Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, February 17-23, 2023
Little “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” opens on large screens all over the place on Friday. A Marvel movie about another drab apocalypse, but with charming fellow passengers to pass the time in charming fashion as noxious clouds swirl, and dim tapestry keeps unfurling in lieu of landscape. The actors give a lot: Paul Rudd, whose ever-youthful mien reminds of the comment by a character in the Monkees’ “Head” that they would like to “run barefoot through Victor Mature’s hair”; Michelle Pfeiffer, taking very seriously a role as a universe-wrecker while lit by Bill Pope (“The Matrix”) as eyes, cheekbones and mischief; the just-rolled-out-of-bed still-embargoed big-name cameo artist; Jonathan Majors bringing sly dignity to the time-jumping multiverse-wrecker Kang the Conqueror and the wonderfully charismatic Kathryn Newton as Cassie Lang, part of one more generation of superheroes, if not the first spawn. Classically inclined director Peyton Reed (“Bring It On”) excels at the non-sequitur-driven comedy; the slurry of action is just more Marvel mayhem. Opens Friday, February 17.
“Irreversible: Straight Cut” is Gaspar Noé’s 2020 revisiting of his 2002 provocation about a day in the life of a content French couple, played by the then-married Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel. (This is the first American theatrical release.) Of this version, Noé says, “Putting the scenes in clockwise order makes it easier to identify with the characters and understand the tale unfolding. The same story is no longer a tragedy, this time it is a drama that brings out the psychology of the characters and the mechanisms that lead some of them to a murderous barbarity. While ‘Irreversible’ has sometimes been wrongly perceived as a ‘rape and revenge’ B movie, here the deadly outcome is all the more depressing. The film can be more easily seen as a fable on the contagion of barbarity and the command of the reptilian brain over the rational mind.” (Yes.) An interview with Noé on the reediting of his film is here. Opens Friday, February 16 at Alamo Drafthouse.
Another stealth release of the work of older filmmakers: a “Marlowe” starring the seventy-year-old Liam Neeson and directed by the oft-great Neil Jordan, who turns seventy-three next week, is in theaters, from “The Departed” screenwriter William Monahan (a mere babe of sixty-two).
“Dick Tracy Special: Tracy Zooms In” (sic) is one of the strangest half-hours in an age, smuggled last Friday night into a late-night slot on TCM. Could it be the last, eccentric gasp of the eighty-five-year-old producer-director-actor?
The 2023 Academy Award Nominated Shorts play starting Friday, with live-action and animated shorts at the Music Box and live-action, documentary and animated work all showing at Siskel.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
“The Master” is a movie that gains from the big screen; I first saw it at the semi-authorized 70mm sneak preview at the Music Box before its release.
“This is something you do for a billion years or not at all.” There’s much declaimed about mind and matter and devotion to ideas, ideas that will weather time, in “The Master,” and the teeming result is crafty, chunky delight, an enigma of ape and ego. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson wrestles with man-vs.-animal in eccentric, compelling, outrageously plush fashion: it’s not just about L. Ron Hubbard and the roots of Scientology, as was rumored before the film’s release. It’s most particular about sterling, physical performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix as battling, wrestling embodiments of flesh and philosophy. (35mm) DOC Films, Friday, February 17.
With Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon” now on video after wildly disparate reviews, is it time to reevaluate 2018’s also-underestimated “First Man“? Neil Armstrong steps away. Apart from the crew, the crowd, the fray. Armstrong pauses, looks for calm. He does this a lot in Chazelle’s portrait of loss, mourning, grief and solitude, “First Man.” Several times he lifts his chin, face plain, toward the night sky, toward a waxing moon, a waning moon, never a full one. Neil Armstrong is apart. A part of a huge apparatus, as well, on track to the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, but that is not what interests director Damien Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer (“Spotlight,” “The Post”). Armstrong loses someone he loves dearly, and fears loving again in such measure. Ryan Gosling goes deeper into his incarnation of the charismatic mask: the Gary Cooper face that is still, sometimes stock-still, yet always a fraction of a hair from bleakest melancholy. Gosling’s expression in a word: bereft. The trajectory of the space program is strewn with deaths. “First Man” hasn’t fully announced its form until around the middle, where the camerawork calms and we watch the preparations for a test for the first Apollo mission that ends in sparks and fire and death. (The repeated shot on either end of that scene is as terrifying as the black airless void itself.) Loss. Further loss. Armstrong’s resolve. Armstrong’s silence. Armstrong’s PTSD. Gosling’s face. This is where “First Man” tightens the bolts. You can walk on the moon and return home alive but can you face your purest fear, to love in spite of the greatest danger, loss of those you work with, live with, love? Chazelle’s accomplishment is to restore that single letter, “a”—so small; everything; this piercing movie—which Armstrong left out when he said, “one small step for man,” rather than the planned “one small step for a man.” Claire Foy, as Janet Armstrong, is also kept close to camera, and multiple times barefoot and innocent in long shot, eyes always wide and hopeful, fearful. The gestural strength Chazelle draws from close-ups of Foy is immense, from the slightest turn of her head, from a trickle of fingers, from a canvas of freckles and resolve. Armstrong was a Korean War veteran, like my father, in the Air Force, like my father. Then there was Gosling: silent but not stoic, distant, unaccountable, self-contained, like my father. Thirty-three-year-old Damien Chazelle has captured a generation of men who have left, or are leaving us. The Block, Evanston, Saturday, February 18, 1pm.
After the passing of film critic and Black Harvest Film Festival co-founder and consultant Sergio Mims, the Siskel Film Center has established the Sergio Mims Fund For Black Excellence In Filmmaking to honor his legacy of giving a voice and platform to the next generation of Black filmmakers. “Sergio was a family friend for many, many years,” board chair of Kartemquin Films Sylvia Ewing says in a release. “ As a producer, I recall how delightful it was to be first to book him as a guest on Chicago Tonight and other media to share his wit and wisdom. Sergio was a connector, always bringing people together over shared passions and strong opinions. Sergio was deeply committed to giving Black filmmakers a platform to show their work and engage new audiences. This fund is a worthy memorial to his vision to help bring more Black voices to the conversation around film and the film experience.” The fund was established by a planning committee consisting of Black Harvest Film Festival supporters Barbara Allen, Sylvia Ewing, Amir George, N.K. Gutiérrez, Isabelle Martin, Lisa Mims, Troy Pryor and Cleo Wilson. It is administered by Kartemquin Films. More here.
Walter Chaw’s ebullient epic career biography and festschrift “A Walter Hill Film” (reviewed here) has more copies stocked in the publisher’s store; $100 for the signed hardcover, $50 for the forthcoming paperback here.
“Reds” was a better title. “Yellows,” not so much.
“Dick Tracy Special: Tracy Zooms In” is a sequel to 2008’s similar half-hour emanation with Leonard Maltin (who appears again, along with Ben Mankiewicz.) It’s a deeply odd artifact, crafted merely in order to keep the contractual rights to the character of Dick Tracy in Warren Beatty’s hands, rather than the successors to the Tribune Company.
The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Olsen: “Will this be the last thing directed by Warren Beatty?” (Beatty, whose feature debut was in “Splendor in the Grass” in 1961, will be eighty-six in a few weeks.)
A lot of the half-hour is just Dick Tracy in a bright yellow coat talking on a Zoom call and some of it is Tracy and Beatty talking at each other about modern movies. Here’s a patch: “By the way, if you ever do make another movie, I think maybe it’d be good for you to have somebody you can argue with. You say you don’t know what to think about making movies now. Well, that’s because things have changed so fast. People want to watch movies at home and put them on pause so they can use their cell phone, so they can break for dinner, so they can go to the toilet, so they can treat movies like books, so they can look at them, put them down, pick them up later. They don’t want to have to drive to a theater, they don’t want to have to park their car. They want to look at whatever they like, whenever they want to look at it. Yeah, sure, sometimes they’ll take the trouble to go to a theater and see a movie on a big screen. fine…. And would you think about maybe getting somebody a little younger than you to play me? But I don’t know. I’m not sure. Maybe I should be played old by somebody who’s able to do things old. People can’t ordinarily do. And you know, maybe it’s better as a series. That’s how we started in 1931 on the funny papers.” Whew?
Filmmaker and director, indigenous programmer at Sundance Adam Piron posts:
cinematic parallels: MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943, dir, Maya Deren) / DICK TRACY SPECIAL: TRACY ZOOMS IN (2023, dir. Warren Beatty, Chris Merril) pic.twitter.com/IIzXi0Ku4d
— Adam Piron (@adam_piron) February 11, 2023
From Twitter user David Daut: “Me: ‘Copyright law in the United States is a nightmare and needs serious reform’ Also me: ‘Warren Beatty hoarding the film rights to Dick Tracy by doing low-effort interviews in-character for TCM is spectacularly funny and I hope he keeps it up forever.’”
Filmmaker NickRob on Twitter: “‘Tracy Zooms In’ is the peak of everything – the singularity- where abject hypercapitalism eats itself and becomes art for art’s sake unto itself. 10/10″
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.