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: Finding Vivian Maier

Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


Not a composition of the late, secretive Chicago photographer Vivian Maier is askew or amiss in her vast, breathtaking, even thrilling body of street photography, of which the public has only glimpsed the tip of the iceberg. Yet her life remains curiously unreachable in John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s brisk documentary. “Finding Vivian Maier” is partly about not finding her: the outsider remains forever distant. The film, executive-produced by Jeff Garlin, collects interviews from those who knew her in Chicago as a nanny who liked having her own locks to her room, but who kept her avocation, indeed, her great vocation, from view. Her cache of more than 100,000 photographs, with some yet to be developed, were uncovered by Maloof while haunting “a local junk and furniture auction house,” where he found and bought a box loaded with negatives. It was simply flea market provender, or worse, the kind of thing some auction houses immediately throw in the trash. Part of the film covers his accumulation of the rest of her work, which is, well, simply great. 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: Frankie & Alice

Drama No Comments »

FrankieAlice7It used to be you couldn’t predict which Halle Berry you’d get in a new movie scurrying into and out of theaters: the Oscar-winning Halle Berry of “Monster’s Ball” or the genially unhinged Halle Berry of “Gothika.” Pretty much these days, you can count on “Gothika” Halle. In “Frankie & Alice,” (2010), a decade-long passion project for Berry, working from a screenplay credited to Cheryl Edwards, Marko King & Mary King & Jonathan Watters, and  Joe Shrapnel & Anna Waterhouse and Oscar Janiger & Philip Goldberg, British television director Geoffrey Sax amps the melodrama, heedless of the insufferable tonal shifts in writing and performance. Even starting with the simple outline of the saga of a go-go dancer with multiple personality disorder in 1970s Los Angeles—true story!—Berry is up for the game. (Call it “Three Faces of Oscar.”)

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Review: Anita

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


Academy Award-winning documentarian Freida Lee Mock’s “Anita” is an old-fashioned, blunt documentary that shares the straight line of purpose of her earlier work, including “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision” and “Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner.” (It’s the kind of doc that would work almost as well on the radio.) The 1991 confrontation between law professor Anita Hill and a Senate committee began as she outlined sexual harassment charges against Clarence Thomas during his nomination hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court. (We know how one part of that turned out.) Hill talks openly about what led her to testify, and how that affected her own career. Sexual harassment remains an issue, and “Anita”’s shortcoming is how little it reflects the wider scope of how Hill’s circumstances reflected (and still reflects) society at large. 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: Love & Air Sex

Comedy No Comments »

love-air-sexAustin, Texas is the setting for “Love & Air Sex,” a cockeyed, if not screwball comedy from Bryan Poyser, the director of likable, sometimes abrasive small movies like “Lovers Of Hate” (2010) and “Dear Pillow” (2005). But however much based on fact or fate, David DeGrow Shotwell’s screenplay premise about two estranged couples whose lives intersect through the agency of a karaoke-like competition called “Air Sex,” has a readily alienating inauthentic. There are bawdy instants and good, low-t0-the-ground location work—the filmmakers wouldn’t use any public place that wouldn’t allow their real name to be used—the very setup itches and nags even when sparks of genuine charm trickle onto the screen. 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: Le Week-end

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Reviews, Romance No Comments »


The genial yet barbed “Le Week-end” is another sort of dirty laundry from Hanif Kureishi, the writer of “My Beautiful Laundrette,” and one more piquant take on sexual and romantic intimacy in collaboration with director Roger Michell for the fourth time (after “Venus ,” “The Mother” and “Buddha of Suburbia”). Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are Nick and Meg, two academics, a long-married, affectionate yet prickly couple who retrace the steps of their honeymoon for their thirtieth anniversary. They also run into an old friend of Nick’s who lives in Paris (Jeff Goldblum, who lives for roles like this in which he can be so effortlessly, mellifluously articulate). All three actors are in their prime here: instigator Goldblum is surpassed by stage veteran Duncan’s snappish, restless fury and by Broadbent’s tenacious melancholy.  Read the rest of this entry »