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Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, FEB. 15 - Thursday, FEB. 21 ::

CRUCIAL VIEWING

Michael Powell's BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE (Classic Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center
Tuesday, 6pm
A cinematic exile in the wake of his initially derided, now adored post-Pressburger masterpiece PEEPING TOM, erstwhile British national treasure Michael Powell sought refuge in West German television for an adaptation of Béla Bartók's only opera. Recently unearthed by the director’s widow (famous in her own right as Martin Scorsese’s editor) Thelma Schoonmaker, this much-rumored curiosity makes a rare appearance on Tuesday. At once wildly expressionist and starkly minimalist, Powell’s 60-minute descent into the psychosexual abyss consists entirely of Bluebeard (producer/star Norman Foster) revealing a series of increasingly dark secrets to his new bride (Ana Raquel Satre) on an unsubtitled tour of his castle, represented by heavily geled, flagrantly unrealistic sets. Despite the outré conceit, Powell isn’t exactly on unfamiliar ground: TALES OF HOFFMAN is the major antecedent in his ouevre for this level of expressionistic chutzpah, and the sparse translation (by Powell’s design) recalls the wordless centerpiece of THE RED SHOES. Though downscaled to the size of a school play compared to the Archers' heyday, Hein Heckroth's otherworldly production design carries even more weight than in those earlier touchstones, and Powell’s visual direction is characteristically precise. More of a footnote than a victory lap, BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE is nonetheless essential viewing for anyone with an interest in Powell's work. (1964, 60 min, 35mm). MK
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More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.

Recent essay by Bertrand Tavernier available here.
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THE RELIGIOUS SHOW (Experimental)
Gallery 400 (400 S Peoria St) Wednesday, 7pm
Local experimental programmer Ben Russell's eclectic and FREE religion-themed show--organized to accompany an ongoing exhibition at UIC's Gallery 400--includes, "seven 16mm films [that] comprise a Religion of Celluloid." An excerpt from Estus Pirkle's evangelistic THE BURNING HELL (1974) features a, "scriptural interpretation of what the Bible has to say about a literal hell." Kenneth Anger's experimental classic INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER (1969) mixes fantastic occult imagery with a nerve-wracking electronic score composed by Mick Jagger. There are two from the brilliant, underappreciated Owen Land: A FILM OF THEIR 1973 SPRING TOUR COMMISSIONED BY CHRISTIAN WORLD LIBERATION FRONT OF BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA (1974), a "stroboscopically" edited document, and "NO SIR, ORISON!" (1975), a prayer for the supermarket and its "non-nutritious commodities."
John Marshall's N/UM TCHAI: THE CEREMONIAL DANCE OF THE !KUNG BUSHMAN (1969) is an ethnographic portrait of a dance and song ceremony. Paul Sharits's RAY GUN VIRUS (1966) is an intense, crystalline flicker film. Finally, a film by the sardonic and perceptive Scott Stark, I'LL WALK WITH GOD (1994) uses airline emergency info cards to tell the story of, "an airline flight attendant's stoic transcendence through and beyond worldly adversity." Beyond normal reasons for attending Russell's always excellent programs, everyone unfamiliar with Owen Land should take this opportunity to get baptized in the light. (82 min TRT, 16mm). JM
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Directions to Gallery 400 here.
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Two Films by JEAN-LUC GODARD (Classic Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center
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LA CHINOISE – Check Reader Movies for showtimes
An excellent year-and-change for Chicagoans wanting to catch up with M. Godard on film continues excellently with two screenings of work from his earliest and best-beloved (if not necessarily best) period; specifically, in this case, 1967—pre-outright-radical-essayism but already comfortably post-narrative—and then 1965, when JLG was still coasting on the fumes of his initial and highly contagious cinephilia, respectively. LA CHINOISE, "a film in progress," here screening in a new print, simultaneously heralds and mocks the coming triumph of didacticism in Godard's work, giving us a nouvelle vague film par excellence—with primary color Raoul Coutard photography, a damn fine radical chic pop song and accompanying anti-video ("Mao Mao," by Claude Channes), further exploration of the onscreen uses of text and comic-book iconography, and adorable performances by darlings Jean-Pierre Leaud, Juliet Berto, and Anne Wiazemsky (in her only substantial role for then-husband Jean-Luc)—but also a mini-thesis on the painful confluence of hopelessness and idealism Godard had reached by the conclusion of TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER (released earlier the same year). Knowing the probable end results of bourgeois radicalism, but still needing to step into the ring and say something, Godard and/or LA CHINOISE seem undecided as to whether they ought to admire their band of pretty, myopic, wanna-be terrorists, or consign them finally to the oblivion of slapstick. Never afraid of addressing his own contradictions, ignorance, or anxieties in his work, LA CHINOISE can just as well be read as an attack by Godard on fashionable militancy as a prescient autocritique. It is probably both. (1967, 35mm, 96 min). JD
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ALPHAVILLE – Friday & Wednesday, 6pm
The story goes that Godard originally wanted to call ALPHAVILLE "Tarzan vs. IBM," but as Jonathan Rosenbaum has pointed out, that title is far more apropos to Boorman's POINT BLANK (released the same year as LA CHINOISE). ALPHAVILLE could be better described as "Murnau vs. Lang vs. Welles vs. Cocteau vs. Borges," since the influence of each of these luminaries are made to duke it out through Godard's sci-fi city of the eternal now as surely as Lemmy Caution must do battle with the agents of the all-powerful computer Alpha 60, controlling its subjects with its unforgettable voice. A love letter to expressionism and pulp—which like every Godardian love letter contains no small amount of criticism—ALPHAVILLE is alternatively off-putting in its esotericism and accessible in its broad and familiar genre gestures; and its groundbreaking work demonstrating that the future is always located just a little bit behind us cannot be undervalued. Starring Anna Karina and Eddie Constantine, reprising his perennial role as hardboiled secret agent Caution, as well as Akim Tarimoff and Howard Vernon—double agents for Welles and Lang, respectively. The woozily romantic score is by Paul Misraki, hardworking composer for the previous Lemmy Caution films. Jonathan Rosenbaum will be lecturing on the film following the Wednesday night screening, as part of his wonderful ongoing series "The Great Transition." (1965, 35mm, 99 min). JD
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More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.

Watch LA CHINOISE's "Mao Mao" sequence on YouTube here.
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George A. Romero’s DIARY OF THE DEAD (New Release)
Piper's AlleyCheck Reader Movies for showtimes

George Romero, lauded by at least one critic as the Mark Twain of horror cinema, returns to his independent roots with his latest feature--another intimation of apocalypse in modern times. It’s already received high praise from Film Comment, earning a spot on editor-in-chief Gavin Smith’s Top Ten for 2007 and a rave review from long-time supporter Robin Wood in the current issue. From Wood’s essay: “DIARY… may prove to be the series’ supreme achievement, Romero’s most inclusive statement. Its premise is brilliant. In a gambit of narrative aplomb, Romero establishes that he has no responsibility for the film we are watching: the opening segment has been downloaded from the Internet, and what follows is a work of a group of film students from the University of Pittsburgh…. “Romero’s [aesthetic] decision… is a masterstroke. The handheld camera continuously underlines the sense of the instability of a world in which nothing is reliable, anyone may turn out to be a zombie. Detached (at least partly) from the nuclear family, looking to ahead to a still undefined future, with a certain freedom of choice, the young people are the ideal protagonists for a Romero movie. Even in the midst of the pervasive horrors, the constant reminders of the handheld camera, the youthful spontaneity and emotional openness of the group, also combine to give the film a surprising freshness and exhilaration that’s lacking in the previous films, while the group’s relative innocence gives the film an unexpected and touching poignancy…” (2007, 95 min, 35mm).
BS
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Robin Wood's entire Film Comment essay here.
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ALSO RECOMMENDED

IRON LADIES OF LIBERIA (Special Event)
Chicago Cultural Center Saturday, 2pm
From the program: "An intimate documentary that goes behind-the-scenes with Africa's first freely elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia. The film explores the challenges facing President Sirleaf and the extraordinary women surrounding her as they develop and implement policy to rebuild their ravaged country and prevent a descent back into civil war."
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Free screening takes place at the Cassidy Theatre, 77 E Randolph (map).
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ART DOCS SERIES (Documentary)
Chicago Filmmakers
– Saturday, 8pm
Chicago Filmmakers dares to ask that timeless question, "What is art?" with two short films focusing on the conflicts between urban graffiti artists and their municipal governments. Portland shorts maven Matt McCormick, in his experimental documentary THE SUBCONSCIOUS ART OF GRAFFITI REMOVAL (2002, 17 min), delivers a kind of meta-aesthetic awareness merely with its title: is graffiti removal a social good, or an unspoken artistic statement by a constabulary institution? Increasingly hilarious montages of the particular brand of abstract modernism preferred by the establishment--primarily dull gray and beige rectangles subtly offset from their framing surface--are combined with footage of the East Portland civil servants who unwittingly act as prolific outsider artists by perpetually running out of "slate". Also screening: CPH REMIX (2005, 39 min), which follows a local graffiti remover and his street-artist quarry during Copenhagen's royal wedding of May 2004, and features a downtempo funk soundtrack by crate-digging Danes. MC
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More info at www.chicagofilmmakers.org.

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DAMON PACKARD: Week 3 (Underground)
NWesternAve Tuesday, 7:30pm
This week's installment of NWA's wildly popular series showcasing the underground moviemaking giant Damon Packard again focuses on his behind-the-scenes obsessions and gives quite a bit of insight into his editing (and reediting) practices. LOST IN THE THINKING (2005) (kind of) documents his (fictionalized?) frustrations and messy collaboration with artists for a show at New York's PS1 called The Thinking. It's frustrating and messy itself and is probably one of his most satisfyingly whole works. E.T. OUTTAKES reedits some promotional interviews and footage from the Spielberg film with footage of young employees goofing off in a movie theater to create a dark narrative. CHAD'S WEDDING is a simple document of a friend's wedding reedited to feature disasters and frightening babies. GLOOM is something--it involves old horror trailers and footage of a man walking--or maybe it's not something. Finally ROLLERBOOGIE III--preparation for next weeks screening of Packard's masterpiece SPACEDISCO ONE--combines footage from a clumsy narrative video about a roller skating stud and his cheating girlfriend, endless shots of Linda Blair skating, and (probably) an Alyssa Milano exercise tape. All in all it will be a godawful muddled show that will convince you (if you haven't been already) of Packard's genius. (2005, 90 min TRT, DVD Projection). JM
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Venue info at NWesternAve.com.

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CLASSIC REVIVALS AT THE PORTAGE THEATER
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Alfred Hitchcock's THE LODGER – Sunday, 2:30pm
Alfred Hitchcock was a sound filmmaker, and his most famous silent film, THE LODGER, offers ample proof: at every step it attempts to circumvent the lack of a synchronized soundtrack. Sounds are evoked, alluded to, inferred: a screaming blonde, a transparent floor showing us that someone is pacing upstairs. It's a dream only RCA Photophone could fully realize—he's shooting silent but thinking sound. Hitchcock did the auteurist detective work on it himself, calling it the first real Hitchcock film, and the moniker's stuck. (1927, 75 min, 35mm). IV
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The Marx Brothers' DUCK SOUP – Wednesday, 1:30pm
Working, for once, with a decent director in Leo McCarey (make that a great one—see Dave Kehr's recent appreciation here), The Marx Brothers turned in their magnum opus with DUCK SOUP (1933), ditching love interests and instrumental numbers in favor of nonstop madcap bliss. While not the brothers' first film to be written expressly for the screen, this is certainly their first (and last) to be paced for it, breathlessly motormouthing in a way that anticipates the gag-a-second comedies of a less heralded set of brothers, the Zuckers. But the primary reason DUCK SOUP transcends the rest of the Marxs' output is its target—Groucho's Escher-like language contortions never found a better foil than governmental bureaucracy, and the hall-of-mirrors conversations dominating this war spoof rank alongside Heller and Vonnegut. For all their good intentions, contemporary antiwar filmmakers might do well to take a page from this, which, in its gleeful skewering, reminds us what about humanity might be worth saving. (1933, 68 min, 35mm). MK
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More info at www.portagetheater.org.

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I LOVE PRESETS (Experimental)
Conversations at the Edge / Gene Siskel Film Center – Thursday, 6pm
From the CATE program: "As I Love Presets, Chicago-based sound and new media artists Rob Ray, Jon Satrom, and Jason Soliday do everything wrong the right way. The trio manipulates found sounds and animated GIFs on home-brew equipment in spectacular live audio/video performances, breaking down, complicating, and glorifying instrument settings, tool presets, and art-making interfaces normally accepted as fixed and stable. Ray, Satrom, and Soliday will demo their latest instruments, a video game, and more in a unique CATE set." (2008, 90 min TRT, various formats).
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More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
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IMAMURA: Week 7 (Classic Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center
– Showtimes noted below

The great Shohei Imamura won his second Palme d’Or with THE EEL (1997, 116 min, 35mm; Saturday, 3pm & Monday, 8pm), the first work of his triumphant final period: three films that depict the chaos and recklessness of human life with unexpected affection. (The late films of Bunuel and Oliveira are the only comparable successes in cinema history.) A straight-arrow businessman kills his adulterous wife in a fit of passion and then goes to jail for eight years. The movie tells his story upon being released, starting life over as a small-town barber and learning to love again--all while raising a giant pet eel. In the words of Senses of Cinema writer Nelson Kim, it’s remarkable for “handl[ing] audacious shifts in tone with terrific fluency. THE EEL begins as a bloody thriller, turns into a drama of redemption, and finally becomes a knockabout comedy with surrealist touches.” This week’s other selection, ZEGEN (1987, 124 min, 35mm; Saturday, 5:15pm), is not as famous in the U.S., as it never received an official release here. But this based-on-a-true-story sounds like the final flowering of Imamura’s brute satire that was so dominant in his early films. The title is Japanese for pimp, and the main character (Imamura regular Ken Ogata) is an enterprising businessman who opens up brothels abroad during the early twentieth century. According to some reviewers, this is a deft commentary on the imperial designs of Meiji Period (1868-1910), which would have lasting effects on Japan’s standing throughout the world. BS
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More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
Senses of Cinema's biography of Imamura here.
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THIS WEEK AT DOC FILMS
Don Siegel (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, DIRTY HARRY) remains one of the most underestimated genre auteurs, combining Hawks’ no-nonsense professionalism with a startling awareness of man’s cynicism and brutality. THE LINEUP (1958, 86 min, 35mm; Thursday, 7pm) has these virtues in the service of a B police thriller more intense than audiences were accustomed to in 1958. Samuel Fuller, another U.S. director fascinated by brutality, is represented this week by SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963, 101 min, 35mm; Monday, 7pm), a characteristically flamboyant piece of social criticism in which a journalist feigns madness to write an expose about an insane asylum; his fellow patients end up representing America’s various social ills. Also playing this week: Sean Penn’s underrated adaptation of INTO THE WILD (2007, 140 min, 35mm widescreen; Friday, 6:15, 9, 11:45 pm & Sunday, 3pm), which becomes a stunning photo-essay about American rootlessness, with cinematography by the great Eric Gautier (IRMA VEP, PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES); Jacques Tati’s comic masterpiece MON ONCLE (1958, 110 min, 35mm, 35mm; Tuesday, 7pm), another tale of the ever-befuddled Monsieur Hulot, this time lost in nouveau-riche suburbia and (as always) geometrically brilliant sight gags; HIGH HEELS (1991, 112 min, 16mm; Wednesday, 7 & 9:30pm), Pedro Almodovar’s first foray into Douglas Sirk territory, featuring the sort of tender female performances that remain Almodovar’s stock-in-trade; and ETERNAL LOVE (1929, 35mm, 71 min; Sunday, 7pm), an Ernst Lubitsch costume drama starring John Barrymore. BS
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Full details at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu
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THIS WEEK AT BLOCK (Classic & Contemporary Revival)
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Kenji Mizoguchi’s SANSHO THE BAILIFF Friday, 8pm
Following last week’s showing of UGETSU, Block screens another major work by Kenji Mizoguchi, arguably the greatest of Japanese filmmakers. Set among the slave trade and rural poverty of Japan’s Heian period (approx. 900-1100)--“an era when mankind had not yet awakened as human beings,” per the film’s introduction--Mizoguchi asks viewers to consider the fundamental values of human society. The plot, about two siblings separated from their noble parentage and taken into slavery, is too deeply affecting to work as fable: Mizoguchi’s gift for envisioning the distant past with great immediacy only enhances the powerful story. (1954, 120 min, 35mm). BS
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Kalatozov's THE LETTER NEVER SENT Wednesday, 8pm
The English title of Mikhail Kalatozov's 1958 Palme d'Or winner, THE CRANES ARE FLYING, creates a sort of accidental pun. We know the title's referring to birds, but anyone who's ever seen one of Kalatozov's late films knows it might as well be crane shots; his movies could have had been called TRACKING SHOTS or CHANGING PERSPECTIVES. Part of it is Kalatozov's peculiar spirit, which manifests itself in the second of Kalatozov's famous collaborations with cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, THE LETTER NEVER SENT. The story of a group of scientists trying to survive in the tundra, it has a sense of adventure and nature indebted more to Romantic painting than to 20th century progress and camera movement that often leaves its subject behind, as if running ahead into the wilderness to see what's coming next. (1959, 97 min, 35mm). IV
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Hong Sang-soo’s WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN – Thursday, 8pm
Hong Sang-soo, one of the most talked-about directors in world cinema today, makes movies that are invariably about the love lives of the educated class. Like French master Eric Rohmer, he uses familiar premises to explore the bottomless depths of human psychology; unlike Rohmer, Hong’s revelations are often cynical and his premises rarely feel familiar due to his oblique storytelling methods. WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN is relatively straightforward and lighthearted for Hong, making it an ideal introduction to his work -- though some of the laughs are still plenty uncomfortable. The reunion of former art school friends, now in their early 30s, causes both men to examine their relationships with Sun-hwa -- former girlfriend to one, former mistress to the other, and treated callously by both. Hong’s observational, even clinical style turns this story into something uncannily lovely and, in the end, heartbreaking. (2004, 88 min, 35mm). BS
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More info at www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.

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LE DOULOS (Classic Revival)
Music BoxCheck Reader Movies for showtimes

In 1961, Jean-Paul Belmondo played a Catholic priest; in 1962, he plays a stool pigeon. LE DOULOS, Jean-Pierre Melville's inversion of his previous collaboration with Belmondo (LEON MORIN, PRIEST, the biggest commercial success of Melville's career), is as full of liars as MORIN, set in Occupied France, was full of sufferers. Melville always worked hard on making himself look tough (he wore sunglasses to hide his gentle eyes), but his idealism is always detectable. The characters and actions of MORIN were Melville's most idealistic, the ones in LE DOULOS his most cruel, but both are the product of the director's sense of morality, which saw small gestures and great sweeping actions as equally indicative of character. Like all of Melville's Belmondo films, it isn't commercially available in the States, and the new print should do justice to its shadowy gangster images. (1962, 108 min, 35mm).
IV
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More info at www.musicboxtheatre.com.
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Jim Henson's LABYRINTH (Midnight Revival)
THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN (New Release)

Music BoxCheck Reader Movies for showtimes

Jim Henson's phantasmagoric fairy-tale bricolage LABYRINTH (1986, 101min, 35mm), which was reissued nationally last year, makes a 2-week appearance at the Music Box's midnight movie series. A heady hodgepodge of literary ingredients, stretching from centuries-old English 'changeling' folk tales to the canonical "Snow White" to contemporary reimaginings like Maurice Sendak's "Outside Over There" (1981) (many of which are self-referentially embedded in the USUAL SUSPECTS-worthy mise-en-scène of protagonist Sarah's bedroom), undergoes tonal battle with Terry Jones-scripted Muppets as spectators free-fall into a fragmented pubescent unconscious familiarly raised on Henson's earlier creations. This tension between a Monty Python aesthetic nihilism and a mythic tradition highly amenable to psychoanalysis is decisively tilted in the direction of the latter by the presence of David Bowie as the Goblin King, whose androgynous object-of-desire/villain provides a coherent Oedipal entanglement for the contemporary children of divorcees. The anxieties at the core of LABYRINTH's setup sequence--Sarah "wishing away" the trauma of her crying infant sibling to an army of monsters ruling over an Escher- like institutional maze--is perhaps not so different from that of THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN (2008, 87min), a documentary criticizing American obstetrics and its emphasis on fast-paced hospital births. Director Abby Epstein and executive producer Ricki Lake attempt to show that our desire for and utilization of various medical technologies (epidurals, Caesarean sections) is implicated in a cultural dependence on a particularly spiritually degenerate organization of professionals, whom we have entrusted to supplant our formerly "natural" ability to produce and care for newborns. Facing the Goblin Kings of a medicalized civilization, Epstein and Lake presume that viewers will collectively rise and declare, "you have no power over me". Perhaps it will be so--in their dreams. MC

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More info at www.musicboxtheatre.com.
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ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATED SHORT FILMS
Landmark Century Centre Check Reader Movies for showtimes

Once the perennial Oscar pool wild cards, the short film nominees have become increasingly visible in recent years, and this week 2007's animated and live action contenders appear in separate programs at Landmark. A welcome respite from the CGI snark dominating recent big-screen offerings, the animation program is a showcase for the form's inherent versatility - ranging from Aleksandr Petrov's painstaking hand-painted MY LOVE to the stop-motion of PETER AND THE WOLF, many of these easily coast on their considerable technical mastery for their short durations. Produced by the venerable National Film Board of Canada, the mood piece MADAME TUTLI-PUTLI is by far the most impressive, with virtuosic stop-motion puppetry creating an enveloping tactile experience - one wishes the program consisted solely of this 17 minute wonder run five times. The live action entries, if less dazzling than their animated counterparts, are still less embarrassing than the usual slate of feature nominees. (2007, 35mm; animation: 90 min TRT, live action: 137 min TRT). MK
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MADAME TUTLI-PUTLI trailer and more here.
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RECOMMENDED VIEWING EXTENDED RUNS:

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS
Music Box
THERE WILL BE BLOOD Landmark Century Centre
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MORE NOTABLE SCREENINGS

U of C Film Studies Center
Gender/Justice/Videotape: An Evening with Beyondmedia Education

Portage Theater
Happy Birthday to Me / My Bloody Valentine

Facets Cinémathèque
Honey & Clover

LaSalle Bank Cinema
The Egg and I

Gene Siskel Film Center
The Maltese Falcon, Cinema Croatia, Hong Kong! Retrospective, Contemporary Cuban Film and Video

Music Box
Casablanca (Matinee), George Cukor's Born Yesterday (Matinee), Rocky Horror Picture Show (Midnight)

Landmark Century Centre
Atonement, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, No Country for Old Men, Persepolis, There Will Be Blood

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CINE-LIST: February 15 21, 2008

EDITOR / Darnell Witt
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CONTRIBUTING EDITORS / Michael King, Ben Sachs
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ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS / Michael Castelle, Jeremy M. Davies, Josh Mabe, Ignatius Vishnevetsky

> Editorial Statement --> Contact