Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Actress

Documentary, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Actress-Brandy

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Wild Tales

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

WIld Tales 10

RECOMMENDED

Flamboyant yet controlled, paced yet shocking, and all about the feeling of letting go in pure, unbridled revenge, Damián Szifron’s six-story omnibus has the fancy and fury of a fine Almodóvar picture. “Wild Tales” (Relatos salvajes) is a pitch-black comedy, with a pre-credits sequence that raucously sets the tone for the gloriously preposterous complications to come. (It’s a contender for the best foreign language Oscar, and if the Academy doesn’t love “Ida”…) It would be foul to give away the rocket blast of those opening five minutes, but let’s say its premise mingles Buñuel, Almodóvar, contemporary Argentine comedy and the contours of a dream where figures of your past assemble but, undreamlike, the dreamer takes control, arriving at the source of all of his problems with wondrously shocking finality. The stories aren’t linked except by Argentine locales high and low, captured crisply and colorfully. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bluebird

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Bluebird Factory25

RECOMMENDED

Lance Edmands’ “Bluebird” is a story of loss and anger and denial set in a wintery, worn Maine paper mill town. Entropy slows to paralysis when a child dies on the watch of local school bus driver (Amy Morton) and a strained relationship with her logger husband (John Slattery) frays farther. The palpable sense of eddying fracture in the frosty reaches is heightened by brilliant location shooting by crack cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Tiny Furniture,” “Ballet 422”). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Timbuktu

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

TIMBUKTU de Abderrahmane_Sissako film still 3_d10bd5fc-ca9d-e411-b62a-d4ae527c3b65_lg
RECOMMENDED

Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-nominated “Timbuktu,” shot in Mauritania but set in northern Mali near the title city, is a lovely, cogent, melancholy, quietly damning portrait of radical religious fundamentalists arrogantly, clumsily taking over a small town. Inspired by a 2012 murder by jihadists of a couple in their thirties by stoning, Sissako keenly observes cruelty, folly and tenderness during the year-long occupation and its wave of irrational destruction. “The film, through the couple Kidane and Satima, insists on one essential point,” he writes, “that violence will never be able to kill love. You can kill a man, but you cannot kill the love he has for his daughter, his wife. This is fundamental, and is the key to victory over barbarity. It is how we defy extremism. They will not have the last word. Beauty and dignity will triumph.” Read the rest of this entry »

Cipher Punk: The Cryptic Lilt of “Blackhat”

Action, Chicago Artists, Drama, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »

Untitled Michael Mann Project

By Ray Pride

Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” is not Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor,” but it’s in the same mulish, rarified league.

While the 2015 Oscar announcements led to much journalistic handwringing, online and off, with a dearth of nominations for women and people of color—overlooking the systemic issue of the dearth of mainstream movies being financed and produced for women and people of color—there’s not as much clamor about the handful of white male filmmakers who are presently productive into their eighth decade.

Michael Mann turns seventy-two in February, Sir Ridley Scott is seventy-seven, and while we’re at it, Jean-Luc Godard is eighty-four. “Blackhat,” “The Counselor” and “Farewell to Language” are all discernibly, definitively, obstinately, obdurately, the work of old men. Artists of a certain age, to be sure, but also personal, auteurist, in the most classic fashion. Late films by Alfred Hitchcock have been a subject for such discussion for decades, and Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris tweeted that “Blackhat” may well be Mann’s “Marnie,” that is, a movie that at first glance seems hermetic, compacted, a concatenation of images, fixations and stylistic devices.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Most Violent Year

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

A-Most-Violent-Year

RECOMMENDED

“I have never taken anything from anyone,” is one moral assertion American immigrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) makes in the face of three days of snowballing misfortune in J. C. Chandor’s agreeably hellish, pleasingly pulpy, often-beautiful third feature, “A Most Violent Year.” Abel married into mobster money, gaining a small heating-oil company from the father of his wife (Jessica Chastain). It’s winter 1981 in Brooklyn and Manhattan, ostensibly the most crime-ridden year in the history of the five boroughs. But taking or being taken is quickly Abel’s fate. Coming after his dissimilar “Margin Call” and “All Is Lost,” Chandor shows ambition and enterprise, in each film showing the kind of taut, proficient storytelling American movies could use more of. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: American Sniper

Action, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

AMERICAN SNIPER

RECOMMENDED

An eye sights down the length of a long barrel, finding, framing, locking onto a target. In Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” Bradley Cooper bulks into the role of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, avowedly the most accurate and determined of American military snipers. More than a bravura hero, he was a bestselling memoirist of high braggadocio, as well as a murder victim of a veteran he hoped to help, who allegedly killed him on a shooting range after his return from four tours of duty in Iraq. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Still Alice

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

STILL ALICE copy

RECOMMENDED

Stress and tranquility alike fall readily on the features of Julianne Moore: in her fifties, the finery of her porcelain, ginger-freckled face is as expressive as that of any working actor today. The most zoned and delicate of her performances, in Todd Haynes’ great “Safe” (1995), is again available to be seen, in a restored edition by Criterion. But the poles of her temperament are also on view now, in two films that have been on the festival circuit and are arriving in theaters now. David Cronenberg’s “Maps To The Stars” will be released in a few weeks, replete with a marvelous Moore performance as an actress whose hunger for a role to validate lost youth and a lost mother may be one of her most fierce. In “Still Alice,” by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (“Quinceañera,” “The Fluffer”), Moore embodies another nightmare, in the role of a linguistics professor with three grown children who begins to misplace words. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Two Days, One Night

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

TWODAYS ONE NIGHT COTILLAR
RECOMMENDED

For their first collaboration with a well-known actor, Belgium’s Dardenne brothers have exceptional fortune with the harried but haunting features of international star Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night.” Tremulous, troubled, visibly still recovering from a breakdown, Sandra finds her employers at a solar panel factory have told the other workers they can make do with one less employee, and if she’s let go, they each get a bonus that they can all use. Capital aligns worker against worker and a depressed woman must seek the sufferance of her colleagues if she is to keep her job. It’s quiet violence, pitting worker against worker. Over the course of the weekend, before a Monday meeting she manages to prompt, Sandra has to approach each of her equals to make the case she needs the job more than they need the extra euros. Community or the individual? The dramatization of the conflict is pungent, but Cotillard’s Oscar-nominated performance (of a different register than her equally accomplished work in 2014’s “The Immigrant”) is the shining center of “Two Days.” Jean-Pierre Dardenne has said, “What was important for us was to show someone excluded because she is considered weak, because she doesn’t perform well enough. The film praises this ‘non-performing’ character who finds strength and courage through the fight she conducts with her husband.” Quietly, surely bruising, “Two Days, One Night” is a story from behind the headlines and beneath the figures on the financials of businesses worldwide. 95m. (Ray Pride)

“Two Days, One Night” is now playing at the Music Box.

Review: Inherent Vice

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Stoner No Comments »

Inherent_Vice

RECOMMENDED

For his seventh idiosyncratic feature, Paul Thomas Anderson situates “Inherent Vice,” Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 fractured fairytale of private eyes, lingering love, the power of overlapping narcotics, and the death of the sixties in his birth year of 1970, to fractiously comic but almost militantly melancholy ends. In the novel, Pynchon describes that small moment when radical hopes and stoner joy had punched a hole in the sky as “this little parenthesis of light.” In Anderson’s adaptation, nearly as rife with cross-references and richly oddball dialogue as Pynchon’s prose—liberally invoked both spoken and in narration—comedy and tragedy align in the lovelorn figure of P.I. “Doc” Sportello, a doofus in a daze rendered with the most precise of physical acuity by Joaquin Phoenix in 1970s-era Neil Young drag, replete with a munificence of muttonchops. Perhaps not-so-jokingly, Anderson has cited Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker productions like “Police Squad” in finding a visual style for his actors to inhale and pop within: the bumptiousness of the sight gags on screen ranges from “Police Squad” non-sequitur to wide frames filled with action-reaction that are worthy of silent comedy. Read the rest of this entry »