Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Grandma

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »


In Paul Weitz’s smart, elemental comedy “Grandma,” Lily Tomlin plays, yes, a seventy-year-0ld grandmother, Elle Reid, who’s also a mother, a gay woman who’s dumped her younger girlfriend (Judy Greer), and perhaps most perceptively, a career writer. The other characters include a wooly-foxy Sam Elliott as a wealthy former flame, Marcia Gay Harden as her more-pissed-than-pistol executive daughter and a winningly winsome Julia Garner as “Sage,” her curlilocked granddaughter trying to scratch up $600 for an abortion before sundown, which sets their miniature, day-long journey into motion. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Learning To Drive

Drama, Recommended No Comments »



“Learning To Drive,” directed by veteran Spanish director Isabel Coixet (“My Life Without Me,” “Elegy”) and adapted from a Katha Pollitt story by Sarah Kernochan (“Marjoe,” “9 ½ Weeks”), is a modest, near-timid cross-cultural drama enlivened by two of the most live live-wires of modern movies, Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson. The duo take the day. In modern-day New York, Kingsley plays Darwan, a Sikh political refugee and naturalized citizen. Clarkson plays Wendy, a book critic whose husband has left her for a younger woman. When Wendy looks for post-marriage driving lessons, she happens upon Darwan, and cultural conflict occurs, of course, as well a genteel romance of the mind and a few lovingly barbed blurts from Clarkson’s fantastically articulate mouth. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: We Come As Friends

Documentary, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »
Hubert Sauper © Ray Pride copy

Hubert Sauper/Photo: Ray Pride


“We Come As Friends,” Hubert Sauper’s teeming, Breughel-and-Bosch-pursuing documentary portrait of chaos after colonialism in battle-torn South Sudan is more eye-widening, surreal, sorrowful and anarchic than his earlier “Darwin’s Nightmare.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: In The Game

Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended, Sports No Comments »



Faux-uplift sports movies are $144 a dozen, slipped-and-slid into multiplexes on far too many weekends: sports is sports, and depicting the rush of a play, the massed hysteria of a shared moment, is just as conceptually fraught as the depiction of live music performances. And all those poor underdogs of the world of mass-marketed movies! But when a movie attains its own heart and soul by watching that dream in motion—think “Hoop Dreams”—the result can be magical. The first glimpse I had of Maria Finitzo’s wondrous “In The Game,” about fifteen minutes of a 2014 cut, was a contained little knockout. (I was pleased to weep.) The feature, gentle, assured, compassionate, left me softly thunderstruck. For four years, Finitzo follows a girls’ soccer team at Brighton Park’s primarily Latino Kelly High School, with an eighty-six-percent poverty level and a $4 million budget cut during the course of her observation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Digging For Fire

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance 1 Comment »



With “Digging For Fire,” Joe Swanberg extends his run of intimate backyard moviemaking to an actual backyard at a summer rental, where a gun, a bone and a telescope set intrigue (and extended conversation) into nifty (if slow-burn) motion. Mid-thirties-life-crisis strikes for Tim (Jake Johnson), a teacher still not settled into the truth that he’s been a father for three years. Rosemarie Dewitt plays his witty wife, Jude Swanberg the son, natch. The estimable critic Bérénice Reynaud has aligned the latest Swanberg with Rohmer, and “Digging” extends his streak of pictures that stream with genial dialogue, superficially breezy, yet where emotional currents deepen. Read the rest of this entry »

She Is Multitudes: Afloat On The Comic Tributaries Of “Mistress America”

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

By Ray Pride

In “Mistress America,” Noah Baumbach turns muse-partner-fellow screenwriter Greta Gerwig into a delightful, deliquescent, never-defeated and never-deflated Jean Arthur for the twenty-first century, as another incarnation of her energy and off-kilter wit is unleashed upon a Manhattan-Brooklyn of the romantic mind. (You could see the legacy of the great dames like Carole Lombard and Judy Holliday, if you’re so inclined.) “Mistress America,” indeed.

For my money, or at least my mood the night I saw it, “Mistress America” landed like ten-thousand dollars of finely focused therapy. (So this is narcissism!) Gerwig’s Brooke is akin to many modern Manhattanites of the past fifty years: from somewhere else but born to the island. Or at least to the lure of the lore and the lingo. From a Times Square red-carpet entrance to late-night laughter in the warm embrace of the East Village’s Veselka Ukrainian restaurant, Brooke is many tributaries. Her finger’s in pie after pie, her identity known to all but herself, a regular whirla-Zelig-gig. She’s a perpetual-posture machine, who says things not to hear herself talk, but to offer the soft sizzle of a second’s affirmation to her listener, even if what she says is errant nonsense or rank absurdity. (How do they know this woman so well?) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Iron Ministry

Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



J. P. Sniadecki’s clamorously atmospheric doc, “The Iron Ministry,” was shot across three years of the infernal, eternal expansion of the vast Chinese rail system. As the railways expand, Sniadecki rides the rails from 2011-2013 and traffics in sensory reportage as he meets passengers in the cramped confines, who bear blunt, wry attitude about class and cash under his direct cinema-styled eye—“What if you do have a ballot, and the choice is one more sonofabitch?” Then he assembles the travels as if we were all on a single, swift journey. Where are they headed? Where are we headed? Coolly formal yet ceaselessly tactile, his film works from lovely visual abstraction to the most material of physical concerns. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ten Thousand Saints

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »


In “Ten Thousand Saints,” adapted by writer-directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (“American Splendor”) from a novel by Eleanor Henderson, Asa Butterfield (“Hugo,” “Ender’s Game”) and Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) are siblings destined to come-of-age in the late 1980s propelled by more-dramatic-than-melodramatic circumstances from the care of their hippie mother (Julianne Nicholson) in Vermont to their pot-dealing father (Ethan Hawke) in New York’s Lower East Side. Performances are stirring all-round in this Sundance 2015 entry, especially the vigorous Butterfield and Steinfeld, who enliven the comic family dysfunction and lighten the teen pregnancy subplot. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Straight Outta Compton

Comedy, Drama, Musical, Recommended No Comments »



“Straight Outta Compton,” the story of Compton, California rap “supergroup” N.W.A., could have fallen flat, but even while including member Eric “Eazy-E” Wright’s first clumsy attempts at rapping, it hits the right notes. A version of the group’s origin—from E’s bankrolling of his Ruthless label and the recording of the “Boyz-n-the-Hood” single with money earned from drug-running, and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young’s beginnings as a club DJ despite disapproval from his mother, to O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson’s now-infamous lack of love for the police. “Straight Outta Compton” doesn’t whitewash conflicts within the group, especially Cube’s departure from N.W.A. in December 1989 after a dispute over royalties, Dr. Dre’s alliance and split with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, and Eazy-E and Cube exchanging diss tracks. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Look Of Silence

Documentary, Drama, Political, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



Cool-headed, formally rigorous, shapely and even extremely beautiful, the two documentaries by Joshua Oppenheimer and his sometimes-anonymous collaborators about genocide and its eddying effects on humans and history are unlikely masterpieces. And yet here they are: two bulging versions of performatively provocative “The Act of Killing” (2012) and now the slim, bone-chilling “The Look Of Silence.” While the first documentary on the lasting effects of the 1965 Indonesian genocide was criticized by some for its baroque invention, a parallel film, which could be considered an “answer film” to a movie not yet questioned, was in production, the masterful “The Look of Silence,” a deep, dark, calmer, in ways more disturbing take on the tenuous bonds of civilization and contours of recorded history. Read the rest of this entry »