Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, August 5-11, 2022
“Bullet Train” is on a big bunch of big screens, with David Leitch, co-director of “John Wick” and director of “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2,” speeding an adaptation of mystery novelist Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 novel “Maria Beetle,” with an eclectic cast including Brad Pitt, Bad Bunny, Sandra Bullock, Joey King and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. (Our review is here.)
20th Century Studios’ “Prey,” which continues the “Predator” series, begins Friday on Hulu. Bumptious comedy director Jay Chandrasekhar of the Broken Lizard comedy collective (“Super Troopers,” “Super Troopers 2”) returns with bickering family comedy “Easter Sunday,” based on the stand-up comedy of Jo Koy. Dethroned Pixar pioneer John Lasseter delivers the first film for Skydance Animation and Apple with cat cartoon “Luck,” while keen portrayer-of-heroics Ron Howard delivers his version of the events of the Thai cave rescue for Amazon in “Thirteen Lives,” with Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortensen, Joel Edgerton, Sukollawat Kanarot and Teeradon Supapunpinyo, opening in theaters including River East. And Patton Oswalt shows those considerable performance chops in 2022 Chicago Critics Film Festival best feature Audience Award winner, “I Love My Dad.”
“Lost Highway,” David Lynch’s exquisitely grinding nightmare of identity shifted out of space and time, male edition, has been digitally restored and plays at the Music Box: As Mystery Man Robert Blake intones, “As a matter of fact, I’m there right now.” Rob Christopher’s glimpse of the life of Lynch’s collaborator on “Lost Highway” and “Wild at Heart,” “Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago” has a single screening at the Music Box as a sidebar. And my, my, minimal maximalism in Eric Rohmer’s “Le rayon vert” (The Green Ray) via Chicago Film Society. And: Michael Kutza has a memoir. Plus, Sam Adams defines a “Netflix Aesthetic.”
“Luck” is the first animation under the John Lasseter imprimatur for Skydance Animation and Apple, and was built on the Pixar co-founder’s tried-and-tested technique of reshooting and remaking and shifting directors. The Apple synopsis: “Luck” is “the story of Sam Greenfield (voiced by Eva Noblezada), the unluckiest person in the world. When she discovers the never-before-seen Land of Luck, Sam must unite with the magical creatures there to turn her luck around. When she ages out of foster care, Sam discovers the Land of Luck and embarks on a quest that could change her luck forever. Simon Pegg provides the voice for Bob, a lucky black cat from the Land of Luck, where the Captain, voiced by Whoopi Goldberg, stands guard as the head of security. Bob becomes Sam’s partner in the quest to find a lucky penny in hopes of preserving his lucky life.” Other speakers: Flula Borg, Jane Fonda, Lil Rel Howery. Lasseter has given one of his few, if not only, interviews to Rebecca Keegan at the Hollywood Reporter. for “John Lasseter’s Second Act,” “since his departure from Disney, which he declined to discuss.” “Lasseter and Skydance Animation have been quietly building an independent animation studio modeled on some of the same principles that drove Pixar in its early days under co-founder Steve Jobs—namely the idea that excellence is the best business strategy,” Keegan writes. “Luck” opens on a few suburban screens, including Cinemark Seven Bridges IMAX in Woodridge and streams on Apple TV Plus from Friday, August 5.
Writer-director-costar James Morosini’s “I Love My Dad,” finds a father catfishing his grown son after he’s been blocked on social media for knowing no “healthy boundaries.” Chuck (Patton Oswalt) misses his son Franklin (Morosini) and impersonates a real-life waitress to get Franklin’s attention. Straightforward, if clumsily made, and deeply unpleasant, “I Love My Dad” is a massive opportunity for Oswalt in extremely contentious material. I was disturbed. With Claudia Sulewski, Rachel Dratch, Ricky Velez, Lil Rel Howery and Amy Landecker. Opens Friday, August 5 at Landmark Renaissance and on digital August 12.
“Prey” throws the Predator way back in time, set in the Comanche Nation of three centuries ago. “A young woman, Naru, a fierce and highly skilled warrior who has been raised in the shadow of some of the most legendary hunters who roam the Great Plains. So when danger threatens her camp, she sets out to protect her people. The prey she stalks, and ultimately confronts, turns out to be a highly evolved alien predator with a technically advanced arsenal, resulting in a vicious and terrifying showdown between the two adversaries.” Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (“10 Cloverfield Lane,” premiere episode of Amazon’s “The Boys”), he directs a cast comprised almost entirely of Native and First Nation talent. “The filmmakers were committed to creating a film that provides an accurate portrayal of the Comanche and brings a level of authenticity that rings true to its Indigenous peoples,” 20th Century writes. “Co-producer Jhane Myers, an acclaimed filmmaker, Sundance Fellow and member of the Comanche nation herself, is known for her attention and dedication to films surrounding the Comanche and Blackfeet nations and her passion for honoring the legacies of the Native communities.” “Prey” streams from Friday on Hulu.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
“Lost Highway” was one of the best films of the 1990s indie movement that was lost to the vagaries of ownership, preservation and distribution (and there are dozens more, many being tracked by the great Missing Movies initiative, including “I Shot Andy Warhol,” Elaine May’s “The Heartbreak Kid” and Julie Taymor’s “Titus,” among others you can find here.)
Lynch’s first distributor, October Films (which produced “Black Cat, White Cat,” “High Art,” “The Living End,” “The Addiction” and “Joe Gould’s Secret”), was washed away in a series of mergers of companies swallowed up by Universal Pictures and its corporate holders. When “Lost Highway” was released in 1997, October Films majordomo, the late, great Bingham Ray, was coming off a year when he had brought Mike Leigh’s “Secrets And Lies” and Lars Von Trier’s “Breaking The Waves” to America. (There’s an epic profile by Pat Wechsler from New York magazine in 1997 of the infectious genius of Ray here.) October Films was the A24 of its moment, in its ambitions for filmmakers but also for free publicity, given to signature gestures like the notorious print ad that ran after hostile reviews from the Siskel and Ebert television program. (Bingham, who was a friend, was as amused by fracas as box-office in those days before widespread social media.)
But as fortune (or someone’s fortune) would have it, “Lost” is found again, as the French rights-holders and Janus Films (plus the Criterion Collection) are presenting the 4K digital restoration of the “postmodern noir,” and it’s at the Music Box now and on Criterion in October.
“‘Lost Highway’ may be Lynch’s most Lynchian film yet,” I wrote after its Sundance 1997 debut. “Dark and disturbing, unrelenting and unsettling, gorgeously made, sizzlingly sensual yet coldly fatalist, it shows Lynch ever more determined to escape the shackles of narrative convention, even after four years prior to this of not being able to get projects financed. In its fever-dream orchestration of incident, sound and music, Lynch has made a musical—one that after you’ve seen, you find yourself humming—in your sleep. In interviews, Lynch is notoriously elusive, wanting never to pin down meaning, symbolism or directorial intent, but he is fond of saying things much like his characters would, such as that he’s ‘lost in darkness and confusion.’… Whether taken as fantasy or nightmare, Lynch’s revisionist noir yarn is as pungent as a punch in the face, as quixotic as revisiting a lost love; it’s essentially a romantic tragedy, tinged with a deep undercurrent of sadness and hurt… And yet is the story banal, tinkering with psychological cliches, or grandly mysterious? I lean toward the latter.” (A technical restoration note: “Lost Highway” is “presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Supervised by Lynch, this digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. The near-field remaster of the original 5.1 soundtrack was made from the 35mm magnetic track and mix-supervised by Lynch and recording mixer Ronald Eng.”) The 6:20pm screening on Saturday, August 6 includes a Q&A with Lynch’s longtime editor Mary Sweeney, whose collaborations include “Lost Highway,” “Mulholland Drive,” “Twin Peaks” and “The Straight Story” (which she also co-wrote and co-produced). Opens at the Music Box, Friday, August 5.
Rob Christopher’s “Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago” is a nimble complex of the Chicago childhood of the author who collaborated with David Lynch on “Wild at Heart” and “Lost Highway,” a topography of dreams, a dream of topography, a document of impressionistic finery that matches vintage footage to Gifford’s own words of youth and to in-betweens of apt animation. (The animation is by Lilli Carré and Kevin Eskew.)
Those wielding language include Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor. Chicago jazz musician Jason Adasiewicz composed the original score, which is performed by Joshua Abrams and Hamid Drake, among others. Music Box, Sunday, August 7.
Intimate, intricate banalities that balance the world: the minimal-maximal work of Eric Rohmer often cascades into moments of effortless, nearly invisible emotional effect. A young woman bounces and rebounds from an extended summer in privileged places: seen that? “Le rayon vert” (The Green Ray) is one of his movies that could be considered his finest on any given day, which climaxes its waves of emotional pitch with one of the finest of final moments, toward a moment of anticipation that bears the atmospheric blur of the painter Turner, some of fixity of time and space of his “Rain, Steam and Speed”: a flicker. Beauty. A flicker. No fade. A flicker.
Is it even a second, hardly an instant? A flicker, transformative, demolishing, instantaneous, gone, recalled. Chicago Film Society presents “Le rayon vert” (The Green Ray) in 35mm at NEIU on Wednesday, August 10.
Chicago International Film Festival founder Michael Kutza is publishing his memoirs, “Starstruck—How I Magically Transformed Chicago into Hollywood for More Than Fifty Years,” promising a harvest cornucopia for late summer eye-opening. The high-octane cover blurbs from longtime friends for the 232-page tome include this from peer Sophia Loren: “Michael is the real deal. He has heart, a great sense of humor, and he loves films for all the right reasons. I am blessed to call him a friend.” “Long before there was SUNDANCE, TRIBECA, and TORONTO, there was CHICAGO and a young kid from Chicago’s West Side named Michael Kutza,” goes the publicity. It’s “the story of a man and his passion—in this case the Chicago International Film Festival. Michael created the festival in 1964 and ran it for greater than half-a-century. What motivated Michael to be so interested in the movies? Kutza was twenty-two when he started what was the first competitive film festival in the United States. His intriguing story includes movie-star gossip, funny mishaps, unusual triumphs and tips on how to effectively run a film festival.”
Over at Slate, Sam Adams considers “The Netflix Aesthetic.” The wan $200 million “The Gray Man” is on hand: “Joe Russo described the movie as ‘business-focused content,’ and watching the movie is just as transporting an experience as that makes it sound. With a cast that includes Ana de Armas, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfre Woodard, and Regé-Jean Page, there’s always an interesting person on screen (or at least Chris Evans’ mustache), and the Russos shift the action to a different country every few minutes—Thailand, Turkey, Austria, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the Czech Republic, among other spots—so that you don’t get bored, even if they do have a gift for making far-flung locales feel like the inside of a warehouse in Atlanta… ‘The Gray Man’ is far from the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it might be one of the least. It’s the end-stage result of converting art into ‘content,’ the equivalent of eating Soylent instead of a home-cooked meal. It will provide a comforting background hum [but] it will also dull your senses, teach you to accept fullness in place of satisfaction, and ultimately rob you of a tiny portion of your life. You don’t consume it. It consumes you.”