“Racing Extinction”: Fighting to save the planet, one caper at a time


“It’s beautiful, but it’s disgusting.”

That’s a quote from an activist looking at footage from a special camera that can detect carbon emissions from cars and trucks, even people, depicted in clouds of brilliant blue. It is beautiful to look at, but, of course, sobering as to its effects on climate change.

That quote could also serve as a mantra for several recent environmental documentaries, including “Chasing Ice” and the new “Racing Extinction,” which played at the Sundance Film Festival and now has its premiere on the Discovery Channel this Wednesday at 8 p.m. CST. This new wave of films wants to make environmental films that aren’t just educational and enraging but poignant, exciting — and even beautiful.

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Gone in an Instant: Five great movies leaving Netflix at the end of November


Got some extra time this Thanksgiving weekend with the family? Good, because you’ll want to curl up and catch up on some classic movies that are leaving Netflix as of Tuesday, Dec. 1.

The end of the month is the time that Netflix usually quietly disposes of movies in its catalog, while it adds new movies and TV shows constantly. This monthly column draws attention to five good ones that you really ought to catch if you haven’t yet.

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“Creed”: A graceful passing of the baton that’s anything but rocky


“Creed” is now playing at Point, Palace, AMC Fitchburg and Sundance Cinemas. PG-13, 2:12, three and a half stars out of four.

Anyone who wants to understand how formula doesn’t dictate form should watch the new “Creed” and this summer’s “Southpaw” back-to-back. Both are boxing dramas that follow a similar arc, hitting many of the same notes. But while “Southpaw” felt forced and melodramatic, “Creed” is a hugely entertaining and rousing film. Same ingredients, different result.

It helps that “Creed” is following in the footsteps of the master, 1976’s “Rocky.” In many ways, this is the seventh installment in the four-decade-old series, and the best since the original. But it’s also very much its own movie, with its own feel and texture, its own hero, and a graceful handing of the baton from one champ to the next.

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“Victor Frankenstein”: This doc needs less time in the lab and more on the couch


“Victor Frankenstein” opens Wednesday at Point, Palace and AMC Fitchburg, PG-13, 1:49, one star out of four.

In the terrible 2004 film “Van Helsing,” Frankenstein makes a cameo appearance along with Dracula and the Wolfman, swinging on a giant chain like Tarzan. “Victor Frankenstein” is only slightly less ridiculous than that.

I expected the latest iteration of the Frankenstein franchise to be bad, but would it be enjoyably bad? Then, in the first scene, we see Daniel Radcliffe capering about as a hunchback in clown makeup, and I thought, “Go on . . . I’m listening.”

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“Heaven Knows What”: Lacerating drama lets homeless junkie tell her own story


“Heaven Knows What” has its Madison premiere at the UW-Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall, at 7 p.m. Friday. R, 1:34, three stars out of four. FREE!

Brothers Ben and Joshua Safdie make films about people that we wouldn’t really want to be around in real life, and keep us uncomfortably close to them, force us to really look at them, until we see them.

“Daddy Longlegs” was a drama about a harried divorced dad so bad at parenting that his neglect borders on abuse. In “Heaven Knows What,” we’re attached to the hip of a 19-year-old homeless junkie, Harley (Arielle Holmes), caught in an endless and vicious cycle of addiction. When the movie starts, she’s panhandling (“spanging” in street parlance) to get enough money to buy razor blades to slit her wrists. You don’t get much lower than that.

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“Cemetery of Splendor”: Taking the big sleep in enchanting Thai film


“Cemetery of Splendor” has its Madison premiere on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St. Free for non-members, $7 for all others. Not rated, 1:51, three stars out of four.

In the films of Thai director , the line between the living and the dead is not a wall, but a thin beaded curtain through which each side can see each other, wave to each other, even visit each other. In his last film, the beautiful and strange “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” a dying man is visited at the dinner table by the ghosts of his wives and son (his son having turned into a red-eyed Chewbacca-looking creature) and he welcomes them warmly, like they had RSVP’ed ahead.

Weerasethakul’s new film, “Cemetery of Splendor,” is comparatively simpler than “Boonmee” — you won’t see a princess get seduced by a talking catfish this time around. But that placid, normal-seeming exterior seems appropriate for a film that is about digging beneath the layers, digging to the past, digging to the subterranean heart of ourselves.

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


Pick of the week: “Ex Machina (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. In Alex Garland’s sleek sci-fi thriller, a young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is tasked with evaluating the humanity of an android (Alicia Vikander) built by his boss (a great Oscar Isaac). Naturally, complications ensue. Garland largely dodges deeper questions about humanity and identify, instead making a beautiful and tense movie that’s something special.

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Marquee Film Festival Day 4: “Tu Dors Nicole” and “The Black Panthers”

Photos de plateau du tournage «Tu dors Nicole» de Stéphane Lafleur, une production micro_scope

Photos de plateau du tournage «Tu dors Nicole» de Stéphane Lafleur, une production micro_scope

The free four-day festival at Union South’s Marquee Film Festival, 1208 W. Dayton St., finishes up with another strong selection of films, plus a preview of next weekend’s Polish Film Festival.

Amour Fou” (1 p.m.) — The formal rigor of this Austrian film set in the Romantic era camouflages a rather strange and wicked story, as a young man searches for a woman who loves him in order that they can execute a suicide pact together. And he might just have a taker.

Tu Dors Nicole” (3:30 p.m.) — This languid French-Canadian comedy-drama follows an aimless post-graduate young woman who spends the summer lounging around her parents’ house, watching her brothers’ band practice, trying to figure out the next move in her life. With gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and gently offbeat humor (like the guy driving around the neighborhood listening to whale noises, which actually has a totally plausible explanation), “Tu Dors Nicole” is a winning film.


The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” (5:30 p.m.) — As America grapples with a new generation of racial issues, this documentary looking back on the ’60s black activist movement couldn’t be more relevant.

Call Me Marian” (8 p.m.) — Next weekend’s Polish Film Festival gets a preview with this empathetic documentary about Marianna, a transgender Polish woman struggling to find acceptance among her family as she transitions.

Marquee Film Festival Day 3: “Breathe” and “The Second Mother”


The 2015 Marquee Film Festival has a full day of free programming slated for Saturday, from noon till midnight, in the Union South Marquee Theater, 1208 W. Dayton St. Visit wudfilm.com for more details. Saturday’s lineup seems to emphasize world cinema, with new films from Austria, Brazil, Mexico and France.

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“Labyrinth of Lies”: What did you do in the war, Vater?

Alexander Fehling (Rolle: Johann Radmann)

Alexander Fehling (Rolle: Johann Radmann)

“Labyrinth of Lies” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. R, 2:04, two stars out of four.

The terrific drama “Phoenix” showed us a post-war Germany in moral as well as physical ruins, where Nazis and Jews alike longed to slip quietly back into their old lives and forget what happened, only to find that was impossible. The crimes committed were too vast, the betrayal of one countryman by another too great.

“Labyrinth of Lies” at times feels like the Hollywood version of that same theme, with a hard-charging attorney battling his superiors to uncover the truth of what happened in places like Auschwitz and bring the Nazi perpetrators, who have slipped seemlessly back into German society, to justice.

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