Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »


They live and die by night: David Lowery’s second feature, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” is a muted whisper of flash and filigree in a Texas-outlaw-couple-fable-cum-triangle, envisioned in crepuscular beauty. A dim juke, a dark barn, an unlit road: It’s nighttime in this part of Texas, in this dream of some Texas past. Some Sundance viewers found ready comparisons to Terrence Malick’s early films, but more than Malick, “Saints” seethes with the sparse parsing of Cormac McCarthy, the fated trajectory of trudge in Altman’s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” the intimately tactile character of Claire Denis’ many movies. Like a roster of American movies of the 1970s, these are crooks and lovers and cops who can’t seem to make it right. The main title is calligraphed as if in walnut ink on faded parchment, but this is not the time of pioneers, but instead, the 1970s, maybe, possibly, indeterminate, a time of boxy, elongated vehicles and limited vistas. In the town of Meridian, Texas, in hill country, Saints’ romantic triangle between outlaw Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck), his wife Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara), and local sheriff Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) is also a fugue for a bastard who’s tangled up the lives of others. Backstory is minimal. Moments, gestures tell all. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Imposter

Documentary No Comments »

Bart Layton’s highly-regarded documentary debut after working in reality television, “The Imposter” wields an assured, stately vibe of inauthenticity from its first scenes, coming across as the wicked stepchild of Errol Morris and the Coen brothers (influences the filmmakers cite readily). Still, most of the Coens’ fictions seem truer than the fact-fiction of the British director’s film, an inherently deceitful congeries of false narrators; the filmmaker is, of course, caught up in his fun. He draws on re-creations with production work by hands involved in Almodóvar’s “Broken Embraces” and the Coens’ “No Country For Old Men” and two days of interviews with Frédéric Bourdin, a chameleonic serial imposter and con-man who posed as con-kid into his twenties. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Four Lovers

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Antony Cordier’s “Four Lovers” (Happy Few, 2010) is good-looking tosh that says the French, they are different than you and I, they have lots of carefree sex and then want to talk about it. “Subject A,” Preston Sturges called it, and the ménage-a-quatre of “Four Lovers” goes from A to A and back again. Two couples (former Olympic gymnast Élodie Bouchez and feng shui self-help author Roschdy Zem; jewelry-maker Marina Foïs and tattooed web designer Nicolas Duvauchelle) go through their paces of mutual admiration, mate-swapping and pretentious voiceover. The film’s clearest statement? This is how we photograph how we want people to think we live today, but with a little full-frontal nudity. These are modern lifestyles? Yes, but with a little full-frontal nudity. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Texas Killing Fields

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“Texas Killing Fields” opens with swarming mood, of shadow and portent, of sound and music, that promise much. But director Ami Canaan Mann fails with the particulars of the plot, as police procedural overtakes specific and compelling performances by leads Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jessica Chastain. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Leaving

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A turn to working largely in French film has given Kristin Scott Thomas the kind of leading roles that are as much inhabited as performed, including “Tell No One,” (2006) and especially Philippe Claudel’s “I’ve Loved You So Long” (2008), where every motion, every gesture was weighted with her character’s tragic history. Catherine Corsini’s “Leaving” (Partir, 2009) is less weighty and a little bit trashy, but Scott Thomas’ performance as a privileged but disaffected wife in South France, along with Yvan Attal as her belittling businessman husband and Sergi López as the Spanish contractor who comes between them is enjoyable. The conflicts are D. H. Lawrence in outline, but the result is only lightly likeable. The lighting by cinematographer Agnès Godard (“Home,” most of Claire Denis’ movies) is luminous, matching the magic and mystery of Scott Thomas’ face, even—especially—in repose. 90m. (Ray Pride)

“Leaving” opens Saturday at Siskel.

Top of the Pops: Letting go with “You Wont Miss Me”

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By Ray Pride

The moment is past but the moment is now: In 2009 Williamsburg, Shelly, a woman of 23 or so, (Stella Schnabel) contends with intense desires, average expectations, quotidian disappointments. Shelly’s inner life is suggested by a voice-over that’s as much interior monologue as it is diary entry or recitation to a therapist, as well as a visual style fashioned in multiple bold formats. There’s an intermittent score by Will Bates as well that uses a percussive tattoo like an accelerated heartbeat, shared by Stella and the film itself, in the same fashion Jon Brion did with his music for “Punch-Drunk Love.” Ry Russo-Young’s second feature, “You Wont Miss Me” (sic), at first glance resembles other contemporary low-budget, digital video idioms, but in fact, it’s a quietly constructed, sharply observed, unsentimental of-the-minute “Alice in Wonderland.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: White Material

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Claire Denis’ splintered, impressionistic style, leaving much to be fathomed by the viewer, sometimes sparks critical ire. David Denby, for one, writing of “White Material” in the New Yorker, grows bilious at the thought of anyone who might find grace there: “Dreadful, in an aimless, intentionally disjointed way that some people have mistaken for art.” Oh dear. “Some people.” The unbelievable uncouth! Returning to her roots in Cameroon, as well as to her first, French Colonial Africa-set feature, “Chocolate” (1988), Denis’ latest rests on the small yet sturdy shoulders of Isabelle Huppert, as a colonial plantation owner who insists on riding out a revolution as she awaits her family’s coffee-bean harvest. Confusion reigns and the camerawork reflects that, less pointed than the critique of masculinity in “Beau Travail,” less pointillist than the haunting yet near-indecipherable “Intruder,” Denis still works with the suggestiveness of sound and image rather than the flat sum of plot and sociology. Huppert’s character thinks of herself as part of the landscape, unmovable, and Denis photographs her as such: a fact, a feature, and not an interloper—arms stretched to the sky, feet on the dusty red earth. Racial tension seethes, revolution arrives. Some people find it hypnotic. With Isaach de Bankole, Christophe Lambert. 106m. (Ray Pride)

Review: Princess Kaiulani

Biopic, Drama, Reviews No Comments »

American Girl goes archipelago. Writer-director Marc Forby (one of six executive producers of “Prom Night”) fashions a scenic after-school biopic about Princess Kaiulani (1875–1899). The title royal with a fifteen-century bloodline is the niece of Queen Liliuokalani, overthrown in 1893. Q’orianka Kilcher—Pocahantas in “The New World”—plays another princess who sails to Britain and back. Unfortunately, Kilcher shows none of what Colin Farrell saw in his young co-star while shooting Terrence Malick’s 2005 film: “She’s such an insane mix of lightness and darkness of spirit. But she has a smile that could light up both hemispheres at the same time, and she has a depth of darkness which would make the world stand still.” Kaiulani is a proud teen who takes her destiny to heart. In the end, Forby frames her as self-sacrificial, a figurehead for a monarchy doomed to annexation as a U.S. territory and later statehood. I wish I could have learned more about the complex frictions between missionaries, landowners and the descendants of islanders who sacrificed Captain Cook. Forby even omits the tale of this half-Scottish princess introducing surfing to Brighton. “Princess Kaiulani” overly valorizes a multicultural role model from Obama’s birthplace. Her offscreen politics include driving “a hydrogen fuel cell zero-emissions vehicle.” Her publicists testify: “She has never pumped a single gallon of gasoline.” Kaiulani and Kilcher deserve a more vexed and voluptuous remake by the likes of Werner Herzog or Claire Denis. With Barry Pepper, Shaun Evans, Will Patton, Jimmy Yuill. 100m. (Bill Stamets)

The Pursuit of Happiness: Throwing empty bottles out the window with Claire Denis (Review)

Drama, Recommended, Romance, The State of Cinema, World Cinema No Comments »


By Ray Pride

Sunday night pitted two powerful action directors in what seems the journalists’ favorite subject of the season: what’s the difference between a movie made by a man and a movie made by a woman?

Wrathful winter rain fell on Hollywood as James Cameron won Golden Globes for the number two highest-grossing film of all time worldwide, “Avatar,” and he once more rolled out his public persona as King Of The World Of Self-Infatuated Windbags. (His speech surely shared the same writer as the one credited for dialogue in “Avatar.”) His key competition was another tall director, a woman named Kathryn Bigelow, whose formal control in “The Hurt Locker” approaches both mathematics and poetry while functioning as action film and critique of the action film, as embrace of masculine manias while suggesting they are both mysterious and eternal. The two were once married: Bigelow captures one central figure’s physicality, all swagger and smirk, and Cameron creates another of his mixed-message “chick flicks,” an eco-fable part “Aliens,” part “My Little Blue Flying Pony.” Where’s the gender divide there?

In the advance toward the Oscars on March 7, there’ll be even more journalistic comparison-and-contrast. The binary aggravations will intensify, neglecting to embrace the humanity of filmmaking, of faces and fears and hopes. I found myself reaching for B. Ruby Rich’s essential “Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement,” but what I found on the epigraph page was all I needed, a quotation from French cine-essayist Chris Marker: “Who remembers all that? History throws its empty bottles out the window.”

With “35 Shots of Rum” (35 Rhums), French filmmaker Claire Denis throws a lot of things out the window, including her own fascination with the weaknesses of men and women, to embrace a story about happiness, about community and small joys. There are traits you can identify in a director’s style and themes. But are they quintessentially matters of gender or simply of temperament? Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2009: Film

News and Dish, The State of Cinema No Comments »

Top 5 U.S. Filmsthe-hurt-locker-pic1
“The Hurt Locker,” Kathryn Bigelow
“The Limits of Control,” Jim Jarmusch
“A Serious Man,” Joel and Ethan Coen
“Two Lovers,” James Gray
“The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Wes Anderson
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Films
“Summer Hours,” Olivier Assayas
“The Headless Woman,” Lucrecia Martel
“35 Shots of Rum,” Claire Denis
“You, the Living,” Roy Andersson
“Night and Day,” Hong Sang-soo
—Ray Pride Read the rest of this entry »