Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Into The Woods

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Dark, wounded, spiteful, rich with retribution, rife with injustice and glorying in sudden death: doesn’t the sound of a pluperfect adaptation of a Stephen Sondheim musical sound like a brooding triumph we’ve yet had to have in movie form? As directed by Rob Marshall (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Chicago”) Sondheim and James Lapine’s twenty-seven-year-old “Into the Woods,” is not that bleak gem, although the preservation of all kinds of Grimm stuff under both the Disney moniker and the PG-13 rating impresses. As does the casting: Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), Chris Pine (The Prince), Meryl Streep (whose Witch seems more aggravated than angry), James Corden (announcing “present!” as the Baker), Emily Blunt (the Baker’s wife, mobile face enlivening her every scene), Johnny Depp (a louche Wolf who drips child-molesting decadence), MacKenzie Mauzy (Rapunzel), Tracey Ullman and young Lilla Crawford, all brass and lungs as Little Red Riding Hood. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Two Faces of January

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The 1962 period adaptation of the novel by champ misanthropist Patricia Highsmith, “The Two Faces Of January,” is the lovingly lit and decorated directorial debut of Oscar-nominated screenwriter Hossein Amini (“Wings of the Dove,” “Drive,” “Snow White and the Huntsman”). Con artists and the merely duplicitous converge, with an American couple (Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst) running into a rash of trouble in Greece, where they’re helped out, ever so briefly, by an American expatriate tour guide (Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”). Shit happens, or as a Greek might say, “Po-po!” and all bets are off. Each actor seems to be part of the wallpaper of a different movie, and despite admirable moment-to-moment feats of actorly legerdemain from the primary and secondary cast alike, there’s a deadly lack of heat. The costumes sing, the cigarettes fume. The simmer satisfies but never earns the tale’s godless gloom. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Imitation Game

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“The Imitation Game,” the sleek burnished mounting of the story of the life of cryptographic-computing genius (and covert homosexual) Alan Turing by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (“Headhunters”) is graced by an alternately unflappable and perturbed performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. The script sparks and flares with passages of clever British speech of lovely theatrical obviousness, but is shy of the subtext and portent that would deepen the well-tooled and lovingly illustrated surfaces. The strands of Turing’s life don’t come together at the end: it’s all too true to be good, and not put through the refiner’s fire of drama: a cascade of end titles describing his fate and the context of British prosecution of gay men in the twentieth century and the birth of the modern computer fall and clatter into clumsy irresolution. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings

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I haven’t seen every Ridley Scott film but I’m hoping there’s nothing worse in the back catalog than the ponderous and pointlessly titled “Exodus: Gods And Kings.” Seventy-seven-year-old Sir Ridley’s grandiose illustration of the Biblical telling of Moses leading the Jews out of the wilderness is a bewildering farrago of overscaled computer-generated animation and nutty dialogue. At the time of “Blade Runner” and later, Sir Ridley often displayed his sketches for his films, which were dubbed “Ridleygrams,” frames filled with detail penned in a single strobe-cum-stroke of ink. Throughout “Exodus,” I longed for a flipbook of Ridleygrams instead of the bludgeoning bosh on screen. Those would be lovely. Mountainside villages are illustrated as panoramas of Brueghelesque teem if not intricacy; twirls of animated birds are doodled across each blue or pallid sky like the signature of a Sunday painter. Sir Ridley lavishes much visual invention on the various plagues, resulting in a succession of supple torpor. A thousand soldiers and their steeds fall to the floor of the sea: hey that’s pretty.

The dialogue’s deadly as well.

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Review: Wild

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Reese Witherspoon is boldly center-frame in “Wild,” director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornsby’s teeming, tactile, superbly subjective adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s worldwide best-selling memoir of a woman who chooses to lose herself hiking through the desert. Vallée pushes forward on slivers of shivery memories. Witherspoon’s Strayed is a small woman both human and iconic: bearing an oversized, ill-advised backpack like a Pixar figure—Heav-E instead of Wall-E—she sets out on a heroine’s journey that’s iconically antiheroic. Sex, drugs, mother love, mother loss, some more sex, behaviors are blunt and gently daubed at the same time. “Wild” is an unsentimental marvel, following few expected contrails and rejecting the “redemption” narrative right in the I. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Homesman

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Tommy Lee Jones’ second theatrical feature, “The Homesman,” is curt, cruel and weirdly funny, a female-leaning 1855-set Western “road movie” about a covered-wagon escape-cum-trek from pioneer life in the Nebraska Territories that lives up to Jones’ advance talk of the film as being built by himself and ingenious cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Babel,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”) upon geometry, minimalism and the visual work of artists like Donald Judd and Josef Albers, Kabuki theater and the textures of photographer Josef Koudelka. It’s a bold, thrilling work of comedy and abstraction from an obstinate sixty-eight-year-old artist. Read the rest of this entry »

Film Flam: What’s In A Name?

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The Conformist

By Ray Pride

For a long time, I resisted using the word “film” for anything except motion pictures shot on film and projected on motion-picture stock. (When George Lucas’ “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was released in 1999, the Newcity review ended with the words, “Transferred from video.”)

But now “film” is something else, not limited to theatrical exhibition. Lucas and James Cameron and the major distributors have won the day, even if the likes of JJ Abrams, Christopher Nolan, Judd Apatow and Quentin Tarantino rallied the troubled stock producer Kodak to continue producing film for production and archival reasons. Tarantino, who insists that his New Beverly repertory house in Los Angeles will only show 35mm henceforth, is the most adamant voice. “As far as I’m concerned, digital projection and DCPs [are] the death of cinema as I know it. It’s not even about shooting your film on film or shooting your film on digital, the fact that most films now are not presented in 35mm means that the war is lost and digital projections—that’s just television in public. Apparently the whole world is okay with television in public but what I knew as cinema is dead.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain

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Ravi Kumar’s handsomely produced “Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain” (2012) is an exemplar of a sort of movie that never seems to go right: the semi-fictionalized depiction of institutional and commercial horrors or deceit that won’t decide if it’s about people or polemics. (“Silkwood” and “Stalker” are two movies that fix on figures instead of pullulations of assertions or dread facts.) The setting is both the aftermath and the years that preceded the deadly 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India, when the release of thirty tons of poison from a pesticide plant into the air and a nearby “godforsaken slum,” that led to as many as 8,000 deaths and an Indian government estimate of nearly 560,000 injuries. Kumar never finds a necessary balance of dramatic interest and tactical outrage despite the bracing effectiveness of its apocalyptic re-creations of the catastrophe. While piercing points are made, the dialogue is largely lousy. (“We’re not making perfume here, miss!”) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Force Majeure

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“Force Majeure,” Sweden’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film, is a movie that’s even better on a second viewing, when its dramatic craft is more apparent yet even more compelling. Set at a French ski resort, Ruben Östlund’s brilliant white-on-white black comedy is a precise, exacting psychological horror about the fissures in a bourgeoisie Swedish marriage, highlighted after a split-second’s reaction to a “controlled avalanche.” “How do human beings react in sudden and unexpected situations, such as a catastrophe?” Östlund has written of what he rightfully describes as his “existential drama.” “The story concerns a family on holiday that witnesses an avalanche and the father runs away, terrified. When it is over, he is ashamed because he has succumbed to his primal fear.” Read the rest of this entry »

All-American Slime: Steve Carell’s Found his Calling as Ornithologist, Philatelist, Philanthropist in “Foxcatcher”

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By Ray Pride

I’m starting to like this guy Channing Tatum. And maybe this guy Steve Carell.

The faith of Steven Soderbergh and a few other directors in his innate charm, screen presence and acting chops gets another workout as Mark Schultz, one of two brothers who won Olympic Gold Medals. Tatum’s physical moves are crabbed and weighted as we see Mark move through the gloom of his day: he’s Sisyphus before the Xanax. And this Sisyphus needs it: he’s bearing the weight of a few worlds in dark, cold Wisconsin. Broke, lunching on ramen noodles, grappling with his wrestling-coach older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), he’s only got the 1988 Seoul Olympics to look toward. (Ruffalo’s 1980s beard and balding hairstyle are another feat of heaviness.)

Steve Carell, he’s another story. I’ve missed a few movies he’s been in, have never seen more than a few seconds of “The Office,” and regret it for not a second. Voice and presence alike, he’s anti-screen charisma to my eyes and ears, a terrifying dark void in front of a camera. (There are some other actors like that; most moviegoers know a pill or two.)

But leave it to Bennett Miller, the director who made his friend Philip Seymour Hoffman, a bruiser of a man, into Truman Capote, to cast Carell ideally. As John Eleuthère du Pont, Carell embodies the dank side of privilege and money and American manhood gone to stinking rot in Miller’s bleak, harrowing, but thrilling true-life murder case from a heavily researched script by E. Max Frye (“Something Wild”) and Dan Futterman (“Capote”).

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