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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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Andrew Bird makes the best of being sick on tour in "Andrew Bird: Fever Year."
Andrew Bird makes the best of being sick on tour in "Andrew Bird: Fever Year."

The life and struggles of being an entertainer in "Me @ the Zoo," "Andrew Bird"

If there's one thing I learned between watching "Me @ the Zoo" and "Andrew Bird: Fever Year" at the Milwaukee Film Festival, it's that being famous isn't all it's cracked up to be. Between the profane, fickle pack of hyenas known as YouTube commenters and the tiring and unhealthy marathon that is touring, I'm going to stick to my relatively safe movie critic status.

The only good side of becoming famous, it seems, is that one becomes good fodder for solid documentaries. And the money, of course, but I'd argue that being the subject of an entertaining documentary, like "Me @ the Zoo" or "Andrew Bird: Fever Year" is a bit more satisfying. I'm weird that way.

Through several years of archived video footage (most of which was shot by Crocker himself), "Me @ the Zoo" tells the story of Chris Crocker's rise and fall from Internet fame. In case the name doesn't ring a bell, the now 24-year-old's stardom reached its most meme-worthy heights in 2007 when he stood in front of a sheet and tearfully yelled at the world to "leave Britney alone." The video earned himself a place next to LonelyGirl15 and the Numa Numa Guy as one of YouTube's most famous self-made celebrities, as well as one of the most hated.

Directors Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch use archival footage from YouTube and Crocker's personal videos for much of the film. In fact, the filmmakers' only real input besides editing for 75 percent of the movie is via some voiceover and a few shots of modern day Crocker in a forest or watching fireworks. As a result, "Me @ the Zoo" doesn't get entirely under Crocker's skin or into the evolution of YouTube from a modest video sharing site into one of the most influential websites in the world.

So it's not the most in-depth documentary, but Moukarbel and Veatch do find some interesting insights, such as a fleeting look into YouTube's partner system and Crocker's failed trip to Hollywood. For the most part, they come especially near the e…

"The Imposter" screens three more times as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival.
"The Imposter" screens three more times as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival.

"The Imposter" is a certified thrill ride

Thanks to the efforts of directors like Morgan Spurlock and Davis Guggenheim ("Waiting for Superman"), documentaries have gained more popularity over the years. Documentaries have moved away from their legacy of dull tedium and become one of the most exciting genres of film, constantly showing the ability to take topics that most audiences would not usually find interesting and turning them into cinematic gold.

That's not always the case, though. Sometimes, a story is so fascinating that all a documentarian has to do is roll film. Case in point: Bart Layton's "The Imposter," a new doc at the Milwaukee Film Festival that plays like a thriller.

In 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappears walking back to his San Antonio home. Three years later, the police in Spain call his family to let say that they miraculously found their son. However, when he returns home, the local police begin to question Nicholas, who arrives in town with a strong French accent and the wrong-colored eyes.

It turns out they were right to be suspicious, as "Nicholas Barclay" turns out to be a 23-year-old Frenchman named Frederic Bourdin, who somehow convinced multiple police departments and even the missing child's family that he was their long-lost son.

Obviously, considering the film's title (and the fact that the story made national news), Bourdin's trickery isn't exactly a twist. Instead, Layton goes into the minds of his subjects, including the shifty French fake himself, who through an insightful interview describes his entire mindset and strategy during the debacle in incredible detail.

Much of "The Imposter"'s fascinating story is told with a combination of interviews and reenactments. In most cases, reenactments are to be feared, normally combining fake-looking drama with hammy acting to take the audience completely out of the story. That's not the case with "The Imposter." Instead of being an afterthought, the slick, shadowy reenactments are feature film quality, making it hard…

The Milwaukee Film Festival opened Thursday night with "Starbuck."
The Milwaukee Film Festival opened Thursday night with "Starbuck."

"Starbuck" spawns great start to the Milwaukee Film Festival

If "Starbuck," the opening night selection of the Milwaukee Film Festival, is a sign of things to come in the next two weeks, movie fans can look forward to a lot of great cinema. The French-Canadian comedy, scheduled for release next March, takes a fairly bawdy story and makes it not only hilarious but effortlessly charming and surprisingly touching.

The film follows David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), a typically irresponsible slacker whose only skills include collecting parking tickets, debts and disappointed stares from his father, who doubles as his boss at a butcher shop. Despite his lackadaisical schemes – including a failed attempt to create a pot garden – and his irreverent lawyer's warnings, David would love to have kids.

But as one trite saying goes, be careful what you wish for. David discovers that, thanks to some anonymous sperm donations decades ago, he's not only the father of one child but 533 children, and 142 of them are filing a class action lawsuit to uncover his identity. While he's hesitant at first to get involved with his massive brood, much less reveal his embarrassing secret, he starts to warm up to some of the struggling young adults and begins acting as their bumbling guardian angel.

It's a loosely told story that works both for and against "Starbuck." On one hand, the lax storytelling creates an easy-going and comfortable vibe that fits co-writer/director Ken Scott's film. At the same time, it creates a few problems for the movie. The screenplay offers several jarringly dark turns – one involves drug abuse – and some of its subplots, like David's cute romance with his pregnant girlfriend, while still charming, don't get a ton of screen time to develop.

Luckily, the movie has a great performance at its heart from Huard. As "Starbuck" starts, his character seems like a prototyipcal lazy manchild that we've seen time and again in comedies, especially those with the Judd Apatow stamp of approval. Huard, …

Jennifer Lawrence stars in "House at the End of the Street," in theaters now.
Jennifer Lawrence stars in "House at the End of the Street," in theaters now.

"House at the End of the Street" ends up just OK

As an overused phrase once said, it's never wise to judge a book or movie by its cover (or, in this case, title). However, in the case of the horror/thriller "House at the End of the Street," the name sums up the film quite nicely: it's a clumsy title for an equally clumsy thriller. That isn't to say "House at the End" doesn't do certain things pretty well; it just isn't particularly consistent, especially when it comes to being scary.

"The Hunger Games"'s Jennifer Lawrence stars as Elissa, a young, cynical Chicago high schooler coping with a move out into the middle of nowhere. Coming along is her caring but busy nurse mom (Elisabeth Shue). The two have a typical horror movie relationship in which the parent is attempting to become more involved, and the child is having none of it, leading to several angry dinner arguments. If only some horrible life-threatening dilemma could bring the two of them together.

Conveniently, there's a house at the end of the street (though it looks more like a cabin in the woods, but I suppose that equally vague title was already taken) where a handsome young stranger (Max Thieriot) with a terrible past lives. Years ago, in an over-directed opening sequence, his sister brutally murdered his parents and disappeared. He begins to hit it off with Elissa, which unnerves her mother and some of the preppy townsfolk. And considering it's a horror movie, they're probably onto something.

The screenplay, based on a story by "Terminator 3" and "Surrogates" director Jonathan Mostow of all people, throws a number of twists at the audience. Surprisingly, most of them are actually pretty effective. The whole story, despite its seemingly generic front, keeps viewers guessing a decent amount, and while none of the turns are particularly new, they do keep things far more interesting than the typical PG-13 horror flick.

"End of the Street" is also nicely anchored by its two star performances, Lawrence and Shue. They're …