Talking Screens: A Week In Chicago Film, October 29-November 4, 2021
“Last Night in Soho” opens wide, including with a 35mm print at the Music Box. Has Edgar Wright put Polanski’s swinging-London horror “Repulsion” or Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” through a terror time-slip? You’ll have to come “Downtown” to find out. (Here’s our review.). Director Scott Cooper’s long-delayed Guillermo del Toro-produced horror “Antlers,” about a boy in a small Oregon town who’s harboring a supernatural creature, opens, too.
Zack Snyder’s Europe-set prequel to “Army of the Dead,” “Army of Thieves,” streams from Friday on Netflix, directed by Matthias Schweighöfer and written by Shay Hatten from a story by Snyder and Hatten. Snyder lets go of the undead as the previous film’s Ludwig Dieter character takes the screen: “small-town bank teller Dieter gets drawn into the adventure of a lifetime when a mysterious woman recruits him to join a crew of Interpol’s most-wanted criminals, attempting to heist… legendary, impossible-to-crack safes across Europe.” Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” opens Friday at Siskel, and just won the Silver Q-Hugo in the Chicago International Film Festival’s OutLook Competition. The Siskel Film Center revives Joe Dante’s “The Howling” just before Halloween. Plus, our reviews of “French Dispatch” as it goes wider and “Dune: Part One.”
Also: Awards and news from Chicago International, Reeling, The Chicago Critics Film Festival, Chicago Underground, FACETS’ Chicago International Children’s Film Festival and Black Harvest. Plus: WBEZ’s Curious City profiles William Foster, the first Black director to make a film with an all-Black cast and filmmaker John Hancock talks about “Let’s Scare Jessica To Death” at fifty. And: words of wisdom on “art” from the late master filmmaker Monte Hellman.
“The French Dispatch” Wes Anderson’s latest widens its release. Here’s our review, which is also very fond of the costumes of Oscar-winner Milena Canonero: “The French Dispatch” is an encomium to incunabula and marginalia and compulsive sketching and drenching details, all that and more. Its carapace is an evocation of the eccentric ways of the New Yorker magazine from its earliest era in the days of its founder Harold Ross and then its second longtime caretaker, the dour Mr. Shawn. The stuff that this movie is made from, however, moves rudely along, saying in its own way about Anderson’s bathysphere immersion into the history of the New Yorker and its eccentrics, fuck that noise. (Mr. Anderson has grown into a genial love of profanity, especially in its most-abrupt utility when one is defeated or discontented.) “Dune Part One” continues on screens as well as HBO Max for another twenty-four days. Visionary filmmaking or “Baby Spice”? “As spectacle, Denis Villeneuve’s movie betrays a mighty appreciation for brutalist architecture exploded across millennia. The royals whose wealth exceeds imagination are cloistered in bunkers that belong in a Francis Coppola Belizean spa, at least before pandemic demolished that industry. It’s a very cool hotel to check into for a few minutes.” Here’s our review.
Siskel’s showing the woolly werewolf tale “The Howling,” a model of low-budget writing (John Sayles) and efficient editing and direction (Joe Dante). Funny and frightening! And ridiculous! And swell! Siskel, Friday, October 29, Saturday, October 30.
The fifty-seventh Chicago International Film Festival awarded prizes to the winners of its 2021 competitions. (CIFF is North America’s longest-running competitive film festival.) The Gold Hugo in the International Competition went to “Memoria,” SAIC graduate Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s mystery that follows a Scotswoman (Tilda Swinton) living in Bogotá who is haunted by a noise that only she seems to hear, “leading her to the interior of the lush Colombian jungle where past, present, and future blur.” (“Memoria”‘s announced U. S. distribution plan is that it will play theatrically only, and in a single city on any given day, with no streaming or “DVD” release. The theatrical release is planned to begin December 26.) The Silver Hugo Jury Prize went to Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s three-hour “Drive My Car,” based on the Haruki Murakami short story of the same name; a theater director and his younger, short-term chauffeur find unexpected connection. Hamaguchi’s “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” which opens Friday at Siskel, was given this year’s Silver Q-Hugo in the Festival’s OutLook Competition. Other winners: the International Documentary Competition Gold Hugo went to Danish doc “Skål,” which explores “a young couple’s sense of place and belonging” on the island of Fårö. The Chicago Award, presented in the City & State program, went to Margaret Byrne for her documentary “Any Given Day,” which follows three people through the Cook County mental health court probation program. (The Chicago Award is accompanied by a grant from Panavision for an in-kind contribution of a camera rental package valued at $30,000, and a grant from Light Iron for in-kind post-production services of $15,000.)
The Chicago Critics Film Festival announces its full lineup: The eighth Chicago Critics Film Festival, November 12-14 at the Music Box, opens with the Chicago premiere of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, “The Lost Daughter,” and the weekend-long festival will close with Sean Baker’s “Red Rocket.” The festival features exclusive screenings of Tribeca Film Festival winner “The Novice,” written and directed by Lauren Hadaway; Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” in 4K; a fortieth-anniversary screening of Michael Mann’s searing Chicago neo-noir “Thief” on 35mm; and documentaries including Robert Greene’s “Procession”; Rob Christopher’s “Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago,” narrated by Willem Dafoe and Lili Taylor; and “Bernstein’s Wall,” a look at one of the twentieth century’s most-acclaimed talents. Details, including festival guests, and passes here.
The Chicago Underground Film Festival introduces its inaugural curatorial fellow: Dalina A. Perdomo Álvarez, a Puerto Rican curator and writer, has been named the inaugural curatorial fellow of the Chicago Underground Film Festival. She is a curatorial assistant at the MSU Broad Art Museum. She will present her curated program of shorts, “Letters From Not-So-Far-Off Countries” on November 6 at the festival.
Reeling: LGBTQ+ International Film Festival announces its festival winners: The thirty-ninth Reeling: Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival announced the winning films from its 2021 program, which included thirty-three feature films and fifty-four short films curated in nine programs. (This year’s event ran September 24-30 in-person and September 27-October 7 virtually.) Reeling is the second-oldest LGBTQ+ film festival in the world and a Chicago cultural institution. The Jury Award winners: Best Documentary Feature, “Invisible: Gay Women In Southern Music,” T. J. Parsell; Best Narrative Feature, “Down In Paris,” Antony Hickling; Best Documentary Short Film, “Scars,” Alex Anna; and Best Narrative Short Film, “My Mother’s Girlfriend,” Arun Fulara. More from the festival here.
And the twenty-seventh Black Harvest Film Festival sets its slate, inducing tributes: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center has announced the full festival schedule, which will be virtual and in-person at the Film Center Friday, November 5-Thursday, December 2. The festival’s monthlong showcase of Black stories will feature twenty-eight features; thirty-six shorts; free panel discussions; and tributes to Gordon Parks and Melvin Van Peebles. The festival will feature over twenty-five separate in-person and virtual filmmaker and cast appearances. Closing night: a thirtieth-anniversary screening of Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” on 35mm. Individual tickets and festival passes are here.
Early-bird tickets for FACETS’ thirty-eighth annual Chicago International Children’s Film Festival are on sale. FACETS’ Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, one of only two Oscar-qualifying children’s film festivals in the world, returns virtually, with limited in-person screenings November 5-14. “Each year, the CICFF is proud to present a diverse selection of high-quality films for children, teens, and adults, featuring over 250 films from forty countries. Since 1984, the CICFF has carefully curated films from around the world that break new ground in their approach to storytelling, offer unique or seldom-heard points of view, and demonstrate artistic and technical mastery.” Early-bird tickets here.
The LaPorte Herald-Dispatch has two articles talking to filmmaker John Hancock about the Chicago-area origins of his career on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the release of his lasting horror picture, “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death.” Hancock tells the paper that making “Jessica” with personal touchstones and local inspiration “tapped into something that engaged audiences. ‘I think also the element … is it in her mind, or is it real? The response to that has improved with time. It bothered certain critics. I think it’s one of the things people are liking better now.’” In part two, Hancock talks about the early synth score: “The composer, Orville Stoeber, provided ‘very sweet, beautiful melodies, but did not have enough evil in him to build tension.’ And Hancock knew, from Hitchcock, that the right music was needed to generate suspense… Inspired by experimental music he’d heard while running an actors workshop in San Francisco, he suggested adding electronic music, contacting musician Walter Sear, who had a Moog synthesizer. ‘And Orville would record this lovely melody and we would undercut it with this grim, rhythmic pulsing from Walter Sear’s synth.'”
At WBEZ Curious City, Arionne Nettles reports on William Foster, the first Black director to make a film with an all-Black cast. “But most people have never heard of him.” Hear, or read, the twenty-two-minute piece on how independent Black cinema got its start on Chicago’s South Side.
Steven Gaydos, executive editor of Variety, tweets wisdom from his late collaborator: “Now that he’s gone, I guess I can reveal one of Monte Hellman’s secrets of the universe, something he told me decades ago: ‘You make a movie for money and it loses money, you have nothing. You make a movie for art and it loses money, you have art.’“
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.