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Preview: Mid-Week With the 50th Chicago International Film Festival

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CHICAGO – The 50th Chicago International Film Festival of 2014 gets into gear this week, with a line-up of films from all over the world. The festival breaks down these films in several categories, including the Main Competition, New Directors, Docufest, Out-Look (LGBT), World Cinema, After Dark and Spotlight Scandinavia.

HollywoodChicago.com contributors Nick Allen and Patrick McDonald have been sampling the best of the festival, and offers this preview of the first midweek selections in the two week cinema extravaganza. Each capsule is designated with NA (Nick Allen) or PM (Patrick McDonald), to indicate the author.

CENTERPIECE FILM “The Last 5 Years”

The Last 5 Years
Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick in ‘The Last 5 Years’
Photo credit: Chicago International Film Festival

The musical is back, featuring Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick belting out tunes! Based on an Off-Broadway hit that had its roots in Chicago, this all-singing look at a dissolving marriage has moments of inspiration. Kendrick proves she has the songbird chops, keeping up with musical theater veteran Jordan. There are sly references to regional theater, phony New York City poseurs, Jewish/Christian pairings and the ongoing battle between the sexes, with songs that are fun, bittersweet and sad. Veteran writer/director Richard LaGravenese (“Beautiful Creatures”) creates that delicate balance between reality and relationships. (PM)

Wednesday, 10/15, 6pm

”1001 Grams”

1001 Grams
1001 Grams
Photo credit: Chicago International Film Festival

“How much does a life weigh?” is the poetic query at the center of the airy “1001 Grams”, and one tactfully handled with dual obviousness and playfulness that it could make director Jason Reitman feel shame for his film’s fascination with literal connections. The question is explored here within a droll, sandpaper-dry working woman comedy that focuses on a 9-to-5 speck with a vital job - clean-cut, isolated Marie (Ane Dahl Torp) is in charge of Norway’s standard for the kilo, and transports it to an international conference. The kilo represents her country’s means for economic order, not to mention its way to peacefully interact with standards of other nations. With Torp fashioning an ominous and curious presentation of a working drone, director Bent Hamer models a subtly lovely film (with a pinch of sci-fi) that waltzes through its narrative featuring both shattering life events and delicate strokes. Wrapping this low-key story in a warm perspective, Hamer declares a grand importance for even the things (and the people) that seem entirely insignificant. (NA)

Tuesday, 10/14, 5:45pm
Thursday, 10/16, 6:15pm
Tuesday, 10/22, 2:30pm

”The Salvation”

The Salvation
The Salvation
Photo credit: Chicago International Film Festival

Leave it to a Danish director (Kristian Levring) to reinvigorate the American western genre. This film goes to the heights of the suspenseful confrontation style found in the greatest westerns in cinema history. Mads Mikkelsen, the villain in the James Bond film “Casino Royale,” is an immigrant cowboy whose wrong place, wrong time circumstance creates a man seeking revenge. What distinguishes this melodrama is the background themes, which includes the manifest destiny of corporate America. A must-see for admirers of the movies called “westerns,” and those who love craftily constructed storytelling. (PM)

Tuesday, 10/14, 8:30pm

“Red Army”

Red Army
Red Army
Photo credit: Chicago International Film Festival

For Americans, the remembrance of the US hockey team’s “miracle” at the 1980 Winter Olympics against the Soviet Union has subsequently buried the legacy of the opposing players who made it such a historic threat. “Red Army” is a thoroughly inspired documentary by post-Soviet Union generation filmmaker (and proud Chicagoan) Gabe Polsky that seeks to spotlight the legends about these Russian hockey maestros who might have lost in 1980, but basically won everything other competition as a collective team before and after. Much more than a sports documentary, “Red Army” is in awe of the on-ice artistry of these players whose skill paralleled none, and an examination in how the ideologies of Communism fortified and restrained them in their ambitions to be the world’s best. Personable interviews with hockey legends like Viacheslav Fetisov (concerned with his business phone most of all) and electrifying footage of the Russians’ athletic domination create a full picture that no feature narrative could properly contain, whether made by a Russian or not. (NA)

Tuesday, 10/14, 8:30pm

“The Owners”

The Owners
The Owners
Photo credit: Chicago International Film Festival

Imagine if everyone taunted Antonio with grinning dance moves after his bike was stolen in “The Bicycle Thief” - this is the absurd clash of cartoonish cruelty and depressing plight that makes for a unique tone in “Main Competition” selection “The Owners”. In this story, two brothers and their young epileptic sister face contention regarding ownership to a small house that their recently deceased mother left them, spurring sad events that dissembles the trio piece-by-piece, while authority figures in the town make their lives hell with their indifference. While its story may be too spacious in its first half, this dark comedy from Kazakhstan does improve as its sense of humor is fortified, while specific character blocking and character framing that suggests dry, landscape-driven goofy movies like, of all films, “Napoleon Dynamite.” “The Owners” is a memorably different entity born from the common storytelling seed of exploring a character’s plight, as if it were a piece of world cinema that decided to face life’s cruelty by dancing along with it. (NA)

Wednesday, 10/15, 12:30 (Final Show)

”Red Rose”

Red Rose
Red Rose
Photo credit: Chicago International Film Festival

There is a fire within Iranian filmmaking that cannot be overlooked, and even with narratively-thin films like “Red Rose,” the conversations within are worth the festival time. This film uses creative nonfiction to express the turmoil in 2009 Tehran after a rigged election, mixing real-life cell phone footage of the chaos with a narrative that shows two opposing perspectives: a 50-year-old man with a history of participation in rebellions sits safely in his high-rise apartment looking down at the unrest, while a 25-year-old participant in the riot uses his place for hideout during a riot. The two begin a companionship that concerns more than just the need for company or safety, but ultimately a debate about involvement in the rally, especially with so much at stake. This “Main Competition” selection from the festival may not have the same energy in its apartment scenes, but the passion in the outraged framing device of this romance certifies its vigorous intent. (NA)

Wednesday, 10/15, 5:45pm
Friday, 10/17, 8pm
Sunday, 10/19, 12:30pm

”St. Vincent”

St. Vincent
St. Vincent
Photo credit: Chicago International Film Festival

Another CENTERPIECE FILM, “St. Vincent” features Bill Murray accessing his inner curmudgeon as a fast declining Vietnam veteran who finds new purpose from neighbors portrayed by Melissa McCarthy and Jaeden Lieberer. Although high concept in spots, the film succeeds in showcasing Bill Murray’s evolution as an actor and sad sack. Fans will enjoy Murray’s interplay with Lieberer’s character, and the background tribute to the veterans of the Vietnam conflict only adds to the conclusive poignancy.(PM)

Wednesday, 10/15, 8:15pm

”Timbuktu”

Timbuktu
Timbuktu
Photo credit: Chicago International Film Festival

A co-production of France and the Western African country of Mauritania, this is a gritty look at nearby Northern Mali (Azawad), a territory that was co-opted by rebel Islamic militants. The citizens left behind are essentially under the gun as new rules and authority disrupt their way of life. The military tribunals are brutal, as are the patriarchal attitudes toward women. What is amazing, as always, is that this happens on our modern world, as remote areas are run like the wild west, with no relief in sight. (PM)

Wednesday, 10/15, 8:15pm
Thursday, 10/16, 8:00pm

”Speed Walking”

Speed Walking
Speed Walking
Photo credit: Chicago International Film Festival

As fashionable as coming-of-age films may seem, very few are experientially unabridged like “Speed Walking”, an exhilarating Danish drama that feels its way through the intensely raw moments of a boy’s maturation. The film presents an emotionally-developing human being finding context in the factors that are said to inform a great deal of our existence, death and sex; weeks before his Confirmation, his mother passes away, and simultaneously he begins to experiment with the sensation of another’s touch. Director Niels Arden Oplev (the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) tackles huge life instances with sensitivity and classic Euro openness. Brightened by bits of dark humor, “Speed Walking” is a distinctly liberated observation on how life feels before one is more programmed to supposedly better handle it. (NA)

Wednesday, 10/15, 8:30pm
Wednesday, 10/22, 3:30pm

”Two Days, One Night”

Two Days, One Night
Two Days, One Night
Photo credit: Chicago International Film Festival

The truth in the Dardennes brothers’ filmmaking and the deeply-felt embodiments by Marion Cotillard combines for a tremendous slice of human nature with “Two Days, One Night.” In a performance that defines her ability for rigorous emotion with a strong grasp on the everywoman’s subdued existence, Cotillard plays Sandra, a person wrestling with depression who must ask her 16 coworkers individually to vote for her to keep her job when they return to work on Monday, though they’ll lose a bonus if she stays on. As the Dardennes bros. vividly present this anxious journey through agile pacing, the situation gains intense gravity from its immediate significance; Sandra’s emotionally-wrenching campaign makes for a microcosm of a world of workers who share economic hardships, but scrape together paychecks for independent means. With innate high stakes, “Two Days, One Night” is the Dardennes’ survival film, with Cotillard’s performance a “Gravity”-like spectacle amply articulating the world’s need to have a little faith in people. (NA)

Thursday, 10/16, 6pm
Sunday, 10/17, 6:15pm

”Clouds of Sils Maria”

Clouds of Sils Maria
Clouds of Sils Maria
Photo credit: Chicago International Film Festival

A virtuous “transition” film featuring the luminous Juliette Binoche as an aging actress who is asked to reprise the older woman’s role in a play that – when she was young – made her a star. Kristen Stewart of the “Twilight” films is perfectly cast as Binoche’s assistant, who facilitates the actress and is experiencing the same aging pains as her boss. The highlight is Chloë Grace Moretz as the actress who takes Binoche’s former younger role – Moretz has a command of the screen that is illuminating. The performances are precise, and the story is moving. (PM)

Thursday, 10/16, 8:15pm
Saturday, 10/16, 4:30pm

The 50th Chicago International Film Festival will take place October 9th-23rd, 2014. Click here for film schedules, information and to purchase tickets.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2014 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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