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Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Best Films of 2016 So Far: A Midyear Report

As I have the past two years, I’m offering a list of “the best films of the year so far” now that we’ve reached the midway point of 2016. This list includes only movies that received their Chicago theatrical premieres between January 1 and June 30. This means I’m disqualifying films that received their first theatrical runs this year but which I caught at Chicago festival screenings last year. I’m also including excerpts from — and links to — my original reviews where applicable.

20. Sembene! (Gadjego/Silverman, Senegal/USA) – Siskel Center

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19. Land and Shade (Acevedo, Columbia) – Chicago Latino Film Fest

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“Adventurous viewers will be plenty rewarded by this quietly powerful drama about an elderly farmer returning to the family he had abandoned years before, reconnecting with his ex-wife and son (the latter of whom suffers from lung disease as a result of fires set to clear the sugar cane fields around them) and meeting his daughter-in-law and grandson for the first time. – Time Out capsule

18. The Conjuring 2 (Wan, USA/UK) – Wide release

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17. Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (Herzog, USA) – Doc10 Film Fest/Chicago Film Critics Fest

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“An alternately provocative and playful documentary about the Internet’s effect on global culture: featuring interviews with digital pioneers, scientists, hackers and even young people addicted to being online, it’s an even-handed look at both the glories and the dark side of the ‘net from an admitted luddite.” – Time Out capsule

16. Sunset Song (Davies, UK) – Music Box/Siskel Center

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15. In Transit (Maysles/True/Usui/Walker/Wu, USA) – Doc10 Film Fest

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“As with all of Maysles’s work, the film is more observational than informational; the focus is not on the logistics of train travel but on the fascinating lives of the commuters.” – Time Out capsule

14. Born to Be Blue (Budreau, Canada/USA) – Wide release

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“Thankfully eschewing the hokey, decades-spanning ‘rise/fall/rise’ formula that became de rigueur after the success of Ray and Walk the Line, its modest scope focuses instead on a single chapter in Baker’s life: the trumpeter’s successful comeback in the late 1960s after being sidelined by a heroin addiction that resulted in jail-time and the loss of his front teeth.” – White City Cinema capsule

13. Three (To, Hong Kong) – AMC River East

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12. L’Attesa (Messina, Italy/France) – Siskel Center

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“The Virgin is the symbol of the Feminine in us, it is the mystery of life, it is always present, we just have to say hello to her!” – Interview with Juliette Binoche in Time Out

11. Journey to the West (Tsai, Taiwan) – Chicago Filmmakers

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“Dispensing with narrative and dialogue altogether, the aptly titled Journey to the West consists of just a few shots, done in Tsai’s customary long-take style, of a red-robed monk (Lee Kang-Sheng) walking about as slow as humanly possible around densely populated areas of contemporary Marseilles, France.” – Cine-File Chicago capsule

10. Hail, Caesar! (Coen/Coen, USA) – Wide release

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9. Viaje (Fabrega, Costa Rica) – Chicago Latino Film Fest

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“Imagine a sexier — and more female-centric — version of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset and you’ll have some idea of what Fabrega is up to in this charming and bittersweet two-hander.” – Time Out capsule

8. The Measure of a Man (Brize, France) – Siskel Center

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Discussed with Scott Pfeiffer on White City Cinema Radio Hour episode 10.

7. Love & Friendship (Stillman, USA/UK) – Wide release

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Discussed with Pam Powell on White City Cinema Radio Hour episode 13.

6. Everybody Wants Some!! (Linaklater, USA) – Wide release

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5. The Wailing (Na, S. Korea) – The Music Box

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4. No Home Movie (Akerman, Belgium) – Siskel Center

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“It’s a deceptively simple, extraordinarily powerful documentary about Akerman’s relationship with her elderly mother — a movie that slowly, almost imperceptibly, expands into an essay on Akerman’s quest to better understand her own Jewish roots and identity.” – Time Out capsule

3. Chevalier (Tsangari, Greece) – Siskel Center

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“The way the ship’s barely glimpsed working-class crew can be seen imitating the shenanigans of their masters offers a pungent class critique worthy of comparison to Jean Renoir or Luis Bunuel.” – Time Out Capsule

2. Arabian Nights Vol. 1 – 3 (Gomes, Portugal) – Siskel Center

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“Gomes’ progressive/liberal point-of-view is clear but never didactic; his chief interest would appear to be in creating set pieces of intense cinematic poetry (an aim in which he’s aided immeasurably by Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s regular cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom).” – Time Out capsule

1. Malgre la nuit (Grandrieux, France) – University of Chicago Film Studies Center

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“He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.” Some thoughts here. Interview with director Philippe Grandrieux in Offscreen.

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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. The Wailing (Na)
2. The Awful Truth (McCarey)
3. Stoker (Park)
4. Three (To)
5. Secrets of a Soul (Pabst)
6. Midnight in Paris (Allen)
7. Open Tables (Newell)
8. Coeur Fidele (Epstein)
9. This is Not a Film (Panahi)
10. Fat Girl (Breillat)


Interview with Philippe Grandrieux in Offscreen

I was fortunate to be able to interview Philippe Grandrieux, one of my favorite living filmmakers, when he recently came to the University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center to present three of his recent works. A transcript of the interview has been published in the Canadian film-studies journal Offscreen. I’m publishing a brief excerpt below and linking to the full piece at the bottom of this post. Thanks to Dominique Bluher and Michael W. Phillips, Jr. for helping to facilitate our talk and to Corinne Thevenon-Grandrieux for taking the delightful photo below.

MGS: Malgré la nuit is the first feature you’ve shot digitally. How did you like that experience compared to shooting on 35mm?

Photo by Corinne Thevenon-Grandrieux

PG: Well, you know, it makes not such a big difference for me, 35 or digital. Of course, there’s a difference — the nature of the picture — but I’m not at all in any kind of nostalgia (for celluloid). Because you are not paying with cash, you use a credit card; it’s plastic but it’s more or less the same, you know? So, it’s no more paper but it’s computers. Maybe digital cameras give you the opportunity also to be more inside of the light of the picture. When you shoot in 35 you are not in the light of the scene because all the contrast and the color, all of this is done later in the laboratory. But when you shoot in digital, in the viewfinder you have exactly the light that you are going to have on the screen. What you are seeing is what you are screening. For me it’s very important, the possibilities the digital camera gives me – to be more inside of the light of the film. Because I frame myself, and I am really inside of the movie when I shoot. It’s a very particular way to shoot and to direct. So I need to be inside of the sensation when it happens. And digital cameras give me very strong access to this sensation.

Read the full interview at Offscreen.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (Ford)
2. They Were Expendable (Ford)
3. Another Year (Leigh)
4. Blue Velvet (Lynch)
5. Le Havre (Kaurismaki)
6. The Conjuring 2 (Wan)
7. The Marriage of Maria Braun (Fassbinder)
8. Chinese Roulette (Fassbinder)
9. Green Room (Saulnier)
10. Fox and His Friends (Fassbinder)


Blue Velvet at 30

I wrote the following appreciation of Blue Velvet, on the occasion of its 30th anniversary, for Time Out Chicago. My original version, printed here in its entirety, is slightly longer than Time Out’s edit.

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The long awaited third season of Twin Peaks, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s groundbreaking prime-time television series that originally ran from 1990-1991, is currently in post-production but not anticipated to air until the second quarter of 2017. Chicagoans breathlessly awaiting Showtime’s reboot can tide themselves over with a temporary fix of quintessential Lynchian weirdness by heading to the Music Box to catch a 30th anniversary engagement of Blue Velvet. Lynch’s controversial erotic thriller, arguably his seminal work, as well as one of the great American films of the 1980s, looks fresher than ever when seen from the vantage point of today; the director’s nightmarish vision of the evil lurking behind the white-picket fences of seemingly idyllic small-town America captures the schizophrenia of the Trump/Clinton era better than any contemporary film I know.

Blue Velvet’s continued relevance can perhaps be chalked up to the fact that it has always seemed out of time: a vision of America set in the Reagan era but nostalgically steeped in the 1950s that perversely pits the irresistible, Nancy Drew-esque amateur-sleuth team of Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern against Dennis Hopper’s sadistic, nitrous oxide-sniffing villain (still one of the most frightening performances in cinema history). Caught between these worlds is Isabella Rossellini’s mysterious roadhouse chanteuse, a masochistic femme fatale (and source of much of the film’s original controversy) who appears to have sprung from Lynch’s id like a golden sapling. Blue Velvet may express the reactionary desire to return to “simpler times” but it also fully — and troublingly — acknowledges the impossibility of doing so. For those who’ve never seen it, or only seen it on home video, the director’s famously meticulous attention to image and sound should come as a revelation in what the Music Box’s publicity is touting as a “gorgeous” new restoration.

For more information, visit the Music Box’s website.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. The Player (Altman)
2. Kaboom (Araki)
3. Love & Friendship (Stillman)
4. Louder Than Bombs (Trier)
5. In a Lonely Place (Ray)
6. Effi Briest (Fassbinder)
7. Joshy (Baena)
8. Animals (Schiffli)
9. High Rise (Wheatley)
10. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Fassbinder)


Talking Chaplin on Mysteries at the Museum / Cool Apocalypse on DVD

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I will be on the popular Travel Channel show Mysteries at the Museum tomorrow night, Friday, June 3, talking about the theft and ransom of Charlie Chaplin’s corpse in 1978. For those unfamiliar with the show, each episode features segments that use objects located in museums around the world as jumping-off points to explore fascinating tidbits of history. The “hook” for the particular segment in which I appear is a bamboo cane once owned by Charlie Chaplin that is on permanent display at the Chicago History Museum. There are six segments per episode and the Chaplin segment will air during the second half of the episode that premieres at 9pm eastern time, 8pm central time (the show’s other segments are: Mystery of the Spinning Statue, Tusko the Unwanted Elephant, Map Trap, Pirates of the Mediterranean and The Ghost Will). For more information, visit the official Mysteries at the Museum site here.

My film Cool Apocalypse will be released on DVD via Emphasis Entertainment Group on August 30. Special features will include a feature-length audio commentary track by yours truly (hear me talk for 73 minutes non-stop!), a look behind-the-scenes by Emmy-winning filmmaker Pierre Kattar and the official trailer. I’m a big fan of Emphasis Entertainment’s other releases (I’m now “label mates” with Charlie Chaplin and Dziga Vertov!) and I’m thrilled that they are the ones distributing my film on home video. You can learn more about the release via the official Emphasis website here. You can pre-order the DVD on Amazon here.

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