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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