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Author Archives: michaelgloversmith

About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor.

Filmmaker Interview: Harley McKabe

The following piece appeared at Time Out today:
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Harley McKabe is a Chicago-based writer/director whose proof-of-concept short film The Other Guy will screen at Reggie’s Music Joint this Friday, July 21 as part of a concert featuring punk acts The C-Sides, StereoViolet, Butchered and The New Sex and Drugs, who wrote an original song for the film. McKabe is a transwoman who based this raunchy, Kevin Smith-influenced comedy on her own pre-trans life; the plot concerns Sean (David Weiner), a green-haired punk, who cajoles his wallflower roommate, Harry (Adam J. Rebora), into attending a party referred to as a “shirtless shindig.” At less than four minutes, this funny, no-budget DIY effort marks McKabe as a talent to watch.

MGS: How did you get involved in filmmaking?

HM: I actually have a background in print journalism. I worked as a staffer for a small newspaper in Alaska. But I’d always done film on the side – even if it was just writing scripts. Ever since I was a kid I was always interested in film. Whenever there were school projects and there was an opportunity, I’d go with making a film. The Other Guy script was in consideration by two producers and a director at one point and I was just going to stay on as a writer. But as I learned more about the actual (filmmaking) process, I decided that I wanted to get into directing myself.

MGS: The film is a traditional comedy in a lot of ways because it’s about two characters with contrasting personalities. Were they based on people you know?

HM: That is a very interesting question. A person I used to be rather close with suggested I write this film. It was pre-transition. The character Harry is loosely based on me. As I was beginning to decide to go through with this, I had some questions as to whether I wanted to continue that project – for obvious reasons. I do believe that there are a lot of universal concepts at play in the short. There have been plenty of times where people feel awkward at parties or are placed in uncomfortable situations by their good friends. Sean is also much more loosely based on me. But the idea was basically that there was this guy who thinks fate’s out to get him, that he’s never going to find a girlfriend because every woman he’s attracted to already has a boyfriend. It’s about him realizing the problem is really him; that he just has to get some self-confidence, stop being a wallflower and start going for the women who might actually be interested in him. It’s coming-of-age as if directed by Kevin Smith, that’s kind of what I was going for.

MGS: There’s a lot of good gross-out humor. I loved seeing the vomit because the texture of it seemed so authentic. I see big-budget Hollywood movies where the vomit looks less real. How did you make that?

HM: Thank you for the compliment. It’s actually not the first time I’ve thrown soup on a man. It was a mixture of vegetable soup and lentil soup with a fair amount of crackers. I put that together in a bucket the day of. It was referred to as the puke bucket. Adam later told me that he still smelled like puke two or three days later.

MGS: The band The New Sex and Drugs wrote a song for the film. How did you hook up with them?

HM: I met Adam, the front man for the band, through Craigslist. I posted an ad saying I was a screenwriter looking for someone to swap scripts with. He and I exchanged scripts and I ended up going to one of his concerts, and he and his band were kind enough to write the song “All Hipsters Must Die.” It’s pretty difficult to get music for a short film, let alone have someone offer to write an original. So I was like, ‘Yeah, fuck yeah. Absoluely!”

MGS: Last question: are “shirtless shindigs” a real thing?

HM: Pretty much the only reason I wrote the short was to have Sean say, “No shirt shindigs are the shit!” I’ve never been to a shirtless shindig. I do not know if they exist but it sounds fucking hilarious.

The Other Guy screens at Reggie’s Music Joint Friday, July 21. Doors open at 8pm for this 21+ show. More info can be found on the official Reggie’s website.

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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. A Ghost Story (Lowery)
2. Porto (Klinger)
3. The Lost City of Z (Gray)
4. L’argent (Bresson)
5. Mildred Pierce (Haynes)
6. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
7. The Void (Gillespie/Kostanska)
8. Out of the Past (Tourneur)
9. In the Shadows (Arslan)
10. Eastern Promises (Cronenberg)


Twin Peaks: The Return – A Chronological Timeline

For the past two months I have obsessively watched and rewatched every episode of the still in-progress new season of Twin Peaks. I have seen each of the nine episodes so far either four or five times in full. I have also skimmed back through all of the episodes and watched them in pieces for the sole purpose of creating a chronological timeline to determine exactly when each scene is taking place. Before the new limited series began airing this past May, many fans speculated that the show would be taking place in the year 2014 – in order for Laura Palmer’s promise to Agent Cooper in the Season Two finale (“I’ll see you again in 25 years”) to literally become true. As appealing as that notion might be, a close reading of the show – and Mark Frost’s accompanying Secret History of Twin Peaks novel – reveals that nearly all of the action of the new season actually takes place in September and October of 2016. (When I write “nearly all,” I am barring the major flashbacks to 1945 and 1956 New Mexico in Part Eight and the “extra-dimensional” scenes scattered throughout the season that may be seen as taking place “outside of time.”)

The first tip off that Twin Peaks: The Return begins in September of 2016 comes from The Secret History of Twin Peaks. Frost’s novel begins with a memo written by FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (the beloved hard-of-hearing character played by David Lynch on the show) to Special Agent Tammy Preston (a new character played by singer Chrysta Bell) asking her to analyze a secret “dossier” that was recovered from a crime scene in July of 2016. This memo is dated 8/4/2016 and is followed by a notarized response from Preston dated 8/28/16. At the conclusion of Frost’s novel, after Preston has read and annotated the dossier and discovered that its mysterious “compiler” is none other than Major Garland Briggs, there is another notarized statement from her that she doesn’t know “what happened to either Major Briggs or Agent Cooper at this point.” It is not logical that Preston would make this claim in 2016 if the events of the new season had taken place two years previously: Preston, after all, learns a great deal about both Briggs and Cooper (and what happened to them in the 25 years between Seasons Two and Three) in Twin Peaks: The Return.

More evidence comes from the show itself: Bill Hastings’ driver’s license, which can be clearly seen in Part One: My log has a message for you, shows that his birthday is August 15, 1973. In Part Nine: This is the chair, during an instant-classic interrogation scene that is simultaneously both genuinely tragic and genuinely hilarious, Hastings tells Agent Preston that he is 43-years-old, indicating the show takes place after August 15, 2016. It is also during this scene that Hastings, at Preston’s request, writes the day’s date as “9/29,” which, if one counts the days backwards through each episode of the season, means that Bill was arrested on Saturday, September 24. Indeed, when Bill is first interrogated by Buckhorn cop Dave Macklay in Part One, he is asked to account for his whereabouts over the past “three or fours days.” After mentioning that he had been at work on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Bill, a high school principal, tells Dave that he had been at home “all day today,” indicating that Bill was arrested on a Saturday.

Contrary to rampant online speculation, Twin Peaks: The Return has so far followed a surprisingly linear chronological timeline. The only times when there appear to be either flash-forwards or flashbacks are either at the very end or the very beginning of certain episodes. This makes sense given that Lynch has stated he had no clue how he was going to “break up” his 18-hour movie into hour-long segments until he and his editors actually started cutting it. The decision to give the series a sense of structural symmetry by ending most episodes with musical performances at the Roadhouse means that Lynch occasionally flashes forward to a nighttime scene at the Roadhouse before “back-tracking” to the afternoon of the same day in the episode that immediately follows. For whatever it might be worth, I hope some of you find this timeline useful:

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Part One: My log has a message for you.
Cooper and ??????? in black-and-white room – ?
Day One: Wednesday, September 21

Jacoby receives shovels in Twin Peaks – Day
Sam watches glass box in NYC – Night

Day Two: Thursday, September 22
Ben and Jerry Horne and Beverly at the Great Northern – Day
Insurance salesman and Lucy in Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Mr. C goes to Beulah’s in South Dakota – Night
Sam and Tracy watch glass box and are killed in NYC – Night

Day Three: Friday, September 23
Buckhorn police discover corpses of Ruth Davenport and Garland Briggs – Day
Log Lady calls Hawk in Twin Peaks – Night

Day Four: Saturday, September 24
Constance and Macklay in Buckhorn police station – Day
Bill Hastings is arrested in Buckhorn – Day
Hawk, Andy and Lucy in Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Hastings is interrogated in Buckhorn police station (and says it’s Saturday) – Day
Macklay searches Bill’s car in Buckhorn – Day

Part Two: The stars turn and a time presents itself.
Day Four: Saturday, September 24 (Cont’d)

Phyllis visits Bill in the Buckhorn jail – Night
Duncan and Roger in Las Vegas – Night
Mr. C, Darya, Ray and Jack in a South Dakota diner – Night
Hawk at Glastonbury Grove in Twin Peaks – Night
Agent Cooper w/ Laura, MIKE and the Evolution of the Arm in the Red Room – ?

Day Five: Sunday, September 25
Mr. C gets a new car from Jack in S.D. – Day
Mr. C kills Darya in a S.D. motel – Night
Agent Cooper, Leland, MIKE and the Evolution of the Arm in the Red Room – ?
Agent Cooper visits glass box / Sam and Tracy are killed – FLASHBACK to Day Two: Thursday night
Sarah Palmer watches television at home – Night
The Chromatics play the Roadhouse – Night

Part Three: Call for help.
Agent Cooper, Naido and “American Girl” in purple purgatory – ?
Day Six: Monday, September 26

Mr. C crashes car in Black Hills of S.D. – Day
Dougie and Jade in Las Vegas – Day
Drugged Out Mother and Son in Las Vegas – Day
Cops find Mr. C in Black Hills – Day
Hawk, Andy and Lucy in Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Dr. Jacoby spray-paints shovels in Twin Peaks – Day
Jade drops Cooper off at Silver Mustang Casino in Vegas – Day
Gordon, Tammy and Albert in Philadelphia – Day
The Broken Blossoms play the Roadhouse – Night

Part Four: …brings back some memories.
Day Seven: Monday, September 26 (Cont’d)

Cooper at the Silver Mustang Casino – Night
Cooper gets a ride from casino to Dougie’s home in Las Vegas – Night
Gordon Cole meets w/ Denise Bryson in Philadelphia – Night
Sheriff Truman, Andy, Lucy, Bobby and Wally Brando at Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Night

Day Eight: Tuesday, September 27
Cooper has breakfast with Janey-E and Sonny Jim – Morning
Constance and Macklay in Buckhorn – Morning
Gordon, Albert and Tammy drive from airport to Yankton jail – Day
Gordon, Albert and Tammy question Mr. C in jail – Day
Gordon, Albert and Tammy talk at a South Dakota airport – Dusk
Au Revoir Simone plays at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks- Night

Part Five: Case files.
Part Five begins by backtracking to show us characters that were entirely absent from Part Four
Lorraine talks to hitmen in Vegas – FLASHBACK to evening of Monday, September 26 (it only makes sense that this conversation would follow the missed hit earlier that day)

Day Eight: Tuesday, September 27 (Cont’d)
Constance and Macklay in the Buckhorn morgue – Morning
Mr. C gets breakfast in jail in Yankton – Morning
Steven’s job interview with Mike Nelson in Twin Peaks – Morning
Sheriff Truman and Doris at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Morning
Janey-E gives Cooper a ride to work in Las Vegas – Morning (this scene has to follow the breakfast scene in Part Four)
Cooper attends work meeting in Las Vegas – Morning
Mitchum brothers beat up the Supervisor of the Silver Mustang Casino in Las Vegas – Day
Car thieves attempt to steal Dougie’s car in Rancho Rosa in Las Vegas – Day
Jade mails Great Northern key from Las Vegas to Twin Peaks – Day
Becky asks Shelly for money in RR Diner in Twin Peaks – Day
Cooper gets off work at Lucky 7 in Las Vegas at 5:30pm – Dusk
Hawk and Andy at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Night
Dr. Jacoby’s internet infomercial at 7:00pm – Night
Lt. Knox and Col. Davis at the Pentagon in Arlington, VA – Night
Trouble plays at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks – Night
Tammy studies fingerprints in Philadelphia – Night
Mr. C makes a phone call from Yankton jail – Night
Cooper caresses shoes of statue outside Lucky 7 office in Vegas – Night

Part Six: Don’t die.
Day Eight: Tuesday, September 27 (Cont’d)

Police give Cooper a ride from Lucky 7 office to Dougie’s home in Las Vegas – Night
Albert approaches Diane at Max Von’s Bar in Philadelphia – Night

Day Nine: Wednesday, September 28
Red and Richard meet at a Twin Peaks warehouse – Morning
Carl and Mickey get a ride from the New Fat Trout Trailer Park into Twin Peaks – Morning
Miriam at the RR Diner in Twin Peaks – Morning
Carl witnesses hit and run in Twin Peaks – Morning
Duncan Todd receives message from Mr. C in Las Vegas – Morning
Dougie’s car is towed away from Rancho Rosa in Las Vegas – Morning (This may be a flashback to Tuesday, September 27.)
Ike the Spike receives hit orders in Las Vegas motel – Morning
Cooper meets Bushnell at Lucky 7 in Las Vegas – Morning
Janey-E meets loansharks in park in Las Vegas – Day
Ike the Spike kills Lorraine in her office in Las Vegas – Day
Red cleans truck in Twin Peaks – Day
Hawk finds Laura’s missing diary pages in Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Doris visits Sheriff Truman at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Flash-forward to Sharon Van Etten plays at the Roadhouse – Night

Part Seven: There’s a body all right.
Day Nine Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d):

Jerry, lost in the woods in Twin Peaks, calls Ben at the Great Northern – Day
Hawk meets Sheriff Truman at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Sheriff Truman calls Harry from the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Andy meets Farmer at 2:30pm in Twin Peaks – Day (Andy’s watch says it’s the 10th – could be a FLASH-FORWARD to October 10)
Sheriff Truman Skypes with Doc Hayward from the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Lt. Knox meet Macklay at Buckhorn police station – Day
Lt. Knox, Macklay and Constance in the Buckhorn morgue – Day
Gordon and Albert at FBI headquarters in Philadelphia – Day
Gordon and Albert visit Diane at home in Philadelphia – Day
Gordon, Albert, Tammy and Diane fly to Yankton – Day
Diane interviews Mr. C in Yankton prison – Day
Diane talks to Gordon outside of the Yankton prison – Day
Mr. C talks to prison guard in Yankton prison – Day
Andy waits for farmer in Twin Peaks at 5:05pm – Day
Mr. C meets Warden Murphy – Day
Las Vegas police interview Cooper at Lucky 7 office in Las Vegas – Day
Cooper fends off Ike the Spike outside Lucky 7 office in Las Vegas – Dusk
Las Vegas police interview witnesses outside Lucky 7 office – Night
Ben and Beverly at the Great Northern in Twin Peaks – Night
Beverly and Tom at home in Twin Peaks – Night
Jean-Michel Renault at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks – Night
Mr. C and Ray leave Yankton prison – Night
Bing looks for Billy at the RR Diner in Twin Peaks – Night

Part Eight: Gotta light?
Day Nine: Wednesday, September 28 (Cont’d):

Ray shoots Cooper in rural South Dakota – Night
The Nine Inch Nails perform at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks – Night
Flashbacks to New Mexico in 1945 & 1956

Part Nine: This is the chair.
Day 10: Thursday, September 29:

Mr. C walks to a South Dakota farm – Morning
Gordon, Tammy, Diane and Albert fly from Yankton to Buckhorn – Day
Mr. C, Hutch and Chantal on a South Dakota farm – Day
Fusco brothers, Bushnell Mullins, Cooper and Janey-E in Las Vegas police dept. – Day
Fuscos arrest Ike the Spike in Las Vegas motel – Day
Andy and Lucy at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Twin Peaks police visit Betty Briggs – Day
Philadelphia FBI agents visit Buckhorn morgue – Day
Jerry Horne wrestles with his foot in the woods of Twin Peaks – Day
Sheriff Truman, Bobby and Hawk at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Tammy interrogates Bill in a Buckhorn jail – Day
Ben Horne and Beverly in the Great Northern – Night
Hudson Mohawke and Au Revoir Simone perform at the Roadhouse – Night

Part 10: Laura is the one.
Unusually, the first seven scenes of this episode appear to skim back through the same day as the previous episode before moving on to Friday.
Day 10: Thursday, September 29 (Cont’d):
Red kills Miriam in her Twin Peaks trailer – Day (Miriam says she mailed a letter to Sheriff Truman “today” and we see it arrive later in the episode – on Friday.)
Steven and Becky at the Fat Trout Trailer Park in Twin Peaks – Day
The Mitchum brothers and Candie at home in Las Vegas – Day
Janey-E takes Cooper to the Doctor in Las Vegas (Janey-E is wearing the same clothes she wore at the police station in Part 9.)
The Mitchum brothers watch T.V. (The extended weather forecast tells us it’s Thursday then there is a story about Ike’s arrest, which a news anchor says happened “today.”)
Janey-E and Cooper having sex in their Las Vegas home – Night
Nadine watches Jacoby’s video blog from her Twin Peaks drapery store – Night

Day 11: Friday, September 30
Janey-E drives Sonny Jim to school and Cooper to work in Vegas – Morning
Jerry is lost in the woods of Twin Peaks – Day
Deputy Chad intercepts the mail at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Day
Richard Horne robs Sylvia Horne at her Twin Peaks home – Day
Anthony Sinclair visits Duncan Todd’s Las Vegas office – Night
Albert has a dinner date with Constance in Buckhorn – Night (FLASHBACK to Thursday, September 29)
Anthony Sinclair visits the Mitchum brothers at the Silver Mustang Casino – Night
The Mitchum brothers at home – Night
Albert and Tammy visit Gordon in his Buckhorn hotel room – Night (FLASHBACK to Thursday, September 29 – Albert references Diane receiving the “Around the dinner table” text that morning)
Ben Horne take a call from Sylvia at the Great Northern Hotel – Night
The Log Lady calls Hawk at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Dept. – Night
Rebekah Del Rio performs at the Roadhouse – Night


Elevated Films Kicks Off Summer Series with PERSON TO PERSON

The following piece was published at Time Out Chicago today.

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Elevated Films, the outdoor independent movie series that supports cinema and local youth arts programs in Chicago, has announced its first summer screening: a sneak preview of Dustin Guy Defa’s Person to Person. The film, which stars Michael Cera (fresh off of his God-level cameo as Wally Brando in Twin Peaks), was well-received at its Sundance World Premiere and will be distributed later in the year by Magnolia Pictures. The ensemble drama has been described as following a “variety of New York characters as they navigate personal relationships and unexpected problems over the course of a single day.” Person to Person co-stars Bene Coopersmith, Broad City‘s Abbi Jacobson and Chicago native Tavi Genvinson.

The screening will take place on the roof deck of Columbia College’s Media Production Center at 1600 South State St. and Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg, who executive produced, will moderate a post-screening Q&A with director Defa and star Coopersmith. “I’m incredibly proud to be involved with Person to Person, it’s a really funny, warm, uplifting film, and I can’t wait to share it with the Chicago audience on a summer night,” says Swanberg. Tickets for PERSON TO PERSON can be purchased for $10.00, while students may attend for free. Doors open with cocktails at 7:30pm and the screening begins at 8:30pm. For more information, visit the Elevated Films website.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Ovredal)
2. Offside (Panahi)
3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (Lynch)
4. The Awful Truth (McCarey)
5. 12:08 East of Bucharest (Porumboiu)
6. M (Lang)
7. Baby Driver (Wright)
8. Distant (Ceylan)
9. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
10. Memories of Murder (Bong)


The Best Films of the Year So Far

Now that we’ve reached the half-way point of 2017, it’s time to post a list of my favorite films of the year so far. A cursory glance at the list below should tell you that we’ve seen an uncommonly good six months of cinema. As is customary with all my lists, I’m only including films that first premiered in Chicago in 2017. This means I’m including titles that opened elsewhere in late 2016 (Silence, Toni Erdmann) while not including other worthy titles that had their first theatrical runs in 2017 after playing festival screenings here last year (A Quiet Passion, Raw). It will be yrev, very interesting to see what the next six months bring.

25. Silence (Scorsese, USA/Japan) – Music Box

silence
“Scorsese is one of America’s greatest living filmmakers and probably only he would have been capable of getting a big-budget art film like this financed by a major studio like Paramount.” Review here.

24. 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami (Samadian, Iran) – Annual Festival of Films from Iran (Siskel Center)

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Farewell, maestro.

23. Rat Film (Anthony, USA) – Doc10 Film Festival (Davis)

ratfilm
More docs like this please.

22. Such is Life in the Tropics (Cordero, Ecuador) – Chicago Latino Film Fest

such-is-life-in-the-tropics-2
“A superb political thriller that intertwines several compelling storylines set in Guayaquil, Ecuador.” Capsule review here.

21. Beach Rats (Hittman, USA) – Chicago Critics Film Fest (Music Box)

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I really enjoyed this for the naturalistic performances and as a piece of “sensory cinema.” Still not sure about the contrived climax.

20. Shelley (Abbasi, Denmark) – Chicago European Union Film Fest (Siskel Center)

shelley-still-two
Not only well-crafted as horror, this Danish movie made by an Iranian writer/director in exile also succeeds as sly political allegory in the way it examines the unconscious xenophobia of a rich, ostensibly liberal hippie couple through their subtle mistreatment of a Romanian housekeeper.

19. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Anderson, USA/UK) – Wide Release

resident
No one does 3D like W.S. Here I am getting ready to watch it the way it was meant to be seen.

18. Lost North (Lavanderos, Chile) – Chicago Latino Film Fest

CHILE_-LOST-NORTH
“The film’s clever dual road-trip conceit allows Lavanderos to create a compelling Murnau-like dichotomy between city and country, past and present, and man and woman, but there’s also welcome humor in the characters’ differing attitudes towards ‘unplugging’ and letting go of the modern world.” Capsule review here.

17. Ethel & Ernest (Mainwood, UK) – Chicago European Union Film Fest (Siskel Center)

ethelandernest_0
“The voice work of Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn as the central couple is magnificent and cinephiles should especially appreciate that their first date involves taking in a screening of John Ford’s Hangman’s House.” Capsule review here.

16. Personal Shopper (Assayas, France) – Chicago European Union Film Fest (Siskel Center)

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“Stewart’s unique, sometimes controversial brand of ‘underplaying’ has rarely been used to better effect than here.” Capsule review here.

15. Get Out (Peele, USA) – Wide Release

getout
Jordan Peele uses the conventions of the horror film to comment on the horrors of racism in contemporary America. Sharp debut.

14. Louise by the Shore (Laguionie, France) – Chicago European Union Film Fest (Siskel Center)

louise-by-the-shore
No one does animation like Jean-François Laguionie.

13. Baby Driver (Wright, USA) – Wide Release

baby-driver-1
Baby Driver has a lot of virtues. Chief among them is the way it expresses a love for the simple act of listening to music.

12. Austerlitz (Loznitsa, Germany) – Chicago European Union Film Fest (Siskel Center)

AUSTERLITZ_02
Austerlitz is a provocative and challenging German documentary on the subject of ‘Holocaust tourism’ by the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa.” Capsule review here.

11. Lucky (Lynch, USA) – Chicago Critics Film Fest (Music Box)

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“Harry Dean Stanton is a national treasure.” Capsule review here.

10. It’s Not the Time of My Life (Hajdu, Hungary) – Chicago European Union Film Fest (Siskel Center)

its_not_the_time_of_my_life_still
Brilliant Hungarian comedy about a dinner party with the in-laws gone wrong. More people need to see this.

9. The Death of Louis XIV (Serra, France) – Chicago European Union Film Fest (Siskel Center)

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“The formal control of Serra’s precise compositions and exquisitely candle-lit interiors, which resemble 18th century paintings, is impressive but don’t let the somber veneer distract you from the movie’s most appealing aspect: its bizarre, poker-faced sense of humor.” Capsule review here.

8. Death in the Terminal (Shemesh/Sudry, Israel) – Doc10 Film Festival (Davis)

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“This incredibly complex and disturbing documentary by co-directors Tali Shemesh and Asaf Sudry does more to explain the culture of violence in the Middle East today than any other single work of art I know of.” Capsule review here.

7. The Beguiled (Coppola, USA) – Wide Release

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“Viewers looking for an alternative to mindless summer blockbuster fare can do no better than to check out this visually sumptuous and surprisingly funny Civil War-era melodrama, which boasts a raft of great performances.” Review here.

6. The Son of Joseph (Green, France) – Chicago European Union Film Fest (Siskel Center)

joseph
“A masterful comedy/drama about a teenage boy (Victor Ezenfis) searching for the identity of his birth father (Mathieu Amalric), a journey that ends up taking on parallels to the Biblical stories of the birth of Christ and Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac.” Capsule review here.

5. The Ornithologist (Rodrigues, Portugal) – Chicago European Union Film Fest (Siskel Center)

ornithologist
“The homoeroticism and mystical-jungle imagery may put one in the mind of Apichatpong Weerasethakul but the Catholic symbolism and meditation on solitude vs. companionship are distinctly Rodrigues’ own.” Capsule review here.

4. Slack Bay (Dumont, France) – Chicago European Union Film Fest (Siskel)

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“As if the positive response to Li’l Quinquin has given him confidence, Dumont also successfully turns the wackiness here up to 11; Slack Bay is one of the funniest and craziest films in recent memory.” Capsule review here.

3. The Lost City of Z (Gray, USA) – Wide Release

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“Many critics have noted this thrilling adventure film is a ‘departure’ for Gray, although the classicism of the filmmaking and the focus on family dynamics make it all of a piece with his earlier New York-set dramas.” Interview with director James Gray here.

2. Toni Erdmann (Ade, Germany) – Music Box

tonierdmann_02
“The poignant father/daughter relationship at its core is as universal and timeless as that of Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring (although it is also given a refreshingly female-centric spin by its female writer/director).” Review here.

1. Twin Peaks: Parts 1 – 8 (Lynch, USA) – Showtime

twin-peaks-episode-1.jpg
It’s darker, scarier, stranger and funnier than it was the first time around. It eschews the warmth and softness of the original’s 35mm film textures for a visual style that deliberately leans into the cold, hard, clean lines of high-definition digital (including a brilliant and extensive use of CGI). The long-awaited third season of Twin Peaks has been nothing short of a miracle for its first eight parts. Coming off of an 11-year filmmaking hiatus (his last major work being 2006’s sublime INLAND EMPIRE), David Lynch’s new incarnation of Twin Peaks feels so far like he fully intends it to be his magnum opus; there are times when watching it has put me in the mind of watching each of his 10 feature films, including Dune, even while the end result ultimately feels like he’s striking out in bold and exciting new directions.

Before the first two “parts” (he doesn’t like to call them episodes) aired on May 21, Lynch repeatedly referred to this limited series as an “18-hour movie.” Few had any clue at the time what that meant but six parts later, it’s obvious: the series’ gradual unfolding of its impossibly mammoth scope, in which 200+ characters are introduced in glacially paced scenes taking place in locations all over the world, has resulted in something both structurally and aesthetically radical: the masterful way Lynch has been carefully and slowly bringing these various narrative threads together forces viewers to completely rethink how a T.V. show should be watched and processed. In so doing, he’s created a work for the “small screen” that dwarfs all of the other “big screen” experiences on this list and cements his place alongside Ford, Hitchcock and Welles in the pantheon of the all-time greats of the American cinema.


Sofia Coppola’s THE BEGUILED

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Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, fresh off of its Cannes World Premiere in May (where it deservedly won the Best Director prize), opens in Chicago theaters this Friday. It is a smart example of counter-programming on behalf of distributor Focus Features: viewers looking for an alternative to mindless summer blockbuster fare can do no better than to check out this visually sumptuous and surprisingly funny Civil War-era melodrama, which boasts a raft of great performances (from a cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning) as well as enough provocative commentary on gender relations to ensure heated post-screening discussions; along with all of its other virtues, The Beguiled should prove to be a hell of a date movie.

Based on a novel by Thomas Cullinen that was previously adapted by the director/star team of Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood, Coppola’s film offers a refreshingly feminized take on a story that has long cried out for it: in 1864 Virginia, a wounded Union soldier (Farrell) is given reluctant sanctuary by the headmistress (Kidman) of an all-girls school. As he convalesces, the soldier insidiously sows mischief and jealousy in the hearts of everyone with whom he comes into contact: not only the headmistress but also a teacher (Dunst) as well as the students. The movie begins with Amy (Oona Laurence), one of the youngest pupils, picking mushrooms beneath moss-strewn trees while humming the song “Lorena,” a Civil War ballad whose melody also features in the opening of John Ford’s immortal The Searchers. This seems to be Coppola’s way of announcing that her film will take place within certain American narrative filmmaking traditions, which, over the course of a breezy 94 minutes, she then subtly and cleverly works to overturn. Her Beguiled, in fact, pointedly becomes an anti-western – taking place almost entirely in dimly lit interiors (gorgeously photographed by Philippe Le Sourd), where the war is represented only by the muffled sounds of distant canon fire, and focusing mostly on the intimate lives of her female characters.

Don Siegel’s excellent 1971 film version is a more erotic and disturbing horror show, centered as it is on a subversive interrogation of Clint Eastwood’s macho star persona. Sofia Coppola, being a very different kind of filmmaker (more sensorial and less interested in overt character psychology), wisely chooses to both eliminate “back story” and to make Farrell’s soldier more passive and even cowardly; this Irish immigrant, who took the place of a conscripted soldier for a $300 payout and desperately wants to avoid returning to the battlefield, does the bare minimum necessary to seduce the women and girls around him. He is little more than a slab of male flesh onto which these sheltered female characters inevitably project their romantic and sexual longings. The Beguiled is ultimately a film about the way these young women look at this young man, and there is a visual mastery at work in the way Coppola coordinates the gazes of her fine actresses that surpasses anything she has done before. In the young women’s attempts to one-up each other and jockey for favorable position with the soldier, Coppola also taps a surprisingly rich vein of dark comedy; this is nowhere more apparent than in the crack comic timing (physical as well as verbal) of the precocious Alicia, the student played by Elle Fanning, a terrific young actress who steals every scene she is in.


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