Nick (Adam Horovitz) would have you believe that his nest of comfort, a den cluttered by archival material and binders of his deceased father-in-law’s correspondences, provides him with all the contentment he needs. His hermetic life of walking to work, entering his tiny office, and getting to archive in solitude, is satisfying enough – he’s uncovered a permanent contract on a feeling of complete and utter fulfillment. Or so that’s what he tells himself, his wife Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny), and his sister-in-law/boss Gwen (Mary-Louise Parker). Whatever ghosts linger in his past, Nick’s present ascetic lifestyle provides him with enough meaning. That’s what makes the opening scene of Alex Ross Perry’s new film, Golden Exits, so captivating: this man who cherishes monotony finds his world turned inside out with the arrival of a new assistant in Naomi (Emily Browning). That NYC groove proves to be a little more rigorous than expected.Read More
Michael Haneke, cinema’s preeminent nihilist, used to be important to me. During my formative years as a cinephile, it was his films that provoked me: anger in the case of Funny Games, bewilderment with Code Unknown, or stunned admiration with Cache, The Piano Teacher, and Time of the Wolf. His films are full of misery and are obscenely provocative, but my antennae has frequently tuned in to his transmission. For as much as Haneke’s a brilliant clinical formalist, he’s above all a gifted cynic. And when you’re a student in your early twenties balancing work, school, and everything in between, his brand of pessimism can become dangerously comforting. But the returns on such disenchanted examinations have depreciated considerably overtime, in what’s a reflection of my own changing sensibility. Yet with his new film, Happy End, he tickles a familiar funny bone that reminded me of those college years when I first discovered the filmmaker. Yes, Happy End is a familiar sadistic exercise that doesn’t impress a moment of sincerity. That doesn’t matter. It’s glib and pathologically disinterested in winning your favor. I dug it.Read More
Over the past five years, the Gene Siskel Film Center’s European Union Film Festival has programmed the likes of Ben Rivers and Ben Russell’s A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, Bruno Dumont’s Li’l Quinquin, Ramon Zürcher’s The Strange Little Cat, Terrence Davis’ Sunset Song, and Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper. It’s an indispensable film education, with the Siskel Center’s programming team ambitiously taking on the kind of films that rarely screen on more than a half-dozen screens in the city (if at all).
Less commercially inclined than their Chicago International Film Festival counterpart, I frequently considered the Chicago European Union Film Festival to be the city’s true cinephile attraction; the kind of festival that remedies CIFF’s glaring omissions and bloated filler selections. With such inclusions as Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghostd, Bruno Dumont’s Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, Kornel Mundruczo’s Jupiter’s Moon, and Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin, this year’s European Union Film Festival offers Chicago’s cinephiles with an all too rare opportunity to catch up with some of Europe’s most dynamic films, all within the comforts of the Siskel Center’s renovated theaters. Given how barren the winter movie months can become, the European Union Film Festival emerges as a cinephile’s oasis.
For a complete schedule, screening times, and ticket information, refer to the Gene Siskel Film Center’s website here.
It’s an intriguing preamble: Lena (Natalie Portman) a cellular biologist at John Hopkins University is overwhelmed by the necrotic dullness and numbing grief that comes with the presumed death of her Army husband Kane (Oscar Isaac). Months pass and she’s now expected to finally Move On, as the world proceeds at its unceasing clip, leaving Lena with only her sepia-hued memories. Writer/director Alex Garland’s Annihilation does what most sophomore directorial efforts tend to do: get bigger, more ambitious, and a little more complicated. And as is often the case with such enterprising aspirations, Annihilation will undoubtedly lack the critical cache that was showered upon Ex Machina. Unfortunate, given how much more thoughtful and simply better a film Annihilation happens to be.Read More
Nick Park’s Early Man is as beguiling as previous Aardman Animation films, finding itself through its cadre of memorable characters and impeccable production design. It’s the most fully realized and detailed world conceived by Aardman, with set pieces ranging from verdant forestry, ornate bronze asylums, and an ashy hell-scape. I was fixated by the density of Early Man’s design, as Park’s clay figurines move with such fluidity in these meticulously crafted milieus. Yet as exquisitely composed as every frame of this film may be, it’s in service to a rather rote narrative that never quite escapes its formulaic trappings. Aardman films like Chicken Run and Shaun the Sheep offer clever subversions to their narrative trajectories, with Early Man frequently struggling to complicate its all too-familiar (though well-intentioned) ambitions.Read More
Among the most baffling Academy Award decisions of the past decade didn’t occur when someone read the wrong envelope for Best Picture or for a tightly contested performance category. No, the one decision that startled me most was a few years ago when Don Hertzfeldt’s astonishing World of Tomorrow lost in the Best Animated Short category to Gabriel Osorio Vargas and Pato Escala Pierart’s decidedly un-astonishing Bear Story. In a move that beckons a mercy killing, Hertzfeldt’s equally remarkable sequel was denied a nomination entirely at this year’s ceremony, leaving a slate of five nominees that must escape the burden of expectations.Read More
Reminiscent of Asghar Farhadi’s string of complex moral puzzles, Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult begins with a microcosm of a concern – a dispute between a Palestinian foreman and Lebanese-Christian apartment owner – and examines the conflict through a political, cultural, and social lens. And like Farhadi’s work, Doueiri is committed to exposing certain unsavory clinical truths on human nature that so frequently inform our everyday lives, expanding far beyond its milieu. Plainly speaking: The Insult is timely. But whereas Farhadi’s appeal came from examining these moral quandaries through a culturally-specific Iranian worldview, Doueiri, toothlessly, reduces the conflict at the center of his film as a series of simplistic rejoinders. Confined mostly to a courtroom setting, The Insult pays lip service to confronting the real suffering and anxieties that course through the Middle East, optioning instead for a theatrical rendering of grief and resentment.Read More
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (Essential) makes its way to Chicago’s Music Box Theatre this Thursday. The venue is one of only seven theaters screening the film in 70mm, providing audiences with the ideal setup to see Anderson’s latest masterwork and very best film. Such luxuries are infrequent to the Second City, with such an experience sure to reward the most ardent of cinephiles. Having had the benefit of screening Phantom Thread on both DCP and 70mm formats, the differences are notable, where the meticulousness of Anderson’s craft – from his cautious use of close-ups, fluid camera movements, measured use of natural light, and densely-layered sound design – are given astonishing urgency and texture.Read More
With 2017, I spent more time confused than not. It’s been a sufficiently un-astonishing year that often left my mind in a state of perpetual limbo, forced to reckon with the static of a butterscotch goblin on a daily basis every time I turned on the television. Turn off that antennae and I’m still confronted with the kind of shoddy humanity that makes me wonder if the planet’s growth spurt toward mature, complex, and rational thinking will ever come to pass.
For what it’s worth, it’s made the people that I value all the more important to me. People capable of compassion, thoughtfulness, and empathy. If those traits were a deficiency of mine, they’re something that I actively work toward. I cannot resort to close-minded isolationism and intolerance. And it’s made the films of 2017, those that value warmth and tolerance as not vanity but virtue, all the more important to me. As 2017 comes to a close, it’s the films highlighted here that spoke to me most directly in this year of demolished sentiment - films that itch for solicitude, yearn for humanity, and resemble something unfashionably compassionate .Read More
Screening this Friday at Chicago’s Facet Cinematheque is Benedict Andrews’ festival feted Una (Noteworthy). Originally premiering to warm reviews out of Telluride and Toronto last year, the film’s struggle to find an audience amid the glut of awards contenders of the year has been unfortunate, as it’s a sturdy, well-conceived, and thoughtful acting showcase with an especially timely subject matter. An adaptation of David Harrower’s stageplay Blackbird, Una expands on the play’s singular warehouse setting by utilizing a series of vivid flashbacks, in what’s a notable departure from the source material that yields its own set of intriguing questions.Read More