Film critic's notebook:
• Chicago's Music Box Theatre will host an advance screening of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 1 (opening in Chicago March 14), followed by an in-person Q&A with director/writer Wes Anderson. Wait, there's more! Anderson's features, shorts and commercials will be shown all next week. musicboxtheatre.com.
• Speaking of the Music Box, the theater will present a free screening of "Casablanca" at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, as part of Turner Classic Movies' 20th anniversary. Chicago is one of 20 cities getting "Casablanca." Yes, it's free, but you need tickets and you can get them at tcm.com/20.
• The Midwest Independent Film Festival presents the comedy "Awful Nice" at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, at the Century Centre in Chicago. It was shot in Branson, Mo., by director Todd Sklar, who will conduct a post-screening discussion. Go to midwestfilm.org.
• Join me and Buffalo Grove film historian Raymond Benson as Dann & Raymond's Movie Club presents: "How He Got in My Pajamas, I'll Never Know! -- The Great Comedy Films From the Silents Through the 1950s." It's at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 6, at Schaumburg Township District Library, 130 S. Roselle Road, Schaumburg. Clips from "Duck Soup," "Some Like It Hot," "City Lights" plus 12 others. Free admission. stdl.org.
• A special program of Academy Award nominees for live-action and animated film shorts is already sold out this weekend at the Catlow Theater in Barrington. So the Catlow will show its shorts again from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 8. The Catlow, a theater so beloved by its patrons that it took them only a week to collect $100,000 to finance a digital projection system, presented the Oscar shorts last year -- and predictably sold out. For tickets and info, go to catlowtheater.com.
• A special longer cut of the R-rated "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" featuring 763 new jokes will open this weekend for a one-week run at 1,000 theaters.
Dann: I enjoyed your column in this past Friday's Time out! While I appreciate your position on the Best Picture Oscar between "Citizen Kane" and "How Green Was My Valley" my vote would go to "How Green Was My Valley." You acknowledged that "Valley" was also a great movie. I acknowledge the same about "Citizen Kane."
This just comes down to a preference and perhaps which film touched you more. Now If I stated "Jackass" was the best, I would expect a deserved tongue lashing.
I concur with your feeling that "Out of Africa" winning the best picture Oscar over "Color Purple" was a farce. Here are some of my other pics for movies that were cheated by the Academy voters:
"Titanic" over "L.A. Confidential." "Shakespeare in Love" over "Saving Private Ryan." "Terms of Endearment" over "The Right Stuff."
I consider this as the worst injustice of all time. "Terms" was a mediocre soap opera as predictable as the outcome would be if you decided to walk up to a Chicago cop and slap him in the face. "The Right Stuff" has not lost an iota of its value from its release date. I believe the Academy was in love with "Terms" popular stars.
I presume you also wrote the inset, which included a statement that Marlon Brando was the most influential actor of the 20th century. While he was amazing in "The Godfather," I believe his most important legacy was the advent of mumbling lines, which has too often been imitated.
Also, I would not consider him as our greatest actor especially after seeing his portrayal of Mr. Christian in the 1962 version of "Mutiny on the Bounty." I'm sure you've seen both Charles Laughton and Mel Gibson in the same role both of which left Brando's version in the dust. -- Jim Recchia, Geneva
Jim: Thank you for this wonderful letter! (That I agree with it probably influenced that adjective.) Of all the Best Picture injustices, I must concur that "Terms of Endearment" trouncing Philip Kaufman's masterpiece "The Right Stuff" was the unkindest cut of all.
That Brando was our greatest film actor can be debated, based on what movie you're discussing. I wrote that Brando was our "most influential" film actor, and I am willing to defend that call because of how his naturalistic approach to characters reshaped the profession overnight. (Jack Lemmon was one of the few actors who didn't show up for auditions mumbling dialogue in torn T-shirts and jeans during the 1950s. I have wondered if Brando's influence actually did a favor for the Jack Lemmons of Hollywood.)
Thanks for writing, Jim. -- Dann
Dann: I really admire your critiques, which were often the opposite of Ebert's. A more recent travesty was "Hurt Locker" over "Avatar," a technology advancement in the same class as sound and color, plus an intriguing and original story. I console myself with a reminder the Oscars is a popularity contest heavily influenced by Hollywood cliques. -- Jim Tuttle, Barrington
Jim: It's funny you mention "Avatar," because we have a similar scenario unfolding at the Oscars this weekend. "Gravity" (also a single-word title) is the technologically cutting-edge work up against "12 Years a Slave," a more conventional motion picture. We'll see if history repeats itself. Oscar history anyway. Thanks for the email. -- Dann
Mini-review: 'Kids for Cash'
Robert May's "Kids for Cash" isn't merely a documentary recounting the outrageous scandal about a Pennsylvania judge who tossed kids in the clinker for minor offenses, then collected cash kickbacks from privatized juvenile detention centers.
"Kids for Cash" plays out like a modern ancient Greek tragedy, with Judge Mark Ciavarella as the powerful community leader toppled by his own fatal weakness, here, hypocrisy, as in his inability to recognize the corruption in his own conduct and judgment.
A tough, popular, no-nonsense judge, Ciavarella hands out jail sentences to adolescents convicted of crimes such as being snippy on a website page or being rowdy on the school grounds.
May goes through testimonials from parents and teens whose lives have been tainted, if not ruined by their "criminal" records. One shocking revelation follows another, but perhaps none tops our slow realization that Ciavarella and his cohort Judge Michael Conahan defiantly defend their actions as honorable, ethical and necessary.
The scary part: The judges grant May full access to themselves because they're convinced they have nothing to hide. And they don't even feel the need to hide it.
"Kids for Cash" begins with a crawl telling us that 193 countries ratified the United Nations' "Convention on the Rights of the Child." The U.S. joined Somalia and South Sudan in declining to sign it.
Here, May provides a bleak look at the consequences when a nation fails to be an advocate and a protector of its own children.
"Kids for Cash" opens at the River East 21 Theater in Chicago. Rated PG-13 for language. 102 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½
• Dann Gire's Reel Life column runs Fridays in Time out!