I suppose I could do my job and review the new film Get Hard, starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, as a film critic, which I'm paid to do. Or I could deputize myself and become a member of the morality police and judge the content of the film and ignore the rest of it, which seems beside the point, since that doesn't really give you, the potential audience member, a clue whether this might be a film you'd enjoy or not. But let's quickly do the morality thing, just for a second, because it's easier to defuse than you might think.
Thirteen paintings by Edward Hopper are brought to life (sort of) in a film that's being screened Friday and Saturday at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Shirley: Visions of Reality is an Austrian film written and directed by Gustav Deutsch, who will be at the Saturday screening in person to talk about his film. The film is being shown as part of the Siskel Center's European Union Fillm Festival.
The 13 films are tied together by a loose narrative involving a single protagonist, played by Stephanie Cumming. The film is not an action flick, but it's weirdly mesmerizing. The sets transmogrify into the Hopper paintings as the actors gradually move into the final poses that Hopper portrayed on canvas. Paintings such as "Morning Sun," "Office at Night" and "Hotel Room: 1931" are among those dramatized.
The best-known Hopper painting, "Nighthawks," is not one of the 13 shown in the film. But you can see it any day at the Art Institute of Chicago. And a painting, like many other arts, is always better live.
Shirley: Visions of Reality will be screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., Friday at 8pm and Saturday at 3pm. Tickets are $11 or $6 for members. You can buy them online or at the theater.
When I read that the post-rock, Icelandic band Sigur Rós commissioned Melika Bass to direct and produce a music video for their composition, "Varðeldur," I wasn't terribly surprised. Bass' archetypical characters and magical components cohere with the subliminal sound that is the framework of Sigur Rós. The ethereal and red-headed character for "Varðeldur" appears as another one of Bass' character studies. In her current solo exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center in the Kanter McCormick Gallery, Bass presents a reoccurring character, as well as two male characters, who share similar professions but all live different lives.
The Latest Sun is Sinking Fast introduces familiar faces (if you're a Bass fan) and continues and expands on the past and present. The characters connect visually, thematically, professionally, and fictionally, throughout the installation-based exhibition at the HPAC. Archaic and modern, the characters crawl through bushes, bath in public restrooms, listen to sermons on an iPhone and work in their tool shed.
With this latest film The Gunman, expert action cinematographer-turned-director Pierre Morel himself carving out an interesting niche market — taking slightly older, quite talented actors and turning them into balls-out action stars. He did it first with Liam Neeson in Taken (only the one), who admittedly had done an action turn here and there in Darkman, Batman Begins and The Phantom Menace. But with Taken, the actorly Neeson began a trajectory that has made him a fairly bankable action hero (hello, Run All Night). There was a time in Neeson's career when doing action was the novelty; today, the pure dramas are more rare. But it's his gift as an actor that makes us care so much about him as an action star.
With District 9, writer-director Neil Blomkamp presented us with a compelling look at the near future in the wake of a visitation by non-threatening aliens that was so far afield from science fiction works at the time that it felt revolutionary. By setting it in Blomkamp's native South African city of Johannesburg and making the clear parallels between the segregation policies of not so long ago, the film also became genuinely compelling. His 2013 Elysium pushed even deeper into the way humans separate ourselves from each other, this time based on class. The poor stay on the dying planet Earth and the rest get to float above its surface in a clean, safe, man-made space station. A gripping idea for our times, but Blomkamp tends to write his screenplays with a hammer, so any hopes of subtlety were thrown right out the window in favor of a more anarchic message.
This approach seems replicated in his latest film, Chappie, in which Blomkamp returns with his District 9 co-screenwriter Terri Tachell to the city of Johannesburg. And like District 9, he even opens the film with news footage explaining a problem that is taking over the city and how it's being dealt with, so everything is explained to us like a parent reading a child a bedtime story. Crime is becoming a massive issue in the city and the government is turning to a mechanized police force to deal with it. The police droids seem to be getting the job done, but people are still resisting them. In the case of one police droid, it is damaged so severely by human attack that it becomes unsalvageable and is set for the scrap heap.
Since I saw The Sting for the first time, the con artist movie has basically been ruined for me, because I learned that in any film about these tricksters, you have to assume that everyone is lying. And if you're looking for it hard enough, odds are you'll find the lie early enough that when the con is finally funny revealed, it's anticlimactic. That's not to say there haven't been dozens of really enjoyable films about flim-flam men and women, but often it's the characters — and not the the con itself — who are the most interesting part of these films. And this is certainly the case for Focus, the latest from Will Smith who has been noticeably absent from movies since Another Earth tanked two years ago (unless you count his cameo in last year's Winter's Tale, which I never will).
This is actually not a bad film, but if you're someone who finds themselves offended by stories about minorities told through the filter of a white leading character, you better run in the other direction. The sad truth of the movie industry is that many such stories would never get told without higher-profile white actors at the center of them, and it just so happens that a white man named Jim White (played here by Kevin Costner) was at the heart of this particular true-life story of a group of Latino high school students who become contenders in the California's cross country championship.
There's something about the way Disney does sports films (Remember the Titans, The Rookie, Secretariat, Invincible, Miracle) that almost always seems to work. I'm talking about the ones that aren't made for children, so sorry Mighty Ducks and Air Bud franchises. Granted, the titles aren't especially inspired, but they find these true stories and breathe some life into them with top-notch actors and reliable directors. In the case of McFarland USA, the unusual choice to direct is New Zealand native Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country), who has shown a real talent for capturing the way Americans often unfairly pre-judge and treat each other in small communities — a perfect trait for a story like this.
A film that manages to mildly poke fun at the British spy genre while still embracing its tropes and succeeding at being a terrific action work all at once, Kingsman: The Secret Service begins as a recruitment story and becomes a full-blown save-the-world adventure, all while its stars look good doing it.
From the Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) comic book series and directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, X-Men: First Class and, yes, Kick-Ass), Kingsman lets you think for a time that it's the story of a Harry Hart, aka Galahad (Colin Firth), an esteemed member of spy organization the Kingsman, whose accomplishments are so hush-hush that no one even knows the exist. On that rare occasion when a member is killed, each Kingman recruits a young candidate to replace, and the handful of young men and women enter into a series of trials until one is left. Galahad selects Eggsy (relative newcomer Taron Egerton), something of a punk kid but also the son of a former Kingman who was a true friend of Galahad's.
I don't know if I've always felt this way, but I'm certain that of late I am most forcefully drawn to science fiction, fantasy and horror that does a thorough and impressive job of world building. I'm not just talking about building CG environments; I mean establishing a logic, rules and other elements that filmmakers use to nest their story — however wacky — and take me someplace that doesn't feel wholly derivative and show me something that maybe I've never seen, or at least never seen does quite like they do it. Whether they are working in worlds built from other source material (Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas) or ones they built from scratch (The Matrix trilogy and now Jupiter Ascending), The Wachowskis — Chicago's own Lana and Andy — are at the top of their game of dropping us into a place and situation and having us learn where we are and what can happen as we go. And it always sucks me in completely and makes me want to live there forever.
With Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowskis are actually using a modified version of the Matrix template. For reasons we don't always understand, everybody wants to get their hands on a young woman of Russian descent named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), whose greatest accomplishment to date is making a little money working with her mother as a cleaning lady. Her father died when she was very young, but somehow it is discovered that Jupiter is the living reincarnation of a long-dead alien queen, whose children — Balem (current Oscar-nominee Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth), and Kalique (Tuppance Middleton) — are in a bitter squabble over who will run certain corners of the universe.
I love submarine-set movies and I love heist movies, so imagine if I dared to dream of a heist movie set on a submarine. Well now I don't have to any longer, because screenwriter Dennis Kelly (best known as a playwright, although he did write the British series "Utopia") and Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September, The Last King of Scotland, State of Play, Touching the Void, How I Live Now) have combined forces to make Black Sea, an ambitious if somewhat underdeveloped tale of rough and rugged men in a sub searching for lost Russian gold on a long-lost Nazi sub — something for everyone.
Between his roles in Dom Hemingway and now Black Sea, Jude Law has put aside his charm and looks and replaced them, in the case of Capt. Robinson, with a Scottish accent and sunken features. Robinson has recently been fired from his longtime job for a marine salvage company, a job that he was so devoted to that his wife left him and took their young son. Obsessed with making enough money to win his wife back (she has now remarried a rich man) or at least provide for his son, he gets wind of a scheme so hair-brained, it must be true.
(Or 'Twas Booty Killed the Beast)
Calling the new Jennifer Lopez sexually charged thriller The Boy Next Door sleazy implies that the film has the balls to be sleazy, which it certainly does not. Instead we get what is essentially a tossed-off subplot from "Desperate Housewives" turned into a C-grade stalker story. As if the filmmakers were afraid of offending anyone with this limp tale, the affair between Lopez's high school teacher Claire Peterson and her neighbor/student Noah (Ryan Guzman) is made "acceptable" by making sure it's clear that Noah took a year off of high school, and that he's actually 19 years old. Wouldn't want you to think anything shady is going on.
We're not here to talk about Chris Kyle or how truthful his book is or his politics or director Clint Eastwood's politics. You could despise each and every one of these elements that went into making American Sniper, the movie, and still find the film compelling as both a character study and a film about war that doesn't get too deep into the reasons why the American military was in Iraq in the first place. (It's my understanding that in his book Kyle draws a direct line from the 9/11 attacks to America being in Iraq, something the movie skirts ever so slightly.) As a pure cinematic experience, American Sniper has more than a handful of impressive sequences on both sides of the war, and that has to be considered.
It was 1970. The '60s were over, and hippies were on the way out. Their image, dress, music, hair, lingo, drugs — once looked at as a threat to the mainstream — had in fact been co-opted by it. The hippie ideal of love had also been perverted and made monstrous by the likes of Charles Manson, a man whose name comes up more than a few times in Paul Thomas Anderson's latest ensemble blur, which he adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel. Paranoia had replaced psychedelia. And when someone from the mainstream attempts to adopt the hippie belief that man should help his fellow man (in the case of real estate mogul Michael Wolfmann, he wants to give away all his property so people can live on it for free), that person is dealt with severely by friends, family and the government. How can the little guy — hippie or not — hope to survive? That's the world of Inherent Vice.
The fact that Doc Sportello (played to dizzying comic perfection by Joaquin Phoenix) is a private detective is something of a curiosity right from the start. He's a consummate stoner, and he's a womanizer with a pretty sad success rate. The one woman who will sleep with him (although she doesn't like being seen with him in public), Penny (Phoenix's Walk the Line co-star Reese Witherspoon), is a member of the straight world, working as a deputy DA. Into Doc's life one lazy, late afternoon comes his ex-old lady who vanished about a year earlier, Shasta Fay Hepworth (a breakthrough performance from Katherine Waterston, daughter of Sam). Shasta has come up in the world in the months since she broke Doc's heart: she's sleeping with the aforementioned Mr. Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). His knowing wife and her lover are attempting to place in mental hospital for wanting to give the hippies free housing. Wolfmann has vanished and Shasta enlists Doc to find him.
Second City didn't spring full grown from that stage in Old Town in the 1960s. Sketch comedy and improvisational theater has a long and storied history in Chicago, starting with a group of University of Chicago students who began performing at a bar in Hyde Park in the early '50s.
The new documentary, Compass Cabaret 55, is the story of the pioneers who invented a new form of comedy performance that led to Second City and "Saturday Night Live" and nurtured the careers of stars like Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert, Jane Lynch, Elaine May and the late Mike Nichols, and John Belushi.
I'm the idiot who waits until the year actually ends before rolling out my Best Of... list every year, and that's because I'm often able to squeeze in about a dozen or more films in the last couple weeks of December, mostly stuff that others have told me is worth checking out that I either missed when it came out in Chicago or simply never came out in my fair city.
By my count, I saw 465 films in 2014, either in a theater or via screener. This number does include a few vintage titles, but only if I saw them in a theater (sometimes via a restored print; sometimes not). If I simply watched an older film at home, that doesn't make the list. As I do every year, I've separated out the documentaries because I want an excuse to call out an additional bunch of films (15 this year) that might go unnoticed on my main list. Plus, it's always seemed strange to me to mix docs and features; the same way you don't usually see fiction and nonfiction books listed together.
Happy holidays, everyone. Of course the big news of last week was Sony pulling the Christmas Day release of the Seth Rogen-James Franco film The Interview because of vague threats (likely from the government of North Korea) about attack on movie theaters if it opened. A few days before this happened, however, I was fortunate enough to have seen the film at a festival event in Austin, Texas (that Rogen and his co-director Evan Goldberg attended). Now it looks like the film will actually open as scheduled in a handful of smaller, independent theaters around the country, which is great news. As of this writing, I'm not sure where in Chicago or Chicagoland it's opening, but if you'd like to read my length review of The Interview, please go to Ain't It Cool News to do so.
In the mean time, there are plenty of other films opening this week for your amusement. Have a great holiday, and I'll have my "Best Of 2014" lists for you next week.
This week's column was made a bit easier on me since for reasons I can't quite fathom, studios opted to screen by Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and Annie last weekend while I was out town, so I didn't get to preview them for review. I'm sure they're both wonderful, but since I can't know that for sure, it's probably best that you avoid them until I've given them my seal of approval (and to discourage studios from only screening "family" films on the weekends). But here are two other options for your weekend viewing...
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
To say that the third and final installment in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit films is the best of the three is a bit of a "No, duh" assessment, since the film is about 40 percent full-on battle, and it nicely wraps up this story while leaving us just enough of an enticement to lead us into The Lord of the Rings adventures. The idea that The Battle of the Five Armies would serve as some sort of bridge between the two trilogies is not exactly the case, but there are just enough seeds planted to know what is to grow in years to come. Also, the idea that Five Armies is nothing more than epilogue is outrageous, to say the least. There's more actual plot in this film than in An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug combined, and the moments of actual epilogue only make up a couple of minutes of screen time.
Let's at least all agree that if there is one director working today who, in theory, could handle the scope and significance of the story of Moses leading 400,000 Jewish slaves out of Egypt, it's Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down). But Scott is still something of a hit-and-miss filmmaker, and we know that nothing is a sure thing in his usually capable hands. Which brings us to that Moses story, Exodus: Gods and Kings, which casts Moses (played rather dispassionately by Christian Bale) in the dual role as both the favored (albeit adopted) son of the Pharoah Seti (John Turturro) and the outcast brother of the Pharoah's rightful heir, Rhamses (Joel Edgerton).
Unlike last year's biblical epic from Darren Aronofsky, Noah, which embraced some of the mysticism and Godly wonders of its story, Scott has chosen to set his story in the realm of the explainable. For example, we get a detailed account of how nearly all of the deadly plagues might have been freaks of nature; the screenplay brings up some interesting possibilities, but can't quite explain away all of the nasty doings (the death of all Egyptian first borns is the most sinister). Scott also leaves open the possibility that Moses was delusional in his conversations with God (personified in Exodus by an angry young boy). We see the boy, but when Aaron Paul's Joshua observes Moses chatting up God, he doesn't see the boy.
Reese Witherspoon has had a hell of a year. She produced the massively popular and exceedingly well made Gone Girl, she co-starred in The Good Lie, a sadly overlooked docudrama that came out earlier this year, and she has a juicy role in Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, Inherent Vice. But more than likely, the 2014 film the Oscar winner be remembered for most is Wild, from director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club), based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed about her life-affirming (and -threatening) 1000-plus-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, completely alone with no training or preparation of any kind.
When Horrible Bosses hit theaters three years ago, it came at a time when original (as in non-sequel) R-rated comedies were going strong, following the likes of Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher. Context doesn't make a comedy funny or not, but it was a good year for adults to laugh. I also seem to recall that the key to Horrible Bosses' humor was not in its silly plot, which was just an excuse to open the floodgates on some fairly funny material from leads Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis as Nick, Dale and Kurt, respectively. But the real enjoyment came from some truly foul behavior from Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston as the titular bosses, as well as Jamie Foxx as a "murder consultant," brought into the picture when the boys decide to kill each other's bosses. The film was loaded with all sorts of wrong, and for the most part, it worked.
Jumping ahead three years, our heroes are now inventors, attempting to kickstart their own business with the help of a gadget outlet store chain, run by the father-and-son team of Bert and Rex Hanson (Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine). Not surprisingly, the seemingly reputable Hansons double-cross the fellas, leaving them and their new start-up company on the verge of ruin. Naturally, the only thing they can think of is become would-be criminals again to get their money back. They concoct a plan to kidnap young Rex and demand a ransom that just happens be the same amount as their bank loan. The film finds excuses (some more legit than others) to bring Foxx, Spacey and Aniston back into the mix, with varying results.
Easily the best of the young adult series that have proliferated the marketplace since the Twilight movies singed movie screens, The Hunger Games films have actually managed to get better and more harrowing with each new chapter. To wrap up the series, the final book, Mockingjay, has been adapted into two films (the second part will be released in November 2015), and while this may appear to be an already-tired ploy by studios to milk the most out of a franchise (thanks Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hobbit and the upcoming final chapter of the Divergent films!), there actually does seem to a clear dividing line for Mockingjay that isn't exactly a cliffhanger, but the start of something even more devious than the first part hints at.
Now that the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is free from actually having to take part in yet another Hunger Games (they have essentially been done away with forever), and we can enter a new chapter of this civilization divided into realms and controlled by the clearly vindictive President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Katniss is the reluctant hero of and symbol to her people, the underclasses of the nation of Panem, ruled by the newly introduced President Coin (Julianne Moore) and her trust advisor Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his last onscreen role — presumably he'll return in Part 2). As the underclass' so-called "Mockingjay," Katniss is asked to be the spokesperson for her people in a series of pirated videos calling for courage and the willingness to fight for freedom from Snow's tyranny.
National Gallery photograph by Robert MacPherson from top of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square.
How do we look when we're looking at art? That's one of the intriguing facets of this gorgeous art tour of London's National Gallery. Frederick Wiseman's three-hour documentary, National Gallery, which opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center, shows us many scenes of faces looking at faces. Human faces peering, pondering, smiling, puzzling at portraits painted by the masters of Medieval, Renaissance and Romantic art.
During the mesmerizing three hours we spend at the gallery, we see preparations for and openings of major exhibits of the work of Titian, Turner and Leonardo. The 2011 Leonardo exhibit (titled Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan) was a blockbuster; $25 tickets were being scalped for $400. Wiseman shows scenes of museum visitors lined up in hopes of obtaining tickets.
There's nothing quite like watching actors reprise roles that they did 20 years ago, and still manage to capture some of what made those performances so special and memorable. It makes you think about the person you were 20 years ago (assuming you were even born in 1995, when Dumb and Dumber was released), about the bright future you saw for yourself, your dreams, your aspirations, the experiences you had so long ago, and the ones you were so looking forward to having. Actually, none of those thoughts entered my head as I was watching Dumb and Dumber To, the sometimes funny-sometimes excruciating exercise in nostalgia baiting in the 21st century.
From a screenplay by modern-day comedy whiz kids Sean Anders and John Morris (writers of Horrible Bosses 2, We're the Millers, Hot Tub Time Machine, Sex Drive), the film brings back Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as two of their most successful on-screen characters, Lloyd Chistmas and Harry Dunne, off on another road trip adventure, this time to locate the daughter that Harry just discovered he sired years earlier with Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner, who is treated so cruelly here that you almost can't help but giggle) and whom she gave up for adoption to a wealthy family.
Going into Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, don't worry so much about what other films or directors this absolutely epic work might remind you of. Just because Nolan (and his brother, co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan) uses intellect to propel the story forward occasionally does not make him Tarkovsky. Just because things get a little trippy toward the end doesn't make him Kubrick. And just because he approximates sentimentality and emotion doesn't make him Spielberg. Honestly, Interstellar works best when Nolan is being Nolan — a bit cold, harsh, putting the mission of saving humanity in front of personal connections, and, of course, making the remarkable seem commonplace to everyone but his audience.
Before I dive into my review of Interstellar, let's talk about ambitious filmmaking. Let me be clear: I'm a fan. But "ambition" and "quality" are not the same thing. In fact, they're far from the same thing. I see a whole lot of ambitious films in a given year by some of the greatest directors living today. But the truth is, I don't give points for ambition; I give points for whether a filmmaker can translate said ambition to the screen. I consider recent works like Prometheus (I was not a fan), Cloud Atlas (I adored), or on a smaller scale, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (let's go with the writer-director's original two-part version, which I was fairly neutral on). Regardless of scale and money spent, there's no denying that all three films are extremely ambitious as filmmaking exercises. And perhaps not surprisingly, they were all wildly divisive in terms of critical and audience reactions.
Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin sat on the stage of the MCA theater Wednesday night in a black sweater, black trousers and sneakers. He looked like a perfectly normal person--and then he said his major influences as a filmmaker are David Lynch and Luis Bunuel. The Lynch-Bunuel connection made total sense of his series of mad, dream-or-nightmare films. Are they noir? Adaptations of silent films? Grainy black and white? Surrealistic? Yes, all those things and more. Are they Hollywood films? "As far from Hollywood as possible," according to Maddin.
"Guy Maddin: His Winnipeg" was part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. The event was held at the Edlis Neeson Theater at the Museum of Contemporary Art, moderated by Charles Coleman, film program director at Facets Multimedia. The two came on stage and sat in chairs facing each other. Before any opening by Coleman, Maddin began talking about films and talked nonstop, while Coleman occasionally guided him with a question. Throughout the conversation, a Maddin film looped on the screen behind them.
First-time writer-director Dan Gilroy (who has written films as varied as Freejack to The Fall to The Bourne Legacy) has made a movie that almost dares you to find something redeemable about its lead character. In Nightcrawler, Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal, in easily the best performance of his career) is a man made up by uncut ambition and drive, but he can't find an outlet for his level of dangerous energy. Then one day, he stumbles upon an accident, and within seconds a freelance camera crew is on the scene, capturing the raw blood and mayhem of the moment. Once the scene is under control, the crew packs up, and by that evening, their footage is bought, paid for and aired by a local TV news station in LA. It doesn't take Lou long to think that this "nightcrawling" might be a line of work he could pull off and be good at.
Winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival's Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent, Dear White People is meant to be many things to many people, but if its only achievement is sparking conversation, I think writer-director Justin Simien can say he accomplished his mission. Simien has wisely set his feature film debut on the campus of Winchester University, as college campuses are both hotbeds of ideas and a place where emotions tend to run hotter than in the real world.
The film follows four black students, the most interesting of which is Samantha White (Tessa Thompson), a bi-racial woman who inadvertently wins the election for head of the traditionally black resident hall. She's also an outspoken voice on campus (via her radio show) on all things racial, and she's secretly dating a white guy. She comes to this story a fully formed character whose past and current ideas are filled in as the film progresses.
That's the tagline of the trailer for Creative Writing, a new film by Chicagoan Seth McClellan. His 70-minute film opens today at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
The film is an honest, realistic portrayal of the writing aspirations of a diverse group of middle-class students in a community college writing course. The students participated in the writing as well as acting and use their own names in the film. As the film's preface says: "Though the actors play versions of who they really are and our story is based on what actually happened, this is fiction."
Hey everyone. I haven't done this in quite a while, but between unexpected travel in the last week and the still-going Chicago International Film Festival eating up my days, I haven't had time to compose full-length reviews of the many, many movies open up this weekend — many of them quite great. So I'm going to try and blaze through the many offerings with just a two or three paragraphs each. We'll see how that goes. Enjoy!
Writer-director David Ayer (End of Watch, Street Kings, writer of Training Day) has always been a stickler for authenticity (if you ignore his last film, Sabotage), and his latest work — the World War II tank barrage Fury — is no exception. With Brad Pitt leading a five-man crew during the final push into war-torn Germany in 1945, the film concentrates on bloodshed, explosions and ear-splitting volume that might make you want to consider earplugs. The film captures the claustrophobic quarters inside the tank and the pure destructive power it represents as these men barrel into one situation after another, outnumbered, outgunned and poorly armored.
If you ever wanted to see the legendary Robert Duvall shit himself like only he can (literally and figuratively), then I've got a movie for you. And I'm not talking about catching a brief glimpse of mild discoloration in his boxers. Oh, no. I'm talking wet, dark, splattering crap exploding out of his ass and onto the white bathroom tile, as well as the feet of his estranged son (Robert Downey Jr.). Come gather 'round, children, and let me tell you about The Judge.
Part family drama, part courtroom procedural, part character study, The Judge is the story of hot-shot Chicago lawyer Hank Palmer (Downey), who returns to his smalltown hometown on the occasion of his mother's funeral. Turns out, many years ago, Hank left home mostly to get away from his hard-driving judge father Joseph (Duvall) to prove to him (and the world) that he could be successful. Hank seems to specialize in clients who are undoubtedly guilty, but he still manages to cast his spells over judges and juries to get them off. In one early scene, Hank pees on the shoes of opposing counsel in the men's room, setting up a family history of bodily excretions on other people's shoes.
North America's longest-running competitive film festival, the Chicago International Film Festival, begins Thursday, Oct. 9 with the Chicago premiere of Miss Julie, the latest film from actor-turned-director Liv Ullman (and based on the play by August Strindberg), who has had all of her last three features as a director screen at CIFF and will be in attendance at the opening night at the Chicago Theater (all other festival screenings will be held at AMC River East theaters). Her appearance in the Chicago is only fitting since CIFF will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and has a great number of special events, screenings and appearances to mark the occasion, which means even more work and coordinating for Programming Director Mimi Plauché, founder and artistic director Michael Kutza, and their team.
More than 20 films have been selected as part of a retrospective of highlights from CIFF's 50-year existence, including 1971 Silver Hugo winner Family Life, to be presented by the director, acclaimed Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi; Lars von Trier's Academy Award-nominated Breaking the Waves; Roger and Me (with director Michael Moore in attendance); and three films which received their world premiere at past festivals: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), The Idolmaker (1980) and White Nights (1985) — the latter two directed by Taylor Hackford, who will appear at both screenings. Several longtime festival friends will present special editions of their favorite films, including director, writer and producer Oliver Stone, showing the Director's Cut of Natural Born Killers and the recently released to Blu-ray Ultimate Cut of Alexander. Other retrospect films will include 101 Reykjavik, Fanny and Alexander, Here's Your Life, a restored print of Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn, George Cukor's version of A Star Is Born, and a restored version of the silent film classic Why Be Good?, featuring the final on-screen performance of CIFF cofounder Colleen Moore.
I'll have a full-fledged CIFF preview piece this Friday in my Steve at the Movies column, but a couple of interesting programming notes I wanted to highlight include a spotlight on Scandinavian films, that includes 20 feature works and a program of eight shorts from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The festival is also honoring the great French actress Isabelle Huppert by screening four of her recent great films at the Music Box Theatre, three of which will be shown as 35mm prints.
I had a chance recently to sit down with Plauché, who has been working for CIFF since 2006, to talk about the highlights and special events of this year's event. As always, Plauché is a great guide though the nearly 200 films from more than 50 countries. Take notes, and don't be afraid to see something to haven't heard of — that's the point of a film festival, isn't it? Enjoy.
Director David Fincher is often both lauded and criticized for being a filmmaker of great technical achievement, sometimes sacrificing an emotional connection to his subject in favor of a great shot. I don't happen to agree with this theory, but I do find it easy to tell sometimes when Fincher is truly passionate about those being portrayed in his film. And thankfully the director of Fight Club, The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button not only cares about the characters and themes in his latest work, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, but they mean so much to him, he gets downright angry sometimes.
I think to say that Fincher and Flynn's take (the author also wrote the screenplay) on Gone Girl concerns the true face of marriage in the modern era is a bit of an over-simplification, but it's also partly true. What the film ultimately turns into is the realization that a person can never truly be themselves if they want to keep a relationship going — a face must be worn, the lies must be told so often and so convincingly that the teller starts to believe them, and to do anything less than all of these horrible things in the name of keeping a marriage alive is the ultimate betrayal, even if it's for perfectly acceptable reasons.
Hairy Who exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery, 1969.
If you missed the year's greatest art film in June, The Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists is coming back. The 109-minute documentary about the lurid and outrageous Chicago art movement of the '60s and '70s will be shown at the Siskel Film Center from Friday through Oct. 9.
Director Leslie Buchbinder will be on hand at the 8:15pm Friday show. On Sunday, the six original Hairy Who artists will appear at the 5:30pm show.
The film was shown here a few times in June and we reviewed it for Gapers Block then.
We've seen Denzel Washington be a badass; we know he can do it, and he remains one of the best at combining action and gunplay with sheer magnetic personality. All three were front and center when he and director Antoine Fuqua first teamed up for Training Day, which gave us a version of Washington who was both villain and character we were still sort of rooting for if only because to lose him from the story meant the film would be something less. So what if Washington presented us with a character who was reserved, hesitant to act, quiet (but not in a menacing way), bordering on boring? Well, it's still Denzel Washington, so he'd just make that character a different kind of badass.
Reeling, the Chicago LGBT International Film Festival is back this year, showcasing what the community considers to be the best films of the year. From a documentary that explores the International Gay Rodeo association, to a comedy about best friends who just might have found love...with each other, it's a festival that has a film for everyone. The festival runs Sept. 18-25 at participating Chicago theaters.
Here are a few favorites you should consider looking into for all the laughs, heartbreaks and screams you could ever need.
Unlike many of the other science fiction films we've been getting in recent year featuring younger people as central characters, The Maze Runner (based on the successful novel series by James Dashner) isn't about an established future that everyone accepts, and often into which a "chosen one" is introduced to set the world right. The Hunger Games, The Giver, Divergent, Ender's Game. Christ, it seems like there's a new one every two or three months. But The Maze Runner dares to drop its characters into a place they know nothing about, with every memory of where they came from erased. That place is The Glade, and surrounding them is a giant, ever-changing maze whose door opens up for a few hours every day, and if you are unlucky enough to get caught inside when they close, well, that's the end of you, thanks to some unpleasant creatures call Grievers.
The Glade is occupied by only boys and young men. Some have been there for years and some are new arrivals, each assigned a job when they arrive, and this makeshift society seems to function, until the arrival of Thomas ("Teen Wolf" star Dylan O'Brien), who seems just a little more curious and ambitious than the rest, and finds it difficult to accept things just because he's told he has to. His primary rival (and chief rule keeper) is Gally (Will Poulter from We're the Millers), whose motivations are solid but his methods are dictatorial. The group is loosely ruled by its most senior member, Alby (Aml Ameen), who seems to have a level head about most things that stray from the norm, but when he gets ill, the group falls into chaos.
It seems strangely fitting that the final major roles from both Philip Seymour Hoffman (in A Most Wanted Man) and James Gandolfini (in this week's release The Drop) are portraits of soul-crushing loneliness. Both actors have played in this sandbox before, but in both roles, the emptiness leads to careless and poor decisions that impact the rest of their lives.
Written by novelist Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River, Shutter Island) and based on his short story "Animal Rescue," The Drop marks the second powerful work from Belgium-born director Michaël R. Roskam, who helmed the 2012 Best Foreign Language Oscar-nominee, Bullhead. The film centers of former thug and current Brooklyn bartender Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy of Locke, Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises) who works with his cousin Marv (Gandolfini) at a bar that is used to funnel cash from various numbers rackets, payoffs and other criminal activities. Like many other bars around the borough, this is a "drop bar," where cash is literally handed to the bartender, who in turn drops it into a safe he doesn't have access to. After the close of business, the cash is picked up — end of story.
I firmly believe that the only genre that more difficult to get right than horror is horror comedy. And we're still living in a post-Shaun of the Dead world, in the same way we were living in a post-Reservoir Dogs world for 10 years after that landmark film. As a result, the zombie comedy has had its fair share of hits and misses since Edgar Wright's 2004 master class is finding the humor in horrific situations, rather than simply cracking jokes, acting silly, and having every character act like exaggerated versions of human beings. With that in mind, allow me to introduce you to Life After Beth, from writer-director Jeff Baena (a credited writer on I Heart Huckabees and boyfriend to Life After Beth star Aubrey Plaza).
The film begins with the untimely death of Beth Slocum (Plaza), whose boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan) really really misses her. In the period right after Beth's passing, Zach and her parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) actually get closer as their shared love of Beth brings them together. Then suddenly, Mr. Slocum stops returning Zach's calls and the family hides when he comes to their house. After about three minutes of investigating, Zach discovers that the Slocums are hiding a returned-from-the-dead Beth, who they consider a miracle from the heavens, but is actually her being a zombie who can still talk and reason and not eat human flesh (at least not right away).
I never discuss a film's marketing strategy in my reviews, but I will admit as I was walking into the theater yesterday to check out the new Pierce Brosnan espionage-themed action-thriller The November Man, I happened to glance at the poster by the entrance and saw the tagline "A Spy is Never Out of the Game," and I couldn't help but cringe. Sure, Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, a former CIA agent secretly pulled out of retirement to assist with a mission he has a personal stake in, so the tagline makes sense. But of course, what the marketing geniuses are doing is playing with audience's familiarity with Brosnan's most famous film character, James Bond (for you kids out there, he was the super-spy just before Daniel Craig), whom the actor hasn't played in 12 years.
It looks and sounds and bleeds like the Sin City we know and love from 10 years ago, the one co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, based on Miller's insanely popular graphic novels. There are a few familiar faces, a few new ones, narration all over the damn place, and deadly black-and-white images, splattered with blood. But strangely enough Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is missing something that I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it's the fact that Rodriguez and Miller haven't given us anything new in terms of the visuals; the almost-entirely CG environments feel the same, which is a shame because it limits the film in its pursuit to distinguish itself from its predecessor.
Marv (Mickey Rourke, seemingly even puffier in makeup than before) is back, still looking for a fight, but always willing to help out a friend. The one thing that isn't clearly explained (if it was, I missed it) is the timeline. Some of the film clearly takes place after Sin City. Bruce Willis' cop Hartigan is still dead but seems to be hovering over the shoulder of his charge, the stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba), trying to discourage her from going after the men who killed him, mostly those controlled by Senator Roark (Powers Booth, who has become more of a caricature villain than anything truly worth being scared of. But we also get stories that take place before the first film. Jaime King shows up as both twin sisters, Goldie and Wendy, one of whom we know dies in Sin City. I don't think the past and present storyline intersect, but jumping back and forth can get tiresome and confusing, especially to those who don't realize that Josh Brolin is playing the same character (pre-plastic surgery) he played in the first film. Good luck with that.
Well, it took them three tries, but Sylvester Stallone and his grizzled gang of tough guys and renegades known as The Expendables finally made a film that I can whole-heartedly recommend. I was not an admirer of the first two films; I saw the appeal, and I may have even laughed a couple of times as the countless dumb jokes about age and virility. But there's something a bit more lived in and knowing (bordering on sensible) about The Expendables 3. And I give a great deal of the credit to two people: new director Patrick Hughes, who made a terrific little Australian movie a few years back called Red Hill (he's also slated to do an English-language remake of the The Raid, but we won't hold that against him...yet); and Mel Gibson, who embraces his villainous personal image to play a bad guy who's actually formidable and worthy of taking on this team.
Honorable mention should go to the great Wesley Snipes as Doc (short for Dr. Death), whose opening-sequence rescue from a high-security prison (he's in for tax evasion, he says; where do they get this stuff?) is one of the best openings of any movie this summer. There's a lot of talk about how "crazy" these old guys are, but Snipes sells it better than anyone in this franchise to date. I also give credit to Harrison Ford as CIA operative Drummer; for the first time in ages, Ford actually looks like he's enjoying himself and fully embracing the idea of being an elderly badass.
Sometimes it's best to ignore the source of an adaptation and let the new work stand on its own. That works well with this excellent new adaptation of the 1893 Henrik Ibsen play converted to film in modern dress, as A Master Builder by Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory. The two-hour film, currently showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center with an outstanding cast of seven, immerses us in a story of lust, ambition, ego and envy.
The film closely follows Ibsen's original story -- with one important exception. We meet master builder Halvard Solness as an aging and sick man, tended by nurses and resting in a hospital bed in his office. (Ibsen describes him in the original as "a man no longer young, but healthy and vigorous.") This illness reframes the story of the architect with the monstrous ego and ambition and provides a dreamlike and ambiguous ending.
Director Jonathon Demme has created a film that to my mind is more claustrophobic than a single-setting play. Demme uses extreme closeups of his garrulous characters as well as a small number of tight physical spaces.
I wish I felt more passionately — positive or negative — for the latest attempt to get the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back into the cultural spotlight. Clearly inspired by by the recent wave of superhero movies, this version of the turtles stick to the same basic origin story, but gives the reptiles a little more grit and attitude. Their shells are worn and chipped, their usually colorful green forms are muted and worn in. Their voices still reveal their hyper-teenage brains (with the exception of Johnny Knoxville, inexplicably brought in to voice Leonardo), but they are forced to deal with some very dark and serious situations that could result in some nasty business courtesy of their old enemy Shredder.
The biggest (but far from only) problem with the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the the genuine fun has been all but wiped from these characters. I certainly wasn't looking for a retread, but I was hoping to laugh and smile a bit. Instead, the heroes are being beaten to a pulp, put at real risk of death (or those around them are), and just generally being put in the middle of some truly grim situations. Director Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls, Battle Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) doesn't seem to have any real affection for the turtles, and if he does, it doesn't show. I'm not too traumatized about their new, more humanoid look the way some are, but it doesn't really add much to the film either, the way, I don't know, a story or minor character development might.
One of the greatest joys as a film critic (at least this film critic; I would never dare speak for all) is surprise and discovery. It actually happens less and less as trailers, extended clips, and all manner of plot details and ruined secrets become easier to come by, especially as a film's release gets closer and studios begin to panic that audiences won't turn up unless they know as much as they possibly can before they actually sit down to watch the damn movie. But every so often, I'll get an invitation to a press screening or just pay to see something — usually a smaller, indie work — and know nothing about it as the theater goes dark and the projectors lights up. These are not always pleasant surprises, mind you. But every so often, you see something so wonderful that you consider, "Why haven't I heard more about this magnificent film?"
I come from a far-off time and place where you might have gotten one advance trailer and/or one television commercial, plus a single poster and some print ads, promoting a film's release, and that was it. So, I made a deliberate decision about Guardians of the Galaxy many months ago. While I was an avid comic book reader from way back, I'd never been introduced to this particular variation of this team of characters prior to seeing the film last week. To say I went into Guardians with no knowledge of there being a gun-toting, foul-mouthed raccoon or a sentient tree creature wouldn't be accurate, but I did declare a self-imposed moratorium on details on the actual plot of the film beyond the fact that these anti-heroes (who would have been rejected from groups like the Avengers) band together as outcasts to try and save the galaxy. Why do you need to know more?
My biggest complaint about the Dwayne Johnson version of Hercules (not to be confused with the January release The Legend of Hercules, starring Kellan Lutz; actually, no one would mistake the two) is that this fairly entertaining, slightly empty-headed piece would have been over-the-top insane were it not trying so hard to be PG-13. An R-rated Hercules would have ruled the empire. As it is, it's still remarkably violent and hilariously good/bad film from, of all people, director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour trilogy), who at least is smart enough to let things get silly just when they're on the verge of getting too serious.
The film has an interesting take on the mythology of Hercules, in that it wonders what if the legend were actually a bit of a PR stunt to make Hercules more appealing as a for-hire mercenary. For example, what if the many-headed Hydra he defeated as part of his "Trials" was many not exactly the monster it's been made out to be, or if the three-headed dog Cerberus was actually just three separate dogs that just like to hang out together. In Hercules, the hero has a posse that includes the young Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) who is his personal hype machine, rewriting his every adventure into something bordering on mythology. There are even hints that Hercules may not be the son of Zeus and thus not part god.
It may be an unwritten rule, but I'm pretty sure it's a rule nonetheless. If you're going to make a movie called Sex Tape about a suburban couple who make a three-hour-long sex tape to spice up their marriage, you have to have nudity for it to be both funny and effective. And when I say nudity, I mean committed baring of all parts from both leads, and not some Cameron Diaz ass double. Hire someone who is both funny and willing to commit to the conceit of the film. We know from films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall that Jason Segel (playing Diaz's husband, Jay) is not against going full frontal for laughs. I'm not saying we needed prolonged actual sex acts on screen, but give us some amount of nudity to enhance to laughs, because putting it all out there can be very funny.
Sex Tape actually does have one example of someone going the extra distance, although not in a naked way, and that person is Rob Lowe, who plays Hank, the mild-mannered CEO of a company looking to buy Annie's (Diaz) mommy blog. He has outlined a fairly conservative image he'd like Annie to project, and a leaked sex tape is not part of that image. When she and Jay end up at Hank's house, he has a prolonged conversation with Annie that gets stranger and more deranged with each passing second, and it's hilarious... while the rest of the movie struggles to generate consistent laughs.
In order for me to take a good hard look at the best and worst in human behavior, I had to see a "lesser" species turn our guns on us in a movie. And no, that's not any kind of crack about gun control; it's just what happens in the movie, and the impact is gut wrenching. Imagine if the man-apes from the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey went from pounding each other on the heads with bones to picking up machine guns and mowing each other down to establish dominance, and you may have some idea of the impact of seeing the spiritually compromised ape Koba (motion-capture acted by the brilliant Toby Kebbell) riding horseback through a run-down, overgrown San Francisco with machine guns blazing in each hand. You'll probably laugh a little before you shudder.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set 10 years after two simultaneous events occurred (as shown in Rise of the Planet of the Apes): some kind of man-made simian flu was released, killing off nearly all human life on Earth (through the bug and the resulting societal violence); and a drug designed to repair brain cells and increase intelligence was set loose into the ape population, resulting in the world's first talking ape, named Caesar (once again played with a combination of deep thought and unfiltered rage by Andy Serkis), who has since become the ape world's natural leader. It's a little unclear how far-reaching this smart-ape phenomenon has spread, but when the few remaining humans in San Francisco first come in contact with Caesar's tribe, they are shocked to hear them speak, let alone reason and organize. For all we know, Caesar's group is the only of its kind; I suspect in the sequel to this film, we'll find out for sure. But I digress...
Not that this should influence your like or dislike of Tammy, the new film starring and co-written (with her director husband, Ben Falcone) by Melissa McCarthy, but this was supposed be McCarthy at her most pure and unfiltered — a raw, R-rated, take-no-prisoners variation of the McCarthy personality (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Identity Thief), birthed in improv performances in New York and Los Angeles, and put up on the screen like the perfect trophy head mounted on a hunter's wall. This was supposed to be the best that she's got. Oh boy...
If you've already decided a) "All Michael Bay films suck and I won't go see any of them ever," b) "All Michael Bay films suck, but I can't stop going to see them," or c) "I love Michael Bay and/or Transformers movies," you can probably step away from your computer for a little while, because I don't think I'm going to change your mind on any of these opinions. I guess I'm aiming my sites at the undecided voters with an open mind who are willing to take every movie on its own merit, and don't see or discuss movies simply to show how witty they are and how many clever ways they can find to shit on a film they're too cool to enjoy.
Now make no mistake, I'm not here to defend or endorse Transformers: Age of Extinction; there's just too much wrong with the movie to encourage all but the diehards to see it. But I'm of a firm belief that anyone who dismisses the film with a single sweeping "it sucks" gesture, made up their minds about the film long before they stepped into the theater.
I was talking to a friend recently about Purple Rain, a film I hold very near and dear to my heart while still recognizing (now more so than ever) its deep, deep flaws. During the conversation, I admitted that after a few months of fast forwarding through the story to get to the live performances, I eventually edited together a version of the film that was nothing but the musical moments and subsequently wore out that tape in short order. I hadn't really thought about having done that until watching director Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys, because I realized after one viewing that if I ever watched it again, I would have to be able to skip through the energy-free story to get to the stunning music sections.
I never saw the stage version of Jersey Boys for the simple reason that I'm not a fan of musicals that take the greatest hits of a band and manufacture a story around the songs (I'm looking at you Mamma Mia, Movin' Out, We Will Rock You and I guess Rock of Ages; I'll give American Idiot a slight pass only because it's based on a concept album that essentially was one story set to music). But Jersey Boys always intrigued me because it was the only one of these types of musicals whose plot was the actual story of the group whose music they were using — sort of a biopic on stage. So converting it to the big screen didn't seem like that much of a stretch, and I truly love the music of The Four Seasons and their front man, Frankie Valli.
Do you remember your first look at the so-called Chicago Imagists in art galleries in the '60s and '70s? Whether you were on your own or in a stroller pushed by your parents, you surely found the art of the "Hairy Who" to be eye-popping, colorful, vulgar and fun.
You can relive those artistic memories in Hairy Who & the Chicago Imagists, a lavishly illustrated new film documentary that illuminates the lively and confrontational art movement that started here in the 1960s. Director Leslie Buchbinder combines film of the young artists and interviews with many of them in their later years. Other interviews are with the 21st century artists they influenced, such as Jeff Coons, Peter Doig and Chris Ware, as well as collectors and curators. Best of all, we see many of the actual works--vibrant, vivid and surreal paintings and objects. The production also features great animation work and original music.
As a global city, Chicago is home to many languages besides English. Chicago Speaks profiles speakers of these languages, and shares some of their personal stories along the way.
If you were to hang out with Ariani Friedl, you probably would learn at least one Portuguese word even if you communicated entirely in English. "Mostra," which means "show," is the name of the Brazilian "film series" she founded in Chicago four years ago — a name she chose for both its aptness and its catchiness.
"Mostra became part of their vocabulary very quickly," she says of her American colleagues. Her ambition for Mostra, though, goes beyond the slight expansion of our lexicon.
"The majority of Americans think of Brazil as samba, [soccer] and bikinis," explains Friedl, who in 1964 moved to Chicago as a newlywed from the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. "And all this is part of our culture, but that's not it."
The real question shouldn't be whether 22 Jump Street is more or less funny than the first film about two undercover cops (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) who infiltrate a high school drug ring; the real question should is it funny at all. Even if 22 Jump Street is slightly less funny than 21 Jump Street, that's still better than most comedies that have been released this year thus far. But all of these questions are arbitrary because the new film is just as funny as the first, maybe for different reasons. There are still plenty of laughs, many of them made at the expense of action movie sequels as an institution and rightfully so.
One of things that made the first movie so funny was the idea that Tatum's Jenko and Hill's Schmidt could ever pass for high school students; and let's face it, their days of passing as college age are pretty far behind them too, so jokes about how old they look still play great. Hill takes especially brutal verbal abuse from his girlfriend's roommate, played Jillian Bell, a former "SNL" writer and regular on "Workaholics," "Eastbound & Down" and supporting player in The Master and Bridesmaids, as well as the funniest thing in this movie. The story's new blood really does make the film a better place in general, especially Wyatt Russell (son of Kurt) as football star Zook, who quickly becomes best buds with Jenko. Returning players, such as Ice Cube and Nick Offerman, offer directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) the perfect chance to skewer sequels, but it's these new faces that push the story forward.
You realize almost instantly, and for so many reasons, that the new sci-fi adventure Edge of Tomorrow is different than what has come before it. Not because the story at its core is so different — an alien race called Mimics is slowly taking over Europe in a way that strangely mirrors World War II-era Nazi Germany and it's up to a united global fighting force to stop them — but because of the way that story reveals itself over and over again. But even before we get to the film's masterful gimmick, something else is unusual about the movie: Tom Cruise is cast as a coward. He plays Lt. Col. Bill Cage, which sound like a rough and tough rank and name, but he's actually a guy responsible for getting others to join the fight; he's a marketing guy for the new global fighting force.
But when the head of the troops, Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), orders him to join the first wave of a major push against the aliens on the shores of France to film the event for recruitment purposes, Cage balks and politely refuses since he had no combat experience, leading to him being thrown in cuffs and forced onto the front lines or be labeled a deserter and traitor. Under the command of Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton), Cage is tossed in with a rag-tag group of soldiers and soon placed in a weaponized exo-skeleton (apparently the fighting machine of choice in the future) and dropped into the thick of it, where it's clear the enemy has been waiting for a sneak attack. Not surprisingly, within the first five minutes of being on the ground, Cage is killed.
I'm a bit confused as to why this film even exists, but it's not because I don't believe in retelling a classic animated fairy tale as live action works — albeit told from the perspective of its dark and mysterious villain. And I don't even mind that the writers of Maleficent gave the evil queen (played as an adult by Angelina Jolie, with more severe cheeks than she has in real life thanks to some subtle prosthetics) a backstory that explains why Maleficent had it out for Sleeping Beauty, her family and their kingdom. I guess the elements of this movie that kept me scratching my head was why they felt the need to surgically remove nearly all traces of Maleficent's evil nature and have her become something of a stepmother and role model for the pre-sleeping Aurora (Elle Fanning).
I'll admit, I was impressed by the attempted scope of X-Men: Days of Future Past even before I saw the film. What I'd deduced was that screenwriter Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer (who directed the first two X-Men chapters) were finding a way to incorporate the casts of the original, modern-set X-Men films and '60s-'70s-era original team from X-Men: First Class. What I had not anticipated (and this may be a failing on may part) was that Singer and company would attempt to use Days of Future Past as a way to line up, course correct and incorporate elements from all of the other X-Men films (including the dreaded X-Men: The Last Stand and the even worse X-Men Origins: Wolverine) in an attempt to make this particular cinematic universe feel more cohesive. And for the most part, they pretty much nailed it.
Days of Future Past is a crowded affair with an unbelievable amount of plot — enough to cover three films, it feels like. But if you're fairly well versed in the other X-Men films, you should do alright. The story begins in the future, in a world where mutants are largely extinct after decades of being hunted by giant robots called Sentinels, who not only target mutants, but also hunt those with latent mutant genes that may one day be passed on to create mutants as well as anyone who helps mutants hide, escape or otherwise avoid death. In other words, this version of Earth is fairly grim. But a few survivors have come up with a far-fetched plan to send a message 50 years back in time, to a specific moment when history changed course and resulted in this desolate world.
Although I've already written about this at length, but I just wanted to remind those of you who only read this column every Friday. The Chicago Film Critics Association programmers (myself included) have put together a variety of tremendous films that cover every genre and type of filmmaking, all playing at the Music Box Theatre, May 9-15. The festival features 23 Chicago premieres and two shorts programs, totaling 14 shorts between them. And I couldn't be more excited and proud to a part of this year's event once again.
As we did last year, we've got some great guests doing post-screening Q&As, including directors David Wain (They Came Together), Bobcat Goldthwaite (Willow Creek), Jordan Vogt-Roberts (American Ham) and Collin Schiffli (Animals), as well as actors Dick Miller (That Guy Dick Miller and A Bucket of Blood double-bill), Martin Starr & Jocelyn DeBoer (Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead) and David Dastmalchian (Animals).
Last year, along with several of my fellow Chicago-based film critic associates — all member of the Chicago Film Critics Association — I embarked on an endeavor to do something that had never been done before. We created and put on the first-ever film festival programmed and run entirely by film critics. The programmers scoured festivals from Toronto, Sundance, SXSW and others to find what we considered the best of the best of the dozens of films we saw at each festival. We mixed up the program to include festival favorites, films still looking for distribution, and even a rarely seen but much loved classic, Sorcerer from director William Friedkin (who also attended). And for three glorious days last April, we actually managed to pull together a great line-up and got a few high-profile filmmakers to come out and do Q&As for our audiences.
The event was so successful that we decided to grow the experience for audiences this year and move the location from the Chicago suburbs to inside the city limits this year. The Second Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival will take place May 9-15 at the legendary Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.
I don't care about Peter Parker's parents. I don't care if they're alive or dead; if they're traitors or patriots; if they're spies or scientists; if they work for Oscorp or Donald Trump; if they're human or alien. I didn't care about them in the comic books, and nothing that's been presented about them in two Amazing Spider-Man movies has made me care about them any more. I'm a great admirer of other performances by Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz, who play Richard and Mary Parker, but they do nothing for me in these films. And no, simply eliminating all scenes and references to them in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't come close to solving the problems I had with it, but it would have shortened an overlong movie to a more suitable length and made what doesn't work seem far less painful.
Tribeca Films' latest comedy, The Bachelor Weekend, opens this Friday at Facets Cinémathèque, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave. Originally released as The Stag in Ireland, The Bachelor Weekend follows the misadventures of Fionan, a foppish groom-to-be who, after being pressured by his best man, reluctantly agrees to spend a bachelor's weekend camping. When his fiancée insists he bring along her brother, known as "The Machine," Fionan and his friends' well-laid plans for a relaxing trip fall apart.
Gapers Block has two pairs of tickets to The Bachelor Weekend to give away -- one pair for Friday, May 2 and another for Saturday, May 3. Enter to win a pair by emailing email@example.com with "Bachelor Weekend" in the subject line and your name and preferred screening. We'll draw winners at 5pm Tuesday, April 29. Good luck! UPDATE: We have our winners! Congrats to Sandy and Kira!
Even if Detroit is a hpllowed-out, dilapidated version of its former self, at least for the foreseeable future it can serve as a modern dystopian location for all sorts of films, including Brick Mansions, an American remake of the energetic and enjoyable French actions District B13, which introduced many of us to David Belle, one of the founders of the action style known as parkour. As with the original, this film is working from a script by Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri, and is nearly an identical story of corruption, social injustice and lawlessness on both sides of the financial equation.
In this version of the story, set just a few years into the future, Belle plays Lino, who is determined to clean up the drugs and related bad behaviors in a walled-off section of Detroit called Brick Mansions (referred to the housing projects inside the walls). The criminal leader running the drug trade is Tremaine (RZA), and he's out for revenge against Lino after the self-appointed crime fighter steals a great deal of heroin from him and essentially flushes it. Using his incredible acrobatics, he escapes capture, but that only forces Tremaine to set his sights on Lino's ex-girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis), whom he kidnaps and holds onto, waiting for Lino to come get her.
Transcendence is one of those science-fiction works you foolishly allow yourself to get excited about because a whole lot of smart, talented people are involved in its conception and execution. The pedigree includes executive producer Christopher Nolan, first-time director (and Nolan's constant director of photography) Wally Pfister, and actors Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy and Clifton Collins, Jr., to name a few. Even the concept is intriguing: what if one of the world's most authoritative minds on artificial intelligence is able to have his memories and mind placed online, where he could have access to literally everything to world has to offer?
But wait, you say, a scientist putting his brain on a computer? Didn't I just see that as a subplot in the new Captain America movie (and a few other films dating back to the 1980s)? Yes and yes, but Dr. Will Caster (Depp) is no ordinary scientist; he's someone who believes that such an achievement can lead to giant leaps in research, medicine, security and many other things useful to human kind, far away from the prying eyes and weaponizing hands of the government and military. He would be the first computer with an emotional core, which was kept in check (in theory) by his loving wife Evelyn (Hall) and best friend Max Water (Bettany), both scientists as well. Dr. Caster calls this state of computer-human mind meld "transcendence," and what could possibly go wrong?
If Ivan Reitman's first film since No Strings Attached three years ago and his first truly enjoyable film in about 20 years was just about the general manager of an NFL football team (in this case, the Cleveland Browns for no particular reason) wheeling and dealing in the hours leading up to the draft, I would have thought it an interesting choice. But when you cast Kevin Costner, arguably the king of sports films that actually have heart (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Tin Cup), as general manager Sonny Weaver Jr., it means something and adds something to the overall significance of what's going in this behind-the-scenes look inside and outside the organization.
Costner doesn't play this role as a slick insider who manipulates to get what he wants, despite what the team's coach (Denis Leary), owner (Frank Langella) or money manager (Jennifer Garner) say. That's exactly what he is, but he doesn't play it that way. Instead, Sonny is a man trying to live in the shadow of his late father, a hero to the organization; deal with a pestering mother (Ellen Burstyn) and ex-wife (a marginalized Rosanna Arquette); and process the news that his girlfriend Ali (that would also be Garner) just found out she's pregnant.
Every night of the academic year, Doc Films at the University of Chicago is showing a film. Moreover, one night of the week is dedicated to a specific cinematic theme. Last quarter it was the ever-so-wonderful Nicolas Cage. This quarter it's Michael Snow and Joyce Wieland, two experimental filmmakers who were married for 14 years.
The first showing was of Michael Snow's segment, featuring Wavelength and New York Eye and Ear Control. With barely any narrative or plot line, Wavelength begins in a bland room as two characters enter with muffled dialogue. The film rarely shows any characters from here on out and the audience is left wondering: When is something going to happen? Is there anything wrong? Why is there such a strong ringing noise? The constant questions linger dauntingly over the audience as the camera slowly zooms in to a particular subject in view.
The latest installment in the Captain America story reminds us that although the super soldier (still played/embodied by Chris Evans) can make short work out of a cosmically enhanced Red Skull and an invading horde of aliens with his Avengers pals, the greatest threat to mankind is itself. In this case, it's a shadow organization that literally has the means to decide who lives and dies on the planet to make it a more peaceful/docile place to live.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is many things, and most of them work. It's a fit and proper sequel to both Captain America and The Avengers; it's a political thriller steeped in healthy fear of technology; it's a fleshed-out, highly watchable expanded episode of the ABC series "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (if you're still watching it, make sure to see this week's episode before you head to Winter Soldier for an added bit of fun); it introduces some of the most interesting and useful new characters (good and bad guys) that we've seen in a while — that includes you, Hawkeye; and it's just a magnificently plotted and paced action film that uses Captain America's past as a device to haunt and alter his present and future.
There's a sequence in director and co-writer (with Ari Handel) Darren Aronofsky's Noah in which the title character (Russell Crowe) is relaying to one of his children the story of creation, pretty much word for word right as we know it from the Bible — six days, ending in the creation of man and woman. But the visuals that accompany this telling are what makes the sequence so magnificent, and in many ways, best explain Aronofsky's take of his version of Noah, his ark, the great flood, and the restart that humanity and civilization got as a result of said event.
What we see when being told the creationism version of life on Earth is actually the scientific version, including evolution — a creature crawls up out of the water, stands upright and takes on human qualities. It's all shown in an accelerated manner, but there's no doubt that Aronofsky isn't so much placating both sides of the discussion; he's attempting to find a way to see if both versions would exist in the same universe. It's as if he's saying, "Let's assume all of these events happened as written in the Bible. How would that be possible?" In some cases, the answer is simply, "It isn't." But in other cases, he attempts to find ways in which religious mysticism and hard fact work together to create circumstances and beings that might be easier to accept.
The charge of the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media (FAAIM) is "to spotlight the rich, diverse voices of Asian American independent artists from Chicago and across the nation; and through its annual Asian American Showcase, the spotlight shines on writers, filmmakers, and artists are celebrated for their contributions to the world of film and media. Now in its 19th year, the Asian American Showcase is recognized as the "oldest film festival dedicated exclusively to Asian American film" and is well-known for featuring an exciting lineup of shorts, as well as feature-length and independent films and documentaries.
There are times while watching Divergent where I felt like I needed a flow chart to keep track of all of the various factions that exist in this tiny corner of the earth that looks a lot like a run-down, grown-over Chicago, where Lake Michigan and the Chicago River have all but dried up, and apparently it's possible to zip line from the top of the Hancock Building to somewhere in the Loop. That part of the film is actually pretty cool. But basically all you need to know (and accept) about this caste system is that this existence is divided into five groups, including ones made up of the intelligentsia, warriors, truth tellers, hippies and the selfless, who are for whatever reason deemed the most worthy to be the leaders of this weirdly utopian society formed after some vague war. At the age of 16, all youngsters much choose what group they want to be a part of, and if they are rejected by their chosen group, they are cast out of society.
Not coincidentally, Love & Air Sex is also hitting town next weekend. The film, which stars Michael Stahl-David from Cloverfield as lovelorn Stan, who flies to Austin, TX in hopes of running into his ex-girlfriend Cathy. Friends Jeff and Kara are in the middle of a bad breakup when Stan arrives, and the Air Sex World Championships end up being the setting for a battle of the sexes.
So I guess there's a video game called "Need for Speed" that in at least some versions involves driving across the country, not unlike the plot of the new film version, made by former stuntman and Act of Valor director Scott Waugh. Much as he did with Act of Valor, Waugh has emphasized authenticity. In his military movie, he used real members of the military. And in a film that recalls quite frequently the great muscle car films of the 1960s and '70s, the new film features no computer-enhanced stunt work, instead allowing real cars to race at top speeds, often wrecking spectacularly. And anyone who thinks it doesn't make a difference is fooling themselves. The stunts in Need for Speed look and feel undeniably dangerous.
Granted, a film featuring grown men sitting around revving their engines as loud as they can, as well as a sequence involving a character forced to take an office job suddenly strip naked and walk outside in just his socks clearly isn't emphasizing character development, but anything would have helped make me care about these gear heads. I never quite understood why guys who race cars in movies also have to prove they they can beat another driver up, or why any of the drivers or mechanics insist on constantly measuring each other's penises to see whose has the most horsepower. There's a whole lot of posing in Need for Speed, and it borders on distracting.
Encircling the Logan Center walls and spreading out like a scroll are the six large projections by the cinematographer and photographer, Yang Fudong. The exhibition, both a film and installation, is titled East of the Que Village, and features a rural area where Fudong grew up.
Upon entering the gallery space, I was struck by black and white film projections on each wall. As I stood in the middle, slowly circling my body to face each screen, I noticed people, rural locations, isolation and most importantly, wild dogs. Lots and lots of ravenous and skeletal dogs--fighting over meat, sanity and space.
As I rotated my body to face each of the projections, I continued to glance back at the dogs. I can't remember if it was their loud growls and bellows that attracted me or their savage existence to simply survive, however, my interest was incredibly sparked for further observation. Once I watched the film for a great amount of time, I began to connect the story between the separate screens. The stray dogs and the humans are all tied together into one, creating a pseudo-documentary which is united because of one young crippled dog.
The East of the Que Village exhibition will be up until to Sunday, March 30 at the Logan Center which is located at 915 E. 60th St. Yang Fudong's film is a documentation of his memories and time spent in his hometown. The dogs were pre-ordered, the locations scouted, but the environment and individuals are very real. Check out more Logan Center events/news on their Facebook and Tumblr page.
Comedian Robin Harris made you laugh -- uproariously -- whenever he touched a microphone. His unapologetic "blue collar" comedic style, comprised of an effortless and expert blend of "signifying" and anecdotes, turned him into a household name.
Harris, a native of Chicago's South Side, put in major work in comedy clubs across the country, eventually landing in L.A.'s famed Comedy Store; however, it wasn't until 1985 when he became the house emcee for the Comedy Act Theater that people really began to take notice.
The Chicago Irish Film Festival is recognized as the premiere festival "dedicated to celebrating contemporary Irish filmmaking"; this weeklong event, now in its 15th year, kicks off today and will be held at various locations throughout the city.
Special events, including the screening of Irish-centric film shorts, animation and feature-length films by award-winning Irish filmmakers, will take place during the festival. Tonight, the festival welcomes legendary Chicago photojournalist John G. Morris, who will be on hand for the Midwest premiere of Get the Picture, his book that features 50 years of photojournalism.
I can almost guarantee that if I went back for a second viewing of the new Liam Neeson air marshall thriller Non-Stop, I'd spend a lot of its running time saying, "How the hell did the bad guys find out X about Neeson?" And that's for the plain and simple reason that the villains in this film seem to have the uncanny ability to see through luggage, doors and minds and be able to know exactly what every single person on this New York City-to-London plane is going to do next, especially US Air Marshall Bill Marks (Neeson). And that's just the jumping off point to a whole slew of questionable plausibility issues the film has. But if you can set those aside, and just assume that none of these leaps of faith is really that logical, you might have a blast watching this movie.
We learn or suspect fairly early on that Marks is a troubled man. We hear his side of a phone conversation at the beginning of the film in which he is clearly trying to get out of flying that particular day. He's a near-broken man who orders a stiff drink when he takes his first-class seat; the flight attendant (who clearly knows him) brings him a bottle of water instead. We suspect he's suffered a loss of some sort, coupled with alcoholic tendencies (to what degree, we don't know immediately), and to put him on a long flight charged with protecting the passengers seems like a bad idea. In many ways, he's playing the same character he did in The Grey, minus the wolf punching.
The one overwhelmingly positive thing I can say about the latest disaster film Pompeii is that the volcano eruption sequence is spectacular. Does anything else really matter to you? If so, you're going to likely be hating life and wishing for death by ash and fiery magma by the end of this film, which fancies itself the imperfect hybrid rip-off of Gladiator and Titanic. We have the lowly slave Milo (Kit Harington, Jon Snow in "Games of Thrones") whose parents were slaughtered when he was a child in a battle waged by Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland, clearly believing he's auditioning for Loki's understudy in the next Thor movie). He's spent his life becoming the perfect gladiator, with revenge in his heart.
On the road to a big tournament in Pompeii, Milo first lays eyes on Cassia (Emily Browning, from Sucker Punch), the untouchable daughter of upper-class citizens Severus and Aurelia (Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss), who is returning after a year in Rome with her lady servant Ariadne (Jessica Lucas, from the Evil Dead remake). Cassia left Rome because she was relentlessly pursued by the creepy Corvus, who is in fact on his way to Pompeii to listen to plans from her father on improving the city with the emperor's investment. But Corvus is such a scumbag, he not only threatens to not recommend that the emperor fund these infrastructure upgrades if Cassia won't marry him, but tell the emperor that the family spoke ill of him, thus assuring their execution.
Chicago's film industry had a blockbuster year in 2013, which means that many Chicago scenes will be on the big screen in 2014. We've pulled together some trailers to the big budget Chicago-based films set to release this spring and summer.
Tom Selznick, played by Elijah Wood, is widely known as one of the most talented pianists of his time, but he no longer performs live due to debilitating stage fright. Nearly five years after his most shattering experience at a public performance, Selznick returns to the stage in Chicago and tries to perform again. As Selznick begins playing in front of a packed, eager audience, he discovers a message written on his score: "Play one wrong note and you die." Selznick must attempt his most difficult performance yet and look for help without detection by the anonymous man behind the sniper, played by John Cusack.
Actor/director Kris Swanberg (wife of fellow filmmaker Joe Swanberg) screens her short film Baby Mary several times throughout the festival, beginning March 8 at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH, 1510 Toomey Rd. The film is competing in the Narrative Shorts Competition, and is about an 8-year-old girl living on the West Side of Chicago who finds a neglected toddler and takes her home.
Perhaps the biggest thing the new RoboCop film has going for it is that is largely abandons the plot of the first film and uses certain elements of the 1987 source material to make it its own monster. Hey, if you're going to remake a great movie, you might as well try to make it your own rather than a dim copy. The job at hand is still to make the streets of America safe for both citizens and police officers. In order to do that, the robotics company OmniCorp has devised various types of mechanized law enforcement robots, including ones that have a vaguely humanoid form. The robots are already used in cities all over the world as a police force, and by the U.S military in the ongoing war on terror instead of soldiers. But because Americans don't like the idea that the robots don't have more discerning human characteristics and would shoot an 8-year-old holding a knife because it's programmed to, there's actually a Congressional ban on robots keeping the peace.
So OmniCorp chief Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) and its top scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) come up with a way to put a human face on their robots... literally. When Detroit undercover cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is blown to bits by the bad guys who have figured out he's police, the scientists take over and manage to save his head, esophagus, lungs and one hand (I'm not making this up) — just enough to build a body around him that makes him the perfect, thinking mechanical cop. But OmniCorp soon discovers two things: a partly human robot is slower than a full robot because it hesitates before it shoots, and a robot with a human brain has nightmares and violent flashbacks to his near-death experience. To cope, Dr. Norton must "adjust" Murphy's brain to make him more robot, thus eliminating any emotions he might have, partciularly about his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and young son.
Jack Newell and Dinesh Sabu are independent filmmakers currently working on a feature-length documentary entitled How To Build A School In Haiti. Jack is a bearded white guy from Chicago who gained critical success in 2010 with his short film Typing. Dinesh is a lanky Indian guy, originally from Albuquerque, who has collaborated on several projects with Kartemquin Films. Consequently, I was curious as to why they chose to make an incredibly ambitious documentary in Haiti.
The origin of their documentary odyssey began after the destruction and turmoil following the Haiti earthquake in 2010 when a man named Tim Myers, a 67-year-old retired construction worker from Colorado, decided he would help build a school for the villagers of Villard, Haiti. Subsequently, Jack and Dinesh have been focusing their cameras on this community — recording the trials, tribulations, and issues associated with international development and aid as it relates to Haiti.
Is the story if the real-life, World War II-era Monuments Men one worth telling? Without a doubt. Is this George Clooney-directed and -co-written film about this team the way it should have been told? Probably not. The Monuments Men is something of a tonal cluster-frick that can't decide whether it wants to be "Hogan's Heroes" or something far more serious.
This story about an international group of largely middle-aged art historians, curators and architects who must go into Europe (often behind enemy lines, although Germany is basically retreating at this point) to both locate and save precious works of art that the Nazis stole and are hiding, as well as keep the Allied forces from destroying the wrong buildings and artifacts as they advance and liberate the continent, is a remarkable and important one.
To celebrate black culture, the Chicago Urban League is holding its third annual Black History Month Film Festival throughout the month of February. Starting tomorrow evening, four feature-length documentaries that feature various aspects of the black experience will be screened for Chicago's film fans.
Whenever someone tells me that a trailer or commercial for a film doesn't make it clear to them what the film is about, I take that as a great sign. Yes, folks, sometimes a film is complicated enough that it doesn't easily reduce itself to a two-minute trailer. That doesn't mean the film is good, necessarily, but it's a healthy sign that there are still works out there that are trying to be something more than just cut-and-dry stories, where you can anticipate every turn and remain numb to every feeling. Based on Joyce Maynard's emotionally complex novel, Labor Day is a film with many layers and jumbled motivations, all of which director and screenwriter Jason Reitman (Up In the Air, Juno) has sifted through and made into something that presents a handful of broken character's all seeking to put themselves back together with each other's help.
Before I just into the regular reviews, I must mention a couple of special events happening in Chicago in the next week that you should take full advantage of as film lovers.
The first is a film that the recently liquor-licensed Music Box Theatre is playing at midnight this weekend (in addition to Here Comes the Devil, which I review below) and it's called Fateful Findings, a movie from director Neil Breen that I was secretly shown over a year ago in another city. Rightfully so, the film is being compared to The Room, not so much in terms of its story, but in terms of the clear delusional belief by the filmmaker that he is somehow making art and exposing the greater truth about the things that really control the way the world works. I'm not reviewing here because I don't remember a great deal about it (having seen it at about 3am) other than it's one of the most ridiculous and still hilarious films you will ever see. I will buy a copy as soon as it's available.
The other film event you might want to check out is the latest in the annual installment of the Music Box Theatre's Sundance USA event, in which a highly regarded film from the just-wrapping-up Sundance Film Festival makes its way to Chicago along with the filmmaker. This year, we get the most recent film from Drinking Buddies writer-director (and Chicago resident) Joe Swanberg, Happy Christmas, starring Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber and Lena Dunham. I haven't seen the film, and all I know about it is that it concerns a young woman moving in with her older brother, his wife, and their two-year-old son after she breaks up with her boyfriend. I'll be in the crowd that night for sure since Swanberg will be in attendance for a Q&A after the screening, which starts at 7:30pm. Check out the Music Box's site for details on the screening and to buy advance tickets (it will likely sell out).
And finally, Facets Cinématheque is playing for two consecutive weekends a fairly violent little piece called Raze, starring stuntwoman/actress Zoe Bell (Death Proof). It might not be for everyone, but if you think you might enjoy attractive women beating the living crap out of each other for 90 minutes under gladiator-style conditions, you might find it amusing, and Bell is certainly one of the most skilled, badass female action stars in quite a while. I'm guessing that the film is playing Friday and Saturday around 11pm at Facets, but at deadline their website didn't have showtimes. But give their hotline a call on Friday at 773-281-4114, and showtimes will hopefully be updated. In the meantime, check out my exclusive interview with Bell and director Josh C. Waller on Ain't It Cool News.
Now onto this week's releases — but not I, Frankenstein, since it wasn't screened for critics...
Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg, who wrote and directed the 2013 film, Drinking Buddies, will premiere his new film Happy Christmas next Thursday, January 30, at the Music Box. The showing will be part of the annual Music Box/Sundance Film Festival USA Initiative. Swanberg and a Sundance representative will be on hand for an audience Q&A session.
Happy Christmas is about a young woman who moves in with her older brother, his wife and their 2-year-old son after breaking up with her boyfriend. Written and directed by Swanberg, the film stars Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham and Swanberg. It will be part of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival's U.S. Dramatic Competition.
Swanberg graduated from Naperville High School and earned a degree in film production at Southern Illinois University. He worked for the Chicago International Film Festival after graduation. He has a long list of writer, director, producer and actor credits. He's known for micro-budget dramas and his extensive use of improvisation.
This is the fifth year that the Music Box has collaborated with this Sundance initiative; this year it's part of a seven-city tour.
Happy Christmas will be shown at 7:30pm Thursday, January 30, at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport Ave. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or at the box office. For more information, see the Music Box/Sundance website.
Photo courtesy The Silverman Group.
I have a fondness for the adventures of Jack Ryan in Tom Clancy's many novels about the CIA analyst-turned-operative. One of my fondest memories is of my grandfather, a WWII Navy veteran, giving me his copy of The Hunt for Red October and telling me what a great read it was (and he was right). And I continued reading Clancy's books (the ones he actually wrote; not the ghost-written ones) for quite some time after that. And certainly the first three films based on his works (October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger) are easy to like; the fourth, The Sum of All Fears, not so much. The fifth film featuring Ryan (with the fourth actor to play him) is Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and it's an attempt at reaching back into Ryan's backstory to the point in his career where he shifted from government desk job to working undercover for the CIA on Wall Street to uncover the financial hiding places of terrorist organizations, to running around Moscow with a gun and carrying out secret missions.
I actually like how this film begins, with Chris Pine (Captain Kirk in the latest Star Trek films) as a young college student abroad in London when the attacks on the World Trade Center happen (clearly any sort of continuity for the Clancy stories has been thrown out the window). Inspired to action, Ryan joins the Marines, and after several heroic missions, he's severely injured in a helicopter crash to the point where there is some doubt if he'll ever be able to walk again. In the physical therapy hospital, he meets pretty young nurse Cathy (Keira Knightley), and when he exits the facility able to walk, they begin to date.
The reading series Mortified! which excavates notes, journals, and other ephemera written by performers in their youth began in 2002 in LA, and currently has 9 chapters--8 in the United States and one in Malmo, Sweden. Chicago has had a chapter for 8 years, and at long last, a documentary film, Mortified Nation has been made, and premieres this weekend at the Gene Siskel Film Center. I spoke with Shay DeGrandis, the producer for Mortified Chicago.
How many cities does the film cover?
Live shows were filmed in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Portland, and LA. Over 40 hours of film were shot, and it's been edited down to 90 minutes, so it's a small smattering of how big Mortified is.
For Brittany Williams, when it comes to visibility and positive images of black women on the big screen, in many areas, there is still room for improvement. "Even as more African American filmmakers have risen to prominence in the present day, the presence of black women in film--or lack thereof--has left something to be desired," said Williams.
This sentiment has led to "Stills for Sisters in Cinema: African American Women Filmmakers," now running Thursdays through March at the University of Chicago's Max Palevsky Cinema, 1212 E. 59th St. Curated by Williams and held under the university's film society, DocFilms, "Stills" is a cinematic series that includes films that tell diverse stories about black women, that feature black women in lead roles, and that were directed by black women like Julie Dash, Kasi Lemmons, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Ava DuVernay, and others.
Our Picasso is almost 47 years old. It was August 15, 1967, when "just after noon, Mayor Richard J. Daley pulled a cord attached to 1,200 square feet of blue-green fabric, unwrapping a gift 'to the people of Chicago' from an artist who had never visited--and had shown no previous interest in--the city," according to the Chicago Tribune.
You can join in celebrating the dedication of the iconic Daley Plaza sculpture in a screening of two films on "Picasso and the Mayor: The Chicago Picasso on 16mm Film."
The two films, which view the sculpture from different perspectives, are:
The Chicago Picasso (1967, 60 minutes) produced by PBS station WNET, which the presenters describe as "a slick, entertaining educational film about how great men with big ideas, sacks of cash, and steel smelters helped bring cutting-edge art to the citizens of Chicgo."
The Bride Stripped Bare (1967, 12 minutes), shot by Chicago filmmaker Tom Palazzolo during the dedication ceremony. He describes the event as "absurd and mystical pomp bound up in grandiose ceremonies."
The project, presented by South Side Projections and Co-Prosperity Sphere, will feature Palazzolo, along with Annie Morse, senior lecturer in museum education at the Art Institute of Chicago, who will discuss the circumstances that brought the Picasso here, including Mayor Daley's push for Chicago to adopt large-scale modernist public art.
South Side Projections is a nonprofit organization presenting film screenings throughout Chicago's south side. "Picasso and the Mayor" will be screened at 7pm Thursday, Jan. 23, at Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219-21 S. Morgan St. The suggested donation at the door is $5; for more information, call 773-701-1923.
Director Peter Berg has never shied away from films about manly men, especially when those manly men are in the military. I think he shares the same fantastical idea that Michael Bay does that if you hang around enough men in uniform, people might actually start looking at you as a tough guy. Why that is important to them, I'll never understand. And the fact that it's delusional makes it all the more curious. But in works like The Rundown, Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom, Berg has shown a real flair for staging impressive action sequences that actually make sense and aren't simply a blur of explosions, screaming and bullet fire. (Yes, I realize Friday Night Lights is a sports movie, but if you think it's any less an action film than one with soldiers, watch it again.)
With his last two films, Hancock and Battleship, Berg hasn't lost his ability to stage solid action, but he lost himself in the silly, fantastical elements of those movies, and the work has suffered as a result. But with his latest, the wildly violent Lone Survivor, Berg returns to familiar stomping grounds and the results are quite impressive, in a brutal, hard-R-rated way. The film is the story of the failed 2005 SEAL Team 10 Operation Red Wings mission to kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, told through the eyes of the mission's lone survivor, Marcus Luttrell (Berg adapted the book Luttrell co-wrote with Patrick Robinson).
I landed four shy of seeing 500 new films in 2013 (a personal best that includes a small number of restored-print screenings). As usual, I actually wait until a given year is completed before I finalize my "Best of..." list, because in the final few weeks of every year, I play a ferocious game of catch-up — revisiting films I've already seen to see if they are as good as I remember, as well as view a few works that I may have missed in the shuffle of the previous year. In the final two weeks of 2013, I watched about 20 films, a few of which landed on one of my two lists this time around.
So why 40 picks? I guess the best answer is, because I said so. Hell, last year I had a list of 50, and I promised myself this year I'd be more selective. But I still ended up with about 45 that I trimmed back for my own sanity. And why separate out documentaries? I love them so much, I want to get as many titles out there as possible. But I can tell you that my favorite doc pick would have easily landed in my Top 5 feature films' list if I combined the two. I firmly stand by the principle that if you watch each and every one of the 60 films on these two lists, you'll have a hell of a great time at the movies.
And for the first time ever, I'm skipping my annual Worst Of... list because I started to compile one, and the list got so long, I was losing perspective. I guess in one of the best years in recent film history, and in a year where the number of means of accessing movies is growing by the month, more shit made its way to the surface and my prying eyes.
Let's assume that if you're reading this you haven't completely given up on the found-footage format or the ongoing Paranormal Activity storyline, which up to this point has found ways to focus on the present or past tormenting of sisters Katie and Kristi Rey, either separately or together. I'm not giving away whether or not any members of the Rey family show up in this adjacent tale or not, but I like that the people producing this series have at least made an attempt to break with a few mainstays and are branching out ever so slightly, with still terrifying results.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones will likely be referred to as the Latino Paranormal Activity (I'm thinking alternate titles like Actividad Paranormal or perhaps Fenómeno Paranormal) since it's set primarily in a small apartment complex that seems occupied entirely by Latino residents. Unlike the other films in the series, The Marked Ones does not make use of security or otherwise fixed cameras as its primary source of footage.
For Brenda Blonski and Sharon Kimbrough, making the jump from the advertising industry has resulted in Raggedy Man, a good-natured short about the chance friendship between a woman and a homeless man whom she meets at a local diner. The duo, who respectively served as Senior Vice President/Creative Director and Senior Vice President of Broadcast Production Services at Burrell Communications, merged their talents and ventured into the art of filmmaking.
With Blonski as scriptwriter and Kimbrough on board as producer, Raggedy Man is the product of a true Chicago collaboration that includes director Julio Desir, Second City actors Aaron Burns and Jack McCabe, and music producer Morris "Butch" Stewart. Here, the ladies discuss their Burrell background, creating Raggedy Man, and why they hope the film will resonate for audiences, particularly when it comes to homelessness in America.
Sometime the less-is-more adage just doesn't do a story justice. I can't image a subtly told version of The Wolf of Wall Street, the latest from director Martin Scorsese, a filmmaker who isn't best known for dialed-back stories or performances, but is certainly capable of them. The truth is, like all great directors, Scorsese knows how to temper the tones of his films to the material. This may seem like an obvious ploy, but you'd be surprised how often the two don't mesh as they should. But the director of Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed clearly had a few ideas about how to approach the book by the film's subject, New York strockbroker Jordan Belfort (the screenplay was written by Terence Winter, a showrunner of Scorsese's "Boardwalk Empire" as well as a frequent writer on "The Sopranos"). He goes about as far and as fast as you can go without your head exploding.
A word you're probably already hearing a lot of in connection with this film is "excess," which is indeed appropriate to a point. The film epitomizes a culture where an almost unlimited supply of cash is at hand — most of which is legitimately gotten under the financial laws of the time — and what can be done with it is limited only by imagination. But what is perhaps more terrifying about this story is that the true source of excess isn't money; it's that there is almost no one in the world (government, law enforcement, etc.) telling these clowns "stop" with any credible means of making them do so. I don't mean to imply that simply saying the word would make them cease and desist, but it would have been nice to no someone was trying to put a stop to what they were up to or at least closing the loopholes they were doing swan dives through to take money from trusting clients.
Why are people so intent on comparing David O. Russell's American Hustle with Martin Scorsese's upcoming The Wolf of Wall Street? First off, it's not a contest. There can be two truly great ensemble dark comedies that incorporate the themes of greed and freewheeling disrespect of the law without one laying claim to being better than the other. The two films are actually remarkably dissimilar in both their execution and the filmmakers' view of their characters. While Scorsese clearly has something of an admiration for the levels of chaos reached by his antiheroes, Russell seems more intent on getting below the surface and figuring out just what makes his deeply flawed and easily manipulated characters tick. But one wonders if said ticking is the sound of a finely tuned motor keeping these people moving forward or a time bomb counting down to their inevitable destruction.
Since so much about the FBI sting operation known as ABSCAM is still confidential, writers Russell and Eric Singer have built an entire fiction around a small amount of actual hidden-camera footage of fake sheiks giving various politicians (including a U.S. senator) bribes to help out with getting U.S. citizenship applications expedited for criminal purposes. But long before we get to that, we must meet and appreciate the greatness that is Irving Rosenfeld, (Christian Bale, almost unrecognizable), he of the bad posture and even worse combover, but a guy who knows the angle and how to maneuver people to invest money with him that they'll never see again. He's got his fingers in the art world, real estate, banking, and it's all complete bullshit. But Irving knows when to apply pressure and when to pull back just enough not to appear too eager, and Bale captures his master con artist at work.
It's difficult to deny that this second installment of what has now become The Hobbit trilogy exists as a more complete film than An Unexpected Journey. Having dispensed with introducing dozens of new characters (and saying hello again to a few familiar ones), director Peter Jackson could make The Desolation of Smaug into something that focuses more on solid action and even a bit of character building, both of which are good things. What is not so good is that there is still a great deal of fluff and filler in the mix; and some of what is great about Smaug is unexpected and welcome. It's a mixed bag, but one that unreservedly works far better than what came before, and gives many signs of greater things to come.
Weirdly enough, much like The Two Towers, the second film in The Hobbit series features a tremendous amount of walking. The 13 dwarfs and their recruited hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continue their trek toward the Lonely Mountain to reclaim the dwarf kingdom of Erebor and place Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, still stubborn but less so) as the new dwarf king. The only thing standing in their way (that they know about) is a massive dragon named Smaug, who loves the treasure that sits inside the kingdom just as much as Thorin's grandfather did. Since hobbits are believed to be naturally sneak and clever, the mission is to send Bilbo into the treasure room, find the Arkenstone (the giant jewel that designates the holder as king), and get out of there without waking Smaug and getting burned to a cinder. Good luck with that.
If you're like me, then you live day to day thinking to yourself, "There just aren't enough truly grim movies in the world." Well, you're prayers have been answered thanks to Out of the Furnace, a new film from director and co-writer (with Brad Ingelsby) Scott Cooper, the former actor now director who directed Jeff Bridges to an Oscar in Crazy Heart a few years back. Grim isn't necessarily meant to be a bad word under the right circumstances, but this film is so relentlessly gloomy, dark (as in dimly lit) and full-tilt bitter that it's tough not to feel smothered by its misery. A handful of substantially strong performances save the film from sinking entirely into a dour tar pit, but in so many scenes it feels like Cooper simply lost control of his actors, turning several exchanges between actors into several rounds of thespian boxing.
I loved the opening of the film more than just about anything else in the movie, and it features my favorite actor with a Southern twang (who isn't Matthew McConaughey), Woody Harrelson, playing Harlan DeGroat, who has a scene at a drive-in movie that establishes him as the film's resident pitbull. And then we don't see him again for a while, but we don't forget he's coming back, and we're always nervous about how exactly that's going to happen.
I'm going to guess that roughly 75 percent of the people that saw Chan-wook Park's 2003 adaptation of the Japanese manga comic Oldboy and loved it already hate Spike Lee's version based solely on the fact that it exists, sight unseen. If you're in that camp, I'm not talking to you during this review. Continue living in your world of knee-jerk reactions to remakes and let the rest of us judge a film based on its own merits. As for the rest of you who are rightfully curious about what Lee brings to his telling of this truly messed-up revenge story, I'm perfectly willing to respect that you might genuinely dislike the film after having seen it. There's no getting around the fact that Lee's version of Oldboy has issues and flaws, but I think it's one of the his most visually interesting, and it's great seeing him take chances like this so deep into his career.
The most fascinating aspect of Oldboy is what Lee and screenwriter Mark Protosevich chose to leave the same and what has changed, because when something is altered it is deeply altered here. Even the length of time ad executive Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) spends in solitary confinement in a prison that looks like a motel room. In the first version, the character as held 15 years; in Lee's version, it's 20. It's not a huge difference, but it's Lee's way of saying, "This is not exactly the same; pay attention to the differences." Doucett is not a good man, and there are many suspects on his list of enemies that might want to torment him like this. He finds out by watching a TV in his room that his ex-wife has been killed, he is the prime suspect and his daughter is now lost to him probably forever.
It may have taken me two films into this series to realize it, but there a substantial difference between a Young Adult film (meaning one made for YAs) and a film about young adults that is geared more toward an older crowd. You can spot the differences in the character development and the themes of the three novels by Suzanne Collins versus the Twilight books/films (an easy target, I know). In the Twilight material, love (in all its selfishness) matters most of all, even if it mean the deaths of so many good people. In The Hunger Games and even more so in this newest chapter, Catching Fire, the lead heroine Katniss Everdeen (brought to soulful life by Jennifer Lawrence) does something that is almost unspeakable in the world of YA fiction: she pushes aside romantic entanglements from two fronts in the name of the greater good. Even Thor couldn't do that. And this makes Katniss one of the great, pure heroes in film right now.
Sestero met the enigmatic Wiseau in a San Francisco acting class. They became unlikely friends, then collaborators, culminating in the cinematic disaster that would eventually bring them both worldwide fame.
Good intentions and popular source material can be a dangerous and risky combination. It's so clear as you watch the film adaptation of the hit Markus Zusak novel The Book Thief why this material is such a hit with young and old alike, and it took little effort to see how this story would succeed on the page. But as a film in the hands of director Brian Percival (a regular director on the "Downton Abbey" television series), drama is lost to boatloads of overly sentimental writing and certain performers playing things too broadly.
I was actually a fan of the gentlemanly voice of Death (Roger Allam) acting as our narrator; it was just a strange enough idea to work, and he delivers certain bits of startling news that shake up the proceedings in the right ways. The World War II timeframe gives us the story of a young German girl named Liesel (relative newcomer Sophie Nélisse), whose parents are killed and is adopted by provincial couple Hans and Rosa (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson). Hans is not getting a lot of work as a painter, partly because he refuses to join the Nazi party — this is our first clue that he's a good German, I suppose. Our second clue is that the family takes in a young Jewish man, Max (Ben Schnetzer), whose parents apparently knew Hans and Rosa at some point in the past and was told to come find them if he made it to their village.
Reeling, the second-longest-running LGBT film festival in the world and a Chicago cultural institution for more than 30 years is back with another slate of films that showcase not only diversity within the queer community but also diversity in the range of possibilities within film itself. The 31st edition of Reeling began on Nov. 7 and continues through Nov. 14.
Reeling's main venue this year is The Logan Theatre (2646 N. Milwaukee Ave.) , with the fest's home base at Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.), which will also host screenings. Satellite screenings will take place at the Block Cinema at the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art (40 Arts Circle Dr., on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston), the DuSable Museum of African American History (740 E. 56th Pl.), Sidetrack (3349 N. Halsted St.), and the Edgewater Branch of the Chicago Public Library (1210 W. Elmdale Ave.).
Why do such a huge percentage of all invading alien races have to be a bug or crustacean species? Other than that little pet peeve of mine, I'm on board with this bit of military-heavy science fiction that covers a paranoid period in Earth's future where child soldiers are being trained and prepped to be the next wave of defense against a possible second massive attack from an alien race known as the Formics, who, shockingly enough, look like bugs. Many years earlier, the Formics attacked and nearly wiped out Earth were it not for the inventive battle tactics of Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), considered by all to be a sainted hero of the planet.
Based on the first of many novels in the Enderverse series by Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game is the story of Ender Wiggin (Hugo's Asa Butterfield), a child from a family of siblings who tried and failed to make it to Battle School (let alone Command School, where the true leaders land). His brother was kicked out for being too violent; his sister (Abigail Breslin) was eliminated because she was too emotional (girls, right?), but she still supports Ender in his quest for greatness and acts as something of a spirit guide as he contemplates battle strategy and how to play well with others. Part of the reason Ender is so successful in his education and training is that he's a contemplative lad who evaluates each situation with a cool head and a killer's heart, a fact that he sometimes finds troubling.
There is fascinating for all the right reasons and then there's The Counselor kind of fascinating. I guess the cliché is a train wreck, except The Counselor isn't like a wreck; it's too controlled and measured for that. As batshit crazy as they are, the words are too precisely chosen and so precisely delivered that there's nothing about the film that's speeding out of control exactly. While the film is never, ever boring, it's so laughably earnest in its "look at me" execution that you'll walk out wondering what the hell the point to it all is, and that's never a good thing with either a Ridley Scott-directed film or the first original screenplay by author Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, The Road).
I was in love with the trailers for The Counselor because they seemed to go out of their way to make it impossible to figure out what the story was, and I'll give them credit for succeeding on that front. In fact, the film's plot is a remarkably straight-forward tale of an attorney who gets involved in a one-time only massive drug deal that goes sideways almost from the get-go. The first scene in the film features the title character — never given a name and played by Michael Fassbender — and his wife (Penelope Cruz) rolling around in bed, so we know right from the beginning where his primary weakness lies.
Before I dive into the week's new releases, I'd like to point you to a couple of truly wonderful events going on in the next week, both at the Music Box Theatre. The first is a weeklong celebration of the work of the great German director Werner Herzog, specifically the first phase of his career, often working with the insane actor Klaus Kinski. For those of you who know Herzog primarily as the maker of some of the most thought-provoking documentaries in the last 10 years, you have quite a lot to discover, and you'll be able to do so via "Werner Herzog: Feats of Madness," showing 35mm prints of films like Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979); Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972); Fitzcarraldo (1982) and the companion documentary about its making, Burden of Dream (1982), directed by Les Blank; Herzog's first feature, Signs of Life (1968); Kaspar Hauser (1974); Stroszek (1977) and Heart of Glass (1974). For the complete schedule, go to the official website.
And this weekend the Music Box holds its annual target="_blank">Music Box of Horrors, which begins at noon on Saturday, Oct. 19 and continues for about 26 hours until around 2pm on Sunday, Oct. 20. Special guests at this year's event include William Lustig, director of the original Maniac, Vigilante and the Maniac Cop trilogy, who will present a new restoration of Maniac Cop 2; and David Schmoeller (Puppetmaster, Tourist Trap) presenting his demented classic Crawlspace, starring the aforementioned Klaus Kinski.
The new romantic-culture-clash comedy Wedding Palace has been called the Korean-American My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and readers can see it free during its Chicago-area run. The film opens on Oct. 18 at the AMC Showplace Niles, and the run-of-engagement passes are good for Oct. 21-24. Just email your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's time to dust off the tapes labeled "1st Birthday" and "Grand Canyon Trip 1986" buried deep in your closet--the Chicago History Museum is teaming up with Chicago Film Archives and Northwest Chicago Film Society for Home Movie Day, Saturday, October 19.
All you have to do is show up with your celluloid home movies, and the film experts at the event will inspect and project them at no cost. In addition to receiving tips on storing and preserving these precious reels, silent film pianist David Drazin will be in attendance to bring your films to life. Bring your best home movie, and you might win a $100 gift card for home movie transfer services or a membership to the Gene Siskel Film Center and Chicago Filmmakers.
I've been lucky enough to have seen quite a few of the more than 130 features being shown over the next two weeks as part of the 49th Chicago International Film Festival. As many top-notch, more recognizable films being shown that you might have actually heard of, the best part of any festival like this is taking a chance on something you may never get to see again. If you haven't checked out my interview with festival programming director Mimi Plauché, she has quite a few of her own recommendations. But allow me to name drop a few titles, some of which I've seen, others I'm offering up based on reputation.
Let's begin with the biggest of the bunch: the Festival Centerpiece, the latest from director Alexander Payne, Nebraska, a glorious and frustrating story about a father and son (Bruce Dern and Will Forte) traveling from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, because the father thinks he's won a sweepstake. I'll be moderating the Q&A with Dern, so don't miss it. The Closing Night Gala belongs to the latest from the Coen Brothers, the musically inclined Inside Llewyn Davis, starring Oscar Isaac (who will be attending), Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, in a story set in the early-1960s folk scene.
The 49th annual Chicago International Film Festival begins today, Oct. 10 with the Chicago premiere of the latest film from director James Gray, The Immigrant, starring Marion Cotillard (in her first English-language leading role), Jeremy Renner and Joaquin Phoenix. And from all accounts, the film will be a welcome departure for the festival as far as opening night offerings go, since it's apparently quite good (which makes it all the stranger that the film wasn't screened for critics beforehand, but that's another conversation). The festival will close with the latest work from the Coen Brothers, the folk music tale Inside Llewyn Davis, with star Oscar Isaac in attendance.
In fact, this year's CIFF lineup is remarkably strong. I'll have a full preview piece this Friday in my Steve at the Movies column, but among the highlights are conversations with film legends Bruce Dern (which I'll be moderating) after a screening of Nebraska, the latest from director Alexander Payne; Italian horror master Dario Argento with his Dracula 3D; filmmaker George Tillman Jr. with his film The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete; Geoffrey Rush in The Book Thief; the great stuntwoman-turned-actor Zoe Bell with the girlfight horror film Raze; filmmaker Ti West and his acclaimed new work The Sacrament; and Chicago native and renowned cinematographer Haskell Wexler, after a screening of his classic Chicago-shot and digitally restored Medium Cool.
My first thought after seeing Alfonso Cuarón's latest masterwork, Gravity, remains the one that has stuck in my brain for the last three weeks. I've seen the film again more recently on the IMAX screen, and the thought is only amplified. And it's a simple way of describing it: I've never seen anything like it in a movie theater in my life. I suppose there are many ways of interpreting that statement — some even negative. But let's not be silly or cynical. Gravity is one of those benchmark films that stands alone in its greatness, elegance and seamless means of blending the real with the artificial to make it all look genuine in its portrayal of space travel in all its beauty and danger.
So naturally, set in the vast emptiness of space, Cuarón (Children of God, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) has chosen to tell the most intimate and personal story you'll see all year (with the possible exception of the Robert Redford-starring All Is Lost, which I've seen; that film — about a man stranded at sea attempting to survive — shares a remarkably similar premise and execution in many ways). But take away all of its how-did-they-do-that visuals, and Gravity still exceeds as a simple story about medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), who is using the vastness and silence of space to escape her somewhat troubled life back home in Lake Zurich, Illinois (a Chicago suburb). That little detail got a big laugh in both screenings I attended, primarily when her spacewalk partner and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) asks Stone what she might be doing on a typical day at 8pm in Lake Zurich. Both screenings were at 7pm, and this question hit at about the 7:30-7:45pm mark. It's the small things...
What separates Ron Howard's latest film Rush from so many other sports-related docudramas (whether they're based on a true story, as this one is, or not) is that you could remove all of the Formula 1 racing sequences and still have a really strong film, thanks in large part to a smart, interesting screenplay from Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen). Am I saying the races aren't wonderfully re-created and thrilling? Of course not. But the heart and soul of Rush isn't the racing; it's the contentious but respectful relationship between 1970s-era rivals James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, at his most swaggerific) and the highly disciplined Austrian Niki Luada (Daniel Brühl of Inglourious Basterds).
The film makes the interesting point that these two men could not have lived their lives more differently, but their careers were locked together for many years as they often found themselves fighting for points on Grand Prix racetracks. As much as Howard is known for being a stylistic chameleon, able to adapt his style to fit whatever story he is telling, I tend to get a little giddy when he dips his toes in the R-rated pool. And with healthy doses of nudity (done in large part to illustrate Hunt's reputation as a ladies' man) and a certain amount of unflinching violence (Formula 1 races do have their accidents), Howard has made a solidly mature film that often feels not only like it was set in the 1970s, but shot then as well.
For Chicago native Susan Strowhorn, the need to create a platform for positive on-screen images was the impetus for the Midwest Christian-Inspirational Indie Film Festival (MCIIFF), an annual showcase of films designed to inspire and uplift. Held this weekend at the Gene Siskel Film Center, MCIIFF, founded by Strowhorn, is now in its third year, and will include a mix of full length features, shorts, and documentaries by Midwestern-based filmmakers, including Chicago's Joi Noelle Worley and the screening of Strowhorn's The Heartbroken Rainbow. Here, Strowhorn discusses the festival, challenges in Chicago and the film industry in general, and what she hopes audiences will take away from the MCIIFF.
This tale of child kidnapping is a tricky little monster that wonderfully dodges being pigeonholed into a single genre, and instead claws and fights to be something much deeper as a statement about the terrible side of human nature. It's also a mystery, a thriller, drama in its highest form, a police procedural, and a character study about a handful of neighbors in a sleepy, dreary New England community that you may regret ever meeting.
I don't mean that as a criticism of the new film Prisoners; quite the opposite. I mean that we get to know so much about these desperate people — what makes them tick, what makes them fall to pieces — that you almost might feel you know too many intimate details, and that makes things eye-avertingly uncomfortable. And quite frankly, I can't remember the last time I saw a film with a high-profile cast such as this that made me feel like I was watching real human beings display so much raw, ugly emotion. It's a rare and welcome experience, but Prisoners goes into some truly dark corners before it comes out the other side (if it truly does).
It would be in your best interest, if you have an inkling to go and see Insidious: Chapter 2 anytime soon, to re-watch Insidious right before you hit the sequel. I'm a big proponent that every sequel — even a horror sequel — should stand on its own as a film and not wholly depend on what has come before, but clearly the makers of Insidious 2 don't agree. Insidious was a wonderful piece of scary, with a group of top-notch lead actors (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as husband and wife Josh and Renai Lambert) and handful of great character actors (including one of the queens of character actors, Lin Shaye) being put through the paces by ghosts being drawn to the couple's oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins, most recently seen as the kid in Iron Man 3).
We learned in Insidious that Josh actually had similar issues when he was Dalton's age but that spiritual advisor Elise (Shaye) erased the terrible memories from the boy at the request of his mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey). Normally when reviewing a sequel, I don't dig too deep into the storyline of the film before, but Insidious 2 actually retells portions of the first film in different ways. For example, the movie opens showing us exactly what I just described, with younger actors playing Josh, Lorraine and Elise (although I'm pretty sure Shaye's voice is still being dubbed in during those scenes) going through the motions of recognizing what is wrong with Josh (he had a ghost getting progressively closer to him every time a photo was taken) and then wiping the fear from him, as well as his ability to send an astral version of himself into "the Further," where ghosts chill out until someone decides where they should move on to.
For those of you expecting wall-to-wall action from Riddick, you might be mistaking this film for an entry in that other Vin Diesel franchise. If you want eye-popping science-fiction visuals, again, that not exactly what this third installment in the series that began with 2000's Pitch Black and trudged along in 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick. I think the elements of Richard Riddick (at least the first film — certainly the latest) that appealed so greatly to Diesel are the themes of isolation and of one skilled killer fighting against a small army of... something. In this first film, it was a scorched, seemingly lifeless planet by day and a lethal darkness at night. But this time around, Riddick is death in the dark, at least for a large part of this movie, and he seems to be enjoying the turnaround.
Kind of sort of picking up sometime after Chronicles (with an appearance by a familiar face from that film), this story eventually sees Riddick back on another sun-burnt, nameless planet, severely injured and fighting for his life against alien creatures that want nothing more than just to eat him up. The first 30 minutes or so of the film feature no dialogue (outside of a bit of narration and the flashback to how he got here in the first place); it's Riddick versus everything this planet has to throw at him. There's a race of alien dingos and a hideous set of creatures that look like a combination of lizard and scorpion. There aren't a ton of different unfamiliar wildlife featured in Riddick, but the creature design is pretty great in the way it blends the familiar with the grotesque.
In the new trailer for Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, we learn a few things. We see that some sort of collision causes catastrophic damage to the Space Shuttle and International Space Station, stranding two astronauts in space. And we learn that Bullock's character, engineer Dr. Ryan Stone, is from the northwest suburb of Lake Zurich.
I don't think I've seen a more perfect example of paint-by-numbers filmmaking than director Courtney (Dungeons & Dragons) Soloman's car-chase/heist film Getaway. Here's what I mean: I'm convinced that Solomon and his team shot one long car chase through some city in Bulgaria using their stunt teams, then they shot hours of footage of just Ethan Hawke's hand shifting gears in the Shelby GT500 Super Snake, then they shot hours of Selena Gomez (playing Hawke's prisoner/sidekick) screaming at Hawke various versions of "I hate you" and "Your driving sucks." Then probably 15 minutes of just Jon Voight's withered, villainous mouth saying variations on "Time is running out," "Tick tock," and "I don't think you're going to make it" as he taunts the former racer (Hawke), performing certain tasks for Voight so he doesn't kill Hawke's wife (Rebecca Budig).
Yes, of course I realize this is how movies are made. You film the individual parts and edit them together. No shit. But with Getaway, you can actually still see the numbers underneath the painted screen that read "Voight-mouth," "Shift," "Screaming Selena," "Bulgarian police car flips," "Hawke downshifts," and the list rinses and repeats in a pattern that is almost freakishly predictable. I bet people who are good at counting cards can predict the next six scenes at any given point in this movie. It's horribly embarrassing how this nonsense is pulled together.
A new documentary describing the decline in American manufacturing and pointing a path to revival opens this week in Chicago: American Made Movie was filmed by directors Vincent Vittorio and Nathaniel Thomas McGill and stars companies and entrepreneurs like New Balance athletic shoes, Merrily Made Jewelry, Viking Ranges and Hillerich & Bradsby, makers of Louisville Slugger bats.
Baseball, the all-American game." Photo courtesy of Life Is My Movie Entertainment..
The 82-minute film opens with a baseball metaphor, showing how this all-American game works through the use of hundreds of foreign-made items of gear and clothing. The film describes, with data and expert interviews, how US manufacturing declined in the last 40 years and how technology, globalization and the search for low-wage countries contributed. Much of this information has been well known for decades but the film comes alive with the personal stories of the companies, their executives and workers. We learn how these companies almost failed and then survived. The film does a good job of weaving these personal and business stories into a message about how manufacturing can again be an important part of the US economy.
Yes, The World's End — the latest work from co-writers Edgar Wright (who also directs) and Simon Pegg (who also stars) — is a celebration of the debauchery of youth, with beer being the ever-present fuel. The backdrop for this film is a 12-pub crawl through the hometown of five old school friends, who are now grown up more than 20 years later and have adult problems and hang-ups to deal with. The movie is about many things, and one of them is the sad attempt to recapture youthful glory.
There's a moment late in the film where Andy Knightley (Nick Frost, the third constant in the loosely linked trilogy that also includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) says to self-appointed ringleader Gary King (Pegg), "Why is this so important to you?" to which Gary says, "It's all I've got." I can't think of a single moment in any of these three films that felt more like a punch to the gut than that one; it's the cry of a desperate man who literally hasn't had a better moment in life since school and that epic (and failed, I might add) pub crawl. And he's determined this time around that nothing will stop them from reaching the 12th pub, appropriately named the World's End — not even alien robot invaders.
I'm placing this statement at the beginning of this review because, odds are, it'll get read the most here. None of the "bad" films opening this weekend are as bad as some critics are saying. That being said, all of them can be easily ignored this weekend if your other option for film viewing is to see something like Prince Avalanche or The Act of Killing or even In A World.... For those of you declaring the summer of 2013 to be a disappointing one for movies, I hate to sound like a broken record (or skipping CD for you younger folks), but you aren't looking in the right place. Films taking up one screen at a multiplex or playing at our local art houses have been consistently strong all year. And they have certainly saved my summer. It's the reason I maintain my Art-House Round-Up column on Ain't It Cool, and you should feel free to check that out if you need a list of strong closers for the summer of 2013.
So what the hell happened to Kick-Ass 2? It feels weirdly like a research film polling 100 "average" citizens to find out what they liked so much about the first film, and they all got it wrong. Sure the profanity, occasionally excessive violence and overall irreverent attitude made Kick-Ass a great deal of fun in the hands of director Matthew Vaughn. But there were more important messages about family, surviving as an bullied outcast, and a twisted code of justice, all of which are reduced to shadows by writer-director Jeff Wadlow (Vaughn is still listed as a producer).
Sinbad, the veteran stand-up comedian who has been making audiences laugh for decades, returns to the big screen in SINBAD: Make Me Wanna Holla, "a night of comedy and funk," next Thursday, August 22.
Recorded earlier this month before a live audience at The Fillmore Detroit, Sinbad, born in Benton Harbor, Michigan, performed for his home state crowd with a funny flurry of observations on advice his parents gave him, talentless people who own clothing/fashion lines, and a breakdown of "who he really is..." The concert film will also feature "exclusive footage--never to be shown again," which is certain to be a hilarious treat for his fans.
It's hard to believe it was four years ago when Neill Blomkamp became one of a select few new filmmakers to give many of us hope that the future of science-fiction film was in capable hands. Sure, Blomkamp's District 9 delivered wildly entertaining action and impossibly realistic effects (for very little money), but like all great sci-fi, it acted as social commentary about what happens in a society in which one class attempts to segregate another because the minority is looked at as something less than equal.
In many ways, his latest film, Elysium, covers a bit of the same ground, although the perceived threat is not from an alien race this time but from our own. The year is 2154, and planet Earth is a dried-up, polluted, overcrowded, garbage dump of a world. Not only have the rich built an enormous space station (called Elysium) orbiting Earth, but they have a medical device that not only can detect any ailment you might have, but re-arrange your atoms so that you are cured almost instantly. In other words, barring any catastrophic injury that kills you instantly, you could feasibly live forever, or at least a very long time. Needless to say, the poor saps on Earth don't have this.
Whatever you might think of Mark Wahlberg as an actor (I happen to think he's pretty great under certain circumstances, which I'll discuss), he's the type of performer who adapts and absorbs what's around him. If a great filmmaker or co-star is in the mix, he improves as an actor. And Wahlberg is smart enough to more often than not surround himself with some of the best, whether it's going back as far as working with Paul Thomas Anderson on Boogie Nights or the team that worked Three Kings or being directed by Scorsese in The Departed. Hell, I'll even throw in his work in Pain & Gain, giving a very different style of comedy performance by working alongside Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie. And of course really sealing his comedic chops with Will Ferrell in The Other Guys.
But when you place Wahlberg alongside the likes of Denzel Washington in the new 2 Guns, it unleashes something unexpected as Wahlberg becomes the comic-relief sidekick and an especially cool, charming character who holds his own next to the two-time Oscar winner. When we meet Bobby (Washington) and Marcus (Wahlberg), they are plotting a bank heist when they plan to break into a specific safe deposit box where a drug dealers cash is securely held, somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple million bucks. But when the robbery goes down and they open every box in the bank vaults, every single one is stuffed with cash, totally tens of millions. Naturally, they take it.
The latest adventure of everyone's favorite X-Man is easily better than his last solo outing (not a tough job, admittedly), X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but I also think it's the mutant's best overall outing in terms of story, cinematic value and action. That being said, there is still a great deal about the film that didn't connect with me, and there are a couple of elements in The Wolverine that are downright terrible.
Taking on my personal favorite era of the original Wolverine comic books, The Wolverine tackles Logan's (still Hugh Jackman) time in Japan, where he falls in love with Mariko (newcomer Tao Okamoto), the granddaughter of Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), one of the richest men in Japan, who happens to know Logan from their time together in the last days of World War II. Yashida sends one of his associates, the red-haired, future-seeing mutant Yukio (Rila Fukushima), to bring Logan (voluntarily living in exile) to his deathbed so he can say good bye to his old friend. But it turns out Yashida really wants to syphon off Logan's healing factor so he can live longer. Knowing Logan doesn't enjoy the prospect of living forever, Yashida thinks Logan might go for this plan, but he refuses, and the old man dies, leaving his entire fortune and business to Mariko instead of her father Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), who immediately tries to have his daughter killed so he can take over the business.
I wasn't much of a fan of the first RED film about middle-aged/over-the-hill former CIA operatives (mostly assassins) who are forced out of retirement to take on both the agency and other assorted bad guys. The primary reason I disliked the film is that, with the exception of Morgan Freeman's character and maybe Helen Mirren, none of the retirees were that old. But as the film went on, the truly aggravating parts of the film involved Bruce Willis' harpy, would-be girlfriend Sarah, played by Mary-Louise Parker. Thankfully, the makers of RED 2 have seen fit to dial up the action quite a bit (a good thing), introduce more interesting characters in the form of Anthony Hopkins and South Korean superstar Byung-hum Lee (also good things), and made Sarah the single most annoying character to have populated a film this year.
But even more irritating is that once again in a mindless action film, the fate of the free world is at stake and people are trying to save friends and loved ones rather than concentrate on, I don't know, saving the planet. Maybe I'm cold blooded, and I apologize if you are someone who is close to me, but if it comes down to saving you or saving the world, kiss your ass good-bye. The needs of the many and all that shit...
In the weeks leading up to the release of Pacific Rim, I've been rewatching the films of director/co-writer Guillermo del Toro in order. And just for the hell of it, I've been watching the "making of" extras as well, just because for many of them I never did previously. What I was reminded of through this process is that Del Toro is an obsessive fan of practical effects. This isn't a big secret, but often he went practical because of a combination of budgetary constraints and him liking the weight and texture of the "realness."
I've known since the first trailers of Pacific Rim that the showcased Kaiju (the giant monsters that are being released from a wormhole-like portal deep at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean) and Jaegers (the human-made army of human-controlled, 250-foot-tall mech warriors that are built to defend the Pacific coastlines of North America and Asia primarily) were not going to be practical and nature, and I was willing to accept that this was Del Toro working on a scale he had never experienced before. My concern was that the emotional context that he so wonderfully maintains in all of his works would be lost at this scale. It wasn't that I had lost faith in his abilities, but scale sometimes triumphs over the most heartfelt of intentions.
Beginning Monday, July 8 through July 31, the Gene Siskel Film Center, in conjunction with the Chicago Tribune Foundation and the Chicago Public Library, will feature "Best of Black Harvest Film Festival," a summer program consisting of a screening series of selected films from past festivals.
The Black Harvest Film Festival, described as "the Midwest's largest and longest-running festival dedicated to telling stories of the black experience," kicks off in Chicago on Friday, August 2; however, film fans, in anticipation of this year's festival, can attend free [select] screenings of previous showings, which will be held at various library locations (Woodson Regional, Legler, North Austin and Douglass) throughout the city.
First thing's first: just because a particular character is the one telling the story in flashback — namely Johnny Depp's version of Tonto — doesn't mean that the story is actually being told from that character's point of view. Most times, it does mean that, but not always. Case in point, the framing device of this overlong, overstuffed, overblown version of The Lone Ranger story is an elderly Tonto (who looks a little too much like Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man) relaying the birth of the Ranger-Tonto partnership during a time when railroads were cutting through pristine lands and opening up America in ways that could never be reversed.
But I find it difficult to believe that the way Depp, screenwriters Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and director Gore Verbinski (the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, Rango) would choose to honor Tonto and portray him more accurately as an equal partner with Armie Hammer's Lone Ranger is to turn the Native American into a clown. Tonto is nothing more than The Lone Ranger's comic relief, and Depp is essentially swapping out black face for red face, making the sum total of his performance a series of bug eyes, exaggerated grimaces, and limp jokes that would be better suited for the Catskills than the open desert of Monument Valley. The Lone Ranger has elements that work better than others, but Depp's choices with Tonto must be chalked up as a rare example of when his instincts about creating unique and memorable characters have failed him.
I've said this before, but it bears repeating: I don't subscribe to the "so bad it's good" or the "turn your brain off" schools of film loving. I don't need every film to be The Tree of Life, but I need something or someone to grab onto and give a shit about. The latest from disaster film maestro Roland Emmerich (2012, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow), White House Down, is not a great movie, but it fulfills a very basic need in me in that it gives me several characters whose fate I actually cared about because I liked them as people, or at least movie people. Much of the reason I empathized is that the actors inject a pulse into their characters that simply isn't there on the page. But that's allowed, and it worked wonders for me.
White House Down is the second film this year (after Olympus Has Fallen) featuring an attack and takeover of the president's residence. Just before that happens, Capitol Police Officer John Cale (Channing Tatum, exuding a confidence and charm that seems to grow with each film) applies for a job as a US Secret Service agent, and is politely refused by the head of the White House detail, Agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Cale has his young daughter (Joey King) with him, and he manages to get them passes for a tour of the White House before they leave. Naturally, while they're on the tour, the White House is attacked by some kind of domestic paramilitary group (seemingly led by Jason Clarke), which moves in quickly and deadly.
I'll admit, when I hear an upcoming film is going to cover a familiar topic — whether it be zombies or vampires or buddy cops or an alien invasion — I typically want the filmmakers to bring something new to the table. Or, at the very least, add a few new twists to the familiar. Strangely enough, when I read that Max Brooks' World War Z was being turned into a film (after years of trying), I knew that this book that I'd read and loved could never be made into a big-budget, mainstream film without some considerable changes. Against current thought, it could have been made into a film in its original form as, perhaps a fake documentary, but we all know how well those have been going over lately.
My point is twofold: anyone upset about the film's structure probably didn't want it made into a movie in the first place; and, the film delivers a zombie film that does, in fact, add a few new wrinkles to the zombie canon. These certainly aren't Mr. Romero's (or Robert Kirkman's) slow-moving, decomposing walking dead that have mostly risen from their graves to eat humans. From what I can tell about the zombies in World War Z, they seem more into biting than eating. Their mission is to spread their virus-like condition to other humans as quickly as possible — and considering the time it takes from a bite to turn you into a zombie is about 12 seconds, that's pretty fast.
The point at which I knew that writer David S. Goyer, director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan were doing something very smart and very different with their version of Superman in Man of Steel was early on, when we're having the history (it's not really an origin, in the classic superhero sense) of Kal-El (who will eventually grow up to be Clark Kent when he reaches Earth) revealed to us in flashback. In this version of events, the men and women of Krypton have advanced so far that natural birth is a thing of the past, and every child is genetically engineered for certain functions — leaders, scientists, warriors, etc. Kal-El's father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is a scientist, and he and his wife (Ayelet Zurer) decide that their son will have a choice in his destiny, which will not be fulfilled on Krypton, which is a dying planet. They have a natural birth and send their son across the universe to Earth, with the literal future of Krypton resting with him (I won't explain that further).
This week marks the 11th anniversary of the African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF), a diverse and global cinematic experience that showcases "an eclectic mix of urban, classic, independent and foreign films" for cinephiles all over the world. Held from June 13-20 at Alliance Française de Chicago, 810 N. Dearborn, and Facets Cinémathèque, 1517 W. Fullerton, the ADIFF will feature screenings of award-winning films and feature-length documentaries, as well as Q&A sessions with noted filmmakers and industry professionals.
Highlights for this year's festival include Alliance Francaise de Chicago's presentation of the Chicago premiere of Moussa Toure's drama, The Pirogue, a film about one woman and 30 men as they set sail in search of a better life in Europe. Other highlights include a screening and post Q&A session of African Independence, Tukufu Zuberi's film that chronicles African history through major events including World War II and the Cold War; Hill and Gully, an "urban Cinderella" tale set during the [first] election of Barack Obama; and Pierre-Yves Borgeaud's Return to Goree, a film that follows the musical journey of Sengalese singer Youssou N'Dour.
For a full schedule, tickets and other information about the African Diaspora International Film Festival, visit Facets Cinémathèque or ADIFF.
Although I suspect this will change as early as next week, 2013 has been a terrible year for comedies. There are some promising works on the horizon, but between the annoying Identity Thief to the impotent A Haunted House to the two-laugh The Hangover Part III, there's been very little intentional laughing going on in theater this year. And I'm afraid the re-teaming of Wedding Crashers' stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson doesn't help the situation; in fact, I'd say it makes things so much worse. You know what? I don't even care that The Internship is a giant sex act performed on the company Google. If a movie is funny, I don't care who funded it, how many product placements there are, or how perfect a corporation wants to portray itself. I'll recommend it, if it makes me laugh. And aside from a few muted chuckles, The Internship did not make me laugh. It made me restless.
Vaughn and Wilson play Billy and Nick, a pair of high-end-watch salesmen whose company goes under while they're on a big sales call. Their boss (John Goodman) pulls the rug out from under them, with nothing to fall back on but their chemistry and witty banter. Yes, shockingly enough Vaughn is front-loaded with salesman-like banter, while Wilson takes a folksier approach to selling. Scraping around for a new job, Billy discovers that Google has a summer internship program, and the intern team that does the best goes on to receive guaranteed jobs at the company. After enlisting in an internet college so they can claim they are students, the pair are actually accepted to the program and are immediately branded as "old" and "without any usable computer skills," both of which are true. And cue the hilarity.
Beginning June 7 through July 26, The Kiss Kiss Cabaret presents its summer blockbuster on Fridays at 11pm: "FilmStrips: An Evening of Cinematic Burlesque" at the Greenhouse Theater Center (2257 N. Lincoln Ave). "FilmStrips" will feature cinematic burlesque from The Kiss Kiss Coquettes and from special guests from the Indianapolis's Burlesque Troupe PUR. Hosted by the Flattery brothers and opening with a new number from choreographer Aimee Binder, the show puts a cinematic twist on the art of burlesque. Producer Chris O. Biddle says, "This is a great chance to see the sexiest movie characters strip down to their unmentionables and beyond! It's the perfect combination of cinema and burlesque!"
The ugly truth about the latest Will Smith film (he even gets a sole "Story by..." credit) is that it's not that bad, which is to say it's completely possible to sit through its 100 minutes and not want to tear your eyes out. It's certainly a good-looking movie, with some interesting future tech on display, and in a couple of scenes, director and co-writer M. Night Shyamalan even gives us a sense of how things work. I'll admit, when I heard the idea of After Earth, I was intrigued. I like the idea of this big-scale science-fiction film that was really just about two characters trying to survive a couple of brutal days on a planet they know little about — Earth.
As the film begins, we soon discover that the father-son relationship between Cypher Raige (Smith, the elder) and son Kitai (Jaden Smith from The Karate Kid remake) is strained. Dad is basically king of the Rangers, the military-like branch that protects the human population forced to relocated when cataclysmic events pushed earthlings off the planet about 1,000 years ago and apparently gave everyone weird accents that come and go.
You'd figure that six films deep into a franchise, I'd have made up my mind whether I'm fully on board. But I think after having taken in Fast & Furious 6, I'm willing to say I'm a fan of this wildly inconsistent series, whose most recent two chapters did their job selling me on these films. Most of my hesitation coming out of all of these films has been due to the god-awful writing. Look, I know you don't go to Fast & Furious films for the story or character development, but throw us a bone every once and a while, if only to have something of substance to bite down on.
But what pushed me in the fan column with Fast 6 is that it actually has something of a story, characters who much actually change and grow to advance it, and a villain I really enjoyed. It's not the perfect combination, but it's enough to get you through the film between the always-mind-blowing stunt sequences.
There has literally never been a day of my life when Star Trek in some form did not exist. The original television series beat me to existence by a couple of years; I was 11 years old when the first film came out. And what I always loved about the ideas behind Star Trek was that it was a place on network television where science fiction was taken seriously, even when it got silly or opted for action over philosophy. It was that rare ground where pop culture met deep thinking, and even as a pre-teen, I understood that ideas were at work here, even if I didn't always fully comprehend the deeper meanings.
And the plain, wonderful truth is that nothing can ever take that away from me. So even though the films were hit and miss, and the franchise expanded on television to other heroes and villains and versions of our future. But none of it diluted my love for what moved me the most about being exposed again and again to the series and early movies. I know it inside out, have discussed and debated it to exhaustion, and have changed my mind dozens of times about my favorite characters, episodes, villains and conceits.
Then here comes this young upstart J.J. Abrams and his team of writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof, taking what Gene Roddenberry created and mixing it all up by throwing off timelines and such, and daring to show us in two movies where life began for the classic Enterprise crew. In a way, they could stop making Star Trek movies with Star Trek Into Darkness, because the film literally ends where the original series began. I'm sure more are coming, but to simply end here would be bordering on graceful.
Three weeks ago, actor/director Zach Braff launched a $2 million Kickstarter campaign to fund his upcoming self-produced film, Wish I Was Here. With a week and a half left to go until the deadline, the project is already overfunded by nearly $600,000...and this pales in comparison to the $5.7 million raked in by a Kickstarter campaign two months ago to crowdfund a movie based on TV show "Veronica Mars."
However, despite justifications from Kickstarter and Braff himself, many people have complained about these campaigns, arguing that celebrity crowdfunding takes attention and money from projects being created by visionaries with no name recognition or Hollywood connections.
So if you're into movies that blend comedy and drama (like Braff's 2004 hit, Garden State), but agree with the criticism over these campaigns, and also want the opportunity to help fund emerging filmmakers in the way Kickstarter was intended to be used, then Party Time Party Time could use your help.
Very often, when the history of black cinema is discussed, typically, images of a certain kind of film, specifically, "Blaxploitation," immediately come to mind. However, for a group of aspiring black filmmakers in the 70s at UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, it would become necessary to showcase a more realistic portrayal of African-American life on screen. This group, referred to as the L.A. Rebellion, embarked on a mission to show a different side of black filmmaking, with content that featured "social and cultural dynamics" as well as "black activism and militancy, everyday life and spirituality," that reflected lives in black communities everywhere.
The touring film series, L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema, hit Chicago in late April; the 12-part series, presented by Block Cinema at Northwestern University, Conversations at the Edge at the School of the Art Institute and the Film Studies Center at University of Chicago, features film screenings and shorts, as well as post Q&As and appearances by acclaimed filmmakers. Here, co-curator and Northwestern University Associate Professor, Jacqueline Stewart, talks about the significance of this cinematic series and its cultural impact.
I have genuinely mixed emotions about director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann's take on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby. On the one hand, the lush look and resplendent pageantry on display is breathtaking to the point of being difficult to believe a film of this scale and indulgence can still be made; it's the Lawrence of Arabia of shallow people. On the other hand, so much of the film looks fake, and I'm pretty sure it's not on purpose most of the time. Shot in Sidney but set largely in and around Long Island, the shots of New York City and the coastline mansions where the characters all live look like they are three-dimensional version of period postcard paintings rather than the real thing. At its worse, the film resembles a pop-up-book rendering of the Jazz Age devoid of any flesh-and-blood characters for us to really care about.
When Luhrmann last worked with Leonardo DiCaprio (who plays the titular Jay Gatsby) on their version of Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, the director actually allowed the camera to pause for while to let us live and love and become enraged with the characters. But with Gatsby, Luhrmann and cinematographer Simon Duggan have ants in their collective pants, and keep the camera swinging and swooping across epic party sequences, across water and land, car chases on paved and dirt roads, and even within small rooms to convey a sense of mayhem, where no one has the time or inclination to look to closely at what Gatsby is really all about (assuming people even know what he looks like).
People are going to poke and prod at the good and bad of Iron Man 3, the first post-Avengers work from Marvel Studios and the first of a new group of films from the comic book company that makes up what they're calling "Phase Two," which presumably ends with Avengers 2. But what ultimately makes this fourth appearance of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) so satisfying is deceptively simple. It's not the more satisfying humor, action, plot, characters or direction (courtesy of co-writer Shane Black); it's that this is the first of this latest round of Marvel movies (aka Phase One) that doesn't feel like it's leading up to something.
Sure, technically it is leading to another Avengers movie, I guess. But it doesn't feel like simply a prologue. Hell, even the post-credits tag is more of a pure comedy piece than a transition to another film that in turn would eventually take us to Joss Whedon's next film. Iron Man 3 is its own, beautifully self-contained story. If anything, the filmmakers have opted to make this a film that arises out of and deals with history, rather than leading us into the future to a movie we won't see for two years. Here, Stark is dealing with the very real emotional and psychological repercussions of nearly dying in a worm hole into another universe and then hurtling down to earth (barely saved by the Hulk, if memory serves). He's also come to realize that he's deathly afraid of his lady love, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), becoming a target because of the world knowing his identity.
Here I was, on the South Side of Chicago at an old decrypted warehouse surrounded by a bunch of nutjobs. Gathered at the massive space was the lackluster circus known loosely as the Born Ready Films crew.
In full character, here were the yacht-club yuppies, hood-ass rappers, hardcore metal freaks and white-trash weirdos. Hours prior I was told that these strangers were supposed to play each other in a tournament of dodgeball. Uncertain of everything but surprised by nothing, I the objective bystander was supposed to interview them for a film.
If you have a low tolerance for people in movies doing dumb shit, then you're probably going to hate the new Michael Bay film Pain & Gain, a film filled with exactly that. But if you go in realizing that much of the story about three personal trainers who engage in bizarre and violent criminal acts to make money they could never make at their jobs is true and that these gentlemen were, in fact, experts at being idiots, you'll probably enjoy the hell out of this over-the-top example of the American Dream gone utterly sideways.
The setting is 1990s Miami, a place where body builders (or men and women who look like body builders) are a dime a dozen, but that doesn't stop Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) from dreaming big, so much so that he gets busted for running a scam on unsuspecting investors in a side gig outside of his training job. But he's an ambitious man who gets a job at a high-profile gym (run by Rob Corddry's John Mese) and triples memberships in just a couple of months, along with his partner Adrian (Anthony Mackie), whose overuse of steroids has left him impotent with raisins for balls. The two men are tired of training filthy rich clients, and they decide the best course of action is to somehow find a way to not just kidnap one of these people, but force them through torture to sign over their entire fortunes to Daniel. Why didn't I think of that?
The latest Tom Cruise science-fiction epic features a pair of fairly major plot twists, neither of which I'll reveal here, but one I found fairly predictable and the other took me by complete surprise. And I like those percentages, since usually I figure this crap out pretty early on. Oblivion feels like a beautiful quilt, made up of squares from so many different science fiction stories that you feel like you're playing a "Guess That Reference" game as you're watching it. But there's no denying the film is a stunning visual achievement (I highly recommend seeing this in IMAX; it's not in 3-D, thankfully) with a story that is both derivative but still capable of being smart and entertaining.
I particularly liked the setup. Cruise plays Jack, one of only a few humans who still works on the surface of Earth. According to Jack, most humans live on the Jupiter moon Titan, while a few inhabit a space station above the earth, which keeps track of the surface. The future story is that Earth was invaded by alien "Scavs." We managed to drive them out, but the planet was so utterly laid to waste (due in large part to the aliens destroying our moon) that it had to be evacuated. Giant syphons are pulling the earth's water supply off the planet for fuel, and those machines are being guarded by automated drones that are under constant attack from stray aliens that Jack must take out as he makes sure the drones are in good working order.
The reason it has taken Hollywood so long to put together a Jackie Robinson bio film has nothing to do with racism or anyone questioning Robinson's groundbreaking achievements, both on the field and in history, as major league baseball's first-ever black player. The problem is that Robinson led a pretty dull (at least cinematically) life off the field, at least as far as anyone is willing to say on record, including his widow and his fellow players. So how do you make a film about Robinson interesting? You can't just fill it full of moments on the field, although there are so many to choose from.
Truthfully, you have to take some of the movie version of Robinson's life away from him and give it to the people around him — the white members of the Brooklyn Dodgers ball club who had to get used to a new kind of attention at their games; the fans, who slowly began to realize that Robinson was going to succeed or fail on his own merits and not because of his race; and perhaps most importantly, Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey (played in the new film 42 by Harrison Ford, who seems more awake and alive in this part than he has in quite some time), who made the decision in 1946 to bring Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) on board as much for money and publicity as any kind of statement about equality.
Ian Abramson, Tim Barnes, Melody Kamali and Marlena Rodriguez are a comedic quartet not unlike "Captain Planet," as Barnes points out. The four can be seen doing stand-up frequently all over Chicago, as well as huddled in dark corners around the city editing films on their laptops. Recently, they had a joint realization. "We looked at the Chicago comedy scene and saw that there were a lot of people who enjoyed both film and stand-up, but there wasn't much that brought them together," said Abramson. In an attempt to foster collaboration and showcase a variety of Chicago talent, the four comedians decided to create and produce Double Feature, a new showcase combining film and stand-up, which will debut on April 24 at the Den Theatre. "We're calling it a 'Stand Up Comedy Film Festival,' Barnes said. Through film and performance, the producers hope to include all of the comedic genres and communities. "Double Feature" will "serve as a melting pot for Chicago comedians," Rodriguez says, "whether they [are] filmmakers, sketch writers, improvisers, or stand-ups." While stand-ups will have new, broader audience to cater to, Double Feature presents filmmakers with "rare opportunities to hear a live audience react to their work," says Barnes. I talked to the producers about what makes Double Feature different and why you can't afford to miss it.
From April 8 and 9, Chicagoans will have the rare opportunity to see a screening of Doug Blush and Lisa Klein's critically acclaimed documentary Of Two Minds, which explores life with bipolar disorder, at Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center in Evanston. The intimate benefit screening on Monday the 8th includes a hors d'oeuvres reception and conversation with award-winning filmmaker Doug Blush and Carlton Davis, one of the three main subjects featured in the film. Viewers will also have a chance to contribute to the awareness and treatment of mental illness by attending, as proceeds will benefit Turning Point's mission of making comprehensive, high-quality mental health care accessible to all. Then the film will have a free public screening at the Skokie Public Library on Tuesday, April 9th at 6:30pm.
From the creative team that brought you The Invisible War, Wordplay, I.O.U.S.A., Superheroes and These Amazing Shadows,Of Two Minds , over the course of three years, intimately follows the lives of three individuals, as well as their family and friends, who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The film's three main subjects include Cheri Keating, a high-profile LA stylist, Carlton Davis, a Pasadena artist, and Liz Spikol, a Philadelphia-based writer and journalist. Inspired by co-director Lisa Klein's sister, who struggled with bipolar disorder until her death at age 42, Of Two Minds is an attempt to bring awareness to the more than five million Americans diagnosed with bipolar disorder, who often suffer from social stigma, medical insurance nightmares, and, frequently, a fear of losing jobs and relationships that forces them to stay in the bipolar "closet," according to the Director's Notes.
It seems strange yet appropriate that I spent much of my Thursday writing reviews, all of which I happen to love. Roger Ebert, the man who taught me the most about loving film and expressing that passion through writing, died on Thursday. He's the reason I do what I do, the reason I live in Chicago, and he was my friend and supporter for nearly 15 years. I wrote up a lengthy remembrance for Ain't It Cool News yesterday. Feel free to peruse my emotional ramblings there; for those who don't know, I write as Capone for the site, so you have to scroll down a little bit. In the meantime, I'm going to honor Roger by reviewing four movies I really liked this week. Go see something good this weekend, in Roger's honor.
People forget that while the stories about the making of the original 1981 The Evil Dead are quite hilarious, the film itself is quite serious, and I remember being utterly terrified by it when the 14-year-old me watched it home alone in the middle of the day. The silliness that some associate with the Sam Raimi-directed, Bruce Campbell-starring series didn't enter the picture until Evil Dead 2. So in that respect, this Evil Dead relaunch (not so much a remake since the curse may be the same, but the story and characters are completely different) is similar in tone to the source material.
Fawzia Mirza's hilarious web series "Kam Kardashian," which follows the daily adventures of the long-lost gay Kardashian sister Kam, is having a huge season two launch party this Sunday in association with the monthly Chicago queer event "T Party" at Studio Paris in River North. If you want to party like a Kardashian with some of the funniest and most successful people in Chicago, Studio Paris on Sunday is definitely the place to be. I had a chance to talk to Mirza, the creator and star of "Kam Kardashian" and director Ryan Logan , about their incredible project as it launches into its second season, and why you can't afford to miss the upcoming sexy fun Kardashian party this weekend.
What are you most excited for about the Season 2 launch party? Logan: We're excited to launch our season at the T Party at Studio Paris because it's a place where everyone can have fun, celebrate in style and party like a Kardashian but in a queer-friendly environment. And I am always eager to bring different communities together: queer, comedy, theatre, film.
Hey, everyone. First a quick note about a couple of films that won't be reviewed this week. First off is G.I. Joe: Retaliation, a film that I think looks completely badass but unfortunately screened for press in Chicago while I was out of town. The other films I missed due to a scheduling conflict was the Japanese animated work From Up on Poppy Hill, written by the great Hayao Miyazaki and directed by his son Goro. It comes from the great Studio Ghibli and opens this week at the Landmark Century Center Cinema, so it's a good bet you should go see it immediately. And just so I'm fair to all the films that I was unable to review this week, Tyler Perry's Temptation was not screened for press at all, but I'm sure it's wonderful. Alright, onto the stuff I did get to see.
Simply reading or hearing the statement "from Stephenie Meyer, worldwide bestselling author and creator of The Twilight Saga" may send many of you running for he hills, but I'll admit I was more than a little curious about The Host, based on Meyer's most recent novel of the same name. I wanted to know if this woman who seems to have tapped into something in the teen psyche could transfer that "gift" to a science fiction story in which alien beings are injected into human hosts and take over their minds in the hope of creating a better society. (I know it sounds like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it's not exactly since the human bodies aren't destroyed in the process.)
This movie is so crazy it just might work. Whether you enjoy this White House-takeover film from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Tears of the Sun, Shooter) or don't is going to depend on how much the absurd appeals to you. The premise is certainly intriguing, so much so that two movies about terrorists storming the White House are coming out this year (White House Down is scheduled for a June release). But Olympus Has Fallen is the first out of the gate and features some action sequences that range from completely effective to moments worthy of grand fits of groaning and eye rolling.
The film opens with a solid set up. Gerard Butler plays Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, the man in charge of security for President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his family, which includes the first lady (Ashley Judd), who is killed in a nasty car accident. Banning blames himself for her death since his focus was on saving the president, but that's his job. Skip ahead two years, Banning now works a desk job for the Treasury Department, enjoys time with his wife (Radha Mitchell) and is still tortured by the first lady's death.
Tommy Wiseau is returning to Chicago to promote the Blu-ray release of his 2003 cult favorite The Room at the Music Box Theatre on Friday, March 22, through Sunday, March 24. All three shows are at 10:30pm, and tickets are $15 in advance or $17 the day of the show. Wiseau, along with actor Greg Sestero, who plays Mark, will introduce the movie and take questions after the film.
For the uninitiated, The Room is a 2003 movie written and directed by Wiseau. The Internet Movie Database classifies it as a drama, but most people who've seen it would definitely call it a comedy. It's ostensibly the story of San Francisco couple Johnny and Lisa, whose relationship is beset by betrayal and infidelity. Add in their conniving friends and a creepy neighbor named Denny, and the movie quickly becomes a surreal comedy with understated irony, overacted emotion and abandoned subplots.
To step into The Room is to step into a parallel universe — a universe with sex scenes that defy the normal pattern of genital alignment, a universe where men routinely pass football underhanded mere feet away from each other while conversing, a universe where teenage neighbors walk uninvited into bedrooms to have pillow fights with older couples. Netflix describes the movie as "uninhibited by cinematic convention." Well put. If you haven't seen The Room, you need to.
It may be PG-13 and the trailers might not inspire you to go see it, but I'll be damned if The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, set in the Vegas magic act scene, isn't remarkably funny in most places. Much of this is thanks to going-for-broke performances by Steve Carell and Jim Carrey, who seems to have rediscovered the physical comedy that put him on the map, while still creating a real character with dark secrets and an even darker ability to come up and go through with nasty, often self-mutilating stunts. Carrey gives the movie an edge it simply wouldn't be capable of with him.
Burt Wonderstone is about a young boy who discovers his love of magic by getting a magic set said to be put out by his favorite television magician, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin). The kid becomes pretty good with the tricks in the box and even manages to find an even dorkier friend to become his partner in illusions. The two grow up to become Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), would-class magicians with a top-billing, sold-out act on the Vegas strip. The only thing more awesome than their act is Burt's ego and the creepy way he seduces women (complete with a souvenir, after-sex photo). Burt manages to chase away on-stage assistants (who all seem to be named Nicole) at an alarming rate, so he grabs one of the show's backstage techs, Jane (Olivia Wilde), to be the new assistant (still calling her Nicole).
There's nothing like an impossible task to get Sam Raimi's creative juices flowing. He gave us two great Spider-Man movies (and one not-so-great one) before superhero movies were back in fashion. And now he has made a film about the land of Oz that honors 1939's The Wizard of Oz (which he clearly worships) but doesn't simply drop visual and dialog winks to that family classic, based on the novel by L. Frank Baum. Raimi and writers Mitchell Kapner and Pulitzer Prize-winning playright David Lindsay-Abaire use the known universe of Oz as a starting out point, but then take us back to the beginnings, when a second-rate magician/con-man named Oscar Diggs (James Franco, employing equal parts playfully sleazy and charming) found himself transported to the land of Oz, where he meets familiar characters and less-than-familiar ones, giving Raimi and his team a chance to pay homage and be utterly creative.
Clearly hoping to capitalize on the success of Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland, Disney has actually got a much better film on its hands than that appalling, ugly spectacle — which doesn't automatically mean it will make as much money, but it's not my job to guess the box office. Much like the '39 classic, Oz the Great and Powerful begins with reduced screen ratio and in black & white, as we see Diggs (nicknamed Oz) seduce a young, would-be assistant (more like a plant in the audience) for his circus magic show. In this lovely prologue, we meet a young girl in a wheelchair (Joey King) who begs the magician to make her walk again, Oz's right-hand man, Frank (Zach Braff), and Oz's true love, Annie (Michelle Williams), who has just been asked by another man (last name: Gale) to get married. Oz knows he cannot commit, so he sets her free with much pain in his heart. Soon after, a familiar Kansas storm kicks up a tornado, which sends Oz in a hot-air balloon off to the land where brilliant color and a widescreen await him.
Just after the new year, I started making a list of people I'd like to interview in 2013. The first person who came to mind was Brad Bischoff. Having just watched his latest film, he was fresh on my mind, but Brad's an auteur I've admired and respected for years. I met him in 2008 at Columbia College Chicago during the screening of his student film, Eyelids, and have watched his films (and progression as a storyteller) ever since. Most recently, I got involved in Brad's work as a Kickstarter funder for his latest project, Where the Buffalo Roam.
Where the Buffalo Roam was really great, man. I actually watched it for the first time with my parents and sister over the holidays. As a family, I think we all got something special and deeply personal out of it. I'm sure our familial, shared experience had a lot to do with the intimacy and sincerity you used while writing, directing (and acting in) it. According to IMDb, Buffalo marks your fifth film as writer and director. Besides a few commercial exceptions, you seem to prefer playing both roles on projects. Are they one in the same? How would you characterize the two?
Writing is a very isolated thing. And I like it that way because there's no one around telling you how weird it all sounds, or nonsensical it is. You have permission to dream and you can stay there for however long you want. Directing is a very different thing. At least, for a while it was. I always felt there was a certain way you had to act. A certain angle you needed to point your finger to get the crew thinking that you're not an idiot. But, I'm learning that was all wrong. That's why certain films are wrong. And it's getting much more beautiful for me. I don't pretend to have all the answers when I write, and I try to do the same when I direct. I choose to write and direct because I want to keep the dream dreaming. They were very beautiful to me when I was in my cave painting them, and I want people to see them that way.
While small independent film festivals gradually become fewer, the Chicago Underground Film Festival (CUFF), now in its twentieth year, remains a cultural outpost in part by refusing to define (even if it were possible) the nature of its programming. "The key is to keep being open to all possible ideas of what "underground" can mean and show the best examples of that work that we can," says Bryan Wendorf, CUFF's director. Could so simple a philosophy be what has allowed this member of an endangered species to survive into the age of YouTube?
CUFF, which opens Wednesday, March 6, is one of the only places where a certain type of film is screened for a public audience, according to Andrew Lampert, curator of collections at Anthology Film Archives. There are few venues left in which to show experimental and decidedly non-commercial work. Of course the Internet is where it can now be found. Filmmakers may gain an audience there "if they're lucky," says Lampert, but what they'll never have is the more vibrant forum of live screenings to engage with their viewers. And what other underground film festivals don't have (or didn't have when they were running) is a willingness to ignore politics in the construction of its identity. CUFF is not a place for queer film, black film or feminist film alone, but any one of them might be represented in the programming.
Hello, everyone. I'm not a big fan of doing this, but due to combination of a busy week and a lot movies being released this week, I'm going to have to blaze through these reviews, with just two or three paragraphs per film.
Jack the Giant Slayer
Whether you love, hate or are indifferent about the latest fairy tale fleshed out and turned into a feature-length film, Jack the Giant Slayer (based on the Jack and the Beanstalk story), you're all going to come out of it with at least one common thought: "Those giants were pretty fucking cool." There's really no denying it, especially when the leader of the giants, General Fallon, is voiced by the great Bill Nighy and has a second, malformed head on his shoulders that acts as something of a mentally challenged parrot for his proclamations of war against the humans that invade the giants' land in the clouds.
I was genuinely excited to see this film due in large part to the director, Bryan Singer, who has a solid track record with the first two X-Men movies (and the next one as well), The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie and Apt Pupil. I also like the cast, led by Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, X-Men: First Class), Ewan McGregor, Eddie Marsan, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane and the lovely Eleanor Tomlinson. Jack is handed a small number of beans by a monk trying to escape capture by the king's men, but when they get wet, a giant beanstalk grows into the clouds taking with it Jack's house and Princess Isabelle (Tomlinson). The king's guard (led by McGregor's Elmont) heads up the stalk to retrieve the princess. One member of the party, Roderick (Tucci), is planning to marry the princess and overthrow the King (McShane), but Isabelle has her eyes on Jack, because the young pretty ones deserve each other.
Brass Chuckles is a playful, monthly comedy show at The Playground Theater that values genuine comedic expression over perfection. This makes sense given it was created by one Chicago's most exploratory artists, Tamale Sepp. Hanging out with Tamale at a tea lounge is just like watching her produce a show. She oozes positivity and acceptance, and she notices everything. Are you standing in the doorway and making everyone cold? She will politely ask you to move. Did you leave your mug at your table when you left? Tamale's got it. It is exactly these superpowers of perception and caring that make Tamale a fantastic producer.
Tamale, who has a background in fire dancing, burlesque, drag, sketch, improv and stand-up, created Brass Chuckles to foster comedy in Chicago that is as interdisciplinary as she is. Brass Chuckles performances range from drag to videos to performance art, with comedic expression as the through-line, and Tamale hosts the whole thing with an upbeat charm. The show aims to bring different artistic communities together to play and to learn from each other. A stand-up who watches fire dancing, for example, can learn a new meaning of silence from a crowd. "When I'm fire dancing, my audience does not talk," says Tamale. "People are hypnotized, so they don't have a lot of response. This does not equate to them not being invested or completely involved in that experience. It's the opposite. And that can be true during tension-filled moments of stand-up."
I'm not going to lie: I happen to be a committed fan of Dwayne Johnson as an actor, whether he's doing action work, comedy, or even a somewhat serious drama. Believe me, I know the man has starred in some true stinkers, but if one of his movies tanks, it's not because he isn't trying. More importantly, I'm impressed at the way he's managed to career and role choices. Lately, he seems to have the attitude that he'll do one for his fans that have been loyal to him since his wrestling days as The Rock, and one to help round him out as a performer. The improvements in his acting have been noticeable, and he's even done a couple of films where he's able to combine somewhat serious dramatic work with a bit of action thrown in.
A couple of years ago, Johnson did a really interesting revenge b-movie called Faster (which also starred Billy Bob Thornton and Maggie Grace), and I loved that film for the way Johnson played his character with a quiet rage. There was a lot more acting going on than the marketing would have led you to believe, and now Johnson has another film, Snitch, that features just a couple of action-oriented sequences and a whole lot of impressive inner torment from Johnson as John Matthews, owner of a fairly successful construction materials company in Missouri whose son Jason (from his first marriage to Melina Kanakaredes) has been arrested for dealing drugs after a friend of his mailed him a package loaded with pills.
Before we dive into the reviews, I want to alert you to a very special film festival that will be happening at the Music Box Theatre for the next two weeks. The 70mm Film Festival features a collection of nine films being screening multiple times beginning tonight until February 28, including the return of Paul Thomas Anderson's Oscar-nominated The Master, which must be seen in this format for you to fully appreciate its glory (of course, the same could be said for all of these films).
Take a look at this list: Vertigo, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Lifeforce, Lord Jim, West Side Story, Hamlet (Kenneth Brannagh's version), Playtime and The Master. The Music Box if offering a $70 pass to see all nine movies. A full screening schedule and details on the films and purchasing tickets can be found on the Music Box Theatre's website. I'm attending just about all of these films at some point — starting with Vertigo and 2011 on opening night. Hope to see you there.
Director Steven Soderbergh is a man of many talents who likes nothing more than to defy expectations by treading in many different genre pools, sometimes in the same film. It seems only fitting that what he claims will be his last feature film (his Liberace biography, Behind the Candelabra, airs on HBO later this year) incorporates different styles, tones and storylines that come together rather beautifully, if not perfectly. Side Effects is a relationship drama, psychological thriller, social commentary, mystery, and a sleazy film noir all in one messy and wholly entertaining package.
The Chicago Urban League celebrates the black experience through cinema, with its second annual Black History Month Film Festival, a film festival designed to "educate, empower and inspire Chicago's African American community."
Beginning tomorrow, and throughout the month of February, films with subject matter that includes youth violence (Benji, directed by south side native Coodie Simmons) health and nutrition (Soul Food Junkies) and life for a troubled teen in inner-city Chicago (India of K-Town), will be screened for the community. Produced and directed by Chicago's own the Beverly Price Company, India is the story of "India," a girl whose life is changed by a chance meeting with Chicago fashion designer, Barbara Bates.
All film showings are free and open to the public, and will be screened at the Chicago Urban League's headquarters, 4510 S. Michigan Ave.; for reservations, please email RSVP@thechicagourbanleague.org. Q&A sessions follow each viewing. For more information and a complete film schedule, visit the website for call 773-285-5800.
Through directing, writing, acting and producing for the both television and the big screen, Chicago native Robert Townsend remains one of the hardest working men in Hollywood; the versatile, veteran director and filmmaker, behind hits such as Hollywood Shuffle and The Five Heartbeats, is back with his latest feature film, In the Hive, now in theaters.
Based on an actual school in North Carolina, In the Hive is the story of Xtra Keys (played by "That's So Raven's" Jonathan McDaniel), a troubled youth faced with personal challenges, among them, his relationship with his incarcerated father (Roger Guenveur Smith) and being a teenage father, to name a few. For Keys, becoming a student at "The Hive," an alternative school for boys, is perhaps his only chance to create a better life for himself and his infant son.
I firmly believe that if you give this zombie rom-com a shot, you'll really like it. I want to be perfectly clear about that up front, because I'm genuinely surprised how many people are inflexible when it comes to zombie films. There is no point in making zombie movie after zombie movie (or TV series) if you aren't going to mix things up within a certain framework established in George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead. That groundbreaking film is a perfect jumping off point, but there's room for variety and even improvement.
The makers of Warm Bodies are perfectly aware that the premise (from Isaac Marion's novel) of a zombie and human falling in love is preposterous, but writer-director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness, 50/50) doesn't let that keep him from taking the story and the romance seriously. He's committed to making us believe in this relationship — one that leads to a potential cure for being undead. Borrowing heavily from the plot of Romeo and Juliet (right down to the names of the lead characters — R played by Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer's Julie), Warm Bodies is told to us from R's point of view, complete with narration by Hoult (About a Boy, X-Men: First Class) that sets up just how much he remembers from his pre-zombie life (not much), how he communicates with his best zombie friend M (Rob Corddry), and how the world of zombies and humans is divided.
Covering some of the same ground as last year's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and covering it much better comes what is shockingly the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman, Quartet. Quartet is written by Ronald Harwood (Being Julia, The Pianist, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), based on his play. Both films are about finding the pleasures still available in life to those of a certain advanced age, but Quartet doesn't take itself quite so seriously and feels less like pandering than Marigold Hotel. Of course, neither one is in any way hurt by the fact that they both count Maggie Smith among their stars.
The biggest crime in the new Mark Wahlberg political crime drama Broken City is that it's trying to pack too much story into one two-hour movie. It's rare that I say this about any film, but there's so much going on in this New York City tale of corrupt cops, politicians and city contractors that I almost wish the film had been given a little more room to open up and breathe. Add to that all of the character flaws of Wahlberg's Billy Taggart (possible murderer, substance abuse, jealous husband), and you have what amounts to a film so stuffed with plot points that it's about ready to burst. There are worse things than having too much of a good thing, but that's not exactly the case with Broken City.
For Chicago-born filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton, her latest project, Somewhere Between, has a special meaning; the feature-length documentary, which follows the lives of four young Chinese women who were adopted by American families, is a subject that hits close to home. "It's my first personal film," said Knowlton. "It's the first film I've made since being a mother."
Here, Knowlton, an adoptive mother of a Chinese daughter, discusses the documentary and its importance in addressing "issues of identity, race, and gender" as told through the eyes of the adoptees.
Did the idea to do this documentary come solely from having adopted a daughter who is Chinese or were there any other contributing factors?
I have to give credit where credit is due--it was all about my daughter, Ruby. As a filmmaker, I explore questions that I have about the world; as my husband and I were in the process of adopting our daughter, I was in post-production on my first documentary, The World According to Sesame Street. As we were going through the process, a lot of questions came up. I was thinking about her life and I knew I would do a film based in the world of adoption. I didn't know exactly what it would be but as time went on, instead of thinking about babies, I started thinking about adolescence, which is a time of wanting to stand out and wanting to fit in. I thought, "Well how is that going to be different for my daughter growing up in a transracial family?"
It's not often moviegoers get a chance to see a film in 70mm format, and even less often they get a chance to see, in the span of two weeks, nine films in 70mm. Besides those projected on digital projection, almost all films are shot and shown in 35mm due to the cost and practicality of the equipment required on both ends, but 70mm offers a tremendous increase in visual information and presentation quality, and many that were created in the format are done a disservice when screened in 35mm.
The Music Box Theatre just announced the full line-up of their 70mm Festival. Pulling from the relatively short list of films available in the format, they've done a wonderful job picking out some of the most worthy- big screen classics, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (with a new print), Vertigo (not originally filmed in 70mm, but restored to it in the mid '90s) and West Side Story, the complex French visual comedy Playtime, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Lifeforce, Lord Jim and the two most recent fictions to use the format, Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet and last year's The Master. No Lawrence of Arabia, but that's likely because of the just-completed 35mm run for its 50th anniversary.
Arranged across Feb. 15 to 28, there are at least two screenings of each film, which you can see for $9.25 each, or spend $70 on a limited-availabity festival pass good for unlimited admissions -- which, considering the length of the features (most clock in around two and half, Hamlet at four), might be a better deal than rent.
Despite our great love for such contemporary gangster vs. law enforcement efforts such as The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential, even in those great films, the portrayal of the bad guys in particular is exaggerated, even bordering on cartoonish. But I like cartoons, and there are few things I love more than watching Robert De Niro making a David Mamet-written speech about the great American pastime while pacing around a table of his lieutenants just before he brains one of them with a baseball bat. It may be unbelievable, but it's simply great cinema.
I saw 415 new films (including a small number of restored-print screenings) in 2012. So call me crazy, but I actually wait until a given year is completed before I finalize my "Best of..." list. In the final few weeks of every year, I play a little catch up: reviewing films I've already seen to see if they are as good or bad as I remember, as well as view a few smaller works that I may have missed in the shuffle of the previous year. I believe four of the choice in my Top 50 features or Top 20 documentaries made its respective list in this time period.
So why 50? I guess the best answer is, because I said so. When I made my initial list of my favorite films of 2012 (not paying any attention to how many films I selected), I came up with 49 titles; with documentaries, the number was 19. I ranked by groups of films, went back the original list of 415, and found one more in each category to round out both lists. If you think no list should go beyond 20, or even 10, here's what you should do: stop reading at the number you think is self-indulgent on my part.
I'm not going to get into a discussion about whether or not the latest offering from writer-director Quentin Tarantino uses the N-word one too many times (or a hundred too many times). I suspect that the word is used as much in the movie (and in the same historical usage) as it was in the time period and place that is portrayed here: the deep South, two years prior to the Civil War. Maybe I'm wrong, and I'll admit it took me a while to get over the shock of hearing the word so many times. But Django Unchained isn't about a word; it's about the slave culture that gave birth to it.
Pay particular attention to the extraordinary performance by Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz, a German-born bounty hunter who enlists the help of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx, as physically and emotionally committed as I've ever seen him in any role). Waltz played a notorious Jew hunter in Tarantino's last film, Inglourious Basterds, and in that work, he uttered the word Jew with such venom that it almost burned your ears to hear it. But when Schultz and most other characters use the N-word in Django Unchained, it's simply the word of choice back in the day. Intent is the key, and while there are certainly plenty of characters here that flat out hate blacks across the board, for the most part, the word is not used as hate speech. At least that's what I tell myself to sleep better at night.
When you strip away the jokes (and I'm not suggest in any way that you do that; the film is extraordinarily funny), This is 40 is about the results of bad parenting and the daily struggle not to be a bad parent. Both lead characters, Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Apatow's real-life wife Leslie Mann), supporting players in Apatow's Knocked Up, come from broken homes. Pete's father (played magnificently by Albert Brooks) is a world-class mooch, borrowing tens of thousands of dollars from his son so he can support his relatively new family that includes triplet toddlers. He levels guilt trips on his son that belong in the hall of fame for guilt trips (I firmly believe such a place exists). While Debbie's long-absent dad (John Lithgow) left when she was young and has made infrequent stops into her life every seven or eight years. Amid all of the spousal dismay over money, sex, aging, child rearing, etc., it's the details about these parent/grown child relationships that I found myself most drawn into.
Some people like returning home, to a place that felt like a safe haven from the dangers of the world around them. For others, home isn't such a great place, and they are not particularly eager to return. For me, stepping back into Middle-Earth with members of the Baggins clan, a greying wizard, some familiar elves, a wiry, fractured creature named Gollum and director Peter Jackson feels like going home. And while there are stretches of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey that feel like, well, they're being stretched, I never was bored or exhausted by the untold number of dwarves, orcs, goblins, trolls or hobbits, because seeing them on the screen again (or for the first time) was somehow comforting, satisfying and tonally familiar. Nothing wrong with any of those feelings while watching a movie.
I'm not here to dwell on frame rates and visual quality. I've seen An Unexpected Journey at both 48 and 24 frames per second, and I'd say they both have their advantages and disadvantages. Since much of the film takes place at night or underground, the 3D is problematic at 24fps; things are simply too dark. The 48fps presentation doesn't have these light issues, but it does result in a bizarre-looking video-esque style that, in these darker moments, looks pretty great. But in scenes set in broad daylight, something ain't right. If you're ultra curious and open minded about high frame rate, seek out a theater screening the film that way. Otherwise, stick with what you know. It's not great, but at least it looks like a movie.
The Wayans Family knows comedy; through their monster '90s FOX sketch series, "In Living Color," they easily became a household name, keeping audiences in stitches with hilariously memorable skits and characters like "Men On Film" and Homey D. Clown. And with post-projects that included box office hits like Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2 and White Chicks, the laughs continued, further cementing their status as Hollywood's "First Family of Comedy."
The latest project attached to the Wayans brand is A Haunted House, a hilarious ode to the Paranormal Activity series. The film, which stars Marlon Wayans (who co-wrote it along with Rick Alvarez) and Essence Atkins as a suburban couple who live in a house with lots of haunted happenings (and some far out scenes with stuffed animals), recently screened at AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois St., with Wayans himself on hand to greet the Chicago crowd. Others who round out the film's comedic cast include Cedric the Entertainer ("The Soul Man"), Nick Swardson (Just Go With It) and David Koechner ("The Office").
Let me just stop you before you even ask the question, Why do you bother seeing -- let alone reviewing -- a movie like the new attempt at life-affirming romantic comedy Playing for Keeps? The answer is painfully simple: because part of my job, my obligation, is to steer you and those you care about clear of this kind of drivel. And rest assured, this movie is 900 percent, often nonsensical drivel.
Let me give you an example of how this story about former soccer star George (Gerard Butler), trying to be a better man as well as a better dad, makes no sense. There's a scene deep into the movie where George arrives home late one night to find Patti (Uma Thurman) in his bed, eager to seduce him. Patti is the wife of one of George's new friends, Carl (Dennis Quaid), the father of one of the kids on a school soccer team that George coaches (his son is also on the team). It has already been established that the philandering Carl has a jealous streak when it comes to his wife, going so far as to having her followed sometimes, including the night she goes to George's house. Despite already having bed a few of the other soccer moms who have thrown themselves at him (including ones played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Judy Greer), George rejects Patti, and she eventually leaves.
Codebreaker is a film about the life of Alan Turing, the brilliant British scientist who built the device that broke the German's secret code during WWII. Following the war, Turing was persecuted for being a homosexual, and forced to undergo chemical castration. He committed suicide at age 41.
The film opens nationwide on Jan. 17, but tonight at 7:30pm at the Loews Theater at 600 N. Michigan Ave., Chicagoans will get an advance preview. Get your ticket here.
The art of telling a story orally is a dying one, but those who can do it well (Ira Glass, David Sedaris, the late Spaulding Gray, and the list goes on...but not that far) are some of my personal heroes simply because they keep the tradition alive. I don't know if the novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel is fashioned in a similar sense, but the film version from director Ang Lee (The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) and screenwriter David Magee (Finding Neverland) is a celebration of passing an oral history from one person to another. It's also a transformative visual display, the likes of which I haven't seen in many years, combining the realistic and the surreal to the point where looking at the image of a young man trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger often resembles a painting featuring colors that appear invented for just the movie. Life of Pi also happens to be one of the finest works done in 3-D that I have ever viewed.
Cast of Dreams; from l to r: Terri J. Vaughn, Mel Jackson, Vickie Winans & Syesha Mercado.
It is often said that we should all follow our dreams; for film director Joel Kapity, dreaming inspires and gives hope. "Deep inside us all, there is a dream to be free, a dream to be loved, and a dream to become our potential," he said.
And it was this same spirit that filled the air at the sold-out red carpet screening of Kapity's film, Dreams, held recently at the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner; and while it is indeed a holiday to spend quality time with family and to give thanks, for many people, it's also a time to do some serious eating.
But for many African-Americans, that "serious eating" can lead to serious health concerns--and not only just during the holiday season, but also on a more regular, full-time basis. In Byron Hurt's award-winning documentary Soul Food Junkies, the culinary tradition of African-Americans is examined, with an emphasis on the history of [cooking] soul food, as well as the socioeconomic conditions that are deemed contributing factors to a lifestyle of unhealthy eating.
There have been some very capable actors who have been a part of the Twilight films over the last five years, and I include lead actors Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. Of course, there are also some actors in these films who make make it their life's mission to suck the breath and soul out of every scene they're in (I'm looking squarely into your eyes, Taylor Lautner and Ashley Greene). Having made this five-film journey with these characters and this saga that could have easily been told in a tightly edited three-film stretch, I feel I've been more than fair to these movies. I loathed Twilight, and felt that the next two films got progressively better, only to have the first part of Breaking Dawn simply collapse in a heap on screen that no amount of vigorous, bed-breaking pretend sex could help.
The overall issues I've had with the series have little to do with how author Stephenie Meyer and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg have essentially changed all the rules about what vampires and werewolves are. I love a good overhaul, especially in dealing with supernatural creatures that have been done to death. No, my real problem with The Twilight Saga is that the love triangle that plays out between the chronically indecisive Bella (Stewart), the pussified vampire Edward (Pattinson), and the pouty wolf boy Jacob (Lautner) never felt real.
There's a great deal to absorb in Daniel Craig's third outing as Ian Fleming's master MI6 agent James Bond. It's clear that it's important to the actor to give his take on Bond a little emotional and psychological heft without skimping on the death-defying action (which includes another sequence involving heavy construction equipment, as well as a rooftop chase in Turkey that I'm pretty sure are the exact rooftops featuring in Taken 2 — I half expected Bond to trip over Liam Neeson at one point, which would have been awesome). As a result, we get more of the Bond back story than any other film in the past 50 years has given us. Plus, it doesn't suck and it actually adds some welcome depth to the icy spy with a license to kill.
Regardless of what you might think you know or expect about the first live-action Robert Zemeckis film since 2000's Cast Away, what you actually see will surprise you, because Flight isn't just one type of film. Above all things, the film is a hardcore, rough-around-the-edges drama that begins with a horrific but spectacular plane crash in which pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is able to put his disintegrating plane down in an empty field with minimal loss of life. He is hailed as a hero by the media almost immediately, but as the facts in the accident start to come out, it becomes clear the Whip was not in complete control of his faculties (or was he?) when he boarded the aircraft that fateful morning.
While the trailers for Flight make it look like some kind of cross between a mystery, thriller, courtroom drama about whether or not Whip was drunk while flying the plane, you'll know from the first scene that he absolutely was drunk, with a little cocaine thrown in for good measure. He'd also spent most of the night before partying and having sex with one of the flight attendants (Nadine Velazquez). So, you see: there's no mystery here at all.
Susan "Sue" Duncan is losing her life to Alzheimer's. At the same time, Melina Kolb is racing to make a documentary about her legacy.
Duncan is the founder of the Sue Duncan Children's Center, a year-round after-school program, (and the mother of U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan). Kolb, 28, is a former employee of Duncan's who launched a Kickstarter campaign on October 1 to produce Remember Me Sue.
Last year, when I reviewed Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, I started out by saying that you would hear a great number of interpretations from critics of what the symbolism in the film meant, what the deeper meaning of the subtext was all about, etc. And I concluded my opening remarks by saying that all of this analysis was both totally wrong and totally right. Although the new movie Cloud Atlas bares little resemblance to Malick's family drama combined with a history of life on earth, it shares the wonderful notion that films are not meant just to be something you experience for the two hours (or damn near three, in this case) you're in a dark theater. The best films are the ones you take home with you in your head and your heart, the ones that reveal themselves to you hours or even days after you see them, the ones you feel absolutely compelled to see again because the one viewing simply isn't enough (for whatever reason).
As co-written and -directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix trilogy, Speed Racer) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Perfume), based on the dense book by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas has already been picked apart for deeper meaning and hidden agendas. But the truth is, most of the film's messages and themes are worn at surface level and — for better or worse — there isn't much much digging to be done. This didn't bother me at all, since there's enough to keep track of here in terms of plot and sheer volume of characters without then also getting lost in metaphors. But the messages worn on the sleeve of Cloud Atlas are plenty ambitious and worthy to keep things interesting and impressive. And as much as these filmmakers plumb the depths of faith and philosophy and expression and the soul, they never forget to keep the proceedings flowing, moving and, above all, entertaining. This one is the whole enchilada, folks.
The Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) is easily recognized as one of the largest and most diverse of its kind; with screenings of over 100 films, this two-week festival, now in its 48th year, is the ultimate cinematic showcase of films--and filmmakers--from all over the globe.
One part of the CIFF was the recognition of "Leading Ladies of Cinema," which honored actresses Helen Hunt, Joan Allen and Viola Davis with the Silver Hugo Award for "significant achievements and contributions to the arts."
This past Monday night, the festival belonged to Davis, a Tony Award winner and Academy Award nominee, as she was also honored with the Chicago International Film Festival Career Achievement Award via Black Perspectives, a program within the festival that recognizes films and actors from the black diaspora.
They may not look pretty or come across as especially sophisticated, but watching the fourth installment (as I have the previous three) of the Paranormal Activity series with an audience, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the folks the make these movies know how to wind up and freak out an audience. Watching Paranormal Activity movies is unlike viewing any other films in a given year.
There's something of a formula (thanks to title cards that read Day 1, Day 3, Day 11, etc.). We learn to look at a series of static shots with a keener eye than we do most other horror films. We're scanning every corner of the frame for movement or a shadowy figure or a swinging light fixture — any sign of a ghostly presence. I love that moment when a new scene starts, and inevitably someone in the audience will whisper "Uh oh." The latest ads for PA4 have night-vision shots of a preview audience jumping, screaming, and otherwise getting antsy while watching the film. I was skeptical that the audience I saw it with would follow suit, but I'll be damned if they didn't. The fear was genuine, the screams well earned, even if the particular story in this new installment is a little threadbare.
For decades, Chicago's Englewood community has been known as one of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods; even recent revitalization efforts from institutions like Kennedy King College and contributions via native son, Chicago Bulls' star Derrick Rose, have been overshadowed by an area that has long been mired in crime and violence.
But through the despair, there are still those like filmmaker and Englewood native Mark Harris, who haven't given up on the neighborhood or its residents. "I'm from Englewood," said Harris. "I'm from a community where we were told that we were never gonna make it, but I just pushed on. It's just the spirit that I have."
During last night's Vice Presidential debate, Republican candidate Paul Ryan made frequent mention of his hometown, Janesville, Wisconsin. But one thing that he failed to point out during all the talk of auto bailouts and job growth was that in 2008, General Motors shut down their plant in Janesville. This resulted in thousands of jobs losses and numerous questions about the community's economic future (if any). As Ryan is fond of economic proposals and namedropping where he's from, perhaps we should take a close look at what's been happening there lately.
Co-produced by 371 Productions (Almost Home), Chicago's Kartemquin Films (The Interrupters, Hoop Dreams), and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), As Goes Janesville explores the lives of several of the town's residents as they deal with the aftermath of the plant closure over the course of the following two-and-a-half years. Throughout the documentary, former GM workers are forced to decide whether to transfer to the company's Fort Wayne, Indiana location or lose their pensions, a former Democratic state senator gets re-elected into a newly-hostile, partisan state political climate, and the president of a local bank unites the business community to help pitch tax breaks, lowered wages, and other incentives for new companies - and to advocate a Republican gubernatorial candidate named Scott Walker.
Right off the bat in looking over the schedule for the 48th Chicago International Film Festival, I recognize a serious improvement over last year's fairly strong offerings. The mere inclusion of such films as the wonderfully expansive and moving Cloud Atlas -- co-directed by Chicago's own Lana and Andy Wachowski and Run Lola Run helmer Tom Tykwer -- and Chicago native Robert Zemeckis' return to live-action filmmaking, the closing night movie Flight, and we know good things are on the way.
The excitement and anticipation level I feel about any new Tim Burton film will rise and fall, but it will never go away completely. While I've endured many years of Alice In Wonderland, Dark Shadows and Planet of the Apes, his latest work — the stunning black-and-white, stop-motion homage to old-timey horror film Frankenweenie — is a return to form the likes of which I haven't experienced from this or any faded director in quite some time. And if for no other reason, Frankenweenie is a triumph because it celebrates original story telling. Yes, it's a fleshed-out version of Burton's 1984 short of the same name, made a year before his first feature, Pee-wee's Big Adventure. And yes, it uses characters and cinematic styles of a bygone era in horror films, but Burton uses these tools in ways that border on the brilliant.
International sex symbol, B-movie queen and '80s action hero Sybil Danning will be at the Music Box next weekend for two events.
On Friday, Oct. 12, she'll be around for autographs and Q&A following a screening of the original, uncut 1983 women-in-prison (a genre!) movie Chained Heat. There are catfights, shower scenes, and other things people like, all hosted by nudity buff Mr. Skin, for only $10 at 9:30pm.
On Saturday, Oct. 13, Sybil will do a Q&A following a screening of Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, which is part of the Music Box of Horrors, a 24-hour horror movie marathon featuring all kinds of great stuff: The Invisible Man, The Golem, Squirm (with director Jeff Lieberman in person!), Blood Diner and many more. Tickets are $35 before, $40 day of.
There are times when you watch a film, and you can feel the brain power working in conjunction with the heart and soul of the filmmaker. It's that feeling that washes over you, when the movie is working in every way because its creator cares deeply and has worked over the material so carefully and with such a detailed eye that the film has no choice but to be damn-near perfect.
And then it's time to consider the performances. In a perfect world, great source material stays great no matter who the actors are, but we know we don't live in a perfect world. And what happens in writer-director Rian Johnson's Looper is that the performances serve to magnify the finest qualities of the screenplay and sweeping visual style. Johnson has made a modern classic in the science fiction genre, but he's also made a wonderful work that combines elements of westerns, family dramas and gangster pictures where some of the bad guys are actually the good guys. In most other films, the character of Joe (played as a younger man by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and older by Bruce Willis) is the villain. He's a heartless assassin (known as a Looper) working in the near future who has been assigned the task of killing hooded men transported from the future at an exact time and place and disposing of their bodies clean and easy.
I know a lot of people are going to walk out of the latest from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson and think that they need to see it one or two more times just to get to the film's deeper meanings and the sources of its underlying tension. If I may be so bold, I don't think that's necessary; I think this may be Anderson's most in-your-face, on-the-surface work, and I don't level that as a criticism. I just sincerely doubt any additional digging is required; the scenes as they play out make the themes clearly and precisely evident.
And while we're talking about things that aren't necessary or relevant, can we drop the Scientology discussion? The Master is not a film about Scientology or L. Ron Hubbard. Sure, Anderson borrows some of the dogma and practices of the relatively new religion, but the film isn't some classless exposé. Between this film and There Will Be Blood, it's become clear that Anderson has a fascination (some might call it a healthy disrespect) for religious leaders. He seem less interested in what they're preaching and more in how they're preaching it. He also explores the idea that there is the thinnest of lines between being a spiritual guide and a crazy person.
Surprisingly enough, the 3D version of Finding Nemo is remarkably similar to the 2003 masterpiece Finding Nemo. But like the previously released converted Pixar movies, this transfer is pristine and adds a stunning element to the under-the-ocean views and the... holy shit, wait until you see Marlin and Dory get swallowed by the whale in 3D!!!
The directing debut from sometime-actor Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal (both of whom wrote this film as well and got a story credit for Tron: Legacy) is called The Words, and it's three fairly simple stories thrown into a blender and made so much more complicated than they need to be. Somewhere in the twisted wreckage is an interesting tale of struggling writer Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) who is having trouble making ends meet and is forced to continually borrow money from his father (J.K. Simmons... I can see the resemblance) and can barely afford to support himself and his wife (Zoe Saldana).
But on a trip to Europe (their honeymoon, I believe), Rory stumbles upon a vintage leather briefcase that he buys. Once home, he discovers the manuscript for a short novel about two lovers during wartime Europe who are separated and heartbroken. The story is so moving, Rory types it into his computer and submits it to a publisher he works for (in the mailroom) who falls in love with it. Before long, the book is a massive bestseller and Jansen is famous... until the story's actual writer (an unnamed old man played by Jeremy Irons) approaches Jansen wondering aloud if there is a price to pay for stealing another man's story so boldly.
The 48th Chicago International Film Festival kicks off on October 11 with a premiere of Stand Up Guys, starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin, produced and directed by Chicagoans Tom Rosenberg (Million Dollar Baby) and Fisher Stevens (The Cove), respectively.
The aforementioned cast and crew will all be attending the opening, making for, in CIFF Founder and Artistic Director Michael Kutza's words, "Without a doubt the most exciting opening night for the Chicago International Film Festival in many years."
I'll be up front about this: Any film that centers on my chosen profession of bootlegging warms my heart something fierce. Although the real-life Bondurant gang of Franklin County were about running moonshine throughout southern Virginia (as opposed to my own practice of bringing Canadian whiskey into our fine nation), I admire their industrious spirit and their tenacity. Hell, the Capone name even comes up a couple of times in the movie Lawless, based on the author Matt Bondurant's novel The Wettest County in the World, a fictionalized tale of his grandfather and his two brothers and their adventures during the country's darkest hour, known as Prohibition.
The word that kept popping into my head as I watched Lawless was "authentic." Despite some plot elements being fictionalized by either the author or screenwriter Nick Cave, the movie feels like an accurate account of the times, if not always the actual events. This period in Bondurant's family history simply weren't chronicled, so with only a few key moments of record, he built the connective tissue of the conflict between the Bondurant brothers and the crooked Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (a ferocious and twisted Guy Pearce), who was actually from the area and not Chicago, as the movie claims (even we don't build them quite as messed up as this version of Rakes).
I have very clear recollections of being inexplicably drawn to empty-headed carsploitation films. Actually, that's not entirely true. I wasn't "inexplicably" drawn to them; I knew exactly why I loved them. Because they allowed me 90 minutes or so to turn my brain off and concentrate on stupid jokes; barely there stories; and car stunts, wrecks and explosions. Although I didn't know his name at the time, stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham was the perpetrator of many of the films I loved, and Burt Reynolds was very often his partner in crime. The Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run movies were the most popular, but there was also Hooper and Stroker Ace. Hell, Needham also did Megaforce; how could I not love him?
For Eric Kolelas, persistence indeed pays off. His film short, Fifty Pence, made it into the Black Harvest Film Festival and has had other successful festival screenings. Here, the filmmaker and director, in town for the festival, talks about his love for directing and what it means to have his film screened in the Windy City.
Tell us about when you first became interested in filmmaking.
In school, when I was about 16 or 17, I did media studies and I really liked it. My media courses were very film-based and after I finished high school, I studied film reading and it went from there. That's where filmmaking started for me.
You've said that your interest in filmmaking came a result of being dissatisfied with roles and opportunities--what have you seen--or NOT seen--that made you decide to take matters into your own hands?
What I've not seen a lot of is roles that are not just one-dimensional. You hear the typical, "Oh black people on TV are this or that"; I mean, I wouldn't say it's that bad, and I'm being very general here, but most of the time, they're very one-dimensional. What I wanted was characters that are well-rounded, rather than being bad just for the sake of being bad--I want to know why and how--and I want to be able to play with all these things that make the character what it is.
Last Monday evening in an old gymnasium in the Edgewater neighborhood, a group of 30 or so Chicagoans opened multicolored umbrellas in-sync, waved cellphones above their heads like lighters at an outdoor concert, and mimed a quaint, picturesque baseball game. The activities - familiar, universal - were just quick glimpses of Bolero Chicago, the local edition of the acclaimed community-centric dance work. Created by New York-based Larry Keigwin of KEIGWIN + COMPANY (K+C), Bolero Chicago features anywhere from 30-80 local non-dancers incorporating a variety of different movements to represent Chicago's broad culture and style. The work will be featured along with performances from the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Giordano Dance Chicago, and national dance companies as part of the 6th annual Chicago Dancing Festival. This year's festival runs from August 20 - 25.
The latest stop-motion animated film to hit screens is almost too easy to review. It's about a boy who grows up watching horror movies, can see and talk to the dead, and is his school's primary outcast as a result. If you can identify with even one of those things, ParaNorman is going to have you doing a little happy dance as you leave the theater.
Sure, there are messages about being kind to people with special gifts, instead of ostracizing or bullying them, but really Norman Babcock (voiced by Let Me In's Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a kid who digs scary movies, and his parents (Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann) seem OK with that because at least they consider that somewhat more normal behavior than Norman's other interest -- talking to his dead grandmother (Elaine Stritch), who often joins him on the couch to watch said films. No one else can see her or the dozens of other ghosts Norman chats with on a daily basis, often on his way to school. They are certainly nicer to him than his teenage sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) or the school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
Is there even precedent for a franchise losing its title character/main actor and continuing on? Smokey and the Bandit 3, maybe. Still, I have to admit, The Bourne Legacy makes a daring leap of faith and comes out the other side pretty strong thanks to an ambitious script by Tony and Dan Gilroy (Tony directed as well) and a nicely conceived lead performance by Jeremy Renner, who continues to impress me as a thinking man's action star in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol and The Avengers.
Set in a timeline that is largely parallel with The Bourne Ultimatum (which we're aware of thanks to key shots of some of that film's supporting players like David Strathairn, Joan Allen, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney and Paddy Considine), the new film reveals that Jason Bourne was not the only chemically enhanced government agent. But because Bourne went rogue and exposed the role of one particular division (led by Edward Norton, in full-on bad-guy mode) in this project, those in the know decide it's time to shut down the project in a hurry. And they don't simply call in the agents; they kill them all, mostly by poisoning their daily meds. But Renner's Aaron Cross (a slightly more rugged version of Bourne) is targeted for a missile launch at a small cabin in the snowy mountains where he's hiding out. He doesn't die but those trying to kill him think he did.
Flashy, nice to look at, and completely devoid of any soul. But enough about my taste in women; let's talk about the latest adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," whose lead character is described more as a younger Woody Allen than Arnold Schwarzenegger or Colin Farrell. In this version of Total Recall, most of the earth has been reduced to an unbreathable wasteland, with colonies of humans living in the United Kingdom (mostly for rich folk) and Australia (filled with workers, who literally travel through the core of the earth to work in factories in the UK building an army's worth of robot police. What could they possibly be for?
The Black Harvest Film Festival can be easily recognized as the Midwest's premiere festival for cinema that reflects the black diaspora; now in its 18th year, the festival, which opens this weekend, continues its mission to pay homage to Chicago-based films, independent filmmakers, actors and directors, as well as showcase projects by artists from around the world. Here, Chicago actor Harold Dennis (Pieces of a Dream) talks about this annual festival and why it is especially important to the city's film industry.
You have strong ties to and are heavily involved with the Black Harvest Film Festival--in what way(s)?
For the last five years, over a couple of nights, I'll come in and take the place of the host, Sergio Mims, whenever he wants a night off; usually, the nights I host are for films that I'm in. When I host, I introduce the filmmakers, have them say a few words about their film and then after the screening, there's a Q & A session.
The festival is very supportive of local filmmakers and actors--and you've had roles in films like One Week and Black Butterfly, both directed and written by Chicago natives--as an actor based here in the city, what does that connection mean to you?
Chicago is a nice place to call home, especially in the film industry. In New York and Los Angeles, people seem to love actors that come from Chicago. I'm very happy to be here and be a working actor in Chicago.
I'm guessing there's a running theory in filmmaking that if you throw enough funny people in a movie, something funny is bound to result. And considering the sheer volume of usually talented folks involved in the making of The Watch (both in front of and behind the camera), on paper this movie should be the fucking end-all comedy of the decade. Alas, it is not. From a script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (along with contributions from Jared Stern), directed by Lonely Island member Akiva Schaffer, and starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and British scene-stealer Richard Ayoade ("The IT Crowd"), The Watch has a few big laughs, a handful of medium-size laughs, and a few chuckles, but honestly, this thing should have been so much better.
Why are you reading this? You already know whether or not you're going to see director/co-writer Christopher Nolan's concluding chapter in his three-film Batman story arc; you might even know how many times you're going to see The Dark Knight Rises. I've seen it twice, and I'll admit, the first time left me a little empty and partly unsatisfied with big sections of the story. But the second time brought a lot more together than I'd expected. As hard as it is to believe that a film written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan might be dense and feature a few too many characters for its own good, a repeat viewing did a lot to clear up what I thought were strange choices.
But the Nolans have earned the right to take whatever path they want to in closing out their time with the Dark Knight and his eclectic group of supporters and detractors, just as we've earned the right to question their choices. As an overall comment on The Dark Knight Rises, there are several instances where it seems the filmmakers take the most roundabout way to get from Point A to Point B, when a straight line might have been more advisable. As a result, the film feels like its loaded with a lot of filler, mostly in the form of extraneous characters. As a minor example, is Juno Temple's sidekick character to Anne Hathaway's cat burglar Selina Kyle completely necessary? I'd love to see someone make a case that she is. Even returning supporting players (some of whom were unexpected by me in their cameos) seem to just eat up time and scenery. Is it a nice inside joke that the one-time Batmanuel (Nestor Carbonell) returns as the mayor of Gotham? Of course. Is it necessary? Of course not.
In 2008, the fervor surrounding then-Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign reached epic levels; from grassroots stumping to "A-list" celebrity fundraisers, many people dove in, headfirst, some might argue, to be part of history in the making. With the 2012 election season upon us, for some, the fiery passion has seemingly waned, leaving many to wonder if the flames can be re-ignited this time out.
The Obama Effect, a feature film opening in theaters tomorrow, highlights the energy many felt during the 2008 election, including one man's obsessive journey with helping to get Obama elected. The film stars veteran stage and screen actor Charles S. Dutton, who was in Chicago yesterday to discuss the film.
Because it's being released in such close proximity to The Avengers, the temptation I'm sure many critics and civilians will face is comparing that film with director Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man. And what I'm hoping you all do is be sophisticated enough to realize that both are very strong movies for almost entirely different reasons. Of course, the other temptation will be to compare Webb's relationship-heavy take on the life of young Peter Parker with Sam Raimi's trilogy. This is unavoidable but would still be doing the new film a great disservice.
The Amazing Spider-Man does something almost unheard of in the superhero arena: it treats its relationships with reverence. And in that sense, this film is like no other superhero movie I've ever seen. These characters care about each other, and as a result, we care about them. I always got the sense the Mary Jane Watson loved Peter Parker but was turned on by the suit; but in Webb's version of things, Gwen Stacy (beautifully played as the most mature, emotionally stable character in the film by Emma Stone) is madly in love with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, who captures the shy, awkward, intelligent jokester so much more convincingly than Tobey Maguire ever did, and I say that having always been a fan of Maguire's work).
With The Amazing Spider-Man opening Tuesday, July 3, I didn't want you to have to wait until next Friday to read my review of it, so I've already posted it on Ain't It Cool News for your perusal. Lots to talk about this week, and most of it's well worth your time and money to check out. Shall we continue?
Of course, everything about it is ridiculous right down to the title. Yes, it's positively blasphemous to tie the Civil War to vampires needing to keep slavery alive so they will have a constant supply of food. It's downright sacrilegious to turn Harriet Tubman into a soldier in the fight against bloodsuckers. And its positively insane to make Abraham Lincoln a vicious assassin, trained in the art of hunting and killing vampires. And it's because of all of those things that this bit of historical fiction had to be told. People who roll their eyes at the very idea of this story (let alone this movie) have completely lost their sense of fun.
That being said, the elements of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that are most disappointing have nothing to do with its premise and everything to do with its execution. Almost every second of director Timur Bekmambetov's (Wanted, Night Watch) film seems single-mindedly focused on moving forward as fast and blurrily as possible. Yes, in most cases, the plot should move forward (with the exception of a handful of flashbacks), but the director (working from a script by Seth Grahame-Smith, based on his novel) never lets up. He pushes so hard to get to the next scene and the next scene and the next scene that we never get time to settle in with these characters and actually experience a bit of their lives. Character development is a thing for dreamers here. People become friends because we are told they are friends; Lincoln and Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) fall in love because we are told they do.
June has been a fine month for experimental film enthusiasts and the events keep on coming with this evening's Onion City Fest premiere at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Sponsored by Chicago Filmmakers, Onion City has been going strong for quite awhile, but this year's festival is by far the most extensive yet. Featuring experimental works from across the globe (including many North American and US premieres), Onion City prides itself on presenting an eclectic and diverse selection of films. The highlight of tonight's program may be a long lost film from Chilean director Raúl Ruiz titled La Maleta. Other notable works include Luther Price's Brackage-esque 35mm slides (fresh off the Whitney Biennial) and Robert Todd's Dangerous Light, a distillation of the Star Wars trilogy featuring only the lightsaber battles. The festival moves to Columbia College this weekend for a selection of feature length films. More info can be found here.
The only thing more frustrating that sitting through an overlong, cliche-driven jukebox musical is watching one that has one truly strong performance surrounded by mediocrity. Tom Cruise has forsaken all of us at one point or another over the years, but when he pulls out something inspired, I am compelled to give him credit, and I do so happily.
Rock of Ages is a collection of familiar '80s hard rock songs and power ballads with a plot that is a small part Footloose and a whole lot of familiar, tired music industry stereotypes that have so little to do with actually loving this music (assuming those who go to see this movie based on a stage musical do). People give speeches about loving music and the transformative power of rock 'n' roll. They wear variations on the rock star uniform and pushing forth a very paint-by-number approach to both the acting and the music performances.
Most people who have reviewed this film have only seen it once, and therefore there is every reason to have a healthy skepticism about the wide array of opinions that have already been voiced about Ridley Scott's return to the world of science fiction, Prometheus. I can't imagine truly grasping some of the concepts at work here after only one viewing. The plot itself isn't confusing, but the amount of philosophy and speculative science at work here makes at least two viewings necessary. And I say that as someone who wasn't particularly impressed with a lot of this film on the first go-round.
Before I dive into the boilerplate, let me digress just a moment on one aspect of Prometheus. One of the elements of the movie that I was riveted by was the idea that Noomi Rapace's character, Elizabeth Shaw, is a woman of faith, something I'm fairly certain we haven't seen in any of the Alien movies. There's a moment in the trailer that I've always found gripping — when her whole world seems to be crashing down on her, Shaw suddenly clasps her hands together in desperation and prays. That's her defense mechanism, her last-ditch move to survive the insanity around her.
One of the most exciting (and much needed) grassroots film projects in recent memory is the Chicago 8 film festival, which is devoted to exclusively showing Super 8 and other small gauge format films. After a successful fundraising campaign, the fest is gearing up for its second run in October and currently accepting submissions. I sat down with co-programmer JB Mabe for a chat about the festival's origins, the ongoing analog VS digital feud, and STEP UP 3-D.
It's a story we all know well. Hell, we just had it told to us in movie form mere weeks ago in a breezier version called Mirror Mirror. But I can honestly say, I've never seen the Snow White story told in which the heroine puts on a suit of armor, takes up arms, and starts hacking and stabbing away at people. I kind of like that idea, if only to radically alter to familiar story and make it fresh and unpredictable. In theory.
Snow White and the Huntsman gets a lot right in its bleak, surprisingly dark tale, beginning and ending with just how gorgeous the film looks — both the scenery and the special effects. The tale opens with Snow White as a child and her happy parents, the king and queen of this land. But after the mother dies, the inconsolable father meets Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who tricks the king into marrying her and then turns around and kills the poor man and steals his youth. Much like the other recent version of the evil Queen, Ravenna is literally a soul-sucking witch who absorbs youth and beauty to stay young herself.
I hate sequels that require you to have seen the previous chapters in a franchise to understand the third (or even second) installment. Each film, sequel or not, should stand on its own as a piece of film. Now I'm not talking about a series like the Harry Potter films where the movies are an ongoing story that was established before the films were put into production. But in the case of Men In Black III, this is a story that is basically made up as it goes along, so the potential for creating new and interesting plots using a couple of the same characters from movie to move is there.
But the committee that came up with the script (or sections of the script) for MIB3 leans so heavily on previously established relationships and circumstances that it doesn't leave room for much in the way of creativity. This film is so spent for new ideas that it actually relies on the age-old going back in time scenario to move itself forward. What the hell am I talking about?
Gerhard Richter Painting, weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center (ends Friday!)
In Gerhard Richter Painting, documentarian Corinna Belz trains her lens on one of today's most celebrated contemporary artists. Richter, who has long held a reputation for being withdrawn and reserved, allows the cameras full access as he labors in his studio on a new series of abstract works. A rare opportunity to see Richter in his natural habitat, the film captures his signature process, which involves using an oversized squeegee to apply thick coats of paint that he later wears away to achieve a unique texturized look. Richter's meathod is simultaneously spontaneous and calculated, and it's unclear (even to his assistants) why he favors one brushstroke over another. Despite Belz's attempts to prompt rumination on Richter's part, specifically about the meaning of his paintings, he is no less of an enigma at the film's conclusion. Interestingly, memory and the passage of time, themes commonly attributed to Richter's work, are equally central to both his abstract and photorealistic paintings.
Hey everyone. First a note of apology. Due to my insane travel schedule this week and next, I'm going to be missing a fair amount of press screenings of some of the bigger and/or more important films being released this month. For example, this week I don't have reviews for Battleship or What To Expect When You're Expecting (I know how broken up most of you are about the latter; probably no more so than I am). Next week's big release, Men In Black 3, I actually will get to see for review, but there may still be one or two that escape my grasp. Anyway, there is still plenty to choose from this week. Let us continue...
While I would never call myself a Sacha Baron Cohen apologist (the guy doesn't have to apologize for his style of humor), I will say that I've liked most of what he's done in the TV and film world, which includes everything he did with his Ali G character on both sides of the pond to Borat to his supporting work in Talladega Nights, Sweeney Todd and Hugo. Cohen isn't always going for the big laughs in his work, but when he does, he tends to try harder than just about any other comic actor today. He doesn't always succeed, but I don't think he'll ever be accused of phoning in a performance.
The Chicago Park District released the schedule for the 2012 Movies in the Parks series. Starting with a screening of Vertigo in Belmont Harbor on June 11 and running till simultaneous showings of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in Hamilton Park and Marquette Park, respectively, on Oct. 26, 176 screenings will occur in parks throughout the city, all for free. See a full schedule here, and follow the Facebook page for updates.
To talk about my personal history with the Dark Shadows source material seems slightly pointless even to me, but let me see if I can bring it around to the subject at hand, which is director Tim Burton's more comedic approach to the televised story of Barnabas Collins, a New England vampire protecting his family (more like his descendants) while fending off those who would do them harm. I'm pretty sure I've seen every episode, having watched the nightly reruns that aired in the city in which I grew up. It wasn't until years later that I understood that "Dark Shadows" was a soap opera shot live on tape, thus the reels of mistakes that humorously plagued the show.
But the original Barnabas, Johathan Frid (who passed away last month), remains one of my all-time favorite vampires, with his buttoned-down manners and fierce devotion to old-fashioned morals and sensibilities. And the best thing star Johnny Depp does with his revamped portrayal of Barnabas is to capture this reserved side to the elder Collins and put him in direct conflict with the times (in this case, the early 1970s).
Let's face it: When you think of mirth, excitement, and song-and-dance numbers, you think of MBAs.
At least, that's the hope of the more than 80 Northwestern graduate students behind the comic variety show Special K! Produced and performed by matriculators at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, the revue hits the stage this week at the Norris University Center in Evanston. Nightly shows were from May 2-5, with two shows tonight. The assemblage of amusements -- including live-action and digital skits, song parodies, a short film, and a riff on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" segment -- represents the culmination of months of extracurricular work.
So what's funny about business school? Plenty, according to second-year marketing major Chris Reynolds, one of the creative directors. He says the show mines humor from human relationships and heightened emotions, not accounting textbooks. Audiences who don't know their fixed assets from a hole in the ground can still relate to the tension of working with peers in close quarters, or of striking out on an uncertain career path.
The reason a super-group comic book like The Avengers is so much fun is because its members spend as much time clashing into each other as they do the foes they fought every month. Someone asked me recently to compare director and co-writer Joss Whedon's The Avengers with the X-Men movies, and the reality is, you can't — not fairly at least. The members of the X-Men came together under a common struggle (mutant rights), and are all trained by the same methods as each other (for the most part). But The Avengers are like puzzle pieces that were never meant to go together, and with the exception of Captain America (Chris Evans), they don't even really see themselves as heroes, let alone ones fighting a common enemy.
The story of The Avengers gives these solo acts that unifying enemy: an alien army brought to earth by Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) adopted brother Loki (the magnificent Tom Hiddleston, easily my favorite performer in the film). But before Whedon even gets to that point, he gives us micro-stories about where the lead characters sit in the grand scheme of their own lives.
Before we dive into this week's releases, I wanted to let you know that since I've been oppressively busy lately, I missed last week's column despite there being a couple of solid releases worth your time and money. Top of that list is the extraordinary documentary Marley, the expansive, definitive chronicle of Bob Marley's life, music, and cultural impact, which continues its run at the Music Box Theatre for the next week. And while the film is sanctioned by the Marley estate, it is far from a glossy portrait of his life as director Kevin Macdonald does a fantastic job of assembling a balanced look at Marley as both a creative genius and a man who wanted to please everyone and achieve worldwide popularity. And yes, we do get a great deal of discussion about his having a whole lot of kids by a whole lot of women, many of whom appear in the film. Certainly fans of Marley's music will not want to miss this piece, but I also think casual admirers will get a great deal out of it.
Also on the documentary front, the latest from Disney Nature was released last week, Chimpanzee, which presents a beautifully photographed slice of life look at a tribe of chimps doing everything from gathering food, using tools to crack nuts (which still blows me away for some reason), and fighting off attackers who want to take over their prized nut grove. As in many of the Disney Nature films, there's a surprising amount of inherent drama that is captured in this movie, including a significant amount of peril and even death (presented off camera, but still pretty harrowing). Perhaps my biggest complaint with Chimpanzee is the a-little-to-cutesy narration by Tim Allen (I guess Carrot Top wasn't available), but overall the film is a gorgeous document in a series of nature films that I've thoroughly enjoyed every year.
Finally, one of the biggest surprises in last week's rundown was the ensemble comedy Think Like A Man, not so much based on the relationship advice book by comic Steve Harvey, but more a story of how the book's "secrets" about men changed the dating world. While the film is overly long and the various plots progress and wrap up a bit too neatly, the film is also fairly insightful and extremely funny, due in great part to comedian Kevin Hart as a man in the middle of a divorce who has no interest in a relationship, watching his friends panic then rework their dating routines based on the book. At its core, the film is a call for honestly in relationships, and it certainly has a leg up on most typical romantic comedies (which this is not). The impressive (mostly African-American) cast includes Michael Ealy, Taraji P. Henson, Regina Hall, Meagan Good, Romany Malco and Gabrielle Union, all treating the subject and material seriously (for the most part). The result is a thought-provoking, quality comedy that has a lot to say to and about both sexes.
The day has arrived. The Cabin in the Woods, the film many of you have been waiting years to see, has finally made it to theaters. If you've chosen to, you've read virtually unanimous positive reviews, but hopefully you played this one smart and went with the advice of many of us who saw this a while back to stay away from any reviews or descriptions of the film, whether they have spoilers or not. There is something to be said for the days when the most you could ever know about a film before sitting in the theater to watch it might have been one trailer and one or two TV commercials. And few people have benefitted from the less-is-more approach to movie promoting like director and co-writer of Cabin Drew Goddard, who last writing gig, Cloverfield, seemingly came out of nowhere.
But The Cabin in the Woods is a different monster entirely. No, it isn't a game changer that is going to set the horror movie-making community on its head and make it rethink the way it operates from here on out. But the film clearly comes from a place of frustration with, as well as love of, the genre. It lets those who make horror films know that we see into their bag of tricks, their basements filled with artifacts that may trigger any manner of scary creatures, their paint-by-numbers approach to knocking off young victims, their loud music crashes that make us jump at nothing.
CIMMfest (the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival) opens tonight at 7pm at the Wicker Park Arts Center, 2215 W. North Ave., with Queens of Country, a short film created by Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenke, and starring Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls, Cloverfield). I will be attending as many of the weekends events as possible, and reporting back.
The four-day festival features films, music and live events showcasing the best creative talent from all over the world. The festival brings music and film together, using music as the tie-in that connects them all.
Tonight's schedule includes music from popular local circus-punk band Mucca Pazza, film and music at the Wicker Park Arts Center and an afterparty at Rodan.
This fourth (and hopefully final) installment of the American Pie series feels different than the previous, not especially inspired sequels, and that may have something to do with it having been written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Scholossberg (the writers of all of the Harold & Kumar movies), who have had nothing to do with this franchise until this film. American Reunion feels like it was made by fans of the series and its characters, and like most fan-driven writing, the movie relies a lot on knowledge of the previous films (especially the first one) and adds very little in terms of funny or inventive new material.
This is not for the faint of heart, but few good things are: The Homocult Show (featuring a screening of Homocult & other Esoterica) takes place this weekend at S&S Project(NSFW) in Bridgeport, and a visit is highly recommended, especially if you're looking to step a little outside of the box.
Homocult & other Esoterica is a group of short experimental queer films focused on magick & the occult, curated by Daniel McKernan.
Many of the films capture the spirit of arch-gay cinematic spell-casters Kenneth Anger and Derek Jarman, especially those made by the program's more (in)famous participants, such as Throbbing Gristle alumni Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Peter Christopherson. The younger contributors, such as Black Sun Productions, are clearly influenced by P-Orridge and Christopherson's bold career choices; their homages make the films crackle with cross-generational currents of erotic, creative energy.
Filmmaker Noel Calloway and Life, Love, Soul cast; l to r: Robbie Tate-Brickle, Chad Coleman & Jamie Hector. Photo: Charles Jackson.
Noel Calloway recognizes the long-term effect of the lack of positive on-screen images; with his feature film debut, Life, Love, Soul, winner of the 2011 Urbanworld Film Festival's "Audience Award," the New York-born filmmaker, director and writer tells the story of 17-year-old Roosevelt Jackson (newcomer Robbie Tate-Brickle), who, after the sudden death of his mother, is forced to live with his estranged father. "I felt this was something that should be addressed and writing about it was my vehicle," said Calloway. Recently, at theWit Hotel, 201 N. State St., he, along with cast members Chad Coleman ("I Hate My Teenage Daughter, "The Wire") and Jamie Hector ("The Wire, "CSI: Miami") attended the Chicago screening of the film and addressed the film's motivational messages.
Much as I did with the Harry Potter films, when I first heard they were making Suzanne Collins' hugely successful trilogy of books into a series of movies, I opted to go into each of them without having read the novels. I'm a firm believer that, although having read The Hunger Games might have provided me with insight into characters and situations, a film should stand on its own regardless of the source material. I didn't want to get lost or frustrated tracking what minor characters or subplots got dropped or altered in the transition from book to screen, and I just wanted to enjoy or loathe the movies as stand-alone entities.
What struck me almost immediately about director Gary Ross' (who adapted the book with Collins and Billy Ray) telling of this story is how wonderfully subversive and angry the story is under the surface. This isn't a story about kids killing kids; that's just something that happens in the much larger tale of class war, about the rich thinking they're doing a favor for the poor by taking their children at random and having them executed by other children rather than doing it themselves, about a world on the brink of another rebellion much like the one that set these terrible games in motion nearly 75 years earlier. And although I haven't got a clue how the next two books progress this story, I see young Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as someone with the potential to lead the next civil war in the nation of Panem between a government lost in its own opulence and 12 districts of citizens tired of sacrificing for nothing more than the privilege of doing so again and again. Or I could be talking shit. Who cares, The Hunger Games is a really great movie.
They deal with it right up front, the often annoying and unsatisfying manner in which Hollywood recycled old material (via remakes, TV adaptations or videogame-inspired films) and try to pass it off as something new. One of the most thoroughly entertaining surprises of the year so far is the way in which the makers of 21 Jump Street feels fresh by simply throwing out the formula of the TV show that launched the career of Johnny Depp in the late 1980s and turning it into the story of a high school outcast who gets a second chance at being cool and popular.
The film opens with an encounter between a teenaged Schmidt (Jonah Hill, who also has a story credit with screenwriter Michael Bacall and is executive producer on the film) and Jenko (Channing Tatum, also an exec producer). The shy Schmidt attempts to ask a pretty girl to prom, and she flatly rejects him much to the amusement of Jenko. The two aren't friends, but it's clear that Schmidt is extremely smart, while Jenko is popular but dumb. And there are moments where they wish they could switch places, as when Jenko doesn't get the grades he needs to even go to prom. Jump forward several years, when both men are in the police academy of their unnamed city. Schmidt can pass all the tests but he needs help with the physical training; Jenko is an ace at the training but continues to fail the exams. "Wanna be friends?" The problem is solved, and the two get each other through the academy and become best friends and partners.
I'm not here to evaluate the place of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "John Carter of Mars" series in the history of science fiction or tell you about all of the other science fiction books and movies that "borrowed" from its storylines and characters. Nor am I here to speculate how much money it will make or talk about how poorly the marketing for the film may have been early on. I'm going to assume you all know that how much money a film makes is no measure of its quality. Because honestly, none of those things have anything to do with whether John Carter, the film, is any damn good. And all of those people who have written articles about how the film is going to bomb, or worse, people who actively wish John Carter (or any film for that matter) fails financially, those folks are the scum of the the universe I write about.
The Architecture & Design Film Festival (ADFF) returns to Chicago this April for its third year and will be bringing with it an entirely new line up of 31 films from 13 countries. The festival is the largest in the nation that celebrates architecture and design. The five-day event, held at the Music Box Theatre, will comprise feature-length films, documentaries and shorts, as well as panel discussions with filmmakers, architects, designers and industry leaders.
This year's repertoire profiles the drama, glory and creative spirit behind world-renowned constructions and architects.
ADFF will begin the festival with the award-winning Unfinished Spaces, which chronicles the overdue revitalization of Cuba's National Art Schools project. Designed by three radical young artists commissioned by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in 1961, at the onset of the Revolution, the schools gained momentum quickly, but construction was abruptly halted in the wake of the political climate and the architects were deemed irrelevant. After 40 years, the schools are in use, but remain unfinished. Now, Castro invites the architects to return and fulfill their long forgotten dream.
As a very wise man who does a voice in Dr. Seuss' The Lorax said to me recently, "Who the fuck cares if the message of The Lorax is 'Take care of your environment.'?" Guess what? The book had the same message, and it wasn't even in 3-D. I think the worst thing I can say about this latest adaptation of the lovely book of Dr. Seuss is that it tries to hard to be all things to all people, especially if those people are children. So many filmmakers producing works for youngsters seem to think that they key to keeping kids' attention is dumbing down the work, and that simply isn't the case. But that's how The Lorax was constructed, and as a result we get bathroom humor, broadly drawn villains, and a grammy character voiced by Betty White.
The Lorax isn't even the star of the film. That honor goes to a young man named Ted (Zac Efron), who is trying so hard to impress Audrey (Taylor Swift), that he escapes his nature-free community (everything seems to be made of plastic, and you have to buy clean air the same way we pay for water today) to find a real-life tree, which he's heard you can get from a character called the Once-ler (Ed Helms). The man in control of the plasticized town is O'Hare, a little man with the big voice of Rob Riggle, and for reasons that are a mystery, he uses all of his money and power to keep Ted from leaving the town or ever discovering a real tree.
While many know of Don Hertzfeldt by his humorously violent animated shorts, the Academy Award-nominated animator has spent the past six years working on a more serious, heartfelt trilogy of animated films centering around the mental deterioration of a man named Bill. Hertzfeldt has finally completed the final chapter of his critically-acclaimed Everything will be OK trilogy and his greatest and most ambitious work to date with It's such a beautiful day.
The film certainly lives up to its title: the animation is gorgeous. Captured on an antique 35mm animation stand, Hertzfeldt's trademark stick figure human drawings are mixed with photographs, live video, optical effects, and hybrid digital/film techniques to create a mesmerizing blend of visual styles. It's such a beautiful day is a major evolution in the animated style of his previous works - the colors are brighter, the palette of textures is wider, and the actual animation is smoother and fully-fleshed out. I was particularly impressed the animation during the last third - there are some very sharp contrasts in settings, and Hertzfeldt managed to create a distinct visual space for each of them.
It's Oscar weekend, so I'm guessing that a lot of you are going to be filling these next couple of days trying to catch one or two of the nominees you may have missed, and that's a noble effort. But if you let this weekend pass without seeing the awfully funny new film from director David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models), you'd be making a horrible mistake. Wain once again teams up with his constant actor companion Paul Rudd and co-writer Ken Marino (who appears in the film as Rudd's piggish brother) to make Wanderlust, a movie that had me laughing throughout, sometimes convulsing into violent fits that resemble a seizure (yeah, I'm a lot of fun to sit next to in the theater).
True stories are often the most compelling in film. People are drawn to the stunning realities revealed in a grass roots documentary, or the retelling of a series of fantastic and awe-inspiring events that lead to either personal accomplishment or demise. As moving as these films can be, is there an irreconcilable disconnect between the silver screen and the life it portrays? Can cinema ever really depict the "truth"?
This is the question the Night School offshoot of Facets Film School poses in its 10th series, "Reel People." Midnight screenings, lectures and discussions will take place every Saturday from February 25 to April 21 at Facets Multi-Media, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave.
Just in time to crap-up your Valentine's Day week, we have the latest shallow example of grown adults acting like special-needs children, This Means War, a romantic comedy set in the spy world that has as much to do with romance as a heart-shaped Peep and as much to do with the spy world as an episode of "Chuck." Actually, the "Chuck" comparison is appropriate since the movie is directed by the now-defunct show's executive producer McG (helmer of We Are Marshall, both Charlie's Angels films and Terminator Salvation).
I've never had the pleasure of seeing any of Swedish-born director Daniel Espinosa's other films (he's only made three, all in his native country/tongue), but based on his approach to his first studio movie, Safe House, I have to imagine there are probably examples in his older works of his "more-is-more" style that nearly smothers what might have been a fairly interesting psychological action film. The idea of a rookie CIA safe house operative trying to protect a prisoner, while said prisoner is trying to get into the rookie's head and make him doubt his every decision and move is a cool one. But Espinosa's overdone atmosphere is at times so distracting that you forget to actually pay attention to what's being said. Add to that some ridiculous shaky-cam cinematography (thanks to Oliver Wood, who clearly never met a tripod that was good enough for him), and you get a film that feels like the actors are actually competing for attention with the director.
The rookie CIA agent is Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds, stripped of most of his comic smarm, and that's a good thing for this role), stationed in South Africa for a year and wanting desperately to be reassigned to Paris, where his hot girlfriend (Nora Arnezeder) is about to move. He's lobbying a higher-up fellow agent and friend David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) for a better job, but even he's not sure he can help Weston with his promotion.
Just released is both a short trailer and behind the scenes look at the upcoming animated short Cadaver. A "cinematic poem" inspired by Shakespeare and Shel Silverstein, the film features Christopher Lloyd, Kathy Bates and Chicago's Tavi Gevinson, who also covers "Heart of Gold" for the film's soundtrack.
The thing that strikes you about the new Gothic ghost story The Woman In Black is how little talking there is. There are huge passages of this film that are completely dialogue free, and by committing to that filmmaking style, director James Watkins (maker of the little-known but well worth checking out Eden Lake) removes any distractions we might have from being as tense and scared as we possibly can. And believe me, you will spend a great deal of time being both while watching this one. Sure, Watkins throws in a few cheap thrills in the process (a bird flying out of a chimney springs to mind), but most of his scares are well-earned in this classic tale of vengeful spirits courtesy of the folks at the revitalized Hammer Film.
A much older looking Daniel Radcliffe (well, he looks older than a wizard schoolboy now) plays Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer whose wife died during childbirth, and who has been thrust into single parenthood to raise his son. His work at his law firm has also suffered as a result of his grief, and when his superior sends him to a small village in the English countryside to settle the estate of a recently deceased woman, he makes it clear that if he screws things up, his days at the firm are through. One of the more interesting aspect of The Woman In Black is how shrouded in death everything is even before Arthur gets to the village, where it's very clear that he is not welcome and that his very presence seems to send the parents of the community into a frenzy of hiding their children. The open sequence of the film is of three little girls having a tea party, suddenly stopping their play, and jumping out a high window to their certain death. As a fellow Chicago critic pointed out to me, there is an awful lot of child death for a PG-13-rated movie. Whatever you do, don't let that rating fool you; it in no way reduced the number of truly terrifying moments.
The latest and greatest work from director Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin' Aces, The A-Team ) both is and isn't exactly what you think it is. Sure, it's a movie with a group of oil company grunts returning home from Alaska for the winter, and when their plane crashes in the wilderness they spend much of the film fending off a steady barrage of wolf attacks. But The Grey is so much more than that. It's really the story of men who need a life-or-death struggle such as this to remember that life is worth living, even if death is a certainty, either by the fangs of a wolf or the extreme and ruthless cold.
For those of you who have heard the stories of how much of Red Tails executive producer George Lucas may or may not have directed/re-shot personally, try to put such thoughts out of your head as you attempt to watch this story of the first-ever squadron of African-American pilots to fly in combat. It's better if you hate this film on its own merits rather than because Lucas may have pushed aside credited director Anthony Hemingway and put his hands all over this worthy story, turning it into a horribly written, trite adventure film that cares more about aerial battles than it does about telling the glorious but often heartbreaking account of the segregated Tuskegee airmen of World War II.
In his first film since The Fighter, Mark Wahlberg returns to the action genre with Contraband, in which he plays Chris Farraday, a one-time smuggler living in New Orleans with his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and two kids who is now attempting to play it straight as the head of his own security company. When his dumb-ass brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones, who played Banshee in X-Men: First Class) decides to try a bit of smuggling himself on the high seas, he is forced to dump his cargo when customs officials raid his boat. He doesn't get caught, but he is suddenly several hundred thousand dollars in debt to drug dealer Tim (Giovanni Ribisi, again trying on a new squeaky voice and accent). Andy turns to Chris for help, forcing Chris to return to the life he swore he'd leave behind.
With the help of his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster), Chris selects a group of men to play crew on a cargo ship bound for Panama where he will pick up a massive shipment of counterfeit money (for some reason, Chris refuses to smuggle drugs, despite the much higher profit margin), right under the nose of the suspicious ship's captain, played by J.K. Simmons, who knew Chris's father as a low-down smuggler himself years ago. While Chris is making his treacherous journey, Tim is back in New Orleans making not-so-veiled threats against Kate and the kids, who are under the protection of Sebastian.
Best Picture: The Tree of Life
Best Director: Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Best Actor: Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Best Actress: Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks, Drive
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life
Best Original Screenplay: The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
Best Adapted Screenplay: Moneyball, Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin
Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life Emmanuel Lubezki
Best Original Score: Drive, Cliff Martinez
Best Animated Feature: Rango
Best Documentary: The Interrupters
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation
Promising Performer: Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Promising Filmmaker: Sean Durkin, Martha Marcy May Marlene
This was the first awards ceremony the association has held in several years. Steve Prokopy, Gapers Block's resident critic and a member of the CFCA, said, "After a long hiatus from an actual awards ceremony, I have to say I was truly impressed with how everything came together for the nearly packed house, especially with many of the winners either being on hand or sending acceptance videos. Naturally there were a few hiccups and technical glitches, but considering how long it's been for us to put on such a show, it was especially gratifying to see it all go so well."
In addition to the competitive awards, the CFCA handed out several honorary awards. Legendary actress Shirley MacLaine received the Commitment to the Craft Award, James Earl Jones receoved the Oscar Michaeux Award, and Jason Segel received the newly created Commedia Extraordinaire Award, acknowledging work "the often over-looked field of screen comedy." Two Chicago-related awards were also presented: the Commitment to Chicago went to actor Dennis Farina, who recently starred in The Last Rights of Joe May, and the Big Shoulders Award was given to the Second City.
I'll say one thing for Angelina Jolie, when she selected the subject of her writing-directing debut, she didn't pull any punches in selecting the unspeakably brutal subject of the Bosnian War of the 1990s, which forever changed the face of the Balkan region, due in large part to rape being used by the Bosnian Serb Army as a weapon of female submission. Say what you will about the depiction of rape in any film, but Jolie does not flinch when it comes to not only showing it but also to making it painfully clear that any time a man and a woman are in the same room together at any point in this film, the threat of rape is in the room with them. It makes for a sickening but highly effective film-watching experience.
In the Land of Blood and Honey actually begins as a story of new love in pre-war Bosnia, in this case between Serb Danijel (Goran Kostic) and Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), a beautiful Muslim artist, who meet in a club which is subsequently bombed while their seduction is in full swing. Months later, after the ethnic conflict has begun, they meet again after Ajla is rounded up with other women and held captive, essentially as sex slaves for the Serbian soldiers. When Danijel spots her, he immediately lets it be known that she belongs to him. He is the commanding officer and the son of an important general (Rade Serbedszija), so his underlings obey him assuming he wants to only have sex with her. In fact, he protects her, they talk, and he allows her to draw and paint in private. Because of who he is, she is extremely distrustful of him, but eventually she breaks down, and the two have something approximating a relationship, albeit a secret one.
According to my albeit unscientific calculations, I watched right around 400 new movies in 2011 (with a smattering of vintage films thrown in, but only if I saw them on the big screen), either in the theater or as a screener. Dear lord, what is wrong with me? Actually, nothing, since I'm simply doing the two-fold job that was given to me: to point you, the reader, in the direction of worthy films, and steer you clear of the crap ‐ not always an easy task since people seem to flock to the crap at an alarming rate regardless of the countless warnings from me and others.
But in 2011, guiding folks into theaters playing damn fine films seemed like an easier job than it has been in recent years. I wasn't always pointing you in the direction of a multiplex, but there was never a time when someone would ask me what's worth plunking down money to see at any given point during the year that I couldn't point them to at least half-a-dozen great films, many of which were made for very little money. If you had given me a list at the beginning of 2011 of all the films that I would see in the coming year, I doubt if many, if any, of the below titles would been have predictable as my year-end favorites. I love when that happens.
Bernie Mac was undoubtedly one of Chicago's most beloved entertainment figures; from a successful stand-up comedy career to his award-winning, self-titled sitcom to his big screen movies, he rose from local cult status to crossover superstardom. Here, filmmaker Robert Small discusses I Ain't Scared of You: A Tribute to Bernie Mac (premiering on Comedy Central, February 2012), which pays homage to the late comedian and actor's Chicago roots, career and family life, and also tells why his legacy should never be forgotten.
There was a time when it would have seemed absurd that a two-year-old Swedish film was getting an American remake simply because the perception was that hardly anyone in America actually saw the version with those pesky subtitles. But let us not forget that it was only last year when Let Me In was released only two years after the Swedish Let the Right One In freaked many of us out in new and exquisite ways. Some, including myself, saw the remake as a slightly better version of the film because the story was better told, while the atmosphere was left largely intact. Enjoying a remake takes nothing away from the original film or the source material. That's an important thing to remember.
So here we are, a year later, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a film that most Americans didn't see until 2010, has been remade by no one less than David Fincher, the recent Oscar nominated director of last year's The Social Network. Without making any radical adjustments from director Niels Arden Oplev's original film or, from what I'm told by those who have read it, from the book by Stieg Larsson, adapted here by the great Steven Zaillian, Fincher has managed to create a largely faithful, dense mystery peppered with wonderfully realized characters (in most cases) and location shooting in wind-swept Sweden that will have your reaching for your scarf and wool cap for fear of frostbite.
Before my review begins, it should be noted that this film technically opens today only in certain IMAX theaters across the country. Certain portions of the film were actually shot in IMAX, so this isn't one of those fake IMAX situations. In those theaters before the film, audience members will be treated to the first few minutes of The Dark Knight Rises. The official, non-IMAX release of Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol is next Wednesday, Dec. 21. Got it? Good.
By maintaining a fairly streamlined story, some incredible stunts and effects sequences, and having the most colorful and interesting team of any of the previous Mission: Impossible films, Ghost Protocol (the franchise's fourth installment) is at least as strong as the much-revered first M:I film, and I think better. Continuing the tradition of having a different director for each chapter of this Tom Cruise-starring vehicle, Ghost Protocol has enlisted the exceedingly capable Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, The Iron Giant) to direct his first live-action movie. Bird has this crazy reputation of caring about fleshing out the characters he's put in charge of, and it's nice to see an emphasis placed on developing the team members as people and not just action props.
The antidote to your holiday spirit as arrived: A tortuous mother-son relationship, a massacre at the hands of a clown, and the scariest stop-motion short ever created are all on display at the Chicago Cinema Society this Saturday. A rare 35-millimeter print of Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre (1989), The Last Circus (2010), and the Sundance Film Festival-nominated short film "Bobby Yeah," (2011) will be screened.
For many, Young Adult is going to be an exercise in defying expectations. You'd be surprised how many people like or dislike a film based on their preconceived ideas of what it is they're walking into, based on such things as trailers, word of mouth, reviews, etc. If a movie isn't "what they expected," they somehow think that's the basis for judging its worth. And often they punish a film in their minds because it didn't live up to some internal standard that has little to do with its actual entertainment value. Here's an idea: walk into a movie with zero expectations; walk in open minded, able to let the film wash over you and, dare I say, surprise you in the process. It's a great thing, trust me.
Feel like you don't have enough conceptual film in your life? Do you, like I, desperately wish you could've hung out at The Factory? Or maybe you did. Or, maybe you're just looking for something to do tomorrow night and sitting in your regular bar doesn't sound appealing.
If this sounds like you, I've got a pretty badass-looking event for you: To coincide with the launch of the Art Institute's upcoming "Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph 1964-1977" exhibition, the Evening Associates of the Art Institute of Chicago (a young professional affiliate group) will be hosting a viewing party on December 9 to watch Andy Warhol's conceptual film Empire, which will be projected in its entirety on to the exterior of the Aon building. The party will include a DJ, drinks and hors d'oeuvres, and a special sneak preview of the new "Light Years" exhibition, which opens this Saturday.
There isn't a whole lot opening this week, but a lot of what is opening is pretty good stuff. However, I did want to direct your attention to a particularly fun event happening at the famed Music Box Theatre on Sunday, Dec. 4 at 2pm. Camp Midnight presents "A Very Carrie Christmas," hosted by the always-entertaining Dick O'Day (the alias for film critic Richard Knight, Jr.), who will screen and provide commentary for Brian De Palma's great 1976 horror classic Carrie, based on the novel by Stephen King.
All of the campy details about the day's activities and details about buying advance tickets can be found on the Music Box's website, but the one reason you absolutely must show up is the special appearance of Carrie's mother, Margaret White herself, Piper Laurie, who will take part in a Q&A and who knows what else. There will also be a costume parade, sing-a-long, photos with "Margaret" and "Carrie," and the whole shameless event should be a ton of fun. If I weren't out of town this weekend, you couldn't keep me away. Now, on to more serious business...
YouTube's movies section includes a few with Chicago ties that are free to watch in their entirety, such as The Front Page, a 1931 film version of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's Broadway play set in Chicago. It was later remade as His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy.
A documentary about "the most blacklisted author in the history of Iowa," Zielinski toes the line between black comedy, government conspiracy theory, and poignant portrait of the artist as an old man. The film's directors, Ryan Walker and Chase Thompson, embarked upon the film after meeting John M. Zielinski in Columbia, Missouri. I caught up with Ryan to find out more about public access television, conspiracy's funny side, and the man behind the rhetoric.
At this point, another review of The Muppets seems superfluous, but hell, the movie is so damn good, it can't really hurt. I'll admit, I held my breath when I saw the "Smalltown, USA" sign, marking the community where Gary (Jason Segel, who also co-wrote the film with Nicholas Stoller) and his pal Walter (the film's new Muppet character) grew up together as huge fans of the Muppet TV show. That little detail seemed a little too quaint, but it took about five minutes and one catchy tune to win me over. Segel and Stoller are such devoted fans that they know what about the Muppets is sacred ground and what they can play and tinker with a little bit.
How does one even begin to discuss any of the Twilight films without sounding like an outsider looking in? Up until the latest installment, the first of the two-part conclusion of Breaking Dawn, I'd seen these films getting slightly better with each new film. Part of the reason for this was that the choice of directors was improving with each new movie, and I thought that would be the case when I heard Bill Condon (Gods & Monsters; Dreamgirls) was on board for the climax of this story of young love, supernatural creatures, and shirtless men. But Breaking Dawn, perhaps in an effort to drag this story out to roughly four hours across two films, feels like its moving in slow motion.
A still from Rooftop Wars, which will be featured on Cine Latino this Saturday. Photo courtesy of CAN-TV
For those of us who prefer to stay in on amateur night, Chicago's (fantastic) CAN-TV has a new program called "Cine Latino," featuring short Latino films every Saturday at 8pm. Although "Cine Latino" features films made from all over the world (From Peru to Spain), this Saturday's program features a film shot in Pilsen! More info here.
I don't tend to let things like bad old-man makeup change my opinion of a film, or even distract me, so I'm not going to harp on the absolutely terrible job done on aging Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar. A great performance — and both men give truly great ones here — tops waxy-looking skin and a healthy smattering of fake liver spots every time. And that's the last we'll speak of that. If you find J. Edgar difficult to engage with it will be because the script by Dustin Lance Black (Milk and several episodes of HBO's "Big Love") is spotty. You can spot the shortcuts and the moments where single sentences are meant to sum up a character's motivations or the movie's themes a little too just so.
But then there are other moments in the screenplay that are undeniably poignant. When Black is focusing on material having to do with Hoover changing the face and prominence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation during his nearly 50-year reign as its chief, the film is informative but not especially elevated. However, when the script puts a microscope on Hoover's relationship with other people — his domineering mother Annie (Judi Dench), faithful secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) or longtime companion and number-two man at the bureau Clyde Tolson (Hammer) — J. Edgar is close to extraordinary.
I'll admit, there was a part of me that thought the latest from director Brett Ratner might actually have something to it, even if that something was Eddie Murphy's somewhat return to comedic form. But saddled with a PG-13 rating (in a role that is screaming to be set free by an R), a producer credit, and surprisingly little screen time, Murphy is at best slightly funnier than we've seen him in many years. All we actually get is Murphy yelling a whole lot and acting tough in a story that treats his character as something served on the side, rather than the main course.
Tower Heist seems like a fairly timely endeavor. The staff of a luxury Manhattan apartment building is swindled by one of the building's residents, a Wall Street tycoon played by Alan Alda, who is arrested by the FBI and held under house arrest while he awaits a court date. Initially, it appears Alda is friendly with the staff, led by building manager Josh (Ben Stiller), but when their entire pension fund vanishes, the staff turns against Alda.
In a strange and utterly coincidental way, the new film by writer-director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, Lord of War, and writer of The Truman Show and The Terminal) is one of the most relevant films in theaters right now — a time when protestors are gathering in the streets of many major cities around the U.S. talking about the nation's wealth being the hands of a very few. In Time is about just that subject, only the currency in Niccol's version of the not-to-distant future is not money but minutes.
The plot centers on a future where all humans stop aging at 25, but once they hit that age, a clock in their forearm is activated that goes for exactly one year. People can use time to buy goods, gamble, bribe; others simply take it from you, especially if you live in a "time zone" that looks a lot like a ghetto. Justin Timberlake plays Will, who is given more than a century's worth of time by a man about to commit suicide, which makes him a target in his neighborhood of both local thugs (called Minute Men, led by Alex Pettyfer) who simply take your time, and Time Keepers (led by a 50-year veteran of the practice played by Cillian Murphy), who are more like police and keep the time poor separate from the time rich.
Over in Transmission, Jason Olexa has the details on a pretty wacky-sounding film screening with live DJ accompaniment:
"Hi-NRG-Disco-Booty-Jungle-Rave producer Chrissy Murderbot will be DJing a live soundtrack to a quartet of films running the gamut of a dog's quest through the afterlife in search of an orange, unintentional slapstick employee training videos, scientists, dancers, and rockets. Expect an evening where dream logic reigns supreme."
Chicago is host to many film festivals--with all of them showcasing a variety of themes and subjects that reflect the city's diversity.
Soon, another one will blow into the Windy City; however, this one is strictly for the grown folks.
CineKink, "the kinky film festival," comes to town for two nights and boasts a raunchy range of salacious cinema including shorts, documentaries, dramas and comedies.
Among the festival's highlights is "The Best of CineKink/2011," a series of award-winning shorts including Turning Japanese, the story of a cash-strapped couple who exploits the nightly activities of its landlord by selling tickets and audience favorite Kink Crusader, a documentary about the International Mr. Leather contest which started in Chicago over 30 years ago.
CineKink runs Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18-19, at the Leather and Archives Museum, 6418 N. Greenview Ave. Tickets are $7-$10; all access festival passes are $15-$25. Check the website for the full film lineup and schedule; age 18 and up only. For more information, call 773-761-9200.
Move-Tastic!, "Chicago's premiere athletic moving force," wows customers and employs over 40 Chicagoans on their way to careers in other fields. Read more about Move-Tastic! at Chicago magazine and WBEZ.
About The Grid
The Grid is a series profiling Chicago businesses, subcultures and landscapes. These short, lyrical documentaries aspire to be art cinema, ethnographies and experiments in form. Ben Kolak and Brian Ashby's directorial debut, Scrappers, won Best Documentary at the 2010 Chicago Underground Film Festival and made Roger Ebert's top 10 list of documentary films for that year. Editor Dave Nagel is a recent University of Chicago graduate. Graphic designer Akemi Hong is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The best film you will likely see at this years Chicago Film Festival is the final one, the closing night presentation: The Artist, a beautiful black-and-white, largely silent (as in dialogue-free) offering from France starring one of that nation's biggest stars, Jean Dujardin (the lead in the wildly successful OSS 117 franchise, which, like The Artist, are directed by Michel Hazanavicius). What's especially fun about this movie is that it's actually about the last hurrah of silent films in America (the film features a handful of American actors) and concerns a world-famous actor who meets a pretty extra on one of his film sets, and as his star descends, hers begins to rise. This is a movie about loving movies -- it celebrates the art form in ways I've never seen, and it's easily one of the best things you'll see all year.
The time is upon those of us in Chicago once again, when cinephiles are forced out of their dark hovels to wander into equally dark theaters to check out the latest films from around the world. This year's CIFF offerings feature one of the greatest varieties of titles and types of films I can recall in recent years, and most of what I've seen so far is good stuff. Please allow me to point you in the direction of a few titles that might be worth sampling in its first week. All films take place at the AMC River East 21; check the CIFF website for exact times.
By this point, you've already missed CIFF's Opening Night film, the locally produced The Last Rites of Joe May, a slight indie production from Steppenwolf Films, featuring a solid, low-key performance by Dennis Farina. I believe the movie opens in November locally, so I'll give you my full review then. The festival's Centerpiece selection is the lovely, funny and charming My Week with Marilyn, based on the book by the man who served as Lawrence Olivier's assistant during the production of Olivier's movie with Monroe, The Princess and the Showgirl. Michelle Williams plays Monroe as a woman lacking any kind of confidence in her acting, while Kenneth Branagh does an uncanny Olivier. Oscar nominations will be forthcoming on this one for sure.
The 47th Chicago International Film Festival begins this Thursday, Oct. 6 with the Chicago premiere of the locally produced The Last Rites of Joe May, starring the city's own Dennis Farina and directed by local boy Joe Maggio. It's a small, independently produced work that feature a fantastic, low-key performance by Farina as a former low-level thug who has just gotten out from an extended stay in the hospital to find that things have changed a great deal and that whatever juice he might have had before his ailment is now gone. The movie is a Steppenwolf Films production, was shot locally, and features a cast of Steppenwolf ensemble members (including Gary Cole) and a few other Chicago actors you might recognize.
It's actually a rarity that CIFF opens its festivities with a local production, but this year's festival is going out of its way to highlight any and all Chicago connections some of its selections and festival guests have. For example, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, the festival hosts a Conversation with John C. Reilly, whose critically acclaimed film We Need To Talk About Kevin is playing. The festival is also have similar conversation with the likes of visual artist Braden King (whose film Here is in the fest), voice-over and jazz legend Ken Nordine, mumblecore filmmaker Joe Swanberg, and master cinematographer Haskell Wexler.
I had a chance recently to sit down with Mimi Plauché, the festival's exceedingly busy programming director since 2006, to talk about the highlights of this year's event, and to discuss what kind of film festival CIFF is and isn't. You'll see what I mean. It was a truly revealing and delightful conversation, and Plauche even gives us a handful of her personal recommendations. And I'll have a handful of recommendations for CIFF's first week in this week's Steve at the Movies column as well. Enjoy.
One of the oldest cliches in film criticism is the classic adage "You'll laugh, you'll cry." I'm pretty certain I've never used that expression in my career... until now, because there is truly no better way to describe the cancer comedy 50/50, based on small doses of the experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, a TV writer and producer who was diagnosed with cancer when he was still in his 20s, and also happened to be good friends with Seth Rogen, who co-stars in the film as the lead character's best friend. What are the odds?
Perhaps more than any other sport in existence, baseball is the one Americans love to romanticize in film, and hours have been spent analyzing why, so I won't add to the discussion except to say that I think it has something to do with the pace of play. There's a lot of time to think both on the field and in the stands, and with that extra time habits are born, superstitions are invented, and rituals take shape. And although I wouldn't call myself a baseball fan, it is the sport that I attend more than any other in a given year — more a product of living 10 minutes (on foot) from Wrigley Field, one of the oldest ballparks in existence.
And because fans are as attached as players to the ritualistic and meditative ways of baseball, as well as the utterly bizarre methods by which scouts seek out new blood for their teams with a formula of accomplishments and "intangibles" (as they are called in this film), I can clearly understand why anyone coming into the sport with a computer and absolutely no regard for how much personality a player might have could be deemed a threat to everything the game is about. And that's exactly how Oakland A's general manager Bill Beane was perceived when he brought in experts on Sabermetrics to rebuild his team from the ground up.
A pair of upcoming screenings of classic movies at the Music Box Theater will feature directors talking about the films -- though not necessarily the directors of the films being shown.
On Wednesday, Oct. 5, The A.V. Club presents Wet Hot American Summer as part of its New Cult Canon film series. Co-writer/director David Wain will join A.V. Club critic Scott Tobias to discuss the film's legacy on its 10th anniversary. Tickets are $10 in advance, $13 at the door if they're available.
On Saturday, Oct. 8, author Susan Orlean comes to the Music Box to promote her new book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, and takes the opportunity to also screen and discuss Adaptation, based on her book The Orchid Thief as well as a classic Rin Tin Tin film, Clash of the Wolves. Adaptation plays at 2pm and costs $10, while the Rin Tin Tin event will cost you $12 -- $35 if you want a copy of the book. You can do a double feature for $17 ($40 with the book).
Lastly, on Sunday, Oct. 16, Robert K. Elder, author of The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark, brings filmmaker Kimberly Peirce to the theater to talk about the movie that drew her to cinema, The Godfather. Elder and Peirce will do a Q&A and sign books after the screening. Tickets for the 3pm screening are $18, or $32 if you'd like to throw in a copy of the book. If you're interested, you can also turn the evening into a double feature with Peirce's own Boys Don't Cry at 8pm for an extra $3.
I've now seen Drive, the latest movie from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, twice, and both times I loved it equally for different reasons. The first time was back in July, and I got into the film's retro, Michael Mann-ish qualities -- colors and light that popped off the screen, the almost pornographic way that Refn lets the camera glide over the curves of the vintage cars that populate the movie, and the sleazy electronic score and songs (usually with a female singer) that is draped across every scene. I fell in love with the vibe of the film before the plot even kicked in.
Get ready for lots of laughs at this year's Chicago Comedy Film Festival (CCFF), the annual festival that celebrates the art of comedy via feature length and short comedy films.
In addition to being the nation's first Chicago-based film festival totally devoted to comedy, the CCFF also boasts a variety of films starring iO and Second City alumni, as well as notable names including Steppenwolf Ensemble Member and Chicago-area native Gary Cole (Dr. Limptooth) and John Larroquette (Sudden Death!). The festival also includes the screening of Bright Day!, featuring funnymen Bill Maher, Michael Cera and Richard Belzer.
The Chicago Comedy Film Festival runs Friday and Saturday, Oct. 14th and 15th at the ShowPlace ICON Theater, 150 W. Roosevelt Rd. And for even more laughs, CCFF features "Laugh Out Local," a bonus hour of shorts followed by Mick Napier's newest feature film Bandicoot!,on Sunday, Oct. 16 at the Annoyance Theater, 4830 N Broadway. All tickets are $8; contact email@example.com for all ticket-related questions. For a complete schedule and other information, visit the festival's website.
Although this tale of two brothers that both fight in the same Mixed Martial Arts tournament contains many familiar moments and emotions featured in other sports films (including Miracle, which director Gavin O'Connor also helmed), I think I'm safe in saying that you have never seen a film quite like Warrior, a work that represents powerful, brutal, thunderous, intimate filmmaking at its very best. This is due to two of the most sweat-and-blood masculine performances I've seen since Stallone first entered the ring as Rocky and changed the world.
Oh sure, Mr. Studio Man. Hide things I actually want to see, like Shark Night 3D and Apollo 18, from my prying eyes, but allow to to ingest garbage like A Good Old Fashioned Orgy from first time feature writer-directors Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck. This long-on-the-shelf comedy starring a bunch of TV actors (I guess Jason Sudeikis could be considered a movie actor now, but not when he made this originally) playing vapid characters whose only point of intersect are blow-out parties thrown every few months at the Hamptons summer home of the dad of Eric (Sudeikis, with dad played by Don Johnson). Seriously, these idiots don't talk about anything but the next party, and who they're banging or not banging.
When Dad announces that he's selling the house, Eric and best buddy McCrudden (Tyler Labine) decide that instead of their typical themed parties with hundreds of guests, they would have an intimate gathering of their closest few friends to have an orgy. Some of these friends, whom they've known since high school, are in relationships but most aren't, so eventually the idea gets a little heat behind it, and everyone is game. Big shocker, since, you know, it's right there in the title.
I know a lot of people like to begin their assessments of certain films by saying "If you don't love this movie, you have no soul," or "...there's something damaged inside of you," or "...I can't be friends with you anymore." You get the drift. And although the new film from director Jesse Peretz, Our Idiot Brother, is far from the best film or even the best comedy of the year so far, it's so inherently likable that to not allow yourself to be charmed is actually a criminal act. The film also provides us with one of the best examples of how once tight-knit families become dysfunctional and then rally in times of crisis.
Sunlight filtered in through the windows of the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. Like past dance companies, the River North Chicago Dance Company used the cozy rehearsal space to finalize 9-Person Precision Ball Passing, a company premiere by Charlie Moulton. Nine dancers stood on a set of black stairs performing a largely upper-body based routine featuring repetitive hand gestures and minor juggling feats with colored balls. The entire routine looked not unlike the clapping games little children practice on school playgrounds.
On the surface, the movements appear simple, but a closer examination demonstrates how the movements grow increasingly more complicated rhythmically as the routine progresses. Stay calm and carry on was the motto of the routine as additional pressure to stay on the varying beat of the accompanying music demonstrated the various manifestations of contemporary dance.
Here's my review of Warrior over on Ain't It Cool News. The film hits theaters Sept. 9, and stars Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton (if you don't know who they are, you will) and Nick Nolte. Absolutely one of the best films I've seen all year. Yes, it features mixed martial arts, but it's so far removed from a typical "sports movie." Nolte's Oscar is probably in the mail already.
I will be hosting a screening of Warrior on Wednesday, Aug. 24, at 7pm at the AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois St., and you and a guest are invited. All I need is an email from you with the subject "Warrior Screening," your full name and whether you are bringing a guest (limit one) no later than Monday, Aug. 22 at 5pm.
Here's a newsflash that some of you might not agree with. Some remakes are actually alright. Yes, most of them are made because a familiar title tends to bring in more box office dollars than an unfamiliar one, but every so often the right team of people get together and give enough of a shit about a story and its characters to make something old feel fresh. Welcome to Fright Night, one of the better examples of a horror remake I've seen in quite some time. The original story by Tom Holland (and updated by the great Marti Noxon) about a teenager and a late-night television horror movie host going up against a vampire or two to save a small town still has a bit of fun left in it and some neat new ideas.
Hey everyone. A busy week and some much-needed prep time for this weekend's big Flashback Weekend Horror Convention out in Rosemont, which I emcee, haven't given me much time to get my column together this weekend, so I've had to do something I haven't done in years -- a roundup of films coming out this week. Two or three (maybe more) paragraphs on each film, and hopefully that'll do the trick. Lots of good stuff this week, so pay attention...
30 Minutes or Less
This is a funny fucking movie and one that flies in the face of polite society in all the right ways by giving us four main characters who are largely difficult to like, which of course made me like them even more. Jesse Eisenberg is stoner-slacker pizza delivery guy Nick, who is best friends with Dwayne (Aziz Ansari), a school teacher who really hates kids. On the other side of town, low-life thugs played by Danny McBride and Nick Swardson devise a plan to hire a hitman to kill McBride's overbearing father (Fred Ward) and inherit a tidy sum of money so he can build his dream business -- a tanning salon/brothel. To make this happen, they kidnap Nick, strap a very real bomb to his chest, and force him to rob a bank to get the money.
While the month of August has traditionally been a dumping ground as far as summer movies are concerned, a look at the offerings being released in the next four weeks provide some hope the coming weeks will have its fair share of highlights. I'm not allowed to say anything specific just yet, but I will advise you to keep a look out for films like 30 Minutes or Less, Fright Night, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Our Idiot Brother to name a few. I'm just saying.
But I'll be goddamned if I didn't walk out of Rise of the Planet of the Apes absolutely stunned at how exactly right the filmmakers nailed this one. Finding ways to both give nods to and integrate with the mythology of the other Planet of the Apes movies (thanks to a smart script by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver), this new tale takes us back to the beginning of the cycle in what I can only describe as one of the best "setting-the-stage" prequels I've ever seen, thanks in large part to director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist) and another mind-bending motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis (Gollum from The Lord of the Rings trilogy).
I've never opened a review like this, but for some reason I feel compelled to do so for director Jon Favreau's latest action opus. Somewhere around the halfway mark of Cowboys & Aliens, the gun-slinging female lead Ella (Olivia Wilde, maximizing her exotic beauty by minimizing the glam qualities of her hair, makeup, and costume) is literally lassoed off her horse by a flying alien. Riding next to her is Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), aka The Man with No Past (at least temporarily), who immediately sets out to rescue her by chasing down the low-flying alien craft and leaping from his horse onto the top of said ship. After much struggle and attempts by the craft to shake its unwanted passenger, the ship crashes in the desert and Ella and Jake go tumbling across the sand, bruised and battered, but still alive.
As a lover of film, I've really enjoyed watching the parade of great British actors come in and out of Harry's work as various professors or bad guys or parents of Harry's classmates. It seems like nearly everyone of them makes an appearance in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, whether their characters are dead or alive, but I didn't really care because I love seeing them. Although I will admit it's bizarre spotting a fleeting glimpse of Emma Thompson's Prof. Sybil Trelawney in one sequence in this film and realize she never utters a word. And she's not the only prominent actor whose appearance here is reduced to a single line or no lines at all.
There's no real need to recap the plot of Deathly Hallows, Part 2. If you saw the last film, it's more of the same. Harry, Hermione and Ron are still chasing down the remaining Horcruxes. Lord Voldemort (the fantastic Ralph Fiennes) launches an assault on Hogwarts that results in some phenomenal destruction. And secrets involving Harry, the late Prof. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, seen a great deal in flashback here), Prof. Snape (possibly my favorite Potter-verse character, played by Alan Rickman), and many others are revealed. The amount of pure information unleashed on the audience in this two-hour-plus film is exhausting, and while I'm sure it will please the fans of the books, as a means of moving the story forward, it feels like maybe the filmmakers are pushing too hard. The film's most emotionally devastating moments are slower, quiet events, in particular, the absolutely perfect epilogue set many years after the end of the great war between Potter and Voldemort.
Perhaps the most screened movie in America this year isn't from a big studio. Hell, it isn't even a film made in America. But it is some of the most fun you'll have in a movie theater all year; I guarantee it. The film is director Joe Cornish's Attack the Block, which combines social commentary about the housing projects in the UK with a flat-out alien invasion story. It's produced by Edgar Wright, has some nice supporting work from Nick Frost, and features a great cast of young actors who are at times scary thugs, while also getting quite scared like the kids they actually are.
I'm hosting a free screening of Attack the Block this Sunday, July 17 at 7pm at the AMC River East 21 Theaters, and as a bonus treat I also have for a post-screening Q&A writer-director Joe Cornish and one of the lead actors, John Boyega, who plays Moses in the movie.
For those who don't know Cornish, he's had small parts in Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but of late he's gotten more attention as the co-writer (with Wright) of such screenplays as The Adventures of TinTin and Antman.
To attend this screening, please RSVP to me at firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, July 15 at 5pm. GB readers may bring one guest -- make sure you tell me if you need a plus-one in your email. You still need to arrive early because this will be slightly overbooked.
There's no denying that this has been a good summer for original R-rated comedies. (I use the caveat "original" to eliminate The Hangover, Part II from the discussion.) Bridesmaids set the bar early, Bad Teacher is unexpectedly strong thanks to a throwing-caution-to-the-wind performance by Cameron Diaz, and the upcoming 30 Minutes or Less, well, let's just say it fits right in with my thesis. And this week, we have the another strong entry, Horrible Bosses, about three slightly dopey friends who decide that each of their bosses needs to die, so they decide to get one of the other guys to do it.
Hey everyone. Due to my wacky travel schedule this week, I missed the only press screening of Larry Crowne, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, in a week that's already pretty skimpy for new releases. But really, there's only one movie opening this week that truly matters...
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
All I wanted to do when I left the theater the first time I saw Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third and easily best of the Michael Bay-directed franchise, was gaze upon my beautiful city, just to make sure it was still in one piece. The first time I saw this film about a month ago, it was not in 3D, but I have since seen it in 3D, and it is quite simply the best 3D experience I've had in a theater possibly (probably) in my life.
Let me say two quick things before I dive into this review. The first is that, as a kid growing up, I could not have cared less about Transformers — the toys, TV show or animated movie. When it was first announced that a live-action Transformers movie was being made, directed by Bay, I couldn't have cared less, not because I didn't dig Bay's work but because I simply didn't care about the subject matter. Second, and perhaps more directly relevant to this discussion, the only nightmares I remember having as a child (we're talking Reagan-era 1980s) involved the destruction of the city I was living in at the time, Washington, DC. I didn't know how many nuclear missiles the Russians had, but I knew damn well that a whole bunch of them were pointed at the nation's capital. Seeing War Games for the first time as a teen did not do me a bit of good.
I've long believed that Cars has long been held as the weakest of the Pixar offerings because it has the broadest appeal and seems more squarely aimed at younger viewers than any of the other works. Beyond that, it's also the one that seems the most "red state," featuring an abundance of racing and core messages about homespun values as seen from the vantage point of Smalltown USA. Those of us who adore what Pixar does in terms of innovation and not always casting the most obvious voice talent for its movies seemed to flat out reject the presence of Larry the Cable Guy's tow truck character Mater, perhaps the broadest stroke in the Pixar character army.
If there was even an outside chance of you caring about this movie based on your already established love of the comic book source material or even just the progressively more interesting trailers that have been released over the last few months, then you've already likely read a half-dozen or more reviews of this film that have warned you to stay far, far away from Green Lantern. And I'm afraid my review isn't going to stray far from that line of thinking either, so I'm going to keep this short and sweet.
It took me awhile to realize what the J.J. Abrams written and directed work Super 8 actually was, and once I settled into that notion, the world got a whole lot better. More Stand By Me than Close Encounters or E.T., Super 8 is one of the truest, purest examples in recent memory of a movie that reminded me of friends gone by, the fun that being a kid used to be, and the way movies energized our spirit of adventure to make our own sci-fi short films that borrowed from Star Wars, as well as episodes of "Star Trek" and "Buck Rodgers." If you ever walked out of a Steven Spielberg (a producer on this movie) film wanting to find out more about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life — or wanting to just kick ass after walking out of an Indiana Jones movie — you will absolutely respond to Super 8.
In a sparsely-furnished office in the Merchandise Mart, five recent graduates of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy are striving to write the next chapter in Chicago's film history. With their independent movie Chicago Rot, currently in pre-production, they're determined to change the perception of their hometown among film-goers and filmmakers alike. And by partially funding the project via the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter, they're inviting Second Citizens who share that vision to chip in.
Chicago Rot is the brainchild of Brant McCrea, Dorian Weinzimmer, Jeremy Vranich, Ryan Berena, and Sam Fell. All five were part of the 2009 inaugural graduating class of Flashpoint, the school for digital arts and media studies, which opened downtown in 2007. Rather than following the film student's stereotypical path straight to Los Angeles or New York, however, they're committed to proving Chicago can rival its coastal competitors as a hub for successful artists. Only fitting, then, that their first feature-length project should be what Weinzimmer calls "a personal love letter to the city - a dark love letter."
I did not see this one coming, and I'm not sure why. To varying degrees, I like all of director Matthew Vaughn's work (Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass), but the X-Men franchise just kept getting more and more scattered after Bryan Singer's second film to the point where it seemed impossible to get this right with an almost-entirely new team in front of and behind the cameras. But as the cast came together, I became more and more hopeful. Mixed in with a few lesser-known young actors are a handful of genuinely fine performers who elevate this material to such a degree that the final product ranks among the best that Marvel Studios has put together in its existence. And by setting the film mostly in the 1960s (during the Kennedy years), it opens up the possibility for future X-Men films that could be set pretty much in any decade that seems appropriate.
I was talking to (IM'ing, actually) Ain't It Cool's Harry Knowles shortly after we both saw press screenings of The Hangover Part II in our respective cities, and I told him I liked the current film about 50 percent less than the first, but upon reflection I realized that's not entirely true. Fifty percent, to me, is a failing grade, and this sequel doesn't outright fail. It still has its outrageous and funny moments, but I was surprised how much of the performances by the film's three leads (Bradley Cooper as Phil, Ed Helms as Stu, and the extra-giggly Zach Galifianakis as Alan) is reduced to pure reaction to other people and events who are typically far funnier than they are in this movie. The most common lines of dialogue include "Oh my god!" "Holy shit!" and the ever-reliable "Fuck!" That's not exactly ground-breaking comedy, folks.
Nonprofit arts organization Threewalls is connecting artists and collectors by adapting a model better known for supporting local farmers.
About The Grid
The Grid is a series profiling Chicago businesses, subcultures and landscapes. These short, lyrical documentaries aspire to be art cinema, ethnographies and experiments in form. Ben Kolak and Brian Ashby's directorial debut, Scrappers, won Best Documentary at the 2010 Chicago Underground Film Festival and made Roger Ebert's top 10 list of documentary films in 2010. Editor Dave Nagel is a recent University of Chicago graduate.
I own a thesaurus too, my fellow critics; and I know how to use it. But I'm going to leave it on the shelf for my review of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean installment for the simple reason that if I actually make the effort to walk the 30-or-so feet from my office to the bookshelf where my thesaurus sits, I will officially have expended more energy on that task than most people involved in the making of On Stranger Tides did making this movie. I can't remember the last time so many hundreds of people worked so hard on a movie for such mediocre results. It's as if the goal was to be stupendously average. While I am not using my thesaurus for this review, I am selecting my words carefully. On Stranger Tides is average beyond compare. It is not horrible, gut-wrenching, painful, god-awful or a plague upon humanity. It is simply a textbook example of putting in the maximum effort for the absolute minimum in entertainment.
I'm going to repeat a statement I made about a year ago regarding 3D, converted or otherwise. The greatest, universal issue I (and millions of others) have with 3D is that it makes the world (and the movie) a darker place, literally. It kills a hefty percentage of the light reaching your eyes. So, if you are going to set 75 percent of your film in relative darkness (I'm talking to you, Priest), 3D is virtually useless. With On Stranger Tides, which was shot in 3D, the sequences set during daylight hours or just well lit look stupendous. But much of the film takes place in reduced lighting situations, and the result is, well, shite. I'm not here to debate the merits of 3D, just to say that if you studios are going to continue giving us 3D movies, at least give us something to look at. End sidebar.
The Neo-Futurists are bringing back their celebrated series It Came From the Neo-Futurarium for its tenth incarnation. If you're not familiar with the troupe's series, It Came From the Neo-Futurarium X: Battle for the Neo-Futurarium will be a guaranteed treat. Each year the Neo-Futurists pick ten of the worst film of all time and perform them throughout the summer. This year's run, spanning June 16 through August 18, has the group performing some great choices including Purple Rain, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, and Red Dawn (even though I think that movie is excellent). See the rest of the Neo-Futurists choices after the jump.
I don't think any number of great reviews you might read for Bridesmaids can prepare you for just how strong a film it is. Now you notice, I don't say how funny the film is; I'm saying how strong. That's intentional. The movie is without a doubt funnier than anything I've seen in quite some time (it's from the R-rated House of Apatow, so that's not surprising), but the reason Bridesmaids works goes far beyond the laughs. And you figure that out almost right out of the gate.
The second scene in the movie is between stars Kristen Wiig (who co-wrote the film with Annie Mumolo) and SNL alum Maya Rudolph, playing lifelong friends Annie and Lillian. The pair do nothing more than have one of the funniest conversations I've ever heard between two people on film, and nothing about the moment feels scripted or forced. In every sense of the word, these are two old friends playing off each other about relationships, the future and life's little disappointments. There are actually many scenes like this in Bridesmaids, moments that actually bother to give us two or three minutes of time where the emphasis isn't about moving the plot forward. Instead, the filmmakers want us to learn something about the characters, get a peek inside their minds and hearts, and actually care about what happens to them. There are no villains here, and despite all of the silliness that transpires, this is a movie whose characters and situations you truly care about.
I firmly believe that the key to any good movie based on popular source material — whether it be a comic book, a best-selling novel, a well-regarded play, etc. — is that the film adaptation appeals beyond those who are fans of the original material to begin with. I shouldn't have to be a fan of the Thor comic books, or even the Marvel Universe, to like the movie version of Thor. I may get more of a charge watching the characters from the Thor comics come to life if I were a fan going in, but I should get a pretty substantial jolt just seeing the imaginary realm of Asgard for the first time, or the incredible costumes, or The Destroyer, whether I've heard of these characters or not.
I'll admit, I'm kind of tired of positive reviews for Thor that incorporate the notion that "it's not a perfect film, but..." or "it's got problems, but..." Guess what, people? No movie is perfect and every movie has problems. Those are wasted words. The truth of the matter is that Thor is the best comic book movie since Iron Man, and in some ways, it even surpasses that movie. The primary reason for its excellence is two-fold. Kenneth Branagh's direction is exactly what Asgard needs. After decades of directing films based on Shakespeare's works, he knows how to direct pomposity and make it sound cool. More than half the movie is set in a realm where everyone is a god, or thinks they're a god, and Branagh is gifted at taking dialogue that is meant to be heard in the furthest reaches of any size room and unstuff its hot air.
Dyke Delicious, a monthly lesbian screening series at Chicago Filmmakers, recently announced the line-up for their May Shorts program. The shorts range from serious dramas to hilarious comedies and feature two films by Chicago directors (Thresholds and The Kitteh Hutch). See the full line-up after the jump.
The franchise that was born with The Fast and the Furious was never one that I've waited with baited breath for new installments of since it began 10 years ago. But I will admit that, although I know nothing about cars, this variety of car porn has always made my heart race, especially when those muscle cars are standing still and feature sexy ladies draped over them (and all five of the films in this series have managed to include such scenes as reliably as they have included car chases/races). These movies were never about character, story, strong performances, or even humor (yes, even the dumb jokes are underwritten). All of that being said, there is something about these big, dopey, clunky, loud films that is seriously appealing, and Fast Five, a film that finally gets the formula more or less down, is the best of the bunch.
The way you break down this or any of the FFF (Fast/Furious Films) is simple: there's either something going on or there is not. And usually when there is not, the movie slams on the brakes. Banter is attempted and almost always fails to be witty. So, really all there is for us to do is listen to the exposition and/or stare at either biceps or boobs, both struggling to break free of their unnaturally tight clothes. With Fast Five, there's one more thing to do: enjoy the parade of characters returning from one or more of the previous four films. The core characters--Vin Diesel as master thief and driver Dominic Toretto, his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and the former police officer Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker)--are all back again. The film opens with O'Conner and Mia leading a small team to help Dominic escape from a prison transport vehicle. It's a pretty splashy action sequence, and director Justin Lin (who has helmed this series since the third installment, Tokyo Drift) wisely ramps up each new chase with just a little more speed, destruction, noise, and general excitement.
Davy Rothbart had no problem opening up to a video camera about his complicated love life, in part because his friend David Meiklejohn was behind it.
"One surprising thing about documentary film is how quickly people forget about the camera," says Rothbart, the subject of the "romantic documentary" My Heart Is An Idiot and creator of Found magazine, which publishes bizarre and/or hilarious notes, photos, homework assignments, ticket stubs, drawings, and more that readers submit. "The first couple of days (or weeks, maybe)" in front of a camera "people are hyper-aware of [it]. And then the camera quickly becomes invisible, and the subject just feels like they're hanging out with you -- they forget about the camera even being there, and just act totally naturally."
I'm not even sure where to begin with this one. I know a weirdly disproportionate number of people who not only have read the Sara Gruen novel upon which this films is based, but also loved it. In watch the film, I can almost see moments where having insight into various characters' thoughts and emotions would make the material quite good. But as adapted by the usually more reliable screenwriter Richard LaGravenese and director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine), this version of Water for Elephants is a surface-level melodrama that never allowed me access into the hearts and minds of its subjects. Feelings don't seem to exist in this movie unless they're actually spoken aloud, and I finally realized that it's because Robert Pattinson simply isn't a strong enough actor to carry this material.
I don't mean to dump on the guy who has pretty much been the butt of all jokes since he starred in the first Twilight movie, but Pattinson's entire method of expressing any level or type of emotion is putting on an angsty face. At least I think that's what it is. He may just be constipated. But that only explains Pattinson's part in this debacle. There are some good actors in this thing too, and they have fewer excuses beyond the writing. I tend to enjoy the works of Reese Witherspoon, but she's practically a background player in Water for Elephants as Marlena, a circus performer married to the ringmaster and head of the operation, August (Inglourious Basterds' Christoph Waltz). Pattinson plays Jacob, a veterinary student at Cornell who is pulled out of his final exam with news that his father has died and left him nothing. Rather than return to school, Jacob chooses the life of a hobo and hops a train that just happens to belong to the circus.
The award-winning and unbelievably-touching documentary, Bouncing Cats, is screening tomorrow at 5pm at the Wicker Park Art Center as part of the International Movies & Music Festival. The film follows Crazy Legs (of the Rock Steady Crew) as he unifies and empowers youth in Uganda, teaching them to breakdance through his "Breakdance Project Uganda".
The film, directed by Nabil Elderkin, narrated by Common and featuring interviews with Will.I.Am, Mos Def and K'Naan, has won four awards on the film festival circuit recently including the Audience Award for "Best Feature Documentary" at the Bahamas International Film Festival this past December.
Tomorrow's event will include interview opportunities and a live Q&A session with Crazy Legs after the film screening.
CIMM Festival Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at cimmfest.org. Donations for Breakdance Project Uganda are accepted at bouncingcats.com, where you can also find more information about the film and the Breakdance Project Uganda.
In many ways, Scream 4 (or Scre4m, which I refuse to call it) feels like an act of wild desperation, which is not necessarily the same thing as being a terrible movie, but it's certainly not a great movie either. And while it's mildly fun to see the primaries from the original three films return to play victim and sleuth, the movie spends so much time winking at its audience and tossing what feels like dozens of new characters at us that I found myself exhausted by the end and really not giving a shit who the killer was or even who was dead or alive when the final body count was tallied.
Textile Discount Outlet, located at 2121 w. 21st Street, has helped sustain Chicago's creative classes with discounted fabrics and inspiration for over 30 years.
About The Grid
The Grid is a series profiling Chicago businesses, subcultures and landscapes. These short, lyrical documentaries aspire to be art cinema, ethnographies and experiments in form. Ben Kolak and Brian Ashby's directorial debut, Scrappers, won Best Documentary at the 2010 Chicago Underground Film Festival and made Roger Ebert's top 10 list of documentary films in 2010. Editor Dave Nagel is a recent University of Chicago graduate.
Nick Prueher and Joe Picket share thrift store gold at the Found Footage Festival.
The Found Footage Festival, a one-of-a-kind event showcasing videos found at garage sales and thrift stores and in warehouses and dumpsters throughout North America, is returning to Chicago tomorrow night at the Music Box, in conjunction with a special 25th anniversary screening of the documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot, which was videotaped in a concert arena parking lot before a Judas Priest show in Maryland in 1986.
In addition to hosting in-person FFF screenings, curators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher are also the brains and brawn behind the documentaries Dirty Country and Winnebago Man, and have written for The Onion and the Late Show with David Letterman.
If you were lucky enough to catch FFF last summer, you got to see a rare screening of the 1987 film Computer Beach Party at The Empty Bottle. Tomorrow's show at the Music Box promises to be every bit as fun. Among the new clips to be featured are:
-Self-hypnosis videos about how to be a better lover, businessman, and bowler
-A 1986 home movie taken during a debaucherous weekend in Florida
-A collection of ventriloquism how-to videos that will forever haunt you
-A brand-new compilation of exercise videos featuring Cher, Lyle Alzado and the American Gladiators
With a tour that's taking them to 75 cities in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., Prueher and Pickett are on the road quite a bit these days, but I managed to catch Prueher on the phone for a few minutes en route to Baltimore last week.
What would movies and music be without each other? There are specific songs that inspire entire scenes, and films that inspire entire songs. The Chicago International Movies & Music Festival smashes the two mediums together into one magnificent weekend of shows, screenings, and discussions about how both arts influence each other. See some of my film suggestions after the jump.
I'll admit, I was stunned at my reaction to David Gordon Green's latest comedy (following Pineapple Express) Your Highness, because every fiber of my being told me going in that I was going to really like this movie. And then in scene after scene, I found myself searching high and low (questing, if you will) for laughs. In my humble opinion, Green hasn't made anything but great movies, beginning with 2000's George Washington and continuing on through All the Pretty Girls (which co-stars Your Highness actors Danny McBride and Zooey Deschanel), Undertow, Snow Angels (perhaps my personal favorite), and a half-dozen episodes of the fantastic HBO series "Eastbound and Down."
Simply put, director Duncan (Moon) Jones' latest dip into the science-fiction pool succeeds because it doesn't rely on a single trick or reveal to give it strength. Instead, it relies on great acting, a carefully plotting story and some adventurous directing to propel it through one of the most ambitious stories since Inception, although the two films share almost nothing in common besides a marketing campaign.
I think the less you know about Source Code, the better, but I'm going to tell you as much as I can without giving away too much. Pilot Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train, which isn't so bad except that the last thing he remembers is crashing his plane in Afghanistan. In the eight minutes that follow, he discovers that he's on a commuter train heading into Chicago, and that he's inside the body of a man named Sean Fentriss. Across from him is Christina (Michelle Monaghan), clearly someone he knows from sharing this same train ride every morning, but they aren't exactly friends. The train is fairly full, and by the end of the eight minutes, a bomb goes off and everyone on the train dies.
Hey everyone. I've been doing a ton of traveling both for work and fun in March--four trips this month--and, as a result, I have been missing screenings in Chicago and haven't been able to see some big releases. Actually, I've been lucky so far, in that I've caught most of the major releases, but this week I miss a film I've truly been looking forward to seeing, writer-director Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch, opening today. I won't even attempt an educated guess as to what the film is about or whether it's any good, but since I've enjoyed a great deal his remake of Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen, I'm guessing Sucker Punch will appeal to me on at least a visual level, plus their appears to be a bevy of beautiful women starring in this film, and there's nothing wrong with that. Time will tell when I get back from my travels. Enjoy the few reviews I can send you way...
Writer-director (and sometimes actor, but never in his own films) Thomas McCarthy has made two wonderful films (The Station Agent and The Visitor) about loners reconnecting with the world around them by making friends with strangers. But the first thing you notice about the lead character in McCarthy's third film, Win Win, is that Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is that he is by no definition of the word a loner. Mike is a lawyer whose business is struggling, but his family and friend base is strong. His wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), is a rock; his co-worker (Jeffrey Tambor) is a good man; and his buddy and fellow high school wrestling coach Terry (Bobby Cannavale) is perhaps his greatest (and funniest) asset. The team that Mike takes time to coach after work is terrible but an essential part of who he is and was.
For all his bad romantic-comedy attempts or just bad movies (hello, Tiptoes), I still find Matthew McConaughey an actor worth supporting. When he gets his teeth into a character in films like Dazed and Confused, Lone Star, A Time to Kill, The Newton Boys, Frailty, We Are Marshall, and Tropic Thunder, he's kind of unstoppable. And for a guy who is so well known for showing his shirtless torso in every damn movie, what has always fascinated me about his approach to acting is what he's capable of doing with his face. He can go from seduction mode, concern, fear, and intimidation all with a few tilts of the eyebrows or slight adjustments in how much teeth he shows--not that I've ever freeze-framed his face repeatedly watching The Wedding Planner or anything creepy like that. Heh. But as L.A. attorney Mick Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer, McConaughey gets to use all of his acting prowess, and the result is probably the best purely dramatic role he's every played.
Cinema Q, a new film series that highlights LGBT movies filmed in Chicago, will hold a series of screenings at the Chicago Cultural Center. The free screenings will take place over four Wednesdays, March 16, 23, 30, and April 6, in the Cultural Center's Claudia Cassidy Theater, 78 E. Washington.
The first film featured in the series is Ron Pajak's Quearborn & Perversion: An Early History of Lesbian & Gay Chicago, the story of the evolution of the intersection of Dearborn and Division as "the nexus of gay life in the 1950s." Other films include Go Fish, JoJo Baby, and Were the World Mine.
All films screen at 6:30pm and feature post-discussion with various filmmakers, cast, and crew members. Note: Films contain mature subject matter; viewer discretion is advised. For more information on Cinema Q, visit www.ChicagoCulturalCenter.org or call 312-744-6630.
In a way, I guess I understand some of the initial negative response to this big, loud summer movie released in mid-March, but I don't necessarily agree with most of it. As an alien-invasion exercise, it works pretty successfully at creating a real-world scenario where aliens suddenly land on the shores of our world and begin a brutal campaign to extinguish human life (or at least enough human life to get done what they came to do). The story is told from the vantage point of a Marine staff sergeant (Aaron Eckhart), who has seen his fair share of action, most recently in Afghanistan, and he's ready to call it quits after 20 years in the service.
Filmmaker Amy Grappell has featured works in Sundance film fest, winning honorable mention. She has also shown work at SXSW, Rotterdam film fest, and among many others. Now, she will be presenting work at University of Chicago's contemporary art gallery The Renaissance Society.
The opening reception will take place this Sunday (March 13) from 4pm to 7pm, and will include a discussion with Grappell from 5pm to 6pm, in room 307 at Cobb Hall.
Theater aficionados have quickly taken to The New Colony, a fledgling local company who've won fans over with their sharp, clever, devised works. Their play, That Sordid Little Story, was extremely well-received by both audiences and critics, and now New Colony has further explored the piece and produced a short film that follows some of the characters from the show. The film premiered at Collaboraction last month, and is now available for viewing online.
Yael Bartana is a female video artist who works from Amsterdam and Tel Aviv, whom recently was awarded the prestigious Artes Mundi Prize. Her work explores the complicated implications of social and political discourses revolving around the age of globalization.
Science fiction and love stories so rarely work well together, but when they do, it can be a beautiful thing. And I think it's safe to say that first-time feature director George Nolfi (who adapted the Philip K. Dick short story "Adjustment Team") has melded these two elements rather perfectly, so that neither one is slighted nor its impact lessened. Now, some may argue that The Adjustment Bureau isn't technically science fiction, and those people would be wrong. No matter what you call the mysterious men in hats who seem to nudge citizens like you and me into following a prescribed and predetermined path so that foreseen events will take place as they should, they are classic science fiction tools that may or may not also represent religious deities of a kind. They're also really cool dressers.
Second only to James Cameron, Patrick Lussier is my favorite director working with 3D. While so many other directors making 3D films in the last couple years made a point to say, "We aren't throwing things at the camera," and "We don't want this to be a gimmick," Lussier opted for a different approach. He took a fairly shitty '80s slasher film, spruced it up, and made the absolutely glorious My Bloody Valentine, which came out at the beginning of 2009 and said to its audience, "Hey, we've got about 50 pointy objects we'd like to throw right at your head. Care to join us?" Lussier threw in some tasteful full-frontal nudity, a nice supporting role for the legendary Tom Atkins, and a metric shit-ton of blood and guts, and My Bloody Valentine turned a decent profit because it remembered to be entertaining.
His latest work uses the same 3D formula with an original story and an overwhelming number of fantastic car chases and wrecks. Like Valentine, Drive Angry was shot in 3D, a fact that Lussier makes abundantly clear (in the original posters, the "Shot In 3D" tagline was in the same size font as the film's title). But making a film in 3D is not enough of a reason to see any movie. No, the real and true reason you want to see Drive Angry in any dimension is the magnificent William Fichtner as a character known only as The Accountant.
Portage Park's gorgeous Patio Theater opened in January 1927, what was then a mid-sized movie palace, with a mere 1500 seats. Designed by Rudolph G. Wolff in the Spanish Renaissance style, its atmospheric canopy is dotted with twinkling "stars" and projected moving clouds, like the 850-seat Music Box's, which opened two years later.
At the time, the Chicago movie theater business was largely controlled by large, national chains Lubliner & Trinz, Balaban & Katz and Essaness, but the Patio was started by three Greek immigrants — William, John and George Mitchell (originally Michalopoulas) — at a cost of $750,000. Its first film was The Blonde Saint, an adaptation of a Stephen French Whitman novel.
The Patio flourished for decades as a first-run theater, until television started to eat away at the movie business. John Mitchell, who took over in 1942 after his brother William died, reluctantly allowed the building to fall into disrepair. To save on taxes, a vertical section of the marquee — like those seen on the Music Box or the Davis — was removed. In 1970, the Patio turned into a second-run movie house. In 1976, after the death of George Mitchell, the Patio was turned over to outside management. After John Mitchell passed away in 1981, the Mitchell family put the theater (along with the rest of the building) up for sale.
For the most part, I dig the way director D.J. Caruso works. He game out of the gate with a few interesting films, including The Salton Sea, Taking Lives and Two for the Money. Each of these films was a little on the slick side, but within tolerable limits. He also did a handful of really solid episodes of "The Shield," which gives him points in my book. But the two films he made with Shia LaBeouf — Disturbia and Eagle Eye — didn't really connect with me. They are certainly well-executed movies, but I felt like they were talking down to the audience, over-explaining the plot, and having the characters jump through hoops that smarter folks might not have felt the need to jump through. His latest effort, the sci-fi adventure story I Am Number Four, (based on the novel by "Pittacus Lore") has some great action sequences, and a couple of nice performance (especially by Timothy Olyphant), but I found a tough time connecting with the lead characters or really caring about what happened to the young man at the center of the story.
We know right off the bat that people are out to kill John Smith (Alex Pettyfer), the fourth in a line of special young men and women (I won't say how, but most of you probably know already) with powers that make them stand out. Apparently, these special kids must be killed in the order in which they are numbered, so the film begins with the death of Number 3. John is one of those annoying-as-hell teens who doesn't like to do what he's told and frequently ignore the safety protocols set up by his protector Henri (Olyphant), who is posing as John's father. I'm not sure why they feel the need to send John to public school in Ohio, but that's where he lands when his original location is compromised. Let's not forget that high school is the land of cell phone cameras and self-created websites where John's image could be posted and scanned for by those pursuing him.
Given Barack Obama's historic election as the first African-American President of the United States, it isn't surprising then, that in addition to the numerous books that have already been written about him, that a film wouldn't be too far behind.
Well, there is a film, but it isn't about him, per se; Politics of Love (2010), is a romantic comedy that was inspired "by the slew of publicly documented election love stories" that were said to have developed during Obama's push for the presidency. The film stars actor Brian J. White and Bollywood star Mallika Sherawat as a pair of election volunteers from opposite sides, who, despite those differences, become romantically involved amid the campaign.
There are some questions surrounding the film, though; according to imdb.com, in addition to its name change (the original title was Love, Barack) it hasn't even been officially released yet.
Since there isn't a whole lot of information about the film, only time will tell if it will ever be released--in any format. In the meantime, you can see a trailer here:
The Windy City will be well represented at this year's Pan African Film Festival, thanks to Mark Harris (Black Butterfly), Brian Schodorf (The Wayman Tisdale Story) and Darryl Pitts (Kiss and Tell), three Chicago filmmakers with a mission to further the city's filmmaking landscape. Here, they discuss why they joined forces and why they feel Chicago deserves to be recognized as the filmmaking hub of the Midwest.
How did the idea to collaborate come about?
Schodorf: We all decided to get together to do some promotion. It's tough to get publicity when you go to these film festivals--it always helps when you have other people helping out.
Pitts: I think there's a great strength in numbers. I gave my full support to this collaboration because Chicago, being the major market it is, has not had the kinds of films to come out of it that a market its size warrants or dictates.
Have any other local filmmakers or industry folks contacted you when they heard about your collaboration?
Pitts: Not yet. We are in the beginning stages of this, so I'm absolutely sure they will.
Before I dive into this week's offerings. Let me remind everyone that on Friday, February 11 and Saturday, February 12, I will be moderating Q&A with the legendary Tommy Wiseau after screenings of his cult hit The Room at the Music Box Theatre. Both shows begin at 10pm, and we may even have some surprises in store for those who already bought tickets. This event marks the one-year anniversary of Wiseau's first appearance in Chicago, and believe me when I say, the best way to see The Room is with an audience during the film and Wiseau in the house after it.
But here's the catch. Both 10pm shows are sold out. However, the Music Box has just added a 7pm show on Saturday, and you should get your tickets now. Don't get left outside of The Room!
This one comes a whole lot closer to nailing it than I thought it would, and the one of the key elements that holds it back is that damned PG-13 rating. From Jeremy Brock's screenplay based on Rosemary Sutcliff's novel The Eagle of the Ninth, this story of a Roman soldier in 2nd century Britain crossing into British-controlled territory to retrieve a golden eagle emblem of his dead father's legion is practically crying out to let the blood flow, and perhaps the DVD of The Eagle will allow director Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland, State of Play) to include a few graphic beheadings and eviscerations to keep his gritty story more lively. (If you crave a sword-and-sandal movie with blood to spare, please rent Neil Marshall's Centurion; it's so damn good.) Still, as it exists now, The Eagle is a decent telling of an interesting story.
It was right there. The makings of a fairly solid, beautifully photographed, suspenseful 3D movie were within their grasp, and they blew it. Spectacularly. On multiple levels. Sanctum is being advertised as being producer James Cameron's post-Avatar 3D adventure story, and I'm sure that director Alister Grierson (who made the Australian war film Kokoda a few years back) is quite alright with that. Maybe some people will mistakenly think that Cameron directed the film and take some of the heat off of Grierson for this horribly written and acted mess of a story, which follows a group of underwater cave diver-explorers who get trapped underground and must seek out an escape route via miles of unexplored tunnels, caverns, and waterways.
All Jokes Aside, the comedy club that dominated the city's South Loop district in the '90s, was a viable force in Chicago entertainment until it closed in 2000. The club, which hosted a "who's who" of black comedians including Jamie Foxx, Chris Rock and the late Bernie Mac, is the subject of the film Phunny Business: A Black Comedy, directed by John Davies. Here, owner Raymond Lambert discusses the film, the club, and what caused the laughter to suddenly stop.
How did the idea for this film come together?
I worked with John [Davies] on some other projects and we both said this All Jokes Aside story should be on television, which was then our initial idea. I felt the club didn't end the way I wanted it to and I wanted to tell this story but didn't know how--should it be a feature film? A documentary? I bumped into John again and the idea of a documentary came up.
So that's how the idea to do the story documentary style was born.
Yes. There was a documentary called When Stand-Up Stood Out, about the Boston comedy club scene during the late '70s through the late '80s. I thought if that was a defining moment in stand-up, then, humbly speaking, if I look at what we did in the '90s and what we meant to the Chicago comedy scene, we had probably more people than that. Then, Reid Brody, a producer, got involved, and we partnered with him because we all brought something different to the table.
You were originally a finance guy, having worked with Chris Gardner--how did you transition into comedy?
I was always interested in entrepreneurship--I didn't have a specific industry in mind. I developed relationships with local comedians and then I went to California to the Improv and saw these "black nights" they'd have. I met Steve Harvey and a few others and when I would ask them when they were coming to Chicago, they replied, "We don't play in Chicago because we can't get booked there. No club in the city will book us."
Some people refer to the Coen Brothers' True Grit as a remake, which isn't entirely wrong, but it's far from entirely correct. If you would like to do a side-by-side comparison of a film and its exceedingly faithful remake, you need look no further than Simon (Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the pilot of "The Cape") West's remake of the Michael (Death Wish I, II & III) Winner directed, Charles Bronson-starring actioner about an stoic professional killer who takes a young man (in the original, it was Jan-Michael Vincent) as his protege after killing the young man's father. Other than West's slicker directing style and some newer, cooler weapons, there is very little different in the details of this remake, starring Jason Statham and Ben Foster as the killer/killer-in-training combo.
Statham's Arthur Bishop is a man of few words and even fewer personal connections. One of his only friendships is with Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), the man who usually gives him his killing assignments and the occasional bit of advice. But when Harry's boss Dean (Tony Goldwyn, playing the villain a little too much by the book) tells Bishop to take out Harry, Bishop does so begrudgingly. Primarily out of guilt, Bishop befriends Harry's son Steve, who's aware of what his dad and Bishop did and wants to learn the tricks of the trade. Bishop tries to teach him to be stealthy and quick, but Steve has a lust for loud, messy and bloody. Foster excels in these kind of roles, where he gets to play a character who can be quiet and charming, then suddenly launch into a complete fucking maniac.
The nominations for this year's Academy Awards, which air Sunday, February 27 on ABC, were announced yesterday--were any of your favorites among the nominees?
Whether you're a film buff or simply like a good old-fashioned debate, join Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips as he hosts "Gold Bald Men and the Actors Who Love Them," a panel discussion to review the slate of 2011 Oscar nominees and give predictions on who will take home the golden statuettes.
Joining Phillips at "Gold Bald Men and the Actors Who Love Them," also part of Trib Nation, and under the Chicago Tribune's community outreach initiative, is a group of other film experts including The Onion A.V. Club's Tasha Robinson and Nathan Rabin and Filmspotting's Matty Robinson and Adam Kempenaar. The panel discussion will also include clips from the film nominees, with audience members getting to witness the experts as they give their insight on "all things Oscar."
"Gold Bald Men and the Actors Who Love Them" will be held at the Chicago Theatre Downstairs, 175 N. State St., at 8pm (doors open at 7:30pm). Tickets are $15 (includes one drink coupon) and can be purchased by online or by calling 312-222-3348. A "meet and mingle" reception follows the discussion.
John Marshall Jones is certainly one busy actor; through a myriad of roles in television and film, he has engaged audiences for years with characters that are consistently diverse and that portray positive images. Here, the Northwestern University alumnus and founder of Mastering the Audition, talks about his award-winning project, The Guest at Central Park West.
In addition to Northwestern, your Chicago roots also include Second City. Talk about that experience and your transition when you decided to head for Hollywood.
Second City was notorious for only having one black person at a time--I was "the black guy" there from 1985 to1987; in fact, I used to tell people they didn't have to remember my name--just ask for "the black guy."
That must have added a lot to your experience, then.
It was an incredible training ground. You had to learn how to defend yourself against other comics who were all looking for a way to position themselves at the top. A lot of times, the humor was very racial, so you had to learn how to defend yourself without getting offended that that was all they could come up with. Again, it was a tremendous training ground for learning how to do the kind of comedy done in sitcoms. When I walked out of there, getting a job in Hollywood was no problem because I was already trained. I have a lot of fond memories--it was tough, but in the end, it was fair.
I know several critical thinkers who really dislike this movie, and I'm baffled as to why this is the case. I'm not saying that writer-director John Wells first time out as a filmmaker (he's made a comfortable living writing and producing shows like "E.R.," "The West Wing," and the new Showtime dark comedy "Shameless") is the finest example of high drama around in this awards season, but I actually found it a fairly accurate portrayal of the current corporate culture that has led to layoff that have nothing to do with merit and everything to do with the bottom line. If two highly skilled and qualified people are making more money than two underperforming but lesser paid employees, guess which two get the axe. It's short sighted behavior, but it's also exactly what's happening, and I thought the movie captured this trend rather nicely.
Starting one week from Friday, Facets Cinémathèque will be showingStrongman, the winner of the Slamdance Best Documentary prize and an Official Selection from SXSW. The full blurb, filmmaker quotes and showtimes are after the jump.
It's always a frustrating thing when a film is promoted one way, when the true nature of the work is something quite different. The most recent example of that might be James L. Brooks' How Do You Know, which is a quite worthy film about three 30-somethings going through transitions in their lives that are leaving their futures with more question marks than any of them thought imaginable. And now we also have the Ron Howard-directed The Dilemma, starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James.
On the surface (and according to all forms of advertising for the film), the movie seems to be a comedy about a Ronny (Vaughn), who owns a car-design business with his oldest friend Nick (James), and finds out that Nick's wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), is cheating. While Ronny has no doubt in his mind that Nick needs to be told about the infidelity, he questions the timing of the news delivery. The pair are on the brink of signing the biggest deal of their professional career, and Ronny is afraid that breaking the news will wreck Nick's ability to finish the project. Ronny confronts Geneva with his knowledge, and she promises to be the one to tell Nick, but not without revealing a few things about the marriage that shock Ronny right out of his belief that the two have the perfect relationship, one that he has modeled his relationship with long-term girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly) after. In the end, Geneva chickens out, leaving the burden of telling and proving the affair all on Ronny.
The first feature film in a very long time from director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance (Brother Tied) is an emotion typhoon that manifests the bulk of its power from juxtaposing two very distinct timelines in the lives of Dean and Cindy (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams), a young married couple whose disintegrating marriage is made all the more tragic with constant reminders of how happy and carefree they were in their initial courtship. Blue Valentine crushes our hearts effortlessly that to the two incredible performances at its core.
The film is filled with secrets, passion, rage, tension, and a collection of moments that reveal how far the couple has drifted apart in only six years. In the present day, Dean and Cindy decide to take a night away from their daughter and got to a hotel with "theme" rooms, in a pathetic attempt to rekindle the romance. An attempt to seduce his wife in the shower is shut down fast by Cindy, and in the next scene (set six years prior) we see Dean put on the same moves with Cindy with more favorable results (you may have heard about the scene in question, which almost earned the film an NC-17 rating). Cianfrance subtly repeats this idea of having scenes mirror each other, proving how much the couple are in love in the earlier moments, and showing how fractured they've become today. It's the equivalent of having a thread of molten metal strung directly through your heart.
Some of you may not have heard of this one, more than likely because it doesn't actually get released until the end of February, so we're getting quite the jump on this one. The film is called Drive Angry 3D. Here's my review, if you care to read it.
If it isn't clear from the review, I love me some Drive Angry 3D, starring Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, and the great William Fichtner. (And by the way, this film was SHOT IN 3D.) I'm pretty sure I would have loved this movie even without the 3D, but that extra dimension kind of sealed the deal for me. I was a big fan of director Patrick Lussier's My Bloody Valentine remake and I'm really happy they gave us Drive Angry 3D, which is loaded with muscle cars, explosions, the supernatural and excessive nudity. Seriously, if you don't like this movie, something might be broken inside of you.
So this screening of Drive Angry 3D is taking place Tuesday, Jan. 11 at the AMC River East theaters at 8pm. We've got the entire theater -- all 256 seats -- to ourselves. If you'd like to go, please email me at email@example.com, give me your full name in the body of the email and whether or not you'd like to bring one confirmed guest. I'm closing up the RSVP hotline at noon on Friday, Jan. 7, so get on this.
And if you have friends who don't read Gapers Block who would like to go, send them to Ain't It Cool News to enter my contest. They'll probably get in.
Hey everyone. Wow, I watched more than 400 movies on the big screen on 2010. That's not a record for me, but it's damn close. This was one of the most difficult "Best Of..." lists to compile, because so many of the films in the first 20 or so are separated in my mind by a micro-fraction of greatness. As I do every year, I conclude with my "Worst Of..." list, and it becomes painfully clear that I took enough bullets to save a small army of a medium-sized nation. I also created a new category that seemed necessary. I selected my 10 favorite films that I'm pretty sure never were released in the United States outside of a festival setting but will more than likely make their way into theaters in 2011. Consider that list you starting point of films to get very excited about seeing in the coming year.
I've spared you lengthy write-ups on every single film on these lists--just the first 10 on my main list and only the top choice on the other ones. Oh, and if you think 40 is too many for a Best Of list, keep it to yourself and simply stop reading when you've had enough. Prologue done. Let's get to the lists, and allow me to bathe in your loving reactions!
It's highly likely that Chicago-born comedic actor Kel Mitchell paid a little homage to his hometown with the title of his latest movie, Chicago Pulaski Jones. Mitchell stars as "Chicago Jones," a dancer from Chicago who "is forced to avenge the death of his uncle." He also co-wrote and co-produced this lighthearted comedy.
You won't be able to see Chicago Pulaski Jones on the big screen, though--this one's headed directly to the likes of Netflix and other DVD outlets. But for comedian Cedric the Entertainer, who co-produced, directed and co-stars in the movie, "straight-to-DVD" movies no longer have the stigma attached to them they once did and in the end, can prove to be advantageous for independent films. In a recent Miami Herald article, the comedian noted, "We're going to do this as a small DVD and digital release, mainly," and "create this model for independent filmmakers to be able to kind of get their films done for low, economic prices."
Other noteworthy references in the movie include Chicago's FootworKINGz, a professional "footwork" dance company and comedian Rodney Perry, current co-host and sidekick on BET's "The Mo'Nique Show."
No release date for the DVD has been set yet--see below for a sneak peek:
Cauleen Smith, a San-Diego-based artist who has been picked up by Threewallsresidency program, is in the process of trying to fund her experimental film and LP project, The Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band. Basically, this is a marching band flash mob made up of musicians of all ages that appears in different locations around Chicago, gingerly plays a Sun Ra song and then scatters. What's better than that? According to Smith's mission statement, "The Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band brings many Chicago communities together to interrupt ordinary life in the city with fleeting ecstatic moments of visual and aural incongruence."
Sometimes, filmmakers put together something that is so strong, so perfect, so abundantly great that they make it look easy, and you wonder why everyone making movies can't produce something this close to flawless. Ethan and Joel Coen's True Grit is just such a film, an effortless work of perfection that captures a sense of place and period so convincingly that you are taken aback by how effortless it all seems. The Coens haven't always reached this level of moviemaking, but they do so with alarming regularity with such works as Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Fargo, and No Country for Old Men. Now, if I didn't name your favorite Coen Brothers movie, it's not because I didn't like it. But in all of their other films, I could see them trying maybe a little too hard. Nothing wrong with that, but when I stumble upon one of these five films (and True Grit will be added to the list) on a movie channel, it gets watched to the end because I don't even notice time passing.
I have to admit, I have very little to say about this decades-in-the-making sequel to arguably one of the most influential films in the last 50 years. Notice, I said "most influential" and not "greatest" films. Animators, computer gurus and other creative types have all named Tron as the inspiration to choosing their career paths and passions. Having rewatched Tron recently, I can confirm the movie isn't that good. That being said, seeing it with fresh eyes actually made me remember what it was about the movie that I loved so much as a youth. I didn't understand computers, let alone own one, so for all I knew the idea of programs with human faces talking to each other, competing against each other, etc., was exactly how the electronic world worked. Plus, I loved the hell out of the Tron arcade game. I'd never seen a film that looked liked Tron or even existed in the same universe, so I was hypnotized in a way. So much so, that I ignored the overacting and cringe-worthy dialogue. Still, I never forgot this Disney production and anytime a sequel rumor surfaced, I got a charge.
There aren't many interesting ways for filmaphiles to ring in the New Year. House parties always have that awkward lull halfway through them, and we've all witness what a terrible idea going to a bar can be. Lo and behold the fine people at the Musicbox Theatre have a solution.
For the past two years the Musicbox and Camp Theater have presented an alternative to the bar scene with an all-out seafaring adventure set to the 1972 classic The Poseidon Adventure. The film is set on New Years Eve, where passengers encounter a catch in their evening's plan when they are involved in the biggest maritime disaster on the silver screen. Starting at 11pm, Chicago "passengers" embark on a journey on the high seas with camp master Dick O'Day as their captain. The unique thing about this is that you get to say you rang in the New Year with Gene Hackman, as the theater times Poseidon's midnight chime with reality's. The audience is encouraged to dress up in '70s cocktail attire, and the best outfit will win fantastic prizes. The Tribune and Metromix called this event a must-attend last year so make sure you don't miss out on it this time around. The Poseidon Adventure just won't be the same afterward.
The movie starts at 11pm at the Musicbox Theatre (3733 N. Southport) and goes until 2am. Tickets to The Poseidon Adventure are $22 in advance, $27 at the door. Your ticket includes a complimentary champagne toast at midnight, drink tickets, party favors, postshow party, and a interactive movie guide to help you follow the madness. A portion of each ticket sale also goes to Hell In a Handbag Productions.
With a new, much slimmer figure, Jennifer Hudson is certainly looking good these days; however, according to the folks at The Grio, she doesn't particularly look good somewhere else, namely, in the new film Winnie, a story based on the life of Winnie Mandela.
Ever since Hudson was named as the film's lead, a lot of criticism emerged, with Mandela herself being one of the most outspoken critics against the film. From the question of Hudson's acting ability to Mandela's request for a native South African actress to be cast in the role, there has seemingly not been a lot of fanfare about the film.
The movie isn't scheduled for release until early 2011; however, The Grio explains why the choice to cast Hudson and Oscar-nominee Terrence Howard (whom they feel is equally miscast) as "two iconic, legendary, world-changing" individuals might have movie-goers, well, wincing.
Sometimes, when you don't expect something to be truly great, it goes and surprises the hell out of you and turns out to be just that. Like many of you, I'd seen the trailer for director David O. Russell's The Fighter, the first film in far too long from the maker of Spanking the Monkey, Flirting with Disaster, I Heart Huckabees and his previous best work, Three Kings. The two latter films star Mark Wahlberg, who has done arguably much of his best work under Russell's direction. But The Fighter is an entirely different animal, possibly because this project has been Wahlberg's passion for the better part of the last decade. Not only is this the best performance in the actor's career, but the film itself easily ranks among the best of the year. There's a good chance you're going to be hearing me say that about a couple more films before the end of the year, for obvious reasons, but The Fighter is so nakedly raw as a narrative and stylistically flawless that it's virtually impossible to escape its brutal grip.
Our own Steve at the Movies has another opportunity to invite Gapers Block readers to a free advanced screening. The film this time is a twisted Christmas tale from Finland, Rare Exports, which is opening at the Music Box Theatre on Christmas Eve. But you can see it sooner.
Rare Exports will screen on Tuesday, Dec. 14 at the Landmark Century Center Cinema (at Clark and Diversey) at 7pm. Readers may bring one guest. Just send Steve an email with your full name and whether or not you're bringing a guest to firstname.lastname@example.org by noon on Friday, Dec. 10. He will bounce you an email back to confirm your RSVP. Head over to Ain't It Cool News to read Steve's original review of the film when he saw it back in September.
When is a movie about a ballerina obsessed with perfection not just that? Probably about as often as a horror film takes the conventions of the genre and turns them inside out, while still remaining true to the practices of building tension, piercing the mind of the unstable central character, and making her fragile yet imaginative psyche as much of a character as the timid woman whose mind can't quite keep it locked up.
In the finest work of her career, Natalie Portman plays Nina, a dancer in the New York City whose all-consuming search for the flawless performance is surpassed only by her overbearing mother's (Barbara Hershey) desire to see all of her dreams realized through her daughter's life. I've always been fascinated by the world of ballet and dance, not so much to see the resulting performance but more to see the toe-crushing work that goes into each routine. Director Darren Aronofsky seems to have a similar curiosity about the grueling steps it takes to shape a ballet, which clearly goes far beyond simply knowing the choreography. Nina's career has a chance to soar when the company's artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel, who splits his time between being seducer and dictator) decides to put on a production of "Swan Lake" with an emphasis on the darker aspects of the ballet 's lead role of the White Swan/Black Swan.
Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking for Marina City. As part of the celebration, a 19-minute promo reel, This is Marina City, was digitized and presented. It's now online in two parts:
There's a name I want all of you to know. He's a supporting actor in the new Edward (Glory, The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, Defiance) Zwick dramedy Love and Other Drugs (adapted from the book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy), and his name is Josh Gad. Now, I don't know the man personally, never met him, interviewed him, etc.-- I'm sure he's a lovely man. I kinda recognized him from being in The Rocker, 21, and a recent episode of "Bored to Death," but that's it. In Love and Other Drugs he has one of the highest-profile roles of his career as Josh, the brother of Jake Gyllenhaal's pharmaceutical-rep character, Jamie. Here's why you should know him: because he nearly single-handedly destroys what is an otherwise really wonderful film about relationships in the face of medical adversity.
Over the years, filmmaker and director Tyler Perry has received the brunt of harsh criticism for both his television shows and films; however, none of his work has been critiqued and analyzed as intensely as his latest film, For Colored Girls.
For Colored Girls, Perry's big screen adaptation of author Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, has been the subject of intense discussion among the film and entertainment world. Numerous websites, including Shadow and Act, a blog dedicated to "cinema of the African Diaspora," have featured a number of entries about the film.
And what is perhaps most notable of all the scrutiny is that Oprah didn't promote the film on her show, especially since she is a close friend of Perry's.
I always feel compelled to mention at some point in my reviews of any Harry Potter film that my sole exposure to this material is the film franchise. I've had access to the books for years, but once I realized that most of the movies were going to be works of quality, I thought they should be able to stand on their own with no prior knowledge cluttering my brain and filling in gaps that the book would plug. If I got lost or confused, then the movies failed me on a cinematic level. So far, that hasn't happened to any real degree. And while I fully intend on reading the books after the second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hits theaters, the only way I'm prepping for wrapping up my years-long journey with Harry, Ron, and Hermione is by doing a marathon of all the films that came before leading up to seeing the final chapter.
The first part of Deathly Hallows is exquisite and exists on a plane that none of the other films have so far. And that plane is maturity and all the pain and responsibility that entails. Gone are the confines of Hogwarts, which I don't think is ever seen outside of flashbacks and visions. This is not a film about school children any longer. The reality for Harry Potter is that a legion of evildoers want to murder him, and these killers will accept any level of collateral damage to make that happen. An early scene in Deathly Hallows is exquisite shows shows Voldemort (the splendid Ralph Fiennes) prowling around a table of his minions, setting the stage for what is to come and the lengths that they must go to to get Harry. The scene reminded me of the one from The Untouchables, where Robert DeNiro's Al Capone walks around behind his lieutenants with violence in his eyes. The danger is exponentially more palpable in this Harry Potter story than in any of the others.
Jennifer Hudson's next project, Winnie, where she stars as Winnie Mandela, the wife of former South African leader Nelson Mandela, is finally complete. Winnie, scheduled for release in 2011, will instead focus more on the back story of her relationship with Mr. Mandela than on the negative publicity that surrounded her over the years. Check out the trailer here:
If ever there was a film pairing between director Tony Scott and actor Denzel Washington (the two have made five films together), you might think that the runaway-train thriller Unstoppable would be that movie. Scott is best known stylistically for a rapid-fire editing technique and basically never being able to keep his camera still. Even the films of his I like (Crimson Tide, True Romance, Man on Fire, Domino) seem like all kinds of overkill. Since Scott does mostly action films, his style doesn't always seem inappropriate, but Unstoppable is only about half an action film and even that half is confined to two, fast-moving trains on the same track going in the same direction. Here's the problem with Unstoppable: it tells us right off the bat that it's based on a true story, which I'll accept. I bet the true story is actually kind of interesting. What Scott has done is loaded this "true-life" plot with jet fuel and thrown a match on it, resulting in a film that feels fake when it wants so desperately to come across as authentic.
Four Lions follows the foibles of four would-be British jihadists in this new comedy by Chris Morris. It's the first release from Drafthouse Films, Austin's Alamo Drafthouse's new distribution arm. The film opens at Piper's Alley on Nov. 12, but Steve at the Movies is hosting a special free preview screening this Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 7pm. All you have to do to get on the list is send an email to email@example.com with the subject line "FOUR LIONS SCREENING," and include your name and whether you'll be bringing a guest in the body of the email. Steve will be overbooking the screening, so be sure to arrive early to ensure your seat!
When I was leaving the screening of Todd Phillips' (Road Trip; Old School; Starsky & Hutch; The Hangover) latest comedy opus Due Date, I heard a fellow audience member utter the immortal and highly quotable statement, "It had its moments." I concur...only I think that person's comment was meant as more of a ho-hum evaluation than if I had said it. Truth be told, Due Date has quite a collection of moments that are at times tasteless, hysterical, shocking and occasionally moving. And while the episodic nature of the film (whose screenplay is credited to Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel and Phillips) results in big laughs and even bigger groans at times, I'm not sure Due Date really holds together as a cohesive unit. What it reminds me of is the difference between a stand-up comic who tells joke after joke after joke versus one who tells very funny stories. This movie is like two guys roasting each other, as opposed to a Patton Oswalt or Louis C.K. doing what they do best on stage. One isn't necessarily funnier than the other, but at the end of the latter, you feel a little more satisfied as a human being.
After watching the third and final installment of the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's wildly popular Millennium trilogy (following The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire, which was just released on DVD this week), I realized that as three separate films viewed months apart, the story seems strangely and unnecessarily stretched out. Watched in a single day, one after the other, I think these three movies would feel like exactly what they are--a single, layered story that takes place in both the present and the past, in which the two time frames merge in a fairly unique and imaginative manner. Still, to get this trilogy in a single calendar year feels pretty special, especially when you consider the powerhouse performance we get from actress Noomi Rapace, who played the beyond-damage (but not beyond-rapair) Lisbeth Salander.
Despite what the somewhat sappy trailers for Clint Eastwood's latest directorial effort might lead you to believe, this is not a film about what happens after you die, nor is it about what you may or may not see when you die for a time and are brought back to life (in a non-zombie manner). In fact, Hereafter spends all of about 10 minutes dealing directly with these subjects at all, and that's a choice made by Eastwood and the great screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland, Frost/Nixon) that makes the film something very special indeed. Rather than deal with his subject as something precious and new-agey, Eastwood makes Hereafter a work about three very isolated people who are not only seeking answers but also looking for connection with others that understand their specific plight.
The more I think about it, the more I truly dislike RED (which we're cleverly told stand for "Retired Extremely Dangerous"; ooooooh). I actually got into arguments with people about this movie at Fantastic Fest, a festival that is populated largely by folks who admire creativity and edgy works by remarkable filmmakers, both established and brand spanking new. Those who claimed to like RED seemed to come at me with this: "For what it is, it's pretty good." Okay, that's true... if what the film is boils down to unoriginal action sequences, unfunny jokes, and a paint-by-numbers plot, then yes, for what it is (shit), RED is pretty good (shit). Of course it's fun to see Helen Mirren holding a gun, John Malkovich playing monkey-shit crazy, and a great series of extended cameos from the likes of Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss, and Brian Cox, but the film consistently fails to bring anything to life with these touches, and the resulting work is almost entirely devoid of sustained fun.
October is my favorite time of year. Not only is fall in full swing but every theater comes alive with bloody, disgusting horror films. Chicago's film houses are no exception. Facets has been screening some of the horror canon as a part of their Night School midnight series throughout October. If you've never attended a Night School screening definitely try and catch one this month. What makes the Night School screenings so unique is that it screens cult films, everything from horror, animation, to music docs, and follows them up with an in-depth look into the magic behind them. It's like taking a film class in three hours! This week's screening is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and is not to be missed. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was one of the films that started the "family dynamic" we often see in horror films today - the family that eats together, kills and maims together. There have been many sequels and even reboots of this franchise but none of them can even touch what director Tobe Hooper did in the original. He took people's fears and put them in broad daylight, armed with a chainsaw and a mask made out of human flesh. Leading the discussion on the film will be Dominick Mayer, who currently volunteers at Facets and studies cinema at DePaul University.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will be screening at the Facets Cinémathèque (1517 W. Fullerton Ave.) on Saturday, October 16 at midnight. Tickets are $5 for general admission or free if you are a Facets member. Advanced tickets can be purchased here.
This past weekend marked the first anniversary of the Chicago South Asian Film Festival. The brand new festival seeks to bring films from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka to the Midwest as well as featuring filmmakers of South Asian decent. Before this Chicago didn't have a film festival that represented only the South Asian community. Considering Illinois has one of the highest populations of South Asian families this festival seemed like a long time coming. The films offered spanned everything from shorts, features, and documentaries all with an Asian twist. We review the documentary Warrior Boyz and Sunday's closing film 7 Days In Slow Motion after the jump.
By the time you read this, the 46th Chicago International Film Festival will have just kicked off with the star-studded premiere of Stone, starring Edward Norton, who was scheduled to attend the Opening Night screening. My review of the film is below. I have to admit, I'm impressed more than I usually am with some of the offerings the festival has this year, including the Closing Night film, director John Madden's The Debt, starring Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington; the Festival Centerpiece, Danny (Slumdog Millionaire) Boyle's latest 127 Hours, starring James Franco, about a mountain climber who must cut his own arm off to escape certain death after having a boulder fall on the appendage; Darren Aronofsky's already-celebrated Black Swan; director Tony Goldwyn's well-constructed Conviction, starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell (expect my review next week); Doug Liman's Fair Game, starring Naomi Watts in the story of former CIA operative Valerie Plame; the creepy and exquisite South Korean film The Housemaid; and the lovely story of bored teens on a Friday night, The Myth of the American Sleepover.
The Scrappers premiere at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. Photograph by David Schalliol.
Following that success, the Gene Siskel Film Center invited Scrappersfor an upcoming theatrical run from October 8-14. Co-directors Brian Ashby, Ben Kolak and Courtney Prokopas will participate in a question and answer session following the October 8 and October 14 screenings, while Editor Aaron Wickenden and Composer Frank Rosaly will join the three during the former session.
GB's David Schalliol conducted an interview with the co-directors in advance of the theatrical screenings to get a better sense of their approach, process and what they learned from the film.
This past weekend marked the first anniversary of the Chicago South Asian Film Festival. The brand new festival seeks to bring films from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka to the Midwest as well as featuring filmmakers of South Asian decent. Before this Chicago didn't have a film festival that represented only the South Asian community. Considering Illinois has one of the highest populations of South Asian families this festival seemed like a long time coming. The films offered spanned everything from shorts, features, and documentaries all with an Asian twist. We review Friday's opening piece Do Paise Ki Dhoop Chaar Aane Ki Baarish and two Saturday films Raspberry Magic and Babies Made in India after the jump.
It sometimes feels like Chicago is becoming the new hub for the film festival. From small one room screenings to large, expansive festivals film covers every subject and is shown in every part of the city. The Chicago South Asian Film Festival starts this weekend and is the first time this festival, let alone the South Asian community, is being represented in the film community. Illinois has a large Indian and Pakistani population and a definite market for a festival representing South Asian culture. There are film festivals in New York and LA for the South Asian community, why not one for the Midwest?
Whereas films about drugs, violence, and sex may be common fodder in the US market these things are often taboo in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The Chicago South Asian Film Festival gives films and filmmakers from those countries the chance to exhibit their work without prejudice or social censorship. There are many exciting films being shown this weekend. We offer some suggestions of films to see this weekend.
I saw the Aaron Sorkin-written, David Fincher-directed The Social Network two days in a row, and I've held off writing about it because I wanted to get my thoughts exactly right. I'm not sure I did, but this is what I've got. With three months left in the year, The Social Network is the best film I've seen so far in 2010. Is that clear enough for you? If it's at all possible, don't go into The Social Network thinking you're going to discover "the truth" about the founding and possible idea stealing being Facebook, the online phenom that has introduced a slew of new lingo to the English language and has made it possible for every single friend I had in high school to find me within one month of me joining a couple years back. Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg.
As much as I'm not really eager to do so, I really feel like I need to view Oliver Stone's follow-up to his 1987 indictment of corporate mergers gone wrong and the buying and selling of lives as well as companies to really get a sense of everything that's going on in it. The film is actually about five or six different films all rolling into one intoxicating mess, and at least a couple of the stories are worth telling and watching. In light of the U.S. economy, the bank crisis, government bailouts, and the stock market tumbles of the last couple of year, my only question is, Why has it taken Stone so long to bring Gordon Gekko (still played by Michael Douglas, who won an Oscar for the part more than 20 years ago) out of mothballs.
Say what you want about Ben Affleck the actor. I'm sure I have said some not-so-nice things myself about the guy. I think he's a solid performer, and that his biggest crime is just picking cruddy movies a little too often. But I will punch a person in the face who even dares to suggest the man can't direct. And with his second film behind the camera, The Town, we have the added bonus of Affleck drawing a fully-realized, well-played character for himself to inhabit in front of the camera as well. Stepping up the scope and scale from his first film as director, Gone Baby Gone, he's also secured one of the best ensemble casts of any film this year, making The Town stand out as one of the single finest crime dramas of the year.
The Chicago United Film Festival is in full swing at the Music Box Theatre which features a variety of independent films in their line-up, including local films. Ballhawks and RiffRaff are two that hit close to home. Ballhawks is a familiar story to Chicago Cubs fans. For over a decade fans have flocked to Wrigley Field's bleacher section with hopes that the Cubs will capture the World Series. But there's a save few that go for more than that. This documentary follows those that track down batting practice and home run balls that land in their territory - a practice called ballhawking that continues on despite decades of disappointment and threats of field renovation. RiffRaff follows another sect of Chicago culture, albeit in a fictitious structure. Four people enlist as summer lifeguards at Chicago's North Avenue beach. By day they serve and protect the public of Cook county. By night they live with regrettable hook-ups and the wrath of scorned women. Director Justen Naughton took his own experiences as a summer lifeguard as well as others to create the story for RiffRaff so that all can know what it's like have the double existence of a lifeguard.
RiffRaff screens today, September 13 at 9:30 pm at the Music Box Theatre (3733 N Southport). Because of the the success of both films during the festival's run each will have an encore screening this week on Thursday, September 16 -- RiffRaff at 7 pm and Ballhawks at 9:30 pm. Our readers can win a pair of tickets to Ballhawks and RiffRaff's encore screenings. All you have to do is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the title of the film you'd prefer to see in the subject line. Two winners will be chosen at random, one for each film. Good luck! UPDATE: We've got our winners! Congratulations Mark and Lori!
Hello, everyone. Because two of the weekend's bigger releases — Resident Evil: Afterlife and The Virginity Hit — did not screen in time to be reviewed, this week's column is relatively dialed back. Still, if you'd like to read my Comic-Con interviews with the creative team behind Resident Evil, please feel free to hit Ain't It Cool News to see my chats with star Milla Jovovich, director Paul W.S. Anderson, and co-stars Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller.
I'm Still Here
People are asking all the wrong questions about this Joaquin Phoenix's video diary of this period of transition in his life. It doesn't matter if the film is all real or if it's an elaborate hoax. The only two things that matter are if the film is any good and if this is a human being worth following and documenting. These are the questions you ask of any documentary that profiles a human being — dead or alive. And I can say that without hesitation that the Casey Affleck-directed I'm Still Here is one of the worst films I've seen all year, and I say that being someone who went into the film really hoping to like it on same level, either as a piece of performance art or as a fascinating trajectory of a celebrity's life gone horribly wrong. At the very least, I thought this would be some sort of low-rent, Borat-style comedy. But what we're left with, instead, is an unfocused, rambling, embarrassing garbage heap of a film.
What could possibly convince a man to walk to the North Pole? Many men have traversed the Artic's cold weather and psychologically damaging environment for personal and scientific conquest. How many men can say that they're doing it for Mother Earth? In the mocumentary film Beyond the Pole director David L. Williams "follows" two men trying to reach the North Pole to highlight the effects of global warming. Normally this subject manner would be better suited for a serious drama, full of dangerous string parts and perilous situations. However the unique thing about Beyond the Pole is that it's anything but. Watch the trailer below and read more after the jump.
You're going to hear a lot of people (critics, in particular) agree that The American feels retro or has a certain European wire running through its core, and I can see that and maybe even agree with the latter assessment. But what the only 2010 offering from actor George Clooney (after three films out last year) really has is a level of sophistication and understated menace that sets it apart from perhaps every other film about a professional assassin ever made. With guidance from the great photographer/music video maker, Control director Anton Corbijn, The American takes us inside the mind of a man who can kill for a living and lets us examine not only what makes him good at his job, but also how those very elements are the ones eating away at his soul and slowly consuming any remaining thing about him that is good.
Performance artist and sculptor Matthew Barney has spent over eight years creating the elaborate world presented in his five-part film series Cremaster Cycle. Barney's experience in the art world gives each film in the series unique, sometimes startling imagery as vivid as his imagination. His films combine everything from Celtic mysticism (Cremaster 3), gender-bending cowboys (Cremaster 2), and a satyr at the bottom of the sea (Cremaster 4). There's only one catch - these films are not available on DVD, nor will they ever will be. People who are interested can either subject themselves to horrible bootleg copies or go to the Music Box Theatre September 3 through 9 to catch all five films on the theater's huge screen. The theater will also be showing Barney's new short film De Lama Lâmina. Though not a part of the narrative, De Lama Lâmina follows Barney, musician Arto Lindsay, and percussion group Cortejo Afro through their parade show for Carnaval de Salvador da Bahia in Brazil. You can watch the trailer for the Cremaster Cycle through their official website.
The Cremaster Cycle screens at the Music Box Theatre September 3 to 9. Tickets are $10 for one individual program and $24 for all five films. All screening times are available through the program's page. Each film is divided into three parts - parts 1 and 2, part 3, and parts 4 and 5 and De Lama Lâmina.
The Last Exorcism it as a story of a preacher who has gotten into the exorcism game to bilk the faithful out of their hard-earned cash. He has taken advantage of the uncertainty of the times and the stress that society is under, and has turned that into a business for his unique brand of knowledge and skills as an orator. There's a moment in the beginning of the film where the Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) tells the film crew following him that he can insert anything into a sermon, and his followers will eat it up. He proves his point by literally working in the recipe for banana bread into his fire-and-brimstone speech. He's also considered one of the South's greatest performers of exorcisms. But we soon realize that Marcus hasn't invited a camera crew to document want a fine preacher he is; he's brought them in so he can show them that he's a fraud. This is his version of confession, and his plan is to pick a letter at random from the hundreds he gets requesting his exorcism services and walking us through his tricks of the trade on what is meant to be his final performance as an extractor of Satan.
Do you know how awful the new Jason Bateman-Jennifer Aniston comedy is? It's so awful that even the official synopsis is a lie. Here's how it reads: "An unmarried 40-year-old woman turns to a turkey baster in order to become pregnant. Seven years later, she reunites with her best friend, who has been living with a secret: he replaced her preferred sperm sample with his own." And, no, the lie is not that Aniston is actually 41 (more like 41 and a half). The lie comes (pardon the pun) in the second sentence. Bateman's character Wally is not "living with a secret" because he was so drunk when the titular switch was made that he didn't remember doing it until a combination of meeting Kassie's (Aniston) son and his co-worker (Jeff Goldblum) reminding him of some drunken mumblings said the night of the seed swapping triggers the memory. Got it? Now, please stop the lies.
A lot has already been written about this film in the last month or so, so simply plowing through the plot and high volume of characters doesn't seem entirely necessary. So I'll keep that part of my review to a minimum. But to simply ghettoize Scott Pilgrim vs. The World as a pop-culture mishmash aimed at teens and twentysomethings is to be both narrow-minded and ignorant. I'm not saying you have to love or even like the movie, but to simply dismiss this ambitious, hormonally explosive and joyous work is asinine.
In many ways, director and co-adapter (with Michael Bacall, based on Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic series) Edgar Wright has wisely rethought the way films based on comic books or graphic novels should be visualized. Wright has always favored the occasional fast-paced editing style in his previous features Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but with Scott Pilgrim, he dismisses the idea that you need long takes and subtle editing to tell a story or get into the head of a character. Instead he interweaves quick cuts, fantastic videogame-like graphics and music, and a host of great young actors to tell this story of young Scott (Michael Cera), who is torn between his band that is on the verge of breaking big, and the great love of his life, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In many ways, the story of the band (called Sex Bob-omb) is as important as Scott's "battles" with Ramona's seven evil exes.
The Music Box Theatre is teaming up with the Film Noir Foundation to bring Chicago the second annual Noir City festival. Noir City promotes and praises the great films that make up the genre film noir with ten films over a week's time. Many of these films are not available on DVD, making this your only chance to see these films in their true 35mm form. Each day of the fest has a specific theme from the femme fatale to the films of Robert Siodmak.
Noir City runs from August 13-19 at the Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport). Single screening tickets are $10 and double feature tickets are $12 and are available the day of the screening. If you want to see all ten films, you can purchase an All Noir film pass in advance for $40 or at the door for $50. Full line-up of the films is after the jump.
Pitchfork is streaming the documentary You Weren't There: A History of Chicago Punk, 1977-1984 (2007) on Pitchfork TV for one week only. Watching a whole film on the internet isn't the best way to watch something but Pitchfork has broken down the documentary in segments so if you can't really take it, you can watch what you want when you want. You Weren't There profiles Chicago's underground punk scene, showing footage of bands like Naked Raygun, Subverts, and the Effiges in their heyday. If you like what you see, you can also purchase the film through Regressive Films's website.
Watch You Weren't Therehere before it leaves the internet.
Hey, everyone. Before we dive into this week's releases I wanted to tell you about something so stupendous, so magnificent, happening in Chicagoland in a couple weeks, that any true movie lover...hell, any true Chicagoan...would be a fool to miss. And to top it all off, the event in question is free.
On Friday, August 13, the good folks of the Alamo Drafthouse's 2010 Rolling Roadshow (co-sponsored by Levi's brand) have organized a screening of the classic John Landis-directed The Blues Brothers to take place in the only place it truly could--just outside the walls of the Old Joliet Prison--from where "Joliet" Jake Blues (John Belushi) is released at the beginning of the film. The address is 1125 Collins Street, Joliet, IL. Make it your mission from God to make it to this once-in-a-lifetime event. Start time appears to be 8pm. Don't be late. And did I mention, the screening is free? Well, it is.
In a society where heart disease, obesity, and diabetes are in the news and health journals every day, has anyone stopped to think about why this is a continuing problem in the U.S.? Many documentarians have and films like Food Inc. have spread a doom and gloom attitude about today's food industry. Fresh is a film that brings a little sunshine to the growing food movement. Director Sofia Joanes explores the rebel industry of pesticide and hormone free farms that seek to create a food product that is good for us, the environment, and the plants and animals that provide it.
Fresh screens at the Gene Siskel Film Center July 30 through August 5. After the July 31 screening, Evanston/Skokie organization the Talking Farm will direct a Q&A about how they try to create sustainable urban agriculture through education and great food. Tickets are $10 general admission, $7 for regular students, $4 for SAIC students, and $5 Film Center members. Tickets can be purchased through the Film Center's box office or their website. Check out the trailer for Fresh below. Feel good about our food society again!
Daniel Pritzker, a professional musician and one of the country's richest men, has directed a truly unique film that demonstrates once again that the Pritzkers are excellent at using their fortune to advance art and culture.
Louis stars Jackie Earle Haley, Shanti Lowry and Anthony Coleman in a silent film set in 1907 New Orleans. Here's the synopsis from the film's website:
Shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond as a modern re-imagining of early silent film, LOUIS is an homage to Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin, beautiful women and the birth of American music. The grand Storyville bordellos, alleys and cemeteries of 1907 New Orleans provide a backdrop of lust, blood and magic for 6-year-old Louis (Coleman) as he navigates the colorful intricacies of life in the city. Young Louis's dreams of playing the trumpet are interrupted by a chance meeting with a beautiful and vulnerable girl named Grace (Lowry) and her baby, Jasmine. Haley, in a performance reminiscent of the great comic stars of the silent screen, plays the evil Judge Perry who is determined not to let Jasmine's true heritage derail his candidacy for governor.
Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in the 1925 silent film The Freshman.
At the six corners of Irving, Milwaukee, and Cicero, a couple doors north of a store that has the words "Thom McCann" embedded in gold script in the entryway, and across from what used to be a restaurant called Mr. Steer, is the Portage Theater. Built in 1920, and refurbished in recent years (it was used as a location for the 2008 film Public Enemies), it has been home to the Silent Film Society of Chicago's annual Silent Summer Film Festival for a number of years.
The West End Jazz Band made an appearance Friday night to mark the opening of this year's festival, warming up the audience as advertisements for area merchants, most of whom I'd never heard of before, were projected onto the screen: Tunar Design Group; Safety Signs & Lighting; and one that said, simply "Advertise On This Screen, $25".
Organist Dennis Scott, dressed in a tuxedo, introduced the film lineup to the audience: a 1919 short starring Harold Lloyd and Bibi Daniels entitled Bumping into Broadway; and the main event -- the 1925 film The Freshman.
Hey everyone. This is a light week for film releases anyway, but with my travel schedule what it is this week (I'm in San Diego covering Comic-Con), I'm afraid I've missed the week's biggest opening, Salt, starring Angelina Jolie. Because of this trip, I'm missing a couple of next week's films as well. Sorry, no Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore review. We should be mostly back on track the following week.
One other thing going on for the next week beginning today (Friday), the Gene Siskel Film Center is bringing back one of my (and Roger Ebert's) favorite documentaries of the year, director Jennifer Burns' Vincent: A Life in Color. You can read my original review here. But I wanted to let you know that Burns and star Vincent P. Falk will be present for audience discussion at all Friday-Saturday-Sunday screenings and at all 8pm screenings on Monday through Thursday.
When I ran an Ain't It Cool contest for tickets to the Chicago Inception screening last week, I asked those who entered to tell me what they thought the film was about when they saw the first trailer. Now having seen it twice, I can say with complete confidence that nobody, including me, came even close to capturing just what this miraculous effort accomplishes. The first thing you have to realize is that Inception isn't simply a movie; it's a symphony of images, ideas, performances and, yes, music that is meant to continue on living and breathing in your head long, long after you've taken it all in. And it is absolutely crucial that you see Inception twice before you really form your opinion about it. The work is not confusing, but it is dense and layered and complicated and is a powerful exercise in using your brain. Don't let any of that scare you. Seeing it the second time wasn't as much about clearing things up as it was making a select few fuzzy moments become crystal clear and tightly focused in my mind.
Another thing you must realize about Inception (and this may be something you've figured out long ago) is that writer-director Christopher Nolan's brain works differently than the rest of us humans. His eyes see the world as something that needs deconstructing and rearranging. This is evident going all the way back to his first feature, Following, but it really became clear with 2000's Memento, a mystery that was only a mystery because the story was told in reverse through the eyes of a man with no short-term memory. Perhaps the only truly disappointing thing about Nolan's work on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight is that he doesn't quite have the free to tinker with reality. But that doesn't mean he isn't playing up the psychological elements of the plot. Sure, The Joker is the villain, but he's a villain in whom we see fractured pieces of ourselves. He's the sum total of a broken society and the ugliest parts of human behavior.
Due to a slightly overwhelming travel schedule and work load this week, I've had next to no time to devote to keeping you informed about what films are worth checking out and which aren't. And so I'm going to resort to something I haven't done in well over a year, possibly closer to two: the movie round-up. One or two paragraphs per review, regardless of whether they cost $200 million or $200,000 to make. I'm not a fan of these, but I don't really have a choice. A lot opens this weekend, so let's get to it...
I remember about two years ago almost to the day standing in line for about two hours at the San Diego Comic-Con waiting to get into the panel that would include the world's first look at footage from Twilight. I had to be there to cover the event, but nearly everyone else in line wanted to be there. So I took advantage of the situation to chat with a woman about my age and her 14-year-old niece, both of whom were rabid fans of the then-three Stephenie Meyer books and were eagerly awaiting a chance to gaze upon the actors who had been chosen to embody their beloved characters. I was completely uneducated about the Twilight world when I got in line, but thanks to these two lovely ladies, I got schooled pretty fast. Although their quick synopsis of the first book wasn't winning me over, their unbridled enthusiasm was infectious, and it gave me the energy I needed to survive the screaming mayhem of the panel and the one-on-one interviews I got with the clearly shell-shocked star Kristen Stewart and director Catherine Hardwicke.
I remember while waiting to chat with Stewart, I looked to my right, and saw Robert Pattinson standing almost at my shoulder, unattended as he awaited his next interview. I said hello, told him I liked his work as Cedric in the Harry Potter movies, and for a brief moment, he seemed really happy not to be talking about vampires or how hot he was or what kind of underwear he wore. And if it were possible, he looked even more shaken up than Stewart, like a cannon had been fired while he was in a deep sleep. But again, my mind kept returning to those two ladies in line who made me understand a bit of why they loved the Twilight material. I was envious of their passion and I remembered a time in my younger days when it didn't take much to get me that revved up about a film. So imagine my surprise when I finally saw Twilight months later and felt like I'd just witnessed the birth on one of Satan's largest, most evil toilet babies.
On July 23, Chicago Filmmakers will host a screening of James Herbert's early experimental work. Who is James Herbert? Herbert is most famous for the music videos he made for R.E.M in their early days, including the dizzying "It's The End of The World As We Know It." Although that's great, the real earthquake is bound to be his early work, made during the years he collaborated with the band, but far more intimate.
The series of four shorts ("Cantico," "Frontier," "Piano," and "Soundings") are described as scenes of "beautiful young couples naked, sunlit, and embracing in sumptuous environments." Sounds to me like the perfect viewing for a summer evening!
The screening will be at Chicago Filmmakers' headquarters at 5243 N. Clark St. Tickets are $8 for general admission, $7 for students with IDs, and $4 for Chicago Filmmakers members. The show begins at 8pm.
Go for the love of R.E.M, stay for the tempered confusion of young love, and watch Herbert's video for R.E.M's "Driver 8" below.
Found Footage Festival was started in 2004 by Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, who in 1991 stumbled upon a McDonald's training video entitled Inside and Outside Custodial Duties at a McDonald's in their home state of Wisconsin, and never stopped collecting. Since that fateful day, they have compiled an impressive collection of absurd footage, which is uploaded onto their website. With a background in comedy (their resumes include stints at The Late Show with David Letterman, The Onion, and Entertainment Weekly), they've taken their show on the road numerous times over the past six years, and are currently on tour screening the 1985 film Computer Beach Party, described in their press release as "one of the most wonderfully awful movies ever found on VHS". FFF comes to The Empty Bottle on Sunday, July 18 with their hidden gem of a film.
In addition to FFF, it must be pointed out that Pickett and Prueher also directed the feature-length documentary Dirty Country, which centers on the life of Larry Pierce, a factory worker and family man from Indiana who happens to write the raunchiest country songs you've ever heard. Based on the trailer alone, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that this may well be the best documentary ever made, and I can't believe I didn't know about it sooner. (Warning, this clip is NSFW.)
I had the opportunity to speak with Prueher by phone, and asked him all the burning questions that were running through my mind.
A couple years back I was at a horror convention in town and I purchased a DVD of a film I'd been reading about for some months and was desperate to see. The film was called [REC] -- as in Record -- and it's the horrifying tale of a group of residents in an apartment complex trapped inside with a seemingly viral force that turns its victims into raging, zombie-like killers. It borrows a bit from zombie films and 28 Days Later, but the Spanish-language [REC] also has some truly original elements, including its first-person narrative told from the point of view of a news crew inside the building, documenting the horror. [REC] is also fairly gory and will absolutely scare you, no debate. And if you saw its practically shot-for-shot American remake Quarantine, you haven't seen anything.
At last year's Fantastic Fest, I was lucky enough to see [REC] 2, the equally impressive sequel that picks things up right where the first film leaves off, but also (if memory serves) offers alternate views of scenes in the original, which results in us getting another look at characters killed in the first film.
When Magnolia first approached me about organizing a screening of [REC] 2, I agreed, but I thought that the best way to show this film would be to play it back to back with the first movie. Thankfully, they thought that sounded like a great idea.
The double-feature screening of [REC] and [REC] 2 will take place on Wednesday, July 7 at 7:30 and 9pm, respectively, at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. -- and you're invited. Email me at email@example.com with your full name and the number of guests you would like to bring. I've got the whole theater to fill, so as long as they are confirmed guests -- I don't want any empty seats. The deadline is this Friday at 5pm. Hope to see you there; bring the whole family.
Oh, and please don't be scared by the subtitles; there will be plenty of other things to be terrified of in the course of these movies.
Local nonprofit Split Pillow brings documentary filmmaking to local schools, museums, libraries and community centers through its MediaStart! program, where kids learn how to make a short film and then screen it for peers and family. Split Pillow helps kids plunge into their projects by teaching them to brainstorm, write, direct, perform and edit the whole film on a tight three or four-day schedule. The teaching artists who head the project do a final edit on the film, and then it's time to bust out the popcorn.
Most recently the program taught kids at Beidler Elementary and Kellogg Elementary (cute photo alert).
The Chicago film Left Field is finally out on DVD! Left Field follows a kickball team the Fighting Cocks in Humboldt Park captures victory, comradery, and even death throughout the team's season. The Reader did a fantastic feature on the film in February 2009 which interviewed Ben Steger and Chris Batte, who filmed Left Field. After screening in several theaters across the country, the film is finally available for purchase through the film's official website. If you haven't seen the film, check out the trailer below:
This will not be a long review; there's really no reason. There's no deep, existentialist examination of the human condition going on with Tom Cruise's action-comedy Knight and Day, and that's okay. I actually get a great deal of joy watching Cruise play fast and loose on screen; when he wants to be, he can be a great comic actor. The reason I never took to the Mission: Impossible films like I wanted to (except maybe the third one) is that they took themselves so damn seriously, and they really didn't need to. Knight and Day almost floats off the screen with cottonball weightlessness, but Cruise and his sly grin--and the attitude that fuels that grin--make this film a harmless couple hours spent watching attractive people pretend to get placed in the midst of some dangerous situations and come out the other side smiling and a little bit in love. I probably should have said "Spoiler Alert" right there, because there's no way you could have guessed any of that. Sorry. But please, even when Cruise is shot in this film, it's treated with the urgency of a kid in a Band-Aid commercial. Oopsie!
If there's an actual plot to Knight and Day, I totally missed it. Cruise is being chased down by assassins being led by Peter Sarsgaard because...no, see I knew this, and now I've lost it. I'm not quite sure why they're chasing him. I think there's a battery involved. No, seriously. Cruise meets June Havens (Cameron Diaz) on a plane going from Wichita to Boston, even though she's not supposed to be on the plane. He lovingly hijacks her person in an effort to protect her from the government baddies who clearly won't believe her when she tells them she doesn't know who Cruise's Roy Miller actually is. As much as Cruise's cavalier attitude toward even the most dangerous circumstances is enjoyable, it's also part of my problem with the film. We're never quite sure what we're supposed to be taking as a serious threat and what is a silly distraction.
Chicagoans love to gripe about road closures and congestion due to the common occurrence of movies being filmed on our beloved streets. But most of us also love spotting our favorite bar or a frequented bus stop on the big screen. This summer, our hoods have already become home to Ron Howard's new comedy, staring Vince Vaughn. Last Monday, a crowd gathered on Wabash to watch Vaughn chat on a cell phone outside of Central Camera for a scene. (I was personally scolded for trying to snap a blackberry pic so no photos, sorry.) Now it has been announced that Transformers 3 will be shot in Chicago as well -- from July 10 to August 19.
How is it possible that the folks at Pixar keep managing to surprise me? Did I expect to like Toy Story 3? Well, yeah. What about Pixar or this franchise would lead you to believe anything else? I might have been a little concerned that the original film's director (and the second film's co-director) John Lasseter is only listed as one of three "story" men (the other two being Andrew Stanton and Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich); Michael Arndt, who won the screenwriting Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine, is credited with the screenplay.
But after about 10 minutes, I realized that this third installment in the adventures of Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, Hamm, Rex and those weird little green rubber alien dudes was going to be the best one yet. Let's get the hyperbole out of the way right now. This is the best Toy Story movie, period. This is the best 3D experience I've ever had, period. And this is the best film of 2010 so far, arguably. And I pity those of you that don't have the ability to see this in IMAX, because the opening action sequence alone — which appears to take place in a Grand Canyon-like location — is worth the IMAX and 3D upcharges. And wait until you see the landfill dump section of the film. On the IMAX screen, you can almost smell it.
The One Nation, One Chicago film contest is gearing up to announce its winners tomorrow at the Street 2010: Urban International Festival at Millennium Park. Since launching at the beginning of 2010, One Nation, One Chicago strives to represent the 400,000+ population of Muslims in Chicago and bring their culture to a diverse platform. The organization held a film contest earlier this year for "stories bridging the faith and cultural gap" and have narrowed down their submissions to several finalists. One winner will be chosen for each category (comedy, drama, under 60 seconds, documentary, mobile digital media, and music video/spoken word/animation), and one grand prize winner will take home $20,000 -- a very nice sum of money for a young and talented filmmaker.
The pre-awards ceremony begins at 5pm tomorrow, June 17, at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph. Awards will be presented at 6:30. You can view the finalist before the ceremony at the LinkTV page for OneChicago, which also includes profiles on all of the contest's judges.
Hey, everyone. Before we dive into this week's reviews, I wanted to alert you to a special event happening next week. As part of the Just for Laughs festival invading Chicago in the coming week, the Gene Siskel Film Center is screening two excellent works, including a preview of a superb documentary opening later in the summer across the nation.
At the SXSW Film Festival of 2009, I saw Winnebago Man, one of the best documentaries I saw that year (it made my 15 Best Docs list, coming in at #8). I felt for certain that this profile of one of the internet's first YouTube heroes, Jack Rebney ("the angriest man in the world"), would be released without hesitation. I guess with docs, it's a bit tougher to predict what will get released or catch on, but I can't imagine a single soul watching this movie and not finding some aspect utterly fascinating. Rebney's profanity laden outtakes from what appears to be an in-house selling tool for the Winnebago sales staff made the VHS rounds before they were put on YouTube, where millions of people giggled with delight at Rebney's seemingly insane rants. Part of the film is a thoughtful examination of what makes some internet clips a phenomenon and others seem forced and not as interesting. The rest of Winnebago Man is the search for the reclusive Rebney and attempts to get him to a found-footage film festival where he can meet his adoring fans. This part of the film is absolutely gripping and, in so many ways, heart wrenching.
Tonight at midnight, in advance of the release of OSS 117: Lost in Rio, the Music Box Theatre is offering a free screening of OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, the film that introduced moviegoers to French secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, aka OSS 117. De la Bath looks like James Bond but acts more like a combination of Maxwell Smart and Inspector Clouseau, bumbling his way through international intrigue in the streets and souqs of Cairo.
The screening is free, but you do need to RSVP online to reserve your seat. OSS 117: Lost in Rio opens Friday at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport Ave.
Easily the funniest film of the year so far, Get Him to the Greek also manages to capture elements of the present-day music industry by dropping its hero, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand, reprising his Forgetting Sarah Marshall character persona), directly into the epicenter of the music scene. And it's this level of authenticity that results in many of the laughs before a single joke is told. Wisely enough, writer-director Nicholas Stoller and producer Judd Apatow take their approach with Knocked Up (remember, Katherine Heigl worked for E!, putting her in close proximity to a parade of famous faces). Aldous is on every TV show from MTV to the "Today Show" and is seen in the company of singers from Pink to Christina Aguilera (and that's just in the first five minutes of the movie). The filmmakers establish early that anything is possible and anyone might show up.
Now normally I'm not a fan of a string of cameos passing for comedy, but anyone who dares step in front of these cameras does not come out unscathed on the other side. Right off the bat, I have to give credit to three people with brief appearances in Get Him to the Greek: "Showbiz Tonight's" Brooke Anderson, "Today's" Meredith Vieira, and Metallica's Lars Ulrich. The two chat show anchors pull off incredibly tough scenes, one opposite Aldous and his lady love and superstar singer Jackie Q (Rose Byrne, brilliantly channeling a mash-up of Fergie and Lily Allen), and the other Aldous and record company peon Aaron Green (Jonah Hill, not playing his Sarah Marshall character). As for Ulrich, the things that Aldous says to him are too dead on and rude to ruin here.
Going from a career in engineering to an acting career may seem extreme to some; however, for Chicago-born actress and producer Mekita Faiye, this bold move was a seamless transition that proved that your dreams really can come true. Here, the South Side native talks about trading in math and science equations for the bright lights of Hollywood, and also her new movie Speed-Dating, which hits theatres this week.
How did you get started in acting and producing?
It's interesting because I've been onstage since I was little--acting, singing, dancing and things like that. I was also good in math and science, and when you're good at that, you're pushed in that direction. I later decided pursue engineering, which I still love to this day; however, it was so challenging, that once I got my Bachelor's degree in engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), I really didn't have time to do things that I loved and had done all my life.
Chicago is home to a rich and diverse entertainment culture, and Carl West, owner of Truth Media/MidWest Gap and creator of "The Truth Awards," knows this all to well.
The Truth Awards, originally established to honor Chicago's hip-hop community, was recently expanded to pay tribute to members of the city's television and film industry and to recognize them for their contributions to both the big and small screens.
Held recently at Red Kiva, "The Truth Awards: Honoring Legends and Pioneers in Television and Movies/Films," was a Chicago's "who's who" in entertainment.
"I wanted to pay honor to some hidden treasures in this city," said West. "It's time to give recognition to individuals who work hard to produce quality work."
Local documentary studio Kartemquin Films has finally released their 2009 documentary Typeface onto DVD. For those who weren't able to catch the film while it was in Chicago, Typeface concentrates on the old school and new school division in graphic design. The Hamilton Wood Type Museum gathers international designers and retired craftsmen that are trying to preserve the art of letterpress and wood type. This physical form of lettering and design has been on the out since the advent of computer-based design programs but the artists at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum keep the art fresh and alive. The film won best documentary at the 2009 Flyway Film Festival and was an official selection at Illinois's Lake County Film Festival and Geneva Film Festival. Typeface is out now and available for purchase through the film's website. The first thousand copies of the DVD will include a limited edition letterpressed woodtype poster by Hamilton Wood Type Museum Artistic Director Bill Moran.
I know I jokingly say sometimes about films I don't like some variation on the idea that I don't where to start picking it apart. But with the horrifically shallow Sex and the City 2, truer sentiments have never been spoken. This movie is literally about nothing. I don't mean it's not about anything important or significant or noble; I don't need that in my escapist entertainment. No, this film is has no heart, no brain, and an empty soul. And let me throw one more thought your way; this might be one of the most racist, anti-Arab films you will ever have the displeasure of sitting through. Maybe that's a good place to start...
It's kind of staggering to me how many people have written off MacGruber without having seen it, and yet everyone I know who saw it at the SXSW Film Festival or at one of the many college screenings that have occurred more recently are kinda loving the thing. Let me give you a hint: if you ever typed a line about this film that involved the historic failures of "Saturday Night Live" turning 90-second sketches into feature-length films, you and your statement are officially cliches. The thing that separates MacGruber from the SNL-based films before it that the central characters never had the benefit of fully realized sketches in which any amount of backstory could be attached. So the writing team of star Will Forte, John Solomon, and director (and Lonely Island member) Jorma Taccone had the freedom to essentially start from scratch.
MacGruber is the first film since Hot Fuzz that really captures in parody form what was so great about '80s action movies and what made them essential viewing when I was growing up. And while Hot Fuzz focused more on adrenaline-fueled cop movies, MacGruber is more about explosions, secret government agencies, maniacal villains, high-tech weaponry, and more explosions. And did I mention that it carries with it a fairly hard-R rating? There's violence, more than enough man ass for one lifetime, and so much crude and disgusting language that I was forced to see the film a second time because I missed so much dialog from laughing the first time I saw it. As you can probably deduce, above all other things, MacGruber is downright hilarious in its juvenile antics and obsession with fireballs.
With regard to actress Jennifer Hudson's role in the upcoming film Winnie, that is the question some just might be asking.
Earlier this year, Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, expressed her displeasure with the casting of Hudson to portray her in the film; now, Mandela has taken her displeasure to the next level.
The Movieside Film Festival is bringing the dead back back to life with their new installment of Terror in the Aisles. This year's theme is Undead By Dawn, and as the name suggests, all of the selections are zombie-related. There will be three great zombie films from three different periods of zombie cinema. Starting at 8pm they have the original Night of the Living Dead. If you haven't seen this film on a big screen this is a perfect opportunity to make that happen because the "Cemetery Zombie" Bill Hinzman will be introducing the film before it screens. This film marks one of the first true zombie films ever created giving director George Romero the nickname "grandfather of zombie film."
At 10pm is [REC] 2. [REC] was quite possibly the scariest film I've ever seen, and this marks the first Midwest screening of the sequel [REC] 2. [REC] and [REC] 2 represent the new modern zombie -- fast, lethal, and scary as hell.
At midnight the fest closes with Zombie, aka Zombi 2, the Italian zombie film known for its zombie versus shark scene. It's '70s zombie at its best and cheesiest. You can see trailers for all three films on Movieside's MySpace page.
Terror in the Aisles is taking place at the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave. Doors open at 7pm and there will be a pre-show with vintage horror trailers starting at 7:30pm. Admission is $10 if you purchase in advance, $12 at the door, or $8 if you come in zombie costume.
I'm kind of over people (critics and others) who see the film world in black and white terms (unless, you know, they're talking about a B&W movie). There are so few films that come out in a given year that are so without merit that they warrant the label "suck." All of the digital ink that has been wasted on people trying to explain how terrible Iron Man 2 is or Top 5-10 lists of how it could have been better--give me a fucking break. I'm not saying it's a classic effort, but is it really so terrible that it deserves this much attention? Of course not. But here's the big secret: negativity in the extreme translates into readership.
In many ways, director Jon Favreau has done something rather remarkable--he's made a film about a man who has decided rather impetuously to take on the problems of the entire world and make them his own. And then we get the distinct pleasure of watching that man crack and crumble under the weight of that responsibility. Tony Stark has learned that with great power comes a psychological meltdown that he may not recover from, as only Robert Downey Jr. can personify. As much as we like to think that Christopher Nolan's dark, brooding and largely perfect Batman films have cornered the market on tapping into the psyche of a man who has elected to become a protector of humans, allow me to submit Favreau's Iron Man 2 as a film that challenges nearly every level of hero building and turns it into a profile of a man whose ego is simply not enough to handle the task at hand.
Hey everyone. Somehow, mostly through no fault of my own other than a continuingly excessive travel schedule, I have managed to miss a great deal of the smaller films opening this weekend, including a couple I'm hearing are quite good, including the Chess Records biopic Who Do You Love (opening at the Landmark Century Center Cinema) and the intense Australian film-noirish work The Square (which opens at the Music Box). I was also excited to see at Facets Cinemateque the new surreal sci-fi work The Scientist, which I've heard is quite cool. And let's not forget, also opening the Landmark, is the latest work from Michael Caine, Harry Brown, and The Cartel, a doc about school teachers struggling to find alternative methods to make sure kids learn, even if those ways directly contradict the way the school boards insist that they teach.
The one thing I did manage to get to that opens this week is this little gem. Hopefully I'll improve my track record and get to a few more screenings. In the meantime, enjoy...
Last week I was lucky enough to catch a preview of the new "street art disaster" documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, which opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema.
Most of the people I've talked to who have heard something about this film think it's a film about Bansky, and it's not. It's really about the progression of street art as a whole, and how money ruins everything.
In the first of what promises to be a summer loaded to the gills with testosterone-infused films about groups of gun-toting, muscular men on a mission (The A-Team, The Expendables), this week's release The Losers, based on the DC/Vertigo comic book series, has the distinction of being, well, first. While there isn't a particularly original story at play here, and the visual style includes such tried-and-true favorites as a Right Stuff-style slo-mo walking toward the camera, The Losers' scores many points based on the strength of its enjoyable characters...some of them anyway.
Kick, a short film by Chicago-based experimental filmmaker Clara Alcott, premieres on Tuesday, May 11, at the Chopin Theatre. A science fiction melodrama with a feminine kick, the film deals with two women who, despite being strangers, have the same therapist, a mutual anxiety about technology, and a psychic connection. Kick is inspired by the Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk and features a vibrant color palette in the style of 1950s technicolor films. Marc Riordan composed the contemporary electronic score and Todd Carter (of the laptop group TV Pow!) provided the experimental sound design. The film stars Sarah Weis, Jeff Norman, and Clara Alcott.
The screening of Kick will be preceded by a series of short works reflecting the film's themes. On the program are works by Sarah Weis and Arturo Cubacub, Chris Hefner, Yony Leyser, Lilli Carre, Catie Olsen, Laura Klein, and The Pretty Things. The whole affair begins at 8pm and admission is $5. A reception follows the screening in the Chopin Lounge. Miss all this and you'll probably kick yourself.
I'm not even sure why I'm reviewing Kick-Ass. It's complete and utterly awesome, and in all likelihood, you're all going to see it, and most of you will have some degree of love for it. Kick-Ass isn't the first film about regular people with no super-human abilities throwing on costumes and attempting to be crime fighters. But it's the first one that's shot like a superhero movie. Let me clarify that; few superhero movies relish their violence and other twisted aspect quite as wholly as Kick-Ass. The film's main villain is a member of organized crime, and the movie takes on the appropriate tone, with a climax that seems ripped right out of Scarface, complete with a torrential rain of bullets and enough explosions to take down a five-story building. And then there is the blood. My god, is there blood. Blood and gore and severed body parts and burning flesh and more blood. When I wasn't laughing or cheering right along with Kick-Ass, I was smiling the smile of a person who has just seen the greatest movie he didn't even know he was waiting to see. With film's like Iron Man 2 less than a month away from opening, I'm sure Kick-Ass will be dethroned, but right now this is the best movie I've seen in the first three-and-a-half months of 2010.
The upcoming Chicago Latino Film Festival is going to be filled with great works from around the world, but one of the most anticipated Chicago debuts will be very local. Esaú Meléndez, a local filmmaker, is making waves with his documentary Immigrant Nation: A Battle for the Dream. He is excited to make the films local debut after recently winning the Cine Latino Award at the 2010 DC International Film Fest.
Still from Christian Date, Directed by Justin Brewer
The first annual South Loop Film Festival took place last night at the Showplace Icon Theater at Roosevelt Collection. The festival was a compilation of independent shorts (under ten minutes), all with connections to the Midwest. The exhibition was eclectic, ranging from documentaries to drama to animations and even a music video. All festival-goers took home goody bags from Whole Foods, the festival's main sponsor.
The audience-chosen winner was Chicken Cowboy, an animation reminiscent in its humor of "SpongeBob SquarePants" and remarkably impressive animation. Unfortunately, the director, Stephen Neary was not on hand for the question and answer period that followed the screening.
The most moving piece was Heartland Transport, directed by Cody Stokes. It documented a group of gay couples that chartered a bus from Missouri to Iowa after the Iowa courts upheld the ruling that no citizens could be denied a marriage license based on their sexual orientation. Stokes proved to be a truly talented storyteller in just 8 minutes.
The festival included two world premieres, eleven Chicago premieres and it was successful in its organization, curation and attendance. Here's hoping there is a Second Annual South Loop Film Festival.
If I really wanted to, I could write this review in one paragraph. In fact, with most comedies, a paragraph--or sometimes a sentence--is all you need. If you laughed more often than you didn't, a comedy is probably worth seeing. The story and the characters are important to a degree, but it's that laugh factor that matters most of all. And Date Night, with its many flaws and occasional dead spots, still had me laughing a whole lot, largely on the strength of the sweet married couple at the center, played by two Second City vets Steve Carell and Tina Fey.
Silent film isn't dead! I swear to you! There's still an excitement that silent films can bring to modern audiences and no one understands that more than the Musicbox Theatre. Starting off as one of the biggest film palaces in Chicago, the Musicbox has never forgotten their roots and has consistently offered Chicagoans a classic film experience. On April 11, the Musicbox is digging deep into the vaults and bringing the 1927 silent film Chicago to the silver screen. Chicago takes cold-hearted murder and makes it sexy, using the true story of Belva Gaertner and Beulah Sheriff Annan as the basis of the film. Most modern audiences will recognize the story of Chicago either from the reboot of the musical, which premiered on Broadway in 1975, or the Oscar-winning film from 2002. The 1927 version is just as over the top as the remakes, but with Cecil B. DeMille producing it how could it not? The West End Jazz Band will provide pre-show entertainment with big band music from the twenties and thirties, and organist Dennis Scott will accompany the film on the Musicbox organ. Doors open at 1 pm on April 11 and the screening starts at 2:15 pm. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the Musicbox box office or online at Brown Paper Tickets.
Hey, everyone. I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but it's probably worth repeating. I've been traveling like a fiend the last couple of weeks (including most of this week), and as a result, I've missed a couple of big press screenings, including most notably this week's Clash of the Titans. I also somehow managed to miss the screening of the long-awaited Miley Cyrus-Nicholas Sparks collaboration The Last Song (which opened Wednesday) and the Tyler Perry sequel Why Did I Get Married Too? (actually this didn't screen for critics, but I wish it had). I'm pretty sure things will return to normal beginning next week, when I should have reviews of Date Night, the latest Herzog film My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, and a few other choice nuggets.
Sometimes you admire a comedy because of its subtle wit and cleverness, because it keeps a sustained smile on your face that lasts the duration of the film. Other times, you fall head over heels for a comedy because it is balls-out the perfect combination of stupidity and intelligence, with a healthy serving of charm thrown in and a dash of the grotesque. Welcome to Hot Tub Time Machine, folks, a movie that almost dares you not to giggle your way into a frothy stupor. What put this film over the top for me was its complete and utter disregard not only for conventional logic and sensibility, but the film actually bothers to set up its own time-space continuum rules and then breaks them with a wanton disregard for the Butterfly Effect. On the plus side, Time Cop's essential rule about the same person from two different times occupying the same space is cited and dealt with quite effectively. But for God's sake, this isn't a movie about science; it's about partying '80s style, and who better to do that with than John Cusack?
The streets of Jersey City are littered with drugs, violence, and influences that could easily take a promising young man and swallow up his potential. That street ends at the steps of St. Anthony High School, where Bob Hurley has coached the Friars basketball team to 24 state titles in 35 years, and has sent all but two of the hundreds of players that cross his court on to college. The Street Stops Here, which held its Chicago premiere at the Chicago History Museum on March 24, is an uplifting documentary about a team that is fighting not only to win, but to succeed in the greater game of life. Lucky for them, they have a legendary coach who refuses to accept anything less.
Hey everyone. So, I've been in Austin, Texas, for the last week or so attending the SXSW Film Festival. I've done 17 interviews and seen somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 movies (when you read this I'll be at the tail end of the my time at the fest). As a result, I've missed a few screenings of things opening in Chicago this weekend, including Repo Men, The Bounty Hunter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Neil Young Trunk Show at the Music Box, which might hurt most of all. And I'm not done traveling. I've got a couple more short jaunts that will force me to miss films like How to Train Your Dragon and Clash of the Titans. And while I've seen many other films opening in the coming weeks in advance, this week in particular I've been pretty useless to you, with one notable exception. Read on, and I'll see you when I have my feet on the ground.
As much as I'd been led to believe that The Runaways was going to be a document of the short-lived, all-female rock band seen through the eyes of its most famous member, Joan Jett (played with convincing edge by Kristen Stewart), the film is, in fact, told from two perspectives--Jett's and that of underage singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning in a career-altering performance). My knowledge of The Runaways is limited at best. There were two of the band's songs featured in the film I recognized, including their biggest hit "Cherry Bomb." But I believe that a bio pic or documentary to any musical performer should not be a love letter to that person or group. The job of a film like The Runaways is to convince those ignorant of their music (like me) that these are people worth paying attention to, exploring, and maybe even collecting. And for the most part, first-time feature writer-director Floria Sigismondi (whose background is in music videos, although the film thankfully doesn't take on that rapid-fire editing approach) has succeeded in crafting a thoughtful examination of a band that needed to exist in the 1970s landscape.
I feel pretty confident in saying that there is no better director of realistic, complex action sequences working today than Paul Greenglass (United 93, Bloody Sunday, and the most recent two Bourne movies). He also has an uncanny ability of building unbearable levels of suspense and making sure an intelligent audience always knows exactly what is happening and what the specific geography of every sequence is. This may sound bizarre, but one of my biggest complaints about the current crap of action directors is that they simply toss the camera around, set off a shitload of explosions, and rattle off gunfire with very little care if the audience can keep track of where all of the players are and who they are attempting to capture or kill. But with Green Zone, Greengrass' dense and perfect military thriller set in the early weeks of the current war in Iraq, we are always perfectly clear who's after who and why. He almost makes it look easy.
John Hughes, director of Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), Home Alone (1990) and National Lampoon's Vacation (1982)- as well as a plethora of other films celebrating the beauty of youth and the humor and significance of teen angst- was honored tonight at the 82nd Academy Awards. Hughes, a Chicagoan since age 12, died of a heart attack in August of 2009. A graduate of Glenbrook North High School, many of his iconic movies are set in Chicago and capture scenes that Chicagoans call home. Who can forget Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister, being left in his family's North Shore home for a week of high jinks and booby traps in Home Alone? And of course, we've all imitated Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller on the top floor of The Sears Tower, leaning over the rail with forehead pressed to the glass.
The tribute this evening included many of the actors who Hughes worked with, including Molly Ringwald, Macaulay Culkin, Judd Nelson, and Anthony Michael Hall. His wife and children, clearly touched by the recognition, were thanked and applauded, and a brief montage allowed the audience to reminisce with his beloved body of work.
It's right and good that folks get excited each time director Tim Burton and his male muse Johnny Depp work together, but here's the worst kept secret about their creative partnering: the more special effects, make-up, and intentional wackiness they pile on to a particular film, the less successful it is as art. I don't think I'll get too much push-back on saying that Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands are their best (and earliest) collaborations. And since they made those two films, they've been trying to recapture some sort of elusive, creepy magic that usually results in something entertaining but not sustained greatness. I don't have an overwhelming need to revisit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the way I do their initial pairings (perhaps unfairly, I'm excluding Corpse Bride, which I love, from this discussion). Sweeney Todd is probably the closest they've come to brandishing the kind of goth greatness audiences are hoping for, but Alice in Wonderland (barely based on the Lewis Carroll books) is an entirely different creature altogether, one that I both appreciate and struggled with. I'll tell you right off the bat, I'm split about as close down the middle on this film as I possibly can be. If you want to hear why, keep reading.
There will always be a place in horror for the story of city folks wandering into a small town (often in the South) and getting themselves in a heap of trouble because they drive a nice car and don't wear coveralls. But The Crazies--a remake of George Romero's 1973 semi-classic that came in the period between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead (as did Martin)--the big city/big government/big military threat comes to a small town in Iowa (a relocation from a small town in Pennsylvania in the original). What's interesting and works extremely well in the new film is that there are no secrets and no great mystery to solve. We learn early on that something in the water is slowly turning the townsfolk into homicidal killers who don't just walk up and kill like brainless zombies; there's an amount of deviant plotting going on behind those crazy eyes and veiny skin. And the transformation is gradual, so unaffected people aren't always sure if those around them are just scared and paranoid or actually turning into something dangerous.
It's a familiar story: hardened cop gets too involved with the city life, has a breakdown, and is transferred to a quaint little town with a seedy underbelly. However in the Danish film Terribly Happy, this classic cop story takes a strange and twisted turn. Officer Robert Hanson leaves Copenhagen for a rural town in Denmark to take a recently vacated Marshall position and encounters some interesting characters right off the bat. There's the married femme fatale vying for Hanson attention, the town bully who beats his wife, the general odd behavior of the town people. And how could you forget the dozens of bodies that keep showing up dead in the mud? Hanson struggles to find a balancing point in his new position while trying to keep ties back in Copenhagen healthy. Think the wit of a Coen Brothers crime film with more violence and murder.
Terribly Happy opens at the Musicbox Theatre March 5th. Tickets are $9.25 and can be purchased at the box office.
I recently sat down with Joe Avella, Steve Delahoyde and Paul Thomas to discuss the state of the art of film-making in Chicago. All three are part of a small but hardworking group of filmmakers who call Chicago home. Though New York and particularly Los Angeles may hold the allure of glamor and money, these three find that they're able to do work that they're proud of right here in the second city.
Something that these three have in common is that they're all self-taught filmmakers. Each felt the need to learn the craft if they wanted to bring their film ideas to fruition. "It's a lot easier to do it yourself than I previously had thought," said Avella, who claimed he initially lacked the know how or confidence, but quickly taught himself the skills of film-making out of necessity. Paul Thomas added that one of the benefits of being self-taught was that, particularly with shooting comedy, he avoided some of the technical hang-ups that a film school grad might face. The others agreed that with their inclination toward shooting humorous work and not having a formal film background did not necessarily hinder them.
I made it super quick, as an entry to the iO Theater's Vidiocy competition. I wrote, shot, and edited it in a day and a half, for no money. It ended up winning the fest. It also got into the South by Southwest Film festival, which to this day tickles me greatly.
What do you think are the benefits or challenges to filming in Chicago?
In my experiences, people are usually pretty cool when you're shooting in a public place. I've never gotten harassed by police or surly locals...well, one time I was helping a friend shoot something in an alley by his apartment, and this dude called the cops on us. He told the police we were filming a porno. The cops showed up for 2 seconds and were like 'yeah, you're fine.' It was really weird, but the porno turned out great!
Whether you know it or not, filmmaker Al Jarnow probably taught you a lot about the world at a very young age. His short films for Sesame Street deconstructed the world for kids, coupling time-lapse, stop motion, and cel animation with simple objects found in every day life. Later he became a component of the New York avante-garde art-film movement alongside artists like Harry Smith and Stan Brakhage.
Tonight and tomorrow at 8pm the Gene Siskel film center is screening a collection of shorts of his, titled Celestial Navigations: Theatrical Screenings, compiled by Chicago record label, The Numero Group. Employing the archival skills honed during the excavation of over 40 full-length albums, Celestial Navigations marks The Numero Group's first foray into the world of cinema. The 45 films collected have been transferred and color corrected from the original 16mm prints, along with fully remastered sound.
The screenings will consist of 60 minutes of shorts from his independent work and films featured on public television, followed by a 30 minute documentary that deconstructs his creative process. Visit the Gene Siskel's website for details.
As he creeps toward 70 years old, Martin Scorsese still has a few tricks up his sleeve. There was never any doubt in my mind that the guy was still in one of the most creatively vital periods of his long career, but that didn't prepare me for what he gives us with Shutter Island, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone; Mystic River) and adapted by Laeta Kalogridies (Alexander). Borrowing a bit from some of the great mental hospital-set films of old, with a dash of Hitchcock mind games, Scorsese has given us a true mind fuck of a movie that I think needs to be seen at least twice to be fully appreciated.
Hey, everyone. Don't forget, tonight (Friday) is the night that The Room writer-director-producer-actor Tommy Wiseau comes to Chicago to lay down his particular brand of crazy on our unworthy brains. There are two showing of The Room tonight at the Music Box Theatre , the first is at 8pm and the second is at 11:30pm. I'll be handling the Q&A for the first show, which may actually take place before the movie, so be sure to get there early. As of this writing, I hear the early show is on the brink of a selling out, and the late show isn't far behind. Brace yourself! And now, onto this week's releases.
I've been tearing my hair out about this one for about two hours now trying to decide how I feel about this latest version of The Wolfman, and the fact that I'm still contemplating it and have so many feelings about it makes me think that I genuinely did enjoy the experience of watching this often-flawed exercise in bizarre horror, gothic weirdness, controlled hammy acting, and the evolution of werewolf transformation effects that takes the process to somewhere beyond awesome. Thank you, Rick Baker.
Oh, hi. There's already been plenty of talk on this site and others about a certain filmmaker's infamous film and that infamous film's screenings this Friday at the Music Box. There's been even more talk about how this will be Chicago's first chance to meet the film's winsome auteur.
This auteur, of course, is none other than Tommy Wiseau, who wrote, produced, directed and starred in the 2003 cult classic, The Room. Having been to three screenings myself, I can't emphasize the cacophonous insanity that ensues from the moment we catch our first glimpse of Wiseau's wild black mane. Rabid fans (some in costume) scream at the screen, chuck spoons and toss around the old pigskin with a frothy exuberance that's bound to infect old hands and Room virgins. Connoisseurs of the so-bad-it's-good sect have been looking for a new Rocky Horror for ages, and I think it's safe to say we've found it with this hilariously ghastly exploration of a man betrayed by those closest to him.
Anyways, what kind of fan would I be if I didn't give this Friday's two screenings my very own special plug? Below you'll find a truncated episode of B-Rated, a bad film review show produced by a friend and I to shed light upon the worst of the worst. Here is our episode on The Room. Warning: There be spoilers, but trust me, you're not going for the story.
Since all of Chicagoland is going to be snowed in in about three hours, why not dream of more exotic things by taking a trip to Cairo from your own computer? Anna Kipervaser is a Chicago filmmaker and producer in Cairo who is chronicling her five-week shoot for the documentary Voices and Faces of the Adhan: Cario for the production company On Look Films. At least once a week she's posted on her blog about her time spent in Cairo shooting this interesting film about the possible eradication of the adhan in Egyptian Islamic culture. The adhan is a call to prayer in Islamic religion and it has been recited in Cario by the muezzin. However a law is quickly approaching that may replace the muezzin with a pre-recorded voice to call Muslims to prayer. Not only does this replace a 1400 year old tradition but it also takes away jobs from the muezzin, who are typically blind, handicapped, elderly, or impoverished. It's an important documentary about a tradition that has little documentation, and an amazing opportunity for Kipervaser and her crew.
Though Kipervaser is making her way back to the states soon to start post-production on the project, her blog is a perfect cheap getaway to a world and culture most know nothing about. Check out her most recent blog postings, and read more about Voices and Faces of the Adhan on On Look Films' official website.
If you're presently in college, or have graduated within the last five years, there's a good chance that you've had a friend forward you one of the Derrick Comedy videos. These NYU grads were responsible for viral favorites such as Bro Rape and Blow-job Girl, and since graduating the members of the troupe have found success in film, television and literature.
The members of Derrick may each be busy with new endeavors, but they still are constant collaborators, and the latest product they have to show for their efforts is Mystery Team, the group's first feature film. The group produced the project themselves, and are now in the process of rolling it out in screenings across the country before releasing it on DVD. The film is showing this weekend at the Music Box and the members of Derrick will be on hand for a Q&A following the screening.
Tickets can be purchased online for the shows which are February 5th and 6th at midnight at the Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport)
The action genre should be kissing director Pierre Morel's feet for adding a little fire and insane fun back into its tired ass. Working for and under the production guidance of Luc Besson for several years (he's also set to direct the reboot of Dune), Morel directed two dynamite-in-your-pants fun movies, District B13 and last year's surprise hit Taken, with Liam Neeson. Both films seemed intent on making their action sequences feel as unrehearsed and unchoreographed as possible. The results are some of the most raw and shocking fight scenes I've seen in a long time. With his latest work (from a screenplay by Adi Hasak from a Luc Besson story), Morel takes his organic style adds a layer of crazy in the form of a bald John Travolta, playing the ugliest of ugly American operatives who enters the City of Lights and blows most of it up.
Jennifer Hudson's meteoric rise from Chicago's South side to Hollywood really is the stuff dreams are made of. From her days as a contestant on "American Idol" to her Academy Award-winning turn in 2006 in Dreamgirls, Hudson has continued on the road to a burgeoning career in movies.
But even rising starlets have to hit a bump in the road; for Hudson, the "bump" comes via Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of former South African president, Nelson Mandela.
Hey everyone. Before I dive into this week's column, I wanted to alert to the single greatest event in film history, and it's happening the Friday before Valentine's Day right here in Chicago.
A lot has been written (some of it by me) about both the film The Room and its creator Tommy Wiseau in both the mainstream and underground press. The speculation has run rampant about both the man and his notorious work. Last year at Comic-Con, I came this close to securing an interview with Wiseau, but we just couldn't make our schedules sync up. But I did talk to him on the phone for a bit, and was like I'd put my ear up to the mouth of God.
The screenings are at 8pm and 11:30pm, with Q&As following each screening. Steve will be leading the questions for the 8pm show; AV Club Chicago's Steve Heisler will oversee the late show. Advance tickets are $15, or $20 with a copy of The Room on DVD -- which is a deal over Amazon's $8.99. And the whole thing is a bargain for lovers of fine cinema.
Less than a month ago, I named the ensemble drama Crossing Over as the single worst movie I saw in 2009. The overwrought film that dealt with the many aspects of immigration literally buried itself with do-gooder intention, terrible writing, and largely phoned-in performances, including what I would consider the single laziest and least-inspired work I've ever seen from Harrison Ford. But Ford's latest work, Extraordinary Measures, might be just a tiny bit worse, but not because Ford isn't trying. If anything, he's trying waaaaay too hard, as is the movie-of-the-week screenplay that lays the groundwork for one of the most overly sentimental films I've seen outside the Lifetime network in a very long time.
Sometimes it's better to stay in and watch a movie. You can curl up with your blanket and stare at the screen for hours wearing whatever you want to. What could be better? If you find yourself this weekend in this lazy but intelligent mood hop on your computer and watch the short local film Marlin. Starting today and ending on Sunday, January 17, director, writer, and producer Matt Dworzanczyk has made his first production available for stream on the film's official website. You can watch the film as is or have the option to watch it with Dworzanczyk's commentary via links from the site. The Columbia College graduate took heavy inspiration from folk and fairy tales to create a twisted story about a kidnapper Marlin who steals war orphans in hopes of using them to regain his past childhood memories. As his attempts fail, Marlin puts his last hopes on a little girl named Fawn who believes him to be Santa Claus. So gather those blankets, fire up your computer, and watch Marlin in the comfort of your own home while it's still available.
I've poured over all of the possible synonyms for the first word that popped into my brain to describe the long-overdue new movie from The Hughes Brothers (From Hell, Dead Presidents, Menace II Society, American Pimp), but nothing quite does it justice. So I'll just say it: The Book of Eli is a cool movie. It's not a great movie; it's far from a masterpiece. But it is unabashedly cool, and I don't use that word often. But when you combine one of the coolest American actors of his generation and pit him against one of the coolest British actors ever and then throw in Tom Waits in a supporting part, well, that math lands you squarely at Cool.
On February 26 and 27, threewalls gallery will host Chasing Two Rabbits as part of a two week animation festival featuring animation programs curated by local and national artists. Chasing Two Rabbits is a special event curated by Sonia Yoon and Shannon Stratton that pairs animators with live performances by sound artists and musicians.
Inspired by the experimental films of Norman McLaren, who combined abstract imagery (including scratching and painting into the film stock in earlier work, as well as paper cut-outs and live action and dance) with imaginative music and sound, Chasing Two Rabbits acts to pair artists in both genres to produce a unique event with sound and vision illuminating each other.
Currently threewalls is looking for proposals from both animators and sound artists and/or musicians who would like their work to be matched up with each other's. Pairings will be chosen from submissions, with animations provided to musicians and sound artists to review and score for live performance in February.
Animators can submit pieces for sound, no longer than 10 minutes in length, on DVD. Sound artists can send audio files (mp3, aiff, wav) on CD to Chasing Two Rabbits, c/o threewalls, 119 N Peoria #2D, Chicago, IL, 60607 or can send files or links to Shannon and Sonia c/o firstname.lastname@example.org. Materials must be submitted by this Friday, January 15.
It's no secret that the world is being bombarded with vampire movies and TV shows. The best of the recent crop is Sweden's Let the Right One In; there's no debating that. It's a fact, so shut up. But I put to you that coming in at a close second is this week's Daybreakers, a science-fiction terror film with a deep subtext about exploiting natural resources and human greed. Rightfully and blessedly so, the film also features nasty monsters, gore galore (both thanks to WETA Workshop), and an exceptional cast of actors, led by Ethan Hawke as a blood researcher and reluctant vampire (he refuses to drink human blood) determined to find a blood substitute before the human blood supply runs out in a world dominated by vampires.
Call me crazy, but I actually waited until the year was over before I finalized my Best Of... list. I managed to squeeze in a few more movies in the last two weeks of the year that were serious contenders for at least one of my lists. And if you think that a list of the 30 finest pieces of cinema of 2009 in overindulgent or just plain unnecessary, please feel free to stop at Number 10.
As in most years, I simply couldn't help myself — plus there were way too many great movies this year to ignore, and I'm not a big fan of simply piling all of the almost-made-it movies into a list. I've got 30 features, 15 documentaries, and 20 of the worst pieces of dung I got to endure in the past 365 days. With the first 10 of my Top 30, I've included excerpts of my original reviews. I'm sure you'll all disagree with my choices, so allow me to throw raw meat to the lions and wave a red rag in front of a bull. Enjoy.
I was fortunate enough to catch a press screening of Guy Ritchie's richly triumphant, energetic, and fiercely intelligent Sherlock Holmes a couple weeks ago, and everyone I've told how good it is has reacted in a combination of surprise and relief (with a twinge of doubt that will be erased as soon as they see the movie themselves). People clearly want this film to wok, but Guy Ritchie has been on a bit of a downward streak since Snatch, and it's satisfying to see him use his talents as a visual acrobat in combination with a script that almost couldn't fail in the hands of any competent director. I'm not putting Ritchie down by any stretch; to the contrary, his loose and kinetic style with the camera brings this story to life in ways the trailers don't even hint at.
After the wrapping paper has been discarded and Christmas dinner is nicely digested, a trip to the Music Box Theatre may be in order. On Christmas day the Music Box is screening a restored print of Jacques Tati's 1953 film Mr. Hulot's Holiday. The first of many Hulot appearances, Mr. Hulot's Holiday follows the pipe-smoking clown on his August vacation at a beach resort. His carefree demeanor quickly annoys his fellow posh and conservative vacationers and, of course, leads to some comedic moments. Though the film is not silent, Tati uses many classic silent comedy techniques such as sight gags and slapstick to get his Hulot in and out of trouble. As Roger Ebert said in his review of the film, "Is it 'funny'? No, it is miraculous." The new 35mm print looks drastically better than the previous. The print has been lightened so that the images in the film and crystal clear, and all major scratches have been removed. If you have seen this film before, the new print makes it feels like watching you're watching a completely different movie.
Mr. Hulot's Holiday plays at the Music Box through January 7th. Tickets are $9.25 and can be purchased at the Music Box box office.
Is there anything left to say about writer-director James Cameron's years-in-the-making epic Avatar? Well first of all let's look at something about that question and notice the term "writer-director." Avatar is not another special effects-driven studio film made by committee to please a target audience; instead, it is the vision of one man whose ability to wow and entertain us is nearly unrivaled in film history. Sure, thousands of people helped make this movie, but the spectacular 3-D images on the screen come straight from the brain of Cameron, who hasn't helmed a feature film in 12 years. Apparently he simply waited until technology could catch up to the worlds he wanted to create.
Now make no mistake, I have a small handful of real issues with Avatar, beginning and ending with the fact that it's so damn derivative — both of Cameron's previous work and some fairly high-profile works by other filmmakers — that it's almost distracting. I've read a couple of critics who compared the movie to Dances with Wolves, and that's not exactly right. Avatar isn't similar to Dances with Wolves; it's a fucking carbon copy of Dances with Wolves at times (I might also throw in a little The New World). Granted, there hasn't been a truly original movie plot for a big-budget studio film since the silent-film era, but holy Christ was I surprised to see this story of a military man sent in to tame an indigenous population and ends up "going native" after falling in love with one of the locals. Some people might not be able to forgive Cameron for this lift, but I eventually looked past it and into a world and palette of images that simply robbed me of words.
The centennial of Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago is coming to a close, and it wouldn't be complete without the first full-length feature of the man and his revolutionary vision for urban life.
Director and producer Judith Paine McBrien has compiles letters, official memos and Burnham's designs in Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City to present a portrait of his professional life from his birth in Upstate New York to his sudden death in 1912.
My first thought after viewing director Clint Eastwood's latest noble stab at accumulating more Oscars was "That was a story told." And before I write another word, let me make it clear that I am absolutely recommending Invictus, the story of how recently elected South African President Nelson Mandela found a way to unite all races in his nation using a sport closely identified with the white Afrikaners that oppressed the black population for decades under apartheid. And while there was never any doubt in my mind that Eastwood could tell this inherently interesting story in the manner we have become accustomed from one of America's greatest storytellers, I felt the film was a touch on the dry side to really pull me in the way I wanted to be.
I go back and forth on this point, because there are absolutely times when I was immersed in this true story. Eastwood wisely lets the story unfold organically, with no artificial sweeteners. He's simply too good to ruin a great story with such ploys. And the screenplay from Anthony Peckham (from the book Playing the Enemy by John Carlin) is smart in making sure every nuance of Mandela's thinking and the team's playing is examined and made clear. For example, Peckham understands that most Americans don't know a thing about the rules of rugby, so he includes a sequence in which the almost entirely white South African team goes to an all-black township to teach the children the game. And guess who else gets to learn the basic rules of the game as a result of this makeshift rugby camp?
Connections are the most important thing we make as human beings, but not everyone is capable or driven to make them. And then there are those select few human beings that actively discourage connections with other people or possessions. In the case of Ryan Bingham (played with a marvelous, understated blend of charm and contempt by George Clooney), the only connections that matter are those at airports (although being the seasoned business traveler that he is, he probably would laugh at the very idea of booking a flight that required a connection), and the only groups he wants to belong to usually involve a platinum card that is earned after millions of miles of flying or staying at the same hotel chain for the better part of a given year.
What is it with all of these end-of-days movies? A couple weeks ago, it was 2012, and early into next year, we have Legion (which I guess technically counts as pre-apocalypse) with Paul Bettany, and The Book of Eli, starring Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. And while 2012 is about hope and action in the face of near-certain death, author Cormac (No Country for Old Men) McCarthy's The Road is about something much more serious and believable — the final existence of life on Earth. Existing in a world set afire by unnamed forces (the biblical undercurrent runs very close to the surface here), this story is about the lengths people would go to when they are starving, when all the planet's animals are dead, water is poison, and the only meat available to them is that of other human beings. The Road is certainly the grimmest movie of 2009, but there's an elegance and dignity to this telling of the novel (directed by The Proposition helmer John Hillcoat and adapted by Joe Penhall) that also makes it a work of great beauty in its own grey and haunting manner.
Local production house Split Pillow is releasing their latest, a locally-produced horror flick that tries to pay homage to the types of psychological/metaphysical thrillers that gave birth to the best of the horror genre. Complete with creaky mansion! Eye of the Sandman felt a bit like Gaslight + Frankenstein's monster + a Misfits song / Tongue-In-Cheek References to Convention. The premiere tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center is sold out, but a third show was added for Saturday at 8pm.
It's difficult to write reviews of movies like Eye of the Sandman. Done on a low budget with local actors, obviously the job is not to judge it against the types of movies that Steve at the Movies over there in your right-hand column tackles. Yet having been subjected to the vanity projects of any number of aspiring musicians/filmmakers/artists, I don't have much patience for something that doesn't grab and hold my attention, and provide entertainment value worth the time I'm sacrificing. So before I popped the press screener of Eye of the Sandman into the DVD player, I decided my rubric would be: if I was standing outside the theater where the movie was playing, and the people in line asked me if they should be forking over cash or time to see the movie, what would I say?
Here's what I would say: It'll actually entertain you, one way or another. And it looks good.
The first time we see vampire Edward Cullen (still pale with ruby red lips, and hair slightly less crazy than in Twilight), he's walking through a high school parking lot in slow motion, looking like he just stepped out of a goth band's music video. For about 90 percent of New Moon, Jacob Black (a beefed up Taylor Lautner) is walking around shirtless, wearing only tattered sweatpants, looking like he just stepped off a gay porn set. Never having read any of Stephenie Meyer's novels about the tortured romance between Edward (Robert Pettinson) and human heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), I may be a little late to this revelation, but seeing Edward and Jacob at their best and worst in New Moon made me realize that this is a film about the classic female dilemma — does she allow herself to fall for the more stable but still temperamental, hunky jock (he's also good with machines), or does she stray to the dark gothy side of life, possibly even becoming a vampire herself (which she seems more than willing to do)?
Cinema 16, a touring film program that brings the feeling of silent 20s film viewing to the modern age, is making their final stop here in Chicago November 25th at the Chopin Theatre. Cinema 16 picks three short films and finds one local act to make an original score to accompany the films, letting audience have an old movie house experience complete with cocktails. Chandelier will provide a live score to the three films with DJ Hunter Husar playing between screenings. Each film brings something different to the mix from the strange story-writing of William S. Burroughs in Junky's Xmas (1993), the dance-driven Oramunde (1933), or the first and final film by Wallace BermanAleph (1966).
The event is sponsored by Drambuie, who will be providing free cocktails throughout the night. Because of the free drinks provided this event is 21+. The screening starts at 7:30 pm and admission is free with RSVP.
Be honest. When you first saw the trailer for or clips from 2012, you got a little sexually excited, didn't you? It's OK, I won't tell anyone. At Comic-Con in July, when director and co-writer Roland Emmerich showed an extended clip of California essentially dying from the earthquake to end all earthquakes (literally), I voided my bowls, ran to the men's room, changed my adult Huggies, and voided them a second time. And as much as Emmerich has made some colossal missteps over the years (Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and the worst of all, 10,000 B.C.), the man also knows how to make some interesting if not entirely engaging works, such as Universal Soldier, Stargate, Independence Day and The Patriot. The guy also knows how to blow stuff up on a spectacular scale; what he has failed to do time and time again is draw even somewhat believable characters that seem like anything more than gameboard pieces to be moved around, screaming, running, looking terrified, and occasionally die.
Local film Hannah Free is returning to Chicago for another engagement at the Gene Siskel Center November 27th through December 3rd. Hannah Free, which was shot in Chicago last year, has had a great reception elsewhere in the U.S. since it left Chicago after it's official debut. It won the "Best Feature Film" award in Philidelphia's Q Fest and "Best Narrative Feature Film" at Austin's Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and has been screened at other film festivals across the country with great reception. The film is also currently nominated for five Midwest Independent Film Festival awards.
The film has been a huge hit in the lesbian community, mainly because of one of it's lead actresses Sharon Gless (of "Queer as Folk" fame). Hannah Free, based on the play of the same name, follows the love story of Hannah and Rachel from their first meeting at age ten to their later years.
Tickets are now on sale for the screenings via Ticketmaster and the Gene Siskel box office. General admission is $10, students are $7 and Film Center members are $5.
You can file this under "story so utterly ridiculous that it has to be true." This is one of those tales you may have heard your favorite neighborhood conspiracy theorist mutter about over the years. The idea that the U.S. Army had a small unit of men singled out because they possessed even a hint of psychic abilities seems preposterous, yet if even one such soldier proved to have such abilities, the military immediately attempting to somehow capture and weaponize these powers seems all too believable. And according to newspaper man Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor presumably standing in for source material author Jon Ronson), that's exactly what happened.
With Hollywood movies based on board games and ridiculous love premises in production, audience seem to be turning more and more to local independent cinema for their entertainment. The Indie Incubator Film Festival is ready to show Chicago's best short films in it's ninth year and promises to be better than ever. The festival shows anything (within appropriate means of course) from comedy, horror, sci-fi, you name it. The Chicago Film Office and the PBS show "Image Union" both have supported the festival in the past, most likely because of it's unique nature. Unlike a typical film festival, the Indie Incubator's selection is shown in a bar which breaks down the exclusive atmosphere that some of Chicago's other festivals can impress on the common movie goer. There's nothing like booze and movies to make a normal night turn into a great one. Every filmmaker takes home something, but the "Best of the Fest" winner is decided by a judges panel made up of professionals in the film industry.
The Indie Incubator Film Festival takes place at the Original Mother's on November 17th. Doors are at 7 pm and cover is free. This year's festival is hosted by filmmakers and comic book creators Matt Kubinski and Charles Klein. A dance party follows the screenings and awards ceremony.
I don't think I'm the only person who has a deep philosophical interest in carny culture. Otherwise, why would the Department of Cultural Affairs organize a month of carny-related arts programming? The DCA, in conjunction with Silent Theatre Company, is putting on a play of sorts, called Carnivale Nocturne, surrealistically recreating the underground world of a traveling carnival. With a live band and physical acts of carnival performance, this original dark fable by the STC ensemble, directed by Tonika Tordova, combines the styles of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey, telling the story of a curse between a group of fire breathers, fortune tellers, bestial tamers and natural freaks.
Perfect for Halloween: filmmaker EJ Park produced a documentary about Ari Lehman, who as a 13-year-old portrayed the young Jason Voorhees in the original Friday the 13th. "Now a struggling musician, he seeks to reclaim his momentary stardom -- transitioning from Jewish reggae to 'horror rock' as the lead singer of FirstJason."
Let's start by putting aside the ethical decision to release this film in the first place. I have less of a problem with Sony releasing this film so soon after Michael Jackson's death and more with the fact that the unpolished nature of the work being shown would never have seen the light of day if Jackson were still alive. The performer was a perfectionist to a fault, and having footage of him at anything less than his absolute best simply wouldn't have been allowed to be viewed by the public. But Michael Jackson is not in control of his image anymore, or even his own output.
This Is It is the first of what I'm sure will be many film and music releases that will now make their way to the public, and you know what? I thought it was pretty strong material. You have to remember that unpolished Michael Jackson is better than 95 percent of most other singers and performers in the world. The footage is taken from a series of rehearsals from March to June 2008, but the stuff I liked the most are the unguarded moments where Jackson issues forth orders to his band, his dancers, and his production director Kenny Ortega (who also assembled this film).
News broke this week that the Chicago Outdoor Film Festival may not return next summer. The popular film series is one of many events and services on the list to be cut in the City's 2010 budget; other cuts include Venetian Night and the Chicago Criterium bike races. The Mayor's Office of Special Events told Reel Chicago that the film festival was cut to help reduce a $512 million budgetary shortfall. The $300,000 event cost more than was covered by corporate sponsorships.
Fans of watching movies in the park will still have an option, though: the Chicago Park District's Movies in the Park series, which spokesperson Marta Juaniza confirmed was still on the schedule for next year. Since its budget comes from the Park District instead of Special Events, it wasn't under the same pressures as the Outdoor Film Festival.
Movies in the Parks screens mostly kids fare -- recent animated films, broad comedies and occasional blockbusters that will appeal to the families with young children who make up the bulk of the audience. Whether such movies will interest folks who came out to see classic films at the Outdoor Film Festival is anybody's guess.
"It's hard to say, because it's a downtown audience versus out in the neighborhoods, but we do still plan to support the program," Juaniza said. The 2010 schedule for Movies in the Parks hasn't been released yet.
When it comes to biography films, the absolute worst thing you can be is pointless. But in so many ways, this look at the famous years of Amelia Earhart's life and career is exactly that. When a historical figure's accomplishments are so well documented and their demise so infamous, you don't need to spend as much time detailing the events that are in every history book. In fact, it's an excellent opportunity to get inside the head and heart of the subject. What's particularly frustrating about Amelia is that I know so little about Earhart as a child and her upbringing — all of the things that brought her to such notoriety — yet the film decides to introduce us to her after she's already fairly famous and well on her way to becoming the most famous woman in America.
Unbeknownst to this writer, my favorite theater in the city the Music Box also has a film distribution company called Music Box Films. Since 2007 Music Box Films has exposed American audiences to some of the premiere foreign cinema through television, DVD, and screenings at movie houses across the country. Most recently, they acquired the rights to distribute the film adaptation of the Steig Larrsson novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The novel, which is a part of Larrsson's posthumous Millennium trilogy, was one of the best-selling novels across the globe, and the film itself has been greeted with great success overseas in Scandinavia. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is set to hit independent theaters in March of 2010, so if you're a fan of the novel or the story in general keep an eye out. Though the trailer is in Swedish it looks like it's going to be a great foreign release.
Tonight's the night for documentaries about icons, apparently. You have two to choose from:
One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur documents Jack Karouac's life post-On the Road, as he recoiled from sudden fame and retreated to Lawrence Ferlinghetti's cabin in the Big Sur woods of northern California, chronicled in his semi-autobiographical novel Big Sur It screens tonight only, at 8pm at Webster Place, 1471 W. Webster St. Tickets are $10.
Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry is a film about Norman K. "Sailor Jerry" Collins, the legendary tattoo artist and pioneer of mid-century American tattoo culture. The Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., hosts a screening tonight, with a Q&A with director Erich Weiss and Sailor Jerry Rum drinks afterward. It's free with RSVP, but you have to be 21 or older.
Director and co-writer Spike Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers (Away We Go) have given birth to a type of film that defies conventional film criticism. To say you loved, like, were neutral on, or hated their adaptation of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are doesn't quite get the job done. No, this work demands a far purer emotional response and deep psychological self-examination to get to the heart of why this telling of this very simple story gets to the root of what we are as human beings. Jonze might be better at this than any director working today. He doesn't thrust cold, therapeutic analysis at us. With films like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, he takes us by the hand and guides us into the often-scary world inside our collective mind and shared experiences as both children and adults.
With Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze and Eggers acknowledge the very real and often totally overlooked (at least in movies) fact that children's minds work in an awesomely different way than the minds of adults. So often in films, kids are written simply as tiny adults — smarter and more in control of their thoughts and feelings than any kid I've ever met. I'm not saying there aren't smart children; there are. But no matter how intelligent a child may be, you can't accelerate maturity. Even a kid with a high IQ can have a temper tantrum. In fact, the odds are pretty great that they will. In Wild Things, Max (played by the gifted Max Records) may or may not be smart, but he is highly creative and has an imagination that may be so highly refined it might be a hindrance rather than an asset. Dressed in his wolf costume for dinner, he climbs on a counter and demands that his mother (Catherine Keener) "Feed me, woman!" in his most booming voice, her reaction is a mixture of anger and humiliation (her new boyfriend — Mark Ruffalo — is in the next room).
Today marks the first full day of screenings for the Chicago International Film Festival, this year a rather subdued affair all taking place at the AMC River East theaters. There are slightly fewer offerings this year, but in most cases, there are more showings of each film, which is always a good thing. Forgiving the open-night selection Motherhood, an abysmal self-important treatise on hipster parents starring Uma Thuman (more on the film when it opens in a few weeks), the rest of the festival is a promising mixture of accessible art house fare, a solid selection of foreign films that have been gathering acclaim on the festival circuit, and even a couple of films that feature Oscar-hopeful performances. Here's a quick rundown of some of the films playing in the first week of CIFF that you might want to consider checking out.
In what was the most divisive film at the Cannes Film Festival, and may end up being the most divisive of the year, period, Lars Von Trier's Antichrist opens with what is the most beautiful prologue you will see in 2009. It ends with acts of sexual brutality (inflicted by a man and a woman against each other and themselves) that are difficult to describe even on the filterless internet. In between these unforgettable book ends is actually where the controversy occurs. There's a whole lot of psychobabble between a distraught wife (the wonderfully neurotic/psychotic Charlotte Rampling) and her therapist husband (the remarkable Willem Dafoe). I found the on-the-go, free-flowing analysis fascinating; others have found it mind-numbingly inane and insufferable. And I don't think I'd pick of fight with people who feel that way. The cabin-in-the-foggy-woods setting and the bizarre, excessive mutilations in the film's final minutes gave the entire experience a fairy tale quality to it, and I think it's possible that Antichrist actually hypnotized me. If less intriguing and talented actors were at the center of this movie, I don't think I would have liked it as much. But Dafoe and Rampling maneuver through this murky plot like masters. If you have the stomach for the violence, the rest of Antichrist will probably impress you. My first reaction after the film ended was that it was neither as bloody or shocking as I'd been led to believe. It was the emotional trauma of the entire work that stuck with me and not simply the shocking visuals. Give this one a try, if only to celebrate the fact that Von Trier is still making movies that people cannot stop talking about.
There are two things you need to do before seeing Zombieland for the first of what will inevitably be many times. The first thing is to erase the memory of Shaun of the Dead, if only for the 90-minute duration of this film. Despite both works being very funny, bloody and full of zombies, they are two very different creatures. Zombieland is not the American version of Shaun — it's certainly not trying to be — and any comparisons between the two are foolish and lazy. The second thing you need to do is stay as far away from any cast list you might have access to for this film. If you've already seen a reference to a certain extended cameo in this film, they you've ruined one of the truly great sequences in any film of 2009 for yourself. Maybe you stumbled upon it by accident, who knows. But going in not knowing gave me one of the true joys of going to a movie this year. And here's the thing, somebody actually told me about the appearance, and I just plain forgot. Thank god for that. My point is, go into Zombieland pure and with a head just empty enough to truly appreciate what director Ruben Fleischer and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have carefully constructed — a film that appears to be all about the fun-filled world of the zombie Apocalypse but has a little something for your mind and soul as well. You will laugh, without a doubt, but you're also going to feel something for these characters and their individual situations.
The Chicago Public Radio show Sound Opinions is giving Chicago the opportunity to see David Byrne. On the big screen. Sound Opinions is hosting a screening of the 80s concert movie Stop Making Sense at the IMAX Theater at Nay Pier October 1st. Stop Making Sense is a live Talking Heads show that grows from just Byrne and his acoustic guitar to one of the craziest stage set-ups in rock history. The Talking Heads teamed up with director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Rachel Getting Married) to create one of the most unique concert documentaries ever filmed, with large-scale sets and a simple yet aesthetically pleasing set up. The film has been digitally remastered so that the sound is up to par for IMAX standards.
The screening starts at 7:30 pm. Pre-sale tickets are sold out right now, but may be available at the door. To those who already have tickets, moviegoers who dress up like David Byrne (an over-sized white pant suit), will be entered to win an Altec Lansing premium sound system.
UPDATE - Tickets are now on sale for a 10pm screening of Stop Making Sense. Tickets are $11 and can be purchased here. Sound Opinions hosts Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis will be at both screenings to introduce the film. Get them before they sell out again!
Films like this remake of Fame are frustrating for so many reasons, chief among them is that it's clear they aren't trying particularly hard to be great. Contrary to foggy memories, the 1980 version of Fame isn't that great a movie. It's sort of the prequel to A Chorus Line, showing a group of dancers, singers, musicians, actors, and other artistic types at a high school for the performing arts, where a group of teachers ply them with skills, push them harder than they've ever been pushed, and load them up with all of the cliches about effort and talent and placing the art before the celebrity they may or may not achieve. If even this plot description makes you roll your eyes, imagine the experience of watching the film.
Hey everyone. Before we dive into this week's mainstream and art house offerings, I wanted to alert you to a neat little film festival taking root in Chicago for the first time this year at the Music Box Theatre for one week. The Chicago United Film Festival features a weird little mixture of documentaries, shorts and features, but there are some gems in the mix (at least among the films I've seen or am familiar with). The crown jewel of the bunch is the Jaws documentary The Shark Is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws, narrated by the late Roy Scheider and featuring interviews with many of those responsible for getting that film made. But the movie also examines the new redefining of the summer blockbuster as a result of that film. It's playing three times this coming weekend, and you should absolutely see it. As a bonus film, Friday night at midnight sees a screening of the original Jaws in all its bloody glory.
I'm also going to highly recommend the doc The Providence Effect, which tells the almost impossible to believe story of Chicago's own Providence St. Mel school and its 30-year, 100 percent college placement record. Their way of teaching and putting much of the responsibility of learning on the students and their parents is remarkable and it is baffling why other schools aren't following this model. I'll have a longer review soon, when the film opens in wider release.
For information on purchasing tickets and the full screening schedule, go to theunitedfest.com/chicago/. There's some good stuff here, and if I wasn't heading off to Fantastic Fest in Austin next week, I'd be hitting quite a bit of it.
I've spoken to enough directors over the last 11 years or so to know that scraping together a handful of short films and getting them shown at festivals has been the path that many successful filmmakers have taken to land them their first feature film job. About five years ago, I saw a wonderful live-action short called Cashback, from writer-director Sean Ellis. About two years following the short's acclaimed journey through the festival circuit, Ellis took his short and made it the centerpiece of a feature-length work of the same name that garnered a great deal of acclaim from most critics who saw it (including me). Ellis has since directed another feature, but continues making shorts as well. In 2005, writer-director-student Shane Acker developed a groundbreaking and much talked about animated short called 9, which showed up in animation and other film festivals. It caught the attention of Tim Burton and others who were eager to work with Acker and add him to the growing list of directing greats in the animation universe. The result of this process is a feature-length version of 9 that does not feature material from the short, although it certainly does take place with the same lead character in the same post-apocalyptic world. It's actually kind of rare that a first-time director will get to make an enhanced version of their own short as their premiere movie, but both Ellis and Acker are the worthy exceptions to the standard operating procedure.
Let's face it, Hollywood is running out of original ideas. How many more Saw movies must we see before we lose our own minds? The cinema world may look bleak, but some people are looking to change that by getting the creative process started earlier than college.
Fresh Films brings together high school teens for one unique experience. Since 2002 the company, along with Dreaming Tree Films, has been pushing teens across the country to get creative and make their own films. In one week they must write, cast, shoot, and edit their film. It's enough to pull your own teeth out, but the end product for the Chicago group is not only hilarious but well done. The team entered their comedy short The Substitute into the Airheads Out of Control competition, which is judged by Funny of Die creators Adam McKay and Chris Henchy. In the Substitute a classroom full of students is subjected to humiliation and confusion by their very strange substitute teacher. The Chicago team not only got to work with professional film technology but also with professional actors, the highlight being directing comedy actor Rob Riggle (recently in the Hangover and a cast member on the Daily Show).
Watch The Substitutehere on the Fresh Films website and vote for them to win. Chicago's film is neck to neck with the two others it's competing against and needs the extra push! Plus, every vote enters you in a contest to win a Flip Ultra HD camera. But hurry, voting ends tomorrow, September 10th.
Have you ever wondered what Walter from The Big Lebowski (the angry Vietnam vet played by John Goodman) would look like wearing pasties? Well, how about if Walter were played by a burlesque professional by the name of Wham Bam Pam? Titillating, perhaps?
The workplace is undoubtedly a great environment to base a whole lot of comedy, and the first time writer-director Mike Judge wrote a film about how much genuine inanity was borne in the world of white-collar business, he called it Office Space, and it was good. Judge had already established his place as a scary observer of human behavior with Beavis & Butt-Head (both the TV show and the feature film), but Office Space was so right on the money that a generation of middle managers and cubicle dwellers turned the film into their source for the finest quotes the world had to offer at the time. Judge hasn't exactly transplanted the Office Space template and moved it into a factory assembly line setting for his latest film Extract, but the results are just as funny, even if some of the best humor takes place outside of the work environment.
The first thing you notice about Extract is that the employees actually seem to like their boss, Joel (played by Jason Bateman), who built this small, privately owned factory that makes a special brand of extracts with flavor that lasts longer. Joel has done well for himself, but he's frustrated because his wife (Kristen Wiig) hasn't slept with him in weeks. After a serious industrial accident involving an employee (Clifton Collins, Jr.) losing a testicle, a temp shows up to work on the line in the form of Mila Kunis' Cindy, a seemingly sweet, beautiful woman who seems genuinely interested in Joel's line of work. After some prompting from his best friend Dean (the bearded Ben Affleck, as a sort of stoner philosopher), Joel realizes that the only way he could even dream of cheating on his wife with Cindy (he kind of makes that leap with consulting Cindy first, but let's not get lost in the details) is if his wife cheated on him first. One male prostitute (the hilarious Dustin Milligan) later, Joel is ready to make a play for Cindy, but nothing in this movie is that easy. In fact, that's part of the problem I had with Extract.
Hey, everyone. Thanks to a combination of me missing a couple of screenings and a couple films not being screened for critics at all this week, the column this week is a little light. That said, I've heard nothing but great things about the documentary It Might Get Loud, opening at the Landmark Century Center Cinema today. From director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), the film is about nothing less than the evolution of the sound and styles of the electric guitar, featuring a gathering of three of the guitar's most influential players: Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, who not only talk but also jam together. I cannot wait to see this film.
Under the category of running scared we have two horror films sneaking onto screens today that were too underwhelmed by their own magical powers to show the critics (I'll still see them, mind you). Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 and The Final Destination (in 3-D!) were kept from critical eyes so that we wouldn't muddy the opening weekend. The truth is, I've enjoyed most of the Final Destination movies, so it really surprises me that they didn't screen this one, especially considering the 3-D aspect. Anyway, hope that helps you in planning your weekend movie-going endeavors.
You have to give Taiwan-born director Ang Lee credit for at least one thing. The guy never, ever repeats himself. Lee has been making movies for less than 20 years, with about half of his productions being English-language films that have been highly regarded for their sensitivity. Of course, he also like to kick ass with such works as the original Hulk movie and one of the finest wire-fu offerings ever made, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If you haven't seen them, his earliest films — Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman — are equally beautiful, funny and moving efforts that transition nicely into his tellings of Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Ride with the Devil and his masterpiece, Brokeback Mountain. His last movie, Lust, Caution, was explicit in its sexuality and its emotional nakedness, but many of the critical press rejected it. I found myself enraptured by its beauty, lust and fascinating wartime story. With Taking Woodstock, Lee returns to his lighter origins, and I think it suits him, at least for now.
My greatest regret going into writing this review is that I've only seen this film once so far, at Comic-Con about three weeks ago. While writer-director Quentin Tarantino has certainly crafted films that almost demand that you see them two, three, four times before you really soak in all of their nuances, his latest, Inglourious Basterds, is a beast of an entirely different nature. And seeing twice before even legally being allowed to discuss it seems necessary. So I guess I'm breaking the law, but here goes.
Basterds feels like the film that Tarantino has been building steam toward his entire career, which I guess goes without saying since it is his latest work. But I'm talking about something different. I don't think Tarantino could have made a film with this scope and level of sophistication without having gone through some of the finest trail-and-error exercises a filmmaker in the modern age has ever gone through. There's a patience and elegance to Basterds that I simply wasn't prepared for. Sure, the blood flows like a geyser at times, but not nearly as much as I thought it would, which makes the film infinitely better. You are actually able to settle down with the movie's many American, German and British characters, and get comfortable in their presence by simply listening to them chat and interact with each other. Then, when the violence begins, it breaks the serenity and lets Hell rush out until it consumes you. Not to be overly dramatic or anything, but that's really what it felt like.
I've seen this film twice now, under fairly similar circumstances in two different cities, and I'm really dying to see this very different take on the "alien invasion" style of film plays to a paying audience that really has no idea just what kind of film District 9 transforms into before your very eyes. I'm tempted to keep this review extremely short. I've said this before about other films, but in the case of this one, I think it's crucial that you know as little going in as possible. What you have seen on the film's various websites and different commercials and trailers is certainly a part of what District 9 is about, but the marketing people for this film have been almost incomprehensibly wise about not showing too much. And what they have shown you isn't even a fraction of the most interesting elements of this seriously well-made science fiction epic that combines politics, social commentary, aliens, extreme cartoony violence, and one of the best classic Hitchcock-ian, wrong-man-pursued plots in recent memory.
Hey everyone. I just wanted to toss in a couple notes before we move on to the reviews regarding some recent headlines that have moved across my desk in the last couple of days.
For those of you who were at my Ain't It Cool screening of Public Enemies at the end of June, I told the very true story of how John Landis' The Blues Brothers and Michael Mann's Thief were the primary reasons when I was in high school that I wanted to move to Chicago. When the summer of 1986 came around, I had just graduated high school and was mentally preparing for my move from a suburb of Washington, D.C., to Northwestern University in an immediate northern suburb of Chicago. In June 1986, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, written and directed by the recently departed John Hughes, came out, and I went from planning a big move to Chicago to actually having a blueprint for some of the things I wanted to do when I got there. Chicago stopped being a big, scary city and became a place where I was going to have fun for a very long time. A year or so later, my all-time favorite Hughes film was released, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, an absolute holiday standard in my house every Thanksgiving.
Feel free to go to a thousand other sites to get a complete list of all the movies John Hughes directed, wrote, or otherwise had a hand in. But favorite films and favorite directors aren't about lists; they're about the personal connection you have to that person's work. And these two films hold a very special place in my life, as do many of Hughes' works. I vividly recalled seeing The Breakfast Club and immediately slotting in my friends into the different roles and types presented in that film. It also made me realize that it was OK for someone under the age of 18 to have grown-up thoughts. Even reading the David Bowie lyrics that open that movie made me shutter and think, This filmmaker knows me: "And these children that you spit on / As they try to change their worlds / Are immune to your consultations / They're quite aware of what they're going through." Indeed.
In 2006, former Chicagoan and Found Magazine co-founder Jason Bitner's LaPorte, Indiana placed a focus on the townspeople of the book's namesake, a small town in Northwest Indiana, though photos found in the vast collection of Frank Pease the town's long-time portrait photographer. In my review back then, I said "LaPorte, Indiana could very easily have been all about mocking the yokels -- there are a couple pretty goofy looking folks in there -- but Bitner's commentary-less presentation avoids all that and instead provides a venue for us to examine these people without irony or judgment. It's a wonderful document of a place and time not so far removed from where we are now."
Now, the book is becoming a documentary film. Bitner has teamed up with Emmy-nominated editor and first-time director Joe Beshenkovsky to film interviews with 15 of the subjects from the Frank Pease photos, and follow the lives of several young LaPorteans as they graduate from high school, get married and settle down or move away.
Falling somewhere between The Straight Story, Errol Morris' films, and the Up series, LaPorte, Indiana will help shed some light on how communities help shape their citizens and how people make the decision to stay in the town where they were raised, or why they decide to find their way elsewhere.
Bitner and Beshenkovsky are looking for help funding the project through Kickstarter; you can provide the funds to help finish the film, and maybe even get your name in the credits. The deadline for their goal to raise $7,500 is August 21.
Hey, everyone. Sorry about not having any reviews for you last week, but my prep work for and travels to Comic-Con 2009 basically wrecked my writing time. But because this week is kind of light on the new releases (at least new releases that were screened in advance for critics), I've included all of the films I should have had for you last weekend. So, Funny People opens this week, and all the rest of the films in this column opened last week. Enjoy.
It's that time of year again. Chicago-centric non-profit filmmaker collective, Split Pillow is seeking proposals for their fifth annual Chicago360 film series. This year's theme: "Aliens in the City."
While trying to incorporate the intricacies of Windy City life with this year's intergalactic theme, filmmakers are asked to submit their documentary description, production schedule and estimated budget, among other guidelines by Aug. 17, 2009. The lucky five to be approved for filming will have Split Pillow pick up the tab of production for the 10-20 minute documentary film to be screened in various Chicago venues in Fall 2010.
fotomattic captured this photo of the MC at Tuesday's record-setting outdoor screening of the Marx Brothers classic "Duck Soup." Over 4000 people showed up to break the Guiness World Record for "the most people wearing Groucho Marx glasses."
Split Pillow's Chicago360 film project is calling for proposals! Submit proposals for short films that explore undiscovered aspects of the city. This year's films will focus on the theme of "Aliens in the City" and should plan to be 10-20 minutes long. Submit by August 17; five filmmakers will be selected to go forth with their visions and have their work shown around the city next year. More details.
In the Family follows director and producer Joanna Rudnick after she finds out she's tested positive for the breast cancer gene at the young age of 27. Rudnick battles with the emotional and physical actions she must take in fear of this gene becoming deadly. Should she take the preventative measure of having her breast removed, or should she hope that this gene remains passive? Because of her unique situation the documentary also raises questions about the necessity of predictive genetic testing. Rudnick also plays a huge part in Kartemquin Films, acting as a producer for the company since 2003.
The News and Documentary Emmy Awards will be presented on Monday, September 21st in the Time Warner Center in New York City.
The Bicycle Film Festival schedule for Chicago has been announced! It opens with an outdoor showing of Pee Wee's Big Adventure and then on to tons of films and some serious after-parties. The festival is at several venues around the city Aug. 12-16.
One of the many great joys of watching the sixth, and most deeply satisfying, installment in the Harry Potter film series is watching returning director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves beef up characters whose roles (in the movies, at least) have been soundly in the background up to this point. I liked watching members of the Weasley family finally be brought to the foreground in anticipation of major contributions from them in the final two-part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows finale. I was particularly impressed with the way Tom Felton has transformed Draco Malfoy from a sneering bully into a genuine source of tortured menace, worthy of being both feared and pitied. But more than anything, it's great watching every element of the sweeping overall story come together so wonderfully and have the acting by the one-time child performers be able to match the power of the maturing plotlines.
The Green Hornet web series turns out to be produced by local indie producer Eric Neal. He and Pek Pongpaet, who plays the Hornet's sidekick, Kato, were nice enough to answer a few questions.
So, first things first: Is this directly tied to the Green Hornet film?
Eric Neal: Absolutely not. We've been very careful to let anyone and everyone involved know that we're in no way connected with the film. In fact, we'd only referred to the show by a psuedonym title until just recently, to keep those lines from crossing. Our show has been in the works for some years and it's just coincidence -- or fate? I don't know -- that both versions are congealing at the same time.
A review of Sacha Baron Cohen's latest sort-of documentary featuring a character that brings out the very worst in American behavior and prejudices is set loose on the world this weekend, and while there are many differences between the flaming Austrian fashion show host Brüno and Kazakhstani traveler Borat (or the British hip-hop wannabe Ali G, for that matter), it's the things that are similar to Cohen's other characters that make the film work so well despite a few shortcomings. With the very clear objective of finding the ultra-shallow and the wildly homophobic in the world today (Brüno does travel the world a bit in this film), Cohen is a master manipulator and instigator; he also feeds off other people's discomfort, and I completely understand how addictive that is, because I certainly enjoy watching it. And while a review for this film could easy just be me describing or transcribing joke after joke, I'm not going to ruin any more of the fun than the trailer already has. Well, maybe a little.
It is hard enough to break into the acting scene without having to deal with searching for and deciphering audition requests. Now Chicago actors and actresses are getting some help from TheatreInChicago.com and its new Auditions Page. A comprehensive list provides Equity and Non-equity theater and film auditions throughout Chicago, making it easy for actors to find job opportunities.
The Auditions Page is updated frequently, and each listing shows all the information actors need such as audition material, time commitment, locations, play and character summary, and who to contact. Right now there are auditions separated into Equity, Non-equity, Dance, and Film, but another section for technicians, directors, etc. will be debuted soon. On top of auditions and job postings, there will be a Resources Page available to locate head-shot photographers, acting classes, and various other networking tools.
No sign-up or registration is necessary to use this web page, so actors can start using it today. For further questions, inquiries, or suggestions, please email email@example.com.
Although the trailers for Michael Mann's latest slice of magnificence emphasize the more action-oriented scenes from his film about the latter days of bank robber and cultural icon John Dillinger, in truth the strength of Public Enemies is not entirely in those moments. There are certainly a handful of bank robberies and moments where law enforcement corner Dillinger and his gang that feature some ferocious gunplay, but it's what happens between the scenes of bullets flying that impressed me the most and helps this become one of the greatest films about the birth of modern day crime and crime-fighting that I've ever seen.
Public Enemies also serves as a much-needed reminder that Johnny Depp gained his reputation as one of the greatest actors living today by actually acting and not simply creating real-life cartoon characters with pale skin, funny makeup and wigs. With Mann's guidance, Depp breathes life and soul into a man who has served a lengthy prison sentence and learned much while behind bars about military-style bank heists and what's important to him. Depp doesn't play Dillinger as overly tough or as some ridiculously suave ladies man. His flaws and qualities aren't nearly as easy to spot immediately, but Depp does a fantastic job of parceling out personality details about John Dillinger in a way that we grow eager to discover more as the film goes on.
Before we dive into this week's offerings, I wanted to tell you about a little movie that you've probably never heard of (or only heard about in whispered tones in dark alleys) that is finally, after six long years of playing almost non-stop in a Los Angeles theater, making its way to a screen in Chicago. The film is called The Room, and that's really all you need to know about it, other than it's playing at midnight shows at the Music Box Theatre June 26 and 27, and July 24 and 25.
I get mad when I see critics attempt to review or even summarize The Room because it's impossible to capture in words just how truly bad this movie from writer-director-producer-star Tommy Wiseau is. I love that Chicago audiences will finally get a chance to watch this movie, one that needs to be seen in the comfort and safety of a crowd. The film is simply too dangerous to watch alone at home. That being said, the only thing greater than The Room as a theatrical event are the extras on the DVD release, which features an interview with Wiseau that is beyond hilarious. Free promo DVDs will be given out to the first 50 people at each Music Box performance.
Wiseau himself has taken to calling the film a dark comedy, which is a load of crap. I firmly believe he thought he was making high drama when he spent what I'm hearing is millions of dollars making this movie. But don't take my word for it. This film has a celebrity endorsement from none other than Paul Rudd, who first brought the film to my attention a couple years ago. More recently, Rudd's I Love You, Man director John Hamburg told me, "I've been in Paul's bedroom. He has a little table next to his side of the bed, and the only thing on that table is a copy of The Room." There you have it. If someone told me today that The Room was an elaborate hoax, made deliberately bad to make people laugh, I'd almost believe it, but not quite. There are things in this film that you just couldn't make this bad on purpose. See it and then see it again. You've been warned and encouraged; the rest is up to you. All else opening this week pales in comparison, but here it is anyway.
Film festivals can be intimidating, even for a seasoned filmophile. There's the stars, the crowds, the fear of not knowing enough to fit in with the "cool kids." Gen Art Chicago makes the concept of a film festival a little less intimidating with it's yearly Gen Art Film Festival. Gen Art is hosting it's third annual screening series at local film houses known for premiering the nation's best in independent cinema. The film festival and Gen Art are known for bringing unique independent art and films to Chicago, coupling bigger name features with short films to expose a mass audience to emerging filmmakers. This year's line-up includes the sure to be summer hit (500) Days of Summer as well as three other up and coming feature movies.
Each screening also has an after-party, hosted at some of the city's hottest bars and clubs. With tickets for the screenings and after parties for only $20 per screening, it's easy to feel glamorous without the price tag attached it to. The festival starts Tuesday, June 23rd and runs until Saturday, June 27th. A full listing for the Gen Art Film Festival can be seen after the jump.
Before I begin my review, I must vent: I just finished watching the hideous incarnation of "At the Movies" with Bens Lyons & Mankiewicz (I watch it purely for scientific purposes, like observing the mating habits of wild slugs). Anyway, these two turd burglars (in particular Mankiewicz) did something I consider something above and beyond the realm of their normal level of assholishness: they spoiled a significant plot point about the Duncan Jones film Moon. Yes, the plot point in question is probably all over the internet for those who love the spoilers, and yes, to a degree, the trailer gives away that something stinky is up in Denmark. But the trailer wisely keeps the film's mysteries cloaked and uncertain; it's actually a magnificent trailer that is even more misleading than you might think and I love it for that very reason. Regardless, the Bens flat out said what the film's only real twist is and they are a couple of dicks for doing it.
That said, I don't think anything could truly ruin the experience of watching Moon, one of the finest works of cinematic science fiction that I've seen in a very long time. I've been telling people that it's the best sci-fi work I've seen in five years, but that timeframe isn't really tied to a particular movie. For all I know, it's the best science fiction film made in 20 years. I keep searching my personal databank to think of a film set in the future that I've enjoyed more, and I have to go back to some major league classic to find one. Like most of my favorite films in this genre, Moon is based on reality. I thoroughly believe that if scientists discovered that the surface of the moon had an energy source stored in it (called Helium 3), it wouldn't take long for a corporation or two to find ways to set up massive mining operations to scrape off the moon's surface, process the material, and ship it back to Earth. I also firmly believe that said corporations would be so cheap that they would use as few employees as possible to man these operations, maybe as few as one worker.
Cinema/Chicago, the presenter of the Chicago International Film Festival, is once again teaming up with Chicago's various foreign consulates and cultural organizations to present the sixth annual International Summer Screening Program at the Chicago Cultural Center. Showing a film from a different country every Wednesday, the International Summer Screening program seeks to spread the word about national cinema in the Chicagoland area before the International Film Festival starts in October. This year's selection ranges from cute love stories to twisted thrillers and gory action flicks. From the wide range of genres and subject matters, there's sure to be one film to capture your attention.
Every event is free to the public. A full listing of films can be seen after the jump and on Slowdown, or at the official International Connections page.
As the summer solstice creeps upon us, we look to our neighborhood parks for new games to play and people to meet. But maybe we should all head over to the Gene Siskel Film Center to get an idea of how a real sport is played. Left Field is a documentary about that sport that both terrified and excited us in grade school -- kickball. Played in an almost anarchistic sense of competition, Chicago transplants Sarah Hart and KC Haywood find themselves in the midst of the most spirited kickball league in Illinois and end up loving every minute of it. The league grows larger and these kickball aficionados soon find themselves inundated with rules and competition instead of good old fashion playground fun. Filmmakers Ben Steger and Chris Batte followed the Humboldt Park kickball league that included KC Hollywood's team the Fighting Cocks for over two years, even going as far to join the team later in the shooting. It's a film full of comradery, team spirit, and at times tragedy but the true essence of the game is never lost.
Left Field will be screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center Sunday, June 14 at 5:30 pm and Monday, June 15th at 6 pm. Advance tickets can be purchase on Left Field's official website, which is recommended since this movie sells out fast.
The not-so-big secret about the 1974 version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (which was the actual title) was that the heist itself was just an excuse to get to know some really interesting and very human characters on both sides of the crime equation. Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw would have been nearly as interesting playing two people checking out library books as they were as a transit cop and subway hostage taker, respectively. Watching that film today, the stakes seem ludicrously low and New York is a very different place.
The 2009 edition of 1 2 3 is a beast of a different nature, but director Tony Scott is wise enough to at least leave the fundamentals the same as he navigates Brian Helgeland's far more dense screenplay. The focus is still on characters, even if the characters aren't nearly as compelling as they were 35 years ago. Much has been updated to this story of group of angry New Yorkers who hijack a subway car filled with passengers and demand a massive sum of money in one hour before they start killing hostages, and for the most part I didn't mind the changes. The head of the criminals, Ryder (played by John Travolta), has motivations behind his actions that seem solid. The film also acknowledges the role that modern telecommunications would play in such an incident — yes, in some cities, you can get a wireless signal in the subway. Above ground is an entirely different story...
On Saturday, June 6, Heaven Gallery hosts a tea party and benefit to raise money for Clara Alcott's short film Kick, "an experimental narrative about two women's anxiety over contemporary technology." The tea party will be steeped in musical performances, featuring local bands Coupleskate, Coins, The Blue Ribbon Glee Club,Fielded, and Stacian. The benefit will also feature screenings by Lilli Carré, Marie Losier, Sarah Weis and Arturo Cubacub, Jung a woo, Shayna Connelly, Polina Malikin, Clara Alcott, Mary Scherer, Catie Olsen, Laura Klein, Matthew Stenerson and Megan Huber, Catie Olson, Rebecca Kressley, Jack Myers and Karen Shapiro, Shayna Connelly, Marc Mozga, Huong Ngo, Jeff Walker and Audrey Walker, Michelle Harris, Ellen Lake, Amy Caron, and The Pretty Things. And of course, no tea party would be complete without treats.
The festivities start at 6 p.m. and will simmer down somewhere around 10. There is a $10 suggested donation.
Heaven Gallery / 1550 N. Milwaukee Ave., 2nd floor
This may be one of most unusual reviews of any movie I've ever written for the plain and simple fact that I saw the film two times, and each time I had radically different reactions to it. Of course, every critic — hell, every human being — has good days and bad days; we bring prejudices into a film, both positive and negative; and we all think we're mature enough to not let those things influence the opinions we put forth in the most unbiased way possible. We go into each film with higher or lower expectations than we did the last one for various reason, whether it be a particular actor in the film or the movie's director, plot, writers, etc. The key to dealing with these prejudices is to acknowledge them and compensate for them when formulating a critique.
The other thing I do, when given the opportunity, is take note of how an audience of non-critics reacts to a certain film. I'm not looking for cues when to laugh or scream or cry; but if I go to a movie aimed at little kids, and I'm not enjoying it but the kids in the audience clearly are, I'll mention that in my review. It won't in any way change my opinion of the film, but parents contemplating taking their kids will at least know that their youngsters might enjoy a movie even if I didn't. With horror films, I'm not easily scared or shocked, but if the crowd seems freaked out by a certain amount of blood or scares, I'll mention that in my write-up, especially if I didn't like the movie. As a rule, I'm not a big fan of watching comedies or scare films in a roomful of critics; the reactions very often seem off and not like those of audiences made up on the general public. I love my Chicago critical peers, but they are a tough audience. If you can win them over, they will love you; but if you can't, it kind of poisons the experience for me. This isn't always the case, but when that Chicago screening room is quiet when it's meant to be filled with laughter, the silence is deafening. Sometimes, the silence is well deserved; other times, I'm less sure. Case in point: The Hangover.
Don't have anything to do tonight? Do you have a lifeguard uniform just laying around in your apartment collecting dust? Or perhaps do you have a small obsession with the classic television series "Baywatch?" If any, or in the slight chance all, of these things appeal to you then tonight's screening of Riffraff may be for you.
Riffraff is an independent film all about the glamorous job of Chicago lifeguards and to celebrate it's local roots Orange Chair Productions and the Gene Siskel Film Center are hosting a special screening of the film with a life-saving spin. Any local lifeguards are able to see the movie for only $7, and Orange Chair will be holding a lifeguard uniform contest and giving out prizes all night. Grab your floaties, because it's going to be a long night.
Doors at the Gene Siskel Film Center open at 8pm and the screening starts at 8:30. Tickets are $9 general admission, $7 for students, $4 for student and faculty of the School of the Art Institute, and $5 Film Center members. A Riffraff after party will be held at the Emerald Loop at 10:30
Sometimes fans don't like it when a director strays too far from what they perceive to be his/her comfort zone. And probably an equal number of fans hate it when a director repeats himself a few too many times. You can't please everybody (I think I'll copyright that because it's so damn original). It's tough to think of another director that fans would love to see do nothing more than repeat himself than Sam Raimi. If he did nothing but make Evil Dead and Spider-Man movies, most of the world's geeks would be completely satisfied. But if that had happened, we would have never gotten such tasty nuggets as Dark Man, A Simple Plan or The Gift. But a director like Raimi, like the consummate artist that he is, needs to stretch his wings every so often just to remind himself that he can. Watching a nearly finished work-in-progress print of Drag Me To Hell at SXSW last March saw Raimi somehow managing to do something I didn't think was possible — satisfying both schools of thought by making a non-franchise movie that still managed to tap into all of the thrill-house antics that have made him so damn much fun to watch over the nearly 30 years since The Evil Dead first changed the face of horror.
First off, some exciting news for those of you in town over the holiday weekend concerning one of the films reviewed this week, The Brothers Bloom. Writer-director Rian Johnson will be doing a post-screening Q&A (with yours truly) on Saturday night, May 23 after the 7pm showing at the Landmark Century Center Cinema (Clark/Diversey); as a bonus, Rian will be sticking around to introduce the 10:10pm showing as well. Rian's a fantastic talker, and the evening promises to be an entertaining both during and after the film. I'm expecting a capacity crowd for the 7pm show, so get your tickets early if you can; this is not a free screening, but tickets will probably sell out. Hope to see you there.
This fourth installment in the end-of-the-world franchise is not really science fiction at all. Nope, this is director McG's big, loud, gritty, steely-gray war epic. Gone is the philosophy and metaphors about time travel, the dangers of letting machines and computers take over our lives, the loss of innocence, motherhood. With this new film, the other thing that has officially vanished from the Terminator universe is heart — ironic since the human heart is a major plot point in Terminator Salvation. What we're left with is a collection of hardened bad-asses battling some of the meanest fucking robots I've ever seen. In any other movie, I might be less bothered by this. But one of the things I always loved about Cameron's first two films, and even the subpar third movie and the "Sarah Connor Chronicles" TV show (which I contend got progressively better as it went on), is that not everybody in each story was supposed to be a grizzled soldier. Sarah Connor was an unremarkable woman when we met her; she became remarkable to protect her son, who in turn grew into a little shit who had to learn to fight from a friendly Terminator sent back to protect him.
Ravenswood-based Fresh Films is teaming up with Funny or Die this summer to give teen filmmakers a chance to create a short comedy film starring Funny or Die talent. The winners of the Out of Control Comedies! competition will make a short film this summer with an all-teen crew, and Adam Mckay (writer/director of Anchorman,Talladega Nights, and a former iO and Second City performer) and Chris Henchy (producer of Land of the Lost and Entourage) will view the finished films.
If you're a funny teenager (or if you know of any funny teenagers), the deadline to enter is May 25th!
The porn industry is one of the highest-grossing business not only in film but in our economy. No matter how bad it gets, there's always an audience hungry for nudity. Chicago Filmmakers is screening a rare behind the scenes look (no pun intended) of the seemingly glamorous jobs in the gay porn scene with their monthly Reeling screening series choice <em>eXposed: The Making of a Legend on May 22. Following thirty-nine men and one woman on the set of BuckleRoos, eXposed explores every aspect of the gay porn industry from the actors to crew members to award-winning directors. Mr. Pam, the cavalier female videographer of BuckleRoos, takes us through the seventeen day shooting schedule full of nakedness, drama, and food poisoning.
Chicago Filmmakers is hosting a 7pm social hour prior to the screening, which starts at 8pm. Admission is $10 for general audiences and $8 for Chicago Filmmaker members.
People sure did spend a lot of time picking apart every small detail, plot hole, inconsistency or just dopey maneuver in Star Trek last week; let's see if these same people bother to do the same with the second big-screen adaptation of author Dan Brown's Robert Langdon stories, Angels & Demons. My guess is nobody will for two reasons, and one of them isn't "because the film's plot is flawless." The first reason is that nobody cares as much about Langdon's exploits as they do about the folks of the Trek universe. Second, Angels & Demons isn't nearly as ambitious or adventurous as Trek or 75 percent of the other films I see in a given summer. It's not the kind of film people bother analyzing ad nauseum, which I guess brings me back to reason one. There wasn't a moment in this film's entire 2-hour 20-minute length that I didn't know what most of the bigger-picture secrets were in this story. I knew who were going to be revealed as the real hidden bad guys and what kind of treachery they were up do. Not that the movie doesn't have its share of lofty intentions and a great cast to give those intentions weight and significance; it does. But at some point early in the film, I stopped caring what happened to most of the characters or even whether Vatican City was lost to the world with the help of a bomb created out of antimatter. I guess it's the lapsed Catholic in me.
Let's get into some of the performance first, because at this point you either know the basic plot or you don't because — all together now — you don't care. Robert Langdon is the least interesting character from an actor that has spent his entire career creating memorable and interesting characters, even when the elements that made them so weren't in the script. Langdon uses history to solve ancient puzzles. I'm sure in print, reading the innermost thought processes of Langdon is fascinating, but this massive amount of brain activity does not translate well to a visual medium. Tom Hanks spends a lot of time vocalizing his thoughts as he combs through the Vatican archives (long kept away from his prying eyes because of what happened in The Da Vinci Code). But here's the thing, Langdon is following a trail that has been in existence for hundreds of years. If the ancient order of the Illuminati changed even one small detail of this path (which they easily could have), Langdon's smarts would be of no use. This deduction led me to believe that the powers-that-be wanted Langdon to find the bomb in a very specific manner, which would lead into a series of predictable events, blah, blah, blah. This is how I figure shit out; it's not that tough.
The Chicago History Museum will screen three outdoor films this summer featuring famous Chicago landmarks and neighborhoods. All the movies are "B.Y.O.P." (bring your own picnic) and screen in Uihlein Plaza, directly behind the history museum in Lincoln Park.
Here's the lineup:
June 23 -- My Big Fat Greek Wedding
July 14 -- Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Aug. 18 -- The Break-Up
All the films begin at dusk and admission is free. More information can be found on the museum's website.
I've noticed a lot of people who have reviewed this film so far have felt obligated to detail their personal history for the Star Trek franchise over the decades. Fair enough, although one of many beautiful things about J.J. Abrams' indecently entertaining take on the Trek universe is that it truly doesn't matter how much history you have with many series and feature films. My Star Trek history is simply: I worshipped the original series, never watched a single episode of any of the follow-up series, and faithfully lined up every few years to see each new film version on the day it opened. I loved that the original series wasn't afraid to laugh at itself as often as it took itself with a degree of seriousness usually reserved for medical dramas or detective shows. When I was young, I never noticed that almost everything was done on the cheap and that Captain Kirk seemed to care as much about his hair and his blinding-glow tan as he did about saving his crew and his ship. I focused on and admired the moral code that Starfleet operated under, on the that the show's creators saw space travel as more than just jaunts from Earth to the moon or to Mars. This was the first indication in my mind that space went on forever in every direction.
What I've had to endure in recent years (through subpar TV episodes and lesser films) is a franchise that has been bleeding integrity. J.J. Abrams' job with his new Star Trek film wasn't to reboot it — anyone who calls this a reboot is truly missing the essence of this movie — it was to save it and breathe new life into it by making us see these characters in ways we'd never dreamed possible. These are the same men and women who took us into space in 1966; none of the characters have been radically reinvented, and their core personality traits and flaws are all still here for all the faithful to see. What Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have done is build a world before the series that will impact the world during and after the series. They haven't hit the 'Reset' button exactly, but they have taken the events we know, rewound them to the beginning, and laid out the possibility that things may not play out the same way this time around. I'm making this sound far more complicated than it actually is, because what I'm really impressed with is that the creative team behind Star Trek have made the first real film in the franchise that doesn't feel like an extended version of a TV episode. That said, I have no idea where Abrams and Co. could possibly go from here in a way that won't feel like episodic television. I can't imagine these characters in anyone else's hands right now, or anyone else playing these fine folks, but time will tell.
This week in Washington, Chicago filmmaker Gordon Quinn and other advocates prepare for the next battle for filmmakers' right to quote from their culture. Mass-produced DVDs often encrypt films so that they can't be copied, and filmmakers can't excerpt them without circumventing the copy-protection. Right now, cracking into these DVDs is a crime -- even if it's legal to use the media behind the locked door. Quinn and others argue that filmmakers should be exempt from this law, the Digitial Millennium Copyright Act.
It pains me to report that the first official film of the summer movie season doesn't even quite reach the level of so-so. Somehow actor Hugh Jackman, director Gavin Hood, and whoever else stepped in with the intention of making Wolverine a better, more exciting work, have instead created a film that is a patchwork plot populated by characters that we never get to know or care about. Remember when Wolverine was arguably the most interesting character in any of the X-Men film? I'm not sure what happened to that dude. What this film consists of is character after character trying to out-badass each other by looking meaner or dressing cooler than the next guy. The Black Eyed Peas' Will.I.Am in cowboy attire was more than I could take.
By the time you read this, I'll be well into my long weekend in Champaign attending my first-ever Ebertfest (also known as the 11th Annual Roger Ebert Film Festival and formerly known as the Overlooked Film Festival). In the last year or so, I've become friendly with Ebert and his lovely wife Chaz, although I think it goes without saying that without Ebert's influence in my life, you wouldn't be reading this column right now. Because Roger's ailment renders him without speech, for the past couple of years, he's asked various film industry types and peers (including the Tribune's Michael Phillips and the Sun-Times Richard Roeper) to come and handle some of the panel discussions and post-screening Q&As with filmmakers and actors. And as bizarre, unlikely, and somewhat disturbing as it may seem, Ebert asked me to handle some of these duties this year. I'll be taking part in a panel called "Film Critics and the Internet" on Friday morning and doing a Q&A with Catinca Untaru, the young star of writer-director Tarsem's great film from last year, The Fall.
It goes without saying that being invited to take part in this event might be the biggest honor of my career as a film critic. My respect and admiration for Ebert's accomplishments are well documented in both my condemnation of the current version of the "At the Movies" television show, and my interview with Ebert in October of last year. So I'm off to Champaign. I have little idea what to expect, and I fully expect that all of the lessons I've learned from my years of public speaking will fly right out the window. But I'm excited as hell about the lineup this year, and about being at a film festival that does actually seem to bring filmmakers and film lovers together in a setting where they might actually get to talk to each other. What a concept. Anyway, here are a bunch of movies coming out this week, including a couple very good ones.
Something that struck me almost immediately about the smart, complicated, and wholly satisfying State of Play were the three men credited with the screenplay. Now, I have no idea whether these three collaborated in any way — I'm guessing not — but they are three screenwriters who have impressed me with their knowledge and means of telling convincing stories about journalists and those who occupy positions of power in our world. And the result of this carefully crafted screenplay (based on the much-praised BBC miniseries of the same name, which I have not seen but is sitting on my shelf ready to be watched very soon) is a tale that is more about the way in which even the purest forms of journalism can be influenced and less about simply a scandal and possible cover-up involving big business and corrupt politicians.
The absolute best way to see this movie is to stop reading this or any other review of it. I'm not so much concerned about critics giving away too much of the plot or the best lines. No, it's more about letting slip just how messed up this depraved piece of perfection truly is. I saw this film for the first time at SXSW, and I struggled trying to remember the last time a film, especially one with this many laughs, really shook me up like this. This is a film with no moral compass, no mercy, and with a soul as dark and poisoned as the most hardened criminal. This is a movie borne of a crack whore mother and absent father (who probably could have been any one of a dozen men), given to be raised by a 300-pound uncle who spent his days beating this movie and his nights committing unspeakable acts. This film ran away from home at 15, and turned tricks with businessmen in alleys stinking of long-dead fish and rat shit, while catching every festering disease in the book. Now imagine, if you can, what a movie like this would look like, smell like; then imagine this movie is a comedy.
In a strange and wonderful way, I'm both a little ticked off and extremely pleased with the folks that are marketing the latest film from writer-director Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers, Superbad) entitled Adventureland. Most of you probably think this is a silly comedy about a bunch of teenagers who work at a rundown amusement park circa the 1980s, and you'd be about half right. There's a big part of me that wants you to walk into Adventureland thinking you know exactly what you're in for, so if you like surprises then walk away from this review right now. While I won't spoil any major plot points in this review, those of you who continue reading need to understand that you're going to discover that the tone and plot of this film are a lot more interesting and weighty than any of the advertising might lead you to believe. As long as you're cool with knowing that ahead of time, continue reading.
One of the biggest corners of my heart is held in reserve for old (usually black-and-white) sci-fi films. I'm talking ginormous man-in-suit monsters, slow-moving aliens with tentacles and either one or 50 eyes, or regular-sized animals that are made to look humongous as they terrorize poor citizens like us. Watch any of them repeatedly and you notice one thing almost without fail: they are about 85 percent chatter and 15 percent actual creature feature... if you were lucky. The philosophies and theories bandied about were pretty hilarious, and were usually just an excuse to keep the cameras rolling to get that running time to at least 75 minutes. Now imagine taking the best parts of these alien invasion flicks, these giant spider films, these creeping menace pictures, and these home-grown mutated abominations of nature movies and tossing them all into one big 3D animated work, and you have some idea of just how much fun Monsters vs. Aliens was for me.
Not that a truly funny film featuring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel is all that surprising (Knocked Up or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, anyone?), but this is a work that has probably been under the radar for a lot of you, and I think it's time to blow the door off this I Love You, Man's cloak of invisibility and get you excited about seeing it.
I'm sure a day will come when Paul Rudd will star in a bad R-rated comedy, but that day will have to wait just a little longer. It almost doesn't seem fair. Back when I interviewed him for Role Models, we talked a great deal about I Love You, Man, and it was very clear that he was pretty happy with the script and the way the film turned out. He seemed especially pleased with the non-mean tone of the film. For the most part, this isn't a movie about people insulting each other or putting each other down for the sake of a laugh. Certainly, Rudd has been in films like that and they remain some of the funniest things I've ever seen. And I'm not implying that I Love You, Man is some kind of feel-good horseshit that makes you want to skip out of the theater and hug 100 strangers because you've found a new lease on life. Instead, the movie manages to earn its laughs from a combination of good old-fashioned writing and trusting in its actors to do what they do best — ad lib some of the funniest jokes and references the human brain can produce. So what is this film about exactly? Allow me to let Paul Rudd explain...