Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Reel Truth: Behind Doc10, Chicago’s Newest Film Fest

Chicago Artists, Documentary, Events, Festivals, World Cinema No Comments »

Werner Herzog’s “Lo & Behold”

By Ray Pride

After two years of Docs at the Box, a spring showcase of new nonfiction at the Music Box, programmed by journalist-programmer Anthony Kaufman, a larger event, expanding the work of the nonprofit Chicago Media Project, will take its place. The quartet behind the long weekend, which will augment Chicago debut attractions with post-screening discussions, interactive events and panels, are Kaufman, CMP co-founder and board chair Steve Cohen, CMP co-founder and executive director Paula Froehle and festival coordinator Sarah Nobles.

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Review: Embrace of the Serpent

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »



Ciro Guerra’s hypnotic twentieth-century-set “Embrace of the Serpent” (El abrazo de la serpiente), is an otherworldly innerworldly trip, a serenely strange vision of black-and-white iridescence, a journey, at first, toward healing, but also toward foreseeable predations of colonialism. Lessons lie low as the confident illogic of raging visions takes hold. Drawing on the journals of Theodor Koch-Grunberg and Richard Evans Schultes, explorers of the Colombian Amazon, “Embrace” begins in 1907 with the German Koch-Grunberg (Jan Bijvoet) in search of a rare, mysterious flower, the sacred plant yakruna, that he believes can cure him. They meet Karamakate (the Cohiuanon tribesman Nilbio Torres), an Amazonian shaman who believes he is the last of his kind. A second narrative, set in 1940 after the incursion of predatory rubber barons, is interleaved, taking the older Karamakate (Antonio Bolívar) on another, darker journey, with another explorer, Evan (Brionne Davis), in quest of the elusive yakruna. Both quests move deeply, darkly toward hearts of darkness. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

Comedy, Drama, Romance No Comments »

Olivia Cooke as "Rachel" and Thomas Mann as "Greg" in ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL. Photo by Anne Marie Fox. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

“I’m, like, innovatively stupid,” says the protagonist of coy Sundance sensation “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl,” amid clever details and a teeming plethora of semi-self-aware verbal asides. But Wes Anderson movies and “Napoleon Dynamite” should require adult supervision before going on any more dates. Chatty and simmering with simple charms, Jesse Andrews’ adaptation of his Pittsburgh-set young adult novel putters along at a dullish roar, nearly likable, not quite causing an annoying itch. Of course other high schoolers would ignore a kid who says things like, it’s “literally like trying to have lunch in Kandahar”! And for a boy like “Me,” there will always be “the part where I panic out of sheer awkwardness.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Moment of Murder: The Movie-Made Horror of “The Act of Killing”

Documentary, Drama, Horror, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

Anwar Congo, right

By Ray Pride

A punchy, audacious, sometimes hallucinatory masterpiece that’s a documentary, a brutal comedy and a stylized musical, combining bruising horror and burlesque, neighborly genocide and the banality of vanity, “The Act Of Killing” is a pitiless wonder. Co-director Joshua Oppenheimer shot for several years, beginning by recording the boasts of unrepentant killers who had murdered “subversives” and “Communists” at the behest of Indonesia’s Suharto regime. An elderly man named Anwar Congo was his forty-first subject, and the finished film is structured around his bravado, weird charisma and discernible flickers of discomfort as he takes credit for a thousand or so killings in the larger genocide. Oppenheimer (co-directing with Christine Cynn and an “anonymous” Indonesian) suggested that they reenact their slayings in the style of their favorite movies. (They thought of themselves as movie killers, claiming to have left an Elvis Presley movie, dancing and ready to garrote a “leftist” neighbor.) Will these fictional “acts of killing” prompt any kind of reflection by these hardened, cheery braggarts, still celebrated as heroes on the streets, at political rallies and on television? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Happy People: A Year In The Taiga

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


If someone’s going to recut your lengthy ethnographic documentary into something punchy and mythic, it might as well be Werner Herzog. Herzog takes co-directing credit for “Happy People: A Year In The Taiga,” with Dmitry Vasyukov, whose 2010 original, made for television, ran about four hours. Herzog, happily shrugging on the burden of dreams of others, narrates the survey of Siberian fur trappers a few hundred miles out into snowy nowhere, who also know their way around a bear. Herzog’s ruminations, romancing the Anglophone, are heavy on his usual wayward poetry. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jack Reacher

Drama No Comments »

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 »

Life’s Abyss and Then You Fly: The Doc Doctrine

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »

"Into The Abyss"

By Ray Pride

When Werner Herzog first began talking up his second documentary release of 2011, he joked that all of his films could be, should’ve been, called “Into the Abyss.”

The prolific sixty-nine-year-old director has also said there’s no such thing as documentary, that everything is, and ought to be, as much directed as it is observed, and the ultimate goal is nothing less than “ecstatic truth.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Littlerock

Drama, Recommended No Comments »


Mike Ott’s “Littlerock” is a small gem of miscommunication and hopefulness. A Japanese brother and sister, Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) and Atsuko (played by Atsuko Okatsuka, co-writer with Ott and Carl McLaughlin) arrive in a dusty, depopulated roadside town in California’s Antelope Valley. We don’t know their goal, beyond a replacement rental car, and Atsuko doesn’t speak English. The days and nights pass in low-key interactions with the locals, especially Cory (Cory Zacharia), an aspiring model and artist who fashions a killer crush on Atsuko. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cave Of Forgotten Dreams

3-D, Documentary, World Cinema No Comments »

The French government restricted Werner Herzog and his 3D camera crew to narrow metal walkways installed inside the Chauvet Cave. Nonetheless, he manages to draw outside the lines as the narrator-mystifier of “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” which may be his most accessible film in a long career. Inside a cave discovered in 1994, he documents shadow-dappled paintings of horses, maneless lions, cave bears and one part-woman from 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. “One of the greatest discoveries in the history of human culture,” he rhapsodizes at the risk of self-caricature. Herzog speculates on the mindsets of the painter with a bent little finger who placed clusters of red palm prints on cave walls, like paleolithic predecessors to the red dots imprinted on movies nowadays to thwart pirates who sneak camcorders into multiplexes. A lively rendering of an inexplicably eight-legged bison makes Herzog wonder aloud if his image-capturing counterpart attempted “almost a form of proto-cinema.” Likewise. he tries to discern precursors of animated film and 3D among the artifacts. This educational film is a must-see only for art-history students and Herzog completists. Interviews with Dominique Baffier, Jean Clottes, Jean-Michel Geneste, Carole Fritz, Gilles Tosello, Michel Philippe, Julien Monney. 90m. (Bill Stamets)

“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” opens Friday at River East And Cinemark Century, Evanston.

Pride and Extreme Prejudice: And a Child Shall Beat You in “Hanna”

Action, Adventure, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

By Ray Pride

“How long have you been in the forest?”

A small, tight fistful of blunt lines like that in Joe Wright’s outlandish, determined art-house action thriller, “Hanna,” quickly set the heart of the casual admirer of Bruno Bettelheim’s fairytale study “The Uses of Enchantment” to racing. Wright is also bolder than ever with visual flourish.

A motherless child grows up in a rude cabin in far snowy reaches, taught by her father (Eric Bana) to be a ruthless mind, a calculating creature. She’s not amnesiac, she just knows no experience of the larger world: it’s “The Newbourne identity.” “Where do you come from?” “The forest.” The swamp, the primordial ooze, the soup, the shadows: from which all life and fear emerge. Outside the forest, a spy agency in the person of a Texas-twanging Cate Blanchett beckons, threatens.

There aren’t many high-functioning Asperger’s, tongue-in-cheek, Jesus-girl, killer-child thrillers in the market, which makes even the wooziest and blowziest moments of “Hanna” startling. A jarring mix of tones prevails, at one moment in settings that suggest Fassbinder making a “Modesty Blaise” and others, the Euro-oddness of the more gregarious films by Fatih Akin, like “Im Juli” or “Soul Kitchen.” As shot by the gifted Alwin Küchler (“Ratcatcher,” “Sunshine,” “Morvern Callar”) and tethered to the serene, slightly sinister percolation of a score by the Chemical Brothers, the world outside is otherworldly, as if we, the audience, were pitched into as much strangeness as bright young Hanna. Read the rest of this entry »