Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (Essential) makes its way to Chicago’s Music Box Theatre this Thursday. The venue is one of only seven theaters screening the film in 70mm, providing audiences with the ideal setup to see Anderson’s latest masterwork and very best film. Such luxuries are infrequent to the Second City, with such an experience sure to reward the most ardent of cinephiles. Having had the benefit of screening Phantom Thread on both DCP and 70mm formats, the differences are notable, where the meticulousness of Anderson’s craft – from his cautious use of close-ups, fluid camera movements, measured use of natural light, and densely-layered sound design – are given astonishing urgency and texture.Read More
With 2017, I spent more time confused than not. It’s been a sufficiently un-astonishing year that often left my mind in a state of perpetual limbo, forced to reckon with the static of a butterscotch goblin on a daily basis every time I turned on the television. Turn off that antennae and I’m still confronted with the kind of shoddy humanity that makes me wonder if the planet’s growth spurt toward mature, complex, and rational thinking will ever come to pass.
For what it’s worth, it’s made the people that I value all the more important to me. People capable of compassion, thoughtfulness, and empathy. If those traits were a deficiency of mine, they’re something that I actively work toward. I cannot resort to close-minded isolationism and intolerance. And it’s made the films of 2017, those that value warmth and tolerance as not vanity but virtue, all the more important to me. As 2017 comes to a close, it’s the films highlighted here that spoke to me most directly in this year of demolished sentiment - films that itch for solicitude, yearn for humanity, and resemble something unfashionably compassionate .Read More
Screening this Friday at Chicago’s Facet Cinematheque is Benedict Andrews’ festival feted Una (Noteworthy). Originally premiering to warm reviews out of Telluride and Toronto last year, the film’s struggle to find an audience amid the glut of awards contenders of the year has been unfortunate, as it’s a sturdy, well-conceived, and thoughtful acting showcase with an especially timely subject matter. An adaptation of David Harrower’s stageplay Blackbird, Una expands on the play’s singular warehouse setting by utilizing a series of vivid flashbacks, in what’s a notable departure from the source material that yields its own set of intriguing questions.Read More
So, it’s not really about Tonya Harding. I mean, it’s about her, but it’s not like this movie’s titled I, Tonya Harding. No, I, Tonya is, as vapid as it sounds, about America. It’s a compact social issue drama disguised as a sports film that picks at some low hanging fruit about news media culture and cyclical abuse of the maternal and domestic variety. But given a national standard that’s seen its low hanging fruit descend into the icy pits of the ninth circle, it’s almost forgivable, hell, courageous, for a film to literally indict and implicate its audience. I, Tonya leaves no room for subtly. Rather, it espouses its argument and regards its audience as culpable violators to the liberal treatise they uphold. It’s manipulative and frequently frustrating but almost obscenely sincere in its straightforwardness. There’s even a scene where its lead character asks another if they like her. There’s no gamesmanship here; I, Tonya gets straight to it.Read More
Screening exclusively at Chicago’s Facets Cinematheque is Nathan Silver’s new film, Thirst Street (Recommended). Silver blipped on my radar back in 2014 for his film Uncertain Terms. It’s an intriguing curio from a filmmaker still finding his way, though the elements of something great stewed beneath its surface (his use of actress Tallie Medel was especially provocative). I was more impressed with his follow-up, Stinking Heaven, featuring Hannah Gross of Mindhunter fame. Many of the preoccupations and anxious rhythms that were a highlight of Uncertain Terms were more carefully calibrated and authentic in Stinking Heaven, even if it remained a little rough around the edges. But with Thirst Street, I’m seeing a filmmaker truly cultivate his worldview. Not only is Thirst Street a formal zenith in Silver’s filmography, but it also features one of the best performances of the year.Read More
For what seemed like every weekend for the better part of a decade, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room has screened at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre. I saw it on three separate occasions and each subsequent screening seemed to grow on the prior’s mythology. So when do you throw the spoons? Can we really throw a football? And it wasn’t your usual dude-bro cadre of college-aged deplorables that you’d expect attending these screenings. No, I caught glimpses of the starchiest of academics, college professors, and former teachers during these midnight screenings. Why?
Let me put it this way: we like to feel good about ourselves. The Room makes us feel good because it provides us with a communal outlet to engage, ironically, with a piece of art. There’s pleasure in the kind of ridicule that we expend at The Room, from throwing plastic spoons at the screen to impromptu games of catch football that take place in the aisles of our theater. We feel good about these acts of ridicule because it suggests an acknowledgement of the film’s absurdity, and in that recognition we find ourselves in a moral/intellectual position of superiority. We just like to feel better than The Room. You know, the sort of “we’re laughing at you, not with you” sort of acknowledgement. Thing is that when we engage in these acts of condescension, we frequently forget the origins of what we’re poking fun at in the first place. It’s easy to forget that Tommy Wiseau’s film was intended as a piece of serious, personal filmmaking that we’ve – and subsequently, Wiseau himself –turned into a joke.Read More
The Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival boasts three features and three shorts in its carefully curated programming. The modest festival, in its fourth year, has showcased some of my favorite American independent films of the past decade, including Dan Salitt’s The Unspeakable Act, Robert Greene’s Actress, and Joel Potrykus’ Buzzard. This year, their feature programming includes Jennifer Reeder’s Signature Move, Gabe Kilenger’s Porto, and Michael Smith’s Mercury in Retrograde. The films are a dynamic and luminous collection, with each screening to be followed by a Q&A session with cast and crew.
I would like to particularly highlight the festival’s short film programming. It involves a cadre of local films including Sadie Rogers Chip V.2, Claire Cooney’s Runner, and Layne Marie Williams and Lonnie Edwards’ An Atramentous Mind. It’s Cooney’s Runner that I found especially stirring, in what’s a haunting and unfortunately contemporary examination of predatory culture.
The Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival opens this Tuesday, November 28 through December 1 at Oakton Community College’s Footlik Theater in Des Plaines, Illinois. All films are free to the public.Read More
It’s been two years since Pete Docter’s Inside Out, which is to say that it has been two years since Pixar has produced a worthwhile film. The studio has absorbed a few too many blows to the solar plexus over the past two years, where the announcement of a new film no longer yields clamoring anticipation but rather something a little more subdued. Their studio-as-auteur cred has taken a tumble with each subsequent announcement of a sequel, where their perceived commitment to artistry has been compromised by capital C Capitalism. Yes, I know, it all sounds terribly bleak, but for a studio that once produced treasures like Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up – all within two years (!) –it’s hard not to see the likes of Cars 3 or Finding Dory as terribly un-artistic diversions.Read More
Roman J. Israel Esq. (Denzel Washington) is the type of lawyer that clings to the most vestigial notions of virtue and morality. His code of ethics and erratic temperament are ill fit for the dystopia that is contemporary Los Angeles. He’s not concerned with appearances: his suit jacket is oversized, his Afro inelegant, and he frequently dons a pair of unbecoming headphones that one gathers once accompanied a first-edition 1979 Walkman. When questioned about what the “Esquire” means in his name, he refers to its more archaic alternative definition that suggests knighthood; it’s a point of distinction that validates his pro-bono work. He’s not necessarily naïve, but as Roman acknowledges midway through Dan Gilroy’s sophomore film, his “lack of success is self-imposed”. Roman’s commitment to the betterment of humanity has come at the price of giving up all the indulgences that life offers.Read More
I’m not adequately prepared to write about a movie like Wonder. Or rather, I simply don’t have the right temperament for it. That’s really just a nice way to say that I’m too much of an asshole to embrace this film’s wide-eyed buoyancy and optimism for the world. So accept the following as this review’s upshot: Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s children’s novel will likely provide all the desired biological responses that you’re looking for without any pesky intellectual concerns. That’s only partly an insult.Read More