Peter Byrne | Chicago Reader

Recent Reviews

Re: “Code Unknown

In 2000 no-one proclaimed 'Code Unknown' ('Code Inconnu') the model film for the Third Millennium. But that's what it was, adequate to a time when awareness of what was going on in the world had become inescapable. The planet had to be faced. Michael Haneke doesn't do so with a great dense slab of 'realism'. He's ultra-elliptical just as the flood of information we swim in has of necessity, however superficial, made us. His realism comes in knife thrusts separated by segments of life lived with intensity. The scenes are left unfinished. But that isn't because Haneke is fabricating mysteries or enigmas. We can work out the conclusions of the scenes for ourselves. It saves narrative time and boredom, allowing more space for the world's diversity. Juliette Binoche is an actress who like the rest of us can't keep what's happening anywhere out of her life. The turmoil of her lover's family, his absence in war zones, Roma beggars, Parisian racism, abused children, her own very personal nightmare of enclosure--all inescapable. This may sound like heavy going. But Haneke's brilliance in varying scenes and the range of them makes for pleasure although of the somber sort.

Posted by Peter Byrne on 09/25/2018 at 5:20 AM

Re: “Whitney: Can I Be Me

Re: Who was the real Whitney Houston?

'Whitney: Can I Be Me' could hardly go wrong considering the wealth of material. Not many fathers sue their daughters for a hundred million dollars. We get beyond the usual cliches concerning black American life and learn about Whitney's politician father getting to the top of Newark's middle class. Mother Cissy is no standard character either. The family is a rigorous love-hate triangle, duelling warrior parents and a preternaturally talented daughter. The face-to-face testimony of people close to Whitney, notably her surviving brothers, is the film's strength. But in the end there's too much of it and of archival material. Less would have given 'Whitney:Can I Be Me' a better shape, and documentaries need shape just like any other work of art. The script, in a kind of afterthought, tries to explain Whitney's whole story, including her degradation by drugs and personality reversal, by a childhood sexual incident. This looks like the director yielding to what's fashionable just now and seems like a flimsy foundation for a tremendous amount of living.

Posted by Peter Byrne on 09/06/2018 at 4:01 AM

Re: “The Killing of a Sacred Deer

You cant dismiss The Killing of a Sacred Deer as a horror film riding on suspense. That would be like calling Cocteaus Orphe the tale of a cheating husband or Pasolinis Oedipus Rex a look at geriatric depression. The director spells out what hes doing. He s retelling a Greek myth. A killing demands the sacrifice of another life. Older than justice, its a question of balance. When an film like Lanthimos appears why do we insist on crushing it between our limited perimeters? The story unfolds with fatal inevitability, not with suspense. Its not the physical suffering thats horrible but the message that retribution is inescapable. Kidman is superb; Keoghan remarkable, Farrell adequate.

Posted by Peter Byrne on 09/03/2018 at 2:27 AM

Re: “Va savoir

Ca va for 'Va savoir'. Let the mainstream bury its dead. But 'Hurlevent' (1985) is worth a second look. No better example of how dream sequences can play havoc with a script when they aren't sufficiently set apart from the 'wide-awake' body of the story. That's because a movie itself is a dream. Rivette's casting the Cevennes for the Brontes' moors works well enough. Early scenes of Cathy and Roch--the Heathcliff character--roaming nature-boy wild establish the bond between them that's the backbone of the story. It isn't weakened by updating 1847 to 1932. What changes everything is the way the domestic scene at the farm is set up. Nelly was an elderly servant devoted to mending household emotions so they didn't upset the truce that made daily life possible. Rivette casts her as a youngish woman, very much a sexual presence, who we fear might at any moment enter into a threesome with a pair of her neurotic employers. Cathy becomes a belated 1920s flapper, a mild provincial tease. Maybe. But it won't do to make Roch simply a bull-headed local peasant lad tipsy with revenge. That flattens and deflates the story, robs it of magic and danger. Bronte saw Heathcliff as the other, an exotic, dark-skinned, a gypsy or racially apart. He was no country bumpkin. He had the odour of the devil about him. That made for the thrill of their psychic union.

Posted by Peter Byrne on 08/11/2018 at 12:41 PM

Re: “Cache

The punishment Haneke inflicted on his audience was to make them decide for themselves on moral issues raised by the story. That's why he offers no solution and leaves things unresolved. That thinking is seen as punitive is a good indication of where we are just now.

Posted by Peter Byrne on 08/06/2018 at 8:29 AM

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Recent Comments

Re: “Ecstasy on film: Nathaniel Dorsky discusses The Arboretum Cycle, his latest work of devotional cinema, which he'd prefer you watch alone

Barry: Youre right to go to individual experience. The old chestnut that we can only genuinely feel and a think in a crowd needs to be challenged. We could start by watching a Trump rally. A movie cant be other than social and watching it, even on our own, we will always be a social animal. The rest is only well-intentioned hot air.

0 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Peter Byrne on 09/26/2018 at 3:32 AM

Re: “Ecstasy on film: Nathaniel Dorsky discusses The Arboretum Cycle, his latest work of devotional cinema, which he'd prefer you watch alone

Sez Me: A U.S. president is always a U.S. president. How many more do we have to submit to?

Posted by Peter Byrne on 09/26/2018 at 3:11 AM

Re: “Ecstasy on film: Nathaniel Dorsky discusses The Arboretum Cycle, his latest work of devotional cinema, which he'd prefer you watch alone

Too true, Barry, and as repugnant as it is to be told in what posture we should experience art, Ill forgive Dorskys presumption in urging us not view his work in company. Weve been assailed for years now with the idea that movies, like no other art, are social and that theres virtue in rattling our popcorn in a crowd. This has been a blanket defence of theater owners in the face of changeas if all viewers arent voyeurs and that watching on our own made us anti-social onanists teetering on the edge of psychosis.

0 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Peter Byrne on 09/25/2018 at 8:05 AM

Re: “This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman’s new film Life Itself works familiar territory—and tear ducts

Dear Andreas, I am not finding fault with you when I refuse to bother with Fogelman's elaborate commercial exercise. You are a film critic, writing in a serious publication and have a professional obligation to the movie industry and to the public. You quite rightly sift through this sort of thing, finding some parts not so bad as others. I'm not a film critic. My obligations are only to myself, to my taste. Considering the vast number of films offered, I have to exclude a great swathe. To do this I rely on clues, and your review gives me more than enough of those. You go on at some length about "strategy", which of course comes down to commercial strategy. The obvious aim here is to give every sector of the public a chunk of pulpy meat to gag on. How can that go wrong? Families neatly ethnically diverse, stopovers in NYC and Spain, two languages, it's even "multigenerational" so there's something in it for the dead who don't even buy tickets (art for art?). Ex's, loss of partners, coming-of-age pains all wrapped in "love and family". But there's plenty of violence and death too for the easily bored or dozy. And blasphemy to top it off, Fogelman has the nerve to call this overcharged platter of cliches 'Life Itself'. You've convinced me, Andreas. No way.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Peter Byrne on 09/20/2018 at 5:09 PM

Re: “This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman’s new film Life Itself works familiar territory—and tear ducts

"soap opera cousins"? Make that kissing cousins. This is mush cooked up for a public who never got beyond that syrupy dish with its sauce of painless tears. "The unity among disparities" is simply kitsch.

2 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Peter Byrne on 09/20/2018 at 9:40 AM

Re: “Greed

Well worth rereading every twenty years or so.

Posted by Peter Byrne on 09/18/2018 at 10:43 AM

Re: “With Bill Daley running for mayor, it’s good to remember what happened the last time we turned Chicago over to the Daleys

"Proving once again that when it comes to sleaze and corruption, Chicago's still got a ways to go to catch up with the Trump crowd."

Ben Joravsky hits the authentic Chicago note. Replace "Trump crowd" by any of the evils in the wide world since we first voted for the Big Dumpling in 1955 and you have our credo. The candidate's a crook but he's our crook, the crook we know and never forget that there are worse crooks out there beyond the city limits. B.J. calls that wisdom "perspective". The Millennium Park bit is the usual follow up. Sure he's a crook but a generous one. Look what he gave us.

8 likes, 7 dislikes
Posted by Peter Byrne on 09/17/2018 at 2:03 PM

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