Prolific Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg continues to explore his own backyard in “Happy Christmas,” or more to the point, his own home, a cost-effective location for his first feature released since “Drinking Buddies.” One of those buddies, Anna Kendrick, moves into the newest comedy-drama and continues to drink. And drink. Swanberg plays Jeff, a film director whose wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey), is writing a novel, and whose younger sister, Jenny (Kendrick), shows up on their doorstep after a messy and massively deserved breakup. Lena Dunham plays a friend of Jenny’s, and Mark Webber plays a curiously attractive drug dealer whom Kelly plants lips upon. Working in his customary improv style, with cinematographer Ben Richardson (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) repeating the originated-on-film style of “Drinking Buddies,” Swanberg scores sly points beneath the surface emotional ruckus and the elevated conversational wordplay. Read the rest of this entry »
The Journey Of Roger Ebert: Ray Pride Remembers His Colleague and Talks to “Life Itself” director Steve James About a Life in Search of Candor, Intimacy and TruthBiopic, Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended 1 Comment »
“If you could’ve found out what Rosebud meant, I bet that would’ve explained everything.”
—“Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz.
INT. VIRGINIA THEATRE, CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS – DAY
Here is one of the most chilling and thrilling sounds I have ever heard in a movie theater, from a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 2012. Everyone in the 1,500 or so seats knew the attraction: a projection of the Blu-ray of “Citizen Kane,” on the big screen, with Roger Ebert’s time-honed commentary playing over the soundtrack. Roger hadn’t spoken since his surgeries of 2006. Heavy red velvet curtains part and the words “An RKO Radio Picture” appear—a radio tower girdling the globe and transmitting worldwide—with the words: “This is Roger Ebert, watching ‘Citizen Kane’ with you.” And Roger was watching “Citizen Kane” with us, from a lounger seat at the back of the auditorium. But it was the simple manifestation of that stilled voice—chummy, smart, ready to entertain and edify, that made the heart jump for just a second. Ebert’s two-hour weave of history and insights rushed forward, a dispatch from a friend long unheard-from. The last words spoken from the screen: “I’m Roger Ebert. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing ‘Citizen Kane.’” The curtains close, the lights rise, the room rocks with stifled sobs and fills with honest tears. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone’s ambitious “Black Box” is another study of children-who-are-not-yet-adults, following his 2011 “Wise Kids.” The psychological minefield of a graduate-level theater production is elevated by the students’ choice material, an adaptation of a young-adult novel from the 1980s, described by a thesis adviser as “cheesy,” and the arrival of the author of the gothic goofiness (played by the ever-fascinating Austin Pendleton). While echoes of V. C. Andrews’ “Flowers In The Attic” are pronounced, the interplay of the characters in a simple setting also evokes a film that Cone has mentioned as an influence, John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club.” Read the rest of this entry »
More than seventy films and fifty bands are packed into the first weekend of May in what looks to be the best lineup in CIMMfest’s six-year history. (You’ll find highlights from the performances in the Music section.) I’m excited to see former Chicagoan Joe Angio’s long-in-the-works “Revenge of the Mekons,” and how the doc embraces their longstanding commitment to their values as well as decades of making marvelous music. Documentarian Ron Mann will come down from Toronto to present two of his more musically minded nonfiction films, “Twist” and free-jazz chronicle “Imagine The Sound.” GOBLIN live-scoring Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” at the Metro is one of those out-of-the-ordinary events that make festivals, film and otherwise, a place for those of like minds to assemble. Other live scores include Mary Shelley with Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin,” Califone with Pat O’Neill’s experimental “Water and Power” (1990) and Wrekmeister Harmonies “bristling psychedelic squall” atop 1922’s Swedish-Danish horror film, “Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages.”
Among other feature attractions, Mitchell Kezin’s “Jingle Bell Rocks” should pay off its extended gestation with the stories the Canadian documentarian tracked down about his twelve favorite holiday songs, eccentric, even haunted ones that stand tall on their own. SXSW co-founder Louis Black will expound upon John Sayles’ hardly seen birth-of-rock ‘n’ roll allegory, “Honeydripper.” Read the rest of this entry »
A filthy, nasty thrill ride, “Cheap Thrills” is the rudest defense of Traditional American Values in all too long. Brazen post-Haneke-Pinter-Tarantino misanthropy runs deep in a gutter. Man wakes up in the morning, he’s forgotten his dreams of being a writer, his wife and young child beside him—“The past six months have been amazing, I love the shit out of you”—as he sets out on his work day, finds an eviction notice on the front door over almost $5,000 in back rent, which he crumples on his way to his machine shop job, where he’s quickly “downsized.” So, down to the bar, where he (stolid yet supple everyman Pat Healy) runs into a disreputable cohort of five years back (Ethan Embry) just as he’s had enough of a snootful to face his family. Enter: a couple on her birthday (Sara Paxton, the unhinged but wondrously controlled, controlling David Koechner), with a pocket full of cash and increasingly humiliating, then mutilating “Jackass”-style challenges, first at the tavern, and later at their fine home overlooking the mute, glittering panoply of Los Angeles by night. All that happens is bloody and fucking awful and it’s a wondrous display. Read the rest of this entry »
Not a composition of the late, secretive Chicago photographer Vivian Maier is askew or amiss in her vast, breathtaking, even thrilling body of street photography, of which the public has only glimpsed the tip of the iceberg. Yet her life remains curiously unreachable in John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s brisk documentary. “Finding Vivian Maier” is partly about not finding her: the outsider remains forever distant. The film, executive-produced by Jeff Garlin, collects interviews from those who knew her in Chicago as a nanny who liked having her own locks to her room, but who kept her avocation, indeed, her great vocation, from view. Her cache of more than 100,000 photographs, with some yet to be developed, were uncovered by Maloof while haunting “a local junk and furniture auction house,” where he found and bought a box loaded with negatives. It was simply flea market provender, or worse, the kind of thing some auction houses immediately throw in the trash. Part of the film covers his accumulation of the rest of her work, which is, well, simply great. Read the rest of this entry »
An often-exquisite mess, Scott Coffey’s “Adult World” capably captures the pretensions and confusions of a certain age, in both fond and satirical fashion. Punchy and screwloose, his small satire follows Emma Roberts as virginal twenty-two-year-old college student Amy Anderson, modeling herself after Sylvia Plath, who seeks employment at a beat-down adult bookstore in Syracuse, while pursuing a mentor in the form of a beat-up punk poet played by John Cusack. “You can’t be a wunderkind after twenty-two,” Amy frets aloud. Read the rest of this entry »
“May he now get the answers he was always seeking,” Dan Aykroyd tweeted Monday, a few hours after the news of Harold Ramis’ death at sixty-nine.
I first met Harold Ramis back in the early 1990s through a friend from Second City, a writing partner, whom the older screenwriter-director had befriended when the younger man was a teenager in Los Angeles. But from our first extended conversation, around the time of “Groundhog Day,” it was clear that Ramis didn’t require an introduction or connection in order to be generous: raising the temperature of the room, as well as the conversation, working from the top of his intelligence, was just the order of things. Six-foot-two, smile-wincing behind an ursine beard in later years, “The Rabbi,” as his ex-wife called him (see below), was a natural mentor and teacher as much as the fertile comedy mind behind movies like “Caddyshack” and “Groundhog Day.” Whatever the subject, he had something to say, even talking around an unsuccessful movie like 2000’s “Bedazzled.” My conversation with Ramis from the 2005 release of “Ice Harvest,” which is below, holds several poignant and pertinent reflections in light of the Chicago icon’s passing.
“You want to be some combination of Cary Grant, Errol Flynn and Harpo Marx. That was my ideal,” he told Tad Friend in an essential 2004 New Yorker profile. Yet, even in the mediocre snapshot above, he rose above that hoped-for blend that would create the dashing clown: just look at the elemental generosity in his posture, leaning into a crowd of rapt listeners at a Columbia College event. In the New Yorker piece, director Jay Roach described the effect of Ramis’ best work: “You would watch people in the audience just lose their minds. Harold Ramis is the yardstick of what you want to reach for, of people’s bodies around you going into convulsions of joy while your brain is thinking and your emotions are deeply tied in to the characters, and you’re going, ‘Oh my God, This is the best two hours I’ve ever spent.’” Read the rest of this entry »
Sometimes scheduling keeps a reviewer from getting to a movie before it opens, and sometimes, that’s just Awesome. In the case of the exceptional “The Lego Movie,” from directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, getting to see their pyrotechnic computer-animated fantasia with a packed, thrilled, paying audience was a sweet treat, especially since its wall-to-wall Mad-magazine-like visual tapestry also draws subversively on any number of movies that would include but hardly be limited to the epic paranoia of John Carpenter’s “They Live” and “The Matrix,” as well as the Wachowskis’ most-misunderstood carpet-bombing of form, “Speed Racer.” (In the case of “The Lego Movie,” something is hardly rotten from the state of Denmark.) It’s not quite the communist insurrection that some commentators of predictable bent have called it, but it’s assuredly the most sophisticated release of the winter crop of new movies—simply cinema. Read the rest of this entry »
In the Georgia-shot thriller pastiche, “24 Exposures,” veteran Chicago writer-director Joe Swanberg again questions the role of the artist versus those who are depicted via the story of Billy, a death-fetish photographer (Adam Wingard) whose path crosses that of a suicidal solo cop (Simon Barrett). While Swanberg has invoked the example of 1960s Euro-thrillers, “24 Exposures” hews closer to other cited influences, 1990s “Skinemax” thrillers and the boldly colored and plainly sexual work of Zalman King and the breast-baring films of Russ Meyer. Swanberg’s attraction to bold fields of color, such as in one wall in a room painted a hot, unlikely color, is akin to King’s sweetly marzipan sense of design. And the skin—the skin in “24 Exposures” is ample, both in Billy’s grue-strewn shoots and in sexual encounters with his girlfriend and the model of the day. Read the rest of this entry »