Music Box of Horrors 2014 — A Recap

Music Box of Horrors 2014Music Box Theatre

This past weekend I was able to cross another item off my movie-related bucket list — to finally attend a horror movie marathon. Every year for the past ten years, the Music Box Theatre (the best cinema in Chicago) hosts the Music Box of Horrors (formerly the Massacre), a 24 hour horror marathon from noon to noon. The selections are always eclectic and cover the vast spectrum of the world of film, everything from silent features to modern day favorites. While I unfortunately did not make it through the entire event (more on that later), I definitely got my money’s worth.

The Phantom Carriage [1921]

I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the festival than seeing the silent classic, The Phantom Carriage, accompanied by a live organ. Widely considered one of the greatest silent films of all time, it certainly lived up to the hype in my eyes. Its innovative use of double exposures to show the ghosts (including the “phantom carriage”) was a remarkable achievement for its time. Yet for a movie in which ghosts, the grim reaper and other spooky entities appear, the most frightening aspect is alcoholism; specifically, one man’s descent toward the bottom of the bottle and his struggles to move away from it. The film shares a lot of similarities with A Christmas Carol in that it looks back at moments where the main character’s life went wrong, and it’s actually quite depressing. The experience of seeing it on the big screen with live organ accompaniment was enough to keep things from getting too dour, however.

The Man They Could Not Hang [1939]

Next up was the lesser-known Boris Karloff sci-fi/horror flick, The Man They Could Not Hang. Karloff, entertaining as always, plays a scientist who has developed a mechanical heart which he hopes will bring the dead back to life. When he gets charged for the murder of one of his patients, he is sentenced to death, only to come back to life thanks to the very procedure he invented. He becomes a man out for revenge, trapping those who found him guilty while attempting to kill them off one-by-one. It’s a good bit of b-grade fun that doesn’t take itself seriously. At just 64 minutes long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome either.

Cat People [1942]

Another short-but-sweet low-budget classic was to follow, the original 1942 film Cat People. This one had a bit of a goofy premise — a young Serbian woman (a playful Simone Simon) believes she will turn into a panther when aroused, all because of an ancient tribal curse — but it works because of a terrific sense of atmosphere. We never see the woman physically change, but due to some creative camerawork and use of shadows, we can sense her threatening presence. Fun fact: director Jacques Tourneur and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca later collaborated on one of the all-time great noirs, Out of the Past.

The Curse of the Werewolf [1961]

I was really looking forward to the next screening, The Curse of the Werewolf, because I had somehow never seen a Hammer film before. Unfortunately, I found it to be disappointing. The story was all over the place, and too much time was spent building up to such a small payoff. The werewolf itself didn’t make an appearance until the final ten minutes or so, and by then it was too little, too late. The makeup and special effects were major highlights, but the film itself didn’t do much for me.

The Borrower [1991]

The centerpiece of the marathon was arguably John McNaughton’s fairly obscure 1991 film, The Borrower, presented on Laserdisc (!) from the director’s own personal collection. McNaughton and a few others involved with the film were at the screening, and they did a Q&A session afterward. Originally the plan was to screen the director’s most popular work, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but he offered to bring in The Borrower, a film that he hasn’t “discussed to death.” From the sound of it, the filming process was a real bitch, but the end result still holds up quite well. This was a crazy, over-the-top sci-fi/horror hybrid that was a real crowd pleaser. An alien serial killer is charged with murder and sent to live on Earth in human form as its punishment. It spends its time “borrowing” the heads of humans, acquiring new ones whenever its current head randomly explodes. Rae Dawn Chong (Commando, The Color Purple) stars as the police officer who is trying to figure out just what the hell is going on. It’s all utterly ridiculous, but also a total blast.

Nosferatu the Vampyre [1979]

At this point during the marathon, I was dealing with some really bad back pain (the seats at the Music Box aren’t especially conducive to long-term sitting, and I have on-and-off back troubles anyway) so I decided to take a break after the next film: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, starring the inimitable Klaus Kinski. This was another one I was eager to see, as I had really enjoyed another Herzog/Kinski collaboration from a past 50 Movies Project: Aguirre, the Wrath of God. It did not disappoint. Kinski’s portrayal of Count Dracula is downright frightening, and the film excels at building up a sense of dread. There is death and filth everywhere (so many rats…), and the film is about as dark as it gets.

Nosferatu the Vampyre turned out to be the end of my marathon, as I biked back home, passed out and didn’t get up in time for any of the morning screenings. I missed out on Dead Snow 2 (which I already saw and reviewed this summer), Nightmare, Shakma, Don’t Look in the Basement, Just Before Dawn and Audition (which I was hoping to revisit). Alas, I had a great time even though I only made it through half of the event.

Line of the night: “The law is quite explicit, one cannot divorce an insane person.” (Cat People)
Runner-up: “My dear Mr. District Attorney, your law is shockingly bad. I have the perfect alibi. I am legally dead. Your business is with the living.” (The Man They Could Not Hang)

Final rundown:
The Phantom Carriage [1921] – 8/10
The Man They Could Not Hang [1939] – 7/10
Cat People [1942] – 7/10
The Curse of the Werewolf [1961] – 5/10
The Borrower [1991] – 7/10
Nosferatu the Vampyre [1979] – 8/10

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Movie Review: Drinking Buddies [2013]

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Drinking Buddies [2013]
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writer: Joe Swanberg
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston
Running Time: 90 minutes

From the day it was announced, Drinking Buddies seemed like a film after my own heart. Director Joe Swanberg’s latest “mumblecore” effort combines two of my favorite things: craft beer and the city of Chicago. Better yet, this was filmed on location at one of the city’s finest breweries: Revolution Brewing. Fans of good beer will appreciate all the little winks and nods at the Midwest’s many craft breweries (my own personal favorite, Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter, makes a cameo), but there is plenty to enjoy for movie lovers as well.

The film revolves around two co-workers at Revolution Brewing: Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson). They are great friends, always fooling around at work and then getting drinks afterward. Kate appears to be “one of the guys”, able to hold her own with the seemingly male-dominated brewery. Luke and Kate have an infectious chemistry and there is an undeniable air of sexual tension between them; the only problem is that their relationship is strictly platonic.

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Both co-workers are in separate relationships. Luke has been dating Jill (Anna Kendrick) for six years, and they have been talking about getting married. Meanwhile, Kate is in a relationship with music producer Chris (Ron Livingston). Everyone seems happy at first, but it’s awfully hard not to notice how much of a connection there is between Luke and Kate.

A couples weekend retreat to a Michigan cabin makes the differences especially glaring. While Luke and Kate are perfectly content to just sit around drinking and playing blackjack, Jill and Chris prefer to hike in the woods. These four couldn’t be more different, but then again, can a relationship really thrive if two people have all of the same interests?

This question and many more come into play in Drinking Buddies, and the “will they or won’t they?” stigma is always lingering. Yet what makes the film work is that it doesn’t go down the conventional route. While it sounds and even feels predictable, it isn’t. This film changes directions and takes detours before reaching an abrupt conclusion, one that is sure to split audiences.

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Through all of this, the film manages to remain incredibly authentic. All of its dialogue is improvised, further adding to the sense of realism. These characters all feel like real people, and hell, you may know some just like them. The entire cast here does a phenomenal job, and Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde deliver what may be their finest performances yet. The connection between the two is indisputable; they know it and we know it, but they also know it’s unacceptable.

Drinking Buddies is one of the better mumblecore films I have seen, and it examines male and female relationships in a way that isn’t usually realized on screen. While a bit more closure would have been nice, the performances alone make this well worth seeing (preferably with some craft beer on hand, of course).

8/10

Eric’s Top Five Theatrical Experiences

For the last two weeks, my favorite local movie theater, the Music Box, has provided Chicago with what they have dubbed the 70mm Film Festival. As the last remaining theater in town that can play movies at 70mm (compared to the usual 35mm or digital), they brought in a wide variety of films to screen in this gorgeous format. One of these films was the biggest item on my so-called “movie bucket list” — 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was there for its very first screening (which was absolutely incredible), and it gave me the idea to compose this list of my top five theatrical experiences.

Now, one thing you will notice right away is that most of these have taken place in just the last few years. That’s because I never really went to the theater much when I was younger — it wasn’t until I moved to Chicago in 2008 that I truly fell in love with film. With so many theaters in town, all of which are easily accessible, I found myself going more and more. The fact that these are all recent does not make them any less memorable for me.

movie-theater-seats

First, a few honorable mentions:
Antichrist [November 2009]
My first visit to the Music Box. I instantly fell in love with this theater. My girlfriend and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into with Antichrist — let’s just say it was an experience I will never forget, for multiple reasons.

RoboCop [July 2012]
This was noteworthy for two reasons. 1) I met up with several movie bloggers for drinks and a movie, all of whom were good people. 2) It was freakin’ RoboCop on the big screen!

Miami Connection [October 2012]
The hype machine surrounding this revived 80s action flick was out of control, so I had to see it for myself. It turns out that the movie was an absolute riot, and I can’t wait to see it again. What made the screening even better was that I got to share it with my niece and her husband — we still reference the brilliance that is Dragon Sound to this day.

And now, the top five:

Drive [2011]
5) Drive [September 2011]
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Drive, and I couldn’t wait to see it. My girlfriend and I rode our bikes to a theater in Lincoln Park on a gorgeous summer night. I had a feeling I was going to like the film, but I was surprised at how much it blew me away. I ended up ranking it as my favorite film of 2011. I left the theater feeling like a total badass — how could you not? — and the first thing I told my girlfriend was that I needed a pair of biking gloves. I felt invincible on that bike ride home.

Beasts of the Southern Wild [2011]
4) Beasts of the Southern Wild [June 2012]advanced screening with a Q&A with Benh Zeitlin, Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis afterward
I had to wait an hour in line before this screening, and to make matters worse, a huge chunk of the theater was blocked off for contest winners. The only available seating was in the first few rows, and I was tempted to just say “fuck it” and walk out before the show. But I stuck with it, and I’m so glad I did. I got sucked into the world of the Bathtub, and I quickly forgot about how close I was sitting. I loved the film, and the Q&A with the cast and director afterward made me appreciate it even more. I was especially impressed with Dwight Henry, who came across as such a genuinely humble man.

THE ROOM
3) The Room [2010-present]multiple screenings, some with Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero in attendance
I can thank my good friends Steve and Ali for turning me onto the madness that is The Room, and now I frequently return the favor to anyone who comes to visit. There’s nothing like showing someone The Room for the first time, especially in a jam-packed theater. I have been to two different screenings in which director/writer/”star” Tommy Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero did a Q&A — once even getting dragged on stage to shake their hands — and they are endlessly entertaining. If you haven’t experienced The Room yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. Words cannot do it justice. Just make sure to bring a bunch of plastic spoons.

2001: A Space Odyssey [1968]
2) 2001: A Space Odyssey [February 2013]part of the 70mm Film Festival
This was the absolute #1 choice on my “movie bucket list”, and I am eternally grateful that I was able to experience 2001 the way it was meant to be seen (in 70mm, no less!). As much as I loved the film on DVD, seeing it on the big screen just blows it away. I got goosebumps as soon as the first notes to “Also sprach Zarathustra” began playing, and I remained glued to the screen from that point on. I get asked a lot what my favorite film is, and well, it could very well be 2001: A Space Odyssey. A flawless film.

The Master [2012]
1) The Master [August 2012]advanced surprise 70mm screening with Paul Thomas Anderson and nearly every major Chicago film critic in attendance
I stumbled upon this screening by pure chance — I just happened to sign onto Facebook at just the right time. Tickets sold out in a matter of minutes, but not before I was able to snag one. The Master had only been screened twice before this showing — both in Los Angeles — so this was a pretty big deal. I arrived later than anticipated only to find a line of people wrapped all the way down the street and around a corner. Somehow I was lucky enough to still get a good seat, but I was worried for a while.

The film was fantastic, my favorite of 2012, but the experience of being one of the first few hundred people in the entire world to see it made it feel unreal. There was so much excitement and nervousness in the room, and none of us could have predicted what was in store for us. And, to top it all off, Paul Thomas Anderson hung out in the lobby afterward to converse with anyone who wanted to talk. Events like this remind me just how much I love Chicago.

So there you have it — my top five theatrical experiences! What are your favorite theatrical experiences? Got a good story to tell?

Movie Project #40: Chicago [2002]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Chicago [2002]

Chicago [2002]
Director: Rob Marshall
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Musical
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly
Runtime: 113 minutes

I approached my viewing of Chicago with an open mind. I was feeling optimistic — after all, I had went through a good run of musicals (Singin’ in the Rain, Moulin Rouge!, Dancer in the Dark) that made me look at the genre with renewed interest. Maybe I was being biased for no good reason and I just needed to see a few strong musicals to make me a fan. I was all set to love this, especially since the film was set in my city (albeit in the 1920s). All of the pieces were aligned, but alas, Chicago didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Based on the stage musical of the same name, Chicago revolves around two murderesses who are in jail and awaiting trial in the 1920s. Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) is charged with the murder of Fred Casely (Dominic West), her lover who never gave her the broadway gigs he promised her. She dreams of being a vaudeville star like Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is also sent to jail after killing her husband and sister, whom she finds in bed together. Faced with the prospect of death sentences, the two women enlist the services of highly talented lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to set them free.

There is also a sense of jealousy between the two women. Velma is the queen of the roost, so to speak, and she gets all of the headlines due to her past popularity. Roxie is envious of this and does everything she can to weasel her way into the newspapers — much to Velma’s dismay.

Chicago [2002]

Now, while some may find interest in the satirical plot, the appeal of Chicago lies in its bombastic song-and-dance numbers. This is a film that revels in its visual style, piecing together large and exuberant dance routines with a distinct Jazz Age flair. The set pieces are fantastic; the costumes, flamboyant. It’s easy to get lost in the flashy showtunes, despite the fact that most songs are utterly forgettable. “All That Jazz” is a treat, but nothing else really left a mark on me.

Ultimately, that is the biggest problem I had with Chicago. Outside of the glitz and the glamour, this is a film with very little substance. I enjoyed the spectacle of it all, but everything felt shallow, and I lacked any real connection to the characters or the proceedings. Taken on its merits, there is a certain amount of charm. I was just hoping for more… substance.

Chicago [2002]

Still, there are some brilliant performances that beg to be recognized, particularly that of Catherine Zeta-Jones. She is absolutely stunning as Velma Kelly, and it was always a treat to watch her on screen. I have no complaints about her winning an Oscar — she really is that damn good. Zellweger and Gere are also up to the task in their performances, though they did not leave as much of a lasting impression. Special mention should be made of two entertaining supporting roles — John C. Reilly as Amos Hart, Roxie’s cuckolded husband, and Queen Latifah as “Mama” Morton, the strong and independent matron of the Cook County Jail.

While I did enjoy Chicago overall, I just didn’t connect with it in the way I was hoping. I get the appeal of it, and its visual style is certainly impressive, but it’s a bit of a head-scratcher as to how this won Best Picture in a year stacked with great films.

7/10

Beer Review: Atom Smasher [Two Brothers Brewing Company]

Atom Smasher [Two Brothers Brewing Company]

Credit: Bluebird Chicago


Atom Smasher
Brewery: Two Brothers (Warrenville, Illinois)
Style: Märzen/Oktoberfest
ABV: 7.7%

While perusing a local grocery store earlier this week, I was shocked to see boxes and boxes of fall seasonal beers already being displayed. Now, this shouldn’t have surprised me too much because so many stores start putting out Christmas decorations in October, but it doesn’t hardly feel like autumn yet. Hell, there are still plenty of summer beers I didn’t get the chance to try! I’m not complaining too much because there are always some great seasonals during this time period. The transition is a bit jarring after all this 90 degree weather, but it’s a welcome change. One particular beer caught my eye — a new offering from a local favorite: Atom Smasher by Two Brothers Brewing Company.

Labeled as an Oktoberfest style lager, this brew was aged in French oak foudres, a fancy term for large casks. It doesn’t take much for me to get excited about a beer — if it says “barrels”, “bourbon”, or “aged in”, I’m sold. This local seasonal did not disappoint at all.

In a glass, the Atom Smasher has a golden amber appearance with very little lacing. The initial taste is a bit sweet but busts out some spices — namely, nutmeg and cinnamon — and throws in an aftertaste that reminds me a lot of a caramel apple. The oak aging gives it a unique complexion that makes it stand out from other Marzen-style lagers.

Atom Smasher weighs in at a potent 7.7% ABV, but it goes down pretty smooth. Normally I don’t go out of my way to pick up Oktoberfest brews, but I’m glad I gave this a shot. Two Brothers generally churns out consistently quality beers, and this one isn’t an exception. Highly recommended if you’re in the Chicagoland area.

8/10

Movie Project #32: The Blues Brothers [1980]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The Blues Brothers [1980]
Director: John Landis
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Music
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Carrie Fisher
Runtime: 133 minutes (extended: 147 minutes)

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

As a Chicago resident, it’s almost blasphemous that I just now saw The Blues Brothers for the first time. This much-loved 1980 musical/comedy/action/whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it is pretty much the quintessential Chicago movie, and it has a bit of a legendary status around here. Hell, last month Wrigley Field held a screening of the film (though the $20 bleacher and $40 lawn seats were too pricey for me). To say it was due time for me to familiarize myself with this is an understatement.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The eponymous brothers are, of course, “Joliet” Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd). The film begins with Jake being released from Joliet Prison, making sure to grab his retained items on the way out (including “one unused prophylactic” and “one soiled”). Elwood picks him up in what they call the Bluesmobile — a beat-up 1974 Dodge Monaco patrol car. Before being incarcarated, Jake had promised the nun at their childhood orphanage that she would be the first person he would visit after being released. Upon arriving, the brothers are hit with the news that the orphanage will be forced to close unless $5,000 in property taxes are collected. Some financial brainstorming, aided by a trip to a wildly entertaining gospel church service, leads Jake and Elwood to discover a way to help come up with the money. Their plan? Re-form the Blues Brothers rhythm & blues band.

In order to do so, the siblings drive around the Chicagoland suburbs, making stops to attempt to lure their old bandmates back for their fundraiser gig. This hilariously leads to random musical encounters in which they run into legit musicians, all playing minor characters. The aforementioned church service is led by James Brown, who may be the coolest reverend I have ever seen. Other noteworthy appearances include Aretha Franklin running a soul food restaurant, Ray Charles owning a music shop, and John Lee Hooker jamming on a South Side street. Not knowing much about the film, these musical interludes were a pleasant surprise, and many of them were absolute highlights.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

There are two extended scenes in the film that I loved the hell out of. One is when the band, in their first gig in years, masquerades as “The Good Ol’ Boys”, a country group in a divey hick bar way outside of the city. The bartender reassures the guys that they have “both kinds of music here, Country AND Western“. With little choice, the band hops on stage. Their opening blues jam doesn’t go over well with the local folk, so they improvise by playing — what else? — the “Rawhide” theme song. Throw in a cover of “Stand By Your Man” and slowly they start to win over the increasingly drunker patrons. And with this scene, I fell in love with the movie.

Later, the big Chicago moments arrive. Watching the brothers drive their Bluesmobile through all sorts of familiar locations — lower Wacker Drive, Lake Street and the Daley Center, to name a few — was a lot of fun. Even more entertaining was watching them destroy damn near everything in their path, Daley Center included. As the cop cars continued to pile up, I just couldn’t believe how much damage was being done. This would have been crazy as hell to see being filmed, that’s for sure.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

While the stars of the film are undoubtedly Aykroyd and Belushi, it was Aykroyd who nailed it with his famous remark, “Chicago is one of the stars of the movie. We wrote it as a tribute.

I’m not sure what the differences are between the theatrical cut and extended version, but I watched the latter. I feel there were probably two or three unnecessary scenes included, as the nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime was a little exhausting. Regardless, I can’t say I have seen another film like The Blues Brothers, a rambunctious ode to my favorite city.

8/10

Movie Project #32: The Blues Brothers [1980]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The Blues Brothers [1980]
Director: John Landis
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Music
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Carrie Fisher
Runtime: 133 minutes (extended: 147 minutes)

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

As a Chicago resident, it’s almost blasphemous that I just now saw The Blues Brothers for the first time. This much-loved 1980 musical/comedy/action/whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it is pretty much the quintessential Chicago movie, and it has a bit of a legendary status around here. Hell, last month Wrigley Field held a screening of the film (though the $20 bleacher and $40 lawn seats were too pricey for me). To say it was due time for me to familiarize myself with this is an understatement.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The eponymous brothers are, of course, “Joliet” Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd). The film begins with Jake being released from Joliet Prison, making sure to grab his retained items on the way out (including “one unused prophylactic” and “one soiled”). Elwood picks him up in what they call the Bluesmobile — a beat-up 1974 Dodge Monaco patrol car. Before being incarcarated, Jake had promised the nun at their childhood orphanage that she would be the first person he would visit after being released. Upon arriving, the brothers are hit with the news that the orphanage will be forced to close unless $5,000 in property taxes are collected. Some financial brainstorming, aided by a trip to a wildly entertaining gospel church service, leads Jake and Elwood to discover a way to help come up with the money. Their plan? Re-form the Blues Brothers rhythm & blues band.

In order to do so, the siblings drive around the Chicagoland suburbs, making stops to attempt to lure their old bandmates back for their fundraiser gig. This hilariously leads to random musical encounters in which they run into legit musicians, all playing minor characters. The aforementioned church service is led by James Brown, who may be the coolest reverend I have ever seen. Other noteworthy appearances include Aretha Franklin running a soul food restaurant, Ray Charles owning a music shop, and John Lee Hooker jamming on a South Side street. Not knowing much about the film, these musical interludes were a pleasant surprise, and many of them were absolute highlights.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

There are two extended scenes in the film that I loved the hell out of. One is when the band, in their first gig in years, masquerades as “The Good Ol’ Boys”, a country group in a divey hick bar way outside of the city. The bartender reassures the guys that they have “both kinds of music here, Country AND Western“. With little choice, the band hops on stage. Their opening blues jam doesn’t go over well with the local folk, so they improvise by playing — what else? — the “Rawhide” theme song. Throw in a cover of “Stand By Your Man” and slowly they start to win over the increasingly drunker patrons. And with this scene, I fell in love with the movie.

Later, the big Chicago moments arrive. Watching the brothers drive their Bluesmobile through all sorts of familiar locations — lower Wacker Drive, Lake Street and the Daley Center, to name a few — was a lot of fun. Even more entertaining was watching them destroy damn near everything in their path, Daley Center included. As the cop cars continued to pile up, I just couldn’t believe how much damage was being done. This would have been crazy as hell to see being filmed, that’s for sure.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

While the stars of the film are undoubtedly Aykroyd and Belushi, it was Aykroyd who nailed it with his famous remark, “Chicago is one of the stars of the movie. We wrote it as a tribute.

I’m not sure what the differences are between the theatrical cut and extended version, but I watched the latter. I feel there were probably two or three unnecessary scenes included, as the nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime was a little exhausting. Regardless, I can’t say I have seen another film like The Blues Brothers, a rambunctious ode to my favorite city.

8/10

Beer Review: King Henry [Goose Island Beer Company]

King Henry [Goose Island Beer Company]

King Henry
Brewery: Goose Island Beer Company (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: English Barleywine
ABV: 13.4%

I had a pretty good Christmas last year, especially when it came to beer. I received a four-pack of one of my all-time favorite beers, Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout, as a gift (review to come later), as well as Goose Island’s new and exclusive King Henry. The latter was a very limited release, with its bottles selling out quickly all over the city. Goose Island has a knack for delivering unbelievably delicious bourbon-aged beers, and everyone wanted to get a taste of their latest.

The 2011 release of King Henry utilized barrels that were formerly used for Bourbon County Rare, and its final ABV clocks in at an impressive 13.4%. This barleywine is not for the faint of heart.

When poured into a glass, King Henry has a dark brown (nearly black) appearance. Its aroma brings notes of vanilla with a major bourbon kick. The bourbon is the first thing that is noticed upon tasting, and then hints of vanilla and caramel start pushing through. Ultimately, this culminates in a sweet aftertaste not unlike brown sugar.

King Henry is a remarkably smooth barleywine that any beer aficionado will love. It is a doozy, but it easily ranks as one of Goose Island’s best. King Henry will surely be hard to find in the very near future, so if you are in the Chicagoland area you should really make it a point to seek it out. This is one of the best beers I have had in a while.

10/10

Beer Review: The Chairman [Half Acre Beer Company]

The Chairman [Half Acre Beer Company]

The Chairman
Brewery: Half Acre Beer Company (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: Imperial Red Ale
ABV: 9.5%

When I bought a growler of Half Acre’s Thanksgiving beer, Avena Sativa, I made sure to pick up a 22 ounce bomber of their previous limited release: The Chairman, an imperial red ale. Released as a celebration of local Chicago zine Lumpen‘s 20th anniversary, the Chairman is a thick brew with an ABV that will creep up on you if you’re not expecting it. It’s a pretty damn good complement to their English Bitter.

When poured into a glass, the Chairman has a hazy burnt orange appearance. The beer smells very ‘malty’ with hints of toffee. The taste brings out a surprising amount of hops that leave a bitter aftertaste. While this lingering taste may not appeal to some, I love it.

For a 9.5% beer, this goes down real smooth. The alcohol content is noticeable, but it is never overwhelming, unlike others at this level. Imperial red ales are not something I see very often, so I am happy that Half Acre has delivered a satisfying brew in this style. If you’re in the Chicago area, stop by the brewery and pick up a bottle before this bad boy runs out.

8/10

Beer Review: Avena Sativa [Half Acre Beer Company]

Avena Sativa [Half Acre Beer Company]

Avena Sativa
Brewery: Half Acre Beer Company (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: English Bitter
ABV: 5.0%

Man, it sure has been a while since I wrote about a new Half Acre release. Fortunately, tonight I was able to pick up a growler of their most recent brew: Avena Sativa, an English Oat Bitter. This was released during Thanksgiving week, and I had given up hope on acquiring any since many of the brewery’s latest offerings sell out in a matter of hours. They must have made more than enough this time around because I was told there are at least two kegs left.

Avena Sativa is bright in appearance, with a light, hazy gold color to it. Its aroma is predominantly of grainy malts, and this carries over to the taste as well. This beer is a little sweet (and bitter), but it is ultimately refreshing and goes down real smooth.

Half Acre doesn’t really brew much in this style, so I am pleased to say that their Avena Sativa is a tasty success. While everyone else is stockpiling on stouts and winter ales, these local Chicago guys have released a light beer that is surprisingly well-balanced. For something a little more drinkable during the winter season, you can’t go wrong with Avena Sativa.

8/10