Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Fall Film Preview 2015

Chicago Artists, Drama, Events, Recommended 1 Comment »

CinéVardaExpo: Agnès Varda in Chicago

Agnès Varda, In Venice in front of a Bellini painting, 1962 © Agnès Varda

Jennifer Reeder: During each of my three pregnancies, I considered naming the baby AGNES, as in Varda. Then I had three boys and opted for alternative ways to inject feminism and the history of radical filmmaking into their lives. As a young film student, I was exposed to plenty of French films and, as the only female in my cohort, I was frustrated with all the Godard and Truffaut and Resnais. I found Agnès Varda on my own. “Cléo from 5 to 7“ was a revelation. It’s an extraordinary portrait of an entire life in two hours—a woman’s life as told by another woman. The filmmaker is present. Varda has long been considered a remarkable and prolific filmmaker… and a wife and a mother and an artist and a feminist. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Nicole Bernardi Reis On Revitalizing IFP/Chicago

Chicago Artists, Events, Festivals, Film 50, News and Dish No Comments »

joe-mazza-bave-lux-chicago-new-3572676260-OIFP/Chicago, one of the city’s oldest organizations to support independent filmmakers, has kept a low profile for several years, but is about to launch an ambitious roster of programs, inspired in part by the success of May’s Chicago Underground Film Festival, presently one of the Independent Filmmaker Project’s most prominent enterprises. Other support programs and networking events have grown up around the city since their founding, such as the long-running first-Tuesdays Midwest Film Festival and more recently, the new sip-and-grip comradeship CCCP, the Chicago Creatives Cocktail Party, which IFP co-sponsors.

After three years or so of dormancy, Nicole Bernardi-Reis, an independent producer and president of the board of directors (and 2014 Film 50 subject) sees now as a time for IFP to bloom. “The community changed a lot during that time, as did the resources available to filmmakers,” she says. “Currently, the film and television industry is seeing an influx of productions and revenue due to the Illinois Film Tax Credit. Hollywood is back in Chicago. Business is booming, again. Outside productions have always been an important part of sustaining the film community in the Midwest, but they are just a part.”

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Review: In The Game

Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended, Sports No Comments »



Faux-uplift sports movies are $144 a dozen, slipped-and-slid into multiplexes on far too many weekends: sports is sports, and depicting the rush of a play, the massed hysteria of a shared moment, is just as conceptually fraught as the depiction of live music performances. And all those poor underdogs of the world of mass-marketed movies! But when a movie attains its own heart and soul by watching that dream in motion—think “Hoop Dreams”—the result can be magical. The first glimpse I had of Maria Finitzo’s wondrous “In The Game,” about fifteen minutes of a 2014 cut, was a contained little knockout. (I was pleased to weep.) The feature, gentle, assured, compassionate, left me softly thunderstruck. For four years, Finitzo follows a girls’ soccer team at Brighton Park’s primarily Latino Kelly High School, with an eighty-six-percent poverty level and a $4 million budget cut during the course of her observation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Digging For Fire

Chicago Artists, Comedy, Drama, Recommended, Romance 1 Comment »



With “Digging For Fire,” Joe Swanberg extends his run of intimate backyard moviemaking to an actual backyard at a summer rental, where a gun, a bone and a telescope set intrigue (and extended conversation) into nifty (if slow-burn) motion. Mid-thirties-life-crisis strikes for Tim (Jake Johnson), a teacher still not settled into the truth that he’s been a father for three years. Rosemarie Dewitt plays his witty wife, Jude Swanberg the son, natch. The estimable critic Bérénice Reynaud has aligned the latest Swanberg with Rohmer, and “Digging” extends his streak of pictures that stream with genial dialogue, superficially breezy, yet where emotional currents deepen. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Unexpected

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Kris Swanberg’s confident third feature, “Unexpected,” is an intimate made-in-Chicago tale of two unplanned pregnancies, by inner-city public high school teacher Samantha (Cobie Smulders) and her star A-student, Jasmine (Gail Bean). Written by Swanberg and Megan Mercier, low-key sophistication (with bursts of strong language) and the healthily nuanced performances by Smulders and Bean carry the day. Samantha tries so hard to comprehend her young friend’s circumstances, and they’re worlds apart. But, she tries, hopes, and in a not clichéd way, grows. Not every scene is as strong as the very best, but Swanberg’s empathy is admirable. It’s a lovely, auspicious piece of small-budget filmmaking. Read the rest of this entry »

Film 50 Follow: Jerzy Rose Kickstarts “Neighborhood Food Drive”

Chicago Artists No Comments »


With their newest project, “Neighborhood Food Drive,” 2014 Film 50 subjects Jerzy Rose and Halle Butler turn from what is often the tragedy of fundraising to what the team hope will be the bright shining success of crowdfunding.  In the vein of Rose’s earlier features, the uneasy comedies “Some Girls Never Learn” and “Crimes Against Humanity,” their pitch describes the new movie as “an anxiety-ridden film about two egomaniacal restaurateurs descending into a nightmare world with their unpaid intern. People are hurt, friendships are damaged, promises are broken, and no one does anything good for anyone else.” Sounds like a Chicago story, to be sure. Rose directs; Butler wrote the script.”It’s a spiritual successor to Halle’s out-of-print comic, ‘The Restaurant Business,’ which was first performed at Lyra Hill’s paramount performative ‘comix’ series Brain Frame almost three years ago,” Rose tells me. “The new film and that comic are small-scale disaster stories about failure, anxiety and ego—pretty universal, funny stuff, right?” Read the rest of this entry »

Algren Abundant: Contemplating Two Documentary Films About the Chicago Writer

Chicago Artists, Documentary No Comments »

algrenText and Illustrations by Dmitry Samarov

Nelson Algren came into my life sometime in high school. This was in the late 1980s in a suburb of Boston, but I was lucky enough to have older friends to point me toward the books, music and movies that showed a world beyond my immediate surroundings. Algren wrote about down-and-outers in Chicago at the middle of the twentieth century, people who, like him, had survived the Great Depression and World War II and bore all the scars incurred from surviving those times. His books weren’t that easy to come by. Many were out of print and Algren was certainly not considered part of the canon. He wouldn’t be a writer a kid in suburban Boston would encounter in a high-school English class. Still, I was drawn to the world he wrote about and read all his work that I could find in libraries and secondhand bookstores. He introduced me to the city of Chicago several years before I came here to go to art school, before I even had any intention of coming here. Read the rest of this entry »

Six Degrees of “Animals”: On the Making of an Acclaimed, Made-in-Chicago Indie

Chicago Artists, Drama, The State of Cinema No Comments »


By Brian Hieggelke

This is a story about a movie with a Hollywood ending. The Hollywood ending, however, is not in the movie itself, but rather in the real life of its principal creator—screenwriter and co-lead actor David Dastmalchian. And the Hollywood ending in question took place long before this movie, “Animals,” got made. Though it certainly puts a cherry on top of the David Dastmalchian story. Because, though it’s fiction, the story in “Animals,” of a pair of young lovers, Jude and Bobbie, deep in the throes of heroin addiction and living in a car mostly around Lincoln Park Zoo, is Dastmalchian’s story in every sense. He lived it.

After premiering successfully at SXSW last spring, where it won Dastmalchian a special jury award for Courage in Storytelling, “Animals” was the talk of the filmmaking world in Chicago last year, even before it gained theatrical release. A very low-budget film with minimal financial expectations by Hollywood box-office standards, it had a catalytic effect. Every week, it seemed, I met someone who’d worked on it, helped produce it. Six Degrees of “Animals.”

Dastmalchian grew up in Kansas and came to study at the DePaul Theatre School, where he graduated in 1999. He set out to become an active presence in Chicago theater before his descent into addiction eventually shut him down. His friend and chief creative partner in “Animals,” director Collin Schiffli, is about ten years his junior; they met on the “other side,” when Dastmalchian had tamed his demons and, remarkably, had been cast for a small but noteworthy role in “The Dark Knight.” (This summer, he plays a much bigger role in Marvel’s mega-budget “Ant-Man.”) Schiffli headed to the film department at Columbia College after growing up in Indiana. Both Dastmalchian and Schiffli live in Los Angeles now, for work reasons, but “Animals” is a Chicago film in nearly every sense. We discussed its making in detail over lunch precisely a year before its theatrical release this week, when they were in town for its Chicago premiere as the closing night film of the 2014 Chicago Critics Film Festival at the Music Box, where they packed its large auditorium. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Filmmaker “Bar Talks” At Chicago Underground Film Festival

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L for Leisure

“L For Leisure”

As moderator of the festival’s fourth edition of “Bar Talks,” I can’t formally review what’s in store in the five days of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, but I’d like to indicate the goals of the annual “Bar Talks,” four extended filmmaker/audience conversations, especially in light of the notably consistent focus on atmosphere, mood and elusive narratives in the feature and shorts programming at the twenty-second edition of CUFF, the world’s longest-running underground film festival. The “bar talks,” taking place in the Logan Lounge at the Logan Theatre, are informal gatherings of local and guest filmmakers, with conversation the intention without the ping-pong of panel-like proclaiming. The talks may run an hour, or even an hour-and-a-half, depending on how much everyone has on their mind. Read the rest of this entry »

The Other Side Of “The Other Side Of The Wind”: Josh Karp Hears The Master’s Voice

Chicago Artists, Events, Film Books, Recommended 1 Comment »

Photo: José María Castellví

By Ray Pride

When I finished gorging on Josh Karp’s “Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind,” the late great director’s cryptic title was both fragrant poetry and flagrant prophecy, a sparky introduction to a film maudit no one would likely ever see. The book was released the Tuesday before Welles’ May 6 centenary, now amplified by May 7’s announcement of a $2 million Indiegogo campaign to complete a feature-length version of Welles’ long-in-the-not-finishing final film, drawing on a trove of 1,083 elements, including the immaculate negative, that reportedly weighs more than a ton-and-a-half.

Welles started his project forty-five years ago; he’s been dead for thirty of those. I recently asked Karp how long he’s been working on his often-rollicking, sometimes-detail-oriented tome on Welles’ parallel satire of Hollywood insiders and European art film of the era. “I think I signed the book deal in mid-2011 and the book was essentially done in Fall 2014,” the Northwestern lecturer and onetime Newcity contributor tells me, “So it was three years, give or take a few months. In my mind, it was going to take two years. I always think that, and it’s always three or three-and-a-half.” Read the rest of this entry »