Well, we’ve finally made it. Eleven and a half months out of the year we have to parcel out our local film experiences at a paltry rate, sometimes even deigning to go to the theater and “see whatever’s playing.” All that cinematic fasting gets thrown out the window starting Thursday night though, as 15 straight days of mainlining cinema gets underway with the Milwaukee Film Festival’s fifth year of programming. The variations on the jam-packed two weeks of scheduling are nearly infinite, so let me do my best to help guide your way through this embarrassment of riches by pointing out what I’m looking forward to most each day, along with an alternate choice to further sate your cinematic curiosity. Keep in mind that many of these films will screen at multiple points during the festival, so be sure to head over to http://www.mkefilm.org/ticketing in order to check out the full schedule and purchase your tickets. Click each title to check out the trailer and enjoy!
DAY 1: Break Up Man (6:30 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
It won’t get any simpler than this again: Day one only offers one film, but a jam-packed Oriental Theatre is a helluva way to kick off any festival and an engaged audience can make a perfectly decent movie into an unforgettable experience. Break Up Man looks to follow in the footsteps of last year’s opening film Starbuck by kicking off the festival with equal portions humor and heart while highlighting something downright crowd-pleasing that would otherwise never see the light of day in America.
ALT: Opening Night Party (8:30 p.m.-1 a.m. @ Discovery World)
There isn’t any other film to check out today, but there will be a heckuva party to take in down at Discovery World across from the MAM. The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (subjects of the festival documentary Brothers Hypnotic) will be making their Milwaukee debut alongside a myriad of other entertainment options (not the least of which: booze!).
DAY 2: Sightseers (9:45 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
British filmmaker Ben Wheatley is establishing quite the name for himself early on in his career. Hot off the success of his horror/thriller hybrid The Kill List comes this pitch black comedy (executive produced by Edgar Wright, he of the being loved by me with a blazing passion fame) that follows an increasingly violent countryside road trip between two would-be lovers. If your cinematic palette can handle a little spice, this is definitely the film for you.
ALT: When the King Tilts (7:30 p.m. @ Fox-Bay Cinema Grill)
One of the blessings of a local film festival is the great opportunity to take in locally made films, such as this psychological character study that follows two best friends as they spend time with the emotionally guarded owner of a Door County B&B. One of many great opportunities throughout the fest to support local film!
DAY 3: Blow Out (4 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
Day three is a throwback celebration at the MFF, with two great screenings of classic films. First, following their ‘State of Cinema’ panel at Collectivo, members of the new film website The Dissolve will jointly present this screening Brian De Palma’s Blow Out. De Palma is a master too often chided for creating Hitchockian “rip-offs,” and this film is easily one of his finest (and one of John Travolta’s finest as well, excepting Old Dogs).
ALT: Enter the Dragon (Midnight @ Oriental Theatre)
Much in the same vein is this awesome midnight screening of the classic Bruce Lee martial arts picture, in celebration of its 40th anniversary. Lee’s undercover infiltration of an underground karate tournament retains its bone-breaking power so many decades after the fact with its spectacular widescreen composition begging for a big screen showcase such as this.
DAY 4: Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (7 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
Most recently known for her Emmy-winning recurring role on the hit sitcom “30 Rock” as Alec Baldwin’s mother, Elaine Stritch, is a Broadway legend whose wit and candor haven’t dulled at all in this her seventh decade of show business. Stritch is scheduled to appear in person at this screening, which is what bumps it up to a must see in my book.
ALT: Wings of Desire (3:45 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
I’m a sucker for repertory screenings, what can I say? Wim Wenders’ classic tale (horrifically remade as City of Angels with Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan) of unrequited romance becoming corporeal is a gorgeously realized classic with all-time performances from Bruno Ganz and Peter Falk that also serves as a sumptuous Berlin travelogue. Not to be missed.
DAY 5: Shorts: Date Night (7:30 p.m. @ Fox-Bay Cinema Grill)
One of the unheralded delights that a film festival has to offer is its plentiful shorts programs, and one of the safest bets will always be the Date Night programming. Tales both tender and tart will fill out the bill, with tales of love won and lost. The perfect night out with a loved one can be scheduled around this screening!
ALT: Drug War (10:15 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
Johnnie To is an exemplary action filmmaker, a fact that is woefully underreported to American audiences. This thriller tracks the cat-and-mouse game between a drug producer, the police who’ve captured him and the associates he’s meant to inform on. It all culminates in a final car chase/shootout that displays To’s full-on mastery of the genre.
DAY 6: Billy Club (10 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
Another local debut, this time a throwback 1980’s-style slasher film which follows a group of people reuniting to memorialize the senseless killings that took place in their youth only to be terrorized by a faceless killer in vintage umpire gear brandishing a tricked-out baseball bat looking to finish the job. Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer formerly collaborated on a little slice of exploitation gold called Blood Junkie, which was depraved enough to be picked up for distribution by Troma Films, which might give you something of an idea of what you’re looking forward to here.
ALT: Stories We Tell (9:30 p.m. @ Fox-Bay Cinema Grill)
Sarah Polley’s documentary examination into the truth behind her life story is one of the best films of the year, bar none. It’s a dazzling exploration of the family dynamic that will leave a quivering mess by film’s end. It’s brave, incisive filmmaking and one that you should readily acquaint yourself with before MFF’s end.
DAY 7: Date America (9:15 p.m. @ Fox-Bay Cinema Grill)
Wisconsin-based Bob Murray sends himself on a whirlwind journey across the country in search of the answers behind why he’s remained single into his mid-30s. Is it the city he calls home that’s holding him back? Or is it something innate in himself? Eight dates in eight cities aim to solve this riddle as Bob engages in a journey of self-discovery.
ALT: Vanishing Waves (9:45 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
If that reads a little bland for your tastes, there’s always this hypnotic sci-fi freakout (call it In-sex-tion) that follows our main character into the psychosexual morass that is the shared dreamspace between he and a coma patient he is attempting to rescue.
DAY 8: The Milwaukee Show (7 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
Every year The Milwaukee Show is a fantastic showcase of short films of all stripes (this year features stop motion animation, a sci-fi thriller, numerous documentaries, and a multi-part installation that shifts genres and directors even as it keeps the same actors) that prove that the film community in the Milwaukee area is alive and well. This year should prove no exception.
ALT: Mussels in Love (4:30 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
An engaging documentary peek at this seafood delicacy, following the sea creature from its unique mating habits all the way to its beloved snack status in France and Belgium, with stunning close-up photography of them in their native habitat.
DAY 9: Earth (7 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
The MFF in conjunction with Alverno Presents has commissioned local music collective Altos (rolling 18 members strong for this performance) to compose an original score to coincide with this screening of the silent film classic Earth. Previous screenings of Metropolis and Hitchock’s Blackmail have proven that these live accompaniments are not to be missed, and this silent tale of agrarian utopianism seems a perfect match to Altos’ unique sound.
ALT: The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology (4:30 p.m. @ Fox-Bay Cinema Grill)
If you’ve seen Slavoj Zizek’s previous Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, you know you’re in store for a whirlwind tour of cinematic history that teases out associations and notions you’d never before considered as the Elvis of the philosophy scene inserts himself into numerous classic films in an attempt to examine the way ideology establishes and reinforces ways of thinking throughout cinema. One of the films I’m most looking forward at this fest, personally.
DAY 10: 2001: A Space Odyssey (10:30 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
Yet another in a long line of great classic film screenings at this year’s fest. One of the towering achievements in cinematic history, this may be Kubrick’s finest hour as he along with Arthur C. Clarke take us on a journey from the beginning of man to its psychedelic future. A movie that demands big-screen viewing, especially for those who have yet to fall under its thrall.
ALT: The History of Future Folk (2:30 p.m. @ Fox-Bay Cinema Grill)
A considerably lighter bit of programming this day sees this lo-fi sci-fi comedy musical romp play at the Fox-Bay Cinema Grill. The shocking origin story behind Future Folk, a musical duo who was originally sent to Earth to depopulate it so their alien race could then take over who were bewitched by our music (non-existent in their culture) and our women over time. Winningly silly, this is one of those genre mashups that only get the time of day on the festival circuit.
DAY 11: The Act of Killing (8 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
Executively produced by Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, this stunning and vital documentary undertakes a provocative experiment: filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer gives Indonesian men responsible for an untold amount of deaths the ability to paint their own portrait of their unspeakable acts through the language of the cinema they so greatly adore. Shocking and unforgettable, this should be one of the hottest tickets of the entire festival.
ALT: Aayna Ka Banya (6 p.m. @ Fox-Bay Cinema Grill)
I can’t resist a good old-fashioned let’s-put-on-a-show style musical and Bollywood is the only place to scratch that itch these days. This time it’s an Eastern spin on Step Up-style dance competition movies following a group of young kids from reform school as they attempt to overcome their demons and triumph at a national dance tournament. Looks a wee bit irresistible to my eyes.
DAY 12: Upstream Color (7:15 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
I know, I know. When will I get over trumpeting this film to this blog’s audience? Probably never (spoiler: it will factor in a big way into my end-of-year wrap-up) as it’s one of the most dazzling and original cinematic concoctions I’ve seen in years. It’s a deeply tactile cinematic experience, and a must see for those who have yet to be entranced.
ALT: August: Osage County (7:30 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
Tony Letts’ adaptation of his own Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play is sure to be a factor in this year’s Oscar race. An all-star cast (Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Sam Shepard, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ewan McGregor just to name a handful) digs into this tale of family dysfunction as the women of the Weston family regroup at their childhood home in a moment of crisis. A great chance to see it before it hits major theaters and subsequently lord that over your friends and relatives as Oscar season approaches.
DAY 13: Oh Boy (5:15 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
This black-and-white German portrait of youthful ennui looks to be a blast. Fusing a modern German sensibility with the style of vintage Woody Allen might just pay massive dividends here and I can’t wait to see the resultant mixture.
ALT: Here Comes the Devil (10:30 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
Or if you’re feeling a little more bloodthirsty, try this tale on for size: a young family loses their children whilst on vacation only for them to return a day later. It soon becomes apparent that they didn’t come back alone. Gratuitous sex and violence fill out the margins of this tale of possession, with advance word suggesting this to be a very worthwhile venture for horror fans.
DAY 14: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (6:30 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
A late addition to the MFF schedule, this Malick-esque tale of doomed lovers (played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) has racked up the critical acclaim as it’s traveled the festival circuit. One look at the trailer should tell you all you need to know, but the appearance of Wisconsin native director David Lowery (who also happened to edit Upstream Color) should help sweeten the pot some.
ALT: Key of Life (9:15 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
This dizzy Japanese identity swap comedy is perfect festival fare – the type of film that will never get play in mainstream America despite being exceptional entertainment. A struggling actor and successful hit man switch places here, in a film that earns its screwball comedy designation.
DAY 15: Blood Brother (7:30 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
This closing night selection netted both the Jury and Audience awards at Sundance this year, so you know you’re in for something special. A heart-rending look at one’s man dedication to the forgotten children of India, left to languish with HIV and AIDS at an orphanage slash care center that he happens across in his travels. Heartbreaking and uplifting in equal amounts seems to be the consensus, so if you’re in need of a good cry, this is your big opportunity.
ALT: 12 O’Clock Boys (5:3 p.m. @ Oriental Theatre)
Finally, there’s this documentary gem that follows 13-year-old Pug as he attempts to join Baltimore’s famed 12 O’Clock Boys street gang, named after the wheelies they pop as they dangerously race through the streets of the inner-city. A profound portrait of the ways that gangs can offer a sense of community that our major cities often are unable to provide.