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”

Review: STEP

Founded in 2008, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women is a charter school with a goal of seeing all its graduates succeed in college. Its educators and administrators set high standards and expect greatness from the girls in their charge. Academics are paramount, and failure is not an option.

For the students at BLSYW, though, it’s more than just a school. It’s a haven in a rough neighborhood; a support network often far more dependable than family; and a launch pad for talent, passion and futures so bright these girls’ll need shades.

It’s a glimpse into those trials, tribulations and triumphs that Step delivers in one of the year’s best documentaries, as it follows three young women in the school’s first graduating class. They’ve been together since middle school, the year they started at BLSYW and also founded the school’s step dance team. The film chronicles their lives both on and off the stage as their senior year winds down, through college applications, dicey friendships and one major dance competition. Continue reading “Review: STEP”

Review: The Big Sick

Two pieces of information preceded my screening of The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s adaptation of their real-life, unconventional love story, and I’m afraid those two pieces of information ultimately impacted my enjoyment of this quite lovely, quite wonderful, modern romantic comedy.

First, I’d come across Nanjiani’s own twitter thread articulating his particular adoration for legendary romcom writer/filmmaker Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love, Actually, and on and on…). I, too, am a massive Richard Curtis fan, having ugly-cried my way through About Time and realizing with delight that my favorite Doctor Who episode is one from his own pen (which, duh. It’s so good, it has to be his.). Curtis has a knack for tugging at heartstrings, and in a way that is entirely noble. It’s never cheap or dumbed-down (well, ok – he did adapt Bridget Jones’s Diary, but not the sequels!). It’s human, and often bittersweet – even painful – much the way real life can be. Decades later, his stories still resonate as some of the best in modern cinema.

I read Nanjiani’s tweets with giddy anticipation. If this filmmaker is as smitten with Curtis as I am, surely his movie will be just as nuanced and moving! Expectations were categorically and sufficiently heightened. Continue reading “Review: The Big Sick”