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Year: 2015

‘He Named Me Malala’ inspires the cause of education

‘He Named Me Malala’ inspires the cause of education

“He Named Me Malala” (2015). Cast: Malala Yousefzai, Ziauddin Yousefzai, Toor Pekai Yousefzai, Khushal Khan Yousefzai, Atal Khan Yousefzai, Shazia Ramzan, Kainat Riaz. Director: Davis Guggenheim. Book: Malala Yousefzai and Christina Lamb, I Am Malala. Web site. Trailer. Maintaining grace under pressure is difficult when we’re faced with trying circumstances. But imagine the pressure put upon a teenager attempting to carry on under the thumb of oppression and fighting for her life. Such are the conditions faced by an incredibly brave young woman in documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim’s latest release, “He Named Me Malala.” In October 2012, 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousefzai was unexpectedly – and tragically – thrust onto the world stage. While traveling home from school, Malala and two of her friends, Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, were shot by an armed brigade of the Taliban, the militant fundamentalist group that took control of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, where Malala and her friends were born and raised. Malala was targeted for assassination because of her outspoken advocacy of girls’ education, a right that was being systematically eliminated by the Taliban in its implementation of strict Sharia law. Outrage at the incident reverberated around the world. With a bullet lodged ...
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Wrapping Up the Chicago Film Festival

Wrapping Up the Chicago Film Festival

Once again this year, I had the pleasure of attending the Chicago International Film Festival, which has come a long way in its 51 years. With its more than 125 film offerings, the two-week event has become a premier cinematic celebration for movie lovers in the Windy City and around the world. Given the Festival’s extensive schedule, it’s truly difficult to decide what to see. Some of its features will go on to general release (such as Todd Haynes’s “Carol” and Michael Moore’s “Where To Invade Next”), so those pictures can always be seen later. But many other films don’t get picked up by distributors and only screen at festivals like this (which means see it here or not at all). This, combined with the fact that there are only so many hours in a day, means that selecting a Festival watch list usually calls for making some rather hard decisions. For this year’s Festival, I screened 13 titles, many of which were quite good and well worth seeing. What follows is a summary of the pictures I saw, along with my scores using the Festival’s 1-5 audience rating scale: “The Surprise” (Netherlands). This hilarious dark romantic comedy successfully fuses ...
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‘The Walk’ tests the limits of personal resolve

“The Walk” (2015). Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, Clément Sibony, César Domboy, Steve Valentine, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Benedict Samuel, Soleyman Pierini, Yanik Ethier. Director: Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Browne. Book: Philippe Petit, To Reach the Clouds. Web site. Trailer. When we set our minds to accomplishing something, there’s usually nothing to stop us except for the roadblocks we place in our own way. But, in the absence of such hindrances, we’re generally free and clear to proceed with fulfilling our objectives, no matter how unlikely they may seem to others. That point is driven home with dramatic flair and heart-pounding thrills in director Robert Zemeckis’s exhilarating new historical drama, “The Walk.” In August 1974, crowds of open-mouthed New Yorkers were captivated when a little-known French high-wire artist named Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) undertook and achieved the unthinkable – stringing a cable and successfully traversing the space between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, 110 stories (1,350 feet) above the ground. The illegal, unauthorized feat (which Petit called “le coup”) became an immediate sensation, catapulting the daredevil to worldwide fame and inspiring an Academy Award-winning documentary, “Man on Wire” (2008), that ...
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See Me at the CIFF!

See Me at the CIFF!

Attending the 51st Chicago International Film Festival? Then be sure to look for me! I’ll be attending 13 screenings over the next two weeks, and you might even spot me on the red carpet! Photos by Trevor Laster ...
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‘The Martian’ pushes the boundaries of creation

“The Martian” (2015). Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis, Chen Shu, Eddy Ko. Director: Ridley Scott. Screenplay: Drew Goddard. Book, Andy Weir, The Martian. Web site. Trailer. When circumstances arise where we find our backs up against the wall, it’s time to take action. But what action? What if the conditions appear insurmountable? It’s at times like that when brains (or imagination) are just as important as brawn. Learning how to push the boundaries of our creative capabilities is essential in such scenarios, a prospect explored in detail in director Ridley Scott’s new sci-fi adventure, “The Martian.” The tightly knit crew of the Ares III mission to Mars truly seems to be enjoying its adventure. Their good-natured approach to life and work on the Red Planet makes their task look like fun, despite the inherent risks involved with being in a hostile, unfamiliar environment roughly 50 million miles from home. But that joviality quickly evaporates when a severe windstorm approaches, threatening the crew’s habitat – not to mention the viability of the mission itself. Before long, howling winds and ...
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‘Coming Home’ examines the lengths we’ll go to for love

“Coming Home” (“Gui lai”) (2014 production, 2015 release). Cast: Gong Li, Chen Daoming, Zhang Huiwen, Guo Tao, Yan Ni, Zhang Jiayi, Ding Jiali, Chen Xiaoyi, Liu Peiqi, Zu Deng, Xin Baiqing. Director: Zhang Yimou. Screenplay: Zou Jingzhi. Book: Yan Geling, The Criminal Lu Yanshi. Web site. Trailer. How far will you go for the one you love? How deep do your feelings run? Are you prepared to go to the wall for your beloved? And do you have what it takes to make it happen? Those are among the questions raised in the affecting new love story from Chinese director Zhang Yimou, “Coming Home” (“Gui lai”). Life during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) inflicted many hardships on the country’s population. As an attempt by Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976) to purge the nation of any remnants of capitalism and traditional culture, this oppressive sociopolitical movement sought to impose the Party’s ideology on virtually all public and private aspects of Chinese society. To ensure citizen compliance with these objectives, the Party placed operatives and informants seemingly everywhere to quietly but affirmatively ensure conformity. Those who served the fulfillment of official goals were richly rewarded, but those who ran afoul of the ...
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