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Knight at the Movies: Suffragette; Nasty Baby
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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History lessons at the movies are by their nature inherently earnest; it takes a detailed eye to move beyond the familiar bullet points being retold and offer something beneath the surface that can truly moves audiences. Although Sarah Gavron's Suffragette certainly struggles to do that—sometimes succeeding, sometimes not—its central performance by Carey Mulligan elevates the movie beyond its solemn intentions.

Mulligan plays the fictional Maud Watts, a working-class wife and mother in the industrial bleakness of London of 1912. Maud has worked in a laundry since she was 12 and we quickly see that Maud, along with all the other women at the laundry, are daily subjected to all the familiar abuses we have come to expect from such dreary places—being overworked in horrible conditions: low pay, sexual harassment, no chance for advancement and all the other tyrannies that women have experienced. Her husband, Sonny ( out actor Ben Whishaw ), works there, too, but being of the lower classes and a bit timid, he has learned not to interfere. Then, Maud takes tentative steps into the burgeoning fight for women's voting rights—first in support of a friend at work and then, slowly, as a true convert. Then Sonny acts brutally and swiftly—as, the movie tells us, was a man's overbearing right.

Within a terrifyingly short time, Maud has lost much that was dear to her and yet, like all true activists, she marches on with her sisters in spirit—those soldiers in petticoats whose dedication to the cause has become the driving force in their lives. Helena Bonham Carter ( quietly subdued ), as an educated pharmacist ( another fictional character ), opens Maud's eyes to a different life and after a chance meeting with Mrs. Parkhurst ( Meryl Streep, in a cameo ), the real-life head of the movement, there's no turning back. As the women plot their strategy in secret—how to alert the nation and the world to their cause—a police detective ( the always fantastic Brendon Gleeson ) is keeping tabs on them. Abi Morgan's script piles on the injustices, each borne with determination by the women until, finally, they hit upon an idea that might have promise.

It's a bleak world these women live in, and the film's open-ended finale leaves a bitter tang. But again, Mulligan's richly detailed performance holds you and makes the sometimes unbearable journey that is Suffragette worth the trip back in time.

A bit of nasty business

A movie about a mixed-race, gay couple trying to have a baby with their best friend ( played by Kristen Wiig ) doesn't sound like something you'd want to see on Halloween. But, trust me: Writer-director Sebastian Silva's Nasty Baby—while certainly not typical horror fare—has it in spades when it comes to the shock factor.

Silva's Freddy, half of the gay couple ( along with Tunde Adebimpe, as Mo ), is a performance artist who has suddenly become baby-crazy. As he works on a new gallery project, Polly ( Wiig ) is eagerly trying to have a baby for the couple. But Freddy is shooting close to blanks and Mo's not sure if he's quite as eager to step in. Then there's The Bishop ( Reg E. Cathey ), the disturbed man in the neighborhood who keeps harassing the couple and Polly.

Slowly, this slice-of-life dramedy—which has the richly observed look and feel of an early Jonathan Demme picture—moves toward its rather shocking last act. The naturalistic performances are uniformly excellent, with Wiig a decided standout as what, at first, seems to be an amiable, meandering relationship dramedy reveals itself as a coolly crafted thriller. Silva manages the tricky balancing act of merging the two distinct genres without breaking a sweat.

Nasty Baby plays at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., beginning Friday, Oct. 30. Wiig will attend screenings on Oct. 30-31 ( The 8 p.m. shows are sold out, but tickets remain for the 5 p.m. shows. )

Leather man

The tagline for Dan Hunt's 2013 documentary Mr. Angel is "He's a Man Like No Other"—and truer words were never said.

Hunt's subject, Buck Angel, is a transgender male, adult-film performer, producer and trans activist. Angel's eye-opening journey from female to male to porn star to activist is detailed in the film which will be screened on Friday, Nov. 6 at 8 pm at the Oak Park Library ( Main Library, 834 Lake Street, 2nd Floor—Veterans Room ). Buck Angel will be present for a post-screening discussion. The film features adult content and the screening is restricted to those 21 and over. Light refreshments and cash bar available. Co-sponsored by the library and the Oak Park chapter of PFLAG.

Upcoming movie calendar

Highlights from films opening in Chicago, Oct. 30 and Nov. 6 ( or available digitally ):

Halloween ( 10/29 )—For one night only, Fathom Events is bringing back John Carpenter's 1978 classic. It plays Thursday, Oct. 29, at the Showplace Icon at Roosevelt, 1011 S. Delano Ct. East, at 7:30 p.m.

Spectre ( 11/6 )—It's been a looong three years since Daniel Craig, the sexiest James Bond in the franchise's 50-plus-year cinematic history, thrilled us with his shaken-not-stirred-martini-swilling, kickass-007 super-spy moves. But Craig is back in the leather saddle ( thanks to a spiffy new Aston Martin ) in this latest installment that finds Bond battling the sinister organization Spectre. Christoph Waltz plays the archvillain in this edition; Ralph Fiennes as Bond's boss and out actor Ben Whishaw as Q are back; and Lea Seydoux and Monica Bellucci are the latest Bond beauties. There's also a nice bonus: Out singer/songwriter Sam Smith performs the film's theme song.

Spotlight ( 11/6 )—It's a dramatic re-creation of the Boston Globe's "spotlight" investigative team's Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on the Massachusetts Catholic sex-abuse scandal. Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Liev Schreiber co-star.

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