Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Neighborhood Noir: Contemporary Chicago Vice takes hold in “Stiletto”

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Photo: Josh Filauri

Film noir may have had its heyday in the forties and fifties, but it is no less entrancing on today’s screens. Hesperidian Productions roots their new neo-noir short “Stiletto” in present-day Chicago, a twenty-five-minute film that pays homage to noir while also aiming to create something new. “You can see all the roots [of film noir in the short], but it is something that people who love noir and have watched it extensively haven’t seen before,” says Kyle Thomas, president of Hesperidian Productions and director of “Stiletto.” “It’s really interesting being able to take that essence and then be unlimited to create something that expands upon it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sundance Shorts 2011

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Seven shorts from the 2011 edition of the Sundance Film Festival make it down the slopes via The Sundance Institute Art House Project, including one of my favorite shorts I saw last year. (The best short I saw from Sundance, David Lowery’s tale-spinning bedtime story of the American empire, “Pioneer,” isn’t in this selection, but it elevates issue 14 of DVD “magazine” Wholpin.) Ruben Östlund’s Swedish “Incident by a Bank” (12m) is a single-take reconstruction of a failed bank robbery in Stockholm in 2006, the camera taking a Altman-cum-Asperger’s route around the story’s particulars, and it only gets better by the moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010 Live Action

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"Wish 143"


Boys! From the UK, “The Confession,” a quiet 9-year-old’s fear of his first confession is a neatly observed slice of boy’s life about guilt and temptation that suggests Tanel Toom has a commercial career in the immediate offing. From Ireland, “The Crush,” features an 8-year-old boy (played by director Michael Creagh’s son) challenging his second-grade school teacher’s boyfriend to a duel to the death in a punchline much shorter than the short. “Wish 143,” from the UK, in which a dying 15-year-old boy asks for a wish from a charity, shows tact and skill in evading sentimentality while noting that the desire for an hour with a naked woman beats Disney World any day of  life. Belgium’s “Na Wewe,” boasts feature-level production values, as well as feature-length thematic confusion like many a movie in its political and satirical ambition. Luke Matheny’s black-and-white “God of Love,” working from the conceit of a magic packet of darts that can cause anyone to fall in love for a few short hours, shows good humor and admirable charm with modest means. It’s beaming and brimming with pleasure. 106m. (Ray Pride)

“The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010 Live Action” opens Friday at Landmark Century.

Review: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010 Animated

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Pixar’s playful “Day & Night,” which was the opener for “Toy Story 3,” is one of the two best of this quintet, directed by Teddy Newton, a conceptual coup, a hand-drawn treat after the fashion of late caricaturist Al Hirschfeld that in its first iteration exploited 3-D to rich result. The teach-it-to-kids CGI “The Gruffalo,” about a nut-hunting mouse in the woods who faces a fox, an owl and a snake, repeats itself, but at least boasts narration by Helena Bonham Carter. From the U.S., Geefwee Boedoe’s “Let’s Pollute,” a salute to all-American waste keeping the economy strong, is a keen parody of stentorian educational films. (Boedoe designed the title sequence of “Monsters, Inc.”) “The Lost Thing,” an Australian short about a boy’s hope for a home for a weird creature he comes across on the beach while scavenging for bottle tops has a grown-up absurdity and sadness, largely from explaining neither beast nor boy. Perhaps best in its sculptural form and dimensional delight is “Carnet de Voyage,” a travel diary in scrapbook form that comes to life as a European who encounters the traditions of Madagascar’s Malagasy people. Bonus shorts include Bill Plympton’s “The Cow Who Wanted To Be A Hamburger.” 85m. (Ray Pride)

“The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010 Animated” opens Friday at Landmark Century.

Review: Sundance Institute 2010 Shorts

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"Mr. Okra"


The Sundance Film Festival’s sweetest surprises often come in the form of shorts, not necessarily the ones that are gathered up in feature-length packages throughout the ten January days in Park City, Utah, but the ones that are unexpected delights before features. I’d class Lynne Ramsay’s “Gasman,” shown before the premiere of Vincent Gallo’s “Buffalo 66” in 1998, thus: Gallo’s film is something but “Gasman” announced a talent nearly full-formed in just a few minutes. Sundance’s Art House Project assembles nine films from around the world; I don’t know if these are the absolute best or if the very good ones for which rights were readily secured.

Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland’s “The Six Dollar Fifty Man” is a keen take on a feral 8-year-old boy dealing with schoolmates; the casting is just right. (It won the Jury Prize in International Short Filmmaking.) Don Hertzfeldt’s “Wisdom Teeth” has bloody cruel fun—in Swedish!—with his usual ultra-simple line drawings. It’s on a level with the deliriously vile cartoons of Iceland’s Hugleikur Dagsson. Australian Ariel Kleiman’s minimalist “Young Love” is built on a mustachioed man’s bloodied hand, a spitting woman, a small herd of curious llamas and a flash of galloping horses. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The 22nd Annual Onion City Experimental Film And Video Festival

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A Letter to Uncle Boonmee


Experimental filmmaking lives and thrives. Here are highlights of the opening night of the 22nd Onion City festival. School of the Art Institute alum Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” began that project with the short, “A Letter to Uncle Boonmee,” an atmospheric piece set in a small Thai jungle village.  Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby’s found-footage-animation hybrid, “Beauty Plus Pity,” makes witty play of hunters-vs.-animals and ends with an animated musical number by animal “gods.” Janie Geiser’s “Ghost Algebra” is lovingly treated animation about a woman’s mysterious voyage. Daïchi Saïto’s “Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis” is hand-processed 35mm film of a forest scene, scored by violinist Malcolm Goldstein. The flicker of its color variations is enhanced by the bold, sawing score. Sharon Lockhart’s “Podwórka” is a gorgeous portrait of the battered courtyards between apartment buildings in Lodz, Poland. Children play, dogs sniff, the sounds of the city are more distant than birdsong. Striking compositions and rich color add to the hypnotic effect. Jia Zhang-ke’s gentle “Cry Me a River” is as elusive as his recent features, as a quartet of thirtysomething former students meet to celebrate a professor’s birthday. Their exchange of memories since their parting is, in the director’s words, his attempt to  “see if I could tell a story that spanned ten years in fifteen or twenty minutes.” Visually beautiful and emotionally tender, comparisons to Ozu and Hou Hsiao-Hsien are instructive but do not convey its delicate, memorable fragrance. (There’s even a joke about Hou’s muse, the actress Shu Qi.) Program 105m. (Ray Pride)

This opening night program plays Thursday, June 17, 8pm. The festival continues at Chicago Filmmakers through next weekend.

Review: Oscar Nominated Short Films – Live Action

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Juanita Wilson’s “The Door” (Ireland, 17m), is a broodingly photographed, icy heart-pounder of a family’s exit from their home after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. “Instead of Abracadabra,” by Patrik Eklund (Sweden, 22m) is a wide-angle variation on contemporary Nordic film comedy; Tomas (Simon J. Berger) still lives at home, after failing at his dreams of becoming a proper magician. Berger’s portrayal of the fumbling figure amuses.  In Luke Doolan’s “Miracle Fish” (Australia, 17m), a 2009 Sundance entrant, a clever-if-tricksy story of an 8-year-old’s birthday wishes for a world without people that seems to have come true. “Kavi” (US-India, 19m), director Gregg Helvey’s USC thesis project, follows an Indian boy who wants to go to school and play cricket is forced to work as a slave in a brick kiln. Neatly constructed activist fiction. Joachim Back’s “The New Tenants” (Denmark-US, 20m), written by Anders Thomas Jensen (“Open Hearts,” “Brothers,” “Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself”) is a gratifyingly cynical dark comedy that starts with “We are just fucked beyond all measure” and “Gross, you just gave her dead-guy flour” and moves to unplanned romance and opportunities for ripe performance. It’s like a 1970s movie from a clever parallel universe. With Kevin Corrigan, David Rakoff, Vincent D’Onofrio, Liane Balaban, Helen Hanft, Jamie Harrold. Program 95m. (Ray Pride)

“Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action” opens Friday at Landmark Century.

Review: New York, I Love You

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Eleven directors shot scripts by eleven writers in New York City. Two days of shooting was followed by seven days of editing. “Each story had to involve some kind of love encounter, broadly defined,” stipulated producer Emmanuel Benbihy, who is also credited as “Conceptor.” Tristan Carne is credited with the premise for this “collective” film. Paris was the locale for the earlier “Paris, I Love You.” Rio, Shanghai, Jerusalem and Mumbai are scheduled for future iterations. Several of the short stories in “New York, I Love You” are marvels of craft and tone, and even the weakest—directed by Yvan Attal, Allen Hughes and Brett Ratner—are quite watchable. Mira Nair directs Suketu Mehta’s touching transaction between an Indian Jain (Irrfan Khan) and a Hasidic Jew (Natalie Portman) in the Diamond District. Shekhar Kapur directs a comparably poignant encounter in a deluxe hotel scripted by Anthony Minghella between an aging diva (Julie Christie) and a deformed porter (Shia LaBeouf). Taxis make for recurring locales. Characters include a Dostoevsky fan, a method actor, an NYU professor, a painter, a pharmacist, a pickpocket, a prom date, a prostitute, a soundtrack composer, and a wandering videographer played by Emilie Ohana supplying transitions and a sweet coda. With Carlos Acosta, Orlando Bloom, James Caan, Hayden Christensen, Bradley Cooper, Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, John Hurt, Cloris Leachman, Robin Wright Penn, Maggie Q, Shu Qi, Christina Ricci, Olivia Thilrlby, Anton Yelchin, Ugur Yucel, and Eli Wallach. 110m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: The 2008 Oscar Nominated Shorts

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Shorts are made for many reasons, but like all leaps into the artistic-economic abyss, they’re made to be seen. Ask efficiency experts: the short snip of video on YouTube has become a predominant form of expression worldwide, both for the one with the camera and a daffy kitty-cat and for the one killing time at work (or at home on the dole). Yet the finely tuned short only rarely finds theatrical screen time, and usually only in the form of animation. A treat of a double feature starts this week at the Music Box, a package that’s been running several years now, of the Oscar-nominated shorts in two of the Academy’s three categories, animated and live action (documentaries aren’t included). Both packages are good this year; the animated selection has several shorts added to produce a ninety-minute running time. Selections from Russia, Japan, France and the UK bear the same hallmark: exceptional creations of a stylized world and a narrative of just the right length. (Pixar’s “Presto,” which preceded “Wall-E,” is the fifth entry.) But the live-action shorts are even more of a piece, with lovingly composed, stylized views of the real world, especially Steph Green’s “New Boy,” adapting a Roddy Doyle story about an African emigrant’s first day in an Irish school. So much talent in such small packages… (Animation, 90m; Live-action, 120m.) (Ray Pride)

“The 2008 Oscar Nominated Shorts” open Friday on two separate bills at the Music Box.

The Short(s) of It: The Chicago International Reel Shorts Film Festival

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The Chicago International Reel Shorts Film Festival is celebrating its fifth anniversary by turning its annual fest into more of a party. “This year we thought we’d try something different, a little less formal, so people can drink and mingle while the films are showing,” says Scott Rudolph, co-founder of the festival. The opening event, titled Chicago Night, will showcase twelve area filmmakers and will be hosted at Gold Coast pub The Original Mother’s. The audience will have the opportunity to ask questions and socialize with the shorts’ creators. The following ten programs, comprised of more than a hundred films, will include “Kid’s Shorts!” “‘Right On’ Shorts” and the event’s most popular, “‘Growing Up Sucks’ Shorts.” These programs and more will be hosted at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema Friday night through Sunday afternoon. The festival closes with a reel of the festival’s most popular shorts at Mahoney’s Pub and Grill in West Town. For more info, visit