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Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts (2020) review

February 3, 2020

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A running theme amongst all the Live-Action Shorts this year is a longing for connection or to be connected with others. This theme is explored in various different settings and stories. There is one in which people are in conflict with each other and another where people are struggling to figure out life in the aftermath of war. One short focuses on one individual relying on another for survival without ever meeting in person and another wherein ignorance leads to an unexpected conclusion for the another individual. Another short examines how our lives can change when we become enraptured by the way in which others live. There’s something to be gleaned from each of these shorts, yet ultimately their are unique stories to experience here regardless of the situations characters are in here. Read more…

Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts (2020) review

February 2, 2020

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It’s that time of the year again, when the Oscar-Nominated shorts are in select theaters for a short window of time leading up to the telecast on Sunday, February 9th. That is…if you’re in a major metropolitan city here in the states. If not, you can probably find some of these shorts online if you’re resourceful enough, but it is traditionally (and unfortunately) a challenge to track them down. Obviously, seeing them in the theater is the most ideal setting, so if you’re an Oscar completist, you’ll want to get yourself to one of the theaters showing the collection of Animated, Live-Action and/or Documentary Shorts. Read more…

THE FAREWELL (2019) review

January 27, 2020

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written by: Lulu Wang
produced by: Anita Gou, Daniele Tate Melia, Andrew Miano, Peter Saraf, Marc Turletaub, Lulu Wang, Chris Weitz, Jane Zheng
directed by: Lulu Wang
rated: PG (for thematic material, brief language and some smoking)
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: July 12, 2019

 

“Chinese people have a saying, when people get cancer they die. It’s not cancer that kills them. It’s the fear.”

 

Just like every family has its secrets, every family also has its reasons for keeping those secrets. Americans don’t have the same societal reasons for keeping secrets that the Chinese may have, but that doesn’t make the other’s reasons any less valid or any more unique. The family at the center of writer/director Lulu Wang’s film “The Farewell” certainly have their reasons for keeping a secret from its matriarch Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), but they’re a hard sell on Billi (Awkwafina), her only granddaughter. Read more…

CATS (2019) review

January 9, 2020

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written by: Lee Hall and Tom Hooper (screenplay),  Andrew Lloyd Webber (music), T.S. Eliot (poetry collection “Old Possum’s Books of Practical Cats”)
produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Tom Hooper
directed by: Tom Hooper
rated: PG (for sci-fi violence and action)
runtime: 110 min.
U.S. release date: December 20, 2019

 

“Jellicles are and Jellicles do. Jellicles do and Jellicles would. Jellicles would and Jellicles can. Jellicles can and Jellicles do.”

 

When running down the list of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals that might eventually get turned into movies, I assumed the roller skating musical “Starlight Express” was the only thing keeping “Cats” from ranking dead last. The ludicrousness of turning “Cats” into a movie is more or less the inciting incident of another play turned into a film, “Six Degrees of Separation,” and it’s played for a laugh in that piece. Surely no one in their right mind would actually turn “Cats” into a film*, let alone an Oscar winning “capital-P Prestige” filmmaker. Read more…

Interview with MOVING PARTS writer/director Emilie Upczak

January 3, 2020

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On a sunny winter afternoon in Chicago on the second day of 2020, writer/director Emilie Upczak took a break from strolling through the enticing halls of the Art Institute to talk about her feature film “Moving Parts”, which premieres at the Siskel Film Center tonight, kicking off three screenings at the venue. She will be accompanied by Chicago-based producer John Otterbacher (for more details, click here.) The film revolves around two strong and resilient women – one, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, where the film takes place and the other, a young Chinese woman, newly transplanted to reunite with her brother after the recent death of their father. Characters are at the forefront of this engaging and absorbing character study, but it also covers important topics such as immigration and sex trafficking, guiding us along with a gentle and subtle hand. Read more…

BOTERO (2018) review

January 2, 2020

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produced by: Don Miller and Hart Snider
directed by: Don Miller
rated: not rated
runtime: 83 min.
U.S. release date: January 3-9, 2020 (Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL)

 

What put a smile on my face the most while watching “Botero” is that the subject of the film is not dead. At 87-years-old, Colombian figurative painter and sculptor, Fernando Botero, is still alive and creating works of art. Typically, when a documentary focuses on a famous artist, it’s usually because he or she has passed, but it’s a real treat to see Botero talking about his work and life, both in the past and in the present. In fact, while Canadian director Don Miller does cover some history, the primary focus of the film is to engage with where Botero is at today, which certainly makes for a more fascinating approach than a look back at an artist’s life. Read more…

MOVING PARTS (2017) review

January 1, 2020

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written by: Nicholas Emery, Emilie Upczak and Jay White
produced by: John Otterbacher and Emilie Upczak
directed by: Emilie Upczak
rated: not rated
runtime: 77 min.
U.S. release date: January 3, 6-7 2020 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL)

 

The most memorable and impressive aspect of Emilie Upczak’s “Moving Parts” is how much is communicated and accomplished in such a short amount of time. While it is not nearly as long as most feature-length films, the uncanny economy of the storytelling makes for a refreshing and unique viewing experience. The film follows one turbulent and unpredictable journey a young Chinese woman takes as she immigrates to a different country for the same reasons so many others do. Extortion and human trafficking play unfortunate roles in the journey, which may seem inevitable or familiar, but the way in which they factor into this harrowing story feels quite real and authentic. Read more…

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019) review

December 29, 2019

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written by: J. J. Abrams and Chris Terrio
produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, J. J. Abrams and Michelle Rejwan
directed by: J. J. Abrams
rated: PG-13 (for sci-fi violence and action)
runtime: 142 min.
U.S. release date: December 20, 2019

 

I left “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” torn, which is not exactly how I thought I would exit what is supposedly the last entry in the Skywalker saga. As a longtime fan, someone who without a doubt had his enthusiasm for film ignited with “A New Hope”, I tried to remain optimistic that director J.J. Abrams would close it all out with a satisfactory conclusion. But, this is the guy who admittedly considers endings “tough” and fans of ABC’s “Lost”, which he co-created will attest that the writer/director isn’t opposed to leaving questions unanswered. The result is the biggest Star Wars movie to date, which would sound like a good thing to 7-year-old me, but when bigger or most trumps cohesive and satisfying storytelling, that’s rarely ever a good sign no matter where your fandom lies.

Read more…

MIDWAY (2019) review

November 13, 2019

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written by: Wes Tooke
produced by: Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser
directed by: Roland Emmerich
rated: PG-13 (for sequences of war violence and related images, language and smoking)
runtime: 138 min.
U.S. release date: November 8, 2019

 

Big budget war films have gone the way of the dodo bird. Much the same way the western genre has all but vanished when it comes to major studio releases, war movies are few and far between these days. So when I found out a World War II film about one of the most important battles in the Pacific was hitting theaters? Color me psyched. When I found out Roland Emmerich was directing it? Color me nervous. What if a history-changing battle became Independence Day? Oh, the horror. My worries were unfounded. I loved 2019’s Midway. Read more…

CIFF 2019 preview

October 19, 2019

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The 55th Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) kicked off this week and like the last several years, I will definitely not get to see all the films I’d like to. This is where goals are interrupted by reality. Traditionally, my goal is to view as many of the programmed films that I can manage to fit into my own life schedule. Of course, the reality is I am never able to fulfill such goals since there are entirely too many films that I’d like to see, making the task nearly impossible. Nevertheless, I persist each year and inevitably wind up rewarded with enriching viewing experiences. Below is my take on five films that I’ve seen so far and you can expect more coverage in the near future as I see more films. Read more…