Clint Eastwood, now ninety-one, is not just still directing but also starring in nearly his fiftieth feature, “Cry Macho,” a 1970s period Western; Dash Shaw’s animated “Cryptozoo,” his followup to the doggy shag of “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” slays and stays in the mind with hallucinatory sex-and-politics mayhem; “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” offers Jessica Chastain her first bid at 2021 Oscar nominations and Kazik Radwanski’s terse, oblique character study of a diffident young Canadian woman, “Anne at 13,000 Ft.” opens at Facets. Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter” is, indeed, a sequence of dark nights of the soul with the physicalized acting of Oscar Isaac. Michael Winterbottom sees English cinema as akin to an abandoned construction site in a new book, “Dark Matter.” Plus, Highland Park’s Landmark Renaissance reopens and Chicago Filmmakers returns to in-person showings. And: a special musical appearance at a Music Box screening of twenty-year-old “Mulholland Drive.”
“Cry Macho” (previewed after deadline) promises, based on the trailer, a PG-13 version of Clint Eastwood’s “filth elder” humor that the world’s oldest box-office superstar brought to movies like “Gran Torino” ($275 million) and “The Mule” ($175 million). Set in 1979 and based upon a 1975 novel by N. Richard Nash, “Cry Macho” promises Eastwood as a washed-up rodeo star and horse breeder who takes a job from a former boss to bring the man’s young son home from Mexico who’s gotten caught up in a spot or two of cockfighting gone wrong. Opens Friday, September 17 in theaters and streaming for thirty-one days on HBO Max.
Dash Shaw, the comic book writer-artist-filmmaker who composed “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” (2016) still has worlds on his mind, and multiples manifest in “Cryptozoo.” The movie’s an elastic workout of sizzling scrawl, fierce graphomania, extruded doodling and compulsive conniptions, yet the temptation to synopsize is readily stamped out by the mere attempt at such foolhardy venture. “Cryptozoo,” writes the distributor, Magnolia Pictures, “follows cryptozookeepers through a richly-drawn hallucinatory world as they struggle to capture a baku (a legendary dream-eating hybrid creature) and begin to wonder if they should display these rare beasts in the confines of a zoo, or if these mythical creatures should remain hidden and unknown.” I recommend “Cryptozoo” with an open yet confounded brain. The voice cast includes Lake Bell, Zoe Kazan, Michael Cera, Louisa Krause, Peter Stormare, Thomas Jay Ryan, Grace Zabriskie and Angeliki Papoulia, and Jane Samborski is the director of animation. Sample the trailer here; it speaks louder and creepy-crawlier than words. Plays September 17-18 at Siskel.
In a handful of features, Toronto filmmaker Kazik Radwanski has positioned himself as a key modern miniaturist in a time of restive creativity for Canadian anglophone filmmaking. His spare, troubling, beautiful “Anne at 13,000 Ft.” is blessed by the figure of Deragh Campbell in the center of his frame as a volatile young woman suffering emotional turmoil who also appears impenetrable. Anne doesn’t like dealing with people and it shows in her every vertiginous encounter. Some reviews since its 2019 premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival resist her performance, resenting the character as if she were someone in real life behaving with such youthful diffidence. But that’s a fine salute to the actress and to the role, a portrait of a mass of messes that may not be any of our business. “Anne at 13,000 Ft.,” far from simplistic, refracts as much as it reflects. The film, and Campbell’s performance, hint and indicate at Anne’s troubles that remain, in many ways, unspoken. And this is the way, in life, the troubles of many people we know or are just acquainted with, remain opaque: are those expressions her turmoil, or a mirror of our own? (This is particularly true of the central mother-daughter relationship.) Ingmar Bergman said that the human face is the most important subject of cinema, but the human face is also the human face. The breathtaking last shot is rightfully infuriating to those who are prepared to find its presumption infuriating. Opens at Facets, Friday, September 17.
The 2000 documentary “The Eyes Of Tammy Faye,” directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato gets a fictional redo of its delusional couple, from Michael Showalter, the comedian and director of “The Big Sick.” Will there be the right sort or wrong sort of distance from the 1980s time frame as Jessica Chastain makeups-up as Tammy Faye and Andrew Garfield masters another American accent as Jim Bakker? And how much redemption can this Tammy Faye don atop her sorrowful masks? Opens Friday, September 17.
One of the legends goes that Paul Schrader, when first flush as a screenwriter, invested in property in Manhattan and within its moneyed confines had a glass cube constructed in the center of the largest room, the cage-cube-prism soundproofed and cushioned so that the rumble of traffic was damped late into the night and early onto morning, the hours in which he and cocaine or drink preferred to compose hymns to loneliness and suffocating male dudgeon. (I like to think the spare space was near Union Square, close by that nice place where Thomas Pynchon has lived for decades.)
Decades passed. Paul professes only to imbibe between bouts of sobriety and the rat-a-tat first-near-final first drafts of stories broken out in weeks but swirled for months in the brain. After the modest scale of “transcendental style” Schrader executed with the story of a dying middle-aged priest in 2017’s “First Reformed”—as autumnal as pictures get without directors falling off the tall canvas chair into the grave—Schrader spoke of and posted on Facebook of other possible projects—a Bollywood-inflected gangster picture?—but we get “The Card Counter,” which would count as one taut, lithe apotheosis as well as final word on the concerns of a colorful, prolific career of nearly fifty years.
Blessed with an unsettled but also unsettling tone, upon which the story’s blunt narrative swoops with confidence, “The Card Counter” is a story of an itinerant gambler with a brutal past (Oscar Isaac), who, like Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver,” hopes to keep past horrors from his head by filling the nights with repetitive activity. Schrader’s confidence aligns with his goofiness as well as characters’ familiar behaviors—writing out painful thoughts, drinking, misunderstanding women—and the result is both self-satirizing and captivating. There’s blissful freedom in the clunky moments, as in other Schrader screenplays, especially when the men are snapped out of fever dream into focus toward a female (Tiffany Haddish here) in front of them. The low-budget production (interrupted and reduced by the pandemic) has bursts of poetry: the film’s last shot in a giddy long take; a cloaking, Magritte-like visual motif; a vision of an all-American hell from which the character cannot escape. Isaac says in voice-over while inscribing in a notebook lit by table lamp and whiskey, “I trust my life to Providence, I trust my life to Grace.” As does the seventy-five-year-old Schrader.
“The body remembers, it stores it all,” muses his protagonist of several names acting with infinitesimally calibrated gestures of suspicion and caution. Schrader is attentive to the movements of Isaac as a man in a room, any room, in an emptied-out late-night casino bar, in any motel room, in one crappy gambling room or another, in a shabby-carpeted corridor: one might have guessed that Isaac would excel at the gestural when a director might just let him go in longer takes in medium long shot and wider compositions: shoulder acting, gait acting, ass acting. Man, the things we learn about his character with no one else near him, just by the way he moves, the way he creases his musculature. What was it they said in “Sunset Boulevard”: We had asses then? Now playing in theaters including the Siskel Film Center and River East.
Highland Park’s Landmark Renaissance has reopened.
Majordomo Of Music Box Matters Of David Lynch Daniel Knox is contributing to the second David Lynch affair within a month at the Music Box on September 29-30, with a 35mm projection of “Mulholland Drive,” twenty years after its festival premiere in September 2001, accompanied by a performance by Rebekah Del Rio, a Q&A and signing and the customary deliquescent Lynchian accoutrements. Tickets here.
Chicago Filmmakers will reopen its theater the weekend of October 15-17 with the U. S. premiere of Kapra Fleming’s “Lee Godie: Chicago French Impressionist,” a feature-length documentary on the legendary Chicago artist who, at the age of sixty, reinvented herself as a French Impressionist and survived selling her artwork on the streets of Chicago for the next two decades. (Tom Palazzolo [Newcity Film 50] is co-producer. Fleming’s documentary, reports Filmmakers, “reveals an artist, whose outward demeanor and appearance often concealed her inner fortitude and belief in her beauty.” More here.
British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom’s cut back on his two-or-so-films-a-year habit, but he’s also produced “Dark Matter: Independent Filmmaking in the 21st Century,” a survey of fifteen of his contemporaries about how it’s all gone wrong with UK independent filmmaking, which is due out in that country in early October. The Guardian has an early look: “I’d been making films for a quarter of a century and, at the start of last year, I wanted to step back and think about the way I was working,” Winterbottom writes. “A book was a useful excuse to speak to other British directors about their experiences. And, during the first lockdown, many of them had enough time on their hands to oblige. So, by Skype and Zoom, I spoke with Pawel Pawlikowski, Danny Boyle, Joanna Hogg, Asif Kapadia, James Marsh, Andrew Haigh, Carol Morley, Edgar Wright, Steve McQueen, Lynne Ramsay, Stephen Daldry, Ben Wheatley, Peter Strickland, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach… They are simply people whose films I like and respect.” But Winterbottom was not interested in the corpus of their work, but instead, how do these films get made at all? “Think of the films that we have missed out on. If the environment allowed, or encouraged, British filmmakers who have already been successful, as everyone in this book has been, to carry on making the films they want to make here in Britain, they wouldn’t need to be as productive as Bergman or Godard in order to transform British cinema. Even if filmmakers were making only one film every two years, we would now have ten films made in Britain by Ramsay, instead of two; ten British films by Jonathan Glazer, instead of two; eleven by Pawlikowski, instead of three; ten by Daldry, instead of three; six by McQueen, instead of one. And so on.”
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.