Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Pavilion

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Lush, stilled, but never becalmed, it is to ache: green New York upstate and suburban Arizona rise on waves of summer light as teenaged Max encircles its nights and days on his bicycle: working in an intangible yet hardly vague fashion not unfamiliar from filmmakers like Gus Van Sant or Todd Haynes (especially his long-missing “Safe”), director Tim Sutton (working with a Canon D5 DSLR) captures liquescent mood and evokes a patient languor, slightly oblique, just shy of readily-put-to-language meaning in the gorgeous, observational “Pavilion.” (Think: “beasts of the western mild.”) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Promised Land

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“Promised Land,” which was written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski from a story by Dave Eggers and meant to be Damon’s directorial debut, but was handed off to Gus Van Sant, is filled with the clean lines of advanced screenwriting seminars, with each running gag ticking in at the proper “beat” within prescribed “arcs.” A cautionary tale about the extraction, via hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” of natural gas from remote shale deposits beneath disadvantaged expanses of rural farmland, the movie moves from the picturesque to falsity with fleet and professional confidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Restless

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“Restless” tempts the credit “Based upon the perfume strip of the same name,” or at the very least, “As Seen In Paper magazine.” Gus Van Sant’s adaptation of a play by Jason Lew, a college colleague of co-producer Bryce Dallas Howard, is modest. It’s a doodle: the story of the dying Annabel Cotton and the angry Enoch Brae would be a fumble-tumble of “Harold & Maude”‘s cutesiness and “Love Story”‘s weepy fatedness if not for Van Sant actually taking a good, tender look at the duo in front of him. (This go-round, he’s channeling Ryan McGinley instead of Béla Tarr, postures rather than camera figures.) Read the rest of this entry »

First Love, Again: The old collage try of “Beginners”

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Photo: Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Mike Mills’ “Beginners” wears its hearts on its sleeve.

Based on his own father’s coming out at 70 after the death of his mother, as well as the dating tribulations of latter-day thirtysomething Los Angelenos, the writer-director-illustrator (“Thumbsucker,” “Does Your Soul Have A Cold?”) has composed a love note to letting go and holding on. Memories are what “Beginners” holds onto, jumping across several years in the life of Oliver (Ewan McGregor) as he narrates the life of his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), a museum administrator, and meets a French actress, Anna (Mélanie Laurent, “Inglourious Basterds”) and falls tentatively into tipsy love. Part of the tenderness of Mills’ story is the father and son are alike in so many ways, and that fact being in the weave of the story and not its larger plot. Oliver’s tentativeness with the opposite sex, and the pleasantly goofy Anna, is indicated, not explained: simply, before they die, the two men have to understand how to simply be (and, if lucky, to be in love). 1950s conservatism restrained Hal; Oliver and Anna’s obstacles are self-made. The acting is tremendously affecting: Plummer, plucky; Laurent, lovable; McGregor, understated, hopeful, melancholy. Plus a Jack Russell that, cutely, appears to read minds, as he’s passed down from Hal to Oliver. I am in awe of the brass of a filmmaker that subtitles a dog’s thoughts as if channeling Barbara Kruger, “Tell her the darkness is about to drown us unless something happens soon.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: William S. Burroughs: A Man Within

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At a dense, tidy ninety minutes, Yony Leyser’s “William S. Burroughs: A Man Within,” narrated by Peter Weller, serves as more than an introduction to the charismatic writer, Beat figure and all-around eccentric who long outlived his peers (he lived to be 83) and served as a sinister grandfather figure to later generations of artists. It’s a compact entertainment as well as a survey of his fascination with guns, mind control and all things pharmaceutical. A wealth of previously unseen archival footage of Burroughs and recordings of his idiosyncratic, unshakable voice bring the man and his sincerity to life. John Waters sees him “as almost a religious figure”; Leyser makes the case as well with “A Man Within.” With Patti Smith, Diane DiPrima, Lee Ranaldo, David Cronenberg, Gus Van Sant, Amiri Baraka, Genesis P-Orridge, Andy Warhol, Iggy Pop, Thurston Moore, Jello Biafra, Laurie Anderson. (The filmmakers are Chicagoans.) 90m. (Ray Pride)

“William S. Burroughs: A Man Within” opens Friday at the Music Box.

Coming of Age: In “Flipped,” Rob Reiner makes a movie out of time

Comedy, Drama, Family, Recommended, The State of Cinema No Comments »


By Ray Pride

I went into Rob Reiner’s “Flipped” fearing a coming-of-age romantic comedy that would live up to Roger Ebert’s notorious pan of the director’s “North”: “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it.” I love being wrong when foolish expectations get stamped out, and there are moments in “Flipped” to be loved, loved, loved.

An extended piece in the Los Angeles Times in July on the movie’s marketing left me fearful. “I wanted the story to feel timeless and pure, in a time before texting and Facebook,” Reiner told a columnist. “I thought it was important to strip away the technology so we could get at the true emotions and feelings and make it as innocent as possible. I guess you could say I wanted to make it closer to my own childhood.”

In a small town in Michigan along Bonnie Meadow Lane in the six years leading up to 1963, in the season before the murder of JFK, lives a boy, Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) and across the street, a girl, Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll). The values of their respective families resonate through their behavior toward each other, from Bryce’s stodgy, frustrated father (Anthony Edwards, who throws away the line, “I hate cool”) to Juli’s (Aidan Quinn), whose strength and compassion comes from unexpected places. McAuliffe is Cera-esque in the ways that people who don’t like Michael Cera describe that actor: a milquetoast for Juli to invest her substantial imagination in. You wonder what this wonderful girl sees in him: hope, potential, pretty eyes? She’s a smart child, tomboy with pigtails: Carroll has a feline cast to her eyes, a little of the young Anna Paquin to her features. Read the rest of this entry »

Top 50 Films: 2000-2009

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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 »

Nothing Like a Deep-Dish Movie: On the road again with Jim Jarmusch

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By Ray Pridelimits-2113

There’s a lovely, lovely comic harrumph from Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels”: “Nothing like a deep-dish movie to drive ’em out in the open!” Sturges adored both the patrician and the philistine in human nature and made comic hey-hey out of both. Jim Jarmusch’s latest, the glorious, gleaming, controlled-in-the-service of repetition-compulsion “The Limits of Control” managed in its first weekend in New York and Los Angeles to drive a raft of nay-saying critical minds out into the open, and it’s a bit of a sorrow to read so many resistant to its hypnagogic pull. The Wall Street Journal’s smart Joe Morgenstern’s review read, in total, “Jim Jarmusch’s Dada meander, shot by Christopher Doyle, is empty and excruciating—that’s really all you need to know.” This may not be your cup of cinema, but cinema it is, and it’s dreamy. And if you love movies, it’s aromatic, deep-dish as all get-out. Read the rest of this entry »

A Family Affair: My sister dressed Benjamin Button and Harvey Milk

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By Laura Hawbakerjrwithclothes

With ten dollars in my pocket, I recently stared up at the AMC River East marquee. I was torn; two films were on my to-see list: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Milk.” “I’m a bad sister,” I told my movie buddy. “My big sister worked on both, and I haven’t seen either.”

My sister is J.R. Hawbaker, a costume assistant in Los Angeles. In 2007, she worked with Jaqueline West, the costume designer of “Button,” and she was a key costumer beneath “Milk”’s Danny Glicker. Both are nominated for Oscars in Costume Design.

“They deserve to be nominated for their different visions,” she says. “Danny did gritty, lived-in costumes. You couldn’t tell what was a costume and what was 1974 footage. As a designer, that’s the biggest compliment you can get.

“Meanwhile, Jackie did an epic for the ages. There are so few perfect storms that take the risk to be grand. She gave over a year and a half of her life to that film, and she made it stunning.”

J.R. may call these two Oscar-nominated designers “Danny” and “Jackie,” but it has been a long road to get to this point.

In 1999, J.R. embarked on a six-year-long academic identity crisis. First it was a Floriculture major, then Journalism, then English, then (at Mom’s suggestion) Communications. No course of study seemed to fit, and every quarter or so, we were not surprised to learn that the eldest Hawbaker girl had switched her major yet again.

At long last she settled on a major, her fifth and final, a peculiar choice with an uncertain career path: Costume Design. “I didn’t know there was a job out there that would pay you to put clothes on people!”

Mom and Dad had mini-heart attacks. What followed was four years at the DePaul Theater School’s rigorous conservatory program. Taught by some of Chicago’s best theater professionals, the School was like boot camp for young theater adepts. I often came home to a hurricane, our shared Lincoln Park apartment in a state of pandemonium: fabric draped over couches, renderings strewn about the floor and my sister in the midst of it all.

“At DePaul, I learned to make anything in five minutes, and in this industry, it’s a skill you need. They will always ask you for the impossible, and they will always want it yesterday.

“I also learned to deal with the crazy personalities that pop up in this industry. In theater, film and television, it’s like moths to a flame for crazies.”

Upon graduating (at long last!) from DePaul in 2005, J.R. moved to Los Angeles for an internship with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. She built up an impressive resume on “24,” “That 70s Show,” “Seraphim Falls,” “Reign Over Me” and “Mad Men.” Eventually, she landed at a costume rental house, United American Costume (UAC).

Eventually, a client arrived at UAC, a smiley blonde woman in the midst of researching her latest project. That woman was Jaqueline West; the project was “Benjamin Button.”

“Jackie was so down to earth and approachable. She was scouting, getting her head together for prep work, and she needed help with her initial research. I was bored stiff that week, so I was happy to help out.”

For twenty minutes, West sat down and like a storyteller told the plot of “Button.” With a timeline spanning nearly a century, costuming the film was a massive undertaking. J.R. helped as a research assistant, unearthing information on 1930s prostitutes from the New Orleans French Quarter, 1950s Americana designer Claire McCardell, forgotten 1960s Audrey Hepburn publicity stills and more.

“It was amazing and rare, having that one-on-one time with Jackie early on, when those tiny baby kernels of ideas were just starting to formulate,” she says. “Afterward, ‘Button’ became HUGE, and they shot for a year and a half. But I will always cherish that movie. I was there for a really small, tiny part of the costume design’s gestation.”

After ‘Button,’ J.R. worked on “this weird little vampire pilot.” The pilot was HBO’s “True Blood,” costume-designed by Danny Glicker.

“Then the writer’s strike happened in October of 2007, and it shut down everything in town except for a couple of features that had already been green-lit.” Like every other television show in Los Angeles, “True Blood” was put on hiatus, and my sister, along with thousands of other below-the-line industry workers, faced a bleak stretch of unemployment—until Danny Glicker came to her rescue.

“Danny said, ‘Oh, I have this Gus Van Sant movie with Sean Penn about Harvey Milk lined up. Come and prep with me.’ So I was one of a very lucky few who actually worked during the writer’s strike.”

As the film’s key costumer, J.R. pulled background numbers and clothed extras while Glicker busied himself dressing the principal actors.

“Danny is very talented and so hilarious! He’s like an alchemist. There was an opera scene that called for some old batty opera ladies, and I would ask Danny for his direction on the look. He’d say, ‘I want them to be encrusted like a ship, like a floating barge.’ So I would bring him barnacle-like rhinestone glam dresses and he’d love it!”

Now that the writers’ strike is at an end, J.R. is back on “True Blood,” this time as the show’s assistant costume designer, and her resume now includes two Oscar-nominated films.

“I feel lucky because I have a quiet family connection to both of those movies,” she says. “It’s weird because when I was working on them I never thought, ‘I’m working on a possible Oscar movie!’ I was just trying to get the clothes on the people.” 

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