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Saturday
Jan142017

Patriots Day (2017)

If his recent films are any indication, there's a battle raging within Peter Berg's soul. Ambling up one hill on this metaphoric battlefield is an army of beer-guzzling, macho jagoffs whose greatest weapon is turning off their brains at will; charging them is a battalion of skilled and equally dangerous craftspeople who see movies as a vehicle for both entertainment and awakening. The clash is bloody and ongoing, and explains Patriots Day, a reverent, methodical recreation of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that is only occasionally undermined by Mark Wahlberg's blue-collar Beantown buffoonery. If Berg can (or even wants to) shake the last vestiges of Michael Bay-style popcorn cuteness, he'll establish himself as a filmmaker to be respected for more than just his ability to draw a crowd. Patriots Day is both thrilling and tasteful, thought-provoking and dramatically satisfying. Sure, it may be unnecessary, but it demands to be seen.

For more thoughts on Patriots Day, check out Ian's chat with Keepin it Reel's David Fowlie on Kicking the Seat Podcast #186!

Tuesday
Jan102017

A Monster Calls (2016)

Fantasy may be our best means of coping with life's traumas. Just look at all the movies about creatures who help kids discover that the power to stop bullies/survive wars/stare down death was inside them all along. Through metaphor, dragon-slaying swords become pointed wit; outmaneuvering a child-eating Pale Man becomes a dry-run for dodging abusive stepdads. Then there's A Monster Calls. The NeverEnding Story for Generation Emoji, this easy and obvious tearjerker follows Conor (Lewis MacDougall), a Watery-Eyed BoyTM whose mother's impending death has made him the kind of sullen sociopath-in-training that only a talking tree would engage. This is no Iron Giant, no Pan's Labyrinth. Like Kubo and the Two Strings, awesome production design offers little comfort in an alarmingly shallow sea of narrative nonsense. Metaphor be damned: Conor's Freudian Ent explains absolutely everything in countless multi-minute monologues, instantly drying up whatever tendrils of imagination might have taken root.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #185, wherein Ian branches out in his discussion of A Monster Calls with Keepin it Reel's David Fowlie!

Friday
Jan062017

Silence (2016)

I haven't read Shūsaku Endō's book Silence, but Martin Scorsese and co-writer Jay Cocks' film adaptation is one of the most satisfying faith studies I've seen. Don't worry, fellow skeptics: the movie deals specifically with Christianity, but the themes explored here apply just as easily to politics, romantic relationships, and good, ol'-fashioned existential dread. Scorsese structures his ride as a filmic tour of birth, middle-age, and death, chronicling the bright-eyed, Jesus-loving optimism of two Portuguese priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) whose search for a vanished mentor (Liam Neeson) in 17th century Buddhist Japan leads to treachery, imprisonment, and torture--ending in a world-shattering crisis of belief. Some may balk at the filmmakers' decision to inject a literal God into the movie (Spoiler?), but one of Silence's greatest strengths lies in ambiguity: Is the Almighty an external, shaping force, or is He the collective imagination of our own judgmental, fallen selves?

 Check out Kicking the Seat Podcast #183 for a positively reverent discussion of Silence with Keepin it Reel's David Fowlie!

Friday
Jan062017

Hidden Figures (2016)

There's much to learn from the story of three African-American women who helped make NASA's Apollo 11 moon flight a reality, but Hidden Figures is a lousy starting point. Not having read Margot Lee Shetterly's book of the same name, I can only assume it has to be better than the technically well-executed but narratively inauthentic sub-Hallmark drama cooked up by co-writer/director Theodore Melfi. As the ensemble's ostensible lead, Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine G. Johnson's three disparate personalities well (mousy math nerd, empowered activist-in-bloom, blushing sexpot), but her character is impossible to pin down from scene to scene. Combine that with dialogue that is almost exclusively, gushingly self-aware and backwards-looking ("Three negro women are chasing a white police officer down the highway in Hampton, Virginia--1961!"), and you get an amalgam of seventh-grade history class memes, not a movie. This story needed to be told, but told better.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast  #180 to hear a stellar discussion of Hidden Figures (and Bad Santa 2, for some reason)!

Friday
Dec232016

Passengers (2016)

With Passengers, director Morten Tyldum plays another kind of imitation game by cribbing elements from more space-disaster movies than I care to recount. If you've seen the previews, you know that Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence play interstellar travellers who awaken from stasis nearly a century too early. In addition to the inevitable perilous space walk (necessary, of course, to prevent the requisite nuclear reactor from blowing up their cosmic luxury liner), Star-Lord and JLaw must face the prospect of dying in the middle of nowhere, with only an android bartender (a spot-on, Shining-creepy Michael Sheen), and a complete stranger to keep them company. Then there's the Big Secret, which the trailers, miraculously, don't spoil. Screenwriter John Spaihts' grim doozie of a plot twist makes Passengers worth seeing, beyond its glorious production design. Too bad the film's complex moral quandaries get sidetracked and sucked into a black hole of genre tropes.

 Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #179 to hear a positively preposterous Passengers pile-on!