Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, June 16-22, 2023
Fire, water, air… gags. Pixar’s knack for finding metaphors for universal experience has always been… “Elemental.” That title must have been at the top of a wall-spanning whiteboard for years. Opens Thursday, June 15.
“The Flash” may be the last immense quarter-billion-dollar salvo before the products from the newly constituted DC movie universe unfurl in a few years: meanwhile, the metaverses make major mucilage of the history of superhero movies, along with Ben Affleck as a Batman, Michael Keaton as a Batman, a raft of unlikely guest cameos, and a subplot incorporating… “Back to the Future”? Opens Thursday, June 15.
Tim Story’s “The Blackening” places a brace of Black friends in a cabin in the woods with a killer in the offing: “Of course, we want ‘The Blackening’ to be enjoyed by everyone – but it’s especially a celebration of and a theatrical event for Black culture,” says the director of “Barbershop” and “Ride Along.” “This film really shows that Black people are not a monolith–there are so many different things that define us, but also bring us together.” With Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Dewayne Perkins, Antoinette Robertson, Sinqua Walls, Jay Pharoah and Yvonne Orji. Opens Friday, June 16.
Thatcher’s England, 1988: the rabid Conservative government is about to pass an anti-gay law, which pushes gym teacher Jean (the radiant Rosy McEwen) to submerge her life. Her writing-directing debut, Georgia Oakley’s sincere, plain-spoken British lesbian coming-of-age “Blue Jean” is a tactile account of self-acceptance, its images composed with uncommon assurance, which accentuates the film’s themes of control against control. It bears a gentle, lingering punch. Its urgency captures then, resonates now. Siskel, opens Friday, June 16.
REVIVAL & REPERTORY
It’s North by Northwest at the Music Box before the opening of the super-Wes Southwest-set “Asteroid City” next week, with four pictures by Wes Anderson on 35mm: “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (see entry below).
The Wachowskis’ “Bound” is at the Music Box in 35mm on Thursday, June 22. Presented by Rated Q and Ramona Slick. Preshow drinks and DJ in Music Box Lounge at 9pm, with drag show performance in the main theater at 9:45pm, followed by the film. (See entry below.) “Do The Right Thing” is also reviewed below.
Siskel’s fatherly furies series, “Daddy Issues” is a stellar lineup, including Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann“; Yasujiro Ozu’s “Late Spring“; Charlotte Wells’ “Aftersun“; and, all on 35mm, Andrei Tarkovsky’s “The Sacrifice“; Peter Bogdanovich’s “Paper Moon“; Peter Weir’s “Mosquito Coast“; Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves“; and from Siskel’s Science on Screen series, Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men,” or as autocorrect kept insisting, “12 André Men.” (See “Toni Erdmann” below.) Siskel, June 16-29, full listings here.
The Chicago Film Society presents semi-Surrealist 1921 war thriller “Pour Don Carlos!,” co-directed, co-written and starring Musidora (“Les Vampires”), in a restored 35mm tinted print in its first U.S. playdate, with live accompaniment by local musician and experimental filmmaker Tatsu Aoki. Chicago Film Society at the Music Box, Monday, June 19.
“Well, here’s the thing, though,” Spike Lee said way back in February 2019, promoting “BlacKkKlansman,” “and this is the biggest criticism of ‘Do the Right Thing’: ‘Spike Lee, he didn’t provide the answer to racism! To prejudice!’ That was 1989, and I’m not going to start in motherfucking 2019. That’s not my job. To show what the fuck is happening. And hopefully, through dialogue or whatever, people see what the hell is going on. But I will not sit in front of this microphone staring at the Capitol Building and tell you that Spike Lee has an antidote to cleanse the world of hate, and racism. I won’t do that. It’ll be a lie. I don’t have the answer.” Here’s a question though: have you seen “Do the Right Thing”? Have you seen “Do the Right Thing” recently? It’s a startling, electric creative dispatch from yesterday, and maybe even the future. When first released thirty-plus summers ago by Universal Pictures, cultural commissars warned of its potential impact: the apparition of this thrilling city symphony-Brechtian-Broadway-street scene-drama-dance musical would be an incendiary act, that it would set cities ablaze. Watching “Do the Right Thing” in 2023 is as much cloudburst as thunderclap: Lee’s indignation and furious creativity do not simmer, not unto this day. Lee’s movie stands far above the saddening crowd of today’s releases, and is born anew as it lights the screen, any screen. Drafthouse, Monday, June 19, 7:30pm.
Maren Ade’s third feature, “Toni Erdmann,” is bittersweet and berserk, realist yet surrealist, which, once you’ve absorbed the particulars of the premise, has as many indelible laughs as any movie released in recent months. Beyond a gift for scalding observation of uneasy relationships demonstrated in her earlier features, “The Forest for the Trees” (2003) and “Everyone Else” (2009), the forty-six-year-old German filmmaker spends ages mulling over her subjects to find a proper tone. Talking to Canada’s Cinema Scope magazine, Ade quickly cops to the source of her inspired, loving but lunatic drama and comedy: “I spent a lot of time with Andy Kaufman on the internet, because it took four weeks to Google everything about Andy Kaufman.” Winfried, a shaggy middle-aged divorcee and music teacher (Peter Simonischek, who died late last month), and unrepentant trickster—bereft when he loses his last music student, followed soon by the death of his dog—decides to prank his workaholic daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller) who works as a corporate strategist to foreign businesses in Bucharest that engulf and devour inefficient Romanian businesses. Ines doesn’t appreciate Winfried’s dad-humor jokes and cracked humor returning to her life, and after mortifying run-ins during her daily life of meetings and meet-ups in hotel bars, she ships him back to the homeland. Winfried vamooses but not entirely. Enter “Toni Erdmann,” his alter ego, with a ridiculous Three Stooges-like wig and gnarled joke buckteeth. Toni presents himself as a “consultant and life coach” to her CEO and despite his ridiculous countenance, moves in on her life. Ines is shocked, and Hüller, a pale blonde with ice-clear blue eyes, can express any instant between horror and humiliation with farcical exactitude. Simonischek, on the other hand, captures both the intelligence and casual cruelty of Toni with the gentleness of Peter Sellers’ Chance the Gardener in “Being There” as well as many a random brainwave of Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton. Working in a superficially realist style, with eruptions of strange behavior and unforeseen insights, Ade also approaches the stratosphere of surrealist provocations by Luis Buñuel, not limited to his double-Oscar-winning “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972). In the spirit of Buñuel, Ade offers up her own nightmarish dinner party, a slow-motion nervous breakdown that will not end; a raft of symbols that fairly shout but don’t lurch toward needful interpretation; and a blunt sex-and-food consensual act that goes way beyond not giving a damn. But the grace of Ade’s filmmaking across its glorious, necessary 162-minute running time, is that Ines at one just-perceptible moment decides the game is on. Whatever fresh horror Toni thrusts into her way, she then absorbs and attempts to counter. There are many comic setpieces, from family terror to absurd yet emotionally fluent reactions that any contemporary comic filmmaker should envy. And one particular turn, that involves Ines and Toni and an ecstatic performance of a particular popular song is awe-inspiring for its entire delicious, delirious five or six or seven minutes. That’s the scene where the tender but never soft “Toni Erdmann” takes a flying leap from idiosyncratic to indelible, with at least half-an-hour of virtuoso eccentricity to go. Siskel, Sunday, June 18, Saturday, June 24.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Wes Anderson’s dense, compacted, throwback-look forward, comic mock-operetta of a mythic Mitteleuropa seemingly patterned after the no-place/not-home movies of filmmakers like Lubitsch, Lang, Ophuls, Mamoulian and Renoir, who had escaped the onrushing events between the wars in Europe, bursts with influence, overflows with decor, makes whimsy in the reflected light of offscreen historical horrors. Bold balderdash and elevated deadpan, its most ready surface influence would appear to be heady expatriate confections like “To Be Or Not To Be,” and other films of that time that do not stint on looming shadows in faux-European studio settings.
Anderson’s everyman-in-no-man’s-land is Gustave H., the concierge of an ocean liner of a wedding-cake deluxe hotel in the fictional duchy of Zubrowka, The Grand Budapest Hotel. He is a man with a job, if not a surname or a notable nationality. Ralph Fiennes invests H. with the brusque panache of both the boulevardier and the comic lights of the stage. Lubitsch’s blithe cosmopolitanism is supplanted by brute snippiness in the person of Fiennes. Speaking faster than he fast-walks, his H. is given to “oh fuck it”s that are the verbal equal of Indiana Jones choosing to take out a pistol and dispatch a scimitar-wielding opponent. (Fiennes is nourished by H.’s bursts of comic filth.) His impatience, his hurry, accelerates the sense that a narrative, an era, is hurtling to a close, as well as setting the tempo for the heist-and-chase design of the movie.
H. is in a constant state of verbal fury, yet as a figure, he is stateless, without citizenship outside the walls of the hotel, just as the dream design of the film is timeless, set in no place, but sprung from many imaginations. And the vast, teeming cast is as much a relentless rush of footnoting as performance—young Tony Revolori as Zero, the bright-eyed Lobby Boy to Gustave H., escaped from a revolution, F. Murray Abraham as Mr. Moustafa, the mysterious owner of the hotel and the narrator who may have been the boy, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban, Waris Ahluwalia and Owen Wilson, as well as a fantastic fake Schiele painting, its line writhing with tribadic electricity.
Seeing “The Grand Budapest Hotel” a second time only amplified the disorienting sense of frames upon frames, boxes upon boxes, rabbit hole after rabbit hole. Beneath the plastic sensory pleasures of Anderson’s work lies infernal patterning. In the mosaic of leaps between time settings, the film even shifts aspect ratios, from panoramic widescreen for the time nearest us, a middling, common format for the farther past, and for the bulk of the story, at the downfall of the heyday of the hotel and its caretaker, M. Gustave, in the nearly-square “Academy” format in which movies of the 1930s and 1940s were shot and shown. The success of Anderson’s admirable ambition is to have elevated anachronism, pastiche, personal passions and larger cultural memory to a heady froth, but one that also knows the butt-end of a rifle. After all, a Babel of knowledge is necessary to create the finery of cookies and cake. Music Box, Saturday, June 17, 9:15pm; Sunday, June 18, 4pm.
I talked to the Wachowskis when “Bound” was first released. “Much of the movie is about surfaces and realities under surfaces. The main idea, the starting point for us, was that we would see this character that you would make a host of sexual assumptions about that would all be wrong” Lana told me.
Despite what some writers have said, this film just wouldn’t work if it were about a man and a woman. “That’s almost the same question that was asked by some of the major studios that we brought the script to,” Lilly said. “‘If you change Corky to a man, you’ve got a deal.”
Lana continued without a pause, “But then all the subtext is gone, the themes are gone, the dialogue is pointless… People can say that it would be similar, but we’re playing with conventions. Why do we have conventions and what are they? Everyone who sees the movie sort of understands the film noir genre, so we started playing with expectations and assumptions. That’s what the fun of the movie is for us. We said we didn’t want to make that other movie; it had been done already.” 35mm. Theater 1. Music Box, Thursday, June 22, 9:45pm.