Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: White House Down

Drama, Recommended No Comments »


“White House Down” is the best kind of nightmare-fulfillment fantasy as Nakatomi Center sends along a change-of-address notice: “John Cale, c/o 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Channing Tatum is the Secret Service aspirant of that name, close enough to “John McClane” of “Die Hard” days (as well as the Welsh musician), whose unsatisfactory interview to join the White House Secret Service detail with his politico-in-the-making eleven-year-old daughter in tow just happens to coincide with a wildly plotted attempt to bring down the U. S. Government. German-born director Roland Emmerich hails and nails the White House once more (after “Independence Day” and “2012”) to gratifyingly entertaining effect, working from a giddily propulsive script, a slalom of coincidence and contrivance by screenwriter James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac,” “The Amazing Spider-Man”). This isn’t a Guilty Pleasure, just a pleasure. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Company You Keep

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Among the small, canny, intelligent things to admire about Robert Redford’s “The Company You Keep” is the absence of a cast list in the opening credits: it’s the most sweetly starry supporting cast in any recent small-scale movie. (If you want the same eyes-wide surprise I got from the movie, I’ll just say it’s smart, engaging work before dropping names of the cast, which isn’t top-heavy, but just right, filled with nuanced bits of performance.) Okay, ready: Shia LaBeouf is a young journalist for the “Albany Sun-Times,” with a logo much like Chicago’s own Sun-Times. After the arrest of a radical still on the run from a 1960s murder (Susan Sarandon), he’s on the sniff for the big story, aided if not abetted by his skeptical editor, Stanley Tucci. Single fatherRobert Redford is a cautious lawyer who won’t take the case, for reasons relatively easy to surmise. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jack Reacher

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Werner Herzog

Tom Cruise stars in “A Tom Cruise Production” as a character with “no character arc,” as Lee Child characterizes his seventeen Jack Reacher novels to date. The Brit author links his off-the-grid do-gooder to legend: “the ‘knight errant’ is what they called him in literary criticism terms,” he offers in press notes for the pulpy entertainment billed and branded as “Jack Reacher.” This retired military investigator dresses Goodwill, travels Greyhound. His fight style?  Keysi from Spain. When he kicks butt, it really means “kicks nuts.” No A-list American male action star has ever kicked, clubbed and punched so many bad guys in their manly parts. Nearly every woman, including extras with no lines, shoots a hot look in passing. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Review: Liberal Arts

Comedy No Comments »

Zach Braff, where have you been for so long? It’s great to have you b— Oh. “Liberal Arts” was made by someone else? Writer-director-star Josh Radnor, co-star of “How I Met Your Mother,” who made the suffocatingly-titled “Happythankyoumoreplease” (2010)? Yeeks. I could’ve sworn— Radnor plays a stalled thirty-five-year-old admissions counselor who returns to his college campus upon a favored professor’s retirement, only to meet a “Zibby,” or Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a sophomore improv theater student who could well lift him out of his slump. Sensitive male feel-goodery rushes the screen: even the great Richard Jenkins fails to rise above the ticklish, cutesy comedic stylings. (Nobody feels like an adult. That’s the world’s “dirty secret” gets a fair reading from the genially great lion.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Darling Companion

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Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away…. There was a young screenwriter named Lawrence Kasdan. Co-writer on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” screenwriter of  “The Bodyguard,” his directorial career began under George Lucas’ wing with neo-noir “Body Heat” in 1981, and then he made “The Big Chill,” his 1983 remix of John Sayles’ “Return of the Secaucus Seven.” Some thought he spoke for the entire generation of Baby Boomers. Now Kasdan is sixty-three, and he hasn’t directed a movie since the lamentable 2003 Stephen King adaptation, “Dreamcatcher,” and his time away shows in the movie’s daring inconsequence. “Darling Companion” is a generational statement as well, more AARP than “Arf!”, for a post-middle-age demographic the movie industry could possibly profit from addressing, of citizens tending to senior whose attention tends to wander and who like going to the movies because it’s warm in there and dark and it’s okay if you fall asleep. Read the rest of this entry »

Men In White Short-Sleeve Shirts: Beneath “The Cabin In The Woods”

Comedy, Horror, Recommended No Comments »

By Ray Pride

There’s a weave of wicked play in “The Cabin in the Woods” that makes it tough to describe without giving away the game. Although the most recent commercials do indicate some of what’s afoot, they’re more tease than giveaway. The studio’s synopsis reads: “Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Bad things happen.”

Let’s see… Drew Goddard’s directorial debut, co-written with longtime colleague Joss Whedon, is about what’s under what’s in the basement and what goes on under that? Talking to the extremely affable and extremely tall Goddard recently, I suggested this comedy-horror-puzzle could honorably earn a three-word review from someone who didn’t want to give away too many particulars. “What. Th’. Fuck.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Rum Diary

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Puerto Rico, 1960. Everyone is insane, everyone is a maniac. Period. The Eisenhower era tumbles tightly to an end up north across the water. Here, it’s humid and there’s rum. There is ludic cynicism—”The average guy don’t rock the boat because they want to get on it”—and there is brittle contempt—”A liberal is a commie with a college education thinking Negro thoughts.” There is also Gonzo avant la lettre in this period piece: “You’re giving me fear!”/”You’re high, you fool!” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Friends With Benefits

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On one hand, the very funny and largely satisfying “Friends with Benefits” is yet another manic fantasy of a Manhattan media wonderland-cum-playground that never existed but in the movies, or maybe 1994. On the other, it’s an uncommonly fucky rom-com that whirls around the chemistry between co-stars Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. Jamie (Kunis) is an executive headhunter who fields an offer to Los Angeleno Internet guy Dylan (Timberlake) to become art director of GQ magazine (its logo emblazoned at the entrance of Rockefeller Center). Their rapport is breezy; both are reluctant to fall into bed for fear of falling into like. Vulgar, sassy zest ensues. (“Shut up, Katherine Heigl, you stupid liar!” is just the beginning.) I get in trouble when I call romantic comedies “smart,” but there’s spark and spirit and chemistry in their give-and-take, even once genre conventions kick in. Read the rest of this entry »

Small Talk After Farts: The Farrelly brothers return to form with “Hall Pass”

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Recommended No Comments »

By Ray Pride

With “Hall Pass,” the Farrelly brothers return to what they do best: goodness, kindness, male cupidity, female patience and abrupt scatology in a generous R-rated package.

Working from the template of a script by Chicago native Pete Jones (“Project Greenlight”), Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s Providence-set comedy works from a simple premise that takes its sweet time setting up. Two essentially nice but quintessentially thick middle-aged ordinary guys (Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis), have decent home lives with their wives (Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, respectively) but feel a little bit of the itch when another woman catches their eye. (Good gags from them thinking their wives don’t notice and why, and later reveals that the wives do, and how.) The set-up’s sneaky: once the story’s gimmick kicks in—you’ve got a week off from marriage, see how you like them Applebee’s lady patrons—the jokes flow and bounce. It would be a disservice to give away the wealth of keen and foul, but there is one perfectly realized sight gag, in framing, timing and context, that tops even “There’s Something About Mary”‘s hair gel. Read the rest of this entry »