Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance 1 Comment »



Stephen Cone has been articulate in his admiration for American masters of the ensemble comedy-drama, not limited to Jonathan Demme, Robert Altman and Gregg Araki, and in “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party,” he wears influence lightly and well. The latest from the Chicago-based filmmaker is an ensemble piece that assuredly demonstrates maturity can be found in the citing of questions as much as the unfurling of answers, a formulation as suited to the filmmaking as to the characters we meet in one location across one long day as a preacher’s son (Cole Doman) celebrates his seventeenth birthday with a pool party. On a night-before sleepover, Henry demonstrates his crush on his friend Gabe (Joe Keery), enacted with geometric simplicity. Arrivals from church, school and family, young and old, dot the next day, with religion and sex the core concerns, gently bounding and abrading through each transition. What is love? Where is love? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Queen of Earth

Drama, Recommended No Comments »



All that wow and more: after several fortnights of a few or two of interest, the first two weeks of September brim, including what’s likely my favorite film of the year so far, John Magary’s “The Mend,” Robert Byington’s “7 Chinese Brothers” and Debra Granik’s compassionate documentary about lives of poverty, “Stray Dog.” Creative, compelling cinematic storytelling is alive and well-ish. In “Queen of Earth,” his fourth feature, writer-director Alex Ross Perry hews to his brusque, winsome antagonism. Drawing from deep wells on cinephilia and, it seems, cynicism, Perry is relentless toward his characters, and his depiction of cinematic female hysteria, somewhat after the fashion of Roman Polanski, is in line with the coruscating fevers of “Knife In the Water” and “Repulsion.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Remote Area Medical

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »



Why is universal healthcare considered radical, even un-American in some quarters? That’s not the subject of Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman’s quietly urgent, painfully of-the-moment “Remote Area Medical,” an observational documentary that leans into three days of the title organization’s encampment at Tennessee’s Bristol Motor Speedway. There’s no preaching here, only a selection of the amassing figures. Thousands of nearby citizens line up from the darkest hours of the morning to receive the most basic of medical and dental attention. “We don’t have jobs here, and the jobs that are available aren’t paying living wages,” we hear. Are we in a third-world country? (RAM began its activities aiding the dispossessed of other nations.) No, just the greater mid-South: America. The structuring of incident and character sneaks up on you: this is one of the most Altmanesque of large-cast nonfiction films, yet infused with a tenderness, a quiet dismay that Altman never cared for. Read the rest of this entry »

Film Flam: What’s In A Name?

Drama, Recommended, The State of Cinema No Comments »

The Conformist

By Ray Pride

For a long time, I resisted using the word “film” for anything except motion pictures shot on film and projected on motion-picture stock. (When George Lucas’ “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was released in 1999, the Newcity review ended with the words, “Transferred from video.”)

But now “film” is something else, not limited to theatrical exhibition. Lucas and James Cameron and the major distributors have won the day, even if the likes of JJ Abrams, Christopher Nolan, Judd Apatow and Quentin Tarantino rallied the troubled stock producer Kodak to continue producing film for production and archival reasons. Tarantino, who insists that his New Beverly repertory house in Los Angeles will only show 35mm henceforth, is the most adamant voice. “As far as I’m concerned, digital projection and DCPs [are] the death of cinema as I know it. It’s not even about shooting your film on film or shooting your film on digital, the fact that most films now are not presented in 35mm means that the war is lost and digital projections—that’s just television in public. Apparently the whole world is okay with television in public but what I knew as cinema is dead.” Read the rest of this entry »

Reel Life: On Film Versus Light

Comedy, Drama, Events, Recommended, The State of Cinema, Western No Comments »

Buck Turgidson Dr. Strangelove

By Ray Pride

John Boorman called one of his published diaries “Money Into Light,” a splendid title for the still-to-be-written story of the machinations that led to the abrupt demise of the century-plus of celluloid filmmaking and exhibition to the digital domain of movies today. Investments were made, money was saved, one art form was replaced by another.

A couple of notable events in Chicago in June highlight how rare and special the once-standard format has become. First up, there’s a new 35mm print of Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove, Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb” (1964), which Kubrick himself had supervised in a frame-by-frame re-creation in the 1990s to replace a lost or misplaced negative. That kind of “asset protection” was something the owners of film libraries didn’t think about until the last couple of decades, and traditionally, the negatives of movies got beaten up badly. Even “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” required restorations in 2008.

A second is the June 23 premiere at the Music Box of a 35mm restoration by the Northwest Chicago Film Society of a long-unseen hillbilly Western swing musical, “Corn’s-A-Poppin’,” written by Robert Altman. And, recently, the Music Box presented Pawel Pawlikowski’s gorgeous black-and-white drama “Ida,” in 35mm. When “Ida” was press-screened a few weeks back, the projectionist looked it up:  this shimmering anachronism was the screening room’s first paid exhibition of film in 389 days: the digital handover had been a done deal for over a year. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »


They live and die by night: David Lowery’s second feature, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” is a muted whisper of flash and filigree in a Texas-outlaw-couple-fable-cum-triangle, envisioned in crepuscular beauty. A dim juke, a dark barn, an unlit road: It’s nighttime in this part of Texas, in this dream of some Texas past. Some Sundance viewers found ready comparisons to Terrence Malick’s early films, but more than Malick, “Saints” seethes with the sparse parsing of Cormac McCarthy, the fated trajectory of trudge in Altman’s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” the intimately tactile character of Claire Denis’ many movies. Like a roster of American movies of the 1970s, these are crooks and lovers and cops who can’t seem to make it right. The main title is calligraphed as if in walnut ink on faded parchment, but this is not the time of pioneers, but instead, the 1970s, maybe, possibly, indeterminate, a time of boxy, elongated vehicles and limited vistas. In the town of Meridian, Texas, in hill country, Saints’ romantic triangle between outlaw Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck), his wife Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara), and local sheriff Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) is also a fugue for a bastard who’s tangled up the lives of others. Backstory is minimal. Moments, gestures tell all. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The UCLA Festival of Preservation at Siskel

Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Festivals, Recommended No Comments »

"Wanda" (1970)

Nitrate film, which movies used to be exhibited on, was flammable, explosive, prone to rot, unstable. 35mm celluloid as we still know it today is one of the most stable of preservation media. Yet the film industry is rapidly shifting to digital formats, much to its likely sooner-than-later regrets. Are you old enough to have a few three-and-a-half-inch floppies on a shelf in the closet? Eight-inch Wang floppies? Take just the quickest moment to think of how you might go about recovering the data and you’ve got an idea of what the film industry will face in coming years. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Around A Small Mountain

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


(36 vues du Pic Saint Loup) Are characters ever offstage in movies by Jacques Rivette? The 81-year-old French director’s 2009 “Around A Small Mountain,” runs hardly eighty beautifully edited minutes, and its slightness resounds against his lifelong fascination with acting and role-playing. The two-and-a-half hours of “Va savoir” (2001) or the nearly thirteen hours of his 1971 “Out 1: noli me tangere” are deeply embedded in the gentle play of grown-ups who have either run off to join the circus, or who are, in fact, the circus, failing in small towns along the picturesque mountain roads of the Pic Saint Loup region of France. Jane Birkin is especially striking as the ringmaster of all the affairs. They’re ghosts, ghosts ever in touch with life, like the characters in Robert Altman’s last film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” knowing that angels are not of this life. But they’re also artists, and their process, creating and improving their circus gags for increasingly small audiences, provide the movie’s modest momentum. The last shot placidly observes as a full moon is slowly occluded by glaucous clouds: the clouding of sight, memory, the pulling of a final curtain. With Sergio Castellitto, André Marcon, Jacques Bonnaffé, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Hélène de Vallombreuse, Tintin Orsoni, Vimala Pons, Mikaël Gaspar, Stéphane Laisné. 84m. (Ray Pride)

“Around a Small Mountain” opens Friday at Siskel. A trailer is below. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Audrey the Trainwreck

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance, The State of Cinema No Comments »


Life’s a grind, but it’s better than the other option, right? The lovingly bruised “Audrey the Trainwreck” is a melancholy meditation on early-onset adulthood, told through the interactions of two young depressives who may be tumbling toward a relationship,  characters adrift in their own ways, hoping for love, or perhaps just a little reassuring simplicity. Chicago writer-director-editor Frank V. Ross’ fifth feature is freighted with the heightened ordinary and his comedic and dramatic instincts are wrapped in a rare concern for the lowered expectations of the modern middle-class. “I can say I’m not afraid of anything, because there’s a lack of options,” one character says; the observation is dry, even though it’s coming from a resigned place in her heart. Ross’ most intriguing pattern is how the everydayness of the jobs and pursuits are interrupted by bits of conflict and violence or unexpectedly apt humor. (In life and in drama, inertia needs to be punctured.) The violence is, well, funny. Read the rest of this entry »

Happiness, Actually: Rocking the boat with Richard Curtis

Comedy, Musical, Romance No Comments »

curtisdirectsrockingtheboatBy Ray Pride

Richard Curtis is happy even if you’re not.

“I’m a great believer in happiness,” says the 53-year-old writer of “Blackadder” and “Notting Hill” and writer-director of “Love Actually” and “Pirate Radio” on a Monday stopover in Chicago the day after his birthday. “And, if like me, you’ve had a happy life and you can try and portray it and send people out of the cinema joyful, that’s a great thing. And I don’t think at all that happiness is sentimental, or unrealistic. All over the world, there are people who are having fun with their friends, falling in love, having a good time, loving rock ‘n’ roll, and only about two places in the world are there serial killers planning to murder single mothers in apartment blocks. For some reason or other, when you have these absolutely gruesome things, they’re called searingly realistic, but they happen only once a decade. Whereas if you make a movie about friends falling around and people losing their virginity, that’s called unrealistic. Whereas, it’s happening millions of times in every city around the world. I’m interested in talking about that stuff.”

Curtis’ latest confection, “Pirate Radio,” (called “The Boat That Rocks” in its twenty-minute-longer British release) celebrates an era in the 1960s when British pop music was breaking out while broadcast radio remained staid and stuck-up. Entrepreneurs imported Australian and American deejays and moored them offshore, with pirate stations beaming the latest sounds to a grateful nation. Read the rest of this entry »