Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Playing Favorites: Highlights of the Chicago Film Critics Film Festival

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“Obvious Child”

For its second annual Chicago Film Critics Film Festival, the local movie reviewers’ group jets south from its origins in the O’Hare hinterlands for the friendly confines of Wrigleyville’s Music Box Theatre from May 9-15. The schedule includes a big fistful of advance showings of summer art-house and indie attractions.

Mike Myers’ “Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon” is a genial, ribald hagiography of the longtime manager of musicians and performers, beginning with Alice Cooper and through the decades toward his creation of the celebrity chef.

The second feature by John Michael McDonagh, “Calvary” is another black comic collaboration with the great Brendan Gleeson about a priest faced with moral complications. Documentary “That Guy Dick Miller” will be shown with that guy, Dick Miller, in attendance. One of his most lasting collaborations with producer Roger Corman, “Bucket Of Blood,” is also on the bill.

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Cinematic Jamming: “Brasslands” and Other CIMMfest Highlights

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BRASSLANDS Demiran CerimovicBy Ray Pride

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 »

Adrift with the Millennials: Among the “Animals” at South by Southwest

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By Brian Hieggelke

Though South by Southwest (SXSW) has been around nearly thirty years as a music festival, it’s only been the last of those decades, with the rise of its interactive component (Twitter famously came of age here), that’s turned it into a spectacle in and of itself. 

The streets of this bursting-at-the-seams city are awash in venture capital being burned in all forms of splendor, from the takeovers of various local bars, gas stations, whatever, to every kind of marketing gimmickry imaginable—design your own Oreos anyone?—to the hordes of digerati roaming 6th Street in search of the hottest private party.

And into this cesspool of capitalism unbound, the press descends, drooling for buzz, sniffing for the new new thing, snacking on trend pieces. When a drunk driver plows into a crowd on the street during this year’s festival, tragically killing two and injuring dozens, David Carr and Manny Fernandez, writing in the New York Times, find the metaphor they’ve been looking for: Has SXSW “lost the original spirit of what it intended to be?” Never mind that an equally valid concern might be the car-centric lack of public transportation options in mid-sized American cities that makes driving and drink an inevitable pairing fifty-two weeks a year. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Our City of Lights: Filmmaker John Rangel’s “The Girls on Liberty Street” is a Love Letter to Hometown Aurora

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John Rangel

John Rangel

By Eric Lutz

“My friends and I would always kind of half-joke about how in our class, more kids went to jail than went to college,” filmmaker John Rangel tells me over coffee on a sunny Friday morning in Logan Square.

We’re talking about Aurora, Illinois, his hometown and the setting of his brilliant new movie, “The Girls on Liberty Street,” which opens at the Chicago International Film Festival October 12.

“When I was in grade school, there were gangs and they would fight—they would fist-fight,” he says. “By the time I got to middle school, people started getting shot.  And then by the time I was graduating high school, it was machine guns and pipe bombs.”

Growing up, Rangel wanted nothing more than to get out of town. 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 »

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 »

Champaign Days at Ebertfest: Projecting Borrowed Time

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Photo by Ray Pride.

By Ray Pride

All the movies here are about forgiveness and mortality, I message a friend in the midst of last week’s fourteenth edition of Ebertfest in Champaign-Urbana.

The quick, glib text in turn: “Isn’t that all movies, really?” Since I didn’t know I was going until a couple days ahead, I hadn’t looked over the list of twelve “overlooked” features that Roger Ebert and his festival staff had programmed. All I really knew was that no movies or presentations overlap, and ample time is slotted for lunch and dinner; that is, lots of gab.

On opening night, “Joe Vs. The Volcano” (1990), shown at the sold-out downtown 1,525-seat Virginia Theatre (built 1921), is about a white-collar worker who escapes “Brazil”-like drudgery when he’s told he has six months to live. John Patrick Shanley’s cracked romanticism ensues. Mortality of another stripe came to light afterwards, when cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt said a DCP digital copy of the film had been mastered especially for Ebert, and he thought it looked finer than it had ever looked in its photochemical form. Still, the sixty-seven-year-old cinematographer admitted, he’s yet to shoot a movie in any digital format. 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 »

An Undead Irish Legacy: “Bram Stoker agus Dracula”

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In “Dracula,” the 1897 vampire tale by Bram Stoker—before “Twilight” and “True Blood”—Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing faced Dracula in order to save London and the life of Mina Harker. The Irishman has been credited with creating one of the best pieces of literary horror, a powerful invasion novel and the most iconic vampire novels of all time.

“Bram Stoker agus Dracula,” a documentary by director Keith O’Grady, is playing this Saturday at the Irish Film Festival. The film, which has been released close to the centenary anniversary of Stoker’s death on April 20, 1912, delves into the history of “Dracula” as an Irish novel and the entry of the vampire into the mass public. Read the rest of this entry »