Film listings are compiled by Jonathan Rosenbaum and J.R. Jones from information received by Monday. Please submit screenings (include phone numbers) to firstname.lastname@example.org or Movie Listings, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611. Occasionally bookings change after our deadline; we suggest calling ahead for confirmation. Most films are screened in 35-millimeter and most videos are projected. Where possible, exceptions are noted. Criticism by Jonathan Rosenbaum (JR), Lisa Alspector (LA), Fred Camper (FC), Don Druker (DD), Pat Graham (PG), Andrea Gronvall (AG), J.R. Jones (JJ), Joshua Katzman (JK), Dave Kehr (DK), Peter Keough (PK), Hank Sartin (HSa), Henry Sheehan (HS), and Ted Shen (TS).
RBamako A large portion of this highly original 2006 feature from Mali by Abderrahmane Sissako (Life on Earth, Waiting for Happiness) consists of a hearing devoted to the operations of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Africa, with judge, black and white lawyers, and witnesses all played by nonactors who've written their own speeches, many of them angry. All this is set outdoors, in a backyard in a poor section of Bamako, the capital of Mali, and the remainder of the film is devoted to glimpses of everyday African life taking place around this event. Sissako scrupulously avoids making any facile connections between his two blocks of material, and his cast, even when silent, are always eloquent. In French and Bambara with subtitles. 117 min. (JR) a Chatham 14.
Beyond the Clouds Michelangelo Antonioni's farewell feature (1995, 115 min.), combining four sketches from his book That Bowling Alley on the Tiber, is minor only by his own standards. He made it when he was 83, after a stroke ten years earlier left him partially paralyzed and largely unable to speak; to placate the film's insurers Wim Wenders collaborated on the script and direction, but only on the brief segments linked by a filmmaker (played by John Malkovich) who roams around looking for material. (One of these segments, featuring Jeanne Moreau and the late Marcello Mastroianni, focuses, ironically, on the theme of artistic imitation.) It's the most directly erotic of Antonioni's features, its stories all revolving around the possibility of sex between strangers, and Antonioni takes advantage of all the existential mysteries involved. It's also set in different parts of Italy and France (with English, Italian, and French spoken at different junctures), and Antonioni characteristically intertwines his eroticism of the flesh with an even more precise eroticism of place. With Sophie Marceau, Irene Jacob, Vincent Perez, Peter Weller, Chiara Caselli, Fanny Ardant, Kim Rossi-Stuart, and Ines Sastre. (JR) a Gene Siskel Film Center. Also on the July 30 program: Making a Film for Me Is Life (1995), Enrica Antonioni's video documentary about her husband shooting Beyond the Clouds.
The Bourne Ultimatum The third installment in the franchise based on Robert Ludlum's spy thrillers. Paul Greengrass (United 93) directed; with Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, and Albert Finney. a Gardens 1-6, River East 21, 600 N. Michigan.
RBroken English This bittersweet romantic comedy, an auspicious feature debut by writer-director Zoe Cassavetes, gives versatile Parker Posey one of her most complex roles. She plays a lonely, pill-popping, hard-drinking New York single under pressure from her mom (Gena Rowlands) to settle down. Her best friend (Drea de Matteo) urges her to just get out there, but all her dates--like a one-night stand with a vain actor (a very funny Justin Theroux)--end disastrously. Enter a coworker's visiting French pal (Melvil Poupaud), who seems destined to cause her even more pain. How Posey's neurotic, self-destructive heroine finds her way to healing is the core of this generous film, whose moral is that happiness can't begin unless you're open to its possibility. With Peter Bogdanovich, Bernadette Lafont,
and Josh Hamilton. PG-13, 97 min. (AG)
a Landmark's Century Centre.
cBuck Privates a LaSalle Bank Cinema.
Captivity Torture porn gets the glamour treatment in this U.S.-Russian coproduction shot at Moscow's Mosfilm studios, with some location footage of New York thrown in as bookends. Elisha Cuthbert plays a cock-teasing celebrity model who's stalked and kidnapped by a strong, silent type in a hoodie, then subjected to such degradation and torture as being force-fed human organs and having to shoot her own bichon frise. Although clearly aping Saw, former art-house director Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields, The Mission) also cribs from Psycho and Panic Room. It's not scary because not one second is believable--starting with the idea of Cuthbert as a supermodel. With Daniel Gillies and Pruitt Taylor Vince. R, 88 min. (AG) a Ford City.
Doogal Adapted from the 1960s British TV show The Magic Roundabout, and released in the UK under that name in 2005, this animated feature was subsequently recut, redubbed, and retitled by its U.S. distributor, the Weinstein Company. (As part of this face-lift, Jeff Fowler's 2004 short Gopher Broke has been inserted into the narrative as well.) The results are flat-out tedious, from the fart jokes to the numerous movie references. Codirectors Jean Duval, Frank Passingham, and Dave Borthwick can't resist the tendency of CGI to make every object spherical: from the title shaggy dog to the snail in love with
a cow, the characters are so bulbous they look like talking gumdrops. Judi Dench narrates; with the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Fallon, and Ian McKellen. G, 81 min. (AG) a Century 12 and CineArts 6. $1 admission.
The Elephant Man David Lynch's first big-budget film (1980) confirmed the talent he showed in Eraserhead, though the picture itself is a strange trade-off between Lynch's personal themes--the night world of obscure, disturbing sexual obsessions--and the requirements of a middlebrow message movie. Lynch revives ancient avant-garde mannerisms--dream images and swirling, dissolving montage sequences--and makes them work again, brilliantly; he's less successful in the light of day, where the film bogs down in stagy, high-minded dialogue sequences. Despite the rich associations, the film finally makes little more of its central figure--a hideously deformed young man--than an object of pity. With John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins. PG, 125 min. (DK) a Gene Siskel Film Center.
Eros The raison d'etre for this three-part 2004 anthology was finding a project for ailing Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni, in his early 90s, whose segment, "The Dangerous Thread of Things," is drawn from three sketches in his book That Bowling Alley on the Tiber. It's clumsily acted and closer to standard porn than anything else he's done, though it's also characteristic of his late work in its sensitivity to modernist architecture and its fascination with the silences and antagonisms of an unhappy couple. The one masterpiece here is Wong Kar-wai's moving "The Hand," a visually exquisite and highly erotic period piece about a prostitute (Gong Li) and her tailor (Chang Chen). The complete washout is Steven Soderbergh's flashy "Equilibrium," a heartless, unerotic, and ultimately pointless black comedy with a 1950s setting. I guess one out of three ain't bad. In English and subtitled Mandarin and Italian. 108 min. (JR) a Gene Siskel Film Center. Also on the program: Antonioni's 17-minute short Michelangelo Eye to Eye (2004), about his encounter with a restoration of Michelangelo's 16th-century statue of Moses. Jonathan Rosenbaum calls the film "a deceptively simple masterwork of digital trickery that I regard as Antonioni's only great work since the late 60s."
Evan Almighty In this farcical sequel to Bruce Almighty (2003), God is still a janitor played by Morgan Freeman, but the Buffalo newscaster played by Jim Carrey is now a Buffalo newscaster-turned-congressman played by The 40-Year-Old Virgin's Steve Carell. As soon as the hero arrives with his family in a Virginia suburb to "change the world," God orders him to build an ark, and then sends loads of animals in pairs after him until he obeys. Freeman's God is a mix of Old and New Testament, with a dash of both sexism and sitcom; Carell's Noah is a political fool, but that only proves he's honest and sincere. This is idiotic, but it's so good-natured I didn't mind. Directed by Tom Shadyac from a script by Steve Oedekerk; with Lauren Graham, John Goodman, John Michael Higgins, and Wanda Sykes. PG, 88 min. (JR) a Ford City, Logan.
Evening Susan Minot adapts her own novel with the help of Michael Cunningham (The Hours) about a dying woman (Vanessa Redgrave) coming to terms with her two daughters (Natasha Richardson and Toni Collette) and memories of her youth in the 50s (where she's played by Claire Danes). Despite the show-offy cast, it took me a while to warm to these people and their self-consciously idyllic settings--as well as to the slick direction of former cinematographer Lajos Koltai--but I was eventually won over. With Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Patrick Wilson, and Hugh Dancy. PG-13, 118 min. (JR) a Landmark's Century Centre.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer As federally mandated by the No Marvel Superhero Left Behind Act, this sequel to Fantastic Four (2005) drags in the Silver Surfer, who looks like a gigantic hood ornament and, given voice by Laurence Fishburne, has about as much personality. The original quartet (Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis), with their bizarre and frequently comic superpowers, are amusing enough to carry another installment, though the first movie's genesis story was more fun than the perfunctory doomsday scheme trotted out here. Tim Story directed; with Julian McMahon and Andre Braugher. PG, 92 min. (JJ) a Logan.
RFlushed Away A collaboration between DreamWorks Animation and the UK's Aardman Features, this delightful computer animation is less twee than Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, with more action and a broader American sensibility. A posh pet mouse (voiced by Hugh Jackman) is booted down a Kensington sewer to an underground replica of London where he helps an intrepid rat (Kate Winslet) battle a loathsome gangland toad (Ian McKellen). Bill Nighy and Andy Serkis are the toad's dim henchmen, and Jean Reno is hilarious as Le Frog, leader of some inept Gallic ninjas. But they're all upstaged by the Greek chorus of stem-eyed slugs, who emit sound effects and chirp pop standards with insolent glee. David Bowers and Sam Fell directed. PG, 82 min. (AG) a Wilmette. F
1408 An author of paranormal guidebooks (John Cusack) checks into a notorious Manhattan hotel room whose guests never survive the night. Adapted from a Stephen King story, this trite but watchable chiller plays like a scaled-down version of The Shining, with Cusack driven over the edge by hallucinations of his abusive father and dead daughter. Back in the 80s adaptations of King's fiction were the cutting edge in Hollywood horror; now, in the age of Saw and Hostel, they seem like old-fashioned comfort food, something for parents to enjoy while their kids are in the next theater digging the torture and evisceration. Mikael Hafstrom directed, and Samuel L. Jackson has a fine old time as the boogety-boogety hotel manager. PG-13, 94 min. (JJ) a Chatham 14, Cicero ShowPlace 14, City North 14, Ford City, Logan, River East 21, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings.
The Goonies More puberty blues from producer Steven Spielberg in a children's adventure film (1985) so overloaded with Freudian imagery that the good doctor himself might feel embarrassed. A bunch of 13-year-old boys penetrate a secret "cave" in search of hidden "treasure," and when they aren't squeezing through tight places or being doused with water, they're castrating statues or kicking villains in the crotch. References to Mark Twain, the Warner Brothers swashbucklers, and the Our Gang comedies hover in the background, but despite these honorable sources, it's a charmless exercise: director Richard Donner turns the kids into shrieking ferrets, and his jumpy cutting seems to lag behind the action deliberately in a curious attempt to make the film seem more chaotic and cluttered. The usual Spielberg rhetoric about the sanctity of childhood and the beauty of dreams seems wholly factitious in this crass context, which even includes a commercial--in the form of a rock video--for the tie-in merchandise. With Ke Huy-quan and John Matuszak. PG, 114 min. (DK) a Music Box.
Goya's Ghosts Since cleaning up at the Oscars with Amadeus, Milos Forman has favored biopics (Man on the Moon, The People vs. Larry Flynt), and this is one of his more fanciful, spinning a historical melodrama around the great Spanish painter Francisco Goya. Stellan Skarsgard cuts a rather drab figure as Goya, whose dark imaginings are mostly ignored to accommodate a fictional tale about a priest of the Inquisition (Javier Bardem) and the merchant's daughter he wants to save/fondle (Natalie Portman). The turning point, Napoleon's invasion of Spain, sets in motion a number of fine historical ironies. But in the second half, set 15 years later, Forman pushes Portman into a gimmicky dual role as both the priest's victim, now crazed and and decrepit from years in prison, and her daughter, a teenage prostitute. R, 114 min. (JJ) a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley.
RHairspray Adam Shankman's movie version of the Broadway hit--itself based on John Waters's 1988 film--satirizes prejudice about race, class, and physical appearance in 1962 Baltimore. Plump, peppy teenager Tracy Turnblad (lovable newcomer Nikki Blonsky) crusades to integrate a local TV dance show and helps restore romance to the marriage of her eccentric dad (Christopher Walken) and overweight mom (John Travolta, in drag). With its wisecracking screenplay, period-perfect pop score, and Shankman's splashy choreography, this may be the funniest, dancingest screen musical since Singin' in the Rain. The inspired cast includes Queen Latifah, Amanda Bynes, Jerry Stiller, Michelle Pfeiffer as Tracy's snobbish nemesis, Allison Janney as a religious fanatic, and Waters as a flasher. PG, 115 min. (Albert Williams) a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Cicero ShowPlace 14, Crown Village 18, Ford City, Lake, Norridge, Pickwick, River East 21, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings, 600 N. Michigan, Webster Place.
Happy Feet Let's see if I have this straight: in an animated tribe of penguins who talk and sing like inner-city residents, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) can't sing but can tap-dance like crazy. When the tribe starts ailing due to lack of fish, he follows the aliens netting the fish all the way to the city, where he discovers that his dancing just might persuade them to stop overfishing. This curious ecological parable was directed by George Miller (Babe: Pig in the City), who still has an eye and a sense of humor but on this particular outing can't get the script he wrote with three others to make much sense. Other voices include those of Hugh Jackman, Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman, and Brittany Murphy. PG, 98 min. (JR) a Davis; for other venues see "Open-air screenings" sidebar in this section. At Davis only: $1 admission.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix The fifth movie adapted from J.K. Rowling's best-selling novels introduces the wizard prodigy (Daniel Radcliffe) to another formidable adversary: the new instructor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft, played by Imelda Staunton as a cross between Elizabeth II and Nurse Ratched. A zealous apparatchik of the Ministry of Magic (superbly realized by production designer Stuart Craig), she bans the practice of spells, leaving her frustrated students more vulnerable than ever to the sorcerer Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Less magic also means less fun and discovery, as Harry battles depression and a hostile press; this is the bleakest Potter installment to date, and under David Yates's choppy direction, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson, and David Thewlis have little more than walk-ons. PG-13, 139 min. (AG) a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Cicero ShowPlace 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Davis, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Lake, Navy Pier, Norridge, Pickwick, River East 21, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings, 600 N. Michigan, Webster Place, Wilmette.
RHot Fuzz After scoring with the horror spoof Shaun of the Dead, British comedy writers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg take on American cop thrillers, and as in their earlier movie the good humor bubbles up from a deep reservoir of affection for Hollywood schlock. Pegg, who played the underachieving Shaun of the earlier movie, plays it ramrod straight this time as an overachieving London patrolman assigned to a sleepy country village. Roly-poly Nick Frost also returns, as Pegg's partner, an incompetent bobby with a head full of melodrama derived from blockbusters like Point Break and Bad Boys II. The transplanted action cliches mix easily with the eccentric English characters, and as a director Wright is adept at framing and cutting for excitement as well as laughs. R, 121 min. (JJ) a Brew & View at the Vic.
I Know Who Killed Me Lindsay Lohan stars as a young woman abducted by a serial killer who reappears two weeks later claiming to be someone else. Chris Sivertson directed. R. a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Cicero ShowPlace 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Ford City, Norridge, River East 21, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry Adam Sandler and Kevin James star as Brooklyn firemen who pretend to be gay lovers so they can collect domestic partner benefits. The script originated with Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), but the end result has all the earmarks of Sandler's cynical, complacent Happy Madison Productions crew: for every stale homophobic joke there's a sheepish nod to political correctness, and just to be safe director Dennis Dugan plays the firefighter card at every opportunity. With Jessica Biel, Dan Aykroyd, Ving Rhames, and Steve Buscemi. PG-13, 115 min. (JJ) a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Cicero ShowPlace 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Lake, Norridge, River East 21, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings, 600 N. Michigan.
The Iceberg After a traumatic experience inside a frozen locker, the manager of a fast-food outlet leaves her family and heads north on a sailboat with a mute companion. Written and directed by three of the main performers (Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy) and working with a minimum of dialogue, this 2005 Belgian comedy wears its strangeness on its sleeve. I found it striking but often strident, and neither funny nor edifying. In French and Inuktitut with subtitles. 84 min. (JR) a Facets Cinematheque.
Interview Writer-director Steve Buscemi fulfills a cherished project of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker assassinated by an Islamic extremist in 2004, with this English-language remake of van Gogh's hastily done two-hander Interview (2003), written by van Gogh's friend Theodor Holman. Van Gogh was a deliberately unpleasant provocateur, and his hand is evident in this playlike encounter between a political reporter (Buscemi) and the schlock TV actress he's assigned to interview (Sienna Miller). But the good direction and performances seem wasted on limited material; despite a few interesting twists and ambiguities, the main revelation--that the reporter is an insufferable snob--doesn't seem worth the 84 minutes devoted to spelling it out. R. (JR) a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley.
RInto Great Silence German filmmaker Philip Groning spent six months filming inside the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps, and at 162 minutes his pictorial study of the Carthusian monks' still, quiet, deeply spiritual existence gradually enveloped me. Shot in natural light, the meditative images range from endless stone corridors cloaked in shadow to glittering snow-covered mountains, and the sequences of anonymous monks going silently about their work are dramatically punctuated by prolonged close-ups of the men, their faces shaded by the wisdom of their years and the power of their devotion. This 2005 feature is demanding to say the least, but its pulse-slowing rhythms leave a real sense of peace. In German with subtitles. (JJ) a Gene Siskel Film Center.
RIvan the Terrible Sergei Eisenstein's controversial, unfinished trilogy, with a Prokofiev score and a histrionic, campy (albeit compositionally very controlled) performance in the title role by Nikolai Cherkassov (1945). The ceremonial high style of the proceedings has been interpreted by critics as everything from the ultimate denial of a cinema based on montage (under Stalinist pressure) to the greatest Flash Gordon serial ever made. Thematically fascinating both as submerged autobiography and as a daring portrait of Stalin's paranoia, quite apart from its interest as the historical pageant it professes to be, this is one of the most distinctive great films in the history of cinema--freakishly mannerist, yet so vivid in its obsessions and expressionist angularity that it virtually invents its own genre. 184 min. In Russian with subtitles. (JR) a Univ. of Chicago Doc Films.
RKnocked Up Judd Apatow made his bones as a comedy writer for Ben Stiller and Garry Shandling, but his own projects--the TV series Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared and the sleeper theatrical hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin--have a sensibility all their own, loyal to the tradition of raunchy adolescent humor but also sneakily astute in their emotional truths. Like Virgin, this story of a lazy slob (Seth Rogen) who drunkenly impregnates a beautiful TV host (Katherine Heigl of Grey's Anatomy) shows how young men and women tend to view each other as the gateway to adulthood, though in this case the looming responsibility of childbirth makes the passage even more terrifying. Funny, honest, and generous, this is mainstream American comedy at its best. Apatow directed; with Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Martin Starr, Jason Segal, and Jay Baruchel. R, 129 min. (JJ) a City North 14, Crown Village 18, River East 21.
License to Wed As someone who's been developing an allergy to Robin Williams over the years, I didn't exactly welcome the idea of his playing the clergyman from hell as he conducts a souped-up version of a rigorous "marriage preparation course" for a Chicago couple (Mandy Moore and John Krasinski). But even if I could have put up with the unpleasantness of this as comedy, I still would have balked at the eventual portrayal of this monster as an angel in disguise--even as he's monitoring the couple's every move from a surveillance van to make sure they don't indulge in premarital sex. Director Ken Kwapis (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) gives this script by many hands a certain gloss it doesn't deserve. PG-13, 100 min. (JR) a River East 21.
RLittle Women An open, fresh, surprisingly spontaneous version of the Alcott story, directed by George Cukor for David O. Selznick (1933). Katharine Hepburn's Jo is the best of her early performances, a lovely dance of dreaminess and flintiness. Joan Bennett, Frances Dee, and Jean Parker are the other sisters, and the supporting cast has Cukor's usual depth: Edna May Oliver, Spring Byington, Douglass Montgomery, Henry Stephenson. 115 min. (DK) a Music Box.
Live Free or Die Hard Twelve years after the third entry in the action franchise about unstoppable New York maverick cop John McClane (Bruce Willis), a steely computer genius (Timothy Olyphant, the series's weakest villain so far) has crippled Washington, D.C., by breaching the nation's vital data banks. McClane enlists a Jersey hacker (Justin Long, the Mac guy from the Apple ads) to reverse the damage, but the bad guys' omnipotence at nearly every turn dilutes the film's suspense. The physical stunts by Maggie Q as a lethal martial arts expert and Cyril Raffaelli as a Eurotrash sniper who rappels down buildings are more thrilling than the over-the-top chase sequences, so contrived as to verge on self-parody. Len Wiseman (Underworld) directed. PG-13, 129 min. (AG) a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Cicero ShowPlace 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Norridge, River East 21, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings, 600 N. Michigan.
Looney Tunes Film Festival A dozen vintage Warner Brothers cartoons, including Chuck Jones's One Froggy Evening (1951), Rabbit Seasoning (1952), and No Barking (1954), and Friz Freleng's Rabbit Every Monday (1951). The program runs approximately 85 minutes. a Music Box.
RNManufactured Landscapes As a teenager in northern Ontario, Edward Burtynsky worked in a gold mine and an auto plant, and he brings to his panoramic still photographs a fascination with industry and the natural landscape that's magnified in this big-screen documentary. Filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal trails him on a tour of industrial sites in China and Bangladesh, and her opening sequences are breathtaking (an eight-minute tracking shot along a giant factory floor, a scene of the photographer posing yellow-clad workers on a road flanked by yellow buildings). Burtynsky is drawn to spots (and lives) that have been disfigured by commerce--like the awful "waste" dump where poor villagers harvest metal from junked American computers--and the open-endedness of his images is the key to their power. The same virtue doesn't apply to his commentary, which is too general to rise above the pedestrian; the movie works best traveling from the eye straight to the conscience. 90 min. (JJ) a Landmark's Century Centre.
Metallic Blues Dan Verete's 2004 comedy, in which two Israeli car salesmen drive to Germany in a 1985 Lincoln Continental. In English and subtitled Hebrew and German. 90 min. a Chicago Cultural Center. DVD projection. F
Mr. Brooks The title hero (Kevin Costner), a successful and beloved executive, husband, and father, is secretly addicted to committing gratuitous murders and voices his inner doubts to an alter ego (William Hurt) while being tracked by a similarly compulsive millionaire cop (Demi Moore). When he forgets to close the blinds before killing a couple, a voyeur (Dane Cook) spots him and blackmails him, demanding to be brought along on the next caper. This is one of those slick, violent, ridiculous Hollywood jobs that make little sense as a story, a comment on life, or a depiction of characters, but are moderately enjoyable in their spinning of movie conventions. There's even a good De Palma-style fake shock ending. Bruce A. Evans directed a script he wrote with Raynold Gideon. R, 120 min. (JR) a Brew & View at the Vic.
RMulholland Drive I'm still trying to decide if this 146-minute piece of hocus-pocus (2001) is David Lynch's best feature since Eraserhead. In any case, it's immensely more likable than his other stabs at neonoir (Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Lost Highway), perhaps because it likes its characters and avoids sentimentalizing or sneering at them (the sort of thing that limited Twin Peaks). Originally conceived and rejected as a TV pilot, then expanded after some French producers stepped in, it has the benefit of Lynch's own observations about Hollywood, which were fresher at this point than his puritanical notations on small towns in the American heartland. The best-known actors (Ann Miller, Robert Forster, Dan Hedaya) wound up relatively marginalized, while the lesser-known talents (in particular the remarkable Naomi Watts and the glamorous Laura Elena Harring) were invited to take over the movie (and have a field day doing so). The plot slides along agreeably as a tantalizing mystery before becoming almost completely inexplicable, though no less thrilling, in the closing stretches--but that's what Lynch is famous for. (JR) a Gene Siskel Film Center.
NMy Best Friend Daniel Auteuil stars as a cold-blooded antique dealer whose associates, gathered to celebrate his birthday, all admit they don't like him and wager him that he can't produce a single person who'd call him a real friend. His chances look grim until he meets a sweet, unassuming cabbie (Dany Boon) who makes a point of liking everybody. The movie's reptilian setup doesn't do much to nurture a sense of mirth, and Auteuil is too likable an actor to make an effective SOB. By the time director Patrice Leconte (Intimate Strangers) arrives at his predictable climax and conventional moral, this lethargic French comedy may not have any friends either. In French with subtitles. PG-13, 90 min. (JJ) a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Landmark's Century Centre.
RThe Navajo Films Though truly experimental, these seven gems are rarely screened and have mostly gone unnoticed by the experimental film crowd. In 1966 anthropologist John Adair and filmmaker Sol Worth gave cameras, film, and minimal technical instruction to seven Navajo, most of whom had seen little cinema or TV, and let them film themselves. They recorded mostly physical tasks--weaving, washing clothes, digging a well--but invariably linked process and product to human labor and the land. The images have the freshness of objects seen for the first time, while the many jump cuts, which seem abrupt at first, emphasize what's left out and imply that the films are transitory documents of a larger reality. 122 min. (FC) a Univ. of Chicago Doc Films. 16mm.
NNo Reservations I don't believe in fixing things that aren't broken. Sandra Nettelbeck's wholly accessible Mostly Martha (2001) is one of the most delightful comedies of recent years, so the idea of a remake with English instead of German dialogue is already pretty dubious, an insult to the capacities of both audiences and the original filmmakers. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a neurotic chef trying to get along with both her eight-year-old niece (Abigail Breslin), whose mother has been killed, and a sous chef (Aaron Eckhart) who joins her kitchen staff. She's miscast, but she can't be blamed for lacking the verve and smarts Martina Gedeck showed in the original: Carol Fuchs's silly, mushy script has her character swerve without warning between obtuse rigidity and sweet normality--to make her character believable would have been all but impossible. Scott Hicks directed, and even the usually adept Patricia Clarkson as the heroine's boss is set adrift. PG, 103 min. (JR)
a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Cicero ShowPlace 14, Crown Village 18, Ford City, Lake, Norridge, River East 21, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings, Webster Place.
Ocean's Thirteen Just a way station between Ocean's Twelve (2004) and the inevitable "Ocean's Fourteen," this third installment in the franchise is outlandish even as fantasy, a labyrinthine revenge caper undertaken after evil lug Al Pacino double-crosses sweet-tempered lug Elliott Gould (part of the usual crew) out of his share of a Vegas hotel-casino. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, and Carl Reiner are all back, though Julia Roberts has taken a powder as designated sex object and been replaced by a villainous Ellen Barkin, the butt of much ageist ridicule. Predictably adolescent and smarmy, with the mix of sentimentality and cynical flippancy that's becoming Steven Soderbergh's specialty (even when he's pretending to make art films), this is chewing gum for the eyes and ears, and not bad as such. PG-13, 122 min. (JR) a River East 21, Webster Place.
ROnce In the opening scene of John Carney's engaging indie, a Dublin busker (Glen Hansard of the Frames) hands his guitar to a passerby and gives chase to the wastrel who's snatched his guitar case and change, but when he finally collars the culprit, he lets him keep the money. That sort of humanity infuses the movie, a low-budget and leisurely plotted DV project in which the singer, a poor vacuum-cleaner repairman, falls in love with a young Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova) who plays the piano and helps him put together a band for a demo session. The songs don't advance the narrative lyrically so much as follow the two characters' uncertain relationship through the slow realization of their themes; in particular a scene in which they first jam together in the back room of a music store is a gem. 86 min. (JJ) a Davis, Landmark's Century Centre.
Open-air screenings See sidebar in this section.
ROver the Hedge In this computer-animated Dreamworks feature a wily raccoon (given voice by Bruce Willis) dupes an assortment of woodland animals (Garry Shandling, William Shatner, Steve Carell) into raiding the well-stocked larders of their two-legged neighbors. Less philosophical than its source material, a comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis, the movie goes for broad laughs in its send-up of American consumption. The final showdown, in which the critters tangle with security-rigged lawn flamingos and garden gnomes, would have made Rube Goldberg proud. Tim Johnson and writer Karey Kirkpatrick directed. PG, 86 min. (AG) a Lake; for other venues see "Open-air screenings" sidebar in this section.
Paris, Je T'Aime Most features composed of sketches by different filmmakers are wildly uneven. This one is consistently mediocre, albeit pleasant and watchable. It helps that none of the episodes runs longer than five or six minutes. Many of the most famous areas of Paris--the Latin Quarter, the Champs-Elysees--are omitted, but Olivier Assayas, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Joel and Ethan Coen, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Gerard Depardieu, Christopher Doyle, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydes, Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, Nobuhiro Suwa, Tom Tykwer, and Gus Van Sant, among others, do pretty well with their chosen parts of the city. In English and subtitled French. 116 min. (JR) a Landmark's Century Centre.
RThe Passenger A masterpiece, one of Michelangelo Antonioni's finest works (1975). Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider star as a journalist who trades one identity for another and the woman who becomes his accomplice (and ultimately the moral center of his adopted world). Less a thriller (though the mood of mystery is pervasive) than a meditation on the problems of knowledge, action for its own sake, and the relationship of the artist to the work he brings into being. Next to this film, Blowup seems a facile, though necessary, preliminary. By all means go. 126 min. (DD) a Gene Siskel Film Center.
RRatatouille Brad Bird's second collaboration with Pixar is more ambitious and meditative than his Oscar-winning The Incredibles. "Anyone can cook" is just one of the lessons of this superbly rendered CGI animation about a young rat (voiced by Patton Oswalt) who longs to work in the Paris restaurant made famous by his late idol (Brad Garrett). The novice rodent chef transcends his clan's prejudices by teaming surreptitiously with a human, an inept scullery boy (Lou Romano) the rat coaches to gastronomic acclaim. Cooking tips abound, and the Proustian moment a snooty food writer (Peter O'Toole) enjoys is a corker. With the voices of Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, and Janeane Garofalo. Also playing: Gary Rydstrom's hilarious animated sci-fi short Lifted. G, 110 min. (AG) a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Cicero ShowPlace 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Davis, Ford City, Lake, Norridge, Pickwick, River East 21, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings, 600 N. Michigan.
RRescue Dawn Released by MGM, starring two busy Hollywood actors, and easily slotted as a Vietnam POW adventure, this could be Werner Herzog's most commercial movie ever. But it's also elemental Herzog, a story of superhuman willpower that he first told in his moving 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Christian Bale gives a committed performance as Dieter Dengler, the U.S. fighter pilot shot down over Laos in 1966 and held in a jungle camp; Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies are compelling as Dengler's suffering prison mates, respectively drawn to and repelled by his irrepressible optimism as he plots their escape. With its clumsy treatment of the Laotian guards and its macho denouement back in the States, Rescue Dawn sometimes stumbles into Rambo territory, but like much of Herzog's work, it's essentially apolitical, focusing on a man at war with his environment. PG-13, 126 min. (JJ) a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Crown Village 18, 600 N. Michigan, Webster Place.
Shrek the Third The big green babysitter is back, but the charm has evaporated. Cinephiles will enjoy some of the in-jokes (watching an awful play, one character cracks, "This is worse than Love Letters"). But then, if you're a cinephile, why would you bother with this? Chris Miller and Raman Hui directed; with the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and Antonio Banderas. PG, 92 min. (JJ) a Logan. Showing as a double feature with Surf's Up (see separate listing).
RSicko Asked who the greatest French poet was, Andre Gide said, "Victor Hugo, alas." I feel the same way about Michael Moore. He qualifies, sometimes lamentably, as our most important political filmmaker, in part just because the media do such a poor job of delivering basic news to us. His blistering attack on the American health care system and the abuses of medical insurance companies offers eye-opening contrasts with national health services in Canada, the UK, and France, and, atypically, he delays appearing on-screen for some 40 minutes to keep the focus on this country's victims. When his comic persona finally does come in, there's something a bit irritating about his asking so many questions he already knows the answers to, sometimes paying more heed to the audience members he perceives as clueless than to the people he's talking to (as when he asks some Cubans on the street, "Is there a doctor here in Cuba?"). But this is still essential viewing--a moving, informative, corrosive, and even sometimes hilarious call to arms. PG-13, 123 min. (JR) a Chatham 14, Landmark's Century Centre, River East 21.
cThe Simpsons Movie a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Cicero ShowPlace 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Davis, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Lake, Norridge, Pickwick, River East 21, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings, 600 N. Michigan.
RSunshine Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris cast long shadows over this ambitious psychedelic sci-fi adventure by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later . . . ), but it's a solid effort nonetheless. Set in 2057, it concerns a space mission to launch a nuke into the dying sun in hopes of saving earth from perpetual winter. Boyle's spiritual and metaphysical musings intertwine neatly with his pop sensibility, imbuing this with an art-house intelligence without diluting its summer blockbuster appeal. Naming the spacecraft Icarus II unnecessarily foreshadows the chain of events that occur as the ship approaches the sun, but Boyle's denouement is deliciously ambiguous. With Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, and Chris Evans. R, 109 min. (JK) a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Crown Village 18, River East 21, Webster Place.
Surf's Up A surfing penguin heads for the tropics in this kids' feature, the second project from Sony Pictures' new animation unit (the first was Open Season). Writer-directors Ash Brannon (formerly of Pixar) and Chris Buck (formerly of Disney) couch the narrative as a reality TV show, with the usual joggling camera, impulsive zooms, and quick cutaways to talking-head interviews. The novelty wears off almost immediately, leaving this a real chore to watch; there's something bizarre about low-budget spontaneity being replicated in such a labor-intensive medium. With the voices of Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, and Jon Heder. PG, 81 min. (JJ) a Chatham 14, Logan. At Logan only: showing as a double feature with Shrek the Third (see separate listing).
cSylvia Scarlett a Univ. of Chicago Doc Films. F
Talk to Me Don Cheadle stars as Ralph "Petey" Greene, who followed a prison term for armed robbery in the early 60s with a long career as a media personality and social activist in the D.C. area. After playing upright guys in Hotel Rwanda and Reign Over Me, Cheadle must have reached naturally for the part of the raunchy, rebellious Greene, but he would have been better cast and in fact had the better role as Dewey Hughes, the AM radio programmer who gave Greene his first shot (well played instead by Chiwetel Ejiofor). The early scenes of Greene misbehaving on the air are pretty funny, thanks mainly to Martin Sheen as the apoplectic station manager. But I was bummed out by the movie's trite VH1 cartoon of the black power era--especially coming from Kasi Lemmons, who made her directing debut with the hauntingly ambiguous Eve's Bayou. R, 118 min. (JJ) a Century 12 and CineArts 6, River East 21, Webster Place.
Transformers Not a movie, just one gigantic commercial for Hasbro, this collaboration between director Michael Bay and executive producer Steven Spielberg is a textbook case of cynical Hollywood extravagance. State-of-the-art CGI might please the now-grown fans of the popular line of Autobot and Decepticon toys introduced in the 80s, but the embarrassingly weak screenplay by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (The Island, Mission: Impossible 3) will disappoint those hoping for entertainment value beyond the spectacle of robotic aliens morphing into cars, trucks, tanks, and jet fighters. As if aware of their insignificance, Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, Anthony Anderson, and John Turturro ham their way through the boring high-tech drivel about a war over earth's future, while Josh Duhamel and Jon Voight play it straight. Hugo Weaving voices the evil Megatron. PG-13, 144 min. (AG) a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Cicero ShowPlace 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Lake, Norridge, River East 21, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings, 600 N. Michigan.
RThe Valet After a tabloid publishes a photo of a corporate titan (Daniel Auteuil) with his supermodel mistress (Alice Taglioni), his attorney tries to spin the situation by locating the homely parking valet (Gad Elmaleh) who happened into the frame and paying him to pose as the model's lover. Writer-director Francis Veber (The Dinner Game) has been compared to everyone from Moliere to Blake Edwards, but this sublime French farce reminded me most of Billy Wilder (whose last feature, Buddy Buddy, was adapted from a Veber play). As in Wilder's signature comedies, a hard shell of cynicism cracks with the swelling of a sincere and respectful friendship--in this case, between the valet and the model as they compare notes on their unhappy love lives and the value of physical beauty. In French with subtitles. PG-13, 85 min. (JJ) a Beverly Arts Center.
La Vie en Rose Marion Cotillard tears up all the available scenery in this overblown, achronological biopic of French pop singer Edith Piaf. Whether sincere or cynical, the movie is a near parody of the "Je ne regrette rien"/"This is Mrs. Norman Maine" school of female suffering and camp mortification: the heroine grows up in grandma's brothel, sings on the streets, gets discovered by an entrepreneur (Gerard Depardieu no less), loses or gets snatched away from loved ones, becomes dependent on drink and drugs. Director-cowriter Olivier Dahan lamentably leapfrogs past most of the German occupation, when Piaf was a courageous member of the resistance. With Sylvie Testud and Emmanuelle Seigner. In French with subtitles. 140 min. (JR) a Pipers Alley, Wilmette.
RNVitus Swiss director Fredi M. Murer, whose somber Alpine Fire (1985) featured a deaf boy incestuously stranded with his sister in the mountains, goes to the other extreme with this celebratory, family-friendly fable about a child genius with supersensitive hearing who finds himself all too immersed in the adult world. The 12-year-old Vitus (portrayed by piano prodigy Teo Gheorghiu), a prisoner of his well-meaning parents' high expectations, can relax only during visits to his carpenter grandfather (a splendid turn by Bruno Ganz) as they tinker in the workshop and dream of flying. Then a daring self-empowerment scheme--fueled not by CGI-enhanced superpowers but by the ingenious deployment of his hitherto hated intelligence--allows Vitus to commandeer his own fate. In German with subtitles. 120 minutes. (Ronnie Scheib) a Music Box.
RWaitress The late Adrienne Shelly, best known for her roles in Sleep With Me and Hal Hartley's Trust and The Unbelievable Truth, wrote and directed half a dozen films, three of them features, but this tangy, resourceful comedy drama is the first I've seen. Keri Russell plays a gifted pie baker and abused housewife who waits tables at a diner along with two romantically frustrated coworkers (Cheryl Hines and Shelly) and unexpectedly finds herself pregnant. The film isn't averse to reaching for Hollywood fantasies, but there's a lot of what seems to be hard-earned wisdom here about women in bad marriages. The men tend to be either idealized (hunky Nathan Fillion, patriarchal Andy Griffith) or monstrously geeky (Jeremy Sisto and Eddie Jemison), and Shelly clearly had fun with all of these caricatures. PG-13, 104 min. (JR) a Pipers Alley.
Who's Your Caddy? An Atlanta rap mogul invades a restricted country club in this comedy by Don Michael Paul. PG-13.
a Chatham 14, Cicero ShowPlace 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Ford City, River East 21, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings.
Wings It won the first Academy Award for best picture back in 1927, establishing a tradition of silliness that hasn't been broken to this day, but there is some thrilling flying footage and impressively expensive spectacle. Director William Wellman was a veteran of the World War I dogfights portrayed in the film, but he doesn't let experience stand in the way of boyish fantasy. A love story with nurse Clara Bow as the apex of a romantic triangle has been superimposed on the action, though Wellman--typically--invests all the film's warmth and sentiment in the friendship between her two suitors, Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen. With Jobyna Ralston and a supporting appearance by Gary Cooper. 139 min. (DK) a Portage. Screening in an archival print as part of the Silent Summer Film Festival. Organist Jay Warren and jazz vocalist Spider Saloff will provide musical accompaniment.
Zamboanga Rediscovered in a Finnish film archive in 2004 and preserved by the Library of Congress, this exotic 1937 romance about tribal pearl divers in the Philippines has been described as a colonialist curiosity. It was conceived by American producer George F. Harris, directed in the Philippines by Eduardo de Castro, and then scored and edited in Hollywood. 65 min. a Univ. of Chicago Doc Films.