Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: The Hangover Part III

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I like what veteran screenwriter Larry Gross has said on multiple occasions about the script for “The Hangover”: each scene in Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s script is in a logical succession, without attempting to top-top-topper those preceding. The simplicity is its existential horror. Plus: the inspired cleverness of the pack of pictures at the end that explain each and every missing element, making the entire movie flash through your mind, newly illuminated. What is a “Hangover” movie? Probably not “The Hangover Part III.” While the now-familiar characters get their lives scrambled, the chronology is straight-ahead and a desultory caper plot unwinds with undue deliberation in this latest “Todd Phillips Movie”: it’s the single-note fixations of the “Wolf Pack” from start to finish. Read the rest of this entry »

Forget it Luke, It’s Schenectady: The Generational Valentine of “The Place Beyond The Pines”

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4072-FP-00249-RBy Ray Pride

I’d like to take this too far: in the stately, studied long take that opens “The Place Beyond The Pines,” the camera begins a traveling shot on a man’s shoulders, bare, tattooed—Ryan Gosling playing a peripatetic stuntman named Luke—moving across a carnival fairway toward a circus tent and, inside, to the “Globe of Death,” a symbol the shape, if not the size, of the earth itself, as well as the shape of the cross-generational, masculine micro-epic to come. Three motorcycles hum like bees, infernal, unending, repeating, and the camera, the cameraman, the film, we, move to its very edge, and the story begins within this planet, this dangerous, heedless motorized sphere, as we look upward at these stunt riders whirling, whirling, whirling.

“The Place Beyond The Pines” has many surprises, including its shape as an all-American minor apocalypse of Dickensian contour, a protean and sprawling multigenerational micro-epic, a dark flower with James Gray-scale ambition and a clanging pair of New York State balls. (Robert Towne’s script for “Chinatown” is a more fully rounded predecessor with a site-specific allegorical title.) Fate falls on men, and on their sons. In Derek Cianfrance’s third feature, fate falls like one very attractive truckload of bricks. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Silver Linings Playbook

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ENTERTAINMENT FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY IN NUCLEAR MELTDOWN! “Silver Linings Playbook” makes comic hay from bipolar illness, early death, sexual adventurism, self-improvement binges, football fanaticism, degenerate gambling and father-son estrangement, as one would expect from latter-day David O. Russell movies, aka “suffocating shoutfests.” Plus competitive dancing. Plus a lot of running in circles down suburban streets. Bradley Cooper is in your face as a Pat Solitano, a middle-aged man just released from a mental institution to his parents (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver from “Animal Kingdom”) in suburban Philadelphia. He’s fixated with getting his wife’s affections back, despite the repercussions of the violent act that got him put away. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Words

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Fiction films about filmmakers rarely get it right. Do novels about novel-writers do any better? Partly set in postwar Paris and shot in Montreal, “The Words” is not adapted from Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Les Mots.” Nonetheless, an autobiographical element lurks to link three fictional fiction writers in a flat script by co-writers, co-directors Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman. An executive producer, Bradley Cooper stars as an aspiring New York novelist who comes upon a lost anonymous manuscript whose yellowed pages will propel his career, rather like those neuro-super-charger pills did for the aspiring New York novelist Cooper played in “Limitless.” In nearly wordless flashbacks, a young American woos a young French woman in 1944. They wed. Their young daughter dies. He writes his first novel about all this, then his wife leaves the typescript in a satchel on a train. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hit & Run

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Dax Shepard (NBC-TV’s “Parenthood”) writes, co-directs and stars in a road movie with goofball charm and comic wheel work. For four years his character has laid low in a small town, living with a college teacher played by his real-life, longtime fiancée Kristen Bell. He is in the Witness Protection Program, as the former driver for a small ring of bank robbers. There is so much she does not know about him. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Hangover Part II

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Or, “Five Dicks and Some Penises.” The unpretentiously titled “The Hangover Part II,” credited as “A Todd Phillips Movie,” is a Rube Goldberg-style assembly of gross-outs repeating the template (and most of the characters) of the first installment with a wedding expedition to Thailand in place of the original Las Vegas bachelor party gone to hell. Attempts at synopsis would diminish what pleasure there is in deciphering the wild details of the “Wolfpack”‘s newest degenerate blackout, but the rating reasons are accurate: “The film has been rated R by the MPAA for pervasive language, strong sexual content including graphic nudity, drug use and brief violent images.” Essentially a succession of degradations bulldozered forward by an aggressive, overstuffed collection of pop songs, “The Hangover Part II” is a splendid sample of screenwriting Jenga, where the most improbable of complications arrive in the midst of the story at just the right moment to move things along. By all lights, it should topple over at any second. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The A-Team

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Attacking the CIA as corrupt, this comic anti-American action film is anti-corporate to boot: the CIA’s co-conspirator in a scheme to counterfeit hundred-dollar bills is none other than Black Forest, an evil contractor named after the former Blackwater USA (now called Xe Services LLC). Based on ninety-eight episodes of the 1980s NBC series, the good guys are four Army Rangers who’ve accomplished eighty missions in the past eight years. Now they execute a bunch of fun escapes, attacks and extractions in Mexico, Iraq, Germany and California. Director Joe Carnahan earlier looked at dirty cops in his “Narc” (2002) and risky cons in “Smokin’ Aces” (2006). He writes “The A-Team” with Jim Piddock, Skip Woods and Brian Bloom, who plays the Black Forest operative Pike. The original Mr. T. character is reprised by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as a Gandhi-quoter with “Pity” tattooed on four knuckles of one hand and “Fool” on the other. Bradley Cooper plays the cute one who hides little metal implements in his mouth for getting out of jams when fast talk cannot. Sharlto Copley from “District 9” plays the nutcase who dabbles in recreational electroshock. Their leader is played by the fatherly Liam Neeson, who insults Black Forest employees as “assassins in polo shirts” and taunts a CIA spook: “Shouldn’t you be installing a dictatorship or overthrowing a democracy?” Later, the spook cracks: “The CIA’s got rules—our rules are just cooler.” Topical commentary includes lethal military retaliation against Mexicans trespassing on Arizona airspace, and a ward of mental patients cheering a fourth-wall-breaking 3-D film screening. “Overkill is underrated,” observes an A-Teamer, speaking for all concerned in this fun summer popcorn-peddler. The leftover bit after the end credits is not to wait for. With Jessica Biel, Gerald McRaney, Patrick Wilson. 118m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: Valentine’s Day

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Movies are from Earth, “Valentine’s Day” is from Mars. “Valentine’s Day” is a strained romcom drawn from disparate strands, like hair in the drain after a shower, or spaghetti in the sink strainer the morning after pasta. “Valentine’s Day” is a delivery vehicle for the coming attractions for “Sex and the City 2.” “Valentine’s Day” stars Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, Taylor Swift, Larry Miller, Serena Poon, Paul Williams, Tracy Reiner, Hannah Storm, Rance Howard and Kiko Kiko. “Valentine’s Day” has so many roles for nondescript actors with only a single line, you know the director has lots of friends who need to renew their SAG qualifications to keep their health insurance. “Valentine’s Day” is a feat of production management: all those actors show up for only a few hours and their scenes are intercut and you’ve got “Grand Hotel.” “Valentine’s Day” is so teemingly unfunny, it’s more like “Roach Motel.” “Valentine’s Day” makes kissing look unpleasant, desire mechanical, saccharine a kind of soma. “Valentine’s Day,” its director brags, was made quickly, cheaply, for “under $50 million.” “Valentine’s Day” demonstrates that “cheap” is a set of mind, not a price tag. “Valentine’s Day” was co-written by the team behind “He’s Just Not That Into You.” “Valentine’s Day” shows that “He’s Just Not That Into You” had a real director behind the camera. “Valentine’s Day” is directed by Garry Marshall, known for “Laverne and Shirley,” “Pretty Woman,” “The Princess Diaries” and the Dan Aykroyd-Rosie O’Donnell S&M comedy “Exit to Eden.” Wait, Garry Marshall is still alive? In the inevitable, inexorable blooper reel under the credits, Taylor Swift has an affectedly unaffected riff with Taylor Lautner that would charm the socks off an old man. “Valentine’s Day,” to paraphrase 1980s power-punk group Gang Of Four, is like V.D., you wouldn’t want to catch that. 125m. (Ray Pride)

Review: New York, I Love You

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Eleven directors shot scripts by eleven writers in New York City. Two days of shooting was followed by seven days of editing. “Each story had to involve some kind of love encounter, broadly defined,” stipulated producer Emmanuel Benbihy, who is also credited as “Conceptor.” Tristan Carne is credited with the premise for this “collective” film. Paris was the locale for the earlier “Paris, I Love You.” Rio, Shanghai, Jerusalem and Mumbai are scheduled for future iterations. Several of the short stories in “New York, I Love You” are marvels of craft and tone, and even the weakest—directed by Yvan Attal, Allen Hughes and Brett Ratner—are quite watchable. Mira Nair directs Suketu Mehta’s touching transaction between an Indian Jain (Irrfan Khan) and a Hasidic Jew (Natalie Portman) in the Diamond District. Shekhar Kapur directs a comparably poignant encounter in a deluxe hotel scripted by Anthony Minghella between an aging diva (Julie Christie) and a deformed porter (Shia LaBeouf). Taxis make for recurring locales. Characters include a Dostoevsky fan, a method actor, an NYU professor, a painter, a pharmacist, a pickpocket, a prom date, a prostitute, a soundtrack composer, and a wandering videographer played by Emilie Ohana supplying transitions and a sweet coda. With Carlos Acosta, Orlando Bloom, James Caan, Hayden Christensen, Bradley Cooper, Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, John Hurt, Cloris Leachman, Robin Wright Penn, Maggie Q, Shu Qi, Christina Ricci, Olivia Thilrlby, Anton Yelchin, Ugur Yucel, and Eli Wallach. 110m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: All About Steve

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Sandra bullockIn another vocational comedy with a wordy hook, Sandra Bullock (she played a Manhattan book editor in this summer’s “The Proposal”) plays Mary Horowitz, a freelance “crossword puzzle constructor” for The Sacramento Herald. Screenwriter Kim Barker and director Phil Traill aren’t credits to their own calling, as they satirize their counterparts in the news entertainment sector. Mary pursues the title character, employed by CCN, a CNN-like cable news network. Once again Bullock’s socially disabled, romantically disadvantaged character is marginalized for taking her work too seriously. About five minutes into a blind date with Steve (Bradley Cooper from “The Hangover”) she’s mounted him in his car: “Now I’m going to eat you like a mountain lion.” To get her off, this news cameraman says he just got called away to cover breaking news. Gee, it would be great if she could join him on assignments. She thinks he means it. She publishes a puzzle that’s all about Steve that gets her fired. Off she goes in full-throttle man-chaser mode. To the tune of Peggy March’s 1963 hit “I Will Follow Him,” Mary undertakes an interstate trip to follow Steve at work wherever news breaks. Her big red ugly boots are made for stalking. Her hyper-verbal tic is tiresome as solo screwball patter. The normalcy message is inane. With Thomas Haden Church, Ken Jeong, Howard Hesseman, Beth Grant, Katy Mixon, DJ Qualls and Charlene Yi for seven seconds. 99m. (Bill Stamets)