Last Year at Marienbad

‘Last Year at Marienbad’ and ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’

The Marienbad Game is a short, two player card game in which cards, or match sticks if you prefer, are dealt in rows of 1, 3, 5 and 7. Players can pick up any number they wish in a turn so long as they draw from the same row. The person forced to pick up the last card loses. The rules matter not, because “Last Year at Marienbad’s” “M” (Sacha Pitoeff) always wins. The film’s patrons speculate and strategize fruitlessly, because the brain teaser seems to have no obvious answer.

Neither does the movie, and Director Alain Resnais, who was still making films but passed away in March, would laugh at the idea that a film or work of art needs to be scrutinized and solved (see: Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon). “Last Year at Marienbad” resists interpretation.

The film is about a man seducing a woman at a luxurious hotel by trying to convince her they’ve met a year before. He tells an elaborate story rife with details and she plays along while continuing to deny any recollection of their meeting. That description makes it sound like a romantic comedy, but the movie is a gloomy, sprawling and sumptuous fantasy. It’s also a polarizing, yet hypnotic dream of a movie that meanders and blares endlessly.

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Mistaken for Strangers

‘Mistaken for Strangers’ is a meta, funny, oddball look at The National

I first saw and discovered The National on their “High Violet” tour opening for Arcade Fire. Their music was deep, mournful, abstract and quietly intense (before becoming loudly intense), and you might suspect that Matt Berninger and company are really just brooding basket cases of emotion and darkness.

But at that show Berninger paused after a particularly riotous number and threw jellybeans into the audience. “Be sure to pick those up,” he said, “They each have a new MP3 track in them… by The Flaming Lips.” You don’t quite realize that they’re funny, quirky, aloof and more like their Midwestern selves than whatever you expect of a rock star.

The new rock-doc “Mistaken for Strangers” sheds light into this side of The National, but it does so by profiling the even bigger goofball behind the scenes, Director and Matt’s brother Tom Berninger. Though he resembles his tall, lanky and hipster brother Matt, Tom is shorter, fatter and has longer hair, and he could very well be portrayed in a movie by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

He’s made an oddball, meta and awkwardly funny documentary not unlike his own goofy personality. “Mistaken for Strangers” has more to do with Tom than the band itself, and in that way it gives us a more heartwarming portrait of The National than concert footage alone ever could.

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Review: The Unknown Known


Errol Morris’s latest, which was released last week, goes wide later this month and I first saw at the Chicago International Film Fesitval, draws heavily from his Oscar winning masterpiece “The Fog of War,” and while “The Unknown Known” is not as surreal or profound as the latter, Donald Rumsfeld is a compellingly charming subject, and Morris probes deep into his hypocrisy and double speak.

Originally posted on The Sanity Clause:

Errol Morris must have been ecstatic at the opportunity to interview Donald Rumsfeld for his latest film “The Unknown Known.”

The man, despite his politics and his unique perspective on his actions and the history he helped lead this country through, is a one-of-a-kind showman, infectious in front of interviewers and cameras. He discusses national policy of the gravest of circumstances with paradoxical double speak, and he seems to end each turn of phrase with a disarmingly knowing smirk.

And yet Morris must also have been surprised to talk with Rumsfeld simply because in some ways, he’s been at the root of Morris’s work for the last decade. After “The Fog of War” and “Standard Operating Procedure,” Rumsfeld can finally give Morris not the answers he’s looking for but the perspective straight from the horse’s mouth.

In some ways, “The Unknown Known” is Morris repeating the style and the work…

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Captain America The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the most bullet-ridden superhero movie ever

Captain America is a hero of morals and integrity. He represents the American ideal not because of his politics but because of his values. And yet his presence in comics dating back to World War II has always had to contend with the American political sphere. What would be the implications if the values of America’s greatest hero no longer matched America’s behavior?

Marvel took an ambitious step by removing Captain America from his ’40s origin story and dropping him into the modern day. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a film in which Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) must now grapple with thorny, ripped from the headlines debates surrounding America’s defense spending, use of military drones and their technological dominion over our privacy.

It’s the first time a Marvel film has presented grave, real-world stakes. In one way, the modern setting makes “The Winter Soldier” feel hardly like a superhero movie at all, closer to a conspiracy thriller complete with modern weaponry and combat. But in another way, Directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s placement of the film well within the Marvel template and “Cinematic Universe” make the presentation of “The Winter Soldier’s” vague political ideas that much queasier.

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St. Vincent

St. Vincent at the Riviera Theater, Chicago: Concert Review

St. Vincent is an alien from another world.

This much might be obvious to anyone who has digested the sonic mayhem of her albums, with guitars distorted beyond recognition, baritone saxes providing a funky bite and a Theremin being tortured in place of a solo.

And yet Annie Clark’s meticulously choreographed stage show for her self titled tour suggest that this alien has a scarily deep insight into our heads and a palpable tension as she readies an attack.

“Hello ladies and gentleman, and hello others,” Clark addresses the audience. “We’re not so different, you and I.” In between songs she’ll slyly suggest the questionable behavior and thoughts we all share while leaning heavily on her own creepy confessional. She’ll admit to fantasizing about seeing people naked on the L, about looking at her hands and believing there to be a mix-up, or telling a lie and fearing the universe might be punishing her.

Such is the way an alien might communicate, but Clark utilized the remainder of her near two hour set at the Riv Saturday night seducing, entrancing and terrorizing through her exotic dancing and strobe lighting used “extensively.”

Clark’s outfit makes her look like she came from the same planet Lady Gaga calls home. She wears an extremely short black frock with red plumage bursting from her chest, beset by silvery hair strewn in all directions and glowing, turquoise eye shadow made to clash. Continue reading


‘Noah’ is a mess of Biblical proportions

Randy “The Ram” in “The Wrestler” abused himself in the ring just so that he could feel anything. In the end he brought himself to the brink of his strength. Nina Sayers in “Black Swan” tortured her body to achieve perfection and beauty and ultimately found herself battling her psyche.

Darren Aronofsky’s protagonists are conflicted souls, testing their minds, morals and beliefs in pursuit of something nobler. The biblical story of Noah finds his faith in God pit against mankind, forced to choose between innocence, justice and love.

Or at least that’s Aronofsky’s version. “Noah” is Aronofsky’s ambitious interpretation of the Bible tale, and unlike the surreal grittiness found in his previous films, his mix of fantasy and portent is a paradoxical mess. It’s a movie about beauty in which the colors have been sapped from all traces of the Earth. It’s one of human decency in which mankind is depicted as ravenous, ugly, violent, carnivorous or worse, flavorless. It’s a morality tale in which the hero is less given a moral choice as he is driven to madness. It’s a movie about faith, miracles and spirituality, but ostensibly avoids religion or even the mention of the word “God”.

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‘Divergent’ conforms to conventions

“I’d like to think there’s more to a person than just one thing.” That’s a line spoken by Shailene Woodley in the indie romance “The Spectacular Now.” Now Woodley stars in “Divergent,” in which that line has been blown up into a complex metaphor and the crux of everything that happens in this dystopian sci-fi action movie based on Veronica Roth’s popular YA novel.

It’s a strong idea, but a shaky premise. “Divergent” is so devoted to the notion that an individual can have multiple personality traits, whether in its plot, dialogue or narrative fabric, it smacks as a largely strained story telling device rather than part of a fleshed out idea or story universe.

That may be a swipe at Roth’s novel more so than the film, but it would matter less if the direction by Neil Burger (“Limitless”) took a lesson from Roth and likewise displayed an individual style and personality. Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor’s script is too faithful to its source material to distinguish itself in the way that its peer “The Hunger Games” has. Continue reading

Bottle Rocket

Rapid Response: Bottle Rocket

Any discussion of a legendary director’s first feature is a study in scrutiny and similarity. Rarely is the film taken on its own but as a discussion of how the director’s themes and signature style have evolved over time. Did he contain that spark early in his career, and what here can provide context for what comes later?

Wes Anderson has very recently been anointed to legendary status, complete with indie royalty credibility, a Best Picture nomination, box office gold, an ability to work with any actor he damn well pleases and a cinephile approved book dedicated to his life’s work. All those early skeptics of Anderson saw “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and now “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and have come out of the woodwork to revisit and heap praise on what they might’ve missed earlier.

Whether or not this is a good way to evaluate a film is up for grabs, but “Bottle Rocket” probably gets a pass today because it is a Wes Anderson debut. As Matt Zoller Seitz writes in his essay on “Bottle Rocket” in his coffee table tome “The Wes Anderson Collection,” “Anderson didn’t make references; he had influences. And there were already signs that he had a pretty good idea who he was as a director and was comfortable in his own skin.” We see it in his first 90 degree whip pan, the “eye of God” shots, as Seitz puts it, or the affinity for color, music and whimsy. Some of the moments are so oddly beautiful and so definitely Anderson-y that you might call it brilliant, whereas someone seeing it fresh in 1996 could easily call it uneven. Continue reading

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is the most Wes Anderson-y movie yet

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson has been making Wes Anderson movies his entire career; no one quite does it better (though many have tried). They’re rife with perfectly precise miniatures of colorful, excrutiating detail, and over the years his set dressing has conveyed kitsch, adolescence and cartoons.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” may be the most Wes Anderson-y film yet. Its title character M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) embodies the fastidious perfectionist with an eye for fashionable excellence in a way that no other Anderson character has captured the director’s true sense of style. It’s a silly, sinister and sneaky caper that thrives on its careful construction.

Gustave is the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional Eastern European country Zubrowska in 1932. Years later after war has forever affected the majesty of the region and the hotel itself, we meet Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham) regaling his days as a young lobby boy (Tony Revolori) under Gustave’s tutelage.

Fiennes is wonderful as an eloquent and aloof manager and womanizer, quick witted in his authority and charmingly blunt to the elderly women he beds. His prize is Madame D. (an almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton under pounds of makeup), a wealthy maiden who suddenly turns up murdered, but not before bequeathing a priceless painting to Gustave. As a result, Gustave soon finds himself on the run from Madame’s vindictive son (Adrien Brody) and the authorities (led by a hilariously out of place and without an accent Edward Norton). Continue reading

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CIFF Review: The Missing Picture


Finally getting its American theatrical release, this Un Certain Regard winner at last year’s Cannes and Foreign Language Oscar nominee is a critically acclaimed documentary on the genocide in Cambodia as a result of the Khmer Rouge. Seeing it at the Chicago Film Fest left me cold though at its morbid literal set pieces.

Originally posted on The Sanity Clause:

“The Missing Picture” screened as a part of the Chicago International Film Festival. This early review is merely an impression of the version screened. It does not yet have an American release.

For Rithy Panh, the memories that haunt his mind belong only to him, not to history. The images he sees exists nowhere else, and in order to be rid of them, he needs to create them, throw them to the wall and display them for the world.

In his documentary “The Missing Picture” it is noble that he’s done so. Panh’s film is harrowing and artistic, but the medium in which he has chosen to convey his message is impersonal and cold. “The Missing Picture,” the winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at this year’s Cannes film festival, has grand ambitions, but it is a dreary slog without an emotional core to grasp.

Panh lived through the…

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