The 16th Annual Ebert Film Festival is set to raise the curtain Wednesday, April 23rd and run through Sunday, April 27th at the historic and recently renovated Virginia Theatre in Champaign, IL.  Over the course of five days, 12 films will be shown with filmmakers and/or actors in attendance to give insight to their film.  “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival,” now known as Ebertfest, was founded in 1999 by the renowned film critic Roger Ebert.  Ebert, the former University of Illinois Journalism graduate and Pulitzer Prize winner, began the film festival to recognize films that he felt did not receive the accolades deserved during their original run.  To this day, this concept continues with his widow, Chaz and Festival Director Nate Kohn, choosing the films to be shown.

With Mr. Ebert’s passing just a year ago, the hopes and intentions of Ebertfest will “keep true to Roger’s vision and philosophy,” according to Mary Susan Britt, Associate Festival Director.  The festival will be “sharing fantastic films with a diverse international festival audience.”  Ms. Britt also shared that although there are many highlights in this year’s festival, there are two that truly stand out:  “Our festival is opening with LIFE ITSELF, a feature documentary based on Roger Ebert’s memoir; directed by Steve James.”  In addition, “a statue of Mr. Ebert will be unveiled in front of the Virginia Theatre during the festival.”

What makes Ebertfest different and even standout among so many film festivals across the country is the fact that it does not give prizes nor does it have categories of competition.  There is no distribution business that occurs as is typical at other festivals.  This festival celebrates quality films and recognizes the filmmakers who made them.  As Ms. Britt stated, “Filmmaker guests are treated like people, not like celebrities…we are very informal and relaxed.”  Given the filmmaker lineup, that might be difficult to do!  Brie Larson from SHORT TERM 12, Patton Oswalt from YOUNG ADULT, Oliver Stone from BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, and Spike Lee from DO THE RIGHT THING are several examples of the talent available to answer your questions after the screening.  For a complete list of films and guests attending the festival, go to

The schedule of films this year is outstanding with WADJDA, LIFE ITSELF, A SIMPLE LIFE, and CAPOTE among many others.  Having the directors on hand to share relevant and interesting background information absolutely enhances the film viewing experience.  When will you ever have the opportunity to hear Oliver Stone talk about BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY again?

Ebertfest also holds Panel Discussions which address topics such as “Remembering Roger Ebert,” “The State & Future of Independent Film,” and “Filmmakers Workshop”  as well as several more.  Experts in the field of film will be on hand to discuss these topics and answer pertinent questions to enlighten listeners.  Michael Barker, Co-President and Co-Founder of Sony Pictures Classics, C.O. “Doc” Erickson, an executive producer for major Hollywood films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW and VERTIGO, and Michael Phillips, film critic at the Chicago Tribune are a few of the foremost authorities sharing their wealth of knowledge with you, the audience.

Get your tickets now as these films do sell out!  Individual tickets as well as festival passes are available.  Prices range form $14 per film with student and senior pricing available.  Panel discussions are free and open to the public.  The Virginia Theatre is located in downtown Champaign close to many wonderful restaurants enabling you to make a day of it. With the quality of films showing, the talent in attendance, and the extra events taking place,  this is going to be a film festival worthy of two thumbs up!






Available on VOD Tuesday, April 22nd!  Order on iTunes by the 22nd and receive a free outtakes link too!

Starring:  Blayne Weaver, Patrick Day, and Cheryl Nichols
Written and Directed by: Paul Osborne

“Favor” had its Midwest Premiere at the Waterfront Film Festival to a packed house recently on a late Friday night.  Given its dark and twisted nature, nighttime was the perfect time to see this film.  ”Favor” posed these questions…When you do a friend a favor, do you keep track?  And if you keep track, when do you call it “Even Steven?”  When Kip, a successful marketing agent accidentally murders his mistress in a seedy hotel room, he calls his childhood friend Marvin to clean up his mess. Marvin, an unemployed loser, apparently sees this as an opportunity to balance the scales.  How far will each of them go to get what they want?

“Favor” was a powerful, suspenseful, and intense psychological thriller that kept you guessing at every dramatic intersection.  This film had more dangerous twists and turns than Mulholland Drive on a dark and stormy night.  Kip, in his perfect life where his colleagues admired him, women wanted him, and his adoring, beautiful wife trusted and loved him, didn’t appear to realize what he had.  Greed got the better of him and when his bosom buddy from elementary school tried to make him realize this, in not so friendly ways, both Kip and Martin fell into a moral abyss.  As the decisions spiraled downward, I sat on the edge of my seat, sometimes holding my breath, not knowing what was going to happen next.  This unpredictability paired with the intensity of each and every deeper and darker situation, kept you glued to the screen.  How could Kip rectify the situation?  Kip just kept getting dragged further and further down the the slippery slope of life.  Take a deep breath here because even with all the intensity and violence, there was still humor interspersed.  The balance of all these factors made this film brilliant.  I’m not from England so I’m not throwing around the term ‘brilliant.’  It truly was.  From the beginning to the end, you will never see what’s around the next corner.

“Favor” was like few movies hitting the theaters these days in wide release.  It was a great story told well, as independent film supporter Robert Redford would say.  The script was concise and intelligently written.  However, even with a great script, you also need a talented cast.  ”Favor” had not only a talented cast, but an outstanding one.  Blayne Weaver played Kip, the self-absorbed, egotistical, greedy yet successful marketing agent.  Patrick Day, starred as Marvin, the not-so-lovable loser.  His appearance, style of speech, mannerisms, and overall presence were increasingly more menacing and disturbing as the movie developed.  ”Favor,” made you realize that when you have the right script, the right cast, and the right director, you have a standout film.  Favor was a brilliant, dark, and intense psychological thriller that was full of surprises.

As the lights in the theater came up, the audience simultaneously had an audible exhalation.  Several of us chuckled at how we didn’t see things coming and the overall response was, “Amazing!”  We were then lucky enough to hear the director/writer and two main actors answer questions after the film.

Given the nature of the film, I anticipated a somber and brooding type of writer.  I couldn’t have been any more wrong.  Paul Osborne was charasmatic and immensely funny.  The Q & A had the flavor of an interactive stand up comedy show!  Blayne and Patrick were sweet, handsome, and humble…quite the antithesis of their characters.  This was pointed out by several audience members which hammered home the point of how talented these actors were. One story that stood out concerned one of the hidden obstacles or bumps in the road they experienced while filming.  There was a need for a couple of mounds of dirt.  The digging was to take place in the Santa Monica mountains.  Apparently, according to section 2.4, article 32, paragraph 3, you may not dig here.  You can bring dirt in for the mounding purposes, but it couldn’t be just any dirt.  It had to be “special” dirt.  As he ordered his special dirt, he needed to specify a quantity.  The poor guy didn’t know what a “yard” was so he ordered 9 of them!  I guess there are advantages to growing up in rural NY!  Many other stories were told, but if I share any more, it might ruin
the movie for you.

“Favor” is now one of my top psychological thrillers.  This is a must see!
FAVOR trailer

It’s only appropriate that HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is opening this weekend, Easter Weekend.  Greg Kinnear, Thomas Haden Church, and Margo Martindale are familiar faces that grace the screen.  But the new cherubic face that trumps them all is Connor Corum.  Those chubby cheeks and sweet, innocent blue eyes are the true screen stealer.  The story of, or perhaps more aptly put, the question of whether or not Heaven is for real has been and will always be a debated topic.  Perhaps this movie will sway people in one direction or another to answer that question for themselves.


Todd Burpo (Kinnear) wears many hats in the rural town of Imperial, Nebraska, but one of the hats is that of the local pastor.  He and his wife lead the congregation while raising their two young children.  The scenery is pastoral (pun intended) with idyllic family values evident as the family sings songs on a family trip.  Imperial, NE is a community that looks out for one another and supports each other.  When Burpo’s young son Colton experiences a near death trauma due to an illness, he visits Heaven.  As he relates his wonderfully pleasant experience to his family, Todd Burpo along with the entire community begin to question if this child could be telling the truth.  With nay-sayers, reporters, and those that truly don’t want to know, Todd begins to question his own faith.  Has he really been believing and practicing what he has preached?


Let me begin by saying that this is a book written by Todd Burpo based on his experiences with his son.  Knowing this information makes the film a bit more impactful.  Unfortunately, for those of you who have seen the trailers, the entire movie has already been shown.  Filler scenes are there to tie in these clips.


HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is a nice movie about one man’s belief in God.  Ironically, this man in question is a preacher.  It brings this leader of men to an even level with the congregation, seeing that we all struggle with our faith.  Within these esoteric struggles, there are also tangible issues such as finances and church boards to deal with—very real life issues we can all relate to.  Although this movie seems a bit contrived and too perfect, it’ll still bring you to tears as these various families struggle with unanswerable questions.  Its slow pace and predictable dialogue wears a bit thin by the end, but the angelic face of Colton will keep you interested.


Greg Kinnear plays this role well as he portrays the charismatic family man to perfection.  Connor will capture your heart and make a non-believer believe he is the one who truly did visit Heaven.  The rest of the cast played their parts, but there is nothing outstanding here.  Couple that with the dialogue and you have mediocrity.


HEAVEN IS FOR REAL  is a movie with a message and for those who want to hear the message, it is loud and clear.  As a film, it is not outstanding in the least.  However, it is a family oriented, wholesome movie giving people hope and belief.  If you want a holiday movie this weekend to take your family to, this is the one to go to.  It might just make a believer out of you.  heaven bookIf you’re looking for great cinematic entertainment, you will be disappointed.   If you’re looking for something more enlightening, perhaps you should read the book instead.  As one patron who read the book stated, “…the book is more powerful.”


5 REELS/10




Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” gets a wider release this weekend.  The avant-garde filmmaker is known for his unusual perspective, both thematically and cinematically.  You may recall his most recent film “Moonrise Kingdom,” holding true to that unusual perspective.  His newest film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” follows along that same continuum as well as harnessing the talents of his all-star cast.  


BUDA7“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is told in parts or acts as would a play in the theater.  Using narration and switching narrators where it is appropriate, the story revolves around a book written about a grand hotel nestled high in the mountains in a far away place.  We are transported back in time as we find ourselves peering into the life of this young writer played by Jude Law.  The hotel is not grand nor is it beautiful at this point, but the Young Writer befriends a man we find out is the owner of the property and shares quite a grandiose story.  The colors on the screen become sharp, bold, and vivd as we are spiraled further back in time to when this hotel was truly magnificent and all the people who stayed there were as well.  


This complex, but eloquently told story from the perspective of Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) is one of fancy and preposterous situations that all arise because of a caring man, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), head concierge at the hotel.  With BUDA8his love of older (much, much older) women, he finds himself at odds with one woman’s family after her passing.  The antics begin as the story becomes more and more complicated, but still following a somehow logical path.  M. Gustave and his lobby boy, Zero (Mr. Moustafa) are thrown into one situation after another; delving deeper and deeper into the sordid and sometimes disturbingly violent mess ahead of them.  As a viewer, your attention never wanes as you are captivated by either the gorgeously flowing and poetic language or the elegant, ornate, surroundings with vivid pops of color.  Your sense of vision and hearing is constantly entertained.


“The Grand Budapest Hotel” covers every possible topic.  There’s love, hate, family issues, class ranking, violence, politics, greed, burglary, death, and anything else life could possibly throw at you.  It’s quick pace holds you to the story line unfolding almost magically before you.  This film captures the essence of a bygone and romanticized era.


BUDA5The film is written in a very whimsical style punctuated by a surreal environment and exaggerations of every form, yet it is a story that captures you.  This is a stylistic film.  You notice the lack of color or the bombardment of it.  You are very aware of the contrasting language styles as the poetry abruptly halts with a familiar and not so poetic phrase which is truly humorous.  The elegance of the upper class and the thugs within it are clearly defined as with Willem Dafoe’s character of Jopling and Harvey Keitel’s Ludwig.  Mr. Anderson tends to bring back actors from previous films and this film is no different.  Bill Murray and Edward Norton grace the screen in true Wes Anderson style.  But Ralph Fiennes shows us his ability to portray a very unique character with comedic sense and an almost father-like sensibility.  His lines are complex, almost Shakespearean at times with the recitation of verse, yet still comprehendible. He’s a caring,sweet gentleman and seems to have only one purpose in life and he will fulfill it till the end.  Tony Revolori plays the young Zero with the zest and sensibility of a much older actor.  His nuances in timing and expressionwork impeccably with Fiennes’ honed acting skills. The pair seem to be a father-son combination and are the core of the film.


BUDA6“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a truly lovely film full of wonder, excitement,humor, and love.  Its exaggerated moments bringing the preposterous into reality give the film a Marx Brothers type of levity.  It is an exceedingly creative and entertaining film—an adult fairy tale.  The action is non-stop, whether it’s verbalor visual, as you are mesmerized and surprised to see what happens next.  This film is rated R, but I’m predicting that it will not appeal to the teen and young twenties group.  


 BREATHE IN is an emotionally loaded, well-acted, deftly directly movie with a musical score that leaves the viewer breathless!  I had the pleasure (and luck) to see this during its opening at the  Sundance Film Festival.  BREATHE IN stars Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan, Mackenzie Davis and  Kyle MacLachlan along with many other talented actors.  However, there was another standout that didn’t appear directly on the screen.  This was Dustin O’Halloran, the extraordinary musical composer.  The film in and of itself was wonderful, but the music added another level of emotion that  truly did leave me breathless.  breathepic
Guy Pearce
Felicity Jones
BREATHE IN is about a foreign exchange student, Sophie (Jones) who spends a semester with a family in upstate NY (my home territory).  The apparently happy nuclear family of three, one being a daughter, Lauren, who is a senior in high school, welcomes this newcomer into their family.  However,  Lauren (Davis) and her father, Keith (Pearce) have some reservations which we soon see have validity.  Sophie  unwittingly  creates a wave of destruction with every step she takes.  In the short time she stays with the family, Sophie manages to alienate Lauren and start an affair with Keith leaving  stability and happiness dangerously dangling  above an abyss.
Drake Doremus
BREATHE IN is  a captivating and emotional film.  The writing is superb and the direction, cast, and skills of all those involved combine to create an extraordinary film.  With the believable story line, camera work that accentuates and enhances the moment, and the soul-reaching music, this is a film you won’t want to miss.

“Noah” is the much anticipated movie to open in wide release this weekend.  Russell Crowe takes on this bigger than life role with Jennifer Connelly as his wife, Naameh.  Emma Watson, Nick Nolte, and Anthony Hopkins join the cast of this film directed by the renowned Darren Aronofsky.  But even this cast and director couldn’t resuscitate the overall story.


We all know the story of Noah’s Arc.  We’ve heard it since we were children.  Whether we are religious or not, the story is known and has been told for ages.  But the Noah’s Arc story I recall from childhood isn’t quite like the one hitting theaters.  And it’s not like the more recent movie “Evan Almighty” with Steve Carell.  (I much prefer that version.)  “Noah” keeps the same story-line with the big storm coming to wipe out the earth and humanity as we know it.  However, the differences begin, well, from the beginning.  Let me refresh your memory as “Noah” portrays it.  Adam and Eve have three children.  Cain, Abel, and Seth.  (I wanted to insert “Seth Rogan” in there to make this film into a comedy, but no such luck!) Cain and Abel have some major sibling issues which leads to Cain killing Abel.  Seth ends up having children and the grandchild is “Noah” who, as an adults, sees images in his dreams which come directly from God.  As Noah seeks advice from his hermit-like grandfather nestled in the mountain, the Rock People come to life who are also known as The Watchers.  You don’t remember that from the kids’ story?  I don’t either.  Anyway, the Transformer-type rock people protect and actually help Noah build his arc.  Let’s face it.  There were no heavy machines back then so I guess you need to enlist the gigantic rock people to cut trees and help you build your boat.  


As the story progressew, the violence increases with the dregs of society that are the cause of the curse of death and damnation.  Noah, with his extraordinary fighting skills is able to ward off multiple soldiers attempting to gain entry to his arc.  With the animals who come 2×2 sleeping peacefully on the arc, Noah is constantly tested to do God’s will.  We continue to see a different side of Noah than what our childhood imaginations recall.


noah1“Noah” takes this biblical tale and spins mysticism and magic into it.  The characters perform magical or perhaps miraculous feats to quell beasts to sleep on a boat and heal the human body.  Utilizing so much CGI (Computer Graphic Imaging), I thought I was watching the next Transformers movie early. That brings us to the overall feel of the movie.  Yes, it’s about death and destruction, but it’s also about starting over.  This film is constantly dark, violent, with impending doom for everyone.  This carries over into their mannerisms and speech inflection which remained the same throughout the entire movie.  The sameness of emotion, inflection or lack thereof, becomes monotonous.  Couple that with the auditory bombardment of low pitched, slow music at a decibel level that could drown out an airplane taking off (or the guy’s cell phone behind me) and you have a movie form which you want to escape.


The cast was fine.  Crowe played his part of dark, brooding, weight-of-the-world-on-his-shoulders kind of guy.  Connelly seems to get confused as to what type of an accent she should have, but overall does a fine job.  And the rest of the cast was “fine.”  I actually had more sympathy for the Rock People or Watchers and felt sad when one was blown to pieces.  That’s probably not a good sign when you have more emotion for the inanimate CGI characters than for the humans.  Given the cast, it must be the writing and directing that sink this ship faster than the Titanic.


Skip this rendition of “Noah.”  Or do better than me and re-read your biblical story and then go see it.  Be sure to take note of there are any big Rock People or Watchers that help Noah out with survival and building skills.




Starring: Jason Bateman, Katherine Hahn, and Rohan Chand

Rated: R (of course!)

BAD poster


Jason Bateman directs and stars in the dark comedy “Bad Words.”  Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall, and Rohan Chand accompany Bateman on the screen creating an mix of personalities that is unforgettable.

bad spellOh, frabjous joy! Callooh! Callay!  What?  You don’t know the meaning of the word ‘frabjous?’  How about ‘oleaginate?’  or ‘floccinaucinihilipilification?’  Really?  You don’t know what those mean?  Nor could you spell them?  Well, Jason Bateman’s new movie “Bad Words” would put you to shame then…and would probably also make your grandmother blush at some of the phrases, words, and slams that are hilariously spewed in this movie.  Bateman’s character, Guy Trilby, seems to be dealing with ‘arrested development.‘ (Yes, pun intended.)  What better way to portray that concept than competing in spelling bees acrossthe country in an attempt to be the reigning champion—in yourbadwinbad katherine 40‘s.   You thought spelling bees were only for children?  You’re right, but Guy Trilby has found a loop hole as he is then able to compete against some unbelievably smart little whippersnappers.  The ruckus he causes with both parents and children alike, brings this movie to a whole new level.  It is truly a bizarre premise for a movie, but it works.

Guy Trilby is accompanied by Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn) who is a journalist trying to capture the real story behind his spelling bee quest.  Guy is truly one of the most self-centered, unabashed, uncompromising, and egotistical characters there could possibly be which leads to awkward and funny interactions not only with Jenny, but everyone he encounters.  Guy’s unvarnished view of the world and the wisdom he imparts upon the cutelittle 8th graders will make you squirm in your seat.  In addition, the antics he plays in an effort to undermine the innocence of these children will leave you speechless.  

badwinnerBateman’s performance is simply perfect.  He takes his usual sweet, charming self and turns into the epitome of a righteous know-it-all emitting completely politically incorrect profanity and offending every race, gender, and poorly dressed woman in a “potholder” vest out there.    His delivery is biting and unapologetic—exactly what this character should do.   Rohan and Bateman complement each other, enhancing this very off-color and completely not politically correct film.   The dialogue and situations will make your jaw drop, but it’ll also make you laugh!  Hahn shows off her versatility and comedic timingin her role as she too, shows signs of ‘arrested development.‘  Chand plays Chaitanya Chopra who is Guy’s little buddy and nemesis all wrapped into one.  This sweet child’s vocabulary and experiences grow exponentially under the tutelage of Guy Trilby.  

bad boy“Bad Words” is a fast paced, dark comedy that is uniquely creative and very funny.  It is most definitely geared toward an audience of adults, not children.  Be warned, however!  If you are offended by bad language, sex, racial comments, and off-color humor you will be completely put off.  But if you can take it at face value, you’ll enjoy this quick-witted film…you might even learn the meaning of some new words!





It’s been a rough and tough winter for  Chicago, but that doesn’t deter us from continuing to enjoy all the wonderful events the area has to offer—weather just isn’t one of them.  For the 17th year, the Gene Siskel Film Center is hosting the European Union Film Festival.  Now in it’s second full week, you still have time to catch some wonderful films.  Here are my recommendations and list of films on my radar to see.  As I see the films, I will update this page with a brief synopsis  so you can find a film that you will enjoy!


There’s still a chance to see films at the EUFF!  One of my favorites is HONEYMOON (LIBANKY) which is the closing night film on April 3rd.  Check out the short review below.  Also included are short reviews of wonderful films I had the pleasure and opportunity to see through this film festival.

BagTHE BAG OF FLOUR:  (Belgium) What an empowering film about a young girl who wrestles with her family commitment and the will to become who she is meant to be in a country that does not support such idealism.  Sarah is strong, smart, and loving and she must find a way to follow her dreams.  Highly recommended!

nightboatsNIGHT BOATS: (Croatia)  NIGHT BOATS is a bitter sweet story accentuating the fact that you are never too old to love and that each and every day should be cherished and lived to its fullest!  As an older couple in a nursing home run away, life has a way of coming full circle.   From tenderness, a love is born and grows, showing us a full range of emotions in this older couple who want desperately to believe in destiny.  Another wonderful film that you won’t want to miss.  (English subtitles)

honeymoon1HONEYMOON: (Czech Republic)  Thursday, April 3  What a beautiful day for a wedding…too bad there seems to be a dark cloud looming overhead in the form of an unknown and eventually unwanted guest.  This skillfully crafted film keeps you questioning the integrity of those involved, never knowing which way the story and background information will lead you.  The question remains, how well do you really know those around you?  Be sure to catch this film!  You won’t be disappointed.

ItalyTHE TRIP TO ITALY:  Starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, this is a sequel to THE TRIP, but funnier!  You will leave the theater with your phone in your hand, dialing your travel agent to book a trip to Italy, while you make a reservation at the closest Italian restaurant.  Absolutely hilarious!  Don’t miss it! 

Another1ANOTHER ONE OPENS:  Set in a beautiful Austrian castle, this fully improvised feature film will keep you entertained from start to finish.  It’s insight and magic enables the viewer to really become introspective while having empathy for each of the characters.  Well edited, lit, and featuring talented improvisational actors, this is a film to watch for when it is released.


feA FIVE STAR LIFE:  What a life to have!  Traveling to exotic, beautiful places and staying in 5 star hotels to rate them!  When my movie reviewing career subsides, I know what I want to do.  But Irene’s life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Work can become who you are and how you are defined.  Funny, introspective, and endearing, A FIVE STAR LIFE (VIAGGIO SOLA) captures real life and one woman’s view that represents most of us.


Here are the films that I will be watching for in the future, but wasn’t able to view.  Hey, there are only so many hours in a day!










For more information go to:  European Union Film Festival Information





“Divergent,” a movie opening this weekend based on a best selling teen novel, screened early Thursday night to a sold-out audience.  People were turned away to buy tickets for the next two shows that evening. What was not divergent was the audience—it was comprised of primarily teens and females.  Although I fit into the female category, I was at least 3 decades older than the majority of the audience.  But I “diverge”—let me get to the point of the film.  The story takes place in post-apocalyptic Chicago.  (Andhere I thought we might be done with this genre of film!  Not a chance.)  This society has five factions or groups that comprise the populous.  A a certain age, each young adult takes a competency exam to find which faction he or she is best suited.  In many ways, it reminds me of going through sorority rush as my daughter just did.  Questions of, “What if I choose the wrong one?” or “What if I don’t really fit in?”  came up just as if it is a sorority or fraternity.  Now here comes the twist.  There’s a “bad guy” looking for ways to take over the other groups and identify a strange group of people called Divergents.  Tris and her new cohort, Four, must unite to save everyone.


This is a teenage love story with lots of action reminiscent of “The Hunger Games.” There are lots of training sessions in many categories, fight scenes pitting one pledge or initiate against another, and CGI scenes depicting impossible events.  One of the most strikingly disturbing CGI scenes is what has happened to our city just an hour north of us.  Chicago is bombed out with deserted buildings, Navy Pier is a ghost town (but parking would be easy!) and there is no traffic!  A completely eerie scene!  As Tris chooses to be a part of the faction called Dauntless which is the equivalent to a SWAT Team, it is evident that she is the weakest and must improve and prove herself.  Much of the movie revolves around this concept.  It really isn’t until close to 2/3 of the way through (at 139 minutes, you do the math), that you see the things come to a boiling point with more fighting, gun shooting, and some more fighting.  There are some sweet and tender moments too and these elicited audible cheers and gasps from the predominantly teen audience.

div4 div 1

The cast is perfect for this film with Shailene Woodley who is naturally beautiful with thick, full hair that falls perfectly even after being beaten up, as our heroine and the dark, brooding, intensely handsome and charismatic Theo James as the male lead.  Miles Teller, Ashley Judd, and Kate Winslet are all recognizable faces and fill their roles quite capably.  However, I prefer Teller in his upcoming film “Whiplash” and Winslet in her role in “Labor Day,” but the teens will appreciate the talent they have in this film.  The film from the perspective of someone “older” (and I use that term in a comparative way) and who did not read the book,  seems to drag by being repetitive.  With so many obviously choreographed fight scenes using hand-to-hand combat as well as firearms, it loses the stream of the story-line.  Where it holds strong is in the mind games using fear tactics.  These are creative and interesting side stories depicting the power of your mind.  These concepts are then interestingly woven back into the story.  But overall, the mindless fighting is monotonous after the first two full hours.  Remember, this film is 139 minutes (plus trailers)!


Not having read the book, I cannot make any comparisons, but I am sure that every teen out there (and adult) that has read the book will want to see “Divergent” come to life on the big screen.  This is a teen flick.  If you’re going as an adult who has not read the book, be cautioned that it is not geared toward you.  You are not meant to be entertained by this film and you won’t be.  Itis a teen love story set in the post-apocalyptic future with lots of intense, yet cardboard, fight scenes.  If you’re a teen, I am sure you will be thoroughly entertained.  If you’re a parent, you can feel safe in bringing your teenager to this film as it’s relatively clean with it’s language and there’s no gory violence nor does is have any sex.  I guess I should have taken my daughter to see this film instead of “The Wolf of Wall Street!”


5 REELS (8 if you’re a teen)

“Need For Speed” is exactly what it sounds like it is—but a little bit more.  Tobey Marshall, an Upstate NY street car racer  is unlucky in life, and money, but his racing skills are near perfection.  After erroneously serving time for causing the death of his friend during a street race, Tobey emerges, bound to avenge his friend’s death and set the record straight.  This, of course, can only be done behind the wheel.


need 1need 6“Need For Speed” is all about cars, their performance capabilities, and speed.  It bares little resemblance to the video game of thesame name except for the fact that it’s about racing, crashing, and the cops never seem to win.  There really is a story involved in this movie too which, although it’s not a thought-provoking one, it is still entertaining enough to keep me awake and involved in the film late at night.  


The four gear-head friends will do anything for one another and the banter among them is quite amusing. This lighthearted repartee is yet another cylinder added to bring it up a gear.  As Tobey attempts to gain entry into an illegal street car race of epic proportions, he needs all the skills of his cohorts to help him win and clear his name.  Of course, there’s a love interest to round out this story. Given these elements, you still know within the first 15 minutes of the film, the general course and outcome of the film.  There really aren’t any surprises whatsoever. 


need 9 What makes this rather predictable film unexpectedly enjoyable is the fact that the female lead is not just cute, but she’s smart and knows cars. And it’s fun to watch her relationship and interest grow in Tobey.   After spending years (about 17 of them) going to the Chicago Auto Show, attending a myriad number ofmuscle car shows in Upstate NY, and reading bedtime stories to my son called An Encyclopedia of Muscle Cars, I truly appreciate her knowledge.  The other aspect of this film that is appealing is the trip across America: from NY State to San Francisco, “Need For Speed” toured through the rolling hills and suspension bridges spanning New York, then headed to our familiar area in the Midwest, flew through Moab and the Salt Flats in Utah, then glided down the Pacific Coast Highway.  Every area they screech and careen these hot cars, showcases the beauty of that area.  Now that brings us to the main portion of the film—driving.  The cars are spectacular.  From Mercedes and Mustangs and Mazerati’s to Lamborgini’s  as well as Shelby Cobra’s the paddle shifting, timing,  and dashboard camera work is impressive.  For car lovers, beware.  Many cars are injured and totaled in the making of this film which would account for the $66M budget.  The stunts in this film and what they depict is happening on the road is breathtaking.  Please note that no CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) is used in this film.  It’s all real stunts.


Aaron Paul (Tobey) and Imogen Poots (Julia) work well together, but it isScott Mescudi (Benny) whose charm and comedic nature steal the scenes.  Micheal Keaton’ eccentric character seems to be trying to quell his inner Beatlejuice voice, but again, this is a comedic aspect which helps keep your interest.  Paul is at times a bit cardboard, but you know going into this film that it’s really all about the cars.  If you get more out of it, then you’re doing well.

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Coming in at 130 minutes, this film generally keeps the pace and intensity going.  When it tries to be a bit too melodramatic, the film falls apart.  Thankfully, that doesn’t happen too often.  It’s a “guy” movie about fast cars going, well, fast.  Keep it plain and simple and it works better.  Because of the female role and the love interest, the film tries to branch out to entice the other gender to keep interested, and dare I say, it does.



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It’s such a pleasant surprise when you dread going to see a movie and you end up actually being entertained.  All you car enthusiasts and racing fans are going to love this film.  The younger male group is going to love it as well, but you could definitely turn this into a date night.  Everyone will be happy.  Please note that you will know the entire story within the first 15 minutes.  Just buckle up and enjoy the ride.

7 Surprising Reels!need3