For the record: While I’m a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, I did not program the CFCA-created Chicago Critics Film Festival, which takes over the Music Box through Thursday. I have, however, seen several of the movies on the schedule. Here are some tips about what to see at the fest ($12-$15 for individual tickets; $75 weekday pass; $100 weekend pass; $150 for full festival pass; full schedule at chicagocriticsfilmfestival.com), kicking off at 7 p.m. Friday with David Wain’s “They Came Together.” The film stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler; Wain will be in attendance for a post-movie Q&A.
‘Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon’
9:30 p.m. Friday
*** (out of four)
The directorial debut of Mike Myers—yes, that Mike Myers—isn’t big on depth, but good luck finding another doc with as many awesome stories. Legendary Hollywood manager Shep Gordon has been there and done everything, but “Supermensch” shows that Gordon didn’t work with and/or become pals with Alice Cooper, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sharon Stone, etc., etc., etc., because he was a smart guy. Gordon comes off as remarkably generous and kind, not to mention savvy enough to create the concept of the celebrity chef (says Emeril) and cozy up to models. Clearly, the movie is all affection, so “Supermensch” leaves you wondering why Michael Douglas says Gordon can be a “mother[bleeper].” Still, most viewers will be too giddy at the remarkable tales (romance with Sharon Stone, benders with Teddy Pendergrass) to care.
‘Dead Snow: Red Vs. Dead’
9:45 p.m. Saturday
*** (out of four)
There’s nothing like a well-timed “[bleep] yeah.” It’s one of many hilarious moments in “Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead” and something fans of its 2009 predecessor about vacationing Norwegians attacked by Nazi zombies will echo throughout. This time Martin (Vegar Hoel), the lone survivor, has a zombie arm that gives him super-strength. Martin’s still trying to take down the Nazi zombies, but this time he has help from a trio of Americans. This so-called Zombie Squad is composed of leader Daniel (a hysterical Martin Starr) and his improbably attractive colleagues (suburban Chicago-raised Jocelyn DeBoer, Ingrid Haas). Some people will never find a movie featuring this much blood and intestines funny, but if you’re not one of them, prepare to crack up at “Red vs. Dead.” The story takes a bit to get going and then moves in a pretty straight line, but the laughter filling the theater will drown out the grumbling.
Martin Starr and Jocelyn DeBoer will be in attendance for a Q&A. Click here to watch our interview with Starr and here to watch our interview DeBoer and Haas from Sundance.
‘I Put a Hit On You’
4:45 p.m. Thursday
**1/2 (out of four)
The title is the premise—and also the problem: After her boyfriend Ray (Aaron Ashmore of “Warehouse 13”) rejects her proposal that she propose, Harper (Sara Canning of “The Vampire Diaries”) gets drunk and passes out. No biggie. Except she also discovers that in her intoxicated stupor she made another proposal online, promising to trade her engagement ring to someone who would kill Ray. So Harper hightails it over to Ray’s place, where the two become trapped in his building, trying to determine if the man outside is a potential killer. It’s an absurd concept that writers/directors Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart might have gotten away with in a short film, with less-kooky music and a willingness to play things a little straighter. Yet even if “IPAHOY” is more disturbing than funny, Ashmore and Canning are so darn likable and believable as a troubled couple who might not be ready to break up that the movie’s more appealing than it has any right to be.
6:30 p.m. Thursday
***1/2 (out of four)
Jenny Slate has arrived. As Donna Stern in the wonderful “Obvious Child,” she’s funny, vulnerable, lovable and specific—an odd character made real. It recalls Kristen Wiig in “Bridesmaids,” and “Child” feels like that kind of breakout part for Slate (“Kroll Show,” “Parks and Recreation”)—I hope. Stern is a stand-up comedian whose sole punchline involves venting about her life. On- and off-stage she’s proudly vulgar; accidental bodily functions serve as her way of relating to the world. After she’s dumped and fired in quick succession, Donna has a drunken night with Max (Jake Lacy of “The Office”) that results in a big whoops not yet covered in her act. Writer/director Gillian Robespierre avoids nearly every pitfall in expanding her short film of the same name, making Donna and her plan to get an abortion both chaotic and blunt. That the film often is cackle-inducing is no small achievement for something so honest. I want to hug this movie.
8:30 p.m. Thursday
*** (out of four)
The story of substance abuse has been done, most recently by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul in 2012’s “Smashed.” Yet the SXSW award-winning “Animals,” set and filmed in Chicago, has confidence and authenticity to spare. Jude (former Uptown resident David Dastmalchian of “Prisoners,” whose script was inspired by his own struggles with addiction) and Bobbie (Kim Shaw of “Sex and the City”) sleep in their car, doing whatever it takes to sustain their drug habit. Are they bad people? In practice, yes. But they’re also powerlessly locked in the cage of addiction—one explanation of the title, though the characters also spend time at Lincoln Park Zoo—and “Animals” mostly resists cliches in pursuit of day-to-day reality. We barely see Jude and Bobbie’s past, and the characters are a bit too self-aware for comfort. But their desperation comes through loud and clear, as does the sad irony that as Bobbie pretends to be anything from a businesswoman to a sex worker, she’s more gainfully employed in her fake life than her real one.
Star/writer David Dastmalchian and director Colin Schiffli will be in attendance for a Q&A.
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