Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, November 18-24, 2022
Thanksgiving time brings a crush of movies both on big screens and small; films opening November 23 will be reviewed in next week’s column, including “Glass Onion,” the first of two Netflix-produced sequels to “Knives Out” (with a gaga price tag north of $450 million). Rian Johnson’s billionaire- and disruptor-class satire-mystery “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” opens in a few hundred theaters over Thanksgiving for a one-week teaser before launching on the service worldwide at Christmas. Opens in theaters for one week only, November 23.
Plus: Steven Spielberg’s self-portrait of his childhood-through-teen years, “The Fabelmans,” opens. Guillermo del Toro posted that it’s “beautiful, moving—’The Fabelmans’ is a superb work about three ‘F”s: Family, Forgiveness and Film.” In theaters, Wednesday November 23.
A further Netflix apparition, for a few brief days before its perma-home onstreaming, is Mark Gustafson and Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion “Pinocchio,” which will be at the Music Box in 35mm. The Tuesday, November 22, 7pm show includes a live, virtual Q&A with the filmmaker. Opens Friday, November 18 at the Music Box, complete showtimes here.
When the Charlie Trotter bio-doc “Love, Charlie” debuted at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2021, director Rebecca Halpern told us, “Google ‘What is Chicago known for?’ and you get two answers: food and architecture. Chef Charlie Trotter singlehandedly put Chicago on the map for food. ‘Love, Charlie’ follows Trotter’s epic life story, from his childhood in Wilmette, when he was called ‘Chuck’; through his work at Chicago institutions like the Ground Round in Wilmette’s Plaza del Lago and legendary restaurateur Gordon Sinclair’s American Grill in Lake Forest; then, to his own meteoric rise during Chicago’s heyday. In the 1990s, Chicago felt like the center of the universe with Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and the World Champion Chicago Bulls, and Charlie Trotter, the hottest, most innovative chef in the country, if not the world. But for Trotter, being on top meant someone was always gunning for his spot, and he often made front-page news for gossipy spats, many of his own making, and embarrassing incidents that undermined his legacy.” The Saturday, November 19 showing features a Q&A with Halpern, Anne Trotter and filmmaker Lisa Ehrlich, moderated by Rick Bayless. Monday, November 21’s screening will have a Q&A with producer Renée Frigo and chefs Rick Tramonto, Carrie Nahabedian and Karen and John Shields. At the Music Box, November 19, 21.
Expat Iranian filmmaker Ali Abbasi’s based-on-fact “Holy Spider” is a violent quest to unravel a terrible mystery, which we are shown right in the open: female journalist Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) looks for Saeed, a depraved serial killer who is murdering sex workers, a trail that takes her to the rough side of the Iranian holy city of Mashhad. Abbasi, whose previous film was “Border,” has made a movie that is physically and morally viscid, but its palpable anger grues on you. The blunt, grisly tone sometimes parallels John McNaughton’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” in its acrid pungency. Zar Amir Ebrahimi’s award-winning performance matches Abbasi’s direction: relentless and unflinching. Opens November 18 at Siskel.
REVIVAL & REPERTORY
The week’s trove includes Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X“; Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s period popper “Party Girl“; Olivier Assayas’ haunted “Personal Shopper“; Gaspar Noé’s lysergic nightmare of love and loss, “Enter The Void“; “RRR,” disclaimer and all; and W. C. Fields in “It’s A Gift” in 35mm.
Spike Lee’s sprawling yet focused epic, the gorgeously mounted epic biopic “Malcolm X,” shows in its complete, widescreen 202-minute glory in 35mm as part of Black Harvest. Is there enough money in the world to make a movie like this in the modern world? Siskel, Saturday, November 19.
Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s poppy “Party Girl,” a period picture with Parker Posey at her prime, capturing the lost world of 1990s downtown New York City and independent filmmaking and distribution, shows on 35mm at the Music Box. The cocktail on offer is the Party Girl Punch, for $10: Pimm’s No. 1, strawberry liqueur, lemon juice and ginger beer. Music Box, Friday-Saturday, November 18-19 midnight shows.
“In ‘RRR,’ the male leads have the kind of strength and prowess normally associated with superheroes,” writes Naman Ramachandran in Variety. “Bringing together two superheroes had been in S. S. Rajamouli’s mind from his childhood and, to that, he added elements of revolutionary Che Guevara’s memoir ‘The Motorcycle Diaries.'” You can watch the propulsive result as a Hindi dub on Netflix, or see the original Telugu version on the big screen at DOC Films. I’m still hoping to see the key musical number nominated and then shown as part of the Oscar show; for now, be satisfied with the opening card of the year: “DISCLAIMER: NO ANIMALS OR BIRDS WERE HARMED DURING THE MAKING OF THE FILM. HORSES, OXEN, BIRDS, TIGERS, WOLVES, BEARS, LEOPARDS, DEER, FISH, AND SNAKE.” Doc Films, Saturday, November 19.
Chicago Film Society’s “comedic hero” W.C. Fields “stars as “Harold Bissonette (pronounced Biss-on-ay!), an incompetent grocer and put-upon family man with lofty dreams of owning an orange ranch in sunny California,” CFS writes. “The film begins with a quiet but side-splitting scene of mild domestic hell in a shared bathroom (‘You want me to cut my throat? Keep that up.’) and what follows is an unrelenting sixty-eight minutes of Fields being terrorized and debased by nearly everyone and everything he encounters, including his wife, his children, his neighbors, his customers, his dog and a coconut.” 35mm. Opens with Fields in “The Dentist” on 16mm. Chicago Film Society, Wednesday, November 23 The Auditorium at NEIU, 3701 West Bryn Mawr inside Building E.
The daffy, woozy “Enter the Void,” like Gaspar Noé’s other work, is a kaleidoscopically, pyrotechnically urgent mix of life, death and visual and sonic invention. His instincts splice Godard and Dostoevsky: piercing style and mortal dread. Transcendence is subjective; results may vary. In Noé’s first three features (plus medium-length “Carne”), the Argentine-born French filmmaker traffics in shock, but he’s reaching for a meaty, elemental view of the human condition: we’re not just human, not only animal, but flesh and blood, readily rent and torn. The raging butcher of horseflesh, a madman for sure, in his first two films, “Carne” and “I Stand Alone,” is tormented by voices, by his thoughts, what Noé has called the “radio in his head.” Him against the world, protecting a daughter, hating a wife. In “Irreversible,” a murder and a rape are markers in a chronologically backward narrative that ends-begins on sweetness and light and the hope of progeny (as well as the image of the Star Child from “2001: A Space Odyssey”).
The need for children to be protected, shielded from the violence of adults, whether attaining womanhood, or unborn, yet-to-be-born, just conceived, is an insistent undercurrent. What lies beneath Noé’s sensorium of heightened perception in his visceral filmmaking is a ferocious sense of vulnerability, blood, sweat and fears, more blood, the human state as man as flesh but also the hope of some kind of transubstantiation; birth, regeneration, persistence of DNA. He doesn’t strive to be the caveman painting in the cave; he strains to capture the first shadows against the wall on the back of the brain. “Enter the Void” is seen from the perspective of its protagonist, a punk drug dealer (Nathaniel Brown) protecting his beloved sister (Paz de la Huerta), a stripper—even after his own murder—in a neon-day-glo nightscape, inside a pachinko-on-DMT Tokyo where the club scene seems to exist in dark interiors, in the streets, in the mind. He and his memories float above the city, and the distorted landscape fascinates: the camera builds a rhythm from unexpected explorations. The imagery blooms with gaudy, seedy beauty even when nudity or sleazy sex is wall-to-wall and the English-language dialogue turns to melodrama. The trip culminates in what is probably both apocalypse and reincarnation. 35mm. Doc Films, Friday, November 18.
Olivier Assayas’ quietly mesmeric, literal “zeitgeist” pic, “Personal Shopper,” with its ghosts, with its temporal tricksiness, is part meditation on modern means of contact, part elusive ghost story—when we text, are we communicating with spirits? Kinda? (Sorta.) The frame is also very much about Kristen Stewart, as Assayas’ friend and second-time muse is a vessel of frustration and impatience, a face and petite figure that express endlessly, express suggestively, the spark of being alive, having no other choice but to stay alive, alert, above the cacophony of work, the working of grief, the signification of class and fashion and the fate of effortless style, a girlish clumsiness transformed in each awkward action and tensile interaction as elemental fierce presence. (“Stewart’s very gaucheness is gorgeous,” Xan Brooks wrote in the Guardian.) Maureen lingers in Paris because of her brother’s recent death, shopping for a little-seen jet-shopping celebrity, sourcing singularly tasty items (including loads of Chanel). Assayas indicates the invisible, the unseen; our willful hope to make manifest that which we most mourn, most fear. This undertaking is central to “Personal Shopper,” as is the custom of taking on fresh identities, the identities of others, or refracting facets of ourselves by habit or instinctually: Maureen is also a persona shopper, not only trying on the clothing of her distracted client who keeps her in Euro and agita, but the lives of others. What Assayas and I talked about in terms of “Something in the Air” (2012), applies as well to “Personal Shopper,” with the luxe trappings that surround a woman shouldering on her unearned position atop her superb taste. “I believe in the power of objects, of colors and so on, but then I don’t want to be too felicitous in filming. Because when I am filming I just need the likeness, the spontaneity, the degree of the improvisation, being about to reinvent the shot and so on and so forth. But, I know that I am constantly dealing with things I see and things I don’t see, and that if I get it right, every single image will have a broader, longer echo within the viewer.” Slippery specificity: the range of implication in “Personal Shopper” is vast. Part of the “50/50” anniversary series, Siskel, Monday, November 21.