Following my first wonderful day of the Milwaukee Film Festival, I was really looking forward to going out again. With so much going on, it was hard for me to contain my excitement at being back, skipping lines, and watching as many films as I could. This time, I made my way over to the Fox Bay Cinema Grill.
I didn’t really hear about this theater until last year’s fest, and this place is quite different from the other venues. Being a bit upscale and offering a full menu of food options (including burgers, fries, wines, and desserts), it’s a more modern take on a cinema. Normally, I don’t really come here, but it is a great place for an intimate date setting. Finding a place to park and walking up to the Fox Bay for the first time in year is surreal, and as I soon entered and went into the large screening room, I looked forward to my next film of the day.
A Swedish coming-of-age drama, Sami Blood focuses on Ella-Marja (Maj-Doris Rimpi), an elderly woman who reminisces on a pivotal point in her life when she was 14 years old. Forcibly removed from her family and placed in a boarding school due to her heritage, the young Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrok) is taught discipline by a strict teacher and thrust into a new world as an outcast looked down upon in society. Seeking to leave the somber countryside and break away from her Sami family to move to Uppsala, a prominent city in Sweden, this tale shows the young woman’s determination to become a university student and find acceptance in the world, even in the face of racism, rejection, and social demoralization. It takes a while to get set up, but Blood eventually becomes a film of strong character.
Sparrok gives a poignant, heart-wrenching performance, showing the viewer a girl who is equal parts tough and delicate, and adamant in leaving the environment that she hates. The film’s title (translated as “same blood”) also lends to her social distancing because while Marja is of Sami origin, she doesn’t want to be a part of their society after her treatment. However, Marja’s tenacity drives a rift between her and her family, showing that some dreams come with a price. Through the young woman’s experiences, writer and director Amanda Kernell also gives a compelling take on social ostracism through the harsh treatment of Sami girls. It is a somber film with positive moments of love, life, and hope, with some memorable scenes that the viewer can connect to. While the pacing of the narrative can be a bit sluggish, Sami Blood is nonetheless a great film that shows the harsh fight to break out of the box that society keeps you in to become something more.
From here I quickly moved on to the Oriental where a major event was happening. A popular 90’s romantic comedy was being shown, but what was captivating was the fact that one of the actors from the film was gracing the audience with his presence. That actor was none other than Larenz Tate of Love Jones. As a major player in the 90’s with films like Dead Presidents and Menace II Society, Tate has had a cult following since acting in Love Jones and has even been included in Season 4 of the popular television series Power. Knowing all of this, I had to get to the Oriental as soon as I could and for good reason: the ticket-holder line was wrapped around the building when I arrived; making me grateful for the pass that got me in early. Heading in and meeting my co-writer Andrea Thompson, I was prepared to see this film for only the second time in my life. When I was a kid, I had no clue what was going on, but I had a feeling I would be more prepared now. Every seat was packed, the lights dimmed, and the crowd was ready to see Tate. When he came on the stage, the women in the crowd screamed, shouted, and went crazy. I was also excited to see him in person. After a few words about the film, I was ready for a throwback to the 90’s.
How far would you go for the love of your life? This is the basis of Theodore Witcher’s Love Jones, a classic 90’s African-American romance comedy which inspired later films like Love & Basketball and Brown Sugar. Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate) is a young black poet who catches the eye of photographer Nina Mosley (Nia Long) at the Sanctuary, a posh nightclub promoting jazz and spoken word poetry. After an intimate reading dedicated to Mosley (and some further stalking by Lovehall), the two fall madly in love and have passionate sex on their first date.
However, with some confusion on how to continue this courtship and the presence of past love still in their lives, the two must decide if they are truly in love or if their scorching flame is only physical. Right out of the gate, Love Jones is hysterical. Jokes and insults fly and keep the story flowing at a smooth pace, with not a dull moment to be found, amidst the heated arguments, tender moments, and much more. Now, while the typical “boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl” romance plot is a bit overdone, I feel that this film gives a solid representation of black love and is inspiring to minority communities, especially coming off of previous movies like 1991’s Boyz in the Hood and 1993’s Menace II Society. Jones is a departure from the violent, gang-driven representation of black society and shows the ability of people to love in complicated circumstances. In the end, this film is a pleasant example of black cinema and shows how love can be even sweeter for the complications we bring to it.
After the audience’s fantastic reception of the movie, Tate came back on stage to do a lengthy Q&A which covered quite a bit. “What is your favorite quote from the film?” “How does this film relate to love in today’s society or is it different?” “Have you ever had a crazy, mad fan do something wild to you?” Not only were there great questions from the interviewer, but a few fans also got a chance to ask questions. He was very frank, open, and funny in his remarks, saying that he had come a long way since Love Jones, but the character followed him as he continued in his life.
The film tested not only him, but the other actors, and the final product was something that could last through the generations, proven by the enthusiasm audiences still have 20 years later. Finally, Tate went into all of the work he was currently doing, including working with his brothers and family on new ideas and talking about his continued participation in further seasons of Power. Overall, it was a humbling experience for me and I believe everyone had a great time enjoying Tate’s insight and presence.
At this point, I was tired, weary, and ready to go. But before I could leave the grand Oriental, I had one more film to attend, and it was just in the next room. After experiencing stories about love and acceptance for the majority of the day, it was time to inject some horror into this medley to end the night.
Camping in the woods is an amazing experience. Being in the middle of nature away from the city can bring some much-needed peace and quiet. But for one couple, it might be the most frightening getaway they will ever experience.
Damien Power’s Killing Ground sets lovers Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) off on an excursion to a national park in Australia. After getting directions to the campsite from a stranger, the couple moves to the place after being tailed by a white truck. Reaching their destination, they encounter an empty tent and unsettling silence. After finding evidence around the area and encountering two madmen from that strange white vehicle, the couple quickly discovers that they are at the scene of two horrific murders and must survive the fiendish plans of these two lunatics or they will be next. While this concept of psychological horror is not unique, the presentation of three different sets of couples encountering these same two men is quite interesting. While not in chronological order, you can see the terror and desperation in each couple as they are each assaulted by these trigger-happy hunters who are out for blood. Plus, being in the woods with wonderful naturalist cinematography and presentation makes the terror a bit more real.
The executions are brutal and the action is vicious as one by one, people lose their lives and plead for help. However, the pacing of the film can be erratic with the back-and-forth of switching, and it makes the film feel long. Plus, next to a Jason, Freddy Krueger, or Jigsaw, two crazed men with guns shooting at victims might not be enough to make the audience shake in terror. But after witnessing the level of gore that is shown and the vicious way that these victims are flayed, broken, and tortured, the idea of a night in the woods might not seem so romantic anymore.
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