Digital Review: Amazon Prime for Chicago-Based Christmas Film ‘Solstice’ on Nov. 27, 2019

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

CHICAGO – It’s that time of year, and many gatherings use the spare time on Thanksgiving weekend to start the holiday movie tradition of the season. Although not many people know it, Chicago was the location used for the first Lifetime Christmas movie in the 1990s. “Solstice” was written and directed by Jerry Vasilatos, and premiered on Lifetime in 1994. To celebrate its 25th Anniversary, it will premiere on the post-millennial version of television (Amazon Prime) on November 27th, 2019, and will get a deluxe Blu-ray release on December 15th. Oscarman rating: 4.5/5.0
Rating: 4.5/5.0

The simple story of a lonely professional man at the Christmas holidays is remarkable for many reasons, including a stellar performance by lead actor Michael Kelley. But also it is a glimpse into a pre-gentrified Chicago, where Northside neighborhoods were warm enclaves for discovery, not speculative property. The light of the story takes place in that distant early 1990s era, and if anybody you know lived in Chicago at that time, then “Solstice” will be a reminder of both being young and being a Chicagoan. “Solstice” is a Christmas gift to the city and any seeker of warm holiday inspiration.

‘Solstice,’ Written and Directed by Jerry Vasilatos
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The film involves a Chicago man named Nick (Michael Kelley), who is facing a number of transitions on Christmas Eve. He has just broken up with his girlfriend Kristine (Mary McCloud) and he feels his dreams of becoming a filmmaker slipping away. Distraught and somewhat lonely, he walks the streets of a pre-gentrified Chicago – making a stop at the Music Box Theatre during their Christmas double feature singalong – and gradually finds moments of solace along the way. This simple and enlightening story captures the spirit of the holiday though one soul, who is searching for something he didn’t realize he needed to discover.

Writer/director Jerry Vasilatos guided this passion project, in the days when it took more than a digital camera and iPhone editing to make a movie. His first dream came true when the Lifetime Network bought the picture, to start their tradition of holiday films, but the film’s shelf life didn’t last, and Vasilatos had always had a nagging feeling that the film wasn’t absolutely complete. So in 2017 he began a process of restoration, including a brand new soundtrack and digital tweaks. The result is the completed film he had always envisioned, set for a holiday premiere on Amazon Prime.

There is some really prescient touches in the film that are remarkable. The Music Box Theatre Christmas singalong was only about seven years old when Vasilatos filmed it, and now its a spectacular show worthy of the Rockettes in terms of city tradition. His holiday romance also predicted the current trend of 24/7 made-for-Christmas movies on Lifetime and Hallmark, but in many ways he made it better. There is a beautiful and simple church scene at St. Alphonse in the Southport Avenue neighborhood of Chicago, which evoked angels and hope from another time.

Writer/Director Jerry Vasilatos (center), Mary McCloud and Michael Kelley of ‘Solstice' During 1990s Filming
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So why not kick off the season with something “Chicago Classic” as part of the Thanksgiving weekend? “Solstice” is the warm fuzzy holiday feeling with a Windy City kick that is perfection for launching the season.

Click here for a Podtalk with writer/director Jerry Vasilatos of “Solstice” from 2018.

The 25th Anniversary of “Solstice” will premiere on Amazon Prime, November 27th, 2019, with a deluxe Blu-ray Edition – featuring 140 minutes of extras – available on December 15th. Click here to order. Featuring Michael Kelley, Mary McCloud, Edward Pinkowski and Christina Ballester. Written and directed by Jerry Vasilatos. Not Rated. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor and Film Writer

© 2019 Patrick McDonald,

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