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Monthly Archives: November 2018

Jean Vigo’s ZERO FOR CONDUCT at the Siskel Center

I wrote about Jean Vigo’s masterpiece Zero for Conduct for Cine-file Chicago. It opens in a new 4K restoration at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago today.

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Jean Vigo’s ZERO FOR CONDUCT (French Revival)

Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 4pm, Saturday, 5:45pm, and Wednesday, 7:45pm

ZERO FOR CONDUCT (1933), Jean Vigo’s penultimate movie, is a 49-minute featurette that packs a greater punch than most films twice its length. A remarkable tribute to the anarchic spirit of youth, it is perhaps best known today for the major influence it would go on to exert on both the French and British New Waves several decades later (François Truffaut’s THE 400 BLOWS would be unthinkable without it and Lindsay Anderson’s IF… is an unofficial remake), but make no mistake: there’s no substitute for the original. Vigo’s poetic rendering of the rebellion of four pre-adolescent boarding school students is so incendiary as an anti-authoritarian statement that it was banned in France until the end of World War II. There are unforgettable, occasionally surreal images—from the school’s principal, a dwarf, who keeps his prized bowler hat under a glass dome to the slow-motion shots in the celebrated pillow-fight sequence—but, as in Vigo’s more well-known L’ATALANTE made one year later, ZERO FOR CONDUCT’s aesthetic daring never overshadows the emotional sensitivity the director shows his protagonists. This is fitting given that, according to biographer Paolo Emilio Salles Gomes, the film was based on Vigo’s own childhood memories. Preceding ZERO FOR CONDUCT are Vigo’s shorts A PROPOS DE NICE (1930) and TARIS (1931). The former is a “city symphony”-style travelogue of the title location marked by astonishing stylistic flourishes (the low-angled shots of bare-legged women dancing on a balcony are particularly memorable for their eroticism) while the latter is a short experimental documentary about a champion swimmer that allowed Vigo to try out the underwater cinematography he would take to dizzying heights in L’ATALANTE. (1930-33, 83 min total, DCP Digital) MGS

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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Rendezvous in Chicago (Smith)
2. The Boys from Fengkuei (Hou)
3. Future Language: The Dimensions of Von LMO (Felker)
4. Madeline’s Madeline (Decker)
5. The Green, Green Grass of Home (Hou)
6. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Coen/Coen)
7. Cute Girl (Hou)
8. Good Time (Safdie/Safdie)
9. Lagaan (Gowariker)
10. Shoot the Piano Player (Truffaut)


RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO in Cinefile Chicago

Rendezvous in Chicago screens at the Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival in Des Plaines (the Illinois Premiere!) this Thursday, November 29 at 2pm. Critic Scott Pfeiffer has reviewed the film for Cine-File Chicago. I found his spoiler-free review so insightful that I’m reprinting it below in its entirety. Check it out then come to the screening on Thursday:

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Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival

Oakton Community College (1600 E. Golf Rd., Des Plaines) — Tuesday-Friday, November 27-30 (Free Admission)

Michael Glover Smith’s RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO (New American)
Thursday, 2pm
At a time when our leaders prey on, and feed off, the worst parts of ourselves, it couldn’t be a more necessary time for an homage to Éric Rohmer. That’s just what my friend, Cine-File‘s own Mike Smith, has given us with his third feature, the sweet, delightful, humanistic rom-com RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO. It celebrates love and intelligence—that is to say, the best in us. Smith has taken the basic form of Rohmer’s RENDEZVOUS IN PARIS—three sketches united by their setting in one of the world’s great cities—and added his own original agenda, which encompasses feminism and a pro-gay vision. He’s even shot the movie in Rohmer’s favored boxy Academy aspect ratio. Smith’s script, based on stories he dreamed up with Jill McKeown (his wife and also a friend), shows his knack for the simple yet elegant structure: the three chapters correspond to the beginning, middle, and end of love, respectively, with the end cycling back into the beginning. Coming out of acting retirement after 37 years, Haydée Politoff, from Rohmer’s touchstone LA COLLECTIONNEUSE (1967), performs a place-setting Hyde Park prologue. She’s the faculty adviser to U of C doctoral candidate Delaney, wittily played by Clare Cooney. The first vignette, The Brothers Karamazov, takes place in a little candlelit wine bar. If I say it’s a bit of a Kubrickian/Lynchian antechamber, that belies how cozy it actually is. It’s a lonely Sunday night and whip-smart Delaney is working on her thesis. Suddenly, she finds herself being hit on, not entirely unwelcomed, by the only other patron: none other than Paul, the likably pretentious aspiring writer from COOL APOCALYPSE, Smith’s debut. (Amusingly, when we get a glimpse of what Paul’s writing, it’s the end of MERCURY IN RETROGRADE, Smith’s second feature.) Once again, Paul is played by the funny Kevin Wehby, who’s emerging as Smith’s Jean-Pierre Léaud, or Kyle MacLachlan. Delaney proposes a naughty little game, which quickly hoists Paul with his own male petard. The second sketch, Cats and Dogs, is my favorite. Achieving an effortless Linklater-ian tone, it follows a gay couple, Andy and Rob, as they walk from their Rogers Park home to the shores of Lake Michigan. Smith sets the scene with glimpses of the Essanay and Selig Polyscope buildings, nods to Chicago’s rich film history, a subject on which he literally wrote the book. We know, but Andy doesn’t, that Rob has a question to pop, but look out—as they meet the neighborhood’s dogs, it emerges that Andy’s more of a cat person, whereas Rob’s a dog guy! As Andy and Rob, respectively, Rashaad Hall and Matthew Sherbach are so natural, charming, and funny that I not only wanted them to be a real couple, I wanted to be their friend. They run into Tess from COOL APOCALYPSE (Chelsea David), who’s out walking Sophie the Shih Tzu, playing herself in a flawless method performance. When the gents get to the beach, there’s a moving homage to the immortal “Lake Shore Drive” by the late Skip Haynes, to whom the film is dedicated. The third sketch, The End Is the Beginning, is the most minimalist. It features Nina Ganet, back as Julie from COOL APOCALYPSE. After a sudden, tumultuous rom-com breakup with Wyatt from MERCURY IN RETROGRADE (Shane Simmons), Julie finds herself alone again, but for us. Warming to us, she begins to fall in love with the camera itself: that is to say, with you and me. Since she’s played by the sunny, freckle-faced Ganet, how can we resist falling in love back, at least a little? It’s a remarkably benign, even celebratory, view of “the gaze.”  As Julie takes us in her arms to dance, we spin round and round, dizzy on the cusp of new love. As an Ohio boy who’s lived in Chicago for 25 years now, I love the idea of doing for my adopted city what Rohmer did for Paris. My personal feeling is that the magic is always there in Chicago: you just need to know how to look. Perhaps the most valuable thing RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO did for me is to renew that feeling, after all these years. It’s a vision to treasure: heaven might just be a beach on the shores of Lake Michigan, lolling away the afternoon with someone you love, in Chicago, Illinois. Smith, producer Layne Marie Williams, and select cast in person (moderated by Cine-File Associate Editor Kathleen Sachs). (2018, 69 min, Digital Projection) SP


Two New RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO Radio Interviews!

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Clare Cooney and I recently appeared on two Chicago-area radio shows to promote the upcoming RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO screening at the Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival. There is very little overlap between these and the No Coast Cinema interview we did last month so all are worth listening to!

On Tuesday, November 13, we appeared on the Nick Digilio Show on WGN radio. You can listen to that 30-minute segment here.

Yesterday, Sunday, November 18, we appeared on WCGO’s Playtime with Bill Turck and Kerri Kendall. You can watch the 10-minute interview on Facebook Live by skipping to the one-hour-and-fifty-minute mark here.

More interviews and reviews should drop soon – so stay tuned!


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Breathless (Godard)
2. The Princess Bride (Reiner)
3. Days of Heaven (Malick)
4. Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky)
5. The Long Goodbye (Altman)
6. An American in Paris (Minnelli)
7. Rendezvous in Chicago (Smith)
8. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (Randel)
9. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
10. Burning (Lee)


RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO at the Strasburg Film Festival

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RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO had its second festival screening at the Strasburg Film Festival in Strasburg, Virginia on Sunday, November 11. The screening was held at the Box Office Brewery, a beautiful old movie theater that has been converted into a craft brewery. Representing the film were yours truly and stories co-author Jillian McKeown. Much to our delight we won the award for Best Comedy and were presented with a beautiful earthenware trophy during the Q&A following the screening. This was a big honor considering the festival received over 5,500 submissions from 100+ countries and we were very impressed by the quality of the other films being screened. Check out the full list of winners on the festival’s website here. Big thanks to the Strasburg Film Festival staff and everyone who came out to the screening, and congrats to the entire RENDEZVOUS cast and crew!
Our next screening will be the Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival in Des Plaines, IL on 11/29. Stay tuned for more info including 2019 screening dates!


HAPPY HOUR at Asian Pop-Up Cinema

I reviewed one of my favorite films of recent years, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s HAPPY HOUR, for Cine-File Chicago. It screens at the Ambassador Hotel for FREE this Sunday as part of the invaluable Asian Pop-Up Cinema series:
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Ryusuke Hamaguhi’s HAPPY HOUR (Japanese Revival)

Asian Pop-Up Cinema at the Ambassador Hotel — Screening Room (1301 N. State Parkway) – Sunday at 1pm (Free Admission*)

One of the most important cinematic discoveries of recent years for me was seeing Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s 5-hour-and-17-minute Japanese masterpiece for the first time. It tells the story of four 37-year-old female friends living in Kobe who are given occasion to re-evaluate their personal and professional lives after they spend the night together at a spa/hot-spring resort in a town nearby (think GIRLS TRIP as directed by Yasujiro Ozu). This quiet, absorbing dramedy is written, directed and acted to perfection and its moment-to-moment narrative unpredictability belies a rigorous structural ingenuity, which only becomes obvious in hindsight: a lengthy scene depicting a workshop attended by the four protagonists about “unconventional communication” takes up much of the film’s first third. This sequence, reminiscent of the rehearsal scenes in Jacques Rivette’s OUT 1, not only foreshadows much of the drama that is to follow but also is elegantly mirrored by another lengthy scene involving an author talk/question-and-answer session in the film’s final third. The quartet of lead actresses (Rira Kawamura, Hazuki Kikuchi, Maiko Mihara and Sachie Tanaka) deservedly shared the Best Actress award at Locarno, and in spite of the lengthy run time, I feel like I could have watched these women’s lives unfold onscreen indefinitely. (2015, 317 min, Digital Projection) MGS


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