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Tuesday
Jul252017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Luc Besson’s lifelong love for the cutting-edge Valerian and Laureline comics series is evident throughout his interstellar political intrigue fantasy, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The first fifteen minutes may be the most poignant and beautifully rendered I’ve seen all year, chronicling the construction of the titular hub of universal cultures and then dropping in on a wondrous beach world populated by fish-like humanoids. Unfortunately, the main character shows up and throws everything off balance. Dane DeHaan flubs his space cop role, going for ridiculously skeevy instead of roguishly sexy—a real problem that makes all his scenes (and the side-plots they serve) feel twice as long. Even Cara Delevingne, who fares much better as Valerian’s put-upon (and hit-upon) partner, gets steamrolled by the film’s two-and-a-quarter-hour muchness. Design-wise, Valerian is unabashed cinematic joy; narratively, it’s a bit like trying to cram a graphic novel into the Sunday Funnies.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #243 to hear Ian get into Valerian's orbit with Peter Sobczynski of RogerEbert.com!

Friday
Jul212017

Dunkirk (2017)

I can’t recall another war film as uniquely effective as Dunkirk. Writer/director Christopher Nolan takes us on an unrelenting tour of hell that makes Saving Private Ryan look like In the Army Now--without spilling a quart of blood or writing more than thirty minutes of dialogue. Centered on an early World War II skirmish that saw British soldiers trapped between advancing Nazis and the Atlantic Ocean, Nolan time-hops between three narratives as they converge, further driving home the oppressive disorientation of conflict. Dunkirk may be a monster-budget, mainstream summer movie headed up by smoldering hunks (Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead, Kenneth Branagh) and a pop sensation (Harry Styles), but it is not escapism. This is subjective confrontism at its finest, a reminder that war reduces everyday life to unending, awful choices in the service of mere survival. I imagine multiplexes replacing those obnoxious 3D glasses receptacles this weekend with trauma-blanket kiosks.

Check out Kicking the Seat Podcast #242 to hear Ian head for the shoreline with Erik Childress of the Movie Madness Podcast!

Tuesday
Jul182017

The Little Hours (2017)

I didn’t fully appreciate The Little Hours until I saw it a second time, in a completely different setting than the first. This 14th century sex comedy about a runaway slave (Dave Franco) who pretends to be a deaf mute while seeking refuge in a convent full of aggressively horny misfit nuns (including Alison Brie and Aubrey Plaza) is a crowd-pleaser for sure, but writer-director Jeff Baena’s raunchy spin on Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron addresses societal and religious oppression with a tenderness that is, oddly, best absorbed in solitude (it’s the difference between praying in church and meditating at home). Goofy supporting players Fred Armisen, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, and John C. Reilly contribute to debauched lunacy that is as sure to offend anyone who holds traditional religious sensibilities as The Satanic Bible. But look beyond the witchcraft jokes and sitcom setups, and you’ll find a beautiful little movie about self-discovery.

 

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #241 to hear Ian get schooled on "nunsploitation" by writer/director Jeff Baena!

Friday
Jul142017

A Ghost Story (2017)

My love for A Ghost Story was hard won, and it’s a tricky film to recommend. David Lowery front-loads his love-from-beyond-the-grave story with Terence Malick’s worst habits (yes, you really have to watch blank-eyed Rooney Mara eat pie for five minutes), and mainstream moviegoers who reach the half-way point are right to expect a medal (and coffee). Watch out for the party scene, though, which blows up the narrative like 2001’s “star gate” sequence did. From here, Lowery forces us to question everything, including his film’s very presentation: shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio with fuzzy, rounded edges, cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo’s secretly grand compositions at once evoke slide-show nostalgia and the predicament of Lowery’s titular, sheet-draped spirit (Casey Affleck), who is confined by shifting but eternal walls of regret—or, as we see them, vertical black bars. This movie will never leave you, as long as you don’t leave it.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #239 to hear Ian and Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie conjur up some thoughts on A Ghost Story!

Thursday
Jul132017

Wish Upon (2017)

A friend asked how I could recommend seeing a garbage movie like Wish Upon in theatres—as opposed to waiting for VOD, cable, or piracy. My advocacy of John R. Leonetti’s cursed-antique thriller comes with a list of caveats longer than the film's 90-minute run-time. So here are three: First, it’s fun to watch the charismatic cast, who’ve shined in other projects, make lemonade from a script soaked in that other yellow liquid. Second, the premise (an evil music box grants a teen's wishes, to disastrous effect) lends itself to vicious supporting characters who side with the audience in calling out our alleged protagonist’s silly, selfish actions. Lastly, the experience of collectively watching big ideas, complicated emotions, and gruesome deaths get teased and discarded in favor of watery, PG-13 mall horror makes Wish Upon feel like a raucous college course in half-measure filmmaking. Group laughter is more gratifying than solitary tears.

 

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #240 to hear Ian and Emmanuel Noisette of Eman's Movie Reviews wish for some alternate universes of their own!