Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Ernest & Celestine

Animated, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


Bear meets mouse in the lovely, charming “Ernest & Celestine,” based on the series of popular children’s books by Gabrielle Vincent. Oscar-nominated for best animated feature last year. A French-Belgian co-production, “E&C”’s animation works with the liquescent beauty of watercolor painting while keeping the amiable mismatched-pal animal ruckus in forward motion. Bears live aboveground and mice in their own subterranean city, each species going about everyday tasks as if they were larger or smaller humans. As directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar (“A Town Called Panic”) and Benjamin Renner and adapted by novelist Daniel Pennac, the animals’ small world breathes with the kind of detail its ideal audience—clever tots—live in in their own fantasy world. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Wind Rises

Animated, Biopic, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


(Kaze tachinu) “Airplanes are beautiful dreams.” Possibly the last film by seventy-three-year-old Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki, the sober, regret-steeped “The Wind Rises” is a period drama, a dreamily romantic recounting of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the aviation engineer who designed the Zero fighter, the plane that Japan thought would win them World War II, and was used for kamikaze attacks and at Pearl Harbor. It’s an honorable treatment of a subject that drew some fervent criticism early in the awards season. Fire and firestorm, wind and clouds and windstorms, sky and planes, are all gorgeously rendered in the fine line of Miyazaki’s virtuoso hand-drawn style. (The sound design, as always, is as gorgeous as the images.) The savor that remains after is the unique look and feel of Miyazaki’s work, but also the pungency of the portrait of the dreamer who sees only his dream, and not always the presages of the world falling down around him. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

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


“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: Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? An Animated Conversation With Noam Chomsky

Animated, Documentary, Recommended No Comments »

Is the man who is tall happy - Still5RECOMMENDED

“I think a very specific motive of my philosophy is to avoid any sort of concentration of power or control and any sort of fame,” Michel Gondry told me five years ago when he was promoting “Be Kind Rewind,” he said of his fears and hopes of what the movie industry had become. “With YouTube, it’s still going to be, you have one person.  You have the chance for everybody to be heard, but still it’s one person is going to be heard more than another, and pile up all the attention. It’s the same way that you can say the journey is the destination, the making, the process of expressing yourself is as important as watching the work. Of course, it’s probably more important than watching it, buying it, whatever you do with it.” Gondry, whose films since have included “The Green Hornet,” but more importantly, several smaller films like “The Thorn in My Heart,” “The We And The I,” and now, “Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?” seems to have adopted that contrarian, low-to-the-ground approach to a major chunk of his new work. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: From Up On Poppy Hill

Animated, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


A manga series that ran in a Japanese monthly magazine for girls, circa 1980, supplies a gentle story adapted by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by his son, Goro. “From Up on Poppy Hill” is their second collaboration (Hayao supplied the story for 2006’s “Tales from Earthsea”) and  a lovely specimen of hand-drawn animation from Studio Ghibli. Finding a father lost at sea in the Korean War is the quest that unites two upstanding teens in 1963 Yokohama. Eleventh-grader Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger) helps run a boarding house with her grandmother while her mother studies in America. Umi raises nautical signal flags, just as her father once taught her, hoping his ship will return to port. At school she meets Shun (Anton Yelchin), the editor of the school’s newspaper and ringleader of a crew of after-school club kids trying to save  their rickety headquarters from demolition. Umi joins the cause and the first girls set foot in the nerd enclave. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Consuming Spirits

Animated, Chicago Artists, Recommended No Comments »


SAIC faculty member Chris Sullivan’s first feature is a haunting, organic, decades-long accumulation of fearsome animation of fearful dreams. “Consuming Spirits” weaves together hand-drawn, cutout, stop-motion and clay techniques with the gossamer gloom of moldering nightmare. His Rustbelt Appalachia isn’t a  a wholly forbidding place, but it’s intensely detailed in a way that makes you glad you don’t live there. Comparisons to Sullivan’s Gothic imagination have been made to Cassavetes and the memory pieces of Terence Davies like “Distant Voices/Still Lives,” and those comparisons may not be far of the mark. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Rabbi’s Cat

Animated, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


(Le chat du rabbin) One of twenty-one animated features that qualified for 2012 Academy Awards consideration, the witty, sporadically inspired hand-drawn fashioned “The Rabbi’s Cat” is discernibly more grown-up and less smart-ass than the general run in multiplexes. (Violence and sexual candor, for instance.) Based on a French comic, Joann Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux’s film also boasts a memorable, straightforward synopsis: “A rabbi’s cat learns to speak after he eats a parrot and asks to convert to Judaism.” Sfar is an established bande-dessinée artist, and this $16 million feature, set in 1920s Algiers, is based on three volumes of his comics series of the same name. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Liar’s Autobiography

Animated, Documentary No Comments »

Often referred to as “the dead Python,” Graham Chapman, who died in 1989, led a vivid, harrumphing life off-screen as well as on in his performances as part of Monty Python, and “A Liar’s Autobiography–The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman,”  is an animated adaptation—in seventeen disparate styles!—of his scurrilous memoir of the same name. Voices of all the Python conspirators, save Eric Idle, are heard, and Chapman manages to narrate from beyond the grave, courtesy of an audiobook version of his work. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Tales of the Night

Animated, Experimental, Recommended No Comments »


(Les contes de la nuit, 2011) Six folk tales from around the world comprise the new caravan of silhouette animation from the animator of “Kirikou and the Sorceress” and “Azur & Asmar.” The genteel “Tales of the Night”‘s most striking passages evoke an endearingly imperfect variation on Indonesian shadow puppetry, but the boldly, incautiously colored animation has a flat sameness over the duration of adventures, which may not have been the case in its original 3D production format. Students of Lotte Reiniger’s painstaking films like “The Adventures Of Prince Achmed” will also find things to admire. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Rise Of The Guardians

3-D, Animated, Recommended No Comments »


Kids face a crisis of faith in “Rise of the Guardians,” a beautifully detailed and thoughtful  3D adventure from DreamWorks Animation. Faith matters. Around the world for the past three centuries, the imaginations of children, nurtured by parents and picture books and PG-rated films, maintain North, AKA Santa (voiced by Alec Baldwin), Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the voiceless Sandman and the bogeyman who goes by Pitch, the King of Nightmares (Jude Law), who put presents under Christmas trees, hide painted eggs at Easter, swap coins for teeth under pillows, bring sweet dreams, and inflict nightmares, respectively. Jack Frost (Chris Pine) is a new recruit to the Guardians of Childhood, as the aforementioned pantheon (minus its nemesis Pitch) is called. In the opening scene, Jack swims to the surface of an icy pond. The moon is his beacon. It turns him eternal and invisible. His new magic staff lets him fly about, freeze water, raise winds and cause precipitation. He bestows “snow days” on school kids. Jack will share issues with Jamie (Dakota Goyo), an all-American mortal. (Their moms are all voiced by the same actress.) Together, they deal with belief and unbelief. Jack and the other imaginary beings are in jeopardy when the Globe of Belief, a GPS points-of-light counter of believers, identifies Jamie as the very last one on the planet. “Rise of the Guardians” takes its mythology more seriously than the recent films: the contemporary “The Tooth Fairy” and “The Santa Clause 2″ and “Clash of the Titans” and “Wrath of the Titans,” set in pre-Christian antiquity. Read the rest of this entry »