Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Why Does Anyone Do Anything: Paul Haggis in the “Third Person”

Drama, Recommended, Romance 1 Comment »

PHM_7578.NEFBy Ray Pride

One of the most bittersweet end credits I’ve seen in recent movies comes at the end of Paul Haggis’ melodrama about jealousy and point-of-view, “Third Person”: “To all the Belgian tax shelter investors.”

Haggis laughs when I say this on a recent sunny Chicago afternoon resounding with fire trucks and ambulances on the street below the high-up hotel suite. “I had to leave this country to get financing for this film,” he says at a fast clip with a light Canadian cadence. “I knew it was going to be a European film in many ways, anyways. It’s a European sensibility, this film. Besides the fact that two of the cities, Paris and Rome, are European. That didn’t trouble me too much, but it is a shame. We didn’t even bother to think of taking this to studios. We didn’t even try. Why would we? This is nothing a studio would make today. The days of studios making adult dramas is, sadly, long past.”

The look and feel of the movie does hark back to multiple eras. “We shot a lot of interiors at Cinecitta [studios in Rome]. Some we built on locations,” he tells me. “All the hotel suites, the hotel corridors, everything’s built there. I wanted two hotels that had the same footprint exactly. It’s part of the story. Even though [production designer] Larry Bennett changed out the windows and the dressing and the coving and everything, I wanted them to feel like… ‘Is this the same place?’ No, it’s not. ‘Is it?’” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Lego Movie

3-D, Action, Chicago Artists, Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »


Sometimes scheduling keeps a reviewer from getting to a movie before it opens, and sometimes, that’s just Awesome. In the case of the exceptional “The Lego Movie,” from directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, getting to see their pyrotechnic computer-animated fantasia with a packed, thrilled, paying audience was a sweet treat, especially since its wall-to-wall Mad-magazine-like visual tapestry also draws subversively on any number of movies that would include but hardly be limited to the epic paranoia of John Carpenter’s “They Live” and “The Matrix,” as well as the Wachowskis’ most-misunderstood carpet-bombing of form, “Speed Racer.” (In the case of “The Lego Movie,” something is hardly rotten from the state of Denmark.) It’s not quite the communist insurrection that some commentators of predictable bent have called it, but it’s assuredly the most sophisticated release of the winter crop of new movies—simply cinema. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Taken 2

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Two years have passed since the mayhem of “Taken,” and “Taken 2” now tasks Bryan (Liam Neeson) with protecting two women, not one. Women comprise the currency of exchange and revenge in these films produced by Luc Besson. In his first scene, Bryan punctually arrives at 2pm on the 22nd of the month at the house of his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) to take their daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) for a driving lesson around Los Angeles. Meanwhile: in Albania, the corpses of kidnappers make a belated return to their village burial ground from Paris, where they made the big mistake of having taken Kim in “Taken.” (Her dad took them out.)  Now: the dad of their late ringleader wants to take out Bryan in the worst way. All-around Balkan bad guy Rade Serbedzija plays the old country patriarch. (With two more sons, there’s a chance to make a third film.)   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Battleship

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“Battleship” begins with an out-of-work screw-up eyeing an out-of-his-league blonde in a Hawaiian bar after the kitchen closes. Sam (Brooklyn Decker, also in this week’s “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”) wants a chicken burrito. Alex (Taylor Kitsch, “John Carter”) woos this admiral’s daughter by breaking into a nearby mini-mart and getting her one. By the end, her father (Liam Neeson) will invite future son-in-law Alex for a chicken burrito lunch. That all-American romance takes up about four minutes of this dumb loud spin-off from a 1943 game now owned by Hasbro. The true love of director Peter Berg (“Hancock,” “Friday Night Lights”) is the U.S. Navy and alien weaponry. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wrath Of The Titans

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Ralph Fiennes

Perseus, a demigod in denial, undertakes a perilous journey to get something he needs to kill something else and save the world. That’s the plot for both “Clash of the Titans” (2010) and the new “Wrath of the Titans,” set ten years later when Perseus is a single dad. Titans, the mythological offspring of Uranus and Gaia only appeared in the first film as a mention in opening narration. But the second concocts one Titan, the 1500-foot-tall Cronus, for a climactic mega-clash. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Grey

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“You’re going to die, that’s what’s happening,” John Ottway soothes a dying colleague, a fear-whisperer, himself a man strangely at peace, reconciled. In the opening narration of “The Grey”—a title reflecting the determination of survival, not wolves—Neeson’s sharpshooter character refers to the Arctic oil roughnecks around him as “ex-cons, drifters, assholes, men unfit for mankind.” Weariness, not loathing or judgment, freights his voice, sonorous masculine gloom. Ottway’s just a grey-beard tucked into a green rag-wool hat, aswirl in snow, eyeing advancing wolves. (“And I’ve stopped doing the world any real good” is Ottway’s sad murmur, more of alienation than self-pity.) Shortly, things grow grimmer: grayer. In a time of timid large-scale movies, “The Grey” is bold in its harsh turns, with obvious dashes of “Moby Dick” and “Jaws”—man against the implacable beast but ultimately himself—as well as moments that hark back to predecessors like Robert Aldrich’s crash-survival “Flight of the Phoenix,” “Deliverance” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” (But that’s not to call the movie “derivative.”) Joe Carnahan’s talent as a director of dynamic action was apparent from his earliest movies, including the no-budget “Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane” (1998) and “Narc” (2002). An assignment to direct an installment of “Mission: Impossible” fell through, and the more recent “A-Team” didn’t impress many. Yet in “The Grey,” a story of men surviving in the sub-Arctic Alaskan wilderness after an accident, Carnahan’s promise is fulfilled. It’s a bravura man-against-the-wilds, man-against-wolves, man-against-himself thriller, fire and ice. And Neeson: worldly, weary, worn. He and Carnahan this time ’round: the Alpha-Team. The blues, grays and whites of the film’s palette chill from the first frames: you can tell straightaway it’s going to be a story of survival against the odds, or earnest failure. The cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi (“Warrior”) is raw and beautiful. Brute without brooding, it’s a very masculine movie. But there are moments of brisk lyricism: in distance at night, dozens of eyes float in the darkness, a gloaming of fear as much as a phalanx of carnivores. Human blood wells and visibly, audibly ices, defining a track, a huge paw-print. The survivors look toward blackest night, their breath rising in unison in columns like kanji, Japanese lettering. The commercials that have been playing the past couple months have been canny about misdirection: all I’ll suggest is stay through the end credits. With Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale. 117m. (Ray Pride)

“The Grey” opens Friday.

Review: Unknown

Reviews, Thriller No Comments »

If the leading cause of screen death for assassins is other assassins, the most common non-lethal ailment for their agent colleagues is amnesia, as we see in “The Bourne Identity,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and now, “Unknown.” In “Taken” (2009) Liam Neeson played an ex-CIA agent who wreaked havoc in Paris to extract his daughter from the posh yacht of a Middle Eastern pervert. Now it’s Berlin’s turn to endure collateral mayhem as Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris from New Hampshire. He must extract himself from an intellectual-property heist (156 laptop files “worth billions in the wrong hands”) and the assassination of a Middle Eastern playboy and philanthropist. Bruno Ganz (“Downfall”) plays an ex-Stasi agent who helps our hero find himself. His other helpmate is a Bosnian taxi driver played by Diane Kruger. Screenwriters Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, working from a novel by Didier van Cauwelaert, help the historically illiterate with background briefings on the former Yugoslavia and the former East Germany. An American couple (Neeson and January Jones) check into the Hotel Adlon for a tenth annual biotech “summit.” The plot promptly detours Harris into a four-day coma. His memory is shaken and his identity is taken. This who-am-I? thriller creaks with dumb mechanics. Director Jaume Collet-Serra did far better in “Orphan,” where hypopituitarism took the place of amnesia, and the Saarne Institute, not Section 15, was where the wrong-doers originated. “Unknown” is watchable escapism with a corny finale of global proportions for popcorn concessions. With Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella, Sebastian Koch, Olivier Schneider, Stipe Erceg. 109m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

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On the 253rd day of enduring his two cousins displaced by the Luftwaffe bombing of London, the disagreeable Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter, “Son of Rambow”) scribbles in his diary: “Investigate legal ramifications of impaling relatives.” He cannot stand their nattering about Narnia, a fantastic kingdom of chatty satyrs, centaurs, minotaurs and minoboars they visited in the 2005 and 2008 installments prior to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” All three were written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the childrens’ book series by lit prof and theologian C.S. Lewis (1898–1963) that were published in the 1950s. Screenwriter Michael Petroni is also credited for the third, the first in 3D. The live action was converted; the CGI was created in 3D; both work quite well. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Next Three Days

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Three years, three months and three days are the successive time frames–marked on screen–that telescope the suspenseful timeline as John (Russell Crowe) breaks his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) out of Allegheny County Jail before her transfer to prison. This Pittsburgh community college teacher, raising their little boy by himself, does not believe Lara bludgeoned her boss to death with a fire extinguisher in her office’s parking structure, but there was enough evidence for a twenty-year sentence. Unike Crowe’s character in “Proof of Life” (2000), an ex-military contractor rescuing execs kidnapped by rebels, John is a middle-class everyman devoted only to his spouse. He faces a steep learning curve to acquire a new set of extra-legal skills. “Show me where the bullets go,” he tells the proprietor at the gun shop. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The A-Team

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Attacking the CIA as corrupt, this comic anti-American action film is anti-corporate to boot: the CIA’s co-conspirator in a scheme to counterfeit hundred-dollar bills is none other than Black Forest, an evil contractor named after the former Blackwater USA (now called Xe Services LLC). Based on ninety-eight episodes of the 1980s NBC series, the good guys are four Army Rangers who’ve accomplished eighty missions in the past eight years. Now they execute a bunch of fun escapes, attacks and extractions in Mexico, Iraq, Germany and California. Director Joe Carnahan earlier looked at dirty cops in his “Narc” (2002) and risky cons in “Smokin’ Aces” (2006). He writes “The A-Team” with Jim Piddock, Skip Woods and Brian Bloom, who plays the Black Forest operative Pike. The original Mr. T. character is reprised by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as a Gandhi-quoter with “Pity” tattooed on four knuckles of one hand and “Fool” on the other. Bradley Cooper plays the cute one who hides little metal implements in his mouth for getting out of jams when fast talk cannot. Sharlto Copley from “District 9” plays the nutcase who dabbles in recreational electroshock. Their leader is played by the fatherly Liam Neeson, who insults Black Forest employees as “assassins in polo shirts” and taunts a CIA spook: “Shouldn’t you be installing a dictatorship or overthrowing a democracy?” Later, the spook cracks: “The CIA’s got rules—our rules are just cooler.” Topical commentary includes lethal military retaliation against Mexicans trespassing on Arizona airspace, and a ward of mental patients cheering a fourth-wall-breaking 3-D film screening. “Overkill is underrated,” observes an A-Teamer, speaking for all concerned in this fun summer popcorn-peddler. The leftover bit after the end credits is not to wait for. With Jessica Biel, Gerald McRaney, Patrick Wilson. 118m. (Bill Stamets)