“Ant-Man” is giant comedy.
It’s been more than three decades, but I once spoke fluent Marvel. My recollection is that Hank Pym’s super-small alter ego was one of Stan Lee’s minor creations, a character whose narrative never outgrew the challenges of rendering a tiny world in a medium better suited for inscribing oversized imaginings. (In order to draw fine detail, comic book artists typically work at a scale much larger than the cartoon frame, then reduce the work to scale. This tends to favor actual, or, in the case of superheroes, super-sized, images.) Though launched as a solo act in “Tales to Astonish” (one of the referential jokes in the film that generated a surprising quantity of chuckles in the preview screening, since it dates to circa 1962, long before most of the chucklers were sketched), “Ant-Man” never made it on his own, becoming instead a founding member of the Avengers and then joining his super-brethren at the other end of the telescope, usually donning the Giant-Man or Goliath persona.
So it’s not really a tall tale to say the film surpasses the comic book—though it’s also a medium of storytelling by virtue of sequential frames filled with images and dialogue, film thrives in larger-than-life scale. At its very best, it magnifies the smallest of moments into larger truths. The depiction of our almost-microscopic world on the big screen easily blends awe and humor, attributes almost innate to the plot device, even in times of lesser CGI tools (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” for example). “Ant-Man” has plenty of action to mollify the vegetative fanboys who seem to control modern movie culture, but with a twist. It’s life-and-death battle fought, for example, inside a briefcase. Instead of blowing up skyscrapers, our hero smashes into an iPhone. And that’s funny, really funny.
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Sturm, drang, mini-“Fury Road” dust storms, missing children, sexual frustration and maybe a little more drang, are the backdrop to Kim Farrant’s “Strangerland,” a mood-heavy thriller set in the super-heated Australian outback, and starring Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes. It’s nowhere the knife-edge thriller of Phillip Noyce’s “Dead Calm” (1989), with a young Kidman, but its similar willingness to wound almost makes it seem like we’re witnessing a film from an alternative universe, where Australian cinema and an iconic antipodean actress have progressed in that vein and there’s a market for the mad and bruised and downright grownup. The dual masterpieces of Nicolas Roeg’s “Walkabout” and Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock” are obvious gongs the filmmakers cannot reach to strike, and there are echoes of more recent movies as well, like Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners.” Read the rest of this entry »
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s Cannes-prized “The Tribe” (Plemya) is a gorgeously wrought provocation about nightmarish violent daily life at a Ukrainian boarding school for deaf youth. Even a third viewing of this unvarnished and passionately unrelenting movie across eight months reveals a filmmaker who cuts little slack, including the unsubtitled local sign language in which the characters communicate. (If this device comprises a gimmick, all on-screen gimmicks ought to be used as audaciously.) Sex, jealousy, revenge and violence are the essential elements of Slaboshpytskiy’s elemental story, cast with nonactors. Slaboshpytskiy and Valentyn Vasyanovych, credited as both cinematographer and editor, alternate between the ragged and the well-wrought, between objet d’art and the incidentally observed, between extended long takes and icy tableaux. And even when the motives are unclear, the intensely gestural performances fascinate. With Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy. 132m. (Ray Pride)
“The Tribe” opens Friday, July 10 at the Music Box for an extended run.
Director-producer-shooter-co-editor Matthew Heineman’s Sundance-prized “Cartel Land” brandishes impressive access on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, alternating vignettes of vigilantes waging extra-legal battle versus Mexican drug cartels. Bookended by middle-of-the-night, middle-of-nowhere scenes with meth cookers out in the desert, “Cartel Land” is impressive filmmaking in the service of dispiriting fact, figures on both sides of the law saying that lawlessness and corruption cannot and will not end. On the Mexican side, an aging surgeon and womanizer turned leader of the Michoacán “autodefensa” gains popular support until his followers grow as corrupt as their adversaries. In the States, recovering alcoholic, reformed meth-using gravel-voiced, leather-tanned, neck-tattooed “Nailer” with dead, ice blue eyes, observes, “Back in the day, vigilante wasn’t a bad thing.” The meth men are among the most articulate of the profane men on screen, saying of their nighttime trade, “Those fuckers studied chemistry and taught us how to make this shit.” Whatever Heineman’s study of filmmaking, the stylishly shot, severely framed and mostly finely edited scenes that include the camera operators under fire in street shootouts rise to a level of technique that led action master Kathryn Bigelow to add her name to the many listed producers. Read the rest of this entry »
Wistful yet muscular late Ken Loach, “Jimmy’s Hall” tenderly massages the biography of Jimmy Gralton, an innate, indefatigable Irish rebel who was driven from his County Leitrim home during the Civil War, and again ten years later, when he returns in the spring of 1932. Jimmy’s sin in both instances, met with hate, hysteria and obstruction by the Church and police, was to erect a meeting place outside the tight societal strictures of the time, a place where poetry and dance and a dash of politics could be communicated. For this, he’s labeled a “communist,” and later, with his compatriots, “antichrists.” But the sense of community is rich, deftly sketched, defiantly progressive. The sense of landscape is gentle, and Loach’s eye is still avid for supple imagery. And even in a scene where Jimmy (Barry Ward) rallies his friends after they’ve taken back the home of a dispossessed family from a wretched landlord, and he speaks in spirited cadence about timeless idealism toward economic justice, the battle of labor versus big and bigger money, Loach and the great cinematographer Robbie Ryan (“Wuthering Heights,” “Red Road,” “Fish Tank,” “Ginger and Rosa”) position him in a calm frame, imploring in middle distance against a backdrop of a wood, of greenery waving gently, everlastingly, history rustling a timeless landscape. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Asif Kapadia’s enveloping, harrowing, even revelatory second documentary with a posthumous subject is a musical, a tragedy, and a major mash-note to the too-soon-gone talent of Amy Winehouse. “Amy” also portrays a woman who was not so much an addict as someone consumed by feelings, the need to express them, and by brutally intense sensations of love.
Kapadia chose not to shoot video of Winehouse’s friends and family and collaborators. “Previously, I’d made a film called ‘Senna,’ done in the same way,” Kapadia tells me on a Chicago visit. “So it’s like a development, a continuation of that style. The only interviews where I took a camera along, it’s only a couple, it’s people like Tony Bennett and [music producer] Mark Ronson. Everybody else, it was just audio. The intention was to never use the picture. Also, these people have never spoken before. Most of the friends and her first manager and the band members, ninety-five-percent of the people have never been interviewed, never sold a story, never written a book or been on TV. The process was quite long, and a quite painful process for them. It became almost a therapeutic process, just me in this room, a microphone on the table, just the two of us talking, turn the lights down. The worst thing in the world would have been to turn up with a camera crew. But it’s the first time they’ve spoken, you can hear the emotion in the voices.” Read the rest of this entry »
In writer-director-producer Daniel Peddle’s “Sunset Edge,” a bounty of bucolic rural imagery, skateboard meanderings and bristles of crunchy sound design heighten its shambling assemblage of familiar teen coming-of-age details, lightly suggestive horror imagery and intermittent visual lyricism. Peddle has a magpie eye, not limited to finding a rotting North Carolina trailer park as a location. He seems also to have closely observed the magic-hour momentousness of Terrence Malick and aligned his poetic ambitions with choice directorial debuts of Southern Gothic such as Harmony Korine’s incendiary, boisterous “Gummo,” and David Gordon Green’s glistening, absurdist “George Washington.” Read the rest of this entry »
Eric Rohmer: where to begin? How about with an offhanded masterpiece, 1984’s “Full Moon in Paris,” the most elegant of the splendid miniatures that constitute his cycle of “Comedies and Proverbs” romantic comedies? Louise (Pascale Ogier) is the bright center of his tale, an artistic young woman working in a design firm who abandons an older lover for a sequence of flings and affairs that have consequence by virtue of their very inconsequence. The slender but electric Ogier is a natural screen presence, and she beguiles her men (and the audience) with her angular, even aquiline features, her quick smile, her 1980s hair piled high, large-lidded wide eyes taking it all in with gentle bemusement and modest befuddlement. Read the rest of this entry »
Writer-director-actor Josh Lawson’s “The Little Death” is a rude rapscallion of an Australian comedy, drawing its title from a French term for orgasm, “le petite mort.” Lawson’s script hits much more than it misses, with bracing bursts of unlikely honesty in overlapping vignettes about five couples, their sexual hopes, fetishes and downfalls, with a sequence of endings that come together in a ravishingly sustained comic climax. (Scenes include masochism, foot fetishism, watching a partner sleep, enjoying a partner crying, roleplaying, obscene phone calls, and a cheery sex offender whose gift of cookies distracts the neighbors when he comes by to notify them he lives nearby.) Read the rest of this entry »
Another major move in Chicago film programming was announced Monday, with Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art naming a replacement for longtime curator Mimi Brody. Michelle Puetz takes the title of Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts on July 13, moving over from the MCA, where she’s curated mixed-media exhibits working with video and other time-based media.
At the Block, Puetz will oversee programming for the Block Cinema, as well as continue to curate exhibitions involving video. She was selected by a committee of eleven Block staff, Northwestern faculty members and students through what Kathleen Bickford Berzock, committee member and Block’s associate director of curatorial affairs, described as a “very, very rigorous process.” Berzock said she felt Puetz was uniquely qualified for the position, especially in establishing a greater presence of time-based media in the Block’s galleries. “What was so remarkable about Michelle Puetz as a candidate for this position is that a media arts specialist is already a rare thing,” Berzock said. “What [she] has that’s even more unique is this crossover of experience where she is equally experienced as a programmer and historian as she is as a curator in a gallery space.” Read the rest of this entry »