Nina Metz writes about TV, film and theater and has a Friday column called "Chicago Close-Up." Before joining the Tribune, she was a ...

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Nina Metz

Nina Metz

Chicago Closeup

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'Groundhog Day' producer Trevor Albert on making a comedy classic

'Groundhog Day' producer Trevor Albert on making a comedy classic

February 9, 2016

"What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?"

  • Three network TV pilots set to shoot in Chicago next month

    February 8, 2016

    At least three network TV pilots are confirmed to shoot in Chicago next month.

  • PBS' 'American Experience' puts Chicago's teen killers Leopold and Loeb under examination

    February 8, 2016

    The Kenwood home of President Barack Obama, where he lived with his family prior to his move to the White House, is one block from the home of one of Chicago's most notorious murderers, as well as his victim.

  • Welles' 'Citizen Kane' remains fascinating 75 years later

    February 4, 2016

    I didn't see "Citizen Kane" until I was an adult and working as a professional theater critic. At the time I remember actually sputtering as I watched the newspaper tycoon at the film's center manufacture a reviewer's words out of thin air.

  • Chef Homaro Cantu documentary to debut at SXSW

    February 3, 2016

    A documentary about experimental Chicago chef Homaro Cantu, who died in April, will have its debut at the South by Southwest film festival next month.

  • Illinois estimates $330 million spent by TV and films in 2015

    February 2, 2016

    It's not usual to come across upon a TV or film crew shooting around Chicago, but you might have noticed it a little bit more last year.

  • Brew & View to screen David Bowie's 'The Man Who Fell to Earth'

    February 2, 2016

    A month after his death, many of us are still thinking about the breadth of David Bowie's work, which included the 1976 sci-fi cult hit "The Man Who Fell to Earth," which was the Bowie's first starring film role. It screens Friday at the Vic Theatre courtesy of Brew & View.

  • Stars of twisted new sitcom 'Teachers' bring laughs home from school

    January 26, 2016

    Being a teacher is no picnic. It can be a bit of a circus, actually.

  • Michael Bay: 'Transformers 5' to film in Chicago

    January 19, 2016

    Rumored for a few weeks now, director Michael Bay confirmed that the fifth installment of his "Tranformers" franchise will return to Chicago.

  • 'Trainspotting' 20th anniversary: Irvine Welsh on the movie's impact

    January 14, 2016

    There was a buoyant shock that hit audiences when "Trainspotting" banged into theaters in 1996. The insolent mayhem of the idiot heroin addicts of the movie, adapted from the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, was both an endurance test and a vivid, darkly funny look at a group of frustrated young guys knocking around their native Scotland. It is a movie-as-middle-finger, merrily extended in your face, only to put an arm around your neck and pull you in for a pint and a bit of trash talk.

  • Two Chicago documentary filmmakers to receive MacArthur grants

    January 14, 2016

    "Hoop Dreams" filmmaker Steve James is among the filmmakers who will receive a grant from the MacArthur Foundation this year.

  • John Cusack is coming to C2E2 this year

    January 13, 2016

    John Cusack, most recently seen playing a character inspired by Chicago's Rev. Michael Pfleger in the Spike Lee film "Chi-Raq," will be among the celebrities featured at this year's Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, better known as C2E2.

  • Chicago improvisers The Katydids to debut sitcom 'Teachers' on TV Land this week

    January 13, 2016

    It was only a couple years ago that the members of the Chicago improv team The Katydids launched a web series called "Teachers," a show about the "small and often wildly inappropriate conversations teachers have with each other in the course of their workday." Now, from those ambitious if modest beginnings, comes their first large-scale national exposure on TV Land, where new episodes of the sitcom premiere Wednesday.

  • Jane Lynch, Colbert joke about 'Angel From Hell,' Second City's grimy theater

    January 12, 2016

    Before launching into a bit of obligatory chat about her new CBS sitcom "Angel From Hell" on Monday night's broadcast of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," Jane Lynch and Colbert — who, early in their careers, both performed at Second City, though never together — reminisced a little about the comedy institution's grotty environs.

  • 'Man Seeking Woman's' Britt Lower makes the most of her improv training

    January 7, 2016

    Strange and absurdist, "Man Seeking Woman" taps into every insecurity that comes with being young, single and forever stumbling through relationships. The TV series is back for a second season (which began this week on FXX) and though its stories are primarily told from the viewpoint of a guy (star Jay Baruchel as Josh, flailing dude extraordinaire) occasionally the show will shift its perspective to that of Josh's sister Liz, played by Britt Lower.

  • 'The Martian': Matt Damon's scientist vs. U. of C. scientists

    January 6, 2016

    “The Martian,” starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded alone on Mars, is up for three Golden Globes this Sunday, including a nomination for director Ridley Scott, who stuck fairly close to his source material, the 2011 novel by Andy Weir — including the small detail that Damon’s character is a University of Chicago alum.

  • Documentary about murdered war journalist James Foley to run on HBO

    January 5, 2016

    A documentary about James Foley, the freelance war correspondent who was abducted in Syria and beheaded in 2014 by ISIS, is coming to HBO next month.

  • Common cast in movie about real-life military K-9 handler who worked in Iraq

    December 15, 2015

    During her tour of duty with the Marines in Iraq, Megan Leavey worked with a bomb-sniffing dog called Sergeant Rex. Now her story is being turned into a biopic starring Kate Mara ("House of Cards") and Common, the Chicago native who won an Oscar last year for best song "Glory" (for "Selma").

  • 'Empire' creator Lee Daniels to make movie about Chicago's notorious 70s-era welfare queen

    December 10, 2015

    Filmmaker Lee Daniels, executive producer of the Fox hit "Empire" (which films in Chicago), is developing a biopic about one of Chicago's most infamous residents of the 1970s.

  • Hannibal Buress cast in movie about the notoriously bad cult favorite 'The Room'

    December 8, 2015

    James Franco has cast stand-up comedian Hannibal Buress in his latest directorial effort, "The Disaster Artist," which is currently filming.

  • 'Chi-Raq' has a strong opening weekend at Chicago box office: report

    December 6, 2015

    Though it came in No. 13 overall on opening weekend according to Box Office Mojo, Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq" did considerably better in Chicago.

  • Tavi Gevinson, Michael Cera reunite for ensemble movie about relationships

    December 4, 2015

    Tavi Gevinson and Michael Cera, who co-starred in a 2014 Steppenwolf production of "This Is Our Youth" that was later mounted on Broadway, have been cast in a new ensemble drama about relationships called "Human People."

  • Chicago documentary house Kartemquin announces plans for 50th anniversary

    December 4, 2015

    Kartemquin Films, the storied documentary house that has produced notable films including "Hoops Dreams" and the Roger Ebert bio "Life Itself," has announced a slate of plans for 2016 to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

  • Longtime David Letterman writer unearths industrial musicals as retro cinematic curiosities

    December 3, 2015

    A cavalcade of song-and-dance brunettes in groovy bell-bottom jumpsuits star in a 1974 industrial musical for the liquor company Hiram Walker. "How to make it happen for your greatest year," the film promises, and, after some perfunctory remarks from an executive, the dancing girls sweep into frame like something out of an alternate-universe variety show about selling booze: "We're providing super special promo pieces that work at point-of-sale in every waaaaaay!"

  • 'Southside With You' to debut at Sundance

    December 2, 2015

    A movie about Barack and Michelle Obama's first date, which filmed in Chicago over the summer, will have its premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, scheduled for the last two weeks in January in Park City, Utah.

  • 'Chi-Raq' stars, including Jennifer Hudson, to attend premiere at Chicago Theatre on Sunday

    November 19, 2015

    Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq" has been hotly anticipated since news of the film — the first feature from the burgeoning Amazon Studios — broke last spring. At 7 p.m. Sunday the movie premieres in the city where it was filmed.

  • 'Snoop' from 'The Wire' makes the jump to 'Chi-Raq'

    November 13, 2015

    When Felicia Pearson joined the cast of HBO's "The Wire" in Season 3, she became yet another indelible character on the show, in large part because she was a woman operating in what was primarily a man's game.

  • Spike Lee explains why he didn't change the title for 'Chi-Raq'

    November 12, 2015

    On Thursday, filmmaker Spike Lee offered up his own theory about why so many people got bent out of shape after watching the trailer for "Chi-Raq." 

  • Adventure Film Festival: Action-packed films worth a look

    November 11, 2015

    “When I’m running,” Ronnie Goodman says in the short film “Every Runner has a Reason,” which screens this weekend, “I feel like I’m not there. I feel like I’m somewhere else.”

  • State announces it will resume film tax credit when budget passes

    November 11, 2015

    After spending more than five months caught up in the ongoing state budget fracas, Illinois' film tax credit might be ready for its comeback: Gov. Bruce Rauner's office announced it is "re-instituting the Film Tax Credit approvals."

  • PTSD drama 'War at Home' launches crowdfunding campaign

    November 11, 2015

    "War at Home" is a project worth a moment of your time this Veteran's Day. It's a movie about the toll military service exacts, and producers are looking to raise money for the film (which is a narrative feature, rather than a documentary) on crowdfunding site Kickstarter.

  • Spike Lee releases first single from 'Chi-Raq' soundtrack

    November 10, 2015

    Spike Lee has posted a link to the first single from the "Chi-Raq" soundtrack.

  • 'Spotlight' writer-director Tom McCarthy on his time as a Chicago theater actor

    November 10, 2015

    In his review of the Boston newspaper procedural "Spotlight," Tribune film critic Michael Phillips points out that the film's "director and co-writer Tom McCarthy played a weasel of a journalist in 'The Wire.' Now he has made a meticulous, exacting procedural on real-life journalists who excelled at their job; had the resources to do it properly; and in early 2002, published the first in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of grim, carefully detailed stories of pedophile priests."

  • To memorize or not to memorize, that is the question

    November 9, 2015

    The Broadway opening of "China Doll," David Mamet's newest play starring Al Pacino, has been moved back to December, it was announced on Monday, a delay that might be at least partly due to problems Pacino has had learning his lines.

  • Filmmaker accuses Spike Lee of violating copyright with 'Chi-Raq'

    November 6, 2015

    Spike Lee, whose movie "Chi-Raq" was filmed in Chicago over the summer, is being accused of copyright infringement by Roderick Powell, producer of 2003's "A Miami Tail."

  • '3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets' offers two stories, one highly charged murder trial

    November 5, 2015

    Watching "3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets" is something of a Rorschach test, sussing out your feelings on "stand your ground" laws, racial bias and the fear that even a minor disagreement with a stranger might end with a gun barrel pointed in your direction.

  • Biopic about boxer Joe Louis in the works

    November 5, 2015

    Plans are in the works to turn the life of Joe Louis into a biopic, according to a report in Variety.

  • New 'Star Trek' episodes push us closer to streaming service overload

    November 3, 2015

    Fatigue was the first reaction I had when CBS announced earlier this week that it plans to launch a "Star Trek" reboot that will only be available through the network's All Access subscription streaming service. "Really?" I thought. "Yet another service to which I'll have to fork over some dough?"

  • Spike Lee's 'Chi-Raq' trailer: A first look

    November 3, 2015

    A trailer for Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq" was released Tuesday, offering a first look at the movie about gun violence that filmed in Chicago this past summer.

  • Aasif Mandvi on 'No Land's Man' at the 2015 Chicago Humanities Festival

    November 1, 2015

    In a disarming moment during Aasif Mandvi's appearance Friday at the Chicago Humanities Festival, he glanced around and suddenly realized that every word he was speaking was being projected on a large screen behind him.

  • 'A Day's Work' takes a hard, engaging look at safety of temp workers

    October 29, 2015

    There's a folksy country and western jingle in a work safety film from the 1970s called "Shake Hands with Danger," and it goes like this:

  • Documentary 'How to Lose Your Virginity' examines myths, anxieties

    October 28, 2015

    "It felt like surgery without anesthesia," a young woman says of the first time she had sex, describing the fraught moment in filmmaker Therese Shechter's "How to Lose Your Virginity," a winding documentary that examines why Americans are so obsessed with virginity — and what the word even means.

  • 'Tasty Radio' extends Mike O'Brien's sketch comedy beyond 'SNL'

    October 28, 2015

    One of the deep pleasures offered by Chicago's sketch and improv scene is the opportunity to see performers early in their careers, pre-fame, before "Saturday Night Live" and Hollywood and late-night talk show appearances come calling. When budgets and crowds are tiny. That's when you can spot really sharp talent.

  • Chicago Film Fest pick of the day: 'Open Tables'

    October 27, 2015

    Filmed in Chicago (with an excursion to Paris), this affable romantic comedy from local filmmaker Jack Newell combines improvised and scripted dialog that winds its way through various dinner table conversations among urbanites contemplating love and its discontents. The cast includes local theater notables including Caroline Neff, Beth Lacke, Keith Kupferer and Desmin Borges, who currently stars on the FX comedy "You're the Worst." Improv heavyweights TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi star in a series of connected vignettes about modern love gone awry. Newell, who also co-stars, made the film for only $50,000, though it doesn't look it. For more, check out my column on "Open Tables" from last week.

  • See 'Little Shop of Horrors' for free on Halloween

    October 26, 2015

    Lift up your head, wash off your mascara: 1986's "Little Shop of Horrors" comes to Millennium Park for a free outdoor screening on Halloween.

  • Chicago rap artist Rhymefest not upset with Kanye, despite report

    October 23, 2015

    Sometimes an artist walks away from an interview with a different impression of how things went than the reporter. That seems to be the case with a recent profile of Chicago rapper Rhymefest by the Daily Beast.

  • Spike Lee: Emanuel tried to paint me as a villain with 'Chi-raq'

    October 23, 2015

    Spike Lee has a few choice words for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a new interview with Chicago magazine about Lee's upcoming film "Chi-Raq" which is set for release in December.

  • 'Open Tables' is dinner, with a side of romantic tension

    October 22, 2015

    Don't let the marketing fool you. The relationship comedy "Open Tables," which screens Saturday and Tuesday as part of the Chicago International Film Festival, is not a foodie movie. "We've kind of been promoted that way," writer-director Jack Newell told me, "but it's more about the shared experience of eating together" — and the winding, often alcohol-fueled social dynamic that reveals itself when you sit down and break bread with people.

  • How Brie Larson found a sacred space in 'Room'

    October 22, 2015

    As an actress, Brie Larson has a knack for finding the complexity in a down-to-earth character, a talent that was on full display last summer in the Amy Schumer comedy "Trainwreck."

  • Comedy Central orders series from Second City alums

    October 20, 2015

    Comedy Central has picked up a series from Second City alums Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson called "Detroiters."

  • Artificial intelligence at the Chicago Humanities Festival

    October 16, 2015

    Forget any dread you may have about a rise of the machines. They have already risen, and are autocorrecting our texts and supplying driving directions through GPS. The increasing presence of artificial intelligence in our lives poses all kinds of moral and techno-philosophical questions including the biggest of all: As machines become nearly indistinguishable from people, what does it even mean to be human?

  • What 'Project Greenlight' reveals about moviemaking

    October 15, 2015

    Writing about the movie "Steve Jobs" last week in the New York Times, columnist Farhad Manjoo concluded that the film "ultimately suggests that the deeply unpleasant behavior of people in the tech industry may be worth putting up with because of what they sometimes manage to create, often in spite of themselves."

  • 'Documentary Now!' a parody that educates

    October 15, 2015

    Like HBO's "Project Greenlight," IFC's "Documentary Now!" has plenty to say about moviemaking, but in a completely different way and focused specifically on the world of nonfiction films. The first season, co-created by "Saturday Night Live" alums Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers, concluded last month but each 30-minute episode is available online through Oct. 23 at

  • Steppenwolf's Tracy Letts joins cast of Daniel Radcliffe thriller

    October 8, 2015

    Tracy Letts has joined the cast of the new Lionsgate Thriller "Imperium," starring Daniel Radcliffe as an FBI agent who infiltrates a white supremacist group and works to uncover their plot to make a dirty bomb.

  • Rapper Romeo Miller in Chicago filming basketball-themed indie 'Game Day'

    October 8, 2015

    Romeo Miller, the rapper who began his career under the name Lil’ Romeo and later went on to play point guard for the University of Southern California's basketball team for two seasons, is in Chicago co-starring in the basketball-themed indie “Game Day.”

  • Cameras roll as Rhymefest tries to break father out of 'prison' of homelessness

    October 8, 2015

    "My wife and I were looking for a home to purchase, and I rolled past the house that my father grew up in and it was for sale," says Che Smith, the Grammy-winning hip-hop artist better known as Rhymefest, in the documentary "In My Father's House," which opens this weekend at AMC River East 21.

  • Alt-weekly Newcity announces plans to shoot a movie next summer

    October 6, 2015

    Chicago will get its own version of “Project Greenlight,” courtesy of the alt-weekly Newcity, which is branching out into the world of movies. Newcity’s Chicago Film Project, launched by the paper’s founder, editor and publisher Brian Hieggelke, has announced plans to shoot a romantic comedy called “Signature Move” next summer, with a script from Chicago actor Fawzia Mirza and Austin-based filmmaker Lisa Donato.

  • Restored Wim Wenders works are worth a watch

    October 1, 2015

    Many of Wim Wenders' films, especially his earlier films from the 1970s, have been out of circulation for decades. No American distributor had access to prints until this past year, when Janus Films acquired the U.S. rights to restorations that "Wenders himself has been working on for several years," said Barbara Scharres, who has programmed a retrospective this month and next at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

  • Son of immigrants tells his story at Redtwist Theatre

    October 1, 2015

    There are moments with real potential in actor Johnny Garcia's one-man show about growing up in Chicago in the 1970s and '80s as one of eight kids and the son of Puerto Rican immigrants. Written by Garcia with Mary Reynard (the latter of whom also directs), it has the feel of a work in progress, but it has much to offer.

  • 'Search Engine': Musical improv that's willing to jump the rails

    October 1, 2015

    There's a Grabowski-like sensibility that improvisers Ryan Archibald and Craig Uhlir bring to the stage, which isn't as common as you might think from such a resolutely Chicago art form. They arrive wearing bandannas tied around their foreheads, "Karate Kid"-style, like a couple of weekend warriors looking to drain a few cans of beer and crush them on their heads before firing up the lawn mower.

  • 'Soul Food' sequel in the works from writer-director George Tillman Jr.

    September 29, 2015

    A sequel to 1997 family drama "Soul Food" is in the works from writer-director George Tillman Jr.

  • Etiquette on the set! How to behave when TV cameras are rolling

    September 24, 2015

    There are four television series that currently shoot full time in and around Chicago, which you may have noticed if you work or live in a neighborhood where crews have set up for the day.

  • NBC buys Amy Poehler produced sitcom pilot from Chicago writer

    September 24, 2015

    NBC has bought a sitcom pilot produced by Amy Poehler called "Pre-Madonna," a semi-autobiographical comedy from Tami Sagher and "Transparent" director-producer Nisha Ganatra about a teenager "entering a Chicago high school in 1983 and navigating the painful and hilarious path of finding out who she really is," according to Deadline.

  • 'Walking Dead' writer comes to Chicago for Season 6 premiere

    September 24, 2015

    Jay Bonansinga, co-author of the novels based on "The Walking Dead" comic series, will host a screening of the Season 6 premiere at iO Theater on Oct. 11.

  • Kristen Wiig comes to Chicago next month for her new movie 'Nasty Baby'

    September 23, 2015

    Kristen Wiig will be at the Music Box Theatre next month for the opening weekend of her new film "Nasty Baby," a dark comedy about a gay couple (Tunde Adebimpe and the film's director, Sebastian Silva) who are trying to have a baby with their best friend (played by Wiig).

  • Amazon's new TV pilots include one from Chicago writer-director

    September 23, 2015

    Amazon Studios, producer of the TV series "Transparent" (which won five Emmys on Sunday), has announced its newest slate of TV pilots to debut sometime this fall, and the lineup includes projects from stand-up comic Tig Notaro, Sacha Baron Cohen and Chicago-based writer-director Steve Conrad.

  • 'Fargo's' Allison Tolman joins Will Ferrell/Amy Poehler movie

    September 22, 2015

    Allison Tolman, who was Emmy-nominated last year for her role in the FX TV series "Fargo," has been added to the cast of a Will Ferrell/Amy Poehler comedy that is currently filming in Los Angeles.

  • Two 'SNL' writers with Chicago ties leaving show

    September 21, 2015

    As "Saturday Night Live" gears up for its 41st season (returning Oct. 3), it will be with some changes off-camera among the show's writing ranks.

  • What makes a good TV or movie title?

    September 18, 2015

    Here we are, in that brief window of time when the new TV season and the fall movie slate have yet to fully spray out into the pop cultural ozone. When everything still sounds just a little unfamiliar. When you can stand back for a moment and consider the titles themselves.

  • Gavin MacIntosh: Good kid on 'The Fosters,' 'sadistic' bad kid in new indie

    September 18, 2015

    When I sat down with actor Gavin MacIntosh not long ago, I asked him to describe his first TV job as a day player, four years ago, on NBC's "Parks and Recreation."

  • Review: In 'Guardians,' what inspires us to give up our humanity?

    September 16, 2015

    This 2005 drama from Peter Morris could just as easily be called "Anatomy of a Monster" or "The Banality of Evil," unspooling as if it were an extended therapy session or late-night confessional from a pair of narrators eager to offload a good bit of unsavory baggage.

  • Review: Posing as a young woman online for 'Goldfish Project'

    September 16, 2015

    Three years ago Shawn Bowers created a fake online dating profile, posing as a young woman. "I have conversations with dudes," he says. "I push some buttons, test some limits."

  • Looking at pop cultural impact of 'Empire' ahead of Season 2

    September 10, 2015

    "Empire" was one of television's biggest hits last year, with its glossy-extravagant portrait of the inner workings of a hip-hop record label and the family that built it. Though set in New York, the show films in its entirety in Chicago and has been shooting episodes for the second season since July.

  • Weekend Update writer Katie Rich likes the 'Night' life

    September 9, 2015

    On a sunny afternoon over the summer I met with "Saturday Night Live" writer Katie Rich for a drink. She ordered a Bloody Mary with a beer back for both of us and gave the waitress a meaningful look: "What's your garbage draft beer?"

  • '(T)ERROR' and 9 other art house movie events to keep an eye on this fall

    September 4, 2015

    Indies, documentaries, classic films and festivals are the lifeblood of the art house scene, where smaller films are given the big-screen treatment. Often these screenings provide the rare opportunity to meet filmmakers themselves in person, or hear them talk about the behind-the-scenes details that shaped their movies.

  • Review: Family strife feels strained in 'Lyons'

    September 3, 2015

    Mordant family dysfunction fuels this 2011 work from Nicky Silver, featuring a patriarch dying of cancer, a matriarch more interested in redecorating the living room than her spouse's terminal condition, and two adult children who lay the blame for their myriad problems at the feet of their parents. No one is likable; everyone is awful — let the recriminations and punchlines fly.

  • RonReaco Lee talks 'Survivor's Remorse,' LeBron & 'Sister, Sister'

    September 3, 2015

    Acclimating to new wealth and young celebrity is a complicated process, not that you'd know it watching a show like "Entourage."

  • Review: Performances never ignite in 'Patchwork Drifter' by Babes with Blades

    September 2, 2015

    Aside from a single shootout scene, there is something almost sleepy about this Babes with Blades production of Jennifer L. Mickelson's play, which channels Willa Cather and Laura Ingalls Wilder in its portrayal of late-19th century settlers.

  • 'Woman on the Run' a noir treasure that was nearly lost

    August 27, 2015

    While out walking his dog one night, a man witnesses the murder of a mob informant. Rather than taking his chances with the police and their offer of protective custody, he ducks out of sight and decides he's better off lying low. This kicks off a chain of events that propel his estranged wife to search him out in the 1950 film noir "Woman on the Run." The one and only print of the film was thought lost to a fire in 2008, but a fully restored version screens Friday as part the annual Noir City film festival, now in its seventh year at the Music Box.

  • Sexist script notes exposed in screenwriting contest run by Oscars organization

    August 26, 2015

    "With some judicious alterations, it might make a decent porn picture, as the gals do seem kinda hot, at least on the page."

  • Chicago Comedy Film Fest announces official selections

    August 25, 2015

    Indie comedies including a number works from Chicago directors are on the lineup for the 2015 Chicago Comedy Film Festival, running Nov. 6 and 7.

  • Gay and lesbian film fest Reeling announces official selections

    August 23, 2015

    An auto mechanic comes out to his straight drinking buddies in the comedy "Fourth Man Out," which is the opening night selection for Reeling, Chicago's LGBTQ film festival, which runs Sept. 17-24.

  • ABC developing sitcom from Shonda Rhimes and a Chicago improv vet

    August 21, 2015

    Shonda Rhimes and her production company Shondaland are expanding into comedies with "Splitsville," which is being developed at ABC.

  • 'The Iron Ministry' captures train travel in China

    August 20, 2015

    A documentary about train travel in China, "The Iron Ministry" at Facets this week unspools as an impressionistic collage of sounds and images, plunging you into the middle of these (often overcrowded) railroad cars. There is a distinctly social component to train life in China, one that is so unlike our habits in the U.S. that I feel compelled to begin with an anecdote.

  • Chicago Film Fest lineup announced

    August 20, 2015

    A drama starring Sarah Silverman, a documentary about two of the 20th century's most influential directors and the winner of this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes are among the official selections for the 51st Chicago International Film Festival.

  • Renaissance for black films still waiting

    August 19, 2015

    For the last decade or so, the annual Black Harvest Film Festival has included a spirited panel discussion tackling issues specific to black cinema. This year's panel is scheduled for Saturday and will be moderated by film scholar and festival programmer Sergio Mims.

  • Review: True-crime parody in 'One Story Told Week by Week'

    August 19, 2015

    Since its launch a year ago, the comedy theater Under the Gun has developed shows centered on a premise, such as that of a project next month called "Porn Minus Porn," or staged readings of actual porn scripts, minus the sex.

  • 'The Improvised Adventures of Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson': Get a clue

    August 19, 2015

    If you're going to mount an improv show in the style of a Sherlock Holmes mystery, it's not unreasonable to expect a certain amount of literary fidelity from the performers or, I dunno, knowledge about the very thing being riffed, especially from the person playing Holmes himself.

  • Steppenwolf's Tracy Letts as Dick Cheney on Funny or Die

    August 19, 2015

    Funny how sticking an actor in the right context can suddenly reveal a physical resemblance.

  • 'Soul Train' documentary, Found Footage Festival on tap this weekend

    August 13, 2015

    This week, a quick look at some news and notes on the local film scene.

  • Common to produce TV drama about growing up on the South Side

    August 11, 2015

    The actor and Oscar-winning recording artist Common is executive producing a new TV show about growing up on Chicago's South Side.

  • 'Middle' and 'Anchorman' stars return to iO Theater with improv team Beer Shark Mice

    August 10, 2015

    Los Angeles is full of writers and performers who came up through the comedy ranks in Chicago, and it is not unusual to see many of them continue to work their improv chops on stage, usually at iO West. But few have been performing together for as long as Neil Flynn and David Koechner, who met and became friends on and off stage in the early '90s before moving to the West Coast.

  • At the Black Harvest Film Fest, 'Takin' Place' chronicles life on the South Side

    August 6, 2015

    A young man interviewed in Stephanie Graham's no-frills 11-minute short "The Black Kid Table" makes an observation that gets straight to the movie's point: "They want to say things about your blackness to your face."

  • 'The Gift' star Joel Edgerton says words really can hurt us

    August 6, 2015

    A young couple played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are recent transplants to Los Angeles at the beginning of "The Gift," a psychological thriller that throws their seemingly upwardly mobile, sun-dappled existence into chaos when an old high school acquaintance arrives, as if out of thin air, and forcefully inserts himself into their lives.

  • 'Come Again?' at Public House needs another take

    August 5, 2015

    The best scene in this two-person sketch show at Public House envisions a conversation between a Disney studio head reluctantly pulled into a meeting with a young woman who wants to discuss an upcoming movie called "The Little Mermaid."

  • Sharp improv from a seasoned couple in 'Here'

    August 5, 2015

    There is a looseness and also a precision that seasoned improv performers bring to the stage, and it is this combination — disciplined but unpredictable — that can elevate a scene into something exceptional. The real-life couple Tara DeFrancisco and Rance Rizzutto are crack purveyors of this kind of thing.

  • Elevated Films brings indie movie screenings to Whole Foods rooftop

    August 4, 2015

    With the Chicago skyline as backdrop, a new film series brings indie screenings to a local rooftop.

  • In new film school rankings, Chicago scores two

    August 3, 2015

    The Hollywood Reporter has published its annual list of film school rankings, with two Chicago institutions making the cut. That's down from three last year.

  • 'Suicide Squad' to film in Chicago next week

    July 31, 2015

    The upcoming blockbuster based on the DC comic "Suicide Squad" will be in Chicago next week to grab some footage, but don't get your hopes up about seeing any cast members.

  • Movie re-creates Barack and Michelle Obama's first date

    July 31, 2015

    The forecast predicted rain, but the skies were clear and sunny last week as the cast and crew of the film "Southside With You" gathered on a quiet residential street in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood. A pair of preteens sat nearby, waiting for their cue. And on that cue — "OK, we're ready for you" — they jumped up and barreled down the sidewalk, one of them not bothering to secure his feet in his flip-flops as he ran, to the collective cringe-laugh of everyone nearby.

  • Polite new documentary 'I Am Chris Farley' handles comedian with care

    July 30, 2015

    "Although I love this kind of comedy, sometimes I feel trapped by always having to be the most outrageous guy in the room," Chris Farley was quoted as saying in 1996. "In particular, I'm working on trying not to be that guy in my private life."

  • 'SNL' alum Paul Brittain returns to Chicago for one-night performance

    July 28, 2015

    One of the weirder, funnier sketch shows I saw in 2009 was a one-man project called "'Sex' Ed Vincent," starring Paul Brittain as the most ill-informed sex education instructor alive. Brittain, who is based out of Los Angeles these days, brings the show back for one night Monday at The Mission (at iO Theater).

  • Illinois-filmed suspense thriller set for world premiere at Midwest Indie Film Fest

    July 28, 2015

    A suspense thriller about an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, "Full Frame" will have its world premiere at the Midwest Independent Film Festival on Tuesday.

  • 'Veep' co-stars sell movie idea to Paramount

    July 25, 2015

    Timothy Simons and Matt Walsh are developing a comedy for Paramount Studios called "Red Shirt," set in the world of college football.

  • Indie drama 'Unexpected' bumps into pregnant director's real life

    July 23, 2015

    Filmmaker Kris Swanberg is expecting her second child any day now. She is due shortly after "Unexpected," her new film about pregnancy and impending motherhood, opens in theaters this weekend.

  • Ahead of 'Almost Famous' screening, Jim DeRogatis talks Lester Bangs

    July 23, 2015

    “Almost Famous” is one of Cameron Crowe’s best-known films, and it is also one of his most personal and autobiographical. Based on his own teenage experiences as an aspiring music writer for Rolling Stone, the 2000 movie starring Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit and Billy Crudup captures the louche 1970s rock scene through the eyes of a wide-eyed high school kid.

  • Recreating a moment in 'Bette, Live at the Continental Baths'

    July 23, 2015

    There's always been something a bit mythical about the earliest years of Bette Midler's career, when she performed her cabaret act in the basement of the Continental Baths in New York City. With Barry Manilow accompanying her on piano, she would strut and belt and wink and tease, dazzling a clearly adoring crowd.

  • Amy Poehler, 'Mindy Project's' Barinholtz team for basketball comedy

    July 22, 2015

    Ike Barinholtz, best known for playing the endearingly thick-headed nurse Morgan Tookers on "The Mindy Project," is teaming up with "Parks and Recreation" alum Amy Poehler on a new film called "Balls" for Universal.

  • A musical about its own making in '[title of show]'

    July 22, 2015

    The premise sounded amusing 10 years ago when word first started trickling out about this show: a musical about the making of said musical.

  • David Dastmalchian geeks out over 'Ant-Man' role

    July 20, 2015

    This summer David Dastmalchian joins a small group of actors who have appeared in films from each of the two big competing names in comic books, DC and Marvel.

  • Amazon formally announces 'Chi-raq,' with no new details

    July 15, 2015

    Amazon Studios on Wednesday formally announced the Spike Lee project the Tribune has been following since its title caused a stir in Chicago. As I previously reported, "Chi-raq" will be the company's first feature film project.

  • Photos from the set of Obamas' first-date movie 'Southside With You'

    July 14, 2015

    Filming began today in Chicago on "Southside With You," an indie described as a "dramedy inspired by Barack and Michelle Obama's first date," and the movie's producers have released photos from that first day on the set.

  • 'Chicago Fire's' Stolte in new season of web comedy 'Graveyard'

    July 13, 2015

    Madness comes on the graveyard shift. As portrayed in the Chicago-produced web series “Graveyard,” overnight work in an empty office building is little more than a limbo-land of absurdist, time-killing conversation.

  • Class resentment comes calling in 'Good People'

    July 10, 2015

    Knockdown verbal brawls can work especially well onstage, and it is with considerable skill that playwright David Lindsay-Abaire devises this fight card: Who is right and who is wrong in this domestic drama? Well, everybody and nobody.

  • A rare screening of Robert Altman's eccentric 1970 comedy 'Brewster McCloud'

    July 9, 2015

    Robert Altman hit mainstream success with "M*A*S*H" in 1970, the same year that one of his lesser-known pictures, "Brewster McCloud," also arrived in theaters. Both films are subversive comedies — countercultural middle fingers, in cinematic form — but "M*A*S*H" was timely and had the advantage of scoring with a Vietnam-weary public. "Brewster's" eccentricities? Moviegoers didn't know what to do with those.

  • Exclusive visit behind the scenes of Spike Lee's Chi-raq

    July 9, 2015

    "Chi-raq" has been shrouded in mystery since news of the project first leaked in the spring, but a visit to director Spike Lee's film set this week revealed that much speculation about the movie — sparked largely by the title itself — has been off the mark.

  • Amy Schumer on the 'horrible' feeling of falling in love

    July 8, 2015

    In "Trainwreck," Amy Schumer plays an amped-up version of — well, not quite herself, but someone who shares a good many of her biographical details. She is both the movie's star and screenwriter, and at least some of the comedy draws from her own life.

  • 'Veep' actor Timothy Simons on playing such an odious character

    July 1, 2015

    The cast of HBO's "Veep" portrays a group of demented Washington, D.C., political hacks, and while I know these are actors playing monsters in an absurdist comedy of errors, the moment I see someone on a talk show and he or she comes across as a normal and well-adjusted person, I find it unexpectedly comforting.

  • Adam Scott's relationship with fame: It's complicated

    June 30, 2015

    Two married couples meet for dinner and then much more in “The Overnight,” the psychosexual comedy (now in theaters) fueled by booze, pot and a few deep-seated anxieties. As the hours go by, the politesse between these new friends gets chucked aside entirely, laying bare more vulnerabilities than anyone fully knows what to do with.

  • Martin Starr and Mae Whitman to film indie 'Operator' in Chicago

    June 28, 2015

    An independent feature grappling with technology and relationships begins filming in Chicago on Monday.

  • Movie about Obamas' first date to begin filming in Chicago next month

    June 25, 2015

    “Southside With You,” the indie movie about the first date between Barack Obama and his future wife, Michelle Robinson, begins shooting in Chicago July 13 according to Rich Moskal of the Chicago Film Office.

  • French comedy captures goofy, wild spirit of 'Girls'

    June 25, 2015

    At the outset of the breezily comic French film "Macaroni and Cheese" ("Les Coquillettes"), three girlfriends sit around a Parisian apartment one night. Drinking and smoking cigarettes (and cooking up some macaroni and cheese), they recount their misadventures at a recent film festival.

  • What you didn't know about 'The Birds' and 'Arachnophobia'

    June 18, 2015

    There's a fair amount of good-humored debunking that's followed the most recent "Jurassic" release, including my favorite so far: A cost analysis of what it would take to run a dino park in real life, which comes out to about $23 billion just to build the thing and another $12 billion or so a year to keep the lights on.

  • 'Mad Men' actress Teyonah Parris joins cast of Spike Lee's 'Chiraq'

    June 18, 2015

    Well this is a first: An actual casting announcement for Spike Lee's "Chiraq," a modern-day adaptation of the ancient Greek comedy "Lysistrata," which he is filming in Chicago through mid-July.

  • 'The Power of Prom' at the Annoyance Theatre

    June 17, 2015

    Before vampires and dystopias, teen movies weren't defined by life-and-death stakes. Matters were more prosaic, such as: If you give a guy a boombox to hold over his head, will this pseudo-grand gesture actually mean anything?

  • "Egos, Subconsciouses & People That Think" at the Annoyance Theatre

    June 17, 2015

    A quick note to performers and directors working in the Annoyance's smaller theater: If the air vent is on, folks onstage are going to have to project a lot more if they're going to be heard. That said, I think I got about 80 percent of what was said during this nutty show created by and starring Linda Orr and Traycie McBee, who come across as an addled and dirty-minded answer to Lucy and Ethel.

  • Filmmaker wins grant for movie about internment of Japanese Americans

    June 17, 2015

    Chicago filmmaker Eugene Sun Park has been awarded a nearly $160,000 grant to make a short narrative film about a "key moment of the Japanese-American incarceration experience" during World War II.

  • Jewish Film Fest comes to Chicago

    June 16, 2015

    The political thriller "Friends From France" ("Les Interdits") is among the selections kicking off the Jewish Film Festival this weekend, which includes a total of 17 films through June 28.

  • Indie movie about drug trafficking may film in Chicago

    June 15, 2015

    Filmmaker Jose De Avila is looking to start work on an indie film called "Traficante" in Chicago this September.

  • Famous actor audition tapes small-scale (if unintentional) works of entertainment

    June 11, 2015

    The constantly-shifting boundaries between private and public leave me in a state I would describe as moderately angsty. Those Sony email hacks? Pretty damn appalling. But the information revealed at least a partial view into how Hollywood actually works behind closed doors.

  • 'The Middle's' Neil Flynn filming indie in Elgin

    June 11, 2015

    Neil Flynn, who stars on the ABC sitcom "The Middle," was in town earlier this week, filming a small role for an indie feature based out of Elgin.

  • Race, family resentments in 'Don't Go Gentle'

    June 10, 2015

    Resentments have a way of lingering like a bad smell. Such is the family dynamic at the center of Stephen Belber's sprightly (if somewhat frustrating) drama about a retired judge — white, conservative and staring down his mortality — who, in an effort to reassess some of his assumptions about people of color, invites a black single mother and her teenage son to live in his home.

  • Hookups and slasher films in 'Love and Human Remains'

    June 10, 2015

    Is the word "love" being used ironically in this 1989 play by Brad Fraser? As in, none of this is anything close to an exploration of love or why we crave it so deeply, but, hey, let's call it love and see how long the smirk can be sustained?

  • 'Raising Hope's' Lucas Neff goes dark in new 'Preacher' series from AMC

    June 10, 2015

    "Raising Hope" star Lucas Neff is switching gears from loveable dummy to something quite a bit darker. The Chicago native is currently filming the pilot for AMC's adaptation of the comic book series "Preacher."

  • 'Blue Velvet,' Lynchian playground at the Music Box

    June 9, 2015

    Director David Lynch is probably best known for his 1990s TV series "Twin Peaks" and his 1986 film "Blue Velvet," the latter of which screens this weekend courtesy of the Music Box Theatre and the pop culture website Consequence of Sound.

  • A movie mashup of women-in-prison films

    June 9, 2015

    As part of this weekend’s Midsommarfest (the annual summer street fest in Andersonville), Chicago filmmaker Sharon Zurek will screen a pair of her mashup movie projects.

  • The city that drinks: Chicago bar culture on film

    June 4, 2015

    In the 1948 noir "Call Northside 777," which was filmed in Chicago, Jimmy Stewart stars as a reporter looking to unravel the mystery of who, a decade earlier, killed a cop who stopped in for a drink in a mob-run speakeasy. Somebody already sits in prison for the crime, but Stewart's newspaperman has his doubts. So he starts digging.

  • Dave Chappelle joins cast of Spike Lee's 'Chiraq'

    June 4, 2015

    Confirmed details about who is the cast of Spike Lee's "Chiraq" have been few and far between, but the director himself dropped a major hint late Wednesday.

  • Local TV and film production caught in state budget crossfire

    June 3, 2015

    The Illinois TV and film industry is caught in the crossfire between Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislators in Springfield.

  • Chicago ties: Oscar-winning screenwriter Moore with new series on NBC, plus casting news

    June 2, 2015

    NBC has just greenlit a 10-episode order of a new TV series from Graham Moore, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Imitation Game." The untitled drama (of which Moore is creator and writer) is described by Deadline as a “candid look at an outbreak that pushes its characters to extremes, revealing the best — and the very worst — humanity has to offer.”

  • Spike Lee's 'Chiraq' begins filming in Englewood, Bucktown, Wicker Park

    June 2, 2015

    After weeks of anticipation, crews for "Chiraq," the Spike Lee movie about violence in Chicago, have been spotted. They are expected to film in the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood Tuesday, where the music club Double Door is located.

  • Mysterious Titanic survivor in 'Scotland Road'

    May 29, 2015

    In an empty room with white walls and just a single wooden deck chair, a man assesses the environment: "Hotter," he says of the room's temperature. "I want her to melt."

  • Naked hippies and other film archive treasures from Chicago Filmmakers

    May 28, 2015

    Chicago Filmmakers houses a massive collection of 35mm and 16mm films that it makes available to the public. There are about 600 films in the catalog overall, most from the 1970s and '80s and heavy on animation. Anybody can rent them, anybody can watch them.

  • Long-ago love resurfaces, alarmingly, in 'The Woman Before'

    May 27, 2015

    A woman shows up at the door of a man she dated — briefly but intensely — 24 years ago. "For one whole summer we were lovers," she says, jogging his memory of that time when she was 17 and he was 20. "And you swore you'd love me forever. And I swore, too, remember? Now I've come to hold you to that promise."

  • Indie heist comedy stakes out Chicago's Jewelers Row

    May 21, 2015

    While Spike Lee's "Chiraq" has been sucking up much of the oxygen lately, a smaller movie project quietly began filming in town this week.

  • Chicago filmmaker Prashant Bhargava dies of heart attack

    May 19, 2015

    Prashant Bhargava, a filmmaker born and raised on Chicago's South Side, died Friday in New York at the age of 42.

  • 'Pitch Perfect' writer Kay Cannon's Chicago connection with Tina Fey

    May 18, 2015

    When I reached "Pitch Perfect 2" screenwriter Kay Cannon by phone recently in Los Angeles, she offered a disclaimer.

  • Long-lost doc about rural France indulges in people-watching

    May 14, 2015

    Few documentaries these days give themselves over entirely to the act of people-watching. Frederick Wiseman might be the most well-known and prolific American director to work in this style. But quiet, contemplative eavesdropping by a filmmaker — offering a glimpse into the small, quotidian details of another person's life — just isn't in fashion right now.

  • Spike Lee breaks silence on 'Chiraq': 'Everything I've done has led up to this film'

    May 14, 2015

    Details about Spike Lee's "Chiraq" remain elusive, but a news conference Thursday revealed a bit more about Lee and his collaborators' intentions. This much we know: Lee considers the project a culmination of a nearly 30 year career.

  • Military veterans try their hand at comedy in 'Stars & Gripes'

    May 13, 2015

    "I made the decision to do comedy because I always enjoyed making people laugh," naval reservist Landis Frederick says in a YouTube trailer for this show, "and my experiences with the military have just amplified that decision."

  • 'Oral' pushes comics to put their best stories forward

    May 13, 2015

    To hear Peter Kim describe his parents' courtship (funny, intricate, delirious) and their subsequent marriage (brutal and violent) is to witness a master storyteller at work. Full of detail about Korean culture and the Korean diaspora to Paraguay in the 1970s, the story was told with such specificity that it wasn't hard to form a mental picture of the strange affair, including an image of his rat of a father, glamorously shaking his feathered hair out of motorcycle helmet.

  • Kanye West will not be in Spike Lee's 'Chiraq'

    May 12, 2015

    Despite earlier reports that Kanye West was among the Chicago natives attached to Spike Lee's "Chiraq," representatives for the Grammy-winning performer tell Pitchfork he "will not be starring in 'Chiraq.' However, there are discussions for West's possible involvement in the film's soundtrack, schedule permitting."

  • Spike Lee's 'Chiraq' inspired by ancient Greek comedy about a sex strike

    May 11, 2015

    More news about Spike Lee's "Chiraq" is trickling out. The movie will be based on an ancient Greek comedy about a battle of the sexes, according to ScreenDaily.

  • Next season's TV lineup is heavy on Chicago talent

    May 8, 2015

    TV networks will officially unveil their full slate of new shows next week, but a few decisions have already been announced. Here's a rundown of what we know so far.

  • 'Welcome to Me' puts a new Piven in spotlight

    May 7, 2015

    "Oh, and I want to come in on a swan boat."

  • NBC picks up yet another Chicago-based show from Dick Wolf

    May 1, 2015

    NBC has picked up "Chicago Med" for next season. The news comes two weeks before the network's scheduled upfront announcements, when it will unveil plans for all of its new upcoming series.

  • Sam Richardson making spirits bright on 'Veep'

    April 30, 2015

    The last time Sam Richardson performed in Chicago, he was on the Second City Mainstage. Three years later, the exotic dancer he created for that show still stands out for its daring, with Richardson wearing nothing but a bright pink Speedo and a smile. The thing about that scene: It immediately transitioned into a new scene with Richardson playing President Obama, sans costume change, which made the moment all the more surreal. (An excerpt is embedded below.)

  • Wrong mix for 'The Sisters Rosensweig'

    April 29, 2015

    In comedy, rhythm's the thing. Without it, you might as well be on the receiving end of a limp handshake. That's the big sticking point in this production from Saint Sebastian Players, although there also are deeper issues at work.

  • Good lines can't save 'Rubbing Out Otis: A Film Noir Farce'

    April 29, 2015

    "I'm not talking Vlasics, but somebody was in a pickle!" There are a handful of wonderfully bad zingers in this film noir spoof — too few, I'd say. They come from the mouth of Rick Larkin (John Wilson), a Sam Spade knockoff in a trench coat and fedora who is the best thing going in this confused script from Richard Anderson for Corn Productions.

  • 'SNL's' Cecily Strong joins Melissa McCarthy comedy 'Michelle Darnell'

    April 29, 2015

    It's shaping up to be a busy summer at the movies for "Saturday Night Live" cast member Cecily Strong.

  • Spike Lee's 'Chiraq' would add to city's long violent filmography

    April 24, 2015

    As the camera pans over the Chicago skyline in the opening frames of the 1953 noir "City That Never Sleeps," a voice-over contemplates the nuances of "this giant, sprawling, sordid and beautiful, poor and magnificent city."

  • Native American actors offended, walk off Sandler Western: report

    April 23, 2015

    A number of actors walked off the set of Adam Sandler's latest comedy on Wednesday.

  • Chicago-shot USA series 'Sirens' not picked up for 3rd season

    April 22, 2015

    The USA sitcom "Sirens," which films in Chicago, will not be back for a third season.

  • Spike Lee holds 'Chiraq' details close to the vest

    April 19, 2015

    When Spike Lee took the stage late Saturday at City Winery for the second of his two appearances that night, a question hung in the air. Would he open up about “Chiraq”? Slated to begin work in Chicago several weeks from now, the film project has become polarizing for its title alone, before even a single frame of the movie has been shot.

  • 'Badfic Love' a very different spin on Harry Potter

    April 17, 2015

    I'm not sure this comedy about fan fiction devotees fully works, but there is a lot to recommend in this Strange Bedfellows production.

  • From Walkman to iTunes in 8 minutes, on film

    April 16, 2015

    In the upstate New York town of my childhood, there was a music store called Fantasy Records. I remember going in for the first time as a kid with my teenage brother, and whatever unformed ideas I had been nursing about what it meant to be cool suddenly snapped into place. There was a box on the counter of button pins printed with various band logos. I grabbed one for The Clash and wore it on my jean jacket. I knew only one song by the band, but as a preteen poseur that was enough.

  • 'Song About Himself': Garbled words and a need for contact

    April 15, 2015

    Picture someone online, alone late at night, with only a blueish glow from the screen for company. All the world is asleep, it seems, except for this person, pecking away at the keyboard, hoping to stumble across another lonely nighthawk staring into the digital abyss.

  • Chicago playwright hired as writer on 'How to Get Away With Murder'

    April 15, 2015

    Longtime Chicago playwright Tanya Saracho is moving to ShondaLand.  She announced on Instagram Wednesday that she will be a writer on ABC's "How to Get Away With Murder" for its upcoming season.

  • Spike Lee to shoot a movie in Chicago called 'Chiraq'

    April 9, 2015

    Spike Lee, who comes to town later this month as part of the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival (CIMMfest), plans to shoot his next feature film here, as well. 

  • Art + defunct technology = cultural critique

    April 9, 2015

    A four-minute video called "Golden Oldies" begins with pop culture provocateur Marisa Olson standing at a table that holds ephemera from music's past: a CD boombox on one side, a child's record player on the other. Both are spray painted gold, in witty reference to the video's title. The headphones on her head (plugged into nothing) are gold, as well.

  • A 'Veep' and a 'Workaholic' join Jon Hamm spy caper

    April 8, 2015

    A pair of Chicago comedy veterans have been cast in the upcoming studio comedy “Keeping Up with the Joneses” from “Superbad” director Greg Mottola and starring Zach Galifianakis and Jon Hamm.

  • Jerry Seinfeld in town filming 'Comedians in Cars'

    April 6, 2015

    Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is in Chicago on Monday shooting an episode of his delightfully sidewinding Web series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee." 

  • This is what happens when you fall asleep at a play

    April 3, 2015

    "They keep waking me up!"

  • 'Better Call Saul's' Odenkirk reunites with David Cross for Netflix

    April 2, 2015

    Bob Odenkirk, currently staring in "Better Call Saul" on AMC, will reunite with comedy partner David Cross for a sketch comedy series on Netflix.

  • 'Now En EspaƱol' goes inside the world of Spanish-language dubbing

    April 2, 2015

    One of the strangest, and funniest, moments in the documentary "Now En Español" is the sight of an actress dubbing an American television show into Spanish, and having to make kissing sounds for a love scene.

  • Booze and improv flow in 'Hitch*Cocktails'

    April 1, 2015

    It begins with an audience suggestion, as most improv shows do. Asked to name an unusual fear, someone calls out "sinking ships," resulting in a screwy nautical-themed (mostly) cohesive thriller loosely inspired — very, very, very loosely inspired — by Alfred Hitchcock's brand of suspense and chilly anxiety.

  • Past and place haunt 'Our Bad Magnet'

    April 1, 2015

    "Well, you know what they say," a guy observes in Douglas Maxwell's story of three childhood pals, "you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family."

  • 1978 classic 'Jubilee' brings punk to Chicago Filmmakers

    March 26, 2015

    The biggest selling album of 1977 was Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours." In the words of Spin magazine, it was music made by "rich, luxuriating hippie sophisticates who cavorted like sprites and nymphs and sipped chardonnay."

  • Chicago theater actors land TV pilots

    March 25, 2015

    Longtime Chicago theater actor Kelly O’Sullivan, who just finished a run in the controversial production of “This is Modern Art” at the Steppenwolf, has been cast as the lead in an untitled CBS sitcom pilot from former “Modern Family” executive producer Dan O’Shannon, whose TV credits also include “Newhart,” “Cheers” and “Frasier.” 

  • Doc provides look at real-life North Korea

    March 19, 2015

    "The reason 'The Interview' is not very good," my colleague Michael Phillips wrote last year about the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy, "has nothing to do with its decision, which Sony surely regrets, to name names and kill off the North Korean leader on camera. Rather, the movie is simply lazy."

  • Ex-NU professor a 'Survivor' expert in the classroom, but is he in the field?

    March 18, 2015

    Note: The following contains spoilers for this week's already aired episode of "Survivor"

  • 'Today We Escape' doesn't deliver on its Radiohead promise

    March 18, 2015

    Much as I like the ambitions behind Tympanic Theatre Company's project, I'm not sure any of it works. A collection of short plays by 12 writers, each tackling a track from Radiohead's 1997 album "OK Computer," the production feels like a writing exercise gone flat.

  • Rehner and Nixon need to dig deeper for 'Ladies Night!'

    March 18, 2015

    "I was wondering why I'm so hooked on sugar, and I remembered an incident that occurred when I was about 5 years old," Katie Nixon says in her new sketch show. At Bible school, they were served coconut cake, a flavor Nixon refused to eat. When her teacher came around to clear the plates, "She looked at me, looked at the cake, and then pointed her finger at me and spat, 'Shame on you for not eating the Lord's cake!'"

  • Filmmaker Spike Lee will be in Chicago for CIMMfest

    March 16, 2015

    Filmmaker Spike Lee is one of the boldface names coming to town for this year's Chicago International Movies & Music Festival, better known as CIMMfest.

  • No plans for Scorsese to film Grateful Dead documentary in Chicago

    March 16, 2015

    Reports that Martin Scorsese will film the Grateful Dead during their sold-out concerts at Soldier Field have been denied.

  • Chicago variety show 'Star Makers' lands TV syndication

    March 16, 2015

    Intentionally cheap, intentionally cheesy and sure to be the object of fascination for insomniacs and pot smokers across the country, the locally made comedy variety series "Steve Gadlin's Star Makers" has been picked up for national TV syndication.

  • Former Chicago actor joins Melissa McCarthy comedy

    March 12, 2015

    Timothy Simons, who has made his name playing the lanky political hack and creepo supreme Jonah on HBO's "Veep," has been cast in the new Melissa McCarthy comedy "Michelle Darnell."

  • 'SNL' alum Julia Sweeney tackling marriage in new film script

    March 12, 2015

    Last week Julia Sweeney tweeted out a photo of 20-some odd people gathered around a table: "All these wonderful Chicago actors who are reading aloud my screenplay for 'Fork' tonight," she wrote.

  • Filmmaker Noah Baumbach brings new film to Music Box

    March 10, 2015

    Filmmaker Noah Baumbach, whose latest feature “While We’re Young” opens this month, comes to Chicago for a career retrospective at the Music Box Theatre starting this weekend.

  • A Hard Day's Night' comes to Park Ridge with Beatles expert

    March 10, 2015

    Capturing Beatlemania at its height, 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night” comes to the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge next Thursday (March 19), with an introduction by Chicago-based writer Robert Rodriquez, author of “Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock ‘N’ Roll.”

  • Hannibal Buress show picked up by Comedy Central

    March 10, 2015

    Comedy Central has picked up an 8-episode TV series called "Why? With Hannibal Buress" from the Chicago-bred comic.

  • Netflix picks up series from Chicago native Brit Marling

    March 5, 2015

    Netflix has greenlit a TV series called "OA" from Chicago native Brit Marling and her writing partner Zal Batmanglij.

  • The art of combining facts and filmmaking

    March 5, 2015

    There's a terrific moment that comes about a half hour into the documentary "The Hand That Feeds" (screening Tuesday at the Music Box Theatre) that reveals a sly ingenuity from a group of underpaid immigrant workers employed at a New York City bakery cafe called Hot & Crusty.

  • Neo-Futurists 'Redletter' strays all over the media landscape

    March 5, 2015

    It took only a few short years for the Internet to upend our definition of the media. Traditional publications like this very newspaper jostle for attention alongside hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts, as well as online ventures like BuzzFeed that have perfected the art of pandering non-newsy items, published alongside the site's legitimate works of journalism, with no real distinction between the two.

  • Uneasy coupling in 'Four' by Jackalope Theatre Co.

    March 4, 2015

    Christopher Shinn's drama isn't a cohesive story so much as a series of conversations and negotiations. Sex is on the table for two different couples, but no one in either scenario walks away fully satisfied.

  • Minnie Minoso documentary airs tonight on WTTW

    March 2, 2015

    documentary about White Sox great Minnie Minoso, whose death was reported Sunday, will air Monday night on the local PBS affiliate, WTTW-Ch. 11.

  • Kris Swanberg steps into her own spotlight

    February 26, 2015

    In Kris Swanberg's quiet and absorbing "Empire Builder," a young mother stares out the window of her Lake Shore Drive high-rise, the sound of traffic and street noise from below gradually becoming louder and overwhelming, as though mimicking the restless emotions hiding behind the placid look on her face.

  • Rauner's new head of Illinois Film Office looks to spur film and TV jobs

    February 24, 2015

    The Illinois Film Office has a new director. Gov. Bruce Rauner has appointed GOP political consultant Christine Dudley, who steps into a job that primarily focuses on luring TV and film projects to Illinois.

  • Ex-NU prof goes from teaching 'Survivor' to playing it

    February 23, 2015

    Examine a group publicity shot for the upcoming season of "Survivor" (starting Wednesday), and your eye is immediately drawn to Max Dawson.

  • Why Chicago's flickering film industry faded fast

    February 19, 2015

    In the silent film "His New Job," Charlie Chaplin's iconic tramp marches into the offices of a movie studio looking to secure an acting gig. There he sits in the lobby. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Flirting. Fighting. Waiting. Smoking. Slapsticking. More waiting.

  • REVIEW: 'Really Really' by Interrobang Theatre Project

    February 18, 2015

    Though it starts out as a wry comedy about college keggers and hookups, this spiky drama from Paul Downs Calaizzo turns into something quite different by the end. Who did what — and why — is at the center of this story of drunken sex and woozy mornings after.

  • REVIEW: '#Trending' at Under the Gun Theater

    February 18, 2015

    "There's a lot of weird stuff online and we're here to make fun of all of it," reads the description for this show on Under the Gun Theater's website. "Each week a panel of distinguished guests talk about all the weird and wonderful things that your friends shared with you this week. And then that discussion inspires the improv which follows."

  • Tello Films incubates web series

    February 12, 2015

    Midway through its second season, Comedy Central's "Broad City" has made its mark not only for being funny and audacious, but also because the show's central dynamic is one that rarely anchors a sitcom anymore — that of a deep and abiding friendship between two women who are equal parts charming and alarming.

  • Swanberg movies bought post-Sundance

    February 10, 2015

    After married filmmakers Joe and Kris Swanberg each debuted their movies at Sundance last month, both have seen their work picked up for theatrical release.

  • 2 TV pilots will shoot in Chicago next month

    February 7, 2015

    As TV pilot season gears up, at least two projects will be filming in town next month, according to Rich Moskal of the Chicago Film Office.

  • Theodore Bikel and his muse to share a moment at Spertus

    February 5, 2015

    If you caught one of the many national tours of "Fiddler on the Roof" that have come through town over the last 30 years or so, chances are you saw Theodore Bikel as Tevye, the barrel-chested father of five daughters who schleps his milk cart through the Russian village of Anatevka, stopping every so often to exhale deeply and offer a sardonic observation on the changes occurring around him.

  • REVIEW: 'Push Button Murder' at The Side Project

    February 5, 2015

    The movie of the moment "American Sniper" is, above all else, sober in tone and intent — and don't you forget it, the film all but implores. Steve J. Spencer's "Push Button Murder," in a world premiere at The Side Project, is just as concerned about the effects of wartime service on a person's psyche.

  • REVIEW: 'Live! Tonight! With Kevin and Nick' at iO Theater

    February 4, 2015

    Both a lampoon of late-night talk shows and a sincere (if twisted) homage to form, the show devised by Kevin Knickerbocker and Nick Mestad for their Tuesday night slot at iO feels like they're picking up where David Letterman has mostly left off these past few years.

  • CBS pulls 'McCarthys' from the schedule, created by Second City alum

    February 3, 2015

    CBS has pulled freshman sitcom "The McCarthys" from its schedule.

  • Doc about Chicago chef Curtis Duffy 'For Grace' headed to SXSW

    February 3, 2015

    The documentary "For Grace," which captures renowed chef Curtis Duffy's two-year journey to open a fine dining restaurant in Chicago, will debut at South by Southwest in Austin in March.

  • 'Fair use guru' comes to Chicago with some tips

    February 3, 2015

    Nothing can stop a documentary filmmaker faster than a letter from team of lawyers citing copyright infringement, making it all but impossible for a director to include necessary material and footage in the film.  Inevitably someone doesn’t want their story told.  Or they want a fat payment.

  • Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Dan Aykroyd slated for 'SNL' 40th Anniversary Special

    February 2, 2015

    A mix of celebrities and former "Saturday Night Live" cast members are slated to appear on the 40th Anniversary Special for the storied sketch comedy series scheduled to air Feb. 15.

  • Life forms ingredients for filmmaker's indie

    January 29, 2015

    In the Chicago-shot indie "Warren," filmmaker Alex Beh plays a barista by day, occasional improv performer by night. Put another way: He's a guy in his 20s struggling to get his act together.

  • Gary Sinise pushes back after Howard Dean calls 'American Sniper' audiences 'angry'

    January 28, 2015

    Less than a week after Howard Dean described "American Sniper" audiences as "angry," actor Gary Sinise is politely but firmly pushing back.

  • Joe Swanberg's 'Digging for Fire' at Sundance: 'May reach his widest audience yet'

    January 27, 2015

    Joe Swanberg's newest film debuted at Sundance this week, and the cast is getting considerable praise.

  • ABC considering a comedy series about writer Dan Savage

    January 27, 2015

    ABC is making a sitcom pilot based on the life of "Savage Love" columnist Dan Savage.

  • Early reviews for Chicago filmmaker at Sundance

    January 26, 2015

    Early reviews are in for Kris Swanberg's indie "Unexpected," which debuted at Sundance on Sunday.

  • Chicago represents at Sundance Film Festival

    January 22, 2015

    The Sundance Film Festival kicks off today in Park City, Utah, with a pair of films from Chicago directors who also happened to be married to one another.

  • Mt. Everest epic restored and screening at Block Cinema

    January 22, 2015

    A member of England's Royal Geographical Society, Captain John Noel was on hand with his movie camera when British climbers George Mallory (who was 37) and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine (just 22) attempted their 1924 summit of Mount Everest.

  • REVIEW: 'Spinning Into Butter' at the Athenaeum Theatre

    January 21, 2015

    I'm a sucker for plays that plunge into the world of academic infighting, teeing up on the exploits of the overeducated when they are reduced to turf wars, ego-baiting and petty grievances.

  • REVIEW: 'A Map of Virtue' by Cor Theatre

    January 21, 2015

    The press materials peg playwright Erin Courtney's drama as a "hauntingly romantic play with a mystery at its center," a mischaracterization as baffling as it is just plain wrong.

  • Home alone (in Romania) at Facets

    January 20, 2015

    A 15-year-old Romanian girl becomes a de facto parent to her six brothers and sisters when Mom temporarily relocates to Italy for several months for work in the foreign language documentary “Waiting for August,” which comes to Facets starting Friday.

  • Analysis: How did 'Life Itself' not get an Oscar nomination?

    January 18, 2015

    When this year's Academy Award nominations were announced last week, there were a few notable omissions. On the documentary side, that distinction goes to "Life Itself."

  • Comedy Central eying Second City alums

    January 16, 2015

    A pair of Second City alums might have a shot at scoring a show on Comedy Central.

  • Fuller on Fuller and how a garrulous filmmaker got his start

    January 15, 2015

    "Every word spoken in this film was written by Sam Fuller," his daughter says in the prologue to her documentary "A Fuller Life" (playing at the Siskel Film Center Saturday and Monday).

  • Illinois Film Office shakeup: director leaving Friday

    January 14, 2015

    Betsy Steinberg, who has headed up the Illinois Film Office since 2007, was notified this week that her services are no longer needed, she confirmed Wednesday. Her last day in the office will be Friday.

  • Jennifer Aniston's 'Cake' gets Chicago screening

    January 14, 2015

    Last Fall, Jennifer Aniston hired a top Oscar consultant to help juice her chances of being nominated for her performance in the film "Cake" — which has yet to receive more than a handful of qualifying public screenings in LA.

  • Sex ed films through history

    January 8, 2015

    More than 100,000 sex education films have been made over the last century or so, according to Brenda Goodman's documentary "Sex(ed)," a fun if somewhat brisk historical overview of the genre that screens Saturday at Chicago Filmmakers.

  • 14th annual SketchFest: Founder Brian Posen offers his picks

    December 31, 2014

    The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival returns Thursday for its 14th year, spotlighting a mammoth selection of scripted comedy from groups from the Chicago area and parts elsewhere. The fest is usually not focused on boldfaced names, although well-known Chicago comedy alumni have been known to drop in on this scrappy, high-energy event that spans two weekends at Stage 773 in Lakeview each January.

  • What's coming to local art houses in 2015

    December 31, 2014

    Heading into the new year, the local art house scene is as wide-ranging as ever. Offering an alternative to massive studio pictures, the lineup features small indies, old-school classics, documentaries and foreign films. Here's a quick look at some offerings that caught my eye.

  • How improv audiences envisioned 2014

    December 29, 2014

    If improv shows reveal what's in a performer's subconscious, the audience suggestions that kick everything off can be just as revealing about what's in the zeitgeist at any given moment.

  • The Art Institute video collection is on YouTube

    December 26, 2014

    The artist William Wegman is probably best known for his photographs of Weimaraners. For decades now he has been able to coax his pet dogs to pose stoically before his lens, offering a steady, curious, tolerant gaze to the camera despite the oddball scenarios in which they are placed.

  • 'Jingle Bell Rocks' documentary uncovers Christmas musical oddities

    December 18, 2014

    A charming documentary about obscure Christmas music, "Jingle Bell Rocks" (at The Vic this week) opens with footage of a very tall, somewhat ungainly man wandering into that rarest of retailers — the music store — and riffling through a bin of CDs.

  • REVIEW: 'HoliDaze' from Step Up Productions at Chicago Dramatists

    December 17, 2014

    I was fully charmed by this small-scale collection of original short plays from Step Up Productions. The stories at hand are not necessarily Christmas-focused, but they all share the holiday setting and capture that strange love-hate sensation this time of year tends to evoke.

  • REVIEW: 'Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Goose'

    December 17, 2014

    The mystery at hand is a thin one, but maybe that's the point. Sherlock Holmes never seemed like a man particularly swayed by the holiday season; surely he would look for any excuse or busywork — a tepid mystery will do just fine — to avoid anything remotely sentimental foisted upon him at Christmas.

  • Lance Barber on his long-awaited 'Comeback'

    December 11, 2014

    It is almost unheard of for a TV series to get a second season nearly 10 years after the first. But with so many recent changes in the viewing landscape, nothing about television is business as usual anymore.

  • Screenwriter Graham Moore on 'The Imitation Game' and Sherlock Holmes

    December 11, 2014

    In 2010, Chicago native Graham Moore published "The Sherlockian," a witty novel both inspired by, and very much about, Sherlock Holmes.

  • Venezuelan film examines tresses and stresses

    December 4, 2014

    A few weeks ago the actress Halle Berry took her ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry to court for straightening and lightening the hair of their 6-year-old daughter "in a bid to make her look less African American," as the UK paper The Independent explained in the headline.

  • REVIEW: 'Desperate Dolls' at Strawdog Theatre

    December 1, 2014

    The tropes of old-school grindhouse flicks are transferred to the stage with enthusiastic fidelity at Strawdog Theater, and when actor Joe Mack makes his first entrance — wearing mirrored sunglasses, a mustache and a suit with a turtleneck — you know you're in good hands, at least style-wise. I am a little less convinced of the production's raison d'être, but more on that in a moment.

  • REVIEW: 'Red, White & Blaine' at iO Theater

    December 1, 2014

    Beloved as it is, "Waiting for Guffman" didn't even crack $3 million at the box office when it came out in 1997. The comedy is probably best watched on the small screen anyway, where you can rewind the funniest moments into oblivion. Among Christopher Guest's mockumentaries, his wholesome-snarky parody of self-serious, small town community theater is one of my favorites.

  • Documentary examines Penn State in wake of Sandusky scandal

    November 26, 2014

    "College football is something special. It really is. Hopefully we won't lose sight of that. Or mess it up." Prescient words, spoken by Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno in an old TV interview.

  • 'Control' a sad wrong place, wrong time story

    November 20, 2014

    "Luther, 16, was arrested outside his home in the Bronx, NY. He was charged with second degree assault, a felony."

  • Funny because it's true: John Cleese talks comedy in Chicago

    November 13, 2014

    Prior to his appearance at the Mission Theater (at iO) Wednesday afternoon in front of sold-out crowd of improv students and performers, John Cleese turned to me and said, "Don't be alarmed!" and then engulfed me in a bear hug and planted several kisses on my neck. Well. Hello.

  • Schlocky horror flicks lovingly satirized in 1993's 'Matinee'

    November 12, 2014

    The first thing you see in 1993's "Matinee," filmmaker Joe Dante's affectionate satire of B-movie madness, is a coming attraction starring John Goodman (playing a producer/carnival barker type whose stock-in-trade is schlocky horror flicks) hawking his latest picture.

  • REVIEW: 'Women at War' by Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

    November 11, 2014

    Outside of "Private Benjamin" and "G.I. Jane," pop culture hasn't really given much thought to women who serve in the military. The more prosaic reality — the day-to-day of what it means to serve in what is still a predominantly male environment — is explored in this new work from Rivendell Theatre.

  • REVIEW: 'Comedy Against Humanity' by Under the Gun Theater

    November 11, 2014

    Created by a group of friends from Highland Park High School, the party game Cards Against Humanity incorporates the non-sequitur silliness of Mad Libs with a blazingly simple premise wherein even drunk people — who are we kidding, especially drunk people — can excel.

  • What Indiana Jones gets wrong (and right) about archaeology

    November 5, 2014

    A few years back, the transcript of an early story meeting between the creators of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" surfaced on the Internet. In it, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and director Steven Spielberg sit down with executive producer George Lucas, who originally conceived the story about a swaggering adventurer called, initially, Indiana Smith.

  • REVIEW: 'Social Creatures' by Tympanic Theatre

    November 4, 2014

    In a zombie story that never actually uses the word "zombie" — one of the more realistic decisions made here — playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury sticks a handful of survivors in an abandoned building and watches them squirm.

  • REVIEW: 'The Lieutenant of Inishmore' by AstonRep

    November 4, 2014

    Once, when I was a young teenager and my parents were out of town, the baby sitter staying at our home looking after me — and, by extension, looking after Missy, our sweet if somewhat daffy rescue dog — made the careless mistake of leaving the gate open to our backyard. Missy got out and took off. I got home from school that afternoon to the news that she had been hit by a UPS truck and was dead. I don't want to say I was feeling murderous toward said baby sitter, but it was pretty close.

  • Backup singer Darlene Love gets her spotlight

    October 31, 2014

    Backup singers are never meant to overshadow the lead performer. And because of that, Darlene Love spent much of her career in the 1960s and '70s tamping down her sizable charisma.

  • When a (faux) audition process becomes the movie itself

    October 29, 2014

    Over the years, Chicago-based filmmaker Stephen Cone has occasionally done freelance work running casting sessions for the local agency Paskal Rudnicke, which is frequently hired to find actors for commercials and TV guest spots.

  • Frankenstein's little friend coming to the Pickwick

    October 23, 2014

    Somewhere in rural Switzerland, a town council convenes. They are all men of advanced age and they are grumbling about the state of their village: "Forsaken, desolate and shunned by every traveler, and why? Because of these Frankensteins!"

  • REVIEW: 'The Submission' by Pride Films & Plays ★★★

    October 21, 2014

    A young, gay playwright — a self-described "white dude" — writes a script about an "alcoholic black mother and her cardsharp son trying to get out of the projects" and submits it to the storied Humana Festival of New American Plays, subbing out his real name, Danny Larson, with a more genre-friendly (in his mind) nom de plume: Shaleeha G'ntamobi.

  • REVIEW: 'Devil's Day Off' at Signal Ensemble ★½

    October 21, 2014

    My experience with the plays of Chicago writer Jon Steinhagen has been mixed. He can be such a funny writer, and he has a real instinct for throwing groups of lousy-but-endearing idiots together and letting them mix it up a bit (his "Aces" and "Successors" being the strongest in this vein).

  • From little films, big laughs grow

    October 16, 2014

    It's taken a few years for the Chicago Comedy Film Festival to find its footing. Back for its fourth year this weekend, the lineup is noticeably stronger. As always, the focus is on small indie comedies. I got a look at three.

  • Behind-the-scenes look at TV opening credit creation

    October 10, 2014

    Think back about your favorite television shows over the decades. What do you remember first? For me, it is almost always the opening credits. It is the equivalent of a book jacket or an album cover. Even in this age of DVR and streaming and ever-present fast-forward buttons, the opening credits sequence — called, technically, the main titles — is still how a show brands itself.

  • REVIEW: 'Owners' by Interrobang ★½

    October 9, 2014

    Ugly people doing ugly things to one another isn't a bad premise for a black comedy. In her rarely produced first play from 1972, Caryl Churchill juices that premise with a kind of manic, larger-than-life odiousness of a sketch show shoved violently through a David Mamet-like meat grinder and set in London. Blow it up to such extremes, and maybe there's something funny in there. Maybe.

  • REVIEW: 'Watch on the Rhine' by Artistic Home ★★½

    October 9, 2014

    Lillian Hellman's call to arms, cloaked in a light drawing-room comedy that morphs into something far more serious, debuted on Broadway in 1941. It was about eight months before the U.S. entered World War II, and you can practically feel Hellman imploring her audience: The jackboot of fascism is marching through Europe, and we are coldhearted dolts if we look the other way.

  • Doc brings a local literary icon back to the fore

    October 8, 2014

    A few times throughout "Algren," filmmaker Michael Caplan's documentary about Nelson Algren which debuts next week at the Chicago International Film Festival, we see footage from a 1980 interview at the writer's home in Sag Harbor, N.Y. A young German woman sits with him on the beach, holding a microphone and asking Algren about his affair with the French intellectual and feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir.

  • 'Weekend' a home movie of sorts for Thomas Dolby

    October 2, 2014

    The world of moneyed Northern California liberals — a specific genus of the 1 percent all its own — is satirized from within in the seriocomic indie "Last Weekend" (at the Siskel Film Center through Oct. 9).

  • Mark Bolan, a founding member of ComedySportz, dies

    October 1, 2014

    Mark Bolan, one of the founding ensemble members the Chicago outpost of ComedySportz, was killed in a car accident early Monday morning, the improv theater has confirmed.

  • Blumhouse model keeps scaring up profits

    September 24, 2014

    When the Ethan Hawke horror flick "Sinister" hit theaters in 2012, it earned $48 million at the domestic box office, $77 million worldwide. The budget was just $3 million. That kind of ratio — cheap budget, fat profit — is not the norm in Hollywood. Intriguingly, though, it has become typical of producer Jason Blum, who was in town this month on the set "Sinister 2," his latest movie, shooting in and around the Chicago area since August.

  • REVIEW: 'Fail/Safe' at Strawdog Theatre ★★

    September 23, 2014

    A formidable cast including Henry Fonda and Walter Matthau fills out 1964 Cold War thriller "Fail-Safe," adapted from the 1962 novel of the same name, about a technical glitch that mistakenly sends a group of U.S. bombers armed with nuclear warheads to lay waste to Moscow. For various screwy reasons, at a certain point the jets cannot be called back. No matter what. And the story then concerns how the assembled parties in charge — the president, leading military officers and their equivalents down the phone line in the Soviet Union — plan to resolve or mitigate this enormous problem that could set off full-scale nuclear war. The option they finally choose, proposed by the president (a terrific Tom Hickey) is one of those crazy ideas that is impossible to imagine a political animal actually going through with — which is what makes it so interesting.

  • REVIEW: 'Another Bone' at Redtwist Theatre ★★

    September 23, 2014

    Grief, in all its complexity and shifting emotional topography, is a difficult thing to dramatize. In the world premiere of "Another Bone" at Redtwist Theatre, playwright Cathy Earnest relies on exposition to do much of the work, which creates all sorts of challenges for actress Jacqueline Grandt as the widow of a firefighter killed Sept. 11.

  • 'Downton Abbey' star filming indie in Chicago

    September 18, 2014

    "Downton Abbey" star (and Evanston native) Elizabeth McGovern is in town along with "How I Met Your Mother's" Cobie Smulders shooting an independent feature, confirms Betsy Steinberg, who heads up the Illinois Film Office.

  • 'Alex & Ali': Love, revolution and the cost of a reunion

    September 18, 2014

    In an old snapshot from the 1970s, a man with blond hair and a goatee stands squinting into the sun, wearing a denim jacket over a T-shirt. There is an irrepressible smile on his face. This is Alex, an American Peace Corps volunteer who lived in Iran from 1967 until 1977, when political tensions that led up to the revolution forced him to return to the U.S.

  • Films worth seeking on the indie circuit

    September 15, 2014

    We're heading into Oscar-bait season for Hollywood, when the biggest movies tend to suck up all the oxygen. Just as worthy are the offerings from the local art house scene, which reliably features smaller films — indie features, classic films and documentaries — that may lack studio marketing muscle but can be just as worth your time. A quick sampling of what's on offer.

  • Christian Stolte throws himself into 'Chicago Fire'

    September 11, 2014

    For two decades Christian Stolte has been a mainstay of Chicago's theater scene. If you've seen enough plays over the years at the Goodman, Steppenwolf or Profiles, you've likely seen Stolte, who has a pugilist's mug one does not easily forget.

  • 'Homestretch' looks in on lost teens of Chicago's streets

    September 11, 2014

    "Loneliness is one of my worst enemies." That deeply unsettling admission comes from a teenager in the new documentary "The Homestretch." Roque (pronounced Rocky) is solidly built but quiet, with soft features that can't fully mask the anxieties churning below the surface. This makes him a terribly compelling figure on screen. He doesn't reveal much about his innermost thoughts, but when he does it is a moment that hits you in the gut.

  • REVIEW: 'Mnemonic' by Red Tape Theatre ★½

    September 9, 2014

    A number of favorable reviews followed the debut of "Mnemonic," devised by Complicite, a British physical theater company that first performed it in 1999 before bringing it to New York in 2001. Much of the appeal back then, I suspect, lay in that of director Simon McBurney and his collaborators. Experimental works tend to be specific to their creators and don't always transfer well when others attempt to reignite the spark. Whatever it was that swept audiences into its grasp some 15 years ago, it is clearly missing in this remount from Red Tape and director Brandon Ray at the Storefront Theater.

  • REVIEW: 'The Coward' by Stage Left ★½

    September 9, 2014

    Your reaction may vary, but recent news of a firing range instructor who was shot and killed when his 9-year-old charge, clutching an Uzi, was unable to keep proper hold of her weapon was fresh in my mind as I watched two actors in Stage Left's production of "The Coward" engage in a bit of pistol humor, one heedlessly pointing his gun this way and that, blind to the other's concern that the damn thing might go off and do some real damage.

  • Filmmaker crafts an homage to crafty brew newbies

    September 3, 2014

    Filmmaker Shannon Mortimer is a wine drinker. Her significant other is a craft beer guy and in her words: "He was dragging me around to all these industrial parks" — where many small breweries are based — "and trying different craft beers. And what you'll see are a lot of interesting people from a wide range of ages going to all these places.

  • REVIEW: 'Out of Your Mind' at ComedySportz ★★★

    August 26, 2014

    The show is touted as "improvised mentalism," and having seen it, I'm still not sure what that means exactly. Eric Lindberg (a ComedySportz ensemble member) is loose, unpretentious and quick with a halfway decent one-liner. So it's amusing and sometimes legitimately funny. But it's not clear what distinguishes improvised mentalism from regular old mentalism. Aren't all acts of mentalism at once improvised (in terms of audience interaction) and painstakingly preplanned?

  • REVIEW: 'Do You Want a Sandwich: The Romantic Missteps of Josh Lanzet' ★★

    August 26, 2014

    "Let's not be that couple!" Josh Lanzet remembers a girlfriend saying as she got in her car and he was shouting "I love yous" out of the window of his house. Relationships and their strange idiosyncrasies were on tap in Lanzet's previous show earlier this year (the charming "Dating: Adults Embracing Failure"), and he returns to the theme again in this autobiographical one-man endeavor that scrolls through his various romantic mishaps.

  • 'Fargo' star Allison Tolman is having quite a year

    August 21, 2014

    August 2013: Chicago actress Allison Tolman, unemployed and doing temp work in the mornings, stops by her agent's office to tape an audition for the new FX series "Fargo."

  • Rosario Dawson in town for 'Sin City' opening

    August 20, 2014

    Rosario Dawson and two of her "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" co-stars are coming to the Chicago area for the film's opening weekend.

  • Director of the cult movie 'The Room' comes to the Music Box

    August 19, 2014

    Has any filmmaker mined the sardonic enthusiasm for a gloriously bad film more than Tommy Wiseau?

  • 3 Chicago actors cast in 'Wire' creator's newest project for HBO

    August 18, 2014

    A trio of actors with deep Chicago ties have been added to the cast of the HBO mini-series "Show Me a Hero," the latest project from David Simon.

  • 1991's 'A Rage in Harlem' and other films at the Black Harvest Film Fest

    August 13, 2014

    Hitting its 20th anniversary milestone this year, the Black Harvest Film Festival runs through the month of August at the Gene Siskel Film Center, spotlighting black cinema. The fest hasn't always been especially discerning about quality. I'm not sure that does anybody any favors. Quantity seems to be its primary goal, and my top pick of the remaining fest is a screening of "A Rage in Harlem," the 1991 heist comedy starring Robin Givens and Forest Whitaker. More on the film below.

  • REVIEW: 'Miles Away' at the Side Project ★★

    August 12, 2014

    Dysfunction and desolation in a rundown motel room — sounds like something by Sam Shepard. But the best this play can muster is Sam Shepard-light, with its story of a comely pool hustler (Isabel Ellison), barely of the age of consent, and the not-so-bright control freak (Josh Odor) who is in charge of their business, such as it is. If only even half of it felt credible in director Scott Weinstein's production. It is a problem of performances that push too hard, and a script by Christine Whitley that pushes even harder.

  • REVIEW: 'Mike and Seth' at the Side Project ★★½

    August 12, 2014

    A quarter-life crisis has descended upon an upscale Dallas hotel room where Mike (Derek Garza) and Seth (Michael Manocchio), friends since childhood, find themselves facing down their 30s and pondering the awful sensation that they're stuck on "the conveyor belt of life."

  • Robin Williams: A personality that jumped off stage and screen

    August 11, 2014

    Rare is the comedian who can compete with an oversize live video feed of himself, projected across the back of the stage as he performs his act. And yet when it came to Robin Williams, those pixels never stood a chance.

  • 'Breakfast with Curtis,' an indie about toking, joking and communal living

    August 7, 2014

    Picture an aging hippie who drinks red wine all day long, walks around barefoot, peppers every third sentence with "man" for emphasis and usually has a deep cut of some '70s-era album playing on the stereo. This is Syd. Every college town, I'm convinced, has a guy like this.

  • 'Better Off Dead' and 'The Crow' actresses come to Chicago for screenings

    August 6, 2014

    There is an informal video interview of Diane Franklin online where she begins with the self-deprecating introduction: “I was an actress in the '80s.”   For those of us who got at least some of our sex education watching R-rated movies on cable TV during that era, she is instantly recognizable as the star of 1982’s “The Last American Virgin.”

  • Chicago-area native Keke Palmer will be Cinderella on Broadway

    August 4, 2014

    Chicago-area native Keke Palmer will make history next month as the first black actress to play Cinderella on Broadway, beginning in September.

  • WTTW and Chicago International Film Fest spotlight foreign films

    August 4, 2014

    The Soviet Union in the 1950s wasn't a place where rock 'n' roll hepcats seemed likely to thrive, and who knows how much of the underground subculture depicted in the 2008 movie musical "Hipsters" actually existed.

  • Inside the new iO,where Fey, Poehler got their start

    August 1, 2014

    Thirty-two years ago Charna Halpern approached Del Close with an offer. He was already a renowned director in the world of comedy, and working at Second City. She had just launched the ImprovOlympic and wanted him to teach a class.

  • REVIEW: 'Invisible World' at the Annoyance Theatre ★★½

    July 30, 2014

    The current mainstage revue at Second City is titled “Depraved New World,” but if you're really looking for the transgressive stuff, it's happening a few miles to the north on Belmont Avenue, where the Annoyance Theatre's new sketch show, which opened in June and runs Saturday nights, is offering a decidedly R-rated spin on the genre.

  • 'This Is Spinal Tap' turns 30

    July 23, 2014

    It’s been a few years since I last saw 1984’s “This Is Spinal Tap” and what struck me upon watching it again is just how grounded the comedy is. The heavy metal rock band at the story’s center may be ridiculous, but the actual style of satire the movie works in never pushes the joke too hard. That’s actually pretty rare in a parody, but it’s one of the reasons I think “Spinal Tap” holds up so well 30 years after it was released in theaters.

  • Cat film fest, featuring video you won't find online

    July 21, 2014

    In 2012, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis launched the International Cat Video Festival, an event both sincere and tongue-in-cheek and featuring — that’s right — cat videos from the Internet.  The fest was a hit and returns this year Aug. 21.

  • iO performs its final show in Wrigleyville space

    July 20, 2014

    When I talked with iO Theater proprietor Charna Halpern late Saturday night, she didn't seem particularly nostalgic about the Wrigleyville location she was leaving after nearly 20 years. "I'm not sad," she said. Not even a little bittersweet. Next week she moves to a much larger, gut-rehabbed space in the Clybourn Corridor. She was ready to go, and I could understand the sentiment. The old building was falling apart as we spoke. The air conditioning in the downstairs theater had already conked out earlier that evening.

  • The lighter side of Alec Guinness

    July 16, 2014

    One cold night last year with too much time on my hands, I found myself tumbling down an Alec Guinness rabbit hole, streaming first the 1979 BBC miniseries adaptation of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and then, the late hour be damned, continuing on with the 1982 follow-up, "Smiley's People."

  • Historic Patio Theater in Portage Park is for sale

    July 15, 2014

    The Patio Theater in Portage Park is for sale, according to Demetri Kouvalis, who rehabbed the venue three years ago.  Built in 1927, the movie theater has been in Kouvalis’ family since 1987.

  • The numerous Chicago ties of 2014's Emmy nominees

    July 10, 2014

    If you attend enough theater and live comedy in town over the years, watching TV can sometimes feel like a game of spot-the-onetime-Chicagoan. That's never more true than when Emmy nominations roll around.

  • Long-lost Bill Murray film surfaces on YouTube

    July 9, 2014

    A long-lost Bill Murray film appearance from 1984 has surfaced on YouTube. This bit of cinematic archaeology was unearthed by the website Dangerous Minds.

  • Two independent films set to begin shooting in Chicago

    July 9, 2014

    Ten years after making it to the finals of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's "Project Greenlight," Chicago filmmaker Duane Edwards has lined up his first feature film project, slated to begin shooting locally this fall.

  • Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone to start shooting film in Lake Forest

    July 9, 2014

    Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone begins filming his latest indie “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party” this month. The movie takes place over the course of a 17-year-old’s birthday party — a suburban pool party, no less — and tackles all those great coming-of-age signposts.

  • What Shia LaBeouf means when he says 'Do you know who I am?'

    July 3, 2014

    "Do you know who I am?"

  • Chicago actor cast in Marvel's 'Ant-Man'

    July 2, 2014

    The upcoming Marvel adaptation of “Ant-Man” starring Paul Rudd will also feature Chicago theater actor-turned-filmmaker David Dastmalchian, whose semi-autobiographical indie “Animals” (which examined addiction with a sly and unexpected dose of low-key comedy) screened in town earlier this spring.  

  • Aaron Swartz doc tracks successes, struggles of Highland Park native

    June 26, 2014

    Pop culture right now likes to portray techie innovators as entrepreneurs. Think Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network" or the amiable malcontents of the HBO comedy series "Silicon Valley." All their efforts — all that substantial brain power — is geared toward building a business. And scoring a major payday. Becoming captains of industry.

  • 'Transformers: The Premake' makes Chicago critic a filmmaker

    June 18, 2014

    Before "Transformers 4" pounds into cinemas next week (sorry, "Transformers: Age of Extinction"), let us take a moment to step back and consider a much smaller, 25-minute film from Chicago-based critic Kevin B. Lee called "Transformers: The Premake," which went live on YouTube earlier this week and will screen at the Nightingale Friday.

  • 'Sirens' will film season 2 in Chicago

    June 16, 2014

    USA Network has announced that “Sirens” will return for a 13-episode second season.  The comedy, which is filmed in Chicago, centers on a trio of quippy EMTs, one of whom is the naïve new guy played by DePaul University grad Kevin Bigley.

  • Doc to capture life and work of Art Shay

    June 12, 2014

    Art Shay, who has spent his career documenting the lives of others, is now the subject of a documentary himself.

  • Jenny Slate delivers rom-com formula jolt in 'Obvious Child'

    June 11, 2014

    In the movie "Obvious Child," Jenny Slate stars as a struggling Brooklyn comedian who gets dumped, loses her comfy job at a neighborhood bookstore and meets a new guy with potential. Also: She gets pregnant and has an abortion.

  • Ike Barinholtz cast in Tina Fey-Amy Poehler movie "The Nest."

    June 5, 2014

    Ike Barinholtz, a writer and co-star on the Fox sitcom “The Mindy Project,” has been cast as the male lead in the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler movie “The Nest.”

  • Sam Greenlee, author of 'Spook Who Sat By the Door,' dead at 83

    May 19, 2014

    Even into his so-called golden years, the writer Sam Greenlee was outspoken about the curious fate of his 1973 film "The Spook Who Sat by the Door." A Chicago native, Greenlee, 83, died from natural causes early Monday morning at his home.

  • Tasty film returns to the Siskel Film Center

    May 15, 2014

    "One bite of that, and he'll build you a Taj Mahal," a woman is heard hollering approvingly through an open window to her neighbor, a pretty young housewife named Ila who is in her kitchen, preparing her husband's lunch. "The Taj Mahal is a tomb, auntie," Ila responds.

  • Actor, screenwriter David Dastmalchian on his new film 'Animals'

    May 8, 2014

    Films about drug addiction tend to have a punishing quality. Even the good ones. I'm thinking of "Drugstore Cowboy" and "Requiem For a Dream," "Trainspotting" and "The Man with the Golden Arm." Full-blown drug addiction is bleak. Why would an honest movie reflect anything else?

  • Actor, screenwriter David Dastmalchian on his new film 'Animals'

    May 8, 2014

    Films about drug addiction tend to have a punishing quality. Even the good ones. I'm thinking of "Drugstore Cowboy" and "Requiem For a Dream," "Trainspotting" and "The Man with the Golden Arm." Full-blown drug addiction is bleak. Why would an honest movie reflect anything else?

  • Allison Tolman gets big break on 'Fargo'

    April 28, 2014

    Though set within the same frigid landscape as the 1996 Coen Brothers movie, the new FX series "Fargo" is not so much an adaptation as it is a close cousin. Two episodes in, it has revealed itself to be a show larded with sight gags, stubborn Midwestern manners, character quirks, black humor and oftentimes a serious and observant look at mangled humanity.

  • Chicago was on fire, but the star was really hot

    April 24, 2014

    Is it really possible that just one major motion picture has ever been made about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871?

  • Elaine Lui dissects the Celebrity Industrial Complex

    April 17, 2014

    Two weeks ago when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced they were divorcing, many focused on the labored "conscious uncoupling" argot used in their announcement, which was posted on Paltrow's lifestyle website

  • Historic Patio Theater to close in April

    April 10, 2014

    The historic Patio Theater in Portage Park has been in Demetri Kouvalis' family since 1987. His father ran the movie theater until 2001, when the air conditioning broke.

  • Underground films see the light through fest

    April 3, 2014

    The gradual narrative unspooling of "Who Took Johnny," the true-crime documentary about a 12-year-old Iowa boy who has been missing since 1982, is extremely canny. The film doesn't deviate from the standard format — a collage of archival footage and talking heads — but it does refine it.

  • 'Taking Off' is bonkers, but what a debut for Milos Forman

    March 27, 2014

    "Taking Off" is barely a footnote in the renowned career of Czech filmmaker Milos Forman, who won the Oscar for 1975's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" as well as 1984's "Amadeus."

  • 'Love & Air Sex,' a 21st century romance

    March 20, 2014

    When you encounter a movie titled "Love & Air Sex" (this week at Facets) the obvious question is what is air sex?

  • Chicago Film Archives returns to blue-collar Lincoln Park

    March 13, 2014

    Midway through the 1974 documentary "Now We Live on Clifton," which captures the early gentrification of Lincoln Park, a group of boys fling themselves off the roof of a house onto a flimsy mattress down below. The diversion has "broken ankle" written all over it, but no one seems worse for wear.

  • Let's get flashy with film fest names

    March 6, 2014

    A few days ago I mentioned the Peace on Earth Film Festival to someone whose eyes glazed over so fast I might as well have said I was planning to stare at the wall for the next hour.

  • 'Sirens': Chicago-made humor

    February 27, 2014

    Of the six Chicago-filmed TV series airing this season, only one is a comedy.

  • Chicago playwright Tanya Saracho lands 'Girls' writing gig

    February 20, 2014

    Years ago, when I first interviewed Chicago playwright Tanya Saracho, she told me about visiting her senora here in town whenever she was in need of counsel. It took me a few minutes before I realized she was talking about a specific type of Latina fortuneteller.

  • About 'About Last Night...,' the Chicago version

    February 13, 2014

    The weekend of '80s remakes is upon us, with both 1981's "Endless Love" and 1987's "RoboCop" opening in theaters, plus one more that taps into a strange sentimental teenage memory for me: 1986's "About Last Night…"

  • 'Hallelujah the Hills,' the funniest comedy you've never seen

    February 6, 2014

    The funniest comedy you've likely never seen, let alone heard of, comes to the Siskel Film Center this week for two screenings. "Hallelujah the Hills," from 1963, is so rare, you won't find it on DVD or any streaming site.

  • Cinespace plans backlot expansion for filming possibilities

    January 30, 2014

    Cinespace, the soundstage complex on the West Side that is home to TV shows such as NBC’s “Chicago Fire” and ABC’s upcoming midseason drama “Mind Games,” plans to expand its filmmaking options by building a backlot on its existing 58-acre campus.

  • 2014 Oscars: Good films, in small packages

    January 30, 2014

    For too long moviegoers have had little exposure to the short films nominated each year for an Oscar, certainly not in the weeks prior to the ceremony. The awards for shorts — defined as shorter than 40 minutes and divided into three categories: live action, documentary and animation — have been little more than a black hole of random guesses for viewers filling out their ballots at home.

  • 'Maidentrip': Thrilling doc about a Dutch teen sailing the world solo

    January 23, 2014

    I was 15 the first time I flew to a non-English-speaking country by myself, an experience at once terrifying, thrillingly adult and exceedingly small potatoes compared to that of Laura Dekker, the Dutch teenager who sailed around the world alone from 2010 to 2012 on a 40-foot boat called Guppy.

  • Bo knew jerseys, and so does Danny Pudi

    January 10, 2014

    I wasn't the only "Community" obsessive to breathe a sigh of relief when the NBC comedy returned for its fifth season last week, with creator Dan Harmon reinstalled at the helm after being discharged from his duties last year. The show suffered for it, morphing into a tepid facsimile. Now it's back to its old self: wonderfully bizarre and deeply funny.

  • Review: 'Chicago PD' a by-the-book procedural

    January 8, 2014

    There's an old Rudyard Kipling quote about Chicago I haven't heard for a while that shows up in the new NBC drama "Chicago PD," a show that looks to portray police work the old school way: tough, dirty and not without personal costs. Will you see expansive recaps on this show every week? No. It's not that kind of series. Is it a touch overheated at times? Yes. But it hits the spot.

  • Art house cinema winter preview

    January 2, 2014

    We're coming off a year that saw numerous venue disruptions for the Northwest Chicago Film Society, which found itself moving from the Portage Theater to the Patio Theater to the Siskel Film Center in a matter of months.

  • From network to network, it's Chicago all over

    September 19, 2013

    With the new TV season upon us, let's step back and look at the new shows based out of Chicago (an unprecedented six TV series are here this fall), plus shows filming elsewhere that feature Chicago actors.

  • A face you won't forget, in movies big and small

    September 12, 2013

    Very few principal roles are cast out of Chicago when big studio movies shoot here. Not significant roles, where the camera lingers on a person for more than a moment. It's a strange phenomenon considering the deep bench of acting talent in town, but every so often there are exceptions.

  • A face you won't forget, in movies big and small

    September 12, 2013

    Very little casting is done in Chicago when big studio movies shoot here. Not significant roles, where the camera lingers on a person for more than a moment. It's a strange phenomenon considering the deep bench of acting talent in town, but every so often there are exceptions. I remember watching 2008's "The Dark Knight" and realizing that weaselly guy who Aaron Eckhart was threatening over the ledge of a skyscraper was a Chicago actor. I knew the face. It's a distinctive face, one that belongs to David Dastmalchian. Haven't seen much of it on local stages since.

  • Nothing devious about 'Devious Maids' writer Tanya Saracho

    June 20, 2013

    For all the Chicago acting talent that turns up on TV each season, a steady number of local playwrights are landing TV work as well. Particularly women. Laura Jacqmin recently joined the staff of the new ABC series "Lucky 7" (which co-stars fellow Chicagoan Stephen Louis Grush).

  • When celebrity interviews go bad

    June 13, 2013

    Let us consider for a moment the Hollywood performance that never gets nominated for awards but can be just as indelible as any Oscar-winning role. I'm referring to the celebrity interview that goes viral.

  • Ricky Jay keeps his magic tricks, and thoughts, close to the vest

    June 6, 2013

    About midway through the documentary "Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay" (opening Friday at the Music Box Theatre), Jay emerges backstage after a performance and is greeted by a roomful of people. As he acknowledges his well-wishers, he catches sight of a person filming him and says, only half joking: "Cameras. They should be avoided at all costs."

  • Judy Blume comes to a theater near you with 'Tiger Eyes'

    June 2, 2013

    "Someone came to us and said, 'Hey kids, do you want to make a movie?'" Judy Blume said with a laugh when I spoke to her by phone last month about the upcoming release of the film adaptation of "Tiger Eyes," based on her 1981 novel. "No, that's not what they said. But they had funding to adapt a couple of books into movies, and they asked us (Blume and her son, Lawrence Blume, a film director) which one we would like to do, and we didn't hesitate for a second. Because we always knew which one."

  • Judy Blume, forever: The author and confidante to generations of women reflects on her career

    June 2, 2013

    The first time I read Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” was on an eight-hour road trip over the winter holidays.

  • 'Breakfast Club': How a talky teen film became a classic

    May 31, 2013

    I was in 7th grade when "The Breakfast Club" opened in theaters, and I distinctly remember thinking the movie was totally right about everything. I wasn't in high school yet (and that was surely one of movie's allures; a peek in a world I would soon enter), but at 13, I had suddenly become aware of all those weird anxieties, indignities and nuances that define the lives of adolescents, and they were all right there on the screen. Perceived slights as far as the eye can see. Rigid-seeming social circles. Parents who just don't understand. If only people knew the real me.

  • 'Portrait of Jason': A raconteur gets his moment

    May 23, 2013

    "Portrait of Jason" begins with a test tone and a blurry image. And then, as the screen slowly comes into focus, the tone stops and you hear a crew member say: "This is Shirley Clarke, 'Portrait of Jason.' Roll one, sound one. Sound rolling, camera rolling."

  • A magnetic actress tackles a taboo subject in 'Unspeakable Act'

    May 17, 2013

    "In the spring of 2011, at the age of 18, my brother Matthew got his first real girlfriend," says the 17-year-old protagonist of "The Unspeakable Act" in voiceover as we see her riding her bike down leafy, idyllic streets in Brooklyn. "I had somehow thought that he and I had an unspoken agreement that we belonged to each other. Which was really pretty stupid of me."

  • NBC picks up 'Chicago Fire' spinoff 'Chicago PD'

    May 10, 2013

    NBC, which renewed “Chicago Fire” last month for a second season, has announced that it is also picking up the show’s police-themed spinoff.

  • 'Peeples' star Craig Robinson's full plate may get even fuller

    May 9, 2013

    For the last nine seasons Craig Robinson has played Darryl, one of the most understated characters on TV. "The Office" may be closing out its ninth and final season next week, but Robinson's profile is about to increase exponentially. He has three movies coming out, including the idiots-at-the-apocalypse comedy "This Is the End" (with Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill) and "Rapture-Palooza" (playing no less than the Antichrist himself, seducing Anna Kendrick).

  • What are the best movies based on books?

    May 8, 2013

    Less than a year after “The Great Gatsby” was published in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald was paid $16,666 for the film rights. “Come and see it all!” beckons the trailer for the silent film. “And enjoy the entertainment thrill of your life!”

  • TV pitches: So I've got this idea for a show ...

    May 7, 2013

    Two weeks from now, TV networks will announce their new slate of shows for next season. The majority of these series will be variations on a formula. Procedurals. High-concept sci-fi and fantasy dramas. Nighttime soaps. Comedies starring familiar faces. This is how it works. Out-of-the-ordinary shows tend to be too risky when the goal is big ratings.

  • 'Schlub Life': Comedy Central pilot coming from locals

    April 26, 2013

    A group of Chicago sketch and improv performers are making a sitcom pilot for Comedy Central called “Schlub Life,” about “two out-of-work and out-of-shape husbands and their exasperated wives who begrudgingly provide the good life for them.” It is premise with legs, landing somewhere between “Workaholics” and “The League.”

  • Kam Kardashian: Long-lost, totally made-up sister found in Chicago

    April 25, 2013

    Anyone with a cellphone and a laptop can make a Web series. But it's tough to pull off something that looks professionally made. Not when there's barely any money involved. There is a huge opportunity here for indie filmmakers, especially those inventive enough to shoot great-looking videos on nonexistent budgets, to step in and make a name for themselves.

  • 'Big Fish' writer chats with the minnows

    April 19, 2013

    A group of influential screenwriters will converge on Chicago this weekend, including Lucy Alibar (whose script for "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was nominated for an Oscar this year) and Bob Gale (who wrote all three "Back to the Future" films).

  • Human Rights fest docs convey hard truths

    April 4, 2013

    Sometimes a number is shocking enough to stop you cold.

  • 'Mr. Selfridge': The man who invented retail therapy

    March 28, 2013

    Until recently, the Vera Wang bridal shop in Singapore imposed a non-refundable $482 fee to try on dresses. And last month a health food retailer in Australia posted this notice on its door: “As of the first of February, this store will be charging people a $5 fee per person for ’just looking.’ The $5 fee will be deducted when goods are purchased.”

  • An indie brings Nick Offerman back to the Chicago area

    March 7, 2013

    Whenever I find myself in a bleak mood, a quick glance at the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness usually does the trick. A near-perfect melding of minds between the "Parks and Recreation" writing staff and actor Nick Offerman, this visual guide on how to live life ("Crying: Acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon") is one of the NBC show's lasting legacies.

  • Chicago Underground Film Fest finds a fitting home

    February 28, 2013

    Nearly 20 years after it was founded, the Chicago Underground Film Fest remains (perhaps appropriately) a relatively underground event. Two decades is a milestone, though, especially if you're talking about a fest that brands itself as the home of "defiantly independent" filmmakers. I give a lot of credit to artistic director Bryan Wendorf, who hasn't really had to compromise his initial vision. A quick glance at this year's lineup (starting Wednesday and running through March 10) shows that CUFF once again brings the perplexing, the wonderfully offbeat and strange to our city's movie screens.

  • TNT's 'Southland': A show worth seeking out

    February 27, 2013

    In a TV season boasting at least half a dozen underappreciated comedies (“The Middle,” “Raising Hope” and “Enlightened” among them), it is far rarer to see a quality drama fall through the cracks. But if ever a series deserved the kind of intense viewer attention normally reserved for a Sunday night on HBO, it would be “Southland” (9 p.m. Central Wednesdays) which began its fifth season this month on TNT.

  • Oscars: Seth MacFarlane is an Academy guy

    February 23, 2013

    When Seth MacFarlane takes the stage Sunday as host of the 85thAcademy Awards, chances are a large portion of the viewing audience will look at their TV screens and wonder: Who is this guy? He might just be the least famous Oscar host ever , with a resume unlike that of any previous host except for the author and humorist Irvin S. Cobb, who hosted in 1935 — but even Cobb had a career in front of the camera.

  • What's your take: Comedians working for free at iO

    February 21, 2013

    There has been debate brewing the past few weeks among comedy performers in New York concerning the issue of pay. Often, stand-up comedians with a certain level of experience can score paying gigs at New York clubs. Recently, more and more stand-ups have started performing at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, a sketch and improv house where no one is paid to perform. Hence, the recent tensions.

  • It took a trio to come up with Wonder Woman

    February 15, 2013

    If comic book characters are a driving force in Hollywood, it's worth noting that Wonder Woman, one of the most iconic characters of the last 70 years, has yet to star in her own live-action movie.

  • 'Bye Bye Liver's' Pub Theater finds new home near Wrigley Field

    February 11, 2013

    Seven years after launching the profitable and long-running “Bye Bye Liver: The Chicago Drinking Play,” Pub Theater has acquired its own theater space just a few blocks north of Wrigley Field at 3914 N. Clark St.

  • Logan Theatre reviving some forgotten -- or never known -- trashy movies

    January 31, 2013

    There are raunchy, trashy, terrible movies. And then there is "Intrepidos Punks," in a class all its own. An exploitation artifact from early 1980s Mexico (there is some dispute about the film's exact date), it pits the berserk against the berserker: Punk biker gang versus corrupt law enforcement.

  • This side of 'Paradise,' with Echols, Davis

    January 17, 2013

    "I really do believe these people would have gotten away with murdering me if it would not have been for what you guys did — for being there in the beginning and getting this whole thing on tape so the rest of the world sees what's happening." That's Damien Echols, talking to filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky a couple of years ago when they visited him in prison for the most recent installment of "Paradise Lost," their HBO documentary series about the West Memphis Three that aired last year.

  • Midwest native looks east in 'Somewhere Between'

    January 11, 2013

    "I am a child stuck between two countries," says 15-year-old Fang "Jenni" Lee in the insightful new documentary "Somewhere Between." Adopted at age 5 and raised in Berkeley, Calif., she is one of roughly 80,000 girls who have come to the U.S. since China first began allowing foreign adoptions in 1992.

  • 'Price Check': Consumer-themed indie is one to check out

    January 3, 2013

    There is a science to the way products are placed on supermarket shelves, and it is one that can stealthily influences our choices.

  • Taking stock of Chicago TV, film

    December 20, 2012

    It was a notable year for Chicago's film and TV industry, both for projects that came — and those that didn't. First, the good news. The city was home to four television series in 2012. That is an unprecedented number.

  • Edward Burns returns to his roots

    December 13, 2012

    About halfway through writing the script for "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas" (which opens at the Wilmette Theatre next week), Edward Burns says he found himself at a crossroad. "Do I want to make the big, crazy, funny, holly-jolly Christmas Irish family movie?" he recalled when we spoke last week, "or do I want to go for something a little more grounded in the real world and a little more serious?"

  • Richard Wagner: Separating the man from the music

    November 29, 2012

    "Just because he may have been a nasty little man and a nasty anti-Semite doesn't mean that his music is not as supreme as it is."

  • Ethel Kennedy isn't one to share, in spite of film about her

    October 11, 2012

    “There are so many times in my life,” filmmaker Rory Kennedy tells her sister Courtney in the movie “Ethel,” “where people have said, ‘I want to introduce Robert Kennedy's daughter. ...” To which her sibling replies: “Oh, it makes me so mad! What about the one who delivered us and carried us for nine months and then has been with us the last 40 years?”

  • They're 'Mortified,' we're entertained

    October 4, 2012

    As a genre, the celebrity interview hasn't changed much over the years. The standard talk show appearance is home to the carefully sculpted anecdote. In-depth magazine profiles tend to pivot around a contrived field trip or two, or leave you with the lingering sense that most of the spontaneous ponderings have been shaped ahead of time by the unseen hands of a publicist and manager. The press junket doesn't even pretend to be anything more than the sales tool that it is.

  • Chicago filmmaker spent 8 years on new documentary 'Band of Sisters'

    September 13, 2012

    "You didn't really have (to) think much for yourself," a nun says of her early years, in the new documentary "Band of Sisters," which has its world premiere at the Siskel Film Center this week. "All that went unchanged for years and years and years — until Vatican II."

  • Ira Glass and WBEZ Chicago venture into the movie biz

    August 31, 2012

    One of the first things you notice during the opening credits of "Sleepwalk with Me" is a producing acknowledgment that reads simply: "In association with WBEZ Chicago's This American Life."

  • Emmy nominations reinforce Chicago's rep as comedy training ground

    July 19, 2012

    Nominees for the 64th Primetime Emmys include several former Chicagoans, continuing a trend from years past. The 2011 winner for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series, Plainfield native and “Mike & Molly” star Melissa McCarthy, was again nominated in that category as well as outstanding guest actress for her much-lauded performance as host on “Saturday Night Live.”

  • Film festivals for many tastes this weekend

    April 13, 2012

    We're heading into a crowded weekend for film fests in Chicago, with no fewer than three major events competing for attention. This kind of overlap is far from ideal, but then again filmgoers are a self-selecting bunch, and the three festivals on tap speak to distinct interests. I'll take a closer look at two of them, while my colleague Michael Phillips tackles the 28th Annual Chicago Latino Film Festival this week in Specialty Screenings.

  • How 'Wizard of Oz' struggled on road to fame

    March 2, 2012

    Nostalgia and navel-gazing dominated the Academy Awards broadcast Sunday, including a spoof featuring Christopher Guest, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and others as a disgruntled focus group attending a "Wizard of Oz" test screening circa 1939. The joke? They tore the movie to shreds, culminating with the ultimate kiss-off from Eugene Levy: "I didn't particularly care for the 'Rainbow' song."

  • The story behind 'The Sound of Music' and it's sing-a-long origins

    November 23, 2011

    Note: This story originally ran on Nov. 23, 2011

  • Tribune archive: 'Comeback' jerk getting noticed

    April 7, 2005

    This article was originally published on April 7, 2005.

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