Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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“On your left,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) says on a run, rushing past a man who will become one of his closest allies in the warfare to come in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” For someone who will never master the intricacies of the “Marvel universe” of cross-pollinated properties and storylines, an almost immediate satisfaction in the fine craft of directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (“Community,” “You, Me And Dupree”) came from how closely allied this superhero adventure is to 1970s American movies, down to the superb casting of Robert Redford, the face of 1970s paranoia classics like “Three Days Of The Condor,” “The Candidate” and “All The President’s Men,” as the enforcer of 2010s universal spying on the world’s citizenry. Read the rest of this entry »

The Power and the Gory: The Blood in The Face of “The Raid 2″

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TheRaid2By Ray Pride

Welshman-in-Indonesia Gareth Evans’ ambition for his third feature, “The Raid 2,” is only to make a “Godfather Part II” all his own, but also with whomping helpings of style from Melville, Kitano, Miike, Refn, Ratanaruang and any volume of thrashing or balletic Asian action entries he or his collaborators have seen but we assuredly haven’t, with extra lashings of his own assured, inventive interpretation of action-in-motion.

Evans specializes in preplanning each and every shot and each and every move to keep each scene to not just plausibility but possibility of man-to-man combat (and sometimes 180-men-to-180-men combat in mud and tossing rain). Shots aren’t repeated and don’t overlap; slow motion is rare. While the film’s bounty of sixteen setpieces goes on at impressive length within the 148 minutes of “The Raid 2” (shown at Sundance 2014 as “The Raid 2: Berandal,” the subtitle that can be translated as “Delinquent,” or “Thug”), the ambition of Evans and his efficiently creative fight choreographer-star Iko Uwais is to create something cool and efficient but also compulsive and explosive. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Black Out

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 Arne Toonen’s arch, blithely rude “Black Out” is another of the stylish, dark Euro-dramas that have become a specialty of Music Box Films and now its new genre label, Doppelganger Releasing. The most banal but truest reduction of Toonen’s brash style is to label him a dirtier, flashier Guy Ritchie who re-situates “The Hangover” in Holland. An ex-con wakes up in an Amsterdam hotel room, the day before his wedding, a gun and a dead man beside him; gangsters are convinced he’s responsible for the disappearance of twenty kilos of cocaine. Also disappeared: a chunk of his memory of how he got into this mess. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: RoboCop

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Joel Kinnaman;Gary Oldman;Aimee Garcia“Why is America so robo-phobic?” José Padilha’s Detroit-set, Canada-shot “RoboCop” is close enough to the letter of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 satire of man, machine and capitalism as to credit original writers Michael Miner and Edward Neumeier as well as new screenwriter Joshua Zetumer. And while Padilha, the Brazilian director of effective, brutish films like “Elite Squad” proffers the politics of drones, mass media indoctrination and other political hot buttons in blunt fashion, the Dutchman beats the Brazilian on intricate, ironic execution. Set in 2028,  “RoboCop” is bookended by the all-heat-no-light “The Novak Element,” with hectoring, disingenuous speeches delivered by Samuel L. Jackson’s telegenic stooge filibustering for the United States to no longer be the final nation allowing drones and robot police. The words—virtuous, angry, nearly ironic, merely on-the-nose, taking on provocative contemporary topics, simplistic execution—are rife with topicality but wan when it comes to satiric pungency.

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Review: The Lego Movie

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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: 7 Boxes

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(7 Cajas) An urban chase movie of velocity and careering beauty, and no small energy, Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori’s Paraguayan “7 Boxes” follows Victor, a seventeen-year-old street hustler, through Asunción’s largest public market, eight teeming city blocks full, as he meets characters, battles obstacles and moves headlong, largely with his trusty wheelbarrow, to deliver seven mysterious boxes so he’ll have the cash to buy himself a mobile phone. “Run, Victor, Run!” you think after awhile, along with fleeting evocations of other art-house candy-bombs like “City Of God” and “Slumdog Millionaire” as well as secondhand memories of many, many videogames. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Generation War

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Philipp Kadelbach’s nearly five-hour German television series, “Generation War,” follows five childhood friends as they tumble hopefully into the maw of World War II. Soapy, violent, despairing, but also unapologetically melodramatic, often ripe but always juicy, its one strength is in displaying brutality at all levels of the Thousand-Year Reich, down to each and every soldier. The danger, then, of course, is that these individual soldiers, embodied by attractive young actors all, are then given a twenty-first-century sense of themselves that doesn’t always ring true in an era that has almost no witnesses left. Read the rest of this entry »

Action is Character: The Small, Beating Heart of “These Birds Walk”

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TBW_Still3By Ray Pride

Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq’s fantastic beauty of a documentary “These Birds Walk,” is lyrical wonder of intense and sustained observation, but it’s also fierce and compact in its look at a handful of orphans in Pakistan.

The pair’s first feature follows a Karachi runaway named Omar, no more than ten years old, filled with hostility, resentment, declamations and, most of all, a longing for “home.” (Mullick is credited as co-director-cinematographer and Tariq as co-director-co-producer.) Omar ran away from his rural village, and is now raring to run away from the city. Omar is befriended by Asad, a young ambulance driver who works near the orphanage, one of several maintained by an elderly, influential Pakistani philanthropist, Abdul Sattar Edhi. (At first the film seems like it will be about Edhi, but he’s the past: Omar is the present and the uncertain future.) An opening scene sets up a metaphorical notion, as Edhi supervises the washing of a roomful of foundlings: can we wash children clean before we let go of them, and send them out into the world alone? Edhi is in so few scenes, but in a sense, he’s everywhere. Who will watch over this generation of lost children? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lone Survivor

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Telegraphic, punishing and brutally well-crafted, writer-director Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” is in a school with Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down” in its heated depiction of the deadly confusion of battle. A serious-minded portrayal of a covert 2005 Navy SEALs mission to take out an alleged Al Qaeda figure in the mountains of Afghanistan, “Lone Survivor” thrills, horrifies and also punches home the simple point that individual acts of conscience can save lives, and even change the world. The boldly colored, hyperreal cinematography is by Berg’s regular cameraman, Tobias Schliessler, akin to his inventive palette for the little-seen “The Fifth Estate.” Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger are given a rare opening credit for special effects technicians: an early omen that things will not go well for everyone on patrol. (Well, then there’s that title.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Man of Tai Chi

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A man discovers his capacity for violence and the difference between “soft” and “hard.” Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut, “Man Of Tai Chi,” a martial arts mini-“Matrix,” is fizzy, physical fun. As director and as antagonist, Reeves’ work is coolly measured and knowing. Set in Hong Kong and Beijing, and spoken in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, “Man” is hybrid but not mongrel, taking dashes from American editing with mainstays of lighter Hong Kong police procedurals and, of course, boasting the action direction of the great, ubiquitous Yuen Woo-ping, whose work since 1971 includes the “Matrix” trilogy, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” the “Kill Bill” films, and so much more. Read the rest of this entry »