By Ray Pride
A beautiful French teenager turns to prostitution, no explanation given. A Romanian film director prepares in the days before shooting a film: language is worse groundwork than silence, especially with women. In a dark club, a man must scream, and does.
If there’s one thing in common among the films I’ve been able to sample from the 17th Annual European Union Film Festival at the Siskel Film Center, with sixty-four features from twenty-six countries, it’s simply that the storytelling dispenses with backstory, there’s a lot less about increasingly distant wars of the twentieth century, and that many of them seem like reports of the moment, emotional weather reports, simple, sometimes elegant statements of the state of things. Read the rest of this entry »
David Grovic’s ugly, witless, pretentious, semi-coherent, nerd-noir hitman thriller failure, “The Bag Man” (aka “The Motel”) came out of nowhere, and there it’s gonna go back within hours. Robert De Niro, brandishing an epic white pompadour that looks like a prank on eternal producer Robert Evans, plays a crime chieftain who dispatches fuckup Jack (a weary, worn, hardly present John Cusack) to a meeting of fuckups in a fucked-up motel in the middle of nowhere. Plus, rape. Two decades late to the post-Tarantino knockoff party, “The Bag Man” is the kind of movie you flick past among the other 500 channels filled with shit and wonder aloud, “What’s on HBO Zone?” or, “Why hasn’t David Lynch made a movie for younger filmmakers to pillage in so many years?” Read the rest of this entry »
An often-exquisite mess, Scott Coffey’s “Adult World” capably captures the pretensions and confusions of a certain age, in both fond and satirical fashion. Punchy and screwloose, his small satire follows Emma Roberts as virginal twenty-two-year-old college student Amy Anderson, modeling herself after Sylvia Plath, who seeks employment at a beat-down adult bookstore in Syracuse, while pursuing a mentor in the form of a beat-up punk poet played by John Cusack. “You can’t be a wunderkind after twenty-two,” Amy frets aloud. Read the rest of this entry »
With ambition that outstrips her experience, first-time director Jenée LaMarque’s fairytale “The Pretty One” mingles implausible drama and awkward comedy to less-than-middling result. Playing identical twins, the always-captivating Zoe Kazan brings some charm to the troubling premise: mouseburger twin Laurel takes on the life of her more exuberant sister, Audrey, after her abrupt death. Quirk and hipsterism-nearing-twee ensues, and how. (The brightly colored production design is toothsome, if largely overwhelming.) Kazan’s gift for winning oddity carries the day, even as LaMarque fails to find a persuasive overall tone. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Santiago: the modern day. Gloria, a Chilean divorcee in her fifties, is at a dance club for single adults, pisco sour at the ready. She has a sly, crooked smile and looks out at the rest of the room, filled with women and men her age or older, watching from behind oversized, almost goofy glasses that would have been fashionable in… did you say the 1970s? Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” comes on, and she dances, in the room, to the room, certainly, but mostly for herself. She’s ready for romance and ready for whomever, whatever may come her way. In “Gloria,” Sebastián Lelio’s near-flawless, high-spirited comedy-drama (his country’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar), the stellar Paulina García possesses her character with grace and humor at the center of each and every scene. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“August: Osage County” began life as stories heard and scenes seen by a ten-year-old Tracy Letts in Oklahoma, then took shape as a Steppenwolf ensemble production in 2007 before moving on to Broadway, before taking the Pulitzer in 2008. Now, in time for the holidays, Letts has adapted his three-hour family meltdown barnburner for the movies, providing rare verbal-physical performance challenges for film actors like Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin and Dermot Mulroney.
The plainspoken forty-eight-year-old Letts recently won a Tony in the role as George in the Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf,” and dared the early December Chicago cold to talk about the craft behind the adaptation of his sweltering familial meltdown. An early grace note at the top of the movie is a whiff of the great Sam Shepard, puttering around the house as a lost-to-fog alcoholic poet. “Nice, huh?” Letts says with a pleased smile. “He’s pretty good, that Sam. He’s pretty good. If he had never been a playwright, I think he might have been a good movie star anyway.” Letts has quoted the great American playwright as answering the question, “Why family as a subject?” with “What else is there?”
Letts laughs. “I don’t know if that story is true or not, but…” But you said it was. “Yeah. No, it’s a quote I love to take and credit to Sam. Did you like the movie?” Read the rest of this entry »
Can there be such a thing as boisterous lethargy? Tragicomic torpor? Energetic ennui? Sì, sì and sì: in Paolo Sorrentino’s extravagant, confident, magnificent epic, “The Great Beauty” (La grande bellezza), Rome is front and center in all its decaying beauty and insurgent energy, its “disenchantment and cynicism,” with Sorrentino’s protagonist, the journalist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo, “Gomorrah,” “Il divo”), lending his sad eyes to reflect all of society in front of him. Of course, Roman society includes a Fellini-flavored range of flash and buffoonery, and as the sixty-fifth birthday of the famed novelist approaches, frenzy grows after the fashion of “8 1/2” and “La dolce vita.” Decades earlier, Jep wrote a single book, “The Human Apparatus,” that made his name, and from his unlikely apartment overlooking the Coliseum in the center of the city, the world passes before his pained smile. Read the rest of this entry »
Since the sixth word of the movie is “cocksucker,” and soon enough someone’s straw-snorting coke in proximity to a hooker’s upturned anus, so “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is not shy about extending its paw for a frantic shake straightaway. The rise and rise and fall and fall of a convicted late-1980s stock-trading fraudster, of course, makes for incendiary, insidious sensationalism. The rush of narration rolls on: “I use Xanax to stay focused, Ambien to sleep, pot to mellow out, cocaine to wake up and morphine… because it’s awesome.” All manner of powder and power: white and green are the warmest colors. The litany about the virtue of drugs in the accumulation of money and power seethes, “See? Enough of this shit will make you invincible. Money is the oxygen of capitalism and I wanna breathe more than any other human being alive.” It is a sustained shock that a seventy-one-year-old filmmaker, even Martin-fucking-Scorsese (and dedicated editor Thelma Schoonmaker), can heighten the hyper character of a “Casino” or “Goodfellas” on a wholly other topic and surpass himself in vitality and insurgent hallucinogenic energy, and at a 179-minute duration that does not flag, laden with what feels like huge passages of inspired improvisation. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“You’ve probably heard that one before, because it was never new and it never gets old and it’s a folk song.”
In “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the Coen brothers sing the blue-grays for a handsome, talented, yet affectless and couch-surfing young man trapped in circles of failure, or more accurately, near-success—literally, as the few days depicted on the lovingly imagined and detailed Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s around the time of Bob Dylan’s supernovaing into the culture—as surely as a record goes ‘round and ‘round. Part of Davis’ stage patter are the words above, and sweetly, it suits the film itself.
As Davis, thirty-three-year-old Oscar Isaac, Juilliard-trained and himself a talented singer-songwriter, is at the center of the film (except for the moments absconded with by a golden tabby played by six cats of differing temperament), if not quite its heart. As with the Coens’ startling recent output, Llewyn is another protagonist to whom fate must be dealt, and who must always be a few steps behind in figuring out what the hell is going on. He’s beguiled by tricksters at every turn, from the wife of his best friend who he’s had sex with (a spite-spinning Carey Mulligan) to a curt, sinister Chicago club owner (F. Murray Abraham) to a bloviating jazz musician (an epic John Goodman). You could read the “inside” as being inside Llewyn Davis’ head: these are all the voices, the self-critical voices that will keep him from success, parceled out among the figures who criss-cross his path. Read the rest of this entry »