Monday, October 3, 2011

MFF Film #28 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

USA/Canada, 2010
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

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

Various Countries/Languages

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.

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

USA, 2011
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)

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! 


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.


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.


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

Various countries/languages

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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)

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?


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.


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!


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.


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.