Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Hugo

3-D, Drama, Family No Comments »

Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz


“Hugo” is Martin Scorsese’s most personal film, a pop-up picture book of a metaphor for his own childhood. He, as a boy, small, asthmatic, watched from a Little Italy window the goings-on on the street below, captivated by the narrative that he could construct in his mind but never fully participate in, swept away by the power of movies that his father took him to. Here, his protagonist Hugo Cabret is an orphan who tends the clocks of a vast train station in 1931 Paris, peering through window and frame and trapdoor and crevasse down onto the teeming to-and-fro of passengers and merchants, a human comedy he can only witness with wide eyes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Desert Of Forbidden Art

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


Directors Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev’s “The Desert of Forbidden Art” is an eye-popping discovery, telling the multifarious history of the late Igor Savitsky and his unknown museum in remote Nukus, Uzbekistan, where this one man’s singular focus on preserving art forbidden by successive Stalinist crackdowns saved almost 45,000 pieces of subversive, underground art. Savitsky, who died in 1984, had a notion of the museum as a “collective vision” made of souls, which puts the lie to a lot of Soviet-era assertions of what constitutes the common good. A failed painter becomes an intent savior, an “enemy of the people” who pulled successive con games to become an important comrade to the future. Savitsky’s letters and journals are read by Ben Kingsley; other voice-overs amid subtitles are by Ed Asner and Sally Field. 80m. (Ray Pride)

“The Desert Of Forbidden Art” plays Sunday-Monday at Siskel. The trailer is below.

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Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Adventure, Recommended, Sci-Fi & Fantasy No Comments »


Once upon a time a brave little girl with a good heart stopped the gods from obliterating humanity with a sandstorm. Once upon another time, a brave little orphan dared to yell “stop” at a soldier on horseback thrashing a boy in the bazaar who pilfered an apple. The king saw a “king in spirit” in the first boy and adopted him. Fifteen years later, he’s a scrappy prince named Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) who meets a sacred princess named Tamina (Gemma Arterton, “Clash of the Titans”). She’s descended from that girl who saved the world, and is destined to do more of the same when an evil royal careerist seeks to load the hilt of a magic dagger with magic sand that fuels backwards time travel. Beware: if you tap into the entire world supply of magic sand, the world will end. On the run from everyone, Dastan and Tamina trick and tease each other, destined to fall in love and to say they make their own destinies. Some of this may come from the “Prince of Persia” video games authored by Jordan Mechner, also an executive producer. The rest is written by Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard, and directed with zest by Mike Newell (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “Four Weddings And A Funeral”). Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films present an adventure in pillage: parkour chases riffing on “The Thief of Baghdad,” a plot line about faked intel on hidden weapons to justify an invasion as in “Green Zone,” a bad guy armed with super-whips like in “Iron Man 2,” security systems for ancient chambers from the same guild of engineers behind “Indiana Jones” and “National Treasure,” and extra-sensory assassins centuries ahead of “Men Who Stare at Goats.” For contemporizing comedy, Alfred Molina plays an ostrich race promoter and tax evader. Syncretism is on the call sheet for the art directors. Great CGI on the sixth century urban design. Really cool serpents. This is Orientalism for boys at all longitudes. With Ben Kingsley, Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, Richard Coyle, Ronald Pickup, Gísli Örn Garoarsson. 103m. (Bill Stamets)

A Life In the Mind: With “Shutter Island,” Scorsese goes for baroque (review)

Horror, Mystery, Recommended No Comments »

By Ray Pride

Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” a consummate genre exercise, is not—and this is for the best—another “Cape Fear.” Instead, it’s a thrill of form and function, a fully crafted exercise in visual style and classical genre legerdemain.

In some of Scorsese’s pictures of the past couple of decades, “Casino” being the example that comes quickest to mind, the effect of so much antic erudition turns claustrophobic, even out in the desert, an overlay of shimmering design and compacted footnoting of the film history that makes up the grey matter in Scorsese’s colorful brain. But even beyond its salute to myriad movies most of us would never have heard of, let alone seen, “Shutter Island”‘s asylum-set story is ideal for this treatment: claustrophobia, physical and mental, is made evident in every turn, fully, gloriously, inhabiting the haunted house of the mind.

An obvious and key inspiration that Scorsese cites is Robert Wiene’s 1924 “Caligari,” so it’s useful to consider “Shutter Island” as “The Cabinet of Teddy Daniels.” It’s 1954, and Teddy is a U. S. Marshal dispatched to Ashecliffe Hospital, an asylum on a rocky island offshore from Boston, to find the identity of a missing patient among the criminally insane. Teddy’s new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), leads Teddy through an investigation that moves through the wards and across the rough island, but also its raft of ominous characters, including a trimly goateed Ben Kingsley as the hospital’s director and Max von Sydow as a German-accented doctor. The timeframe of Dennis Lehane’s novel (adapted by Laeta Kalogridis, who worked as a story editor on “Avatar” for James Cameron) means wounds from World War II are still raw, including Teddy’s memories of being one of the soldiers who liberated the Nazi’s Dachau concentration camp. It’s the era of the House Un-American Activities Committee, as well, and their witchhunts are invoked, and there’s more mental pain as well, with the migraine-prone Teddy also stricken with bad dreams about the death of his wife (Michelle Williams). (The resonance with the modern day is in how much of Teddy’s stress rests in what would now be called post-traumatic stress disorder.)

“How do you believe a crazy person?” is a key line in the dialogue, suggesting as well, how do you believe a constructed narrative, or a seemingly unstable and thus unreliable narrator, or how does a marshal get viable testimony from a world that is only comprised of the mad and their controllers. Scorsese’s always been stronger on mood and character than plot-driven storytelling, but one of the great pleasures moment-by-moment in “Shutter Island” is how the mechanics of the story work: even when you think you’ve figured out one aspect of how subjective or objective a certain scene is, there’s another little bit that’s superbly crafted that fits right into the evolving mystery.

On the ferry to the island, the visual style is already off-kilter and disorienting, with a nauseated Teddy surrounded by chains and clamps and damp-mottled walls that provide nightmarish atmosphere, already the trappings of the charnel house. The first flashes we see of memories of his wife are typical, the first of two shots showing her barelegged in a summer dress, surrounded by sunlight, an apparition, golden, chiding, reaching to kiss Teddy, arch of foot and red-enameled toes, a gentle angelic smile; the second shot cuts abruptly, a half-second or more sooner than we expect: even memory is unreliable.

Cinematographer Robert Richardson’s palette is classical, heightened, burnished, with especial attention paid to eyes, capturing the flickers of thought expressed by DiCaprio, Ruffalo, Kingsley and the rest. It’s something missing from a lot of latter-day movies, especially those originating on high-definition video: concentration paid to the sculpting of light to express space, and to allow an audience to see the performers’ eyes. (These are not stained windows to the soul.) The other actors, not listed in the opening credits, walk a tightrope in what they reveal as well, but John Carroll Lynch, as one of the wardens of the asylum who’s on hand to lead Teddy and Chuck around the island, remains perhaps the most distinctive of little-recognized American character actors, who can indicate an entire character with a nod of chin, the slightest of basso intonation.

Operatic in many senses of the word, the score is assembled from existing music by Robbie Robertson, and leans very little on pop, instead drawing on needle-drops of exquisite gloom and bedlam from modern composers like Brian Eno, John Cage, Nam June Paik, Morton Feldman and especially a haunting end-title mix of Dinah Washington’s vocal for “This Bitter Earth” mixed with Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight,” from the movie “Pi” (another horror-of-the-mind movie). John Adams’ orchestral “Christian Zeal and Activity,” from the 1970s, dovetails nicely, too.

Terrible things happen within dream sequences that are boldly colored and inventively eruptive as the universe of Paul Schrader’s “Mishima,” and Scorsese’s evocation of movies from the era and from the noir-and-snakepit genres, as well as the superb Robert Mitchum mystery “Out of the Past” to the atmospheric work of producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur, never detracts or becomes top-heavy: going for baroque, Scorsese winds up with a rococo entertainment of glistening delirium. The claustrophobia is form and function: in the end, “Shutter Island” is about the life sentence everyone’s issued, until memory goes: sentenced to life in the mind.

“Shutter Island” opens Friday.

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2008: Film

News and Dish No Comments »

Top 5 Domestic Filmsslumdog-1

“The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan

“Che,” Steven Soderbergh

“Paranoid Park,” Gus Van Sant

“Rachel Getting Married,” Jonathan Demme

“Ballast,” Lance Hammer

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Films

“Man on Wire,” James Marsh

“Reprise,” Joachim Trier

“Happy-Go-Lucky,” Mike Leigh

“Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle

“A Christmas Tale,” Arnaud Desplechin

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Films

“Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle

“Ballast,” Lance Hammer

“Hunger,” Steve McQueen

“The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan

“In The City of Sylvia,” Jose Luis Guerin

—Bill Stamets

Top 5 Films

“Milk,” Gus Vant Sant

“The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan

“Man on Wire,” James Marsh

“Let the Right One In,” Tomas Alfredson

“Rachel Getting Married,” Jonathan Demme

—Tom Lynch

Top 5 Performances – Female

Sally Hawkins, “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”

Kristin Scott Thomas, “I’ve Loved You So Long”

Kate Winslet, “Revolutionary Road”

Kat Dennings, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Performances – Male

Benicio Del Toro, “Che”

Sean Penn, “Milk”

Mathieu Amalric, “A Christmas Tale”

Michel Blanc, “The Witnesses”

Ben Kingsley, “Elegy”

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Supporting Performances – Female

Ann Savage, “My Winnipeg”

Nurgul Yesilcay, “The Edge of Heaven”

Viola Davis, “Doubt”

Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

Zoe Kazan, “Revolutionary Road”

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Supporting Performances – Male

Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road,” “Shotgun Stories”

Danny McBride, “Pineapple Express”

Richard Dreyfuss, “W.”

Toby Jones, “W.”

Anil Kapoor, “Slumdog Millionaire”

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Directors

Mike Leigh, “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Joachim Trier, “Reprise”

Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”

Tomas Alfredson, “Let the Right One In”

James Marsh, “Man on Wire”

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Screenplays

Fatih Akin, “The Edge Of Heaven”

Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt, “Reprise”

Simon Beaufoy, “Slumdog Millionaire”

Charlie Kaufman, “Synecdoche, New York”

Martin McDonagh, “In Bruges”

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Domestic Documentaries

“Encounters at the End of the World,” Werner Herzog

“The Order of Myths,” Margaret Brown

“At The Death House Door,” Steve James, Peter Gilbert

“The Unforeseen,” Laura Dunn

“Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father,” Kurt Kuenne

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Documentaries

“Man On Wire,” James Marsh

“Of Time and the City,” Terence Davies

“Waltz With Bashir,” Ari Folman

“Up the Yangtze,” Yung Chang

“Young@Heart,” Stephen Walker

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Follies

“Speed Racer,” The Wachowski brothers

“The Fall,” Tarsem

“Adam Resurrected,” Paul Schrader

“Australia,” Baz Luhrmann

“My Blueberry Nights,” Wong Kar-wai

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Films You Can’t See Yet

“24 City,” Jia Zhang-Ke

“35 Shots Of Rum,” Claire Denis

“The English Surgeon,” Geoffrey Smith

“Liverpool,” Lisandro Alonso

“Voy a Explotar (I’m Going to Explode),” Gerardo Naranjo

—Ray Pride


Review: Elegy

Drama, Reviews, Romance No Comments »

From the author “The Origins of American Hedonism” comes a new book on “the Hugh Hefner of the Puritans.” Columbia University prof David Kepesh charms Charlie Rose and beds coeds. American novelist Philip Roth describes the further misadventure of his frequent protagonist in his novel, “The Dying Animal.” And Sir Ben Kingsley plays him as a caustic, self-lacerating rake. This bald egghead looks like a two-legged penis. As if Viagra went straight to his head, his bulging eyeballs pop for former student Consuela Castillo Penélope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”). Director and camera operator Isabel Coixet (“My Life Without Me”) frames Kepesh in the company of Roland Barthes’ “The Pleasure of the Text.” Vulgarizing lit-crit, screenwriter Nicholas Meyer, who also adapted Roth’s earlier prof novel “The Human Stain,” reads a woman’s body as a manuscript of male anxiety about mortality. Consuela’s breast cancer—a wretched trick in the third act—is shown as more her former prof’s tragedy than her own. This highbrow melodrama is salvaged by fine work by Patricia Clarkson as Kepesh’s longtime bedmate when business brings her to New York, Dennis Hopper as Kepesh’s Pulitzer-Prize winning poet sidekick and squash partner and Peter Sarsgaard as Kepesh’s pissed-off son. The ugly lighting lends an icky sheen, but this seems not meant to cast Roth’s apology for an Ivy League lech in a bad light. With Deborah Harry, Sonja Bennett and Charlie Rose. 106m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: Transsiberian

Reviews, Thriller No Comments »

Americans meet strangers on a train. In this Russo-phobic thriller, Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) are two do-gooders from a church group who head home to Iowa. Their itinerary will include unwelcome overtures to sample local color. Heroin and torture, not to mention a boiled potato and a snowy orthodox monastery, are part of their Beijing-to-Moscow ride. First Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara) invite themselves into the couple’s train compartment. These seasoned travelers claim they were teaching English in Japan. Then corrupt narc Ilya (Ben Kingsley) befriends the Iowans, now of questionable innocence. Director Brad Anderson (“Next Stop Wonderland” and “The Machinist”) and his co-writer Will Conroy are far from innocent of charges of bait and tease. After their bogus threats go poof, the plot kicks in real ones. “We have no shoes; they have guns,” Jessie notes sensibly when stranded on a subarctic steppe. Fortunately, Roy the hardware store proprietor knows all about cheaply made Chinese locks, and this choo-choo buff can engineer a locomotive if the occasion comes along, and it does. What’s more obnoxious: the Trans-Siberian train’s non-stop late-sixties Muzak, or the script’s endless variants of “In Russia, we have an expression for this”? With Thomas Kretschmann, Etienne Chicot, Mac McDonald and Colin Stinton. 111m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: The Wackness

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Reviews No Comments »


The Sundance-notorious scene in “The Wackness” doesn’t quite constitute Sir Ben and Mary-Kate going for the whole make-out but it’s close enough to “Yipe!” to count. A hazy-dazy coming-of-age story about a rap-infatuated, weed-dealing teen, Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) in the summer of 1994, “The Wackness” has screwy doings and terrific dialogue, especially in Peck’s crush on girl-above-his-station Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby, from “Snow Angels” and “Juno”). There’s tender banter to spare between them. Writer-director Jonathan Levine’s script was an underground favorite among Hollywood agent-types, and the sale of his first feature, the teen horror entry “Everyone Loves Mandy Lane,” upped his profile (despite the film being bounced from one distributor to another and still not being released). The coup of “The Wackness” is the figure of Luke’s shrink… who’s also a customer… who’s also the stepfather of Stephanie. Sir Ben Kingsley! He treats Levin’s antic dialogue with the comic gravitas of secondary Shakespeare, and it’s a lark. With Famke Janssen, Method Man, Jane Adams. 101m. Anamorphic 2.40 widescreen. See on Friday for an extended interview with Levine. (Ray Pride)

Review: The Love Guru

Comedy, Reviews No Comments »

The Love Guru

Goofy spoofery is skimpy in Mike Myers’ comedy about a ratings-obsessed guru. Pitched to virgin straight boys, “The Love Guru” stars Myers as America’s #2 spiritual guide and self-help book peddler. Abandoned at an ashram, this American was raised by a cross-eyed guru (Ben Kingsley) who girded the lad with a chastity belt. A thunk sound-effect cues his erections. The soundtrack is also busy with puns and wordplay. Any excuse to say “Bangkok” will do. The Hungarian name “Mariska Hargitay” (after the nine-season veteran of “Law & Order: SVU”) sounds sufficiently Hindi to pass as a greeting between the guru and his demographic. The trailer was sufficient to incense a self-proclaimed “acclaimed Hindu and Indo-American leader” in Nevada to slam “The Love Guru” for “lampooning Hinduism and Hindus and using Hindu terms frivolously.” Between his many boundary and bodily function issues, Myers trespasses the fourth wall for jumbo winks and juvenile grins. The enlightened, if unlaid, one will at least get his ratings up if he gets on Oprah. And the road to an Oprah slot is to pull off a couple-repair job. A Toronto hockey star (Romany Malco) lost his knack for scoring when his wife (Meagan Good) hooked up with a super-hung player from a rival team (Justin Timberlake). First-time director Marco Schnabel draws on stints as visual consultant, production associate and second unit director on Myers’ three “Austin Powers” films for a style that only has eyes for the star, who also co-wrote and co-produced this jokey crap. If only “The Love Guru” had the wit to rip the feel-good banalities of Oprah et al, and not itself pander with its own cheap path to yuks. Cameos by Deepak Chopra and one Mariska Hargitay. With Jessica Alba, Verne Troyer, Stephen Colbert and Telma Hopkins. 88m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: War, Inc.

Action, Comedy, Recommended, Reviews, Thriller No Comments »


Corporations don’t kill people. People who own and operate other people do the killing. When did a corporation ever get a break on screen, let alone save the day in the last reel? Not in “War, Inc.,” an acidic rip on outsourcing that overkills. Co-producer and co-writer John Cusack plays Hauser, an ex-CIA fixer in the employ of an ex-vice president (Dan Aykroyd). Under the cover of running a Brand USA trade show, Hauser is supposed to assassinate an inconvenient oil conglomerate CEO with the unlikely name of Omar Sharif (Lyubomir Neikov). Hauser is not himself these days. “I feel like a refugee from the ‘Island of Dr. Moreau’—some morally inverted, twisted character from a Céline novel,” he confides to his jet’s GuideStar (voiced by Montel Williams). Two women throw him off his game: lefty reporter Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei) and hottie pop star Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff). Cusack and co-writers Mark Leyner and Jeremy Pikser pack the script with a torrent of op-ed rants. Nearly every scene is an occasion for one political obscenity or another. There’s an Implanted Journalist Experience action ride simulating battle embeds. Popcorn comes with. Pointing to a chorus line of trans-femoral amputees kicking their prosthetic gams, Hauser hypes: “Just another breathtaking example of how American know-how can alleviate the suffering it creates.” Among the lower key touches: the logo for the fictional Tamerlane Industries shares the design (color, font, graphics) of the logo for the real BAE Systems, a global defense corporation based in England. The neo-imperial U.S. corporation in the film also shares the name of the fourteenth-century Tatar conqueror of Damascus, Delhi, Baghdad, Kabul and points in between. Uzbekistan now claims Tamerlane is its founding father. “War, Inc.” is set in fictional Turaqistan, occupied by Tamerlane Industries in the “first war ever to be a hundred percent outsourced to private enterprise.” Director Joshua Seftel breaks no ground in the genre of liberal satire, though. One off-the-shelf plot element is the uber bad guy (Ben Kingsley) spelling out all of his badness—unaware that his words are being transmitted live to the world, which will surely think less of him and do all the right things. “War, Inc.” may tap no new reserves of outrage against war profiteers and D.C. puppeteers, but it barks with rabid black humor. With Joan Cusack, Sergej Trifunovic and Ned Bellamy. 107m. (Bill Stamets)