2013 Milwaukee Film Festival Wrap-Up – Stephen Dorff’s Weird Buddy Movie and the Most Terrifying Film of the Festival
The Rambler (Dir. Calvin Reeder) – 4/5
Trying to give a rating to a movie like The Rambler is hard, because your initial impression is likely to change over time. It's bizarre in a way that's hard to do justice to in words, at times feeling like what would happen if Twin Peaks had been made by Rob Zombie. My first thoughts immediately after watching it were that while impressive, a movie so viscerally demanding needed to offer something a bit more for the audience than to be able to walk out of the theater thinking, “Hey, that was real weird.” Coming around to it a few days later, I'm not sure that's fair. The Rob Zombie comparison is especially appropriate in the case of a movie like The Devil's Rejects—both films are so morbidly committed to their subjects that they create a real world out of the absurd, and while no sane person would wish to visit these worlds, they're fascinating to behold from a distance.
Dermot Mulroney channels a little bit of Josh Brolin for the titular role as a man who's just been released from prison and finds himself drawn to a life on the road, encountering characters like “The Scientist,” who creates a roving sideshow where customers can strap a device on their heads, be put to sleep, and have their dreams recorded onto a VHS tape. Asked if it really works, The Scientist replies “it's worked before”—we eventually see why that answer is horribly fitting. Another character, who should be Tom Waits but isn't, gets the The Rambler into a series of progressively more ill-advised underground boxing matches. Thinking back on it, I realize that very few of the characters actually have names.
The Rambler get's this year's “Beyond the Black Rainbow Award” from me as the movie I'll probably think about the most as time goes on. It draws from traditions in the ghoulish and surreal—a carnival sideshow would seem like a Sunday morning at church in The Rambler's world—but its single-pointed focus in making Mulroney's character a passive and almost trapped observer of these various horrors and nothing more twists our expectations around. We keep thinking the pieces will fit together like a puzzle, and the fact that they don't is where the movie maintains its own unique vision (albeit one not everyone will care for). In the end the real horror of The Rambler is the acceptance that sometimes the world is just a weird place. Like, real weird.
Zaytoun (Dir. Eran Riklis) – 2/5
Zaytoun is essentially a buddy road movie about an Israeli pilot captured by the PLO in Lebanon, who then embarks on a trip to return to Israel with one of his captors, a young Palestinian boy who wants to find his family's old home. The subject matter is so primed for an exploration of a complex conflict that boiling everything down to cliches, even though well acted and delivered, makes the movie worse than it probably deserves. There is nothing new here, and no insights that can't be broken down into: “people with large idealistic differences discover that they're not so different once they get to know each other.” Thanks Zaytoun.
It's hard to really hate the movie, because its heart is in the right place, but scene after scene throws away the chance to explore the role history and heritage play in one's own worldview. Instead, any potentially interesting conflict is resolved with sentimentality that's deliberately blind to the reality the movie draws from. You can skip it.
That's it for this year's Milwaukee Film Festival! We hope you've enjoyed the reviews and maybe picked a few films to seek out on your own. To that end, here's a quick list of any films we spotlighted that are currently available for streaming on Netflix or Amazon:
- Upstream Color – Amazon Instant | Netflix
- Post Tenebras Lux – Amazon Instant
- Informant – Amazon Instant
- Vanishing Waves – Amazon Instant
- Reality – Amazon Instant
- Blancanieves – Amazon Instant
- The History of Future Folk – Amazon Instant
- The Rambler – Amazon Instant