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Updated: 2018-04-20T10:04:00-05:00

 



The Devil and Father Amorth

2018-04-20T10:15:21-05:00

"The Devil and Father Amorth" sees director William Friedkin returning to a subject that drove his biggest box-office success, "The Exorcist," and spawned a seemingly never-ending series of sequels. This time, however, he's made a documentary that spends time with a real-life exorcist, watches him perform an exorcism, and examines demonic possession with help from neurologists and other medical experts.  The cleric in question is Father Gabriele Amorth, founder of the International Association Of Exorcists, and a man who claimed to have performed thousands of exorcisms during his ninety-plus years on earth. In terms of time management, I'm not sure how that would be humanly possible even if demonic possession were a real thing that happened constantly and not, as Friedkin's medical experts postulate, a rare condition that science is not yet advanced enough to fully understand and treat. (The phrase "spiritual disease," which recurs throughout this film, is a fascinating one, though Friedkin and company don't really explore it until the final third.) This all sounds like it could make for a fascinating movie. But "The Devil and Father Amorth" feels at once bloated and slight, like a DVD supplement puffed up to feature length (an hour and eight minutes, just long enough to be exhibited in theaters as a stand-alone title).  It begins with a prolonged rehash of the real cast that inspired the novel "The Exorcist" by the late William Peter Blatty. Friedkin hosts the movie in the manner of the host of a cable TV series purporting to explore whether ghosts are real, addressing the camera while walking and talking. We see snippets of interviews with Blatty from different periods, and shots of Friedkin revisiting the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C., where parts of "The Exorcist" were filmed.  Then Freidkin moves on to Father Amorth, who calls "The Exorcist" his favorite movie ("I guess, of course," Friedkin says, self-deprecatingly) and was one of the most popular and beloved holy men in Italy—an overwhelmingly Catholic country where, according to this film, 50,000 people a year visit exorcists.  If you're wondering if perhaps living in a culture that tells you demonic possession is a regular occurrence might contribute to people being diagnosed as demonically possessed, well, Friedkin's ahead of you. To his credit, he does dig into the possibility of a kind of confirmation bias occurring. And in interviews with religious as well as medical experts, he notes that many religions believe in possession and have rituals to deal with it. The movie allows that people who don't experience this as part of their religious or cultural tradition don't tend to become possessed and seek help from people like Father Amorth. Robert Barron, author of many books on evil and Satan, advances a kind of horror movie ouija board theory of the phenomenon, warning Blatty that prolonged consideration of demonic forces can increase the likelihood of people becoming influenced or possessed—as if merely reading and writing about such strangeness is tantamount to summoning it.  The best parts of this film are the interviews with medical experts debating possible scientific explanations for what Friedkin captured with his video camera, and that so many horror filmmakers, Friedkin especially, have depicted in fiction. The doctors don't know quite what they're dealing with but are unwilling to close down any possibility out-of-hand.  Much of this falls somewhere on the spectrum between cornball hucksterism and "you could have learned this by visiting Wikipedia," but things turn problematic when Friedkin goes into a room where a woman named Cristina who has been through eight exorcisms does a ninth with Father Amorth. Family and friends look on as Amorth exorcises her while she sits in a chair being restrained by several men (an image of patriarchal domination that goes unexamined by Fri[...]



I Feel Pretty

2018-04-20T09:45:55-05:00

The Amy Schumer comedy “I Feel Pretty” has generated a bit of backlash before it’s even come out, with many folks concerned that it’s relying on body shaming to generate cheap laughs. But that’s actually not even the movie’s biggest problem. Schumer stars as a funny and capable but insecure young woman named Renee who bonks her head in a ghastly accident at a packed Manhattan spin class. When she regains consciousness, she believes she’s been magically transformed into the gorgeous bombshell she’s always dreamed of becoming. A steady diet of YouTube hair and makeup tutorials and Cosmopolitan magazine articles—not to mention that she works for a cosmetics company, so she’s a cog in the image machinery herself—has warped her notions of what constitutes true beauty. But the clever central conceit in the script from Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein—a longtime writing team (“Never Been Kissed,” “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “How to Be Single”) also making their directorial debut—is that Renee’s outward appearance never changes. She thinks she’s suddenly unrecognizable. But really, Renee simply begins radiating the confidence that’s long eluded her, which leads to the kinds of opportunities she always hoped stunning looks would create. She lands her dream job as a receptionist at the high-end makeup company where she’d been toiling in obscurity. She’s a flirty social butterfly during the most mundane dive-bar outings with her two best pals (Aidy Bryant and Busy Phillips). And she gets a boyfriend (Rory Scovel) who’s attracted to her precisely because she’s a fun, fearless female, to borrow the Cosmo lingo.  This is a high-concept, modern-day fairy tale—a female version of “Big,” which “I Feel Pretty” even acknowledges by having Renee watch the Tom Hanks classic on TV before she tosses a coin in a fountain and makes a wish on a stormy night. Even the spin teacher at SoulCycle functions as a high-energy fairy godmother, sprinkling Renee with feel-good mantras before she takes her fateful tumble. It’s the happily-ever-after portion of the story that’s problematic. Schumer has long challenged traditional ideas of femininity, from her stand-up comedy work to her television series “Inside Amy Schumer” to films like the surprisingly emotional “Trainwreck” and the less-successful “Snatched.” She can be simultaneously brash and sly—swaggering, yet self-deprecating. And watching her inspired delivery and unabashed physicality is one of the film’s great joys. Kohn and Silverstein play with music and camera angles to contrast how Renee newly sees herself in the world—strutting through a crowd with the perfect song punctuating every step—and the uneventful reality. But playing a character with self-esteem issues—the Renee at the beginning and end of the film—is a bit of a departure for her, and it also allows her some genuinely dramatic moments. In an early scene, she comes home to her cramped Chinatown apartment after a night out with her girlfriends, strips down to her ill-fitting bra and flesh-colored Spanx and sadly surveys what she sees in the full-length mirror. This is not body shaming; this is a sensation every woman has experienced countless times in her life, regardless of her shape or how others might perceive her. The idea that Renee possessed the confidence she was seeking all along is a well-worn cliché, but “I Feel Pretty” comes at it from a slightly different angle. This is no ugly duckling makeover comedy. There is no trying-on-clothes montage with Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” blasting in the background. But the you-go-girl pep talk Renee gives at the film’s moment of truth—at the launch party for a new line of affordable cosmetics aimed at everyday women—isn’t just empty and hackneyed. It also completely undermines the premise of “I Feel Pretty.” It suggests that giving into brand marketing and buying the ri[...]



Ebertfest 2018, Day 2: Critics Panel, 'Interstellar,' 'Selena,' 'Belle'

2018-04-20T14:16:50-05:00

The morning after its audience had been given a shot of adrenaline with Andrew Davis' opening night film “The Fugitive,” Ebertfest had its own blockbuster event in the form of 14 critics talking about the state of their profession. As led by moderator Claudia Puig, the panel included Leonard Maltin, Nell Minow, Richard Roeper, Sheila O’Malley, Matt Zoller Seitz, Susan Wloszczyna, Sam Fragoso, Michael Phillips, Sarah Knight Adamson, Brian Tallerico, Scott Mantz, Rebecca Theodore-Vachon and Matt Fagerholm.  The subtitle for the event was “The Future of Criticism,” but given the the passion from the chorus of watchers and film-lovers, it concerned the state of movies itself. The lively active audience covered an expansive list of topics, including: the pros and cons of Netflix, given the accessibility of their material but the smaller screens; the Ava DuVernay test and the Bechdel test; the ultimate mission of the critic; our evolving attention spans as parallel by a growing amount of movies available each week; a hope for the industry to better embrace diverse narratives and diverse filmmakers.  At the end of the panel, Puig asked the critics to share what they think is the worst and the best thing about being a critic. The answers that came from the worst thing came from problems that reflect the current state: the changing amount of jobs and pay; an overwhelming amount of movies despite the desire to see them all; that people are criticizing movies based on trailers; and having to see a lot of bad movies, among others.  But the best thing about being a critic seemed to bring out the future of criticism, with everyone sharing their excitement about their work and a pride in their field. There was excitement about being able to advocate films that they love, the sense of community, the transporting quality of a good film and more. As Sheila O’Malley stated, “The best thing about being a film critic is that I am a film critic.”  After an extensive hour-long conversation, the panel was opened up to audience questions. When an audience member asked how to get paid for writing about film, Rebecca Theodore-Vachon advised to have a platform for your writing, and the need to network. She also emphasized the need to follow editors and the people they follow on social media, and to send pitch letters.  When asked about what makes an effective critic, Leonard Maltin said that “you must have love, passion and knowledge.” It was a fitting response given values of those on the panel. But those qualities could also help define what made the second day's film choices so powerful, whether it was "Interstellar," "Selena" or "Belle."  width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ix6s0NMXYAE" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> The first film of the day was Christopher Nolan’s galaxy-hopping sci-fi epic “Interstellar,” as presented with an incredible 70mm print. But before that movie started, the crowd at Ebertest heard from the filmmakers of “Disturbing the Peace,” a documentary about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that premiered at Ebertfest a couple of years ago. Co-director Stephen Apkon shared an update about the film, which has been on an “extraordinary two-year journey” since starting at Ebertfest. Among the exciting details about the film’s journey is that it is has screened for six consecutive months in Palestine and Israel, and is now available in 23 films. They also mentioned that there was a screening in which the film was projected on the West Bank wall, with Israelis and Palestinians watching the film “under a full moon and starred sky.” They said that it was a life-changing event, especially with the standing ovation that they received. It’s a special honor and memory to think that such a significant film started at Ebertfest.  That importance of empathy then played out on a massive screen and o[...]



Traffik

2018-04-20T09:17:55-05:00

“Traffik” begins with that classic cinematic lie “inspired by true events” and ends with statistics for women who have been victims of human trafficking. Between these two bookends is a steaming pile of exploitative horse manure masquerading as a feature concerned with the sexual enslavement of women. Movies of this ilk have existed since the dawn of moviemaking, films that pretend to be self-righteously informative while reveling in every salacious detail of that which they are rallying against. That’s quite often par for the course in the exploitation genre, but “Traffik” is especially egregious in its depiction simply because its absurd horror movie clichés make it impossible to be taken seriously.Watching this film, I was reminded of Roger’s reviews for “Wolf Creek” and “Chaos,” two films he gave no stars because he found them completely devoid of value. I once asked Roger what the deciding factor was in giving a film no stars, and he told me these were films he found “morally reprehensible.” That I didn’t find “Traffik” morally reprehensible probably says more about me than it does the movie, but at least I’m willing to be honest about enjoying a few moments of the film’s home invasion section. There isn’t an honest moment in all 96 minutes of “Traffik.” Writer-director Deon Taylor’s camera leers at Paula Patton’s body, lingers on the tattered Daisy Duke shorts of a battered woman in distress and has one character call his girlfriend a whore for sleeping with another character. He also tosses forced drug injections and attempted rape into the mix, shooting these elements as if he were making the bottom half of a grindhouse double feature. Then just before the end credits, “Traffik” tries to gaslight us into thinking we’ve seen a journalistic exposé. I wasn’t buying it. Spoilers from here on in. Let’s give “Traffik” the benefit of the doubt for a moment. Let’s suppose it really is trying to shine a serious light on human trafficking. Then why must the viewer endure endless minutes of soap opera-style histrionics before anyone even mentions the subject? Why do we not get to know one single woman ensnared in the illegal ring? Why are the villains one-note hicksploitation caricatures? And why do the heroes make the types of horror movie mistakes that get people talking to the screen in frustration? “Just give him the phone!” yelled an aggravated patron at my very sparsely attended screening. The phone in question is a satellite phone slipped into the bag of Brea (Paula Patton) while she’s in a gas station restroom. I’ll come back to that phone in a minute. Brea has been fired from her job at the Sacramento Post, yet she doesn’t want this detail to ruin her romantic birthday weekend with John (Omar Epps). John’s sports agent friend, Darren (Laz Alonzo) has given John full run of a swanky pad deep in the Northern California mountains. But before they can get to this fine piece of architecture porn, Brea and John must deal with some racist bikers led by Luke Goss. The bikers make obnoxious, stereotypical comments about the awesome muscle car John has rebuilt from the frame up, which leads to John punching one of the bikers out. Before things get too violent, Detective Sally Marnes (an excruciatingly bad Missi Pyle) shows up at the gas station to break things up. Brea and John make it to their destination after a mildly thrilling chase scene thrown in specifically for the gearheads in the audience. After an afternoon of getting freaky in the great outdoors, Brea and John are unexpectedly visited by Darren and his latest flame Malia (Roselyn Sanchez). Darren is high and so infuriating that you almost wish someone would shoot him in the head. Be careful what you wish for, as the old adage goes. The foursome engage in a big argument where secrets come out and Malia gets angry. Brea is also angry, so it looks like John’s plans to propose to her are gone with the[...]



Ghost Stories

2018-04-20T09:15:55-05:00

If you have fond memories of anthology horror films like “Creepshow” or long for the days when stories of the supernatural weren’t reliant on jump scares and increasingly stupid behavior from a film’s protagonists, then I have a pretty wonderful little genre treat for you. Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s unexpectedly effective “Ghost Stories” reminds me of the horror films I loved as a kid without feeling like purely a retread of them. It’s inspired by everything from Robert Wise to Stanley Kubrick to Stephen King, and finds just the right balance between being a fun dissection of belief in the supernatural with honest-to-goodness scares. Like the subgenre that inspired it, "Ghost Stories" is just twisted enough to be humorous, but doesn’t shy at all on the creepy factor. Co-director/co-writer Nyman also stars as Phillip Goodman, the host of a TV show that’s designed to debunk belief in the other side. The show within the film is called “Psychic Cheats,” but Goodman doesn’t just tear down the deceitful practices of charlatans who claim psychic powers—he takes a certain kind of conceited glee in what he does that’s almost unsettling. In the opening scene, he’s pretentiously debunking an alleged psychic and not really noticing the woman in the audience with whom the con artist was conversing who is clearly emotionally wrecked. From the beginning, it’s clear that Goodman is on a pedestal from which he needs to be righteously knocked. And that’s exactly what’s about to happen. Goodman is contacted by Charles Cameron, a paranormal investigator from the ‘70s who inspired him as a boy. Cameron is Goodman’s role model, a similar practitioner of deconstructionist television, a man who disproved supernatural phenomena. Cameron has been long-considered dead, but he’s actually living in a mobile home, clinging to life. He tells Goodman that he has changed his mind about the other side and that there are three cases that made him do so, asking Goodman to look into this trio of unexplainable supernatural happenings. And, so, the rest of the film features Goodman finding the three haunted men, including a night watchman at an abandoned asylum, a young man who gets into a horrific car accident in the middle of nowhere, and Martin Freeman as a soon-to-be father who experiences a poltergeist. The structure of “Ghost Stories” allows for three relatively standalone, self-contained short films, but they all work from a similar thematic foundation. All three of these cases involve people who have real-life issues that could be used to explain away their hauntings as tricks of the mind or hallucinations due to stress. For example, the subject of the first case had a wife who died from cancer and a daughter with something he calls locked-in syndrome. It’s no wonder he might see something that’s not there. But Goodman learns that these excuses about why people see ghosts don’t explain everything away and that his own past influences why he does what he does. There are really four narratives in “Ghost Stories,” and they’re all intertwined in a thematically satisfying way that’s rare for anthology horror films. There’s also just some really effective genre filmmaking going on here. Nyman and Dyson understand the old-fashioned ghost story storytelling that’s so effective in that it’s not based on jump scares but simple, relatable elements. The first story within a story about the night watchman at the asylum thrives on so many classic horror elements like faulty power, flashlights that go out, and footsteps in the dark. It’s refreshing to see horror filmmaking that owes more to classics like “The Haunting” than the modern Blumhouse-inspired era of jump scares and gore. When each of the individual stories climaxes, it can be a bit of a letdown, but the way that Dyson and Nyman allow suspense to build in each story is remarkably effective. And the[...]



Super Troopers 2

2018-04-20T09:14:55-05:00

"Super Troopers 2" is, despite some bright spots, a self-conscious, and painfully unfunny return to stoner comedy team Broken Lizard's most successful film. This bloated, unfocused follow-up—which was tellingly crowd-funded by fans and then released by Fox Searchlight—takes all of the charming goofiness of the first film, and runs it deep into the ground with gags that either over- or under-think these stock characters' original appeal.  Now inexplicably set in Southern Canada, "Super Troopers 2" makes the first film's breezy frat-guy humor look as tight and classically structured as the work of Abbott and Costello and the Marx brothers. Think of "Super Troopers 2" as one of the later films of those earlier comedians: full of ill-timed routines, winking fan service, and a palpable air of desperation that Broken Lizard fans will notice had previously started to creep into their joint comedies soon after "Super Troopers," especially in middling-to-bad efforts like "The Slammin' Salmon" and "Beerfest." "Super Troopers 2" begins appropriately with a dream of death: Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske), formerly the rookie of the group, fantasizes that he and his buddy cop friends—a group of now inexplicably disgraced Vermont state troopers—are rock stars, and their tour bus has just plummeted off the road and into a lake-side ditch. This is a recurring nightmare for Rabbit, but he doesn't say anything about it after this introductory sequence. Instead, the film launches into a shambling rehash of the original film's boilerplate, but satisfying plot: two teams of cops—Broken Lizard's newly reinstated State Troopers and a trio of Canadian Mounties who can't stop saying "sorey" and "aboot" and such—compete to see who can bust up a mysterious local drug and gun smuggling ring. You don't have to have seen "Super Troopers" to know who the real culprit is, especially since he's got a dopey "What me worry" smile on his face throughout the film. Still, it would have been nice if this lazy rehash of the first film's plot, power dynamics, and punchlines weren't so cluttered. The Broken Lizard guys still have way more focus than Judd Apatow's improv-crazy stable, but in "Super Troopers 2," they continue to slowly creep towards Apatow-ian excess. There are several re-heated gags that simply do not land and are seemingly only in the film so that Broken Lizard fans will get exactly what they want (and in the proportions they want it in), like callbacks to some of the first film's better routines: the bear sexcapade, the "meow"-happy stop-over, the liter of cola stand-off, and so on. Many of these gags call attention to themselves without adding anything noteworthy, as if Broken Lizard are too reluctant to commit to their old material, but also too savvy to completely ignore the harsh truth that they are, for many fans, defined by these bits. Bigger is often confused for better, so the bear is now real, the stop-over concludes with a car theft, and the liter of cola has multiplied by ten.  There are some successful new routines that are similar to these old jokes, like a new addition to this film's stop-over montage: Thorny and Mac (Steve Lemme) pull over two American tourists and cheerily spew obscenities while pretending to be French-language speakers with a comically limited grasp of English. I won't spoil the dirty phrase that they boisterously repeat, but it's fun to watch them toss these dirty words around like a filthy volleyball. Here's the Broken Lizard that fans know and love. What took you guys so long, we missed you! Unfortunately, the laid-back camaraderie of the [...]



Little Pink House

2018-04-20T09:14:55-05:00

“I happen to agree with it 100 percent,” real estate developer and future president Donald Trump said in 2005 about the Supreme Court’s expansive ruling on eminent domain that year, in the case Kelo vs. New London. Speaking on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News program, Trump elaborated on his praise, not forgetting to make it at least a little bit about him: “Well, it’s sort of not a good one for me to say, because I noticed every article written about it said, ‘Will Donald Trump take over your home?’ sort of using me as the example. […]I happen to agree with it 100 percent, not that I would want to use it. But the fact is, if you have a person living in an area that’s not even necessarily a good area, and government, whether it’s local or whatever, government wants to build a tremendous economic development […and] move the person to a better place and yet create thousands upon thousands of jobs and beautification and lots of other things, I think it happens to be good.” As the plaintiffs in the case tried to demonstrate, the case was never so much about a “for their own good” principle, with all the condescension that implies. That’s one of the more compelling features of the new movie, “Little Pink House,” a fictional portrait of Susette Kelo, leader in a legal fight to prevent New London from seizing and destroying her home the better to pursue a sweetheart tax-revenue-boosting development deal with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.  Written and directed by Courtney Balaker, and based on a 2009 book by Jeff Benedict, “Little Pink House” begins like an indie character study. Susette, played by Catherine Keener, is going on her busy rounds as an EMT; in an ambulance ride, she reconnected with an old friend and that friend’s mother, who’s lying in a gurney. Soon she’s fixing up a little house she just moved into and painting it pink. It’s got a killer view of the river (which, yes, is called the Thames), although its proximity to a sewage treatment center is considered not ideal. Susette strikes up friendships with a local antiques dealer, who wants to be more than friends, and the owner of a less-than-prosperous local deli. Life is good, for a little bit.  In the meantime, though, Balaker intercuts what could very well be another movie, one in which characters are introduced with on-screen titles. Connecticut’s governor (never named in the movie but based on John G. Rowland) decides he wants to win New London in his next election and that to do so it’d be great to get some economic development in that depressed area. He picks local college president Charlotte Wells (Jeanne Tripplehorn), depicted as so uptight that she puts on makeup to go to bed, to be the point person for the until-now very dormant New London Development Corporation. Ms. Wells in turn lures Pfizer, on the verge of blowing up with Viagra, to have a look at a plot of land that abuts the Fort Trumbull neighborhood where Susette’s pink house it. There’s not enough space, an executive complains. Charlotte more or less asks him how much he wants. Then she backpedals with a scheme to deliver New London from squalor: vacate numerous houses and businesses to make room. The story of this fight is fascinating, and the repercussions of this case are still being felt today. But the cinematic treatment of the story is confused. The movie often seems to have a hard time making up its mind whether it wants to be “The Insider” or “Mean Girls.” In the latter respect, its editing sets up Susette and Charlotte’s character in near-comic opposition. The down-to-earth working woman against the privileged, bubble-dwelling snob. But the film doesn’t make any hay out of the characters’ actual on-screen confrontations. And when faithfulness to actual events find Charlotte written out of the narrative, the parallel structure just falls apa[...]



Kodachrome

2018-04-20T13:39:26-05:00

When it comes to road-trip movies, the “getting there” part of the journey is generally more important than the “you have reached your final destination” ending. “Kodachrome,” alas, too often travels a well-worn and predictable highway, one that was traversed to near-perfection not too long ago by Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska.” That 2013 Oscar-winner had Bruce Dern’s alcoholic patriarch riding shotgun next to Will Forte as his estranged son. They shared in a boondoggle of a car excursion from Montana to the Midwest to collect pop’s supposed winnings from a sweepstakes scam. Their stops along the way filled in the blanks of their past with the assistance of relatives and friends of varying degrees of eccentricity. Director Mark Raso’s “Kodachrome” doesn’t stray much from this predecessor, save for the more upscale, urban and artsy status of its central characters: A wayward, world-famous photographer dad, Ben (Ed Harris), and his distant music-exec adult child, Matt (Jason Sudeikis), who is on the verge of being fired from his label. That his father is in the last stages of liver cancer and has only months to live make the mission they embark upon all the more fraught. At issue are four mystery canisters of Kodachrome film that Ben, as analog as they come, has just discovered and he wants to get them developed in order to put on one final exhibit of his work. But the only photo lab that still processes Kodachrome is located in Parsons, Kansas—and it is just days away from closing up shop.  Joining them on their ride is Zooey, Ben’s loyal nurse and assistant, who initiates the reunion and assumes the role of put-upon go-between for the two reluctant companions (also convincing Matt to join them is Dennis Haysbert as Ben’s manager, who dangles the bait of a meeting in Chicago with a hot band he wants to sign). That Zooey is played by Elizabeth Olsen, as fierce as she is fetching, pretty much preordains her to eventually become entangled with lovelorn Matt sooner or later once he lets go of his hostility. This trio of more-than-capable actors is the heart of the story—especially Harris, who knows from difficult cut-off artist types after "Pollock" and eschews cheap sentiment—but it takes a while for them to untangle their character’s conflicts and bounce off one another. Not helping matters is the film’s soundtrack that is filled with lulling ballads that seem to be plucked from a collection that might be labelled “Emo Music for Long Drives in a Vintage Convertible.”   And, in case you are wondering, the Paul Simon song “Kodachrome” does not make the cut, although it does get namedropped early on.  Part of the problem is that Jonathan Tropper’s screenplay has a competing secondary motive as it mourns what has become lost in the digital age. A 2010 article in the New York Times about the cult of Kodachrome and how hordes of fans descended upon the lab was the impetus for him to create his story, which is why Ben rails against nothing being physically present anymore while being turned into “data” and “electronic dust.” Matt, sensing the irony of his statement, punches back: “What is the point of having an artifact if you never see it with your own eyes.” He adds for extra measure, “You just never saw me. Not once.” Such over-reaching to milk a metaphor does not do “Kodachrome” any favors.  With each pit stop, however, Zooey and Matt begin to warm to each other a little more. The ice finally breaks once they pay a surprise visit to the suburban home of Ben’s younger brother, Dean (that’s Bruce Greenwood behind that massive gray mustache), who raised Matt after his mother died when he was 13. They find common ground over his boyhood vinyl collection (question: why are the bedrooms of grown children in [...]



Godard Mon Amour

2018-04-20T09:13:55-05:00

I have two things to say to anyone who’s tempted to walk out of Michel Hazanavicius’ “Godard Mon Amour” before the halfway mark. First: I understand. I might have done the same had I not been reviewing. Second: thankfully, the film does get better in its second half. Not a lot better, but enough to justify one’s continuing attention. Hazanavicius, who simultaneously parodied and paid homage to the silent cinema in “The Artist” (a title that might have worked for this film too), here takes on an altogether trickier slice of movie history: the moment when innovative cinema and radical politics collided on the streets of Paris and at the Cannes Film Festival before, during and after the riots and strikes of May 1968. The film dramatizes this period by focusing on the relationship between Jean-Luc Godard (Louis Garrel), the French New Wave’s most lionized auteur, and his second wife and leading lady Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin). When the film opens, Godard has passed the apex of his early career—which included films that his fans here wish he’d return to, such as “Breathless” and “Contempt”—and veered into more overtly political filmmaking by directing “La Chinoise,” featuring Wiazemsky. He is in his late 30s, she in her late teens, an age difference that Hazanvicius understandably finds significant. His Godard, existing in a moment when student revolutionaries have claimed center stage, is floundering as he attempts to stay current and ahead of the curve even though he no longer has the youth that now automatically conveys legitimacy and authority. Though its basic premise has a pleasing audacity—that some people view the subject as too sacrosanct for screen treatment is exactly why it should be treated—“Godard Mon Amour” has obvious problems from the get-go. One is that its stars aren’t very well-suited to their roles. Fitted out with Godard’s trademark glasses (which keep getting broken: a running joke) and a bad half-bald wig, Garrel settles for a superficial impression that captures little of Godard’s specific energy and intelligence. And Martin, for some unknown reason, is given a bob that makes her look more like Anna Karina, Godard’s first wife. But a greater problem is that Hazanavicius, perhaps hoping for an international audience, seems wary of delving into the French context of the events he shows. For example, some of the early protests we see may be meant to evoke the reaction to the government’s dismissal of French Cinematheque head Henri Langlois, actions involving the film community in February that did indeed prefigure the uprisings of May. Is all mention of this crucial groundswell left out since non-French viewers are presumed not to know of Langlois? In any case, what we get instead are too many scenes of Jean-Luc and Anne hanging out in their chic apartment (decorated with posters of Mao and Malcolm X, natch), attending tedious cocktail parties and university political gatherings (in one, Godard demonstrates his radicalism by shouting, “Jews are the new Nazis!”) and eventually rioting and throwing paving stones at cops during the street clashes of May. The film’s production design and style make constant cheeky references to Godard films: there are tracking shots galore and the primary-color interiors mimic those in films such as “A Married Woman” and “Two or Three Things I Know About Her.” But these are very superficial glosses, with little to say about the sources they ape. The same is true of the film’s spotty account of Godard’s career in this era. We do get to see his evolving friendship with a dweebish Jean-Pierre Gorin and the formation of the (cough) Dziga-Vertov Group, as well as his break with Bernardo Bertolucci over the latter’s allegedly insufficient radicalism. Yet while there are[...]



Pass Over

2018-04-20T09:13:55-05:00

As the nation eagerly waits for Spike Lee’s new film “BlacKkKlansman,” produced by “Get Out” writer/director Jordan Peele and set for a world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, the prolific American director has now adapted a Chicago theatrical production, but in a way that’s truly cinematic. True to Lee’s reputation of playing with the chemistry of storytelling, “Pass Over” has the air of an experiment and the clarity of poetry, as inspired by the news and told by artistry beyond far beyond Lee’s. In the grand scheme of his filmography it’s one of his smaller projects, but it is by no means a minor work.  Written by Antoinette Nwandu, the play “Pass Over” is directly inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot just as much as it is the nation’s headlines of police killing African American men and women, like Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times in 2014 by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. Like Beckett’s story, it’s an existential riff about two men that are not moving from one particular spot waiting on something to happen. But Nwandu’s vigorous play treats that concept as a means of societal stasis, with the constant hum of anxiety. Whenever gun shots are heard, they drop to the ground, in fear of the “angel of death” that they call the police. These men want to leave the block, but they’re not sure of what will be out there.  In this production directed by Danya Taylor, the two men in this case are Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker), best friends who are homeless on the block of 64th and Martin Luther King Drive. With high-voltage performances from both, we see all shades of these men as they horse around, essentially performing for each other. They’re funny, vulnerable, magnetic. With percussive line-delivery and precise acting beats, Hill and Parker give their characters full emotional scales, and the simple set of a streetlight on a sidewalk is filled with an incredible energy. Just the same, Hill and Parker have the ability to change emotions on a dime, especially when they’re reminded of the loved ones they have lost, or the fears that have kept them on that block.  As “Pass Over” ruminates with these characters, and then later shows them interacting with two disturbing white men (one dressed up as a real Americana throwback, the other a racist police officer; both representing white supremacy), it has an invigorating no-BS approach. Nwandu's raw characters interact with abrupt and heavy-handed Biblical elements, from the idea of its title referring to the River Jordan, or touches upon the ten plagues, with one of the characters even being named Moses. One can see why a storyteller such as Lee would be drawn to the project, especially with its bombastic supporting characters and a spiritual element that’s unpredictable but larger-than-life.  Best of all, like the documentary “Whose Streets?” before it, which showed the experiences of those in Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement after Mike Brown was shot by Officer Darren Wilson in 2014, "Pass Over" expects you to already have empathy for its world and its heroes. If you think these men have nothing to fear from the police, “Pass Over” does not concern itself with persuading you; it turns a wounded culture into artistic aggression, throwing it all on the stage and daring you to look away.  Much of what I’ve talked about with “Pass Over” was already there before Lee decided to shoot the play, in secret, last year. His handling of the incredible material has an equal low-key quality, excelling at its goal to enhance the type of visual storytelling experience a theatrical production offers. Using numerous camera angles and expressive editing, Lee[...]