I am going to break up my list to my 5 favorite fiction films and 5 favorite documentaries. I am going to start with just my favorite features but check back for my favorite shorts and my 10 Favorite Milwaukee Shorts.
Lots to delve into so let’s get started.
2. They Call Me Jeeg – I didn’t have high hopes for this Italian superhero movie, and it probably has a lot to do with the title which just sounds silly. The title refers to an anime show about a superhero robot. In the movie a small time criminal Enzo jumps into the Tiber River to avoid the cops and ends up getting stuck in some toxic sludge that ends up giving him super human strength and the ability to heal quickly. The daughter of one of his criminal associates is obsessed with the anime show and starts calling Enzo by the character’s name Jeeg. The movie follows the typical reluctant superhero story line with Enzo having to go from being a criminal to a hero. There is a lot of violence and death with some sex and nudity making this a very different kind of super hero movie than we are used to. Definitely one of the biggest surprises of the fest.
3. Neither Heaven, Nor Earth – A French psychological thriller about an army based in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban. While stationed there several soldiers start going missing and tensions start building as no answers can be quickly found. There are plenty of people to be suspicious of and they have to make an uncomfortable alliance with the Taliban to try to solve the mystery. Describe as like an episode of Twilight Zone the movie twists and turns till a somewhat unsatisfying ending. But the intense build up, great performance, and gritty cinematography makes it a great watch.
4. Tale of Tales – The movie weaves together 3 adult fairytales into one unique film. We learn early on that the movie takes place in a magical land where people can become pregnant and have a kid overnight. As with any fairytale there are always consequences to ones wish. One story involved a queen (played by Salma Hayek) who wishes to have a baby at any cost. Another story involves a princess who wishes to find a husband and through some truly bizarre sequence of events she ends up with a brutish ogre that holds her hostage in a cave. The last story involves a king who hears a women singing and assumes it is a beautiful women but ends up being an old women. The woman gets turned into a younger version by a witch but again there will be consequences. At first it was a bit jarring jumping from one story to the other but once you figure out what’s going on it works well. The actors were great. Toby Jones who plays a King is hilarious and it’s always great to see Salma Hayek on screen. The one casting misfire is John C. Reilly as a king. But spoiler alert- he isn’t in the movie much so it’s not much of a distraction.
5. The Fits - The winner of the Jury Award for Best Film The Fits is an odd film with a very frustrating ending. The movie centers on Toni a girl who spends most of her time in a gym at a rec center with her older brother but then decides she wants to join the dance troupe. The dance troupe has won many awards and puts a lot of pressure on the girls to perform. While Toni is up for the challenge a mysterious illness starts taking a hold of the other girls in the troupe. One by one each member succumbs to a seizure like condition. At first the girls are scared but as each member gets it, it becomes almost a rite of passage. But what is causing the fits? No one knows and the movie leaves that question unanswered. I am not saying that every movie needs to have a clear answer but for this one just really frustrated me.
1. Life, Animated – Having a documentary as an opening night movie isn’t something most film festivals do but the Milwaukee Film Festival has done that a number of times. This year they started it off with an emotional story about Owen Suskind and his family. At the age of three Owen stopped talking and was diagnosed with Autism. The movie follows the Suskind family as they struggle with the diagnosis and how to help their son. They soon realize that all those animated Disney Films he has been watching is making an impression. They have a big breakthrough when the father starts talking to Owen as Iago the bird from Aladdin. When Owen starts talking back it becomes clear this is the key to getting Owen to relate to the world. As Owen grows up he faces many challenges but his love for animated Disney movies never dies and even starts a Disney Group at his school. The movie is an emotional journey that shows the power that movies can have. It’s also inspirational for those with autism their families as it shows how much can be overcome with the right support and school. My big criticism with the movie is that it skips a big part of Owen’s life and any struggles they had when he was younger. But it hits the highlights and strikes a chord with everyone’s heartstrings.
2. Almost Sunrise - Almost Sunrise is another emotional journey but this one involves an actual journey. The movie is about two Iraq War veterans Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson from Milwaukee. Both are suffering from PTSD and the lesser known diagnosis moral injury. The two veterans set off on a walk from Milwaukee to L.A. At first it is just to try to clear their own heads but it turns into a way to raise awareness for all veterans as the story if picked up by various news stations. Along their journey they meet lots of people that give them a place to stay and food to eat. Along the way Anthony had a break through and was able to come to a better place but for Tom it took a little longer. The movie does a great job at letting us get to know the veterans themselves and a little background on PTSD and moral injury. It’s a very personal movie and mostly avoids getting into politics but does leave one with the question how can we better help our returning veterans.
3. Nuts! - Sometimes between all those emotionally charged documentaries you need something that is just fun. Nut! is a crazy documentary about a Dr. John R. Brinkley who claimed to have cured a number of diseases by performing goat testicle implants in the early 1900’s. The story is told using animations and talking heads and is a lot of fun. Besides being a questionable doctor he was a pioneer in radio and even attempted to run for governor of Kansas. The fun part of the movie is that it starts based on his authorized biography but surprise, surprise everything is not as it seems. The movie does a great job of presenting this bizarre individual in a very fun way. The animation is great and really adds to the bizarre world that Brinkley lived in. The movie ended up winning the jury award for documentary.
4. Obit - It’s amazing how interesting a movie about obituaries can be. The movie follows a day in the life of obit writers at the New York Times. While the idea sounds macabre the writers see themselves as celebrating lives. And instead of standard obituaries they try to make the stories interesting or maybe even fun. While the movie doesn’t tackle any big issues it’s interesting to see the behind the scenes of what is becoming a profession of the past as fewer and fewer people write obituaries.
5. Beware the Slenderman – Heading into the film festival this was one of the movies I was most looking forward too. Delving into the attempted murder of a 12 year old girl in Waukesha by two other 12 year old girls the movie is very relevant to the Milwaukee area. I was curious how they would handle the story since much of it is still unfolding in court. The girls have been charged but no court date has been set. The answer is they focused part of the movie on the origins and viral spread of the idea of Slenderman. They also talked to the families of the girls that committed the crime. To me the sociology aspect of the film was the more interesting. I do wish they spent more time talking to the scholars about how Meme’s become popular and how certain stories capture imaginations. Besides that the tapes of the officers interviewing the girls are some of the most powerful images from the movie. The girls never said they didn’t do it and never really showed remorse. In the end the movie is about psychology and sociology of what happened and the idea of Slenderman. Of course the more interesting part would have been the court case which makes you wonder if there will be a sequel.