Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

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 »

Review: How Strange To Be Named Federico: Scola Narrates Fellini

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(Che strano chiamarsi Federico!, 2013) Director-on-director documentaries, outside of Martin Scorsese’s estimable efforts, are rare, and Ettore Scola’s genial “How Strange To Be Named Federico!” released twenty years after Fellini’s death is a sweet one. Mike Nichols once observed that “Directing a film is like fucking: you’ll always wonder how the other guy does it.” Apparently the system’s looser in Italy, with the range of stories about how writers and actors and others were always dropping their colleagues’ sets. In the case of Scola and Fellini, the slightly younger director works with clips, narration and re-creations, with color and black-and-white, with humor high and low, to weave a personal portrait of his friends’ most magical moments on screen. (A couple of inspired dream sequences, too.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution

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Nearly fifty years after the founding of the Black Panthers, Stanley Nelson’s dense, comprehensive, yet brisk and vital “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” presents a lucid portrait of the group’s formation and the ideals and ambitions of the women and men who comprised it. (As well as the government forces arrayed against them, including the FBI, and its documented, concerted campaign to destroy them.) Veteran documentarian Stanley Nelson had hoped his impressive work wouldn’t arrive at a moment as conflicted as the present. Read the rest of this entry »

Reeling in the Years: Chicago’s Long-Running LGBTQ Film Fest At Thirty-Three

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Events, Festivals, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »
"Beautiful Something"

“Beautiful Something”

By Ray Pride

There’s no official number of how many film festivals there are in Chicago, or even a readily agreed-upon definition of how many films and events constitute a true “festival,” but in its thirty-third year, Reeling, the Chicago “LGBTQ+” International Film Festival, is definitely one of the most resilient (and the nation’s second oldest, after San Francisco’s Frameline).

“Film festivals not only continue to be relevant, despite the onslaught of choices for entertainment,” founder and executive director Brenda Webb tells me. “In some ways, they are more relevant than ever because of their curatorial role and promotional functions.”

An example of that is how small films that debut on Netflix (not heavily advertised and hyped series) never gain social traction, there’s little conversation in the larger culture, only cold, cryptic algorithms guessing what will satisfy every given view. Webb agrees. “There may be many more choices of films to see online and on television than ever before, but given the noise of overwhelming choices, audiences need to tune into which films to spend their time seeing.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dreamcatcher

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British filmmaker Kim Longinotto has produced a sterling roster of some of the most fierce documentaries about women around the world, but “Dreamcatcher,” her vérité portrait of former sex worker and community counselor Brenda Myers-Powell, may be even more compelling than “Divorce, Iranian Style” and “Rough Aunties,” in no small part because of the dynamic, even transfixing presence of Myers-Powell on the inner-city streets of Chicago and at her Dreamcatcher foundation, which assists at-risk women. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Meru

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Terror: give it a new name, call it “Meru.” Instead of don’t look in the basement, do… not… look… down… Speaking specifically as a male acrophobe, Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary is achingly beautiful, eye-widening and testicle-tautening. The two-trek telling follows three American climbers (including Chin, also co-cinematographer), in a second attempt to reach the as-then unconquered 21,000-foot pinnacle of the Shark’s Fin of Mount Meru above the headwaters of the Ganges River in India. Few have seen the vistas, the time-lapse perspectives are mesmerizing, and Jon Krakauer’s punchy, often prosaic commentary still manages to situate the compulsion and obsession of the deadly sport into larger contexts. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: I Touched All Your Stuff

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“It all started with the hippos” is a fine way to start any film, and Maíra Bühler and Matias Mariani’s weird little shaggy-doc, “I Touched All Your Stuff” (A Vida Privada dos Hipopótamos, aka “The Private Life of Hippos”) does yeoman’s work in defining, if not divining, the mad life of an American con artist who winds up in epic stretches of trouble, drug running, dangerous anti-romance and, eventually, prison, in Colombia. For instance, the hippos? They belonged to drug magnate Carlos Escobar. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stray Dog

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After making “Down to the Bone” and “Winter’s Bone,” gifted writer-director Debra Granik joked she was onto her “osteoporosis trilogy,” optioning another novel that happened to have “bone” in its title. With no feature on the horizon, however, she returns with “Stray Dog,” a piercing, poignant documentary portrait of working-class poverty in America, drawing from the same part of southern Missouri where “Winter’s Bone” was set. Ron Hall is a Vietnam war veteran, the unofficial mayor of the local trailer park, tattooed, rides a Harley, wears varieties of red, white and blue and stars and stripes, has a voluminously brushy beard. In terms of contemporary iconography, no good would come from a character drawn this way, say, on an unreality series. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: We Come As Friends

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Hubert Sauper © Ray Pride copy

Hubert Sauper/Photo: Ray Pride


“We Come As Friends,” Hubert Sauper’s teeming, Brueghel-and-Bosch-pursuing documentary portrait of chaos after colonialism in battle-torn South Sudan is more eye-widening, surreal, sorrowful and anarchic than his earlier “Darwin’s Nightmare.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: In The Game

Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended, Sports No Comments »



Faux-uplift sports movies are $144 a dozen, slipped-and-slid into multiplexes on far too many weekends: sports is sports, and depicting the rush of a play, the massed hysteria of a shared moment, is just as conceptually fraught as the depiction of live music performances. And all those poor underdogs of the world of mass-marketed movies! But when a movie attains its own heart and soul by watching that dream in motion—think “Hoop Dreams”—the result can be magical. The first glimpse I had of Maria Finitzo’s wondrous “In The Game,” about fifteen minutes of a 2014 cut, was a contained little knockout. (I was pleased to weep.) The feature, gentle, assured, compassionate, left me softly thunderstruck. For four years, Finitzo follows a girls’ soccer team at Brighton Park’s primarily Latino Kelly High School, with an eighty-six-percent poverty level and a $4 million budget cut during the course of her observation. Read the rest of this entry »