Chicago sees the big pictures

By Drew Hunt

127 Hours3/5

The new film from Danny Boyle,“127 Hours,” chronicles the plight of one Aron Ralston, and the filmmaker’s frenetic style has once again taken the place of adequate pathos—but because it was only a matter of time before somebody gave this story the big screen treatment, we can credit Boyle for at least being the quickest to the punch. You know Ralston’s story even if you don’t recognize the name—he’s the outdoorsman who singlehandedly emasculated every dude from here to eternity by cutting off his own arm after a dislodged boulder had him trapped in the Utah desert for, you guessed it, 127 hours. What might have worked brilliantly as subtle experimentation—such as Gus Van Sant’s “Gerry”—is instead subjected to Boyle’s signature gimmickry. Still, it’s an engaging style—it’s hard not to like Boyle’s playful approach, and to his credit, he doesn’t shy away when things need to get serious. James Franco is great as Ralston. — Drew Hunt


Seeking an early release, disturbed arsonist Gerald “Stone” Creeson (Edward Norton) persuades his wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) to seduce a parole officer (Robert De Niro) to get him out of prison. After taking the bait, Jack Mabry discovers he may have been manipulated the whole time. Marketed as your run-of-the-mill erotic thriller, director John Curran’s “Stone” is an excellent example of subdued fantasy filmmaking. Superb directing and acting, an airtight screenplay and a haunting musical score by Jon Brion and members of Radiohead create an otherworldly universe. If you’re looking for a straightforward crime thriller, “Stone” will leave you scratching your head. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking existential experience, this film will suit you perfectly. –Sean Lechowicz


In this quirky comedy from the UK, Andrew Buckley and Ed Gaughan play a pair of agents who work for a company that extracts people’s deepest secrets through a surreal process that involves a fire extinguisher and a pair of rocks. They then report their findings back to their clients. Director Nick Whitfield does his best to sustain the whimsical tone, and at times the film resembles something Charlie Kaufman would create: bone-dry humor mixed with genuine emotion and wry inventiveness. Too often, though, the leisurely pace doesn’t lend itself well to the illogical circumstances presented in the narrative. Still, there’s a charm to “Skeletons” that makes its first 30 minutes effortlessly enjoyable. Buckley and Gaughan’s rapport is deliciously intellectual—their wit so quick and accents so thick, it’s often hard to keep up. But ultimately, the film doesn’t endure the loftiness set forth by Whitfield and the more conceptual aspects feel forced. — Drew Hunt


Oscar season has begun, and what better way to kick off months of shameless studio pandering than an “inspired by the spectacular true story” film starring Hilary Swank? After her troublemaking brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) is wrongfully convicted for murder, small town bartender Betty Anne Waters (Swank) goes to law school so she can free him. The film’s story is touching, but it comes off as frivolous. She ponies up a heap of dough to attend law school. With all the time and money she’s spending, she could have gotten a quality lawyer and freed Kenny in half the time it took her to graduate. Each one of Swank’s scenes looks like an award show clip, like when she emotionally collapses on her lawn after visiting her brother for the first time. Rockwell does what he can with such a muddled and unlikable character, but it’s not enough to salvage such blandness. Hollywood needs to learn not all inspirational stories need to be adapted onto film.


Every filmmaker in America has a high school coming-of-age tale in his or her back pocket, and only rarely is one divergent or unique enough to be considered original. In Jonathan Segal’s film, the titular “Norman,” played by Dan Byrd, is under some severe emotional pressure after learning his father, played by Richard Jenkins, will soon die of stomach cancer, all while still mourning the loss of his mother to a car crash. Matters become more complicated when Norman co-opts his father’s disease as his own, effectively receiving the sympathy and adoration of his entire school. Byrd plays the introverted Norman in haphazard fashion: From scene to scene, it’s hard to ascertain Norman’s real behavior. He is in turn a haplessly loveable ne’er-do-well and sociopathic introvert. Segal never locks down a coherent tone, and as a result, any attempt at humor is lost in profuse confusion. It’s like “Juno,” if Ellen Page traded in Diablo Cody’s uber-hip script for ambivalent aggression. — Drew Hunt

A Screaming Man4/5

Winner of a Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s pristine “A Screaming Man” is among the most emotionally stirring films currently on the festival circuit. It tells the story of Adam, a loving father who is also a prideful laborer working as a pool boy for a local resort. After his job is taken from him, Adam commits a shocking act of betrayal that leaves him morally culpable. The civil war that has torn apart the nation of Chad plays a subtle yet integral part in the film as it looms over the characters inauspiciously. Haroun focuses on the ethnological characteristics that come with such turmoil: The sounds of passing jets and constant chatter of radio reports are all that suggest the country is at war, yet the effect it has on the nation’s people is wholly felt. It is the ascetic realism of “A Screaming Man” that makes it so impactful.