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Preview and Full Schedule of the 2016 Chicago Critics Film Festival

May 20, 2016

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Considering certain board members of the Chicago Film Critics Association have hand-picked the films shown at the annual Chicago Critics Film Festival from the various film festivals they’ve attended (Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, SXSW and more) within the past year, it’s no wonder that many of the films that have been shown at CCFF have been the best of the year. I expect no less this year. These are what my colleagues the best of previous fests and the intention is to bring them back to Chicago for audiences to discover for themselves.

Now in its fourth year, CCFF is the only festival curated by film critics (that I know of) returns to the beautiful Music Box Theatre, where it will reside from May 20th thru May 26th. Ranging in a variety of genres, there are 26 features offered and 2 shorts programs, many of which have not been picked up by a distributor or have any release dates yet. Granted, a few of them have been considered festival favorites elsewhere and already have release dates for later this summer or fall, you can see them first here before anyone else.

Just like every year, another highlight is the amount of guests in attendance to promote their films. Writers, directors and actors such as: Craig Robinson, Michael Peña, Martin Starr, Adam Pally, Dylan Gelula, Ti West, Ira Sachs, Patricia Rozema and more, will be on hand to discuss their respective films after each showing, offering viewers a unique opportunity.

One element that is new to CCFF this year are the scheduled encore presentations, showing select films twice, which allows for more viewing opportunities.

Bottom line: These are absorbing, unique, fascinating, strange and thought-provoking films. Additional information as well as ticket purchasing options can be found at the official site. I’ve already seen some of the films (but plan to view and review more) and you can find my mini-reviews of them along with the full schedule below….

 

 

Friday, May 20th – OPENING NIGHT

 

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Craig Robinson in “Morris from America”

 

 

MORRIS FROM AMERICA (2016)- 7pm

This crowd-pleasing comedy follows the adolescent misadventures of a 13-year-old American boy (Markees Christmas) growing up in Germany while living with his father (Craig Robinson “The Office”). The film was a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and a Special Jury Award for Individual Performance for Robinson. (91 min.)  Writer /director Chad Hartigan and actor Craig Robinson in attendance

 

GOAT (2016) – 9:30pm

Co-written by David Gordon Green, produced by James Franco and directed by Andrew Neel, this harrowing drama follows a 19-year-old boy who pledges to his older brother’s fraternity. As the hazing rituals grow more and more dangerous, he finds himself reconsidering his loyalty to both his brother and his newfound friends. Former documentarian Andrew Neel (“Darkon”) offers an eye-opening look at some of the more appalling aspects of masculinity in contemporary society. Starring: Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas, Virginia Gardner, Danny Flaherty, Jake Picking, Austin Lyon, Chase Crawford, and James Franco. (96 min.)

 

TRASH FIRE (2016) – 11:59pm

In this super-dark comedy with horrific overtones from writer/director Richard Bates Jr., a narcissistic young man visits his estranged grandmother and sister in order to please his pregnant girlfriend and prove he’ll be a good father. Yet the two soon discover that family ties can choke as well as bind. Starring: Adrien Grenier, Annalynn McCord, and Fionnula Flanagan. (91 min.)

 

Saturday, May 21st

 

LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF A CONNECTED WORLD (2016)  – 11am

From famed director Werner Herzog comes a documentary that explores the existential impact on human life of the modern world’s technical advancements, including the Internet, robotics, AI, and the Internet of Things. (98 min.)

 

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SHORTS PROGRAM 1 – 1pm (95 min.)

Voyagers – Travel along with Voyager spacecrafts through their planetary expedition spanning over three decades. Directed by Santiago Menghini. (15 min.)

Bajo las Brasas (Beneath the Embers) – Isabel, a young woman from the sierra mountains of Guanajuato, is motivated by the love of her family and has learned that to achieve her dreams she must sacrifice her present, to be able to value tomorrow’s success. Documentary. Directed by Verónica Jessamyn López Sainz. (10 min.) cinematographer Julio Padilla Sanchez in attendance.

Greener Grass – In this dark comedy of manners, soccer moms Jill and Lisa seek the approval of their “friends” – at all costs. This surreal world is just on the edge of consciousness; suburbia through the looking-glass. Every adult wears painful braces on their straight teeth, couples coordinate meticulously pressed outfits, and coveted family members become pawns in this competition for acceptance. Greener Grass explores one’s willingness to endure present pain in exchange for future validation – or at least a perfect smile. Winner of theSpecial Jury Recognition for Writing (Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe) at the SXSW Film Festival. Directed by Paul Briganti. (15 min.)  Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Huebb in attendance.

Bacon and God’s Wrath – A 90-year-old Jewish woman reflects on her life’s experiences as she prepares to try bacon for the first time. Documentary. Winner of the Short Film Jury Award: Non-fiction, Presented by YouTube at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Sol Friedman. (9 min.)

Curmudgeons – The best part of getting old is no longer caring what anybody thinks. Eighty years-old and in assisted living, Ralph Pajovic is involved in a relationship that makes his family anxious. On a crisp Winter day, his unlucky-in-love granddaughter comes for what seems like an ordinary visit. A curmudgeon by nature, Ralph can’t possibly predict the surprise she has in store for him. Directed by Danny DeVito. (17 min.)

Peacock – A twisted queer romance set in the 19th Century picturesque Bohemia telling the true but taboo story of the birth of one of the nation’s most influential writers. Suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, and happy ending. Mostly happy ending. Winner of the Short Film Special Jury Award for Best Direction at the Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Ondrej Hudecek.(26 min.)

 

MY BLIND BROTHER (2016) – 3pm

The rivalry between two brothers reaches a fever pitch during a charity swim competition, in this dramedy written and directed by Sophie Goodhart. Starring: Adam Scott, Zoe Kazan, Jenny Slate and Nick Kroll. (90 min.)

 

JOSHY (2106) – 5pm

In this comedy written and directed by Jeff Baen (“Life After Beth”), Josh (Thomas Middleditch) treats what would have been his bachelor party as an opportunity to reconnect with his friends. Starring: Adam Pally, Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Brett Gelman, Jenny Slate, Lauren Graham, Aubrey Plaza, Joe Swanberg, Kris Swanberg, Alison Brie, and Jake Johnson. (93 min.) actor Adam Pally in attendance

 

 

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Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Peña in “War on Everyone”

 

WAR ON EVERYONE (2016) – 7:15pm 

This comedy written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (“The Guard” and “Calvary”) follows two corrupt cops (Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Peña) in New Mexico set out to blackmail and frame every criminal unfortunate enough to cross their path. Things take a sinister turn, however, when they try to intimidate someone who is more dangerous than they are. Also starring: Tessa Thompson, Alexander Skarsgard, Theo James, Caleb Landry Jones, and Paul Reiser. (98 min.) Michael Peña in attendance

 

INTO THE FOREST (2016) – 9:30pm

 

In the not too distant future, two young women (Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood), who live in a remote ancient forest struggle to survive in an isolated country house after a massive, continent-wide power outage. Discovering the world around them is on the brink of an apocalypse and informed only by rumor, the sisters fight intruders, disease, loneliness and starvation. Written and directed by Patricia Rozema and also starring Max Minghella, Callum Keith Rennie and Michael Eklund. (101 min.) Patricia Rozema in attendance

 

ANOTHER EVIL (2016) – 11:59pm 

Mumblecore alum Steve Zississ plays Dan, a Los Angeles painter who comes to find out the vacation home in the nearby mountains that he owns with his wife (Jennifer Irwin) is haunted. Supposedly they’re friendly, but Dan just can’t accept the thought of cohabitation with beings from another realm and winds up hiring a self-professed “industrial-grade exorcist” named Os (a committed Mark Proksch) to rid the home of a couple ghosts.The process doesn’t go as planned though and Dan soon realizes there may be another form of evil that he’ll have to remove from his home. Writer/director Carson D. Mell has made the kind of indie horror/borderline mumblecore flick that you find at just about every film festival (it premiered recently at SXSW). That’s no slight, it’s simply stating the kind of approach and tone to expect going in, but by the end of the film Mell subverts certain expectations and makes quite an unsettling closing. Ultimately, “Another Evil” feels like a mashup of “Tales from the Darkside” and “X-Files” episodes, except it kind of takes too long to get into where it’s going and Zississ is playing Dan as if he asked himself “how would Louis CK play this role?” (90 min.)

RATING: **1/2

 

 

Sunday, May 22nd

 

LIFE, ANIMATED (2016) – 12pm

Based on Ron Suskind’s memoir, this documentary directed by Roger Ross Williams, tells the story of Ron’s autistic son Owen and how they used Disney movies to communicate with each other. Live-action and animated sequences depict Owen’s exploration of his feelings as he takes his first steps toward independence. (89 min.)

 

 

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Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux in “Beauty and the Beast”

 

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2014) – 2pm

 

The latest iteration of this classic fairy tale from Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve comes from French director Christophe Gans (his first film since 2006’s “Silent Hill”) and while it’s quite captivating visually, the characters here leave much to be desired. Léa Seydoux (“Spectre”) plays Belle, the youngest sibling to two sisters (who resemble Cinderella’s sisters), three brothers (one of whom, played by Nicolas Gob, has a price on his head), all of whom live under the same roof of their once-rich merchant father (veteran French actor, André Dussollier). While certain elements of the story remain – Belle makes a deal to live with a Beast (Vincent Cassel, underneath convincing lion-like makeup) in a nearby once-opulent castle, in order to spare the life of her dear father which finds the two falling in love – there are added characters and fantasy elements that do and do not work, but the effort is duly noted. Unfortunately, the big disappointment is that Seydoux and Cassel (as enjoyable as they usually are to watch) just aren’t given much to work with, making both their acting and their characters sadly uninteresting and their love story quite unconvincing. (112 min.)

RATING: **1/2

 

UNDER THE SHADOW (2016) – 4:15pm

This horror tale from Iran is the feature-length debut from writer/director Babak Anvari, that follows a mother and daughter (Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi) while they struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the ’80s, as a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home. (84 min.)

 

 

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Julian Dennison and Sam Neil in “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”

 

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016) – 6pm

 

In his follow-up to last year’s must-see “What We Do In The Shadows”, Kiwi writer/director Taika Waititi (currently filming “Thor: Ragnarok”) delivers a delightful gateway for parents who want to take their tweens to something other than the latest animated feature at the multiplex. That’s the best way to describe this enjoyable adventure film set in New Zealand. Adapted from a comic novel from New Zealand author Barry Crump, the movie follows Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison, “Paper Planes”), a teenage orphan labeled a delinquent by child welfare services, who drop him off at the home of a foster couple, the sweet Bella (Rima Te Wiata, “Housebound”) and the cantankerous Hec (Sam Neil “Jurassic Park”). When Ricky runs away into the bush, Uncle Hec pursues him and through a series of misconceptions, authorities begin a manhunt for the two, as Ricky and Hec must get over their differences to make it out unscathed. There is a repetitious tone of quirk and whimsy here that I embraced and at times some characters can be too cartoonish, but I thoroughly enjoyed Waititi’s sense of humor and appreciate the fact that it’s (again) something different for viewers of a certain age and their parents. (93 min.)

RATING: ***

 

 

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Michael Barberi and Theo Taplitz in “Little Men”

 

LITTLE MEN (2016)  – 8pm

 

The title is appropriate, since the two teen boys in the new drama from co-writer/director Ira Sachs (“Love is Strange”), feel like old souls, with a maturity and disposition well beyond their years. Jacob (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri) become fast friends after the death of Jacob’s grandfather, yet they also become victims of a dispute between their parents over a retail shop in Brooklyn owned by Tony’s mother. Sachs masterfully captures the perception of life at this age and in doing so is able to get two phenomenal performances from Taplitz and Barberi, who deliver such natural and authentic work. At the same time, Sachs and his frequent co-writer Mauricio Zacharias, have written some great characterization and scenes for the parents (Greg Kennear, Jennifer Ehle and Paulina Garcia) of these little men. The film revolves around a difficult situation that may seem minor and something that happens all the time, but these characters here are hugely affected by it. “Little Men” is an honest look at the challenges of life and how we adapt the changes it inevitably brings. (85 min.)  writer/director Ira Sachs in attendance

RATING: ***

 

DISORDER (2015) – 10pm

In this drama, formerly titled “Maryland”, directed by Alice Winocour (writer of the Oscar-nominated “Mustang”), who co-wrote with Jean-Stephane Bron, ex-soldier with PTSD, Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts “Far from the Madding Crowd”) is hired to protect the wife (Diane Kruger) and child of a wealthy Lebanese businessman (Paul Hany) while he’s out of town. Despite the apparent tranquility of their Maryland home, Vincent, who is prone to anxiety and hallucinations, perceives an external threat. (98 min.)

 

 

Monday, May 23rd

 

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016) – 3pm **encore**

 

 

SHORTS PROGRAM 2 – 5:30PM 

The Send-Off – Emboldened by a giant block party on the evening of their high school prom, a group of students enter the night with the hope of transcending their rural town and the industrial landscape that surrounds them. Jury Award Winner for Texas Shorts at the SXSW Film Festival. Directed by Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan. (13 min.)

Pombo Loves You – A psychological ride into a distant father’s heroic but troubled past life. Animated. Winner of the Special Jury Recognition for Animated Short at the SXSW Film Festival. Directed by Steve Warne. (12 min.)

Killer – When Dusty masturbates for the first time, something bad happens… Winner of the Jury Award for Best Narrative Short, Sarasota Film Festival. Directed by Matt Kazman. (20 min.)

Figure – It’s white and windy all around. A gigantic figure emerges from behind the snow curtain and hits the road. It passes towns, villages, houses, to land on top of a hill next to spiders, saints and bumper cars. FIGURE is a surreal tale of creating myths, about religious kitsch, and about the desire for greatness. Who is our protagonist? The world’s largest sacral miniature park resident. A gigantic contradiction. Documentary. Directed by Katarzyna Gondek (9 min.)

Heila Ormur – A man, infected, runs for his life. Animated. Directed by Rose Stark. (4 min.)

Love Bite – No one on the planet has drawn more than Laurie Lipton. With millions of tiny strokes of her humble pencil, Laurie’s haunted images seek answers to some of the most uncomfortable themes in our culture – fear, politics, sexuality, mayhem, greed and indifference. But what compels her to live a life of isolation drawing is neither black nor white. Featuring Terry Gilliam. Documentary. Directed by James Scott. (36 min.)

 

 

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Richard Schiff and Peyton Kennedy Will in “American Fable”

 

 

AMERICAN FABLE (2016) – 7:30PM

Although I found myself a bit confounded by the storytelling from writer/director Anne Hamilton (in her feature-length debut) I was nevertheless impressed with Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography for this gothic fairytale thriller. Peyton Kennedy plays 11-year-old Gitty, who discovers that her father (Kip Pardue), mother (Marci Miller) and Gavin MacIntosh) have been secretly hiding a wealthy man in her family’s silo in order to save their struggling Midwest farm. As she befriends their captive, Jonathan (Richard Schiff), she is forced to choose between saving the man’s life or protecting her family from the consequences of their actions. Some of the characters are too one-dimensional and behave bizarrely in this magical, yet overly ambiguous tale. (96 min.) writer/director Anne Hamilton, producer Kishore Rajan and actor Peyton Kennedy in attendance

RATING: **1/2

 

DEMON (2015) – 9:45pm

This Polish horror film stars Itay Tiran, who plays a bridegroom who is possessed by an unquiet spirit in the midst of his own wedding celebration, in this clever take on the Jewish legend of the dybbuk. You can bet the honeymoon is put on hold. Written by Pawel Maslona and Marcin Wrona and directed by Marcin Wrona. Also starring: Agnieska Zulewska and Andrzej Grabovski. (94 min.)

 

Tuesday, May 24th

 

 

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NUTS! (2016) – 3:30pm

Here’s a unique documentary about a doctor who used goat testicles to help infertility issues with men – and it worked – or else, why make a movie? Directed by Penny Lane (“Our Nixon”) and based on the book The Life of  a Man by Dr. John R. Brinkley, “Nuts!” is the so-strange-it’s-true story of Dr. Brinkley, who built quite a name for himself with his goat testicle impotence cure, earning himself some very prominent patients and seemingly created a new zip code back in 1920s Milford, Kansas. If that sounds unbelievable, Dr. Brinkley then started using radio (a station he created, KFKG) to live-broadcast these surgeries, becoming the Dr. Ruth and Dr. Phil of the 20s and 30s. The film may sound strange, but it’s actually quite fascinating and informative, especially in the way Lane combines old footage and news clips, animated recreations and talking heads. The result is a surprisingly complex, perplexing and sad movie. (79 min.)

RATING: *** 

 

CONTEMPORARY COLOR (2016) – 5:30PM

 

In the summer of 2015, legendary musician David Byrne staged an event at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to celebrate the art of Color Guard: synchronized dance routines involving flags, rifles, and sabers. Recruiting performers that include the likes of St. Vincent, Nelly Furtado, Ad-Rock, and Ira Glass to collaborate on original pieces with 10 color guard teams from across the US and Canada. “Contemporary Color” is a beautifully filmed snapshot of a one-of-a-kind live event, directed by the Ross brothers (“Western”) and a winner of a cinematography award at Tribeca Film Festival. (107 min.)

 

 

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Tom Cullen and Tatiana Maslany in “The Other Half”

 

 

 

 

THE OTHER HALF (2016) – 7:30pm

This feature-length directorial debut from actor/writer/director Joey Klein premiered recently at SXSW was filmed last July in and around Toronto and features some very impressive performances from its two leads. They are Canadian Tatiana Maslany (known primarily for “Orphan Black”, also seen in last year’s “Woman in Gold”), who plays Emily, a young woman dealing with bipolar depression and Welsh actor Tom Cullen (“Downton Abbey” and last year’s “Desert Dancer”) as the grief-stricken and volatile Nickie. Both of these struggling souls find and connect with each other through mutual friends (Diana Bentley and Mark Rendall), despite the reservations of Emily’s father (Henry Czerny) and stepmom (Suzanne Clément). Klein trusts his viewers, allowing them to get to know Emily and Nickie as they get to know each other, without exposition or backstory. His approach is, at times surreal, yet wholly realistic in its depictions of such unpredictable emotions and his ending is just right. But it’s Maslany and Cullen who really knock it out of the park with their stellar nuanced and complicated work. (103 min.)

RATING: ***1/2

 

THE BLACKOUT’S DAUGHTER (2015) – 9:45pm

This directorial debut from actor/writer Oz Perkins is set in an all girls boarding school during winter break, where two stranded students (Chicago actor Kieran Shipka and Lucy Boynton “Sing Street”) find themselves struggling with sinister visions. Meanwhile, a woman (Emma Roberts) hitchhiking toward the school catches a ride with a seemingly good-natured couple (James Remar and Lauren Holly). The horror film premiered at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival. (93 min.)

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 25th

 

GOAT (2016) – 3:30pm **encore**

 

THE FITS (2015) – 5:30pm

While training at the gym, 11-year-old tomboy, Toni (Royalty Hightower), becomes entranced with a dance troupe. As she struggles to fit in, she finds herself caught up in danger as the group begins to suffer from fainting spells and other violent fits. Also starring: Alexis Noblest and Mikyla Burnam. Directed by Anna Rose Holmer, who co-wrote with Saela Davis and Lisa Kjeruff. (72 min.)

 

IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE (2016) – 7:30pm

From writer/director Ti West comes a western, focusing on a mysterious stranger (Ethan Hawke) and a random act of violence drag a town of misfits and nitwits into the bloody crosshairs of revenge. Starring: John Travolta, Karen Gillan, Taissa Farmiga, Burn Gorman, James Ransone, Toby Huss, and Larry Fessenden. (104 min.)

 

TRASH FIRE  (2016) – 10pm **encore**

 

 

Thursday, May 26th – CLOSING NIGHT!

 

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – 2pm **encore**

 

AMERICAN FABLE (2016) – 4pm **encore**

 

FIRST GIRL I LOVED – 6pm 

Seventeen-year-old Anne (Dylan Gelula “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) just fell in love with Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand “Deadpool”), the most popular girl at her LA public high school. But when Anne tells her best friend Clifton (Mateo Arias) – who has always harbored a secret crush – he does his best to get in the way. Written and directed by Keren Sanga. Also starring: Cameron Esposito, Tim Heidecker and Pamela Arlon. (91 min.) actor Dylan Gelula in attendance

 

OPERATOR – 8:30pm 

This dramedy previously shown at SXSW, follows Joe (Martin Starr) a programmer and obsessive self-quantifier and Emily (Mae Whitman) a budding comedy performer, are a happily married couple, until they both decide to use one another in their work. Also starring: Nat Faxon, Cameron Esposito, Retta, and Christine Lahti. Directed by Logan Kibens. (87 min.) writers Sharon Greene and Logan Kibens and actor Martin Starr in attendance.

 

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