Posts tagged Chicago International Film Festival
MOVIE REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh’s new film puts prickly in the pastoral glazing its country charm with absolute acid every chance it gets.  Part stern crime drama and part small-town chicanery, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri displays the next level of McDonagh’s talent and potential.  Always the sharp storyteller since his roots on the Irish stage, McDonagh’s writing prowess elevates a premise that would fall flat as pure farce in other hands

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MOVIE REVIEW: Lady Bird

In her solo feature directorial debut, Greta Gerwig has stepped in and pushed this cinematic species tremendously forward with the dramedy Lady Bird.  The film destroys any notion of the “manic pixie dream girl” fakery.  Lady Bird is a cornucopia woven with striking candor and filled with delightful oxymorons artfully composed to challenge taboos and stereotypes. Let’s give each oxymoron a life lesson and a paragraph or two along the way.

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CAPSULE REVIEWS: The 53rd Chicago International Film Festival

The 53rd Chicago International FIlm Festival brings over 1,000 films of all genres and sizes to our fair city.  There are premieres aplenty, between those making their world, North American, or Chicago debuts.  Opening with a red carpet premiere of Marshall, peaking with the centerpiece of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, and closing with the Oscar contender The Shape of Water from Guillermo del Toro, the 53rd CIFF fills the AMC River East 21 for two weeks.  For the fourth year in a row, Every Movie Has a Lesson has been granted press credentials to cover the CIFF and here are my capsule reviews.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Liquid Truth

The discolored and dingy tile grout at the bottom of a swimming pool and the imagery effect of rippling water seen under the surface bending the images above perspective starkly symbolize the many warped dimensions of Liquid Truth.  The truth in the title is as slippery as the water in director Caroline Jabor’s simmering social commentary.  The film may be foreign from Brazil, but it typifies all too many social media ills that would explode in a parallel fashion here in this country.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Goodbye Christopher Robin

Simon Curtis’ Goodbye Christopher Robin is a cinematic quilt collecting experiences from many different narrative themes.  A few patches carry the pattern of biographical films, chronicling life’s highlights and lowlights within a well-to-do family and their hired caretaker.  Others carry the created images of a writer’s world-building legend.  The threads binding those quilt pieces are a woven blend of the barbed wire of post-traumatic stress disorder and the smoothly silken cords of childhood whimsy. The experience of snuggling up with the Goodbye Christopher Robin blanket of testimony and memories is as affectingly dramatic as it is comfortably warm.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Chasing the Blues

Chasing the Blues is a dark comedy through and through.  Director Scott Smith and his co-writer Kevin Guifoile crafted an engaging yarn of hijinks and hilarity.  Their narrative might feel like something out of a Coen brothers rough draft, but this film sides with a far less gonzo approach that suits its shrewder stature.  Like the musical genre at its core, patient storytelling is at the forefront.  Could it use a stiffer punch or two?  Maybe, but then it wouldn’t be the blue and not everything has to be shock cinema.  Waiting for the payoff in this tidy 77-minute film is an easy and worthwhile short hike to climb.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Marshall

Can you learn about a popular band by listening to their B-sides instead of their greatest hits?  Can you get a sense of the brilliance within a writer from their early drafts and not their published masterpieces?  Can you spot the traits of a future Hall of Fame sports legend solely by their work in college or the minor leagues before the professional ranks?  The answer to each is quite likely the same: sometimes, but not always.  Tally one in the sometimes column for  Reginald Hudlin’s Marshall and its biographical podium choice.

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MOVIE REVIEW: I, Daniel Blake

I, Daniel Blake is unabashedly a “bleeding heart” film on literal and figurative levels.  If this was a Hollywood film, it would be overrun with shouted speeches and orchestrational swells trying to manufacture emotional peaks.  Fluff like that is unnecessary if you have the right poetic realism,  For Loach, that’s second hand and he picks the right soapbox placement and thickness.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Trespass Against Us

When it comes to crime families in movies, any contenders and pretenders that want to be taken seriously are kissing the Corleone ring of “The Godfather” trilogy.  That’s not happening with the Cutler clan in Adam Smith’s “Trespass Against Us.”  As a mishmash of trailer park trash puffing their chests to operate with supposed principles, they occupy the polar opposite end of the glamorous spectrum of organized crime.  Call them an “Irish fugazi,” if you will, complete with their own membership rings and cracks in the hierarchy.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Lion

In a tonal shift from the trumpeted and showy norm of Oscar bait, “Lion” is yet another performance-driven dramatic film of 2016 entering this holiday season favoring prudence over theatrics.  The feature film debut of award-winning commercial director Garth Davis, is a love letter instead of a power ballad that delivers genuine emotional heft all on its own, without the need to manufacture it for the sake of a movie.

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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: 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: Hunter Gatherer

The micro-budgeted indie film “Hunter Gatherer” is the directorial debut of art director Josh Locy.  The filmmaker has cut his teeth creating the visual palettes of independent fare such as an art director on David Gordon Green’s “Prince Avalanche” and Peter Sattler’s “Camp X-Ray.”  His film, led by a charismatic performance from Andre Royo, shows the egotistical plight of a recently released con trying to reinsert himself in his old South Central Los Angeles neighborhood.  

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MOVIE REVIEW: Moonlight

I dare you to look into the painful eyes of the three ages of Chiron and their matching performers and not have your soul triple in weight.  The arc in "Moonlight" from the innocence of the little boy to the uncomfortable vulnerability hiding underneath the muscles and gold fronts of the hardened resulting adult is arduously moving on multiple levels.  Observing his difficulties forces you to absorb the conflict and inescapable trepidation that surrounds the shared character.  Pressing his heart to your own makes for one of the most moving and rewarding film experiences this year.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Middle Man

52nd Chicago International Film Festival U.S. Indies entry and presentation

“Middle Man” blends an acidic edge with showy panache that bleeds from every character, large and small.  Credit the devious fun of Crowley for the snappy dialogue that pops from each character.  The comedy is clever instead of coarse while maintaining its darkness.  Nearly every speaking part of this colorful cast of funhouse mirrors nails a zinger or two that fits right into that line of taste.

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CAPSULE REVIEWS: The 52nd Chicago International Film Festival

For the third year in a row, this website has been granted press credentials to cover the many facets of the 52nd CIFF.  I am targeting the U.S. Indies slate and will add selections from the Special Presentations, Black Perspectives, and World Cinema programs.  Most of these films are appearing either before or without distribution dates, meaning my reviews here will stay brief capsule form.  Come back to this page often and I will add films as I go!

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MOVIE REVIEW: 45 Years

Acting is more than just great lines and fancy speeches.  Some of the best elements of true performance come when the camera is on and no one is saying a word.  You won't find a better clinical example of that half of acting than from a 2015 film than in "45 Years" starring newly-minted Academy Award nominee Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.  You will see exactly why she earned her nomination.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Macbeth

51st Chicago International Film Festival Highlight special presentation

When you have a film adaptation of a William Shakespeare play as arresting, brawny, and commanding as Justin Kurzel's "Macbeth," one has to throw the theater snob rant out the window.  They are exactly like the "book is better than the movie crowd" only more under-served.   We get it.  No cinematic adaptation is ever going to satisfy everyone.  My advice is get over the nit-picking and soak in a movie and treat it as a different medium entirely than the static stage.  This new "Macbeth" is an event, not a play, and a darn good one.

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