Archive for November, 2015



Frankenstein.  It’s a timeless story we all know.  The monster with bolts out of his neck is still quite the popular costume during Halloween.  But how many have read the book by Mary Shelley and who knows this dark tale from Igor’s perspective? Leaving the theater, I was quite pleasantly surprised at the unique story, high action, and special effects that completely and whole-heartedly engaged me.

View Trailer Here

jamesIgor (Danielle Radcliffe) is initially a nameless clown, literally, in the circus.  Self-educated, he is the default medical doctor who by day is belittled and pounded upon physically for the sheer entertainment of the audience.  But all that comes to a halt when Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) attends a performance and witnesses a miraculous “dry surgery” upon a fallen danielacrobat who happens to be Igor’s love from afar.  Frankenstein rescues the hunchback whose deformity is merely a disgusting pocket of infection built up for the last 18 years which is drained before our very eyes, along with a barbaric chiropractic adjustment, and the two become a team to create life from death.

Telling the story of Frankenstein and his monster from Igor Strassman’s point of view allows us to instantly identify with and care for him.  Wfrankmonsterith his past abuse and longing for family and love, Igor can still somehow set the moral boundaries from which Frankenstein strays.  With a highly intelligent investigator from Scotland Yard who mixes Church and State together in lethal doses, the high intensity between creating an “unholy” being and being caught and stopped keeps the viewer completely engaged and on the edge of your seat.  Throw in some amazing CGI and special effects with make up and you have a successfully entertaining film.

Depicting Frankenstein as a man with past issues, a father who blames him for unfortunate circumstances in the past, and drinking a myriad number of shots of whiskey while “creating” and it’s no wonder a monster came to be!  Depicting both Frankenstein and Igor’s thought processes brings an even higher level of understanding of the capabilities of these two men.  With many references of the future world never knowing Frankenstein for who he really is, creates a empathy for this mad scientist.

Radcliffe creates the caring, trusting, and loving Igor we never knew.  And there’s a certain intensity that is mesmerizing with McAvoy, no matter who he portrays.  The two together balance each other in a symbiotic way, allowing us to really know the complexity of each character.

“Victor Frankenstein” is an unusual perspective of the  dark depiction of this familiar tale.  Settings that Shelley probably envisioned, a cast that is intensely engaging, a bit of a love story, high action, and special effects bring life to a story that was otherwise thought dead.


3 stars


Chicago is known as the “City of Big Shoulders”  as well as “The Windy City,” but it’s not due to its wind velocity.  And now we have the nickname “Chi-Raq”— An amalgam of “Chicago” and “Iraq” due to the murder rate in one particular neighborhood:  Englewood.  This negative connotation was the initial spark for the raging bonfire of criticism and controversy over Lee’s soon to be released film, “Chi-Raq.”
The film’s premiere aptly took place Sunday night at the Chicago Theatre where the entire cast and talent associated with the film attended the red carpet and this first public screening.  Spike Lee (writer/director), Kevin Willmott (writer), Nick Cannon (Chi Raq), Wesley Snipes (Cyclops), John Cusack (Father Corrigan), D.B. Sweeney (Mayor McCloud) and Teyonah Parris (Lysistrata) were just some of the many attending the following day’s press conference at the Waldorf Astoria.  With a packed room full of cameras, television stations, and print media, Lee graciously introduced the ensemble.


Lee was immediately put on the spot regarding the title and the possible backlash of his controversial and racially sensitive film.  From the moment Lee came up with a title, this film was placed into the controversial category, but that’s not exactly new territory for him.  He faced the same outcry with his cutting edge and daring film “Do the Right Thing” in 1989.  The press warned him then of the racial violence that would be the result of that film.  Lee calmly and confidently defends his newest endeavor and its title.  He knows that at best, this film will “…put a spot light on the problem and then through dialogue, discussion, and legislature maybe we can solve this problem.”


With a chuckle in his voice, Lee added, “Let’s focus on what’s important and not on whether or not the mayor liked [the title].  Initially written as a non-descript urban area, Lee’s research and social media responses lead him to Chicago. Lee accentuated the fact that Chicago leads American cities in murder, but all cities have a gun violence problem.  He and Sweeney urged those who took issue with the name, specifically the alderman of Chicago, to see the film first and then pass judgement.



The press voiced concern about the general public being able to comprehend the style of this play as it is set to verse much like what one would expect from Shakespeare.  Both Lee and Willmott, co-writers, found that this “style and verse connects with the long tradition of African American people,” stated Willmott.  He continued that there was a “southern translation closely connected to gang fights” [in the play] for people to connect with it.  He added that,  “Lee never wanted to glorify thug culture.”


Father Pfleger whose character is portrayed by  Cusack, passionately spoke about how the film affected him and the “brothers” he brought to the premiere saying, “…some scenes just took me over.  It left me angry.”  It also spoke to the young men he brought, possibly seeing things in a different light.  Cannon who plays “Chi Raq” reiterated the fact that many of


these men have no role models, unstable families, and no hope which has lead them down the wrong path.  Cusack echoed these sentiments and spoke of gun regulations and the NRA.  Perhaps through cinema positive influence can occur.

“Chi-Raq” opens in theaters on December 4th and will be Amazon’s first full length feature film available later in the year on its site.



Nothing says Thanksgiving like the family-themed story of Pixar-Disney’s film “The Good Dinosaur.”

With an engaging mystical short film before-hand, Pixar’s signature, your emotions are primed before the first doe-eyed dino appears. Peter Sohn (“Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles”) writes and directs this animated adventure story that will have you sniffling and hugging your family by the end.

“The Good Dinosaur” creates a world where the big meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs misses Earth. Instead, these creatures to live and evolve.

Read the full review here




Wondering what to see this weekend? Here are RHR’s Recommendations:
COOL APOCALYPSE, View Trailer HereListen to the interview hereRead Review Here

THE MARTIAN View Trailer HereRead Review Here

BRIDGE OF SPIES View Trailer Here

BROOKLYN View Trailer HereListen to the interview hereRead Review Here

SPOTLIGHT View Trailer HereRead Review Here

ROOM View Trailer Here

SUFFRAGETTE View Trailer HereListen to the interview here

TRUMBO View Trailer HereRead Review Here

JAMES WHITE View Trailer Here

TRUTH View Trailer HereWatch Web Series Interview Here

SWEET MICKY FOR PRESIDENT View Trailer HereListen to the interview here

FRAME BY FRAME View Trailer Here


and VERY SEMI-SERIOUS View Trailer Here



Award winning Billy Ray, known for “The Hunger Games” and “Captain Phillips,” attempts to keep viewers guessing and on the edge of their seats with his newest endeavor, “Secret In Their Eyes.”  Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, and Julia Roberts, this thrilling drama is set in the most dangerous place possible—a mother’s heart.


Jess (Roberts) and Ray (Ejiofor) are investigators in finding and eliminating terrorism back in 2002.  Their efforts lead to the discovery of a dead girl left in a dumpster near a place of interest.  The girl turns out to be none other than Jess’ daughter.  Needless to say, this murder which 13 years later is still unsolved, haunts all those involved.  When Ray finds the perpetrator, the investigation must be opened yet again, but what is uncovered, turns out to be a vengeful Pandora’s Box.

Losing a child has got to be one of the most horrific experiences a person could possibly endure.  “Secret in their Eyes” brings you into the gut-wrenching emotions with extreme intensity.  Attempting to create more than just a cat and mouse film, there’s a very subtle love interest as well as camaraderie and antagonistic behavior between co-workers. The chase, unfortunately, seems never ending and the ability to discriminate past from current day is blurred and at times confusing.  With a few holes in the plot and some inexplicable motivation, the film falls short.  Where it rises to the occasion is the ability to convey the horrors of sick and twisted people who murder and take away a child violently.  These scenes, especially for any mother, are undeniably atrocious, creating unshakably disturbing memories.

Roberts more than adequately captures the heart and soul of a tortured mother.  Zoe Graham, who plays the daughter, looks remarkably like Roberts, with the comfortable ease and closeness you might expect and mother and daughter to have.  Dean Norris’ talents are never ending, even if he continues to wear a badge in most of his roles.  His subtleties add so much to what could have been a very dull and benign character.  Kidman and Ejiofor, on the other hand, seem to be spinning their wheels in their roles, but this seems more due to a lack of character development in the script.  Ejiofor conveys the driven yet forelorn FBI agent looking to tie up loose ends, but the resolution is too far away to be convincing.  Repetition of lines and Kidman’s lackluster performance create an unexpected feeling of boredom.

“Secret In Their Eyes” is an initially intense thriller, but it loses it’s intensity and the drama seems to be searching for  direction.  With confusing timelines and repetitive dialogue, the film misses the mark.


2 Stars/5 Reels



I didn’t think it would be possible for me to be entertained by a Seth Rogan film, but as God is my witness (there will be many film references in this review), “The Night Before” has done it.



It’s a reunion film with Rogan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie … and, of course, James Franco, eventually.


It’s “A Christmas Story” with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future; along with a little “Home Alone”, “Big,” and “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

To read the entire review go Here


UP ON THE WOOFTOP opens On Demand and on DVD Tuesday, November 17.  This sweet and entertaining children’s film about a misunderstood and mischievous, but loving talking dog will captivate the younger kids.  With a dog and a child as the intuitive and smarter than adults heroes, it’s the new Christmas movie for children to see.

View Trailer Here

Toby is one of Santa’s dogs who always gets into trouble.  As he sneaks onto woof1Santa’s sleigh for his test drive, Toby is accidentally left behind at the Anderson’s home.  Young Morgan Anderson attempts to help Toby get back to the North Pole in time to assist Santa in his annual deliveries.  But along the way, Toby gets into a bit more mischief, teaches a few life lessons to his new family as well as learning a a few for himself.

“Up on the Wooftop” allows a girl and her dog to be the heroes as they thwart the criminal plans of the evil mall Santa and his no good elves.  The slapstick antics will make any kid squeal with delight.  When Toby isn’t getting into trouble or tricking the thieves, he’s making messes that will entertain the little viewers.  The conversations between Morgan and Toby are endearing and exactly what we all imagined when we were kids.

“Up on the Wooftop” is a delightful film seen through the eyes of a youngster.   The classic story of good guys versus bad guys, a few over-the-top/”Home Alone” action scenes, and the special effects of a talking dog, keep a bit of the magic of Christmas alive.

Check out a new film for the holiday season now available to purchase or rent via: Amazon, Best Buy/CinemaNow, Comcast, Google Play, Hoopla, iTunes, VuBiquity, Vudu, Xbox, iNDemand, AT&T, Dish Network, and DirecTV.



“Cool Apocalypse” is one of those slice of life movies that captures the essence of being 20-something, living in Chicago, and figuring out love, life, and the future.  Beautifully shot, this realistic story follows two couples as they each attempt to do what’s best for their own happiness.

(View Trailer Here)

Paul (Kevin Wehby) and Claudio (Adam Overberg) are roommates with the addition of Tess (Chelsea David), an up and coming video

cooljournalist who is temporarily living with them as she awaits her travel date to Italy.  Claudio and Tess are no longer together, but there’s still a certain attraction between them that is palpable.  With their comfortable banter and bickering, the two seem destined to stay together, but with all the mixed messages they give one another, the outcome is unclear.  Paul and Julie’s (Nina Ganet) relationship is brand new, giving us a glimpse into the other end of the love spectrum.  Its sweetness that is full of hope for the future creates a balancing opposition as the two couples dine together the night before Tess leaves.


This vibrantly beautiful story begins as we see Tess interviewing various women in and around the Chicago area.  These colors quickly turn to strikingly sharp black and white images as we watch the real life of these four individuals go about their day.  These stark images  allow us to cooljandpsee more clearly through the muddy waters of love and life.

“Cool Apocalypse” is a story with which anyone can relate.  It’s real.  The dialogue is bold and familiar, creating a gentle but true depiction of life’s conversations.  The tension in this story covertly builds until the real feelings and thoughts finally explode.  Empathetic awkwardness is elicited in the viewer as we await resolution.

This four person cast is simply sublime in portraying each of their roles.  There is a naturalness that you hear in all of their conversations.  The differences between new friends, old lovers, and roommates in their style of conversation can be subtle, and the writing and acting nails this perfectly.  (I really want to know where “Julie” got her shoes on-line as she described an amazing website!)  Attaining that level of conversational perfection is difficult for a seasoned filmmaker, let alone a first-time feature filmmaker.

“Cool Apocalypse” is just coolshoesthat.  It’s cool.  But it’s also so much more.  It’s charming and realistic with a story-line that is truly engaging.  With stylistic filmmaking techniques, grounded performances, and a true-to-life story, “Cool Apocalypse” is a breath of fresh air.

You can see this film at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Saturday, November 21 and Monday, November 23.  Go to for tickets and information.

To listen to the interview with the writer/director and actors, go HERE


3 1/2 stars


The Cold War seems so long ago, but it’s not forgotten as we are reminded of the hypocrisies and the political witch hunts in the film “Trumbo.”  Based on the true story about Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), a talented screenwriter in Hollywood in the late ’40’s who was convicted by the government for being a communist, the film brings us into the behind the scenes events and conversations leading to the infamous “Black List,” and its ramifications.
 As the film opens, the jazz music sweeps you into the era, eliciting an exciting spy movie feel.  Hollywood is thriving and there’s no end in sight.  But we are quickly given the sense that there is a division becoming evident among the Hollywood big wigs.  That division is called “Communism.”  As Trumbo educates his daughter about political stances, it is crystal clear what lies ahead for those who band together and dare to speak out.  Those who do not succumb and give up names to the House Committee on Un-American Activities will be punished.
The film creates an environment to understand the prejudice and unjustified judgment that occurs during this time period.  In the end, the situation is more than uncomfortable as we  see the results wreak havoc on people’s livelihood, home, family, and life.  
Not only do we get a great story from “Trumbo,” but we also get a flawless depiction of  Hollywood’s iconic personalities of that era:  Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman), Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel), and Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow).  Weaving together a larger story of politics, paranoia, and patriotism with the smaller story of family, relationships, and survival, “Trumbo” succinctly creates a beautiful and meaningful film.
The writing is smart with clever dialogue, drawing your attention to every word spoken.  Although, in the end, this is a fictional movie, the director, Jay Roach, adamantly expresses during the film’s question and answer session after screening the film that, “We worked so hard to get to the heart of the truth.”  He feels that you owe it to the audience to get the story right.  The archival footage used throughout the film blends seamlessly into the movie to give us a realistic depiction of the events and testimonies of these famous actors, directors, and studio executives.  Hearing and seeing Ronald Reagan, the President of the Screen Actors Guild, deliver his testimony is truly eye-opening and creates this realistic depiction of the trials.
After Cranston’s ‘Breaking Bad,’ the pressure is high to give standout performances.  He rises to the occasion for his role as “Trumbo.”  His sultry voice pours out his eloquently eccentric wit and observations.  Trumbo makes it clear that his intellect is far superior to those around him including those accusing him of wrong-doing.  Louis C.K. portrays Arlen Hird, with great, yet not surprising, comedic timing and heart.  Mirren creates a wicked witch persona with her portrayal of Hedda Hopper.  Who else could give vindictiveness and self-serving drive an element of grace and dignity?  Casting David James Elliott as John Wayne and O’Gorman as Douglas is pure genius as these actors become the real actors they play.   It’s an all-star cast who take both big and small parts to their utmost potential, allowing this story to unfold perfectly.

The story, seemingly unusual, can perhaps be seen in today’s society as well, making this a socially relevant film even as it reminisces about the Hollywood 10 almost 70 years ago.  “Trumbo” is beautiful and eloquent as it tells a tale of politics, relationships, loyalty, and human nature.

3 1/2 Stars



Stephan Menigoz from Flight 102 Wine Bar joins me on The Daily Journal’s web series, Reel Talk, to discuss Bradley Cooper’s film “Burnt.”

Check it out right HERE