Hitting the Home Stretch
More from film fan Jeramey on which movies you should catch, and which to skip.
The Milwaukee Film Festival continues to pack theaters across the city as it heads towards its conclusion. For those having taken the time to see a number of films, it’s the point of the festival where they start anticipating all the pre-film promo clips saluting the sponsors (“Hi, I’m Duane Dudek of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,” etc., etc.). For those that haven’t yet been to the festival, it’s time to find a film you want to see, before one of Milwaukee’s premiere cultural events is done for another year.
While a number of films are now done showing at the festival, it’s still good to find out what’s hot and what’s not as many films end up on Netflix or at traditional theaters. Here’s a breakdown of what I’ve seen following the opening weekend.
Meet the Patels
Meet the Patels occupies the small space of documentaries that leave you feeling good. The film follows Ravi Patel, an American-born actor who attempts to find the Indian woman of his dream at the urging of his parents. What makes the film unique versus other love quest documentaries (like last year’s Date America featuring Milwaukeean Bob Murray) is that the camera is run by Ravi’s sister and roommate Geeta. The brother-sister team allows for more intimate access, and a lot more family drama, than would otherwise be seen. The documentary provided a number of laughs as well as illustrating how traditional Indian marriages work, what social networks are available for dating other Indians, and why there are so many Indians with the last name Patel. A special treat was the question-and-answer session after the film with Ravi’s parents, who are central figures in the film.
Milwaukee Show I
Milwaukee-made films are a central point of the Milwaukee Film Festival. It’s great that the films are gathered together in a single package, instead of dispersed throughout all the other shorts compilations. The annual show always draws a packed house to the Oriental Theatre, and this year was even split into two nights. As is the rule with shorts, you’re going to love some, you’re going to hate some, but this collection trended heavily towards the love side. A couple of solid shorts really had me engaged, a visually stunning music video was very well done, and a heart-tugging documentary about Corey Stingley left me thinking.
Slow Food Story
I was excited about this documentary, documenting the Slow Food movement that has redefined an ever-growing portion of the food supply. Unfortunately, the film has a number of pitfalls. I took in this film at the Neighborhood Theater Group’s Times Cinema, which is increasingly surrounded by restaurants that follow the principles of the movement that emphasizes quality and regional cuisine. The movie, however, fails to adequately define what the Slow Food movement is, instead focusing on the history of the central subject Carlo Petrini. The film is also in Italian, with all the subtitles in white, and often displayed on white or other light images, making it exceptionally hard to read. Spend your time elsewhere.
Young & Beautiful
What inspires a 17-year-old to become a call girl in France? Your guess is as good as mine, as this film’s main character has her first sexual encounter and then we jump to her meeting with johns months later. Aside from that leap, Young & Beautiful is a highly enjoyable story about an aloof teenage girl struggling to find intimacy in modern society. This French film is worth the time.
Serial Daters Anonymous
I’ll forever have an inflated view of this film because it showcases Milwaukee. The main character leaves her fiancé at the altar after discovering he slept with her sister (at a wedding held at Calvary Presbytrian Church), and embarks on a series of dates that go nowhere (almost all held at the Rumpus Room). She blogs about it on her new blog, which of course becomes an overnight smash hit. That plot concludes with her getting a job as columnist at a community newspaper (which is somehow a full-time job in 2014 – spoiler alert, it rarely is). The film’s climatic scene involves a stalker that was a character of almost no consequence earlier in the film. Leaving the theater my fiance remarked that the film was “like a Lifetime movie.” If this film didn’t take place in Milwaukee I can’t imagine it would have been booked at the film festival.
A Year in Burgundy
After seeing Slow Food Story, I was gun shy about seeing another food documentary. Thankfully, A Year in Burgundy delivered, walking the viewer through a year in the life of a winemaker in France. You’re going to want a glass (or bottle) nearby while you’re watching this one, as you see countless glasses poured. The narration is a bit over the top, necessary at first to explain what is going on, but later a distraction. A great documentary is one where the subjects can tell the story, a good one requires a narrator to fill the gaps. There were a lot of gaps to be filled given how the film is constructed. Still, if you like wine, you’ll enjoy this one. You’ll like it even more with wine in hand.
For whatever reason, I’ve followed Adam Brody‘s career closely ever since he debuted on Fox’s teenage drama The O.C. His appearance in this small budget indie film didn’t disappoint, and was definitely one of his better movie roles. The film is centered around two female best friends, both searching for the one. The twist is that one is a lesbian. Brody plays the man that comes between them, eventually marrying Gillian Jacobs character. Leighton Meester (who is Brody’s wife in real life, but wasn’t during the filming of this movie) sees her time spent with Meester drop as Jacobs and Brody’s relationship progresses. The film has a refreshing take on LGBT issues, avoiding the common coming out story and instead treating the sexual orientation of the characters as a fact of life.
Director Susanna Fogel and Milwaukee-native producer Jordana Mollick were in the house for the film and answered questions after the film. They were thrown quite the twist when the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned while the film was in post-production, as Jacobs’ character had originally pledged to Meester never to get married until they both legally could. Thankfully, the film was saved through some clever editing (which was unnoticeable until you were told about it). There was some character development that seemed to be missing, perhaps the result of some last minute editing, but overall the film was the most enjoyable I’ve seen at the fest so far.
The Milwaukee Show II
I was tempted to just copy and paste my review of the first Milwaukee Show, but this show was genuinely a different beast. Two animated films were a divergence from the first show, but there were a number of other differences. MECCA: The Floor That Made Milwaukee Famous was very enjoyable, but faces the reality that the story isn’t over yet as the old arena floor is still in storage. My favorite film had to be Geoffrey Broughe Handles Confrontation Poorly, which took place in a Third Ward police station. Balloons, featuring film fest board member Sara Kain Meaney‘s daughter Keelin, was a heart-warming five-minute journey through Walker’s Point, all executed without anyone speaking a word. I enjoyed a couple of the aforementioned films more than almost any of the films from the first Milwaukee Show, but still enjoyed the entirety of Milwaukee Show I quite a bit more. Either way, the local film scene is showing a lot of promise.
Which of these films should you go see? I’ve listed them in order of my likelihood to recommend them to a random stranger (or more likely, someone standing next to me in line to get into a movie). I’ll continue to update this list through the festival.