Phyllis Dreazen

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U.S. Kent Jones, director

Critic-turned-filmmaker Kent Jones' feature debut is a portrait of a woman who tries to atone for something in her past by doing good deeds for others and trying to turn her adult druggie son's life around. It's a tour de force role for Mary Kay Place; she nails and honors it. The film begins in a bleak Western Mass. winter. That the roads are full of snow doesn't stop Diane from delivering casseroles, shopping for friends, making hospital visits, or volunteering at a soup kitchen. In between are scenes with her best friend where she lets her hair down and others where she and other family members and friends —all of them 70ish— are comfortably interacting with each other. Life is a many layered complication, but it is dotted with small pleasures and miracles that make it worthwhile.

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Russia, Ireland,Lithuania, France Ivan I. Tverdovsky, director

Oksana put her infant son, Denis, into the Baby Hatch at an orphanage. When he became a teenager she went to reclaim him and bring him back to Moscow. Sadly, it was not for love, but for his special talent that made him useful to her and her associates: Denis could not feel pain, which made him ideal to be a jumpman, someone who jumps in front of cars, gets hit, and blackmails the drivers. If they don't pay, they are taken to court. These two elements —numbness and corruption— are the counterpoints of this drama. Putin's Russia is the morass, but corruption has been part of that culture for much longer. Jumpman's corruption is systemic from the police who target the cars to be jumped, the hospital staff where "the victim is taken," the lawyers and judge who try the cases of the marks who don't pay. At first Denis was enchanted by his beautiful mom, having a room of his own, catching up on 16 years of birthday cake and being part of a community. Little by little, however, things stop working, he walks starts to feel pain —physical as well as emotional, and he walks away from the new life. No problem: he is expendable; it is the system that endures.

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Chicago Film Festival: SOFIA

Morocco Meryem Benm'Barek, director

Ms. Benm'Barek opens her debut feature film, for which she also wrote the screenplay, with a penal code quote about babies born out of wedlock. Though pregnancies outside marriage are common in Morocco, single mothers face serious consequences, including prison time. Sofia, a 20 year old who lives with her family in Casablanca, doubles over with a violent stomach while clearing the table at a family lunch. Her cousin Lena, a medical student, feels her stomach and realizes Sofia is about to give birth though Sofia is in denial about her pregnancy. Saying they are going to the pharmacy, Lena rushes her out of the house but actually takes her to the hospital. But no one at the hospital will help them —since Sofia is without a husband the risks to the hospital are catastrophic— so Lena delivers the baby. They have 24 hours to come up with a father. Sofia names a former coworker as the father, a young man from a poor family whom she had only met once. The families meet and negotiations begin. The story has a big surprise towards the end.

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Chicago Film Festival: COUCH POTATOES

Italy Francesca Archibugi, director

Tito's parents are divorced. The teenager lives part-time with his mom and part-time with his dad, Giorgio, a television personality. A typical teenager, Tito likes hanging out with his friends, especially at his dad's place; playing video games and biking through Milan with his pack. Not surprisingly, Tito and Giorgio fight about almost everything. Since the enemy of our enemy is our friend, it is also not surprising that Tito is closer with his grandfather than anyone else. Yet, as we get to know them, we learn that all three generations love each other.

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Chicago Film Festival: CLAIRE DARLING

France Julie Bertuccelli, director

Catherine Deneuve and her real life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, play mother and daughter, Claire and Mary Darling. It is the first day of summer, the day Claire decides will be the day she dies. But before she goes, she decides to dispose of all her belongings. And there are many. Her wealth has enabled her to collect and hoard: museum quality paintings and furniture, Tiffany lamps, antique dolls and mechanical toys, clocks, music boxes, rugs, etc., etc. Each one connects to a memory of, or an event in her flamboyant, sometimes crazy, life; each one sells for the same unbelievable pittance; each sale liberates part of her soul. Or exemplifies mental decline. As word of Claire's latest craze spreads, Mary's childhood friend, Martine, convinces her to return the home she left 20 years earlier. Is it possible to go home again? to resume a relationship after decades? To watch the great Deneuve at work is always a gift; to watch her work with her daughter is, if possible, even better.

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Chicago Film Festival: Rafiki

Kenya Wanuri Kahiu, director

Rafiki (Friend) is the first Kenyan film to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. Almost at the same time it was selected, the Kenya Film Classification Board banned the movie entirely. That the movie is subtle and gentle made no difference because gay sex is illegal Kenya, and Rafiki is about two girls in love. Kena is a tomboy with good grades who dreams of becoming a doctor; Blackstra loves her. Ziki is the town beauty; all the girls love her. That the girls' fathers are vying for the same political position makes them particularly visible in their town and exposes them to danger.

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Chicago Film Festival: Liverleaf

Japan Eisuke Naito, director

Liverleaf is the flower that blooms to push the winter away. Haruka's family moves from Tokyo to a rural community where her father has a new job. She, the new girl from the big city, is subjected to horrible, unrelenting bullying by the other students. The teacher does nothing. The parents have no idea of their children's capacity for cruelty. Haruka's grandfather comes from Tokyo to take care of things after the horror of a family tragedy. He has no idea of his lovely, inscrutable granddaughter's capacity for rage or revenge. The blood in the snow is like a field of liverleafs: In Japan even horror wears a decorous face. (Based on the manga comic).

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Chicago Film Festival: Flammable Children

Australia Stephan Elliot, director

A primary colors, over-the-top, good-natured, fun romp through 1970s suburbia, a time that seems as far from our own as a fairy tale. Guy Pearce and Kylie Minogue lead the cast of three couples and their children who do almost everything together both at home and at the beach. The parents and their children are two different universes. It's for the viewer to decide which group has the most growing up to do. A sub-plot with a beached whale offers some clues.

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53rd Chicago International Film Festival capsule

The Chicago Film Festival continues through Thursday, Oct 26 at the AMC River East 21, 322  E. Illinois Chicago....... Visit chicagofilmfestival.com or call 312-332-FILM (3456) for tickets and info

What’s Playing? If you’ve ever wanted to travel to other countries but haven’t had an opportunity or the finances, the Chicago International Film Festival is a great way to see films from around the world. Moviegoers can get a glimpse of the culture and people through the different stories told through the lens. The festival is going on now through Thursday October 26 at AMC River East 21, theater 322 E. Illinois Street, Chicago, Illinois Tickets are $15 for regular screenings with discounts for Cinema/Chicago members, students, seniors and $10 after 10 p.m. $8 Weekly matinees through 5 p.m. For more go to chicagofilmfestival.com

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Hamilton Makes History Come Alive for CPS High School Students

Lin-Manuel Miranda had a Plan B for his career: If musical theater didn't work out, he would continue with his other love: teaching high school. Then came In the Heights. A MacArthur Genius Grant, And Hamilton, which changed the trajectory of musical theater and won every prize there is. The lines in the three cities (NYC, Chicago, SF) where it is currently playing are such that it has started a daily lottery. And it made Ron Chernow, Hamilton's historian-biographer, a rock star.

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