As lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II once wrote, "There's nothing like a dame." That certainly applies to two of the movies greatest: Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Charlotte Rampling.
These legendary actresses couldn't be more different on screen and achieve their mesmerism over audiences in very different ways. Smith is the mistress of annihilating all and sundry with a quickly tossed off acidic verbal bombshell ( a distinction she shares with another Dame: Judi Dench ) while Rampling, with her heavily lidded eyes, barely seems to acknowledge those around her from her wary, watchful corner. Both do what they do best in two new movies opening in Chicago this week.
The movie 45 Years is out writer-director Andrew Haigh's long-awaited follow-up to his 2011 gay romantic drama Weekend. Like that film, as well as LookingHaigh's not particularly well-received gay-themed TV series for HBOnot much seems to happen within the course of 45 Years and, yet, by the end, Haigh's quietly observed movie ( driven by Rampling's powerfully nuanced work ) is utterly devastating.
It's no surprise that Rampling has picked up an Oscar nod. Kate Mercer ( Rampling ) and husband Geoff ( a quietly effective Tom Courtenay ) are a week away from celebrating their wedding anniversary with a party at a local establishment. Childless, Geoff and Kate have long ago settled into a comfortable routine. Then a disquieting letter arrives: the perfectly preserved body of Geoff's girlfriend from 50 years before, Katya, has been discovered in a crevasse in an Alps mountain. The news signals a series of emotional upheavals for Katewho never met Katyaand culminates at the couple's anniversary celebration. Haigh's naturalistic style and Rampling's extraordinary abilities merge in this last, unforgettable scene.
Equally effective is Smith in The Lady in the Van, out playwright-author Alan Bennett's screen adaptation of his hit play, which relates the true story of an elderly eccentric, Mary Shepherd who "temporarily" parked in Bennett's driveway in an otherwise quiet London neighborhood for 15 years. The irascible, often obnoxious and apparently odorous Mary seems tailor-made for Smith who manages to humanize this aggressive eccentric, bringing shadings and poignancy to the role. She is well matched by Alex Jennings, as Bennett, and a raft of character actors who portray the other neighbors on the block who each have their own way of dealing with the uninvited guest in their midst. Director Nicholas Hytner expertly tracks the changes in the rocky relationship between the unwanted Mary and her quiet but quite cranky "landlord" Alan throughout the years but, naturally, it's Smith who drivessometimes literallythe movie beyond the conventional.
Stonewall is here
Last year's most unjustly tarred-and-feathered film, Stonewallfrom out director Roland Emmerich and gay screenwriter Jon Robin Baitzis now available digitally and arrived on DVD Jan. 19. The movie follows the coming-out story of a fictional corn-fed hunk ( played by Jeremy Irvine ) who arrives in New York's Greenwich Village in the early summer of 1969 and into the company of a group of queer street kids, who lead him to accept his gay identity, culminating with the Stonewall Riots.
As I noted, in my 2015 year in review column, although the movie certainly does trot out a lot of the usual stereotypes, it also gets a lot of its history right. Now, judge for yourself.
TPAN movie club
TPAN ( Test Positive Awareness Network ) is kicking off the TPAN Movie Club, its new free monthly movie series on Friday, Jan. 28, with the delightful LGBT classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Out writer-director Stephan Elliott's 1994 moviethe story of three drag queen performers and their trek across the Australian outbackmade stars of Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving while giving Terence Stamp a whole new career. It has gone on to become part of U.S. culture, spawning everything from 10,000 drag-costume contests ( the film's outlandish creations won an Oscar ) to a splashy Broadway jukebox musical. Priscilla's many delights and insights are just as fresh as when the film opened.
The TPAN Movie Club, described as "a new support group for anyone who enjoys film," will meet the last Thursday of every month, with attendees helping to determine the programming. "Our goal is to create an informal HIV support group built around the fun of watching movies," said Rick Guasco, creative director of TPAN's Positively Aware publication. Kimberly Rogers, psychosocial therapist for TPAN added, "The movie night is open to people with and without HIV over the age of 18. Our own community advisory board came up with the idea for a free movie night for an inexpensive way to safely socialize outside of the bar scene." The film screens at TPAN ( 5050 N. Broadway, Suite 300 ) on Thursday, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m. Contact Rogers at 773-989-9400 x 241 or KRogers@TPAN.com .
Upcoming movie calendar
Highlights from films opening in Chicago, Jan. 22 and 29:
The 5th Wave ( 1/22 )Chloe Grace Moretz ( Let Me In, Dark Shadows, Carrie ) stars in this alien/disaster mash-up from director J Blakeson. The trailer promises a camp good time as Chloe battles to protect her little brother from marauding aliens who have their little green hearts bent on the destruction of earth. Ron Livingston, Liev Schreiber and out actor Maria Bello co-star.
45 Years ( 1/22 )See details above.
The Boy ( 1/22 )It's yet another in a long line of Bad Seed-evil kid movies, this time with what promises to be a fun variation. When new nanny Greta ( Lauren Cohan ) arrives at the lavish but remote English countryside home of her latest charge, she discovers that he's actually a life-sized porcelain doll. But her employers aren't kidding and when Greta proceeds to ignore some carefully laid-down instructions, the supernatural consequences kick inpromising plenty of gory, squeamish fun.
The Lady in the Van ( 1/22 )See details above.
Testament of Orpheus ( 1/24 only )Legendary queer artist, playwright and filmmaker Jean Cocteau ( Blood of a Poet, Beauty & the Beast, Orpheus ) start his 1959 filmhis lastin which the French auteur plays an 18th-century poet who travels through time and space seeking divine wisdom. The eclectic cast includes Yul Brynner, Brigitte Bardot, Jean Marais ( Cocteau's one-time protege and lover ) and Pablo Picasso. This rare screening at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave., on Sunday, Jan. 24, at 12 p.m. is being co-presented by the Chicago Opera Theater. http://www.facets.org/cinematheque/films/jan2016/orpheus.php
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert ( 1/28 )See details above.
70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green ( 1/29, 1/30, 1/31 )Out filmmaker Ronit Bezalel's years-in-the-making documentary about Chicago's one-time infamous housing project and its prime location returns to the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., for additional screenings, Friday, Jan. 29 through Sunday, Jan. 31. Bezalel will be present at both the Friday evening and Sunday matinee screenings. http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/70acresinchicagocabrinigreen
Cemetery of Splendor ( 1/29 )Out writer-director and School of the Art Institute Graduate Apichatpong Weerasethakul ( Tropical Malady, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives ), who has been described as the "David Lynch of Thailand," returns to the Gene Siskel Film Center for the Chicago premiere of his latest art film, which again explores the intersection of the human and spirit worlds. Weerasethakul will be present at the Monday, Feb. 1, screening. http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/cemeteryofsplendor
The Finest Hours ( 1/29 )Chris Pine heads the cast of heartthrobs in this heroic action thriller, a Disney Studios adaptation of the harrowing true story of a group of seamen trying to rescue survivors when an oil tanker is split in two during a storm at sea in the winter of 1952.
Son of Saul ( 1/29 )This movie is Lazlo Nemes' harrowing account of a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner of the Nazi death camps who's forced to help with the Nazi's program of large-scale exterminationand who becomes determined to give his dead son a proper burial at all costs. It won the Cannes Grand Prix and is the odds-on favorite to win this year's Best Foreign Film Oscar. www.musicboxtheatre.com/features/son-of-saul .