Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s American Factory opens in Moraine, Ohio with the closure of a General Motors plant. It’s the start of the decade and we observe brief glimpses of workers in tears as the final car makes its way down the assembly line. Immediately after, set several years later, we see a Chinese couple remarking on the beauty of the Midwestern plains of Moraine, ultimately shuddering as the Ohio chill settles into their marrow. American Factory details the profoundly devastating transition in which Ohio residents see the closure of an American institution and the opening of a new factory owned by Chinese billionaire Cao Dewang.Read More
There’s a blurry distinction between the concepts of self-improvement and self-centeredness and it often requires a seismic effort on my behalf to parse through the nonsense, to read past the banal platitudes of what I’ve come to understand to be a uniquely American problem. Writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo’s Brittany Runs a Marathon isn’t especially provocative or probing in its examination of this, but I do think it possesses some notable virtues worth unpacking. While it may initially suggest all the rote tendencies one associates with American indies that emerge from the Sundance Film Festival, its more anomalous qualities inspire thought and consideration that I would’ve expected walking into the film.Read More
Guy Nattiv’s Skin, a feature-length adaptation of the filmmaker’s Oscar-winning short film of the same name, is a series of blasé dramatic repartees that amount to little more than crocodile tears. The dramatic conceit involves a man’s redemption arc as he reverts from a violent white power advocate to… not that. It’s a strange feeling watching a film about white men and women who carve a swastika into the face of a black teen only for its filmmaker to humanize the carvers rather than the carved. That, my friends, requires a special kind of privilege.Read More
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.