Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, September 2-8, 2022
“Labor Day weekend is traditionally one of the slowest weekends in theaters,” reports Associated Press. Taking advantage of those empty screens, the National Association of Theatre Owners has notched September 3 as “National Cinema Day,” with $3 tickets at most hippodromes. (How many repeat viewings of “Top Gun: Maverick” in IMAX is that?) “The Cinema Foundation, a non-profit arm of NATO announced that September 3 will be a nationwide discount day in more than 3,000 theaters and on more than 30,000 screens,” reports AP (via NPR). “Major chains, including AMC and Regal Cinemas, are participating, as are all major film studios. In participating theaters, tickets will be no more than $3 for each showing, in every format.” (Showplace ICON offers a 3-D version of “Jaws” to the discount day.) Labor Day weekend also features “The Creepshow: A Stephen King Film Festival” at the Music Box. (You could double up “The Shining” with its parallel picture from the parallel novel “Doctor Sleep.”)
Among new pictures, Francois Ozon remounts RWF to middling result in “Peter Von Kant.” Javier Bardem simmers jovially in Fernando León de Aranoa’s “The Good Boss.”
Also opening: “Gigi & Nate” (from Roadside Attractions, the consistently canny twenty-two-year-old studio) presents the story of Nate Gibson, whose life is transformed after a near-fatal illness and is left a quadriplegic. “Moving forward seems near impossible until he meets his unlikely service animal, Gigi—a curious and intelligent capuchin monkey,” reports the studio. “Gigi helps Nate find what he needs most of all: hope.” Nick Hamm’s film features Marcia Gay Harden, Charlie Rowe, Josephine Langford, Jim Belushi and Diane Ladd. Opens Friday, September 2 at River East, City North and outlying theaters.
Writer-director Adamma Ebo’s “Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul,” hails from Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, a satirical comedy with Regina Hall as “the proud first lady of a Southern Baptist megachurch, who together with her husband (Sterling K. Brown), once served a congregation in the tens of thousands, but after a scandal forces their church to temporarily close, they must reopen their church and rebuild their congregation to make the biggest comeback that commodified religion has ever seen.” The trailer is here. In theaters and streaming on Peacock.
Ten remarkable films show September 3-7 at the Music Box in “The Story of Film: A New Generation—A Film Series,” highlighting the release of Mark Cousins’ latest meander-muse marking the meaning of modern movies, this time ’round encompassing 2010-2021. The films are Lucrecia Martel’s little-seen “Zama”; Aleksey German’s”Hard To Be A God”; Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s “Shoplifters”; Jonathan Glazer’s “Under The Skin”; Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Cemetery Of Splendor”; László Nemes’ “Son Of Saul,” in 35mm; the 171-minute director’s cut of Ari Aster’s “Midsommar”; Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight”; Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women”; and George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 35mm. Several titles are highlighted below; the series is co-sponsored by the MCA. (The doc itself runs 160 minutes and opens next week at the Music Box.)
Chicago Film Society boasts a rare showing of a 35mm print of Erich von Stroheim’s “Foolish Wives,” newly restored. And a five-picture centenary run for Pier Paolo Pasolini begins with “Mamma Roma” in 35mm. Plus, a pair of female-led Mexican wrestling movies sponsored by The National Museum of Mexican Art, “The Batwoman” and “The Panther Women.” Music Box theater one, September 8.
“Peter Von Kant”
“Peter Von Kant,” François Ozon’s “free adaptation” of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sublimely acrid, hothouse “The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant” breaks out of the limited locales of his German predecessor’s pressure cooker, but is fascinated with the same terrain. (The 1972 film, based on Fassbinder’s own play as well as his fixation on a younger actor, featured Margit Carstensen as a fashion designer infatuated with a cold younger woman, played by Hanna Schygulla.) While the psychodrama is similar, the tone is lighter, and the sometimes camp costumes and dressings are more akin to an Almodóvar picture: the bright colors of the production design and costumes are judiciously vivid, in their own world, and not a burlesque of the contained original; the elements delight at a far reach from the tapestry and shag carpeting of the original. Denis Ménochet charms as the infatuated film director, a genial cartoon of the gruff Fassbinder, who was given on screen and in real life to pronounced sadism. It’s also a modest treat to see Isabelle Adjani as Peter’s muse and Schygulla herself as his mother. Opens Friday, September 2 at Siskel.
In writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa’s workplace put-on “The Good Boss,” Javier Bardem underplays his role as a man pushing boundaries to meet a deadline, but he’s no thick oaf. Remember that as a performer, Bardem can play charming to the hilt: charisma and menace are always at the ready. The mellifluous voice, the damp eyes, the fact of his bulk: they all work for comedy and for potential jeopardy in his simmering form of play. Even in a terrifyingly bad movie like Aaron Sorkin’s “Being The Ricardos,” Bardem will simply beam in from another planet, from a solar system—another movie—we hope to escape to. In a decent movie like “The Good Boss,” he raises the temperature of both comedy and suspense, to amiable result. “The Good Boss” opens Friday at River East, Landmark Century and Renaissance Place.
REVIVALS & REPERTORY
Chicago Film Society co-presents “Foolish Wives” (1922) at the Music Box. 35mm. Restored. Von Stroheim. A genius’ shimmering approximation of a cinema that would never be, that would never exceed his own invention of a narrative form of density, of gravity, of desire and punishment. One of his one-of-a-kind greatest. CFS, Music Box, Saturday, September 3, 11:30am.
“Mamma Roma” is one of the great, volcanic, voluptuous, even vertiginous performances of any age: I was startled when I saw it in my youth and remain startled even looking upon this frame of Anna Magnani’s visage. 35mm. Part of the six-film centenary series, “Pier Paolo Pasolini Poetry, Passion & Provocation.” Preceded by a reception sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago. Siskel, Wednesday, September 7.
How would an alien see our world if it were to walk among us, if it were to hijack a human form and harvest us by exploiting elemental desire? The form the unnamed creature assumes is Scarlett Johansson’s, and in the production and post-production of the movie, plot and narrative in “Under The Skin” are peeled away in favor of sound and image, and the alien’s encounters on the real-life streets and nearby beaches of Glasgow, Scotland. It’s maximal minimalism, of the kind of heightened sensation you’d expect from Jonathan Glazer, the maker of “Sexy Beast” and “Birth.” In a way, his character is the ultimate consumer, shopping for men among the faces on the street, who will be literally taken by desire? Here’s my interview from the time of release with Glazer; Glazer worships the work of the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Music Box, Sunday, September 4.
Russian director Aleksey German’s last, decades-in-planning and years-in-production epic is cryptic, insurgent, vital, near-pilotless and nigh-on-unfathomably dense in its creation of grotesque medieval horror centuries in the future, on another, faraway planet observed by a scientist who is forbidden from interfering in the affairs of the populace. (Well, maybe.) You want a masterpiece? You want to see a certifiable, unquestionable masterpiece on the big screen? Come get some “Hard To Be A God,” which is mud, and more, in your eye, as well as to timorous moviemaking of all kinds. Based on a science-fiction novel by the Strugatskiy brothers (whose novels inspired other films including Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”), it’s the late director’s inspired attempt at putting it all on the screen in his own leaping legacy of a gesamtkunstwerk, as well as embroidering Bosch, Bruegel, mid-career Orson Welles, Gilliam’s “Jabberwocky,” Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” and a sure raft of influences of which I’m wholly in the dark. “I am not interested in anything but the possibility of building a world, an entire civilization from scratch,” German has been quoted as declaring. Here it is. A brilliant ending. Surely no one else will start from this point… Earth in hell. Wow. Music Box, Sunday, September 4.
The human face; the ear, provoked. Two of the most powerful tools available to filmmakers are the human face and psychologically suggestive sound design. A couple of quotes, then, in service of glancing at thirty-eight-year-old Hungarian director László Nemes’ death-camp-set debut feature, the unlikely fable of faith “Son of Saul.” First, from French master Robert Bresson’s “Notes on Cinematography”: “The eye solicited alone makes the ear impatient, the ear solicited alone makes the eye impatient. Use these impatiences. Power of the cinematographer who appeals to the two senses in a governable way. Against the tactics of speed, of noise, set tactics of slowness, of silence.” And from George Orwell, the all-too-familiar “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” “Son of Saul” is set at Auschwitz-Birkenau in October 1944. The story is fable-simple. We begin in blur, and a face appears within that blur, that of Saul Ausländer, a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, a group of Jewish prisoners forced to assist the Nazis in the crematoria. Saul (Géza Röhrig) discovers a body of a boy, and convinced that it is his son, begins a strategic exploitation of the confines of the camp to preserve the body for a proper burial rather than consigning it to the flames. A fool’s errand? From those first glimpses of Saul, our frame of reference remains Röhrig’s shoulders, his face in shallow focus, an increasingly taut mask, deepening in pallor from moment to moment. Behind him, around him, seen in bits and pieces and heard in horrible specificity, slaughter. (So many of the film’s silences speak against the tumult of torment.) Nemes learned his trade assisting his Hungarian compatriot Béla Tarr, and his use of exclusion, occlusion and camera movement builds on his patron’s example. The brute, haunted furtiveness of Géza Röhrig’s Saul, is unpolished perfection. Röhrig is a Brooklyn-based Hungarian writer and a poet, but his handsome-yet-spent features are as central to the success of “Son of Saul” as sound or image. 35mm. Music Box, Monday, September 5.
Headlong, berserk, bonkers, batshit, boisterous, bountiful and big-hearted: That’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The monumental valleys of the Namib Desert passing for the Australian outback, a backdrop of bold screaming color, its teeming denizens all seem sickened by radiation poisoning to one degree or another. But beyond the masterful motion, the linear but so-dense canvas, the near-faultless spatial acuity of each action setpiece, the frenetic and terrible beauty of the maniacally precise physical detailing, Miller’s politics also shout. There are kinds of chattel in the world and the future we have prepped for ourselves: water, oil (or “guzzolene,” as it’s called here) and chattel. Mad Max’s forward propulsion—not to call it a journey—is in the service of the escape of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, skull cropped, cheekbones often streaked with black oil, equipped with a prosthetic arm) with a procession of fertile women she’s caravanning beyond the wasteland to the green landscape of her youth. Max joins a revolution in the service of women, and of the future they might build from the ashes of a masculine Inferno. “Look at them,” a character admires, “So shiny. So chrome.” The detritus of our civilization, of many civilizations, of Civilization: Details upon details, from each costume to every jammed-together vehicle fashioned from objects that all reek of totem and icon and fetish. John Ford, Terry Gilliam, Budd Boetticher, Buster Keaton, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Peter Weir’s “The Cars That Ate Paris,” “Salo,” “Grand Theft Auto,” “Cannonball Run,” Chuck Jones, H. B. Halicki’s original “Gone in 60 Seconds,” Fritz Lang, Bogart, Keaton, Bruegel, Bosch, punk, steampunk and on and on and furiously on. 35mm. Music Box theater one, Tuesday-Wednesday, September 6-7.