Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

The Journey Of Roger Ebert: Ray Pride Remembers His Colleague and Talks to “Life Itself” director Steve James About a Life in Search of Candor, Intimacy and Truth

Biopic, Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended 1 Comment »

By Ray PrideRoger Ebert & Gene Siskel

“If you could’ve found out what Rosebud meant, I bet that would’ve explained everything.”
—“Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz.

INT. VIRGINIA THEATRE, CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS – DAY

Here is one of the most chilling and thrilling sounds I have ever heard in a movie theater, from a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 2012. Everyone in the 1,500 or so seats knew the attraction: a projection of the Blu-ray of “Citizen Kane,” on the big screen, with Roger Ebert’s time-honed commentary playing over the soundtrack. Roger hadn’t spoken since his surgeries of 2006. Heavy red velvet curtains part and the words “An RKO Radio Picture” appear—a radio tower girdling the globe and transmitting worldwide—with the words: “This is Roger Ebert, watching ‘Citizen Kane’ with you.” And Roger was watching “Citizen Kane” with us, from a lounger seat at the back of the auditorium. But it was the simple manifestation of that stilled voice—chummy, smart, ready to entertain and edify, that made the heart jump for just a second. Ebert’s two-hour weave of history and insights rushed forward, a dispatch from a friend long unheard-from. The last words spoken from the screen: “I’m Roger Ebert. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing ‘Citizen Kane.’” The curtains close, the lights rise, the room rocks with stifled sobs and fills with honest tears. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jersey Boys

Biopic, Comedy, Drama, Musical No Comments »

JERSEY BOYS
Beneath Clint Eastwood’s easygoing, even somnolent direction of “Jersey Boys” lies a wittily constructed screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, based on their book to the 2005 Broadway musical (Brickman’s other co-writing credits include “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Manhattan Murder Mystery”). But the small strokes of dialogue and rhyming bits of business are smothered by deadly pacing, among other things, including the whisper of “Goodfellas” at its back.  The latest of eighty-four-year-old Eastwood’s late career surprises harks back to a filmmaking era that never existed, a backlot-driven, quiet, even spectral elongation of the terse framing and blocking of his mentor, Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”). The combination of the gentility of the settings, sometimes-slapstick comedy, shameless profanity, casually staged musical numbers and erratic casting make for an eccentric, underwhelming, but intermittently eye-opening failure. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Wind Rises

Animated, Biopic, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

yoko_outRECOMMENDED

(Kaze tachinu) “Airplanes are beautiful dreams.” Possibly the last film by seventy-three-year-old Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki, the sober, regret-steeped “The Wind Rises” is a period drama, a dreamily romantic recounting of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the aviation engineer who designed the Zero fighter, the plane that Japan thought would win them World War II, and was used for kamikaze attacks and at Pearl Harbor. It’s an honorable treatment of a subject that drew some fervent criticism early in the awards season. Fire and firestorm, wind and clouds and windstorms, sky and planes, are all gorgeously rendered in the fine line of Miyazaki’s virtuoso hand-drawn style. (The sound design, as always, is as gorgeous as the images.) The savor that remains after is the unique look and feel of Miyazaki’s work, but also the pungency of the portrait of the dreamer who sees only his dream, and not always the presages of the world falling down around him. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Biopic, Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

THE WOLF OF WALL STREETRECOMMENDED

Since the sixth word of the movie is “cocksucker,” and soon enough someone’s straw-snorting coke in proximity to a hooker’s upturned anus, so “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is not shy about extending its paw for a frantic shake straightaway.  The rise and rise and fall and fall of a convicted late-1980s stock-trading fraudster, of course, makes for incendiary, insidious sensationalism. The rush of narration rolls on: “I use Xanax to stay focused, Ambien to sleep, pot to mellow out, cocaine to wake up and morphine… because it’s awesome.” All manner of powder and power: white and green are the warmest colors. The litany about the virtue of drugs in the accumulation of money and power seethes, “See? Enough of this shit will make you invincible. Money is the oxygen of capitalism and I wanna breathe more than any other human being alive.” It is a sustained shock that a seventy-one-year-old filmmaker, even Martin-fucking-Scorsese (and dedicated editor Thelma Schoonmaker), can heighten the hyper character of a “Casino” or “Goodfellas” on a wholly other topic and surpass himself in vitality and insurgent hallucinogenic energy, and at a 179-minute duration that does not flag, laden with what feels like huge passages of inspired improvisation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

Biopic, Drama No Comments »

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM

Nelson Mandela had been in fragile health for years, so his recent death was no surprise, yet the timing of his passing—announced during the London premiere of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”—would seem to make the circumstances around the release of the PG-13 biopic potentially uncomfortable. Those concerns disappear once you see the film: it’s not good. But while the work of British director-actor Justin Chadwick (“The First Grader,” “The Other Boleyn Girl”) isn’t the inspired (or even incendiary) portrait one might hope from a rich life full of upheavals and reversals, the performances by Idris Elba as Mandela and Naomie Harris as Winnie are worthwhile. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Fifth Estate

Biopic, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

THE FIFTH ESTATE

RECOMMENDED

Or, “WikiLeaks, The Antisocial Network,” or, perhaps, considering the no-man’s-land “The Fifth Estate”’s subject still lives in, “Too Soon.” Simultaneously depicting the actions of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as noble and virtuous and Assange as a solitary paranoid, Bill Condon’s restless, righteous movie is passionately described and fictionalized inside baseball, studded with pungent images, beautiful Euro-gloss design and an ultimately reductive script. The acting is stingingly good, and small physical details are lovingly detailed. While the interiors of the reportedly $26-million production could have been shot anywhere, a canny hodgepodge of locations like Reykjavik’s Austurvöllur Square, Berlin under snowfall and the London exterior of the Guardian newspaper offices offer kaleidoscopic satisfactions of a dynamic international thriller. While moving like a bracing, poppy mix of “Hackers,” “All The President’s Men,” “Run Lola Run” and a tickle of “Brazil,” with “The Fifth Estate,” one man’s thrill may well be another man’s pill. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 12 Years A Slave

Biopic, Drama No Comments »

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVERECOMMENDED

Body and soul: The Steve McQueen Story. From his early notoriety as a performance artist and gallery favorite, the British filmmaker has fixed on physicality and its fragility, measuring the weight between flesh and man. In his 1993 gallery performance, “Bear,” McQueen and another man wrestled naked, as he does in movies with Big Themes: “Hunger”’s starvation artist stands alongside “Shame”’s unstemmable sex seeker. In the emotional avalanche of “12 Years A Slave,” the story of free man Solomon Northup, a pre-Civil War free man from upstate New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the District of Columbia in 1841, McQueen works from ferocity to felicity. Scenes of body horror bear higher emotional stakes than your average horror film. It’s a film of few kindnesses and many graces, alternating between galvanic scenes of injustice or violence with a general air of degradation and the denial of essential dignity, a studio-level elevation of the rarefied visual and performance devices of McQueen’s earlier two features. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Captain Phillips

Biopic, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Tom HanksRECOMMENDED

A Paul Greengrass movie that’s thematically understated, tense hostage drama “Captain Phillips” holds its cards very close to its chest. For an hour or so, the particulars of the opposing sides in the 2009 hijacking of the U.S.-flagged container ship Maersk Alabama by a band of Somali pirates is sketched in through studious cross-cutting. While Greengrass films like “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “United 93” have a forceful physical delirium, this one bides its time. But Billy Ray’s screenplay is deft, and the parsing of particular lines lingers: “Where are the elders?”; “You are more than a fisherman. You are more than a fisherman”; “The coward is the first one in the grave.” About an hour in, though, much hell breaks loose. Greengrass’ avid, excitable camera moves begin to match the action, to become the action. Tom Hanks, with an affable but daft New England accent that sounds unduly marble-mouthed, lets the captain’s calculations play quietly across his face in the most tense of confrontations. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hannah Arendt

Biopic, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

hannaharendt.photo02RECOMMENDED

German acting great Barbara Sukowa (“Marianne and Juliane,” “Lola”) rejoins Margarethe Von Trotta (“Rosa Luxemburg”) for a stirring portrait of smart people in troubled times, aka the twentieth century. Hannah Arendt, in neatly appointed Manhattan exile, covers the trial in 1961 of Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem for the New Yorker. As events trundle dutifully past, Sukowa’s magnetic, unflusterable presence holds the frame. Cigarettes are smoked philosophically. Moral statements are spoken and bitten straight through. Ideas and notions roll past at the speed of fine conversation. They could talk for hours, and do, at least for two. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Blue Caprice

Biopic, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

still2RECOMMENDED

Banality of evil, anyone? French director Alexandre Moors’ debut feature, “Blue Caprice,” locates his protagonists in that near-featureless vehicle, stolidly refusing explanation for the two men who committed a series of sniper killings in 2002 in the Beltway area around the District of Columbia. (Footage from a Gulf War plays conveniently in the background.) Moors has said that he was looking for a true story, to make it simpler, faster to get a movie on screen. He puts how he found the true story of John Muhammad (Isaiah Washington) and Lee Malvo (Tequan Richmond) in a way swifter than synopsis: “It was just a blurb, but it mentioned the pair as being, like, father and son—but they were not really father and son, that they had adopted each other, and that this guy had trained this kid to be an assassin. I saw those five lines, and I thought, ‘My God–that’s a film.’” Moors works with a ragged handheld style for much of the movie, the camera calming only at moments of dark resolve, at gestures toward killings. By film’s end, the film gives over to imagery that would not be out of place in a James Benning film, the title vehicle coursing through the frame to an organ-tinged chorale. Read the rest of this entry »