Advertisements

Category Archives: Chicago Movies

More on THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING

I reviewed Nick Alonzo’s The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing for Cine-File Chicago (this is a different review than the one I recently wrote for Time Out Chicago). It has its World Premiere at the Nightingale Cinema tonight at 7:30pm. I will be moderating the post-screening Q&A with members of the cast and crew. Hope to see some of you there!

4-May-2018__The-Art-of-Sitting-Quietly-Doing-Nothing__Nightingale

Nick Alonzo’s THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING (New American)

The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) – Friday, 7:30pm

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself.” So goes a 17th-century haiku by Basho that inspired the title of Nick Alonzo’s new comedy. This koan-like poem, which reminds readers of the importance of letting things happen (as opposed to making them happen), is fitting for our modern world where the notion of busy urban professionals consciously “unplugging” in order to undergo a “digital detox” has become a common occurrence. This also happens to be the story of Carl (Alex Serrato), the film’s poker-faced anti-hero who embarks on a solitary, Henry David Thoreau-style retreat into nature after a breakup with his longtime girlfriend Gloria (Alycya Magana). In contrast to Alonzo’s debut feature, SHITCAGO, which featured a deadpan protagonist encountering a strange menagerie of characters in the city, most of THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING is devoted to scenes of Carl alone in the woods in the suburbs—masturbating, exercising, writing in his diary, attempting to fish, etc.—scenarios out of which Alonzo gets a surprising amount of comic mileage. The incongruity of this city dweller alone in verdant nature is highlighted by the fact that he perpetually sports a t-shirt emblazoned with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover—the ultimate symbol of mass reproduction and popular culture—but Alonzo also posits Carl’s strange odyssey as a genuine, and genuinely poignant, desire for spiritual rebirth. At its best, the minimalist, black-and-white-shot SHITCAGO brought to mind early Jim Jarmusch and Chantal Akerman. THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING, a clear advance on its predecessor, might best be described as “stoner Apichatpong.” Alonzo and select cast and crew in person. (2018, 80 min, Digital Projection) MGS

Advertisements

Clare Cooney’s RUNNER at the Chicago Critics Film Festival

The following review of Clare Cooney’s Runner, which receives its Chicago Premiere at the Music Box this Sunday, was published at Time Out Chicago today. 

image

The Chicago Critics Film Festival returns to the Music Box Theater this Friday, May 4 and runs through Thursday, May 10, bringing a typically impressive and diverse slate of acclaimed new independent and foreign films, many of which are fresh off of their World Premieres at Sundance and South By Southwest and all of which are making their local premieres. A welcome new twist to this year’s edition is the inclusion of two short film programs, which are comprised of works by universally acknowledged masters of the form like animator Don Herzfeldt (World of Tomorrow Episode 2: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts) as well as first-time filmmakers like Chicago’s own Clare Cooney (Runner). The latter film, screening as part of the “CCFF Shorts Program #1” block, is an extremely auspicious directorial debut for Cooney, who is better known for her work as an actress. Although it clocks in at only 12 minutes, it is one of the must-see events of the festival, especially considering that the whip-smart Cooney will be present for a post-screening Q&A.

Runner tells the story of a young woman named Becca (Cooney) who witnesses a violent altercation between a couple while jogging through an alley near her Chicago apartment. Becca’s subsequent knowledge of what happened, and an unexpected re-encounter with one of the participants, causes her to face an ethical dilemma. As a director, Cooney knows how to get the most out of herself as an actress (she’s a performer of uncommon depth) but she also wisely eschews the melodramatic approach that even more seasoned filmmakers might have taken – cutting the sound entirely from the film’s most intense moment and thereby increasing its effectiveness via counterpoint. But what impresses most in this pungent drama is the way Cooney is able to seamlessly enfold her ideas into a naturalistic narrative framework. In the “Me Too” era, the powerful tracking shots of Becca literally running away from physical danger conjure the notion of a desire to transcend an entire culture of harassment and assault. It’s a haunting movie – and one that chimes with our times.

For more information about the screening of Runner, visit the Music Box’s website.


Nick Alonzo’s THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING

The following review of Nick Alonzo’s The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing, which receives its World Premiere at the Nightingale Cinema this Friday, appeared at Time Out yesterday. I will be moderating the post-screening Q&A with Nick after the screening.

image

I’ll never forget the moment I realized that Nick Alonzo was a special filmmaker. Five minutes into his first feature, the no-budget, minimalist comedy Shitcago, the movie’s unnamed protagonist takes out his trash, pausing long enough to examine a strange stain on the side of a garbage can outside of his apartment before shrugging and heading back inside. This non sequitur is typical of Alonzo’s art: a wordless, deadpan, even mundane sequence that somehow also becomes inexplicably funny. For the few who saw it, Shitcago seemed to announce the arrival of an original and quirky self-taught filmmaking talent whose style felt not just confident but, curiously (considering he was still a college student in his early 20s at the time), fully realized. Alonzo’s second feature, The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing, which has its World Premiere at the Nightingale Theater on Friday, May 5, is a more ambitious film, narratively and aesthetically, that confirms Alonzo’s status as a director to keep an eye on.

The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing begins with the unforgettable image of a man masturbating beneath a blanket in the woods. He stops long enough to swat a mosquito on his face then, while writing in his diary shortly afterwards, expresses a fear of having contracted the zika virus. This impulsive young man, Carl (newcomer Alex Serrato), is a Chicagoan who has chosen to live in the woods indefinitely after having been dumped by his girlfriend, Gloria (actress/filmmaker Alycya Maganas), a tragedy revealed through flashbacks. The bulk of the narrative consists of Carl, armed only with a backpack containing a few meager supplies (matches, magic mushrooms, a book titled How to Survive in the Woods), attempting to commune with a “natural” world he is hilariously ill-equipped to deal with. Bolstered by beautiful cinematography of forest preserves in the near-suburbs (the vibrant greenery of which provides a dramatic contrast to Shitcago’s black-and-white cityscapes), an evocative score by Daniel Fromberg, a delightful animated sequence by Dominique Bloink and a surreal scene involving a person in a gorilla suit, this is microbudget cinema at its most idiosyncratic, personal and rewarding.

For more information about the World Premiere of The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing visit the Nightingale’s website


RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO / Crowdfunding Panel at MIFF

2c-filmstrip-notag-hiresjpg
I’m pleased to announce that my new film, Rendezvous in Chicago, has reached its fundraising goal via Seed & Spark! Because of the generosity of 115 individuals, we will be able to begin principle photography on Wednesday, May 16 in Chicago. I anticipate we will have our World Premiere before the year is over. A big thank you to my producing partners Layne Marie Williams and David McNulty and all who contributed either financially, by following us on social media or by sharing links to our campaign. For more info on the project, check us out on the Internet Movie Database.

In related news, I will be appearing at a panel at the Midwest Independent Film Festival on Tuesday, May 1 at 6:00pm. The topic is Crowdfunding – Do you have to? What’s it good for? Do you have to? . . . you know, all things things people need to know before they decide Crowdfunding is the right approach for their project. The panel will be held at the Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema at 2828 N. Clark Street. It will be moderated by Seed & Spark’s Julie Keck and followed by the 2018 Comedy Short Film Showcase. More info at the MIFF site. Hope to see you there!


Mercury in Retrograde / Rendezvous in Chicago News

I’m pleased to announce that Mercury in Retrograde recently won the Directors’ Choice Award for Best Feature at the 2018 Tallahassee Film Festival. It was a huge honor to receive this award at a fest whose esteemed directors are Steve Dollar and Chris Faupel and whose programming is so excellent that I eagerly watched six feature films and three shorts in two days while in attendance.
tff
More Mercury screenings – in both indie theaters and at festivals – have been lined up between now and October and will be announced shortly. The only one that can be revealed at present is a screening at the historic Wilmette Theatre in Chicago’s north shore suburbs on the evening of Wednesday, June 20. That screening will be followed by a Q&A with yours truly, producer Kevin Wright and producer/actor Shane Simmons. Tickets for that screening are on sale now.

*

My next film, Rendezvous in Chicago, shoots in May. We are in the midst of raising the budget via the Seed & Spark crowdfunding website and are already more than 2/3 of the way towards achieving our goal! Check out the site here and note that we have some fantastic perks available. Please consider contributing whatever amount you can: a pledge of even $25 is enormously helpful!

 


Maggie Scrantom’s ATOMS OF ASHES

The following review appeared at Time Out Chicago today. I hope everyone sees this wonderful short.
Screen shot 2018-03-21 at 1.51.04 PM.png

Women of the Now, the female-centric video and event production company founded by local director Layne Marie Williams (An Atramentous Mind), celebrates its one year anniversary with a short-film showcase at the New 400 Theater this Sunday, April 25. There is plenty of exciting work included in the 3-hour lineup but writer/director Maggie Scrantom’s Atoms of Ashes deserves special mention.

Atoms of Ashes is a surprisingly confident, even masterfully made dramatic short, especially considering that Scrantom, an actress who has appeared on Chicago Med and Chicago P.D., has no directing credits yet listed on the Internet Movie Database. Written with Hilary Williams and June Thiele, Scran offers a poetic examination of one woman’s grief in the wake of having a miscarriage. Beginning with a shot of an ultrasound and continuing with scenes of a would-be mother (Siobhan Reddy-Best) imagining a future of quality time spent with a daughter who will never be born (Kara Grace Williams), this emotionally affecting, sci-fi-tinged mood piece combines powerful but wordless performances with an evocative score, quotes from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which appear onscreen as hand-written text, and startling visual effects involving the solar system, to conjure, not unlike Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life in miniature, a sense of the cosmic and the eternal. The result is an exhilarating journey through cycles of love, loss and rebirth that seems to encapsulate the entire universe in seven minutes.

More information about Women of the Now’s 2018 Anniversary Showcase can be found on the WOTN website.


The 28th Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival

PROGRAM6

Onion City is one of the world’s longest-running and most prestigious festivals dedicated exclusively to screening experimental film and video works. The Experimental Film Coalition founded the event in the 1980s and it was taken over by Chicago Filmmakers in 2001. This year’s edition, which runs from March 8–11, was programmed by Emily Eddy, a digital media artist from Portland who has been curating at the Nightingale Cinema since 2013. Taking into account the brief running times of many of the films and videos being exhibited at the fest—most of which are bundled together in loose, thematically related programs—there’s a surplus of exciting works for local cinephiles to check out. Chicagoans, however, should be especially interested in two wonderful shorts with local connections: Marianna Milhorat’s Sky Room and Kristin Reeves’ CPS Closings & Delays.

Sky Room is a collaboration between filmmaker Marianna Milhorat and sound artist Brian Kirkbride that was commissioned by the Chicago Film Archives. Consisting entirely of pre-existing footage that has been extensively reworked — Milhorat credits herself only with “Picture Edit” in the brief closing credits — and married to a soundtrack of retro-sci-fi sound effects and pounding electronic music, Milhorat and Kirkbride weave a beguiling tapestry that contrasts archival images of organic life (plants rapidly growing via time-lapse cinematography) with images of “futuristic” technology (a woman strapped to a hospital bed being fed juice through a straw by a robot arm). The results are at once humorous, disturbing, dreamlike and poetic.

CPS Closings & Delays takes as its subject the controversial decision by the Chicago Board of Education, under the auspices of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to close 50 public schools in 2013. Kristin Reeves shot all 50 schools with a 16mm camera a year later then distressed the footage of the buildings in post-production using laser animation and bleach. These degraded images, appearing onscreen for only a few seconds a piece, visually articulate the socio-economic tragedy, and are juxtaposed with audio interviews with members of the communities, one of whom wryly notes: “If anything, (Emanuel) should be opening up more schools because that’s what these kids need.” The film’s final minutes contain digitally shot footage of children playing in the same neighborhoods, including an exceedingly poignant moment where some of them help Reeves load filmmaking equipment into her car.

Sky Room screens as part of “Shorts Program 1: Growing” on Friday, March 9. CPS Closings & Delays screens as part of “Shorts Program 6: Listening” on Sunday, March 11. For more information, including the complete Onion City schedule, visit www.onioncity.org.

 


%d bloggers like this: