Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: While We’re Young

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »



After he tries on a new personality borne of new, younger friends, “You’re an old man with a hat,” middle-aged Josh Srebnick (Ben Stiller) is told by his stay-at-home dad friend, Fletcher (Adam Horovitz). In “While We’re Young,” his eighth feature, Noah Baumbach goes the Woody Allen ensemble route in a two-thirds likable variation of “Crimes & Misdemeanors,” in which two generations of documentarians search for “truth” and “authenticity” in different measure. Josh, frantic and at clueless loose ends as so many Baumbach protagonists are, is married to Cornelia (Naomi Watts), seemingly happy, soaked in wine and regret for not having had children. She’s also the daughter of an esteemed elder documentarian, whose mentoring Josh has rejected in the near-decade of working on an interminable documentary project about the notions of a weedy Noam Chomsky stand-in. Josh and Cornelia meet a younger couple, Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried), callow twentysomethings who open a window to the couple’s passed youth. Baumbach does a rich, comic job with the contrasts between the couples, capturing both middle-aged lightheadedness and callow youth with a simmer of sociological precision. (There are small, savory tastes of several other filmmakers here, notably Mazursky and Swanberg.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Top Five

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »



Middle-aged man faces crisis; sober man wonders if he’s still himself; “rigorous honesty,” a la AA, “rigorous fucking honesty,” runs riot. I don’t know if “Top Five” is great, but it’s the first comedy since “The LEGO Movie” I’ve found myself in simple awe of: ragged and rumbustious, assured and sincere-seeming, it’s, well, awesome. Chris Rock’s frank, personal, semi-autobiographical, ferociously twenty-first-century comedy feels like its own special animal, all sorts of goodness and bluntness and, okay, bright even brainy greatness, with equal parts “Annie Hall,” sometimes-collaborator Louis CK’s “Louie” and a little bit of “City Lights” and Cinderella and more Chaplin (“the Grandmaster Flash of haha”) by the way of Jerry Lewis by the way of Chaplin’s song, “Smile.” This sweet small crazy blunt bittersweet dirty fucky comedy vaults in every moment into a superior comic stratosphere. (With minor, wheedling cavils about whether some attitudes are the characters’ or Rock’s: there’s a bit about a white man’s wiggly-woggly-waggly ass as eye-widening as the horrendous female feet in Reggie Hudlin’s “Boomerang.”) The slipstream structure of flashbacks within “Top Five”’s single-day narrative of a comedy star doing press with a New York Times journalist (Rosario Dawson) just as his first serious film is opening leans adventitiously upon “Annie Hall,” but Woody Allen has never cut to the quick with throwaway lines like Rock’s “It’s hard to fuck somebody on a pedestal.”

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Review: Magic In The Moonlight

Comedy, Romance No Comments »


Woody Allen’s forty-fourth film, “Magic In The Moonlight,” may be the seventy-eight-year-old writer-director’s strangest in ages. It’s the first movie of his I can remember where all of the actors seem to be playing in the same scenes, and they’re largely idiotic. It’s most pronounced in terrible dramas like “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” but the syndrome is similar in even more accomplished work like “Blue Jasmine,” where there are scenes with multiple actors who seem completely stranded, or visiting from another movie down the hall at the multiplex. So this period trifle has at least that going for it, plus a lead actor, Colin Firth, who doesn’t seem to be channeling a single shred of Allen’s own on-screen persona. (The character’s self-proclaimed “genius” is never demonstrated by his actions or bluster.) As for the screenplay, it’s a full-on fumble. Doddering, even, and distant from any representation of plausible human behavior. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Good At It: The Long Gestation of “Obvious Child”

Comedy, Recommended, Romance, The State of Cinema No Comments »

Obv_child-1400x480By Ray Pride

Gillian Robespierre’s canny, taut “Obvious Child,” a distinctly contemporary comedy, is rich in people talk and how some people swear and how modern audiences laugh, shocked, with gratitude. And lead actress Jenny Slate? Here comes a great comedy star in a smart, conversational, bluntly funny, certainly subversive romcom. Simply: the plot pivots on an unwanted pregnancy.

At Sundance 2014, “Obvious Child” was that rare, total surprise for me, a press screening I ducked into after Park City, Utah’s insane traffic problems prevented me from getting to yet another movie across town. Didn’t know any of the names, Brooklyn, thirtysomething romantic comedy, just over eighty minutes. Everyone’s always hoping for the platonic ideal of what Woody Allen represented in romantic comedy in the 1970s. And the title? What on earth did that title mean?

“So you’re a ‘Graceland’ guy, not a ‘Rhythm of the Saints’ guy,” lead actress Jenny Slate says when we meet, laughing, sitting alongside her near-lookalike, co-writer-director Gillian Robespierre, who directed Slate in a short version of the material in 2009. “Paul Simon song,” Robespierre says, nodding. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Fading Gigolo

Drama, The State of Cinema No Comments »

“Fading Gigolo” is exceedingly odd and a discomfortingly inauthentic comedy of sorts from writer-director John Turturro, about a florist, Fioravante (Turturro) who becomes a “ho” with the encouraging of his friend Murray (Woody Allen), who’s shuttering his New York City bookstore. Weirdly, the film turns into a second enterprise, a drama about the fate of an Orthodox widow played by Johnny Depp’s ex, Vanessa Paradis, who’s also worshiped from afar by her childhood friend, Dovi, a Hasidic policeman (Liev Schreiber).  (Paradis, full-eyed, still, gap-toothed, provides an impassive mask for Dovi, and later, Fioravante, to project shortcomings onto.) Along the way, Turturro tries to invest his bonsai-shaping empty vessel into a character akin to Chance the Gardener from “Being There,” someone whom disappointed women (Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara) can look upon and find themselves transformed.

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Review: Blue Jasmine

Comedy, Drama, Recommended No Comments »


Woody Allen’s bleak, seriocomic mash-up of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and an imagined life of Mrs. Bernie Madoff after her husband’s vast Ponzi empire collapsed, is filled with odd turns, tone-deaf comedy about class, but most importantly, a no-holds-barred performance by Cate Blanchett as a woman of privilege who can no longer hold onto anything, particularly her mind. Crashing into madness, she’s a monster, hungry for her own soul. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: To Rome With Love

Comedy No Comments »


“With age comes wisdom,” a character says in “To Rome With Love.” “With age comes exhaustion,” Woody Allen answers, a touch weary-looking himself. Still, his first appearance at the packed screening where I saw the seventy-six-year-old director’s fortieth feature caused the room to ripple with pleasure: both that he’s still standing and in anticipation of spoken spleen to come. Allen’s said he doesn’t care for the title “To Rome With Love,” which supplanted “Decameron Bop” and “Nero Fiddled,” but my biggest curiosity about creative choices is at what moment he and editor Alisa Lepselter threw temporal unity to the wind and intercut the film’s four discrete episodes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Newlyweds

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »


Synopsis is the devil, but sometimes the devil is in the details. Here’s Tribeca Film’s synopsis of writer-director-actor-producer Edward Burns’ microbudget romantic comedy and fan letter to New York’s upscale Tribeca neighborhood, “Newlyweds”: “Buzzy (Edward Burns) and Katie (Caitlin FitzGerald) are a newly married couple living a seemingly conflict-free life. But when Buzzy’s damaged and impulsive half-sister Linda (Kerry Bishé) arrives at their doorstep expecting to stay for an indefinite period in their Tribeca loft, her antics threaten to disrupt the couple’s commitment to an ‘easy’ marriage.” Sounds like any romantic comedy, but it’s more like Woody Allen on a designer shoestring. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Incredibly Small

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Recommended No Comments »


The first feature by Chicago director Dean Peterson, “Incredibly Small: A 300-Square-Foot Love Story,” is indeed an incredibly small, incredibly understated and indelibly bittersweet romantic comedy. Shot in Minneapolis on a fourteen-day schedule, “Small” follows Anne (Susan Burke) as a proficient law student who moves into a bashed, battered, filthy, too-small apartment with her life-to-be-determined-later sculptor-escalator attendant boyfriend Amir (Stephen Gurewitz). Peterson’s apparent influences range from Eric Rohmer to Woody Allen, and he does a more-than decent job of fitting himself for their boots. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Midnight in Paris

Comedy, Recommended No Comments »


“Imagine the two of us settling here,” says Gil (Owen Wilson) to his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) on a trip to Paris. She cannot. But he can: more so than he can imagine. After Gil relates his marvelous encounters during solo midnight walks, she suspects the screenwriter she’s about to marry suffers from a brain tumor. Writer-director Woody Allen returns to classic style, complete with college-lit footnotes and his longstanding slur of “pseudo-intellectual.” His kneejerk liberalism lets Gil count his future father-in-law among “Republican Tea Party crypto-fascist airhead zombies.” Gil is like so many other neurotic Allen characters: a self-identified conflicted hack insecure about his creativity. This time his stand-in seeks inspiration for his labor-of-love novel about a nostalgia-shop owner. Soaking up atmosphere on the late-night streets of Paris, he gets magical rides from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Tom Eliot. They convey him to legendary scenes of the 1920s Paris he idolizes. Among the luminaries he meets are Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Luis Buñuel and Djuna Barnes. Gertrude Stein looks at his manuscript and gives him tips. (He’s a long way from Pasadena.) He meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who pines for the more vibrant Belle Epoque. One carriage ride later the pair consort with the storied figures of that era, who in turn fantasize about the grander Renaissance. The enchanting “Midnight in Paris” is a cultural romance of time-travel tourism. With Corey Stoll, Kathy Bates, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Michael Sheen, Nina Arianda, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Léa Seydoux and French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. 94m. (Bill Stamets)

“Midnight in Paris” opens Friday at Landmark Century, Renaissance, River East and Evanston Cinearts.