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STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017) review

December 14, 2017

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written by: Rian Johnson
produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Ram Bergman, Pippa Anderson & Kiri Hart
directed by: Rian Johnson
rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
runtime: 152 min.
U.S. release date: December 15, 2017

 

When we heard Mark Hamill‘s Luke Skywalker utter the foreboding line, “This is not going to go the way you think!”, in the trailer for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, I doubt anyone thought he was using Jedi mind tricks on us. It’s clear who he’s saying that line to, but the it could easily be applied to the millions of fans who’ve been anticipating the eighth episode in the Star Wars saga proper. Indeed what stands out and will become most memorable is the unexpected tone and characterization choices; but most of all, he does things with the Force here that have never been seen on the big-screen before. Throughout the movie, expectations are subverted and intermittent surprises, offering a Star Wars experience unlike any other.   Read more…

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2017 CFCA Awards Winners

December 13, 2017

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Last night, the Chicago Film Critics Announcement (CFCA) announced the chosen winners of their annual nominees of who and what they consider to be the very best performances and films of the year. Being a member, I can attest it’s never easy to choose and of this year’s winners there were indeed some surprises.  But, I’m not upset – even though Greta Gerwig nudged out writer/director Kogonada in the category of Most Promising Filmmaker, but that tells me how many people actual saw his sublime debut film,”Columbus“, my favorite film of the year (not to mention “Faces Places“, which should’ve won in the Documentary category).  Below is the official write-up and full lineup of the winners of the this year’s awards.  Read more…

ANNOUNCEMENT: 2017 CFCA Awards Nominees

December 10, 2017

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This evening the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) announced the nominees for the awards that they give out this time each year. As a member, I did my part and voted in the first round and now I must choose one from each category below. I’m mostly pleased with the nominees I see here, but of course there’s always some surprises (“Logan” for adapted screenplay) and disappointments (only one nomination for “Columbus”, despite Haley Lu Richardson giving one of the best performances of the year), which is expected. The winners will be announced at our awards dinner this Tuesday and posted after that event. Until then, you can read the official announcement below and be on the lookout for the list of winners…. Read more…

UNA (2016) review

December 7, 2017

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written by: David Harrower
produced by: Mary Amsellem, Patrick Daly and Jean Doumanian
directed by: Benedict Andrews
rated: R (R for strong sexual content, nudity and language)
runtime: 94 min.
U.S. release date: October 6, 2017 (New York), October 13, 2017 (Los Angeles), December 8-14, 2017 (Facets Multimedia, Chicago, IL)

 

It’s hard not to think of what we see so frequently being reported each week in the news while watching “Una”, a thriller which involves sexual abuse from the past that haunts and still impacts its two main characters. The man and woman we’re watching on screen feel like the same kind of people being commented on and talked about on social media, yet what’s intriguing is when this story takes place and the uncertainty surrounding where these characters are now in life and what they’ll do. Working with Scottish playwright David Harrower (who adapts his own play Blackbird for this film adaptation), director Benedict Andrews presents an unnerving tale in his debut, humanizing both the abuser and the victim – two parties who are typically vilified or left alone, respectively – and the result is a look at confusing motivations and awkward confrontations.  Read more…

MERCURY IN RETROGRADE (2017) review

November 30, 2017

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written by: Michael Glover Smith
produced by: Kevin W. Wright, Michael Glover Smith and Shane Simmons
directed by: Michael Glover Smith
rated: not rated
runtime: 105 min.
U.S. release date: November 29, 2017 (Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival)

 

Two years ago, Michael Glover Smith established himself as a knowledgeble, intuitive and passionate filmmaker. That’s exactly how I described the Chicago-based writer/director in my review of “Cool Apocalypse” and as it turns out, his feature-length debut which revolved around two couples, one just starting and one unraveling, was a primer for his sophomore effort, “Mercury in Retrograde”. His new film delves a bit deeper, this time focusing on three couples at varying stages in their relationships and in doing so presents his audience with a look at both the similarities and differences between men and women, how they are together and who they are apart. It’s a fascinating and intriguing examination, filled with engaging and nuanced performances, but most of all it’s a film that will resonate in unique and specific ways for viewers. Read more…

SIGNATURE MOVE (2017) review

November 28, 2017

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written by: Lisa Donato and Fawzia Mirza
produced by: Brian Hieggelke, Fawzia Mirza and Eugene Park
directed by: Jennifer Reeder
rated: unrated
runtime: 80 min.
U.S. release date: March 11, 2017 (SXSW), September 29, 2017 – October 5, 2017 (Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL) and November 28, 2017 (Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival, Des Plaines, IL)

 

Here’s an independent film that stands out simply on its premise – Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza) is a thirty-something Pakistani, Muslim, lesbian immigration lawyer living in Chicago who begins a new romance with Alma (Sari Sanchez), a confident and vivacious Mexican-American woman. It sounds like a kitchen sink attempt at a rom-com or a pitch for a sitcom, but director Jennifer Reeder’s first feature-length film doesn’t rely on predictability (although it does include some recognizable conventions) nor does it touch on characters that can typically be seen on screen. Not only do we see lesbian protagonists here, but South Asians and Mexicans are represented as well, but perhaps the coolest unique aspect that “Signature Move” offers is that there is basically one male role, the rest of the film is populated with females in front of and behind the camera. That’s not only something new and unique, it should be a primary reason to see “Signature Move”.  Read more…

Interview with MERCURY IN RETROGRADE writer/director Michael Glover Smith

November 27, 2017

 

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Life has taken a few distinctive turns for both local writer/director Michael Glover Smith and myself since our first and last interview, which took place two Novembers ago for this feature-length debut, “Cool Apocalypse”. That’s inevitable. It would be illogical and tragic if everything remained the same for us in two years time. Smith, who is also a Chicago-based film critic as well as a college film professor, spent a good deal of time writing and filming his sophomore effort, “Mercury in Retrograde” in that time. It’s a relationship drama that receives its Chicago-area premiere this week – on Thursday, November 30th at 2:00pm at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois, for Smith’s 4th annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival (OPUFF) – and is the occasion of our latest discussion. Read more…