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Friday
Apr142017

Female Trouble (1974)

As a kid, I associated John Waters with his mainstream-accessible fare, like Hairspray and Cry-baby, thinking he'd really stepped out on some kind of ledge with Pecker (I'd only known Pink Flamingos from pop culture). This week, I discovered Female Trouble, in which Divine stars as Dawn Davenport, a rebellious high schooler who attacks her family on Christmas for giving her the wrong kind of shoes; has rough sex with a guy she meets on the road (the actor plays both parts); and home-delivers her daughter on a filthy couch. And that's just the first fifteen minutes. Waters and Divine hold up a tobacco-spit-polished mirror to America's penchant for masking societal problems with glamour, a theme raucously and skin-crawlingly underscored by a less-than-nothing budget and broad, stage-y performances. Even more troubling is the fact that Dawn's disproportionate self-image and murderous quest for fame don't feel out of place in 2017.

Saturday
Apr082017

The Assignment (2016)

One cannot be blamed for writing off Walter Hill's The Assignment (or turning it off, for that matter). The iconic director of grimy 80s action flicks like 48 Hrs and Streets of Fire shaped this thing for decades, and has finally unleashed his ugly, ill-conceived Sin City knock-off about a psychotic plastic surgeon who commits non-consensual gender-reassignment surgery on the hitman who killed her brother. Aside from the top-notch cast (no doubt Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, and Tony Shaloub bought matching pools with their paychecks) and authentic, old-school aesthetics, the film implodes on its own footprint at every turn. The action is lame; the motivations are (poorly) explained far too late through marathon expository dialogue; and the male-to-female conceit fails so thoroughly that it begs comparisons to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. At least that film was fun. The Assignment is cinema Sudoku, a head-hurting, WTF mystery to be solved—not celebrated.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #213 to hear Ian and Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie grade Walter Hill's Assignment!

Thursday
Apr062017

The Ticket (2016)

Throughout The Ticket, director Ido Fluk and screenwriter Sharon Mashihi present nightmarish, claustrophobic interpretations of blindness to convey the sensory prison from which their main character, James (Dan Stevens), has miraculously escaped. When the call-center employee awakens one morning to find his sight restored after decades of darkness, he immediately binges on earthly pleasures, abandoning the God to whom he’d previously sent daily prayers of gratitude. The story goes astray in act two, as the film, like James, enamored of its own conceit, takes on a much grander identity than it was ever meant to possess. The idea of James’ mortgage-broker employer setting up a shell charity in churches and schools to entrap customers by ostensibly helping them eliminate debt is compelling. But The Ticket is not The Big Short, and every attendant subplot tacked on to James’ descent into Hell detracts from our ability to truly appreciate his fall.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #212 to hear Ian's interview with writer/director Ido Fluk!

Monday
Apr032017

Landline (2017)

Like all independent filmmakers, Matthew Aaron wears many hats on his third feature, Landline—not the least of which is a baseball cap representing his beloved Chicago Cubs. It takes singular vision and ungodly determination to get a movie off the ground, so I don’t blame Aaron for swinging for the fences as writer, director, producer, editor, and star. But the unfocused Landline loses sight of its premise early on. Following a sex-video scandal, ad executive Ted Gout (Aaron) strives to rid himself of modern technology. There are side-plots aplenty: one, a misunderstanding about Ted’s husband’s relationship with a childhood friend; one, a babysitting misadventure involving pot; still another pitting Ted against a social-media-savvy coworker for the all-important Cubs account. Any of these could be a movie. The effect of stuffing them all into one film is akin to reading an online article in which every third word is a hyperlink.

Check out Kicking the Seat Podcast episodes 209 and 211 for our double-header Landline interviews with Matthew Aaron and co-star Jim O'Heir!

Friday
Mar312017

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

First thing’s first: T2 Trainspotting is a lame title, a faux-clever swipe at the Terminator 2 ad campaign meant to, I guess, evoke nostalgia and mischief by intertwining two of the 1990s’ most important films. It’s also an apt encapsulation of Danny Boyle’s note-perfect sequel. Twenty-one years ago, four tragicomic Scottish hoodlums jumped from Irvine Welsh’s novel onto the big screen, stunning audiences with smack-soaked, pop-punk misadventures. Two decades on, they’re pathetic middle-aged men, forever chasing highs that were never as pure as they’d imagined by substituting careers and/or revenge for opiates. It’s fair to say that T2 (gag) isn’t as energetic or as fresh as the original, but neither are the characters and conventions that made it possible. Some will see only diminished returns in this call-back-heavy sequel, ignoring at their peril the flashing track signals that admonish us to savor every stop before the end of the line.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #210 to hear Ian and HollywoodChicago.com's Pat "The Über Critic" McDonald just say "Yes" to T2 Trainspotting!