Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Hey Hey In The Hayloft: The Preston Sturges Whirl Of “Hail, Caesar!”

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coen hail

By Ray Pride

I miss medical marijuana.

Not so much the stuff itself, more so the women I’ve known who partake and partake, and then watch and rewatch Coen brothers movies. It goes all the way back to, duh, “The Big Lebowski,” a movie that grated on me at first turn, at an advance Manhattan screening the night before interviewing the bros. Coen, where I was entirely sober and straitlaced and my tumultuously laughing, giggling, snorting then-girlfriend was baked within an inch of all her five feet tall. She got it and was gotten good, and explained afterward what I missed with increasing exasperation. It clicked the next day when most every entreaty I offered up to the writer-producer-directors was met with grins and giggles, a smokescreen entirely befitting that particular picture.

The latest Joel and Ethan Coen joint is “Hail, Caesar!,” superficially a satire of the entitled, juvenile doings behind the scenes at an apocryphal 1950s Hollywood studio, Capitol Pictures, modeled in matters small and large after the Melrose Avenue landscape of Paramount Pictures (and MGM, too). In a way, it’s like what might have been going on back at the studio while Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels” film director was out on the road looking for so-serioso subject matter.

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Review: Zero Theorem

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Zero Theorem street copy


Shoestring Terry Gilliam is better than no Terry Gilliam at all, and in the sweetly mad master’s latest revision of dystopia takes on the pixel-kapow of corporate-designed image-drench and idea-blanch of the modern landscape of cities and man’s mind. Small-scale yet still baroque, the Bucharest-shot $13.8 million quickie, “The Zero Theorem” (written by Pat Rushin), still indulges Gilliam’s particular brand of dark whimsy and prickly paranoia. A chrome-domed, stressed and fretful Christoph Waltz plays Qohen Leth, a computer programmer who’s retired to a chapel in the midst of a bustling post-modern London metropolis, slaving day and night at a computer simulation he’s been employed to use to solve the “zero theorem.” He keeps at his drudgery while waiting for a mysterious phone call that seems may never come. The glimpses of the streets outside bustle like Piccadilly Circus merged with a midget version of Hong Kong Central, and branding and hectoring and overlapping voices battle of Qohen and the audience throughout. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Snowpiercer

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With “Snowpiercer,” the eminently talented South Korean genre-bender Bong Joon-ho (“The Host,” “Barking Dogs Never Bite,” “Mother”) aims beyond the fences again with his fevered free adaptation of Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s 1984 French graphic novel, “Le Transperceneige.” Bong and co-writer Kelly Masterson (“Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead”) get a running start, depicting a worldwide attempt to forestall global warming on July 1, 2014, an experiment that freezes the planet. “The rattling ark” of a visionary industrialist’s vast, perpetual motion train that makes a circuit of the globe once a year is then the film’s allegorical setting. (In the novel, the train is 1,001 carriages long, to throw in another allusion.) For seventeen years, the Snowpiercer has stayed in motion. The oppressed of the farthest reaches of the tail of the train are prepared to revolt, to make their way to the front of the train, to…? They know no other world, not even sunlight glinted off the expanses of barren snow and frozen cities they circuit past. Read the rest of this entry »

To Be Or Not To Be Wes: History Under the Influence at “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

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Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF FileBy Ray Pride

If on a winter’s night, a screenwriter…

Wes Anderson’s dense, compacted, throwback-look forward, comic mock-operetta of a mythic Mitteleuropa seemingly patterned after the no-place/not-home movies of filmmakers like Lubitsch, Lang, Ophuls, Mamoulian and Renoir, who had escaped the onrushing events between the wars in Europe, bursts with influence, overflows with decor, makes whimsy in the reflected light of offscreen historical horrors. Bold balderdash and elevated deadpan, its most ready surface influence would appear to be heady expatriate confections like “To Be Or Not To Be,” and other films of that time that do not stint on looming shadows in faux-European studio settings.

Anderson’s everyman-in-no-man’s-land is Gustave H., the concierge of an ocean liner of a wedding-cake deluxe hotel in the fictional duchy of Zubrowka, The Grand Budapest Hotel. He is a man with a job, if not a surname or a notable nationality. Ralph Fiennes invests H. with the brusque panache of both the boulevardier and the comic lights of the stage. Lubitsch’s blithe cosmopolitanism is supplanted by brute snippiness in the person of Fiennes. Speaking faster than he fast-walks, his H. is given to “oh fuck it”s that are the verbal equal of Indiana Jones choosing to take out a pistol and dispatch a scimitar-wielding opponent. (Fiennes is nourished by H.’s bursts of comic filth.) His impatience, his hurry, accelerates the sense that a narrative, an era, is hurtling to a close, as well as setting the tempo for the heist-and-chase design of the movie.

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Children of Paradise: Unboxing Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom”

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moonkingBy Ray Pride

A list of readily identifiable possible influences streaming into Wes Anderson’s symphonic romance “Moonrise Kingdom” would quickly become a trainwreck at the cinémathèque. (Think “outlaw couple” and rummage further from there.) And yet, it’s great, it’s thrilling, it’s moody, it’s marvelous, it’s A Big Golden Book of Wes; an encyclopedia of All Things Anderson.

Childhood, the past: memory, an island. It’s 1965, the year Jean-Luc Godard’s apocalyptic Nouvelle Vague runaway-lovers tale, “Pierrot le fou” was released. We’re transported emphatically onto a seemingly remote New England island in summer, where two twelve-year-olds fall in love, run away into the impossibly complex wilderness and leave a community of adults behind, a weave and weft of authority of childlike demeanor that includes parents and “Khaki Scout” scoutmasters and a sheriff and a narrator and a child-safety bureaucrat named only “Social Services.” Information comes at us in a fashion formal yet berserk: the cast includes a welter of stylish performers from all manner of styles, and they mesh beautifully. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin

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Scottish director Lynne Ramsay’s last released feature was 2002’s “Morvern Callar”; among the heartbreaks along the way was “The Lovely Bones” being wrested away from her for a directorial project for Peter Jackson, whose strange, cruel, bloated adaptation pleased no one. The Criterion edition of Ramsay’s 1999 “Ratcatcher” also holds her shorts “Gasman,” “Kill the Day” and “Small Deaths,” two of which were rewarded with Cannes honors. Simply, she’s a great, bravura, visual, sensual director. Even if you’ve never seen one of her films, you’ve missed her: she’s the kind of intelligent, unsparing filmmaker we could use a dozen of. Read the rest of this entry »

I Wake Up Screening: Another Week of Chicago International Film Fest at Forty-Seven

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Crazy Horse

By Ray Pride

No matter even if you truly wanted to, there’s no way a single viewer could give you an overview of an international film festival with more than a hundred events: you can surmise all you want, based on what festival films have played or have been reviewed at already, or the filmmakers’ reputation. Even festival programmers miss out on sections they’re not part of. I’ll be curious to see statistics after this year’s CIFF to see how many programs the average, but dedicated moviegoer, is able to attend. It’s tough even if you’ve been to a few prior festivals, seen a fistful of advance screeners, availed yourself of advance screenings. But, as luck, fortune or programming may have it, Chicago International has more programs of note in its second week, and a growing number of them have further distribution in the near future. (Disclosure: I was a program consultant for this year’s Docufest section.) Read the rest of this entry »

Season’s Screenings: Chicago International Film Festival at forty-seven

Chicago Artists, Documentary, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

Goodbye, First Love

By Ray Pride

After summer’s somersaults, autumn through Christmas is when the grownup movies come out to play, and the forty-seventh edition of the Chicago International Film Festival has a lot to celebrate. In this rundown, I’ll keep “great” as a random adjective to a minimum. (Disclosure: I was a program consultant for this year’s Docufest section.)

From the highlights of the program, it seems like it’s going to be a strong season for good, solid movies in coming months. The range of films being shown that have been submitted for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award seem to be uncommonly strong as well. While there may well be other discoveries to be made, most of the films recommended here will show up in commercial or art-house release. Screenings can sell out in advance, which may partly be due to the capacity of the smaller screens at River East. The festival is keeping a running tally of shutouts on their Facebook page. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: !Women Art Revolution

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Writer-director-shooter-editor Lynn Hershman Leeson draws from almost forty years of her own observation (and filming) of makers of feminist art to compile her personal secret history since the 1960s, the genial overview that is “!Women Art Revolution.” Less interested in critique than in celebration via talking heads, Leeson, whose films include at least three collaborations with Tilda Swinton—”Strange Culture,” “Conceiving Ada,” and “Teknolust”—covers a lot of ground. The roster of figures, which calls out more for the luxury of a Ken Burns-style extended treatment than a dense, sometimes baggy feature like this, includes Miranda July, Judy Chicago, B. Ruby Rich, Rachel Rosenthal, Dr. Amelia Jones, Martha Wilson, Faith Ringgold, Judith Baca, Miriam Schapiro, Hannah Wilke, Eleanor Antin, Nancy Spero and the Guerrilla Girls. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: European Union Film Festival Week 3

Festivals, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »
The three most striking films previewed from this week’s offerings at the Siskel Film Center’s European Union Film Festival each have powerful women at their center. Andrea Dunbar was a gifted, troubled playwright from Bradford, England at the time of her death at 29 from a brain hemorrhage that may have been brought on by a lifetime’s drinking and hard living. She was best known for her play, “The Arbor,” as well as the play and film of the ribald, hardheaded “Rita, Sue and Bob Too,” directed by Alan Clarke, who also died early. In the “The Arbor,” director Clio Barnard uses disparate bits to reconstruct the life and talent of Dunbar, including having actors lip-sync recorded interviews with those who knew her and the writer herself in documentary footage. It’s all of a heartbreaking piece. Cynthia Beatt’s “The Invisible Frame” makes poetry from the simplest conceit, repeating an experiment Tilda Swinton had engaged in 1988, with Swinton cycling along the closed Berlin Wall in “Cycling the Frame.” In “The Invisible Frame,” Swinton cycles the landscape of Berlin, on both sides of the vanished 160 kilometers of Wall; literary recitations are complemented by splendid, inventive sound design from the musician Simon Fisher Turner. Tilda is presented as goddess of everydayness, cyclist in the city, seen, unseen, tracing its traces. Read the rest of this entry »