Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Extending the Conversation: Kent Jones on “Hitchcock/Truffaut” and the Others

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By Ray Pride

Kent Jones is one of the finest American film critics, a 2012 Guggenheim fellow, a longtime collaborator with Martin Scorsese on documentaries about film history, as well as the director of the New York Film Festival. “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” his sweet, even joyous ode to the making of art begins with audiotapes of Francois Truffaut’s weeklong interviews in 1962 with Hitchcock that became the influential book of the same name, then blends relevant scenes from Hitchcock’s films with astute observations by latter-day directors like Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Arnaud Desplechin, Richard Linklater and James Gray. Here’s a small part of a long, discursive talk we had during the Chicago International Film Festival. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Clouds Of Sils Maria

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Specific yet elusive, as in Olivier Assayas’ best work, “Clouds of Sils Maria” rises to the challenge that longtime colleague Juliette Binoche’s offered him: create a role for a woman of fifty that’s not all about a romantic relationship. What he came up with resembles a number of other movies, including a hint of “All About Eve,” as a professional triangle oscillates between her mid-career actress, her devoted and indispensable assistant, juggling multiple iPhones, Blackberrys and agendas (Kristen Stewart), and an ambitious young actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) repeating a role she played years earlier. (There’s also something of Joseph Mankiewicz in Assayas’ taut, gnomic gab, with professional status and personal moment indicated in snappish, contemporary dialogue.) Binoche’s performance matches Assayas’ visual style, alternately brittle and supple, while Stewart is laconic yet electric in conveying her character’s quiet, emphatic passion for her boss. Read the rest of this entry »

Notable Appearances and Master Classes: A Preview of the Chicago International Film Festival

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“Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

By Ray Pride

Along with a hundred-plus features and shorts from around the world, the fiftieth edition of the Chicago International Film Festival includes notable appearances and master classes, including Michael Moore presenting his restored version of “Roger & Me,” a film that was nearly lost; producer-turned-online distributor Ted Hope talking about his memoir-manifesto, “Hope For Film,” and Oliver Stone, with a director’s cut of “Natural Born Killers” and “Alexander: Ultimate Edition,” a fourth version of his 2004 epic, reportedly with a warm handful of homoerotic content restored to its 207-minute duration. An Isabelle Huppert tribute will trail four features, including Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher” and Claire Denis’ “White Material,” both shown in 35mm. Kathleen Turner will tell her truth, and eighty-one-year-old Hollywood Renaissance bright light Bob Rafelson will show his 1990 exploration epic “Mountains of the Moon” before presenting a master class to Columbia students, a rapscallion of a raconteur when I heard him speak a few years ago.

Notable locals include the world premiere of Chicago filmmaker Michael Caplan’s long-in-the-works “Algren” bio, as well as up-and-coming local auteur Stephen Cone’s “This Afternoon,” mingling his favored themes of sex and religion. Read the rest of this entry »

The Reality of Youth: Olivier Assayas on “Something In The Air”

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APRES MAI_MG_7619 (c) Carole BethuelBy Ray Pride

Olivier Assayas’ marvelous meander of a memory piece, “Something In The Air (Après mai)” is a tactile collection of impressions, with the movie itself finely situated in France, 1971, but also in the world of Gilles, seventeen-year-old high-school student intent on becoming a painter, and who follows a path very similar to the one the filmmaker took to his storytelling career.

Dreamily paced, serenely elliptical and seldom less than beautiful, the fifty-eight-year-old writer-director’s film looks back at his own coming to awareness, but also engages in a serious conversation with the late work of French master Robert Bresson, including his “L’argent,” “Four Nights of a Dreamer” and especially, “The Devil, Probably.” There is an implacable, concrete beauty to those films, where objects and colors and young faces, especially young male faces, are presented as mute forces of manmade nature. (The ending of the film, however, impresses a female face onto the protagonist and the filmgoer alike: a fantastic, phosphorescent image in a film about a film that loses its boundaries and becomes the film itself, pointing Gilles emphatically toward his vocation.) Read the rest of this entry »

Now And Then: Eighteenth-Century Contemporary in “A Royal Affair”

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By Ray Pride

Immediacy of emotion is at the heart of Nikolaj Arcel’s romantic historical drama about Danish court politics and idealism in the 1760s, with a career-making role by Alicia Vikander as Queen Caroline Mathilda, a young woman in a new country. There’s a character to the film, as Arcel says, that “even though the period is obviously there in the set designs, with the costumes it was filmed and edited as we would have filmed and edited a film taking place in modern Copenhagen.” Mads Mikkelsen is stirring as a rebellious doctor called to court to attend to her husband, the daft, increasingly troubled King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard): how much can one behind-the-scenes figure change the world? And how quickly do he and the imported Queen become entangled? Passions play.

“A Royal Affair” feels modern. Despite its period setting, it’s in a school with movies like Olivier Assayas’ “Les destinees” or “Carlos.” Here’s the conflict, but more importantly, here’s the air, the light, the seductive or abrupt way the characters talk to each other, I tell Arcel during his visit to the Chicago International Film Festival. “We had a rule from the very beginning that we didn’t want to make a stuffy kind of historical piece, we really wanted to be as modern as we could be but then again,” he says. “How do you do that, is it even possible if you go back in time like that? One of the things we said, we’re not going to focus on the surroundings, we’re going to focus on the characters as if we were living back then. What if we were actually in the 1760s, we had these characters, how would we film it? As a director, you have a tendency, you want to say, ‘Oh this is the 1760s, we need BIG, we need the castle, all the official happenings,” and we didn’t want to do that. We just wanted to be close to the characters at all times.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Keep the Lights On

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“Keep the Lights On” is a fierce, if understated portrayal of attraction and addiction in the lives of two men, a documentary filmmaker and closeted lawyer across a decade in New York City and how their world moves—and doesn’t move—around them: there’s a marked sense of place and duration in Ira Sachs’ portrait of co-dependency. Sachs’ four features, including “Delta” and “Forty Shades of Blue” feel steeped in private, intimate language, but this story, drawn from a long-term relationship of his own, is the first that has the declarative feel of being unadulterated autobiography, which of course, is shaped and distilled, but not especially filtered through genre or influence, as was his most recent film, “Married Life” (2007). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Killer Elite

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More comic than any of the identikit wisecracks in “The Killer Elite” would have been if this period story of retired OSS men at each others’ throats—kicked, punched and snarled through by Jason Statham, Robert DeNiro and Clive Owen—had kept the title of its source material, a book by Ranulph Fiennes called “The Feather Men.” The Feather Men! Then again, this dizzying assemblage of editing overkill is so murky in motivation, outcome and cinematography, that now vastly ironic title would crumple to a whimper almost instantly. A few of director Gary McKendry’s would-be iconic images are strong, like Statham’s gentle clenching-unclenching of his palm as blood congeals under the main title, but the restless editing seldom pauses. The dialogue has more lumps than fast-food oatmeal: “yer geezer”; “ah, yah horny git”; “g’wan, yah cheeky buggers”; “Well, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, iddn’t it?”; “He’s your worst nightmare”; “War’s never over until both sides say it’s so” and the marvel, “C’mon, shit happens when you play the deep end of the pool, Danny.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hobo With A Shotgun

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“Here was a man,” Travis Bickle once intoned, “who would… not… take it… any more.” “Hobo with a Shotgun” is not “Taxi Driver.” But here is a man: the once-gorgeous Rutger Hauer, now 67, grizzled yet tautly handsome, and basking in a role more extreme than Roy Batty in “Blade Runner,” in the league with those he embodied in his eager youth for Paul Verhoeven (“Turkish Delight,” “Soldier of Orange,” “Spetters”). How much of a vagrant is this hobo? He even totes a bindle on a cane on a freight car into an apocryphal Nova Scotia city by a lake, under 1970s-style main titles. Shades of Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo,” perhaps. Or perhaps not. “Hobo With A Shotgun,” the bad-taste sensation of Sundance and SXSW 2011, as well as VOD in the late weeks of spring, comes to the Music Box for two weeks of midnight shows. Read the rest of this entry »

The Top 5 of Everything 2010: Film

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The Social Network

Top 5 Domestic Films
“The Social Network,” David Fincher
“Winter’s Bone,” Debra Granik
“Ghost Writer,” Roman Polanski
“Exit Through the Gift Shop,” Banksy
“Inception,” Christopher Nolan
— Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Films
“Carlos,” Olivier Assayas
“Everyone Else,” Maren Ade
“Dogtooth,” Yorgos Lanthimos
“Father of My Children,” Mia Hansen-Løve
“I Am Love,” Luca Guadagnino
— Ray Pride

Top 5 Films
“Animal Kingdom,” David Michôd
“Enter the Void,” Gaspar Noé
“Inception,” Christopher Nolan
“Lourdes,” Jessica Hausner
“Monsters,” Gareth Edwards
—Bill Stamets

Top 5 Documentary Films
“Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno,” Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea
“Sweetgrass,” (no director credited) [Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor]
“The Oath,” Laura Poitras
“Videocracy,” Erik Gandini
“Rembrandt’s J’Accuse,” Peter Greenaway
—Bill Stamets Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Father Of My Children

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Mia Hansen-Løve’s “The Father Of My Children” (Le Pere De Mes Enfants) tells stories in the same fleet, restless fashion as Olivier Assayas. Yet she has an assured voice of her own as a filmmaker. As a young actress, she was at the heart of Assayas’ 1998 “Late August, Early September,” an oblique meditation on friendship, mortality and legacy. At 29, and the mother of his child, she’s made something remarkable and gracefully mature: a story about one protagonist, Gregoire Canvel  (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), a producer of art films, that shatters into a story with several protagonists after a violent incident. Most notably, a strand of the story emerges with the Canvel’s eldest of three daughters, Clemence (played by de Lencquesaing’s own daughter, Alice) that suggests the natural path of a born cineaste. Hansen-Løve offers the offices of Canvel’s Moon Films, not as a place of carefree privilege or of cinematic dreams but as a dogged machine always one step behind, always in search of further finance for the dreams of his beloved, difficult auteur directors. (It’s neither “Day for Night” nor “My Life Is In Turnaround.”) There are turns in the tale better discovered than learned through synopsis: while the filmmaking is quietly observant, the examination of family, business, self-worth and the possibility of failure is bold and haunting. This is a beautiful, full-blooded film. (“The Father of My Children” won a special jury prize at Cannes in 2009.) (Ray Pride)

“The Father Of My Children” opens Friday at Landmark Century.