Here are capsule reviews for the films I saw this year at the 46th Chicago International Film Festival, which took place on October 7-21- I rated the films all from 1-4 stars, and I also provided opening dates for a few of them. I have arranged the films in order of quality from best to worse (1 and 2 came closest to a tie, and they were head and shoulders above the rest.) I can never resist a good horror film, but the zombie flicks in the fest were the weakest offerings. Keep in mind that I only saw 14 of the 100 plus offerings.
Certified Copy ****-The always exquisite and magnetic Juliette Binoche is a woman who meets an author (played by William Shimell) who makes her question the very notion of artistic value and authenticity. They are mistaken for a married couple, and they go along with it, extemporaneously creating a fictional past and relationship. This was by far the most literate, insightful, and thought provoking film that I saw in the festival. The latest in Iranian auteur, Abbas Kiarostami’s string of masterpieces. In English, French, and Italian
Black Swan-****- Believe it or not this powerful psychological ballet film echoes the body horror flicks of Dave Cronenberg. Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) miraculously gets the lead in a version of “Swan Lake,” by manifesting her dark side. But her mental instability and the machinations of an evil rival (played by the delightfully diabolical Mina Kunis) make a successful opening night unlikely. Almost all of the actresses (including Portman, Mila Kunis, and Barbara Hershey) give award worthy performances, and director Darren Aronofsky produces a more mainstream work without losing much of his edge. Scheduled to come out on December 3. See my interview with the director at http://www.artinterviews.com/Darren.html.
Tuesday After Christmas-***1/2 Paul has a joyous relationship with Raluca, a girlish, sexy woman, but it turns out that she is not his wife. The whole cast in this Begmanesque film is superb, but Mirela Oprisor (playing Adriana, his no nonsense wife), gives the finest performance. She defines mental anguish in her big blow-up scene.
Happy Housewife ***1/2-A woman agrees to have a baby, but she cracks under the strain after the birth, and she is institutionalized. The star , Carice van Houten (from "The Black Book") gives a ferocious performance in the lead that’s worthy of Indy goddess Christine keener (She even looks a bit like her). In Dutch with subtitles, 100m
Beautiful Darling ***1/2- This lively and tragic documentary about the iconic transgendered film star makes us question the need for sexual stereotypes and simple gender distinctions. Candy’s letters are emotively read by Cloe Sevigny (of “Big Love”), and this should be in contention for the year’s best documentaries.
Red Hill ***1/2-A level headed peaceful cop moves to the country because his pregnant wife wants him to avoid danger. But on his first day, a horribly scarred homicidal killer comes gunning for the police. This morally relative fable takes a few twists, and like Baudelaire’s poetry, it makes us question the clear cut distinction between good and evil. Potent Australian Western update is like a less funny and more dramatic “No Country for Old Men.”
Little Big Soldier ***-This charming comedic action film about a soldier who often survives by playing possum is the first vehicle in some time that puts Jackie Chan’s talents to good use. This is nowhere near the quality of Police Story II, but it is much better than all his American films (even his acting seems better in films from his Native country). This contains some inventive Chaplinesque comedy/action bits.96 m, In Mandarin with English subtitles.
Come Undone ***-Silvio Soldini (Blood and Tulips) directed this modestly satisfying and erotic drama about a woman (Alba Rohrwacher )who cheats on her adoring, stable husband with a waiter that she meets by chance. Italian with English subtitles, 126 m
The Middle of the World ***-Mentally challenged Mingo becomes a hit with the ladies, until some powerful townspeople frame him for a rape of a young woman. This intriguing story has some (but not too many) parallels with the story of Christ. In Spanish with English subtitles
Nice Guy Johnny- ***-Wining little Indy comedy about an engaged young man who is attracted to a free spirited blonde woman who makes him question his whole future. No one could call this film original, but it’s full of fresh faces and winning characterizations. 89 m
Sex Magic: Manifesting Maya ***-This provocative but sad documentary is about a self deluded sex guru/shaman in Sedona, who can have almost any woman except the one that he truly loves, Maya. He helps other people with their sex problems, but he is unable or unwilling to diagnose his own sex addiction. If this isn’t bad enough he also gets accused of harassment, and misusing his gifts. After awhile the parade of flesh is numbing, (which may be intentional or the point) and this is not for children or the easily scandalized.80 m
Conviction **-This tepid Oscar baiting docudrama is about a high school dropout who puts herself through law school to defend her wrongly convicted brother. This film features a marvelous, winning performance by Minnie Driver (as the woman’s best friend) and Sam Rockwell (as the reckless but charismatic brother). But the film is a little too noble for its own good, and it’s utterly predictable from the beginning to the end. Also Hilary Swank (who can be terrific in some roles) fails to make the saintly lead character into a well developed, flesh and blood character. Released on October 15
Big Tits Zombie **- Japanese horror comedy is about a Goth stripper who uses an ancient book to resurrect the dead, and she tries to become the queen of darkness. This semi ironic/moronic pastiche of “Evil Dead,” “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers,” and “Return of the Living Dead” is not very sexy, scary or funny, and the 3-d effects are terrible. But I liked the hilarious ending which effectively parodies the climax of “Sleepy Hollow.” Japanese with subtitles, 73 m
The Defiled-*1/2-The potent black and white photography and eerie makeup can’t save this shot- in-Chicago horror film which is told from the point of view of the zombies. Despite scenes of zombie sex and child birth, too much of this snail paced film is simply boring. 100m
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