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Alex Thompson and Kelly O’Sullivan’s SAINT FRANCES

I wrote the following review for Time Out Chicago where it should appear today or tomorrow.

Elevated Films Kicks Off Summer Series with SxSW Winner ‘Saint Frances’

Elevated Films, an outdoor independent film series that supports cinema and local youth arts programs in Chicago, will kick off its summer slate with a sneak preview of Alex Thompson and Kelly O’Sullivan’s Saint Frances on the rooftop of the Ace Hotel on Thursday, June 13. The event offers an excellent opportunity for Chicagoans to see the locally made dramedy before it opens theatrically later in 2019. Saint Frances recently won two awards at the South by Southwest Film Festival where it had its world premiere in March—a surprising feat for a first feature with no recognizable stars in the cast. A single viewing makes it immediately apparent why it resonated with judges and audiences: This female-centric character study, which is shot through with compassion, insight and originality, speaks to our cultural moment in a way that other recent American movies do not. Director Thompson will be on hand at the Ace Hotel screening with members of the cast, including writer and lead actress O’Sullivan, for a post-screening Q&A moderated by filmmaker Kris Swanberg.

RECOMMENDED: Where to see summer outdoor movies in Chicago

Saint Frances centers on Bridget (O’Sullivan in a remarkably naturalistic and winning performance), a 34-year-old Chicago woman with no “fancy job” (she’s a server), no boyfriend and no real direction in life. After she gets a job as a nanny for the film’s title character, the 6-year-old daughter of an interracial lesbian couple in Evanston, Bridget also unexpectedly finds herself pregnant in the wake of a one-night stand. This basic premise might feel reminiscent of other recent American indies, but the narrative takes a completely unexpected turn. It continually moves in gratifyingly unanticipated directions as it flips expectations about gender roles, includes some surprisingly edgy humor, and focuses primarily on the relationship between Bridget and Frances. In the process, Saint Frances ends up feeling less like other movies and more like a messy slice of real life. To give away more of the plot would be a crime, but the conclusion is admirable for the way it goes against the grain of how much a protagonist’s external circumstances are supposed to change over the course of a film. The changes that do occur are ultimately more of the interior—and more profound—variety.

The Elevated Films screening series continues throughout the summer on the Ace Hotel rooftop, with the Chicago premiere of Lynn Shelton’s Sword of Trust (starring comedian and podcaster Marc Maron) and the Sundance hit Greener Grass. These screenings will take place on yet-to-be-determined dates in July and September. For more information about the upcoming screening of Saint Frances and additional outdoor screenings at the Ace Hotel this summer, check out the Elevated Films website.

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NYC Premieres of MERCURY IN RETROGRADE and RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO at Spectacle Theater

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I couldn’t be happier to announce that the NYC Premieres of my most recent features, Mercury in Retrograde and Rendezvous in Chicago, will take place at Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn on the evening of Saturday, May 25! I’m a big fan of the programming at Spectacle and am honored that they wanted to show my work. Producer Kevin Wright will join me for the MERCURY Q&A and actor Rashaad Hall (Andy) will join me for the RENDEZVOUS Q&A. Tickets are on sale now and I expect both shows to sell out. Hope to see all my NYC-area friends there!


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Under the Silver Lake (Mitchell)
2. 35 Shots of Rum (Denis)
3. Burning (Lee)
4. The Wild Pear Tree (Ceylan)
5. Black Mother (Allah)
6. Wanda (Loden)
7. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong)
8. The Gleaners and I (Varda)
9. Boyhood (Linklater)
10. American Graffiti (Lucas)


Khalik Allah’s BLACK MOTHER

I have a review of Khalik Allah’s visionary Black Mother at Time Out Chicago. I’m reproducing it in its entirety below.

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Toward the end of his recent film The Image Book, director Jean-Luc Godard quotes Bertolt Brecht in saying: “In reality, only a fragment carries the mark of authenticity.” This is a fitting epitaph to a film, and a career, characterized by its radical, collage-like approach to juxtaposing image and sound. It would have been equally appropriate, though for very different reasons, for this quote to appear in Black Mother, a visually astonishing and deeply spiritual love letter to Jamaica made by the acclaimed American filmmaker and photographer Khalik Allah. While The Image Book primarily uses clips from other films to illustrate the misrepresentation of the Arab world in the West, Black Mother uses fragments of footage Allah shot by himself in his mother’s home country of Jamaica, on a variety of film and video formats (Hi8, miniDV, Super 8, 16mm and high-definition digital) over a span of 20 years. Chicagoans will have a chance to see the kaleidoscopic result, which is best experienced on a large screen, when the film receives its local premiere run at the Facets Cinematheque from Friday, May 3 through Thursday, May 9.

Although Allah’s mother does appear in the film, the title is a reference to the notion of Jamaica as an ancestral homeland, a place the director has visited since the age of three and which he puts on screen in a captivating fashion. Black Mother is cleverly structured into three sections—referred to as “trimesters”—that speak volumes about both the history and present of Jamaica, including its painful legacy of colonialism. The film relentlessly avoids clichéd images of Jamaican culture (reggae, weed and Rastafarianism are barely acknowledged) and eschews the norms of documentary filmmaking. It’s a highly personal and visually dense cinematic essay in which sound and image are deliberately out of synch —only one shot in the film’s sublime final chapter, of Allah’s late Jamaican grandfather, features a subject speaking live on camera. An ambitious and dreamlike visual-aural fugue, it represents a clear evolution from Allah’s first feature, Field Niggas, in training a benevolent camera eye on a variety of dispossessed subjects, including sex workers. As in the films of Pedro Costa, Allah gives a voice to the voiceless while solidifying his own unique cinematic language.

For more information about Black Mother’s Chicago run, including ticket info and showtimes, visit Facets Multimedia’s website.

 


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Decaf Don (Alonzo)
2. The Blues Brothers (Landis)
3. 3 Faces (Panahi)
4. Late Spring (Ozu)
5. 3 Iron (Kim)
6. Days of Heaven (Malick)
6. Hotel By the River (Hong)
7. Before Sunset (Linklater)
8. Her Smell (Perry)
9. Infinite Football (Porumboiu)
10. Breathless (Godard)


Daniel Kremer’s OVERWHELM THE SKY

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Overwhelm the Sky, a new 3-hour microbudget mystery-drama shot in gorgeous black-and-white ‘Scope, is by far the best of the three features I have seen by San Francisco-based filmmaker Daniel Kremer (though I liked the other two of his that I’ve seen, namely Raise Your Kids on Seltzer and Ezer Kenegdo, quite a bit). It might even be a masterpiece. The earlier films are loose and wild, but Overwhelm the Sky, even while considerably longer, feels the tightest and shortest. If anything, this is one instance when a long movie could have stood being even longer (in particular, I would have loved seeing more of the intriguing character played by Alanna Blair). The shaggy-dog plot involves a radio talk-show host being sent down a series of Existential rabbit holes after the murder of a friend whose body is discovered in Golden Gate Park. The ambitious Kremer has long been working in undeserved obscurity at the relative fringes of the indie film scene — he is currently working on his eighth feature-length film — but I’m hoping that Overwhelm the Sky, which recently had its World Premiere at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, is a game-changer for him.

The filmmaking is so confident in Overwhelm the Sky that it’s astonishing: The paranoid atmosphere and discordant orchestral score put me in the mind of early Jacques Rivette, but the formal control, perfectly calibrated camera movements, always surprising but ineffably right compositions, and precision of the cutting, put me in the mind of (believe it or not) Paul Thomas Anderson. There were parts where I had no clue what was going on on a narrative level, but I didn’t really care because I was so caught up in how masterful the filmmaking was, and therefore felt I was in good enough storytelling hands that I trusted I could just wallow in the mystery of it all. It feels like the kind of film that will reveal more of its mysteries with subsequent viewings, but probably also isn’t a puzzle with one ultimate “solution.” It also features the best acting of any of the three films of Kremer’s that I’ve seen. Whereas it seems he works a great deal with improvisation in his films, this one feels more scripted (yet I recently learned that his same improvisatory methods were used).

There is currently no theatrical release scheduled for Overwhelm the Sky in Chicago but I hope it turns up on a big screen locally soon. It would be an ideal fit for Facets, Chicago Filmmakers or the Nightingale.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans (Dumont)
2. Cooley High (Schultz)
3. High Life (Denis)
4. Breathless (Godard)
5. The Mule (Eastwood)
6. Failan (Song)
7. Breathless (Godard)
8. Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater (Klinger)
9. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
10. Within Our Gates (Micheaux)


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