Chicago International Film Festival Overview-2012

Bound by Flesh
dir. Leslie Zemeckis

HiltonSisters

The documentary Bound by Flesh shines a spotlight on the first famous female conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton.  Given the current cultural popularity of what once were called Siamese twins, especially with the celebrity of Brittany and Abby Hensel and their television series on TLC, the release’s timing aids to illuminate their place in our collective history.

The way that Zemeckis presents the information is straightforward, using interviews of those who knew the twins and still photographs.  She gives us the facts without giving viewers a sense of her opinion and lets the research tell the story.  The film describes the twins’ lives from birth to death, their rise to celebrity and their humble endings in North Carolina, all peppered with moments of elation, fame, desperation, awe and sadness.  At the closing of the film, we are left to determine the tone of the documentary and also that of their lives.  In a strange way, I was reminded of the concluding scene in the Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke; the interpretation of what remains is based upon each viewer’s outlook on life.  It is hopeful?  Pitiful?  Glass half empty, or full?

The Final Member
dir. Jonah Bekhor & Zach Math

On paper, the Final Member is about the Icelandic Phallological Museum, or in layman’s terms, a penis museum.  The bare-bone facts are that the museum’s owner and originator has spent his life seeking out artifacts, aka the male reproductive organ, from every species on earth.  As you may have already begun to surmise, he seeks the final piece of the puzzle, the “final member,” the human penis.

The film, however, is not about penises.  True, you see a lot of penises, real ones and by way of art.  However, it is not a porno.  It does not titillate.  It does not glorify the male organ, portray it as grandiose or as the bringer of all life.  The film is actually about the curator’s life’s work; his family’s support and love; love of one’s country; Passion (with a big P) for one’s craft and even love for the preservation of native animal life.  It’s a true testament to the filmmakers’ ability to weave the facts into something beautiful that could otherwise be done so distastefully.

Holy Motors
dir. Leos Carax

HolyMotors

How does one exactly describe Holy Motors?  I’m reminded of a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills episode.  RuPaul was at one of Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurants and tells plastic surgeon Paul something to the effect of, “we’re all in drag,” much to Paul’s confusion.  In nine different “scenes,” the main character, by way of changing his hair and make-up in a limousine, transforms into varying personae, including a leprechaun, an old man, a hip father, and a man married to a species other than human.  With just a simple change of hair color or wardrobe, Mr. Oscar transforms into a completely different role in society.  The director does a fantastic job of expressing the numerous selves that easy of us play, or rather, the drag that all of us wear through even a single day.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files
dir. Chris James Thompson

Jeff

If you want the gore and the gossip; pictures of body parts; descriptions of brutal murders; details of Dahmer’s demise and the like, then you’re in the wrong theatre.

The Dahmer Files documentary accomplishes several surprising tasks other than your typical murder-mystery roller coaster ride.  It first gives you the perspectives of only three people who were integral parts of Dahmer’s life towards the end of his murderous career, and does so with restraint and subtlety, unlike the typical half hour crime docu-drama.  The three people interviewed are the police officer who obtained his confession, Dahmer’s neighbor, and the Medial Examiner who exhumed the remains from his apartment.  The link between all three subjects is that their accounts were nothing if not ingenuous and in the case of the police officer and neighbor, vulnerable and tender.

The film also offers you a slice of humanity in the most dismal of circumstances.  Somehow you don’t leave the threatre hating Dahmer but instead leave with a greater understanding of human kindness and empathy.

John Dies at the End
dir. Don Coscarelli

johndies

Be ready to embrace the strange, the silly and the ridiculous; this film doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you should follow the same rule.  If you read any reviews during the film festival, you may have read the description, “Ghostbusters on acid.”  I would describe it as Ghostbusters injected with an absurd, adorable, and surprisingly solid story.

In a nutshell: two friends step into the paranormal world through happenstance and fight evil monsters that only they can see.  Again, the movie is goofy and little brain-work is involved, but that’s all part of it’s charm.  The story is fairly concrete and fleshed out for a horror-type of film, covering most of the whys and hows.  The two main actors are also perfect for their roles: the good-looking jock-type and the dark and somewhat brooding counterpart.  Mainstream comparisons could be to the gonzo comedy of the Wayans Brothers’ Scary Movie comedy series minus the cliche and flighty plots.

If you’ve ever caught yourself saying that you just want to see a movie that makes you feel good and laugh, then this one is for you.  If you’re a film snob sort, (eh, hem, White City Cinema) then this would definitely fall into the “guilty pleasure” category.

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47th Chicago International Film Festival Overview

The Last Rites of Joe May
dir. Joe Maggio

This film takes place in Chicago after what we assume to be an aging crook (there’s really no proof of this, we are just non-verbally told by his bad-boy leather jacket) gets out of the hospital after having pneumonia for two months.  When he is released, he finds his apartment inhabited by a young mother and her elementary age daughter after his landlord gives his apartment away during his hospital stint.  When the female lead sees Joe sitting in the cold at a bus stop, she invites him to live with her and her daughter for a hundred bucks a week.  And why wouldn’t a single mother with a young daughter invite a strange man to live with her?  Because, it’s Chicago.  My problem with this movie is that it relies heavily upon stereotypes of Chicago and the Midwest at large–that all Chicagoians are blue-collar, live in a perpetual gray and freezing city that is economically depressed, the police officers are corrupt, and the women are poor and uneducated.  Fuel for the latter is that the mother is dating a cop (big surprise, huh?) who beats her, but she can’t leave him because he’s just really, really stressed out.  Watching this movie as an educated, Midwestern woman who hails from a single-mother household, it seems to me that the director pigeonholes Chicago women based on his wide-sweeping assumptions.

Grade: C

Rabies
dir. Aharon Keshales

This movie was a first for many—the first time that I had ever seen an Israeli movie, and also the first time an Israeli horror flick has ever come out of the country.  Initially, the plot appears fairly formulaic, four teens—two boys and two girls—are driving and get sidetracked by a  bloody person in need in the woods.  However, as the story unfolds, we are given a giant onion, if you will, of layers upon layers of gruesome, complicated, bloody, loud, terrifying and yes, even loving and beautiful story lines that sets this film apart from your run of the mill horror film.  Another unique facet is that it doesn’t rely on predictable film and horror conventions, such as implying a sexual relationship between siblings, the good guy getting punished, the juxtaposition of a truly good cop and a truly bad cop, and a psychotic killer having a sense of humor.  To add to the film’s intrigue, there are some rocking female characters, especially one of the young cheerleaders who we meet in the beginning of the film whose backbone and morals are as tough as the Hoover Dam.

Grade: B+

Le Havre
dir. Aki Kaurismäki

This film tells the tale of a French shoeshine who takes in a young African immigrant on the lam from French authorities.  Marcel (Andre Wilms) hides young Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) so that he may be reunited with family, but all the while he is being sought in order to extradite him back to his native country.  Just as Idrissa is discovered hiding amongst the boats at the local harbor, cold, homeless and hungry, Marcel’s wife is admitted to the hospital for several weeks.  Over that time, Marcel and Idrissa take on a father/son relationship of sorts and the townspeople all come together to help hide him.  What can I say, it’s a heart warming story and with a slight touch of whimsy as only French movies can do (though the director is Finnish).  Director Kaurismäki shines a light on the plight of the immigrant–homelessness, hunger, broken families and loneliness and how young children are amongst the casualties of immigration.

Grade: B+

A Lonely Place to Die
dir. Julian Gilbey

Though listed as a part of their horror/After Dark program at the CIFF, I don’t know if I would stick this movie in the horror section at my local video store.  Like the aforementioned Rabies, when this film begins it seems very formulaic and you think that you have it all figured out–woods, cabin, creepy killers.  And though while some of this true during the first half of the film, the second half blind sides us and turns into a thriller/action/adventure.  The story takes place in Scotland where a group of friends go mountain climbing and along the way, they happen upon a young girl who is buried in a box in the ground.  One by one, each of the group begins to get knocked off by two men with rifles, though we have no idea why until the end of the movie.  The main character of this film becomes the mother figure/savior to the young girl and while it is slightly predictable and relies on the supposed nurturing nature of women, I bought it.  Not only was she willing to put her neck out for some girl that she didn’t know, but she kicked butt and stood by her guns, and the little girl.

Grade: B+

Turn Me On, Dammit!
dir. Jannicke Systad Jacobsen

What can I say about Turn Me on, Dammit! besides if you’re a woman of any age, watch it.  I was shocked at moments by this movie’s brutal honesty in telling the tale of young women discovering their own sexuality, and yet it was done in an incredibly quirky, cute and down to earth way.  Essentially, it is the story of three young friends living in a small town in Norway, all experiencing high school and relationships in very different ways: one who inflicts torment and is filled with jealously, another having big dreams of moving to Texas to help abolish capital punishment, and the last discovering and exploring her own sexual urges while being labeled an outcast.  And so, so many more coming of age issues are up for discussion including mother/daughter relationships, single-parent households, mean girls in high school, small town life and collective small town mentality, young women’s bodies, self-discovery…I could go on and on but trust me, it’s all good stuff!

Grade: A

This film also wins Exploring Feminisms Audience Choice Award for 2011!  Congrats!