I never felt an agony so hostile to life than when I found out my mom was cheating on my dad. Gosh, what an absolutely silly sentence to type out. What I’m doing now is retrospectively reliving conversations and events that only now seem vital. It was during the summer between high school and college, where I had moved to a new apartment in Edgewater, while my parents along with my younger brother relocated to a suburban respite. Imagine the incalculable endurance required to move from the center of Chicago to its most northern neighborhood and, on that same afternoon, to a western enclave on the city’s outskirts. But with the literal distance that came with my parents no longer being within arms reach came an incomprehensible, emotionally crippling despair. Coping with loneliness requires a tremendous amount of work and the increasing distance that both my mother and father placed between us made it all the more difficult. Sometimes I think I barely survived, other times I think it made me stronger. Or I need to tell myself that, because in reality only one of those statements is true.Read More
Monrovia, Indiana, the location of Frederick Wiseman’s latest institutional case study, is the sort of township that’s hard to remember by name unless you’ve heard it a couple of times. Those who pass through this Midwestern enclave are likely to forge through without much thought, its flatland, sights, and sounds uniformly demonstrating an active disinterest in capturing a tourist’s attention. But as Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest utters “but hey, I’m living here every day.” And so, Wiseman’s Monrovia, Indiana examines this township of a little over a thousand, a community that, like so many like it, serves as a sort of cautionary reminder of what it means to live, actually live and subsequently die, in America.Read More
I recognize the kids of Mid90s. I wasn’t one of them, but we orbited the same space frequently. With a harsh Eastern European upbringing, afternoons, let alone nights, out with friends were a rare occurrence that demanded an endless series of planning, coordination, and lies. On those rare instances we were able to get together, it was like stumbling across a secret society, a meeting of all those faces that you saw passing in the hallways of your elementary school. We wasted away the afternoon before the night bled into the sky. The crowd thinned out but it was always the same handful of kids who stuck around, typically older boys, playing basketball. If they weren’t older, they seemed it. That was the allure of it, I suppose. You’re a kid sifting through a paradoxically endless and limited series of options that you can’t help but idealize those who seem so inherently confident, as if they figured out the great human game of life by simply opting out of it.Read More
Write about this festival long enough and you run out of things to say. I complain every year about the Chicago International Film Festival and there’s plenty to complain about (Asako I & II, Burning, La Flor, Her Smell, High Life, Hong Sang-soo, 3 Faces, etc. are all immediately felt absences in a line-up filled with a lot of, to say it diplomatically, filler). Blasé inclusions aside (The Front Runner is your Closing Film? And why is our After Dark programming year in, year out always so terribly sparse?), I’m going to try to stay positive.
I’m glad that Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind are screening in, you know, a theater. I’m happy that Oliver Assayas’ new film, Non-Fiction, is screening. Same for the new Christian Petzold, Jia Zhangke, and Dominga Sotomayor. And the stuff that I’m going to see before the end of the year (staying positive), like Steve McQueen’s Widows and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite should benefit from a festival crowd. I don’t know what’s going on with their “Masters” programming, which is a hodgepodge of puzzling inclusions and equally perplexing exclusions (where’s the new Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Jean-Luc Godard, or Frederick Wiseman?). But it does feature the new Hirokazu Kore-eda and Pawel Pawlikowski, so – positive.
Look, I won’t pretend like I know the economics or the web of complex relationships required to manage and maintain a festival. I don’t have the constitution to even consider all the handshaking and endless series of emails required to get so-and-so film to screen, or the logistics necessary to get this or that filmmaker in attendance. All I know is that New York City and Toronto and Telluride have those resources and Chicago does not. But what I guess I want to know is… why not?
The 54th Chicago International Film Festival runs from October 10 to October 21. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.
The Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) of Damien Chazelle’s First Man doesn’t utter the line “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” out of humanity or loyalty to his country. He says it out of defeat. A litany of children, men, and women that came within orbit of Armstrong have passed, and in them a crater-sized lesion has all but eaten away at the astronaut. From Armstrong’s vantage point, the tentativeness of life takes on a whole different meaning when you’ve lost, and continue to lose, everyone that means anything to you. The fleeting image of Armstrong running his fingers through the hair of his now dead daughter haunts him, and when asked during his job interview with NASA if her recent death will affect him, Armstrong firmly remarks that it obviously will. Later in the film, while going for a walk with NASA colleague Edward Higgins White (Jason Clarke), White suggests how lonely it must be on the moon. Armstrong, stoic and despondent, doesn’t so much reply as simply mention how they’ve passed by a swing that reminded him of his daughter. It’s the first time he’s mentioned her to anyone since her passing. And it’s the last time we see Armstrong and White talk – the shadow cast by his daughter’s death consuming everything around him.Read More
Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is a convenience store chocolate bar: an immediately, immensely satisfying distraction, a rush to the head that settles into to the bloodstream before crashing into a lull. It’s a mindful distraction that’s positively transparent in its intentions and so free of irony that it suggests something almost pathologically indifferent to criticism. It’s a series of contradictions: muscular and ephemeral, expressionistic and literal. And it somehow possesses the gift of being interesting while telling an essential but trite narrative. It’s an achievement in polarity; familiar but transgressive enough.Read More
The Oregon Territory, 1851. Where helping one another remained as unfashionable and primitive as it does now, we find the Sisters siblings, Eli and Charlie (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) in a gunfight with shadows under the veil of darkness. The blasts from their pistols briefly illuminate the pitch-black landscape before light surrenders again. The exchange ends quickly, Eli and Charlie surviving another job in their limitless mercenary journeywork, when they realize the adjacent ranch has caught ablaze. Eli, the sentimental, unabashedly optimistic one, attempts to save the barn’s stable of horses before the structure collapses. Charlie stands aside, berating his brother for wasting their time as the two return to their keeper, The Commodore (Rutger Hauer). They ride off, the burning wreckage of their work behind them. It’s a moment that recalls Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”, where the writer suggests that “death seemed the most prevalent feature of the landscape”. In Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers, death is unavoidable, unarrangable, and inconvenient, though attempts to find some measure of solace in a landscape that incinerates the spirit is positively vital, lest you thin away into oblivion.Read More
To distinguish itself immediately from the Unfriended series, Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching opens with a sequence that compresses a decade’s worth of Margot Kim’s (Michelle La) childhood. The exposition dump depicts the trauma of Margot losing her mother to cancer and her entry into high school; her father David (John Cho) sticking by her side. It’s an intriguing move, a notably swift, exquisitely edited example of narrative economy that also summons some rather uncomfortable feelings about Chaganty’s manipulative use of saccharine musical cues and blasé plotting. Those two qualities become more pronounced as Searching screeches at numerous points before stumbling upon its dunderheaded conclusion. It’s baffling, really, that anyone could suggest that Searching’s narrative trajectory is any less insipid or dumb as what we get from the Unfriended films. At least those films resist the banalities that we get from Searching.Read More
Operation Finale moves with steady if unsatisfying progress. It navigates a narrative path that bares a noticeable resemblance to Academy Award winners of its past, not even remotely concerned with camouflaging its numerous hackneyed influences or banal passages intended to provide clip-worthy fodder moments of capital A Acting. If you told me Ben Affleck directed Operation Finale I wouldn’t have been surprised. Instead, it’s Chris Weitz. A swift Google search jogs my memory of the filmmaker’s quote unquote credentials: he directed the Oscar-nominated A Better Life. He also did one of those Twilight films. Well, at least he’s consistent. With Operation Finale, Weitz tackles the Holocaust. There’s a throughline in between these three films I’m missing but I’m certain it’s there.Read More
Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians, the film, is sufficiently unastonishing; a meandering though nevertheless engrossing romantic comedy that, despite its cast of Asian actors and Singaporean milieu, remains tethered to American values and principles, both culturally and cinematically. Crazy Rich Asians, the commercial product, is perhaps a little more interesting and certainly sheds light on the troubling innocuousness of the film. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and, more importantly, financed by SK Global (a relatively new conglomerate formed from American distributor Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and the Hong Kong-based Ivanhoe Pictures), the synergistic opportunities in adapting Kevin Kwan’s worldwide bestseller are impossible to overlook. Subsequently, to find Kwan’s text navigate a series of obfuscated, impossible to distinguish conglomerates, fashioned and engineered to placate audiences throughout planet Earth is, at the very least, head-clutchingly impressive. Which, with the Academy Awards now singling out achievements in “Popular Film”, probably makes Crazy Rich Asians a shoe-in for a gold statue.Read More