Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Deadly Darlings: Burning Influence In “The Babadook”

Horror, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


By Ray Pride

Writers are told to kill their darlings, but, truly, they have to kill their masters. Murder them in their sleep.

Sometimes, often enough, I fret I’m too fixated on how authors and filmmakers are in thrall to their forebears, but the concern is always in the service of figuring out how they’ve burned through them. At the beginning and into the middle of the career of super-Swede Ingmar Bergman, critics would often pin the influence of Scandinavian dramatists like August Strindberg onto his work, but no one got it right until the writer, probably some Brit whose name I can’t recall, who said, you can see the influences, but no one else influenced by those playwrights had come anywhere near close to making an Ingmar Bergman movie. (Or being Ingmar fucking Bergman.)

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Review: The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies

3-D, Action, Recommended No Comments »


Admirers of “Lord of the Rings” left with lingering dissatisfaction from the most recent “Hobbit” movie, “The Desolation of Smaug,” should be pleased that director Peter Jackson wastes no time in the “Hobbit”’s final installment, transforming a meager amount of J. R. R. Tolkien’s source material into an impressive confrontation of gratifying saga-scale proportions. We’re thrown right back into the chaos where we were left hanging: Smaug awakened from his slumber, then descending from the mountain as Bilbo and his companions can do little more than watch as the dragon lays waste to Lake Town. The opening of “Battle of the Five Armies” is apocalyptic, engulfed in fire then darkness, all before the opening credits. When the smoke clears, split alliances of every race of Middle Earth clamor to stake claim to the now-vacated mountain. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Top Five

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »



Middle-aged man faces crisis; sober man wonders if he’s still himself; “rigorous honesty,” a la AA, “rigorous fucking honesty,” runs riot. I don’t know if “Top Five” is great, but it’s the first comedy since “The LEGO Movie” I’ve found myself in simple awe of: ragged and rumbustious, assured and sincere-seeming, it’s, well, awesome. Chris Rock’s frank, personal, semi-autobiographical, ferociously twenty-first-century comedy feels like its own special animal, all sorts of goodness and bluntness and, okay, bright even brainy greatness, with equal parts “Annie Hall,” sometimes-collaborator Louis CK’s “Louie” and a little bit of “City Lights” and Cinderella and more Chaplin (“the Grandmaster Flash of haha”) by the way of Jerry Lewis by the way of Chaplin’s song, “Smile.” This sweet small crazy blunt bittersweet dirty fucky comedy vaults in every moment into a superior comic stratosphere. (With minor, wheedling cavils about whether some attitudes are the characters’ or Rock’s: there’s a bit about a white man’s wiggly-woggly-waggly ass as eye-widening as the horrendous female feet in Reggie Hudlin’s “Boomerang.”) The slipstream structure of flashbacks within “Top Five”’s single-day narrative of a comedy star doing press with a New York Times journalist (Rosario Dawson) just as his first serious film is opening leans adventitiously upon “Annie Hall,” but Woody Allen has never cut to the quick with throwaway lines like Rock’s “It’s hard to fuck somebody on a pedestal.”

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Review: Two Faces of January

Drama No Comments »

The 1962 period adaptation of the novel by champ misanthropist Patricia Highsmith, “The Two Faces Of January,” is the lovingly lit and decorated directorial debut of Oscar-nominated screenwriter Hossein Amini (“Wings of the Dove,” “Drive,” “Snow White and the Huntsman”). Con artists and the merely duplicitous converge, with an American couple (Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst) running into a rash of trouble in Greece, where they’re helped out, ever so briefly, by an American expatriate tour guide (Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”). Shit happens, or as a Greek might say, “Po-po!” and all bets are off. Each actor seems to be part of the wallpaper of a different movie, and despite admirable moment-to-moment feats of actorly legerdemain from the primary and secondary cast alike, there’s a deadly lack of heat. The costumes sing, the cigarettes fume. The simmer satisfies but never earns the tale’s godless gloom. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Imitation Game

Drama, Recommended No Comments »


“The Imitation Game,” the sleek burnished mounting of the story of the life of cryptographic-computing genius (and covert homosexual) Alan Turing by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (“Headhunters”) is graced by an alternately unflappable and perturbed performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. The script sparks and flares with passages of clever British speech of lovely theatrical obviousness, but is shy of the subtext and portent that would deepen the well-tooled and lovingly illustrated surfaces. The strands of Turing’s life don’t come together at the end: it’s all too true to be good, and not put through the refiner’s fire of drama: a cascade of end titles describing his fate and the context of British prosecution of gay men in the twentieth century and the birth of the modern computer fall and clatter into clumsy irresolution. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings

Drama No Comments »


I haven’t seen every Ridley Scott film but I’m hoping there’s nothing worse in the back catalog than the ponderous and pointlessly titled “Exodus: Gods And Kings.” Seventy-seven-year-old Sir Ridley’s grandiose illustration of the Biblical telling of Moses leading the Jews out of the wilderness is a bewildering farrago of overscaled computer-generated animation and nutty dialogue. At the time of “Blade Runner” and later, Sir Ridley often displayed his sketches for his films, which were dubbed “Ridleygrams,” frames filled with detail penned in a single strobe-cum-stroke of ink. Throughout “Exodus,” I longed for a flipbook of Ridleygrams instead of the bludgeoning bosh on screen. Those would be lovely. Mountainside villages are illustrated as panoramas of Brueghelesque teem if not intricacy; twirls of animated birds are doodled across each blue or pallid sky like the signature of a Sunday painter. Sir Ridley lavishes much visual invention on the various plagues, resulting in a succession of supple torpor. A thousand soldiers and their steeds fall to the floor of the sea: hey that’s pretty.

The dialogue’s deadly as well.

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Review: Point And Shoot

Documentary No Comments »

point and shoot


Marshall Curry’s strange and beguiling “Point And Shoot” is a worthy addition to the observant documentarian’s work (after the political tagalong of “Street Fight” and the ecopolitics of “If A Tree Falls”). Everyday Baltimorean Matthew VanDyke is his subject—compulsive, seemingly borderline OCD from the start: an ordinary American narcissist who winds up traveling from Maryland to Africa on a four-year, 35,000-mile motorcycle jaunt, joining the battle against Muhammar Khadafi in Libya in 2011. He points, he shoots. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wild

Biopic, Drama, Recommended No Comments »



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 »

Review: The Homesman

Drama No Comments »


Tommy Lee Jones’ second theatrical feature, “The Homesman,” is curt, cruel and weirdly funny, a female-leaning 1855-set Western “road movie” about a covered-wagon escape-cum-trek from pioneer life in the Nebraska Territories that lives up to Jones’ advance talk of the film as being built by himself and ingenious cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Babel,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”) upon geometry, minimalism and the visual work of artists like Donald Judd and Josef Albers, Kabuki theater and the textures of photographer Josef Koudelka. It’s a bold, thrilling work of comedy and abstraction from an obstinate sixty-eight-year-old artist. Read the rest of this entry »

Film Flam: What’s In A Name?

Drama, Recommended, The State of Cinema No Comments »

The Conformist

By Ray Pride

For a long time, I resisted using the word “film” for anything except motion pictures shot on film and projected on motion-picture stock. (When George Lucas’ “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was released in 1999, the Newcity review ended with the words, “Transferred from video.”)

But now “film” is something else, not limited to theatrical exhibition. Lucas and James Cameron and the major distributors have won the day, even if the likes of JJ Abrams, Christopher Nolan, Judd Apatow and Quentin Tarantino rallied the troubled stock producer Kodak to continue producing film for production and archival reasons. Tarantino, who insists that his New Beverly repertory house in Los Angeles will only show 35mm henceforth, is the most adamant voice. “As far as I’m concerned, digital projection and DCPs [are] the death of cinema as I know it. It’s not even about shooting your film on film or shooting your film on digital, the fact that most films now are not presented in 35mm means that the war is lost and digital projections—that’s just television in public. Apparently the whole world is okay with television in public but what I knew as cinema is dead.” Read the rest of this entry »