Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Jealousy

Drama, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »

Jealousy - Still 5 RECOMMENDED

(La Jalousie) At the age of sixty-five, Philipe Garrel’s bittersweet wisps of black-and-white found love and lost love grow ever more specific and tender. The charcoal-rendered “Jalousie” is one of his best, in a recent run of fine work, beginning with 2004’s “Regular Lovers,” “Frontier of Dawn” (2005) and “That Burning Summer” (2011). The closer the films approach mere sketches, the more languid, yet electric they become. The widescreen images by eighty-year-old Willy Kurant (“Masculin-Féminin,” “The Immortal Story,” “Pootie Tang”) are gloriously simple, timeless in their open but specific framing. It’s geometry as suffering. Garrel identifies the look this way:  “For my preceding film, ‘That Burning Summer,’ which is in color, I asked Willy Kurant for a gouache effect, rather than an oil paint effect like most color images in cinema. And here, in black and white, I asked him for charcoal, rather than black pencil.” Read the rest of this entry »

Meditations in an Emergency: Ira Sachs on “Love is Strange”

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By Ray Pride

Ira Sachs’ quiet, measured “Love is Strange” captures a forced separation of a couple who’ve been together for thirty-nine years, a painter and a music instructor, played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. After their marriage, Molina’s character loses his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school, and they’re separated after having to sell their apartment, settling, for at least a brief time, into the lives of their extended families.

Drama seeps in, sensation is suggested. The film’s quietly detailed, lived-in, loved-in feel is both emotionally specific and painterly in its suggestive formal sensations. (Sachs cites American painter Fairfield Porter as a key visual touchstone.) Among his cast, which extends two generations, each figure walks in geometry. Each character has a specific fashion of holding space. “Love is Strange” is about love and about family and about the necessity of generations sharing knowledge and secrets, yet there’s not a line of dialogue that announces this. “Love is Strange” also bears the acuteness, the precision of the era the characters would have lived through. Buried deep beneath the surfaces, surely there are submerged fragments of Frank O’Hara and his fragrant, antic verse as well as the lore of the painters who frequented and illuminated the interior life of lairs like the Cedar Tavern. The succession of setting and framings are beautiful for their precision and coolness, from strong design rather than a prurient glow.  (Cinematographer Christos Voudouris’ credits include “Alps” and “Before Midnight”; production designer Amy Williams repeats from Sachs’ “Keep The Lights On.”) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Venus In Fur

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Venus In Fur Still 4RECOMMENDED

“There is something in sadomasochism which is not dissimilar to theatre,” Roman Polanski ventures in the press kit for his adaptation of David Ives’ “Venus In Fur” (based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella). “You become a director in your own fantasies, you play a part, you get somebody else to play a part. That theatricality is something the film plays with, that play within a play: a place where domination and submission, theater and real life, characters, reality and fantasy, all meet, switch places and blur boundaries.” While “Venus In Fur” takes place almost entirely within the confines of a single theater stage, even Polanski’s other movies, in larger, wider worlds, also sally with subterfuge, consider the shimmering of identities, the salvage of self by throwing oneself wholeheartedly into what seems the annihilation of oneself. So? Polanski, like many a great artist, is also a great narcissist and in the end, the work is about himself. Or in this case, his wife of twenty-four years, Emmanuelle Seigner, arriving in a lightning storm, late to an audition, embodying the vitality of the character she is about to read, and for the play’s director, sex itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Coldwater

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Vincent Grashaw’s “Coldwater” catapults its teen protagonist into a backwoods, for-profit juvenile reform center to white-hot result. The fictionalized, but based-on-fact drama is filled with enraging moments, starting with a mother’s “tough love” approach to having her drug-troubled son abducted in the middle of the night and transported to an unregulated wilderness prison camp. “We… are in the business of transformation,” the new abductees are told. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The German Doctor

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Wakolda German DoctorRECOMMENDED

(Wakolda) Synopsis of the week? “Mengele in Argentina. Becomes fascinated with diminutive little girl.” Lucía Puenzo’s chilly widescreen thriller is an eye-opener, but the fact that a film hailing from that country called the “The German Doctor” could only be about such a subject may limit the appeal to some audiences. Where’s the suspense beyond the essential morbidity, the average art-house viewer might well ask? Adapting her own novel, Puenzo is best at a creeping sense of dread. And since the story is told largely from the perspective of twelve-year-old Lilith (Florencia Bado), the screen is perfumed with history and backstory that we, the contemporary audience, know but that the characters onscreen remain naïve toward. Read the rest of this entry »

Under the Influence: John Michael McDonagh on the Cockeyed Caravan of “Calvary”

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By Ray Pride

Ireland, day: Man walks into a confession booth and tells a priest of terrible things that had been done to him by a priest when he was small. Tells the priest: I’ll get back at the church by killing an innocent priest in one week, and that’s you, get your life in order.

Now there’s a set-up. “Calvary,” the second feature by writer-director John Michael McDonagh, fills that week full-to-bursting with a raft of idiosyncratic characters and philosophical conflicts and the current crisis in the Church and idiomatic comic dialogue strung along by the script’s thriller-like ticking clock. Brendan Gleeson’s Father James could very well be his best performance in a great career. (He told me it’s his favorite role.) Graham Greene divided his books into two classes: the novels, which took on spiritual matters, and the lighter ones, which he called “entertainments.” McDonagh’s knack is to combine both the novelistic, spiritual elements of Greene and lighter notes to achieve a high level of gratifying entertainment. (It’s also beautifully shot: I could write a few thousand words about the cinematography and artful visual style.)

“Calvary,” is, in a very specific way, a “B” movie, by which I mean, “Bergman, Buñuel and Bresson,” I tell McDonagh. He laughs. “Oh dear! Those were the governing influences. When I was going through preproduction, I went through the entire back catalog again. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Half Of A Yellow Sun

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yellow sunRECOMMENDED

As soap-operatic literary adaptations go, “Half Of A Yellow Sun” is at the very least a complete eyeful, a convincing epic tapestry on what must have been a limited budget. (It’s got the gloss you’d expect from a Hollywood production, seeming scrappy only in the many moments of leaden historical exposition.) Adapted by director Biyi Bandele from Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s best-selling, achronological 2006 novel, the movie’s plotting traces the lines of a decade of national upheaval, political minutia and family dynamics in Nigeria and Biafra. The actors shine: Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anika Noni Rose are all splendidly in their moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Signs and Wonders: The Dreamy Ambition of Mike Cahill’s “I Origins”

Drama, Recommended, Romance, The State of Cinema No Comments »

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By Ray Pride

“I Origins” blushes with swirls of sensory extravagance, of emotional extremes, of drenching passions and bathetic loss.

It’s the sophomore feature of writer-editor-director Mike Cahill, who made his debut in 2011 with “Another Earth” (co-written with actor-writer Brit Marling), and I could reprise my enthusiastic description of that film upon its release for his marvelously ambitious new movie: “serious, somber, bruised, hopeful, thrilling, shocking, emotions-over-the-line speculative science-fiction romance-tragedy with one scene in it that I cannot tell you how hard it hits and I hope no one else does either.” (For “I Origins,” I’ll add “exhilarating.”)

Michael Pitt gives one of his most concentrated performances as Dr. Ian Gray, a molecular biologist obsessed with defining the evolution of the eye. He also has a fetish of asking people he encounters if he can take a picture of their eye. He’s obsessed with coincidences and numbers, too: among other patterns that materialize in his moment-to-moment life, the pattern “11 11” becomes very important. (And the title itself plays with those figures.) A fervent romance erupts with Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), a European woman he meets at a party, flirts with on a rooftop, then fucks in a bathroom. Things quickly grow strained, she flees;  he pursues. Epic romantic gestures proliferate. His obsessions grow, including with the dazzling character of her eyes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Most Wanted Man

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AMWM-01256RECOMMENDED

What a seedy man is Günther Bachmann. Embodied, body and sallow soul by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last completed role, the German secret agent at the center of John Le Carre’s 2008 thriller had a spot of trouble back in Beirut and wound up in Hamburg for his sins, part of a deeply undercover cell of spies that observes and infiltrates the lives of suspected terrorists who might lead them further up the food chain of international bad actors. His superiors, plus a concerned American spy (Robin Wright), want to keep Bachmann on a tight leash, but he wants his counterterrorist team to stay as rogue as can be. There are many melancholic Le Carre-style exchanges, including Hoffman to Willem Dafoe’s banker character. “Which one? The one you want to fuck. She’s too young for you, Tommy. She’s too young for both of us.” (As well as the compact weariness of “Men who trusted you died.”) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Closed Curtain

Documentary, Drama, Recommended, The State of Cinema, World Cinema No Comments »

Closed CurtainRECOMMENDED

(Pardé) Jafar Panahi, under house arrest, has been ordered by the Iranian regime not to make movies for twenty years (or, to give interviews, a ban that he has also broken). After “This Is Not A Film,” Panahi co-directs his second, forbidden film from internal exile (along with Kambozia Partovi). The first, shot in his Tehran apartment, took on the impossibility of a director not “directing” as part of its allegorical project, while also demonstrating his spirit of resistance. “Closed Curtain,” shot from inside a house along the Caspian Sea, swirls ever more with allegory, comprising a shifting limbo of mingling memories and reenactments and the apparition of what are essentially ghosts of former selves. It’s a deeply sad self-portrait of the inner workings of an artist’s stymied imagination. Read the rest of this entry »