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The 46th Chicago International Film Festival: Films To Get Started

by Erik Childress & Peter Sobczynski

The 46th Annual Chicago International Film Festival begins on Thursday, Oct. 7 for a two week period filled with some major awards contenders, a film from just about every nation on the planet and even a surprise screening that even we will not know about until we attend on Oct. 19. It is a shame that ESPN's Steve Bartman documentary, Catching Hell, was pulled last minute, but we have chosen other films that should help cushion the blow.

Those of us who may have found the media blitz surrounding Aron Ralston’s 2003 survival of freeing himself from a canyon exploration a bit overstated in calling him a hero owes it to themselves to see Danny Boyle’s brilliantly constructed film of his story. James Franco, who should be destined for an Oscar nomination for this performance, plays Ralston who one fateful day found his hand lodged in an isolated canyon with limited supplies and no rescue in sight. While as great a tale of survival this is, it is primarily a tale about isolating oneself from a society that is almost impossible to avoid. In less than 90 minutes, Boyle, co-screenwriter Simon Beaufoy and Franco turn one man’s selfishness into a profoundly emotional piece of filmmaking that has stayed with me after two separate viewings. Danny Boyle will be attending the festival’s centerpiece screening; one of the year’s very best films. (EC) (Weds, Oct. 13 7:00 PM)

BEAUTIFUL DARLING: This documentary takes a look at the life and times of Candy Darling, the transgender personality who made an enormous impact on the New York underground scene in the later 1960’s--s/he was a fixture in many of the movies made by Andy Warhol and was immortalized in Lou Reed’s classic song “Walk on the Wild Side”--before dying tragically of cancer in 1971 at the age of 30. Seen through the eyes of friend Jeremiah Newton, the film examines her life through archival footage, newly filmed interviews with friends and associates and old correspondence read by Chloe Sevigny. (PS)

BIG TITS ZOMBIE: Now there is a title that pretty much says it all. In this Japanese import, a group of strippers inadvertently bring the dead back to life after reading from an ancient book of forbidden knowledge and must do bloody battle both with them and one of their own who soon develops delusions of becoming the Queen of the undead--all of this, of course, being presented in the miracle of 3D. That’s right--the festival couldn’t get the new Godard film that has been stirring up controversy at festivals around the world but they were able to secure “Big Tits Zombie” in 3D. (PS)

Darren Aronofsky, whose “The Fountain” and “The Wrestler” both played at the festival, returns with this highly anticipated psychological thriller in which Natalie Portman plays an fiercely dedicated ballerina whose psyche begins to crack when she finds herself in competition with newer and younger company member Mila Kunis. The film, which, based on the haunting trailer alone, seems to evoke the influence of the likes of Cronenberg, De Palma and Argento, received raves when it played at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals and many observers have suggested that Portman is a sure-fire Best Actress nominee for her work here. (PS) (Tuesday, Oct. 12 8:00 PM).

Next to editors, cinematographers probably get the least amount of credit from the average filmgoer. It is the category at the Oscar party I am most often asked about its meaning. In what will make a nice companion piece to the wonderful “”, this documentary about legendary cameraman, Jack Cardiff, provides a nice insight into the craft as well as the man. Martin Scorsese, Lauren Bacall and Cardiff himself not long before he passed away, are interviewed relating the appreciation of his eye and stories from the set of The African Queen and more. (EC) (Friday, Oct. 15 4:00 PM & Sunday, Oct. 17 1:30 PM)

Working outside of his native Iran for the first time, acclaimed director Abbas Kiarostami offers up a variation on such classics as “Brief Encounter” and “Before Sunrise” with this tale of a British author (William Shimell) and a French woman (Juliette Binoche) who meet in Tuscany, travel to a small town while discussing their thoughts on art, philosophy and love and wind up pretending they are married. When the film premiered earlier this year at Cannes, it was widely considered to be a disappointment by many but the combination of the always-compelling Binoche and Kiarostami working outside of his comfort zone should prove to be at least interesting for cineastes. (PS) (Saturday, Oct. 9 6:00 PM & Monday, Oct. 11 6:15 PM).

FAIR GAME: No, this is not the long-awaited director’s cut of the beloved 1995 epic that marked the beginning and the ending of the acting career of Cindy Crawford. Instead, this true-life drama recounts the story of Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), the CIA undercover operative whose life was torn apart when her identity was deliberately exposed in apparent retaliation for an article her husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), wrote for the New York Times questioning the findings of a government investigation. Set for a general theatrical release next month, director Doug Liman (whose previous films include “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) is scheduled to appear to introduce the screening. (PS)

With so many countries represented in the “yes, we get it” International Film Festival, if you had to zero in on one to seek out as many films as possible, it would not be Australia. Actually it would be Korea. Forget whatever problems the USA might have with them politically and actually embrace their eccentricities in cinema, because you are guaranteed to see some nutty stuff. Case in point: Im Sang-soo’s The Housemaid, a remake of the 1960 film so groundbreaking it is still not on DVD. Chatter suggests the new film in its gear switching of the titular character from psychopathic button-pusher to a meekly abused underling damages the subtle politics of the original. Without being able to comment on that, this version by itself is still a pretty interesting examination of upstairs/downstairs politics where rich men can take whatever they want and the women around them suffer for it. The first hour explores this the best while leaving room for some sociopathic behavior before it begins to repeat itself and get rather dull until the final act which features an unusual revenge technique that will probably affect the audience more than it does the intended victims. Like I said, Koreans filmmakers are a bit nutty. (EC) (Sunday, Oct. 17 7:15 PM)

MADE IN DAGENHAM: Sally Hawkins, who made a splash a couple of years ago as the irrepressible chipper heroine at the center of Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky,” returns in this period drama in which she plays one of 187 women working for the Ford Motor Company in England during the 1960’s. Tired of being paid less than her male counterparts for doing the same job, she organizes her fellow women to stand up for themselves and winds up being thrust into the public eye when her protest catches on. Due for commercial release in November, this advance screening is being offered as a special presentation. (PS)

The immigration debate gets stirred to solid effect in Corey Wascinski’s documentary about the self-proclaimed border patrol of regular citizens determined to keep the citizens of Mexico from crossing. We meet the crazies like Robert “Lil Dog” Crooks who believes he is doing God’s work in protecting his country and also the more even-keeled (in presentation if not beliefs) in the best way to keep immigrants out. Whether you agree with their methods or not, Wascinski does a nice job in letting us frame our own thoughts by reminding us that for every one or two looking for work or to support their families, others bring with them crime, gang colors and their own sense of entitlement. It is funny that these flag wavers refer to themselves as "just people" but don't offer those across the border the same identification. (EC) (Friday, Oct. 15 6:40 PM & Saturday, Oct. 16 2:20 PM)

The great Bertrand Tavernier, the man behind such internationally acclaimed films as “Coup de Torchon” and “Round Midnight,” returns with this large-scale historical drama about a beautiful young aristocrat (Melanie Thierry) who is taken away from the war hero that she loves and married of to the prince of Montpensier strictly for political reasons. As civil war and power grabs ravage the country, things get even more complicated when the older man (Lambert Wilson) hired to educate her falls for her as well and when it becomes clear that the war hero still wants her for himself. (PS) (Sunday, Oct. 10 8:15 PM & Tuesday, Oct. 12 8:15 PM).

In this fairly intense drama from John Curran, Robert DeNiro stars as an about-to-retire parole officer who is asked to review the case of arsonist Edward Norton. When his initial attempts to prove that he has reformed go south, Norton sets his sexy wife (Milla Jovovich) after DeNiro in an attempt to influence his decision. Although the premise makes it sound like just another melodramatic potboiler, it turns out to be much better than that thanks to a smart and ambitious screenplay that takes a bunch of risks (even if they don’t always pan out) and a bunch of good performances, most notably from Jovovich, who steals the entire film with her daring turn as the woman caught in the middle. Norton and Curran are scheduled to walk the red carpet and introduce the film as part of the Opening Night gala. (PS) (Thursday, Oct. 7 7:00 PM)

We may have had our fun with Dateline’s To Catch A Predator watching some cartoonish idiots with some hellish thoughts get taken down before our very eyes. But child molestation is never a fun subject matter. So it would not surprise me if some victims of it and their families will want to reach out and thank director David Schwimmer for creating this honest, gut-wrenching portrayal of the act and its aftermath on a happy family’s relationship. Clive Owen and Catherine Keener play parents of a 14 year-old daughter (perfectly portrayed by Liana Liberato) who meets her online chat friend and changes their world forever. Because the film does not take the obvious trappings of revenge (though it is certainly discussed) it leaves plenty of room to explore the psyche of the girl who must now reconcile the lies she has been told and confront what her feelings really mean. Owen gives what might be his best performance to date (certainly his best since his Oscar-nominated turn in Closer, also based on a stage play) and the final scene is masterfully played, even if some might find it abrupt. I certainly was not prepared, but it was only because I wanted to spend more time with these characters and pray that everything will be OK. (EC) (Saturday, Oct. 16 5:00 PM, Monday, Oct. 18 8:00 PM Tuesday, Oct. 19 8:00 PM)

This latest effort from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, which fared a little better at Cannes this year by scoring the festival’s top prize, tells the story of an old man dying of kidney failure who retires to the countryside and goes on a tour of his past, present and future lives with the help of some forest spirits. On the one hand, it is definitely unique and always beautiful to watch but as a dramatic story, it doesn’t quite come together thanks to its extremely slow pacing and jumbled narrative. Still, if you can ignore all of that and simply regard it as a sort of cinematic tone poem, it does have its moments and more adventurous moviegoers would be advised to check it out. (PS) (Sunday, Oct. 10 3:00PM)

SURPRISE EVENT: For the third year in a row, the festival is offering a top-secret screening of a film whose identity is not revealed until the lights go down and the curtains go up. As of now, I couldn’t begin to hazard a guess as to what it could possibly be--at one point, the thinking was that it might be “Hereafter” until it was officially booked for a festival slot of its own--but just to give you an idea of what to expect, the selection two years ago was the dreadful Guy Ritchie misfire “Rocknrolla,” being offered up only a couple of days before its general release, while last year’s pick was the delightful Terry Gilliam epic “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnasuss,” shown a couple of months before its official local debut. The screening is free but the catch is that only those wearing something featuring the festival logo will be allowed in. (PS)

Check out the full schedule at the official website and be sure to read full reviews of more of the festival's offerings:

127 Hours
Beautiful Darling
Black, White and Blues
Golden Slumber
Little Big Soldier
Nice Guy Johnny
Tamara Drewe

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originally posted: 10/08/10 08:37:02
last updated: 10/20/10 03:51:39
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