This winter is a fine time to be living in Chicago. The Music Box Theatre’s schedule of independent and foreign screenings has been released and it’s a real doozy. Featuring some of the best films we saw at the 2014 Chicago International Film Festival, as well as a full offering of retrospective screenings, this season at Chicago’s favorite art-house theater is not one to be missed.
Here’s what you’ll find December-February at the Music Box:
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, Tim Purcell, Noah Wiseman, Craig Behenna, and Cathy Adamek
December 19-25, 2014 *EXTENDED!*
After rave reviews from Sundance and sweeping the horror category at this year’s Fantastic Fest, this feature debut from Jennifer Kent is the real deal.
“It’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” After the brutal death of her husband, Amelie (Essie Davis) struggles to maintain control of her troubled six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) when a two-dimensional monster from a mysterious pop-up book comes to life to terrorize her family.
This inventive spin on the home-invasion thriller is routed in the fears of children and parents alike, and by projecting the Babadook as an extension of grief, enables a horror antagonist to, for once, be a reasonable, additive element to the plot. From the sound design that enlivens every object with a deep thumping or high-pitched buzzing, to the wonderfully creative cinematography, to young Wiseman’s truly disturbing performance, “The Babadook” is the year’s must-see horror film.
The Way He Looks FULL REVIEW
Directed by: Daniel Ribeiro
Starring: Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi, Tess Amorim, Eucir de Souza, Lúcia Romano, Selma Egrei, Isabela Guasco
See it: January 2-8, 2015
For most teenagers, becoming your own person, distancing yourself from your parents, and falling in love is enough to handle. Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) does it blind. While working to gain independence from his kind but over-protective parents, Leo’s teenaged struggles are compounded by his disability. His relationships, both with his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) and his own sexuality, shift with the arrival of Gabriel (Fabio Audi), a new student to his class.
“The Way He Looks” is a romantic drama loaded with a few hot button issues, but writer-director Daniel Ribeiro treats them with such normalcy and respect that they’re hardly visible as deviations to any coming of age story of young love. An early scene that depicts Leonardo being bullied at school is a little on-the-nose, but when it counts, “The Way He Looks” wins out with subtlety and plain old swooning, soaring romance. Indie and classical tracks from The National, Belle and Sebastian, and Arvo Pärt act as both the film’s score and the soundtrack to Leonardo’s life.
As a critic, this film is such easy work: I’ll take it exactly as it is. “The Way He Looks” is Brazil’s submission to the 87th Academy Awards, and a near perfect romance.
Winter Sleep FULL REVIEW
Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Starring: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbag, Ayberk Pekcan, Serhat Mustafa Kiliç, Nejat Isler, Tamer Levent, Nadir Saribacak, Rabia Özel, Fatma Deniz Yildiz, Ekrem Ilhan, Emirhan Dorukutan
See it: January 2-8, 2015
Is there a more brazen act of pure artistic achievement this year than “Winter Sleep” winning the Palme d’Or? After all, Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”) didn’t end up with a 196-minute character study by thinking about box office figures and public approval. No, Ceylan was going to make “Winter Sleep” whether anyone liked it or not. But while an audience is always to be found at the intersection of artistic integrity and technical brilliance, it’s a special relief to see “Winter Sleep” take the top prize at Cannes, guaranteeing its success in the cinephile community and jump-starting its campaign representing Turkey at the Academy Awards in February of 2015.
There are traditional plot points at work – an unsettled debt; a broken window – but “Winter Sleep” is, above all, a dissection of conversation. The players are Mr. Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) – the gentle owner of a rural Anatolian hotel, his young wife (Melisa Sözen), his irritable sister (Demet Akbag), and a tenant that’s struggling to pay his rent (Serhat Mustafa Kiliç). The topics are seemingly everyday, but with snowfall comes fiery disagreements. Ceylan exposes the inevitability of our internal jealousies and regrets becoming external trappings.
Watching the subtle shifts in character in these sprawling, 15-20 minute long dialogue pieces is to witness a virtuoso conduct a symphony on the best night of a tour. The audience at the Chicago International Film Festival applauded the film despite the filmmakers not actually being present to receive the applause – it was a collective celebration of cinema that’s both derived from a single artist’s heart and mind, and breathtakingly involving.
Predestination FULL REVIEW
Directed by: Michael and Peter Spierig
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor, Freya Stafford, Elise Jansen, Cate Wolfe
See it: January 9-15, 2015
Rian Johnson and Spielberg may have a few things to say about Predestination, the first film from genre-nerds Michael and Peter Spierig since 2009’s Daybreakers, but this mega-cut of time travel conventions embraces cliché and gets by on the strength the Robert A. Heinlein story it’s based on.
A time-travelling “Temporal Agent” (Ethan Hawke) tasked with stopping crime before it happens struggles to catch an illusive bomber and becomes entangled in the past and future of a mysterious man (Sarah Snook) who was raised as a girl.
If you recoil at the thought of wrapping your head around another time travel spaghetti dish of paradoxes, this isn’t the one that’s finally going to turn you on to the genre, but those that appreciate a good mind bending will find tons of b-movie fun in Predestination. The third act turns are thrilling, but nearly ruined by a moment of foreshadowing dropped in with the subtlety of a grand piano from a high-rise window. But while that moment tips the film’s hat far too early, the final, crashing reveals should go unpredicted. In fact, the audience will probably need some help after the credits roll.
In the end, you’ll have to accept one big, fat, inexplicable paradox that no number of flow charts (believe me, I made one) can help you understand. If you’re the type that can walk away from a puzzle without the solution, satisfied by the process, you, like me, will find Predestination to be an entirely entertaining, mind-bending adventure.
Starring: Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Elena Lyadova, Roman Madyanov
See it: Starting January 9, 2015
This has been a great year for movies that live up to the spirit of their name. “Under the Skin” burrowed deep into its viewers and has stuck around, being talked about and praised for months on end. “Whiplash” continues to snap the heads of audiences back with tight editing and the tension of a finely tuned drumhead. The most sterling example, though, is Andrey Zvyagintsev¹s “Leviathan.”
Set in the barren north of Russia, this hulking tale looms over its characters from start to finish, as big and indomitable as the fabled monster that shares its name. The opening scene thunders in on the waves of an ocean that fills the screen, accompanied by a bold score that recalls the best work of Philip Glass. From there we meet Kolya, a man who is losing his grip as “lord of his realm.”His son is rebellious, his family life is falling apart, and his house is under threat of demolition by the mayor of the town.
What unfolds is a showdown of anger, arrogance, and alcohol that loosely follows the biblical story of Job. Think the Coen’s “A Serious Man” if their sense of humor was even more misanthropic and the scenery was as gorgeously inhospitable as in “Fargo.” Whales play a significant thematic role, so it seems fitting that the production design and sprawling cinematography drown the characters in seas of blue on blue. Funny by turns and a gut punch by others, “Leviathan” is a towering achievement and one of the year¹s best films.
Two Days, One Night FULL REVIEW
Directed by: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Phil Groyne, Simon Caudry, Catherine Salée, Batiste Sornin, Alain Eloy, Myriem Akeddiou
See it: Starting January 9, 2015
Sandra, a working class Belgian woman (Marion Cotillard), has a single weekend to fight for her job and financial security after her boss convinces her co-workers to take a €1,000 bonus over keeping her on.
Tight, handheld camera work and a commitment to realism through long takes and imperfect but truthful compositions allow Cotillard, one of France’s most consistently stunning actresses, to thrive at a level of nuance we’ve missed from her other roles limited by quicker editing and pacing. This enormously satisfying neorealist domestic drama exposes working class hardship without sentimentality and is The Dardenne Brothers’ most compelling film since 2005’s Palme d’Or winner “L’enfant.”
Also playing, a matinee series on The Works of Frank Capra, Second Saturday Silent Cinema continues with William Seiter’s Synthetic Sin, It’s a Kubrick Christmas with 35mm screenings of every Kubrick film, gripping doc Point and Shoot follows a young adult embarking on a “crash course in manhood” in the Middle East, Israeli black comedy Zero Motivation, festival favorite doc Red Army, and much more. View the full schedule.Continue Reading Issue #31