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SUPERINTELLIGENCE (2020) review

November 26, 2020

 

written by: Steve Mallory
produced by: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy and Rob Cowan
directed by: Ben Falcone
rating: PG (for some suggestive material, language and thematic elements)
runtime: 106 min.
U.S. release date: November 26, 2020 (HBO Max)

 

Director Ben Falcone made his directorial debut in 2014 with the comedy “Tammy”, which he co-wrote and co-produced with his wife and star, Melissa McCarthy. Since then, the couple have continued to collaborate together in other comedies such as “The Boss” and “Life of the Party”, through their production company, On the Day Productions. Their latest is “Superintelligence, which they once again co-produced and Falcone directed, with a screenplay from Steve Mallory, another frequent collaborator of theirs. It may be another starring vehicle for McCarthy, but it’s different, a welcome departure from the brash and crude R-rated fare we’re used to seeing from the couple. It’s a rated PG rom-com with a dash of tech intrusion that’s easy to watch with likeable characters. It’s hard to believe such an algorithm is a rare thing. Read more…

THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF WOLFBOY (2019) review

November 1, 2020

 

written by: Olivia Dufault
produced by: Declan Baldwin, Lauren Beck, Benjamin Blake, Josh Godfrey & Kimberly Steward
directed by: Martin Krejčí
rated: PG-13 (for mature thematic content, drinking, some strong language, sexual references and violence – all involving teens)
runtime: 88 min.
U.S. release date: October 30, 2020 (limited)

 

Stories revolving around ridiculed characters with eye-catching outward appearances have been around forever. The kind where disfigured protagonists typically receive a double-take or are ignored altogether by curious or uncomfortable onlookers. There’s a subgenre of such stories that focus on a young character who looks different, while navigating through those typically awkward adolescent and teenage years. Several of them come to mind – from as Peter Bogdanovich’s “Mask” from 1985 and Fred Schepisi’s “Roxanne”, to Victor Salva’s “Powder” from 1995 and Mark Palansky’s “Penelope” from 2006 – and they can be heartbreakingly dramatic, romantic comedies or a hint of fantasy to them. “The True Adventures of Wolfboy”, from Hungarian director Martin Krejčí, has a little bit of all of that, while specifically honing in on the pain of a 13-year-old boy with a condition he can’t hide from, the kind that prevents him from feeling accepted by others. While the film starts out exploring his painful isolation and anxiety, the screenplay by Olivia Dufault injects supporting characters that feel either cliche or of little consequence, as the lead character is put on a journey of discovery and liberation that veers into familiar territory bordering on the cartoonish. Its heart may be in the right place, but its mind tends to wander. Read more…

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
rating:
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…

DREAMING GRAND AVENUE (2020) review

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…

OLIVER SACKS: HIS OWN LIFE (2019) review

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…