Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

Romance, Sci-Fi & Fantasy No Comments »

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

Ben Stiller has been talking up a film of James Thurber’s 1939 short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” for a very, very long time. And, $90 million later, here it is. The adaptation by Steve Conrad, which went through a claimed sixty drafts, is very much in the league of an earlier Conrad screenplay, “The Weather Man,” which took Chicago as a setting in a way that “Mitty” takes Manhattan and Iceland: Poignancy arises through small details not necessarily observed by an essentially passive milquetoast of a protagonist, but very much seen by the audience. Stiller’s Mitty is, well… a guy. (A guy who has some plot-convenient skateboard skills for a fifty-year-old office guy.) Playing a photo archivist, or, “negative asset manager,” for LIFE magazine, already defunct but about to go online-only in the world of the film, Mitty doodles and dawdles through the world, swept away by momentary bursts of special-effects fantasy while his life is changed by the presence of a cake made by his mother. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Friends with Kids

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt

RECOMMENDED

One of the grown-up aspects of Jennifer Westfeldt’s debut as a film director—aside from not being “‘Friends,’ With Kids”—is how she works both blue and red. Her roundelay of couples at the cusp, then hoist upon the cusp of childbearing, make vulgar remarks, drop biting insults and many garish swears, and also casually drink through bottle after bottle of red wine and a couple of copiously displayed brands of bottle beer, one indicating “crass,” the other, “class.” (Talking with her recently, she smiled sweetly and said, “That’s just how my friends talk.”) The how-do-we-make-a-romantic-comedy-in-this-decade gimmick is that two friends since college (Westfeldt, Adam Scott) know each other’s lives inside out but have never become romantic. While they continue to play, their friends—couples Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm; Chris O’Dowd and Maya Rudolph—have kids. But! What if they shared a kid? But not their lives? Cruel behavior and often crackling banter follow. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bridesmaids

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

“Bridesmaids” is that rare American studio comedy that, despite an epic scatological setpiece reportedly suggested by producer Judd Apatow, doesn’t require a trip to the vomitorium afterwards. Working against the confines of the to-the-altar-or-bust romcom—the groom in question for all intents and purposes is a pantomiming mute—writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, as well as director Paul Feig (“Freaks and Geeks”) turn genre elements on their head. For instance, the easily miffed, quick-to-anger romantic partner isn’t a woman but a well-meaning Irish-American state trooper. Some of the greatest fascination, and the biggest laughs, come from Wiig’s selfish behavior and the character’s unwillingness to see that the emotional rut she’s in is largely of her own wallowing. (But the knowing joke-delivery of “Help me. I’m poor” comes from her clever brain as much as the character’s.) There’s tenderness to her hurt and an anger to her outbursts that expands the limits of possibility for broad and foul-mouthed social comedy. And so much has the stink of truth. A crutch in reviewing a movie like this is to repeat as many punchlines as word count allows, but in the case of “Bridesmaids,” which did exceptionally well on its opening weekend, that ought to be the job of your friends who’ve already seen it. (And besides, you ought to discover on your own the way you ought to say a line like, “Sometimes I just want to watch ‘The Daily Show’ without him entering me.”) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Paul

Comedy, Reviews No Comments »

Longtime friends Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (“Spaced,” “Shaun of the Dead” “Hot Fuzz”) write a warm comedy about two friends, Graeme and Clive, who befriend a CGI alien voiced by Seth Rogen. The setup and payoff are pretty akin to those in “Superbad.” Greg Mottola directed that 2007 high-school comedy and now directs a slightly more grown-up version. In both films, females are the real aliens. This time the friends are sci-fi buffs somewhere in their thirties, at least. Instead of a kid compulsively drawing penises, Graeme, a sci-fi illustrator with the last name of Willy, draws a fantasy female with triple tits. Various terrestials and one extraterrestrial concur: “Awesome.” After a stop in San Diego for Comic-Con, the U.K. duo navigates their RV around the West to visit UFO sites. That’s where they pick up Paul, the runaway. He can party hard and bring the dead back to life. This little green man named himself after the Labrador Retriever he crushed when his flying saucer crashed in rural Wyoming back in 1947. All these years Paul has been sequestered in a secret government base. He phoned technical advice to Spielberg for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and takes credit for inventing Fox Mulder for “The X-Files.” Now he’s on the run from his handlers. They want to extract his stem cells and dissect his brain, so he hopes to catch a saucer ride home. The film’s weakest part is the pursuit by three feds and a shotgun-toting Christian. The latter thinks his daughter (Kristen Wiig) is a victim of kidnapping. She is only in danger of stealing the film. “Paul” is fixated on straight-male intimacy. The quieter scenes border on touching. The rest do not. Geeks will get all the geeky pop-culture references jammed into the script. I did not. With Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, John Carroll Lynch, David Koechner, Sigourney Weaver, Blythe Danner. 104m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: All Good Things

Drama No Comments »

True crime fiction in the form of the missing person case at the center of “All Good Things” doesn’t entirely suit filmmaker Andrew Jarecki’s skills, substantial though they are. His previous film, the documentary “Capturing the Friedmans,” (2003) was sinister and unsparing, working from the facts of an eminently dysfunctional family. For his first fiction feature, working from the facts of multiple murder cases brought against Robert Durst, heir of an eminent New York real estate family, Jarecki comes up against the problem of a deeply unsympathetic main character and the need to create mystery and intrigue from a story where many facts remain unexplained. (Names and events are altered.) Still, a documentary treatment of the facts would deny us Ryan Gosling’s acidic, almost barbaric central performance. The look and feel of the film is accomplished, suggesting the grittier New York of the 1970s, with credit to cinematographer Michael Seresin (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Midnight Express”). As vulnerable as sleepy-eyed, doe-eyed Kirsten Dunst can be, playing a Long Island woman from a different social stratum, she seems mismatched beside Gosling, who embodies a man without a conscience. She seems a despairing wisp from a different telling of the story. For Gosling’s true coup of 2010, look forward to Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine,” opening in January. As the patriarch, Frank Langella is an icon of malice. With Kristen Wiig, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Trini Alvarado, John Cullum. 101m. (Ray Pride)

“All Good Things” Opens Friday at the Music Box.

Review: Despicable Me

3-D, Animated, Family, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin, and writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio animate a fun PG-rated story with enough clever details to keep adults awake. There’s more than tossed-off signage for Bank of Evil (formerly Lehman Brothers). At the same time, in different places, kids can feel let in on ways grown-ups really see little ones when off-duty from good parenting. Calling bedtime storybooks unbelievably bad literature is the endearing meanie, the character cited in the self-aggrandizing title of “Despicable Me.” The villain Gru (Steve Carell, voicing his “Middle European” accent) conspires to acquire a gizmo belonging to a younger villain named Vector (Jason Segel). Pleasing his soul-stomping mom (Julie Andrews) keeps Gru going. This people-hating overcompensator thinks that kidnapping a miniaturized moon will impress the known world. He adopts a trio of orphaned sisters once he sees these plucky cookie pushers can furnish a tactical cover for penetrating Vector’s lair and grabbing his miniaturizer. But the crusty Gru falls for the tykes and an unlikely family takes form. The largely gratuitous 3-D CGI is an opportunity for a gag at the end wherein Gru’s impish, chirping minions compete at constructing bridges further and further towards the audience. WIth the voices of Russell Brand, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Danny McBride, Miranda Cosgrove, Jack McBrayer, Mindy Kaling. 95m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: MacGruber

Action, Comedy No Comments »

Hundreds and hundreds of fans of the “MacGruber” sketches on Saturday Night Live now get to see comics Will Forte and Kristen Wiig spoof the ABC series “MacGyver” (1985-1992) on a bigger screen with outdoor locations. New Mexico subs for Eastern Siberia, Ecuador, Colorado and South Dakota. This minor snicker cues up period tunes by Michael Bolton, Eddie Money, Gerry Rafferty and Toto. Jorma Taccone directs and co-writes, with Forte and John Solomon, an “action comedy” about the retired McGruber assembling a “dream team of killer-stoppers” to stop evil Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) from sending a stolen Russian missile to take out the unnamed president during his State of the Union address. “We love eighties action movies,” claims writer Solomon, one of the nine writers of “Extreme Movie” (2008). Free from NBC censors, he co-scripts an R-rated “multidimensional story” wherein MacGruber slits three or so throats with his bare hands, twice offers to “suck your dick” to get his way with men, sticks one stalk of celery up his ass, and, not at the same time, deflowers a female operative while heaving and grunting like a farm animal. With Ryan Phillippe, Powers Boothe, Maya Rudolph. 99m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: Date Night

Adventure, Comedy, Recommended 1 Comment »

RECOMMENDED

I laughed. I didn’t cry. My immediate reaction to “Date Night” wasn’t, “That could have been worse,” but, “That’s not bad at all.” The biggest problem with this version of “After Hours” re-orchestrated for dual instead of single voice is systemic: the pairing of the verbally fleet Tina Fey and Steve Carell is filled with felicities and asides in the midst of inane, pile-on screenwriting. They’re doing needlepoint in a thunderstorm, a deluge of gunfire and car chases and ill-motivated mayhem. And that’s the dilemma of modern mega-deca-million-dollar filmmaking: a story about a couple from New Jersey whose big night out in the city who find their seemingly small lives in counterpoint to a big, bad world of New York low-lifes cannot exist without a thunderous, ripping car chase along Yonge Street in Toronto with a climactic pile-up through downtown Los Angeles that does not end on location under one of Manhattan’s glorious bridges. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: How to Train Your Dragon

Animated, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Once again, an ostracized motherless boy with insecurities–and inquisitive and inventive streaks–defies local custom, outsmarts close-minded bullies, wins over a plucky female peer and emerges a hero for saving the day. “How to Train Your Dragon” is a wonderfully imagined animated PG-rated tale that advocates extra values beyond the genre’s usual uplift for outcasts. Hiccup the Useless (Jay Baruchel) is the first Viking teen in three centuries not to kill a dragon for his rite of passage. Opting for interspecies empathy, he undertakes an ethological study that yields four nonlethal ways of dealing with dragons. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Extract

Comedy, Recommended, Stoner No Comments »

extract_mila_kunis_6RECOMMENDED

Mike Judge’s titles are pretty straightforward: “Office Space,” “Beavis and Butthead Do America,” “King of the Hill.” And his latest, the cheerily reprobate “Extract”? It’s his most basic yet. Even without its subplot of testicular endangerment, the writer-director distills all manner of dispirited maleness. Joel Reynold (Jason Bateman) wants to sell the business he’s built from the ground up, hoping to rekindle his relationship with his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) and get away from supervising a factory floor packed with numbskulls. Confiding in best friend Dean (a bewigged Ben Affleck), Joel hatches a drink-and-drug-influenced plot to prove Suzie’s fidelity… right about the same time as short-shortsed, sociopathic con-artist Cindy (Mila Kunis) shows up. Think: a Texas “Trouble in Paradise” meets “Idiocracy.” More drink, more drugs, more deadpan conflict.  And Marriage misunderstandings, neighbors who are proprietary bores, young men who don’t get older women, middle-aged longing for the “new” one: men reduced to their crude essence. While seriously deadpan, “Extract” has passages that play with social discomfort to the point of hilarious agony, such as the neighbor from hell you’d like to see drop dead, played by David Koechner. Judge’s pacing may not be to every taste, but there are more than a few great laughs in “Extract.” Plus that ear he has for weird dialogue: a distracted doofus after a kiss has been refused at lakeside in moonlight: “Look at all them mallards. I knew I should’ve brought the Mossberg.” While Wiig is underused, Judge does make ample note of her very shapely legs. With Beth Grant, a restrained J K Simmons and a loathsome lawyer embodied by a slit-eyed, dead-eyed Gene Simmons. 91m.  (Ray Pride)