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. 

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 Round-up: Little Women

In the opening scene of “Little Women” (2019), when we see Saoirse Ronan’s character entering a publisher’s office to try to sell her work and get herself taken seriously as a writer, we’re not just seeing the character of Jo March. We’re also seeing Louisa May Alcott, who wrote the novel that the film is adapted from, and perhaps even the film’s writer and director Greta Gerwig herself.

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 Round-up: Parasite

While Bong’s films are often very funny affairs, “Parasite” is his first outright comedy since 2000 debut “Barking Dogs Never Bite”. This is a pitch-black farce that frequently becomes a delightful caper – albeit one whose heroes have ineffably murky methods. You love to root against the Park couple: Yeon-kyo (Jo Yeo-jong) is a prim-and-proper lady and Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun) is a suave tech executive, but in reality they’re disgusted by the slightest bit of the real world.

ITOL Top 50 Films of the Decade, Entry No.12: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

The fact that writer-director Ana Lily Armipour’s genre-hopping A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014) ranks so highly in ITOL’s top 50 films by women of the decade list is a testament to its originality, cult appeal, and fang-sharp social commentary. Billed as an Iranian Vampire Western, and set in the fictional Bad City, it nods to a myriad of influences from classic horror and film noir, to Tarantino, comic books and David Lynch- clanking industrial images and sounds loom large and fever-dream music-sequences are woven throughout. 

ITOL Top 50 Films of the Decade, Entry No. 16: Revenge

A young woman arrives in an idyllic poolside estate overlooking the desert with her wealthy, older boyfriend. She is scantily clad and coquettish--working a lollipop in quite the lasciviously suggestive way. What seems like a hedonist fantasy at first (an older, wealthy, married man all alone in a beautiful house with a young sexy woman and a weekend filled with their vices of choice: drugs, alcohol, sex) gets upended when Richard’s (Kevin Janssens) sketchy pals, Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) arrive unannounced. This sticky situation is further aggravated when, during a night of partying, Jen (Matilda Lutz) proceeds to drunkenly flirt with them all. 

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