Stocking up on the shorts programs. Lining up the local films. Going big with the guest appearances. Highlighters. Sharpie markers. Excel spreadsheets. Everyone has their own method of making their plan of attack on the Milwaukee Film Festival's schedule, with only one thing in common.
We all go completely mad.
We all lose track of how many hours there are in a day (it's 34, right?). We all lose track of every other commitment we've previously marked on our calendars (the nice thing about missing somebody's birthday is that there's always next year!). We all forget that you should probably eat a meal and maybe sleep at some point (I'm pretty sure a box of Dots counts as a serving of fruit). We all lose our minds when that one movie we're fascinated by screens at the same time as four other films you're wanting to see – and no matter how much Tetris you play with movie times, shifting and switching dates and times, it just won't work (*sheds a tear for "The Road Movie," plays Enya*).
And we love it all.
I've been in the same place. Every year, I tell myself I'll be smart and reasonable about how many movies I can cram into 15 days and still exist as a living, breathing, social human being. And every year, I end up lying to myself, raging at the world that I can only fit six movies in on Day 12.
This year, I've limited myself a bit – just 39 flicks, plus a panel. And in the hopes of helping you pick some winners (hopefully, I guess we'll find out; isn't that part of the fun?), here's my very rational, totally sensible, very doable Milwaukee Film Festival battle strategy. Hope to see you there – I'll be the guy sitting with a little black notepad, two IVs in each arm (one for coffee, one for Mr. Pibb) and drinking a smoothie mix of essential vitamins, minerals and also pretzel bites.
Spoiler alert: The Packers are going to beat the Bears tonight – and if they don't, well, I don't want to be around for it. So you'll be missing nothing important by running over to the Oriental at 7:30 p.m. for the opening night selection, "Stumped," about a young man who turned to stand-up comedy after losing both his arms and legs – and then, in another twist of fate, got access to an experimental and risky double arm transplant. Plus, there's the afterparty at Good City Brewing right next door to cheers a good movie and a Packers win – or drink away an embarrassing Packers loss. But at least you weren't there to witness it! WOO!
Now the picks get interesting, as the movie choices casually leap up from one to 24 (plus two panels). Friday marks a great night to pay tribute to some of the fine artists we've lost in the past two years, with Prince's "Purple Rain" (Downer, 6:15 p.m.) and Tobe Hooper's horror classic "Poltergeist" (Oriental, 9:30 p.m.) making quite a powerful throwback double feature.
I'll be staying in the modern day with my picks, however, starting in the afternoon with the family drama "After the Storm" (Oriental, 1 p.m.) by director Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose "Like Father, Like Son" enchanted MFF audiences three years with its low-key beauty and honesty. Then, for something completely different, I'll check out "A Gray State" (Oriental, 4:30 p.m.), a true-crime documentary about a filmmaker and military veteran shot dead while crafting an alt-right dystopian epic.
Things hopefully brighten up with the star-studded old school Western "The Ballad of Lefty Brown" (Oriental, 6:30 p.m.) featuring Bill Pullman and Peter Fonda, as well as "American Fable" (Times, 9 p.m.), a Midwestern take on "Pan's Labyrinth." OK, so maybe that last one won't brighten things too much – but it sure sounds like a fascinating way to end my first festival day!
While I would love to check out "Tampopo" (Oriental, 3 p.m.), the classic 1985 Ramen western (another one?!), I'm afraid that I'll start eating the screen in the middle of the film, and that's just a bad situation for everyone – especially my stomach. So instead, I'll check out the Cannes-winning drama "I, Daniel Blake" (Downer, 1:30 p.m.) from beloved director Ken Loach ("The Wind That Shakes The Barley") as well as the profoundly unappetizing but very intriguing "Rat Film" (Times, 4 p.m.). I've heard from critics and Milwaukee Film-ians alike that it's a one-of-a-kind experience and much more interesting than just another nature doc, so I'll have to check that out. And you should too, unless "Ratatouille" is more frightening and horrifying than "It." Then maybe skip.
To wrap up Day 3, I'll see the first of two Michael Cera movies (three if you include the score to "Dina"), the oddball New York ensemble comedy "Person to Person" (Oriental, 9 p.m.) as well as the very Michael Cera-free Australian horror thriller "Killing Ground" (Oriental, midnight). Nothing like a good tourism nightmare to end the day!
Oh, I almost forgot: I'll also be IN the Milwaukee Film Festival on Day 3, speaking alongside filmmaker Susan Kerns as a part of the State of Cinema in Milwaukee keynote at 10 a.m., chatting about what it means to make movies and watch movies in this unique market. I'm getting a haircut for this, so you better show up!
What better way to recharge after a long day of watching movies than with a movie called "Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story" (Avalon, 11 a.m.), the story of a man rebounding from a freak electrical accident in the middle of the woods. From there, it's off to "The Ornithologist" (Oriental, 1 p.m.), which the program book describes as "a gay, Catholic, Portuguese variation on 'The Blair Witch Project'" Color me intrigued by whatever the heck that translates out to!
As a movie nerd, it only seems right to score a seat for "Score: A Film Music Documentary" (Downer, 7:15 p.m.), a documentary about the underappreciated art of movie music, before ending the day on "The Force" (Oriental, 9 p.m.), a doc about the tenuous relationship between the Oakland Police Department and the community it's supposed to serve and protect. I wonder if this will be a topic we'll come back to during the festival, perhaps during the centerpiece selection. Hmmm ...
After sleeping in until probably about 2 in the afternoon (wait, it's a Monday; DAMMIT! To work it is), I'll head over to "Afterimage" (Oriental, 3 p.m.) for a look at Andrzey Wajda's final film. Later, while many will check out over a dozen outstanding music videos from Milwaukee musicians at "The Milwaukee Music Video Show" (Oriental, 6:30 p.m.), I'll be watching over a dozen Cate Blanchetts read off artistic manifestos in the aptly titled "Manifesto" (Downer, 6:30 p.m.) and then paying my respects to the late great Harry Dean Stanton with a showing of the small but sweet character drama "Lucky" (Downer, 9 p.m.).
It's not very often you get to watch a gorgeous black-and-white silent movie with a live orchestra playing right beside it, but that's exactly the rare, wonderful experience the Milwaukee Film Festival treats us to almost every year. They're doing it again this year with the classic stop-motion sci-fi spectacle "The Lost World" (Oriental, 7 p.m.), complete with the Alloy Orchestra returning to provide the music.
And after that out-of-this-world experience, I'll settle myself down a bit with "Love and Saucers" (Times, 9:30 p.m.), a documentary about a man who's convinced he's been abducted by aliens – and even kindled a steamy romance with one particular E.T. – with the paintings to prove it. Should bring me right back down to earth.
Day 7 of the Milwaukee Film Festival was sponsored by the letter L! Or at least for me it will be, starting the day off with the feminist celebration of "Lipstick Under My Burkha" (Oriental, 1:30 p.m.), banned in its original India for its "risqué" material, before bouncing over to the oddball surreal comedy "Lemon," (Downer, 3:30 p.m.) completing part two of the Michael Cera Extravanza that is the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival. Oscar-winner and Milwaukee Film board member John Ridley will then wrap up my Day 7 with a screening of the complete "Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992," (Oriental, 7:30 p.m.) an insightful look into the powder keg before and after the L.A. riots.
Week two of the Milwaukee Film Festival doesn't let up with the great movies, starting with a screening of MFF alum Carol Brandt's black-and-white dreamlike family drama "Dear Coward on the Moon" (Avalon, 1:30 p.m.). Milwaukee Film put the film in its Spotlight Presentations category, so clearly it believes in the power of this local project. As an arduous advocate for alliteration, I'll jump over to "Jasper Jones" (Oriental, 4 p.m.) before bounding back to Bay View for "The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography" (Avalon, 7 p.m.) from distinguished documentarian Errol Morris and the arthouse-approved "Columbus" (Avalon, 9:15 p.m.), accessorizing American architecture.
One of the first news stories I really remember following was the drama of Cuban immigrant Elian Gonzalez, so I'm very intrigued to see the whole story through new eyes in the documentary "Elian" (Times, 1 p.m.). Then it's a double feature of docs about brave political advocates, starting with shining a spotlight on union and feminist activist Dolores Huerta in "Dolores" (Fox-Bay, 3:30 p.m.) and ending with "The Blood is at the Doorstep" (Oriental, 7 p.m.), Milwaukee filmmaker Erik Ljung's look into the aftermath of the Dontre Hamilton shooting and how the city and the family responded.
It's sure to be an intense and emotional experience, so why not lighten the mood with the lesbian rom-com "The Feels" (Avalon, 9 p.m.) afterwards? I recommend going to all three showings of that one so you can tell friends that you saw all "The Feels" (I hate myself; I'm so sorry).
We've spent a lot of time watching art, so why not watch a movie about people making said art. That's my thinking behind seeing "The Rehearsal" (Oriental, 12:30 p.m.) – that and the intriguing story of an acting student trying to find the perfect piece to impress his teacher. Then I'll go to "AlphaGo" (Avalon, 4 p.m.), which, no, isn't a big sci-fi epic ... or it kind of is, as it follows man facing off against machine in a battle over the ancient board game Go.
While we're on the topic of creepy technology, might as well check out "Infinity Baby" (Oriental, 6 p.m.), a bizarre comedy about babies that never grow up and the marking man who needs to, starring Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Keiran Culkan and Martin Starr – who will also make an appearance for the second straight year! He must like us or something!
By this time in the movie marathon we call the Milwaukee Film Festival, it's easy to run out of gas. But even that couldn't stop me from checking out "Bill Nye: Science Guy" (Fox-Bay, 11:15 a.m.). I grew up loving his show, so I'd love to learn more about one of my first and still one of my favorite science teachers (sorry, Mr. Thompson). I'll wrap up this relatively low-key "Aquarius," (Times, 2:30 p.m.) which has received rave reviews over the past year from critics across the nation – especially for lead actress Sonia Braga. I've had to wait a while for it to arrive on one of our big screens, so I'm very excited to finally see it.
Now we're really starting to catch our breathe, as I'm only seeing "Rock'n Roll," (Oriental, 6 p.m.), a French midlife crisis comedy starring real-life couple Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet. With only one film on my docket, I might even see the sun today!
While "The Milwaukee Show II" (Oriental, 8:30 p.m.) is tempting, I'll keep my Day 13 fairly simple with just "You're Killing Me Susana" (Times, 1 p.m.), a culture-clash dramedy starring the underappreciated Gael Garcia Bernal, as well as "Destined" (Oriental, 4 p.m.), a Black Lens Program drama about one man's life, sent down two very different paths.
Only one movie on my schedule for Day 14 – and I don't even know what it is. That's right: It's Secret Members Screening time. If I had to make a prediction (and my boss is currently holding my contract out in front of me, pointing to the part that says that I do), I'd guess maybe it could be "The Florida Project," the exceptionally well-received sunny family Sundance hit and Oscar-nominee hopeful from A24 and director Sean Baker that will be just on the verge of release at that point. Or maybe "BPM (Beats Per Minute)," the French Cannes favorite about those in the '90s fighting to put the AIDS epidemic in the national spotlight.
But I don't know; I never guess these right. Maybe it'll be an unannounced new "Shrek" film. Who knows.
What better way to end the festival than with a movie pick that exemplifies just one of the lovely roles Milwaukee Film plays for movie fans in the city: "Landline" (Oriental, 7 p.m.). I was thrilled when I heard about Gillian Robespierre's follow-up to the terrific "Obvious Child," and that only increased when I saw trailers for the movie – about two sisters (including Jenny Slate) in the '90s who put aside their differences when they discover their father (John Tuturro) is cheating on their mother (Edie Falco) – at theaters around town. And then ... it never came. But thankfully, Milwaukee Film is bringing us a movie that otherwise would've skipped over our city and its cinephiles over. One final hat tip to you, Milwaukee Film, for a great final pick – and a great fifteen days of festival.
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.