Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Reeling 32: A Brave New World of Possibilty

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TOM-A-La-FERME-Xavier-Dolan-@clara-palardy

Xavier Dolan by Clara Palardy.

Oft-expressed concerns about the “mainstreaming” of gay characters and subjects and how that would affect gay film festivals may be misplaced in the tectonic economic shifts of contemporary filmmaking and distribution. By advance word and by the range of subjects, the thirty-second edition of Reeling, like many other recent film festivals, looks like we may be in a brave new world of possibilities. A few I’ve liked: “Lilting,” with Ben Whishaw as a young gay man mourning a lover whose Cambodian mother did not know he was gay is low-key and touching, even more so in the light of Whishaw recently coming out. The intense psychological thriller, “Tom At The Farm” was made just before “Mommy,” the latest over-the-over-the-top melodrama by twenty-five-year-old Xavier Dolan, who shared a Cannes Jury Prize with eighty-three-year-old Jean-Luc Godard. While it lacks the peacock vainglory of the Québécois wunderkind’s fantasticated “Laurence Anyways,” “Tom” toys with the kind of ambiguous psychological turns that many French masters have done so well, including Clouzot and Chabrol. Read the rest of this entry »

In the Frame of the Father: “Starred Up” and Violent Nurture

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Starred-up

By Ray Pride

“Starred Up” is ominous from its first instants, the sounds beginning with the very first frame under presentation credits, somewhere from inner space, like the confines of a skull pressured by the slightest sounds of a low febrile hum in a constrained space that echoes from other, nearby constrained spaces.

In a word: prison. In a world: a prisoner.

A Greek tragedy is in the offing. Violent nineteen-year-old convict Eric (Jack O’Connell, “Eden Lake,” Angelina Jolie’s upcoming “Unbroken”) has been “starred up”: slang for being transferred from a juvenile jail to an adult facility, which happens to be the prison where his estranged father Nev (Ben Mendelsohn) has long been incarcerated.

The first seven minutes follow the succession of double-checks and humiliations involved in his induction, or even ingestion into the system, seven long minutes to get him into his cell, where Eric immediately snaps a disposable razor and blazes a toothbrush to create a provisional shank for what turns out to be imminent usage. The gentle float and sway of the Steadicam also suggests instability and the potential for sudden deadly motions, contrasting the naturalism of the setting of the cell block with a tensile, cumulatively dreamy-cum-nightmarish use of framing and cutting. “Starred Up” confines itself to an actual prison facility, and was shot in sequence with two editors cutting the film together daily to insure a rare immediacy in an all-too-familiar genre. The conflicts you expect from angry men under pressure come quickly, but within an unforeseen atmosphere. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Five Star Life

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Five StarRECOMMENDED

(Viaggio Sola) Maria Sole Tognazzi’s slow-to-warm “A Five Star Life” is plush with swank, following Irene Lorenzi (Margherita Buy), a high-minded “mystery guest” around the world, a wandering critic of luxury hotels and resorts on what appears to be a well-furnished yet peripatetic, aimless voyage through life, as well as Berlin, Rome, Marrakech… Crises intervene for the single woman in her forties, near-existential crises rise from the high thread-count sheets. The minutiae of how she checks off the virtues of each establishment takes up a big chunk of the movie, likely more fascinating to someone who’s interested in the depiction of process (like me). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jealousy

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Jealousy - Still 5 RECOMMENDED

(La Jalousie) At the age of sixty-five, Philipe Garrel’s bittersweet wisps of black-and-white found love and lost love grow ever more specific and tender. The charcoal-rendered “Jalousie” is one of his best, in a recent run of fine work, beginning with 2004’s “Regular Lovers,” “Frontier of Dawn” (2005) and “That Burning Summer” (2011). The closer the films approach mere sketches, the more languid, yet electric they become. The widescreen images by eighty-year-old Willy Kurant (“Masculin-Féminin,” “The Immortal Story,” “Pootie Tang”) are gloriously simple, timeless in their open but specific framing. It’s geometry as suffering. Garrel identifies the look this way:  “For my preceding film, ‘That Burning Summer,’ which is in color, I asked Willy Kurant for a gouache effect, rather than an oil paint effect like most color images in cinema. And here, in black and white, I asked him for charcoal, rather than black pencil.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The German Doctor

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Wakolda German DoctorRECOMMENDED

(Wakolda) Synopsis of the week? “Mengele in Argentina. Becomes fascinated with diminutive little girl.” Lucía Puenzo’s chilly widescreen thriller is an eye-opener, but the fact that a film hailing from that country called the “The German Doctor” could only be about such a subject may limit the appeal to some audiences. Where’s the suspense beyond the essential morbidity, the average art-house viewer might well ask? Adapting her own novel, Puenzo is best at a creeping sense of dread. And since the story is told largely from the perspective of twelve-year-old Lilith (Florencia Bado), the screen is perfumed with history and backstory that we, the contemporary audience, know but that the characters onscreen remain naïve toward. Read the rest of this entry »

Under the Influence: John Michael McDonagh on the Cockeyed Caravan of “Calvary”

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Calvary-2759e5f0-89ac-42e5-a5f7-2578e0e221bf

By Ray Pride

Ireland, day: Man walks into a confession booth and tells a priest of terrible things that had been done to him by a priest when he was small. Tells the priest: I’ll get back at the church by killing an innocent priest in one week, and that’s you, get your life in order.

Now there’s a set-up. “Calvary,” the second feature by writer-director John Michael McDonagh, fills that week full-to-bursting with a raft of idiosyncratic characters and philosophical conflicts and the current crisis in the Church and idiomatic comic dialogue strung along by the script’s thriller-like ticking clock. Brendan Gleeson’s Father James could very well be his best performance in a great career. (He told me it’s his favorite role.) Graham Greene divided his books into two classes: the novels, which took on spiritual matters, and the lighter ones, which he called “entertainments.” McDonagh’s knack is to combine both the novelistic, spiritual elements of Greene and lighter notes to achieve a high level of gratifying entertainment. (It’s also beautifully shot: I could write a few thousand words about the cinematography and artful visual style.)

“Calvary,” is, in a very specific way, a “B” movie, by which I mean, “Bergman, Buñuel and Bresson,” I tell McDonagh. He laughs. “Oh dear! Those were the governing influences. When I was going through preproduction, I went through the entire back catalog again. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: What If

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WHAT IFRECOMMENDED

In one of the first scenes in Michael Dowse’s uncompromisingly adorable modern-day romantic comedy, “What If,” Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is at a party, a year after the breakup of a relationship, transfixed by word combinations of magnetic poetry on a refrigerator: “Love is stupid monkeys dancing in a slapstick hurricane.” Within seconds, he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), a woman in a relationship of five years, and charming is as charming does. They push the word choices around with their fingertips and wide-eye each other. They’re razor-sharp in the flirtation neither expected, and the toe-to-toe exchanges are exhilarating. Immediately, you can see why these two would be attracted to each other. But there have to be pesky obstacles for star-crossed love to overcome, including the tragedy that is the platonic friendship.

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Review: Half Of A Yellow Sun

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yellow sunRECOMMENDED

As soap-operatic literary adaptations go, “Half Of A Yellow Sun” is at the very least a complete eyeful, a convincing epic tapestry on what must have been a limited budget. (It’s got the gloss you’d expect from a Hollywood production, seeming scrappy only in the many moments of leaden historical exposition.) Adapted by director Biyi Bandele from Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s best-selling, achronological 2006 novel, the movie’s plotting traces the lines of a decade of national upheaval, political minutia and family dynamics in Nigeria and Biafra. The actors shine: Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anika Noni Rose are all splendidly in their moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Most Wanted Man

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AMWM-01256RECOMMENDED

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

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mood_indigo_storm__largeRECOMMENDED

“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 »