Virus fells Orpheum, shorts Avon

July 3rd, 2020

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While retailers, restaurants, and attractions had their operational restrictions eased again as of last Friday, June 26, allowing for more flexibility to serve customers in person, there is no guarantee we will see an end to the pandemic soon even if our state is in better shape than others. Both the coronavirus information page kept by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and an animated map embedded on the response page from the Illinois government show that Champaign County has weathered more virus activity than its neighboring counties by far. Why is it the case? Maybe, contagious folks go directly from Chicagoland to Champaign-Urbana more often than other downstate cities. Maybe, our neighbors are more diligent in being tested, thereby increasing the total number of diagnosed cases. Maybe, we will never have enough contact tracing performed to determine the answers. All I know is I plan to wear the damn mask in public for the common good, follow social distancing guidelines until national health officials say otherwise, and adhere to the adjustments made by any establishment I visit.

Opening back up or expanding services under “Restore Illinois Phase 4” is also no guarantee that all businesses will truly be back in business, including theatrical exhibitors. Skim last week’s Calendar and you will see the area’s drive-ins are feasting on catalog titles while indoor screens remain dark. An exception is the Roxy Cinemas in Ottawa, which is within driving distance of MFHQ Remote but too far away from the C-U for a night out. What will it even look like once we’re allowed back in? The News-Gazette gave us an idea when they shared the revised rules; “Movie Theaters and Performing arts” etiquette involves the expected modifications to keep patrons and workers safe including spaced-out ticket lines and seating, lower maximum capacity per show, no refillable food or drink containers, and staggered entry and exit. I wonder how much total effort will be put into maintaining this barometer, especially at a multiplex. Not helping consumer confidence, AMC Theaters recently let it slip they would allow mask wearing to slide before walking back the policy due to criticism from all corners.

The largest movie theater chain in the United States also keeps backpedaling on when they will reopen worldwide, recently resetting that date as July 30 due to various circumstances. Rapid-fire change is suddenly the norm. That makes it interesting, right? In a world where the studio juggernauts are actively leapfrogging over one another for future release dates to space their preordained hits once a sizeable amount of screens are available… In a world where a 27-year-old dinosaur blockbuster tops the box office charts again through drive-in play… In a world where a no-budget, 30-minute chiller filmed in socially distant conditions can be four-walled in a single traditional movie house and gross the highest amount in the country on its one-day run… anything is possible and nothing is completely predictable. Well, that’s not exactly true. What is predictable is the smaller houses in our communities are being forced to innovate as they struggle to float themselves in a downturn that keeps elongating due to coronavirus fears. It seems like what can go wrong will go wrong before anyone can right the ship.

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Calendar: June 26-July 2, 2020

June 27th, 2020

Our movie and media Calendar appears every Friday/Saturday on C-U Blogfidential and caters to the downstate region anchored by Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, USA.

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MILESTONES | Happy Birthday to You!

6/27: Eric Spudic (owner, Spudic’s Movie Empire, Los Angeles, CA)
6/27: Joe Sherlock (producer, Skullface Astronaut, Corvallis, OR)
6/30: Drea Aarons (multimedia artist, Art of Drea Aarons, Urbana, IL)
7/1: Michael Juvinall (editor, Horror Patch, Channahon, IL)

 

PASSINGS | You Will Be Missed

6/11: R.M. “Popeye” Curtsinger (actor, WEREWOLF CEMETERY, Brainsmart Productions, Portland, OR)

 

MFHQ MEMO | From Chambana Mendota with Love Miscellany

In line with both our previous and next posts, I’d like to briefly go over several developments that will be of interest to you! Pens to Lens organizers are proceeding with a 2020 show that will premiere online on a date to be revealed and consist exclusively of student-made films; deadline to submit for consideration is this coming Tuesday, June 30, so hit this link right now if the young folks in your life have been productive with camera in hand! Active on a damage control front are locals Ash Hamilton and Ben Harl whose offbeat project, THE TRUE TALE OF OLE SPLITFOOT…, has been shelved due to a nearly unbelievable trifecta of a surface resemblance to an already-made Netflix series, a brief association with an actor just arrested for alleged sex crimes, and the abandonment of private investors in an apparent response to both. Finally, Robin Christian is gearing up for his next production in east central Illinois, hinted to be a direct sequel to the gruesome thriller CORN as reported here last year, and shared his crew needs with Champaign Movie Makers on Facebook. More to come!

 

NOW PLAYING | Champaign-Urbana Area

@ AMC Champaign 13, Champaign, IL
Closed for the week.

@ Family Video, Champaign-Urbana, IL
BURDEN, A SOLDIER’S REVENGE, INHERITANCE, THE LEGION, REDCON-1, THE MARSHES, more! (6/23 on)

@ Goodrich Savoy 16, Savoy, IL
Closed for the week.

@ The Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL
Closed for the week. “Virtual Virginia Theatre” screenings: BABE, MILITARY WIVES (through 6/25), BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943), LIFE ITSELF*, ONCE WERE BROTHERS: ROBBIE ROBERTSON AND THE BAND (6/26 on) Purchase

Events featuring locally produced movies are marked with an asterisk (*). Additional “Now Playing” and “Coming Soon” listings appear after the jump!

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Don’t ever let the dust settle, C-U

June 25th, 2020

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This was a touch unexpected, yes? Maybe I really needed a brief moment of silence to fall over C-U Blogfidential for the last three weeks. There is much to mull over and fumble through that doesn’t really involve the movies of Champaign, Urbana, and the cities beyond, which impeded my attempts to write. Story ideas are plentiful, though, and we’ll simply have to see whether I can work back up to my two-posts-and-a-Calendar per week goal or if the so-called “new normal” is going to put much of our output on ice. I do plan to keep the irons hot at MFHQ Remote and will poke at you with purpose when I can put in the honest effort; intended content includes the continuation of our Michael Wiese book review series, a handful more empathic flashbacks to people, places, and photoplays that helped define our film culture du C-U, a two- or three-part sequence about Midwest indie filmmakers who influenced my perception on how movies fare in our fair Twin Cities, a C-U Confidential think-piece week in July similar to what I afforded the New Art Film Festival back in April, and several more surprises. Today is merely a check-in.

As I knead the keyboard to work my words out of it, please take care of yourselves and do some good in your world. Even small gestures add up to positive social change. You do not need to learn from me that Black Lives Matter, so I implore of you to seek out the authentic voices in all mediums that can fill you in on the highly compromised African-American experience before you act in unity with our neighbors of color. You also should have no question as to whether the COVID-19 virus is still a health threat; this Washington Post report confirms the new wave of outbreaks while this Vox article humanizes the difficulty in stopping the spread efficiently. You might also want to do the right thing with your vote and replace our 45th president and his cronies on Tuesday, November 3, with players who will make a best effort to improve our society’s well-being and economic veracity. Finally, you must try to understand that CUBlog may turn both inward and towards the bigger picture at the moment instead of locking itself into localism. It is unequivocally the editor’s choice, and either I’ve whetted your appetite or given you fair warning.

~ Jason Pankoke

p.s. The forlorn seating arrangement you see pictured above, which handily illustrates the headline and implicitly references the theatrical realm, was a fixture in the upper parking deck at the UIUC Krannert Center for the Performing Arts for years. By the time Drea Aarons and friends posed for the cover of CUZine #10 in that location, it had been removed. Our contextual loss, then.

p.s.2 Someday, I will gather up the mettle to draft a better eulogy for my father William than I did after his passing 10 years ago. I share him with you again here in the wake of Father’s Day this past Sunday, June 21, seated lakeside as he liked to be. I miss him.

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Calendar: June 19-25, 2020

June 20th, 2020

Our movie and media Calendar appears every Friday/Saturday on C-U Blogfidential and caters to the downstate region anchored by Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, USA.

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MILESTONES | Happy Birthday to You!

6/25: Aaron Polk (blogger, Cinematic Rabbit Hole, Rantoul, IL)

 

NOW PLAYING | Champaign-Urbana Area

@ AMC Champaign 13, Champaign, IL
Closed for the week.

@ Family Video, Champaign-Urbana, IL
IMPRACTICAL JOKERS: THE MOVIE, THE QUARRY, 2 MINUTES OF FAME, SNIPER: ASSASSIN’S END, CREEPSHOW (s1), more! (6/16 on)

@ Goodrich Savoy 16, Savoy, IL
Closed for the week.

Events featuring locally produced movies are marked with an asterisk (*). Additional “Now Playing” and “Coming Soon” listings appear after the jump!

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Calendar: June 12-18, 2020

June 12th, 2020

Our movie and media Calendar appears every Friday/Saturday on C-U Blogfidential and caters to the downstate region anchored by Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, USA.

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MILESTONES | Happy Birthday to You!

6/18: Perry C. Morris (co-author/publisher, The Art Theater: Playing Movies for 100 Years, Champaign Urbana Theater History, Urbana, IL)

 

NOW PLAYING | Champaign-Urbana Area

@ AMC Champaign 13, Champaign, IL
Closed for the week.

@ Family Video, Champaign-Urbana, IL
THE HUNT, NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS, THINK LIKE A DOG, WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS, OUTBACK, A PERFECT PLAN, POWER (s6), more! (6/9 on)

@ Goodrich Savoy 16, Savoy, IL
Closed for the week.

Events featuring locally produced movies are marked with an asterisk (*). Additional “Now Playing” and “Coming Soon” listings appear after the jump!

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Let’s all go to the ‘Movies,’ C-U

June 8th, 2020

We recently wrote about how the Workshop Films Collective of Champaign and the Central Illinois Film Commission of Springfield have stepped up efforts to provide their members with online outreach. A good amount of downstate Illinois creatives are probably feeling grateful right now for the low-cost tools allowing them to communicate and network in this time of physical separation. Nothing can replace first-person collaboration, of course, and it remains to be seen if multi-window interfaces like Zoom will have a place at the table whenever full-blown media production resumes. This got me to thinking.

How did the citizens of Champaign, Urbana, and the cities beyond even begin to understand the nuances of the process without industry, hands-on film school, or affordable gear and software, particularly before the first digital consumer products began to arrive in electronics stores and camera shops? I imagine the learning curve for ambitious folks yearning to go bigger than home movies and local television had to be hefty pre-2000 and nearly daunting pre-1970. It would probably blow the minds of our relatives three or four generations back to learn that practically every future gadget would have a camera built right in.

Hardy entrepreneurs did their best to intrigue the masses in the first part of the 20th century when national distribution was but a trickle and Hollywood far from the central production hub. As the novelty wore off from the crude film loops cranked by hand at Main Street nickelodeons across America, promoters had to impress filmgoers both on and off screen with the bigger and better. One interesting attraction delighted the C-U in April and May of 1919, as we recounted last year on the 100th anniversary of the occasion, when management at the New Orpheum Theatre booked the team of Joseph Maddern and Tom Ward to produce on site a light comedy with a healthy dose of local participation, LOVE’S YOUNG DREAM.

The scheme depicted the filming process in real time before a live audience by setting scenes on the Orpheum’s vaudeville stage for several consecutive “performances;” a final featurette with University of Illinois-shot inserts would premiere exclusively at the venue a scant two weeks after Ward and Maddern began their residence. This is similar showmanship to the dramatic “booster film” made in 1923, THE CITY BEYOND, sponsored by the News-Gazette as a method to promote our fair Twin Cities’ virtues. While produced more traditionally in real locations, the latter involved specific elements like the former: a stock screenplay, neighborhood “talent” in the acting leads, and support from major local institutions.

I’m sure both instances provided our long-gone neighbors with an education and sense of bewilderment. When the completed LOVE’S YOUNG DREAM played the Orpheum, though, it was merely incorporated into a textbook vaudeville bill instead of standing alone as the miraculous result of Maddern and Ward’s “Making Movies” exhibitions. (Conversely, THE CITY BEYOND received its own movie-centric premiere at the Virginia Theatre.) You can see companion acts listed in the print ballyhoo I discovered a few years ago in vintage issues of the Daily Illini and Urbana Courier, courtesy the searchable archives at the invaluable Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections of the UI Library, and the mismatch is quite palpable.

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Calendar: June 5-11, 2020

June 6th, 2020

Our movie and media Calendar appears every Friday/Saturday on C-U Blogfidential and caters to the downstate region anchored by Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, USA.

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MILESTONES | Happy Birthday to You!

6/10: Allen Richards (publisher, B-Independent.com)

 

MFHQ MEMO | From Chambana Mendota with Love Movie-Going Dreams

It’s been about three months since movie theaters shut down in response to the pandemic. We have not learned much since then about what a future trip to the cinema might entail other than drive-ins are having their renewed day in the sun, despite the fact they have to operate at night, and TROLLS WORLD TOUR made a mint regardless of being redirected to a video-on-demand premiere. It will be a while before we have more clarity and procedure dictating how we can safely return to the fold, even with bobbled political attempts to coerce theaters to open back up, so we must simply wait until further notice. Compare what Owen Gleiberman of Variety wrote at the outset of the closure with Sara Stewart’s sentiments as shared today by CNN. Deficiencies of the theatrical model we’ve known for decades are now glaringly apparent, yet the communal experience is always the ultimate experience. How does the industry respond? What might customers expect for their hard-earned money? Will it be enough?

 

CONFIDENTIAL ALMANAC | Dates in Film Culture History

35 Years AgoSaturday, June 1, 1985: Geoff Merritt opened the Campustown media rental store, That’s Rentertainment, in Johnstowne Center. After bouncing around that building for their first decade, Rentertainment moved a half block east to their current location at 512 E. John St., Champaign. History [R]

 

NOW PLAYING | Champaign-Urbana Area

@ AMC Champaign 13, Champaign, IL
Closed for the week.

@ Family Video, Champaign-Urbana, IL
ROBERT THE BRUCE, 1BR, DEBT COLLECTORS, ROGUE WARFARE: THE HUNT, POWERBOMB, THE BLACKOUT: INVASION EARTH, HARLEY QUINN (s1), WATCHMEN (cs), more! (6/2 on)

@ Goodrich Savoy 16, Savoy, IL
Closed for the week.

Events featuring locally produced movies are marked with an asterisk (*). Additional “Now Playing” and “Coming Soon” listings appear after the jump!

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Calendar: May 29-June 4, 2020

June 1st, 2020

Our movie and media Calendar appears every Friday/Saturday on C-U Blogfidential and caters to the downstate region anchored by Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, USA.

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MILESTONES | Happy Birthday to You!

6/1: Bill Yauch (owner, RiellyBoy Productions, Urbana, IL)
6/1: William Pace (faculty associate of digital media production, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ)
6/2: DeShawn Hill (producer, HD Productions Media, Champaign, IL/Los Angeles, CA)
6/3: Amanda Baker (owner, Five Foot Productions, Champaign, IL)
6/4: Jarrod Finn (director, HUNTER, Malachi Entertainment, Urbana, IL)
6/4: Amy Rund (actress, CICADA SONG, Digital Opteryx, Champaign, IL)

 

MFHQ MEMO | From Chambana Mendota with Love Mortification

The United States of America needs to get its shit together. The people of Illinois need to get their shit together. The cities of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, based on some of the public encounters in various locations on Sunday, May 31, need to get their shit together. Police brutality against our African-American citizens and friends that results in psychological harm and unconscionable death is a dire concern and not the only missive that drags our society down. We should ideally use peaceful protest to raise our voices against those entrenched issues if we can have the backbone to follow them up with positive action and decisive legislation. Rage is somewhat expected, a means to express the collateral damage to our souls and communities, and it is more important to consider its origins than to excessively mull over what is physically smashed, twisted, or stolen. However, even if the theory holds that outside elements have incited this consequential behavior across the nation, destruction and theft are still detrimental acts of crime. We need to be better than this, aiming higher to lift up those who should be equals and allowing them to breathe and thrive. Claiming we are humans who make mistakes only serves to undermine our collective potential and shirk responsibility. Humanity itself needs to get its shit together.

 

NOW PLAYING | Champaign-Urbana Area

@ AMC Champaign 13, Champaign, IL
Closed for the week.

@ Family Video, Champaign-Urbana, IL
THE INVISIBLE MAN, LAST MOMENT OF CLARITY, TRUE FICTION, REV, THE ADVENTURES OF RUFUS THE FANTASTIC PET, more! (5/26 on)

@ Goodrich Savoy 16, Savoy, IL
Closed for the week.

Events featuring locally produced movies are marked with an asterisk (*). Additional “Now Playing” and “Coming Soon” listings appear after the jump!

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UI ghosts linger on and off screen

May 29th, 2020

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“Spirits in an Intermediate World”
Memories of fictive fantasma and sequestered students filter through a closed flagship campus.

by Jason Pankoke

I don’t believe in ghosts or the afterlife. I do believe the specters of human experience waft about our very being and are inextricably anchored to everything shaped by our tools, hands, and minds. Sitting at my mother’s house as I write the current run of C-U Blogfidential, any glance upward is to a space that I have known for many years and can subtly remember how it was once different and more populated than now with just the two of us. I easily imagine a similar sense of displacement if I was living among all my friends and neighbors of Champaign-Urbana in this “new normal,” had family crises not steered me to a different path. My guess is walking through a business district that should be teeming with bodies on warmer May days like these is akin to traversing, for lack of a clever euphemism, a ghost town. I’m sure that I would have a visceral reaction to the ongoing emptiness of familiar streets, sidewalks, and hangouts.

The cumulative effect is more pronounced if one wanders among the storied structures on the University of Illinois campus, I guarantee it. Normally at this time of year, I’d secretly look forward to summer break because I find it pleasant to explore the terrain halved by Wright Street when it’s dialed down in bustle, especially the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts sector. Other than the Secret MICRO-FILM Headquarters and parks, no place is calmer to me between June and August in the C-U than a chair outside Espresso Royale on Goodwin Avenue as a hazy sun drops behind the Main Quad skyline. Even in the most tranquil moment with a perfect sip of java, it can still feel incomplete. I react slightly to chatter over my shoulder that isn’t happening. I redirect my eyes to a distant street when I know that no one comes or goes. I anticipate the comfort of Altgeld Hall chimes an eternity longer than usual.

Right now, we can’t experience those lingering interactions with our environments at any length due to the shelter-in-place order. I wonder how UIUC seniors are coping with their college experiences coming to a makeshift end as a “virtual celebration” on Saturday, May 16. Hopefully, they built up enough positive experiences to take with them and revel in for some time. Should any return to their alma mater in a future less restrictive, those individualized echoes will be unlocked and flow freely. It’s not just about the notions, however. Spaced between dusty volumes and glass-encased displays is unheralded history with more definition but less hard evidence, dismissed perennially by generations of underclassmen, graduate students, academics, and civil servants. I can choose to not believe in ghosts and still be intrigued by the ways that locals and the campus community process the preternatural.

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Oblong title is truth in advertising

May 26th, 2020

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Here lies the story of Bucky McSnead / The slasher who rhymes and revels in grue / He did not see Ole Splitfoot enter the scene / A mischievous legend that grew and grew!” The presumption I made in our last post about the Memorial Day weekend being a prime time for film activity is not without basis. Twenty years ago, I spent a day at the cozy household of Mike and Sue Trippiedi in Champaign to witness the taping of a comic dispute between the lumbering Bucky McSnead (Steve Davis) and his abrasive parents (Traci Nally and Will Ridenour) that ended in murder and began a crime spree littered with many suspect couplets. I was grateful to be invited and could not wait to see the scene cut together when BUCKY McSNEAD, THE FIRST SLASHER FILM DONE IN RHYME had its debut in 2001. Slice and dice to the present, it seems inexplicable that so few horror movies originate from downstate Illinois and it always takes me by surprise when a new one is announced. After you watch the vintage trailer for the clever McSNEAD, shared by Mike Trippiedi collaborator Bill Yauch of RiellyBoy Productions in Urbana

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…you can let your imagination run wild with the proposed grindhouse-style feature its creators have titled – let me catch my breath hereTHE TRUE TALE OF OLE SPLITFOOT VS. THE LESBIAN WARRIOR NUNS OF THE GREAT WHITE NORTH. Conjures up a lot of saucy and devilish possibilities, yes? Ash Hamilton and Horror-Fix Pictures of Springfield, Ben Harl and Silver Compass Studios of Decatur, and Michael Welborn and Nic White of CinemaSlice in Bay City, Michigan, believe the world needs a niche flick like this and have launched an Indiegogo campaign as of last Friday, May 22, to float a modest six-figure budget. If you want a hint at what Harl and Hamilton’s screenplay may entail, visit Indiegogo for an over-the-top teaser and this Horror-Fix.com article for their ribald sense of humor. OLE SPLITFOOT is intended to roll this November under the direction of Massimiliano Cerchi (MAYDAY) and star a number of indie horror talents along with veteran actors like Michael Paré (BONE TOMAHAWK) and Robert LaSardo (THE MULE). Peoria actress Samantha Marie (TEACHER SHORTAGE) is a co-producer.

Given that mouthful of a title and the involvement of CinemaSlice, I wonder if OLE SPLITFOOT will be filmed closer to Canada than the Illinois plains. We’ll certainly find out! Until then, a promotional poster oozes with exploitation intent below. You already know whether or not you want to scroll any further.

~ Jason Pankoke

p.s. Apologies to Damian Duffy Barely Trying for the flashback. Nuns? Guns? Beer!

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