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A Brief And Not-Entirely-Complete Guide to the 42nd Chicago International Film Festival--Week One

by Peter Sobczynski

For the next two weeks, this column will be listing some of the daily highlights screening at the 42nd Chicago International Film Festival. This is not a complete guide by any means–I have neither the time nor energy to pull that off (especially with the likes of “The Marine” on the horizon)–but I will be making sure to highlight some of the more intriguing titles and events along with a few to avoid as well. Be sure to check every day or so as more titles are added.

Unless noted, the films and events will be taking place at the Landmark Century Centre (2828 N. Clark), the River East 21 (322 E. Illinois) or the Thorne Auditorium (375 E. Chicago Avenue). For a complete and updated schedule of the films and events or to order tickets, you can contact the festival by visiting their offices at 30 E. Adams, suite 800, calling at (312)332-3456 or by going online to www.chicagofilmfestival.com


10/11

DIRT NAP: Having seen their grandiose dreams slowly fade away over the years, a trio of childhood pals (John C. McGinley, Paul Hipp and D.B. Sweeny–the later also makes his directorial debut) decide to jump-start their lives by faking their deaths and beginning anew. (4:30 PM. River East)

HANDY MAN: See 10/8. (5:30 PM. Landmark)

THE PAPER WILL BE BLUE: See 10/9. (6:30 PM. Landmark)

COME EARLY MORNING: See 10/9. NOTE: writer-director Joey Lauren Adams will be appearing at this screening. (6:30 PM. Landmark)

THE QUEEN: In the week that elapsed between the shocking death of Princess Diana in 1997 and her funeral, many were surprised and shocked by the seemingly cold and aloof reaction on the part of Buckingham Palace to the tragedy–their seeming lack of empathy towards what England was going through stunned the world and made people think that the royals really were out of touch with the people. In Stephen Frears’s highly impressive new work, he takes us behind the scenes to see what was going through the minds of both Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren), whose undoing was to treat the death as just another passing (no public displays of mourning or even a message to the public) and newly-elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), whose efforts to make the royals seem more caring wind up increasing his own popularity with the public. Although impeccably written (by Peter Morgan) and nicely directed by Frears , what really seals the deal for the film is the career-best performance from Helen Mirren in the title role, a marvelous turn that effortlessly captures both the flinty public persona of Queen Elizabeth II while allowing her human side to peek through as well. Frears will appear at this screening as part of a tribute hosted by Michael Wilmington and featuring a retrospective montage of clips from some of his best-known works–I doubt the freeze-frame classic of Uma Thurman in “Dangerous Liasons” will be included but Lord knows it should. (7:00 PM Thorne Auditorium)

CANDY: See 10/8. (9:15 PM. River East)



10/10

EXILE FAMILY MOVIE: In this fascinating documentary, an extended Persian family whose members have split off over the years–some have relocated to the United States and Europe while others stayed behind in Iran–organizes a top-secret reunion right in the heart of Mecca. (4:00 PM. Landmark)

THE PAPER WILL BE BLUE: See 10/9. (4:00 PM. River East)

CANDY: See 10/8. (6:30 PM. Landmark)

CHRONICLE OF AN ESCAPE: If you think sports stars today are far too coddled for their own good, you might get a kick out of the Argentinian thriller based on the 1977 kidnapping of soccer player Claudio Tamburrini, an action sponsored by the government, and the subsequent relationship that develops between him and his torturers. (7:00 PM Thorne Auditorium)

THE PAGE TURNER: I have a fondness for French psychological thrillers and this one, from director Denis Dercourt, sounds fairly promising. A famous concert pianist hires a young woman to serve as both her nanny and the page turner for her upcoming comeback performance. What she doesn’t realize (though we do) is that she was responsible for dashing the woman’s musical dreams a decade earlier and that she has inadvertently set the stage for an extraordinarily cruel revenge. (8:45 PM. River East)

FLANNEL PAJAMAS: See 10/9 (8:45 PM. Landmark)

RENAISSANCE: See 10/6. (8:45 PM. Landmark)


10/9

THE PAPER WILL BE BLUE: Deftly mixing fact and fiction, this Romanian film uses the 1989 military coup of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu to tell the story of a young soldier who spontaneously decides to abandon his post to join the revolution and the fellow platoon members who set off into the confusion to find him. (5:00 PM. River East)

THE BRIDGE: See 10/7. (6:45 PM. Landmark)

JASMINE WOMEN: Hou Yong multi-story saga looks at three similar tales of love and loss as seen through the eyes of three different generations of women. The film is fairly standard stuff but it is aided immeasurably by the presence of the always-striking Ziyi Zhang and Joan Chen, who play multiple roles as the women in question. (7:00 PM. Thorne Auditorium)

COME EARLY MORNING: Still best known as the delightful central character of Kevin Smith’s “Jersey Girl,” Joey Lauren Adams makes an impressive writing and directing debut with this affecting drama of a young woman in a small Southern town struggling to break free from a cycle of too many drunken one-night stands when she meets a guy who is interested in more than just that. What elevates it from just another indie drama about a woman coming to terns with things is the electrifying lead performance by Ashley Judd (in a role that will remind some of her breakthrough part in “Ruby in Paradise”)–this is the best work she has done in a long time and serves as a much-needed reminder (to her, if no one else) that she can be one of the most powerful actresses around when given material slightly more challenging than the dull thrillers she has been stuck in for the last few years. (7:15 PM. River East)

DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT: See 10/7. (8:15 PM. River East)

HANDY MAN: See 10/8. (8:30 PM. Landmark)

FLANNEL PAJAMAS: Having served as a key behind-the-scenes player on the American indie movement as the co-founder of October Films and Lot 47, Jeff Lipsky steps behind the camera to direct this searing and unflinching look at the life and death of a couple (Justin Kirk and Julianne Nicholson) from the giddiness of the first meeting to the bitterness and regret of the final break-up. This American riff on “Scenes From a Marriage” goes on a little too long and the final reels lay on the melodrama a bit thick but those interested in seeing a searing and intelligent look at contemporary relationships–not to mention a standout performance from Nicholson–should definitely check it out, though you might want to think twice if you are going on a first date. (8:45 PM. Landmark)

10/8

THE BRIDGE: See 10/7. (12:30 PM. Landmark)

HANDY MAN: Described in the program notes as a cross between “Annie Hall” and “Amelie,” this French romantic comedy tells the story of Paul and Mathilde, a couple of adorable iconoclasts whose five-year marriage is threatened when an invention of Paul’s threatens to make them rich beyond their wildest means. (Shouldn’t the program have included “The Jerk” in the reference points?) I haven’t caught up with this one yet but as a sucker for whimsical cinematic pastries from France, I know that I will be checking it out. (1:00 PM. Landmark)

SUMMER CAMP: See 10/6 (2:00 PM. River East)

COMEDY OF POWER: Claude Chabrol and Isabelle Huppert, who have developed into one of the strongest director-actor duos working in film today, collaborate for the fifth time in this blackly funny and hugely entertaining film about a crusading judge who becomes famous after locking up an embezzling CEO and goes on an obsessive and possibly dangerous quest to prosecute and persecute white-collar criminals who have bilked the public trust. Although the film drags a little during the scenes involving the judge’s home life, it is mostly a bitter and biting look at someone who gets an opportunity to put the screws to those who have been doing the screwing for too long and who takes to it with glee. And once again, Huppert turns in a mesmerizing performance–there is a brief scene in which she orders a pizza over the phone and even that manages to be incredibly compelling. (4:00 PM. Landmark)

A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS: See 10/6. (5:00 PM. Landmark)

DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT: See 10/7. (6:00 PM. Landmark)

CANDY: If you saw the Australian import “Somersault” during its brief Stateside appearance earlier this year, you saw an amazing debut performance from Abbie Cornish. Here, she co-stars with Heath Ledger in a drama about a young couple whose lives begin to spiral out of control when they fall under the influence of heroin. The film recently played at the Toronto Film Festival and those who caught it there have said two things–the film deserves comparison with the similar “Panic in Needle Park” and the performances from Ledger and Cornish are outstanding. (7:00 PM. Thorne Auditorium)

RENAISSANCE: See 10/6 (7:30 PM. River East)


10/7

ANIME FOCUS: A new sidebar for the festival, centering on Japanese animation, kicks off with a bang by featuring the North American premiere of Yoshiyuki Tomino’s “Mobile Suit Z Gundam” trilogy–a series of films based on the “Zeta” TV show–in its entirety, followed by a Q&A session with the filmmaker. (12:00 PM. Thorne.)

THE BRIDGE: Upon learning that over 1300 people have attempted suicide over the years by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, filmmaker Eric Steel set up a number of cameras in the vicinity of the structure throughout 2004 and captured 23 successful deaths and one survivor–this film pieces together parts of that footage along with interviews with witnesses, friends and family members to help fill in the blanks. Not quite as tasteless or exploitative as it may sound, the film holds a certain fascination for a while but eventually goes on a little too long for its own good. (3:00 PM. Landmark.)

DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT: In this austere debut from writer-director Julia Loktev, an unnamed young woman (a striking performance from newcomer Luisa Williams) in virtual isolation goes through her preparations for becoming a suicide bomber before setting off for her target–Times Square. Conceptually intriguing for the first half (we are deliberate kept in the dark regarding her nationality or her reasons for agreeing to participate in such a monstrous act), it loses steam once she hits Times Square and turns into an extended round of will-she-or-won’t-she? that is nowhere near as compelling as the earlier material. (4:00 PM. Landmark)

REQUIEM: A sheltered young woman leaves home for the first time to go to college and begins to undergo a series of violent incidents that may be the result of epilepsy, religious fanaticism or demonic possession. If this German film sounds a little bit like last year’s “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” that is because both are loosely based on the same real-life incident. Unlike the previous version, which trafficked heavily in the supernatural elements, Hans-Christian Schmid’s take on the material is a far more straightforward approach, though he doesn’t completely dismiss the possibility of a demonic presence. While I liked much of this intriguing variation on a familiar theme–especially the intense lead performance by Sandra Huller–the film is ruined by a frustrating ending that takes viewers to a key point and then leaves them hanging with nothing but a couple of title cards to wrap up the rest of the tale. (6:00 PM. River East.)

SUBURBAN MAYHEM: See 10/6. (8:45 PM. Landmark.)

PRINCESS: If you didn’t get enough anime from the “Gundam” marathon, perhaps this super-violent and pornographic Danish take on the genre will help satisfy you. After the mysterious death of his estranged porn-star sister, a missionary returns home to care for his five-year-old niece. When he discovers that pornographic material featuring Sis is still on the market, he goes on a violent rampage of revenge against those who he feels both exploited her and led to her death. Even more perverse than it sounds (like the anime segment in “Kill Bill,” this is a film that simply could not have been made and released into theaters if it had been shot in live-action with real actors), this effort from Anders Morgenthaler isn’t totally successful–once the premise is set up, it just becomes one grisly execution after another–but it has some flashes of dark humor and is certainly never boring. (11:00 PM. Landmark)

10/6

SUMMER CAMP: This film may contain kids at a summer camp but this is not another “Friday the 13th” or “Meatballs.” Instead, this is a documentary (co-directed by Sarah Price, whose previous credits include “American Movie” and “The Yes Men”) that follows a group of kids undergoing that time-honored tradition (one that I repeatedly thank my parents for not forcing me to partake in) and shows that while some things may have changed (such as the onset of ADD), other things–bullies, first crushes and craft projects–remain the same. (4:00 PM. River East).

SUBURBAN MAYHEM: A tired and not very funny Australian black comedy about a monstrous young sexpot (Emily Barclay) who utilizes her manipulative powers to carry out a plan to get her homicidal maniac brother released from prison–a plan that involves the murder of her father. Although Barclay’s performance does have a certain heedless fascination to it–enough to make you want to see her in something where she doesn’t deliver every line in a screech while falling out of a tank top–the rest of the film is a noisy drag that will leave viewers with little more than a headache. (8:00 PM. Landmark.)

A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS: Although based on the acclaimed memoir by Dito Montiel (who also writes and directs here), this coming-of-age drama, in which the young Montiel (Shia LaBeouf) gets involved in an increasingly violent graffiti war in his Queens neighborhood in 1986 and the adult version (Robert Downey Jr.) returns for the first time in years to confront those he left behind and to mend fences with his estranged father (Chazz Palminteri). It isn’t a very good film by most standards–Montiel has no real feel for filmmaking and his basic directorial style seems to consist entire of having people yell louder and louder–but there is an energy to the proceedings that is somewhat compelling and Downey’s performance is refreshingly direct and tic-free. (8:15 PM River East)

RENAISSANCE: This is a European animated film that is as impossible to comprehend as it is amazing to look at and man, it is really amazing to look at. Set in 2054 Paris, it follows tough cop Daniel Craig as he searches for a kidnaped scientist (Romola Garai) who may have discovered a secret that will change mankind forever. At least that is what I think it is about–the plotting is so murky that you’ll wish that someone would come out during the reel changes to sum up what is going on. Your best bet for appreciating this admittedly ambitious film is to just ignore the plot and enjoy it as a feast for the eyes. Using motion-capture technology and a striking, high-contrast black-and-white style, the end result looks like what might result if “Sin City” and “Blade Runner” got together and had a baby–a really confusing and difficult-to-understand baby. (8:15 PM. Landmark)

SEVERANCE: This British horror-comedy has been compared by some to “Shaun of the Dead” and described by others as a cross between “The Office” and “Hostel”–a grim disservice to all three titles. While heading for a remote getaway for a weekend bonding excursion, a group of employees from a European weapons manufacturer find themselves being picked off on by one by something lurking in the woods. Outside from the novelty of being British, there is nothing here to separate this film from other recent ironic gorefests–the humor is crashingly obvious, the horror elements are run of the mill and the final reels, in which things are sort of explained in a highly unsatisfying manner, are likely to annoy anyone who makes it that far. Recommended only for less-demanding genre obsessives. (11:00 PM River East)

THE HOST: Already a cult sensation of the festival circuit, this South Korean monster movie (an enormous success in its homeland) tells the story of the epic battle between a loathsome monster that emerges from a river and kidnaps a young girl and the family members who band together to fight the creature in order to get her back. Gross, funny and ultra-stylish, this is one of the more entertaining Asian horror films to come along in a while and you should check it out now before some idiot gets the bright idea of remaking it. (11:00 Landmark)


10/5

STRANGER THAN FICTION: For months, this surreal comedy-drama, which gets this year’s Opening Night slot (which includes a tribute to co-star Dustin Hoffman) has been getting all sorts of Oscar hype and now that I have seen it, I’ll be damned if I can understand why. The premise is amusing enough–IRS agent Will Ferrell begins hearing the voice of a British woman (Emma Thompson) narrating the events of his life and gradually learns that she is a reclusive author and he is the soon-to-be-doomed central character in her latest work–and the cast is top-notch but the film has two enormous flaws that it is unable to overcome–the much-vaunted screenplay by Zach Helm never figures out the logistics behind the central conceit and Ferrell makes the mistake common to many comedian-going-straight performances by mistakenly thinking that “somnambulistic”=”serious.” In other words, it is basically a Charlie Kaufman film for people who don’t quite get Charlie Kaufman films but wish they did. (7:00 PM. Chicago Theatre. 175 N. State Street)


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1964
originally posted: 10/05/06 13:02:06
last updated: 11/10/06 01:41:07
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