Reel quality: Milwaukee Film Festival is loaded with goodies
The Milwaukee Film Festival is a veritable film-lovers' feast with well over 200 movies on tap across two weeks from Sept. 26 to Oct. 10. No one could see them all.
With that in mind, I got a walk-through the catalog of films with the festival's Jonathan Jackson and Blyth Meier and here are 10 films – in alphabetical order – that I have seen and recommend or am eager to see for myself.
Please see the complete schedule for showtimes.
The Angels' Share (Ken Loach, 106 minutes; Fox Bay Cinema Grill Sunday, Sept. 29 ad Saturday, Oct. 5; Oriental Theatre, Wednesday, Oct. 9) – I love Ken Loach's drama-edies and because this one is set in Glasgow, I was especially interested. Though I could have done without a couple of violent scenes, the film was an engaging one, with nods toward "Trainspotting" in its "punters plan a caper" approach.
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (Drew DeNicola, 113 minutes; Fox Bay, Sunday, Oct. 6; Downer Theatre, Wednesday, Oct. 9) – Big Star is one of those storied bands whose influence far outweighs its musical output. And the fact that it included the equally influential and legendary Alex Chilton makes the band's story even more interesting. I have high hopes that this film will be a winner.
Enzo Avitabile Music Life (Jonathan Demme, 80 minutes; Downer, Sunday, Sept. 29; Oriental, Friday, Oct. 4; Fox Bay, Thursday, Oct. 10) – Demme takes less of a straight-up concert approach (a la "Stop Making Sense") in telling the story of Neapolitan world music star Enzo Avitabile. Instead, Demme intertwines scenes of the multi-instrumentalist at home and revisiting the scene of his youth as he discusses his music and philosophy with performance footage filmed in what appears to be the lower level of Naples' Galleria Umberto I. For each tune, he collaborates with a fellow world music traveler, including the likes of Trilok Gurtu, Amal Murkus and Sardinian folk master Luigi Lai, among others. An engaging portrait of a unique musician.
If You Build It (Patrick Creadon, 82 minutes; Oriental, Friday, Sept. 27; Fox Bay, Friday, Oct. 4; Oriental, Sunday, Oct. 6) – Design, architecture, education – a number of my interests come together in this film about a design duo that lands in small-town North Carolina to lead Studio H, a design program intended to jumpstart the minds and ambitions of a group of high schoolers. Despite the fact that it manages to do exactly that, as well as leave a tangible, useful mark on the town, the program falls apart when it receives no funding. A powerful look at how passion can go a long way in education.
Muscle Shoals (Greg "Freddy" Camalier, 111 minutes; Downer, Monday, Sept. 30; Fox Bay, Thursday, Oct. 3) – It's interesting to think that so much of what we consider black music of the American South was created by black and white musicians working in tandem. Though the film banks on interviews with the likes of Jagger and Richards, Bono, Alicia Keys and Stevie Winwood, I'm eager to hear from the folks that were there, like Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett and Gregg Allman.
Mussels in Love (Willemiek Kluijfhout, 73 minutes; Fox Bay, Friday-Saturday, Sept. 27-28; Oriental, Thursday, Oct. 3) – And now for a mussel of a completely different kind. I'm bi-valve curious and so I'm eager to learn more about mussels, the people that catch them and why we love them so.
Reality (Matteo Garrone, 115 minutes; Oriental, Thursday, Oct. 3; Fox Bay, Wednesday, Oct. 9) – Though most folks talk about Garrone in terms of his film version of Roberto Saviano's "Gomorrah," I was a big fan of his 2002 creepy noir film "L'imbalsamatore," which had one of the best soundtracks ever (by Banda Osiris) in a film. So, despite the fact that "Reality" is about the Italian version of television reality show "Big Brother," I'm eager to see it.
SOMM (Jason Wise, 93 minutes; Fox Bay, Sunday, Sept. 29 and Saturday, Oct. 5; Oriental, Tuesday, Oct. 8) – Follow a group of wine geeks who are studying to become master sommeliers, an extremely difficult task – so difficult that, as the film points out, a mere 170 people in the word achieved the distinction across 40 years. These folks have quite literally put their lives on hold while the study every varietal, every region, every producer, every method, every vine disease, every regional wine law, the fine points of serving wine and everything else related to wine in crazy detail. Watching the film, it's almost inevitable that more casual oenophiles will wonder what any of this madness has to do with enjoying a good glass of pinot.
Spinning Plates (Joseph Levy, 94 minutes; Oriental, Saturday, Oct. 5; Fox Bay, Wednesday, Oct. 9) – After devouring "Kings of Pastry" at the festival three years ago, I was eager to see "Spinning Plates," which features three restaurants, including Chicago's Alinea, a Mexican restaurant in the American Southwest and an Iowa country restaurant to which six customers even had keys. With all the challenges restaurateurs face – and the three restaurateurs in "Spinning Plates" stare down some serious issues, both personal and professional – what makes them devote everything to customers who, really, don't even need to eat out? It's a passion for making people happy and offering customers a quality experience.
Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 88 minutes; Oriental, Friday, Sept. 27 and Monday, Sept. 30) – This one is a nostalgia pic for me, because I really enjoyed the film upon its initial theatrical release and I saw it at least twice back then. Best of all, that Milwaukee run was at the Oriental, so I'll be happy to have the chance to see it again in Milwaukee's movie palace.
They're all drinking Irn Bru in that picture. Maybe now they'll start selling it in the U.S. It's the greatest soda on Earth.
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