30th Oct2012

Interview with A Fine Frenzy’s Alison Sudol Podcast

by rockchicago

 

Click here to listen to the interview: A Fine Frenzy Interview

Kevin Pollack and co-interviewer Sarah Breidenbach interview A Fine Frenzy’s Alison Sudol at The Vic Theatre in Chicago on 10/26/12.

30th Oct2012

Bernadette Peters Sparkles in Naperville

by rockchicago

 

Bernadette Peters, actress, singer and master storyteller graced the stage of the Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville, Thursday night.  The evening began with a jazzy version of “Let Me Entertain You”   from  “Gypsy.” Wearing a glittery lilac gown, with her halo of red curls, Ms. Peters was the consummate pro.  She quickly moved on to “No One is Alone” from Stephen Sondheim’s  “Into the Woods”. Her mastery of song interpretation was evident as she sang with an emotional intensity balanced by delicacy and sweetness of tone.

At  age 64 , Ms. Peters  career is a long and varied one. She began her career at age five, performing on a kids-talent radio program.  At age eleven, she made her Broadway debut in “Most Happy Fella” .  She has acted in films and on television, but Broadway is her world and she quickly gave us a tour. Two songs from “South Pacific”, showcased her range.  The Broadway baby with great comedic skills was on full display during “There is  Nothing  Like  A Dame”.   “Some Enchanted Evening,” a song we’ve all heard countless times, suddenly became fresh and immediate, a cautionary tale about the need to take risks in love and life.  Ms. Peters talked briefly about song selection.  Some songs,  ones  she hasn’t sung in a show, she explained, get stuck in her head, yelling, “Sing Me Sing Me”, until she does. Her beautiful rendition of “Shenandoah was one of those songs.

Accompanied by a first-rate orchestra, she continued her exploration of Stephen Sondheim’s music with two songs from “Follies”.  The haunting “In Buddy’s Eyes” and “ Losing  My Mind”.  “Losing My Mind” was sung with an emotional  intensity  capable of making the audience hold its breath in anticipation of a resolution.  Few personal details were revealed by Ms. Peters during the concert. Perhaps she feels we can learn all we need to know about her from her song selection and interpretation.  It was the music which provided the true one-on-one   communication with the audience. “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” was sung with vocal flourishes, sass and an underlying zaniness.  Her clear, delicate, bell-like notes during “When You Wish Upon  A  Star” gave the song its fairytale quality.  The  Sondheim   songs, “Being Alive” from “Company” and “Children Will Listen” from “Into the Woods” required Ms. Peters  to sing her way thru varied and conflicting emotions to a resolution and perhaps even hope.  Her voice rode the emotional waves –from the full-throttle belting of lyrics to the delicate break in her voice during a poignant moment.

Ms. Peters did mention that she was selling her cds   and  copies  of  a  children’s  book she wrote,  “Broadway Barks”.  Broadway Barks is also the name of the organization founded by Mary Tyler Moore and Miss Peters, to encourage pet adoption from animal shelters.  All proceeds from the book go to Broadway Barks.  She  ended  the  evening  with a lovely lullaby written for someone close to her heart, her dog Kramer.  My only complaint after the concert was that it wasn’t longer. There were too many songs left unsung- I had hoped to hear her version of “Send In The Clowns” from “A Little Night Music”, or the equally beautiful  “Time Heals Everything” from “Mack and Mabel”.  I can only  wish upon a star that another opportunity to hear her sing in person is in my future.

Reviewed by Rebecca Cline  on 10/25/2012

29th Oct2012

Deftones Rock Chicago Once Again

by rockchicago

 

In the past year and a half or so the Deftones have played Chicago four times. Three out of the four I have been in attendance. This fourth appearance, this time at the Aragon, was easily their best performance out of the four. The main floor of the Aragon eventually filled up but the balcony wasn’t open for this show. The opener, Scars on Broadway played to a half filled room. Most people know the Aragon isn’t the most sound-friendly venue. So at times a lot of Scars on Broadway’s songs just sounded like noise. Once I found a sweet spot where I could really zero in on their material, I must say I was pleased. Scars on Broadway is the side project of Daron Malakian from System of a Down. The band was started by Malakian and System drummer, John Dolmayan. Dolmayan has since left the project leaving Malakian as the sole System member in the band. This summer the Deftones opened for a System of a Down, so returning the favor the Deftones brought out Malakians side project.

I have enjoyed what I have heard on record from Scars on Broadway and the live element was enjoyable too. They are nothing mind blowing or anything unique but they have a decent sound. The easiest way to describe their sound is System of a Down with a Faith No More vibe. I would much rather hear and see new System of a Down material, but I’ll take this for now.

 

Around 8:45pm, Deftones took the stage, more like destroyed the stage with their musical assault. They were on fire from the first note. “Diamond Eyes” and “Rocket Skates” were the first two songs blasted at the audience. Like I mentioned, I’ve seen them three times in the past year and a half, and just after two songs I knew this was going to be their best performance. Pure adrenaline and ferocity is the best way to describe their set. This time around they looked more into it, the crowd was more into it, and the sound quality at the Aragon was surprisingly good.

Early on they pulled out the classic cuts from  Around the Fur, “My Own Summer (Shove it)” and “Be Quiet and drive (Far Away).”  Those two songs still give a driving punch that forces you to bob your head along to the beat. Lead singer, Chino Moreno was like the energizer bunny on stage. His energy really kept the momentum of the show and of the crowd. In 2011, when they played the Riviera, their sound was so loud and distorted that it was hard to enjoy, and I actually left that show early because my ears couldn’t take it. This time was far different and they had the crowd in the palm of their hands.

 

They visited most of their catalog and did a nice chunk of material off of the album White Pony, including “Change (In The House of Flies).”  At a lot of shows, there is always the lull in the set that gives you a chance to run and get a beer or head to the bathroom. There wasn’t one moment like that in the Deftones set. I never wanted to walk away, they had my attention from beginning to end.

In 2008, original bass player Chi Cheng suffered severe injuries from a car accident and is still currently in a coma. Since then, bass duties have been taken over by former Quicksand bassist, Sergio Vega. In the middle of the set they did the song “Riviere” from the album, Saturday Night Wrist and dedicated it to Chi. It was a nice somber moment in a set that was mostly filled with thunderous aggression.

 

The encore was the best part of the show in my eyes. They came back out on the Aragon stage and treated us with three songs from their first album, Adrenaline. They started it off with “Root” and then went into “Bored.”  We knew they had one more in them and they proved it by launching into my favorite Deftones song, “7 Words.”  I have never gotten sick of that song ever since the first time I heard it in 1995. The first time I saw the Deftones was that year when they played the Metro on a cold Tuesday to a small crowd of a hundred or so. They made a lasting impression on me since then, and they prove it every time they come to town.  I’ll be looking forward to the next time they journey into Chicago.

Reviewed by Todd Anthony on 10/23/12

24th Oct2012

Interview with “Simon Killer” Director Antonio Campos (48th Chicago International Film Festival)

by rockchicago

Interviewed by Frank Shuford 

 

I was recently able to Interview Director Antonio Campos about his latest film Simon killer. Here are some of his thoughts about his foray into the dark world of a troubled character.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Frank: My first question is what was your process when you were conceptualizing the script/concept for Simon killer?

Antonio: It was unusual because there is not a traditional script in any way; it was an outline. That said it was a very open process. It was a very organic; a process of seeing what came to me while being completely receptive and opened to everybody’s ideas. And you know; it was an ongoing process. There was never a point where “oh we’ve got it” in terms of a script it was more like “no were finding it”, it was writing with a camera and actors. The process was ongoing. So it’s very unusual. There was a lot of improvising to find the script. We would improvise; not to shoot the improvisation but to try and find the right words for the scene with key beats that we had to hit. And on top of that there were certain ideas I had in my head about sex scenes and about violence that we had to try and figure out how to put on screen and explore. Also … I didn’t bring (them) up right away … it would just be listed as sex scene in the outline and in my head I’m like; “ok this is the scene where she sticks her thumb up his butt” so how do I … first get my actors to get on the same page and then let everyone else who is working on the film know and be comfortable with it?

 

Frank: So in that way, it was sort of a collaborative process?

Antonio: Oh, it was a very collaborative process yea.

 

Frank: What Kind of sources of inspiration did you have that gave you the fire to start?

Antonio: I had been reading a lot of books by a guy named George Simenon and that really inspired me and then besides that, having lived in Paris; in that neighborhood, having walked by those hostess bars, I was fascinated by them … the film is a sort of dark fantasy of Paris. It’s not some realistic depiction of it, it’s very much a tour through a certain world … Simon is essentially a tourist. He’s a tourist in a city, but now he’s a tourist in someone’s life. And the nice thing about being a tourist is that you can always go home. Whereas she (Victoria) can’t. She’s home.

 

Frank: That kind of brings me to my next question; is that the inspiration for the thematic connections to vision and sight, or does that come from somewhere else?

Antonio: That just came from an interest in the way in which the eye process images and how the brain deceives us so the world is manageable. In that sense, (putting) that onto Simon gave us a way into Simon … Because I always feel like you need something; you need to know something of what the character has done or does; or some way of helping you understand how they … frame the world. If your character is a writer, that’s a very specific way that they would see the world; (or) if they are a doctor, (or) if they are a lawyer … these things are important even if they aren’t necessarily part of the story. A farmer has a different way of looking at the world than some who is an accountant in a big city. You have to consider these things. And so Simon is a student from New York City who has studied the eye and he has been interested in that, but whether or not he has studied it as … extensively as he (claims) is what is up for debate; but he’s got a way of looking at the world and this is the one thing that he has done of value. He has published this paper, and that means something to him. So knowing that there was a very specific kind of character we were dealing with… dictated the way that we framed the film itself.

 

Frank: That’s another thing I noticed, a lot of the editing felt like there was a real sense of schizophrenia to the way in which the scenes were arranged. I was wondering what your thoughts on that were; obviously that was intentional.

Antonio: Well, there is a way of editing that I sometimes like to use when I am dealing with long shots where a scene begins is where it begins and when it ends it ends. This doesn’t mean that it’s an elegant out point but it’s more that it’s the outpoint where I have lost interest in the scene or that … we don’t want to get too far away from what the heart of the scene is so we have to get out of it. In that way, it’s a very abrupt ending and it starts you up again so there is a sense of stop and start that I think gives the audience a feeling of tension … and its unpredictable you never know when a scene is going to jump out. Scenes could go on for that long or they could go on that long. That unpredictable quality, I think, is a good thing to play with if you can.

 

Frank: If there is anything you could change about the film, or perhaps anything you wish you had developed further, what would that be?

Antonio: I can’t say. I have my own answers but you can’t put that out in the world. It’s too painful when you look back at a film and you go “well, I could have done that better” but you know film is what it is … so many times people try and tell you “oh we can’t get that because of this” or “were going to end the day late let’s not end the day late” and “let’s just cut now and instead of going for another take” … it’s too difficult of a thing to ever go an replicate … so if your there and everybody’s in position and everybody’s in character, shoot another take. Don’t ever just try and settle for it because you will regret it for as long as you have to talk about that film. There is very little that I regret doing or not getting but with any film you have things that you wish, now in hindsight, that (you had seen) … you realize and those things are always going to be there but the answer is to not watch the film anymore. And not think about it.

 

Frank: What do you hope people will take away from the film? Is there an impression that you hope to leave with the audience?

Antonio: I would like to believe that the film gives you a unique look into the process of someone becoming a killer and I also think there is something that rings true about young guys in their 20’s, right now, in this generation. The sort of darker thing about Simon is that Simon Killer, in some ways, could have turned into a very different kind of movie. It takes a different turn; a turn for the worse. What about Simon do we accept too much? His behavior little by little, we kind of go “okay, okay” and you can kind of say “I have done that”, “I have told that white lie to try to get out of this” “I have gone out with two people at the same time” and “I look for this kind of reinforcement, or encouragement  from my relationships” all these things that Simon does … you can relate to but they become very dangerous when you start relying on them and … Simon is selfish, he is looking at people (and thinking) “what can I get out of them?”, and when he can’t get anything else out of them or when it becomes too hot, he leaves. And so the scary thing about Simon is that Simon, in so many ways, is relatable or understandable … if you look at the process of what the character goes through, it’s bit by bit. There is something (inside) this character in particular … that maybe if he went down a different route; maybe if he did something differently; maybe if he was stopped at some point earlier; if he wasn’t coddled so much; maybe there would have been a different outcome for him. I think that with character studies … they are experiences … and at the end of the day, whatever you take from it is what you take from it but hopefully within the time that you are watching it you feel like… you are experiencing something unique.

 

Frank: Well, my last question will be ending on a high note I suppose; what was the most enjoyable part of making this film for you?

Antonio: The most enjoyable part is always the same with every film; it’s just working with the actors. That’s it.

24th Oct2012

Film Review: The Last Sentence (48th Chicago International Film Festival)

by rockchicago

 

The Last Sentence is an elegant film that is based on the life Swedish journalist Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen), who conducted a personal campaign against Nazi influence while dealing with his dark and dysfunctional personal life. The film chronicles his life during the tumultuous time before and during WWII and the main emotional arch follows his dealings with the various women he is romantically involved with. Torgney writes for a big liberal Swedish newspaper that is opposed to the Nazi’s parties invading influences. Torgney is viewed by others as being the lead crusader for Sweden in a time where Nazi ideology threatens to consume the cultural landscape. The irony of his public war against the Nazis is that privately, he allows himself to personally destroy the lives of his loved ones through his selfishness and egomania.

The thing that is really intriguing about this film is the dynamic contrast that is presented between Torgny Segerstedt’s honorable public image, and his private life. In the beginning of the film, it becomes clear that Torgny’s is having an affair with Maja Forssman (Pernilla August), the woman who owns the paper he writes for. It is also clear that this is tormenting his wife Puste (Ulla Skoog) and it is slowly tearing his family apart. Torgny however doesn’t really give a damn about this and it is almost shocking how cruel and cold his actions are throughout the film. At the same time, the film makes an effort to paint Torgny as a sympathetic character through the use of hallucinations during which he speaks to his dead mother. The whole thing is very Shakespearean and there are defiantly echoes of tragic dramas like Hamlet and Macbeth in the screenplay for this film.

Generally speaking, creating a negative portrait of a historical figure is seen as being in bad taste, however, The Last Sentence is deliberate with its portrayal as it the goal is clearly to humanize a figure from the past.

Another thing that makes this film truly remarkable is its acting. Often times the layman talks about how good an actor’s performance is in terms of how believable it is, but realistically, that should be a bare minimum for actors. The acting in The Last Sentence is dripping with emotion and anguish, and while it certainly is “believable”, it transcends the basic demands of cinematic acting in order to enter the realm of sublime melodrama. In other, less flowery words, the acting in this film is evocative and it is clear that the actors truly strove to understand and feel the emotions of the actual people they were portraying. This is certainly not an easy task, and as such it is worthy of much praise as it brings so much to the film.

Overall, The Last Sentence is a fantastic film that is able to stick its hooks in you with its high contrast portrait of a complex Swedish historical figure.

Reasons to go see it: The acting is phenomenal and the writing is oozing with emotional weight.

Reasons to avoid it: None. It is rare that I say that there is nothing negative about a film, but I had no glaring issues with this film. The only thing that would keep you from seeing this one is a lack of interest in its subject matter; and even that is unjustified in my opinion.

Verdict: This film is a well-constructed Shakespearean portrait of a person who fought against external evil in order to compensate for his own personal failures. As a student of history, I enjoyed that this film also painted an interesting picture of Sweden during WWII.  I can’t think of one justifiable reason why this film isn’t worth seeing.

 

Reviewed by Frank Shuford

24th Oct2012

Film Review: The Central Park Five (48th Chicago International Film Festival)

by rockchicago

 

The Central Park Five is a documentary from Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, about five black and Latino teenagers who were arrested in 1989 and later convicted of beating and raping a white woman in New York’s Central Park. A documentary is a factual narrative, and one has to analyze it in regards to how well it manages to be both informative and engrossing. The Central Park Five succeeds at both of these things as it creates an engaging cinematic experience that brings the viewer along through the emotional gauntlet that these five young men had to go through.

The five young men were out on a night during which a bunch of teenagers were roaming around Central Park harassing pedestrians. As fate would have it, that same night a woman was raped and brutally beaten in the park. Through a sequence of unfortunate events, these specific five became scapegoats as the New York police department wanted to close the case as quickly as possible. The teenagers were interrogated for hours, and were eventually coerced into giving confessions of guilt despite the fact that they had nothing to do with the crime. After a highly publicized trial, the five served time in jail, and weren’t pardoned until 2002.

This film will make you feel frustrated. Everything about the case and the ravenous negative media attention it received will make you angry, but that is exactly how the filmmakers what you to feel. The film, arguably, has a pessimistic tone to it as the main thing to be taken from this case is that the American public is subconsciously out for blood and the media capitalizes on this dark fact. It’s clear that the audience is meant to consider their relationship to the news, as it is often easy to forget that the sensationalized stories that we mindlessly consume involve real people whose shattered lives are being offered up for the detached, voyeuristic eye of the public.

If anything, the message of this film is that nothing exists in a vacuum. The justice system exists within the larger context of American culture, and as such, it can be susceptible to influence. Racism played a huge role in the case, but it was racism of the institutional variety and nobody who partook in it wanted to acknowledge it was a factor because that would require admitting their own ignorance.

The Central Park Five manages to capture both the social and political issues surrounding the case, as well as the personal issues of the people affected by it. The documentary features interviews with a number of people, including the testimonies of the now fully grown five, and these interviews drive the emotional narrative of the film. Their story is altogether tragic and unfortunate and the viewer is left with a large amount of genuine sympathy for the five. The filmmakers however were careful not to make the viewer feel sorry for them as it is clear they were self-conscious of their intent and managed to display the realities of the case, rather than simply highlight the five as victims.

Reasons to go see it: Both informative and engaging, this film manages to tackle “the crime of the century” while making it clear that the issues from this twenty three year old case are still relevant today.

Reasons to avoid it: I suppose if you are not into documentaries, this film won’t appeal to you; however if you aren’t into documentaries, the question of whether to see this film or not is dwarfed by the larger issue that is your lack of intellectual hunger.

Verdict: Overall, The Central Park Five is a great documentary that is worth seeing. The subject matter may frustrate you, but the film tackles important issues that everyone should take time to reflect on.

 

Reviewed by Frank Shuford

24th Oct2012

Film Review: Something in the Air (Après mai) (48th Chicago International Film Festival)

by rockchicago

Something in the Air, or Après mai as it is titled in French, is a film about a young Frenchman, Gilles (Clément Métayer), growing up in the 1970’s. The narrative arch of the film follows the protagonist through a period of his life in which he is struggling to figure out what he wants out of both his creative aspirations, and his romantic relationships. At the beginning of the film, the protagonist’s first love interest leaves the country to go to Britain, and this leaves him in a somewhat apathetic mood. There is a subplot that deals with an incident in which the protagonist and his friends put a security guard into a comma after vandalizing their school, and this incident forces them to take vacations away from France. The protagonist subsequently goes abroad and starts to experience more of that era’s counterculture. There are a slew of other events that transpire along the way, but the film essentially just meanders around the life of the protagonist as he deals with mundane incidents here and there.

I didn’t grow up anywhere near this period in history, and because of this, I carry a jaded perspective of that controversial era that is a result of the romanticizing that has been done in hindsight. I wish that I didn’t have to bring this up, but the way in which the film was made forces me to bring my baggage into my review.

I will get this out of the way and come out and admit that I personally hate the late sixties early seventies counter culture for two main reasons: The first, is that it was a period of incredible naivety across the board and many of the people involved were focused on creating a façade of revolution that betrayed the selfish, decadent spirit of the times. The second reason is that this period is always discussed with colossal amounts of history skewing nostalgia that distracts from any of the important things that should be learned from that period retrospectively.

With that said, I had many creative frustrations with this film as well. One of the biggest things that I had an issue with was the way in which the film was edited. Many of the cuts were abrupt and this aided in making some of the scenes in the film feel discontinuous.

There was one moment particularly that I thought had the potential to be really brilliant, but it was ruined by inconsiderate editing decision. Towards the end of the film, the protagonist is chatting with his friend about his romantic relationship, and he says; “I am disappointed with myself. I live in my fantasies. When reality knocks, I don’t open”. This is an incredibly profound realization for the character to make; one that could have arguably motivated him to strive for something better in his life, however this moment of brilliance is interrupted by a jarring cut that happens as soon as the protagonist is finished with his lines.

The way this scene transpires perfectly represents the impression left by this film: “Here is a profound moment in which you could reflect on the drama of the human experience… but that’s boring, let’s cut back to a bunch of free love revolutionaries acting like children and throwing rocks at cops!”.

Something in the Air is a competent film, but it is wrought with poor decisions in regards to the overall concept that keep it from really being enthralling. This is unfortunate because there are some really elegantly scripted scenes that feature great cinematography, but the lack of a narrative focus almost renders these moments unremarkable.

Nothing profound comes from the events that transpire in the film and in many ways; it feels like a failed autobiographical work. This makes me believe that perhaps director Olivier Assayas was trying to create a semi-autobiographical film, but he made a mistake by putting too much of an emphasis on creating a portrait of the times. This ended up competing with the main emotional arch of the narrative and it makes the film feel more like a sequence of vignettes rather than one coherent picture.

With all that said, the main question I am left with after watching this film is “so what?” I am not sure what I am supposed to take away from the film as I felt like the filmmaker’s intent was lost in translation due to a slew of ill-advised creative decisions.

Reasons to go see it: If you dig the era of existential confusion that was the early 70’s, or you enjoy coming of age tales that romanticize the naivety of youth, then you will probably find something to enjoy about this film.

Reasons to avoid it: You hate hippies, strange editing, and characters that make stupid personal decisions.

Verdict: The only reason to see this film is its subject matter; everything else is run of the mill. The pieces for a great film are there, but they are neglected and what is left on screen is a tale that leaves people who don’t buy into the great rose-colored mass delusion that is the 70’s wanting for a more cohesive experience.

 

Reviewed by Frank Shuford

24th Oct2012

Film Review: Simon Killer (48th Chicago International Film Festival)

by rockchicago

Simon Killer is a dark character study of a young man who struggles to control a world in which he is poorly equipped to deal with. The basic plot of the film is that Simon (Brady Cobert), a recent college graduate, takes a trip to France after a break up with his longtime girlfriend. After a series of events, he ends up in an awkward relationship with a local prostitute, Victoria (Mati Diop). The film chronicles the rise and fall of their warped relationship all while painting a frightening and mysterious image of the protagonist.

The title of this film alone creates a sense of ominous dread, as once Simon is introduced, the viewer can’t help but wonder “who does he kill?” The title however, is somewhat of a red herring; or more appropriately, it is warning; a warning that the character with whom you travel cannot be trusted.

One of the main intents of this film is to make the viewer a skeptic from the very beginning. You are supposed to be viewing the entire narrative with an eye of suspicion even before you are introduced to the reality of the situation.

The film deals heavily with Simon’s sexuality and while the copious amounts of implied graphic sexuality may make many viewers uncomfortable, none of it exits simply to be sensational. Sexuality is the lens through which Simon views the world, which at first glance may seem like a somewhat cliché angle, however his sexuality is portrayed as an extension of his childish desires. There is no effort made to make it seem responsible and mature; it is simply something he wants from other people and he uses whatever means at his disposal to get and keep it for as long as he is interested.

While the subject matter is definitely on the depressing side, the film is executed in an elegant and thoughtful way. Every piece of the film works to accentuate the overarching thematic concerns and there isn’t a single aspect that is neglected; The cinematography is close up and claustrophobic, the acting carries weight and is filled with suspense, and the editing is fluid and moves from creating intense moments of reflection to fracturing sequences and sounds in a way that unsettles the viewer subconsciously.

This was one of the most impressive things about this film for me. The editing was deliberately schizophrenic at all the right moments; or I should say in all the unexpected moments. Generally speaking, editing is supposed to be the part of the film that doesn’t draw attention to itself, but the editing in Simon Killer worked against this fundamental rule in order to assist in creating a sense of unpredictable anxiety. There were a number of scenes during which Simon was listening to music on a pair of headphones, and the cut to the next scene would be on an offbeat, or in the middle of a line of lyrics. This is generally a faux paux when done out of obliviousness, but the unsettling syncopation of these cuts were executed with an acute attention to detail.

Overall, Simon Killer is a film that is impressive and well-conceived; however I can’t say that everyone will appreciate its heavy tone. It is moody, sexually negative and ultimately depressing, but at the same time it is mature, intriguing and though provoking. There is darkness inside of everyone but we have a choice as to whether or not we will allow it to effervesce inside until it seeps out and blackens the lives of those around us. Simon Killer is a film about a young man who cannot make that choice and ends up crashing his way through the lives of the people around him.

Reasons to go see it: A marvelously well-crafted, dark narrative that is an enjoyable and haunting experience. Viewers with mature intellects should defiantly see this film.

Reasons to avoid it: It is a depressing character study of an individual who is broken but tries to control everything. It’s quite possible that many viewers will not appreciate the tone of the film. There is value in its dark tone, but if you don’t care to look for it, you may think that the film felt slow and overly ponderous.

Verdict: I thought this film was great and while it might not make some people’s all-time favorite lists, it is defiantly a piece of cinematic art that is worth seeing for those who want to delve into the psyche of a broken character.

 

Reviewed by Frank Shuford

24th Oct2012

Film Review: Room 237 (48th Chicago International Film Festival)

by rockchicago

 

Right off the bat, I will say that Room 237 is basically a film for film buffs. You will get the most enjoyment out of this film if you are a fan of Stanley Kubrick or at the very least, have seen The Shining more than three times.

The film is a documentary that uses found footage from a number of sources to accentuate sound bites from various people who analyze all the subtle details of Kubrick’s The Shining. One of the things that make this film so enjoyable is that many of the theories being suggested sound absolutely absurd and while they are based on actual evidence, they force specific motives on Kubrick’s intentions which are highly suspect at best.

One specific example is that one of the theories proposed argues that Kubrick intentionally made The Shining in an attempt to convey what it was like to help fake the NASA moon landings. One piece of evidence that this particular critic puts forward is that the Apollo 11 sweater that Danny is wearing during a particularly memorable scene is an explicit admission of guilt.

Naturally, this is the only logical conclusion one can make from this evidence because there is no way that Kubrick was at all self-conscious of the fact that people had been accusing him of helping fake the Moon landings because one of his previous Films, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was released before the first moon landing and many people tried to connect the two. Kubrick wasn’t an intelligent enough guy to include a sarcastic joke in the form of an Apollo 11 sweater, so the only possible reason for this is that he was leaving a clue for a small group of brilliant film buffs to find in order to get a comprehensive view of a troubled director who had to keep a secret from the world.

This is the sort of content this film has and while I mock many of the conclusions that are drawn by the people featured in the film, I think their detection of its subtle elements is incredibly fascinating. Kubrick was a master of mise-en-scène and everything that is in the frame is deliberately there for one reason or another and it’s not hard to understand why so many people have fun trying to deduce meaning from it all.

Overall, Room 237 is fun. It is an exploration of a rich film that is laced with subtext and intellectual symbolism and while you are not going to agree with all the opinions presented in the film, you are probably going to be intrigued and amused by what they have to say and how the filmmakers choose to represent it.

Reasons to go see it: This film is thought provoking and ridiculous at the same time; but it is conscious of this and stays objective. The found imagery often ties humorously to the audio commentary and works to help make this documentary really enjoyable for Kubrick fans.

Reasons to avoid it: If you haven’t seen The Shining, you won’t get this film, but if you haven’t seen The Shining, I don’t know why you would be thinking about seeing this film in the first place.

Verdict: This film is a jolly good time. It’s a humorous and light study of a deeply complex piece of art and as such, it is a worthy viewing for every fan of the The Shining.

 

Reviewed by Frank Shuford

24th Oct2012

Film Review: In Their Skin (48th Chicago International Film Festival)

by rockchicago

In Their Skin is an intense thriller that covers well-trodden territory. The story feels as old as time; A young family dealing with an existential crisis is forced to face off with a very real threat, only to ultimately overcome it and strengthen their bonds in the process; but the delivery of this narrative is lean and focused which results in an excellent viewing experience.  This take on the “yuppies in peril” narrative is nearly flawless, and even though I have issues with the cliché story arch, this film has a lot going for it.

The film takes place during a family trip that the Hughes are taking to a cottage out in the woods to try and escape from their busy city life. It also becomes known that Mary (Selma Blair) and Mark (Joshua Close) are also trying to cope with the death of their young daughter while trying to raise their son and stay connected to each other. While staying at their vacation home, the family runs into their antagonists in the form of another family of three; Bobby (James D’Arcy), Jane (Rachel Miner) and their “son” Jared. It turns out this family has been murdering other families and stealing their identities all in the search for a perfect life.

The first thing that becomes apparent about this film is that it has a heavy tone. It makes it very clear from the dramatic opening sequence that this film is meant to be a thriller and as such, it wants the viewer to feel the tension and anxiety that the characters are going to be put through.

Two of the most important things that this film has that makes this intense approach work are the convincing acting performances, and the excellent sense of story pacing.

The troubled relationship of Mary and Mark comes across very convincingly on screen and from early on in the film, you get a sense that they are both struggling with issues that are largely going unspoken. Their foils, Bobby and Jane, have an entirely different presence on screen that is terrifying because of its awkwardness. Wes Craven once said something to the effect that the genre of horror is fundamentally about taking a viewer’s expectation, and flipping it on its head in the most disturbing way. This is exactly how the family of murders is treated in this film as rather than being the typical mutant family freak show cannibals, they are instead the creepy socially awkward neighbors whose overly inquisitive tendencies drive the audience to mistrust them.

One of the highlights of the film for me is a scene where the two families are having dinner together that marks a turning point in the film. Over the course of the meal, Bobby and Jane’s annoyingly overbearingly personalities begin to reach a boiling part with Mark who eventually explodes in a fit of barely controlled anger as he tries to get them to leave his house. This sequence is incredibly intense as it starts off being quite hilarious, only to slowly transition into an ominous encounter. Bobby’s awkward behavior and dialogue are incredibly amusing to watch and the hilarity that comes from his socially inappropriate behavior is an abrupt change in tone that works to punctuate the importance of the scene and subsequent mood shift.

The rest of the film is a sequence of events in which the Hughes are terrorized by Bobby and his family, and many of these events are quite intense. The film is careful however, and none of the violence is too explicit. That being said, many of the incidents include sexual overtones that ultimately culminate in a disturbing attempted rape scene. I feel like this needs to be mentioned because this is part of the formulaic narrative that the film tackles that it doesn’t quite renovate. That is to say that the sexual overtones permeating the interactions between Bobby and Mary were to be expected, and as such, there was no real horror to it, just repulsion which can only be pushed so far before becoming obscene. This aspect of the film just felt standard, and rather than feeling like a well conceptualized aspect of the classic formula, it just felt obligatory.

My other complaint about the film is an issue that plagues a lot of digital age films. The entire film has a desaturated color filter, which makes everything faded out and gray.  There are some who might think these sorts of filters add flavor to a film, but it is a canned flavor that comes stock with all video editing programs and as such, it is cheap. Rather than take effort during production to use lighting, cinematography and set design in order to create a mood, some filmmakers settle for a lazy post-production trick in order to fill the gaps. I have to stop there because this issue is only the tip of a larger iceberg floating around the film industry which, ironically, is the lack of focused visual style.

Overall, In Their Skin is a well-executed take on a classic thriller narrative. The film takes almost every aspect of the formula into consideration. There is a feeling of progress throughout the film that makes it feel like a full experience and rather than just being a showcase for generic tropes, the film tries to create an experience, which I felt it succeeded at.

Reasons to go see it: This horror thriller is intense, and will keep your focused through its familiar twists and turns. If you are a fan of the vague umbrella genre that is thriller films, then you should see this film.

Reasons to avoid it: There is nothing new here in terms of the story. Every event is predictable and generic. I felt that the film managed to generate other reasons to keep viewers engaged with the subject matter, but your opinion may vary from mine. If anything I have mentioned has put you off, then you won’t be missing much if you skip this film.

Verdict: This is a film that is really more for fans of the genre rather than being a progressive cinematic achievement. It is nearly flawless in terms of its adherence to form, but what it sets out to accomplish may not interest the vast majority of audiences. If this film sounds like it is up your alley, then go see it, you won’t regret it; but otherwise there isn’t anything here that hasn’t been attempted before.

 

Reviewed by Frank Shuford

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