Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: I Am Chris Farley

Comedy, Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



Premiering to a packed house at Second City’s UP Comedy Club on Monday night, the funny and touching documentary “I Am Chris Farley” kicked off a national tour. With directors Brent Hodge and Derik Murray in attendance, along with Farley’s brother Kevin Farley (who executive-produced) and a number of friends, the screening and post-show Q&A had an air of familiarity and celebration that suited the film. “[Chris] would have liked you to laugh more than cry,” Kevin said in a stirring introduction to the film. Despite the expectedly somber tone of the final third of the film, the audience eagerly complied, laughing through the largely linear portrait of Farley as an exuberant, natural-born comedic performer who concealed his dark interior as best as he could.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cartel Land

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


Director-producer-shooter-co-editor Matthew Heineman’s Sundance-prized “Cartel Land” brandishes impressive access on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, alternating vignettes of vigilantes waging extra-legal battle versus Mexican drug cartels. Bookended by middle-of-the-night, middle-of-nowhere scenes with meth cookers out in the desert, “Cartel Land” is impressive filmmaking in the service of dispiriting fact, figures on both sides of the law saying that lawlessness and corruption cannot and will not end. On the Mexican side, an aging surgeon and womanizer turned leader of the Michoacán “autodefensa” gains popular support until his followers grow as corrupt as their adversaries. In the States, recovering alcoholic, reformed meth-using gravel-voiced, leather-tanned, neck-tattooed “Nailer” with dead, ice blue eyes, observes, “Back in the day, vigilante wasn’t a bad thing.” The meth men are among the most articulate of the profane men on screen, saying of their nighttime trade, “Those fuckers studied chemistry and taught us how to make this shit.” Whatever Heineman’s study of filmmaking, the stylishly shot, severely framed and mostly finely edited scenes that include the camera operators under fire in street shootouts rise to a level of technique that led action master Kathryn Bigelow to add her name to the many listed producers. Read the rest of this entry »

Behind The Diary: Asif Kapadia on the Heart of “Amy” Winehouse

Documentary, Musical, Recommended, Romance No Comments »


By Ray Pride

Asif Kapadia’s enveloping, harrowing, even revelatory second documentary with a posthumous subject is a musical, a tragedy, and a major mash-note to the too-soon-gone talent of Amy Winehouse. “Amy” also portrays a woman who was not so much an addict as someone consumed by feelings, the need to express them, and by brutally intense sensations of love.

Kapadia chose not to shoot video of Winehouse’s friends and family and collaborators. “Previously, I’d made a film called ‘Senna,’ done in the same way,” Kapadia tells me on a Chicago visit. “So it’s like a development, a continuation of that style. The only interviews where I took a camera along, it’s only a couple, it’s people like Tony Bennett and [music producer] Mark Ronson. Everybody else, it was just audio. The intention was to never use the picture. Also, these people have never spoken before. Most of the friends and her first manager and the band members, ninety-five-percent of the people have never been interviewed, never sold a story, never written a book or been on TV. The process was quite long, and a quite painful process for them. It became almost a therapeutic process, just me in this room, a microphone on the table, just the two of us talking, turn the lights down. The worst thing in the world would have been to turn up with a camera crew. But it’s the first time they’ve spoken, you can hear the emotion in the voices.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Yes Men Are Revolting

Comedy, Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



The aging of the prankster is front and center in “The Yes Men Are Revolting,” the third feature about the half-assed but often convincing hoaxes perpetrated by shameless political activists Mike Bonanno (Jacques Servin) and Andy Bichlbaum (Igor Vamos). It’s a curious place to find two smart clowns like these now-middle-aged media savants, but its meta-meta material about communication and miscommunication between the duo speak to issues both larger and more personal than the economic and political miscreants they target. Read the rest of this entry »

Algren Abundant: Contemplating Two Documentary Films About the Chicago Writer

Chicago Artists, Documentary No Comments »

algrenText and Illustrations by Dmitry Samarov

Nelson Algren came into my life sometime in high school. This was in the late 1980s in a suburb of Boston, but I was lucky enough to have older friends to point me toward the books, music and movies that showed a world beyond my immediate surroundings. Algren wrote about down-and-outers in Chicago at the middle of the twentieth century, people who, like him, had survived the Great Depression and World War II and bore all the scars incurred from surviving those times. His books weren’t that easy to come by. Many were out of print and Algren was certainly not considered part of the canon. He wouldn’t be a writer a kid in suburban Boston would encounter in a high-school English class. Still, I was drawn to the world he wrote about and read all his work that I could find in libraries and secondhand bookstores. He introduced me to the city of Chicago several years before I came here to go to art school, before I even had any intention of coming here. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Nightmare

Documentary, Horror No Comments »


Rodney Ascher’s follow-up to “Room 237,” his collation of mad conspiracy theories about “The Shining,” doesn’t have the same crazy tingle, although “documentary-horror” is a genre dying to be confected and delved. Debuting at Sundance 2015, “The Nightmare” mixes testimony of subjects who share with the filmmaker a form of sleep paralysis that is often precipitated by very similar “shadow men.” The first several enactments suggest a creepiness that does not come to fruition and the on-camera recitations remain very much the same. Read the rest of this entry »

A Fraction Of Nonfiction: Programmer Anthony Kaufman On “Docs At The Box”

Documentary, Events, Festivals, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

The Russian Woodpecker

By Ray Pride

While it’s never been a more fertile time to produce innovative, powerful, even poetic documentaries, the marketplace is another matter. Even a movie that cost a few thousand dollars has to find a way into the distribution pipeline, gain a little awareness, to get the attention of just a few more eyeballs at a time, maybe recoup a fraction of its cash outlay. Netflix, HBO, fantastic festivals around the world: but what about on the big screen at a theater near you? Several distributors, notably Magnolia (“Life Itself,” “Iris,” “Muscle Shoals”) and Radius (“Citizenfour,” “The Great Invisible”) are combining theatrical and video-on-demand releases for their films, but there’s so much more for audiences to explore, with only a fraction of the nonfiction getting farther than the spreadsheets of programmers and the notebooks of festival critics.

Longtime film journalist (including a stint as founding film editor at Time Out Chicago) and Chicago International Film Festival programmer Anthony Kaufman returns to the Music Box with his curatorial fervor for a second round of “Docs at the Box” in June, presenting five films that represent “the full spectrum of current nonfiction filmmaking, from archival-driven and vérité to avant-garde” each Tuesday night. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Iris

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



“I improvise, it’s like playing jazz,” says Manhattan fashion icon Iris Apfel in “Iris,” the late Albert Maysles’ final solo venture as documentary director. It’s a meeting of kind minds: Maysles always worked well with women and was drawn to them in many of the films he made, as well as with his brother, notably, “Grey Gardens.” Looking. Listening. Admiring. Even loving. Apfel’s amply creative style, from couture to costume and back again, is as colorful as can be, and through Maysles’ eyes, she’s one chatty, witty, wise character: “I feel lucky to be working. If you’re lucky enough to do something you love, everything else follows.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lambert & Stamp

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »
THE WHO with Chris Stamp at left. Pete Townshend and Kit Lambert at Windsor Jazz Festival in 1966

The Who with Chris Stamp at left. Pete Townshend and Kit Lambert at Windsor Jazz Festival in 1966


Rock ‘n’ roll: youth. Twenty-first-century rock ‘n’ roll docs: geezers. James D. Cooper’s engaging “Lambert & Stamp,” about two men who met the Who in the early days before they were the Who, does little to mitigate that equation. Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert were young filmmakers, one working-class, the other aristocratic, who happened upon the nascent band and abandoned their vérité ambitions to shape and manage the band within the emerging, insurgent Mod movement. Lambert and Stamp’s footage is striking, alongside their visionary notions of how to create an audience for this sound, especially against the texture of survivors telling their stories of vim and verve from many, many years before. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Filmmaker “Bar Talks” At Chicago Underground Film Festival

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Events, Festivals, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »
L for Leisure

“L For Leisure”

As moderator of the festival’s fourth edition of “Bar Talks,” I can’t formally review what’s in store in the five days of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, but I’d like to indicate the goals of the annual “Bar Talks,” four extended filmmaker/audience conversations, especially in light of the notably consistent focus on atmosphere, mood and elusive narratives in the feature and shorts programming at the twenty-second edition of CUFF, the world’s longest-running underground film festival. The “bar talks,” taking place in the Logan Lounge at the Logan Theatre, are informal gatherings of local and guest filmmakers, with conversation the intention without the ping-pong of panel-like proclaiming. The talks may run an hour, or even an hour-and-a-half, depending on how much everyone has on their mind. Read the rest of this entry »