Hard to believe that Juliette Binoche was in one of these things. A Godzilla film that is. Her character dies within minutes of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film, a blockbuster I have fond memories of. It was one of those few Hollywood blockbusters that had some visual imagination. These films insist on involving Hollywood A-listers and it was one of the few films of its type that bothered to address the whole issue of scale. Like, this world is inhabited by giant lizard creatures and they’re huge. And that’s terrifying. I liked that Godzilla 2014 acknowledged and even explored that fact, exploiting our recognition of all these actors as a kind of cruel joke. Think Janet Leigh in Psycho (1960) or half the cast of Contagion (2011). I don’t really know what Godzilla 2019 is trying to explore. It’s just worse. On a purely visual level, it’s incomprehensible and meaningless with every scene involving these kaijus set to Biblical on the rain scale. And the Hollywood A-listers that opted to participate in this disaster seem to just be filling the silence. There’s two kinds of silences. In Godzilla 2014, it was a silence that amplified tension and inspired a tangible emotional reaction. In Godzilla 2019, it’s the kind of silence that just agonizes; I could feel myself biodegrading with every passing minute of this awful film.Read More
I frequent a handful of online message boards and a few weeks ago came across this particularly insightful anecdote from one of my favorite Canadians, a user by the name of BigLargeHuge:
My wife had a stressful day at work yesterday and wanted to watch a dumb comedy. So we queued up the comedy category on Netflix and the first thing that popped up was Snatched with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn, which definitely looked dumb to me. My wife said, “Ugh, no. I don’t want to watch a female comedy.” I asked her what the difference was and she said, “With female comedies there’s always a pretense. It’s always about learning to accept yourself as a person. The woman is always unhappy because she’s got a job she hates or she’s sleeping around and we’re supposed to feel embarrassed for her. In the end she learns that everything’s okay because she’s got her friends. No, I just want to watch something with grown men acting like children. Women can’t act like children in movies without it being a shame.”
Mrs. BLH makes a prescient point about contemporary American comedies, as my brain strained for any film that deviated from that those outlined tropes. Films like Bridesmaids or practically any Amy Schumer-led comedy, in one way or the other, fall into these ideological formulas. Even films intended to mirror the actions of male-centric comedies – Bridesmaids toThe Hangover, Ghostbusters 2016 to Ghostbusters 1984, etc – don’t so much enable women to behave like children but rather co-opts their childishness into a form of didactic camaraderie. This deliberately grim and limiting purview of gender roles dictates that women are at a deficiency, whereupon a feminine collective unites to hoist them out of juvenility. Parallel that with any number of Adam McKay/Will Farrell collaborations (producers for Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart) and you’ll find their characters (typically Farrell) take the opposite approach, not so much offering catharsis but rather a continued decline into puerility. As a personal preference, I tend to favor the former over comedies of “grown men acting like children”. But the point is moot when you consider that the option for the latter just doesn’t seem to apply to female-led comedies.Read More
I have a smashing time at every Chicago Critics Film Festival. Wait, I mean I tend to get smashed at every Chicago Critics Film Festival. Get together enough socially inept film critics under one roof with the promise of booze and film and the subsequent result is a little less than distinguished. Since their move from Rosemont’s Muvico (never forget your origin story) to Chicago’s Music Box Theater, the growth of this festival has been nothing short of remarkable. The year-to-year transition of seeing James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now (with Ponsoldt at the screening) in a Rosemont theater with fewer than 20 people (in a theater designed to seat at least 150) to seeing David Wain’s They Came Together sell out the large auditorium (designed to seat 700) of the Music Box Theatre is staggering.
And it’d be so easy to dismiss it as another fixture in a litany of solid programming, but the films screened here – for the most part- are actually good. Last year was a particular highlight, where Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, my #1 film of 2018, was spotlighted with Schrader himself in attendance. And then there was Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls, Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline, and Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. All in all, it was untoppable programming.
As a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, it is my expected duty to report on the excellence of the 2019 programming selections. It looks fine. A Danny Boyle film headlines the festival and it’s hard not to consider it anything but a step down after the Schrader-Bujalski-Decker-Burnham quartet. But I’ll try to keep an open mind. I’m eager to see Jennifer Kent’s follow-up film to The Babadook, The Nightingale. And despite persistent reservations on the work of Peter Strickland, I hope In Fabric will turn the tide on my opinion of the filmmaker. If the festival is lacking in the way of established filmmakers, there’s the promise of finding new voices all together. Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, a Sundance pickup by A24, looks especially promising.
Below you’ll find links to select reviews of titles, updated throughout the duration of the festival. For schedule and ticketing information, refer to the Music Box website here.
“Reminiscing” would seem to be the prevailing conversational mode that (good) action films of the 2010s tend to have. The John Wick franchise owes Buster Keaton numerous blood debts, wherein director Chad Stahelski pays tribute to the filmmaker by projecting a scene from one of Keaton’s films in the opening of Chapter 2. In Parabellum, as John Wick (Keanu Reeves) courses through New York City in a downpour, you can catch a glimpse of Keaton in The General on one of the numerous screens that bombard you in Times Square. Yet to contain the scope of Parabellum’s influence on the physical comic of the silent era is entirely insufficient – this is a film that engages in a very vivid and perpetually evolving parley with American cinema of the past, outsourcing techniques that have been diluted with time and repurposing them here, within an ever-expanding criminal underworld. There aren’t many films that can suggest John Ford and D.W. Griffith in one scene and follow that up with a sequence involving a knife thrown directly to the groin, but Parabellum impossibly does.Read More
Pokémon Detective Pikachu’s minute-by-minute appeal is that it’s cute. It’s kawaii, in so far that it drips that cuteness out of its pores. It’ll reward audience members for knowing which Pokémon is which, in one of those rare instances where the fenced-off real estate that shelters the names of all 800+ Pokémon will provide you with a momentary endorphin rush through the act of recognition. Is this what people mean when they say it rewards “the fans”? Is Pokémon Detective Pikachu for “the fans”? Sure, whatever the fuck that means. I mean, this movie is probably intended for people who use the term “the fans” in a serious, non-derogatory way. Or those who say “it slaps” un-ironically. It’s probably not intended for fogies who still say flim flam conversationally. Anyway, this saccharine flim flam is designed for mass consumption and people will eat it up. Good for them. But this viewer couldn’t help but find this exercise, which does possess some passages of imagination, to be disappointingly grim.Read More
So, I openly acknowledge that Max Minghella’s Teen Spirit isn’t a terribly great film. It’s sloppy, embarrassingly indulgent, and operates more like a music video than a feature film. And for those reasons I, irrationally, really enjoyed it. A movie like this, one that ostentatiously flaunts its sentimentality, rarely work for me in part because they tend to ascribe numerous formulaic devices to see their narrative arc through. Teen Spirit possesses all the banal narrative traits you’d expect from a film like this yet is realized through a funnel of montage sequences set to pop songs by Katy Perry, Robyn, Ellie Goulding, and early No Doubt. Your mileage will clearly vary depending on your appreciation for those artists, but for me they made Minghella’s numerous platitudinous plunges significantly easier to accept.Read More
Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, is the worst film I’ve seen by the filmmaker. Yet given my admiration for Leigh’s filmography, this isn’t entirely a dismissal, per se. But rather it’s tough to watch and consider Peterloo without experiencing a tinge of disappointment. Films like Another Year and Happy-Go-Lucky were formative as part of my early cinephilia, and I gladly plundered Leigh’s 80s and 90s output as a result. But Peterloo, with its high-octave candor and unceasing, frenzied displays of histrionics, finds Leigh in a singular mode for the totality of its runtime: Big. One of the most exciting qualities about Leigh’s filmmaking is in how it changes shape on you depending on the will of his performers. That kind of freedom, undoubtedly a result of the vastness of its budget and sheer scope, isn’t an option. As a result, in one of those paradoxical quandaries, we find Leigh’s mammoth ambitions limit the creative will of his filmmaking.Read More
It’s my first year covering the Chicago Media Project’s Doc10 Film Festival, and it should be noted that no other film festival in Chicago has amassed such a notable reputation over its brief four-year run. Much of it has to do with Chicago International Film Festival mainstay programmer Anthony Kaufman heading the festival’s curation team, where the selection of ten documentary films becomes an exploration in taste and temperament. Simply refer to last year’s notable slate, which included the likes of Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap, Robert Greene’s Bisbee ’17, and Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s RBG – an eclectic selection that demonstrates Kaufman’s foresight in picking out culturally significant and socially relevant features well before they enter the mainstream conversation.
I had the opportunity to preview a handful of titles ahead of their Chicagoland premiere. Click below for capsule reviews of some of these titles, films that will likely be brought up again by the end of 2019 for year-end consideration. Doc10 begins April 11 with a (sold out) screening of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez documentary, Knock Down the House, and concludes on April 14 with a screening of John Chester’s The Biggest Little Farm. For additional ticketing information, click here.
It’s April. The news comes with the dichotomous anxiety that anticipates warm summer Chicago months yet can’t shake the bone-petrifying cold and emotionally grueling days that started the year. And it’s a bitter pill to swallow, knowing just how heavy the first 90 days of Q1 has settled into my marrow. So like any mentally well-adjusted person, I needed a diversion and I needed one fast. Case in point: David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! The film, a product of a cultural movement demanding protracted, world-building nonsense, is part of Warner Brother’s Pictures’ intended DC Universe. That’s about all the information I had walking into the film. I knew nothing of the character, nothing of his origins or superpowers or the film’s cast or filmmaker. It was a blank slate. It felt anonymous, unknown, and ready to be discovered. For someone who felt found out, exposed, and without a communion of support for the past few months, I saw this facelessness as something incredibly appealing and approachable. Little did I know just how much I would relate to this film’s ethos. I’m perhaps inflating my appreciation for Shazam! because of a certain, personal vulnerability. You’ll just have to accept this asterisk-filled endorsement with the caveat that Shazam! ended up being exactly what I needed when I needed it.Read More
I’ve read and reread Joan Didion’s essay On Self-Respect more times this month than I have fingers and toes. When you’ve hit rock bottom and you’re not even five days into the month, staring at a reflection of yourself wearing a wash-worn two-piece hospital gown that hangs on you like a sack and donning an unintentionally expressive pompadour, realizing that this will be “Day 1” of an indefinite hospital stay, you’re left reconsidering where things turned south. And so I thought about Didion and how she gets to the heart of things about the origins of self-respect, where she suggests, “character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs.” That quote has been running through my mind, along with the tangential idea of recognizing the importance of fighting for something, and the gray, abstract areas associated with negotiating with who gets hurt in that fight. Us, Jordan Peele’s intriguing, messy, and relentlessly sensory new film, is about this idea of leaving the bargaining table behind, refusing to ask permission for rights or apologizing for deficiencies, and executing the moral nerve to seize the life that you want.Read More