortunately in a freeze frame) I felt really good (though they used "Hey Soul Sister" by Train during the last two minutes of the film and its credits, and who can't help but be happy during that song?) and honestly, walked out of the theater with a big smile on my face.  Vincent Wants to Sea is a feel-good movie for people who don't mind a little darkness and pain thrown in the mix, and it is a true gem.

MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5

MFF Film #17 - The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

THE PRUITT-IGOE MYTH
USA, 2011
English
Director: Chad Freidrichs

"The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" is a term that is sometimes applied to explain the failure of public housing projects, and the public housing debate in general.  The origin of the term dates back to the early 1970's, when the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex in St. Louis was demolished after only 16 years of existence.  The housing was developed in the mid-1950's in response to the mass migration of southerners to St. Louis.  Slums were beginning to become a problem in the city's north side neighborhoods, so with federal money, the city planned a series of high-rise buildings designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki in a modern style and built over 57 acres.  In the beginning, the complex was idyllic, but lack of funding prevented the city from maintaining the properties, which created a slippery slope; when the buildings were not kept up, the residents began not to care and vandalism and violence became rampant.  Opinion of the authorities, especially the police obviously low, so they stopped coming when they were met with violence and danger, thinking, "We're going to have glass bottles thrown at us from 11 floors up.  Why bother?"  By then, it became a free-for-all and after people moved out due to safety concerns, drug dealers squatted in their empty apartments, putting the remaining residents at risk.  The buildings were finally demolished in 1972 after no other solution could be found.

I had never heard of this story, and it is absolutely fascinating.  Director Chad Freidrichs used a staggering amount of archival footage, which was available because this housing project was an international news story, partially because of the Civil Rights Movement.  unfortunately, any good that could have been passed on from that struggle never hit Pruitt-Igoe, where disenfranchisement was pervasive.  The welfare state did nothing but keep Pruitt-Igoe's residents from advancing economically, and really bred an isolationist atmosphere.  For years they didn't allow telephones or televisions in the apartments and as part of the condition for living there, families with husbands and fathers who were able-bodied or employed were not allowed to live with the family because that would exceed income qualifications.  Obviously, this created a culture of broken homes, where children didn't have a father and wives didn't have support.  From a psychological standpoint, it was only a matter of time before something would snap.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth is filled with interviews with former residents of the housing project who all, to this day, still have mixed feelings about the time they spent there.  Though they were the ones telling stories of violence (one of the interviewees watched his brother get shot and killed there) and getting into urine-soaked elevators and seeing trash everywhere, there is still a nostalgia for Pruitt-Igoe.  Perhaps because it was a good idea in general, but once the city became involved it went off the rails.  They destroyed the slums in order to build Pruitt-Igoe and in record time, Pruitt-Igoe became worse than the slums it replaced, and that part of the city is just now starting to see a glimmer of revitalization.  Will history repeat itself yet again? 

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth is an excellent documentary that does more than tell the history of a failed housing project; it explores the psychology behind why it failed and really gets some answers.  There isn't a lot left to interpretation here; what you see is what you get, and what we see is what is still going on to some degree in every major city in the United States, just not concentrated into 57 acres.

MFF Ballot Rating: 4 out of 5

2011 Milwaukee Film Festival - Day 6


Thursday, September 29 - Day Six
5pm

Another day of the film festival, another day driving to the theater in a freakin' torrential rain storm.  What the hell?  Anyone who knows me well knows that I love gloomy weather - insert obvious Shirley Manson lyric here - but can someone give a blind sistah a break while she's driving?  Sheesh.

So I walked into the first screening of the day and one of the volunteers goes, "Oh, another member of the press!" (which still makes me go all twitter-pated inside because I'm a huge nerd) so I thought "Uh-oh, is this going to be another packed screening I'm walking into like, 10 minutes before showtime like a complete ass?"  I get inside and, including me, there were four bodies in the theater, five if you include the plush Badtz Maru key chain I had in my right hand.  Yikes.  Not a bad press ratio I guess. 

About 10 more people have walked in but sheesh, I guess there isn't a large contingent of people who get excited over a documentary deconstructing the demise of a housing project in St. Louis.  But aha, my salvation has arrived!  An insane guy just walked into the theater with his wife and yelled, "Is anyone here from St. Louis?!" with the same tone as someone would say, "The owner of a blue Pontiac Vibe, you left your lights on!"  Of course, no one answered him, because if you were from St. Louis, why would you speak up?  Instead everyone just stared at him (except me because I was grinning from ear to ear and scribbling madly) so he says, "Well, we're from St. Louis and this film takes place in St. Louis."  Nice, guy.  Of course, he and his wife sat right behind me in the seats behind that divider bar. 

I guess this woman volunteered she lived there at one time because now he's talking her ear off about all things St. Lous.  It's been three minutes, and he started talking about his wedding, then some Vatican II priest and now he's talking about civil rights in St. Louis.  Oh wait, he's moved on to journalism.  What a spaz.  I love when stuff like this happens because weirdos make my day.  And my favorite part of the conversation?  Right as the movie was starting, she asked when he moved to Milwaukee from St. Louis and he's like, "Oh, 1969."  I didn't have to look at her to see that she had a "Well WTF?!" look on her face.  LOL

Oh, and what's a day at the festival without the theater manager showing the audience how to tear a ballot.  It's been at least 14-15 times that I've sat through this, and, like the sponsor trailer, was ok the first one or two times but ugh.  And yes, I know that most people don't see more than a couple of films so they don't get to experience it SO...MANY..TIMES. 

Just sayin'.

7pm

Well, the weirdo and his wife ended up being a problem.  They were talking during a lot of the film, and it was stupid shit.  Like, when someone being interviewed said something that wasn't, say, in Klingon, he would say to his wife, "She's wise."  God, I can't stand people like that.  Anyway, they apparently brought their own snacks and were loudly rustling around in their plastic bags and crunching on their Doritos for a really long time.  How do I know they were Doritos?  Because while they were talking I would get exposed to toxic Eau de Nacho Cheese Doritos breath.  After several pointed looks at them, which involved turning around and seeing what only this woman's gynecologist should be seeing, (okay, I didn't see any naughty bits, but seriously, I would turn around and these two huge legs were up on the bar and the woman looked like she was ready for crowning) I meant to say, "Could you maybe be a little quieter with your bag?"  That's what I meant to say.  What I actually said was, "Are you almost done?!"  Hahaha woops.  No reaction, by the way.  And it didn't work.  Leave it to me to have the two most annoying people in this hemisphere sit behind me in a theater that seats 250 but was jam-packed with 15. 

I really need to lighten up about the manager's ballot speech.  She walks in and I can feel my chest tighten slightly.  And I still have to hear it at least a dozen times.  Hopefully she has a day off coming up?  I'm sure she's a really nice person and all, it's not personal.  Kind of.

I'm excited to see this film - Vincent Wants to Sea.  I've heard really good things about it and there's a pretty good-sized crowd here.  Even the crappy seats in front of me halfway filled. 

Oh good, the lady in the wheelchair sitting behind me is somehow kicking the back of my chair.  I don't even know what to say about that.

LMAO at the guy who yelled "Bring it up!" in time with the guy in the sponsor trailer.  And why was I the only one who laughed at it?

9:20pm

I'm waiting to see Wish Me Away, which is a documentary about Chely Wright, the country singer who came out.  It's safe to say there's definitely a demographic in this theater.  There's only about 12 of us, but there's nary a penis to be found (at least a non-synthetic one) and I honestly have the longest hair in the theater and I just got a foot of hair cut off three weeks ago so make it barely shoulder length.  I think they're all tremendous.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

2011 MFF Film #16 - Don't Go Breaking My Heart

DON'T GO BREAKING MY HEART
Hong Kong/China, 2010
Cantonese/Mandarin/English with English subtitles
Director: Johnnie To

A young woman, who went through a painful breakup with her boyfriend meets an unemployed architect on the street, and the two click instantly; he inspires her to move on with her life, she inspires him to stop drinking and start designing again.  After an amazing night out on the town together, the two vow to meet up in a week when he will show her his drawings.  In the meantime, her new found confidence leads her to start flirting with the businessman in the office building across from hers - they do things through the window to make each other laugh, he draws pictures with post-it notes and puts them up on his window for her, etc.  This sparks a love triangle between the woman, the businessman and the architect that spans three years, until she finally has to decide who she wants to be with.

Don't Go Breaking My Heart is a lovely film that is romantic and utterly charming.  Johnnie To, whose last film, Vengeance, was a violent revenge flick, surprised me with his obvious versatility.  Don't Go Breaking My Heart is really funny and the characters (even the slick businessman) are all very likable.  There are a lot of "awww" moments without the film going off the deep end into the saccharine pool.  The film is not all about puppies and rainbows, however.  There is pain and heartbreak, and some difficult moments, and it is so easy to relate to these characters that you become emotionally invested in what happens to them. 

I had the choice of seeing this film or another screening playing at the same time at the Milwaukee Film Festival this year and something just kept drawing me to wanting to see this one, and I think I made a great choice.  I loved Don't Go Breaking My Heart, and unfortunately can't express why as much as I would like to because there are things about the plot that shouldn't be revealed so I can't give too much away.  Trust me on this:  it's an excellent movie and if you're looking for a sweet, complicated film that is still incredibly romantic, Don't Go Breaking My Heart is your film.

MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5

2011 MFF Film #15 - Make Believe

MAKE BELIEVE
USA, 2010
English/Japanese/Khosa with English subtitles
Director: J. Clay Tweel

The world of magic has long been a fascinating and mysterious subject, and good magicians thrill their audiences, but they all have to start somewhere.  Make Believe explores the world of young magicians, spotlighting six talented teens, all of whom have years of practice under their belts.  Their special talents and hard work earned them coveted spots in the finals of the World Magic Awards where they will compete to become Teen World Champion.  The magicians who place in the top three rankings are nearly guaranteed a certain amount of fame in their field, so the stakes are high to win in order to further their careers.

The kids featured in Make Believe come from a couple of different countries: three from the United States, one from Japan and two from South Africa, and there are five males and one female.  Though their talents, ages and home towns vary, they are all great kids with very little ego among them, and all have very different personalities.  Krystyn, from Malibu, is a Type-A overachiever (think Election's Tracy Flick without the meanness), Bill from Chicago is outgoing, clever and affable, Derek from Littleton, Colorado is wide-eyed, confident and sweet, Siphiwe and Nkumbuzo from South Africa are goofy, energetic and positive, and Hideo Hara from Japan is elegant, quiet and sweetly humble. 

Director J. Clay Tweel clearly has a love for magic and affection for his subjects.  Make Believe is wonderfully edited and fast paced, without compromising any  of the activity of the film, particularly with the kids' preparations.  Though the climax of the film is the WMA competition, it is not drawn out, rather, the audience gets to see how the kids got where they are, and showcases the amazing talents they have.  There were many times when the audience gasped and murmured over the tricks being performed, and most of the time, it was just sleight of hand stuff that kids were doing without thinking about it while addressing the camera.

Because we get to know the subjects so well, the competition becomes more personal, and when the winners are announced, particularly the first place winner, it is a very emotional moment.  The kids support one another, despite their success at the event, and it is inspiring, particularly since they are all kind of outsiders in their own peer groups. 

I loved this film, and it reminded me a lot of another documentary I really like, Jeffrey Blitz's 2002 film Spellbound.  You don't have to be a magic lover to enjoy Make Believe  it's so much more than that.  I highly recommend it for all ages, particularly if you want to simply enjoy something with a look of fascination and a goofy, happy look on your face. 

MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5

2011 Milwaukee Film Festival - Day 5


Wednesday, September 28 - Day Five
4:45pm

I just walked into the screening of Make Believe and lo and behold, there's a guy doing magic tricks right next to the seat I wanted to sit in, so I sat in the seat in front of it (I'm a creature of habit and slightly OCD).  The audience around me was enjoying it but I am just praying that he wouldn't pick on me, so I am sitting here with my steno pad up to my face scribbling these words madly and hoping he gets the hint.  Aha... just found out he's one of the subjects of the film, so that's kind of fun.  I still want him to leave me alone though and not find a quarter in my ear.

7:30pm

Sitting and waiting for Don't Go Breaking My Heart to begin.  Unfortunately, because I chose this film and not the other one starting just before it, I'm going to have about 2 minutes to hit the bathroom and fill up my water bottle before running into the theater.  I'm not sure why they couldn't have scheduled the films even 15 minutes apart, but whatever I guess.  I hope it works out because I'd like to see the late show too. 

I can't lie... I'm getting a little worn down from my schedule, especially when I realized this afternoon I haven't even seen half the films yet that I plan to.  I think people assume it's all fun to go to so many movies during the festival, and it is!  But regular festival attendees don't have to spend hours writing reviews, and right now my life is getting up, sitting down in front of my laptop and writing until I have to get ready to drive back to theater, and try and fit lunch strategically in there so it will sustain me until the next day when I get up and do it all over again.  I'm not complaining, I'm just starting to wear down a bit.  I would love to eventually do this for a living, but since it's not my profession (yet) I'm just going to count my blessings for having the opportunity to do this, keep seeing good movies and writing mediocre reviews.

Anyway, I promised myself I would be zen and goddammit, zen I will be!  Having gone the beatific route (Sindhutai Sapkal would be proud) I can now in the next breath say let's get this friggin' film started please...tick tock.  You're the guys who scheduled films 2 minutes apart.  I'm also wondering if I should tell the theater manager to stop demonstrating how to rip a ballot since no one can see it, or if I should just keep seething about it.  I think I'll go with seething. 

9:40pm

Speaking of seething, you're seeing these words because there wasn't enough time to get into the late screening without having missed something.  Nice one.

2011 MFF Film #14 - Anita

ANITA
Argentina, 2009
Spanish with English subtitles
Director: Marcos Carnevale

Anita is a young woman with Down Syndrome in Buenos Aires who lives a protected life full of routine provided by her mother.  When her mother goes missing and Anita wanders from home, she immediately has to learn to survive on her own when she doesn't even know where she lives or what her last name is.

Directed by Marcos Carnevale, Anita is an examination of the human condition, testing society's charity, goodness and ability to adapt to their surroundings.  Anita is like a blank slate - in the beginning of the film she is essentially helpless, but each person and situation she encounters allow her to grow as a person, even though the film only takes place over the course of several days.  During this time, Anita shows people they have emotions and capabilities they didn't know they had. 

Alejandra Manzo, the actress who plays Anita deserves a mention for her performance because she is remarkable.  It is refreshing that an actress with Down Syndrome was used, rather than an actor just affecting the part with watered down results.  Manzo was real, charming and outstanding in her role.  Anita is a beautiful film that could have slipped into saccharine storytelling, condescension or even exploitation, but instead it is compassionate, thought-provoking, charming and funny.

MFF Ballot Rating: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

2011 MFF Film #13 - The Interrupters

THE INTERRUPTERS
USA, 2011
English
Director: Steve James

Chicago's streets have become a war zone, with violent crimes reaching unprecedented levels.  In response to this alarming trend, the group Ceasefire has created a group of violence interrupters, most of them unpaid, all former gang members and violent offenders.  The role of the violence interrupters is to attempt to defuse a situation before it becomes violent (they are usually retaliatory attempts) through counseling the subjects on their level and in their own turf.

Steve James, who directed the outstanding 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams returns to Chicago's violent and underprivileged streets with The Interrupters.  Like Dreams, The Interrupters is gritty, brutally honest, and contains an enormous amount of heart and inspiration.  The main violence interrupters profiled, Ameena, Cobe and Eddie, are all fascinating people who, despite their criminal pasts, were all able to redeem themselves with their own will.  They have taken this incredible strength and character and turned it into positive deeds to inspire people who don't know they want to be helped.  Their approaches may be different, but their passion is all the same.  Not every case is a success, but the amount of good they and the other members of Ceasefire do is staggering.

The Interrupters is a disturbing film, simply because the violence is pervasive.  The number of people, most of them teenagers and young adults, who were killed during the year James filmed was heartbreaking, and the impact on their families was devastating. James' camera never wavers, regardless of the pain, creating a true account of terrible situations.   The Interrupters has its light moments too, usually provided by "Flamo", who Cobe is mentoring.  he not only tells it like it is, but does it with such color and flair that he had the audience laughing, which, after all of the heavy situations we'd witnessed by that point, was really welcome.

The Interrupters is by far one of the best documentaries I've seen in at least a decade, and it is going to stay with me for some time.  I'm really glad I was able to see it while it was still in the festival circuit because it will be interesting to see how far it goes once word of mouth sets in.  Not only would I recommend The Interrupters to any audience (and plan to recommend it to everyone I know) but it should be required viewing for middle and high school students to show that inspiration and hope is possible, regardless of one's surroundings, and that personal redemption is possible. 

MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5

2011 Milwaukee Film Festival - Day 4


Tuesday, September 27 - Day Four
4pm

Holy crap, I just scooted into the 4:15 screening of The Interrupters and it is PACKED.  There's go to be at least 200 people here, and it's for an early show on a weekday.  Crazy.  I actually ended up having to sit in the second row on the end so I'm going to be doing some serious neck craning.  Oh well.  Shame on me for coming to a much buzzed about film so close to showtime.  Ah, they just did an empty seat check - looks like we're going to be sold out.  Wow.

After some technical difficulties yesterday, I was able to finally get cracking on some writing so I ended up getting through the first day of the festival and a small part of the second.  There's a pretty significant break between the 7pm and 9:45pm show tonight so I think I'm just going to go home after the 7.  Even if I don't write tonight I can go to bed at a decent hour and then start writing early tomorrow instead of going to the late show, going to bed at 2am and starting my day at 9 or 9:30am.  Ugh, now I've got someone sitting next to me so I won't be able to write and I'll have to hold my messenger bag.  I really need to clean this damn thing out, it's getting really heavy.

10pm

I wasn't able to get any writing done in between screenings because the lady who talked to me incessantly two years ago at the festival is back.  Argh!  So I'm back at the dining room table in front of my laptop and I'm going to write until my eyes hurt.  I still have like, 7 or 8 reviews to write before I'm caught up, which I never will be since I see movies every night.  I'm starting to be really glad that I decided to take off next Monday too since I'll presumably spending the whole day writing reviews from over the weekend so I can go back to work, work like a dog to catch up and prep for the following week and come home and not have to worry about writing.  It's amazing that I'm taking a vacation a week after this vacation ends, but that will truly be my vacation and I'm realizing that I need it more than I thought I did - and I thought I needed it a lot!

2011 MFF Film #12 - Happy

HAPPY
USA, 2011
Portuguese/Bengali/Danish/Japanese/English with English subtitles
Director: Roko Belic

The concept of "happiness" is subjective; what makes one person happy may be totally different from another's idea of bliss. But Roko Belic, the director of the documentary, Happy, examines the scientific study of happiness and why some cultures are more happier than others, regardless of economic or environmental conditions.

Happy features interviews with scientists who have studied the psychological and physical elements that make up the feeling of being happy, and also features people from around the world who are happy, despite not having the advantages that the average American believes would take to make someone happy. Whether it is a rickshaw driver in India, African Bushmen or a former beauty queen in Texas who suffered a horrifying and disfiguring accident, the common factor is having a support system, and being surrounded by people who care.  In fact, despite being a war-torn island, the citizens of Okinawa, who generally work long and hard years as farmers, have the world's largest concentration of people who live to be over 100, possibly because they gather together as a vibrant and active community.  It's no surprise that Japan has been found to be the least happy among the world's highest-economy countries, where a phenomenon of people actually working themselves to death has been occurring at an alarming rate.  The moral of this story is the other main suggestion for achieving happiness: find time to do what you love.

Happy is an exhaustively researched documentary that takes common sense and expands upon it by showing (at times, surprising) examples of people who personify happiness and by backing up their thesis through scientific theory and physiological evidence.  Frankly, the subject mater wasn't the most interesting for me, but I can definitely recognize Happy as a first-rate documentary.

MFF Ballot Rating: 4 out of 5

2011 MFF Film #11 - Breaking and Entering

BREAKING AND ENTERING
USA/Canada/China/Norway, 2010
English
Director: Benjamin Fingerhut

Breaking and Entering showcases the many people who attempt to break world records, but also examines the psychology of why they do it.  Many world record holders and record seekers are visited, including a guy who attempts to catch a grape thrown from the farthest distance, a marathon "joggler" (juggling while running), a man attempting to ride a stationary bicycle for more than 100 hours straight and even a guy who holds over 100 world records, from "fastest mile while pushing an orange with their nose" to longest time juggling under water.

Breaking and Entering is a really interesting documentary that, for the most part, is light and humorous.  The records that people attempt are a riot, and in general, nothing one would think of doing unless under the influence.  (Such as the fastest mile while pushing an orange with your nose - who came up with that?!)  This is serious business for everyone though, and underneath the obvious reasons for attempting a record - challenging one's self, attention and competition - there are some deep psychological issues with some of them.  The man who attempts the stationary bicycle record, despite his eye-rollingly egotistical comments, did not receive support from his father when he was a child and has been striving for his attention and approval ever since.  Financial problems become a factor for some of the competitors as well, when their obsession that has no monetary gain begins to affect the family's financial well-being. 

The tone of Breaking and Entering is light, however, and all of the interviewees are real characters.  (Wouldn't you almost have to be?)  It is very entertaining and enjoyable, and as long as the sight of the chafed rear end of the cyclist isn't too offensive beyond the obvious yuck factor, can be enjoyed by all ages, either as a celebration of achievement, or simply to gawk at the participants.  Something tells me that either reason would be fine with most of the subjects. 

MFF Ballot Rating: 4 out of 5

2011 MFF Film #10 - Nothing's All Bad

NOTHING'S ALL BAD
Denmark, 2010
Danish with English subtitles
Director: Mikkel Munch-Fals

A middle-aged retiree loses her husband and finds the loneliness so unbearable that she tries to engage people who dialed the wrong number on the phone in conversation. A young breast cancer survivor who loses a breast and her feelings of self-worth and sexuality. A man who loses his family because he suffers from a crippling sexual dysfunction that makes him expose himself in public. A teenager who sells himself to anyone who will pay. All of the main characters of Nothing's All Bad find their lives intersect in sometimes awkward and unbelievable ways, but they all share one thing in common: the need to be loved.

I absolutely loved Nothing's All Bad, from start to finish. It is very reminiscent of Todd Solondz's 1998 film Happiness, another ensemble piece whose characters' lives intertwine in their pursuit of happiness. Like Solondz, director Mikkel Munch-Fals is not afraid to shock the audience, or have most of the comedic elements of the film be pitch black. Munch-Fals also manages to showcase perhaps the most awkward Christmas celebration ever, but it was brilliantly timed because it gives the viewer a much needed opportunity to laugh, and in the screening I attended, the audience was howling within minutes. For the most part, the cinematography of the film is bright and lush, which provides a jarring contrast to the film's deep subjects and dark themes.

There are not enough good things I can say about Nothing's All Bad, but there's very little I'm choosing to say because the unraveling of the story is so brilliant that I don't want to give any hints or spoilers. Munch-Fals' screenplay is clever, the lead performances were outstanding and the entire film was completely absorbing and compelling. Having said that, Nothing's All Bad is very provocative and sometimes sexually graphic, which, coupled with its dark tone, is not exactly for a mainstream audience. Though not for everyone, Nothing's All Bad is outstanding and I have no hesitation giving it my highest rating.

MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5

2011 Milwaukee Film Festival - Day 3


Monday, September 26 - Day Three
4:45pm

First I'm sitting and listening to inane conversations while waiting in line for the screening, now I have to sit and listen to more behind me.  Now I remember why I can't stand small talk, especially around strangers.  /antisocial

I'm just crabby because today started out really badly when I was all set to start writing the nine reviews I had to work on from over the weekend, but then experienced technical difficulties not only with my blog but other websites I use for my reviews.  After giving up on that and realizing that I was going to have to count the working day as a complete loss I settled down in front of the DVR and pouted for a while before coming to the theater. 

I was actually going to skip tonight in order for Chris, my computer-savvy boyfriend to magically fix everything and then get started on writing, but he essentially banned me from the house because he had to get some things done, one of which was watching The Secret In Their Eyes, which was our film club's pick for the week.  And since I picked that movie, and it was awesome, I had to support him, so here I am at the theater for three screenings... and looking down the barrel of a really late night since we won't be able to start on the fixes until midnight, when I get home. 

Anyway, there's a good sized crowd for the first film, which is encouraging since it is scheduled during work hours, on a Monday to boot. 

7pm

So I'm riding high after a great 5pm film, and I had the rare opportunity to be able to spend a little time outside and away from the crowds before the next film, which is turning out to have a really good sized crowd.  Unfortunately, there's a coughing and sniffling kid sitting right behind me who is clearly not covering her mouth or blowing her nose, so I will be wearing my turtleneck collar above my nose for the remainder of the film.  Ugh.  I just got over two colds in the last month and I'm no dummy - in line between screenings, I've been staring at the poster for Contagion, the film whose ending is now being spoiled for me by the infected kid's dad.  Thanks, jackass.

9:40pm

It stuns me how many people are pronouncing Bud Selig's name wrong.  What the hell?  In the same what the hell category, why are we starting a 9:30 screening at 9:50?  They didn't even start seating us until 9:35, and I was in this auditorium for the last screening so I know there was at least 20 minutes to clean up.  I've noticed that more than a few of the screenings I've been to have started late, which just grows tiresome after you've been at a theater for several hours by that point.  Oh well.  The film I'm about to see is about being happy, so I'll stop grousing enough to try to enjoy it.

2011 MFF Film #9 - Shorts: Life's Curveballs

SHORTS: LIFE'S CURVEBALLS
Various Countries/Languages





Love Lockdown
Non-fiction story of a woman with two children, waiting for her fiancee to get out of jail.  Interesting, though not really notable.  Plus, I really didn't get the radio show that caters to shout-outs for inmates, but overall, it was well done. 
MFF Ballot Rating: 3 out of 5.

I'm Never Afraid
A young boy competitively races motor cross, but it turns out that he was born with his heart on the wrong side of chest, prompting doctors to first say he wouldn't live, then when he lived, they said he would be sickly.  This extremely active kid has beaten all of the odds and in fact, is a total daredevil.  This one was interesting, mainly because the boy was unbelievably sweet and caring with his friends and family, which is notable because he's 10 or 11 years old! 
MFF Ballot Rating:3 out of 5.

Raju
The first of three fiction shorts, Raju is about a German couple who adopt a young boy in India.  After the adoptive father loses Raju in a busy outdoor market, his search for the boy uncovers an ugly truth about the adoption.  This was a really great short that was fast paced and emotionally wrenching; more full-bodied than a lot of shorts I've seen. 
MFF Ballot Rating:4 out of 5.

Deeper Than Yesterday
A submarine crew finds a dead woman floating in the water, and once they surface to bring in her body, make some pretty unsavory plans for her.  One of the crew members risks his reputation (and life) to save her, even after she's already dead.  I'm actually making this sound better than it actually was and I'm still bored after re-reading what I wrote.  I was so confused about the point of the film that I probably paid the most attention to this short because I was looking for anything to like about it or even understand it. 
MFF Ballot Rating:2 out of 5.

Protoparticles
A scientist conducts an experiment that leaves him unable to take of his space suit, and unable to communicate the dangers the experiment caused.  I really liked this one because the audience is just thrust into observing this guy in a weird space suit doing mundane things (like ringing up people in a checkout line at the market) so in the beginning, it's just observationally absurd.  Through monologues by the main character however, we learn the circumstances (which are no less absurd, by the way) which set up the rest of the film.  It was odd, shot in grainy black and white and totally entertaining. 
MFF Ballot Rating:4 out of 5.

2011 MFF Film #8 - Page One: Inside the New York Times

PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES
USA, 2011
English
Director: Andrew Rossi

Page One is a documentary filmed over one year at the New York Times and its newly created media desk, a group of reporters working to keep the paper in step with the transforming media landscape.

I actually have been looking forward to seeing this film for a couple of months, and it absolutely did not disappoint.  The New York Times is a paper that has built a reputation for not being afraid to print controversial material, from the Pentagon Papers in 1971 to Wikileaks material in 2010.  The media desk is comprised of several reporters who not only track the demise of paper news internationally, but their own publication's struggles as well.  The most featured reporter was David Carr, who is an absolute rock star.  His past includes alcohol and drug addiction and jail time, yet he built up his career after becoming sober to become a New York Times reporter.  He is both the NYT's biggest cheerleader and defender, which is why he is chosen to represent them on discussion panels, where his  raspy voice and tell-it-like-it-is style is always a crowd pleaser.  (It certainly was in the audience I was in as well.)  Bruce Headlam, the media desk editor was also a really interesting guy and personified the classic rumpled, hardworking editor.  He became an instant favorite for me of course, because he had a huge poster of the Italian release of Citizen Kane in his office.

Director Rossi was granted outstanding access to the NYT offices, and he took complete advantage of it, creating a fast paced and action packed film that is sure to serve one day as a historical tool for near future generations, after online news eventually takes over print journalism.  During the course of filming, the Times went through a series of 100 layoffs from their staff of 1200.  Rossi also features interviews with former NYT columnists, including Gay Talese as well as media gadflys and editors-in-chief of magazines, newspapers and online news sources.

Page One is a brilliant composed film; a candid look at an institution that could be reporting on its own demise in the next few years.  It gives an insight into why the New York Times has achieved an elite status in print journalism, and how that reputation has led to criticism, scorn and perhaps envy of some of its peers, and reverence and respect from others.

MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5

2011 MFF Film #7 - I Am Sindhutai Sapkal

I AM SINDHUTAI SAPKAL
India, 2010
Marathi with English subtitles
Director: Ananth Mahadevan

Though she strives to become educated, Sindhutai's traditional mother arranges her marriage at age 12 to an older man.  Sindhutai essentially becomes an indentured servant to her husband, producing children and trying to keep house, despite her continued desire to read and learn.  When her husband kicks her and their newborn daughter out of the house due to unfounded rumors, her struggle to survive manifests itself into becoming a caretaker of orphaned children, and eventually, a champion of the Indian people.

I Am Sindhutai Sapkal is based on a true story, and is a very well done film.  The story was interesting, and the pacing was decent, though there were some jumps in time that were abrupt; the film seemed to linger a little long during some time periods and then suddenly we were seven years later and she's suddenly an established caregiver.  Perhaps I missed a nuanced moment or something where this was explained, or justified, but it came across as somewhat abrupt.

I'm torn about the way the story was told for the first half of the film.  Director Ananth Mahadevan unfolded the story by having a present day Sindhutai flashing back as she was traveling on an airplane to make a speech in the United States.  I understand that it was a way to unveil her past in a non-linear way, but it seemed that every tiny thing that she saw would make her think about something from her past (which would drive me mad in about two hours I think).  Though not offensive by any means, this really is a hackneyed technique, and frankly it did become a little tiresome after a while.

Perhaps it is a tenet of Indian cinema, but I did find a few things to be pretty schmaltzy as well.  Some of the dialogue was over-the-top when it came to expressing adoration of Sapkal, even when it was a casual conversation between mother and daughter.  It just seemed really unnatural for such a gritty film based on real events, and I found myself chuckling a couple of times at the dialogue.  There were also about four dozen too many suffering and beatific looks on her part.  (See the picture attached to this review and then multiply it by about 85.)

Having just criticized the hell out of I Am Sindhutai Sapkal, I really do think it was a decent film that was, for the most part, beautifullyshot.  But it isn't a film I would recommend to a wide audience, nor do I really need to see it again.

MFF Ballot Rating: 3 out of 5

2011 MFF Film #6 - An Earthly Paradise for the Eyes

AN EARTHLY PARADISE FOR THE EYES
Czech Republic, 2009
Czech with English subtitles
Director: Irena Pavlaskova

In 1968 Czechoslovakia, a mother and her two teenaged daughters experience the Russian occupation of their country, which is further exacerbated by the return of her ex-husband, an actor who is also a political dissident.  The three try to make their lives as normal as possible as they find themselves becoming peripherally involved in the opposition movement.

An Earthly Paradise for the Eyes begins as a family drama, but then sort of spins off the rails a bit and the themes become more muddy.  Pavlaskova's direction becomes scattered until there really is no direction.  The pacing is also odd, with time jmps that don't make sense other than to force the story along, which made for some non-sensical timing.  If the film had picked up the pac a bit, or stayed structured, as it seemed to be in the beginning, it would have been a better movie, but I was simply bored and starting to look at my watch a little more than an hour into it. 

I was also really dismayed by the end of Paradise, which reintroduced a character that had disappeared long ago in the film, without any explanation of background that he was even involved with the mother.  Plus, it contained what could be my biggest film pet peeve:  ending in a freeze frame.  I don't care that Truffaut did it in The 400 Blows, a film that I loved.  Freeze frames are for 80's rompfests and basketball movies; anywhere else it's just a really lame technique.  Plus, for the life of me I still don't get how the title corrolates with the film. 

I rated An Earthly Paradise for the Eyes a 3/5 initially, but that was because I tore the ballot when I thought the film was ending, but then there was another half hour left.  Had it ended when I thought it would, it would have been a tighter film and probably deserved that rating, though it still would have been a litle generous.  I let it go since I had to race to get to my next screening, but I should have rated the film a 2/5, which is what I'm giving it at this point.  It didn't come close to being as good or entertaining as any of the films I've previously rated 3/5. 

MFF Ballot Rating: 3 out of 5
Should Have Been Rated: 2 out of 5

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2011 MFF Film #5 - A Cat in Paris

A CAT IN PARIS
France/Belgium/Netherlands/Switzerland, 2010
English
Director: Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Falicioli

Zoe is a young girl whose policeman father was killed and her mother, a superintendent with the police, works many hours and is trying to track down her husband's killer.  In her grief, Zoe no longer speaks, and only finds solace with her cat, Dino.  Every evening, Dino prowls the streets of Paris, the accomplice of Nico, a cat burglar.  One night, Zoe decides to follow Dino to find out where he goes, and becomes embroiled in several sticky situations that could bring her great harm, and she finds that she has to trust Nico when even home isn't a safe place anymore.

A Cat in Paris is an utterly charming film.  Though it was technically a children's film, it was definitely tailored to an adult audience as well.  The themes of A Cat in Paris include murder, felony theft and contained a huge amount of action.  There were several times when I could feel my heart racing and I know the look on my face was hilariously anxious; more than a few times, the audience (including me) audibly reacted to what was happening onscreen.

The animation was somewhat typically French: simply drawn characters with bizarre physical features.  I noticed that the good guys all looked kind of similar, yet the bad guys all had different looks to them.  There were also some really breathtaking animated "shots" and wonderfully illustrated panoramic scenes of Paris.  Even the music was great, opening and closing with cool jazz rhythms and a rich symphonic score in between.  The film was in English, undoubtedly for children, and though I tend to be really adamant about watching films in their native language, I wasn't offended at all by the voice talent in A Cat in Paris.  In fact, I rather enjoyed the British accents of some of the characters; without having seen it in its original language (presumably French) it all worked really nicely with the characters.

I absolutely loved A Cat in Paris and I think my decision to see it despite being "a kid's movie" is going to prove to be one of the best viewing decisions I've made in some time.  A Cat in Paris was amazing, charming, suspenseful and brilliant.  Nowadays, we're hard pressed to find any feature film, animated or not, that can be described in these words.

MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5