Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

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”

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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

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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 »

The Curated and Collected City: With “Chicagoland Shorts,” Eugene Sun Park & Co. Offer A Look at This City, Now

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FSF ChiShorts1

By Ray Pride

The films are of differing stripes and strengths on the first of a promised series of “Chicagoland Shorts,” curated and compiled by filmmaker-producer Eugene Sun Park (a 2014 Newcity Film 50 alum), Beckie Stocchetti of Kartemquin Films and Park’s production associate Kayla Ginsburg. But just as interesting as the work on hand is the timing of the compendium of ten shorts from Park, Fawzia Mirza and Ryan Logan, Lydia Fu, Michael Paulucci, Valia O’Donnell, Fred Frederiksen and Dylan Jones, Amanda Taves, Robert Carnilius and Amir George (the latter two also listed in the 2014 Film 50.) We talked to Park about his intentions.

What’s the virtue of having theatrical runs and DVD and Blu-ray releases of these short films?
The purpose of the theatrical release is to create a public event, or a series of events, so people can come together as a community to watch and celebrate these films. Fewer and fewer people are going to movie theaters these days [to see non-mainstream movies], and something is clearly being lost. In order to preserve the theatrical experience, my feeling is that filmmakers have to do more to create added value to that experience. In other words, make the theatrical experience something that truly needs to be experienced in person, something that cannot simply be downloaded and viewed on your iPad. As for the DVD release, that’s focused on the film geek who wants to go deeper into the films. The DVD release is packed with extra features, including exclusive interviews with the filmmakers, cut scenes, storyboards, and additional films and videos that are not part of the main collection. Read the rest of this entry »

Force Field: George Lucas Tells SAIC Students “Life’s An Illusion” And His Hopes For A Lakefront Lucas Museum

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Courtesy Nicolas Genin via Creative Commons license.

By Troy Pieper

Growing up in Modesto, California, George Lucas fell in love with building cars and “didn’t do that well in high school.” After surviving a car crash while racing in 1962 the elder filmmaker had a “touch of understanding about the world” that would serve him through the long career ahead of him. “Life is an illusion. You make it be what you want it to be, but you have to actually believe it… maybe there’s a reason why I survived.”

The grey-bearded survivor gave a talk to students at a closed event on April 15 at the School of the Art Institute, interviewed by Walter Massey, the school’s president, as well as a theoretical physicist. Lucas said it was chance that led him to the University of Southern California, which was one of the country’s first film schools. Lucas’ first film, a sixty-second montage of iconic 1960s youth culture photographs set to a percussive soundtrack, won at film festivals around the country. “I thought, hey I know how to do this,” Lucas said. He called his fellow students “misfits” because their chances of working in the Hollywood of that era were zero. But that was all right with Lucas and his fellow misfits: ”All we wanted to do was make movies; we weren’t interested in a career.”

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Review: Revenge Of The Mekons

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Former Chicagoan Joe Angio’s long-in-the-making sophomore documentary, “Revenge of the Mekons” is a lean, cheery ninety-five-minute portrait of almost four decades in the lives and careers since the 1977 formation of the vital, genially haunted punk-to-rock band that Lester Bangs called “the most revolutionary group in the history of rock ’n’ roll.” Angio’s conversations with frontman Jon Langford and frontwoman Sally Timms, among other members of the group, are lucid about their ongoing rise to nearly the middle. (As Timms retorts from stage to a heckler mentioning “sell-outs,” “Sold out is a term that never comes into our lives.”) “ROTM” is humble, raggedy and proud, just like the endlessly productive, self-reinventing band itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Reeling Up the Score: Chicago International Movies and Music Festival Teams Up with Lake FX

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Dave Moore

By Ray Pride

Coinciding with the City of Chicago’s jam-packed Lake FX Summit & Expo, the seventh year of CIMMfest (Chicago International Movies and Music Festival) lavishes their most expansive, ambitious programming yet, a bold first flush of spring movie festivals (Chicago Underground) and music festivals (You don’t have tickets already? Sorry.) We asked CIMMFest executive director Dave Moore about the scope of this year’s edition.

CIMMfest, especially combined with Lake FX, is starting to look like South by Southwest, which now sprawls across several weeks in Austin.
What’s inspiring about SXSW is the vast number of creative people together in one place, allowing for collaboration in artistic pursuits as well as connecting them to help on the business end. CIMMfest should continue to grow toward those goals.  Like SXSW, we support as much local art as possible while bringing in great films and musicians from around the world. In short, supporting artists and creating an inspiring weekend for artists and their fans is where we want to be like SXSW. Read the rest of this entry »