• Cinephilia

    Review: First Man

    First Man

    Damien Chazelle has come a long way from his first feature film, the no-budget hipster indie musical Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (it’s in black and white, for Pete’s sake). Like Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio, he’s also struck up a bit of a creative partnership (and one imagines a friendship) with Ryan Gosling, who sang and danced his way through La La Land, the musical perhaps best known for losing Best Picture to Moonlight. Chazelle, however, did win Best Director that year, and with each new film he puts his name on, we’re witness to an artistic evolution of a filmmaker gaining both confidence and skill as he goes. First Man, based…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: A Star Is Born

    star is born

    I first saw the 1954 version of A Star Is Born on the big screen; I got to see it as part of a sidebar program at the Chicago International Film Festival several years ago, and despite its length (the restored cut is just 4 minutes shy of three hours long), I was riveted. Judy Garland’s Vicki Lester is so complex, so multifaceted; it’s clear this role is a sort of accomplishment for a woman who’d been on screen since the age of 14, and Garland’s ability to carry the character from ingenue to stardom to desperation is, in a word, striking. The story—an aging, veteran entertainer discovers an up-and-comer only to…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: Blaze


    Ethan Hawke has been nominated for an Oscar four times, twice for writing and twice for acting. This year, he may just add another for his spellbinding performance in Paul Schrader’s gut-wrenching First Reformed. Though not recognized to the same degree, Hawke has also spent his fair share of time behind the camera, from 2001’s ensemble piece Chelsea Walls to the 2014 documentary Seymour: An Introduction. Hawke returns to the helm with his latest film, Blaze, a biopic about Austin-based musician Blaze Foley (nee Mike Fuller).  Blaze combines a lot of what Hawke (who makes a small cameo in the film) loves, including Texas, music and Richard Linklater. With an indulgent 127 minute…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: White Boy Rick

    This is a crosspost with Third Coast Review. The most compelling part of White Boy Rick, the true story of a Detroit teenager who became a hustler, an FBI informant and a drug kingpin all before the age of 16, comes at the very end of the film, when a brief epilogue addresses Rick Wershe, Jr.’s fate after the same enforcement officers he’d informed for desert him when he becomes a defendant. In an instant, an already multi-layered drama about the strength of family ties, coming of age in a crime-riddled city and the choices we make when we’re painted into the proverbial corner manages an even more meaningful depth as an…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: Minding The Gap

    Minding the Gap

    Into an already very strong year of documentaries (Three Identical Strangers, RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) comes a powerful, poignant observation on family, masculinity and coming of age, Minding the Gap.  The first feature film from Bing Liu and produced by Chicago’s own Kartemquin, Minding the Gap, the very personal story of Liu’s experience growing up as a skateboarding misfit from a broken home in north-central Rockford, is at times so emotionally raw it edges on squirm-inducing. But it’s this very vulnerability, Liu’s willingness to have the hard conversations on camera and his friends’ willingness to let their buddy follow them around through the good, the bad and the ugly, that makes…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: Madeline’s Madeline


    Teenage girls are having a moment on screen, from Elsie Fisher’s beautifully real turn as a middle schooler in Eighth Grade to Kiersey Clemmons as a college-bound musician in Hearts Beat Loud to Chloe Grace Moretz in the upcoming Sundance Film Festival award winner The Miseducation of Cameron Post. This week, another young woman steps into center stage in Madeline’s Madeline, a swirling fever dream of a film written and directed by Josephine Decker. Starring Helena Howard in a debut role that’s equal parts thrilling and baffling, Madeline’s Madeline is more visual art installation than narrative film, packed with abstract optics, palpable sound design, disjointed cuts and frenetic camera work. Howard’s Madeline lives with…