The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Touch of Evil (Welles)
2. Black Book (Verhoeven)
3. The Mafia Only Kills in Summer (Diliberto)
4. The Babadook (Kent)
5. Paisan (Rossellini)
6. L’amore (Rossellini)
7. Rome, Open City (Rossellini)
8. The Shining (Kubrick)
9. Before Sunset (Linklater)
10. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 (Von Trier)

Once Upon a Savage Night at Time Out Chicago


Did you know that Robert Altman directed a serial-killer thriller in Chicago in 1964? He was still a neophyte director when he made Once Upon a Savage Night for an NBC television program titled “Kraft Suspense Theater.” Available to view on YouTube today (complete with all-Kraft commercial breaks!), it’s a genuine blast from the past. Read all about it in my latest post for Time Out Chicago:

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Cooley High (Schultz)
2. Throne of Blood (Kurosawa)
3. A Short Film About Killing (Kieslowski)
4. The House of Mystery (Volkoff)
5. The Ice Harvest (Ramis)
6. Nightmare in Chicago (Altman)
7. La Pointe Courte (Varda)
8. Cat People (Tourneur)
9. One Way Boogie Woogie (Benning)
10. Under the Skin (Glazer)

Chicago Latino Film Fest Week Two / Cool Apocalypse Screenings


My single favorite film at this year’s Chicago Latino Film Festival is Operation Zanahoria, a fact-based political thriller from Uruguay that recalls All The President’s Men in its story of journalists uncovering a potential political scandal but which puts its “procedural” thrust to very different and specifically Uruguayan ends. It’s the second feature of Enrique Buchichio who also helmed the formidable Leo’s Room. I will be posting an interview with Buchichio on this site soon. In the meantime, you can check out my review of Operation Zanahoria at Time Out Chicago here:

In other news, I’m pleased to report that my film Cool Apocalypse will be screening at two international Film Festivals next month. Our world premiere will take place at the Illinois International Film Festival in Aurora on Saturday, May 2nd at 7:30pm. Any of my students who attend the premiere will earn TWENTY POINTS extra credit towards their final grade (check your course website for more info). Our second screening will take place at the South Carolina Cultural Film Festival in North Charleston, SC, on Friday, May 8th at 7:40pm. More info about tickets, locations and complete festival lineups can be found on our official website:

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Days of Heaven (Malick)
2. Sunset Boulevard (Wilder)
3. Time of the Gypsies (Kusturica)
4. While We’re Young (Baumbach)
5. Leo’s Room (Buchichio)
6. Office Space (Judge)
7. Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater (Klinger)
8. The Strawberry Blonde (Walsh)
9. Ruggles of Red Gap (McCarey)
10. Rope (Hitchcock)

Chicago Latino Film Fest Week One / Flickering Empire at Iwan Ries


The 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival opens tomorrow night and it’s provided me with the occasion for a new blog post at Time Out Chicago. I have a brief review of Fellipe Barbosa’s first feature Casa Grande, or the Ballad of Poor Jean, a socially conscious Brazilian drama that I quite liked and am calling your best bet for the fest’s first week. Peep the review here:

Also, next Tuesday, April 14, the Cigar Society of Chicago will host Adam Selzer and me at the Lounge in Iwan Ries for a book talk/signing of Flickering Empire. Cocktails at 5:30, talk starts at 6. I’m really looking forward to enjoying a good cigar during our book talk this time! More info here:

Manoel de Oliveira R.I.P. (1908 – 2015)


This one really hurts, folks: Manoel de Oliveira was one of the greats. He was also, of course, the world’s oldest active filmmaker and it is unlikely that any director will ever again be so active at such an advanced age. His 106 years on this earth spanned virtually the entire history of feature-length narrative cinema and his filmography spanned an astonishing 84 of those years — from the incredible “city symphony” film Labor on the Douro River in 1931, made when Oliveira was 22-years-old during what was still the silent-film era in Portugal, to the two shorts he made that premiered at last fall’s Venice International Film Festival (one of which was the festival’s official trailer), made when he was 105. All of which is to say that the old man wasn’t just a righteous soldier of cinema, he was the cinema. Oliveira was in many ways the last exemplar of — indeed he seemed to be synonymous with — a strain of now-extinct 1960s European art film in spite of the fact that he was barely active during that particular decade; Portugal’s then-fascist government had intentionally stymied his career, once even arresting him and interrogating him for 10 days because of a movie.

Oliveira had the last laugh, however, outliving Portugal’s “Estado Novo” era, and embarking on the prolific late phase of his career (and achieving his greatest successes) at an age when most other directors start to retire. His films were intellectually vigorous and deliberately slow, long before “slow cinema” became fashionable on the arthouse circuit, and he emphasized rather than downplayed their literary and theatrical origins. But he was also, in the best Bunuellian vein, a Surrealist prankster who included a shocking “throwing a cat” gag in his Madame Bovary adaptation Abraham’s Valley and pulled the rug out from under the audience completely with the full-blown insanity of the ending of his film-opera The Cannibals. One of the proudest moments of my professional career was presenting the belated Chicago theatrical premiere of the latter as a midnight movie at Facets Multimedia in 2013. The screening was well attended and when I polled the audience beforehand I was astonished to find that literally none of them had seen an Oliveira film before. The nocturnal creatures in attendance were clearly expecting a cult-horror movie about cannibalism and yet, when the screening ended, everyone seemed to have enjoyed it, with many remarking that it was far weirder than what they had anticipated.

Manoel de Oliveira was previously on my list of the 10 Best Living Directors (his place has since been taken by Claire Denis). Here is what I originally wrote about him there in January, 2011:


“At 102 years of age, Manoel de Oliveira is by far the oldest director on this list. Incredibly, unlike a lot of the other filmmakers cited here (many of whom have either officially or unofficially retired), Oliveira is not only still active but prolific, having made at least one feature a year since 1990. This recent spate of films constitutes more than half of his body of work, which is extremely impressive considering he started directing in the silent era. Oliveira’s style is not for everyone: his movies, made in conscious opposition to Hollywood conventions, tend to be slow, deliberately paced literary adaptations centered on the theme of doomed love. But if you can find yourself in tune with the rhythm of his unique brand of filmmaking, Oliveira’s best work – including Abraham’s Valley (by far the best film adaptation of Madame Bovary I know of) and the brilliant triptych Anxiety (Inquietude) — can be both intensely cinematic and soul-stirring.

Essential work: Abraham’s Valley (Vale Abraao) (1993), Anxiety (Inquietude) (1998), The Strange Case of Angelica (O Estranho Caso de Angélica) (2010)”

It is regrettable that Oliveira had trouble making features in the last few years of his life — not due to ill health but rather due to the difficulty of getting his films insured. He was not able to realize, for instance, his dream project of adapting Machado de Assis’s masterful short story “The Devil’s Church,” although one hopes that another filmmaker, perhaps a Portuguese director like Pedro Costa or Miguel Gomes, may end up inheriting Oliveira’s finished screenplay. Still, he was able to complete eight films after his 100th birthday and one can only hope that his death will bring renewed interest to this work. His final feature, the highly regarded Gebo and the Shadow from 2012, still hasn’t received a Chicago premiere.

The Strange Case of Angelica
, which saw the old master learning new tricks by employing CGI, was number one on my list of the best films of the 2011:

You can read a transcript of my introduction to the Chicago premiere of The Cannbials here:

Last but not least, you should watch this film of Oliveira dancing in public at the ripe old age of 99. It’s good for the soul:

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (Gibney)
2. Trances (El Maanouni)
3. Operation Zanahoria (Buchichio)
4. Casa Grande, or the Ballad of Poor Jean (Barbosa)
5. Phoenix (Petzold)
6. The Exorcist (Friedkin)
7. Germany Year Zero (Rossellini)
8. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
9. Touki Bouki (Mambety)
10. The Staircase II: The Last Chance (de Lestrade)


A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the uber-hip “Iranian vampire western” by first-time American director Ana Lily Amirpour, has recently become Kino/Lorber’s highest grossing theatrical release of all time. Since it will be returning to the Siskel Center in Chicago for another theatrical engagement beginning Friday, I thought I’d use the occasion to inaugurate a new feature where I post reviews in full on this blog that I originally wrote for other sites a while ago. Here are capsule reviews of the Amirpour film, which I enjoyed but wasn’t as taken with as a lot of other folks, and Mathieu Amalric’s criminally underseen erotic thriller The Blue Room. Both of these reviews originally appeared at Cine-File Chicago to coincide with their first Chicago runs.


Ana Lily Amirpour’s A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (New American)

Distributor Kino/Lorber has cannily but misleadingly marketed A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT as the “first Iranian vampire western.” The film’s writer/director, Ana Lily Amirpour, was born in London to Iranian parents and raised in America; it was shot in Bakersfield, California (standing in for a fictional Iranian ghost town named “Bad City”); the cast consists almost entirely of Persian-American actors speaking Farsi; and, aside from a stray spaghetti-western-inflected song or two on the heavily non-diegetic soundtrack, the movie bears almost no relationship whatsoever to the western genre. It would be more accurate to describe this stylishly crafted, auspicious debut feature as an adult version of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN–a poignant love story about the coming together of two lonely souls, one of whom just happens to be a vampire. The fact that the titular bloodsucker is a hijab-wearing young woman (the excellent Sheila Vand) who only preys on “bad men” has drawn both political and feminist allegorical readings from critics, although this is arguably giving too much credit to a film whose substance is primarily to be found in its surface pleasures. Still, what a surface. Amirpour and director of photography Lyle Vincent weave a potent alchemical magic with their high-contrast black-and-white cinematography–Amirpour’s almost exclusive focus on nighttime exteriors in weird industrial locations (i.e., Bakersfield’s oil refineries, factories, and railroad yards) recalls the nightmarish atmosphere of her hero David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD but, combined with her impeccable taste in pop-music cues, creates a dreamy/druggy vibe that is both entrancing and wholly her own. It’s probably too early to tell whether the movie’s weaker second half is the result of Amirpour’s failure to build narrative momentum or a byproduct of the fact that her true talents may lie outside the realm of traditional storytelling altogether; A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT’s single best moment is a non-sequitur involving a drag-queen dancing with a balloon. In this startling non-narrative sequence, the charm of the choreography between performer and balloon is almost perfectly matched by the charm of the choreography between camera and performer. (2014, 99 min, DCP Digital) MGS

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night Rating: 7.1


Mathieu Amalric’s THE BLUE ROOM (New French)

“Life is different when you live it and when you go back over it after.” So says Julien Gahyde (director and co-writer Mathieu Amalric), an adulterous–and possibly murderous–farm equipment sales rep, in response to a gendarme’s incessant questions concerning an ambiguous crime. Gahyde’s year-long affair with a beautiful but unstable pharmacist, Esther Despierre (co-writer Stephanie Cleau), also married, ends in tragedy but this erotic thriller is ingeniously constructed to only teasingly parcel out the narrative information; the nonlinear structure, which has its origins in Georges Simenon’s 1964 source novel, shuttles back and forth in time between the illicit lovers’ meetings in the titular hotel room and a series of police interrogations and eventual criminal trial much later, all the while daringly eliding the crime (or crimes) at the film’s center altogether. The “exchange of murders” conceit may be familiar from Alfred Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN but the impressive formal control is Amalric’s own. As an actor, he’s long specialized in playing unhinged fuck-ups for other filmmakers but, under his own sure directorial hand, allows himself an impressive restraint to match the rigor of his mise-en-scene: Amalric’s famously expressive peepers do less work here than the disorienting close-ups and boxy aspect ratio, which combine to convey a potent sense of claustrophobia and doom. THE BLUE ROOM is as tight and compressed as Amalric’s earlier ON TOUR was messy and sprawling and, at only 76 minutes, manages to be both free of flab and capable of sticking to one’s ribs. Potential viewers are forewarned to pay special attention to the closing minutes–a final twist is so subtle it will go unnoticed by many. (2014, 76 min, DCP Digital) MGS

The Blue Room Rating: 8.7

European Union Film Fest: Final Week / Flickering Empire at the CUP Blog


I have a new blog post at Time Out Chicago today concerning Carlos Vermut’s Magical Girl, a terrific new Spanish film that plays twice during the last week of the European Union Film Festival. It is not only one of my favorites of the 11 EUFF films I saw this year, it is literally the only one that does not have a U.S. distributor. I compare it to the best work of David Lynch because of its darkness, eroticism and puzzle-like nature but this second feature by a promising young filmmaker is also a work of utter originality. If you live in Chicago, don’t miss it. It’s a magical movie and this may be your only chance to see it.

In other news, Flickering Empire has been selected as the featured book on the Columbia University Press blog this week. They’ve featured a nifty two-part interview with me, a guest blog post by me, and run a contest to give away a free copy of the book. You can enter said contest by e-mailing your name and address to Winners will be chosen Friday, March 26 at 1PM. You can check out the blog here:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,891 other followers

%d bloggers like this: