Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, September 23-29, 2022
A jumped-up revision of “Avatar” opens in many formats in many places, blue leaves for autumn; Joe Winston’s “Punch 9 for Harold Washington” revisits a lost era of late-twentieth-century Chicago politics at Siskel. “Don’t Worry Darling,” the second feature by Olivia Wilde (after “Booksmart”) is a stylized satire of 1960s suburbia arriving on a wave of increasingly vicious 2020s-style gossip.
Abigail Disney and Kathleen Hughes’ “The American Dream And Other Fairy Tales” is smart and clear-eyed economics.
Andrew Dominik’s long-in-the-making “Blonde” arrives on a few screens including Landmark Century before streaming on Netflix and through the fall awards season. While author Joyce Carol Oates and the Monroe estate approve of both movie and Ana de Armas’ performance and accent, chatter has arisen. Portrayal or objectification? Empathetic or cold, cold-hearted?
“Andor” arrives on Disney Plus, a dark, dark prequel to the end-of-the-world conflagrations of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016), shooting an economically depressed world across twelve hours in cinematic style, supervised and mostly written by Tony Gilroy, writer-director of “Michael Clayton” (2007); screenwriter of the “Bourne” trilogy and director of “The Bourne Legacy”; as well as fixer on the confrontation-heavy reshoots of “Rogue One.” (Here’s a 2009 New Yorker profile digging into Gilroy’s writing habits and work ethic.)
Pungent director David Slade (“Hard Candy,” “30 Days Of Night”) returns to the big screen for hardy Halloween horror, with “Dark Harvest” and a promise of “Strong Horror Violence And Gore” in a story of an annual ritual in a small Midwestern town in 1963. Robert Altman’s hallucinated desert dream “3 Women” is at the Music Box. Maggie Cheung makes one of her first triumphant appearances in Jackie Chan’s 1985 “Police Story” (1985). Doc Films, Wednesday, September 28.
Opening Friday, September 23 in theaters before its October 7 debut on Prime Video, “Catherine Called Birdy” is a twelfth-century period piece set in medieval England by the writer-director Lena Dunham based on a favorite book from her childhood. The best-known movie of the “Greek weird wave,” Yorgos Lanthimos’ mad family mayhem,”Dogtooth,” is this week’s “50/50” attraction at Siskel, in 35mm.
“Emily The Criminal” returns to Facets September 24-25, along with South Korean horror spectacular “The Wailing.” Chicago filmmaker Lori Felker is featured on the Criterion Channel. And “Music Box Of Horrors: Scared Stupid” will take over the entire month of October.
Abigail Disney and Kathleen Hughes’ “The American Dream And Other Fairy Tales” engages American income inequality, taking the story of the rise of the worldwide Disney empire—Abigail is the granddaughter of Roy Disney—as a prime specimen. The portrait the filmmakers paint is direct, pungent and harsh—are workers there strictly to be exploited by mega-conglomerates?—yet their perspective is hopeful and their view of labor and economics clear-eyed. Disney packs a punch. Disney will appear for a post-screening Q&A on Tuesday, September 27 (“The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales” was backed by Chicago Media Project.) Opens Friday, September 23 at Siskel.
I haven’t seen the technically enhanced 2022 “Avatar” (and only a fistful of people have seen the preview reel of “Avatar: The Way of Water”), but here’s part of what I wrote when James Cameron’s $2-billion-grossing dreadnought was launched for Christmas 2009: “Novelist Barry Hannah says it well: ‘I really want stories that are rippers in the old sense. Tales of high danger, high adventure, and high exploration.’ And that has been what James Cameron’s been conjuring in his fevered imagination for as long as twenty years: a true ripper. Of all the things that can and will be said about ‘Avatar,’ is that it’s the one 2009 feature drawing from the War in Iraq that could make a mint. Even if Cameron had spent $200 million-plus on a trainwreck the equal of the Icelandic economy, that would have been gratifying. But it’s a blast. Alfred Newman’s monumental Twentieth Century Fox fanfare is always good for a small chill, but Cameron’s 3-D effects are there from the first frame, and the trademark symbol for the searchlight logo loiters in front of your eyes, a ® you could cup your hand around.”
Joe Winston’s “Punch 9 for Harold Washington” revisits an era of Chicago politics the importance of which is in danger of being forgotten. We spoke to Winston before the 2021 Chicago International premiere: “‘Punch 9 for Harold Washington’ is a pure Chicago film from beginning to end. The story is about a key moment in the transformation of Chicago into a modern city,” Winston says. “As far as style goes, this film is quite emotional, but it’s also fast-paced and we trust our audience to follow along without spoon-feeding them. We found a ton of archival film and video from the 1980s, so the audience is immersed in the grit, the texture, the neighborhoods, the accents of this city. It’s like entering a time machine. Best of all, it’s one-hundred-percent accurate: DuSable Lake Shore Drive does not lead directly to New York City, or anything like that.” Friday, September 23 at Siskel.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth” (2010) is a weird gem of Greek black comedy made with an uncommonly assured hand. Contemporary Greek cinema, which I’ve watched a lot of in the past two decades, sometimes offers moments of grace and beauty but seldom a fully realized vision. “Dogtooth” is a revelation, especially arriving from Greece. Even the elder statesman of Greek cinema, Theo Angelopoulos, began a drift into mannerism with “The Weeping Meadow,” no matter how glorious its production. (Angelopoulos went on record as an admirer of Lanthimos, which is in a class with Ingmar Bergman anointing Lukas Moodysson, the brightest hope of Swedish cinema after his second feature.) “Dogtooth,” which I had the fortune to first see among a few hundred extremely amused young Icelanders at the Reykjavik Film Festival, attuned to the film’s black world, is poetic, but also funny-peculiar, funny-ha-ha and just a remarkable one-off oddity: it should come across as pastiche, as a rehash of provocations and surrealist gestures past. Buñuel liked his Virgin Martinis, having a beam of setting sunlight strike a bottle of vermouth and refract into awaiting gin. The steady light of “Dogtooth” would have Don Luis sipping another cold one. A wealthy industrialist and his wife keep their three grown children in a compound away from the outside world; things have odd names and superstition abounds. “A motorway is a very strong wind…” Metaphor abounds like Greek bank debt. The inexplicable is the everyday and the everyday of these characters lack our reason. What Lanthimos does just right is insure that there are many metaphors and there are none: it’s an X-ray to a cornucopia of fears about society and control, of parental responsibility and adolescence protracted years past its natural life, as well as any society’s potential to lapse into fortress mentality. Lanthimos’ cool framings are nonjudgmental. The light is bright. The actors who play the siblings have a background in dance, which erupts at delirious moments. The oddities are earned, touching and shocking at once. The brilliant final image is pregnant with possibility and inevitable chaos. Let the wrong one out. “Dogtooth” at Siskel, Monday, September 26.
The high Gothic invention of Hong-jin Na’s masterful “The Wailing” (Gokseong) bristles in ways that Na’s lightly perverse, action-rich, genre-diddling crime thrillers, “The Chaser” (2008) and “The Yellow Sea” (2010) barely anticipated. A genre mash-up of occult terror and the police procedural that’s idiosyncratic, culturally specific and simply, smashingly good, “The Wailing” was one of the great movie-movies of 2016. Start with “The Exorcist.” Add fearful villagers. Add inexplicable, bloody murder. A pinch of demonic possession. Stir in stormy weather. You’re only getting started on the scale of Na’s marvelously headlong mass of movie madness. He begins with a stranger arriving in a rain-slashed, subtropical distemper of mood in a small town settled into a mountain range, and persists with a magnificent maelstrom of paranoia, featuring scenes of viscid, visceral aftermath. He tosses in neighborly distrust, profane banter and insults, dark omens, bedeviled dreams, overt Biblical portent and doomed police investigation. Working from the point-of-view of multiple characters, all equally confounded, he adds bursts of inspired, bleak comedy in a wretched hermit. Na saunters across a two-and-a-half-hour running time to allow us to settle into the nightmarish landscape before, well, kinda-sorta, the zombie Day of Reckoning is upon us. And what a lovely apocalypse it is, with its succession of gallery-worthy photographic finery. Asian Pop-up Cinema at Facets, Thursday, September 29.
Robert Altman’s impressionistic and serenely weird “3 Women” came to him in a dream, he claimed, and it’s as good an excuse as any. Even industrial-strength weed by the bale wouldn’t be enough to explicate the desert-set goings-on. It looks great on the Criterion Blu-ray, but on the big screen, its parched colors and eccentric interplay and the sheer weirdness are something to behold. Twentieth Century Fox had given Altman virtual carte blanche for a suite of modestly budgeted movies in the wake of “Nashville,” concurrent with the moment of “Star Wars”—”3 Women” debuted only a few weeks before George Lucas’ world-changer. Just imagine affable visionary film executive Alan Ladd, Jr.’s reaction when the lights came up after his first screening of the film. “He didn’t mention that it was a dream until later, at Cannes,” Ladd told Mitchell Zuckoff for “Robert Altman: The Oral Biography.” “At Fox, we did ‘3 Women,’ ‘Perfect Couple,’ ‘Quintet,’ and ‘A Wedding’ together. I started ‘HealtH’ with him, but then I left the studio. I was the only studio head that would hire him at the time. The hypocrisy of this town—so many people took out ads about him when he died, but they wouldn’t hire him. The creative community admired him greatly but studios were afraid of him—because of his outspokenness. On some level they recognized that he was a master. To know Bob was to love Bob—but if you didn’t know him you swallowed all the bullshit about him in town… Bigger than life—even then he was a man who did what he wanted, wouldn’t compromise with anyone. But he was always on budget—that was all the studio cared about. When I was head of Fox he gave me a call one day with an idea—and he came in and told me the idea of ‘3 Women,’ which I found intriguing.” Music Box, Saturday, September 24-Sunday, September 25.
Chicago filmmaker Lori Felker’s short films “Spontaneous” (2020) and “Discontinuity” (2015) are available to subscribers of the Criterion Channel. “It is a great honor to see my films alongside such an inspiring collection,” writes Felker. From Criterion: “Utilizing fractured editing, cacophonous sound design, and a whole lot of (possibly imaginary) cats, Lori Felker’s ‘Discontinuity’ brilliantly evokes the rapidly escalating pileup of interruptions, incongruities, and absurdities that arise when a long-term couple reunite after an extended separation. While at the Slamdance Film Festival for the premiere of ‘Discontinuity,’ Felker experienced a miscarriage, an incident that inspired ‘Spontaneous,’ a fearlessly honest, vividly observed essay film that viscerally conveys the confusion, trauma, and surreality of an experience common to so many women.”
This year’s “Music Box Of Horrors: Scared Stupid” plays fifty films across the entire month of October, opening with an overnight, five-film “Final Destination” Marathon in 35mm. Writes the Music Box, “The Music Box of Horrors team has brought genre fans 143 feature films each October since 2020. For its third supersized installment, the team is getting ‘Scared Stupid!’ In honor of the bimbos, himbos, and thembos who are taking over pop culture in 2022, we’re bringing you thirty-one nights of horror films that range from the refined to the ridiculous. With mind-melting visuals and high body counts, this year’s lineup is perfectly in line with the Music Box’s eclectic taste in horror offerings and events—a combination of audience favorites and rarely screened titles, specialized intros, and of course, some surprises.” Full details here.