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Monday
Sep282015

Ride @ Riviera Theatre

Ride
Where: Riviera Theatre
When: September 25th, 2015
Grade: 5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed and Photographed by: Neil Miller, Jr.

Once in a great while, you’ll stumble upon a lineup for a live show where the opener is just as enrapturing as the headliner.  Last night, The Besnard Lakes churned out a raucous set of their unique brand of psyched out dream-pop.  I’d heard the band a few times in the last several years, but I had no idea what to expect from their live show and it was a pleasant surprise.  If you haven’t seen or heard this band and you like artists like Ride, My Bloody Valentine, and even the Cocteau Twins and Sonic Youth, you’ll find a lot to appreciate in their catalog.  One song, “Albatross,” really hit me though – once their LED lighting setup kicked into full gear paired with billowing clouds of fog while they unleashed a torrent of comfortable noise, I felt like the band had somehow elevated my state of consciousness.  That or someone spiked my water with LSD.  Whatever the case, I can’t wait for another chance to see this band here in Chicago.  But of course, we were all there for the almighty Ride – and damn, did they deliver one of the most solid live sets I’ve ever witnessed.

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Thursday
Sep172015

Pixels

Pixels
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Released on DVD/Blu-Ray: October 27th, 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker

Given that this year is the 20th anniversary of the comedy classic Billy Madison, a lot has been recently written or said about not only about the legacy of that film, but also of the career of Adam Sandler. The general consensus, at least among my peers, is that his first few films — namely the aforementioned Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore — stand among the best comedies of its time, but his output has since become uninspired and unfunny.

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Thursday
Sep172015

Beyond the Mask

Beyond the Mask
Director: Chad Burns
Released on DVD/Blu-Ray: September 8th, 2015
Grade: 1 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker

For the past decade or so, producers and studios have been trying with varying degrees of success to appeal to church-going families for their movie-going dollars by producing Christian-themed movies. The trend started with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which proved there was an untapped market by bringing in over a half billion at the box office and going on to be the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. It continued with Fireproof, the Kirk Cameron-starring drama that made Sherwood Pictures, a Christian film ministry, a major player in Hollywood after it became the highest-grossing independent film of 2008. It reached an apex last year when films like Noah, Son of God, God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is For Real and Exodus: Gods and Kings gave Christians plenty to choose from at the cineplex.

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Tuesday
Sep152015

Coming Home

Coming Home (Gui lai)
Directed by: Yimou Zhang
Released on: September 9th, 2015 [LIMITED]
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Taking vulgar, ideological populism to its extreme, China's Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s imprisoned thousands of intellectuals who were perceived as "counter-revolutionary" effete bourgeois elements who were trying to bring back capitalism to China.

This Cultural Revolution measure, along with thousands of other counterproductive ones, tore families and lives apart. Based on the ending of Geling Yan's novel, The Criminal Lu Yanshi, the latest film by Yimou Zhang (Ju Dou; To Live; House of the Flying Daggers) cast two of China's finest actors to relay a story about two people who were sacrificed in the name of ideological purity.

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Tuesday
Sep152015

Dragon Blade

Dragon Blade
Directed by: Daniel Lee
Released on: September 4th, 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Gosh darn it. It is such a big production; it means so well; it stars Jackie Chan -- who is so cool; and it has two likable American actors: Adrien Brody and John Cusack. Yet Dragon Blade barely passes the entertainment mustard.

Inspired by, yet hardly accurately based on, historical events, writer-director-production designer Daniel Lee's film sets itself in 50 B.C. along the Silk Road. A significant road for trade between the Occident and the Orient, the protection of the road is headed by Huo An (Chan). A passionate, reasonable, and preferably peaceful man, Huo and his troop protect the land through negotiation and equality -- only resorting to violence when all other means have been resisted by members of the 36 warring nations roaming and occupying the northwestern territory.

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Wednesday
Sep022015

Armada

Armada
Author/Publisher: Ernest Cline/Crown
Release Date: July 14th, 2015
Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Meatballs
Reviewed by: Pawl Schwartz

If you were expecting this book to break new and exciting ground, then put a pin on those expectations now. For better or for worse, Cline has opted to venture down a path that is similar in story, content, and structure to Ready Player One in order to cement his authorial identity and territory, rather than striking out boldly in any new direction.

Armada, as Cline hinted in many pre-release interviews, is as close as we have gotten to a modern Ender’s Game. It could easily be called Ernest Cline’s Ender’s Game without a single change to the story.

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Tuesday
Sep012015

The Second Mother

The Second Mother
Directed by: Anna Muylaert
Released on: August 28th, 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

In one of the nice neighborhoods of São Paulo, an upper-middle class family lives a life of monotonous order where everyone knows her or his place.

The official matriarch of the family, Bárbara (Karine Teles), seems to be of some importance to the fashion world. It is never exactly disclosed what she does, but we know it keeps her away from home during the week. Her husband, Carlos (Lourenco Mutarelli), was once an artist, but now just hangs around the house all day. He inherited money from his hardworking father so why labor? Their son, Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), is a teenage kid with all the advantages and none of the discipline to carve much of an identity for himself. He likes to swim and smoke pot.

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Monday
Aug242015

Digging for Fire

Digging for Fire
Director: Joe Swanberg
Released on: August 21st, 2015
Grade: 2 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Lee (Rosemarie Dewitt), her husband, Tim (co-writer Jake Johnson), and their 3-year-old son, Jude (Jude Swanberg), have just arrived at a swank Hollywood Hills home, courtesy of one of Lee's clients.

While walking the grounds, Tim discovers a bone and a gun halfway buried in the dirt. He calls the cops, but the operator "with an attitude" says there is nothing they can do without more "evidence" (a suspicious response, but okay). Tim wants to excavate the grounds further to find proof of misdeeds. Lee thinks it is a bad idea. Tim concedes to Lee.

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Monday
Aug242015

Top Spin

Top Spin
Director: Sara Newens, Mina T. Son
Released on: August 21st, 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther 

For many Americans, playing table tennis, AKA ping pong, has been an enduring pastime over the years. The difference, however, between recreational fun and those striving for Olympic play is a lot longer than the length of a ping pong table and a lot harder than the speed of a smash hit.

Proving the sport can take on a greater level of skill and commitment than the typical American will see in her or his lifetime, Mina T. Son and Sara Newens' documentary, Top Spin, sheds lights on the great game of table tennis through its three highly likable and highly skilled subjects. These intelligent, well adjusted American kids are not just good, they are seeking a spot at the 2012 London Olympics.  

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Monday
Aug242015

Grandma

Grandma
Director: Paul Weitz
Released on: August 21st, 2015
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

One of the most audacious American films of the year is finally here. I am writing about writer-director Paul Weitz's Grandma. 

A considerable hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival, the 80-minute Grandma tells the story of Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin), a woman navigating her life after her longtime lover has passed away. Afraid to ever get close to another lover again, Elle cruelly, somewhat abruptly, ends her four-month relationship with Olivia (Judy Greer). 

That same day, Elle's granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner) shows up at Elle's doorsteps unannounced. Sage is pregnant and needs the money to terminate the pregnancy and terminate it that day — no waiting periods in California. 

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