Posts in 4 STARS
SHORT FILM REVIEW: Loyalty

As a school teacher by day beyond this role as a film critic, let me say that there can never be enough messages sent about the troubling epidemic of bullying. All are necessary. All are helpful. We need every personal testimonial. We need every pamphlet. We need every artistic measure of expression that can gather attention, provoke thoughts, and change a few hearts. The Chicago-made short film Loyalty from filmmaker Ira Childs is one of those necessary contributions. The short recently played at the 25th Black Harvest Film Festival at the Siskel Center.

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VINTAGE REVIEW: The Untouchables

History and popularity have been kind to Brian De Palma’s crime movie achievement. The American Film Institute nominated the movie in five categories (Movies, Thrills, Hero, Villain, Film Score, and Gangster Film) during its “100 Years” series last decade. Then and now, The Untouchables earned a city’s pride and spurred new popularity to the Capone legend. Its success also fueled a star’s rise (Costner), secured another’s lasting legacy (Connery), and reminded audiences just how sharply talented its steward was. Once the end credits hit and Morricone plays us all out, you can also feel Brian De Palma channeling tough-guy Jimmy Malone with a “here endeth the lesson.”  The hitmaker never lost his edge.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Auggie

There is a fine line when using the verb “titillate.” Broadly, the word can simply mean “excite” or “thrill.” Taken more seriously, the word sharpens closer to “arouse” or “stimulate.” Context, ahem, is key. Auggie, the feature directorial debut of actor Matt Kane, walks that fine line of titillation and deftly blurs where to place its context on that line. This shrewd and stellar work creates a viewing effect in Auggie that tantalizingly bounces your comfort level between intimacy and voyeurism. This moral rattler deserves attention and praise as indie gem.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Ad Astra

That throbbing level of staggering aura occurring parallel to poignant familial intimacy in Ad Astra is remarkably captivating. This is an accomplishment of contemplative science fiction that is felt in your core as much as it pours wonderment in your eyes. The high concept space opera vibes and the melancholic musings have been stretched and exploited further in other cinematic offerings within this fictional discipline. Nevertheless, the sharpness of execution here is something to behold with plenty of profundity to absorb and impress.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Blinded by the Light

Hell no, you don’t have to be a superfan of Springsteen to enjoy Blinded by the Light, but it sure helps. Even if The Boss is not your ideal vibe, the sprightly emotions on-screen cannot help but target and trigger your own matching passionate feelings for whatever you revere that answers the questions of Lesson #1. Following the affable and lovingly-composed musical worship recently achieved by Yesterday earlier this summer, welcome to your next toe-tapping crowd pleaser to close the summer of 2019.

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REWIND REVIEW: Avengers: Endgame

Arriving on home media this week from Disney and Marvel Studios is their colossal blockbuster coda Avengers: Endgame starring everyone who’s everyone from the collective Marvel Cinematic Universe that has been built with tidy and patient blueprints since 2008. Time travel tropes aside, you couldn’t have asked for a better swan song of satisfaction than this big finish. Watch for it arriving in physical media form on store shelves Tuesday, August 13th after an extremely successful theatrical run. This is a pretty customary disc release, and one has to think Disney has something more complete, expansive, and expensive planned someday.

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VINTAGE REVIEW: Medium Cool

When Medium Cool reaches its history-witnessing climax at the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago, two crowd chants take over the urban soundscape. The first is a defiant “Hell no! We won’t go!” and the second is “The world is watching.” The observant cameras and microphones used by filmmaker Haskell Wexler preserved that spirited defiance for cinematic immortality. Fifty years after its release, the echoes of those unified shouts in Medium Cool still ring with relevance and importance today.  We’re not going anywhere, and people still fix their eyes on this film with shock and awe.

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SHORT FILM REVIEW: A Bad Feeling

Star Wars fans will quickly have their sensors triggered when they note the title of this short film from Charlotte Barrett and Sean Fallon. It is a nod to a running gag that is said as often in Star Wars films as the classic line “May the Force be with you.” The phrase alludes to a character’s audible dread and the heebie-jeebies warning of something awful, visible or invisible, on their horizon. The characters in those movie moments say it and mean it. In A Bad Feeling, the husband and wife central figures know their trouble, entirely feel it, but don’t announce their fears when they should.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Extra Innings

The expression “heart in the right place” is normally used as a smallish complement to counteract some obvious flaw or as a baseline pleasantry when something does not achieve its goal fully. Albert Dabah’s intensely personal independent film Extra Innings carries that expression with neither of those dismissive caveats. Its heart is indeed in the right place, with that position being right next to its soul. That soul is wearing cleats, a ball cap, a weathered glove, and a stirrup-ed uniform patrolling the grasses of center field on a baseball diamond on a sunny summer day.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable

The light produced by this documentary matches the inspirational shine of the subject herself. Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable is an admirable and impressive chronicle of its sunlit sporting world of “calculated chaos.” Over and over, with every step she takes forward as a woman and as a competitor, Bethany Hamilton remains undefined by the famous shark attack incident that claimed her left arm. Instead, her actions and stature make her the pillar very worth celebrating.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Wild Rose

Tattooed on the right forearm of Jessie Buckley’s Rose-Lynn Harlan character from Tom Harper’s Wild Rose is the phrase “three chords and the truth.” It is an homage (and clear naming inspiration) to the quintessential description and motto of country music coined by 1950s era songwriter Harlan Howard. In spite of that mainstream majority, we’ve got a girl from Glasgow, Scotland behind bars with those historic words permanently etched into her skin. Foreign soil be damned, the honesty and harmony of hardscrabble is alive and well in Wild Rose. Shouts of anger and tirades of tears fuel the fights and the vocals churning from Jessie Buckley in what will stand as one of the finest performances of the year.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Yesterday

t takes quite a unique movie, dare I say even a special one, to take an absolutely preposterous concept and make it wholeheartedly joyful with extra whimsy. Know ahead that it is pure farce and fantasy, right there with something like Penny Marshall’s Big. Brush off the eye-rolling salt and you will find beaming smiles of sugar. That is the kind of serendipitous territory this movie zips through for the love letter of love letters to great music and the connecting pop culture we cherish.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Starfish

The opening credits of Starfish may drop the “based on a true story” prompt, but every moment of this twisty science fiction slow boiler feels like the filmed account of a racing mind. Rather than dwelling on footholds to societal norms, isolation reigns here, with all of the flutters, visions, shifts, daydreams, and nightmares possible. Dangling the mysteries of the fallout from an off-screen cataclysmic event, the mental maelstrom of Starfish is eerie, imaginative, and highly impactful.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Plus One

Here in June, our 2019 calendar has reached the peak of the annual wedding season. Some love it. Some hate it. Some are even participating. No matter where you sit, it’s a roller coaster for all ages. The traditions of nuptials and romantic comedies are keenly and boisterously observed and challenged by Plus One, the feature film debut of the writing and directing team of Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer that premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Every moment to cringe and every moment to cherish swirl together with very appealing zest. Plus One plays locally in the Chicagoland area exclusively at the AMC Barrington 24 location starting on June 14th.

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SHORT FILM REVIEW: How Does It Start

In the provocative short film How Does it Start, a young teen girl in 1983 named Rain, played by Lola Wayne Villa, has been introduced to topic of sex without such positive elder counsel. The wheels have turned. The curiosities have sparked. The peers have stoked the fire. The triggers have all gone off and this girl wants the mystery of what has been made out to be so taboo and important to growing up as a real woman.

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REWIND REVIEW: Captain Marvel

Arriving on home media this week from Disney is their glowing smash hit Captain Marvel starring Academy Award winner Brie Larson and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.  The film itself is a forthright winner for introducing this powerful and important new character and the disc release gives us a little peek as to how it all came to be.  Keep an eye out on store shelves Tuesday, June 11th to pick up your copy in 4K, Blu-ray, or both. Here’s a quick advance look at what the home edition has to offer, just as long as you can wait through a quick period-accurate Windows 95 loading screening (nice touch).

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: The Biggest Little Farm

Sometimes the craziest ideas become the most fulfilling ones when they come to fruition. In 2010, wildlife cameraman John Chester and his private chef wife Molly decided to merge their interests and turn their lives upside-down. Combining his respect for nature with her excitement for food, the Chesters gave up city living in Los Angeles to move an hour north and start a true traditional farm that exists harmoniously with nature. In the hands of an artist and filmmaker, The Biggest Little Farm takes would look like a capricious and half-hearted whim fit for a green reality show on basic cable and turns the the documented endeavor something ambitious, important, and miraculous.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Still Human

Those lines are a screenwriter’s dream of created sentiment. As doubtlessly as it could sting a nose on its directness, the moment squeezes tear ducts easily too. In this case, the sincerity is earned by Still Human’s meaningful journey and the dedicated performances of the leads. Director Oliver Siu Kuen Chan’s debut feature is the epitome of the genuinely genteel washing crassness away. The spirit-affirming foreign entry debuts locally in Chicago for a run at the Gene Siskel Film Center starting on May 13th.

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