Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Marfa Girl

Drama, Romance No Comments »

set-still-1-Adam-Adam-Mediano-and-Inez-Mercedes-Maxwell-Round-21

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 »

Preview: Curator Ben Sachs On Ten Slices Of Frederick Wiseman

Documentary, Events, Festivals, Recommended No Comments »

frederick-wiseman-zipporah

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 »

whilewereyoung7

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 »

Review: The Salt of the Earth

Documentary, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

In “The Salt of the Earth,” Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado capture a bittersweet, elegant slice of life of four decades in the career of the great Brazilian photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado and his epic studies of nature and man’s cruelty. Wenders has said that the collaboration between himself and Salgado’s son almost resulted in two disparate films, but the final mingling of approaches works neatly, especially with the imagery seen on the big screen. Wenders hasn’t had the good fortune to make fiction features in years as richly rewarding as “Kings of the Road,” “The American Friend,” “Paris, Texas,” “Wings Of Desire” and “The State of Things,” but both his personal fine arts photography and his recent documentary work, such as “Pina,” are masterful. The Oscar-nominated “The Salt of the Earth” is no exception. “A photographer is someone literally drawing with light,” Wenders muses before we meet Salgado, in fact, before we see the first of the generous selection of his work, “writing and rewriting the world with light and shadows.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

kumiko

RECOMMENDED

With the gorgeously shot, sweetly paced “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter,” David and Nathan Zellner make a strange, funny, sometimes alarmingly deadpan leap forward from their likable earlier features like “Goliath” (2008) and “Kid-Thing” (2012). An inspired fable, a riff on “Fargo,” a Herzog-like look at landscape, it’s like Rinko Kikuchi in “The Great Ecstasy Of The Treasure Hunter Kumiko,” with a motel quilt with a pattern worthy of Sergei Parajanov. The ineffable Kikuchi (“Pacific Rim,” “The Brothers Bloom”) plays an office worker in Japan who is convinced that her VHS tape of “Fargo” is a documentary, and she’s dead-set on going to America to find that suitcase of hot, frozen cash in the pure white winter wastes of North Dakota. Knowing little of the language, nearly broke, making mistake after mistake, she trudges on, with little more than crazy hope and visions of a bunny—Bunzo!—to keep her going. Read the rest of this entry »

I Heard The News Today, Oh Boy: On The Hunting Ground of Fiction and Fact

Documentary, Drama, Events, Recommended No Comments »

The Hunting Ground

By Ray Pride

The news, oh the news from Hollywood. What providence does the future hold for the eager moviegoer? What fate lies ahead?

A few of the facts: Worldwide box-office is up one measly percent, but only because China’s audiences spent a whopping thirty-four percent more on tickets. “Star Wars VIII” gets a release date in 2017 and Rian Johnson (“Looper”) is confirmed as writer-director. A “Star Wars” standalone movie will be called “Star Wars: Rogue One.” The female-cast “Ghostbusters” will be joined by another sequel to the thirty-one-year-old movie, likely starring Chris Pratt and Channing Tatum, following the original misogynist cries on the internet with questions of why anyone’s childhood needs to be spoiled twice. Disney says they’ll rerelease the original “Star Wars” trilogy without the additions, deletions and graffiti George Lucas added across the years when he still owned Lucasfilm. And look! “Frozen 2”! Announced the day before the short “Frozen Fever” debuts before “Cinderella”! Let it go!

Damning, distressing, infuriating. Not the sequels to the news of sequels, not limited to the Marvel “Universe,” but in the universe around us. And not the economic fact that newspapers and legacy media continue to shrink as the interest in nonfiction filmmaking grows and grows. Damning, distressing and infuriating is another fine documentary opening this week, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s blunt, forceful advocacy doc, “The Hunting Ground,” a sort of sequel in itself, which takes aim at another dreadful contemporary social ill after the investigation of the plague of rape in the military and its willful, systemic whitewash in the military in “The Invisible War”: the rash of sexual violence and the cover-ups that follow on college campuses today. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: An Honest Liar

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »

Honest Liar

RECOMMENDED

Long-dormant comedy director Barry Sonnenfeld announced a few days ago that he’s finally found a project up there with “Get Shorty” and “Men in Black”: “Project Alpha,” a story of a two-year hoax maintained by magician and champion debunker/investigator James Randi, aka “The Amazing Randi.” Conveniently, Sonnenfeld also attached himself as executive producer to Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein’s often-exhilarating documentary, “An Honest Liar,” a densely researched, captivating look back at the passions of the now-eighty-six-year-old trickster. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Seymour: An Introduction

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »

Seymour an introduction

RECOMMENDED

Ethan Hawke’s “Seymour: An Introduction” is a documentary that comes from a pure place: he met someone he immediately admired and wanted others to meet him, too. Seymour Bernstein is a now-eighty-six-year-old pianist and music teacher who had offered Hawke pointers on how to tamp down stage fright. But after that first encounter, Hawke discovered an inveterate New Yorker who gave up a career to devote his life to others, to passing along his passion to music, and his simple kindness, to students for decades. Read the rest of this entry »