Kicking the Tweets

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's Patrick McDonald!


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.


Manchester by the Sea (2016)

I have it on good authority that rogue elements within the Massachusetts Film Office are conspiring to ensure I never visit Bean Town. It’s probably a lovely city, but recent movies depict ninety percent of the guys there as rage-filled, mumbling lunkheads and the women as high-haired harpies. Even Kenneth Lonergan’s much-lauded, over-long Manchester By the Sea turns an ostensibly serious drama into “Baaah-stin”-adjacent grief porn. Casey Affleck stars as Lee, a janitor who assumes custody of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), following his brother’s death. The narrative balances Lee’s own tragic past with a present that finds him randomly unleashing anger and enabling Patrick’s sullen-lothario antics. Lonergan proves himself adept at picturesque wallowing, but fails to provide a reason to care about these anthropomorphized Poor Life Choices. For once, it’d be nice to see characters mourn without resorting to the kinds of outbursts that get real people locked up.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #174 for a diametrically opposed deep-dive into Manchester by the Sea with Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie!


Moana (2016)

Here’s why I’m the last guy anyone asks when it comes to film criticism: sometimes oftentimes my opinions vary greatly from whatever passes as consensus these days. Case in point: I can’t stand Kubo and the Two Strings. It’s beautiful and (mostly) hand-crafted, sure, but the mythology is all over the place. I lost track of who was supposed to collect which totem to level up and defeat the alien/god/grandpa-thing. Worse yet, I didn’t care. Now we have Moana, a very similar story of a kid striking out on her own to defeat an evil deity. The visuals are gorgeous but not precious; the characters crack the archetype ceiling; and the mythology has about twenty less moving parts than Kubo. If only the songs were as catchy as they are persistent, this might have been great family fun. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with simple, well-executed, four-quad entertainment.


Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #173 for a deep-dive into Moana with Don Shanahan of Every Movie Has a Lesson!


Sausage Party (2016)

For the uninitiated, soyrizo is a vegetarian alternative to everyone's favorite spicy Mexican sausage: similar texture, a little bit of kick, and absolutely no animals harmed in the process. Sausage Party is a meatless version of adult comedy, artificially colored with provocative language and seasoned with Seth Rogen’s trademark “smoky” humor. When a suburban supermarket’s anthropomorphic edibles realize that being "chosen" by customers leads not to a heavenly reward but to unspeakable culinary nightmares, our hapless, horny hot dog hero, Frank (Rogen), begins a quest to liberate his fellow foodstuffs. Ralph Bakshi’s Fritz the Cat made sex-crazed, foul-mouthed cartoon characters passé half a century ago, and 2004’s Team America: World Police demolished whatever satirical boundaries were left standing. Sausage Party is unfunny and desperate by contrast, especially considering the legion of unpaid animators who worked on this millionaire stoner’s vanity project. So much for harmless fun.