Posts tagged 2016 Holiday Movies
MOVIE REVIEW: A Monster Calls

J.A. Bayona’s film, based on the 2011 novel of the same name and adapted for the screen by the author himself, Patrick Hess, operates with a similar dichotomy and balancing act with its genre.  “Fantasy” and “genuine” are two words that do not normally mix together.  “A Monster Calls” creates an engrossing tale of allegory and myth and still roots it in a setting of stark reality filled with family and flaws.  

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MOVIE REVIEW: Live by Night

Every winning streak has to end to some time.  “Live by Night” will go down as the first “L” in the loss column for Ben Affleck as a film director.  After climbing to the top of the mountain with the trio of “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town,” and the Oscar parade of “Argo,” there was nowhere to go but down, but this newest film is a little more than down.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Silence

But all of those lofty intentions will not be automatically transcendent for everyone.  Let me say it like this as delicately as I can.  The level of your Christian faith, or lack thereof, will formulate your reaction, appreciation, or acceptance of “Silence.”  It is an agonizing personal test for an audience, just the same as it is for the characters on screen.  This will either be a soul-rattling testament or maddening torture.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Fences

Movies are an offspring of plays.  What started on theater stages can now step into a wider world.  Locations can remove the boundaries and improve an immersive story, but the human performances are still what matters most.  Words have power regardless of setting.  “Fences,” directed by Denzel Washington, is one of the finest and most seamless examples of the power of performance being translated from the stage to the screen.

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GUEST CRITIC #19: Office Christmas Party

Say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Jake and Kimberly Narens!  Kim is a former co-worker of mine from back in the day.  She was the art teacher and I was a fourth grade teacher at the Lloyd Bond campus of Chicago International Charter Schools during its inaugural school year in 2009-2010.  We have both moved on to other jobs since then and also become first-time parents.  While I am still in Chicago, she and her husband now call the sultry heat of Chandler, Arizona home.  I'm guessing they don't miss shoveling snow.

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MEDIA APPEARANCE: Guest on "Kicking the Seat" podcast talking "Passengers"

Several Chicago film critics got together earlier this week for a "year-end" roundtable hosted by Ian Simmons for his "Kicking the Seat" site and podcast.  We had just gotten out of an advance screening for "Passengers" and were brimming with positive and negative opinions that couldn't be contained, creating a second reason for Ian to turn on the mics and recorders.  Enjoy Ian, Emmanuel Noisette of Eman's Movie Reviews, Harold Egbo, David Fowlie of Keeping it Reel, and myself as we challenge the gravity and go on a trip for "Passengers."

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MOVIE REVIEW: Passengers

Mixing romance with science fiction always seems to be a dodgy proposition of preposterousness.  The emotionality of love is not something readily explained by science, unless some smarty pants cites neurotransmitters, adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin.  The marketing and publicity push of “Passengers,” starring the hot ticket names of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, want you believe that you’re stepping into “Titanic in Space.”  Hey now, come out of hyperdrive or drop out of warp speed (your choice, fellow geeks) and pump your space brakes!  The only apt comparison between “Passengers” and “Titanic” is the metaphorical sinking.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Sing

The new animated musical “Sing” from Illumination Entertainment bills itself as containing more than 85 memorable tracks from legendary performing artists and one new original song collaboration from Ariana Grande and Stevie Wonder.  When you divide the 110 minutes of the film by 86 songs, that averages out roughly to one song every 78 seconds.  A mashup like that plays well as a recurring Jimmy Fallon/Justin Timberlake bit on late-night television, but it’s exhausting and tiresome when stretched to nearly two hours.

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MOVIE REVIEW: La La Land

In front of and behind the camera, you will find creative people that deftly understand and properly tap into the spirit and flavor of the classic genres and eras they are blending.  Breathing jazzy life into a Hollywood musical set in the present day of Priuses and iPhones, Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to “Whiplash” is a modern cinematic masterpiece.  It is the kind of film where you will remember where you were when you first saw it.  You will not find a more jubilant, romanticized, or flat-out entertaining film this year.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Collateral Beauty

As entertainment, movies are an ideally suited artistic medium to motivate or stimulate emotional responses.  The smartly composed narratives among them can pull that off naturally.  Others force it.  When such happens, manipulation replaces motivation.  For an example, look no further than “Collateral Beauty” starring Will Smith and directed by David Frankel.  It is one of the most egregious miscalculations of filmmaking and marketing in recent memory.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Rogue One

Lags of preparation and mounting conflict aside, there is more than enough big-screen excitement infusing the gravitas that give way to pathos.  "Rogue One" smoothly delves into an untold narrative while providing clever and catchy callbacks and nods to the expanded universe we know is on the other side of the horizon.  Fleshing out key history, “Rogue One” instantly becomes an indispensable companion piece to “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.”  Watching this mini saga and seeing the seeds it plants makes one appreciate the fruits of the 39-year-old classic’s triumphs even more.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Jackie

Mesmerizing describes the film as a whole and its incomparable lead performance from Academy Award winner Natalie Portman playing First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the immediate hours and days following her husband's 1963 assassination.  Far from a biopic and more of a psychological examination, Portman and Larrain sear the screen with emotion and imagery that is as captivating as it is difficult.  It is astonishing that it takes a foreign director to create the most empowering portrait of American history put to film in years.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Miss Sloane

In some political circles, “lobbyists” are the advocates that “get things done.”  In others, the job title is a dirty word than many are quick to refute or redefine.  When Hollywood screenwriters decide to lionize the role of the lobbyist, they hop on the #NastyWoman bandwagon, cast Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, and give you “Miss Sloane.”  For all of the sound bite talk about “draining the swamp” to kill the metaphorical mosquitoes, doing so leaves the carnivores behind.  Make no mistake, “Miss Sloane” showcases a true apex predator.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Manchester by the Sea

There is an unmistakable layer of “people-watching” cinema brings to its artistic atmosphere and aesthetic.  An omnipresent camera grants private points-of-view, shines light on secrets, and challenges the observational skills of the audience.  Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” introduces the wearisome life of one solitary man and proceeds to unearth the repressed sorrow and unspoken emotions that lie underneath his mundane exterior.  The most praiseworthy character-driven films have the patience to cultivate its truths with substance and the wisdom to never give you everything.  Lonergan’s near-perfect jewel is a new exemplar of such qualities and one of the finest films of 2016.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Moana

She may wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, but don’t you dare call Moana a “princess.”  The enterprising titular “chieftain’s daughter” is a breezy breath of warm Pacific air surging through a Mouse House built on castles, corsets, and crowns.  Promoting powerhouse diversity and pushing away the trappings of romance, “Moana” is a progressive step from Walt Disney Animation Studios carrying wonderful messages for young girls in a Millennial day-and-age that is too often obsessed with body image and glamour.  

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GUEST CRITIC #18: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Give a warm, Show-Me-State welcome to Mr. Shane Bowen.  Shane is a fourth grade teacher in the St Louis area.  Like so many educators (myself included), Shane flexes a creative muscle outside of the textbooks and paper-grading.  Mr. Bowen also writes novels as a hobby.  Shane recently started his own publishing company, Out the Window Books at www.outthewindowbooks.com.  This man has talent and knows the power of a good beer and a good movie.  Enjoy this review of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."

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VIDEO: Post-film reactions to "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"

Five of the best film critics Chicago has to offer from the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle may have dodged the high frame rate experiment of Ang Lee's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," but they still caught the full film. Enjoy the mixed reactions from Leo Brady, Jon Espino, Clint Worthington, Don Shanahan, and Jim Alexander!

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MOVIE REVIEW: Nocturnal Animals

The leap for every filmmaker is translating their creative eye to the cinematic medium.  Hitchcock’s feverish writing fed his mise-en-scene and attention to detail.  Spielberg grew his outdoor sense of adventure to the highest possibilities and beyond.  With an eye for the cultured human form and colorful finery, Tom Ford saturates every edge of his films with ornate style.  The man is never boring and neither is one iota of “Nocturnal Animals,” Ford’s second feature film and a cage-rattling psychological thriller.

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