Alice Through the Looking Glass
There is no magic, no wonder, just junk rehashed from a movie that was itself a rehash of Lewis Carroll, tricked out with physically unpersuasive…
• Bill Stamets and Roger Ebert
The 46th Chicago International Film Festival will play this year at one central location, on the many screens of the AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois. A festivalgoers and filmmakers' lounge will be open during festival hours at the Lucky Strike on the second level. Tickets can be ordered online at CIFF's website, which also organizes the films by title, director and country. Tickets also at AMC; sold out films have Rush Lines. More capsules will be added here.
"127 Hours" (USA)A tour de force by James Franco and Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire"). Many are familiar with the true story, and just as many probably thought it could never be filmed. Boyle succeeds. A climber named Aron Ralston went climbing by himself in remote canyons, and was trapped deep in a crevice when a falling rock pinned his arm. He had limited food and water, no one who would be looking for him -- not even his Swiss Army knife. In desperation, he used a tourniquet and a dull climbing tool to cut off his own arm. Yes. Boyle is delicate in the way he convincingly portrays the amputation without unbearably grisly footage. And he and Franco (seen below) convincingly evoke hallucination scenes that seem plausible, not trickery. 7 p.m. Oct. 13. In person: Danny Boyle. (Ebert)
"Bitter Feast" (USA) After releasing "Hatchet II" last week, Dark Sky Films in Orland Park dishes up more comic gore. Writer/ director Joe Maggio shoots in the same upstate New York house of "Wendigo" (2000) for genre junk food about organic cuisine with a hunt-local accent. A bitter chef tortures a bitter restaurant critic. Each cruel scenario is hooked to an exacting criterion from a harsh review. The blogger is a blocked novelist whose child died of cancer, yet the chef's boss dubiously insists: "Dude, he creates public opinion, ergo he creates everything." I'm tempted by the venison steak and maple syrup creme brulee, but not the film serving it. 11 p.m. Friday, 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 p.m. Sunday. (Stamets)
"Blame" (Australia) Writer/ director Michael Henry attempts a thriller about five friends dressed in black. After the funeral of a twenty-ish woman, they accessorize their mourning attire with black masks and target her forty-ish piano teacher. This alleged lover is suspected of triggering her suicide. His to-die-for house in the country is the location for an amateur attempt to stage his suicide. With pediatric sleeping pills. The escalating miscalculations are semi-comic, as an uninteresting truth emerges about who pursued and rejected whom. Henry cites as inspiration a UK news item about vigilantes who misidentified sex offenders publicized in a local "name and shame" campaign. 8:45 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. Saturday and 9:45 p.m. Sunday. (Stamets)
"Brother & Sister" (Argentina) Director Daniel Burman ("Lost Embrace") warmly portrays two single siblings in their sixties. Marcos is a kind, meek goldsmith, rather pitiable. His sister Susana, who sells real estate, is a near-delusional self-dramatic piece of work. She insists on selling their late mother's apartment in Buenos Aires, thus displacing her brother to Uruguay. This fine character study is capped by an almost magical realist moment when Marcos improvises in a modern-dress production of "Oedipus Rex." From the balcony, the upstager Susana proudly shares his spotlight. Yet another fest drama with a perfectly realized finale. Plus a jaunty "Putting on the Ritz" in the end credits. 1 p.m. Oct. 10, 6:45 p.m. Oct 17 and 6:30 p.m. Oct 18. (Stamets)
"Caterpillar" (Japan) Director Koji Wakamatsu evokes Edogawa Rampo's 1929 story "Imomushi" and Dalton Trumbo's 1938 novel "Johnny Got His Gun," both about quadruple amputees from WWI. In 1940, a mute lieutenant comes home from the Second Sino-Japanese War with no limbs. "That thing is not my husband!" cries his wife. In flashbacks he calls her a "useless infertile bitch" and commands a civilian he's raping: "Shut up Chink bitch!" This didactic tale of marital and martial cruelty overplays "Living War God" medals, patriotic anthems and propaganda newsreels. The anti-war agenda jars with the couple's sado-masochism. Archival footage of the hanging of Japanese war criminals adds an ambiguous ending. 5 p.m. Friday, 12:30 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday. (Stamets)
"Certified Copy" (France, Iran, Italy). Juliette Binoche won at Cannes for best actress for this portrayal of an Italian antique gallery owner who meets a British author (William Shimell) and offers to show him the countryside. Their tour begins with a warm and playful chemistry, but grows unexpectedly complicated. The most involving and accessible film I've seen by Abbas Kiarostami, and masterful in the way he uncovers unexpected depths in what appear to be a conventional relationship. Kiarostami is considered a great director, but I've had trouble connecting with some of his more mannered films; this one, I was pleased to admire. 6 p.m. Oct 9, 6:15 p.m. Oct 11. (Ebert)
"Conviction" (USA) A powerful political drama based on the true story of a woman (Hilary Swank) who believes her brother (Sam Rockwell) has been wrongly convicted of murder. As he all but abandons hope, she enrolls in law school, and finds an ally in another student (Minnie Driver). Not only a legal procedural, although it does that well, but a portrait of a personality growing and shaping under pressure. Swank is a particular kind of actress perfect for some roles, and this is one of them. Directed by Tony Goldwyn ("A Walk on the Moon"). 6 p.m. Oct 10. (Ebert)
"Daniel Schmid: Le chat qui pense" (Switzerland). WIth a matinee discount admission of $5, this poetic documentary is the fest's best bet. Co-directors Pascal Hofmann and Benny Jaberg profile Swiss director Daniel Schmid (1941-2006). Brought up in a resort hotel near Mount Flimserstein, Schmid migrated to Berlin and acted in the German New Wave scene. He then directed his own films. One stared Lauren Hutton. Filmmaker Douglas Sirk was his subject in a documentary. One of Schmid's opera productions used a giant prop camera as a moving proscenium. Hofmann and Jaberg offer a moving portrait with a romantic cinematic style all their own. 3 p.m. Oct. 11. (Stamets)
"Drunkboat" (USA) John Goodman plays a reseller of stolen booze, who transports it hidden in an old boat he tows. In a saloon, he encounters John Malkovich as a shell-shocked vet. Story follows the alcoholic vet home to the house of his estranged sister (Dane Delaney), who has had enough of his chaotic life. But her son (Jacob Zacher) dreams of sailing a boat out of Chicago, through the St. Lawrenc Seaway, and--why not? Africa! China! Meanwhile, the vet pursues strange purposes in the back yard. Well-played Malkovich character is introverted and wounded. Whimsical, bittersweet and touching. Filmed in Chicago, directed and co-written by Bob Meyer. 5:30 p.m. Oct (rush tickets only), 4:45 p.m. Oct 14. Meyer, Zacher and others will attend. (Ebert)
"Fair Game" (USA). One of the festival's hot tickets is this Doug Liman film about the Plame-Wilson case, starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. Enlisted by the Bush administration to find evidence of uranium trade in Africa, Penn finds it would have been physically impossible, and says so in his report. When he finds his report is ignored and the non-existent shipments are cited as a justification for the Iraq War, he goes public--and then the administration blows his wife's cover as a CIA agent. Based on fact, names names, tough and outraged. And powerful. 5 p.m. Oct. 17. (Ebert)
"Family Tree" (France) Co-directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau use a family gathering at their country estate for three generations of revelations. Frederick (Guy Marchand) takes a walk in woods as the rest of his family puts his eldest son to rest. A long-hidden truth is told: the real reason Frederick was imprisoned during Nazi occupation. This right-winger also unlocks his life-long devotion to Richard Wagner's music, which he blasts every morning. This family melodrama relates to larger issues in France's history of human rights, as footnoted at the end. But the real closure comes in a ravishing landscape of Antarctica framed as "pristine, silent, infinite" as the German composer's Valhalla. Repeat screenings: 6:15 p.m. Oct 9, 1:40 p.m. Oct 10 and 3:50 p.m. Oct. 11.. (Stamets)
"Go for It" (USA) One-time Chicago street dancer Carmen Marron, who earned a business administration degree from DePaul, now makes her writing- directing- producing debut with one goal: upgrade Latina self-esteem. Working in an Arizona school program, she was upset that girls "would emulate their identities around" Anglo celebs. She cast Chicago native and Northwestern grad Aimee Garcia to play Carmen, a Logan Square street dancer. Carmen's junior college teacher urges her to audition for a scholarship, her best friend endures macho abuse, and her Evanston boyfriend lectures his uptight parents: "If the inner city is good enough for Carmen, it's good enough for me!" The storyline is simplistic but the dance sequences are slick. 12:30 p.m. Oct. 9, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 14 and 9 p.m. Oct. 16. (Stamets)
"Golden Slumber" (Japan) The 1969 Beatles song "Golden Slumbers," covered here by Kazuyoshi Saito, inspires the slightly respelled title of Yoshihiro Nakamura's sentimental conspiracy saga. As a remote-controlled drone targets a motorcade with the prime minister riding in an open convertible, a deliveryman is told all about Lee Harvey Oswald. Run, he's told. Two explosions ensue. He runs. Collateral damage? Incalculable. "Look what the Americans did," argues one character. "How many civilians are killed in the hunt for one terrorist leader?" "This is not America," notes another. "Thank God it isn't, too," replies the first. The fun includes a wily serial cop-killer sidekick, epic fireworks and superb plastic surgery. 9:15 p.m. Friday, 8:45 p.m. Saturday and 2:45 p.m. Wednesday. (Stamets)
"The Hairdresser" (Germany) Dorris Dorrie offers a watchable comedy-drama about middle-class fulfillment. Kathi (Gabriela Maria Schmeide from "The White Ribbon"), a sarcastic newly single hair stylist, seeks to open her own shop in Berlin. Obstacles include safety inspectors rating her non-slip floor. Her daughter in high school is in an acute eye-rolling phase. Kathi also faces fat prejudice. This light character piece does not exploit her girth for mirth, pity or correct body politics, even when showing the heroine naked. Instead there's a matter-of-fact realism about a woman who must use a rope to hoist herself out of bed every morning. 4 p.m. Friday, 5:30 p.m. Monday and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. (Stamets)
"Heartbeats" (Quebec). Sometimes beauty just isn't worth wasting your time on. When a person has the world on his doorstep, why does he need you in the rec room? This seductive hymn to vapid young love, seductively beautiful, stars Niels Schneider as a golden-haired young god named Nicolas who attracts Francis (Xavier Dolan, the director) and Marie (Monia Chokri). They form a merry threesome, sharing fun times, confidences, and even a bed. But not sex. And when sex threatens to enter the picture, the illusion of perfection evaporates. Acutely observant of psychological complexities, the film leaves us curious about what, exactly, Nicolas thought was really going on -- or Francis and Marie, for that matter. Enthralling. 6:30 p.m. Oct 14, 8:45 p.m. Oct. 15. (Ebert)
"The Housemaid." (Korea) Further evidence that South Korea is producing many of the best films in the world. Takes place almost entirely within the huge house of a rich man, and centers on the young woman he has hired as a nanny. It involves the man, his wife, his daughter, the older woman who runs his household, and the mothers of the wife and the nanny. The nanny forms a bind with the 7-year-old daughter, and assists the wife during a pregnancy with twins. Consider the mastery of the film's construction. The nuanced performances. The implacable deliberation of the plot. The way the house acts as a hothouse to force the growth of anger. And the film's unforgiving portrait of people damaged by great wealth. This is a thriller about the ideas people have of themselves. Directed by Sang-soo Im. 7:15p.m. Oct 17. (Ebert)
"How I Ended the Summer" (Russia) Shot in at the Valkarkai polar station on the northern edge of Chukotka, Aleksei Popogrebsky's recommended drama is set on an isolated island where two men monitor meteorological devices and send their data by radio. The real danger is not a leaky radioactive isotope generator or hungry polar bears, but toxic distrust between the old hand and the young new guy. The former tells a cautionary tale of a prior duo that imploded on duty. The latter is writing an essay about his summer stint, but his failure to relay a tragic message from the mainland precipitates local tragedy. Time-lapse landscape sequences supply transporting interludes. 5:40 p.m. Oct. 10, 3:30 p.m. Oct. 12 and 12:30 p.m. Oct. 17. (Stamets)
"King's Road" (Iceland), On a snowy, muddy deadend road in nowhere, a tiny community of misfits live in trailers and work out matters of life, love and kin. And tangled roots and debts. And so on. Director Valdís Oskarsdottir has edited her share of intriguing films before this: "The Celebration," "Julien Donkey-Boy," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Mister Lonely." All were stocked with weirdos, but whatever she may have learned about such characters does not equip her to make up the batch she scripts and directs here. Their quirks and quandaries are not notably comic or poignant. Not even the old lady who takes her dead pet seal for walks. 4 p.m. Oct 16, 5:45 p.m. Monday Oct 18. (Stamets)
"Leap Year" (Mexico) "Would you like to cut my throat while you f--- me?" asks a freelance business reporter, as February 29 nears. This icky murky study of sexual trauma and masochistic mourning, which won a Camera d'Or at Cannes, is merely opaque. Director Michael Rowe confided in an online interview: "I wondered, 'how the hell can I get a mass Mexican audience to sit still for 90 minutes, watching two talking heads in a room? I know, SEX! That will do it.'" No one under 18 admitted. 8:45 p.m. Oct 11.
"Louder Than a Bomb" (USA). Surely one of the best and most powerful films in this year's festival, it follows a season in the Chicago area's Poetry Slam Competitions. Teams of five poet/performers from high schools compete in a grueling series of programs, and the filmmakers take us behind the scenes at four schools and we meet the poets and their teachers. The favorite is Steinmetz, from a rough inner city area, which pulled off an astonishing victory in their first season, and now are back again. The competition is exciting, but more gripping are the performances themselves, as poets reach deep inside to evoke stunning statements on, for example, a kid brother's diabetes, drive-by shootings, and the poetry itself. If the Louder Than a Bomb finals were telecast the way high school sports are, I have a feeling their audience would grow by the minute. 6 p.m. Oct 11; 1:30 p.m. Oct 16; 3:30 p.m. Oct. 18. Directors Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel and some of the poets seen in the film are scheduled to appear. (Ebert)
"Love Like Poison" (France) Director Katell Quillevere directs a superior coming-of-age story set in Brittany. Fourteen year-old Anna is home from boarding school. Her father has split, but her bedridden anti-clerical grandpa, a cute local boy and a caring priest are around. Her summer of sexual awareness and spiritual ambivalence is marked by two fainting spells: at a funeral and at her confirmation. And twice she will reveal her body to the eyes of two quite different males in her life. Light signals radiance and rapture here. This auspicious debut climaxes with a sublime look on Anna's face that cues a killer rendition of a Radiohead song by a Belgian girls choir. 4 p.m. Oct. 10, 6:20 p.m. Oct. 11 and 1:15 p.m. Oct 17. (Stamets)
"Love Translated" (Canada/ Ukraine) Director Julia Ivanova joins 15 Canadian and American men on a packaged 10-day "dating tour" to Odessa. Ivanova continues the theme of her earlier documentaries "I Want a Woman," about four Russian immigrant men looking for mates, and "Fatherhood Dreams," about four gay dads. The cultural exchanges are brokered by translators. The young Ukrainians and the less young North Americans seem to misread motives all around. It's at times excruciating to gauge the degree of one-sided or two-sided exploitation on view. Ivanova cannot record all that is transacted, yet does not tattle or titlilate. Only one match is made. This couple is scheduled to attend the fest. 8 p.m.: Oct 9, 3:30 p.m. Oct. 11. (Stamets)
"Mooz-Lum" (USA) Like its instructive title about correctly pronouncing the term "Muslim," this too-earnest film tells us how to understand a young African-American Muslim. Writer/ director Qasim Basir draws on personal experience to depict Tariq, a college freshman turning his back on his fundamentalist upbringing. Just after arriving on campus, he faces post- 9/11 anti-Muslim hostility far worse than his middle-school classmate calling him "Ham- Salami- Bacon." Flashbacks to Tariq's vicious beatings by his out-of-line imam personalize Muslim violence as a shameful in-house issue, not an inter-faith crisis. The cast includes Nia Long as Tariq's mother and Danny Glover as an intolerant dean. 6 p.m. Oct. 10, 5:30 p.m. Oct. 12. (Stamets)
"My Joy" (Germany). Documentary director Sergei Loznitsa makes his dramatic debut set on Russia's backroads. A truckdriver drives through a disconcerting landscape. He encounters random killings that jar the plot like potholes. Detours to WWII soldiers killing their own add a historical dimension that confuses matters. Is surreal or serial killing inscribed in the national soul? If Loznitsa's agenda is unclear, he aces his choice of cinematographer. Romanian shooter Oleg Mutu ("4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days") makes this an unnerving spellbinder. 3:50 p.m. Oct. 14; 9 p.m. Oct. 19.
"Myth of the American Sleepover" A lovely, gentle and very true film set on a long night in a small Michigan city at the end of summer. We meet teenagers, boys and girls, on a night when there are two sleepovers, a party and and a gathering at a lakeside, and restless romantics circulate through the night, seeking love. The "myth" that is deconstructed is that all these kids are much into sex, booze and drugs. There are very few drugs, not very much beer, a bottle of vodka that gets passed around, and sex that doesn't go much further than sweet kissing. Poetic. Directed by David Mitchell. 8:15 p.m. Oct. 8, 3:30 p.m. Oct. 9. (Ebert)
"The Neighbor" (Canada). A pensive Iranian-Canadian named Shirin grows concerned when another Iranian immigrant moves in across the hall and locks in her young child at home alone. The newcomer is cool and distant, but Shirin helps in a time of need and many buried issues for both women, from Iran and in their personal lives, emerge. A perceptive character study by director Naghmeh Shirkhan, granting both women great humanity. The actress Azita Sahebjam has a wonderfully expressive face, and the film has its center there. 5:40 p.m. Oct 9, 11:30am, Oct 10; 2:30p.m., Oct 14, (Ebert)
"Norman" (USA) Like the recent "Easy A," the likeable "Norman" is about a high school kid who tells a big lie. Dan Byrd, a supporting character there and a regular on TV's "Cougar Town," plays the wry title teen who starts a rumor about his tumor and fakes a chemo side effect. Yet he gets the girl, played by Emily VanCamp from "Brothers & Sisters" and "Everwood." Also appearing are Richard Jenkins as Norman's father with terminal stomach cancer and Adam Goldberg as the English teacher. Chicago musician Andrew Bird scores and performs in the fest's best bet for high schoolers. 3:30 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Sunday and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. (Stamets)
"Princess of Montpensier." (France, Germany) A sweeping and romantic historical epic by the French director Bertrand Tavernier, who has been a CIFF favorite. Mélanie Thierry stars as Marie, a princess who favors one man but is forced by her father to wed another. It's all strictly business, but she's strong-willed, and gets dangerous ideas from her tutor. Court intrigue, romantic scheming, and awesome battle scenes set in the civil war between the Catholics and Huguenots. But what's most fascinating is the young princess's strategies for dealing with the world of male dominance. 8:15 p.m. Oct 10, 8:15 p.m. Oct 12. (Ebert)
"Problema" (Germany) Ralf Schmerberg seats 112 thinkers, artists and activists from 56 countries around a big table for nine hours. The site is Berlin's Bebelplatz Square, where Nazis once burned books. Each speaker faces a little video camera installed to record answers to 100 big questions. Mis-labeled a "discussion" and a "dialogue," this high-minded documentary records a din that forces the global cast to use ear plugs. The torrent of verbiage channelled by 112 mics and cameras yields less insight than the didactic montage of archival visuals, including clips from Sergei Eisenstein's classics. The last question is: "What are the myths that we need to create to change the world for the better?" Wrong answer: a non-interactive Babel of talking heads. 6:30 p.m. Oct 16, 4:30 p.m. Oct. 17. (Stamets)
"Red " (USA). A goofy comic thriller starring Bruce Willis, whose character is targeted for assassination. He reassembles his old hit squad (Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich) and they fight back. Willis also drags along a girl he met on the phone. None of these characters have personal stories; they seem to have been on standby in retirement. The villain is a murderous U.S. vice president. There are lots of gunshots and explosions. Was it only me, or did the Mirren character look curiously chipper in the closing scenes for a woman who had been gut-shot a little earlier? 6:30 p.m., Oct 13. Rush tickets only. (Ebert)
"R U There" (Netherlands) David Verbeek directs an eloquent foray into para-cinema and post-cinema: the realm of online life. A twenty-year-old first-person shooter witnesses first-hand a bloody scooter accident on the street outside a pro tournament in Taiwan. Off-game with an odd shoulder ache, he befriends a prostitute in his hotel elevator. Their avatars bond in the online game Second Life. Then he pays his way to go further into her offline world outside of the city. This recommended look at a virtual player lost on the screen is a nice find. Meditations on our new screens, as in this year's "Trust" and the earlier "Demonlover," tend to be cautionary. This is revelatory. 7 p.m. Oct 16, 3:30 p.m. Oct. 17 and 2:45 p.m. Oct. 18. (Stamets)
"Sandcastle" (Singapore) This bland coming-of-age drama by Boo Junfeng portrays a despondent 18-year-old discovering his father's past as a student radical. Exiled as a communist, he later died from pancreatic cancer. The young man pores over black-and-white negatives, home videos and love letters. Tending to his aged grandparents, he rebuffs his mother's new boyfriend, a career military officer, by sabotaging his video pitch for a patriotic pageant by inserting porn clips. The teen ponders his own upcoming army induction, with a detour to loose his virginity. Sappy piano music makes it all less sufferable. Singapore makes for a much better location in international thrillers made elsewhere. Repeat screenings: 6:15 p.m. Friday, Saturday and 4:20 p.m. Monday. (Stamets)
"Sasha" (Germany) Coming-out and coming-of-age come together in director Dennis Todorovic's variant on a formula drama of self-discovery. Sasha loves his gay piano teacher who's leaving Cologne for Vienna. A Chinese gal pal violinist is clueless about Sasha's orientation. Ditto his old-world dad and rowdy younger brother. A third-act gunshot leads to a new career for Sasha's mom, his dad's deportation to Montenegro and a new sporting life for Sasha. The Euro-migrant, border-crossing motif adds a facile parallel to lives in flux for an affirming, if familiar story. Here's one twist for our times: dissing a black guy in a gay bar as "Obama" can get you punched out. 7:45 p.m. Oct 9, 1:45 p.m. Oct. 10. (Stamets)
"Sentiment of the Flesh" (France) Roberto Garzelli directs a transgressive drama about invasive voyeurism. A medical illustrator fixates on a physician. "It's a privilege to look inside someone," is her come-on. They begin a boundary-free affair using an MRI machine after-hours. As foreplay, she reads him a line from an 1846 letter by Gustave Flaubert: "Love is, after all, a superior kind of curiosity, an appetite for the unknown that makes you bare your breast and plunge headfirst into the storm." His getting under her skin, however, never feels very deep, no matter how you cut it. Then he operates on her cyst and there's a kiss that's soooo medically incorrect. Rate it ick. No one under 18 admitted. 9:30 p.m. Oct 9, 6:15 p.m. Oct. 10 and 4:15 p.m. Oct. 18 (Stamets)
"Sex Magic: Manifesting Maya" (USA) Baba Dez bills himself as a tantric sacred sexual shaman, and charges tanned heterosexual women for his hands-on healing services. What starts as a well-lit promotional video, even if lacking an 800-number, ends as awkward mockery of a 50 year-old satyr with a tax-exemption. Jonathan Schell and Eric Liebman document nonsense. Dez claims to "draw from all the wisdom that's available from the entire scope of humanity." Except for his "beloved" who exits mid-film. She later posts on her own site: "Deepening into my discernment, the frequency within this paradigm became Incongruent to my being and progression." Don't miss the "cake-and-eat-it" quip. No one under age 18 admitted. 10:30 p.m. Friday, 10:15 p.m. Saturday. (Stamets)
"Skeletons" A profoundly eccentric metaphysical comedy with two itinerant psychics trooping through the British countryside to assist clients with paranormal problems. With business suits and briefcases, they hike cross-country and down railroad tracks, one a red-haired giant, the other a tidy little man, finding unwanted insights into secret lives. I'm not sure we're supposed to follow everything at first, and the mystery is part of the point. Later, the weirdness turns poignant. 8:30pm, Oct 15; 4:20pm, Oct. 16; 10:15pm, Oct. 18. Director Nick Whitfield is scheduled to attend on the 15th and 16th. (Ebert)
"Tamara Drewe." (U.K.)This warm-hearted new comedy by Stephen Frears ("The Queen") celebrates flavors of British eccentricity in a bucolic village. Based on a graphic novel, it stars Tamsin Greig and Roger Allam as the owners of a bucolic writers' retreat. When local girl Tamara ( Gemma Arterton) returns to town transformed by a few years and a nose job, local boy Andy (Luke Evans) forgets he once snubbed her, and is smitten. And so is Allam, who writes bestselling thrillers. Two meddlesome teenage girls snoop about and cause trouble. And there's the sort of scene everyone secretly hopes for at a writers' festival. Fun in a "Local Hero" sort of way. 7 p.m. Oct 8. (Ebert)
"The Tempest" Spectacular passion and imagery wedded to Shakespeare's farewell play, directed by Julie Taymor, who has a boundless visual imagination. Helen Mirren is Prospera, a magical alchemist ruling her island. Felicity Jones is her innocent daughter Miranda; Ben Whislaw as Ariel is a sprite who spirits about the island in truly enchanting effects; Djimon Hounsou makes a fearsome Caliban, and the cast of acting greats includes David Straithairn, Russell Brand, Alfred Molina, Alan Cumming and Chris Cooper. Revisionist and yet respectful to the original. A wonder. 7 p.m. Oct. 18; rush tickets only. (Ebert)
"Ten Winters" (Italy) For his graduation project, first-time director Valerio Mieli gives bragging rights the National Film School in Rome. A decade of encounters starts when two students meet on a Venice ferry and spend a chaste night in an unheated house. Camilla is seriously studying Russian literature, and Silvestro unseriously suggests he might major in "Japanese mathematics." This is a satisfying long-term look at a friendship of missed chances that achieves an intimacy right back at that rundown house. Their credible pathways surpass plot contrivances. This student film is not another one about film students. 1:15 p.m.: 5:30 p.m. Oct. 9, 5:30 p.m. Oct. 19 and 8:15 p.m. Oct. 19. (Stamets)
"Tony & Janina's American Wedding" (USA/Poland) Chicago director Ruth Leitman ("Lipstick & Dynamite") documents a Polish-American family split by post-9/11 immigration policies. Long ago granted political asylum, Janina is deported back to post-communist Poland. "After 18 years of living in the States, Homeland Security decided her life is worth only 44 pounds," rails her husband Tony, in a confused reference to the luggage limit mandated for her flight. Playing to the camera, he pretends to hang himself with an extension cord in his Schiller Park basement. His questionable appeals match the unaccountable politicians who fail this disraught voter who only gets a ceremonial flag from his Congressman. 7:15 p.m. Oct. 10, 2:15 p.m. Oct. 17. (Stamets)
"The Tree" (Australia),. Striken by a heart attack while driving his pick-up, a family man hits a huge tree next by his rural home. His eight-year-old daughter turns into a real tree-hugger as she communes with his spirit. Ditto his widow, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. She has better luck dealing with nature than her woodsy character in last year's "Antichrist." Julie Bertuccelli directs a mild tale about moving on that's adapted from Judy Pascoe's 2002 novel "Our Father Who Art in the Tree." Thank the woodland sprites that M. Night Shyamalan did not get his spooky hands on this material. 4:10 p.m. Oct 14, 7:30 p.m. Oct 16, 2:30 p.m. Oct. 17. (Stamets)
"Tuesday, After Christmas" (Romania) For his fourth feature, Radu Muntean delivers an well-observed study of a husband telling his wife he's leaving her for the young orthodonist working on their daughter. The sequencing of long scenes includes one detailing her dental prognosis and treatment plan that borders on the absurd. But these long takes and prolonged looks at procedures are duly embraced as a signature of Romanian art cinema. Tudor Lucaciu's widescreen cinematography records strong performances. The title refers to the post-holiday date when the splitting couple, played by a real-life couple, plans to break the sad news to their families. 7:15 p.m. Friday, 3:45 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Tuesday. (Stamets)
"Waste Land" (Brazil/ UK). Lucy Walker ("Countdown to Zero") documents Brooklyn-based Brazilian artist Vik Muniz as he collaborates with Rio garbage pickers. He poses and photographs them, employs them to recreate blow-ups that he shoots, then sells on the international art market, and donates proceeds to garbage groups. From the producers of "City of God," this upbeat report on socially-engaged art-making takes its title from a T.S. Eliot poem and gets its music from Moby. 8:40 p.m. Oct. 11. (Stamets)
"Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (Thailand) Apichatpong Weerasethakul's sojourn to the countryside is a poetic tale about the otherworld. Dying from failing kidneys, Uncle Boonmee regrets all the communists and bugs he killed in his life. Visitors from the afterlife arrive. "Heaven is over-rated," he's told. His late son is now a Monkey Ghost with glowing ruby-red eyes. A speaking catfish mates with a princess by a waterfall. "I am inspired by the belief of the transmigration of souls between humans, plants, animals, and ghosts," states the Thai auteur, who was awarded the top prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival. "I think it's the most explicit movie about 'movies' that I've made," he adds. Luminous wonders abound. Highly recommended, although only "rush" seats may be available. 3 p.m.: Oct. 10, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 15. (Stamets)
Separating the artist from the art isn't as easy as it sounds.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
Part two of Jana Monji's essay about the portrayal of Asian characters in cinema.
Reviews from Cannes of Cristian Mungiu's "Graduation" and Nicolas Winding Refn's "The Neon Demon."