#392 October 27, 2020

Matt writes: It was the day after the Cubs had won the World Series. With fans cheering and cars honking into the early morning hours, I had gotten no sleep. And yet nothing was going to stop me from interviewing James Redford (son of Robert) about his insightful documentary, “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope.” My colleague Pamela Powell had connected me with Redford, whose film was set to open the first-ever Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle Showcase. What I wasn’t expecting was that my one-on-one chat with Redford would take place over a leisurely lunch, and our conversation extended far beyond what you see in the final article. He reminisced about visiting the set of “Ordinary People” and how he harbored a crush on actress Elizabeth McGovern (I mean, how could you not?). James Redford was an exceedingly lovely and generous individual, which makes me all the more devastated to hear the news that he succumbed to cancer on October 17th at age 58, the latest tragic loss in a year that has been overwhelmed with them. He will be deeply missed.

Read my full 2016 interview with James Redford (which is excerpted below) here, as well as Roger Ebert‘s four-star review of “Ordinary People” and Chris Vognar’s beautiful new essay on the 1980 Best Picture Oscar-winner, which marked the directorial debut of Robert Redford.

“I was dealing with a lot of health issues from childhood that caught up with me at 30,” James told me, “I went through the harrowing ordeal of two liver transplants, and I was screenwriting at the time. After I came through that experience, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. It’s different from the feeling you get after you’re nearly hit by a car and find that you’re still alive. You might feel lucky, but that doesn’t generate gratitude. What generates gratitude is the vast network that saved my life—it was the donor family, the nurses, surgeons, doctors—it took an enormous group effort for it to happen. When you see what society can do, that changes you.”


Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020). Directed by George C. Wolfe. Written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson (based on the play by August Wilson). Starring Viola DavisChadwick BosemanGlynn Turman. Synopsis: Chicago, 1927. A recording session. Tensions rise between Ma Rainey, her ambitious horn player and the white management determined to control the uncontrollable “Mother of the Blues”. Debuts on Netflix on December 18th, 2020.

Dreamland (2020). Directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte. Written by Nicolaas Zwart. Starring Margot RobbieTravis FimmelGarrett Hedlund. Synopsis: A teenager’s adventures as a bounty hunter takes an unexpected twist. Debuts in the US on November 13th, 2020.

Farewell Amor (2020). Written and directed by Ekwa Msangi. Starring Ntare Guma Mbaho MwineZainab JahJayme Lawson. Synopsis: Reunited after 17 years, an Angolan immigrant is joined in the U.S. by his wife and daughter. Now strangers sharing a one-bedroom apartment, they discover a shared love of dance that may help them overcome the distance between them. US release date is TBA.

Wander (2020). Directed by April Mullen. Written by Tim Doiron. Starring Aaron EckhartTommy Lee JonesKatheryn Winnick. Synopsis: After getting hired to probe a suspicious death in the small town of Wander, a mentally unstable private investigator becomes convinced the case is linked to the same ‘conspiracy cover up’ that caused the death of his daughter. Debuts in the US on December 4th, 2020.

Nine Days (2020). Written and directed by Edson Oda. Starring Brandy PitcherEric RamaekersEliza de Azevedo Brown. Synopsis: A reclusive man conducts a series of interviews with human souls for a chance to be born. US release date is TBA.

The Prom (2020). Directed by Ryan Murphy. Written by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin. Starring Nicole KidmanMeryl StreepAndrew Rannells. Synopsis: A troupe of hilariously self-obsessed theater stars swarm into a small conservative Indiana town in support of a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom. Debuts on Netflix on December 11th, 2020.

The Donut King (2020). Directed by Alice Gu. Synopsis: This documentary tells Ted Ngoy’s story that is one of fate, love, survival, hard knocks, and redemption. Debuts in the US on October 30th, 2020.

Embattled (2020). Directed by Nick Sarkisov. Written by David McKenna. Starring Elizabeth ReaserStephen DorffDonald Faison. Synopsis: A son aspires to follow in his famous MMA father’s footsteps, but along his journey must figure out how to break the abusive cycle, if possible, that his father has continued. US release date is TBA.

Wander Darkly (2020). Written and directed by Tara Miele. Starring Sienna MillerDiego LunaVanessa Bayer. Synopsis: New parents Adrienne and Matteo are forced to reckon with trauma amidst their troubled relationship. They must revisit the memories of their past and unravel haunting truths in order to face their uncertain future. Debuts in the US on December 11th, 2020.

Uncle Frank (2020). Written and directed by Alan Ball. Starring Paul BettanySophia LillisPeter Macdissi. Synopsis: In 1973, when Frank Bledsoe and his 18-year-old niece Beth take a road trip from Manhattan to Creekville, South Carolina for the family patriarch’s funeral, they’re unexpectedly joined by Frank’s lover Walid. Debuts on Prime Video on November 25th, 2020.

Hillbilly Elegy (2020). Directed by Ron Howard. Written by Vanessa Taylor (based on the book by J.D. Vance). Starring Amy AdamsGlenn CloseFreida Pinto. Synopsis: A Yale law student drawn back to his hometown grapples with family history, Appalachian values and the American dream. Debuts on Netflix on November 24th, 2020.

The Giant (2020). Written and directed by David Raboy. Starring Odessa YoungBen SchnetzerJack Kilmer. Synopsis: A teenager’s small town life is changed forever when a series of murders begin on the same night that her missing boyfriend suddenly reappears. Debuts in the US on November 13th, 2020.

Damnation (1988), 4K restoration. Directed by Béla Tarr. Written by László Krasznahorkai and Béla Tarr. Starring Miklós Székely B.Vali KerekesGyula Pauer. Synopsis: A lonely barfly falls in love with a married bar singer. US release date is TBA.

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021). Directed by Don HallCarlos López Estrada and Paul Briggs. Written by Adele Lim and Qui Nguyen. Starring Kelly Marie TranAwkwafina. Synopsis: In a realm known as Lumandra, a re-imagined Earth inhabited by an ancient civilization, a warrior named Raya is determined to find the last dragon. Debuts in the US on March 12th, 2021.

Soul (2020). Directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers. Written by Pete DocterKemp Powers and Mike Jones. Starring Jamie FoxxTina FeyGraham Norton. Synopsis: A musician who has lost his passion for music is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an infant soul learning about herself. Debuts on Disney+ on December 25th, 2020.

Run (2020). Directed by Aneesh Chaganty. Written by Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian. Starring Sarah PaulsonKiera AllenOnalee Ames. Synopsis: A homeschooled teenager begins to suspect her mother is keeping a dark secret from her. Debuts in the US on November 20th, 2020.

News of the World (2020). Directed by Paul Greengrass. Written by Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies (based on the novel by Paulette Jiles). Starring Tom HanksElizabeth MarvelRay McKinnon. Synopsis: A widowed Civil War veteran agrees to deliver a girl, taken by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle, against her will. They travel hundreds of miles and face grave dangers as they search for a place that either can call home. Debuts in the US on December 25th, 2020.

Mank (2020). Directed by David Fincher. Written by Jack Fincher. Starring Gary OldmanTom BurkeAmanda Seyfried. Synopsis: Follows screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece “Citizen Kane” (1941). Debuts on Netflix on December 4th, 2020.

Power of “The Night of the Hunter

Matt writes: Charles Laughton’s 1955 masterpiece, “The Night of the Hunter,” starring Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish, was recently revisited in a provocative new essay by our contributor Abby Olcese. You can revisit Roger Ebert’s Great Movies essay on the picture here.

Defending “Defending Your Life

Matt writes: One of my favorite comic talents in cinema, Albert Brooks, has a number of films currently streaming on the Criterion Channel, including his delightful 1991 comedy, “Defending Your Life,” in which he stars opposite Rip Torn and Meryl Streep. Our contributor Lindsay Goldwert recently penned a terrific essay on the picture, which was awarded three-and-a-half stars by Roger Ebert (you can watch him argue about the film with Gene Siskel in the classic “Siskel & Ebert” clip embedded above).

Free Movies

Accounts (1983). Directed by Michael Darlow. Written by Michael Wilcox. Starring Elspeth CharltonRobert SmeatonMichael McNally. Synopsis: The efforts of a widowed Scots family to keep the farmer’s estate going after his death fail through poor accountancy.

Watch “Accounts”

Hidden City (1987). Written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff. Starring Charles DanceCassie StuartBill Paterson. Synopsis: Sharon Newton leads the uncooperative James Richards into a world of misplaced government secrets, capitalistic artists and bungling secret agents. Will the truth be out? Will the meaning of the hidden film footage spliced into innocuous Government Information Films be discovered? And what is so important about these misplaced medical records?

Watch “Hidden City”

Closing Numbers (1993). Directed by Stephen Whittaker. Written by David Cook. Starring Tim WoodwardJane AsherFrank Mills. Synopsis: Anna and Keith have been happily married for several years. But things turn sour as Anna, investigating her suspicions that Keith has been having an affair, learns that he is bisexual. Anna is reluctantly forced into a world of homosexuality and AIDS as she is forced by circumstances to befriend her husband’s lover and his dying friend Jim.

Watch “Closing Numbers”

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