Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

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

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

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 »

taigaRECOMMENDED

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 »

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Princess Kaiulani

Biopic, Drama, Reviews No Comments »

American Girl goes archipelago. Writer-director Marc Forby (one of six executive producers of “Prom Night”) fashions a scenic after-school biopic about Princess Kaiulani (1875–1899). The title royal with a fifteen-century bloodline is the niece of Queen Liliuokalani, overthrown in 1893. Q’orianka Kilcher—Pocahantas in “The New World”—plays another princess who sails to Britain and back. Unfortunately, Kilcher shows none of what Colin Farrell saw in his young co-star while shooting Terrence Malick’s 2005 film: “She’s such an insane mix of lightness and darkness of spirit. But she has a smile that could light up both hemispheres at the same time, and she has a depth of darkness which would make the world stand still.” Kaiulani is a proud teen who takes her destiny to heart. In the end, Forby frames her as self-sacrificial, a figurehead for a monarchy doomed to annexation as a U.S. territory and later statehood. I wish I could have learned more about the complex frictions between missionaries, landowners and the descendants of islanders who sacrificed Captain Cook. Forby even omits the tale of this half-Scottish princess introducing surfing to Brighton. “Princess Kaiulani” overly valorizes a multicultural role model from Obama’s birthplace. Her offscreen politics include driving “a hydrogen fuel cell zero-emissions vehicle.” Her publicists testify: “She has never pumped a single gallon of gasoline.” Kaiulani and Kilcher deserve a more vexed and voluptuous remake by the likes of Werner Herzog or Claire Denis. With Barry Pepper, Shaun Evans, Will Patton, Jimmy Yuill. 100m. (Bill Stamets)

Review: My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?

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

RECOMMENDED

The racing ostriches. The tiny man dancing on a clear-cut stump in the snow. Endangered flamingoes named McNamara and MacDougal. Plates of shivery black Jell-o offered up as a treat in a Norman Rockwell-styled tableau vivant. Meaninglessly meaningful offerings of basketballs. Brad Dourif spooking Michael Shannon. Werner Herzog does not need special effects. In his David Lynch-produced procedural, “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?” the Teutonic seeker of “ecstatic truth” bends the fictions of television narrative to his eccentric ends. It could well be “CSI: Tierra del Fuego.” Shooting a script he’d written several years ago (with Herbert Golder, a classical civilization professor he’s worked with before), the 67-year-old director tells a story based on the real-life case of Mark Yarovsky who became obsessed with Euripides’ “Orestes” and killed his mother with a prop saber. Michael Shannon and Grace Zabriskie (“Twin Peaks,” “Inland Empire”) played the fiction son and mom. Read the rest of this entry »

Furnish a Room: surveying film books of 2009

Film Books, The State of Cinema, World Cinema No Comments »

farberfarberfarbenBy Ray Pride

As I write, I am surrounded on three sides by books; one window looks out onto the horizontal play of snowfall. Inside it’s warm: books do furnish a room.

Ways of reading and ways of writing are shifting; that opening paragraph’s fourteen characters too long to Twitter. Whatever to do! From the cool hearth glow of computers and laptops, rampant idle bloggotry is committed every hour of the day and night. Everybody’s writing about movies even if no one’s making a remunerative career of it for the moment. Scanning these bookshelves, especially of the titles on film from past decades that seemed important enough to acquire, alphabetize and dust, I wonder how many tomes on the subject will be committed between covers, hard or soft, in coming years. The tacky tens: the decade when the listicle became literature!

For me, the year’s most important film book is “Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber” (Library of America, $40). Read the rest of this entry »