Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, April 7-13, 2023
The range of openers this week, reviewed below, include the Owen Wilson-starring maybe-period cable-access comedy, “Paint“; the superb, heartrending “Tori And Lokita” from Belgian master filmmakers, the Dardenne brothers; the latest chapter in the growing library of South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, “Walk Up“; the bracing comedy-documentary hybrid about bad nonfiction makers,”The Worst Ones“; the discovery of “Tomorrow’s Promises: The Restored Films of Edward Owens“; and a personal appearance with a new film, “Tourists,” by seventy-nine-year-old independent Jon Jost.
Gregg Araki’s 1995 “Doom Generation” returns in a bold “remastering” and digital restoration. An interview with Araki from that year and a story about its notorious “Eat Fuck Kill” promo button is here. Music Box, late shows starting Friday, April 7.
“Only in Theaters” has only a single showing this weekend. “The history of the Laemmle Theaters, a beloved eighty-four-year-old art house cinema chain in Los Angeles. As the theaters face new challenges, the family behind the business is determined to see it survive.” Greg Laemmle, president of Laemmle Theatres, will be part of a post-screening Q&A. Music Box, Saturday, April 8, 4:30pm.
In repertory riches, a nearly complete Robert Zemeckis retrospective begins with “Flight” and “Death Becomes Her” (35mm). Other repertory titles: Agnes Varda’s “La Pointe Courte“; “High Fidelity” (35mm); two films by Dan Sallitt, including the essential “The Unspeakable Act“; David Cronenberg’s “The Dead Zone” (35mm); “Singin’ in the Rain” (35mm) and “Urania and the Asclepiades: A Magic Lantern Performance.” China smash “Wandering Earth II” gets an Asian Pop-up screening on Saturday. “Run Lola Run” (35mm) is part of Siskel’s “All In A Day’s Work” series, this Friday and Saturday.
Wanna know what an “ur-text” is? How about a “hur-hur, hur-text“? Try “Idiocracy,” Mike Judge’s miraculously doltish, vicious and visionary satire of the near-future of American consumerism (“Brawndo has what plants crave“) along with a “Gore Capitalism” lecture. Tuesday, April 11, 6pm.
Also on April 11, an unusual wide-release preview of the superb, raucous portrait of the queer life and queerer influence of Richard Penniman, “Little Richard: I Am Everything,” at Newcity 14, City North 14, Landmark At The Glen and fifteen other area theaters. (Trailer here.) The regular run of Lisa Cortés’ documentary begins April 21.
And: three Al Pacino pictures speak up for themselves at Drafthouse.
Plus, Roger Ebert’s Film Festival has announced the lineup of films and filmmakers for 2023.
Jon Jost describes his 2021 collage-as-narrative feature “Tourists” as “an exploration of many things—the writer Raymond Carver, the town Port Angeles, the nature of writing stories and poetry, the interplay between writing and acting, the nature of fiction and truth.” Jost works with his customary no-budget maximal minimalism, combining offhand frames of straightforward beat-down beauty, and in some sequences, on-screen titles, video effects and even performances that play out via Zoom-style split-screen. Jost is also a prodigious chronicler of his travels and encounters, posting on Facebook, Twitter, and on his own blog: “Here in Chicago I have a screening of ‘Tourists’ at Chicago Filmmakers on April 7, and until then hope to see my diminishing friends of long ago, nose about the city a touch, and perhaps say a not nostalgic so long to place and friends. It is that time of life, friends sliding off the planet, with my number encroaching.” Jost is scheduled to attend in-person for a post-screening Q & A, moderated by Jonathan Rosenbaum. (Trailer here.) Chicago Filmmakers, Friday, April 7, 7pm.
More like “Ain’t.” Some strains of comedy are elusive, either in affect and in what the makers are up to. The aggravating, superficial “Paint,” which has been marketed as a send-up of the wallpaper produced by PBS pablum personality Bob Ross, is a vehicle for whispery oddity from Owen Wilson, playing a long-in-the-tooth Vermont public television figure whose laidback mien mimics Wilson’s own. Start with the name of Owen Wilson’s character: Carl Nargle. That blob of garble, or gargle, is the first danger sign of weightless satire, even before the abundant clown wig popped upon his noggin, much like Ross or the Rainbow Man of that era. Peter Falk wasn’t a prop actor, per se, but he liked to find The Hat. Then he got to work. Wilson found The Wig. And The Beard. And The Raspy Whisper. And The Pipe. “Paint” was chosen for the 2010 Black List of promising unproduced screenplays: in it, Carl is introduced as “mid forties and white with a large pale Afro, a pipe, and a passion for denim.” The movie’s own not-rollicking woodsy murmur needs… something. And not languor. It’s skit stuff: you can hear the pages of the script rustling even as the low-budget film’s sense of time and place wobbles woefully. Carl’s audience is waning, and we glimpse what’s left of them in the set-up. Weeping women watch. Tavern day-drinkers nod off. In the bland world of the tale, Nargle’s shtick has grown tired, and wanton womanizing catches up with him. What could enliven this porridge? A pulse? Complimentary cannabis? Needs more cocaine. Needs more cocaine bear. Writer-director Brit McAdams’ previous work includes episodes of Comedy Central’s long-running “Tosh.0” series. With Stephen Root, Michaela Watkins, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Lusia Strus. “Paint” opens in wide release, Friday, April 7.
European masters Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne seventy-one and sixty-nine-years-old, respectively, have been on the international stage since before the turn of the century, and have made twelve fiction features since 1996’s “La Promesse.” The level of the two-time Palme d’Or winners’ work could be taken for granted—but the chronicles of the working-class in their part of Belgium have lost none of their urgency, and their latest, “Tori and Lokita,” is among their finest, fearless yet lovingly observed, beautifully constructed, as bold and simple and direct as a thundercrack. The brutal, transactional daily life of two minor immigrants, seventeen-year-old Lokita (Joely Mbundu), from Benin, and twelve-year-old Tori (Pablo Schils), from Cameroon, seems to be the subject of this taut story that runs less than ninety minutes, but there’s more in their friendship against all odds than at first grace. They struggle to survive, from precarious moment to precarious moment, as outsiders even at the lowest level of a society that has chosen not only not to care, but not to care for the humans entangled in the state’s economy and bureaucracy. There is brutality, and there is love, and there is goodness and grace. “Tori And Lokita” opens Friday, April 7 at the Music Box.
Chicago Film Society presents “Tomorrow’s Promises: The Restored Films of Edward Owens” (16mm). Writes CFS’ Kyle Westphal: “By the age of twenty-one, South Side native Edward Owens had won a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, studied under Gregory Markopoulos, carved out a precarious place among New York’s queer underground, met Andy Warhol, and made a quartet of distinctive films that screened around the globe. Then his filmmaking career abruptly stopped, never to resume, while the films remained in the collection of the Film-Makers’ Coop, unrented and unseen for thirty-five years. Now restored, Owens’ work demonstrates the outsized influence of his mentors but also points the way to a uniquely personal and interior cinema—home movie portraits composed with an almost beatific glow, the subjects simultaneously intimate and larger-than-life. As the only known gay Black filmmaker working during the New American Cinema era, Owens’ work is also an invaluable contribution to a renewed survey of the field, a voice almost completely excluded from the established canon of American avant-garde cinema.” Siskel, Friday, April 7, 8pm.
Romane Gueret and Lise Akoka’s “The Worst Ones,” which won top prize in the 2022 Cannes Un Certain Regard section, is a ticklish, tough widescreen tale, taking on the ethics of nonfiction filmmaking while embarking on inspired dark comedy. Four teenagers are chosen in casting for a film in the Cité Picasso housing project, in the working-class suburbs of the north of France, but why have the filmmakers chosen what the locals call “the worst ones”? The onscreen filmmakers’ questionable behavior and the genuine spark of the young actors acting as “actors” in the film-within-a-film blend to compelling result. Gueret and Akoka are working beaucoup meta, but it’s compassionate stuff, too. There is reality and “reality” and a quartet of amazing young performers. “The Worst Ones” opens Friday, April 7 at Siskel.
So little happens in the latter-day movies of Hong Sangsoo that books could, and should, be written about them. In his nineteenth movie since 2010 and his thirtieth overall, “Walk Up” (2022), written, directed and produced and with cinematography, editing and music by the graduate of the School of the Art Institute, courses up and down a building, discovering nooks, crannies and character. The exploration of the four-story building and its occupants provide a straightforward version of what fellow SAIC attendee Chris Ware did in his multimedia box, “Building Stories”: close a door, details come in through the windows. (And both artists are masters of melancholy.) The time frame is almost mystical, caught up in the exploration of the intimate spaces. And the more Hong has pared away, the simpler the stories become, the richer the films. Or “film”: this dreamy puzzle, like all Hong’s recent work, feels like part of the current of a single long, strange river. And so very funny, too. “Walk Up” is playing at Siskel.
“Urania and the Asclepiades: A Magic Lantern Performance” by Artemis Willis, in collaboration with Joel Schlemowitz and Lori Felker [Newcity Film 50], will explore “how the lantern has connected popular audiences to the cosmos and microcosmos, often by way of ancient myths. Vignettes drawn from the work of women who lectured on the international circuit a century ago pay tribute to these underrecognized ladies of the lantern, while also creating new mythologies about women and screen media. Featuring original magic lantern slides and a circa 1890 mahogany biunial (or double) magic lantern combining two projectors in a single device.” Block Museum, Northwestern campus, Evanston, Thursday, April 13, 7pm. Reserve free tickets here.
REPERTORY & REVIVAL
Tom Tykwer’s breakthrough, breakneck “Run Lola Run” (35mm) set the German filmmaker’s career in motion in 1998; I interviewed the writer-director-composer for a Filmmaker magazine cover story: “We had Underworld laying under some sequences when we were editing. We decided on some beats-per-minute. Most of the film is done in 120 beats per minute, but some of it is at 140 bpm. We just tried to find music with that speed. Underworld has this nice idea of writing the bpm on the records! So I took Underworld just because I knew how it went. That was so important, for the music to provide the basic level for the editing but not to have editing always on the beat. That is always terrible because it usually makes for stiff editing, it doesn’t give a fluid impression. We did a first edit, went into the music studio, did the first layout of the music, went back into the editing room, then left more or less half of the beats, made it more overlapping and crossing–only for really decisive situations does it make sense to be on the beat. It was as back-and-forth from editing to music studio. I wanted it to feel like a completely one-unit experience. It’s all intertwined, the music, sound, visuals, like opera. One opera piece is in three acts. That’s why it’s three acts.” Siskel, Friday, April 7, 6pm; Saturday, April 8, 8pm.
Good morning, good morning to you, too!: Doc Films perks up with “Singin’ in the Rain” (35mm), Friday, April 7, 7pm and Sunday, April 9, 4pm.
Three Al Pacino pictures at Alamo Drafthouse: Why? “‘Cos you could get killed crossing Clark Street walkin’ yer doggy!” “Carlito’s Way” (1993) (Saturday, April 8, 11am); “Sea Of Love” (1989) (Sunday, April 9, 12:20pm); and from that darn Billy Friedkin, the bruising of “Cruising” (1980) (Monday, April 10, 9:30pm).
A week of almost all the movies of establishment renegade Robert Zemeckis begins at the Music Box. Opening -night’s attractions, “Flight” and “Death Becomes Her,” are both on 35mm. “It’s not like I’ve been doing opera!” Chicago-born filmmaker Robert Zemeckis was telling interviewers at the time of “Flight” (2012) who remarked on his absence from live-action filmmaking since “Cast Away” (2000). Still, the expressive simplicity of the compositions and cutting in films like “Back to the Future” and “Contact” are rich with innate and poignant grace, however some might gauge the populist-slash-subversive narrative strokes of the screenplays of his movies. “Flight” is an adult melodrama about a middle-aged pilot who’s burning both ends of the day, divorced, angry, drug-abusing, boundary-crossing, rule-breaking drunk. Denzel Washington’s Whip Whitaker is one of his great performances, unsentimental and unapologetic about the man’s fiercely held damage. Whip himself is ankle-deep in beer cans and whiskey and vodka and gin bottles, and up to his neck in mumbling self-pity. (More “Flight” here.)
John Cusack shepherded “High Fidelity” (35mm), a bohemian rhapsody of Wicker Park circa 2000, collaborating with D.V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink on an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s 1995 London-set novel. Directed by Stephen Frears, Cusack and company tromp a particular Chicago latitude and longitude: the zone where Nelson Algren and Studs Terkel once plied their trade, near the Polish Triangle, close by Division Street America. The apocryphal Championship Vinyl, a storefront at Milwaukee and Honore, is not the only small glimpse of other spaces and locations, filigreed into the life of John Cusack’s thirty-year-old wastrel’s fantasy. Other city-specific elements include apartments with bulls-eye lintels; rain-tower-drenched intersections like Damen and Division; Lisa Bonet seen in slivers at the landmark dive, the Rainbo Club, lolling on a lipstick red couch or caught in relief beneath a scallop of terra cotta detailing. Music Box, Tuesday, April 11, 7pm.
“A professional photographer before becoming a filmmaker, Agnès Varda cited a fluid relationship between her photography and filmmaking,” writes Doc Films. “Of ‘La Pointe Courte‘ (1955), Varda recounted, ‘I started making films with the sole experience of photography, that’s to say, where to place the camera, at what distance, with which lens and what lights?’ The film moseys through a port city in France, loosely following a fisherman, a regatta and a couple contemplating their marriage.” Doc Films, Sunday, April 9, 7pm.
So many bits and pieces that seem politically prophetic in David Cronenberg’s “The Dead Zone” (1983, 35mm). It’s better to sleep on them to speak aloud. The Canadian auteur’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is superb in most every regard, and it’s nice to look back at a good boy like Christopher Walken from the remove of his recent eightieth birthday. Doc Films, Thursday, April 13, 10pm.
It’s the end of the world, as they know it, part two. China’s $600-million-plus grossing “The Wandering Earth II,” a prequel based on a novel by Liu Cixin, returns to the big screen. Asian Pop-up, Newcity 14, Saturday, April 8, 3:30pm.
Film critic-filmmaker Dan Sallitt presents “The Unspeakable Act” and “Fourteen,” his two most recent pictures.
Talk about a title that points toward its subject, once you know it’s about a young man and his younger, seventeen-year-old sister in a verdant corner of Brooklyn: what would, could that “unspeakable act” be? In “The Unspeakable Act,” the act is spoken, with a dramatic tact and flow of uncommon precision. About half an hour in, there’s a scene shot in a single extended take, where Jackie (Tallie Medel) and Matthew (Sky Hirschkron) have peeled off from a group of friends, leaning into each other’s backs while sitting on a park bench. The light under leafy green trees is gentle, and the sounds of the city and the night precisely present, hush of traffic, a commenting insect. “This is such a perfect night,” Jackie says. “It’s what I wish life could always be like. I know, it’s just a fantasy but it’s very sweet.” A pause. Matthew says, “Maybe it wouldn’t be much fun if it weren’t a fantasy.” “Well, we’ll never know, will we?” Jackie says, and Medel’s little uptick is everything. A pause. “Since when did you get so resigned to your fate?” She has the words, as she often does: “What makes you say that? All my life I’ve known there’s no solution, I don’t have any expectation of us having a life together. I never have.” She pauses. A child’s voice, raised nearby. She continues: “I’m not talking about the unmentionable act, I don’t think that’s such a big deal. I think that’s just a matter of logistics.” He rolls his words wryly: “Or, an unmentionable act that gets mentioned a lot.” “Ahh, ha, don’t that make you uncomfortable? Come on! You like it! You’d be sad if I lost interest. The phase were over. You’d feel abandoned.” These words are good on the page, but spoken aloud, performed, inhabited, murmured and slightly slurred, they are fantastic. What I am describing tells you nothing the title hasn’t, the conflict shimmers, is spoken, measured, paced, placed. Circumstance is ritualized, pondered, considered. These performances are so exact, and Medel’s is incandescent. She places each instant of her character’s directness with tossed-off accuracy. Sallitt dedicates “The Unspeakable Act” to Eric Rohmer, and there is some of the cloistered hush of Salinger’s Glass family here, but this fluent film has its own serene yet vivid life. Doc Films, Monday, April 10, 7pm.
Sallitt will also appear with “Fourteen” (2019), with Tallie Medel as part of a pair of close friends since childhood whose relationship deteriorates in a world of addiction and mental breakdown. Doc Films, Tuesday, April 11, 7pm.
Roger Ebert’s Film Festival has announced the full lineup of films and filmmakers who will participate in the twenty-third annual event, April 19-April 22 at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign. The program for Ebertfest 2023, “Empathy at the Movies,” was curated by festival director Nate Kohn and Chaz Ebert and includes eleven films, two short films, twenty guests and three musical performances. The April film feature in Newcity magazine, “‘A Machine That Generates Empathy’: Ebertfest Ten Years Along,” is here. Full list of features and performances, as well as passes here.
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.