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Friday
May122017

Badlands (1973)

I finally understand Terence Malick. More precisely, I understand why someone might give the writer/director of an atrocious, meandering puff of fell-in-the-dirt cotton candy like Song to Song a lifetime pass. 1973’s Badlands is hungry, soulful, and gripping, the kind of auteruist debut that commands instant Top Five status for any film lover who sees it. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek tear up the west as young criminals inspired by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. He’s a James Dean-worshipping psychopath; she’s an aloof teenager secretly pulling his strings. Less flashy than predecessor Bonnie and Clyde, but just as spiritually unhinged as successors True Romance and Natural Born Killers (Tarantino doesn’t just rip off Asian gangster films!), Badlands is a note-perfect societal critique. Malick’s expansive landscapes are practically consumed by his claustrophobic narrative, resulting in a work of subcutaneous ills that resolve themselves in ways heartbreaking, ridiculous, and uniquely American.

Journey into the Badlands with Ian and HollywoodChicago.com's Pat "The Über Critic" McDonald on Kicking the Seat Podcast #223!

Monday
May082017

Serial Mom (1994)

For just a moment, I invite you to consider the possibility that our collective reality is a Matrix-type simulation, programmed and prosecuted by John Waters' brain. Two months before O.J. Simpson's double-homicide arrest launched the defining media event of our age, Serial Mom gave audiences a charismatic killer whose manipulation of public opinion made justice a joke. Simpson's defense team was so convinced of its narrative's invincibility that the Juice's character became magically unimpeachable. Similarly, Waters' protagonist (homicidal homemaker Beverly Sutphin, played by Kathleen Turner) lives by a moral code built on retribution, masked by refinement, and sustained by public gullibility. The writer/director even fabricated a true-crime meta-narrative for his (then) glossiest production. To this day, people wonder whatever happened to the "real" Beverly Sutphin. A better question is: What happened to us, to the ones and zeroes humming cluelessly along the psychic by-ways of Waters' vatic and fabulous supercomputer?

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #222 for Ian's interview with "Dottie Hinkle" herself, actress Mink Stole!

Friday
Apr282017

The Devil's Candy (2017)

You know the story: five minutes after an unsuspecting family moves into a murder house, the loving father/husband becomes obsessed and possessed by a corrupting supernatural force. In The Devil’s Candy, heavy metal music is the culprit, and struggling artist Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry) can’t shake the melodic, garbled chants pulsing through his brain. Before you can say, “All work and no play…” Jesse has lost hours to painting nightmarish tapestries of burning children and goat-faced monsters. What's the connection to the home’s disturbed former owner (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a mumbling metal-head who keeps coming around? Writer/director Sean Byrne bobs and weaves past convention to provide some complicated answers. And thanks to standout performances by Embry and star-in-the-making Kiara Glasco (playing Jesse’s teen daughter, Zooey), the film achieves a note-perfect blend of tenderness and terror. Like metal itself, The Devil’s Candy is an angry, sometimes off-putting expression of soulful sincerity. 

Saturday
Apr222017

Halfway (2016)

In the early days of the Kicking the Seat Podcast,* my friend and co-host Matt liked to say that his favorite movie moments involved characters hanging out. Though action, special effects, and twisty plots were okay, the real excitement, for him, came when filmmakers pressed "Pause" and simply let their characters be. It's fitting that Matt's closest friend produced Halfway, a movie that's ostensibly about a black ex-con (Quinton Aaron) clashing with the residents of a small, white town in rural Wisconsin. But writer/director Ben Caird is more interested in relationships than sensationalism, and with examining the everyday complexities of race in ways that directly challenge the simple pseudo-commentary of Get Out. Yes, when Byron's old life catches up to his new family during the climax, some of the drama feels artificial. Instead of loitering and falling to predictability, Caird quickly steers us back to the thrills of just chilling.

 

*Full disclosure: excerpts from the show were used as ambient sound throughout the film.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #214 for an extensive interview with Halfway producer Jonny Paterson!

Friday
Apr212017

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

By Cole Rush

Editor's Note: As you heard in Episode 215 of the Kicking the Seat Podcast, I'm pleased to welcome Cole Rush of the blog Cole Tries New Things as a special guest contributor. Please enjoy this review of The Fate of the Furious, and be sure to follow along with Cole's weekly adventures into the unknown!

Two things happened once my showing of The Fate of the Furious (hereafter, “Fate”) ended:

1. I casually wondered to myself, “Why did I enjoy that so much?”

2. I drove home like a complete maniac. No single memory of the film stuck with me. But racing to my apartment with post-action-movie gusto, I thought a lot about the franchise's eighth installment--which had been my introduction to this lauded, fast, and furious world of...people who really love cars?

When an otherwise sturdy car is plagued with multiple functional and cosmetic issues (a cracked mirror, dimming headlights, low tire pressure, you name it), there’s still a chance the mangled machine will get you where you need to go. Fate exists in the movie version of this mechanical purgatory: a veritable smorgasbord of tiny-but-still-noticeable issues rise to the surface.

Screenwriter Chris Morgan’s dialogue scrapes the bottom of the cliché barrel, scooping up and dishing out tropes that should be long dead. Many of the jokes induce a half-laugh, half-cringe. The characters, particularly Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), cycle between facial expressions like radio presets. Perhaps the most egregious offense, though, is actor Scott Eastwood’s unforgivable pronunciation of the word “nuclear.” Twice he crosses the line, letting loose a chilling “nook-ya-lur.” I laughed in disbelief at this ignorant utterance, and I’m still asking myself why nobody on set had the balls to correct him.

These grievances, however, are really the only ones worth mentioning, while others are just typical action-movie fare. Fate's welcoming attitude invites a suspension of disbelief--a smart move, because during the climactic battle, Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) shields himself from an onslaught of machine gun fire using a damaged car door.

Getting this far into the review without any mention of Fate’s plot is a testament to that plot’s fragility. A cyber terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron) kidnaps part of Dom's family, forcing him to betray his team. Letty and the gang join a mission to thwart Cipher and hopefully redeem their friend. This was believable enough for me as a series rookie. The motivations kind of make sense, and the loose ends all come together neatly by the film's conclusion. It's no filmmaking revolution, but in-fighting, a master plan, and a butt-load of action all combine into one semi-cogent package.

Of course, the action scenes stole the spotlight. Enrapturing set pieces, huge explosions, intimate combat segments, and obligatory, intense car chases abound. Each is delightful in its own way. Jason Statham stands out from the bunch during a multi-man takedown on an aircraft, mid-flight, with Dominic’s baby in tow--the scene provoked a few belly laughs and drew me to the edge of my seat.

Generally speaking, The Fate of the Furious lives up to the expectations I would’ve had if I knew anything about the series other than “it has cars.” This fun romp packed to the brim with references to “family” does enough to be fun and good, but if Fate was a car, it would stall at least a few times en route to its destination.