Recently in Wisconsin Film Festival Category

Much Ado About Nothing

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Finally (finally?), Much Ado About Nothing, which was my last Wisconsin Film Fest Film, on Thursday, April 18. Bout time, no?

Now, tickets went on sale for the 2013 Wisconsin Film Fest Film at noon on Saturday March 16 and I got online and started placing my order right away. By 12:15, I tried to put 4 tickets to Much Ado About Nothing in my cart and was told no. 3, no. 2, no. 1...yes. At 12:15 PM, fifteen minutes after the ticket sales opened, I put the last available ticket into my cart. Color me impressed. That sold out fast.

Unsurprisingly, even when I showed up at the theater rather early, there was already quite a line waiting for the seating to open. By the time I got in, things had rather filled up. The one small advantage to going to see it alone was that I could find a single seat in the upper part of the theater. (I have a hard time watching from the lower seats at Sundance. Too close to the screen.)

Now, this is my favorite Shakespeare comedy/romance and Beatrice is my very favorite of his heroines. I first saw the Kenneth Branagh version, which was pretty great but with some questionable casting/acting choices. (Keanu Reeves made Prince John the most wooden villain since silent films and Michael Keaton made Dogsberry almost unbearable to watch.) I also got to see the 2007 American Player's Theater production, with Tracy Michelle Arnold as Beatrice. (I just missed the 1999 production, since my first APT visit was the next year, but Amy Acker and Emma Bates were both in it.)

I was not disappointed. The casting and the acting were superb, even for roles that had always seemed shaky to me in the past. Sean Maher and Spencer Treat Clark brought subtlety and genuine emotion to the roles of Don John and Borachio. The interplay between Tom Lenk and Nathan Fillion (and the rest of the watch) made the clowns amusing, rather than something to be tolerated.

Granted, one problem with fabulous acting is that it does draw your attention a little more to some ridiculous bits of Shakespearean plotting. "Wait, you are going to do what? Why would you think that is a good idea? And you? Why are you going along with him on this?" But that will always be the case in Shakespearean comedies and romances. There tends to be a few doses of "wait, what?!" in order to move the plot along. Ah, Will, we love you anyway.

Needless to say, I highly recommend it. I've seen it three times at this point. Granted, this review and recommendation would have been worth more if I'd written it in April than in August. (I'm working on that. I promise.)

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Best of the British Arrows

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Best of the British Arrows (formerly British Television Advertising Awards) closed out our Film Fest Sunday, as it so often does. There is something strange about paying money and spending two hours to watch television ads, but these are definitely ads that deserve to win awards. They stretch the medium, go in unexpected directions, and treat the viewer as a smart person.

There were one or two ads this year that I had already come across on the internet and one or two that I found problematic, particularly in terms of gender issues. Still, most of them were excellent. A good chunk of the award winners can be watched in this playlist.

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Comrade Kim Goes Flying

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Comrade Kim Goes Flying was possibly the most charming piece of Communist propaganda ever. Seriously. Western-financed but shot entirely in North Korea, this film shows a good-natured workers paradise where even the coal miners are rosy-cheeked and excited about their work. (I found myself wistfully thinking, "If only this were true.")

The film centers around the eponymous Kim, a pretty and agile young coal miner with dreams of joining the circus as a trapeze artist. Her work sends her to Pyongyang were hijinks ensue and her work comrades (including her avuncular boss) help her to make her dreams come true. Along the way, she also has a classic romantic comedy "feuding their way into love" match-up with the circus' star performer.

Cheesy and silly and fun, it was reminiscent of classic Hollywood musicals and screwball comedies. North Korea in Comrade Kim is candy-colored and entirely good-natured. The movie isn't deep and the herione has pretty much everyone routing for her, but the lack of reality and weight make it is an escapist delight, much like cotton-candy.


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Dear Mr. Watterson

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So, Dear Mr. Watterson was the second and possibly the most consistently delightful of our Sunday films. It was basically a love letter to Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes, with a variety of folks (including a lot of comic creators) talking about their experiences with the comic strip, and the influence that it had on their lives.

The documentary was beautifully filmed and well-edited. Unsurprisingly, Watterson himself did not make an appearance in the film, but the strips themselves were featured, along with footage of Chagrin Falls, OH, Watterson's home town and the basis for the landscape of the strips.

One of the main ideas of the film is that, even thought the strip ran for ten years and then ended almost twenty years ago, children today can still be found reading and enjoying the collected Calvin and Hobbes. The filmaker, Joel Allen Schroeder, posits that some of the credit for this may be due to the fact that Watterson never agreed to licensing of the characters, which prevented over-saturation and allowed the strips to stand on their own, rather than getting lost in the noise of plushes and coffee mugs.

Taking this into consideration, I started reading the comic to my 6-year-old nephew, via comics.com. While he does need some things explained to him, he really, really loves them and specifically asks me to read them to him. (We usually cover about a month in a sitting.) At some point, I will likely get him on of the collection books, so that he can read them on his own. However, for now I enjoy the time together, sharing the comic I remember from my childhood. (He is also very much like Calvin, in looks, age, and personality, and has his own ever-present stuffed companion animal in the form of Bucky Badger.)

I was 9 was the strip debuted and at the start of college when it concluded. I'm glad that it can be a part of his childhood, too. (It really hold up well. Only a very few things are dated, mostly having to do with telephones.) I am grateful for having been able to watch this film, without which, it might have taken me much longer to decide to do this.

Dear Mr. Watterson Teaser Trailer from Dear Mr. Watterson on Vimeo.


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Computer Chess

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Computer Chess started our Sunday morning Film Fest viewing.

While I knew that it was a mockumentary, when the film began, I thought they were using archival footage to introduce the story. But nope. The whole thing was shot on vintage Sony AVC 3260 tube-powered videocameras which, along with the excellent hair, costumes, and props, give it an "archival footage" look. It's an amazing effect.

The cast seemed like it was full of vaguely familiar faces, yet on perusal I discovered that Wiley Wiggins was the only actual familiar face.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It was awkward and hilarious and both surreal and very real. That it, I really loved it until the last twenty minutes or so, at which point it felt like it totally went off the rails. As has been my opinion on a number of other films, I think a bit more editing throughout would have made for a much stronger film. There were a few scenes that went on too long, or could have been eliminated entirely. Yet, even with it's flaws, I was happy to have seen it, and might watch it again if the opportunity came around. (I wouldn't necessarily seek it out.)

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Approved for Adoption

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Approved for Adoption was our first Saturday night selection. It was preceded by a short called Blood Brothers.

Blood Brothers was...almost good, in a frustrating way. The stories are stories that need to be told and heard. The camerawork was decent in a beginner way. It really, really made me long for summertime in rural Wisconsin. I can tell that Jonathan Quam has great potential as a filmmaker. This film, however, could have used tighter editing to really make the narratives come through. 30 minutes was definitely not too long, but the way the 30 minutes was used was not the best. Hence, almost good in a frustrating way. I do look forward to seeing more work by Mr. Quam in future festivals.

Approved for Adoption (Couleur de peau: Miel) was the first film of the festival weekend that got a 5 on my audience ballot. It was amazingly well done. Jung used a combination of animation, old family films from Belgium the 70s, and modern footage from his first visit to South Korea since his early childhood. The result was a powerful and complex tale of growing up adopted across cultures, the search for identity, and the meaning of family.

There was a moment, near the end of the film, when I found myself profoundly sad at something that happened and was quietly wiping away tears. Glanced to the right: tears were being dabbed. Glanced to the left: same thing. Somewhere behind me, I could hear sniffling. I am usually at least mildly embarrassed when I find myself crying at a movie, but for this I felt like I was in pretty good company, since most of the people around me were doing so, too. Also, it wasn't a particularly manipulative moment, as far as filmmaking goes. I always feel a little angry when I'm crying at something that feels like "ha ha, *this* will have them bawling". This was honestly sad, but not overstated or cynically overplayed.

Couleur de peau: Miel was a beautiful piece of storytelling, and I would watch it again, if given the opportunity.

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Little Red

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Our second Friday Saturday night film was Little Red, a Wisconsin's Own entry.

The film started out in Milwaukee, with some very familiar sights for me. However, it quickly moved to Florida, where 11 year-old Ruth..."Red" has run away for a secret vacation to enjoy the beaches of Daytona and then see the wild horses of Cumberland Island. While there (in fact, from before her flight even leaves Milwaukee) she catches the eye of creepy Lou (played by Mark Metcalf, best known to me as "The Master" from season one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) who stalks her for the rest of the movie.

It. Was. So. Uncomfortable. Even when nothing was actually happening, I was gripping the arms of my chair going "oh no, oh no, oh no..." You know what happens in Little Red Riding Hood: whether she gets rescued at the end or not, someone has usually been eaten by the wolf first. And you know how this kind of thing plays out in real life, so waves of dread where washing over me the whole time.

Lucky for Red, she is befriended by another, slightly older, local surfer girl named Kayla. Kayla joins her on her quest for Cumberland Island, and helps her to dodge Lou. The camaraderie between the two girls is believable and sweet, and provided a few moments of respite from the tension, here and there.

Metcalf's Lou is quite the wolf, and the way he played it made my skin crawl. Again, even when nothing was actually really happening yet, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. And when things were, I wanted to hit him with a frying pan.

The colors of the Florida scenes were wonderfully saturated. Of *course* just about everything Red owned was, well, red. Several scenes in particular made me want to be there in person, to see the ocean and the Spanish Moss.

Trying to avoid spoilers, but the ending was one that I really didn't seem coming, and yet it was an ending the satisfied me.

It was an interesting choice to watch immediately after 7 Cajas, as I was still carrying around the tension from that first film. As a pair, it did not give us the most uplifting night of cinema ever, but it certainly kept us at the edge of our seats.

It was paired at the start with a very short film called The Evilest of Sorcerers, which also started Metcalf, and which was darkly hilarious. It made for a nice amuse-bouche.

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Flimmer (Flicker)

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Our second Saturday night film was the Swedish film Flimmer (which was translated to "Flicker" in English). It was very, very Swedish, and also quite darkly (sometimes literally) hilarious.

There were a number of moments in the film when things were balanced on the knife-edge between dark comedy and tragedy, and it would only take the slightest breath to cause the while thing to plunge into deeply sad territory. And yet, it maintained that balance to the very end.

Every time the "what, no?!" was about to become too much, the audience (including myself) would dissolve into a cascade of laughter at some bit of absurdity on the screen. While it wasn't exactly a film I would want to see again, it was definitely a film I was glad I had seen.

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7 Cajas (7 Boxes)

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7 Boxes was our first film of the weekend at the 2013 Wisconsin FIlm Fest. I did not like it at all. Make no mistake, it was a very good film, and rather exciting. I also spent most of my time looking forward to the end of the film.

The description compared it to last year's Nuit Blanche and I could definitely see where that came from. I think my number one problem with this film is that pretty much *all* of the characters in 7 Boxes drove me crazy with their stupidity. I was unable to root for just about anyone, because I just wanted them to go away and leave me alone. Even the one character who seemed to be *mostly* smart did one appallingly stupid thing that relegated her to the category of "leave me alone, you idiot!"

A few of the characters had reasonable motivations (usually involving the health and well-being of a loved one) but the methods they chose were nothing but bad. Most of the characters had both venal motivations *and* wretchedly bad plans.

My enjoyment of the movie was not helped by the fact that I was stuck in a seat right down in the front, and the movie was full of shaky-cam and subtitles, so it was physically hard to watch.

Fortunately for me, that was the lowest point of the fest, and it was all improvement from there on in.

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Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters was our last film of the festival for the year. Our hopes were high and we were not disappointed.

One worry I had going into the screening was that, as can often be the case with documentaries of this kind, at least some of the subject would be the cringe-inducing type of obsessive, which I find uncomfortable to watch. This was not the case. To be sure, all of the Tetris players had a degree of obsessiveness, which is required to be really good at any skill. You cannot achieve mastery without practice, and you won't get that much practice without at least a little obsession.

But beyond that, all of main folk getting screen time were, for the most part, personable and people with whom I'd happily hang out. I'm not a computer gamer, but they were still my kind of folks. None of them came off as "poorly-socialized gamer geek" or "crazy obsessive". It certainly helped that the filmmaker was not some outsider looking in, but someone who had a love and understanding of the subject.

As a film, it told it's story in a fun and compelling way, and it held my attention and interest for the full time. I'm usually pretty tired by the last film of the weekend, but I was not afflicted by drooping eyes and a nodding head. I really enjoyed it, and would recommend it to other children of the 80's who came of age with Super Nintendo.

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Pink Ribbons, Inc.

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My good friend and Film Fest buddy, M., and I disagree quite a bit about Pink Ribbons, Inc., our penultimate film of the weekend. I really liked it. M. liked parts of it, but disagreed with many of their conclusions and with a good deal of their presentation of the issue.

Full disclosure: My mom had a couple rounds of breast cancer when I was young (as was she), and due to that, I've recently started my own ritual of yearly mammograms. I also worked with and for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin for a good portion of the aughts, and while there some of my co-workers when involved in Komen grant work involving breast cancer education and screening.

I have also, for the past few years, started to become more and more bothered by the trend of pink, pink, pink everywhere to raise money "for breast cancer" and to "raise awareness." Breast cancer is very serious, but it is by no means the biggest health risk that women face. It's just the one with the best marketing campaign.

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The Amateur Monster Movie

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I had to be talked into getting tickets for this one. I am not a fan of the monster movie/horror genre, and usually don't even really enjoy the loving send-ups. (Ask me how much I hated Scream. Shaun of the Dead was always the one, notable exception.) But compromise is part of the process in picking out films, so when my longtime film buddy, M. was really excited about The Amateur Monster Movie, I decided to give it a go. I'm so glad that I did.

(Warning: the trailer kind of has spoiler. At the same time, really? It's The Amateur Monster Movie, not Inception. Are you really worried about spoilers? I thought not.)

Hilarious. I laughed harder during this than at any film I've seen in a while. There were a couple of sequences that really didn't work at all, but over all it was spot on. As you can guess from the trailer, it has some...language. I left the theater saying "muther feckin' wer-wolf" at the drop of a hat.

If you are a fan of monster movies or B-movies in general, you ought to get a kick out of this one. And I can attest that you might enjoy it even if you usually can't stand that genre. The Amateur Monster Movie is a winner.

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Before we could go get ourselves some sushi, we were back in line at the Orpheum for Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

It was amazing because of what it was: After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, three 12 year old friends, Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb, began filming their own shot-by-shot adaptation in the backyards of their Mississippi homes.
Seven years later their film was in the can.

My. God. I have never, in all my 36 years on this earth, undertaken a project even half so grand as what these kids did over the course of their teenage years. Certainly never did anything like it when I was actually a teen. The movie was a love letter to Raiders of the Lost Ark and a love letter to cinema. I was amazed at what they were able to pull off, and was rather bummed that we weren't able to stay for the Q&A after the film.

If you grew up on Indiana Jones and you get a chance to see this film, you should not pass up the opportunity.

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

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I didn't see any films on Friday night, since I was at the Overture Center singing in Verdi's Requiem for most of the evening. But first thing Saturday morning, we were off to see Jiro Dreams of Sushi at the Orpheum.

During the pre-show announcements, they mentioned how many sushi restaurants there were within a five minutes walk of the theater. Good thing they did, because I'm pretty sure everyone left the theater dreaming of sushi as well.

While the film wasn't quite as meditative as The Meaning of Tea, it was very peaceful and refreshing. I have an admiration for people like Jiro Ono, who thrive on simplicity and order, and who can do the repetitive work needed to achieve excellence at something. I don't work that way myself: I like the idea of simplicity, but I tend towards complexity, variety, and a wee bit of chaos. But the contrast between my way of life and Jiro's made it particularly pleasant to watch.

The visuals were great. If you didn't want sushi by the end of the film, you probably never liked sushi to begin with. Piece after piece of perfect nigiri was lovingly filmed in lingering close-up shots. Mouth watering. Trips to the fish market were slightly less mouthwatering, but far from disgusting. It is easy to forget how crazy huge tuna are. It's rather a shame how divorced we get from what and where the food we eat comes from.

In some tiny way, I was reminded of Great, a webcomic by Ryan Armand (KIWIS BY BEAT!). Jiro doesn't seem to have much in common with Lyle Phipps (who is often an angry sad sack) but I found myself thinking of Lyle's drive to create the greatest ramen in the world. (I also found myself wanting ramen.)

Later in the day we stopped at T. Sushi, to give the newest sushi restaurant a try. It was good, but definitely no Sukiyabashi. I might go there again, but it won't be at the top of my list of Madison sushi restaurants. (I have a hard time taking a sushi restaurant seriously if you order tea and are given a cup of hot water and a generic food-service tea packet.)

Next up: Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation

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Nuit Blanche (Sleepless Night)

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Nuit Blanche (Sleepless Night) was the second stop on our festival journey. It was also at Sundance Cinema, so we got to take a brief intermission at the Great Dane Hilldale.

(The trailer lack subtitles, but the subtitled version I found also featured a terrible American movie trailer voice over. Too awful to link.)

The festival write-up describes this as "a thriller with all the boring parts cut out" and they were not lying. My adrenaline was elevated from the first scene to the last, and even though it was very late when I left the movie, I was very keyed up.

There are some very important details that would be spoilers for the very first scene, but I can say that the majority of the film is a tense, high-stakes game of cat and mouse in a loud, crowded nightclub. They skip right over many of the usual cliches that make up the slow moments in action movies and keep you right in the midst of the actual action. I'm sure that they inevitable American remake will have some sort of goofy comic relief and a love interest. I'd recommend seeing this, and not bothering with any Hollywood follow-up.

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"Wisconsin" and "We're Not Broke"

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Our Wisconsin Film Fest journey for 2012 began on Thursday night at Sundance Cinema in Hilldale and a sold out screening of the documentary We're Not Broke and a local short, Wisconsin.

I'd seen Wisconsin when it was first uploaded to YouTube in March of last year, but it was great to see it again. So much has happened since then. Cold, snow, crowds, mud, pizza... Show me what democracy looks like: petitions, boxes and boxes of petitions.

It isn't the best of the little films that came out of the protests (the uncertain focus and camera angles was a bit maddening) but it was great to see and hear a variety of faces and voices.

We're Not Broke was well made, and if there was a person in the theater who didn't find themselves getting furious while watching it, I think they might have been asleep. It detailed the lengths to which American multinational corporations will go to avoid paying taxes in the U.S. and the ways in which they do so. They are literally willing to spend millions of dollars on lobbyists, campaign contributions, lawyers, and accountants in order to reduce or eliminate their tax bills. The things they do *may* be legal at this time, but they are in no way right or ethical.

As is often the case in documentaries like this, there were occasional moments where the protesters came off looking a bit silly, but that was mostly due to the fact that they are not professionals. But it was corporate America that came off looking like jackasses at best.

I particularly enjoyed the interviews with Lee Shephard., who was incredibly droll with a dry and acerbic wit.

I ended up sitting next to two older women, whose sotte voce comments I could overhear during the course of the film. If I was seething internally at the nefarious practices of the corps, they were visibly (and audibly) bristling with indignation.

It was rather a good thing for me that it wasn't the last film of the night, because if it had been, I'd probably have seethed all night long. As it was, I had about an hour after the end to glower about corporate tax dodgers, after which I was plunged into French action sequences, and it was my adrenaline being raised, rather than my blood pressure. It has stayed with me, though, and I will definitely recommend it to other people, if they get the opportunity. This is something we should be made about.

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This year, I am going to try to get them together in a timely manner. Here goes.

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It taking me ages to post these is becoming a bit of a tradition, sadly. Anyway, without further ado, here is what I saw at the Wisconsin Film Festival this year:

Breaking and Entering was the first film of our weekend. This entertaining documentary followed a number of people who have obtained records for the Guinness Book of World Records for some rather unusual feats: grape catching, "joggling", phone book tearing, etc.

It was well-edited and there was humor without mockery, along side some pathos and a helping of "Holy cow, that's amazing!" It was a good entry to start us off on this year's FIlm Fest journey.

Our second film of the weekend ended up being my favorite: Louder Than a Bomb, which follows a number of schools/students participating in the Chicago-area high school poetry slam of the same name. As was fitting from the title, I was blown away. The passion and talent of the kids was intense, the doc was well-filmed, and the editing was tight. I will watch it again if I get the chance. Watch the trailer and tell me you wouldn't, too.

Soul Boy was charming, particularly when you know the making-of backstory. It screened with The Woman in Purple, during which almost nothing actually happened. Plot kept threatening to break out, but then it never did. It wasn't a bad little film, just extremely uneventful.

Mozart's Sister (Nannerl, la soeur de Mozart) was the last film of the day on Saturday. It was interesting, intriguing, and a little odd. I kept finding myself trying to sort out the true emotions and motivations of the characters, many of whom were behaving in unusual (to me) fashions and/or keeping their cards close to their chests. Marie FĂ©ret, as Nannerl, was particularly hard for me to read much of the time. One thing I did get from the film, however, was the correct pronunciation of that name.

Here are things that can be said of Acquainted with the Night
1. It is visually appealing.
2. It's soundtrack could be annoying.
3. It could do with better editing.

Our one shorts program was Sunday at the Monona Terrace. Only three selections, and frankly, only one was what I would call "short."

Mary and Bill (50 minutes), about a 90-year-old triathlete and an 83-year-old high jumper from the Madison area was roughly made, but sweet.

Optimo Hat Company (10 minutes) was an actual short, in my opinion. It was very beautifully filmed. It also could have been a straight-up advertisement for the business.

Style and Grace (40 minutes) was frustrating to me. For one thing, the sound (and lack of sound design, editing, balance, etc) drove me nuts. For another thing, I sensed a lot of potential in the documentary, and bet it could have been truly fascinating in different hands. As it was, probably only interesting to those who were actually involved. And anytime things threatened to get interesting, they would cut away to film out the window as someone got into their car. I think this could have been a goldmine for a better filmmaker.

We closed off the weekend with what is becoming another film fest tradition, British Television Advertising Awards. I don't think this year's batch were necessarily quite as good as in previous years, they were still quite witty and clever, including this Youtube campaign from the London Metro Police, which seems like a remarkably good use of new media.

And so another year, another belated sumary. Here's to next year!

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Final Film: Baraboo

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We wanted to like Baraboo, we really did. It was a sold out show with a long rush line, so we weren't the only ones looking forward to it. No by a long shot. Local filmmaker, local actors, local location...there was a lot of buzz leading up to it. Sitting in the theater, I was not at all surprised to notice that APT's Sarah Day was sitting right behind us.

There is no denying that the film had visual appeal. Shot in the rolling hills around Devil's Lake, it made me long to head out and do something in the Wisconsin summer.

The acting had a natural and improvised feeling...perhaps some of it was improvised. Sadly, the actors were not given much to do. Much like the lives of the characters, the plot didn't go anywhere. Things happened. Then there was a shot of the trees. Then more things happened. Then there were more trees. Maybe a tractor. Brief conversation that amounts to nothing. More trees. Wordless shot of character going about their daily activities. More trees. Mildly dramatic interlude that promises to really get things going...then doesn't. More trees. Brief conversation that amounts to nothing.

I don't think I've ever checked the time as often as I did while watching Baraboo. 99 minutes was about 79 minutes too long. I think that this would really have worked for me if it had been trimmed down to a 20 minute short. There was enough plot and character development for that length, but not to sustain a feature.

When I wasn't checking the time or hoping that a moment of conflict I was watching would develop into something more, I was imagining all the things I wanted to do this summer. Hey, they're having a bonfire. Oh, bonfires are great. Hey, that guy is biking. I want to do some real biking this year. Hmm, what a pretty area. I should road trip up and over there some weekend...

As the finale for our Film Fest weekend, it was a bit of an anticlimax. Still, it was a good weekend. Some films were far stronger than others, but even our least favorites were not stinkers. And we couldn't have hoped for better weather.

Here's to next year!

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At the name of this post would indicate, our second stop on Saturday was another shorts program. This one made no promise as to whether we would be unsettled. What we got was an interesting mixed bag.

(I can't exactly remember the order, but that is not the important part.)

Duck Crossing was a charming little mocumentary. 13 or so minutes of clips and "interviews" on the "duck crossing" scene that appears so often in film. More often than I'd ever realized, that's for certain. My one criticism is that the subtitles were extremely hard to read: a small, white font. It gave me a bit of a headache.

The one minute long My Friend, Larry was extremely strange. However, the brevity helped it, for it was over before it could become annoying.

I'm not normally a fan of experimental, but You Will Like This worked. It was funny and peculiar and just this side of unsettling. The fact that it was 4 minutes also helped. Like My Friend, Larry, the joke would have worn very thin had it continued much longer. In fact, a minute less might have made it stronger.

I can honestly say that I barely remember seeing Floatin', a 1 minute stop-motion animation, beyond the fact that it was cute. It just didn't register in comparison. Perhaps if I'd taken notes, but I don't do that.

The two other animations, Subprime and Mariza were more memorable. Both were digital. Subprime was 3 minutes of ever evolving and collapsing houses; Legos meets the Sims meets something new. Mariza was 5 minutes of a fisherman, a dancing donkey, and a battle of wills.

Sinkhole actually was a little bit unsettling. Shot in Centralia, PA, the coal mining town that has be abandoned for years due to a long-burning coal fire in the seam below the town. To say too much would spoil it (if you ever get an opportunity to see it), but I can say that things don't go as expected for the coal company broker how has come to try to buy out the remaining landowner.

I was a little uncertain at the start of Sign of the Times. I didn't know how much of loud, jerky guy being loud and jerky I could handle, regardless of how funny it was. Fortunately, the tale of the stolen morning papers proved to have more going on than just that. It was funny and kind of sweet.

Chili & Cheese: A Condimental Rift was, to borrow a phrase Meg Hamel used to describe one of the other films, a hoot. Good acting, great cinematography. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, though I wasn't always sure of where it was going.

Carjacked was funny in a totally bizarre, barely making sense kind of way. For a project by high school students, it was very well done. The film blurb describes it as "over-the-top" and I have to agree. Kind of funny, very weird.

Only one film to go in my Film Fest Roundup.

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Film Fest, Saturday: A Big Start

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For our first show on Saturday, our group was bigger (M, E, D and I) and the venue was bigger (Orpheum, Main Stage). All appropriate for A Matter of Size, a feature-length narrative about Israeli sumo wrestlers.

Our hero is Herzl (Itzik Cohen), who loses his job as a salad-bar chef because customers complain about his size. He had joined a diet group, but they don't tolerate his weight increases and boot him out. He finds work washing dishes at a Japanese restaurant, where they've tuned in the sumo wrestling match on their satellite TV behind the bar. In this competitive sport, being large brings honor and respect. It's what Herzl craves, and would be good for his buddies, too, for they are all generously sized and have too much free time. Herzl convinces the restaurant's owner, Kitano, to train them in the venerable sport of sumo.

The combination of gentle humor and real conflict made for a funny yet powerful story. It did not rely entirely on slapstick or mockery, as could so often be the case with a plot such as this. It also deals quite deftly with the relationships the men have with each other and with their loved ones. Herzl's mother and his new girlfriend are also characters instead of caricatures.

We all enjoyed the show quite a bit, and afterwards, 3 of us felt compelled to get gyros for lunch, thanks to Gidi's shawarma. (It was that or Japanese--right across the street--but we didn't have too much time before the next show.) Sitting patio in front of Parthenon and watching people walk by in the sunshine, we knew we were off to a good start.

Only two more shows to go.

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Film Fest: Friday Night Part II

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For our second selection on Friday night, M and I had to dash from the Memorial Union Play Circle all the way to the Monona Terrace. Thankfully, resisting the urge to dawdle got us there in time to find some excellent seats. Turns out, the filmmaker and his brother, the subject of the documentary, were sitting right in front of us.

The documentary we saw was Unforgettable, the story of a year in the life of Brad Williams, a La Crosse, WI man who is one of only three known people with hyperthymesia. Which is to say, he has "superior autobiographical memory."

This definitely was the winner for us this year, as far as documentaries went. It was funny and engaging, informative and narrative. There was a voice over giving commentary and explanation where and when it was needed, but it also knew when to show rather than tell.

It was nearing midnight when the film ended, and we had a long walk ahead of us (M was parked at Babcock Hall, at the far end of the UW campus) so we decided not to stay for the Q&A that followed the screening. Under other circumstances, I think we both would have wanted to, but it just wasn't in the cards this time.

Two days down, one to go...

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2010 Film Fest Day 2

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Friday night at the film fest was a challenge at the beginning. Getting there and getting parked in the face of the overwhelming number of people that would be downtown and around campus was tough. Besides the film fest, there was also the UW Varsity Band Concert and the high school State Forensics meet. Lots of people, lots of cars, lots of buses. I biked, in spite of the evening chill. M had to drive, and so parked waaaaaaaaay across campus. But we both made it just it time to take our seats for the first selection.

For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism seems like a very appropriate choice for our slate of films, and we liked what we saw. The documentary was a history of film criticism, as well as a love note to both film and film criticism and an examination of the place and direction of professional film criticism in the time of the internet.

It was interesting and fun to watch, though M described it as "lazy Sunday PBS" material, in other words, something she'd definitely be happy watch on television if it were to air on PBS, but not quite on the level of what she usually expects from the festival. I liked it well enough, but couldn't entirely disagree with that sentiment.

We would have liked to have stuck around for filmaker Gerald Peary's Q&A session, but we had to book it up to the Monona Terrace right away for our next film. (More on that one later...)

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Happy Sunday!

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I'm quoted in Etsy's Storque blog.

Also, more Film Fest write-ups coming soon, but in the meantime, I'm off to Chicago for Lifeline Theater's Floating Market benefit.

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Off to an interesting start

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The first set of films M and I took in last night was at the Monona Terrace. All hail the eyeball-assaulting carpet pattern!

It was not surprising that while this year's pre-film trailer was pretty in interesting, there was no way it could top last year's "We Like It Here!" intro.

Our first selection was a short-film program of 3 documentary films. At 2 minutes, National Anthem Tryouts was also the most interesting and endearing.

The 6 minute-long University of Wisconsin Marching Band was also fun, but the footage and editing was a bit choppy. As someone who had Mike Leckrone as a director (albeit for Concert Band rather than Marching Band) I found it amusing as hell. Still, it seemed more the thing to show at a Band-specific function. Very home-movie.

Ghost Player was the longest, at 54 minutes. It was also the most frustrating. Like University of Wisconsin Marching Band, it was edited in such a way that made it more appropriate to an audience that already knew the group. So many things were reference in passing but never explained. In fact, one item that sounded *extremely* interesting wasn't even mentioned until over the closing credits, and again, without actually telling the story. The most frequently repeated phrase in Ghost Player was something along the lines of "I can't explain it." Well obviously, but if that is the case, maybe find someone who can? I think every person who spoke on camera was one of the team. We hear nothing from their families, co-workers, fans... We just have to take their word that it was special and amazing. I think the topic could have been a great documentary, along the liine of Heart of an Empire. Instead, I kept checking my watch to see if it would be over soon.

Still, if that is our worst pick, it is going to be a great weekend.

For our second program, Slightly Unsettling Spanish Shorts, we were joined by E at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA). The selections lived up to the name. All three of us were definitely unsettled.

The first film, Ya no Puede Caminar (13 min) was also, to us, the most unsettling. I saw the ending coming about halfway through and though, "No, it can't be that. How would that happen?" And then it did, and it was *worse* than I'd thought (by which I mean far creepier). On top of that, the ending is both shockingly horrible *and* unresolved, leaving you with a feeling of "Oh my god, no! What happens next?!" M, E, and I found ourselves discussing the possibilities all the way home.

El Tren de la Bruja (19 min) was more immediately and viscerally disturbing, but carried less of a lasting feeling of unease. It felt much more like a standard modern horror film, of the "torture porn" variety. It did have an interesting twist at the end, and more-or-less resolved. The questions left unanswered did not feel as pressing. In fact, while I wondered was was really going on, I found myself wondering even more what would happen next in the world of the first film.

Tercero BB (19 min) was like Almodovar meets Hitchcock. The most interesting thing about it is the way it set you up with one POV and interpretation on the story and then, halfway through, it takes you back to the beginning and retells it all from a second POV which fills in some gaps and alters the interpretation in a very cool way. Once again, this is a film that goes to the closing credits on an unresolved note: what was that noise off-screen? What did they do to each other? Yet like El Tren de la Bruja, I didn't care quite as much about the ending as I had about Ya no Puede Caminar.

Tras Los Visillos (17 min) was far less unsettling. When pretty much of the characters are horrible people, it is hard to care. Definitely brutal and violent, but even the twist was kind of a shoulder shrug for me.

7:35 de la Mañana (8.5 min) made an excellent bookend with Ya no Puede Caminar, for it also left us scratching our heads and saying, "What just happened here? That was bizarre." In a way, the set-up was like something from an episode of Criminal Minds, if Criminal Minds were in Spanish. And a musical.

All in all, the program did just what it said on the label, leaving us slightly unsettled. Perfect.

On the schedule for tonight: For the Love of Movies: Film Criticism and Unforgettable. I'll write them up on Saturday if I have time.

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It's that time again!

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The Wisconsin Film Festival started last night (I know! On a Wednesday this year!) and I am totally giddy. My first film isn't until tonight (though I did watch a movie last night while sorting clothes) and I can hardly wait.

My line-up for this year:

The Ghost Player

Slightly Unsettling Spanish Shorts

For the Love of Movies: Film Criticism

Unforgettable

A Matter of Size

Shorts: Saturday Afternoon@ Monona Terrace

Baraboo

I shall be writing them up, though it usually takes a bit of time to get through all of them.

Also, on Sunday I will be travelling down to Chicago to take part in the Lifeline Theater benefit, which is to say, being a part of the Floating Market. Awesome, neh? I'll be reporting on that, too.

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