Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: A Most Wanted Man

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


What a seedy man is Günther Bachmann. Embodied, body and sallow soul by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last completed role, the German secret agent at the center of John Le Carre’s 2008 thriller had a spot of trouble back in Beirut and wound up in Hamburg for his sins, part of a deeply undercover cell of spies that observes and infiltrates the lives of suspected terrorists who might lead them further up the food chain of international bad actors. His superiors, plus a concerned American spy (Robin Wright), want to keep Bachmann on a tight leash, but he wants his counterterrorist team to stay as rogue as can be. There are many melancholic Le Carre-style exchanges, including Hoffman to Willem Dafoe’s banker character. “Which one? The one you want to fuck. She’s too young for you, Tommy. She’s too young for both of us.” (As well as the compact weariness of “Men who trusted you died.”) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mood Indigo

Comedy, Recommended, Romance, World Cinema No Comments »


“This feeling of solitude is unfair! I demand to fall in love, too.” Michel Gondry’s latest low-fi gallimaufry of incessant innovation and simple, surrealistic fancy, “Mood Indigo,” is based on a book supposedly known to most French children, Boris Vian’s “L’ecume des jours” (known in Stanley Chapman’s British translation as  “Froth on the Daydream”). It’s a romance atop romances with a star-crossed couple: Chloé  (Audrey Tautou) falls ill when a flower starts to grow in her lungs, and rich, lonely bachelor Colin (Romain Duris) finds he can keep her alive by surrounding her always with fresh flowers. Then heap stop-motion, dream sequences, musical passages, food play, Duke Ellington… Keep heaping. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Closed Curtain

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


(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 »

Review: Le Chef

Comedy, World Cinema No Comments »

michael youn in le chef photo courtesy of cohen media group_{012522ee-a5c9-e311-a08d-d4ae527c3b65}_lg

Fast-paced and amiable but way too broad, Daniel Cohen’s “Le Chef” (2012) throws together star chef Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno), a brand name with his own restaurant who can’t get along with his investors, with a younger, self- taught chef Jacky (Michaël Youn), who leans heavily on the chemistry set. Lightly sauced reflections on French cuisine bounce off implausible notions of human behavior and far too much irksome “cuteness.” Or maybe that’s what makes “Le Chef” so French?  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dormant Beauty

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(Bella addormentata) The seventy-four-year-old Italian master Marco Bellocchio remains steeped in all the vitality and fury of life and politics in “Dormant Beauty,” a keenly etched tragedy based on an occasion where Italy was inflamed by the case of a woman in a coma and an ensuing public battle about euthanasia. Bellocchio twines four stories, each with their own moments of volcanic dramatic power, into one pulsing mosaic. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Snowpiercer

Action, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


With “Snowpiercer,” the eminently talented South Korean genre-bender Bong Joon-ho (“The Host,” “Barking Dogs Never Bite,” “Mother”) aims beyond the fences again with his fevered free adaptation of Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s 1984 French graphic novel, “Le Transperceneige.” Bong and co-writer Kelly Masterson (“Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead”) get a running start, depicting a worldwide attempt to forestall global warming on July 1, 2014, an experiment that freezes the planet. “The rattling ark” of a visionary industrialist’s vast, perpetual motion train that makes a circuit of the globe once a year is then the film’s allegorical setting. (In the novel, the train is 1,001 carriages long, to throw in another allusion.) For seventeen years, the Snowpiercer has stayed in motion. The oppressed of the farthest reaches of the tail of the train are prepared to revolt, to make their way to the front of the train, to…? They know no other world, not even sunlight glinted off the expanses of barren snow and frozen cities they circuit past. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jackpot

Comedy, Crime, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


“Jackpot” (Arme Riddere, 2011) is capable, candy-colored, often giddily gruesome Euro-action from Norway, replete with lottery winnings, double-crosses, discreet vivisection and a shootout in a strip club called “Pink Heaven” with a single survivor whom the police want explanations from. Based on an outline by best-selling crime novelist Jo Nesbø, Magnus Martens’ black, deadpan pulp conjures earlier movies that range from “A Shallow Grave” to “A Simple Plan” to “Fargo” to “Pulp Fiction” while still offering its own toothsome zing beneath frisky homage. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Heli

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


The readily scandalized, readily titillated portion of the press pack at Cannes 2013 exulted in the apparition of Amat Escalante’s “Heli,” a grisly portrayal of the brute violence that narcotics gangs visit upon Mexico each day. Escalante cites Kubrick, Argento and Leone as influences, but “Heli” goes beyond influence, both in moments of stillness and of action. With such potentially repulsive subject matter, I’m more partial to a more nuanced, playful approach, like in Gerardo Naranjo’s fine “Miss Bala,” one that encompasses terrible events, yet heightens them in a literary or lyrical fashion rather than relying, as “Heli” does, on blunt shock. (Torture, child rape, mutilation, a penis set ablaze.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Rover

Action, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema 2 Comments »


Mosul fell the morning I saw “The Rover,” another domino past Fallujah and Baiji and Tikrit. The rule of law is gone after a decade of the latest war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Syria, the outer reaches of the post-Soviet Russia. Australian writer-director David Michôd’s second feature, “The Rover” fits right in. It’s bleak and sleek and the illustration of chaos capitalism in the hot, dry, remote outback of Flinders Ranges, South Australia seems less “ten years after the collapse” than what will be ten minutes away for too much of the present-day world. In the Cannes press kit, Michôd was direct about what is oblique in his assured, flinty storytelling: “’The Rover’ is set in an unspecified near-future, but is, in essence, a film about today. It’s about the rapacious capacity for under-regulated Western economies to destroy themselves and it’s about the inevitable shifting balance of global power. It’s about the seemingly intractable problems of human greed and environmental destruction and the despair these forces might elicit in struggling people. More than anything, it’s about the ways these factors affect the emotional lives of individuals.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas

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Michael Kohlhaas 1RECOMMENDED

Arnaud des Pallières’ “Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas” is another starring vehicle for Mads Mikkelsen to inhabit a man who wants simple justice, in the lengthening line of movies that include 2012’s “A Royal Affair” and “The Hunt.” Whether in present-day stories or historical settings, Mikkelsen finds just the right temperature for cool determination behind assured principle. As a horse trader in feudal France, Mikkelsen’s shoulder-length hair and brooding, charismatic gaze matches the verdant yet also stony, gloomy landscape. “I want my horses back the way they were,” Kohlhaas insists after two are appropriated by a baron. Des Pallières shoots largely on exteriors with available light, and the dark mood is unrelenting. Read the rest of this entry »