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Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Born to Be Blue (Budreau)
2. A Fine Day (Arslan)
3. A Brighter Summer Day (Yang)
4. Shitcago (Alonzo)
5. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
6. Basic Instinct (Verhoeven)
7. Le Cercle Rouge (Melville)
8. In Transit (Maysles/True/Usui/Walker/Wu)
9. Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (Herzog)
10. Dry Summer (Erksan)

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New Herzog and Maysles at the Music Box / The Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle

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There is an admirably ambitious new documentary film festival in town: DOC10 was programmed by Anthony Kaufman (who also programmed the impressive doc slate at last year’s Chicago International Film Fest) and will screen at the Music Box during the first weekend in April. It will feature the local debuts of 10 gems of contemporary nonfiction cinema. I offer capsule reviews of two of those films, Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World and Al Maysles’ (co-directed) In Transit in my latest blog post for Time Out.

In other news, I’ve co-founded a new critics organization: the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. The CIFCC is an alternative to other critics groups in that we are actively recruiting female and minority members and are inclusive of new technology and new modes of criticism (video blogs, podcasts, video essays, etc.) instead of heavily favoring print journalism. We are also seeking to strengthen the bonds between independent critics, independent filmmakers and independently owned theaters. We have an impressive member roster so far and if you are a Chicago-based film critic interested in joining, I urge you to apply online.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. We Are Still Here (Geoghegan)
2. Paris Belongs to Us (Rivette)
3. A Time to Live and a Time to Die (Hou)
5. Everybody Wants Some!! (Linklater)
6. Growing Up (Chen)
7. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (Hancock)
8. The Sandwich Man (Hou/Wan/Zeng)
9. An American Werewolf in London (Landis)
10. In Our Time (Chang/Ko/Tao/Yang)


WCCRH Episode 11: Angelica Jade Bastien and Nina Bradley / A Fine Day at Transistor

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Episode 11 of my White City Cinema Radio Hour podcast is now online and it is by far my favorite episode to date. I listened to it three times yesterday – and definitely not because of my own contributions! I am enamored of the lively and provocative banter of my guests, film critic Angelica Jade Bastien and film studies professor Nina Cartier Bradley. The three of us use the #OscarsSoWhite controversy as a jumping-off point to talk about race (and racism) in the film industry, film noir and Carl Franklin’s underrated 1995 neo-noir Devil in a Blue Dress. You can listen to the episode at the Transistor Chicago website here. Also, please check out Angelica’s blog Madwomenandmuses.com and please check out this new anthology on race, gender and identity to which Nina contributed:  Future Texts: Subversive Performance and Feminist Bodies.

I also use the episode to plug a screening of Thomas Arslan’s A Fine Day, which I’ll be presenting at Transistor on Saturday, March 26. I wrote the following description about it for the Transistor website:

Saturday night film screening: Chicago independent filmmaker, author and film studies instructor Michael Glover Smith presents A Fine Day. 8:00 p.m. Free, BYOB.

“A Fine Day” is an intellectual romantic comedy about an eventful day in the life of Deniz (Serpil Turhan), a 21-year-old Turkish immigrant and aspiring actress living in Berlin. After splitting up with her boyfriend, Jan, she immediately embarks on a relationship with Diego, a stranger with whom she becomes infatuated, before engaging in an extended rap session with a philosopher in a cafe. A charming story about one young woman’s search for happiness, “A Fine Day” has never been released in the U.S. but stands as the masterpiece to date by Thomas Arslan, a key writer/director of the “Berlin School” of filmmaking that also produced Christian Petzold. (NR, 2001, 69 minutes)

Michael Smith will introduce the film and a discussion will follow the screening.

I will be offering extra credit to my students for attending the screening. Check the extra credit page of your course website for more info. Hope to see you there!

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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Sin Norte (Lavanderos)
2. Devil in a Blue Dress (Franklin)
2. Alphaville (Godard)
3. A Woman is a Woman (Godard)
4. The Young Girls of Rochefort (Demy)
5. Merry-Go-Round (Rivette)
6. Noroit (Rivette)
7. Duelle (Rivette)
8. Office Space (Judge)
9. Detour (Ulmer)
10. Citizen Kane (Welles)


The 19th Chicago European Union Film Festival

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The Chicago European Union Film Festival kicks off its 19th edition at the Gene Siskel Film Center tomorrow night. Although less stacked with brand-name auteurs than last year’s edition, which brought an embarrassment of riches in the form of new films from the likes of Alain Resnais, Pedro Costa, Bruno Dumont, Christian Petzold, Roy Andersson, Mia Hansen-Love, Jessica Hausner, Eugene Green, etc., the 2016 lineup still impresses in its depth and diversity. I recently discussed the festival with Scott Pfeiffer on my podcast and I now have reviews of specific films in both the Chicago Reader and at the Time Out Chicago website.

I wrote capsule reviews of my two favorite films at the festival, Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie and Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier, which should appear in truncated form at the Time Out Chicago site in the next day or two. In the meantime, here are the unexpurgated versions:

No Home Movie, the final film of the great Belgian director Chantal Akerman, is the most important film playing the festival. It’s a deceptively simple, extraordinarily powerful documentary about Akerman’s relationship with her elderly mother — a movie that slowly, almost imperceptibly, expands into an essay on Akerman’s quest to better understand her own Jewish roots and identity. It unfolds as a series of conversations between the two women — sometimes in their homes (with the camera strategically and unobtrusively framing them from outside of the rooms they’re in), other times via video chat — and punctuated by lengthy traveling shots of landscapes in both Israel and the U.S., contrasting the emotional closeness of mother and daughter with the physical distances that sometimes separate them. As with Alain Resnais’ Life of Riley (which premiered locally at the EU Film Fest last year), one can’t imagine a more fitting final film from this giant of cinema.

Chevalier, an absurdist comedy from Greece, is another highlight, and a quantum artistic leap forward for writer/director Athina Rachel Tsangari. The premise involves six men embarking on a fishing trip aboard a luxury yacht on the Aegean Sea, but these ostensible friends soon become bored and engage instead in a competition to determine who among them is the “best in general.” This contest involves the men rating each other on everything from the most impressive erection to the best at building IKEA bookshelves. It’s a hilarious satire of the male ego gone wild that also functions as a sly allegory for Greece’s recent financial woes: the way the ship’s barely glimpsed working-class crew can be seen imitating the shenanigans of their masters offers a pungent class critique worthy of comparison to Jean Renoir or Luis Bunuel.

I’m sorry to report I was not a fan of either film I was assigned to cover by the Reader: Love Island from Croatia and The Prosecutor, the Defender, the Father and His Son from Bulgaria. While the films couldn’t appear more different on the surface (one is a sex farce, the other a legal procedural about a war crimes trial), their similarities ultimately highlight a serious problem facing contemporary European cinema. Both are international co-productions featuring French movie stars (Ariane Labed and Rohmane Bohringer, respectively) and awkwardly delivered English-language dialogue. I can sympathize with anyone trying to raise money and make films in a marketplace oversaturated with Hollywood product but the need for European filmmakers to cobble together their budgets by applying for grants from various EU countries means that the logistics of how these films are financed ends up inadvertently becoming their very subjects. You can read my reviews of both films at the Reader’s website here.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Detour (Ulmer)
2. Contempt (Godard)
3. Malaria (Shahbazi)
4. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (Cone)
5. Out 1: Spectre (Rivette)
6. Scream (Craven)
7. The Nutty Professor (Lewis)
8. Stand Up and Cheer! (MacFadden)
9. Citizen Kane (Welles)
10. Inherent Vice (Anderson)


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