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Column Fri Dec 19 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies & The Babadook


This week's column was made a bit easier on me since for reasons I can't quite fathom, studios opted to screen by Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and Annie last weekend while I was out town, so I didn't get to preview them for review. I'm sure they're both wonderful, but since I can't know that for sure, it's probably best that you avoid them until I've given them my seal of approval (and to discourage studios from only screening "family" films on the weekends). But here are two other options for your weekend viewing...

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

To say that the third and final installment in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit films is the best of the three is a bit of a "No, duh" assessment, since the film is about 40 percent full-on battle, and it nicely wraps up this story while leaving us just enough of an enticement to lead us into The Lord of the Rings adventures. The idea that The Battle of the Five Armies would serve as some sort of bridge between the two trilogies is not exactly the case, but there are just enough seeds planted to know what is to grow in years to come. Also, the idea that Five Armies is nothing more than epilogue is outrageous, to say the least. There's more actual plot in this film than in An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug combined, and the moments of actual epilogue only make up a couple of minutes of screen time.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Art Wed Dec 17 2014

focus: Lucy McKenzie Exhibition @ The Art Institute of Chicago

Upon walking into the Art Institute's Modern Wing, the beloved exhibition of Josef Koudelka is now removed and a new exhibition sits in its place--quite literally. Before entering the space, Lucy McKenzie is projecting towards her audience. One mechanically operated sign moves up and down, another swirls in a circle, and a seated mannequin sits pretty between them both. Like out of a small town storefront window, the exhibition begins.

Lucy McKenzie.jpg

Once inside, the noise of the moving signs takes ahold of the viewer as one wanders the space through a series of large canvas paintings which propel from the ceiling. "Manhattan (Phallic map mural for brasserie scene in unrealized Kubrick film)," is a piece, among several others in a series which re-images a Kurbrick movie scene. The meticulous realism that McKenzie presents in this collection is contrasted with slight oddities and occasional humor in her exhibition at the AIC. Her realistic pieces are oddly composed, the majority are cropped on the sides to feature an off-centered piece. However, the script beneath the paintings, for example, "Sweden & Finland", or "Geneva", are delicately placed and perform for the viewer as a delicate, yet important, attribute to the entirety of the piece.

Sitting next to these paintings are an installation that is reminesisent of an "artists studio". The "in-process" and the "final product" are displayed in conjunction as if they are simply not able to part ways. The finished pieces, which reflect Kubrick scenes, in contrast with the hidden pieces, create a tension and hierarchy between the two groupings of positioned paintings.

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S. Nicole Lane / Comments (0)

Performance Mon Dec 15 2014

Redmoon Winter Pageant Is Family-Friendly Adventure on a Grand Scale

By Kim Campbell


Photo by Al Zayed

It all begins on a glacier, where Raphael and Danielle's first date looking for a treasure goes awry due to some bad weather, causing a series of fantastic adventures to unfold. They battle great puppets like Yetis, a dinosaur and wind itself, meet aliens and cavemen, and test their character along with their survival instincts. All of this takes place on a very grand scale at Redmoon's new winter home in a giant, refurbished warehouse, with a cast of 10 professional spectacle performers and 30 community collaborators.

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Theater Fri Dec 12 2014

Chicago Shakespeare Stages a Lush, Celebratory Production of Pericles

Chicago Shakespeare's new production of Pericles begins as the prince arrives in Antioch to bid for the hand of King Antiochus' daughter. Pericles must solve Antiochus' riddle, because those who fail to do so are beheaded. The stage décor includes a half dozen heads on poles as proof. Pericles (Ben Carlson) reads the riddle and knows, to his horror, that it describes the incestuous relationship of Antiochus (Sean Fortunato) with his unnamed daughter.

Pericles flees, fearing for his life, and thus begins a series of comic and tragic misadventures. Over the course of this two-act play, Pericles travels an odyssey of sorts, involving storms and shipwrecks, merriment and sorrow, that ends happily 155 minutes later. This play, while not as poetically written as Shakespeare's greatest plays, gets a beautifully designed production by Chicago Shakespeare. David H. Bell's direction takes utmost advantage of the best scenes, such as the celebrations and the famous brothel scene in act two.

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Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

Column Fri Dec 12 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Imitation Game, Top Five, The Two Faces of January & Point and Shoot


Exodus: Gods and Kings

Let's at least all agree that if there is one director working today who, in theory, could handle the scope and significance of the story of Moses leading 400,000 Jewish slaves out of Egypt, it's Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down). But Scott is still something of a hit-and-miss filmmaker, and we know that nothing is a sure thing in his usually capable hands. Which brings us to that Moses story, Exodus: Gods and Kings, which casts Moses (played rather dispassionately by Christian Bale) in the dual role as both the favored (albeit adopted) son of the Pharoah Seti (John Turturro) and the outcast brother of the Pharoah's rightful heir, Rhamses (Joel Edgerton).

Unlike last year's biblical epic from Darren Aronofsky, Noah, which embraced some of the mysticism and Godly wonders of its story, Scott has chosen to set his story in the realm of the explainable. For example, we get a detailed account of how nearly all of the deadly plagues might have been freaks of nature; the screenplay brings up some interesting possibilities, but can't quite explain away all of the nasty doings (the death of all Egyptian first borns is the most sinister). Scott also leaves open the possibility that Moses was delusional in his conversations with God (personified in Exodus by an angry young boy). We see the boy, but when Aaron Paul's Joshua observes Moses chatting up God, he doesn't see the boy.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Theater Tue Dec 09 2014

Teatro Vista's Tamer of Horses puts Allegory on Display

Teatro Vista - Tamer of Horses

Some spirits are too broken to ever be tamed, some souls too piecemealed to lasso into oneness.

A vagrant by the name of Hector (Joshua Torrez) stumbles onto and insists on taking refuge at the farm of private school teachers Ty (Juan Francisco Villa) and his wife Georgiane (Sari Sanchez). Hector is injured — physically scratched up and scarred from his escape from his urban detention center, emotionally and intellectually scarred from a complete society that intentionally failed him every step of the way of his young life. Upon finding Hector hiding in their horse barn, Georgiane immediately cares for Hector's scrapes with disinfectant and his hunger with apple pie, but as a former "project girl," she's well aware that there isn't much that she or anyone can do for Hector's soul, and she wants him up and on his way, sensing that Hector is dangerous, buck-wild, and brings trouble to the couple and the sleepy hollow life they've finally assimilated into.

This is William Mastrosimone's story of Tamer of Horses, directed by Ron OJ Parsons, currently being staged by Teatro Vista.

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Alice Singleton / Comments (0)

Dance Tue Dec 09 2014

Hubbard Street Wows With Winter Series

Last weekend, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago continued its season with its Winter Series -- Princess Grace Awards: New Works. The premise of the show was inviting three previous Princess Grace Award winners in choreography to produce new works for Hubbard Street. Kyle Abraham, Robyn Mineko Williams and Victor Quijada each worked on a new piece for the Hubbard Street dancers.

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Miriam Finder / Comments (0)

Theater Mon Dec 08 2014

Irish Theatre's Shining City : A Ghost Story in a Therapist's Office

Photo by Emily Schwartz.

The setting is a dingy therapist's office in Dublin. Ian (Coburn Goss), a former priest, is preparing his new office for his first client. Over the course of the 100-minute, five-scene, production, the office is the scene of poignant therapy sessions with John (Brad Armacost), Ian's breakup with his fiancée Neasa (Carolyn Kruse), and his hookup with Laurence (Shane Kenyon), a young man who he meets in the park. Conor McPherson's Shining City is beautifully and subtly written and may remind you of the ghosts of your own haunted past.

Irish Theatre's director Jeff Christian does a credible job directing this script, which is a series of conversations, sometimes quiet, sometimes emotional. Nothing much happens. Everyone is lonely and needy. As the play opens, John comes to Ian for help with the guilt he feels over the death of his wife, Mari, in a taxi accident and her continued haunting presence in his house.

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Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

Art Sun Dec 07 2014

Mend Thine Every Flaw Exhibition at Heaven Gallery

Gapers Block1.jpgLocated in the midst of Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, Heaven Gallery is exhibiting the work of Shawn Creeden, Marshall Elliott, and Rachael Starbuck. Heaven, a contemporary art gallery which serves as an exquisite, yet affordable, Vintage Shop during the day, features musicians and visual artists throughout the year. The current exhibition, Mend Thine Every Flaw, is in partnership with Artists' Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions (ACRE), a non-profit which offers artists an open platform for discussion, support, and development for their visual practice. The artists featured in the current exhibition at Heaven Gallery are the summer of 2013 artists in residence at ACRE.

The three artists exhibited in the two gallery spaces in Heaven (plus the tiny room on the left, don't miss it!) are focused on video, experimental painting, performance, and sculptural techniques. The works are cohesive in terms of craft and attention; embroidered pieces hang on the walls, a rock is created from pulp, resin and plaster, and a tractor pulls several canvases through mud and muck. Each individual artist in the exhibition features work that invites patience, intimacy and understanding, in conjunction with visual manipulation.

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S. Nicole Lane / Comments (0)

Column Fri Dec 05 2014

Wild, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Antarctica: A Year on Ice, Panic 5 Bravo & Bad Hair



Reese Witherspoon has had a hell of a year. She produced the massively popular and exceedingly well made Gone Girl, she co-starred in The Good Lie, a sadly overlooked docudrama that came out earlier this year, and she has a juicy role in Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, Inherent Vice. But more than likely, the 2014 film the Oscar winner be remembered for most is Wild, from director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club), based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed about her life-affirming (and -threatening) 1000-plus-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, completely alone with no training or preparation of any kind.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Column Wed Nov 26 2014

Horrible Bosses 2, The Penguins of Madagascar & Happy Valley


Horrible Bosses 2

When Horrible Bosses hit theaters three years ago, it came at a time when original (as in non-sequel) R-rated comedies were going strong, following the likes of Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher. Context doesn't make a comedy funny or not, but it was a good year for adults to laugh. I also seem to recall that the key to Horrible Bosses' humor was not in its silly plot, which was just an excuse to open the floodgates on some fairly funny material from leads Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis as Nick, Dale and Kurt, respectively. But the real enjoyment came from some truly foul behavior from Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston as the titular bosses, as well as Jamie Foxx as a "murder consultant," brought into the picture when the boys decide to kill each other's bosses. The film was loaded with all sorts of wrong, and for the most part, it worked.

Jumping ahead three years, our heroes are now inventors, attempting to kickstart their own business with the help of a gadget outlet store chain, run by the father-and-son team of Bert and Rex Hanson (Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine). Not surprisingly, the seemingly reputable Hansons double-cross the fellas, leaving them and their new start-up company on the verge of ruin. Naturally, the only thing they can think of is become would-be criminals again to get their money back. They concoct a plan to kidnap young Rex and demand a ransom that just happens be the same amount as their bank loan. The film finds excuses (some more legit than others) to bring Foxx, Spacey and Aniston back into the mix, with varying results.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Theater Wed Nov 26 2014

Strawdog's Desperate Dolls Gets Evil Wrong But Suspense Right

By Amien Essif


Joe Mack and Hillary Marren. Photo by Tom McGrath.

One motel room is like another. It's a line that's threaded throughout Desperate Dolls, a new play by Darren Callahan that had its world premiere under the direction of Michael Driscoll at Strawdog Theatre on Monday. The point is certainly well made, considering the entire plot unfolds on a single set--a motel room, portrayed as several different motel rooms scattered around 1968 Hollywood, a time and place that is said to be composed entirely of motel rooms that all look alike and contain horror stories of their own.

Played confidently by Joe Mack, Sunny Jack's self-proclaimed "triple threat" status as director, producer, and writer has more to do with the size of his budget than the size of his talent. His foray into female-centric films is played up as well-intentioned, but if you respect women, this might not be a good enough excuse. Auditioning them for his B-movies in--you guessed it--a motel room, he signs three ambitious and curvaceous young "dolls" who also become his friends, with benefits not defined in their contracts.

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Theater Mon Nov 24 2014

Court Theatre Stages a Low-Key Iphigenia in Aulis


On a barren and worn wharf in Aulis, the Greek fleet waits to depart for battle in Troy. You may remember the story. Agamemnon is king of Mycenae. His brother Menelaus was married to the beautiful Helen, who was kidnapped and whisked off to Troy to marry Paris. Now the Greek fleet, commanded by Agamemnon, is ready to set sail for Troy to right the wrong and bring back Helen.

But there's no wind to power the sailing ships and the goddess Artemis (the gods always get involved in these tales) demands that Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to get those winds blowing.

Court Theatre portrays the story of Iphigenia in Aulis in a low-key, minimalist 90-minute staging, directed by Charles Newell. The translation by Nicholas Rudall is clear and straightforward, sometimes poetic. The language is enhanced by the perfect vocal cadences of all the actors and chorus members.

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Nancy Bishop / Comments (1)

Theatre Sat Nov 22 2014

A Gorgeously Epic Porgy & Bess @ The Lyric Opera

 Porgy & Bess, photo by Todd Rosenberg
Eric Owens and Adina Aaron in Porgy & Bess. Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg.

Porgy & Bess, the George Gershwin opera that premiered in 1935, is currently in production at The Lyric Opera of Chicago for a 13-show run that opened Monday night. It is impossible to watch without considering its history; Gershwin drew inspiration for the opera while visiting Charleston, SC, and incorporated elements of southern black musical traditions into the piece. It was the first opera to feature an all-black cast, and it has weathered controversy ever since, with debate over its depiction of African-Americans, and was not generally accepted as legitimate opera until 1976. Nevertheless, it has entered the American cultural lexicon, with songs like "Summertime," "It Ain't Necessarily So," and "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'" becoming American standards.

The Lyric Opera production, directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by Ward Stare, is gorgeously epic. As interpreted by bass-baritone Eric Owens, Porgy has a voice and a presence that are undeniable, and soprano Adina Aaron's portrayal of Bess is as heartbreaking as it is believable. With a supporting cast that includes Eric Greene as the menacing Crown, and Jermaine Smith as the charismatic Sportin' Life, the energy and pathos of the opera commands the attention of the audience for the entire three hours that it takes for the story to fully unfold.

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J.H. Palmer / Comments (0)

Column Fri Nov 21 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Foxcatcher, The Homesman, Force Majeure, America the Beautiful 3: The Sexualization of Our Youth, National Gallery & Miss Meadows


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

Easily the best of the young adult series that have proliferated the marketplace since the Twilight movies singed movie screens, The Hunger Games films have actually managed to get better and more harrowing with each new chapter. To wrap up the series, the final book, Mockingjay, has been adapted into two films (the second part will be released in November 2015), and while this may appear to be an already-tired ploy by studios to milk the most out of a franchise (thanks Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hobbit and the upcoming final chapter of the Divergent films!), there actually does seem to a clear dividing line for Mockingjay that isn't exactly a cliffhanger, but the start of something even more devious than the first part hints at.

Now that the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is free from actually having to take part in yet another Hunger Games (they have essentially been done away with forever), and we can enter a new chapter of this civilization divided into realms and controlled by the clearly vindictive President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Katniss is the reluctant hero of and symbol to her people, the underclasses of the nation of Panem, ruled by the newly introduced President Coin (Julianne Moore) and her trust advisor Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his last onscreen role — presumably he'll return in Part 2). As the underclass' so-called "Mockingjay," Katniss is asked to be the spokesperson for her people in a series of pirated videos calling for courage and the willingness to fight for freedom from Snow's tyranny.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Culture Tue Nov 04 2014

7,550 Miles from Home, Chicago's Ethiopians Build a Cultural Museum

By Danielle Elliott

Some 7,550 miles separate Chicago from Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. For the 10,000 Ethiopians living in Chicago, that distance seems a lot smaller due to the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Dec 19 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies & The Babadook

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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Sat Dec 20 2014
Soul Summit @ Double Door

Sat Dec 20 2014
No Media Performance Event @ High Concept Laboratories

Sat Dec 20 2014
Group Exhibition @ The Art House

Sat Dec 20 2014
Open Studio Holiday Sale @ Amanda Gentry Studio

Sat Dec 20 2014
Last Dash Xmas Bash @ Empty Bottle

Sun Dec 21 2014
Do-It-Yourself Messiah @ Harris Theater

Sun Dec 21 2014
Bluegrass Jam @ Old Town School of Folk Music

Mon Dec 22 2014
Alternative Christmas Double Feature @ Music Box

Mon Dec 22 2014
Third Annual Woman Power Holiday Show @ Schubas

Mon Dec 22 2014
Do-It-Yourself Messiah @ Harris Theater

Tue Dec 23 2014
Music Box Christmas Show

Wed Dec 24 2014
Music Box Christmas Show

Thu Dec 25 2014
A Kubrick Christmas @ Music Box

Fri Dec 26 2014
Al Scorch's Feast of Friendship @ Hideout

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