Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Force Majeure

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



“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”

Biopic, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

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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Review: The Theory of Everything

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Eddie Redmayne twinkles and tickles the intellectual friskiness of Stephen Hawking in James Marsh’s lively, bright “The Theory Of Everything,” a brisk telling of the early years of the scientist, best-selling author and survivor of motor neuron disease related to ALS, as well as his all-important first marriage. (After a recent screening for him, Hawking waggishly said he found it “broadly true.”) Director James Marsh does well with another ginger trickster figure, as he did with Philippe Petit in “Man on Wire,” with Redmayne playing the most assured and most puckish moments we’d expect from a story about a scientist known for his mind but also for lifelong randiness. Redmayne has the best, fullest role he’s had since Tom Kalin’s “Savage Grace” (2007) and he manages to work his own charm and smile and even eyebrows into the slowly contracting figure of Hawking. James Marsh is a quietly fine director, in documentaries like “Man on Wire” and “Project Nim,” as well as other fiction features like “Shadow Dancer” and “Red Riding: 1980.” His knack for telling compositions and memorable images can’t be underestimated. And the script by playwright Anthony McCarten seldom stoops to sentimental stuff, despite its seeming pedigree as intelligently crafted, award-friendly British uplift. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Diplomacy

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

Diplomacy Schlondorff


At the age of seventy-five, Volker Schlöndorff sustains the stalwart political filmmaking he’s mastered since the early days of the New German Cinema with the dynamic verbal duels of “Diplomacy.” Set in Paris in 1944 as the Allies advance, Schlöndorff’s not-at-all-stagy adaptation of an award-winning play pits two men against one another: the German general (Niels Arestrup) whose order from Hitler is to level the “city of light” and the Swedish diplomat (André Dussollier) who must convince him it’s not such a great idea to follow the devastation of Berlin with such a barbaric act. As played out by Dussollier and Arestrup in front of Schlöndorff’s energetic camera, “Diplomacy” has all the stuff of a suspense thriller. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bird People

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



The dream life of angles: In Pascale Ferran’s “Bird People,” at a Hilton hotel near Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, Gary, an American engineer (Josh Charles) who squirrels himself away while impulsively on the run from his life (job, wife, encroaching middle age) meets a young French maid, Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier) whose fantasies are altogether surprising. The parallel tracks of their stories, the hopes of each for transforming their lives, enchant as much as what seems like a fated union. While the film’s first half finds fascination in details of the quotidian of Audrey’s day-to-day life, “Bird People” finds its form once enough surreal details burst to the surface. (The title offers a clue to the film’s key flight of whimsy.) Two people, adrift, one observant, one not, near a place where others take flight each day: the conceit is plain, simple, wispy and largely lovely. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Nightcrawler

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »



Shot in a few weeks of nights across Los Angeles, “Nightcrawler” has two topographical advantages. There’s the glittering gulch of Los Angeles by digital dark, sheerest shadows coming to life as the camera crisscrosses the glittering, malign shape of its story. As shot by Robert Elswit (“There Will Be Blood,” “Michael Clayton”), the directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy (“The Bourne Legacy”) makes the low-to-the-ground desert city look like a parallel to the hellish landscapes of 1970s New York City in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.” The greatest range of topography, however, plays over the gaunt features of Jake Gyllenhaal, eyes wide, nearly unblinking, cheekbones like a hungry wolf. His Lou Bloom is a lone wolf, too, a nattering autodidact, out of work, who finds his calling in snaring news footage for local news that others recoil from: bloody, up close and yet impersonal. “Nightcrawler” wears its influences on its sleeve, its “Taxi Driver” citations not limited to an interview scene that’s patterned after Travis getting a job at the taxi garage. Lou’s a bit of a Rupert Pupkin, too, a king of comedy in his own mind, brash, making promises that fall from his tongue as fast as his mind can fashion them. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hiroshima Mon Amour

Drama, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »




Long out of American theatrical release over rights issues, indispensable distributor Rialto Films presents an alluring 4K digital restoration of Alain Resnais’ hypnotic, visually ravishing, wholly essential first fiction feature, “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1959), written by novelist Marguerite Duras. (Her screenplay was Oscar-nominated.) Time-fractured stream-of-consciousness is the order of the day in this masterpiece of the French New Wave, as well as musings on memory and the powerful hold of guilt. Emmanuelle Riva is a French actress working on an antiwar film in bustling, post-War Hiroshima, and her fears unfold in her confessions to the Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) with whom she has an affair. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Listen Up Philip

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »



Alex Ross Perry excels at assholes. Impenitent, intransigent, intelligent, intolerable assholes. In his black comedy of family relations and toxic romance, “The Color Wheel,” (2011) he even plays the male lead, to disarmingly appalling effect. In Raya Martin and Mark Peranson’s “La última película,” Perry plays a post-Dennis Hopper American drifting in and out of Mexican villages and landscapes to shambling effect. But his third feature finds uncommon, remorseless focus in its portrait of two driven writers from two generations who intend immortality for their words, but also to out-Philip Roth Philip Roth at every potential antagonistic bad-boy, bad-man turn. Listen up, indeed: while “The Color Wheel” drew on the inspiration of Roth’s work, Perry cites the novelist William Gaddis as a great influence on this film and its jaundiced view of artists’ behavior. There’s incendiary comedy in the fierce hostility of young-ish New York writer Philip, and Jason Schwartzman, also a specialist in intelligent but hostile male characters, with streaks of sweetness beneath misguided cruelty, has invested himself in a role among roles. Philip is his own truest antagonist, and he’s pitted against his literary idol Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), who offers him the use of a summer home upstate to complete a project. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Birdman

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Birdman street


A rollicking meeting of Hitchcock’s “Rope” and Jimmy Kimmel’s couch, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Birdman Or: (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” [punctuation sic] sizzles, scintillates, teases, taunts, barks, brays, preens and careens as a simulated single-take of almost two hours, sending up showbiz and its shallowness in profane if shallow style, but also the fractured, electrically flawed brain of its middle-aged protagonist, washed-up screen actor turned Broadway debutante Riggan Thomson (a fine, furious Michael Keaton). Thomson’s adapted, directed and stars in his own rendition of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” It sounds like a bad idea, but in the acting and enacting, it’s a terrible one. Opening with credits that ape the font and fashion of high-pop 1960s Godard movies, propelled by a smashing, crashing percussive beat like that of a Times Square street-corner drummer, “Birdman” is self-reflexive, self-important, overwrought, half-baked and completely glorious.

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Mixed Martial Charts: Damien Chazelle on Jazz as Battlefield in “Whiplash”

Drama, Musical, Recommended No Comments »


By Ray Pride

Damien Chazelle’s astonishing second feature is a musical, an accomplished short story, like a boxing film, a horror show, a forceful suspense thriller, a bold and bracing memento mori of the will to greatness, male ego, control, arrogance, talent, douchiness, selfishness, desire, hope, transcendence.

Neatly constructed, lovingly performed, tersely spoken, wittily japed, “Whiplash” finds a form from the rehearsal and performance of jazz and the rhythm of forceful, sustained percussion and audacious artistic drive. Miles Teller (“The Spectacular Now”) is Andrew, a young student at a music conservatory whose skills as a drummer are noted by martinet instructor Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). Fletcher’s a hard-ass, a drill sergeant in search of one perfect soldier of jazz who could approach what, say, Buddy Rich or Charlie Parker accomplished. Andrew has a line in callow determination and Fletcher is ready to wring his neck with constructive, if eminently cruel instruction. There are other lovingly cast performers, but it’s Teller’s and Simmons’ show. Read the rest of this entry »