Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: I Am Chris Farley

Comedy, Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



Premiering to a packed house at Second City’s UP Comedy Club on Monday night, the funny and touching documentary “I Am Chris Farley” kicked off a national tour. With directors Brent Hodge and Derik Murray in attendance, along with Farley’s brother Kevin Farley (who executive-produced) and a number of friends, the screening and post-show Q&A had an air of familiarity and celebration that suited the film. “[Chris] would have liked you to laugh more than cry,” Kevin said in a stirring introduction to the film. Despite the expectedly somber tone of the final third of the film, the audience eagerly complied, laughing through the largely linear portrait of Farley as an exuberant, natural-born comedic performer who concealed his dark interior as best as he could.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Kindergarten Teacher

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



(Haganenet) In Nadav Lapid’s slow-simmering second feature, a Tel Aviv kindergarten teacher fixates on a five-year-old pupil who blurts poetry. Lapid’s coolly stylized visuals immerse us in her worrying obsession, including Shai Goldman’s camera taking on the vantage of the word-besotted boy. Other feats of directorial legerdemain include the dance of the camera, such as within the room full of kids and in a consummately constructed climatic scene: it’s a high order of near-theatrical blocking that seduces immediately. Is little Yoav a full-blown messiah in the making? Or just another clever little beaker of glossolalia? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence

Comedy, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



(En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron) Swedish slowpoke Roy Andersson’s latest apocalyptic comedy, “A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence,” four years in the making, is lovingly tragic and relentlessly cruel. How to describe his diligent, painterly, madly mannered, utterly singular comic method to the initiate? As I once described “Songs From the Second Floor,” his 2000 black-comic parable of a world in unending gridlock that’s my favorite of his limited filmography, its dry wit suggests Terry Gilliam, Ingmar Bergman and Luis Buñuel having giggle fits over several pitchers of Buñuel’s Virgin Martinis. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Stanford Prison Experiment

Drama, Recommended No Comments »



Sometimes a project that’s been batting around finds its moment, and that’s assuredly the case with Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s Sundance-honored “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” Working from a screenplay begun by Tim Talbott in 2003, Alvarez impeccably dramatizes Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford University experiment in which twenty-four male students volunteered to play guards and prisoners and explore the roots of abuse in the penal system. (Talbott had access to hours of grainy video as well as Zimbardo and his logbooks.) Suffice it to say, things escalate into rank sadism much faster than anyone had thought they would. There’s more of a pulse here than most “true-life” tales and thriller turns chiller quickly. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Alleluia

Drama, Horror, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »



You want obsession? Obsessive, obsessive obsession? Sanguinary intimacy? Fabrice du Welz, Belgian director of 2004’s “Calvaire” goes blissfully bloodily bonkers with “Alléluia,” a lusciously lurid based-on-fact tale of a shy single mom, Gloria (Lola Dueñas) who falls in love with womanizer-cum-hustler Michel (Laurent Lucas). (It’s based on the 1949 history of “lonely hearts killers” Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, whose crimes have inspired other films, including Leonard Kastle’s blanch-and-white 1970 singularity, “The Honeymoon Killers” and Arturo Ripstein’s stodgier 1996 “Deep Crimson.”) The more Gloria learns about Michel’s perversity, which has its own substance, the more thrilled, the more fixated she becomes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Unexpected

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »



Kris Swanberg’s confident third feature, “Unexpected,” is an intimate made-in-Chicago tale of two unplanned pregnancies, by inner-city public high school teacher Samantha (Cobie Smulders) and her star A-student, Jasmine (Gail Bean). Written by Swanberg and Megan Mercier, low-key sophistication (with bursts of strong language) and the healthily nuanced performances by Smulders and Bean carry the day. Samantha tries so hard to comprehend her young friend’s circumstances, and they’re worlds apart. But, she tries, hopes, and in a not clichéd way, grows. Not every scene is as strong as the very best, but Swanberg’s empathy is admirable. It’s a lovely, auspicious piece of small-budget filmmaking. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: In The Name Of My Daughter

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

In The Name Of My Daughter


While his recent films have all gotten U. S. releases, the great, seventy-two-year-old French post-Nouvelle Vague writer-director André Téchiné’s work doesn’t get the attention it did two decades ago with dramas like “Les voleurs” (Thieves, 1996). There’s not as much appreciation for the quiet satisfactions of his closely observed dramas of adult relationships striking stress points and abruptly fracturing to dramatic but too-believable result. With “In the Name of My Daughter” (L’homme qu’on aimait trop), Téchiné draws on “l’affaire Le Roux,” a 1970s French murder case, again in the news this month, about the disappearance of a young woman in the midst of a family intrigue over control of a Riviera casino. Catherine Deneuve is the mother who won’t stop her search for the daughter who disappeared after a suicide attempt, leaving no trace and no body. There’s patience, chilliness and even sustained quietude in Téchiné’s telling, but the brightest burst of emotions make for memorable fireworks. Read the rest of this entry »

L. A. Woman: On The “Tangerine” Streets of West Hollywood

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »


By Ray Pride

“Tangerine” is a brash, vivacious screwball comedy of West Hollywood street life, told in the course of several blocks across several hours as Christmas Eve moves from day to dusk to dark of night and ache of heart.

Sean Baker’s masterful, vividly gritty follow-up to 2012’s “Starlet,” shot entirely with iPhones, is also a bold, intimate challenge to mild-mannered contemporary notions of independent filmmaking. There are camera moves you’ve never seen before, but the characters are even more gratifying: The opening line, “Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!” is one of the raucous story’s politest bursts of frank language. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ant-Man

Action, Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

Marvel's Ant-Man Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)  Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal © Marvel 2014


“Ant-Man” is giant comedy.

It’s been more than three decades, but I once spoke fluent Marvel. My recollection is that Hank Pym’s super-small alter ego was one of Stan Lee’s minor creations, a character whose narrative never outgrew the challenges of rendering a tiny world in a medium better suited for inscribing oversized imaginings. (In order to draw fine detail, comic book artists typically work at a scale much larger than the cartoon frame, then reduce the work to scale. This tends to favor actual, or, in the case of superheroes, super-sized, images.) Though launched as a solo act in “Tales to Astonish” (one of the referential jokes in the film that generated a surprising quantity of chuckles in the preview screening, since it dates to circa 1962, long before most of the chucklers were sketched), “Ant-Man” never made it on his own, becoming instead a founding member of the Avengers and then joining his super-brethren at the other end of the telescope, usually donning the Giant-Man or Goliath persona.

So it’s not really a tall tale to say the film surpasses the comic book—though it’s also a medium of storytelling by virtue of sequential frames filled with images and dialogue, film thrives in larger-than-life scale. At its very best, it magnifies the smallest of moments into larger truths. The depiction of our almost-microscopic world on the big screen easily blends awe and humor, attributes almost innate to the plot device, even in times of lesser CGI tools (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” for example). “Ant-Man” has plenty of action to mollify the vegetative fanboys who seem to control modern movie culture, but with a twist. It’s life-and-death battle fought, for example, inside a briefcase. Instead of blowing up skyscrapers, our hero smashes into an iPhone. And that’s funny, really funny.

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Review: Strangerland

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



Sturm, drang, mini-“Fury Road” dust storms, missing children, sexual frustration and maybe a little more drang, are the backdrop to Kim Farrant’s “Strangerland,” a mood-heavy thriller set in the super-heated Australian outback, and starring Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes. It’s nowhere the knife-edge thriller of Phillip Noyce’s “Dead Calm” (1989), with a young Kidman, but its similar willingness to wound almost makes it seem like we’re witnessing a film from an alternative universe, where Australian cinema and an iconic antipodean actress have progressed in that vein and there’s a market for the mad and bruised and downright grownup. The dual masterpieces of Nicolas Roeg’s “Walkabout” and Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock” are obvious gongs the filmmakers cannot reach to strike, and there are echoes of more recent movies as well, like Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners.” Read the rest of this entry »