Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The 40th Chicago International Film Festival 2004 - Part 2

So in my last post I said that at film fests you tend to appreciate film a bit more as an art than as a commercial entertainment, which is true. But the irony is that, at the same time, the whole fest set-up encourages you to binge like the worst kind of consumer. Get a pass! See 4 or 5 movies a day! I know people who do this. I've been seeing 1 a day, and that's about as much as I can take, and only for a short time. I don't want to just watch and forget, even though it's inevitable. It's a major reason I blog. It encourages me to contemplate the experience, if only for a little while.

McDull: Prince de la Bun - A bizarre animated film from Hong Kong, McDull is actually a sequel (I haven't seen the original). It begins with some hilarious off-the-wall comedy but then settles into a quirky and dreamy meditation of life. The animation is stunning, using a variety of techniques from CGI to the more old-fashioned (sorry, I lack the nerd-power to get more specific, but at times it looked crisp and digital, other times like a water-color). Of course, the characters are adorable. Overall, I found the film to be just weird. I'd hardly call it a children's film--it deals with, among other topics, the effects of urban redevelopment and educational philosophies. The funniest section deals with dialogues taught to very young children which seem to make the assumption that the kids are destined to work in the food service sector. The film plays with food in many scenes, often mentioning Western fast food chains. I looked at the film as a bittersweet, comic reflection on the limitations unfairly put on kids from the begininng (one scene shows that McDull's mother worked in a textile industry sweatshop). The film riffs on children's classics such as The Little Prince and the Harry Potter series. It would be hard to recommend this film to someone. It's the kind of film you have to choose for yourself. Rating: 2 out of 4 stars.

Bear Cub - Aside from porn, they say (smirk, smirk), gay films suck. It's true. They do. You can bank on it. It's almost a shock when you find one that's excellent. Bear Cub is excellent. It's the best kind of community-rooted storytelling. The director provess that he knows what he's doing right off the bat. First scene: explicit gay sex. You actually see a big, hairy man put a rubber on his erection and fuck his lover. (No penetration shot, this isn't porn. But there's lots of licking and kissing. ) What's the advantage here? It clears the room right away of the bigots who can't handle a truly gay movie. (No one left our theater.) It also shows that this director isn't going to sell-out his treatment of an original topic. Which bring me to this plot synopsis from the fest web site: "When his ... sister asks him to watch over his 9-year-old nephew ... [while she goes on vacation, Pedro] welcomes it as a short break from the club scene." And we'll stop right there. Suffice it to say, the kid stays a little longer than expected. The film fairly and expertly deals with the problems that ensue. What impressed me was that while the movie seemed to be, from a distance at least, an issue film (which, let's face it, is nearly as bad a genre as gay films), its story is actually organic and complex. The surprising plot twists work because of sharp character writing: the "good guys" do some stupid, human things, and the "bad guy" (a conservative granny) is not a monster. The script doesn't pretend to have all the answers. So what! you say. Those are basic requirements for a mediocre film! But I swear I'm not giving the film undue praise because of lowered expectations. This polished and well-paced film is also funny, warm and truly fresh. Honestly, how many films have you seen recently that actually try to work out alternative romantic or family structures? And if dysfunctional family stories don't count? Thought so. As a bonus, the lead (José Luis García Pérez) has one of the handsomest smiles around (though you wouldn't know he's foxy based on the awful publicity still the fest uses). I'm sure American critics will say that the film could have been made here, that the Spanish "bear culture" on display in this film is just like what you can find throughout the US, but the film's frank and enlightened attitudes are deeply European. Rating: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.

And a few miscellaneous non-Fest thoughts of the day:

Were you perplexed by Bush's reference to the ancient Dred Scott case in the second debate? B and I looked at each other like, "What the Hell is he talking about? He has to go back over a century to discuss the Supreme Court? Man, he's an idiot." Turns out he was sending a clear message to some voters.

Meanwhile, back to matters of importance, the complete, uncensored Seasons 1 & 2 of Ren & Stimpy finally came out on DVD! I couldn't be happier if I'd been given a box of Gritty Kitty Litter or a bowl of rubber nipples!

And next week, a DVD of Tom and Jerry, for which I'm feeling nostalgic. Reviews are mixed. We'll see if it includes my favorite short, the one where they turn on the tap, open the fridge, and freeze the kitchen into a skating wonderland.

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