Talk about a film out of left field: I had no idea what I was in for stepping into Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and co-director Mark Becker’s “Art and Craft,” but it turns out to be a mesmerizing account of Mark Landis, a talented, highly medicated, mentally troubled art forger who found a way to commit the perfect crime against dozens of American regional museums. One of history’s most prolific forgers for more than three decades, Landis would quickly, capably recreate work of lesser-known artists then offer it as a bequest to smaller institutions around the country, taking not a penny for his efforts. (Thus his claim that he never broke any laws.) Read the rest of this entry »
“Meet the Mormons” resembles a standard shot-on-digital documentary, composed as it is of images and sounds, and of talking heads that are also smiling heads. But it’s actually an often-cryptic document about the lives of six members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and even could be taken for a television documentary except at the moments that it resembles a random mass of impulses. Nearly nothing in Blair Treu’s kindly public-relations film illuminates the practices or beliefs of the church, except for a will to goodness and success, and small, seemingly telling details go unremarked: for instance, the “scripture case” carried by several characters, containing the holy books of the faith; or the odd image of a Bishop of the Church at home who consults a near-disposable paperback edition of the Book of Mormon you’d find in the side table of a Marriott motel room rather than a finer copy of great personal worth. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Michael Kutza could be the longest-serving head of a film festival—anywhere on earth?—but it isn’t a topic he’d ever dwell on.
One warm September afternoon in an empty boardroom in the festival’s Loop offices, the Wabash Avenue El rackets directly below and street music rises up the eight floors like the soundtrack of the opening scene of “The Conversation.” Kutza says offhandedly, “He knows five songs,” including the Flintstones theme song. “Then someone gives him a couple of bucks and he starts the cycle again. He has one seasonal one for Christmas.” He pauses meaningfully. “At three o’clock, the saxophone player arrives.”
The founder and artistic director of the Chicago International Film Festival knows a thing or two about arrivals and departures. For forty-five minutes, we dished about personalities, considered whether film festivals have changed across the decades, and what fifty years in the biz means to him. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Along with a hundred-plus features and shorts from around the world, the fiftieth edition of the Chicago International Film Festival includes notable appearances and master classes, including Michael Moore presenting his restored version of “Roger & Me,” a film that was nearly lost; producer-turned-online distributor Ted Hope talking about his memoir-manifesto, “Hope For Film,” and Oliver Stone, with a director’s cut of “Natural Born Killers” and “Alexander: Ultimate Edition,” a fourth version of his 2004 epic, reportedly with a warm handful of homoerotic content restored to its 207-minute duration. An Isabelle Huppert tribute will trail four features, including Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher” and Claire Denis’ “White Material,” both shown in 35mm. Kathleen Turner will tell her truth, and eighty-one-year-old Hollywood Renaissance bright light Bob Rafelson will show his 1990 exploration epic “Mountains of the Moon” before presenting a master class to Columbia students, a rapscallion of a raconteur when I heard him speak a few years ago.
Notable locals include the world premiere of Chicago filmmaker Michael Caplan’s long-in-the-works “Algren” bio, as well as up-and-coming local auteur Stephen Cone’s “This Afternoon,” mingling his favored themes of sex and religion. Read the rest of this entry »
“Nobody knows anything” is how screenwriter William Goldman describes how the Hollywood studio system works. “Nobody knows what’s coming next” would be an apt motto for the film industry at large, as well as the many aspects of the booming, burgeoning city of cinema called Chicago. Big-budget movies and television are shooting in Chicago at a rate not seen since the glory days of the 1990s, the same economics that are crunching the film industry are making it possible for so much more small, strange or lovely new work to make its way into the world, and gifted artists are staying in Chicago for all the reasons we’re sure you’re still in Chicago.
There’s a much larger pool of talent in Chicago than a list of fifty can do more than indicate. While last year’s debut list was more about the behind-the-scenes players, this year we’re focusing just on artists. And there are many ways we’re defining the word “artist” in our choices. In pulling together this pool of creative people, we looked for paragons in whom we could all find inspiration—whether it’s zen everyman Bill Murray, or indelibly young filmmakers you haven’t heard of yet—people who do the Chicago name proud, whether on the big screen, on cable or online. Many of these individuals take part of the larger weave of how films get made—“below-the-line” as the jargon goes—and others are exemplars of the multi-hyphenate talents who seem to be around every corner, protean prodigies who aren’t juggling multiple careers, but living them as full, admirable, even enviable creative lives.
Chicago is a storytelling city, and we’ve let the Film 50 tell a few about who they are and what they do. It’s like a busy, buzzing party where you’re content to listen in on other conversations with a strong drink in your hand, nodding your head in agreement more times than you realize. It’s an indication what a great film town this is when everyone’s ready to talk about how they love to work in Chicago, and how grateful they are to be part of an ever-expanding, ever-more-prolific community at large. Here’s betting that these conversations are only the tip of the ice cream. These people know something. (Ray Pride)
Film 50 was written by Ray Pride, with additional contributions by Brian Hieggelke
All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Lagunitas Brewing Company.
Rory Kennedy’s essential film is history as it ought to be revisited, reinvestigated, renewed as documentary. There’s so much no one bothered to know in the past forty years since the fall of Saigon. The stark, powerful “Last Days In Vietnam,” about the months and days preceding the evacuation of Americans as well South Vietnamese allies and their families in 1975, is superb filmmaking. Archival footage that’s astonishing for its immediacy is neatly woven with accounts of the disaster waiting to happen. It all moves with the emphatic leisure of a rolling nightmare. Read the rest of this entry »
John Wojtowicz was the full-on character who inspired “Dog Day Afternoon” with his attempt to rob a Brooklyn bank in late summer 1972 to finance one of his lovers’ sex-reassignment surgery. Al Pacino went to town on that role, but it hardly captures the complications in the rich, even implausible life of Wojtowicz (“The Dog”) himself. Directors Frank Keraudren and Allison Berg had access to his life for a decade, and while the visuals are sometimes limited to Wojtowicz talking, talking and talking, the words are choice, the stories almost too true to be good. Al Pacino’s got nothing on this rampantly bisexual, hopelessly romantic, eager-to-please larger-than-life character, who proudly calls himself a “pervert.” Read the rest of this entry »
Mia Wasikowska radiates elemental strength in John Curran’s adaptation of “Tracks,” Robyn Davidson’s 1980 chronicle of her 1975 solo pilgrimage from Alice Springs, Australia across nearly 2,000 miles of desert in the company of a dog and four volatile, once-feral camels. The unlikely trip is financed by National Geographic, who sends photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) at signposts along the way to mythologize her youthful determination (and beauty, which Smolan is smitten by). Curran’s earlier movies, including “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” (2004) and “Stone” (2010), demonstrated a similar willingness to keep the drama on simmer, to slowly accrue sensation rather than goosing the narrative. Read the rest of this entry »
By Brandie Madrid
When Lucia Mauro was a writer for Newcity, she often conducted interviews at the Bourgeois Pig Cafe, so I asked her to join me there to talk about her writing-directorial debut, “In My Brother’s Shoes.” She speaks warmly and passionately about the origins of her story and about letting coincidences and random encounters lead her in new directions. Mauro has spent much of her life as an arts writer and critic. Her first foray into film was the screenplay for “Anita,” a story inspired by a statue in Rome of Anita Garibaldi, a Brazilian freedom fighter who fought against foreign occupation in two countries, including Italy. “In My Brother’s Shoes” is based on another experience she had in Rome, this time meeting a man who, after his brother died in the Iraq War, put on his brother’s shoes and backpacked through Europe as his brother always planned to do.
By Ray Pride
Of the news coming south out of the 2014 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, there are three or four or a dozen films that sound like surprises and delights, as there should be from any festival its size.
But the season’s finest surprise for me is a film, or, rather, films, that debuted at Toronto 2013, a heavyweight directorial debut by writer Ned Benson that comprised two features with a combined running time of 201 minutes. The delicately astonishing “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” relates two subtly but telling different sides of the aftermath of the sudden detonation of the lives of a married couple with a child, the first from the dreamily subdued perspective of a woman named Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain), and subtitled “Her,” and the second from the more volatile perspective of her estranged husband, Conor (James McAvoy). When the narrative shifts to Conor’s perspective, scenes that were played between Chastain and McAvoy’s characters repeat, but with subtle variations in dialogue and dramatic emphasis. The separate events in their lives, when they are apart, are equally telling: the bruised hush of “Her” rises to confounded masculine disarray as we discover further eddies of grieving in the lives around “Her.” The essential elegance of this structure is how we, as viewers, have to reconstruct our memory of prior events, if only an hour, hour-and-a-half before, the way the characters, her and him, try to reconstruct tragic events of only a few months earlier. Read the rest of this entry »