CAPSULE REVIEWS: Feature films of the 5th Chicago Critics Film Festival
Over 40 feature-length and short films, many of which making their Chicago premieres, graced the main screen of the Music Box Theatre this past week-and-change as part of the fifth annual Chicago Critics Film Festival. The programming team of Chicago Film Critics Association combed the festival circuit from Sundance and SXSW on down to secure an outstanding slate of films. It was an honor and pleasure to be be granted press credentials to cover the event. Until the festival's films receive their full distributions and releases, here are my collected capsule reviews (ranked from best to worst) that will grow with new additions as they are completed. Keep an eye on the remainder of 2017 for future full reviews!
FEATURE FILMS AND DOCUMENTARIES
LUCKY-- 5 STARS
The directorial debut of long-time and highly respected character actor John Carroll Lynch (Jackie, The Invitation, Zodiac) is an excellently quaint and affecting treasure celebrating a more senior and even higher regarded supporting mainstay, 90-year-old Harry Dean Stanton. In a rare and perfect leading role for his stature, Stanton plays the titilar nicknamed war veteran, diner regular, and barfly slowly coming to grips with his own quickly approaching mortality. In "...if it hasn't killed me yet" fashion, the rough edges of this straight shooter melt away to a warm heart at the core as he looks into himself and his small-town connections. Lucky washes its salty kick with a soft finish, without a wasted spec of storytelling or patience.
MR. ROOSEVELT-- 4 STARS
Former Saturday Night Live cast member Noel Wells powers this endlessly bouncy and candid comedy as passion project's writer, director, and star. Wells plays a struggling L.A. actress who limps home to Austin, Texas to deal with the death of her cat, a very personal pet she used to share with her eclectic ex-boyfriend (Nick Thune) who is being buttoned-up by his new perfect girlfriend (Britt Lower). Part downward spiral and part liberating epiphany, Noel Wells absolutely goes for broke in all three facets of her creativity. This is an outstanding indie gem deserving of a bigger audience.
SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY-- 4 STARS
Over 60 interview subjects combine their musings to shed light on the breadth of the creative process film composers immersed themselves in to create the aural beating heart of a movie. Historical touchstones in Matt Schrader's documentary honor the history of film music, kissing the rings of Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, Alex North, John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, and more. As a complete sucker for film music (to the point of creating an "ultimate" baby lullaby playlist on the genre), this fairly stock in structure documentary was an easy, delectable, and appreciated little treat for me. It will have a theatrical run in June.
A GHOST STORY-- 3 STARS
Screening for the first time anywhere since its stirring debut at the Sundance Film Festival, the latest cinematic poetry from director David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Pete's Dragon) was the headlining closing night film of this year's festival. Reuniting Lowery with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, A Ghost Story did not disappoint in the provocative and evocative departments. As spellbinding as it is frustrating, I believe I saw what could be one of the most polarizing and divisive films of the year. No film in recent memory for me has required the amount of patience necessary to observe A Ghost Story, which may or may not be a good thing. Wholly unique and unconventional, be ready to see interpretations sway wildly between spiritual epiphany and head-scratching quandary. This film has to be seen to be believed.
MENASHE-- 3 STARS
Menashe, from the red-hot A24 Films (just like A Ghost Story), is touted as the first Yiddish language film in 60 years. It tells the sentimental struggle of widowed Brooklynite of the lower class trying to make ends meet and prove himself worth of raising his son along in the eyes of his wife's family and influential local religious leaders.