Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Actress

Documentary, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Actress-Brandy

RECOMMENDED

Life as performance, personality as melodrama, persona as hope. This is the superlative movie I’d hoped a filmmaker (director, editor, producer, shooter, critic, academic) as intelligent and driven as Robert Greene would make someday, but so soon? “Actress” is an intimate collaboration with his neighbor, Brandy Burre, an actress who had been in “The Wire” and who now juggles relationships, children, wayward emotions and unstemmed ambition. Brandy Burre plays “herself,” but it would take pages, a few thousand words, or maybe another film in reply, to indicate the richness of what’s on screen. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wild Tales

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

WIld Tales 10

RECOMMENDED

Flamboyant yet controlled, paced yet shocking, and all about the feeling of letting go in pure, unbridled revenge, Damián Szifron’s six-story omnibus has the fancy and fury of a fine Almodóvar picture. “Wild Tales” (Relatos salvajes) is a pitch-black comedy, with a pre-credits sequence that raucously sets the tone for the gloriously preposterous complications to come. (It’s a contender for the best foreign language Oscar, and if the Academy doesn’t love “Ida”…) It would be foul to give away the rocket blast of those opening five minutes, but let’s say its premise mingles Buñuel, Almodóvar, contemporary Argentine comedy and the contours of a dream where figures of your past assemble but, undreamlike, the dreamer takes control, arriving at the source of all of his problems with wondrously shocking finality. The stories aren’t linked except by Argentine locales high and low, captured crisply and colorfully. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bluebird

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Bluebird Factory25

RECOMMENDED

Lance Edmands’ “Bluebird” is a story of loss and anger and denial set in a wintery, worn Maine paper mill town. Entropy slows to paralysis when a child dies on the watch of local school bus driver (Amy Morton) and a strained relationship with her logger husband (John Slattery) frays farther. The palpable sense of eddying fracture in the frosty reaches is heightened by brilliant location shooting by crack cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Tiny Furniture,” “Ballet 422”). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Song Of The Sea

Animated, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

songofthesea

RECOMMENDED

Tomm Moore’s deliciously illustrated “Song of the Sea” is his Oscar-nominated follow-up to “The Secret of Kells,” nominated in 2009. Circling the Irish legend of the Selkies, mythical creatures that are seals in the sea but human once onshore, Moore finds further fodder in Celtic magic, with lush, lovely watercolor animation that worships the dance of light (and Studio Ghibli) to hold the eye even as characterization and storytelling become cute. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Last Five Years

Musical, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

L5Y_4RECOMMENDED

The ins-and-outs of love propel the star-making motions of Richard LaGravenese’s “The Last Five Years,” a modest, slightly ragged but oh-so-engaging adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway musical about the forward-and-back memories of a relationship all but certain to be dashed. Musicals have returned with a vengeance, and Anna Kendrick has arrived as the near-pitch-perfect modern musical star (“Pitch Perfect,” “Pitch Perfect 2,” the perfectly filthy role in “Happy Christmas,” “Into The Woods”). Kendrick plays Cathy, an aspiring actress with a novelist boyfriend, Jamie (a nondescript Jeremy Jordan) who burst to find the words (in music) to recollect a five-year affair. The device: her songs move backwards in time from the end of their marriage, while his start at the beginning and move forward. (Guess where they meet in the middle.) Read the rest of this entry »

Something’s Gotta Give: “Fifty Shades Of Grey” Is A Subversive Romantic Comedy

Comedy, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

Fifty Shades of Grey

By Ray Pride

Nowhere near wet and baring not a sign of chafing, Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel’s sanding down of the rank, rankling crudities of E. L. James’ bestselling repurposed “Twilight” fan-fic trilogy, “50 Shades Of Grey” still shocks, but instead for its light-handed sense of humor rather than settling for being a clinical depiction of the acts (and actions) of B&D and S&M and a recitation of the insipid, run-on interior monologue of the book.

Also, depicting callow corporateer Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) as a blank object of desire for college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). Christian is also little more than a petulant stalker, a privileged predator, making demands and gestures for her erotic attentions, and the power games are turned in almost every scene. Where the Irish Dornan struggles with an American accent and to come across as a fully fleshed human, Johnson’s performance is breezy and calculating, and effortless charm brims from each moment she’s playing that player. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Timbuktu

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

TIMBUKTU de Abderrahmane_Sissako film still 3_d10bd5fc-ca9d-e411-b62a-d4ae527c3b65_lg
RECOMMENDED

Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-nominated “Timbuktu,” shot in Mauritania but set in northern Mali near the title city, is a lovely, cogent, melancholy, quietly damning portrait of radical religious fundamentalists arrogantly, clumsily taking over a small town. Inspired by a 2012 murder by jihadists of a couple in their thirties by stoning, Sissako keenly observes cruelty, folly and tenderness during the year-long occupation and its wave of irrational destruction. “The film, through the couple Kidane and Satima, insists on one essential point,” he writes, “that violence will never be able to kill love. You can kill a man, but you cannot kill the love he has for his daughter, his wife. This is fundamental, and is the key to victory over barbarity. It is how we defy extremism. They will not have the last word. Beauty and dignity will triumph.” Read the rest of this entry »

New And What “Army”: The Battle Of Docs Past and Sundance Now

Documentary No Comments »

Red Army 1

By Ray Pride

The most teemingly competitive category in the Oscar race may well be documentaries rather than features. While 323 movies were eligible for the 87th Academy Awards, the documentary contest started with 134, reduced to fifteen, and finally, five.

For the final quintet, the disappointment over the exclusion of Steve James’ “Life Itself,” about the life of Roger Ebert, wasn’t limited to Chicago, although the surprise of the inclusion of Charlie Siskel and John Maloof’s “Finding Vivian Maier” offers some salve to local pride. (The other 2015 nominees are Laura Poitras’ portrait of whistleblower Edward Snowden, “CitizenFour,” Rory Kennedy’s you-are-there archival-footage driven “Last Days in Vietnam,” Orlando von Einsiedel’s “Virunga,” a Netflix-streaming exploration of the struggle to save the last of the planet’s mountain gorillas in the Congo, and Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado’s “The Salt of the Earth,” following the life and recent projects of the great photographer Sebastião Salgado.)

But the shortlist of fifteen also omitted Gabe Polsky’s “Red Army,” a taut, sprightly eighty-five-minute history of the Red Army hockey team, from the days of the USSR to modern Russia, a gripping portrait of one man’s fall from national hero to political enemy, while reflecting the upheavals of his country as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Cipher Punk: The Cryptic Lilt of “Blackhat”

Action, Chicago Artists, Drama, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »

Untitled Michael Mann Project

By Ray Pride

Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” is not Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor,” but it’s in the same mulish, rarified league.

While the 2015 Oscar announcements led to much journalistic handwringing, online and off, with a dearth of nominations for women and people of color—overlooking the systemic issue of the dearth of mainstream movies being financed and produced for women and people of color—there’s not as much clamor about the handful of white male filmmakers who are presently productive into their eighth decade.

Michael Mann turns seventy-two in February, Sir Ridley Scott is seventy-seven, and while we’re at it, Jean-Luc Godard is eighty-four. “Blackhat,” “The Counselor” and “Farewell to Language” are all discernibly, definitively, obstinately, obdurately, the work of old men. Artists of a certain age, to be sure, but also personal, auteurist, in the most classic fashion. Late films by Alfred Hitchcock have been a subject for such discussion for decades, and Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris tweeted that “Blackhat” may well be Mann’s “Marnie,” that is, a movie that at first glance seems hermetic, compacted, a concatenation of images, fixations and stylistic devices.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Most Violent Year

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

A-Most-Violent-Year

RECOMMENDED

“I have never taken anything from anyone,” is one moral assertion American immigrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) makes in the face of three days of snowballing misfortune in J. C. Chandor’s agreeably hellish, pleasingly pulpy, often-beautiful third feature, “A Most Violent Year.” Abel married into mobster money, gaining a small heating-oil company from the father of his wife (Jessica Chastain). It’s winter 1981 in Brooklyn and Manhattan, ostensibly the most crime-ridden year in the history of the five boroughs. But taking or being taken is quickly Abel’s fate. Coming after his dissimilar “Margin Call” and “All Is Lost,” Chandor shows ambition and enterprise, in each film showing the kind of taut, proficient storytelling American movies could use more of. Read the rest of this entry »