Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Good Kill

Drama, Recommended No Comments »


“Good Kill” is the latest in a career built on conceptual, morally centered, God-playing pictures from writer-director Andrew Niccol (“The Truman Show,” “Gattaca”), a drama starring Ethan Hawke as a disaffected American Air Force drone operator. The tone is curiously still, but seldom inert, filled with didactic dialogue from Bruce Greenwood as Hawke’s boss. “How’s the war on terror going?” “Same as your war on drugs.” The effect, mimicking the vegetation of Hawke’s flyboy who longs to the return to the sky instead of the metal hut outside Las Vegas from which he targets suspects and launches missiles is hypnotic and damning nonetheless. Tonally, it’s a little like an Atom Egoyan film blanched, drained and set on the sideboard for a while (but in a good way). Storywise, tact and intelligence take the day. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: I’ll See You In My Dreams

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

See you


As the 1990s heyday of the indie film grows more distant, so do the characters of Sundance hits age, including Lily Tomlin’s acerbic turn in the upcoming “Grandma.” In Brett Haley’s pleasant “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” Los Angeles widow and retired schoolteacher Carol (a miraculous Blythe Danner) whose hit-and-miss encounters with men are transformed when she meets Bill, an appreciative man her age (Sam Elliott), as well as a younger pool boy (Martin Starr). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Action, Sci-Fi & Fantasy No Comments »


“At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines”: Bruce Springsteen’s lyric from the “Born To Run” album is but one of so, so many cultural touchstones readily cross-referenced and layered upon the layer-upon-layer construction of “Mad Max Fury Road.” So there’s sound, percussive, restless and singular fury, but does it signify an expressionist masterpiece? Possibly. Pretty much. Okay. Okay. Yes. And the wild trailers and commercials give you almost no idea how sleek yet rude, near-mute yet politically assertive a movie can be. But first, the mayhem: “We don’t defy the laws of physics: There are no flying men or cars in this movie,” seventy-year-old co-writer-co-producer director George Miller says of his brilliant challenge to other makers of contemporary cinema, his first live-action film in over a decade, built from 3,500 storyboards and 2,700 cuts in just shy of two hours. (1981’s “Road Warrior” had a bucolic 1,200.) Since seeing this immaculately detailed, onrushing go-for-baroque manifesto, waves of orgiastic praise has washed over it from all corners. The most terse: J. G. Ballard notoriously dubbed “The Road Warrior” “punk’s Sistine Chapel”; invaluable Vulture critic Bilge Ebiri nodded to the novelist in tweeting out “Fury Road” as the Sistine Chapel of action filmmaking.” To which I add: headlong, berserk, bonkers, batshit, boisterous, bountiful and big-hearted. Read the rest of this entry »

Six Degrees of “Animals”: On the Making of an Acclaimed, Made-in-Chicago Indie

Chicago Artists, Drama, The State of Cinema No Comments »


By Brian Hieggelke

This is a story about a movie with a Hollywood ending. The Hollywood ending, however, is not in the movie itself, but rather in the real life of its principal creator—screenwriter and co-lead actor David Dastmalchian. And the Hollywood ending in question took place long before this movie, “Animals,” got made. Though it certainly puts a cherry on top of the David Dastmalchian story. Because, though it’s fiction, the story in “Animals,” of a pair of young lovers, Jude and Bobbie, deep in the throes of heroin addiction and living in a car mostly around Lincoln Park Zoo, is Dastmalchian’s story in every sense. He lived it.

After premiering successfully at SXSW last spring, where it won Dastmalchian a special jury award for Courage in Storytelling, “Animals” was the talk of the filmmaking world in Chicago last year, even before it gained theatrical release. A very low-budget film with minimal financial expectations by Hollywood box-office standards, it had a catalytic effect. Every week, it seemed, I met someone who’d worked on it, helped produce it. Six Degrees of “Animals.”

Dastmalchian grew up in Kansas and came to study at the DePaul Theatre School, where he graduated in 1999. He set out to become an active presence in Chicago theater before his descent into addiction eventually shut him down. His friend and chief creative partner in “Animals,” director Collin Schiffli, is about ten years his junior; they met on the “other side,” when Dastmalchian had tamed his demons and, remarkably, had been cast for a small but noteworthy role in “The Dark Knight.” (This summer, he plays a much bigger role in Marvel’s mega-budget “Ant-Man.”) Schiffli headed to the film department at Columbia College after growing up in Indiana. Both Dastmalchian and Schiffli live in Los Angeles now, for work reasons, but “Animals” is a Chicago film in nearly every sense. We discussed its making in detail over lunch precisely a year before its theatrical release this week, when they were in town for its Chicago premiere as the closing night film of the 2014 Chicago Critics Film Festival at the Music Box, where they packed its large auditorium. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Iris

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



“I improvise, it’s like playing jazz,” says Manhattan fashion icon Iris Apfel in “Iris,” the late Albert Maysles’ final solo venture as documentary director. It’s a meeting of kind minds: Maysles always worked well with women and was drawn to them in many of the films he made, as well as with his brother, notably, “Grey Gardens.” Looking. Listening. Admiring. Even loving. Apfel’s amply creative style, from couture to costume and back again, is as colorful as can be, and through Maysles’ eyes, she’s one chatty, witty, wise character: “I feel lucky to be working. If you’re lucky enough to do something you love, everything else follows.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Film Critic

Comedy, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



Why would anyone make a film about a film critic, even in that most analysand-populated city of Buenos Aires? Writer-director Hernán Guerschuny’s “The Film Critic” (El critico) is a dour dark comedy, delicious if jejune, about a disillusioned, middle-aged practitioner of sour cinematic criticism, and a pretty good one. It starts with Víctor (Rafael Spregelburd), a Porteño beardo akin to a figure in a Nanni Moretti film, having a recurrent interior monologue with himself in French. Guerschuny is onto minor-key cinephilic self-deception lived as daily life. “I don’t think cinema is pushing the envelope, I think it’s dead,” he says as if anyone’s listening. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Soul Boys Of The Western World

Drama, Recommended No Comments »
Spandau Ballet press session 2014

Spandau Ballet press session 2014


George Hencken’s cheeky, splendidly edited “Soul Boys of the Western World” draws on ample archive footage and contemporary reminiscence to capture the 1980s post-punk New Romantic pop era that produced bands like Duran Duran, Ultravox and Spandau Ballet with their synthesizer-infused hits “True” and “Gold.” It’s many steps above a “Behind The Music” episode, with far more positive history to relate than tales of broken hearts and emptied wallets. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lambert & Stamp

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »
THE WHO with Chris Stamp at left. Pete Townshend and Kit Lambert at Windsor Jazz Festival in 1966

The Who with Chris Stamp at left. Pete Townshend and Kit Lambert at Windsor Jazz Festival in 1966


Rock ‘n’ roll: youth. Twenty-first-century rock ‘n’ roll docs: geezers. James D. Cooper’s engaging “Lambert & Stamp,” about two men who met the Who in the early days before they were the Who, does little to mitigate that equation. Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert were young filmmakers, one working-class, the other aristocratic, who happened upon the nascent band and abandoned their vérité ambitions to shape and manage the band within the emerging, insurgent Mod movement. Lambert and Stamp’s footage is striking, alongside their visionary notions of how to create an audience for this sound, especially against the texture of survivors telling their stories of vim and verve from many, many years before. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: She’s Lost Control

Drama, Recommended No Comments »



“Do not feel safe with me”: words of caution when nearing affection, hardly love, from Ronah, the graduate student/sex surrogate protagonist of Anja Marquardt’s accomplished “She’s Lost Control.” Brooke Bloom’s smudged performance is the brooding center of this anxious, chilly Manhattan-set thriller, but Marquardt’s bruised, intent visual style deepens and darkens the moods and alienates the figures of the characters by the moment. It’s the coldest depiction of an inhumane New York City I’ve seen since Lodge Kerrigan’s 1998 “Claire Dolan.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Filmmaker “Bar Talks” At Chicago Underground Film Festival

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Events, Festivals, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »
L for Leisure

“L For Leisure”

As moderator of the festival’s fourth edition of “Bar Talks,” I can’t formally review what’s in store in the five days of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, but I’d like to indicate the goals of the annual “Bar Talks,” four extended filmmaker/audience conversations, especially in light of the notably consistent focus on atmosphere, mood and elusive narratives in the feature and shorts programming at the twenty-second edition of CUFF, the world’s longest-running underground film festival. The “bar talks,” taking place in the Logan Lounge at the Logan Theatre, are informal gatherings of local and guest filmmakers, with conversation the intention without the ping-pong of panel-like proclaiming. The talks may run an hour, or even an hour-and-a-half, depending on how much everyone has on their mind. Read the rest of this entry »