Watch enough new foreign films in a row, and certain things start to stand out. Like the incredible variety of cellphone ring tones used in other countries. They're familiar but just different enough to break your concentration for a moment, like a surreal hiccup. That's not necessarily a bad thing. We are forever comparing our lives with those we see on screen.
Now in its 29th year, the Chicago Latino Film Festival (through April 25) offers more than a hundred opportunities to do just that, spotlighting films from Latin America, Portugal and Spain.
That's a serious amount of cinema coming to Chicago this month. I've sampled many of the offerings, but one that I was not able to catch is the closing night film, "The Man From the Future," which reveals an appealing lack of pretension from the festival's programmers, who wrap things up on a breezy note with this Brazilian comedy about a scientist who travels back in time to alter the events of a humiliating college experience. Judging by the trailer, we're in "Back to the Future"-meets-"Hot Tub Time Machine" territory.
Here's a look at what else is playing during the fest. All films have English subtitles and will screen downtown at the AMC 600 North Michigan.
"7 Boxes" (Paraguay) April 14, 16
Set within the labyrinth of the open-air market in Paraguay's capital city, the film is a frenetic commingling of commerce and sweat. A scruffy, ambitious, movie-obsessed teenager named Victor is hired to deliver a stack of seven crates containing dangerous cargo. The film is a savvy, atmospheric work, depicting the dog-eat-dog subculture of the market, including Victor's competitors, who roam the stalls hustling for money. A crime syndicate operates behind the scenes, complicating Victor's task. The kid is clever but also reckless.
Cellphone envy is a significant plot point. (I couldn't help but notice the lack of iPhones in the festival's offerings, a telling contrast to brand's ubiquity in American films.) There's a keen appreciation here for the friendships among the market's young workers, who appear to have no support system at home. The film shares some DNA with "Slumdog Millionaire" — sharp, fast-moving filmmaking that has a lightness to it all the same.
"The Wild Ones" (Spain) April 12, 14
This drama about teen angst sets up a provocative question: What is just normal mischief and miserableness, and what is a harbinger for bigger problems? Sometimes it all looks same. Or so filmmaker Patricia Ferreira would have us believe; I'm not sure the movie earns its ending.
But everything that leads up to it — the alcohol-fueled hangouts, the mild crimes perpetrated after-hours, the subtle class frictions, the baffled adults fed up with these hormonal kids — is well-observed, for the most part. The film treats fathers as cartoonish villains, and it's a crucial misstep from Ferreira, but when she aims her camera at the three teens at the story's center, what transpires is absorbing in all the right ways.
"On the Line" (Ecuador) April 16, 18
I'm not ashamed to tell you my favorite part of this low-key comedy is also one of its least important moments. But when the frazzled divorced mother at the heart of this film, stuck in multitasking hell with a cellphone that won't stop ringing, finally gets around to picking up her dog at the vet, well, who wouldn't be charmed by the way the Dalmatian quietly snuggles up next to her in the front seat? Seriously, this is the best-behaved dog in a car I've seen. Ever.
It's a good thing, because everything else in this woman's life is a hassle. The job, the car, the line at the ATM, the weirdo bugging her about the dangers of microwaves, the flaky sister, the listless teenage son and, of course, the absentee ex-husband who prompts her to leave the message, "They kicked your son out of school today," written in lipstick on the glass door of his empty office.
The 29th Chicago Latino Film Festival continues through April 25. Go to chicagolatinofilmfestival.org.
Ebert and more
A reminder that the 15th annual EbertFest in Champaign, Roger Ebert's yearly event spotlighting overlooked films, will go on as planned Wednesday through April 21. The full lineup can be found at ebertfest.com. Also this weekend, the Chicago Critics Film Festival (which has no affiliation with Tribune film critic Michael Phillips) will descend upon Muvico Rosemont 18, featuring director (and Chicago native) William Friedkin in person Sunday for a screening of his 1977 adventure thriller "Sorcerer." Go to chicagocriticsfilmfestival.com.
Though the city may have been spared the indignity of a "Real Housewives" series, Bravo has ensnared Chicago's fame-hungry types nevertheless. The network announced that it will air "100 Days of Summer," a reality series starring young Chicagoans "working the boardrooms and bedrooms, eager to make a name for themselves" (try not to shudder at that description), later this year. Over on Reelz, the cable network reports that it will do its part to keep tired old stereotypes alive with a reality series this fall called "The Capones," which will feature latter-day generations of Al Capone's legacy "as they run the family Italian restaurant and try to keep peace at the Capone mansion with the extended family all living under one roof."
Old school pros
Ed Asner, Vicki Lewis and Marion Ross come to the Museum of Broadcast Communications this weekend for a staged reading of the sitcom-in-development "I've Got a Life in Kalamazoo." The performances will be filmed and used to pitch the show to networks. The show's website describes it as a cross between "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Will & Grace." Go to lifeinkzoo.com.
TV at the movies
The Sundance Channel will screen a preview of its new original series "Rectify" on Tuesday at the Music Box Theatre, followed by a Skype Q&A with the cast, director and producers (whose credits include "Breaking Bad"). Created by Ray McKinnon (who played Linc on Season 4 of "Sons of Anarchy"), the drama follows a man exonerated after 19 years behind bars as he attempts to adapt to life on the outside. The screening is free; reservations are required. Go to musicboxtheatre.com.
Fund a film
"Talked the talk. Now getting ready to walk the walk." Local film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky tweeted that this week, announcing that he is making a film. Vishnevetsky (who co-hosted the short-lived "Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies") says the film will be a "drama with supernatural undertones — not realistic, but about emotionally real stuff." He's looking to raise $1,000 for the ultralow-budget project. Go to gofundme.com/2jrdw0.