Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Making Movies or Making Money? The Financial Art behind “Killing Them Softly”

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Andrew Dominik/Photo: Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

“Lawless.” “The Master.” “Zero Dark Thirty.” “Killing Them Softly.”

What do these films—a sturdy roster in any single year—have in common? Their producer-financier, twenty-six-year-old Megan Ellison and her production company, Annapurna Pictures. Who’s benefited from the handiwork of this beneficent billionaire? Aside from Andrew Dominik, whose “Killing Them Softly” opens Friday, let’s list John Hillcoat, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kathryn Bigelow, and soon, Harmony Korine (“Spring Breakers”), Wong Kar-Wai (“The Grandmasters”), Spike Jonze, and Bennett Miller, as well as the makers of a new “Terminator” film. Movie-news aggregator The Wrap featured an article in October by its editor, Sharon Waxman, unloading on the young producer. “Well-meaning financiers like Ellison will ruin what is left of the independent movie business,” she editorialized. “Spending so much on these art-house films almost guarantees they will be money losers, and that is bad for the movie business altogether… But the overall effect on the landscape for quality movies is not a good one. Every big-ticket failure kills another great movie in its infancy.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ape and Ego: The Enigmas of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master”

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By Ray Pride

“This is something you do for a billion years or not at all.”

There’s much declaimed about mind and matter and devotion to ideas, ideas that will weather time, in “The Master,” and the teeming result is crafty, chunky delight, an enigma of ape and ego. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson wrestles with man-vs.-animal in eccentric, compelling, outrageously plush fashion: it’s not just about L. Ron Hubbard and the roots of Scientology, as was rumored before the film’s release. It’s most particular about sterling, physical performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix as battling, wrestling embodiments of flesh and philosophy.

Set in the early 1950s, “The Master” quickly etches the alcoholic abandon of sailor Freddie Quell (Phoenix) before placing him in the orbit of a man whose family and acolytes call “The Master.” At first meeting, bearing a red pencil and wearing a red dressing gown, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s face blushed to lobster red, The Master recognizes this shifty character as more than a transient to traffic with, his project, his grail, his doom, his liege, his love, his “silly, silly animal.” (They bond over quaffs of Quell’s signature pour, a particularly flammable, inflammatory Long Island iced tea comprised of endless medicinal quaffs of paint thinner and such chemicals damped through heels of bread.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jack Goes Boating

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RECOMMENDED

Hoffman floats. In his feature directorial debut (he’s directed several original productions in the theater), Philip Seymour Hoffman has chosen to adapt Bob Glaudini’s “Jack Goes Boating,” which he had also acted in and directed off-Broadway. While the battles between two working-class New York City couples have the intensity of a stage production, Hoffman shows assurance as a craftsman, deploying production design, color, sound and music in deft fashion. Thérèse DePrez’s dressing of apartments and offices is especially apt. Hoffman’s Jack is friends with Clyde and Lucy, played by John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Jack and Clyde are limo drivers with different ideas about how to attain their dreams. Lucy works at a funeral home, along with Connie (the radiant Amy Ryan), whom Jack meets and likes, but these two grown-ups need time to work beyond past failures. Clyde and Lucy are in the course of detonating as the new couple fumbles forward. Read the rest of this entry »

At Zeroes End: Best Films, 2000-2009

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By Ray Prideinthemoodforlove-2jpg

1. “In the Mood for Love,” Wong Kar-Wai, 2000
Repetition, proximity, music, exchange of glances. Looks of desire, clouds, rain. Unconsummated romance = cinema.

2. “Yi Yi,” Edward Yang, 2000
Perfection. It’s taken for granted because it seems so simple, so easy, so natural. Family as lovingly detailed soap opera; at just under three hours, the late Taiwanese master made a multigenerational epic worthy of a novel. And, strangely befitting his background in computer science, he knew precisely where to place the camera for the most dynamic effect.

3. “Before Sunset,” Richard Linklater, 2004
Linklater knows there’s grandeur in the smallest of shared, skittery moments. This couple that never was, with dreamy memories of their one-night stand, are different people now, older, oft-disappointed, yet despite underlying melancholy, still straining for a moment of genuine contact. Read the rest of this entry »

Top 50 Films: 2000-2009

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By Tom Lynch01

50. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” Shane Black, 2005

49. “In America,” Jim Sheridan, 2002

48. “The Lives of Others,” Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006

47. “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Guillermo del Toro, 2006

46. “Best in Show,” Christopher Guest, 2000

45. “Michael Clayton,” Tony Gilroy, 2007

44. “The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan, 2008 Read the rest of this entry »

The Corn Identity: Steven Soderbergh’s corporate comic confusion

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the-informant-a12By Ray Pride

Stately, plump Mark Whitacre bounds through the frame within the frames of rooms in hotels and corporate offices in “The Informant!” like a man whose racing thoughts propel him ever forward, his near-pompadour of hair ever upward.

In Steven Soderbergh’s lovingly batshit comedy about corporate conspiracy and whistle-blowing at Midwestern agricultural combine Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in the 1990s, the storytelling moves at a velocity past a couple of the “Oceans” movies, along with a voice-over of comic static from biochemist and corporate vice-president Whitacre’s (Matt Damon) head. Seemingly outraged by the liberties taken by his bosses, Whitacre becomes a mole for the FBI in what appears to be a price-fixing setup with Japanese competitors in the market for lysine, an amino acid derived from corn. Sounds deadly dull? Not for a second. “The Informant!” plays like an ADD edition of “The Insider,” everything that would possibly be glum imbued with a rosy, optimistic, hopeful charge. Whitacre’s brain crackles with non-sequiturs; his inability to focus at any given moment is what makes the movie both strange and eccentrically funny. While this reportedly under-$25 million comedy may be described by some as a straightforward movie by the experimentally minded Soderbergh, it may be his most cracked, fractured film since “Schizopolis.” It’s high-fructose mania. Overlapping, contradicting, questioning, reassuring, it makes you wonder for the man’s sanity almost immediately. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Funny People

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By Ray Pridefunny_people_00332

The more I think about “Funny People,” the more it seems that Judd Apatow has made precisely the (reported) $75 million home movie he meant to make.

It’s an ungainly gosling, epic with surfaces and, as over its two-and-a-half hour duration, out of its depths with depth. For his third feature, the veteran stand-up-gagman-TV producer-writer-director at times barely channels autobiography. The first three people thanked in the end credits are Garry Shandling, Paul Thomas Anderson and James L. Brooks: three godfathers that offer some notion of the turf he’s hoping to claim. First, there’s the bitterness, passive-aggressiveness, hostility and penis-obsessed humor of Shandling, for whom Apatow wrote on the piercingly harsh classic “Larry Sanders Show.” Shandling’s disappearance from the public eye is often chalked up to questions about mortality like those faced by Apatow’s lead character, George Simmons (Adam Sandler). Secondly, he’s attempting to go beyond the gag-charged confines of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” attempting the tonal range, swooping from comedy to pathos, as in Anderson’s more expansive canvases, as in “Magnolia” or “Boogie Nights.” Third, there are James L. “Spanglish” Brooks’ equally elephantine epics that swoop from pathos to bathos with intermittently brilliant verbal gags. It’s a catalog of well-upholstered influences. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hollywood Issue: Where is the Glamour?

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By Ray Pride

Glamour takes many forms.

And vanity? Is Vanity Fair. I just dropped the most obvious artifact of both on my foot and it hurts. I’d weigh these 444 pages of the March Vanity Fair, “The Hollywood Issue,” on a bathroom scale if I had one. This fat slab of perfume-stripped gloss is it, the idea of glamour in its most mercantile form; although the magazine’s annual A-list shindig was cancelled during the uncertainty of whether the Writers Guild strike would be settled, this toe-smasher is a more readily summoned definition of “glamour” than the habitrail course of awards shows that preceded the Oscars. “There Will Be Blood” has a reek of “Chinatown” on its breath; “Michael Clayton” is a sleeker edition of movies made by Alan J. Pakula, like “Klute” or “The Parallax View”; “No Country for Old Men” traffics in both nihilism and moralism like movies of another time. More old-fashioned would be “Atonement”’s tragic love story (with a well-chosen vulgarity tossed in) and “Juno” is bumptious and fractious and has three stars under 30: Ellen Page, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody. (For the Academy, that may be the story as much as its have-your-sex-and-eat-it-too storyline, and its near-$150 million box office doesn’t hurt.)
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Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2007: Film

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Top 5 U.S. Films
“There Will Be Blood,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford,” Andrew Dominik
“Ratatouille,” Brad Bird
“Zodiac,” David Fincher
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” Tim Burton
Ray Pride
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Review: There Will Be Blood

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RECOMMENDED
“A screaming comes across the sky,” Thomas Pynchon famously opened “Gravity’s Rainbow.” “It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.” Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” opens with landscape and Man: a man named Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis). Man seeks Oil, or “Oil!,” the title of the 1927 Upton Sinclair novel that Anderson drew from for bits of his story. Read the rest of this entry »