“Love yields to circumstance”, wrote Thomas Hardy in Far From the Maddening Crowd. Such a quote is tested to its litmus in Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows. I’ve described Farhadi’s films as moral puzzles for years now and this is the first one since I was introduced to his work where I feel like it would be inadequate, if not a little misleading, to describe it as such. Because while the film is rooted in numerous sociological anxieties that I’ve come to associate with Farhadi’s work, Everybody Knows is the one that registers less as a series of intellectual rejoinders and more a collection of guttural emotions. Ironically, this proves to be Farhadi’s most formally rigorous work since at least A Separation, filled with densely layered compositions and handheld work that bares comparison to John Cassavetes. It’s certainly not what I expected from the filmmaker, particularly one that I thought I had pegged as formally competent if not especially exciting; Everybody Knows stands out as Farhadi’s most interesting film to date.Read More
In Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day and sequel, 2U, everything happens quickly but nothing actually happens. Landon’s films indulge the viewer’s wish fulfillment in reconciling past mistakes but blandly suggests that you can only be set free from the past’s circuitous loop of despair when you learn from those errs. Or: Groundhog’s Day. But if Landon’s aping of Harold Ramis’ culturally-accepted quote unquote classic (never been a fan) served as the blueprint for his first film, then 2U embodies the films of another filmmaker entirely: John Hughes (also: never been a fan). Not that Hughes’ influence couldn’t be felt throughout Landon’s first film (the antiquated sexual politics, the blasé and ultimately mindless examination of white privilege, etc.) but it all seemed underplayed within the novelty of its structure. 2U is rather insistent on making the insular experience of one woman repeating her death into a communal, ensemble piece filled with goofy asides and facile attempts at “subversion”. 35 years after Molly Ringwald’s birthday slipped the minds of her parents in Sixteen Candles and we still have to deal with a woman’s narrative getting hijacked by a couple of generic dude-bros. History’s cyclical, and intellectually and emotionally we still live in the 1980s; cinema like Happy Death Day 2U would have you believe that it’s admirable for that quality.Read More
The routine disappointment that comes with every year’s Academy Awards’ nominees slate was especially magnified this year, when the likes of Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book would seem to have taken spots from quote unquote better films like First Reformed and If Beale Street Could Talk. I know the conversation surrounding Bohemian Rhapsody in particular has called to question its technical merits. The Twitter video of its incoherent editing stirred up a lively debate on the matter – the film, bewilderingly, won an American Cinema Editing Eddie award over the past weekend. Though one has to remember that the Academy Awards has never and will never be a barometer of taste or quality. The very concept of quality itself fluctuates and the nominees, like with any other year, reflect an impossible number of intangibles; intangibles rooted in $$$ above all.
Yet parse through the nominees list and there’s usually plenty worth vouching for, and 2019 is no different. As with most years, the most eclectic set of nominees tend to be centralized in the shorts categories, with this year’s Animated Shorts nominees making up for the best the category has been in a decade.Read More
Emma Forrest’s debut feature, Untogether, starring the likes of Jemima and Lola Kirke, Billy Crystal, and Ben Mendelsohn, is an aggressively banal film. Not all of it is necessarily bad per se, but Forrest, who owns both directing and writing credit for the film, has a better handle on the latter than the former. The filmmaking here is glossy, unfussy, and fundamentally undemanding. She relies on her coterie of established actors to propel much of the action, with Forrest providing ample space for them to maneuver within their posh L.A. settings. But as a writer, her propensity for grandiose, cliché gestures and frequent, truculent narrative twists make the whole endeavor a painfully disenchanting chore to sit through.Read More
There’s not a filmmaker alive that produces more self-doubt in my critical capacities than Jean-Luc Godard. My fondness for the filmmaker stems from his early work, yet it’s his post-millennium output that weighs most heavily in my consciousness. Particularly with his prior film, Goodbye to Language, the overwhelming sensory qualities of his collages are so imposing, so colossal in their implication that it threatens to obfuscate any attempt at understanding, refusing to be stripped down to a logline or synopsis. Godard’s work over the past twenty years sometimes seems to require a scholarly touch, which can reduce this faux-scholar to his knees as I vainly attempt to piece together fragments that sometimes never seem to build together to resemble a whole picture. And yet in piecing together the barrage of references, the geyser of history that composes Film Socialisme, Goodbye to Language, and now The Image Book, there’s something inherently calming about approaching the unknowable. There’s clearly a grand unifying theory, a string of anxieties and preoccupations that unite Godard’s later period work. But needing to have that explained isn’t necessarily the point; with The Image Book, Godard isn’t asking you to interpret the world, but rather suggests how imperative it is to actually change it.Read More
Richard Yeagley’s The Sunday Sessions screens at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center as part of their ongoing Stranger Than Fiction documentary series. The prevailing sentiment of this month long-series centers on concerns of identity, with the seven films of the series all demonstrating the rather unconventional routes that men, women, and children take in an attempt to achieve some measure of self-actualization. However, it’s Yeagley’s troubling documentary about gay conversion therapy that left me most concerned about the reluctance with which the young and idealistic refuse to learn the ways of the world. For The Sunday Sessions is a film not about achieving self-actualization, but rather denying it, proposing that conventional cultural mores and antiquated modes of spiritual thought inform a tradition of behavior that needs to be actively subscribed to. To do what’s natural is, in effect, unnatural.Read More
Adam Robitel’s Escape Room posits that we are all hermetically sealed in our own isolation chambers, locked within man-made structures of guilt, self-doubt, and despair, listening, recounting, and mentally relitigating the same tired series of traumatic events that cripple us into complacency. Or at least it’s what the film tries to suggest. This is a film that requires a pretty endless series of mental acrobatics to make sense of, whether it be the inanity of its plotting or the skull-clutching awkwardness of its performers reciting banal, hackneyed platitudes from a screenplay that would seem amateurish to even a SyFy network executive. Welcome to the cinematic dregs of January, this film would seem to announce.Read More
There’s this axiom: “The worst your past was, the worse your present will be.” I’ll try not to get too dramatic as I don’t want this to degenerate into whining. I felt myself thin away and teetering toward oblivion throughout passages of 2018. Or: it wasn’t the best year. I started it off unemployed, laid off a week prior to Thanksgiving 2017 and forced to hustle a menial, demeaning job to make it through the holiday season. It was humbling (which more often than not reads as: terrible) and a casual reminder that the distinction between nightmare and reality can be blurred beyond recognition.
Good news was that I started a new position with one of the most renowned academic institutions on the planet in late January. The tide was turning, the molecules of the universe finally colliding in a way that actually benefited me. I never before felt like I was on the fringe, but I certainly felt less passive and more active in becoming a fully functional human being. 30 howled and with it a set of anxieties and preoccupations that, somehow, I seemed capable of handling. It hasn’t always been a picnic, but the alternative – unemployment, anomie – and its resulting anxieties have thankfully been kept at bay.Read More
It’s difficult to imagine much credibility in recommending Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse given that I’ve found nearly every film to come out of Marvel Studios (and its adjacent co-producing studios) to be an absolute, cortex-withering slog. Even those I “like” I tend to recommend out of fatigue, predicating my sentence with, “If you have to watch one those films, I’d go with option A, choice B, or bitter pill C.” But with the unfortunately titled, robustly directed Spider-Verse, I can enthusiastically deploy any number of superlatives: it’s the best film produced under the Marvel moniker, the best animated superhero film since Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and one of the best animated films, superhero or not, of 2018. It is, above all, a refreshing change of pace from the factory-produced mentality, world-building nonsense that comes from our contemporary crop of superhero films. From its textured animation, emotionally terse voice-acting, and complex but fundamentally human narrative, Spider-Verse achieves the paradoxical feat of making you feel like a superhero by evoking everything that makes you a human; from coursing through your day to day, abating anxieties over an uncertain future, or simply contending with your own self-imposed deficiencies and doubts, Spider-Verse suggests that true acts of heroism come from our capacity not to just live for ourselves, but for others.Read More
The litany of film festivals offered within Chicago and its surrounding suburbs during the calendar year makes the very thought of covering each one a daunting, frankly impossible, task. Part of me, however, feels like I’ve neglected some of my duties in running Chicago Cinema Circuit, especially when it comes to highlighting some of the local festivals in the area that would otherwise go unnoticed on a national stage. Case in point: the Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival. For the past five years, Michael Glover Smith has carefully programmed a small yet incredibly thoughtful festival that highlights local and national filmmakers. An emphasis is placed on providing a discourse between filmmaker and audience, with filmmakers frequently in attendance for post-screening Q&As. There’s an overwhelming quality to a lot of the larger film festivals in the area, where quantity tends to be valued over quality. With the Oakton PUFF, there’s significance placed on curation, on creating a fundamentally relaxed experience that values the film, the filmmaker, and its audience. That, my friends, is a fundamentally singular film festival experience.
The Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival begins Tuesday, November 27 through Friday, November 30 at the Footlik Theatre. All screenings are free and open to the public. For additional information, click here.