Wednesday, October 30, 2019

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Milwaukee Film Fest!

The most wonderful time of the year for me isn't Christmas or my birthday or any of the other typical options- for me it's the 2 weeks that the Milwaukee Film Fest takes place! Film Fest brings all kinds of wonderful movies and documentaries to our beautiful independent movie theaters and I've found that sitting in a smallish theater with friends, drinking a tall boy and watching a possibly weird movie makes me so so happy. (What is less happy is when we do 9:30pm showings and then I get back home to the burbs and am in bed by 12:10am and then get up at 6:15am for work....I will never complain about it because I did it to myself and because I'm doing something fun but this body can only handle so much of that)

So, like we do every year: myself, friend Maggie and friend Garrett get a program book, 3 different color highlighters, circled what we felt strongly about and if all three of us circled a movie we try to make it fit into the itinerary. There is color coding, there is spreadsheets, there are Outlook invites. This is not amateur hour.

One thing that Maggie and I are particularly proud of is that all of the movies on this list were either directed or co-directed by women. Did we do it intentionally? No. But it seems like there are just a lot of badass women making awesome films and we are so proud to support them. And we are proud that Milwaukee Film supports them too.

Sound design is one of those things that you probably don't consciously notice when you're watching a movie unless it's really really good or really really bad. Sound can make or break a movie - what's Inception without it's Hans Zimmer "booooooooonnnnnnng" noise, or the quiet domestic sounds in Roma or the crashing bombs and the whirring helicopter blades of Apocalypse Now? It's art half finished.

This educational, 20 minutes too long but still interesting and fun, documentary takes you through the pioneers of sound design and the tools that they used to make movies what they are. I will never take surround sound for granted in a movie ever again. The time and patience that it takes to get the sound so that you can hear the actor speaking, and the score, and whatever ambient noise AND whatever special effects might be needed is a balancing act that would drive me to insanity. So God bless 'em.

I've had a borderline weird (admittedly) interest in snake handling churches since like, high school. When I saw this beauty in the MFF program I knew this I was going to be interested and THEN I saw that Walton Goggins was one of the lead actors and I was sooooooooooooold.

It tells the story of a young girl, whose father is the pastor of a snake handling church, who finds herself at a crucial juncture in her life. There is love and loss and community and  crisis of faith for many people. Beautiful scenery and impeccably acted. If you don't like snakes...this might not be for you!

At the conclusion of this movie I turned to G who attended with me and said "So, did we just watch people either actually starve to death or almost starve to death for two hours?" and he goes "yeah, I think so".

We were joking, kind of. It's about a group of scientists who are protecting a one-of-a-kind seed bank in a Siege of Leningrad-esque situation. Black and white with Russian voiceovers that were taken from diaries of survivors of the actual Siege of Leningrad. Was it the most uplifting movie to see at 3:00pm on a beautiful fall afternoon in a beautiful historic theater? No. But it's shots were artistically composed and the lighting was phenomenal and I really enjoyed it.

For real, just the poster for this movie made me want to gobble it up.
The thing that makes me laugh about this movie was that it had something for each person of our  group - a very outdoorsy person who hunts but has a lot of strong feelings about conservation and 2 of us who just love art and museums and general weirdness. This doc had something for all of us.

Turns out there is a lot of different styles/types of taxidermy - it can be the really realistic stuff that you put in a museum as part of a diorama, there's really like, high art and high fashion taxidermy that might be a little less realistic but is still very true to the subject matter, there's the taxidermy where you take the front of one animal and the back of another animal and make like, a literal cat-fish hybrid. (That shit was weird, but whatever.) The history of taxidermy as a practice is really intriguing, it started with zoologists being like "well, eventually we aren't going to have elephants any more so let's make sure one of them get's stuffed so out great grandkids will know what this majestic animal was before we killed everything off."  This one was fun and quirky with a beautiful amount of animals and some strange but awesome human beings.

Honestly, this was not a movie that I was interested in seeing but G feels very passionately on this subject so I agreed to go see it with him. FRIEND OF THE YEAR. It was at 10:00 on a Sunday morning and we had a delicious breakfast at a restaurant I hadn't been to yet before the movie so I guess it evened out.

 The movie is basically all about how terrible school provided lunches are in schools. They are mass produced, not super nutritious, usually covered in plastic and frankly just look like hot dog food most of the time. What made this particularly sad/outragey is that a lot of these kids (they focus on Boston) live below the poverty line and this might be the only meal they get all day. And some of them still won't eat all of it because it's just so awful. So, it's not all doom and gloom just because there are steps being taken for improvements. What made this one fun was that the director was there for a (reallll quick) Q&A afterward.

I'm still deciding on my favorite, to be honest. However if I would have skipped one it would have been Eat Up. It wasn't bad it just didn't really resonate with me as much as the others - and one of the main people that they profiled said some real, like, self indulgent/entitled things that made me cringe a little. But it was very pro-broccoli, so points?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Book review: "When Science Goes Wrong - 12 Tales from the Dark Side of Discovery" by Simon LeVay

I have one of those jobs where if I screw something up there are repercussions - I get yelled at, maybe my department is out some money, I feel embarrassed. All of the people in this book, when they screw up something terrible hands. Like at least one person dies. This book, written by a neuroscientist, has 12 different chapters where science went TERRIBLY WRONG.

There's a chapter about a hurricane that shaped the southern part of England in 1987, it snuck up on the meteorologists of England, and one weatherman on air was super flippant and dismissive about reports coming in that there was in fact a hurricane. I'm surprised more people didn't die. And also that the weatherman who was an asshole live on air has cashed in on his infamy with product endorsements. WHAT?!

There was a chapter about MDMA (Ecstacy) being used to treat people with Parkinson's disease or people with similar symptoms. It does not end well. At all.

Or there's the biological warfare manufacturing facility in rural Russia (yep, there's a great sentence when talking about disasters) THAT FORGOT TO PUT AN AIR FLITER ON A VENT SO PEOPLE IN THE WAY OF THE WIND OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING GOT POISONED BY ANTHRAX. Pardon the all caps, but GOOD GRIEF. Don't worry, most of the Russian government says it was a tainted meat outbreak. Also, did you know that the last person who was killed by smallpox was a medical photographer who worked at University of Birmingham? Her office was above a lab studying it, that scientists mishandled it, and it went up through the air vent into her office and killed her. A few days after the photographer was killed the scientist who mishandled the virus slit his own throat in his yard.

The chapter that made me say "what the hell?" the most out loud in my reading was about an accident in a nuclear reactor testing station in Idaho. (Yeah, not a great start, right?). There was an accident where 3 men were killed nearly instantly. One man was pinned to the ceiling by one of the rods that had shot out from the nuclear pool thing and pinned him to the ceiling through the pelvis (his name was Dick Leggs.....for real. Dick Leggs). Another one had his pelvis driven up into his abdomen. One other guy survived long enough to get him into the ambulance and then died. Their bodies were so radioactive that to get them to be decontaminated enough to hand over to their families for burial they had to amputate all four of their limbs and their head, and take out most of their internal organs. These families buried empty torsos in led lined coffins that went in a led lined vault that was covered by 6 feet of concrete and buried 14 feet down (don't visit those graves in Arlington). Their funeral services could only be 5 minutes long and the family had to be 20 feet back from the grave.

They still aren't 100% sure of the cause of the accident but such theories that have been thrown out include "Maybe one of the guys was sleeping with another one of the guy's wives and it was like, a nuclear murder suicide" or my personal favorite "Maybe Dick Leggs was adjusting the rods and one of the other guys came up and ~goosed him~ while he was bent over and he pulled the rod out too far and thats how he ended up pinned to the ceiling of this damn nuclear reactor". (Not a joke, that's an option).  Also, several of the people who were involved in the rescue effort died from radiation exposure, just by handling the bodies, or driving an ambulance with that dying man in it for less than 4 minutes.



Thursday, October 3, 2019

Book Review: "The Unwomanly Face of War" by Svetlana Alexievich

Once again, this is one of those books where you read it knowing that it's going to be hard and stomach churning but you know it's going to be an important read so you read it anyway.

This author interviewed hundreds of Russian women who served in many different capacities during World War II. They were doctors, nurses, snipers, antitank artillery, pilots, infantry, laundresses, cooks, and more and more.  So many of the stories have similar heartbreaking threads ("we were so excited for the war, we begged and begged to be sent to the front", "when I came back it had been four years since I had worn a dress, I had to learn to walk in them again", "if a man came back from the war without a limb, or having suffered a terrible injury he was a hero. If it happened to a woman she was shamed", "I haven't talked about this to anyone"). The experiences that these women shared blew me away. Some of these women were so young (not actually women, technically) that they got their periods for the first time while serving. Some had no idea what was happening and on at least a few occasions the male doctors that they worked with had to explain that they hadn't actually gotten injured. (No one should become a sniper before they get their periods. For so many reasons.)

Here are a couple of quotes that stuck with me:

From a surgeon: "We stood at the operating table around the clock. You stand there, and your arms drop by themselves. My war has three smells: blood, chloroform and iodine."

"When the war ended I had three wishes: first - to ride on a bus instead of crawling on my stomach; second - to buy and eat a whole loaf of white bread; and third - to sleep in white sheets and have them make crinkly noises"

The author talking about conducting interviews with these women - 

"I listen when they speak...I listen when they are silent...Both words and silence are text for me".

"Several times women sent back my transcribed text with a posscript: "No need for small details...Write about our great Victory..." But "small details" are what is most important for me, the warmth and vividness of life: a lock left on the forehead once the braid has been cut; the hot kettles of kasha and soup, which no one eats, because out of a hundered persons only 7 come back from the battle; or how after the war they could not go to the market and look at the rows of red meat...or even at red cloth..."Ah, my good girl, forty years have already gone by, but you won't find anything red in my house. Ever since the way I've hated the color red".

This should be required reading for everyone. Everywhere. Every college history class. Assigned for anyone on the internet who talks shit about women and feminism and equality. For every stupid fucking teenage boy who makes a joke to a girl about belonging in a kitchen.

It was a privilege to read these women's amazing stories.