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PAST LIVES (2023) review

June 15, 2023


written by: Celine Song
produced by: David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon & Pamela Koffler
directed by: Celine Song
rated: PG-13 (for some strong language)
runtime: 106 min.
U.S. release date: June 9, 2023 (select theaters) & June 23, 2023 (wide release)


I believe in love at first site and that it’s possible to have lifelong feelings for someone you perceived as your “first love”. That doesn’t mean you wind up with that person and it also doesn’t mean that if you were to go back in time and follow through and stay with that first love that everything would’ve worked out wonderfully. Nevertheless, the heart reserves a special place, one of tenderness, longing, and curiosity, for that first special someone that somehow either got away or never happened altogether. That place in the heart is true and real and it feels like that’s what writer/director Celine Song is touching on in “Past Lives”, her superb directorial debut that is one the very best films of the year. Read more…


June 8, 2023


written by: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and David Callaham
produced by: Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller & Christina Steinberg
directed by: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson
rated: PG (for sequences of animated action violence, some language and thematic elements)
runtime: 140 min.
U.S. release date: June 2, 2023


As I experienced “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”, I found myself wishing that every superhero movie could be animated. Think about it – no actors aging-out, no need to recast roles, and no rushed visual effects resulting in subpar quality. Sure, some stunt people might be out of work, but hey, less liability. In animation, the opportunities are endless, just like the “anything goes” potential of the source material, and if the animated features would be this epic, immersive and flat-out amazing, why not? Read more…

THE LITTLE MERMAID (2023) review

May 31, 2023


written by: David Magee
produced by: Marc Platt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, John DeLuca & Rob Marshall
directed by: Rob Marshall
rated: PG (for action/peril and some scary images)
runtime: 135 min.
U.S. release date: May 26, 2023


Most of Disney’s live-action remakes of their animated classics have ranged from mediocre to awful, save for a select few. Since there’s unfortunately no sign of the studio rethinking this tactic, one has to wonder if there will ever be one of these to come along and make us think otherwise about what a bad idea all of this is. Well, don’t look at “The Little Mermaid” for your answer. You won’t find it in this update of the Ron Clements and John Musker’s musical classic of the same name from 1989, itself based on the Hand Christian Anderson fairy tale. When fans of that beloved classic see director Rob Marshall’s iteration, there’s really no getting around how each shot, song, line of dialogue and story development, will be predicted – so, where’s the draw? Read more…

KANDAHAR (2023) review

May 27, 2023


written by: Mitchell LaFortune
produced by: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee, Brandon Boyea, Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Christian Mercuri, Scott LaStaiti & Ali Jaafar
directed by: Ric Roman Waugh
rated: R (for violence and language)
runtime: 120 min.
U.S. release date: May 26, 2023


Gerard Butler and Ric Roman Waugh have a good thing going. They make action flicks that are better than anyone expects them to be. “Angel Has Fallen” was the first one the Scottish actor and American director made together, a surprisingly solid sequel that became a hit and then came another one, the end-of-the-world disaster thriller, “Greenland” in 2020. Now the pair reunite for a third collaboration with “Kandahar”, a modern-day action thriller with spy elements that is essentially a character study and an enthralling one at that. It’s a movie that subverts expectations by provided more than just nonstop action, focusing on the motivations and personalities of the characters we’re introduced to in a more geopolitical storyline. Read more…

CCFF 2023: The Unknown Country & Waiting for the Light to Change

May 23, 2023


There were two films that screened at the recent Chicago Critics Film Festival (CCFF) that felt like they were cut from the same cloth. Both “The Unknown Country” and “Waiting for the Light to Change” were made by female filmmakers and both films revolve around young female characters on their own personal journey, external and/or internal. By combining stunning pastoral visuals and an overall naturalistic and lyrical style, both in performances and mise-en-scène, these two independent films offer a distinctive viewing experience. Read more…

L’IMMENSITÀ (2023) review

May 19, 2023


written by: Emanuele Crialese, Francesca Manieri and Vittorio Moroni
produced by: Lorenzo Gangarossa, Mario Gianani and Dimitri Rassam
directed by: Emanuele Crialese
rated: not rated
runtime: 97 min.
U.S. release date: May 12, 2023 & May 19, 2023 (limited)


“L’Immensità” is the latest film from Italian writer/director Emanuele Crialese and it is his most personal to date, an autobiographical story that can almost be viewed as a memoir. In it, Crialese is drawing upon his own experiences as a transgender preteen and not only how he viewed the world through a specific lens, but also how he viewed his mother. Tonally, Crialese deftly balances a vibrant whimsy to the evocative family drama, with the weight of a dysfunctional family and conservative expectations. Read more…

CCFF 2023: Birth/Rebirth & Brooklyn 45

May 17, 2023


On May 6th, the evening of the first full day of the Chicago Critics Film Festival (CCFF), gave film enthusiasts a double dose of horror at the Music Box Theatre. The horror genre is huge lately, with a new movie coming out at least monthly, if not more. However, it’s rare to see a horror flick steer clear of jump scares, gore, or high kill counts. Thankfully, “Birth/Rebirth” and “Brooklyn 45” are ambitious independent films that are aiming for something more substantive within the genre – one of them succeeds, while another doesn’t quite stick the landing. Read more…

CCFF 2023: Afire & A Disturbance in the Force

May 9, 2023


Saturday, May 6th was Day 2 (and technically the first full day) at the Chicago Critics Film Festival (CCFF) and it was indeed quite a full day for yours truly. I started by watching the first narrative feature of the day at 2:15pm, “Afire” (a German drama known as “Roter Himmel”) and stayed till midnight for a documentary screening (“A Disturbance in the Force”). Thankfully, I had a couple hours of break time in the late afternoon, since I had already seen the film that was playing at that time, which provided for a chance to walk around a grab some nearby sustenance with fellow film enthusiasts. The vast difference between these two films should be a prerequisite for any film festival and confirms that CCFF, in its 10th year, is doing it right. Read more…

CCFF 2023: BlackBerry & Sanctuary

May 7, 2023


The 10th Chicago Critics Film Festival kicked off to a crowded house at the Music Box Theatre on Friday night, May 5th! That’s really no surprise considering the reputation its earned over the years as a must-attend event for film enthusiasts…not just those local to Chicago, but from all over. The two films that opened the festival couldn’t be more different, but that gives viewers an idea of the kind of eclectic selections that will be on display through Thursday, May 11th. Read more…


May 5, 2023


written by: James Gunn
produced by: Kevin Feige
directed by: James Gunn
rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references and thematic elements)
runtime: 150 min.
U.S. release date: May 5, 2024


Without a doubt, the characters that compose the Guardians of the Galaxy team are best represented when writer/director James Gunn is at the helm. He gets outcasts and misfits and made significant albeit understandable changes to the comic book iterations of these characters for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). While other directors played with these characters in their own sandbox – namely the Russo brothers (the last two “Avengers” movies) and Taika Waititi (“Thor: Love and Thunder”) – it’s Gunn’s approach that left an indelible mark on these a-holes. With Gunn leaving Disney/Marvel to become the Kevin Feige of WB/DC, “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3” will be the last time we see the team from Gunn’s perspective and probably the last time they have their own movie. Read more…