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Column Fri Aug 28 2015

We Are Your Friends, No Escape, Grandma, Listen to Me Marlon, Learning to Drive, Turbo Kid & She's Funny That Way


We Are Your Friends

Earlier this summer, a French film called Eden was released that explored the DJ culture of the times in a fascinating and heartfelt way that was less about spinning records and more about establishing interesting characters whose lives and fates we actually grew to care about. And while it's usually fairly easy for me to shut out all other films while I'm watching a new one, as I was viewing the rather stale We Are Your Friends, my mind kept taking me back to the far more interesting Eden. I guess context matters sometimes.

Where We Are Your Friends fares better is in painting a portrait of "the Valley," or San Fernando Valley, located on the other side of the Hollywood Hills. There's a culture there that seems ripe for exploration and first-time director Max Joseph (who co-wrote with Meaghan Oppenheimer) does a credible job of walking us through this slight obtuse place, as seen through the eyes of would-be DJ Cole Carter (Zac Efron), who has enough raw talent to make it big; whether he's willing to do what he has to do to succeed — including sell out for big money — is another question. The film also does a solid job explaining how much actual composition (via computer) goes into a DJ's track. It's no longer about mixing with two turntables; it's about creating something new out of something old to the point where you don't recognize the elements and only hear the new music.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Dance Wed Aug 26 2015

Chicago Dancing Festival Returns

Chicago Dancing Festival returns for its ninth annual series this week for four free performances over the span of five days.

The festival, which is the country's largest dance festival, continues its tradition of commissioning new work for the event with the premiere of In the Meantime. In the Meantime is a percussive piece from Chicago Human Rhythm Project, featuring dancers from Trinity Irish Dance and Ensemble Espanol.

Also new this year is the "Modern Women" program--an entire evening dedicated to women choreographers, including Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Crystal Pite, Pam Tanowitz and Kate Weare.

The program additionally features Loie Fuller's one-minute film Butterfly Dance, which was one of the first dance films and features Fuller's improvisational technique.

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Miriam Finder / Comments (0)

Art Wed Aug 26 2015

Peter Skvara's Approaches at Andrew Rafacz Gallery: The Site of Distress at Sea

By Louis Sterrett

I Am Abandoning My Vessel, Peter Skvara, 2015

Peter Skvara's exhibition Approaches, which consists of enamel paintings on mesh, and a collection of debris entitled "Flotsam, Jetsam, Lagan, and Derelict" is now on display at the Andrew Rafacz Gallery in River West. The paintings are based on flag semaphores used for communication between ships, and their meanings are repeated in the titles. Some of the paintings depict significations that might be seen together such as "I Am Drifting / Will You Give Me My Position" (2015, enamel on mesh). Other pieces, however, take on different, stranger meaning as assemblages of statements. One painting reads, "You are Running the Risk of Going Aground / I am Going Ahead"--a callous expression to one in need.

The gallery's press release for the Approaches exhibit mentions beauty and the sublime tied up in the idea of a ship on the infinite expanse of the overwhelming sea. Another way for the sublime to appear, however, is through the striving to generate perfection in the precise lines of the semaphores, which nonetheless reveal the human touch made more palpable in the method of painting as opposed to screen printing.

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A/C / Comments (0)

Theater Mon Aug 24 2015

Assassination Theater Raises Old and New Questions About the Kennedy Assassination(s)

Charles Ray, Unpainted Sculpture
Mark Ulrich and Martin Yurek. Photo by Michael Brosilow

If you're a news junkie who enjoys being immersed in fascinating facts about our political and criminal history, then I have a theater recommendation for you. Assassination Theater: Chicago's Role in the Crime of the Century spells out in rapid-fire data points how we have been misled all these years about the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. And that of his brother Robert five years later.

Journalist Hillel Levin, who has explored the activities of the Chicago Outfit before, has created a gripping two-hour-plus documentary-style production that details the assassination and its aftermath, including an autopsy that was covered up by the White House and FBI leadership. Their goal was to confirm the single-bullet, single-crazed-shooter story and to keep the American people from thinking that a conspiracy was involved.

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Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

Art Mon Aug 24 2015

Chicago Architecture Firm Wins Pullman Artspace Project

A rendering of the project by VOA Associates

The Chicago-based architecture firm, VOA Associates, Inc., has been selected as the winner of a six-month architectural design competition, made possible by a grant from The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

VOA Associates, Inc., will be designing the Pullman Artspace in the historic Pullman neighborhood, which will include 45 affordable live/work apartments, as well classrooms, an exhibition space, and workshops. Artspace Project Inc., has its headquarters in Minneapolis and offices in Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Seattle and Washington DC.

By designing a creative space, VOA Associates hopes to achieve a sense of honor for the historical "character of Pullman's landmark community" and welcome those who are interested in a creative weaving within the public sphere.

Overall, 20 architecture firms submitted and 10 semi-finalists were chosen. The three finalists for the competition were each awarded $10,000 to finalize their concept and VOA Associates was selected as the winner. The Pullman Artspace strives to preserve Pullman as a leading arts neighborhood with an immersive creative hub for its residents.

S. Nicole Lane / Comments (1)

Column Fri Aug 21 2015

Sinister 2, American Ultra, Hitman: Agent 47, Mistress America, Digging for Fire, Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World


Sinister 2

While most horror film sequels are content to pick up the remains of the previous film and give audiences the laziest rehash of what we've seen and jumped at before, I'll give the makers of Sinister 2 points for at least taking us in an entirely new direction with its chronicle of the further demonic adventures of Bhughul, who terrorizes entire families via old home movies. It's a variation on the found footage theme, in which the characters in the film are the ones watching the found footage, and it's literally leading most of them to their death.

Once again working from a script from Sinister director Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, Sinister 2 is directed by relative newcomer CiarĂ¡n Foy, whose 2012 Citadel is easily one of the creepiest, most anxiety-inducing films of that year (the same year of Sinister, I should add).

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Art Fri Aug 21 2015

Charles Ray: Sculptures with Weight, Gravitas & Controversy at the Art Institute of Chicago

Charles Ray, Unpainted Sculpture
Unpainted Sculpture, Charles Ray, 1997

Nineteen sculptures by Chicago-born sculptor Charles Ray fill three large galleries on the second floor of the Art Institute's Modern Wing through October 4. Most of the pieces are figurative and tell their own stories, like "Sleeping Woman," a life-size stainless steel carving of a homeless woman sleeping on a bench. But a few are shockingly not figurative and two of the figurative ones have already shocked museum curators.

"Unpainted Sculpture" (1997, fiberglass and paint) is a faithful reconstruction of a crushed 1991 Pontiac Grand Am. Ray searched for the right wrecked car -- not too wrecked -- and then had it taken apart so that each piece could be constructed of fiberglass and then assembled as a car. Several people spent five days reassembling the sculpture in the Modern Wing gallery.

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Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

Theater Thu Aug 20 2015

Theatre Thursdays: A New Way to Get Involved in Chicago Theater

By Jen Kraakevik

As much as I love theater, I haven't ever really immersed myself in it. Theater can bring every art form together with actors, improv, music and dance, costumes, sound and set design. There is so much to notice with every step of the performance, so much to appreciate in every production. So much I feel I am missing out on.

Even if you aren't an experienced theatergoer, this is the best time (for both of us) to get involved. Starting Thursday, September 10, the League of Chicago Theatres will re-launch Theatre Thursdays. One Thursday a month, a world-premiere production will be featured to highlight the incredibly bold, rare work that takes place year-round in the Chicago area.

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A/C / Comments (0)

Theater Wed Aug 19 2015

Windy City Playhouse Stages a Modern-Day Bedroom Farce in Three Bedrooms

Patrese McClain and Shane Kenyon. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Patrese McClain and Shane Kenyon. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Three couples, three bedrooms and a conference call. That's the scenario. It's two hours of pillow talk (and pillow shouting) among people who are trying to get their needs and desires met, but keep running into complications. Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight, the new sexy comedy at the Windy City Playhouse, is a comic farce with a coarse edge. Noel Coward it isn't.

The two-hour play from the script by Peter Ackerman is funny and vulgar but the vulgarity is all verbal; the actors are in some stage of love-making under the covers, but there's no nudity. Director Peter Brown tightly directs the six actors and their timing is perfect throughout. The funny lines pop and snap.

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Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

Theater Mon Aug 17 2015

First Floor Theater's Kafkapalooza Succeeds With Eight Short Plays Inspired by the Czech Master

A Perfect Ganesh
Briana Finegan and Nora Bingham in "The Applicant." Photo by Ariela Subar.

I've attended a few short-play productions, where works of 10-15 minutes each purport to capture or represent another work of art or event. Most of them are unsuccessful in staging works of substance, plot or character.

That's not the case in First Floor Theater's Third Annual Litfest, Kafkapalooza. Eight different playwrights dramatize or "are inspired by" one of the stories of Franz Kafka, the late great Czech storyteller, who tried to keep his unpublished works from being published after his death. Fortunately, Max Brod, Kafka's literary executor, ignored his wishes. And so we have a play such as "The Applicant" by Amanda Fink, inspired by the story, "Poseidon," as well as "Justice for All" by Karen Kessler, inspired by "The Penal Colony," and "Red Right Hand" by Ike Holter, inspired by Kafka's best-known story, "The Metamorphosis." (The latter two stories were published during Kafka's lifetime. My knowledge of Kafka's publishing history is enhanced by my serendipitous purchase of a used copy of Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories at the Printer's Row Lit Fest in June.)

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Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

Theater Mon Aug 17 2015

A Perfect Ganesh @ Athenaeum Theatre: a Quest for Peace

A Perfect Ganesh

In this production about two well-off middle aged ladies from Connecticut who travel to India to find some healing for the tragedies that have befallen them, there is a surprising amount of humor. Margaret, played by Elaine Carlson, and Kitty, played by Jeanne Affelder, are unknowingly protected in their travels by the beloved elephant-headed Indian god, Ganesha, played by Michael Harris. The handful of other characters in the play are all played by Phil Higgins.

Phil Higgins at various times is a Dutch stranger, the husband to both of the main characters, the dead sons of both of the main characters, a puppeteer, a young man dying of aids, a Bronx accented flight attendant, a leper, a sassy hotel porter and a stressed out airline employee. He switches between the roles with ease, sometimes playing it comical, sometimes moving. Although it is impressive to see the range of characters Higgins is capable of, his youth sometimes worked against him, making him seem slightly off for the role, as in the first scene where he played a distant wealthy pipe smoking husband. Nevertheless, he provides some much-needed levity throughout the show.

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Kim Campbell / Comments (0)

Column Fri Aug 14 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Straight Outta Compton, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoenix, People Places Things, Fort Tilden, Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, Cop Car & Prince


The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

In an era when we're getting James Bond films with actual backstories and continuity, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. might feel like a bit of a throwback to action-heavy spy movies that feel low stakes even when the stakes are supposedly quite high. But this is the place where director Guy Ritchie thrives, where the men believe they are in charge but the women hold the reigns because they're smarter. The setting for U.N.C.L.E. is the early 1960s, a particularly frigid period in the Cold War, but a fantastic time for fashion, music and a global enemy you could really hate, all of which factor into this tale of two super-spies forced by their respective agencies to team up to defeat a common enemy attempting to buy a few nuclear weapons and actually use them.

Based on the popular television series of the same name, starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, the new The Man from U.N.C.L.E. brings in two almost exaggeratedly manly men — Man of Steel's Henry Cavill as CIA agent Napoleon Solo and The Lone Ranger's Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin of the KGB — who initially clash when Solo sneaks into Russian-controlled East Germany to rescue Gaby (Alicia Vikander of Ex Machina), the daughter of an important German nuclear scientist who may hold the key to finding her father, who may or may not be willingly working for this mystery criminal organization buying nukes.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Business Wed Aug 12 2015

Prime is Now Comin' to Town

I want it, and I want it NOW. And now, there is an app for that, too. Well, kinda sorta. In a culture that has become all too obsessed with instant gratification, Amazon has prevailed once again in delivering its customers a *seemingly* fantastic product, Prime Now.

Now, we can shop from the convenience of our phones, and by the time we get home from work that day, all of our groceries, appliances, clothing and any other worldly goods you can think of will be sitting on our doorsteps. No errand-running required. And it's free. This sounds like something that is too good to be true. In some ways, it is, and in others, it's not.

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Jennifer Prohov / Comments (0)

Theater Tue Aug 11 2015

The Boy From Oz: Pride Films & Plays Stages a Splashy Musical from a Disco-Era Songbook

The Boy from Oz
Photo courtesy Pride Films & Plays.

Pride Films and Plays' new production of The Boy From Oz is an exuberant, splashy musical based on the songs and story of Peter Allen, the Australian songwriter and entertainer, whose life became intertwined with Judy Garland's and Liza Minnelli's.

Chris Logan plays Allen (he's onstage constantly for the two-and-a-half-hour show) and heads a cast of 18 actors, singers and dancers. David Zak's skillful direction of this sort-of-bioplay is greatly enhanced by well-choreographed dance numbers and great costumes, courtesy of Cameron Turner (choreography) and John Nasca (costume design). A six-member band makes the music come alive.

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Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

Column Fri Aug 07 2015

Fantastic Four, The Gift, Shaun the Sheep Movie, The End of the Tour, Dark Places, Ricki and the Flash, A LEGO Brickumentary, Best of Enemies & More


Fantastic Four

The goal of any film based on a comic book (or novel or stage play or television series, etc.) is not to be as much like the source material as possible; the mission should always be to be as cinematic as possible, which means combining competent storytelling with the visual medium. So the fact that this new take on Fantastic Four is based on Marvel's Ultimate comics take on the team doesn't mean squat if the final product is poorly paced, generic superhero garbage. Director Josh Trank's previous film, Chronicle, was an ambitious and creative alternate take on both the superhero mythology and the found-footage storytelling device. And with Fantastic Four, Trank (who also co-wrote with Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg) appears to have retreated (or been forced to retreat) into a style of storytelling that is so ordinary and predictable that one has to wonder why he was hired to take on this iconic group in the first place.

I'll give the film points for not being the same lightweight, jokey take on the team that director Tim Story thought was appropriate 10 years ago, but what we've got instead isn't much better. One of the strangest things about Fantastic Four is that it feels like it's missing a reel. After spending a ridiculous amount of time giving us this new version of the origin story, the team has exactly one massive fight sequence, and then the film is over. It genuinely feels like something got lost in the editing room, not that I'm in any way suggesting that the film is too short, but at only a 100-minute running time (including credits) you have to question the abruptness of the final act.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Photography Mon Jul 27 2015

Paul Natkin Relives His Life in Rock Photography, From Abba to ZZ Top

By Nancy Bishop

Paul Natkin sat on a stool and told us about his life for an hour. His life as a rock & roll photographer, shooting concerts and backstage portraits and touring with some of the iconic rockers of the 20th century.
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Steve at the Movies Fri Aug 28 2015

We Are Your Friends, No Escape, Grandma, Listen to Me Marlon, Learning to Drive, Turbo Kid & She's Funny That Way

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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Sun Aug 30 2015
Entertaining Julia @ Empty Bottle

Sun Aug 30 2015
Chicago Fashion & Music Fest

Sun Aug 30 2015
Bucktown Arts Fest

Mon Aug 31 2015
IFP On Tap @ Lagunitas Brewery

Wed Sep 2 2015
Marnie @ Northeastern

Wed Sep 2 2015
The Street Arcade @ Hyde Park Art Center

Thu Sep 3 2015
Chris Ware Lecture @ AIC

Fri Sep 4 2015
Female Trouble @ Music Box

Fri Sep 4 2015
Tangerine @ Film Center

Sat Sep 5 2015
"A Short and Pleasurable Journey" Opening Reception @ Vertical Gallery

Sat Sep 5 2015
Georgy Girl @ Music Box

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