Fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) is frequently observed running through the rural backlands of Portland, Oregon. The sights here are specific yet ubiquitous, in what frequently reminded me of the unsavory outskirts of Chicago’s suburbs. Suburbs like Addison or Elmhurst, those isolating enclaves that seem to wear a mask of authenticity, emulating what developers assume to be cozy and familiar sights of urban life, though ultimately exposing themselves as a hollow shell that bares no resemblance to the real thing. A boy like Charley - living with his father in a rundown, roach-infested home - grows restless in a community like this, and yearns for something, no matter how harsh, to distract his mind from living within the narrowest of means. Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete is full of woe, a film that observes the disenfranchised through the lens of a teenage boy. It’s a film that categorically aligns itself with the likes of Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy and Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, though projects a more mythic, indescribably diaphanous quality.Read More
John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place lingers on some intriguing questions of temporality, asking viewers to discern what sense there is in continuing with the present when the future has been catalogued. The future of A Quiet Place is stripped of impulse, a world robbed of a dissenting voice, echoes of pleasure, or the uproar of personal victories. In what will undoubtedly be cited as a critical breakthrough for Krasinski, A Quiet Place punishes its characters for broadcasting even the slightest of whispers, where the film tacitly corresponds noise, and really, resistance, with death. Such a commentary isn’t necessarily realized as abstraction either. Instead, there’s a literal monster that’s beckoned by the slightest tumult. But it’s in the implication, particularly given the narrative direction of where A Quiet Place goes, that is notably inspired: where modern political discourse finds marginalized voices brutally muzzled by omnipresent figures, silence can sometimes be your only refuge. Yet, the greatest challenge I found in appreciating A Quiet Place stems from its theoretically intriguing conceits melded with, shall we say, an inelegant and utilitarian formal design. The ideas here sing; its execution mumbles.Read More
For the past few months I’ve survived a seismic shift to my day-to-day routine. My old regimen had been undisturbed and calcified over the span of five years, unchallenging and ingrained in my muscles. It was pleasant, sure, but it was pleasant in the way that familiar things tend to be comforting. “Familiar” and “pleasant” tend to isolate themselves within air quotes when experiencing an especially unmanageable dose of existential despair. But now my psyche is bombarded by a new set of patterns and routines that are admittedly far outside my comfort zone. Sometimes it’s unendurable. Sometimes it’s refreshing. Sometimes I need to negotiate if what I’m experiencing is the former or the latter. Banal a segue way as it may be, but here it goes: Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane so elementally understands the staggering sense of despair that comes with trying to find a foothold in trying to become a brand new person. It’s not obvious or overt about it either. This is an intelligent film made by a clever filmmaker and anchored by a persuasive lead performance. It may just be (it is) my personal experience empathizing as I observed the film’s main character endure a series of cataclysmic, life-altering events, fecklessly staving off insanity. But it’s a film that I needed at the moment and it delivered in an unexpected and outright startling way.Read More
Pardon the jumble of plugs but they are a necessary obstacle to overcome: Hong Sang-soo’s Claire’s Camera (Highly Recommended) screens this Thursday, March 22nd at the Alliance Française de Chicago as part of the Asian Pop-Up Cinema and the Festival de la Francophonie 2018. This all-caps FREE screening requests its attendees to register here.
Given how infrequent Hong Sang-soo’s films tend to screen in Chicago (On the Beach at Night Alone briefly screened during last October’s Chicago International Film Festival, while other recent Hong films like Yourself and Yours and The Day After remain in nebulous distribution), this Midwestern premiere of Claire’s Camera is compulsory viewing for any cinephile with a fleeting interest in Hong Sang-soo or its lead actors, Isabelle Huppert and Kim Min-hee.Read More
Nick (Adam Horovitz) would have you believe that his nest of comfort, a den cluttered by archival material and binders of his deceased father-in-law’s correspondences, provides him with all the contentment he needs. His hermetic life of walking to work, entering his tiny office, and getting to archive in solitude, is satisfying enough – he’s uncovered a permanent contract on a feeling of complete and utter fulfillment. Or so that’s what he tells himself, his wife Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny), and his sister-in-law/boss Gwen (Mary-Louise Parker). Whatever ghosts linger in his past, Nick’s present ascetic lifestyle provides him with enough meaning. That’s what makes the opening scene of Alex Ross Perry’s new film, Golden Exits, so captivating: this man who cherishes monotony finds his world turned inside out with the arrival of a new assistant in Naomi (Emily Browning). That NYC groove proves to be a little more rigorous than expected.Read More
Michael Haneke, cinema’s preeminent nihilist, used to be important to me. During my formative years as a cinephile, it was his films that provoked me: anger in the case of Funny Games, bewilderment with Code Unknown, or stunned admiration with Cache, The Piano Teacher, and Time of the Wolf. His films are full of misery and are obscenely provocative, but my antennae has frequently tuned in to his transmission. For as much as Haneke’s a brilliant clinical formalist, he’s above all a gifted cynic. And when you’re a student in your early twenties balancing work, school, and everything in between, his brand of pessimism can become dangerously comforting. But the returns on such disenchanted examinations have depreciated considerably overtime, in what’s a reflection of my own changing sensibility. Yet with his new film, Happy End, he tickles a familiar funny bone that reminded me of those college years when I first discovered the filmmaker. Yes, Happy End is a familiar sadistic exercise that doesn’t impress a moment of sincerity. That doesn’t matter. It’s glib and pathologically disinterested in winning your favor. I dug it.Read More
Over the past five years, the Gene Siskel Film Center’s European Union Film Festival has programmed the likes of Ben Rivers and Ben Russell’s A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, Bruno Dumont’s Li’l Quinquin, Ramon Zürcher’s The Strange Little Cat, Terrence Davis’ Sunset Song, and Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper. It’s an indispensable film education, with the Siskel Center’s programming team ambitiously taking on the kind of films that rarely screen on more than a half-dozen screens in the city (if at all).
Less commercially inclined than their Chicago International Film Festival counterpart, I frequently considered the Chicago European Union Film Festival to be the city’s true cinephile attraction; the kind of festival that remedies CIFF’s glaring omissions and bloated filler selections. With such inclusions as Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghostd, Bruno Dumont’s Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, Kornel Mundruczo’s Jupiter’s Moon, and Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin, this year’s European Union Film Festival offers Chicago’s cinephiles with an all too rare opportunity to catch up with some of Europe’s most dynamic films, all within the comforts of the Siskel Center’s renovated theaters. Given how barren the winter movie months can become, the European Union Film Festival emerges as a cinephile’s oasis.
For a complete schedule, screening times, and ticket information, refer to the Gene Siskel Film Center’s website here.
It’s an intriguing preamble: Lena (Natalie Portman) a cellular biologist at John Hopkins University is overwhelmed by the necrotic dullness and numbing grief that comes with the presumed death of her Army husband Kane (Oscar Isaac). Months pass and she’s now expected to finally Move On, as the world proceeds at its unceasing clip, leaving Lena with only her sepia-hued memories. Writer/director Alex Garland’s Annihilation does what most sophomore directorial efforts tend to do: get bigger, more ambitious, and a little more complicated. And as is often the case with such enterprising aspirations, Annihilation will undoubtedly lack the critical cache that was showered upon Ex Machina. Unfortunate, given how much more thoughtful and simply better a film Annihilation happens to be.Read More
Nick Park’s Early Man is as beguiling as previous Aardman Animation films, finding itself through its cadre of memorable characters and impeccable production design. It’s the most fully realized and detailed world conceived by Aardman, with set pieces ranging from verdant forestry, ornate bronze asylums, and an ashy hell-scape. I was fixated by the density of Early Man’s design, as Park’s clay figurines move with such fluidity in these meticulously crafted milieus. Yet as exquisitely composed as every frame of this film may be, it’s in service to a rather rote narrative that never quite escapes its formulaic trappings. Aardman films like Chicken Run and Shaun the Sheep offer clever subversions to their narrative trajectories, with Early Man frequently struggling to complicate its all too-familiar (though well-intentioned) ambitions.Read More
Among the most baffling Academy Award decisions of the past decade didn’t occur when someone read the wrong envelope for Best Picture or for a tightly contested performance category. No, the one decision that startled me most was a few years ago when Don Hertzfeldt’s astonishing World of Tomorrow lost in the Best Animated Short category to Gabriel Osorio Vargas and Pato Escala Pierart’s decidedly un-astonishing Bear Story. In a move that beckons a mercy killing, Hertzfeldt’s equally remarkable sequel was denied a nomination entirely at this year’s ceremony, leaving a slate of five nominees that must escape the burden of expectations.Read More