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Chicago International Film Festival 2016: The Confessions, by Aaron Pinkston

14 Oct

confessions

A group of characters from different backgrounds and parts of the world are brought together to a secluded location at the request of a troubled figurehead—with no other details, this may sound like a more diverse version of The House on Haunted Hill. Roberto Andò’s The Confessions uses this narrative set-up in the world of high stakes economic policy making (seriously, could you bring together things further apart on the excitement scale?).On its face, The Confessions is a well-made, beautifully shot and adequately structured pseudo thriller that ultimately has no interest in the details.

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6. Robert De Niro

9 Sep

Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro
RAGING BULL, TAXI DRIVER, THE KING OF COMEDY, GOODFELLAS, THE GODFATHER PART II, MEAN STREETS, ANALYZE THIS, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Is it better to flame out or fade away? I’ve heard this question asked specifically about Robert De Niro, a giant in his craft who has had less than spectacular results in recent years. But for every Grudge Match or Dirty Grandpa there are more than enough Goodfellas, Midnight Runs and Cape Fears to cement his place in the canon and on this list—and, hey, you can’t discount performances in Joy or Silver Linings Playbook, either. At his height, De Niro was as vivacious, as intense, as introspective as any film actor in history. He broke on to the scene as the fresh-faced predecessor of Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone in the flashback sequences of The Godfather Part II, for which he won the Academy Award for a supporting role; only two years later he was unidentifiable as the grizzled maniac Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Just between these two roles, the dichotomy of quiet serious respect vs. unhinged terrifying insanity shows, and De Niro mastered both ends. As with most great actors, De Niro benefited by becoming a favorite actor of great filmmakers who told great, complex stories: Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Michael Cimino, to name a few. He was also able to build his particular type of acting during a time when character type roles were leading films with the New American Cinema of the 1970s. Certainly, De Niro’s vital talent would have pulled through no matter the era, but he was a perfect face and performer for the perfect storm of young and powerful filmmakers working in a time that their crazy ideas could be championed.

8. Toshiro Mifune

8 Sep

Toshiro Mifune

Toshiro Mifune
SEVEN SAMURAI, RASHOMON, THE HIDDEN FORTRESS, YOJIMBO, SAMURAI TRILOGY

I’m willing to bet there isn’t an actor on this list quite like Toshiro Mifune. The Japanese actor is the on-screen encapsulation of pure id, a wild ball of energy often in the center of a normally very staid genre of historical epics built around themes of honor and respect. The first viewing of Rashomon is a bizarre delight—his insane presence is at first alarming but eventually alluring. He often feels like a person out of time, not exactly fitting an idea of the historical era of many of his films, but he also seems too wild to be a person today. And then you eventually get by his samurai films to see something like High and Low for something completely different. In that film, Mifune plays the corporate head of a shoe company, equally as serious and strong and charismatic, but completely different than the untamed swordsman. Mifune’s biggest collaborator was master auteur Akira Kurosawa, who cast the actor in 16 films, many of which are among the most acclaimed films of all time. There were other great actors and directors working in Japan at the time, but none became as popular among western audiences. No doubt, Mifune’s expressive acting style has a lot to do with that, as it prioritizes his emotional energy much more than dialogue read through subtitles.

Phantom Boy: The Gumshoe Kid, by Aaron Pinkston

15 Jul

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I’ve come to learn that when an animated film is distributed by GKIDS, that’s a pretty assured sign of quality. Since 2008, the company has allowed for many smart, independent animated films to be seen in the U.S. You may not recognize the name GKIDS, but you likely know many of the films they have released—including Studio Ghibli films that weren’t released by Disney (The Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There most recently) as well as Oscar nominated films like Boy & the World, Song of the Sea, Ernest & Celestine and A Cat in Paris. The filmmakers of that last film, Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli, have returned with Phantom Boy, an intriguing blend of hard-boiled detective thriller, superhero film, and sick kid melodrama. It doesn’t quite blend those aspects together perfectly but it fits in with other GKIDS releases as an enjoyable and artistic film outside of the animation mainstream.

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Chevalier: Everybody Wants Some, by Aaron Pinkston

26 May

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I’m not sure if the new wave of films coming out of Greece has been formally synthesized, but a small group of filmmakers have made some very interesting cinema lately. Yorgos Lanthimos, the director of Dogtooth, Alps, and the upcoming The Lobster has (rightfully) gotten most of the attention, but his frequent collaborator Athina Rachel Tsangari is an important figure as well. Tsangari is most known for her 2010 film Attenberg, an appropriately weird (for Greek cinema) but emotionally resonant film. Her follow up, Chevalier, may not be as outwardly bizarre as its counterparts, but it is just as committed to its high-concept premise. Chevalier may also be the most accessible film in this recent run—though given the standard, I’m not sure if that might not be a compliment.

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New to Home Video 5/10/16

10 May

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Dheepan: Passages, by Aaron Pinkston

5 May

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If you’ve heard the title Dheepan, it is most likely because of its Palme d’Or win at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival – which according to most film writers on the scene was a huge surprise. With that in mind, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect of Dheepan. Would it be a wholly awards-grabbing cynical piece of artertainment or a good but not better than its competition (the critical favorite Son of Saul, for example)? Knowing that Jacques Audiard was the man behind Dheepan, I shouldn’t have doubted the film. It is indeed a rich and complex film with a new perspective on a hot topic.

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The Kids Stay in the Picture: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, by Aaron Pinkston

27 Apr

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Though comedian W.C. Fields famously said “Never work with animals or children,” the cinema is full of wonderful stories told through the eyes of the young. Films with child protagonists span every genre, generation, and film movement. “The Kids Stay in the Picture” surveys this interesting subgenre, following the School of the Art Institute and Gene Siskel Film Center film series “The Child in Cinema.” The series will cover the many historical and social contexts around why films centered on children are so integral to the landscape of world cinema.

One of the most important mainstream Hollywood filmmakers since the refocus towards directors as the artistic leaders of film production in the 1970s, Steven Spielberg has built his legacy on films with child protagonists. Aside from his most family friendly fare (E.T. certainly included there), films like Jaws, Empire of the Sun, Jurassic Park, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and War of the Worlds have serious themes and genre elements while featuring and sometimes centering on child characters. A deeper dive into his work as a producer of Poltergeist, The Goonies, Back to the Future, the Transformers series, True Grit, and Real Steel further showcases his interest in the stories of kids and teens. Considering all of these films, Spielberg has become synonymous with themes of suburban families, unconventional parent-child relationships, and larger-than-life adventure. His 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is one of his most beloved and sentimental. The story of an awkward, lonely child and his relationship with an alien left behind on earth is a perfect encapsulation of Spielberg’s narrative style and themes.

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The Kids Stay in the Picture: Paper Moon, by Aaron Pinkston

25 Apr

papermoon

Though comedian W.C. Fields famously said “Never work with animals or children,” the cinema is full of wonderful stories told through the eyes of the young. Films with child protagonists span every genre, generation, and film movement. “The Kids Stay in the Picture” surveys this interesting subgenre, following the School of the Art Institute and Gene Siskel Film Center film series “The Child in Cinema.” The series will cover the many historical and social contexts around why films centered on children are so integral to the landscape of world cinema.

Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon sits in a particular middle-ground of relevance, neither an obvious staple of the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s nor a buried treasure, one which somehow passed me by over the years. Given this, I was particularly interested in seeing it during this series. Bogdanovich is a key, if overlooked, member of the director-driven era, and Paper Moon is a fantastic showcase as a blend of 1970s sensibilities and 1930s nostalgia. And, as a film with a child protagonist, it’s tough to find a cooler child character or better performance.

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Ebertfest 2016: Force of Destiny, Radical Grace, Love & Mercy, Blow Out, by Aaron Pinkston

21 Apr

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The Saturday slate of Ebertfest is the most full (especially if you’re skipping out on the panel discussions and other offerings), making the day feel most like a more normal film festival. Thankfully, festival-goers don’t have to theater hop or worry about getting in the door at all, but as luxurious as a four-film day sounds, the seasoned festival attendee knows it is anything but. As I did not stick around for the Sunday screening (this year was a rare screening of Oscar Micheaux’s Paul Robeson vehicle Body and Soul, which I am sad to miss), though, the long day is a welcome send-off. This year’s final day screened four more diverse offerings, with three recent films setting up a reconsideration of a De Palma pulp thriller.

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