Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Reeling 32: A Brave New World of Possibilty

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Events, Festivals, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »
TOM-A-La-FERME-Xavier-Dolan-@clara-palardy

Xavier Dolan by Clara Palardy.

Oft-expressed concerns about the “mainstreaming” of gay characters and subjects and how that would affect gay film festivals may be misplaced in the tectonic economic shifts of contemporary filmmaking and distribution. By advance word and by the range of subjects, the thirty-second edition of Reeling, like many other recent film festivals, looks like we may be in a brave new world of possibilities. A few I’ve liked: “Lilting,” with Ben Whishaw as a young gay man mourning a lover whose Cambodian mother did not know he was gay is low-key and touching, even more so in the light of Whishaw recently coming out. The intense psychological thriller, “Tom At The Farm” was made just before “Mommy,” the latest over-the-over-the-top melodrama by twenty-five-year-old Xavier Dolan, who shared a Cannes Jury Prize with eighty-three-year-old Jean-Luc Godard. While it lacks the peacock vainglory of the Québécois wunderkind’s fantasticated “Laurence Anyways,” “Tom” toys with the kind of ambiguous psychological turns that many French masters have done so well, including Clouzot and Chabrol. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Guest

Action, Comedy, Drama, Horror, Recommended No Comments »

TheGuest

RECOMMENDED

“What the fuck?” is not only a character’s key reaction within “The Guest,” but mine as well, even on a second viewing. “The Guest” is the most delirious of director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett’s eight collaborations, a wickedly smart thriller filled with sly, cool intelligence that elevates what could be mere homage to trashy, splashy forebears into something more concentrated. (They used to call them “good movies.”) “Downton Abbey”’s Dan Stevens plays a wicked revision of Captain America, a mean fighting machine, a gleaming model-looking blank, with elegantly oiled hair pushed back in a forelock, fierce azure eyes, a laconic killer grin, a more chiseled version of the psychopaths played by Ryan Gosling in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” and “Only God Forgives.” David arrives by foot in New Mexico at the home of the Peterson family, where he quickly ingratiates himself with tales of their fallen son, whom he had fought with before his death in combat. “The Guest” is a thriller, but first and foremost, it’s a thrill, like all of Cinemax, ever, died and went to heaven. Read the rest of this entry »

Rocking and Reeling: Chicago Filmmakers’ Brenda Webb Looks Back and Forward at an Organization in Motion

Chicago Artists, Festivals, News and Dish No Comments »

Brenda-Webb

By Brian Hieggelke and Brandie Rae Madrid

Forty-one-year-old media arts organization Chicago Filmmakers is soon pulling up stakes from their rented space in Andersonville and moving to their very own firehouse on Ridge Avenue. Brenda Webb, the organization’s longtime executive director and founder of its centerpiece event, Reeling: The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival, explains how the organization is able to focus more on their mission and building ties in the community by having her scale back her role in Reeling. In our conversation, she explains how the new space will allow for a more diverse programming, addressing the needs of its surrounding community. As the Reeling Film Festival approaches next week, Webb tells about the genesis of that endeavor and the changes it has undergone in the last few years, including its return to the Lakeview neighborhood after a brief run in Logan Square.

Were you there at the beginning of Chicago Filmmakers? 
I was friends with one of the founders. She and I were roommates when we were students at Columbia. There were five founding members, although Chicago Filmmakers was really started by Bill Brand and another person. It was founded because they were students at the School of the Art Institute and they wanted to show their work outside the university setting. As artists are wont to do, they become validated by not just showing their work within a college or university, but by having a legitimate place where they can show their work. If you’re a painter, there are any number of galleries you might approach. But for filmmakers [in that era], there was no place to go. They essentially created Chicago Filmmakers as a place to show their work and other work by filmmakers like them, as well as to invite experimental filmmakers. The roots of the organization are in experimental film. I just started coming to screenings because my roommate was one of the founders, and she was there every Saturday night tearing tickets and doing that whole thing. That was my first exposure to experimental film, which for me was a real eye-opener. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Drop

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

THE DROP

RECOMMENDED

Or, the movie with Tom Hardy and the puppy. Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam follows his vigorous Oscar-nominated drama “Bullhead” with an elemental mystery Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”) adapted from his short story “Animal Rescue.” Set in a contemporary Brooklyn still stained with the sins of the past as well as the sins of a new generation of crime overlords—glaring Chechens who can and will clean up the worst mess overnight—“The Drop” features Hardy as Bob Saginowski, a lonely, taciturn but eyes-wide-open bartender at Cousin Marv’s bar, the cousin being James Gandolfini. Gandolfini’s playing a man at the end of his tether: the bar was taken over by mobsters eight or nine or ten years ago, and he’s just a figurehead and the bar is more a money-laundering drop than the genial local it appears to be. Crime and grime and wads of world-weary, noirish dialogue are timeless in this mythologized patch of not-gentrified borough. Read the rest of this entry »

In the Frame of the Father: “Starred Up” and Violent Nurture

Action, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

Starred-up

By Ray Pride

“Starred Up” is ominous from its first instants, the sounds beginning with the very first frame under presentation credits, somewhere from inner space, like the confines of a skull pressured by the slightest sounds of a low febrile hum in a constrained space that echoes from other, nearby constrained spaces.

In a word: prison. In a world: a prisoner.

A Greek tragedy is in the offing. Violent nineteen-year-old convict Eric (Jack O’Connell, “Eden Lake,” Angelina Jolie’s upcoming “Unbroken”) has been “starred up”: slang for being transferred from a juvenile jail to an adult facility, which happens to be the prison where his estranged father Nev (Ben Mendelsohn) has long been incarcerated.

The first seven minutes follow the succession of double-checks and humiliations involved in his induction, or even ingestion into the system, seven long minutes to get him into his cell, where Eric immediately snaps a disposable razor and blazes a toothbrush to create a provisional shank for what turns out to be imminent usage. The gentle float and sway of the Steadicam also suggests instability and the potential for sudden deadly motions, contrasting the naturalism of the setting of the cell block with a tensile, cumulatively dreamy-cum-nightmarish use of framing and cutting. “Starred Up” confines itself to an actual prison facility, and was shot in sequence with two editors cutting the film together daily to insure a rare immediacy in an all-too-familiar genre. The conflicts you expect from angry men under pressure come quickly, but within an unforeseen atmosphere. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Last of Robin Hood

Biopic, Drama, Romance No Comments »

The Last Of Robin Hood

“The Last Of Robin Hood,” directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (“Quinceañera,” “The Fluffer”) is a genteel swatch of Todd Haynes-lite, appropriate considering that Haynes is one of the fifteen credited producers, along with Killer Films’ Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler. (A&E Networks and Lifetime are behind the production.) A decade-long project, “The Last” portrays the February-December romance between fading swashbuckler Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline) and fifteen-year-old aspiring actress Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning), facilitated by her stage mom Florence (Susan Sarandon). Glatzer and Westmoreland explain their approach: “We made no justification for it and neither did we want to pass judgment. We simply wanted to show what Beverly experienced and what Florence and Errol went through—their understandings, delusions, manipulations, flaws, hopes, dreams and fears.” Methodically, coolly, that’s just what the film does, never rising to full fever. Where melodrama should be indicated, we’re only offered mellow drama. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Five Star Life

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

Five StarRECOMMENDED

(Viaggio Sola) Maria Sole Tognazzi’s slow-to-warm “A Five Star Life” is plush with swank, following Irene Lorenzi (Margherita Buy), a high-minded “mystery guest” around the world, a wandering critic of luxury hotels and resorts on what appears to be a well-furnished yet peripatetic, aimless voyage through life, as well as Berlin, Rome, Marrakech… Crises intervene for the single woman in her forties, near-existential crises rise from the high thread-count sheets. The minutiae of how she checks off the virtues of each establishment takes up a big chunk of the movie, likely more fascinating to someone who’s interested in the depiction of process (like me). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Land Ho!

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

12RECOMMENDED

Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz’s understated “Land Ho!” propels a couple of older men, former brothers-in-law, on a late-in-life adventure in the wilds of Iceland. Or is that the “milds of Iceland”?  Colin (Paul Eenhoorn, “Martin Bonner”) and Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson, “Passenger Pigeons,” “Eastbound and Down”) are very different men. Colin’s a mild Australian, Mitch a boisterous teller of tall tales and vulgar jokes. But each brings something out of each other in the craggy, punishing landscape, with happily unexpected results. The comedy arises from the personalities of the characters (and reportedly, the actors’ own lives) rather than their circumstances, creating a sense of both verisimilitude and sincerity. The men are late in life, but “Land Ho!” is no bucket-list gag fest. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jealousy

Drama, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »

Jealousy - Still 5 RECOMMENDED

(La Jalousie) At the age of sixty-five, Philipe Garrel’s bittersweet wisps of black-and-white found love and lost love grow ever more specific and tender. The charcoal-rendered “Jalousie” is one of his best, in a recent run of fine work, beginning with 2004’s “Regular Lovers,” “Frontier of Dawn” (2005) and “That Burning Summer” (2011). The closer the films approach mere sketches, the more languid, yet electric they become. The widescreen images by eighty-year-old Willy Kurant (“Masculin-Féminin,” “The Immortal Story,” “Pootie Tang”) are gloriously simple, timeless in their open but specific framing. It’s geometry as suffering. Garrel identifies the look this way:  “For my preceding film, ‘That Burning Summer,’ which is in color, I asked Willy Kurant for a gouache effect, rather than an oil paint effect like most color images in cinema. And here, in black and white, I asked him for charcoal, rather than black pencil.” Read the rest of this entry »

Meditations in an Emergency: Ira Sachs on “Love is Strange”

Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

LoveIsStrange9

By Ray Pride

Ira Sachs’ quiet, measured “Love is Strange” captures a forced separation of a couple who’ve been together for thirty-nine years, a painter and a music instructor, played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. After their marriage, Molina’s character loses his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school, and they’re separated after having to sell their apartment, settling, for at least a brief time, into the lives of their extended families.

Drama seeps in, sensation is suggested. The film’s quietly detailed, lived-in, loved-in feel is both emotionally specific and painterly in its suggestive formal sensations. (Sachs cites American painter Fairfield Porter as a key visual touchstone.) Among his cast, which extends two generations, each figure walks in geometry. Each character has a specific fashion of holding space. “Love is Strange” is about love and about family and about the necessity of generations sharing knowledge and secrets, yet there’s not a line of dialogue that announces this. “Love is Strange” also bears the acuteness, the precision of the era the characters would have lived through. Buried deep beneath the surfaces, surely there are submerged fragments of Frank O’Hara and his fragrant, antic verse as well as the lore of the painters who frequented and illuminated the interior life of lairs like the Cedar Tavern. The succession of setting and framings are beautiful for their precision and coolness, from strong design rather than a prurient glow.  (Cinematographer Christos Voudouris’ credits include “Alps” and “Before Midnight”; production designer Amy Williams repeats from Sachs’ “Keep The Lights On.”) Read the rest of this entry »