Review: “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and Q&A with Céline Sciamma

“It’s done,” Céline Sciamma said through laughter, “I don’t need your approval!” Ten minutes earlier, a lengthy applause break punctuated the film screening and Sciamma was welcomed to the stage with a standing ovation. Sitting in a folding director’s chair on-stage in the sold-out Music Box Theater in Chicago, IL, Sciamma shared insights on the filmmaking process during a question and answer session with the audience. The early pre-screening of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019) was part of a press tour preceding the films wide release in the United States.

Review: The Peanut Butter Falcon

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” (2019) was a breakout hit from writers and directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. Before this, Nilson and Schwartz directed documentaries and short films, so this narrative feature debut is a departure from their typical formats. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” has been very successful thus far. It’s the highest grossest indie film of 2019 for good reason. This modern retelling of the classic tale of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is a joy to watch. The twangy soundtrack, picturesque setting, and stellar performances work together to set “Peanut Butter Falcon” apart as a film unlike others. 

Retrospective Review: “Cam”

Doused in colorful lighting, Lola (Madeline Brewer) sits in front of a webcam with a knife in hand. She raises the knife to her throat and carefully presses down, releasing fake blood that flows down her front. Lola’s fans go wild, tuning in to more of her shows and sending her tips. Lola, who goes by Alice off-cam, is thrilled — she’s moving up the ranks of the livestreaming site thanks to her hard work crafting unique and exhilarating shows like the fake suicide show. With her newfound success, Alice continues to set up eye-catching shows to move further up the ranks. Another cam girl gets in her way, though. And she looks freakishly similar to Lola/Alice. The film takes a quick turn into psychological horror territory as Alice embarks on a mission to find the doppelganger and get to the bottom of things. 

Review: “Jezebel”

Numa Perrier’s feature debut “Jezebel” (2019) is a deeply personal film that makes viewers feel like they’re a part of the action. Perrier, the writer director, and co-star of the film, based the film on her experiences as a cam girl. The film is an important step in humanizing sex workers, a group of people who are often looked down on and disrespected. At its heart, “Jezebel” is about sisterhood and grief through the lens of two sex workers struggling financially and emotionally. 

ITOL 2019 Roundup: Honey Boy

“Honey Boy” is a deeply sad, yet still hopeful story of a child, Otis, who essentially raised himself. That child’s story is largely based on the life of Shia LaBeouf, the writer and star of the film who plays his own abusive father. The film is raw and hard to watch at times as a young Otis (Noah Jupe) acts to support his parents while living in a motel with his father, James (Shia LaBeouf). Even with the upsetting events that take place, Otis finds joy in his work and through his friendship with a neighbor (FKA Twigs). 

ITOL 2019 Roundup: Knives Out

Rian Johnson's new movie “Knives Out” is the best whodunit film since “Clue” (1985). The star-studded cast and multiple twists make it a wild ride, entertaining at every turn. With talents like Jamie Lee Curtis, Daniel Craig, LaKeith Stanfield, Chris Evans, Toni Colette, and so many more, I knew “Knives Out” would be good before I entered the theater. There was no way I could have predicted just how good, though. “Knives Out” is like popcorn; with each bite you can’t stop yourself from wanting a little bit more. As the mystery unravels, more questions arise and things get more and more complicated. 

ITOL Top 50 Films of the Decade, Entry No. 5: The Babadook

Jennifer Kent’s 2014 debut feature film “The Babadook” is a hauntingly beautiful tale of a depressed mother and her young son. In a lot of ways, it’s a classic ghost story, but the deeper meaning Kent infuses takes the film to the next level. Essie Davis gives a stellar performance as Amelia, a widowed single mother facing a deep depression. Her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is a point of grief for Amelia since her husband died on the way to the hospital while she was in labor. Not only is Amelia left without her partner, she is left with Samuel, a constant reminder of her husband that also looks like him. 

Review: Little Monsters

As part of their Huluween celebration, Hulu released “Little Monsters” (written and directed by Abe Forsythe) on October 11, 2019. The comedic zombie-horror flick comes just in time for spooky season and boasts a star-studded cast including Lupita Nyong’o (“Us”, “12 Years a Slave”, “Black Panther”) and Josh Gad (“Frozen”, “Beauty and the Beast”). Even with so many of the right ingredients, “Little Monsters” doesn’t follow through. Many of the jokes fall flat and the one-note characters make the film drag even though it’s just over ninety minutes long. 

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