Pick of the week: “The Double“ — My full review is here. Jesse Eisenberg — and Jesse Eisenberg! — star in this delightfully dark and twisty tale of a downtrodden man who finds that an exact duplicate of himself is slowly taking over his life. Director Richard Ayoade revels in visual touches that recall Terry Gilliam, but it’s really Eisenberg’s double performance that shines.
It’s commencement weekend, which means that graduating students are thrilled, parents are teary-eyed, restaurants are packed — and this column gets a lot shorter for a while as the campus film series come to an end.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema, Sundance) — My full review is here. J.J. Abrams’ second outing in the captain’s chair of the Enterprise is getting mostly positive but not many rapturous reviews. I had a fun time watching it (especially in eye-popping IMAX 3D) but felt the screenplay panders too much to Trekkies (of which I’m one) instead of pushing the franchise forward.
“Lore” (Sundance) — Cate Shortland’s film dares the audience to identify with a teenage girl who at least shares her Nazi parents’ Aryan sensibilities, as she tries to shepherd her siblings to safety in post-war Germany. It’s a beautiful, at times elliptical film that’s more about adolescence that politics. I’m doing a post-show chat on Monday after the 7:05 p.m. showing at Sundance Cinemas, 430 N. Midvale Blvd. Come for the movie, or if you already saw it at the Wisconsin Film Festival or elsewhere, just meet us in the Overflow Bar at 9 p.m.!
“Free the Mind” (Sundance) — A documentary about pioneering research in the beneficial aspects of meditation on the brain could be a high-falutin’ esoteric exercise, but this film is level-headed and practical, looking at research done right here in Madison on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and preschoolers with ADHD. Some teachers from the program will take part in a post-screening chat after the 7 p.m. show on Saturday.
“E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” (8:30 p.m., Olbrich Park) — Madison Parks and the Madison Mallards have a great idea — show free movies outside all summer long, at both local parks and the Duck Pond. The series kicks off with Steven Spielberg’s enchanting sci-fi classic. UPDATE: This screening was originally scheduled to take place Friday, but was moved to Saturday because of the weather. Free!
“Crafting a Nation” (7:30 p.m., Barrymore Theatre) — Did Madison Craft Beer Week make you thirsty to learn more about craft beers and the people who make them? Check out this new documentary, which looks at craft beer makers in seven states (not Wisconsin, though) who quit their jobs and cashed in their 401ks to chase their dreams of making and selling great beer. Tickets are $10 in advance through barrymorelive.com, $12 at the door.
“Free the Mind” opens Wednesday at Sundance Cinemas in Madison. Not rated, 1:31, three stars out of four. There will be post-show Q&As featuring the filmmaker, several of the film’s subjects, and other experts after the 7 p.m. shows on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.
I know I shouldn’t judge a movie by its title, but hearing about a documentary called “Free the Mind” made me assume this would be one of those hippy-dippy films preaching about the mystical powers of positive thinking, like “What the Bleep Do We Know?” or “I Am.”
How refreshing it is that Danish documentary filmmaker Phie Ambo’s film, largely made in Madison, is so grounded and even utilitarian in its approach to the human brain. There’s some trippy visual effects intended to illustrate the activity of the brain, to be sure. But most of the film looks at the very practical applications of the meditation research done by Dr. Richard Davidson at the UW’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.
Davidson’s groundbreaking research (my interview with him this week is here) indicates that, just as trauma and other external experiences can shape the way we think, there are positive influences such as meditation that can rewire our brains in a more healthy direction. Ambo looks at two groups the Center is working with to put these theories into practice.
The first is preschoolers, especially one little boy who suffers from rage and fear issues, possibly a result of a life spent in foster care. The other are Iraq War vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. One, Rich Low, is haunted by the faces of the fellow soldiers who he couldn’t save while at war.
Another, Stephen Lee, is a former military intelligence officer who vividly describes the harsh interrogation tactics he used on people. “In order to do my job, I had to become a horrible person,” Lee said. “And I was good at it.” Ambo’s film gets about as close as I’ve ever seen to capturing the torment of PTSD sufferers; Low and Lee allow her intimate access into their daily lives.
The techniques that researchers use aren’t any sort of hocus-pocus, just a mix of meditation, breathing exercises and other methods. One thing I learned from the film is that there are hundreds of different kinds of meditations, and the trick is matching the right meditation with the individual. By the end of the sessions, the veterans’ anxiety levels have dropped and they’re sleeping much better.
There are some clunky stylistic touches in “Free the Mind,” such as an overbearing score that seems needlessly intrusive at times; when Davidson appears on Michael Feldman’s “Whad’Ya Know?” the music seems ominous for some reason. (Come on, it can’t be that bad.) But this is overall a compassionate and curious film about the real-world implications of some fascinating research happening right in our backyard, helping our own neighbors.