Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, January 6-12, 2023
Creepy doll alert: “M3GAN” opens Friday. Creepy Tom alert: “A Man Called Otto” also opens Friday, another late, pinched performance along the lines of his strange Tom Parker in “Elvis.”
Bill Nighy shows the line work of “Living” in the most understated of performances of a 1950s English bureaucrat who receives a difficult diagnosis. At Siskel, a Catalan family faces the sale of the property they work after the death of its owner in “Alcarrás.”
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s tender comedy “Broker” opens at Siskel, with Song Kang-ho (“Parasite”) caught up in an intrigue about boxes left to dispense of unwanted babies. Luxembourgese star Vicky Krieps romps through the fortieth year of the life of nineteenth-century Empress Elisabeth of Austria in “Corsage, “in theaters and on demand.
Remembering it wholesale: Arnold returns in “Total Recall.”
Really long films are on tap at Siskel, and they’re “as long as a piece of string,” as British filmmaker Mike Leigh would have it. How does the original binge-watch, Jacques Rivette’s twelve-hour, fifty-three-minute “OUT 1: Noli Me Tangere” (1971) compare to the contemporary streaming shows like “Irma Vep” or “Andor“? The January print feature, a survey of miniseries and long movies, is here. “OUT 1” plays Saturday, January 7.
For Elvis’ birthday on January 8, there’s a free screening of Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” at River East. Could Baz win Best Director? Could Elvis thump “Top Gun: Maverick” for the Best Picture Oscar? Reserve here.
Swiss journeyman Marc Forster’s “A Man Called Otto,” a remake of Hannes Holm’s likably brackish Swedish “A Man Called Ove” (2015), stars Tom Hanks as a disagreeable neighbor who’s tired of living but not so tired that his clumsy suicide attempts come to anything. Widower Otto hates himself and hates his neighbors more—call him Bubba Grump. The deracinated, pearly gray look of Otto’s cul-de-sac is a quiet jab at IKEA style, and Otto’s pricey puffer coat is a touch of style, also refined, in an otherwise muted movie. It’s a wonderland of snow and greige and meh. Oh, hell, if it’s too dull to enjoy, it’s also too dull to write about at any length.
Bill Nighy’s just-discernible pulse is at the gleaming heart of “Living,” a muted but rich variation on Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 “Ikiru,” by South African director Oliver Hermanus (“Moffie”) and screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro. As a bureaucrat in a 1953 London, days spent in an office delaying urban changes, Nighy is spent elegance, louche ready for a lie-down, a last lie-down. The opening credits of the film are done in the style of the era, and introduce the color palette as well as the era, and moments later we’re in a world of men’s clothes to marvel at, as designed by the thirteen-times-nominated, three-time Oscar-winning Sandy Powell (“Shakespeare in Love,” “The Aviator,” “The Young Victoria”). The movie’s rich but muted Kodachrome colors and cafe photography suggest a range of artists, not least the German painter George Grosz as well as others of eras prior. As the bureaucrat Mr. Williams, Nighy, voice beneath a rasp, moves, or rather, nearly doesn’t move, as if he were composed of held breath, eyes waiting only for the dying light, losing the light, beneath a bowler that suggests Magritte. The hat’s a matter of some play, taken from him, a new friend who wakes him slightly after a diagnosis of death, says, “No, no, no, a girl like that steals your hat it’s always cheaper to buy a new one.” Its sorrow is silken.
Vicky Krieps is the rude center of Marie Kreutzer’s “Corsage,”an anachronism-strewn, lightly surreal not-a-biopic of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Sissi turns forty and rebels against the world that has been created for her in nineteenth-century Vienna. Krieps embodies a heedless bastard caught up in taking pause: what is this life I lead? She brings imperial bravado to a role that denies grace. Opens Friday, January 6 at River East and video-on-demand.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
Charlie Kaufman’s mid-life career summa, “Synecdoche, New York” (2008), is a dense panoply of the minutia of the narrative imagination. Kaufman provides an inspired image to strike terror in any writer, where his protagonist Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has Post-its on a table reaching not only to a vast indoor horizon but likely the foreseeable future of his life that remains. With 200 or so scenes, twice the number of most contemporary movies, any note of distemper or echo of personal fears is quickly matched by another dart-jab, duck-weave of narrative feint. When Kaufman and I spoke about the subject of the characters’ increasing awareness of mortality, we compare ages. At a certain point in life, phlegm takes on new meaning, I joke. “Various color phlegm,” Kaufman says. “How do you rate your phlegm? Which is the same as checking the color of your stools.” (Which Caden does.) “This isn’t new for me, it’s progressive, in a kind of way. And there are more aspects to it now. Maybe it’s even easier as I get older. I have lived with that kind of nervousness about my health for a very long time.” Older viewers at early screenings had talked to Kaufman about their own health. “If you express something that other people feel in their own lives, then that’s a good thing. Even if it’s a sad revelation,” Kaufman told me. Shown on 35mm. DOC Films, Friday, January 6.
Of Kurosawa’s “Ikiru,” Manny Farber asserted that the magnificent movie “sums up much of what a termite art aims at: buglike immersion in a small area without point or aim, and, over all, concentration on nailing down one moment without glamorizing it, but forgetting this accomplishment as soon as it has been passed; the feeling that all is expendable, that it can be chopped up and flung down in a different arrangement without ruin.” Manny might be less tolerant of “Living,” the variation on the screenplay starring Bill Nighy opening this week: let’s have both. Snow falls on deserted playgrounds forever. 35mm. DOC Films, Sunday, January 8.
Here’s one of the ghosts of “Total Recall,” a version that was never to be. In a partial memoir, writer-director Michael Almereyda speaks of his hours and days on “Total Recall,” excerpted in Filmmaker. “The script, developed from a twenty-two page story by Philip K. Dick, had gone through more than forty drafts by multiple hands before I took a swing at it… When I was invited to accompany ‘Twister’ to the Deauville International Film Festival in 1990, I showed up, and drifted, with more than a hint of masochism, into a screening of ‘Total Recall,’ my eyes reflexively bouncing off the French subtitles as I admired how the escalating mayhem accommodated Verhoeven’s sardonic touches, up through and beyond the cataclysmic climax, when Arnold Schwarzenegger and his revolutionary Martian girlfriend are propelled into the life-threatening atmosphere… ‘I just had a terrible thought,’ says Arnold. ‘What if this is a dream?’ ‘Then kiss me before you wake up,’ his paramour replies. I had written these lines, just a few years earlier, for a different incarnation of ‘Total Recall.’ ... I was bemused, in Deauville, to see my dialogue repurposed for the film’s final lines. In the annals of pop culture mega-hits, I’m not likely to have a more significant role than this… you can make a film like a sketch and it can be more exciting, liberating and alive than the Hollywood equivalent of a finished painting in a heavy frame. All of which has accounted, over time, for a sidewinding path that’s delivered me, fearless as a sleepwalker, into tight corners and deep ditches and other places where caution and commerce don’t necessarily come along for the ride.” Music Box, midnight, Friday-Saturday, January 6-7.
Ernst Lubitsch’s “Ninotchka” was advertised “Garbo laughs!” and that is indeed a highlight of the shapely satire of Soviet Russia versus the West in 1939. Screenplay by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and Walter Reisch. Another 35mm presentation of Wilder pics. Music Box, matinees Saturday-Sunday, January 7-8.
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.