Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

I Heard The News Today, Oh Boy: On The Hunting Ground of Fiction and Fact

Documentary, Drama, Events, Recommended No Comments »

The Hunting Ground

By Ray Pride

The news, oh the news from Hollywood. What providence does the future hold for the eager moviegoer? What fate lies ahead?

A few of the facts: Worldwide box-office is up one measly percent, but only because China’s audiences spent a whopping thirty-four percent more on tickets. “Star Wars VIII” gets a release date in 2017 and Rian Johnson (“Looper”) is confirmed as writer-director. A “Star Wars” standalone movie will be called “Star Wars: Rogue One.” The female-cast “Ghostbusters” will be joined by another sequel to the thirty-one-year-old movie, likely starring Chris Pratt and Channing Tatum, following the original misogynist cries on the internet with questions of why anyone’s childhood needs to be spoiled twice. Disney says they’ll rerelease the original “Star Wars” trilogy without the additions, deletions and graffiti George Lucas added across the years when he still owned Lucasfilm. And look! “Frozen 2”! Announced the day before the short “Frozen Fever” debuts before “Cinderella”! Let it go!

Damning, distressing, infuriating. Not the sequels to the news of sequels, not limited to the Marvel “Universe,” but in the universe around us. And not the economic fact that newspapers and legacy media continue to shrink as the interest in nonfiction filmmaking grows and grows. Damning, distressing and infuriating is another fine documentary opening this week, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s blunt, forceful advocacy doc, “The Hunting Ground,” a sort of sequel in itself, which takes aim at another dreadful contemporary social ill after the investigation of the plague of rape in the military and its willful, systemic whitewash in the military in “The Invisible War”: the rash of sexual violence and the cover-ups that follow on college campuses today. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: An Honest Liar

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Honest Liar


Long-dormant comedy director Barry Sonnenfeld announced a few days ago that he’s finally found a project up there with “Get Shorty” and “Men in Black”: “Project Alpha,” a story of a two-year hoax maintained by magician and champion debunker/investigator James Randi, aka “The Amazing Randi.” Conveniently, Sonnenfeld also attached himself as executive producer to Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein’s often-exhilarating documentary, “An Honest Liar,” a densely researched, captivating look back at the passions of the now-eighty-six-year-old trickster. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Seymour: An Introduction

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Seymour an introduction


Ethan Hawke’s “Seymour: An Introduction” is a documentary that comes from a pure place: he met someone he immediately admired and wanted others to meet him, too. Seymour Bernstein is a now-eighty-six-year-old pianist and music teacher who had offered Hawke pointers on how to tamp down stage fright. But after that first encounter, Hawke discovered an inveterate New Yorker who gave up a career to devote his life to others, to passing along his passion to music, and his simple kindness, to students for decades. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Deli Man

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Small, personality-driven documentaries sometimes make me think the scale can only get smaller: say, making a film for your sister to explain your brother to himself. Food and foodie documentaries are a thing now, and “Deli Man” is a steam table’s worth of diversion. Third-generation delicatessen owner Ziggy Gruber, owner of Houston’s Kenny & Ziggy’s, is the subject of Erik Greenberg Anjou’s lively, likable “Deli Man.” Corned beef sandwiches and corniness abound; the food is heavy but the japes are light. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Merchants of Doubt

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Robert Kenner’s “Merchants Of Doubt” would be a fine comedy if it weren’t a documentary about the dark American art of selling self-delusion, largely in the service of climate change denial. The figures the Oscar-nominated director of “Food, Inc.” gets onto the screen are gleeful in their corruption-for-profit rhetoric, and it’s an itchy ride. Even spin gets spun. Based on a book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, “Merchants” dissects how the tobacco industry mastered the game of spreading doubt in public discourse. If two experts disagree, who do you trust? Bingo: spread doubt. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Actress

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Life as performance, personality as melodrama, persona as hope. This is the superlative movie I’d hoped a filmmaker (director, editor, producer, shooter, critic, academic) as intelligent and driven as Robert Greene would make someday, but so soon? “Actress” is an intimate collaboration with his neighbor, Brandy Burre, an actress who had been in “The Wire” and who now juggles relationships, children, wayward emotions and unstemmed ambition. Brandy Burre plays “herself,” but it would take pages, a few thousand words, or maybe another film in reply, to indicate the richness of what’s on screen. Read the rest of this entry »

New And What “Army”: The Battle Of Docs Past and Sundance Now

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Red Army 1

By Ray Pride

The most teemingly competitive category in the Oscar race may well be documentaries rather than features. While 323 movies were eligible for the 87th Academy Awards, the documentary contest started with 134, reduced to fifteen, and finally, five.

For the final quintet, the disappointment over the exclusion of Steve James’ “Life Itself,” about the life of Roger Ebert, wasn’t limited to Chicago, although the surprise of the inclusion of Charlie Siskel and John Maloof’s “Finding Vivian Maier” offers some salve to local pride. (The other 2015 nominees are Laura Poitras’ portrait of whistleblower Edward Snowden, “CitizenFour,” Rory Kennedy’s you-are-there archival-footage driven “Last Days in Vietnam,” Orlando von Einsiedel’s “Virunga,” a Netflix-streaming exploration of the struggle to save the last of the planet’s mountain gorillas in the Congo, and Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado’s “The Salt of the Earth,” following the life and recent projects of the great photographer Sebastião Salgado.)

But the shortlist of fifteen also omitted Gabe Polsky’s “Red Army,” a taut, sprightly eighty-five-minute history of the Red Army hockey team, from the days of the USSR to modern Russia, a gripping portrait of one man’s fall from national hero to political enemy, while reflecting the upheavals of his country as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Goodbye To Language

3-D, Action, Documentary, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »

Goodbye Roxie Mieville

(Adieu au langage 3D) Roxy Miéville: superstar. With querulous, dark, liquid eyes, and a torso that extends from the back of the screen and a long, aquiline nose that juts out over the audience and nearly to your fingertips to be petted, the sleek, sniffulous mutt owned by Jean-Luc Godard is the most lustrous of special effects in his hectic, cryptic 3D provocation, “Farewell to Language.” Working with cinematographer Fabrice D’Aragno over the course of four years, the now-eighty-four-year-old Godard wreaks multidimensional effects other filmmakers wouldn’t dare, often created with only a couple of small consumer cameras strapped together and wielded by the filmmaker himself. Read the rest of this entry »

“I’m Not Your Subject, I’m Your Friend”: Getting To “Almost There”

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By Ray Pride

There’s a delicate and beautiful dance in Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden’s “Almost There,” a seven-years-in-the-making engagement with an elderly Northwest Indiana outsider artist, Peter Anton (whose work was shown at Chicago’s Intuit Gallery in 2010). The movie transforms before our eyes, as it did for the filmmakers, a dance between a willful subject and filmmakers who intend not to stray too close but ultimately can’t help themselves. Anton lives not only in poverty, but also in squalor, in a falling-down house left him by his parents, and the ethical question of how involved the filmmakers ought to be, in light of his circumstances, grows uneasy. “I’m not your subject,” Anton bursts out at one point, “I thought you were my friend.” “Almost There” has its Chicago debut at Siskel this week, and I’ll write more about its innerworldly kick when the Kartemquin-ITVS co-production is released theatrically. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Remote Area Medical

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Why is universal healthcare considered radical, even un-American in some quarters? That’s not the subject of Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman’s quietly urgent, painfully of-the-moment “Remote Area Medical,” an observational documentary that leans into three days of the title organization’s encampment at Tennessee’s Bristol Motor Speedway. There’s no preaching here, only a selection of the amassing figures. Thousands of nearby citizens line up from the darkest hours of the morning to receive the most basic of medical and dental attention. “We don’t have jobs here, and the jobs that are available aren’t paying living wages,” we hear. Are we in a third-world country? (RAM began its activities aiding the dispossessed of other nations.) No, just the greater mid-South: America. The structuring of incident and character sneaks up on you: this is one of the most Altmanesque of large-cast nonfiction films, yet infused with a tenderness, a quiet dismay that Altman never cared for. Read the rest of this entry »