Screening Room: ‘The Janes’

The new documentary The Janes, which has been playing festivals and will start on HBO this Wednesday, is about the underground cadre of activists who helped women have safe abortions in pre-Roe v. Wade Chicago.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

A transmission from a foreign-feeling past that could yet also auger what is to come, The Janes is a disarmingly cool and matter-of-fact yet utterly crucial documentary about some of the most daring, radical, and largely unsung heroes ever put onscreen. Many books, movies, and articles have been produced about late 1960s and ’70s breed of grand-standing activists: the Weathermen’s amateur bomb-makers, Yippie pranksters, the Black Panthers’ parading fist-pumpers, and various would-be guerrilla cells staging bank robberies and kidnappings in a haphazard war on the Establishment. But while those theatrics dominated the headlines, the women activists of the Chicago-based Jane Collective pursued a quieter yet likely more impactful campaign for change…

Here’s the trailer:

TV Room: ‘City So Real’

The latest documentary project from the great Steve James (Hoop Dreams) is a five-part miniseries that tracks the tumult of a Chicago mayoral campaign.

City So Real is streaming now on Hulu. My review is at The Playlist:

It’s a noble, heartfelt, and eye-opening look at the American city, matching the scope of Frederick Wiseman’s recent scoping of a similarly fractious Boston in “City Hall,” but giving it more of a warmly human pulse…

Here’s the trailer:

TV Room: Jason Bateman’s new Missouri Noir ‘Ozark’

In the new Netflix family crime series Ozark, Jason Bateman plays a Chicago financial adviser forced to uproot his family’s entire life in order to save their lives.

Ozark premieres on July 21. My review is at The Playlist:

There are a few things guaranteed to strike terror into the heart of your average Chicagoan. High on that list would be having your family threatened with a cruel and slow death by a drug cartel, as happens to Jason Bateman in the first episode of his new Netflix culture-clash crime series “Ozark.” Nearly as frightening, and definitely more relatable, is the solution that Bateman’s character improvises to save his family: pack up and move to the Lake of the Ozarks in southern Missouri. Set against relocating to the shores of the artificial lake resort region that one character tartly terms “Redneck Riviera,” there would probably be at least a few Chicagoans who would look at the cartel gunmen and decide, nah, let’s play the odds…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: November 4, 2016


Weekend Reading: October 21, 2016


Weekend Reading: October 7, 2016

Writer’s Desk: The American Writers Museum

Sometime in about 2017, there is going to be a new museum on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue right around Lake Street: The American Writers Museum.

According to Publishers Weekly, the project—which sounds both awesome and awesomely quixotic—has been in the works since 2010. Since there won’t be much that a museum of this sort can resort to in terms of permanent holdings (Mark Twain’s pipe, perhaps? Rooms full of first editions?), it looks like they will be focusing on attention-grabbing experiential and interactive exhibits.

writersmuseum1That will mean including things like an interactive “word waterfall.” Which only makes sense, as they will need to bring in the punters in between their Magnificent Mile shopping jag and stroll through Millennium Park. But that will also apparently mean the prospect of interesting-sounding exhibits like the one asking”Are you a Bukowski or Vonnegut?

Hopefully they will include writing workshops and other educational functions as part of the museum’s mission.

Now that it’s happening, it’s curious why this kind of museum is only now being created. Earlier this year, Chicago artist Mia Funk raised this point in an interview with the museum’s president Malcolm O’Hagan (who was initially inspired by the Dublin Writers Museum) in Tin House:

It does seem absurd that America has so many museums devoted to fine art–an activity which really doesn’t touch a lot of people’s lives–but in a country composed of so many immigrants and children of immigrants, where stories have played such a part in remembering our pasts and unifying us, that it has taken us so long to honor our writers collectively.

Here’s hoping they do our writers proud.

Perhaps the most important question, though: What are they going to sell in the bookstore?

Department of Weekend Reading: January 16, 2015


Department of Weekend Reading: December 12, 2014


Reader’s Corner: Algren’s Rules

walkonthewildsideThere was always plenty to be learned in the Chicago novels of the great Nelson Algren—particularly in a negative sense, as in what not to do. One of Algren’s more memorable passages comes from 1956’s A Walk on the Wild Side:

But blow wise to this, buddy, blow wise to this: Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own. Never let nobody talk you into shaking another man’s jolt. And never you cop another man’s plea. I’ve tried ‘em all and I know. They don’t work.

Life is hard by the yard, son. But you don’t have to do it by the yard. By the inch it’s a cinch. And money can’t buy everything. For example: poverty…

A Walk on the Wild Side isn’t Algren’s most memorable work—that honor probably goes to his scabrously funny novella/essay Chicago: City on the Make or the story cycle The Neon Wilderness—but it does contain dark, sharp wisdom.

Now Playing: ‘Drinking Buddies’

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson get all twisted up in 'Drinking Buddies'.
Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson get all twisted up in ‘Drinking Buddies’.

drinkingbuddies-posterThere’s not much to say about the Chicago microbrewery-set romantic comedy Drinking Buddies, which opened in limited release yesterday, other than you should probably go see it. Four great actors playing inside a comic quadrangle of lies, booze, and lust twisted all up with friendship. It’s achingly beautiful in that elegant French manner while remaining bruisingly down-to-earth.

My review is at Film Racket:

As the sole woman working at a Chicago brewery with a tribe of bearded, vaguely hipster guys in Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies, Olivia Wilde’s Kate seems to be that unicorn creature that every won’t-grow-up dude can’t believe exists outside the pages of Maxim. Resolutely non-girly in dress and attitude, she slams down beers with the guys and chows french fries at lunch. Come night-time, all she wants to do is play pool, joke around, and do yet more drinking. At no point does she look happier than when holding a full pint of beer and a mammoth tub of pretzels; this being a movie, she still looks phenomenal in a bikini…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: Dennis Farina (1944-2013)

Not sure where that knife is destined to go.
Not sure where that knife is destined to go.

All appreciators of the great and usually unsung character actors who make so many good movies great and so many lousy movies watchable took a hit last week when news came out of Dennis Farina’s passing.

crimestory1My piece on Chicago’s own Farina (Get ShortyCrime Story, Saving Private Ryan, and others) ran today at Short Ends & Leader:

Farina, who died on July 22 at the age of 69, was a detective in a Chicago Police Department burglary unit when he was introduced to Chicagoan Michael Mann, who was making his first feature, 1981’s Thief. Farina was hired as an advisor for the film and even got himself on screen for a few seconds; he gets shot rather unceremoniously at the film’s end along with some other anonymous henchmen. He worked some small roles for the next few years, mostly TV, but also polishing his craft on the Chicago stage with the likes of Steppenwolf vets like Terry Kinney. Supposedly, he even left the CPD a couple years before making his pension in order to pursue acting. It was a gutsy move, but one that paid off long before he ended up donning a trenchcoat and storming the streets of Manhattan on Law and Order

And now, Crime Story: