Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Mood Indigo

Comedy, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »


“This feeling of solitude is unfair! I demand to fall in love, too.” Michel Gondry’s latest low-fi gallimaufry of incessant innovation and simple, surrealistic fancy, “Mood Indigo,” is based on a book supposedly known to most French children, Boris Vian’s “L’ecume des jours” (known in Stanley Chapman’s British translation as  “Froth on the Daydream”). It’s a romance atop romances with a star-crossed couple: Chloé  (Audrey Tautou) falls ill when a flower starts to grow in her lungs, and rich, lonely bachelor Colin (Romain Duris) finds he can keep her alive by surrounding her always with fresh flowers. Then heap stop-motion, dream sequences, musical passages, food play, Duke Ellington… Keep heaping. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Begin Again

Musical, Recommended, Romance No Comments »


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 »

Why Does Anyone Do Anything: Paul Haggis in the “Third Person”

Drama, Recommended, Romance 1 Comment »

PHM_7578.NEFBy Ray Pride

One of the most bittersweet end credits I’ve seen in recent movies comes at the end of Paul Haggis’ melodrama about jealousy and point-of-view, “Third Person”: “To all the Belgian tax shelter investors.”

Haggis laughs when I say this on a recent sunny Chicago afternoon resounding with fire trucks and ambulances on the street below the high-up hotel suite. “I had to leave this country to get financing for this film,” he says at a fast clip with a light Canadian cadence. “I knew it was going to be a European film in many ways, anyways. It’s a European sensibility, this film. Besides the fact that two of the cities, Paris and Rome, are European. That didn’t trouble me too much, but it is a shame. We didn’t even bother to think of taking this to studios. We didn’t even try. Why would we? This is nothing a studio would make today. The days of studios making adult dramas is, sadly, long past.”

The look and feel of the movie does hark back to multiple eras. “We shot a lot of interiors at Cinecitta [studios in Rome]. Some we built on locations,” he tells me. “All the hotel suites, the hotel corridors, everything’s built there. I wanted two hotels that had the same footprint exactly. It’s part of the story. Even though [production designer] Larry Bennett changed out the windows and the dressing and the coving and everything, I wanted them to feel like… ‘Is this the same place?’ No, it’s not. ‘Is it?’” Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Good At It: The Long Gestation of “Obvious Child”

Comedy, Recommended, Romance, The State of Cinema No Comments »

Obv_child-1400x480By Ray Pride

Gillian Robespierre’s canny, taut “Obvious Child,” a distinctly contemporary comedy, is rich in people talk and how some people swear and how modern audiences laugh, shocked, with gratitude. And lead actress Jenny Slate? Here comes a great comedy star in a smart, conversational, bluntly funny, certainly subversive romcom. Simply: the plot pivots on an unwanted pregnancy.

At Sundance 2014, “Obvious Child” was that rare, total surprise for me, a press screening I ducked into after Park City, Utah’s insane traffic problems prevented me from getting to yet another movie across town. Didn’t know any of the names, Brooklyn, thirtysomething romantic comedy, just over eighty minutes. Everyone’s always hoping for the platonic ideal of what Woody Allen represented in romantic comedy in the 1970s. And the title? What on earth did that title mean?

“So you’re a ‘Graceland’ guy, not a ‘Rhythm of the Saints’ guy,” lead actress Jenny Slate says when we meet, laughing, sitting alongside her near-lookalike, co-writer-director Gillian Robespierre, who directed Slate in a short version of the material in 2009. “Paul Simon song,” Robespierre says, nodding. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Fault In Our Stars

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

The Fault In Our StarsRECOMMENDED I am bobbing on a sea of a hundred weeping teenage girls. Just now, they were crying inside the theater, too, several hundred more as well. Audibly, physically, unabashedly, visibly sobbing in the outline of their heads and shoulders quavering against the screen as I watched them watch “The Fault In Our Stars.” “This is the truth… sorry,” young Hazel (Shailene Woodley) narrates at the beginning, and the truth, sorry, is that “Fault” made $48 million in its opening weekend, and what’s more gratifying than an underserved audience having a film to see, once, twice, who knows how many times, is that director Josh Boone’s adaptation of the self-aware voice of John Green’s young-adult novel (adapted by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber), is so exceptionally good, considering that it’s a swooning romance about cancer, death and “oblivion.” The visual center of the film is the feline finery of Woodley’s face, sculpted by chopped-off hair, her writerly Hazel Lancaster matched against the congenial smirk of Ansel Elgort as former jock Augustus Waters. (I was almost spent by how soon, how quickly Gus tags her with a special name of their own: “Hazel Grace.”) But fantastically, the movie is not about the piercing good looks of either charismatic actor. Woodley’s gifts as a naturalistic performer soar: her heightened, humorous, lyrical inflections take words that could die from the freight of adolescent preciousness to elemental goodness. Her lovely, loving inflections are as marvelous as her wide, brimming, hopeful eyes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Edge of Tomorrow

3-D, Action, Recommended, Romance, Science Fiction, The State of Cinema No Comments »


Don’t we all want a furious, jumbled intelligence like Doug Liman’s to fashion memorable pop? The director of “Go,” “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” opens the snap-pop-crackerjack visual static of “Edge of Tomorrow”—a title which sounds like a lost Powell-Pressburger film—with a teeming montage, an immersion more than exposition of how the planet has arrived at apocalyptic war. We’re battling voracious aliens called “Mimics” and a surge on the beaches of France, Operation Downfall, seems to be humanity’s only chance for survival against the onslaught from the edge of the world. The 2013 meteor showers in Russia’s Ural region are one shard of the opening’s epochal busy-ness as is the image of a mute, pop-eyed Wolf Blitzer next to a “United Defense Forces” general played by Brendan Gleeson: a cruel portrait in a fraction of a second.

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Review: Chinese Puzzle

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »


French farceur Cédric Klapisch is a maestro of complication, if not complexity. In his original screenplays like “L’auberge espagnole” and “Russian Dolls,” send-ups of whirlwind European co-productions but also cosmopolitan romantic comedies, the writer-director winds up and sets loose his alter ego, shaggy, boyish womanizer Xavier (Romain Duris). Now Xavier’s a forty-year-old novelist propelled into a minefield of interpersonal complications. Klapisch concludes his loose trilogy that began with “L’auberge” years ago by bringing back the women from that adventure, especially Audrey Tautou deep into the shaggy dog stories inside shaggy dog stories. Read the rest of this entry »

Once Upon an American Dream: The Haunting Beauty of “The Immigrant”

Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »


Memories upon memories upon memories upon legend upon lore upon sorrow upon sacrifice and ache: there is much of another time in James Gray’s great and tender and sublimely sincere, emblematically cinematic “The Immigrant.”

The opening shot announces itself cleanly, clearly as preamble to an epic, at least an emotional one, with the backside of the Statue of Liberty glimpsed through a curtain of mist, and a slow zoom backward revealing the back of a man in a black suit and a bowler-like hat. It’s Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Bruno, a fixer, a macher, an impresario, a cruel, even dastardly man, patrolling the ranks of women held back among the swaying lines of huddled masses at Ellis Island in 1921. Bruno will fall upon the Polish Ewa (Marion Cotillard), introducing her to the commerce of the Lower East Side, not only to a much-needed bed, to the camaraderie of women in the public bathhouse across the way, to the variety theater, the Bandit’s Roost, where he plies his trades, but to prostitution. Her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) is sick with tuberculosis, and Bruno tells her there is only one way to make the money in her lifetime to protect her. (The historic Bandit’s Roost, often described as the first American slum, was off Mulberry Street, and photographed in 1888 by Jacob Riis.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past 

3-D, Action, Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

X-Men Days Of Future PastRECOMMENDED

At least one reviewer who’s kept closer watch on the franchise warns, “My advice to you is to not watch the previous ‘X-Men’ films before ‘Days of Future Past’ as the continuity problems will irritate you.” What I can offer is that “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” builds its own relatively coherent adventure without leaving non-aficionados in the dark. In other words, this largely 1970s-set installment functions as a standalone movie, and one that has several unexpected scenes of superhero glee that almost seem criminal to describe, and especially the period songs used to accompany them. Still, there are enough callbacks and hints of futures to come that a preview audience often purred in muted ruffles of chuckles, indicating director Bryan Singer and writers Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman did not neglect a key constituency.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Chef

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »


Jon Favreau’s smart, tasty entertainment finds room for father-son dynamics and a fuckload of swearing. A fuckload. Favreau’s foodie fantasia serves up chef Carl Casper, near-Schnabelesque in girth, goatee and glasses, caught between work and family, dashed ambition of youth and daily drudge in a limiting restaurant he’s been cooking at for years. (Gauloises: such a Los Angeles name for a place that’s been there forever.) As writer-director-producer-star, Favreau works sweetly and well, crafting “Chef” as small-scale, slightly-elevated fairytale, providing Chef Carl with a wealthy, lovely ex-wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara), a chipper if neglected young son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), as well as Molly, a smoky-voiced floor manager with sly eyes who sometimes brings them along to bed (Scarlett Johansson).

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