John Cho at Miller House, Columbus

Review(s): Columbus and Menashe

Two quiet independent films slip into theaters soon, and each is worthy of your attention. Both premiered in Chicago earlier this year at the Chicago Critic's Film Festival, a week-long affair that's proving to be a local film staple previewing the year's best fare. It was there I saw A Ghost Story, The Little Hours, Patti Cake$ and more well before their theatrical release.

Columbus (Sept. 8) and Menashe (August 11) couldn't be more different in some ways, and yet they're strikingly similar. Each follows a male (minority) protagonist as he navigates a rocky time in his life. Each is built around a very specific setting, the architectural enclave of Columbus, Indiana (Columbus) and the Hassidic Jewish community of Brooklyn (Menashe). And each brings their respective world to life in crisp fashion, yet without much fanfare. It's the subtle but diligent care the filmmakers take that pays off for both films. Continue reading “Review(s): Columbus and Menashe”

Preview: Chicago Critics Film Festival

Though the heyday of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel has passed, Chicago boasts a strong showing in film criticism these days. The guys (because it’s mainly guys) who make up the Chicago Film Critics Association work hard across outlets to cover film releases and happenings around the city.

On Friday, their fifth annual Chicago Critics Film Festival kicks off a week of screenings at Chicago’s classic Music Box Theater. A small festival by any measure – no galas, no panels, no frills – it’s big where it matters: the movies. More than twenty features will screen over the course of a week, and for those of us keeping track of these kinds of things, they’re two dozen great films.

With such a fantastic line-up heading to a theater within walking distance (a long walk, but still), my plans include at least one film a day (and one day with three!). Here’s what I’ll be seeing: Continue reading “Preview: Chicago Critics Film Festival”

Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

Jessica Chastain came out of nowhere. At least, that’s what it seemed like in 2011. The film-release stars aligned and no fewer than six films open that year featuring this fresh new face who, as anyone who understands how these things work, knows had actually been working for years. Most notably, that year she was featured in Take Shelter, Coriolanus, The Tree of Life, and The Help (for which she was nominated for an Oscar). That’s one way to launch a career.

From there, like a sprinter at the starting line when the gun goes off, she hit the ground running. After several years and more success in big-budget brainteasers (Interstellar) and indie darlings (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby), it’s her most recent releases that see her top-lining the marquee. The underrated Miss Sloane was good, but not good enough to break through the awards hustle around its December release at the end of last year.

Now, The Zookeeper’s Wife gets a late-March release that all but removes it from any awards conversation for 2018 (understandably so, honestly). But no matter. Chastain is talented enough that, though it won’t be for Zookeeper, it’s just a matter of time before she gets the recognition she deserves.

In the end, it’s mostly thanks to Chastain’s unwavering conviction in the title role that The Zookeeper’s Wife, the film adaptation of Diane Ackerman’s book (which itself is based on a true story), avoids falling entirely into caricature territory. The glossy, polished Holocaust drama is at times moving (and, as most Holocaust films are, difficult to watch), but it’s a far cry from the life-changing impact of films like Schindler’s List, Son of Saul and Life is Beautiful.

Continue reading “Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife”