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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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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