Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Eden

Drama, Musical, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »

EDEN-Photo-Felix-DJ-1440x600

RECOMMENDED

With her fourth feature, the dreamy, low-key “Eden,” Mia Hansen-Løve continues to work in a different style that suits the subject at hand. Based on a screenplay she wrote with her brother, Sven Hansen-Løve, who is also a deejay, her film follows two decades in an unaging young deejay’s life in the Parisian electronic dance scene of the 1990s. Based partly on Sven’s experience, as well as those of Daft Punk, “Eden,” simmers in music and mood but the floppy-haired cipher of a male lead (Felix De Givry) is her least interesting protagonist yet, especially in light of the sharply drawn, nuanced figures of the middle-aged male protagonist of “Father of My Children” (2009) and the young girl center-screen in “Goodbye First Love” (2011). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Last Five Years

Musical, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

L5Y_4RECOMMENDED

The ins-and-outs of love propel the star-making motions of Richard LaGravenese’s “The Last Five Years,” a modest, slightly ragged but oh-so-engaging adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway musical about the forward-and-back memories of a relationship all but certain to be dashed. Musicals have returned with a vengeance, and Anna Kendrick has arrived as the near-pitch-perfect modern musical star (“Pitch Perfect,” “Pitch Perfect 2,” the perfectly filthy role in “Happy Christmas,” “Into The Woods”). Kendrick plays Cathy, an aspiring actress with a novelist boyfriend, Jamie (a nondescript Jeremy Jordan) who burst to find the words (in music) to recollect a five-year affair. The device: her songs move backwards in time from the end of their marriage, while his start at the beginning and move forward. (Guess where they meet in the middle.) Read the rest of this entry »

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

Drama, Musical, Recommended No Comments »

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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 »

Review: God Help The Girl

Drama, Musical, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

God-Help-The-Girl-08

RECOMMENDED

“If you want to hear your voice floating in the middle of a beautiful tapestry of frequencies… you’re gonna need a pop group.” I can’t help but have a pooling soft spot shy of a puddle of swoon for “God Help The Girl,” the expectedly twee but crazy-charming lovable coming-of-age musical written and directed by Stuart Murdoch, also known as the lead singer of Belle & Sebastian. In a candy-colored, idealized, even lovable Glasgow, young fantasist Eve (Emily Browning) overcomes a fistful of emotional problems by learning to become a singer-songwriter and get out into the city with other very cool-looking girls and boys. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »