Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, May 6-12, 2022
The week’s openers: Sam Raimi in the Universe of Marvel with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness“; Céline Sciamma’s piquant fairytale “Petite Maman“; David Lynch’s reimagining of his no-fi horror “Inland Empire“; The Palestine Film Festival; Haskell Wexler’s 1969 Democratic Convention metafiction “Medium Cool”; Fellini’s “8 1/2” as the first of Facets’ “Milos’ Picks” for their forty-seventh anniversary summer; the rediscovered films of Miklós Jancsó; and a consideration of the logjam of scripted series debuting in the weeks before the Emmy Award consideration deadline, including “Shining Girls,” “Tokyo Vice,” “Pachinko,” “Slow Horses” and “The Offer,” a raft of “content” that exceeds the waking and sleeping hours of any viewer on the face of consciousness.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” previewed after our deadline. We hear it’s big; it opens Thursday, May 5 at the Music Box in 35mm and in other formats at many, many other screens; is the Sam Raimi of “Evil Dead II” back among us?
David Lynch’s technically rejiggered “Inland Empire” also takes to the Music Box, starting Friday. This is the Lynch-prepared 4K digital picture and sound remaster of the grimy, grotty DV-level original which will be the source of Criterion Blu-ray editions as well, savagery given secondary finesse and a shove back into the world. The greatest exploration of the film I’ve ever heard was a few hours after its debut over lunch with screenwriter and cinema savant Larry Gross; what he wrote is no longer online, except for the observation, “If ‘Inland Empire’ is good-or-great, it may not be so much good-or-great-in-itself, but as a continuing harbinger of the possibility of another cinema to come.” I never reviewed the film; there are two recommendations, and you know which one applies to yourself: “Get good sleep the night before and eat well and settle into the dark and await confoundment”; or “Run the hell in the opposite direction and never look back.” Opens Friday, May 6 at the Music Box.
Céline Sciamma’s “Petite Maman” is the May film feature in print. An excerpt: “There is a magical close-up, close and simple and direct, of Nelly’s mother as she drives, seen in profile, with Nelly in the back seat. Nelly’s small hand reaches in to pop a treat into her mother’s mouth, another, another, then a sip from a straw from a drink. Marion keeps her large eyes on the road, but a smile overtakes her features, as Nelly’s small hand reaches around to her neck and her mother reaches up to hold it there. What’s happening here? Everything. It is a poem; we are already in the command of a movie that is nothing less than a masterpiece. The universe trickles across fingertips in Sciamma’s exquisite miniature about time itself, blood, legacy, dreams. And meeting the imaginary friend who is as much you as yourself; as much as a girl and a girl’s mother. Can’t it be true? Won’t it be true?” Opens Friday, May 6 at Siskel and Landmark Century.
REVIVALS & REPERTORY
Siskel continues its Haskell Wexler centenary, “Impact, Influence And Iconography” this week with Wexler’s seminal metafiction “Medium Cool,” which he wrote and directed. “Look out Haskell! It’s real!” In Wexler’s 1969 metafiction “Medium Cool,” shot in the summer of 1968 against a backdrop of the Democratic Convention, the city of Chicago is tangible, true to the late 1960s streets and trains and parks, observantly captured. From impoverished Uptown to the growing tension and sudden crush in and around Grant Park and the International Amphitheatre, Wexler doesn’t miss a thing. And that’s even before inserting his keenly left critique of newsgathering and law enforcement. The chant of the day, “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!” seeps through the drama, its romance and the rupture between fact and fiction. “Medium Cool” plays at the Siskel Film Center, Friday, May 6, 6pm and repeats May 22.
Facets celebrates its forty-seventh anniversary this summer with several series, including films that were adored by late founder Milos Stehlik, “Milos’ Picks”: the opening salvo is Fellini’s “8 1/2.” A filmmaker contemplates his (dream) life: Fellini’s effortlessly cavalier yet majestic black-and-white “8 1/2” has the decency to shuffle the freighted incoherence of adult dreams beyond a litter of deterministic clues to a future past the confines of the momentary frame. Facets, Friday, May 6, 7pm.
“The Chicago Palestine Film Festival (CPFF) is an independent organization based in Chicago that exhibits and promotes films by Palestinian directors and films about Palestine,” the group relays. “Founded in 2001, the Chicago Palestine Film Festival is the world’s longest consecutive running festival of its kind. CPFF has screened over 250 independent films in Chicago, addressing aspects of Palestinian society, art, culture and humanity.” Listings of this year’s features, shorts and a work-in-progress are here. The Chicago Palestine Film Festival starts Friday at Siskel.
Prolific Chicago novelist Daniel Kraus puts it plain: “I simply don’t watch shows. Unpopular choice, I know. But life’s too short. I’m 99% movies.” Kraus was responding to writer Drew McWeeny, who’d posted, “There is Too Much Everything. I have at least fifteen shows I am interested in that I have not even watched one episode of yet, and my playlist of new films I’m trying to carve out time for is at least seventy titles long. That will double in a month. It’s an avalanche.” (McWeeny to Kraus: “I respect the shit out of that.”)
So what’s streaming our way in the one-hour drama series format (even as the great drama-trauma of the stock implosion of Netflix resounds)? Apple TV Plus has “Pachinko,” the lush Japanese-Korean twentieth-century family mosaic, already renewed for a second season and the eccentric, Gary Oldman-starring six-part espionage put-on “Slow Horses.”
Michael Mann-supervised “Tokyo Vice” ran out of gas at HBO Max (consider it the curse of the wan, featureless Jared Kushner-lookalike Ansel Elgort, a drag on “West Side Story,” too); Paramount Plus has its risible making-of-“The Godfather,” “The Offer“; Amazon rolls out the Chicago-produced comedy-drama-sci-fi-suspenser with Sissy Spacek and J. K. Simmons, “Night Sky,” May 20 (and under review embargo); while Disney Plus has just released a trailer for the six-part Ewan McGregor-starring origin-story series “Obi-wan Kenobi” that lands May 27. And most notably for the time I’ve had to watch, there’s Apple’s Chicago-set thriller with Elisabeth Moss, “Shining Girls,” based on Lauren Beukes’ 2013 novel that follows a time-traveling serial killer. Notably, most of these series have followed the old-fashioned episode-a-week rollout instead of the Netflix pump-and-dump binge mode, in which all episodes can be watched in a burst and forgotten within a month.
Even seeing the pilot or first episodes of limited series feels like an accomplishment. “In 2021, despite the pandemic, [a tally kept by the FX network] counted a record 559 original scripted series on U.S. networks and streaming services,” writes Michael Schneider at Variety. “The real issue now is the logjam of year-round programming that truly makes it impossible to develop any sort of major awareness for new shows, particularly entrants without obvious legacy IP [intellectual property].” And I’m only looking toward a handful of “limited series,” not including “the hundreds and hundreds of unscripted shows—perhaps more than 1,000,” Schneider continues. “We’ve been talking about Peak TV for a decade now, and the recent additions of Peacock, Paramount Plus and Discovery Plus to the world of Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and the expanded HBO Max just complicates matters. Throw in AVOD services like Roku, Tubi and IMDb TV… And smaller entrants like AMC Plus, Acorn and Britbox.” It’s an endurance test at the end of the day instead of diversion; it’s also a swamp that swallows the good and the very good with the… what was that? Asks culture writer Chris Vognar: “If I can only see 5 of the 8 episodes in a limited series am I allowed to give it an Incomplete?” Or, as the Onion observes, “Man Not Accepting Any More Television Recommendations At This Time.”
A preamble, if you will, to writing later about what becomes of “Slow Horses” and “Night Sky” and maybe “Obi-wan Kenobi” in coming weeks. (Or maybe I’ll be able to get out of the house and see a movie.) “Shining Girls,” three episodes in, is what’s held my attention most, with its stealthy visual moves, Chicago location work and period decor—a female rocker’s apartment in the early 1990s has a poster for Ministry playing at Medusa’s and a Wesley Willis landscape drawing in prime position above her couch. The city’s past is as present as Elisabeth Moss’ anguished features: her character works at the Chicago Sun-Times at the long-demolished barge of a building at 401 North Wabash, which is lovingly recreated inside and out, and a major discovery in the mystery happens on April 13, 1992, during (and within) the Great Loop flood, which is confidently sketched in. Director Michelle MacLaren flexes every skill she’s shown in other series, including “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld”: there’s dark beauty at every turn, whether looking beneath the city or into the stars. Meanwhile, the story: a city buzzes with menace. It’s the first series I’ve found myself lost in for ages.
The National Film Institute Hungary—Film Archive has restored the movies of Miklós Jancsó in 4K from their original camera negatives, and Kino Lorber is presenting six of these long-lost-to-American classics in multiple formats, including Blu-ray and digital downloads. Jancsó was a writer and director, but his hypnotic knack was for the camera in motion, or more specifically, the tracking shot, which he used to inscribe and define historical movements. The effect is both concrete and abstracted; able at times to suggest freedom and others to implicate the terrible patterning of power. There are commonalities of a cinematic dance around historical events in the work of his contemporary, Greek master Theo Angelopoulos, but the dance of the camera is more to the forefront of Jancsó’s mobile canvases. These were considered world-shaking classics in their moment; they’re still sinuous glories. The Blu-rays contain his early shorts, but even the black-and-white dream worlds of just the features “The Round-Up” (1966) and “The Red and the White” (1967) haunt: “The Round-Up” plays out in a prison camp after the 1848 Hungarian Revolution; “The Red And The White” takes place during the Russian Civil War of 1918. The human and the inhumane meet on the battlefield. Jancsó’s films are available on Blu-ray, as well as to rent or own on Kino Now. “The Round-Up” and “The Red and The White” are also on platforms including Apple TV, Amazon, Vudu and Google Player.