Our nine picks for screenings
Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel With the World and Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer
One of the biggest cinematic rediscoveries to pass through town this year was Portrait of Jason (1967), Shirley Clarke’s unforgettable verite documentary about an outspoken gay prostitute and domestic servant. Just four months since that screening, the Siskel presents another restoration of a Clarke documentary, her Oscar-winning Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel With the World (1963). Clarke shot the movie just prior to Frost’s death at 88, filming the legendary poet in meditation at his Vermont home, at speaking engagements at college campuses, and (most intriguingly) touring a U.S. aircraft carrier. The movie screens on a double bill with Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975), an early work by noted filmmaker and scholar Thom Andersen (Los Angeles Plays Itself). Jonathan Rosenbaum called this documentary about the 19th-century photographer (whose studies of animal locomotion were a direct predecessor to movies) “one of the best essay films ever made on a cinematic subject . . . adroitly combin[ing] biography, history, film theory, and philosophical reflection.” —Ben Sachs
Sun 9/29, 5 PM, and Wed 10/2, 6 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, 312-846-2800, siskelfilmcenter.org, $11.
It’s been seven years since Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron released his last movie, but he’s stayed on filmgoers’ minds. A lot of that has to do with his strong, if short, filmography, which features a bona fide science-fiction classic (Children of Men), a beloved coming-of-age drama (Y Tu Mama Tambien), and the strongest installment of a multimillion-dollar studio franchise (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Lately there’s been as much talk about his next project as about his work to date: Gravity, which stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as a pair of astronauts who are sent freefalling through space after a satellite destroys their ship, underwent numerous time-consuming casting and studio changes, stirring curiosity among the dedicated fan base so eagerly anticipating Cuaron’s next project. The wait seems to have been worth it; the film’s trailer, set to Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel,” suggests a lyrical, Kubrickian SF drama. —Drew Hunt
All Is Lost
Robert Redford—and only Robert Redford—stars in this drama about a man struggling to survive while stranded at sea. The plot immediately calls to mind the Tom Hanks vehicle Cast Away, but writer-director J.C. Chandor seems to have taken a far more minimalist approach than Robert Zemeckis did. Reviewing All Is Lost for Variety when it screened out of competition during this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Justin Chang noted the film’s somber and contemplative tone, calling it “as close to pure existential cinema as American filmmaking is likely to get these days.” It’s also nearly devoid of dialogue—a curious change of pace for Chandor, whose previous film, 2011’s Oscar-nominated Margin Call, was easily one of the chattiest movies of the year. —Drew Hunt
Blue Is the
French-Tunisian filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche’s drama beat out some stiff competition to win the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, including films by Jia Zhangke, Roman Polanski, James Gray, and Jim Jarmusch. Based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, the film tells the story of a 15-year-old girl (Adele Exarchopoulos) who meets and falls for Emma (Lea Seydoux), a college student. Critics and audience members alike were initially caught off-guard by the film’s supposedly explicit sex scenes, but that didn’t stop the Steven Spielberg-headed jury from awarding the film the fest’s top prize. Spielberg called the film “a great love story that made all of us feel privileged to be a fly on the wall, to see this story of deep love and deep heartbreak evolve from the beginning.” Obviously, the Palme d’Or winner from any year is worth seeking out, but considering the amount of buzz already created by Kechiche’s film, it seems to go double this year. —Drew Hunt
Though the director is Ridley Scott and the all-star cast includes Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Bruno Ganz, most of the buzz surrounding this big-budget thriller has to do with it being the first movie to be made from an original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy. It’s not the first screenplay that McCarthy’s written, however—the noted author has penned at least three over the course of his career (one of them was an early version of No Country for Old Men, which he later turned into a novel), though none had been filmed until now. Regardless of the movie’s overall merit, it should be fascinating to see what Scott, one of Hollywood’s most commercial-minded directors, brings to bear upon McCarthy, one of this country’s most uncompromising novelists. The studio hasn’t divulged many details of the story, which concerns a lawyer (Fassbender) who gets himself in bad trouble when he’s drawn into the world of drug trafficking. —Ben Sachs
Claire Denis Retrospective
Nearly a decade after its release, there still isn’t another movie like Claire Denis’s The Intruder (2004), a ravishing and scary cinematic poem about death, globalization, and the dream of movies. (A more proper translation of the French title, L’Intrus, might be “that which is intrusive,” which does a much better job at suggesting the film’s ineffable tone.) The movie will receive its first Chicago screening since 2006 as part of a traveling retrospective of Denis’s work, which also includes new prints of her first feature, Chocolat (1989), and her vampire story-cum-AIDS allegory Trouble Every Day (2001). I can’t praise Denis’s filmography highly enough. In her work as director, every edit, music cue, and camera movement carries some revelatory insight into the world we inhabit. For all their big ideas, though, the movies are remarkably sensual and immediate—you don’t watch them so much as dive into them. The immersive quality of Denis’s films is especially pronounced when they’re screened in a theater, which is another way of saying that this series is unmissable. —Ben Sachs
November: showtimes TBA, Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, 312-846-2800, siskelfilmcenter.org.
Fritz Lang’s famed 1931 thriller M is rightly considered one of the German master’s finest films, but few are familiar with a remake by the American director Joseph Losey 20 years later. Then again, few people are very familiar with Losey, who was blacklisted in Hollywood before his career could really get started. The Wisconsin native fled overseas, settling in Britain, where he was successful—but probably not as successful as he should’ve been. Currently unavailable on DVD and incredibly tough to track down, this version of M is a fine introduction to his work as a whole; it’s considered by many to be his first masterpiece, and only slightly inferior to Lang’s original. The fine folks of the Northwest Chicago Film Society present the screening. —Drew Hunt
Wed 11/6, 7:30 PM, Patio Theater, 6008 W. Irving Park, northwestchicagofilmsociety.org, $5.
The premise of this documentary certainly sounds auspicious. Directors Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson followed two African-American families over a 12-year period, focusing on the choices they make concerning their sons’ education. The movie charts the boys’ development from kindergarten to college; the specificity of the study sounds like a healthy corrective to the sweeping generalizations of Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for “Superman.” Brewster and Stephenson are scheduled to attend select screenings; I hope someone asks how they edited 12 years’ worth of footage into a two-hour movie. That couldn’t have been easy. —Ben Sachs
11/22-11/27: showtimes TBA, Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, 312-846-2800, siskelfilmcenter.org.
Opens November 27.
The underrated director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) returns with her first feature since Talk to Me, the 2007 biopic about radio host and community activist Ralph “Petey” Greene. This film is a loose adaptation of Langston Hughes’s 1961 stage musical, which retold the story of the nativity in modern dialect and with gospel songs. (It was one of the first plays written by an African-American to receive an off-Broadway premiere; that landmark production featured a cast of roughly 200 people.) Taking place in the present, Lemmons’s film tells the story of a teenager from Baltimore visiting his estranged relatives in New York during the Christmas season. Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett play two of the relatives, Jennifer Hudson plays the boy’s single mother, and Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige, and the rapper Nas also figure in the cast. Raphael Saadiq produced the score, which incorporates elements of hip-hop and contemporary R&B. —Ben Sachs