CIFF Capsule Review: Still

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Originally posted on Music. Defined.:

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Simon Blake’s debut feature is a slow burn thriller with enough heart to match its white knuckle adrenaline. The director pays homage to many classic noirs throughout his movie, while keeping the story and the characters fresh and real. Aidan Gillen (Game Of Thrones) gives a heartbreaking performance as a not-so-successful photographer grieving the loss of his teenage son and his marriage.

Still is a dark film, both in tone and in image itself. Most of the film takes place in the King’s Cross home of Gillen’s character where the shades are always pulled tight. His life is turned upside down when a group of teens called the Under-5’s start messing with him. He tries to look the other way, but when those close to him become entangled in this dangerous web…well, a man can only be pushed so far.

Based on a play written by Blake himself,

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CIFF Capsule Review: Force Majeure

October 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Originally posted on Music. Defined.:

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Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure already won over many critics at this years Cannes Film Festival. Now it’s set to play here in Chicago for one of the most prestigious festivals in North America. Certainly a very European film, I think the darkly comic tone may help provide a foothold for American audiences to get lost in the story.

Östlund could not have chosen a better setting for this story. The idyllic ski resort is one of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen on film in quite a while. The snow-covered mountains evoke a heavenly atmosphere, though we quickly learn that this family ski vacation will be anything but.

The camerawork is phenomenal, but the two lead actors really drive the film. Lisa Loven Kongsli, as Ebba, gives a particularly special performance as a wife and mother holding things together by the skin of her teeth.

The film has two showings…

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CIFF Capsule Review: Miss Julie

October 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Originally posted on Music. Defined.:

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The opening night film at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival is Liv Ullmann’s production of Miss Julie. It plays like an upstairs/downstairs version of Who’s Afraid Of Virgina Woolf?, with Colin Farrell as the valet of a Baron and Jessica Chastain the Baron’s daughter. The whole thing takes place over one night in 1890, as the two work their way through a power dynamic of sexual desire and class relations.

The film starts off a bit slow, barely moving at all. Once the bottles start popping open and Chastain and Farrell start going at one another it becomes quite entertaining.

The film opens the festival on October 9th at 7pm. Director Liv Ullmann will be in attendance. You can purchase tickets in advance here.

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CIFF Capsule Review: Timbuktu

October 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Originally posted on Music. Defined.:

IMG_0589.JPGIn Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu, we get a long look at events we’ve only seen a glimmer of here in the states. A small group of militants take over the town, changing the laws as they see for based on their interpretations of the Quran. The leader of the local mosque claims he has no problem with their proclaimed jihad, but he does have issues with the way they are going about it.

About half the story is told through a family living on the outskirts of Timbuktu, away from most of the horrors this group is forcing on the city. They fled the town because the patriarch, Kidane, is a guitarist and singer. Music has been banned altogether. Those found playing music are punished with lashes. They live in a tent and get by with their small herd. Tragedy strikes them when someone kills one of their cattle.

It’s…

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Top 10 Anticipated Films At Chicago International Film Festival

October 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Originally posted on Music. Defined.:

IMG_0374.JPGYesterday I got the news that I was going to be able to cover some movies at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival. I’m deeply honored that they’re allowing me to do this, and I already have a handful of pictures I’m really looking forward to. Some are obvious, and some way out of left field. These are the ten I’m looking forward to the most, in no particular order. The fest takes place October 9th-October 23rd and celebrates it’s 50th anniversary.

Birdman-Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu is one of Mexico’s finest filmmakers, and he’s following his recent successes with a dark comedy starring Michael Keaton. I wish Keaton showed up in more movies because he is a treat in everything. I was excited for this the second I saw the announcement.

The Babadook-There are a lot of interesting horror movies in the fest this year. I don’t know…

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CIFF Capsule Review: The Last Five Years

October 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Originally posted on Music. Defined.:

IMG_0645.JPGA new musical starring Anna Kendrick will certainly get some bodies in the theater, but don’t expect anything like Pitch Perfect. The Last Five Years can be funny at times, for sure, but it mostly succeeds when the characters are at odds with one another.

Based on Jason Robert Brown’s musical of the same name, director Richard LaGravenese doesn’t shy away from using the songs as a mechanism to tell this story that shows both the exaltation of finding love and the heartache when it fades. In fact, save but a few lines of actual dialogue, the whole thing is sung. Kendrick is better here as Cathy than anything else I’ve seen her in (not a big Kendrick fan), and newcomer Jeremy Jordan has flashes of brilliance as Jamie.

The film doesn’t come out in theaters until next Valentine’s Day, but you can catch it at the Chicago International…

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Begin Again ****1/2 (out of *****)

20140727-152040-55240378.jpgIf you were a fan of John Carney’s indie hit Once, chances are you will love his latest release Begin Again. The story follows a very similar formula with new characters, but the heart of the film stays true to Carney’s vision. Music has the power to destroy us, and also the power to put us back together.

The film stars Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley (actual actors this time) as a formerly great A&R man and a sweet but shy singer-songwriter. They meet at an open mic one night and Ruffalo’s character heard something in her song that brings him a feeling he hasn’t had in some time-joy. He tries smooth talk her into letting him record her music, but gets rebuffed. We then go back in time to see how both of them came to be at that bar.

Both are sad stories of heartbreak and the harsh reality that life isn’t fair. We get a good but thankless performance from Catherine Keener as Ruffalo’s estranged wife, Adam Levine as a douchebag musician (typecasting!), and two great roles for Hailee Steinfeld and James Corden as Ruffalo’s daughter and Knightley’s best friend.

Like Once, a lot of the story is told through the songs. They act as both a love letter to New York City and a mechanism for our two main characters to get back on their feet. Writer-director Carney had a hand in writing some of the tunes, including sole credit on a great soulcrusher called “Like A Fool.” Others have credits for Glen Hansard, music supervisor Gregg Alexander, Cee-Lo Green, and Nick Lashley. They did a great job of weaving the songs into the film so that even if there were no dialogue in the movie you’d still know where the characters are based on the music.

As Ruffalo and Knightley spend more and more time together, it becomes a bit too “will they-won’t they” for a while. The relationship they forge, and all the relationships throughout the film, is much more interesting than a simple rom-com cliche.

Carney’s direction is a little less cinema verite than Once, but he keeps the characters in interesting locations and never lets the camera rest in one spot for too long. It’s a great movie for music lovers and film lovers alike. I hope it finds an audience beyond its small-ish release.

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