It’s been two years since Pete Docter’s Inside Out, which is to say that it has been two years since Pixar has produced a worthwhile film. The studio has absorbed a few too many blows to the solar plexus over the past two years, where the announcement of a new film no longer yields clamoring anticipation but rather something a little more subdued. Their studio-as-auteur cred has taken a tumble with each subsequent announcement of a sequel, where their perceived commitment to artistry has been compromised by capital C Capitalism. Yes, I know, it all sounds terribly bleak, but for a studio that once produced treasures like Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up – all within two years (!) –it’s hard not to see the likes of Cars 3 or Finding Dory as terribly un-artistic diversions.Read More
Roman J. Israel Esq. (Denzel Washington) is the type of lawyer that clings to the most vestigial notions of virtue and morality. His code of ethics and erratic temperament are ill fit for the dystopia that is contemporary Los Angeles. He’s not concerned with appearances: his suit jacket is oversized, his Afro inelegant, and he frequently dons a pair of unbecoming headphones that one gathers once accompanied a first-edition 1979 Walkman. When questioned about what the “Esquire” means in his name, he refers to its more archaic alternative definition that suggests knighthood; it’s a point of distinction that validates his pro-bono work. He’s not necessarily naïve, but as Roman acknowledges midway through Dan Gilroy’s sophomore film, his “lack of success is self-imposed”. Roman’s commitment to the betterment of humanity has come at the price of giving up all the indulgences that life offers.Read More
I’m not adequately prepared to write about a movie like Wonder. Or rather, I simply don’t have the right temperament for it. That’s really just a nice way to say that I’m too much of an asshole to embrace this film’s wide-eyed buoyancy and optimism for the world. So accept the following as this review’s upshot: Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s children’s novel will likely provide all the desired biological responses that you’re looking for without any pesky intellectual concerns. That’s only partly an insult.Read More
Greta Gerwig’s much lauded second feature Lady Bird (Essential) is as good as you’ve heard and makes its way to select Chicagoland theaters this weekend. Having followed the filmmaker since her early films with Joe Swanberg, it’s something close to a revelation to see the actress grow from reticent performer to one of the most distinct voices in contemporary American cinema. Whether it's at the center or periphery of Noah Baumbach’s films or her collaborations with Mia Hansen-Løve, Pablo Larraín, Mike Mills, and Whit Stillman, Gerwig frequently leaves the most indelible impressions regardless of the size or scope of her role. With Lady Bird, her first directorial credit since 2008’s Nights and Weekends and her first feature screenplay credit since 2015’s Mistress America, it’s Gerwig’s unique cadence and distinct sense of humor that provides one of the most keenly realized and recognizable films about adolescence in recent memory.Read More
Rob Reiner’s LBJ can best be described as the “thoughts and prayers” version of Pablo Larraín’s Jackie: a macho, facile, superficial, and hollow rendition of the JFK assassination and the social, political, and cultural turmoil that preceded and followed. It impresses upon its audience a coterie of familiar actors caked with the densest makeup and photographed in a most unbecoming light as it teeters between historical biopic and carnival freak show. Woody Harrelson, in the eponymous role, will frequently attempt to act his way out of the screenplays numerous edifying passages (which ranges from profusely didactic to “11”), his obfuscating eyes underneath his LBJ mask giving way to genuine terror in having to anchor this unmitigated disaster.Read More
I underwent vast and numerous revisions on how I felt about Todd Haynes’ new film, Wonderstruck. It’s a film that requires one to climb (vertically, mind you) through its diorama of spectacle and embrace it on its own terms. It demands an adjustment of temperament and expectation, as it defied my ingrained notion of what makes a Todd Haynes film. But the more it revealed itself to me, the more disarmed I was by its charms and the more it really assumed all the qualities of Haynes’ oeuvre. It’s profoundly unhip and unconcerned with irony or ridicule. Rather, Wonderstruck can perhaps be accused of being over-sincere. It’s steered by vestigial notions of mirth, where it indulges in the most saccharine of dramas while remaining absolute in its rectitude. It toes the line with being unbearable, but you almost respect it for cutting through our nihilistic bullshit tendencies in favor of something intended as passionately heartfelt.Read More
The 53rd Chicago International Film Festival concludes Thursday, October 26 with its Closing Night selection, Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Other significant screenings occurring during the second half of the festival include Dee Rees’ Mudbound, Martin McDonough’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In, Hong Sang-soo's On the Beach At Night Alone, and Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name.
The 53rd Chicago International Film Festival runs from Thursday, October 12 to Thursday, October 26. For a complete schedule of films and ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.
“It’s all we have” said a film critic and friend following a press briefing with Cinema/Chicago, the parent organization that hosts the Chicago International Film Festival. It’s the sort of remark that Chicago cinephiles begrudgingly utter when confronted with the difficult realities that comes with being the Second City with a struggling film festival. Yet things are changing: Festival founder Michael Kutza is no longer at the helm, remaining on-board in a consultant role. Replacing him is festival stalwart Mimi Plauche as Artistic Director. With her comes a distinct and promising sense of change in the festival’s programming initiative.
The inclusion of new films from Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In), Phillipe Garrel (Lover for a Day), and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (The Day We Vanish), all conspicuous absences from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival programming, is a significant artistic get that forgives some of the more dubious Special Presentations featured in the program. That’s in addition to rare sightings of Hong Sang-soo (On the Beach at Night Alone), Aki Kaurismäki (The Other Side of Hope), Agnes Varda (Faces Places), and Valeska Grisebach (Western). And compounded with vital new films from local filmmakers, including Stephen Cone (Princess Cyd) and Anahita Ghazvinizadeh (They), and you have one of the more impressive lineups in recent memory.
Meanwhile, Anthony Kaufman’s documentary programming remains a festival highlight. The former critic turned documentary maven already programs Chicago Media Project’s DOC10 festival during the Spring and brings with him an expertise and legitimacy behind his selections. Some notable highlights in this year’s programming include Joshua Bonnetta and J.P. Sniadecki’s El Mar La Mar, Jem Cohen’s new documentary short The Birth of a Nation, and the aforementioned Agnes Varda/JR collaboration Faces Places.
And finally, there’s a few Special Presentations worth your consideration. Notable selections include Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird, Ruben Östlund’s Cannes-winner The Square, and Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. As it were, the Chicago International Film Festival may be all we have. And by the looks of it, it’s getting considerably better.
The 53rd Chicago International Film Festival runs from October 12 to October 26. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.
There’s a moment in Michael Mann’s Thief where James Caan espouses his moral code, confessing that he’s a “… straight arrow, I am a true blue kind of a guy.” That confession of ideology and its accompanying hue underscores every one of Bradley Thomas’ (Vince Vaughn) actions in S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99. We’re first introduced to the back of the Bradley’s shaved, tattooed head under the radiance of a blue tint. He’s our “true blue kind of guy”, a character with a distinct moral compass, a red-white-and blue everyman with an indomitable presence. At the start of the film he’s laid off from his tow-truck job. It’s a tough blow, but he leaves with the kind of humility that would otherwise be considered unbecoming for a man of his hulking stature. He returns home to find his wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter) in a compromising position. As she’s leaving in their car, he pleads with her to return home: a beaten-down shack that prominently features a tipped over garbage receptacle decorating the lawn and a limp American flag flailing along the veranda. Lauren returns, though Bradley is slow to follow. He proceeds to dismantle – with his bare hands - their car, punching in the glass windows and ripping off its hood as he hurls it across the lawn. Knuckles bloodied, Bradley proceeds into their living room to discuss their relationship with a mannered directness; he wants to salvage their relationship and be a better husband to Lauren. He wants to provide and be there for her. The blood from his knuckles appears to stain the couch. These scenes, in their frank and lucid details, tell you all you need to know about Bradley Thomas.Read More
By my count, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is Noah Baumbach’s tenth feature. Something about that makes it howl a little louder than you’d expect. Baumbach’s filmography has grappled with the loneliness of adolescence, the anxiety of living in the shadows of elders, and the unbecoming desperation of being an unsuccessful artist. He also happens to have a cinephile’s fascination for the work of Brian De Palma. All these components encircle and animate The Meyerowitz Stories in what frequently reads as an exercise of self-flagellation, a self-aware critique of the filmmaker’s robust filmography that covers his past themes and formal preoccupations.Read More