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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.

Thursday
Apr202017

Free Fire (2017)

Thanks to the aughts, “pop culture junky” has morphed from a cute phrase into the diagnosis of acute, collective nostalgia addiction. Is there a better example of art writhing and dying before our glassy eyes than Free Fire, Ben Wheatley’s eightieth-generation Xerox of the Tarantino/Ritchie aesthetic? Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A group of chatty criminals gathers at a warehouse. One of them is a loose cannon who steers the whole deal south in a flash of violence. Some are not who they appear to be. Everyone dies—except the weasel who grabs the money and runs, just as police arrive. Wheatley clumsily substitutes wardrobe for character while playing human misery exclusively for laughs, unwittingly (and unwittily) revealing the limited vocabulary with which he delivers a cannibalized, nothing message. It's tempting to write Free Fire off as hollow, first-person-shooter filmmaking. But that would imply the film is about people.

 

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #216 for Ian's high-caliber Free Fire chat with Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie!

Friday
Apr142017

Female Trouble (1974)

As a kid, I associated John Waters with his mainstream-accessible fare, like Hairspray and Cry-baby, thinking he'd really stepped out on some kind of ledge with Pecker (I'd only known Pink Flamingos from pop culture). This week, I discovered Female Trouble, in which Divine stars as Dawn Davenport, a rebellious high schooler who attacks her family on Christmas for giving her the wrong kind of shoes; has rough sex with a guy she meets on the road (the actor plays both parts); and home-delivers her daughter on a filthy couch. And that's just the first fifteen minutes. Waters and Divine hold up a tobacco-spit-polished mirror to America's penchant for masking societal problems with glamour, a theme raucously and skin-crawlingly underscored by a less-than-nothing budget and broad, stage-y performances. Even more troubling is the fact that Dawn's disproportionate self-image and murderous quest for fame don't feel out of place in 2017.

Saturday
Apr082017

The Assignment (2016)

One cannot be blamed for writing off Walter Hill's The Assignment (or turning it off, for that matter). The iconic director of grimy 80s action flicks like 48 Hrs and Streets of Fire shaped this thing for decades, and has finally unleashed his ugly, ill-conceived Sin City knock-off about a psychotic plastic surgeon who commits non-consensual gender-reassignment surgery on the hitman who killed her brother. Aside from the top-notch cast (no doubt Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, and Tony Shaloub bought matching pools with their paychecks) and authentic, old-school aesthetics, the film implodes on its own footprint at every turn. The action is lame; the motivations are (poorly) explained far too late through marathon expository dialogue; and the male-to-female conceit fails so thoroughly that it begs comparisons to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. At least that film was fun. The Assignment is cinema Sudoku, a head-hurting, WTF mystery to be solved—not celebrated.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #213 to hear Ian and Keeping it Reel's David Fowlie grade Walter Hill's Assignment!