The theme for Italian Film Festival 2014 - Chicago, is “Italian Comedy: Then & Now”. The festival runs 21-27 November at the Music Box Theatre. Five of the best Italian films of the year make their Chicago debut at the fest, including an outlandish crime caper (I Can Quit Whenever I Want), a daring black and white debut (The Referee), and a political comedy fronted by Toni Servillo in dual roles (Viva la libertà). The retrospective line-up features rare screenings of Pietro Germi’s Divorce Italian Style (1961) and Seduced and Abandoned (1964) as well as Dino Risi’s 1962 classic The Easy Life. Each film is to be screened twice, offering plenty of chances to take advantage of this annual showcase, which is presented with the cooperation of the Italian Cultural Institute Chicago and Cinecittà Luce.
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The popular perception of Mike Leigh remains that of a supreme anatomist (or, for those less kindly disposed towards the filmmaker, broad-brush caricaturist) of contemporary British experiences: a sharp, sensitive observer of the myriad ways in which modern life can be rubbish (or great). Yet, weigh it up, and it quickly becomes apparent that it’s actually the director’s period work that’s proved most rewarding over the last 15 years.
The peerless Gilbert & Sullivan opus Topsy-Turvy (1999) (a film that never ceases to reveal new treasures no matter how many times it’s viewed), the ‘50s-set abortion-themed drama Vera Drake (2004) and Leigh’s last play at the National Theatre, the Rattigan-esque Grief (2011), have all been among the director’s finest-ever pieces. Moreover, each has far surpassed the two rather minor contemporary films that Leigh has turned out during the same period, >Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) and Another Year (2010), both of which found the film-maker falling back in a sometimes tiresome fashion on all-too-familiar situations, conflicts, character types and tropes.
In Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, Miles Teller plays Andrew Neyman, a talented and fiercely ambitious jazz drummer who studies at an elite music conservatory. When Andrew is selected by the tutor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) to join the ensemble that Fletcher conducts, it seems like a dream opportunity for the young man to kick-start his career. But Fletcher, it turns out, is a fearsome, take-no-prisoners hard ass with whom Andrew soon finds himself locked in an ever-escalating battle of wills and wits.
Having scooped both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival Whiplash arrives at this year’s London Film Festival with a considerable weight of expectation. It looks to be pushing the right buttons for some audiences here too, but I hated the film, passionately. Essentially, the movie is just another guy-on-guy pupil/inspirational teacher story, but one of a particularly extreme variety.Your response to it will entirely depend on how you take to the character of Fletcher and his teaching methods.
Radiator takes place in a run-down, rubbish-filled, rodent-ridden Cumbrian cottage where Maria (Gemma Jones) and Leonard (Richard Johnson), an elderly married couple, reside. Leonard is ailing and bed-ridden, and Maria takes care of him, patiently attending to his demands and often irascible moods.
Following a phone-call from his mother that’s a tentatively-phrased cry for help, the couple’s son Daniel (Daniel Cerqueira) comes to the cottage to be of assistance. “You come here once every few months. That’s not up to snuff,” Daniel is reprimanded by a concerned neighbour of the pair. But as he settles into the cottage, finding himself a sometimes useful but equally sometimes unwelcome presence within the weird, makeshift routine that his parents have devised for themselves, a picture gradually builds of the past hurts that have affected Daniel’s feelings about his folks.
“I find any communication of a non-mathematical nature … difficult,” confesses Nathan (Asa Butterfield), the autistic teenage math prodigy protagonist of Morgan Matthews’ X Plus Y. Precisely the same self-description might be given by another of the heroes featured in one of this year’s LFF films: Alan Turing, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game.
It’s surprising just how well Matthews’ and Tyldum’s films complement each other: the one a modestly-scaled crowd-pleaser focusing on a teenager’s goal to compete in a Mathematics Olympiad, the other a handsome historical drama celebrating a figure belatedly recognised as one of the key players in the Allies’ victory in World War II.