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Monthly Archives: September 2018

Emily Lape’s MERCY’S GIRL and Dustin Puehler’s IN A MOMENT

My reviews of Emily Lape’s Mercy’s Girl and Dustin Puehler’s In a Moment, both of which screen at the Middle Coast Film Festival this weekend, appeared at Time Out Chicago today. I’m reprinting them below.

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The most high profile event of the Middle Coast Film Festival, which kicks off at the Davis Theatre this Friday, September 21, will be an opening night anniversary screening of The Birdcage co-hosted by local drag queens Lucy Stoole and Kat Sass. While that should start the fest on an irreverently fun note (and if you haven’t yet seen the film, it’s worth checking out for Elaine May’s witty script and Gene Hackman’s layered performance), some of the other highlights are lesser-known new works by local independent filmmakers. In addition to a well-curated locally made shorts block, which presents another chance for Chicagoans to catch amazing short films like Maggie Scrantom’s Atoms of Ashes and Clare Cooney’s Runner, Middle Coast will also screen impressive micro-budget features like Mercy’s Girl and In a Moment.

Mercy’s Girl, an auspicious debut feature from veteran actress, but first-time writer and director, Emily Lape, centers on a young woman living on the North Side of Chicago whose alcoholism and closeted sexuality can both be traced to a fraught relationship with her religious, blue-collar parents. Mercy (Lape in a wonderfully understated performance) finds her world turned upside down when she engages in her first serious relationship with another woman: free-spirited college student Jesse (Alison Hixon). This ultra-realistic drama may toil in the same “flesh vs. spirit” thematic vineyard as Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone (Princess Cyd) but Lape also has her own unique cinematic voice, one so attuned to the textures of everyday life in the Windy City that the accumulation of the smallest details in the production design and the subtlest gestures of performance eventually add up to a quietly devastating portrait of an ordinary life. Think of a female version of Mike Leigh (Naked) at his toughest and you’ll have some idea of what Lape is up to here.

In A Moment occupies Middle Coast’s sole late night slot and is a good example of how even the grungiest genre fare can be elevated by a creative approach. Writer and director Dustin Puehler juxtaposes two separate Michigan-set narratives—one involving a rural gay man’s search for love on the internet, the other a group of roving, drug-addled criminals on a home-invasion spree—then inexorably brings them together for a bloody B-movie climax. Working with limited resources and money clearly didn’t hold Puehler back from putting a lot of care into the stylized color cinematography, jagged editing rhythms and an almost Lynchian attention to sound design (where heightened sound effects are occasionally indistinguishable from Campfire’s atmospheric original score), creating an intense cinematic experience. This is the kind of gem that too often gets passed over by film festivals, so Middle Coast should be commended for programming it. Seeing it with a buzzed, late-night crowd should be fun.

For more information including ticket info and showtimes visit Middle Coast’s website

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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Brief Encounter (Lean)
2. The More the Merrier (Stevens)
3. Prince of Darkness (Carpenter)
4. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
5. Good Manners (Dutra/Rojas)
6. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
7. Rendezvous in Chicago (Smith)
8. Casablanca (Curtiz)
9. Nosferatu (Murnau)
10. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene)


RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO to World Premiere at the Adirondack Film Fest

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My third feature film, Rendezvous in Chicago, will have its World Premiere at the Adirondack Film Festival in Glens Falls, NY on Friday, October 19. It’s an honor to premiere at such an esteemed festival alongside so many exciting other titles (such as Serge Bozon’s Mrs. Hyde). I will be in attendance along with my producer Layne Marie Williams, production manager Armani Barron and executive producer/actor David McNulty. The exact showtime and venue are TBA but day passes are on sale now through the festival’s website.

The second festival screening will occur at the Strasburg Film Festival in Strasburg, Virginia on Sunday, November 11 at 10:30am. I will be present for a Q&A after the screening along with executive producer/actor David McNulty. The screening will take place at the Strasburg Town Hall – where laws are made! Tickets are on sale now through the festival’s website.

More screenings will be announced soon.


Interview with Middle Coast Film Festival Director Jess Levandoski

My interview with Jess Levandoski appeared at Time Out Chicago yesterday. I’m reproducing it here in its entirety.
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After four successful years in Bloomington, Indiana, the fifth annual Middle Coast Film Festival will move to Lincoln Square’s Davis Theatre later this month. The event promises local movie fans “loads of films, awesome parties and endless possibilities” between Friday, September 21 and Sunday, September 23. We recently spoke to festival director Jess Levandoski about what attendees can expect.

What exactly is the Middle Coast Film Fest? How would you describe its identity and mission?

Middle Coast’s goal is to provide an inclusive, uplifting, and affirming community to filmmakers and audience members alike. In other words, we like to say we’ve created a jerk-free zone. We want this festival to be the event in Chicago where filmmakers can let their hair down and just show us films that elicit emotions. This isn’t a fest where you’ll get a distribution deal, it’s a fest where you’ll get to have real talk about your projects and where audiences feel empowered to really connect with you. We want to build a huge family! Send us all your misfits and loners, you’ve got a spot right here next to the rest of us.

You’ve had four successful years in Bloomington already. What necessitated the move to Chicago and did you find it daunting to put on a film festival in a city that already has so many?

As the founder and director of the festival, I moved, so it had to move with me! We built a great fest in Bloomington, and it really is a special town, but we hit a limit with what we could do there (and plus all the staff members moved away) so I’m so thrilled to have the new home base in Chicago! And as far as the saturation level of fests here in Chicago, that just means there are that many cool people in the area, you know? Plenty of room at the table, and if there’s not, I know we can just add more seats.

You’ve said that you want to “take over Lincoln Square” for the weekend of the festival. What do you see as the relationship between the festival and the neighborhood?

When I was looking into venues, I searched high and low for the perfect neighborhood to place it in. I needed to find a venue that didn’t already have a film fest every other weekend, I needed a spot that had a strong arts community and folks who enjoy doing stuff. The area of Lincoln Square, Ravenswood and North Center was perfect for it—you can find single family homes and apartment dwellers, young professionals and families, loads of diversity. It’s not all completely gentrified yet and there’s room for growth. So finding the newly renovated Davis Theater with the gorgeous full service bar and restaurant, the Carbon Arc, attached to it was a real eureka moment for me. It felt like a home for the fest when I walked in. It’s run by an awesome group of dudes who want to see a film fest be anchored there, so their support has been a key to our success so far. We’ve partnered with both Wintrust Bank and the Dank Haus Cultural Center to expand the footprint of the festival, so our closing night party will be on the rooftop terrace that overlooks the city and it will just be this perfect ending to our first year in the neighborhood. I just have a great feeling about it!

Tell me about the lineup. I know you can’t pick favorites but what are some of the highlights that you might recommend to a first-time Middle Coast attendee?

We open Friday September 21, at 2pm with our first block of shorts called “PEOPLE ARE AWESOME.” The first 100 badge holders through the door get a free swag bag. That’s pretty cute, huh? Free stuff! We will also have live music on the sidewalk, mountains of Lacroix water and fun vendor booths, including an advice booth from our sponsor Hello Tushy, where you can get honest advice from a real asshole (Hello Tushy is a bidet company. See what we did there?). Friday night also hosts our anniversary screening of The Birdcage, presented in partnership with Wussy Mag. We’ll have costume lewks contest hosted by Chicago’s own Lucy Stoole and Kat Sass. Saturday we open the doors of the Davis to run programming in all three theaters, including a big surprise film. Our lounge in the Carbon Arc will be open all day, as well as our vendors and podcasting areas.

Our big headliner Saturday night is a Chicago premiere, The New Romantic, written and directed by Carly Stone and starring Jessica Barden (Netflix’s It’s the End of the F*cking World!). I’ve been describing it as “If Hunter S. Thompson wrote Pretty Woman.”

You’ve also scheduled some panel discussions. Who’s going to be on them and what will the discussion topics be?

Friday we have a panel called “Script to Screen & Everything In Between!,” which is just our cute way of saying our panelists are going to spill the tea about productions they’ve worked on where shit has gone way wrong, but with style and grace and lots of Google docs and begging for help they made it work. It’s gonna be spicy.

Saturday we have a panel called “Coastal Connections,” which is a discussion with the LA Women’s Film Collective and Chicago’s Women of the Now. Our panelists will discuss the challenges they face and the action steps for femme identifying filmmakers to think about and walk away with. We need more representation in the film world and they’re going to ignite the audience to walk away with ways to achieve that goal.

For more information visit the Middle Coast Film Festival’s website.


Alfred Hitchcock’s THE LODGER at the Northbrook Public Library

I wrote a new capsule review of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger (the master’s first great film!) for Cine-File Chicago. A restored version screens at the Northbrook Public Library next Wednesday.

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Alfred Hitchcock’s THE LODGER: A STORY OF THE LONDON FOG (Silent British Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)

One of the most important and revelatory film restoration projects of recent years has been the British Film Institute’s ambitious digital refurbishing of the “Hitchcock 9” (the nine extant films that Alfred Hitchcock made in England during the silent era), re-releases of which first toured the U.S. in 2014. The crown jewel of this series is 1927’s THE LODGER, which, in spite of being the master of suspense’s first thriller and thus arguably the first true “Hitchcock film,” still hasn’t gotten its due in many quarters for being the great movie that it is. It probably hasn’t helped matters much that Hitch himself practically dismissed it in the seminal interview book Hitchcock/Truffaut by discussing it primarily in terms of pulling off the neat technical trick of shooting through a glass floor. But THE LODGER is much more interesting than that. The narrative intertwines two of what would soon become the director’s trademark plots: the story of a murderer and a “wrong man” plot (in which an ordinary man is accused of a crime he didn’t commit). THE LODGER is also, unforgettably, a love story. Daisy (June Tripp), the daughter of a married couple who run a boarding house, falls in love with the eponymous but unnamed title character (matinee idol Ivor Novello), who is also the chief suspect in a series of grisly stranglings of young blonde women. The way Hitchcock laces these elements with a potent eroticism as well as a sense of humor is impressive, notably in a scene where the lodger and Daisy play chess (the context of which gives his line “I’ll get you yet” a delicious triple meaning). When the lodger picks up a blow-poke just as Daisy bends over to pick up a chess piece that’s fallen to the floor, the viewer is left to wonder if he intends to bash her brains in. That he ends up merely stoking the fireplace nearby is both the film’s darkest and funniest joke—one that calls to mind Truffaut’s remark that Hitchcock filmed love scenes like murder scenes and vice-versa. THE LODGER was also a clear influence on Fritz Lang’s M, both in its depiction of how murder can drive a community into a lynch mob-like hysteria and in terms of its visual style: Hitch used triangle shapes as a recurring visual motif in much the same way that his German counterpart would employ spirals. Even more significantly, I never realized the extent of how expressionistically lit THE LODGER was until I viewed the BFI’s restoration, which gloriously reveals many previously unseen details in the sublime, high-contrast cinematography. Live accompaniment by Dave Drazin at both shows. (1927, 92 min, Digital Projection) MGS


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
2. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene)
3. Hesburgh (Creadon)
4. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Mizoguchi)
5. Custody (Legrand)
6. Three Identical Strangers (Wardle)
7. City Lights (Chaplin)
8. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton)
9. The General (Keaton)
10. John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (Faraut)


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