Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

The Devil, Probably: Good, Evil and the Return of Hal Hartley

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Aubrey Plaza as Susan Weber in NED RIFLE, directed by Hal Hartley

By Ray Pride

What was indie? What was this thing, “indie film”?

In the 1990s, Hal Hartley passed for it: a deadpan pasticheur from Long Island who liked French movies and poker-faced piquant variations in highly verbal comedies drawing from Godard and Gallic epigrammatists, dropping in complications a la screwball comedy with just a smattering of vulgar provocations. A modest, blunt, elemental visual style. Simplicity and directness. And catchphrases like “There’s no such thing as adventure and romance, only trouble and desire.” Yeah, that becalmed romanticism spoke to me and the yet younger me inside the movie-mad me. But indie didn’t last.

Hartley nourished a modest following—perhaps only a certain stripe of film critics? A few neurotic romantics here and there across the land?—with his 1989 debut, “The Unbelievable Truth” and on through “Trust,” the short feature “Surviving Desire,” “Simple Men,” “Amateur” and “Flirt.” While none of those movies made true money, Hartley’s earliest films were distributed by Miramax in that go-go decade for the Weinstein brothers’ first company, and even Sony Pictures Classics got into the mix with the Isabelle Huppert-starring “Amateur.” While there’s been a gap in both quantity and quality in his output, Hartley’s twelfth feature, “Ned Rifle” (a pseudonym Hartley has used for his minimal, melancholy scores) is out, partially financed by Kickstarter and primarily distributed on Vimeo with big-screen showings in a handful of cities including Chicago. I don’t want to even think of how few dollars are involved in an enterprise like this, which as a late-century debut might have been a $50,000 film and a couple projects along, a million-dollar one. But “Ned Rifle”? A confident yet very, very self-effacing fable. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: White God

Action, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

WhiteGod4

RECOMMENDED

In multiple countries in greater Europe, right-wing parties have risen to power, perhaps to most dramatic effect in contemporary Hungary. In Kornél Mundruczó’s fantastic and often fantastically beautiful, Budapest-set revenge parable, there may or may not be useful allegory in the casting out of thirteen-year-old Lili’s dog, Hagen, for being “unfit” as a mixed-breed dog. Both Hagen and Lili search for a return to “home,” and for each other, but in the meantime the once-domesticated dog rounds up a canine cohort to face the cruelty that is the human race. It’s a child’s tale, in a way, but with hundreds and hundreds of extra sets of teeth. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: While We’re Young

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

whilewereyoung7

RECOMMENDED

After he tries on a new personality borne of new, younger friends, “You’re an old man with a hat,” middle-aged Josh Srebnick (Ben Stiller) is told by his stay-at-home dad friend, Fletcher (Adam Horovitz). In “While We’re Young,” his eighth feature, Noah Baumbach goes the Woody Allen ensemble route in a two-thirds likable variation of “Crimes & Misdemeanors,” in which two generations of documentarians search for “truth” and “authenticity” in different measure. Josh, frantic and at clueless loose ends as so many Baumbach protagonists are, is married to Cornelia (Naomi Watts), seemingly happy, soaked in wine and regret for not having had children. She’s also the daughter of an esteemed elder documentarian, whose mentoring Josh has rejected in the near-decade of working on an interminable documentary project about the notions of a weedy Noam Chomsky stand-in. Josh and Cornelia meet a younger couple, Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried), callow twentysomethings who open a window to the couple’s passed youth. Baumbach does a rich, comic job with the contrasts between the couples, capturing both middle-aged lightheadedness and callow youth with a simmer of sociological precision. (There are small, savory tastes of several other filmmakers here, notably Mazursky and Swanberg.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Salt of the Earth

Documentary, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

SaltOfTheEarth8

RECOMMENDED

In “The Salt of the Earth,” Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado capture a bittersweet, elegant slice of life of four decades in the career of the great Brazilian photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado and his epic studies of nature and man’s cruelty. Wenders has said that the collaboration between himself and Salgado’s son almost resulted in two disparate films, but the final mingling of approaches works neatly, especially with the imagery seen on the big screen. Wenders hasn’t had the good fortune to make fiction features in years as richly rewarding as “Kings of the Road,” “The American Friend,” “Paris, Texas,” “Wings Of Desire” and “The State of Things,” but both his personal fine arts photography and his recent documentary work, such as “Pina,” are masterful. The Oscar-nominated “The Salt of the Earth” is no exception. “A photographer is someone literally drawing with light,” Wenders muses before we meet Salgado, in fact, before we see the first of the generous selection of his work, “writing and rewriting the world with light and shadows.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

kumiko

RECOMMENDED

With the gorgeously shot, sweetly paced “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter,” David and Nathan Zellner make a strange, funny, sometimes alarmingly deadpan leap forward from their likable earlier features like “Goliath” (2008) and “Kid-Thing” (2012). An inspired fable, a riff on “Fargo,” a Herzog-like look at landscape, it’s like Rinko Kikuchi in “The Great Ecstasy Of The Treasure Hunter Kumiko,” with a motel quilt with a pattern worthy of Sergei Parajanov. The ineffable Kikuchi (“Pacific Rim,” “The Brothers Bloom”) plays an office worker in Japan who is convinced that her VHS tape of “Fargo” is a documentary, and she’s dead-set on going to America to find that suitcase of hot, frozen cash in the pure white winter wastes of North Dakota. Knowing little of the language, nearly broke, making mistake after mistake, she trudges on, with little more than crazy hope and visions of a bunny—Bunzo!—to keep her going. Read the rest of this entry »

I Heard The News Today, Oh Boy: On The Hunting Ground of Fiction and Fact

Documentary, Drama, Events, Recommended No Comments »

The Hunting Ground

By Ray Pride

The news, oh the news from Hollywood. What providence does the future hold for the eager moviegoer? What fate lies ahead?

A few of the facts: Worldwide box-office is up one measly percent, but only because China’s audiences spent a whopping thirty-four percent more on tickets. “Star Wars VIII” gets a release date in 2017 and Rian Johnson (“Looper”) is confirmed as writer-director. A “Star Wars” standalone movie will be called “Star Wars: Rogue One.” The female-cast “Ghostbusters” will be joined by another sequel to the thirty-one-year-old movie, likely starring Chris Pratt and Channing Tatum, following the original misogynist cries on the internet with questions of why anyone’s childhood needs to be spoiled twice. Disney says they’ll rerelease the original “Star Wars” trilogy without the additions, deletions and graffiti George Lucas added across the years when he still owned Lucasfilm. And look! “Frozen 2”! Announced the day before the short “Frozen Fever” debuts before “Cinderella”! Let it go!

Damning, distressing, infuriating. Not the sequels to the news of sequels, not limited to the Marvel “Universe,” but in the universe around us. And not the economic fact that newspapers and legacy media continue to shrink as the interest in nonfiction filmmaking grows and grows. Damning, distressing and infuriating is another fine documentary opening this week, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s blunt, forceful advocacy doc, “The Hunting Ground,” a sort of sequel in itself, which takes aim at another dreadful contemporary social ill after the investigation of the plague of rape in the military and its willful, systemic whitewash in the military in “The Invisible War”: the rash of sexual violence and the cover-ups that follow on college campuses today. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: An Honest Liar

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »

Honest Liar

RECOMMENDED

Long-dormant comedy director Barry Sonnenfeld announced a few days ago that he’s finally found a project up there with “Get Shorty” and “Men in Black”: “Project Alpha,” a story of a two-year hoax maintained by magician and champion debunker/investigator James Randi, aka “The Amazing Randi.” Conveniently, Sonnenfeld also attached himself as executive producer to Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein’s often-exhilarating documentary, “An Honest Liar,” a densely researched, captivating look back at the passions of the now-eighty-six-year-old trickster. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Seymour: An Introduction

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »

Seymour an introduction

RECOMMENDED

Ethan Hawke’s “Seymour: An Introduction” is a documentary that comes from a pure place: he met someone he immediately admired and wanted others to meet him, too. Seymour Bernstein is a now-eighty-six-year-old pianist and music teacher who had offered Hawke pointers on how to tamp down stage fright. But after that first encounter, Hawke discovered an inveterate New Yorker who gave up a career to devote his life to others, to passing along his passion to music, and his simple kindness, to students for decades. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Spring

Horror, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

Spring

RECOMMENDED

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s sophomore feature, “Spring,” starts as a downbeat beatdown of a bad luck drama, then blossoms into a European journey, a fraught romantic pursuit, a horror movie and, ultimately, a sweet, haunting enigma with layers of subtext worth a ponder or two. Lou Taylor Pucci (“Thumbsucker”) plays Evan, a young man who leaves town after getting into a punch-up at the bar where he works the night after his mother’s death, winding up along the Italian Mediterranean where he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), a beautiful and smart woman he can’t quite figure, and ultimately, doesn’t care whether she’s “a vampire, werewolf, zombie, witch or alien.” Read the rest of this entry »

Into The Woods: Chasing Butterflies With “The Duke of Burgundy”

Drama, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema 1 Comment »

DukeOfBurgundy Sidse Babett Knudsen_PLB_001

By Ray Pride

A movie about movies and about butterflies and two lovers deep in the woods, dense with influence, about decadence and desire, the third feature by Peter Strickland (“Berberian Sound Studio,” “Katalin Varga”), “The Duke Of Burgundy” dabbles as well in entomology, taxonomies, field recordings, roleplaying and domination. In a European never-neverland (shot in Hungary, largely in a fancy, secluded turn-of-the-century house), the apparently dominant Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen, “Borgen”) and the seemingly submissive Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) occasionally venture into a larger world confined to the presentations of butterfly scholars, but mostly remain at home, engaging in ritualistic sadomasochistic roleplaying.

“Burgundy” is a keen pastiche of 1970s Euro-sleaze and high art, and looks amazing on the big screen, calmly florid, precise yet bonkers, bristling with detail. It’s preposterous, delirious and delicious. “It’s great to get it into the cinema, such a short life in the cinema these days, isn’t it?” Strickland says in his firm, fast British accent at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in November 2014. Read the rest of this entry »