Forget Easter: The real holiday for Milwaukee movie fans is today, the opening night of the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival and the start of two weeks of cinematic bliss – this year back on the big screen. And just like the Easter bunny hides eggs, baskets and other treats all over your house, Milwaukee Film has scattered all sorts of cinematic gems across its schedule, just waiting for you to find them either at the Oriental, Times and Avalon or from the comfort of your couch at home.
How many cinematic gems? Almost 300 of them, to be exact – from feature-length adventures to supreme shorts, strange late-night Hooligante horrors to even stranger documentaries pulled from real-life ridiculousness, films tapping into some of the most important issues of the day to films about Pez smugglers, cat dads and evil monster eggs.
It is, to put it mildly, a lot – a beautiful lot, but a lot. So to help guide your movie-guzzling and make the most out of your Milwaukee Film Festival, here are 11 of the most intriguing, buzz-worthy and just plain exciting movies on the docket. (As always, I could've gone to 211, but my editor said that was excessive and way beyond my allotted word count – oh well.)
Grab your tickets, grab your popcorn – and we'll see you at the festival!
It's been a long, tortured road for "Memoria" to get to Milwaukee – quite literally. The latest from auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul ("Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives") made headlines last year when it announced that, instead of a usual theatrical or streaming release, the film would try a roadshow approach, going from city to city, theater to theater, each week for as long as I guess that would take. That turned out to be just a few months, as its distributor eventually decided to scrap the week-by-week forever tour and try a more typical release, finally bringing it here to Milwaukee as part of the festival as a result.
Lost in all of this convoluted release strategy rigamarole: "Memoria" is apparently one of the best movies of the year.
Starring the always fascinating Tilda Swinton as a woman haunted by a strange sound, "Memoria" is the kind of film made for a theatrical experience – not because of some bombastic spectacle but because of the locked-in sensory experience, hypnotic visuals and audio on Swinton's quest creating a one-of-a-kind immersive trip for audiences. According to critics – many who put the film high on their top ten list of the past year – the movie moves at its own pace, more about evocation than plot, so it won't be for everyone. But for viewers who get on its frequency, "Memoria" will be a screening to remember – especially since who could possibly know when it might be on a screen, big or small, again.
"Memoria" will screen on Sunday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
As usual, the Milwaukee Film Festival has an awesome lineup of documentaries somehow stranger than fiction, uncovering stories from the world's oddest corners.
There's, of course, the festival's opening night selection "The Pez Outlaw," about a man who finds himself immersed into the cutthroat world of Pez dispenser smuggling – a bizarre true story so compelling that it earned the festival's night-one spotlight. There's "Cat Daddies," which asks the oddly intriguing question "What if men owned cats?"; "Cannon Arm," a kooky doc about a man attempting to break a mundane arcade game record; and "The Conservation Game," an investigation into big cat conservation and conspiracy that sounds like "Tiger King" if it was focused and competent. Whatever niche topic you're into, the Milwaukee Film Festival probably has a doc about it, blending ridiculousness and reality, humor and humanity, into a fascinating film.
The highlight of the bunch for me, though? "Set!," a doc that combines etiquette class with vigorous competition as it digs into the intense world of table setting contests. Because that's somehow something that exists – and now that I know it exists, I must know everything about it. "Set!" sounds like the perfect doc to join the company of "Somm" and "Finders Keepers," fellow real-life portraits of oddball characters with even odder obsessions that start as laughing matters but soon become heart-poundingly serious for the audience, the mundane somehow becoming must-watch. And worse comes to worst, the doc should finally teach me what that little spoon above the plate is for at fancy dinners.
"Set!" will screen Sunday, May 1 at 1:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theater, as well as virtually beginning Monday, May 2.
3. "Cha Cha Real Smooth"
Turn it up for this Sundance darling, the latest from "Sh*thouse" multi-hyphenate and growing star Cooper Raiff, this time following an aimless professional party host who, instead of starting up the festivities, starts up a friendship with a mother and her autistic daughter at a Bar Mitzvah. The coming-of-age dramedy – and particularly co-star Dakota Johnson's performance – scored rave reviews out of Sundance, winning the festival's Dramatic Audience Award along with an impressive acquisition from Apple TV+ with a hefty pricetag. And if that all sounds vaguely familiar, that's almost exactly the backstory behind another recent indie crowd-pleaser you may have heard of: "CODA." Went pretty well, if I recall! Anyways, if that's any sign, you're gonna want to one hop this time (then right foot let's stomp) onto the "Cha Cha Real Smooth" bandwagon before it gets full.
"Cha Cha Real Smooth" will screen Sunday, May 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
4. "Hit the Road"
When it comes to international films centered on car rides with a three-word imperative sentence for a title, "Drive My Car" deservedly stole a lot of the attention last year – but now it's time for "Hit the Road" to take the wheel and the spotlight. You can see why I might mix the two up, but the feature debut from Panah Panahi – yes, the son of acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi ("This Is Not a Film") – is a very different beast from its other superficially similar automotive movie counterpart, a 90-minute family dramedy about a road trip filled with chaos, life, laughs and a precious pup. Critics who went along for this ride at festivals last year praised Panahi's first film for its emotional highs, both heart-crushing and heartwarming; now that it's finally making a Milwaukee pit stop, don't miss it.
"Hit the Road" will screen Wednesday, April 27 at 6 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
5. "The Thing"
I know, I know: After months locked inside by cold weather, the last thing we want to do is watch a movie about guys locked inside by cold weather – but I'll allow it for one of the best horror-thrillers ever made.
From its mesmerizingly messy special effects to its intense setpieces, its twisty mindgames to its unsettling social commentary, John Carpenter's 1982 paranoid chiller still brings the heat 40 years after its original debut. I don't normally make time at the film festival for older movies I've already seen or can watch at home – but with a beautiful new restoration on the big screen, plus a post-movie live podcast conversation with Cinebuds hosts Justin Barney and Kristopher Pollard to add to the experience, I may have to make an exception this year. Uh oh, I'm acting out of character? This can't be good. I knew I shouldn't have adopted that husky!
"The Thing" will screen Thursday, April 28 at 8 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
Huh, a documentary about a high-profile resistance leader in a life-or-death fight against Vladimir Putin: Can't imagine that being remarkably relevant right now. The Milwaukee Film Festival lineup has a few films with its finger on the pulse of the current war over Ukraine – "Klondike," for instance, a Ukrainian movie about the people's resolve enduring in tense times, taking place in the eastern block of the country – but few are as high-profile, high-quality and high-tension as "Navalny." The doc – focused on the famed Russian political figure putting up a fight against Putin, so much so he got poisoned – serves as the fest's centerpiece selection, not only for its newsworthy timeliness but also for its impressive doc craft, a probing interview that plays like a thriller thanks to its intense and urgent storytelling. "Navalny" may be aptly timed – but the time's always right for a documentary made with this much pulse.
"Navalny" will screen Friday, April 29 at 6 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
7. "Beyond the Infinite 2 Minutes"
Be sure to make time for this indie time travel mind-bender. It seems simple enough: A guy discovers his computer upstairs shows himself two minutes into the future while his compter downstairs shows two minutes into the past. But from those two modestly mysterious elements, "Beyond the Infinite 2 Minutes" builds into a lo-fi sci-fi brain-boggler, playing around with time like M.C. Escher and creating rabbit hole-like conundrums in the idea of linear reality. The Cinema Hooligante lineup is, as always, full of eye-catching and kooky ideas – "Piggy," "Hatching" and "Good Madam" are all buzzy late-night you should caffeinate yourself for – with "Beyond the Infinite 2 Minutes" as the intriguing lord of them all. (Or maybe that should be Time Lord.)
"Beyond the Infinite 2 Minutes" will screen Saturday, April 23 at 10 p.m. and Thursday, April 28 at 9 p.m. – both at the Oriental Theatre – as well as virtually beginning Sunday, April 24.
The new "Star Wars" trilogy may have done him wrong, but as any "Attack the Block" fan can tell you (and we should ALL be "Attack the Block" fans), John Boyega is the real deal. And now no longer tethered to franchise obligations, the immensely talented actor will stretch out his dramatic muscles as a desperate Marine vet holding a bank hostage in this buzzy indie thriller. Considering it's one of the best movies ever made, a modern day riff on "Dog Day Afternoon" is something I am very interested in, yes please – especially with Boyega and the final big-screen performance from the incredible late great character actor Michael K. Williams. With all of that, "892" should easily be near number one on your film festival most-anticipated list.
"892" will screen Saturday, April 23 and Monday, May 2 – both at 9:30 p.m. and both at the Oriental Theatre – as well as virtually beginning Sunday, April 24.
9. "Neptune Frost"
My biggest hope at every Milwaukee Film Festival is to see something that I've never seen before. Safe to say "lo-fi sci-fi Afro-futurist time-hopping musical romance" certainly qualifies! Defying genre at every turn, "Neptune Frost" is easily one of the most original selections at this year's fest, telling the saga of an advanced techno-revolutionary world and the young love trying to fight against the authoritarians exploiting their country and their people – all told with music. Produced by some guy named Lin-Manuel Miranda (I don't know, I guess he's popular or something?) and beloved on its first run through several major festivals, "Neptune Frost" is a must-see – because what else are you going to see like it?
"Neptune Frost" will screen Friday, April 22 at 9 p.m. and Monday, May 2 at 6:30 p.m. – both at the Oriental Theatre.
10. "One Pint at a Time"
A documentary about craft beer at a Brew City film festival? Now that's a perfect pairing. But there's more on this standout doc's mind than just a cute tie to local flavor and a literally intoxicating topic. "One Pint at a Time" taps into the country's craft beer culture, in particular Black-owned breweries which somehow only make up 1% of the nation's craft brewery world. The doc looks into why that is – from the structural and economic barriers in these small businesses' way to cultural stereotypes about who drinks what – while of course serving up thirst-inducing beer porn by the pintful. The result should be less of a thin and forgettable Bud Light and more like a hearty porter – rich, flavorful and satisfying down to the soul.
And yes, the theaters playing "One Pint at a Time" all serve beer, so you'll be in good hands if the doc starts making you parched – which, spoiler alert, it will.
"One Pint at a Time" will screen Thursday, April 28 at 9:15 p.m. at the Times Cinema as well as Saturday, April 30 at 1 p.m. at the Avalon.
11. "Petite Maman"
One of the biggest movies at the Milwaukee Film Festival, with one of the biggest spotlights – the closing night selection – also happens to be one of the smallest: "Petite Maman." But don't let its tiny child leads and itty-bitty 72-minute running time fool you: Celine Sciamma's follow-up to the acclaimed "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" carries a huge heart, telling the story of two little girls with a unique connection creating their own world in a nearby woods. A regular on top-ten lists last year, the mesmerizing and melancholy coming-of-age tale shouldn't be overlooked no matter how little it may appear, the perfect petite yet fulfilling delicacy to end the immense feast that is the Milwaukee Film Festival.
"Petite Maman" will screen Thursday, May 5 at 8 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.