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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

FilmStruck’s ‘Early Hitchcock’ shows the master of suspense mastering suspense

Posted By today at 06.00 AM

Alfred Hitchcock's Number 17
  • Alfred Hitchcock's Number 17
The streaming-video channel FilmStruck is currently featuring Alfred Hitchcock's early British features from the 1920s and '30s. Many of the director's favorite themes, motifs, and visual devices are already in evidence, as is his dark, sardonic wit. Highlighted below are two of his more famous films from the period (The Lodger and Sabotage) and two real obscurities.


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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Undercover cops infiltrate FilmStruck this week

Posted By on 04.10.18 at 06:00 AM

Anthony Mann's T-Men
  • Anthony Mann's T-Men
The streaming-video channel FilmStruck is currently featuring a small but potent package of crime films and thrillers focused on undercover cops. The fact that two are directed by Anthony Mann did not affect our decision to select this grouping for our list this week. Nope. Not one bit.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Nautical thrillers and mysteries set sail on FilmStruck this week

Posted By on 03.27.18 at 06:00 AM

Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water
  • Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water
"Troubled Waters," an eclectic package of films currently streaming on FilmStruck, collects eight crime, mystery, and thriller stories set (at least partially) on boats. We've scuttled three of them, leaving five to set sail for dark waters and on-screen squalls.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Thoroughbreds is a handsomely understated drama about awful people

Posted By on 03.20.18 at 01:19 PM

Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, and Olivia Cooke in Thoroughbreds
  • Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, and Olivia Cooke in Thoroughbreds
Originally conceived as a play, Thoroughbreds (which is now playing in general release) still feels plenty theatrical. The developments are primarily internal, the action dialogue driven. Writer-director Cory Finley displays a nice use of the wide-screen frame to heighten the drama, exaggerating the emotional distance between characters or using negative space to draw attention to secrets left unspoken. It’s a handsome movie about awful people—the slender narrative revolves around the plotting of a murder, and the character positioned as the film’s voice of reason claims early on that she has no emotions. What makes it interesting is that Finley never spurs disgust toward his characters, but rather a certain fascination that blossoms unexpectedly into sympathy.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

For years the whereabouts of Allen Ross were a mystery—and then the mystery was solved

Posted By on 02.07.18 at 09:00 AM

Allen Ross - FROM THE DOCUMENTARY MISSING ALLEN (2002)
  • from the documentary Missing Allen (2002)
  • Allen Ross

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.

Jack Helbig's absorbing 1998 feature "Where On Earth is Allen Ross" has everything: a gifted artist, a mysterious disappearance, intimations of the supernatural, a collective settlement that may or may not have been a cult, and an unsolved mystery.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Going deep into the ‘Tylenol murders’ and the mind of the extortionist who claimed responsibility

Posted By on 02.02.18 at 09:00 AM

James Lewis - GENE PESEK
  • Gene Pesek
  • James Lewis

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.

In the fall of 1982, seven people in the Chicago area died suddenly after taking Tylenol that had been laced with cyanide. During the initial investigation of the crime, a man named James Lewis wrote a letter to Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturers of Tylenol, and claimed responsibility for the murders. If they wanted him to stop killing, he wrote, they could wire $1 million to his bank account. Lewis later went to prison for extortion. The Tylenol murders have never been solved, though at one point, the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, was a suspect.

In 2000, Joy Bergmann revisited the story in "A Bitter Pill". The more she learned, the stranger it got. The Tylenol case was not the first time, she discovered, that Lewis had been connected with a murder. Later, from prison, he insisted on helping with the investigation.
In November 1983, Lewis called assistant U.S. attorney Jeremy Margolis, who had helped to put him in the pokey.

"He volunteered his services because he had time on his hands and was very smart," remembers Margolis. Lewis told him "he'd love to sit and talk with me and solve the Tylenol killings. I accepted his offer."

Margolis and Lewis subsequently met several times in Margolis's office for "hours and hours and hours" of discussions and theorizing. According to Margolis, Lewis arrived armed with "probably hundreds of pages of manuscripts, diagrams, and theories...as to how these killings might have happened."

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Here's why it's now illegal to impersonate a firefighter in the state of Illinois

Posted By on 01.29.18 at 08:00 AM

The Lost Creek Fire Company truck - WEST GROUP ARCHIVE, SOUTHTOWN ARCHIVES
  • WEST GROUP ARCHIVE, SOUTHTOWN ARCHIVES
  • The Lost Creek Fire Company truck

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.

Until 2005, it was not illegal in the state of Illinois to impersonate a firefighter. And so a band of men in Lake County, led by a former volunteer in the county sheriff's reserve deputy unit, purchased an old fire truck and incorporated themselves as the Lost Creek Fire Company. They appeared in parades. Then they actually went out to fight a fire. And that's when their troubles began. And why it's now illegal to impersonate a firefighter. Mike Sula told the whole crazy story in "Playing Fireman."

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Jack Black is a delightful singing con man in The Polka King

Posted By on 01.23.18 at 04:59 PM

Jack Black in The Polka King
  • Jack Black in The Polka King
The Polka King, which is now available to stream on Netflix, easily could have been a condescending film; based on a 2009 documentary called The Man Who Would Be Polka King, it tells the story of Jan Lewan, a Polish-born, Pennsylvania-based polka singer and entrepreneur who, in the 1990s, embroiled his fans in a Ponzi scheme and raised nearly $5 million. Lewan’s music is tacky and the outfits he performs in even tackier; that he used the stolen money to fuel his career seems more pathetic than devious. Yet because the film is directed by Maya Forbes—whose autobiographical drama Infinitely Polar Bear (2014) is one of the most affecting movies I’ve seen about mental illness—and stars Jack Black—an imaginative comic performer who often suggests a live-action cartoon—The Polka King is warm and sympathetic, avoiding easy jokes in favor of humane, character-driven humor.

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

This was what it was like to live in Chicago in 2017

Posted By on 01.02.18 at 01:48 PM

Outside the Morse el stop, where Trevillion was killed and the community meeting was held three days later. - JOHN J. KIM/SUN-TIMES
  • John J. Kim/Sun-Times
  • Outside the Morse el stop, where Trevillion was killed and the community meeting was held three days later.

There was a shooting in my neighborhood, Rogers Park, in October. There were probably shootings in every neighborhood sometime this year, but this one attracted extra notice because the victim, Cynthia Trevillion, was a teacher at the local Waldorf School—she was on her way out to a Friday-night dinner with her husband and was unlucky enough to get caught in gang-related cross fire. The bullets hit her in the head and neck and she died immediately.

The following Monday our alderman, Joe Moore, called a community meeting at the site of the shooting, the corner of Morse and Glenwood, next to the el stop. Reporters from DNAinfo and TV stations were there, but I went as a civilian, on my way home from work. Maybe 150 people showed up. Someone had set up a few rows of chairs in front of the stage, but most of us stood in the street and on the sidewalk. The sound system wasn't good. We had to strain to hear.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My Friend Dahmer is a portrait of the mass murderer as a young man

Posted By on 11.14.17 at 01:21 PM

Ross Lynch (center) in My Friend Dahmer
  • Ross Lynch (center) in My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer
(which is now playing at Webster Place) takes place in 1978, and the movie evokes a certain type of filmmaking that flourished in the U.S. around that time—an improbable mixture of art house sensibilities and exploitation-movie content. Dahmer draws viewers in with a provocative title, which promises to reveal intimate secrets about serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, then refuses to deliver any details about his crimes. Rather, it's a portrait of the killer as a young man—the movie depicts Dahmer's senior year of high school and the events leading up to his first murder. Director Marc Meyers, adapting a graphic novel by Derf Backderf, exploits viewers' curiosity about Dahmer's gruesome actions to raise open-ended questions about what turns a human being into a monster.

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