• Cinephilia

    Review: Amulet

    Like the other horror film released this week (The Rental, reviewed here), Romola Garai’s Amulet aspires to something impressive within contemporary genre features. It is a gorgeous production (making her feature directorial debut, Garai hits a home run with cinematographer Laura Bellingham), and the filmmaker (who also wrote the original script) makes some intriguing choices around gender roles in genre films. But on the whole, the story of a former soldier who finds himself living with a woman, her elderly mother and the demons in their crumbling old home leaves too many gaps in its story to be considered mysterious, and though Garai and her team don’t skimp on the gruesome details,…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: The Rental

    Two horror movies arrive to watch this week, and both of them feel as though they’re aiming for something grander than what the final product actually delivers. Both are by actors turned filmmakers, and both owe a lot to the genre films that came before them, genre films that ultimately do better what these films are trying to do. Making his directorial debut, Dave Franco (James’s little brother) contributes The Rental, about a couple of couples who escape to an oceanfront mansion for a weekend getaway only to get caught up in their own secrets and much more. (The other is Amulet, reviewed here). Starring Allison Brie (who is also…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

    Something weird happens at the beginning of Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, but it’s so subtle, so smoothly incorporated that it’s nearly imperceptible. Following the opening credits (displayed in a throwback fashion in cards at the front of the film), we find our way into The Roaring ’20s, a dive bar outside of Vegas that’s heading into its last day in business. The film, co-directed by brothers Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross, is set up as a documentary that follows the bartenders and regulars through a marathon final day, from 11am into the afternoon, evening, late night and eventually early the next morning. And from the moment we meet the day…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: We Are Little Zombies

    In some other timeline, we’re out enjoying a real Chicago summer, complete with street fairs and beach days and rooftop drinks and yes, summer blockbuster movies. Instead, this summer will go down as one without superheroes, one without the latest in a franchise or the start of a new one. That doesn’t mean there isn’t joy to be had at the movies, and a new virtual cinema release from Japan might be just the jolt of existential optimism we didn’t know we needed during these trying times. At first pass, We Are Little Zombies is a macabre, dark comedy about four newly orphaned teenagers who’ve given up on life ever…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: Relic

    What haunts in Relic, the debut feature film written and directed by Natalie Erika James, is something sinister, but also something essentially unseen and, therefore, all the more terrifying. A horror film much more concerned with the weight of strained relationships and the scary potential to lose oneself without an anchor, a mooring to latch onto, James creates a moody, personal intergenerational story with just enough bite to make it hurt. Emily Mortimer (Mary Poppins Returns) stars as Kay, called back to her aging mother’s home in rural Australia when Edna (Robyn Nevin) inexplicably goes missing. Kay and her grown daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) find Edna’s large home left essentially untouched,…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: Hamilton (The Movie)

    In March of 2015, I moved back to Chicago from New York. That was right about the time a new musical production about an (until then) obscure founding father was also making a move, from its initial run off-Broadway at the Public Theater to the Richard Rogers Theater on the Great White Way. For those in the know, the buzz was already high on this one—buzz that was soon to break out to not only theatergoers in general but far, far beyond that, too. The show, of course, was Hamilton, the blockbuster new musical from Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) that reimagines first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s life…