Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, May 19-25, 2023
“Fast X“: there are surprises: one, of course, is that such enormous enterprises even get completed. This time out, reportedly without cars in space or room-sized safes being dragged along Miami highways, the tenth “Furious” installment is without director Justin Lin, who quit just as shooting began and “Transporter” director Louis Leterrier took over. (Something-something Vin Diesel something-something?) Opens Friday in theaters.
A documentary on the career (and alleged malaprop) of baseball great Yogi Berra, “It Ain’t Over” opens Friday in theaters.
Laurel Parmet’s “The Starling Girl” follows the instincts, not limited to dancing, of a seventeen-year-old in a rural Kentucky fundamentalist Christian community. Complications ensue: “With the return of Owen, an enigmatic youth pastor, Jem soon finds herself attracted to his worldliness and charm.” “The Starling Girl” opens Friday at River East and Landmark Century.
Paul Schrader’s “Master Gardener” unleashes another of his uneasy “men in rooms,” solitaries who discover a larger world through encounters with women whose very presence demands change. Our review is here. Opens Friday at River East and suburban locations.
A review of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s magnificent “Millennium Mambo” is below.
A sliver of 1980s Chicago, the airy but deeply idiosyncratic “Donna Rosebud,” has been restored, via Chicago Film Archives and is showing with filmmakers in attendance at Chicago Filmmakers on Saturday, May 20. A review is below.
The twenty-sixth Asian American Showcase presents a week of features and shorts at Siskel.
Penélope Cruz stars as a mother of three in Emanuele Crialese’s 1970-set “L’immensità,” a family melodrama that’s comic and tragic by turns, with superb performances by both Cruz and Luana Giuliani as her child seeking their own identity in a fast-changing world. As always, Crialese (“Golden Door”) fashions a gorgeous world for his characters to walk and run through. Music Box, Opens Friday, May 19.
There’s still-modern fragrance in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s remarkable “Millennium Mambo” (2001), all torpor and spite, tracing several young and not-so-young lowlifes in a lush-lit, electronica-pop thrumming underworld of Taiwanese mood. (The stately, narcotic delirium of Mark Lee Ping Bin’s cinematography remains unparalleled in its clash of neon and blending hues.) In a 2002 public conversation transcribed by Rouge magazine, Hou described what he considers “the burden of existence”: “In this age, which is absolutely modern and individualistic, there is this so-called ‘unbearable lightness of being.’ But essentially it’s still very heavy. This lightness of an individual’s love and feelings, however, has to deal with a world that’s as hard as a rock. The drastically new genre of contemporary cinema is basically an attempt to find a form to deal with this heavy burden on the individual’s love and feelings, or simply the burden on his existence. Isn’t our existence an endless marching along under suppression?”
There’s tenderness in Hou’s work, all of which is mysterious in its rich emotional affect no matter how much you analyze it. I’ll try to typify it through the extended opening shot of “Millennium Mambo,” introducing the main character, Vicky, which seems like ancient history and yet completely present tense. I’ve watched the opening sequence-shot of this surreally beautiful masterpiece dozens of times. While the movie’s narcotic rhythms and repetitions and sudden bursts of beauty, in composition, music, gesture and perspective, are gratifying throughout, the opening is what stays. The entire movie is there: a voiceover from a character we do not ever see situates the story we are about to witness at the turn of the new century while we watch, in ever-so-slowed motion, Hou’s muse, model-actress Qi Shu running along a pedestrian walkway, practically skipping, aware of the camera as it slinkily Steadicams behind her, turning her head, flinging her long, black hair, smiling slightly at our witness as we are told the story that took place long, long ago, yet we are in this fleeting moment, this present of youthful feminine beauty while the movie’s low-key techno theme begins to pulse. She does skip, down stairs at the end of the shot, the camera staying at its higher perspective, and the instant she is about to leave the frame? A cut to black and the simmering apparition of the main title in English. A lifetime, lifetimes, packed into a single long take of a woman in her youth, smiling, smoking, laughing, skipping, disappearing. Vicky flies away even in the first moments of her journey. Music Box, Saturday-Sunday, May 20-21.
“Donna Rosebud” is just downright weird, like a simulacrum of a lost 1960s Underground film relic. A five-years-in-the-making black-and-white live-action feature from 1986 by animator JP Somersaulter and Lillian and Michael Moats among many other hands, it contemplates a utopia of another universe, in which Donna Rosebud (Elizabeth Miller) is mother, mayor, magician, sculptor, thinker of deep thoughts—a superhero of a telepathic world where dialogue and sync-sound recording are never necessary. (“I think a person’s thoughts should be your own,” she intones in one passage of direct-to-camera stares, “I’ll send you every thought, no matter where you are.”) When the film was first released at the Music Box in 1987, Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Reader found similarities to the work of Tashlin, Borowczyk and Lynch, but Somersaulter’s film resides in its own universe, too, where independent features of any scale weren’t being made in Chicago, let alone one of such intense idiosyncrasy. In that light, it’s an exuberant oddity, a time capsule of handmade film production when even the smallest production was practically unaffordable. Was that the 1980s? Here’s possible evidence. Somersaulter, Lillian Moats and Michael Moats will appear for a Q&A with Reader film critic Kat Sachs. Chicago Film Archives at Chicago Filmmakers, Saturday, May 20, 7pm.
A second chance to catch Kelly Reichardt’s sly comedy of the artist’s day,”Showing Up“: Our review and interview here. Facets, May 19-21, 25.
A Q&A panel marks one of the last screenings of Rogers Park-native “Relative,” with cast members Wendy Robie, Clare Cooney, Emily Lape, Elizabeth Stam, Heather Chrisler, and director Michael Smith, moderated by Lori Felker. Drafthouse, Monday, May 22.
Is Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” one of the greatest movies ever made? I wonder how a film-aware viewer might perceive a first viewing today; I wonder how first audiences took in the twenty-first-highest-grossing picture of 1958. The brutal portrait of obsession is romantic only in the deadliest sense, saying, we see what we see, we seize what we want. Doc Films, Friday, May 19, 7pm; Sunday, May 21, 4pm.
Frank Borzage is one of the great romantic directors, and his 1933 “Man’s Castle” is an inspiring treat. Here’s the Chicago Film Society’s Kyle Westphal on their 35mm presentation: “Bill (Spencer Tracy) can talk his way into a meal but can’t talk himself out of his love for Trina (Loretta Young), the streetwise gamine who dreams of a real stove, the kind that doesn’t just fall off a truck. Mercifully produced before the Production Code clamped down on moonlit skinny-dipping and shanty cohabitation, ‘Man’s Castle’ is an uncommonly honest picture, an emotional jackhammer that suggests that love is, above all, an act of responsibility. Along with ‘After Tomorrow’ and ‘Little Man, What Now?,’ this picture is one of Frank Borzage’s earnest valentines to working class life at the bottom of the Great Depression, its stark precarity hardly softened by a dollop of Hollywood glamour.” 35mm. Chicago Film Society, NEIU, Wednesday, May 24, 7:30pm.
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.