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Monday, August 27, 2018

An interview with Bing Liu about his powerful documentary Minding the Gap

Posted By on 08.27.18 at 09:00 AM

Liu (center) with Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan in Minding the Gap
  • Liu (center) with Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan in Minding the Gap
Opening this Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center for a two-week run, Minding the Gap is one of the strongest American documentaries to play Chicago this year. Director Bing Liu begins with a seemingly limited subject—skateboarders in their late teens and early 20s in Rockford, Illinois—and pursues it with such diligence and curiosity that the film ends up addressing a number of major issues. Minding the Gap is at once an elegy for urban, blue-collar America and a sobering meditation on domestic violence. Liu's principal subjects, a black teenage boy named Keire Johnson and a white man in his early 20s named Zack Mulligan, were both abused as children; so too was the director himself. Following Johnson and Mulligan as they enter adulthood while reflecting on his own family history, Liu explores the lasting effects of domestic violence and the ways that young men in particular cope with them. I recently spoke with the 29-year-old Liu about Minding the Gap, his evolution as a filmmaker, and what he learned about his hometown of Rockford by making a movie about it.

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Heartbreak Hotel and more of the best things to do in Chicago this week

Posted By on 08.27.18 at 06:00 AM

Heartbreak Hotel - BRETT BEINER
  • Heartbreak Hotel

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this week. Here's some of what we recommend:

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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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Monday, August 20, 2018

Let us now praise Alan Rudolph

Posted By on 08.20.18 at 06:00 AM


One reason I was so enthusiastic about Azazel Jacobs's The Lovers, one of my favorite movies of 2017, was that it reminded me of the work of writer-director Alan Rudolph. Employing funny, literate dialogue and graceful camera movements, Jacobs created a heightened sense of reality in which it seemed natural for people to fall in love on a whim. This effect, and the means Jacobs used to achieve it, seemed straight out of the Rudolph playbook, something few filmmakers have bothered to consult since he stopped making movies in the early 2000s. (Rudolph ended his 15-year silence last year with the indie feature Ray Meets Helen; unfortunately no one in Chicago bothered to screen it, but it's now available to watch online.) I've often wondered why that is—Rudolph's distinctive blend of screwball comedy, film noir-style purple dialogue, and musical-like visuals yielded so many memorable movies (among them Choose Me, Trouble in Mind, The Moderns, and Love at Large) that I'm surprised no one tried to rip it off. A few 21st-century films have come close to achieving what Rudolph did in his winning streak of 80s and 90s—The Lovers, Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love—but what makes them successfully Rudolphesque is the way they follow their own intuition. Perhaps Rudolph's work is simply inimitable.

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The play The Harvest and more of the best things to do in Chicago this week

Posted By on 08.20.18 at 06:00 AM

  • The Harvest

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this week. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Queen Key at Summer Smash and more of the best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By on 08.17.18 at 06:00 AM


There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this weekend. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Getting dizzy at Ravinia when the CSO plays Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo score

Posted By on 08.15.18 at 12:03 PM

  • Courtesy of Ravinia Festival

OK, film fans: What does Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock's hypnotic 1958 psychodrama and the current holder of the "Best Film Ever" title in the prestigious British Film Institute's critics' ranking, have in common with the flick it replaced at the top of that list, Citizen Kane?

Composer Bernard Herrmann.

Herrmann wrote the scores for both those films, and for a raft of other classics, including Psycho and Taxi Driver.

How much of a role did his music play in their success?

Herrmann could make even long takes of the 20th-century's iconic movie nice guy, Jimmy Stewart, cruising behind the wheel of a 1950s DeSoto, into menacing nail-biters. Tonight's program at the Ravinia Festival will  pull the curtain back and let you judge for yourself about this least recognized but arguably most important factor in film impact: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will play Herrmann's spell-casting Vertigo score as the film runs, both in the pavilion and on a giant lawn screen.

And Stewart's costar, the archetypal Hitchcock ice blond, Kim Novak (who survived both Hitch and—after her 2014 Oscars appearance—an infamous Trump tweet), is slated to be on hand to introduce the film.

It promises to be the best kind of audiovisual overload.

CSO: Vertigo Wed 8/15, 8 PM (park opens 5 PM), Ravinia, 418 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park, 847-266-5100,, $25-$90, $25 lawn. 

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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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Confest 2018 and more of the best things to do in Chicago this week

Posted By on 08.13.18 at 06:00 AM

Pillowtalk, presented at Confest 2018 - WALTER WLODARCZYK
  • Pillowtalk, presented at Confest 2018

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this week. Here's some of what we recommend:

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