What an embarrassing title. Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! is another example of the quote unquote documentary filmmaker peddling his brand of Gen-X whining as cultural and critical complaint. I was an impressionable 16-year old when Spurlock’s 2004 documentary, Super Size Me, entered the cultural conversation and even then I found his gonzo journey of eating nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days to be juvenile. Fast-forward 15 years and Spurlock’s follow-up is impossibly more jejune and inconsequential than his predecessor, relying on a series of hackneyed formal devices that serve to lecture rote banalities. Spurlock isn’t a documentarian. Or a filmmaker. Instead he’s perpetually auditioning to be a late-night talk show host, constantly mugging for the camera, insisting upon his moral, ethical, and intellectual superiority.Read More
José (Fernando Cardona) is a restaurant deliveryman. He cycles through the hectic streets of NYC, avoiding car doors, as he survives another day-in-day-out hustle. He returns home to an apartment shared by nearly a dozen others: undocumented Latino workers, all aiming for something better, and holding onto a promise of an American Dream that seems increasingly less possible with each passing day. It’s only on his day off on Sunday, i.e. the film’s title, that he’s able to indulge in his two faiths – church and soccer. And it’s here where Jim McKay’s En el Séptimo Día situates the conflict of his modest drama, where José’s humble living is presented with an existential battle between duty and happiness. The stakes may seem low, but when you have so little, the most minuscule of inconveniences end up resonating profoundly.Read More
Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is about the distractions we wrap ourselves in. We become absorbed in the acquisition of intellect, surrender to a higher power, or worship our commitment to another person and fall in love. But in Schrader’s world, these once magical methods of filling that hollow feeling of desolation can only subsist for so long, before our internal gratitude battery reaches 0% and we’re asked to confront clinical truths that leave us stranded, feeling like a fraud, and incapable of fitting in anywhere, leaving every hour to become the darkest hour. That’s more or less the narrative of every Paul Schrader film since he wrote Taxi Driver over four decades ago. His success has varied wildly since but I have no hesitation in calling First Reformed one of Schrader’s best films, in what frequently registers as a summation of the writer/director’s preoccupations and anxieties.Read More
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
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
Reminiscent of Asghar Farhadi’s string of complex moral puzzles, Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult begins with a microcosm of a concern – a dispute between a Palestinian foreman and Lebanese-Christian apartment owner – and examines the conflict through a political, cultural, and social lens. And like Farhadi’s work, Doueiri is committed to exposing certain unsavory clinical truths on human nature that so frequently inform our everyday lives, expanding far beyond its milieu. Plainly speaking: The Insult is timely. But whereas Farhadi’s appeal came from examining these moral quandaries through a culturally-specific Iranian worldview, Doueiri, toothlessly, reduces the conflict at the center of his film as a series of simplistic rejoinders. Confined mostly to a courtroom setting, The Insult pays lip service to confronting the real suffering and anxieties that course through the Middle East, optioning instead for a theatrical rendering of grief and resentment.Read More
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