Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Olympus Has Fallen

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The stars and stripes—at times singed, tattered or soiled—flutter in slow-motion with shameless frequency in Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen.” As in Fuqua’s “Shooter” (2007), our president is in danger and one highly-trained, ex-military rule-breaker is our savior. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is kidnapped on the fifth of July by Kang (Rick Yune), a North Korean terrorist keen “to end the civil war your country interrupted so long ago.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Big Picture

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(L’homme qui voulait vivre sa vie, or, “The Man Who Wanted to Live His Life”) Eric Lartigau’s French thriller “The Big Picture” tempts the fates in its adaptation of a Connecticut-set 1997 novel by U. S. writer Douglas Kennedy in evoking better-known names in intrigue and mystery: if a rash act can give you the chance of a better life, will you spoil that one, too? But does swapping crimes with someone else increase the chances of success? (As in “Strangers on a Train”: exit Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith, pursued by a Bruno; or, enter Michelangelo Antonioni, just a passenger.) Paul, a junior partner in a Parisian law firm, dislikes his career, wishing he had become a photojournalist instead. Beautiful wife (Marina Foïs), beautiful children, Catherine Deneuve for a boss, what’s not to like? Ah, unhappiness is everywhere if you know where to look. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sound of My Voice

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As in “Another Earth,” Brit Marling stars as a troubled space-time traveler in “Sound of My Voice.” She co-wrote both of these prescient, preternatural dramas with sci-fi elements more subtle than the usual aliens and anomalies. Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) are a young couple making an undercover investigative documentary about a cult that meets in a southern California suburban basement. After showering at an intermediate location, they must don white garb, black blindfolds and plastic wrist restraints for a van ride to their late evening sessions with Maggie (Marling). She is a visitor from the future with immunity and diet issues who promises to prepare her followers to survive an upcoming civil war. Clues to her credibility include an a cappella performance of a 1993 Cranberries song purportedly repopularized in 2054, and black markings on her fingernails that match those of a little girl who obsessively builds all-black Lego towers. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Hunter

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“The Hunter” shares pedigree with a new generation of Australian filmmaking, including co-producers behind the impressive gangster film “Animal Kingdom” (2010), and a novel for source material by Julia Leigh, who made her directorial debut with the controversial sexual allegory “Sleeping Beauty” (2011). Willem Dafoe plays a mercenary, dispatched by a Euro-biotech conglomerate to the Tasmanian wilderness to search for an animal supposedly extinct since the 1930s, the Tasmanian tiger. Can a cold, closed-off man dropped into teeming countryside of forest and fog, in search of something so rare, find what’s long dormant in himself? Blah-blah-blah, yes, but director Daniel Nettheim, an experienced director of Australian television drama, contrasts epic with intimate in chilly measure and keeps the eco-allegory to a light chill. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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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 »

Secret Language: The Alien Lingo of “Attack The Block”

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By Ray Pride

Fireworks come screaming across the sky. Near the hulking fortress of a London housing estate, five teenagers are mid-mugging. It’s Guy Fawkes Day; a larger flare falls to earth. Monsters. Alien monsters. Who can save the “block”? Five unlikely heroes and their once-victim, now reluctant co-human, are on the run, through the streets, through the vast estate’s corridors as more monsters land and hunt. There’s only one enemy now. (“Inner city vs. outer space” is one of the filmmakers’ coinages for the elemental conflict.) Running under ninety minutes, even with end credits, Joe Cornish’s debut feature is triumphantly rude and violent and headlong thrilling and even funny, honoring worlds of influence that came before. The richest gift of Cornish’s work is how it’s permeated with influence, but he listens to film history the way he listened to the kids near his home and the actors in his film to create its fast, funny lingo: transformatively. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Double Hour

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(La doppia ora, 2009) “The Double Hour” is a visually straightforward, yet tense and twisty thriller from Italian director Giuseppe Capotondi, a former philosophy student and an experienced fashion photographer and music-video director. There’s a sense of telling detail from the serene, measured but eventually shocking opening scene, as the details of a Turin hotel room, its occupant, and the arrival of a chambermaid lead to the moment of a suicide. At a speed-dating event, the chambermaid, Slovenian émigré Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport) meets widower and ex-cop-turned-security-consultant Guido (Filippo Timi, the fiery Mussolini in Marco Bellocchio’s “Vincere”) and romanticismo strikes quickly. The Monica Vitti-esque Rappoport’s charisma insures Capotondi’s slow-burn revelations convince. The prerequisite dark past for a film noir outsider provides an ample supply of complications as the romance persists, yet there are also shards of nonlinear reversals in store. The shocks and turns are speedy and satisfying, even when the story jumps into a kind of dreamland that may be supernatural. “The Double Hour” is a captivating intrigue, its satisfactions comparable to Guillaume Canet’s 2006 mindfuck “Tell No One” and hints of influences that range from Kubrick to Hitchcock to Polanski. Tat Radcliffe’s widescreen cinematography burnishes the Italian night. Rappoport and Timi won awards at the 2009 Venice Film Festival for their performances. 95m. (Ray Pride)

“The Double Hour” opens Friday at Landmark Century. A trailer is below.

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Review: Source Code

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“Soda can. Coffee spill.” Check, check, check. “Source Code” is a slick goof on film history’s wealth of time-travel premises, and Duncan Jones’ second feature after the capable low-budget “Moon” is another neat confection of cleverness rising above essential implausibility. Soldier Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal, turning up the warmth) wakes up on a commuter train slicing toward downtown Chicago, but in the body of another man. He doesn’t even know that he’s on a mission, but he soon finds out: he’s been sent to find out as many details as he can in the eight minutes before a bomb detonates so that he might prevent a much larger catastrophe set to happen in the Loop within hours. Tick tick, tick. There’s knotty plotting and mouthfuls of explainer-ing—”Quantum physics and parabolic calculus” are factors in the “time reassignment,” how Colter can travel within this eight-minute window yet not change the outcome—but filmmaking velocity is what sets the heart racing. “Source Code”‘s a fine ride. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Unknown

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If the leading cause of screen death for assassins is other assassins, the most common non-lethal ailment for their agent colleagues is amnesia, as we see in “The Bourne Identity,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and now, “Unknown.” In “Taken” (2009) Liam Neeson played an ex-CIA agent who wreaked havoc in Paris to extract his daughter from the posh yacht of a Middle Eastern pervert. Now it’s Berlin’s turn to endure collateral mayhem as Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris from New Hampshire. He must extract himself from an intellectual-property heist (156 laptop files “worth billions in the wrong hands”) and the assassination of a Middle Eastern playboy and philanthropist. Bruno Ganz (“Downfall”) plays an ex-Stasi agent who helps our hero find himself. His other helpmate is a Bosnian taxi driver played by Diane Kruger. Screenwriters Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, working from a novel by Didier van Cauwelaert, help the historically illiterate with background briefings on the former Yugoslavia and the former East Germany. An American couple (Neeson and January Jones) check into the Hotel Adlon for a tenth annual biotech “summit.” The plot promptly detours Harris into a four-day coma. His memory is shaken and his identity is taken. This who-am-I? thriller creaks with dumb mechanics. Director Jaume Collet-Serra did far better in “Orphan,” where hypopituitarism took the place of amnesia, and the Saarne Institute, not Section 15, was where the wrong-doers originated. “Unknown” is watchable escapism with a corny finale of global proportions for popcorn concessions. With Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella, Sebastian Koch, Olivier Schneider, Stipe Erceg. 109m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: Farewell

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(L’affaire Farewell) “Farewell” is a diverting real-life spy thriller set in 1981, in the midst of the Cold War, pitting disenchanted KGB Colonel Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica, whose movies, including “Underground,” have scored two Palme d’Or at Cannes) and a French engineer, Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet, director of “Tell No One”), against the bulwark of the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union. Christian Carion was Oscar-nominated for “Joyeux Nöel” (2005), and largely makes spare, intelligent work of the atmosphere of the era; who knew a pop soundtrack featuring Queen would suit such an intrigue? While President Reagan may have vouched for the importance of the case—”one of the most important espionage cases of the twentieth century”—Fred Ward’s casting as Reagan is one of the more disturbing bits of impersonation in memory. Still, the play between Canet and Kusturica works beautifully. “One quickly learns to lie, no?” Gregoriev asks Froment in one meeting in a park. Living in “mensonges et solitude”: lies and solitude, he says. For a brief moment, it is the two film directors, as well as their characters, as their roles, communicating with each other. They’re both touching performers, and you want them to survive, even as unprepared as they are for the weight of a world of spycraft. With Willem Dafoe, Alexandra Maria Lara. 112m. (Ray Pride)

“Farewell” opens Friday at Landmark Century and Landmark Renaissance.