Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Big Hero 6

Animated, Family, Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy No Comments »


If there’s any question about where Walt Disney Studios sees its future, gander at the family portrait in the mansion home of earnest slacker-fanboy Fred (voiced by T.J. Miller) about halfway through “Big Hero 6” (named for the merchandise-friendly superhero group loosely based on a minor Marvel Comics team). In one of those wink-wink gags that makes chaperones think they’re seeing a more sophisticated cartoon (a technique perfected at Disney subsidiary Pixar, whose majordomo John Lasseter exec produces here, as with all current Disney-branded animation), Fred’s dad is none other than Marvel Comics (another Disney subsidiary) godfather Stan Lee. Not old Walt, the long-deceased studio founder who wired Mickey Mouse, Bambi and Snow White into our communal consciousness. Message to incubating fanboys everywhere? Disney’s world is Stan Lee’s going forward. (And in case the portrait joke is too subtle, there’s an amusing post-credits sequence that most of my Saturday morning screening audience missed, with Stan the Man in the animated “flesh.”)

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Review: After Earth

Family, Horror, Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy No Comments »

1108146 - After EarthAs tens and tens of millions of dollars worth of family therapy and nepotistic eyewash, the Jaden Smith-solo-act-family-adventure “After Earth” sounded bleak from the get-go. Don’t care. Won’t care. Can’t care. Those forebodings briefly dissipated as the lights went down, but quickly, director M. Night Shyamalan did not fail to disappoint even with the lowest of expectations. Co-written by Shyamalan (“The Happening”) from a story credited to Will Smith, its faults include having its characters speak at all, alternating pseudo-technical doublespeak with affirmations about vanquishing damaging past memories from your soul. “Danger is real. Fear is a choice.” Who’s being indoctrinated here? Is this a teachable moment being offered up? A thousand years after humanity abandons Earth for “Nova Prime,” Jaden Smith plays Kitai Raige, scion of “Prime Commander General Cypher Raige of the United Ranger Corps,” embodied by his father, Will Smith, and his modest yet bustling thirty-first-century soul patch. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Oz The Great And Powerful

3-D, Family, Sci-Fi & Fantasy No Comments »


Who was Professor Marvel, long before he met Dorothy in the sepia-toned opening of “The Wizard of Oz”? He is Oscar Diggs (James Franco) in “Oz The Great and Powerful,” directed by Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man,” “The Evil Dead”). Set in 1905, this delectable 3-D fantasy adventure starts in black-and-white. Oscar is a cad of a carnie magician who knows Dorothy’s future mother prior to her marrying Dorothy’s future father. To flee a furious circus strongman, Oscar boards a balloon and lands in a colorful widescreen Oz. (That’s the same balloon that Professor Marvel refurbished to leave Oz at the end of the 1939 film.) Three characters from Kansas are doubled in this new “Oz.” One is a girl in a wheelchair (Joey King) who implores Oscar: “Make me walk.” He cannot, blaming “a distemper in the ether tonight.” Later, in Oz he will succeed in gluing the broken leg of a plucky China doll voiced by King. Inhabitants see in Oscar’s name and descent from the sky a prophecy come true. “You are going to fix everything,” exclaim the oppressed of the kingdom. Read the rest of this entry »

Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty: Circling Ang Lee and “Life Of Pi”

3-D, Adventure, Drama, Family, Recommended No Comments »

By Ray Pride

The great nineteenth-century Romantic painter of sky, water and tempest J. M. W. Turner wanted to lash himself to a mast  to get a full faceful of sea. There’s some of that giddy danger in the splendid surfaces and 3D depths of Ang Lee’s “Life Of Pi.”

The ferocious swells and intent visual beauty Lee has brought to Yann Martel’s best-selling seeking-of-the-spiritual yarn quickly evokes a second thought: “Kitty, kitty, kitty, nice kitty, here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty,” in response to a gorgeously rendered digital Bengal tiger named “Richard Parker.” From a shipwreck-and-survival story with lots of God bits studded within—the ship that sinks, Tsimtsum is named for a Kabbalistic concept that God must withdraw from a world he creates—Lee conjures something richer than Martel’s magical somnambulism. And David Magee’s script adaptation mocks overreach. A novelist who met his uncle back in India visits an older Pi: “He said you had a story that will make you believe in God.” And Pi says, smiling, “He would say that about a good meal.”

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Review: Finding Nemo 3D

3-D, Animated, Comedy, Family, Recommended No Comments »


“Finding Nemo,” in memory, feels like one of the more genial of Pixar’s movies, but I was surprised to discover Newcity’s original May 25, 2003 review, was so direct and to the point: “Pixar: bottom-line behemoths who do no wrong fiscally or funnily. The top-of-the-line, terabyte-heavy animation of the comic creatures under “Finding Nemo”’s sea is a joy unto itself: an ever-undulating Lava Lamp tapestry suitable for both moppets and potheads. The voices include Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres, and both are swell, writers and directors alike adept at exploring and exploiting the contours of their comic personalities, as much for range as for possible familiarity to an audience. The jokes are terrific, families are reunited, the gags continue through the end credits, and Apple stock will remain buoyant.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Cat In Paris

Animated, Family, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


(Une vie de chat) Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol’s hand-drawn, hand-colored “A Cat In Paris” is a slinky noir of art deco adult animation, and one of the 2012 nominees for Best Animation Academy Award (a roster that notably omitted the toy-centric “Cars 2”). The story’s old-fashioned—cat follows cat burglar along the roofs of Paris, leaving behind young owner Zoe—but illustrated and illuminated with classic panache—plus no 3D within a hundred kilometers. (It’s also the best-looking stylized animation I’ve seen since the underrated “Brave.”) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Brave

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A mother-daughter story with mischievous boy triplets underfoot and a forest full of big bad bears and bitter witches, “Brave” may be the most traditional of Pixar’s thirteen features, but the production’s sheer physical beauty and creature-comfort bumptious comedy still manage to impress. Set in a mythical Highlands of Scotland of some century or other, the computer-animated textures are more organic-seeming than any I know: the skies are blue, the shadows of night are dense, and greenery is more lush than nature ever bothered to calculate. Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a skilled archer and even more skilled tomboy, rebels against her fate: there are lessons but suitably subtle in their unfolding, as we realize her tutoring in education and elocution prepare her for the attainable, doable challenges that will face her soon enough. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog

Drama, Family, Reviews No Comments »

Director Yoichi Sai portrays a Labrador Retriever’s life  as a seeing-eye dog, from puppy through retirement. Quill is the star of this modest drama that is beige in all too many ways. Like his creamy fur, most of the clothing of the people who train and love him is the same comfortable shade. So too the furnishings. Tonally, “Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog” is even-tempered. There is no “Old Yeller”-like tragedy, “Lassie”-like adventure or the laughs and tears of “Marley & Me.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hugo

3-D, Drama, Family No Comments »

Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz


“Hugo” is Martin Scorsese’s most personal film, a pop-up picture book of a metaphor for his own childhood. He, as a boy, small, asthmatic, watched from a Little Italy window the goings-on on the street below, captivated by the narrative that he could construct in his mind but never fully participate in, swept away by the power of movies that his father took him to. Here, his protagonist Hugo Cabret is an orphan who tends the clocks of a vast train station in 1931 Paris, peering through window and frame and trapdoor and crevasse down onto the teeming to-and-fro of passengers and merchants, a human comedy he can only witness with wide eyes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dolphin Tale

Family, Reviews No Comments »

Eleven-year-old loner plus wounded critter equals movie tears in the affecting, if formulaic “Dolphin Tale.” “Family is forever,” preaches this PG-rated kids drama based on a 2005 incident in Florida. Sawyer’s (Nathan Gamble) dad left five years ago. Now his champ swimmer cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell) heads off to war somewhere, telling Sawyer the U.S. Army will pay for his Olympic training once his tour of duty is over. Meanwhile, the withdrawn kid with low grades bonds with a beached dolphin dubbed Winter. Read the rest of this entry »