Wiener-Dog: Todd Solondz throws the world’s saddest sausage party


Even the mariachi bands are depressing in a Todd Solondz movie. From 1996’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse” to the new “Wiener-Dog,” Solondz has been one of the most reliable miserablists in movies. He treats the losers and posers of the world with equal contempt. If there’s anybody in his movies he seems to have an affinity for, it’s the few amoral predators who prey on the rest of us. They’ve at least figured out the rules in such an unfeeling world.

I’ve gone back and forth on Solondz’s movies – I really liked his little-seen last film “Dark Horse,” but have found other films to be mean just for the sake of meanness – and a pretty repetitive meanness at that. It plays Saturday night at the UW-Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall, for free on a double bill with the documentary “Weiner.”

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Hot dog! The UW Cinematheque fall 2016 season premieres this week


We may not be ready to let go of summer just yet, but the release of the UW Cinematheque fall 2016 schedule makes digging that sweater vest out of the closet a little easier.

The free on-campus film series, which has spread from its home base at 4070 Vilas Hall to include the Marquee Theatre at Union South and the Chazen Museum of Art, features indie movie premieres, restored classics, documentaries and cult films. It’s safe to say that none of these films would play in Madison on a big screen if it wasn’t for the programmers at the Cinematheque. And it’s all free.

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Instant Gratification: “Z for Zachariah” and four other good movies on Amazon and Netflix


Pick of the Week: “Z for Zachariah” (Amazon Prime)My full review is here. Despite a stellar cast that includes Margot Robbie (“Suicide Squad”), Chris Pine (“Star Trek Beyond”) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”), this Craig Zobel sci-fi drama never really caught fire and never played theatrically in Madison. Too bad, because it downplays the sci-fi and plays up the character drama, set in an idyllic valley apparently immune to the ravages of an apocalypse. A man and a woman meet there. And then another man shows up, setting up a love triangle with perhaps the future of humanity at stake.

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Instant Gratification: “The Big Short” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix and Hulu

Left to right: Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

Left to right: Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

Pick of the Week: “The Big Short (Netflix)My full review is here. Adam McKay has satirized ’70s newsmen (“Anchorman”) and buddy cop movies (“The Other Guys”), but his wit has never been sharper or put to better use than against the arrogant idiocy of bankers who precipitated the 2008 financial meltdown. Working from Michael Lewis’ book and using a ridiculously good cast, McKay keeps us laughing even as we’re learning what happened, and why we should be so pissed off about it.

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“Into the Forest”: A powerful film about the (literally) powerless


“Into the Forest” opens Friday at AMC Desert Star in Baraboo. (It’s also available on several streaming outlets, including Vudu and iTunes). R, 1:41, three and a half stars out of four.

“Into the Forest” is a post-apocalyptic disaster movie without a single visual effect. No explosions, no zombies, no mobs rioting in the streets. There’s just quiet, and dark.

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“Here Comes Mr. Jordan” sums up the human condition in a bittersweet sax riff


“Pleasant Valley, where all is peace, and love, and harmony, and where men are beating each other’s brains out.”

It’s rare that an opening title card sets the tone of a movie quite so effectively as the laugh-out-loud beginning to Alexander Hall’s 1941 gem “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” now out in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection. It’s both a funny line and a signifier of one of the themes of the film, about how nothing quite lives up to our idealization of it. Not even Heaven.

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