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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with THE LOVERS and CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

There’s nothing quite like having some of the best actors available take a difficult subject matter and making sense of it, even if making sense of it reveal how painful life can be. In a rare big-screen appearance, Debra Winger plays Mary, who has been married to Michael (Tracy Letts) for so long that the two barely notice each other even in what passes for their most intimate moments. It turns out that Michael is having an affair with dance instructor Lucy (Melora Walters), who is on the verge of ending their arrangement if he doesn’t leave his wife. The occasion of his son’s upcoming visit from college seems like a good deadline for things, so he tells her that after his visit, he’ll drop the bomb on Mary.

One of the many twists in this scenario is that Mary is also having a passionate affair with Robert (Aidan Gillen), who is also eager to take their love to the next level (preferably one where she is no longer married). And she too decides the time has come to reveal the truth. The film’s cruelest turn happens when this couple, now each seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that is their marriage, suddenly notice each other once again and start falling for each other again. If this film had been made in the 1930s, it would have been a vicious and darkly funny romantic comedy of a sort that were fairly common at the time. But writer-director Azazel Jacobs (TERII, the HBO series “Doll & Em”) wants THE LOVERS to remind us that sometimes we ignore the greatest things in our lives when they are poised right before our eyes.

And the truth is, THE LOVERS is often quite funny—uncomfortably so, most of the time—especially in the way it portrays the couple’s behavior when they start to realize they still have feelings for each other. The arrival of their son, Joel (Tyler Ross), and his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula, recently seen in Split) only places a magnifying glass over the couple’s wounded relationship. Having an outside observer who is still very much impacted by their behavior shames them into coming clean and forces them to make choices about moving forward. It would be laugh-out-loud funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

I’m not sure a film has been made in recent years that captures what it means to be married in the modern era as effectively as this one, and it’s anchored by Winger and Letts in a way that we feel that if we let go of them, we’d be flung off our feet and into the abyss and stay lonely forever. THE LOVERS uses familiar relationships and situations to show us something we may never have noticed about human behavior and the way we love each other. It’s an extraordinary piece of filmmaking.

Nothing says the early days of early-summer moviegoing like a documentary about architecture. In fact, the latest from director Matt Tyrnauer (VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR) is more than just that; it details the long-running battle between two schools of thought on city planning—one that emphasizes clearing out slums and packing as many people into an area as possible versus another that believed that cities were there to serve the people and make life easier for them and not the cars that were simply passing through on their way to somewhere else.

CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY centers on the ideas and activism of Jane Jacobs, author of the definitive work on the subject “The Death and Life of the Great American Cities,” published in 1961, and consummate outsider in the male-dominated world of urban planning, whose king was New York building czar Robert Moses, who never missed an opportunity to designate a lower- or middle-class neighborhood a slum and often designated them for leveling to be replaced by impersonal high rises that often resulted in higher numbers of poor people forced to live on top of each other.

But Jacobs saw the value in old-fashioned low-rise apartments where people could actually gather on the sidewalks or streets and keep an eye on what was happening in the neighborhoods. She celebrated the personal touch and the belief that knowing one’s neighbor meant caring about one’s neighborhood. And yet, she was called a crackpot and put down for being a housewife activist, despite the psychological logic to her ideas on human interaction trumping big, open, impersonal spaces between monolithic dwellings.

CITIZEN JANE is told in a straightforward manner, using all manner of rare archival footage as well as interviews with modern architects, all of whom see the error in the old way of thinking and view Jacobs’ views as gospel that changed the world of city planning. The film gets even more interesting as Jacobs shifts from author to activist for individual New York neighborhood about to meet the wrecking ball, and as she saved one after the other, she became a community leader and savior of the common people against a corrupt system that took money from land developers and ignored tax-paying residents.

As you listen to Jacobs’ idea on city living, you’ll likely see examples of her philosophy in action all around you. A film like CITIZEN JANE feels quite timely as an illustration of common sense and the truth winning out of unbridled abuse of power. And without spoiling anything, it’s nice to see the side with the best ideas win definitively.

-- Steve Prokopy
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