Monthly Archives: October 2019

Keep Odd Obsession Movies Alive

My latest article for Time Out is about the campaign to save Odd Obsession, one of Chicago’s last remaining video rental stores.


You can help save one of Chicago’s last surviving video rental stores

Since owner Brian Chankin founded Odd Obsession in 2004 (originally in Lincoln Park, now located in Bucktown), the beloved video rental store has amassed an impressive library of more than 25,000 titles on DVD, Blu-ray and even VHS. The store’s collection is organized by genre, country and director, and features a wide array of movies for all tastes, including classic Hollywood films, foreign movies and independently-released cult classics. From the beginning, Odd Obsession has distinguished itself by specializing in rare and off-the-beaten-path titles, including many that are not available on streaming services, making it an invaluable resource for local cinephiles. “This is a place where you can really embrace an all-inclusive sense of film history,” says Chicago Reader film critic Ben Sachs.

Chankin is now moving on to pursue other endeavors and is handing over the business to the store’s volunteer staff who hope to keep it afloat. The goal is to keep Odd Obsession’s collection available to Chicagoans with a new model of membership that will make the business sustainable well into the future. Long-time volunteer Josh Brown is leading this transition effort, which includes the Indiegogo fundraising campaign “Keep Odd Obsession Movies Alive!” For contributions of $120 to $400, customers can receive between three months and one year of free rentals (four at a time for a week’s duration with an “extreme late fee forgiveness” policy); but there are plenty of other more affordable perks too—including stickers for just $5 or a coffee mug emblazoned with the visage of Charles Bronson for $25. “This collaborative spirit driven forward can take shape in the form of community events and new extensions to the store’s mission,“ says Brown.

If you refuse to limit your movie-watching options to the titles provided by streaming services, you should take a look at Odd Obsession’s Indiegogo campaign and consider kicking in a few bucks to keep the local institution alive. With just five days left, the shop is only about a quarter of the way to its $25,000 goal—every dollar gets the volunteer staff one step closer to preserving an impressive collection of obscure flicks.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Devoured (Olliver)
2. Parasite (Bong)
3. The Lady from Shanghai (Welles)
4. The Whistlers (Porumboiu)
5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Sciamma)
6. Varda by Agnes (Varda)
7. Detour (Ulmer)
8. The Cotton Club (Coppola)
9. Out of the Past (Tourneur)
10. Viy (Ershov/Kropachyov)

Filmmaker Interview: Pedro Costa


HEGEL’S ANGEL at the Collected Voices Film Festival


Did you know there is no word for “you” in the Haitian language, only “we?” Simone Rapisarda Casanova’s masterful Hegel’s Angel, screening this Friday, October 13 at the Logan Center for the Arts as part of the Collected Voices Film Festival, is probably flying under the radar of most Chicago cinephiles but its Midwestern Premiere should be considered a must see for all local movie lovers. The theme of the fifth edition of this invaluable ethnographic film festival, the brainchild of filmmaker and programmer Ife Olatunji, is “Africa and her diaspora,” a concept embodied in Casanova’s experimental, richly lyrical portrait of the denizens of contemporary Haiti and their complex relationship to the outside world.

Hegel’s Angel provocatively combines fiction and non-fiction filmmaking techniques to capture the adventures of a boy named Widley as he traverses the Haitian countryside helping his father at work painting and hanging banners and visiting a local film editor in his leisure time. The editor is in the process of cutting a Haitian-shot film with an anti-“foreign charity” bent that was made by a foreign director who has since mysteriously vanished; and the meta-cinematic way that Casanova (an Italian filmmaker based in Canada) interweaves these two narrative lines adds up to a timely snapshot of a corner of the world that has traditionally been cinematically under-documented.

For more information about this screening of Hegel’s Angel, including ticket and venue info and showtime, please visit the Collected Voices Film Festival’s official website.

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. My Brilliant Career (Armstrong)
2. Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (Asher)
3. Hegel’s Angel (Casanova)
4. The Garden Left Behind (Alves)
5. The True Adventures of Wolfboy (Krejci)
6. Belzebuth (Portes)
7. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
8. Vertigo (Hitchock)
9. The Spiral Staircase (Siodmak)
10. Black Girl (Sembene)

Angela Schanelec’s I WAS AT HOME, BUT… at CIFF

It was an honor to review Angela Schanelec’s great new film I WAS AT HOME, BUT… for Cine-File Chicago. It screens as part of the Chicago International Film Festival twice in the next two weeks:


Angela Schanelec’s I WAS AT HOME, BUT… (Germany)
Thursday 10/17, 8:15pm and Sunday 11/20, 4pm

The international distribution of Christian Petzold’s films in the 21st century, resulting in his critical coronation as contemporary German cinema’s preeminent auteur, has been a welcome development in the world of cinephilia. It is regrettable, however, that the films of Thomas Arslan and Angela Schanelec, Petzold’s formidable colleagues in the movement known as the “Berlin School” (the first generation of graduates from the German Film and Television Academy to make their mark after the reunification of Germany), remain largely unknown outside of their native country. As critic Girish Shambu points out in a recent video essay, the Berlin School has been called a “counter cinema” for the way these filmmakers have reacted against the aesthetically and narratively unadventurous mainstream German movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s and have taken inspiration from the glory days of Fassbinder and the New German Cinema of the ’70s instead. Schanelec is generally regarded as the most challenging of the Berlin School directors: her would-be 1998 breakthrough PLACES IN CITIES was panned as a “joyless snoozer” by Derek Elley in Variety who claimed Schanelec’s movies “throw out no emotional lifelines for the viewer.” I would argue, however, that, while devoid of obvious emotional signifiers and easy character identification techniques, Schanelec’s work, like that of her hero Robert Bresson, can be emotionally overwhelming if one is watching and listening correctly. I WAS AT HOME, BUT…, Schanelec’s latest, is an ideal introduction to her unique brand of cinema: a fragmentary, elliptical and non-linear tale of a young teen boy’s return to the home where he lives with his single mother and younger sister after having run away a week previously. Upon returning, the boy, Phillip, resumes rehearsing a grade school production of HAMLET in which he plays the title role, while also attempting to navigate life in a still grief-stricken home two years after the death of his father; one scene, where Philip and his sister Flo continually attempt to console their mother Astrid, who rebuffs them while cleaning a kitchen sink, is ingeniously staged by framing the characters from behind in a static long take that goes on for so long it eventually evokes a feeling of cosmic wonder. Astrid (the superb Maren Eggert), meanwhile, has a few misadventures of her own: one amusing subplot details her failed attempt to buy a bicycle from a man with a tracheotomy, and another sequence, gut-bustingly funny, sees her haranguing a Serbian filmmaker (Dane Komljen, playing himself) in the street after having walked out of his movie. Finally, a parallel story involving one of Phillip’s teachers (TRANSIT’s Franz Rogowski) debating whether to have a child with his own girlfriend may seem random initially but ends up poignantly underscoring Schanelec’s aim of painting a complex portrait of the joys and sorrows of parenthood. While her title may reference Ozu’s coming-of-age classic I WAS BORN, BUT… and a prologue and epilogue featuring a donkey obviously nod to Bresson’s AU HASARD BALTHAZAR, Schanelec ultimately generates a sense of transcendence through an employment of image and sound that is entirely her own. This is nowhere better exemplified than in a remarkable, time-hopping sequence, scored to M. Ward’s muted cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” that begins in a cemetery at night before flashing back to years earlier in a hospital room then flashing-forward again to the present in a museum. A masterpiece. (2019, 105 min) MGS

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. The Stuff (Cohen)
2. The Hunger (Scott)
3. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks)
4. Rear Window (Hitchcock)
5. Senso (Visconti)
6. And Life Goes On (Kiarostami)
7. Citizen Kane (Welles)
8. The Devil’s Doorway (Clarke)
9. Citizen Kane (Welles)
10. I Was at Home, But… (Schanelec)

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