Wisconsin Film Fest 2008

*\Nerdcore for Life""* (84 minutes) 


""Nerdcore for Life"" is an ambitious documentry hoping to cover the history, drama and geekiness of Nerdcore hip-hop. Unfortunately, the filmmakers bit off more than they could chew and, after 40 minutes, the movie they lazily jumps from fact to fact.  


Besides its genre, this film has nothing new to offer the film world. Its editing is boring and the entertainment is inconsistent. It was funny in parts, but most of the film seemed like a power lecture on a new musical genre. It was long, dripping with pointless knowledge and mostly unexciting. 


There are several interesting nuggets in this film. It is a showcase of the genre's most talented acts like YT Cracker, MC Frontalot, MC Chris and MC Router. These acts can be entertaining to hip hop fans, immortals and muggles alike. Their rhymes beautifully illustrate the cruel geek life and the pressures of mastering the intricacies of computers and pop culture. Its good music saved the documentary from complete failure, but its positive influence is not enough to convince me to watch the whole thing again. 


- Ben Pierson 


*Water Lilies* (85 minutes) 

Having premiered at Cannes, this striking and beautiful film tells the story of a love triangle involving three 15-year-old French girls.  


Marie (Pauline Acquart) has a secret crush on the captain of the synchronized swim team, Anne (Louise Blanchà""re), while Marie's overweight best friend, Floriane (Adele Haenel), has a crush on Anne's lover, Franà§ois (Warren Jacquin).  


Marie develops a close friendship with Anne by helping her sneak out at night to see Franà§ois, but Marie's longing for Anne creates palpable sexual tension. Newcomers Acquart and Blanchà""re play their conflicted characters brilliantly.  


A subtle, engaging film, ""Water Lilies"" deals honestly with issues of budding sexuality, body image and the confusion of adolescence.  


- Stephen Dierks 


*""Loose Cannons""* (97 minutes) 

With kung-fu fighting at Vilas and a chase scene on Bascom Hill, this is the Madison campus as you have never seen it.  


Director Andy Schlachtenhaufen (a UW alum) creates a self-serious world oblivious to its own absurdities in ""Loose Cannons"" - a world where aviators are worn at all times and evil comes in the form of the budget-slashing student president and the extorting, murderous ""Freshman 15"" mafia. The student-run campus security force combats these threats and others all while trying to keep up a decent GPA.  


Though packed with silliness, the film finds its own fresh humor beyond cheesy action-film satire. The story is action-packed, the humor is sharp and plentiful and the whole package is enough to make Madison proud.  


- Megan Dwyer 


<*>""Chop Shop""</*> (84 minutes) 

""Chop Shop"" tells the moving story of a fast-talking and idealistic orphan named Alejandro growing up in the slums of Queens, N.Y. Alejandro finds a job in an auto repair shop and tries to raise money to carve out a life for himself and his older sister.  


""Chop Shop"" outlines the many challenges and struggles of growing up in poverty while at the same time showing the innocence of Alejandro's scrappy perseverance. Alejandro is exceptionally smart and mature, despite (or perhaps, because of) his lack of a traditional upbringing. 


Yet, with all its observations on class and economic hardship, the magic of ""Chop Shop"" is in its portrayal of family dynamics. Alejandro's giggly tussles with his sister on the bed are immediately relatable, and his premature role of family protector is what pushes the movie forward while breaking your heart.  

- Frances Provine 


*""White Night""* (100 minutes) 

""White Night"" centers on a man named Ulrik who, because of the accidental death of another man during a minor barroom skirmish, goes completely insane. Following the man's death, Urlik seems to make every possible irrational decision available to him. For example, when his wife forgives him for disappearing from an evening with her parents at a theater, and later from a party at their own house, he says: ""We can't fuck unless we're drunk or stoned,"" beginning a divorce case that threatens to ruin him.  


""White Night"" simply tries too hard to be a psychological thriller and comes off as boring and difficult. There is hardly a frame where half of Ulrik's face isn't obscured in shadows. 


The ending also seems rushed and ill-conceived, throwing in monologues, wife beatings and a few hallucinations for good measure. While the film presses the viewer to ask questions about Urlik's motivations, in the end, it answers almost none of them.  


- Christopher Guess 


*""Madison""* (90 minutes) 

People often joke that Madison is ""76 square miles surrounded by reality."" The film ""Madison,"" winner of this year's Wisconsin Film Festival Jury Prize, turns that description into a 90-minute story.  


Directed by UW-Superior professor Brent Notbohm, ""Madison"" revolves around Michael (Mike DeVita), a traumatized war correspondent and UW alumnus who has recently returned to Wisconsin from Baghdad.  


Searching for a break from the horrors of war in his old stomping grounds, Michael reunites with his best friend, Ben. He later meets Ash, an idealistic graduate student, whose strong opinions inspire heated debates about the Iraq War.  


While an admirable effort, ""Madison"" suffers from some construction problems. It has minor technical glitches, but what really hampers ""Madison"" is an abrasive screenplay. Many of the characters are one-dimensional, and the conversations about Iraq bluntly preach Notbohm's message. However, an exceptional performance by DeVita and beautiful shots of local scenery make ""Madison"" worth seeing, despite its flaws.  


- Todd Stevens 


*""Margot and Henry Have an Adventure""* (10 minutes) 

This 10-minute short film focuses on a day in the life of a quirky couple. However, this is no ordinary day and a far-from-ordinary couple. The combination of Margot's sass, similar to Ellen Page in ""Juno,"" and Henry's idiotic but humorous behavior makes the film. While the story seems disjointed and ridiculous at times, the ending proves the film's brilliance, making it a must-see. 


- Marly Schuman 


*""Yella""* (89 minutes) 

""Yella"" centers on a beautiful woman who leaves her home in former East Germany looking for a job. 

The film begins with Yella and her estranged husband driving to catch a train to take Yella to her new job. When her husband violently swerves the car into a river, Yella somehow manages to escape from the sinking vehicle to begin her new life.  


After the accident, Yella forms a relationship with Phillip, a businessman. He offers her a job, and Yella soon discovers her talents as a ruthless businesswoman. 


Throughout the film, Yella moves sadly through scenes with an awkward jaunt and disheartened posture, leading viewers to wonder why she saved herself from the sinking car. Most scenes seem unemotional, and the dialogue between characters often lapses into dry business conversations.  


That said, ""Yella"" is a beautifully morbid film with simple, striking scenes, sympathetic characters and a twist ending that will leave the viewer satisfied with a sense of finality. 


- Neha Suri 


*""Mad City Chickens""* (81 minutes) 

Local documentarians Tashai Lovington and Robert Lughai chronicle the rise of chicken keeping in Madison and abroad in ""Mad City Chickens."" The documentary draws from local interviews and expert opinions to paint the chicken as an enduring cultural figure within human society. 


The interviews flip between a young family preparing for their first chicken coop and background ranging from how-to guides for chicken keeping to behind-the-scenes footage of a large-scale chick hatchery. The resulting, whimsical narrative moves along at a pace that makes the film a joy to watch.  


The film falters in its latter half, going on the offensive against ""Big Poultry."" While the aggressive tone towards commercial egg production heats up the blood, it's far from balanced. Some neutral poultry experts partially offset the pro-organic opinions of local chicken keepers, but the general attitude presented is that commercial producers are the devil.  


- Mark Riechers 


*""Perceval""* (15 minutes) 

Fifteen minutes of Dark Ages with sparse, but essential, glimmers of light reflected from the knight in silver armor. In ""Perceval,"" the title character observes misery in his world on the pale, pink-eyed and filthy faces of both the evil and their victims, making the two indistinguishable.  


Perceval's blunt questions concerning good and evil transcend the metaphor of the noble, medieval knight versus the immoral. They effectively instill timeless and answerless questions in the modern-day audience throughout the film. ""Perceval"" will leave you chilled and unnerved.  


- Sara Lieburn  


*""Heather,""* (27 minutes)  

The short film ""Heather,"" written and directed by Wisconsin alum Melissa Lawrenz, follows the trials of a high school outcast. When Heather and her friend Lisa attend a party with the ""popular kids,"" Heather's crush corners and rapes her. Afterward, Heather must struggle to convince her parents and principal that she is telling the truth. This short film is generally well-written and well-performed, but the supposedly high-school-aged characters are played by much older looking actors, and some of the acting leaves something to be desired. The end is abrupt but actually works quite well with the quickly developed story of high school struggles.  

- Corrie Eggimann 


*""Welcome to Macintosh""* (89 minutes) 

""Welcome to Macintosh"" follows the evolution of what is now known as Apple, Inc. In the 1970s, a team of three people put together what became an innovative piece of technology that eventually became a functional, user-friendly and unique worldwide phenomenon.  


This documentary focuses on former Apple employees and their contributions to the company as it struggle for success. It also includes perspectives from authors, teachers and everyday fans of the company. 


Although the solid hour-and-a-half of people gushing about a line of machines can feel like an advertisement at times, the history of Apple is interesting, and the film's interviewees are genuine in their love for creating and using the Mac.  


- Erin Schmidtke 


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