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Preview: Stellar Weekend Kicks Off 2015 Chicago Critics Film Festival

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CHICAGO – Friday, May 1st, kicks off one of 2015 Chicago’s most special events, the Chicago Critics Film Festival (CCFF) – a film festival as programmed by the members of the Chicago Film Critics Association. The place to be is at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, and the titles included are an exciting batch of movies making their premiere here.

Many of the films had their world premiere at festivals like Sundance, Toronto and South X Southwest, and HollywoodChicago.com contributors Nick Allen and Patrick McDonald have been sampling the best of the festival, and offer this preview of the kick-off weekend. Each capsule is designated with NA (Nick Allen) or PM (Patrick McDonald) – to indicate the author – or encapsulates the official synopsis from the festival.

Be sure to check back with HollywoodChicago.com on Monday, when we finish our preview of the festival by looking ahead to the weekday schedule, which includes the 2015 Sundance hits “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “The Overnight,” which will be screening on Thursday. For ticket information regarding all shows, click here.

OPENING NIGHT FILM: “Digging for Fire”

Digging for Fire
’Digging for Fire’ Opens the Chicago Critics Film Festival
Photo credit: Chicago Critics Film Festival

“Digging for Fire” provides further evidence that Joe Swanberg is set to become a key American filmmaker, should he continue on the path that he is following in this film. His previous films “Drinking Buddies” and “Happy Christmas” have seen the Chicago director work with immediate star casting, but have been marred by a degree of emptiness in their expression.

Swanberg marries his observational aesthetic with an as-honest, expressive story in “Digging for Fire,” which is essentially a couple’s going on their own adventures. Tim (Jake Johnson, in sweatpants) and Lee (Rosemarie Dewitt) go their own ways for the weakend. He invites some friends to the house (played by Sam Rockwell, Mike Birbiglia, Steve Berg, Anna Kendrick, Chris Messina and Brie Larson). Meanwhile, she finds herself spending time with a random guy she met at a bar (played by Orlando Bloom).

“Digging for Fire” marks an exciting time for Swanberg. The movie dabbles in jokes about him selling out with his big cast, and also its setting of Los Angeles. But it shows that by making things neater, his inspiration gets across in a much deeper fashion. When Swanberg returns to Chicago this staple of modern American independent cinema will assuredly be stronger than ever. (NA)

Director Joe Swanberg will be in attendance for the screening.

Friday, 5/1, 7pm

”Raiders!”

Movie lovers are in for a treat, some warm, homemade nostalgia with “Raiders!” the story of a homemade feature film project a group of kids in the 80s. The mission involved none other than Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and making it shot for shot with only adult supervision and an allowance production budget standing in the way. The film captures the filmmakers as they both reflect upon the experience that led to a cult sensation, but also try to complete it - they never shot the airplane scene from the film’s second act. This former SXSW selection, now making its premiere in Chicago, takes viewers back to the sense of wonder felt when discovering a life-changing film, while presenting an irresistible tale of ambitious filmmaking. (NA)

Friday, 5/1, 9:30p

“‘Restoration and the Midnight Insanity Shorts”

As programmed by CCFF shorts aficionado Collin Souter (see his overall recommendations below), this batch of films involves a handful of titles you wouldn’t want to meet alone on a dark street. An international set, included shorts are “Growing Pains,” the disturbing “Ill Will,” and my personal favorite, the scarring “Teeth.” (NA)

Writer/director Ryan Oliver will be in attendance to do a Q&A for his mid-length feature “Restoration,”

Friday, 5/1, 11:59pm

”Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet”

The Prophet
’Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet’ Kicks Off Saturday’s Line-up
Photo credit: Chicago Critics Film Festival

The day begins on Saturday, May 2nd, with an animated vision of the famed poet’s text. A girl (voice of “Beasts of the Southern Wild’s” Quvenzhané Wallis) attempts to free an imprisoned poet (Liam Neeson). As their story comes to light, several of Gibran’s most cherished essays – on love, work, marriage and freedom – are brought to life from the world’s most notable animators, including Tomm Moore and Bill Pympton. Directed by Roger Allers of “The Lion King.” (PM)

Saturday, 5/2, 12:00pm

”The New Girlfriend”

Working from a story by Ruth Rendell, acclaimed French filmmaker Francois Ozon (“Swimming Pool,” “8 Women,” “Young & Beautiful”) offers up the tale of a young woman (Anais Demoustier) who is left reeling by the sudden death of her lifelong best friend (Isild de Besco). One day, she pays an unexpected visit to the friend’s widow (Romain Duris) and makes a discovery that changes both of their lives in highly unexpected ways. (CCFF Synopsis)

Saturday, 5/2, 2pm

”Results”

“Computer Chess” writer/director Andrew Bujalski returns with a romantic comedy that really changes the genre definition, especially with its love triangle that involves Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce, and Kevin Corrigan. The environment is the world of fitness, with Smulders and Pearce playing two trainers who work with Corrigan. Their collective story is quite unpredictable, and the effect that it has on the viewer, with its acute performances and a great sense of humor, creates an effortless radiance. (NA)

Saturday, 5/2, 4:15pm

”Unexpected”

Unexpected
‘Unexpected’ Includes an Appearance by Cobie Smulders (left)
Photo credit: Chicago Critics Film Festival

The Swanberg family are great friends of the Chicago Critics Film Festival, as director Kris – wife of Joe, who offered “Digging for Fire” on Friday – screens her new film “Unexpected,” which features Cobie Smulders (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”) and Gail Bean. Smulders portrays a Chicago high school teacher who is suddenly and unexpectedly pregnant, and gets married because of it. She gains some perspective on the situation by befriending a high school senior (Bean), who is dealing with her own pregnancy. The film features a unique perspective on maternity. (PM)

Fanboys behold…Cobie Smulders will make an appearance on behalf of the film with director Kris Swanberg.

Saturday, 5/2, 7:00pm

”Call Me Lucky”

Bobcat Goldthwait returns to the Chicago Critics Film Festival after last year’s triumphant “Willow Creek.” This is a documentary about a lesser known comic from the late 1970s and early ‘80s named Barry Crimmins, who nurtured the talent of many name comedians from that era. Beneath Crimmin’s hard-drinking and gruff personality was a undercurrent of rage, due to long suppressed abuse he suffered as a child. Contains interviews and perspectives from fellow comic travelers, and highlights the political activist and healing powers of comedy. (PM)

Both Bobcat Goldthwait and Barry Crimmins will appear at the screening.

Saturday, 5/2, 9:30pm

”Goodnight Mommy”

In the heat of the summer. A lonesome house in the countryside between woods and corn fields. Nine-year-old twin brothers are waiting for their mother. When she comes home, bandaged after cosmetic surgery, nothing is like before. The children start to doubt that this woman is actually their mother. It emerges an existential struggle for identity and fundamental trust. (CCFF Synopsis)

Saturday, 5/2, 11:59pm

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