Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Life, And Movies, As A Long Quiet River: Sundance Standouts Ebert, James, Linklater And Sachs Limn Lifetimes

Documentary, Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »
Boyhood Still1

Boy, “Boyhood”

By Ray Pride

Like his subject, Steve James’ “Life Itself” is a piece of work.

Packing seventy years of the life of Chicago’s own Roger Ebert into a swift, swinging two hours, the director of “Hoop Dreams” and “The Interrupters” gives a dense, vivid impression of the Sun-Timesman’s will and destiny to be a newspaperman from the earliest age, but also the many overlapping eras of his eventful (and competitive) life. Editor-in-chief at college, appointed film critic almost by accident at a callow age, the drinking, the rivalry with Gene Siskel, Chaz, the loss of voice alongside the gain of a virtual pulpit, the ornery Midwestern strength in the face of debilitating pain in his final days. There are hundreds of stories to be told, and as has been amply pointed out, at Sundance and elsewhere, hundreds of people have them, their own Roger Ebert story from the late, great everyman’s simple, elemental curiosity. There’s a lot between the covers of Ebert’s fugue-cum-memoir that gives the film its title and some of its territory, but for a movie made in just over a year, it’s a compact feat of determination and legerdemain. I knew Roger since I was nineteen, so I’ll leave the subject for now by saying that James’ two hours (co-edited with fellow Kartemquin veteran David Simpson) is a proper, not wholly reverent remembrance. The filmmakers have provided a place of pride for the immortal line Ebert wrote for Russ Meyer’s “Beneath The Valley Of The Dolls”: “This is my happening and it freaks me out!” As well it should; as well it did. Read the rest of this entry »

Moments for Lifetimes: Ebertfest Without Ebert

Chicago Artists, Events, Festivals, News and Dish, The State of Cinema No Comments »

Photo: Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

“Quality over quantity,” Roger Ebert wrote to me when he’d just signed onto Twitter, seeing how much I posted on any given day. But soon after, he was furnishing the Internet with his own personal, characteristic rivulet of riffs, reviews and retweets. His voice sounded in yet another form.

Last weekend, at the fifteenth annual Ebertfest in Champaign-Urbana, tributes were consistent in both quality and quantity. It was a living wake. But the programming, largely by his hand, served as a hyperarticulate last will and testament as well, the shape of which grew more and more emphatic as the five days and nights lengthened. The opening was a 35mm print of Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven,” with hearty ninety-two-year-old co-cinematographer Haskell Wexler in attendance. Five of the fourteen films were 35mm prints, another sort of wake, for the form he had always celebrated, in the format he first found it, bright and nourishing in the communal dark. Read the rest of this entry »

Champaign Days at Ebertfest: Projecting Borrowed Time

Chicago Artists, Festivals No Comments »

Photo by Ray Pride.

By Ray Pride

All the movies here are about forgiveness and mortality, I message a friend in the midst of last week’s fourteenth edition of Ebertfest in Champaign-Urbana.

The quick, glib text in turn: “Isn’t that all movies, really?” Since I didn’t know I was going until a couple days ahead, I hadn’t looked over the list of twelve “overlooked” features that Roger Ebert and his festival staff had programmed. All I really knew was that no movies or presentations overlap, and ample time is slotted for lunch and dinner; that is, lots of gab.

On opening night, “Joe Vs. The Volcano” (1990), shown at the sold-out downtown 1,525-seat Virginia Theatre (built 1921), is about a white-collar worker who escapes “Brazil”-like drudgery when he’s told he has six months to live. John Patrick Shanley’s cracked romanticism ensues. Mortality of another stripe came to light afterwards, when cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt said a DCP digital copy of the film had been mastered especially for Ebert, and he thought it looked finer than it had ever looked in its photochemical form. Still, the sixty-seven-year-old cinematographer admitted, he’s yet to shoot a movie in any digital format. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Film Socialisme

Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

The 80-year-old Jean-Luc Godard’s “Film Socialisme” is a disarmingly beautiful rash of video imagery that ranges from HD in gleaming blues on a luxury liner late at night to cell-phone images that stutter, blanch and bleed, accompanied by murmorous dialogues turning over familiar political idées fixe and the crisp musique concrète-style sound mixes of his work of the past three decades. Godard hectors and cryptographs, finding an expressive character for his digital video palette with far greater success than his 2001 “Eloge de l’amour,” but with less engagement than in the recently reissued “Sauve qui peut (la vie)” (1980), shot on 35mm film, which works with metaphors of self-loathing, prostitution and misogyny. “Film Socialisme” is sketch comedy for cineastes (far less dense than the obsessive and potted essay “Histoires du Cinéma”), those who react to colors and edits and gestural repetitions and thematic fixations, but not those who struggle to cipher a story from fragments. His latest fractured fairytales are also filmmaking as sculpture, expressive through collage and not the verities of theater and text, film as a corrupted dream. (Oh! The nineteenth century!) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Vincent: A Life In Color

Biopic, Chicago Artists, Documentary, The State of Cinema No Comments »

Jennifer Burns’ 2009 “Vincent: A Life In Color” is the future of documentary in the here-and-now: a hand-to-mouth portrait of a local eccentric with touching elements in the central character’s life story. There’s gonna be a lot more of them in the foreseeable future: anecdotes that could be shorts that are expanded to feature length. (Everybody thinks everybody’s got a story.) Vincent P. Falk, legally blind with extreme tunnel vision, worked as a computer programmer for Cook County and lives in a Marina City condo. In his off-hours, draped in coats of many colors, none drab, all as bold as lightning, he haunts the bridges over the Chicago River and the fishbowl windows of local television news broadcasts, often doing dervish-y spins of joy. Nicknames supposedly abound: “Fashion Man” and “Man of a Thousand Coats” as well as “Riverace” (pronounced like “Liberace”). Despite a troubled childhood, detailed at length, Vincent comes across as an odd but supremely contented man. Viewers’ taste for Vincent’s taste in puns may vary. Roger Ebert is a central supporter of “Vincent,” reviewing it last June on his website before a release was set, and programming it at his recent Ebertfest in Champaign.  96m. DigiBeta. (Ray Pride)

“Vincent: A Life In Color” opens Friday at Siskel. Burns and Falk will appear at all Friday-Sunday shows and Monday-Thursday 8pm shows. A reel of Falk’s spins-for-the-camera is embedded below. Read the rest of this entry »

Subtitle Town USA: Can Music Box Films turn Chicago into a home for world cinema?

News and Dish, The State of Cinema, World Cinema 1 Comment »

Brian Andreotti and Bill Schopf/Photo: Alyssa Miserendino

By Tom Lynch

You’re probably sick of hearing it by now, but “The Hurt Locker” is the least-seen of all Best Picture Oscar winners in history. In an age when funding for modest pictures is scarce, and studios are less interested in taking risks with films lacking marquee names, an art-house action drama (of considerable caliber, of course) bested the highest-grossing movie of all time. This was no small upset: On a Wednesday a full month after its release, “Avatar” took in more money than “The Hurt Locker” did during its entire theatrical run.

With cash tight all over, movie studios have been limiting their independent-film divisions. In 2008, despite co-producing high-quality pictures like “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood,” most of Paramount Vantage was consolidated into its parent studio. (Paramount retained the brand name, however.) But when most film studios were sprinting as fast as they could away from art-house fare, Music Box Theatre owner Bill Schopf saw an opportunity.

The Music Box Theatre, on Southport Avenue in the Lakeview neighborhood, has maintained a solid reputation as both a high-class art-film exhibitor and midnight-movie cult-film destination. Built in 1929 and barely changed since, the theater’s overwhelming old-time movie-house atmosphere is as much a part of the experience as the actual film you’re there to see—whether it be a midnight screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a weekend matinee of some Hitchcock, or the new Terry Gilliam film. And, of course, there’s the live organist.

In 2007, Schopf, a high-profile attorney and real estate developer, who took control of the Music Box in 2003, began considering an expansion, first horizontally. His team began searching for other theater possibilities in Chicago, but the realities of actually finding a good venue set in quickly, and distribution entered the conversation. The vertical leap of a movie theater venturing into film distribution is a substantial move, and a risky one at that, given the financial climate. At first, everyone tried to talk Schopf out of it. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: For the Love of the Movies

Documentary, Recommended, The State of Cinema No Comments »

sarristyping_lowRECOMMENDED

Boston Phoenix film contributor Gerald Peary’s almost-a-decade-in-the making chronicle of twentieth-century American film criticism, “For the Love of the Movies,” provides glimpses of the faces and fracases of that storied time, suggestive of a much larger history that could run to volumes, footnoted endlessly, hyperlinked furiously, contested perpetually. I offer a “Recommended” rating for subject matter alone; having studied and practiced in the dark with film crickets for well over a decade, I’ve got my own hunches and recollections and perspectives on the subject. I can’t imagine a non-practitioner getting much from “For the Love”; there’s too much implied and left unsung about the supposed passions for it to make much sense to the non-pro. And any documentary that gives short shift to the essential syncopations of Manny Farber leaves me rolling eyes skyward. Among the critics under consideration: Roger Ebert, Andrew Sarris, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Michael Wilmington, Gene Siskel, Richard Corliss, Kenneth Turan, B. Ruby Rich, Wesley Morris, Janet Maslin, Leonard Maltin, Stuart Klawns, Harry Knowles, Owen Gleiberman, David D’Arcy, Lisa Nesselson and Karina Longworth. Narrated by Patricia Clarkson. Movie City News’ Michael Wilmington will appear at the Friday 7:45 showing. 80m. HDCAM. (Ray Pride)

Review: Antichrist

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, The State of Cinema, World Cinema No Comments »

antichrist-douche03RECOMMENDED

A man (Willem Dafoe) and a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) make love tenderly. Classical music (Händel) plays. Their child is neglected, omitted from the primal scene. The loss of the child is intercut with orgasm. (Is it possible to be shocked by a tumble cycle? Yes.) Humanity has fallen. Grief prevails. Dafoe’s character is a psychological therapist and, as she grieves, insists they escape to “Eden,” their cabin in the Pacific Northwest woods. Soon, as one figure barks in unlikely fashion, “Chaos reigns!” It’s a much more theatrical and baroque variation on couplehood and parental loss than Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now,” but draws from similiar waters. Explicit, terrible gestures are enacted. (The Roeg title soon suits Trier’s film.) Unspeakable things, which you would have read multiple times if you had skimmed reviews from Cannes, where dudgeon was oft-expressed through laundry lists of the cruelties Von Trier portrays. Read the rest of this entry »

John Hughes: Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want

Chicago Artists 2 Comments »

By Ray PrideB7144-16-01

“Breaking News” from Variety on my phone on the 66 home: John Hughes dead at 59. Eyes sting a little and immediately I remember the Simple Minds lyrics, “Don’t you forget about me, no, no, no,” heard in “The Breakfast Club.” John Hughes, the man, had been all but forgotten as a briefly prolific filmmaker (eight features in eight years, thirty-five-plus script credits), but the movies, the lines of dialogue, comic and observational, and yes, the songs, they’re stuck in an impressively expansive collective brain.

. . .

Five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy disks and loose pages spilled across the surface of the desk. “These are his pages,” the woman offering me the sudden urgent weekend task said. “What you have to do is take all these typed pages and make sure they match up to the pages on the disk,” compiled in a now-defunct, now-obscure word-processing program, “and you have to be careful not to change anything. John doesn’t like anyone changing things. A comma, a word. We just need a working copy for the production office.” I looked at one of the several front pages. “Uncle Buck.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sita Sings the Blues

Animated, Musical, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDsita-laxmiphonograph

Producer-director-writer Nina Paley’s animated musical “Sita Sings The Blues,” about the tribulations of an Indian princess, is indie outside the lines, a sweet burst of color and imagination. Winner of the 2009 Gotham Awards’ “Best Film Not Playing at a Theatre Near You” (I was on its jury), “Sita” almost didn’t make it to theaters even after acclaim like Roger Ebert’s out-of-queue epic of praise after he’d seen a DVD a few months back. The blues songs in the movie, however old, are still under the ever-lengthening shadow of long-lived copyright law. Paley describes her tribulations at sitasingstheblues.com and the music publishing combines, such as Warner-Chapell and Sony-ATV at sitasingstheblues.com/restrictions.html. “I hereby give ‘Sita Sings the Blues’ to you. Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show ‘Sita Sings the Blues.’ From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes,” she writes on the site. Paley’s is a fascinating battle in the artist-vs.-conglomerate era we’re in, but should not obscure the fact that the work she’s made is a gorgeous, seductive hand-made artifact that will keep you smiling for days after you’ve seen it in 35mm projection, as at Siskel this week. 82m. (Ray Pride)