The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Not just a great cause, but great cinema


Is independent cinema dead? Have the major studios killed the do-it-yourself iconoclastic spirit, or at least driven it to the margins of popular culture? One might think so. And yet there is a new breed of independent cinema that is capturing the popular imagination, a guerrilla art form made by amateurs, enjoyed by amateurs, passed around on an alternate distribution system than the traditional studio model.

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Instant Gratification: “Blue Ruin” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime


Pick of the week: “Blue Ruin (Netflix) — My full review is here. This fantastic thriller reminded me of the Coen Brothers’ first film, “Blood Simple” in its mix of gritty thrills, spiritual weight and a dash of surreal humor. A homeless man tries to exact revenge for the murder of his parents years later and finds himself spectacularly unsuited for the job, eventually drawn into an escalating cycle of vengeance he can’t extract himself from. Plus it has Eve Plumb with a machine gun.

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Jeff Daniels puts on the blond wig again for ‘Dumb and Dumber To’


Over at 77 Square, I wrote the cover story this week, an interview with Jeff Daniels. Daniels is coming to the Stoughton Opera House Saturday night with his son Ben’s rock band. Actors who try their hand at singer-songwriting are nothing new (coincidentally, Jeff Bridges is in Milwaukee performing with his band on the same night.)

So most of the interview concentrates on Daniels’ side gig as a musician — he’s actually pretty good at writing wry and poignant folk songs in the Steve Goodman mode. But we did talk a little about making movies in his home state of Michigan, and about “Dumb and Dumber To” this November. He seems pretty excited about it. “We certainly didn’t leave it in the locker room, I know that. We threw everything we had at it, for better or worse.”

Read the interview here.

The five movies you need to see in Madison: Aug. 22-28, 2014


Pick of the week: “Rooftop Cinema: From Puppets to Pixels” (9 p.m., Friday, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) — Late August is a rough time of year for moviegoers, especially in Madison; not only are we getting the dregs of the summer movie season, but we’re waiting impatiently for the UW-Madison on-campus film series to get rolling in early September. Thank heavens for MMOCA’s Rooftop Cinema series, which returns for one last summer night this weekend, presenting additional short films from all four of the animators featured in the June programs. It’s free for museum members, $7 for all others, and part of an evening of festivities that will include a gallery talk by artist Jason Yi about his new installation “A Fragile Permanence.”

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“Y Tu Mama Tambien”: Once upon a time in Mexico


There’s an in-joke at the beginning of Alfonso Cuaron’s film “Y Tu Mama Tambien” that I completely missed the first couple of times I saw it. Understandable, maybe, since the scene has Tenoch (Diego Luna) and his girlfriend engaging in some fairly enthusisatic sex in her bedroom. (The film was quite an arthouse hit back in 2000, and a controversial one; I remember one older couple telling me they lasted 10 minutes before the on-screen sex sent them packing.

But on the wall of the bedroom behind the couple is a gigantic Spanish-language movie poster for Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude.” That’s a sly wink to the older woman-younger man (or men) romance to come in “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” But it’s also a clue that Cuaron has a lot more on his mind here than a fun sex romp. This is a sex romp with layers, layers that even the characters often are oblivious too, and the brilliant thing about the film is the way it suggests those layers while still often being a fun, buzzy, sexy film. “Y Tu Mama Tambien” is now out this week in a stellar new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from the Criterion Collection.

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“The Sacrament”: Drinking the Kool-Aid on found footage horror




After celebrating (and subverting)  ’80s horror with “The House of the Devil” and classic bump-in-the-dark ghost stories with “The Innkeepers,” director Ti West has broken away decisively with his new film “The Sacrament.” (West brought the film to the Wisconsin Film Festival in April, and it’s out on DVD this week). The question is whether in shifting away from smart homage and into something more distinctive, West has lost more than he’s gained.

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