FerrisbuellerWith the city of Chicago as a backdrop, Two River Theater brings the Illinoise during a three-weekend film festival that kicks off Friday with Ferris Bueller and friends.


We hear Chicago’s lovely this time of year. But if you’re unable to make it out to the warm windy city this summer, the folks at Two River Theater Company are grilling up a juicy, natural-casing ingot of Polish sausage for you.


We mean that literally. The kielbasa will snap and sizzle, and the “Chicago-style karaoke” will rattle and hum as the Red Bank performing arts center celebrates 12 Nights of Chicago, an event that’s not coincidentally timed with the extended residency at the Two River Theater by the Chicago-based Neo-Futurists and their hotly anticipated show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.

While that presentation takes place in the venue’s smaller “black-box” space, the building’s main auditorium will be the site of a screening series that offers nine decade-spanning spools of celluloid — each of them filmed or set in Chicago — under the umbrella title The Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow Film Festival.

ChicagoRenee Zellweger squints in the spotlight, in the musical known as Chicago.

When that old cow allegedly kicked over the lantern that started the Great Chicago Fire, she didn’t know that she was marking her owner with a stigma for life; nor was she aware that the lore and legend of broad-shouldered, hog-butcher-to-the-world Chicago would become the source of endless fascination for Hollywood’s magic-lantern industry.

It’s a fascination that runs through the filmographies of directors from John Hughes to David Mamet, with actors ranging from John Malkovich and John Cusack to Jim Belushi and Ed O’Neill doing their part to embody various aspects of the Chicago-guy thing.

The cowfest is also a pet-project swan song from Guy Gsell, the Two River Company managing director who recently left for a new gig in Manhattan, although not before issuing the statement that Chicago-themed movies are “the kielbasa of cinema.”

Beginning July 11 and continuing through July 26, the series presents a different film each Friday at 9p, as well as Saturday evenings at 7p and 9p. Admission is $8 per person ($5 if you happen to be a season subscriber to Two River), which means that you’ll be able to peel your sticky flesh from the home-theater viewing chair and take in a whole double-feature program on Saturdays for less than you’d shell out for any one of the various non-Happenings that infest the multiplexes like sand fleas this time of year.

Friday: It’s the 1986 John Hughes comedy that made Matthew Broderick briefly cool (and Nixon-administration securities analyst Ben Stein briefly funny). It’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, in which our favorite aging teen smart-aleck improvises a day of adventure against a 1980s-shiny backdrop of the writer-director’s beloved burg.

Saturday: The saga of the O’Leary clan, in all its completely fictional glory, was realized onscreen by Darryl F. Zanuck with In Old Chicago, climaxing with a stupendous-colossal fire sequence that predates GWTW‘s burning of Atlanta by a couple of years. Don Ameche, who you might recall from latter-day roles in Cocoon and Trading Places, costars with Tyrone Power and Alice Faye (and look fast for Hollywood human oddity Rondo Hatton). In 1993’s The Fugitive, Harrison Ford grimaces his way through a manhunt travelogue update of the 1960s TV series, with Tommy Lee Jones managing to slyly steal every scene he’s in.

July 18: Speaking of scene stealers, Jack Black turned in a true star-making turn in 2000’s High Fidelity, although it somehow didn’t pan out to Hollywood paydirt for Bruce Springsteen (his cameo remains his sole dramatic effort to date). Actor-producer-screenwriter John Cusack stars as a list-obsessed record store owner who finds his romantic life a bit more difficult to categorize in this funny adaptation of a British novel, and even if the references tend to date the film around the edges, the knowing take on pop-cultural snobbery makes this one well worth another look.

Theuntouchables_2Brian De Palma’sThe Untouchables comes on like gangbusters in a July 19 double feature at Two River Theater.

July 19: It’s dueling Capones! Jason Robards plays the original Scarface in the 1967 Roger Corman effort The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, with drive-in king Corman recycling the leftover blood from his Vincent Price/Poe flicks, and importing a couple of his biker-movie regulars (Bruce Dern and Jack Nicholson) for small parts. A doughy Robert De Niro rules the roost as the ultimate Al Capone in the 1987 blockbuster The Untouchables, directed by big-budget vulgarian hack Brian De Palma and co-starring the Oscar-winning Sean Connery (as well as Kevin Costner “before he became a Hollywood untouchable himself,” in the words of the Two River press release). Dumb and obvious as the picture is, there’s no denying that all involved were at the top of their game here in what’s rightly become a crazy classic.

July 25: The late John Belushi‘s screen career never amounted to much, and Dan Aykroyd seems to have finally gotten the hint that people only ever really liked his co-stars. But for one brief tarnished moment, 1980’s The Blues Brothers made it look like SNL skits might somehow translate to celluloid in style. Here’s another one that’s worth leaving home to catch on the big screen, with some sharp musical numbers by Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and James Brown; lots of grim Chicago slum scenery and some of the finest-ever car-chase destruction committed to film, staged by master of mayhem John Landis before somebody really got hurt on Twilight Zone: the Movie.

July 26: It wasn’t supposed to work out this way, but director Rob Marshall‘s 2002 adaptation of the Broadway favorite Chicago managed to scoop up an armful of Oscars and temporarily revive the moribund screen musical genre on the backs of a decidely un-musical cast (Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and John C. Reilly).

It’s paired on the final night of the film series with an oldie inspired by the same story: the 1942 Roxie Hart, with Ginger Rogers and Adolphe Menjou supported by a rogues gallery that includes Phil (Sgt. Bilko) Silvers, Bill (Fred Mertz) Frawley and Nigel (Dr. Watson) Bruce.

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