Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: 7 Chinese Brothers

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »



Jason Schwartzman brings the height of his droll, if furtive everyman mien to the latest semi-surreal provocation by Austin-based comedy filmmaker Bob Byington (“Harmony & Me,” “Somebody Up There Likes Me”) to satisfying result. For “7 Chinese Brothers,” they’re peas in a misanthropic pod, plus Schwartzman’s own French bulldog Arrow co-stars to keep his character, Larry, sane through a daily life that’s a sequence of setbacks, despite financial infusions from his nursing-home-bound grandmother (Olympia Dukakis, droll, too). Larry’s a slacker, and not a very good one. (He’s a much finer inebriate.) He’d be a jerk if Jason Schwartzman didn’t inhabit him like breath inhabits a fast-talking body. All right, Larry is a jerk. And a finely tooled one! Read the rest of this entry »

Review: She’s Funny That Way

Comedy, Romance No Comments »


A generic title to suit a generic result, seventy-six-year-old Peter Bogdanovich’s seventeenth feature, “She’s Funny That Way,” was once entitled “Squirrels to the Nuts,” a reference to the film “Cluny Brown” that’s repeated like the dropping of an anvil about fifteen times in the finished product. (The press kit repeatedly cites “Lubitch” as the director of that film, a misspelling that suggests a clever, if frustrated intern back at the production office.)

They all yawned: “SFTW” is a brave, if eminently foolhardy try to recapture a lengthy career, as Bogdanovich leans for his first feature in fourteen years on a screenplay written at least a dozen years ago, for John Ritter, by himself and his ex-wife, Louis Stratten. A dozen or so characters want to fuck, but are prevented by meretricious complication atop meretricious complication, from fucking the ones they truly want to fuck. Owen Wilson, a playwright whose character names run to “Hal Finnegan,” pulls a favored stunt with Izzy, a cartoon prostitute played by a likably eager Imogen Poots. He has a history of relating a dumb story about “squirrels to the nuts” and “nuts to the squirrels” to his escorts, then gives the young women $30,000 if they’ll forsake the profession. Uh-huh. Poots’ New York accent is insufferable, part Judy Holliday, part Bogdanovich impersonating Judy Holliday, with more than a soupcon of Linda Manz, and oh, the Scarlett Johansson from Woody Allen movies. The backdrop for the marital militating and sexual slavering of the oh-too-many characters is the casting and rehearsal of a banal, 1970s-style sex farce. Bogdanovich strains for screwball, with indifferently blocked physical action in wide frames, and much repetition of the patter of puss-pokes by femme-fists upon put-upon men.

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Review: Grandma

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »


In Paul Weitz’s smart, elemental comedy “Grandma,” Lily Tomlin plays, yes, a seventy-year-0ld grandmother, Elle Reid, who’s also a mother, a gay woman who’s dumped her younger girlfriend (Judy Greer), and perhaps most perceptively, a career writer. The other characters include a wooly-foxy Sam Elliott as a wealthy former flame, Marcia Gay Harden as her more-pissed-than-pistol executive daughter and a winningly winsome Julia Garner as “Sage,” her curlilocked granddaughter trying to scratch up $600 for an abortion before sundown, which sets their miniature, day-long journey into motion. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Digging For Fire

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance 1 Comment »



With “Digging For Fire,” Joe Swanberg extends his run of intimate backyard moviemaking to an actual backyard at a summer rental, where a gun, a bone and a telescope set intrigue (and extended conversation) into nifty (if slow-burn) motion. Mid-thirties-life-crisis strikes for Tim (Jake Johnson), a teacher still not settled into the truth that he’s been a father for three years. Rosemarie Dewitt plays his witty wife, Jude Swanberg the son, natch. The estimable critic Bérénice Reynaud has aligned the latest Swanberg with Rohmer, and “Digging” extends his streak of pictures that stream with genial dialogue, superficially breezy, yet where emotional currents deepen. Read the rest of this entry »

She Is Multitudes: Afloat On The Comic Tributaries Of “Mistress America”

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

By Ray Pride

In “Mistress America,” Noah Baumbach turns muse-partner-fellow screenwriter Greta Gerwig into a delightful, deliquescent, never-defeated and never-deflated Jean Arthur for the twenty-first century, as another incarnation of her energy and off-kilter wit is unleashed upon a Manhattan-Brooklyn of the romantic mind. (You could see the legacy of the great dames like Carole Lombard and Judy Holliday, if you’re so inclined.) “Mistress America,” indeed.

For my money, or at least my mood the night I saw it, “Mistress America” landed like ten-thousand dollars of finely focused therapy. (So this is narcissism!) Gerwig’s Brooke is akin to many modern Manhattanites of the past fifty years: from somewhere else but born to the island. Or at least to the lure of the lore and the lingo. From a Times Square red-carpet entrance to late-night laughter in the warm embrace of the East Village’s Veselka Ukrainian restaurant, Brooke is many tributaries. Her finger’s in pie after pie, her identity known to all but herself, a regular whirla-Zelig-gig. She’s a perpetual-posture machine, who says things not to hear herself talk, but to offer the soft sizzle of a second’s affirmation to her listener, even if what she says is errant nonsense or rank absurdity. (How do they know this woman so well?) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Iron Ministry

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



J. P. Sniadecki’s clamorously atmospheric doc, “The Iron Ministry,” was shot across three years of the infernal, eternal expansion of the vast Chinese rail system. As the railways expand, Sniadecki rides the rails from 2011-2013 and traffics in sensory reportage as he meets passengers in the cramped confines, who bear blunt, wry attitude about class and cash under his direct cinema-styled eye—“What if you do have a ballot, and the choice is one more sonofabitch?” Then he assembles the travels as if we were all on a single, swift journey. Where are they headed? Where are we headed? Coolly formal yet ceaselessly tactile, his film works from lovely visual abstraction to the most material of physical concerns. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ten Thousand Saints

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »


In “Ten Thousand Saints,” adapted by writer-directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (“American Splendor”) from a novel by Eleanor Henderson, Asa Butterfield (“Hugo,” “Ender’s Game”) and Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) are siblings destined to come-of-age in the late 1980s propelled by more-dramatic-than-melodramatic circumstances from the care of their hippie mother (Julianne Nicholson) in Vermont to their pot-dealing father (Ethan Hawke) in New York’s Lower East Side. Performances are stirring all-round in this Sundance 2015 entry, especially the vigorous Butterfield and Steinfeld, who enliven the comic family dysfunction and lighten the teen pregnancy subplot. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Straight Outta Compton

Comedy, Drama, Musical, Recommended No Comments »



“Straight Outta Compton,” the story of Compton, California rap “supergroup” N.W.A., could have fallen flat, but even while including member Eric “Eazy-E” Wright’s first clumsy attempts at rapping, it hits the right notes. A version of the group’s origin—from E’s bankrolling of his Ruthless label and the recording of the “Boyz-n-the-Hood” single with money earned from drug-running, and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young’s beginnings as a club DJ despite disapproval from his mother, to O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson’s now-infamous lack of love for the police. “Straight Outta Compton” doesn’t whitewash conflicts within the group, especially Cube’s departure from N.W.A. in December 1989 after a dispute over royalties, Dr. Dre’s alliance and split with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, and Eazy-E and Cube exchanging diss tracks. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Prince

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



(Prins) Dutch director Sam de Jong’s “Prince” draws largely on non-actors to populate a sometimes-touching, sometimes-goofy tale of Moroccan-Dutch youth one hot summer in the local projects. Seventeen-year-old Ayoub (Ayoub Elasri) is caught up in dilemma after dilemma, from a sister who’s starting to turn eyes to keeping an eye on his homeless Moroccan father. Plus, being a teenage boy among other, prone-to-crime teens. De Jong, whose earlier work, including videos, is filled with stylish goings-on, partakes of minimalism and surrealism at different junctures. There’s prole-positive deadpan humor suggesting an acquaintance with Aki Kaurismäki, and other bursts of mood are Harmony Korine-esque without directly resembling the corrupted-pop bad-boy bard of Nashville’s work. (“Prince” is co-presented by VICE, if that suggests anything.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »



“The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” Marielle Heller’s adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s San Francisco-set coming-of-age graphic novel, is a fantastic gust of teenage bluster, capturing a fifteen-year-old girl’s first sexual experiences with glee, greed, filth, squalor and little, if any, judgment. The confusion that comes with her sexuality is described with a high, and even sometimes stoned, order of comic candor. But eventually Heller and Gloeckner’s great accomplishment is to make a movie that’s about the necessity of finding the measure of self-worth within the pursuit of liberty (and fucking). Read the rest of this entry »