Kicking the Tweets

A Night with THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING's Eddie Redmayne

Sometimes, harsh weather is awesome. Case in point: I attended a private reception for the upcoming Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything last night--which coincided with some nasty Chicago rain. After ten minutes of waiting in the Showplace ICON theatre's empty VIP lounge, I wondered if I'd made a horrible scheduling mistake.

Fortunately, I was soon joined by fellow critics/new friends Erika Olson from Redblog, and Jeanne and David Kaplan of Kaplan vs. Kaplan. We snacked, sipped, and collectively wondered where the hell everyone was. Twenty minutes into the event, star Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn, Les Miserables) strolled up to our group and plopped down in a black wooden chair (refusing to let anyone surrender one of our comfy white leather seats).

In total, Redmayne held court with six people for forty minutes--and not in a "ninetieth-stop-on-the-press-junket" way. He was casual, humble, open, and inquisitive, asking the group as much about our craft as film critics as we asked him about his amazing acting career. We also talked about the weather, and he marveled at The Windy City's eerie, rolling storm clouds (which, he remarked, are different than the ones back home in London).

I was recorder-free at the time, and can't offer up any quotes--but a few anecdotes stand out:

  • Both Hawking and Redmayne attended the University of Cambridge. The actor once saw Hawking in person, from afar, but never imagined playing him in a movie.
  •  Redmayne's interest in science peaked at age thirteen. He was drawn to The Theory of Everything both by Hawking's genius and by an extraordinary life story he felt deserved wider appreciation.
  • In preparation for filming, Redmayne spent over four months studying with doctors and patients at ALS treatment centers in the UK. The degenerative disease, he said, affects each person uniquely. He worked with a specialist to map out the particulars of Hawkings' movements, based solely on photographs taken at different phases of his life.
  • Due to scheduling conflicts, Redmayne and Hawking couldn't meet in person until five days before shooting began.
  • While on a break during filming of The Other Boleyn Girl, co-star Scarlett Johansson made a reference to The Big Lebowski--which Redmayne didn't understand. The theatre geek had spent his formative years not engrossed in classic cinema (he'd hadn't seen The Godfather, either). Johannson made a project out of asking everyone on set for their top five favorite films. She compiled a list that remains part of Redmayne's ongoing movie homework.*

A little after 7pm, Redmayne headed downstairs to introduce an advance screening of The Theory of Everything, and to participate in a Q&A hosted by The Chicago Sun-Times' Bill Zwecker. He posed for some quick pictures beforehand and warmly wished us a great evening. I didn't get to tell him what I thought of his performance afterwards (you'll have to wait 'til November 14th to read my review of the film).

Suffice it to say, the Oscar drum beat isn't just awards-season noise. Eddie Redmayne is the real deal, a bona fide force of nature.

Special thanks to Focus Features and Allied Integrated Marketing for this intimate and entertaining evening.

* Turns out this is not a new story, but Redmayne's delivery was as fresh as if it had happened last week.


BREAKING AWAY at Studio Movie Grill Wheaton!

On Wednesday, September 24th at 7:30pm, Patrick McDonald of and the Chicago Film Tour will host a screening of Breaking Away at Studio Movie Grill in Wheaton, IL! Afterwards, join Patrick for a fun, fact-packed Q&A about this Academy Award-winner, which was filmed on location at Indiana University and Bloomington, IN!

This event is co-sponsored by the Indiana University Alumni Association, Chicago Chapter.

You can order your $2 tickets here,* or purchase them at the box office. Special thanks to Studio Movie Grill and the Chicago Film Critics Association for sponsoring the last entry in SMG's "Film with a View" series!


CIFF 50 Gets Off to a Sweet Start

It's gonna be a long October. For this movie lover, pouring over the 50th Chicago International Film Festival's press kit is like getting a peek at Santa's checklist--and wondering if there's enough space for all the amazing things coming down the chimney.

To use another childhood analogy, last Monday's press breakfast was like the roll-out of a summer reading list: opening night isn't for another few weeks, but those covering screenings, red carpet events, and special guest appearances already have a mountain of homework to scale before a single marquee gets switched on.

(Considering the picture I chose to accompany this piece, I should probably have a cute food analogy at the ready. How's about, "I can't wait to bite into the Chicago International..." On second thought, let's move on.)

Let's be frank: CIFF isn't sexy like Toronto, Cannes, or even New York. But it is a sprawling, multi-week event that draws attention to films from around the world. Some will struggle to find distribution long after planning has begun for round fifty-one, while others are destined to be the subject of retrospectives at the seventy-fifth and one-hundredth-anniversary celebrations. Venues across the Windy City will come alive as cast and crew from dozens of productions show up to make their mark, and legends return home to greet the fans that put them on the map.

As a film critic with a non-film-critic day-job, CIFF is doubly daunting. It's tricky enough slotting in weekly reviews of mainstream and independent releases; deciding between screenings and screeners of films I'm unfamiliar with is a gauntlet of moviegoing multiverses. Will I regret seeing the German drama about a 14-year-old Catholic girl's obsession with religious purification (Stations of the Cross) over an Argentinian look at open gay relationships (The Third One)? Do I eat up half a Sunday by venturing downtown to see Oliver Stone present a double-bill of Natural Born Killers and his three-and-a-half-hour Alexander: Ultimate Edition--or do I stay home with Algren, Tir, and Evolution of a Criminal?

Should I take a morning off to attend one of the many screenings CIFF hosts for Chicago Public Schools, in which students and teachers watch films from the festival that tie thematically with their curriculum (and occasionally include discussions with the filmmakers afterwards)? Or is it better to sneak out at night for the "After Dark" program's eleven-movie descent into madness?

Is it logistically possible to squeeze in family time, a ten-hour work day, and a 35mm print of an Isabelle Huppert film at the Music Box? And don't get me started on the Highlander-like challenge of choosing only one mega-event to try and cover: Liv Ullman's opening-night film, Miss Julie (starring Jessica Chastain); the closing-night Reese Witherspoon odyssey, Wild; or one of the two Centerpiece Films, Richard LaGravenese's The Last 5 Years (starring Anna Kendrick) and St. Vincent, starring Chicagoans Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy.

Of course, I'll also need to set aside some mental "wild card" room for all the documentaries, shorts, exhibits, and panels.* At least I don't have to go through this alone. Tickets are now on sale, and you can view the packed lineup for the 50th Chicago International Film Festival (which runs October 9-23, by the way) at the festival's official Web site! Be sure to check back here in the coming weeks for news, reviews, rants, and raves.

See you at CIFF!

*All things considered, these are awesome problems to have.


Lionsgate Unleashes New MOCKINGJAY Trailer!

The countdown is finally over! This morning, Lionsgate unveiled the brand new trailer for the most anticipated film of the year, THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 on

Mark your calendars now: Advance tickets go on sale October 29 at 12PM ET / 9AM PST!

In conjunction with the debut, be sure to check out The Hunger Games Exclusive Series #2, including exclusive new images and interviews with Jennifer Lawrence, Liam HemsworthNatalie Dormer, Mahershala Ali, and more on

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1 storms into theatres nationwide on November 21, 2014!


Meet The Girls of SIN CITY 2 at Hollywood Palms!

This weekend, Naperville, IL becomes Sin City! Stars Rosario Dawson, Crystal McCahill, and Patricia Rodriguez Vonne will invade the fabulous Hollywood Palms Cinema to screen the movie, meet fans, and sign autographs!* Click here to get your tickets now!
*The stars' weekend schedules are as follows: Crystal McCahill and Patricia Rodriguez Vonne will appear Friday through Sunday, and Rosario Dawson will appear Saturday and Sunday.