Dispatch from the Milwaukee Film Festival: Recommendations Familiar and Unfamiliar

Sep. 28, 2016
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In matters of entertainment we tend to prefer familiar favorites. And not without reason. To squander precious leisure time on a dud is a fate worse than work – at least then we could have enjoyed the satisfaction of productivity.

One of the many wonderful things about the Milwaukee Film Festival is that careful curation offers a modicum of assurance that whatever we elect to see – no matter how unfamiliar – odds favor a few hours well spent. As Artistic and Executive Director Jonathan Jackson has said “The most general criterion of selecting films is that we try to present the best fifteen days of cinema possible. Lots of festivals make it their goal to discover or premiere new films. We simply want to screen the best films. It’s not disqualifying if they have already been seen. The quality of the film is most important.”

If I might make a few humble recommendations…

The Last Laugh” is a highly engaging investigation of transgressive humor. Weaving comments from comedians, clips from classic films, TV shows and stand-up and interviews with Holocaust survivors, the documentary is thought provoking not to mention quite funny. The central case study is the Holocaust but other taboo comedic material such as 9/11 and Islam are reflected upon. Features Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman and a representative from the Anti-Defamation League among many others. (Showing for the final time Thursday, September 29, 7 p.m. at the Downer)

The Love Witch” is a think piece on feminism dressed as a B-movie. Campy as all get-out and just as fun. A surefire hit for those who have been to a Renaissance Faire, admire Aleister Crowley and love the cinematic texture of Technicolor. A date movie for the bold. (Showing for the final time Friday, September 30, 9 p.m. at the Times)

Liza, the Fox-Fairy” is a winning combination of absurdity and child-like innocence. There are too many deaths to actually bring the kids and yet it is a strangely wholesome film. Had the audience laughing, clapping and gasping more than any film in recent memory. (Showing for the final time Friday, September 30, 11:30 p.m. at the Oriental)

Nuts!” is, to my knowledge, the first film in which goat testicles play a decisive plot role. Tells the story of American mega-charlatan J.R. Brinkley whose “goat gland” operations made him a rich man in the 1920s with surprising reverberations throughout American popular culture (radio broadcasting, hillbilly music, initiating a post-Victorian, wide-scale public discussion about matters sexual). An ingeniously crafted documentary blending animated reenactments, archival materials and interviews with experts. (Showing for the final time Monday, October 3, 4 p.m. at the Times)

There Are Jews Here” is a local production from 371 Productions. The documentary is a quiet study of the distressing disintegration of Jewish communities in small towns across America. Tradition stretches under the pressure of terminally waning populations. A portrait of the human spirit as resilient and devoted. (Showing Saturday, October 1, 1:30 p.m. at the Downer; Wednesday, October 5, 9:30 p.m. at Fox-Bay; Thursday, October 6, 3:30 p.m. at the Oriental)

If you’re still taking no chances with your leisure time, there’s hope yet, you pathologically mistrustful fogey you. The festival soon screens a number of classics. Some you may have seen (albeit perhaps not on the glorious big screen and in the company of community), others you may have been meaning to see, all of them are tried and true darlings of the cinema. Here’s what’s in store…

Blue Velvet” (1986): There are two types of people. Those who think life is Kafkaesque and those who think it is Lynchian. Find out which one you are at this 30th anniversary screening of a restored print. (Wednesday, October 5, 9:45 p.m. at the Oriental)

Raiders of the Lost Arc” (1981) As I was saying, there are two types of people. Those who prefer Indiana Jones and those who prefer Han Solo. Decide which icon of contemporary masculinity is Harrison Ford at his Harrison Fordiest. (Saturday, October 1, 3:30 p.m. at the Oriental)

Metropolis” (1927): German Expressionism just in time for the Milwaukee Art Museum’s “Haunted Screens” exhibition. The silent film is given voice with Alloy Orchestra’s accompaniment. (Monday, October 3, 7 p.m. at the Oriental)

Beauty and the Beast” (1991): Does your inner or actual child deserve it? (Sunday, October 2, 2 p.m. at the Oriental)

Stop Making Sense” (1984): the Milwaukee Film Festival’s annual dance party. Let’s do the Time Warp again. Or something like that. (Saturday, October 1, 10 p.m. at the Oriental)

When We Were Kings” (1996): We could all use some Muhammad Ali right about now. Decide who would win an Ali-Trump debate. (Saturday, October 1, 4:30 p.m. at the Downer)

See you there.

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