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CCFF 2017 preview

May 11, 2017



Tomorrow, THE CHICAGO CRITICS FILM FESTIVAL celebrates its 5th Anniversary at the beautiful Music Box Theatre, with another great week of local premieres of the best upcoming independent features! This year’s program includes 22 local feature premieres, two full-length programs of short films and a retrospective screening of a cult classic. Some of the talked-about titles in the festival feature stars like Harry Dean Stanton, Alison Brie, David Lynch, Burt Reynolds, Ariel Winter, Michael Cera, Jessica Williams, Adam Pally, Teresa Palmer and Taylor Schilling. A number of filmmakers and actors will be on hand to introduce the screenings and participate in live Q&A sessions afterwards.

The festival kicks off with an Opening Night presentation of the acclaimed comedy “The Little Hours” (NOW SOLD OUT!) , with director Jeff Baena and co-stars Aubrey Plaza and Kate Micucci. Actor John Carroll Lynch will present his directorial debut, the Harry Dean Stanton dramedy “Lucky”. Director Brett Haley will present his follow-up to the sleeper hit “I’ll See You in My Dreams”, “The Hero”, starring Sam Elliott, and Pat Healy will attend a screening of “Take Me” a decidedly dark comedy that he directed and stars in. Filmmaker Kogonada will screen his directorial debut, “Columbus”, a drama starring John Chu, Haley Lu Richardson and Parker Posey. Actress Noel Wells will be pulling double duty by appearing alongside director James Strouse at the screening of the comedy “The Incredible Jessica James” and then presenting “Mr. Roosevelt”, a comedy that finds her making her debut as writer/director, being screened in 35mm.

The festival is also proud to offer a special screening of Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales”, also in 35mm with Kelly himself in attendance.

For Closing Night, one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year, ” A Ghost Story”, an eerie drama from writer/director David Lowery (“Pete’s Dragon”) that reunites him with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck of “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”.

CLICK HERE for the Full Schedule and to purchase Festival Passes & Individual Tickets.


You can definitely expect some upcoming coverage as I attend the festival, but here’s what I think of the films I’ve seen so far (in alphabetical order)….





This animated short written by animation director Pedro Rivera, who co-directed with comic designer Alberto Vázquez, feels like a missing part of a full feature. That’s not too surprising considering the material stems from a side story to the Spanish comic Psiconautas, which was also turned into an animated short. The story told in “Birdboy: The Forgotten Children” is set on a lone island that’s been devastated after an industrial accident and the anthropamorphic inhabitants who reside in this apocalyptic environment. It revolves around teenager Dinky and her two friends who long to escape the island, yearning for a better life. There’s also the titular Birdboy, who has isolated himself from others and is being pursued by the police for some reason and pursued by demonic spirits. While the film boasts a rich color palette and is quite gorgeous, its has a confusing story populated by characters that seem less interesting the more we see of them. At times, the tone goes dark and trippy, which amounts to some nice artistry, but overall it can prevent the picture from feeling like the longest short ever. (Spanish with English Subtitles/76 min.)





LUCKY (2017)

At 90-years-old, prolific character actor Harry Dean Stanton can be seen in a couple weeks in the return of “Twin Peaks” on Showtime, but in this directorial debut of John Carrol Lynch (an acclaimed character actor in his own right), Stanton headlines, reminding us he’s an American treasure. Stanton plays the titular character who resides alone in a desert town populated by quirky characters who know everyone. Lucky walks everywhere with a steady gait and gets by each day by maintaining a routine of yoga, coffee, game shows and cigarettes, along with daily visits to the diner and the bar. But knowing he’s near the end and having outlived all of his peers, Lucky can’t help but reflect on his life and where he’s at.  Written by Jordan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, “Lucky” is a showcase for Stanton, who delivers an undeniably poignant and endearing performance. His conversations and interactions with supporting actors, such as David Lynch, Tom Skerritt, and especially Yvonne Huff, are authentic and emotionally natural. The film is a touching look at mortality and loneliness and also has some nice supporting turns from Ron Livingston, Beth Grant, Ed Bedley Jr., and James Darren. “Lucky” should definitely be in the discussion at the end of the year for Stanton’s soulful work. It premiered in March at SXSW and doesn’t have an official release date yet, so all the more reason to check it out now.

RATING: ***1/2






If you’re into movie soundtracks, specifically scores, as I’ve been since I was a kid, this documentary is definitely in your wheel house. Director Matt Schrader opens his film in the desert, where we find composer Marco Beltrani (“Logan”, “The Shallows”) tinkering with a piano that’s been hoisting and strapped onto a storage container, in order for the keys to by the wind to get the right affect for “The Homesman” a western from 2014 he worked on. The screen goes black from there and when we hear Bill Conti’s iconic theme from “Rocky”, it becomes clear that here is a film that will not only cover how powerful and impacting film scores have been and are, it’s also going to follow certain composers and hear their stories while following them in their process. With help from co-editor Kenny Holmes, Schrader combines a dynamic mix of archival material, film clips and incisive new interviews with more than dozens of composers. “Score” spends an expected amount of time touching on the careers of John Willians, Danny Elfmann and Hanz Zimmer, but it also goes all the way back to guys like Alex North and Alfred Newman to the present musician partners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Throughout the film, we hear from an endless assortment of composers (such as Tyler Bates, Rachel Portman, Bear McCreary and Mark Mothersbaugh), as well as film historians and, intriguingly enough, scientists who explain how music effects out bodies in much the same way sex or a good workout does. Its an enthusiastic approach to a medium that is appreciated by many, offering valuable insights into the artistic process, the pressures of the business and more. It’s a film that could be for those who are soundtack affionados or those who really have no clue as to how important a film’s score is.

RATING: ***1/2





TAKE  ME (2017)

Actor Pat Healy makes his directorial debut in the crime comedy “Take Me” where he plays Ray Moody, a creepy entrepreneur with a distracting hair piece who specializes in simulated abductions. He continuously reiterates that he’s really good at what he does, stating his business, Kidnap Solutions LCC, offers a service to people that helps them get over certain personal hurdles they can’t seem to overcome on their own. We see this  when he “helps” one abductee (the great Jim O’Heir) with a fast food addiction and then one day he lands a high-profile client in Anna St. Blair (a great turn by Taylor Schilling “Orange is the New Black”) who is willing to pay a hefty amount for a weekend experience, well over the usual 8-hour service Moody offers. He soon gets in over his head, unsuspecting of his new clients motivations which results in some hilarious situations. What could’ve been just another quirky and silly comedy turns out to be a uniquely dark screwball comedy, which is not easy to do, yet Healy – no stranger to on-the-fringe characters (“Cheap Thrills”), succeeds both behind and in front of the camera. It helps that he has Schilling to work with, who is absolutely game as she balances subtleties and some absolutely great broad, which can be seen in her expressions when she’s bound and gagged. Written by Mile Makowsky and produced by the Duplas brothers, you’ll soon find this one on Netflix, but I’m definitely interested in hearing from Healy in the post-screening Q&A.






WILD (2016)

Not to be confused with an American woman who retreats from society to trek the Pacific Crest trail in a self-discovery sojourn, “Wild” is about a German woman who experiences her own self-discovery after she rejects the conforms of society and develops an unconventional relationship with a wild wolf she kidnaps and keeps in her high-rise apartment. Hooked? I certainly was by the time this original drama, written and directed by actress Nicolette Krebitz, concluded. Undervalued by her demanding boss working as a glorified secretary, Ania (a brave and bold performance from Lilith Stangenberg) yearns for something to disrupt her boring, mundane life. One day on her way to work, she stumbles upon a wolf staring straight at her in a nearby field on the outskirts of the city. Awakened by this moment, she becomes obsessed – howling at the moon from her apartment balcony and licking her hand to clean herself – and decides to capture the mysterious wolf.  From there, viewers will need a suspension of disbelief and if they’re open to it, will certainly get a fascinating albeit disturbing look at human nature vs. animal instincts, with a dash of a predator role reversal thrown in the mix. “Wild” is notable for its lead performance, its cool naturalistic cinematography and being like nothing else out there.




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