The swirl of red in the water that opens Johannes Roberts’ 47 Meters Down isn’t someone’s blood but a spilled glass of cabernet. And we’re not in the vast void that is the Pacific Ocean, but rather a Cancun resort pool where we find sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) embracing the sort of hedonistic pleasures that can seriously bend someone’s perception of reality. It’s a place where people go to forget, and in Lisa’s case, she’s getting over a breakup with her long-time boyfriend. Lisa confesses that the reason for the breakup was because she’s too boring. This absence of temerity will serve as the propulsive narrative element that finds Lisa and Kate at the bottom of the ocean encircled by sharks. Consciousness effectively becomes nature’s nightmare, where being mauled by a school of elasmobranchii proves to be a rational alternative to being a boring human being – this boozy film is a little more interesting than it lets on.Read More
Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann. Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey. Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper. Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay. Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius. Christian Mungui’s Graduation. Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada. Paul Verhoeven’s Elle.
Those films all played In Competition at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and all of them were passed over for the Palme d’Or in favor of Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. Like the Academy Awards, not every Cannes jury is going to get it right, but the George Miller-led jury was especially wrong in 2016. Though to be fair, that kind of judgment would suggest that I, Daniel Blake is a bad film, which is not entirely true. Like Loach’s previous films, it’s well-intentioned, competently made, socially conscious, and anchored by persuasive performances. But there’s a naivety and arrogant simplicity to the work that makes I, Daniel Blake particularly problematic. To suggest that it’s didactic would seem gravely inadequate.Read More
Let me start by talking about why I was glad that La La Land didn’t win Best Picture. I never did write anything about it back when it was released late last year because at that point everyone had an opinion on the film, where discussions disintegrated into battle cries about mansplaining and heteronormative white masculinity run amok. I wasn’t insulted by La La Land, in fact I even (kinda) admired it. But what I was never able to reconcile was how this film that models itself after musicals like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Singin’ in the Rain wasn’t able to utilize its genre to express any of the anxieties of its characters. La La Land is a musical about the artistic struggles of an actor and musician yet doesn’t actually have a song or dance number about those struggles, instead opting to utilize its genre to glean over their concerns. There’s no sense of artistic struggle or a search for integrity. The characters in La La Land yearn for fame and get it. What’s most disingenuous of all is that the filmmakers maintain that their private sacrifices (giving up a relationship) for professional success somehow insures their moral rectitude – in sacrificing love, actor and musician can finally achieve their dreams, as if to suggest the two are mutually exclusive.Read More
With a middlebrow swamp of a filmography that includes the (mostly) harmless likes of Hyde Park on Hudson and Notting Hill, Roger Michell is unlikely the first name one would consider for adapting a Daphne du Maurier novel. Like Patricia Highsmith, du Maurier is inextricably linked with Alfred Hitchcock. The cinematic titan afforded her canonical status for the source novels that would go on to produce Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and The Birds. That’s not to mention that Nicolas Roeg would go on to adapt one of du Maurier’s short stories for his canonical work, Don’t Look Now. In essence, her association with great auteurs and some of their most enduring works could be seen as something of a kiss of death for any filmmaker looking to adapt one of her stories. Du Maurier’s reputation has calcified into a sepia-tinted brand of lurid sophistication. Who’d want to go and muck that up?Read More
The discouraging reality regarding Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night is that it happens to suggest everything but means, ultimately, nothing. The film’s practices far exceed its theory; it is something that can be appreciated, should be appreciated, as a formal object. But crack the surface of its richly composed exterior and silence the thumping of its percussive and kinetic score and it exposes itself to be a terribly hollow exercise. It’s not to suggest that It Comes at Night is without merit, but rather that its thematic poverty is wildly disproportionate to its formal sophistication. Shults is a skilled craftsman but there’s something regrettably amateurish about the way he communicates his ideas.Read More
I liked Garden State. I think it’s important to establish that I saw the film when I was in high school, where the anxieties of the day could be arranged as some sort of tree diagram of crushing panic. There was something very comforting in believing that a beautiful, quirky girl (note that it is not quirky, beautiful) could fall in love with me the moment I decided to share my favorite song with her. I’m being (kinda) facetious, but the point stands: the world was a far less complicated place back then. I don’t especially like Garden State anymore.Read More
Screening exclusively this week at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center, you’ll find the third film from one of France’s most promising young directors, Katell Quillévéré. Quillévéré had her first two films, Love Like Poison and Suzanne, screen as part of the Chicago International Film Festival. Those films proved to be true festival highlights, the sort of rare discoveries that had the freedom of zero expectations and the luxury of surprise. Neither Love Like Poison or Suzanne received any sort of American distribution (a case for the festival experience if there ever was one), so most are encountering Quillévéré for the first time with her new film.Read More
The 5th Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival kicks off this Friday with a screening of Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours. The prime festival slot has become a placeholder for whatever quote unquote breakthrough Sundance comedy emerged from earlier in the year, with past selections including David Wain’s They Came Together, Joe Swanberg’s Digging for Fire, and Chad Hartigan’s Morris from America. We’re a long ways from when Sarah Polley opened the festival with Stories We Tell. But the shift would appear to a be a wise (commercial) programming decision; Wain’s film sold out the Music Box’s large auditorium in a feat that would’ve seemed inconceivable during the festival’s initial run. In programming The Little Hours, one can assume the aim is to capture that same massive audience, as director Jeff Baena. along with actors Aubrey Plaza and Kate Micucci, will be in attendance.
Elsewhere, in what’s the festival’s most significant coup, is a screening of David Lowry’s A Ghost Story. The film won’t see its nationwide premiere until July, making this early screening an especially appealing prospect. Other notable films include Eliza Hittman’s sophomore film Beach Rats, the Harry Dean Stanton starring-vehicle Lucky, and a revival screening of Southland Tales with director Richard Kelly in attendance.
I’ll be covering the festival throughout its run from May 12 to the 18th. For a complete schedule of films and ticket information, please see the Chicago Critics Film Festival’s official site here. Below you'll find a selection of capsule reviews for films screened during the festival.
The air that encircles Azazel Jacobs’ The Lovers is suffused with an extraordinary, almost overwhelming, sense of longing. It’s a longing spurred by loneliness and exacerbated by professional and personal disappointment. This is a film that is unmistakably aware of the cumulative regret that comes with fantasizing about correcting past mistakes, and about the measures we take to complicate and distract ourselves from certain, oft-unbearable clinical truth. Jacobs captures the tiny anxieties that ornate our days-in-days-out: strained conversations with coworkers, the painful, skull-clutching feeling of entering your office cubicle to turn on your workstation, and staring at the black void of a monitor as you wait for its screen to illuminate. And yet The Lovers never despairs. It never succumbs to hopelessness or vapid nihilism. It’s a film charged with a baffling energy that recalls the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love and Sarah Polley’s Take this Waltz. The Lovers is a worthy companion piece to those two (personal) tomes, nurturing those films’ disquiet romanticism into one of the most delightful experiences at the theater this year.Read More
Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy screens this week at the Music Box Theatre. For ticketing information, click here.
It is permissible to want, though prepare yourself for some real pitiless pain. Or so Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy will suggest. The film details a rural Texas family purchasing a new home. Its patriarch, a heavy-metal enthusiast and mural artist named Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry), finds himself sacrificing his artistic ambitions for something more commercial. He is, after all, painting butterflies for a bank. It is no coincidence that when Astrid (Shiri Appleby), the family’s matriarch, suggests listening to some lighter music on their way from one home to another, that the family’s metalhead daughter Zooey (Kiara Glascco) snidely suggests Metallica. Selling out, as it were, has its irreconcilable consequences.Read More