Christopher Borrelli is a general assignment features reporter and columnist whose wide range of subjects includes art curators, shadow ...

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Christopher Borrelli

Christopher Borrelli

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For 'Star Wars' fans in middle-age, force is still strong

For 'Star Wars' fans in middle-age, force is still strong

September 25, 2015

Jimmy Mac recalled his age with a squint and a wince. Forty-six, he said after a pained calculation, the kind of hesitation that suggests lately he has to remember each time he is asked and would rather not remind himself. His hair is sort of brownish, with a bit of Irish red and, he pointed out, "a touch of gray." Jimmy Mac has been feeling old lately, though he doesn't seem old: He is a Chicago bro, a guy's guy, a longtime producer for radio personality Jonathon Brandmeier who speaks in the caffeinated, steamroller cadences of drive-time radio. Still, on a few things, Jimmy Mac (whose real name is James McInerney) can sound tender, his voice softening with unconditional love. He sounds like this talking about his two sons, he sounds like this talking about his wife, WGN radio host Wendy Snyder. And he sounds like this discussing his first love: a love that dates to 1977, a love that once seemed ephemeral, destined to fade with childhood.

  • 20 things to love about the 'Star Wars' universe

    September 25, 2015

    What do we mean when we talk about "Star Wars" now?

  • Anna D. Shapiro at Steppenwolf Theatre: Work in progress

    August 21, 2015

    Anna D. Shapiro, thoughtful and pushy, a hugger with a smirk never far from her face, an inquisitive art house picture tucked inside a pin-balling screwball comedy, about to become one of the most important people in Chicago theater, stood in the living room of her New York City apartment. It was late in the spring on the Upper East Side, where she and her husband, actor Ian Barford, had been living since the previous summer. They'd fly back, occasionally, to their home in Evanston for 24 hours or less, then return: He was appearing in the Tony-winning "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" and she had been directing a string of Broadway hits — "Of Mice and Men" (with James Franco), "This Is Our Youth" (with Michael Cera) and "Fish in the Dark" (with Larry David) — working often with megawatt, power-broker producer Scott Rudin.

  • Grateful Dead, at the end of the end

    July 6, 2015

    On the last day the surviving members of the Grateful Dead played as the Grateful Dead, on a lovely Sunday in Chicago before the last emotional notes rang out around midnight, the following happened: Jim Avery, a middle-aged sales manager for a beer distributor in New Hampshire, sat in the back of the CTA 146 bus wearing a T-shirt with a Jack-O-Lantern across the front. "I am never doing this again," he said, pausing to let his words sink in. "This is the end, I can't see the Grateful Dead again after tonight. But ... if it's not? If they do decide to return? Then I'm out. No more."

  • Grateful Dead ticket resale and the death of live music

    June 26, 2015

    Once, I received a miracle.

  • Tim Samuelson: Chicago's cultural historian

    June 18, 2015

    Tim Samuelson, as cheerful and unwieldy and outsized as a sheepdog, plowed his hands inside his kitchen cabinets and rooted about, the clatter of plastic against plastic sounding throughout his apartment.

  • Is there a math formula for suspense?

    June 12, 2015

    You spread out on a beach with the latest James Patterson thriller; you play catch-up with a Gillian Flynn chiller; you stand in line to see if Chris Pratt can outrun genetically modified dinosaurs in "Jurassic World"; you perch at the edge of a bar stool, watching the future of the Chicago Blackhawks dip and soar with each passing second. You take for granted that, in each of these scenarios, suspense is your companion — a frenemy of sorts, slippery to define, happy to unease, always dragging along three pieces of baggage:

  • Walking through Saul Bellow's Chicago

    June 7, 2015

    Saul Bellow Way is a one-block stretch of West Augusta Boulevard in Humboldt Park, running from Rockwell to Washtenaw, and named, of course, for the Chicago writer, who would have been 100 on June 10. He died in 2005 and received this honorary street seven years later, after his adopted neighborhood, Hyde Park, rejected a proposal for a similar honor.

  • The Goodman Theatre would like to be in your will

    May 21, 2015

    The other morning I was standing in the lobby of the Goodman Theatre when a bike messenger glided past without a word and disappeared into the bathroom. A moment later, he reappeared and dotted out back to the street, unchained his bike and vanished into the Loop. The lobby was mostly empty at 11:30 am on a Wednesday and the few who were there didn't seem to notice or care. I thought: What a resourceful use of a local arts institution during its off-show hours! The quasi-kosher, Starbucks-esque, not-so-public public toilet!

  • Longtime Letterman writer Adam Resnick revisits 'Cabin Boy'

    May 20, 2015

    There's a good chance you have no idea who Adam Resnick is, but there's an even better chance Adam Resnick is perfectly fine with this: He has no Twitter or Facebook account and is famously shy — at least "famously" to the people who believe he should be famous.

  • 'Tomorrowland' review: Clooney imagineers hope

    May 19, 2015

    By now you probably heard that the series finale of "Mad Men" ended with adman Don Draper dressed in loose-fitting whites, chanting "om" on the lawn of a commune in California, perched at the edge of the Pacific, the 1960s having slid into the 1970s. Then, just as we assumed Don had found spiritual release, a smile flickered at his mouth. He had an idea, and the show cut to that most characteristic of '70s corporate hosannas — a field of people singing they would like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, they would like to buy the world a Coke. There was ambiguity in those final images, but the message was plain: Someone, perhaps Don, landed on a deliriously catchy, and deeply cynical, way to sell hope and optimism.

  • The link between Don Draper and David Letterman

    May 15, 2015

    Over Easter weekend, while rooting around in my family's home in Rhode Island, looking for photo albums, I came across a cardboard box in the basement, large and deep enough to have once held a pricey, pre-flat-screen, flat-tube TV, the kind of monolithic living room statement that strained backs and impressed neighbors.

  • Artist's 600 plates depict the final meals of death row inmates

    May 14, 2015

    Six tacos, six glazed doughnuts, one Cherry Coke.

  • Will Chicago ever learn to appreciate Kanye West?

    May 5, 2015

    Take this as empty provocation if you must, but it's sincere: Kanye West, a guy who knows a thing or two about the artful mingling of provocation and sincerity, is the most important, influential cultural voice to emerge from Chicago in a generation, and you can't bring yourself to acknowledge that, can you, Chicago?

  • Blackhawks fan fiction takes Toews off the ice

    May 1, 2015

    The fantasy goes like this:

  • 'Ghost World' artist's papers acquired by University of Chicago

    April 30, 2015

    The University of Chicago has acquired the papers of cartoonist Daniel Clowes, an artist so closely intertwined with Hyde Park that it only makes sense his raw materials would live there in perpetuity. Clowes, who is best known for the alternative comic book "Eightball" and earned a 2002 Oscar nomination for the adapted screenplay of his popular "Ghost World" comics, grew up in Hyde Park and attended UC Laboratory Schools.

  • Star Wars universe in full Celebration mode

    April 29, 2015

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Smells of lilac and palm were everywhere, hanging in the air. The Imperial trooper removed his white sculpted helmet and breathed in the spring morning. Immediately, the pleasant smell of Anaheim was replaced with the riper fragrance of Star Wars Town, a smell of sweaty excitement and, also, of sweat. It was the smell of the Anaheim Convention Center floor, where more than 60,000 "Star Wars" fans descended on each day of Star Wars Celebration, the giant, semi-occasional, Lucasfilm-produced bacchanal to all things from a galaxy far, far away.

  • Modern nerd decor takes on a tasteful, adult look

    April 22, 2015

    A couple of years ago at C2E2, during the second edition of the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo at McCormick Place, I bought a small terra cotta pot from an older man seated at a table. He never looked at me; he worked for the duration of our transaction, sculpting felted wool into small "Star Wars" figurines. His wife took the money and he nodded and continued churning and churning his wool into miniature cylindrical Chewbaccas and R2-D2s that he then placed into seedling pots, as though planting pop culture cactuses.

  • Video: Tasteful, even hip fashion at Star Wars Celebration

    April 19, 2015

    ANAHEIM, Calif. – Seated in the dark, waiting for a panel to begin at the four-day, Lucasfilm-blessed Star Wars Celebration, Jeff David of Arizona tugged at his baseball cap, which, if you were paying close attention, was not for a sports team. Anywhere else, its choppy, angular mainframe design and splashes of black and red across the lid and cap might have suggested, oh, NASCAR? But here, the thin strip of black, red and grays were obvious:

  • How my media diet is killing me

    April 18, 2015

    The first step in addressing a problem is recognizing there is a problem, and because I recognized I had a problem I went to see Sue Becker. I drove out to her home in Downers Grove and she met me at the front door. She was polite and formal and practical-seeming; she wore a cranberry-color, wrinkle-free blouse and an expression of placidity and ease more commonly associated with saints and friendly robots. I sat across from her on a couch in her living room — she sat in a cream-colored chair and pulled out a notebook.

  • This amazing mural is the perfect ode to 'Star Wars' fandom

    April 18, 2015

    When, or if, George Lucas ever builds his new museum on the Chicago lakefront, might I suggest a new acquisition? Something to welcome the skeptical museumgoer or one of those frowning Friends of the Park? It’s called “The 20th Century Space Opera” and it is an 8-by-15-foot mural, a dazzlingly bright, almost gaudy, mostly brilliant oil-painting tribute to loving “Star Wars” as a kid and missing it as a grown-up.

  • Coming out party for 'Star Wars: Battlefront' during Star Wars Celebration

    April 17, 2015

    The line between what it means to watch a video game and play a movie is about to get much, much blurrier. On Friday here, during Star Wars Celebration, the semi-occasional Lucasfilm-produced “Star Wars” convention running though Sunday, one of the most feverishly anticipated events was a panel discussion/coming-out-party for “Star Wars: Battlefront,” the upcoming, open-world war game (think “Call of Duty,” with Tie-Fighters) from DICE, EA games’ Swedish game development arm.

  • Mindy Segal shares her obsession in new cookbook 'Cookie Love'

    April 13, 2015

    Mindy Segal has this great look she gives you, a look that says "What are you, a *#%$ idiot?" It is her default look, and pretty adaptable: She can deliver it with a smile, or a frown, with an air of puzzlement, or a hint of generosity. It is a reassuring look for the author of a just-released cookie cookbook, because it says, even to someone as inexperienced with baking as myself: Look, if you can dress yourself, you can, with a smidge of patience and some common sense, bake a decent peanut butter thumbprint with strawberry lambic jam.

  • Talking to Dick Gregory: Comedy, Selma and Cosby

    April 10, 2015

    Talking to Dick Gregory these days is a chore. Not because the man rambles — he's 82 and has earned the right. Not because every question for the famously philosophical comedian and activist — the self-proclaimed first black satirist — leads down a new rabbit hole of metaphor and irony and paranoia and profundity and tangential allusions. Not because he avoids technology — Lillian, his wife since 1959, is his go-between, arranging interviews (via fax) from their home in Massachusetts. Not because he is so casually blunt on the subject of race and stereotype as to walk the line between offensive and powerful. Not because he seems to be paradoxically outside of his time — "This ain't my world," Gregory likes to say — and surrounded by the same issues he faced down 60 years ago.

  • Brown bread, a dying New England staple, found far from home

    April 3, 2015

    For as long as I can remember, my favorite bread, the bread that I still crave above all breads, has come in a can. It's called brown bread, or outside of New England, where it is mostly unheard of, Boston brown bread. My grandmother, whose family came from Portland, Maine, a brown-bread holy land, would bake it often, sliding the dense, brown loaf out of an old bean can, slicing it in thick discs and smearing cream cheese across each surface. But generally, in a pinch, on a Saturday night, served with a plate of baked beans and hot dogs, my brown bread came from a gold and red B&M Brown Bread can. It came from a can because, in keeping with old New England tradition, B&M steamed its brown bread in a can, never baked it.

  • New Yorker editor makes her mark with new book

    April 3, 2015

    About 25 years ago I had a summer internship at a magazine and lived in fear of making mistakes. One morning, while proofreading a profile scheduled for an upcoming issue, I was laid low by flatulence. To be specific, the writer had noted that whenever the subject of his profile walked, the man's shoes "squawked like a fart." I read this and paused — a mistake! — then circled "fart" on the proof and drew a line from the offending "fart" to the margin, where I wrote, with great satisfaction, "fot." Because it was undoubtedly "fot." I had a New England accent and a high school diploma and was absolutely certain, phonetically speaking, the word was spelled "fot." Or if you were fancy, "faht." Either way, definitely not "fart."

  • Goodbye, Starbucks CD rack, I'll miss (the idea of) you

    March 31, 2015

    Friends, music fans, people who stand in line for $5 coffee drinks: We are gathered here today to bid farewell to another idea from Starbucks. It felt like only yesterday we were saying goodbye to the coffeehouse chain's "Race Together" initiative, created to spur honest, thoughtful conversations on race with Starbucks baristas. And now, as of Tuesday, Starbucks has quietly pulled CDs from its 21,000 stores.

  • Pac-Man-inspired restaurant Level 257 seeks arcade-loving adults

    March 26, 2015

    In the annals of video game legend, level 255 is the final frontier, the undiscovered country, the last playable level of Pac-Man.

  • Artist Faheem Majeed focuses on large impact of small gestures

    March 12, 2015

    Each Jesus Christ was weighty and sizable, about 21/2 feet long, cross included. Each statue had come out of a mold, then plaster had dripped off, pooled and hardened, settling around the edges and leaving thin crescents of residue that clung to the crucifixes like mushrooms. None had been painted yet; each was still white and identical. Faheem Majeed set three of these raw statues side by side on top of a wooden school desk, to create his foundation. Then he reached into a cardboard box, pushed aside packing blankets and lifted out a fourth statue of Christ on the cross. He placed it perpendicularly across the others.

  • Arcade Fire's Will Butler is moving out, not moving on

    March 9, 2015

    Who is Will Butler?

  • Sonnenzimmer continues to rise in Chicago art world

    March 6, 2015

    Just off Irving Park Road in North Center, on one of those lonesome industrial strips where the bricks and mortar blend effortlessly with the overcast Chicago afternoon, there is a building you cannot enter, you are not invited to visit and you would probably not go to anyway. Literally and metaphorically. It is a petri dish of tasteful avant-garde, a former photo album factory downsized and divvied into so many artisan studios that it has become a microcosm of 21st-century Chicago hipsterdom. In one corner, you find the independent CHIRP Radio; down the hall, a few concert and event poster-makers; on a different floor, the adventurous Third Coast Percussion, and the Grammy-winning chamber music ensemble eighth blackbird.

  • Reviews: 'Saturday Night Live: The Book,' '75 Years of Marvel Comics'

    March 5, 2015

    If I were the president of the world, Taschen, the fittingly German publisher of monolithic art books that manage to be simultaneously intimidating, terrifically obsessive, gorgeously produced and breathtakingly gaudy, would have the rights to publish everyone's high school yearbooks. Granted, your yearbook would cost $400 and come on paper stock so sturdy you could slice apples with the pages, the fashion section would include tasteful-tacky nudes from Helmut Newton, and the whole shebang would weigh 25 pounds.

  • For labor union cartoonist, these are lonely but busy days

    March 3, 2015

    A couple of weeks ago, a blood vessel burst in Gary Huck's left eye. It was the same day that Bruce Rauner, Illinois' new Republican governor, unveiled his state budget, calling for $6 billion in cuts to such sacred cows as the University of Illinois and Medicaid, and steep pension reductions for government workers. The proposal was criticized immediately by labor leaders as the latest salvo from Rauner against public employee unions. Huck sat at his desk in Rogers Park and read and took this all in and, at some point that afternoon, his left eye turned crimson. He said he doesn't think it was a psychosomatic reaction to the proposed budget; he doubts that Bruce Rauner set out to intentionally cause anything in his head to pop.

  • Are you an artist? Ask

    February 26, 2015

    So you think you're an artist?

  • Artist Eldzier Cortor gets to know a city he left 60 years ago

    February 25, 2015

    Eldzier Cortor, whose sculptural, Afro-Deco images of elegant, elongated black women were once so quietly enmeshed with the 20th century as to seem almost invisible, returned to Chicago the other day. He hadn't been back in decades — many, many decades. He had grown up here, on the West and South Sides; his family, which moved from Virginia in 1917, were a part of the Great Migration. He studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, painted everyday Bronzeville for the Work Progress Administration and became a colleague to Chicago Black Renaissance stars Richard Wright, Archibald Motley and Gwendolyn Brooks; but then, in the 1950s, after also co-founding the South Side Community Art Center, he moved to New York.

  • Oscars 2015: Stay classic or keep it real? Hollywood can't decide

    February 23, 2015

    Once there was a time when watching the Academy Awards was like going to a zoo that only stayed open for a few hours every year. You climbed aboard your tram (or couch), grabbed your binoculars (or popcorn), the gates of the park would swing wide and for a night, you were granted an opportunity to observe a very distinct species of human being, a rare genus that had somehow recognized a trait in itself and migrated to Los Angeles to live among the palm trees, inside vast gated enclosures inaccessible to ordinary people.

  • Why can't Oscar match the Role with the Gold?

    February 20, 2015

    History is lousy judgment plus time.

  • 'The Breakfast Club' 30 years later: Don't you forget about them

    February 17, 2015

    When you grow up, your heart dies.

  • 'Murderabilia' is the star at Mad Mobster Chicago

    February 15, 2015

    G. William Harder, self-described Satanist, self-proclaimed good friend to bad people, collector of serial-killer letters and prison art, proprietor of the website and seller of "Got Satan?" T-shirts, stroked habitually at his chin. He gathered together the strands of dry brush that he calls a goatee and tugged them into a spike. He wore a white shirt, long baggy black shorts, a skinny black tie and a pentagram pin on his collar. A middle-aged man was telling him that he knew someone who knew someone who searched Jeffrey Dahmer's house in Milwaukee — one of the police officers who raided the killer's home in 1991 — and found a severed head in the refrigerator. Harder listened closely but did not look especially impressed.

  • Searching for signs of John Belushi in his hometown

    February 13, 2015

    The first time I visited Chicago, about 25 years ago, I asked the clerk at the front desk of my hotel if he would point me in the direction of the John Belushi statue, the John Belushi memorial, the John Belushi honorary whatever. Because I had always assumed there was one. Alongside "Star Wars," K-tel records and Steve Martin, this Albanian-American from Wheaton played such an outsized role in so many '70s childhoods, there had to be something. Those dancing eyebrows, that coiled Tasmanian Devil caricature of a presence, that cheerfully rampaging personality behind a sweet smile — Belushi was the unshackled id of the Carter administration, the rebel you wanted to be before you knew any better. My friend Todd Sharon and I danced as Blues Brothers at our high school talent show. And to this day, along with my first phone number, I can recite Belushi's very first line on the first episode of "Saturday Night Live" from 40 years ago:

  • When a gun problem becomes a problem for art

    February 6, 2015

    Laurie Glenn, a Chicago public policy activist and founder of the politically minded arts group ThinkArt, dropped her leather bag into a chair. We met in a conference room of the Woods Fund of Chicago, a grant-making foundation on Wacker Drive with an eye on social justice issues. Glenn, who also runs the social justice-minded consulting firm Thinkinc., was there for a strategy meeting, "to talk influence-building." I was there to steal her for a second, to look at the artwork she would be installing in River North's Josef Glimer Gallery.

  • 'Jupiter Ascending' spaceships may look familiar to Chicagoans

    February 3, 2015

    Depending how you see it, and how generous you are, the wonders of "Jupiter Ascending," the new space opera from Chicago filmmakers Lana and Andy Wachowski, the team behind "The Matrix," should be endless. For those who come to regard it as a camp classic (and this contingent will be legion), there are space soldiers in what appear to be Mexican wrestling masks; Channing Tatum looking like Puck in a high school production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"; Eddie Redmayne's nutty hoarse whisperer of a villain.

  • Underrated for years, Bob Odenkirk gets the call for 'Saul'

    January 30, 2015

    A few years ago, on a TV show that you likely never watch and probably never heard of but eventually might appreciate, Bob Odenkirk crafted a brief and remarkable performance. In fact, until Odenkirk joined AMC's acclaimed "Breaking Bad" in 2009 as the smarmy underworld lawyer Saul Goodman, became a series favorite and then the leading man of its hotly anticipated spinoff "Better Call Saul," he might have written his epitaph with such praise: Here lies Bob Odenkirk. He was influential, funny, underrated and fleeting.

  • Elsa rules in Disney on Ice: 'Frozen'

    January 22, 2015

    Elsa is Elvis.

  • 'Chic-a-Go-Go' keeps the party going for 1,000th episode

    January 19, 2015

    Sunday afternoon.

  • Movie lover comes to grips with TV's superiority

    January 16, 2015

    Someday, when the dust settles on the turbulent, game-changing history of early 21st-century media — at that far-off point when the use of jargon like "game-changing" is met swiftly, and by decree, with a light prison sentence — let's hope this small, tossed-off moment is not forgotten: On Jan. 11, 2015, during their opening monologue at the normally boozy and irrelevant Golden Globe Awards, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler pretended they didn't have enough time to recognize the TV people in attendance and led the audience in a call-and-response: "When we say, 'Movies,' you say, 'Awesome!' …"

  • Abbi and Ilana a power couple on 'Broad City'

    January 9, 2015

    Deep in the midst of Christmas shopping last month, I came across a clever, kitschy picture frame. Part of its design, at the edge of the picture glass, was metal cutouts of people bowing effusively, we're-not-worthy style, to whatever image you put inside the frame. The image the shop's owner placed inside the floor sample? A picture of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. I asked why and the owner said, seriously, "They're my spirit animals." Her answer sat with me, and later that afternoon, I called up Etsy on my phone and typed "Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer" into the search line, waited a moment, then, voila:

  • 'David Bowie Is' sets MCA attendance record

    January 6, 2015

    Perhaps it was the fashion.

  • Neil Gaiman on his love for David Bowie

    January 3, 2015

    Everyone geeks out over someone, particularly those whom others geek out over.

  • When pop culture becomes myth

    December 23, 2014

    Jeremy Wechsler is not the kind of guy you ask if he has watched the trailer for the new "Star Wars" movie yet. He's the kind of guy you ask how many times he has watched the trailer for the new "Star Wars" movie. Which, he notes, opens 12 months from now. Wechsler is 45 and potbellied, a middle-aged fanboy. Just after his first daughter was born, before even leaving the hospital, he held her and cooed that soon he would be introducing her to the heroes of "Star Wars," reading to her from the Harry Potter books …

  • Chicagoans of the Year in Literature: Defenders of the book

    December 23, 2014

    Of course the literary Chicagoan of 2014 could have been a happy author, any one of the many local writers who had a very good 2014. Some of the year's most elegant nonfiction came from Eula Biss' slender breakthrough "On Immunity," and some of its best fiction came from novelist Cristina Henriquez and her "Book of Unknown Americans." Jeffrey Brown's popular "Star Wars" books for kids brought the once-obscure cartoonist closer to pop ubiquity. Esteemed short-storyist Stuart Dybek released two acclaimed works on the same day. Legendary historian Garry Wills turned 80 without snapping his book-a-year streak. Meanwhile, both Gillian Flynn and Veronica Roth had successful Hollywood adaptations and took home all of the cash.

  • 2014: The year we knew everything about everything

    December 19, 2014

    "What's the point of even sleeping?"

  • C2E2 costume contest registration is now open

    December 17, 2014

    Bummed you never had the guts to slap on your best Batman armor last spring and enter the C2E2 Crown Championships of Cosplay at McCormick Place? Intimidated by the depth of detail and craftsmanship that went into some of those costumes (remember the Transformers suit — that didn't even win)? You have a chance at redemption.

  • One man's fine art of complaining about your post office

    December 8, 2014

    Marc Fischer approached the Logan Square post office the way a beaten dog approaches its owner. He came at it sideways, tentatively, prepared to flee. His memories of the place were not especially warm.

  • Remembering when it was fun to fly at Grayland Station

    November 26, 2014

    At the far northwest edge of Chicago, the intersection of Devon and Caldwell avenues serves as a busy junction, an unheralded gateway to the suburbs and beyond. Travel is never far from your mind in this spot. The No. 85A CTA bus winds an endless loop around Edgebrook, its modest neighborhood. To the west, the North Branch of the Chicago River; to the east, the Edens Expressway; and the Kennedy is a quick jog south. Metra trains cut a path here, slowing the steady flux of cars that use Devon as a back way into O'Hare International Airport, which sprawls to the west and creates its own freeways high above.

  • R. Crumb reflects on 'The Complete Zap Comix'

    November 14, 2014

    Culturally, physically, scatologically — it's hard to overstate "The Complete Zap Comix."

  • Khecari presents a dance performance in a dungeon

    November 11, 2014

    To find the latest performance piece by the rising experimental dance company Khecari — "rhymes with 'treachery,'" explains founder Jonathan Meyer — go to West Rogers Park on the Far North Side. Specifically, Indian Boundary Park on Lunt Avenue, an oasis of green hemmed in by duplexes, apartment buildings and family homes. Once there, you will move instinctively toward the 1929 Tudor Revival fieldhouse on the south end of the park; it seems to be the only conceivable place for a dance performance here. But continue past, to the north end: On a brisk autumn evening, the only sound should be the rustling of trees, the only smell the damp foliage. If you can feel the drama, congratulations: You're getting closer to Khecari.

  • Why chefs obsess over awards

    November 10, 2014

    Until recently, I was a voting member of the James Beard Foundation, which gives out a number of highly valued annual awards to chefs and restaurants. But I was not a very active member, and certainly, while eating out, that membership never came up. Restaurants never seemed particularly aware: I can't recall a time being treated egregiously well. Alinea never left extra garlic bread. The other day, however, now shorn of influence, I had a power fantasy while eating at a suburban restaurant with clear pretense toward a Beard award or Michelin star. It was brunch. My dish came with an over-easy egg. But since it was brunch, at the risk of upsetting the integrity of the dish, I asked for my egg scrambled.

  • John Mulaney's new double life

    November 7, 2014

    As Thomas Wolfe once wrote (and I believe I'm accurate here): You can go home again despite the fact your new sitcom on Fox just pulled a 0.7/2 rating among viewers 18 to 49, attracting 1 million fewer eyeballs than your lead-in, a "Family Guy" repeat. Of course, Thomas Wolfe also (and actually) wrote the classic "You Can't Go Home Again," which offers this uplifting advice: "Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don't freeze up." So I guess the lesson here is, Thomas Wolfe sent mixed signals.

  • Sandro Miller does all Malkovich, all the time

    November 5, 2014

    The first thing to know about "Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters," the new exhibition opening at the Catherine Edelman Gallery in River North on Saturday, is that the artists mean it.

  • Oh my Godzilla: One fan's costume tribute

    November 3, 2014

    Billy DuBose, of Elmhurst, does not make a particularly gargantuan impression. He is 31, of medium height and modest build. His hair is thinning into Louis C.K. tufts. He has an unassuming air, works as a marketing assistant at National Lift Truck, his father's forklift business in Franklin Park. Sometimes, he says, he is asked to shovel snow. But Billy DuBose knows something about commitment. You probably think you understand commitment. But have you ever, like DuBose, spent six years shooting an amateur Godzilla film in your garage? Have you showed up, for six years in a row, at a Godzilla fan convention in Rosemont, camera in hand, imploring C-list actors from official Godzilla films to appear in your no-budget Godzilla film?

  • What makes an author talk exciting. Really.

    November 2, 2014

    Martin Amis walked slowly onto the auditorium stage of the Francis W. Parker School in Lincoln Park and stared grimly into the audience. He looked the part of the austere British novelist: gray suit, blue dress shirt, no tie, white hair swept back in thin humps, a rictus of dyspepsia. Donna Seaman — the Charlie Rose of Chicago author talks, the most reliably thoughtful interviewer at these sort of events — introduced her subject, explaining "the Times of London named (Amis) one of the 50 most important British authors since 1945." She said this the way a docent might wave her hand before a rare and esteemed piece of stonework.

  • Christopher Nolan injects his sci-fi with soul

    October 31, 2014

    Near the end of Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar," as this vast science fiction blockbuster-to-be neared its third hour, the floodgates burst: My chin quivered (check), tear ducts filled (check), cheeks grew warmer (check). And yup, I cried. Sneaking a peek behind myself, film publicists cried too; turning farther, I spotted security guards (hired by Paramount Pictures to ensure I didn't bootleg the film) taking clandestine swipes at their own faces. I did not quite understand what had just happened on that (very large Imax) screen, but Nolan, once again, had accomplished something many of his studio contemporaries have not been able to muster:

  • Inside the Field Museum's hidden flesh-eating beetle room

    October 27, 2014

    The scariest room in the Field Museum just might be a back room full of flesh-eating beetles, used by the museum to prepare bones for research.

  • Essayist Roxane Gay's critical voice is booming

    October 24, 2014

    At the risk of sounding like I'm "mansplaining": Female nonfiction writers are having a moment. How do I know this? The literary ether has whispered it for months: Lena Dunham ("Girls") recently Instagrammed a picture of Megan Stielstra's book of essays, "Once I Was Cool." Stielstra, a writing teacher at Columbia College Chicago, saw an uptick in interest for her book, which came out in May. Coincidentally, Dunham's own book of essays, "Not That Kind of Girl," is No. 2 on The New York Times' nonfiction best-seller list; she appeared earlier this month at the Chicago Humanities Festival. Stielstra is appearing at the festival Wednesday, interviewing the memoirist/essayist Cheryl Strayed ("Wild"). And Strayed was recently asked by the Times' book section:

  • Brooklyn empty lot becomes Smorgasburg, a great food option

    October 17, 2014

    It's possible your idea of a restaurant is less broad than mine, but my favorite restaurant in this city at the moment — my favorite for the last few years — sits in an empty Brooklyn lot against the East River. That's on Saturday afternoons through Nov. 22. On Sunday afternoons through Nov. 23, Smorgasburg occupies an empty lot a stone's throw from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Order some food, grab a spot at a picnic table and look out on lower Manhattan. Autumn, when hipster knee socks give way to hipster windbreakers, and summer fairs seem a long ways off, is the best time to visit.

  • Chicago film fest founder: 'I'm not going anywhere'

    October 17, 2014

    Michael Kutza sliced through the crush with a smile. It's what he has done for decades. Well-wishers, sponsors, staffers, friends, filmmakers, moviegoers, people who say Chicago would be a culturally poorer place without him and people who say he's an incorrigible, tone-deaf socialite who does the city few favors: Everyone stepped aside, and Kutza strode through the lobby, down a hallway and into a theater at AMC River East 21, the unassuming, proletarian showcase for the Chicago International Film Festival, which Kutza founded. His smile is his weapon, the first thing you notice about him. It's mischievous and reddens his face, his grin expanding across his cheeks with Hollywood wattage.

  • Comedian Cameron Esposito is on a charm offensive

    October 10, 2014

    One day this past summer when I knew I would have a little free time, I thought I would meet up with Cameron Esposito, who seems to have very little free time anymore. A few years ago she had been a fixture on the Chicago comedy scene but decided the Midwest wasn't stable ground for a female comic with ambition: "I didn't want to be 48, still renting an apartment and having to go out and perform every night, just to barely live."

  • Lena Dunham "Not That Kind of Girl" tour visits Chicago

    October 7, 2014

    “Questions for Lena? Do you have a question for Lena? Would you like to ask Lena Dunham a question?”

  • Comedian John Mulaney is the throwback kid

    October 4, 2014

    John Mulaney has the benevolent wide-set eyes, cresting hair and copacetic choirboy appearance of a superhero who has taken a spa day. He is trim to the point of receding, and as angular as Peter Parker. He walks with his hands plunged deep in his pockets, and when he listens, he is assessing and shrewd, suggesting a confidence and insight beyond his 32 years. But here's the thing about Mulaney: He's also worthless, redundant and antiquated, a portrait of high self-image commingling with low self-worth.

  • 'SNL' history book 'Live from New York' revised

    October 3, 2014

    Forty seasons into "Saturday Night Live" and you just don't hear the old criticisms so much anymore: "It's not as edgy as it was in the 1970s …" "This new cast is not as funny as that previous cast …" "It's such a boy's club …"

  • 'Gone Girl' author Gillian Flynn makes confident leap into screenwriting

    September 25, 2014

    Walking across Western Avenue on a muggy September afternoon, Gillian Flynn stepped through the rutted pavement of a construction zone and explained with patience and precision how she would murder me one day. Granted, I had asked. Say you needed to kill me, I proposed, how would you do it? Hammer? Rope? A chain saw to the back? Immediately, I regretted asking, and not because she had an unnervingly ready response. The question was gauche: In polite conversation, one does not ask a magician to perform a magic trick or a comedian to tell a joke, and one does not ask the hottest crime and mystery writer in the nation, particularly one with a knack for bottomless wells of unease and characters harboring corrosive tempers, to plot your death. It's tacky. Thankfully, Flynn is not a polite conversationalist, and she doesn't blink at tacky.

  • Beyond the actual exhibit, more Bowie events are all around us

    September 23, 2014

    There was a time, a fleeting moment last year, when the staff at the Museum of Contemporary Art figured it could be subtle about "David Bowie Is," opening Tuesday. They thought the show itself was so literally flashy and large that they didn't need to schedule a bunch of ancillary concerts and celebrations and lectures and dance performances.

  • Will David Bowie go to 'David Bowie Is' in Chicago?

    September 23, 2014

    So, is he or isn't he?

  • 'David Bowie Is': How do you fit a rocker into an art museum?

    September 18, 2014

    Sometime soon, should you find yourself backstage at the Museum of Contemporary Art, wandering its administrative offices, be sure to look for the pencil drawing of David Bowie as a banana. It is not an official curated piece of museum art; rather, it is an unsigned doodle taped to a hallway wall alongside a few dozen other works of office-space ephemera, all riffing on the only thing that anyone at the MCA is allowed to think about these days: David Bowie. There are concert photos of Bowie and fashion layouts of Bowie, a picture of President Barack Obama with a Ziggy Stardust-era lightning bolt across his face and a folksy cross-stich that reads: "David Bowie told me to do it in a dream." It is the staff's Great Wall of Bowie, inscribed across the top with:

  • Bill Hader on becoming a leading man

    September 9, 2014

    With all respect to Stefon, the gushy club-hopping, seen-it-all, lives-in-a-trash-can-near-Radio-Shack correspondent that Bill Hader played on "Saturday Night Live," the Bill Hader story has everything: A childhood in Oklahoma, a job in a movie theater, community college, years of doubt in Los Angeles, a production-assistant gig on "The Scorpion King," assistant editing jobs on reality TV shows, a stint as Arnold Schwarzenegger's personal go-fer, Second City (Los Angeles), eight years as a cast member on "Saturday Night Live," regular voice-over work on a successful animated franchise ("Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs"), memorable supporting roles in a number of smart comedies ("Superbad," "Adventureland"), that thing where you occasionally write for "South Park" but don't actually work for "South Park," a wife, kids...

  • Meet the team that designs toys for Brookfield Zoo's animals

    August 15, 2014

    Just beyond the south gates of the Brookfield Zoo, in a backstage area where visitors are not allowed, there is a squat, sand-colored building. It resembles an artist's studio trapped inside a mechanic's garage. One wall opens up and remains open throughout the warmest months. Inside are dozens of paint-splattered buckets and small forests of paint brushes and a cement mixer; there are jugs of liquid plastic and shelves of thick starboard and miles of PVC pipe. There are also worktables and, on top of each, molds of trees and rocks.

  • Steff Bomb and her awesome stuffed creations

    August 8, 2014

    Steff Bomb go boom.

  • Will 'True Detective' rumors spark a Vince Vaughn revival?

    August 4, 2014

    Back in the fall I suggested that Vince Vaughn remake himself in the model of Matthew McConaughey. They're both tall and charmingly smooth. Their careers took off in the 1990s as they excelled at playing rakish, borderline repulsive figures. And they both went through a long dark age, making a lot of bad movies in the years since. They have a lot in common.

  • Sober Side tent a haven from Lolla's temptations

    August 3, 2014

    On Friday afternoon, while a steady rain fell on Lollapalooza in Grant Park, Patrick Whelan watched warily as a handful of teenagers and 20-somethings ran for shelter beneath the nearby trees. There, waiting for the storm to pass, they drank beer and lit joints. Whelan sat in a folding chair a few feet away, the pungent smell of pot wafting toward his space, a small tented lounge he had named Sober Side. The name was a nod to the South Side. At the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee, his tent was named “SoberRoo”; at the Lightning in a Bottle music festival in California, he had called it “Lightning Without a Bottle.”

  • Lollapalooza 2014: Who's there to actually focus on the music?

    July 31, 2014

    At the dawn of civilization — when people would buy concert tickets because they wanted to hear music, when the purchase of that ticket implied some degree of interest in the performers onstage — there was no under-butt.

  • 'David Bowie Is' tickets on sale Thursday

    July 30, 2014

    As far as we know David Bowie is still not coming to Chicago anytime soon. But tickets to the Museum of Contemporary Art's "David Bowie Is" exhibit go on sale 10 a.m. Thursday ...

  • Lockport's River Weaving art installation a labor of love

    July 29, 2014

    There comes a moment in the life of many artists when they know instinctively that what they are doing is not working out.

  • Time is ticking at 'The Clock' exhibit in Minneapolis

    July 25, 2014

    Time is ticking. Summer will be gone before you know it, and with it many of those moments you thought you would remember all of your life, vanished by Columbus Day, replaced with a reel of different memories that will probably seem trivial. That's how memory and time conspire: Eventually you forget the face of the summer love you met at camp when you were 11, but that fleeting remark from a Little League coach about hard work rattles around your head into old age. And yet, before autumn crashes in, there are a few things you can do to slow down time, or at least luxuriate in its passing.

  • Midwest gets love in Man Booker Prize longlist

    July 24, 2014

    Lost in the news on Wednesday about the first batch of American nominees for the prestigious Man Booker Prize -- which, for the first time in the 46-year history of the award, has been opened to writers beyond the U.K., the Commonwealth and Ireland -- was that among the five Americans who made it on the longlist of finalists, four are Midwesterners. Albeit, transplanted now elsewhere. (We'll take it where we can get it.)

  • Batman's top writer talks about hero's 75th anniversary

    July 22, 2014

    It would have been nice to get all dramatic and scratchy-voiced right now and say that Wednesday, July 23, 2014, is the 75th anniversary of Batman, and that there can be only one Dark Knight. But that would be a lie. And it wouldn't be honoring the most paranoid, skeptical superhero of all time to play along with that lie. Batman himself was once named "Bat-Man," and throughout 75 years of Bat-soap opera, everyone from his Bat-family to his Bat-enemies have worn the cape and cowl. And about that anniversary date: It's as arbitrarily concocted as Sweetest Day — even DC Comics, which declared July 23 is Batman Day, formally recognizes March 30, 1939, as his debut (i.e., the publishing date of the May 1939 issue of "Detective Comics," in which Batman first fought crime).

  • In Minnesota, art imitates miniature golf

    July 22, 2014

    Life, it has been said, is crap. Endless, difficult, you're forever in line behind some idiot, and your fate is determined by infinitesimal factors set in place long before you stepped foot in the game. No, wait: I meant golf is crap, endless, difficult, etc. And yet, both hold true, no? That, at least, seems to be the playfully frustrating premise behind the Walker Art Center's Artist-Designed Mini Golf.

  • Rob Reiner visits Chicago, talks real estate and film career

    July 22, 2014

    Tony Madonia, real estate agent, watched the front doors of the Legacy at Millennium Park. For a guy who sells luxury condos, he did not seem especially relaxed, so we reminded him that he was not being asked to sell a $1.6 million apartment to director Rob Reiner. Just, you know, show him around the place. Madonia asked to be reminded why he was doing this.

  • Filmmaker Joe Swanberg on what's next after 'Drinking Buddies'

    July 18, 2014

    Last winter I emailed Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg and said I would like to write a profile of him. The reason was obvious: Unusual as it may seem for a dizzyingly prolific 32-year-old iconoclast who has directed more than 15 films in the past decade — and discovered Greta Gerwig, who starred in his 2007 calling card, "Hannah Takes the Stairs," and built a respectable side career as an actor in horror films — to be having a renaissance, Swanberg fit the bill.

  • Author Rachel Bertsche attempts to live like a celebrity

    July 16, 2014

    The front door stood wide open and Rachel Bertsche could be seen from the street, zooming through the foyer of her Lincoln Park townhouse, a peach Lululemon blur in black tights. I stepped tentatively inside the doorway and reconsidered immediately: Bertsche did not look as calm or as centered as I anticipated. She did not exude the serenity of Julia Roberts, the poise of Jennifer Aniston or confidence of Tina Fey. Clearly, she had not achieved perfection. She was frantic, and tugged in a million directions. She didn’t even seem to notice I was there. I stepped outside to give her a moment. On the sidewalk was Charlie the Roofer, waiting to get paid. Bertsche said she would write him a check and, before I could say hello, she was gone again.

  • Merchandise Mart lobby murals come back to life

    July 15, 2014

    For the past 21/2 months, five nights a week, Amber Schabdach, senior paintings conservator for the Conservation Center, wrapped small sticks in cotton, creating makeshift Q-tips. Then she climbed onto a hydraulic lift and rose 20 feet in the air. There she stood for eight hours every night, roughly 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., working her DIY swabs in tight, repetitive circles until the paintings before her were clear of dirt.

  • Neko Case skewers fanboys in new music video

    July 11, 2014

  • Celebrating summer films of 1984

    July 3, 2014

    A threatening row of CGI-esque clouds gathered at the edge of Millennium Park. This was last month, at a 30th anniversary screening of "Ghostbusters" in Pritzker Pavilion. Twenty- and 30-somethings sprawled across blankets on the lawn, warily eyeing a quick summer storm as it pushed over the Loop, the clouds not so different from those ominous, non-CGI weather systems that circle Central Park in the movie.

  • Review: 'Transformers: Age of Extinction' ★ 1/2

    June 26, 2014

    "Transformers: Age of Extinction," the fourth installment of Michael Bay's $2.6-billion blue-chip franchise about a race of super robot freedom fighters that wear codpieces (to hide the junk under their trunk) and appear fundamentally incapable of not banging into stuff (even when these things are in an open field they find the one barn or tractor for miles around to collide with), is an aggressively charmless act of digital confetti. It is scattered, weightless, impossible to get hold of, and somehow, after seven years and more than 10 hours of screen time, I could not tell you what these films are about. Explosions? Real estate? Let's say: "Transformers: Age of Extinction" is 165 minutes, 11 minutes longer than the next longest installment ("Transformers: Dark of the Moon"), 10 minutes shorter than that piece of trash "The Godfather."

  • A 'Frozen' agnostic's attempt to understand the film's popularity

    June 25, 2014

    Audrey Mewborn blinked, not understanding.

  • In Amazon battle, book culture is the casualty

    June 20, 2014

    About a month ago I quit Amazon cold turkey, and I feel great.

  • Inside artist Jaume Plensa's giant Millennium Park sculptures

    June 17, 2014

    Jaume Plensa visited his giant heads the other day. He arrived at a corner of Madison Street and Michigan Avenue, found a park bench and reflected. His giant heads appeared to be doing fine, he said. The older heads hadn't aged very much, and the newer heads, despite a long trip in shipping containers from Spain, looked serene and comfortable in Chicago. The two older heads — or rather, the two older faces: 50 feet tall and 23 feet wide, gargoyle-esque and spitting water — stood where he left them a decade ago. Plensa is the Barcelona artist who created Crown Fountain in Millennium Park. For a few moments he watched the faces etched in video within the fountain's twin pillars transform into different faces.

  • Meet Melissa Veal, wig maker at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

    June 6, 2014

    Maloo wears a purple shawl and granny glasses. Her hair, very important in the context of this story, is short, white, cute and swoops backward. She's 52, a native of Canada and warm. She keeps a coon hound curled at her feet and is prone to saying things such as "I didn't rescue this dog, this dog rescued me." Her office at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier does not have a window: It is a small, white-painted cinder-block cell, made all the more claustrophobic by the human hair and eyeless faces that surround her. Indeed, a few shelves above her desk, the frazzled, hippie tresses of Stevie Nicks rested on a Styrofoam head.

  • Review: 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' ★★★

    May 22, 2014

    About midway into the latest X-Men flick, Bryan Singer’s generous, delightfully convoluted “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” there is a prison break so exuberant and uncharacteristic of superhero movies that you sit up a bit in your seat. You feel the audience around you snapping to. Not because Singer’s return to the 14-year-old film franchise feels undernourished (it doesn’t). Or what comes before seems perfunctory (it’s not). But because the sequence — Wolverine, the Pentagon and “Sanford & Son” — is so eccentric you’re reminded that a little charm has been in the contract between audiences and superheroes all along:

  • 'Hairy Who & The Chicago Imagists' get their due in new doc

    May 19, 2014

    Leslie Buchbinder comes from money. She knows influence. Her family made its reputation in the refrigeration business, and one of the ways her father invested was by collecting art. They are well-connected in the Chicago art world. In particular, the Buchbinders, who became friends with artists, curators and museum administrators, enthusiastically collected the colorful surrealism of the Hairy Who and of the Chicago Imagists, two loose, playful cadres of Chicago painters that sprang up in the 1960s and whose sweaty, grotesque caricatures of bodies and bodily fluids remain a bedrock influence on contemporary artists and cartoonists.

  • Pete Holmes on fringe of late-night

    May 16, 2014

    Late on a Friday afternoon in early spring, inside a cavernous soundstage on the Warner Bros. studio lot, Pete Holmes stood in the dark. He had finished the monologue of his talk show and introduced the latest video comedy sketch he made with his writers and producers, then the lights in the studio had dimmed. And he stood there.

  • 'Godzilla' director Gareth Edwards on the art of the reveal

    May 15, 2014

    The release of a new "Godzilla" movie is never the best occasion to illustrate the importance of subtlety. Couple that with a few facts — this latest "Godzilla" is a Warner Bros. production with a budget far north of $100 million, released at the onset of summer, carrying expectations of more Godzilla to come — and you brace for quite the opposite. Because you know: You live in a binge culture, you always see the good parts in the trailer, you never expect to wait long for the big reveal anymore.

  • Oprah tea: More blah than aha

    May 14, 2014

    I guess I prefer Hot Oprah to Iced Oprah.

  • 'Watch Dogs' makes Chicago a digitized surveillance state

    May 9, 2014

    Books become TV series. Amusement park rides become movies. Pop songs become Broadway musicals. But how do you adapt a city into a video game? How do you digitize the essence of a major American metropolis within the framework of a playable experience? Can you hope to capture the geography and character of a real place in a game? Should you aim for accuracy? Or reinvent that place to make it work for you?

  • Manual Cinema mixes puppets, projectors, and live music

    May 2, 2014

    Blinds were drawn.

  • Lollapalooza gets a giant art show

    April 30, 2014

    Sunburn, portable toilets and Eminem.

  • Stan Lee: Interview with the creator

    April 24, 2014

    It's Stan Lee's world.

  • Artist Samantha Hill reconstructs Bronzeville's history

    April 18, 2014

    Samantha Hill awaits your input. And awaits.

  • Why sci-fi is obsessed with the near future

    April 15, 2014

    In the West Town loft that Jessica Charlesworth shares with husband, Tim Parsons, along the back wall, on a row of metal filing cabinets, a kaleidoscope of Post-it notes waved in a soft draft, each a kind of dispatch from the future. I leaned in to decipher the scribbles: "Plans to build solar farms on the moon," I read aloud.

  • Meet the woman who pumps up Chicago Bulls crowds

    April 11, 2014

    Walking out of a cramped, stuffy United Center boardroom two weeks ago, Michelle Harris told me that when she was younger and growing up in Chicago, "I dreamed of being a part of corporate America." She said this unequivocally, without a hint of guile, a wink or even a sneer. She loves a good meeting. Almost as much as she loves a good T-shirt cannon.

  • 'Silicon Valley' boys ready to disrupt HBO

    April 4, 2014

    For one of the final scenes of the first season of the new HBO comedy series "Silicon Valley," creator Mike Judge and his production designers re-created TechCrunch Disrupt, the intense annual San Francisco conference where computer engineers, developers and programmers compete for attention, pitching nascent startups to trawling venture capital investors and media figures.

  • Making potholes into art

    March 31, 2014

    It's officially spring. We're deep into pothole season, which, like other holiday seasons, seems to grow longer every year. This pothole season could be the longest yet. Potholes are out of control. The Chicago Department of Transportation said last month that pothole complaints have tripled in the past year; and since New Year's Day alone, the city has filled more than 350,000 potholes. And because, according to CDOT, which assumes there are at least five unreported potholes for each reported pothole, their conservative estimate of the number of potholes remaining is, well, about 60,000 potholes.

  • Movies that never got made

    March 27, 2014

    Make no small plans.

  • Inside Hannibal Buress' Comedy Central special

    March 25, 2014

    Neal Marshall wasn't thrilled.

  • 'Divergent' dreams up a broken future Chicago

    March 14, 2014

    The new movie "Divergent" opens on a marsh, wild and untended, its grasses long, wavy and serene. So what follows, considering the relatively benign, "Ferris Bueller"-ed archetype of Chicago on film, might prove unnerving: As the camera pans across those grasses, it picks up a rusting cargo ship, stranded and incongruous; then a tall, vast metal fence; and finally, inside that fence, as the camera pushes forward, an ominous, decaying Chicago. You've seen versions of this shot in many movies in the past few decades, the skyline as seen from Lake Michigan, the camera racing over Navy Pier …

  • Inside Wes Anderson's eccentric aesthetic

    March 12, 2014

    Wes Anderson came to Chicago at the beginning of the month to promote his new film, "The Grand Budapest Hotel." He arrived by train, stopping on his way from Los Angeles to New York, where he lives. He even had his own private train car. Now, you might assume his mode of transportation was about drawing attention to a new movie — pure whistle-stop promotion. And yet Chicago was his only stop: Anderson just prefers traveling by rail.

  • Meet artist Michelle Grabner, Whitney Biennial 2014 curator

    March 7, 2014

    A few months before Michelle Grabner presided over the final details of the prestigious 2014 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art here, a white Buick LeSabre plowed into the side of her small art gallery in Oak Park. This was back in the fall, on a quiet Sunday just after dawn. She knew the car was coming, and she welcomed the impact. She even invited some friends to come over and watch.

  • Sharing a name with an Oscar nominee isn't all glamour

    March 3, 2014

    Jonah Hill had an unremarkable Oscar Sunday. Perhaps you heard: He won nothing; he did nothing. He woke up early and drove to a Starbucks in the suburbs outside Naperville, where he bought a coffee, then he drove home and shoveled the snow from his driveway for the umpteenth time lately: "Yeah, it pretty much sucked," Jonah Hill told the Chicago Tribune in an exclusive Oscar Sunday interview. "I am so sick of this winter." So sick that Hill climbed into jeans, a long-sleeve T-shirt and never once put on a tuxedo. In fact, Hill said he was not planning to attend the Vanity Fair party, or the Governors Ball, or any Oscar soirees at all.

  • This year, ask the Oscar questions that really matter

    February 28, 2014

    "Flowers, but with garbage."

  • James Franco and poet Frank Bidart draw a crowd

    February 20, 2014

    Just the other day, the day that James Franco visited the Poetry Foundation to speak with acclaimed poet and mentor Frank Bidart on stage before a sold-out crowd of 800, the following poetic events happened: About 5:40 p.m on Wednesday, outside Northwestern University's law school off Lake Shore Drive, a line of students waited. The event was scheduled for 8 p.m., but the weather was mild. Melting snow cast slushy puddles across the sidewalks. In the lobby beside the auditorium set aside for the reading, Matti Bunzl, artistic director of the Chicago Humanities Festival (which had partnered with the Poetry Foundation for the reading), said, with a wink: "You can't pull this crowd for a historian from University of Michigan, can you?"

  • Q&A with James Franco: Why poetry? Why not?

    February 20, 2014

    Before his poetry reading Wednesday night, James Franco, who has been in town rehearsing for his Broadway debut in "Of Mice and Men" with director (and Steppenwolf ensemble member) Anna Shapiro, spoke to the Tribune about his side job as a poet, his friendship with the Pulitzer-nominated 74-year-old poet Frank Bidart and Franco's new book of poems, "Directing Herbert White," a kind of tribute to his mentor.

  • Chicago Pedway: City's bright, hope-filled underbelly

    February 14, 2014

    You want to know the best thing about the Chicago Pedway? It's not that, despite this Polar Vortex winter, you can cover almost 40 city blocks on the Pedway without ever stepping foot outside. It's not that the Pedway began modestly in 1951 and now stretches through the North Loop, jogs beneath Millennium Park and ventures as far east as the mouth of the Chicago River. It's not that the Pedway could be regarded as a kind of yardstick of municipal progress, always seeming as though it might extend just a little bit longer someday. It's not even that the Pedway's generally mundane, charm-free hallways offer little to see — look, another "For Rent" sign! — and therefore it works perfectly as a daily treadmill for ambulatory meditation.

  • Blood, sweat and crowdfunding for 'Life Itself'

    February 12, 2014

    Late Monday afternoon, the lobby of the Gene Siskel Film Center was thick with expectations. The money guys hovered. They were about to see the result of their investments — they were about to see "Life Itself," the new Steve James documentary about movie critic Roger Ebert. And, frankly, the money guys expected a return, a little something something. Still, they were polite about it: Jonathan Boehle, 23, unemployed, from Cornell, 100 miles southwest of Chicago, said matter-of-factly: "I heard the film needed money. I knew I should donate."

  • Tristan Meinecke's sons have his art, will sell

    February 5, 2014

    Some homes are hard to explain.

  • Chicago dancer Lil Kemo ready for bigger breakthrough

    January 31, 2014

    Travon Biggs, a.k.a. the Bop King of the World, a.k.a. the Fastest Legs on the West Side, a.k.a. the originator of the Kemo Step, a.k.a. Lil' Kemo, walked up his unplowed street in North Lawndale the other day, sneakers sliding sideways in the slush. Behind him a rabbit hopped out on the sidewalk, reconsidered it and hopped back beneath a fence. Across the street, an elderly man shoveling a walkway shouted: "Proud of you, Kemo!" Biggs, whom everyone calls Kemo (and I will call Kemo from here), waved over his shoulder.

  • Alexis Wilkinson's path to Harvard Lampoon president's chair

    January 29, 2014

    A few years ago in the New Yorker, Tina Fey, in an essay about her time as a writer on “Saturday Night Live,” broke down the show's writing staff into two fundamental groups: “Harvard Boys and Improv People.” The latter (which includes Fey, John Belushi and Bill Murray) are visceral, loose, often rooted in Second City theatrical training. The Harvard Boys (of whom she includes Conan O'Brien and Al Franken) tend to be “hyperintelligent” and headier: “If you're sitting at the Harvard Lampoon Castle with your friends, you can perfect a piece of writing so that it is exactly what you want and you can avoid the feeling of red-hot flop sweat.”

  • True voice brings 'True Detective' to life

    January 22, 2014

    Among the many things to admire about the new HBO crime series "True Detective" is the title, which is broad, pithy, self-conscious and laced with a stank of menace. Or maybe that's just the smell it gives off when played against the show's apocalyptic expanses: wide-open swaths of rural Louisiana that nevertheless seem thick with shadows, churning refineries and old churches crumbling picturesquely in the high grasses.

  • Horror director's career back from the dead

    January 21, 2014

    A couple of weeks ago at Lincoln Hall, late on a Saturday afternoon, Chester Novell Turner took the stage. Or rather, to be exact, he climbed onto the stage, throwing a leg sideways and hoisting himself from the floor to the stage. He did not seem to notice the short flight of stairs waiting a few feet away. The scene was awkward, unintentionally funny, yet charmingly befitting: Turner is the director of “Tales From the Quadead Zone” and “Black Devil Doll From Hell,” microscopically budgeted, Chicago-made horror movies from the 1980s, both of which are beyond awkward — awkwardly paced, awkwardly acted. Both were shot on VHS tape, so the picture quality is awkward. And both led to a film career that's as awkward as it is remarkable.

  • Pitchfork taking a stab at print

    January 10, 2014

    Chris Kaskie pulled out his phone and flipped though his pictures until he stopped on an image, then turned the screen toward me and grinned: It showed the local staff of Pitchfork Media, the Chicago company behind the Pitchfork music website and Pitchfork Music Festival, absorbed in what appeared to be — gasp — print media.

  • A montage of favorite things for 2013

    December 21, 2013

    Consider this a purge.

  • Review: 'Roth Unbound' by Claudia Roth Pierpont

    November 10, 2013

    "What is being done to silence this man?"

  • Everybody's a curator

    October 4, 2013

    You have a Netflix queue, which you maintain, nurture, cull and arrange just so.

  • Q&A: Jhumpa Lahiri on 'The Lowland' and her upbringing

    September 22, 2013

    Jhumpa Lahiri, who at 46 has already won a Pulitzer Prize (for her first book, the 1999 story collection "Interpreter of Maladies"), and was recently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (for her new novel, "The Lowland"), does a number of things obviously well: Not one for literary gymnastics, she is a precisionist, a realist, not an ironist. She does not bend genre, slum among dystopias or gauge the state of the nation. A stern admirer of Thomas Hardy, Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant — all of whom remained thematically, stylistically, put — she writes about middle-class South Asian families, assimilation and estrangement.

  • Blogger Samantha Irby is as bad as she wants to be

    September 14, 2013

    Samantha Irby, who may well be the most talented inappropriate woman in Chicago, sat against the window, facing the bar, an arm draped across a wooden booth, supremely confident. She delivered great line after great line, quip after quip. She referred somewhat jokingly to the Chicago publishers of her new book as "dirtbag hipsters in the finest sense," described her sex life so vividly that I found myself curling inward, explained so bluntly why white women make up a big percentage of her devoted readers that I wanted to evaporate. Basically, as I picked at sweet potato fries and listened, she was killing, and I was her audience.

  • Review: 'Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe' by Tim Leong

    August 9, 2013

    "Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe" demands a soft toilet seat and, I estimate, 17.4 hours of your time. That's a compliment. In fact, if you don't own a bathroom, build one immediately so you may luxuriate for obnoxiously long, undisturbed stretches with artist Tim Leong's self-described "love letter to the medium," an absorbing, wonderfully unnecessary pairing of inventive, beautiful designs with nerd-friendly comic-book statistics and insights.

  • Review: 'Diehards' by Erin Feinberg

    July 19, 2013

    “Diehards,” Erin Feinberg’s touching new book of photographs of music fans, many of whom are captured in moments beyond words, offers little context. Mostly there are no names, places or dates — nothing but a T-shirt, tattoo, some face paint or a prosthetic limb (with a custom Dylan mural) to cue us in on who these diehards are diehard about. And that, flipping through the first time, was my literal-minded, music-geek reaction: I wanted to know who these people were, what they were listening to.

  • Last stand for the printed page

    June 14, 2013

    Bob Katzman of Bob Katzman's Magazine Museum in Skokie first called last summer.

  • Drawing insight into Google's Doodles

    June 12, 2013 is the most visited online front door in the United States. According to Alexa, a longtime Internet statistics firm, it is also the second most visited home page in the world behind; roughly 40 percent of global Internet users visit Google's primary portal at least once a day. And yet, considering the culture-changing ubiquity of the Silicon Valley-based tech giant — which reported more than $50 billion in revenue last year — what a user tends to find there is famously, comically austere. It is a digital Antarctica: Sheer white for miles, no ads, no headlines, just a search bar and the Google logo.

  • 'Check Please!' names Catherine De Orio new host

    May 29, 2013

    Citizens of Chicago, food-TV obsessives, our long nightmare is over:

  • Art Spiegelman's art obliterates category

    May 25, 2013

    "Who's got a gag for me today?"

  • Richard Linklater finishes trilogy with 'Before Midnight'

    May 24, 2013

    CHAMPAIGN -- Richard Linklater's sneakers squish-squish-

  • 'Fast & Furious 6' revels in childlike love of vehicular mayhem ★★★ 1/2

    May 23, 2013

    “Fast & Furious 6,” — which surely maxed out Universal’s tank-top budget for the year, and sustains its joyful, unpretentious ridiculousness so perfectly that I secretly hoped the “6” meant “hours long,” — ends with a disclaimer, the sort of small-type legalese that typically arrives at the tail end of the closing credits. Except here it’s at the immediate end of the story, like a Viagra warning/promise of a potential nine-hour, uh, adrenaline rush.

  • Being numb to it all no longer big shock

    May 17, 2013

    Sometime in the next few weeks, if you're walking down Fullerton Avenue around DePaul University and have 15 minutes to spare, duck into the tidy brick building alongside the CTA station. Here you will find the DePaul Art Museum, an institution so humble that only "Art Museum" is spelled across its modest facade. The admission is free, though the lessons offered in its first gallery, at least through June 16, feel priceless.

  • Inside the actors' studio, with Zach Braff

    May 10, 2013

    Zach Braff (Northwestern University, class of '97), the third most popular Zach in Hollywood (after Galifianakis and Efron), went back to his old school last week. He'd returned to teach an acting class, a one-time workshop. The day before, he tweeted: “Illinois, I am in you.” Then later, more nostalgically: “Northwestern University, I'm back. Are we good at sports now?” I had assumed Braff was not a big deal anymore — that, though “Scrubs” reruns remain a fact of life and memories of “Garden State” linger, his voice acting (“Oz The Great and Powerful”) and Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a “Garden State” follow-up spoke volumes.

  • Revisiting Ginevra King, the Lake Forest woman who inspired 'Gatsby'

    May 7, 2013

    Remarkable how two words, scribbled nearly a century ago about a 16-year-old Lake Forest debutante, can evoke a whole country, its hypocrisies and promises, its aspirations and crushing realities.

  • 'Mortal Kombat' creator Ed Boon back with DC superhero game

    May 1, 2013

    Ed Boon was pulling punches.

  • C2E2: Comic book stars walk among us

    April 27, 2013

    C2E2 -- the annual, gargantuan Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo at McCormick Place -- opened Friday, and as usual for the first day of a major comic book convention, things started slow, geeks were still arriving, B-list celebrities just settling in, Green Lanterns getting off work.

  • 'David Bowie Is' features Ziggy Stardust in pictures

    April 26, 2013

    "David Bowie Is," the exhibition catalog for the "David Bowie Is" retrospective that opened recently at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (currently breaking museum-attendance records, and running through August), is vast. "David Bowie Is," the coffee-table book, is also a pleasant orange. That's the first thing you notice: The front is orange, the back is orange, many interior graphics are orange; on the front, faded into a sunset hue, Bowie as youthful and spiky, that iconic lighting-bolt makeup slashing his face, and on the back, Bowie in his 40s, haggard and stricken. But composed. Always composed. There is not a picture in this doorstop — toothy Bowie at 6, sitting for what appears to be a school photo; cool Bowie at 20, cigarette at his side, staring questionably at the camera on a London rooftop; disguised Bowie several decades later, in a silver wig and disorientingly exact as Andy Warhol, on the set of the movie “Basquiat” — that appears candid or not self-consciously aware that someday, someone will wonder about this image, its meaning and how to replicate it. 

  • 'Fast and Furious' series depicts post-racial America, plus fast cars

    April 26, 2013

  • Marvel vs. DC: Inside dope from the kings of comics

    April 25, 2013

    Around this time last year during C2E2 — the busy, sprawling Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo held each spring at McCormick Place — we spoke with the heads of DC Comics and Marvel Entertainment. We told them that, because we're curious, we would soon be bringing up an age-old question, a schoolyard tussle without a satisfactory answer.

  • It's a nerd world

    April 23, 2013

    Once a month, at Third Coast Comics in the Edgewater neighborhood, the store closes for the evening and the knitting comes out. Followed by the drinks. Drink & Draw & Knitting Night is the second Thursday of each month, as it has been since Terry Gant opened Third Coast nearly five years ago. When I asked who actually comes to this, he replied: “Nerds, artists, fiber-arts folks, nerds — by and large, super-nerdy people show up for knitting nights at comic book shops.”

  • Ebertfest: Poignant tribute to late founder

    April 18, 2013

    CHAMPAIGN — Film festivals — festivals themselves, let alone films — are rarely as poignant as the one unfolding right now in this college town. The 15th Annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival began Wednesday without its founder, who died two weeks ago. Earlier in the evening, an hour or so before the opening-night gala, Chaz Ebert, his widow, told a reception at the University of Illinois’ president’s home that every year after Ebertfest, on their way back to Chicago, the couple would write down movies to show next time. Before he died, Roger left her a long list, of dozens of movies to show.

  • Alt-comics great Gilbert Hernandez wanders back into childhood

    April 17, 2013

    Gilbert Hernandez is 56 now.

  • Director William Friedkin comes home

    April 15, 2013

    William Friedkin, the director of “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist,” a pair of acclaimed Tracy Letts adaptations (“Bug” and “Killer Joe”) and author of “The Friedkin Connection,” a new memoir about his 50-plus-year filmmaking career, answered the door of his hotel room. It was a lousy room. “Small,” he said simply. He stepped aside to let me in, looking disappointed and resigned. He wore large, 1970s-style eyeglasses, sneakers, black socks and a black shirt. He tugged his chinos high above his waist. This is not much bigger than the one-room apartment that he grew up in at the corner of Foster Avenue and Sheridan Road, he said.

  • Jeff Lemire, super writer

    April 6, 2013

    On page 12 of issue No. 1 of DC Comics' latest reiteration of "Constantine," which tells the ongoing story of John Constantine — a.k.a. Hellblazer, the publisher's three-decade-old, morally slippery sorcerer/sleuth to the occult world (played by Keanu Reeves in the 2005 "Constantine" movie) — an airline stewardess explodes. Sure, she slips poison into Constantine's drink just before exploding; and sure, she kind of chants something to herself in the plane's lavatory, resulting in self-immolation. But in one panel she explodes; and in the next, Constantine, stone faced, is straightening his tie in the lavatory mirror, apparently unimpressed.

  • Let's make some rules on movie remakes

    April 5, 2013

    Normally I don't complain about the proliferation of movie remakes any more than I complain about movie sequels and communal tables in restaurants — what's the point?

  • Fake Shore Drive: A tastemaker of Chicago rap

    April 4, 2013

    Andrew Barber deals almost exclusively with young men who have come into money. Some are newly rich; some started poor and worked their way to comfortable; and others, arguably his bread and butter, are not wealthy yet but stand to make a chunk of change. Some, he finds, and some come to him.

  • Movie secrets are there, in the script!

    April 4, 2013

    You know what "Star Wars" is about? I mean, really about? Vietnam. It's a critical allegory of the war: The Rebels are the scrappy Viet Cong, hastily assembled, devoted and relentless; the Empire is the American military, tripped up by an enemy using guerrilla tactics and inferior weaponry. Oh, there's more here, but...

  • The man behind the people who know the story behind 'The Shining'

    April 4, 2013

    You know the Calumet Baking Powder cans in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining"? You know — the Calumet Baking cans? Lining the pantry of the film's Overlook Hotel? No, no: The baking cans behind all the carnage! Right, those baking cans. What's that, you didn't notice those cans, red and white, with the familiar Indian-headdress logo, what with all the rivers of blood and the axe-wielding and the bug-eyed Shelley Duvalls?

  • 'Happy Endings': A good word for a dying TV show

    March 31, 2013

    Consider this TV hospice.

  • Move is a real scream for Berwyn collectibles shop Horrorbles

    March 27, 2013

    You're alone in the far back corner of a basement on Roosevelt Road, the air choked with the dank smell of age. Above you, a Berwyn storefront. Around you, the cluttered office of its owner. What kind of maniac intentionally keeps his desk in the far back corner of a musty basement, removed from any possibility of sunlight, the otherworldly scream of a heating duct the only sound to keep him company?

  • Banned book club a real-time lesson in censorship

    March 24, 2013

    Four Hundred Fifty-One Degrees is not a boy band. The group was founded by a boy, and it is led by a boy, but its ranks are primarily girls. It came together just 18 months ago and, depending on the week, it claims 15 to 20 members. That fluctuation should not be misread as a lack of commitment: The members have matching T-shirts, with “451 Degrees” emblazoned across the fronts. That said, matching T-shirts should not be misread as popularity: Until the other day, 451 Degrees was not especially well-known.

  • 'Check, Please!' narrows field for new host

    March 20, 2013

    At last, after great deliberation and much wringing of hands, David Manilow made a decision.

  • Brooklyn dodgers

    March 19, 2013

    NEW YORK — Sorry, but I've heard that Brooklyn is over. You can get your hipster mustache waxed; just don't do it in Brooklyn. You wouldn't go to Seattle now, would you? If you wanted to visit the American community of the moment, you would visit, say, Portland, Ore. Haven't you heard: Brooklyn's compromised, edge-free; it's Portland five minutes ago.

  • 'Book of My Lives': Aleksander Hemon's remarkable tale

    March 15, 2013

    Aleksandar Hemon landed in the United States two decades ago, January 1992. He was 27, a young Bosnian journalist from Sarajevo arriving on a one-month visa, arranged through a cultural exchange program sponsored by the State Department. Just after he arrived, war broke out in Yugoslavia. Hemon was stranded. In the years since, as he settled into this country and became an acclaimed writer — became one of Chicago's finest contemporary writers and arguably its most important literary talent since Saul Bellow — Hemon has told this immigration story many, many times.

  • Opera in Focus: Puppets and opera come together

    March 14, 2013

    It's the damnedest thing:

  • Taking science to the masses

    March 8, 2013

    Neil Shubin has the wide, happy eyes of a Muppet and the casual, ingratiating prattle of a car salesman. His thick, graying hair lends gravitas. He has written a new book, and on a bitter afternoon in Hyde Park he is explaining to me how he writes.

  • Oscars speeches: Honestly sincere, or expertly faked?

    February 26, 2013

    Los Angeles looks lush.

  • What does hate-watching mean?

    February 24, 2013

    Anne Hathaway — insufferable, grating, insistently chipper, with those big stupid puppy-dog eyes and that dumb pixie hair, shocked, shocked, at the fortune and appreciation bestowed on her talented head, so rehearsed in her faux-humility, so rehearsed in her faux-uncertainty (“Thank you very much for this lovely blunt object that I will forevermore use as a weapon against self-doubt,” she barfed at the Golden Globes, after receiving an award she was assured of winning) — is wonderful.

  • 'Variety' coffee-table book displays the evolution of an iconic magazine

    February 23, 2013

    As it says here, on page 64 of the glossily fascinating coffee-table book "Variety: An Illustrated History of the World From the Most Important Magazine in Hollywood," Al Capone, interviewed in his Chicago home, told Variety he was approached often to appear in gangster films but "snorted at most." He hated gangster films but liked movies and often had "private showings with professional projectionists to run the show." He was also famously self-aggrandizing, and on a wall of his home — a home protected by 70 bodyguards — it was noted his portrait hung beside portraits of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

  • Confronting artist Kara Walker

    February 20, 2013

    Kara Walker will be difficult. This gets whispered to you by enough people in the art world and you start to believe it: She's humorless!

  • MCA show explores destruction and how it relates to creation

    February 18, 2013

    It's not every day you get invited to witness a museum destroy a work of art.

  • The art behind Michael Jordan's image

    February 15, 2013

    Michael Jordan, today you are 50.

  • Michael Hainey book raises questions about truth versus family

    February 12, 2013

    Say you had a family secret.

  • Tony-winning set designer Todd Rosenthal wows again at Steppenwolf

    February 8, 2013


  • Oscar Micheaux: A legend's links

    February 6, 2013

    Leroy Collins never says anything about it. He never tells his neighbors he was once a movie star — once.

  • Author George Saunders maps the origins of his writing

    February 1, 2013

    We sped south on Cicero Avenue. Through Oak Lawn, Alsip, Crestwood, a flat, aging strip-malled landscape of crumbling pizza joints and ancient tanning parlors, fast-food chains, tile-supply stores and —

  • Wiseguys Walken and Pacino on how it might end

    January 30, 2013

    At times it felt like an exit interview — the ultimate exit interview.

  • Disney-style princesses show staying power

    January 25, 2013

    Before I explain what it was like to be a childless man surrounded by Disney princesses and the parents who love (and bankroll) them, seated by himself at Disney on Ice and soaking in princess culture — a story:

  • On the PR trail with 'Broken City' star Mark Wahlberg

    January 16, 2013

    Say hello to ya mutha for me, OK?

  • When movies feel like TV

    January 11, 2013

    Last month after a screening, even as the lights came up in the theater, I could feel "Zero Dark Thirty" fading, its images and impact already softening in my head. No, no, wait: not fading — mingling. If our cultural experiences rub shoulders at a kind of cocktail party in our brains, then "Zero Dark Thirty," as soon as we were done chatting, as much I admired its company, slipped away quietly into the cultural crush.

  • Breakout puts author Gillian Flynn on the go, go, go

    December 27, 2012

    A year ago this time, Gillian Flynn was just another former Entertainment Weekly TV critic turned Chicago author of murder-mysteries who lived in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood and had already sold film rights to her first two novels ("Dark Places" and "Sharp Objects"). You know? C'mon, do something with yourself, sister! Then June arrived, and so did Flynn's blockbuster novel "Gone Girl."

  • My favorite moments of 2012

    December 20, 2012

    Years ago when I was a student at Northwestern University, a handful of executives at America Online came to my class and explained that you, I and everyone we know would soon find ourselves pleasantly stranded on "information islands." We nodded, though we didn't entirely understand. What they meant was that broadcasting would soon end and nichecasting would take over. Your island would become a mirror of yourself, what you knew, liked and watched, and you would rarely have the incentive to venture off of your narrowly prescribed landmass.

  • Video game creator Eugene Jarvis is Player One

    December 17, 2012

    The young guy in the trucker cap, skinny jeans and Air Jordans squeezed the trigger on the toy shotgun and his umpteenth round of “Big Buck Hunter” blasted to life. The guy was maybe 25 and so focused on bagging digital deer, the butt of the gun pressed hard into his shoulder, that he never noticed the tall, smiling man behind him, watching.

  • Thank God I'm not watching 'Book of Mormon' with Mom

    December 16, 2012

    Last spring, during Easter dinner, my aunt leaned across the table and asked: "Chris, have you read this 'Fifty Shades of Grey?'" I said I had not but I had heard about it and, changing the subject, had she read —

  • Monsters really rock in 'Too Much Horror Business'

    December 7, 2012

    Rock star money buys stuff. Homes, planes, influence. For Kirk Hammett, the longtime guitarist of Metallica, rock star money also bought the horror-movie childhood he never quite had. Around the mid-1980s, as the band started to make a name for itself, Hammett, who grew up in San Francisco obsessed with monster movies and comic books, began collecting the monster movie paraphernalia that he once pined for but could never afford as a child. Newly flush, he began contacting dealers and developing relationships with collectors around the world. And soon he owned many of the same toys and models and masks that he had once ogled in the back pages of the legendary horror fanzine “Famous Monsters of Filmland.” Then he went further: He bought original movie costumes, props, Halloween masks, ultra-rare posters, even the original art that had graced the covers of “Famous Monsters.”

  • Hotel Lincoln's Wall of Bad Art: 'You are looking at awesomeness'

    December 5, 2012

    The Wall of Bad Art at the Hotel Lincoln, the newly renovated boutique hotel in Lincoln Park at the corner of Wealthy and Twee, is a monument to iffy talent and questionable taste. It is a reminder of how bad art can get funneled through wood-paneled rec rooms and yard sales and come out the other end as good taste, warm memories and enduring charm.

  • Dog books certain to give you paws

    December 1, 2012

    My first dog was a golden retriever named Tisha. Tisha was quiet and friendly, a perfect golden for a 4-year-old boy; my mother swears that when we took her to the vet one last time, as the dog lay dying on the operating table, Tisha lifted her head at the sound of my voice, though I doubt this actually happened. My next dog, the dog that I remember best, was an Irish setter named Hombre. I would wrap him in a blanket and drag him around the house and he loved it.  

  • Bookshelves don't lie

    November 16, 2012

    Until recently I owned just two books that were composed of little else but pictures of people's bookshelves. Not nearly enough. One book I received last year for Christmas, a compendium of pictures of author's bookshelves, a sort of literary rubbernecking. The other book I received many Christmases ago, a coffee-table book of pictures of people reclining at home surrounded by their mammoth collections of books. The latter contains a picture I have never forgotten: Keith Richards in a chair in the center of a large home library, probably in a mansion in the British countryside, strumming a guitar and surrounded (you realize the closer you stare into the picture) by shelf after shelf of war histories, biographies of generals and tactical manuals.

  • Movie makeup: The good, the bad and the 'J. Edgar'

    November 9, 2012

    Attention, vampires.

  • Gaming grows up: A video game revolution

    October 31, 2012

    The video game is 40.

  • A day in the life of a zombie writer

    October 26, 2012

    I climb out of the car, step into damp October leaves and stare up at the Logan Square apartment building across the street. A chill rushes up the street. I notice a man standing in the front yard, shuffling back and forth. He does not appear rabid. He appears to be in his mid-30s, with black-frame glasses, maybe a graduate student. He is behind a black fence, and as I take a tentative step in his direction, I realize: He is Scott Kenemore, zombie writer, the most prolific zombie writer in a subgenre I had assumed was dead.

  • Inside 'Cloud Atlas' directors' Chicago workshop

    October 24, 2012

    The Wachowskis lie low. It's what they do. Indeed, They do it so well that when you meet the Wachowskis and ask them about their lying low, you find yourself reminding yourself: You have never really seen them before. Not really. They don't stand for pictures often. Their withdrawal, their lack of participating with press, Andy Wachowski says to me, reporters have always seemed to take this personally. He's a thick and barrel-chested guy with the shaved scalp and narrow, skeptical eyes of a film-noir heavy.

  • 'Word Jazz' pioneer Ken Nordine's career gets a closer look at film festival

    October 19, 2012

    Chicago's Oldest Living Hipster lives in Edgewater, on the North Side. He is 92 but looks 83. He lives behind a wrought-iron fence, surrounded on all sides by the drabbest of stone-colored apartment complexes.

  • 'Argo' director/star Ben Affleck grows smarter and more ambitious with each picture

    October 10, 2012

    In the last shot of Ben Affleck's "Argo" — relax, there are no spoilers here — the camera pans slowly along the shelves of toys in a young boy's bedroom. The year is 1980; the film spends most of its time on the true story of how a CIA operative named Tony Mendez (Affleck) used the faux production of a low-budget sci-fi picture as the cover to sneak a handful of American embassy workers out of an Iran in the midst of post-revolutionary upheaval.

  • Waging heavy cloudiness

    September 28, 2012

    What do you expect from a rock star? I just closed the back cover of Neil Young's “Waging Heavy Peace,” his big anticipated memoir (of sorts), clocking in at 500 pages (75 shy of the rock star-memoir mountain peak established by Keith Richards' “Life”); then I walked around the block; listened to his album “After the Goldrush” on my iPod from beginning to end; checked on the Blu-Ray price of “The Neil Young Archives Vol. 1” on Amazon (still $350); thought about whether I could make an Orange Julius at home; double-checked the date of Neil Young and Crazy Horse's show at the United Center (Oct. 11); admired the library book-spine design of “Waging Heavy Peace”; flipped to a random page and read a random line (“I am fascinated by the power of nature”); stood up, went out, got coffee, returned, sat in front of the book I just finished and tried to remember if I read that correctly — Young once lived in a cabin with a band featuring Rick James on vocal and the cabin was attacked by polar bears?

  • Cartoonist Chris Ware is in his own category

    September 26, 2012

    If you were building a Chris Ware, if you were constructing the most celebrated cartoonist of the past couple of decades, drawing up the plans for an Oak Park illustrator so routinely referred to as a genius that the accolade is more like fact than opinion, the first thing you would need is doubt. Preferably, self-doubt. But uncertainty, self-flagellation, humility-verging-on-delusion — any of these would work.

  • You too can attend Yale, sort of

    September 2, 2012

    NEW HAVEN, Conn. — There's April in Paris, January in Park City and November in Tokyo. There's October in New York, resplendent in Halloween oranges, its crimson leaves choking every gutter.

  • The angst of the square-jawed man

    August 24, 2012

    They're commanding, confident.

  • Annoyingly talented

    August 23, 2012

    You know what's annoying?

  • Worth their weight in words

    August 17, 2012

    “Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things” only slightly exaggerates. It is 100 stories about 100 things, though only a handful of the stories are extraordinary. In fact, fewer are memorable.

  • Meet Marcus Samuelsson

    August 9, 2012

    Just when the chef memoir had started tasting a little overly familiar — the long struggles to cook their food their way, the breakthrough review, the stove burns, the final 60 pages where nothing much happens but happiness and prosperity — along comes a chef memoir with a story that's worth 300 pages.

  • Informal poles: Totems add flair to Lolla fest

    August 5, 2012

    People wave things over their heads at concerts. Especially during weekend music festivals. Lollapalooza, for instance. Cigarette lighters, cell phones, hands, of course. That forked, heavy metal hand salute, for sure. And the rain on Saturday brought out umbrellas, as you’d guess (though fewer than you’d expect).

  • Burgers, beer and bourbon smackdown

    July 5, 2012

    The first salvo of the Great Burger-Beer-Bourbon Skirmish of 2012 was fired June 8. The last salvo was also fired June 8. There were no casualties or damage, and to be honest, it was a one-sided skirmish.

  • 'Brave' co-director, producer take up arms to promote Pixar's latest

    June 21, 2012

    There's this thing they do at Pixar called plussing. Jonah Lehrer, in his book “Imagine,” describes Pixar plussing as "a technique that allows people to improve ideas without using harsh or judgmental language." During production meetings, instead of merely shooting down ideas, every criticism must come with a plus, with a better idea attached.

  • Lit Fest holds on to that printed feeling

    June 11, 2012

    As obvious as this may sound at first, the 28th annual Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest, which concluded Sunday afternoon and drew an estimated 130,000 attendees and 200 authors to the South Loop on a sweltering, cloudless weekend, was not the kind of thing you could call up on a Kindle.

  • On the 'L,' e-books change spy game

    June 7, 2012

    Strange as it sounds, reading a book while sitting on public transportation may be what I like best about living in a big city. I would even go as far as to say reading on a train or bus is what urban dwelling is about, a near perfect illustration of how living in a city often means being simultaneously public and anonymous, surrounded by strangers at exactly the moment you just want to be left alone.

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