Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, August 4-10, 2023
Yes, people are still seeing “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer” and “Talk To Me,” and nobody’s going to stop you. But still! Movie theaters must move forward, like a shark, even if the studios, so far refusing to negotiate with striking writers and actors, are pretending that the industry has stopped in the water like a dead shark.
Jason Statham stars with prehistoric mega-shark special effects in “Meg 2: The Trench,” a sequel to a trashy worldwide success handed over to the psychotropic-inclined British director Ben Wheatley (“High-Rise,” “Free Fire,” “In The Earth”). Online enthusiasts are excited by its prospects for pre-irony: it’s opening cold, with, reportedly, no previews for reviewers. A sign of maniacal badness? Maybe! With Wu Jing, Li Bingbing. Opens Friday, August 4 in theaters.
“Shortcomings,” the second screen adaptation from Adrian Tomine’s comics: Randall Park’s picture from Tomine’s own script is pretty swell and often hilarious. Assholes: prepare to flinch. Our review is here. Opens Friday, August 4 at River East, New City 14 and AMC Evanston.
Steve James’ espionage nonfiction novella “A Compassionate Spy” (2022) will leave a different tang in the aftermath of Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer”; the lingering effects of that act of another era’s equivalent of Edward Snowden. With witnesses and reenactments, James delves into the acts of a Harvard graduate, who was the youngest physicist among those in the Manhattan Project, but who also purloined details to hand off to the Soviets. The young man was interested in “preventing an overall holocaust which would affect the entire world.” It’s an elegant film on its own, especially about family dynamics and the secrets that intimate partners hold from the world. (There’s method in the sadness.) But as it lands in a moment chosen by its distributor, it’s a fine addendum to the titanic thunderousness of Nolan’s fiction film. James always appears to be a straightforward filmmaker, but he knows how to suggest and then plumb mysteries we don’t expect to face. James will appear after the Sunday, August 6, 1:45pm and Monday, August 7, 8:15pm screenings. Opens Friday, August 4 at Siskel.
Trans filmmaker D. Smith’s raw but playful “Kokomo City,” captured in a silken black-and-white, is a brief but bold blast of self-realization, a contemporary portrait of four uninhibited, endlessly verbal Black trans sex workers—Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Dominique Silver and Liyah Mitchell—who speak their own fluent language (often in the intimate spaces of bathrooms and bedrooms). Their explicit and articulate witness is punchy and powerful, wild and kaleidoscopic, even with the added flourishes of intermittent animation and bright yellow titles. Still, it’s a blues with a bruise, the kind that lingers. Opens Friday, August 4 at Siskel and the Music Box.
Neil Breen presents what very well could be the first Chicago theatrical outing from his chimerical corpus of no-budget filmmaking, with “Cade—The Tortured Crossing.” Synopsis: “An identical AI twin brother restores an old mysterious mental asylum. He takes it upon himself to mystically train the patients as warriors for humanity and justice.” Yeahhhh… Not for me. Sample Breen’s earlier Z-movies here. Drafthouse, Tuesday, August 8, 7pm, Thursday August 10, 7pm.
Doc Films remains in crisis, and in Repertory & Revivals, Kathleen Collins’ “Losing Ground“; Joseph Kahn’s “Detention“; silent “Clash of the Wolves“ on 35mm; “Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago” and John Boorman’s 1960s pop-kapow masterpiece, “Point Blank.”
Doc Films Still Faces Budgetary Woes
“Last winter, we reached out to [patrons] about raising $60,000 to make some crucial improvements to the Max Palevsky theater,” Doc Films at University of Chicago, the oldest college film society in the U. S., relays. “Since then, you have stunned us with your support—we have raised over $24,000 from your donations alone. Thank you for your generosity. We have been awarded a $45,000 grant from the UChicago Women’s Board for our theater upgrade proposal ‘Projecting Past and Present: Support the Future of Doc Films.’ We are extremely grateful to the UChicago Women’s Board, whose grant will allow us to move forward with our upgrades. The huge amount of support from patrons, alumni, faculty, and friends has especially bolstered us amidst our struggle to regain a full, pre-pandemic budget. Our appeal for a fully restored 2023-24 budget was once again rejected, with the suggestion that we heavily decrease operations. Of course, this is something we are simply not willing to do. We will continue to fight for a fully operating Doc Films and find a way forward without compromising what makes Doc, Doc. It is your support and participation that keeps Doc alive and special. We hope to welcome you to a newly improved Max Palevsky Cinema with a full calendar of screenings in the fall.”
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
John Boorman’s essential 1960s gangster masterpiece “Point Blank” (1967), drawn from a hard-boiled screenplay of pure carborundum by Alexander Jacobs (“French Connection II,” “The Seven-Ups”), is surpassed only by the stoic slab of suet and determination that was Lee Marvin and the pop-sock visuals lit by Philip Lathrop. Of Lee Marvin, Boorman has said, “He has a dynamic relationship with the camera, a knowledge of its capacity to penetrate scenes and find their truth.” In Boorman’s “Conclusions” (2020) his flinty, yet funny-to-riotous take on his decades among film folk while getting away with mad-as-a-rat movies like “Deliverance,” “Excalibur” and “Point Blank,” Boorman journeys down his many rivers toward his eighty-eighth birthday. He is the vivid storyteller, elegantly daubing details. He’s told his fine-featured anecdotes down to bone, toward compacted comic asperity, but that’s no complaint. “There is a story I have often repeated of a dinner with Lee Marvin on Venice Pier. Lee got very drunk, and I insisted on driving his car,” Boorman recalls. “We struggled over the keys, and when I eventually prevailed, to save face he would not get in the car but climbed up onto the roof, refusing to come down. It was late at night, but he lived only a few miles down the Pacific Coast Highway, so I drove carefully along it. I was pulled over by a cop, who moved over to my window, looked up and said, ‘Do you know you’ve got Lee Marvin on your roof?’” Smallest asides bloom into ready lesson. “One could argue that film was at its purest when shot on that early, flammable, silver nitrate stock [in black-and-white]. When it caught fire, it produced oxygen, so it was almost impossible to put out. Safety film lacked the silky blacks and snowy whites and luminosity of silver nitrate. The color stocks that followed were over-saturated and garish. The more film struggled to simulate reality, the further away it got. Film, at its best, offers a parallel, contiguous world as real and as unreal as a dreamscape. Film is metaphor. ‘Point Blank’ was my first color film, and I struggled to deal with color in a noir film that cried out for black-and-white. I decided to shoot each scene highlighting a single color, moving through the spectrum from greys and blues up to the final scene in dark red. This unity gave power to the scenes. Too many colors drench the retina and dissipate the impact. Doc Films, Friday, August 4, 7pm, Saturday, August 5, 4pm.
Joseph Kahn’s wrapping up his fourth feature (and likely close to his two-hundredth video), and it’s about time, since 2017 gave us the last construction in the form of rap-battle “Bodied”: in the meantime, here’s “Detention” (2011). “Does this sound fucking PG-13 to you?” Kahn’s megameta nihilisploitation genre maelstrom, “Detention,” gets an A+ if only for its endearing ADDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD. Suspended from the armature of high-school movie memes, horror and otherwise, Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo flaunt the entrails of movies from “Back to the Future” to “Breakfast Club,” from “Prom Night” to “Donnie Darko,” nurturing an intense kinship to “Heathers,” and lifting from “Freaky Friday,” all careening at tender velocity. The veteran video director’s first movie, the motorcycle action yarn “Torque” (2004), reveled in the possibility of CGI effects now ruined by ubiquity. “We’re beyond midnight movie,” Kahn wrote of his welcome follow-up, “We’re a 3am movie.” “Eyes. Glazing,” his heroine, Riley (the starkly physical Shanley Caswell, playing a self-described “loser” who could only become a splendid adult) says. (She’s also handy with early-Winona-styled intonations.) Shameless, relentless and exceptionally pleased with itself, “Detention” is kind enough to be cruel beyond measure, yet also to be generous with its multimedia mayhem. There’s a raft of video-style gimcracks in the onrushing slipstream, but the snap-crackle-and-skinpop is subcutaneous in speedy efficacy. Consider a kiss that ends with a 1990s-obsessed teenager’s “You taste like Luke Perry”? And that same teenager is looked up and down and asked, “Could you look more like Sharon Stone in ‘Total Recall’?” (She could not.) A girl obviously in love with her best male friend hellos this way: “Clapton Davis, you are more concept than reality.” “Good taste is not a democracy,” nor are fleeting bad-taste references to Heather Mills, Osama Bin Laden and Heath Ledger. (It’s all too soon.) “Fuck. Everybody” is spoken out loud only a couple of times, but it seems the weary but so-called-life-giving under-the-breath undercurrent of the entire film. One character’s “Gosh fucking darn it” is a fine neologism of a phrase that fits the movie easily as well as “WT-Fucking-F?” Drafthouse, Monday, August 7, 7:15pm.
Rob Christopher’s “Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago” is a nimble complex of the Chicago childhood of the author who collaborated with David Lynch on “Wild at Heart” and “Lost Highway,” a topography of dreams, a dream of topography, a document of impressionistic finery that matches vintage footage to Gifford’s own words of youth and to in-betweens of apt animation. (The animation is by Lilli Carré and Kevin Eskew.) Those wielding language include Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor. Chicago jazz musician Jason Adasiewicz composed the original score, which is performed by Joshua Abrams and Hamid Drake, among others. Chicago Filmmakers, Saturday, August 5.
In Noel Mason Smith’s silent “Clash of the Wolves” (1925, 35mm), mountainside fires drive wolves into a desert town. Relays Doc Films: “Shot on location in what would later become Joshua Tree National Park, ‘Clash of the Wolves’ tells the story of halfbreed alpha wolf Lobo and borax prospector Dave Weston, who become best friends and butt heads with William ‘Borax’ Horton, the scheming local chemist looking to nab Dave’s newest borax claim. Starring beloved canine star Rin Tin Tin in his first comedic role.” Doc Films, Friday, August 4, 4pm, Saturday, August 5, 7pm.
“Aside from a handful of museum and college screenings, Kathleen Collins’ work was largely unseen and undistributed until more than two decades after her death in 1988,” the Chicago Film Society writes on their showing of “Losing Ground” (1982, 35mm, shot on 16mm), one of the first feature films to be directed by an African American woman, the telling of the slow dissolution of a couple. “Collins tapped into intimate details of her own life to create this lush and unassuming story… Real-life playwright and director Seret Scott plays Sara, a treasured and no-fuss philosophy professor, alongside real-life playwright and director Bill Gunn (‘Ganja & Hess’) as her husband Victor. Victor, a successful abstract painter, wants to spend the summer shifting his practice to realism out in the country, but Sara, preoccupied by existential questions about pleasure, wants to focus on her research in the city.. At a turning point in both their careers, the couple is left asking questions where their relationship is headed.” Chicago Film Society at NEIU, Wednesday, August 9, 7:30pm.