Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Six Degrees of “Animals”: On the Making of an Acclaimed, Made-in-Chicago Indie

Chicago Artists, Drama, The State of Cinema No Comments »

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By Brian Hieggelke

This is a story about a movie with a Hollywood ending. The Hollywood ending, however, is not in the movie itself, but rather in the real life of its principal creator—screenwriter and co-lead actor David Dastmalchian. And the Hollywood ending in question took place long before this movie, “Animals,” got made. Though it certainly puts a cherry on top of the David Dastmalchian story. Because, though it’s fiction, the story in “Animals,” of a pair of young lovers, Jude and Bobbie, deep in the throes of heroin addiction and living in a car mostly around Lincoln Park Zoo, is Dastmalchian’s story in every sense. He lived it.

After premiering successfully at SXSW last spring, where it won Dastmalchian a special jury award for Courage in Storytelling, “Animals” was the talk of the filmmaking world in Chicago last year, even before it gained theatrical release. A very low-budget film with minimal financial expectations by Hollywood box-office standards, it had a catalytic effect. Every week, it seemed, I met someone who’d worked on it, helped produce it. Six Degrees of “Animals.”

Dastmalchian grew up in Kansas and came to study at the DePaul Theatre School, where he graduated in 1999. He set out to become an active presence in Chicago theater before his descent into addiction eventually shut him down. His friend and chief creative partner in “Animals,” director Collin Schiffli, is about ten years his junior; they met on the “other side,” when Dastmalchian had tamed his demons and, remarkably, had been cast for a small but noteworthy role in “The Dark Knight.” (This summer, he plays a much bigger role in Marvel’s mega-budget “Ant-Man.”) Schiffli headed to the film department at Columbia College after growing up in Indiana. Both Dastmalchian and Schiffli live in Los Angeles now, for work reasons, but “Animals” is a Chicago film in nearly every sense. We discussed its making in detail over lunch precisely a year before its theatrical release this week, when they were in town for its Chicago premiere as the closing night film of the 2014 Chicago Critics Film Festival at the Music Box, where they packed its large auditorium. Read the rest of this entry »

Film Flam: What’s In A Name?

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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 »

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

Documentary, Drama, Recommended, The State of Cinema, World Cinema No Comments »

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”

Comedy, Recommended, Romance, The State of Cinema No Comments »

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

Comedy, Drama, Events, Recommended, The State of Cinema, Western No Comments »

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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