Apichatpong Weerasethakul's CEMETERY OF SPLENDOR (New Thai)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Venue website for showtimes
It's a fitting choice for a director whose films feel like reveries to set his latest in a clinic for soldiers who are unable to wake up. Likewise, the hallucinatory gradient glow of lamps placed beside the patients' beds to calm their dreams are analogous to the particular narrative and stylistic approach that makes Weerasethakul's work so unique and immediately recognizable. The protagonist, Jenjira (played by Jenjira Pongpas), is a volunteer at the hospital who "adopts" one of the soldiers as her own son. Outside the few hours he is awake, her main channel of communication is a medium whose skill allegedly once garnered a job offer from the FBI. The agents of the soldiers' malady are dead kings--disturbed by a government project to lay a fibre optic cable near their graveyard--enlisting their spirits to wage otherworldly wars. The loose narrative structure that propels the film forward is just as concerned with detailing Jen's life experiences as it with resolving the soldiers' situation, unspooling in leisurely sequences that can feel both casual and monumental. By the end, you realize how much personal and temporal ground you've covered without even noticing as it was happening. The elements of the story certainly encourage metaphorical readings, engaging Thai history up to the present day. For all the enigmas of Weerasethakul's cinema, in the context of the 2014 coup and continued military control of the country, the final five minutes of CEMETERY OF SPLENDOR feel remarkably explicit. What is political cinema? Let us hope that, as opposed to the myriad Sundance-anointed "issue films" coming soon to a theater near you, it's something like this. Weerasethakul in person at the Monday screening. (2015, 122 min, DCP Digital) AK
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's MEKONG HOTEL (Contemporary Thai)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 7pm, Wednesday, 6:15pm, Thursday, 8:15pm
MEKONG HOTEL is the splendidly embellished remains of an abandoned project, ECSTASY GARDEN, written in 2002. The original narrative focused on a young woman in love, whose courtship was complicated by her vampiric ghost mother. Left behind are rehearsals, ideas, and casual conversations transpiring at a hotel along the flooded Mekong River. Weerasethakul's films exist in liminal states: between past and present, this world and another, or dreams and waking. The production history behind MEKONG HOTEL explains its particular duality as both a film and its own behind-the-scenes documentary. Delivered with characteristically lengthy takes and a nearly incessant meandering guitar track, this is a strong contender for most laid-back sci-fi/horror movie ever made. The tone is so consistent that you can get well into a scene before realizing which register the film is currently employing (fun exercise: categorize what is or is not "diegetic" at any given moment.) As a whole, it has the insistent logic of several different films existing at once. Don't let the brisk runtime convince you to overlook MEKONG HOTEL; it delivers all the joy and mystery you expect of a Weerasethakul movie. (2012, 61 min, DCP Digital) AK
More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
Carl Reiner's DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Wednesday, 7 and 9pm
In Carl Reiner's loving homage to and parody of film noir, Steve Martin follows a Möbius strip narrative worthy of the most confusing hardboiled plots to solve the murder of a cheese magnate. The narrative, back-constructed as it is from dozens of scenes and bits of dialogue from a decade's worth of films, is mind-boggling: what begins as a game of name-that-film ends with head-scratching admiration at the sheer complexity of the film's construction. Martin orders Humphrey Bogart to wear a tie in IN A LONELY PLACE; he dons a blonde wig and sucks face with Fred MacMurray in DOUBLE INDEMNITY; he's nearly smothered by Vincent Price in 1949's THE BRIBE. The score, by Miklós Rózsa, could be a lost score from the 1940s; the crisp black-and-white photography by Michael Chapman (who also shot TAXI DRIVER), reproduces as much as possible the look of classic noirs. Despite all this painstaking effort, including the matching sets and props, the seams do show, usually because of poor quality of the source materials (has anyone thought about replacing it with restored footage?--But that way lies madness). The conceit never distracts from how funny the film is. Its best moments come when its simulacra of hardboiled dialogue goes off the rails into parody of Hays Code-skirting sex talk, repeated gags that just get funnier each time they occur, and always Martin's incredible comic timing. (1982, 88 min, 35mm) MWP
More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.
Martin Scorsese's GOODFELLAS (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Friday, 6:45 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
This widely favored bildungsroman, which often seems to clasp the key to understanding (second-generation, male) America in an unattainable 1.85:1 crucible, remains a worthy artifact of interrogation in these cold days before, for example, the semi-inevitable Oscar crowning of the comparatively meaningless domestic allegory TRUE GRIT. While that latter film's ahistorical confrontation between isolated orphans and arbitrarily evil cowboy bandits might satisfy a sophisticated sixth-grader's definition of justice, GOODFELLAS rewrites the much-maligned "gang" (and its most infamous, yet imaginary superstructure: "The Mafia") into something understandable or even deeply familiar. For Sicilian immigrants were unknown peasants in an alien world. And as it turns out, reciprocal networks of both the threat and implementation of violence can become sustainable--even thriving--subcultures in the absence of feudal tyranny; the requisite decline of state-sponsored physical coercion slowly became a reality in 19th-century Sicily and it was certainly a reality on the streets of Depression-era East New York. The film is a mid-20th-century cross-section of this phenomenon: a charting of the coming to power of one man in this mafioso style (a style that might seem offensive to those who believe that social order is a product of police men). Ray Liotta's Henry Hill holds our hand, seducing us at every stage of (juvenile) development: at first by those things that "fall off of trucks," and then by the preposterous excesses of social capital (after a mythical one-take palm-greasing journey through the back door of the Copacabana, confiding to his girlfriend that he's "in construction"). At maturity, the insatiate id and the hyperrational ego (Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro) erupt in violent chaos: unable to negotiate with an increasingly juridically-minded state apparatus, our unreliable narrator must race to dispatch his extended family to the gallows. Scorsese's crucial narrative achievement is the meticulous setting of each sequence to diegetically-appropriate pop music as if it were an arranged marriage, and vividly portrays Hill's climactic coke/ziti-fueled breakdown as the ultimate Stones/Nilsson megamix. (1990, 146 min, 35mm) MC
More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.
Hou Hsiao-hsien's THE ASSASSIN (New Taiwanese)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Saturday, 7 and 9:15pm and Sunday, 4:15pm
Beginning with A CITY OF SADNESS, his 1989 masterpiece, nearly every film Hou Hsiao-hsien has given us since has been a great one, and even MILLENNIUM MAMBO, arguably the sole exception, is a work of unearthly beauty featuring one of the most indelible endings in modern cinema. Hou's best films, however--THE PUPPETMASTER, FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI, and now, possibly, this beguiling work--have achieved something even rarer than garden-variety greatness. They have suggested no less than a total re-imagining of cinema itself from the ground up, as if returning us to the silent era. Simply put, THE ASSASSIN is unprecedented. Ostensibly a wuxia film, this is worlds apart from anything King Hu might have dreamed up. There exists no film like it, though there are a handful of faint antecedents. Carl Dreyer's DAY OF WRATH, Akira Kurosawa's THRONE OF BLOOD, and Robert Bresson's LANCELOT DU LAC suggest something of the mysticism, the atmosphere of people under the spell of ancient superstition, that Hou casts over this Tang Dynasty legend. Both Kurosawa's and Kenji Mizoguchi's historical films draw on the aesthetic philosophies underpinning classical Japanese painting, just as this film draws on related traditions in Chinese painting. But neither of these potential lineages suffices to fully account for the swirl of sensations THE ASSASSIN induces in each of its richly appointed images. Likewise, Hou's previous work suggests ways one might understand and misunderstand the film in equal measure. If you're used to the allusive narrative strategies and long take style that reached full maturity with THE PUPPETMASTER, you may be disappointed to find that Hou's mode of address is slightly more direct here, his cutting within and between scenes is both more frequent and swifter. While he has not abandoned his aesthetic principles, he has tweaked them to fit his subject matter, achieving a level of concision that is new for him, but totally appropriate for what is fundamentally speaking a work of action cinema, albeit one of the oddest sort you are ever likely to encounter. The result is that this film feels simultaneously close to and remote from the films that came before it. There is nothing here like the entrancing, eight-minute take that opens FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI. Instead, a similarly entrancing rhythm is spun from the gradual drifting of one image into the next like lapping wisps of cloud, and the vertiginous alternation between deep, jewel-like interiors and vast, dream-like exteriors whose uncanny qualities surpass even those of Lisandro Alonso's JAUJA of last year. As with every Hou film since at least GOODBYE SOUTH, GOODBYE, critics have charged that all this visual splendor is allowed to intervene between the audience and the story's human elements ("intriguing, but ultimately opaque", "a lovely, inert object", "no love for anyone, or anything, outside of beauty"), and indeed one or even two viewings may not be enough to unpack this work's most buried currents of feeling, but they are there to be sure, concealed like the titular assassin herself or like the wind in the trees. (2015, 105 min, DCP Digital) EC
More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.
John M. Stahl's LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) - Wednesday, 1 and 7:30pm (Free Admission)
"Nothing ever happens to Ellen," says one character. Later, another pronounces: "Ellen always wins." Undoubtedly Ellen is at the very center of LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, a film that represents the zenith of that rare bird, the "Technicolor noir." But to write off Ellen as merely an archetypal femme fatale is to overlook a more interesting, feminist reading. What if the film is actually a subversive critique of society's repression of women? As brilliantly played by Gene Tierney, after a time Ellen finds herself trapped in a life of hyper-glossy but empty luxury, her occasional horseback riding her only pleasure. By society's rigid strictures all she's allowed to do is tend to the materialistic concerns of her husband's lifestyle, even as he himself is free is earn a living by spinning escapist fiction (undoubtedly consumed by other Ellens caught in their own traps). As she battles to assert herself she uses the scant weapons available to her: murder, blackmail, even a self-induced miscarriage. Naturally, because of the Production Code, she cannot be allowed to stand tall at story's end. But even so, as she stands at the top of the stairs before her fall, we can see in her eyes that she's prepared to die rather than continue her empty existence. The film possesses a subterranean commentary every bit as scathing as a Douglas Sirk melodrama, should one care to look for it. (1945, 119 min, DCP Digital) RC
More info at www.northbrook.info/events/film.
Michael Glover Smith's COOL APOCALYPSE (New American)
Transistor (3441 N. Broadway) - Saturday, 8pm (Free Admission)
Early into COOL APOCALYPSE, two of the four main characters appear on a CTA train, the windows washed out by light. He, Paul, is reading Hawthorne's Twice Told Tales in paperback; she, Julie, is reading an unseen title on a Kindle. They're facing opposite directions, and a man sits between them, gazing out at the Chicago skyline and listening to music, earbuds jammed tightly into his head. His shirt is emblazoned with the slogan 'Real Life Recess: Real Life Can Wait.' We will never see the mystery man again--he doesn't even appear in the end credits. The shot lasts just a few short seconds, but it is the heart of the movie. The characters in COOL APOCALYPSE are all waiting for their lives to start, are all pending in important ways, are all on recesses of different kinds. They dwell within their city but do not experience it, going only to restaurants they've already been to, driving each other on long-delayed errands, circling the block rather than parking, looking out at the lake through glass, at the world from a porch, at other people through camera lenses. Paul, an unpublished writer, makes coffee using a French press, listening to the same album on vinyl every morning, proudly doesn't own a computer, and works at a used book store 'just to pay the bills.' His roommate, Claudio, is an unemployed videographer nursing a bitter streak and holding on to a desperate hope his far more successful fashion journalist ex-girlfriend, Tess, will return to him. A day away from a three-month assignment in Italy, Tess earns her living by ambushing strangers on the street with a camera crew and asking them about their clothes. Finally, Julie, a receptionist at a women's health clinic next door to Paul's bookstore, is a compulsive list-maker with a detailed set of criteria, under constant revision, for who 'the man of her dreams' might be. Over the course of COOL APOCALYPSE, a simple, elegant set of scenes plays out, usually at great length, as Julie and Paul meet, Paul invites Julie to the farewell dinner Claudio is making for Tess, and Claudio attempts to woo Tess back to his bed. On the surface, the interactions are charming: unforced, vulnerable, and sincere. But at all times there is the aura of helplessness, of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Tess and Claudio may still love each other, but can never be together; Paul and Claudio's relationship devolves into threats and silence; Tess and Julie share an intimate moment, but one marked stylistically as an important aberration; Julie and Paul may feel a connection growing, but it is a curtailed, stunted one, a doom signaled in two different ways (the subtext of a song, the geography of a kiss). In that brief shot on the CTA near the beginning of the movie, Paul and Julie are lost to the world around them, lost to the city they live in, broken in two by a man they'll never know. It's all over between them and they haven't even met yet. Michael Glover Smith, a film critic and first-time-feature writer-director, fills his frames with unsettling, eerie compositions, making the familiar north-side setting a space of discomfort, awkwardness, and off-kilter rhythms, and his actors, especially Julie's Nina Ganet and Tess's Chelsea David, build their characters in disarming, self-aware gestures, expressions, and line-readings, always balancing exactly between the naturalistic and the forced. A strong debut for a major new talent. Smith in person. (2014, 72 min, Digital Projection) KB
More info at www.transistorchicago.com.
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Northwest Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University - The Auditorium, Building E., 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) screens James Cruze's 1926 silent epic OLD IRONSIDES (111 min, 35mm Magnascope Archival Print) on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Live accompaniment by Jay Warren. Showing with THE PILLAR OF FIRE (George Méličs, 1899, 1 min, 35mm).
The Film Studies Center (Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) presents Experimental Cinema in Eastern Europe: Medium Experiments, from Film to Video on Friday at 7pm. Screening are: ENCOUNTERS (Vladimir Petek, Croatia, 1963, 8 min), STRAIGHT LINE (STEVENS-DUKE) (Tomislav Gotovac, Croatia, 1964, 7 min), PAINTED IN THE AIR (Radek Pila?, Czech Republic, 1965, 3 min), CHECKMATE (Pavel Bárta, Czech Republic, 1983, 17 min), VIDEO MANUAL (Dalibor Martinis, Croatia, 1978, 2 min), IMAGE IS VIRUS (Dalibor Martinis, Croatia, 1983, 5 min), PING-PONG (Ivan Ladislav Galeta, Croatia, 1976-78, 2 min), FOUR BAGATELLES (Gábor Bódy, Hungary, 1975, 28 min), MEDIA (Zbigniew Rybczy?ski, Poland, 1980, 2 min), KALAH (Dóra Maurer and Zoltán Jeney, Hungary, 1980, 12 min), and CUT (Goran Trbuljak, Croatia, 1976, 1 min). (1963-83, 87 min total, Digital Projection) Free admission.
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) screens Steve James' 2002 documentary STEVIE (Steve James, 2002, 144 min, Digital Projection) on Friday at 7pm, with James in person; and François Miron's 2015 documentary PAUL SHARITS (85 min, DCP Digital) on Thursday at 7pm.
Co-Prosperity Sphere (3219 S. Morgan St.) hosts As Above So Below: A CUFF Satellite Sighting on Friday at 7:30pm. The program features five locally-made shorts that screened in the 2015 Chicago Underground Film Festival: BITE RADIUS (Spencer Parsons, 2015, 30 min), NIGHT OF THE BLOOD SQUATCH (Kenny Reed, 2015, 22 min), THE LINGERIE SHOW (Laura Harrison, 2014, 8 min), SOME SOUTHERN COUNTRY (Michael Paul Lopez, 2014, 28 min), and VIOLETS (Jim Vendiola, 2014, 13 min). All Video Projection.
The Dollhouse DIY (3302 W. Le Moyne) presents Dollhouse Screening Pt. 1 - Female Filmmakers on Saturday and Sunday at 7pm (same program both nights). Screening are J NUGGET (Charlotte Kennett), NEVER (Angelica W. Malerba), UNTITLED (Holly Arsenault), REVENGE OF THE FLOWER GANG (Amanda Kang), PLAYING GAMES (Hannah Welever), THE NIGHT SMOKERS OF CHICAGO (Eve Studnicka), DAY/NIGHT (Emily Esperanza and Abby Young), "a live action animation" (Karly Bergmann), CATALYST (Serena Fath), RAGING AGAINST (Jess Myers), INTENTIONS (Hannah Spazzground Schiff), and FEEL THE FEAR (Sarah Stearn). www.facebook.com/events/1658418614423739
Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.) presents an Open Screening on Saturday at 8pm Bring work to screen (20 minutes max) or just go to watch. Free admission.
Black Cinema House (7200 S. Kimbark Ave.) screens Stanley Nelson's 2015 documentary THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION (75 min, Digital Projection) on Friday at 7pm, followed by a panel discussion. Free admission.
The Black Cinema House also hosts Drop-In Screenings at the Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.), featuring work in the BCH collection. These are often several times a week. Free admission. Check this link for details. https://rebuild-foundation.org/events.
Also at he Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) this week: Steve Martino's 2015 animated film THE PEANUTS MOVIE (88 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) is on Saturday at 2 and 7:30pm. Free admission. www.northbrook.info/events/film
The Goethe-Institut Chicago (150 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 200) screens Anna Hepp's 2011 film TURKISH KRAUT (89 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission, but RSVP at 312-263-0472 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Seijun Suzuki's 2001 film PISTOL OPERA (112 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at 3pm and his 1963 film KANTO WANDERER (92 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at 5:15pm and Monday at 6pm; Charles Chaplin's 1921 silent film THE KID (54 min, 35mm), along with a TBA short, is on Tuesday at 6pm, with a lecture by Pamela Robertson Wojcik; the shorts program Machine Visions (1972-2016, approx. 82 min total, various formats) is on Thursday at 6pm. The program includes MONTANA (Jane Veeder, 1982, Betacam Video), SILENT REVERSAL (Louis Hock, 1972, Unsplit 8mm), MICROMINOTAUR (Jon Satrom, 2016, approx. 15 min, Live Performance), HOW TO/WHY TO LEAVE FACEBOOK (Nick Briz, 2014, Digital File), HACKED CIRCUIT (Deborah Stratman, 2014, Digital File), TRANSCRIPT (Jenny Perlin, 2006, Digital File), POSTHASTE PERENNIAL PATTERN (Jodie Mack, 2010, 16mm), and ARCADE (Lyn Blumenthal and Carole Ann Klonarides, 1984, Digital File). Nick Briz, Jon Satrom, and Deborah Stratman in person; Ronit Bezalel's 2015 documentary 70 ACRES IN CHICAGO: CABRINI GREEN (56 min, DCP Digital), along with her 1999 short VOICES OF CABRINI (33 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) screens on Friday at 2 and 8:15pm, Saturday at 5:30pm, and Sunday at 3pm. Bezalel in person at the Friday evening and Sunday afternoon shows, Executive Producer Judy Hoffman and composer Duane Buford in person at the Saturday show; James Crump's 2015 documentary TROUBLEMAKERS: THE STORY OF LAND ART (72 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Wednesday at 6:15pm; Tim Blake Nelson's 2015 film ANESTHESIA (90 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week (no show Saturday); and Annika Iltis and Tim Kane's 2015 documentary THE BARKLEY MARATHONS: THE RACE THAT EATS ITS YOUNG (90 min, DCP Digital) screens on Saturday at 7:45pm and Sunday at 5:15pm, with Iltis and Kane in person at both shows.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Hiroyuki Morita's 2002 Japanese animated film THE CAT RETURNS (75 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 4pm; Wladyslaw Starewicz's 1930 animated film THE TALE OF THE FOX (65 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 7pm; Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's 1949 musical ON THE TOWN (98 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 7pm; Haim Tabakman's 2009 Israeli film EYES WIDE OPEN (91 min, DVD Projection) is on Tuesday at 7pm; Fred Zinnemann's 1977 film JULIA (117 min, DVD Projection) is on Thursday at 7pm; and J. Lee Thompson's 1962 film CAPE FEAR (105 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 9:45pm.
At the Music Box Theatre this week: László Nemes' 2015 Hungarian film SON OF SAUL (107 min, 35mm) opens; and Quentin Tarantino's 2015 film THE HATEFUL EIGHT (167 min, DCP Digital) switches from the 70mm Roadshow version to the slightly shorter digital version.
Facets Cinémathčque plays Camilla Nielsson's 2014 Dutch documentary DEMOCRATS (99 min, Unconfirmed Format) for a week-long run.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The Art Institute of Chicago presents a gallery exhibition of Mariko Mori's 1996 video MIKO NO INORI (29 min, VHS on Digital), extended through February 7 in Gallery 186 (Modern Wing).
Chicago Public Library screenings: Due to the frequency of late-additions (past our deadlines) and to their frequent inability (due to licensing restrictions) of publicly listing the titles of films they are screening, we will no longer be listing specific CPL screenings. Check their website for any films that may be showing.
The Patio Theater and the Portage Theater calendars have been confusing and constantly shifting--adding and removing events with little notice--and reportedly have been unexpectedly closed for scheduled events. We will no longer attempt to list any screenings there.