The Chicago International Film Festival returns this week—like really, truly returns!—with dozens of films and events that once again highlight the best in international cinema, emerging talent and homemade productions, too. This year’s event, October 13-24, happens in-person at venues across the city (downtown’s AMC River East; Lakeview’s Music Box Theatre; the Loop’s Gene Siskel Film Center; and more…) as well as virtually, films streaming again this year for viewing from home.
Below are brief reviews of the festival’s packed Opening Night program, featuring the latest from arthouse darling Wes Anderson, a seasonally appropriate Halloween sequel and a new music documentary on one of rock’s most revered bands. All three films are screening as preview events just before they arrive in theaters or on streaming platforms; if you’re one of those enthusiastic cinephiles who likes to be among the first to see the latest films everyone will be talking about soon, the Festival has you sorted. After this banner first night, programming continues for over a week with film screenings happening in cinemas, at the drive-in and all across town. If you’re ready to attend films in person, consider snagging a Festival pass; the Passport includes 20 vouchers for films, while the Moviegoer includes 10 (similar passes are available for virtual screenings). The main thing to remember is that attending Festival screenings is just like going to any other movie—you absolutely can snag a single ticket to any show, just like you would on a Friday night date night.
Looking for some guidance on what to see? The festival’s own artistic director Mimi Plauché shares some of her hidden gems and favorite suggestions in this recent interview. And watch this space: the Third Coast Review film team have nearly two weeks’ worth of dispatches to share on what we’re seeing and loving. Have a great film fest!
The French Dispatch
Perhaps more than any other Wes Anderson film, his latest, The French Dispatch, celebrates the art of writing in general and the type of colorful journalism that was prevalent in magazine writing in the first half of the 20th century. Technically an anthology piece, the film’s wraparound story involves the death of much-loved editor Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray, naturally), who made it clear that upon his death, the American magazine based in the French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé would cease publication with a final issue containing his obituary, which, when said death occurs, his favorite writers gather to piece together. The resulting issue also contains four stories: a travelogue of Ennui-sur-Blasé by the notoriously dark Cycling Reporter (Owen Wilson); a piece about a criminally insane painter (Benicio Del Toro), the prison guard who also serves as his muse/subject (Léa Seydoux), and the art dealer (Adrien Brody) determined to make the artist a superstar; a first-person chronicle (by a writer played by Frances McDormand) of a student uprising and the writer’s brief affair with one of its leaders (Timothée Chalamet); and a crime story combined with a tale of fine dining, as written by a character portrayed by Jeffrey Wright (clearly a stand-in for James Baldwin).
As if this front-loaded group of actors weren’t enough, the film has dozens of other famous and talented faces (Tilda Swinton is especially wonderful as the lecturer walking us through the story of the painter), and the entire structured affair has a breezy quality to it, with an underlying melancholy for a bygone era. Anderson’s signature visual and written style remain firmly in place, but there’s something more celebratory about his approach with The French Dispatch. He’s clearly having fun assembling this dense material and making it palpable, with wonderful details in the production design, music cues, and touches of overall whimsy. It ranks with The Grand Budapest Hotel as one of his finest and most fully realized works, and I can only imagine the film revealing new details with each viewing. (Steve Prokopy)
The film is screening Wed., Oct. 13 at 7pm at the Music Box Theatre, and opens theatrically on Friday, Oct. 22.
The Velvet Underground
There have been a small number of bands through the years that have the distinction of being called “the band your favorite band listened to.” The point being, the band in question wasn’t especially famous in their day, but have a distinct reputation for being influential, even if they didn’t sell a lot of records when they were together. The Velvet Underground were practically the royal family of these types of artists, and they were a bit of an enigma in terms of how they came together, how they performed, and who was responsible for their groundbreaking, ever-changing style. Having always shown a passion for music in his feature films, director Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, I’m Not There) put together his documentary, The Velvet Underground, in a fashion similar to the artist who served as producer (perhaps in name only) on the band’s first album and supplied many of the ideas and materials for their stage shows: Andy Warhol. Like any great artist, Warhol maximized his materials—Lou Reed’s distinctive lyrics and delivery; John Cage’s adoration for tonal, hypnotic droning; Maureen (Moe) Tucker’s steady tribal beats; and Sterling Morrison’s soaring, screaming guitar work. Warhol threw in a striking German model named Nico for commercial appeal, which the band resented though they ultimately agreed to Warhol’s vision (which resulted in quite memorable music). The film uses a wealth of great, unseen archival material, new interviews with those who were there at the time (including new talks with surviving members Cage and Tucker), and the result is almost like an oral history of the band, Warhol’s Factory and its role in the band’s image, and a discussion of what it means to be influential. The film is honest about the impact of drugs, egos, and other causes of infighting, and Haynes weaves in clips of experimental films from Warhol and other directors. The result is an immersive, trippy dive into a massively important band that seemed almost destined to flameout as suddenly as they burst on the 1960s New York art scene. (Steve Prokopy)
The film is screening Wed., Oct. 13 at 7pm at the ChiTown Movies Drive-In, and opens theatrically and virtually on Apple TV+ on Friday.
If you weren’t a fan of director David Gordon Green’s 2018 incarnation of Halloween (actually a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s landmark original 1978 Halloween) and didn’t think you could be any more disappointed than you were with that one, brace yourself. His year-delayed Halloween Kills is such a shocking misstep, I’m almost tempted to tell everyone to go see it just to prove I’m not exaggerating.
Taking place in a single night immediately following the events of the last film (when Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) left the masked monster Michael Myers on fire in Laurie’s basement), now Laurie is in the hospital with stab wounds inflicted by Myers, whom she believes she has finally killed. But true to form, Michael manages to pull himself from the flames, kill about a dozen first-responders in the process, and wreak havoc on the town of Haddonfield, Ill. There’s a lot of talk about Michael being an unstoppable force of pure evil, but since he doesn’t speak or even emote much, we don’t really have proof of this. He’s just a mass murderer, plain and simple.
And while the kills are sometimes kind of splashy and clever, often it’s just about stabbing someone multiple times. I don’t have a problem with death on screen, but in Halloween Kills, it’s not in the service of anything. And with Laurie in the hospital for pretty much the entire film, Curtis is barely a force here, which is a real shame. Working from a screenplay by Green, Danny McBride, and Scott Teems, the film also stars actors either playing roles they played in the 1978 film or actors playing now-grown-up characters from said work, like Anthony Michael Hall as Laurie’s babysitting charge, Tommy Doyle, or Will Patton playing Officer Hawkins, who apparently was a part of the original team chasing down Michael. (One of my favorite cameos belongs to The Beta Test director Jim Cummings, who also acts as an officer who is killed by Michael in 1978.) And don’t even get me started on how they insert moments into the 1978 events that involve actors who are no longer with us. Halloween Kills is an empty exercise in the worst kind of nostalgia mining, with a lot of blood but almost no scares, and a story that is so dependent on the first film, that it reeks of desperation. And we still have one more of these to go. (Steve Prokopy)
The film screens Wed., Oct. 13 at 10pm at the Music Box Theatre, and opens theatrically and virtually on Peacock on Friday.
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