Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, April 14-20, 2023
A highly selective view of another tumultuous week of Chicago film programming, highlighted by a superb new film by an American great. Such simple, shivering surfaces: “Showing Up,” Kelly Reichardt’s beautiful and slyly wicked comedy, her ninth feature, explores, with minimalist observation, a single figure’s tribulations and ministrations across a confined period of time. Our extended interview with Reichardt, about the process of her character as well as her own, is here. Opens Friday, April 14 at River East and Landmark Century.
Most notable of revival and repertory attractions: the Music Box’s Robert Zemeckis retrospective fills out the coming week, details below and here.
“How To Blow Up A Pipeline” is director Daniel Goldhaber’s meta-adaptation of Andreas Malm’s philosophical manifesto that’s not a how-to-book of the same name, which contemplated the parameters of future protest in the face of potential ecological disasters. Shot on 16mm with a 1970s-style score, the reportedly scrappy result is a thriller that follows a crew of young activist-anarchists who consider eco-terrorism in a world economy dependent on fossil fuel extraction. The clock is ticking. Opens Friday, April 13 at River East, New City 14, Alamo Drafthouse.
Makoto Shinkai’s nearly decade-in-the-making anime picaresque “Suzume” is a world of blue skies and lasting worries, a tender tale of a sad seventeen-year-old girl who deals with grief by taking a road trip with a talking chair through disaster-stricken reaches of Japan. Shinkai is a painter and a dreamer and “Suzume” is a wide expanse of landscape and feeling to get lost in on a big screen. It’s a beauty. Opens Friday, April 14 at River East, Block 37, 600 North Michigan, ICON Showplace, New City 14, City North,Webster Place.
Chris McKay’s splatter comedy “Renfield” opens Friday in wide release: Nicolas Cage is back as the man in black-and-blood.
“The Pope’s Exorcist“: Russell Crowe, does he wear the white Balenciaga puffer coat? Is he the man in white-and-blood? Opens Thursday.
Facets presents Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s documentary “Body Parts” and a panel, “Intimacy Work on Stage & Screen,” featuring intimacy coordinator Jessica Steinrock, CEO of Intimacy Directors & Coordinators. The panel will discuss “what intimacy coordination is, why it’s critical to creative work, and what’s happening right now in Chicago.” “Body Parts” “explores the evolution of desire and ‘sex’ on-screen from a woman’s perspective… part film-history lesson on the dominance of the heterosexual male gaze and part clarion call for employing intimacy coordinators across the entertainment field. It neither shies away from uncomfortable conversations nor ignores imagemakers trying to set a higher, more inclusive bar on set and on screen,” per Facets. The New York Times profiles Steinrock here: “Steinrock’s work on intimate scenes in film has come to prominence as the entertainment industry reels from the litany of sexual abuses brought to light by the #MeToo movement.” “Body Parts” is at Facets, April 14-16; panel April 15.
Donnie Yen’s passion project as performer and director, “Sakra” (based on the Buddhism-inflected wuxia novel “Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils ” by Jin Yong), is a rapture of fluent wirework and mid-air stunts, fights, brawls, scrimmages, struggles and clashes that gratify with geometric lyricism. Yen’s a grand old hand at this, and even in the simple story of a band of roving martial artists avoiding accusations of murder, there’s so much more to his craft than even his central turn as a blind assassin in “John Wick: Chapter 4.” The credited action directors are Kenji Tanigaki and Yan Hua, with “Donnie Yen’s Action Team.” In theaters April 14 and video-on-demand on April 18.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
Before the chock-a-block career retrospective of Robert Zemeckis at the Music Box, I checked in with Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone (“Princess Cyd”), an ardent admirer. “Well, my favorite living American filmmakers are Malick and Sofia Coppola, but if you mean a pantheon of Hollywood directors I adore who are utilizing technology in a similarly imaginative, large-scale way, I’d put him up with Scorsese and Fincher. Throw Ang Lee into the mix, too, in many ways the most apt comparison.”
Would you say that Zemeckis is a radical filmmaker? He literally is. Radical is defined as fundamental change, far-reaching action, and that defines both the form and content of Zemeckis’ art. Almost every movie he makes is about going somewhere no one has ever been, which is inseparable from the process of making it. He’s also a century-straddling pop artist. Like Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Johns, he’s interested in both kitsch and transcendence, and in opening up new dimensions using the technology, tools and imagery of the mainstream. As for whether he’s the most traditional experimentalist or the most experimental traditionalist to ever make movies in America, I can’t say. Maybe both.
The 35mm attractions, alphabetically: “Back to the Future,” “Back to the Future II,” “Back to the Future III,” “Beowulf,” “Contact,” “Death Becomes Her,” “Flight,” “Forrest Gump,” “The Frighteners” (executive producer), “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “Polar Express,” “Romancing The Stone,” “Used Cars” and “What Lies Beneath.” DCP versions: “Allied,” “Cast Away,” “The Walk,” “Welcome To Marwen,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Passes available, too. Tickets and more here.
Two of the most vital of experimental pictures: Dziga Vertov’s 1929 “Man With A Movie Camera” and Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid’s 1943 “Meshes Of the Afternoon.” Advises Doc Films, “Man with a Movie Camera” “is one of the rare cinema 101 works that seemingly everyone loves. Vertov’s revolutionary film, sans intertitles, is a masterclass of cutting, framing, throwing everything at the wall, and generally being hyper in a uniquely 1920s way.” “Meshes” is a weave of strange dreams with imagery that was fresh and bold at the time and vital to this day. Doc Films, Friday, April 14, 7pm.
Recent revivals, revived, at Drafthouse: “The Doom Generation” shows Friday night; David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” shows Tuesday, April 18; and Richard Linklater’s leisurely Renoiresque coming-of-comedy-age that reflects multiple eras, “Dazed and Confused” plays Saturday, April 15; Hype Williams’ urgent, essential only feature, 1998’s fever-neon crime drama with Nas and DMX, “Belly” plays Thursday, April 20.
Four characters in four Chinese provinces propel the widescreen “A Touch Of Sin” (2013), based on three true-life murders and one suicide incited by endemic corruption and violence. (Characters overlap, but the stories don’t.) As richly shot by Yu Lik Wai, Jia Zhangke’s seventh fiction feature holds cold, stern, even ruthless beauty in its capture of magnificent and monstrous chaos. All is artfully arrayed, through scale, symmetry and adroit, thrilling camera movements. The opening story is a bloody, concussive, post-Western, and his dissatisfied protagonist shouts down all that is wrong. It’s as if “Yojimbo” met the Edward Burtynsky doc “Manufactured Landscapes”: the village streets are ruins of never-realized modernity and he’s Yojimbo, the lone man, the lone warrior, with his weapon, his final destination unknown, his present destination, vengeance. He is sarcastic and he is angry and he has a weapon. (His shotgun is wrapped in a towel that can barely contain a roaring tiger.) There’s a precise, poetic visual detail in every scene throughout: in a cold workroom, twenty men hold their bowls of noodles up to slurp from, steam rising in columns; an overturned truck of fruit in landscape; huge, half-finished, sky-high overpasses; snakes writhe on the floor of a sauna; police cars race one way, a horse with his cart, no rider, goes the other. There are pressures in modern China: put simply and stridently, a man in a sauna shift demands sex from the attendant: “I’ll smother you in money… I have fucking money! Fuck! Fuck you! Isn’t my money good enough?” I can’t imagine a comparable American movie, militating passionately, lyrically over on the economic inequities of American life. It just isn’t done. Part of the “Gore Capitalism” lecture series. Siskel, Tuesday, April 18, 6pm.
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.