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Friday
May192017

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)

Unlike Alien: Resurrection, I never understood the vitriol aimed at Alien vs Predator. Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson’s script borrows elements from Dark Horse Comics’ 1991 miniseries, while providing a near-perfect distillation of the Alien and Predator film franchises: when several scientists contract with a tech billionaire to explore heat signatures beneath Antarctica, they stumble upon a predator hunting ritual and become host to the toothy, slimy xenomorphs. It’s easy to beat up on Anderson, the new-millennium poster child for disposable, PG-13 actioners, but AVP’s production design and pocket-universe mythos ease the frustration of predictable developments, professional-wrestling-style fight scenes, and dead-meat characters. I don’t usually advocate the middle ground, but I’ll make an exception for this particular mash-up: push the crowd-pleasing gore too far and you get AVP’s unwatchable sequel, Requiem. Impose self-seriousness on these monster movies, and you get the tedious (and, truth be told, equally bone-headed) Alien prequel, Prometheus.

Wednesday
May172017

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

We had it so good in 1997. For many Alien fans, Resurrection was a disappointment: too repetitive, too French, and too pointless to register as anything but a pseudo-art-house cash-grab from Fox, penned by a guy who'd set up some goofy vampire show at the WB. Of course, that guy turned out to be Joss Whedon, which explains the space pirates, snappy banter, and truly out-there explorations of the series' core themes. Twenty years on, I admire Resurrection’s relative purity. No, you can't see the xenomorph’s elegant design under all that tar-like goop. Yes, the characters are again reduced to running around a clunky old ship (can’t we just get to Earth already?). This is clearly a third sequel, but Whedon and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet make the inevitable seem fresh and kind of trashy--a stark contrast to today's aesthetically awesome but bereft-of-character tentpoles scientifically designed to advance brands over mythologies.

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.