Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Notable Appearances and Master Classes: A Preview of the Chicago International Film Festival

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Events, Festivals, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »
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“Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

By Ray Pride

Along with a hundred-plus features and shorts from around the world, the fiftieth edition of the Chicago International Film Festival includes notable appearances and master classes, including Michael Moore presenting his restored version of “Roger & Me,” a film that was nearly lost; producer-turned-online distributor Ted Hope talking about his memoir-manifesto, “Hope For Film,” and Oliver Stone, with a director’s cut of “Natural Born Killers” and “Alexander: Ultimate Edition,” a fourth version of his 2004 epic, reportedly with a warm handful of homoerotic content restored to its 207-minute duration. An Isabelle Huppert tribute will trail four features, including Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher” and Claire Denis’ “White Material,” both shown in 35mm. Kathleen Turner will tell her truth, and eighty-one-year-old Hollywood Renaissance bright light Bob Rafelson will show his 1990 exploration epic “Mountains of the Moon” before presenting a master class to Columbia students, a rapscallion of a raconteur when I heard him speak a few years ago.

Notable locals include the world premiere of Chicago filmmaker Michael Caplan’s long-in-the-works “Algren” bio, as well as up-and-coming local auteur Stephen Cone’s “This Afternoon,” mingling his favored themes of sex and religion. Read the rest of this entry »

Film 50 2014: Chicago’s Screen Gems

Film 50 3 Comments »

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“Nobody knows anything” is how screenwriter William Goldman describes how the Hollywood studio system works. “Nobody knows what’s coming next” would be an apt motto for the film industry at large, as well as the many aspects of the booming, burgeoning city of cinema called Chicago. Big-budget movies and television are shooting in Chicago at a rate not seen since the glory days of the 1990s, the same economics that are crunching the film industry are making it possible for so much more small, strange or lovely new work to make its way into the world, and gifted artists are staying in Chicago for all the reasons we’re sure you’re still in Chicago.

There’s a much larger pool of talent in Chicago than a list of fifty can do more than indicate. While last year’s debut list was more about the behind-the-scenes players, this year we’re focusing just on artists. And there are many ways we’re defining the word “artist” in our choices. In pulling together this pool of creative people, we looked for paragons in whom we could all find inspiration—whether it’s zen everyman Bill Murray, or indelibly young filmmakers you haven’t heard of yet—people who do the Chicago name proud, whether on the big screen, on cable or online.  Many of these individuals take part of the larger weave of how films get made—“below-the-line” as the jargon goes—and others are exemplars of the multi-hyphenate talents who seem to be around every corner, protean prodigies who aren’t juggling multiple careers, but living them as full, admirable, even enviable creative lives.

Chicago is a storytelling city, and we’ve let the Film 50 tell a few about who they are and what they do. It’s like a busy, buzzing party where you’re content to listen in on other conversations with a strong drink in your hand, nodding your head in agreement more times than you realize. It’s an indication what a great film town this is when everyone’s ready to talk about how they love to work in Chicago, and how grateful they are to be part of an ever-expanding, ever-more-prolific community at large. Here’s betting that these conversations are only the tip of the ice cream. These people know something. (Ray Pride)

Film 50 was written by Ray Pride, with additional contributions by Brian Hieggelke

All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Lagunitas Brewing Company.

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Review: Last Days In Vietnam

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »

Last days in VietnamRECOMMENDED

Rory Kennedy’s essential film is history as it ought to be revisited, reinvestigated, renewed as documentary. There’s so much no one bothered to know in the past forty years since the fall of Saigon. The stark, powerful “Last Days In Vietnam,” about the months and days preceding the evacuation of Americans as well South Vietnamese allies and their families in 1975, is superb filmmaking. Archival footage that’s astonishing for its immediacy is neatly woven with accounts of the disaster waiting to happen. It all moves with the emphatic leisure of a rolling nightmare. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Dog

Documentary, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

John Wojtowicz was the full-on character who inspired “Dog Day Afternoon” with his attempt to rob a Brooklyn bank in late summer 1972 to finance one of his lovers’ sex-reassignment surgery. Al Pacino went to town on that role, but it hardly captures the complications in the rich, even implausible life of Wojtowicz (“The Dog”) himself. Directors Frank Keraudren and Allison Berg had access to his life for a decade, and while the visuals are sometimes limited to Wojtowicz talking, talking and talking, the words are choice, the stories almost too true to be good. Al Pacino’s got nothing on this rampantly bisexual, hopelessly romantic, eager-to-please larger-than-life character, who proudly calls himself a “pervert.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Tracks

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

TRACKS

RECOMMENDED

Mia Wasikowska radiates elemental strength in John Curran’s adaptation of “Tracks,” Robyn Davidson’s 1980 chronicle of her 1975 solo pilgrimage from Alice Springs, Australia across nearly 2,000 miles of desert in the company of a dog and four volatile, once-feral camels. The unlikely trip is financed by National Geographic, who sends photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) at signposts along the way to mythologize her youthful determination (and beauty, which Smolan is smitten by). Curran’s earlier movies, including “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” (2004) and “Stone” (2010), demonstrated a similar willingness to keep the drama on simmer, to slowly accrue sensation rather than goosing the narrative. Read the rest of this entry »

A Trip Through Italy: “In My Brother’s Shoes” With Arts Critic-Turned-Filmmaker Lucia Mauro

Chicago Artists, Events No Comments »
Danny McCarthy at Rome's Campo de' Fiori market/Photo: Dan Finnen

Danny McCarthy at Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori market/Photo: Dan Finnen

By Brandie Madrid

When Lucia Mauro was a writer for Newcity, she often conducted interviews at the Bourgeois Pig Cafe, so I asked her to join me there to talk about her writing-directorial debut, “In My Brother’s Shoes.” She speaks warmly and passionately about the origins of her story and about letting coincidences and random encounters lead her in new directions. Mauro has spent much of her life as an arts writer and critic. Her first foray into film was the screenplay for “Anita,” a story inspired by a statue in Rome of Anita Garibaldi, a Brazilian freedom fighter who fought against foreign occupation in two countries, including Italy. “In My Brother’s Shoes” is based on another experience she had in Rome, this time meeting a man who, after his brother died in the Iraq War, put on his brother’s shoes and backpacked through Europe as his brother always planned to do.

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Where Do They All Come From? The Deceptive Appearances of “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”

Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

By Ray Pride

Of the news coming south out of the 2014 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, there are three or four or a dozen films that sound like surprises and delights, as there should be from any festival its size.

But the season’s finest surprise for me is a film, or, rather, films, that debuted at Toronto 2013, a heavyweight directorial debut by writer Ned Benson that comprised two features with a combined running time of 201 minutes. The delicately astonishing “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” relates two subtly but telling different sides of the aftermath of the sudden detonation of the lives of a married couple with a child, the first from the dreamily subdued perspective of a woman named Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain), and subtitled “Her,” and the second from the more volatile perspective of her estranged husband, Conor (James McAvoy). When the narrative shifts to Conor’s perspective, scenes that were played between Chastain and McAvoy’s characters repeat, but with subtle variations in dialogue and dramatic emphasis. The separate events in their lives, when they are apart, are equally telling: the bruised hush of “Her” rises to confounded masculine disarray as we discover further eddies of grieving in the lives around “Her.” The essential elegance of this structure is how we, as viewers, have to reconstruct our memory of prior events, if only an hour, hour-and-a-half before, the way the characters, her and him, try to reconstruct tragic events of only a few months earlier. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Zero Theorem

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

Zero Theorem street copy

RECOMMENDED

Shoestring Terry Gilliam is better than no Terry Gilliam at all, and in the sweetly mad master’s latest revision of dystopia takes on the pixel-kapow of corporate-designed image-drench and idea-blanch of the modern landscape of cities and man’s mind. Small-scale yet still baroque, the Bucharest-shot $13.8 million quickie, “The Zero Theorem” (written by Pat Rushin), still indulges Gilliam’s particular brand of dark whimsy and prickly paranoia. A chrome-domed, stressed and fretful Christoph Waltz plays Qohen Leth, a computer programmer who’s retired to a chapel in the midst of a bustling post-modern London metropolis, slaving day and night at a computer simulation he’s been employed to use to solve the “zero theorem.” He keeps at his drudgery while waiting for a mysterious phone call that seems may never come. The glimpses of the streets outside bustle like Piccadilly Circus merged with a midget version of Hong Kong Central, and branding and hectoring and overlapping voices battle of Qohen and the audience throughout. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: God Help The Girl

Drama, Musical, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

“If you want to hear your voice floating in the middle of a beautiful tapestry of frequencies… you’re gonna need a pop group.” I can’t help but have a pooling soft spot shy of a puddle of swoon for “God Help The Girl,” the expectedly twee but crazy-charming lovable coming-of-age musical written and directed by Stuart Murdoch, also known as the lead singer of Belle & Sebastian. In a candy-colored, idealized, even lovable Glasgow, young fantasist Eve (Emily Browning) overcomes a fistful of emotional problems by learning to become a singer-songwriter and get out into the city with other very cool-looking girls and boys. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Through A Lens Darkly

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »

throughlensbRECOMMENDED

Thomas Allen Harris’ lush, lovely, loving “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People” chronicles the role of photography in a 170-year history of the lives of black Americans. While amateur photography is key to the film, professional photographers to whom the film pays tribute include Roy DeCarava, Gordon Parks and Carrie Mae Weems. It’s also a family memoir, an intimate epic weighted with eloquent words. Read the rest of this entry »