Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Friday, May 24

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Art Institute February Free Days Friday Flickr Feature »

Column Fri Jan 09 2009

Timecrimes, Bride Wars, Not Easily Broken, House of the Sleeping Beauties, Living with the Tudors and Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison


The single best science fiction film of 2008 (OK, so the film came out in 2007 in most European nations and isn't really being released wide in the U.S. until 2009, but I saw it for the first time in March 2008, so suck it) is a movie that has no special effects and only four characters... OK, technically it has six characters, but three of them are the same guy. The least science-fictiony of all of the year's sci-fi works is from Spain, and it's called Timecrimes, a marvelous mind-bender of a movie that uses very simple storytelling to bend us around the same few hours of one day three different times, each time revealing just a little bit more about elements of the plot that were there from the beginning, we just didn't realize it until the end of this 90-minute masterpiece.

Karra Elejalde plays Hector, who is staying at what appears to be an isolated country home with his wife Clara (Candela Fernandez). While sitting in his backyard looking through is binoculars, Hector spots a beautiful young woman (Barbara Goenaga) removing her clothes in the woods behind his home. He also spots a strangely dressed man with bloody bandages around his head, and he runs to the woods to investigate. He finds the young woman lying naked and out cold against a tree. When he goes to help her, he is stabbed in the arm by the strange man, and he runs through the woods to escape what he assumes is immediate danger. He ends up at a nearby laboratory with a sole occupant, a scientist (the film's writer-director Nacho Vigalondo) working after hours on a secret project. With a crazed maniac supposedly coming after the two men, the scientist hides Hector in a strange tank filled with water and bright lights. When Hector emerges seemingly minutes later, he discovers that it is actually earlier that same day, right around the time these events began to unfold in the first place. The tank was in fact a time machine, and when Hector comes out of it, the scientist naturally has no idea who this man is stepping out of his equipment. Got it?

The strange thing about Timecrimes is that there are clues about what is to come throughout the film; you just don't realize they're there until all is revealed. It's a brilliant device that never stops shocking you as the film progresses. An overturned dumpster, a traffic accident, a scream, a pair of scissors, a tragic mishap at Hector's still-under-construction house. If you really stopped to think about it, some of what occurs in the film doesn't make any damn sense under close review, but it doesn't matter because the whole thing is just so well done. With Hector 2 now well aware of what must happen to stop the masked man from doing any harm, he heads back into the thick of the action so that there are actually two Hectors running around, but the scientist warns Hector 2 that changing the future could be a dangerous game. It turns out Hector 2 does more harm than good trying to fix things, so he goes back once again to the scientist to have him sent back a third time. Three Hectors is definitely more fun than just one.

Vigalondo's film might sound like it has the makings of the next gimmicky Eddie Murphy film, but in fact, it's one of the most tension-filled works I've seen in quite a long time. And it moves like the damned wind. Timecrimes is one of the great brainteasers of the time travel sub-genre of science fiction. It doesn't try to dazzle us with elaborate theory or not let us have any fun thanks to the Butterfly Effect. It's a dazzling bit of storytelling that uses four fine actors, a great location, and a fantastic means of realizing the same moments in time from slightly different perspectives to creative a fascinating story that I could watch 10 times over and still notice new things each time. I've been hearing rumblings about an American remake since I first saw this movie 10 months ago, but there's really no improving on this nugget of gold. Instead, I'd rather see what Vigalondo has up his sleeve next. Give me that, and I'll be satisfied. The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre, although it's not on their printed calendar, so go to their website for showtimes.

Bride Wars

The laws of probability tell us that somewhere in the world is a group of people (and no, they aren't all women) that is actually planning on seeing this movie. It doesn't matter if they want to or not; they simply will for some reason. And after seeing just how completely captivating Anne Hathaway was in Rachel Getting Married, I might have been one of those people in another life. Her performance in that film is not only worthy of all of the accolades and eventual award she's likely to collect, but it also is quite simply one of the finest female performances of the year. I'm not sure where that Anne Hathaway is in Bride Wars, but the person in this film has apparently murdered my beloved Anne and replaced her with a Stepford bitch, who cares more about her wedding day than any relationship in her life, or the fact that she's throwing away all of her savings despite the fact that she makes a teacher's salary.

The sad truth is that films like Bride Wars make women look like shallow idiots. Not just these two 20-year friends who come to blows almost immediately once they realize their respective weddings have been booked on the same day at New York's Plaza Hotel. With very little discussion, the two women (the other brain-dead bride-to-be is played by Kate Hudson, who I'm at least used to seeing in shitty movie after shitty movie) decide it would be easier to attempt to sabotage the other's wedding than move the June date. The real question is, who the hell is supposed to identify with this predicament? Are there millions of women in the world who can afford a wedding location as nice as the Plaza and just happen to book their events on the same day? I kinda doubt it. Even if you are a woman who is drawn to lightweight comedies about girlie stuff like weddings (27 Dresses), babies (Baby Mama), or applying for Social Security (Sex and the City, The Women), I can't imagine you'd enjoy this exercise in pure laugh-free misery. I can't recall even smiling broadly at this beyond-predictable fucktarded movie.

Director Gary Winick (13 Going on 30) hasn't got a clue how to make human being laugh, let alone set up a joke. He spends five minutes telling us why a Vera Wang dress is the perfect wedding outfit and how you don't tailor a Vera to you, you tailor you to a Vera. So guess what one of the brides does to the other one, she sends her sweets day after day to make it impossible for her to fit in the dress. One woman goes in for her pre-wedding glow at the tanning salon. Guess what happens? One goes to get the color in her hair spruced up. Guess what happens? If you want to feel really smart, I guess there are worse things you could do than play "Guess the plot twist" while sitting through Bride Wars, but I can't think of anything off the top of my head. I felt embarrassed for just about every one associated with this movie, except Kate Hudson because I'm pretty sure she knew this was going to be crap when she signed on. Worse than that, it makes me wonder if Hathaway's fine work in Rachel Getting Married was a fluke. Seriously, I would taken Princess Bride 3: Attack of the Crowns over this one. This movie made me hate my job; it made me hate going to movies.

I know it may be a little early in the year, but I'm pretty sure I've seen the worst film of 2009, and it's name is Bride Wars, and it can bite me sideways.

Not Easily Broken

Bill Duke is a blessing on the film and television scene as both an actor and a director who has made some of the coolest movies in the last 20 years featuring all- or majority-black casts. As an actor, he's been a strong character actor since the 1970s, primarily on TV. But then came the 1980s and films like American Gigolo, Commando and Predator. He's got a steely stare that basically tells you you're dead before you know it. As great an actor as he can be — check out his more recent work in Red Dragon, X-Men: Last Stand and Get Rich or Die Tryin' — I've always been more attracted to his work as a director. There are three films in particular that are worth watching repeatedly: A Rage in Harlem, Hoodlum and the quintessential Deep Cover, the latter two featuring some of Lawrence Fishburne's best bad-ass performances. Duke has also worked for a paycheck. Yes, he helmed the Old White Lady opus The Cemetery Club, and it may be impossible to rid my mind of the painful Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, also directed by Duke. Since 1997's Hoodlum, Duke has stuck primarily to acting and directing for television, so his latest big-screen release Not Easily Broken marks something of a comeback for the man, and it's not bad.

For his return, Duke has chosen a story about a marriage in trouble — not quite Revolutionary Road-level trouble, but this couple has their moments. Morris Chestnut and Taraji P. Henson (who can also be seen currently as Benjamin Button's adopted mother) play Dave and Clarice, an attractive, loving couple who are going through what some people might call a rough patch. She's a successful real estate agent and clearly the breadwinner of the household, while Dave is attempting to take his landscaping business to the next level. When they are at home, Dave and Clarice fight about how they never spend time together. She's always working, and he's always playing basketball with this friends or coaching a little league team. Just when the marriage feels as if it's at the breaking point, Clarice is in a devastating car accident that leaves her legs shattered, and Dave feels responsible for both the accident (he was driving) and for picking up the pace with work to bring in more money.

Their already-strained relationship is made all the more so by two things: Clarice's overbearing mother (Jenifer Lewis, a fine actress who seems to have cornered the market played shrill characters) moves in with the couple; and a physical therapist named Julie (Maeve Quinlan) is brought in to help Clarice learn to walk again, but she ends up developing a close bond to Dave as well. And she's white, which makes it worse (I don't know why, but clearly it does to these characters).

What's strange about Not Easily Broken is that the fact it even exists as a film is due to the massive success of the works of Tyler Perry. People make fun of his films sometimes, but the truth remains he has upped the stakes and the bar for African-American dramas. If you'd told me Perry had written and directed this film, I'm not sure I would have bought it, simply because even in his most serious films, there's a great deal of humor, which isn't the case with Broken. Lewis and Henson have both been in Perry films, playing characters not dissimilar from the ones here. There is quite a bit in this film I've simply never seen before in black dramas. In one pre-accident argument, Henson completely dresses down her husband with some of the cruelest dialogue imaginable. Also, the relationship between Dave and the therapist, Julie, is handled is a way I did not see coming. Director Duke manages to keep his characters emotionally volatile while still dialing them back just enough to keep his film from being one screaming session after another. There's a depth to all of the interactions that impressed me as much as it surprised me.

If Duke has one major flaw it's that he's trying to put too much into his film. There are a few too many subplots in the movie than necessary, including one with the great Wood Harris ("The Wire") as the ex-con father of a boy on Dave's baseball team. These are small problems, but they keep Not Easily Broken from being great. So I guess you'll have to settle for good. I was perhaps most surprised by the way the film leaves our once-happy couple by the time it concludes. To say things aren't exactly handled clean and easy is an understatement. That's one of the big reasons I found myself rooting for the film — there are no easy answers or solutions, as in life. Duke doesn't shy away from things when they get nasty or uncomfortable. Not Easily Broken is Bill Duke stretching his wings once again, only this time, he gets it right. The timing of this film's release couldn't be worse, with more than a dozen award contenders taking up space, but I hope audiences poke around this weekend and give this one a shot. It's tough going, but quite fulfilling.

House of the Sleeping Beauties

In film history, there have certainly been films about a man's relationship with a prostitute or mistress, but I don't think there's ever been one quite like this one, which masterfully interweaves eroticism (which is not the same as sex), allure, seduction, self-reflection, loss and death. German director Vadim Glowna casts himself as the elderly Edmond, a man still mourning the loss many years earlier of his lovely wife and young daughter. Hoping to alleviate some of Edmond depression, his best friend (played by Maximilian Schell) sets him up at a kind of ultra-secret brothel that apparently services only one client per night. No sex takes place in this establishment. Instead, the wintry, proper madam (The Tin Drum's Angela Winkler) arranges for these men to sleep next to young, naked female virgins for an entire evening. And while there is no one watching over the evening's activities in these lush bedroom settings, the clients apparently never go beyond gentle touching and full-body cuddling.

I can't explain exactly why, but the whole thing is wildly sexy and cathartic, as Edmond not only lies with these willingly drugged women, but he walks around the room before getting into bed confessing his deepest fears about death and dying, about how much he misses his family. And then just when Edmond starts to feel comfortable coming to the location on a semi-regular basis, he suspects that foul play may have been committed against another client prior to Edmond's visit, making him fear for his life with every session. House of the Sleeping Beauties has a seductive, mysterious quality to it that is undeniable tantalizing. Does Edmond come to this establishment in the hopes that his longing to be rejoined with his loved ones will be fulfilled sooner? The film borders on exploitation, but Glowna never allows it to get to that point despite the wonderful naked bodies on display at regular intervals. The most interesting moments in the film are the conversations between Edmond and the madam, during which the old man tests the boundaries of his visits. He wants to see these women when they are awake, a practice that is strictly forbidden. He wants to show up at the front door whenever he feels like it, but the madam insists he make an appointment many days in advance. In a perfect way, their relationship is the most erotic of them all, as she plays the prim dominatrix. House of the Sleeping Beauties is a fascinating, ultimately lyrical testament to the lengths people will go find peace in this world and, hopefully, the next. The film opens today for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Living with the Tudors

Have I mentioned yet this week how much I love documentaries? Well, I do. And that fact makes me all the more excited about the Gene Siskel Film Center's annual month-long "Stranger than Fiction" series of docs that includes both weeklong runs of some higher-profile titles as well as selected showings of a few equally choice films. Go to for the complete listing of offerings (including the end-of-month return of my favorite documentary of 2008, Dear Zachary). In the meantime, I've got a couple of juicy limited-run titles for you.

Co-directed by Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope, Living with the Tudors is a loving portrait of the culture of re-enactors in the UK who pretend to be living in Tudor times, circa the 16th century. The filmmakers (who were first participants before they decided to film) took their camera to Kentwell Hall in Suffolk over a period of four years, where they got to know and care about a handful of the roughly 500 players in this open-to-the-public illusion. The participants must speak in a form of Old English, known as Tudor (which is sometimes subtitled not so we can understand what is being said, but what it actually means), and most assign themselves a duty or role in this fictional place. Many sell handmade trinkets, others bake, while others are happy just playing the part of aristocracy and being cared for at every turn.

Guthrie and Pope do manage to dig a few private nuggets of information from the players concerning their real life, their inspiration and reason for being a part of Tudor living, but it's clear they aren't prying or trying to paint these people as mild lunatics. Nevertheless, one of the films most interesting turns comes when a few unnamed players complain to the estate owner about the filming, which leads to a level of negotiation rarely seen west of The Hague. The reason I'm so fond of Living with the Tudors is that it was made by active participants and not outsiders that more than likely would have been inclined to mock these practices. This is not to say the film isn't filled with moments of humor; it is very much so. But the humor is gentle and harmless, much like the film. Fare thee well. The movie is playing Sunday, January 11at 5:30pm, and Wednesday, January 14 at 6pm.

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and assume that this is same documentary about Johnny Cash playing his first shows at Folsom Prison in California that is included in the most recent reissue of the album chronicling the two performances. (The show is recreated as the framework for Walk The Line as well.) If it is, then you need to get your ass behind those prison walls immediately as filmmaker Bestir Cram tells the tale of a live concert recording and all that went into making it happen. Featuring interviews from several of the men who were imprisoned at Folsom when Cash came through, as well as Cash family members Rosanne and John Carter, the film puts the event into historical context and analyzes the impact it had both during and after. One particularly incredible side story belongs to an inmate named Glen Sherley, who wrote a song ("Grey Stone Chapel") that someone passed on to Cash prior to the performances. Cash surprised the inmate with a moving performance of the song. Cash and Sherley stayed in contact after the concert; Cash was even at the prison gate when Glen was released, and he took him on the road with him for a time as an opening act. But the sudden burst of fame after such a hard time in prison did not make for an easy adjustment for Shirley, and Cash's attempt at helping out a man who needed a hand backfired with tragic consequences.

For those familiar with the concert recording, prepare yourself for a bevy of glorious musical outtakes, hilarious stage announcements, and Johnny Cash swearing up a storm. There are also dozens of previously unknown photographs of the event on display to give us some idea of how the whole thing went down. These performances were pivotal moments not just in country music but also in music in general as Cash set the tone and the spirit of prison concerts from that point forward. Some fans were mad at the Man in Black for playing these shows, but his reasons were his own and he wanted nothing more than to give these fellas hope that something good might come their way some day. And while I'm clearly recommending this documentary, I'd almost rather you spent the money and buy the 2-CD/1-DVD set that includes this movie. To hear the two shows in their entirety is to hear one of the world's perfect singers in his environment. The film is playing on Monday, January 12 at 6pm, and Thursday, January 15 at 8:15pm.

GB store
GB store

Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


An Angry White Guy
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Devening Projects
DIY Film
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Mess Hall
Neoteric Art
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
The Seen
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

GB store



A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.

About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Nancy Bishop,
A/C staff inbox:



A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15