By Ray Pride
A beautiful French teenager turns to prostitution, no explanation given. A Romanian film director prepares in the days before shooting a film: language is worse groundwork than silence, especially with women. In a dark club, a man must scream, and does.
If there’s one thing in common among the films I’ve been able to sample from the 17th Annual European Union Film Festival at the Siskel Film Center, with sixty-four features from twenty-six countries, it’s simply that the storytelling dispenses with backstory, there’s a lot less about increasingly distant wars of the twentieth century, and that many of them seem like reports of the moment, emotional weather reports, simple, sometimes elegant statements of the state of things. Read the rest of this entry »
Sometimes scheduling keeps a reviewer from getting to a movie before it opens, and sometimes, that’s just Awesome. In the case of the exceptional “The Lego Movie,” from directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, getting to see their pyrotechnic computer-animated fantasia with a packed, thrilled, paying audience was a sweet treat, especially since its wall-to-wall Mad-magazine-like visual tapestry also draws subversively on any number of movies that would include but hardly be limited to the epic paranoia of John Carpenter’s “They Live” and “The Matrix,” as well as the Wachowskis’ most-misunderstood carpet-bombing of form, “Speed Racer.” (In the case of “The Lego Movie,” something is hardly rotten from the state of Denmark.) It’s not quite the communist insurrection that some commentators of predictable bent have called it, but it’s assuredly the most sophisticated release of the winter crop of new movies—simply cinema. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Like his subject, Steve James’ “Life Itself” is a piece of work.
Packing seventy years of the life of Chicago’s own Roger Ebert into a swift, swinging two hours, the director of “Hoop Dreams” and “The Interrupters” gives a dense, vivid impression of the Sun-Timesman’s will and destiny to be a newspaperman from the earliest age, but also the many overlapping eras of his eventful (and competitive) life. Editor-in-chief at college, appointed film critic almost by accident at a callow age, the drinking, the rivalry with Gene Siskel, Chaz, the loss of voice alongside the gain of a virtual pulpit, the ornery Midwestern strength in the face of debilitating pain in his final days. There are hundreds of stories to be told, and as has been amply pointed out, at Sundance and elsewhere, hundreds of people have them, their own Roger Ebert story from the late, great everyman’s simple, elemental curiosity. There’s a lot between the covers of Ebert’s fugue-cum-memoir that gives the film its title and some of its territory, but for a movie made in just over a year, it’s a compact feat of determination and legerdemain. I knew Roger since I was nineteen, so I’ll leave the subject for now by saying that James’ two hours (co-edited with fellow Kartemquin veteran David Simpson) is a proper, not wholly reverent remembrance. The filmmakers have provided a place of pride for the immortal line Ebert wrote for Russ Meyer’s “Beneath The Valley Of The Dolls”: “This is my happening and it freaks me out!” As well it should; as well it did. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“Beards, bluegrass,” I start, and my friend frowns, “tragic and perhaps doomed romance”—“Okay, now keep going,” she says—“plus a female protagonist who has her own tattoo parlor.” “I’m in!” she says.
A Dutch melodrama about modern romance, bluegrass, tattoos: that had been the description that left me less-than-curious about Felix van Groeningen’s “Broken Circle Breakdown” as it toured the film-festival circuit over the past year. But expectations are there to be trumped, and then exceeded, when a story is well told by a good filmmaker. (Indeed, the day after I saw “Broken Circle,” it was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar.) Based on a 2009 play, “The Broken Circle Breakdown featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama,” Groeningen’s feature betrays a literary bent, in his rhyming of incidents, visual motifs and pregnant symbols that belie its stage origins. It’s continually surprising, and feels fresh in the way the film toys with expectations that come from familiar particulars. Read the rest of this entry »
Fiennes is fine: “The Invisible Woman,” Ralph Fiennes’ delicate, deliberately-paced second feature as director, chronicles the true-life romance between Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and a younger woman (Felicity Jones). Fiennes’ eye is acute on the niceties of the costume drama, capturing character with the crown of a hat, the jut of mutton-chop sideburns, the plump way a certain kind of woman would sit, the weight of water against fabric, the light in Jones’ eyes: compelling but opaque at seaside or by tallow-light. Read the rest of this entry »
Abdellatif Kechiche’s Cannes-prized three-hour feature has tender supporters and bitter detractors (including Julie Maroh, the young author of the graphic novel the film is based upon), but the fantastic sweet fury of the central teen character, Adèle, finding fierce first love with a confident, blue-haired older girl (Léa Seydoux), encompasses kiss and bite and fuck and any and all manner of oral gratification with headlong wildness. Kechiche likes to watch. A trait notable in his earlier “The Secret of the Grain,” comes to full blush in “Blue Is The Warmest Color” (La Vie d’Adèle: Chapitres 1 & 2). Kechiche’s camera fixates on Exarchopoulos, and she’s a stand-in, not only for a lesbian character but also for anyone, any youthful first immersion into the physical world of another person. Kechiche captures a staggeringly intense amount of orality: kissing, smoking, talking, spitting, fucking and eating, oh, such eating. As his game gamine, Adèle Exarchopoulos is sexual, and sexualized, but her embodiment of oral desire is ravishing. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Stiller has been talking up a film of James Thurber’s 1939 short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” for a very, very long time. And, $90 million later, here it is. The adaptation by Steve Conrad, which went through a claimed sixty drafts, is very much in the league of an earlier Conrad screenplay, “The Weather Man,” which took Chicago as a setting in a way that “Mitty” takes Manhattan and Iceland: Poignancy arises through small details not necessarily observed by an essentially passive milquetoast of a protagonist, but very much seen by the audience. Stiller’s Mitty is, well… a guy. (A guy who has some plot-convenient skateboard skills for a fifty-year-old office guy.) Playing a photo archivist, or, “negative asset manager,” for LIFE magazine, already defunct but about to go online-only in the world of the film, Mitty doodles and dawdles through the world, swept away by momentary bursts of special-effects fantasy while his life is changed by the presence of a cake made by his mother. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s nearly the future, but it’s just now for Theodore Twombly, a successful professional writer of assuredly sentimental personal letters. The world is more automated than anything imagined by the cold wizards behind Google Glass: in an elevator leaving work, Theodore murmurs to the tiny device in his ear, “Play melancholy song,” and after a few bars, refines, “Play different melancholy song.” In a softly lit, given-to-orange-red Los Angeles, shot partially in Shanghai, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) procrastinates on finalizing his divorce while thinking of what went wrong with his wife (Rooney Mara), while having a warm, Platonic, female-male friendship with his neighbor, Amy (Amy Adams), a married documentary-maker and programmer. His sentiments shift when he buys an operating system for his computer, an intuitive entity that listens to you, that understands you, which dubs itself Samantha and has a chipper, flirtatious, intimate, slightly husky voice: Scarlett Johansson. A.I.-yi-yi: she’s got the emotional intelligence of a lover and a mother. Read the rest of this entry »
Wry and bittersweet, miniaturist 06: this man was made for grown-up romantic comedy. Fuck, it hurts when that foreseeable title rises up among the first of the end titles—“For Jim”—a whisper of an instant since his character smiled the slyest, most pleased of small smiles. Fuck. “Enough Said,” as with earlier Holofcener titles, like “Please Give” and “Friends With Money,” seems hardly to qualify as a title, more like a designation, or a Post-It with a provisional squiggle on it. But, even more than Woody Allen’s often-lackadaisical monikers, as the credits roll, her titles punch and hug and hold. There’s just this little smidgen of information withheld that eddies into the main dramatic complication of Holofcener’s fifth feature. “Enough Said” is, among other things, about characters who think they speak plainly and directly, but, oh, only if they did, would there be “enough said.” In modern-day Los Angeles, Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays single parent Eva facing her only child’s departure for college, when she meets Albert (Gandolfini), another middle-aged single parent facing the same empty nest. (Cue the complainers who cite “first world problems” who’ve never seen a third world movie.) Read the rest of this entry »
Documentarian Zachary Heinzerling spent several years following a hate-love-hate relationship between two elderly Japanese-New Yorker artists, Ushio “Gyu-Chan” Shinohara and Noriko Shinohara, “boxing” painter and artist, respectively. They’ve been together for forty years, since she was nineteen, and at first, you can’t see how they’d be together for even five minutes. The result, “Cutie And The Boxer,” is lovingly shaped, beautifully shot, emotionally rich, gaudy, always compelling and in the end, weirdly reassuring about long-term relationships. Read the rest of this entry »