Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: 54 The Director’s Cut

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Seventeen years after the premiere of its severely shorn Miramax release, “54: The Director’s Cut” (1998/2015) now digitally approximates the original cut by debut writer-director Mark Christopher, deleting reshoots made by the distributor and restoring forty-four minutes of material that had only been seen in a bootleg VHS tape of the film’s workprint that had circulated underground. While “54””s ambitions are clear—“Saturday Night Fever” meets “Cabaret” in pre-AIDS Manhattan, a sexy but sad pre-“Boogie Nights” bacchanal-cum-social study—the finished fairytale is tame and timorous, content to stay on the surfaces. Ryan Phillippe plays the unlikely “Shane O’Shea,” a Jersey boy and twink avant la lettre who bares his heart (and chest) to the joys of celebrity, dancing and narcotics at Steve Rubell’s midtown Manhattan, tax-evading publicity magnet of a “palace of wisdom,” Studio 54. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Kindergarten Teacher

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(Haganenet) In Nadav Lapid’s slow-simmering second feature, a Tel Aviv kindergarten teacher fixates on a five-year-old pupil who blurts poetry. Lapid’s coolly stylized visuals immerse us in her worrying obsession, including Shai Goldman’s camera taking on the vantage of the word-besotted boy. Other feats of directorial legerdemain include the dance of the camera, such as within the room full of kids and in a consummately constructed climatic scene: it’s a high order of near-theatrical blocking that seduces immediately. Is little Yoav a full-blown messiah in the making? Or just another clever little beaker of glossolalia? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Stanford Prison Experiment

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Sometimes a project that’s been batting around finds its moment, and that’s assuredly the case with Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s Sundance-honored “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” Working from a screenplay begun by Tim Talbott in 2003, Alvarez impeccably dramatizes Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford University experiment in which twenty-four male students volunteered to play guards and prisoners and explore the roots of abuse in the penal system. (Talbott had access to hours of grainy video as well as Zimbardo and his logbooks.) Suffice it to say, things escalate into rank sadism much faster than anyone had thought they would. There’s more of a pulse here than most “true-life” tales and thriller turns chiller quickly. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Irrational Man

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Depressed, drunk, Falstaff-bellied philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) takes a gig at a small-town Rhode Island college, where his mumbling recitations of platitudes of 1950s collegiate existentialism curricula woo the women, including married Rita Richards (Parker Posey) and undergraduate Jill Pollard (Emma Stone). But he’s shit in the sack, unoriginal in his thinking, and ready to Russian roulette his way into readily forgotten campus lore. He’s an oblivious, serene sociopath. (Phoenix finds a walk for Abe that’s part Chaplin, part Mr. Potato Head.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Alleluia

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You want obsession? Obsessive, obsessive obsession? Sanguinary intimacy? Fabrice du Welz, Belgian director of 2004’s “Calvaire” goes blissfully bloodily bonkers with “Alléluia,” a lusciously lurid based-on-fact tale of a shy single mom, Gloria (Lola Dueñas) who falls in love with womanizer-cum-hustler Michel (Laurent Lucas). (It’s based on the 1949 history of “lonely hearts killers” Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, whose crimes have inspired other films, including Leonard Kastle’s blanch-and-white 1970 singularity, “The Honeymoon Killers” and Arturo Ripstein’s stodgier 1996 “Deep Crimson.”) The more Gloria learns about Michel’s perversity, which has its own substance, the more thrilled, the more fixated she becomes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Unexpected

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Kris Swanberg’s confident third feature, “Unexpected,” is an intimate made-in-Chicago tale of two unplanned pregnancies, by inner-city public high school teacher Samantha (Cobie Smulders) and her star A-student, Jasmine (Gail Bean). Written by Swanberg and Megan Mercier, low-key sophistication (with bursts of strong language) and the healthily nuanced performances by Smulders and Bean carry the day. Samantha tries so hard to comprehend her young friend’s circumstances, and they’re worlds apart. But, she tries, hopes, and in a not clichéd way, grows. Not every scene is as strong as the very best, but Swanberg’s empathy is admirable. It’s a lovely, auspicious piece of small-budget filmmaking. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: In The Name Of My Daughter

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In The Name Of My Daughter


While his recent films have all gotten U. S. releases, the great, seventy-two-year-old French post-Nouvelle Vague writer-director André Téchiné’s work doesn’t get the attention it did two decades ago with dramas like “Les voleurs” (Thieves, 1996). There’s not as much appreciation for the quiet satisfactions of his closely observed dramas of adult relationships striking stress points and abruptly fracturing to dramatic but too-believable result. With “In the Name of My Daughter” (L’homme qu’on aimait trop), Téchiné draws on “l’affaire Le Roux,” a 1970s French murder case, again in the news this month, about the disappearance of a young woman in the midst of a family intrigue over control of a Riviera casino. Catherine Deneuve is the mother who won’t stop her search for the daughter who disappeared after a suicide attempt, leaving no trace and no body. There’s patience, chilliness and even sustained quietude in Téchiné’s telling, but the brightest burst of emotions make for memorable fireworks. Read the rest of this entry »

L. A. Woman: On The “Tangerine” Streets of West Hollywood

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By Ray Pride

“Tangerine” is a brash, vivacious screwball comedy of West Hollywood street life, told in the course of several blocks across several hours as Christmas Eve moves from day to dusk to dark of night and ache of heart.

Sean Baker’s masterful, vividly gritty follow-up to 2012’s “Starlet,” shot entirely with iPhones, is also a bold, intimate challenge to mild-mannered contemporary notions of independent filmmaking. There are camera moves you’ve never seen before, but the characters are even more gratifying: The opening line, “Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!” is one of the raucous story’s politest bursts of frank language. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Strangerland

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Sturm, drang, mini-“Fury Road” dust storms, missing children, sexual frustration and maybe a little more drang, are the backdrop to Kim Farrant’s “Strangerland,” a mood-heavy thriller set in the super-heated Australian outback, and starring Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes. It’s nowhere the knife-edge thriller of Phillip Noyce’s “Dead Calm” (1989), with a young Kidman, but its similar willingness to wound almost makes it seem like we’re witnessing a film from an alternative universe, where Australian cinema and an iconic antipodean actress have progressed in that vein and there’s a market for the mad and bruised and downright grownup. The dual masterpieces of Nicolas Roeg’s “Walkabout” and Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock” are obvious gongs the filmmakers cannot reach to strike, and there are echoes of more recent movies as well, like Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Tribe

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Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s Cannes-prized “The Tribe” (Plemya) is a gorgeously wrought provocation about nightmarish violent daily life at a Ukrainian boarding school for deaf youth. Even a third viewing of this unvarnished and passionately unrelenting movie across eight months reveals a filmmaker who cuts little slack, including the unsubtitled local sign language in which the characters communicate. (If this device comprises a gimmick, all on-screen gimmicks ought to be used as audaciously.) Sex, jealousy, revenge and violence are the essential elements of Slaboshpytskiy’s elemental story, cast with nonactors. Slaboshpytskiy and Valentyn Vasyanovych, credited as both cinematographer and editor, alternate between the ragged and the well-wrought, between objet d’art and the incidentally observed, between extended long takes and icy tableaux. And even when the motives are unclear, the intensely gestural performances fascinate. With Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy. 132m. (Ray Pride)

“The Tribe” opens Friday, July 10 at the Music Box for an extended run.