Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Signs and Wonders: The Dreamy Ambition of Mike Cahill’s “I Origins”

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By Ray Pride

“I Origins” blushes with swirls of sensory extravagance, of emotional extremes, of drenching passions and bathetic loss.

It’s the sophomore feature of writer-editor-director Mike Cahill, who made his debut in 2011 with “Another Earth” (co-written with actor-writer Brit Marling), and I could reprise my enthusiastic description of that film upon its release for his marvelously ambitious new movie: “serious, somber, bruised, hopeful, thrilling, shocking, emotions-over-the-line speculative science-fiction romance-tragedy with one scene in it that I cannot tell you how hard it hits and I hope no one else does either.” (For “I Origins,” I’ll add “exhilarating.”)

Michael Pitt gives one of his most concentrated performances as Dr. Ian Gray, a molecular biologist obsessed with defining the evolution of the eye. He also has a fetish of asking people he encounters if he can take a picture of their eye. He’s obsessed with coincidences and numbers, too: among other patterns that materialize in his moment-to-moment life, the pattern “11 11” becomes very important. (And the title itself plays with those figures.) A fervent romance erupts with Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), a European woman he meets at a party, flirts with on a rooftop, then fucks in a bathroom. Things quickly grow strained, she flees;  he pursues. Epic romantic gestures proliferate. His obsessions grow, including with the dazzling character of her eyes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Closed Curtain

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Closed CurtainRECOMMENDED

(Pardé) Jafar Panahi, under house arrest, has been ordered by the Iranian regime not to make movies for twenty years (or, to give interviews, a ban that he has also broken). After “This Is Not A Film,” Panahi co-directs his second, forbidden film from internal exile (along with Kambozia Partovi). The first, shot in his Tehran apartment, took on the impossibility of a director not “directing” as part of its allegorical project, while also demonstrating his spirit of resistance. “Closed Curtain,” shot from inside a house along the Caspian Sea, swirls ever more with allegory, comprising a shifting limbo of mingling memories and reenactments and the apparition of what are essentially ghosts of former selves. It’s a deeply sad self-portrait of the inner workings of an artist’s stymied imagination. Read the rest of this entry »

The Name of the Story: The Deep Delight of Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”

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Boyhood-Still7By Ray Pride

It was years and years and years and years ago, just past the turn of the twentieth century. 2001, to be precise, January, only a few months before, well, you know. That single day. When everything supposedly changed.

We’re in Park City, Utah, at the largest of the Sundance Film Festival venues, the 989-seat Eccles Center. The latest film by Richard Linklater is about to debut, and there are whispers that afternoon that this showing will be a tightrope act. Two hard drives had arrived too late to test, only just in time to show, from a then-pioneering video effects company in Europe called Swiss Effects. There’s a primary and a backup of Linklater’s first animated feature, a movie about all time set in no time at all, “Waking Life.” A deep breath: this is new technology, made on computers in Austin, finished in Switzerland. It might not work at all. There’s no time left.

Of course, it worked. (So did “Waking Life,” the film.) No one in the audience knew the difference unless they’d heard the chatter. The illusion of onrushing narrative in continuous time swept us all away, as it has a way of doing. Not too long after that, Linklater shot the first portion of contained annual bursts of what was eventually entitled “Boyhood.” He hoped to trace the rituals of childhood, with a soulful-eyed, pout-lipped little casting find named Ellar Coltrane trusted with holding the center of the narrative for the twelve years to come. His character, Mason, would grow from the age of six or so to eighteen, from 2002 to September 2013, from pouty little boy to willowy, pillow-lipped man. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stand Clear of the Closing Doors

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Stand Clear Closing DoorsRECOMMENDED

Fragile, autistic thirteen-year-old Ricky (played by nonprofessional Jesus Sanchez-Velez, who himself has Asperger’s), prone to skipping class, takes off after one chiding from Queens’ Rockaway Beach to a circuit of the New York subway, encountering the proverbial mass of humanity even as “Superstorm Sandy” approaches landfall. Sam Fleischner’s “Stand Clear Of The Closing Doors,” shot guerilla-style, captures a rare, teeming intimacy while also invoking the real-life, larger disaster about to hit. (Fleischner’s own neighborhood was demolished by the storm three-quarters of the way through the planned shoot.) The individual behaviors caught and measured make for splendid orchestrated cacophony. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Transformers: Age Of Extinction

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TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

 

Michael Bay and his backers have spared no expense with the latest “Transformers” movie, but he can’t help but fall afoul of genre conventions and his usual over-reliance on computer-generated special effects. “Transformers: Age Of Extinction” picks up four years after the big guys left Michigan Avenue and Streeterville in ruins. To keep this from happening again, the feds are now hunting all remaining transformers, good and bad alike. An injured Optimus Prime comes into the possession of financially struggling widower-inventor Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg. Cade repairs Prime, the government finds out, explosions ensue. We spend the rest of the movie’s punishing 165-minute running time tracking Wahlberg as he tries to keep his daughter (relative newcomer Nicola Peltz) safe from the elite CIA unit that’s hunting them down. Cue robots, car chases, space ships, massive explosions and over-elaborate action sequences. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Good At It: The Long Gestation of “Obvious Child”

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Obv_child-1400x480By Ray Pride

Gillian Robespierre’s canny, taut “Obvious Child,” a distinctly contemporary comedy, is rich in people talk and how some people swear and how modern audiences laugh, shocked, with gratitude. And lead actress Jenny Slate? Here comes a great comedy star in a smart, conversational, bluntly funny, certainly subversive romcom. Simply: the plot pivots on an unwanted pregnancy.

At Sundance 2014, “Obvious Child” was that rare, total surprise for me, a press screening I ducked into after Park City, Utah’s insane traffic problems prevented me from getting to yet another movie across town. Didn’t know any of the names, Brooklyn, thirtysomething romantic comedy, just over eighty minutes. Everyone’s always hoping for the platonic ideal of what Woody Allen represented in romantic comedy in the 1970s. And the title? What on earth did that title mean?

“So you’re a ‘Graceland’ guy, not a ‘Rhythm of the Saints’ guy,” lead actress Jenny Slate says when we meet, laughing, sitting alongside her near-lookalike, co-writer-director Gillian Robespierre, who directed Slate in a short version of the material in 2009. “Paul Simon song,” Robespierre says, nodding. Read the rest of this entry »

Reel Life: On Film Versus Light

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Buck Turgidson Dr. Strangelove

By Ray Pride

John Boorman called one of his published diaries “Money Into Light,” a splendid title for the still-to-be-written story of the machinations that led to the abrupt demise of the century-plus of celluloid filmmaking and exhibition to the digital domain of movies today. Investments were made, money was saved, one art form was replaced by another.

A couple of notable events in Chicago in June highlight how rare and special the once-standard format has become. First up, there’s a new 35mm print of Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove, Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb” (1964), which Kubrick himself had supervised in a frame-by-frame re-creation in the 1990s to replace a lost or misplaced negative. That kind of “asset protection” was something the owners of film libraries didn’t think about until the last couple of decades, and traditionally, the negatives of movies got beaten up badly. Even “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” required restorations in 2008.

A second is the June 23 premiere at the Music Box of a 35mm restoration by the Northwest Chicago Film Society of a long-unseen hillbilly Western swing musical, “Corn’s-A-Poppin’,” written by Robert Altman. And, recently, the Music Box presented Pawel Pawlikowski’s gorgeous black-and-white drama “Ida,” in 35mm. When “Ida” was press-screened a few weeks back, the projectionist looked it up:  this shimmering anachronism was the screening room’s first paid exhibition of film in 389 days: the digital handover had been a done deal for over a year. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Edge of Tomorrow

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EDGE OF TOMORROWRECOMMENDED

Don’t we all want a furious, jumbled intelligence like Doug Liman’s to fashion memorable pop? The director of “Go,” “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” opens the snap-pop-crackerjack visual static of “Edge of Tomorrow”—a title which sounds like a lost Powell-Pressburger film—with a teeming montage, an immersion more than exposition of how the planet has arrived at apocalyptic war. We’re battling voracious aliens called “Mimics” and a surge on the beaches of France, Operation Downfall, seems to be humanity’s only chance for survival against the onslaught from the edge of the world. The 2013 meteor showers in Russia’s Ural region are one shard of the opening’s epochal busy-ness as is the image of a mute, pop-eyed Wolf Blitzer next to a “United Defense Forces” general played by Brendan Gleeson: a cruel portrait in a fraction of a second.

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Review: Fading Gigolo

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FADING GIGOLO
“Fading Gigolo” is exceedingly odd and a discomfortingly inauthentic comedy of sorts from writer-director John Turturro, about a florist, Fioravante (Turturro) who becomes a “ho” with the encouraging of his friend Murray (Woody Allen), who’s shuttering his New York City bookstore. Weirdly, the film turns into a second enterprise, a drama about the fate of an Orthodox widow played by Johnny Depp’s ex, Vanessa Paradis, who’s also worshiped from afar by her childhood friend, Dovi, a Hasidic policeman (Liev Schreiber).  (Paradis, full-eyed, still, gap-toothed, provides an impassive mask for Dovi, and later, Fioravante, to project shortcomings onto.) Along the way, Turturro tries to invest his bonsai-shaping empty vessel into a character akin to Chance the Gardener from “Being There,” someone whom disappointed women (Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara) can look upon and find themselves transformed.

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Review: Alphaville

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AlphavilleRECOMMENDED

(A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution) Fifty shades of grayscale: Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 “Alphaville” is eternally nouveau, fifty years passé. One of his most entertaining movies is also one of his most timeless. Drawing on a post-Bogart gumshoe character that Eddie Constantine had already smoked and drank his way through in Z-level Euro-thrillers, Godard creates a future landscape entirely from cannily curated elements of Paris, 1964. The City of Light becomes the portal of portent. All you need to make a movie, or at least a nagging, haunt-your-dreams pre-neo-noir, is a gun, a girl and simmering philosophical asides. The shadowy web etched by cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s black-and-white photography is countered by the luminosity of Godard’s then-wife and matchless muse, Anna Karina. Her eyes shine as the corners of the city lurk, mute yet ominously expressive. Fittingly, this object from the past that partook in an imagined future, of an urban dystopia ruled by a brute computer called “Alpha 60,” is newly restored, cleanly pixillated into the present tense of rapid-fire 1-0-1-0-1-0 sequences of data. Read the rest of this entry »