Scottish director Lynne Ramsay’s last released feature was 2002′s “Morvern Callar”; among the heartbreaks along the way was “The Lovely Bones” being wrested away from her for a directorial project for Peter Jackson, whose strange, cruel, bloated adaptation pleased no one. The Criterion edition of Ramsay’s 1999 “Ratcatcher” also holds her shorts “Gasman,” “Kill the Day” and “Small Deaths,” two of which were rewarded with Cannes honors. Simply, she’s a great, bravura, visual, sensual director. Even if you’ve never seen one of her films, you’ve missed her: she’s the kind of intelligent, unsparing filmmaker we could use a dozen of. Read the rest of this entry »
A lifelong master of investigating the dramatic potential of confined spaces and encroaching claustrophobia, the seventy-eight-year-old Roman Polanski prepared his adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s boulevard comedy-cum-sketch “God of Carnage” during his confinement to his Swiss chalet while resisting deportation to California. The result, “Carnage,” is confined to a single apartment in Brooklyn, patterned within a Restoration Hardware-inch of its life by veteran production designer Dean Tavoularis (“Bonnie & Clyde,” “The Godfather: Part II,” “One from the Heart,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Zabriskie Point”). Even on a small screen, every element is pointed, as you’d hope from a Polanski picture. Take even the characteristic Brooklyn fireplace plopped at one end of the living room, whether ersatz or even Carrera marble, it’s a modest arch not known for triumph, but simplest hominess. The accuracy of each element as the camera roams the rooms is devastating, as is the hard accumulation of each character’s agitated—yet keenly right—posture and gestures. They, the entire quartet, are dismal shits, quarrelers whose life rises above the script’s homiletic disdain by some heavy lifting by each actor. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
No matter even if you truly wanted to, there’s no way a single viewer could give you an overview of an international film festival with more than a hundred events: you can surmise all you want, based on what festival films have played or have been reviewed at already, or the filmmakers’ reputation. Even festival programmers miss out on sections they’re not part of. I’ll be curious to see statistics after this year’s CIFF to see how many programs the average, but dedicated moviegoer, is able to attend. It’s tough even if you’ve been to a few prior festivals, seen a fistful of advance screeners, availed yourself of advance screenings. But, as luck, fortune or programming may have it, Chicago International has more programs of note in its second week, and a growing number of them have further distribution in the near future. (Disclosure: I was a program consultant for this year’s Docufest section.) Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
After summer’s somersaults, autumn through Christmas is when the grownup movies come out to play, and the forty-seventh edition of the Chicago International Film Festival has a lot to celebrate. In this rundown, I’ll keep “great” as a random adjective to a minimum. (Disclosure: I was a program consultant for this year’s Docufest section.)
From the highlights of the program, it seems like it’s going to be a strong season for good, solid movies in coming months. The range of films being shown that have been submitted for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award seem to be uncommonly strong as well. While there may well be other discoveries to be made, most of the films recommended here will show up in commercial or art-house release. Screenings can sell out in advance, which may partly be due to the capacity of the smaller screens at River East. The festival is keeping a running tally of shutouts on their Facebook page. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the beauties of the three most recent features by Azazel Jacobs, “The GoodTimesKid,” (2005), “Momma’s Man” (2008) and now “Terri,” is how patient he is in finding and shaping narrative rhythms, scaling them to his characters and the actors who inhabit them. Gerardo Naranjo, a sorrowful-eyed silent-movie sad-sack in “GoodTimesKid,” moves curiously through a blurry Los Angeles; in “Momma’s Man,” a son returns home to his parents’ curiosity shop of a loft in Manhattan and refuses to leave. The perambulation of the first and the inertia of the second are patiently calibrated. “Terri” is a California-set teen comedy, but not a teen comedy, not really, another of the latter-day burst of reinvestigations of that genre, a gentle story about the slow emergence of an outsider into his own identity. Read the rest of this entry »
Thirty-four-year-old Brown Star Insurance agent Tim Lippe (Ed Helms, “The Office”) from Brown Valley, Wisconsin takes his first airplane ride in “Cedar Rapids.” He lands in a sweetly moral comedy set in the Iowa city hosting a regional insurance convention. Implausibly simple, Lippe may as well be Truman’s cousin from “The Truman Show.” He checks into the Royal Cedar Suites, where caricatured midwesterners are prone to cornball wordplay. Badger State writer Phil Johnston and director Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl,” “Chuck & Buck”) tease politely as Tim competes for an annual award. For two years running, a colleague from his office won. A last-minute session of auto-erotic asphyxiation gone wrong takes him out of the running this year. “Community, country and God” are the bywords of the convention organizer whose unsuspected corrupt streak will test Lippe’s unmocked integrity. Formulaic defaults include a hooker sweet on a sucker, squares making a getaway from a white trash party, new pals rallying to save the day, and our hero coming clean and shaming a schemer in a tell-all soul-baring climax. More remarkable than the flyover-state condescension of “Cedar Rapids” is its winning Pollyanna stance. Producers Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor earlier brought us “Election,” “About Schmidt” and “Sideways.” With John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawkat, Mike O’Malley, Rob Corddry, Seth Morris, Sigourney Weaver. 86m. (Bill Stamets)
“Cedar Rapids” opens Friday at Landmark Century.
Louis Ives (Paul Dano, “There Will Be Blood”) entertains notions of living in Manhattan as a novelist, but his fate is to live like a character in a novel, or a film based on a novel. The only novel he is ever seen reading in “The Extra Man” is “Washington Square” by Henry James. Never is he shown writing, or thinking or talking about writing. An indiscretion with a bra in front of the mirror in the faculty lounge cost him his position as a prep-school teacher. He moves into the apartment of Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), a mannered Manhattanite who once knew prospects as a playwright. After squandering his inheritance abroad, he’s lived for decades as a freeloader and flatterer amidst society ladies in need of gentlemanly attention. “I can advance you socially,” Henry promises Louis. Neither character is little more than a fussy drawerful of quirks. Louis is curious about cross-dressing. He gets nowhere with co-worker Mary (Katie Holmes) at the environmental magazine where he ineffectually sells ads. A diverting guest at dinner parties, Henry spouts an opinion on the literary advantages of partitioning of men and women in society: “The Muslims might produce another [F. Scott] Fitzgerald.” Director-writers Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (“The Nanny Diaries,” “American Splendor”) adapt a novel by Jonathan Ames for a mildly comic study of eccentric parasites. The screen, though, may not offer this pair the same comforts as the pages of James and Fitzgerald. “The Extra Man” is itself a tony hanger-on ill-suited to earn its keep. With John C. Reilly, Marian Seldes, Jason Butler Harner, Alex Burns, Cathy Moriarty. 108m. (Bill Stamets)
“The Extra Man” opens Friday at Landmark Century.
By Ray Pride
You had me at “Nice penis!”
That’s the first words we and John C. Reilly’s character hear out of the mouth of the ever-beguiling Marisa Tomei in Mark and Jay Duplass’ “Cyrus,” their first film financed by a studio (and executive-produced by Tony Scott and Ridley Scott). John, also the character’s name, is a morose film editor who still hasn’t gotten over a failed marriage from years before, and his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) seems not to be his best friend, but his only friend. The complications that ensue are pretty simple, captured perfectly in the film’s advertising tagline: “John met the woman of his dreams. Then he met her son….”
The 21-year-old son, Cyrus, is played by Jonah Hill, and the possibility of a too-close connection between he and his mother is played for comedy in the highly-improvised movie, done in the fashion of “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead,” the Duplasses’ earlier features. Hill’s shorn his hair almost to the nub and his staring eyes are often wider than a raccoon’s that’s been foraging behind the local meth lab. “He looks scary in the trailer,” a friend said. “What did you think?” I said something along the lines of “stabby-stabby, killy-killy.” Not so much that his character seems capable of torturing and murdering John, but that the passive-aggressive freakishness he’s enacting is so much more convincing than me wishing the character dead. While a route to loving loverliness between John and Molly doesn’t have to bloom into a perfumed garden path right away, Reilly and Tomei have such charm in their exchanges—he an adept of confusion and consternation, she both mothering yet unaware of her son’s predations—you’d almost like to see them throw the keys of the near-barren apartment Cyrus’ way and have them take a nice sublet in another movie in the theater next door. They’ve done well with the Duplass’ freedoms. Then there’s tubby Cyrus in the kitchen in the middle of the night with a knife, his t-shirt tail barely cuddling his drawers. Read the rest of this entry »
A strange parallel-universe parable about the folly of “blind allegiance to technology,” Shane Acker’s “9,” expanded from his Oscar-nominated 2005 short, takes place in a post-apocalypse world that resembles World War II Germany (with a handful of signs in German). Nine hand-stitched hand-puppets come to fearful life to battle machines left behind by a creator of terrible things: your average uber-scientist’s wake. Infernal, morbid, Acker’s work has affinities to that of co-producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, partly in his willingness to allow images to remain incomplete, landscapes to be suggestive, rather than to fill in every possible distant curlicue. It’s enough the horizon be blasted, like Dresden or Rotterdam or Bushwick at dusk. This is a post-human world with modest sentiment to bring us to a small moral. The imagery remains at small remove, but there is a moment of a pair of the puppets, twins, projecting images through batting lens-eyes into each others’ brains that suggest utmost violence and affinity. Voice work by an affectless Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau. 75m. (Ray Pride)
Rockit Bar and Grill in River North is packed with exuberant agents and ad execs, editors, composers, producers and actors, dressed in the height of winter creative casual, enjoying complimentary Effen Vodka and pulled-pork sandwiches
Chicago’s production community is celebrating itself with the Best of the Midwest Awards, honoring movies screened at the monthly Midwest Independent Film Festival, held the first Tuesday of every month at the Landmark’s Century Centre.
Festival director Mike McNamara, who honed his room-controlling skills as host of the Coors Light Maxim Girls Search, fights to be heard above the festive crowd as he kicks off the awards ceremony. “You’ll have so much time for socializing in thirty short minutes,” he pleads.
The first presenter, Channel 9’s Dean Richards, shushes the crowd into submission. “It’s for the winners,” Richards says. “I spend so much of my day watching crap and reporting on it for the WGN news. It’s gratifying to see all of this great work coming out of Chicago.” Richards gives the Best Short Film award to Keith Bearden for his culture war comedy “Train Town” starring former “Wild Chicago” host Will Clinger.
The big winner of the night is “The Promotion,” first feature film by screenwriter Steve Conrad, who wrote “The Weather Man” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Seann William Scott plays a supermarket assistant manager in an epic battle with John C. Reilly to manage a newly opened store.
Conrad reads an emailed acceptance speech on behalf of Best Actor winner Reilly. “It’s about time Chicago toots its own horn” with the BMAs, Conrad reads. “Chicago has given so much to independent film, from Kartemquin to Steve Conrad.”
“I’m so pleased to get this at home,” Conrad says, accepting the Best Director award. “I fought hard to shoot here instead of Canada. We lost some of our ad budget, but we got to work with Chicago actors and Chicago musicians. I got writing awards before,” Conrad continues, getting emotional. “But I grew up wanting to be a movie director, and this is my first directing award.”
Richard Roeper appears to have been enjoying himself when he takes the stage to present the Best Film award. “Dean was saying ‘shh, shh,’” Roeper swaggers. “I’ll just say, with all due respect, shut the fuck up.” But Roeper has kind words for the crowd, too: “I’d like to present the award for best-looking audience, ever—right here,” he says, before handing “The Promotion” the big prize, to resounding approval.
Chicago’s film industry has good reason to celebrate: the state legislature just jacked up the Illinois Film Tax Credit, boosting the return on local productions from twenty percent to thirty percent of qualifying in-state expenditures, and removing the annual expiration clause that has made it so hard for Chicago to get long-term commitments from studios to make movies and especially TV shows here.
“It’s great to be an independent filmmaker in Illinois tonight,” says Illinois Film Office director Betsy Steinberg. The expanded tax credit “is really going to grow this sector of our industry,” she says.
State senator Ricky Hendon, a sponsor of the Film Tax Credit, succinctly sums up the mood in the room: “Lets get it on,” he says, “and get our drink on.” (Ed M. Koziarski)