Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood (2019)

Part of me wonders (like a lot of Tarantino’s recent output) what this story could’ve been like as a miniseries with a stronger ending. That’s not to say there weren’t individual scenes that brought a smile to my face. I laughed heartily at an extended jump-cut laden sequence in Rick’s trailer and what he says about whiskey sours is one of the few quotable moments. Leo sells that kind of manic outburst with the best of them.

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James Laczkowski
Banks - III (2019)

I initially found the production accompanying these songs to be intensely excessive and out of place. Like the sounds were fighting with her vocals, but then I realized that this might be intentional in a positive way. In other words, she’s at war with her feelings and the wide gamut of feelings are represented in everything from electronic dubstep slaps to soothing ambient oceans of calm reflection. It began to make more and more sense that this record was actually not always an easy listen. Love, loss and everything in-between isn’t easy to process or hold onto. Yes there are imperfections but they actually don’t diminish in the end. The progression and challenging sound throughout represents III as a lush, fully realized and painfully introspective record.

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James Laczkowski
Cooked: Survival by Zip Code (2019)

Many layers surrounding a horrific occurrence in Chicago history are dissected in an educational, often confrontational manner in Cooked: Survival by Zip Code. The title itself has layers since Chicago is a part of Cook County, but the word cooked can also be viewed as an informal adjective, meaning “altered dishonestly.” Residents certainly should expect support, check-ins from city workers, and a whole lot more during this particular summer, but the city let them down in a way that cost hundreds of lives along with continuing inquiries as to how this even happened.

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James Laczkowski
CCFF 2019: A Dream Lineup

As usual, the CFCA has put together a very strong group of films, many of which have taken home awards and nominations from prestigious festivals such as SXSW and Sundance. Collin Souter always puts together a terrific short film collection that I can’t recommend enough. As usual, there will be enveloping dramas, insightful documentaries, creepy horror features and so much more on the docket.

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James Laczkowski
Under The Silver Lake (2019)

This might be the ultimate unsubtle existential nightmare for our modern times, while simultaneously having a surreal self-awareness and absurd sense of humor that I found engaging while many may find it indulgent and gross. It’s also kind of poking fun of Room 237 theorists while saying pop culture does in fact contain hidden meaning. Probably why weirdos like me might gravitate towards this. Make no mistake, Mitchell is constantly playing with the viewer in ways that are frustrating but compelling, while never neglecting graceful camerawork, oddly original detours, another triumphant Disasterpeace score, and several details that simply don’t make sense. Now to go back to listening to pop music and playing Super Mario Bros. Oh and trying to figure out what it all means, only to discover that it may not really mean anything.

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James Laczkowski
Depraved (2019)

Regardless, there’s a strong balance of pathos and empathy throughout the proceedings, that is almost audacious in of itself to not go too gory or too “depraved” as things progress. Depraved is an incredibly thoughtful horror parable with a strong sense of morality and compassion that is rare these days. This one has definitely made me curious about Fessenden as a writer/director, since I imagine certain themes showcased here resonate throughout his career. For this particular film, I was consistently impressed by the confidence behind the camera, the ability to get consistent, well-tuned performances, and to take a familiar dish while also giving its own distinct flavor and seasoning.

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James Laczkowski
2nd Annual What The Fest!? Commences on March 20th

Last year, this terrific new film festival devoted to genre cinema out in NYC showcased several titles that wound up among many critics’ favorite films of 2019, including Revenge and The Endless. This year, more interesting showcases and films will emerge starting March 20th. I wanted to highlight a few of those for everyone out on the East Coast, in anticipation for their eventual release nationwide!

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James Laczkowski
Transit (2019)

“Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it,” or so the saying, attributed to philosopher George Santayana, goes. And yet, there is a fatalism to Christian Petzold’s newest film, Transit, that implies even our understanding of the recent past may not rescue us from potential catastrophe.

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James Laczkowski
They Live By Night (1948)

Granger and O’Donnell is the main reason for why the film works and what makes it essential for me. It’s a love story that I was fully invested in right from the start. Their entire relationship feels very forward thinking in that it’s self-aware, open to awkwardness and to the moments where sexuality in a relationship is not yet understood. Ray’s film allows these two to just “be together” in several scenes that presage the dynamics that would be explored in the French New Wave films like BREATHLESS. Ray also allows for an identification with a certain feeling of disenchantment, as both of these two are outsiders looking for some sort of comfort to hold on to.

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James Laczkowski