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Thursday
Feb232017

A Cure for Wellness (2017)

Despite the uneven results, I love that Gore Verbinski has parlayed mega-fame into crafting long, expensive, and decidedly niche studio movies. A nine-hour pirate saga? Sure. A Lone Ranger adaptation starring Johnny Depp as Tonto? Why not? How’s about a horror bouillabaisse of recent Scorsese films? Hold the phone. A Cure for Wellness stars Dane DeHaan as a corporate climber sent to retrieve his boss from an exclusive Swiss sanitarium. No surprise, the operation is a front for devious forces, and our smug protagonist finds himself trapped in an asylum quicker than you can say, “That’s a release form, you idiot!” DeHaan looks (and sounds) like Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s love child here, making it even easier to imagine Wellness as “The Wolf of Shutter Island”. Sadly, Verbinski’s pretty collection of half-measures and homage can’t decide if it’s a monster movie, a lifestyle commentary, or a skin-crawling incest picture.

Wednesday
Feb222017

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

In 1979, the late James Baldwin began writing a memoir of his friendship with Civil Rights icons Medgar Evers, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He put the manuscript aside after only thirty pages, and it remains unfinished—at least in book form. Raoul Peck’s riveting documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, brings these recollections to life in ways the author might never have imagined. While bold jazz plays over lush, high-def archival images and in-your-face title cards, Samuel L. Jackson narrates as Baldwin in a frail, almost resigned voice that seems to reprimand our still-broken society from beyond the grave. Peck expertly chronicles the African-American plight, but underplays his subject’s tenuous hope, nearly turning the film into an artfully rendered list of grievances. By the end, I Am Not Your Negro becomes an urgent and eloquent call to understanding, giving viewers authorship over the next chapter in Baldwin's story.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #197 for an in-depth discussion of I Am Not Your Negro, and two other Oscar-nominated documentaries, with Ian and HollywoodChicago.com's Patrick "The Über Critic" McDonald!

Friday
Feb172017

Unbroken Glass (2016)

Aging allows us to appreciate the lives our parents led before we entered the picture. Even if we never knew them (or never knew them enough), it can be comforting to believe that our shortcomings, triumphs, obsessions, and secrets are, at least in part, reflections of lineage instead of mere cosmic accidents. Documentary filmmaker Dinesh Das Sabu’s mother and father died when he was just six years old. Unbroken Glass is his attempt to understand who they were by interviewing friends, extended family, and the siblings who raised him. Not far beneath the sensational draw of colliding cultures, schizophrenia, and domestic abuse is a subtextual rabbit hole that questions how much of our lives is predicated on DNA, versus determination. Introspective but not indulgent, investigative but not exploitive, Das Sabu draws on specific experiences in addressing our universal need to confront and embrace ourselves for the sake of future generations.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #195 to hear Ian's interview with Dinesh Das Sabu!

Tuesday
Feb142017

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

The DC Extended Universe is over. I'm sure Wonder Woman and The Justice League will meet the basic criteria for being called “movies”, but Lego Batman steps to the fore in such spectacular and definitive fashion that it’s time for Zack Snyder, Geoff Johns, and the rest of the grim-'n-gritty gang to pack it in. Director Chris McKay and head writer Seth Grahame-Smith inject real purpose into their dazzling building-brick adventure, steering clear of the overly precious and misguided quirk-storm that was 2014’s surprise hit, The Lego Movie.* They mine every incarnation of the Caped Crusader’s history, creating a mind-boggling meta-continuity and a complex protagonist whose greatest enemy doesn’t wear clown makeup. The film has more gags and in-jokes than our hero has Batarangs, but beneath the silliness is a beautiful lesson about the fundamental need for human connection that left me weeping like a newly orphaned child.

*Yes, I’m one of those people.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #196 for a Dark Knight deep-dive with Ian and Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie!

Friday
Feb102017

Toni Erdmann (2016)

To paraphrase the late, great Jim Croce, you don’t stand on Superman’s cape; you don’t spit into the wind; you don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger, and you don’t remake Toni Erdmann. Yet, buried in this week of poorly educated decisions comes a cinematic whopper of DeVos proportions: Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig will star in an American version of Maren Ade’s inimitable German dramedy about a kooky dad so desperate to connect with his corporate-climbing daughter that he infiltrates her world with an alternate personality. The writer/director deftly redefines genre in real-time by flushing every narrative rule and giving the audience room to breathe—and think for themselves. Plus, thanks to fearless, tragicomic performances by Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller, any actor who dares bring even the loftiest pedigree to either part faces instant neutering. Some roles simply can’t be messed with. Just ask Jackie Earle Haley.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #190 for more Toni Erdmann love with Ian and HollywoodChicago.com's Patrick "The Über Critic" McDonald!