Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Happy Valley

Documentary No Comments »

HappyValley-2 copy


Gifted, attentive documentarian Amir Bar-Lev takes the Jerry Sandusky child-molesting case as a cautionary tale against sports practiced as religion. The small town of State College, Pennsylvania, known locally as “Happy Valley,” is home to Penn State and beloved football coach Joe Paterno, fired after forty-six seasons for his complicity in covering up Sandusky’s history of sexual predation since at least 1998. Bar-Lev’s portrayal of the aftermath is judicious, especially of the fevered disappointment of devout fans and their rejection of the facts unearthed in media coverage. The portrait is as much of the town and the larger culture of American sports as of the criminal and his accomplices.

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Review: Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain

Drama No Comments »



Ravi Kumar’s handsomely produced “Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain” (2012) is an exemplar of a sort of movie that never seems to go right: the semi-fictionalized depiction of institutional and commercial horrors or deceit that won’t decide if it’s about people or polemics. (“Silkwood” and “Stalker” are two movies that fix on figures instead of pullulations of assertions or dread facts.) The setting is both the aftermath and the years that preceded the deadly 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India, when the release of thirty tons of poison from a pesticide plant into the air and a nearby “godforsaken slum,” that led to as many as 8,000 deaths and an Indian government estimate of nearly 560,000 injuries. Kumar never finds a necessary balance of dramatic interest and tactical outrage despite the bracing effectiveness of its apocalyptic re-creations of the catastrophe. While piercing points are made, the dialogue is largely lousy. (“We’re not making perfume here, miss!”) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Force Majeure

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



“Force Majeure,” Sweden’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film, is a movie that’s even better on a second viewing, when its dramatic craft is more apparent yet even more compelling. Set at a French ski resort, Ruben Östlund’s brilliant white-on-white black comedy is a precise, exacting psychological horror about the fissures in a bourgeoisie Swedish marriage, highlighted after a split-second’s reaction to a “controlled avalanche.” “How do human beings react in sudden and unexpected situations, such as a catastrophe?” Östlund has written of what he rightfully describes as his “existential drama.” “The story concerns a family on holiday that witnesses an avalanche and the father runs away, terrified. When it is over, he is ashamed because he has succumbed to his primal fear.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: National Gallery

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



Three hours of Frederick Wiseman watching people watch art, restore art, revel in the possibilities of art: there’s serene poetry here. In “National Gallery,” as in most of his work of the past five decades, Wiseman takes a few weeks to capture what goes on at an institution, listens, observes, goes back to his edit suite and makes sense of it all. In this case, Wiseman spent twelve weeks in 2012, while there were major exhibits of J. M. W. Turner, Titian and Da Vinci. Read the rest of this entry »

All-American Slime: Steve Carell’s Found his Calling as Ornithologist, Philatelist, Philanthropist in “Foxcatcher”

Biopic, Drama, Recommended No Comments »

By Ray Pride

I’m starting to like this guy Channing Tatum. And maybe this guy Steve Carell.

The faith of Steven Soderbergh and a few other directors in his innate charm, screen presence and acting chops gets another workout as Mark Schultz, one of two brothers who won Olympic Gold Medals. Tatum’s physical moves are crabbed and weighted as we see Mark move through the gloom of his day: he’s Sisyphus before the Xanax. And this Sisyphus needs it: he’s bearing the weight of a few worlds in dark, cold Wisconsin. Broke, lunching on ramen noodles, grappling with his wrestling-coach older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), he’s only got the 1988 Seoul Olympics to look toward. (Ruffalo’s 1980s beard and balding hairstyle are another feat of heaviness.)

Steve Carell, he’s another story. I’ve missed a few movies he’s been in, have never seen more than a few seconds of “The Office,” and regret it for not a second. Voice and presence alike, he’s anti-screen charisma to my eyes and ears, a terrifying dark void in front of a camera. (There are some other actors like that; most moviegoers know a pill or two.)

But leave it to Bennett Miller, the director who made his friend Philip Seymour Hoffman, a bruiser of a man, into Truman Capote, to cast Carell ideally. As John Eleuthère du Pont, Carell embodies the dank side of privilege and money and American manhood gone to stinking rot in Miller’s bleak, harrowing, but thrilling true-life murder case from a heavily researched script by E. Max Frye (“Something Wild”) and Dan Futterman (“Capote”).

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Review: The Overnighters

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



“Hopeless is a lie.” Jesse Moss’ specific yet elusive, moving observational portrait of a pastor in the fracking-wracked North Dakota oil boom town of Williston demonstrates the limits of community in the face of insurgent need: it’s nothing less than a nonfiction latter-day “The Grapes of Wrath” that’s both heartbreaking and urgently beautiful. “The Overnighters” is the name Lutheran pastor Jay Reinke gives the emigrants who arrive by the busload, broken yet driven men who change the face of the small prairie town. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Theory of Everything

Biopic, Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »



Eddie Redmayne twinkles and tickles the intellectual friskiness of Stephen Hawking in James Marsh’s lively, bright “The Theory Of Everything,” a brisk telling of the early years of the scientist, best-selling author and survivor of motor neuron disease related to ALS, as well as his all-important first marriage. (After a recent screening for him, Hawking waggishly said he found it “broadly true.”) Director James Marsh does well with another ginger trickster figure, as he did with Philippe Petit in “Man on Wire,” with Redmayne playing the most assured and most puckish moments we’d expect from a story about a scientist known for his mind but also for lifelong randiness. Redmayne has the best, fullest role he’s had since Tom Kalin’s “Savage Grace” (2007) and he manages to work his own charm and smile and even eyebrows into the slowly contracting figure of Hawking. James Marsh is a quietly fine director, in documentaries like “Man on Wire” and “Project Nim,” as well as other fiction features like “Shadow Dancer” and “Red Riding: 1980.” His knack for telling compositions and memorable images can’t be underestimated. And the script by playwright Anthony McCarten seldom stoops to sentimental stuff, despite its seeming pedigree as intelligently crafted, award-friendly British uplift. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Diplomacy

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

Diplomacy Schlondorff


At the age of seventy-five, Volker Schlöndorff sustains the stalwart political filmmaking he’s mastered since the early days of the New German Cinema with the dynamic verbal duels of “Diplomacy.” Set in Paris in 1944 as the Allies advance, Schlöndorff’s not-at-all-stagy adaptation of an award-winning play pits two men against one another: the German general (Niels Arestrup) whose order from Hitler is to level the “city of light” and the Swedish diplomat (André Dussollier) who must convince him it’s not such a great idea to follow the devastation of Berlin with such a barbaric act. As played out by Dussollier and Arestrup in front of Schlöndorff’s energetic camera, “Diplomacy” has all the stuff of a suspense thriller. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bird People

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



The dream life of angles: In Pascale Ferran’s “Bird People,” at a Hilton hotel near Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, Gary, an American engineer (Josh Charles) who squirrels himself away while impulsively on the run from his life (job, wife, encroaching middle age) meets a young French maid, Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier) whose fantasies are altogether surprising. The parallel tracks of their stories, the hopes of each for transforming their lives, enchant as much as what seems like a fated union. While the film’s first half finds fascination in details of the quotidian of Audrey’s day-to-day life, “Bird People” finds its form once enough surreal details burst to the surface. (The title offers a clue to the film’s key flight of whimsy.) Two people, adrift, one observant, one not, near a place where others take flight each day: the conceit is plain, simple, wispy and largely lovely. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Great Invisible

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



Nonfiction filmmaker Margaret Brown keeps her eyes open on the Deep South she’s from, moving from the personal portrait of her hometown of Mobile, Alabama in “The Order of Myths” to the larger canvas of “The Great Invisible.” Her sober, beautiful, infuriating and utterly essential film charts the ongoing cost to be paid from the devastating 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. Brown seeks figures that range from Gulf Coast residents like oyster shuckers whose lives and livelihoods have been shattered, to workers describing the cost-cutting measures that contributed to the deadly accident, to unexpectedly candid oil executives. But Brown doesn’t neglect the larger picture. Read the rest of this entry »