“I Used to Be Darker”: Heartbreak in a minor key


“I Used to Be Darker” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated, 1:30, three and a half stars out of four.

In musicals, people sing when mere dialogue isn’t enough to express the emotions that they’re feeling. In that sense, Matthew Porterfield’s “I Used to Be Darker” follows those same rules. For the most part, the characters are closed off from each other, mumbling pleasantries or veiled insults instead of saying what they mean. It’s only within the safe confines of a song that they feel comfortable revealing themselves.

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“A.C.O.D.”: Breaking up is hard to do with a straight face


A.C.O.D. opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:27, three stars out of four.

“A.C.O.D.” is a movie that might properly described as “sitcommy,” although that speaks less to problems with the movie than just how good sitcoms are these days. With sharp writing and acting, including two of the stars of “Parks and Recreation,” “A.C.O.D.” (“Adult Child of Divorce”) is in the tradition of everything from “I Love Lucy” to “Modern Family,” an amusing collision between insufferable people and those who try to suffer them. It’s more a situation than a story, but a pretty funny situation.

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“Our Children”: A young mother suffocates under her family

Nos Enfants

“Our Children” has its Madison premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., as part of its Spotlight Cinema series. Not rated, 1:51, three stars out of four.

“Our Children” opens in the aftermath of a horrifying event, one of those unspeakable tragedies that we hear about on cable news and come away a little more convinced that there must be evil in the world. Writer-director Joachim Lafosse gives us a sense of the what, and then the rest of “Our Children” goes back in time to show us the how and, as much as it can be possible to understand, the why.

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“Best Man Down”: Grooming Tyler Labine for better things


“Best Man Down” is now streaming on VOD and is available for purchase on ITunes. PG-13, 1:31, two stars out of four.

When your film’s most compelling character dies in the first five minutes, your film has a problem. Writer-director Ted Koland’s debut comedy-drama “Best Man Down” has that problem. And a few others.

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Blu-ray review: “Autumn Sonata” rakes over old family wounds

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Autumn. A time for watching the leaves turn, making spiced apple cider on the stove, and, of course, engaging in bitter recriminations with your parents.

At least that’s how Ingmar Bergman does autumn (and I’m not sure about his opinion on the leaves or the cider) in “Autumn Sonata,” which the Criterion Collection just re-released in a new Blu-ray edition with new bonus features not on the original DVD version.  This is wrenching family drama as only Bergman can do it.

The 1978 film is also notable for being the only one of Bergman’s films to feature Sweden’s other famous Bergman, Ingrid. She plays a world-renowned concert pianist, Charlotte, who comes home to visit her eldest daughter Eva (Bergman favorite Liv Ullmann) after a long absence. Ingrid carries herself with an imperious glamor, her star power so bright it dominates the screen, and Ullmann has deliberately dowdied herself up as the repressed Eva. We learn that Eva has been taking care of Charlotte’s other daughter, the severely disabled Helena (Lena Nyman).

At first, relations are polite but wary between mother and daughter, but as the evening wears on, politeness gives way to honest expressions, as the emotions Eva has been bottling up since childhood come pouring out. The film turns into a lacerating mother-daughter war, the air thick with accusations and recriminations, the mousy Eva growing stronger and more fiery as Charlotte seems to physically retreat, horrified at the truth of her family that she kept ignoring, all those years out on tour. Meanwhile, Helena writes in inarticulate pain in the back room, a living symbol of Charlotte’s neglect.

Although the film has a couple of the characters, including Eva’s husband providing opening and closing narration, this is really a two-character film. Bergman and Ullmann give fearless, bruised performances, locked in bitter combat, horrified at the truths they discover about themselves. Bergman’s descent into confusion and regret is most pronounced (it was her final film role, and she was nominated for an Oscar), but it wouldn’t work as well without Ullmann’s mirroring performance, as quiet Eva finds her voice, and can’t stop using it. One would assume our sympathies would lie with Eva, the abused and neglected daughter, but she’s no saint, warped by a lifetime of silent frustration.

Bergman’s camera seems to inch in closer and closer as the wounds go deeper and deeper, and the rich autumnal colors (which glow in this new 2k transfer) seem to almost mock the emotional rawness of the content.

So how was this great meeting of the Bergmans on set? “Terrible,” a “headache,” a “nightmare,” Ingmar Bergman says in a 2003 interview included in the bonus features. For the first few days, Ingrid Bergman’s performances on set were far to big and theatrical, and Ingmar feared the movie would be a disaster. Finally, he showed her the dailies, and blessedly, she saw the error of her approach and adjusted downward. The shoot was still contentious between the two, but Ingmar got the performance he needed.

The Criterion Blu-ray edition also includes an exhaustive (as in three-and-a-half-hour) documentary on the making of “Autumn Sonata,” an audio commentary by Bergman scholar Peter Cowle, and, new to the Blu-ray, an interview conducted this year with Ullmann about the movie.

“Captain Phillips”: It’s not just the camera that shakes you up


“Captain Phillips” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Sundance. PG-13, 2:14, three and a half stars out of four.

The handheld shooting style of director Paul Greengrass can be a mixed blessing; in films like “United 93” and “Bloody Sunday,” Greengrass can put the viewer right in the middle of chaos with a you-are-there immediacy. But in more conventional films like “Green Zone,” his restless style can seem more like an affectation than an asset.

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MMOCA Spotlight Cinema returns with “American Promise”


By the standards of the UW-Cinematheque series or the Marquee Theater season, the Spotlight Cinema series at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is rather modest. Five films on five Thursday nights in the fall. Yet the series is always well curated, bringing five movies that have never played in Madison before (and likely never would theatrically) to the big screen. Past years have included such major independent films as “Holy Motors” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

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“Wisconsin Rising”: This is what democracy looked like


Memories fade. Less than 3 years later, thinking back on the Wisconsin protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to strip public-sector employees of most of their barganing rights, I start to question my memory a little. Were the rallies really that big? Were they really that loud?

Yes and yes, and a new documentary, “Wisconsin Rising,” serves as a document to remind us of that. The hour-long film by Sam Mayfield has its Wisconsin premiere at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave. Tickets are $5-$10 at the door, and Mayfield will be there to talk about the film and answer questions.

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