Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

To Be Or Not To Be Wes: History Under the Influence at “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

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Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF FileBy Ray Pride

If on a winter’s night, a screenwriter…

Wes Anderson’s dense, compacted, throwback-look forward, comic mock-operetta of a mythic Mitteleuropa seemingly patterned after the no-place/not-home movies of filmmakers like Lubitsch, Lang, Ophuls, Mamoulian and Renoir, who had escaped the onrushing events between the wars in Europe, bursts with influence, overflows with decor, makes whimsy in the reflected light of offscreen historical horrors. Bold balderdash and elevated deadpan, its most ready surface influence would appear to be heady expatriate confections like “To Be Or Not To Be,” and other films of that time that do not stint on looming shadows in faux-European studio settings.

Anderson’s everyman-in-no-man’s-land is Gustave H., the concierge of an ocean liner of a wedding-cake deluxe hotel in the fictional duchy of Zubrowka, The Grand Budapest Hotel. He is a man with a job, if not a surname or a notable nationality. Ralph Fiennes invests H. with the brusque panache of both the boulevardier and the comic lights of the stage. Lubitsch’s blithe cosmopolitanism is supplanted by brute snippiness in the person of Fiennes. Speaking faster than he fast-walks, his H. is given to “oh fuck it”s that are the verbal equal of Indiana Jones choosing to take out a pistol and dispatch a scimitar-wielding opponent. (Fiennes is nourished by H.’s bursts of comic filth.) His impatience, his hurry, accelerates the sense that a narrative, an era, is hurtling to a close, as well as setting the tempo for the heist-and-chase design of the movie.

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Reeling in The Year: Rebuilding Chicago’s LGBT Festival in Logan Square

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Interior. Leather Bar.

Interior. Leather Bar.

By Ray Pride

Even without previewing most of the titles, the schedule of the thirty-first edition of Reeling looks like a perky, provocative package, its seven days filled with gay, lesbian and transgender films with edge and humor, including the Midwest premiere of “Black Box,” Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone’s follow-up to “Wise Kids,” a range of documentaries, including Jeffrey Schwarz’s “I Am Divine,” and “Interior. Leather Bar.,” Travis Mathews and James Franco’s multi-meta imagining of a re-creation of as well as the apocryphal “lost footage” from William Friedkin’s “Cruising.” (The “contemporary” footage being rehearsed by Franco plays largely like a student-film conceit; the sexually explicit, music-driven montages as an extension of what Mathews has already accomplished with editing in his personal, sexually explicit work.)

After taking 2012 off to regroup, this year’s festival, Chicago Filmmakers executive director Brenda Webb told me recently that the eight days of programming, centralized at the Logan Theatre will be “tighter, with higher-profile films in a wider range of slots than before.” Reeling will use two 170-seat screens. “At the Landmark, Century we were in a 260-seat theater and a 100-seat theater, so we were able to program shows against each other that would appeal to very different audiences and we could take risks in the smaller theater because we didn’t need to attract a large audience. The programming is probably more evenly weighted for each screen and, therefore, the audience is going to have to make some very difficult choices. Read the rest of this entry »

CIFF at 49: Highlights of the Chicago Film Festival

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“Blue Is the Warmest Color”

The Chicago International Film Festival is ripe, as always, with the first public showings of movies that will be highlights of the lurching-toward-Oscar adult movie season, including Alexander Payne’s black-and-white generational road movie, “Nebraska,” starring Bruce Dern, and the latest from the Coen brothers, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a beloved-by-critics Cannes debut about the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene, a missing cat and the cost of an abortion. One of the most exciting, as well as unexpected attractions, is the Opening Night film, the sturdy and underrated filmmaker James Gray’s turn-of-the-twentieth century drama, “The Immigrant,” starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner. Steve McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave” debuts, as well, the subject of fervent praise and an almost-as-fervent backlash after making its North American debut a couple weeks ago in Toronto. The Cannes Palme d’Or winner is also on hand, Abdellatif Kechiche’s 179-minute, NC-17 “Blue Is the Warmest Color: Adele Chapters 1 & 2,” with highly regarded performances by Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos in a romantic drama of teenage lesbian love. Last-minute additions: Jason Reitman’s latest, “Labor Day,” and Ti West’s try at found-footage horror, “The Sacrament.” Read the rest of this entry »

Film of Mormon: Xan Aranda’s Family Education

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Xan Aranda.

Xan Aranda/Photo: Jacob Knabb

By Lara Levitan

Chicago filmmaker Xan Aranda approaches her films as an ambassador for their subjects. In her first feature, 2011’s award-winning “Andrew Bird: Fever Year,” she presents a frenetic year in the touring life of the lauded musician; and in her follow-up documentary, “Mormon Movie,” set for completion in 2014, Aranda reveals a little-known filmmaking community within the Mormon church.

“I’m an insider-outsider for these two seemingly cloistered entities,” says the thirty-seven-year-old former Mormon, who says that while the church is “notoriously private, [it is] ever working to convert new believers.” Read the rest of this entry »

Moments for Lifetimes: Ebertfest Without Ebert

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Photo: Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

“Quality over quantity,” Roger Ebert wrote to me when he’d just signed onto Twitter, seeing how much I posted on any given day. But soon after, he was furnishing the Internet with his own personal, characteristic rivulet of riffs, reviews and retweets. His voice sounded in yet another form.

Last weekend, at the fifteenth annual Ebertfest in Champaign-Urbana, tributes were consistent in both quality and quantity. It was a living wake. But the programming, largely by his hand, served as a hyperarticulate last will and testament as well, the shape of which grew more and more emphatic as the five days and nights lengthened. The opening was a 35mm print of Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven,” with hearty ninety-two-year-old co-cinematographer Haskell Wexler in attendance. Five of the fourteen films were 35mm prints, another sort of wake, for the form he had always celebrated, in the format he first found it, bright and nourishing in the communal dark. Read the rest of this entry »

A New Lens: The Chicago Film Archives’ First Annual Media Mixer

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The Chicago Film Archives, an organization striving to preserve  films with a Midwestern bent, will host its first annual media mixer on August 17. Aiming to “repurpose vintage footage for current artistic expression,” collaborative video pieces created by three video/film artists and three audio artists will premiere at the mixer. Catching up with collections manager Anne Wells offered a glimpse into the night’s conception.
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Murphy’s Law: “Shut Up and Play the Hits” Documents the End of LCD Soundsystem

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By Harrison Smith

James Murphy is not a rock star. He does not snort cocaine in bathroom stalls, have an entourage hanging on his every word, consort with an ever-changing groupie harem or mutilate live animals on stage. If he does, we certainly don’t see it in “Shut Up and Play the Hits.” What we do see is LCD Soundsystem’s forty-year-old leader shaving, brewing coffee, walking his dog, breaking down in a basement and—intercut between all these daily activities—playing one of the most legendary farewell concerts since The Band took their “Last Waltz” in 1976.

“Shut Up” only features selections from the band’s four-hour Madison Square Garden goodbye, veering from documentary to concert film, painting a picture more than telling a story. The film is possibly one of the most beautiful rock movies ever made, with stunning cinematography that deserves to be praised as highly as the music it’s intended to capture. The story it documents, however, is never fully unraveled: even Chuck Klosterman, whose interview with Murphy forms the backbone of the film, has a hard time extracting exactly why Murphy decided to break up the group. Murphy says he’s getting old, wants to have kids and lead an ordinary life. Then again, “Is that a good enough reason to quit?” By the end of the interview, Murphy’s not so sure; by the end of the movie, finding the answer doesn’t much matter. Despite the lofty aspirations of directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, “Shut Up” is a celebration, not an existential exploration. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Sounding Chicago at CIMMFest

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Ian Williams in "Parallax Sounds"

Of a dozen or so features I was able to sample from CIMMFest, the Fourth Chicago International Movies and Music Festival—playing this year at the sparklingly renovated Logan Theater as well as the Wicker Park Arts Center and Society for the Arts—Silvia Beck’s process doc, “Nyman in Progress” is a delight, following the composer puttering through his cluttered-to-collapsing studio as well as traipsing the world performing his music. “The energy comes in through my front door and my windows,” he says, saying he’s as content at home as on the road. But we also see Nyman combining his music with video images he’d collected randomly for years, for gallery consumption. Read the rest of this entry »

Punk Pictures: Music, Movies and the Chilean Punk Movement at CIMMFest

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As if a daylong lineup of films about music isn’t enough, The Chicago International Movies & Music Festival boasts a lineup of live music by night, inspired by the movies it screened earlier in the day. The festival, which takes place at various venues throughout Wicker Park and Logan Square, is all about highlighting the symbiotic relationship between music and film. For the organizers of the festival, one wouldn’t be what it is without the other.

Musician Josh Chicoine and film editor Ilko Davidov co-founded CIMMFest in 2009 when they met as neighbors at a housing co-op for artists and musicians in Bucktown. Read the rest of this entry »

A Short Story: DIY filmmaking with Group 312

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10 Frames (aka My Dog Ate My Homework) by Brian Wyrick

Group 312, the Chicago chapter of Group 101, is a not-for-profit collective of filmmakers who collaborate every month to produce a short based on a chosen topic. Group 101 began in Los Angeles on New Year’s Day in 2000. A year later, Serena Schonbrun and Galina Schevchenko founded the Chicago chapter.

The relaxed group meets monthly to screen the previous month’s shorts and mingle with fellow filmmakers. The viewings often feature a wide variety of genres; the current organizer of Group 312, Richard Syska, says interpretations can be “as abstract as taking the word and using it in dialogue.” Read the rest of this entry »