A Halfway There Checklist: The Best of 2019 So Far

The longer you’re there, the more estranged you feel with the real world. A psych ward, that is. Here’s an interesting fact about the one I was in: there were no clocks. The concept of time just doesn’t have the same applications. What you experience is something that saddles the line between real life and fiction, insofar that it provides a repetitive sensation – a minute-by-minute inferno of routine – that slices away at something inherently human in you. Days no longer have that clear distinctive quality that tells one apart from the other. You soon become keenly aware of your own unimpressiveness. So much so that whatever brought you there seems so minuscule, minor, and insignificant. Intended or not, it helps you recognize personal weaknesses. And the whole thing offered the valuable comfort of knowing that not all weaknesses can be overcome. We have breakdowns and that’s ok.

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Previewing Cinepocalypse 2019

No other film festival in Chicago has furrowed my brow in dubious surprise quite like what I’ve seen programmed at Cinepocalyse for the past couple of years. A lot of it has centered on their repository screenings, where I’ve had the distinct pleasure of discovering the likes of Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight and Maximum Overdrive. Or rediscovering Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark and Dario Argento’s Suspiria in their intended formats. But it was their screening of Joel Potrykus’ Relaxer last year that really made me aware of the depth of their programming. The crew behind this festival is probably the most passionate cadre of genre-cinephiles I’ve ever come across and that passion comes across in their selections. From Lucky Mckee’s Kindred Spirits (making its world premiere) to a 70mm projection of Paul Veroheven’s Total Recall  (with actor Michael Ironside in attendance for a post film Q&A), Cinepocalypse offers the kind of counter-programming that reminds me of the benefits of living in a metropolis. There’s a hungry audience in Chicago for genre films and the fact that we have nearly half a dozen festivals dedicated to horror spread out throughout the year, is remarkable. Cinepocalypse might be the best of them all.

Cinepocalypse begins Thursday, June 13 through Sunday, June 20 at the Music Box Theatre. For a complete schedule of films and ticket information, click here.

Previewing the 7th Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival

I have a smashing time at every Chicago Critics Film Festival. Wait, I mean I tend to get smashed at every Chicago Critics Film Festival. Get together enough socially inept film critics under one roof with the promise of booze and film and the subsequent result is a little less than distinguished. Since their move from Rosemont’s Muvico (never forget your origin story) to Chicago’s Music Box Theater, the growth of this festival has been nothing short of remarkable. The year-to-year transition of seeing James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now (with Ponsoldt at the screening) in a Rosemont theater with fewer than 20 people (in a theater designed to seat at least 150) to seeing David Wain’s They Came Together sell out the large auditorium (designed to seat 700) of the Music Box Theatre is staggering.

And it’d be so easy to dismiss it as another fixture in a litany of solid programming, but the films screened here – for the most part- are actually good. Last year was a particular highlight, where Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, my #1 film of 2018, was spotlighted with Schrader himself in attendance. And then there was Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls, Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline, and Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. All in all, it was untoppable programming.

As a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, it is my expected duty to report on the excellence of the 2019 programming selections. It looks fine. A Danny Boyle film headlines the festival and it’s hard not to consider it anything but a step down after the Schrader-Bujalski-Decker-Burnham quartet. But I’ll try to keep an open mind. I’m eager to see Jennifer Kent’s follow-up film to The Babadook, The Nightingale. And despite persistent reservations on the work of Peter Strickland, I hope In Fabric will turn the tide on my opinion of the filmmaker. If the festival is lacking in the way of established filmmakers, there’s the promise of finding new voices all together. Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, a Sundance pickup by A24, looks especially promising.  

Below you’ll find links to select reviews of titles, updated throughout the duration of the festival. For schedule and ticketing information, refer to the Music Box website here.