Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: In Jackson Heights

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



Obstinate, observant, a sculptor of modest cathedrals from the simplest materials—humans in their interactions—eighty-five-year-old Frederick Wiseman has fashioned another lilting, longitudinal look at community. The community, in this case, is the multi-multicultural community “In Jackson Heights,” in New York City, an agglomeration, it’s estimated, of at least 167 languages (of which English, Spanish, Arabic and Hindi are represented onscreen). The New Yorker’s Richard Brody assumed a limb and climbed upon it earlier this month when he wrote, “if the end-of-year lists were to be made today, ‘In Jackson Heights’ would be a contender for Best Screenplay. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Takin’ Place

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Recommended No Comments »



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 »

Review: A Poem Is A Naked Person

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


Lost films rediscovered: the very concept makes me shiver about the future of documentary and narrative movies being made today. There will be no lost films rediscovered; all but the most well tended digital materials will be technically illegible in years. So a separate reason to celebrate the worthiness of a “lost” Les Blank film, the loving doodle of “A Poem Is A Naked Person,” a 1974 documentary of sorts about the music of Leon Russell. Russell didn’t like the free-associative free-for-all Blank had made of his music and the moment and held the film back for four decades. But now, after Blank’s 2013 passing, we’ve got the weird and wondrous artifact at hand. Shot while hanging out with Russell across two years, “Poem” wriggles with weirdness and smells to high heaven of its 1970s roots. (Russell handily out-weirds fellow Oklahoma troubadour Wayne Coyne at most turns.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: In The Basement

Documentary, Recommended, Reviews, World Cinema No Comments »



If you know the work of the Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, the mere title “In The Basement” should prompt inappropriate giggles. His visits with countrymen who love their basements and the things they keep down there will also prompt inappropriate barks of horrified laughter. Read the rest of this entry »

Fetching a Bonehead: At The Heart of Laurie Anderson’s “Heart of a Dog”

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Photo by Ray Pride.

Photo: Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

“Hello, little bonehead. I’ll love you forever.”

Laurie Anderson’s “Heart of a Dog” opens with the identifiable twinkling cadences of her voice, a wonder-struck performative instrument that bears traces of her Glen Ellyn upbringing. She’s saying goodbye to someone she loved: her rat terrier Lolabelle. It’s a winsome, plainspoken, concrete, elusive wonder of an essay film about loss and grief. Lolabelle is the second lead, after the murmurs and venturing of her voice, but that’s not all. Someone named Lou is at the heart of it, even when his presence is only in our consciousness. “Heart of a Dog” invokes Buddhism and 9/11 and living in Manhattan afterwards and the modern surveillance state and many matters both earthbound and otherworldly, and it’s also a stream of consciousness that literally invokes water and rain and snow and bodies of water, writing atop writing, layerings of images, a palimpsest of inscribing atop inscriptions, as well as splendid sound, overlapping strands of music of polyphonic charm, as well as her voice, always her voice, insistent as ragged memory. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Pearl Button

Documentary, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


Patricio Guzmán’s “The Pearl Button” (El botón de nácar) finds the seventy-four-year-old documentarian alternating the vast natural beauty and the cruel history of his native Chile. Guzmán draws on similar landscape, including a 3,000-mile coastline, and incident, genocides of natives, the peregrinations of ancient water nomads, and the murder of political opponents by Pinochet, as in his bountiful 2010 “Nostalgia for the Light.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy

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David Evans’ “What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy” traces the opposed views of two men whose fathers had committed Nazi crimes, as the title well indicates. Human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, descendant of a Holocaust survivor, investigating the history of the Nuremberg trials, discovered two elderly men, Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter, sons of Nazi governors (and by extension mass murderers), and talks to both at length about the legacy of their fathers. Dramatically, one son forgives; the other cannot. (“He loved Hitler more than his family” is only seven words, but what words.) They have lived, remembered, thought. And Evans contrives, prods, watches. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green

Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


“Chicago’s most hotly contested seventy acres of land” is the apt description of the central area of the city covered by Ronit Bezalel’s documentary, “70 Acres In Chicago: Cabrini Green.” Bezalel’s 1999 short, “Voices of Cabrini,” was her introduction to her subject, and the feature encompasses two decades in its heated history. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: OUT 1

Action, Documentary, Drama, Events, Recommended, Romance No Comments »



Never lost, but seldom seen, Jacques Rivette’s “Out 1,” the justifiably legendary twelve-hour-fifty-five-minute epic of post-1968 Paris has been digitally restored, supervised by cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn. Previously seen only via a single 16mm print circulating to cinémathèques (including a Memorial Day weekend Siskel showing in 2006), it is now being shown around the country prior to a January 2016 Blu-ray release. Its extended form, divided into eight episodes, anticipates the phenomenon of “binge-watching” by decades, and that 2007 showing in the company of a raft of cinephiles old and young was a fantastic communal experience. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Prophet’s Prey

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Amy Berg’s comprehensive “Prophet’s Prey” is readily the most disturbing documentary I saw at Sundance 2015, and that would have been even without a mild acquaintance with Mormonism and its cult offshoots, such as Warren Jeffs’ FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints). Jeffs, to cut to the chase, is a monstrous madman and exploiter of the flesh. He’s also a canny financial thinker, establishing industries to sustain the rein of himself and his family (including a company subcontracted to manufacture the “O” rings that detonated the Challenger space shuttle). There’s a scene of a minute or so, extracted from hours of audio, that could crush the heart. I want to describe it, but I won’t. It’s simple enough to say that it’s essentially the death of innocence at the hands of Jeffs, spoken in a reedy drone, and emblematic of acts he committed again and again. (Audio of his voice is used to chilling effect throughout.) Read the rest of this entry »