Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: A Hard Day’s Night

Comedy, Musical, Recommended No Comments »

71233CT28.1(CMYK)_3.tifRECOMMENDED

The greatest opening chord in movie history is followed by one of the great cut-up comedies in “A Hard Day’s Night,” combining the immense charm of the young quartet with the intense invention of a young Richard Lester. It’s one second, two seconds at the most, twannggg, and the screen floods with the Beatles, in trim, natty suits and thin ties and the, yes, Beatles haircuts, being pursued up a London side street by a loving, crushing crowd of fans. Those opening two minutes forty-five seconds are one of the most fantastic bursts of joy in any movie I know. And then, you know what? You still get to enjoy the sweetly absurd comedy of the rest of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Plus: weren’t they such pretty, lovely boys? (Even in the company of their friend, the cleanest “clean old man” of them all.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Begin Again

Musical, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

BEGIN AGAINRECOMMENDED

Boy already met girl, girl already left boy, that was “Once.” What can a filmmaker do after a success like that? Writer-director John Carney doesn’t fully succeed Twice, but there are sweet and knowing moments throughout “Begin Again,” his latest romance about songwriting and a city, in this case, New York City in autumn. His script’s conceit is that Gretta, a young English songwriter (Keira Knightley) abandoned in New York by her rising-pop-star boyfriend (Adam Levine) would be discovered in an Arlene’s Grocery-like East Village music showcase by a just-fired, hard-drinking, burned-out music label co-owner named Dan (Mark Ruffalo), and record an entire album live on locations in Manhattan. (Accept the premise, you’ll like the smaller bits.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jersey Boys

Biopic, Comedy, Drama, Musical No Comments »

JERSEY BOYS
Beneath Clint Eastwood’s easygoing, even somnolent direction of “Jersey Boys” lies a wittily constructed screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, based on their book to the 2005 Broadway musical (Brickman’s other co-writing credits include “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Manhattan Murder Mystery”). But the small strokes of dialogue and rhyming bits of business are smothered by deadly pacing, among other things, including the whisper of “Goodfellas” at its back.  The latest of eighty-four-year-old Eastwood’s late career surprises harks back to a filmmaking era that never existed, a backlot-driven, quiet, even spectral elongation of the terse framing and blocking of his mentor, Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”). The combination of the gentility of the settings, sometimes-slapstick comedy, shameless profanity, casually staged musical numbers and erratic casting make for an eccentric, underwhelming, but intermittently eye-opening failure. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

BLACK NATIVITYRECOMMENDED

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 »

CHAOS_0913_02021RECOMMENDED

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 »