Chicago Film Festival: Haunters

Korean mystery flick with a touch of magical realism. Really, really good! We loved it and the rest of the audience seemed to as well. Truly creepy and scary in some parts, completely farcical in others. Some really great casting choices/quirky characterizations. Completely original. 100% worth not getting home until after 1 a.m.

I’m sure it’s barely playing anywhere, if at all. But if it comes to your town, I’d call it a Can’t Miss.

Four Flicks at the Chicago Film Festival.

Ah, the CIFF. One of my very favorite things about living here. So easily accessible. The previous year I saw 15 flicks there. (I KNOW! NUTS!) The year before, six. This year, I was busy with school and skeered to spend much money so I only saw four. And three out of the four were FANTASTIC. So I was extra happy I made good choices!!!

Super! Sexy! Sleek! The main dude looked like a French Patrick Dempsey. Loved this movie. Believed in the frustrations and the attractions. Very nicely done.

Love and Savagery
The one of the four that I didn’t think was great. It was beautifully filmed (in Ireland, where it’s set, I presume) but the storyline and most of the acting were really below par. Particularly compared to the others.

Girls on the Wall
A documentary about girls in an IL juvenile facility who put on a musical/play for their families / guardians / etc. based on their own stories. So good. Really intimate look at their lives. There are so many places one’s life can go wrong. So many times the wrong choice can turn into a terrible mistake. And then there are the ones who fight and fight and eventually rise above that. Really powerful.

Fish Tank
Kinda hard to watch. Super yicky subject. Super fantastic (FANTASTIC) acting. I think this one is now being released wider (saw a review of it in EW) and I highly recommend seeing it. I mean, the subject matter is tough. But the acting is so good. And there’s a lot to like here. It really tied me up emotionally. And the main dude, Michael Fassbender, was also fantastic in “Hunger” that I saw last year (and he also plays the Scottish soldier in “Inglorious Basterds”). Dude has fantastic RANGE.

Chicago Film Festival: Jump!

Dir: Helen Hood Scheer.

A documentary about the sport of Jumprope, a rising phenomenon in what appeared to be mostly inner cities. Despite not being an official sport for any schools, universities, etc., it’s highly organized with regionals, nationals and world championships. Film follows primarily kids from four (or five? i’m starting to forget) groups as they practice their routines, appear at the meets, etc. I was really into the Razzmatazz kids.
If the highlight of the Olympics for you is gymnastics, I think you’d probably enjoy this. These kids are pretty amazing athletes and their jumprope routines incorporate all kinds of tumbling/gymnastic skills as well as just plain muscle and endurance. There are speed competitions of several kinds, and jumprope routines done in singles, doubles, triples and quads. (When they get to worlds, seems like there are routines done there with many more kids at once.)

Unlike the competitive backstabbing world of gymnastics (no I’m not joking about that), and probably partially because this is a more intramural/extracurricular activity, these kids are very friendly with their opponents. Practicing together before meets, sharing new “tricks”, teaching younger kids… The sharing and “hey try this!” bit at the worlds is really cool, and very interesting to see the different styles evolving in different parts of the world: all the Asian kids seem to incorporate breakdancing into their jumprope routines!

And just like Olympic gymnasts, these are young kids, pouring their hearts into this sport, practicing for hours on end, devoting themselves physically AND mentally. Their collective goal is to get the sport into the Olympics. They need 5 continents (they have the 5), 74 or 75 countries (they only have about 35 right now) and all under the same rules (that part was unclear). Seems less structured rule & scoring wise than gymnastics, which is something that probably comes with regulation / the more structured a sport it becomes, the more spontaneity it will lose.

Made me cry several times. Really engaging.

Chicago Film Festival: Surveillance

Dir: Paul Oremland

Actrs: Mostly unknowns with a great performance by Simon Callow (who you might know as the overweight gay guy who dies in Four Weddings and a Funeral)

A young teacher with a secret gay nightlife. A rich (sometimes gay) playboy with a connection to the royal family is kidnapped and murdered. London’s incredible network of surveillance cameras are the only leads.

The entire film is done on CCTV and surveillance cameras, cameraphones, handhelds, etc. While this had a very direct tie-in to the plot and the point of the movie (thus a plus), it also lends itself to a very amateur look (a minus). Similar to when you’re watching a well-produced, well-photographed TV show and then a super cheap commercial comes on and the filming is just flat / no depth / feels two-dimensional. While part of the point of this is the “it could happen to anyone” and “you never know what’s being caught on film” and “we’re being watched/ photographed/ surveilled at all times”…on the other hand, you’re in a theater watching it on the big screen, and it just doesn’t have the visual zing of a more traditionally produced, high quality camera & film movie.

Raises some very intriguing questions. Good performances. (The lead is a little hottie.) A very 20/20 investigative feel. Really enjoyed the Q&A with the director afterward. Some of his conversations with MI-5 and MI-6 were quite…astonishing. And followed by “I never knew whether to believe anything they were telling me. Those guys get so caught up in their own mystique.” My only quibble would be: is there a way to do this, but have it look better, yet still have the “feel” of the surveillance cameras?

Chicago Film Festival: Silent Light

Very hard to describe. Definitely an “art house” or “film festival” flick. Starts with a sunrise. That seemed to take approximately 20 minutes. Twenty minutes!! With nothing but the sun slowly lightening up the sky. No sounds but the wind and the birds and…maybe you can hear trees growing?

A lot of the movie is that silent. And that slow. And that ponderous. Not in a bad way. But definitely in a disconcerting way. I found my mind racing, racing, racing. Any scene with even a hint that disaster could happen had me imagining the wildest things…things that would never actually happen in this movie.

Technically the “action” of the movie is about a Mennonite farmer, with a wife and six kids, who has fallen in love with another woman. And struggles with how to go on from that moment. Although he stays with his wife, she ultimately dies (of a broken heart?)…but then there’s this one moment of magical realism at the end… Which was lovely, but a bit odd considering the very very NOT fantastical rest of the movie.

It was the opposite of, say, a three hour movie that feels like it only took 45 minutes. It was only a little over two hours, but oh sweet monkey sundae, I felt like I was in the theater for 25 years. Sitting in such utter silence, broken only by, say, the sound of someone’s feet walking through grass. Or walking on snow. Or occasionally having a very slow, very drawn out, very few sentences conversation.

Some of it was really beautiful. And the tension in it was very powerful, despite being such non-tense kind of tension. (Maybe you had to see it to even make any sense out of that sentence.)

But it was not an easy movie, on the mind. It totally wore me out. Consider yourself warned.

Chicago Film Festival: Blackout

Dir: Jerry LaMothe

Actrs: Mostly unknowns (to me) but a few familiar faces such as Jeffrey Wright, Zoe Saldana, and Saul Rubinek.

This movie was EXCELLENT. Completely compelling. I turned in my ballot with a 5 and I hope it gets a major distributor. Excellent even though the print we watched had a HUGE time code along the bottom of the screen (blocking about the bottom fourth of the screen) and no credits at the end.
Focuses on the New York City blackout of August 2003*, details the events in one Brooklyn neighborhood, particularly focused on the tenants of one apartment building and the workers at one hair salon. (Based on true events from the blackout, but believe the specific particulars are fictional.)

Really really great. Great acting, great pacing, great suspense, great passion and concern… Loved it. Both thumbs way up.

*hello, I was there! that was my last night in New York and I wound up sleeping on a couch in Manhattan unable to even get to my apartment in Queens!, and walking up and down many sets of stairs in complete darkness, and going for a very scary walk on the dark streets trying to find Amy…

Chicago Film Festival: The Walker

Dir: Paul Schrader.

Actrs: Woody Harrelson (main lead), Kristen Scott Thomas, Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin, Willlem Dafoe, Ned Beatty.

This was a bit of a mess. We were down with it for the first half and then things started to unravel. Had a very 80s/90s feel to it, hard to believe it was filmed recently. Full of Washington DC “high society” (oh sweet monkey sundae, are those people pretentious or what) and supposed intrigue. The attempt to make Harrelson’s character BOTH a gay dandyish society fop AND a gay in a serious relationship with a trendy political artist didn’t really work for us. The two sides of his personality never melded and the contrast of the scenes was choppy.

Some good acting, not terrible, but would be very surprised if this film ever really sees the light of day.