Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Selma

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History, written in lightning: writer-director Ava DuVernay’s third feature, the understated yet righteously furious “Selma,” beautifully dramatizes and contains a few crucial months in the civil-rights movement and the life of Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo, electric). It’s 1965 in Alabama, but “Selma” moves with the immediacy of the present tense. King and other organizers are orchestrating mass marches to support voting rights, starting from Selma, after the 1963 church bombings that killed four small girls, to the capital of Montgomery. DuVernay observes the larger sweep, but also smaller details: this is not a History Lesson (except in a few tiny instants) nor are her characters Historical Figures. (“Selma” and Oyelowo’s accomplishment is even greater once you account for the copyright on the speeches of King that prevented their incorporation except by allusion.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mr. Turner

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At the age of seventy-one, the great British writer-director Mike Leigh brings a longtime dream to supple fruition: a robust yet understated, unalloyed two-and-half-hour celebration of the boldly imagined, bracingly colored, late work of the great painter J.M.W. Turner, as well as his curmudgeonly disposition, captured by Timothy Spall in classic dudgeon. “Mr. Turner” etches the last years in Turner’s life as a peripatetic succession of confrontations with nature and society, with the suggestion of compositions wedged in between. Spall’s Turner has little patience for the world that surrounds him, but Leigh has all the patience in the world for Turner’s spiteful and sometimes malefic behavior toward those around him, from lovers and mistresses to illegitimate daughters and pesky art critics. (Turner’s prickliness, as embraced by Spall, is amusingly akin to Leigh’s own impatience with critical sorts and interviewers, which I will attest to personally.) The art or the bad man? Leigh chooses both with melancholy and highly calibrated discernment. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Big Eyes

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In the seriously entertaining “Big Eyes,” working on a modest scale akin to “Ed Wood,” Tim Burton descends from the billion-dollar-grossing heights of “Alice in Wonderland” to a biography of an artist whose work was embraced for all the wrong reasons and a fraud carried out against her passionate, personal imagery. The subjects of the screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (“Ed Wood,” “Man On the Moon,” “The People Vs. Larry Flynt”) are Walter Keane, whose “big eye” paintings of children, especially young girls, became a pop sensation in the 1950s and sixties. Keane (Christoph Waltz, shit-eating grin pasted to his face) was celebrated (and derided) for his work, which, as we know from the beginning, was the work of his wife Margaret (Amy Adams, who plays strength and neediness in complex balance). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Unbroken

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I had hoped to eke 800 words out of a review of Angelina Jolie’s second feature as a director, “Unbroken,” if only for the potential headline, “Inglorious Alabaster: ‘White Elephant Art’ And ‘Unbroken.’” But that way lies invective. The great film-critic-painter Manny Farber crafted his spleen like the maker-with-his-hands that he was, carpentering his prose to something both brute and precise. He etched a distinction between two manners of moviemaking in his infamous essay, “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art,” which, rudely simplified, elevated the neurotic likes of Sam Fuller, Howard Hawks and Anthony Mann above the studio pictures that postured toward two hours of transient nobility, or the perfume of prestige. Late fall and early winter have become the season of the sort of filmmaking that Farber described as possessing “the critic-devouring virtue of filling every pore of a work with glinting, darting Style and creative Vivacity.” Which Angelina Jolie’s somber, hardly dramatized “Unbroken” is, kinda-sorta, an admittedly one-note-gorgeous, intimate epic of one man’s physical suffering during World War II. The source material, Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner turned-airman-turned-prisoner-turned-survivor, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” was adapted by Joel and Ethan Coen (“Raising Arizona”), William Nicholson (“Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom”) and Richard LaGravenese (“The Fisher King”). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wild

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Reese Witherspoon is boldly center-frame in “Wild,” director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornsby’s teeming, tactile, superbly subjective adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s worldwide best-selling memoir of a woman who chooses to lose herself hiking through the desert. Vallée pushes forward on slivers of shivery memories. Witherspoon’s Strayed is a small woman both human and iconic: bearing an oversized, ill-advised backpack like a Pixar figure—Heav-E instead of Wall-E—she sets out on a heroine’s journey that’s iconically antiheroic. Sex, drugs, mother love, mother loss, some more sex, behaviors are blunt and gently daubed at the same time. “Wild” is an unsentimental marvel, following few expected contrails and rejecting the “redemption” narrative right in the I. Read the rest of this entry »

All-American Slime: Steve Carell’s Found his Calling as Ornithologist, Philatelist, Philanthropist in “Foxcatcher”

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By Ray Pride

I’m starting to like this guy Channing Tatum. And maybe this guy Steve Carell.

The faith of Steven Soderbergh and a few other directors in his innate charm, screen presence and acting chops gets another workout as Mark Schultz, one of two brothers who won Olympic Gold Medals. Tatum’s physical moves are crabbed and weighted as we see Mark move through the gloom of his day: he’s Sisyphus before the Xanax. And this Sisyphus needs it: he’s bearing the weight of a few worlds in dark, cold Wisconsin. Broke, lunching on ramen noodles, grappling with his wrestling-coach older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), he’s only got the 1988 Seoul Olympics to look toward. (Ruffalo’s 1980s beard and balding hairstyle are another feat of heaviness.)

Steve Carell, he’s another story. I’ve missed a few movies he’s been in, have never seen more than a few seconds of “The Office,” and regret it for not a second. Voice and presence alike, he’s anti-screen charisma to my eyes and ears, a terrifying dark void in front of a camera. (There are some other actors like that; most moviegoers know a pill or two.)

But leave it to Bennett Miller, the director who made his friend Philip Seymour Hoffman, a bruiser of a man, into Truman Capote, to cast Carell ideally. As John Eleuthère du Pont, Carell embodies the dank side of privilege and money and American manhood gone to stinking rot in Miller’s bleak, harrowing, but thrilling true-life murder case from a heavily researched script by E. Max Frye (“Something Wild”) and Dan Futterman (“Capote”).

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Review: The Theory of Everything

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Eddie Redmayne twinkles and tickles the intellectual friskiness of Stephen Hawking in James Marsh’s lively, bright “The Theory Of Everything,” a brisk telling of the early years of the scientist, best-selling author and survivor of motor neuron disease related to ALS, as well as his all-important first marriage. (After a recent screening for him, Hawking waggishly said he found it “broadly true.”) Director James Marsh does well with another ginger trickster figure, as he did with Philippe Petit in “Man on Wire,” with Redmayne playing the most assured and most puckish moments we’d expect from a story about a scientist known for his mind but also for lifelong randiness. Redmayne has the best, fullest role he’s had since Tom Kalin’s “Savage Grace” (2007) and he manages to work his own charm and smile and even eyebrows into the slowly contracting figure of Hawking. James Marsh is a quietly fine director, in documentaries like “Man on Wire” and “Project Nim,” as well as other fiction features like “Shadow Dancer” and “Red Riding: 1980.” His knack for telling compositions and memorable images can’t be underestimated. And the script by playwright Anthony McCarten seldom stoops to sentimental stuff, despite its seeming pedigree as intelligently crafted, award-friendly British uplift. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 20,000 Days on Earth

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Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s “20,000 Days On Earth,” is stellar, a rich, luxuriant, calibrated auto-portrait of Nick Cave, not quite fact, not quite fiction, told as if it were taking place in a single day, in words, music, a first-time psychotherapy session, and personal hallucinations with former musical partners Kylie Minogue and Blixa Bargeld in his car as he drives alongside the sea near his Brighton, England home. It sounds like so much attenuated tosh, but this bold, unique gem is bright, funny, brooding, hopeful, momentarily visionary, a wounded beauty exploring the creative process in a fresh and oft-brilliant fashion. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Last of Robin Hood

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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 »

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 2 Comments »

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.


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 »