Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

The Power and the Gory: The Blood in The Face of “The Raid 2″

Action, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

TheRaid2By Ray Pride

Welshman-in-Indonesia Gareth Evans’ ambition for his third feature, “The Raid 2,” is only to make a “Godfather Part II” all his own, but also with whomping helpings of style from Melville, Kitano, Miike, Refn, Ratanaruang and any volume of thrashing or balletic Asian action entries he or his collaborators have seen but we assuredly haven’t, with extra lashings of his own assured, inventive interpretation of action-in-motion.

Evans specializes in preplanning each and every shot and each and every move to keep each scene to not just plausibility but possibility of man-to-man combat (and sometimes 180-men-to-180-men combat in mud and tossing rain). Shots aren’t repeated and don’t overlap; slow motion is rare. While the film’s bounty of sixteen setpieces goes on at impressive length within the 148 minutes of “The Raid 2” (shown at Sundance 2014 as “The Raid 2: Berandal,” the subtitle that can be translated as “Delinquent,” or “Thug”), the ambition of Evans and his efficiently creative fight choreographer-star Iko Uwais is to create something cool and efficient but also compulsive and explosive. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ernest & Celestine

Animated, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


Bear meets mouse in the lovely, charming “Ernest & Celestine,” based on the series of popular children’s books by Gabrielle Vincent. Oscar-nominated for best animated feature last year. A French-Belgian co-production, “E&C”’s animation works with the liquescent beauty of watercolor painting while keeping the amiable mismatched-pal animal ruckus in forward motion. Bears live aboveground and mice in their own subterranean city, each species going about everyday tasks as if they were larger or smaller humans. As directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar (“A Town Called Panic”) and Benjamin Renner and adapted by novelist Daniel Pennac, the animals’ small world breathes with the kind of detail its ideal audience—clever tots—live in in their own fantasy world. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Nymphomaniac Volume 2

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac Volume 2” (rendered onscreen as the internet-unfriendly “Nymph()maniac”) extends the chockablock low-to-high-and-back-again smorgasbord of the first half of the “international version” of his latest provocation. Charlotte Gainsbourg takes center stage as the adult “Joe,” after Sophie Kennedy Clark’s enactment of her memories of sexual initiation in the opening salvo. (Distributor Magnolia Pictures notes, “The international version is the only version of the film that has been released commercially anywhere in the world. There is no ‘American’ version of the film—the film being released in the US has not been altered or censored from the international version.”) The approach remains episodic, with bursts of inspiration succeeded by musings on music and math that on first viewing seem to convolute more than complicate. It’s a novelistic approach that becomes more appealing as the stories unfold. And despite bold imagery and frank chitchat, there’s nearly nothing erotic about either installment. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Nymphomaniac Volume I

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

Nymphomaniac 1RECOMMENDED

While Lars Von Trier has taken a press “vow of silence” after his unfortunate remarks about Nazis to a Cannes 2011 press conference for “Melancholia,” the very form of his newest film(s), “Nymphomaniac” is in itself a succession of formal provocations that speak loudly. And that’s not even getting to the content of the first installment, “Nymphomaniac Volume I” yet. (“Nymphomaniac Volume II” is released in Chicago theaters April 4.) “NI” debuted for Christmas in Trier’s Danish homeland, and debuted in the U.S. at an invited preview at Sundance. The Danish version, longer by twenty minutes or so and more sexually explicit, debuted internationally at the Berlin Film Festival; the American “NI” has been on video-on-demand for a few weeks, and “NII” will follow the same release pattern. At some point, the two films will be available in their longer, five-hour-or-so version, which, it’s been reported, Trier handed over to others at some point to trim even to that length. That’s a long preamble to indicate it’s not length that counts, however, but instead Trier’s earnest attempt to chronicle one fictional woman’s sexuality and feelings toward fathers, while being tended by another older man, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who counters her stories with his own about fancies like fly-fishing, making analogy and metaphor, Scheherazade-style, of what’s inside her literally fevered mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Alphaville

Drama, Mystery, Political, Recommended, Science Fiction, The State of Cinema, World Cinema No Comments »


(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 »

Review: The Missing Picture

Documentary, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


(L’image manquante) Rithy Panh’s Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Missing Picture,” is the first from his home country of Cambodia, and as in the intent filmmakers’ work, it takes on the violent recent history of his homeland directly, but also obliquely. Panh’s family was murdered by the bloody Khmer Rouge, and his earlier films like “S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine” (2003) have valiantly fought to recapture a time that could be lost to history. Revisiting memories of his own youth, Panh strikes out in untraditional direction, combining photographs and black-and-white footage from the country’s propaganda files with tableaux of clay figures created by artist Sarith Mang. Read the rest of this entry »

The State of Things: Looking Into the EU Film Festival

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

YoungandbeautifulBy Ray Pride

A beautiful French teenager turns to prostitution, no explanation given. A Romanian film director prepares in the days before shooting a film: language is worse groundwork than silence, especially with women. In a dark club, a man must scream, and does.

If there’s one thing in common among the films I’ve been able to sample from the 17th Annual European Union Film Festival at the Siskel Film Center, with sixty-four features from twenty-six countries, it’s simply that the storytelling dispenses with backstory, there’s a lot less about increasingly distant wars of the twentieth century, and that many of them seem like reports of the moment, emotional weather reports, simple, sometimes elegant statements of the state of things. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bethlehem

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


Israel’s entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, debut director Yuval Adler’s intelligent, intensely etched tragedy “Bethlehem,” pits an Israeli officer against a teenaged Palestinian informant (much like Palestine’s “Omar,” also nominated). Co-written by Alid Waked, an Arab journalist specializing in the West Bank, the thriller elements are nicely orchestrated, evading overt moralizing, while the level of personal characterization differs from character to character. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Omar

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


Hany Abu-Assad’s superb drama “Omar” has a built-in controversy, within its competition for Best Foreign Language Film at the very least: it’s the first movie the Academy has recognized, without qualifiers, as having been made by “Palestine.” A love story, a twist-enriched chase thriller set in realistic locations, and possessed by an inspired ending, “Omar” may be more riveting than Abu-Assad’s Oscar-nominated suicide-bomber drama “Paradise Now” from 2006. The “Isolation Wall” and a tunnel separate two lovers (Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany), and that separation inspires Omar, a baker, to take up arms. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Gardener

Documentary, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


In “The Gardener,” his first feature in three years, the valuable, exiled Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf documents his visit with his son, Maysam (also his cinematographer and editor) to the gardens of the headquarters of the Baha’i faith in Israel. The screen blooms with beauty: Makhmalbaf and his family of fellow filmmakers have always filled their screens with rapturous imagery. Questions of religious belief are, as would be expected with Makhmalbaf, intertwined with elements that obliquely reflect the character of cinema and how we receive storytelling. Read the rest of this entry »