Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

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.

Review: Forget Me Not

Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »


Slivers of urban living, not quite city symphonies of the condition of the high streets and alleyways of a town with a complicated history like London: these hold a special attraction. “Forget Me Not,” written by Mark Underwood, and directed by first-timers Alexander Holt and Lance Roehrig (who’ve made shorts together), swoops from city lights to golden-lit cafes and restaurants. Musician meets barmaid. Trouble finds trouble. Night turns to day and fortunately to night again in their first twenty-four hours of acquaintance, and the co-directors’ pacing has the kind of understated confidence that reassures. Modest, intermittently poetic, keen on fate and fatefulness, it’s sweet diversion, even with an overly sturdy use of the London Eye landmark. Avoid the inevitable comparison to Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and his masterpiece, “Before Sunset.” With Tobias Menzies and Genevieve O’Reilly as the couple that might not have come to be: their chemistry breaks all bonds of narrative forethought. Gemma Jones’ turn as a grandmother with failing faculties takes advantage of the gifts that Woody Allen only billboards in her role as a meddlesome psychic in his indigestible “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.” 93m. (Ray Pride)

“Forget Me Not” opens Friday at Facets.

Review: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

Drama, Reviews No Comments »

Woody Allen has said a lot of late that he believes his latest film is always his worst, and at last, you can take him at his word. His fortieth feature as a director, “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” is advertised as a comedy, but it’s not. It doesn’t seem to be straining for anything more than idle spite. In this London-set but not London-sprung bumf, saddled with an unmotivated narrator of bromides (Zak Orth), 73-year-old Anthony Hopkins, slightly younger than Allen, plays “Alfie,” a man of inexplicable wealth who has a senior moment, leaving his brutally belittling wife of many years (Gemma Jones) for a tall blonde prostitute (Lucy Punch). Their daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), a smaller blonde, works at a high-end gallery, fantasizing about her boss (Antonio Banderas) while her husband, Roy (Josh Brolin), longs for the woman playing flamenco guitar across the courtyard (Freida Pinto, “Slumdog Millionaire”). As the whining harridan, Jones overworks watery rheumy pale blue eyes, but her unceasing interference and belittlement is pathetic and unilluminating unless you consider her modeled after Allen’s own mother, with the attributes he disdainfully credits her with in Barbara Kopple’s “Wild Man Blues.” Allen’s disregard for his audience extends to no one in “YWMATDS” taking an afternoon off to murder her. Nothing but accents mark this imaginary place as London; the economic, social and cultural observations belong in Allen’s 1980s Manhattan, not any recognizable today. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography tends to an orange akin to a heat-damaged 1960s Eastmancolor print. And as for Woody’s nifty, snazzy pile of 78-rpm shellacs, their trite jauntiness, after all these years, leaves me fantasizing about dial tones. Wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwvvvvoooooooooo… 98m. (Ray Pride)

“You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” opens Friday at Landmark Century, Evanston Cine Arts and Landmark Renaissance.

Hoping for Harmony: On Bob Byington’s lo-lo-fi comedies

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

byington credit DAVID GODLISBy Ray Pride

Monday afternoon is cold and rainy in Chicago and it’s cold and rainy in Austin, Texas, “a rarity,” Bob Byington, writer-director of “Harmony and Me” tells me.

“I’ve put the Pixies on for our chat,” he types from Texas; Syd Barrett sings “Dark Globe” in the café where I stare out onto the avenue. Byington’s latest smart comedy of discomfort, his third feature, “Harmony and Me,” which benefited from development at the Sundance Institute, debuted in the spring at New Directions New Films in New York City to strong reviews. Austin thirtysomething Harmony (Justin Rice from Bishop Allen) works in an office and feels the pangs of a recent dumping by his girlfriend, Jessica (co-producer Kristen Tucker). Harmony is obsessed. No one wants to hear it. His pain and anger move toward making a song. Along the way, Byington’s wry comic precision and crisp characterization is matched by a gift for laidback yet kaleidoscopic, naturalistic performances getting from actors and non-pros alike.

Byington is self-distributing, opening for a week at Siskel, and was on a panel at the Austin Film Festival on Sunday about comedy writing. Is that your area of perceived expertise? I ask. “Yes, but I have no training and little expertise. I look at someone like Woody Allen who wrote jokes for ten years before he made his first movie. But he was unavailable, I think.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cold Souls

Comedy, Recommended, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Science Fiction No Comments »


Eccentric without ever becoming unduly whimsical, Sophie Barthes’ surrealism-lite “Cold Souls” (which she tenders a co-film-by with cinematographer-partner-soul mate Andrij Parekh) pirouettes within the same school as Charlie Kaufman’s dance floor. Paul Giamatti plays blocked actor Paul Giamatti, who’s having agonies over his role in a production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” much to the chagrin of his fellow actors, the play’s director Michael Tucker and wife Emily Watson. An article in the New Yorker leads Giamatti to one Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn), who specializes in “soul storage” from an office on Roosevelt Island. There are clever, understated visual touches throughout—Giamatti’s journeys to-and-from on the red tram that rises above the river at 59th Street toward the soul storage unit suggests the confinement of consciousness inside the body; the final image is an alarmingly wistful going-out-of-focus shot that suggests a watercolor Rothko—even when the parallel tales of Giamatti’s tortures and a “mule” (Dina Korzun) who transports souls within herself for Russian soul-traffickers becomes a little complicated. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Whatever Works

Comedy No Comments »

whatever_works_001Or, “doesn’t work” as the case may be. Waxworks filmmaking of intermittent animatronic voltage, Woody Allen’s fortieth feature, “Whatever Works,” is reportedly a long-shelved script he’d written for the late Zero Mostel back in the era of “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan.” “The Meanest Man in the World,” it was called. Allen’s claimed in the past not to have castoffs; there are few clues to the present day, although a line of voice-over does invoke President Obama. It’s another February-December romance in which the overbearing Manhattan motormouth and egotist Boris Yellnikoff takes in chicken-fried runaway Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood, who finds music in her character where Allen has provided little or none), whom he dubs a “sub-mental baton twirler” but eventually takes into his bed and marries. Larry David handles the mouthpiece chores here, reciting garrulous harrumphs of abuse directly to the camera; the prolix bursts, studded with calls to bring down the “sub-mental inchworms” and “pygmies” of society, do indeed sound like a first draft from oh-so-long ago, and the self-realization clichés in store do sound very, very 1970s. With Patricia Clarkson as Melodie’s mother, who discovers her inner artist, and Ed Begley, Jr. as Melodie’s father, who discovers his inner gay man. Nuance does not abound. With Michael McKean. 92m. (Ray Pride)