Aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder, a passenger train that travels between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, we capture sight of an elderly man with a digital camera in tow. He reflects on the images he captured on his DSLR, including one of a young passenger: a pregnant woman who’s four days overdue and taking the train to meet with friends. The photo is a candid one as she leaves the train and makes her way down an icy path that leads to the terminal. Solemnly, the man comments that to cameras that he’s ill and doesn’t have much time, that he doesn’t want to die without having a good look at the world. It’s to Albert Maysles’ credit that what we have in In Transit (Recommended) is a clear-eyed, optimistic, and sincere look at American life.Read More
When you have a film that suggests everything, it threatens to be about nothing. And that’s where mother! finds itself teetering: between illumination and emptiness, thoughtfulness and hollowness. Whatever you hold onto as the film’s key allegory – and make no mistake, there are numerous straws to pull – will likely determine how successful you find Darren Aronofsky’s new film. Yet it’s Aronofsky’s sociopathic indifference to approval that makes mother! so profoundly unsettling. “Bitter” and “dark” and “joyless” and “depressing” – are Aronofsky’s films ever otherwise described? Now consider the filmmaker at his most toxically nihilistic; mother! is your product.Read More
Of the numerous new filmmakers to emerge from Mexico at the turn of the century, none excite me more than Amat Escalante. He’s a filmmaker with a distinct and unfussy sensibility. He fixates on details with a clinical coolness yet is capable of moments of profound intimacy. There’s an underlying warmth centered through the three Escalante films I’ve encountered, where the ephemeral qualities of their humanism are laid to waste by the hostile milieu in which they take place. Overshadowed by his Mexican compatriots Carlos Reygadas and Michel Franco, Escalante’s formal interests remain vested in the social realities of his characters. The grandiose existential inquiries of Reygadas and complex emotional tableaus of Franco inform but do not drive Escalante’s ambitions. Rather, his work stems from the private and public concerns of living day in and day out as a citizen of Mexico.Read More
Screening exclusively at Chicago’s Facets Cinematheque is Michael Almereyda’s sublime and entrancing new film, Marjorie Prime (Recommended). Featuring a coterie of recognizable faces including Tim Robbins, Jon Hamm, and Geena Davis, the no-frills chamber drama presents a series of intriguing moral puzzles through its vivid dialogue and precise (but practical) mise-en-scène. Almereyda disengages from the lofty expectations that come from high-concept science fiction to produce a skeletal yet nevertheless probing work on the nature of memory and legacy. If you afford it the chance, this is the kind of film that cuts straight past the bone and deep into your marrow.Read More
Let’s put it this way: the prominent local headlines in Chicago’s daily newspapers note that nearly a thousand Chicago Public School employees have been laid off, including 365 educators. A subsequent headline reminds readers that the Chicago Police Department has bolstered its ranks by a hundred. This ought to be cause for concern as it demonstrates the continued allegiance our city’s officials have for policing its citizens over educating them. Moreover, it coincides with a fundamentally illogical pattern of tracking deviance, where the source of a problem is frequently disregarded in favor of reacting to its consequences. As it was in Detroit and Ferguson, so it will be in Chicago.
Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’ Whose Streets? opens with two men driving through Ferguson, Missouri’s most destitute neighborhoods. They roam an enclave of the most disenfranchised, where a generation of children cannot read in part because the preceding one doesn’t know how to either. What Whose Streets? posits in a series of textured, unflinching, and captivating episodes is how a deprived community misrepresented by its servants and stripped of its agency attempted to take back their home on August, 9, 2013. What comes of this, regardless of the simplistic polemic of White v. Black, Have v. Have Nots, and Good v. Evil presented by various mainstream media outlets of the time, is a complicated look into what converted a small city in Missouri’s St. Louis District into a warzone.Read More
The illustrated mosaic that opens Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit swiftly details the impossible situation that African-American men and women endured following the Civil War. The ensuing Great Migration that prompted the dispersal of a southern black population to largely urban northern enclaves would in itself spur a white suburban migration that generated a wealth of sociopolitical consequences, ranging from inadequate (read: terrible) housing and public education to growing hostilities between a predominately white police force and its black constituents. Despite narratives preceding the Detroit riots of 1967 that described the city as a beacon of racial harmony, it was fractured in faux-reform that failed its most vulnerable citizens time and again. This powder keg milieu served to describe a great deal of urban cities of the 1960s, and it’s in Detroit where this confluence of disenfranchising factors would come to a head.Read More
Screening exclusively this week at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center, you’ll find the third film from one of France’s most promising young directors, Katell Quillévéré. Quillévéré had her first two films, Love Like Poison and Suzanne, screen as part of the Chicago International Film Festival. Those films proved to be true festival highlights, the sort of rare discoveries that had the freedom of zero expectations and the luxury of surprise. Neither Love Like Poison or Suzanne received any sort of American distribution (a case for the festival experience if there ever was one), so most are encountering Quillévéré for the first time with her new film.Read More
Over a year removed from its premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, Oz Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter (Recommended) finally opens this week in select theaters nationwide. Perplexingly, it screens in just one theater in the Chicagoland area, and you’ll have to make the hike to South Barrington (!) to see it. Given its pedigree - a notable festival debut featuring familiar faces and distributed by America’s preeminent indie label, A24 - this distribution strategy seems especially puzzling. Though for those who had the opportunity to check out the film during its festival run, the question of its very limited release is simple. Too harrowing for mainstream audiences, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is proudly and profoundly un-commercial in what’s a thesis study on the pangs of loneliness and its brutally violent repercussions.Read More
The aerial shot of the New York City-scape that opens Chad Stahelski’s John Wick: Chapter 2 features the brief but unmistakable image of Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr projected aside a skyscraper. Stahelski, a stuntman-turned-director, pays tribute to the messiah of cinematic physicality, submitting a fever dream of violent giddiness that’s heart-delaying in its beauty. The lineage of reference here is not one ingrained in modern action filmmaking but rather, much like Mad Max: Fury Road and the debt it pays to films like Battleship Potemkin and The Phantom Carriage, rooted in the silent comedies of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd; filmmakers that expressed their anxieties and wrath through the physical. The architecture of John Wick: Chapter 2 recognizes the foundation that the three silent comics, particularly Keaton, have on contemporary action filmmaking, and as such, Stahelski crafts something that’s all at once modern and timeless.Read More
Director Joshua Marston will be in attendance for post-screening Q&As at Chicago's Landmark Century Centre Cinema on September 9 and 10 at 7:20PM. For additional ticketing information, please click here.
What sort of liar are you? The kind that overelaborates, concealing a lie in superfluous detail that overwhelms the person you lie to? Or perhaps the kind that exaggerates, saying one thing, confessing to the lie, and then submitting a lesser, but nevertheless entirely fabricated untruth that somehow seems much more plausible. Or perhaps you maintain a steady gaze, a practiced constitution that is defined by its sobriety, dominating the person you lie to with urgent seriousness.
The scary thing about Alice (Rachel Weisz) is that you can’t really tell. She’ll speak plainly, submitting a life-story that’s filled with fact and fiction. She ornates her travels with distorted half-truths, disguising her intentions and fluidly moving in and out of people’s lives. In a film that’s so often shot in shallow focus, she moves within the frame as an acutely detailed figure only to become a complete blur, consumed in a cavalcade of city lights, there and gone again.Read More