Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Biopic, Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »


Since the sixth word of the movie is “cocksucker,” and soon enough someone’s straw-snorting coke in proximity to a hooker’s upturned anus, so “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is not shy about extending its paw for a frantic shake straightaway.  The rise and rise and fall and fall of a convicted late-1980s stock-trading fraudster, of course, makes for incendiary, insidious sensationalism. The rush of narration rolls on: “I use Xanax to stay focused, Ambien to sleep, pot to mellow out, cocaine to wake up and morphine… because it’s awesome.” All manner of powder and power: white and green are the warmest colors. The litany about the virtue of drugs in the accumulation of money and power seethes, “See? Enough of this shit will make you invincible. Money is the oxygen of capitalism and I wanna breathe more than any other human being alive.” It is a sustained shock that a seventy-one-year-old filmmaker, even Martin-fucking-Scorsese (and dedicated editor Thelma Schoonmaker), can heighten the hyper character of a “Casino” or “Goodfellas” on a wholly other topic and surpass himself in vitality and insurgent hallucinogenic energy, and at a 179-minute duration that does not flag, laden with what feels like huge passages of inspired improvisation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Easy Money

Drama, Recommended No Comments »


JW (Joel Kinnaman) is a too-good-looking provincial seeking to upgrade his class standing in Stockholm. Presented by Martin Scorsese, “Easy Money” compares with “Goodfellas” and “Gangs of New York” as a saga of aspiration. JW goes to business school. On the side, he drives a taxi and sells term papers. His econ prof ends a lecture on the current fiscal scene: “Who will benefit from this tragedy? Will it be any of you?” Nicknamed “Mr. Brains” by a South American confederate, JW gets out of his depth and over his head with a failing bank; Serb, Arab and Albanian bad guys; and cocaine planted inside cabbage heads and dog guts. His model-perfect face finds a dozen ways to convey degrees of worry. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Side By Side

Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


Keanu Reeves, about to make his directorial debut with a China-set action movie, makes an engaging interlocutor in “Side By Side,” Chris Kenneally’s clear, brisk conversation of a documentary about the repercussions of the abrupt accomplishment of the handover from 35mm film as what we’ve known as “movies” for over a century to multiple permutations of digital production, distribution and exhibition. (Distributor Tribeca Film also has at least thirty short outtakes from the on-screen interviews at their YouTube channel; one with Lars von Trier in his office is below. It’s a genial mix, and a list of names alone suggests the quality of the exchanges: Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski,  Richard Linklater, Christopher Nolan, Wally Pfister, David Fincher, Greta Gerwig, Robert Rodriguez, cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond, Michael Chapman, Vittorio Storaro, Michael Ballhaus and Anthony Dod Mantle, editorial eminence Walter Murch, Danny Boyle, Dick Pope and “Lawrence of Arabia” editor Anne V. Coates, and, wouldn’t you know, George Lucas. Postures, postulations and occasional apercus follow. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Surviving Progress

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks’ globe-girdling Canadian documentary, based on Ronald Wright’s bestseller “A Short History of Progress,” asks, is the earth at the end of “a failed experiment”? Galvanic and bristling, it sleekly surveys factors threatening life itself on earth, including, but not limited to, centuries of industrial development, elevated levels of consumption, overpopulation, largely unstemmed pollution and global warming.  Shooting in New York, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Shanghai, Beijing, Brasilia, Sao Paolo, DC and Dubai, “Surviving Progress” arrays smart people to offer a startling array of pessimistic analyses. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hugo

3-D, Drama, Family No Comments »

Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz


“Hugo” is Martin Scorsese’s most personal film, a pop-up picture book of a metaphor for his own childhood. He, as a boy, small, asthmatic, watched from a Little Italy window the goings-on on the street below, captivated by the narrative that he could construct in his mind but never fully participate in, swept away by the power of movies that his father took him to. Here, his protagonist Hugo Cabret is an orphan who tends the clocks of a vast train station in 1931 Paris, peering through window and frame and trapdoor and crevasse down onto the teeming to-and-fro of passengers and merchants, a human comedy he can only witness with wide eyes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: World On A Wire

Drama, Recommended, Science Fiction, World Cinema No Comments »


“World On A Wire,” (Welt am Draht) the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1973 science-fiction epic about virtual reality, made for German television, has been restored from its 16mm Ektachrome origins and into 35mm visual splendor. Among other things, it’s a gorgeous, strange time capsule of futurism past, with dollops of Philip K. Dick, intriguingly prescient musings on alternate realities, and many other recognizable Fassbinder themes and players brought at long last to light. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Margaret

Drama, Recommended No Comments »


“RIP: ‘Margaret’ 2003-2011.” A curtailed potential masterpiece: six years of legal wrangling over running time have kept Kenneth Lonergan’s drenching study of a seventeen-year-old New Yorker’s inner life in the years immediately after 9/11 from being seen. Lonergan’s follow-up to 2001’s “You Can Count On Me” is a straightforward yet lovingly structured examination of heated, sometimes-hysterical post-9/11 emotions, written in 2003, shot in 2005, locked and copyrighted in 2008, litigated unto now—perhaps at the crest of a five-year business write-off cycle?—and released in an inexcusably truncated form. Read the rest of this entry »

Talk of the Town: Fran Lebowitz’s Chip Off the Old Writer’s Block

Biopic, Documentary, Recommended No Comments »

By Ray Pride

Fran Lebowitz has been around the block.

The writer’s block, famously. Still not yet the most constipated of talented Manhattan-centric writers—that dubious honor falls to Joseph Mitchell, the brilliant miniaturist who remained on staff at the New Yorker, doing daily rounds, taking notes, making genial small talk, years after he’d stopped producing—Lebowitz prides herself on her daily circuit of walking the island. She procrastinates, perambulates, percolates. And smokes. And coughs. And hacks. Her anecdotes are riddled with semi-colons, apostrophe, appositives, backstrokes, attenuated clauses. (Scorsese catches her in one story about attending a Nobel Prize dinner that turns into implausible nonsense; her grin grows as she works to extricate herself.) Lebowitz’s reputation rests largely on two tiny volumes, “Metropolitan Life” and “Social Studies,” sardonic, cynical collections of model-slim bursts of attitude. In “Public Speaking,” a worthy, quotable quickie from Martin Scorsese, she gargles her laugh that it’s something else, it’s “writer’s blockade… Very much like the Vietnam War. Didn’t know how I got into it, don’t know how to get out of it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The The Art Of Getting By

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »


English actor Freddie Highmore from “Finding Neverland” (2004) and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005) here plays George, a Manhattan teen on the verge of expulsion from Morgan Preparatory School. He draws all over his textbooks, reads unassigned Albert Camus and lays in bed listening to Leonard Cohen when feeling low. Writer-director- New Yorker Gavin Wiesen lends knowing, unshowy touches to his debut feature. This coming-of-ager dodges a dozen or so clichés in relating George’s dealings with his teachers, principal and step-dad. Classmate Sally (Emma Roberts) is his new pal and potentially more. Complicating things is a Brooklyn painter and recent Morgan alum who becomes George’s mentor and Sally’s lover. (Part of this setup recalls Martin Scorsese’s 1989 short “Life Lessons,” from “New York Stories.”) Highmore holds every scene by underplaying his irresistible vulnerability. Clearest sign this teen-centered film is not really made with teens in mind, or at least not the ones usually targeted at multiplexes: the way Wiesen handles a twelfth-grader’s virginity. With Rita Wilson, Blair Underwood, Michael Angarano, Sasha Spielberg, Marcus Carl Franklin, Sam Robards, Maya Ri Sanchez, Ann Dowd. 84m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: On The Bowery

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


A glistening landmark of the down-at-hell past of an only-just-gentrifucked patch of Manhattan, Lionel Rogosin’s 1957 “On The Bowery” is an outright masterpiece of urban ethnography and observant compassion. “A milestone in American cinema” is what Martin Scorsese has said of its evocation of a lost time, a lost place. Scorsese’s Little Italy childhood unspooled around the corner: he walked these mean streets. (Cassavetes also got it.) It’s almost heart-stoppingly great, the ever-independent Rogosin’s mix of staged scenes with faces the filmmakers found and straightforward cinéma vérité (largely tripod-bound) never less than thrilling as it courses the streets and bars and flops of this fabled stretch of New York, shadowed by the now-demolished Third Avenue El. (If only the first Mayor Daley hadn’t suppressed filmmaking in Chicago for decades.) It’s like opening a door and walking into another state of mind, another moment as real as the one outside your door right now. Never picturesque, never condescending, it’s a dream of what the best movies can, ought, must be. (It has the black-and-white beauty of the best of Weegee’s work without his recurrent sarcasm.) The restoration was done by Cineteca del Comune di Bologna, drawn from the original negatives at New York’s Anthology Film Archives, only a hop, skip and a jump from the locations on screen. The indispensable Milestone Films distributes. (Milestone was instrumental in the recent rediscovery of Kent Mackenzie’s 1956 “The Exiles,” which captured Los Angeles’ lost Bunker Hill skid row with similar skill.) 66m. (Ray Pride)

“On The Bowery” plays Friday-Tuesday and Thursday at Siskel.