Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Alphaville

Drama, Mystery, Political, Recommended, Science Fiction, The State of Cinema, World Cinema No Comments »

AlphavilleRECOMMENDED

(A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution) Fifty shades of grayscale: Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 “Alphaville” is eternally nouveau, fifty years passé. One of his most entertaining movies is also one of his most timeless. Drawing on a post-Bogart gumshoe character that Eddie Constantine had already smoked and drank his way through in Z-level Euro-thrillers, Godard creates a future landscape entirely from cannily curated elements of Paris, 1964. The City of Light becomes the portal of portent. All you need to make a movie, or at least a nagging, haunt-your-dreams pre-neo-noir, is a gun, a girl and simmering philosophical asides. The shadowy web etched by cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s black-and-white photography is countered by the luminosity of Godard’s then-wife and matchless muse, Anna Karina. Her eyes shine as the corners of the city lurk, mute yet ominously expressive. Fittingly, this object from the past that partook in an imagined future, of an urban dystopia ruled by a brute computer called “Alpha 60,” is newly restored, cleanly pixillated into the present tense of rapid-fire 1-0-1-0-1-0 sequences of data. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Red Dawn

Action, Adventure, Political No Comments »

An alarmist montage of actual news clips and made-up headlines opens “Red Dawn,” the long-on-the-shelf remake of John Milius’ 1984 original. His opened with “Soviet Union Suffers Worst Wheat Harvest in 55 Years” and “NATO Dissolves. United States Stands Alone.” Director Dan Bradley and writers Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore update the bad news with Obama warning of “cyber-threats” and fiscal crises in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. The juvenile action film relocates from Colorado to Washington State, and North Koreans replace the Cubans and Nicaraguans who parachute into Spokane and take over. Again, high school kids pile into a pick-up truck and race to the hills. Insurgency ensues. (See what C4 on a skateboard can do).

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Review: Stony Island

Chicago Artists, Drama, Musical, Political, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Andrew Davis began his career as a cameraman in Chicago in the 1960s, and before his largest success, “The Fugitive” (1993), Davis was a poet of the Chicago streets in action films like “Code of Silence” (1985) and “The Package” (1989). (A variation on the Oswald-was-a-patsy conspiracy theory, “The Package” used dozens of Chicago locations to economically suggest other cities and countries.) One of Davis’ most notable obsessions in his Chicago-set films was to make them as topographically accurate as possible—that is, his skillful, adroit camera placement and cutting could, in fact, take place in the real world, rather than being pieced together from disparate locations miles apart, which filmmakers most often do. Beyond its serviceable plot, his first feature “Stony Island” is most valuable, more to be treasured, as a lovely mash note to a passed version of the South Side and a music scene that has not stood still in the past thirty-five years. Read the rest of this entry »

Let No One In: Chilly, Thrilling Paranoia in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Action, Drama, Mystery, Political, Recommended, Thriller, World Cinema No Comments »

By Ray Pride

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” a labyrinthine tale about British espionage and spycraft, is an adaptation of John le Carre’s 1974 novel, from Tomas Alfredson, the director of “Let The Right One In.”

The level of patience and control is similar between the two films: in the superb, measured “Tinker Tailor,” we realize there’s horror inside all of us, the potential for terrible things. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) may not even know it consciously, but he’s just waiting to spring cruelty on someone. After a botched mission, a search for a double-agent in Britain’s MI6 begins: the complex interlocking narratives are enacted by a brilliant, precise Oldman, but also John Hurt, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon McBurney, Toby Jones and Colin Firth. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Drama, Political, Recommended, Sci-Fi & Fantasy No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

On the 253rd day of enduring his two cousins displaced by the Luftwaffe bombing of London, the disagreeable Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter, “Son of Rambow”) scribbles in his diary: “Investigate legal ramifications of impaling relatives.” He cannot stand their nattering about Narnia, a fantastic kingdom of chatty satyrs, centaurs, minotaurs and minoboars they visited in the 2005 and 2008 installments prior to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” All three were written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the childrens’ book series by lit prof and theologian C.S. Lewis (1898–1963) that were published in the 1950s. Screenwriter Michael Petroni is also credited for the third, the first in 3D. The live action was converted; the CGI was created in 3D; both work quite well. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Four Lions

Comedy, Political, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Chris Morris’ reputation as a savage satirist rests partly on his “Brass Eye” Channel 4 series mocking sensationalist television, which demonstrated brass balls with a 2001 episode about pedophilia. What on earth could you tackle to topple that reputation? Terrorism? Incompetent want-to-suicide bombers in contemporary Britain? Morris is lucid in interviews about the range of his reading about perpetrators past, but even readers with the most cursory knowledge know how much depends on fortune and how much ought to fall to fate in the planning stages. The blackest of Pynchon-meets-Kubrick comedies could be made of what the 9/11 killers were doing in the weeks before that morning. Absurdity compounds absurdity. Stupidity short-circuits nihilist “ideals.” The history of terrorists’ fuck-ups would shame the big boys of “Jackass.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hitler: A Film From Germany

Biopic, Political, Recommended, The State of Cinema, World Cinema No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

When Francis Coppola “presented” Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s mammoth, 442-minute 1977 “Hitler: A Film From Germany,” roadshow-like limited runs were the rule, and Coppola retitled the film “Our Hitler.” Syberberg’s musings on the use of abuse of perceptions of the meaning of Hitler are more German than universal and more Syberbergian than something that gained footing in its culture. Still, there is one filmmaker who took from the use of rear projection and shafts of light suggesting the bright cone of white that comes from projected film: even on the not-very-good U. S. DVD transfer, it’s evident that Quentin Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson consulted “Hitler,” and the sequence of the apocryphal cinema-set killing of Hitler draws lovingly from this film. For most viewers, the slog of repetition, narration and monologue will soon grow tiresome, but there is a fierce intelligence at humorless play. As was the case with his staunchest defender, Susan Sontag, who considered Syberberg “the first film director since Godard who really matters.” Defending her extended essay in The New York Review of Books, Sontag wrote on of the “complexity of Syberberg’s views, and their formal and imaginative profundity.” She continued, “The subject of Hitler makes moralists of us all—moralists with a facility that is perhaps the last of the corruptions which is Hitler’s legacy.” It may be profitable to see how Syberberg’s 1970s explorations resonate against the work of “moralists” today. 7 hours, 22 minutes. (Ray Pride)

“Hitler” A Film From Germany” shows twice Saturday and once on Monday and Wednesday at Siskel. A video adaptation of Susan Sontag’s NYRB essay about the film is below. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Machete

Action, Comedy, Political, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

What on earth is “Machete”? More properly, what in Texas is it? Originally one of the fake coming attractions that was part of the “Grindhouse” package—”You fucked with the wrong Mexican”—Robert Rodriguez’s expansion of his pungent “Mexploitation” joke to feature length is, surprisingly, an urgent political polemic that still pays tribute to violent and sexual eyeball kicks. In this way, it’s probably the first full-on pastiche of Roger Corman’s subversive play at his 1970s New World Pictures label that anyone’s ever assembled. Read the rest of this entry »

Technically Sweet: Thermonuclear fright in “Countdown to Zero”

Documentary, Horror, Political, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

By Ray Pride

The prescriptive yet apocalyptic anti-nuclear proliferation documentary “Countdown to Zero” has you reaching for the comforting simplicity or even banality of song lyrics; not necessarily Radiohead’s “Reckoner,” which plays at extended length, or The Cure’s “M,” (“ready for the next attack”) but something like Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??,” as in “Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?”

Yes, the topic today is thermonuclear Armageddon, which would offer perhaps only half an hour of anticipation followed by a second of detonation, illumination and incineration. “Countdown to Zero” does not shy from the toxic poetry of the prospect of annihilation. Hair-raising, bloodcurdling and wholly despairing, this cry-of-the-mind from the producers of “An Inconvenient Truth,” Lawrence Bender (“Pulp Fiction,” “Inglourious Basterds”) and Participant Media, is chock-full of fascinating material and articulate interviewees from former spies to statesmen, as assembled by talented writer-director-for-hire Lucy Walker (“Blindsight,” “Devil’s Playground”). For instance: What’s the best way to hide fissile material being smuggled across the sea? Put it inside a cargo container filled with kitty litter; kitty litter triggers radiation detectors. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Fresh

Documentary, Political, Recommended No Comments »

Ana Sofia Joanes

RECOMMENDED

A starter of activism? Yes, ma’am, and how would you like your polemic? Over easy? Ana Sofia Joanes’ low-fi “Fresh” pits food rebels of modest means against the vastness of the petrochemical-driven industrial-farming-based food chain and hopes to inspire a rebellion. Articulate advocate Michael Pollan is among those interviewed, warning as he does against “monocultures” in contemporary agriculture; the meat of the movie is the trio of activists whose stories rebel against the model of “profit over people.” It’s modest filmmaking with outsize ambition, not as coldly formal as Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s 2005 “Our Daily Bread,” “Fresh”‘s practical glimpses of local production make it a far friendlier pamphlet than the soul-crushing “Food, Inc.” which suggests that change is not possible. Virginia “grass farmer” Joel Salatin, who also appears in “Food, Inc.,” is just one of the kindly faces in “Fresh” who says it is possible and, as another subject puts it, all it takes is “one person at a time, one farmer, one consumer at a time.” They’re looking for transformation across the next fifty years, not just the next meal. 72m. (Ray Pride)

“Fresh” hatches Friday at Siskel. The trailer is below. Read the rest of this entry »