Monday, October 23, 2017

Chifilmfest Review: Thursday was my favorite day!

My week at the Chicago International Film Festival has ended. I will attend closing night this Thursday, then the festival will conclude for the year. As a first timer at any sort of film festival, I got to say, that was a blast! If you couldn't tell how much I loved being there from my blog already, pretty much everything I have written for over a week now has had to do with the festival. I averaged roughly four movies a day, holy crap what fun!

I am trying hard to touch on everything I saw. I know it may be frustrating and tedious to read about movies that you may not have access to until a year from now, two years from now, hell perhaps even a full decade from now. Some of these movies may not hit our shores at all, and that's a shame. I have, especially this past year. been very critical about American mainstream film output. There is a reason for that, and you know what it is. Even if this is your first time reading my dinky opinion here on my blog, you know the what it is. Hollywood has become increasingly lazy. That need to feed the lowest common denominator is not going anywhere, anytime soon. Everything I saw last week would never come close to getting greenlit at a major motion picture company. That's a shame. There is no risk in the business anymore. Everyone is chasing the easy money. Everyone is looking for the next big tentpole, something they can plug into their schedule for the next ten years, turn it on, and watch the money pile up. It's a good idea as a business standpoint, I'm sure. But from a creative standpoint, it's, well, risky. This summer's box office take has been the lowest it's been since 2006. I think that comes close to proving I am not some raving lunatic. People are getting sick of seeing the same stuff each weekend at the movie theater. We are starving for the new.

That is why going to this film festival and seeing what the rest of the world has up its sleeve felt more than just a fun time at a festival, but it felt like a vacation from the norm. It was amazing to just sit back and watch something that didn't involve a relentless amount of special effects, or A-list movie stars spouting one-liners. It was a amazing watching movies that featured a beginning, a middle and an end, not something that had a pile of exposition for ten other films coming in the future. On top of all of that, it was just amazing to see a wide variety of countries handle their art, how they construct it, how they are influenced by it, how they are strengthen by it. It was pure bliss, pure magic, even though nothing extremely technical happening onscreen. Its amazing what can happen when you rely solely on story, character and theme.

No doubt my favorite night of the festival was Thursday. It seemed like everything I saw that day struck me in some way. I won't say that each film worked completely, but almost every film that day did. But they each showed me something memorable, created something that struck me as genuine. For that reason, I wanted to talk a little bit about that day as a whole. Instead of spending lots of time writing up reviews. You should see each of these movies, whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Life Guidance
Can you imagine a world where the world is divided into the the powerful, innovative middle class and everyone else below them. You could definitely look our current state and how this storyline is slowly but surely beginning to assert itself, but that's a different discussion for a different time. Capitalism has come to define every aspect of life in the future. This film focuses on a man who seemingly has it all, but is under constant pressure to achieve transparency from his society and culture. Because of this pressure, he is assigned an agent from a company called Life Guidance. Soon, the company begins to observe every facet of his life, and as this man begins to look into the company, he discovers many other sinister findings.

I definitely feel I need a second viewing of this film, just to completely get my head around it. But just from what I saw, I enjoyed the film's energy, the haunting score, and just the creepy atmosphere that was created in the film. While I can't promise I understand exactly what happened by the end of the film, I can definitely tell you this is a movie with something on its mind.

No Date, No Signature
It seems so simple. An asshole is tailgating you and when you go to let him pass, you accidentally hit a motorcycle next to you. Such was an incident for a doctor in this thrilling film from Iran. The doctor does what he can to help the family. The son of the family seemed to hurt his neck in the incident and the doctor advises the father to take him to a hospital. He gets into his car and doesn't think anything of it. Even when he sees the family pass the hospital, he doesn't think anything of it. A few days later, the kid's body ends up in the morgue of the hospital, he has died. 

Is the doctor responsible? Is the father? The father bought chickens from a petty peddler and he didn't realize that the chickens had been dead for days. Still, the negligence could make the father the perp. But the doctor never recorded the encounter from the other night, is he responsible in any way? The doctor becomes obsessed with trying to figure out what happened to the boy, and if he's connected in any way. The film studies guilt, blame, regret, responsibility and deception is such a mature, powerful way that's hard to look away at the end of the film. Between this and 2011's "A Separation," Iran has proven that their film stockput is something to pay attention to.

Pre-Crime
My favorite film of 2002 remains to be "Minority Report." I still get wrapped up in the visionary look into this dark future, where we can determine a criminal committing a murder before it actually takes place. Not many movies can blend cutting-edge special effects with a moving, engaging story, but leave it to Steven Spielberg to make it all look effortless. The documentary "Pre-Crime" asks what if "Minority Report" was real? Well, okay, creepy psychics who can see murder don't really exist. But police departments all over the country are pouring more and more tax-payers-dollars into criminal justice. Police agencies now have the technology to spy on literally anybody who walks the streets of a given city. By a simple scan, the police can see your social media accounts, the circles you hang out with, your accounts, anything. If you, no matter how little, affiliate yourself with someone with an arrest on their record, you are put on a special list and are watched closely by police.

Does this make you feel safe? Are we really helping the people by spying on their every move? Is this our police organizations doing something about high crime rates or is this just another example of racial profiling? The documentary is very provocative in how it examines every inch of this breakthrough, and studies how millions and millions of us just give up data and information through social media and living on our phones. Anybody could use this information for whatever reason, and it's easy to access. Will someone use it against you? Who knows. This is definitely something that will give you something to think about, which I think was the point of it all.

Wind Traces
Definitely my least favorite film of the day was "Wind Traces." It's a Mexican fantasy film about a family who lost its father recently. The mom feels overwhelmed and two children don't know what to make of this now fractured household. On top of that, the young boy is visited routinely by an old native spirit, who seemingly is trying to help the boy. Maybe. I am honestly not sure. The movie makes a couple whispers about Native Americans and spirits, but it doesn't really explain how the boy able to see the spirit. There is no connection from the fantasy world to the real world. That's what frustrated me the most. I can't just buy into fantasy elements, and if the film refuses to establish those elements, then why should I care? The "Narnia" movies makes it clear that there is a parallel line between Earth and Narnia, and if you find those secret gateways, you will get to and from. The "Harry Potter" movies establish how the magical world hides itself from the "muggle" world, but if you are willing to do the legwork, you can find the portal to both. The spirit in "Wind Traces" appears simply to appear, and that's where it lost me.

Still, the portrait of a struggling family finding hope in who is left is strong. The performances are great all around, and there is some good mood. I just don't hold this film in as high a regard as the other films.

The last film I saw Thursday night was "Mutafukaz." A movie I had to write about in detail last night. It was my favorite film last week. You can read my review here! I really loved it!

I only have a few more Chicago reviews to write. I hope you guys have been enjoying the coverage and I hope I have put some movies on your radar!

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