Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, March 10-16, 2023
A range of new films opening this week, plus the usual cornucopia of fine features from film history, many on 35mm. New films: “To Leslie,” “The Trial,” “Film, The Living Record Of Our Memory,” “Scream VI,” “Champions,” “65” and “The Magic Flute.” Revivals and repertory include a “director’s cut” of “Videodrome“; “Lost in Translation,” “Spring Breakers,” “Spirited Away” and (free) online debuts of 4K digital restorations of two of the greatest movies of the 1940s, Abraham Polonsky’s breathtaking “Force of Evil” and Max Ophuls’ “Caught.”
FACETS features the Chicago theatrical premiere of “To Leslie,” a modest 1970s-style widescreen drama directed by Michael Morris and with Andrea Riseborough as a middle-aged, rock-bottom alcoholic estranged from her family and twenty-year-old son, who returns home to a tiny Texas town that remembers she once won $190,000 in the lottery. “To Leslie” has grossed less than $32,000 at the U. S. box office, but earned Riseborough a Best Actress Oscar nomination. The sweet ending is signaled here and there, but it’s the moment-to-moment capture of Riseborough’s features that counts: the camerawork by Larkin Seiple (“Everything Everywhere All At Once”) does a dance of rare and haunted intimacy, measuring Leslie’s vulnerability, but patient in capturing hurt, always allowing the always-superb Riseborough the breath to show Leslie’s innate strength and potential for reinvention. With a mean Allison Janney and Marc Maron as a mild and kindly motel manager who, aw shucks, dammit, takes Leslie under his wing. FACETS, Friday-Sunday, March 10-12.
I had never seen Orson Welles’ “The Trial” (1962) until a preview last week in Chicago of its 4K digital restoration—the many versions circulating were of notoriously awful quality. But to watch a movie this masterful (and maudit) as if it were a brand-new, basic theatrical release, not yet exposed to the light, a fresh cultural artifact… just a succession of sounds and images to marvel at. As if it were the kind of picture not just to be expected, but demanded of a week’s offerings at the movies. The senses struck anew, rather than struck afresh. (Now to find a way to describe those tender bruises and Welles’ bruise-black humor.) Music Box, opening Friday, March 10.
“Scream VI” brings some of the gang back to put on a show! “Four survivors leave Woodsboro behind and start a fresh chapter. Melissa Barrera, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Jenna Ortega, Hayden Panettiere and Courteney Cox return alongside Jack Champion, Henry Czerny, Liana Liberato, Dermot Mulroney, Tony Revolori and Samara Weaving.” In theaters.
With “Champions,” Bobby Farrelly returns to his profane, lovable misfit genre with SNL COVID-conspiracy monologuist Woody Harrelson as a former minor-league basketball coach who is ordered by a court to manage a team of players with intellectual disabilities. “He soon realizes that despite his doubts, together, this team can go further than they ever imagined. ” Go, Woody! Go, team! Go “strong language and crude/sexual reference”! In theaters.
Roland Emmerich is executive producer of “The Magic Flute,” directed by Florian Sigl, with F. Murray Abraham as “Dr. Longbow,” a teacher of modern-day pupils at a boarding school for Mozart acolytes in the Austrian Alps, where one of his charges (Jack Wolfe), bright eyes, bold voice, anime-style tousled hair and all, discovers a passageway to a fantasy-adventure world of the Mozart opera. It’s an odd concoction, a sleek modern world mixed with a pasteboard fantasy dimension. With Iwan Rheon, Asha Banks and a range of well-known opera performers. Opens Friday, March 10 at River East and outlying theaters.
The writers of “A Quiet Place” co-direct “65,” the story of two survivors of a spaceship crash on an alien planet stocked with scary monsters… sixty-five million years ago… and it’s Earth. Adam Driver stars. Sam Raimi co-produces. Opens Thursday in many, many theaters.
Inés Toharia Terán’s “Film, The Living Record Of Our Memory” is a valuable slab of witness, a sweeping sermon documenting the necessary work of archives keeping the 125-year-history of cinema from destruction, which works best in the faces of filmmakers describing the mission. Testimony comes from Costa-Gavras, Ken Loach, Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Patricio Guzmán, Ridley Scott, Ousmane Sembene, Jonas Mekas, Bill Morrison and others. Opens Friday, March 10 at Siskel.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
The Film Preservation Foundation regularly provides access to recent movie preservations to an online audience on a regular basis for a brief window at a time. This month’s attractions include two of the greatest movies of the 1940s, including a film I’ve seen as many times as any other, Abraham Polonsky’s terse and moody, lyrical yet brutal “Force of Evil” (1948), as canny a critique of capitalism as the American studio system ever released, as well as Max Ophüls’ ever-in-motion thriller “Caught” (1949). “‘Caught’ is the third film the great Max Ophüls would make in America and it’s a dramatic and sometimes terrifying examination of domestic life in the 1940s,” the Film Foundation writes. “He makes the most of his terrific cast—James Mason, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Robert Ryan—to tell the story of a young fashion model who falls in love too quickly and soon finds herself a prisoner in her new husband’s estate. Lee Garmes’ striking cinematography creates an unforgettable mood to match the dark melodrama.” The double feature includes access to a live presentation with commentary, restoration demonstrations and pre-recorded interviews. Access begins March 11 for seventy-two hours with registration here.
I’ve written about “Force of Evil,” but I prefer novelist-screenwriter Howard Rodman’s brief description he offered me a while back:
Music Box attractions include multiple classics, including Monday, March 13 of Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away“ (35mm) and midnight shows of Walter Hill’s “48 HRS.“ (35mm).
Which is not to neglect the “director’s cut” of David Cronenberg’s naggingly visionary “Videodrome,” which has been available on home video but not in theaters. It’s only slightly more graphic, including an extended ear-piercing and shot of a dildo in a TV program. Music Box, Wednesday, March 15, 9:30pm.
The Sofia Coppola matinee of the week is “Lost In Translation” (35mm): What does Coppola whisper in your ear? Music Box, Saturday-Sunday, March 11-12.
“I never cared so much about making perfect sense; I wanted to make perfect nonsense,” is one of Harmony Korine’s calling-card quotes about “Spring Breakers” (2012). A bitter-and-sweet combine, a sleek, nonstop objet d’art, a day-glo, pop-pumped puzzler: what plays across our upturned faces turns out to be an energetic American version of a Gaspar Noé devil-dream, and the images by “Enter the Void” cinematographer Benoît Debie share a bioluminescent sheen with that bad trip, rough-edging and Instagram-coloring footage of drunken revelers on the beach and in hotel-room parties (very little of which contains the four protagonists) in slowed-footage montages that embrace as much as critique low-rent Bacchanalian excess, that displays underclass pop revelry while allowing a queasy sensation that we’re not here for sin. The then-forty-year-old filmmaker, shooting on film, is indeed after something more like art installation than crass, gleaming, glandular grandeur, although there is an amplitude: the prankish elements in a glowing satirical package come closer to Paul Verhoeven than “Girls Gone Wild.” Korine doesn’t have to wave American flags in the middle ground or background, television and pop culture’s downward dive has pre-waved for him. And issues of race and class, and underclass, course and erupt throughout, as if Florida’s rivers ran with sweat and subtext. It’s less a sustained traditional narrative than a gallery installation on a loop, or at an immense electronic music show, something that could be playing on all four walls at once, brightness and color bouncing off one screen, another, another. Dialogue’s treated the same way, another texture among waves of texture. Alamo Drafthouse, Wednesday, March 15 and Thursday, March 16.
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.