Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

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 »



“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

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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 »



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 »


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 »



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 »

Review: Leviathan

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



Bearing a mantel of authenticity as heavy as rain itself, the allegorical weight of “Leviathan” is both lyrical and blunt, compacted experience suggestive of many things, some mystical and some merely sodden, and not entirely drawn from the book of Job. The grimness of Putin’s post-Soviet project is draped upon the shoulders of one honorable auto mechanic whose family home on a prime stretch along the Bering Sea is about to be taken by a drunken, corrupt politician. Andrey Zvyagintsev hardly bothers to disguise his momentous, taut allegory of world-weariness in contemporary Russia, nor his interest in ever larger, ever-unanswerable questions. Tempers simmer, imbibe, combust, with righteously apocalyptic fury. Did I mention that it might also be the year’s most accomplished black comedy? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Predestination

Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »



Simple strangeness is in short supply in twenty-first-century wide-release movies, but the sibling directorial directing team of Michael and Peter Spierig (“Daybreakers,” 2009; “Undead,” 2003) deliver again with their bits-and-pieces approach to low-budget surfaces and spaces. “Predestination”‘s conceptually clever, if ultimately confusing tale quietly accommodates some serious gender-bending, drawn from Robert A. Heinlein’s short story, “All You Zombies.” The plotting has its wonky similarities to the likes of “Timecop” and “Looper” and any number of time-carving trick narratives. Still, twists both blatant and teasing motor the mystery along, and a cannily termite performance by Ethan Hawke as a bartender-cum-enforcer is surpassed by Sarah Snook as a patron-cum-storyteller who may be the punchline to his very own story, one final time. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Selma

Biopic, Drama, Recommended No Comments »



History, written in lightning: writer-director Ava DuVernay’s third feature, the understated yet righteously furious “Selma,” beautifully dramatizes and contains a few crucial months in the civil-rights movement and the life of Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo, electric). It’s 1965 in Alabama, but “Selma” moves with the immediacy of the present tense. King and other organizers are orchestrating mass marches to support voting rights, starting from Selma, after the 1963 church bombings that killed four small girls, to the capital of Montgomery. DuVernay observes the larger sweep, but also smaller details: this is not a History Lesson (except in a few tiny instants) nor are her characters Historical Figures. (“Selma” and Oyelowo’s accomplishment is even greater once you account for the copyright on the speeches of King that prevented their incorporation except by allusion.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Winter Sleep

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



“Winter Sleep,” the great Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s mesmerizing fifteen-years-in-conception Cannes Palme d’Or-winning chamber epic doesn’t waste a breath in its 196 minutes. Ceylan (“Once Upon A Time In Anatolia,” “Climates”) is as loving in painting panoramas of the Turkish landscape as in detailing the contours of the intense psychology of its characters. Aydin, an hotelier in the ruggedly beautiful central Anatolian region of Cappadocia, has a dissatisfied younger wife, and his sister is staying with them after a divorce. Winter arrives. Shelter is tenuous, the landscape demanding, conversations ensue, persist, roll on with the beautiful power of an ancient stream. Read the rest of this entry »