Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: We Come As Friends

Documentary, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »
Hubert Sauper © Ray Pride copy

Hubert Sauper/Photo: Ray Pride


“We Come As Friends,” Hubert Sauper’s teeming, Breughel-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 »

Review: The Iron Ministry

Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



J. P. Sniadecki’s clamorously atmospheric doc, “The Iron Ministry,” was shot across three years of the infernal, eternal expansion of the vast Chinese rail system. As the railways expand, Sniadecki rides the rails from 2011-2013 and traffics in sensory reportage as he meets passengers in the cramped confines, who bear blunt, wry attitude about class and cash under his direct cinema-styled eye—“What if you do have a ballot, and the choice is one more sonofabitch?” Then he assembles the travels as if we were all on a single, swift journey. Where are they headed? Where are we headed? Coolly formal yet ceaselessly tactile, his film works from lovely visual abstraction to the most material of physical concerns. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Look Of Silence

Documentary, Drama, Political, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



Cool-headed, formally rigorous, shapely and even extremely beautiful, the two documentaries by Joshua Oppenheimer and his sometimes-anonymous collaborators about genocide and its eddying effects on humans and history are unlikely masterpieces. And yet here they are: two bulging versions of performatively provocative “The Act of Killing” (2012) and now the slim, bone-chilling “The Look Of Silence.” While the first documentary on the lasting effects of the 1965 Indonesian genocide was criticized by some for its baroque invention, a parallel film, which could be considered an “answer film” to a movie not yet questioned, was in production, the masterful “The Look of Silence,” a deep, dark, calmer, in ways more disturbing take on the tenuous bonds of civilization and contours of recorded history. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Best of Enemies

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


The televisual rivalry of proto-pundits William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal is entertainingly illuminated “Best of Enemies,” in Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s lean, loving, heartily satisfying doc. Two unceasingly smart but sometimes rude patricians parry and heat up the 1960s “medium cool” while, however unintentionally, nonetheless laying the groundwork for this century’s crass, anti-intellectual cable shoutfests. Whereas a latter-day demagogue like Bill O’Reilly pops his pale, aging eyes like an aneurysm is always in the offing, in their 1968 presidential campaign face-offs, the ever-witty Vidal and Buckley bear down on a glint or a twinkle, ready to verbally feint or counterpunch in biting, self-satisfying fashion. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »