MFF 2012 DAY TWO: Ethel – Come As You Are – Bones Brigade: An Autobiography – V/H/S

COMPLETE MILWAUKEE FILM FESTIVAL 2012 COVERAGE

DAY ONE: Starbuck – Opening Night Party
DAY TWO: Ethel – Come As You Are – Bones Brigade: An Autobiography – V/H/S
DAY THREE: Sans Soleil – Dead Weight – Andrew Bird: Fever Year
DAY FOUR: Inland Empire – Bad Brains: A Band in DC
DAY FIVE: Pink Ribbons, Inc. – 11 Flowers – How to Survive a Plague
DAY SIX: Romancing in Thin Air – Elena – The Imposter
DAY SEVEN: 5 Broken Cameras – Goodbye – High Tech, Low Life
DAY EIGHT: Big Boys Gone Bananas!* – Off White Lies – The Milwaukee Show
DAY NINE: Las Acacias – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie – Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
DAY TEN: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – Policeman
DAY ELEVEN: Quartet – No God No Master
DAY TWELVE: Mourning – As Goes Janesville – Blackmail – The Ambassador
DAY THIRTEEN: The Invisible War – Klown
DAY FOURTEEN: Old Dog – Little Red – Five Star Existence
DAY FIFTEEN: The Sessions – Detropia

9-28 F
02/15


And we’re off. Ethel, which could alternately be titled Dead Kennedys, is a 2011 documentary about the extroverted wife of RFK made by her eleventh daughter Rory Kennedy (Ghosts of Abu Ghraib). Lucky for that, because we get a very rare glimpse into the Kennedy family including interviews with, I think, all of Ethel’s brood, candid interviewers that would never have occurred without the involvement of a family member (Ethel and RFK are only ever referenced as Mommy and Daddy). This goes doubly for Ethel herself who answers most inquiries with flip responses, albeit honest ones, due to her extreme privilege and healthy fear of the press. She is as open as royalty, owing nothing to anybody and, indeed, treating us with stories she knows we are damned lucky to be in on. But it helps that Ethel is thoroughly charming, shrewd, and intelligent, and wonderful enough to pass on a legacy of social justice, charity and good will through her many children.

From her humble Shakel beginnings she is courted by RFK and the two as presented as just the sweetest power couple you’ll see, or at least the sweetest Irish Catholic dynasty. As you can imagine, a great deal of focus is given to JFK and RFK’s involvement in his campaigns. RFK is presented as the quieter, modest brother who has no desire for a spotlight (though when he does get it he frequently quotes his favorite poet, Aeschylus. Cool, right?). He only wants justice, and works for the Justice Department until JFK usurps his destiny. Truthfully, the film gives as much time to RFK as to Ethel – maybe more. Fine by me. Ethel is not a bad movie – it’s certainly interesting – but everything good about it has nothing in particular to do with film. It’s just a special look into special people, and into extraordinarily wealth and privilege. We peons should be so lucky. But my god did the 60’s ever end.

Next it’s Come As You Are (Hasta la Vista!), a hit 2011 Belgian comedy which I presumed would be mawkish simply by virtue of its handicapper plot. But it’s not mawkish, it’s a pleasant surprise. There are three: Phillip the parapalegic, Jozef the blind fella and Lars the wheelchair-bound cancer man. Each aprox. 28-year-old player’s eyes shine with intelligence – well, not Jozef – and, thank Christ, we do not spend a single moment pitying them. When Phillip learns of a specialty brothel in El Cielo, Spain, he conspires with his bros to get them all laid in short order – very short, ideally, as Lars’s cancer swiftly assumes terminal proportion. Ringleader Phillip is a rather smarmy foulmouth, which of course makes him awfully likable and Lars is, frankly, a lovely sensitive creature (Jozef is mostly comic relief). Phillip secures a caregiver driver with a shitty van and the trio speed way. Any difficulties that play as a result of their afflictions are treated procedurally and of course we do spend plenty of time with those. Since it’s all played out without irony (or soundtrack) the film’s humor comes off as quite black, but this tone also makes the film very effectively heartwarming. I will say this – I wanted these guys to get laid (to succeed). And there’s a fair amount of formula at play that won’t surprise cineastes – but it never pissed me off, and that is an accomplishment in itself. Doesn’t hurt that the trio’s collective libido inspires the film’s generous opening credit shots: two joggers’ pairs of very generous cleavage bouncing in slow-motion.

I entered the Bones Brigade documentary knowing it had been very favorably received among the Milwaukee Film selection panel, and it did not disappoint. Upon entering the theater at the Downer I am thrilled to see that the hideous black smear that had marred the cinema screen had been cleaned off – equally thrilled seemed to be the packed, enthusiastic pro-skate crowd. Always had positive things to say about this crowd, btw, in my experience very kind folk. Stacy Peralta’s documentary details the historic rise of the team of teen and pre-teen skateboard prodigies assembled by patriarchal Peralta in the mid-80s. There is something so utterly Californian about Peralta, his team, the surfers, skaters, ‘doods.’ Peralta’s team, which would come to be called the Bones Brigade, included the men who revolutionized skateboarding in America and turned it into an industry, the first time anybody could conceivably profit from the maligned, fringe urban activity. More than that, their communion led to so many vital innovations to the ‘sport’ itself. Generous interview footage, some movingly candid, comes from Brigadiers Rodney Mullen, Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero, Mike McGill and Peralta himself and former co-founder of Powell/Peralta Skateboards, George Powell. In addition to the legendary status immediately attained by the unstoppable boarders, popularity spread through national boarding mags and an underground VHS tapes which circulated through boarding communities and became cult sensations. It is a fine documentary which retroactively recaptures the excitement and travails of those involved with this rare confluence of fortune and talent.

“Young American Bodies”

And then there’s the horror internet sensation which I saw largely to remain informed, the collective effort of V/H/S. The story is composed of six found-footage segments directed by different hip white males including Ti West, Joe Swanberg and Radio Silence, many of which also star. Since no segment of the film satisfies by itself, V/H/S functions (pretty transparently, if you ask me) as a venue for each filmmaker to test his wares, or just play around, with modern horror film clichés. The film’s main through line involves a cadre of male monsters who, under cryptic orders from their alpha, enter a derelict urban house to retrieve a VHS tape (your guess is as good as mine). Unfortunately they must sift through many, many tapes and while two men explore the house, one scans tape content in a room which serves as a perverse altar to the gods of bygone 90’s video stores – you’ll see what I mean – and five of V/H/S‘s episodes play out via these tapes. No single episode is particularly successful, but Swanberg’s, entirely composed of a Skype conversation, is probably the most palatable because of Swanberg’s continuous innovation of modern media (though, really, it’s more like playing dress up-with media) and for the episode’s macabre, twisted humor. Each episode features attractive, intelligent twentysomethings, many of which are eye-rollingly miscast (the ones playing monsters and murderers; hipsters playing dress-up) and each concludes with an anticlimax. Not sure why this group of filmmakers is more concerned with cock-teasing and gimmickry than narrative or drama but I sense that they do not read books. Nobody reads books anymore. V/H/S is a platter of appetizers that will leave you hungry minutes later. It makes me think of an award I was given in college by a very kind professor who felt everybody should feel special for some reason, any reason: I received the “Best Argument Without Evidence” award (warmly). If I run into Swanberg here in Chicago, I’ll give it to him (warmly).

written by David Ashley

Seen so far:
Starbuck
Ethel
Come As You Are
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
V/H/S

Ranked:
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
Ethel
Come As You Are
V/H/S
Starbuck

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