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Saturday
Feb042017

The Comedian (2017)

It’s cliché to suggest that movies with more than a couple of screenwriters have “too many cooks in the kitchen”. In the case of The Comedian, this truth is self-evident. Writer Jeff "Roastmaster General" Ross is all over Taylor Hackford's film, which boasts a sturdy premise and a sturdier lead actor: Aged former-sitcom-star-turned-comic Jackie Burke (Robert DeNiro) must navigate a cruel, DIY-media landscape that values spectacle over smarts. Unfortunately, the three Not-Jeff-Rosses on the script assembly line forgot that one doesn’t need artificial romance plot lines or family melodrama to make a comedian's life interesting. Jackie loses his cool with an ambush-blogger in a nightclub; winds up doing community service at a homeless shelter; and meeting Leslie Mann’s mixed-up, recently dumped co-ex-con volunteer, Harmony (so ironic!). Et Voilà! The film's delightfully wicked standup scenes quickly drown in the very same unhealthy, empty-calorie syrup that insult comedy was made to sop up.

Wanna hear a couple of stand-up guys take down The Comedian? Check out Kicking the Seat Podcast #193, where Ian and HollywoodChicago.com's Patrick "The Über Critic" McDonald do just that!

Thursday
Feb022017

Midsummer in Newtown (2016)

When discussing the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, most people only talk about the twenty children and six faculty who were gunned down that morning--ignoring (understandably) perpetrator Adam Lanza, who took his own life as authorities arrived. Though Lloyd Kramer's sobering and uplifting documentary, Midsummer in Newtown, doesn't dwell on gun control or other attendant political issues, Lanza is mentioned by name as the kind of disturbed and neglected lost soul who once sat in a first-grade classroom just like the one he shot up. Nelba Márquez-Greene, whose daughter, Ana, was among the dead, formed a non-profit organization to help at-risk kids. Her husband wrote a jazz record. A group of Broadway artists visited Newtown to help the students put on a spectacular production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Kramer deftly captures those fleeting magic moments where art and empathy transform lives, washing clean the blood-streaked halls of tragedy.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #191 for more thoughts on Midsummer in Newtown, with Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie!

Wednesday
Jan252017

20th Century Women (2016)

2016 was a great year for good movies about bad parenting. In Captain Fantastic, Viggo Mortensen plays a free-spirited single dad raising awkward kids to rebel against a society he doesn't agree with. In 20th Century Women, Annette Bening plays Dorothea, a free-spirited single mom raising a teenage boy in late-70s America--a society she doesn't understand enough to know where disagreements may lay. Dorothea referees an internal battle between Depression-Era ethos and feminist liberation, while her outward expression of love toward young Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) involves outsourcing his life education to three equally lost souls: a carpenter (Billy Crudup), an artist (Greta Gerwig), and Jamie's classmate/crush (Elle Fanning). Both films' protagonists make selfish, messy, potentially scarring decisions regarding their children, but the narratives are smart enough to reserve judgment. Lifelong love may be pure, but the satellite view ain't pretty. Sorry, did I say "bad parenting"? I meant "parenting".

For some 21st century thoughts on 20th Century Women, check out Kicking the Seat Podcast #186, with special guests Pam Powell of Reel Honest Reviews and David Fowlie of Keeping it Reel!

Tuesday
Jan242017

Lost in London (2017)

There are no stills from Lost in London, only publicity photos and on-set candids. If you missed Fathom Events' live-stream of Woody Harrelson's directorial debut last Thursday, you missed it for good. Someone may put out a home video release down the line, but future audiences will only know the movie as "that thing they shot live". They'll have no context for the collective, cinematic vofreude of watching posterity in progress, where every lighting issue, flub, and happy accident instantly became part of a locked picture. Though the story itself is inconsequential (we've seen one-crazy-night flicks before), the execution suggested influences as disparate as syrupy family sitcoms and Sebastian Schipper's one-and-done thriller, Victoria. Everything might have crashed and burned around Harrelson, had his three-hundred-strong cast and crew not steamrolled every obstacle. In the process, they made a case for bringing people back to theatres by bringing some theatre back to the movies.

Wanna hear Ian and Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie find their way through Lost in London? Check out Kicking the Seat Podcast #189!

Saturday
Jan142017

Patriots Day (2017)

If his recent films are any indication, there's a battle raging within Peter Berg's soul. Ambling up one hill on this metaphoric battlefield is an army of beer-guzzling, macho jagoffs whose greatest weapon is turning off their brains at will; charging them is a battalion of skilled and equally dangerous craftspeople who see movies as a vehicle for both entertainment and awakening. The clash is bloody and ongoing, and explains Patriots Day, a reverent, methodical recreation of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that is only occasionally undermined by Mark Wahlberg's blue-collar Beantown buffoonery. If Berg can (or even wants to) shake the last vestiges of Michael Bay-style popcorn cuteness, he'll establish himself as a filmmaker to be respected for more than just his ability to draw a crowd. Patriots Day is both thrilling and tasteful, thought-provoking and dramatically satisfying. Sure, it may be unnecessary, but it demands to be seen.

For more thoughts on Patriots Day, check out Ian's chat with Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie on Kicking the Seat Podcast #186!

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