A Married Woman [Une femme mariee]

(France 1964)

The original show about nothing, A Married Woman walks us through fragments of a day in the life of Charlotte (Macha Méril), a young wife torn between two lovers: her practical husband (Philippe Leroy) and her passionate, intellectual paramour (Bernard Noël). Apparently not in a hurry to choose one over the other, she’s thrown into a pickle when her doctor informs her she’s pregnant and she realizes that she doesn’t know which one is the father.

Heavy on closeups and dialogue, A Married Woman is thoroughly Modernist: more a treatise than a story, it delves into subjects like relationships, love, sex, morality, and the differences bewteen men and women through conversations that are practically interviews. Jean-Luc Godard stated that this film “attacks a certain mode of life; that of air conditioning, of the prefabricated, of advertising.” His sentiment is evident in all three yuppiesque main characters: they seem detached and adrift, oblivious to the impact their actions have on those around them. A Married Woman is sensual but not sexy, intimate but not warm, critical but not exactly moralistic, and clever but not always interesting.

It’s not all dour, though. Rita Maiden as the couple’s chatty housekeeper adds a priceless air of levity. A scene revealing Charlotte’s thoughts as she eavesdrops on two girls discussing sex at a cafe is hilarious if kinda mean. Gorgeous shots of midcentury Paris play like moving postcards. The little stuff here kept me engaged. I appreciate what Godard was getting at, but I found his execution ultimately underwhelming.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C+


The Passionate Thief [Risate di gioia]

(Italy 1960)

A quirky trio—Tortorella (Anna Magnani), an aging film extra; her buddy, professional fraudulent claimant Umberto (Toto); and his partner in petty theft, Lello (Ben Gazzara)—converge through a series of mishaps on New Year’s Eve. Their conflicting agendas become clear as they move from one crazy character and mad caper to the next, ultimately ending up in church.

A decidedly unglamorous take on Roman life reminiscent of Hollywood “screwball comedies” of the Thirties and Forties, Mario Monicelli’s The Passionate Thief is a lot of fun despite a couple of tiresome scenes I zoned out on. Fred Clark’s portrayal of “the American”—loud, rich, and unsophisticated yet likable—made me laugh out loud.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-


Irrational Man

(USA 2015)

Woody Allen movies never totally suck, but they’re either really great or just ok. Irrational Man is the latter. Joaquin Phoenix is Abe, an angsty, drunkard philosophy professor who’s lost his zest for life. He takes a teaching position at a college in Rhode Island. All the fly women are making a fuss (even though he’s gross) but he can’t get it up. With a plot twist that I didn’t see coming, he gets his groove back– until things start to unravel.

Irrational Man makes an interesting comment on freedom: act or leave things to chance. There are a few bright moments here– the Russian roulette party scene, for example, had me on the edge of my seat for a second. It’s also nice to see Parker Posey and Emma Stone in action even if I’ve seen them do better. The problem here is, the execution is bland; the story plods along without ever taking off. Even the final scene plays out in a blasé manner. Intentionally existentialist or not, Irrational Man is a yawn.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C-



(Italy 1960)

I’ve really been digging Italian midcentury films lately. L’avventura was not one of them. Anna (Lea Massari) is a weirdo with a bug up her butt– about love, marriage, intimacy, whatever. While on a boating excursion with her fiancé, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), and a group of friends, she has a meltdown and tells Sandro that she wants to be alone– then promptly disappears. Like, without a trace. This sets off a hunt for the psycho, and one of her friends, Claudia (Monica Vitti), gets involved with Sandro. Trouble starts.

L’avventura has hot women (particularly Vitti), cool cars, and a rad surf-music theme song. Other than that, it’s way too long, slow, boring, and not artfully done. It lacks the cinematic pizzazz of Italian films from this period: the settings are nothing special, and it has a cheap look to it. I didn’t care what happened to Anna by the end. Ciao bella.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) D



(USA 2014)

Poor Gabriel– or “Gabe,” as he wants to be called. On his way home presumably after being discharged from a mental hospital, he takes a detour off his bus to search for an old girlfriend, Alice. In the process, he irks those he encounters and upsets his family, waiting to pick him up from the bus station.

If that sounds like a comedy, it’s not. Gabriel takes us along with Gabe (Rory Caulkin) through a series of episodes that reveal the extent of his illness and how it affects those around him. Nothing about this film is immediate, obvious, or predictable. Details of Gabe’s diagnosis, what led to his current state, and what happened between him and Alice (Emily Meade) are smartly scarce; these ambiguities mirror his hazy, muddled frame of mind. The upstate New York setting during winter with its drab color palette and chilly look effectively underscores the bleakness of Gabe’s situation.

Longer on character than story, Gabriel probably wouldn’t work without Caulkin, whose believeable performance makes us empathize not only with Gabe, but also his mother (Dierdre O’Connell) and older brother, Matt (David Call). For all its merits, though, I found Gabriel the character as tiresome as those around him seemed to find him by the end of the film. The ending, by the way, is appropriate even if it is frustrating.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-


Sandra [Vaghe stelle dell’orsa]

(Italy 1965)

Sandra is Luchino Visconti’s scandalous, wonderfully melodramatic postwar reworking of the story of Elektra and her brother, Orestes. Here, Sandra (Claudia Cardinale) and her husband (Michael Craig), return to her girlhood family estate to dedicate property as a park in the name of her father, a victim of Auschwitz. To her surprise, her brother, Gianni (Jean Sorel), from whom she was “separated” years ago, shows up in the night, dragging skeletons out of the closet with him and his freshly penned novel.

Loaded with longing gazes, forlorn poses, dramatic sighs, and loud piano slams, Sandra plays out like an Italian soap opera. The big question involves incest: did Sandra and Gianni, or didn’t they? Cardinale and Sorel are both beautiful, contrasting nicely with the barren landscape and crumbling structures in Volterra, the Etruscan city where the story takes place. Visconti doesn’t answer the big question, but he offers evidence for us to draw our own conclusion. I sensed but didn’t quite grasp the significance of the siblings being half Jewish; I couldn’t tell whether this was intended to be antisemitic, but it added to the melodrama whatever it was about.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B


(USA 2015)

Trainwreck is a snarky romantic comedy that starts out promising but loses steam. Amy Schumer—who falls into a group of female comedians who bank on their guy humor sensibilities—is perfect as a detached trollop working as a writer for a men’s magazine. Her boss assigns her to a story about a sports doctor (Bill Hader) who perfected a new knee surgery, and a spark develops. Hilarity ensues—at least until the movie takes a serious turn.

Trainwreck is loaded with potty humor and sex jokes, and many of them are laugh out loud funny. I related to a few scenarios here, I should be ashamed to admit. John Cena and his ass are great as Amy’s lunkhead gay-but-doesn’t-know-it boyfriend, Tilda Swinton is unrecognizable as Amy’s boss, and LeBron James is a much better actor that I gave him credit for—his little sermon on Cleveland’s many perks made me smile. Sadly, though, Trainwreck derails once the romance develops and Amy gets more sober—the ending is happy, neat, and too cute. Gag.

(AMC River East) C+



(Germany 1927)

I have been aware of Metropolis since the late Eighties—I can’t remember whether Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video or a now defunct industrial dance club by the same name in the equally defunct Cleveland Flats is responsible for bringing it to my attention; if that makes me a rube, so be it. For whatever reason, though, I never bothered to seek it out. I’m glad I finally saw it—Metropolis is a cool film, even as it approaches a century.

It’s a lot more than I thought it would be. The plot is simple enough, as silent era films are: capitalism and technology have run amuck in the future, and the workers live in a drab underground city while the elite live in a bigger and nicer city above ground. The workers, who run the machines that keep the city going, are planning a revolt. Plot aside, Metropolis as a whole is pretty grand. The sets are amazing: big, industrial, and busy, many shots reminded me of the Chicago Loop. The score is textured and soothing—it actually lulled me into a trance at points. The 2010 restoration we saw—it includes 25 minutes of footage assumed lost until uncovered in Argentina in 2008—is gorgeous, giving Metropolis a crisp look that belies its age. Fritz Lang had a lot to say about capitalism, class, technology, science, progress, and even religion—it’s not hard to find scholarly materials online.

What strikes me most about Metropolis is that for as old as it is—everyone in it has been dead for awhile—its vision of the future, while extreme, is really not that far off from reality.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) A


Listen to Me Marlon

(USA 2015)

I’m stating the obvious here, but Marlon Brando was a strange bird. It’s only fitting, then, that his “autobiography” be strange, too. And it is. With narration from the man himself taken from cassette recordings he made in private, he reminisces and philosophizes and prophecizes and lets his ego run loose. Footage of career highlights and personal tragedies round out his story.

At times creepy—that digitized head is a lot to take—Listen to Me Marlon gives some insight into why Brando was the way he was. Still, he remains as enigmatic as ever, even after seeing this.

(Landmark Century) B


La Dolce Vita

(Italy 1960)

What can I possibly say that hasn’t already been said about one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time? I loved it and I hated it at the same time.

I absolutely loved how beautifully it was filmed: the Italian landscape, the Roman street scenes, the elegant midcentury interiors, the cars and clothes and even hairdos. If nothing else, La Dolce Vita is a stunningly beautiful time capsule. Seeing Nico in action was also a treat—I have never seen her act anywhere else. I loved the character who was so obviously Marilyn Monroe. La Dolce Vita illustrates what a cool time the brink of the Sixties must have been.

What drove me crazy was the split up meandering “episodes” that did not seem cohesive or move quickly enough for my postmodern American sensibilities. And let’s be honest: three hours is a godawful length of time to sit through anything. However, the bad stuff is minor, and the good far outweighs it. I (think I) understand what Fellini was doing here, and I love it for that.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) A- (as if my little grade counts for anything)