Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review : Interstellar

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interstellar.thm_

The crash of two separate commercial spaceships barely a week before the opening of “Interstellar” had a poignant resonance for the film, which makes an unabashed case for spaceflight of the government-backed NASA variety. It argues, in effect, that giving up on the space program not only reflects a deadening of the progressive spirit of exploration imbedded in the American soul, but could potentially threaten the human race’s ability to survive in the long run. With this picture, set in a not-too-distant future where some unexplained but apocalyptic degeneration of the planet’s agricultural foundation has led to impending starvation of the species, co-writer and director Christopher Nolan shifts from the murky nether-regions of his “Dark Knight” outings to gaze heavenward. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)—widower, father and noble farmer—is haunted by his past as a pilot and our past as a society that once leaned toward enlightenment. Though McConaughey’s recent accomplishments on screens big and small have been of the ambiguously shaded, almost anti-hero variety, the only brooding uncertainty from this hero will be whether he made the right choice when he left his kids behind to head to space and save the human race.

In collaboration with DP Hoyte van Hoytema (“Her”) and production designer Nathan Crowley, Nolan’s cinematic craft is superb, and for two-thirds of its nearly three-hours running time, the film is an enthralling visual feast, a sophisticated exploration of contemporary astrophysics at its most mind-blowing. The interstellar imagery overtly recalls those “blue wonder” images of earth from space, those old IMAX movies about NASA missions; Nolan shot about a third of this picture with an IMAX camera. (See it big.) The earthbound visuals are just as engaging as deep space, with lush expanses of cornfields, farm houses and small-town suburbia. The post-America of “Interstellar” is unsettling in its calm and familiarity; its dust-bowl apocalypse seems far more likely than the usual armageddons. Hans Zimmer’s orchestral score is a character itself; sometimes drowning out the dialogue, then, at other times, receding to complete silence. That space is a very quiet place is one of the unspoken messages of the film, the kind of detail that enriches its experience. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Man of Steel

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MAN OF STEELRECOMMENDED

With its radical shifts in tone from scene to scene, “Man of Steel” is as much a study in schizophrenia as a portrait of a misunderstood thirty-three-year-old superhuman sent down to save the world and the fates of a seventy-five-year-old comic book character. The constant is whirling mayhem and Christopher Nolan-scale gloom. While director Zack Snyder has his own way with brooding and blackness, the stern hand of co-producer Nolan presses down. David S. Goyer’s screenplay takes full advantage of the familiarity-unto-banality of Superman’s origins, flashing forward and back at will to underline his origins. Any true origin story, however, would take a more secretive shape that audiences will never know: the dealings in blandly gleaming conference rooms amid grande lattes and fistfuls of fiscal projections as calculations are made of the potential of 3D upcharges, Russian and Chinese repeat viewers and the revenues from compulsive cycling of product placements. That would be the “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” of origin stories: seemingly dry but of endless fascination in its gestural minutiae. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Side By Side

Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Keanu Reeves, about to make his directorial debut with a China-set action movie, makes an engaging interlocutor in “Side By Side,” Chris Kenneally’s clear, brisk conversation of a documentary about the repercussions of the abrupt accomplishment of the handover from 35mm film as what we’ve known as “movies” for over a century to multiple permutations of digital production, distribution and exhibition. (Distributor Tribeca Film also has at least thirty short outtakes from the on-screen interviews at their YouTube channel; one with Lars von Trier in his office is below. It’s a genial mix, and a list of names alone suggests the quality of the exchanges: Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski,  Richard Linklater, Christopher Nolan, Wally Pfister, David Fincher, Greta Gerwig, Robert Rodriguez, cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond, Michael Chapman, Vittorio Storaro, Michael Ballhaus and Anthony Dod Mantle, editorial eminence Walter Murch, Danny Boyle, Dick Pope and “Lawrence of Arabia” editor Anne V. Coates, and, wouldn’t you know, George Lucas. Postures, postulations and occasional apercus follow. Read the rest of this entry »

Starting The Fire: The Reel World of “The Dark Knight Rises”

Action, Chicago Artists, Drama, The State of Cinema No Comments »

By Ray Pride

The first frames of “The Dark Knight Rises,” my eyes tear up: It’s film. It’s celluloid. It’s huge.

This is one of the marvels of Christopher Nolan’s 164-minute conclusion to his Batman trilogy: You’ll believe a man can shoot in and finish on celluloid. So many practical locations, massing of people and machinery, flying and falling, the rushing of water, the creasing and uncreasing of sly smiles, all on film. There is one particular shot in profile in full IMAX ratio of Marion Cotillard in profile, her skin shown razor-sharp, peachy, perfect: doesn’t look the same in digital 3-D. Even the visual-effects-heavy scenes are a real world away from a digital superhero movie.

It’s a massive investment that pays off in nearly every way. Read the rest of this entry »

The Top 5 of Everything 2010: Film

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The Social Network

Top 5 Domestic Films
“The Social Network,” David Fincher
“Winter’s Bone,” Debra Granik
“Ghost Writer,” Roman Polanski
“Exit Through the Gift Shop,” Banksy
“Inception,” Christopher Nolan
— Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Films
“Carlos,” Olivier Assayas
“Everyone Else,” Maren Ade
“Dogtooth,” Yorgos Lanthimos
“Father of My Children,” Mia Hansen-Løve
“I Am Love,” Luca Guadagnino
— Ray Pride

Top 5 Films
“Animal Kingdom,” David Michôd
“Enter the Void,” Gaspar Noé
“Inception,” Christopher Nolan
“Lourdes,” Jessica Hausner
“Monsters,” Gareth Edwards
—Bill Stamets

Top 5 Documentary Films
“Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno,” Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea
“Sweetgrass,” (no director credited) [Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor]
“The Oath,” Laura Poitras
“Videocracy,” Erik Gandini
“Rembrandt’s J’Accuse,” Peter Greenaway
—Bill Stamets Read the rest of this entry »

Next Year At Marienbad: “Inception”‘s Lucid Dreaming

Chicago Artists, Drama, Mystery, Recommended, Romance, Sci-Fi & Fantasy No Comments »

By Ray Pride

“You mustn’t be afraid to dream even bigger, darling,” a character says in “Inception” (and in its trailers), elevating an enormous weapon into frame and immediately blasting away his adversaries.

A lesson heeded over the course of a decade of writing and production on Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” a hall of mirrors of artistic allusions in the form of a heist thriller that takes place in the space of sleep. The intricate carpentry and lacquering of “The Dark Knight” director’s filmmaking shines when you see it a second time: craftsmanship has pleasures, if not limitless mystery. Putting plot synopsis aside—the story’s contours are so neatly delineated and dovetailed, describing them at length defines the word “Spoiler”—Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb assembles a dream team of experts, in the best tradition of heist thrillers, to commit an anti-heist in the dreams of a powerful man: inserting themselves into his subconscious and leaving behind a powerful suggestion.

Like Alain Resnais’ aggressive mind loop, “Last Year at Marienbad,” “Inception” revolves around memories of a past love, which may or may not be “true.” Memory is fallible, dreams are malleable. Charmingly, Nolan has said he’d only ever seen that feat of bold parallel editing after completing this James Bond-scaled movie, but he felt all the other films that had been influenced by “Marienbad” had influenced him. What other influences rest lightly on Nolan’s shoulders? Read the rest of this entry »

At Zeroes End: Best Films, 2000-2009

The State of Cinema No Comments »

By Ray Prideinthemoodforlove-2jpg

1. “In the Mood for Love,” Wong Kar-Wai, 2000
Repetition, proximity, music, exchange of glances. Looks of desire, clouds, rain. Unconsummated romance = cinema.

2. “Yi Yi,” Edward Yang, 2000
Perfection. It’s taken for granted because it seems so simple, so easy, so natural. Family as lovingly detailed soap opera; at just under three hours, the late Taiwanese master made a multigenerational epic worthy of a novel. And, strangely befitting his background in computer science, he knew precisely where to place the camera for the most dynamic effect.

3. “Before Sunset,” Richard Linklater, 2004
Linklater knows there’s grandeur in the smallest of shared, skittery moments. This couple that never was, with dreamy memories of their one-night stand, are different people now, older, oft-disappointed, yet despite underlying melancholy, still straining for a moment of genuine contact. Read the rest of this entry »

Top 50 Films: 2000-2009

The State of Cinema No Comments »

By Tom Lynch01

50. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” Shane Black, 2005

49. “In America,” Jim Sheridan, 2002

48. “The Lives of Others,” Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006

47. “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Guillermo del Toro, 2006

46. “Best in Show,” Christopher Guest, 2000

45. “Michael Clayton,” Tony Gilroy, 2007

44. “The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan, 2008 Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2008: Film

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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

 

Why So Serious?: Holiday Movie Preview

The State of Cinema No Comments »

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

By Ray Pride

Greater love hath no movie reviewer than for his or her year-end listmaking.

Listen to the bite-sized litanies zipping across the Internet and you’d be convinced the best movie you can see this holiday season would be “Slumdog Millionaire,” with its essentially despairing content—as in Dickens, children will be well and truly endangered—ennobled and made shiny-good by bright, bold Danny Boyle adrenaline.

But tragedy for tragedy’s sake is on the front burner. It’s nothing new, releasing dead-serious pictures at the dead of Christmas. For instance, Michael Phillips recently wrote in the Tribune about his least Christmasy Christmas Day attraction, which I’m pretty sure I also saw on that day as a young, young moviegoer: “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” Another note: the December 8 New Yorker had a cartoon that cuts to the taste. Under a “CINEMA” marquee, the title, “A LUMP OF COAL,” recommended, of course, as “This season’s feel-bad movie.”

An old sentiment, but not uncommon, nor undeserved. For instance, six films since the last holiday and through the awards-driven movie season before the Oscar nominations are announced could also take on the old, terrible pun, “There’s no business like Shoah business.” “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”: innocence in the concentration camps. “Defiance”: in the Russian woods, three brothers battle Nazis for revenge. “Adam Resurrected”: an ex-circus performer (Jeff Goldblum) leads the parade in an asylum for survivors of the Holocaust. “Good”: Viggo Mortensen tries to hold onto virtue as Nazism sweeps Germany. “The Reader”: an adaptation of a German bestseller about a teenage boy coming to sexual knowledge at the fine hands of a woman (Kate Winslet) who bears guilt from crimes she committed in World War II. “Valkyrie”: Tom Cruise in the role of a not-a-Nazi who got almost close enough to Hitler to assassinate him. (Am I leaving any out?) The Soviets no longer suffice as villains and Iraq war-set pictures die the death of a thousand silent screens.

After a November mostly spent traveling during a long weekend catching up on movies, a rude, loud sound from my teenage years kept coming to mind. Not a raspberry, not a fart, but something more galvanic. That’s how I felt at one of these double-features, starting with “Australia,” which I was rooting for until the first iteration of “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” where big bad Baz goes all BOOM-bastic and jumps the wombat in bold yet largely inert fashion, dumping a steamer trunk bursting with unrealized potential. “Milk”‘s good, and “Milk”‘s got cinematic language to spare in its understated portrait of a martyr-in-the-making who is conscious of historical moment. The terrible irony of historical awareness is to think that any latter-day American audience would consider foreknowledge of the fate of the first openly gay elected official in San Francisco to be a “spoiler” of the movie. It is a feel-great, feel-bad, feel-hopeful movie. But, coming after the electoral shenanigans in California regarding Proposition 8, it carried its own pronounced intimate “thud.”

The same sound comes to mind about the implosions in the film industry, as in the greater economy, with contractions in production and every other level, with unexpected suddenness and speed. The same with magazines and newspapers. What just happened? The simplest rationalization is that too much money has been thrown at unsustainable industrial and economic models. All that aside, still, aren’t movies still storytelling? A plot or an explosion, a rupture or a riff, whether about splendid beauty or traumatic ugliness, mere mirrors of the smoke of impulse and nascent desire? What stories can we tell ourselves in the echo and reflected light of auditorium, flat screen, laptop, iPod, cell phone, PS3?

Defiance_KB_083107_1212.CR2

Defiance

The neatest feat of adaptation from a holiday picture is one of the most shattering. Here’s a perfectly sour, sourly perfect passage from its source novel: “Nowhere in these plans had he foreseen the weight and shock of reality; nothing had warned him that he might be overwhelmed by the swaying, shining vision of a girl he hadn’t seen in years, a girl whose every glance and gesture could make his throat fill up with longing (“Wouldn’t you like to be loved by me?”), and that then before his very eyes she would dissolve and change into the graceless, suffering creature whose existence he tried every day of his life to deny but whom he knew as well and as painfully as he knew himself, a gaunt constricted woman whose red eyes flashed reproach, whose false smile in the curtain call was as homely as his own sore feet, his own damp climbing underwear and his own sour smell.” This graceful, downwardly spiraling sentence is typical of Richard Yates’ novel, “Revolutionary Road,” and the adaptation, directed by  and written by Justin Haythe, draws from its source with startling fidelity, the moving result as fine-sliced as translucent prosciutto. There’s much more to say about it when it opens in early January, but the only other movie this season that will seem to prompt delicious conversations for hours afterwards is Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” which engages so many social issues with such headlong shamefacedness that it made me giddy with girlish glee [see Film Feature].

There’s even more do-I-not-bleed: “Seven Pounds” is a movie that perhaps only the last movie star could sell to financiers and to audiences, that only Will Smith would want to make, a feel-good tragedy that opens with a suicide threat and dances for its duration around the meaning of its title with its knowing allusion to one of the most known phrases from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” One of the production’s greatest strokes, beyond a moving, mature performance by Rosario Dawson, is the hiring of “Pursuit of Happyness” director Gabriele Muccino, inescapably Italian in almost every creative choice, from editing to pitch of dramatic performance.

“Doubt,” of course, is about dark doings behind the skirts of the Church, and any amount of actorly flamboyance does not mask the fact that it’s also about child endangerment.

Junk tossed for yards about. And silence. The metaphor knocks again and again in near-gone 2008, and not just at, say, My Bloody Valentine’s Aragon concert, with its wall of infernal industrial churn, but with politics, economics, movies, especially in the not-silly season of the holidays. What happens when bottom falls out of bottom? (CRASH). Sarah Palin. (CRASH). Newspaper bankruptcies? (CRASH). The $165 million-plus investment in “Australia”? (CRASH). The suddenness of it all… But, as Jonah Nolan, Christopher Nolan and The Joker might well inquire, why so serious?

That movie’s inching toward a billion-dollar worldwide theatrical gross (not even accounting for the bucks from the three-million-plus units shifted on its first day of DVD release). Come January, there’ll be a reissue of “The Dark Knight.” The studio’s interested in crossing that epic threshold, no matter what it costs. But larger still, Nolan felt a mood and forged a dark and sufficiently ambiguous series of metaphors for contemporary ills that pro- and anti-vigilante interpretations are equally convincing. Even though everyone’s seen it, it may be the most apt holiday movie. (CRASH).

Films take months and years to make, even simple ones, and especially the ones that are in the multiplexes. Scripts like the Wachowski brothers’ “The Matrix” and David Webb Peoples’ “Unforgiven” kicked around for eons before getting produced. But come January, when some of these dour pictures will be reflecting off screens, the world outside will be different: they’ll be read through the emerging zeitgeist. An optimistic post-Bush world paying down unfathomable debt. Laugh or cry? Musicals or dramas of lost legacy? Make your list and check it twice: There’s always sorrow.