Tuesday, June 24, 2014

CHICAGO CRITICS FILM FESTIVAL 2014 review round-up!!!

The AC and the BC (Bobcat, rocking an amazing Bigfoot sweater)

Having traveled over hill, dale, oceans, and international borders over the past couple years, I've become a very big fan of the film festival scene. However, this spring, The Doc didn't have to travel any further than his own backyard to indulge in a special slice of pre-release big-screen cinematic goodness.

Created in 2013 by the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA), with a program that included Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, Emily Hagins’ Grow Up, Katie Aselton’s Black Rock, Jonathan Levine’s All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Jason Lapeyre & Robert Wilson’s I Declare War, James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now, and the remastered director’s cut of William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, the Chicago Critics Film Festival offers a rich cornucopia of films comprised of recent festival favorites and as-yet-undistributed works from a wide variety of filmmakers. According to their website, the CCFF is the ONLY current example of a major film critics group hosting its own festival (Go Chicago!!!), showcasing works from around the globe and from all genres.

For horror fans, this year's lineup featured some impressive Windy City debuts, including Housebound (which recently won the Audience Award at Scotland's Dead By Dawn Festival), Bobcat Goldthwait's found-footage Bigfoot flick Willow Creek, Tommy Wirkola's follow-up to his 2009 Nazi zombie hit, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, and Elijah Drenner's celebration of the life and career of one of Hollywood's best-loved character actors, That Guy Dick Miller (shown as a double feature with Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood, one of Miller's rare leading turns).

From May 9-15, the Chicago Critics Film Festival reigned supreme at the historic Music Box Theatre, and I soaked up as much as possible, taking in a dozen films all told. I was also lucky enough to meet Miller (and his charming wife Lainie) and Goldthwait in person, as well as rub elbows with several of my favorite Windy City scribes. It was a great time and I'll definitely be back next year.

To learn more about the festival and to see the full lineup, visit http://chicagocriticsfilmfestival.com


Bucket of Blood, A (1959) d. Corman, Roger (USA) (2nd viewing)


Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead (2014) d. Wirkola, Tommy (Norway) (1st viewing)


Housebound (2014) d. Johnstone, Gerard (New Zealand) (1st viewing)


Willow Creek (2013) d. Goldthwait, Bobcat (USA) (1st viewing)



Calvary (2014) d. McDonagh, John Michael (Ireland) (1st viewing)

Brendan Gleeson gives a powerhouse central performance as a small village’s priest who is informed during the course of a routine confession that he will be murdered in one week. We then observe him going about his daily business, trying to provide comfort and guidance for his “flock” (an impressive ensemble that includes Kelly Reilly, Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach De Bankole, and M. Emmet Walsh) as he also puts his affairs in order. The fact that Gleeson knows his would-be assassin but refuses to tell anyone – including the audience – provides much of the narrative’s fuel, but equally impressive are the multitude of complicated observations of Christianity and human nature. An extraordinary film, and thanks go out to Kevin Matthews’s For It Is A Man’s Number for putting it on my radar (although it’s less of a comedy than his inclusion in his “April Fools” marathon might have indicated).

Frequencies (2013) d. Fisher, Darren Paul (Australia) (1st viewing)

A charming romantic comedy within complex sci-fi trappings, we are introduced to an institute of learning whereby students are segregated according to their electrochemical vibrations. Those with higher frequencies are invariably successful because the world reacts to make their lives less complicated while individuals with lower frequencies naturally attract hardship. The adage of opposites attracting is (of course) brought into play when barrel-bottom Isaac and through-the-roof Marie decide to experiment, seeing how long they can stay in each other’s presence before Nature intervenes. The result is both mind-bending and heart-warming.

I Origins (2014) d. Cahill, Mike (USA) (1st viewing)

A fantastic sci-fi drama that reunites Cahill, the writer/director behind the jaw-droppingly great Another Earth, with that film’s star Brit Marling. Michael Pitt plays a molecular biologist studying the evolution of the eye in the hopes of proving the nonexistence of God. He encounters an exotic and beautiful woman (Astrid Berg├Ęs-Frisbey) through a series of “coincidences” and eventually falls in love with her, all while he and his lab partner (Marling) continue their research, but unexpected upheavals shatter both his personal and professional life, opening windows to his and others’ souls. Just as intellectually challenging and emotionally rewarding as their previous collaboration.

Mood Indigo (2013) d. Gondry, Michel (France) (1st viewing)

A trippy romantic fantasy in which Colin (Romain Durais), a rich young bachelor and inventor of the pianocktail–yes, a piano that whips up cocktails based on the mood of the music that it is playing–whose unexpected romance with his dream girl (Audrey Tautou) is thrown into turmoil when she is stricken with a mysterious disease that has left her with a flower growing in her lungs. The visuals are thrilling and the performances effervescent, but ultimately I grew weary of being dazzled for sheer dazzlement’s sake, although the fairy tale’s dark ending is a twistedly pleasant surprise.

Mystery Road (2013) d. Sen, Ivan (Australia) (1st viewing)

Terrific Aussie noir with western overtones that follows aborigine detective Aaron Pederson, back in his small town after a stint in Melbourne, whose investigation of a local girl’s murder runs up against interference and noncompliance from the community and his fellow officers. Slow-burn suspense yarn that culminates in one of the most original onscreen gunfights I’ve seen in, well, ever. Hugo Weaving is deliciously sinister as a corrupt cop, while veterans Jack Thompson and Bruce Spence lend authentic flavor and invaluable support.

One I Love, The (2014) d. McDowell, Charlie (USA) (1st viewing)

At the urging of their therapist, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) escape to a beautiful vacation house for a weekend getaway in an attempt to salvage what’s left of their marriage. What starts off as a relaxing and tranquil retreat soon spirals into a dizzyingly bizarre experience that forces the couple to reflect upon the complexities of their troubled partnership. Ted Danson co-stars in a marvelous, funny, sad, and rich Twilight Zone premise that explores the complications of human relationships in an intelligent and mature manner. Satisfying on every level.

Overnighters, The (2014) d. Moss, Jesse (USA) (1st viewing)

Devastating and heartfelt documentary set in the small town of Williston, ND, where thousands of unemployed men have flocked seeking work in the fracking industry, bringing their troubled pasts (and presents) with them. Seeing these lost souls wandering the streets and sleeping in their cars, Pastor Jay Reinke opens up his Concordia Lutheran Church as a temporary shelter…one that soon becomes their permanent residence, much to the consternation of his congregation. How far and long charity should extend, the underlying reason for such charity, and the transparency of newcomers’ backgrounds are just a few of the thorny issues raised, and while there aren’t as many answers as questions, viewers are constantly challenged by the notion of the “right” thing to do.

That Guy Dick Miller (2014) d. Drenner, Elijah (USA) (1st viewing)

A true national treasure since his screen debut in 1955, character actor Dick Miller has worked under top-notch directors like Martin Scorsese, Roger Corman, Samuel Fuller, Joe Dante, James Cameron, and Jonathan Demme, stealing scenes from the likes of Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Ramones, man-eating plants, and animatronic gremlins. A wonderful celebration of the man’s life and career, with more talking heads than the box set of Hollywood Squares.

2014 Totals to date: 133 films, 80 1st time views, 69 horror, 22 cinema

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