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Monday, September 17, 2018

Raya Martin discusses Filipino cinema and his latest film, the crime drama Smaller and Smaller Circles

Posted By on 09.17.18 at 06:00 AM

Smaller and Smaller Circles
  • Smaller and Smaller Circles
One of the more welcome film series in town, Asian Pop-Up Cinema (now in its seventh season) presents recent work from east Asia that might not have reached this city otherwise. Case in point: this Wednesday at the River East 21 at 7 PM, it will present Smaller and Smaller Circles (2017), the latest feature by Filipino director Raya Martin, with the filmmaker scheduled to appear for a postshow discussion. Martin’s work has received much attention over the past 15 years—some of his films have played at Cannes, and he’s been the subject of retrospectives in New York and Paris—but his movies rarely play in Chicago. Perhaps this screening will mark the beginning of a belated local discovery of his filmography.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Pro tip for mayoral hopefuls: Don't govern by press release, do sweat the small stuff

Posted By on 09.13.18 at 06:00 AM

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaking about gun violence in Washington, D.C., 2013 - SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
  • Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
  • Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaking about gun violence in Washington, D.C., 2013

This story was originally published by ProPublica Illinois.

The day after Mayor Rahm Emanuel rocked the city's political establishment by announcing he wasn't running for reelection, Chicago police officer Ray Tracy opened the September community meeting for police beats 815 and 821 the way he does every month, by going over the good news and bad news in the area's recent crime statistics.

It was just hours after jury selection began in the first murder trial of a Chicago police officer in decades. Although neither of those topics came up at the meeting, it was held not far from where CPD officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed teenager Laquan McDonald four years ago—a case that continues to roil Chicago and surely contributed to Emanuel's decision.

Tracy noted that crime in the two beats, which make up much of the Archer Heights and Brighton Park neighborhoods on the city's southwest side, remains relatively low.

But the totals had ticked up in a number of areas, Tracy told the 20 residents gathered in a Catholic school classroom, many sitting in kid-size chairs. Several garages had been burglarized. And in the second half of August, there had been three shooting—none fatal, though still troubling.

"We're on it," he said.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Lana Turner shines as FilmStruck's Star of the Week

Posted By on 08.22.18 at 06:00 AM

John Garfield and Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice
  • John Garfield and Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice
Lana Turner is rightfully remembered for striking performances in her mid- and late-career melodramas, but her range was wide. She was cast in early ingenue parts, traditional dramatic films, period films, comedies, and even had some horror and musical detours. Her status as a Hollywood star, though, was cemented due to roles in classic film noir. A glimpse of Turner's talents can be seen in her films available on FilmStruck, where she is currently "Star of the Week." Here are five with which to start:

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Freud was making his first impact on American popular culture when MGM assembled this 1941 version of the Stevenson tale, and Spencer Tracy's good doctor is clearly suffering a bad case of repressed something or other. Under Victor Fleming's direction, it's sober and turgid but far from unwatchable, thanks exclusively to the caliber of the performances (even though Ingrid Bergman, the sluttish barmaid, and Lana Turner, the pure-hearted fiancee, seem to be playing each other's roles). With Donald Crisp, Barton MacLane, and C. Aubrey Smith. 114 min. —Dave Kehr

The Postman Always Rings Twice
John Garfield, drifting down the California coast, is waylaid by a shimmering Lana Turner and her plot to murder her husband. Adapted from a novel by America's finest pulp writer, James M. Cain, this 1946 film is a key work of the postwar period, dripping with demented romanticism and the venom of disillusionment. Tay Garnett directed, finding the pull of obsession in every tracking shot. 113 min. —Dave Kehr

Green Dolphin Street
Good sister (Donna Reed) battles bad sister (Lana Turner) for possession of a New Zealand plantation. It climaxes, famously, with Turner giving birth in the midst of a spectacular MGM earthquake (which won an Academy Award for special effects). Victor Saville directed; Samson Raphelson adapted the bestseller by Elizabeth Goudge. With Richard Hart, Edmund Gwenn, and Van Heflin (1947). 141 min. —Dave Kehr

The Three Musketeers
The MGM version of 1948, with Gene Kelly as a balletic d'Artagnan and Lana Turner, perfectly cast, as the villainous Lady DeWinter. George Sidney's engagingly incontinent direction makes it fun, though his usual problems with pacing ultimately take their toll. With Van Heflin (in an unaccountable Method funk that never matches up with the rest of the picture), Gig Young, June Allyson, Vincent Price, Angela Lansbury, Frank Morgan, and Keenan Wynn. 125 min. —Dave Kehr

The Bad and the Beautiful
Vincente Minnelli will always be known and loved for his musicals (Meet Me in St. Louis, The Band Wagon), but the melodramas he made in the 50s are no less accomplished and often more personal. The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) is superficially a typical Hollywood “inside story” chronicling the ruthless rise of an aggressive producer (Kirk Douglas), loosely based on Val Lewton. But under Minnelli's direction it becomes a fascinating study of a man destroyed by the 50s success ethic, left broke, alone, and slightly insane in the end. Douglas is surprisingly good as Minnelli's manic everyman and is well supported by (believe it or not) Lana Turner and Dick Powell. Scripted by Charles Schnee; with Walter Pidgeon, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Gilbert Roland, and Leo G. Carroll. 118 min. —Dave Kehr

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Alderman who joked about the ‘gangsters’ on the City Council to plead guilty to corruption charges

Posted By on 08.15.18 at 01:52 PM

Twentieth Ward alderman Willie Cochran - SANTIAGO COVARRUBIAS/SUN-TIMES
  • Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times
  • Twentieth Ward alderman Willie Cochran

Alderman Willie Cochran said he was joking when he referred to the "gangsters" amont the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus earlier this month. But looking back, maybe he was serious after all. At least in reference to himself.

During a status hearing Wednesday, his lawyer Christopher Grohman said that the 20th Ward alderman intends to plead guilty to corruption charges rather than go to trial, according to the Tribune.

In 2016, the 65-year-old south-side alderman was indicted on charges of bribery and extortion after an investigation found that he had been involved in a pay-to-play scheme and had stolen cash from a charitable-donations fund intended for his ward to pay for his daughter’s college tuition, gambling trips to Indiana, and accessories for his Mercedes.

"We’ve been in negotiations with the government, and we’re hopeful we can resolve this short of trial," Grohman said in court, adding that Cochran won't seek reelection in February.

The statement comes less than a month after Cochran, a retired police officer, mocked a group of activists gathered at the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus's annual fund-raiser at a Loop cocktail lounge.

When members of Black Lives Matter, BYP100, and other groups confronted the City Council members about their support of the Chicago Police Department following the release of body-camera footage of the June 6 police shooting of 24-year-old Maurice Granton Jr., Cochran told the crowd, which included Granton Jr.'s sisters: "They must not know we got gangsters in here."

When the Reader’s Maya Dukmasova asked Cochran about the line the next day, he said it was just a joke.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The scrappy pre-Code years of William A. Wellman — FilmStruck's director of the week

Posted By on 08.14.18 at 06:00 AM

William Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road
  • William Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road
Even though William A. Wellman directed more than 80 films between 1920 and 1958—including the first Oscar-winner, Wings—he's still best known for the iconic 1931 James Cagney gangster film The Public Enemy. Streaming channel FilmStruck features Wellman as their "director of the week" and we've picked five of his 1930s pre-Code films, when he was at his best.

The Public Enemy
Time hasn't been terribly kind to this 1931 gangster drama, which suffers more than it should from the glitches of early sound. But James Cagney's portrayal of a bootlegging runt is truly electrifying (he'd already made three films, but this one made him a star), and Jean Harlow makes the tartiest tart imaginable. The famous grapefruit-in-the-kisser scene (the recipient is Mae Clarke) is only one of the fiercely misogynistic moments that stud the career of director William Wellman. With Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, and Donald Cook. 84 min. —Dave Kehr

Night Nurse
A William Wellman curiosity done for Warners in 1931, this gritty thriller, a favorite of film critic Manny Farber, is of principal interest today for its juicy early performances by Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, and Clark Gable. Hard as nails, with lots of spunk. 72 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Safe in Hell
William Wellman directed this racy precode tale of a saucy prostitute (Dorothy Mackaill in a terrific performance) who unintentionally kills one of her clients and flees to a tropical island that serves as a haven for criminals. Awaiting the arrival of her true love (Donald Cook), she fends off lecherous advances from a motley assortment of international rogues, including the island's nefarious chief of law enforcement. Wellman's splendid direction animates an otherwise static script, deftly blending comedic moments with surprisingly dark undertones. This 1931 drama may lack the punch of Wellman's The Public Enemy, released the same year, but it's still a fine display of his talents. 73 min. —Reece Pendleton

Heroes for Sale
This scrappy, cynical pre-Code drama (1933) comes from the most fruitful period of William A. Wellman's career, when the director was turning out a half-dozen programmers like this on a yearly basis. Richard Barthelmess stars as a soldier who gets snubbed for decoration in World War I after a buddy takes credit for the act of heroism he performed in battle. The protagonist develops a morphine addiction while recovering from his wounds but pulls himself back up, only to descend and ascend the social ladder several more times. Wellman crams an astonishing amount of narrative incident into the short running time, with more developments every ten minutes than most contemporary Hollywood productions cover in their entirety. This is also bracingly egalitarian, attacking the hypocrisy of communists and capitalists alike. 71 min. —Ben Sachs

Wild Boys of the Road
The underrated William A. Wellman made many neglected classics during the Depression, and this 1933 feature is one of the very best—a Warners social drama with Frankie Darro as a boy who leaves his parents to save them the burden of his support and joins up with a gang of similarly disenfranchised kids who wind up riding the rails. Pungent stuff. 68 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Noir City: Chicago travels back in time to the postwar golden age of noir

Posted By on 08.13.18 at 06:00 AM

The Spiritualist
  • The Spiritualist
This year the annual film noir festival Noir City: Chicago (which begins Friday at the Music Box) is going back to basics. All 18 of the selections are American, and all but two were made during the golden era of noir—that is, the dozen or so years following the end of World War II. The programming differs from the past few years, which saw the festival organizers looking for films outside the U.S. and from after the 1950s. These previous Noir City lineups argued that the genre wasn't defined by just a style or a thematic preoccupation with crime, but rather a pessimistic outlook, which can take root in any place or time. By comparison, this year's edition focuses on the specific conditions that allowed noir to thrive in the first place.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Jean-Pierre Melville's brooding cinema surveyed on FilmStruck

Posted By on 07.31.18 at 06:00 AM

Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai
  • Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai
French director Jean-Pierre Melville is featured this week on the streaming channel FilmStruck. Beginning in the 1940s, he created a body of work that furthers the brooding quality of American film noir, and his films influenced everyone from the French New Wave directors to Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino. Check out these five key Melville features:

The Silence of the Sea
Melville made this film, his first, in 1948 on a minuscule budget and without securing the rights to the famous resistance novel (by Vercors) it was based on. It's an allegory of French-German relations during the occupation, played out largely in a single sitting room where a German officer (Howard Vernon) bares his soul in endless monologues for his silent, unwilling French "hosts" (Nicole Stephane and Jean-Marie Robain). The minimalism of the material anticipates Bresson, while the theatrical dash of the staging suggests the strong influence of Orson Welles. Though too often abstract and rhetorical, the film is sustained by mood and visual resourcefulness; it's a strong debut for Melville, who went on to become one of the great eccentrics of the French cinema (Bob le Flambeur, Le Samourai). In French with subtitles. 88 min. —Dave Kehr

Bob le Flambeur
This light, breezy 1955 heist film is probably the least characteristic movie Melville ever made. It replaces his sternly fatalistic philosophizing with a benign, genuinely comic spirit, and his rigidly classical style yields to a pleasant informality. Yet the characters—professional gamblers, craftsmanly safecrackers—and their code are recognizably Melvillian, and the portrait of Pigalle after dark is superbly evocative and romantic. The plot—a gambler on a streak of bad luck plans the robbery of the Deauville casino—is largely lifted from The Asphalt Jungle, though the suspense has been wittily inverted: we're made to hope that the robbery doesn't come off. In French with subtitles. 100 min. —Dave Kehr

Two Men in Manhattan
Melville brings his particular brand of moral rot to New York City for this hard-boiled mystery (1959), which feels like a Hollywood release but trades in such taboo elements as prostitution, lesbianism, and full-frontal nudity. A reporter from the French press agency (Melville in his only starring role) is dispatched to track down a vanished delegate to the United Nations; accompanied by a greedy and unfeeling paparazzo (Pierre Grasset), he follows a trail of sexually available women back to the missing diplomat, but the truth is unpublishable. The story is full of Melville's ethical shadings and complications, and the nighttime street scenes, shot by Nicolas Hayer, are dazzling, a foreigner's delirious vision of Manhattan after dark. 85 min. —J.R. Jones

Le Samourai
Melville's 1967 story of a lonely hit man (Alain Delon) is stylish and elegant, though not really the holy writ that Quentin Tarantino and John Woo have claimed. Though Melville sustained himself with American-style thrillers in the last decade of his life, his best versions of American noir arguably remain the earlier ones in black and white (my own favorite is 1966's Le Deuxieme Souffle). This one certainly has its moments (particularly the coordinated police chase through the Paris Métro), but its women characters are faintly ridiculous, while the men are mainly suave icons. Henri Decae's brilliant color cinematography finds something metallic blue gray in virtually every shot, and the film is alluring as long as one remains captivated by its mannerist and slightly monotonous style. Despite a hefty (and fabricated) quote from The Book of Bushido about the loneliness of the samurai, this is all about attitude and machismo rather than soul, which is why it winds up feeling somewhat flat. Based on Joan McLeod's novel The Ronin. In French with subtitles. 101 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Le Cercle Rouge
Melville's austere heist film, made in 1970, was his next to last; it opens with a Buddhist aphorism about fate binding two men to meet again, and ends with a police chief pronouncing all men ultimately guilty. Two prisoners return to society—Corey (Alain Delon) has served his sentence and is released, while Vogel (Gian Maria Volontè) escapes from a speeding train. They team up with a sharpshooting ex-cop to mount an exquisite jewel theft. Melville renders the taciturn crooks and corrupt inspectors with the nocturnal blue palette that is his signature. Key action points are edited with finesse, but the denouement, with its dutiful hail of gunfire, is heartless and mechanical. With Yves Montand, André Bourvil, and François Périer. In French with subtitles. 140 min. —Bill Stamets

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Does the Second Amendment apply to black people?

Posted By on 07.20.18 at 07:17 AM

Police and protesters confront one another the day after the shooting of Harith Augustus on July 15. - COLIN BOYLE/SUN-TIMES
  • Colin Boyle/Sun-Times
  • Police and protesters confront one another the day after the shooting of Harith Augustus on July 15.

With all the attention focused on the police shooting of Harith Augustus in South Shore, the silence coming from the gun rights groups is deafening.

I mean, just about everyone else has weighed in, one way or the other, on the July 14 shooting, including Black Lives Matter activists, Mayor Rahm, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

But not a word from the normally loquacious spokespeople for the National Rifle Association like Dana Loesch, Oliver North, or Wayne LaPierre.

And it's weird, 'cause if ever there were a case tailor-made for the NRA to join—or even lead—it would be this one.

Consider what we know from the footage released by Chicago police.

It's Saturday evening. Augustus is standing on the sidewalk outside the barbershop where he works, on 71st Street near Jeffery Boulevard in South Shore.

Several police officers approach him. We don't what they're saying because there's no sound in the body camera footage released by the police department.

It looks as though one officer is asking Augustus for an ID. Augustus reaches for his wallet. Another police officer reaches for his arm, as if to handcuff him. Augustus breaks for the street. As he turns, his shirt lifts, revealing what looks to be a handgun holstered at his waist.

It's then that he's shot by a probationary officer, who hasn't been identified.

Defenders of the police say Augustus was reaching for his gun, so the cops had no choice but to shoot him before he shot them.

Putting that matter to the side, the great unknown is why the police approached Augustus in the first place.

I mean, he was doing no wrong. He was bothering no one.

He wasn't a known offender. He had no record apart from "three minor arrests" dating back years ago, as the Tribune put it.

The official police explanation, offered by spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, is that Augustus was "exhibiting characteristics of an armed person."

But that's no crime—owning a gun. Augustus even had a firearm owners' identification card (FOID) for it. True, carrying a weapon on the public way without the appropriate permit is a crime—unlawful use of a weapon. But it's not hard to understand why he, a registered gun owner, would be. He's a barber—a cash-heavy business—in a relatively high-crime area.

It's at this point in the discussion where the NRA's voice is noticeably absent.

Because as Loesch, North, and LaPierre never tire of saying, there's nothing wrong with owning a gun.

Quite the contrary, as they see it, it's a fundamental right, enshrined by the founders in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which of course states: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

I've heard NRA members invoke this sacred right every time anyone calls for gun control, even in the aftermath of horrific mass murders. Such as when . . .

Adam Lanza shot 26 people, including 20 children, in Newtown, Connecticut, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Or Dylann Roof shot nine people during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Or Stephen Paddock shot 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.

And so on.

The right to bear arms is championed by all the leading Republicans in the land, including Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, the judge he's just nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In fact, a few years ago, one Chicago police officer caused a stir when he allowed himself to be photographed holding an American flag and standing behind a sign that read: “I stand for the Anthem. I love the American flag. I support my president and the 2nd Amendment.”

And yet the police approached Augustus, as he stood on the sidewalk bothering no one, because they thought he was "exhibiting characteristics of an armed person."

This case should boil the blood of any self-respecting Second Amendment advocate. Indeed, Loesch, North, and LaPierre should be marching with the Black Lives Matters activists in their demonstrations for justice.

But you know how it goes. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's anti-union Janus decision, it's obvious that Republicans think the First Amendment is only supposed to protect the speech of conservatives—certainly not football players, like Colin Kaepernick, who kneel during the National Anthem.

And apparently, the NRA thinks the Second Amendment only applies to white people.

Correction: This post has been emended to correctly reflect that carrying a gun without a firearms permit is a crime, whether or not one has a firearm owners' identification card.

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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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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

James Cagney is more than just a tough-guy as FilmStruck's Star of the Week

Posted By on 07.03.18 at 06:00 AM

James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland in The Strawberry Blonde
  • James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland in The Strawberry Blonde
James Cagney was pegged as a wisecracking gangster early in his career, but his range as a performer extended far beyond those limiting roles. The streaming channel FilmStruck currently features Cagney as its star of the week, collecting some of his best gangster films (The Public Enemy, White Heat) but also some, noted below, that showcase his skill as a dancer and comic actor.

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