Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies

3-D, Action, Recommended No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

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: Guardians Of The Galaxy

3-D, Action, Comedy, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

Another Marvel left-field choice of a seemingly unlikely director pays off, in slightly different fashion than “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” directed by the Russo brothers as a politically charged gloss on 1970s paranoia thrillers. Co-writer-director James Gunn’s 2010 no-budget “Super” had its share of appalling violence, but he still manages to thread abrupt violence and casual malice into the huge expanses of the outright comedy and fine sarcasm of “Guardians.” And most of the meanness is funny, after a cartoonish fashion. Any moment that could be drenched in earnestness is either beautiful—a bereft child’s ascension in a beam of light to a spaceship that will wrench him from Earth—or mocked from the get-go. Chris Pratt plays the grown boy, Peter Quill, as a would-be cock-of-the-galaxy who describes himself at one point, hopefully, as “an a-hole, but not one-hundred-percent a dick.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APESRECOMMENDED

No big-budget action film about one kind of apocalypse or another is complete these days without a rapid-fire, melancholic montage at the beginning, invoking the present day, the beginning of these particular end times. “Snowpiercer,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “World War Z,” and, of course, the end of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011). So it goes with “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” In a few fleet images atop a murmurous soundtrack, the deed is done, “simian flu” eradicates nearly all of mankind, and ten years have passed. A few humans, led by a former law enforcement officer played by Gary Oldman, are left in the center of San Francisco, while miles away, up in the mountains, under the trees, a civilization of super-smart apes begins to, well, dawn. Matt Reeves’ skills as a director, and orchestrator of talents, show a fantastic advance from “Cloverfield” and the fine “Let Me In.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Transformers: Age Of Extinction

3-D, Action, The State of Cinema No Comments »

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

 

Michael Bay and his backers have spared no expense with the latest “Transformers” movie, but he can’t help but fall afoul of genre conventions and his usual over-reliance on computer-generated special effects. “Transformers: Age Of Extinction” picks up four years after the big guys left Michigan Avenue and Streeterville in ruins. To keep this from happening again, the feds are now hunting all remaining transformers, good and bad alike. An injured Optimus Prime comes into the possession of financially struggling widower-inventor Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg. Cade repairs Prime, the government finds out, explosions ensue. We spend the rest of the movie’s punishing 165-minute running time tracking Wahlberg as he tries to keep his daughter (relative newcomer Nicola Peltz) safe from the elite CIA unit that’s hunting them down. Cue robots, car chases, space ships, massive explosions and over-elaborate action sequences. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Edge of Tomorrow

3-D, Action, Recommended, Romance, Science Fiction, The State of Cinema No Comments »

EDGE OF TOMORROWRECOMMENDED

Don’t we all want a furious, jumbled intelligence like Doug Liman’s to fashion memorable pop? The director of “Go,” “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” opens the snap-pop-crackerjack visual static of “Edge of Tomorrow”—a title which sounds like a lost Powell-Pressburger film—with a teeming montage, an immersion more than exposition of how the planet has arrived at apocalyptic war. We’re battling voracious aliens called “Mimics” and a surge on the beaches of France, Operation Downfall, seems to be humanity’s only chance for survival against the onslaught from the edge of the world. The 2013 meteor showers in Russia’s Ural region are one shard of the opening’s epochal busy-ness as is the image of a mute, pop-eyed Wolf Blitzer next to a “United Defense Forces” general played by Brendan Gleeson: a cruel portrait in a fraction of a second.

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Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past 

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X-Men Days Of Future PastRECOMMENDED

At least one reviewer who’s kept closer watch on the franchise warns, “My advice to you is to not watch the previous ‘X-Men’ films before ‘Days of Future Past’ as the continuity problems will irritate you.” What I can offer is that “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” builds its own relatively coherent adventure without leaving non-aficionados in the dark. In other words, this largely 1970s-set installment functions as a standalone movie, and one that has several unexpected scenes of superhero glee that almost seem criminal to describe, and especially the period songs used to accompany them. Still, there are enough callbacks and hints of futures to come that a preview audience often purred in muted ruffles of chuckles, indicating director Bryan Singer and writers Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman did not neglect a key constituency.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Godzilla

3-D, Action, Recommended No Comments »

GODZILLARECOMMENDED

Monsters! Second-time feature filmmaker Gareth Edwards’ investment in “Godzilla” is a nimble deployment of large-scale movie logic and illogic, spanning decades and bearing an unusually large cast of fine-to-galvanically-fine actors, including Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn and Sally Hawkins. Edwards and screenwriter Max Borenstein don’t skimp on the nuclear cautions in so many of the twenty-eight Toho Co. “Godzilla” movies, with lovingly murmured mouthfuls like “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control, and not the other way around,” with which Watanabe makes sullen wonder. Add the clean lines of the widescreen images of Seamus McGarvey, cinematographer of “The Avengers,” “The Hours” and “High Fidelity,” and a magisterially sour theme by the compulsively productive composer Alexandre Desplat and you’re talking one slick package. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Lego Movie

3-D, Action, Chicago Artists, Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

000034.0006194.tifRECOMMENDED

Sometimes scheduling keeps a reviewer from getting to a movie before it opens, and sometimes, that’s just Awesome. In the case of the exceptional “The Lego Movie,” from directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, getting to see their pyrotechnic computer-animated fantasia with a packed, thrilled, paying audience was a sweet treat, especially since its wall-to-wall Mad-magazine-like visual tapestry also draws subversively on any number of movies that would include but hardly be limited to the epic paranoia of John Carpenter’s “They Live” and “The Matrix,” as well as the Wachowskis’ most-misunderstood carpet-bombing of form, “Speed Racer.” (In the case of “The Lego Movie,” something is hardly rotten from the state of Denmark.) It’s not quite the communist insurrection that some commentators of predictable bent have called it, but it’s assuredly the most sophisticated release of the winter crop of new movies—simply cinema. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

3-D, Animated, Sci-Fi & Fantasy No Comments »

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

“Smowwwwg.” “Smowwwwg.” Okay. “Smowwwwg” it is. The once-diverse career of fifty-two-year-old New Zealand filmmaker-turned-fantasy impresario Sir Peter Jackson is now given over to the seeming never-to-end, near-shapeless multiple entries in his ongoing Tolkien sagas. I haven’t added up the running time of the entire long march, but as with the first of three “Hobbit” films drawn from the 320-or-so pages of the novel about a small forest creature who only wants to find his way home, the mind finds ample space to wander. Never a fantasy fan, I’m most intoxicated by the scale of Sir Peter’s fiscal accomplishment. (As well by the fact that his Hitchcock-like cameo in “Smowwwwg” takes up about four seconds of the film’s first ten seconds.) All glory to New Zealand! Without even taking a quick swoon at the figures behind the “Lord of the Rings” movies, the first “Hobbit” outing, “An Unexpected Journey” grossed a reported $1,017,000,000 worldwide, a figure that usually returns half the amount to the studio, and which does not count the endless offshoots on video. In October, Variety reported that the three films, with one still in post-production, have cost at least $561 million, which means there’s a fine chance everyone will be in profit (except New Zealand taxpayers) after the theatrical run of “The Desolation of Smowwwwg.” It’s awe-inspiring industry, coming from the barefoot boy from Pukerua Bay, as if he had built the railway, crafted the trains, refined the fuel and produced the goods that would ride the rails. How many men in all history have commanded such industry, mastered so many forms of logistics? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Gravity

3-D, Action, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

GRAVITYRECOMMENDED

“’Speed’ in space”?: Sandra Bullock is a strong woman in peril in the darkest of darkest houses, the expanses of outer space and beyond. Alfonso Cuarón’s 3D IMAX thriller takes the most complicated means to tell the smallest story, the highest concept of pitches, and to make it seem graceful, inescapable and simple. “Life in space is impossible” reads one of the cards sprinkled at the start of “Gravity” and its epic opening shot that captures three astronauts on a spacewalk making repairs on the outside of the space shuttle. As with the movie’s many extended takes, Cuarón varies point-of-view, moves from epic panoramas to close in on his characters: the fluid result should keep all but the most aware from realizing that there hasn’t been a cut for over ten minutes. In a sense, “Gravity” is an animated film, as the illusion of the vastness of space and weightlessness wouldn’t be as lyrical without the intense construction behind the scenes. Read the rest of this entry »