There was something for every cinephile’s taste at the Chicago International Film Festival. Here are a few more impressions.
Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan earned much praise from critics for his nod to Sergio Leone, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” a slow-burn search for a buried body led by a police team, a forensic doctor and a prosecutor with the killer in tow.
As the hunt drags on (the killer can’t remember the exact location), other secrets emerge from these richly drawn characters. Starring Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan and Taner Birsel.
“The Good Doctor” (US) might make you think twice about heading to the ER. Orlando Bloom is Dr. Martin Blake, ambitious, hard-working and a bit of a fish out of water as an Englishman working in California. He also has a pesky habit of playing God.
It’s intriguing, to be sure, but a shame that we never get any sense of why Blake goes to the dark side. Riley Keough co-stars as his trusting teenage patient; Taraji P. Henson is the head nurse, Michael Peña is the partying orderly. Directed by Ireland’s Lance Daly.
The fest’s After Dark horror-movie lineup, full of guts, gore and zombies galore, was expanded to 17 films and for the first time these titles were part of the official competition. Highlights included “Rabies,” Israel’s first slasher film and the first Cuban zombie film, Alejandro Brugues’ “Juan of the Dead,” which was an audience favorite.
I couldn’t fit “Juan” into my schedule, but enjoyed “Rabies” by Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales, a former critic. An ill-fated walk in the woods leads a man to beg for help from four strangers. At the same time, a Good Samaritan in another part of the woods sees the work of a crazed killer firsthand (his beautiful dog is slain) and tries to prevent more harm. Cops are called too but to no avail. Extremely entertaining with a whip-smart script.
Far less entertaining and rather a let-down was “The Whisperer in the Darkness” (US), from director Sean Branney with a screenplay by Andrew Leman based on an H.P. Lovecraft story. Shot in black and white as an ode to 1930s horror flicks, “Whisperer” is a movie you’re really hoping to like. Unfortunately, the stilted acting, tepid direction and feeble script all keep the movie earth-bound and draggy.
In a world where individualism is on the wane, welcome inspiration for living your own personal dream comes from fashion icon and legendary editor Diana Vreeland. Drink in her influence when you see “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” (US), a movie full of personal history, pure whimsy and gorgeous images. No matter where you fall on the style spectrum, you’ll enjoy this first-rate film by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who won the fest’s Silver Hugo for her work.
Werner Herzog’s “Into the Abyss” (US) looks at the far-reaching repercussions of a 2001 murder case in which three people were killed, one man was executed and another is serving a 40-year prison sentence.
Herzog told the Los Angeles Times: “I think in this particular case, with this very senseless crime, so senseless it’s staggering, what fascinated me was that it points to a decay in family values and the cohesion of society, all these things that looked so big and beyond this case. It was not a question of proving [the perpetrators’] guilt or innocence.” Enthralling throughout.
Werner Herzog image from The Guardian; Riley Keough image from 411mania