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by Leor Galil

19 Oct 2010


A Screaming Man

There are so many ways to tell a story about drama in the family: many of the films at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival do just that, to varying degrees of success. Some, like Polish Bar, stutter and fall flat, while A Screaming Man and All That I Love manage to show something of substance.

Polish Bar (Ben Berkowitz, 2010)

It may be a 96-minute film, but Polish Bar feels like its days long. The story of a 20-something Jewish kid (Vincent Piazza as Reuben) from an upstanding Chicago-area family who wants to be a DJ is, for the most part, an emotionally stilted and rambling picture.

Watching Polish Bar is kind of like reading the footnotes of a David Foster Wallace novel without bothering with the rest of the book, and then expecting to understand the entire narrative from little clips and phrases that are given far too much focus. Side characters drop in and out of focus without much rhyme or reason, and a large majority of the film is spent following Reuben kvetch about his DJ ambitions as he gets wrapped up in selling drugs despite making a living working at his uncle’s jewelry shop.

by Leor Galil

15 Oct 2010


The Matchmaker opens with a scene where an elderly father and his middle-aged son drive past a burning car. It’s 2006, and Haifa—Israel’s largest city in the north—is feeling the affects of the second war with Lebanon.

This is, however, a brief aside. The Israeli film community has gained international prominence thanks to a number of movies about the country’s military history. But, unlike Waltz with Bashir or Lebanon, The Matchmaker is not about war. As the film’s title would imply, it’s about finding love: war is a part of the history of the nation, but love is what drives many of the characters in this charming film.

Still, grief is a part of the film’s narrative, as the father and son learn in the beginning that a man from their past has died. The news causes the son, Arik Burstein, to recall when a man known as the Matchmaker curiously entered and altered his life.

by Leor Galil

13 Oct 2010


It’s not easy making what should be a depressing film enjoyable. Which isn’t saying that Norman is the next feel-good-hit-of-the-season. But considering its subject—an unpopular teenager whose family is falling apart tells his peers he’s dying of cancer—Norman is an engrossing tale.

Norman is, through and through, an actors’ picture. Director Jonathan Segal let his cast breathe, and they carried the film through a few potentially lethal cliché narrative forces. There’s the not too popular kid at the forefront of the story (Dan Byrd); the suburban plight narrative; the guy-gets-the-girl rom-com.

Talton Wingate’s screenplay may veer a little too close to such well-worn territory. Fortunately, the cast pulls it all together to help make every inch of film a visceral, emotional viewing.

by Leor Galil

11 Oct 2010


Bloggers and torture porn: when these two entities first leaped into the zeitgeist, there’s a good chance every full-time film critic felt at least a smidgen of repulsion. Enter Bitter Feast, a movie where the two entities intersect. Chances are, some people—film critics or otherwise—will walk away from the picture with a bad taste in their mouths.

It’s not because the film is graphic in any way. Some of Bitter Feast‘s most startling imagery comes from close-ups of food, expertly prepared by the movie’s celebrity chef, Peter Gray (James LeGros). Such delectable scenes left me hungry, for both a three-course meal and a stronger film.

Ambition is what drives, and kills, Bitter Feast. It’s clear that writer-director Joe Maggio knows his way around a good horror movie. Yet, knowing what makes a good horror movie and being able to execute a good horror movie are, unfortunately, two entirely different things.

by Leor Galil

8 Oct 2010


The 46th Chicago International Film Festival is packed to the gills with films, fans and critics. For two weeks, many folks will be lining up to see some of the most anticipated cinematic releases of the year: there’s Black Swan, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 127 Hours, Certified Copy, Hereafter, The Tempest and The Debt.

But, with dozens of films to watch, and very little time to watch them, why spend it all on movies that are sure to return to theaters in a matter of months? There’s been plenty written about, say, Black Swan‘s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and PopMatters contributing editor Matt Mazur provided excellent coverage of that film and many others that screened at TIFF.

This is a time to check out movies that aren’t guaranteed to screen in the U.S. after the festival. Which would be a terrible fate for a film like The Robber, a tense thriller about an Austrian marathon runner who just happened to use his skills for speed to rob banks.

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