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Thursday
Feb092017

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

John Wick: Chapter 2 isn’t more of the same. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad tweaks his mythos just enough to make an already grim concept truly disturbing. After Keanu Reeves’ titular, not-so-retired hitman ties up loose ends from “Chapter 1”, an ambitious mobster yanks him deeper into a black-mirror society of capitalist killers. The contract: assassinate a rival on the underworld’s high council. One predictable double-cross later, our antihero finds himself artfully blasting holes in clubs and continents. This world’s how’s and why’s are fascinating, but the filmmakers’ idea of scaling up the conspiracy involves turning everyday people into either covert mercenaries or bullet-proof bystanders (one of several amusing intersections with The Matrix). By doubling down on his first-person-shooter aesthetic, director Chad Stahelski arrests the preceding story’s beating heart. Chapter 3, we’re teased, may restore John Wick’s vulnerability, but this middle entry is just a video game in search of a movie.

Set your sights on Kicking the Seat Podcast #194, where Ian talks John Wick: Chapter 2 with Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie and Emmanuel Noisette from Eman's Movie Reviews!

Sunday
Feb052017

Colin Hay: Waiting for My Real Life (2016)

The question to ask about former Men at Work frontman Colin Hay isn't, "Where is he now?" It's, "Who is he now?" In the unconventional rock doc, Colin Hay: Waiting for My Real Life, co-directors Aaron Faulls and Nate Gowtham catch up with their subject on the road, decades after his mega-stardom burned out. They find a musician reinvented, a jovial but pained storytelling strummer whose journey toward creative liberation really began at the end. Gowtham and Faulls front-load their narrative with a Men at Work primer and fan testimonials by the likes of Hugh Jackman, Guy Pearce, and Sia. Most of the run-time, though, centers on Hay creatively channeling his brutal introspection while playing to modest crowds. Late in the film, a lawsuit over "Land Down Under" forces the artist to reckon with his previous incarnation. I rooted for Hay to get back to his real life, already in progress.

 

Check out Kicking the Seat Podcast #192 to hear Ian and Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie interview Colin Hay and co-director Nate Gowtham!

Saturday
Feb042017

The Comedian (2017)

It’s cliché to suggest that movies with more than a couple of screenwriters have “too many cooks in the kitchen”. In the case of The Comedian, this truth is self-evident. Writer Jeff "Roastmaster General" Ross is all over Taylor Hackford's film, which boasts a sturdy premise and a sturdier lead actor: Aged former-sitcom-star-turned-comic Jackie Burke (Robert DeNiro) must navigate a cruel, DIY-media landscape that values spectacle over smarts. Unfortunately, the three Not-Jeff-Rosses on the script assembly line forgot that one doesn’t need artificial romance plot lines or family melodrama to make a comedian's life interesting. Jackie loses his cool with an ambush-blogger in a nightclub; winds up doing community service at a homeless shelter; and meeting Leslie Mann’s mixed-up, recently dumped co-ex-con volunteer, Harmony (so ironic!). Et Voilà! The film's delightfully wicked standup scenes quickly drown in the very same unhealthy, empty-calorie syrup that insult comedy was made to sop up.

Wanna hear a couple of stand-up guys take down The Comedian? Check out Kicking the Seat Podcast #193, where Ian and HollywoodChicago.com's Patrick "The Über Critic" McDonald do just that!

Thursday
Feb022017

Midsummer in Newtown (2016)

When discussing the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, most people only talk about the twenty children and six faculty who were gunned down that morning--ignoring (understandably) perpetrator Adam Lanza, who took his own life as authorities arrived. Though Lloyd Kramer's sobering and uplifting documentary, Midsummer in Newtown, doesn't dwell on gun control or other attendant political issues, Lanza is mentioned by name as the kind of disturbed and neglected lost soul who once sat in a first-grade classroom just like the one he shot up. Nelba Márquez-Greene, whose daughter, Ana, was among the dead, formed a non-profit organization to help at-risk kids. Her husband wrote a jazz record. A group of Broadway artists visited Newtown to help the students put on a spectacular production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Kramer deftly captures those fleeting magic moments where art and empathy transform lives, washing clean the blood-streaked halls of tragedy.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #191 for more thoughts on Midsummer in Newtown, with Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie!

Wednesday
Jan252017

20th Century Women (2016)

2016 was a great year for good movies about bad parenting. In Captain Fantastic, Viggo Mortensen plays a free-spirited single dad raising awkward kids to rebel against a society he doesn't agree with. In 20th Century Women, Annette Bening plays Dorothea, a free-spirited single mom raising a teenage boy in late-70s America--a society she doesn't understand enough to know where disagreements may lay. Dorothea referees an internal battle between Depression-Era ethos and feminist liberation, while her outward expression of love toward young Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) involves outsourcing his life education to three equally lost souls: a carpenter (Billy Crudup), an artist (Greta Gerwig), and Jamie's classmate/crush (Elle Fanning). Both films' protagonists make selfish, messy, potentially scarring decisions regarding their children, but the narratives are smart enough to reserve judgment. Lifelong love may be pure, but the satellite view ain't pretty. Sorry, did I say "bad parenting"? I meant "parenting".

For some 21st century thoughts on 20th Century Women, check out Kicking the Seat Podcast #186, with special guests Pam Powell of Reel Honest Reviews and David Fowlie of Keeping it Reel!