Monday, September 30, 2013

Milwaukee Film Festival 2013: The History of Future Folk

Day 3 of the Milwaukee Film festival brought me into a fantastic world of aliens and folk music.  Sound ridiculous?  Well it is a whole lot of fun.

The History of Future Folk is the story of aliens from the planet Hondo that come to earth to destroy everyone on it.  Before General Trius (Nils d'Aulaire) can release the virus he hears music for the first time.  Falling in love with music and believing that a race that can put sounds to for music must have some good he spares the Earth.  But the people on Hondo are not happy. He was supposed to kill everyone so their world can be spared.  They send the Great Kevin to Earth to assinate General Trius.  But Trius who now goes by the name of Bill has been on Earth for a while and has gotten married and had a kid.  When the Great Kevin catches up with him Bill plays music for him and they end up starting a folk band together.

My synopsis doesn't do the movie justice.  There are so many little quirky and funny bits in the movie that it is hard to summarize.  Needless to say the leads are great and their songs are hilarious.  The movie zips along fairly quickly and keeps everything moving. It is funny and has a little romance, action, and music.

Overall: 5 out of 5. Some movies at festivals make you think or challenge your beliefs and some are just fun.  This is the later. It will have you laughing at the shear ridiculousness and tapping you feet to the catchy tunes. 

Milwaukee Film Fest 2013: Drug War

My last movie of the first day of the festival was the Chinese action movie Drug War directed by famous Hong Kong director Johnnie To.  

The movie is about narcotics officer Captain Zhang (Honglei Sun) and his team as they try to bust a large crystal meth operation. After getting caught Timmy Choi (Louis Koo)  begins to turnover names and places of his accomplices to save himself from the death penalty.  This leads Zhang to have to pretend to be various criminals to work his way to the top of the chain. Also, as Zhang gets closer the motives of Choi and how much he can be trusted is questioned.

The movie starts off with action and some pretty weird scenes where a whole bus full of drug mules is captured and forced to poop out their drugs.  I am glad that scene didn't have smell-a-vision.  The back and forth between Zhang and Choi is what keeps the movie interesting at the beginning.  We never really know what Choi's motives are.  But I have to admit it started losing my interest part way through and I kept waiting for something to happen.  When it did happen it was explosive.  There are massive gun fights, high speed chases, and lots of death.  The cast of characters were interesting which included a drug dealer named ha-ha which had an annoying laugh and two deaf brothers who get a cool shoot out scene.

After seeing the movie I read a little more about it and this is Johnnie To's first Chinese movie and pushed the limits of what the Chinese censorship board would allow.  I found out that there are two endings and apparently we got to see the Chinese approved ending.  The politics behind it is fascinating but lost on me as I don't know that much about Chinese cinema.

Overall: 3 out of 5.  Some good action and interesting characters. But didn't hold my interest all the way through.   

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Milwaukee Film Fest 2013: When the King Tilts

For my second movie of my first day at the festival I decided to go with a local film When the King Tilts.  This movie was filmed at a Bed and Breakfast in Door County and is the feature directoral debut of Drew Britton.

The movie is about Sam the owner of a Bed and Breakfast who after closing for the season comes back to find two women Carol and J.L.  have made themselves at home.  They are looking for a place for a family reunion and wanted to check out his place.  After convincing Sam to let them stay the three of them start a psychological journey as they deal with the unknown and each other's secrets.

Sam is a guy who thinks he has everything figured out. He has been running the B&B for a long time and has seen almost everything. He believes he has his life in balance. When the two women show up it throws everything out of whack. They are brash but at the same time alluring. He doesn't know much about their past but it is the mystery that makes them so interesting. He is also a secretive guy that doesn't let people get close. Things get more complicated when he starts having feelings for Carol. 

As one guy put it in the Q&A this is a slice of life movie. Which is both unique and frustrating. As the movie is about secrets I kept waiting for a big reveal. But as in real life we don't always find out what everyone's  secrets are. 

What this movie does have going for it is the incredible cast. The manage to fill each scene with increasing tension. This was apparently accomplished by filming in chronological order over 7 days.

It presents a situation that could possibly happen with all the complexities that go along with encountering the new and different.  It leaves you thinking about your own experienced when new people come into your life for a short period of time and turn your world upside down. 

Overall: 4 Out of 5 stars. Great cast but wished it hade explained more of the backstory of the characters. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Milwaukee Film Festival 2013 Shorts: Stranger than Fiction

Even though this was the second day of the Festival it was the first day I was able to attend.
Decided to start my festival experience off with the documentary shorts.

Documentary shorts are one some of my favorite movies.  There are so many interesting people and things in the world that short films can highlight.  And spending 10 - 15 minutes learning about them is perfect.  This is the first year that I have been going to the festival that they have had a whole program of documentary shorts and it did not disappoint.

First up in the program was The Flogsta Roar. This 18 minute documentary is about a university in Uppsula Sweden.  Every night at 10 pm the students yell out their window.  This is a ritual that has been going on for over 20 years.  We meet some students and teachers that live there and learn about their anxieties.  The movie brought back memories of my college experience.  There are ups and downs and just weird people.  There is some one stealing food from a fridge, a teacher that is obsessed with the pots and pans and also a student who had someone in the dorm room next to her commit suicide.  But they all get a chance to release their anxieties and tensions at 10 pm when they yell out their windows.  It's ridiculous, humorous, and sad all at the same time.  It manages to capture that unique environment that is college.

Next up was the short Pouters. This short was about pigeon enthusiasts in Scotland. I honestly had no idea what was going on. It appears that there is some kind of weird competition where you try to get someone else's pigeon to come to your coop.  These people are odd and extremely obsessed with pigeons.  This was one of my least favorite of the shorts but definitely interesting.

This was followed by Vladimir Putin in Deep Concentration. This 9 minute doc quickly goes through the life of Vladimir Putin.  I have to admit I know very little about him and his rise to power.  What this movie does it tells some of his backstory but comes to the conclusion that we know very little about him personally and he is a master at image control.  For a short doc I learned about one of the most powerful man in the world and this is one person that probably deserves a full feature doc.

From Russia to Christmas.  Mr. Christmas tells the story of a man who every year puts on one of the most extravagant Christmas light displays.  It is a fun and touching story as we learn his process of putting up the lights and his motivation.  This is a fun charismatic guy who loves Christmas, misses his wife, and loves his cat.  A fun enjoyable short.

After celebrating Christmas the next stop on our short film road trip was to India for Unravel.  Every wonder what happens to clothes that are sent to be recycled?  Well they are sent to India where they are sorted, torn up, and made into thread to be used for blankets.  The movie focuses on the India women who work at the factory that tear up the garments.  These women live in a small town and try to imagine what kind of people wear these clothes and why they would just throw them away.  The movie makes you think about our love of clothing and the excesses we have.  It is funny to see how they imagine the Westerners.

Back in the US we head for We Will Live Again. This is a fascinating doc and a little disturbing that challenges some of our beliefs.  We have all heard of Cryogenics but I have never see the inside workings of one.  This short takes us on a tour of The Cryonics Institute from the delivery to the freezing of their "patients".  The manager doesn't consider them dead just "metabolically challenged" and refers each one as a patient.  A perfect example of what a documentary short can be.  Takes us to a world we have never seen and challenges us.

For the last short we head to Saigon in 1968.  Eddie Adams: Saigon '68 tells the story of a single iconic picture from the Vietnam War.  The amount of power a single picture can have is amazing.  We learn about the famous photographer Eddie Adams from his diary and interviews from those that knew him and were there when the picture was taken. The picture in question is the Pulitzer Prize winning image of a South Vietnamese police officer shooting a Vietcong prisoner in the head.  The story of who the officer was and who he shot is told as well as the effects the picture had on support of the war and on Eddie Adams himself.  A powerful look at how one picture changed many lives and a discussion if a single picture can tell the whole story.  Definitely my favorite doc of the program.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The 8 Movies I am Most Excited for at The Milwaukee Film Festival

Every year I impatiently wait for The Milwaukee Film Festival to release their program book. I then flip through and look to see what they have in store for me.  What I love about the film festival is that there is always something for everyone.  I am not going to say these are the eight movies you should see at the festival but these are the ones that most intrigue me.  One of the great things about film festivals is that you get to experience movies that you have never heard of.  I really recommend looking through the program guide finding a movie that sounds interesting and see it. You can download the guide from their website here .  I guarantee it will be an experience you will not forget.  Good, bad or bizarre it will leave an impression on you so don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and see something. 

As far as my picks go most of these are movies I have already heard of but I will be checking out many more that I haven’t.  Movies like The History of Future Folk, The Crash Reel and The Perverts Guide to Ideology have caught my eye.  Also movies with Wisconsin connections like Free the Mind, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, and Citizen Koch might be worth checking out. 

In Alphabetical Order The 8 Movies I am Most Excited to See

1     The Act of Killing – The first time I heard of this movie it was from an interview with Werner Herzog and Error Morris two of my favorite documentarians.  So when they recommend a movie I listen.  This is a documentary about the mass killings in Indonesia told from the perspective of the people that did the killings.  Where this movie takes on a life of its own is that the director Joshua Oppenheimer has the people that committed these atrocities reenact them. Which they excitedly do.  The movie promises to blow you mind and leave you in awe.

2.     August: Osage County – A big time cast with lots of Oscar hopefuls. The movie is about a family from the Midwest in crisis.  When the strong willed women are forced to live together and take care of their mother you know there will be meltdowns and some dark comedy.  And when you got Meryl Streep in your movie you almost guarantee Oscar talk.  So when I saw that this was going to be playing at the festival I was excited. This is your opportunity to see it before the buzz really takes off and you will be able to say you were one of the first people to see it. 

3.     Billy Club – This is actually a movie I had not heard of before the festival but it looks amazing.  Every year one of the highlights of the festival is its horror program and what makes this movie even more exciting is that it was made by Milwaukeeans.  Billy Club looks to bring some of that awesome 80’s slasher movie vibe back.  About a group of friends that reunite 15 years after the murder of their Little League teammates.  Even if we weren’t partnering with this movie it would be a must see but since we are partners with this movie I have to tell you that you ABSOLUTELY MUST SEE THIS FILM.  

4.     Earth – Another highlight of the film festival has been their ability to get silent films and get an orchestra to play a live score.  This year it is the Soviet Silent Classic Earth. A movie I know very little about but with the 18 piece Milwaukee based orchestra Altos playing the score makes this an event not to be missed for both film and music lovers. 

5.     The Milwaukee Show –The first year I attended the festival I had no idea what exactly the Milwaukee Show was but it now a must see.  The Milwaukee Show is a collection of short films from local filmmakers.  You never know what will be there. Last year we had everything from touching documentaries to trippy music videos.  But the highlight is always the film that came from the collaborative cinema program. The program is for high school students who want to get into filmmaking.  They attend workshops to write a screenplay and one screenplay is selected to be made and shown during the festival.  This event always draws large sellout crowds so if you want to go get your ticket early. 

6.     Shorts: Stranger than Fiction – Having volunteered on the shorts selection committee for the past couple of years I can attest to the great quality of documentary shorts each year at the festival.  Every year I always ask if they will have just a short documentary program. And this year they do.  What I love about documentary shorts is that they give you a quick glimpse at things or people you wouldn’t know about.  Sometimes these people would not make great subjects for feature docs so these short docs are the best way to learn about them. 

7.     Stories We Tell – Sarah Polley first broke on to the scene as a young actress on the Disney show Road to Avonlea and movies like Go and Dawn of the Dead. But recently she has been getting rave reviews for her directing and writing.  She was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay academy award for Away From Her and her film Take This Waltz got great reviews also.  Now she is back with her first documentary (is there nothing she can do).  This movie has been making the festival circuit for about a year and have been hearing only good things about it.  I am glad it is finally coming to Milwaukee.    In the movie Polley takes a look at her youth with interviews from friends and family with reenactments mixed in. 

8.     Which Way is the Front Line from Here: The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington -  Tim Hetherington was a photojournalist that liked to risks and photograph some of the most violent places. He teamed up with Sebastian Junger and they co-directed the Academy Award nominated documentary Restrepo.  Shortly after Hetherington was killed while photographing the Libyan Civil War.  Junger directed this movie about his good friend and the loss of a talent that was on the cusp of really breaking out.