Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Learning To Drive

Drama, Recommended No Comments »



“Learning To Drive,” directed by veteran Spanish director Isabel Coixet (“My Life Without Me,” “Elegy”) and adapted from a Katha Pollitt story by Sarah Kernochan (“Marjoe,” “9 ½ Weeks”), is a modest, near-timid cross-cultural drama enlivened by two of the most live live-wires of modern movies, Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson. The duo take the day. In modern-day New York, Kingsley plays Darwan, a political refugee and naturalized citizen. Clarkson plays Wendy, a book critic whose husband has left her for a younger woman. When Wendy looks for post-marriage driving lessons, she happens upon Darwan, and cultural conflict occurs, of course, as well as a romance of the mind and a few lovingly barbed blurts from Clarkson’s fantastically articulate mouth. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Digging For Fire

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance 1 Comment »



With “Digging For Fire,” Joe Swanberg extends his run of intimate backyard moviemaking to an actual backyard at a summer rental, where a gun, a bone and a telescope set intrigue (and extended conversation) into nifty (if slow-burn) motion. Mid-thirties-life-crisis strikes for Tim (Jake Johnson), a teacher still not settled into the truth that he’s been a father for three years. Rosemarie Dewitt plays his witty wife, Jude Swanberg the son, natch. The estimable critic Bérénice Reynaud has aligned the latest Swanberg with Rohmer, and “Digging” extends his streak of pictures that stream with genial dialogue, superficially breezy, yet where emotional currents deepen. 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: Ten Thousand Saints

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »


In “Ten Thousand Saints,” adapted by writer-directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (“American Splendor”) from a novel by Eleanor Henderson, Asa Butterfield (“Hugo,” “Ender’s Game”) and Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) are siblings destined to come-of-age in the late 1980s propelled by more-dramatic-than-melodramatic circumstances from the care of their hippie mother (Julianne Nicholson) in Vermont to their pot-dealing father (Ethan Hawke) in New York’s Lower East Side. Performances are stirring all-round in this Sundance 2015 entry, especially the vigorous Butterfield and Steinfeld, who enliven the comic family dysfunction and lighten the teen pregnancy subplot. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Straight Outta Compton

Comedy, Drama, Musical, Recommended No Comments »



“Straight Outta Compton,” the story of Compton, California rap “supergroup” N.W.A., could have fallen flat, but even while including member Eric “Eazy-E” Wright’s first clumsy attempts at rapping, it hits the right notes. A version of the group’s origin—from E’s bankrolling of his Ruthless label and the recording of the “Boyz-n-the-Hood” single with money earned from drug-running, and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young’s beginnings as a club DJ despite disapproval from his mother, to O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson’s now-infamous lack of love for the police. “Straight Outta Compton” doesn’t whitewash conflicts within the group, especially Cube’s departure from N.W.A. in December 1989 after a dispute over royalties, Dr. Dre’s alliance and split with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, and Eazy-E and Cube exchanging diss tracks. 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: Prince

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



(Prins) Dutch director Sam de Jong’s “Prince” draws largely on non-actors to populate a sometimes-touching, sometimes-goofy tale of Moroccan-Dutch youth one hot summer in the local projects. Seventeen-year-old Ayoub (Ayoub Elasri) is caught up in dilemma after dilemma, from a sister who’s starting to turn eyes to keeping an eye on his homeless Moroccan father. Plus, being a teenage boy among other, prone-to-crime teens. De Jong, whose earlier work, including videos, is filled with stylish goings-on, partakes of minimalism and surrealism at different junctures. There’s prole-positive deadpan humor suggesting an acquaintance with Aki Kaurismäki, and other bursts of mood are Harmony Korine-esque without directly resembling the corrupted-pop bad-boy bard of Nashville’s work. (“Prince” is co-presented by VICE, if that suggests anything.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »



“The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” Marielle Heller’s adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s San Francisco-set coming-of-age graphic novel, is a fantastic gust of teenage bluster, capturing a fifteen-year-old girl’s first sexual experiences with glee, greed, filth, squalor and little, if any, judgment. The confusion that comes with her sexuality is described with a high, and even sometimes stoned, order of comic candor. But eventually Heller and Gloeckner’s great accomplishment is to make a movie that’s about the necessity of finding the measure of self-worth within the pursuit of liberty (and fucking). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Phoenix

Drama, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »



Christian Petzold’s precision—architectural, spatial, emotional—works again with surgical economy as Nina Hoss once more stars for him, this time as Nelly, a German-Jewish nightclub singer disfigured by a bullet while in a concentration camp who searches doggedly for clues to how she got to where she is in 1945 postwar Berlin. Reconstructive surgery gives Nelly a new face, and a new name, Esther, allowing her to return to the nightlife without being recognized, where she takes risks to find out who might have betrayed her, perhaps even her ex-husband who does not see her face in her face. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Tom At The Farm

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



Prolific Québécois still-a-wunderkind Xavier Dolan hasn’t caught many breaks in the States: his first three features, “I Killed My Mother” (2009),  “Heartbeats” (2010) and “Laurence Anyways” (2012), made no inroads. For his 2014 “Mommy,” his Instagram-shaped trailer-park melodrama, the twenty-six-year-old writer-director-actor-costumer shared a jury prize at Cannes with eighty-four-year-old Jean-Luc Godard, for “Adieu au Langage,” then grossed a reported $3.5 million in the States. Still, his Patricia Highsmith-ish “Tom At The Farm,” a disturbing psychosexual thriller, a queer noir brimful with characters with dubious motives and electric moments, arrives in the U.S. only now. For fans of Dolan’s delirium, it’s tremendous. Some viewers might be confounded. Few will be bored. Read the rest of this entry »