The Amazing Johnathan Documentary

Adios Amor—The Search for Maria Moreno Laurie Coyle directed this documentary about the search for the migrant worker and farmworker activist featured in a series of photographs taken more than fifty years ago. 58 min. Followed by a discussion. Sat 8/17, 2 PM. Chicago Cultural Center  F

 NThe Amazing Johnathan Documentary What is most evident and fascinating about this documentary following the “farewell tour” of its titular comic-magician is the inexperience of its director, Ben Berman. Previously, Berman had only directed television and comedic shorts, and the fact that this shows in his shaky handling of a new medium works both for and against him. A more savvy documentarian probably would have precluded or circumnavigated the manipulations of a subject like Johnathan, aka John Edward Szeles, the “amazing” provocateur who asked multiple documentary crews to follow him in the wake of his announcement, in 2014, that he had one year to live. Cut to 2017, and Berman is shocked to discover that he’s far down the list of people making a movie about Szeles, though his film is at its least interesting when he’s wallowing in self-pity about this. It’s not until Berman dives deeper, questioning his motivations to pursue the subject matter and testing the ethical limits of narrative nonfiction, that his doc makes a persuasive case for existing. It is odd and arguably antithetical to the purposes of documentary filmmaking that the director reveals much more about himself than his subject. Nevertheless, Berman pulls off a neat trick with the cards he’s dealt. In the end, even Szeles is surprised. —Leah Pickett 91 min. Streaming on Hulu

 NThe Angry Birds Movie 2 Thurop Van Orman directed this sequel to the 2016 animated film based on the popular video game. PG, 99 min. Block 37, Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Cicero Showplace 14, Ford City, River East 21, Showplace 14 Galewood Crossings, 600 N. Michigan

Arsenic and Old Lace Frank Capra directed this adaptation of the Broadway hit in 1942, shortly before he entered the service (though contractually it couldn’t be released until 1944, when the Broadway production closed). The rush shows in some of the sloppiest, clumsiest work Capra and his star, Cary Grant, ever did: the timing is abysmal throughout, turning fast pace into numbing frenzy. Josephine Hull and Jean Adair, as the two old ladies who poison their gentlemen callers with elderberry wine, are refreshingly understated in this seriously strained context. With Raymond Massey (as Boris Karloff), Peter Lorre, Priscilla Lane, and Edward Everett Horton. —Dave Kehr 118 min. 16 mm archival print. Fri 8/16, 7 and 9:30 PM. Univ. of Chicago Doc Films

Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts Jeffrey Wolf directed this documentary about self-taught outsider artist Bill Traylor, a former slave and sharecropper, who began drawing in the 1930s in his 80s. 76 min. Director Jeffrey Wolf and producer Jeany Wolf attend the screenings. Showing as part of the Black Harvest Film Festival. Sun 8/18, 5:30 PM, and Mon 8/19, 7:45 PM. Gene Siskel Film Center

Black History—Lost and Found A program of four short films, with work by Khinmay Lwin van der Mee, Adetokumboh M’Cormack, David de Rozas, and Ashley Paige Brim. Showing as part of the Black Harvest Film Festival. Thu 8/22, 8:30 PM. Gene Siskel Film Center

Blinded by the Light

 NBlinded by the Light How much does Bruce Springsteen have in common with a 16-year-old Pakistani boy growing up in a small English village in 1987? According to Blinded by the Light, a lot more than one would think. Based on the life of screenwriter Sarfraz Manzoor, this is the coming-of-age story of Javed (Viveik Kalra), a young writer who finds a sense of purpose after discovering the music of “the Boss.” Chadha tries to cover a lot of ground, from the frustrations of high school to navigating tradition and family to the attempt to find one’s voice while living in a town riddled with Islamophobia. However, most of the film’s emotional weight is undermined by cheesy sing-alongs with the lyrics visualized in such a garish way that the supposed thematic significance bashes the audience in the head. Director and cowriter Gurinder Chadha senselessly pivots from a corny but harmless comedy musical to a tense family drama and without doing either successfully. —Cody Corrall PG-13, 114 min. Block 37, ArcLight, Century 12 and CineArts 6, Century Centre, Cicero Showplace 14, City North 14, Ford City

City of Hope John Sayles’s seventh feature (1991), his first in ‘Scope, is a highly ambitious and grimly powerful look at urban corruption, representing a marked improvement over most of his earlier efforts despite his relative lack of skill in directing actors, framing, and editing. Set in the fictional Hudson City, New Jersey, which suggests a combination of Hoboken (where Sayles lives) and nearby Jersey City, the film centers on the troubled son (Vincent Spano) of a successful contractor who gets involved in an attempted burglary, which sets off a chain of events that ultimately involves politicians, policemen, hoods, teachers, street people, and assorted other characters in this densely populated film. Though it depends on an overall orientation that’s about as up-to-date as leftist thinking of the 30s, the film is nonetheless highly persuasive. (The raving street person employed as a choral figure seems straight out of Clifford Odets.) With Tony Lo Bianco, Joe Morton, Angela Bassett, Gloria Foster, and Sayles himself (in a very effective turn as a villain with a perfect New Jersey accent). —Jonathan Rosenbaum 1985 129 min. 35mm. Thu 8/22, 7 PM. Univ. of Chicago Doc Films

Color Me Creative A program of five shorts by Addison Wright, Keisha Rae Witherspoon, Elodie Edjang, The Umma Chroma collective, and David Larson and Darren Durlach. Showing as part of the Black Harvest Film Festival. Sun 8/18, 3 PM. Gene Siskel Film Center

Dead Ringer Bette Davis in a 1964 rendition of the good twin/bad twin number, directed by her Now, Voyager costar Paul Henreid. With Karl Malden, Jean Hagen, Peter Lawford, and George Macready. 116 min. 35 mm. Sat 8/17-Sun 8/18, 11 AM. Music Box

Dick Two teenage girls (Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams) touring the White House in the mid-70s stumble upon some secrets of Richard Nixon (Dan Hedaya) without realizing what they are, and when things snowball wind up as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s “Deep Throat” informant. This is silly and shameless stuff (1999) that made me laugh quite a lot, in part because it provides the perfect antidote to the neo-Stalinist pomposity of Oliver Stone’s Nixon and glib self-importance of Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men. Andrew Fleming (Threesome, The Craft) , who directed from a script he wrote with Sheryl Longin, lacks the polish and pizzazz of Stone and Pakula, but arguably his notions about American politics are healthier and more earthbound than theirs; in his book, Nixon and Kissinger and Woodward and Bernstein are all deserving of ridicule. In some ways this is like Forrest Gump without the neocon trimmings, which for me makes it bracing and energizing, though younger viewers may not catch all the historical references. With Harry Shearer as G. Gordon Liddy, Saul Rubinek as Kissinger, and Teri Garr. —Jonathan Rosenbaum PG-13, 94 min. Fri 8/16-Sat 8/17, midnight. Music Box

 NEvery Time I Die A murdered man’s consciousness inhabits the bodies of his friends as he tries to prevent their deaths at the hand of his killer as well. Robi Michael directed. 98 min. Fri 8/16-Sat 8/17, 7:45 PM; Sun 8/18, 6 PM; Mon 8/19-Thu 8/22, 7:45 PM. Facets Cinematheque

RThe Gleaners and I A superb documentary (2000) by Agnes Varda, the sole woman member of the French New Wave, who not only wrote and directed but also shot the film with a digital camera. The film begins by musing on people who pick up what’s left on the ground after mechanical harvesting and moves on to interviews with other types of gleaners: artists who use found objects, a Michelin two-star chef who forages for herbs, and folks who troll for discarded food in supermarket Dumpsters, pick up edible detritus after market stalls have been struck, or furnish their homes with sidewalk discards. Varda seamlessly weaves in poetic interludes on famous images of gleaners by French artists, a magical sequence in which she stumbles upon a junk-shop work that combines two of her favorite harvest paintings, and her own feelings about aging, travel, and the cinema. Not to be missed. In French with subtitles. —Meredith Brody 82 min. Fri 8/16, 8 PM. PO Box Collective  F

Good Boys

 NGood Boys A trio of adolescent boys’ attempt to get some makeout tips by spying on some older teens with a drone leads to a day of increasingly outrageous events in this comedy directed by Gene Stupnitsky. R, 89 min. ArcLight, Century 12 and Cine Arts 6, Cicero 14, City North, Ford City, Lake Theatre, River East 21, Showplace 14 Galewood Crossings, Showplace ICON, 600 N. Michigan, Studio Movie Grill Chatham, Webster Place

How to Survive a Plague / BPM (Beats per Minute) An AIDS-themed double feature screening of David France’s 2012 documentary How to Survive a Plague and Robin Campillo’s 2017 French drama BPM (Beats per Minute), followed by a discussion. Sun 8/18, 5 PM. ACRE Projects  F

If the Dancer Dances

 NIf the Dancer Dances The problem with making a film about the making of art—be it a painting, an album, or in this case, a dance work—is that knowing how a piece was constructed often depreciates the work itself, demystifying its core and flattening a more personal meaning the viewer may have otherwise attached to it. Still, this documentary from journalist-turned-filmmaker Maia Wechsler is a gorgeous dissection of RainForest, a 1968 modern dance masterpiece from choreographer Merce Cunningham, and the process of its contemporary restaging. Stephen Petronio and dancers from his eponymous New York-based company toil under the sharp eyes of three dancers from the original ensemble to perfect every move. The final performance ties into a centennial celebration of Cunningham, who died at age 90 in 2009. His presence is spine-tingling throughout, whether in the wild, thrilling contortions of the current dancers; the original performers, luminous against an abstract set designed by Andy Warhol; or Cunningham himself, seen in piquant archival footage. The film may not compare to seeing RainForest in its purest form, live and sans context, but no matter: dance nerds and visual art obsessives will find much to appreciate. —Leah Pickett 83 min. Fri 8/16, 2:15 and 6 PM; Sat 8/17, 5:15 PM; Sun 8/18, 3:15 PM; Mon 8/19, 6 PM; Tue 8/20, 8:15 PM; Wed 8/21, 8 PM; and Thu 8/22, 6 PM. Gene Siskel Film Center

Innocents of Paris Maurice Chevalier stars as a singing junkman who must decide between love and fame in this 1929 musical-romance. Richard Wallace directed. 78 min. 35 mm. Preceded by a selection of short subjects made in 1929 (approx. 40 min, 16 mm). Thu 8/22, 7 PM. Music Box

 NJirga Benjamin Gilmour directed this Australian drama about a soldier returning to Afghanistan to find the family of a civilian he killed. In English and subtitled Pushto. 78 min. Fri 8/17, 7 and 9 PM; Sat 8/17, 3, 5, 7, and 9 PM; Sun 8/18, 1, 3, 5, and 7 PM; Mon 8/19-Thu 8/22, 7 and 9 PM. Facets Cinematheque

 NKingdom Shinsuke Sato directed this Japanese action film based on Yasuhisa Hara’s manga about a boy in ancient China who aspires to become a general. In Japanese with subtitles. R, 134 min. City North 14, River East 21

RThe Last Black Man in San Francisco Lifelong San Francisco resident Jimmie Fails plays a fictionalized version of himself in Joe Talbot’s ambitious debut feature, which takes a poetic view of gentrification, underemployment, and other issues facing the city’s Black population. The episodic story centers on Fails’s efforts to rehabilitate an old mansion that once belonged to his grandfather. When the home’s most recent owners move out, Fails breaks in with his best friend (an aspiring playwright who works in a fish market), and the two begin squatting there, symbolically reclaiming a neighborhood that had once been predominantly Black but had long since priced out most of its Black residents. Talbot structures the film like a piece of music; this proceeds gracefully from one observation to the next, emphasizing the characters’ way of life over narrative development. (The diverse soundtrack, which ranges from contemporary classical to Joni Mitchell, adds greatly to the film’s affecting impact.) It sometimes feels as if Talbot is overplaying his hand—his use of slow-motion, for instance, feels needlessly arty—but one can’t deny the seriousness of his concerns or his emotional investment in the material. With Jonathan Majors, Mike Epps, and Danny Glover. —Ben Sachs R, 120 min. Fri 8/16, 2 and 7:45 PM; Sat 8/17, 3 and 7:45 PM; Sun 8/18, 5 PM; Mon 8/19, 8 PM; Tue 8/20, 6 PM; Wed 8/21, 6 PM; and Thu 8/22, 7:45 PM. Gene Siskel Film Center

Lord of the Flies William Golding’s 1954 allegory on man’s innate inhumanity is too facile by half, which makes it ideal for high school English classes but rather too gaseous and predictable for the movies. A group of British schoolboys is stranded on a tropical island after a plane crash; before long, the ties and jackets have been discarded and the kids are organizing themselves into primitive, marauding bands. Peter Brook directed (1963) in a ragtag style, groping toward the ensemble hysteria that would become the hallmark of his stage work. With James Aubrey, Tom Chapin, and Hugh Edwards. —Dave Kehr 92 min. Fri 8/16-Mon 8/19, 11 PM. Logan

Lost Gurl

 NLost Gurl Watching a film where a young person is groomed to be an abusive relationship is a bit like watching a horror flick. You know that whatever lurks behind the proverbial door is bad news, and the heroine is screwed. In Lost Gurl, that heroine is Nola (played by talented Chicagoan Kristin E. Ellis), a bright teenager with plans to attend DePaul until she meets Jay (Simeon Henderson), an older man who charms her off her feet before pulling her into a world of drugs and violence. This feels like a modern update to the old-school PG-rated drama of an ABC Afterschool Special, and perhaps that’s the point. What it lacks in plot twists and character development, it makes up for in messaging. And though violence permeates the film, director and writer Edward J. Wilson takes care to leave the most graphic bits (including sexual assault), just out of view. I hope this film becomes available to anyone who needs to see it. —Jamie Ludwig 70 min. Wilson and selected cast and crew attend the screenings. Showing as part of the Black Harvest Film Festival. Fri 8/16 and Tue 8/20, 8:30 PM. Gene Siskel Film Center

Love African American Style Six US and UK short films about love by David E. Bright, Asha Flowers, LeRon E. Lee, Carmen Elly Wilkerson, Anthony E. Williams, and Gian Smith. 81 min. Showing as part of the Black Harvest Film Festival. Fri 8/16, 6 PM, and Sat 8/17, 8:15 PM. Gene Siskel Film Center

The Man Who Bought the Moon Paolo Zucca directed this Italian comedy about a fisherman who promises the moon to his lover. In Italian and Sardinian with subtitles. 102 min. Wed 8/21, 6:30 PM. Chicago Cultural Center  F

Manos: The Hands of Fate Drive-in delicacy from 1966, involving occult goings-on in a house controlled by the title whatsis and his harem queens. This backyard horror cheapie never made it out of El Paso, though its director, James Warren, has been touted as the Ed Wood of the Texas Panhandle. —Pat Graham 69 min. Wed 8/21, 7:30 PM Beverly Arts Center

My Big Fat Greek Wedding Wallflower gets a makeover, cute boyfriend follows. Second City alum Nia Vardalos stars in this ethnic comedy, which she also wrote—an ambitious way to break into a leading role; too bad the results are insubstantial. The intentionally broad Greek-American milieu is oddly colorless; having all of the cousins named Nick or Nikki is an OK gag, but once you’re past it there’s little to hold your attention. Daddy huffs and puffs over the boyfriend’s Waspy parents, but you know a bear hug is in store. The cinematography by Jeffrey Jur is sharper and funnier than most of the material. Directed by Joel Zwick; with Michael Constantine, John Corbett, and ‘N Sync’s Joey Fatone. —Joshua Rothkopf 95 min. Outdoor screening. Tue 8/20, 6:30 PM. Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park  F

The Nightingale

 NThe Nightingale Jennifer Kent’s second feature (after The Babadook) is a postmodern critique of British colonialism that considers the chauvinism as well as the racism of the colonial project. Set in early 19th-century Australia, it centers on a young Irishwoman who, along with her husband, has recently finished a seven-year period of servitude on a British military base. Kent addresses early on how brutal the British were toward anyone they considered socially inferior with a harrowing scene in which soldiers gang-rape the heroine, then kill her baby and husband. The perpetrators of the attack leave the base shortly thereafter, and the heroine, teaming up with an Aboriginal tracker, follows in pursuit with the aim of taking revenge. In its focus on symbolic, violent retribution, the film is thematically similar to Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist historical fantasies, though Kent’s deglamorized, relentlessly unpleasant depiction of suffering couldn’t be further from the adolescent glee of Tarantino’s films. Still, there’s something vaguely two-faced about Kent’s revenge narrative—the heroine’s progress has the effect of overshadowing the history of atrocity that the film wants to confront. —Ben Sachs 136 min. Fri 8/16-Thu 8/22, 1:15, 4:10, 7, and 9:50 PM. Music Box

Olivia This film version of Colette’s novel about a young girl’s coming-of-age in a boarding school, directed by Jacqueline Audry, is noted for its not-so-hidden lesbian themes. The American title for this 1951 French feature was The Pit of Loneliness. In French with subtitles. 96 min. Fri 8/16, 4 PM; Sat 8/17, 3:15 PM; Mon 8/19, 6 PM; and Wed 8/21, 6 PM. Gene Siskel Film Center

One Child Nation

R NOne Child Nation New York-based filmmaker Nanfu Wang was born in China in 1985 during its mandated one-child policy, a stringently enforced 36-year social experiment meant to curb the nation’s burgeoning population and stave off widespread famine. Wang’s parents were exceptional in that they also had a son; in rural areas some families were allowed two children if the first-born was female in the hopes that the next infant would be a highly prized male. After Wang’s own son was born, she journeyed back to China, baby in tow, to uncover bitter truths about the horrific practices and consequences of such state intrusion while her codirector, Jialing Zhang, remained in the U.S. to closely monitor Wang’s movements via GPS in case she aroused potentially dangerous government scrutiny. The two women interviewed not only former bureaucrats, abortionists, and crusading journalists, but also Wang’s own family, whose experiences during those decades included her grandfather’s fight with authorities to prevent her mother being forcibly sterilized after Nanfu was born; her uncle’s abandonment of a daughter in the local market; and her aunt’s sale of her baby girl to a human trafficker. Some archival footage—particularly a shot of corpses of discarded female infants rotting in a public garbage dump—is gruesome, but just when you think you’ve seen the worst come the revelations of the corruption that mushroomed after China opened its doors in 1992 to adoptions by outsiders: the hefty fees Westerners paid orphanages (with the money trickling up and down between local civilians and officials) encouraged outright theft of babies to keep this new niche market booming. The filmmakers also follow a couple in Lehi, Utah, adoptive parents themselves, on a mission to reunite missing Chinese “orphans” with their birth parents. Not surprisingly, some adopted kids, loved by their American families, aren’t interested, even if their original parents didn’t give them up willingly. In English and subtitled Mandarin. —Andrea Gronvall R, 85 min. Fri 8/16-Sun 8/18, 11:30 AM, 2:45, 5:30, 7:50, and 10:05 PM; Mon 8/19-Thu 8/22, 2:45, 5:30, 7:50, and 10:05 PM. Century Centre

Rush: Cinema Strangiato 2019 A compilation of performances, behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews by and about the rock band Rush. Dale Heslip directed. 120 min. Wed 8/21, 7 PM. Music Box

Silent Summer Film Festival Weekend The Chicago Silent Film Society presents four programs over three days of silent films with live accompaniment, including the Anna May Wong drama Toll of the Sea, short comedies starring Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, and the Soviet sci-fi film Aelita: Queen of Mars. Visit for more information. Fri 8/16-Sun 8/18. Filament Theatre

Stranger on the Third Floor An RKO B-film from 1940, done up in high Hollywood expressionism. It’s absurdly overwrought (which was often the problem with the German variety), but interesting for it. The director, Boris Ingster, is better with shadows than with actors—venetian blinds carve up the characters with more fateful force than Paul Schrader’s similar gambit in American Gigolo, and there’s a dream sequence that has to be seen to be disbelieved. The forgotten John McGuire stars as a reporter haunted by the thought that he may have sent an innocent man to the chair, while Peter Lorre (the ostensible lead) creeps around as the embodiment of absolute evil. Ingster punctures his Dostoyevskian pretensions with witty asides on his guilt themes, creating an effectively creepy, curdled vision (though the ending is a letdown). With Margaret Tallichet and Elisha Cook Jr. —Dave Kehr 64 min. 35 mm archival print. Wed 8/21, 7 PM. Univ. of Chicago Doc Films

Summer With Monika Ingmar Bergman’s 1953 feature stars Harriet Andersson as a self-centered adolescent temptress who manages a brief romantic interlude with an errand boy (Lars Ekborg) before walking out in boredom, leaving him to care for their illegitimate child. This, the first Bergman feature to get worldwide art-house distribution, represented a new direction for Bergman in his detailed treatment of a youthful character. His first film with Andersson shows a developing ability to probe the psychology of a rich, vital woman without losing his objectivity. Minor but worth seeing. In Swedish with subtitles. —Don Druker 96 min. 35 mm. Sat 8/17, 7 and 9:30 PM. Univ. of Chicago Doc Films

The Watermelon Woman Cheryl Dunye’s 1996 first feature is a lighthearted and for the most part lightweight pseudodocumentary about an aspiring lesbian filmmaker (Dunye) attempting to research the life of an early Hollywood Black actress known as the Watermelon Woman. The film’s laid-back charm and the delicacy of the sex scenes make the controversy the film raised in the U.S. Senate upon its release all the more grotesque. With Guinevere Turner (Go Fish), Valarie Walker, and a funny bit by Camille Paglia about the positive aspects of watermelon imagery in relation to both Blacks and Italians. —Jonathan Rosenbaum 90 min. Outdoor screening. Wed 8/21, 8:30 PM. Comfort Station

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

R NWhere’d You Go, Bernadette A profoundly serious film despite its lighthearted surface tone, Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Maria Semple’s novel is a critical (if characteristically humane) assessment of American society in spiritual crisis. Cate Blanchett stars as the title character, a trailblazing architect who hasn’t designed anything in two decades; when the movie begins, she’s on the verge of emotional collapse, addicted to a variety of prescription drugs, and making enemies with the women in her neighborhood’s improvement league. Bernadette remains a caring wife and mother, but her closest confidante is a paid assistant based in India with whom she communicates via text message. Linklater depicts the heroine’s terminal self-involvement wittily and sympathetically, making her problems (obsessing over routines, dreading face-to-face communication, and generally feeling stuck) resemble exaggerated versions of what many people experience in everyday American life circa 2019. He doesn’t see these problems as insurmountable, however, and this optimism is both winning and refreshing. The ensemble supporting cast—which features Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, and Laurence Fishburne—is wonderful as well. —Ben Sachs PG-13, Block 37, Century Centre Cinema, Century 12 and CineArts 6

 RWhile I Breathe, I Hope “I just want to be a change agent, and politics is the way I can change people’s lives,” says 34-year-old Bakari Sellers in Emily L. Harrold’s fly-on-the-wall portrait of the idealistic attorney, politician, and CNN commentator. At 22 years of age, he ran for office as his district’s state representative and unexpectedly defeated his Republican opposition, but disillusionment soon set in. “I’m a Democrat in South Carolina, so my job is the definition of insanity, because I repeatedly do the same things over and over again, and don’t accomplish much,” he says of his tenure. And indeed one of his finest achievements occurred after he was out of office: while he was working as a social activist in the wake of the 2015 mass shootings at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, he and others succeeded in finally convincing the state legislature to retire the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. Whatever you think of Sellers, who is immensely likable, if more openly emotional than the average guy—but hey, he’s hardly average—don’t miss this enlightening documentary, a primer on the risks and rewards of politics, and why it’s absolutely fundamental that all citizens engage in its discourse, on whatever level we can. —Andrea Gronvall 72 min. Showing as part of the Black Harvest Film Festival. Fri 8/16, 4:15 PM, and Tue 8/20, 6 PM. Gene Siskel Film Center

RYojimbo Akira Kurosawa has any number of dramatic and cinematic cliches (both American and Japanese) to overcome—and does so brilliantly—in this action-packed, highly comic 1961 translation of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest to the samurai movie tradition. Toshiro Mifune is again incomparable as the masterless samurai who wanders into a small war between two rival gangs and proceeds to set things right by further stirring them up. In Japanese with subtitles. —Don Druker 110 min. Tue 8/20-Thu 8/22, 10:30 PM. Logan