Instant Gratification: “Snowpiercer” and four other good movies just added to Netflix Instant


Snowpiercer” — My full review is here. Bong Joon-ho’s wildly imaginative sci-fi epic, in which what remains of humanity is crammed aboard a supertrain endlessly circling a frozen Earth, starts off as an action film and turns into a surreal allegory that would make Terry Gilliam proud.

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Wisconsin Film Festival review: Michael Murphy revisits “Phase IV”


“If I had been a tube of blue paint, he would have liked me more.”

That was actor Michael Murphy talking about Saul Bass, legendary designer and less-than-legendary filmmaker. In fact, although he designed iconic posters and opening-credits sequences for films like “Vertigo” and “The Man With the Golden Arm,” Bass made just one film as a director, the 1974 sci-fi thriller “Phase IV.”

Underseen for decades, “Phase IV” has resurfaced, and it played at the Wisconsin Film Festival on Saturday morning with a somewhat chagrinned-looking Murphy talking about it. “I heard some inappropriate laughter, dammit!” he joked to the audience after the film.

The foundation of the film is a rather silly sci-fi premise, that ants are starting to evolve and fight back against their predators, including humans. A pair of scientists (Murphy and Nigel Davenport) have come to a remote part of Arizona to study the phenomenon, and find themselves trapped in an escalating war of wits with the collective little buggers.

Universal Pictures sold the film to audiences as a horror movie in the vein of “Kingdom of the Spiders,” and there are some of those cheesy elements in there, to be sure. But Bass also brings a striking visual style to many scenes, including many close-up shots of the ants, and a gonzo original ending fully of trippy, baffling images that turned off test audiences.

After years working with improvisation-friendly director Robert Altman (such as on “Brewster McCloud,” which Murphy screened at the festival on Friday) Murphy wasn’t used to the strict hit-your-marks style of a director like Bass, and it showed. Bass and the studio constantly battled over the film, and Murphy said he was frustrated with several poor decisions, such as an intrusive introductory voiceover and terrible looped dialogue.

“It would have been a really interesting film if there was a little bit of attention paid to performances,” Murphy said. “Saul was a great artist, a good guy.”

Sean Savage of the Academy Film Archive, who found and restored the long-lost original ending, says he has a treasure trove of Bass material about “Phase IV” and other projects, and there have been some informal discussions about trying to release a restored Blu-ray edition at some point.

Murphy will be at the Union South Marquee Theater at 1:15 p.m. Sunday to introduce a film he’s much prouder of, Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.”

UPDATED: 31 sellouts at this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival


“Who just bought the last two tickets for the WI Film Fest’s screening of ROOM 237?” one festival fan tweeted last week. “This dude right here is who. #Nanny #Nanny #Boo #Boo.”

Man, those Wisconsin Film Festival fans are a cutthroat bunch.

As of Monday morning, 31 films in this year’s festival (running April 11 through 18) have sold out all or some of their screenings. Here’s a list of all the sellouts, including alternate times for those films that do still have advance tickets available.

Tickets are on sale through and at the festival box office on the first floor of Union South.

56 Up” — all three screenings are sold out. One of the subjects of the doc, Nick Hitchon, will be speaking at the Saturday screening only.

7 Boxes” — The 5:15 p.m. Friday show and 9 p.m. Tuesday shows are both sold out.

All the Light in the Sky” — 4:45 p.m. Sunday sold out.

Augustine” — 7 p.m. Thursday (April 18) sold out, tickets remain for 9:15 p.m. Tuesday.

Beyond the Hills” — 5:45 p.m. Sunday sold out.

“Breakfast with Curtis” — 11:30 a.m. Saturday is sold out, but tickets remain the 12:15 p.m. Friday show.

Consuming Spirits” — 2:15 p.m. Saturday sold out.

“Dear Mr. Watterson” — 9 p.m. Monday sold out, but tickets remain for 4 p.m. Sunday.

Dragon Inn” — 11:45 a.m. Saturday sold out.

Either Way” — both screenings sold out.

The End of Time” — 11:15 a.m. Saturday is sold out, but tickets remain for 12:30 p.m. Friday.

Flicker” — 7:45 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Monday are sold out, but tickets for 12:15 p.m. Friday remain.

I Am Divine” — 9:30 p.m. Friday sold out, but tickets remain for 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

“Key of Life” —  7 p.m. Wednesday is sold out, but tickets for 1:30 p.m. Thursday remain.

Kon-Tiki” — 6:30 p.m. Sunday sold out

Lore” — both screenings sold out

M” — 7:30 p.m. Saturday sold out

Much Ado About Nothing” — 9 p.m. Thursday sold out

Only the Young” — 7:45 p.m. Friday sold out, but tickets remain for 4 p.m. Sunday

Phase IV” — 11:30 a.m. Saturday sold out

Pretty Funny Stories” — 5 p.m. Saturday sold out

Radio Unnameable” — 6:45 p.m. Saturday sold out, but tickets remain for 5 p.m. Friday.

Renoir” — 1 p.m. Saturday sold out, but tickets remain for 2 p.m. Thursday

Room 237” — 6:30 p.m. Wednesday sold out

Short Films From Wisconsin’s Own” — 2 p.m. Sunday sold out

Stories We Tell” — 6:45 p.m. Thursday sold out

Tiger Tail in Blue” — 7:15 p.m. Sunday sold out.

The World Before Her” — 7:30 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday both sold out

This is Martin Bonner” — 6:30 p.m. Saturday sold out, but tickets remain for 2 p.m. Sunday

Unfinished Song” — 5 p.m. Saturday sold out

Winter Nomads” — 4:30 p.m. Thursday sold out, but tickets remain for 12:30 p.m. Friday

Talking Wisconsin Film Festival on the Madison Arts Extract podcast


I had a good time talking to the guys at the Madison Arts Extract podcast this week about the movies that have been announced so far for the Wisconsin Film Festival.  Via social media (especially its Facebook account), the festival has named about two dozen of the over 100 titles that have been announced for this year’s fest, which runs Thursday, April 11 through Thursday, April 18.

We talked about a few I’ve already mentioned on the blog, including “Citizen Koch” and “56 Up,” and a few I hadn’t, including “Dear Mr. Watterson,” a documentary about the creator of “Calvin & Hobbes” that has my vote for most “huggable” film of the festival, and “Phase IV,” an arty sci-fi movie about human-ant relations that is the sole film directed by Saul Bass, the creator of legendary opening-credits sequences for films like “Vertigo.”

You can listen to the podcast here (the podcast player is at the bottom of the page).