Like Ficarra and Requa’s 2011 comedy Crazy Stupid Love, Focus begins promisingly and bops along enjoyably for a while, only to run out of steam…
When: Through Oct. 25
Where: Screenings at AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois St. (unless noted).
Tickets: $14; $11 for Cinema/Chicago members, seniors and students (with ID); $5 for weekday matinees through 5 p.m.; $10 after 10 p.m. Passes available until Oct. 10 for 10 or 20 admissions to regular screenings. Advance tickets for sale at festival table in lobby of AMC River East every day from noon until 8 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday though Friday at the festival office at 30 E. Adams, suite 800. Online at Ticketmaster.
Information: (312) 332-FILM or www.chicagofilmfestival.com
As the Chicago International Film Festival swings into its second week, you get second chances to see two great animated features: "Consuming Spirits," made in Chicago, and "Day of the Crows" from France. Two in-person events of note: Chicago radio and voiceover artist Ken Nordine, and David Robinson from the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, who will screen celluloid artifacts in His "Silent Surprises" program.
Not previewed but worth a look, I bet: "Leviathan" and "Post Tenebras Lux." Most films in the festival, in fact, are not available for preview. Some filmmakers who send advance copies for critics will deface their own work by adding onscreen marks to thwart piracy. The worst one this year was "Everybody's Got Somebody… Not Me." The DVD of this black-and-white film was unwatchable: the words "Instituto Mexican de Cinematografia" appear once across the bottom and twice on top alongside a big logo. Numbers line the left side, from top to bottom. And filling up the middle: a big "IMDC" in white block letters.
The fest wraps on Thursday with Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" starring Denzel Washington. Tickets for the film, tribute and reception are $75. For free on Wednesday, though, there is a program of corporate shorts from this year's International Communications Media competition.
Capsule reviews of select films follow. Screenings are at AMC River East 21 (except for one, as noted).
NOTE: Capsules for last week's movies -- including titles that are screening again -- are here.
Monday, Oct. 15
"Marie Kroyer" (Denmark), 5:45 p.m.: Bille August directs a proto-feminist period melodrama about the wife of painter Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909.) "I don't know if I'm me or the woman in the paintings," frets his loyal spouse and much-admired model. Such yearnings mystify her supercilious husband: "Horrid thought, really. Who really wants your find yourself?" His mental illness puts her and their little daughter in increasing danger. Will she find love with a Swedish composer who can value his freedom as an artist as much hers as a woman? Also, 8 p.m. Oct 23 and 6 p.m. Oct 24. (Stamets)
“Off White Lies” (Israel), 8:15 p.m.: When the Israel-Lebanon war broke out, Maya Kenig saw on TV that a northerner displaced from the border found refuge with a stranger in Tel Aviv. Kenig's dad and teenage half-sister needed a place too, for reasons unrelated to the bombs. They did not act on her tip to impersonate refugees. So she made his semi-charming comedy about characters who do, finding a new home in Jerusalem. Also, 11 p.m. Oct. 17 and 10 p.m. Oct. 22. (Stamets)
“The Repentant” (Algeria / France), 8 p.m.: Merzak Allouache revisits a recent troubled period when Algerian authorities granted a conditional amnesty to armed extremists, often called terrorists. In this superior drama, one former "Brother" defects and attempts to fit into society. Villagers want to kill him. A cop in the city wants him to inform. The title character undertakes an ambiguous mission to resolve past trauma. He leads a split-up professional couple to an unmarked grave. Like other of my favorites in this year's fest, this one ends with a stunning last shot: cries of "God is great!" echo across a vast, tragic vista. Also, 6:45 p.m. Oct. 17 and 2:45 p.m. Oct. 18. (Stamets)
“The Cleaner” (Peru), 8:30 p.m.: Adrian Saba directs this unusually touching portrait of a man employed to clean a city. It's corpses, not litter, that he picks up. He cleans streets, sidewalks, stores and homes during a epidemic that is depopulating Lima. Then this loner finds an eight-year-old boy cowering in a closet, and takes him home. Thoughtful camerawork makes for existential understatement. Notice, for example, the weird way the cleaner moves his broom, and the beautiful way he takes leave of his only companion. Also, 5:45 p.m. Oct. 16 and 4 p.m. Oct. 19. (Stamets)
Tuesday, Oct. 16
"The Bella Vista" (Germany/ Uruguay), 4 p.m.: Alicia Cano calls her affirmative film a "magical-realistic documentary." She directs a cast of non-actors to play themselves, or something close. Like many filmmakers in the fest, she credits a news item as her inspiration for this piquant anecdote about a soccer clubhouse repurposed as a transvestite brothel. Whatever good the latter establishment does the local economy and male libidos, a more Catholic calling is in store for the site. Also, 4:30 p.m. Oct 21. (Stamets)
"Consuming Spirits" (USA), 7 p.m.: Chris Sullivan, a School of the Art Institute prof, deftly animates a 15-year stretch of tangled lives in Pawkaghenny County. The Alleghenny County native uses pencil drawings, cut-outs, puppets, and frame-by-frame animation. Besides voicing one character, Sullivan sings and plays seven instruments on the soundtrack. Compulsively eccentric detail makes for a wry bewitching texture: characters named Gentian Violet and Victor Blue work at the local paper, The Daily Suggested. Also, 9:30 p.m. Oct. 19 and 3 p.m. Oct 22. (Stamets)
“Kuma” (Austria), 2:45 p.m.: Umut Dag follows a 19-year-old bride from her village into an immigrant household in Vienna. The Turkish custom of "the second wife" means that her husband will not be the young man she married, but his father. The "first wife," near death with cancer, welcomes her replacement. The newcomer's old ways clash with her Austrian-assimilated kin. With lovely framings of family gatherings and glances, this humanist drama honors the ways a family can embrace and estrange its members. Also, 7 p.m. Oct. 20 and 5:15 p.m. Oct 21. (Stamets)
“The Believers” (USA), 8 p.m.: Documentaries on the history of science are rare. Chicago directors Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross, with backing from the Richard H. Driehaus Fund, go back to an infamous 1989 press conference at the University of Utah: scientists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons claimed their experiments proved Cold Fusion could generate power from water. Instead of delving into the bad physics, the focus is on celebrity and career. Also unanswered: why do people believe faulty experiments are "the key to liberating the human race"? Also, 2 p.m. Oct. 20. (Stamets)
"Meeting Leila" (Iran), 8:30 p.m. "When I smoke, the ideas rush into my head," explains a two-pack-a-day Camel smoker. This "ideas man" makes ads for local businesses. He promises to quit before his wedding. The couple meet cute when her VW breaks down and begins to roll towards his VW. His cigarette habit may wreck their marital prospects. Adel Yaraghi directs a screenplay he co-wrote with Abbas Kiarostami that diverts with absurdist touches, though I did not quite get the rest of it. Also, 8:30 p.m. Oct. 17 and 12 p.m. Oct 20. (Stamets)
Wednesday, Oct. 17
"Rhino Season" (Iraqi Kurdistan/ Turkey), 3:30 p.m.: Bahman Ghobadi writes and directs my favorite film in this festival, so far. A poet imprisoned during the Islamic Revolution is released 27 years later. Everyone thought he died long ago, due to the "fake grave staged by the government" noted in an opening title. Now he seeks his wife, whose father was one of the Shah's colonels. She was sentenced to 10 years and left for Istanbul long ago. Their tragedy is compounded by a third party and the birth of twins. Fate takes on a mythic irony. Also, 2:15 p.m. Oct. 20 and 7:45 p.m. Oct. 21. (Stamets)
"Boys Are Us" (Switzerland), 6:15 p.m.: I did not see Peter Luisi's mean-spirited exercise as "a playfully inventive jigsaw puzzle of a movie." Yet that's how the fest officially lists this tale of a bitter teenaged girl who baits boys on the Internet. It's payback for heartbreak. Three male targets are interchangeable. Like her, they mouth identical dialogue at clubs and at the kitchen table on mornings after. By the time the boys rotate from shot to shot in the same scene, and guns are fired, something psychotic seems in play. Also, 8:30 p.m. Oct. 18 and 3:45 p.m. Oct. 19. (Stamets)
“Gimme the Loot” (USA), 8:10 p.m.: A remarkably natural and unaffected film about friendship between two high-spirited graffiti artists (Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson) in the Bronx, who create a replica of the Met's apple trademark. When rival taggers deface it, they decide on the ultimate one-upmanship: To tag the real Mets' apple. A portrait of how they live off the land with low-level thievery and hustles, and how their friendship always seems just short of the point of romance. Directed by Adam Leon. Also, 6:30 p.m. Oct 18. Recommended. (Ebert)
“The Weekend” (Germany), 8:45 p.m.: As a teen, director Nina Grosse saw radicals in the news as Germany's Bonnie and Clyde. Now she adapts a new novel by Bernhard Schlink, who penned “The Reader” in 1995, about a Red Army Faction terrorist exiting prison after 18 years. Excavating betrayals, both personal and philosophical, with ex-comrades only yields conventional melodrama in this ideological hand-ringer. Also, 5:45 p.m. Oct 18. (Stamets)
Thursday, Oct. 18
"F*ckload of Scotchtape" (USA), 8 p.m.: Columbia College Chicago prof Julian Grant assigns a syllabus of surplus in his "neo-noir musical crime drama." A cocky hunk on a downbeat quest deals with kidnappers and strippers. He monologues, internally and endlessly, when not mouthing songs by Kevin Quain of "Tequila Vampire Matinee" fame in Toronto. St. Louis pulp writer Jed Ayres supplies the story material. Grant tries just about everything. And it all gets to be trying. He calls it "Fight Club" meets "My Fair Lady," as if that could be a good thing. Also, 9:30 p.m. Oct. 20 and 1 p.m. Oct 23. (Stamets)
“Agon” (Albania/ France/ Greece/ Romania), 8:45 p.m.: Director Robert Budina, himself once an Albanian immigrant, shows his countrymen trying to fit into Thessalonki. Greeks look askance at their kind. Albanian-on-Albanian violence extends to adult clitorectomy to keep women under thuggish thumbs. The action thrillers “Taken” and "Taken 2” depicted vile Albanian sex traffickers. “Agon” abets this screen stereotype, despite its attempt to humanize global workers. Also, 6:15 p.m. Oct. 19 and 2:45 p.m. Oct. 22. (Stamets)
Friday, Oct. 19
"Shorts 6: Truth Be Told" (Brazil, Poland, USA, UK), 3:45 p.m.: This international program of six shorts includes "CatCam," a spin-off of an internet video. Too long at 16 minutes, Seth Keal's cute documentary uses re-enactment to show how a South Carolina engineer outfitted a stray cat with a camera in 2006. We see too little of what the cat saw, but now you can order a live video camera with a wireless transmitter to attach to your own pet's collar.
"Postcards from the Zoo" (Indonesia), 5 p.m.: A father leaves his little daughter in the Jakarta zoo. Adopted by the giraffe attendant, she grows up to become a guide. The one-named director Edwin suggests that "watching and being watched" by visitors and animals alike is "analogous to cinema." A magician in a cowboy outfit tempts her to leave this Eden. Happily, she returns from working as an erotic masseuse and gets her wish: to touch the stomach of a giraffe. Also, 5:30 p.m. Oct. 20.
"StringCaesar" (UK), 8:45 p.m.: To dramatize the irregular ascent Julius Caesar, writer-director Paul Schoolman shoots his cast of prisoners, guards and actors, (including Derek Jacobi as the dictator Sulla) inside prisons in South Africa, Wales and Canada. He opens with a silly allusion to string theory in physics. More impressive is the way he turns the brutality of prison and the brutal pasts of prisoners into raw material for serious theater. Also, 3 p.m. Oct. 21 and 2 p.m. Oct. 22.
"Room 237" (USA), 9:45 p.m.: "How come I saw this and a lot of other people didn't?" asks an over-interpreter of "The Shining." Rodney Ascher, whose short video about the scary 1964 Screen Gems logo screened two years ago at the Chicago Underground Film Festival, now interviews five obsessive scrutinizers of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film. Unlike the five compulsive cinefiles in that 2002 documentary "Cinemania," Ascher's curious subjects are more than curiosities. He cleverly illustrates their improbable theories with clips from Kubrick's oeuvre. This is a must-see for certifiable cineastes. Also, 1 p.m. Oct. 20.
"Antiviral" (Canada/ USA), 7:15 p.m.: Second-generation director Brandon Cronenberg makes a first feature on par with father David's signature work: body horror with an implant of social commentary. Celebrity culture has metastasized: fans of stars go to slick clinics for injections of celeb's viruses, and stand in line at deli meat counters to buy "cell steaks" grown from celebrity tissue. This sci-fi setting is better than the more routine under-the-counter corporate scheming that follows. If recurring close-ups of hypodermics piercing skin is not your thing, steer clear of this exceptional thriller peddling queasy panic. Also, 10:30 p.m. Oct. 20.
Saturday, Oct. 20
"Simon Killer" (USA), 8:30 p.m.: Simon introduces himself to Parisians as a recently graduate who majored in neurosciences. But he lies a lot, we soon learn in this unnerving drama about a toxic tourist. As for the title, director Antonio Campos is unclear if Simon's last name indicates a homicidal side. He moves in with a prostitute, while emailing his mom that he is traveling around Europe. His misogyny borders on psychotic. Abstract interludes of city lights separate key scenes. Through his eyes, these moments imply a neural disorder separating Simon from reality. Also, 9:15 p.m. Oct. 21.
"A Secret World" (Mexico), 9:45 p.m: Maria is a high school senior who sets out for the ocean on graduation day, lying to her mother about a class trip. When Maria has sex, it is senseless and unsensual. Afterwards, she opens her notebook and makes self-accusing entries and drawings. She meets a shy traveler. Their lovely first kiss is a very, very slow one. Nearing her destination, she relates her dream about a whale swallowing her: "I could see the bottom of the sea through its stomach." Gabriel Marino directs this lyrical trip to inner clarity. Also, Tue Oct. 23, 1:15 p.m.
"In Their Skin" (Canada), 11 p.m.: A well-off couple dealing with the loss of their daughter arrive at their summer place with their boy and dog. Another couple with a boy comes along. New neighbors, they say. Not those undesirables down the road living out of their car. Let's get together. Oh, this is a bad idea. Very bad. Jeremy Power Regimbal presents another nuclear family in peril. He blends the home invader and psycho-family sub-genres for a creeped-out take on class conflict. Call it the horror of Occupy Home.
"Shorts 7: Chaos Theory" (Brazil, Greece, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, USA), 1:15 p.m.: In "Voice Over" Spanish director Martin Rosete sends up movie trailers. We hear an overly dramatic narrator change his mind and thereby change what's on the screen: "You are" an astronaut running out of oxygen... "you are" a WWI soldier crawling through mud in a downpour... "you are" a drowning fisherman. We see each of these three cliched scenarios, with "you" played by the same rugged actor. Then a fourth possibility surfaces by a swimming pool where a sweeter cliche will take away a boy's breath. Six other shorts play in this international program.
"Drought" (Mexico), 4:30 p.m.: Everardo Gonzalez directs an ethnographic documentary about rural Mexicans making a traditional living in rough geography. His evident respect for their way of life, though, is undercut by some editing choices: an anatomically explicit scene of horse intercourse is followed by a human sonogram, when an expectant mom visits her doctor. At the end, a birth is intercut with long-awaited rainstorms for corny closure. Also, 6 p.m. Oct. 21.
"The Last Sentence" (Sweden), 4:30 p.m.: Jan Troell directs a great-looking black-and-white drama about Swedish theologian-turned-journalist Torgny Segerstedt (1876–1945). His anti-Nazi columns antagonized German aggressors and Swedish appeasers. His visions of his dead mother and others channel Ingmar Bergman's style. Segerstedt's upright politics are secondary to his dubious private life. In 1941, Joy Davidman dissed "Citizen Kane" for its "smirking thesis that the important thing about a public figure is not how he treats his country but how he treats his women." Ditto for "The Last Sentence."
"The Land of Eb" (Marshall Islands/ USA), 4:45 p.m.: Andrew Williamson directs a portrait of a humble, honorable Marshallese man with stomach cancer trying to uphold his family line. Although the sociological sensitivity to islander hardship is praiseworthy, the documentary shooting style and the naturalist acting (or is it non-acting?) is less successful. Also, Mon Oct. 22, 5 p.m.
"The Sessions" (USA), 7 p.m.: At age 38, California writer Mark O'Brien decided to get out of his iron lung for the first sex in his life. He got some and wrote about it in his 1990 essay "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate." John Hawkes plays him and Helen Hunt plays her in Ben Lewin's frank, touching and funny drama about intimacy on many levels. Moon Bloodgood delivers a terrific supporting turn a droll caretaker.
"Mr. Sophistication" (USA), 7:15 p.m.: Danny Green directs Harry Lennix playing a nightclub comic whose 1990's TV and film career self-destructed with drugs and drink. Now a comeback is in the works. He leaves Chicago, and his has-been gig at his wife's club, for Los Angeles, where he begins an affair with a woman who is twenty years younger. His obscenity-laced monologues are like volcanic eruptions of his tortured soul. Also, 12:15 p.m. Oct. 21.
Sunday, Oct. 21
"Modest Reception" (Iran), 4 p.m.: Part of the fest's neighborhood outreach, this highly recommended film in the Spotlight Middle East series will screen at the Logan Theater, 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave. A stylish man and woman from Tehran drive their Lexus along a snowy mountain road. They carry 30 numbered plastic bags of cash to hand out at random. What starts as a wacky lark turns weird. They challenge impoverished strangers to accept their "alms" and change their stories at each turn. Director Mani Haghighi, playing the man, is the grandson of Iranian auteur Ebrahim Golestan. "This film is sort of an encyclopedia of references to all kinds of Iranian filmmakers," he told an interviewer in Berlin.
"Coming of Age" (Austria), 12:30 p.m.: Co-directors Gerhart Ertl and Sabine Hiebler consider a love affair in the December of life, as Rosa and Bruno meet and move in together. A terminal disease will shorten their time together, yet these eightysomethings are wonderful companions for the short time we can share with them on screen. Rosa upbraids hospital staffers: "To them we're just dead people whose legs still work." When the pair must part, though, none of the cliched emotions are to be found. Also, 2 p.m Oct. 22 and 8:30 p.m. Oct. 23.
"The Scapegoat" (UK), 1:15 p.m.: Charles Sturridge directs a tony Brit switcheroo tale based on the 1957 novel by Daphne du Maurier. A teacher is let go. On the eve of his departure on a solo trip to Europe, he meets a man from a very different circumstances with a very different manner. They look identical. The other one is a cad from a family with teetering prosperity who drugs his social inferior and disappears. At first the former teacher resists. Then goes along with it. The family is amazed at the better man he seems to be now. Middlebrow homilies about roles in society ensue, as a coronation is broadcast on TV.
"The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni" (Lebanon), 2:30 p.m.: Over three decades the iconic Cairo actress Soad Hosni played in 82 feature films prior to her death in London in 2001. Director and editor Rania Stephan sifts through VHS cassettes of her Egyptian films to find clips illustrating her storied life, excepting stories of her supposed espionage. Egyptian film industry insiders, among others, allege her assassination was disguised as a suicide after she announced plans to write her memoir. Also, 4 p.m. Oct. 23.
"Shun Li and the Poet" (Italy), 5:30 p.m.: This modest drama pairs a young single mom from China and a seasoned fisherman, a versemaker far from his Yugoslavian homeland. They meet in a cafe in Chioggia where she is working to pay for her son's passage to Italy. The transnational Chinese underworld seems to work here as it did in the recent American thriller "Premiere Rush," where another young Chinese woman toiled for smugglers bring her son form China. Andrea Segre directs a consoling story of strangers in a new land finding what their own kind cannot give. Also, 6:15 p.m. Oct 23.
NOTE: Capsules for last week's movies -- including titles that are screening again -- are here.
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