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Mr. Turner is at The Art

If, like me, you've been catching up on your Oscar-nominated films lately, you've probably seen the trailer for a certain art-house film over and over and over again. That film, Mr. Turner, starring Timothy Spall, is finally coming to the Art Theater Co-op. If you're like me (or a couple of people I know), then this is pretty exciting news.

The film's synopsis, per the Art's website:

This film explores the last quarter century of the great if eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Profoundly affected by the death of his father, loved by a housekeeper he takes for granted, he forms a close relationship with a seaside landlady with whom he eventually lives incognito in Chelsea, where he dies. Throughout this, he travels, paints, stays with the country aristocracy, visits brothels, is a popular if anarchic member of the Royal Academy of Arts, has himself strapped to the mast of a ship so that he can paint a snowstorm, and is both celebrated and reviled by the public and by royalty.

Mr. Turner will show Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., Sunday at 1:30 p.m., Wednesday at 7 p.m., and Thursday at 4:30 p.m.


Nighthawks at the diner: Merry Ann’s is a real life Hopper painting

In 1942, Edward Hopper created one of the most iconic works of art in American History called Nighthawks. As you can see in the header, it’s a depiction of a downtown diner called Phillie’s and there’s a handful of folks winding down their night.

The painting has been often recreated or parodied, the one the stands out most to me is on an episode of the Simpsons, and its lasting imagery is a reflection on an ideal snippet of the American city. Every great city has a late-night spot for grub where industry workers can grab a bite after hours, the intoxicated can refuel before heading home, and nighttime lingerers can stop in for a soda. It truly is an age-old type of establishment, and there’s something hip and cool about that storefront in the evening light.

Having been in Champaign for a number of years now, every time I see Nighthawks I immediately think of our own downtown diner— Merry Ann’s. It’s rare to see a group of folks in there in suits like in the painting, but nevertheless the spirit of the establishment is the same. Attentive diner staff waiting on the nighthawks, a bright sign in the dark sky, and an attractive window front that shows everything in its late-night glory.

Of course Merry Ann’s is open for breakfast and lunch, too. But there’s just something cool about the downtown location amongst the hustle and bustle of the bar and restaurant scene. It’s a monument to the beauty and personality of Downtown Champaign. It’s our own, real-life Edward Hopper painting and it’s the pulse of countless Champaign nighthawks.


Ebertfest 2015 announces full film slate

Roger Ebert's Film Festival is right around the corner — happening April 15-19 — and here is the entire list of films that will be a part of this year's festival. 

From the press release:


Additional attendees include Seymour Bernstein, Chazz Palminteri, Héloïse Godet, 
Godfrey Cheshire, Erica Ramis and Leonard Maltin
, among others 

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (March 26, 2015) — THE END OF THE TOUR, a new film about a journalist’s five insightful days with “Infinite Jest” author David Foster Wallace, raised in Champaign-Urbana, will be among the featured films at the 17th Annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival Hosted by Chaz Ebert, aka ‘Ebertfest’, running April 15-19 in Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

Wallace is played in the film by Jason Segel, and Segel will be a guest for the screening, along with director James Ponsoldt, who attended the festival two years ago with his film THE SPECTACULAR NOW.

Also on the schedule for the 17th annual “Ebertfest,” as previously announced, will be A BRONX TALE, a 1993 Robert De Niro-directed drama starring both De Niro and Chazz Palminteri, who also wrote the screenplay. Palminteri and producer Jon Kilik also will be guests.

Opening the five-day event on Wednesday evening will be Jean-Luc Godard’s GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3D, a Jury Prize winner at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and the first 3-D film to be shown at Ebertfest. Lead actress Héloïse Godet will be a guest.

Godard, now 84, was once described by Ebert as “a director of the very first rank” and a significant influence on the development of feature-length film.

Wednesday evening also will feature a tribute to comedy director, screenwriter and actor Harold Ramis – associated with films such as “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day” – who died last year, and for whom this year’s festival is dedicated.

Besides GOODBYE, four other recent foreign films are on this year’s schedule, dealing with female adolescence in France, World War II barbarity in Poland, comic absurdity in Sweden and wild tales in Argentina. One of the four won last year’s Oscar for best foreign film and another was a nominee.

Also on the schedule: a drama/thriller about two Nevada brothers escaping into fantastic stories to deal with their persistent hard luck, a drama about the Great Recession housing crisis, a documentary about the moving of a Southern planation house and its mixed-race family history, and an Ethan Hawke-directed documentary about a classical pianist who gave up the limelight to teach.

This year’s silent film stars Rudolph Valentino in his final role, and will be accompanied by the three-man Alloy Orchestra, of Cambridge, Mass., back for their 14th appearance.

Segel is known for his roles in the TV series “How I Met Your Mother” and in films such as FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and THE MUPPETS. Palminteri is known for roles in THE USUAL SUSPECTS, ANALYZE THIS, and BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, the latter of which earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. Kilik recently was the producer for FOXCATCHER and has produced all of the HUNGER GAMES films.

All the festival films will be screened at the 1,500-seat Virginia Theatre, a downtown Champaign movie palace opened in 1921 and restored to its early grandeur though extensive renovations prior to the 2013 festival.

Chaz Ebert will serve as the festival emcee. She also works with festival director Nate Kohn to select the festival’s films, based on Roger Ebert’s criteria and lists he developed over the first 15 years of the festival, before his death in 2013.

Films are chosen because they have been overlooked by critics, distributors or audiences; come from overlooked genres or formats; deserve a second look; or are “empathetic works that comment on the human condition,” Kohn said.

Other festival guests will include directors Ramin Bahrani, Godfrey Cheshire and Alan Polsky, who each directed a film on the festival schedule. They and other guests associated with specific films will appear on the Virginia stage for informal Q-and-A sessions after their screenings.

Many guests also will participate in panels and other events on the University of Illinois campus, to be announced later.

This year’s schedule of films, with associated guests (cited reviews appeared on RogerEbert.com unless otherwise noted):

Wednesday, April 15

7 p.m. – GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3D (2014), a French film directed and written by pioneering filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. Much of “Goodbye” is built around a young couple at a lake house, often arguing and often naked, but it’s essentially a feature-length montage, with prolonged discussions on historical and political topics, said film critic Matt Zoller Seitz. Godard makes creative use of 3-D and digital video, and the film is “richly expressive in every sort of language (written, spoken, visual),” though what the filmmaker is trying to say may not be clear, Seitz said. “It’s a documentary of a restless mind.” Lead actress Héloïse Godet will be a guest. 

9:30 p.m. – A tribute to Harold Ramis, featuring a collection of short clips from his movies and possibly other footage, followed by a conversation with his wife Erica and Trevor Albert, a producer on several Ramis films. 

Thursday, April 16

1 p.m. – A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (2014), a Swedish film centered on a pair of Laurel-and-Hardy-like traveling salesmen, but also a collection of self-contained comic vignettes, many reflecting on painful subjects such as mortality, aging and unrequited love. It’s the final part of a trilogy on being human by Swedish “master of comic absurdity” Roy Andersson, and it’s “delightfully odd,” said Variety film critic Peter Debruge. “Though the colors are dreary and the characters numb … there’s not a single dull frame in the entire film.” Producer Johan Carlsson will be a guest.

4 p.m. – MOVING MIDWAY (2007), a documentary about moving an old Southern plantation house, in the process learning a family’s secret history and dealing with myths of planation life. The director is film critic Godfrey Cheshire, who decided to make a documentary when he learned that his cousin planned to move the house from their family’s ancestral land near Raleigh, North Carolina. He then makes chance connections with the African-American side of the family. It’s a “deceptive film,” Roger Ebert said in his 2008 review. “It starts in one direction and discovers a better one.” Cheshire will be a guest.

8:30 p.m. – THE END OF THE TOUR (2015), a drama that centers around a few days of heady and insightful conversation in 1996 between two writers, one of them the acclaimed David Foster Wallace, who died in 2008. The film premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and stars Jason Segel as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) as David Lipsky, who was then a writer for Rolling Stone and later wrote a memoir on which the film is based. According to film critic Brian Tallerico, Segel brings a “deep blend of insecurity, melancholy, and remarkable intelligence” to his performance. “It is a film about incredibly smart people made by incredibly smart people, and (about) that embrace of not just intellectual pursuit but what the chase does to you.” Segel and director James Ponsoldt will be guests.

Friday, April 17

1 p.m. – GIRLHOOD (2014), a French drama about a teenage girl and the gang of girls she falls in with, in the process learning what friendship means and experimenting with identity. Though the gang of girls are “three tough Rizzo-types,” the film is not about “bad girls” corrupting good, or about girls in peril, but instead is a “terrific antidote” to those common narratives, said film critic Sheila O’Malley. The director, Céline Sciamma, “is more interested in how girls figure things out than in the many ways girls can go wrong,” O’Malley said.

4 p.m. – THE SON OF THE SHEIK (1926), this year’s silent film and the last starring silent-era heartthrob Rudolph Valentino. The plot involves Valentino’s character falling in love with a dancing girl, after which he comes to believe she has betrayed him and then seeks revenge. Valentino also displays his athletic skills through stunt work as an equestrian. The three-man Alloy Orchestra will provide live accompaniment, using its “rack of junk,” electronic synthesizers and other instruments. The score will be one they composed and performed for a restored print of the film.

8:30 p.m. – A BRONX TALE (1993), a drama set in 1968 in an Italian-American Bronx neighborhood, about a teenage boy and the two men attempting to shape his life – his father, played by Robert De Niro, and a gangster named Sonny, played by Chazz Palminteri. The screenplay was written by Palminteri and the film was directed by De Niro, in a first-time effort. The film is “filled with life and colorful characters and great lines of dialogue,” said Ebert in his 1993 review, and De Niro “finds the right notes as he moves from laughter to anger to tears.” Palminteri and producer Jon Kilik will be guests.

Saturday, April 18

11 a.m. – WILD TALES (2014), a multi-story film from Argentina that would appear to live up to its title. It was nominated for a 2015 Oscar for best foreign language film, and won last year’s Academy Award for best film in Argentina. Its six stories are united by a “mordant black humor” and a common theme of deadly revenge and retribution, and the whole is “relentlessly clever and entertaining,” said film critic Godfrey Cheshire. “Each segment sets up expectations that its successor ingeniously fulfills or surpasses.” Casting director Javier Braier and actress Julieta Zylberberg will be guests, along with Sony Pictures Classics Co-President Michael Barker.

2 p.m. – IDA (2013), a black-and-white Polish drama set in 1962, about an 18-year-old orphan and aspiring nun and the journey she takes with her one known relative, a worldly aunt seeking to learn how her Jewish parents died during World War II. Through their journey, revelations come about a dark time when people turned on their friends and neighbors. The film won the 2015 Oscar for best foreign language film, and critic Godfrey Cheshire calls it “riveting, original and breathtakingly accomplished on every level.” 

5 p.m. – THE MOTEL LIFE (2012), a drama and thriller about two brothers, played by Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff, who are working odd jobs, drinking hard and drifting from motel to motel, when a hit-and-run accident causes them to flee across Nevada. Their lifeline through a stream of bad luck is escapist stories told by one brother and then sketched by the other, and pencil animations of their tales are woven into the film. The mood of the film is “so melancholy-thick that you ache to comfort these men,” said film critic Sheila O’Malley, yet it’s a film with “a very kind heart.” Director Alan Polsky will be a guest. 

9 p.m. – 99 HOMES (2014), the latest feature film from director Ramin Bahrani, an Ebert favorite who has had three previous films at the festival. This one takes an uncomfortable look at economic inequality and the Great Recession housing crisis through the story of a family evicted from their home in Orlando, Florida, and the realtor who is profiting from multiple foreclosures. Though the film deals with a social issue, it’s structured like a thriller, said film critic Brian Tallerico. And even though some eviction scenes are “gut-wrenching,” the film avoids a black-and-white portrayal, Tallerico said. Bahrani and actor Noah Lomax, who plays a son in the evicted family, will be guests.

Sunday, April 19

11 a.m. – SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION (2014), a documentary directed by BOYHOOD star Ethan Hawke about a classical pianist, Seymour Bernstein, who gave up a thriving career around age 50 for a more-reclusive life of teaching piano, composing and reflecting. The film “offers a moving meditation on creativity and the human spirit,” according to Los Angeles Times film writer Steven Zeitchik. “Bernstein is an anomaly in the modern world, particularly for performers; he’s interested in edification far more than glorification.” 

Roger Ebert was a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years and co-hosted movie review programs on television for more than three decades. He also was a 1964 Illinois journalism graduate and adjunct journalism professor.

The festival is an event of the College of Media at Illinois. Additional support is provided by the Champaign County Alliance for the Promotion of Acceptance, Inclusion & Respect; Steak ‘n Shake; and the U. of I.

Tickets for individual films will go on sale beginning April 1 through the theater box office (phone 217-356-9063; open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday) and online through the theater website (thevirginia.org). The price will be $14 each for regular admission and $12 each for students and senior citizens. Sales will be limited to four per person.

The 1,000 festival passes, covering all festival screenings, went on sale in November and usually sell out. As of this week, a few remained available, at $145 each.

Even if tickets for individual films are sold out, entrance can usually be obtained by waiting in a designated line that forms outside the theater prior to each screening.

The festival schedule also can be found at ebertfest.com, complete with reviews, information about other events and video retrospectives from previous festivals. Also available on the website at the time of the event will be live streaming of panel discussions at the U. of I. and the post-film Q-and-A sessions at the Virginia Theatre.

Those seeking additional information and updates on films, guests and festival events should contact Mary Susan Britt, at217-244-0552 or marsue@illinois.edu, or festival director Nate Kohn, at 706-542-4972 or nate.kohn@gmail.com.


Listen to “Daisy Dawn” by The Suede Chain

Feels like about 20 years ago, but here is a really great song by a Champaign band circa mid-late-ninties, The Suede Chain.

Also feels like it could have had a radio edit, but the strings are so well defined and the hook is so strong, it justifies its six-plus minute clock in.

Awesome tune. 



Books to Prisoners one-day sale on April 11th

From a press release:

Imagine a life without books.  For many Illinois prisoners that was a reality, as prison libraries closed due to a lack of funding for staff and books.  In 2004 U-C Books to Prisoners was organized locally to recycle donated books to prisoners in Illinois.  Since 2006, when Books to Prisoners started keeping computerized records, volunteers have sent 106,623 books to 31,002 inmates in Illinois facilities.  Books are sent in response to letters written by inmates. The letters are read by our volunteers who answer requests with books donated by people in our community. The most requested books are dictionaries. Books to Prisoners pays for postage and for packing materials through funds raised at books sales which are held twice per year in the spring and the fall. Shipping costs run about $800 per month.  Books to Prisoners also buys dictionaries, as we do not collect enough to keep up with demand.  Last year we spent $2500 on dictionaries and this year our costs are running ahead of that amount. We purchase paperback dictionaries because some prisons and our local county jails do not permit hardcover books and because hardcovers are heavier and more expensive to ship. In addition to sending books to prisons, Books to Prisoners staff and stock lending libraries in both the downtown Urbana jail and the newer satellite jail.

UC Books to Prisoners is sponsoring a used book sale for ONE day only, Saturday, 4/11/15 from 12pm-5pm. The sale will be located at the IMC in the downtown Urbana Post Office building at 202 S. Broadway. Admission is free. Children’s books $0.25, paperbacks $0.50 and hardbacks $1.00. UC Books to Prisoners is a not-for-profit project that provides recycled books free of charge to Illinois inmates and operates lending libraries at the local jails.  For more information check out the Books to Prisoners website at www.BooksToPrisoners.org. For questions or interview requests from news or ad outlets, Lolita Dumas, Volunteer Supervisor, can be reached at: 217-390-9290.


Unit 4 candidate forum sponsored by local unions

Next Tuesday, School Board Candidates Amy Armstrong, Jamar Brown, Azark Cobbs, Chris Kloeppel, Kerris Lee, Kathy Richards, Kathy Shannon, Jonathan Westfield, & Alissia Young will discuss issues that impact Unit 4 Teachers, Support Professionals, Students, and Families at the IBEW 601 Hall on 3301 Boardwalk Drive in Champaign. Candidates will be asked questions prepared by representatives from both Champaign Federation of Teachers Local 1925 and Champaign Education Support Professionals Local 0904, followed by a brief member Q&A session.

See the details below:


Longtime Illini PA announcer Mike Cation to leave

A reader dropped us a screen shot of this Facebook post from longtime Illini PA announcer Mike Cation:

It appears Cation is set to leave his post and that leads to the inevitable question: should the Illini bring back Jim Shepard? Or did you like Mike Cation and should we beg him to stay?


Fira Boutique launches new website

The Gregory Place boutique, Fira, has recently launched their new website, where you can browse through their collection, order online, and more. 

Anna Ragle has a pretty great thing going on over there, so check it out, as well as our piece on the shop from last fall. 

They also work with our friends at Accuraty, who help host this very magazine!

Fira is located at 700 S. Gregory Street in Urbana.


Heinz buys Kraft, one of Champaign’s largest employers

One of Champaign's largest employers, Kraft Foods, has been bought out by another food giant — Heinz Co. The merger will create one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world, and you can read all about it via Mashable below.

Though it's uncertain if anything will change drastically with the particular plant in Champaign, the article notes that Kraft's stock "jumped 26 percent" before the opening bell this morning.

From the Mashable article (via Associated Press):

H.J. Heinz Co. is buying Kraft Foods, creating one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world with annual revenue of about $28 billion.

The Kraft Heinz Co. will own Kraft, Heinz, Oscar Mayer, Ore-Ida and other brands. Eight of those brands have annual sales of $1 billion or more and five others log sales between $500 million and $1 billon every year.

The deal to bring together the two companies, each more than a century old, was engineered by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital. The two will invest another $10 billion in the new company.

Kraft Heinz will maintain headquarters in Pittsburgh, where Heinz is based, and also in the Chicago area, where Kraft resides.

Shares of Kraft jumped 26 percent Wednesday before the opening bell.

Kraft shareholders will receive stock in the combined company and a special cash dividend of approximately $10 billion, or $16.50 per share. Each share of Kraft will be converted into one share of Kraft Heinz.

Current Heinz shareholders will own 51 percent of the combined company, with Kraft shareholders owning a 49 percent stake.

Annual cost savings estimated to be $1.5 billion are expected to be booked by the end of 2017.

Buffett and 3G Capital snapped up Heinz in a deal valued at $23.3 billion two years ago.

"This is my kind of transaction," said Buffett in a printed statement. "Uniting two world-class organizations and delivering shareholder value. I'm excited by the opportunities for what this new combined organization will achieve."

Heinz CEO Bernardo Hees will become CEO, Alex Behring, Heinz chairman and managing partner at 3G Capital, will be chairman. Kraft CEO and Chairman John Cahill will become vice chairman.

The deal still needs a nod from federal regulators as well as shareholders of Kraft Foods Group Inc., but the boards of both companies unanimously approved it. The planned closing is set for the second half of the year.

Kraft Heinz plans to keep Kraft's current dividend per share once the transaction closes. Kraft has no plans to change its dividend before the deal is complete.

And yes, that's the big noodle from outside of the Kraft plant in Champaign, above.

In addition, here's another interesting tid bit:

And some commentary from C-U's own Tom Bruno:


Explore history at Furniture Lounge

It’s always interesting when shopping at a vintage or thrift store. The different eras represented amongst clothing, art, furniture, and literature show off a different time than the present. Whether the items were made in 2002 or 1952, there’s a different era revealed through style and substance.

In 2005 I bought a t-shirt at a vintage shop. Innocuous purchase, no doubt, but it said “Soccer Mom” on it. The wash of the grey color and the bold green font made it likely that the shirt was from the early 90’s. It looked like a t-shirt that started in the late 80’s and crossed over into 90’s fashion. Extremely short sleeves were part of the style.

I lost that shirt in college somewhere, but every once in awhile I would think about who had the shirt before me. It was a generic shirt, too. It would’ve been easier to create a backstory if the shirt had a soccer club’s logo or name on it. Was it a mother from the suburbs with multiple kids on the team that drove a minivan? Maybe it was a city mom, walking her kids down the street to the local fields to play against teams from local neighborhoods. My mind painted with specific brushes every time I thought about it.

The intimacy of acquiring something that someone has worn and used is really cool. As a university student, discovering vinyl records was a big deal and I knew a good number of friends that were handed down their parents’ collections and turntables. My dad’s kind of an audiophile and so when I got his Marantz turntable and Infinity speakers from when he was in college, I was geeked. The speakers ended up degrading to the point where they were unlistenable and the turntable was damaged after a break-in. It was a bummer, and the connection to those items was lost. Their life cycle ended, and with them the connection to the past (a dorm room at Millikin University to a dorm room at the U of I) ended.

The idea of keeping the life cycle going of vintage items is an important one. They’re peeks into the lives of our past selves. Instead of history books, they’re relics, artifacts to be cherished.

One of the coolest places to observe that appreciation for them and that willingness to keep the cycle alive is Furniture Lounge. Mostly mid-century modern, the artifacts at Furniture Lounge have backstories. Most of the stories are unknown to customers, but the idea that they can create one themselves and appreciate things that brought people joy or comfort in the past is exciting and necessary.

It's a really cool and hip shop, but Furniture Lounge is also a museum where everything is available to take home. It’s a shrine to the past, and it’s important that they’re a part of the fabric of Champaign.