Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Film Top 5: Summer 2016

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The Volcanic Anna Magnani
(Siskel, July)
From Italy with gusto: twelve roles by one of the fiercest females in film history; often heartbreaking and heart-punching in a single breath or flash of the eyes.

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Preview: Behind The Scenes Of The Chicago International Movies & Music Festival

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By Ray Pride

We met up at the Music Box Lounge on a sunny afternoon after a day of slush with the amiable if weary quartet behind CIMMfest, the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival, the behemoth festival, now in its eighth year, that sprawls across Chicago with “99+ Films! 99+ Bands!,” as their promos banner. [The downloadable fifty-six-page program is here.]

Executive director Dave Moore, forty-eight, has been with CIMMfest for four years, and was not only a fan from the start, but was also the fest’s first passholder. Co-founder and artistic director Josh Chicoine, forty-two, and director at large Carmine Cervi, forty-eight, have been with the fest from the get-go. Creative and marketing director Gary Kuzminski, forty-eight, has been under the big tent for five years. (In addition to CIMMfest, Cervi has the production company BulletProof Film and Kuzminski teaches interactive advertising at Columbia.) We talked about their blend of programming, as well as the logistics of the epic endeavor at thirty venues across four days.

Opening night is five days away. Does time get away from you?

Josh: So many details.

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Review: The Illinois Parables

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Deborah Stratman describes her latest one-hour experimental essay, the meditative “The Illinois Parables,” which debuted at Sundance 2016, as “a suite of Midwestern parables that question the historical role belief has played in ideology and national identity.” Read the rest of this entry »

Reel Truth: Behind Doc10, Chicago’s Newest Film Fest

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Werner Herzog’s “Lo & Behold”

By Ray Pride

After two years of Docs at the Box, a spring showcase of new nonfiction at the Music Box, programmed by journalist-programmer Anthony Kaufman, a larger event, expanding the work of the nonprofit Chicago Media Project, will take its place. The quartet behind the long weekend, which will augment Chicago debut attractions with post-screening discussions, interactive events and panels, are Kaufman, CMP co-founder and board chair Steve Cohen, CMP co-founder and executive director Paula Froehle and festival coordinator Sarah Nobles.

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Preview: The 27th Onion City Experimental Film And Video Festival

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By Ray Pride

We caught up with Josh B. Mabe, Onion City Film Festival director and programmer (and also program director of Chicago Filmmakers) about the institution’s goals at this point in the twenty-first century, in mid-February just as programming for the 2016 edition was nearly done.

A native of South Carolina, Mabe, thirty-five, moved to Chicago in 2007, co-founded the Nightingale with Christy LeMaster and co-programmed the Chicago Underground Film Festival one year with Bryan Wendorf. The Experimental Film Coalition handed the reins of Onion City to Chicago Filmmakers in 2001, headed until 2003 by Rebecca Meyers and until 2015 by the highly regarded, exacting programmer Patrick Friel. “So,” Mabe says, “this is my first year in charge. In many ways Onion City operates a lot like the Reeling LGBTQ+ Festival, which Chicago Filmmakers also runs, but at a smaller scale.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party

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



Stephen Cone has been articulate in his admiration for American masters of the ensemble comedy-drama, not limited to Jonathan Demme, Robert Altman and Gregg Araki, and in “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party,” he wears influence lightly and well. The latest from the Chicago-based filmmaker is an ensemble piece that assuredly demonstrates maturity can be found in the citing of questions as much as the unfurling of answers, a formulation as suited to the filmmaking as to the characters we meet in one location across one long day as a preacher’s son (Cole Doman) celebrates his seventeenth birthday with a pool party. On a night-before sleepover, Henry demonstrates his crush on his friend Gabe (Joe Keery), enacted with geometric simplicity. Arrivals from church, school and family, young and old, dot the next day, with religion and sex the core concerns, gently bounding and abrading through each transition. What is love? Where is love? Read the rest of this entry »

Picking “The Flick”: A Film Critic On Annie Baker’s Steppenwolf Play

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By Ray Pride

“Flicks” is an ugly word, but “The Flick” is a lovely play.

The Newcity film section style sheet has four or five stylistic oddities. “Flicks” is roundly prohibited. “Fucks” is how the longtime body type of the paper, Meta, renders those letters. Another is just how homely and condescending a word it is, how demeaning it sounds. The superior-sounding name of Gene Siskel’s column of capsules at the end of his career was “Siskel’s Flicks Picks.” So awful. “Film.” “Movies.” Even “flickers” sounds better! But as the name of a struggling, Worcester, Massachusetts (population 182,000) cinema, it’s got a ring in Annie Baker’s Pulitzer-winning play, as the last local theater, one of the last in the region, makes a last stand against digital projection sometime in 2012.

The Steppenwolf set is a down-at-the-heels 140-seat set, directly facing the actual seats inside the black box space. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: 75 Minutes With Steve Conrad

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Steve Conrad 2

Writer-director Steve Conrad’s credits include screenplays for “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006), “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (2013), and his own directorial debut, “The Promotion” (2008). He’s been fortunate to be able to sustain his career in Chicago, staying in the city after his graduation from Northwestern rather than returning to his Florida origins. He’s always said that Chicago was a place that could sustain a filmmaking community, a hoped-for result that seems possible now even for less-established talents. On Saturday, February 20, Conrad will be in conversation in the ongoing IFP Chicago “75 Minutes With” series, moderated by executive board member Amelia Dellos.

What hard-won wisdom about working regionally and locally might you wind up sharing with the audience?
Where something happens is nearly as important as what happens.

Have you done many events like this?
I’ve done a few. I think the most encouraging thing I’m able to share is that the walk of life is hard for all of us. I struggle to finish, to find believers and to get a film or show going, same as anybody, comes with the territory.

Why did you feel so quickly at home in Chicago?
I had a friend say about Chicago, “You don’t date Chicago, you marry it.” That’s probably it. It’s a serious relationship. So it’s worth writing about. Read the rest of this entry »

Attention Should Be Paid: Adam McKay on the Origins of “The Big Short”

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By Ray Pride

Reviewing Adam McKay’s “The Big Short,” one of 2015’s best, I called it a “bristling, bustling farce-cum-polemic,” we got a chance to talk about it a few days later while McKay was showing the film to local friends and relatives in the city where he got his comedy start. Under the handle “GhostPanther,” McKay has been a provocative Twitter user, mixing absurd observation, political umbrage and “just a little NBA,” he adds.

Your approach, the tonal riot that you’re tempting in most of your movies, and especially now in “The Big Short,” is a barrage—it’s like Twitter or the flood of other contemporary social media. But mediated. The film takes on the form avidly of the river of information that a viewer can’t necessarily interpret and can become bewildered by.
Yeah, sure. What I wanted this movie to have was, there’s been all kinds of Wall Street movies that have that kind of perfect suits, marble walls, stationary kind of look, and these guys, the heart of our story is, these guys are not like that: they’re loud, they’re anxious, they don’t make eye contact, bad clothes, bad haircuts. So I really wanted the movie to have that feeling that they had when they went on this horrible roller coaster ride. Which is why I got [cinematographer] Barry Ackroyd. So you get that energetic, anxious feeling. We wanted to infuse the movie with the kind of twenty-four-hour pop-culture noise, with the Ludacris videos, the clips from movies and the news, that’s really where the [celebrity “experts”] explaining [complicated financial maneuvers] came from, too. We wanted to use pop icons as part of that constant Kardashian haze that we’re all in. What would happen if they actually told you worthwhile things? You’re right, there is a Twitter flow to it, but also I was very happy when we started screening the movie, people were understanding the progression of the financial schemes. That bewildering wall of information could lose a lot of people. But so far we’ve been getting good reactions. People seem to get the backbone.

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Review: Almost There

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I’ve seen “Almost There,” Aaron Wickenden and Dan Rybicky’s splendid, elusive minor miracle of northwest Indiana nonfiction a few times, and I’m still not sure why it’s so powerful. That it’s specific yet elusive, its dense range of fear and hope? There’s much to consider about outsider art, loneliness, mental illness and brightly colored graphomania in its innerworldly portrait of now-eighty-three-year-old Peter Anton, an elderly artist living in squalor in the wet, fetid basement of his parents’ house, moldering atop his art-stuffed living-dying quarters. As I wrote in January when it debuted at Siskel (its theatrical run begins now): “There’s a delicate and beautiful dance in ‘Almost There,’ a seven-years-in-the-making engagement with an elderly Northwest Indiana outsider artist, Peter Anton (whose work was shown at Chicago’s Intuit Gallery in 2010). The movie transforms before our eyes, as it did for the filmmakers. One of the most luminous, evocative choices made was to incorporate images not only of Anton amid his art inside his moldering dump, but of the surrounding landscape, often industrial, at all hours of day and night (captured by photographer David Schalliol). But primarily, it’s a dance between a willful subject and filmmakers who intend not to stray too close but ultimately can’t help themselves. Read the rest of this entry »