Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: A Hard Day’s Night

Comedy, Musical, Recommended No Comments »

71233CT28.1(CMYK)_3.tifRECOMMENDED

The greatest opening chord in movie history is followed by one of the great cut-up comedies in “A Hard Day’s Night,” combining the immense charm of the young quartet with the intense invention of a young Richard Lester. It’s one second, two seconds at the most, twannggg, and the screen floods with the Beatles, in trim, natty suits and thin ties and the, yes, Beatles haircuts, being pursued up a London side street by a loving, crushing crowd of fans. Those opening two minutes forty-five seconds are one of the most fantastic bursts of joy in any movie I know. And then, you know what? You still get to enjoy the sweetly absurd comedy of the rest of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Plus: weren’t they such pretty, lovely boys? (Even in the company of their friend, the cleanest “clean old man” of them all.) Read the rest of this entry »

The Journey Of Roger Ebert: Ray Pride Remembers His Colleague and Talks to “Life Itself” director Steve James About a Life in Search of Candor, Intimacy and Truth

Biopic, Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended 1 Comment »

By Ray PrideRoger Ebert & Gene Siskel

“If you could’ve found out what Rosebud meant, I bet that would’ve explained everything.”
—“Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz.

INT. VIRGINIA THEATRE, CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS – DAY

Here is one of the most chilling and thrilling sounds I have ever heard in a movie theater, from a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 2012. Everyone in the 1,500 or so seats knew the attraction: a projection of the Blu-ray of “Citizen Kane,” on the big screen, with Roger Ebert’s time-honed commentary playing over the soundtrack. Roger hadn’t spoken since his surgeries of 2006. Heavy red velvet curtains part and the words “An RKO Radio Picture” appear—a radio tower girdling the globe and transmitting worldwide—with the words: “This is Roger Ebert, watching ‘Citizen Kane’ with you.” And Roger was watching “Citizen Kane” with us, from a lounger seat at the back of the auditorium. But it was the simple manifestation of that stilled voice—chummy, smart, ready to entertain and edify, that made the heart jump for just a second. Ebert’s two-hour weave of history and insights rushed forward, a dispatch from a friend long unheard-from. The last words spoken from the screen: “I’m Roger Ebert. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing ‘Citizen Kane.’” The curtains close, the lights rise, the room rocks with stifled sobs and fills with honest tears. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Begin Again

Musical, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

BEGIN AGAINRECOMMENDED

Boy already met girl, girl already left boy, that was “Once.” What can a filmmaker do after a success like that? Writer-director John Carney doesn’t fully succeed Twice, but there are sweet and knowing moments throughout “Begin Again,” his latest romance about songwriting and a city, in this case, New York City in autumn. His script’s conceit is that Gretta, a young English songwriter (Keira Knightley) abandoned in New York by her rising-pop-star boyfriend (Adam Levine) would be discovered in an Arlene’s Grocery-like East Village music showcase by a just-fired, hard-drinking, burned-out music label co-owner named Dan (Mark Ruffalo), and record an entire album live on locations in Manhattan. (Accept the premise, you’ll like the smaller bits.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Transformers: Age Of Extinction

3-D, Action, The State of Cinema No Comments »

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

 

Michael Bay and his backers have spared no expense with the latest “Transformers” movie, but he can’t help but fall afoul of genre conventions and his usual over-reliance on computer-generated special effects. “Transformers: Age Of Extinction” picks up four years after the big guys left Michigan Avenue and Streeterville in ruins. To keep this from happening again, the feds are now hunting all remaining transformers, good and bad alike. An injured Optimus Prime comes into the possession of financially struggling widower-inventor Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg. Cade repairs Prime, the government finds out, explosions ensue. We spend the rest of the movie’s punishing 165-minute running time tracking Wahlberg as he tries to keep his daughter (relative newcomer Nicola Peltz) safe from the elite CIA unit that’s hunting them down. Cue robots, car chases, space ships, massive explosions and over-elaborate action sequences. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Does Anyone Do Anything: Paul Haggis in the “Third Person”

Drama, Recommended, Romance 1 Comment »

PHM_7578.NEFBy Ray Pride

One of the most bittersweet end credits I’ve seen in recent movies comes at the end of Paul Haggis’ melodrama about jealousy and point-of-view, “Third Person”: “To all the Belgian tax shelter investors.”

Haggis laughs when I say this on a recent sunny Chicago afternoon resounding with fire trucks and ambulances on the street below the high-up hotel suite. “I had to leave this country to get financing for this film,” he says at a fast clip with a light Canadian cadence. “I knew it was going to be a European film in many ways, anyways. It’s a European sensibility, this film. Besides the fact that two of the cities, Paris and Rome, are European. That didn’t trouble me too much, but it is a shame. We didn’t even bother to think of taking this to studios. We didn’t even try. Why would we? This is nothing a studio would make today. The days of studios making adult dramas is, sadly, long past.”

The look and feel of the movie does hark back to multiple eras. “We shot a lot of interiors at Cinecitta [studios in Rome]. Some we built on locations,” he tells me. “All the hotel suites, the hotel corridors, everything’s built there. I wanted two hotels that had the same footprint exactly. It’s part of the story. Even though [production designer] Larry Bennett changed out the windows and the dressing and the coving and everything, I wanted them to feel like… ‘Is this the same place?’ No, it’s not. ‘Is it?’” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jersey Boys

Biopic, Comedy, Drama, Musical No Comments »

JERSEY BOYS
Beneath Clint Eastwood’s easygoing, even somnolent direction of “Jersey Boys” lies a wittily constructed screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, based on their book to the 2005 Broadway musical (Brickman’s other co-writing credits include “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Manhattan Murder Mystery”). But the small strokes of dialogue and rhyming bits of business are smothered by deadly pacing, among other things, including the whisper of “Goodfellas” at its back.  The latest of eighty-four-year-old Eastwood’s late career surprises harks back to a filmmaking era that never existed, a backlot-driven, quiet, even spectral elongation of the terse framing and blocking of his mentor, Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”). The combination of the gentility of the settings, sometimes-slapstick comedy, shameless profanity, casually staged musical numbers and erratic casting make for an eccentric, underwhelming, but intermittently eye-opening failure. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jackpot

Comedy, Crime, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

JackpotRECOMMENDED

“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 »

Heli03
RECOMMENDED

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 Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »

iob_hero_042914_r2RECOMMENDED

At the time of the untimely suicide of twenty-six-year-old internet savant Aaron Swartz, I was blindsided by the loss, and on that day I compiled everything I could find in a blog entry here. Among others, Rick Perlstein wrote: “He was also the first person I knew who wrote five-word emails, no more information, and no less, than what he needed to convey, Twitter avant la lettre—like all of us now; we are all Aaron Swartz… I remember a creature who seemed at first almost to be made up of pure data, disembodied…  Only slowly, it seems, did he come to learn that he possessed a body… I remember the time, at the height of our friendship, when he announced he was taking a month off from connecting to any computer. I remember him telling me afterward about what it felt like: glorious, radiant, strange, alive, true (he mostly read history books). Dude got to see what it was like outside Plato’s Cave two separate times in his life. How many of us can say that?” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Coffee In Berlin

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

Coffee BerlinRECOMMENDED

(Oh Boy, 2012) A hit and prize-winner on its home turf in Germany, “A Coffee in Berlin” is a wan but often winning slacker comedy, with gentle, unintentional parallels to the feel of Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s “Frances Ha.” (“Francis Ja,” anyone?) Or maybe Jim Jarmusch in the 1990s? German comedy does not often travel well, but “Coffee” looks as slick as any other recent film imported from Germany, with gorgeous, glassy black-and-white cinematography. Young, floppy-locked beaten-down Niko (Tom Schilling, “The Baader Meinhof Complex”) is on the ropes after his girlfriend dumps him and his father finds he’d dropped out of college two years ago to “think.” He’s not nearly young Werther: just a young ditherer. Read the rest of this entry »