Saturday, August 31, 2013

On the Way Home Last Night 8/31/13

I had been watching their approach with growing alarm--the thunderstorms steadily sweeping down from Wisconsin. The line was long, running east to west across much of the metro Chicago area, and had much orange, red and even spots of deep purple on the color weather radar. And, of course, the line was due to scythe through downtown right about the time I was slated to leave work. Lovely.

Upon leaving the job, I ran into JB on the street and stood talking with him for a minute before heading on my way. The storms had not arrived yet, but the clouds above had a strangely scalloped look, like they were climbing over each other to get out of the way of the storm front to come.

By the time my Brown Line train had passed the Sedgwick stop, the sky had turned a dark grayish green. Lightning was bouncing back and forth between clouds, and all of the street lights had come on--about two hours early.

When the train reached Belmont, the skies opened up and trees started whipping back and forth madly. The dude sitting closest to the door had to move further into the train--the wind was blowing so hard that the rain was actually blowing around the partition and hitting him in the face anyway. (This same dud, when it came time to alight at his stop, stood before the doors, took a deep breath and, when they opened, he sprinted down the platform through the driving rain and was soaked to the skin by the time he reached shelter again.

Amazingly, the rain had let up to a drizzle by the time I made my stop. Lightning still danced in the clouds above, but little more came down. Branches littered most sidewalks, and many trash cans had blown over. The only serious damage I saw was from a huge tree limb that had snapped off (there were no singe marks on the trunk, so I assume it was felled by wind rather than lightning) and fallen across Richmond Street.

It didn't crush any cars, but it completely blocked the street; drivers headed north had to stop, back up and turn back onto Cullom to find another way out.

Every Picture Tells a Story 8/31/13

Lazin' on a sunny afternoon--in the summertime.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Movie Review: The World's End (2013)

I have never felt the desire to go on a pub crawl.

Walk into a pub and crawl out later? Sure. Done that.

Do a bit of impromptu bar-hopping? Yeah. Done that, too.

But venture forth with the intent of hitting bar after bar after bar until my liver bursts forth from my body and runs away screaming into the night? No. Just does not sound like fun.

Gary King (Simon Pegg) obviously feels differently. He considers the night he and his best mates from childhood spent making the attempt at the "Golden Mile"--the 12-pub run in their sleepy home town of Newton Haven, concluding with The World's End, to have been the best night of his life, even though he only made it through nine of the 12 pubs.

Now, 20 years later, Gary wants to make a go at the "Golden Mile" again, whether his mates--all of whom have grown up, gotten jobs, started families and/or gotten on with their lives--want to or not.

Through cajoling, coercion and sheer force of somewhat bleary will, Gary gets all four friends (Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Nick Frost) to drive back to Newton Haven to spend the better part of an afternoon and evening working their way up the "Golden Mile." Along the way, there is much drinking (except for Frost as Andy, formerly an epic party animal--and Gary's best friend--and now "on the wagon" and only drinking tap water), much bitching (especially about Gary, who's still wearing the same coat and driving the same car he did 20 years ago) and more than a bit of confusion as to why so few people in their hometown seem to recognize them except for Sam (Rosamund Pike), the sister of one of the friends, the longtime love-from-afar of another and a one-time-only fling for Gary.

Up to this point, The World's End is more or less a typical "old friends revisit old battlegrounds and open old wounds" comedy with most of the cast underplaying while Pegg's Gary reaches for Captain Jack Sparrow-level scene-chewing glory. Then, something happens--well into the crawl, Gary gets into a fight with a teenage in a bathroom and discovers, much to his horror, that things (and people) have changed a lot in Newton Haven since he last passed this way--a LOT.

After that, The World's End becomes a different movie--it doesn't abandon the buddy-movie layer, but adds a whole other retro-'70s sci-fi layer that doesn't clash with the previous material, but complements it in surprisingly sweet and satisfying ways.

Or maybe not so surprisingly, since this is how director/cowriter Edgar Wright and partners Pegg and Frost usually work: start off in one, seemingly gentile and benign genre, then shift into something that wouldn't be out of place in a 1975 drive-in. Shaun of the Dead (one of the best films of any kind in the last decade) starts out as a slacker comedy and ends with a zombie apocalypse. Hot Fuzz is an amusing fish-out-of-water buddy-cop flick until a serial killer bounces into the mix. Here, everything's normal until it's not--which, as it turns out, is exactly normal for Wright, Pegg and Frost. An evening out with old friends reliving past "glories" becomes a fight for survival not just for them, but for the whole damn world.

It doesn't hurt to have solid support from the likes of David Bradley (as a crazy old coot who's not so crazy after all), Pierce Brosnan (as an old teacher of the boys who doesn't seem to have gotten any older) and Pike (who gets to enact a brief Die Another Day reunion with that film's James Bond, Brosnan). But, as usual, it comes down to the onscreen chemistry and timing between Pegg and Frost, and that is as strong as ever, even with them playing something of a role reversal, with Pegg loud and obnoxious and Frost levelheaded and calm. And as tempting as it is to accuse Pegg of overacting (remember the mention of Jack Sparrow earlier?), it's just as easy to credit him for a surprisingly nuanced performance: it's not Pegg who's overacting, but Gary, strapping on an antic disposition so his friends, all of whom seem to have their shit together (appearances have a way of being deceiving), won't catch on to how really and truly fucked up he is.

Except when they need him to not be so fucked up. After all, when the world's end may well be nigh (what, you thought the title was just ironic?), your oldest, best friends may be all you have, no matter how fucked up they really are.

Every Picture Tells a Story 8/26/13

Monday, August 19, 2013

Where I Was Friday Night

In previous years, a fair chunk of my summer was spent attending the Silent Summer Film Festival, which ran for six weeks at the historic, rundown-but-lovely Portage Theater. At the end of last year's festivities, I fretted over the future of that movie house, as it was up for sale and the most likely buyer appeared to be a North Side church.

The church withdrew, much to the delight of Portage fans everywhere. Delight turned to horror, however, when the theater was subsequently purchased by the owner of the Congress Theater, which has long been in poor repair and has suffered many issues with its security (most infamously a rape immediately outside the theater on New Year's Eve a couple of years ago).

So this past spring, when the local alderman opposed the transfer of the existing liquor license to the new owner, said new owner displayed a mature, reasoned response: He padlocked the Portage's doors that same day. The theater has been closed ever since. (Because a movie theater can't operate without a liquor license, right? Oh, totally can.) The official website just says "Movie and Music Theater operator coming soon."

This sudden closure not only caused events on the immediate horizon to be cancelled (there was a horror film fest scheduled for the next day, which would have required no liquor whatsoever), but endangered future events--like the Silent Summer Film Festival.

The good news? The Silent Film Society of Chicago found a new venue for their fest.

The bad news? The new venue was in Des Plaines, one of Chicago's northwest suburbs. The Portage was one short bus ride away. The Des Plaines was much farther off, but fortunately has a Metra train station across the street. Unfortunately, the southbound train leaves the station at 9: 44 p.m.--before any of the movies would be over. The next train headed south? 12:59 a.m.

So I would not be spending this summer indulging my love of silent cinema. However, I still wanted to go to at least one show this year, so I needed someone with a car. Mr. E was kind enough to volunteer his automobile and mad driving skillz, and so he, JB and I headed northwest from the city to the comparative wilds of Des Plaines.

According to te ever-awesome Cinema Treasures website, the Des Plaines Theater opened on August 9, 1925 as a movie/Vaudeville venue and in recent years had shown Indian films off and on. I once interviewed for a job just up th street from the Des Plaines and remembered thinking it looked pretty (if somewhat time-worn). Friday night, I got to see the inside.

It's a lovely theater--smaller than the Portage, but with the same pipe organ and sound system. Faust looked and sounded wonderful, the crowd was large and enthusiastic, and the popcorn was terrific.

Even so, I hope that the Society finds a venue within the city limits for next year's fest--maybe the Patio Theater, if ever they can get their air conditioning situation sorted out.

At least I got to attend one night of this years festival, with good friends and a classic of German Expressionism. Here's to hoping we don't have to trek so far next year.

Every Picture Tells a Story 8/19/13

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Every Picture Tells a Story 8/13/13

Awesome artwork by my friend Josep Blas, now finally hanging in the dining room of La Casa del Terror.