Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Living in the Physical World: “Zero Dark Thirty”‘s Reportorial Ambiguity

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

By Ray Pride

Lean, reserved, working by implication, without overt declaration of intent, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s “Zero Dark Thirty” is an observant procedural that builds on the virtues of their Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker,” and a rare large-scale fiction film that presumes that its viewers may be able to follow a story without their small hand being tightly clutched. It’s a daunting achievement, a stern drama, and the best American film of 2012.

Writers on the subject of American torture in recent and current wars, including journalist Jane Mayer of the New Yorker and attorney-blogger Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, have militated for a preemptive boycott of what they see as endorsement of waterboarding and other likely war crimes depicted on screen; Greenwald was on the attack even before seeing the film. But to show a thing is not to endorse it: that would make the very existence of an “antiwar” film impossible. I don’t know if Greenwald or Mayer watch fictional movies as consumers: footnoted documentary seems their fashion. Or, at least, fiction that confirms their deeply embedded perspective. (Like several other pre-critics, what they have sent sailing onto the internet seems intent on protecting their own private Homeland.) Is it moral? the scolds ask preemptively, before the film has been seen by the public, and weeks before the “Zero Dark Thirty”‘s January wide release. 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 »

Men at Work: Takeshi Kitano and a Director’s Drive

Action, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

By Ray Pride

When does work become a “work”?

Almost as fascinating as the cool, perfectionist sheen of David Fincher’s version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is the tattoo of tales of the making of the movie. Collaborators seem to go to special lengths to point out that the painstaking focus Fincher applies to his work is just what he does: his splendid perfectionism isn’t workaholism, it’s work, the work. He’s Lisbeth Salander in his own immodest analytical skills. As the film industry transforms in so many ways, in every way, from distribution to projection to production, the directors who’ve unapologetically forged their own way are often as fascinating behind-the-scenes as they are on screen. Read the rest of this entry »

Girl, Uninterrupted: David Fincher and Rooney Mara’s “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”

Action, Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

By Ray Pride

“I want you to help me find a killer of women.”

Rooney Mara attains the role of Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” with the slightest lift of her chin on hearing those words, the coldest fire in her eyes, as she matches the gaze of Daniel Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist.

Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy of novels reads, in its present English, like the worst rush translation on Earth, but at its heights, the late author’s moments of pulse-rushing pulp instinct are vital. And its immodest beating heart is Lisbeth. As adapted by screenwriter Steven Zaillian and director David Fincher, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is terse, telegraphic, fluent, a watercolor composed in molten pewter pen nib. Read the rest of this entry »

The Top 5 of Everything 2010: Film

News and Dish No Comments »

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 »

Truth Be Told: The fractures in fact and fiction

Documentary, News and Dish, The State of Cinema No Comments »

On Coal River

By Ray Pride

George Hickenlooper’s death Saturday at the age of 47 ended a career that more and more typifies how curious, ambitious filmmakers are keeping their line of business alive in a moment of seismic upheaval in the film industry: alternating features and documentaries.

Hickenlooper has a final film arriving around Christmas, the Kevin Spacey-starring based-on-true-graft “Casino Jack,” yet his forays into nonfiction are his legacy, especially the co-directed “Hearts of Darkness,” the “Apocalypse Now” making-of doc, painstakingly constructed and sculpted from Eleanor Coppola’s raw footage from the epic’s extended Philippines shoot.

In conversations with Hickenlooper dating back to the nineties, he always talked about what he wanted to accomplish in the vein of a John Schlesinger or a Hal Ashby, but his path always led back to nonfiction. Beginning as a journalist who conducted interviews with filmmakers for early laserdiscs, Hickenlooper struck up acquaintances with 1970s “Hollywood Renaissance” figures like Dennis Hopper and Peter Bogdanovich, and later made documentaries about their work. European directors like Wim Wenders have dabbled in both forms, but economics of big-budget features versus low-project means of production tempt more and more working American filmmakers (Jonze, Gondry, Kuras). Even an established heavy-hitter like Jonathan Demme has drawn from the template Hickenlooper lived: Demme hasn’t tempted the rocky shores of “adult drama” since 2008′s “Rachel Getting Married,” in which he and his cinematographer Declan Quinn applied what the director had learned about working on the fly and embracing what mistakes may come in at least six documentaries since 2000. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Social Network

Drama, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Likely the most sheerly entertaining, breathless feat of American filmmaking in months, “The Social Network” tumbles headlong from its opening scene at a restaurant between ambitious Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his Boston University girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara). Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue zings and pings at great velocity—”Going out with you is like dating a Stairmaster”—while David Fincher photographs them with variable focus on facial planes, cheekbones, eyes, snapping out and then into sharp relief in the dim room. Through image and sound, Fincher immediately announces this is more than a story about the founding and near-foundering of Facebook. Around them, even in half-focus, each movement is calibrated, as they will be for the next two hours, a story of outsiders and insiders, unthinkable wealth and unbearable grudges, told with seeming effortless and heightened naturalism yet exquisitely choreographed by a master craftsman or two. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire

Mystery, Recommended, Thriller, World Cinema No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

If Pippi Longstocking were flesh-and-blood and modern and an uncommonly pissed-off 26-year-old, what would her dark night dreams consist of? The answer’s opening around the country this week, starring one of the most memorable of twenty-first-century fairytale characters, built for our Age of Terror. A lurid, satisfying surprise, “The Girl Who Played With Fire” works on a different scale and in a different dramatic key than “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” Made on a noticeably lower budget than its predecessor and originally intended for Scandinavian and German television, “Played With Fire,” directed by Daniel Alfredson (brother of “Let the Right One In”‘s Tomas Alfredson), begins with two virtuous elements: diminutive powerhouse Lisbeth Salander and the woman who plays her, Noomi Rapace. There’s a genuine extra-diegetic thrill to the conception of the character, however the films are executed. 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 »

In the Love for Mood: Going and coming with “Benjamin Button”

Adventure, Drama, Recommended 1 Comment »

By Ray Pridebutton

It get don’t I.

A case of too much of a so-so thing, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a fatal mismatch of sensibilities, orchestrated by a master of complete control, David Fincher, with a poet of the passive, screenwriter Eric Roth, whose work includes “The Good Shepherd” (spy as watcher) and “Forrest Gump” (simpleton as empty vessel).

Drawing on a slim conceit from a wafer of a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald—man bites dog! I mean, “man born old grows young”—“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is less picaresque or lifelong wanderjahr than a hybrid “Forrest Button.” Things happen. A character gawps. The mind wanders. And it makes one muse over passivity in Fincher’s films: in “Fight Club,” doesn’t The Narrator lie back and let rampaging id Tyler do all the work? And “Zodiac” is a masterpiece about a gaze that misunderstands, about asking the wrong questions rather than not ever finding a sought answer.

Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born old and grows to be an ancient newborn. Ever-fresh Daisy, the girl he loves, dances from a redhead of 10 to a dancer of whatever, embodied in some parts by Cate Blanchett, and in the distancing present-tense portions, set during the winds and lashing rains of Hurricane Katrina, by a bid for a Best MakeUp Oscar. In the middle, there’s stuff about shipping out to sea and committing adultery with Tilda Swinton in a Russian hotel and getting sunk at sea and eventually Brad Pitt digitized to a younger, ever more angelic version of himself on the back of a fine shiny motorcycle. For me, the feeling was less one of coolness and distance and apartness from the material that some have identified than simply, what is going on here? It feels as impersonal as a yellowed telegram ordering clock parts. Pitt is a lovely mirror, but what’s reflected back? Are you the hero of your own life if your fate is to repeatedly open the closet in the hall and life avalanches on your head like a succession of empty boxes?

Born in New Orleans on the day World War II ends, Benjamin is a foundling, thought a monster for his newborn decrepitude, but once left on the doorstep of an infertile young woman (Taraji P. Henson), a miracle. Fireworks play across the French Quarter night, like the similar digital sky that opens “Zodiac,” with fireworks exploding above the bridges of the Bay. But the episodic tale that follows pales in comparison to “Zelig” or to “Forrest Gump,” less a chronicle of experiential amplitude than one of fussy gee-whillikers cod-drollery.

Images of intimate beauty twinkle through the tobacco’ed skies of this would-be epic, but the voluminous narration reminds again and again of only one indelible figure from the pantheon of cinema: Joey Nickels. Joey Nickels? Joey Nickels from “Annie Hall”! Joey Five Cents? (What! an asshole!) The stories being funneled through the walls of the theater invariably sound like oft-repeated balderdash from someone who’s grown used to no one listening, not even himself. (“Button”’s best recurring joke involves lightning strikes, and is self-criticism of high comic attainment.)

Still, in terms of inedible imagery, Jean-Pierre Fincher still trumps Jeunet, to whose work “Button” has been compared. In faux battlefield footage, doughboys stride backward as if emerging from the bullets that had in fact just pierced their chests. Florets of fireworks reflected incidentally in a Model T’s tilted-just-so windscreen. Night-set scenes that work on the verge of pitch, the blackness and guttering sepia of de la Tour candlelight. A perspective of bridges overhead melting with fog. Daisy in a flat beret. An early 1960s rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. Scars on a woman’s legs, fingered deftly.

 

Any element beyond the simplest elements of timepieces, beyond basic movement, consists of constructions that are crested with a lovely term of art: complications. (Thus, great and treasured watches are built from complications of complications.) But in plotting, as in childbirth, complications can be the death of a thing, the death of narrative grace and ease. There are heartening, hushed instances when you can feel Benjamin and Daisy meeting in the middle, the conceit of the moments of the two lovers are slowly hurtling in opposite directions, and you can furnish the particulars of your own life and loves to capture the sense of the fleeting correspondence of contact, or parallel human treks. But that’s the function of canvas, not of a painting. And at these instances when the characters meet at nearly the same age that imply the sorrows of fleeting flesh and ever-limber love…yet the moment you’re touched Roth reaches out and slaps you with a nice wet bromide. Something like “You’re odd. You’re diff’r’nt from anybody I ever met,” or “You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. You can make the best or the worst of it.” Box of chocolates for $160 million, Alex? I can’t see the trees for the Forrest, but sweep Oscar smell I.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is birthed Christmas day.