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SOUL (2020) review

December 23, 2020


written by: Pete Docter, Mike Jones, and Kemp Powers
produced by: Dana Murray
directed by: Pete Docter
rated: PG for thematic elements and some language
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: December 25, 2020 (Disney+)


The talented folks at Pixar are at their best when they’re working on something original, something different and new. That’s not to say that their sequels haven’t been good. (They definitely have, but not all of them, mind you). It’s just that the movies that’ve gotten me to lean in a little closer are the ones that aren’t sequels, but rather original works that have impressed me with their artistic brilliance, touched my heart in just the right way, of maybe even found me thinking about my own life in a different way. That’s certainly the case with Peter Docter’s “Soul”, an animated feature which has some notable first for the studio. Read more…

2020 CFCA Awards Winners!

December 22, 2020

Last night was a first for the Chicago Film Critics Association, but it was familiar to anyone who’s been communicating with others for the past 9 months. Typically, we would get together at a restaurant and enjoy some needed fellowship, food, and announce the winners of our annual Chicago Critics Awards, celebrating the best of the year in film, but this year we saw each other via Zoom. This is 2020, after all. While it wasn’t the same, especially since some critics couldn’t attend, it was fun and enjoyable to see and hear from my colleagues. It was especially great and a big surprise to have two of the night’s winners appear and deliver acceptance speeches! Read more…

ANNOUNCEMENT: Chicago Film Critics 2020 Awards Nominations!

December 18, 2020


As a good-standing member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA), I did my part and voted just like any other year, despite this year being unlike any other year. Like many other film critic associations, CFCA votes at the end of each year for what we consider to be the best from the film industry. Some categories are harder than others, but the votes have to be placed (and counted) nevertheless. Personally, I still have some catching up to do in my viewing, but like many of my colleagues, I voted based on what I saw this year (so far).

The nominees are below in their respective categories. Winners will be announced the evening of Monday, December 21st…

Read more…


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…


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
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…