Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

The Curated and Collected City: With “Chicagoland Shorts,” Eugene Sun Park & Co. Offer A Look at This City, Now

Chicago Artists, Events, Recommended No Comments »

FSF ChiShorts1

By Ray Pride

The films are of differing stripes and strengths on the first of a promised series of “Chicagoland Shorts,” curated and compiled by filmmaker-producer Eugene Sun Park (a 2014 Newcity Film 50 alum), Beckie Stocchetti of Kartemquin Films and Park’s production associate Kayla Ginsburg. But just as interesting as the work on hand is the timing of the compendium of ten shorts from Park, Fawzia Mirza and Ryan Logan, Lydia Fu, Michael Paulucci, Valia O’Donnell, Fred Frederiksen and Dylan Jones, Amanda Taves, Robert Carnilius and Amir George (the latter two also listed in the 2014 Film 50.) We talked to Park about his intentions.

What’s the virtue of having theatrical runs and DVD and Blu-ray releases of these short films?
The purpose of the theatrical release is to create a public event, or a series of events, so people can come together as a community to watch and celebrate these films. Fewer and fewer people are going to movie theaters these days [to see non-mainstream movies], and something is clearly being lost. In order to preserve the theatrical experience, my feeling is that filmmakers have to do more to create added value to that experience. In other words, make the theatrical experience something that truly needs to be experienced in person, something that cannot simply be downloaded and viewed on your iPad. As for the DVD release, that’s focused on the film geek who wants to go deeper into the films. The DVD release is packed with extra features, including exclusive interviews with the filmmakers, cut scenes, storyboards, and additional films and videos that are not part of the main collection. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Welcome To New York

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Depardieu

RECOMMENDED

Once while interviewing the now-sober, not-then-sober Abel Ferrara, we reminisced on a particular moment in the “Bad Lieutenant” when Harvey Keitel’s so-bad cop displayed himself to a couple of young girls he’d pulled over in a traffic stop. “Heh-heh,” Ferrara said, “The L-T was rockin’ it!” Whenever Ferrara finds moments to pull from the fire, especially in his erratic recent work, I just think of that heh-heh. With “Welcome to New York,” Ferrara is indeed again rockin’ it, with a theme-and-variation on the facts of the alleged sex crimes committed by banker and former International Monetary Fund head and once-potential French president Dominique Strauss-Kahn. It’s a deeply disturbing, calibrated unhinged, compulsively careering portrait of entitlement. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Revenge Of The Mekons

Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended No Comments »

Revenge_of_the_Mekons_2RECOMMENDED

Former Chicagoan Joe Angio’s long-in-the-making sophomore documentary, “Revenge of the Mekons” is a lean, cheery ninety-five-minute portrait of almost four decades in the lives and careers since the 1977 formation of the vital, genially haunted punk-to-rock band that Lester Bangs called “the most revolutionary group in the history of rock ’n’ roll.” Angio’s conversations with frontman Jon Langford and frontwoman Sally Timms, among other members of the group, are lucid about their ongoing rise to nearly the middle. (As Timms retorts from stage to a heckler mentioning “sell-outs,” “Sold out is a term that never comes into our lives.”) “ROTM” is humble, raggedy and proud, just like the endlessly productive, self-reinventing band itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ex Machina

Drama, Recommended, Romance, Science Fiction No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Clouds Of Sils Maria

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

Clouds-of-Sils-Maria-still-3RECOMMENDED

Specific yet elusive, as in Olivier Assayas’ best work, “Clouds of Sils Maria” rises to the challenge that longtime colleague Juliette Binoche’s offered him: create a role for a woman of fifty that’s not all about a romantic relationship. What he came up with resembles a number of other movies, including a hint of “All About Eve,” as a professional triangle oscillates between her mid-career actress, her devoted and indispensable assistant, juggling multiple iPhones, Blackberrys and agendas (Kristen Stewart), and an ambitious young actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) repeating a role she played years earlier. (There’s also something of Joseph Mankiewicz in Assayas’ taut, gnomic gab, with professional status and personal moment indicated in snappish, contemporary dialogue.) Binoche’s performance matches Assayas’ visual style, alternately brittle and supple, while Stewart is laconic yet electric in conveying her character’s quiet, emphatic passion for her boss. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Six by Hou Hsiao-hsien

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

MM

RECOMMENDED

Taiwanese cinema grandmaster Hou Hsiao-hsien turned sixty-eight the day I wrote this, a melancholy day if only for the fact that he’s been working on his wuxia martial arts period piece, “The Assassin” for five years, neglecting the masterpieces of observation of the modern world he could have been making. The Siskel’s essential six-film 35mm retrospective of his work continues with the still-modern fragrance of “Millennium Mambo” (2001) and the sorrowful play of history, memory and performance in “Good Men, Good Women” (1995). Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Curator Ben Sachs On Ten Slices Of Frederick Wiseman

Documentary, Events, Festivals, Recommended No Comments »

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Running each Tuesday through spring, Doc Films presents “Frederick Wiseman: An Institution,” ten features from the documentary elder’s expansive library. (The remaining titles are 1969’s “Law & Order”; from 1975, “Welfare”; 1977’s 174-minute “Canal Zone”; “The Store” (1983); “Blind” (1986); “Aspen” (1991); “Ballet” (1995); “Public Housing” (1997) and 2001’s “Domestic Violence.”) Behind the effort are local film critic and Odd Obsession alum Ben Sachs, thirty-two, and his wife, Kat, twenty-six. “Like Robert Bresson or Andy Warhol, Wiseman challenges viewers to look and listen harder. His films are famously devoid of identifying titles, on-camera interviews, and nondiegetic music. In giving up these staples of documentary cinema, Wiseman achieves a profound sense of immediacy,” the Sachs write. It’s their fourth curatorial enterprise since mid-2014. Ben answered a few questions about the intentions of the series, shown entirely on 16mm.

So these particular films are from Wiseman’s substantial back catalogue?
For a while now, I’ve considered Wiseman to be America’s greatest living filmmaker. In our essay for the Doc Films website, Kat and I compare him to Warhol and Bresson; and like them, Wiseman has the power to transform hard and fast reality into something wholly cinematic. His movies, for us, represent cinema in its purest state. One benefit of watching multiple Wiseman films in close succession is that you start to look beyond the subject of each one and become more aware of his methods—how he builds individual scenes and overall structures, how he transforms real people into characters.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Devil, Probably: Good, Evil and the Return of Hal Hartley

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Aubrey Plaza as Susan Weber in NED RIFLE, directed by Hal Hartley

By Ray Pride

What was indie? What was this thing, “indie film”?

In the 1990s, Hal Hartley passed for it: a deadpan pasticheur from Long Island who liked French movies and poker-faced piquant variations in highly verbal comedies drawing from Godard and Gallic epigrammatists, dropping in complications a la screwball comedy with just a smattering of vulgar provocations. A modest, blunt, elemental visual style. Simplicity and directness. And catchphrases like “There’s no such thing as adventure and romance, only trouble and desire.” Yeah, that becalmed romanticism spoke to me and the yet younger me inside the movie-mad me. But indie didn’t last.

Hartley nourished a modest following—perhaps only a certain stripe of film critics? A few neurotic romantics here and there across the land?—with his 1989 debut, “The Unbelievable Truth” and on through “Trust,” the short feature “Surviving Desire,” “Simple Men,” “Amateur” and “Flirt.” While none of those movies made true money, Hartley’s earliest films were distributed by Miramax in that go-go decade for the Weinstein brothers’ first company, and even Sony Pictures Classics got into the mix with the Isabelle Huppert-starring “Amateur.” While there’s been a gap in both quantity and quality in his output, Hartley’s twelfth feature, “Ned Rifle” (a pseudonym Hartley has used for his minimal, melancholy scores) is out, partially financed by Kickstarter and primarily distributed on Vimeo with big-screen showings in a handful of cities including Chicago. I don’t want to even think of how few dollars are involved in an enterprise like this, which as a late-century debut might have been a $50,000 film and a couple projects along, a million-dollar one. But “Ned Rifle”? A confident yet very, very self-effacing fable. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: White God

Action, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

WhiteGod4

RECOMMENDED

In multiple countries in greater Europe, right-wing parties have risen to power, perhaps to most dramatic effect in contemporary Hungary. In Kornél Mundruczó’s fantastic and often fantastically beautiful, Budapest-set revenge parable, there may or may not be useful allegory in the casting out of thirteen-year-old Lili’s dog, Hagen, for being “unfit” as a mixed-breed dog. Both Hagen and Lili search for a return to “home,” and for each other, but in the meantime the once-domesticated dog rounds up a canine cohort to face the cruelty that is the human race. It’s a child’s tale, in a way, but with hundreds and hundreds of extra sets of teeth. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: While We’re Young

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

After he tries on a new personality borne of new, younger friends, “You’re an old man with a hat,” middle-aged Josh Srebnick (Ben Stiller) is told by his stay-at-home dad friend, Fletcher (Adam Horovitz). In “While We’re Young,” his eighth feature, Noah Baumbach goes the Woody Allen ensemble route in a two-thirds likable variation of “Crimes & Misdemeanors,” in which two generations of documentarians search for “truth” and “authenticity” in different measure. Josh, frantic and at clueless loose ends as so many Baumbach protagonists are, is married to Cornelia (Naomi Watts), seemingly happy, soaked in wine and regret for not having had children. She’s also the daughter of an esteemed elder documentarian, whose mentoring Josh has rejected in the near-decade of working on an interminable documentary project about the notions of a weedy Noam Chomsky stand-in. Josh and Cornelia meet a younger couple, Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried), callow twentysomethings who open a window to the couple’s passed youth. Baumbach does a rich, comic job with the contrasts between the couples, capturing both middle-aged lightheadedness and callow youth with a simmer of sociological precision. (There are small, savory tastes of several other filmmakers here, notably Mazursky and Swanberg.) Read the rest of this entry »