I took a brief trip to Chicago last weekend. Every other year, I seem to miss the Midwest more than usual around late summer and inevitably plan a little trip back in October in hope of experiencing one of those auburn autumn weekends with peak foliage, the scent of burning leaves and promise of hot, cinnamon-stoked apple cider.

I never seem to learn that a Midwestern October is more often than not suffused with rain and wind and chill, and this weekend had all that in copious amounts. Still, I had a lovely time. My motive for this particular trip was to see one of my oldest friends, whom after spending a few years in Poland just relocated to Chicago. She lives on the 36th floor of a high rise overlooking Lake Michigan, Lake Shore Drive, the John Hancock Tower, and, um, the Playboy headquarters (not the same building as the Playboy Mansion).

The weather wasn’t too frigid to keep us from strolling along State Street and Buckingham Fountain or through the metal monstrosity that is Millennium Park (an extravagant waste of money, but admittedly cool in a gauche tourist-trap sort of way). As with most Midwestern cities, the food was the best part—tapas one night, Turkish the next, and an excursion to Chinatown that included ultra-ultra-fresh seafood, gargantuan almond cookies, and a typically bizarre soap opera broadcast on a Chinese television network (out of Toronto, naturally).


A Recent Film Round-up

KINSEY: Biopic of sex-researcher Alfred Kinsey, as directed by Bill Condon. Liam Neeson is fine as the good doctor (if only Ian McKellen was a little younger to play the part), Laura Linney is insightful and game as his wife, but the revelation is Peter Sarsgaard as Kinsey’s primary assistant. Sensitive and softer that I’ve ever seen him before, yet not a caricature, this well-executed role greatly broadens his already impressive range.

Condon says he wanted to make something that resembled a Hollywood film from the time this is set (mainly the ‘30s through the ‘50s). While that’s not a bad idea, he often ends up playing to those conventions rather than subverting them. And what the hell is smarmy Chris O’Donnell doing in this otherwise intelligent cast? Kudos to John Lithgow in an unlikely minor role as Kinsey’s preacher father, and see if you can recognize the forever chameleonic Lynn Redgrave. At least it’s not a bowdlerization on the order of A BEAUTIFUL MIND, and it concludes thoughtfully. But I’d rather watch GODS AND MONSTERS again—with that film, Condon made glorious, transcendent camp worthy of his subject’s art. This one merely skips along the tried-and-true biopic road.

I HEART HUCKABEE’S: Pretty audacious for a studio comedy, even if it’s technically an indie studio. David O. Russell’s existential romp is a love-it-or-hate-it receptacle if I ever saw one. I loved it, but I’m skeptical as to how much it’ll resonate with subsequent viewings like Wes Anderson’s work (which this is getting compared to, primarily ‘cause it’s quirky and features Jason Schwartzman). If anything, it has a solid cast with good work from Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, and Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, the cinematic couple of the year (Streisand has some daunting shoes to fill in MEET THE FOCKERS). A silly movie that, nonetheless, makes you think. Awesome.

VERA DRAKE: I’m surprised Mike Leigh hasn’t made a film set in post-World War II London until now—and this is one of his best. Less dreary than ALL OR NOTHING but no less brutal, this is about a working class housewife who, in addition to taking care of her invalid mum and cleaning up after rich folk, performs the occasional abortion (or as she gingerly puts it, “helping a woman out”). Buoyed by a grand, heartbreaking lead performance from Imelda Staunton, this is a fair, wise, intricate and ultimately shattering story that unfolds with grace and eloquence.

THE YES MEN: Hilarious documentary on two satirists-cum-activists who pose as WTO members to educate the public about that organization’s damaging effects on corporate politics, third world ecosystems and beyond. A little more entertaining than provocative, it’s a sly diversion that subtly observes whereas something like FAHRENHEIT 9/11 clumsily rants and raves.