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Saturday
Dec172016

Long Way North (2015)

Some movie lovers avoid mainstream fare like the plague, preferring instead to look for gems in independent and foreign cinema. It's as unfair and incorrect to say that subtitles make a film "better" as it is to suggest star power and brand-name backing make another film "worse". On the other hand, French director Rémi Chayé's (literally) breathtaking adventure, Long Way North, makes me question what was so great about Finding Dory and Moana. In 80 minutes, this simply rendered, dazzlingly shot 19th century Arctic trek covers more emotional ground than both those Disney flicks, and packs a greater narrative wallop than the lovingly crafted but dull and convoluted Kubo and the Two Strings. Though Chaye's Flash-animated characters look like a cross between cut paper and marker drawings, they feel more tangible than any million-dollar 3-D fish. I'm not a film snob, but I'm beginning to understand where they're coming from.

 

Want to learn about the long, hard journey of making Long Way North? Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #176 for an interview with director Rémi Chayé!

Tuesday
Dec132016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rogue One is two films, made for two distinct audiences. The first is unlike any Star Wars movie I've seen, a sort of pocket-universe combat picture that hangs heavy with imperial oppression and desperate heroes. The filmmakers camouflage their story in soot and sadness, making familiar elements easier to digest as they trickle in. Yes, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is another barren-planet orphan who finds herself fighting the Empire, but she lacks Rey's optimism and Luke's sense of galactic justice. Compelling stuff. The second Rogue One is a long, dispiriting fan-service loop of gratuitous cameos and marble-mouthed exposition that climaxes in a clumsy retread of the Battle of Endor. Last year's Episode VII waded into this pool, but promised an expansion of the mythos. Here, Disney/Lucasfilm walk that promise back, reducing the once groundbreaking series to a calendar-based motion product with goals no more ambitious than those of the Saw franchise.

Tuesday
Dec132016

Suicide Squad: Extended Cut (2016)

Once again, I'm left to question the wisdom of WB's brain-trust. Twice this year, they've released messy, over-long, big-screen adaptations of DC Comics properties, only to follow up with even longer, slightly more satisfying versions on home video. Suicide Squad was a gargantuan misfire from the word "Go", but the movie benefits from a few well-placed character interactions that add weight to all the superfluous bombast. The world-destroying witch machine still makes zero sense, and deep state puppet master Amanda Waller's rationale for bringing these oddball knives to the meta-human gunfight only becomes more problematic on second viewing. But we get a few more colorful interactions between the titular black-ops criminals; the Harley Quinn/Joker romance is moderately less creepy and far more linear; and a brief but crucial insert finally reveals Midway City's evacuation effort. Omitting this connective tissue in the first place was clearly the call of a madman.

Friday
Dec092016

Jackie (2016)

You might think you've figured out Jackie before the film even begins: Oscar-winning actress goes for more gold, playing a historical (and hysterical) figure whose demons emerge after a tragedy. That's certainly the case here, but director Pablo Larrain, writer Noah Oppenheim, and star Natalie Portman have created one of the least Oscar-bait-y contenders in recent memory. Though Jackie flaunts the grandeur of a studio film, its acting, arcs, and artistry are intimate. We skip liberally through time, making sense of Mrs. Kennedy's life piece by piece, just as she might have in the week following her husband's assassination. Especially noteworthy are Billy Crudup as the reporter whose interview bookends the film, and John Hurt as Jackie's father-confessor. They personify the opposing impulses of surrender and transcendence vying for the First Lady's soul. Jackie demystifies "America's Camelot", but never loses sight of the epic forces within us all that sometimes change the world.

 

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #175 for a closer look at Jackie with HollywoodChicago.com's Patrick McDonald!

Monday
Dec052016

Bad Santa 2 (2016)

I'd almost forgotten what politically incorrect comedy looked like. Not the easy, faux-liberal raunch of Sausage Party, with its winking, eighth-grade assaults on morality and diversity. I'm talking about deliciously angry material that could've been conceived at a rehab facility or a Trump rally. Bad Santa 2 is the real deal, a coal-hearted film so eager to flip off anyone who dares show interest that its very form seems as burdened by existence as its protagonist. The plot is an off-center Xerox of part one: randy, alcoholic safe-cracker Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) teams with diminutive double-crosser Marcus (Tony Cox) and his own equally repugnant mom (Kathy Bates) to rip off a children's charity (Tip: Nocturnal Animals is still playing, if you crave complex story mechanics). The jokes mostly land, fortunately, and Oscar-winners Thornton and Bates give these cartoons a z-axis, making their characters' twisted family drama actually hurt.