Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, July 15-21, 2022
Claire Denis’ “Both Sides Of The Blade” is gorgeously acted grown-up French stuff; “Fire of Love” is big on both fire and love in a longterm study of a pair of married volcano experts; and “Murina” is a sneaky, sun-kissed coming-of-age noir caressing the Croatian shore. “Thor: Love And Thunder” is a grandiloquent goof. FX has a sneak hit on Hulu, the Chicago-set chef’s manic breakdown, “The Bear” which was still in production at the end of March. Plus, Bonnie Hunt’s got a new series as writer-director, “Amber Brown,” coming to Apple TV Plus. Plus: Bill Stamets’ twelve-minute documentary of Steve Dahl’s 1979 Comiskey Park “disco demolition” riot has been restored by Chicago Film Archives.
Netflix debuts “The Gray Man,” an espionage thriller from the Marvel mainstay Russo brothers with the streaming service’s largest budget to date, a reported $200 million. “When the CIA’s most skilled operative—whose true identity is known to none—accidentally uncovers dark agency secrets, a psychopathic former colleague puts a bounty on his head, setting off a global manhunt by international assassins.” With Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Regé-Jean Page, Alfre Woodard and Billy Bob Thornton. Streaming on Netflix starting July 22; opens Friday, July 15 at suburban Cinemark and Marcus theaters and exclusively at Cinema Chatham in Chicago.
Siskel’s repertory this week includes Judy Garland and Gene Kelly in Vincente Minnelli’s “The Pirate,” in 35mm on Saturday, July 16; and Claire Denis’ male-gazing, male-dissecting masterpiece “Beau Travail,” digitally presented on Monday, July 18. The Music Box has the vibrant lunacy of Sam Raimi’s 1987 “Evil Dead II” in 35mm as Friday and Saturday midnight shows. Chicago Film Society exhibits Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” and Michael Almereyda’s “Twister” (1989).
At Doc Films: one of Josef Von Sternberg’s four silents, 1928’s bold melodrama, “The Last Command,”16mm, on Friday, July 15; Arthur Penn and producer Warren Beatty’s 1967 “Bonnie and Clyde,” Friday July 15 and Saturday July 16, 35mm; and the location-rich murder investigation, “The Naked City,” shot almost entirely on location in New York City (1948, Jules Dassin), 35mm, Thursday, July 21. Doc Films listings here.
Streaming service Filmatique relaunches, and Iran again arrests filmmakers, including internal exile Jafar Panahi.
Claire Denis’ brilliant, microseismic miniature “Both Sides Of The Blade,” elemental yet hardly schematic: is this lacerating and marvelous ou quoi? Stuart Staples scores, as is the standard with most Denis films, bringing out sharper notes than the languorous, blues-inflected sweep of much of his work for her, and “I’m sliding down both sides of the blade” is the lyric by Tindersticks that gives this compact story its title and refracts its conflicts. The drama is minimalist and quicksilver, raptures of everyday particulars: a decade’s custom between a loving but perhaps weary couple brought forth in closed-in, closed-off frames of a stylish but modest apartment that seems to shrink scene-by-scene. (Denis: “Their fleeting present, a few days in Paris in the winter, suffices to set up the storm of sentiments that will leave them ravaged. Their own interiority serves as a slightly mysterious exteriority. They are like aliens teleported out of their habits.”)
The performances of both Juliette Binoche, as Sara, a cultural radio host, and Vincent Lindon, as Jean, an ex-rugby player who spent time in jail, flicker in instants and in cumulative moment: the so-called “privileged moment” is just about any moment of reaction captured of Binoche or Lindon by cinematographer Eric Gautier. The movie contains the unintended machinations within a couple unwittingly waiting for something to detonate their lives, so, thus, enter François, the capricious, even rude ex-lover of Sara, former business partner of Jean, played by Grégoire Colin, a feline presence for Denis in his youth, now a full-bodied bounder. A reflection on the longings that tear at the trio, from Denis: “Male desire is not bad, but female desire is perhaps better. They are entitled to the same lapses as men. Adultery? Betrayal? This conventional vocabulary of bourgeois conjugality is totally foreign to me. Sara is neither submissive, nor a victim. She abandons herself to her desire, but not to anyone in particular. Not to the companion she lives with, not to her lover who passes through.” Opens Friday, July 15 at Siskel.
Two French lovers swirl the world in search of fire and one day, die together in the gushing molten surge of a volcanic eruption. Goodnight folks, that’s the summary of tonight’s feature, “Fire of Love.” There’s much more to this thrilling singularity than that, of course (insert “largest screen with the best sound possible” here). French volcanologist couple Katia and Maurice Krafft chased eruptions for two decades, capturing a world of imagery in a mass of footage, before fate and fire caught up with them in 1991. Sara Dosa’s tender documentary evokes and sustains all sorts of gaga feelings, from the vision of the surfaces of liquid fire to the depths of committed love while pursuing irrational passion. Howard Hawks’ dashed final feature was to have been called, “When It’s Hot, Play It Cool.” Yeah, there’s a Hawksian bond between these brethren souls and devotees of danger. But the lava and anarchy onscreen is so much more fantastic and certainly more memorable than any scripted, budgeted fictional formatting of the story could ever be. The transcendent beauty of this planet and their shared lives on it resound from start to finish. If a quibble is to be had, Miranda July narrates. Opens Friday, July 15 at the Music Box and River East and July 22 at Siskel and Newcity 14.
Croatian filmmaker Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s “Murina” is the sunniest of widescreen film noir donning the costume of a coming-of-age story. Winner of the best first film (Camera d’or) at Cannes 2021, “Murina” would be a gem for its elegant capture of landscape and light alone, but each choice is elemental, sun, sea, bits of behavior, submerged resentments, the film entire. (Wildly gifted cinematographer Hélène Louvart’s credits include films by Wim Wenders, Larry Clark, Alice Rohrwacher, Tim Sutton, Eliza Hittman and Maggie Gyllenhaal.) The marine scent of the Adriatic is cut with the acrid inner worldliness of a Patricia Highsmith thriller. Still-naive seventeen-year-old Julija is embodied by Gracija Filipovic as a consummately conflicted adolescent. She doesn’t get along with anyone, mother, father, her father’s friends, louts whose boats cast up on the shore. Kusijanovic pays uncommon attention to pace: all that feels familiar rises and rises. The potential for violence simmers: the oppressive father resents his near-cipher of a beautiful child in his care. Julija watches, learns, perhaps no longer a mystery to herself. Opens Friday, July 15 for one week only at Siskel.
“Thor: Love and Thunder” is tee-hee, giggle-giggle from the get-go, and that’s all right: Taika Waititi is the filmmaker most disrespectful of the goings-on in the self-serious, overstuffed conversation pit of the larger Marvel Comic Universe. Like one of any of the series Waititi is involved in, even the most complex scenes feel like he’s winging it. Scattershot, rhythmically off, winking, broken, his second “Thor” entry is a childish delight. In theaters.
The Chicago Film Archives has restored Bill Stamets’ Super-8 footage of the nearly forgotten Steve Dahl’s nearly forgotten “disco demolition” at Comiskey Park in 1979, including the twelve-minute “Rock Sox Disco Sux,” detailed and available here. CFA describes the documenting of “Disco Demolition Night,” “which took place after game one of a July 12, 1979 doubleheader between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers at Comiskey Park… The anti-disco promotion was spearheaded by White Sox owner Bill Veeck along with shock jock Steve Dahl of 97.9 FM WLUP ‘The Loop,’ a Chicago rock station. Attendees were able to attend the games for only ninety-eight cents if they turned in a disco record; between the doubleheader’s games, all the donated records would be blown up in center field. The White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game when the promotion went off the rails, when anti-disco demonstrators rioted on the field and caused significant damage to the park. The riot resulted in at least nine injuries and thirty-nine arrests.” (Fifteen minutes of outtakes are here; the link to the Stamets archive, including 248 reels of Super 8, is here.)
Chicago comedic stalwart Bonnie Hunt (“Life with Bonnie,” “Return To Me”) has a series as writer and director debuting July 29 on Apple TV Plus. “Based on the bestselling book series by Paula Danziger, with over ten million copies in print, ‘Amber Brown‘ is an unfiltered look at a girl finding her voice through art and music in the wake of her parents’ divorce,” Apple says in a release. Hunt, whose career began onstage at The Second City, is executive producer, showrunner, writer and director. The trailer for “Amber Brown” is here.
REVIVALS & REPERTORY
“All That Jazz,” dear Lord. Have you seen this beast lately? Canny, cruel, candid, craft of every cinematic sort, Bob Fosse’s self-regarding confession is one of the masterpieces of feature editing as well as a restless, excoriating depiction of the “creative life” consuming a soul. Preceded by a 35mm print of the trailer for Fosse’s equally great 1974 “Lenny.” 35mm print courtesy of the Criterion Collection. Chicago Film Society at the Music Box, Monday, July 18.
In a splinter from a memoir excerpted at Filmmaker magazine, Michael Almereyda writes that he thought his potential career was dashed upon the complete and release of his directorial debut, “Twister” (1989).
“The first feature film I wrote and directed, ‘Twister,’ was a slow, fitful screwball comedy about a wealthy Midwestern family splitting apart at the seams, with Harry Dean Stanton playing the imperiously burnt-out patriarch, founder of a highly successful soda-pop empire. Based, fairly faithfully, on Mary Robison’s terrific 1981 novel, ‘Oh!,’ the film was shot in the summer of 1988 in Wichita, Kansas, with a cast that also included Suzy Amis, Dylan McDermott, Crispin Glover, Charlayne Woodard, Tim Robbins and William Burroughs. This is not the place to inventory all the catastrophes that attended the making of this movie. I felt, with absolute conviction, that I had failed—failed to make the movie I imagined in my head, failed to make the film of my dreams.” Verdict: it’s as comedically toothsome as 1980s independent “quirkiness” gets with more memorable moments than you can shake a fistful of regrets at. 35mm. Chicago Film Society at NEIU, Wednesday, July 20.
Existential tone poem, male-on-male dance musical, free-floating imagistic ballet, withering look at mores of masculinity: Claire Denis’ survey on French Legionnaires in the desert is a thrilling masterpiece. Man’s fate as elliptical dance musical: Her plaintive yet emotional alchemical “Beau Travail” proves, along with the rest of her dreamy filmography, that movies don’t need words. “Beau Travail” (a title which Denis was reported to despise) is inspired, sketchily, by the goings-on in Herman Melville’s “Billy Budd, Sailor.” Whatever conflict you anticipate, coiled or simmering, violent or homoerotic, is instead a drenching of mood and inchoate myth. “Beau Travail” is exquisite, mysterious and—at the instant its astonishing, cathartic, heartbreaking, climactic scene cuts to black—small perfection. A man’s life in all its torment and reserve, its blasted potential and its grand thirst for physical release and spiritual transcendence: it is there in the most unlikely guise. It is the rhythm of a heartbeat. A longer review is here. Part of the Siskel “50/50” series, Monday, July 18.
Another streaming service, another niche: Filmatique relaunches with a wide range of art-house and documentary work. Currently among the 300 titles: seven by Derek Jarman, including “Blue,” mentioned in the July film feature, “Blue, Blue, Eclectic Blue.”
FX has a sneak hit on Hulu, the Chicago Italian beef life-in-the-kitchen skyrocket, “The Bear,” clever, relentless, sad, serious as a succession of heart attacks, which didn’t even finish shooting until the very end of March. We start in media res, like “The Wire,” listen, learn, from episode one, tossed directly into the fire and fray: forget backstory, take the heat. You’re depressed? They’re depressed. It’s the closest thing we’re gonna get to the never-made David Fincher-Bradley Cooper kitchen drama, or maybe it’s better: while a highlight of the years and years of Chicago-shot “Shameless,” Jeremy Allen White has never had a showcase like the center-of-the-frame, middle-of-the-kitchen Carmy, a fine-dining chef who returns to salvage the family forge after his brother’s suicide. (The series was created by Christopher Storer, producer of Bo Burnham’s proud ninety-minute panic attack, “Eighth Grade.”) Can you combine fine dining with fast food in the confines of a Chicago kitchen? (“He wanted an accurate, unpretty representation of what he calls ‘this amazing, beautiful shitty industry,’ a consultant chef told Julia Moskin at the New York Times.) Beautifully shot in close quarters under duress, the series is also superb with notably long takes, including a fluid, fraught AA speech and an entire episode in a single, unbroken shot of about twenty minutes. (Most of the episodes land in the forty-minute range.) The performances follow the writing and the milieu: it’s one blow and one breath after another, with very specific lulls carved out of the eight hours. (“The Bear” will return for a second season.)
Block Club gets a few locals on the blower to poke “The Bear”‘s apparent verisimilitude. A few props, though: “Chicago pastry chef Sarah Mispagel, who consulted on the show and provided the cakes and donuts, said the scene where Carmy eats a donut off the floor stood out to her. ‘It’s really disgusting how relatable that is,’ Mispagel said. ‘I’ve seen chefs with James Beard Awards eat my food out of the trash just because they’re defeated and tired. I’ve eaten steak off the floor. You work fourteen hours, and someone drops a steak, and you’re like, ‘Sure, I’ll eat that.’” Genevieve Yam at Bon Appetit feels the trauma: “I used to work in Michelin-starred restaurants, and at the last restaurant I worked at, a sous chef asked if I was stupid and if there was something wrong with me for not understanding what they were asking me to do. I responded the only way I knew: ‘Yes, chef.’ … It was so accurate that it was triggering: The details of spilling a whole cambro of veal stock, your peers hiding your mise en place, and still others turning up the stove when you weren’t looking. It reminded me a little too much of what it was like to fend for myself in a chaotic, cutthroat kitchen. After watching, I spoke with other restaurant workers. We all agreed the show is a stark reminder of our trauma.” (The last shot, which echoes the goofy final image of “Frances Ha,” is about as optimistic as the series comes, and fleshes out the full meaning of the title, finally.)
And where there’s fire, there’s smoke. Film at Lincoln Center programming associate Maddie Whittle: “The Bear’ is the rare show that takes virtually no dramatic interest in the sex lives of its characters while also oozing adrenaline-fueled sensuality and flaunting a star whose offhand swagger and churlish, soulful charisma make him an ideal object for erotic meme-ification.” Aaron Bady: “It’s funny given how thirsty twitter has been for the star that everyone in it is too depressed to be horny.” GQ, wouldn’t you know, has a fresh profile of that “ideal object”: “Profound regular guyness, albeit with the dirtbag dials turned all the way up… helps explain the appeal of his character… White plays a tattooed, tousle-haired chef who, when he’s not shouting orders in a frantic kitchen, is dexterously chopping vegetables, manhandling slabs of meat, or staring mournfully with heavy-lidded blue eyes. This performance—hell, even a single screenshot of it—has launched entire discourse cycles.” White tells GQ of an article that’s outlined with the sentence, “Images of a disheveled, tattooed guy named Carmy have many reminiscing about that one guy they banged behind a dumpster.” White says, “Carmy’s, like, the least sexual person. In playing him, I was aware that he had no room for love. So I appreciated that she was aware that Carmy does not fuck.” The eight episodes of “The Bear” are streaming on Hulu.
Iran again swings the club against its most gifted filmmakers, including Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad. The latest arrest is internal exile Panahi, reported Monday by AFP: “Award-winning dissident Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi has been arrested, the third director to be detained in less than a week, the Mehr news agency said… Jafar Panahi has been arrested today [Monday] when he went to the prosecutor’s office to follow up on the situation of another filmmaker, Mohammad Rasoulof,” Mehr reported. “Rasoulof and Aleahmad were arrested over events relating to a deadly building collapse of the Metropol building in the city of Abadan, an event which sparked angry protests.” The official news agency claims, “‘In the midst of the heartbreaking incident in Abadan’s Metropol, [the filmmakers] were involved in inciting unrest and disrupting the psychological security of society.'” The ten-story building, under construction in a southwestern province, killed forty-three when it collapsed on May 23. Distributor Kino-Lorber is providing timely updates on their Twitter account. Film festivals that have programmed Panahi and Rasoulof have weighed in as well, including Berlinale directors Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian: “We are outraged to hear of the arrest of yet another Iranian filmmaker, Golden Bear Winner Jafar Panahi. We ask the Iranian authorities to release the detained filmmakers immediately.” Cannes: “The Festival de Cannes strongly condemns these arrests as well as the wave of repression obviously in progress in Iran against its artists…The Festival de Cannes also wishes to reassert its support to all those who, throughout the world, are subjected to violence and repression.”
The first offense to the regime: “A group of Iranian filmmakers led by Rasoulof published an open letter calling on the security forces to ‘lay down their arms’ in the face of outrage over the ‘corruption, theft, inefficiency and repression’ surrounding the Abadan collapse.” Panahi usually makes his contemporary commentary on Instagram. Here’s his July 9 comment on the arrest of Rasoulof, accompanied by a one-minute video, with Farsi into English via Google translate. “When a government reaches a political and economic deadlock, it cannot tolerate any kind of civil struggle. By imagining repression and creating crisis, it thinks that it can divert public opinion from the main problems and add a few days to its life. What was the illegal request in the statement ‘Put down your gun’ that now two of the beloved filmmakers—Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmed—have been arrested for signing it?! Is encouraging nonviolence a crime? We have witnessed violence many times in the past forty-three years, but this time, in addition to worrying the public mind and propagandizing against the regime, the government added the label of ‘those related to the anti-revolution’ to its false accusations in order to pave the way for espionage accusations in the future.”
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.