Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Cuban Fury

Comedy, Musical, Recommended No Comments »

Nick Frost (Bruce Garrett) in CUBAN FURYRECOMMENDED

What was it Senator Franken’s Stuart Smalley character used to say? “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” In the amiable, heartfelt “Cuban Fury,” Nick Frost takes on the “good enough” mantle. As Bruce Garrett, a large-sized man with an underscaled ego, Frost has a go at an increasingly rare manner of affable, feel-good character comedy. At thirteen, he was set to win the UK’s Junior Salsa Championships, but in the twenty-five years since, he’s become a self-pitying office mouse. The arrival of Julia, a new, American boss (Rashida Jones) perks Bruce up, especially once he learns she’s, well, a secret salsa dancer. Add complications from bullying co-worker Chris O’Dowd and, among other character actors, Ian McShane as his childhood dance instructor, and the genial everyman-Superman story finds its shape. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Black Nativity

Drama, Musical, Recommended No Comments »


Defiantly simple, like earlier stage pageants based on Langston Hughes’ Christmas play, Kasi Lemmons’ “Black Nativity” gains power through its directness. Teenaged Langston (Jacob Latimore) is sent from Baltimore to Harlem by his single mother, Naima (Jennifer Hudson), to stay with her estranged parents, Aretha (Angela Bassett) and the Reverend Cornell Cobbs (Forest Whitaker). They’re about to be evicted, she can’t find work, she needs $5,000 or they’re homeless. Plot complications—arriving by bus in Times Square, his backpack is stolen, he’s mistaken for a pickpocket, he meets a brusque but concerned older man (Tyrese Gibson) while in police holding—click along in melodramatic succession. (“Snatchin’ wallets is for punks.”) But the biggest surprise is how quickly, how assuredly, Lemmons incorporates song from the film’s first moments. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Broadway Idiot

Documentary, Musical No Comments »

where the cast experienced the mosh pit first handDoug Hamilton’s clear-cut “Broadway Idiot” errs on the side of holding back on uninterrupted performance footage, likely to enable an eventual filming of Billie Joe Armstrong’s successful Broadway adaption of Green Day’s “American Idiot” album. Hamilton also skimps on deep thought, letting figures say things instead of the film showing them: “Billie Joe, just like all of us, has his dark side,” a key collaborator coos, “the side that’s self-destructive, manipulative, charismatic but dangerous to himself and others!” Odd devices are scattered throughout, as in completely fake newspaper clippings from the show’s positive reviews and slowing down non-interview footage. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Metallica Through The Never

3-D, Action, Horror, Musical, Sci-Fi & Fantasy No Comments »


Hungarian-American director Nimród Antal (“Kontroll,” “Predators”) joins hands with the members of Metallica (James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo) for “Metallica Through The Never.” Shot in 3D on a 360-degree stage at a fistful of Canadian stadium shows, with twenty-four swooping, darting cameras on cranes and jibs, as well as cameramen behind 3D Steadicam rigs that dart around the edges of the frame, strange and Taurus-headed figures. It’s fluid work, but the movie also intersperses wordless scenes of a young roadie, Trip (Dane DeHaan, “The Place Beyond The Pines”), on a mission to retrieve a mysterious satchel on quotidian but post-apocalyptic late-night Canuck streets outside. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Sapphires

Comedy, Musical, Romance No Comments »
img_1184_lgUpbeat backstage biopic “The Sapphires,” about an Aboriginal girl group, puts the Down Under spin on American docudramas as well as dramas about 1960s Motown. Happily, not every formula crosses over to this winner of eleven awards from the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts. Wayne Blair directs a blend of a jukebox musical and racial politics lesson based on the 2005 play by Tony Briggs, son of one of the original R&B cover singers. Briggs and co-writer Keith Thompson relate the saga of four Cummeragunja girls who harmonized as kids. Years later they will meet a manager at a local talent show, go to Melbourne for an audition then go on tour singing and shimmying for American troops in Vietnam. The White Australia policy and Black Power movement meet. Cassius Clay and Martin Luther King are on TV. As always, the omissions intrigue. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Les Misérables

Musical, Reviews No Comments »

Anne Hathaway

Quelle horreur! Tom Hooper’s barge-bloat adaptation of decades-running musical “Les Misérables,” an advanced seminar in formal misjudgment, runs a near-interminable 157 minutes, and it’s one of those rare so-bad-it’s-pitiful movies. Think of the classic photographs of film directors working with megaphones: Hooper’s megaphone is the size of the Hindenburg. Oh, the inanity. If you haven’t sung the score in the car and shower since you were small, this is not the hard-punching roadshow for you. The scale starts gargantuan and strives to become larger by the sung-through ferment of its close-ups of non-actors singing. (There’s almost no dialogue: this is operetta with a vengeance.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Pitch Perfect

Musical, Reviews No Comments »
College a cappella competitions supply a stage for nerd-and-raunch bits with a fetching indifference to formula: no one here really cares about the outcome of the final number at the national finals. Jason Moore (“Avenue Q”) directs a comic screenplay by Kay Cannon (“New Girl,” “30 Rock”), working from Mickey Rapkin’s book “Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory.” Beca (Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”) gets free tuition at a liberal arts school because her dad is Comparative Lit prof there, but this pouty freshman with the mean Asian dorm mate would really rather be out in L.A. getting a start in the music industry. Her dad makes her join a campus organization. Beca picks the Bellas, an a cappella group stocked with sitcom-style characters. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Beloved

Musical, World Cinema No Comments »
Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni play a mother and daughter with curiously skewed love lives in “Beloved” (Les bien-aimés), written and directed by Christophe Honoré (“Dans Paris”). Sappy numbers by Alex Beaupain make for a smug musical lacking either retro panache or genre-savoir. Set in Paris, Prague, Reims, London and Montreal, “Beloved” makes a thoughtless parallel between Soviets rolling into Prague and Saudis flying into the Twin Towers. Titles for 1964, 1978, 1997, 1998, 2001 and 2007 mark the time for young clerk Madeleine (Ludivine Sagnier) to steal Roger Vivier heels from her workplace, turn tricks, hook up with a Czech endocrinologist and raise her daughter Vera (Mastroianni, at about age forty) who falls for a gay drummer in London who says his day job is a vet. A plot of impulsive affairs and decades-long infidelity yields  a slight, saucy comedy of bourgeois libidos. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sparkle

Drama, Musical, Reviews No Comments »
Bishop T.D. Jakes (“Jumping the Broom”) of Dallas megachurch fame and his coproducers remake the 1976 film “Sparkle” for a wholesome dream-your-dream story of nineteen-year-old Sparkle (Jordin Sparks, “American Idol” winner, Season 6). Salim Akil (“Jumping the Broom”) directs a screenplay by his wife Mara Brock Akil that is graced with a few songs written by executive music consultant R. Kelly. Sparkle is the youngest of three sisters raised in the strict household of Emma (executive producer Whitney Houston, who receives an “In Loving Memory” dedication in the end credits). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Step Up Revolution

Musical, Romance No Comments »

The fourth “Step Up” film moves to Miami from the New York City setting of “Step Up 3D” (2010) and the Baltimore of “Step Up 2 The Streets” (2008) and “Step Up” (2006). This change of clime means the body count of hot near-naked youth climbs. Once again a street dance crew pursues its art despite officialdom and in-house envy. And a good-looking duo will fall in love after reconciling differences in class and choreography. Sean (Ryan Guzman, a model and MMA fighter) is a waiter at a luxury hotel and the ringleader of a flash mob of unemployed dancers. Ten million hits on YouTube will win “The Mob” a hundred grand. Emily (Kathryn McCormick) is the daughter of the CEO of Anderson Global Properties. She is in Miami for the summer to audition for an artsy dance company. Her dad has designs on the lower-income, multicultural neighborhood where Sean lives. What develops is all-too-foreseeable in this unreflexive retread of tropes from the traditional backstage musical. Read the rest of this entry »