Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: The Drop

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

THE DROP

RECOMMENDED

Or, the movie with Tom Hardy and the puppy. Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam follows his vigorous Oscar-nominated drama “Bullhead” with an elemental mystery Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”) adapted from his short story “Animal Rescue.” Set in a contemporary Brooklyn still stained with the sins of the past as well as the sins of a new generation of crime overlords—glaring Chechens who can and will clean up the worst mess overnight—“The Drop” features Hardy as Bob Saginowski, a lonely, taciturn but eyes-wide-open bartender at Cousin Marv’s bar, the cousin being James Gandolfini. Gandolfini’s playing a man at the end of his tether: the bar was taken over by mobsters eight or nine or ten years ago, and he’s just a figurehead and the bar is more a money-laundering drop than the genial local it appears to be. Crime and grime and wads of world-weary, noirish dialogue are timeless in this mythologized patch of not-gentrified borough. Read the rest of this entry »

In the Frame of the Father: “Starred Up” and Violent Nurture

Action, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

Starred-up

By Ray Pride

“Starred Up” is ominous from its first instants, the sounds beginning with the very first frame under presentation credits, somewhere from inner space, like the confines of a skull pressured by the slightest sounds of a low febrile hum in a constrained space that echoes from other, nearby constrained spaces.

In a word: prison. In a world: a prisoner.

A Greek tragedy is in the offing. Violent nineteen-year-old convict Eric (Jack O’Connell, “Eden Lake,” Angelina Jolie’s upcoming “Unbroken”) has been “starred up”: slang for being transferred from a juvenile jail to an adult facility, which happens to be the prison where his estranged father Nev (Ben Mendelsohn) has long been incarcerated.

The first seven minutes follow the succession of double-checks and humiliations involved in his induction, or even ingestion into the system, seven long minutes to get him into his cell, where Eric immediately snaps a disposable razor and blazes a toothbrush to create a provisional shank for what turns out to be imminent usage. The gentle float and sway of the Steadicam also suggests instability and the potential for sudden deadly motions, contrasting the naturalism of the setting of the cell block with a tensile, cumulatively dreamy-cum-nightmarish use of framing and cutting. “Starred Up” confines itself to an actual prison facility, and was shot in sequence with two editors cutting the film together daily to insure a rare immediacy in an all-too-familiar genre. The conflicts you expect from angry men under pressure come quickly, but within an unforeseen atmosphere. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Five Star Life

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Five StarRECOMMENDED

(Viaggio Sola) Maria Sole Tognazzi’s slow-to-warm “A Five Star Life” is plush with swank, following Irene Lorenzi (Margherita Buy), a high-minded “mystery guest” around the world, a wandering critic of luxury hotels and resorts on what appears to be a well-furnished yet peripatetic, aimless voyage through life, as well as Berlin, Rome, Marrakech… Crises intervene for the single woman in her forties, near-existential crises rise from the high thread-count sheets. The minutiae of how she checks off the virtues of each establishment takes up a big chunk of the movie, likely more fascinating to someone who’s interested in the depiction of process (like me). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Land Ho!

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

12RECOMMENDED

Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz’s understated “Land Ho!” propels a couple of older men, former brothers-in-law, on a late-in-life adventure in the wilds of Iceland. Or is that the “milds of Iceland”?  Colin (Paul Eenhoorn, “Martin Bonner”) and Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson, “Passenger Pigeons,” “Eastbound and Down”) are very different men. Colin’s a mild Australian, Mitch a boisterous teller of tall tales and vulgar jokes. But each brings something out of each other in the craggy, punishing landscape, with happily unexpected results. The comedy arises from the personalities of the characters (and reportedly, the actors’ own lives) rather than their circumstances, creating a sense of both verisimilitude and sincerity. The men are late in life, but “Land Ho!” is no bucket-list gag fest. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jealousy

Drama, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »

Jealousy - Still 5 RECOMMENDED

(La Jalousie) At the age of sixty-five, Philipe Garrel’s bittersweet wisps of black-and-white found love and lost love grow ever more specific and tender. The charcoal-rendered “Jalousie” is one of his best, in a recent run of fine work, beginning with 2004’s “Regular Lovers,” “Frontier of Dawn” (2005) and “That Burning Summer” (2011). The closer the films approach mere sketches, the more languid, yet electric they become. The widescreen images by eighty-year-old Willy Kurant (“Masculin-Féminin,” “The Immortal Story,” “Pootie Tang”) are gloriously simple, timeless in their open but specific framing. It’s geometry as suffering. Garrel identifies the look this way:  “For my preceding film, ‘That Burning Summer,’ which is in color, I asked Willy Kurant for a gouache effect, rather than an oil paint effect like most color images in cinema. And here, in black and white, I asked him for charcoal, rather than black pencil.” Read the rest of this entry »

Meditations in an Emergency: Ira Sachs on “Love is Strange”

Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

LoveIsStrange9

By Ray Pride

Ira Sachs’ quiet, measured “Love is Strange” captures a forced separation of a couple who’ve been together for thirty-nine years, a painter and a music instructor, played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. After their marriage, Molina’s character loses his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school, and they’re separated after having to sell their apartment, settling, for at least a brief time, into the lives of their extended families.

Drama seeps in, sensation is suggested. The film’s quietly detailed, lived-in, loved-in feel is both emotionally specific and painterly in its suggestive formal sensations. (Sachs cites American painter Fairfield Porter as a key visual touchstone.) Among his cast, which extends two generations, each figure walks in geometry. Each character has a specific fashion of holding space. “Love is Strange” is about love and about family and about the necessity of generations sharing knowledge and secrets, yet there’s not a line of dialogue that announces this. “Love is Strange” also bears the acuteness, the precision of the era the characters would have lived through. Buried deep beneath the surfaces, surely there are submerged fragments of Frank O’Hara and his fragrant, antic verse as well as the lore of the painters who frequented and illuminated the interior life of lairs like the Cedar Tavern. The succession of setting and framings are beautiful for their precision and coolness, from strong design rather than a prurient glow.  (Cinematographer Christos Voudouris’ credits include “Alps” and “Before Midnight”; production designer Amy Williams repeats from Sachs’ “Keep The Lights On.”) Read the rest of this entry »

Interview With a Paleontologist: Peter Larson On Sue And “Dinosaur 13″

Documentary, Recommended, Romance 1 Comment »
DINOSAUR 13 © Ray Pride

Sue, Peter Larson/Photo: Ray Pride

RECOMMENDED

Todd Douglas Miller’s engaging, sometimes enraging feature documentary debut, “Dinosaur 13” chronicles a decade of legal battles over one of the great finds of natural history—the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever excavated. That T-Rex, of course, is “Sue,” star attraction at the Field Museum since 2000. Amiable paleontologist Peter Larson and a team from the Black Hills Institute made the discovery in 1990, but museums, the government, Native American tribes and other paleontologists challenged possession of the dinosaur. And it only grew worse after that, as the film explores. Shot widescreen like a Western, “Dinosaur 13” is a study of curiosity, investigation and a search for justice. But, as Miller tells me one sunny afternoon at the Field, “In the guise of a ninety-five-minute film you have to focus on a story, and for us, it was one man’s passionate pursuit of his girlfriend, his first love and it just happens to be a dinosaur.”

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Review: Venus In Fur

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Venus In Fur Still 4RECOMMENDED

“There is something in sadomasochism which is not dissimilar to theatre,” Roman Polanski ventures in the press kit for his adaptation of David Ives’ “Venus In Fur” (based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella). “You become a director in your own fantasies, you play a part, you get somebody else to play a part. That theatricality is something the film plays with, that play within a play: a place where domination and submission, theater and real life, characters, reality and fantasy, all meet, switch places and blur boundaries.” While “Venus In Fur” takes place almost entirely within the confines of a single theater stage, even Polanski’s other movies, in larger, wider worlds, also sally with subterfuge, consider the shimmering of identities, the salvage of self by throwing oneself wholeheartedly into what seems the annihilation of oneself. So? Polanski, like many a great artist, is also a great narcissist and in the end, the work is about himself. Or in this case, his wife of twenty-four years, Emmanuelle Seigner, arriving in a lightning storm, late to an audition, embodying the vitality of the character she is about to read, and for the play’s director, sex itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The German Doctor

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

Wakolda German DoctorRECOMMENDED

(Wakolda) Synopsis of the week? “Mengele in Argentina. Becomes fascinated with diminutive little girl.” Lucía Puenzo’s chilly widescreen thriller is an eye-opener, but the fact that a film hailing from that country called the “The German Doctor” could only be about such a subject may limit the appeal to some audiences. Where’s the suspense beyond the essential morbidity, the average art-house viewer might well ask? Adapting her own novel, Puenzo is best at a creeping sense of dread. And since the story is told largely from the perspective of twelve-year-old Lilith (Florencia Bado), the screen is perfumed with history and backstory that we, the contemporary audience, know but that the characters onscreen remain naïve toward. Read the rest of this entry »

Under the Influence: John Michael McDonagh on the Cockeyed Caravan of “Calvary”

Action, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

Calvary-2759e5f0-89ac-42e5-a5f7-2578e0e221bf

By Ray Pride

Ireland, day: Man walks into a confession booth and tells a priest of terrible things that had been done to him by a priest when he was small. Tells the priest: I’ll get back at the church by killing an innocent priest in one week, and that’s you, get your life in order.

Now there’s a set-up. “Calvary,” the second feature by writer-director John Michael McDonagh, fills that week full-to-bursting with a raft of idiosyncratic characters and philosophical conflicts and the current crisis in the Church and idiomatic comic dialogue strung along by the script’s thriller-like ticking clock. Brendan Gleeson’s Father James could very well be his best performance in a great career. (He told me it’s his favorite role.) Graham Greene divided his books into two classes: the novels, which took on spiritual matters, and the lighter ones, which he called “entertainments.” McDonagh’s knack is to combine both the novelistic, spiritual elements of Greene and lighter notes to achieve a high level of gratifying entertainment. (It’s also beautifully shot: I could write a few thousand words about the cinematography and artful visual style.)

“Calvary,” is, in a very specific way, a “B” movie, by which I mean, “Bergman, Buñuel and Bresson,” I tell McDonagh. He laughs. “Oh dear! Those were the governing influences. When I was going through preproduction, I went through the entire back catalog again. Read the rest of this entry »