Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Hey Hey In The Hayloft: The Preston Sturges Whirl Of “Hail, Caesar!”

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

coen hail

By Ray Pride

I miss medical marijuana.

Not so much the stuff itself, more so the women I’ve known who partake and partake, and then watch and rewatch Coen brothers movies. It goes all the way back to, duh, “The Big Lebowski,” a movie that grated on me at first turn, at an advance Manhattan screening the night before interviewing the bros. Coen, where I was entirely sober and straitlaced and my tumultuously laughing, giggling, snorting then-girlfriend was baked within an inch of all her five feet tall. She got it and was gotten good, and explained afterward what I missed with increasing exasperation. It clicked the next day when most every entreaty I offered up to the writer-producer-directors was met with grins and giggles, a smokescreen entirely befitting that particular picture.

The latest Joel and Ethan Coen joint is “Hail, Caesar!,” superficially a satire of the entitled, juvenile doings behind the scenes at an apocryphal 1950s Hollywood studio, Capitol Pictures, modeled in matters small and large after the Melrose Avenue landscape of Paramount Pictures (and MGM, too). In a way, it’s like what might have been going on back at the studio while Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels” film director was out on the road looking for so-serioso subject matter.

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Review: Southbound

Horror, Recommended No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

Portmanteau horror films are, formally, a practical expression of the modern means of no-budget film production: minimal, refined anecdotes that a director or team can do in a few days or weeks, and pragmatically, more economically remunerative than a standalone story. And creative risk, with lessened exposure, can result in bold work that can’t be sustained across the full duration of a feature. 2012’s “V/H/S”  was one of the first, and most commercially successful, as well as two “The ABCs of Death” anthologies. But it’s not all blood and roses: of the second “ABCs,” producer Ant Timpson told a reporter at the 2015 SxSW festival, “We got pirated before VOD, even. Before our world premiere. That’s the worst-case scenario. It really hurt us a lot, so we’ll have to crunch the numbers, talk to Magnolia Pictures, and see what’s going on.” Some of the same players repeat behind the camera for the very good, unusually cohesive “Southbound” deserves a finer fate than instantaneous financial immolation. For the five travelers-on-the-road tales, directors David Bruckner, Roxanne Benjamin, Patrick Horvath and film collective Radio Silence sup successfully at the spiked well of “Twilight Zone” and EC Comics-style nightmares. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cemetery Of Splendour

Drama, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »

cemeterysplendor

RECOMMENDED

One of the most charming and recurrent of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s statements in the past decade about his progressively more ethereal features, shorts and art installations is that it’s perfectly alright, even appropriate to nod at some point, waking at an indeterminate later moment when the world has changed (or obstinately remained the same) for his dreamers and sleepwalkers. In the latest simmering surrealism by the School of the Art Institute graduate who likes to be called just “Joe,” “Cemetery of Splendour” (Rak ti Khon Kaen), he literally engages a sleeping sickness, based on a true story, with a cast of soldiers confined to a clinic that stands atop a burial ground for Thai royals. A rich melancholy pronounces itself more readily than any apprehensible allegory. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Son Of Saul

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

sonfosaul

RECOMMENDED

The human face; the ear, provoked. Two of the most powerful tools available to filmmakers are the human face and psychologically suggestive sound design. A couple of quotes, then, in service of glancing at thirty-eight-year-old Hungarian director László Nemes’ death-camp-set debut feature, the unlikely fable of faith “Son of Saul.” First, from French master Robert Bresson’s “Notes on Cinematography”: “The eye solicited alone makes the ear impatient, the ear solicited alone makes the eye impatient. Use these impatiences. Power of the cinematographer who appeals to the two senses in a governable way. Against the tactics of speed, of noise, set tactics of slowness, of silence.” And from George Orwell, the all-too-familiar “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Lady In The Van

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

In Nicholas Hytner’s “The Lady in the Van,” Maggie Smith stars as “Miss Shepherd,” an unwanted neighbor of playwright Alan Bennett, a homeless woman who parks her caravan in his London driveway for fifteen years. Brusque comedy ensues as Bennett adapts his own memoir and 1999 stage play and Hytner shoots the story at Bennett’s home and its Gloucester Crescent locations. (Hytner also directed Bennett’s earlier screenplays, “The Madness of King George” and “The History Boys.”) As an elevated microcosmic portrait of the classic English eccentric, tended to by a less eccentric observer, “The Lady in the Van” is particular and ultimately piquant. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mustang

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

“Everything changed in the blink of an eye. One minute everything was fine, then everything turned to shit”: this is the opening narration from the mouth of Lale, the youngest of five headstrong orphaned sisters in “Mustang,” a provocative yet joyous celebration of the power of female agency. A self-conscious fairytale, it’s one of 2015’s smoothest, most confident directorial debuts, superficially a Turkish “Virgin Suicides,” but very much the thirty-seven-year-old Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s own wild creature, drawing upon western European cinematic sensibilities as well as the verdant yet rustic setting in a Turkish backwater, Inebolu, a town on the Black Sea 600 kilometers from Istanbul. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lamb

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

Writer-director-star Ross Partridge’s “Lamb” (based on a novel by Bonnie Nadzam) finds beauty in the service of an unnerving story about an unmoored forty-seven-year-old habitual liar named David Lamb (Partridge). After his father’s funeral, with a divorce in the offing, he befriends an eleven-year-old girl, Tommie (Oona Laurence), and invites her to a Rocky Mountains getaway. While rife with portent and potential pitfalls, the relationship in “Lamb” is nonsexual, and while disturbing, has only a few scenes that even come near the elemental horror of “Room,” with its child witnessing sexual abuse. For her own reasons, Tommie acts above her age. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 45 Years

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

We all have secrets. Some stay kept. Most should. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay excel in “45 Years,” Andrew Haigh’s understated, cleanly sculpted story of a devastating week in a married life after a forty-five-year-old secret is revealed. Before meeting his wife Kate, Geoff Mercer had loved another woman, who died in a tumble into an Alpine crevasse. With the coming of global warming, the long-dead, still-young Katya is discovered in a thawing glacier. Geoff does not react well. Kate does not react well to Geoff’s reaction. Haigh’s “Weekend” worked with similar modest means and observational delicacy in sketching the beginnings of a possible lifelong relationship. And there’s curious cultural resonance in the casting of two iconic figures of London’s Swinging Sixties—Courtenay from roles as in “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” Rampling in “Georgy Girl”—creating echoes akin to the story itself, in which a long-dead figure wreaks complications upon not only an uneventful anniversary on the horizon, but on the years that preceded it. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Benefactor

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

benefactor

RECOMMENDED

Loving glimpses of Philadelphia and the thick white hair and drizzle-grizzle beard of an elder Richard Gere are the key attractions and distractions in writer-director Andrew Renzi’s debut feature “The Benefactor.” Olivia (Dakota Fanning) and Luke (Theo James) are a young married couple with a child on the way who draw the attention of powerful, wealthy Franny (Gere), a philanthropist still reeling from an accident that killed his best friends five years earlier: Olivia’s parents. Gere’s Franny is a micromanager of the worst order, a striking contrast to the lost, lost man he played in Oren Moverman’s 2014 “Time Out Of Mind.” Here, he’s all brass and bravado, his poor little rich man at once generous and self-gratifying, pained and also a pain to the family-to-be he forces his favors onto. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Horse Money

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

horse money

RECOMMENDED

Pedro Costa’s latest film, “Horse Money” (Cavalo Dinheiro, 2014), is ever more austere, stripped down. His ancient avatar from earlier films, the hypnotically present Ventura, is caught in a lifetime’s workings of dream, a ghost bumping through memory elongated into moment and collapsed onto another. The look is penumbra beneath penumbra atop cloacal darks, the fissures of post-colonial Portugal literalized but resistant to interpretation beyond gorgeous, obstinate portraiture. Tableau succeeds tableau, connections elided, meaning elusive. Read the rest of this entry »