Since Wisconsin is showing staggering COVID-19 numbers at the moment, we strongly suggest you stay inside and/or keep distance from others for the time being. Fortunately, the Milwaukee Film Festival is here to help brighten up a particularly dark time in history…at least through October 29.
You can find the full 197-film lineup HERE. Want it in a printable PDF format? Click HERE. As for how to watch the films (what apps to use, time windows, etc.), please check out an incredibly handy guide HERE. Here are some things we’ve watched and enjoyed so far.
A relaxation-seeking filmmaker (Aubrey Plaza) finds herself at the gorgeous lakeside home of a married couple (Sarah Gadon and Christopher Abbott). Drinks are had. Conversations get testy. Accusations are made. Things spiral wildly out of control. To say more would spoil the film’s many twists and turns, but an updated telling of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? this ain’t. Plaza is wonderful both playing into her droll persona and absolutely exploding it, and director Lawrence Michael Levine digs deep into thorny issues of art, control, fidelity, manipulation, and bad craft services. [Matt Wild]
After a Chinese-born University of Illinois graduate student Zhang Yingying goes missing, the campus, the community, the local police, her family, and an unlikely ally all band together in an effort to locate her and piece together the details behind the promising scholar’s sudden disappearance. Journalist and Yingying’s friend Jiayan “Jenny” Shi grants a close and candid glimpse of the case and gives viewers a personal look into the life of her lost former classmate in this enthralling documentary. With surprising revelations, a gruesome discovery, and a deluge of raw emotion contained within this cross-continental true crime doc, Finding Yingying is sure to stick with you long after the credits roll. [Tyler Maas]
Golden Arm has it all. One part buddy comedy and one part road trip movie, the film finds gregarious truck driver Danny (played by the inimitable Betsy Sodaro) tricking her college friend Melanie (Mary Holland) into abandoning her fledgling bakery for a few days to accompany her to the National Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship. Once Melanie learns she’s expected to compete and she comes to terms with her eponymous appendage, Golden Arm proves to be a side-splitting and heartwarming sports comedy that introduces an audience to two comedic performers you’re sure to be hearing a lot from in the not-so-distant future. And if the hilarious performances Sodaro and Holland manage in this thrilling two-hander aren’t enough to get you to tune in, comedy buffs might be glad to see Ron Funches and Eugene Cordero play prominent roles as well. You won’t have to twist our arm to watch this one again. [TM]
I Used To Go Here
There’s a good reason I Used To Go Here was selected to be the Opening Night film. It’s good! More specifically, the feature ably alternates from wistful to downright cringe-y, with plenty of identifiable laughs parsed in as mid-thirties protagonist, Kate (the wonderful Gillian Jacobs), returns to her college town of Carbondale, Illinois after releasing her first book. Much like her career as a writer, the visit doesn’t go quite to plan. Jemaine Clement co-stars, along with an ensemble of unknown young actors who deliver beyond-their-years performances in this altogether enjoyable festival kickoff flick. [TM]
The synopsis of Lapsis makes it sound like a typically scolding episode of Black Mirror: In the near-future/alternate-present, an out-of-control gig economy has people laying cable for a quantum computer company. Dehumanizing monetization of a person’s every single waking (and sleeping) moment ensues. But writer-director Noah Hutton has plenty more up his sleeve, from offbeat characters (Dean Imperial as the low-level-crook protagonist, Madeline Wise as the low-key-revolutionary foil) to thoughts on workers’ rights, health care, and how to drop a rock on unrelenting robots that threaten to cover more ground than the human cablers. [MW]
Shorts: Surprise, Surprise!
The Shorts program is perennially interesting and chock full of delightful titles, but one of this year’s highlights is Shorts: Surprise, Surprise! program. The grouping of short films has very little in common except, well, surprising twists. Over the course of the 80-minute runtime, viewers will encounter unlikely friendships, a budding romance, a tale of domestic liberation, a nautical explorer, a cruel subconscious, a monster…and no shortage of humorous, suspenseful, and shocking turns that grab your attention and won’t let go. [TM]
Shorts: The Best Damn F*#@ing Midnight Program Ever. Sh*t.
The return of this delightfully titled shorts program means only one thing: sh*t’s gonna get f*#@ing weird. From one of the most terrifying hotel visits we’ve seen in, oh, about 30 years (Regret), to an animated freak-out where we’re pretty sure we caught a glimpse of Mickey Mouse getting…intimate with the alien from Alien (Little Miss Fate), there’s hardly a dull moment to be found here. Does Lobster Tits delivery exactly what it promises? Yes it does. Does I Love Your Guts make us wish we could watch this hilarious (and gory and sweet) crowd-pleaser with, you know, a crowd? Sigh, yes it does. Next year! [MW]
The Donut King
We went into The Donut King expecting some sweet details about America’s favorite breakfast pastry. And while we absolutely got that, we also got so much more than we had ever bargained for. The deeply interesting doc takes a look at the ubiquitous donut culture in greater Los Angeles and the unlikely monarch who helped bring the food to prominence in the region. As we meet the so-called “Donut King”—eccentric and affable Cambodian refugee Ted Ngoy—we’re also given a sobering lesson about genocide during Cambodia’s Pol Pot regime, are reminded of a time in which our country welcomed those in need with open arms, then learn about how Ngoy built his once-sprawling donut empire and used it to help a generation of other refugees find stable footing in their new nation. There are unanticipated twists and turns, a few legitimate laughs, some moments of inspiration, and dozens upon dozens of delectable donuts. [TM]