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Monday
Feb222016

Zoolander 2

Zoolander 2
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Released on: February 12th, 2016
Grade: 1 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

From the opening scene, audiences will know exactly what to expect in Zoolander 2: a noisy, often nonsensical, unfunny enterprise with lots and lots of cameos from some of the culture industry's most recognized faces.

Looking like a lame music video, two daredevil motorcyclists are chasing singer-songwriter and non-actor Justin Bieber through the streets. (Fortunately the notoriously "dangerous" driver is on foot.) After getting gunned down in a hail of bullets a la Sonny Corleone (James Caan) in The Godfather, Bieber strikes a few selfie poses, picks the right one and then ends it out before his final breath.

It is a good thing none of those hundreds of bullets fired into Bieber ever struck one of the most recognizable faces in the world. Otherwise, it would have been very difficult for J-Beebs to send his facial message to the likes of Valentina Valencia (Penélope Cruz), leading agent of Interpol's Fashion Division.

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Monday
Feb222016

Jim: The James Foley Story

Jim: The James Foley Story
Directed by: Brian Oakes
Released on: HBO & Sundance Film Festival 2016
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

For most Americans, the introduction to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (AKA ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) came via the video of American journalist James "Jim" Foley. Shaved, dressed in orange clothing and kneeling somewhere in a desert in Syria, Foley was forced to read "Warning to America" before a camera. After he finished reading the forced diatribe against family and country, Foley was beheaded.

The story of how the man met his tragic fate is the subject of director Brian Oakes documentary, Jim: The James Foley Story.

To the documentary's credit it makes it clear from the beginning that this will not be a sensationalized hagiography of the 40-year-old murdered journalist, but about why he did the work and the prices he, and others, paid for it. "The film shows images of war recorded by conflict journalists. It does not show the execution of Jim," the opening credits declare.

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Wednesday
Feb172016

TRANSVIOLET @ Metro

Transviolet
Where: Metro
When: February 16th, 2016
Grade: 3.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed and Photographed by: Neil Miller, Jr.

Crappy weather and a late Tuesday night set didn’t make for an ideal evening to head out to a show for a lot of Chicagoans, it seems.  Performing to a room of less than 100 people, NYxLA’s Transviolet had no trouble filling the empty space in the room with their fresh take on the booming electronic pop genre.  Since the general public has only heard a handful of songs from the young group, they loaded up their set with new songs that we’re sure to hear on their forthcoming debut album.  Although the band sounded great and Sarah McTaggart’s vocals were absolutely blissful, I was overcome with one burning question…

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Tuesday
Feb022016

A Good Wife

A Good Wife [Dobra zena]
Directed by: Mirjana Karanovic
Released at: Sundance Film Festival 2016
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Commencing and concluding with a disrupting male gaze that focuses on two circles of sorts, Serbian actor Mirjana Karanovic makes an impressive debut as director and co-writer in A Good 
Wife, a film about personal and political cancer in current Serbia. 

Milena (Karanovic) is 50-year-old mother of three taking care of hubby (Boris Isakovic) and household in a small suburb outside of Belgrade. A woman with little identity of her own, Milena fills her days shopping, gossiping with other equally vacuous (yet not so wealthy) housewives and watching home videos. 

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Tuesday
Feb022016

Pleasure. Love.

Pleasure. Love.
Directed by: Huang Yao
Released on: Sundance Film Festival 2016
Grade: 2 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

In Huang Yao's Pleasure. Love. people in their 30s essentially have love (and career) worked out and it is up to them to impart that wisdom on their younger counterparts so they may in turn bestow such wisdom and assurance on future lovers. 

Two stories with overlapping narratives, the first one, "Pleasure" is the more interesting and developed one. Nan (Daizhen Ying) has moved to Beijing, China, to go to school, but he is soon expelled due to lack of payment. This leads to a job selling books on the street (how novel), which pays so little he is threatened with eviction (a distracting, underdeveloped subplot). One night he meets Yajie (Nan Yu). Gorgeous, middle class, older and more mature, only in cinema land would a painfully awkward guy like Nan get a woman Yajie's caliber.

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Monday
Jan042016

REACTION NYE w/Purity Ring & Skrillex

Reaction NYE w/Purity Ring & Skrillex
Where: Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
When: December 31st, 2015
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed and Photographed by: Neil Miller, Jr.

To ring in the New Year, it seemed apt to go hard or go home – the latter of which is what I normally choose to do every year.  Of all the events happening around Chicago, React Presents’ Reaction NYE event seemed the most appealing.  With a diverse lineup teeming with great artists like Purity Ring, Skrillex, and Chicago’s own Autograf, it made sense to check out what was happening in Rosemont on this special evening.  When held up against the other options Chicagoans had for NYE plans, this certainly ended up as the place to be to bring in 2016.

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Wednesday
Dec232015

Uncle Nick

Uncle Nick
Directed by: Chris Kasick
Released on: December 4th, 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Featuring a performance and physique few A-list actors would maintain in a Holiday-centered film, Brian Posehn plays the eponymous character in Chris Kasick's directorial debut, Uncle Nick.

We first meet Nick at home, lounging around in his boxers, surrounded by empty bottles of booze and X-rated material streaming on his laptop. When he stands up, he is all flab, rubber and smooth (except for a stretchmark he will inquire about later). Audiences may also ask: Is he too drunk to get an erection?

A lonely guy with seemingly nothing positive going on in his life, Nick finds out from his mother's nursing home that she will not be able to spend Christmas eve with her family. This does not sit well for Nick. He wanted his mother along, at least to serve as a buffer against his detestable brother, Cody (Beau Ballinger), and as a ride over to said brother's house. Nick just got a DUI.

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Tuesday
Dec012015

HEALTH @ Lincoln Hall

HEALTH w/Pictureplane
Where: Lincoln Hall
When: November 28th, 2015
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Neil Miller, Jr.

I’ve always had a passing interest in HEALTH – their music is polarizing to say the least.  Either you can appreciate the organized noise and the slightly comforting abrasive electronics they inject into their music, or you just consider it to be hot garbage.  For those in the latter category, now may be the time for you to rediscover the LA band.  Their new album, Death Magic, is the reason I made it a point to check out the guys at Lincoln Hall.  It’s far removed from their previous work, sounding more like a band who would sound at home on labels like Digital Hardcore or even Wax Trax!.  There are hooks, the production is clean as a whistle, and although there are still blasts of noise a la the old days, the record is largely based on electronic sounds rather than organic instruments (although Benjamin Jared Miller’s drums are still quite prevalent).  I just bought the album the day before the show and decided that I had to hear how this all translated onstage and thankfully, the results were scintillating.

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Tuesday
Nov172015

I Smile Back

I Smile Back
Directed by: Adam Salky
Released on: November 6th, 2015
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther


Featuring Sarah Silverman in what may be the best performance in any American film this year, I Smile Back offers a tragic look into a woman who can no longer take the artifice of her milieu.

Laney (Silverman) seems to have it all: a very nice home; a loving, handsome husband who has just published a book named Bruce (an excellent Josh Charles); two healthy, adorable children (Shayne Colman and Skylar Gaertner) and all the leisure time she can handle.

Yet she is not happy. Everyone around her is bogus in some way, falsifying her or his (mostly his) testimony everywhere Laney looks. Trapped in such existential horror, what is a bourgeois women to do other than consume copious amounts of cocaine and alcohol? Oh, and have an affair with a close friend, Donny (Thomas Sadoski), who is one fraudulent mother pumper. Has Laney never heard of going shopping in order to fill the void?

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Monday
Nov162015

Love

Love
Directed by: Gaspar Noé
Released on: October 30th, 2015 [LIMITED]
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther 

Nothing should be surprising when one goes to see a film by writer-director Gaspar Noé (Irreversible; Enter the Void). In the opening scene of his latest film, Love, a woman named Electra (Aomi Muyock) and a man named Murphy (Karl Glusman) are fingering the genitals of each other. His cock is as hard as rock (a stiffy in cinema!) while she is just squeaky wet. The scene does not end until he ejaculates — money shot and all.

Clearly, the two are in love.

With the cinematic blink of an eye, which Noé used masterfully in Enter the Void, Murphy now occupies his bed with Omi (Klara Kristen). It is New Year's Day and their son, Noe (Jean Couteau), is screaming in the other room. As Murphy goes to retrieve the boy, we learn Murphy is suffering from veisalgia (AKA a hangover) and has been hung out to dry up in a relationship he does not want.

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