Archive for June, 2009

Perfectly cast ‘Public Enemies’ hits its mark

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009
Johnny Depp in "Public Enemies" Johnny Depp stars as legendary Depression-era outlaw John Dillinger, in a scene from, “Public Enemies.”

Raging machine-gun battles – explosions of flame and thunder followed by the gentle tinkle of falling brass cartridges – provide the excitement in “Public Enemies,” but the story belongs to the faces.

Marvelous, wonderful, perfectly cast faces.

From the pixie-like countenance of Baby Face Nelson to the rubbery expressions of Chicago beat cops, the faces of “Public Enemies,” captured in ultratight, revealing close-ups, carry as much of the narrative as the dialogue.

Chicago-born filmmaker Michael Mann directs “Public Enemies” as an aesthetically accomplished and painstakingly accessorized gangster film based on the exploits of infamous bank robber John Dillinger, gunned down in 1934 by the Feds as he exited Chicago’s Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue. (Read more…)

Local extras get a bang out of ‘Public Enemies’ roles

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009
Andrew and Amy Manion from "Public Enemies" Aurora University employees Andrew and Amy Manion of Sugar Grove display their period garb on the set of the Chicago-shot crime drama “Public Enemies.”

When you go to see Johnny Depp’s new gangster movie “Public Enemies” – and what Chicagoland filmgoer would miss it? – keep a sharp lookout for the news photographer at the Biograph Theater.

And the innocuous-looking passenger at Union Station.

And the guy dancing around the Aragon Ballroom.

They’re all played by the same extra, Andrew Manion of Sugar Grove.

“I spoke several times with Johnny Depp,” Manion said of his brush with celebrity. “He’s very gracious.”

What about Depp’s co-star, Christian Bale, the star of the Chicago-made super-hit thriller “The Dark Knight”?

“Bale was the most standoffish,” Manion reported. “But then, he has a reputation for that.” (Read more…)

‘Jerichow’ at Music Box

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Jame M. Cain’s classic novel “The Postman Always Rings Twice” gets a noirish update from German writer/director Christian Petzold. Cain’s twisted triangle now includes a dashing but broke ex-soldier Thomas (Benno Furmann) who gets a job helping Ali, a Turkish businessman (Hilmi Sozer), operate a chain of fast food venues. (Read more…) ( For mature audiences.)

Now playing at the Music Box in Chicago.

‘My Sister’s Keeper’ high on the weepie scale

Friday, June 26th, 2009
Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin in "My Sister's Keeper" Sara (Cameron Diaz) experiences a moment of truth with her daughter Anna (Abigail Breslin) in “My Sister’s Keeper.”

Moviegoers who enjoy a good cathartic release watching films about children afflicted with cancer will get their money’s worth in Nick Cassavetes’ glorified Lifetime Channel feature “My Sister’s Keeper.”

Young Sofia Vassilieva plays Kate, a bald cancer victim, with appropriately quivering lips, a wavering voice and huge dark pools of sympathetic pupils in her increasingly sunken eyes.

Caleb Deschanel’s empathetic cameras capture Kate in near-celestial settings while the soundtrack lines up an MP-3 supply of sensitive, tone-setting songs, all topped with Aaron Zigman’s appropriately downer score.

On the weepie rating scale, I’d award “My Sister’s Keeper” three and a half boxes of Kleenex. It would have earned five boxes, except that Cassavetes, who directed and cowrote the screenplay with Jeremy Leven, blunts the weep factor by hamstringing his cast and allowing a compelling courtroom story to get lost in a barrage of strained, happy-family montages and unpleasant bouts of vomiting, crying, shouting and bleeding. (Read more…)

Woody Allen’s ‘Whatever Works’ smart but breezy

Friday, June 26th, 2009
Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood in "Whatever Works" Woody Allen surrogate Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) explains life to Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood) in “Whatever Works.”

Woody Allen’s main character in “Whatever Works” rants directly into the camera, breaking the “Fourth Wall” of theater, but not much new ground.

Still, the smart, breezy and intermittently engaging “Whatever Works” celebrates the return of two key staples in Allen’s cinematic canon: New York City (which has taken a back seat to Europe for his past few films), and Allen himself, or at least his alter-ego.

That character is supplied by comedian and writer Larry David, whose uncanny ability to capture Allen’s physical and vocal essence on screen borders on the supernatural. (Read more…)

‘Stoning of Soraya M.’ tells shocking, true tale

Friday, June 26th, 2009
Shohreh Aghdashloo and James Caviezel in "The Stoning of Soraya M." An Iranian woman (Shohreh Aghdashloo) tells a journalist (James Caviezel) a shocking tale in “The Stoning of Soraya M.”

Colorado-born director Cyrus Nowrasteh takes a huge storytelling risk in his bold and controversial “The Stoning of Soraya M.”

During the scene that we are dreading to see, villagers in a small Iranian town tie up a woman accused of infidelity, bury her in the ground up to her waist, then spend hours pelting her with rocks until she bleeds to death.

In one quick shot, Nowrasteh’s camera takes the woman’s point-of-view, so that we see the rocks being hurled directly at us, the audience.

This could easily have been a cheesy and cheap way to win easy empathy for the victim. But Nowrasteh has laid the foundation for this moment by allowing us to know this woman, to understand her and connect with her. (Read more…)

‘Transformers’ sequel too much of bad thing

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
Optimus Prime in "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." Optimus Prime returns to help humans fight the Decepticons in Michael Bay’s sequel “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

First it’s numbing.

Then it’s numbinger.

Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” launches a full-scale sensory assault on its audiences, pelting them with retina-ripping visuals, beating their eardrums with sonic overkill and decimating IQ points at will.

Devoid of any hint of wit or cleverness, this slam-bam, thank-you-Sam sequel to Bay’s 2007 hit “Transformers” thinks that if one CGI Autobot changing into a car is impressive, then 60 zillion CGI Autobots changing into cars is really impressive. And noisy. (Read more…)

Indiana Jones, Thanks!

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Thank you, Indiana Jones, for growing old.

I’m serious.

I’m as giddy as a schoolboy, filled with effusive gratitude for Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford.

They allowed the world’s most famous archaeologist and action hero extraordinaire to be played by a 65-year-old actor.

And they pulled it off.

The reason I’m so pro Indy?

Pure self interest.

Ford’s fourth foray into Jonesville gives me hope that I, too, can still accomplish amazing things at an age when most men traditionally contemplate retirement.
(more…)

Jan Troell’s ‘Everlasting Moments’

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

The After Hours Film Society presents Jan Troell’s inspiring Swedish drama about the power of art to transform a person’s life. In 1911 Sweden, Maria (played with transparent clarity by Maria Heiskanen) tries to raise a large family in poverty with an abusively alcoholic husband. (Read more…)

Now playing Monday, June 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove.

Martin Provost’s ‘Seraphine’

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Martin Provost’s exquisitely photographed drama ‘Seraphine’ tells the fact-based story of Seraphine Louis, a primitive painter discovered in 1912 by a German art critic and collector while she worked as a domestic laborer. (Read more…)

Now playing at the Music Box in Chicago and the Renaissance Place in Highland Park.