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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Bedlam (Robson)
2. World on a Wire (Fassbinder)
3. The Devil Rides Out (Fisher)
4. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
5. The Body Snatcher (Wise)
6. Blaze (Hawke)
7. About a Donkey (Raia)
8. Rendezvous in Chicago (Smith)
9. Mrs. Hyde (Bozon)
10. Rendezvous in Chicago (Smith)

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RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO Press Round-Up / Newcity’s Film 50

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(left to right: Rendezvous in Chicago Associate Producer Jill Sandmire, Production Manager Armani Barron, me, and Producer Layne Marie Williams)

My new film Rendezvous in Chicago had its World Premiere this past weekend at the fabulous Adirondack Film Festival in Glens Falls, NY where we had two screenings in front of large and appreciative audiences (the first show was sold out!) and were fortunate to take the 2nd place Audience Choice Award for Best Feature. It was great to have some of the “Women of the Now” on hand to celebrate the occasion. The first reviews have also started to appear in print and online. All are positive and all have good insights into the film. Here’s a round-up:

  • “Mr. Price,” a Virginia-based critic writing at the Strasburg Film website, concludes his review by noting, “Superb writing, backed up by standout performances against the gorgeous visual backdrop of the titular city, make this film an experience unlike any other.” You can read his full review here.
  • Pamela Powell, writing at her Reel Honest Reviews site, calls it “Refreshingly fun” and notes “the strength of the women in the first and third stories.” Her full review is here.
  • Leo Brady, at his A Movie Guy site, appears taken aback by the lighthearted tone (after my previous film Mercury in Retrograde) but still writes that “Rendezvous in Chicago is the perfect escape.” Check the full review here.
  • In a print article that appeared in the Glens Falls Post Star, film writer Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli recommended our Saturday screening as one of the day’s “offbeat” highlights and praised Rendezvous‘ “beautiful” cinematography. She also has a few quotes from me and producer Layne Marie Williams in her story, which you can peep online here.

Finally, I recently made Newcity Chicago‘s annual “Film 50” list for the first time. A lot of talented friends and colleagues have been on this list over the past seven years and it’s a huge honor for me to be in their company. You can read Ray Pride’s write up of me in the October edition of this great alternative monthly – physical copies of which are currently all around Chicago, or you can check out the expanded write-up online here. Thanks so much to Ray for the words and photographer Sally Blood for the photos (one of which I’m posting below):

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SHOCK CORRIDOR at Filmfront / THE FIREMEN’S BALL at Doc Films

I reviewed Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor and Milos Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball for Cine-File Chicago. They screen at Filmfront and Doc Films, respectively, this weekend. 
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Sam Fuller’s SHOCK CORRIDOR (American Revival)
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St) – Saturday at 7pm
SHOCK CORRIDOR is a tale of two movies: a murder mystery set in a mental hospital and an exploitation of this location as an extended metaphor for all that is wrong with America circa 1963. In Fuller’s characteristic “yellow journalism” style, he tells the story of John Barrett (Peter Breck), a reporter who feigns insanity in order to be committed to an asylum where a patient was recently murdered. Once inside, he hopes to interrogate the three key witnesses to the murder, mental patients who have not been forthcoming with police. Barrett believes that solving this mystery will lead to a big story and, potentially, a Pulitzer Prize. As Barrett first befriends then interviews the witnesses, Fuller exposes the social ills that drove each of the men insane: anti-communist hysteria, racism and the threat of nuclear annihilation. The closer Barrett gets to the truth, however, the more he risks losing his own sanity. He may eventually get the story he’s after but, after being attacked by “nymphos” in the women’s ward, subjected to electroshock therapy and more, Fuller asks “what price glory?” with a palpable and bitter irony. SHOCK CORRIDOR is full of wild, hallucinatory images befitting its central location including a startling interpolation of 16mm color footage (shot by Fuller himself in Japan and South America) in an otherwise black-and-white film, footage that is used to signify the mental turmoil preceding moments of clarity for some of the patients. But the most memorable image comes in a climactic scene where Barrett imagines a thunderstorm inside the main corridor of the hospital, a scene for which Fuller flooded, and literally ruined, his large hospital set. (By necessity, he shot this sequence last.) The film’s soundtrack also impresses with its intimations of aural hallucination: Fuller abruptly shuts music cues on and off and presents reverb-heavy internalized voice-over to put viewers in the headspace of his mentally disturbed characters. In 1963, SHOCK CORRIDOR may have seemed like nothing more than a ludicrous b-movie but, more than half a century later, unencumbered by the standards of “realism” to which American movies are always held by contemporary viewers, Fuller’s nightmarish vision of America-as-mental hospital looks like the audacious work of art that it is: pulpy and crude but also strangely beautiful and as visceral as a punch in the stomach.(1963, 101 min, Digital Projection) MGS

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Milos Forman’s THE FIREMEN’S BALL (Czech Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Friday at 9:30pm
Milos Forman (LOVES OF A BLONDE) was the most important director of the Czech New Wave and THE FIREMEN’S BALL, his last Czech film before departing for a successful career in America, just might be his masterpiece. It’s an amazingly subversive black comedy about a fire brigade in a small Czech town holding their annual ball, during which time the members plan on staging their first ever “beauty contest” (whose contestants turn out to be unwilling female ball attendees) and honoring the 86th birthday of their former chairman. Perhaps the definitive Prague Spring movie, THE FIREMEN’S BALL clearly views the fire brigade at its center as a microcosm of Czechoslovakia’s then-Communist government: an inefficient bureaucracy presided over by incompetent old men whose approach to organizing the ball is to essentially make up everything as they go along. It’s unsurprising then that the film was banned “permanently and forever” by the Czech authorities shortly after its premiere. Seen today, THE FIREMEN’S BALL is still uproariously funny as satire, a vital film that should come as a revelation to those who only know its director as a man who wound down his career making generic biopics in Hollywood.
(1967, 73min, 35mm) MGS


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Anguish (Luna)
2. Happy as Lazzaro (Rohrwacher)
3. Devil in a Blue Dress (Franklin)
4. Body Melt (Brophy)
5. Night of the Demon (Tourneur)
6. The Blood on Satan’s Claw (Haggard)
7. The Lady from Shanghai (Welles)
8. Suspiria (Argento)
9. Humanoids from the Deep (Peeters)
10. Ash is Purest White (Jia)


Olivier Assayas’ NON-FICTION at CIFF

I reviewed Olivier Assayas’ Non-Fiction for Cine-File Chicago. It screens for the second and final time at the Chicago International Film Festival today. I’m reproducing my capsule review in its entirety below.

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Olivier Assayas’ NON-FICTION (France)
Saturday 10/13, 3:30pm
Olivier Assayas’ witty, deceptively simple NON-FICTION begins with a comically tense scene in which Alain, (Guillaume Canet), a suave book publisher, and Leonard (Vincent Macaigne), a Luddite author whose controversial novels are thinly disguised autobiography, argue about the virtues of Twitter. The seemingly meandering narrative that follows belies a clever structure that resolves itself 90-odd minutes later with Shakespearean symmetry when both men vacation together with their wives: Alain’s partner, Selena (Juliette Binoche), is a television actress ambivalent about her recent success on a cop show, and Valerie (Nora Hamzawi), Leonard’s wife, is a high-profile attorney and the breadwinner in their relationship. This quartet represents a spectrum of diverse attitudes towards globalization and humanity’s slavish dependence on technology in an increasingly digital world yet it is to Assayas’ credit as a writer that they also always come across as fully fleshed-out characters, never mere mouthpieces for differing points-of-view. It’s the talkiest film Assayas has yet made though the dense dialogue scenes are cleverly edited in a brisk, Fincher-esque manner, and he often generates humor through the surprising way he ends scenes abruptly. It’s a substantial new chapter in an important body of work, one that illustrates the director’s philosophy that the role of the artist is to invent new tools to comment on a modern world that’s always changing. (2018, 106 min) MGS


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Me and Orson Welles (Linklater)
2. Black Girl (Sembene)
3. Hocus Pocus (Ortega)
4. The Lady from Shanghai (Welles)
5. Non-Fiction (Assayas)
6. The Wicker Man (Hardy)
7. Tales from the Hood 2 (Cundieff/Scott)
8. Tales from the Hood (Cundieff)
9. Citizen Kane (Welles)
10. Alice Sweet Alice (Sole)


The 5th Annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival!

I am excited to announce that, after the success of the last four Oakton Pop-Up Film Festivals, I have programmed and will be hosting P.U.F.F. for the fifth consecutive year. The screenings of these acclaimed independent American films (three features and three shorts), spanning various genres and styles, will all take place at Oakton Community College’s Footlik Theater in Des Plaines, Illinois, from Tuesday, November 27 through Friday, November 30. The entire festival is FREE and open to the public and ALL screenings will be followed by live Q&A sessions with cast and crew members from the films. Any of my students who attend a screening will receive extra credit points towards his or her final grade (see the extra credit page of your course website for more information). Don’t you dare miss it!

Oakton Community College’s 4th Annual Pop-Up Film Festival!
Footlik Theatre, 1600 E. Golf Road, Des Plaines
Tuesday, Nov. 27 – Friday, Nov. 30 – FREE admission

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Tuesday, 11/27 at 2pm: Madeline’s Madeline + post-screening discussion with Tina Fakhrid-Deen and Michael Glover Smith
Madeline got the lead role in the play! Strangely, the character wears sweatpants like Madeline. And has a cat like Madeline’s. And is holding a steaming hot iron next to her mother’s face… like Madeline is. An official selection of the Sundance and Berlin International Film Festivals, Josephine Decker’s intense psychodrama is an indescribable masterpiece that has been acclaimed as “one of the freshest and most exciting films of the 21st century” by Indiewire.

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Wednesday, 11/28 at 12:30pm: Future Language: The Dimensions of Von LMO + live Q&A w/ director Lori Felker moderated by Shannon Sloan-Spice
This experimental documentary chronicles the life of Von LMO, a musician and self-proclaimed alien-hybrid who was part of the late 70s New York No Wave music scene. Between trips to his home planet Strazar, Von has spent some very real time in prison and on the streets of Earth. Challenged with translating his Future Language for audiences across the galaxy, Lori, our filmmaker and Von LMO fan, gets sucked into Von’s orbit and finds herself lost in his story. An official selection of the Chicago Underground Film Festival.

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Thursday, 11/29 at 2pm: Rendezvous in Chicago + live Q&A w/ director Michael Smith, cast members Clare Cooney, Rashaad Hall, Kevin Wehby, David McNulty and producer Layne Marie Williams moderated by Kathleen Sachs
RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO is a short, comedic feature film consisting of three vignettes that correspond to the beginning (“The Brothers Karamazov”), middle (“Cats and Dogs”) and end (“The End is the Beginning”) stages of a relationship. This love letter to the Windy City and its colorful inhabitants was an official selection of the 2018 Adirondack Film Festival.

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Friday, 11/30 at 12:30pm:
Experimental Shorts Program + live Q&A w/ directors Melika Bass, Maggie Scrantom and Haley McCormick moderated by Michael Smith
This program showcases acclaimed, wordless experimental short films that were all produced locally: CREATURE COMPANION (Bass), ASHES OF ATOMS (Scrantom) and DANCER (McCormick).

The film festival is sponsored by Oakton Community College’s Educational Foundation.


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