Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Land Ho!

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

12RECOMMENDED

Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz’s understated “Land Ho!” propels a couple of older men, former brothers-in-law, on a late-in-life adventure in the wilds of Iceland. Or is that the “milds of Iceland”?  Colin (Paul Eenhoorn, “Martin Bonner”) and Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson, “Passenger Pigeons,” “Eastbound and Down”) are very different men. Colin’s a mild Australian, Mitch a boisterous teller of tall tales and vulgar jokes. But each brings something out of each other in the craggy, punishing landscape, with happily unexpected results. The comedy arises from the personalities of the characters (and reportedly, the actors’ own lives) rather than their circumstances, creating a sense of both verisimilitude and sincerity. The men are late in life, but “Land Ho!” is no bucket-list gag fest. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Venus In Fur

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Venus In Fur Still 4RECOMMENDED

“There is something in sadomasochism which is not dissimilar to theatre,” Roman Polanski ventures in the press kit for his adaptation of David Ives’ “Venus In Fur” (based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella). “You become a director in your own fantasies, you play a part, you get somebody else to play a part. That theatricality is something the film plays with, that play within a play: a place where domination and submission, theater and real life, characters, reality and fantasy, all meet, switch places and blur boundaries.” While “Venus In Fur” takes place almost entirely within the confines of a single theater stage, even Polanski’s other movies, in larger, wider worlds, also sally with subterfuge, consider the shimmering of identities, the salvage of self by throwing oneself wholeheartedly into what seems the annihilation of oneself. So? Polanski, like many a great artist, is also a great narcissist and in the end, the work is about himself. Or in this case, his wife of twenty-four years, Emmanuelle Seigner, arriving in a lightning storm, late to an audition, embodying the vitality of the character she is about to read, and for the play’s director, sex itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: What If

Comedy, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »

WHAT IFRECOMMENDED

In one of the first scenes in Michael Dowse’s uncompromisingly adorable modern-day romantic comedy, “What If,” Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is at a party, a year after the breakup of a relationship, transfixed by word combinations of magnetic poetry on a refrigerator: “Love is stupid monkeys dancing in a slapstick hurricane.” Within seconds, he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), a woman in a relationship of five years, and charming is as charming does. They push the word choices around with their fingertips and wide-eye each other. They’re razor-sharp in the flirtation neither expected, and the toe-to-toe exchanges are exhilarating. Immediately, you can see why these two would be attracted to each other. But there have to be pesky obstacles for star-crossed love to overcome, including the tragedy that is the platonic friendship.

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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: Magic In The Moonlight

Comedy, Romance No Comments »

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Woody Allen’s forty-fourth film, “Magic In The Moonlight,” may be the seventy-eight-year-old writer-director’s strangest in ages. It’s the first movie of his I can remember where all of the actors seem to be playing in the same scenes, and they’re largely idiotic. It’s most pronounced in terrible dramas like “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” but the syndrome is similar in even more accomplished work like “Blue Jasmine,” where there are scenes with multiple actors who seem completely stranded, or visiting from another movie down the hall at the multiplex. So this period trifle has at least that going for it, plus a lead actor, Colin Firth, who doesn’t seem to be channeling a single shred of Allen’s own on-screen persona. (The character’s self-proclaimed “genius” is never demonstrated by his actions or bluster.) As for the screenplay, it’s a full-on fumble. Doddering, even, and distant from any representation of plausible human behavior. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Happy Christmas

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

Happy ChristmasRECOMMENDED

Prolific Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg continues to explore his own backyard in “Happy Christmas,” or more to the point, his own home, a cost-effective location for his first feature released since “Drinking Buddies.” One of those buddies, Anna Kendrick, moves into the newest comedy-drama and continues to drink. And drink. Swanberg plays Jeff, a film director whose wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey), is writing a novel, and whose younger sister, Jenny (Kendrick), shows up on their doorstep after a messy and massively deserved breakup. Lena Dunham plays a friend of Jenny’s, and Mark Webber plays a curiously attractive drug dealer whom Kelly plants lips upon. Working in his customary improv style, with cinematographer Ben Richardson (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) repeating the originated-on-film style of “Drinking Buddies,” Swanberg scores sly points beneath the surface emotional ruckus and the elevated conversational wordplay. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mood Indigo

Comedy, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »

mood_indigo_storm__largeRECOMMENDED

“This feeling of solitude is unfair! I demand to fall in love, too.” Michel Gondry’s latest low-fi gallimaufry of incessant innovation and simple, surrealistic fancy, “Mood Indigo,” is based on a book supposedly known to most French children, Boris Vian’s “L’ecume des jours” (known in Stanley Chapman’s British translation as  “Froth on the Daydream”). It’s a romance atop romances with a star-crossed couple: Chloé  (Audrey Tautou) falls ill when a flower starts to grow in her lungs, and rich, lonely bachelor Colin (Romain Duris) finds he can keep her alive by surrounding her always with fresh flowers. Then heap stop-motion, dream sequences, musical passages, food play, Duke Ellington… Keep heaping. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Le Chef

Comedy, World Cinema No Comments »

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Fast-paced and amiable but way too broad, Daniel Cohen’s “Le Chef” (2012) throws together star chef Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno), a brand name with his own restaurant who can’t get along with his investors, with a younger, self- taught chef Jacky (Michaël Youn), who leans heavily on the chemistry set. Lightly sauced reflections on French cuisine bounce off implausible notions of human behavior and far too much irksome “cuteness.” Or maybe that’s what makes “Le Chef” so French?  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Hard Day’s Night

Comedy, Musical, Recommended No Comments »

71233CT28.1(CMYK)_3.tifRECOMMENDED

The greatest opening chord in movie history is followed by one of the great cut-up comedies in “A Hard Day’s Night,” combining the immense charm of the young quartet with the intense invention of a young Richard Lester. It’s one second, two seconds at the most, twannggg, and the screen floods with the Beatles, in trim, natty suits and thin ties and the, yes, Beatles haircuts, being pursued up a London side street by a loving, crushing crowd of fans. Those opening two minutes forty-five seconds are one of the most fantastic bursts of joy in any movie I know. And then, you know what? You still get to enjoy the sweetly absurd comedy of the rest of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Plus: weren’t they such pretty, lovely boys? (Even in the company of their friend, the cleanest “clean old man” of them all.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jersey Boys

Biopic, Comedy, Drama, Musical No Comments »

JERSEY BOYS
Beneath Clint Eastwood’s easygoing, even somnolent direction of “Jersey Boys” lies a wittily constructed screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, based on their book to the 2005 Broadway musical (Brickman’s other co-writing credits include “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Manhattan Murder Mystery”). But the small strokes of dialogue and rhyming bits of business are smothered by deadly pacing, among other things, including the whisper of “Goodfellas” at its back.  The latest of eighty-four-year-old Eastwood’s late career surprises harks back to a filmmaking era that never existed, a backlot-driven, quiet, even spectral elongation of the terse framing and blocking of his mentor, Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”). The combination of the gentility of the settings, sometimes-slapstick comedy, shameless profanity, casually staged musical numbers and erratic casting make for an eccentric, underwhelming, but intermittently eye-opening failure. Read the rest of this entry »