Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Japanese animated feature Your Name is far prettier—and weirder—than any American blockbuster

Posted By on 04.13.17 at 04:45 PM

Your Name
  • Your Name
Makoto Shinkai's anime feature Your Name is the most beautiful-looking movie in town—although François Ozon's Frantz, which opens this Friday at the Landmark, will surely give Your Name a run for its money. Incidentally, both films are romantic dramas that deal with characters entering into the lives of strangers, but while Frantz is relatively realistic, Your Name is a delirious fantasy. The latter, in fact, may be too delirious for American audiences. (The distributor has released it in only a handful of theaters in Chicago.) The plot revolves around a boy and a girl swapping bodies and culminates with them falling in love. Why they swap bodies is never adequately explained—it has something to do with a magical comet that passes earth every 1,200 years—but the film follows a certain logic in developing its premise, generating a sweet tone, good-natured humor, and even some affecting, tear-jerking moments. It reminds us that a good love story, like love itself, doesn't have to make sense in order to work.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

With Untitled (Just Kidding) local artist Jesse Malmed lets you in on the joke of language

Posted By on 04.10.17 at 08:00 AM

Jesse Malmed
  • Jesse Malmed
Local artist Jesse Malmed feels that his work bears a relationship to language that's "somewhere between poetry and comedy." His video pieces—which will be exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art this Tuesday at 6 PM in a show called Untitled (Just Kidding)—are filled with puns and formal jokes, not to mention appropriations of mainstream comedy, video games, and other materials that might be considered too silly to be included in the world of experimental cinema. The 18-minute short Wreading (2012), for instance, incorporates images of clouds from Super Mario Bros. 3 as well as Muzak versions of Top 40 pop songs. Do Voices (2013), which closes Tuesday's program, is constructed around reenactments of scenes from the Robin Williams comedy Mrs. Doubtfire that various fans have posted to YouTube.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Ghost in the Shell is all shell, no ghost

Posted By on 04.05.17 at 05:09 PM

Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell
  • Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell
Warning: This post contains spoilers.

About two-thirds into Ghost in the Shell, the new live-action Paramount production based on a Japanese manga series by Shirow Masamune and a 1995 animated feature by Mamoru Oshii, a cyborg police officer implanted with a human mind confronts one of the scientists who developed her. Their conversation reaches a head when the scientist explains that the cyborg's memories, which the cyborg believed had carried over from her experience as a person (her "ghost," in the movie's parlance), had in fact been manufactured. The human being, whose brain now inhabits the robot, did not lose her parents in a terrorist attack, as she'd thought. That event is completely fictional, the scientist says—the developers thought it would be useful motivation in making the cyborg want to fight crime.

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Being There: Still funny, but newly grim and topical

Posted By on 03.30.17 at 02:30 PM

Peter Sellers in Being There
  • Peter Sellers in Being There

The 1979 film Being There—which received a superb new Blu-Ray release last week from the Criterion Collection—feels more funereal than virtually any other movie comedy I know. Set during winter and shot with clear, chilly precision by Caleb Deschanel, it generally looks like an Ingmar Bergman psychodrama; the jokes, albeit funny and perfectly timed, seem oddly out of place. The film is also structured around death: it begins with the death of one character and ends at the burial of another, whose rapid demise influences much of the onscreen behavior in the second half. Peter Sellers, who gave his last great performance in Being There, died about a year after it was released. Moreover, the movie marked the end of a seven-film winning streak for Hal Ashby (director of such New Hollywood classics as Harold and Maude and The Last Detail), who would never again make another commercial or critical success before his death in 1988 at age 59. Not just the swan song for a number of talented filmmakers, Being There might be considered the death knell for New Hollywood itself.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Terrence Malick loves us—he just has a peculiar way of showing it

Posted By on 03.29.17 at 08:00 AM

Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling in Song to Song
  • Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling in Song to Song

Song to Song
may not be the best movie playing in town this week, but it's surely the most important. The film is the latest by Terrence Malick, one of the handful of working narrative directors who has created what critic and director Paul Schrader once termed a transcendental film style. Like Yasujro Ozu, Robert Bresson, and Carl Dreyer (the directors Schrader considered in his 1972 study of transcendental cinema), Malick operates in a unique cinematic language that evokes a spiritual presence in the material world. Song to Song is not explicitly concerned with spirituality, as other Malick films are, yet the spiritual force that animates virtually all his work is impossible to overlook. Whether the film succeeds as a whole is less important than the seriousness of its intent—it's worth experiencing and grappling with.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Remembering Bill Paxton in Near Dark, one of his finest performances

Posted By on 03.23.17 at 04:48 PM

Bill Paxton in Near Dark
  • Bill Paxton in Near Dark

On Friday and Saturday at midnight the Music Box is showing Near Dark, Kathryn Bigelow's first solo directorial effort, on 35-millimeter. The theater had planned the screenings as a commemoration of the film's 30th anniversary, but now they double as a tribute to the actor Bill Paxton, who delivered a memorable supporting turn in the movie, and who passed away last month from complications following heart surgery. A chronically underrated player in American movies, the versatile Paxton fared well both in comedy (Weird Science, Club Dread) and drama (One False Move, A Simple Plan), bringing a likable earnestness to both genres. Paxton is probably most beloved for his roles in action and adventure movies—Aliens, Predator 2, Tombstone, Apollo 13, True Lies, and Twister—and for good reason: he's the most recognizably human element in these large-scale productions, his modesty as a performer matched by his evident enthusiasm for whatever story he's helping to tell. Even when he overacted, as in Near Dark or Club Dread, his overacting was never self-important or at odds with the material. It felt like exactly what the movie called for.

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Making sense of Putin's ‘ghastly trick’

Posted By on 03.23.17 at 03:02 PM

Members of the House Intelligence Committee questioned FBI director James Comey Monday during a hearing on allegations of Russian interference in November's presidential election. - AP PHOTO/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE
  • AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
  • Members of the House Intelligence Committee questioned FBI director James Comey Monday during a hearing on allegations of Russian interference in November's presidential election.
As I read the latest assortment of stories about Donald Trump and the Russians Thursday, a couple of lines from popular culture came to mind.

From The Godfather II, Tom Hagen saying to Michael Corleone: "Roth played this one beautifully." Hyman Roth, Corleone's partner in crime but also his worst enemy, had set him up to take the fall.

And from John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold: "And suddenly, with the terrible clarity of a man too long deceived, Leamas understood the whole ghastly trick." The unwitting tool of British intelligence, Leamas had just undermined the East German official he thought he was defending.

The question posed by both the book and the novel is the same: What is really going on? In confronting the Russia allegations, America asks that question today.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Enjoyed Get Out? Try The Belko Experiment and Raw.

Posted By on 03.22.17 at 10:00 AM

The Belko Experiment
  • The Belko Experiment

The whopping success of Jordan Peele's Get Out has demonstrated that general audiences can appreciate horror movies for their subtext. A thinly veiled commentary on American race relations, Get Out uses the horror genre to dramatize fears about the persecution of African-Americans and the suppression of black identity. Audiences seem to get this (given the film's courageous forthrightness, it would be surprising if they didn't), as evidenced by the serious discussions of race that the film has provoked across media and social media alike. In its subversion of genre and its effectiveness as provocation, Get Out feels like a truer heir to Bill Gunn's great Ganja and Hess (1973) than Spike Lee's overly reverent remake Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014) did. The difference, perhaps, is that Lee regarded horror primarily as a vehicle to pay tribute to Gunn, whereas Peele respects the genre and uses it to address contemporary anxieties.

Another difference may be that Lee made Jesus entirely independently (he produced it through crowd-funding) while Peele worked with producer Jason Blum, one of the most valuable forces in American genre cinema today. In the past several years, Blum's company Blumhouse Productions has fostered a steady supply of smart, subtext-rich horror films that speak to the dark side of the American experience. (The studio has also produced its share of junk, but at least none of it has been intentionally kitschy or gory for the sake of being gory.) James DeMonaco's brilliant Purge series remains the company's finest output, though Blumhouse is also responsible for such notable provocations as Sinister, Oculus, Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem, Unfriended, and the current release The Belko Experiment. Although overshadowed by Get Out, Belko is one of the studio's finest films and as worthy a piece of social commentary as Peele's.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Illinois Film Tour will bring independent films, resources to communities statewide

Posted By on 03.16.17 at 02:47 PM

  • Full Spectrum Features
  • Formidable Dreams

Two local independent-film nonprofits, IFP Chicago and Full Spectrum Features (FSF), are partnering on a new initiative, Illinois Film Tour (IFT), with the intention of supporting diverse filmmakers and providing resources to underserved communities across the state. Funded by a $10,000 Multiplier grant from Illinois Humanities (IH), IFT enters a one-year pilot phase this spring, with Nicole Bernardi-Reis and Eugene Sun Park—president of the board of directors at IFP and the founder of FSF, respectively—cocurating the project.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Moonlight, Major Lazer, and midwestern Devo heads: music stories making the rounds on the Web

Posted By on 03.04.17 at 07:00 AM

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam - MARTEN VAN DIJL
  • Marten Van Dijl
  • Moonlight director Barry Jenkins at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam

The music of
An unusual look into the watery, Floridian beats and tunes—Miami bass, Drexciya, chopped-and-screwed hip-hop—that subtly define the Best Picture winner. [MTV News]

A documentary on Major Lazer's 2016 Havana show doubles as a look into Cuba's underground sneakernet
Give Me Future is about Major Lazer's 2016 gig in Havana (they were one of the first U.S. acts to play Cuba after the normalization of diplomatic relations), but it's far from a standard rock doc—it also looks into "El Paquete Semanal," a hand-delivered weekly collection of pirated TV, movies, music, and more that provides a connection to pop culture in a country mostly still lacking private Internet access. [Fact Mag]

Japan's footwork scene gets a documentary on where it came from and where it's going
Chicago is the birthplace of footwork, but it's found a second home in Tokyo. Thump is debuting a documentary on one of the most unlikely East-West cultural cross-pollinations in recent memory.

Kendrick Lamar, Beck, and Tom Waits share the cover of the New York Times's style magazine
Look, if you didn't read that and click the link, I don't know what your deal is. Stop reading this and click.
[New York Times]

UK garage star Craig David introduces himself to a new generation of listeners
Craig David was one of the biggest acts to come out of the UK garage scene of the late 90s and early 2000s, but his career since then has been a roller coaster. He seems to be regaining a foothold in the pop landscape, though—and attracting a whole new set of fans. [The Outline]

A bunch of midwestern bands still carry a torch for Devo
One of the LPs mentioned in this piece is by a band called the Coneheads, and it's entitled 14 Year Old High School PC-Fascist Hype Lords Rip Off Devo for the Sake of Extorting $$$ From Helpless Impressionable Midwestern Internet Peoplepunks L.P. And whose heart doesn't have at least a little room for impressionable midwestern Internet peoplepunks? [A.V. Club]

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