Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Meru

Documentary, Recommended, Sports No Comments »


Terror: give it a new name, call it “Meru.” Instead of don’t look in the basement, do… not… look… down… Speaking specifically as a male acrophobe, Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary is achingly beautiful, eye-widening and testicle-tautening. The two-trek telling follows three American climbers (including Chin, also co-cinematographer), in a second attempt to reach the as-then unconquered 21,000-foot pinnacle of the Shark’s Fin of Mount Maru above the headwaters of the Ganges River in India. Few have seen the vistas, the time-lapse perspectives are mesmerizing, and Jon Kracauer’s punchy, often prosaic commentary still manages to situate the compulsion and obsession of the deadly sport into larger contexts. Another unusual feature: faith in words and glistening images supplants the customary sports-movie musical bombast. An audience award winner for documentary at Sundance. 90m. (Ray Pride)

“Meru” opens Friday, September 4 at the Music Box.

Fall Film Preview 2015

Chicago Artists, Drama, Events, Recommended 1 Comment »

CinéVardaExpo: Agnès Varda in Chicago

Agnès Varda, In Venice in front of a Bellini painting, 1962 © Agnès Varda

Jennifer Reeder: During each of my three pregnancies, I considered naming the baby AGNES, as in Varda. Then I had three boys and opted for alternative ways to inject feminism and the history of radical filmmaking into their lives. As a young film student, I was exposed to plenty of French films and, as the only female in my cohort, I was frustrated with all the Godard and Truffaut and Resnais. I found Agnès Varda on my own. “Cléo from 5 to 7“ was a revelation. It’s an extraordinary portrait of an entire life in two hours—a woman’s life as told by another woman. The filmmaker is present. Varda has long been considered a remarkable and prolific filmmaker… and a wife and a mother and an artist and a feminist. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 7 Chinese Brothers

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »



Jason Schwartzman brings the height of his droll, if furtive everyman mien to the latest semi-surreal provocation by Austin-based comedy filmmaker Bob Byington (“Harmony & Me,” “Somebody Up There Likes Me”) to satisfying result. For “7 Chinese Brothers,” they’re peas in a misanthropic pod, plus Schwartzman’s own French bulldog Arrow co-stars to keep his character, Larry, sane through a daily life that’s a sequence of setbacks, despite financial infusions from his nursing-home-bound grandmother (Olympia Dukakis, droll, too). Larry’s a slacker, and not a very good one. (He’s a much finer inebriate.) He’d be a jerk if Jason Schwartzman didn’t inhabit him like breath inhabits a fast-talking body. All right, Larry is a jerk. And a finely tooled one! Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Queen of Earth

Drama, Recommended No Comments »



All that wow and more: after several fortnights of a few or two of interest, the first two weeks of September brim, including what’s likely my favorite film of the year so far, John Magary’s “The Mend,” Robert Byington’s “7 Chinese Brothers” and Debra Granik’s compassionate documentary about lives of poverty, “Stray Dog.” Creative, compelling cinematic storytelling is alive and well-ish. In “Queen of Earth,” his fourth feature, writer-director Alex Ross Perry hews to his brusque, winsome antagonism. Drawing from deep wells on cinephilia and, it seems, cynicism, Perry is relentless toward his characters, and his depiction of cinematic female hysteria, somewhat after the fashion of Roman Polanski, as in “Knife In the Water” and “Repulsion.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: I Touched All Your Stuff

Documentary, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



“It all started with the hippos” is a fine way to start any film, and Maíra Bühler and Matias Mariani’s weird little shaggy-doc, “I Touched All Your Stuff” (A Vida Privada dos Hipopótamos, aka “The Private Life of Hippos”) does yeoman’s work in defining, if not divining, the mad life of an American con artist who winds up in epic stretches of trouble, drug running, dangerous anti-romance and, eventually, prison, in Colombia. For instance, the hippos? They belonged to drug magnate Carlos Escobar. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stray Dog

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



After making “Down to the Bone” and “Winter’s Bone,” gifted writer-director Debra Granik joked she was onto her “osteoporosis trilogy,” optioning another novel that happened to have “bone” in its title. With no feature on the horizon, however, she returns with “Stray Dog,” a piercing, poignant documentary portrait of working-class poverty in America, drawing from the same part of southern Missouri where “Winter’s Bone” was set. Ron Hall is a Vietnam war veteran, the unofficial mayor of the local trailer park, tattooed, rides a Harley, wears varieties of red, white and blue and stars and stripes, has a voluminously brushy beard. In terms of contemporary iconography, no good would come from a character drawn this way, say, on an unreality series. Read the rest of this entry »

Slipstreaming: Screening Nearly Lost Masterpieces From The Tavianis and Satyajit Ray

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


By Ray Pride

The password is bum.

Not literally “bum,” in fact, it’s supposed to be “hairball.” But consider that the movie you’ve planned to watch all day, the streaming link that worked when it came in the email, has been changed. You look forward to this movie, it’s supposed to be audacious, insolent, top-heavy with all the right bad behavior, brilliantly choreographed. Or so I’ve heard. And there’s no goddamn way for me to watch it until I can request another password I’ll receive in a day or two.

I’m not complaining, understand. This is just the way it works now. I’m just trying to fathom how the job of reviewing movies has changed since my college days, when there were a couple of screening rooms, and later, a primary one that showed 35mm prints at 10am, 12:15pm and 2:30pm and sometimes at night. Nowadays, the reviewer—the critic of a visual art who used to get a couple of hours of contemplation in an ideal setting—is supposed to recommend it to an eager if shrinking audience of theatergoers and an eager if growing audience of video-on-demand patrons by making their judgment from a format akin to lowest-res of Netflix streaming. Or worse. I wonder how many filmmakers of lower-budget work know their work is largely previewed this way. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Nicole Bernardi Reis On Revitalizing IFP/Chicago

Chicago Artists, Events, Festivals, Film 50, News and Dish No Comments »

joe-mazza-bave-lux-chicago-new-3572676260-OIFP/Chicago, one of the city’s oldest organizations to support independent filmmakers, has kept a low profile for several years, but is about to launch an ambitious roster of programs, inspired in part by the success of May’s Chicago Underground Film Festival, presently one of the Independent Filmmaker Project’s most prominent enterprises. Other support programs and networking events have grown up around the city since their founding, such as the long-running first-Tuesdays Midwest Film Festival and more recently, the new sip-and-grip comradeship CCCP, the Chicago Creatives Cocktail Party, which IFP co-sponsors.

After three years or so of dormancy, Nicole Bernardi-Reis, an independent producer and president of the board of directors (and 2014 Film 50 subject) sees now as a time for IFP to bloom. “The community changed a lot during that time, as did the resources available to filmmakers,” she says. “Currently, the film and television industry is seeing an influx of productions and revenue due to the Illinois Film Tax Credit. Hollywood is back in Chicago. Business is booming, again. Outside productions have always been an important part of sustaining the film community in the Midwest, but they are just a part.”

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Review: She’s Funny That Way

Comedy, Romance No Comments »


A generic title to suit a generic result, seventy-six-year-old Peter Bogdanovich’s seventeenth feature, “She’s Funny That Way,” was once entitled “Squirrels to the Nuts,” a reference to the film “Cluny Brown” that’s repeated like the dropping of an anvil about fifteen times in the finished product. (The press kit repeatedly cites “Lubitch” as the director of that film, a misspelling that suggests a clever, if frustrated intern back at the production office.)

They all yawned: “SFTW” is a brave, if eminently foolhardy try to recapture a lengthy career, as Bogdanovich leans for his first feature in fourteen years on a screenplay written at least a dozen years ago, for John Ritter, by himself and his ex-wife, Louis Stratten. A dozen or so characters want to fuck, but are prevented by meretricious complication atop meretricious complication, from fucking the ones they truly want to fuck. Owen Wilson, a playwright whose character names run to “Hal Finnegan,” pulls a favored stunt with Izzy, a cartoon prostitute played by a likably eager Imogen Poots. He has a history of relating a dumb story about “squirrels to the nuts” and “nuts to the squirrels” to his escorts, then gives the young women $30,000 if they’ll forsake the profession. Uh-huh. Poots’ New York accent is insufferable, part Judy Holliday, part Bogdanovich impersonating Judy Holliday, with more than a soupcon of Linda Manz, and oh, the Scarlett Johansson from Woody Allen movies. The backdrop for the marital militating and sexual slavering of the oh-too-many characters is the casting and rehearsal of a banal, 1970s-style sex farce. Bogdanovich strains for screwball, with indifferently blocked physical action in wide frames, and much repetition of the patter of puss-pokes by femme-fists upon put-upon men.

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Review: Grandma

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »


In Paul Weitz’s smart, elemental comedy “Grandma,” Lily Tomlin plays, yes, a seventy-year-0ld grandmother, Elle Reid, who’s also a mother, a gay woman who’s dumped her younger girlfriend (Judy Greer), and perhaps most perceptively, a career writer. The other characters include a wooly-foxy Sam Elliott as a wealthy former flame, Marcia Gay Harden as her more-pissed-than-pistol executive daughter and a winningly winsome Julia Garner as “Sage,” her curlilocked granddaughter trying to scratch up $600 for an abortion before sundown, which sets their miniature, day-long journey into motion. Read the rest of this entry »