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Friday, November 2, 2018

What we learned at the Chicago Humanities Festival last night

Posted By on 11.02.18 at 01:42 PM

Abbi Jacobson - EMMANUEL OLUNKWA
  • Emmanuel Olunkwa
  • Abbi Jacobson

Abbi Jacobson, best known as co-creator and co-star of Broad City, did what some people wish they could do after a hard breakup: hit the road to distract herself from her pain. Only she was able to pitch her three-week solo road trip as a book titled I Might Regret This (Essays, Vulnerabilities and Other Stuff). She knows this is bizarre and privileged.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

What we learned at the Chicago Humanities Fest last night

Posted By on 10.30.18 at 01:30 PM

Phoebe Robinson - MINDY TUCKER
  • Mindy Tucker
  • Phoebe Robinson

Phoebe Robinson didn't plan on writing a second book so soon. Her 2016 debut, You Can't Touch My Hair, was a best-seller and a career turning point. Soon after her book took off, HBO turned Two Dope Queens, the podcast she co-hosts with Daily Show alum Jessica Williams, into four specials. She starred in the Netflix film Ibiza and was recently a writer on Portlandia's final season.

She'd arrived. So had Donald Trump.


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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Peter Bogdanovich explains why Buster Keaton still matters

Posted By on 10.18.18 at 06:00 AM

Bogdanovich - COHEN MEDIA GROUP
  • Cohen Media Group
  • Bogdanovich

Silent movies have been enjoying a revival locally, with frequent offerings from the Chicago Film Society, the Music Box Theatre, and the Gene Siskel Film Center, to name a few. This year the 54th Chicago International Film Festival spotlights Buster Keaton, one of the top comedians and directors of the silent era, with The Great Buster, directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich, 79, began his career as a film critic and a programmer at New York's Museum of Modern Art, which led to forays as an author and actor (he studied with Stella Adler) before he turned to filmmaking. This documentary is his first project for Cohen Media Group, a production and distribution company that also restores classic films; his next will be about Douglas Fairbanks.

In addition to The Great Buster, which he narrates, Bogdanovich can be seen in two other festival entries, the newly-completed The Other Side of the Wind, which was directed by Orson Welles but left unfinished for decades after Welles's death in 1985, and Morgan Neville's documentary about the film, They'll Love Me When I'm Dead. Recently I spoke over the phone to Bogdanovich about this bonanza (full disclosure: I once worked with him years ago when he was a guest cohost on Roger Ebert's TV special If We Picked the Winners, on which I served as producer).

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Indivisible Chicago’s Blue Wave Rave uses improv to mobilize political action

Posted By on 10.05.18 at 06:00 AM

Volunteer sign-in table
  • Volunteer sign-in table
Wednesday night the Athenaeum Theatre hosted the Blue Wave Rave, a free improv show featuring cast members from iO, the Second City, and the Annoyance Theatre and put together by Indivisible Chicago, a coalition of 12 chapters around the city that was created after the 2016 election.

"I spent almost ten years as the CEO of the League of Chicago Theatres, so I know lots of theater folks," says Marj Halperin, the cofounder of the Blue Beginning chapter that meets at the Hideout. She was one of the main organizers of the Blue Wave Rave. "Also, I have this political life where I've managed campaigns and been a volunteer." Halperin got the idea to combine canvassing with improv after attending an event put on by Swing Left, another group that organizes progressives.

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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

Sumurun
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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