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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

‘The Lubitsch touch’ on FilmStruck this week

Posted By on 09.12.18 at 06:00 AM

Ernst Lubitsch's The Oyster Princess
  • Ernst Lubitsch's The Oyster Princess
The great German, then American, director Ernst Lubitsch is currently featured as FilmStruck's "director of the week," and they have a generous selection of his films spanning most of his career. A master of deft and witty romantic comedies, his legendary "Lubitsch touch" began in the teens and graced a wider range of films than his celebrated comedy films.

The Oyster Princess
Lubitsch's first feature-length comedy (1919), about an American millionaire trying to acquire a noble title for his daughter by marrying her off to a Prussian prince, is an unalloyed delight—a perfect rejoinder to those critics who maintain that the director only found "the Lubitsch touch" after moving to Hollywood in the 1920s. The satire is sharp, and the visual settings are sumptuous and gracefully handled. With Ossi Owalda, Harry Liedtke, and Victor Janson. 60 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

One of a series of historical epics that the young German director Lubitsch concocted for star Pola Negri—a series that eventually landed Hollywood contracts for both. This 1920 film is an adaptation of Max Reinhardt's stage production Sumurun, with Negri as an ambitious dancing girl courted by a lascivious sheikh and the pathetic hunchback (played by Lubitsch himself) who is the leader of her troupe. 75 min.
Dave Kehr

The Merry Widow
The last and finest of Lubitsch's musicals (1934), based on the Franz Lehar operetta and retooled with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. Maurice Chevalier, in his last good role, is the prince; Jeanette MacDonald, on the brink of her fateful meeting with Nelson Eddy, is the widow. MGM hired the Lubitsch-Chevalier-MacDonald team away from Paramount, and apparently went all-out on this production to show up the competition. Lubitsch brilliantly exploits Cedric Gibbons's opulent sets, but his genius is most evident in the film's final poignancy—a farewell to the genre he helped to create. Also known as The Lady Dances. 99 min. —Dave Kehr

The Shop Around the Corner
There are no art deco nightclubs, shimmering silk gowns, or slamming bedroom doors to be seen, but this 1940 film is one of Lubitsch's finest and most enduring works, a romantic comedy of dazzling range that takes place almost entirely within the four walls of a leather-goods store in prewar Budapest. James Stewart is the earnest, slightly awkward young manager; Margaret Sullavan is the new sales clerk who gets on his nerves—and neither realizes that they are partners in a passionate romance being carried out through the mails. Interwoven with subplots centered on the other members of the shop's little family, the romance proceeds through Lubitsch's brilliant deployment of point of view, allowing the audience to enter the perceptions of each individual character at exactly the right moment to develop maximum sympathy and suspense. With Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Sara Haden, and Felix Bressart. 97 min. —Dave Kehr

Heaven Can Wait
Lubitsch's only completed film in Technicolor (1943), the greatest of his late films, offers a rosy, meditative, and often very funny view of an irrepressible ladies' man (Don Ameche in his prime) presenting his life in retrospect to the devil (Laird Cregar). Like a good deal of Lubitsch from The Merry Widow on, it's about death as well as personal style, but rarely has the subject been treated with such affection for the human condition. Samson Raphaelson's script is very close to perfection, the sumptuous period sets are a delight, and the secondary cast—Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Eugene Pallette, and Spring Byington—is wonderful. In many respects, this is Lubitsch's testament, full of grace, wisdom, and romance. 112 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The iO Theater's Bentwood Comedy Festival arrives with an abundance of talent

Posted By on 07.24.18 at 06:00 AM

Scott Adsit improvises two shows with fellow iO alum Jet Eveleth on Wed 8/18. - GETTY IMAGES
  • Getty images
  • Scott Adsit improvises two shows with fellow iO alum Jet Eveleth on Wed 8/18.

Named for wobbly stage chairs, iO's first annual Bentwood Comedy Festival runs August 10 through 19. Much comedy awaits; here are the Reader's top picks, each of which has been vetted by our critics over the years.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

FilmStruck spotlights the sophisticated cinema of George Cukor

Posted By on 07.18.18 at 06:00 AM

George Cukor's Les Girls
  • George Cukor's Les Girls
George Cukor often seems like the great Hollywood auteur hiding in plain sight, obscured on the one hand by international icons such as John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock and, on the other hand, by cult heroes such as Raoul Walsh and Allan Dwan. A filmmaker of greater refinement than many of his contemporaries, he made elegant, sophisticated films with an unmistakable visual style. This week the streaming channel FilmStruck moves Cukor front and center as its featured director, offering up a generous selection of his films; we've bypassed the three most iconic (The Women, The Philadelphia Story, and A Star Is Born) in favor of five others that demonstrate his artistry and range.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Chicago Underground Film Festival at 25: A look back

Posted By on 06.04.18 at 06:00 AM

Matthew Porterfield's Putty Hill
  • Matthew Porterfield's Putty Hill
The Chicago Underground Film Festival, which takes place Wednesday, June 6, through Sunday, June 10, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. We take a look back at some notable features that screened in previous editions of the festival, movies demonstrating that "underground" is a happily elastic term.

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Monday, April 30, 2018

The guy who quit Second City

Posted By on 04.30.18 at 06:00 AM

Dan Bakkedahl, second from right, and his castmates in the 2003 Second City revue Doors Open on the Right - SUN-TIMES MEDIA
  • Sun-Times media
  • Dan Bakkedahl, second from right, and his castmates in the 2003 Second City revue Doors Open on the Right

The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

Back in 2004 Dan Bakkedahl was living the dream of just about every young improv performer who moves to Chicago: he was performing on the mainstage at Second City. But then he quit. Kabir Hamid's 2005 profile "So Long, Second City" explains why.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Zanies comedy club has lasted 40 years with an old-school stand-up model

Posted By on 04.06.18 at 06:00 AM

A young Jay Leno, chin and all, performs on Zanies' Chicago stage. - GETTY IMAGES
  • Getty Images
  • A young Jay Leno, chin and all, performs on Zanies' Chicago stage.

In the late 80s and early 90s, Chicago was in the midst of a comedy-club turf war. Zanies, the Funny Firm, Catch a Rising Star, the Improv, and All Jokes Aside, to name only a few, fought dirty. "Sources say that since that tidal wave of openings, club managers have increasingly been forced to turn to free passes ('papering') to fill their many seats, while counting on drink tabs to cover operating costs," wrote the Reader’s Lewis Lazare in 1990. Bert Haas, the executive vice president of Zanies, was quoted as saying, "Pretty soon I predict every Chicagoan will receive a free pass to a comedy club." Around that time, a Funny Firm employee called Zanies itself and offered Haas six complimentary tickets.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The new Monday night show at Beauty Bar isn't Salonathon, it's Something Else

Posted By on 03.21.18 at 03:54 PM

Sonal Aggarwal performs at Salonathon - UMNIA KHAN
  • Umnia Khan
  • Sonal Aggarwal performs at Salonathon

Salonathon held its last weekly performance at Beauty Bar on February 12. In the weeks since, several artists have mourned the loss of the unique space to experiment and be themselves.

"As a comic I feel like I'm on the fringes of the comedy scene in my politics and my personality and my queerness in relation to straight men, and Salonathon was the place where I could be that and not even feel like the weirdest person in the room," says stand-up Bill Bullock.

So Bullock and fellow Salonathon alum Sonal Aggarwal have begun hosting Something Else, a monthly comedic variety show that is part of a new slate of Beauty Bar programming initiated by bartender Justin Hongosh with the mantra "keep Mondays weird." The name is intended to be tongue in cheek and slightly subvert expectations. "It's not Salonathon," Aggarwal says, "it's something else."

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Before Peele met Key or wanted to Get Out, he was onstage in Chicago

Posted By on 03.08.18 at 09:00 AM

Jordan Peele in 2003
  • Jordan Peele in 2003
The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

Jordan Peele is an Oscar-winning screenwriter now and Get Out, which he also directed, will probably be considered a classic and studied in film and history classes a couple of decades from now, but back in 2000, Peele was just another struggling comedian in Chicago. Does that give you hope?

His partner at the time was his former college roommate Rebecca Drysdale, and they performed together at ImprovOlympic—as iO was then known—as Two White Guys. Their act was to pretend to be a couple of TV addicts who had somehow landed onstage. And it wasn't bad!

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

My Dad Wrote a Porno onstage, LIVE, and uncut

Posted By on 03.06.18 at 12:11 PM

Jamie Morton, flanked by his friends James Cooper and Alice Levine, brings his podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno to the stage. - COURTESY ROYAL ALBERT HALL
  • courtesy Royal Albert Hall
  • Jamie Morton, flanked by his friends James Cooper and Alice Levine, brings his podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno to the stage.

The podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno features weekly readings by Jamie Morton and his friends James Cooper and Alice Levine from Belinda Blinked, the erotic three-volume saga of Belinda Blumenthal, a twentysomething businesswoman who will go to any length to snag as many international cookware clients as she can. The twist is that, as the podcast's title suggests, the series was written by Morton’s father, who goes by the pen name Rocky Flintstone. Morton, a longtime producer of British TV, was the sole recipient of preview pages of his father’s work before it was self-published on Amazon in spring 2015. Later that same year he started the podcast as a form of therapy.

"It’s almost like it’s not healthy to repress this," Morton says. "I just kind of have to confront it, and put it out into the world."

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Webseries Super Narcoleptic Girl introduces a superhero who fights off crime and sleep

Posted By on 02.22.18 at 11:25 AM

Sarah Albritton as Super Narcoleptic Girl - COURTESY OF ARTIST
  • Courtesy of artist
  • Sarah Albritton as Super Narcoleptic Girl

Comedian Sarah Albritton was 15 when she learned she had narcolepsy. One day in geometry class, she was headed to the front of the room to grab her Texas Instruments calculator when a classmate said something that surprised her (she can't remember the exact words now) and she collapsed into a cataplexy—a narcoleptic state during which patients lose control of their muscles for a few minutes.

Her new webseries Super Narcoleptic Girl, cocreated by and costarring fellow stand-up Catherine “Povs” Povinelli, makes light of her disease by transforming it into a defining characteristic of a superhero. She plays the title character Keelyn Klein, who fends off sleep in order to fight injustice by making people dance. Povs is Lee Snow, her sidekick and the person who encourages Super Narcoleptic Girl to engage in normal young-adult activities, like going on dates despite her tendency to nod off mid-conversation.

I spoke to Albritton and Povinelli about where comedy and narcolepsy collide, misconceptions about the disease, and a “very special episode” of Full House.

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Robert Glasper Trio Jazz Showcase
September 20
Performing Arts
Monger: The Awakening of J.B. Benton Greenhouse Theater Center
September 20

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