Posts tagged "CIFF"

“Knives Out” is an ingeniously funny and smart whodunit movie

November 24th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Knives Out” is an ingeniously funny and smart whodunit movie”

Writer and director Rian Johnson changes gears from “Star Wars: Episode VIII-The Last Jedi” to his newest film “Knives Out,” an ingenious, whip-smart comedic thriller with an incredible all-star cast. This old-fashioned “who-dunnit” crime story takes us on a ride of mystery, intrigue, and puzzle-solving while laughing the entire time. This is a standout film of the year.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is the family’s patriarch having made his fortune writing murder mysteries. Coincidentally, the old man dies in his palatial mansion and his family, focused on the inheritance and not shedding a tear, are stopped short of the treasure chest as the famed Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) suspects foul play. This, of course, would change the cause of death from suicide to murder and now puts each and every family member under the microscope as suspects.

Oh, what a family this is! Timing the release perfectly for Thanksgiving, you’ll find that your own family isn’t quite so dysfunctional after watching this one. Johnson covers all his family relationship bases with an ex-wife, a trust fund, shallow grandson named Ransom (Chris Evans), a controlling daughter, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Valley Girl Joni (Toni Collette) as well as the disappointing son Walt (Michael Shannon). There are plenty of in-law issues beginning with Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson) and strange grandchildren. We even have the Keystone Cops lead by Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield).

It’s evident from the beginning that we are in for a rip-roaring good time as the interrogation begins. Flashing between each of the suspects, a lone man slouches off in the corner at a piano, intermittently hitting a single key. Confusingly funny, the subjects make comments as to this man’s presence. We see the tangled web of deceit has been spun perfectly and now the players are all accounted for. The story then takes us back in time using a non-linear storytelling technique to put the pieces of the puzzle in proper order to solve the mystery of who killed Harlan Thrombey…or was it a suicide?

“Knives Out” keeps you on your toes with its clever unveiling of clues while distracting you with these bizarre and over-the-top characters who all have a motive or two. Collette and Evans take on roles and perform like you’ve never seen them before adding to the unexpected twists and turns as well as the hilarity. Johnson’s genius writing is always a step ahead of you, never putting all the pieces of the puzzle together until he wants you to.

The film, in all is jocularity, actually finds a way to address a common theme of movies this year: the haves versus the have-nots. Of course, with this wealthy family comes the topic of entitlement and work ethics, but these heavier subjects are all boiling well beneath the surface, fostering the hilarious situations and consequences.

While all the characters and performances are uniquely strong, the commonality among them is the actors truly seem to be having fun, elevating their performances to the highest level. Plummer just gets better and better, showing audiences that he truly can take any role and bring it to its ultimate potential. His character of “Harlan” is smart and strong with great wisdom and verve all delivered with a knowing twinkle in his eye. Each actor’s character gets a moment in the spotlight, allowing us to know who they truly are and what drives them. Two surprising performances come from Craig as he stuns us with his comedic timing. It’s a dry humor, the writing creating a strange interaction to make us laugh, but it it Craig’s interpretation and presentation that adds just the right touch. And then there’s Evans who certainly doesn’t come off as Capt. America. He’s a narcissistic, entitled, blue blood who is despicably condescending—but all of these attributes are presented in unexpectedly delightful ways.

Another surprise is a relatively unknown actor who has a lead in this film, Ana de Armas who portrays Marta Cabrera, the nurse and caregiver for Harlan. Her storyline stitches all the characters together while the social issue of immigration plays every so perfectly into this narrative. de Armas’ performance hits all the right notes as she invites us to walk in her shoes. She’s remarkably engaging, honing her ability to connect with the audience no matter her circumstances.

As you can see, there is one enjoyable and entertaining surprise after another. Its fast pace never lets you catch your breath as you happily try to see the full picture, but alas, Johnson is the driver of that car and you’ll get there when he wants you to. To find such an entertaining murder mystery with the feel of a film from days gone by is an absolute treasure. This incredibly smart and funny film with standout performances from actors who are having as much fun as the viewer is sure to be tops on not just critics’ lists, but yours as well.

4/4 stars

“Waves” Interview with Writer/Director and Stars

November 14th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on ““Waves” Interview with Writer/Director and Stars”

Trey Edward Shults boldly plunges in to his second full-length feature film “Waves,” starring Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (“Luce”), Taylor Russell, and Sterling K. Brown depicting a suburban family dealing with an unexpected tragedy and must find a way to forgive and ultimately heal. This personal film explores the emotional range of a young black man never quite seen on the silver screen before. Shults, Harrison Jr., and Russell were all in Chicago for the Chicago International Film Festival and sat down with me to discuss the making of this tragically beautiful and visceral film.
*(Edited for space and clarity)

Pamela Powell (PP): I know your first film, “Krisha,” was a very personal one, based upon your own life’s expereinces. Is “Waves” also?

Trey Edward Shults (TES): Yes, it was. This one probably more myself or starting with myself and things I’ve actually lived and gone through…and the collaboration with Kel (Kelvin). It was a kind of very narrow, personal point of view and understanding other perspectives as well.

PP: Was this a type of therapy or catharsis for you?

TES: My mom and my step-dad are both therapists. I think that could go both ways, but I actually feel very blessed to have two parents as therapists because I think I would have been a total mess and they put up with me pretty well. (Everyone laughing) I think everything I’ve done so far is working something out. I genuinely believe that with this movie [I] was putting a lot of past experiences, some present, and everything that I believe and feel as a human being, spiritually, creatively, emotionally, where I’m at right now, into a movie. It was an incredibly cathartic experience; every different stage of the movie.

PP: Kelvin, tell me about your input and collaborating with Trey.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. (KHJ): He pretty much already had an idea of what the movie was going to be and at the end of “It Comes At Night,” he said he was going to make this high school movie and I was like well then maybe I should be in it.(Laughs). So then about a year later, he came and he was like, ok, I’m ready. And so let’s talk about it. …. the collaboration became this, like Trey said earlier, therapy for us. Rehashing out our childhood and our upbringing and relationships and experiences with our fathers and my sister and our romantic relationships and just trying to figure out who are we and what would it feel like to be a young man. What were the struggles of just trying to find our identity in that moment, just trying to understand and love yourself. It was like honest and this universal truth so then me coming into it, just explaining to him what it was like to be an African American and throwing in those experiences, him just being such a great listener.

PP: Forgive me if I’m unaware, but I really haven’t seen an African-American family portrayed in this way before.

Taylor Russell (TR): No, I think you’re incredibly intuitive. We were at a Q&A and it was a mixed audience … What was lovely is that somebody said, he wasn’t Black, this story doesn’t feel like a Black story, it feels universal. On the other side, a Black person said, this feels like so tailored to the African American experience. … It’s very rare that you see a person of color who you see all the nuances and the tones of what it’s really like to be a real person who is African American, who’s upper middle class or who has all the different levels as human beings. I think because of the fact that it’s universal and about a Black family, we really haven’t seen that before and I think it’s really important.

PP: Kelvin, tell me about creating such evocative scenes and which one spoke to you?

KHJ: To be honest, I think it’s the scene with Tay in the bathroom. I think it’s because, first of all in terms of masculinity and black masculinity that was something we really wanted to explore …I look at Denzel and he does it so well, but then there’s that strength behind it [and there’s] always this idea that I’m going to hold it together because I have to. One of my favorite movies is Michael B. Jordan in “Fruitvale Station,” and even him in this movie, it’s still like, be tough, get through it. … I think we see, they’re playing the truth of what this is to be a Black man, and it speaks on the progression of where we are and what the youth are like. … they have the opportunity to be more vulnerable and be less fearful.

PP: Trey, tell me about creating an unexpected yet now favorite scene.

TES: When Tay and Lucas meet, that, I wasn’t even going to shoot the scene that way because that seems very unorthodox where it zooms in on her. It was just going to be a two shot, solo shots the whole time, but I let the scene keep running. We zoomed back out and we kept playing this whole scene with this nice awkward take where you see the body language. It feels really special because of that.

PP: The cinematography is uniquely dramatic. Can you tell me about that, especially driving and capturing these sometimes dizzying scenes.

TES: I [try] to make them (the cameras) feel hidden. Sometimes they are far away or were tucked behind something, but sometimes they’re right here, spinning (hand in front of Kelvin’s face) in front of their faces, but we’re trying to not get in their way. We want to set up the environment for freedom so I hope for them, it feels like the camera isn’t even here any more [that] we’re just playing.

“Waves” opens Friday, November 15 in limited theaters.

“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

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