Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

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 »

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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 »

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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 »

Review: What If

Comedy, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »

WHAT IFRECOMMENDED

In one of the first scenes in Michael Dowse’s uncompromisingly adorable modern-day romantic comedy, “What If,” Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is at a party, a year after the breakup of a relationship, transfixed by word combinations of magnetic poetry on a refrigerator: “Love is stupid monkeys dancing in a slapstick hurricane.” Within seconds, he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), a woman in a relationship of five years, and charming is as charming does. They push the word choices around with their fingertips and wide-eye each other. They’re razor-sharp in the flirtation neither expected, and the toe-to-toe exchanges are exhilarating. Immediately, you can see why these two would be attracted to each other. But there have to be pesky obstacles for star-crossed love to overcome, including the tragedy that is the platonic friendship.

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Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy

3-D, Action, Comedy, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

Another Marvel left-field choice of a seemingly unlikely director pays off, in slightly different fashion than “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” directed by the Russo brothers as a politically charged gloss on 1970s paranoia thrillers. Co-writer-director James Gunn’s 2010 no-budget “Super” had its share of appalling violence, but he still manages to thread abrupt violence and casual malice into the huge expanses of the outright comedy and fine sarcasm of “Guardians.” And most of the meanness is funny, after a cartoonish fashion. Any moment that could be drenched in earnestness is either beautiful—a bereft child’s ascension in a beam of light to a spaceship that will wrench him from Earth—or mocked from the get-go. Chris Pratt plays the grown boy, Peter Quill, as a would-be cock-of-the-galaxy who describes himself at one point, hopefully, as “an a-hole, but not one-hundred-percent a dick.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Half Of A Yellow Sun

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

yellow sunRECOMMENDED

As soap-operatic literary adaptations go, “Half Of A Yellow Sun” is at the very least a complete eyeful, a convincing epic tapestry on what must have been a limited budget. (It’s got the gloss you’d expect from a Hollywood production, seeming scrappy only in the many moments of leaden historical exposition.) Adapted by director Biyi Bandele from Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s best-selling, achronological 2006 novel, the movie’s plotting traces the lines of a decade of national upheaval, political minutia and family dynamics in Nigeria and Biafra. The actors shine: Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anika Noni Rose are all splendidly in their moment. Read the rest of this entry »