Kicking the Tweets

Wakefield (2017)

Wakefield lacks the ambition and gonzo artistry of Trainspotting, A Clockwork Orange, or American Psycho. However, Robin Swicord's film is a rare, dark poem mined from the exploits of a truly wretched human being. Though attorney Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) never kills anything except time, he only cares about people and things he can possess. One night, Howard decides to not come home from work. He spends a year spying on his family from the loft above their garage. Swicord, Cranston, and Jennifer Garner (as the beleaguered Mrs. Wakefield) expose every nook of our narrator’s fragile psyche. But Wakefield doesn’t care if you think the protagonist’s journey from self-absorbed bully to semi-self-actualized dumpster diver is a new-millennium American Beauty--or the nail in the coffin for cinematic portrayals of affluent white males in crisis. Its only demand is that you engage with The Other and recognize part of yourself within it.


Middle Man (2017)

What a pathetic state of affairs. Barely a month into blockbuster season, audiences have already begun kicking over mega-budget studio tent poles left and right.* Good. All the more opportunity to discover films like Ned Crowley's delightfully ghoulish Middle Man. Accountant Lenny Freeman (Jim O'Heir) quits his day job to pursue stand-up comedy. While driving to Las Vegas for a TV talent show audition, he picks up a charismatic and very talkative young hitchhiker (Andrew J. West), who's also a serial killer (natch). Turns out Lenny is a few punch lines short of a set himself, and Middle Man slowly transforms from charming-yet-predictable road movie into a genre-junking blend of The King of Comedy and The Hitcher. If imagination, talent, and passion were currency, Crowley's crowd-funded assemblage of revelatory performances and memorable dialogue would get the Transformers 5 treatment.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #229, to hear Middle Man star Jim O'Heir and writer/director Ned Crowley tell Ian where the bodies are buried!

*For every Wonder Woman, a Baywatch drowns just off the coastline.


Wonder Woman (2017)

By now, it’s cliché to declare Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman the best of DC’s so-called “Extended Universe” films, which began with Man of Steel and nearly killed itself with Suicide Squad. But here’s a little-discussed capper to that sentiment: Wonder Woman is just a mediocre comic-book movie. Don’t worry, this is neither a tirade against recently publicized women-only screenings of the film, nor sour grapes from a Marvel fanatic. I expected more from the director of Monster than a gender-swapped, near-literal retread of Captain America: The First Avenger. Between the cyanide-chomping assassins, bargain-bin Howling Commandos, and a guy named Steve bravely flying a plane packed with world-ending cargo over the Atlantic, the cribbing in this picture is as omnipresent as its overcast vistas. Yes, compared to Wonder Woman's messy, mean-spirited predecessors, this iteration is practically the model of competence. Next time, it would be nice if someone strived for excellence.



Alien: Covenant (2017)

Ridley Scott is the Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Hollywood. Instead of serving those who ostensibly made him powerful, he placed his finger on the scale of Fox's Alien franchise, scuttling (or abetting the scuttling of) Neill Blomkamp's proposed fourth sequel--in order to promote his own wretched and increasingly nonsensical prequel series. Alien: Covenant starts off strong, fleshing out just enough of Prometheus' half-cooked creation themes to downplay the fact that we're watching yet another crew of deep-space dead-meats respond to another beacon on another uncharted, monster-infested planet. Before you can say "I'll be right back", Covenant devolves into the kind of dumb, predictable, and wholly disposable dreck, which, when taken chronologically as part of a larger story, is guaranteed to sour future viewers on further xenomorph exploits before they even get to Alien. We may never know if Blomkamp's vision would have been better. It could not have been worse.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #225 to hear Ian and Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie scream (or at least complain) about Alien: Covenant!


A Quiet Passion (2017)

I clearly didn’t pay enough attention in school. To me, Emily Dickinson was just a sickly, sad poet who lived a long time ago. Writer/director Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion bridges the gap between Dickinson’s lone, lonely photograph and the well-traveled spirit who wrote “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”. This multi-layered look at the author’s self-imposed familial confinement, in which she endures the rigors of societal and religious oppression as embodied by those she holds most dear, is a hymn to the gods of pure artistic righteousness. Cynthia Nixon’s brilliant lead performance manifests such humor, grace, and cutting wit that I often forgot I was watching a tragedy. For anyone worried that this might be a visually static period piece, Davies’ aesthetics are as rich as his narrative. There’s enough life, light, and scrumptious symbolism here to make even the most distracted kid in third-period American Lit take notice.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #224 to hear Ian's conversation with writer/director Terence Davies!