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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Film Top 5: May 16-May 31, 2016

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A Brighter Summer Day
(Siskel, May 20-21)
The late Edward Yang’s four-hour 1991 masterpiece, a coming-of-age film, a love story, and a true-crime tale, is astonishing and a wondrous gift in so many ways and especially on a large screen in this digital restoration.

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Film Top 5: May 1-May 15, 2016

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Louder Than Bombs
(River East, opens April 29)
Joachim Trier’s essential third feature moves from Oslo to upstate New York to describe the unfinished grief of a hurt, artistic family. Trier is one of our most literary filmmakers, in the sense that in movies like “Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st” he fuses the lyricism of cinema with the flow and structure of the novel. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 Of Everything 2015: Film

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Top 5 American Films of 2015
“It Follows”
“The Mend”
“Heaven Knows What”
—Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Films of 2015
“Ex Machina”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“Hard To Be a God”
“Clouds of Sils Maria”
—Ray Pride Read the rest of this entry »

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

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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.

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Film 50 2015: Chicago’s Screen Gems

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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

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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”

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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

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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.”

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News: Justine Nagan Leaving Kartemquin for American Documentary/POV

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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 »