2014 Milwaukee Film Festival, September 25-October 9, various locations (mkefilm.org)
Here in Milwaukee, the signs of fall are all around us: Cool, crisp days…the leaves turning color…football season in full swing…and multitudes of film buffs are flocking into local theaters and going on a 2-week popcorn binge. Yes, it’s time for the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival, one of the city’s major cultural events. For the next two weeks at four locations (including vintage MKE movie houses Oriental, Downer, Times and Fox-Bay), nearly 275 films will be shown (many with multiple screenings!). With the huge number of films of every genre imaginable, trying to decide what to see is a daunting task indeed! The following is a list of my personal picks for this year’s fest…Full movie and showtime information available by clicking the link above. Please be aware that purchasing advance tickets is highly suggested, as many of these screenings do sell out in advance!
In March, 1971, a year before Watergate, eight disgruntled citizens fed up with the Vietnam War and the US government in general broke into the FBI office in Media, PA, and took every file they could get their hands on. While they didn’t find much on Vietnam, what they did find were a treasure trove of files on J Edgar Hoover’s illegal surveillance program known as COINTELPRO, which spied on scores of ordinary, law-abiding US citizens, confirming what the group had long suspected. It was a watershed moment in the Freedom of Information movement, and led many to seriously question the government’s motives. The FBI was never able to track down the eight individuals who have maintained their cover, until now. Their story is told in this 2014 release, which plays like a great political thriller.
Mary Poppins Sing-A-Long
2014 marks the 50th anniversary of what the Disney Studio in their publicity called “Walt Disney’s greatest achievement,” which itself was chronicled in the acclaimed 2013 film Saving Mr. Banks. The MFF is bringing back the classic to Big Screen glory, but with a twist. Like other classic musicals like The Sound of Music and Grease, the movie now boasts a sing-along addition where patrons will receive an immersion kit which, according to the festival, will provide the ultimate Poppins experience! I myself have been working on my renditions of “The Life I Lead” and “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank,” but I will be definitely sitting out on “Sister Suffragette!”
Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, it’s also the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s only comedy, but a comedy with very dark overtones. After all, it’s perhaps the only comedy dealing with nuclear Armageddon, which was quite subversive coming in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Some of the scenes were shot with hand-held cameras, giving portions of the movie a documentary feel. But it’s the performances you’ll remember most (besides the slogan “Peace is our Profession”) from stars George C Scott (as Gen “Buck” Turgidson), Sterling Hayden (Col Jack D Ripper), Keenan Wynn (Maj. “Bat” Guano), Slim Pickens (Major “King” Kong), and especially the tour de force from Peter Sellers, playing three different characters! In fact, in several scenes Sellers actually interacts with himself! Annihilation was never so hilarious!
This 2014 documentary offers a fascinating look at how music therapy has done amazing things for some patients that are in the horrible clutches of Alzheimer’s Disease. A truly uplifting film.
Man With a Movie Camera
This 1929 Russian film is considered one of the greatest documentaries of all time, providing an impressionistic view of a day in the life of a movie cameraman, providing views of daily life in Soviet Russia. And this festival screening will be a special treat as it will be accompanied by the three-man powerhouse known as Alloy Orchestra. If you’ve attended Alloy’s past festival appearances (Metropolis in 2010 and Blackmail in 2012), you already know why Roger Ebert called them the ultimate silent film accompanists. You will swear a full orchestra is occupying the pit of the Oriental Theater, but it’s only three musicians generating all the sound. I can’t recommend this film strongly enough.
This Is Spinal Tap
It’s the 30th anniversary of director Rob Reiner’s (who himself appears as director “Marty DiBergi”) first film, which chronicled a veteran British metal band on the comeback trail and invented the genre now known as “mockumentary.” Christopher Guest’s “script” features Guest (Nigel Tufnel), Michael McKean (David St Hubbins), Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls), plus an assortment of drummers-which all mysteriously vanish-as the musicians in the band who only use amps that go “up to eleven.” Lots of great cameo guests appear throughout the movie. Once you’ve seen this incredibly hilarious film, you’ll never look at Stonehenge the same way again.
In the spirit of Spinal Tap is this 2013 comedy from the Czech Republic, which tells the story of the band Smoke, from the glory days of hippiedom, which reunite 40 years after their breakup to cash in on the nostalgia for 70’s bands. When the “Czech Beatles” discover they actually enjoy playing together again, the film becomes a delightful comedy that will evoke memories of the Fab Four’s Hard Day’s Night.
Stop Making Sense
When this classic Talking Heads concert film (in a great 35 mm print) was presented at last year’s festival, it drew a huge crowd at a late-night screening on a Monday night, it had patrons literally dancing in the aisles. Since 1984 is the film’s 30th anniversary, it was a no-brainer to being the movie back for an encore. This time around, it draws a lucrative Saturday late-night slot, plus Talking heads member (and Shorewood native) Jerry Harrison will be on hand for the screening.
Not to be outdone, Shorewood High alums David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams (collectively known as the hit moviemakers ZAZ) return to their old stomping grounds for this 30th anniversary screening of their followup to their classic Airplane! It’s a great spoof which combines spy films and Elvis musicals. Val Kilmer makes his screen debut as the secret agent disguised as an Elvis-style crooner sent to infiltrate East Germany during an Arts Festival which looks suspiciously like the Olympic Games. Some viewers may wonder why the Shorewood High fight song is passing as the East German national anthem. But it’s just one example of the ZAZ trademark of parody combined with bountiful sight gags that permeate this film. Don’t miss this chance to see it on the Big Screen (something Samuel L Bronkowitz would appreciate), and as previously mentioned, the boys will be on hand to introduce the film and greet fans after the screening.
Another great parody, this 1987 gem stars director Robert Townsend and sidekick Kennan Ivory Wayans in this spoof of blaxploitation flicks in which Townsend is a young actor who can only get work in black action films. The movie inspired a whole generation of black filmmakers and is part of the festival’s new Black Lens showcase. The director himself will be on hand to introduce the film and greet fans after the screening.
Part of the festival’s popular Shorter is Better showcase, this fascinating program features seven short films which have sports as its unifying theme. Among the films included are The High Five, The Immaculate Reception, Strike: The Greatest Bowling Story Ever Told, and Untucked, the story of Marquette University’s 1977 NCAA championship basketball team, whose players were notorious for wearing their jerseys untucked (Scandalous!).
Take Me to the River
Jerry Harrison returns for this film screening, in his role as the film’s producer. It focuses on the history of the great Memphis R&B label Stax Records by bringing together legendary musicians like Mavis Staples, Booker T Jones, Charlie Musselwhite, Otis Rush, and the late Hubert Sumlin with young musicians like rappers Al Kapone, Yo Gotti and Lil P-Nut. Fans of music films like 20 Feet From Stardom and last year’s festival hit Muscle Shoals will want to seek out this movie.
Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney directs this documentary on Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, the inspiration for the hit Broadway musical Fela! It includes generous archival performance clips and interviews to tell the story of a musician whose influence continues to be felt today. One of the festival’s most anticipated films.
This 2012 US/Cuban co-production has a special Milwaukee connection. It’s a documentary about Cuba’s prestigious National Ballet School (NBS) done in fly-on-the-wall style, similar to a Robert Altman film. It focuses on three NBS students, one of which is Milwaukee Ballet dancer Mayara Pineiro, and you’ll learn how she wound up in Milwaukee (for which we’re all the better). If you loved the movie Black Swan, this movie is the real deal.
Dear MKE is a local film collective that showcases short films that capture the spirit of this city. This 90 minute program features thirteen of their best productions. Among the titles are Come Sail Away, Cooking with Kumar, Rory: Milwaukee’s Most Famous Cab Driver, Underwater Harvey, Lo with the Fro, and The Right Ingredients. A fascinating smorgasbord of slices of Milwaukee life.
See you at the movies!!