Films That Fell Through The Cracks

Chicago Film/History Fans Will Have TWO Final Chances To Catch My Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition Presentation This Week:



Wednesday, July 8— 7PM
Palatine Public Library
700 N. North Court
Palatine, IL 60067



Thursday, July 9— 7PM
Wood Dale Public Library
520 N. Wood Dale Road
Wood Dale, IL 60191






I don’t normally like to brag on myself, but it seems to be the only way to get attention these days.

In February of 2013 I was invited to write an article for Printers Row Journal (they had received an advance copy of Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition).  The piece was about some lesser known Chicago Films and ran in their February 23rd edition. Click here to read it.

When I emailed them the piece, I also sent it my publicist at Chicago Review Press (publisher of Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition). He told me that it might not be what they wanted, because it was in the form of a list and wasn’t “literary enough.” This threw me into a panic and I spent an afternoon furiously revising the content so as to have a clearer overarching theme and to be more “Authorly.”

Then I sent that revision to the editor at Printers Row Journal, telling her that they could use this version if the original was not highbrow enough (or words to that effect). As you can see from the link, they ended up using the first version I submitted.

I recently ran across the second version in my files, however, and decided that it deserved more than to just sit in my computer drawing pixel dust. Plus, I wanted to show off how well I can quickly revamp and revise content. Here it is (with a few added bells and whistles for the internet):


Seven Ways Of Looking At A City
By Michael Corcoran

Chicago has been involved in film-making since the very beginnings of the technology, and the world’s first movie studios operated here in the early 1900’s. And even from those early days of the nascent film industry, when neighborhood kids would sneak on to the Selig Polyscope lot at Western and Irving Park (many old Selig Westerns include children curiously peeking out from the bushes during shootouts), Chicago has managed to insert itself into the productions shot here and basically become another character in them.

The overwhelming presence of the city was imbued into the iconic Chicago blockbusters of the 1980s, such as The Blues Brothers, Risky Business, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and even recent hits like The Dark Knight still feature Chicago’s distinctive look as an integral part of their narrative landscape. And the city, much like the mercurial lake which it sits upon, never seems to appear the same way twice. Other lesser known productions have harnessed Chicago’s chameleon like qualities and also showcased areas not normally seen in the more mainstream Hollywood films shot here.



Unconditional Love is about as quirky as you can get. A Don’t Look Now reference and a bizarre Julie Andrews cameo don’t come along too often, especially in the same film.

Unconditional Love (2002), a quirky comedy starring Kathy Bates and Rupert Everett, goes beyond the standard Lower Wacker Drive chase scene to explore Downtown Chicago’s vast and often foreboding underground labyrinth of streets, byways, parking areas and subterranean loading docks. There is also an extended scene in the legendary Billy Goat Tavern, which sits in the catacombs beneath The Magnificent Mile. Bates plays a frumpy Chicago housewife whose singing idol (Jonathon Pryce) is murdered right before a television appearance in Chicago. This inspires her to fly to England to attend his funeral, where she bonds with the singer’s longtime gay lover (Everett). The pair then return to Chicago to solve the murder, which leads them on an odyssey through the bowels of the downtown area.

Moving back above ground, Scriptwriter Zach Helm (a graduate of DePaul’s Theatre School) and Director Mark Forster succeeded not only in capturing the spirit of great 1970s Hal Ashby comedies such as Harold and Maude but also provided a unique view of downtown Chicago in their 2006 offering, Stranger Than Fiction. The story is set in an anonymous “any town” but the filmmakers chose Chicago for its plethora of International Style buildings, which function as a visual shorthand for the bland conformity of the film’s protagonist, routine bound IRS agent Harold Crick (played by Will Ferrell in an uncharacteristically subtle and brilliantly understated performance). Chicagoans will immediately recognize this forbidding landscape of glass and steel boxes set in concrete plazas, however, as the Daley Center, the CNA Building, Illinois Center Plaza and several other iconic modernist structures are utilized.


Will Ferrell is not his usual over-the-top Wacky Guy in this film, so don’t let his presence scare you off.

In the film, Ferrell’s character suddenly finds himself hearing the voice of a narrator describing his life, “accurately and with a better vocabulary.” When the third person omniscient voice portends his death, he seeks out an English Professor (Dustin Hoffman) to try and discover the origin and identity of the narrator. In a parallel story, an author (Emma Thompson) is locked in writer’s block over how to kill the protagonist of her latest novel, an IRS agent named Harold Crick. The audience is charmed and horrified as these two narrative threads move toward their inevitable meeting.


Maggie Gyllenhaal and Will Ferrell have a fantastic chemistry in Stranger Than Fiction.

Another facet of Chicago architecture is pointed out by the film Crime Spree (2003), an amusing mob farce starring Gerard Depardieu and Harvey Keitel. Set in Paris and Chicago (with a few locations fudged in Canada), it not only visits some more obscure Windy City environs (such as The Heart ‘O’ Chicago Motel in the far North Edgewater area) but during an opening montage in Paris also illustrates just how much French-style Beaux Arts Architecture exists here, as shots of certain Parisian vistas make you think you are in Chicago. The plot revolves around a woefully inept band of French burglars led by Depardieu who after blowing a job in Paris are sent to Chicago for what is supposed to be an easy score. The victim turns out to be an Outfit underboss (Keitel), however, and the ragtag ensemble is thrown into a nightmare of mob reprisals, corrupt feds, and a series of double and triple crosses.


This hilarious film also has several inside jokes for a French audience.

The Merry Gentleman (2008) is a darker mob related offering starring Michael Keaton. Keaton (who also made his directing debut) plays a depressed hit man about to commit suicide by leaping off a roof, but first is spotted by a woman on the sidewalk (Kelly Macdonald) whose scream startles him into not jumping. Keaton later searches her out and the two begin an awkward relationship; with her unaware of his identity and he unaware that she has fled an abusive ex (Bobby Cannavale) and is living under an assumed name. The Merry Gentleman (2008), uses the rarely filmed North side neighborhoods of Lincoln Square, Ravenswood, and North Center to provide a fresh look that is still unmistakably Chicago.


I just evangelized about The Merry Gentleman in my last post.

The powerful drama Proof (2005) is set on the University of Chicago campus in the South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park, and the ivy-covered Gothic structures there are used to great effect. The film’s plot revolves around a brilliant yet mentally ill mathematician and professor (Anthony Hopkins). When he dies after a long bout with delusion and dementia, his daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow) is left to deal both with her grief and with fears that she may have inherited the same mental instabilities. Her anguish is compounded by the arrival of her overbearing and manipulative older sister (Hope Davis) and by an increasingly complicated relationship with a young math student (Jake Gyllenhaal) studying her father’s notebooks. Although stunning, the campus buildings themselves (particularly the Rockefeller Chapel where Hopkins funeral is set) seem to loom disapprovingly over Paltrow’s character as she works through all her various issues and tribulations.


Proof is a superb dramatic film. One of the best ever made in Chicago.

Back on the North side, Return To Me (2000), directed and co-written by Chicago native Bonnie Hunt, used several sites in Old Town (her old stomping ground during her Second City days) and Lincoln Park, most notably the Twin Anchors Restaurant. These urban yet almost homey locations shot during the midst of summer provide a perfect backdrop to this sweet romantic comedy, and Chicago seems like an dear old friend encountered by chance on a beautiful sunny day. Minnie Driver plays a woman who receives a desperately needed heart transplant, and David Duchovny is the grieving husband of the woman who donated Driver’s new heart. A coincidence brings them together and they begin a romance that is greatly complicated when they find out each other’s identities.


Driver and Duchovny get close. Return To Me is the kind of smart, sincere, and sweet romantic comedy people often complain “they just don’t make anymore.”

The superb drama A Family Thing (1996) provides a fascinating window into a Chicago almost two decades gone, with some seedier parts of Uptown (much more so than today) getting screen time as well as other off the beaten path locales. The story begins with rural Arkansas store owner Earl Pilcher, Jr. (Robert Duvall) discovering that his biological mother is actually an African American maid who died in childbirth and that he is of mixed race. Stunned by this sudden and jarring news, he gets in his truck and proceeds to drive to Chicago to find the half-brother he never knew existed. The brother (James Earl Jones) is understandably ambivalent about Earl’s appearance but is chastised by their Aunt T (Irma P Hall in a career making turn) into taking him in and giving him a place to stay. This vision of Chicago seen through Pilcher’s eyes is intimidating yet filled with wonder, much like the city must have seemed to the scores of southern blacks who migrated here in the 20th Century.

Family thing

A Family Thing is another great Chicago film. Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones are as fabulous as usual, and Irma P. Hall goes toe-to-toe with them both dramatically.


All of the aforementioned seven films highlight a different area of the city, and despite their disparate content and varied views of our metropolis, Chicago is the one constant. And, as in all films shot here, the city provides a powerfully photogenic tableaux.
Of course this is not surprising, for what is Chicago anyway other than an immense film set? Built on stilts of concrete, hovering above a swamp. A patchwork constructed of dreams from across the globe. A set for the greatest movie ever made, the story of Chicago.


Michael Corcoran is a historian, lecturer, and Certified Chicago Tour Guide. He and Arnie Bernstein are co-authors of Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition, available from Chicago Review Press. Visit for info about Michael’s tours and lectures.



There you have it. It’s a bit clunky but I whipped it up over the course of a single long afternoon. The takeaway here is that I am an extremely bright penny when it comes to content manipulation and you should look to me for your freelance writer needs.




The Merry Gentleman (2008)



Sometimes a film falls through the cracks because it is treated poorly by the studio or is unable to find a distributor and other times it happens because of disputes between the creative and fiduciary forces involved in making it. The latter scenario is the reason The Merry Gentleman never received its due and it’s high time to correct this oversight.

The disputes over this film have been bitter, so much so that one of the Producers actually filed a lawsuit against Michael Keaton last year; essentially accusing him of sabotaging the post-production and release of The Merry Gentleman via a variety of bad behaviors (which I detailed in this 2013 posting) and dooming the picture to a poor box office showing despite decent reviews and a warm reception at The Sundance Festival. This matter is still in litigation at this time.

Despite all the acrimony and problems, The Merry Gentleman is still a fine film which deserves to be seen by a wider audience. The fact that the movie itself survived all these travails essentially intact (although there are some problems with the editing and few other minor issues) is a testimony to the excellent script by Ron Lazzeretti (who was slated to direct until a bout of appendicitis right before shooting led to Keaton taking the helm), the fine performances by the cast (top to bottom), and (regardless of whatever happened in post-production) a good job of directing by Keaton.


Michael Keaton’s experience as an actor and his thoughtful approach to the craft served him well in his directorial debut.

The film begins with Kate Frazier (played by Kelly Macdonald) fleeing her abusive husband (Bobby Cannavale) by escaping to Chicago and starting a new life. This fresh start is complicated however, when (while leaving work) she notices someone (Michael Keaton- who shines as a depressed hit man) standing on a building ledge contemplating suicide. Her scream startles him and he slips and falls backward onto the building roof instead of jumping to his death. Macdonald then calls the police to report the incident. These two acts trigger a chain of events which demonstrate that, although a woman can flee an individual abuser, it is far more difficult for her to escape from the attentions of men with deep emotional issues.


Kelly Macdonald plays Kate Frazier; a woman who flees an abusive husband but can’t seem to escape the controlling desires of men in general.

The next day she is questioned about what she saw by two homicide detectives investigating a murder which occurred in the same building as her employer. The detectives correctly surmise that the man she saw committed the crime and try to obtain whatever details they can from her. In the course of the interview one of the cops becomes infatuated with Macdonald and begins questioning her about her personal life (in particular why she has a black eye). She is evasive and oblique; partly because she doesn’t wish anyone to know her situation (her abuser was a policeman which further complicates the matter) and partly because it’s none of this nosy cop’s business. But the damage has been done and the detective (played brilliantly by Tom Bastounes) is now fixated on her.


Guy Van Swearingen and Tom Bastounes play Chicago Homicide Detectives.

The fact that she can’t escape from men who want to claim her is further reinforced at a company Christmas party when she is besieged by guys who all want to “get with the new girl.” On her way home from the party she stops and buys a large Christmas tree (which her cab driver refuses to help her with) and is pinned underneath it while trying to drag it into her building. She is rescued by Keaton, who has sought her out to discern if she can identify him (and perhaps kill her) but is also fixated on her emotionally after noticing her as he looked around through the scope of his rifle while waiting to kill his victim the previous evening. He helps her carry the tree up to her apartment and as she opens her door they are interrupted by a phone call from Bastounes, who wheedles a date out of her via the pretext of “wanting to discuss new developments in the case.”



If you see this man, it probably means you are about to die. Keaton plays his hit man character with an understated matter-of-fact manner that’s still quite menacing.

Keaton rings her bell a few days later, but succumbs to a case of pneumonia and passes out in front of her building as she answers. She then visits him in the hospital and they begin an awkward yet tender relationship; with her unaware that he is the man she saw on the ledge and he oblivious to her past. The budding romance between the two is complicated by Bastounes’ jealousy and increasing suspicions about Keaton, as well as an appearance by Macdonald’s now completely unhinged husband.



Bobby Cannavale was denied recognition for his excellent cameo in The Merry Gentleman by the limited exposure of the film, but this performance likely helped him land his role as a psycho Mobster in Boardwalk Empire.


I won’t explicate any further so as not to spoil the drama, but I really encourage you to either rent or purchase this movie. While it is admittedly on the somber side, it is by no means a depressing film. Aside from being a fine understated drama, it’s also a thoughtful meditation on the nature of power dynamics, particularly in relation to violence against and oppression of women. Whether he is aware of it or not, Lazzeretti has fashioned a brilliant illustration of how the philosophical concept of Male Privilege operates in the day-to-day context of society as the story follows a woman who seems to want nothing more than to go about her life and be left in peace but is continually having to deal with unwanted attention from men who feel that the fact she is female entitles them to impose their will and desires upon her. The ultimate irony of the film is that the one man who is truly kind and understanding to Macdonald’s character is from a world steeped in violence and treachery and the supposedly “good” policemen want to abuse and/or own her.


Keaton and Macdonald have a certain chemistry that makes their oddly mismatched relationship believable. Whatever you do, avoid the terrible trailer for The Merry Gentleman which tries to make it seem like a quirky Rom-Com.

I know I’m making this film sound like some sort of Gender Studies or Feminist Theory thesis, and although these elements are implicit in the narrative, it’s still just an extremely interesting film about lonely people trying to cope in this world.

And you should check it out.

PS- Another fabulous reason to check this film out is that three people involved in it are featured/interviewed in Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition; Producer Steven A. Jones and Line Producer Christina Varotsis (neither of whom are involved in the aforementioned lawsuit whatsoever BTW) and Special Effects Foreman John Milinac.

It also uses locations in areas not normally seen in other Chicago films; such as Lincoln Square (opening scene is right in my ‘hood in Welles Park which was quite a kick for me), Ravenswood, and North Center.

NOTE: Sometimes procrastination leads to thematic serendipity. I took so long getting around to finally finishing up and posting my review of Hannah Free, that it is now Pride Week; so I might as well make it a theme and haul out more LGBT-centric content. This is a reposting of a review I wrote a few years ago.

The issues raised are even more crucial in light of the real progress on LGBT Rights made in the last few years: Namely the idea that tastefully done gay themed projects should be marketed and be made available to a more mainstream and “Family-oriented” (though it makes me grit my teeth to use that term!) audience- and that the main obstacle to this happening is the timidity of TV/Film execs who are themselves gay. Perhaps it is time for some bravery on their part and for them to have a little more faith in mainstream America. /endsoapbox




Of all the Chicagoland shot films that I was hoping to see before handing in the manuscript for Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition, Were The World Mine was probably the one that I was most sad to have missed out on. I had heard great things about this empowering gay musical made on a shoestring budget, and how the film’s makers were desperately trying to get it a mainstream theatrical release.

Unfortunately, that mainstream release never materialized, and I was forced to wait until it was recently released on DVD. While the film was definitely worth the wait, viewing it made it painfully clear what a travesty of cinematic justice it was that this delightful little picture never received the exposure it deserved. Hopefully, the DVD release will bring it some wider recognition.

Were The World Mine is an enjoyable film on several levels; an exuberant and charming musical, a touching and tender coming of age story, a meditation on the nature of love and acceptance, and a wacky, surreal and sometimes campy comedy.

The project grew from a short musical screenplay, written in 2003 by Tom Gustafson, about a young gay teen who finds solace and strength in the words of Shakespeare (the piece was inspired by his experiences growing up gay in a small Illinois town). Gustafson’s partner, Cory James Krueckeberg, was impressed by the script and they both embarked on an attempt to actualize the work.

Gustafson, a graduate of Northwestern University, used contacts developed from working as a casting assistant on Road To Perdition and Master And Commander: The Far Side of The World to marshal resources and assemble a devoted team of collaborators and crew members. Krueckeberg, an accomplished actor, designer, and director; also drew upon his tenure in the Chicago theater community to assist the cause.

The result was Fairies, a short musical film. Fairies received a rave response at a screening in a Boystown venue, and they were quickly able to raise money for festival submissions. The film ended up appearing at over 75 festivals around the world. A year later, during a flight from LA to New York, they decided to expand Fairies into a full length feature. By the time the plane landed, Gustafson and Krueckeberg had already sketched out the framework for the picture.

After the pair completed the script (working in conjunction with talented Chicago composer Jessica Fogle on the songs), Gustafson and Krueckeberg then methodically set out to acquire financing for the feature film. Their efforts were a primer on the right way to fund and create a low budget independent movie; using staged readings of the script to garner interest in the project from potential investors, presenting a well constructed business plan to those investors, and doing research to locate all other possible funding sources. Meanwhile, they were also working hard on a production schedule so as to be able to hit the ground running when the financing came through, and searching the country for the talent to perform the various roles in the film.

Although many big name actors who expressed interest early on disappeared once the extent of the film’s gay content became apparent to them, casting people Carrie Barden, Mickie Paskal and Jennifer S. Rudnicke were able to assemble an amazing group of performers, the proverbial mix of seasoned veterans and talented newcomers.

Big name actors (and/or their agents) weren’t the only ones afflicted by uneasiness over the film’s gay content, investors were shying away as well, and for a while it looked as if financing would not materialize. But Gustafson, Krueckeberg and producer Peter Sterling were able to secure the final funds required. Pre-production reached a fever pitch in preparation for the shooting of the film, which was done in the Chicago area and took an amazingly short 4 weeks (it almost seems impossible when you watch the movie).

Were The World Mine is the story of Timothy, a shy and creative gay teen who often retreats into his musical daydreams in order to endure life in a private boys school and a stultifying small town. When he is cast as Puck in a school production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, he becomes more aware of his talents and starts to blossom under the tutelage of his arty English teacher.

This process reaches full flower (pun mandatory) when he discovers a love potion recipe for Puck’s purple pansy secretly encoded in Shakespeare’s text (the pansy causes those sprayed by it to fall for the first person they see). Timothy creates the potion, then uses this magical flower to turn his whole town gay, most notably the hunky rugby player for whom he has been pining.

Tanner Cohen, who plays Timothy, was really quite a find for the production; possessing strong acting skills and an incredible voice (not to mention an uncanny resemblance to Nick Stahl). Cohen deftly captures the nervous insecurity of Timothy, but also really brings it in the musical numbers.

Nathaniel David Becker, who makes his film debut as Jonathan (the rugby playing love interest), has an excellent voice, handsome looks and solid acting chops. He should be able to write his own ticket in the musical film/theater world; in fact he already seems to be a bit of a gay heartthrob.

The supporting cast is unbelievably strong: the devilishly quirky Wendy Robie (Nadine from Twin Peaks) plays the English/Theater instructor (in a role she reprised from Fairies), revered Broadway stage performer Judy McLane shines in her first film work as Timothy’s mother, Daytime Television fixture Jill Larson (Opal on All My Children) is an absolute hoot as McLane’s eccentric employer, veteran Chicago character actors Christian Stolte and David Darlow do their usual brilliant jobs, and newcomers Zelda Williams and Ricky Goldman are adorable as Timothy’s best friends and confidantes.

In addition to the fine acting performances, the musical numbers really knocked my socks off (and I’m not generally a fan of contemporary musicals). Cory Krueckeberg seamlessly melded Shakespeare’s words with his own clever lyrics, Jessica Fogle’s melodies were excellent (catchy without being cloying or fluffy), and Tim Sandusky’s work on the score, arrangements and production was absolutely first rate (of course, he has a reputation for that in Chicago). Todd Underwood’s choreography was joyously kinetic but not too busy or cliched, Elizabeth Powell Wislar’s costumes were fab, and Director of Photography Kira Kelly was able to achieve a beautiful look with limited resources.

Gustafson and cohorts worked hard for a wider mainstream release for the film and it’s a shame that they weren’t successful, because Were The World Mine is truly “The Gay Teen Musical For The Whole Family.” Seriously. Although there’s a certain intensity in the romantic moments that generates a bit more heat than the hook up scenes in your average WB-style teen dramedy (which comes more from having better actors being directed well); WTWM is much less salacious than the teen centered offerings on any network. The most graphic action in any of the love scenes is a chaste kiss and warm caress, which is positively Disney-esque compared to the bump and grind explicitness in standard teen fare (actually, WTWM has been likened by many to Disney’s High School High). And I think we can all agree that young dudes with their shirts off isn’t exactly pornographic (those who don’t agree probably wouldn’t have read this far anyway).

Of course it’s two guys doing the kissing, so the knee jerk reaction from mainstream execs (particularly gay mainstream execs) when confronted by a film that forthrightly portrays romantic affection between two males is to pronounce it “too gay.” Those two words are the bane of the existences of all gay filmmakers/artists/musicians/etc. seeking to expose their work to a wider audience.

The fact that this cowardly mantra is so often recited by corporate cultural gatekeepers who are themselves gay is especially puzzling. Particularly about something as heartfelt and wholesome as Were The World Mine. In a interview included in the WTWM press kit, Gustafson wonders:

Maybe it’s really that purity and innocence that scares people into saying the film is too gay? I think to some people, this innocence is even more dangerous than films that portray gay characters in very crude and sexual ways. Historically, ‘gay’ has been more prominent, and as a result more accepted in a way, as a dirty little secret involving bathroom stalls or sex clubs than when it involves real love, religion and the long term commitment of a marriage like institution. Regardless, it’s a strange irony to say that an incredibly innocent film is too gay. In some way I think it comes from a shameful place, and I think some of the non-straight people in the industry react this way to things as a defense mechanism. The same way our main character escapes an unsavory reality with daydreams, these people escape reality by saying it’s ‘too gay’ instead of putting support behind it and risking ridicule.

Whatever the true motivations of those who denied this film its due, the fact remains that it was a poor decision. With both filmed and live musicals pulling in the public in droves in recent years, Were The World Mine could have really made a splash had it been given a chance.

Hopefully, the recent DVD release will at least help get this picture seen by some of the legions of people, gay and straight, who would enjoy it.

Which is the really crux of the matter at hand, not to mention one of the most frustrating things about the capricious and arbitrary way that films are distributed by Hollywood, the fact that so many great pictures never get brought to the attention of the people who would most enjoy them.

Aside from the sheer injustice of it, it’s just bad business.

Tanner Cohen and Nathanial David Becker bring the sexy in Were The World Mine.
Tanner Cohen and Nathanial David Becker bring the sexy in Were The World Mine.


Hanna Free (2009)


Hannah Free was originally a stage play, written by the Victory Gardens Theater playwrite-in-residence Claudia Allen and presented at the theater in 1992. The film version came about through an alliance between Allen and LGBT media maven Tracy Baim (her Windy City Media Company publishes Windy City Times, OUT!, Nightspots, and Identity as well as a radio show and other important endeavors) along with director/filmmaker Wendi Jo Carlton and editor/producer Sharon Zurek; who had all worked together on the Chicago Gay History Project. Their efforts were augmented by several other noted figures in the Chicago production scene who all worked for little or nothing to see this important project to fruition.


A wonderful example of working with a small budget and making the most of available resources; Hannah Free was shot in 18 days on a budget of $200,000. Virtually every room of a Prairie Avenue District mansion owned by Baim and her sister (the historic Elbridge Keith House) functioned as either a set or production space. The film also shot in the small Illinois town of Beecher.


Hanna Free stars Sharon Gless (of 80’s TV sensation Cagney & Lacey) as Hannah, a free-spirited butch lesbian now in her 70’s and confined to an elder care facility after a snow shoveling mishap. Her lifelong love, Rachel, is in a different wing of the same facility and is in a coma from which Doctors suspect she will never awaken. Rachel’s daughter, Marge, will not allow Hannah to visit Rachel and say her last goodbye; and Hannah has no recourse since she is not a family member and they were never allowed to legally marry. This of course points out the cruelty and hypocrisy of a system which forces second class status upon the life partners of gays and lesbians who are ailing.


Despite being “a message movie” the film tries not to draw its main characters with too broad a brush. Marge is not portrayed merely as an ignorant homophobe, much of her antipathy toward Hannah is sparked by her girlhood memories of strife between Hannah and her mother, which were fomented by Hannah’s frequent absences and occasional infidelity; something which Hannah herself recalls through a series of flashbacks (as well as the good times she and Rachel had together).


Younger Hannah out searching for adventure; something that was a constant bone of contention between she and her homebody lover, Rachel.


This is an important point to include in the film- that there may often be “real” (albeit misguided) reasons other than homophobia for families to want to keep gay partners from visiting their mothers/fathers etc. (just like there may be any number of “reasons” for them to not want straight life partners to visit)— but that just should not matter when the two people in question have a lifelong bond which morally trumps whatever objections are raised. The fact that gays are not allowed to marry leaves them vulnerable to any number of problems when one of them falls ill or dies; inheritance, insurance, child custody etc.- and to deny these rights to them is to deny the principle of equal protection under the law. This is something that may have been lost had Marge been written as merely an uncaring homophobe who was being mean-spirited.


Hannah’s flashbacks span her and Rachel’s entire life together and three different sets of actors play the couple at various stages in their lives. Casting Director L.M. Attea (who also directed the original 1992 stage version) does a marvelous job of finding actors who not only resemble each other but who can also play to the same “vibe” that each character exudes.


A “tween” Hannah and Rachel first experiencing and dealing with the depth and power of their mutual attraction.

The flashback love scenes are extremely well done; just erotic enough to convey the passion of a lesbian relationship without being vulnerable to that tired old “sex-crazed homosexuals” trope that bible thumpers love to haul out whenever gay love is honestly depicted.


I don’t want to spoil the plot so I will cease any further synopsizing and just recommend this movie highly for its touching and honest portrayal of a lifetime of love between two women and for a bracing yet ultimately hopeful look at the state of affairs in the US when it comes to gay marriage and attitudes toward gay love in general.


A now elderly Hanna and Rachel canoodle in the garden.

Hannah Free has been characterized as the “Lesbian Brokeback Mountain” but that is a rather limiting way to describe this film. First off, it is much more than an “issue of the week” kind of movie; and secondly the stage version was written five years before Annie Proulx even wrote the short story that would become Brokeback Mountain. Speaking of writing, there is now a novelization of Hannah Free available!


Although the film does have its problems; some of the tangential characters are a bit crudely drawn (particularly an obnoxious evangelical woman who visits Hannah) and the script gets little talky and “stagebound” at times (always a danger when adapting a play) but this is still a very entertaining and important film that should be seen outside of the usual LGBT film circles.


Jacqui Jackson is fabulous as Greta, an interested party.

There might also be a temptation to think that this film is now outdated— but even with the recent much touted “sea-change” in public attitudes toward gay marriage (and the partial victories in court) it will still be many more years until this injustice is completely remedied across the country, so Hannah Free will unfortunately continue to be painfully relevant for some time to come.









Yes, this day has finally arrived!!! I appear with Arnie and Robert K Elder at Printers Row Lit Fest at 1PM today.

Those of you who clicked for tickets need to show up at least 20 minutes in advance to get your seat in the room- and those who missed out on the “ticket clicking” can just wait in line and you will be seated once all the ticket holders have been seated and the 20 minutes before presentation deadline has passed.

I am so looking forward to seeing you all!!!


Now’s the time to get those tickets.


THANK YOU, CHICAGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


You are now able to click for your free tickets to see Arnie Bernstein, Robert K Elder and I drop some filmic science upon the Printers Row Lit Fest on Sunday, June 9 at 1PM. DO IT NOW BEFORE THEY ARE GONE!!!


This is the hot ticket of the Fest! Way hotter than Sting. Tiny bit hotter than Judy Blume. 😉


A fine film that has yet to receive its due, The Merry Gentleman has now sparked a lawsuit.


I was just hipped to this story by Ruth Ratny in her online publication, REEL Chicago, which is the bible of Chicago production news; but check out this link to the actual court documents from the lawsuit (included in her article), which detail chapter and verse the plaintiff’s allegations against Michael Keaton.

According to the suit by Merry Gentleman, LLC; Keaton’s bad behavior during and (especially) after principal photography for the film The Merry Gentleman unnecessarily added millions to the budget and essentially doomed the picture to low box office revenues.

The suit alleges that as production for the film approached, slated director Ron Lazzeretti (who also wrote the screenplay) fell ill, and the company began looking for another person to direct the film. That was when Keaton offered to take on directing duties, and in 2007 two separate agreements, one for acting and one for directing, were drawn up between Keaton and the producers. This is when the shenanigans allegedly started on Keaton’s part:

First off, he refused to hire an editor to help him look at and evaluate the footage shot each day during production (aka “the Dailies”) and shirked the task himself, leaving an integral part of the director’s job undone.

After primary filming wrapped, despite the contractual understanding that he was responsible for producing a “first” cut, but not a “final” cut (the responsibility of the producers), Keaton still refused to hire an editor and went back home to California. The producers then used their own money to set up a professional editing suite in Santa Monica near Keaton’s home so he could participate in the editing process. Whereupon Keaton announced that he was leaving for a fly fishing trip to his estate in Montana.

The producers spent their own money again to build yet another professional editing suite in Montana and even hired an assistant, so Keaton could edit between trout outings. Yet he spent little or no time in the editing suite during the weeks in question, leaving important issues to be decided by subordinates.

When he returned to California his haphazard work habits continued, costing the production further delay and expense, and when he did finally produce a rough cut of the film, all parties (Keaton included) agreed that it sucked (technical legal term). After some negotiation between the producers and Keaton’s attorney, it was determined that Keaton would be given another try and the producers would also work on their own cut back in Chicago, whereupon Lazzeretti and company would decide which one was best. When Keaton found out there was another cut being worked on in Chicago he refused to have any further contact with anyone he had previously disagreed with- which happened to include basically everyone involved in the higher levels of production.

The two cuts were screened a few months later and it was determined by consensus that “the Chicago cut” (as it became known) was far superior to Keaton’s second attempt, which not only was still flawed but now had a score done by his son (who had no experience) that was intrusive and amateurish. The producers decided to go with the Chicago cut, which was totally within their rights under the contract.

The Chicago cut was submitted to the prestigious Sundance Festival and was accepted by them, which would have positioned the film to at least be an Art House hit if not a mainstream one. But when Keaton found out about this he and his people pitched a hissy fit (another legal term) to the Sundance authorities,  telling them that he would refuse to appear at Sundance if his cut wasn’t shown at the festival. The Sundance people, intimidated by his clout and star power, sided with Keaton. This forced the producers to cut a deal with Keaton allowing his cut to be shown, but just at Sundance, provided Keaton put in some work to clean up and fix some remaining flaws in his cut. Keaton allegedly also blew off these duties/obligations and in addition forced the producers to pay expensive licensing fees for some popular songs he insisted be included in his cut at Sundance (for which they got a one-time licensing fee). Despite everything the Keaton cut was well received at Sundance.

The suit goes on to allege that Keaton’s hijinks delayed the movie from being able to be released during Christmas season of 2008 (which would have been perfect as the film is set during the holidays- plus dark dramas always fare better during that time period), thus depriving the film of its optimal release time and causing the revenues to suffer because of it. They also detail Keaton’s bizarre and distracted behavior during promotional appearances for the film, which contributed to the poor box office showing (less than $350,000).

ALTHOUGH THEY ARE NOT PLAINTIFFS OR INVOLVED WITH THE SUIT IN ANY FASHION, two of the individuals identified in the complaint as people involved in the film whom Keaton later refused to deal with (Producers Steven A. Jones and Christina Varotsis) are actually featured in Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition.

I have been told that the suit was brought by an investor whose lack of film experience and own emotional excesses may have contributed to the situation.  So we shall see how this plays out.

The biggest irony in this whole ordeal is that the version of the film I saw in a theater in 2009 and later on DVD (apparently a mixture of Keaton’s second cut with several tweaks by Lazzeretti and a different score) is an excellent piece of work. A really fine dramatic film that deserves much more recognition that it has received. I will rent it again and whip up a review in the next week or so.

Keaton’s performance in it is brilliant and he seems to have a fine eye for directing. If only he could have done all his work on time and played nice with the other kids. Or at least hired an editor!



Not seen this man much lately? Turns out there may be good reasons for that.

Not seen this man lately? Turns out there may be good reasons for that.





Made in 2002 by writer/director P.J. Hogan (Muriel’s Wedding, My Best Friend’s Wedding), shelved by its studio for several years, then released directly to the Starz Cable Network and then to DVD with virtually no mention, Unconditional Love is another of those gems which has fallen through the cracks of the capricious Hollywood distribution system. Kathy Bates (Misery, Fried Green Tomatoes, Fred Claus) stars as frumpy Chicago housewife, Grace Beasley, who idolizes a cheesy love crooner, Victor Fox, played with manic glee by Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Pirates of the Caribbean). When her husband (played by Dan Ackroyd) leaves her the day before Victor is murdered in Chicago (on his way to a television appearance where Grace was to finally meet him); Grace is inspired to hop a flight to England to attend his funeral.

In a bizarre turn of events (few things in this film aren’t bizarre), she bonds with Victor’s grieving gay lover, Dirk Simpson, played by Rupert Everett (My Best Friend’s Wedding, voice of Prince Charming in the Shrek films). After arranging a comeuppance for Victor’s homophobic sisters (Lynn Redgrave, Stephanie Beacham, and Marcia Warren), Grace and Dirk return to Chicago to solve Victor’s murder and bring his killer to justice. This quest leads the pair, along with Grace’s daughter-in-law (Meredith Eaton, who almost steals the movie), on an odyssey through the bowels of downtown Chicago in pursuit of “The Crossbow Killer” (Did I mention that Victor was killed by a serial killer?). And if all that weren’t enough, Julie Andrews does a cameo that will forever change the way you look at her.

The film makes good use of Chicago as well, featuring the Billy Goat Tavern for an extended scene (more than I’ve ever seen), as well as long sequences in the dark and often foreboding underground areas that the Goat leads to. Many films have showcased lower Wacker Drive, but Wacker is actually just one of a whole array of streets in Chicago that have a “lower” version. Lower Randolph, Michigan, Columbus and numerous other streets, byways and subterranean loading docks combine with pedways and tunnels to create a vast labyrinthine “Underground Chicago.” And since the underground is where the Crossbow Killer lurks, Unconditional Love lingers there for a long time with hilarious results. The lower portion of the Michigan Avenue bridge even comes into play during the film’s climactic scene.

Now I could definitely see how this movie could not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it tickled me to no end. If you’re yearning for a comedy that feels completely different and has a sense of humor that is by turns twisted, silly, painfully clever, and delightfully campy (Jonathon Pryce as the Liberace-esque/Iglesiasish/Humperdinkian love crooner is worth the price of admission in itself), Unconditional Love will definitely float your boat.


The Company is an interesting film that was poorly received when it was released in 2003, mostly because it didn’t conform to certain expectations that film goers had about it. It was marketed as “a Robert Altman film,” and while Altman was the director, he was basically a hired gun and not as intimately involved in the entire process as he was with his other films. Therefore, audiences went to it expecting to see a Robert Altman film when The Company was, for all intents and purposes, actually a Neve Campbell film. Allow me to explain.

When Neve Campbell was nine years old, she entered residence at Canada’s prestigious National School of Ballet, training full time and performing in numerous productions. Dance was her first love and the focal point of her life until her late teens, when she transitioned into acting.

Throughout the first several years of her acting career (first gaining fame in the television series Party Of Five and continuing through the Scream franchise and other films) she dreamed of mounting a project that would be her homage to the world of the dance. A film that would illustrate both the artistry and intense athleticism involved in the form, and the complete emotional, physical, and spiritual commitment required by it.

After an abortive attempt to produce this project through a major studio, she found a home for it with an independent production company. She and collaborator Barbara Turner spent four years visiting Chicago and interviewing members of the city’s renowned Joffrey Ballet Company in order to glean enough narrative material for Turner to fashion a script. Campbell also took classes with the Joffrey during that period (between her acting gigs).

Once the project became a go, Campbell then began the laborious process of returning to world class dancing form after an absence of almost ten years. She trained over eight hours a day for four months on her own, then spent another month and a half training eight plus hours a day with the Joffrey itself to learn the dances required. To further complicate this already near impossible feat (imagine an NBA player trying to return after a nine year hiatus), she broke a rib just four days before she began the Joffrey training period and was in constant pain throughout the rest of the preparation for and shooting of the film.

Because the film had multiple characters and involved large amounts of naturalistic improvisation (it would have been impossible to get a troupe of dancers who weren’t actors to sufficiently master large amounts of dialogue), Campbell knew the film would be “Altmanesque” in many respects and would require a director with a similar toolkit to Altman’s. But much to her amazement, Turner (who was an old friend of his) and Campbell were able to get The Master himself to consent to direct the film.

This turned out to be a blessing and a curse for the project, because while they were blessed with Altman’s considerable genius, they were cursed with an audience who expected the biting satire and brilliant ensemble acting of Mash or Nashville or Short Cuts. And although The Company is many things, it is certainly not a biting satire or expose of the world of dance, and while it features several fine actors (including Malcolm McDowell and Neve herself) it isn’t the full on thespian onslaught that is Short Cuts, The Player, or any of your prototypical Altman films.

The plot of The Company is very simple, it highlights a year in the Joffrey Ballet Company, focusing on Campbell’s character, an ensemble dancer who has a chance to take on a featured role. The film follows the trials and tribulations of the dancers, with an emphasis on the challenges of being both a committed artist and world class athlete. Most of the cast is comprised of the “real” dancers of the Joffrey, and the movie contains several of the company’s actual dances in their entirety.

Many people who saw this film when it was released (myself included) were put off by the fact that it doesn’t contain much in terms of dramatic arc or character development (again expecting an Altman experience), but this is also true to the realities of being a dancer in a top tier ensemble. When you spend 8 1/2 hours a day in a grueling training regimen (one you’ve adhered to since your were nine or ten years old), there really isn’t a lot of time left over for anything else. To inject artificial drama or action into the film would have betrayed the truth of the material and rung very false.

It is also unfair to compare The Company to other Altman films in terms of acting because he was mostly working with a group of dancers, instead of several dozen of the best actors in the business. Even Neve Campbell isn’t really the star of the film, the Joffrey Ballet (really the Art Form Of The Dance) is the star of this picture. It was only after seeing this film on DVD years after its theatrical release (and reading more about the project) that I was able to appreciate these distinctions.

So if you enjoy the dance, particularly the Joffrey’s wonderful brand of it; The Company could be a very entertaining and satisfying rental for you. Just don’t go into it thinking “Robert Altman Film.”

You can learn much more about the making of The Company here and here.

And after you’ve watched the movie itself, check out the bonus feature on the DVD entitled “Play All Dance Sequences From The Film” and be blown away by the artistry of the Joffrey Ballet.

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