Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, July 21-27, 2023
The pictures, they’re big this week, starting with “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” or “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie,” we’ll know just how big in a couple of weeks.
Part of the beauty of Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” is that it is as big as the universe and as contained as one man’s troubled heart. I saw it in a superb 70mm projection, and big and loud, I’d say, is the way to go. “Oppenheimer” opens Friday, July 21 in multiple formats including 70mm at several locations including River East, ShowPlace ICON and The Music Box.
“They worked on the script during the pandemic, when doubt plagued the future of the communal cinema experience,” writes Alex Moshakis in the Observer in one of the Greta Gerwig profiles going around before the onset of the actors’ strike. “There was this sense of wanting to make something anarchic and wild and completely bananas,” Gerwig says, “because it felt, like, ‘Well, if we ever do get to go back to cinemas again, let’s do something totally unhinged.’ The anarchy of Gerwig’s ‘Barbie‘ comes from ‘the deep isolation of the pandemic,’ she says, ‘that feeling of being in our own little boxes, alone.'” Our review is here. “Barbie” is now playing in theaters.
Writer-director Savanah Leaf’s immersive Sundance debut feature, “Earth Mama,” is an understated poetic assemblage of image, sound and dialogue, conveying the efforts of a pregnant, twenty-four-year old single mother in San Francisco to extricate her two children from the care system of the Bay Area. It’s lyrical grit. “I don’t care if y’all don’t care if I do make it,” a woman says early on. “It’s my journey; it’s nobody else’s journey. Nobody is going to walk with these shoes I got on my feet.” Its understated intimacy is stirring. “Earth Mama” opens Friday, July 21 at Siskel.
Tony Award-winner Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”) and Molly Gordon star in the comedy “Theater Camp” as best friends since childhood who are now drama instructors at a rundown camp in upstate New York. Property values could close the place, forcing the staff and students to stage “a masterpiece to keep their beloved summer camp afloat.” Opens Friday, July 21 at River East and Landmark Century.
Steven Soderbergh’s dropped a micro-series, “Command Z” (written by Kurt Andersen, Larry Doyle and “Sam Lowry”), in the most recent skein of output that includes the Max series “Full Circle” (written by Ed Solomon), streaming on his Extension 765 website. Eight episodes comprising feature length.
Joe Swanberg presents “Cuddly Toys” with writer-director-lead Kansas Bowling in person at The Davis. It’s her second indie feature, which the director-impresario describes as a “modern-day Mondo movie” and “a cross between ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and ‘Faces of Death'” shot on 16mm in a vintage educational-short style. (Bowling played one of the Manson girls in “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood.”) “Joe has seen it upwards of ten times and likes it more with each viewing” and will lead the Q&A afterwards. Tickets here.
Repertory attractions described below include FACETS’ “Anime Auteurs” series with “Cowboy Bebop,” FACETS, Friday, July 21, 7pm; “Quince Tree Sun” (also known as “Dream Of Light”) is a patient film from a patient man, who made but five films in his career, one per decade; and Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert’s “Beyond the Valley Of the Dolls.”
Twentieth Century Fox released a crazed would-be youthquaker, “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls” in 1970, by then-forty-eight-year-old Russ Meyer in league with then-twenty-eight-year-old screenwriter Roger Ebert. What does this studio oh-fuck-it movie tell us about the film industry in 1970? Almost nothing! With song scores and music performances, vigorous widescreen pre-MTV cutting and madcap, quip-a-matic, underground-a-sonic would-be hipness, musical melodrama “Beyond” captures what was on the mind of Ebert and Meyer in that moment (other than the female breast), as well as hapless studio executives who managed to let pass what is now considered not strange, but stylized, not trashy, but an inspired semi-exploitation picture. As the velveteen host atop hosts Z-Man declares at one of his blow-outs, “This is my happening and it freaks me out!” Prepare, too, to be freaked out. “Doc Films, Friday, July 21, 7pm and Saturday, July 22, 4pm.
“In the fall of 1990, the celebrated Spanish painter Antonio López García decides to create a new work. Subject of his still-life: a sun-drenched quince tree in his backyard,” encapsulates the Eastman Museum of Victor Erice’s wondrous masterpiece. “Lopez turns out to be a most meticulous artist. Before he starts painting, he carefully measures the tree and pinpoints special points of interest. His idea and desire is not only to paint the tree, but also to capture the fleeting moment of morning sunlight sliding along the juicy autumnal fruits. He patiently tries, fails, tries again, fails better—all while time passes and seasons of the year change. ‘The Quince Tree Sun,’ existing in that special territory beyond the categories of fiction and documentary, is a sublime portrayal of nothing less than the ideas of art and inspiration themselves. It is also a portrayal of the inevitable passing of time and humans’ yearning for beauty.” Chicago Film Society at NEIU, Wednesday, July 26, 7:30pm.