The longer you’re there, the more estranged you feel with the real world. A psych ward, that is. Here’s an interesting fact about the one I was in: there were no clocks. The concept of time just doesn’t have the same applications. What you experience is something that saddles the line between real life and fiction, insofar that it provides a repetitive sensation – a minute-by-minute inferno of routine – that slices away at something inherently human in you. Days no longer have that clear distinctive quality that tells one apart from the other. You soon become keenly aware of your own unimpressiveness. So much so that whatever brought you there seems so minuscule, minor, and insignificant. Intended or not, it helps you recognize personal weaknesses. And the whole thing offered the valuable comfort of knowing that not all weaknesses can be overcome. We have breakdowns and that’s ok.Read More
Toy Story 4 is, like most films that cross my path lately, about a breakup. Set nine years before the events of the third film, we begin with a rescue mission. RC, Andy’s remote control car, is left outdoors during a torrential downpour with Woody (Tom Hanks) and the cadre of toys that inhabit Andy’s room hoping to make the save. They do, but not until they’re surprised by the realization that Andy’s sister Molly, meanwhile, is giving up her Bo Peep (Annie Potts) figurine. The toy’s placed in a cardboard box along with a potpourri of unneeded things and briefly left in the rain, as Woody breaks quota with another rescue attempt, only for Bo to accept her fate: Molly doesn’t need her anymore and she’s willing to move onto the next child. Not to be betrayed by Woody’s idealism, Bo’s capacity to move on, to embrace the unknown, and divorce herself from the vise grip of placidity and stagnation is something that Woody just can’t wrap his mind around. And it takes over a decade of disappointment and alienation for Woody to come to grips with his ever-fluid importance to both Andy and now, carrying on where we left off in Toy Story 3, Bonnie.
Toy Story 4 ends up becoming a film about the importance of a craft to one’s happiness, about the “existential agony” that comes with everything around you changing while you remain the same, and the messy mechanics of trying to force the past out of the present. As you’d imagine, it’ll mean a lot of things to different people, but most vitally, it just plain means something.Read More
The leading cause of death is life, or so Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die would posit. Jarmusch, whose previous work dabbled in ironic nihilism, amplifies his concerns to a volume that his prior films never did reach. In our current Trumpian dystopia, Jarmusch suggests that the end-all to our passivity is certain death. And he’s not glib or insincere about it either. It’s not as if Jarmusch hasn’t addressed our cultural passiveness in some tangential way, with films like Broken Flowers and Stranger Than Paradise examining characters in a state of stagnation more or less secluded within themselves. But The Dead Don’t Die is much more overt about his preoccupations. It’ll be described as meta or self-aware. It can be more accurately described as blunt. Ultimately, Jarmusch is speaking the language of the disenchanted; the language of a generation prone to skimming over specifics. As a character cites early in the film, “The world is perfect. Appreciate the details”. In the world we live in now, a world where our day-in-day-out interactions can take place exclusively behind a screen, it’s easy to defer importance to our phone battery than our own internal-gratitude battery.Read More
No other film festival in Chicago has furrowed my brow in dubious surprise quite like what I’ve seen programmed at Cinepocalyse for the past couple of years. A lot of it has centered on their repository screenings, where I’ve had the distinct pleasure of discovering the likes of Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight and Maximum Overdrive. Or rediscovering Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark and Dario Argento’s Suspiria in their intended formats. But it was their screening of Joel Potrykus’ Relaxer last year that really made me aware of the depth of their programming. The crew behind this festival is probably the most passionate cadre of genre-cinephiles I’ve ever come across and that passion comes across in their selections. From Lucky Mckee’s Kindred Spirits (making its world premiere) to a 70mm projection of Paul Veroheven’s Total Recall (with actor Michael Ironside in attendance for a post film Q&A), Cinepocalypse offers the kind of counter-programming that reminds me of the benefits of living in a metropolis. There’s a hungry audience in Chicago for genre films and the fact that we have nearly half a dozen festivals dedicated to horror spread out throughout the year, is remarkable. Cinepocalypse might be the best of them all.
Cinepocalypse begins Thursday, June 13 through Sunday, June 20 at the Music Box Theatre. For a complete schedule of films and ticket information, click here.
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