“Mercury in Retrograde” Review- Michael Glover Smith’s film to premiere at Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival

Poster from "Mercury in Retrograde"
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Oakton Community College Announces its 4th Annual Pop-Up Film Festival 

November 28th– December 1st, 2017

Oakton Community College announces its 4th annual Pop-Up Film Festival, programmed and hosted by Chicago filmmaker, film critic and professor Michael Glover Smith. The festival will present three acclaimed American features and three short films for free at the Footlik Theatre, 1600 E. Golf Road, Des Plaines on November 28th-December 1st, 2017. The film festival is sponsored by the educational foundation of Oakton Community College. All films will feature Q and A’s afterwards with filmmakers, actors and local critics/ film experts.

Films to be shown include:

Signature Move, 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28

Porto, 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29

Mercury in Retrograde, 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30

Women in Danger, 12:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1

From “Signature Move”

MERCURY IN RETROGRADE, a locally made relationship drama, will have its Chicago area premiere at the 4th Annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival in Des Plaines on November 30, 2017 at 2:00pm. It won the Best Narrative Feature award at the Full Bloom Film Festival.

Written and directed by Chicagoan Michael Glover SmithMERCURY IN RETROGRADE is set in Chicago and southwest Michigan, stars actors Roxane Mesquida, Najarra Townsend, Andrew Sensenig, Kevin Wehby, Alana Arenas of Steppenwolf, Jack C. Newell and Shane Simmons, who also produced the film with Kevin W. Wright. It was shot by Jason Chiu and edited by writer/director Frank V. Ross.

Townsend, Arenas, Newell, Simmons, Wehby and Smith will be present for a Q&A following the Oakton Pop-Up screening hosted by film critic Pam Powell.

MERCURY IN RETROGRADE focuses a laser-like scrutiny coupled with an artistic sensitivity upon three couples from Chicago vacationing together for a weekend at a lakeside cabin in Michigan. Thrown together in unusually close intimacy with their friends and partners, each individual develops some strong connections, exhibits the effects of underlying stressors and shares secrets that lurk just below the surface. While the men play a form of frisbee/golf, they demonstrate their competitiveness and self confidence- or lack thereof- naturally, as it were. Later, however, while the women are out (and one is acting out) at a bar, the men are likewise drinking and dissecting Dashiell Hammet’s masterpiece, The Glass Key. Alcohol fuels repartee and, whether in the guise of analyzing Hammet’s characters, or simply spontaneously letting loose, the revelations pour forth. Not surprisingly, certain relationships later split-up along the fracture lines opened up for our inspection.

The movie is beautifully shot, the outdoor scenes clear and sharp, the indoor experiences effortlessly equalizing; none of the characters escapes the eye of the camera. The scenes where the separate couples are alone together are startlingly realistic. Further, there is an overall restraint and respect used: while no important detail is spared, there is never an over-the-top deluge of “too much information”. It’s a fine and forceful presentation.

Writer/director Smith has been quoted as saying, “There’s something about the act of going on vacation that is conducive to allowing you to reflect on your life.” Paying attention to the nuances of that conductivity is a big part of this introspective film.



This reviewer had the opportunity to pose questions to Smith after seeing the film; the inquiries and his responses follow:

Davy: If it’s true that “most of directing is actually casting”, which of your actors brought your scripted characters to life and which actually recreated the characters by the force of their craft?

Smith: I feel very blessed that I had such a stellar ensemble cast for MERCURY IN RETROGRADE. We had a detailed shooting script that was 109 pages long but all of the actors had strong points-of-view about who their characters were and they all brought a lot to the table in terms of making these characters come to life. The biggest change was probably that the character of Isabelle was written as an American woman but ended up being played by the great French actress Roxane Mesquida. In the original script, Isabelle seems bitter because she’s in an unhappy relationship but Roxane ended up making a lot of references to French culture and her upbringing in Le Pradet, which I think turned her portrayal into a mind-blazing chronicle of homesickness and alienation. Likewise, Najarra Townsend, who plays Peggy, has a very long and difficult monologue at the end of the film. We shot that on the final day and Najarra told me she wanted to put the monologue, which was originally more abstract and poetic, into her own words and make it more of a “narrative.” At that point, I felt she knew the character better than I did so I told her to go for it. There was also no indication in the script that Alana Arenas, who is a Steppenwolf Ensemble Member and has lots of theater experience, was supposed to cry while listening to Peggy’s monologue but that’s exactly what happened when we were on set. Those women played off of each other so beautifully. The same thing goes for the guys: the climactic book-club discussion is really funny and wild. That scene was 14 pages in the script but when I met with the actors I told them that those pages were just a blueprint for what I wanted them to do; I said that all of their characters were going to reach a crisis point with their partners later that evening and I wanted their dialogue to somehow reflect what was going on in their relationships even while they were still ostensibly talking about the book. They all knew exactly what to do and they just did tremendous work in that scene.

Michael Glover Smith

Davy: You have been quoted as saying “There’s something about the act of going on vacation that is conducive to allowing you to reflect on your life”.
In this film, isn’t it equally as important who the characters have gone on vacation with?

Smith: Absolutely. I think the very act of going on vacation can test a relationship in a unique way. My first film, COOL APOCALYPSE, was all about how couples relate to each other during a typical day in their lives: you see them get up and go to work, have a lunch date with each other, then come home, have dinner and drinks, etc. With MERCURY, I wanted to show how couples relate to each other over an atypical weekend by having them go from their home in Chicago to this rural area in Michigan for a little getaway. There’s a sense that these characters, because they don’t have to go to work and are sort of forced out of their daily routines, are looking at their partners in a new and maybe more objective light. One of my favorite movies is JOURNEY TO ITALY with Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders. It’s the best movie ever made about marriage: they play a couple who travel from England to Italy to settle the estate of a deceased relative. It’s the first time they’ve left their home country together and there’s a sense that being in this foreign land causes them to take stock of their marriage and realize how truly unhappy they really are. I watch it every year and it always makes me cry and go crazy.

Davy: Based on what your characters are doing when the revelations flow, wouldn’t it be also accurate to say, “There’s something about drinking alcohol that is conducive to revealing secrets of your life?”

Smith: Of course! The fact that the big Saturday night conversations in our film are doused in alcohol is very important. People often use the fact that they were drinking as an excuse for something they’ve said or done that they regret but I don’t think alcohol makes anyone say or do anything that they don’t really want to say or do. It just makes them lose their inhibitions. The scene where Isabelle makes out with the redneck in the bar is a good example of that. Because alcohol is a “social lubricant,” it can be a very useful tool for a writer.

MERCURY IN RETROGRADE (105 min, 2017) – Thursday, November 30 at 2:00 p.m.

Footlik Theatre, 1600 E. Golf Road, Des Plaines

Admission to all screenings at the Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival  is FREE

From “Porto”

All photos courtesy of Oakton Community College/Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival


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