Preview: 47th Chicago International Film Festival, Part One

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Like Crazy
Like Crazy
Photo credit: The Chicago International Film Festival

“Like Crazy”
October 9th, 6pm

Another buzzed-about Sundance film (like “Martha Marcy May Marlene”), Drake Doremus’ drama is a fresh take on the potentially-doomed romance with a breakthrough performance from the lovely Felicity Jones and yet another strong turn from Anton Yelchin (who is having a career year when one adds this to “The Beaver” and “Fright Night”). Jones and Yelchin play a lovestruck pair torn apart by one crucial decision. As they try to get back together and keep their relationship going long distance they also continue to live their own lives. Doremus and his very-talented leads have created a drama of little moments, the small things that pull us further away from loved ones or make us think about them at the most unusual times. Built with largely non-melodramatic scenes, this is not your typical romantic drama but that makes it a film that’s even more successful at tugging the heartstrings. We get to know these characters. We root for them. We want them to be happy. And, like them, we start to wonder if it’s with each other. Rarely has the way we change in our 20s and how that changes the way we look at love been more deftly realized.

Miss Bala
Miss Bala
Photo credit: The Chicago International Film Festival

“Miss Bala”
October 8th, 8pm
October 10th, 8:35pm

I’ve seen a number of brutal films in my many years of covering the Chicago International Film Festival but “Miss Bala” will be one of the first to spring to mind if anyone asks me about the darkest films I’ve seen in the Windy City. The word “brutal” doesn’t even do this dark, violent, horrific drama justice. It’s a film that becomes almost numbing in its tone (and I think that’s a bit of a problem but will get into that more in a full-length review) but it’s incredibly well-made and performed. The story of a young lady caught in a VERY bad situation in the middle of the drug war that has ravaged the border between Mexico and California may seem familiar (we’ve seen films like this before at CIFF) but “Miss Bala” carves its own harrowing personality by sheer force. Viewers should be warned that this is an incredibly bloody, violent story about a woman who is essentially kidnapped and turned into a criminal by a disgusting drug lord. It’s a rewarding journey with some of the most technically-accomplished filmmaking at the fest but it’s a journey into a part of the world that has essentially become a living Hell.

On the Bridge
On the Bridge
Photo credit: The Chicago International Film Festival

“On the Bridge”
October 8th, 1:15pm
October 16th, 6:30pm

There is little more shameful than the way this country treats returning war veterans. “On the Bridge” is certainly not the first documentary to address the issues of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or the failure of our system to care for those who fight for this country but it is a uniquely personal series of stories. Told with long interviews cut together with shots of landscapes and city skylines, “On the Bridge” is mesmerizing not due to anything flashy (and a reminder of how SO many modern documentary filmmakers have started to rely on flashy techniques) but due to the power of the stories being told by the interview subjects. “On the Bridge” will make you cry and will almost certainly make you angry at the same time. With powerful honesty, these men reveal the demons that have haunted them since the day they returned home to a world they no longer recognized and that, by and large, didn’t care enough about them to make them well.

The King of Devil's Island
The King of Devil’s Island
Photo credit: The Chicago International Film Festival

“The King of Devil’s Island”
October 7th, 5:45pm
October 14th, 5pm

Our final recommendation for the first weekend (and it’s playing next weekend as well) is an award-winning film about an uprising at a torturous boy’s school. This Norwegian film has echoes of “Lord of the Flies” in the way it depicts a society of troubled young men who rise up and take down the powers that have abused them. Based on a true story of a dark chapter in Norway’s history, “Devil’s Island” may be formulaic (and has the least-accurate title of the year) but it’s a well-done piece of formula filmmaking with yet-another strong performance from the great Stellan Skarsgard (who bookends this list with his appearance in “Melancholia”) and some very good work from a young cast of unknowns. Expertly made without being overly memorable, “The King of Devil’s Island” is an old-fashioned drama about the will of good young men triumphing over the weakness of evil old ones. We’ve seen it before, but when it’s done this well that doesn’t seem to matter.

Move to the final page for potential first-weekend highlights that weren’t screened.

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