Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Exploration and Discovery on Columbus Day (Movies, Thai Food, Billboards and more)

Fourteen hundred and ninety-two, yada, yada, yada. Although I didn't overtly try to explore new worlds on Columbus Day, and yesterday being such only really has relevance as an afterthought, I did enjoy some nice discoveries.

Chicago International Film Festival

With a relatively newfound passion for foreign films (as I wrote about here), I felt inspired to go to Chicago's famed International Film Festival for the first time in its 46-year existence.

Although it might have been cool to attend last Thursday's opening night premiere of "Stone" with Edward Norton in attendance or tonight's special presentation of Darren Aronofsky's latest, "Black Swan," or even some of the higher profile evening showings of international selections, paying $20 or more (including Ticketmaster fees required for advance off-site ticketing) to deal with large crowds in order to see movies I can soon watch for considerably less, wasn't particularly compelling.

Instead, I noted that all festival films showing on weekdays before 5pm cost only $5. Not willing to pay the jump to $10+ on Ticketmaster, I took my chances and headed down on the Red Line, got off at Grand and walked over to the AMC River East theater on Illinois St.

The Matchmaker (2010, Israel, directed by Avi Nesher; my review @@@@1/2)
This was the earliest film of the day, at 2pm, and only rush tickets were available when I got to the theater. Besides the film showings taking up 7 of the megaplex's screens for 2 weeks, there wasn't anything else to the "festival." No seminars, vendors, bookstore, food booths, etc., so fortunately I was able to get into the screening of The Matchmaker, while also buying an in-person advance ticket for the 4:20 screening of Sandcastle.

I had read the festival catalog's brief synopsis of the Israeli film, so I wasn't targeting it merely by chance, but didn't realize until afterward that it is directed by the same guy (Avi Nesher) who made The Secrets, an Israeli film I saw and enjoyed last year. The Matchmaker is an interesting drama with great characters, revolving around a late-1960's matchmaker in Haifa who befriends a teenager name Arik, for whom a coming-of-age story--including romance--develops. I gave it a "5" out of 5 on my festival ballot, where 1/2 increments didn't exist. There are additional festival showings which you can learn about here, and I also learned about the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema, coming up later this month.

Sandcastle (2010, Singapore, directed by Boo Junfeng, @@@1/2)
A beautifully shot film with a subject, scenario and tone Hollywood rarely captures, as a tech-savvy 18-year-old boy is sent to stay with his grandparents prior to facing obligatory enlistment into Singapore's army. Some dramatic events happen, prompting the teen to explore more of his parents' past. It got a bit slow at times--especially as my second film of the afternoon--nd wasn't as revelatory as it was tender, but as the first film I've seen from Singapore was quite a worthwhile look at a different culture. I gave it a "4" on my festival ballot.

While enjoying these two disparate, but both nicely character-driven, story-centric foreign films would seemingly spark a knock on Hollywood, I actually saw two American movies over the weekend that I found very worthwhile, It's Kind of A Funny Story (@@@@1/2) and The Town (@@@@).

Great Pad Thai at Dao (230 E. Ohio, Chicago)

I have loved Thai food, particularly Pad Thai and a couple of curry dishes, for a long time and have eaten it at myriad places. I recalled Dao as one of the best from years ago, so as a nearby dining option on the way back to the train after the film fest, I stopped in. I got Pad Thai with Beef and, excepting long ago visits to Dao or forgotten elsewheres, it was the best I've ever had. I like my Pad Thai a bit sweet, so if you don't, Dao's might not satisfy you quite as much, but I loved it.

A Billboard with an Air of Greatness

Just yesterday, I read about how Michael Jordan is allowing his likeness to be included in the new video game, NBA 2K11, and is on the cover of the game's case. And walking west on Grand, at Columbus, ironically, I saw this billboard and couldn't help but smile.

And Then I Saw Moses

Walking up Columbus (which actually is renamed Fairbanks Ct. at that point) to Ohio to get to Dao, I noticed the mural below on the side of a building, which is actually the Pritzker Military Library.

It is a 2D rendering of Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses, which I had seen in Rome's St. Peter in Chains church.

I'm not sure how long it's been there, but I've never noticed it before. It too made me smile.

On the subway ride back home, I sat next to a guy reading on a Kindle, which I'd never before seen being done in person. I noticed that he was reading Jonathan Franzen's acclaimed new novel, Freedom, which was interesting because I was reading a paperback version of Franzen's previously praised work, The Corrections.

The Kindle seemed cool, but I felt happier with my good old-fashioned version.

All in all, a pretty good Columbus Day.

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