Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: About Elly

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »



A woman goes missing by the sea: the stuff of “L’Avventura,” Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 masterpiece, but also of contemporary Iranian master Asghar Farhadi’s 2009 “About Elly,” only now getting a U. S. release after clearing rights issues. As with his Oscar-winning 2011 “A Separation” and 2013’s “The Past,” Farhadi examines pressures on the modern middle class of Iran, but with visual fluidity and geometric acuity, and “Elly” is the best of these three. Farhadi’s statement of intention, that “a film must open a space in which the public can involve themselves in a personal reflection” is less lucid than any succession of frames in his film. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Queen And Country

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »



“Queen and Country,” the likely last testament of vibrant filmmaker John Boorman, at eighty-two, is a likeable, low-key sequel to his Oscar-nominated, autobiographical 1987 “Hope and Glory,” this time set in 1952 Britain during the Korean War. The episodic storytelling flows at the serene pace of a river, but the details of the landscape along the way are pungent and oft-surprising. Boorman has sustained a career of mountainous high points (the mid-Pop expressionist gangster hallucination “Point Blank”; the deep waters of male anxiety in “Deliverance”) to valleys of incomprehensibility (“Exorcist II: The Heretic”), yet there’s a muted calm to this lovingly cast, beautifully shot time capsule, capturing passing time instead of his recurrent project of undertaking the making of primal myth. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Avengers Age Of Ultron

Action, Science Fiction No Comments »

There’s a rumor that a major figure of the French cinema, retired from public view, now cannot even go to the movies in his waning days: four, five minutes would pass and he would shriek in bloody horror as if from waking terrors. He would not only have forgotten what he was watching or where he was but the very function of images advancing in the darkness. I began to forget the breathless, teetering, tottering, careening, catapulting “Avengers: The Age Of Ultron” about twenty minutes into its 141-minute running time, but slouched instead of shrieked. Zoom, quip, wham, smirk, quip, blam! Quip! Oh so much too-muchness on an inhumane scale. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Tangerines

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



The 2014 Foreign Language Oscar nominee with the lowest profile, the modest, graceful, glowingly shot Estonian-Georgian “Tangerines” (Mandariinid) is a splendid example of a narrative drawing the larger picture from a small one, capturing the effects of Eastern European civil wars on an average man after the fall of the Soviet Union. Writer-director Zaza Urushadze’s story is set in the separatist region of Abkhazia as war between Georgia and the region’s ethnic Estonians approaches, but the politics fade into smaller schemes, as a rural tangerine grower (graceful, poignantly expressive Lembit Ulfsak) takes two wounded fighters, one from each side of the conflict, into his home after a deadly battle. If they recover, they’ll likely try to kill each other. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Welcome To New York

Drama, Recommended No Comments »



Once while interviewing the now-sober, not-then-sober Abel Ferrara, we reminisced on a particular moment in the “Bad Lieutenant” when Harvey Keitel’s so-bad cop displayed himself to a couple of young girls he’d pulled over in a traffic stop. “Heh-heh,” Ferrara said, “The L-T was rockin’ it!” Whenever Ferrara finds moments to pull from the fire, especially in his erratic recent work, I just think of that heh-heh. With “Welcome to New York,” Ferrara is indeed again rockin’ it, with a theme-and-variation on the facts of the alleged sex crimes committed by banker and former International Monetary Fund head and once-potential French president Dominique Strauss-Kahn. It’s a deeply disturbing, calibrated unhinged, compulsively careering portrait of entitlement. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Revenge Of The Mekons

Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


Former Chicagoan Joe Angio’s long-in-the-making sophomore documentary, “Revenge of the Mekons” is a lean, cheery ninety-five-minute portrait of almost four decades in the lives and careers since the 1977 formation of the vital, genially haunted punk-to-rock band that Lester Bangs called “the most revolutionary group in the history of rock ’n’ roll.” Angio’s conversations with frontman Jon Langford and frontwoman Sally Timms, among other members of the group, are lucid about their ongoing rise to nearly the middle. (As Timms retorts from stage to a heckler mentioning “sell-outs,” “Sold out is a term that never comes into our lives.”) “ROTM” is humble, raggedy and proud, just like the endlessly productive, self-reinventing band itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ex Machina

Drama, Recommended, Romance, Science Fiction No Comments »



For his directorial debut, “Ex Machina,” novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Days Later,” “Sunshine”) crafts a deceptively simple social comedy deeply invested in ideas about artificial intelligence, the nature of desire and the mind-body divide. But cheekily glib, oft-vulgar banter between its two male characters—a billionaire inventor (Oscar Isaac) and the so-bright employee/programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) he’s chosen for a one-man Turing Test—and a female robot (Alicia Vikander) that can flirt, think and scheme—likably mask the hoped-for profundity. (“Ex Machina” could have easily been called “The Imitation Game.”) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Clouds Of Sils Maria

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


Specific yet elusive, as in Olivier Assayas’ best work, “Clouds of Sils Maria” rises to the challenge that longtime colleague Juliette Binoche’s offered him: create a role for a woman of fifty that’s not all about a romantic relationship. What he came up with resembles a number of other movies, including a hint of “All About Eve,” as a professional triangle oscillates between her mid-career actress, her devoted and indispensable assistant, juggling multiple iPhones, Blackberrys and agendas (Kristen Stewart), and an ambitious young actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) repeating a role she played years earlier. (There’s also something of Joseph Mankiewicz in Assayas’ taut, gnomic gab, with professional status and personal moment indicated in snappish, contemporary dialogue.) Binoche’s performance matches Assayas’ visual style, alternately brittle and supple, while Stewart is laconic yet electric in conveying her character’s quiet, emphatic passion for her boss. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Six by Hou Hsiao-hsien

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



Taiwanese cinema grandmaster Hou Hsiao-hsien turned sixty-eight the day I wrote this, a melancholy day if only for the fact that he’s been working on his wuxia martial arts period piece, “The Assassin” for five years, neglecting the masterpieces of observation of the modern world he could have been making. The Siskel’s essential six-film 35mm retrospective of his work continues with the still-modern fragrance of “Millennium Mambo” (2001) and the sorrowful play of history, memory and performance in “Good Men, Good Women” (1995). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Marfa Girl

Drama, Romance No Comments »


There are wispy visual rewards in Larry Clark’s minimalist 2012 “Marfa Girl,” which the unregenerate seventy-two-year-old filmmaker-photographer-peddler of picturesque prurience at first said would never be distributed theatrically or on DVD. But here it is: More free-floating than haphazard, Clark arrays scenes about a Texas teen (bright-eyed ephebe Adam Mediano) skateboarding through drugs and sex and seemingly random run-ins in the titular West Texas small town on the occasion of his sixteenth birthday. Adolescents just do what adolescents do in Larry Clark films. Sex is spoken, sex is transacted, and there’s a fucking lot of fucking. Read the rest of this entry »