01st Oct2014

REELING: CHICAGO LGBT INTERNATIONAL FILM FEST HIGHLIGHTS

by rockchicago

 

REELING; The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival (ongoing through Sept. 25th) offers up a smattering of AWESOME by way of a dizzying selection of OUTstanding Queer Features and Shorts. Amongst this year’s festival screenings are four films so good, they are simply NOT TO BE MISSED. (In the event that you do; do everything in your power to FIND THEM!)

Director, Producer, Co Screenwriter, Wade Gasque’s film TIGER ORANGE is a powerful and thought provoking film depicting a tumultuous relationship between brothers in the aftermath of the passing of their, at times tyrannical father. Gasque’s film is a gem for many reasons; one of which is it’s originality. Seldom is an audience provided a bird’s eye view into an intense and complexity ridden relationship between two men; both brothers, both gay. The film’s two lead actors; Mark Strano and Frankie Valenti, anchor the film with wildly different, intensely passionate and deeply nuanced performances. Audience members may recognize Valenti from his Adult Film Star work as Johnny Hazzard; but that’s all moot here. Valenti, comfortable in front of the camera, makes honest and truthful connections with his fellow castmates and is believable and convincing at every turn. Relaxed, affable and charming; Valenti’s turn in Gasque’s film is a welcomed departure from his adult film past. Gasque’s film lives in a very special place in the annals of filmdom; think Terrence Malick. It’s a film that is as much about content as it is conjecture. Just as there is a fragile chasm between life and death, TIGER ORANGE encourages a meditation on the sacred connections we have to the natural, the esoteric and to one another. Gasque’s film is a triumph of substance over flash providing us with a kind of celluloidal poetry, if you will. (www.tigerorangemovie.com)

 

Writer, Director, Producer, Jane Clark is a force and welcome addition to an (all too slowly growing) number of powerhouse women director’s; Susan Seidelman, Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, to name a few. Clark’s latest entry; CRAZY BITCHES demonstrates flawlessly her ability to craft a tale; weaving multiple genres; comedy and horror, seamlessly. Finely tuned performances are delivered by a, largely, cast of femme fatales. Seldom are filmgoers treated to the visual feast of so many powerful, strong, intelligent and beautiful women in one film. Delightful turns of prowess are provided by the phenomenal Cathy DeBuono, Guinevere Turner and Candis Cayne. Clark’s intelligent script and her ability to maintain the funny while amassing the gore is a welcome entry into a genre, heretofore, untapped by women directors. The film also features a phenomenal soundtrack with original music from writer/producer Charlton Pettus and Curt Smith of Tears For Fears fame. (www.thecrazybitchesmovie.com)

**If you haven’t seen Jane Clark’s last film entry; METH HEAD, run don’t walk to see this film (available on ITUNES) Her’s is perhaps one of the most important films to deal with the devastation of meth abuse; which continues to ravage the gay community).

Two films that I simply cannot praise highly enough are JC Calciano’s, THE TEN YEAR PLAN and Bruce La Bruce’s, GERONTOPHILIA.

With his film, THE TEN YEAR PLAN, Calciano has crafted a film that I only wish was able to see  the light of a mainstream Disney backed wide release. His is a film that every gay boy, teen and man dreams of seeing. It’s an at once witty, hilarious, refreshing and calculatedly fast paced ode to love eternal. Actors; Jack Turner, Michael Adam Hamilton and Adam Bucci, all deliver stand out performances that titillate and delight at every turn. Keeping pace with Calciano’s wild ride of a script is no easy feat and the cast of TEN YEAR PLAN do so with verve and heart. Having enjoyed JC’s earlier work; the sweet IS IT JUST ME and eCupid, THE TEN YEAR PLAN is proof that Calciano has ‘arrived’. With ‘…PLAN, Calciano not only scores a ‘perfect ten’, he has given the world a glorious film about friendship, love, hope and hilarity. Gay men will enjoy this film for many years to come. File Under The Best Gay Date Movie of the Year! (www.10yearplanmovie.com)

GERONTOPHILIA may be one of the most remarkable and memorable films you will ever see. Those who have followed the career of Bruce LaBruce are in for quite a treat. LaBruce, Master of the Queer Film Underground; No Skin Off My Ass, Super 8 1/2, Hustler White, The Raspberry Reich, has crafted what has got to be his most interesting and sensitive film to date. GERONTOPHILIA deals with the most interesting subject, a subject many may find taboo. In his film, sexual attraction and then love blossoms between a young man in his teens and a man in his eighties. The young man’s journey of self introspection and sexual exploration is captivating at every turn and director LaBruce’s deft handling of the subject matter is honest, commendable and downright celebratory. While his film has been touted as a ‘gay Harold and Maude’, I would disagree. LaBruce has given us a human story that supersedes any one, specific sexual orientation. His film speaks to the sexual fluidity that exists in all of us, our ability to see beyond the physical; our ability to connect and to be open to the possibility of sexual expression by way of human interest and desire. LaBruce successfully and with astonishing sensitivity, pushes the boundaries of queer cinema, with a film that encompasses  our sexual humanity over our sexual orientation. GERONTOPHILIA is a celebration of the senses. With it’s gorgeous cinematography, outstanding performances by Walter Borden, Marie-Helene Thibault, Katie Boland and newcomer Pier-Gabriel Lajoie, Bruce LaBruce delivers his best film to date. My only problem with his film was that it ended all too soon.

INFO: REELINGFILMFESTIVAL.ORG

Reviewed by Madrid St. Angelo

06th Nov2012

Film Review: Wreck-It Ralph

by rockchicago

 

Over the weekend I saw the newest Disney film, Wreck it Ralph. I am happy to report that I finally get to do a positive review for the Rock Chicago community. Now, before you go see this movie remember that it is a Disney movie and not a Pixar film so the story line and characters are not quite as well developed. However, it is certainly Disney’s closest attempt to making something as great as most Pixar films. To me, it is the best video game movie ever made and one of the most original concepts for a movie that I have seen in quite sometime.

As you can see in the trailers the movie is about a video game character that is a bad guy in his game. He becomes fed up with how his life has been going and decides that he wants to become a good guy. The movie follows him as he jumps from game to game attempting to get a medal to prove that he really is not that bad of a guy. Through out his adventures there is excitement, comedy, and some very heart felt moments. The comedy is often very childish but there are a few flashes of brilliant wit that the older audience will love. Also, some of the events that evoke emotion in the film seem a little heavy handed for a children’s movie.

I believe it would be difficult for most of the movies older audience to not leave the theater, feeling a strong sense of nostalgia in regards to the games; that they themselves used to play. It is very easy to root for the characters and definitely worth a trip to the theater.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Reviewed by Daniel Servi (on twitter @PennyBags1)

Don’t forget to follow Rock Chicago on Twitter @RockChicagoMag

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

24th Oct2012

Film Review: Gimme the Loot (48th Chicago International Film Festival)

by rockchicago

Gimme the Loot is a comedy drama about a pair of young New York graffiti artists, Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington), who concoct a crazy scheme to try and tag the giant homerun apple in the New York Mets’ stadium. The film follows the pair as they try to raise enough money, through a number of dubious means, in order to pay a guy who will let them into the stadium on the sly. The film takes place over the course of a day, and it splits between the two protagonist’s stories early on only to ultimately bring the two together for a botched heist attempt somewhere near the middle.

I have conflicting feelings about this film. On one hand, I thought that it was enjoyable to watch as many of the scenes were quite hilarious, but on the other hand, a lot of what transpires in the film has a dark undertone that goes completely unaddressed. This left me feeling confused as to what I was supposed to take away from the film as I am still unsure if the murky tone was intentional on the end of the filmmakers.

I’ll start with the good points because I really did enjoy watching this film. It is incredibly funny, and while I wasn’t a huge fan of the copious amount of unnecessarily vulgar dialogue, I thought the overall narrative was well realized.

There is an effort throughout Gimme the Loot to try and make everything feel authentic to the version of New York City urban life that is being portrayed; that is to say, nothing about this film is grand and one wouldn’t be wrong in calling it a slice of life drama. This is an approach I think is appropriate for a comedy focused film and while there is no attempt to try and make the events carry any sort of existential weight, I don’t fault the film for not caring about this because I think it would have been a mistake to try and do so with such frivolous subject matter.

Now for my frustrations; the film is quite dialogue heavy and I err on the side that says that this is generally a bad idea for a film if the dialogue heavy scenes aren’t dealing with any sort of subtext. In a way, this film would almost work entirely as a radio drama, which I can’t really say is a good thing.

The other major point of contention I have with the film is its portrayal of gender roles. Now stick with me, because I am about to start talking about feminism, but the film splits its focus between two protagonists, Malcolm and Sofia, and because they are of opposite genders you get a very gender conscious narrative for each one of them. For example, Malcolm’s side of the fund raising involves him selling weed to a rich white girl who he then tries to “seduce” so he can get her keys in order to rob her. Now Sofia basically spends the first half of the film getting robbed and being verbally harassed on a number of occasions. This is done in an effort to show how tough and resilient the character is, but that knowledge doesn’t change the fact that she gets the worst end of the whole deal.

Every male character in the film seeks to give her a hard time for being female, with the exception of a friend of hers who is trying to get with her romantically. Even Malcolm, who is essentially her best friend, is constantly teasing her until a moment near the end of the film where he eases up because he starts to admit that his feelings for her are deeper than just friendship.

Now what I have mentioned above probably doesn’t sound all that terrible to most of you, but that is exactly the point; this is fairly standard in terms of subject matter and in many ways, it stays true to reality, but that is part of my problem with it. This film’s light and funny tone affirms this deeply ingrained gender discrimination, and while I am not claiming that this film should have tried to help the cause of gender equality, I do argue that the filmmakers inadvertently tackled a larger cultural issue while trying to make a lighthearted comedy drama.

The best analogy I can think of to try and put this in perspective is this: imagine if this film was set in the 1960’s American south and featured two main characters of different racial backgrounds. One is white, and the other is black and the entire film they go around trying to do petty crime in order to raise money. Now imagine that the white character just has to deal with wacky hijinks involving botched plans, but the black character has to navigate segregation and the threat of racial violence; remember though, this a funny feel-good movie and there is no suggestion that what the black character has to go through is in any way worth acknowledging.

My intellectual gripes aside, it felt like the filmmakers were simply careless with their subject matter. They wanted to make the film as believable and realistic as possible, but they didn’t care to realize that the pursuit of realism came with real-world issues that didn’t fit with the overall tone they set out to achieve. It’s frustrating to me that I have to focus my review on this aspect, but this was the major thing that kept me from being able to just engage the film on the level that the filmmakers intended.

Reasons to go see it: This film is funny and enjoyable. It is defiantly charming enough to keep your attention the whole way through.

Reasons to avoid it: The filmmakers took a somewhat questionable approach when it came to the tone. This film has elements of comedy and drama, but it inadvertently stumbles over complex subject matter while trying to stay light and fluffy.

Verdict: I don’t feel like endorsing a modern film that is lazy and apathetic when it comes to social issues, which is why I wouldn’t tell anyone I personally know to go see this film, but should you happen to see it, you will probably enjoy the experience. Gimme the Loot is a film that just wants to be hip, young and urban and while it succeeds at that, it also brings with it all the filth attached to that naïve desire.

 

Reviewed by Frank Shuford

24th Oct2012

Film Review: Beyond the Hills (48th Chicago International Film Festival)

by rockchicago

 

Have you ever had your heart broken? I mean really broken not “gee golly time to rebound because that’s what normal people do” heartbreak. I’m speaking of real emotional wounding that leaves permanent scars that never seem to fade with time. Beyond the Hills is a Romanian film about such heartbreak.

The plot of the film follows two friends who grew up together in an orphanage. One of the friends, Alina (Christina Flutur), had been living in Germany prior to the events of the film whereas Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) made a life for herself in a rural Orthodox Monastery. Alina comes to visit Voichita after years of being separated, and it quickly becomes apparent that something deeper is going on between the two.

As the film progresses, it becomes known that Alina and Voichita were romantically and emotionally involved at one point in time and that Alina has returned to try and get Voichita to leave with her back to Germany.  Voichita is uncertain about this however and it becomes clear that she is torn between this ghost from her past and her new life as a servant of God. What follows is a sequence of events during which Alina’s mental and physical health deteriorate and the priest who runs the monastery, along with the other nuns, tries to deal with her confusing behavior. After going through a large amount of distress, they ultimately decide that they should try to exorcise Alina’s ill temper as they believe the devil has gotten inside of her.

Naturally, religion is a major theme of this film but despite the subject matter, the film doesn’t blatantly demonize it. The emphasis is on the effects of the ignorance that religion demands of its follows. The entire emotional thrust of the film is dependent on this concept as Voichita is unable to really choose between the God that she has been told to love, and the woman who she truly loves. The result of this is that she torments Alina throughout the entire film because she can’t decide one way or another, and as a viewer, this is both incredibly powerful and frustrating to watch.

This brings me to the main frustration I had with Beyond the Hills. Its long; 150 minutes to be exact, and those two and a half hours are ultimately spent watching Voichita and her monastery slowly destroy Alina both emotionally, and physically. But what makes this so compelling is that the story is told through Voichita’s perspective. I didn’t spend the film angry that Alina was devastated because as a viewer, I was sympathetic to Voichita. The filmmakers have created an interesting emotional conundrum because they make the viewer experience heartbreak from the heartbreaker’s perspective and they do this in a way that simply highlights the tragedy of the situation.

I loved the way this film handled the heavy and dark emotional content. There was a great deal of subtlety when dealing with the main character’s feelings and the moments in which emotions were fully displayed were chosen carefully. If this film had been made in Hollywood, there would have been dozens of monologues about how sad and lost the characters were without each other, but instead of that, the filmmakers put emotional reigns on the characters that made them feel organic. In general, real life is not filled with people giving epic confessions about their feelings and that is why it is incredibly poignant and significant when someone does open up and reveal the demons that are eating away at them. Beyond the Hills manages to capture this sublime aspect of life and for that; I give the film a large amount of credit.

In the end, Beyond the Hills is a very compelling film that may require a lot of patience on the part of American viewers. You won’t find any sort of instantly gratifying subject matter, but if you are like me, and have a voracious hunger for the sublime, then you will enjoy this film. If you can sit through the monotony that begins to rear its head halfway through the film, then you will be rewarded as the story concludes in a tragically beautiful way and the last scene of the film is particularly memorable.

Reasons to go see it: Very compelling, emotional story with a unique setting that highlights the dark cruelty of the events that transpire. It is an anti-feel good movie, and if you are twisted like me, you will enjoy the emotions it leaves you with.

Reasons to avoid it: Slow pacing is not for everyone. The film feels a bit tedious at about the halfway mark. Stay away if you have a short attention span, or are an Eastern Orthodox nun.

Verdict: This film is fantastic, but not in a big flashy way. If you want a subtle existential tale that ultimately ends in tragedy, then this film is for you.

 

Reviewed by Frank Shuford

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