Posts tagged "Chicago"

“Fantastic Fungi”- The scientific magic of mushrooms

October 16th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Fantastic Fungi”- The scientific magic of mushrooms”

Hope. It’s what we’re missing when it comes to the future of the Earth, of humanity, but “Fantastic Fungi” is exactly what the doctor ordered. It’s this dose of hope that will inspire, educate, and renew your faith in Mother Nature and her ability to right the world. If this sounds like it’s too good to be true, think again and then take a moment to watch this visually arresting, entertaining, and thought-provoking film by Louie Schwartzberg, debuting at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Friday, October 18, 2019.

Schwartzberg tells the story of mycelium or the mushroom in this new documentary. He explores the often overlooked, but massive and interconnected magical kingdom responsible for delectable delights, decomposition of organic matter, increasing the soil’s nutrient base, and even curing diseases. Using time-lapse macro cinematography, “Fantastic Fungi” is simply mesmerizing, captivating you, as you find yourself forgetting to breathe. Schwartzberg’s masterful camera work is equally as engaging as the layered and complicated, yet easily understood scientific information. The research expressed via narration and interviews lays the necessary foundation for us to easily build a fortress of understanding. We learn about the true cycle of life, from the beginning of time to our current day and our future as well as the more immediate circle of life as living organisms die and prepare the ground for new life.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The film’s focus, mycologist Paul Stamets, brother of Chicago film critic Bill Stamets, has devoted his life to the discovery of mushrooms and their potential to solve humanity’s problems. His interest in the topic is a story in and of itself, but his discoveries and knowledge, all gained in atypical ways, has opened the previously locked doors of life’s secrets. We also gain further knowledge with interviews from author Michael Pollan, Dr. Andrew Weil, and Johns Hopkins neurologists and psychologists, giving great credibility to the information at hand.

Learning that the base that supports all life is an interconnected microorganism called a fungi, there are more than 1.5 million types of these organisms. Without them, you (we) wine drinkers, beer imbibers, and whiskey connoisseurs, would find our cocktail time uninviting. On a more serious note, the hundreds of thousands of types of mushrooms, a part of this fungi family, promises to have the potential to solve our climate change issues and help develop cancer treatments. “Fantastic Fungi” reveals the real magic kingdom, showcasing this organism’s potential as well as its roots—pun intended–as it appears that we are all interconnected. It’s a symbiotic relationship among all living organisms with a more complicated communication system than ever before realized, but it’s up to us to unlock the code and discover the answers literally beneath our feet.

When Mother Nature created mycelium which, without getting into the science behind it all in this review, takes any organic material and can process it. Think about targeting a cancer cell with this and eliminating this lethal cellular machine. Or using a type of fungi to decompose an oil spill, turning the environmental disaster into a haven for new life. Schwartzberg’s painstaking research unfolds before your eyes in wonderfully entertaining ways as you witness the wonders and magic of the mushroom.

With so many doom and gloom documentaries about the future of our world, “Fantastic Fungi” gives us hope in a future. Our Earth is a precious space that is in dire straits, but stopping to listen, see, and open our minds to a new way of learning just might prove that we have a chance after all. I was swept away by this film, its imagery, and its potency. It has inspired me to learn more about mushrooms and what might be right outside my back door in my very own yard. I am inspired, but even more importantly, I am hopeful.

Do not miss “Fantastic Fungi,” one of the most beautifully powerful and intellectually stimulating films of the year and perhaps even the decade. Paired with “Anthropocene: The Human Epoch,” it’s a match made in heaven to give you a greater scientific understanding of the balance in which we need to strive.

For more information about this film, visit Fantastic Fungi
For ticket information at the Siskel Film Center where the film will screen Friday October 18th and 19th with Schwartzberg in attendance and through October 24th, go to Gene Siskel Film Center
4 Stars

“Olympia” An undeniably strong, humorous, and creative first feature for writer Chinn

June 23rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Olympia” An undeniably strong, humorous, and creative first feature for writer Chinn”

Chicago actress and writer, McKenzie Chinn, makes her feature screenwriting debut with “Olympia,” directed by Greg Dixon and distributed by Cow Lamp Films. Chinn, also the lead in the film, creates a relatable character of Olympia, a young woman at the cross roads in life as she must decide whether or not she can stand on her own two feet.

Olympia is an educated and talented young woman who is stuck in a dead-end, entry-level job while she valiantly attempts to cope with the knowledge that her mother is dying. Diligently visiting and comforting her mom and coming to terms with this inevitable future, she must also now deal with the fact that her understandingly wonderful boyfriend is moving across the country for his job. He wants nothing more than for Olympia to come with him, but that would mean she has to step out of her comfort zone and grow up. Feeling that it’s all spinning out of control, Olympia gently dips her toe in the waters of adulthood and sometimes makes quite a splash.

From the moment we meet Olympia, we love her. She’s real, complicated, and filled with love. But it is her honest depiction of her fears that makes Olympia such a relatable character. Adding that consistent touch of humor, most of which is situational, sets up a protagonist we root for, but never really know which decisions we would make if we were walking in her shoes. To create a character that we have empathy for is quite a feat and Chinn does exactly that.

“Olympia” also hones in on creating authentic dialogue, particularly as we see Olympia interact with her sister and her best friend. Of course, as with any young adult, relationships outside of our love lives are key to working out our issues and making decisions. Olympia angrily and unabashedly discusses her resentment toward her missing father and openly confides her fears with her best friend. And her hesitancy to be completely honest with her boyfriend, Felix (Charles Andrew Gardner), allows us to more fully understand and connect with Olympia.

The realities of the economic difficulties that young grads experience is not news, but the emotional havoc it wreaks on lives is eloquently portrayed in “Olympia.” It is at this stage of life that we find so many crossroads, professionally and personally, and we watch as Olympia contemplates daring to follow her dreams while needing to maintaining a sense of individuality, but lacking the self-confidence that is necessary. Who hasn’t gone through all of this on some level?

Chinn develops her character of Olympia with incredible ease, finding a way to give her the layers and complexities that any woman can relate to. We empathize with her reticence in making a commitment in love and her art while we connect with her trepidation in actually becoming an adult and the possibility of not having her mom to lean on. Chinn’s performance is exceptional as the young woman trying to grow up.

It’s a small ensemble cast in “Olympia” all giving extraordinary, heartfelt performances. From LaNisa Renee Frederick’s undeniably difficult performance as Olympia’s dying mother to Gardner’s remarkable portrayal as Olympia’s boyfriend, the chemistry with Chinn is readily conveyed on screen.

With Chinn’s succinct, humorous, and touching screenwriting paired Dixon’s deft direction, it’s a match made in heaven as the two create a well-balanced and meaningful story. There is a unique creative aspect to this film that makes it even more memorable as the film intertwines graphic artistry, a wonderful soundtrack, and cinematography giving it a sense of whimsy and wonder, capturing the beauty of art and the Second City.

3 1/2 stars

Chicago filmmaker Clare Cooney’s “Runner” available on VOD

April 20th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Chicago filmmaker Clare Cooney’s “Runner” available on VOD”

What would you do, truly, if you witnessed an accidental, yet brutal murder? First-time filmmaker Clare Cooney plunges herself into that question in this captivating short film “Runner.”

Cooney stars in this thriller as Becca, a young woman going on a routine run in her neighborhood on a wintry day in Chicago. Stopping in the alley behind her apartment, ear pods in, music muting the situation before her, we see what she sees…a man and woman arguing. Suddenly, the woman is struck and she collapses. With eye contact made, Becca responds to fight or flight and she runs.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

How she responds next is chillingly real. Finding safety in her apartment and with her boyfriend, her emotions pour, but her decision whether or not to report this man is what’s in question. Learning of the demise of the woman in the alley punctuates the emotional impact and trauma Becca experiences in her every day life, but where is this man? Does he live in her neighborhood? Will she ever bump into him? There’s a feeling of terror bubbling beneath the surface as Becca attempts to go back to her regular daily activities. It’s a visceral experience as we watch Becca in every scene, connecting with her, eliciting our heart to race in suspense, fearing for her safety. Internalizing her emotions, we question what we would do, but the film becomes even more profound as it delves subtly into gender issues of power and intimidation.

“Runner” is an extraordinary portrayal of one woman’s strength and integrity as she is thrust into life and death situations and moral ambiguity for self preservation. Cooney’s depth of character allows us to sense the complexity of the situation and the heightened emotional response, always with authenticity. With this, we are able to walk, or should I say, run, in her shoes, feeling as she does and thinking her every thought.

Cooney, wearing the hats of writer, director, editor, producer, and actress, demonstrates proficiency expected from a seasoned filmmaker, not a first-timer. Not for one minute is any aspect of this film compromised in her overwhelming attempt to wear all of these hats. The script is succinct, the camera work is exceptional, augmenting the storyline, and the overall production value on par with any “big” film. And with a $900 budget, an acting ensemble cast that supports her vision, an experienced co-producer, Shane Simmons, and one of the most promising Chicago cinematographers, Jason Chiu (“Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party” and “Mercury in Retrograde”), Cooney has set the tone for success.

This multiple award-winning short film is available online on Omeleto Channel beginning Tuesday, April 23rd.
OMELETO CHANNEL-YOUTUBE

“The View From Tall” a modern day ‘Scarlet Letter’

April 2nd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The View From Tall” a modern day ‘Scarlet Letter’”

Co-directors Caitlin Parrish and Erica Weiss tell a complicated story of a 17 year-old high school senior whose life takes a different direction after having an affair with her teacher. Amanda Drinkall and Michael Patrick Thornton star in this poignant and impactful tale, particularly in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp.

The opening scene creates an immediate sense of compassion for Justine (Drinkall) who is shunned not only by her parents and sister, but her classmates as well. From glaring stares in the hall to physical intimidation in the classroom, Justine seems to be the victim of intense bullying. As the story begins to take shape through her sessions with a mandatory therapist, Douglas (Thornton), we begin to understand what has happened to this young woman. The punishment she receives from her family, friends, and community for being a victim, although initially she is unaccepting of this title, is beyond comprehension, yet the film demonstrates how easily this can and probably does occur. It is this exploration of sexuality and consent that is perfectly demonstrated in various situations that makes this story so insightful and extraordinary.

Justine’s breaking point severs her professional relationship with Douglas, but awkwardly we see a true friendship develop between the two as they both need a friend in their respective times of need. The writer has set up a delicate balancing act as we see Justine as a vulnerable yet wise teen and Douglas as an older man with high integrity. With this, we hold our breath, waiting for the next shoe to fall, the tension continually building, hoping we can breathe a sigh of relief.

Justine is heads and shoulders above her peers, physically and intellectually, although emotionally she is still a teen and responds like any other 17 year-old. Her relationship with her parents is strained to say the least, and we discover the harsh realities of both her parents’ reactions to her actions as well as other adults. And a sisterly friendship has gone devastatingly awry, as Paula (Carolyn Braver) deceives and denies Justine repeatedly. Justine’s intrinsic fortitude is imperative to her survival and most of us would have buckled under such pressure and scrutiny.

The storyline is reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” as Justine is ostracized and ridiculed for her behavior. There are also assumptions about her character and therefore her rights as a human and a woman based on the fact that a teacher crossed a boundary. Justine is the guilty party in everyone’s eyes, not the teacher. We see everyone’s viewpoint regarding what happened and the humiliation and punishment Justine constantly receives. It’s heartbreaking, particularly as Justine looks back at the particular crossroad in her life, taking her down this life-changing road.

Drinkall and Thornton are extraordinary in these very complicated and deeply layered roles. Their genuine performances bring authenticity to not only their characters, but to the story itself. Both find nuanced subtleties to connect you to their characters and allow you to understand their thoughts and emotions. In fact, the entire cast is incredible and Braver shines as a typical teen, unable to handle her sister’s situation and the unrealistic expectations of her parents.

“The View from Tall” is a gripping story depicting sensitive topics told with deft skill. From underage drinking and eating disorders to bullying and rape, this film finds a way to gently tell a brutal story. And it’s not without humor, as Drinkall’s character is exceptionally bright and as she grows stronger, understanding her situation, she uses her razor sharp wit to cut those who deserve to receive it. Set in Chicago with an incredible musical score, this is a film to see.

Watch the film via FLIX PREMIERE or AMAZON

4 Stars

All-star cast sails smoothly in the rough seas of life and death in “We Are Boats”

February 27th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “All-star cast sails smoothly in the rough seas of life and death in “We Are Boats””

James Bird (“Honeyglue”) continues to share his uniquely captivating view about life in “We Are Boats,” starring Angela Sarafyan (“Westworld”), Luke Hemsworth, and Graham Greene. As Francesca’s (Sarayan) life is cut short, she finds herself in a unique situation in the afterlife–intervening with lives in an effort to be reunited with the young daughter she has left behind.

The story begins with a violent and harsh blow, reminding us of the fragility of life. Francesca, a prostitute, is in the wrong place at the wrong time and now she is interviewing for another career with “Sir” played by Uzo Aduba. Francesca’s strength and determination create unpredictable results as she wanders into several pivotal situations beginning with an unhappily married man and culminating with a young couple about to be married.

Sarafyan is the lead and she shines in this role, using her expressive eyes to convey more than any words she could utter. Her portrayal of Francesca is that of a strong and realistic woman who has the ability to perceive others’ situations and difficulties in a mysterious yet reassuring manner. Encountering a lonely and emotionally lost man, a homeless woman, and a father who is attempting to right his past wrongs, she finds compassion and understanding although a soft touch isn’t always how she delivers it.

The support Sarafyan receives from this all-star ensemble cast allows the different vignettes to develop naturally and cohesively. While many of these glimpses into others’ lives have closure, it is Lucas (Hemsworth) and Ryan’s (Adrian Mather) story that delivers the emotional punch of life and love that hits home. Loyalty, regrets, family, and distrust are all at the core of this particular segment as we see Lucas and Ryan’s relationship teeter. Mather’s character as a bartender, like Francesca, sees the world and those in it a little differently, perhaps jaded, as she utters rather harsh views. For a young woman, Ryan’s past has hardened her and Mather masterfully exhibits these characteristics. Hemsworth’s performance is equally skilled as he demonstrates distrust for his fiancé based on his own insecurities. As Freddy (Justin Cornwell) enters the picture, the awkwardness and deception increases exponentially and we cringe at what is taking place. Cornwell’s performance is a treasure in this story, conflicted yet honest as he follows through with his friend’s request. Of course, Greene is exceptional as a man with regrets, spilling his guts to a bartender as if in a confessional box. He allows us to have compassion for him as he struggles with the end of his time, battling with his inner demons and possible resolution. This story is the climax of the film as we see all the loose ends tied expertly together, creating a dynamic and thought-provoking film about living life and what could possibly be next.

Developing a complicated and layered story could be overwhelming, but Bird’s vision carefully and thoughtfully delves deeply into life with magnetic characters all of whom we can relate on some level. Finding this spirit brings meaning not only to the film and story, but to our own perceptions about life as well. Bird’s message is a positive one, delivered in an astute and understated fashion.

“We Are Boats” is a films that has the power to lift us as it evokes emotion and puts into question what tomorrow can and will bring. Weaving together a common thread among the tapestry of stories gives a satisfying end that stays with you. With beautiful cinematic sequences, we connect with the characters, all brought to life with strong performances.

3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

An Interview with Jennifer Karum

December 20th, 2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “An Interview with Jennifer Karum”

Autism is a word that in today’s schools and society we hear quite often. Our own hometown of Kankakee has, for years, supported Autism Speaks through the Kilbride Family Classic, now known as the Run for Autism.

And through supportive programs such as the Merchant Street Art Gallery of Artists with Autism, the public gets a chance to better appreciate the talents of a population that affects more than 3.5 million Americans, according to the Autism Society.

You might be wondering how autism and film are related as your local film critic is writing this story.

The answer is not only an easy one, but an inspiring one: Jennifer Karum. Through Chicago networking, Karum connected with me about a web series, “Conrad,” she created and recently premiered at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Through numerous conversations and a formal interview recently, Karum shared her thoughts about growing up and her current accomplishments. Here’s what she had to say.

To read the interview in its entirety, go to https://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/q-a-with-conrad-s-jennifer-karum/article_83851c40-023a-11e9-974c-0fe795333f39.html

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