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The Chicago Rep-port: 3/10 to 3/16, by Aaron Pinkston

9 Mar

Repertoire screenings may not be as abundant in Chicago as they are in LA/NY, but when you look around, there are many theatergoing delights. The Chicago Rep-port is a weekly(ish) series highlighting the best and most compelling repertory screenings in the Second City.

Though it isn’t exactly in the rep screening bucket, the theatergoing highlight this week (and throughout the month of March) is the Gene Siskel Film Center’s European Union Film Festival, which I’ve covered on this site for many years. This week’s offerings include films from Finland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Sweden, Malta, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Spain, France, Poland, Croatia, Germany, and Belgium—the best offerings are the Dardenne Brothers’ The Unknown Girl (March 12 and March 15) and Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay (March 11 and March 16). You can find the full EUFF schedule here.

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Aaron’s Top Ten of 2016

17 Jan

Another year, another top 10 list. I feel like every year around this time I say this was a particularly great year, that it was difficult to choose only ten films, yadda yadda yadda. It’s true and it always is. In most years, though, there is usually one film that stands out from the pack, speaks to me as an undeniable best film of the year. Less than a month after the conclusion of the year, 2016 doesn’t have that yet. Maybe more than any year I’ve put together a formal list, this list could be completely rearranged. That may be a negative aspect of the year in film, but it was also particularly deep and diverse. For example, it was one of the best recent years for animation with Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, Zootopia, and an unusual film that made my list. I love genre films, and aside from the films that are listed below, I adored 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Wailing, The Eyes of My Mother, The Love Witch, Under the Shadow, and many others. Yeah, the blockbusters were particularly bad in 2016, but c’mon, we’re not apart of the Battleship Pretension fleet by only judging the year on capes and cowls. Of the 1,003 eligible films from 2016, I saw a paltry 256. That may be more than most people, but this still produces wide gaps that prevent this list from being personally definitive in any way. For the films I haven’t yet seen at the time of this submission: Aquarius, Toni Erdmann, The Red Turtle, Train to Busan, Queen of Katwe, Julieta, and undoubtedly many more worthy of consideration. For those I have seen, let’s get to it.

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New to Home Video 11/8/16

8 Nov

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Chicago International Film Festival 2016: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, by Aaron Pinkston

18 Oct

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Steve James has made a career out of documenting the lives of the unfortunate and underserved, from those fighting gang activity on the most violent neighborhoods of Chicago to the young people in these same neighborhoods with little opportunity to escape. His new film, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, turns focus on a new protagonist, an unlikely one: a bank. With the public perception of corruption and gross misconduct on unimaginable scales, Abacus focuses on the only federal bank indicted in connection to the 2008 mortgage crisis. What seems like an impossible task, James puts the viewer firmly on their side in this complicated story of family and community.

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Chicago International Film Festival 2016: Things to Come, by Aaron Pinkston

18 Oct

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Things to Come is a pretty simple character study following a woman (Isabelle Huppert) whose life is on the verge of disarray. However, it doesn’t have the same kind of structural or formal dynamism as director Mia Hansen-Løve’s sprawling EDM epic Eden. Instead, Hansen-Løve makes a more moderate and thus more polished film—this next step doesn’t exactly raise her profile in my mind but (to use a baseball metaphor) she has fully graduated from prospect status as a “filmmaker to watch.”

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Chicago International Film Festival 2016: A Quiet Passion, by Aaron Pinkston

17 Oct

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A Quiet Passion could be the title of most Terence Davies films, so it is particularly fun that the film called A Quiet Passion is, at least at times, an outlier for the filmmaker. Chronicling the adult life of poet Emily Dickinson (from what I can tell, the first film to take on her life), A Quiet Passion is a surprising blend of subject and filmmaker. Primarily known for deep and silently emotional dramas that tell the stories of simple people and British communities, Davies has been on a recent role with The Deep Blue Sea and Sunset Song (released earlier this year). Emily Dickinson is a fantastic subject for Davies as a strong, independent and opinionated woman. A Quiet Passion’s comedic sensibility, however, seems like new territory.

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Chicago International Film Festival 2016: Christine, by Aaron Pinkston

16 Oct

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When one first hears about Christine Chubbuck, it is impossible not to wonder how it all ended up like this. We have become inundated with tragic stories of mass shooters and bombings, but a news reporter committing suicide live on air is especially provocative. When watching Christine, you’re primed to look for the clues, the psychological breaks, that lead to the inevitable end. That isn’t exactly fair for the film, but it is an unavoidable contract—the film wouldn’t exist without the tragedy the audience is waiting to see. For Christine, director Antonio Campos (Afterschool, Simon Killer) doesn’t make the story the tense psychological thriller you might expect, but a solid character study led by Rebecca Hall’s outstanding performance.

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Chicago International Film Festival 2016: The Autopsy of Jane Doe, by Aaron Pinkston

16 Oct

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Back in 2010, Norwegian filmmaker André Øvredal hit the indie scene with the fantastic horror mockumentary Trollhunter. His follow-up, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, is a radically different film—instead of the massive special effects driven epic, it takes place in primarily one location with two characters and a stripped down plot. It also leaves Trollhunter’s comic tinge behind for an intriguing mix of realistic science, gross-out tactics and survival horror. It has its flaws, especially in the third act, but The Autopsy of Jane Doe is fun ride.

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

14 Oct

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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.