Aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder, a passenger train that travels between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, we capture sight of an elderly man with a digital camera in tow. He reflects on the images he captured on his DSLR, including one of a young passenger: a pregnant woman who’s four days overdue and taking the train to meet with friends. The photo is a candid one as she leaves the train and makes her way down an icy path that leads to the terminal. Solemnly, the man comments that to cameras that he’s ill and doesn’t have much time, that he doesn’t want to die without having a good look at the world. It’s to Albert Maysles’ credit that what we have in In Transit (Recommended) is a clear-eyed, optimistic, and sincere look at American life.Read More
Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy screens this week at the Music Box Theatre. For ticketing information, click here.
It is permissible to want, though prepare yourself for some real pitiless pain. Or so Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy will suggest. The film details a rural Texas family purchasing a new home. Its patriarch, a heavy-metal enthusiast and mural artist named Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry), finds himself sacrificing his artistic ambitions for something more commercial. He is, after all, painting butterflies for a bank. It is no coincidence that when Astrid (Shiri Appleby), the family’s matriarch, suggests listening to some lighter music on their way from one home to another, that the family’s metalhead daughter Zooey (Kiara Glascco) snidely suggests Metallica. Selling out, as it were, has its irreconcilable consequences.Read More
Over a year removed from its premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, Oz Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter (Recommended) finally opens this week in select theaters nationwide. Perplexingly, it screens in just one theater in the Chicagoland area, and you’ll have to make the hike to South Barrington (!) to see it. Given its pedigree - a notable festival debut featuring familiar faces and distributed by America’s preeminent indie label, A24 - this distribution strategy seems especially puzzling. Though for those who had the opportunity to check out the film during its festival run, the question of its very limited release is simple. Too harrowing for mainstream audiences, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is proudly and profoundly un-commercial in what’s a thesis study on the pangs of loneliness and its brutally violent repercussions.Read More
Stewing about in this dystopian caldron of 2017, where our cultural decadence has made me involuntarily cognizant of a subset of society that, let’s just say, isn’t especially becoming, has made the act of writing gratingly difficult. Thing is, I need to get out of the political moment – a moment filled with the ABCs of alternative facts and bad hombres and carnage, all bellowed through the loudspeaker of a tiny-handed goblin cloaked in a butterscotch human-epidermis costume– and I need to get out of it in a hurry.
The Gene Siskel Film Center offers refuge for those looking to disconnect in the form of Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s latest film, Happy Hour (Highly Recommended). His five-plus hour opus screens for (just) two afternoons, this Friday and Saturday, and its booking at the downtown theater is a significant grab for a film that undoubtedly presents its own set of scheduling obstacles. But while its length will undoubtedly keep casual attendees at bay, I urge all cinephiles to experience Hamaguchi’s quaint and brazenly humanistic portrait on the big screen.Read More
Don't Blink: Robert Frank screens at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week. For showtimes and ticketing information, click here.
For practical purposes, I should note that I didn’t know who Robert Frank was before watching Laura Israel’s film. And I confess that Don’t Blink: Robert Frank is perhaps not the ideal place to start. But the film does stimulate you through its sensory detail and persuasive, beatnik energy. For a film centered on a nonagenarian, Frank is surprisingly spry and flighty, enthusiastically engaging with Israel and her crew as they casually go about Frank’s history and photography. There’s not much in the way of structure, no introductory elements that clarify or contextualize images; it’s a largely experimental effort that engages its audience through stark imagery and audial delights (the soundtrack featuring Charles Mingus, The Rolling Stones, and The White Stripes is exceptional).Read More
Currently screening at Facets Cinematheque is Hong Sang-soo’s new film, Right Now, Wrong Then. I placed it at my number one spot back in January when I was doing a countdown on my most anticipated films of the year. And despite my initial fears that the film would not make its way to a Chicagoland theater, it’s a genuine feat of artistic heroism on the part of Charles Coleman and his programming team at Facets to book the film for a weeklong run.Read More
Martin Amis once wrote: “In my experience, the thing about girls is – you never know”. And how eerily suitable for a film like The Fits, Anna Rose Holmer’s debut feature, which sparks your interest in how unassuming its drama unfolds. We’re casually tossed into a Cincinnati recreational center that’s divided by its masculine boxing ring and feminine tumbling gym. In between we find the pre-teen Toni (Royalty Hightower) with her brother sparring in a boxing ring. At an awkward age where every action seems to possess cosmic significance, Toni looks at the young women of the rec center’s dance troupe and yearns to be part of what seems like a separate and exclusive club.Read More
When the skills go, they go. So when it comes to the topic of professional wrestling and the bodies that are exposed to years of punishing and perpetual injuries, the tired cliché of “act in haste, repent at leisure” becomes cruelly appropriate. Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz’ documentary observes the lives of a handful of wrestlers working in Mexico’s lucha libre circuit, men and women who take refuge from personal demons through the theatrics of a profession that’s as much a gig as it is a birthright.Read More
“Since pain is a totally subjective mental experience, we do not have direct access to anyone or anything’s pain but our own.”
The quote, loaned from David Foster Wallace’s August 2004 essay for Gourmet magazine titled Consider the Lobster, is in reference to the boiling procedure associated with cooking a lobster. Rubber-banded crustaceans make the live dive from the belly of household kitchens into a boiling pot, whereby they rattle and clang within the interiors of a banked sauna until they don’t. The transition, from sentient creature to clinging to the metal interiors of a boiling pot, leaves a particularly nasty moral impression, if only because the passage – from life to death – is done within such familiar confines, all by y/our own hands. Pain, in some form, is being inflicted.Read More
About a half-hour into Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, where the cumulative details of pallor adolescents moshing in the least local of locals (a skinhead roadhouse/venue in rural Oregon) take shape, the sensory details signal a film that runs on some pretty heavy fuel. That is, of course, before the tempered siege of violence has reached a rolling boil; before the red laces, the snarling dogs, the microphone feedback, or, eventually, the shotguns. The series of calamities that prompt Green Room’s excesses in lacerating violence is realized less like the hardcore and punk tracks that ornate the film’s soundscape, and more like a symphony: a sonata-allegro opening, expelling necessary plot and character elements rapidly, paving the way to a thoughtful and carefully-orchestrated vision of sinister purpose.Read More