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CIFF 2020: The Road Up & City So Real

October 29, 2020


Each year at the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) there are Chicago films to be discovered in the lineup, mixed in with all the ones that come from different countries. They could be narrative features set in the Windy City or documentaries that showcase the people who live there, often times providing a true representation of a people who are misrepresented, overlooked, or disregarded. It makes sense considered the name and location of the festival and as much as I do my best to seek out films from other lands, I realize that as a Chicagoan the stories that take place in my proximity should not be ignored. In fact, I feel compelled to seek out such films to be reminded or enlightened about the city I live in. Read more…

CIFF 2020: Bad Hair & I Am Greta

October 26, 2020


As is often the case, this year there were films included on the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) line-up that also happened to be making their streaming debut during the run of the festival. In the past, films that were screened during the festival were also making their theatrical release at the same AMC theatre that housed the festival. That often made for a disappointing inclusion in the line-up since one would hope that a film festival would be the first time to see the films presented, but since CIFF is one of the last of the large film festivals before the year ends, it makes sense that this would happen with some of the films presented. That being said, things are different this year… Read more…

THE PLANTERS (2019) review

October 23, 2020


written by: Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder
produced by: Alexandra Kotcheff, Hannah Leder and Jacqueline Beiro
directed by: Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder
rated: not rated
runtime: 78 min.
U.S. release date: October 23, 2020 (virtual cinema/Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL) & December 8, 2020 (limited)


It’s not always fair to describe a film by comparing it to other films (although it can be fun or challenging), but sometimes it’s the best why to give others an idea of what’s in store for them, but just because “The Planters” lands somewhere between a Jared Hess movie or the films of Wes Anderson, doesn’t mean it’s exactly like them. The term “quirky” is used ad nauseum to describe Anderson’s films, so I’d prefer not to add that descriptor to this unusual and whimsical comedy that comes to us from the minds and energy of Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder, a duo with great chemistry who not only portray the two leads, but they also served as writer and  producers. Read more…

CIFF 2020: David Byrne’s American Utopia & Kubrick by Kubrick

October 19, 2020


October has long been the month that cinephiles expect the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) to arrive in the Windy City and this year is so different. You expected to read “no different”, didn’t you? Well, just like many other arts-oriented events have had to rethink things, adapt and improvise with the year that 2020 has turned out to be, the organizers of this annual festival – which runs from the 14th through the 25th – have had to change things up in a massive way. Read more…

DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD (2020) review

October 2, 2020


written by: Kirsten Johnson and Nels Bangerter
produced by: Katy Chevigny
directed by: Kirsten Johnson
runtime: 89 min.
U.S. release date: October 2, 2020 (Netflix)


Writer/director Kirsten Johnson loves her father and that’s why she is killing him over and over again in her new documentary “Dick Johnson is Dead”. Relax. It’s all in fun, plus her father is in on it. In a touching tribute to and creative celebration of her father, a good-natured and jovial octogenarian who’s dementia diagnosis is deteriorating him to an inevitable end, what Johnson creates is a sweet and poignant love letter and in doing so creates a space for the filmmaker to release her own anxiety about losing someone she loves dearly. Read more…

ENOLA HOLMES (2020) review

September 29, 2020


written by: Jack Thorne (screenplay), Nancy Springer (novel)
produced by: Millie Bobby Brown, Paige Brown, Ali Mendes, & Mary Parent
directed by: Harry Bradbeer
rated: PG-13 (for some violence)
runtime: 123 min.
U.S. release date: September 23, 2020 (exclusively on Netflix)


“I have kept every clipping of every case of yours I could ever find… and yet it took our mother’s disappearance to bring you home.”


In an entertainment landscape littered with remakes and reboots, sequels, prequels, and re-quels, not to mention re-imaginings, re-interpretings, re-contextualizings, and retconning, it’s easy to get cynical about new spins on old standbys. These trepidations come boiling to the surface when one hears about “Enola Holmes,” a story that wonders what it might be like if Sherlock Holmes had an equally clever younger sister. Read more…


September 27, 2020


written by: Hugh Schulze
produced by: Brian Hieggelke and Jan Hieggelke
directed by: Hugh Schulze
rated: not rated
runtime: 99 min.
U.S. release date: September 25, 2020 (virtual cinema, Showplace Icon Theatres & Music Box Theatre)


Dreams can be so real, they feel cinematic at times. I’ve had dreams where the lighting and production design was simply stunning and I wound up mad that I woke up, wishing to get lost in that nocturnal movie I was the star of. Sometimes the people that show up in our dreams as supporting players are our friends and family members and sometimes they’re people we’ve met only in passing, maybe on the bus or train. All this came to mind while watching writer/director Hugh Schulze’s “Dreaming Grand Avenue”, a dramedy with a fantasy sheen and a social conscience. That description may seem odd and a bit lofty, and while Schulze’s screenplay doesn’t necessarily spin all his plates in a wholly satisfying manner, he also doesn’t break any plates in the process. Read more…


September 24, 2020


produced by: Kathryn Clinard, Leigh Howell, Bonnie Lafave, Katie O’Rourke, Nathalie Rosa, Greg Sorin & Ingmar Trost
directed by: Ric Burns
rating: not rated
runtime: 111 min.
U.S. release date: September 25, 2020 (virtual cinema)


If you don’t think you know who Oliver Sacks is, yet you’ve seen Penny Marshall’s 1990 drama “Awakenings”, then you have an idea who is and what he’s done. That Oscar-nominated drama was based on Sack’s 1973 memoir of the same name and starred Robin Williams as a fictionalized version of the British neurologist at a time in his life when he was treating catatonic patients in a Bronx hospital. The new documentary, “Oliver Sacks: How Own Life”, reminded me that “Awakenings” was inspired from real life and after watching it I felt awakened myself, leaving with a better understanding and appreciation of who Sacks was. He may have died in 2015 at age 82, but director Ric Burns’ presents a fascinating and thoughtful man who is still impacting many today, and the way in which the voice of Sacks is incorporated throughout the documentary makes it seem like the physician and prolific author is indeed still alive. Read more…

ALONE (2020) review

September 18, 2020


written by: Mattias Olsson
produced by: Jordan Foley, Mike Macari, Jonathan Rosenthal, Nick Smith, Thom Zadra & Henrik JP Åkesson
directed by: John Hyams
rated: not rated
runtime: 98 min.
U.S. release date: September 18, 2020 (virtual cinema, select theaters and VOD) 


The title is misleading. The woman at the center of this thriller is never truly “Alone”. Maybe a better title would be “Pursued” since that’s what happens to her from start to finish. Screenwriter Mattias Olsson wrote and co-directed (with Henrik JP Åkesson, who serves as on of many producers here) the 2011 Swedish film, “Gone” (or “Försvunnen”), a more appropriate title, which this Americanized version is based on. Olsson returns to pen this English-language redo, teaming with director John Hyams in an attempt to craft an suspenseful viewing experience, that barely offers any real unsettling moments or straight up thrills. It is essentially an abduction and survival tale that delivers mood over any real tension. Read more…

Interview with THIS IS PARIS director Alexandra Dean

September 15, 2020


With her latest documentary “This is Paris”, and her last one, “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story”, director Alexandra Dean has now made two films that take a look at popular albeit overlooked women, individuals who couldn’t possibly be considered intelligent due to their beauty and public persona. These films prove such perceptions are not only wrong, they’re also damaging. No one likes to be pigeonholed or stereotyped, but it happens all the time, especially to women in the spotlight. If they’re not disregarded, they’re mansplained or they get a label that sticks with them for a while, unfortunately. Read more…