Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, November 11-16, 2022
Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is on an immense percentage of North American screens this weekend, a two-hour, forty-one-minute mournful widescreen epic transferring the power of T’challa (the late Chadwick Boseman) to the women of the nation. Matriarchy: assemble! With Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Dominique Thorne, Mabel Cadena, Tenoch Huerta, Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Freeman and Isaach de Bankolé.
“All That Breathes” is another visual marvel, Shaunak Sen’s documentary masterpiece of daily life in hyper-crowded New Delhi, where two brothers who care for hurt birds, including a black kite, are not alone amid the bustle of humans, but of the city’s menagerie—rats, cows, pigs, monkeys to name a few. Verité is loosed on nature in the constructed city. The extended opening traveling shot of a street in darkened night, lit by intermittent bursts from cars and motorcycles takes its poetic time, as does the rest of the movie, to haunting, specific yet otherworldly effect. The retina is branded, again, again. The score is gorgeous, the imagery indelible. The world chokes. Consciousness reigns. Opens Friday, November 11 at Siskel.
“Causeway,” the first feature from Broadway director Lila Neugebauer (“The Waverly Gallery”) is spectacularly modest: Jennifer Lawrence is a veteran of battle in Afghanistan, hoping to recover at her childhood home where her mother still lives in New Orleans, so that despite a concussion from an IED detonation and PTSD, she can return to the military. In her work, she brought water to the desert; she gets work cleaning pools and meets a mechanic (Brian Tyree Henry, “Atlanta”) with parallel physical and mental concerns. The movie’s under ninety minutes, yet its pace is sweetly deliberate: notions of duration, character by implication and timing of monologues draw gainfully from theatrical tradition. The directed simplicity of the work is typified by choices made by production designer Jack Fisk (“Days of Heaven,” “The Tree Of Life”). Moments call attention to themselves with the simplest gestures, naturalistic, yet not, theatrical, yet not. Its characters’ realizations are earned. Continuing in theaters and on Apple TV.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
Jean-Luc Godard’s 1987 self-starring slapstick, “Keep Your Right Up!” is the opening B-feature on a double bill with Joe Dante’s 2003 “Looney Tunes: Back In Action,” both in 35mm. It’s a programmer’s crime! Delirium! Pandemonium! What! Music Box, Tuesday, November 15.
Doc has a 35mm print of the gossamer screwball of George Cukor’s 1940 “The Philadelphia Story.” (These tunes—Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant—are also looney.) Doc Films, Monday, November 14.
If that’s not enough, the rara avis of Howard Hawks’ machine-gun-delivery verbal comedy, “His Girl Friday,” lands on Southport. The overlapping comic dialogue is to be admired in every last burst. 35mm. Music Box, Sunday, November 13.
Jacques Rivette’s only American hit, the lavishly undraped “La Belle Noiseuse” (1991), plays across four hours of a painter’s gaze at the body of model Emmanuelle Béart. Doc Films, Sunday, November 13.
Bi Gan’s 3-D “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is one of the century’s great movies that’s nearly impossible to see in its original format. But Doc’s got it. Poetry, bliss, abandon: deep into Bi Gan’s indelible, narcotic masterpiece—delirium tremendous!—where a twenty-nine-year-old’s talent matches his imagination, the movie sinks into a sinuous, unbroken take, a gravity-shunning traveling shot in 3-D that lasts an hour. The director, whose first feature, “Kaili Blues” (2015), was equally attentive to time and duration in its movement across his native province of Guizhou in southwest China, creates gorgeous tableaux as well, fashioning fever dreams cool to the touch. While superficially the movie, called “Last Evenings On Earth” in Chinese (after a Roberto Bolaño short story), is neon-dreamt, lovelorn neo-noir, it is also topographical fantasia. His imagination dazzles. Resemblances to the work of other filmmakers are eclectic and bountiful, but nourishing elements of Alain Resnais, Terrence Malick, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Andrei Tarkovsky, Jia Zhangke, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and especially Wong Kar-Wai, are wholly digested. No moment feels willed, but instead reverently hallucinated. (A published poet himself, Bi Gan is also fervent about the influence of Celan, Pessoa and Dante.) The China distributors pulled a fine trick there, after the release of a sizzling trailer (the American version is embedded here).
At New Year’s, debut showings were synced to the last minute of the movie, a couple’s onscreen kiss precisely at midnight. The film grossed $38 million that night, but the next day, the movie dropped like a stone. (Social media was not kind.) Its glistening, concrete imagery, fashioned into a time-shattered mosaic of regret, didn’t suit the taste of that country’s avid mass moviegoers. A smaller but grateful audience worldwide awaits a waking dream. That single, singular hourlong shot accepts the fluid urgency of the subconscious mind: you might never wake. Life is but a dream and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is but a labyrinth. Bring your awe; it will be rewarded. Doc Films at Logan Center, Saturday, November 12.
For a filmmaker who would get a dime for a movie and make two nickel movies instead, Edgar G. Ulmer has had remarkable fortune in having his termite-level art preserved for generations. “Strange Illusion” (1945) is his modern-day rendition of “Hamlet.” A fragrant oddity, in 35mm. Doc Films, Thursday, November 17.
Indie producer and former Amazon Studios head Ted Hope has been gloomier than usual on Twitter: “In this most indecisive of indecisive industries, has the #FilmBiz reached a new peak of weakness? Between War in Ukraine, Economy down the drain, Election Time In good ‘ol USA, & those annoying persistent plagues upon us of Covid & Total Climate Disaster, is everyone giving up? Just Say No is the uniform default position for funders & distributors, & —or is it just: Wait until next season to try again. They keep getting paid in excess as long as They consolidate, merge, liquidate, & procrastinate.” And Wednesday of this week, Hope posts another thought: “Hate to say it, but I do think it is time for a #TotalRecalibrationOfIndieFilm. The Pandemic + Global Streaming has devastated commercial theatrical exhibition beyond repair, and seriously wounded both equity finance & foreign sales models to last legs, wounded realm.”
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.