The conundrum of what to expect from a Laurie Anderson performance, touchy subjects with Michael Che, the Cloverfield before Cloverfield just dropped on Netflix overnight, the beginning of the end of Micro-Wave Cinema, chaotic post-punk from Prettiest Eyes, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Emili Earhart, Scott Gordon, Edwanike Harbour, John McCracken, Grant Phipps Chali Pittman, and David Wolinsky
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THURSDAY FEBRUARY 8
Many of us are still mourning the loss of our Purple Majesty, Prince. Fortunately, he lives on through his music, and of course as the Kid in Albert Magnoli’s Purple Rain (1984).There is no musical cinematic triumph that can compare to this movie. While it may not deliver the best acting or dialogue, it compensates with gorgeously shot musical montages of Prince And The Revolution performing all of the hits from the Purple Rain album. Prince was arguably at the height of his powers in 1984 after having released Controversy and Dirty Mind. This film is a semi-autobiographical account of Prince’s rise to fame amidst tumultuous family life and the trials tribulations of romance. Beneath the stardom and fame, we see the vulnerability and resilience of a tortured genius who gave the world timeless classics. He faced his demons the best way he knew how and this film sums up some of the best of his body of work. Come purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. —Edwanike Harbour
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 9
In our exhaustively opinionated world, one of the laziest things to do is sneer about the decline of Saturday Night Live. To dismiss the show these days, though, is to overlook the reinvention of "Weekend Update," has the distinction of being the show's longest-running recurring sketch—there from the very beginning in 1975. Michael Che inherited the segment in a post-Jon Stewart Daily Show "Weekend Update," a once unenviable position that Che and co-host Colin Jost have remarkably inverted since 2014. For the last few years, the two comedians have reliably made the segment the most cutting and vital part of SNL. (It's no wonder he and Jost were recently promoted to be co-head writers for the entire show.) Long-time fans of Che's, likely, were not surprised. In the last decade, even before SNL, he's become a known quantity capable of cutting, fearless, and painfully true—and most importantly, funny—insights into touchy subjects. A memorable example of this, from his 2016 Netflix special, Michael Che Matters, touches on the low bar of accepting the premise of Black Lives Matter: "We ask for the lowest rights. Gays were fighting for equal rights. Can you believe that's an actual stance you can have?... What the fuck is less than matters? Black lives exist? Can we say that? Is that controversial?" This event has multiple showtimes; see them all here. —David Wolinsky
Here’s a serious question: how do I describe someone like Laurie Anderson? Finding just a phrase to capture her interdisciplinary essence and existence is difficult by definition. Anderson contains multitudes. As a performance artist, she speaks to different crowds at the same time: visual artists, philosophers, musicians, cinema people, inventors, scientists, and avant-garde academics. Her first major album is called Big Science, and she is without a doubt a Big Thinker™.
Anderson will visit here as she tours a new project, Language Of The Future, but she's also known for spontaneity and switching things up. The audience might expect some content from her recent film Heart Of A Dog, which was filmed and scored by Anderson herself, and centers around her late (and extremely adorable) rat terrier Lolabelle. It’s a meditation on loss—of Lolabelle but primarily of the late Lou Reed, her partner, who passed away during the making of the film. She’s officially on a book tour, with her autobiographical memoir Laurie Anderson: All The Things I Lost In The Flood, set to be released on February. She’ll probably talk, sing, dance, perform—and inspire. —Chali Pittman
The original Cloverfield, released in 2008, attempted to revive and modernize the monster horror genre through the use of shaky, first-person camera footage.The promotions for the film used Blair Witch Project-style strategies to shroud things in mystery, but it was pretty clear that an alien invasion did not hit New York City. The film was received variously as refreshing and as an opportunistic way to prey on post-9/11 anxiety. Dan Trachtenberg's 2016 film 10 Cloverfield Lanehas an at first barely recognizable connection to the monster-movie frenzy of its predecessor. The film spends the majority of its time shrinking the conflict from a global threat of aliens or monsters to a close personal conflict between its protagonists, Howard (John Goodman) and Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Michelle wakes to find that Howard is holding her hostage, and learns that a supposed chemical attack has rendered the outside air unbreathable.
Goodman delivers a great performance as a malicious kidnapper and doomsday prepper with a troubling secret. Winstead’s role as a bad-ass fighting back against her kidnapper, and against whatever cataclysm is brewing outside, left me wanting to see her as a focal point in future iterations of the franchise. The film does succeed in creating a certain slow-moving tension, but it still left a sour taste in audiences' mouths. It's obvious that 10 Cloverfield Lane hinges on the booming interest in the kidnapping and the "Taken" genre popular in recent years of modern cinema, but also feeds into another current—global anxiety, the threat of nuclear war. It screens here as part of Cinematheque's series honoring director and screenwriter Damien Chazelle, who co-wrote 10 Cloverfield Lane. Chazelle will also be making an in-person visit on Feb. 23. —John McCracken
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 10
Aki Kaurismäki has long been an inspiration for the idiosyncratic and independent cinema of Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers) in uniting deadpan comedy with beaming humanism. And The Other Side Of Hope, the latest from Finland's most internationally well-known writer-director, is no exception. The award-winning feature gets a Madison premiere as part of Cinematheque's "Premiere Showcase" with support from the campus' Middle Eastern Studies program. Pitched as a timely sociopolitical commentary, which complements the compassionate character of his last film, Le Havre (2012), about immigration from Gabon, The Other Side Of Hope finds Kaurismäki turning his lens to the Syrian refugee crisis in his thematic home of Helsinki.
Sakari Kuosmanen plays Waldemar Wikström, a traveling clothing salesman, who suddenly quits his profession and sells off his inventory. Feeling lucky, he decides to bet that money in poker, and ends up with an extravagant sum to purchase and refurbish a restaurant. Soon, he discovers asylum-seeker Khaled (Sherwan Haji) hiding out near his new venture. Learning of his citizenship debacle after arriving in Finland on a cargo ship, Waldemar decides to hire Khaled on as part of the staff. In their ensuing friendship, Kaurismäki enriches his narrative with a starkly muted color palette, measured doses of slapstick, and lively, inviting soundtrack of rautalanka (Finnish folk rock). Not only is the film ultimately one of the director's sharpest and most affectionate, but it rightfully criticizes an unforgiving modern bureaucracy. —Grant Phipps
Chicago saxophonist and composer Greg Ward navigates smoothly through free passages and in and out of groovy, melodic narratives in his jazz trio with drummer Greg Artry and bassist Dennis Carroll. The trio work in a real that's not quite through-composed and not totally free, but tends to entangle the audience in frenzied intensity. The trio can also create scarcer spaces for the articulate, melodic ornaments of Ward’s saxophone, Artry's distinct brush rhythms, and Carroll's shifting colors on bass. Ward works in many other circles in the jazz world, not only as a saxophonist and ensemble leader, but as a commissioned composer.
Ward's 2016 record Touch My Beloved’s Thought—a work scored for a 10-piece jazz ensemble—accompanies choreography by Onye Ozuzu, celebrating the work of Charles Mingus. In addition to original projects, Ward has a history of performing and recording with a number of notable and disparate artists. In addition to adventurous jazz musicians such as Hamid Drake and William Parker, Ward has played behind experimental rock outfit Tortoise and rapper Lupe Fiasco. —Emili Earhart
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 11
The Micro-Wave Cinema Series begins its farewell semester in Madison with a special in-person visit from Emmy award-winning producer/editor David Franklin, who will introduce his debut feature As Far As The Eye Can See (2016). While Franklin may be best known for his work in television (48 Hours), he's been steadily experimenting with the narrative short format for the last 15 years. During that period, he honed his talents for tender rural realism, which he fully embraces in this modest tale penned by Paden Fallis.
On a farm in Central Texas, Jack Ridge (Jason London, most famous for portraying Randall "Pink" Floyd in Linklater's Dazed And Confused) feels the encroachment of mid-life crisis, enduring a divorce and reticently retreating from his local status as a prodigal pianist in the region where Van Cliburn's international achievements loom large. The haunting qualities of an open, painterly landscape manifest in Jack's feelings of isolation but also elicit his innate perseverance, as he both mentally prepares to perform at the annual Tarbert County Piano Competition and legally defend his land against corporate industry takeover.
With comparisons to former Micro-Wave favorite Some Beasts, the recent cinema of David Lowery, and maybe a bit of Gus Van Sant's Promised Land (2012), As Far As The Eye Can See emerges as a stirring story of personal redemption that's forged through cross-generational friendships in a close-knit community fighting for self-sufficiency. Franklin will also be on hand after the screening for a Q&A. —Grant Phipps
MONDAY FEBRUARY 12
Cave Curse, Prettiest Eyes, Educational Davis And The Karaoke Wilderness. Mickey's Tavern. 10 p.m. (free)
L.A. trio Prettiest Eyes shift through a lot of different shapes on their 2017 album Pools, with each track offering an oblique sliver of fierce and inventive post-punk. "Mira Nena" uses Marcos Rodríguez 's chugging bass and drummer Pachy García's snare as a frame for synth/electronics manipulator Paco Casanova's meld of skeletal hooks and scrambled chaos. The rhythms become more jagged, and the atmosphere more masterfully dissonant, on "Gold Snake," as heavy reverb swats García's vocals all around what sounds like a single warped chord from Casanova. (Speaking of all the reverb on those vocals, it will surprise no one that this came out on Castle Face, the eminent punk label run by John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees.) Most of the tracks, like "Prance," fall somewhere in between, ruggedly catchy but constantly liable to try and throw the listener off-balance. Pools is one of those records that threatens to dredge up a lot of weird psychic muck, and it's great fun. —Scott Gordon
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 13
Though she's known for her portrayal of Denise, best friend and confidante to Aziz Ansari's character Dev on Master Of None, Lena Waithe the person is reportedly not too different from her on-screen persona. So much so, that Ms. Waithe's recent Emmy win for comedy writing (the first earned by a Black woman, by the way) was for a Master Of None episode, based very much in her personal history, that details her experience as a teenager coming out as lesbian to her mother.
In her moving acceptance speech for that Emmy, Ms. Waithe shouted out to her "LGBTQIA family," and here, she'll speak about her experiences being a Black Queer Womyn in Hollywood. She'll also talk about her background growing up on the South side of Chicago, a history that she's also transformed into an on-screen narrative (in collaboration with hip-hop star Common!) by co-producing The Chi, a very cinematic, very moving Showtime drama about gun violence and life on Chicago's South side that premiered in early 2018. —Chali Pittman