Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: 99 Homes

Chicago Artists, Drama, Recommended No Comments »



Michael Shannon simmers at a lower temperature than many of his film roles in “99 Homes,” Ramin Bahrani’s punchy, persuasive combination of fierce polemic and widescreen genre filmmaking. Shannon plays the appositely named Rick Carver, a reprobate realtor flipping homes in Florida, with Andrew Garfield a single father who slides into his infernal orbit after archetypal modern financial setbacks, facilitating forced evictions of other families. Bahrani, a favorite of the late Roger Ebert and friend of Werner Herzog, makes bold moves here from his neo-neorealist origins in movies like “Man Push Cart” and “Goodbye Solo.” I’m predisposed to movies that mesh topical elements with classical movie form—not all of the “one percent” might own ninety-nine homes, only enough not to count, like John McCain—and Bahrani meets the challenge to oft-fiery result, making blunt political points amid genre-amped melodrama. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Wim Wenders On The Road Again

Drama, Events, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

“Alice in the Cities.”


Through October and November, “Wim Wenders On The Road Again,” eleven digitally restored features and six shorts, including Wenders’ 295-minute directors’ cut of his 1992 worldwide walkabout, will be shown at Siskel. The peripatetic German filmmaker’s comprehensive retrospective begins with the wistful “Alice in the Cities” (October 2-3), the long-unavailable Peter Handke-scripted “The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick” (October 3, 7) and “Kings of the Road” (October 10, 14), the magisterial, melancholy odyssey of two projector repairmen along the border between East and West Germany. In the course of time, Wim Wenders’ movies have meant as much to me as the work of any other filmmaker. “The American Friend,” “Kings of the Road,” even “The State of Things” were so compelling to this young moviegoer. Laconic but cosmopolitan, dreamy yet tactile. Melancholy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Cut

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



For a widescreen English-language epic, Fatih Akin’s “The Cut” is emotionally reticent, suggesting sweep while also holding close to its central character, an Armenian blacksmith named Nazaret (Tahar Rahim, “A Prophet”). The forty-two-year-old German-Turkish director is a resourceful collector of the sounds and sensations of the contemporary world in movies like “Head-On” (2004) and “Soul Kitchen” (2009), but there are only a few vividly imagined moments in the muted, somber passage a hundred years ago of Nazaret from the Armenian genocide in his Turkish home village to across the world in search of his two daughters, who may also still be alive. Muted by a stab wound, Nazaret crosses the globe, to Cuba, to North Dakota, hopeful, wide-eyed, silent against terrible things in the world. Metaphors compound and resound in what’s ultimately a most honorable failure. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Saving Mr. Wu

Action, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



Gleaming, elementally machined, Ding Sheng’s “Saving Mr. Wu” stars Andy Lau (“Infernal Affairs”) in a crackling true-life thriller based on a 2004 case about a celebrity kidnapped by men disguised as policemen who demand a half-million dollar ransom in less than a day. Beijing’s police marshal a task force and move across the hours toward the inevitable showdown, which is cleanly choreographed. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Prophet’s Prey

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



Amy Berg’s comprehensive “Prophet’s Prey” is readily the most disturbing documentary I saw at Sundance 2015, and that would have been even without a mild acquaintance with Mormonism and its cult offshoots, such as Warren Jeffs’ FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints). Jeffs, to cut to the chase, is a monstrous madman and exploiter of the flesh. He’s also a canny financial thinker, establishing industries to sustain the rein of himself and his family (including a company subcontracted to manufacture the “O” rings that detonated the Challenger space shuttle). There’s a scene of a minute or so, extracted from hours of audio, that could crush the heart. I want to describe it, but I won’t. It’s simple enough to say that it’s essentially the death of innocence at the hands of Jeffs, spoken in a reedy drone, and emblematic of acts he committed again and again. (Audio of his voice is used to chilling effect throughout.) Read the rest of this entry »

Man Again On Wire: Take A Walk On The Mild Side

3-D, Comedy, Drama 1 Comment »

Joseph Gordon Levitt;Charlotte Le Bon

By Ray Pride

Climbing the steep, steep stairs to the top of Navy Pier IMAX to see “The Walk” in 3D, I anticipated, nay, hoped for kinetic, gyroscopic, balletic, vertiginous acrophobia, soaring sensation, but dammit, only a few minutes into the movie the sensation that occurred, recurred, resonated until the very end, was only a modest sinking feeling.

Robert Zemeckis’ astute, painstaking deployment of the widescreen frame is one of the most consistent technical accomplishments by a contemporary American filmmaker, but the story here is overripe with a forlorn eagerness to please. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Brilliant Young Mind

Drama, Recommended 1 Comment »



Teenage math prodigy Nathan (Asa Butterfield) is confused by the world around him after his father’s death, finding patterns and comfort only in numbers. Inspired by teens director Morgan Matthews met, “A Brilliant Young Mind” moves from England to Taiwan and back again as Nathan trains to compete in the International Mathematics Olympiad, and becomes fixed on a beautiful Chinese competitor, Zhang Mei (Jo Yang). (Danny Cohen’s cinematography is at its most inventive in the Taipei settings.) An admirable aspect of the screenplay by James Graham is just what an arrogant kid Nathan can be, shy, grim, still, capturing the difficulties faced by some situated along the autistic spectrum. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Goodnight Mommy

Horror No Comments »



Nine-year-old twins summer in the country, awaiting the return of their mother from extensive plastic surgery. Exhilaratingly hostile horror, “Goodnight Mommy” (Ich seh, Ich seh, or “I See, I See”) is a bold, emotionally raw directorial debut from Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, produced by Ulrich Seidl, who discomfitingly straddles nonfiction and fiction with his monocled eye in movies like “Dog Days” and his recent “Paradise” trilogy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: How Strange To Be Named Federico: Scola Narrates Fellini

Documentary, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



(Che strano chiamarsi Federico!, 2013) Director-on-director documentaries, outside of Martin Scorsese’s estimable efforts, are rare, and Ettore Scola’s genial “How Strange To Be Named Federico!” released twenty years after Fellini’s death is a sweet one. Mike Nichols once observed that “Directing a film is like fucking: you’ll always wonder how the other guy does it.” Apparently the system’s looser in Italy, with the range of stories about how writers and actors and others were always dropping their colleagues’ sets. In the case of Scola and Fellini, the slightly younger director works with clips, narration and re-creations, with color and black-and-white, with humor high and low, to weave a personal portrait of his friends’ most magical moments on screen. (A couple of inspired dream sequences, too.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The New Girlfriend

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


(Une nouvelle amie) François Ozon’s sixteenth (or so) feature works the quirk in love and lingerie in “The New Girlfriend,” a comic psychological thriller about a man (Romain Duris) who embraces transvestite leanings after the death of his wife with the help of her childhood best friend (Anaïs Demoustier). A tenuous friendship ensues, with complications left and right. Read the rest of this entry »