Reel life: 'Lost for Words' seems more lost than anything
Sean Faris and Grace Huang play lovers in the superbly photographed romance
Grant Achatz, chef of Chicago's famous Alinea restaurant, puts final artistic touches on a dessert in the doc "Spinning Dishes."
Mini-review: "Lost for Words"
In Stanley J. Orzel's romance "Lost for Words," former U.S. Marine Mike Vance (Sean Faris) works computer Intel for a firm in China, the home of aspiring dancer Anna Zhou (Grace Huang). The two virtually bump into each other while jogging and then ... nothing. Their chemistry never achieves expected explosive levels.
Faris' relaxed physicality suggests nothing of his recent military training, and his relationship with co-star Huang, while cordial, hardly reflects an emotional connection strong enough for him to conquer his character's post-romantic breakup stress syndrome.
Meanwhile, Anna can't be distracted from her goal to make it in the competitive world of state-sponsored ballet with her friend and colleague Mei Mei (Joman Chiang).
Orzel directs "Lost for Words" with the leisurely dispassion of a made-for-cable romance designed for international sales in Asia.
The real star of this movie has to be cinematographer Jimmy "Infernal Affairs" Wong. Every shot in "Lost For Words" arrests the eye with its tight compositions and striking use of light. Not since the Chicago opening of "Candyman" have there been such beautifully constructed overhead shots of teeming cityscapes.
"Lost for Words" opens at the South Barrington 30. Not rated. 107 minutes. ★ ★
Mini-review: "Escape From Tomorrow"
If you go to escapefromtomorrow.com, you'll see a running clock under the words "Number of hours since release we haven't been sued." That's because director Randy Moore and his merry band of guerrilla filmmakers shot "Escape From Tomorrow" in Disney World without permission.
It's diabolical, edgy, surrealistic, and I have no idea what it all means. But for 104 minutes, writer/director Moore held me spellbound in anticipation of the next piece of weirdness he would drop on my aching imagination.
In this gleaming, black-and-white magical mystery tour of the "happiest place on Earth," Jim (Roy Abramsohn, emanating a Dennis Quaid/Craig T. Nelson vibe) arrives with his wife Emily (Elena Schuber) and two kids to have a good time.
A phone call that he has been laid off kick-starts a bad time for Jim, who in short order begins to perversely fantasize that two omnipresent skinny French teens have the hots for him.
This paves the way for stranger developments: demonic faces appear on patrons and Disney employees; a defrocked Disney princess (Alison Lees-Taylor) practically rapes Jim after drugging him; Jim is imprisoned deep inside Epcot; Jim has one of the nastiest visits to a toilet bowl since the one in Stephen King's "Dreamcatcher."
Moore's movie is part British miniseries "The Prisoner," part "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T," part "Lolita" and part any-David-Lynch-movie-you-choose. Its alternate realities and fantastical allusions to classic fairy tales may not have much to say about commercialism or personal happiness.
But chasing Jim down all those meandering, dead-end rabbit holes sure is a lot of escapist fun.
"Escape From Tomorrow" opens at the Music Box in Chicago. Not rated, but contains coarse language, sexual situations, nudity and violence. 104 minutes. ★ ★ ★
Mini-review: "Mischief Night"
Even on the level of formulaic, kill-crazy home invasion movies, "Mischief Night" barely musters a modicum of suspense or tension.
Richard Schenkman's horror tale adds a touch of "Wait Until Dark" in making its preteen protagonist Emily Walton (Noell Coet) blind ever since a terrible car accident killed her mother two years ago. (Because her blindness was psychologically induced, she could regain her sight at any time. Good to know.)
On so-called "Mischief Night," when people are expected to do Halloweenie things, her dad (Daniel Hugh Kelly) departs for a date -- or so Emily thinks, leaving her alone in a seemingly isolated house.
That's when a mysterious figure wearing a zombie mask and bright yellow slicker (making him look like the guy on the Gorton's fish sticks box) moves in, cruelly toying with the blind girl and slicing up anyone who drops by -- unless, of course, the movie needs a character to stay alive for later use in the story.
"Mischief Night" comes on the heels of "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" in emulating the once-original premise of "Scream." The ridiculous chain-saw kills and blunt, obvious foreshadowings are more like "No Screams at All."
"Mischief Night" plays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, at the Patio Theater in Chicago. Rated R for language, violence. 87 minutes. ★
Mini-review: "Spinning Plates"
By the time Joseph Levy's foodie documentary gets around to unveiling its dramatic main course, it has already bored us to death with apathetic appetizers.
"Spinning Plates" examines three American restaurants: Chicago's prestigious Alinea, Iowa's established 150-year-old Breitbach's Country Dining and Tucson's Mexican startup La Cocina de Gabby.
Levy's movie serves up wonderful subjects, excellent camera work and a pleasing, pulsating score. But it's like a dull classroom book report. The facts may be there, but the movie doesn't know how to best tell the stories behind them.
Interviews with owners and patrons of the eateries all recycle the same platitudes: their restaurants are old friends, comfort stations, pillars of the community, harbors from harsh realities and places to find friends and romance.
Their testimonials are like an extended version of the "Cheers" TV theme song, where "you want to go where everybody knows your name."
It isn't until way later in the movie that director/writer/co-producer Levy gets around to his deeply buried journalistic leads: Alinea's top chef Grant Achatz battles almost-always fatal cancer; the beloved Breitbach burns down twice in one year; immigrant Francisco Martinez may lose his business and his future security if things don't improve.
These are flavorful stories embedded in bland narrative dough.
Of the three principals, Achatz emerges as the most fascinating, a small-town kid who grew up to become a certified culinary artist no less accomplished in his field than a Picasso or Rembrandt.
Levy could have spun his entire doc on Achatz and Alinea. But it probably would have tasted just as bland in the beginning.
"Spinning Plates" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. 93 minutes. ★ ★ ½
Halloween has arrived!
• The zom-com "Shaun of the Dead" will be shown at midnight Friday, Oct. 25, at the Woodstock Theatre. $5. classicinemas.com.
• The supernatural comedy "Ghostbusters" will be shown at 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, at the Ogden 6 in Naperville. $4. classicinemas.com
• Mel Brook's classic "Young Frankenstein" will be shown midnight Friday, Oct. 25, at the Tivoli in Downers Grove. $5 classiccinemas.com.
• The comedy "Hotel Transylvania" will be shown free at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at the Charlestowne 18 in St. Charles, the Elk Grove in Elk Grove Village, the Ogden 6 in Naperville, the Fox Lake and the Cinema 12 in Carpentersville. The Tivoli in Downers Grove will show it at 11 a.m. Saturday, and the York in Elmhurst will show it at 9:30 a.m. classiccinemas.com.
• Actor Robert Englund pops in this weekend at both Naperville's Hollywood Palms and Woodridge's Hollywood Blvd. for showings of his iconic horror tale "Nightmare on Elm Street."atriptothemovies.com.
• "An American Werewolf in London" and "The Monkey's Paw" will be shown Friday and Saturday, Oct. 25 and 26, at the Muvico Rosemont 18, 9701 Bryn Mawr Ave., Rosemont. Prices vary by package. muvico.com.
• Two seminal works by noted sleazemaster Jim Wynorski will be presented this weekend at "The B Movie Celebration" at Hollywood Blvd. theaters, Woodridge. Wynorski's first feature "The Lost Empire" (1983) and his "Chopping Mall" (1986) are double-billed. "Empire" was thought lost for 30 years. You decide if it should have stayed lost. bmoviecelebration.com.
• The Chicago International Children's Film Festival presents its 30th anniversary Boo Bash 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, at the Park West Chicago, 322 W. Armitage, Chicago. All proceeds go to Facets programs. facets.org.
• Roman Polanski's 1968 devil worship thriller and Hollywood debut "Rosemary's Baby" celebrates its 45th anniversary at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, starting this weekend. $9.95 admission. musicboxtheatre.com.
• Also at the Music Box: The alleged Halloween edition of the cult classic "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Friday and Saturday, Oct. 25 and 26, and Oct. 31 only. Tickets $13.75.
• "Halloween Horror 101" traces the development of horror cinema and the creation of iconic characters such as Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, the Wolfman and the Mummy, on Sunday at the 30th annual Chicago International Children's Film Festival Oct. 25 to Nov. 3 through Facets Multimedia, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago.
Chicago Film Critics Association member Dave Canfield of twitchfilm.com will lead participants through the who's who of cinematic horror, just one of the many workshops, movies, panels and special presentations at the festival. Go to cicff.org or call (773) 281-9075 for tickets and full schedules of events.
• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!
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