Archive for March, 2010

“Dann & Raymond’s Movie Club” outing

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

“I am Not an Animal!”

Dann Gire and Raymond BensonJoin Dann Gire (film critic of Chicago’s suburban newspaper THE DAILY HERALD, as well as the founder and president of the Chicago Film Critics Association, and adjunct instructor at Aurora and Harper Colleges in Illinois) and Raymond Benson (novelist, author of 20 books, former official author of James Bond books, film historian, and Film History instructor at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois) as they examine how Hollywood’s view of the disabled has drastically changed since Todd Browning’s 1932 film “Freaks.” Clips from “The Miracle Worker,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Mask,” “The Elephant Man,” “Shine” and many others will be shown and discussed. See Schaumburg Township District Library for more details.

Cost: Free

THURSDAY, April 1, 7:30pm
AV Theater
Schaumburg Township District Library
130 S. Roselle Road
Schaumburg, Illinois

‘Runaways’ features familiar rock band refrain

Friday, March 19th, 2010
Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart in "The Runaways" Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), left, joins Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) in “The Runaways,” based on the all-girl rock group.

“The Runaways” tells that oh-so-familiar tale of a promising, cutting-edge rock band created in a messy birth of ego and opportunism before hitting the heights of fame and fortune, only to slowly implode from drugs and jealousy until its members limp away from the wreckage to go their separate directions.

Even by today’s standards, the story of the real 1970s band the Runaways should still pack the power to shock us with its under-aged girl rockers sucked into a vortex of sex, drugs and abuse by a creepy Svengali who pushed, berated and intimidated his clients into becoming sleazy sex objects who played instruments and sang.

Nonetheless, “The Runaways,” directed by photographer, sculptor, artist, TV commercial maker and rock-video director Floria Sigismondi, feels utterly conventional and almost blasé about its subject, especially in the latter half.

The story begins with leather-swaddled high school rebel Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) wanting to play electric guitar in an era when it was a boys-only instrument.

She seeks out noted music producer Kim Fowley (Chicago’s own Michael Shannon) at the same time drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) approaches him. He smells success with a novelty all-girl band in a business dominated by hormonal males.

He throws them together to see what they come up with, and the results are so encouraging he can practically taste the money. Fowley thinks the band needs an injection of hot sex appeal, and that leads him to Cherie Currie (a grown-up Dakota Fanning). (Read more…)

Organ-ized crime: ‘Repo Men’ a gory sci-fi thriller

Friday, March 19th, 2010
Jude Law in "Repo Men" Jude Law plays one of the “Repo Men” who reclaim human organs when their buyers fail to keep up with payments.

“Repo Men” is a horrifically violent and gory science-fiction action thriller surfing on an allegorical wave of American political Zeitgeist.

It wants to grab us by our collective lapels as if to shout, “Please! Pass health care reform! Regulate insurance and medical companies before America turns to this!”

“This” would be a world in the not-too-distant future when big corporations sell artificial body parts for a kazillion dollars, then charge 19.6 percent interest on loans to purchase them so patients can stay alive.

But not too long.

The moment that patients default on their exorbitant payments, the corporation – given the working-class collective name “The Union” – dispatches repo men to stun delinquent clients and remove whatever body parts possess outstanding balances.

Heart. Lungs. Liver. Kidneys. Eyes. Whatever.

The repo men surgically repossess them on the spot. They give new meaning to the term “deadbeat.”

The cops and courts apparently have no problem with this form of contract enforcement. Worse, the Union doesn’t want its organ recipients to pay on time.

“We can’t make money if everyone pays off their loans,” says Frank (Liev Schreiber), the chilly corporate honcho whose snakelike charm convinces gullible clients to sign their own death warrants.

Frank’s best repo men are Jake (Forest Whitaker) and Remy (Jude Law), pals since fourth grade. They are the elite of their profession, capable of locating and subduing targets, then removing artificial body parts with a surgeon’s skill. (Read more…)

Sweet ‘Wimpy Kid’ comically captures middle-school angst

Friday, March 19th, 2010
Robert Capron, Zachary Gordon and Chloe Moretz in "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" Rowley (Robert Capron), left, and Greg (Zachary Gordon) chuckle with Angie (Chloe Moretz) in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

From the very beginning, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” kept reminding me of some other motion picture. I couldn’t pin it down right away.

Then, it came to me: “A Christmas Story.”

Both are narrated by young boys who feel powerless in a world dominated by adults, bullies and stupid rules.

Both are hilarious in their bull’s-eye observations about the drawbacks of being kids.

Both project a certain sweetness that doesn’t feel cloying or manufactured.

And, as I found out after seeing “Wimpy Kid,” the filmmakers had actually talked about using “A Christmas Story” as an inspiration for how to convert author Jeff Kinney’s best-selling book series to the silver screen.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” is narrated by Greg Heffley, an affable Everykid played with winning sincerity by 11-year-old Zachary Gordon. As he embarks on his voyage through middle school (the dumbest idea ever invented, he says), Greg wants to write down everything that happens so he’ll never forget.

He wanted a “journal.” But Mom bought him a “diary.”

Bummer. (Read more…)

‘Rambo’-like ‘Green Zone’ just revisionist history of Iraq conflict

Sunday, March 14th, 2010
Matt Damon in "Green Zone" A U.S. soldier (Matt Damon) goes rogue to find weapons of mass destruction in Paul Greengrass’ action film “Green Zone.”

Matt Damon’s muscular and fast-moving action film “The Green Zone” may be marketed as an Iraq war thriller, but it’s really a classic example of revisionistic wish fulfillment.

Just as Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo and Chuck Norris’ Colonel Braddock re-fought the Vietnam War to fulfill our wishes of victory, Damon’s chief warrant officer performs a similar task in Iraq.

We wish there had been someone in America – anyone – with the smarts and critical thinking skills to see through the government’s elaborate scam of the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, and go public with the truth.

In routine Hollywood movies, this person would be played by a fearless, skeptical journalist risking his/her life on the front lines of danger.

But the watchdogs of the mainstream American news media were too busy enjoying their safe status as embedded lap dogs. (“Green Zone” features a Wall Street Journal reporter who falls into lock-step with the administration’s war drums. Later, she feels really bad about it.)

So, “The Green Zone” gives us a fearless and skeptical U.S. soldier who not only serves as a stand-in for the detective/investigative reporter character, he gives Jason Bourne a run for his nausea-inducing, whip-panned, shaky-cam action sequences.

Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (a Bourne-again Damon) suspects something fishy in Iraq soon after the 2003 U.S. invasion when his squad secures three locations where WMD are supposed to be, but they find nothing. (Read more…)

‘Family Wedding’ invites all racial clichés

Sunday, March 14th, 2010
America Ferrera and Lance Gross in "Our Family Wedding" Lucia (America Ferrera) can’t wait to marry Marcus (Lance Gross) in the romantic comedy “Our Family Wedding.”

Lucia Ramirez has a confession for her conservative, Mexican-American father, Miguel.

She dropped out of law school and intends to marry a black medical student, then go with him to Laos where he’ll work for Doctors Without Borders.

“Laos?” Miguel replies. “What Laos? Laos Angeles? Laos Vega?”

Miguel isn’t a stupid character. He’s a savvy businessman who runs a garage and towing company, and refurbishes old cars with the craftsmanship of a skilled artist.

But in Rick Famuyiwa’s cliché-crammed, IQ-challenged rom-com “Our Family Wedding,” Miguel inexplicably reverts to a dumb and dopey caricature when faced with the prospect of his daughter’s marriage to a black man.

He’s not the only one who suddenly goes silly.

Miguel (Carlos Mencia) and the groom’s dad, radio DJ Brad Boyd (Forest Whitaker), both devolve into squabbling, egocentric children who sling more ethnic insults than Don Imus.

Brad starts a sentence with, “When you go black …” and Miguel quickly chimes in, “Your credit goes bad!”


Miguel and Brad relish childish behavior so much, they make a running game out of who can take longer to sit down in a chair.

Oh, the suspense!

Brad and Miguel first meet on the street when a distressed Brad tries to stop Miguel from towing his luxury car out of a no-parking zone.

After that, it’s all love at first fight. (Read more…)

Cast delivers in weak rom com ‘League’

Sunday, March 14th, 2010
Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve in "She's Out of My League" Nerdy Kirk (Jay Baruchel) can’t believe he’s dating the hot Molly (Alice Eve) in “She’s Out of My League.”

Here’s a breezy summer sex comedy that somehow jumped the gates and wound up as a spring break release.

Jim Field Smith’s “She’s Out of My League” is like a vintage Judd Apatow project, only not very well done.

It strives oh-so-hard to hit that Apatowian sweet spot between engaging, sympathetic characters and tasteless, vulgar funny business, and it partly succeeds, only because its committed cast makes the characters and plot a lot more fun than they deserve.

Employing a high degree of geek fantasy fulfillment, “She’s Out of My League” ponders what might happen if a nice nerd really could be attractive to a fetching hybrid of Christie Brinkley and Anna Nicole Smith.

Kirk (played by Jay Baruchel, of the Apatow production “Knocked Up”) and his best friends work for TSA, the airport security company.

The poor guy still pines for his callous ex-girlfriend (Lindsay Sloane) after two years.

All that changes when blonde bombshell attorney Molly (Brit actress Alice Eve) passes through security, and the men fall all over themselves to impress her.

Except Kirk.

He treats her like a regular person, and actually rescues her from the lolling tongues of his hormonal colleagues.

Realizing that she left her cell phone at the airport, Eve uses her friend’s cell to call her own. She gets Kirk, who promises to hold the phone until she returns from her trip.

They meet. They talk. They dig each other. (Read more…)

Moody ‘Remember Me’ revels in dark romance

Sunday, March 14th, 2010
Robert Pattinson and Emilie de Ravin in "Remember Me" Two tormented souls, Tyler and Ally (Robert Pattinson and Emilie de Ravin), enjoy moments of fun in “Remember Me.”

“Remember Me” makes an easy target for criticism.

It’s slow and slightly pretentious with “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson channeling James Dean, or at least James Franco channeling James Dean.

The ending might be too easy to anticipate. Maybe not.

“Remember Me” isn’t for people who want easy-to-like, emo characters and formula plots with nice, tidy, fake happy endings.

It’s a movie about loss and remembering. It reminds us we’re on the planet for a short time, and loved ones can leave or be taken without warning.

It tells us to stay focused on the people we love and to do it now, and to keep doing it.

The movie doesn’t deliver this message with any degree of subtlety.

It screams.

So if you’re not in the mood for a dark movie where the characters take time to warm to each other, or where the plot reveals itself in deliberate, measured increments, skip “Remember Me.” See something other than this romance between two lost souls.

As a child, Ally witnesses the murder of her mother on a New York subway platform in 1991.

Ten years later, Ally (“Lost” co-star Emilie de Ravin) is a student at a New York university where troubled Tyler Hawkins (executive producer Pattinson) also attends class.

He still carries the memory of his older brother who committed suicide in 1995. We assume that might be why his father, a high-powered Wall Street type (erstwhile 007 Pierce Brosnan) divorced his mother (Lena Olin) and has all but abandoned interest in Caroline (Ruby Jerins), his 11-year-old sister. (Read more…)

‘Hurt Locker’ earns best-picture Academy Award

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010
Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow and Greg Shapiro on Oscar night From left, screen writer Mark Boal, director Kathryn Bigelow and producer Greg Shapiro pose backstage with their Oscars for screen writing, directing and best movie for “The Hurt Locker.”

In an evening where all the winners pretty much lined up as expected, Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq war drama “The Hurt Locker” won the Best Picture statuette during the 82nd annual Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood.

Bigelow made Academy Award history by becoming the first woman ever to receive the Oscar for best director. As expected, of course.

“There’s no way to describe it,” she said. “It’s the moment of a lifetime.”

“The Hurt Locker” was nominated for nine Oscars, and took home six.

As far as Chicago was concerned, the big news of the night came when Palatine High School alum and Columbia College graduate Mauro Fiore won the best cinematography Oscar for shooting the live-action portion of “Avatar,” James Cameron’s groundbreaking science-fiction adventure.

“Everybody, thank you very much,” Fiore said. “An incredible honor!”

Jeff Bridges won best actor as a boozed-out country-and-western singer in “Crazy Heart.” As expected.

“Thank you, Academy members!” he yelled to a standing ovation. “Mom and Dad! Look! Whoa-hoo! Thanks for turning me on to such a groovy profession!”

Sandra Bullock won her first Oscar for best actress for her role as a tough, sexy steel magnolia in “The Blind Side.”

“Did I really win this, or did I just wear you all down?” she said.

“Avatar” won Oscars for visual effects, art decoration, cinematography, sound effects and sound mixing. (Read more…)

‘Brooklyn’s Finest’ a brooding mess of Hollywood hokum

Thursday, March 4th, 2010
Wesley Snipes and Don Cheadle in "Brooklyn's Finest" Undercover cop Tango (Don Cheadle), right, helps an ex-con boss (Wesley Snipes) return to society in “Brooklyn’s Finest.”

“These streets,” an undercover cop named Tango tells an ex-con kingpin, “have an expiration date!”

What? Did he really say that?

The streets have an expiration date?

This might be a cute way for a screenwriter to suggest that thugs can’t survive on the mean streets of New York forever, but seasoned big-city cops just don’t talk like this.


Although earnestly acted by a talented cast, “Brooklyn’s Finest” packs enough Hollywood hokum to take the edge off its lethal bursts of violence and visceral street cred.

The crime drama is another one of those seriously bleak, pessimistic cop tales where the boys in blue surrender to corruption and give up fighting the good fight, either because it’s much easier or they simply can’t envision a better way to handle their lives as peace officers.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” – a deliberately factitious title – follows three New York cops who apparently have no connection to each other.

Not at first. But as you might expect, their paths eventually cross in a series of unexpected, exceedingly violent encounters capped by one of the wimpiest, least satisfying finales in the genre’s history. (Read more…)