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Milwaukee Film Festival Wrap-Up: Week 1

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As the Milwaukee Film Festival heads into its final run, ending Oct. 11, here are some solid picks from this year’s selections, including movies from this year’s focus on German film and some films already available online if you can’t make it out to the theater.

“Lore”

4 ½ out of 5 stars

In this affectingly brutal instalment of the festival’s focus on German film, the  young Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), and her four younger siblings find themselves abandoned by their Nazi parents at the end of WWII, left to find the way to their grandmother’s house across a now divided Germany.

Beautifully filmed, “Lore” explores the psyche of a girl raised in the Hitler Youth and presents a complex and enthralling view into her coming of age and developing sexuality as the Germany she knows falls apart.

The first blow to her world comes when her father “Vati” shoots the family’s German Shepherd as they leave their home to go into hiding. That may be the least brutal realization the beautiful young girl must face.

The children are soon abandoned as first their father and then their mother are faced with the repercussions of their political lives, leaving the children, including a new baby, with little cash and some jewelry to make their way.

On their way across hostile American and Soviet lines to reach their grandmother in Hamburg, the siblings soon gain the company of a young man who sports a star of David on his papers. Lore immediately has problems with this young man who aids her and her family. More complicated still is the attraction that exists between the two and the way it simmers as they travel together.

Her anti-semitism though periodically boils to the top and we see the post-surrender Germany disturbed by the pictures Americans show them of the concentration camps and the Holocaust.

It’s a troubled landscape that despite its pastoral greenery and visual appeal becomes ominous with corpses and haunted adults the children encounter. A old woman mad with grief and black hands and Hitler’s portrait in her kitchen and a dead man in her barn is especially haunting and creepy as she has Lore’s brothers sing Nazi songs for her.

By the end Lore sees the image of her parents destroyed completely along with her innocence.

Heavy and emotionally complex “Lore” is a difficult bildungsroman to match its disturbing, yet intensly interesting setting.

 “Lore”  is available online through Netflix streaming. 

“The Crash Reel”

5 out of 5 stars

Wipeouts are messy and bones aren’t all that break in snowboarding accidents.

“The Crash Reel” is the story of snowboarding pro and Olympic hopeful Kevin Pearce and how his dreams come crashing down around him.

While training for the Vancouver Olympics, traveling around the country with his friends from half pipe to half pipe partying along the way, Pearce wipes out and suffers a traumatic brain injury sending him into a coma and months recovering in the hospital from his near death accident and on a journey he never expected.

A member of a tight nit family, Pearce has plenty of support throughout his ordeal but becomes frustrated by his family’s reluctance to let him snowboard again. It’s a reluctance we find that is entirely justified.

The gravity-defying tricks that dominate the film and astound up too Pearce’s accident disappear replaced with a montage of crashes that had the audience cringing in its seats. Here a more difficult and less looked at part of snowboarding and other extreme sports is observed and what we see isn’t pretty.

These athletes sustain severe injuries breaking numerous bones in their body and suffering from numerous concussions. Shaun White, who had been competing with Pearce since they were children, appears and talks about his nine concussions. It isn’t bones we find out these athletes fear breaking but hitting their heads.

As the sport has grown so has the ramps extreme sports athletes launch themselves from. What used to be a ten foot fall can now reach thirty feet resulting in a crash the equivalent of moving thirty miles per hour. Helmets and skulls can’t withstand that much force.

It’s painful watching Pearce navigate his recovery and come to terms with his limits but ultimately rewarding.

“The Crash Reel” is available to watch online through HBO GO. 

“This Ain’t California”

4 and ½ of 5 starts

Skateboarding has always been about liberation with its punky, in your face, anti-authoritarian ethos.

“This Ain’t California” makes it clear that having a board and some wheels in Soviet controlled East Germany in the 1980’s was no different.

This film revolves around the death of “Panik” a group of friends old skate buddy. They are shocked to find that their rebellious friend and informal leader became a soldier and died in Afghanistan. The old friends reminisce about their lives in the German Democratic Republic of East Berlin and recall their antics from thirty years ago.

They recall their escapades in the uniform concrete landscape of Alexanderplatz which was unwittingly built to be a skateboarder’s paradise. Parties and pranks are fondly recalled and it the film sweeps you along with footage that looks vintage but isn’t. Meetings between skaters from East and West anticipate the reunification soon to take place leaving the youths wanting more. Panik stages a confrontation and ends up in prison while the fall of the Berlin wall occurs and misses the end of the totalitarian state.

Or does he? While it is a documentary we actually know that “Panik” or Denis Paraceck never really existed at all. In this regard it resembles Banksy’s “Exit through the Gift Shop” which also blurs the lines between fact and fiction. The skate culture in the movie was real and existed but the characters and their escapades…perhaps not so much.

Still, the main concern for the film, which it captures wonderfully, is the nostalgia for a time when the good guys were the punks on boards and “the man” was easily identifiable and all you needed to fight him with was a skateboard.

“This Ain’t California” is showing again October 4th at Downer Theatre and October 5th at Fox-Bay Cinema.

“Drug War”

3 out of 5 stars

Filmmaking legend Johnnie To’s new Hong Kong action film ends up being slower than you’d like but still packs a punch.

A meth manufacturer’s lab explodes causing his capture. In China, we discover, the manufacture of meth carries the death penalty. Eager to live the meth tycoon, Tian Ming (Louis Koo), cuts a deal with detective Zhang Lei (Honglei Sun) promising to expose the ring of top dogs he supplies to behind the whole operation.

Mistrust dominates the relationship and Tian finds himself under increasing scrutiny as he helps the police catch his friends and family members and shut down his operation. A question builds as he helps the police build their case and he appears more and more suspicious. It isn’t if he will betray them but when?

The many undercover operations that occur risk growing tedious but Honglei Sun is a chameleon as he shifts from cocaine addict to eccentric drug smuggler making the scene fascinating as he transforms into the character on the screen moments before and narrowly avoids running into the person he is impersonating to build his case against the cartel.

At one point all the cartel members are assembled in a garage with the police and you expect the chaos to erupt then and there but instead they leave and you’re left wondering why?

Apparently the setting wasn’t quite right because its stops plodding along shortly after and violently explodes with a final shootout between police and drug dealers. It’s satisfying action but unclear if it took too long to build up to for the payoff.

Anyone already suffering from ‘Breaking Bad’ withdrawal with enjoy the movie although there is little chemistry involved. Think more along the lines of the M60 Walt carries around in his trunk and you’ll have the right idea.

“Drug War” will be playing at Fox-Bay Cinema October 7th.

 

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