By Ray Pride
“Chi-raq” is a bad movie, or more accurately, several bad movies at pitched battle with one another. It is as consummate a curiosity as could be made today with the finance of a beneficent billionaire set to make a name for himself in a new field. (As in Jeff Bezos and the “Amazon Studios” label.) Spike Lee’s state-of-the-union address has ambition to burn, and it burns it to the ground.
“I don’t live in no fuckin’ Chicago” is part of the extended pre-credits scene of red letter-lyrics on a black background, and “Chi-raq” doesn’t. Despite being shot on Englewood locations, the sense of setting is otherworldly and non-site-specific, and could have been located in any American city with violence that bursts from simmer to carnage in a soon-stilled heartbeat. (Lee has cited “Killadelphia” as a nickname for Philadelphia and “BodyMore, Murderland” for Baltimore, for instance.)
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South Side camera-eye Cyrus Dowlatshahi trains his traveled gaze on the Washington Park and Englewood neighborhoods in the documentary “Takin’ Place.” Along the streets, on sidewalks, backyards, in homes and in cars, Dowlatshahi listens with a sensitive ear and watches with a highly talented post-vérité gaze. Read the rest of this entry »
Shot in a forgiving high-contrast black-and-white, Michael Glover Smith’s day-in-the-Chicago-life romance has the flick-of-the-wrist directness of city locations—streets and storefronts, recognizable sorts of apartments and back porches, the El and bookstores, Formica-table cafes—but also hopeful investment in conversational cul-de-sacs, the kind of “tension-filled banter” of classical local improv. Nineteenth-century literature does battle with distracted females; a bookstore clerk who brags on not having a computer plots contemporary writing. I’ve seen worse arguments and overheard even worse, and I’d hardly like to be stuck in a room or around a dinner table with any of the quartet of protagonists, but they’d probably say the same about bickering I’ve been a part of. There’s truth in the underbrush. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me. I’m thinking of the days, I won’t forget a single day…” are words sung in an emotional crescendo near the end of “Until The End of the World,” a Kinks song sungalong in the middle of the night on the bottom of the planet at what a raft of characters believe is already of the end of civilization as they know it, as Wim Wenders and his co-writers Peter Carey and Solveig Dommartin anticipate. Read the rest of this entry »
Is the title ironic, blunt, provocative—what is this thing called “Entertainment”? Plangent existential horror of an excruciating order, Rick Alverson’s “Entertainment” may have been the most difficult movie at Sundance not to bolt from in heaving sobs commingled with hapless howls. It is to suffer. An unholy reckoning of Gregg Turkington’s most failed of failed-comics-character Neil Hamburger, the can’t-go-on-must-go-on despair of Beckett, the fractured, broken-down landscapes of Don DeLillo’s novels or an Antonioni film, “Entertainment” places hysteria front-and-center in “hysterical” and “scream” into squeamish. Turkington lavishes his scalp with unguent and spray, dons a comb-over as skullcap, drinks and drinks from so many cocktail glasses, wanders through unlikely tourist attractions consisting of ruins under the bright desert sun, by night telling his brutal insult jokes to audiences who have armor for skin, and late, late at night attempting to reach his young daughter on the phone. It’s the closest emulation of a waking nightmare in an American movie in a very long time. Read the rest of this entry »
Jay Roach’s shift from broad comedy (the “Austin Powers” pictures, “Meet the Parents”) to lower-key, politically tinged comedy (“Game Change,” “The Campaign,” “Recount”) is a cheering one, even if small scale. The splendidly acted while tonally eccentric “Trumbo” engages all sorts of adult concerns missing from movies these days, not limited to gently dramatizing the life of one of the most colorful characters affected by the late 1940s and 1950s Hollywood blacklist. Bryan Cranston’s a crotchety character actor all the way here, making for a more modest performance than his “Breaking Bad” life-changer, but there’s a keen twinkle here that pops up sporadically among all the other real-life, if not necessarily true-to-life figures. Read the rest of this entry »
Not that I expected Bond 24, aka “Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions presents Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 in SPECTRE,” to make a lick of sense… A screenplay credited to John Logan (“Skyfall,” “The Aviator,” “Hugo”), Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (“The World Is Not Enough,” “Die Another Day,” “Casino Royale,” “Quantum Of Solace,” “Skyfall”) and Jez Butterworth (“Jerusalem,” “Black Mass”) goes through disjointed motions, shoehorning Bond lore from before the days of Daniel Craig and dovetailing dribs and drabs of the increasingly Christopher Nolan-like family drama that’s infused the movies since Craig shouldered on those fantastically fitted Tom Ford suits. Read the rest of this entry »
A film about films and filmmaking and a filmmaker barred from making films by a filmmaker who worships films and is barred from making films, Jafar Panahi’s blissfully kind, effortlessly wise third feature since being sentenced to silence by the Iranian regime is an elegant, minor-key masterpiece. Taking the lead from his countryman Abbas Kiarostami who set “Ten” inside a car and largely confined “Taste of Cherry” to one, Panahi seats himself behind the wheel of a yellow cab, surveying the temperature of his society through frank conversations and freighted interactions with fellow citizens. It’s as self-referential as simple conversation. A female lawyer jokes, “Are you a cabbie now? You’re back in the driver’s seat?” but after talking about her fear of being silenced, says, “Better to remove my words from your movie.” A directing student asks Panahi what to make a film about. “I’ve seen movies, I’ve read books, but can’t find a good subject.” During this, they pass Western DVDs back and forth from the front seat to the back seat of the parked taxi. “Listen… those films are already made, those books are already written. You have to look elsewhere.” As in the film’s entirety, the city flows behind them: face, figure, story, incident, implication, a weft of ceaseless metaphor. “It won’t just come by itself,” he says. “What do I do? Where do I start?” the student asks. Panahi’s features mingle melancholy and bemusement. “That’s the hardest part. No one can tell you.” Read the rest of this entry »
Speaking at the Cleveland International Film Festival, “Homemakers” writer-director Colin Healey said his film is “about a drunken, shitshow hipster who inherits a terrible house. In Pittsburgh.” Sold! Rachel McKeon invests herself body and soul as Irene, an apparently homeless Austinite drunkenly rebuilding this abandoned, tumbledown edifice left to her by her grandfather, aided by a long-lost cousin (Jack Culbertson). Healey’s restrained micro-budget production is graced with pinpoints of loveliness drawn from elements as simple as strands of lightbulbs rising up the walls of a stairwell, as well as a copiously imaginative thrift store esthetic. But the majestic center of gravity of “Homemakers” is the epically charismatic McKeon, lavishly unleashed and yet physically focused, never floundering. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Climbing the steep, steep stairs to the top of Navy Pier IMAX to see “The Walk” in 3D, I anticipated, nay, hoped for kinetic, gyroscopic, balletic, vertiginous acrophobia, soaring sensation, but dammit, only a few minutes into the movie the sensation that occurred, recurred, resonated until the very end, was only a modest sinking feeling.
Robert Zemeckis’ astute, painstaking deployment of the widescreen frame is one of the most consistent technical accomplishments by a contemporary American filmmaker, but the story here is overripe with a forlorn eagerness to please. Read the rest of this entry »