Saturday, December 21, 2013


The group blog 'The Vulgar Cinema' has been running a series of entries on John Carpenter and I was delighted to be asked to contribute a piece consisting of virtually anything I wanted. I chose to write a few words on what is, to my mind, the most under-valued of Carpenter's films. 'Vampires' pretty much disappeared immediately upon release, a fate that would also befall 'Ghosts of Mars' (and pity 'The Ward', not even granted a proper theatrical release in the greater Chicago-Land area). My piece is here, and I wholeheartedly endorse the other entries in the series, particularly Sara Freeman's interview with Carpenter's producer (and spouse) Sandy King.    

Friday, October 25, 2013

Escape Plan (2013); Mikael Hafstrom; photographed by Brendan Galvin:

A few words for InRO; I like things about it, but the above image is more visually interesting than anything director Hafstrom can come up with.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Friday, August 16, 2013

Days of Being Wild; Wong Kar-Wai (1990); photographed by Chris Doyle:

a modest appreciation for InRO's Wong Kar-Wai 'Directrospective' here:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Escape From New York:

On the eve of a new 2k digital restoration, I talk about Escape From New York for InRO's 'Old Hat' blog. Spoiler alert: It's still awesome.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Mann Silhouette: 'Ali' (2001), or, Ali as Existential Loner:

                                                            photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Walter Hill: Back in Action

In honor of Walter Hill's return to the big screen, here's a top 5 for InRO's new 'Old Hat' blog.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Annual 'Best of' Nonsense Post, circa 2012:

     I’m really trying not to get bent out of shape over the annual best-of ritual in which we are about to indulge; the standard qualification, of course, is a traditional, one-week run in the New York and L.A. markets, which seems simple enough until one encounters something like Haneke’s ‘Amour’ or Bigelow’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty’: neither open in Chicago until later in January, hence I’ve seen neither. In fact, playing the NY/LA game is just another way the studios drum up awards buzz and free publicity, regardless of whether or not something like 95% of the country can see the films in question. The other tack is to simply include anything and everything you saw in a given year – more fruitful, I think, but still open to strange vicissitudes like placing a season of a television show along-side movies, or including older films seen for the first time that calendar year. I guess it’s silly of me to take all of this so seriously, but I do think there’s something amiss in critic’s organizations and magazines putting themselves entirely at the disposal of major studios just to get a taste of their product a little bit sooner.
     With that in mind, I’ve often defaulted to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s criteria when he was still writing for the Chicago Reader: it had to play in Chicago, it had to be a premier (whether old or new, allowing him room to write about Rivette’s ‘Out: 1’, for example), and any average viewer had to be able to conceivably buy a ticket for it; therefore, no advance critic screenings for Cannes releases counted, but public screenings at the Chicago International Film Festival did. Even this can go awry when hard and fast strictures are in place: last year, I was told not to include de Oliveira’s ‘The Strange Case of Angelica’ or Pedro Costa’s ‘Ne change Rien’ on my InRO 2011 list, as both had had nominal, last minute runs in New York at the end of 2010. For whatever reason, I could include ‘Miss Bala’ (hence its absence on this year’s list), even though perusing some already published 2012 best-of lists has more than a few people claiming it counts this year. Weird, right? So here I present two different lists, each in its own way a narrative of what I viewed in 2012, the differences between the two representing the arcane rules and rituals of this peculiar annual game.
    Up first is my InRO ballot (thanks for asking me to play guys), which includes ‘Tabu’. An official 2012 release, yes, but it’s never played in my city (I saw it on a screener, hardly the best way to appreciate Gomes’ stunning mis-en-scene). And while just about everyone would claim ‘A Separation’ as a 2011 premier, we couldn’t see it here in Chicago until the end of January 2012, hence its inclusion on the second list, which is arranged using only my preferred regional criteria.

Here’s my full InRO ballot:
1. The Turin Horse
2. The Master
3. Cosmopolis
4. Tabu
5. This Is Not A Film
6. The Kid With a Bike
7. The Loneliest Planet
8. Holy Motors
9. The Deep Blue Sea
10. Attenberg
11. A Burning Hot Summer
12. Oslo, August 31
13. Bernie
14. Alps
15. The Grey
16. Moonrise Kingdom
17. Kill List
18. Goodbye First Love
19. Prometheus
20. Looper

and here's the aggregate staff list, with capsule reviews. I blurb 'The Turin Horse' and 'The Kid With a Bike', and I must say, despite the inclusion of 'Lincoln', it's a pretty respectable summation of the year in film. 

      The top ten for my preferred version of the list would stay (mostly) the same, although the following ten now makes room for some titles that couldn’t be previously listed, for various reasons:

1. The Turin Horse
2. The Master
3. Cosmopolis
4. A Separation
5. This Is Not A Film
6. The Kid With a Bike
7. The Loneliest Planet
8. Holy Motors
9. The Deep Blue Sea
10. Attenberg
11. Faust
12. Life Without Principle
13. A Burning Hot Summer
14. Oslo, August 31
15. Memories of a Morning
16. Bernie
17. Alps
18. The Grey
19. Moonrise Kingdom
20. Kill List

         'Goodbye First Love', 'Prometheus' and 'Looper' get knocked out of position, but this shouldn’t indicate any lack of enthusiasm for them on my part. I’d also make mention of a triple threat of rock solid action films: 'The Raid', 'Haywire' and 'The Expendables 2'; also worth mentioning are a couple of lovely documentary projects that, outside of festival screenings, were never properly released (both are, to the best of knowledge, extra features on dvd/blu ray releases, although I’m not sure if that was what they were originally conceived for/as: ‘A Letter To Elia’, a heartfelt, deeply personal paean from Martin Scorsese to Elia Kazan, and currently available in a massive box set of Kazan films from Fox. Susan Ray’s ‘Don’t Expect Too Much’ is a loving portrait of her husband Nick Ray, while also documenting the long, laborious production process of his experimental film ‘We Can’t Go Home Again’. Oscilloscope has issued both films together on a beautiful blu ray set, which holds the honor of being my home video release of the year. Absolutely essential stuff here. That’s that: here’s looking forward to 2013.