Archive for the tag “films”

29th Chicago Latino Film Festival

clff_2WHAT: 29th Chicago Latino Film Festival
WHEN: April 11 – 25, 2013
WHERE: AMC Loews Theatres 600 (600 N. Michigan Ave.)

FILM: Dictado (Childish Games)
RATING: Not Rated
DIRECTOR: Antonio Chavarrias
LANGUAGE: Spanish with English Subtitles
RUN TIME: 95 minutes

OUR RATING: Do It!

From humble beginnings in 1985 to the international recognized mega-festival we now celebrate, the Chicago Latino Film Festival (CLFF) organized by the International Latino Cultural Center is an explosion of creativity that brings the best of Latino filmic arts to the Chicago screens. With over 100 feature length films and shorts from the length and breadth of Latin America, there is literally a film for every taste, whether you’re interested in gritty social commentary, light-hearted comedy, or darkly fascinating thrillers.

Perhaps what makes the CLFF most innovative is that it highlights Chicago as a center of Latino culture within the United States, a distinction that might not be the first thing to come to mind. This internationalization has only positive effects, allowing for cross-cultural pollination and diverse understanding that transforms Chicago into a truly global city.

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While the festival is two weeks long, we only managed to secure tickets to one show at this highly popular event, where tickets go for $11 per film. Dictado, a thriller in the style of Hitchcock, seemed to be absolutely up our street, and we even got the opportunity to participate in a Q&A with the director. Sit back, grab a popcorn and enjoy!

clff_4Adam: Dictado, known in English as Childish Games, creates a psychological tapestry with deep, dark undertones that play on our deepest emotions. Above all, what would happen if an event from our childhood came back to haunt us with full force?

In an intriguing story, childless couple Daniel (Juan Diego Botto) and Laura (Barbara Lennie) take in the orphaned Julia (Magica Perez), who is not everything that she seems, as she holds the key to unlock a repressed moment in Daniel’s childhood. Directed by Antonio Chavarrias, we see produced a beautifully compact piece that seems akin to a play in its intimacy and a high calibre film in its cinematography (Guillermo Granillo) – a melding that we do not often experience. Chavarrias makes us question the validity of our protagonists’ actions and memories, thus presenting a mysterious world that is both riveting and reflective.

As the truth about Daniel’s past is slowly revealed (is it a descent into madness, or the opening of emotional floodgates, the waters of which he is unable to stem?), I was enthralled to see the unexpected and twistful realizations that make this film worthy of being included beside the likes of the great English Ghost authors such as M.R. James.

Drawing heavily from Greek tragedy, although perhaps not exploring it in the way you would expect, almost no violence occurs “on stage”, while the psychologies of the characters are fully untangled to explore the plot’s core horror. A much needed antidote to the regular blood and guts of the genre.

clff_6Alicia: During our Q&A session with Chavarrias, he mentioned one of his influences being the infamous Frankenstein and the question of what makes one a monster and what factors influence an individual in thinking that they themselves are monsters, which *hint hint* is something that is beautifully explored here.

The psychological exploration of violence through fear, rather than through malice, is another incredibly intriguing aspect of this film, and the filming of any violence in this movie is done with the intentions of beauty and sadness, rather than shock or grotesqueness.

How are monsters forged: by the monsters themselves, or by others? Rather than just thrusting us into a solution, Chavarrias lets us think about this in a more adult way. How responsible are children for their actions and do adults sometimes make things worse? One of the best Spanish-language films out this year, Dictado is a must-see.

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Final Thoughts: The Chicago Latino Film Festival allows audiences across cultures to experience the enormous diversity of Latin America in this unique creative outlet, merging art with education, especially through discussions with local and visiting filmmakers which accompany a majority of the screenings. The festival’s wide array of programming allows moviegoers of all types to enjoy this multicultural exploration.

P.S.: Dictado is now available on DVD, but only as a non-US import. If you can play international DVDs, pick it up here and enjoy.

Under a Rainbow Flag

WHAT: Under a Rainbow Flag
WHEN: March 21 – April 21, 2013 (schedule)

WHERE: Profiles Theatre – The Main Stage (4139 N. Broadway Ave.)
RUNTIME: 2 Hours and 30 minutes, with a 10 minute intermission
WHO: Pride Films and Plays
PRICE: $15-25

OUR RATING: Do It!

A meeting on a train for four gay soldiers during World War Two is the starting point for Leo Schwartz’s new musical Under the Rainbow Flag, based on the true story of veteran Jon Phillips. A tale of self-discovery, good humor and utter tragedy, we journey west to San Francisco and onto the war-torn shores of East Asia, exploring the many different paths these remarkable men take.

With show-stopping tunes and wonderfully composed ensemble pieces, Under the Rainbow Flag tells the very real story of servicemen who fought and died for a country which denied and opposed their sexuality, and for this it should be celebrated as an original and heartfelt triumph.

(Photo by David Zak)

(Photo by David Zak)

Alicia: The production of Under a Rainbow Flag couldn’t have better timing. The show was submitted as part of Pride Films and Plays’ Great Gay Play Contest (2012), and now the next installment is right around the corner with Gay Play Weekend and the 2013 Great Gay Play Contest showing its fierce talent at Center on Halsted from May 17 to 19.

Since last year’s contest, Under a Rainbow Flag has nurtured and grown, with a staged reading at Center on Halsted last May, and with an overwhelming response to their Indiegogo project, raising over $5000. And now, after months of work, it has matured and found its place on Uptown’s Main Stage.

(Photo by David Zak)

(Photo by David Zak)

Under the Rainbow Flag is a poignant, fast-paced soiree that really does take you back to those days of radio plays, big bands and rhythm & blues, and the prevalence of WWII propaganda infiltrating the modern lives of American civilians and soldiers alike. Set Designer Ashley Ann Woods works magic on the production, with WWII vintage print posters lining the top level of the stage, magnificently painted background drops of San Francisco on the main level, and even her trolley-track work-of-art flooring. She works hand-in-hand with lighting designer Garvin Jellison to move the audience effortlessly from setting to setting, with my favorite moments being spotlights against a Pearl Harbor poster (and did I detect an outline of a radio?) while the radio news played to provide a bit of historical background to the theatrical mix.

But the talent didn’t stop on the tech side, with director and Pride Films and Plays Executive Director David Zak showing his directorial prowess with a melange of smart, risky and just-plain-fun choices. Knockout performances were seen from James Nedrud (Russell) and Jordan Phelps (Stefano), who may not have been the main characters, but were really the ones who carried the show for me. Nedrud has obviously played the musical scene before (his rendition of “The Army’s Handing Out Medals” with fellow actor Luis Herrera (Bender) was a highlight of the night), and I would love to see him elsewhere on stage. He knows how to play to a crowd and how to really work Tracy Strimple’s choreography. Meanwhile, Phelps has a sincere and provocative charm which adds complexity to his bitingly raw performance.

Adam: The presence of gays in the military during World War Two is not a subject that is covered much in the history books. While technically banned from service in the 1940s, the imperative for fighting men meant that gays were indeed admitted, albeit while keeping their sexuality low profile. Indeed, the recent repeal of DADT, as well as the cases currently before the Supreme Court, reminds us that we are still in the midst of this discrimination, and have only just begun taking steps towards equality. Under a Rainbow Flag starts to illuminate some of this history for the first time, an extremely important service.

(Photo by David Zak)

(Photo by David Zak)

Truly marvelous and catchy numbers (especially “Queens”, which is perhaps the most riotously fantastic piece in the whole work) create a sense of connection and camaraderie between audience and actors. Full of energy and life, we are treated to a full array of experiences from the openly camp, to the closeted (but hilarious) reactions to straight servicemen. Codes are an essential part of life for these men, who must balance between the ideal and reality, which is also more brutally reflected in the wartime setting, replete with its own codes and ciphers, even if they are for more grisly purposes.

(Photo by David Zak)

With expert music direction by Robert Ollis, seated behind the keyboard in full military uniform, a perfect score beams forth that makes us laugh as well as reflect on the wider, more serious issues that it raises. An important piece of theatre for our times, I would highly recommend you pick up a ticket and get a front row seat.

Final Thoughts: With Under the Rainbow Flag, Pride Films and Plays continues to foster compelling and talented work that speaks to the LGBT community and beyond, and we’re thrilled to see such a commendable piece of work find its footing in the performing arts and have such great success in a short period of time.

The Birthday Party

WHAT: The Birthday Party
WHEN: January 24 – April 28, 2013
WHERE: 1650 N. Halsted Ave.
RUNTIME: 2 hours and 30 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions
HOST: Steppenwolf Theatre Company
PRICE: $15-$78

OUR RATING: Chance It!

(Credit: Sandro)

(Credit: Sandro)

Ambiguity takes and reigns the stage in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, now playing until March 3rd in Steppenwolf’s newly configured Upstairs Theatre in Lincoln Park. Directed by ensemble member Austin Pendleton and starring an epic cast of Steppenwolf ensemble members Ian Barford, Francis Guinan, Moira Harris and John Mahoney (along with Marc Grapey and Sophie Sinise), Steppenwolf’s take on Pinter’s nightmarish dark-comic classic is lukewarm at best.

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Moira Harris, Ian Barford, Sophia Sinise, Francis Guinan and Marc Grapey (Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Set in a seaside English boarding house, this comedy of menace is absurd to say the least, with a fluid and questionable sense of time, place, identity and context. To put it simply, the lives of owners Meg (Moira Harris) and Petey (John Mahoney) and their guest Stanley (Ian Barford) are turned upside down with the arrival of two mysterious strangers (Francis Guinan and Marc Grapey). Other aspects of the plot are given step by step and questioned along the way, leaving the audience to piece together the rest of the story.

Steppenwolf’s new configuration of their Upstairs Theatre definitely adds some excitement to the piece, now bringing their audience closer in a new alley (traverse) staging that provides a unique and slightly uncomfortable intimacy with both the stage and the audience on the other side.

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Barford and Harris (Credit: Michael Brosilow)

However, the most essential pieces of a Pinter play are unfortunately found missing in this production. The classic suspense and menace that pervade each of his works, including The Birthday Party, are only subtle here, leaving the audience without the unique creepiness and spine-tingling feeling of risk that one usually associates with the Nobel laureate’s work. After reading the play, one feels a certain amount of discomfort and tension that is refreshing and exciting and scary all at the same time. But Pendleton’s direction seems more stagnant and lacks this sense of the dramatic, with a few hapless cameos of the over-dramatic.

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Guinan and Grapey (Credit: Michael Brosilow)

In addition to this, the setting, which is clearly stated by Pinter to be a southern English town (as mentioned on several occasions in the media), does not seem to have mattered to whoever provided guidance for accents on this production. Dialects seem to range from northern working class (Mahoney), Thespian London (Guinan), and indiscernible (Welsh?) (Harris). This added to the confused feeling of the production and was perhaps intentional. However, it still doesn’t forgive some of the poorer accent approximations given by certain members of the cast, which are simply unnecessary with the proper training. We, however, blame this more so on a failing of the voice coach than any of the actors themselves.

John Mahoney and Francis Guinan (Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Mahoney and Guinan (Credit: Michael Brosilow)

This doesn’t negate the fact that the acting as a whole is superb, with stellar performances from Francis Guinan and John Mahoney, although Mahoney’s part is much smaller than we would have liked. Each of these theatrical veterans bring a whole lot of punch to this play, with Mahoney’s strange vulnerability and the lovable, yet terrifying, character of Guinan’s.

While the average ticket price may be a bit too steep for this production, Steppenwolf offers some pretty awesome ticket discounts, including $15 student tickets and twenty $20 tickets to every single show. Twenty bucks to see some top Steppenwolf acting of Pinter’s ominous absurd-ism may just be worth it.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

WHAT: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
WHEN: In theatres starting Friday, December 14
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
LANGUAGE: English
RUN TIME: 169 Minutes

OUR RATING: Do it!

Last night, we were invited to the special pre-screening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and began our own overwhelming journey into the world of Middle-earth once more. For those of you who did not read the book (and shame on you for missing such a classic — go buy it now!), The Hobbit is set before The Lord of the Rings trilogy and is centered around Bilbo Baggins, a home-loving Hobbit who is unwillingly drawn into a quest led by a Dwarf band seeking to reclaim their gold and home from the evil dragon Smaug. Of course, with this film being in a trilogy, we only get the first segment.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (photo courtesy of thehobbit.com)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (photo courtesy of thehobbit.com)

Our immediate impression of the film was a sense of comfort: here we were, back in the Shire, listening the the story of Bilbo’s first adventure. Action soon follows, as you are plunged into the map beyond the Shire, were Bilbo must face all manner of foes, from the brutish Orcs, to the conniving Goblins and even living mountains themselves. Peter Jackson also manages to deliver us a healthy serving of humor throughout the adventure, more than enough to satisfy the most Dwarven of appetites.

Adam: The two star performances certainly come from Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins). Sir Ian’s marvelous good humour smattered with his wise and measured acting create the image of the archetypal wizard, who is both friend, grandfather and sage all in one. Freeman acts in his usual Freeman-esque style, with observations and exclamations in that tone of Watson we have become so familiar with during Sherlock. However, this translates well into the character of Bilbo, who somewhat mirrors Freeman’s transition from the Shire of the small screen to the Middle-earth of the big time.

I know a lot has been said about the choice to use 48-frames per second instead of the standard 24 frames per second, but I would like to get my two cents in briefly. It was certainly a daring move and one that should be applauded, for we must always experiment to move forward. Nevertheless, I felt that it removed from the epic nature of the film in some ways, and perhaps highlighted certain elements too much (such as make-up and sets).

Overall, the film was very good and I would highly recommend it. Go for it and have fun!

Alicia: If you really want to see this film, do it. I am so very glad I did, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s expectations or desire to see this movie. However, ultimately, I was a bit disappointed, but I think that’s because my expectations were set so high because of how amazing the book was and how epic the LOTR film trilogy was.

Adam and I had the opportunity to discuss the film last night on the way home, and it was crazy how similar our reactions were to the film. There were two key elements that really degraded my experience. The first was what Adam mentioned: the choice to use 48-frames per second. Everyone is talking about it, but I have to admit I fully agree with A. A. Dowd from Time Out Chicago:

Long touted as the next frontier in filmmaking, the choice is meant to amplify the clarity of the 3-D effects. What 48fps mostly does is give the entire picture the too-smooth, hyperreal luster of a daytime soap.

For me, much of the magical fantasy (especially of the Shire scenes) was ruined because of these effects. I felt totally taken out of the movie in a very uncomfortable way. But not only was the film reminiscent of a soap opera, at the same time it was alarmingly similar to the world of, dare I say it, Harry Potter. The dwarves, the set, the filming. I wasn’t in the Tolkien universe anymore, but rather that of Rowling’s, especially with the comical nature of the Dwarven makeup and the Weasley-esque looking home of Radagast the Brown.

It’s much too painful to go further into this film’s ailments. I’ll stay on Jackson’s journey through the next two movies out of my nostalgic love for the story of The Hobbit, out of loyalty to the LOTR books and films, and of course the sheer desire to watch Sir Ian McKellen et. al. on screen.

The final say: Do it, no matter what we say.

Our ticket and special 3D glasses for the pre-screening!

Our ticket and special 3D glasses for the pre-screening!

P.S. We saw the screening for The Hobbit at the Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatre in the South Loop. A very disappointing venue with extremely rude staff. Great seats with amazing armrests, but overwhelmingly a terrible experience due to poor management. Skip it and see The Hobbit elsewhere. This theater simply doesn’t deserve your patronage.

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