2014 Milwaukee Film Festival: Week Two Picks

Eric Beltmann covers the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival.

Guitar gods, of course, only play after the openers are through.

No wonder the Milwaukee Film Festival saved its Centerpiece selection, a biopic starring Outkast’s André Benjamin as legendary musician Jimi Hendrix, for its final week. “Jimi: All Is by My Side” is written and directed by Mequon native John Ridley, who earned an Oscar in March for penning “12 Years a Slave.” Ridley will attend Saturday’s 7 p.m. screening at the Oriental Theatre.

Still, “Jimi” will eventually find its way into area theaters. Sometimes the best way to experience a film festival is to focus on unknown quantities. Below are under-the-radar suggestions for each remaining day of the fest, which closes Thursday, Oct. 9.

"Hollywood Shuffle"
“Hollywood Shuffle”

Friday, Oct. 3

Writer-director Robert Townsend will be in town to present his 1987 sketch comedy “Hollywood Shuffle” (Oriental Theatre, 7 p.m.). Starring Townsend as a young black actor trying to break into the movies, this labor of love is a gentle yet spot-on satire of how media industries propagate negative racial stereotypes. It doesn’t go as far as Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled,” which indicts consumers for being willing accomplices, but it’s still a very funny touchstone of ‘80s independent cinema.

"Stop Making Sense"
“Stop Making Sense”

Saturday, Oct. 4

Rejoice, fans of rock ‘n’ roll, because “Jimi” will be followed by the most euphoric after-party of the festival. “Stop Making Sense” (Oriental Theatre, 10:30 p.m.), Jonathan Demme’s landmark concert film about the Talking Heads, returns to Milwaukee for the second consecutive year, this time to celebrate its 30th anniversary. The Talking Heads rightly have a reputation for cerebral rock, but this brilliantly constructed show—what starts as minimalist performance art builds to a blissfully aerobic spectacle—also reveals the band as loose, funny, utterly human entertainers.

"The Case Against 8"
“The Case Against 8”

Sunday, Oct. 5

“The Case Against 8” (Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, 1:30 p.m.) documents the legal campaign to overturn California’s Proposition 8, which declared that only marriages between a man and a woman would be recognized by the state. Given how Wisconsin’s attorney general on Sept. 9 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to restore the state’s gay marriage ban, one week after a federal appeals court struck it down, the movie will likely have local echoes. There will also be a moderated small group discussion after the screening, as part of the festival’s Conversations series.

"Like Father, Like Son"
“Like Father, Like Son”

Monday, Oct. 6

Not even a courtroom bombshell can breach the taut, slow, aching heartbreak that relentlessly powers “Like Father, Like Son” (Oriental Theatre, 11 a.m.), a Japanese tale of two couples who learn their 6-year-old sons were swapped at birth. What struck me is how director Hirokazu Kore-eda never prescribes a way out of this impossible dilemma. Instead, he observes what happens when there are no easy answers, and asks viewers to ponder their assumptions about parenthood, bloodlines, and identity. The two flawed fathers at the center—one a stoic career man, the other a warm-hearted loafer—might be types, but the lived-in performances make them specific, relatable, and utterly convincing.

"We Are the Best"
“We Are the Best”

Tuesday, Oct. 7

There was a time when I would have ranked Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson among the best filmmakers alive, and now, after a decade in the desert, it looks like he might be back in the groove. “We Are the Best!” (Downer Theatre, 9:30 p.m.) follows a trio of outsider girls as they try to revive punk music in early ‘80s Stockholm. Moodysson proved himself a master of directing young actresses with 1998’s “Show Me Love,” and my fingers are crossed that “We Are the Best!” will similarly evoke the rich rhythms of adolescence.

"Particle Fever"
“Particle Fever”

Wednesday, Oct. 8

In an era when “documentary” has become synonymous with dubious factoids, manipulative editing, and ideological talking heads, it’s refreshing to report that “Particle Fever” (Oriental Theatre, 7:30 p.m.) is devoted to the virtues of curiosity rather than certainty. It sounds like a classroom PowerPoint presentation—scientists embark on a decades-long quest to discover the Higgs boson particle, starting with the construction of the 16.8-mile-long Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland—but the movie is exciting, funny, and suspenseful. It’s also humbling; like Walt Whitman, in awe of the unknown, you might wish to wander off by yourself and look up in perfect silence at the stars.


Thursday, Oct. 9

Screening as part of the festival’s Passport: Mexico strand, “Workers” (Downer Theatre, 7:15 p.m.) concerns two Tijuana wage slaves—a mistreated maid and a janitor denied his pension—whose lives have a poignant connection. As income inequality becomes a defining characteristic of North America, the time is ripe for a satirical drama about the consequences of marginalization. I can’t vouch for it, but I can tell you that it reaches Milwaukee with a dolly cart piled high with awards from other festivals.

The full MFF lineup is online at mkefilm.org.

Venues include the Fox-Bay Cinema Grill; the Times Cinema; and the historic Oriental and Downer Theatres. Tickets are $10, but discounts are available for seniors, students, and children. Tickets can be purchased online, by phone, or in person at each theater box-office. Screenings routinely sell out, so buy your tickets now.