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THE BETA TEST (2021) review

November 16, 2021


written by: Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe
produced by: Natalie Metzger, Matt Miller and Benjamin Wiessner
directed by: Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe
rated: not rated
runtime: 93 min.
U.S. release date: November 5, 2021 (in select theatres and available for rent on Google Play, Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube)


There’s a sudden and gruesome murder that occurs within the first five minutes of “The Beta Test” that found me wondering just what kind of movie I was about to view. I came to it cold, knowing only that the independent film had recently been in the lineup at the Chicago International Film Festival and it starred Jim Cummings (who also wrote and directed with his costar PJ McCabe), a multi-talent who has been one to watch since “Thunder Road” his first full-length feature was released back in 2018. Based on that opening, one might expect a horror flick, but what unfolds is a manic comedy thriller with bi-polar tendencies. While it’s one of those L.A. movies about the bizz, it’s certainly not yet another movie about movie-making and has themes and concepts that wind up being as overextended and contorted as its main character’s mental state. However, “The Beta Test” isn’t a simple breakdown of the film-industry in an online, digitally-saturated world, it’s more like a nervous breakdown of today’s Hollywood environment. It’s a reminder that a movie with a deplorable and unsympathetic lead character can be entertaining and mesmerizing, even if doesn’t always work. Read more…

CIFF 2021 – Any Given Day

October 22, 2021


Documentarians can be brave and bold with their perspectives and presentations, but when someone offers a subject or a story with honesty and vulnerability, their film stands out. Such is the case with director Margaret Byrne’s latest work, “Any Given Sunday”, a film that stands out not just because it presents and raw and real look at mental illness, how it is perceived and treated, but because Byrne chose to place herself amid her three subjects. She is including herself one with a history of mental illness, one who struggles to navigate each day. “Any Given Day” becomes quite a heartfelt and moving film due to that decision, as viewers will clearly see that Byrne is someone who understands how mental illness can take such a stronghold in a person’s life and make any given day a challenge. Read more…

CIFF 2021 – Hit the Road & Fabian: Going to the Dogs

October 14, 2021


Ever determined and deliberate, the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) is back for another October stay from the 13 through the 24th. In its 57th year, the festival brings films co-produced by 57 different countries to the Windy City, presenting 89 feature-length films and 10 programs of shorts. There are world premieres and Chicago premieres that sit alongside films that have been working the festival circuit for months. While last year’s festival online viewing is still available for some films, most of the selections will be shown in theaters once again. One can only hope that vaccinated or not, patrons will be mindful of indoor mask etiquette that’s in place as the pandemic still exists. Read more…


October 6, 2021


written by: Anthony Bueno and Claire Bueno
produced by: Anthony Bueno, Claire Bueno, Troy Benjamin, and Hank Starrs
directed by: Anthony Bueno 
rated: not rated
runtime: 128 min.
U.S. release date: October 1, 2021 (theaters) & October 5, 2021 (On Demand)


“Ghostbusters” is so huge and well-known that it’s hard to believe there was a time when movie studios couldn’t imagine green-lighting a comedy involving the supernatural. It’s hard to believe because of how successful the movie became back in 1984, but also because the fandom that followed it and it bled into cartoons, comic books, toys, and video games. Those in the know are aware of the obstacles involved in making “Ghostbusters” and its fascinating production history has been covered in an assortment of mediums, such as featurettes, books, and magazine articles, and even documentaries other than “Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters”, but director Anthony Bueno (who wrote and produced with Claire Buono) offers something quite special, both for die-hard fans or those who had no clue who inspired Slimer. Read more…

499 (2020) review

September 30, 2021


written by: Micha Maclaird, Lorena Padilla, and Rodrigo Reyes
produced by: Into Cordera, Georgina González, Gunter Hanfgarn, Andrew Houchens & David Felix Sutcliffe
directed by: Rodrigo Reyes
rated: not rated
runtime: 88 min.
U.S. release date: October 1-3, 2021 & October 15-17, 2021 (Facets Cinema)


Knowing the concept of “499” beforehand is like sitting down with a new issue of a What If…? Marvel comic book. In this case, it’s like “What if explorer Hernán Cortés walked across Mexico today? Now, if you don’t know why that’s a significant scenario to ponder, consider the fact that the Spaniard had led an expedition that resulted in the fall of the Aztec Empire (what is now mainland Mexico) under Castilian rule in the early 16th century. What Mexican director Rodrigo Reyes does here is place a figure from the past in a very real modern-day setting and invites viewers to observe this stranger reacting to a world he had a hand in creating. Read more…

ANNE AT 13,000 FEET (2021) review

September 24, 2021


written by: Kazik Radwanski and Deragh Campbell
produced by: Daniel Montgomery and Kazik Radwanski
directed by: Kazik Radwanski
rated: not rated
runtime: 75 min.
U.S. release date: September 17-26, 2021 (Facets Cinematheque, Chicago, IL)


When we meet Anne at the opening of “Anne at 13,000 Feet”, she seems to be in an environment that’s fitting for her. The camera moves in close and circles around her as she has a gentle and calm moment outside with a group of children as she shares with them a mesmerizing butterfly she has cupped in her hands. Director Kazik Radwanski fluidly shifts to a thrilling moment when Anne is about to sky dive out of a moving plane for best friend’s bachelorette party. It’s as if both moments are happening at the same time and the more time we spend with Anne, the more we realize that could be the truth for her. In these moments, she comes across as engaging and adventurous, but we will soon be reminded that there is so much more going on. Read more…

THE NOWHERE INN (2021) review

September 18, 2021


written by: Annie Clark and Carrie Brownstein
produced by: Joshua Bachove, Danny Harris, Carrie Brownstein, Annie Clark, Lana Kim & Jett Steiger
directed by: Bill Benz
rated: not rated
runtime: 91 min.
U.S. release date: September 17, 2021 (Music Box Theatre, digital & on-demand)


“The Nowhere Inn” premiered at the Midnight Section back in 2020 at Sundance. That usually indicates a hard R-rating, a horror flick, or a film hopeful to make it as a cult classic. “The Nowhere Inn” is none of those things, but for most of its runtime, it’s a visually compelling experience. The mockumentary directed by Bill Bentz is a look at the world of rock singer/songwriter St. Vincent, who is actually Annie Clark from Texas, or at least how the artist wants to be presented. Just as the she has gone out of her way in real life to provide access to who she is when not in front of a live audience or a camera, the enigmatic attempt here is to keep viewers guessing, while making a commentary on the relationship between performer and fan. Read more…


September 16, 2021


written by: Aaron Hendry and Rexo Sixo Safai
produced by: Nate Polotin, Michael Mendelsohn, Ko Mori, Laura Rister & Rexo Sixo Safai
directed by: Sion Sono
rated: not rated
runtime: 103 min.
U.S. release date: September 17, 2021 (Music Box Theatre)


At this point anything with Nicolas Cage should be seen just to see what level of Cage-isms he’s dropping. Sure, you expect him to kind of go over-the-top and that can definitely be a fun ride, but in he can still deliver Oscar worthy performances like his latest turn in the recent “Pig”. But, that’s just one of three releases this year for the actor and his role in the apocalyptic Western tale “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is more along the lines of the type of outright crazy we hope for in a Cage flick. He’s teamed up with Japanese auteur Sion Sono (“Tokyo Vampire Hotel” and “The Forest of Love”) here, who’s known for his idiosyncratic choices and creates a strange and enigmatic atmosphere that almost upstages our main man. Read more…


September 12, 2021


written by: Jafar Panahi, Anthony Chen, and David Lowery
produced by: Anthony Chen, Brad Becker-Parton, Matthew Cherchio, Jeff Deutchman, Yoni Golijov, Keetin Mayakara, Laura Poitras, Andrea Roa, Si En Tan, & Meng Xie
directed by: Jafar Panahi, Anthony Chen, Malik Vitthal, Laura Poitras, Dominga Sotomayer, David Lowery, & Apichatpong Weerasethakul
rated: not rated
runtime: 115 min.
U.S. release date: September 3, 2021 (limited) & September 10, 2021 (wide)


Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit on a global level back in March 2020, it was clear that life would change for most of us. While concern for health and safety for ourselves and loved ones was paramount, those of us who are film enthusiasts couldn’t help but to also wonder how this would impact our viewing. Of course, those who make films would be impacted as well, with productions halted and releases rescheduled or postponed. There’s already been a handful of films released (primarily on streaming services) that were shot during the pandemic, but only a couple of them had stories set in the pandemic or about the pandemic. It would be easy to make an apocalyptic tale in a world full of shutdowns and quarantines, but “The Year of the Everlasting Storm” offers something that today’s viewers will likely find quite familiar and quite intriguing and reflective. Read more…

WHITE AS SNOW (2019) review

September 4, 2021


written by: Anne Fontaine and Pascal Bonitzer
produced by: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer, and Phillippe Carcassonne
directed by: Anne Fontaine
rated: not rated
runtime: 112 min.
U.S. release date: August 12, 2021 (limited) and August 20, 2021 (select theaters)


The Brothers Grimm introduced the world to many twisted tales and no doubt one of the most popular is the story of Snow White, originally published in 1812 and has since been made into countless iterations of musicals, plays, live-action and animated feature films. Every generation, every decade, has seen a new version of Seven Dwarves or a Huntsmen, all of whom are enamored by the young and beautiful protagonist, who is watched closely by the evil queen, whose jealousy and envy has eroded superseded her own beauty. The latest attempt at doing something different with the story is “White as Snow” and it’s a sexy, funny, and bizarrely brazen romance thriller from co-writer/director Anne Fontaine. Read more…