The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Bicycle Thieves (Kremer) – A+
2. Out of the Past (Tourneur) – A+
3. Devil in a Blue Dress (Franklin) – A-
4. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Hamaguchi) – A
5. Devil in a Blue Dress (Franklin) – A-
6. Bergman Island (Hansen-Love) – C
7. Citizen Kane (Welles) – A+
8. The Many Saints of Newark* (Taylor) – D+
9. Citizen Kane (Welles) – A+
10. Citizen Kane (Welles) – A+


My favorite film of 2021, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY, opens for a theatrical run in NY and LA today and will screen at the Chicago International Film Festival (live and online) over the next week. I reviewed it for

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY(Japan)
AMC River East 21 – Monday, 8:15pm

HAPPY HOUR, the intimate epic that established Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s international reputation, achieves a novelistic density through the uncommonly detailed way it plumbs the emotional lives of its quartet of lead characters. WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY, the first of two 2021 releases by the director (followed by DRIVE MY CAR), resembles a short-story collection in how it depicts three narratively unrelated vignettes that are formally separated by their own chapter headings and credit sequences. Hamaguchi proves to be equally adept at the short-film format as he was with a 5-hour-plus run time: the mini romantic dramas that comprise WHEEL are gratifying to watch as self-contained episodes, but when one contemplates how they might be linked on a thematic level, the entire project attains a profound resonance (it wasn’t until the morning after my first viewing that I realized the magnitude of Hamaguchi’s deceptively modest approach). The first section, “Magic (Or Something Less Assuring),” begins with an extended Rohmerian dialogue between two female friends, one of whom regales the other about a “magical” date with a man she has fallen in love with, unaware that he is also her friend’s ex-lover. It ends with a chance encounter between all three characters, punctuated by a brief but daring fantasy sequence. The title of the second section, “Door Wide Open,” refers to a literature professor’s policy of avoiding scandal by always keeping his office door open when meeting with students. One day he receives an unexpected visitor, a woman who is attempting to ensnare him in a trap. Or is she? The final section, “Once Again,” is the best: two women who haven’t seen each other in 20 years meet providentially on a train-station escalator before spending the day together and eventually realizing that neither is whom the other had thought. Hamaguchi himself has said that “coincidence and imagination” are the movie’s main themes and, indeed, as the title indicates, each of the stories involves the intersection of the free will of the individual and the fickle nature of fate. But WHEEL is also about the inexorable pull of the past and how the characters’ regrets over roads not taken have keenly shaped who they are. This latter aspect is the key to understanding how a film so charming on the surface can also contain such a melancholy undertow and how characters with only a small amount of screen time can seem so fascinatingly complex and believable. Hamaguchi shows the psychological underpinnings of everyday human behavior in a manner rarely seen in the movies. He knows how to pierce your heart. (2021, 121 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]

RELATIVE is a Chicago Film Project Production

Big RELATIVE news: My new movie is an official Newcity/Chicago Film Project production. I am so excited to be working with Executive Producers Brian and Jan Hieggelke to bring this film to theaters next year. Congrats to the entire RELATIVE team! Check out the full story in SCREEN Magazine (with quotes from Brian, Jan and yours truly):

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. The Lady Eve (Sturges) – A+
2. Bringing Up Baby (Hawks) – A+
3. Malignant* (Wan) – B+
4. Cry Macho (Eastwood) – A-
5. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov) – A+
6. Anne at 13,000 Ft.* (Radwanski) – B-
7. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov) – A+
8. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov) – A+
9. Cry Macho* (Eastwood) – A-
10. Contagion* (Soderbergh) – B

Talking CRY MACHO on the Split Picks podcast

It was my great pleasure to appear on Split Tooth Media’s Split Picks podcast to talk CRY MACHO with Bennett Glace. He loves it as much as I do and we talk about why the film’s critics are WRONG:

Clint Eastwood’s CRY MACHO

I reviewed Clint Eastwood’s CRY MACHO for Cinefile Chicago:

Clint Eastwood’s CRY MACHO (US)

The Logan Theatre and Various Multiplexes – Check Venue websites for showtimes

If RICHARD JEWELL (2019) was Clint Eastwood’s FRENZY—a dark, angry movie that revisited some of the director’s pet themes in a more disturbing fashion than ever before—then CRY MACHO is his FAMILY PLOT—a surprisingly sweet and gentle about-face that feels like a career summation while showing the old master has a few new tricks up his sleeve. Like MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004) and GRAN TORINO (2008), CRY MACHO tells the story of an older man haunted by his past who finds redemption in becoming a surrogate father to a wounded younger person. The relationship unfolds on a picaresque road trip similar to the ones in BRONCO BILLY (1980), HONKYTONK MAN (1982) and THE MULE (2018), and Eastwood also throws in a cross-generational romance (a la BREEZY [1973] and THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY [1995]) for good measure. Most of all, CRY MACHO is quintessentially Eastwoodian for how the filmmaker finds new ways to interrogate and subvert his own macho persona as an actor, even though (or perhaps precisely because) he was a physically frail 90-year-old at the time it was shot. Jonathan Rosenbaum once balked at the reception of Manoel de Oliveira’s CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS – THE ENIGMA (2007) because he was convinced that some fans of the then-98-year-old director valued the film only because Oliveira could be seen in it driving a car. There will no doubt be similar skepticism in some quarters towards the neo-western CRY MACHO for containing images of the now-ancient Eastwood riding a horse, punching someone in the face, and dancing with a much-younger señora (the wonderful Natalia Traven). But Eastwood’s performance here is genuinely and subtly moving: there’s a scene where his character, a retired rodeo star, cries while talking about mistakes he’s made, and it’s filmed in such a daringly offhanded manner, with the actor’s cowboy hat slung low over his eyes, that many viewers likely won’t even notice the single tear that streams down his face while he’s reminiscing. The low-key, no-fuss approach is characteristic of both the director and the movie as a whole. CRY MACHO features perhaps the most beautiful widescreen landscape shots that Eastwood has ever composed (with New Mexico credibly standing in for Mexico), even though, typical for a director famed for his visual economy, he refuses to linger on any of them for a second longer than necessary. A small masterpiece that deserves to be seen on the big screen. (2021, 104 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]

Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2

I reviewed Fellini’s 8 1/2 for Cine-File Chicago ahead of a couple of revival screenings at the Gene Siskel Film Center this weekend.

Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (Italy)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 3pm and Sunday, 6:30pm

Life imitates art and art imitates life in Federico Fellini’s 1963 masterpiece, a thinly disguised autobiographical study of an Italian filmmaker, Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni, naturally), fighting director’s block while making a science-fiction epic. 8 1/2 proved to be exactly the right movie for its cultural moment, as cinematic new waves were cropping up all over the world and the auteurist notion that a film could be (and indeed should be) seen as the personal expression of a single individual was filtering down from critics to the general moviegoing public. Of course, an intuitive director like Fellini wasn’t consciously trying to capture the zeitgeist but merely throwing his own confusion about life, love, and art up on the screen (the film’s original title, THE BEAUTIFUL CONFUSION, would have been apt). Fellini also had no way of knowing that the innovative way he showed the collision of his protagonist’s fantasies, dreams, and childhood memories—most of which pertain to Guido’s struggles with religion and/or the women in his life—would exert such a massive influence on future filmmakers. Everyone from Woody Allen (STARDUST MEMORIES) to Bob Fosse (ALL THAT JAZZ) to Paul Mazursky (ALEX IN WONDERLAND and THE PICKLE) unofficially remade it (while, ironically, the official remake, the Hollywood musical NINE, proved to be an impersonal work-for-hire for director Rob Marshall). As Dave Kehr perceptively noted, “There’s something about the concept (stuck for an idea for his new movie, a director takes a long, hard look at his own life) that appeals irresistibly to the ego of the professional filmmaker. For directors frustrated by the eternal obscurity of life behind the camera, the 8 1/2 formula gives them a way to step forward and grab the spotlight they’ve trained so long on others.” Fellini may never again have ascended to the level of greatness he displayed here, even though he repeatedly mined similar subject matter, but 8 1/2 remains a dizzying career high. (1963, 138 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. The Card Counter* (Schrader) – A-
2. Short Cuts (Altman) – B+
3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene) – A
4. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene) – A
5. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Lynch) – A
6. Our Hospitality (Keaton) – A+
7. Our Hospitality (Keaton) – A+
8. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton) – A+
9. Candyman* (DaCosta) – C
10. Housekeeping* (Forsyth) – A

* – first-time watch

RELATIVE Poster Revealed!

I am excited to unveil the poster for my fourth feature film, RELATIVE, here and across all social media platforms. The poster was designed by the multitalented Armani Barron using a still from the film originally captured by killer DP Olivia Aquilina. The actors depicted are Wendy Robie, Francis Guinan, Cameron Scott Roberts, Clare Cooney, Keith D. Gallagher, Emily Lape, Melissa DuPrey and Arielle Gonzalez. The World Premiere will likely be late this year or in early 2022. Stay tuned for more info!

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Summer of Sam* (Lee) – C
2. Oh! My Dear Desire* (Ross) – C+
3. Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser* (Zwerin) – A-
4. Glen and Randa* (McBride) – B+
5. Annette* (Carax) – A
6. After Dark My Sweet* (Foley) – B-
7. Whirlybird* (Yoka) – B
8. Hard to Handle (Armstrong) – A-
9. Pig* (Sarnoski) – C+
10. Dr. T & the Women* (Altman) – B+

* – First-time watch

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