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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!

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!