Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: The Unknown Known

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



After a February screening in Boston, a questioner led Errol Morris to this insight about the circumlocutions of the subject of his latest film, Donald Rumsfeld: he speaks fluent Jabberwocky. Rumsfeld prides himself on his history of battering underlings by memo, dictating his every scrap of inkling of thought, tens of thousands of them, soft, insistent patterning of conviction onto others, via what he calls “snowflakes.” This led Morris to tweet his own perfected snowflake: “All mimsy were the unknown borogoves And the known mome raths outgrabe.” Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem runs a mere 167 words, but “The Unknown Known,” Errol Morris’ interrogation of George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense and a principal architect of the most recent, failed Iraq War, runs 105 minutes (drawn from thirty-three hours of interview). For Rumsfeld, language is for self-justification, obfuscation and condescension. Reciting memos, recollecting memories, Rumsfeld is steadfast and unflurried: this is how it occurred. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »


My first exposure to Jim Jarmusch’s magical “Only Lovers Left Alive” was in thrall to jetlag, and I got its vivid, if woozy sense of the circularity of life, art, dance and the revolution of 45rpm records against the desolation of Detroit, Tangier and a musician’s gear-decked digs. What goes around goes around. And goes around. Five months later, clear-headed, early in the morning, his romance between two undead lovers of words and music, Eve and Adam (Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston), took the shape of something better, greater, and perhaps the bard of the Lower East Side’s most personal and finest film. Superficially a vampire story—and one that portrays the soft rush of ingested blood like the hard rush of injected heroin—“Only Lovers Left Alive” is also a moving meditation on shifting roles in long-term relationships, on “zombie” culture outside the cluttered, cloistered lair, on the eternal promise and disappointment of youth. Read the rest of this entry »

Alienation of Affection: Jonathan Glazer on “Under The Skin”

Drama, Experimental, Recommended, Science Fiction No Comments »

UTS-1400x480By Ray Pride

Jonathan Glazer’s third feature, and his first in nearly a decade, “Under The Skin,” reduces Michel Faber’s 300-page-plus 2000 novel to a quintessence: how would an alien see our world if it were to walk among us, if it were to hijack a human form and harvest us by exploiting elemental desire?

The form the unnamed creature assumes is Scarlett Johansson’s, and in the production and post-production of the movie, plot and narrative peeled away in favor of sound and image, and the alien’s encounters on the real-life streets and nearby beaches of Glasgow, Scotland. It’s maximal minimalism, of the kind of heightened sensation you’d expect from the maker of “Sexy Beast” and “Birth.” In a way, his character is the ultimate consumer, shopping for men among the faces on the street, who will be literally taken by desire?

“Oh, yeah?” Glazer says, smiling slightly, on a recent Chicago visit. Then she is, too, as she begins to take pity on her prey. “Yeah, there is something interesting about the fact that for someone to live, someone else has to die.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cuban Fury

Comedy, Musical, Recommended No Comments »

Nick Frost (Bruce Garrett) in CUBAN FURYRECOMMENDED

What was it Senator Franken’s Stuart Smalley character used to say? “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” In the amiable, heartfelt “Cuban Fury,” Nick Frost takes on the “good enough” mantle. As Bruce Garrett, a large-sized man with an underscaled ego, Frost has a go at an increasingly rare manner of affable, feel-good character comedy. At thirteen, he was set to win the UK’s Junior Salsa Championships, but in the twenty-five years since, he’s become a self-pitying office mouse. The arrival of Julia, a new, American boss (Rashida Jones) perks Bruce up, especially once he learns she’s, well, a secret salsa dancer. Add complications from bullying co-worker Chris O’Dowd and, among other character actors, Ian McShane as his childhood dance instructor, and the genial everyman-Superman story finds its shape. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Joe

Drama, Recommended No Comments »


The world of David Gordon Green’s “Joe” is all I ever knew and feared of my upbringing. Not my family, no, but some of my extended extended family, cousins second and third removed, and certainly in the lanes and miles that radiated outward from this small blot on the countryside. I did not come from those people in Kentucky but they lived down the road only a piece. Based on a novel by late Mississippi hardscrabble writer Larry Brown, and adapted by Gary Hawkins, a former professor of Green and director of “The Rough South Of Larry Brown,” Green encapsulates the ragged raw character of a stripe of dispossessed rural whites, their expressed, spoken condition as near an ache as to vernacular poetry. (In its obituary of Brown, the New York Times called the writer a chronicler of “the painful hope of the rural poor.”) Joe, played by Nicolas Cage in full ripe melancholy, is an ex-con who pines nearly every day for the sanctity and sanity of life behind bars. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hide Your Smiling Faces

Recommended No Comments »


Ugh, kids. Ugh, indie films. Ugh, solemn indie films with kids. There’s an earned reaction that’s so easy to dispense with when a small glory like Daniel Patrick Carbone’s offhand, hazy amazement “Hide Your Smiling Faces” rockets out of nowhere. In daylight amid trickling water and lush greenery (shot in rural New Jersey), a boy’s body is found, and in the summer two come, two brothers steep in fixation on how the child, younger than them, came to die. Tommy (Ryan Jones) is nine, and Eric (Nathan Varnson) is fourteen. Brothers, friends, seekers of mystery amid hush and things that are hidden. The boys have their own secrets in this rustic, foreboding glade. Snakes gobble, dead things appear, a gun recurs. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cheap Thrills

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Cheap Thrills 003RECOMMENDED

A filthy, nasty thrill ride, “Cheap Thrills” is the rudest defense of Traditional American Values in all too long. Brazen post-Haneke-Pinter-Tarantino misanthropy runs deep in a gutter. Man wakes up in the morning, he’s forgotten his dreams of being a writer, his wife and young child beside him—“The past six months have been amazing, I love the shit out of you”—as he sets out on his work day, finds an eviction notice on the front door over almost $5,000 in back rent, which he crumples on his way to his machine shop job, where he’s quickly “downsized.” So, down to the bar, where he (stolid yet supple everyman Pat Healy) runs into a disreputable cohort of five years back (Ethan Embry) just as he’s had enough of a snootful to face his family. Enter: a couple on her birthday (Sara Paxton, the unhinged but wondrously controlled, controlling David Koechner), with a pocket full of cash and increasingly humiliating, then mutilating “Jackass”-style challenges, first at the tavern, and later at their fine home overlooking the mute, glittering panoply of Los Angeles by night. All that happens is bloody and fucking awful and it’s a wondrous display. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Action, Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »


“On your left,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) says on a run, rushing past a man who will become one of his closest allies in the warfare to come in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” For someone who will never master the intricacies of the “Marvel universe” of cross-pollinated properties and storylines, an almost immediate satisfaction in the fine craft of directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (“Community,” “You, Me And Dupree”) came from how closely allied this superhero adventure is to 1970s American movies, down to the superb casting of Robert Redford, the face of 1970s paranoia classics like “Three Days Of The Condor,” “The Candidate” and “All The President’s Men,” as the enforcer of 2010s universal spying on the world’s citizenry. Read the rest of this entry »

The Power and the Gory: The Blood in The Face of “The Raid 2″

Action, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

TheRaid2By Ray Pride

Welshman-in-Indonesia Gareth Evans’ ambition for his third feature, “The Raid 2,” is only to make a “Godfather Part II” all his own, but also with whomping helpings of style from Melville, Kitano, Miike, Refn, Ratanaruang and any volume of thrashing or balletic Asian action entries he or his collaborators have seen but we assuredly haven’t, with extra lashings of his own assured, inventive interpretation of action-in-motion.

Evans specializes in preplanning each and every shot and each and every move to keep each scene to not just plausibility but possibility of man-to-man combat (and sometimes 180-men-to-180-men combat in mud and tossing rain). Shots aren’t repeated and don’t overlap; slow motion is rare. While the film’s bounty of sixteen setpieces goes on at impressive length within the 148 minutes of “The Raid 2” (shown at Sundance 2014 as “The Raid 2: Berandal,” the subtitle that can be translated as “Delinquent,” or “Thug”), the ambition of Evans and his efficiently creative fight choreographer-star Iko Uwais is to create something cool and efficient but also compulsive and explosive. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Finding Vivian Maier

Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


Not a composition of the late, secretive Chicago photographer Vivian Maier is askew or amiss in her vast, breathtaking, even thrilling body of street photography, of which the public has only glimpsed the tip of the iceberg. Yet her life remains curiously unreachable in John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s brisk documentary. “Finding Vivian Maier” is partly about not finding her: the outsider remains forever distant. The film, executive-produced by Jeff Garlin, collects interviews from those who knew her in Chicago as a nanny who liked having her own locks to her room, but who kept her avocation, indeed, her great vocation, from view. Her cache of more than 100,000 photographs, with some yet to be developed, were uncovered by Maloof while haunting “a local junk and furniture auction house,” where he found and bought a box loaded with negatives. It was simply flea market provender, or worse, the kind of thing some auction houses immediately throw in the trash. Part of the film covers his accumulation of the rest of her work, which is, well, simply great. Read the rest of this entry »