Friday, January 29, 2010

See You at the Movies!

// By Anna Krutzik //

If you're headed out to see a brand new film at your local Milwaukee cinemas this weekend, I will warn you that there are some slim pickings. Of course, you could just see Avatar again. Everybody's doing it. But as the Friday blog spot is dedicated to reviewing and recommending just released feature films, I am relegated to writing about When in Rome (the latest "I'm-smoking-hot-but-just-can't-find-the-right-guy-and-when-I-search-for-him-hilarity-ensues" film) or Edge of Darkness.

So, Edge of Darkness is an emotionally charged thriller set at the intersection of politics and big business, according to its website. The film is directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), and stars Mel Gibson in his first leading role since M. Night Shyamalan's Signs in 2002. Yeah, 2002. I guess Mel's been really busy doing, um, other things.

My initial reaction to the trailer for Edge of Darkness was that it seemed to closely resemble the 2008 film Taken starring Liam Neeson, in which a grizzled old man goes on a rage-fueled rampage for the truth because of his daughter being kidnapped, the only difference being that in Edge of Darkness the daughter is murdered. However, IMDB tells me that Edge of Darkness is actually based on a 1985 BBC mini-series of the same name, which was also directed by Campbell. I find it interesting that the director would choose to make a scaled-down movie version of his own 6-hour mini-series, which is often cited as one of the best and most influential pieces of British television drama ever made.

What it all boils down to is that Edge of Darkness just isn't my type of film, really. But please don't misunderstand my lack of enthusiasm for this movie and take it as a bad review. It looks like it would be an entertaining conspiracy theory action-filled 2 hours complete with a bad-ass ultimate hero. And if that floats your boat, more power to you. Maybe I'm just bitter because I couldn't write a review for Saint John of Las Vegas which stars Steve Buscemi and also comes out today but only in New York and LA. Or maybe I should have reviewed When in Rome, which isn't my type of film either, but I might have enjoyed making fun of that one more.

I guess Crazy Heart is still playing at the Downer Theatre. And that film won two Golden Globes recently, one for Jeff Bridges as Best Actor and one for Best Original Song ("The Weary Kind"). I do love T Bone Burnett who was a producer of the film in addition to co-writing the music and lyrics of "The Weary Kind". Darn it, I change my mind. This review is no longer about Edge of Darkness and is instead urging you to see Crazy Heart, a film about a broken-down hard-living country music singer on his road to salvation, starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall, and Colin Farrell, in a directorial debut by Scott Cooper.
I hope you like it.

And if you go see Edge of Darkness, I hope you like that too.

And if you were really looking forward to seeing When in Rome, I'm sorry.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rodrigo Garcia Saves The Melodrama

// By Jonathan Jackson //

Director Rodrigo Garcia has stayed relatively under the radar. An astonishing feat considering his impeccable directing and writing track record, which includes the 2005 Milwaukee International Film Festival Closing Night film Nine Lives and countless hours of the best television of the last decade (Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Big Love and In Treatment).

He is a gifted storyteller whose direction, which comes across as effortless, creates a lyricism that supports, not distracts, the complex character studies he creates. I would argue that no other writer/director working today creates characters with the same degree of psychological depth.

Actors must be dying to work with him.

Mother and Child features Annette Benning, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smitts and David Ramsey in a multi-character drama centered on love and parenthood. The scandalously under seen Annette Benning, the luminous Kerry Washington (in her second 2010 Sundance appearance), and the masterful Naomi Watts all deserve awards consideration at next year's Academy Awards.

Most melodrama in television and movies today is not generated from the characters, it is manufactured by vacant plot twists, over dramatic acting and vomit inducing scores. It is reassuring that we have an master/writer director choosing to work in the genre, reminding us of the potential it has to generate a profound connection with audiences.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I'm Pat Fucking Tillman

// By Jonathan Jackson //

Three days into the 'rebellion,' the same trend is emerging as last year: documentaries rule at Sundance. Not necessarily an indictment of the fiction films unfurling, it is more a sign of how the documentary form has grown in the last few years as the best technology has become more accessible and more artists are choosing the documetary form over fiction.

From the entertaining, fly-on-the-wall view of a social networking nightmare in "Catfish," to the poetic and heartfelt stories of love from 70 different women found in "His and Hers," to the more investigative, interview orientated "The Pat Tillman Story" it has become clear that the only thing that eclipses the range of documentaries styles on display are the depth of emotions and insights found within them.

More on "Catfish" and "His and Hers" some other time, but for now I can't stop thinking about "I'm with Pat Tillman." I have seen plenty of films and read plenty of analysis that has made me sick about the actions of our elected officials and military leaders during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I am not sure that any of them have hit me on a personal level quite the way this film did.

What makes "I'm with Pat Tillman" great though, is not the staggering revelations of improper actions by our leaders, or the virtuoso filmmaking for that matter, it is the incredible portrait of an honest family and their fallen son who only ever had two wishes: that they know the truth of the circumstances surrounding their son's death and that the government respects his wishes.

The Tillman family was lied to, manipulated and used as a marketing tool during the aftermath of Pat's death and their search for answers. Pat's documented wishes for his funeral and privacy we're betrayed.

To this day the officials responsible have still not been held accountable.

Pat Tillman and his family come across as some of the most real Americans I have ever encountered. The Tillman parents raised their boys to be open, honest and human. To navigate the World through their own eyes, their family's eyes and their country's eyes. It is simply a tragedy that the American government and military ran over them and betrayed them.

Prior to its premiere at Sundance, "The Pat Tillman Story" was actually titled "I'm Pat Fucking Tillman." The director Amir Bar-Lev changed the title, likely for obvious reasons.

The original title comes from the moments just before Tillman's death. As friendly fire rained down on Pat Tillman from only 40 yards away, in desperation he shouted to the American soldiers firing at him:

"I'm Pat fucking Tillman! Why are your shooting at Me?"

"I'm Pat fucking Tillman!"

Friday, January 22, 2010

This is Your Guide to CInematic Rebellion

// By Jonathan Jackson //

Earlier this week, as I was getting ready for my annual trek into Mormon country, I found myself less enthusiastic than ever before to attend arguably the nation’s leading film event.

I could point to a number of possible reasons: John Cooper’s ascendancy to the top post, the ridiculous slogan on the cover of the guide “This is Your Guide To Cinematic Rebellion,” the avalanche of work I was planning to bring with me that had nothing to do with the pleasures of movie going or maybe it was just my anticipated homesickness.

Whatever the reason was, it was misplaced.

As I dug deeper into the program guide on my flight here, I was excited to discover that many of my favorite contemporary filmmakers were premiering new work at the festival.

Here are the five I am most looking forward to seeing:

12th & Delaware

Directed by Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka)


Directed by Spencer Susser (I Love Sarah Jane)

Casino Jack and the U.S. of Money

Directed by Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side)

Freedom Riders

Directed by Stanley Nelson (Jonestown: the Life and Death of the People’s Temple)

Wisdom Teeth
Directed by Don Hertzfeldt (Everything Will Be Okay)

*Above still image from the film Hesher

See You at the Movies!

by T.J. Fackelman //

As you’ve probably heard by now, tonight will mark Conan O’Brien’s last show as host of The Tonight Show. And I know it will be tempting to stay in and watch CoCo deliver his final monologue and reminisce over the last 7 memorable months, but that’s why we have DVRs. So we can go to the movies! So, while my DVR faithfully records Conesy’s last moments on NBC, I will be out at the theater. Care to join me?

One film in particular that I’ve been looking forward to seeing is Until The Light Takes Us, a documentary by Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell that explores the world of Norwegian ‘black metal.’ But black metal isn’t just a music genre, it’s more of a cultural phenomenon that veers into cult territory. The black metal scene emerged in Norway in the 1980s, but it took a string of controversial crimes in the ‘90s to really raise the profile of the scene. The crimes range from dozens of cases of arson (all involving churches burned to the ground) to murder and from alleged Satanism to cannibalism.

In order to examine the complex and misunderstood beliefs and principles of the Norwegian black metal scene, documentary filmmakers Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell packed up and moved to Norway for several years, living amongst the musicians and establishing a good rapport that grants them never-before-seen access. With this access, Aites and Ewell choose to focus on several of the most prominent musicians in the scene to tell the storied history.

If you decide to go, just don’t expect a concert film. In fact, don’t expect to hear much of the black metal music they’re discussing at all. In an interesting judgment call, Aites and Ewell prefer the use of electronic atmospheric sounds to the brutal, crushing sounds of Norwegian bands like Burzum, Darkthrone and Mayhem. I’m really curious to see how effective the use of music is in this documentary, as well as learn some more about this rather mysterious European musical and cultural scene.

Until The Light Takes Us (93 min.)

Times Cinema
5906 W. Vliet St.
Milwaukee, WI 53208
(414) 453-2436

Friday, Jan. 22 at 9pm & 11pm
Saturday, Jan. 23 at 9pm & 11pm

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We're Loving:

by Jonathan Jackson //

Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election) begins next film and George Clooney introduces Wes Anderson as only he can

Top 25 Films of the Decade, American made for under $1,000,000

Project Taliban: Malick or Bigelow?

The Sundance Film Festival begins tomorrow, here are Filmmaker Magazine’s Most Anticipated Films

Finally, what I am thinking about as I head to Sundance

*Still Image from David Gordon Green's George Washington

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Because Reality TV is Lame

The Hurt Locker
- Out on DVD/Blu-ray now!

by Mark Metcalf //

Kathryn Bigelow directs films that a man should direct. That’s wrong. She directs films that you would expect a man to direct, but she directs them even better.

The protagonist of The Hurt Locker is an arrogant, self-involved soldier just dying to be a hero. Bigelow looks at that directly; does not comment on it, does not shy away from it, any more than she shies away from the war he is involved in. And I think she comes away from the experience of directing this film understanding that it may just take that kind of person to fight a war like this, a war that probably should not be fought at all.

The war is Iraq. The year is 2004. It is the year in which four Blackwater “contractors” were killed, mutilated and burned, and then dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge for everyone to view. It is the year in which the United States lost its 1,000th soldier to violent death in that war. The story centers on Staff Sgt. William James who takes over the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) unit in Bravo Company. Disarming an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), as you can imagine, is the most dangerous job in war. James loves his job. He puts his partners’ lives at more risk than necessary because he loves his job so much. He leaves his wife and his infant son to go back to Iraq for more. But he is much more than an adrenaline junkie who likes to risk his life. He is a man who chooses death over life. Certainly the possibility of death.

Bigelow’s camera and editing, her absolute concentration on the task at hand, with no obvious showboating, takes you on an extremely visceral ride. I think a male director might have let us know that he was there; would have removed us, and himself from the experience by taking the god position. Bigelow puts the camera right inside the helmet of Staff Sgt. James as he approaches an IED. She faces it directly with little or no ego other than what we imagine it must take to do the job at hand.

It is a remarkable war movie, although, I think it is a little patchwork in its story telling. There is an attempt to fill it with as many of the experiences of that war as possible. But one of those extra scenes, in the desert, when the EOD team has to transform itself into a sniper team, and Bigelow again allows us to experience the long agonizing wait, in the sun, with total stillness, and the purest concentration on the task at hand that I have ever seen in a film, while one sniper team waits until the other makes the mistake of motion so that they can be seen and killed. That scene may be the best one in the film. But somehow it is extraneous to the primary story.

The film follows the time-tested path of the “war movie,” with a scene of action followed by a scene of introspection followed by another scene of action. It executes those scenes with a certainty, and intelligence, and a desire to see the truth that has been rare in films about the endless war in Iraq. However, because it lacks originality in its structure it is not a great film, but it is the best war movie I have seen since A Walk In the Sun.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Five Cool Film Links for the Week 1/15/2010

Still Image from Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank

By Jonathan Jackson

Feeling down lately? You MUST have a case of the Avatar blues!

I was elated when I found out that the brilliant Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar) was in talks to direct the shattering novel The Lovely Bones. Then I cried when Peter Jackson elbowed his way in. Surprise, it looks as if the novel lost its soul on screen.

Speaking of UK directors, Andrea Arnold’s (Wasp, Red Road) latest and possibly greatest, Fish Tank, opened today in NYC.

I love looking at movie posters and some of the ones in this collection are insane: X-Rated - Adult Movie Posters of the 60s and 70s.

Seems like a great idea for a book: Screen Epiphanies: Filmmakers on the Films that inspired them.

Cinema to See This Weekend: Broken Embraces

By Anna Krutzik

 As you finish reminiscing about the great art you saw Friday evening at Gallery Night, you settle in to your Saturday afternoon and you’re wondering “What movie should we see this weekend?”, remember that you read the Milwaukee Film blog and they recommended Broken Embraces, Pedro Almodóvar’s newest feature film (his 17th film to date, if you’re keeping track) starring Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar, and a slew of other Almodóvar regulars.

Opening today at the Downer Theatre, Broken Embraces is the story of a writer and film director (Homar) who was blinded 14 years earlier in a tragic car accident that also took from him the love of his life, Lena (Cruz). The story is told mostly in flashbacks, jumping between the two personas of Homar’s character, Harry Caine and Mateo Blanco. The plot twists around the intense love between Lena and Harry/Mateo and the jealousy and betrayal that affect them, incorporating a film-within-a-film and numerous references to Almodóvar’s other features all while keeping a neo-noir theme.

The film has been getting mostly favorable reviews and looks to me like a fun throwback to the noir genre that shows off the best of Almodóvar’s sensibilities: his use of color, strong female characters, unexpected plot twists, and the overwhelming sense of perseverance through it all.

Broken Embraces has been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film for the Golden Globes, which air this Sunday on NBC beginning at 6pm (CST). So go check out the film and then watch it win! Well, maybe. I don’t actually know the outcome of the Golden Globes, but I do know that Broken Embraces will be going on my list of cinema to see this weekend.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Decade of Amnesia

 by Jonathan Jackson

 We live in a society of the present. Information, media and advertising bombard us in every conceivable way. It has brought our World closer together, but it has also marginalized the past and with it the value of knowledge.

Everyone has always had an opinion, but now everyone has a platform to voice those opinions. Not that this is a completely negative occurrence, but it should not cause the death of serious journalism and make intellectualism a bad thing. Today, everyone is a critic. Unfortunately, this has marginalized our best critics, thinkers, writers who have devoted their lives to their field.

It may just be a product of my growing older, but I am horrified that today, more than ever before, the value of history has been forgotten. Many of the financial, political and cultural missteps of the past decade could have been avoided by learning from our past.

As we hurdle forward into a new decade at a staggering pace, it is reassuring to me that our leading film artists tried to remind us that we do not in fact all have collective amnesia. Amongst my favorites of the decade, no theme is more dominant than the importance of the past.

Ten Best Fiction Films of the Decade
7. Donnie Darko (Original Theatrical Version)
6. Zodiac
5. Time Out 

Ten Best Documentaries of the Decade
3. Stevie

Ten Best Television Shows of the Decade
10. The Daily Show
9. Deadwood
8. Freaks and Geeks
7. Curb Your Enthusiasm
6. Dexter
5. Arrested Development
4. 30 Rock (Pre-Writers Strike)
3. The Office (BBC)
2. Six Feet Under
1. The Wire

Ten Best Albums of the Decade
10. Air: Talkie Walkie
9. Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP
8.Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
8. Bob Dylan: Love and Theft
7. OutKast: The Love Below/ Speakerboxxx
6. LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver
5. TV on the Radio: Dear Science
4. Hot Chip: The Warning
3. Gnarls Barkley: The Odd Couple
2. M.I.A.: Kala
1. M. Ward: Post-War

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blu-ray/DVD Release of the Week: Big Fan (2009)

Welcome to a new weekly section of the Milwaukee Film blog dedicated to keeping you up to date on some of the best new Blu-ray/DVD releases. On the docket for this week is Big Fan, an Official Selection of the 2009 Milwaukee Film Festival.

Big Fan
is the directorial debut from Robert D. Siegel, former Madison resident who took time out of his busy schedule to attend a screening of Big Fan at the 2009 Milwaukee Film Fest. Siegel's established his place within the international film community with his critically acclaimed screenplay for the 2008 Oscar-nominated film The Wrestler.

Although Big Fan stars notorious funnyman Patton Oswalt, and it was written and directed by a former Senior Editor of The Onion, it's a far cry to call it an ordinary sports comedy. Oswalt stars as Paul Aufiero, the titular anti-hero who's obsessed with the NY Giants. Working as a parking lot attendant, Paul spends his evenings calling in to sports talk radio shows and his weekends watching his beloved Giants on a tiny TV from the stadium parking lot. Following a violent confrontation with one of the stars of his favorite team, Paul is forced to put his entire belief system into question. As his life spins out of control, Big Fan raises the stakes and hurtles towards an ending you don't see coming.

You can read an interview with Robert Siegel and A.V. Club Milwaukee Editor Steve Hyden here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Multiple Milwaukee Film Festival Alumni need your votes to win awards

Carlo Besasie nominated for People’s Choice Award

Local filmmaker and 2009 Milwaukee Film Festival Alum Carlo “Vinnie” Besasie attended the American Film Market in Los Angeles back in November and participated in their Favorite Film Pitch contest. Carlo was given 2 and a half minutes to make a pitch for his movie idea entitled All the Queen’s Men. When the Market was over, 5 movie pitches were nominated for a People’s Choice Award, and All the Queen’s Men was one of those selected. Voting for the People’s Choice Award is open to the public, and you can vote as many times as you’d like. To see Carlo’s movie pitch and vote for it, click here.

In addition to receiving the Favorite Film Pitch award, the winner will also receive an AFM 2010 package that includes full access for two to the AFM, including seminars and conferences; airfare for two to Los Angeles; hotel for five nights in Santa Monica; and scheduled meetings with producers and distributors.

Though he needs your votes to win this award, Carlo is no stranger to winning accolades for his filmmaking. Most recently, he was awarded the Allan H. (Bud) & Suzanne L. Selig Audience Award for his short film The Violinist at the 2009 Milwaukee Film Festival. Two of Carlo’s other short films, Wishtaker and The Cherry Tree, were also award winners at the now-defunct Milwaukee International Film Festival. Not one to rest and be content with his past awards, Carlo is also phenomenally prolific. For the 2009 Milwaukee Film Festival, Carlo directed a team of filmmakers who produced the fun, promotional trailer, as well as the beautiful sponsor trailer shot in the remarkable home theater belonging to Racine resident Fred Hermes, which hides a treasure trove of decades worth of film equipment. Carlo, always willing to lend a needed hand, also donated his time to fill the role of Cinematographer for the Collaborative Cinema/Milwaukee Film produced short film The Waiting Room, written by former Brookfield Central High School student Emily Downes for the 2008 screenwriting contest.

Andrew Swant & Bobby Ciraldo nominated for four PILL Awards

Local filmmakers and 2009 Milwaukee Film Festival Alumni Andrew Swant and Bobby Ciraldo have entertained you with ballet dancers prancing around to the spoken words of William Shatner, their hilarious music video for Samwell’s What What In The Butt was parodied on South Park, and they keep the stoners and drunks busy with their late-night comedy show Something Theater, but now they need your help to win the four PILL Awards for which they have been nominated. Andrew and Bobby have the following videos nominated in the following categories:

#03. PARODY PILL - "Samwell Goes To The Woods" by Samwell
#11. BEST ANIMATION/FX - "What What (In the Butt)" by Samwell
#15. BEST MUSIC VIDEO - ELECTRO - "What What (In the Butt)" by Samwell
#23. BEST EPISODE - "Episode 53: ELECTRO"

Click here to go to the PILL Awards website and vote!

Collaborative Cinema

This Saturday January 9th, Milwaukee Film hosted the first workshop for its Collaborative Cinema program at Discovery World. 41 high school students from Milwaukee and surrounding areas (out of over 100 who submitted) were picked to attend the workshop based on their idea for a short film. During the workshop, the students learned tips and tricks from film industry professionals to help guide them in turning their ideas into a full screenplay. The goal of the program is to continue working with the students and their screenplays until ultimately one is chosen to be made into a short film which will premiere at the 2010 Milwaukee Film Festival. Past participants of the Collaborative Cinema program including Vinnie Balistreri (She Never Screams, winner in ’06), Katrina Schwarz (Small Talk, winner in ’07) Emily Downes (The Waiting Room, winner in ’08), and Natalie Mullins (Ward Three, winner in ’09) also attended to offer guidance and suggestions to this year’s 41 hopefuls. With Project Director Mark Metcalf (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Seinfeld) at the helm, the day was filled with fun, learning, and for 41 high school students, the chance of a lifetime.

Ryan Sarnowski and the wonderful film students that are part of the DocUWM program were on hand all day capturing the action and excitement that unfolded to make a short documentary about the Collaborative Cinema program. I can’t wait to see the final product!

All in all, it was an intense workshop and a big thank you goes out to the mentors and students for making the day such a success!

Good luck to everyone participating in the Collaborative Cinema program this year!