Early into my cinephilia, if you were to suggest that David Gordon Green was America’s most promising young filmmaker, I would suggest that you’re probably not as wrong as usual. Yet at this point, critical complaint about Green’s downward spiral comes across as just plain whining. He’s not the same filmmaker who made such ephemeral masterworks as George Washington and All the Real Girls. Nor is he the same filmmaker to produce low-hanging fruit comedies like Your Highness or The Sitter. No, his current trajectory aims at producing palatable and innocuous prestige pictures. His previous film, Our Brand is Crisis, intended as a Sandra Bullock vehicle to her second Academy Award, didn’t quite achieve the awards-driven recognition it strived for. Stronger, a film that meets a checklist of topical social issues anchored by a physically demanding performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, seems better positioned to garner the sort of industry approval that has eluded Green.Read More
The Asian Pop-Up Film Festival opens for its fifth season this Wednesday, September 20 at the AMC River East 21 with a screening of The Gangster’s Daughter. Filmmaker Chen Mei-Juin will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A.
Founded by Sophia Wong Boccio, the festival has been one of the more intriguing film programming endeavors of the city, offering a platform for Asian cinema that otherwise would not be featured in Chicago. In its two years, the seasonal festival has amassed a growing legion of patrons and offered a screening venue for such notable films as Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan and Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing. Among this season’s chief highlights include the screening of Anne Hui’s new film Our Time Will Come with critic Simon Abrams in attendance for a Q&A.
For additional programming and ticketing information, check out the Asian Pop-Up Film Festival website here.Read More
The most persuasive studies of masculine ennui tend to involve some cultural/historical/political/social breath that make these exercises endurable. Consider the rigid social order that prevents Jude from ascending in caste in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Harry White’s insatiable and pathological desire for sin in Hubert Selby Jr.’s The Demon, or, more recently, the cyclical trauma and warped celebrity culture that underscores BoJack’s every plunge into depravity in Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s BoJack Horseman. Today’s case study involves Brad Sloane (Ben Stiller) of Mike White’s Brad’s Status. We take our first glimpse into his existential crisis as he tosses and turns in bed. Stiller’s pronounced tenor informs us through voiceover that he’s disturbed by the exit of an employee who confessed that the non-profit that Sloane operates has depressed him into leaving the organization. Distraught, Sloane singles out the event as a cosmic calling to reconsider all his actions leading up to this moment: why has he, among his cadre of college friends, failed so miserably?Read More
Pursed lips with eyes tightly squinting into the camera. The wrinkles of his forehead become pronounced. The molars of his bottom and upper jaw press together. He inhales through his clenched jaw as his incisors are on the verge of collapsing under pressure. He exhales and the wrinkles of his eyes take on a new shape. And that’s when he says it. A ridiculous, manic, and absolutely self-gratifying “fuck you” so out of context with the rest of Michael Cuesta’s American Assassin that for one fleeting moment you believe you may be watching an entirely different movie. For one brief moment you surrender your preoccupations with the film’s regressive jingoistic politics and narrative banalities and simply embrace what you see: Michael Keaton hamming it up.Read More
When you have a film that suggests everything, it threatens to be about nothing. And that’s where mother! finds itself teetering: between illumination and emptiness, thoughtfulness and hollowness. Whatever you hold onto as the film’s key allegory – and make no mistake, there are numerous straws to pull – will likely determine how successful you find Darren Aronofsky’s new film. Yet it’s Aronofsky’s sociopathic indifference to approval that makes mother! so profoundly unsettling. “Bitter” and “dark” and “joyless” and “depressing” – are Aronofsky’s films ever otherwise described? Now consider the filmmaker at his most toxically nihilistic; mother! is your product.Read More
The Villainess, the sophomore film from South Korean director Jung Byung-gil, is loaded with ambition. So frequently I’m tasked with reviewing humdrum American blockbusters that bombard viewers with insulting lallations of tired clichés. So to experience The Villainess, a film that mutates from a bloody revenge thriller to a pithy boarding school comedy to a meet-cute domestic drama, is in essence an exercise in recalibrating expectations. But while the film offers its share of surprises, effectively keeping me on my toes throughout its runtime, it is also a film that disappointingly fails to realize the depths of its ambitions.Read More
Of the numerous new filmmakers to emerge from Mexico at the turn of the century, none excite me more than Amat Escalante. He’s a filmmaker with a distinct and unfussy sensibility. He fixates on details with a clinical coolness yet is capable of moments of profound intimacy. There’s an underlying warmth centered through the three Escalante films I’ve encountered, where the ephemeral qualities of their humanism are laid to waste by the hostile milieu in which they take place. Overshadowed by his Mexican compatriots Carlos Reygadas and Michel Franco, Escalante’s formal interests remain vested in the social realities of his characters. The grandiose existential inquiries of Reygadas and complex emotional tableaus of Franco inform but do not drive Escalante’s ambitions. Rather, his work stems from the private and public concerns of living day in and day out as a citizen of Mexico.Read More
More or less a riff on Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, Matt Ruskin’s Crown Heights implores its viewers to consider the sociopolitical context wherein a black man from Brooklyn is left to biodegrade in prison for over two decades for a crime he didn’t commit. Inspired by an episode of This American Life, Crown Heights details the wrongful murder conviction of Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield) and his perpetual attempts to appeal the conviction, which are frequently thwarted by incompetent council or a judicial system that refuses to admit culpability. This sort of film, involving a wrongfully accused citizen sentenced to unendurable denials of humanity, isn’t exactly a novelty but it’s to Ruskin’s credit that he manages to compose a fairly nuanced portrait out of familiar (though trite) components.Read More
Screening exclusively at Chicago’s Facets Cinematheque is Michael Almereyda’s sublime and entrancing new film, Marjorie Prime (Recommended). Featuring a coterie of recognizable faces including Tim Robbins, Jon Hamm, and Geena Davis, the no-frills chamber drama presents a series of intriguing moral puzzles through its vivid dialogue and precise (but practical) mise-en-scène. Almereyda disengages from the lofty expectations that come from high-concept science fiction to produce a skeletal yet nevertheless probing work on the nature of memory and legacy. If you afford it the chance, this is the kind of film that cuts straight past the bone and deep into your marrow.Read More
More Sing Street than Inside Llewyn Davis, Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$ frames the artistic struggles of an aspiring rapper as a series of saccharine inconveniences. The film’s heroine, the daydreaming Patti (Danielle Macdonald), aka Killer P, aka Patti Cake$, snaps back to reality (oh there goes gravity) as she works at a dive bar, struggling to help support her out-of-work mother (Bridget Everett) and ailing grandmother (Cathy Moriarty). Despite mounting hospital bills and enduring the ridicule of fat-shaming New Jerseyans, Patti’s momentum knows no patience, as she pours her pain into notebook after notebook in hopes of one day making it big.Read More