Saturday, October 26, 2013



Last year 'round about this time I set out on a modest attempt to spread the word and generate notable interest within our region in relation to a solid cultural collective calling themselves Wega Arts and basing their creative attack in the nearby town of Weyauwega. The organization, founded and run by Ian Teal and Kathy Fehl, seeks to perpetuate various outlets of artistic expression in its community through the cultivation and presentation of stage plays, booked touring performers, film screenings and workshops. The main point of focus for me for this column was then, as it still is now, the mid November placed Weyauwega International Film Festival. Now entering its third run through, the fest is looking to expose any film fancying types from all surrounding areas to yet another varied menu of rich examples of the film form (both the long and the short of it).

 All things cinematic are set to kick off Thursday, November 14th at 1:30pm at the Gerold Opera House (which can be found at 136 Main St.) with another throwback installment from Hollywood's rich and far reaching past (remember, last year's was the edgy John Frankenheimer thriller 'Seconds'). 1960's 'Midnight Lace', directed by David Miller and featuring Doris Day and Rex Harrison in a strange mix of Hitchcock wannabe and offbeat character study which charts the misfortune of an American woman (Day) living in England who finds herself the apparent person of interest of a would be stalker. From here the fest plows on, unspooling film after film across the next four days. Some flicks of passing note include a pair of odd duck documentaries centering on the kinship between the art of drinking and the allure of the bowling ally ('Pints and Pins') and the obsessive quest by an expatriate American who returns stateside to find the finest representation of that golden calf of fried foods ('The Great Chicken Wing Hunt'). There are tales of movie mavens ('Tough Ain't Enough-Conversations With Albert S. Ruddy'), a historic escape artist ('Houdini') and even some convoluted affairs of the heart ('9 Full Moons').

One major standout section on the schedule that was passed along to me (it's all still tentative as this goes to press, for complete final results check, is what is set to be dubbed the 'Friday Night Fright Fest'. Beginning at 7pm on the 15th, there will be a tight trifecta of genre pictures, each with (what sounds like) a decent shot at becoming the next big thing in the cult film underground. A pair of these, 'Billy Club' and 'Don't Go To The Reunion', both made on locations in our very own state, play on the cheeky familiarity of long adhered to 'slasher on the loose/doomed youth' tropes and related shock effect plot devices while at the same time attempting to inject some very much needed energy into the oft tread, ultra violent  stalker/splatter sub-genre. The third film, 'Escape From Tomorrow', on the other hand, seems to be the product of an entirely different filmmaking methodology altogether.

'Escape From Tomorrow' comes to the Weyauwega fest at long last following a protracted period in which those responsible for its creation were not even sure if it would ever reach a legitimate audience. The film is a perplexing, monochromatic phantasmagoria set in and around a combination of the Disney theme parks Disneyworld and Disneyland and it involves a typical family man type named Jim White (Roy Abramsohn) whose grip on a tangible reality grows increasingly fragmented as his vacation day with the family progresses.

This curiosity has generated a bit of a rep for itself primarily based on the absolutely removed from conventional tactics employed in its production. It would seem the director, an ambitious gent named Randy Moore, guided his project's shooting process along in almost entirely incognito fashion, grabbing footage without consent from the theme park powers that be with indistinct consumer DSLR cameras (Canon's Mark II and IV specifically), with his actors taking cues and script notes off of I Phones and such. Even after such a clandestine production phase was completed, Moore sought to stitch his baby together outside the country (in South Korea, where the director also tapped area technicians to help polish the effects work) to maintain utter secrecy from the Mouse. Several playdates at major fests soon followed (including a premiere bow at the almighty Sundance, where the film first began to noticeably cause a stir) with the ever ominous spectre of how the beast that is the Walt Disney Co. would react to the film's existence hovering over it and making the commercial future of 'Escape From Tomorrow' an uncertain concept at best.

This film was originally slotted into the line up of last year's Weyauwega fest only to have such legal uncertainties withhold it (it was substituted with the very worthy French effort 'Holy Motors', a head scratcher without peer and definitely a healthy addition). This time out, folks will finally get to see just what the elaborate fuss was all about.

The remainder of this year's W.I.F.F. is peppered with quality attractions as well, from several short film packages spread throughout the weekend to a sure to be rowdy awards ceremony set to follow that 'Great Chicken Wing Hunt' doc on Saturday night (at about 9pm). Free to ticket holders of the day as well as fest pass holders, the show will feature beer (care of Central Waters Brewery) and eats (including, yes, chicken wings) and live music. I've been informed that a fair number of behind the scenes folks will be in attendance to either introduce and/or entertain questions and commentary in relation to their respective projects. 'Billy Club' co-writer, director and actor Nick Sommer and members of the 'Don't Go To The Reunion' posse will be on hand Friday evening to chat at length about their playfully creepy gore fests. Familiar face Dan Davies will intro his latest offering, the short film 'Caroline' (which he wrote and acted in), the 'Pints and Pins' crew are penciled in and the filmmaker (Jim Tittle) behind the Sunday afternoon entry, the Midwestern sand mining documentary  'The Price of Sand' may participate too. Plus one can never count out some sort of last minute addition when it comes to filmmakers jumping at a fair chance to talk up their latest creations.

There you have it, a serviceable 'heads up' on another fine showcase of cinematic treasures here in this Wisconsin. Make no mistake, this is a well planned festival by a pair of folks with their heart in the art, don't at all let the small scale locale fool you.

Once again, all necessary information (i.e. ticket prices, showtimes, finalized film scheduling) can be found easily at

Hope to see a huge turnout for this one, don't let me down.

Also of note.

Room 237

Being all about the often larger than life and deep beneath the surface alternate interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's Stephen King adapt 'The Shining'. Unfolding less like any standard format of feature or documentary film and more akin to some kind of art student's instillation project that got lost on its way to the gallery, 'Room 237' serves to not so much conventionally entertain viewers as entrance and confound them with its conviction to a series of boarder line absurd analytical proposals. The complicated project, as assembled by one Rodney Ascher, plays out a series of audio taped discussions with a bunch of genuinely enthusiastic people I'm afraid I've never heard of over an ever flowing parade of imagery encompassing many a well known Kubrick work (with obvious, dominant emphasis on 'The Shining' itself) as well as a largely random collection of material from less then expected sources like Spielberg's 'Schindler's List' and the lurid mid-80s Italian gore flick 'Demons'.

The speakers use this particular format to (with Ascher's careful guidance) breakdown in often crucial, obsessive detail how and why their given theories of true meaning behind Kubrick's 1980 film are perfectly sound. Rolling out and cutting back and forth between speaker and subject gives off a vibe of a mix tape running to and fro at some manic movie fan's invite only party. The film's interviewees expound with breathless abandon on how 'The Shining' contains, shuffled within its meticulously rendered surface narrative, everything from the well documented atrocities of the Nazi instigated mass (near) execution of the Jewish race to the punishing round up and stomping down of the Native American peoples by greedy, self righteous colonists (from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon) and back around to explicate how Kubrick employed his cinematic craftsmanship to help the U.S. Government to enact a staged moon landing in 1969. Uh-huh, sure.

'Room 237' works well as a sort of intellectual geek show that allows its subjects to banter unchecked about these strange ideas that an other wise generally lauded piece of high end genre filmmaking has oddly inspired within their nominal mindframes. I didn't even bother to mention the gal with the minotaur fixation or the fella who goes way out of his way to carefully point out what he believes is a subliminal erection. Well, now you have two more things to keep an eye out for.  You're most welcome.

'Room 237' comes on DVD/Blu ray from the IFC Midnight Label and contains the usual bonus goodies, commentary, music score featurette, deleted scenes (which are little more than audio tracks, sans the film clips, providing additional babble) and a Q&A session from some simple looking Kubrick fan fest. Recommended for the conspiracy theorist who believes he's heard it all.


A tight and rather minimal psychological horror scenario made with much stronger than anticipated efficiency and reserve. It all surrounds your basic, cute to a fault, young couple (Trevor Morgan, Tessa Ferrer) who one fine night find themselves the object of mystery kidnappers who abscond them to a dank and foreboding location and subject them to a series of initially inexplicable experimentation. As their startling incarceration drags on and more and more additional young human pairings arrive in their midst, the kids begin to brainstorm over the gravity of their situation. Is this the work of some elite terrorist outfit? A government shadow group? Alien forces with malicious plans that stretch far beyond the simple reach of this small sampling of earth peeps?

The film builds a decent measure of genuine tension as these questions loom, unanswered and the natural fragility of these unfortunate, young creatures is supremely tested. The skill set piloting this compact piece from behind the camera belongs to Glen Scantlebury and Lucy Phillips, both sharing duties and honing a small yet significant team (and there is evidence of this on display on the DVD's brief accompanying making of special feature) to bring together a finished film that works based on solid character development care competent performances complimented by the quality of the cinematography and especially the rather concise cutting together of scenes and imagery. As it turns out, Mr. Scantlebury is a well seasoned veteran of the editing process who honed his skills on a long list of major pictures like Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula (and his far less daunting recent picture, 'Twixt') and several bloated Michael Bay directed odes to ADD like the first 'Transformers'. He's currently slapping together a much unneeded reboot of The 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' with Megan Fox, but let's not hold that against him. His work here spells out a genuine talent that, along with his teammate Mrs. Phillips, should suitably produce quality goods in cinematic form on and on again down the road.

This 'Abducted' thing should do the trick for fans of decent low budget genre filmmaking as apposed to the utterly disposable dreck that clutters the direct to video market. It can be found at most rental joints or here;

Done with the movie stuff...for now.


(Being an article originally published in The Scene Newspaper)

There is not a whole lot I can say in favor of the art of dance, it just never seemed to suit me on any real level. I don't tend to indulge in the graceful, often lauded cinematic legacy of the Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly types, have never attended any sort of ballet (that I'll admit to) and I sure as shit won't burn my eyes out on the flotsam they shell out nowadays. With the rare exception of the 'Breakin' films (especially 'Electric Boogaloo') and that one Fatboy Slim video with Christopher Walken in it, I simply fail to gel to the sight of folks twisting and/or undulating to the accompanying music as it were. Still, there is always room for a change of opinion, if only for a certain, specific facet of something previously unappreciated. Such a change occurred with the viewing of 'Pina', the latest offering from the fine German filmmaker Wim Wenders. This is a documentary that centers on the unique choreographic mindset of Pina Bausch a visionary designer of movement as a means to express feeling and thought through using the human form as a better, more potent form of language at large in inventive pieces that completely transcend the conventions of standard dance theatrics.

Wenders, like me, was never one to hold a vested interest in dance or any artistic statement build around it. He was converted, at least in part, after an initial, very emotional encounter with a mid 1980s performance of Bausch's seminal work, 'Café Muller' and soon after set to forging a comradery  with the woman that would slowly lead to the suggestion of a collaboration with the end goal of birthing a film meant to share Bausch's skills with a broader audience. The enduring dilemma hanging over this concept, however, was the director's conviction that the flat projection of an image could never fully replicate the depth and gravity inherent in the way the human body occupies and, most importantly, moves about space. The project remained a mulled over puzzle for years until Wenders became more attracted to the budding 3-D digital technology that started really gaining momentum and polish as it became a tool for more than cheeky computerized cartoons and big event spectacles like 'Avatar'. With this chief aspect solved and in place (Wenders consulted an expert on stereoscopic photography and implementation, Alain Derobe ) all was a go on the production front, the director and his muse agreed on using fractions of four Bausch pieces ('Vollmond', 'Kontakthof', 'Le sacre du printemps' and the aforementioned  'Café Muller') to help flesh out the film proper. Then Pina Bausch herself passed on abruptly into the great unknown in June 2009.

The project had to be suspended as this unforeseen circumstance threw all prep work and emotional stamina into turmoil. It was only given a second wind by way of the insistence of the dedicated members of Pina's esteemed Tanztheater Wuppertal company who helped by reconfiguring the concept of the proposed film into something resembling an homage to their beloved maestro. Wenders conceded and production began in earnest shortly thereafter incorporating the previously agreed upon Bausch works with more personal performance pieces by the company members (who hail from such varied locales as Italy, France, Korea, Russia, the good ol' U.S. of A and, of course, Germany) as they attempt to share their love and appreciation for Pina through inventive solo numbers and odd confessional scenes where the thoughts of the dancers are heard as voices hovering above their respective, contemplative bodies.

Wenders and his crew follow the graceful action with seeming ease, the camera addresses the potent energy at large when these folks bear their souls and move their bodies according to some of the more startling and unexpected presentations of 'dance' I have ever stumbled across, thank goodness a true filmmaker was present to document it all in all-pro fashion. The picture was shot on stages at Bausch's theater and at several interesting points around the mid size German city of Wuppertal (on street corners, inside a rail train, by a shopworn factory and a quarry) and often positions the framing to fully exploit the use of space between and surrounding the dancers to suitably (by way of the 3-D enhancement the film was predominantly exhibited in) bridge the gap between a live performance and a recorded replication. Two prime examples of this can be found at the start of the film with a lady laying a bit disheveled on a pile of dirt in the foreground as other bodies creep into the far background of the frame in a portion of 'Le sacre du printemps' ('The Rite of Spring') and in the frantic smashing about the flooded stage on hand to help bring 'Vollmond' ('Full Moon') to hectic life later on.

Wim  Wenders has, by all evident accounts, done his late creative peer a grand service. 'Pina' as a film works to both ensure that this woman's legacy will thrive and also that her life long talent of greatly redefining a long standing artistic practice with an immense bravado and flair for the fully unique will be picked up and furthered by those she molded in her theater to become practitioners of dance of the highest, most incomparable order. This film works in favor of Wenders as the latest addition in a long career made up of a healthy balance of fiction and non-fiction cinema (much like the path taken by, perhaps, his most notable contemporary, Werner Herzog). Wenders finished his first feature at the dawn of the 70s ('Summer in the City') and continued to delve into the quirks of characters both real life and imagined who wander on the outer parameters of the conventional. This continued as Wenders honed his skills and branched his free spirit tendencies out to craft such noteworthy pictures as 'Paris, Texas' (the darling of the 1984 Cannes Film Fest), 'Wings of Desire' (later bastardized by Hollywood into some kind of long form Goo-Goo Dolls video starring Nicolas Cage) and 'The End of Violence'.

As much as he clearly fixates on the less obvious textures of the human condition, Wenders also possesses a bit of affection for the wonders of travel. Early on in his filmmaking endeavors he created a swift succession of films eventually dubbed 'The Road Movie Trilogy' ('Alice in the Cities', 'The Wrong Move' and 'Kings of the Road') which would either introduce or expand upon themes and characters that would make their way through this trilogy and out to find a place in later Wenders pictures. The director's distinct style played influence on budding independent film movements across the globe, particularly on American shores in the man with the sharp, white hair, Jim Jarmusch (who appropriated the director's frequent camera wiz Robby Muller for several films including 'Down by Law' and 'Dead Man') who had assisted Wenders on his 1982 film 'The State of Things'.

Were 'Pina' fits into all this is simple, much as he gave adventurous audiences a peak at the less than mainstream world of aging Cuban musicians in 'The Buena Vista Social Club' or shed light into the waning days of once prominent, old school director Nicolas ('Rebel Without a Cause') Ray with 'Lightning Over Water', this most current offering seeks to spread the name of its subject out to devoted creative minds everywhere. Sadly, I was only able to snag a standard two dimensional copy of the film (from the Appleton Library, of course. It comes from the godly Criterion Collection (which does offer a 3-D Blu-Ray edition) and features a fair set of behind the scenes info, commentary by Wenders and additional footage of the dancers in action. I recommend this thing on the grounds that it works to sway opinion in favor of the vibrant sights contained within. If some coordination impaired clown like myself can find ample value in a film entirely focused on the art of choreographed dance (albeit, rather surreal choreography in this case) then there must be at least some passing merit in the mix.



Nine years ago a fella named Shane Carruth brought his debut effort, 'Primer', quietly into the independent film community. Carruth wrote, directed, produced, co-starred and had a hand in pretty much every other aspect of the intricate $7,000 wonder. A spare, unapologetically complex tale of two engineering pros who stumble across a low key variation of time travel which they gradually learn to erroneously employ to their financial gain, resulting in increasing friction and paranoia between the two. This little slice of sci-fi themed brain food was but a minor sampling of the deliberate and confounding potential this Carruth, a former software designer with a heavy mathematical background, would prove full of.

Now comes this delayed follow up, 'Upstream Color, reverted to after the frustrating collapse of a far longer gestating project, 'A Topiary', completely dissolved. Once more, Carruth assumes a multitude of duties to pull together the meticulously vague and often just out of narrative reach saga of two people (Amy Seimetz and the Carruth man himself) who have both been the victims of a very elaborate form of hypnotism caused by an organic force culled from a certain flower that goes out into the world deeply (often negatively) effecting a variety of other living things. The style of the film is pure, poetic, dreamlike and cooley unnerving. We basically become observers in a winding parade of easily ruined or greatly misguided lives (the film ultimately reveals a wealth of people and creatures effected by the parasite) struggling to shake themselves back into the straight line familiarity of their pre-tampered lives. Yet 'Upstream Color' plainly refuses to make things so simple for anyone, especially the audience.

As with 'Primer', Shane Carruth cares more about introducing brave ideas than gratuitously over-explaining them. The film is an elegant, bold mystery that does not necessarily need to be fully solved. Better to just soak in the experience as if you were living it in the same fog of confusion as the protagonists. A tricky way to unfold a story, true, but the workmanship and unavoidable intelligence of the handling of the material makes this strange, aloof beauty worth reaching out for. Do seek it,