Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

I spent the weekend with My Darling B doing pretty much nothing, and apparently we needed a weekend just like that because we slept like bears in hibernation.

We didn’t do exactly nothing. We did, in fact, travel to Lake Mills, Wisconsin, to attend the twentieth anniversary party of the Tyranena Brewery (long may they continue to brew the most delicious beer in Jefferson County!), an event where we mostly sat quietly sampling various wonderful brews and noshing on noshies. Low-impact events are our lifestyle now.

The beers that Tyranena makes, though, tend to be very boozy, so we didn’t drink very many of them before we had to lie down go night-night.

We spent all day Sunday just reading or watching TV, and were both in bed by eight. Lights-out for me was eight-thirty or nine, and I slept like the dead until four o’clock Monday morning, at which point my brain said AWAKEN, so I had no choice but to go make a pot of coffee and bimble about the house.

not much how about you | 6:14 am CDT
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Thursday, July 4th, 2019

The best part of the JoCo Cruise, in my very subjective opinion, will always be the great talent they somehow manage to gather together in one spot for a whole week. For example, the delightful Molly Lewis has been on every JoCo Cruise we’ve been on (and every JoCo Cruise that’s ever been, I think), and to date she has never failed to make us feel as though we made the right decision to spend our vacation time and a shit-ton of money on this cruise.

In the clip above, she teams up with the amazing Jim Boggia, who lost his voice for almost the entirety of this cruise for reasons that medical science wasn’t able to explain, so he had to express himself largely through whatever musical instrument was in his hands — in this case, a ukulele (if the JoCo Cruise had an designated official musical instrument, I’m pretty sure it would be the ukulele). Boggia is perhaps best known on the cruise for insisting that other musicians tune their instruments before each song, sometimes calling out sharp or flat from his chair in the audience; such is the curse of having perfect pitch.

I love this clip because it brings together two of my favorite musicians doing my favorite thing: having a good time. Not only do they have a good time, their good time gets the audience to have a good time, too. I love how, after the tune-up, Molly baits Boggia into playing a riff from Powerhouse, then Boggia turns it back on Molly by sucking her into playing Dueling Banjos. “This is my set! What are you doing?” Molly deadpans while Boggia is still bouncing around the stage. At this point, they haven’t even begun to play the song Molly called Boggia on stage to play.

Here’s Molly when she was first asked to join Jonathan Coulton (known among fans as JoCo, hence the name of the cruise) and Grammy award-winning artist Amee Mann on stage. They’re performing one of Molly’s original songs, Pantsuit Sasquatch, “based on a true story” as Molly says. I love how jazzed Molly is about Mann and Coulton singing her song; you can easily tell this is one of the best days of her life.

And in the clip above, Molly asks the multi-talented Jean Grey to sing another of Molly’s original songs, “All My Teeth,” much to the delight of everyone in the audience.

All these videos are the work of the doggedly determined Angela Brett, who is more or less the official videographer of the JoCo Cruise.

molly lewis | 3:08 pm CDT
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Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

It’s been a long, cold winter full of ice and snow
Now the spring has come and it’s time to go
Back to the movies, turn the lights down low
Turn your cell phones off and we’ll start the show

Go to Union South, grab a slice and a beer
You can walk to your seat with a volunteer
From the Capitol Theater to the library mall
Chazen, Elvehjem, Sundance, and Vilas Hall

Turn the lights down low, turn the lights down low

Turn the lights down low
Wisconsin
Turn the lights down low
Film festival
Turn the lights down low
Get out there!

Time for a film festival!

As we have done in years past, My Darling B and I took a week off from work so we could go to as many of the films at the 2019 Wisconsin Film Fest as we possibly could. Here’s a roundup of what we’ve seen so far:

Thursday
“Woman at War” – five out of five! This is one of those foreign movies that might misleadingly be called “quirky” and while it’s got a few quirks, those are features, not bugs. The story centers on Halla, who meets her cousin while she’s out hiking the countryside of Iceland and incidentally sabotaging the electrical grid.

Friday
“Good Morning” – four out of five. A look at a Japanese neighborhood in the 1960s.
“Lonelyhearts” – four out of five. A well-crafted film that centers on the writer of a newspaper advice column, played by Montgomery Clift, who can out-Shatner any actor alive, even Bill.
“Betty White: First Lady of Television” – five out of five.
“The Trouble With You” – four out of five. A police officer’s widow tries to put things right after she finds out her husband was a crooked cop. We’ve seen a lot of French cop movies at the fest, and they’ve all been goofy sendups of the genre. I don’t know if that’s how the French like them, or if the programmers at the fest only pick the wild and crazy ones.
“Vultures” – four out of five. An especially dark movie about drug trafficking. No happy ending for anybody. Still a well-crafted movie.

Saturday
“Cold Case Hammarskjold” – two out of five. Mads Brugger put a pretty zany spin on his documentary about North Korea (no, really!), and I thought he was doing the same thing here until he gave the last twenty minutes of camera time to some rando who babbled on and on about a hush-hush paramilitary organization, turning the film into a YouTube conspiracy channel. So disappointing.
“Knock Down the House” – five out of five. A documentary that follows the grassroots campaigns of working-class people trying to unseat entrenched career politicians.
“The Swimmer” – two out of five. A surreal fever dream about a rich white guy who thinks he can charm the pants off anybody but what he calls charm is mostly just cringeworthy. The dialogue is crazy and disconnected, the musical score is florid and overblown, and the acting is so over the top I couldn’t sit still.
“Bathtubs Over Broadway” – five out of five. Steve Young discovers the phenomenon of “industrial musicals” and finds his tribe at the same time. Manages to be hilarious and heartwarming at the same time.

Sunday
“Hail Satan?” – three out of five. How The Satanic Temple grew into one of the biggest trolls of state and federal government.
“Meeting Gorbachev” – two out of five. The most disappointing documentary of the festival so far. Werner Herzog sat down to chat with Mikhail Gorbachev, but we didn’t get to see much of that. Gorby was on screen for maybe twenty minutes. The rest of the film was Herzog reading the Wikipedia article out loud, as My Darling B so succinctly put it.
“Little Woods” – three out of five. Two young women in a North Dakota boomtown struggle to make ends meet.
“Styx” – five out of five. A doctor learns how cheap human life is to people who are not doctors.

long cold winter | 7:38 am CDT
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Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

Crusing with the Sea Monkeys on the OosterdamMy Darling B and I spent a week in the Carribean aboard the MV Oosterdam with the Sea Monkeys on a JoCo Cruise! Here’s what that means:

The Carribean: Specifically, we spent a day in Tortola, an island of the British Virgin Islands, and a day in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Tortola was no great shakes, I have to say. We went ashore for maybe an hour or two, wandered around in the town just outside the cruise port, but didn’t sign up for any “excursions,” which are activities arranged by the cruise line like hiking, riding horses, scuba diving, that sort of thing. Since we didn’t go on any excursions and there wasn’t anything to see in town, we went back to the ship after about an hour and lounged by the pool in the sun with fruity drinks the rest of the day.

San Juan was pretty great. Very touristy, but not so touristy that it was insufferable. We stuck to wandering around in old San Juan, which was all Hispanic-style buildings along cobblestone streets connecting green plazas with fountains and markets. After wandering around for a couple hours in the hot sun, B wanted to sit in the shade with a cold drink and maybe get a bite to eat, so we ducked into a restaurant and passed a very pleasant half-hour refreshing ourselves.

We wandered around old San Juan just a bit more after that, but it was really hot and we wanted to clean up before the concert that night (I’ll explain in a minute), so we headed back to the ship about mid-afternoon. It wasn’t until we got back to the ship that I realized I left my backpack in the restaurant and had to run back up the hill through the streets of San Juan to see if I could find it. Luckily the staff at the restaurant found it before anyone else did and set it aside. As soon as I walked in the door, they spotted me and told me to claim my pack at the bar.

This is a themed cruise (that’s the “Sea Monkeys” part; I’ll get to that later) which featured lots of very talented musicians who played in an evening concert in a park on the waterfront not far from the ship. After cleaning up, we wandered over there to check it out. The first hour or so of the concert was just great, and really the rest of the concert was probably great, too, but after about an hour the clouds moved in and it began to drizzle, and then the drizzle became rain, and pretty soon the rain turned into a full-blown downpour. Before we got soaked through we squeezed in with the crowd under the cover of the shelter where they were selling beer, then walked back to the boat to change into dry clothes during a break.

It wasn’t raining when we walked back, but that didn’t last long. I ran back to the shelter and B stuck it out in the rain a while longer (she had a raincoat), but it wasn’t long before she joined me. We stayed long enough to realize the rain wasn’t going to let up, gave up and trudged back to the boat through a steady, soaking downpour.

And that was all we saw of the Carribean! Well, of the islands in the Carribean, anyway. We saw quite a lot of the Carribean sea. Didn’t see any dolphins chasing the boat this time, though.

The MV Oosterdam is a ship run by the Holland America cruise line. It seems like a pretty big ship to me, even when it’s tied up alongside other cruise ships, which are usually at least twice as big as the Oosterdam. In Tortola, we were tied up alongside one of the Disney cruise liners, and that thing was insanely huge. The Oosterdam doesn’t have all the water slides and rock climbing walls and roller coasters that the bigger cruise ships have. There are a couple of pools on the weather deck, one on the fantail and one amidships; the one in the middle has a cover they can open during sunny weather. Other than that, most of the other entertainment is belowdecks in lounges with stages, or conference rooms, or in the main stage at the front of the ship. And there are something like forty-two dozen bars serving liquor, wine and beer. This was our second time sailing on the Oosterdam and I don’t believe we’ve seen all the bars, but not for want of trying.

[explanation of “Sea Monkeys” and “JoCo Cruise” to follow]

cruising | 6:22 am CDT
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Sunday, January 20th, 2019

My Darling B and I went to the Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest yesterday afternoon. We enjoyed ourselves just fine, but the event seemed to both of us to lean a lot more heavily toward the beer and a lot less toward the cheese than it had in years past. Not that more beer is a bad thing, especially when they’re new beers. Seems like every town in Wisconsin has a brewery now, and there were a lot from towns I never heard of. If I didn’t have such a delicate constitution I could have sampled nothing but new beers all afternoon and still probably not come anywhere near close to sampling half of them. But that’s not why I cheated by asking for some of the beers on offer that I already knew I’d had before; when Sierra Nevada shows up with the latest batch of Bigfoot, it’s not something I would pass up, and I didn’t.

As it was, I had a taste of just seventeen beers during the four-hour festival; I had to cut myself off the last half-hour or so we were there, filling my taster glass with water every time I passed a bubbler. And when I say a “taste,” I mean most vendors poured an ounce or two into the complimentary glass they gave each of us at the door, but some filled the glass all the way to the brim of a glass that held maybe three ounces of beer, and I poured out one, maybe two glasses of the beers that made me go “ewww,” but drank all the rest. So conservatively speaking, I “tasted” about thirty-four ounce of beer, but realistically I “drank” closer to forty-five ounces of beer, or just short of four pints, probably more than a lightweight like me should drink in an afternoon, even spreading it out over four hours. Drank many pints of water after I got home.

beer me | 10:07 am CDT
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Friday, April 13th, 2018

Yesterday was the closing day of the Wisconsin Film Festival, and the only day we saw not one, not two, but three really good movies. I’ve never rated so many films five or of five. Must be getting soft.

“Celebrating Sacred Twins In Africa” 6-minute documentary that showed some highlights of an annual celebration of twins and their mothers. 3 out of Five

“I Am Not A Witch” Shula is accused of being a witch, so she’s sent to a government-sponsored farm where witches are kept and exploited by a corrupt official. Describing it makes it sound more interesting than the experience of watching it.  One out of Five

“More Worlds Of Tomorrow” was a collection of animated shorts so quirky that My Darling B made a daring escape from the theater in the middle of one of them. “My Burden” featured dancing animals singing about how happy they will be after the burden of the futility of life is lifted from their shoulders. “The Amazing Neckbeard” showed how a cape-wearing nerd can be a hero.  “Obscurer” is a lot like a fever dream I had when I was sick in bed for three days with the flu, complete with creepy dolls, murmuring voices and unreadable graffiti. (This is the on B escaped from.) “The Tesla World Light” is a supposed letter from Tesla begging J.P. Morgan to fund Tesla’s work because he’s in live with a bird. “A Woman Apart” examines the thoughts of a sheriff who is wavering momentarily as he is poised to carry out the hanging of his friend, accused of being a witch. In “165708” a young woman gazes out across lily pads – that’s all I got from this film. “The Servant” wonders whether a frustrated artist is a cockroach and vice-versa. And in “World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden Of Other People’s Thoughts” a girl faces her future with the confidence only youth can bring after she’s confronted by her emergency backup clone.

“The Guilty” A 911 operator works against time to save a woman abducted by her ex-husband. Smart, tense movie with an unexpected twist. Five out of Five

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor”  I know I’ll be stating the obvious when I say this documentary about how Fred Rogers developed his TV show is one of the most heartwarming films you could ever hope to see, but what else could I say? It’s Fred Rogers! Five out of Five

“Hearts Beat Loud” Nick Offerman plays Frank Fisher, a record shop owner who decides to close his store the summer before his daughter Sam is due to go to college. He and his daughter, played with a lot of life by Kiersey Clemons, not only have a great relationship, they also make good music together. When Frank suggests that Sam take a year off to write music and perform with him, just like he and Sam’s mother used to do, Sam has to yank him back to reality. An unexpected pleasure and a great film to end the fest on. Five out of five

WFF Day 8 | 5:32 am CDT
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Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Beautiful weather again this morning: sunny and clear, 42 degrees on the thermometer, same as yesterday morning. And once again I’ll spend the day in a darkened room staring at a flickering screen. How crazy is that?

On the other hand, I’m not going to the office.

Yesterday’s films:

“Amarillo Ramp” was twenty-four minutes of abstract scenes shown while discordant music blared and garbage cans rattled in the background. I watched maybe seven minutes of it, just the opening scenes of faded store signs and desert vegetation trembling in the wind, then closed my eyes and dozed off. One out of Five.

“Rodents of Unusual Size” Nutria are an invasive species of rodent that weigh up to 20 pounds. This documentary film does an excellent job of explaining how they infest and destroy the wetlands of Louisiana, how people have gotten used to the nutria and how they deal with them, from the people who shoot every nutria they see to the people who keep nutria as pets. Apparently they’re pretty good in stew, too, if you can get past the idea that they look like big rats.  Four out of Five

“Western” A drama about the clash between rural eastern European culture and modern western European culture.    Meinhard is a German working on an infrastructure project in Bulgaria. He has no family, no friends, and is trying to work out some trauma he experienced in war.  Despite a language barrier, he strikes up a friendship with Adrian, one of the villagers. Three out of Five.

“Life and Nothing More” Regina is a single mother struggling to raise a three year old and a fourteen year old, Andrew, who’s going through a rocky, rebellious phase. This was a well-made drama that was only improved by the spectacular debut performance of the woman playing the lead role.  Four out of Five.

“Joe Frank – Somewhere Out There” Before I watched this documentary I had never heard of Joe Frank. All I know about his much-loved and celebrated radio shows I learned through this documentary. I would probably be reviled for saying this, but his odd style of ruminations about life, death, time and space reminded me of the quirky observations of Jack Handy, but without the funny punchlines. Three out of Five.

WFF Day 7 | 8:43 am CDT
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Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

We saw just three films yesterday, and they were not our favorite films.  That’s just the way it goes sometimes.

I think probably “Hitler’s Hollywood” was made for people who are so hardcore about film they study it the way biologists study rats or fruit flies. As an exhaustive catalogue of films, directors, and actors from the years of the Third Reich, it seemed to be a pretty good film, but the total significance of it was lost on me. Three out of Five.

“First Reformed” Ethan Hawke as a priest suffering a crisis of faith, Amanda Seyfried as the good woman who saves him with a kiss. I mean honestly, does a story get more contrived than that? One out of Five.  

“You Were Never Really Here” Joaquin Phoenix hits lots of people in the head with a hammer while trying to forget something awful that happened to him while he was a kid and also he loves his mother but she’s a little weird and he suffocates himself with plastic bags as a coping mechanism but he’s really good at hitting people in the head with a hammer and there’s lots of loud edgy music and so much blood if you like blood this is your movie and did I mention the fake suicide?  Sorry if I spoiled that but it was just more gratuitous blood and gore and didn’t mean anything, you’ll get over it. One out of Five.

WFF Day 6 | 7:49 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

We’ve upped our game!  4 movies yesterday, starting with “Saving Brinton,” about Mike Zahs, an Iowa farmer who finds a treasure trove of silent films, magic lantern shows and other bricabrac from the era of silent movies in the basement of an Iowa farmhouse. Zahs tries to get someone to preserve them, but when no one is interested, he moves the whole collection into his house (“my wife was not too interested in having it in our house”) and bits and pieces of it on the road to put on shows across the county.  Finally he gets help from the University of Iowa, and ultimately ends up in Bologna Italy, showing one of his films, thought to be lost forever, to an appreciative crowd. Four out of Five.

“Don’t Forget Me”  An anorexic girl meets a psychotic boy. I’m not quite sure what happened after that. I liked many scenes but felt lost in others, especially in the final scenes. I liked the boy quite a lot, but the girl was churlish and bigoted and there wasn’t much at all to like about her. If she had one good quality, it was that she spoke to him honestly about her eating disorder, telling him he would just have to accept that she would always have it and would probably die from it. In the closing scene of the movie, she is planning their wedding banquet: nothing but food that is white, and lots of ice. He listens passively to her, looking trapped. Good acting, anyway, and beautifully shot. Three out of five.  

“World of Facts” I really liked this one a whole lot but I’m not sure how to explain why, even after sleeping on it.  I was fascinated by the way it used film to tell a story in a way I’ve never seen before. Lots of shots that lingered on faces or minute details that almost, but not quite, went on for too long, and many were very abstract, the kind of camera shots used in “experimental” movies that have annoyed or bored me to the point that I walked out, but in this movie they were compelling.  Dialogue was sparse – no, concise would be a better word. And there was a bar scene that every man in America should watch if they want to learn why women think men are creepy jerks. Five out of Five.

“American Animals” was a caper movie with an interesting twist: It really happened.  Not exactly a documentary, although all four of the college students who were involved in the caper were interviewed. Their motivation: they did it just for the thrill of it, which would have been typical for teenagers if they had TP’d a house, but in this case they stole rare books worth millions of dollars, with the ultimate goal of selling them to a buyer in Amsterdam.  Spoiler alert: they get caught because, duh, they’re kids. The heist is reenacted in a devastatingly comic manner that I couldn’t help liking even while I knew they were doing Bad Things . Five out of Five.

WFF Day 5 | 7:46 am CDT
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Monday, April 9th, 2018

Take Richard Pryor near the peak of his career, put him in a caper movie with Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto, and what have you got? Well, in the case of “Blue Collar” you have probably the most tragic waste of time and talent of 1978. This movie is a manic-depressive roller-coaster that rolls from the whacky comic antics of three zany buddies to the gritty portrayal of union corruption on a factory assembly line, and like a roller coaster it never really gets anywhere. And I really DID NOT need to see Harvey Keitel in tighty-whities. One out of Five.

“Wisconsin’s Own By The Dozen” was a mixed bag of twelve short films by Wisconsin directors. You never know what you’re going to see at one of these, but there’s usually at least one film that makes attending worthwhile. In this case, I thought it was “She’s Marrying Steve,” about a woman going to the wedding of her ex. Although it was maybe just a little too quippy in one or two places, overall it was well-done and the ending was heartwarming. Among the other films, “A Voicemail” was as emotionally honest a rendering of a phone message left to say “I miss you” as you could ever hope to see. “Experiencing OCD” is a simple and declarative depiction of how one woman experiences her affliction. I’d give each of these Four out of Five. “Marieke,” a straightforward look at a Wisconsin cheesemaker, and “Outrun The Night,” an animated short that illustrated the scariness of nightfall, Three out of Five.

“Three Identical Strangers” This was a documentary so extraordinarily convoluted, you literally wouldn’t get away with making it up if you were writing fiction. Triplets separated at birth are reunited nineteen years later when one of them shows up for his first day of school at the same small technical college his brother attended the year before. A buddy puts them in touch with one another, their story makes the local paper, then a national paper picks it up, and the third brother sees the story. But that’s not the most outrageous part. Their happy reunion takes a dark turn when they learn more about the reasons the adoption agency that placed them separated them at birth in the first place. Five out of Five.

We had planned to see “Vanishing Point” as the final film of the day, but we were still suffering a 70s movie hangover headache from “Blue Collar” that was so bad we just didn’t feel we could take a chance on another one, so after “Three Identical Strangers” we hit the road, stopping at Salvatore’s pizzeria for a pie and some beer.

WFF Day 4 | 7:58 am CDT
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Sunday, April 8th, 2018

We watched only four films yesterday.  It’s like we’ve already given up trying to squish as many film as we can into each day.   What kind of losers are we, eh?

The amazing Ruth Bader Ginsberg was the subject of our first documentary film of the day, “RBG.”  My Darling B had probably the most concise review: “They didn’t hit one wrong note in that whole movie.” And B had probably the most endearing reaction: she cried tears of joy through almost all of it, so heartwarming and inspiring was the story.  For myself, I can’t wait until we can buy it on DVD to watch it again. B doesn’t want to wait that long; she wants to watch it when the film fest shows it again on Wednesday. Five out of five.

“The Blood Is On The Doorstep”  In 2014, Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney shot Dontre Hamilton to death in front of more than a hundred witnesses.  Manney was apparently walking a beat when he found Hamilton sleeping on the pavement in Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee. Two pairs of officers had already spoken to Hamilton that morning; the second pair to be called to the scene asked the woman who called them to stop because Hamilton wasn’t doing anything wrong.  When Manney found Hamilton he asked him to get up off the ground and began to frisk him. Hamilton turned, Manney grappled him, and when the officer raised his billy club, Hamilton grabbed it and twisted it from the officer’s hand. Manney later said Hamilton struck him in the head. In his frantic radio call for help after the shooting, Manney said he didn’t know whether or not he’d been hit, and asked an officer at the scene if his brains were coming out of his head.  In photos taken of him immediately after the shooting, there were no signs of injury to Manney, other than a scratch on his thumb. Manny shot Hamilton 14 times. Four out of Five.

“Dinner With A Murderer” was everything a humorous short should be: tightly-written, well-acted, and beautifully filmed.  Four out of Five.

“Ironwood” was a comedy buddy movie sort of like “Harold and Kumar go to Whitecastle,” in which a mismatched pair of college buddies go to interview for the same job and try to outdo one another while they simultaneously try to sabotage each other’s chances.  Hilarity should have ensued, but the humorous vibe of the movie never connected with me, which felt odd because virtually everyone else in the movie theater, including My Darling B, thought it was lots of laughs. Two out of Five.

“Brewmaster” was about people who love beer: love to drink it, love to talk about it, love to brew it, and love to use their enthusiasm to encourage other people to enjoy beer.  Four out of five, and not just because I’m a beer-lover.

WFF Day 3 | 7:56 am CDT
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Saturday, April 7th, 2018

“12 Days” was a somber, repetitive, and apparently pointless film that gets its title from the period of time a person can be held against their will in a psychiatric ward before they must be allowed a hearing before a judge to determine if they were rightfully interred. The film opened on a scene of a slow walk down the corridor of a psych ward that went on way too long.  I mean, we were watching a full three, four minutes of an empty hallway. Maybe to establish the mood? Then they showed the first interview with no explanation and no follow-up, and then several more minutes of the slow walk down the corridor. Then the next hearing, and more hallway. Several of the people clearly needed help, such as the guy who heard voices, but the woman who wanted to die was very reasonable and the soccer star appeared to be tranquilized to the point that he was barely conscious; how is that a fair hearing?  A little more expository material would have been helpful. Although to be fair, the last fifteen or twenty minutes may have been devoted to a detailed reveal of the point of the film, but I walked out to get some fresh air. The film is over when I’ve had enough. Two out of Five.

“Under The Tree” was billed as a very dark comedy and it was SOOO DARK and a little comic so I suppose they weren’t being wilfully misleading, but I had to stretch my imagination to see the comic stuff.  I mean, I chuckled a couple of times in a “what the hell?” kind of way, but there were scenes other people in the audience were laughing at that I felt like crying over. This much tragedy is normally found only in Russian films.  A very short synopsis (spoiler warning): Two houses, alike in dignity, in fair Reykjavik where our story is set. In the one house, a recent death in the family that the matriarch is drinking her way through while the patriarch watches helplessly.  In the other, divorce and remarriage. The wine-swilling matriarch of the first house resents the new bride, apparently for no reason other than she resents everybody’s happiness, and from that resentment a series of unfortunate escalations grows until everybody lies dead in pools of their own blood.  As I said, very, VERY dark. Four out of Five.

“Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle”  Woman gets everything she ever wanted, loses everything but the kids in the economic crisis, spends the rest of her days sleeping in the library of one kid’s house among hundred of shoeboxes filled with the bricabrac of her life, pining for death and an end to her suffering.  One of her kids makes a film about how great her life was. It was billed as a film about a “mischievous” “hilarious” woman, and maybe she was, but what I got from this film was that she was a packrat with kids who put up with way too much of her nonsense. I’d let my mother in my library if that’s what it came to, but all those shoeboxes would’ve ended up piled in the yard, doused with gasoline and turned into the biggest pyre ever. Two our of five.

“Cold November” Good acting, bad cinematography, and a weak story about a life lost and coming of age.  The film focuses on Florence’s coming of age, a story told entirely in the context of her first deer hunt, which is as central to the lives of families in the Midwest as high school football is to people in Texas.  There’s another story about how her family is dealing with the death of Florence’s cousin, Sweeny, but it’s so disjointed that I never did work out how they were related until after the film when I could talk about it with others.  Way too many of the film’s scenes were shot in hand-held shakey-cam. Bring your Dramamine. Two out of Five.

“A Woman Captured” A fascinating documentary about Marish, a woman trapped in an abusive relationship by Eta, a woman who forces Marish to work day and night in her house through the simple expediency of belittling her, beating her, and making sure Marish has no money and nowhere to go.  It’s not institutional slavery, but it’s something like it. The filmmaker spent a year and a half documenting Marish’s miserable life with Eta, but also Marish’s escape and her very happy reunion with her daughter. Five out of Five.

WFF Day Two | 9:55 am CDT
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Friday, April 6th, 2018

Yesterday was the opening day of the Wisconsin Film Fest.  I didn’t take the day off from work, but My Darling B did. Didn’t get her out of the office, though; she still had to go in for a ten o’clock meeting.  That’s just how awesomely important she is: The DMV can’t go on without her at the ten o’clock meeting.

She went home after she was done with that nonsense, did some very important things (napped), then returned to the office to pick me up after I bolted at quitting time.  

Opening night ceremonies consisted of a catered party before the show, which was all right but we probably paid too much for it.  The noshies were not bad, the beer was pretty good, but the venue was too small for the fiftyish people who sardined themselves into it.  And it was too loud: when an acapella group of college students came in to sing us a few songs, the attendees wouldn’t shut up. I moved as close as possible without getting into their faces and yet I was able to hear only one song, and even then I think I was filling in because I knew the words.  

Then, on to the show!  This is the 20th year of the Wisconsin Film Fest, so the director of the first film fest (can’t remember his name & can’t find it on the internet) came out to give us a little talk about the festival’s history, followed by Ben Reiser, the festival’s PR man, who usually comes out to thank all the people who made the festival possible and somehow makes it sound like a standup routine.  A panel of jurists interrupted Ben to hand out the Golden Badger awards to three talented film makers, after which the acapella group from the party filed on stage to sing their arrangement of Ice & Snow, the song featured in the opening sequence shown before every movie at the 2014 film fest and which has become the theme song of every opening sequence ever since.

Finally, the movie!  Or movies, because there was a short (“Elemental”) before the feature film, “Mountain.”  The short was a guy dancing, filmed in various outdoor settings. I liked it, but it really wasn’t much more than that.  “Mountain” was sort of a video collage of mountains and the crazy things people do on and around them. And they were pretty much all crazy things: aside from the obvious (skiing, snowboarding), they climbed up them with bikes over their shoulders, then rode the bikes down at breakneck speed; they jumped from helicopters onto peaks overloaded with snow and rode snowboards ahead of the avalanche they started; they skimmed the rocky flanks of mountains in their wingsuits; they climbed hundreds of feet up the sheer, granite walls with no ropes for safety; and always, always they hurt themselves doing it.  But, presumably, they kept on doing it, because people are stupid. Willem Dafoe read a voiceover script that took a stab at explaining the how and why of all this, and he sounded great, but I’m no closer to understanding why anyone would want to snowboard through an avalanche.

Fun bit o’ trivia: Willem Dafoe was born in Appleton, Wisconsin – same as your friendly neighborhood Oman.

WFF opening night | 10:31 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

Woman goes into a big, dark house with creaky wooden floors and heavy doors that go boom when she closes them. Just your basic soul-eating house. Woman slowly wanders through every room of the house, doesn’t turn on any of the lights. Ghost appears. Of course it does. I mean, what did you think was going to happen? Woman doesn’t see the ghost at first, because it always materializes in the air behind her somewhere, then fades away. Then, when it’s time to really scare the piss out of her, it … turns on a faucet. Yeah. Ghosts have the awesome power to disappear, float in the air, walk through walls, make spooky noises. This one can turn on faucets.

This was the ghost in a movie we saw at the Wisconsin Film Fest. The movie was “Personal Shopper,” and the woman was kind of pointlessly looking for the ghost of her brother, who died earlier that year. The woman says she’s a medium, and she eventually sees the ghost in the spooky house, but she’s the kind of medium who gets her information about ghosts from, just to name two sources, a movie about a seance, and the internet. Because where would you possibly get better information about the realm of spirits?

The first time the ghost turns on the faucet, it was kind of scary because I didn’t know what that noise was at first. The woman had to wander through most of the rooms in the house to find the tap that was running, because it was just a thin trickle and a bit hard to hear. Then the ghost opened the bathtub spigot all the way, and I was thinking, “Okay, he’s really good at turning on the water. What else can he do?” I mean, it’s not an especially malevolent activity, is it? It’s not even scary, after the first time. First time was, Oooo, what’s that noise? And the second time, meh.

It turned out the ghost did have a few other tricks up his sleeve: he could scratch the table, and he could tear up a piece of paper. Really scary stuff. (Full disclosure: I walked out halfway through the movie, so maybe it got a whole lot better after that. My Darling B stayed; she said it didn’t get any better. I trust her.)

all wet | 7:31 pm CDT
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Sunday, April 9th, 2017

The Freddie Fender ballad “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” has been playing on a fucking loop in my head for the past 48 hours. I loathe this song in capital letters: LOATHE. I can’t say why; it’s one of those gut reactions that makes me instantly change the radio station. I think I can say with a high degree of confidence that I have loathed this song since it was released in 1975. I would’ve been fifteen years old then, growing up in a tiny rural town that was smack in the middle of Wisconsin. The local radio station played just about anything, but music by the likes of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Johnny Cash were featured prominently. I remember hearing “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” and “Wasted Days And Wasted Nights” what seemed like every fucking day, although I’m sure now that’s an exaggeration. Although maybe not.

I have just learned that Freddie Fender was born with the name Baldemar Garza Huerta. That’s about the coolest name I’ve heard in my life. I can’t imagine why he wanted to change it. I want to have a son right now just so I can name him Baldemar. Also, Fender was in a band called Los Super Seven, another very cool name, and another band named Texas Tornados, which is a cool name but not as cool as Los Super Seven.

“Before The Next Teardrop Falls” is stuck in my head because I watched a documentary film about a guy with Aspberger’s who sang through his nose in that atonal way just about all of us do when we want to sing but there are a lot of people around so we try to make it look like we’re not singing by not moving our lips and by looking out the window pretending to be interested in the clouds. This guy wasn’t pretending not to sing, though. That’s just the way he sang. He knew all the words to “Before The Next Teardrop Falls,” even the ones in Spanish, and he sang them with such deep, emotional feeling that I couldn’t help but be touched by it.

I still hate that song, though.

That’s not the only song that’s been stuck in my head this weekend. Another is “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France, and it’s because of another film I saw this week (I was at the Wisconsin Film Fest with My Darling B last week, so I saw a lot of films; bear with me) called “Frantz,” about a young French soldier who travels to Germany to meet the family of the German soldier he killed during The Great War. It was “great” in the sense that it was really big, not in the sense that everybody thought it was a lot of fun and we should have another one again as soon as possible, even though we ended up doing just that. This is why choosing the right name is so important. “Baldemar” — good choice. “The Great War” — not such a good choice.

Back to the film: One of the principal characters of the film, a young German woman who was engaged to the German soldier who was shot by the French soldier I mentioned earlier, travels to Paris to find the French soldier because … it’s complicated. Anyway, she’s in a cafe in Paris when a couple of French soldiers come in for coffee and everyone stands up and sings “La Marseillaise” because what else would you do, right?

If you’ve seen “Casablanca,” you saw almost the same scene: Victor Laslo leads the customers of Rick’s Cafe in a rousing verse of “La Marseillaise” to flip the bird at the Germans who are after him. What they didn’t do in “Casablanca” was subtitle the words to the song, I guess because they figured everybody knew what it meant back then. I didn’t, and I never looked it up, either, thinking it was the usual stuff of national anthems: “We’re the best, you guys suck, our country is better than your country.”

But the version of “Frantz” we saw was subtitled, and they went on subtitling the words to the anthem during the cafe scene, so this is the first time I’ve heard it and known what they were singing about:

Arise, children of the fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us, tyranny’s bloody banner is raised,
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They’re coming right into your arms
To cut the throats of your sons, your women!

To arms, citizens!
Form your battalions!
Let’s march, let’s march!
Let an impure blood soak our fields!

The camera kept flitting from the puffed-up French people singing their yoo-rah-rah song to the uncomfortable face of the German woman, who spoke fluent French and knew just what they were saying. And there were a few disgusted-looking women in the crowd who did not stand up and did not sing; I assumed they were mothers of French soldiers who didn’t go for all that yoo-rah-rah crap.

“Kind of a different effect when you know the words to the song, don’t you think?” I whispered to B, who agreed.

While I’m on the musical theme, the last song I want to tell you about isn’t a song at all. It’s a kind of music: jazz, sort of. One of the duds we saw at the film fest was a musical review called “The King Of Jazz,” featuring the Paul Whiteman band. The final number was how they imagined jazz was created: a whole bunch of white people from Russia, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, and every other northern European country sang ethnic theme music (“Every laddie has his lassie” for the Irish people, that sort of thing) as they descended into a melting pot. Paul Whiteman gave the pot a stir, the sides of the pot swung open, and for one terrifying moment I thought the musicians and dancers were all going to come out in blackface singing “Mammie”! Instead, they sang what I guessed was supposed to be a jazz number, which was about as jazzy as any song can be when there isn’t a single African-American involved.

musical | 10:11 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

I was on the sofa with a book this morning, curling up into a ball, tighter and tighter, for more than two hours before I realized why the house was so goddamned cold: It’s Tuesday. I’m not normally in the house on Tuesday morning. I’m usually at the office, more’s the pity, so the smart thermostat at home is programmed to turn the temperature down to sixty-seven degrees after seven o’clock and keep it there until four, when it cranks the heat back up in anticipation of our return home. I’d forgotten to turn the thermostat up when I got out of bed and that’s why I was curling up into a ball so tight that I would’ve collapsed into my own gravity well if I hadn’t figured it out when I did.

I’m at home — well, not right now; right now, I’m in the library writing this drivel because they’ve got a damn computer that works and I don’t — because it’s day six of the Wisconsin Film Festival, so instead of going out into the world to be a productive member of American society, I’ve been slouched in the chairs (benches, medieval torture devices) of various darkened movie theaters around town, watching more movies in one week than I’ll probably watch the rest of the year. We’re shooting for thirty this year (B counts it as thirty, but it’s really more if, like me, you count the shorts separately, because they’re stand-alone films, right?), a slightly less ambitious schedule than last year when we saw something like thirty-five films, even by the weird way of counting that B uses. We used to arrange our schedule so that we crammed in as many movies in a day as we possibly could; this year, we’re taking it easy and today, like yesterday, we’re seeing just four films, when we could have probably squeezed in five or six a day if we wrestled with the schedule for hours. We didn’t feel like pulling our hair and gnashing our teeth this year, hence our more relaxed schedule.

We were at the Sundance Cinema from eleven in the morning until ten at night yesterday, which is nice inasmuch as we didn’t have to dash across town, hunt for a parking space, trudge through the rain or go without food or beer (Sundance has a concession stand that sells hot sandwiches and several brands of beers from local breweries; the downside is that the prices are just this side of extortion), although I have to say that being cooped up in one theater all day long leaves my head foggy at the end of the day. When I have to run from one theater to the next, at least it gets my legs moving, my blood pumping, and I have to blink at the sunlight a little more often, which is not a bad thing.

This has been a good week to stay inside all day. We’ve had rain for three, maybe four days *shrug*? So we’ve been invoking our head of the line privileges, a benefit of buying the all-festival pass instead of getting individual tickets for each showing, which is a royal pain in the neck when you’re trying to buy tickets to thirty-plus films. Actually, it’s typically a pain in the neck to buy tickets to just a handful of shows, because the on-line ticket-selling vendor is almost always instantly overwhelmed by the volume of people trying to log in and buy tickets the day they go on sale. We had pretty good luck the first year we did it that way, not so much the next year, and the year after that we threw our arms in the air and got the all-festival passes. It turned out that cost less than buying the individual tickets anyway. We found out about head-of-line privileges later but only invoked them when the line captains all but twisted our arms to take us to the front of the line, leading us past dozens of grumbling ticket-holders who’d been waiting to get in. But this year, waiting in line outside the Barrymore, I watched as people butted in line ahead of us, clustering around others who held a place for them, or crowding in behind friends who waved them over, shouting, “YOOO-HOOO! Join us!” After seeing at least a dozen people do that shit, I went up to the line captain, showed her my pass, and asked her how that head-of-line privilege worked. And we’ve been jumping to the head of the queue ever since, which came in especially handing last night because all the films we wanted to see were in theaters where the line was outside. We were warm and dry even as the rain fell all through the day.

Another plus to the Sundance theaters is their seating: big, plush chairs with so much leg room that you don’t have to stand up to let people get by and you can stretch out during the movie, a sharp contrast to, for instance, the clamshell seats in the Chazen Theater where my knees are firmly butted up against the back of the chair in the next row in front of me. God help you if you have to excuse yourself to the washroom from a seat in the middle of the row during the show. At Sundance, there’s enough room to walk past them without turning to one side and standing tippy-toe. There’s even a tier of seats in the middle of the theater with a handrail you can put your feet up on; the competition to snag those is fierce, with many a harsh word spoken between people who seek them and others who “reserve” seats for friends who aren’t actually present in the theater yet. I’ve never had the moxie to try that. A woman at one of the showings last night was holding at least half a dozen seats (I couldn’t tell exactly how many she was laying claim to with her outspread arms) and had to absorb more verbal punishment to do it than I could have withstood in a year; the resentful glares alone would have reduced me to a withered husk.

in the dark | 10:01 am CDT
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Sunday, February 26th, 2017

My Darling B and I went on a cruise about this time last year that went to the Bahamas from Florida. We had such a great time; it was the perfect time of year to get out of the frozen north for a week and relax in the sun on a cruise ship with a fruity drink. We’re really missing that now, partly because it’s been a year since we’ve had time off from work and the office has been a little crazy lately, but mostly because it’s a themed cruise that takes place every year, and they’re all headed off to San Diego right now. We know this because we joined their Facebook group last year, and we’re seeing all their posts as they get packed up, meet their planes and fly off to meet at the port. I think I have a pretty good idea now how the cats feel when I dangle a treat over their heads.

Coincidentally, that same themed cruise started taking reservations yesterday for next year’s cruise. My Darling B saw the announcement on Facebook at about the same time and sent it to me with the message, “We’ve got to talk about this tonight.”

I immediately went to talk to her about it.

“What’s there to talk about,” I asked, “besides how much we put in the piggy bank every month?” After a few quick calculations based on the amount of money we spent last year, we decided we could save enough to pay for the cruise, airfare and whatnot if we started saving up right now.

That’s if we could get a reservation. The cruise has become hugely popular. What started out as a couple hundred people turned into a group so large that this year they took over an entire cruise ship, the MV Westerdam, with room enough for 1,900 people to cruise in style. Next year they’re going to book the MV Oosterdam, a sister ship to the Westerdam, so I can only assume the cruise is as popular as ever.

Lucky for us, we’re on their mailing list, so we got invited as soon as their website was up and ready to accept reservations. I just happened to be sitting at my laptop, searching the website for any crumbs of information about next year’s cruise, when I got the email, which even came with a helpful link to the reservation page. Even so, the least expensive rooms were all gone when I got there. We got a reservation for a next-to-cheapest room, so come this time next year we’ll be off to San Diego!

booked | 7:47 am CDT
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Saturday, May 7th, 2016

For the first time in six years (seven?), B and I will not be going to the Great Taste of the Midwest. We got up early, got dressed, got in the car and, after several fuckups, got underway, but we were only a block from home when B thought to ask herself, out loud, whether the Great Taste feel on the same weekend as the Shakesperience, a three-day event in August we signed up for last week. A quick Google search proceed that it was, and that ea the end of our trip to buy tickets last weekend.

It wasn’t a snap decision. In fact, we drove all the way to Cork & Barrel, the liquor store where the tickets were sold, as we debated whether or not to go ahead and buy the tickets anyway. In the end, we knew that the Great Taste wouldn’t be much different this year than it was last year, that it would be there next year, and that there would be so many other beer fests going on this summer that we would not want for craft beer in an outdoor setting, if we should develop a sudden jonesing for one.

Just for yucks, we drove past Cork & Barrel and Star Liquor to see how long the lines were. The line to Cork & Barrel wrapped around the front of the block this year, instead of going around the back, so we were momentarily gobsmacked when we drove up and saw no line where we expected to see dozens and dozens of people. And oh, did they look miserable. A few had tents or umbrellas or some kind of cover, but quite a few only had blankets. It wasn’t raining hard, but it had been raining all night and temps were in the forties, so they all had to be chilled to the bone.

bailing out | 12:40 pm CDT
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Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

“Valley of Love” followed Gerard Depardeau and Isabelle Huppert playing the divorced parents of a son they have recently learned has committed suicide. The day before, we had seen Isabelle Huppert in “Louder Than Bombs,” a movie where her character committed suicide. Although she’s a wonderful actor, I’m kinda apprehensive about seeing another Isabelle Huppert movie now.

Just before the son killed himself, he wrote a letter to each of his parents, beseeching them to visit one of several different tourist spots in Death Valley over a period of a week. If they did this, he promised that they would see him.

His mother seemed to believe in psychics and visitations from beyond. His father flat-out didn’t and plainly said so, but went along with it, apparently to make his mother happy.

The first two-thirds of the movie painted a sincerely honest and endearing portrait of the mother and father as they tried to come to terms with the death of their son. In the final third of the movie, however, it turned into kind of a stupid ghost story, and everything that came before was pretty much ruined. We were so disappointed coming out of this movie. Three out of four.

We had about an hour and a half to while away between “Valley of Love” and our next movie, “Under the Sun”, so B and I walked across the street to have a beer on the patio at the Great Dane. Among the other things we talked about (what a beautiful day, isn’t this beer delicious, etc), I made sure that I told B, “You know what? If I ever off myself — and I’m not thinking about it, just so you know — and I leave a note or a letter behind, please just burn that shit. Don’t read it to find out why I did it or to find out if I had any last dying wishes. Just toss it.”

I wasn’t kidding. Because there’s no explanation for a suicide, and it seems to me that anybody who wants one is probably looking for assurance that they weren’t the one that tipped him over the edge. It’s the only way the question, “Did he leave a note?” makes sense to me. If you didn’t know a person well enough in life to know why he decided to kill himself, a note’s not going to bring you up to speed. The only way it’s going to help is if it says, “It’s all on me, not on you or anybody else. I love you. Good-bye.”

Valley Of Love | 7:00 am CDT
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Thursday, April 21st, 2016

“Sunset Song” was a period piece about the hard life of a young Scottish woman. That’s pretty much it. Looks great. Story’s well-written. Liked the acting. Gave it four out of five.

The documentary “In Transit” was interviews with several random people traveling cross-country on an Amtrak passenger train. Three out of five.

“Sergio Herman: Fucking Perfect” was a documentary about one of those chefs who owns several restaurants that are so popular you have to call years in advance to book a table. Going to one of them is not a meal, it’s an event, and the chef spends hours a day hunched over each and every dish, carefully arranging sprigs of rosemary around thinly-sliced beef. This guy is more into food than anything else, probably even more than his family, but his wife seems to be okay with that, until about midway through the film when chef announced that he would be closing one of his restaurants. In a brief clip, his wife says something like, This will be great, he’ll have time to spend with the children and help me around the house. My first thought was, Clearly you do not know this guy as well as you think you do. I’ve been watching him for barely and hour and I already know he’s not going to let up on the gas at all. And sure enough, in the scenes that follow he opens another restaurant in what looks like a great big church and as the film closes, he’s bustling around the kitchen. I’m not a foodie so I didn’t care much for this film, and gave it three out of five. B happens to be a foodie, but she thought it could have been better, and gave it the same.

“Operation Avalanche” was a found-footage comic documentary that followed two new recruits to the CIA who learn, pretty much by accident, that NASA won’t be able to figure out how to land on the moon until 1971 at the earliest, so they hatch a plan to fake the moon landing. I just know that some day footage from this film is going to be used in a moon-hoax conspiracy video. Four out of five.

WFF Final Day | 10:00 pm CDT
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Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

We saw four movies today, all at Sundance on the west side of town:

“Valley of Love” followed Gerard Depardeau and Isabelle Huppert playing the divorced parents of a son they have recently learned has committed suicide. Writing a letter to each of them at the time of his death, he beseeched them to meet at several different tourist spots in Death Valley, where he promised that they would see him. His mother seems to believe in psychics and visitations from beyond. His father flat-out doesn’t, but goes along with it, apparently to make his mother happy. The first two-thirds of the movie paint a sincerely honest and endearing portrait of these two as they come to terms with the death of their son. In the final third of the movie turned it into a heavy-handed ghost story that all but ruined everything that came before. Three out of four.

“Under the Sun” was a startlingly revealing documentary about life in North Korea, filmed by a Russian crew that was invited to record a day in the life of a typical North Korean family. Footage that was obviously not meant to be used in the finished film, so that North Korean handlers are continually seen coaching the film’s subject on what to say and how to say it. Five out of five.

“Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words” is just what it says on the tin. Archived films and photos illustrate passages from Bergman’s diary and letters to friends. Four out of five.

I don’t think I’ve seen a Roberto Rosellini film before, and if “Europe ’51” is exemplary of his work, I don’t think I’ll be seeing one again. Walked out after watching half of it and couldn’t bear any more. No stars.

WFF day seven | 10:00 pm CDT
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Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

Only three movies today, our lightest day at the film fest all week:

“Best of the British Arrows” is always a crowd-pleaser. A collection of some of the best television advertisements from Europe, they usually lean toward humor, although it seems to me that nobody can make a more pointed public service announcement than the British.

I liked “Little Men” a lot. B thought it was so-so. A family moves to a Brooklyn apartment over a store. The family’s son becomes close friends with the store owner’s son, but the parents do not become friendly at all. Wonderful acting all around made this movie a treat to watch. Five out of five.

“Louder Than Bombs” was a drama that started with a birth, then spent the next two hours examining how the death of a mother affected her sons and her husband in ways that often contradicted their outward behavior. Five out of five.

WFF day six | 10:00 pm CDT
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Monday, April 18th, 2016

No trouble getting to the movies today. We reviewed our schedule the night before and again this morning. Our first movie started at one, so we set an alarm to remind us to get out of the house by noon, and we actually left about ten minutes before noon. No panic today, no sir.

No panic | 10:22 pm CDT
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“Nahid” was a whole lot of drama about a woman who was ripping off the kind, compassionate man who wanted to marry her so she could pay off the debts she was drowning in from trying to raise her brat of a son without any help from her douchebag ex-husband. Four out of five.

“My Love, Don’t Cross That River” was a tender tribute to a couple married seventy-some years. Four out of five.

“The Witness” was a documentary that followed Bill Genovese as he learned about the murder of his sister, Kitty Genovese, in 1964. The story went viral when the New York Times famously asserted that dozens of people witnessed the murder but did nothing to help. In Bill’s interviews with people who lived in the aparement building across the street, he learns otherwise. Four out of Five.

“The Mountain” was an unexpectedly gripping drama about a woman growing increasingly frustrated with her marriage to a husband who has no time for her and her life in a house that is virtually a tomb and literally part of the cemetary on the Mount of Olives. Five out of five.

WFF 2016 day five | 10:00 pm CDT
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Sunday, April 17th, 2016

We almost didn’t make it to the first movie we wanted to see today. It started at noon, so the night before we agreed that we would leave the house no later than eleven o’clock. Fast-forward to the next morning and we were be-bopping around the kitchen, singing along with the soundtrack from the Broadway play “Hamilton,” our newest favorite musical ever.

After singing our way through acts one and two, I stepped into the shower to clean up. B took her shower a little while later. When she stepped into the shower, I noticed that it was already eleven o’clock, but I said to myself, Surely she knows what time it is and when the show starts, so I didn’t say anything. And she took a good, long shower, as she should be expected to do when she’s on vacation. But the longer she was in there, the more I asked myself, How are we going to the movie on time?

When she finally stepped out of the bathroom at eleven thirty, toweling her hair dry, I asked her, You know the movie starts at noon, right?

Right, she said.

Well, I said, looking at the clock, I don’t think we’re going to make it.

She stopped toweling her hair, looked at the clock, too, and said, Oh, shit.

But we decided to try anyway, packed up the car and hit the road, B’s hair still damp from the shower. Traffic on the Beltline was very light and we managed to pull into the parking ramp by the theater at about five past noon, hurried over to the theater and found that people were still waiting in line for the first movie, collect our tickets and got in line just minutes before they opened the doors. Even got some pretty good seats, although they were a little closer than we usually want to be.

How to almost miss a movie | 10:00 am CDT
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“Rwanda & Juliet” is about a retired Dartmouth professor who travels to the trouble spots of the world to produce Shakespeare’s plays. In Rawanda, the young men and women are more than a little skeptical of his intention to reconcile Hutus and Tutsis through his production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Four out of Five.

“Sonita” is a documentary about a young woman from Afghanistan who fled to Iran to escape the Taliban, only to have her mother try to take her back because marrying her off would bring the family $9,000 that they need to pay for the marriage of another relative. But Sonita has spent her time in Iran learning music and earning awards. Her music video about child marriage wins her a scholarship to a school in the U.S. Five out of five.

“The Fear of 13” is ninety minutes of one guy sitting in front of a camera, spinning the story of how he entered the prison system, talked himself into a conviction for murder, compounded his conviction by escaping, then was exonerated for the murder through DNA examination of the murder. As compelling as this might sound, watching this guy talk for an hour and a half was never as interesting as the story might have been. Walked out, no stars.

“Viva” My Darling B said it best: “”Viva” wasn’t quite what I expected, and I’m glad for it. I expected a fun romp about a drag show newbie; what I got instead was a story about forgiveness, acceptance, and strength.” Four out of five

“Tickled” was without question the most interesting, and the weirdest documentary of the day. After a journalist in New Zealand stumbles across a video of “competitive endurance tickling” and writes to the organizer about his interest in producing a documentary, he begins to receive blatantly homophobic emails in reply that escalate into threats of legal action. As the journalist digs deeper, his investigation slowly pieces together a bizarre story of a guy with a tickling fetish, a mountain of money and a sociopathic need to control people. Five out of five

WFF 2016 day four | 7:00 am CDT
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Saturday, April 16th, 2016

Mad About Madison: a collection of shorts made by people who are from or living in Madison, or about Madison itself, including:

“Intimate Nature” was four minutes of scenes from the Arboretum. The irony of sitting in a dark room on a beautiful day to watch a film about a walk through the Arboretum on a beautiful day was not lost on me.

“The Turkeys of Atwood Avenue” was a collection of Facebook posts (literally!) from a fan page devoted to watching a gaggle of turkeys (or whatever you call them) that roamed up and down Atwood Avenue in the Schenk-Atwood neighborhood of Madison. Was it inevitable that one day film makers would turn to Facebook for source material?

In “A Grand Walk … Paul’s Late”, a student at the UW wakes up late for class, runs his ass of to get there, sits down just as everyone in the class receives an email message announcing that the class has been canceled. Oops, spoilers.

“Lakeshore Preserve” looked like found footage shot for a news story about volunteers doing trail maintenance at a nature preserve.

I went in thinking I would not like “Nigga: A Monologue” but came away feeling that it deserves a lot more of my attention.

A nature photographer searches for the rusty-patched bumblebee in “A Ghost In The Making”, which sounds really, really boring, but I promise you it’s not.

Hundreds of nude and seminude bicyclists ride through Madison on World Naked Bicycle Ride Day, the subject of “Real … Live …”

“Continuum” is another film about a UW student who wakes up late for class and how that worked out pretty good for him. Will we soon see trash cans piled high with alarm clocks all over campus?

There is a Russian Folk Orchestra at the UW. “Russian Folk” is a four-minute short documenting a rehearsal. Worth watching just to see a balalaika as big as a dining room table.

“IMMO 240 Frames A Second” is just what it says on the tin: Iron Man Madison filmed at 240 frames per second, which slowed the action down to a snail’s pace. Watching it in slow-mo didn’t do anything for me. Take that back: an artifact of the high-speed recording process gave the playback a herky-jerky motion that irritated the hell out of me. Also, a lot of the film was shot in the low light of early morning and late evening, making it very hard for me to follow the action.

WFF 2016 day three | 10:00 am CDT
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Friday, April 15th, 2016

My Darling B and I both took a week off from work so we could sit in dark, windowless rooms and watch movies all week long. It’s time again for the Wisconsin Film Fest. We veered slightly from tradition this year; I was sick with a nasty chest cold when the film guide was published last month, so we didn’t go straight to Roman Candle after work to pick out the films we wanted to see. I think we went the next day or maybe the day after that. Even then, we didn’t pick out all the films we wanted to see, or go through the long, complicated negotiations where we whittled them down to the twenty or thirty that we could fit into the schedule. Instead, we bought a pair of all-festival passes, same as we did last year. They’re pricy, but they’re a savings on the cost of individual tickets for the thirty-two films we wanted to see this year.

Thursday was the opening night of the festival with a reception in the lobby of the Barrymore Theater an hour and a half before the start of the first film, a comedy from New Zealand called “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” Although the reception was very crowded, there were plenty of noshies, champagne and chocolate, with enough left over that My Darling B pocketed a few extra for later. The comedy was good; a little uneven, a little over the top at times, but genuinely fun. I gave it four out of five.

Friday was kind of a bust. After struggling to find a place to park on campus, we found out that the first film we wanted to see, “Louder Than Words,” had been canceled. With a couple of hours unexpectely dropped into our laps, we rented a couple of B-Bikes and pedaled up State Street to Capitol Square to eat a leisurely lunch at Graze before coasting back down State to the campus to see the rest of the movies on our Friday schedule:

“Phantom Boy” was an animated feature about a boy with an unspecified but serious disease who learned while he was in the hospital that he was able to leave his body and float around. He teams up with a police officer to catch the arch-criminal who is threatening the city. I thought it was worth four out of five, but B drowsed through much of it.

Two teenaged girls with way too much time on their hands stalk a middle-aged single father in “John From.” The synopsis in the film catalogue called this “a sensitive, infectious and dreamy ode to young love.” We thought it was creepy, more than a little boring, and gave it no stars because we walked out before the end.

“The Well” was just about the cheesiest film about race relations you could imagine. I’m sure it was considered gripping in 1951 when it came out, but the writing seems cliched and the acting looks stilted and wooden now, except for Harry Morgan, doing his best to get through the movie. I gave it four out of five, should have given it three.

“True Stories” was one of the quirky movies of the eighties that we considered cool back then, but are mostly cringeworthy now. Walked out after watching thirty minutes or so. No stars.

WFF 2016 day one and two | 10:00 am CDT
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Saturday, March 5th, 2016

I used to read fiction almost exclusively. The only time I would read non-fiction was when someone made me, like for school. And even then, I blew off most of my assigned reading to read fiction.

I loved fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy. Those stories had what seemed like limitless possibilities. What would a society of intelligent bugs be like? A writer could take that idea and run in just about any direction with it: Would they get along with humans? If they didn’t, would humans win or lose a war with them? If they did, would humans have sexual congress with them? (Sooner or later, even the most far-out ideas come back to sex.)

And then, for reasons I never quite understood, a switch flipped in my brain about twenty or twenty-five years ago and I began reading non-fiction. Mostly biographies, or American history. I think it started when I wanted to know more about American history during the second world war. I knew a lot about bombs and planes, but almost nothing about why America made the bombs and planes. Turned out there was a lot to learn. I think I’ve read more about that period of American history than any other, and I still wouldn’t dare say I know much about it.

But maybe five years ago I made a conscious effort, every now and then, to pick up some fiction that came with the recommendation of a friend or a critic, and read at least the first fifty pages, just to see if there was still some magic in the pleasure of reading made-up stuff. It would be a pity to miss out on a new voice as engaging as some of my old favorites. And waddaya know, I did find fiction that still raised my eyebrows in surprise, that was fun to read.

Most recently, I started reading The Name of The Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. An epic fantasy (660 pages! Run, Will Robinson!), it’s not the kind of book I would normally have tried to read for fun, and I say that as a guy who not only has all of Le Guin’s Earthsea books in hardback, but who takes them down from the shelf every couple of years and reads every page from beginning to end. I also say that as a guy who has started reading the epic tomes of Saberhagen and Martin, but could never get any further than the first fifty pages. Pure fantasy, with magic and swords, was never something I automatically loved the way, for instance, a story with a rocketship would.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I curled up on the sofa with The Name of The Wind one night and found myself immersed in a story that I didn’t emerge from until it was time to put on my jammies and turn in for the night. And even then I took the book with me, as it’s long been my custom to read a chapter or two in bed. It relaxes my neck, which lets my head sink into my pillow. Far from putting me to sleep, though, this is one of those books I have to read just one more chapter of, until I glance at the clock and warn myself that if I don’t stop, I won’t get enough sleep and I’ll be a grumpy cat in the morning.

I probably never would have looked for this book, or even heard of it, if I hadn’t gone on the JoCo Cruise. Rothfuss was there to read some of his work and to sit on a couple of panels to talk with the other authors who came along, and he was such a pleasure to listen to that I resolved to check out all his books from the library and try out every one of them, believing that surely at least one will appeal to me. Well, now I’m facing the daunting possibility that they will all appeal to me and I’ll soon have a whole shelf filled with them in hardcover. Oh well. There are worse compulsions.

The Name of The Wind | 9:56 am CDT
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Monday, February 29th, 2016

Hi, we’re back from our cruise to the Bahamas and we had a great time, thank you very much for asking. This was the first cruise either of us had gone on, so we had no idea what to expect, other than we were going to be on a great big ship that was going to take us to some islands in the general vicinity of Florida. We knew they were called the Bahamas but, embarrassingly, neither of us could say just where the Bahamas were or how many islands were in the Bahamas. Turns out there are 700. 700! And we didn’t know they existed until we went on this cruise. This is not the first time that travel has revealed to us how stupid we are about the world.

The ship we took was Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas. If you’ve never been on a cruise ship before, or been around ocean-going ships at all, your mind isn’t ready to take in just how big they are or how much stuff is crammed into them. It’s as if the designers combined The Mall of America with a five-star hotel. The inside of the ship is hollowed out, leaving room for shops and restaurants and taverns and a wide pedestrian walkway, just like a mall. At one end of the mall there’s a theater showing movies, theater reviews and concerts, and at the other end there’s quite a grand dining room where liveried service staff bring you all the food you ask for. Oh, there’s a dance club in the middle, too. Because they had some extra room, I guess.

The outside of the ship is the hotel. Hundreds and hundreds of hotel rooms, maybe thousands, I don’t know. More than I’d care to count. We had a room that was really very small and ordinary, because we didn’t plan to spend much time in it (turned out this was the one of those rare times that our plans matched up with reality; we were in our room to shower, change clothes, and sleep, and we didn’t do much sleeping), and yet it was still a very nice room. It even had a window, which I learned was not the case in every room. Our window faced the water and was at the front of the ship, so we could see the waves crashing off the bows as the ship plunged through choppy waters, or see the islands as we approached. Other rooms had windows that faced the inside of the ship, overlooking the mall. All things considered, I’m glad we got one looking out at the sea.

The islands we visited were Coco Cay, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Coco Cay is really just a part of the cruise ship that doesn’t go anywhere. Royal Caribbean owns the island, and the ship’s service staff gets off with the passengers to serve food, drinks, and otherwise cater to their every need. I guess a sandy beach was the one thing they couldn’t shoehorn into the boat, so they bought an island. St. Thomas is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and St. Maarten is a Dutch territory. From what I could tell, they exist only because cruise ships stop there.

We didn’t sign up for the cruise to visit the islands, to tell the truth. We signed up because some of our favorite musical performers and authors were going to be on the ship. It was a themed cruise, and for want of a better term, I’ll use the phrase that the other passengers used who signed up for the themed cruise: Nerd Boat (in real life it’s called JoCo Cruise).

The authors were all writers of science fiction (John Scalzi) or fantasy (N.K. Jemisin, Patrick Rothfuss), or were involved in science fiction or fantasy writing in some way (Wil Wheaton). (The names in parens are examples only, not meant to be pigeonholes. Scalzi also writes fantasy, and although I’m not familiar with Jemisin, I understand she writes science fiction as well. I know next to nothing about Rothfuss, but I will soon. And Wheaton, besides being an actor and writer, is a dynamite comic presence. Really.)

The musical performers may be a little harder for me to describe, but I’ll give it a shot: it’s comedy (Paul & Storm), but it’s also nerdy (Jonathan Coulton), and I think the easiest way to describe “nerdy” in this case is to give you a few examples: Paul & Storm opened their musical show with a song urging George R.R. Martin to write faster so we wouldn’t have to wait to find out what happens next on Game Of Thrones. Also, their most popular song by far, and sort of the theme song for this cruise, is The Captain’s Wife’s Lament, a sea shanty about pirates. I would be spoiling the song to go any further, but suffice to say if you don’t like puns, or double entendres, or both, then the payoff won’t work for you.

The most well-known song (and again, a kind of anthem to the people who go on this cruise) by the headline act, Jonathan Coulton, is about a person who writes code for a living. Another song is written in the form of an inter-office memo from a bureaucrat who has recently become a zombie. And my favorite song of Coulton’s is a love song to Pluto from Charon (the planet and its largest moon, respectively) that makes me puddle up every time. I guess that makes me a nerd.

The comedy and the nerdiness is all well and good, but this is to say nothing of how musically awesome the performers are (and besides the comedy and nerdery, we were also treated to (for want of a better term, again) more mainstream artists such as Aimee Mann, whose pop hit Voices Carry almost everybody my age knows, even if they don’t realize that Aimee Mann was part of the group Til Tuesday). Really, if you could see all these guys come together to play a David Bowie tribute, as they did on the last night of the cruise, you would be blown away by just how amazingly accomplished they are as musicians. The musical shows by themselves were well worth the price of admission.

Anyway, that’s the quick & dirty summary of where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing for the last week. I’ll be writing more drivel about it eventually, but it’s going to take a while to go through my notes and I’ve got to divide my time between that, unpacking, washing clothes, and nursing My Darling B, who contracted a case of the coughing crud that was going around the boat. Also, the floor won’t stop rolling back and forth, so every time I stand up, I feel as though I might topple over, and I can’t cross the room without walking like a drunkard, so there’s a slim chance I’ll crash into a wall or tumble over a piece of furniture in the next few days, but if, knock wood, that doesn’t happen, I’ve got a few stories I can tell.

cruise crazy | 9:05 am CDT
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Sunday, February 21st, 2016

Our trip from the hotel to the port did not go quite the way I pictured it.

I was under the impression that the shuttle we booked from the hotel to the port would be a Ford Excursion, or a stretch van, possibly as big as one of those sixteen-person shuttle buses that hotels send you to the airport in. Thinking back on it now, I don’t know how I got that impression. Certainly nobody told me what kind of vehicle we would be riding in. I just assumed. Turns out what they mean when they say “never assume” is true.

On the recommendation of the people organizing the cruise, I called the phone number Florida business and spoke to someone about chartering a “shuttle” from Orlando to Port Canaveral. No one said anything about how we were getting from point A to point B, but maybe the mom-and-pop feel of the business was what made me think the owner herself, or her brother Merle, would show up in a panel van, load our bags into the back and off we’d go.

Nope. A whole lotta nope.

There was a huge gaggle of people milling about in the lobby when we went down there around nine-thirty, a half-hour before we were supposed to leave. There was no sign of anything resembling a line of people waiting to go. I assumed — there I go again — that they had all arranged their own transportation and a long line of vans and stretch limos would soon appear in the drive to take them all away.

Because there was nothing that bore any resemblance at all to a line, we dragged our bags out to the curb and sat in a comfy chair by the driveway to wait for the Ford Excursion/van/shuttle bus that would pull up to take us away. We’d been sitting there all of ten minutes when I happened to notice there was a lady in the lobby moving through the gaggle of people and checking off names on a clipboard. I don’t know what made me think she had anything to do with our ride to the port, but I said, “Be right back,” to B and went inside to see what she was doing.

Turned out she was lining up sixty or so people to get on a chartered bus, which coincidentally happened to be the shuttle we had booked a ride on.

We dragged our bags back inside and searched for the end of the line, ending up behind a thick knot of people who were bunched up around a cluster of chairs. Every so often, someone would walk by with their bags and ask us whether or not this was the line for the shuttle, and we would say something flip like, “Well, I certainly hope so.” That happened three or four times before one of the people in the cluster ahead of us turned around and said, “Oh, we’re not in line.”

So all shuffled three or four feet to the left and waited for clipboard lady to work her way down to us. As she approached, she moved through the cluster of people to our right who said they weren’t in line, ticking off their names. So apparently they were in line after all. We had to practically grab clipboard lady and drag her over to our side of the line to make sure we got checked in. Then, when the line started moving, we all merged as we neared the door.

True story: As the bus taking us from our hotel to the cruise ship neared Port Canaveral, the driver turned around and asked us, “Which cruise line are you guys on?” The frigging driver didn’t know which terminal he was supposed to drop us off at!

And yet somehow we still got there.

Tell you what: the cruise line has every last thing figured out about how to get a couple thousand tourists aboard a big ship in a hurry. The terminal was as wide open as a sports stadium. When we got there, which was still pretty early, we could easily see one end of the room from the other, and yet there were uniformed attendants every fifty feet or so to direct us along our way. We hardly stopped moving until we got to the check-in desk where they took our photos, handed us a couple of magical plastic cards and pointed toward the gangplank.

Those plastic cards were magical because we could wave them at bartenders to get all the drinks we wanted. There’s a pro tip for you: Get the ultimate drinks package. For two good reasons:

First, imagine taking all your meals at the airport for seven days. What do they charge you for everything you drink? Every cup of coffee, every glass of orange juice, every bottle of water, and all at airport prices. What if you want a cocktail in the evening? How much would a week of that cost you? Yeah. We didn’t want to have to think about about how much we were spending, so we got the drinks package. That way, we’ve already spent it. No worries.

Second, because starting every day with a mimosa or a Bloody Mary is the best way to start your day.

I made a pact with My Darling B that we would stop at the first bar we could find after going aboard so that we could toast the start of our vacation with a couple glasses of champagne. As luck would have it, we didn’t have to go looking at all: There was a bar just inside the doorway as we entered. Almost like they knew what we wanted most at that moment.

After toasting our cruise, we wandered down to the gaming room to check in, get our sea monkey passes and our swag bag. Our sea monkey passes get us into all the JoCo Cruise events, and the swag bag was filled with games and a plush toy as mementos to remember our cruise.

I had to make a special trip to the chapel where there was a meeting of all the sea monkeys taking part in a game of assassin that was specially-made for this cruise. When I played assassin in college we used squirt guns to kill our targets; in this game, they used a deck of cards and rules for using them that went completely over my head. I went up to Martin, the creator of the game, to ask for his help, but he was in a pretty intense discussion with someone protesting one of the rules, so I tagged Martin’s wife Mandie and let her know that I wanted to talk with them when we picked up our cards later that night.

Then I had to run all the way back to the other end of the ship to meet up with My Darling B at the New Monkey Orientation, where Paul and Storm welcomed us and told us a few things about the cruise, mostly stuff we already knew. JoCo and Scarface joined in after for a Q&A that was, again, mostly stuff we already knew. We had done our homework before the cruise.

There was a mandatory lifeboat drill at four. When it was done, we ducked inside to grab cocktails that we took back to the rail to watch the ship pull away from the dock and head out to sea. The port was not the prettiest part of Florida by any stretch of the imagination. Besides the terminal and acres of parking, there was a fuel dump, warehouses and all other kinds of servicing facilities, but out at the end of the canal, just before we sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean, there was a small park where dozens of people had set up their lawn chairs along the shore to watch the ships head out and wave at the passengers lined up on the rails. Each ship blasted its horn as it went by, answered by the horns of the dozens of cars parked along the shore.

We both went to what was billed as a cocktail mixer but was really more of a general melee for drinks and noshies as Paul and Storm read more announcements, introduced the guests and cracked wise from the stage. Directly from that we went to dinner in the main dining room. Slight hitch there: We wandered for fifteen minutes or so looking for a table with open seating. All the tables that had any room had been mislabeled “Staff Only” when they were supposed to say “Open Seating.” We finally found a four-top where we sat with Ryan and Scott, a couple of Canadians who came on the cruise primarily to play games and hadn’t heard of JoCo or Paul and Storm before.

Our last activity of the evening was the JoCo concert. I wonder why the headline act went on the first night? Seems like something they’d save for last, but apparently they had different ideas.

We had a teeny tiny little roomette. A king bed took up about half of it. The other half was a small sitting room, closet and bathroom. There was a love seat, a desk and a tiny coffee table. The closed was just big enough to hold all the clothes we brought. After we emptied the suit cases, I was able to stash them under the bed, so that we would have more room in our small world. There was a television, but most of the channels were information about the ship or about shore excursions, and rest were children’s cartoons or were in a language I couldn’t identify.

Cruise Monkey Day Two | 9:13 am CDT
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Saturday, February 20th, 2016

I managed to get to sleep around nine-thirty on the Friday night before we were going to fly out for our cruise. I even kept on sleeping until about two in the morning, but after that I was just lying in bed awake, so I got up at about two-thirty and read a book until four when B got out of bed. We washed up and left the house at five, just as we planned, and our flight left on time a little more than an hour later. Like hitting every green light on a trip across town, it felt somehow like we were getting all the breaks. We even got through security without either of us being selected for “special attention.”

Our layover in Chicago was just long enough for us to get from our arrival gate to our departure gate and start to gobble down a bagel before they called for us to start boarding. Just as quickly, they put a hold on boarding, explaining that they were trying to settle “safety issues.” No problem. You go ahead and take as long as you like to settle those “issues.”

That was the only hitch we experienced along the way, and even though they delayed boarding for a short time, every flight left on time, the airlines didn’t lose our luggage, and the shuttle from the airport to the hotel showed up within ten minutes after we piles all our bags at the curb. Slick as snot, as one of my tech school instructors used to say.

We arrived at our hotel (which the sea monkeys are calling the JoCotel, after the cruise’s namesake, Jonathan Coulton) in the early afternoon. The clerk who checked us in apologized for how cold it was, then asked where we were from. She laughed a bit when we told her Wisconsin. “So this isn’t exactly cold to you,” she said. The temp was seventy-five degrees. We set the thermostat in our house to sixty-nine this time of year. Not exactly cold, no.

We had a bite to eat in the restaurant downstairs, then went back up to our room to change into our swim suits to spend the next several hours by the pool, basking in the sun. One of the perks of being a cheesehead on vacation in Florida is realizing what a treat it is to lie half-naked in the sunshine in February. Still, an hour of that was more than enough for me, and I went looking for a seat in the shade where I could sip a fruity drink and write some drivel. B took a dip in the pool to cool off, then stretched out to soak up another hour’s worth of sunshine.

After washing off and changing into dry clothes, we took a short walk around the hotel, but because I had so little sleep the night before, I was running on fumes and had to hit the hay. My Darling B was all in, too. We stopped off at the bar for a nightcap before turning in for the night.

Cruise Monkey Day One | 6:00 am CDT
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Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

My Darling B and I went to the El Dorado Grill for dinner on Thursday night. It was restaurant week, as if we needed an excuse to go out to eat. We were looking over the menus when the waitress came over to ask if we wanted to start off with something to drink, which sounded like a great idea to me, so I ordered a martini. B told me later that when she asked, “Do you have a preference on the vodka?” I made a face like she’d just waved a dead squirrel under my nose. That must be the face I make when people ask me a question that seems to be completely disconnected from what we were just talking about, because at that moment I was thinking to myself, “Vodka? Is there vodka in a martini? I don’t think so. Why is she asking me about vodka?” It came and went, a quickly-passing senior moment, when I remembered that vodka martinis are a thing, but I still fumbled around for a bit trying to tell her that I wanted a martini made with Hendrick’s gin. Turned out that I got all the Hendrick’s gin left in the place, about two or three ounces, which they turned into an acceptable cocktail, but because it was smaller than they usually make them, they treated me to it, on the house! The best-tasting martinis are Hendrick’s martinis, but the most delightful are free martinis.

gratis | 11:26 am CDT
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Monday, May 4th, 2015

It was the first weekend of Madison Craft Beer Week, so brace yourself! This is going to be mostly about beer.

Both B and I had some flex time to burn on Friday, so we got out of work a couple hours early, drove straight home and had a nice nap for an hour or so. Hey, we’re middle-aged. It seemed like a great idea to us.

After getting a really good, restful nap, we changed clothes and went to The Malt House, where the Central Waters Brewery was doing a tap takeover, pouring I don’t know how many different beers – looked like at least a dozen. We got a flight of their darkest, maltiest high-gravity beers: an imperial cherry stout, a coffee stout known as Peruvian Morning, and their anniversary ale, 17. We grabbed a couple of chairs and settled in on the patio where we could enjoy sipping them in the evening light.

And sipping was about all we could do with these very strong brews. These are beers to be savored, not guzzled. We both thought that 17 was the very best. I had to give it 5 out of five marks. I can’t remember the last time I did that, but this was such a yummy beer that I just had to. I thought the cherry stout was a bit too tart, but B liked it fine. The coffee stout had just enough coffee aroma to make it as close to perfect as coffee stout gets, if I may say so.

After enjoying the beers on offer at The Malt House, we strolled down to Dexter’s Pub because we heard there was a tap takeover there, too. We sampled a few chocolate stouts from Southern Tier Brewing and a porter from Great Lakes before the noise and the crowds were too much for us and we began to miss the peace and quiet of our little red house.

Saturday we went to breakfast at Lazy Jane’s. Biscuits and gravy, baby!

At eleven, they had the official Madison Craft Beer Week kickoff party at the East Side Club with a collection of brewers and their firkins in a tent in the parking lot. Last year, the party was out back on the lawn, but a wedding party had taken over on Saturday. Too bad. Would’ve been a perfect day to be out on the lawn.

No biggie. We found a seat in a small garden by the door and took turns getting refills so we wouldn’t lose it. This was a classic beer tasting: They gave us four-ounce tumblers at the gate that we could get refilled as many times as we liked. I tried one of each of the beers on tap, even the sour beers that are all the rage now. I don’t like them, no matter how often I try them. They’re all just a little too tart for my palate, or I’ve got a faulty palate.

Tim swung by the fest at three to pick us up and take us home, where we grilled bratwurst and watched a movie after dinner. The movie was Locke. The whole movie was Tom Hardy in a car calling people on the phone. It was not boring, but I’m not sure what it was. Maybe more about that later.

Sunday, out of bed at five. B had a quick shower, but I’m not as civilized, so I just threw on some dirty clothes. Besides, I knew we were going to be standing in line outside all morning, waiting to buy tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest; who would be able to get a whiff of me? Nobody that I knew, that’s who.

There were 300 tickets available. Each person in line could buy two. At eight thirty, they started passing out wrist bands numbered one to one-fifty. I got number 148. B got 149. Just before they handed out the last numbered band to the guy behind us, he took a deep breath and said, “I think I’m about to cry.”

Once you have your numbered wrist band, you can step out of line and come back at eleven thirty to buy tickets. B and I went to breakfast at Stalzy’s. Probably didn’t need to, because we’d both just eaten the Lazy Jane’s scones we bought the day before, but it’s a tradition, born just last year, that we stop in for breakfast sammies after they hand out the numbers, so off we went.

After breakfast, we still had enough time to go home, where My Darling B had a nap. My tummy was too full, so I mowed the lawn. There, now I won’t have to think about it for a week!

Back in line at eleven-thirty; everybody started to bunch up at about eleven-fifty; ticket sales started at twelve and we got our tickets at twelve forty-five. Home again, home again, jiggidy-jog.

The last beer event for the weekend was the benefit for the pet rescue at One Barrel Brewing. Because nothing motivates people to save the doggies like beer. Well, nothing motivates me like beer, anyway.

Madison Craft Beer Week | 9:26 pm CDT
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Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Got up at five this morning to get in line for tickets to the Great Taste of the Midwest. Actually got in line at about five forty-five. There are only 300 tickets for sale at this location, and each person is allowed to buy two. At about eight o’clock, they started handing out numbered wrist bands. I got 148. B got 149. Couldn’t have cut it much closer than that. Looks like we’ll have to get up at four next year.

GTOM tickets | 8:50 am CDT
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Friday, April 17th, 2015

My Darling B snorted at me when I ventured the opinion that Where The Sidewalk Ends was a pretty good movie. She thought it was “too corny.”

“It wasn’t any cornier than Casablanca,” I replied.

“Hey hey hey, don’t be dissing on Casablanca,” she warned me, wagging a finger.

“I’m not dissing,” I said, “but c’mon. You don’t think Sydney Greenstreet was every bit as corny in Casablanca as Dana Andrews was in Sidewalk?” But she wouldn’t bite. I’d already gone where I shouldn’t have.

Where The Sidewalk Ends | 3:07 pm CDT
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Meru was the last film we saw at the Wisconsin Film Festival, which made thirty-two films in all, if you count the six-minute short film Little America and the two films we walked out of. I’m counting them, but My Darling B thinks it’s cheating.

The best dramatic narrative that we was was, no question, The Keeping Room.

The best documentary was a lot harder to pick. After counting out all the ones that we didn’t think were best, we were still left with a list of five, and couldn’t pare it down much further than that: Ballet 422, Capturing Grace, Clarence, Meru, Off the Menu, and Old Fashioned.

In years past, we’d be looking forward to three more days of films, but the film fest was shortened this year. Not sure if that’s going to be a permanent thing or not, but it worked out well for us this year: We’re just about all movied out.

Wisconsin Film Festival | 10:27 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Meru is the most technically challenging mountain climb in the Himalayas, and although many teams had tried to reach the summit, all had failed when Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk teamed up to climb it. Not only is this a hair-raising story, it’s got some of the most amazing eye candy ever, not least of which is at the top of the mountain, a blade of granite known to climbers as The Shark’s Fin that is so narrow, they had to straddle it with their legs to climb to the summit.

Meru | 7:32 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Anima is a blogger in Damascus at the time of the Syrian uprising who is reported missing and feared kidnapped by the Assad regime for her outspoken views. When fellow bloggers begin to network together to win Anima’s freedom, they learn that apparently nobody has met her and she was not seen at the meetings and protests she wrote about. The Anima Profile documents the unmasking of the hoaxer behind Anima’s blog posts.

The Anima Profile | 7:22 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Clarence is one of those souls who is seemingly indefatigable, always upbeat, and shares a kind word with everyone he meets. An 87-year-old veteran, Clarence decides to finish college and earn a degree now that his children are grown. He presses on even when medical problems threaten to stop him, and becomes the oldest graduate of UW-Milwaukee. A truly inspiring film.

Clarence | 7:16 am CDT
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Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Not sure exactly what we were supposed to get from the documentary Western about the sister cities of Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras, in Mexico. I’m always happier when the director steps back out of the frame to let the people and their situations tell the story, but in this film the people and the situations did not complete the story and I was left wondering who they were or what they were doing.

Western | 8:27 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Where the Sidewalk Ends is a film noir classic directed by Otto Preminger and starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney. There. That’s all you need to know. My Darling B thought it was cheeseball to the Nth degree. I thought so, too, but that’s more or less what I was expecting.

Where the Sidewalk Ends | 8:22 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Best of the British Arrows is always a treat. The British Arrows are awards given out to the most creative television advertisements, and the Best Of reel is a collection of the first, second and third place winners, as well as some of the finalists. I often like the finalists better than the winners, but then I’m grading them more on the basis of how much they make me laugh rather than their creativity.

Best Of The British Arrows | 8:20 am CDT
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It’s confirmed! The awesome superpower of jumping to the front of the line is ours! We were told some days ago by a volunteer at the Wisconsin Film Fest that the all-festival passes we bought instead of individual tickets gave us head-of-the-line privileges, but we were a bit hesitant to try it out because we didn’t want to be torn limb-from-limb by the ticket holders who had been waiting in line for as long as an hour. But a couple days ago there were a couple of movies we wanted to see and there was a break of about fifteen minutes between then, so when we got out of the first one we found there were maybe a hundred people already waiting in line. There was no danger of not getting a seat, but we didn’t want to end up sitting in the front row with the screen practically in our laps and our heads cranked all the way back for two hours. “I’m just going to go check,” My Darling B said, stepping out of line to ask the volunteer at the door. She came back empty-handed. The volunteer didn’t know what B was talking about.

Same situation last night: Our last two movies were back-to-back, just fifteen or twenty minutes separated them and we stepped to the tail of a line that was already maybe seventy or eighty people long. This time, though, a volunteer came down the line, handing out ballots, saw our festival passes hanging around our necks and said, “Oh, you two can go to the front of the line.” It was getting cold, so we said thanks and walked up to the door. The couple at the front of the line didn’t seem to be too happy about it, but the volunteer at the door confirmed we could jump to the front of the line, so the ticket holders could only glare at us with expressions that said, “DIE IN A FIRE ASSHOLES!”

This was also the first time that we left our jackets on the backs of our chairs to reserve them, something else that a volunteer told us was absolutely fine but that some of the ticket holders were not very happy about. We knew we were coming right back to the same theater and we’d seen others do the same thing, so after we were seated I went to the volunteer at the door and started to say, “We’re coming right back to this very theater to see another movie after this …” and she jumped in to finish my thought: “So you’d better leave your jacket on your seat to reserve it!” Well, okay then, and thanks! And that very night there was a bit of a dramatic outburst, not directed at us but definitely triggered by the practice of reserving seats, that ironically came from a woman who had left her bag in a front-row seat to reserve it. Apparently she wanted to reserve more than one seat, but had only the bag to do it, and was not happy when other people sat in the seats alongside her bag.

So to recap, jumping to the front of the line is a pretty awesome superpower, but I would want to use it only when absolutely necessary. Same goes with leaving our jackets on chairs to reserve them. Good thing tonight’s the last night and we won’t have to worry about any of that.

superpower | 8:13 am CDT
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Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015I’m not sure I’m ready to write about Almost There, but then I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready, so here goes nothing:

Almost There is a documentary about how filmmakers Aaron Wickenden and Dan Rybicky discovered East Chicago artist Peter Anton and helped him exhibit his works. Anton is an artist of the “outsider” genre, a rough style of painting that appears to be very basic, almost amateurish, but is highly-regarded in some circles.

The filmmakers discover Anton painting portraits at a pierogi festival and take him up on his invitation to visit the artist in his home. What they find is that Anton lives in what was once his parents’ house but has become a hovel that is literally falling down around him. Anton has to fight with the door to open and close it. Mould hangs from the ceiling and walls and grows thick on the plastic cases of shelved video tapes. There are holes in the roof where rain pours in, soaking floor joists that are rotten through and caving into the basement. Anton lives in a far corner of the dank basement, sitting among shapeless heaps of wet, rotting junk and garbage that stink so badly, Wickenden and Rybicky are forced to retreat from it and return only after they’ve strapped surgical masks to their faces.

When they return, they take Anton to a restaurant for a hot meal where they try to convince Anton to move out of the house, but Anton insists that he will not move, adding some crap about how artists gotta suffer for their art and that he’ll be happy to die in that house rather than leave it. So they return him to his fungal infestation of a home and visit him over a period of years, occasionally delivering art supplies and canisters of Pringles, which Anton seems to subsist on.

This was not at all the documentary I thought it was going to be. Judging from the synopsis, I thought it might be about a charming eccentric who lived with maybe one too many cats in a time capsule of a house and painted brilliant works of art that had yet to be discovered. And from some point of view, that is more or less true. Wickenden and Rybicky interviewed many people who counted Anton as their friend and thought that he was, at one time if not now, charming. And he did indeed live with too many cats; I think he said he was up to 29 at one point before almost all of them died.

But also, just the opposite of all that was true: Anton was a lot crankier than he was charming; even people who had known him for years were now distancing themselves from him. The cats appeared to be feral and suffered from neglect as did the house he lived in. I don’t have the experience to judge his art but from what I could see, most of the most interesting collages that Anton collected on the walls of his house were already destroyed by the rot and collapse that had been going on for too many years.

The documentary that I saw was about the heartbreaking lack of some kind of social service that would have helped someone like Anton to improve his physical living conditions and emotional health. It was a very hard film to watch.

Almost There | 8:26 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015 I forgot to include Theeb in yesterday’s roundup of movies, mea culpa. Set in the later days of the first world war, Theeb and his brother Hussein are asked to guide an English officer through the desert to blow up the train tracks. Their mission doesn’t go well and Theeb is captured by a bandit. I’m not sure I got the point of this movie, but it was acted and directed well, and the scenes of the desert, not usually my favorite subject, were beautifully shot, so I gave it four out of five.

Theeb | 7:45 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Everybody I heard talking about In Order of Disappearance kept comparing it to Fargo. I can’t see what the two films have in common, other than they’re both comedies with a lot of snow, and a lot of people get killed. The film’s revenge plot, worthy of a Chuck Norris flick, revolves around Nils, a snowplow driver whose son gets killed by drug dealers. Nils spends the rest of the movie hunting them down and killing them one by one. That’s pretty much the whole movie. Plus jokes.

In Order of Disappearance | 7:42 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015In The Farewell Party, Yehezkel’s friend Max, suffering from terminal illness, asks Yehezkel to help him “get it over with.” Yehezkel, a tinkerer, builds a Kevorkianish euthanasia machine in his workshop, then with the help of Max’s wife and some friends, he slips it into Max’s hospital room on the QT, or so he thinks until other people start to approach him and ask for him to lend them the machine. A surprisingly light-hearted and touching film.

The Farewell Party | 7:29 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Jack is about a German boy, maybe eight or ten years old, who takes care of his younger brother, Manuel, because his mother is too busy partying and having a good time. After Manuel is hurt in an accident, because there’s always an accident, Social Services takes Jack into custody for a while. When Jack decides that’s enough of that, he makes his way home, but his mother’s not there, so he spends the better part of the movie searching for Manuel, then his mother. When he finally finds her, he has to make a decision, both for himself and for Manuel: Does he stay?

Jack | 7:22 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Nobody does films that underline the utter futility of life the way the former Soviet-bloc countries do. The Lesson opens on a scene in a classroom where the teacher, Nade, is trying to expose a thief who she discovers only in the last scene by accident, after trying every principled argument she can think of to expose him all through the film. In the meantime, she struggles to prevent the bank from foreclosing on her house after her shiftless husband blows all their money on a broken-down motor home. In the end, what Nade discovers is that anyone, even she herself, will throw their most dearly-held principles in the gutter when things get desperate.

The Lesson | 9:10 am CDT
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