As moderator of the festival’s fourth edition of “Bar Talks,” I can’t formally review what’s in store in the five days of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, but I’d like to indicate the goals of the annual “Bar Talks,” four extended filmmaker/audience conversations, especially in light of the notably consistent focus on atmosphere, mood and elusive narratives in the feature and shorts programming at the twenty-second edition of CUFF, the world’s longest-running underground film festival. The “bar talks,” taking place in the Logan Lounge at the Logan Theatre, are informal gatherings of local and guest filmmakers, with conversation the intention without the ping-pong of panel-like proclaiming. The talks may run an hour, or even an hour-and-a-half, depending on how much everyone has on their mind. Read the rest of this entry »
A woman goes missing by the sea: the stuff of “L’Avventura,” Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 masterpiece, but also of contemporary Iranian master Asghar Farhadi’s 2009 “About Elly,” only now getting a U. S. release after clearing rights issues. As with his Oscar-winning 2011 “A Separation” and 2013’s “The Past,” Farhadi examines pressures on the modern middle class of Iran, but with visual fluidity and geometric acuity, and “Elly” is the best of these three. Farhadi’s statement of intention, that “a film must open a space in which the public can involve themselves in a personal reflection” is less lucid than any succession of frames in his film. Read the rest of this entry »
For his directorial debut, “Ex Machina,” novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Days Later,” “Sunshine”) crafts a deceptively simple social comedy deeply invested in ideas about artificial intelligence, the nature of desire and the mind-body divide. But cheekily glib, oft-vulgar banter between its two male characters—a billionaire inventor (Oscar Isaac) and the so-bright employee/programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) he’s chosen for a one-man Turing Test—and a female robot (Alicia Vikander) that can flirt, think and scheme—likably mask the hoped-for profundity. (“Ex Machina” could have easily been called “The Imitation Game.”) Read the rest of this entry »
There are wispy visual rewards in Larry Clark’s minimalist 2012 “Marfa Girl,” which the unregenerate seventy-two-year-old filmmaker-photographer-peddler of picturesque prurience at first said would never be distributed theatrically or on DVD. But here it is: More free-floating than haphazard, Clark arrays scenes about a Texas teen (bright-eyed ephebe Adam Mediano) skateboarding through drugs and sex and seemingly random run-ins in the titular West Texas small town on the occasion of his sixteenth birthday. Adolescents just do what adolescents do in Larry Clark films. Sex is spoken, sex is transacted, and there’s a fucking lot of fucking. Read the rest of this entry »
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s sophomore feature, “Spring,” starts as a downbeat beatdown of a bad luck drama, then blossoms into a European journey, a fraught romantic pursuit, a horror movie and, ultimately, a sweet, haunting enigma with layers of subtext worth a ponder or two. Lou Taylor Pucci (“Thumbsucker”) plays Evan, a young man who leaves town after getting into a punch-up at the bar where he works the night after his mother’s death, winding up along the Italian Mediterranean where he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), a beautiful and smart woman he can’t quite figure, and ultimately, doesn’t care whether she’s “a vampire, werewolf, zombie, witch or alien.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
A movie about movies and about butterflies and two lovers deep in the woods, dense with influence, about decadence and desire, the third feature by Peter Strickland (“Berberian Sound Studio,” “Katalin Varga”), “The Duke Of Burgundy” dabbles as well in entomology, taxonomies, field recordings, roleplaying and domination. In a European never-neverland (shot in Hungary, largely in a fancy, secluded turn-of-the-century house), the apparently dominant Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen, “Borgen”) and the seemingly submissive Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) occasionally venture into a larger world confined to the presentations of butterfly scholars, but mostly remain at home, engaging in ritualistic sadomasochistic roleplaying.
“Burgundy” is a keen pastiche of 1970s Euro-sleaze and high art, and looks amazing on the big screen, calmly florid, precise yet bonkers, bristling with detail. It’s preposterous, delirious and delicious. “It’s great to get it into the cinema, such a short life in the cinema these days, isn’t it?” Strickland says in his firm, fast British accent at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in November 2014. Read the rest of this entry »
The ins-and-outs of love propel the star-making motions of Richard LaGravenese’s “The Last Five Years,” a modest, slightly ragged but oh-so-engaging adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway musical about the forward-and-back memories of a relationship all but certain to be dashed. Musicals have returned with a vengeance, and Anna Kendrick has arrived as the near-pitch-perfect modern musical star (“Pitch Perfect,” “Pitch Perfect 2,” the perfectly filthy role in “Happy Christmas,” “Into The Woods”). Kendrick plays Cathy, an aspiring actress with a novelist boyfriend, Jamie (a nondescript Jeremy Jordan) who burst to find the words (in music) to recollect a five-year affair. The device: her songs move backwards in time from the end of their marriage, while his start at the beginning and move forward. (Guess where they meet in the middle.) Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Nowhere near wet and baring not a sign of chafing, Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel’s sanding down of the rank, rankling crudities of E. L. James’ bestselling repurposed “Twilight” fan-fic trilogy, “50 Shades Of Grey” still shocks, but instead for its light-handed sense of humor rather than settling for being a clinical depiction of the acts (and actions) of B&D and S&M and a recitation of the insipid, run-on interior monologue of the book.
Also, depicting callow corporateer Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) as a blank object of desire for college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). Christian is also little more than a petulant stalker, a privileged predator, making demands and gestures for her erotic attentions, and the power games are turned in almost every scene. Where the Irish Dornan struggles with an American accent and to come across as a fully fleshed human, Johnson’s performance is breezy and calculating, and effortless charm brims from each moment she’s playing that player. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” is not Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor,” but it’s in the same mulish, rarified league.
While the 2015 Oscar announcements led to much journalistic handwringing, online and off, with a dearth of nominations for women and people of color—overlooking the systemic issue of the dearth of mainstream movies being financed and produced for women and people of color—there’s not as much clamor about the handful of white male filmmakers who are presently productive into their eighth decade.
Michael Mann turns seventy-two in February, Sir Ridley Scott is seventy-seven, and while we’re at it, Jean-Luc Godard is eighty-four. “Blackhat,” “The Counselor” and “Farewell to Language” are all discernibly, definitively, obstinately, obdurately, the work of old men. Artists of a certain age, to be sure, but also personal, auteurist, in the most classic fashion. Late films by Alfred Hitchcock have been a subject for such discussion for decades, and Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris tweeted that “Blackhat” may well be Mann’s “Marnie,” that is, a movie that at first glance seems hermetic, compacted, a concatenation of images, fixations and stylistic devices. Read the rest of this entry »
(Adieu au langage 3D) Roxy Miéville: superstar. With querulous, dark, liquid eyes, and a torso that extends from the back of the screen and a long, aquiline nose that juts out over the audience and nearly to your fingertips to be petted, the sleek, sniffulous mutt owned by Jean-Luc Godard is the most lustrous of special effects in his hectic, cryptic 3D provocation, “Farewell to Language.” Working with cinematographer Fabrice D’Aragno over the course of four years, the now-eighty-four-year-old Godard wreaks multidimensional effects other filmmakers wouldn’t dare, often created with only a couple of small consumer cameras strapped together and wielded by the filmmaker himself. Read the rest of this entry »