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A week and a half of fabulous films and cinematic sins

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Another year is in the books at the Milwaukee Film Festival. What started in 2008 as a small celebration of film has now grown into a cultural event for the entire city.

North Shore and Ridge Cinemas have increased their participation in the festival, which has also helped increase the popularity of the event. Milwaukee Film, the organization behind the festival, recently announced that ticket sales increased 17 percent this year, and the total attendance soared over 35,000.

With over 175 films in its 11-day run, it’s almost impossible to see everything at the festival. I did my best, and after several nights and afternoons I was able to see an exciting variety of selections. Some were good, some were bad and some were almost indescribable.

“Page One: Inside the New York Times”

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that in as soon as five years, you may be reading an article like this exclusively on the internet. Despite this ominous future, newspapers continue to publish and hope to stay alive. One of the most notable publications still surviving is the New York Times, the subject of Andrew Rossi’s ambitious documentary “Page One.”

The film tackles almost every issue pertaining to the world of print and online media, ranging from the WikiLeaks controversy to the growth of online blogs and aggregators. Watergate gets a name drop, as well as Judith Miller and Jayson Blair.

“Page One” is full of content almost to a fault. The film is like a first grader returning home from the first day of school, breathlessly anxious to tell the audience everything that happened in his or her day. Luckily for the movie, all of the storylines are fascinating, and the surplus of information discussed makes “Page One” a must see for any journalism junkie.


There’s a moment near the beginning of Takeshi Kitano’s “Outrage” where a member of a Yakuza clan punches a member of a different clan. (Yakuza are members of traditional Japanese organized crime syndicates.) Then that moment is repeated, albeit with different characters and different horribly violent things, for almost two hours. If you prefer your movies to be monotonous, then “Outrage” is for you. And your opinion on movies is quite suspect.

In the beginning, there is a sick joy in watching the ties of the Japanese mafia slowly fall apart in an absurdly bloody fashion. But it soon becomes very clear that Kitano has nothing else to offer besides gruesome deaths and brutality.

The plot starts off as an incomprehensible mess of back stabbings and only gets more convoluted from there. With the kills and confrontations becoming the brief flickers of interest, “Outrage” quickly devolves into a dull, Yakuza-tinged version of “Saw.”

As a commentary on the soulless bruise-filled world of the mafia, the film may work for some. However, as a seamless combination of story and emotion, “Outrage” has no story and no emotion to offer other than bored contempt.

“The Redemption of General Butt Naked”

“The Redemption of General Butt Naked” sounds like the subplot to a Captain Underpants children’s book, not an emotionally intense documentary. Goofy title aside, directors Daniele Anastasion and Eric Strauss tell the gripping story of Joshua Milton Blahyi, the vicious Liberian war general who now roams Liberia preaching the gospel and finding those he has wronged in the past.

The film realizes that it can’t paint Blahyi as a remarkable redemption story, especially after a war crime hearing in which he takes credit for approximately 20,000 war casualties. Instead, the directors ask the audience to decide for themselves whether the man’s conversion is genuine or a carefully crafted stay-out-of-jail card.

Blahyi himself makes things even more complicated by fleeing the country; abandoning the projects and people he began to help. It’s a complex documentary about a complex figure – history has yet to decide whether he deserves redemption or not.

“The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”

A great documentary should be able to take a seemingly boring topic and turn it into something fascinating. Anybody can make an interesting documentary about politics, the environment, or Justin Bieber. It takes a true filmmaker to make a movie about public housing projects in St. Louis the most riveting film I’ve seen in 2011.

Director Chad Freidrichs uses heartbreakingly honest interviews with old residents of the famed public housing area to provide an in-depth and thorough analysis of why the project failed so spectacularly. Over the years, much of the blame has been placed on the most convenient scapegoat: the poor tenants.

Freidrich finds the cause of the collapse is much deeper than that: Lackluster maintenance, poor planning and the rise of the suburbs all contributed to the project’s demise. It’s a harrowing tale of good intentions gone wrong.

Yes, “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” may serve as a cautionary piece, but it’s also a love story to home, no matter how broken it may be. When the film’s interview subjects begin to wax nostalgic for their crumbling homes of the past, it’s hard not to shed a tear and think about your own childhood.

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