Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: 10 Years

Comedy No Comments »

A high-school reunion is the comic occasion for young adults to assess mistakes they already made in life. Old hurts, second chances and new starts make for a mediocre ensemble exercise by writer-director Jamie Linden. Indifferently shot and cut, “10 Years” is one long night in a hotel meeting room with an after-party at a bar. In lieu of flashbacks, a display of snapshots triggers memories for backstories. Revelations include a two-dollar debt from a junior-year field trip to the planetarium, a 200-square-foot apartment in Manhattan, and how a bully intimidated a classmate to play the tuba. A marriage of high-school sweethearts falters, the king and queen of the prom dance a decade late, and an engagement ring makes its way from the glove compartment to a waiting finger. In the last ten minutes or so, “10 Years” hits a few sweet notes of the heart but it’s too late. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: For A Good Time, Call…

Comedy No Comments »

Lauren Anne Miller.

Ten years ago, tipsy party girl Katie (Ari Graynor) spilled a cup of her own pee on uptight Lauren (Lauren Anne Miller), who promptly kicked Katie out of the car in a bad neighborhood. Reunited by their stereotypically overplayed gay pal (Justin Long), this two-woman mutual resentment society now must share the rent-controlled Manhattan apartment passed along to Katie. She tries to spook her incoming roomie: “My grandmother’s ghost talks in her sleep. About the holocaust.” She profiles Lauren as a privileged Long Islander who was always told: “You can be the first pretty president.” Katie proves slightly more original as a phraser of phone sex for her regulars. Lauren becomes a business partner after a publishing career stalls. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Conspirator

Drama, Reviews No Comments »

Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) runs a Washington, D.C. boarding house where John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) and others conspired to kill President Abraham Lincoln (Gerald Bestrom), the Vice President and Secretary of State in 1865. Called before a military tribunal, Surratt is defended by Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a Union Army captain. Robert Redford directs “The Conspirator” as a courtroom thriller and civics lesson on the judiciary in times of political fear that are rather like our own. Surratt, a resentful Southern sympathizer, and Aiken, a rookie lawyer who rose to the rank of captain fighting the South for four years, start off distrusting one another. Soon Aiken sacrifices career prospects and friendships to fulfill his duty. Railroading tactics of the prosecutor only incite him to take a higher road. (He also comes to discover his client’s likely innocence.) Read the rest of this entry »

Thirtysomething for the Twenty-First Century: Documenting comedy with Nanette Burstein

Comedy, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

By Ray Pride

Long-distance relationships never work, and romantic comedies about long relationships?

Nanette Burstein ups the average with confident glee in the zippy romantic comedy “Going the Distance.” In the New York-set feature debut of the director of “American Teen,” Drew Barrymore is Erin, a would-be journalist six weeks away from moving to San Francisco, where her sister (Christina Applegate) and possibly more jobs await. She lays it out: “I’m 31, I’m an intern, I’m gonna get wasted.” Drinking in a local bar that night, trying to beat her own high score at Centipede, Garrett (Justin Long), who works at a record label, intrudes on a dare from his friends (Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day), leading to Erin’s explosion: “Fucker put his face in front of the game! Who does that?” But friendship, flirtation, more, develop. Tick-tick-tock… Read the rest of this entry »

Review: After.Life

Horror, Reviews No Comments »

Eliot (Liam Neeson, “Kinsey,” “Taken”) either injects a powerful muscle relaxant (the make-believe “hydronium bromide”) into people incorrectly declared dead by the local coroner, then buries them alive, or this mortician is cursed as a corpse-whisperer. The first one was his mother’s. He listens to their unceasing insistence they’re not dead, and berates deceased in-denial schoolteacher Anna (Christina Ricci) after a car wreck: “You’re a corpse, Anna, your opinion doesn’t matter!” Anna cannot feel her pulse, but sees her breath fog a mirror. Eliot could be dead, too, although that possibility, posed in a single line of dialogue, is not long-lived in the script by director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo and her co-writers. With its meaninglessly punctuated title, “After.Life” contains a lineage motif: Eliot handles Anna’s late piano teacher and also mentors her student. This morbid boy lives with his aged mother or grandmother, although she may not be living with him, since she is only seen sitting in a chair in front of a TV showing really, really old black-and-white programs. (This apprentice inters a live chick he abducts from a science project in Anna’s classroom.) Other dead-end allusions link a nosebleed, red hair dye, spilled red wine, a red Volvo, the red box for an engagement ring, a slinky red slip, a pulsing heart and a blood-flecked bobble-head doll. The score, shock chords and sound design are utterly routine horror-style, despite Wojtowicz-Vosloo claiming her debut feature is elevated by arty “European” ambiguity. With Justin Long, Josh Charles, Chandler Canterbury and Celia Weston. 103m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: Youth In Revolt

Comedy, Reviews No Comments »

quecercera__567Straight teen male virginity is the crise du coeur for Nick Twisp, as played by Michael Cera (“Paper Heart,” “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”). This fawn-like mumbler can endear as a supporting character, but cannot sustain a star turn in his first try. Twisp is the horny Californian invented by C.D. Payne for a book series that started in 1993 with “Youth In Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp.” Screenwriter Gustin Nash (“Charlie Bartlett”) adapts Payne’s material, and Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl,” “Chuck and Buck”) directs this knowing, charm-impaired, low-key comedy in Michigan, where he fills in as “Illegal Immigrant #2.” Nick has two significant others. There’s his evil alter ego and id-enabler Francois (Cera with a slight mustache and gauche wardrobe) who goads him into juvenile delinquency. Nick’s acting out gets him into the bed of Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday, with such a movie-ready name). Residing at Restless Axles Trailer Park, she has bigger crushes on her poster of Jean-Paul Belmondo and on blond poet and classmate Trent (Jonathan B. Wright). “In the movies, the good guy gets the girl,” notes Cera in a script flaunting more cineaste quips than craft. For just one of the inane twists in Twisp’s saga, Sheeni’s ultra-strict parents get dosed with psycilocybin mushrooms at Thanksgiving. Buzz about some cute echo of “Fight Club” is off-point. With Jean Smart, Mary Kay Place, M. Emmet Walsh, Vijay Joshi, Zach Galifianakis, Fred Willard, Ray Liotta, Justin Long, Steve Buscemi. 90m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

Animated, Family No Comments »

squeakquellikeapigThe high-treble irritation of “Alvin and The Chipmunks” (2007) is now doubled. The original trio of chirpy brother chipmunks hooks up with a female trio of conspecifics breaking into showbiz billed as The Chipettes. Global pop squeakers and animated critters Alvin, Simon and Theodore are on their own after two mishaps with wheelchairs put their live-action human caretakers in the hospital. Feckless slacker Toby (Zach Levi) sort of looks after the boys who enroll in high school. The message is sacrifice personal opportunity for the sake of sibling solidarity: a boy chipmunk is shamed for playing on the football team and a girl chipmunk is shamed for wanting to open solo for Brittany Spears. All six end up squeaking in sync and then sleeping in matched bunk beds. Betty Thomas (“The Brady Bunch Movie”) competently directs a contentless screenplay by Jon Vitti and Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger. The only reason to see this is the off chance that the frequency of the chipmunks’ chatter kills head lice in kids and liquefies hardened earwax of their grandparents. With David Cross, Jason Lee and Wendie Malick; and the voices of Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate. 91m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: Serious Moonlight

Comedy, Reviews No Comments »

seriously-not-the-refIn their unlucky thirteenth year of marriage, Louise (Meg Ryan) and Ian (Timothy Hutton) cross paths at their country house. She arrives earlier than expected to find he has set up a rose-petalled tryst with his 24-year-old girlfriend Sara (Kristen Bell, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”). Ian planned to leave a letter informing Louise that he was filing for divorce and flying to Europe with Sara. Instead, the spouses spar and spat. One head injury later, Ian awakes wrapped in duct tape. Louise interrogates him about their marital crisis. Another head injury renders her unconscious, leading to Todd (Justin Long, “Drag Me to Hell”), a home invader on a riding lawn mower, to ask Ian, now duct-taped to a toilet: “Shit, nice tits. Mind if I touch them? God, I could never get sick of these.” Then Sara turns up and gets tied up too. Further tit-fondling does not ensue. The script by the late Adrienne Shelly (“Waitress”) is directed by Cheryl Hines as a romantic comedy of remarriage with extreme mood swings toward the misanthropic property lines of Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games.” The late Rainer Werner Fassbinder might have done justice to the image of marriage as prison, with the wife as warden, but Shelly and Hines deliver a peculiarity that only ponders the cliche of temporary loss of consciousness for comedic expediency. With Andy Ostroy, Nathan Dean and Kimberlee Peterson. 85m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: Planet 51

Animated, Science Fiction No Comments »

planet51pizzaSpanish videogamer Jorge Blanco directs his debut, a passable PG-rated animated sci-fi comedy, with co-directors Javier Abad and Marcos Martinez. Joe Stillman (two “Shrek”’s and “Beavis & Butt-Head Do America”) writes a snarky tale rife with references to flying-saucer films. The third installment of the alien-invader film franchise is about to open on the planet Glipforg when American astronaut Captain Chuck Baker (Dwayne Johnson) lands. Planting the U.S. flag on what NASA identifies as uninhabited Planet 51, he interrupts a backyard barbeque. On the run from General Grawl (Gary Oldman), Buck finds an ally in Lem (Justin Long), the 16 year-old Junior Assistant Planetarium Curator who’s failing to impress girl-next-door Neera (Jessica Biel.) The planet is set in the 1950’s, with long-haired protest singer- guitarist Glar (Alan Marriott) driving a VW bus. Indigenous pop culture is full of mind-control conspiracy paranoia. The human alien, though, can hide in an alien look-alike contest at the premiere of “Humaniacs III.” Twix candy bars are out of place, as are gags about plugs to block anal probes by aliens. Cutest behavior belongs to the robot dog Rover, modeled on the moon and Mars rovers. This frantic jokey fare is engineered to distract kids and their handlers alike. Music quips go from “Macarena” to “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” With more voices by Seann William Scott, John Cleese Freddie Benedict, Alan Marriott, Mathew Horne and James Corden. (Bill Stamets)

Review: Drag Me to Hell

Horror, Recommended No Comments »

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Sam Raimi’s made three of the most expensive movies ever made, utilizing terabyte farms of huge dimension to produce the teen anxiety comic adaptations of the “Spider-Man” series. But does his beating artistic heart lie more in productions like his “Xena” television series, or in the “Evil Dead” movies, made with little more than rude good cheer? In the case of gob-of-schlock “Drag Me To Hell,” Raimi demonstrates he’s still up for a game of vomit and nosebleed and mucus and drool and flies and formaldehyde, and the never-aging Alison Lohman (verging on 30) also demonstrates a willingness to embrace indignity with verve. Is this my cup of pus? Only in its dynamic widescreen velocity: it’s a tsunami of oddly playful grue. Whether you’re boo’ed! or given nightmares depends on your own constitution. Read the rest of this entry »