Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Deadly Darlings: Burning Influence In “The Babadook”

Horror, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


By Ray Pride

Writers are told to kill their darlings, but, truly, they have to kill their masters. Murder them in their sleep.

Sometimes, often enough, I fret I’m too fixated on how authors and filmmakers are in thrall to their forebears, but the concern is always in the service of figuring out how they’ve burned through them. At the beginning and into the middle of the career of super-Swede Ingmar Bergman, critics would often pin the influence of Scandinavian dramatists like August Strindberg onto his work, but no one got it right until the writer, probably some Brit whose name I can’t recall, who said, you can see the influences, but no one else influenced by those playwrights had come anywhere near close to making an Ingmar Bergman movie. (Or being Ingmar fucking Bergman.)

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Review: The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies

3-D, Action, Recommended No Comments »


Admirers of “Lord of the Rings” left with lingering dissatisfaction from the most recent “Hobbit” movie, “The Desolation of Smaug,” should be pleased that director Peter Jackson wastes no time in the “Hobbit”’s final installment, transforming a meager amount of J. R. R. Tolkien’s source material into an impressive confrontation of gratifying saga-scale proportions. We’re thrown right back into the chaos where we were left hanging: Smaug awakened from his slumber, then descending from the mountain as Bilbo and his companions can do little more than watch as the dragon lays waste to Lake Town. The opening of “Battle of the Five Armies” is apocalyptic, engulfed in fire then darkness, all before the opening credits. When the smoke clears, split alliances of every race of Middle Earth clamor to stake claim to the now-vacated mountain. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Top Five

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »



Middle-aged man faces crisis; sober man wonders if he’s still himself; “rigorous honesty,” a la AA, “rigorous fucking honesty,” runs riot. I don’t know if “Top Five” is great, but it’s the first comedy since “The LEGO Movie” I’ve found myself in simple awe of: ragged and rumbustious, assured and sincere-seeming, it’s, well, awesome. Chris Rock’s frank, personal, semi-autobiographical, ferociously twenty-first-century comedy feels like its own special animal, all sorts of goodness and bluntness and, okay, bright even brainy greatness, with equal parts “Annie Hall,” sometimes-collaborator Louis CK’s “Louie” and a little bit of “City Lights” and Cinderella and more Chaplin (“the Grandmaster Flash of haha”) by the way of Jerry Lewis by the way of Chaplin’s song, “Smile.” This sweet small crazy blunt bittersweet dirty fucky comedy vaults in every moment into a superior comic stratosphere. (With minor, wheedling cavils about whether some attitudes are the characters’ or Rock’s: there’s a bit about a white man’s wiggly-woggly-waggly ass as eye-widening as the horrendous female feet in Reggie Hudlin’s “Boomerang.”) The slipstream structure of flashbacks within “Top Five”’s single-day narrative of a comedy star doing press with a New York Times journalist (Rosario Dawson) just as his first serious film is opening leans adventitiously upon “Annie Hall,” but Woody Allen has never cut to the quick with throwaway lines like Rock’s “It’s hard to fuck somebody on a pedestal.”

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Review: The Imitation Game

Drama, Recommended No Comments »


“The Imitation Game,” the sleek burnished mounting of the story of the life of cryptographic-computing genius (and covert homosexual) Alan Turing by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (“Headhunters”) is graced by an alternately unflappable and perturbed performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. The script sparks and flares with passages of clever British speech of lovely theatrical obviousness, but is shy of the subtext and portent that would deepen the well-tooled and lovingly illustrated surfaces. The strands of Turing’s life don’t come together at the end: it’s all too true to be good, and not put through the refiner’s fire of drama: a cascade of end titles describing his fate and the context of British prosecution of gay men in the twentieth century and the birth of the modern computer fall and clatter into clumsy irresolution. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wild

Biopic, Drama, Recommended No Comments »



Reese Witherspoon is boldly center-frame in “Wild,” director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornsby’s teeming, tactile, superbly subjective adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s worldwide best-selling memoir of a woman who chooses to lose herself hiking through the desert. Vallée pushes forward on slivers of shivery memories. Witherspoon’s Strayed is a small woman both human and iconic: bearing an oversized, ill-advised backpack like a Pixar figure—Heav-E instead of Wall-E—she sets out on a heroine’s journey that’s iconically antiheroic. Sex, drugs, mother love, mother loss, some more sex, behaviors are blunt and gently daubed at the same time. “Wild” is an unsentimental marvel, following few expected contrails and rejecting the “redemption” narrative right in the I. Read the rest of this entry »

Film Flam: What’s In A Name?

Drama, Recommended, The State of Cinema No Comments »

The Conformist

By Ray Pride

For a long time, I resisted using the word “film” for anything except motion pictures shot on film and projected on motion-picture stock. (When George Lucas’ “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was released in 1999, the Newcity review ended with the words, “Transferred from video.”)

But now “film” is something else, not limited to theatrical exhibition. Lucas and James Cameron and the major distributors have won the day, even if the likes of JJ Abrams, Christopher Nolan, Judd Apatow and Quentin Tarantino rallied the troubled stock producer Kodak to continue producing film for production and archival reasons. Tarantino, who insists that his New Beverly repertory house in Los Angeles will only show 35mm henceforth, is the most adamant voice. “As far as I’m concerned, digital projection and DCPs [are] the death of cinema as I know it. It’s not even about shooting your film on film or shooting your film on digital, the fact that most films now are not presented in 35mm means that the war is lost and digital projections—that’s just television in public. Apparently the whole world is okay with television in public but what I knew as cinema is dead.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Force Majeure

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



“Force Majeure,” Sweden’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film, is a movie that’s even better on a second viewing, when its dramatic craft is more apparent yet even more compelling. Set at a French ski resort, Ruben Östlund’s brilliant white-on-white black comedy is a precise, exacting psychological horror about the fissures in a bourgeoisie Swedish marriage, highlighted after a split-second’s reaction to a “controlled avalanche.” “How do human beings react in sudden and unexpected situations, such as a catastrophe?” Östlund has written of what he rightfully describes as his “existential drama.” “The story concerns a family on holiday that witnesses an avalanche and the father runs away, terrified. When it is over, he is ashamed because he has succumbed to his primal fear.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: National Gallery

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



Three hours of Frederick Wiseman watching people watch art, restore art, revel in the possibilities of art: there’s serene poetry here. In “National Gallery,” as in most of his work of the past five decades, Wiseman takes a few weeks to capture what goes on at an institution, listens, observes, goes back to his edit suite and makes sense of it all. In this case, Wiseman spent twelve weeks in 2012, while there were major exhibits of J. M. W. Turner, Titian and Da Vinci. Read the rest of this entry »

All-American Slime: Steve Carell’s Found his Calling as Ornithologist, Philatelist, Philanthropist in “Foxcatcher”

Biopic, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

By Ray Pride

I’m starting to like this guy Channing Tatum. And maybe this guy Steve Carell.

The faith of Steven Soderbergh and a few other directors in his innate charm, screen presence and acting chops gets another workout as Mark Schultz, one of two brothers who won Olympic Gold Medals. Tatum’s physical moves are crabbed and weighted as we see Mark move through the gloom of his day: he’s Sisyphus before the Xanax. And this Sisyphus needs it: he’s bearing the weight of a few worlds in dark, cold Wisconsin. Broke, lunching on ramen noodles, grappling with his wrestling-coach older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), he’s only got the 1988 Seoul Olympics to look toward. (Ruffalo’s 1980s beard and balding hairstyle are another feat of heaviness.)

Steve Carell, he’s another story. I’ve missed a few movies he’s been in, have never seen more than a few seconds of “The Office,” and regret it for not a second. Voice and presence alike, he’s anti-screen charisma to my eyes and ears, a terrifying dark void in front of a camera. (There are some other actors like that; most moviegoers know a pill or two.)

But leave it to Bennett Miller, the director who made his friend Philip Seymour Hoffman, a bruiser of a man, into Truman Capote, to cast Carell ideally. As John Eleuthère du Pont, Carell embodies the dank side of privilege and money and American manhood gone to stinking rot in Miller’s bleak, harrowing, but thrilling true-life murder case from a heavily researched script by E. Max Frye (“Something Wild”) and Dan Futterman (“Capote”).

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Review: The Overnighters

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



“Hopeless is a lie.” Jesse Moss’ specific yet elusive, moving observational portrait of a pastor in the fracking-wracked North Dakota oil boom town of Williston demonstrates the limits of community in the face of insurgent need: it’s nothing less than a nonfiction latter-day “The Grapes of Wrath” that’s both heartbreaking and urgently beautiful. “The Overnighters” is the name Lutheran pastor Jay Reinke gives the emigrants who arrive by the busload, broken yet driven men who change the face of the small prairie town. Read the rest of this entry »