Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Four First Looks At Spike Lee’s “Chi-raq”

Drama, News and Dish No Comments »


Amazon Studios will release Spike Lee’s “Chi-raq” in time for the holidays (or at least year-end awards). Theatrical distributor Roadside Attractions has released four images as a first taste of the Chicago-set film, which may or may not be a drama, a comedy, or an adaptation of “Lysistrata,” and which may or may not become controversial on our streets. Three more photos below, plus a first trailer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Film 50 2015: Chicago’s Screen Gems

Film 50 2 Comments »


Got disruption?

The serene velocity of change of the modern media landscape got scary back at the turn of the century, when the cries of filmmakers like George Lucas and James Cameron for digital distribution reached the ears of economy-seeking, profit-coveting movie studios. But a lot happened in these fifteen years, as new means of communication quickly were supplanted by newer ones or faded. (Fotolog? Friendster?) For the purposes of Film 50, the most important aspect is the democratized access to means of production (DSLR digital cameras, iPhones, consumer-level non-linear editing software) and distribution (YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, digital exhibition). There’s action and movement in every form of Chicago media, even if there’s a cost to some. (Apps like Fandango supplant lucrative movie listings that once fattened newspapers, for instance.) But this year’s survey surprised with its hope toward a sustainable culture and economy in what’s rapidly becoming “The City That Collaborates.”

The lovingly pessimistic words from Antonio Gramsci’s “Prison Notebooks” that seemed too true in recent years—“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”—now seem pasted to the rearview mirror as opposed to the cautious yet sometimes utopian hope for forms of storytelling we shelter under the umbrella of “film.” Morbid symptoms wane in the face of simple midwestern determination, basic Chicago hope. This is a thrilling, fearsome, fearful moment to be alive in the midst of so many forms of media.

While compiling this year’s Film 50, devoted to behind-the-scenes players who work in a visionary strain necessary to but necessarily apart from storytellers, generational layers surfaced. There are older figures with the institutional memory of what came before, bearing both its wealth and weight; players in mid-career devoted to preserving the legacy of film and video, particularly in how it reflects twentieth-century Chicago; and a younger bunch, let’s say under thirty, who are format-agnostic, aren’t burdened by the minutiae of Chicago’s film history and are open to storytelling in just-emerging and not-yet-born multimedia approaches. The story of any given movie’s production will be more interesting than the movie itself, it’s often said, and this survey offers ample fascination. Whether a Wachowski mega-production, an episode of a Dick Wolf series, a $30,000 post-Joe Swanberg intimate drama, the crew of a hundred or twenty-five or seven required to manifest that movie is stocked with one dreamer after another. (We could drown in the tears from the making and unmaking of the cinematic hopes and fears of just a single fully-staffed crew shooting a couple of days of “Chicago Fire” or “Empire” just down your nearest Boulevard.) The figures who follow are the creative thinkers, and more importantly, doers, who can brush away those tears and hold the hands and support and nourish the imaginations of all of Chicago.

Note: Since editor Brian Hieggelke has launched a Newcity-related film production enterprise (see related story), he recused himself from the selection and ranking of the individuals on this list.

The Film 50 was written by Ray Pride

Cover and interior photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux Read the rest of this entry »

Film Leaders of the Moment: Forager Film’s Joe Swanberg, Eddie Linker and Peter Gilbert

Chicago Artists, Film 50, News and Dish No Comments »
Joe Swanberg and Eddie Linker (Peter Gilbert was out of town)/Photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

Joe Swanberg and Eddie Linker (Peter Gilbert was out of town)/Photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

By Ray Pride

In less than a year-and-a-half, Forager Film, with filmmakers Joe Swanberg and Peter Gilbert and trader Eddie Linker as partners, has produced six feature films, with four of them—Swanberg’s “Happy Christmas” and “Digging for Fire,” his wife Kris Swanberg’s “Unexpected” and Alex Ross Perry’s “Queen of Earth”—already in distribution. As we scheduled our meeting for a sunny afternoon last week, Swanberg joked about their lack of offices or any other amenity producers sometimes lavish on themselves. Swanberg, Linker and I got coffee, pulled up three stumps under a tree on a Ravenswood side street, with the intermittent hum of low-flying planes overhead and the rumble of Metra trains across the street. Truly, a no-budget business meeting.

What does the company name mean?
Swanberg: I consider us like a hunter-gatherer company in the sense that we don’t have any sort of mission, we’re just on the lookout for good movies. Foraging through the excess of stuff around projects looking for money, and unlike a lot of financiers of independent film, we’re not waiting for projects to come in. We’re actively seeking out the filmmakers we want to work with and pitch them a type of model. So, Alex Ross Perry’s “Queen of Earth” came about that way. Alex was coming off what I consider the best film to have been made that year, “Listen Up Philip,” which had a tremendous struggle securing distribution and then even in its release had a lot of trouble finding an audience. I was baffled by that, but one thing I knew for sure is that guy ought to get back to work right away rather than sit around in the wake of a bizarre success-slash-failure. I also felt with that film that Elisabeth Moss had not… she’s really good in it, but she hadn’t been fully utilized. So I encouraged Alex in a similar way to how I’d worked with Anna Kendrick. She came in in a supporting role in “Drinking Buddies,” then we developed a project especially for her to be in the lead. I said to Alex, ‘You know, you have this relationship with this amazing actress who came in in the utility role in this film, why don’t you investigate with her a part where she would be able to fully shine. You guys have built that trust, go for it, dig deeper.’ Similar to the way where “Happy Christmas” came together, I talked to her first and then we built that thing. Alex followed that up with Elisabeth, born out of ideas that were swirling in his head, but with Elisabeth as a collaborator the entire time. Read the rest of this entry »

In the Ring: Newcity is ready to make its “Signature Move”

Chicago Artists, News and Dish No Comments »
Photo: Alessandra Giordano

Photo: Alessandra Giordano

By Brian Hieggelke

Now that we’ve finally chosen the movie we’ll produce for our thirtieth anniversary next year—it’s called “Signature Move”—I understand why most indie filmmakers write their own material. The road to great screenplays is paved with loose gravel. And when you find it, rights holders, agents and lawyers can grind that rocky road to quicksand. (Most of the metaphors you’ll read are even worse than this.)

I guess I thought finding the project would be the easy part. Since announcing this project in February 2014, I’ve reviewed more than sixty screenplays or other properties (novels for adaptation, plays, short stories, etc.). I’ve discussed projects over lunches, coffees and beers dozens and dozens of times. I’ve been on the verge of locking down not one, but two high-profile films, neither of which would have quite fulfilled this project’s mandate but would have been, respectively, great launch undertakings (a short film) or a great second film (a work by a legendary Chicago novelist) only to see both fall apart—though all principal terms had been agreed upon—when the rightsholders ultimately did not pull the trigger. I was not expecting inertia to be such an obstacle, one that proves not only frustrating but costly once the legal fees come into play.

I was somewhere in various states of stalemate a year ago during our Film 50 photo shoot, when I met one of the figures on the list, Eugene Sun Park. Park asked me if I was still looking at submissions, and I said I was. He said he might have something, and that was that. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Nicole Bernardi Reis On Revitalizing IFP/Chicago

Chicago Artists, Events, Festivals, Film 50, News and Dish No Comments »

joe-mazza-bave-lux-chicago-new-3572676260-OIFP/Chicago, one of the city’s oldest organizations to support independent filmmakers, has kept a low profile for several years, but is about to launch an ambitious roster of programs, inspired in part by the success of May’s Chicago Underground Film Festival, presently one of the Independent Filmmaker Project’s most prominent enterprises. Other support programs and networking events have grown up around the city since their founding, such as the long-running first-Tuesdays Midwest Film Festival and more recently, the new sip-and-grip comradeship CCCP, the Chicago Creatives Cocktail Party, which IFP co-sponsors.

After three years or so of dormancy, Nicole Bernardi-Reis, an independent producer and president of the board of directors (and 2014 Film 50 subject) sees now as a time for IFP to bloom. “The community changed a lot during that time, as did the resources available to filmmakers,” she says. “Currently, the film and television industry is seeing an influx of productions and revenue due to the Illinois Film Tax Credit. Hollywood is back in Chicago. Business is booming, again. Outside productions have always been an important part of sustaining the film community in the Midwest, but they are just a part.”

Read the rest of this entry »

News: Justine Nagan Leaving Kartemquin for American Documentary/POV

News and Dish No Comments »

JN 2007 color

Chicago documentary production company Kartemquin Films announced Tuesday the departure of executive director and producer Justine Nagan.

Starting full-time in January, Nagan will serve as the executive director of American Documentary, Inc. and executive producer of POV, the flagship PBS documentary series. She will divide her time between the two organizations this fall to ease the transition before relocating to New York with her family in December.

“I’m excited to join this team that I have immense respect for, and really dig in and think about what the future for this really important organization in the field is and help make it happen,” Nagan says. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Block Museum Names Michelle Puetz New Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts

News and Dish No Comments »

Michelle Puetz

Another major move in Chicago film programming was announced Monday, with Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art naming a replacement for longtime curator Mimi Brody. Michelle Puetz takes the title of Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts on July 13, moving over from the MCA, where she’s curated mixed-media exhibits working with video and other time-based media.

At the Block, Puetz will oversee programming for the Block Cinema, as well as continue to curate exhibitions involving video. She was selected by a committee of eleven Block staff, Northwestern faculty members and students through what Kathleen Bickford Berzock, committee member and Block’s associate director of curatorial affairs, described as a “very, very rigorous process.” Berzock said she felt Puetz was uniquely qualified for the position, especially in establishing a greater presence of time-based media in the Block’s galleries. “What was so remarkable about Michelle Puetz as a candidate for this position is that a media arts specialist is already a rare thing,” Berzock said. “What [she] has that’s even more unique is this crossover of experience where she is equally experienced as a programmer and historian as she is as a curator in a gallery space.” Read the rest of this entry »

News: Music Box Theatre Imports Ryan Oestreich as GM from Denver

News and Dish No Comments »

Ryan OestreichComing on the heels of a recent boom in programming and space, including a lounge complete with a full bar, the Music Box Theatre named a new general manager on June 15. Ryan Oestreich arrives from Denver, where he currently serves as director of the Sie FilmCenter, home to the nonprofit Denver Film Society. Previously, Oestreich managed operations and programming for the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul. “Ryan’s strong experience in the venue management space, both in for-profit and nonprofit organizations, prove he’s capable of ushering Music Box Theatre into a next phase of growth,” William Schopf, president of the Southport Music Box Corporation said in a statement. “We anticipate exciting programming and audience development progress with Ryan at the helm.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Film 50 Follow: Jerzy Rose & Halle Butler and Thomas Comerford’s “How To”

Chicago Artists, Film 50 No Comments »

In the first of a series of updates on Film 50 subjects, Newcity Film premieres the gently disturbing video for filmmaker-musician Thomas Comerford’s “How To,” directed by Jerzy Rose and Halle Butler. (Their 2014 Film 50 profile is here.) Comerford will perform with Luke Redfield and Dust Bunnies at the Flatiron Arts Building, 1579 North Milwaukee, third floor, on Wednesday, January 14 at 9pm.

RAY PRIDE: What led to this collaboration?

THOMAS COMERFORD: Jerzy is a former student of mine, as well as a friend in the community of artists and musicians I see around town on a regular basis. When preparing to release my new LP, I approached an array of friends from this group, which also included, as you know, Carolyn Faber and Chris Sullivan. The idea was to find people who were into the music and have them create a kind of motion picture “response” to the music. It was left completely open as to how anyone might approach it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2014: Film

Top 5 Lists No Comments »

Top 5 American Films of 2014
“Gone Girl”
“The Immigrant”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Love Is Strange”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Films of 2014
“We Are The Best!”
“Winter Sleep”
“Force Majeure”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Actors of 2014
Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory Of Everything”
Tom Hardy, “Locke”
Guy Pearce, “The Rover”
Ben Affleck, “Gone Girl”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Actresses of 2014
Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night” and “The Immigrant”
Agata Kulesza, “Ida”
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”
Felicity Jones, “The Theory Of Everything”
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Supporting Actors of 2014
J. K. Simmons, “Whiplash”
Josh Brolin, “Inherent Vice”
Ben Mendelsohn, “Starred Up,” “Exodus”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Supporting Actresses of 2014
Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Nina Foss, “A Most Wanted Man”
Andrea Riseborough, “Birdman”
Emma Stone, “Birdman”
Elisabeth Moss, “Listen Up Philip”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Directors of 2014
David Fincher, “Gone Girl”
Pawel Pawlikowski, “Ida”
Jonathan Glazer, “Under The Skin”
Steven Knight, “Locke”
Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Cinematography of 2014
Jeff Cronenweth, “Gone Girl”
Robert Elswit, “Inherent Vice,” “Nightcrawler”
Radoslaw Ladczuk, “The Babadook”
Greig Fraser, “Foxcatcher”
Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Screenplays of 2014
“Top Five”
“The LEGO Movie”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Inherent Vice”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Documentaries of 2014
“Life Itself”
“The Overnighters”
“20,000 Days On Earth”
“Last Days Of Vietnam”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Chillers of 2014
“The Babadook”
“Blue Ruin”
“Cheap Thrills”
“The Honeymoon”
“The Guest”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Films You Can’t See Yet
“Farewell to Language”
“The Duke of Burgundy”
“Clouds of Sils Maria”
“The Strange Little Cat”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Soundtracks or Scores of 2014
“Under The Skin,” Mica Levi
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Alexandre Desplat
“Gone Girl,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
“Inherent Vice,” Jonny Greenwood
“Only Lovers Left Alive,” SQÜRL
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Overlooked Films of 2014
“Blue Ruin”
“The Rover”
“Starred Up”
“Listen Up Philip”
—Ray Pride