Thursday, March 23, 2017

Remembering Bill Paxton in Near Dark, one of his finest performances

Posted By on 03.23.17 at 04:48 PM

Bill Paxton in Near Dark
  • Bill Paxton in Near Dark

On Friday and Saturday at midnight the Music Box is showing Near Dark, Kathryn Bigelow's first solo directorial effort, on 35-millimeter. The theater had planned the screenings as a commemoration of the film's 30th anniversary, but now they double as a tribute to the actor Bill Paxton, who delivered a memorable supporting turn in the movie, and who passed away last month from complications following heart surgery. A chronically underrated player in American movies, the versatile Paxton fared well both in comedy (Weird Science, Club Dread) and drama (One False Move, A Simple Plan), bringing a likable earnestness to both genres. Paxton is probably most beloved for his roles in action and adventure movies—Aliens, Predator 2, Tombstone, Apollo 13, True Lies, and Twister—and for good reason: he's the most recognizably human element in these large-scale productions, his modesty as a performer matched by his evident enthusiasm for whatever story he's helping to tell. Even when he overacted, as in Near Dark or Club Dread, his overacting was never self-important or at odds with the material. It felt like exactly what the movie called for.

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Making sense of Putin's ‘ghastly trick’

Posted By on 03.23.17 at 03:02 PM

Members of the House Intelligence Committee questioned FBI director James Comey Monday during a hearing on allegations of Russian interference in November's presidential election. - AP PHOTO/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE
  • AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
  • Members of the House Intelligence Committee questioned FBI director James Comey Monday during a hearing on allegations of Russian interference in November's presidential election.
As I read the latest assortment of stories about Donald Trump and the Russians Thursday, a couple of lines from popular culture came to mind.

From The Godfather II, Tom Hagen saying to Michael Corleone: "Roth played this one beautifully." Hyman Roth, Corleone's partner in crime but also his worst enemy, had set him up to take the fall.

And from John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold: "And suddenly, with the terrible clarity of a man too long deceived, Leamas understood the whole ghastly trick." The unwitting tool of British intelligence, Leamas had just undermined the East German official he thought he was defending.

The question posed by both the book and the novel is the same: What is really going on? In confronting the Russia allegations, America asks that question today.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Enjoyed Get Out? Try The Belko Experiment and Raw.

Posted By on 03.22.17 at 10:00 AM

The Belko Experiment
  • The Belko Experiment

The whopping success of Jordan Peele's Get Out has demonstrated that general audiences can appreciate horror movies for their subtext. A thinly veiled commentary on American race relations, Get Out uses the horror genre to dramatize fears about the persecution of African-Americans and the suppression of black identity. Audiences seem to get this (given the film's courageous forthrightness, it would be surprising if they didn't), as evidenced by the serious discussions of race that the film has provoked across media and social media alike. In its subversion of genre and its effectiveness as provocation, Get Out feels like a truer heir to Bill Gunn's great Ganja and Hess (1973) than Spike Lee's overly reverent remake Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014) did. The difference, perhaps, is that Lee regarded horror primarily as a vehicle to pay tribute to Gunn, whereas Peele respects the genre and uses it to address contemporary anxieties.

Another difference may be that Lee made Jesus entirely independently (he produced it through crowd-funding) while Peele worked with producer Jason Blum, one of the most valuable forces in American genre cinema today. In the past several years, Blum's company Blumhouse Productions has fostered a steady supply of smart, subtext-rich horror films that speak to the dark side of the American experience. (The studio has also produced its share of junk, but at least none of it has been intentionally kitschy or gory for the sake of being gory.) James DeMonaco's brilliant Purge series remains the company's finest output, though Blumhouse is also responsible for such notable provocations as Sinister, Oculus, Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem, Unfriended, and the current release The Belko Experiment. Although overshadowed by Get Out, Belko is one of the studio's finest films and as worthy a piece of social commentary as Peele's.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Illinois Film Tour will bring independent films, resources to communities statewide

Posted By on 03.16.17 at 02:47 PM

  • Full Spectrum Features
  • Formidable Dreams

Two local independent-film nonprofits, IFP Chicago and Full Spectrum Features (FSF), are partnering on a new initiative, Illinois Film Tour (IFT), with the intention of supporting diverse filmmakers and providing resources to underserved communities across the state. Funded by a $10,000 Multiplier grant from Illinois Humanities (IH), IFT enters a one-year pilot phase this spring, with Nicole Bernardi-Reis and Eugene Sun Park—president of the board of directors at IFP and the founder of FSF, respectively—cocurating the project.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Moonlight, Major Lazer, and midwestern Devo heads: music stories making the rounds on the Web

Posted By on 03.04.17 at 07:00 AM

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam - MARTEN VAN DIJL
  • Marten Van Dijl
  • Moonlight director Barry Jenkins at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam

The music of
An unusual look into the watery, Floridian beats and tunes—Miami bass, Drexciya, chopped-and-screwed hip-hop—that subtly define the Best Picture winner. [MTV News]

A documentary on Major Lazer's 2016 Havana show doubles as a look into Cuba's underground sneakernet
Give Me Future is about Major Lazer's 2016 gig in Havana (they were one of the first U.S. acts to play Cuba after the normalization of diplomatic relations), but it's far from a standard rock doc—it also looks into "El Paquete Semanal," a hand-delivered weekly collection of pirated TV, movies, music, and more that provides a connection to pop culture in a country mostly still lacking private Internet access. [Fact Mag]

Japan's footwork scene gets a documentary on where it came from and where it's going
Chicago is the birthplace of footwork, but it's found a second home in Tokyo. Thump is debuting a documentary on one of the most unlikely East-West cultural cross-pollinations in recent memory.

Kendrick Lamar, Beck, and Tom Waits share the cover of the New York Times's style magazine
Look, if you didn't read that and click the link, I don't know what your deal is. Stop reading this and click.
[New York Times]

UK garage star Craig David introduces himself to a new generation of listeners
Craig David was one of the biggest acts to come out of the UK garage scene of the late 90s and early 2000s, but his career since then has been a roller coaster. He seems to be regaining a foothold in the pop landscape, though—and attracting a whole new set of fans. [The Outline]

A bunch of midwestern bands still carry a torch for Devo
One of the LPs mentioned in this piece is by a band called the Coneheads, and it's entitled 14 Year Old High School PC-Fascist Hype Lords Rip Off Devo for the Sake of Extorting $$$ From Helpless Impressionable Midwestern Internet Peoplepunks L.P. And whose heart doesn't have at least a little room for impressionable midwestern Internet peoplepunks? [A.V. Club]

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Week in review: The Oscars disaster that was, and wasn't

Posted By on 03.03.17 at 03:00 PM

After a shocking mixup, the cast and crew of La La Land greet the cast and crew of Moonlight as they take the stage to claimed their Academy Award for best picture. - CHRIS PIZZELLO/INVISION/AP
  • Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
  • After a shocking mixup, the cast and crew of La La Land greet the cast and crew of Moonlight as they take the stage to claimed their Academy Award for best picture.

Some people test the limits of our ability to think clearly about them. President Trump and his Washington playmates fit the description. But movie stars and the whole Hollywood scene will always be in the mix, and over the past week Hollywood took its turn.

Prior to the Academy Awards, tensions rose as two vital questions awaited an answer: Would the tide of popular opinion—or was it critical, or was it Facebook?—turning against La La Land as too frothy, self-absorbed, and white to be worthy of an Oscar open the door to an insurgent, perhaps Moonlight? And would emcee Jimmy Kimmel and the winners and presenters pull their punches, or would they really let Trump have it?

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Monday, February 27, 2017

‘Gary from Chicago’ was the ‘biggest star inside the 2017 Oscars,’ and other news

Posted By on 02.27.17 at 10:22 AM

Mahershala Ali, right, hands his award for best supporting actor to a tourist named Gary during the Oscars Sunday night. - PHOTO BY CHRIS PIZZELLO/INVISION/AP
  • Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
  • Mahershala Ali, right, hands his award for best supporting actor to a tourist named Gary during the Oscars Sunday night.

Welcome to the Reader's morning briefing for Monday, February 27, 2017.

  • "Gary from Chicago" was the "biggest star inside the 2017 Oscars"

Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel invited a group of tourists from a Hollywood tour bus to the Dolby Theatre for the Oscars, and one of them, who identified himself as "Gary from Chicago," went viral. E! News declared him the "biggest star inside the 2017 Oscars." Gary was a natural at Hollywood's most prestigious awards show, charming celebrities, taking selfies, and kissing Nicole Kidman's hand. Capitalizing on the viral moment, the Chicago Bulls and Bears immediately reached out to him on social media with offers of gifts. [New York Daily News] [E! News]

  • CPD top cop Johnson is frustrated with Springfield for failing to stiffen punishments for repeat gun offenders

Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson is frustrated with lawmakers in Springfield for failing to pass harsher penalties for repeat gun offenders, according to the Sun-Times. "They promised me that we would have something done in January. We're at the end of February," he said at a news conference Friday. He's now counting on state senator Kwame Raoul and state rep Elgie Sims Jr., who are currently drafting a bill. He noted that both Raoul and Sims are "supportive of CPD." [Sun-Times]

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ruth Ratny, chronicler of Chicago’s film industry, dies

Posted By on 02.23.17 at 04:59 PM

  • CARMEN REPORTO/Sun-Times Media
  • Ruth Ratny

Some journalists don't have much of anything going for them but grit. But sometimes that grit can be enough. When I looked in on her in 2001, Ruth Ratny, who died in her sleep Tuesday night, was one of those journalists.

Ratny launched Screen magazine, to cover Chicago's film industry, as a mimeographed newsletter in 1979. She built it into a weekly everybody in the business read. But she was in her mid-60s when I caught up with her—and times were terrible. As I wrote in the first of four columns about her, Ratny had quietly cut back to biweekly publication months before. "This was in response to the six-month-long actors' strike that began last May 1 and all but shut down the commercial-making industry in this country."

And that wasn't all. She'd fallen down an elevator shaft. Making light in Screen of an accident that laid her up for a couple of weeks, she wrote that she "landed on my back on the mechanicals, a tangle of electric wires and criss-crossed metal tubing. . . . For 90 minutes I half-sat, half-lay, half-stood in the black, 3x5-foot enclosure, fingering with enormous frustration the recalcitrant cell phone." When she finally was able to dial out she told 911, "I am bruised, achey and frequently cranky, but I am alive."

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The newly renovated Davis Theater is a vaudeville house for the 21st century

Posted By on 02.23.17 at 03:25 PM

  • Courtesy of Davis Theater

In the "Utopia" episode of Easy, the Joe Swanberg-directed series for Netflix, Malin Akerman plays a woman in charge of renovating the nearly 100-year-old Davis Theater in Lincoln Square, which began as a vaudeville house in 1918. The actual owner of the Davis, Tom Fencl, appears in a walk-through of the grand auditorium that Swanberg shot midrenovation; in the scene, Fencl wears a pink hard hat and asks Akerman how many seats the auditorium will hold.

Last week Fencl gave me a tour of the theater, which reopened after a multimillion-dollar makeover in December. In addition to the rehabbed auditorium—that seats 300, by the way—and two other 135-seat screening rooms, the first-run movie house at 4614 N. Lincoln sports a revamped lobby and several new restrooms, all decorated in an industrial-meets-art-deco style to evoke the theater's 1920s heyday; a concessions area that doubles as a box office; and an adjacent bar and restaurant, Carbon Arc Bar & Board, where customers can stop in for a sit-down meal or take their food and drinks into the theater with them.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Q&A with filmmaker Jamal Joseph on Chapter & Verse and the prison industrial complex

Posted By on 02.14.17 at 06:31 PM

Chapter & Verse
  • Chapter & Verse
Chapter & Verse, which finishes a run in Chicago tomorrow night, follows a former gang leader (Daniel Beaty) who, after serving eight years in prison, reenters society and struggles to adapt to his changed Harlem neighborhood. Beaty cowrote the film with director, educator, and activist Jamal Joseph, who loosely based the narrative on his own experience.

As a young man, Joseph was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army and was prosecuted as one of the Panther 21. While incarcerated at Leavenworth penitentiary in the 1970s, he earned two college degrees, wrote five plays, produced two volumes of poetry, and founded a theater company of prisoners previously divided by race, culture, and violence.

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