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FREE SOLO (2018) review

October 19, 2018



produced by: Jimmy Chin, Shannon Dill, Evan Hayes & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
directed by: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi 
rated: not rated
runtime: 97 min.
U.S. release date: September 28, 2018 (NY/LA) & October 19, 2018 (Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL) 


I continue to be enthralled and impressed with professional climbers, as much as I am with guitar virtuosos. Both are talents I wish I had. Obviously, the two talents require a different kinds of skill sets, not to mention another kind of mentality and strength altogether, but the admiration is there for both, nonetheless. The more climbing documentaries I watch – and there’s a lot of them – the more in awe I am of the subjects they follow, but my respect has increased for the filmmakers involved in capturing these climbers as they tell their stories. “Free Solo” may only be the second documentary focused on climbing from married couple Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vaserhelyi after 2015’s “Meru“, but the two filmmakers have developed an impressive and amazing  approach that offers viewers an immersion like nothing else out there.  Read more…


CIFF 2018: United Skates & The Feeling of Being Watched

October 18, 2018



Racial discrimination and profiling can be found in “United Skates” and “The Feeling of Being Watched”, two of the twenty-two documentaries on the lineup at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF). These particular documentaries, both directed by women with passion and purpose, set out to show how a minority community and culture have been and remain unfairly viewed by business owners and law enforcement authorities. The two powerful films premiered this past April at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival may be eye-opening for some viewers, but others may find what they see here sadly all too familiar and quite relatable. Either way, they cover important and relevant topics in an observant and immersive manner, offering an informative and enriching experience. Read more…

CIFF 2018 preview

October 11, 2018



The Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) kicked off last night for the 54th time with “Beautiful Boy”, a harrowing biographical drama from Belgium director Felix van Groeningen (who was in attendance to discuss the film) which follows a father (Steve Carell) determined to help his opioid-addicted son (Timothée Chalamet). But don’t worry, the film will open in Chicago on October 19th and is bound to earn some Oscar nominations for acting. The annual festival, which continues through October 21st, is once again making its home at AMC River East 21, which will arguably become an epicenter for film enthusiasts. As expected, there will be an assortment of films from other countries, as well as some that were locally shot – some have  already been picked up by studios, while others await distribution which means this may be the only time to see certain films.   Read more…

VENOM (2018) review

October 5, 2018



written by: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel (screenplay, from a story by Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg)
produced by: Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach and Amy Pascal
directed by: Ruben Fleischer
rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language)
runtime: 112 min.
U.S. release date: October 5, 2018


With “Venom”, Sony/Columbia Pictures is trying to see if they can make a movie revolving around a Spider-Man villain without Spider-Man work, while they currently share the heroic webslinger with Disney (even though he’s currently dust). They can’t. The fact that this is the second attempt to bring the wily carnivorous Marvel Comics super villain to the big-screen is proof that studio heads will keep throwing black goo against the wall and hoping it sticks. It doesn’t. I kind of got that impression by the unimpressive trailers, but I had to add context to my curiosity. While there are zany and weird moments that work on a bizarre level, director Ruben Fleischer (who brought us “Zombieland” and “Gangster Squad”) and his screenwriters can’t commit to a consistent tone and instead wind up checking off boxes of a regurgitated formulaic story.  Read more…


October 2, 2018



written by: Charlie Choi and Fung Chih-chiang
produced by: Alex Dong
directed by: Fung Chih-chiang
rated: not rated
runtime: 97 min.
U.S. release date: October 2, 2018 (Asian Pop-up Cinema, AMC River East 21, Chicago, IL)


Within the first fifteen or so minutes of “Concerto of the Bully” I was won over when it was established that one of the main characters has an aversion to harshly loud and annoying sounds. That’s something I can relate to, something I’ve recently developed an acute awareness of. While its an element that certainly plays for laughs here, what it essentially offers is something surprisingly poignant. What director Fung Chih-chiang winds up doing in this uncanny retro rom-com is remind us of the benefit of slowing down and tune in to a different frequency which can result in finding a new appreciation and perspective of your surroundings.
Read more…

2018 Irish American Movie Hooley

September 27, 2018



This weekend, the annual Irish American Movie Hooley  returns to the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago for its fourth year, starting Friday, September 28th and running through Sunday, September 30th, showing one movie each evening. Selected by Siskel program director Barbara Scharres and Irish American radio personality Mike Houlihan, and according to Houlihan, their movies “present three distinctive stories that capture and evoke our Irish culture.” Below you’ll find a rundown of the lineup, as well as my thoughts on the films featured this year. Read more…

SAD BEAUTY (2018) review

September 25, 2018



produced by: Bongkod Bencharongkul and Kongkiat Khomsiri
directed by: Bongkod Bencharongkul
rated: not rated
runtime: 92 min.
U.S. release date: July 14, 2018 (New York Asian Film Festival) & September 26, 2018 (AMC River East 21, Chicago, IL, Asian Pop-up Cinema)


Friendship and trauma are at the heart of “Sad Beauty”, the second feature-length film from former Thai actress Bongkod Bencharongkul, who shows an assured hand at communicating the complicating and toxic relationship between two lifetime friends. Not only is it a well-crafted and artful film, it also feels true and real, thanks to the fine performances from the two leads, and more importantly, the tone Bencharongkul takes, conveying an certain authenticity. That may not be too surprising since there is an indication that this is a semi-autobiographical story.  Read more…