“Are you ready for your psychological evaluation?” It’s the computer prompt that astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) responds to in minute detail every morning. There’s something rehearsed about the cadence in which Roy responds to the question, as if to suggest that he’s answered this question ad nauseam, prepared to reaffirm a stranger’s perception of what constitutes being well-adjusted. It’s one of those ridiculous but necessary aspects of his day-in and day-out and it’s the sort of thing that is best mitigated by embracing a palatable lie. And so Roy conceals the truth: the truth about missing his wife (Liv Tyler) and the truth about his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones), now gone for nearly three decades after what was presumed to be a failed mission to Neptune. Instead he dedicates himself to the now, his “eye on the exit,” with the hope that whatever insular, emotional hemorrhaging he encounters can be compartmentalized, stowed away and forgotten. The instinct is, painfully, an all too relatable one.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
Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is about the distractions we wrap ourselves in. We become absorbed in the acquisition of intellect, surrender to a higher power, or worship our commitment to another person and fall in love. But in Schrader’s world, these once magical methods of filling that hollow feeling of desolation can only subsist for so long, before our internal gratitude battery reaches 0% and we’re asked to confront clinical truths that leave us stranded, feeling like a fraud, and incapable of fitting in anywhere, leaving every hour to become the darkest hour. That’s more or less the narrative of every Paul Schrader film since he wrote Taxi Driver over four decades ago. His success has varied wildly since but I have no hesitation in calling First Reformed one of Schrader’s best films, in what frequently registers as a summation of the writer/director’s preoccupations and anxieties.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
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
Baby (Ansel Elgort) flips through channels with his deaf-mute stepfather asleep next to him, shifting past the likes of Monster’s Inc. and Fight Club; the sort of films that ornate late-night cable’s movie lineups ad nauseam. But as was the case with Edgar Wright’s seminal Shaun of the Dead (where a character mindlessly flips through channels as the images’ collective message spells out the looming zombie threat outside), what’s on television, especially Wright’s television, tends to speak to something a bit more specific. And while the clip of Monster’s Inc. would be directly referenced later in Baby Driver, it’s the clip pulled from Fight Club that echoes most conspicuously: it’s the scene where Brad Pitt’s character curtly inquires about how [being clever] is working out for Edward Norton’s character. It’s an intriguing scene to pull from, bluntly calling to question: how’s being clever working out for Edgar Wright?Read More
Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is a reexamination of the many critical themes that ornate her unblemished filmography. Here, she reconsiders the masculine vanity that she first addressed in The Virgin Suicides, where she replaces Josh Hartnett’s Trip Fontaine with Colin Farrell’s Col. John McBurney. In these two characters, and a multitude of men in between, she exposes a specific masculine preoccupation that prizes women for their sexuality yet responds with hostile confusion at efforts to exercise their agency. This element is considerably underplayed in Don Siegel’s original adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s novel, which tellingly opens on a voiceover from McBurney’s perspective as Clint Eastwood’s hushed and gritty tenor is matched with barbaric Civil War imagery. Coppola’s film opens instead with a young girl whistling the Civil War tune “Lorena”, a lyrical song with a profound history that crossed Northern and Southern hostilities as an expression of compassion and longing. The considerably more empathetic and wistful opening in contrast to Siegel’s version isn’t necessarily a condemnation, but rather an intriguing counterpoint: the two films tell the same story but are firmly entrenched in different worldviews.Read More
Terrence Malick’s cinema, particularly those films produced within this decade, place unusual demands on a viewer. With a relaxed obligation to plot (something that could be considered threadbare in The Tree of Life to nil in Knight of Cups) and an experimental sophistication that rejects traditional formalistic notions, the apostasy from the Church of Malick seems to be increasing in membership with every passing film. Those who maintain a rigid allegiance to his earlier films, Badlands and Day of Heaven, will likely have continued doubts of Malick’s visionary gifts with Knight of Cups. But those who have accepted and embraced his new visions of distorted realities, spiritual crises, and existential anxieties in The Tree of Life and particularly To the Wonder will be further moved by Malick's continued expressionistic experimentalism. Knight of Cups is a canonical work that further solidifies Malick’s position as the most significant figure in contemporary American cinema.Read More
The terror found in Robert Eggers’ debut The Witch is of a feminine persuasion. It is a film concerned with what a young woman represents in capital S, Society, about that young woman’s abject objectification, and about the dangers of misplaced masculinity. The Witch is also, commendably, a film about its milieu, with Eggers detailing 1600s New England as an alien terrain, akin to the black void that consumes its inhabitants whole in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. And it is Glazer’s film that bares an immediate kinship with Eggers’ work, exhibiting a thematic bloodline on the fear of femininity and its hostile repercussions.Read More
In the Shadow of Women screens exclusively at the Gene Siskel Film Center beginning this Friday. Click here for showtimes and additional information.
Helluva lot of truth in Philippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women, a scintillating comedy of doomed romances and male egocentrism. The film details the life of Parisian documentary filmmaker Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) and his editor/producer wife Manon (Clotilde Courau). Still awaiting their big break, the duo lives in squalor as they attempt to finish a documentary on an aged Resistance fighter. The moving components aren’t all too dissimilar from Noah Baumbach’s recent While We’re Young, though Garrel’s ambitions take aim at the perfidious entitlement that masculinity affords Pierre. Quiescent Pierre meets Elisabeth (Lena Paugam), an intern working at a film lab and his affable – if not absent – personality quickly wins her over. Balancing two women, Pierre’s infidelity is glibly justified as a rite of his manhood, whereby the pleasurable thrills of Elisabeth are needed to balance the warm domesticity of Manon.Read More