Tuesday, March 8, 2016

24 Hours of Movies: Chicago, Chicago

by Patrick Bromley
I can see my house from here!

During last year's run of 24 Hours of Movies, I did a marathon of New York movies. This year, reader John Murphy (@johnmiii) suggested a marathon of Chicago movies. And I live in Chicago! So I get all the references.

Thanks, John! If you've got an idea for a 24 Hours of Moves theme you'd like me to try this month, leave it in the comments below or email us at fthismoviepodcast[at]gmail.com.

10 a.m. - Little Caesar (1931, dir. Mervyn LaRoy)
With Chicago's longstanding reputation as gangster central, it only makes sense to kick off the marathon with a classic gangster movie from Warner Bros., the studio that built itself on the back of this genre. This is the film that basically launched the genre and made a star of Edward G. Robinson, making it a landmark movie in a couple of ways. Interesting that one of the first representations of Chicago on film is about the city's relationship to crime, as it's a motif that will reappear throughout this marathon.

11:30 a.m. - The Blues Brothers (1980, dir. John Landis)
There are a number of films I'm programming into this marathon that fall under the category of "no duh." Because there are a finite number of films shot or set in Chicago, we're already familiar with most of them -- they're the same movies that end up on every list of "best Chicago movies." But that doesn't mean I'm above watching them for this marathon, and there's no better way to get energized for the long road ahead than to indulge in the joy that is The Blues Brothers. Not only is it a classic Chicago movie, but a great and raucous musical as well. For the purposes of time, I'm opting to watch the slightly shorter theatrical cut instead of the extended version put out on DVD, even though I think that version still plays really well. As a bonus, I can tell Doug that I'm programming one of his favorite movies and maybe he'll fly in from LA to join me.

1:45 p.m. - Rapid Fire (1992, dir. Dwight H. Little)
Ohhhhh shit. Rapid Fire is one of my favorite action movies ever made and one of the most underrated of the '90s. Before his life was tragically cut short, Brandon Lee had the goods as an action star, here playing a college student who is thrown into the middle of a war between cops and gangsters when he witnesses a crime. I love the way my boy Dwight H. Little uses the city (Powers Boothe even hangs out at the Fireside Bowl!). I love the action choreography. I love how Lee plays a reluctant action hero drawn into circumstances of which he wants no part. There are a handful of action movies set in Chicago (including Little's own Marked for Death, plus a few good ones from Peter Hyams) but this one is my favorite. I really love it.

3:30 p.m. - The Whole Nine Yards (2000, dir. Jonathan Lynn)
While the majority of the movie takes place in the suburbs of Quebec (Canada actually playing Canada), Chicago plays a major role in The Whole Nine Yards, a really fun black comedy and one of the best Friends movie that any of the friends from Friends ever friended. Hitman Bruce Willis moves in next door to Matthew Perry (could they BE any more neighbors?) and hilarious hijinks/murders ensue. Amanda Peet steals the movie as Perry's incredible enthusiastic assistant, but pretty much everyone brings their A game -- particularly director Jonathan Lynn, who knows his way around this kind of farce.

5:15 p.m. - The Untouchables (1987, dir. Brian De Palma)
Another no-brainer inclusion, The Untouchables remains for me the most successful merging of a Brian De Palma film with a commercial, audience-friendly sensibility. This adaptation of the 1957 book and early '60s TV series is an example of A-list Hollywood filmmaking at its finest: a top-notch director, a brilliant ensemble that includes Kevin Costner, Andy Garcia, Patricia Clarkson, Oscar winner Sean Connery, Robert DeNiro and Billy Drago (!), a screenplay by David Mamet and a score by Ennio Morricone. The movie takes us back to Chicago's gangster roots but does so in grand fashion, with De Palma still flexing all of his stylistic muscles but in a way that doesn't alienate mainstream audiences. Plus, he makes the city look great. This is first-rate entertainment.

7:15 p.m. - High Fidelity (2000, dir. Stephen Frears)
I know a lot of these picks are predictable, but I also know that I would never program a marathon of Chicago movies and leave out High Fidelity, one of the best romantic comedies of the last 25 years. The Nick Hornby book on which the movie is based remains one of my favorite novels ever (probably my favorite) and probably the single best glimpse inside a certain kind of man ever offered. I know because I am that certain kind of man. The film adaptation transports the story from the original London to star John Cusack's hometown of Chicago and it still totally works, with the city informing the movie in much the same way that London informs the book. This is probably my favorite Chicago movie because it's not about sightseeing or showing off landmarks or locations. It's comfortable to just live here.

9:15 p.m. - Child's Play (1988, dir. Tom Holland)
I know I'm super predictable with these marathons, but I do love to transition into horror and cult movies more as we go into the overnight portion. Child's Play is a great pick for this slot because it balances the weird horror elements pretty evenly with a really solid character drama of a single mom living in Chicago and trying to do right by her kid, making for a smooth segue between the more traditional movies of the earlier marathon and what we'll be viewing in the middle of the night. Plus it's short and peppy, which helps when we've already been watching movies for almost 12 hours. The "killer doll" concept is a movie that should not work on paper but is surprisingly terrific. It's one I like more every time I see it. I have little use for most of the sequels (Bride is kind of fun), probably because Tom Holland had nothing to do with them and they lose sight of what makes this one work so well.

10:45 p.m. - The Relic (1997, dir. Peter Hyams)
The only reason I didn't put the Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines buddy cop classic Running Scared into the marathon so that I could include this Peter Hyams-directed monster movie overnight. Tom Sizemore and Penelope Ann Miller chase/get chased by a giant creature around Chicago's Field Museum on the night of a big benefit, meaning there are a lot of potential victims and there's a lot of gore. Hyams' penchant for obscuring his images in almost total darkness (he acts as his own DP here as he often does) may help cover the seams in some of the early CGI, but it can also be pretty frustrating when it's impossible to see anything that's going on. That aside, the movie is a ton of fun -- super entertaining, just the right amount of funny and the kind of giant monster film that's only been attempted a handful of times in the last two decades.

12:45 a.m. - Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990, dir. John McNaughton)
Well, it's after midnight. Let's start hating our lives. Chicago filmmaker John McNaughton's horrifyingly real serial killer drama (shot in 1985 but not released until five years later) is, to put it mildly, a tough watch. Michael Rooker plays a fictionalized version of real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, with Tom Towles as his equally-disturbed partner Otis. Anyone who suggests that all violent movies glorify violence has never seen Henry, which paints all of its violence as disturbing and shattering -- the kind of stuff you never want to see again. Naturally, I'm suggesting we watch it again. Despite its ugliness, this is a great movie and one that's so challenging precisely because it's so effective.

2:15 a.m. - Alligator (1980, dir. Lewis Teague)
On the polar opposite spectrum of Henry is Lewis Teague's Alligator, a tongue-in-cheek horror movie about, yes, an alligator flushed down the toilet years ago which has now grown to enormous proportions in the sewers below Chicago. The screenplay by John Sayles is aware of its own silliness, but Teague and star Robert Forster play the material more or less straight. After the emotional drain of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, this kind of goofy and fun horror movie is exactly what we need to motivate ourselves to keep going.

3:45 a.m. - Candyman (1992, dir. Bernard Rose)
You can't really program a run of Chicago-based horror movies and not program Candyman, director Bernard Rose's adaptation of the Clive Barker story that, like High Fidelity, transplants the setting from the original London to Chicago -- in this case, the city's Cabrini Green housing projects. I'll be honest: I haven't seen Candyman since it first came out on video (after a botched theatrical viewing in which I loved the first 2/3s and then the projector broke) and I remember being disappointed with the final act. I suspect I would like it a lot more now, and the film's ascension to classic status over the course of the last 20 years cannot be ignored. I'm excited to revisit it, especially within the context of a bunch of other Chicago movies. I only wish it would get a Blu-ray release.

5:30 a.m. - Source Code (2011, dir. Duncan Jones)
While the majority of Duncan Jones' second film (after the brilliant Moon) takes place on a train, Chicago still manages to play a major role in the proceedings -- particularly the city's Cloud Gate sculpture (aka "The Bean"), which factors heavily into the movie's final moments. I'm a big fan of time travel movies and love Groundhog Day, and Source Code has elements of both. The movie has some major flaws, but at 6 a.m. I'm sure we'll be able to look over the messed up implications of the finale and just enjoy Jake Gyllenhaal trying to save an entire city again and again and again.

7:15 a.m. - Thief (1981, dir. Michael Mann)
While I'm concerned that this movie's deliberately slower pace will be a challenge this far into the marathon, there's no goddamn way I'm going to program 24 hours of Chicago movies and not include Thief, which is still in the running for my favorite Michael Mann movie. Before he was making crime sagas about Miami and Los Angeles, Chicago-born Mann made one of the best movies about the Windy City ever made, even going so far as to cast real Chicago cops (including Dennis Farina, who pretty much got his start here) and former crooks to work as advisors and day players on the film. Everything about this movie is perfect, from the weary, wired performances of James Caan and Tuesday Weld to the Tangerine Dream score to Donald Thorin's photography to the long, wordless burglary halfway through the film that plays like an extended homage to Jules Dassin's Rififi. Just talking about Thief makes me want to watch it right now, and if High Fidelity isn't my favorite Chicago movie then this one is.

9:15 a.m. - Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986, dir. John Hughes)
Well, let's finish with a bang. Like a lot of us, I'm guessing, this John Hughes comedy was a staple of my youth -- it's a movie I can probably still recite despite not having seen it in a few years. I suspect this is the favorite Chicago movie of a lot of people (both in and outside the city) because it devotes so much energy to really showing the city off: art museums, fine dining, Wrigley Field, parades. An interesting revisionism of Ferris Bueller has taken place over the last 10 years or so, with many critics deciding that it's a horrible movie about a spoiled, bratty asshole (which, I believe, is closer to who Ferris was in the original incarnation of the screenplay). As a Chicagoan and as a fan of John Hughes teen movies and as a fan of Matthew Broderick and as a fan of fun, I find the movie hard to dislike.

Movies I wanted to include but couldn't: The Fugitive, Running Scared, Judgment Night, Code of Silence, Grand Piano, Risky Business, Stir of Echoes, Red Heat, Marked for Death


  1. So many good movies to choose from. I watched judgement Night recently and still enjoyed it. Its like Jeremy piven was practising for the Ari Gold part in the Entourage series,
    That's a great line up. I like a lot of those choices, it will be fun, I like Alligator in the 2am Italian horror spot. Made me smile. And the first Child's play is still great to me

  2. I've got a fun one, 24 hours of Monster movies. You could really have fun here, loosely using the term monsters, Jurassic park, Species, The Host, Chud, Pumpkinhead, Cloverfield, Alien, American werewolf in london, E.T, Critters, any Godzilla movie, except 96! Lake placid. King kong, Troll hunter. Xtro. Tremors. And Starship Troopers. Now that sounds like fun

  3. I watched Candyman for the first time on the last day of SMM and liked it quite a bit (just looked up my review: I think that was an insane masterpiece?) and I think you'd probably love it now. I watched it on "Crackle" which is a free app on the Playstation (and maybe Smart TVs in general) with some pretty random goodies, but the quality sucked. Would love to get a Scream Factory blu-ray of that!

    Fun marathon - must be nice to be from such a movie-loved city - a 24-hour marathon of Halifax movies would just be The Trailer Park Boys on a loop!

    1. ive already done that! damn I was obsessed with that show for a while, Mr Lahey is the best, they played live in Manchester Uk a few years back and I got to see them onstage on tour, Kitties are soo Nice!

  4. I want Jake Gyllengaal 24.../7.

  5. Sweet! Thanks for taking my suggestion and for the shoutout! There are so many excellent choices that I see here that I'm excited to revisit (High Fidelity, Child's Play, Source Code, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) or see for the first time (Rapid Fire, The Relic, Alligator, Candyman). One thing's for sure: yours is a beautiful city featured in some excellent movies!

  6. I can kinda/sorta see where people think Ferris Bueller is a spoiled a-hole, but I’m not feeling it. He’s breaking the rules, but he’s not out to hurt anyone, and he’s there for his friends. Why would he invite the dippy Cameron along for a day of fun adventures? Because Ferris cares about Cameron.

    Ideas for future marathons:
    1) 24 hours of movies about robots
    2) 24 hours of Boston movies
    3) 24 hours of movies featuring Dick Miller

  7. We can all agree that Matthew Broderick's sad, puffy evil twin killed him after filming Ferris Bueller and has acted in his place ever since. That's common knowledge, right?

  8. Thank you for calling bullsh*t on the recent re-evaluation of Ferris Bueller. He's isn't a spoiled asshole, he's a reflection of people's perception of their friends as being better, smarter and more attractive than they are. It isn't Ferris' movie, it's Cameron's.

  9. I'm not kidding whatsoever when I say that Judgment Night is good enough to qualify for its own piece. A ridiculously solid & underrated thriller.

    1. One of my favourite movie soundtracks, and I agree a solid movie that still holds up, a bluray would be nice.

  10. Over 20 years later, that soundtrack still delivers the goods. A few suggestions for 24 hour programming:
    24 hours of revenge films
    24 hours of musicians acting (for every Purple Rain, there are about 40 Glitters, but if you're picky you can put together a solid lineup)
    24 hours of actors directing

  11. I understand this is a movie marathon. However I'd be remise if I didn't mention the best Wizard ever created (in print) who hails from your home town...Harry Copperfield Blackstone Dresden. If you like fantasy (and awesomeness) and haven't already checked it out, you owe it to yourself to do so. Chicago is just a bonus, and extremely important to Harry and his crew.