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Category Archives: Film Reviews

FACES PLACES at CIFF

I wrote the following capsule review of Faces Places, one of the very best films of the year, for Time Out Chicago today:

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When I had the great good fortune to meet French New Wave legend Agnes Varda in Chicago two years ago she was already talking excitedly about her new movie Faces Places, which had just then begun shooting. When I asked her if it was going to be a feature or a short, she mischievously replied that she intended it to be exactly 75 minutes long because she considered that to be the ideal length for a documentary film. The fact that the end result (which receives its local premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival tonight) runs 89 minutes can therefore be seen as an indication of just how much valuable footage Varda and her co-director, the photographer/installation artist known only as “JR,” gleaned while traversing the French countryside in pursuit of interesting faces and places.

The premise of this whimsical yet profound road movie/comedy is that Varda and JR travel from town to town in a truck outfitted with a “mobile photo booth” that allows them to not only take photographs of the people they come across but also print them with a large-scale printer and paste the resulting images onto buildings in the same villages where the subjects live. It’s a heart-warming celebration of rural, working-class France that asks viewers to think about the role that art plays in everyday life. It is also a meditation on mortality, as the 88-year-old Varda frequently reminisces about friends who are no longer with her and talks about her need to capture images of people and things before she can forget them. If this is indeed Varda’s final feature film, as she has indicated in recent interviews, it is the loveliest swan song I can imagine.

Faces Places screens at the Chicago International Film Festival on Friday, October 13 and Saturday, October 14. For more info, including ticket info and showtimes, visit the CIFF website.

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EL MAR LA MAR, PRINCESS CYD and THE REPLACEMENT at CIFF

I wrote the following piece on films by local directors playing at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival for Time Out Chicago. It appeared on their website yesterday.

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The Chicago International Film Festival kicks off this Thursday, October 12, bringing a packed lineup of movies that range from serious documentaries to lighthearted comedies. While there’s plenty of national and international talent on display throughout the festival, there is also a handful of noteworthy films by local directors.

Chief among them is El Mar la Mar, a haunting and poetic documentary by Joshua Bonnetta and recent Chicago transplant/Northwestern University professor J.P. Sniadecki (The Iron Ministry) that examines life along the border of the U.S. and Mexico. The most daring aspect of this provocative non-fiction feature is the way the film’s many interview subjects are only heard and never seen. Their compelling stories are instead told via voice-over narration, forming a kind of off-screen Greek chorus that the filmmakers juxtapose against images of beautiful but harsh desert landscapes (not unlike James Benning’s Deseret) and occasionally a pitch-black screen. As one would expect, the issue of illegal border crossing is prominently featured, which inevitably marks this as a commentary on Trumpism, but there are plenty of surprises as well. My personal favorite sequence involves one man’s harrowing and utterly convincing story of his encounter with a 15-foot tall monster.

Stephen Cone (Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party), one of Chicago’s best and most prolific directors, returns to CIFF with Princess Cyd, another coming-of-age tale involving the conflict between flesh and spirit. The title character here is a troubled 16-year-old girl (Jessie Pinnick) who travels from South Carolina to Chicago to spend the summer with her famous novelist aunt (Rebecca Spence) and unexpectedly finds romance with a cute barista (Malic White) in the process. Although, from a narrative perspective, this feels more contrived than Cone’s very best work (how is it possible that Cyd doesn’t know the origin of her own first name?), this shortcoming is compensated for by the nuanced and complex lead performances, which are effectively filtered through Cone’s always-refreshing humanism. Credit too must go to Zoe White’s gorgeous, delicate cinematography, which imparts a feeling of “being there-ness” in its ephemeral evocation of late-summer sunlight.

Last but not least, local movie buffs are likely to get a kick out of The Replacement, an ambitious sci-fi/comedy short by the husband-and-wife team of director Sean Miller and producer Naz Khan. Local indie producing and acting mainstay (and Midwest Independent Film Festival executive director) Mike McNamara turns in a delightful performance as Abe Stagsen, a janitor in a futuristic America who becomes outraged when one of his many clones successfully runs for President. This high concept allows the filmmakers to pose philosophical questions similar to other beloved sci-fi movies (Who are we? Where are we going? What does it mean to be human?) but what really elevates this sharp short are the top-notch visual effects, which render familiar Loop locations almost unrecognizable, and a welcome comedic tone that runs counter to the ultra-seriousness one might expect from a film set in a dystopian future.

El Mar la Mar screens on Tuesday, October 24 and Wednesday, October 25. Princess Cyd screens on Tuesday, October 17, Saturday, October 21 and Wednesday, October 25. The Replacement screens as part of the Shorts 1 block on Sunday, October 15, Wednesday, October 18 and Wednesday, October 25. For more info and showtimes, visit the Chicago International Film Festival’s website.


Now Playing: LOGAN LUCKY and GOOD TIME

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Opening in Chicago this Friday are two of the best American films of the year: Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky and the Safdie brothers’ Good Time. Although the milieu in which each movie is set could not be more different (urban, multi-ethnic Queens and rural, lily-white West Virginia, respectively), both are heist pictures focused on a pair of criminal siblings that are loaded from beginning to end with visually inventive, comedic and suspenseful set pieces. Along with Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, another original heist film that proved to be a surprise box office hit when it was released earlier this summer, they suggest that American genre cinema may yet rise like a phoenix from the ashes of superhero franchise-dom. Although all of these directors use genre conventions to different ends (in the case of Wright, I think the primary virtue of his virtuoso robbery sequences is the way they serve as unlikely love letters to the simple act of listening to music), they all point to the future of the movies-as-theatrical-experience in ways that feel fresh and exciting.

Much has been made of how Logan Lucky, Steven Soderbergh’s feature-film comeback after a self-imposed four-year hiatus (during which time he worked in television), was financed through the pre-sale of foreign and home-video/on-demand rights. This allowed the ambitious producer/director the freedom of partnering with a true indie distributor (Bleecker Street Films) and having not just creative control over the movie but also unprecedented control over its advertising budget and release schedule and bypassing the use of the proverbial Hollywood studio “middlemen” almost entirely – an unheard-of proposition for a film with a 30 million dollar budget that features movie stars like Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes and Hillary Swank in its cast. This has led to some speculation in the industry press that the potential success of Logan Lucky could make it a “game changer” and that, as a result, many Hollywood studio executives actively want it to fail.

This could also be why, although independent to the core in terms of how it was produced and is being distributed, Logan Lucky feels like a Hollywood film: it’s an entertaining crowd-pleaser that shrewdly attempts to court viewers on both the left and right wings of the political spectrum. Tatum’s character, Jimmy Logan, hatches an elaborate scheme to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway but only after being unfairly fired from his construction job for having a “pre-existing condition,” a sly attack on Trumpism and Republican health-care initiatives by Soderbergh and his screenwriter, the pseudonymous Rebecca Blunt. But the filmmakers also aggressively court the kind of “white working-class voters” who rarely go to the movies – and supposedly swung the last Presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor  – by making sops to “patriotism” (e.g., admiring shots of soldiers in uniform, a zippy NASCAR montage, “America the Beautiful” on the soundtrack, and, most pointedly, the xenophobia of making the film’s one unlikable character, amusingly played by Seth MacFarlane, a foreigner who makes jokes at the expense of a disabled U.S. military vet).

In other words, Logan Lucky is a film that invites everyone to identify with its little-guys-against-the-system heroes in a vaguely anti-authoritarian, us vs. them, Smokey and the Bandit kind of way. As an entertainment, it succeeds admirably: it’s a fun movie about people having fun, full of juicy performances and great visual and verbal wit. It’s everything that a summer popcorn movie should be but all too rarely is, and that’s a very welcome thing in 2017. The Safdie brothers’ Good Time, by contrast, is trickier, more troubling and ultimately more satisfying: a breathlessly paced “thriller” centered on an unlikable protagonist (though brilliantly played by a charismatic actor!) that continually challenges viewers by making disturbing asides about racism in contemporary America – beginning with the fact that the pre-credits heist is pulled off by the main characters, brothers Connie and Nick Nikas (Robert Pattinson and co-director Benny Safdie), in blackface – but also never slowing down quite enough to allow us to process what’s happening until it’s over.

This provocative mishmash of contradictory elements, and the almost-assaultive quality with which they’re put across, has proven too much for some critics, including the New York TimesA.O. Scott who accused the Safdie brothers of including “racial signifiers” that he feels can be dubiously interpreted in a multitude of ways and that he doesn’t think the filmmakers ultimately care anything about. My own take is that the Safdies are subtly but unambiguously critiquing Connie Nikas for the way he plays the race card throughout the film. Just look at the memorable scene set in Adventureland: Connie uses his white privilege to his advantage, breaking and entering an amusement park after hours to find a bottle of abandoned LSD worth thousands of dollars then walking away scott free with his white criminal accomplice while allowing two innocent black people to take the fall and go to jail. The scene is about as damning an indictment of racial profiling as one could ask for. I suspect what really makes Scott uncomfortable is the fact that the Safdies are asking viewers to admire Connie’s cleverness in thinking on his feet and improvising a plan as he goes along while also finding him morally reprehensible.

I also don’t know what Scott is talking about when he faults the film for its “bad lighting” and “avoidance of prettiness,” qualities that would be better ascribed to the Safdies’ previous film, the urban junkie-drama Heaven Knows What (perhaps Scott saw the film he expected to see?). While there is a similar sense of gritty verisimilitude on display (especially in the extensive use of exterior New York City locations, which harkens back to the Film School Generation of the 1970s in the way it turns urban spaces into a giant playground), Good Time is also more daring in how it juxtaposes this “street cred” with a bolder sense of aesthetic stylization – one where helicopter shots, neon lighting, bodies-in-constant-motion and a pulse-pounding electronic score all blend together into a gorgeous and expressionistic swirl. At the end of the film, when Connie’s luck has finally run out, we see him in an extreme overhead shot attempting to run from the police but looking as helpless and trapped as a rat in a maze. It’s a marriage of form and content worthy of comparison to Fritz Lang or Alfred Hitchcock, a moment of pure cinema to renew one’s faith in the medium.


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

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“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)

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More docs like this please.

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

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“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)

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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

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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

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“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)

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“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

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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)

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No one does animation like Jean-François Laguionie.

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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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“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)

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“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

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“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

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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.


BOB LE FLAMBEUR at the Siskel Center

I wrote the following review of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le Flambeur for Cinefile Chicago. It screens twice in the next week at the Siskel Center in 35mm.

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Jean-Pierre Melville’s BOB LE FLAMBEUR (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 3pm and Tuesday, 6pm

BOB LE FLAMBEUR is one of the most important films ever made – although it’s probably also a case of a classic movie that’s been more influential than actually seen. The way writer/director Jean-Pierre Melville expressed a punch-drunk love for American genre fare, refracting crime/noir conventions through his unique Gallic sensibility to create something refreshingly new, would exert a massive influence on the directors of the nouvelle vague in just a few years time; in BREATHLESS, which features an extended cameo by Melville, Jean-Luc Godard cheekily implies that it was Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Michel who “ratted on (his) friend” Bob Montagne. Made at a time when most commercial French films were still shot on studio-constructed sets, Melville’s mid-‘50s depiction of the Montmartre demimonde is so pungent you can smell it, but his stylish mise-en-scene – with its chiaroscuro lighting and emphasis on black-and-white checkerboard patterns – set a whole new standard for cinematic cool. BOB LE FLAMBEUR would go on to be remade both officially (as Neil Jordan’s THE GOOD THIEF) and unofficially (by Paul Thomas Anderson as HARD EIGHT) though neither Nick Nolte nor Philip Baker Hall can quite match the combination of world-weary poignancy and super-coolness in their portraits of aging masculinity that Roger Duchesne offers here. Even though it was his fourth feature, and his previous work formidable, BOB LE FLAMBEUR is also, crucially, the movie where “Melville becomes Melville.” With a tip of his Stetson to John Huston’s THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, the brilliant French filmmaker crafted an irresistible shaggy-dog heist story about the titular character, a middle-aged gangster/gambler who dutifully maintains an impeccable sense of personal style even when on a losing streak – making him a forerunner of the stoic badasses essayed by Alain Delon, Lino Ventura and Gian Maria Volontè in Melville’s mature masterpieces of the 1960s and early 1970s. Bob’s bad luck eventually causes him to hatch a scheme to rob the casino in Deauville, a journey to the end of night that leads to one of the wittiest punch lines in cinema. (1956, 98 min, 35mm) MGS

Lucky at the Chicago Critics Film Festival

The following piece appeared at Time Out Chicago yesterday.

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The Chicago Critics Film Festival has, in its brief, five-year existence, quietly asserted itself as one of the city’s premiere showcases for exciting new American independent and foreign movie fare. Programmed by members of the Chicago Film Critics Association, the festival features local premieres of movies, some of which don’t yet have distribution, that made splashes at major festivals like Cannes, Sundance and South By Southwest. Best of all, many of the screenings are accompanied by talkbacks with filmmakers and actors. My best bet for this year’s festival, which runs from Friday, May 12 through Thursday, May 18 at the Music Box Theatre, is John Carroll Lynch’s comedy/drama Lucky.

Harry Dean Stanton is a national treasure. The excellent character actor with the perpetual hangdog expression has burned himself into the collective American psyche. Who can forget his fine supporting turns in everything from Alien to Repo Man to Paris, Texas to the work of David Lynch (who has, across seven separate projects, cast HDS more frequently than any other actor)? Not enough for you? How about Cool Hand Luke, Two-Lane Blacktop, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, The Godfather Part II and Escape from New York? Then there is the matter of Pretty in Pink, in which Stanton pops up in a cameo as Molly Ringwald’s father, inexplicably wielding a copy of Finnegan’s Wake and making the movie a whole lot cooler in the process. At 90-years-old, Stanton finally gets the breakout leading role he deserves in Lucky, the directorial debut of actor John Carroll Lynch (no relation to David). It’s the performance of a lifetime and if it doesn’t earn Stanton an Oscar nomination then they should close the joint for good.

As the tagline succinctly puts it, Lucky is about the “spiritual journey” of the title character, a retired cowboy and curmudgeonly atheist whose daily routine consists of crossword puzzles, game shows and visiting the same diner and bar, at which he converses with the same colorful regulars. After falling one day in his kitchen, Lucky is forced to belatedly confront his mortality for the very first time, and Stanton and director Lynch are able to pack a lot of poignancy and warmth into scenes showing how this affects Lucky’s relationships with the people closest to him. See, for instance, the understated way Stanton sells the line “I’m scared” when confiding in a friend or the astonishing scene in which Lucky reveals unexpected musical chops by breaking into a heartfelt Spanish-language song at a fiesta. It’s a modest, confidently made film, and a valentine from one character actor to another (Lynch is himself a veteran of films by the Coen brothers, David Fincher, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese) that is well worth your time.

Lucky screens on May 13 and May 18, with Lynch in person for a Q&A at the former screening. For more info, visit the Chicago Critics Film Festival website.


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