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Tuesday
Jun132017

Band Aid (2017)

Band Aid is the best kind of bait-and-switch indie comedy. Its cute premise and primetime-TV cast could just entice mainstream moviegoers into discovering that writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones' unique, vital voice obliterates the conventional rom-com characterizations they've been spoon-fed for decades. Lister-Jones and Adam Pally star as Anna and Ben, two thirty-something, married artists struggling with career ruts, romantic complacency, and another issue I won't spoil. The only way to survive their constant arguments, they learn, is to infuse them with rhythm and rhyme. Aided by an eccentric neighbor/drummer (Fred Armisen), the couple begins performing in public and soon becomes a club-scene sensation. Because Band Aid is not really about a band, Lister-Jones spares us the predictably happy (or predictably sad) plot points and resolutions, focusing instead on rich, honest words and surprisingly brutal performances--resulting in a sharp, tragicomic film that lets neither its characters nor its audience off the hook.

Tuesday
Jun132017

Wakefield (2017)

Wakefield lacks the ambition and gonzo artistry of Trainspotting, A Clockwork Orange, or American Psycho. However, Robin Swicord's film is a rare, dark poem mined from the exploits of a truly wretched human being. Though attorney Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) never kills anything except time, he only cares about people and things he can possess. One night, Howard decides to not come home from work. He spends a year spying on his family from the loft above their garage. Swicord, Cranston, and Jennifer Garner (as the beleaguered Mrs. Wakefield) expose every nook of our narrator’s fragile psyche. But Wakefield doesn’t care if you think the protagonist’s journey from self-absorbed bully to semi-self-actualized dumpster diver is a new-millennium American Beauty--or the nail in the coffin for cinematic portrayals of affluent white males in crisis. Its only demand is that you engage with The Other and recognize part of yourself within it.

Monday
Jun052017

Middle Man (2017)

What a pathetic state of affairs. Barely a month into blockbuster season, audiences have already begun kicking over mega-budget studio tent poles left and right.* Good. All the more opportunity to discover films like Ned Crowley's delightfully ghoulish Middle Man. Accountant Lenny Freeman (Jim O'Heir) quits his day job to pursue stand-up comedy. While driving to Las Vegas for a TV talent show audition, he picks up a charismatic and very talkative young hitchhiker (Andrew J. West), who's also a serial killer (natch). Turns out Lenny is a few punch lines short of a set himself, and Middle Man slowly transforms from charming-yet-predictable road movie into a genre-junking blend of The King of Comedy and The Hitcher. If imagination, talent, and passion were currency, Crowley's crowd-funded assemblage of revelatory performances and memorable dialogue would get the Transformers 5 treatment.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #229, to hear Middle Man star Jim O'Heir and writer/director Ned Crowley tell Ian where the bodies are buried!

*For every Wonder Woman, a Baywatch drowns just off the coastline.

Thursday
Jun012017

Wonder Woman (2017)

By now, it’s cliché to declare Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman the best of DC’s so-called “Extended Universe” films, which began with Man of Steel and nearly killed itself with Suicide Squad. But here’s a little-discussed capper to that sentiment: Wonder Woman is just a mediocre comic-book movie. Don’t worry, this is neither a tirade against recently publicized women-only screenings of the film, nor sour grapes from a Marvel fanatic. I expected more from the director of Monster than a gender-swapped, near-literal retread of Captain America: The First Avenger. Between the cyanide-chomping assassins, bargain-bin Howling Commandos, and a guy named Steve bravely flying a plane packed with world-ending cargo over the Atlantic, the cribbing in this picture is as omnipresent as its overcast vistas. Yes, compared to Wonder Woman's messy, mean-spirited predecessors, this iteration is practically the model of competence. Next time, it would be nice if someone strived for excellence.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #227 to for a super-powered discussion of Wonder Woman with Ian, David Fowlie's Keeping it Reel, Every Movie Has a Lesson's Don Shanahan, and Emmanuel Noisette of EMan's Movie Reviews!

Monday
May222017

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Ridley Scott is the Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Hollywood. Instead of serving those who ostensibly made him powerful, he placed his finger on the scale of Fox's Alien franchise, scuttling (or abetting the scuttling of) Neill Blomkamp's proposed fourth sequel--in order to promote his own wretched and increasingly nonsensical prequel series. Alien: Covenant starts off strong, fleshing out just enough of Prometheus' half-cooked creation themes to downplay the fact that we're watching yet another crew of deep-space dead-meats respond to another beacon on another uncharted, monster-infested planet. Before you can say "I'll be right back", Covenant devolves into the kind of dumb, predictable, and wholly disposable dreck, which, when taken chronologically as part of a larger story, is guaranteed to sour future viewers on further xenomorph exploits before they even get to Alien. We may never know if Blomkamp's vision would have been better. It could not have been worse.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #225 to hear Ian and Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie scream (or at least complain) about Alien: Covenant!