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Nina Metz writes about TV, film and theater and has a Friday column called "Chicago Close-Up." Before joining the Tribune, she was a ...

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Nina Metz

Nina Metz

Chicago Closeup

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'Downton Abbey' star filming indie in Chicago

'Downton Abbey' star filming indie in Chicago

September 18, 2014

"Downton Abbey" star (and Evanston native) Elizabeth McGovern is in town along with "How I Met Your Mother's" Cobie Smulders shooting an independent feature, confirms Betsy Steinberg, who heads up the Illinois Film Office.

  • 'Alex & Ali': Love, revolution and the cost of a reunion

    September 18, 2014

    In an old snapshot from the 1970s, a man with blond hair and a goatee stands squinting into the sun, wearing a denim jacket over a T-shirt. There is an irrepressible smile on his face. This is Alex, an American Peace Corps volunteer who lived in Iran from 1967 until 1977, when political tensions that led up to the revolution forced him to return to the U.S.

  • Films worth seeking on the indie circuit

    September 15, 2014

    We're heading into Oscar-bait season for Hollywood, when the biggest movies tend to suck up all the oxygen. Just as worthy are the offerings from the local art house scene, which reliably features smaller films — indie features, classic films and documentaries — that may lack studio marketing muscle but can be just as worth your time. A quick sampling of what's on offer.

  • Christian Stolte throws himself into 'Chicago Fire'

    September 11, 2014

    For two decades Christian Stolte has been a mainstay of Chicago's theater scene. If you've seen enough plays over the years at the Goodman, Steppenwolf or Profiles, you've likely seen Stolte, who has a pugilist's mug one does not easily forget.

  • 'Homestretch' looks in on lost teens of Chicago's streets

    September 11, 2014

    "Loneliness is one of my worst enemies." That deeply unsettling admission comes from a teenager in the new documentary "The Homestretch." Roque (pronounced Rocky) is solidly built but quiet, with soft features that can't fully mask the anxieties churning below the surface. This makes him a terribly compelling figure on screen. He doesn't reveal much about his innermost thoughts, but when he does it is a moment that hits you in the gut.

  • REVIEW: 'Mnemonic' by Red Tape Theatre ★½

    September 9, 2014

    "Mnemonic"

  • REVIEW: 'The Coward' by Stage Left ★½

    September 9, 2014

    "The Coward"

  • Filmmaker crafts an homage to crafty brew newbies

    September 3, 2014

    Filmmaker Shannon Mortimer is a wine drinker. Her significant other is a craft beer guy and in her words: "He was dragging me around to all these industrial parks" — where many small breweries are based — "and trying different craft beers. And what you'll see are a lot of interesting people from a wide range of ages going to all these places.

  • REVIEW: 'Out of Your Mind' at ComedySportz ★★★

    August 26, 2014

    The show is touted as "improvised mentalism," and having seen it, I'm still not sure what that means exactly. Eric Lindberg (a ComedySportz ensemble member) is loose, unpretentious and quick with a halfway decent one-liner. So it's amusing and sometimes legitimately funny. But it's not clear what distinguishes improvised mentalism from regular old mentalism. Aren't all acts of mentalism at once improvised (in terms of audience interaction) and painstakingly preplanned?

  • REVIEW: 'Do You Want a Sandwich: The Romantic Missteps of Josh Lanzet' ★★

    August 26, 2014

    "Let's not be that couple!" Josh Lanzet remembers a girlfriend saying as she got in her car and he was shouting "I love yous" out of the window of his house. Relationships and their strange idiosyncrasies were on tap in Lanzet's previous show earlier this year (the charming "Dating: Adults Embracing Failure"), and he returns to the theme again in this autobiographical one-man endeavor that scrolls through his various romantic mishaps.

  • 'Fargo' star Allison Tolman is having quite a year

    August 21, 2014

    August 2013: Chicago actress Allison Tolman, unemployed and doing temp work in the mornings, stops by her agent's office to tape an audition for the new FX series "Fargo."

  • Rosario Dawson in town for 'Sin City' opening

    August 20, 2014

    Rosario Dawson and two of her "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" co-stars are coming to the Chicago area for the film's opening weekend.

  • Director of the cult movie 'The Room' comes to the Music Box

    August 19, 2014

    Has any filmmaker mined the sardonic enthusiasm for a gloriously bad film more than Tommy Wiseau?

  • 3 Chicago actors cast in 'Wire' creator's newest project for HBO

    August 18, 2014

    A trio of actors with deep Chicago ties have been added to the cast of the HBO mini-series "Show Me a Hero," the latest project from David Simon.

  • 1991's 'A Rage in Harlem' and other films at the Black Harvest Film Fest

    August 13, 2014

    Hitting its 20th anniversary milestone this year, the Black Harvest Film Festival runs through the month of August at the Gene Siskel Film Center, spotlighting black cinema. The fest hasn't always been especially discerning about quality. I'm not sure that does anybody any favors. Quantity seems to be its primary goal, and my top pick of the remaining fest is a screening of "A Rage in Harlem," the 1991 heist comedy starring Robin Givens and Forest Whitaker. More on the film below.

  • REVIEW: 'Miles Away' at the Side Project ★★

    August 12, 2014

    Dysfunction and desolation in a rundown motel room — sounds like something by Sam Shepard. But the best this play can muster is Sam Shepard-light, with its story of a comely pool hustler (Isabel Ellison), barely of the age of consent, and the not-so-bright control freak (Josh Odor) who is in charge of their business, such as it is. If only even half of it felt credible in director Scott Weinstein's production. It is a problem of performances that push too hard, and a script by Christine Whitley that pushes even harder.

  • REVIEW: 'Mike and Seth' at the Side Project ★★½

    August 12, 2014

    A quarter-life crisis has descended upon an upscale Dallas hotel room where Mike (Derek Garza) and Seth (Michael Manocchio), friends since childhood, find themselves facing down their 30s and pondering the awful sensation that they're stuck on "the conveyor belt of life."

  • Robin Williams: A personality that jumped off stage and screen

    August 11, 2014

    Rare is the comedian who can compete with an oversize live video feed of himself, projected across the back of the stage as he performs his act. And yet when it came to Robin Williams, those pixels never stood a chance.

  • 'Breakfast with Curtis,' an indie about toking, joking and communal living

    August 7, 2014

    Picture an aging hippie who drinks red wine all day long, walks around barefoot, peppers every third sentence with "man" for emphasis and usually has a deep cut of some '70s-era album playing on the stereo. This is Syd. Every college town, I'm convinced, has a guy like this.

  • 'Better Off Dead' and 'The Crow' actresses come to Chicago for screenings

    August 6, 2014

    There is an informal video interview of Diane Franklin online where she begins with the self-deprecating introduction: “I was an actress in the '80s.”   For those of us who got at least some of our sex education watching R-rated movies on cable TV during that era, she is instantly recognizable as the star of 1982’s “The Last American Virgin.”

  • Chicago-area native Keke Palmer will be Cinderella on Broadway

    August 4, 2014

    Chicago-area native Keke Palmer will make history next month as the first black actress to play Cinderella on Broadway, beginning in September.

  • WTTW and Chicago International Film Fest spotlight foreign films

    August 4, 2014

    The Soviet Union in the 1950s wasn't a place where rock 'n' roll hepcats seemed likely to thrive, and who knows how much of the underground subculture depicted in the 2008 movie musical "Hipsters" actually existed.

  • Inside the new iO,where Fey, Poehler got their start

    August 1, 2014

    Thirty-two years ago Charna Halpern approached Del Close with an offer. He was already a renowned director in the world of comedy, and working at Second City. She had just launched the ImprovOlympic and wanted him to teach a class.

  • Chicago French Film Festival 2014 lineup

    July 31, 2014

    The Fourth Annual Chicago French Film Festival is at the Music Box Theatre through Tuesday, featuring 10 selections in all. I got a look at three — each different in tone and genre, but remarkably sharp and well-made.

  • REVIEW: 'Invisible World' at the Annoyance Theatre ★★½

    July 30, 2014

    The current mainstage revue at Second City is titled “Depraved New World,” but if you're really looking for the transgressive stuff, it's happening a few miles to the north on Belmont Avenue, where the Annoyance Theatre's new sketch show, which opened in June and runs Saturday nights, is offering a decidedly R-rated spin on the genre.

  • REVIEW: "Hellish Half-Light" by Mary-Arrchie Theatre ★★½

    July 29, 2014

    There are six short plays by Samuel Beckett in this Mary-Arrchie production, some of which are rarely staged, including the remarkable “What Where” from 1983. Director Jennifer Markowitz's simple but deeply unnerving approach makes it the high point of this somewhat uneven production.

  • TJ & Dave to open their own theater within iO

    July 24, 2014

    One of the busiest summers in Chicago's sketch and improv community just got busier. Next month veteran improvisers TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi will open a theater of their own called the Mission, which will be housed in the new iO Theater space at 1501 N. Kingsbury St.

  • 'This Is Spinal Tap' turns 30

    July 23, 2014

    It’s been a few years since I last saw 1984’s “This Is Spinal Tap” and what struck me upon watching it again is just how grounded the comedy is. The heavy metal rock band at the story’s center may be ridiculous, but the actual style of satire the movie works in never pushes the joke too hard. That’s actually pretty rare in a parody, but it’s one of the reasons I think “Spinal Tap” holds up so well 30 years after it was released in theaters.

  • Cat film fest, featuring video you won't find online

    July 21, 2014

    In 2012, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis launched the International Cat Video Festival, an event both sincere and tongue-in-cheek and featuring — that’s right — cat videos from the Internet.  The fest was a hit and returns this year Aug. 21.

  • iO performs its final show in Wrigleyville space

    July 20, 2014

    When I talked with iO Theater proprietor Charna Halpern late Saturday night, she didn't seem particularly nostalgic about the Wrigleyville location she was leaving after nearly 20 years. "I'm not sad," she said. Not even a little bittersweet. Next week she moves to a much larger, gut-rehabbed space in the Clybourn Corridor. She was ready to go, and I could understand the sentiment. The old building was falling apart as we spoke. The air conditioning in the downstairs theater had already conked out earlier that evening.

  • REVIEW: "Phyllis" at Chemically Imbalanced Theater ★★★

    July 17, 2014

    Before I caught Brianna Baker's one-woman show about her maternal grandmother, now age 78, I asked her for a little background information. "My sister and I would go stay with my paternal grandparents on 87th St. for a week," Baker replied by email, "and then go to visit Phyllis in Winnetka, which was an amusing contrast, to say the least. Her condo was down the street from the 'Home Alone' house, which was everything to my 10-year-old self."

  • REVIEW: 'Moral Hazard' at Chemically Imbalanced Theater ★★

    July 17, 2014

  • The lighter side of Alec Guinness

    July 16, 2014

    One cold night last year with too much time on my hands, I found myself tumbling down an Alec Guinness rabbit hole, streaming first the 1979 BBC miniseries adaptation of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and then, the late hour be damned, continuing on with the 1982 follow-up, "Smiley's People."

  • REVIEW: 'Impress These Apes' at ComedySportz ★★★★

    July 15, 2014

    I have no idea why "Impress These Apes," the hugely funny comedy competition now in its eighth season, remains such a niche event that's known pretty much only within comedy nerd circles.

  • Historic Patio Theater in Portage Park is for sale

    July 15, 2014

    The Patio Theater in Portage Park is for sale, according to Demetri Kouvalis, who rehabbed the venue three years ago.  Built in 1927, the movie theater has been in Kouvalis’ family since 1987.

  • The numerous Chicago ties of 2014's Emmy nominees

    July 10, 2014

    If you attend enough theater and live comedy in town over the years, watching TV can sometimes feel like a game of spot-the-onetime-Chicagoan. That's never more true than when Emmy nominations roll around.

  • Long-lost Bill Murray film surfaces on YouTube

    July 9, 2014

    A long-lost Bill Murray film appearance from 1984 has surfaced on YouTube. This bit of cinematic archaeology was unearthed by the website Dangerous Minds.

  • Two independent films set to begin shooting in Chicago

    July 9, 2014

    Ten years after making it to the finals of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's "Project Greenlight," Chicago filmmaker Duane Edwards has lined up his first feature film project, slated to begin shooting locally this fall.

  • Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone to start shooting film in Lake Forest

    July 9, 2014

    Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone begins filming his latest indie “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party” this month. The movie takes place over the course of a 17-year-old’s birthday party — a suburban pool party, no less — and tackles all those great coming-of-age signposts.

  • What Shia LaBeouf means when he says 'Do you know who I am?'

    July 3, 2014

    "Do you know who I am?"

  • 'Mr. Magoo's' creator gets an overdue spotlight

    July 2, 2014

    I remember first stumbling upon one of John Hubley's animated films when his Oscar-winning 1959 short "Moonbird" screened here last year. It returns this weekend in a retrospective featuring seven other Hubley shorts at the Siskel Film Center, which is celebrating the animator's centennial.

  • Chicago actor cast in Marvel's 'Ant-Man'

    July 2, 2014

    The upcoming Marvel adaptation of “Ant-Man” starring Paul Rudd will also feature Chicago theater actor-turned-filmmaker David Dastmalchian, whose semi-autobiographical indie “Animals” (which examined addiction with a sly and unexpected dose of low-key comedy) screened in town earlier this spring.  

  • REVIEW: "Dating: Adults Embracing Failure" at the Royal George ★★★

    July 1, 2014

    A short anecdote: Years ago, I was in the car with a guy I was dating, and we were pulled over for a traffic stop. Looking down through the open window, the police officer nodded in my direction in the passenger seat and said something along the lines of, "And your girlfriend …" I will never forget the response this provoked: "Well. I mean. She's not really my girlfriend. I mean. It's complicated."

  • REVIEW: 'EL Stories: Listen to the Music' by Waltzing Mechanics ★★½

    July 1, 2014

    One of the more resonant observations made in Waltzing Mechanics' latest iteration of "EL Stories," the company's ongoing documentary theater project featuring verbatim anecdotes collected by the ensemble, who go out and interview people on the CTA, is the near-universal way we isolate ourselves while waiting for a train.

  • "The Real World" filming could begin in August in the West Loop

    June 29, 2014

    It's happening. MTV's 30th installment of "The Real World" will be shooting west of the Loop this summer. Raise a glass or gird your outrage, whichever the case may be.

  • Aaron Swartz doc tracks successes, struggles of Highland Park native

    June 26, 2014

    Pop culture right now likes to portray techie innovators as entrepreneurs. Think Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network" or the amiable malcontents of the HBO comedy series "Silicon Valley." All their efforts — all that substantial brain power — is geared toward building a business. And scoring a major payday. Becoming captains of industry.

  • Memorize this: How stage actors learn all their lines

    June 21, 2014

    How good is your memory? Is it shot, like mine? Do you know all your passwords? Can you remember what you did last Tuesday? Now consider the brain power involved in memorizing an entire script for a play and retaining it for months, if not longer.

  • Sparks but not much more in 'Trafford Tanzi'

    June 19, 2014

    THEATER REVIEWS: "Trafford Tanzi" at Fizz Bar ★★ and "Becker" at the Annoyance Theater ★★ ... The boisterous saga of Trafford Tanzi, a tomboy with professional wrestling ambitions ...

  • 'Transformers: The Premake' makes Chicago critic a filmmaker

    June 18, 2014

    Before "Transformers 4" pounds into cinemas next week (sorry, "Transformers: Age of Extinction"), let us take a moment to step back and consider a much smaller, 25-minute film from Chicago-based critic Kevin B. Lee called "Transformers: The Premake," which went live on YouTube earlier this week and will screen at the Nightingale Friday.

  • 'Sirens' will film season 2 in Chicago

    June 16, 2014

    USA Network has announced that “Sirens” will return for a 13-episode second season.  The comedy, which is filmed in Chicago, centers on a trio of quippy EMTs, one of whom is the naïve new guy played by DePaul University grad Kevin Bigley.

  • Doc to capture life and work of Art Shay

    June 12, 2014

    Art Shay, who has spent his career documenting the lives of others, is now the subject of a documentary himself.

  • Jenny Slate delivers rom-com formula jolt in 'Obvious Child'

    June 11, 2014

    In the movie "Obvious Child," Jenny Slate stars as a struggling Brooklyn comedian who gets dumped, loses her comfy job at a neighborhood bookstore and meets a new guy with potential. Also: She gets pregnant and has an abortion.

  • Ike Barinholtz cast in Tina Fey-Amy Poehler movie "The Nest."

    June 5, 2014

    Ike Barinholtz, a writer and co-star on the Fox sitcom “The Mindy Project,” has been cast as the male lead in the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler movie “The Nest.”

  • Documentary discovers the unexpected guy on the Burt's Bees logo

    June 5, 2014

    Picture for a moment the iconic Burt's Bees logo. Staring out from the brand's various salves and ointments is the face of a heavily bearded man, his wild tufts of hair barely contained under a pinstriped train engineer's hat.

  • 'Haymaker' a clever parody of action movies

    June 4, 2014

    THEATER REVIEWS: "Haymaker" by the Neo-Futurists ★★★ and "Love Tapes" by The Inconvenience ★★½ ... Consider this exchange of growled dialogue in the Neo-Futurists' new show, which is a full-on embrace of action-movie tropes ...

  • iO alum has big shoes (and ties) to fill on his "Daily Show" gig

    May 29, 2014

    Jordan Klepper, the newest addition to "The Daily Show," doesn't mind risking a little poison ingestion if it is in the name of comedy. And if that doesn't bode well for his future as a correspondent on the show, I don't know what does. More on that mildly unsafe incident in the Q&A below.

  • TV shows and the quick hook

    May 22, 2014

    Last week as TV networks announced their lineup for the upcoming season, I noticed more grumbling than usual about the short life span that befalls shows that aren't an instant ratings hit.

  • The Late 90s, showing how improv should be done

    May 21, 2014

    THEATER REVIEWS: The Late 90s at iO ★★★½ and "The Doll's House Project: Ibsen Is Dead" ★★★ ... Up-and-coming improv teams are given stage time before the headliner most nights at iO and the comparison in skill is something worth seeing firsthand.

  • Sam Greenlee, author of 'Spook Who Sat By the Door,' dead at 83

    May 19, 2014

    Even into his so-called golden years, the writer Sam Greenlee was outspoken about the curious fate of his 1973 film "The Spook Who Sat by the Door." A Chicago native, Greenlee, 83, died from natural causes early Monday morning at his home.

  • Tasty film returns to the Siskel Film Center

    May 15, 2014

    "One bite of that, and he'll build you a Taj Mahal," a woman is heard hollering approvingly through an open window to her neighbor, a pretty young housewife named Ila who is in her kitchen, preparing her husband's lunch. "The Taj Mahal is a tomb, auntie," Ila responds.

  • Actor, screenwriter David Dastmalchian on his new film 'Animals'

    May 8, 2014

    Films about drug addiction tend to have a punishing quality. Even the good ones. I'm thinking of "Drugstore Cowboy" and "Requiem For a Dream," "Trainspotting" and "The Man with the Golden Arm." Full-blown drug addiction is bleak. Why would an honest movie reflect anything else?

  • 'Mill Fire' an absorbing story of a small-town tragedy

    May 7, 2014

    THEATER REVIEWS: "Mill Fire" at Theater Wit ★★★ and "The Next Thing" by Signal Ensemble ★½ ... It is sometime in the late 1970s, a steel town in Alabama. The crew working the graveyard shift ambles into the noisy, steam-filled plant and goes about its business.

  • Timothy Simons, the guy everyone loves to hate on 'Veep'

    May 1, 2014

    "Jonah, you're not even a man," begins one of many epic insults hurled in the face of Jonah Ryan, the needling, socially maladjusted pisher of a human on HBO's "Veep," embodied with no-holds-barred gusto by one-time Chicago actor Timothy Simons. "You're like a an early draft of a man," he's told, "where they just sketched out a giant mangled skeleton but they didn't have time to add details — like pigment. Or self-respect."

  • Allison Tolman gets big break on 'Fargo'

    April 28, 2014

    Though set within the same frigid landscape as the 1996 Coen Brothers movie, the new FX series "Fargo" is not so much an adaptation as it is a close cousin. Two episodes in, it has revealed itself to be a show larded with sight gags, stubborn Midwestern manners, character quirks, black humor and oftentimes a serious and observant look at mangled humanity.

  • Chicago was on fire, but the star was really hot

    April 24, 2014

    Is it really possible that just one major motion picture has ever been made about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871?

  • Elaine Lui dissects the Celebrity Industrial Complex

    April 17, 2014

    Two weeks ago when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced they were divorcing, many focused on the labored "conscious uncoupling" argot used in their announcement, which was posted on Paltrow's lifestyle website goop.com.

  • Non-Equity theater actors juggle day jobs

    April 11, 2014

    No one pursues a career in theater looking to make a quick buck. That holds especially true in storefront theater for directors and playwrights, designers and stage managers. But non-Equity actors are the public face of this financial reality, which frequently offers no compensation at all.

  • Historic Patio Theater to close in April

    April 10, 2014

    The historic Patio Theater in Portage Park has been in Demetri Kouvalis' family since 1987. His father ran the movie theater until 2001, when the air conditioning broke.

  • Underground films see the light through fest

    April 3, 2014

    The gradual narrative unspooling of "Who Took Johnny," the true-crime documentary about a 12-year-old Iowa boy who has been missing since 1982, is extremely canny. The film doesn't deviate from the standard format — a collage of archival footage and talking heads — but it does refine it.

  • 'Taking Off' is bonkers, but what a debut for Milos Forman

    March 27, 2014

    "Taking Off" is barely a footnote in the renowned career of Czech filmmaker Milos Forman, who won the Oscar for 1975's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" as well as 1984's "Amadeus."

  • 'Love & Air Sex,' a 21st century romance

    March 20, 2014

    When you encounter a movie titled "Love & Air Sex" (this week at Facets) the obvious question is what is air sex?

  • Chicago Film Archives returns to blue-collar Lincoln Park

    March 13, 2014

    Midway through the 1974 documentary "Now We Live on Clifton," which captures the early gentrification of Lincoln Park, a group of boys fling themselves off the roof of a house onto a flimsy mattress down below. The diversion has "broken ankle" written all over it, but no one seems worse for wear.

  • Let's get flashy with film fest names

    March 6, 2014

    A few days ago I mentioned the Peace on Earth Film Festival to someone whose eyes glazed over so fast I might as well have said I was planning to stare at the wall for the next hour.

  • 'Sirens': Chicago-made humor

    February 27, 2014

    Of the six Chicago-filmed TV series airing this season, only one is a comedy.

  • Chicago playwright Tanya Saracho lands 'Girls' writing gig

    February 20, 2014

    Years ago, when I first interviewed Chicago playwright Tanya Saracho, she told me about visiting her senora here in town whenever she was in need of counsel. It took me a few minutes before I realized she was talking about a specific type of Latina fortuneteller.

  • About 'About Last Night...,' the Chicago version

    February 13, 2014

    The weekend of '80s remakes is upon us, with both 1981's "Endless Love" and 1987's "RoboCop" opening in theaters, plus one more that taps into a strange sentimental teenage memory for me: 1986's "About Last Night…"

  • 'Hallelujah the Hills,' the funniest comedy you've never seen

    February 6, 2014

    The funniest comedy you've likely never seen, let alone heard of, comes to the Siskel Film Center this week for two screenings. "Hallelujah the Hills," from 1963, is so rare, you won't find it on DVD or any streaming site.

  • Cinespace plans backlot expansion for filming possibilities

    January 30, 2014

    Cinespace, the soundstage complex on the West Side that is home to TV shows such as NBC’s “Chicago Fire” and ABC’s upcoming midseason drama “Mind Games,” plans to expand its filmmaking options by building a backlot on its existing 58-acre campus.

  • 2014 Oscars: Good films, in small packages

    January 30, 2014

    For too long moviegoers have had little exposure to the short films nominated each year for an Oscar, certainly not in the weeks prior to the ceremony. The awards for shorts — defined as shorter than 40 minutes and divided into three categories: live action, documentary and animation — have been little more than a black hole of random guesses for viewers filling out their ballots at home.

  • 'Maidentrip': Thrilling doc about a Dutch teen sailing the world solo

    January 23, 2014

    I was 15 the first time I flew to a non-English-speaking country by myself, an experience at once terrifying, thrillingly adult and exceedingly small potatoes compared to that of Laura Dekker, the Dutch teenager who sailed around the world alone from 2010 to 2012 on a 40-foot boat called Guppy.

  • Movie makes secret writing public, for fun

    January 16, 2014

    Chicago's live-lit scene is a robust one, with storytelling events filling up the calendar every month. They're cheap to produce, and I suspect they tap into a desire among audiences to experience something without a screen of one sort or another getting in the way. You don't even need a mic. Just a person with a story — and an audience willing to listen.

  • Bo knew jerseys, and so does Danny Pudi

    January 10, 2014

    I wasn't the only "Community" obsessive to breathe a sigh of relief when the NBC comedy returned for its fifth season last week, with creator Dan Harmon reinstalled at the helm after being discharged from his duties last year. The show suffered for it, morphing into a tepid facsimile. Now it's back to its old self: wonderfully bizarre and deeply funny.

  • Review: 'Chicago PD' a by-the-book procedural

    January 8, 2014

    There's an old Rudyard Kipling quote about Chicago I haven't heard for a while that shows up in the new NBC drama "Chicago PD," a show that looks to portray police work the old school way: tough, dirty and not without personal costs. Will you see expansive recaps on this show every week? No. It's not that kind of series. Is it a touch overheated at times? Yes. But it hits the spot.

  • Art house cinema winter preview

    January 2, 2014

    We're coming off a year that saw numerous venue disruptions for the Northwest Chicago Film Society, which found itself moving from the Portage Theater to the Patio Theater to the Siskel Film Center in a matter of months.

  • Chicago's the secret for Steve Conrad writer

    December 26, 2013

    First published as a 1939 short story in the New Yorker, James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" crawls inside the mind of an unassuming man: Walter Mitty, serious daydreamer.

  • The mind of DeRay Davis - unfiltered and never fake

    December 12, 2013

    The Game Show Network hopes to wring some laughs from the old standby: Men think like this; women think like that. "Mind of a Man" debuts January 8 and is hosted by stand-up comedian DeRay Davis, who told me he had to adapt his R-rated instincts for basic cable.

  • Gene Kelly plays way against type in the 1944 noir 'Christmas Holiday'

    December 5, 2013

    Looking over the Siskel Film Center schedule recently, a little-known film from 1944 called "Christmas Holiday" starring Gene Kelly caught my eye. Hang on. Hang on! Gene Kelly made a Christmas movie? How have I missed this?

  • Chicago's Robert Townsend talks Cosby, Second City and a 1-man show

    November 27, 2013

    Here's something you may not know about Bill Cosby.

  • The real Masters & Johnson-- and their TV counterparts

    November 21, 2013

    It's one thing to study human sexuality in the Midwest in the 1950s. It is yet quite another to find willing participants. But William Masters and Virginia Johnson — the St. Louis-based researchers who would become famous as America's foremost sex experts of the 20th century — apparently had few problems in that regard.

  • Gordon Parks' short films spotlight the overlooked

    November 14, 2013

    "This is the story of a black man," director Gordon Parks says, staring into the camera. "Look at him and know that to destroy him is to destroy yourself."

  • Reeling, Chicago's gay and lesbian film festival, is back

    November 7, 2013

    The timing feels serendipitous. After a hiatus in 2012 to regroup, Reeling, Chicago's long-running gay and lesbian film festival, is back — kicking off just days after Illinois lawmakers voted in favor of marriage equality. You can't plan that kind of synchronicity.

  • A restaurant film about the people, not the food

    October 24, 2013

    The renowned chef Thomas Keller talks about nouvelle cuisine as "personality cuisine" in the new documentary "Spinning Plates," which goes into the kitchens of three distinct American eateries to reveal the personalities behind the menus.

  • Non-fiction filmmakers to tap Chicagoans with money and pull

    October 17, 2013

    Of the five films nominated for the best documentary Oscar this year, two of them — "How to Survive a Plague" and "The Invisible War" — got funding and support from Good Pitch. Two out of five. Talk about validation. Launched in the UK about six years ago, Good Pitch invites a select number of doc filmmakers to make their pitch to group of funders, TV networks and other potential partners.

  • Faux testosterone, real comedy

    October 3, 2013

    A parody of DIY home improvement shows, the new web series "Rick and Len Fix Sh** in Your House" brings to mind an unholy mix of "This Old House" and "Duck Dynasty."

  • Protests draw Haskell Wexler back to Chicago

    September 26, 2013

    A version of "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)" sung by Judy Garland plays over the opening moments of "Four Days in Chicago," Haskell Wexler's documentary about the protesters who came town last year during the NATO summit. As Garland sings of State Street, that great street, Wexler intercuts footage of helmeted police stationed downtown, dressed in quasi-military gear, their batons at the ready, a clutch of plastic tie handcuffs dangling suggestively from their uniforms.

  • From network to network, it's Chicago all over

    September 19, 2013

    With the new TV season upon us, let's step back and look at the new shows based out of Chicago (an unprecedented six TV series are here this fall), plus shows filming elsewhere that feature Chicago actors.

  • A face you won't forget, in movies big and small

    September 12, 2013

    Very little casting is done in Chicago when big studio movies shoot here. Not significant roles, where the camera lingers on a person for more than a moment. It's a strange phenomenon considering the deep bench of acting talent in town, but every so often there are exceptions. I remember watching 2008's "The Dark Knight" and realizing that weaselly guy who Aaron Eckhart was threatening over the ledge of a skyscraper was a Chicago actor. I knew the face. It's a distinctive face, one that belongs to David Dastmalchian. Haven't seen much of it on local stages since.

  • Shagging flies and talking film

    September 5, 2013

    Richard Linklater works out of an office at the Austin Studios lot in Texas, a vast expanse of concrete and converted airplane hangars that was once, some 25 years back, the main airport in town, where experimental filmmaker James Benning flew at the invitation of Linklater.

  • A drive-in horror show, but for a good cause

    August 29, 2013

    The past few years have been tough on drive-in movie theater owners, who have been forced to chuck their 35 mm projectors in favor of newer digital models if they want to continue to feature the latest releases. The switch-over costs money — money that mom and pop venues open for business just four months of the year rarely have on hand.

  • Improv + beer = 'Drinking Buddies'

    August 22, 2013

    Actor Ron Livingston tells a great story about landing in Chicago last summer to film the relationship comedy "Drinking Buddies." In the car from the airport he's informed that director Joe Swanberg is ahead of schedule and wants to shoot Livingston's breakup scene that afternoon.

  • Nothing devious about 'Devious Maids' writer Tanya Saracho

    June 20, 2013

    For all the Chicago acting talent that turns up on TV each season, a steady number of local playwrights are landing TV work as well. Particularly women. Laura Jacqmin recently joined the staff of the new ABC series "Lucky 7" (which co-stars fellow Chicagoan Stephen Louis Grush).

  • When celebrity interviews go bad

    June 13, 2013

    Let us consider for a moment the Hollywood performance that never gets nominated for awards but can be just as indelible as any Oscar-winning role. I'm referring to the celebrity interview that goes viral.

  • Ricky Jay keeps his magic tricks, and thoughts, close to the vest

    June 6, 2013

    About midway through the documentary "Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay" (opening Friday at the Music Box Theatre), Jay emerges backstage after a performance and is greeted by a roomful of people. As he acknowledges his well-wishers, he catches sight of a person filming him and says, only half joking: "Cameras. They should be avoided at all costs."

  • Judy Blume comes to a theater near you with 'Tiger Eyes'

    June 2, 2013

    "Someone came to us and said, 'Hey kids, do you want to make a movie?'" Judy Blume said with a laugh when I spoke to her by phone last month about the upcoming release of the film adaptation of "Tiger Eyes," based on her 1981 novel. "No, that's not what they said. But they had funding to adapt a couple of books into movies, and they asked us (Blume and her son, Lawrence Blume, a film director) which one we would like to do, and we didn't hesitate for a second. Because we always knew which one."

  • 'Breakfast Club': How a talky teen film became a classic

    May 31, 2013

    I was in 7th grade when "The Breakfast Club" opened in theaters, and I distinctly remember thinking the movie was totally right about everything. I wasn't in high school yet (and that was surely one of movie's allures; a peek in a world I would soon enter), but at 13, I had suddenly become aware of all those weird anxieties, indignities and nuances that define the lives of adolescents, and they were all right there on the screen. Perceived slights as far as the eye can see. Rigid-seeming social circles. Parents who just don't understand. If only people knew the real me.

  • 'Portrait of Jason': A raconteur gets his moment

    May 23, 2013

    "Portrait of Jason" begins with a test tone and a blurry image. And then, as the screen slowly comes into focus, the tone stops and you hear a crew member say: "This is Shirley Clarke, 'Portrait of Jason.' Roll one, sound one. Sound rolling, camera rolling."

  • A magnetic actress tackles a taboo subject in 'Unspeakable Act'

    May 17, 2013

    "In the spring of 2011, at the age of 18, my brother Matthew got his first real girlfriend," says the 17-year-old protagonist of "The Unspeakable Act" in voiceover as we see her riding her bike down leafy, idyllic streets in Brooklyn. "I had somehow thought that he and I had an unspoken agreement that we belonged to each other. Which was really pretty stupid of me."

  • NBC picks up 'Chicago Fire' spinoff 'Chicago PD'

    May 10, 2013

    NBC, which renewed “Chicago Fire” last month for a second season, has announced that it is also picking up the show’s police-themed spinoff.

  • 'Peeples' star Craig Robinson's full plate may get even fuller

    May 9, 2013

    For the last nine seasons Craig Robinson has played Darryl, one of the most understated characters on TV. "The Office" may be closing out its ninth and final season next week, but Robinson's profile is about to increase exponentially. He has three movies coming out, including the idiots-at-the-apocalypse comedy "This Is the End" (with Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill) and "Rapture-Palooza" (playing no less than the Antichrist himself, seducing Anna Kendrick).

  • What are the best movies based on books?

    May 8, 2013

    Less than a year after “The Great Gatsby” was published in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald was paid $16,666 for the film rights. “Come and see it all!” beckons the trailer for the silent film. “And enjoy the entertainment thrill of your life!”

  • TV pitches: So I've got this idea for a show ...

    May 7, 2013

    Two weeks from now, TV networks will announce their new slate of shows for next season. The majority of these series will be variations on a formula. Procedurals. High-concept sci-fi and fantasy dramas. Nighttime soaps. Comedies starring familiar faces. This is how it works. Out-of-the-ordinary shows tend to be too risky when the goal is big ratings.

  • 'Schlub Life': Comedy Central pilot coming from locals

    April 26, 2013

    A group of Chicago sketch and improv performers are making a sitcom pilot for Comedy Central called “Schlub Life,” about “two out-of-work and out-of-shape husbands and their exasperated wives who begrudgingly provide the good life for them.” It is premise with legs, landing somewhere between “Workaholics” and “The League.”

  • Kam Kardashian: Long-lost, totally made-up sister found in Chicago

    April 25, 2013

    Anyone with a cellphone and a laptop can make a Web series. But it's tough to pull off something that looks professionally made. Not when there's barely any money involved. There is a huge opportunity here for indie filmmakers, especially those inventive enough to shoot great-looking videos on nonexistent budgets, to step in and make a name for themselves.

  • 'Big Fish' writer chats with the minnows

    April 19, 2013

    A group of influential screenwriters will converge on Chicago this weekend, including Lucy Alibar (whose script for "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was nominated for an Oscar this year) and Bob Gale (who wrote all three "Back to the Future" films).

  • Human Rights fest docs convey hard truths

    April 4, 2013

    Sometimes a number is shocking enough to stop you cold.

  • 'Mr. Selfridge': The man who invented retail therapy

    March 28, 2013

    Until recently, the Vera Wang bridal shop in Singapore imposed a non-refundable $482 fee to try on dresses. And last month a health food retailer in Australia posted this notice on its door: “As of the first of February, this store will be charging people a $5 fee per person for ’just looking.’ The $5 fee will be deducted when goods are purchased.”

  • An indie brings Nick Offerman back to the Chicago area

    March 7, 2013

    Whenever I find myself in a bleak mood, a quick glance at the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness usually does the trick. A near-perfect melding of minds between the "Parks and Recreation" writing staff and actor Nick Offerman, this visual guide on how to live life ("Crying: Acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon") is one of the NBC show's lasting legacies.

  • Chicago Underground Film Fest finds a fitting home

    February 28, 2013

    Nearly 20 years after it was founded, the Chicago Underground Film Fest remains (perhaps appropriately) a relatively underground event. Two decades is a milestone, though, especially if you're talking about a fest that brands itself as the home of "defiantly independent" filmmakers. I give a lot of credit to artistic director Bryan Wendorf, who hasn't really had to compromise his initial vision. A quick glance at this year's lineup (starting Wednesday and running through March 10) shows that CUFF once again brings the perplexing, the wonderfully offbeat and strange to our city's movie screens.

  • TNT's 'Southland': A show worth seeking out

    February 27, 2013

    In a TV season boasting at least half a dozen underappreciated comedies (“The Middle,” “Raising Hope” and “Enlightened” among them), it is far rarer to see a quality drama fall through the cracks. But if ever a series deserved the kind of intense viewer attention normally reserved for a Sunday night on HBO, it would be “Southland” (9 p.m. Central Wednesdays) which began its fifth season this month on TNT.

  • Oscars: Seth MacFarlane is an Academy guy

    February 23, 2013

    When Seth MacFarlane takes the stage Sunday as host of the 85thAcademy Awards, chances are a large portion of the viewing audience will look at their TV screens and wonder: Who is this guy? He might just be the least famous Oscar host ever , with a resume unlike that of any previous host except for the author and humorist Irvin S. Cobb, who hosted in 1935 — but even Cobb had a career in front of the camera.

  • What's your take: Comedians working for free at iO

    February 21, 2013

    There has been debate brewing the past few weeks among comedy performers in New York concerning the issue of pay. Often, stand-up comedians with a certain level of experience can score paying gigs at New York clubs. Recently, more and more stand-ups have started performing at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, a sketch and improv house where no one is paid to perform. Hence, the recent tensions.

  • It took a trio to come up with Wonder Woman

    February 15, 2013

    If comic book characters are a driving force in Hollywood, it's worth noting that Wonder Woman, one of the most iconic characters of the last 70 years, has yet to star in her own live-action movie.

  • 'Bye Bye Liver's' Pub Theater finds new home near Wrigley Field

    February 11, 2013

    Seven years after launching the profitable and long-running “Bye Bye Liver: The Chicago Drinking Play,” Pub Theater has acquired its own theater space just a few blocks north of Wrigley Field at 3914 N. Clark St.

  • Logan Theatre reviving some forgotten -- or never known -- trashy movies

    January 31, 2013

    There are raunchy, trashy, terrible movies. And then there is "Intrepidos Punks," in a class all its own. An exploitation artifact from early 1980s Mexico (there is some dispute about the film's exact date), it pits the berserk against the berserker: Punk biker gang versus corrupt law enforcement.

  • This side of 'Paradise,' with Echols, Davis

    January 17, 2013

    "I really do believe these people would have gotten away with murdering me if it would not have been for what you guys did — for being there in the beginning and getting this whole thing on tape so the rest of the world sees what's happening." That's Damien Echols, talking to filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky a couple of years ago when they visited him in prison for the most recent installment of "Paradise Lost," their HBO documentary series about the West Memphis Three that aired last year.

  • Midwest native looks east in 'Somewhere Between'

    January 11, 2013

    "I am a child stuck between two countries," says 15-year-old Fang "Jenni" Lee in the insightful new documentary "Somewhere Between." Adopted at age 5 and raised in Berkeley, Calif., she is one of roughly 80,000 girls who have come to the U.S. since China first began allowing foreign adoptions in 1992.

  • 'Price Check': Consumer-themed indie is one to check out

    January 3, 2013

    There is a science to the way products are placed on supermarket shelves, and it is one that can stealthily influences our choices.

  • Taking stock of Chicago TV, film

    December 20, 2012

    It was a notable year for Chicago's film and TV industry, both for projects that came — and those that didn't. First, the good news. The city was home to four television series in 2012. That is an unprecedented number.

  • Edward Burns returns to his roots

    December 13, 2012

    About halfway through writing the script for "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas" (which opens at the Wilmette Theatre next week), Edward Burns says he found himself at a crossroad. "Do I want to make the big, crazy, funny, holly-jolly Christmas Irish family movie?" he recalled when we spoke last week, "or do I want to go for something a little more grounded in the real world and a little more serious?"

  • Richard Wagner: Separating the man from the music

    November 29, 2012

    "Just because he may have been a nasty little man and a nasty anti-Semite doesn't mean that his music is not as supreme as it is."

  • Ethel Kennedy isn't one to share, in spite of film about her

    October 11, 2012

    “There are so many times in my life,” filmmaker Rory Kennedy tells her sister Courtney in the movie “Ethel,” “where people have said, ‘I want to introduce Robert Kennedy's daughter. ...” To which her sibling replies: “Oh, it makes me so mad! What about the one who delivered us and carried us for nine months and then has been with us the last 40 years?”

  • They're 'Mortified,' we're entertained

    October 4, 2012

    As a genre, the celebrity interview hasn't changed much over the years. The standard talk show appearance is home to the carefully sculpted anecdote. In-depth magazine profiles tend to pivot around a contrived field trip or two, or leave you with the lingering sense that most of the spontaneous ponderings have been shaped ahead of time by the unseen hands of a publicist and manager. The press junket doesn't even pretend to be anything more than the sales tool that it is.

  • Chicago filmmaker spent 8 years on new documentary 'Band of Sisters'

    September 13, 2012

    "You didn't really have (to) think much for yourself," a nun says of her early years, in the new documentary "Band of Sisters," which has its world premiere at the Siskel Film Center this week. "All that went unchanged for years and years and years — until Vatican II."

  • Ira Glass and WBEZ Chicago venture into the movie biz

    August 31, 2012

    One of the first things you notice during the opening credits of "Sleepwalk with Me" is a producing acknowledgment that reads simply: "In association with WBEZ Chicago's This American Life."

  • Emmy nominations reinforce Chicago's rep as comedy training ground

    July 19, 2012

    Nominees for the 64th Primetime Emmys include several former Chicagoans, continuing a trend from years past. The 2011 winner for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series, Plainfield native and “Mike & Molly” star Melissa McCarthy, was again nominated in that category as well as outstanding guest actress for her much-lauded performance as host on “Saturday Night Live.”

  • Film festivals for many tastes this weekend

    April 13, 2012

    We're heading into a crowded weekend for film fests in Chicago, with no fewer than three major events competing for attention. This kind of overlap is far from ideal, but then again filmgoers are a self-selecting bunch, and the three festivals on tap speak to distinct interests. I'll take a closer look at two of them, while my colleague Michael Phillips tackles the 28th Annual Chicago Latino Film Festival this week in Specialty Screenings.

  • How 'Wizard of Oz' struggled on road to fame

    March 2, 2012

    Nostalgia and navel-gazing dominated the Academy Awards broadcast Sunday, including a spoof featuring Christopher Guest, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and others as a disgruntled focus group attending a "Wizard of Oz" test screening circa 1939. The joke? They tore the movie to shreds, culminating with the ultimate kiss-off from Eugene Levy: "I didn't particularly care for the 'Rainbow' song."

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