Minisode 47: Interview with Director Gus Van Sant and Actress Beth Ditto of Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

Aaron recently had the opportunity to share an interview of Gus Van Sant and Beth Ditto with John from the About to Review podcast. We discuss Gus’ latest film, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, as well as many unique topics brought up by our always interesting guests. This interview is spoiler-free. Enjoy, and be sure to check out John’s podcast when you’re done!


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Minisode 046: Rush

It’s donor pick time, and it looks like we were too fast for our own good, seeing as how we sped right past June and are bringing you that pick a few days into July. Thanks for being forgiving and we hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we do. We’re talking Rush, Ron Howard’s 2013 biopic about the Formula One racing rival between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.


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MOVIE REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

2 Hours and 5 Minutes (PG-13)

Riding the summer movie coattails of Avengers: Infinity War, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Ant-Man And The Wasp. Our lovable insect-sized hero is back in the clutches of the law, struggling to learn how to balance being a father, a business owner and a superhero.

Paul Rudd is back as Scott Lang, the Robin Hood-esque burglar, 2 years after his Civil War appearance in Germany. Having stolen his suit to take part in the battle, Scott landed himself on house arrest; his actions also alienated both Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), unintentionally making them criminal conspirators. Having been the only person to go “sub-atomic” and survive, emotions are put aside when Dr. Pym and Hope insert themselves back into Scott’s life to extract any subconscious memories he has of his time in the Quantum Realm. Hope and Hank need Scott’s connection to the Quantum Realm in the hopes of saving Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp, who disappeared there decades ago. Hope suits up as “The Wasp” and this duo is back together just in time to face an enemy more powerful than they’ve ever faced. Ghost (Hannah John-Kaman) is an accidental science experiment who molecular instability allows her to phase through objects, coming in handy when she steals Pym technology for her own means.

Peyton Reed returns to the director’s chair for this sequel, bringing with him the same comedic wit and pure joy that was present in the first film. My favorite thing about the Ant-Man films is that the stakes are relatively high, but they’re not nearly as dire as they are in most MCU movies, where it seems like the fate of the entire universe is always at stake. Scott’s adorably dense yet somehow qualified ex-con friends are back,  played by Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian, providing off-beat humor without drawing too much attention from the plot. Character growth was present in Hope and Scott, while we got a small glimpse into the past mistakes Dr. Pym made. At times the script felt like it was lacking in some stylistic ways, which could easily be explained by Edgar Wright not joining the team for this film; some of Rudd’s jokes seemed forced and unnatural, a few scenes seemed rushed without being able to fully play out their potential, etc. However, the fight/stunt scenes were well choreographed, the visual effects were blended seamlessly, and I’m still eager to see what Ant-Man and the Wasp get into next.

Once again, Reed has managed to somehow create a comic heist film but on a much larger scale, blending in elements of science fiction and physics, all while still adhering to the rules within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

PS: There are 2 post-credit scenes: the first, I was definitely not ready for but the second is completely useless and there’s no point in waiting for it.

Rating:


Erynne Hundley is Seattle-based writer and freelance film critic, currently writing and editing articles for Essentially Erynne. She prides herself on crafting spoiler-free film reviews that balance franchise history, stylistic approach, script interpretation, and the emotional turmoil the final piece creates. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram for article updates.

Minisode 045: Interview with The Endless Directors, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Indie Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are making a name for themselves with smart, strange, sci-fi, horror films that explore big ideas grounded in emotionally layered characters. Their latest film, The Endless, is available now on Blu-Ray and VOD after a brief theatrical run and is one of the best films of 2018 most have not seen yet. In this interview we talk with Benson and Moorhead about working as a director duo, the challenges and benefits of indie filmmaking, the universe their three films exist in, and we also hear what stories have emotionally impacted them.

Most of this interview can be listened to without seeing the films, but we encourage you to seek out their fantastic filmography to get the most out of this discussion.

Spoiler Section (not major, but light) – 0:29:49

Guests Pick an Emotionally Impactful Film –  0:43:57


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MOVIE REVIEW: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

2 Hours and 8 Minutes (PG-13)

Jurassic World, though never coming close to the brilliance of Steven Spielberg’s classic original, managed to be quite a bit of fun due to two things: Chris Pratt and dinosaurs. It’s really hard to screw up Chris Pratt and dinosaurs, after all. Even a guy who got fired from a Star Wars movie managed. So give Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom credit because it accomplished something I didn’t think was possible by doing that very thing. This film is a lot of things, and I sure wish that “fun” had been one of them.

The plot takes the normal ridiculousness and suspension of belief that this series employs and takes it to a whole other level. So much so that it’s almost embarrassing to recap it. It’s 3 years after the events of Jurassic World and Isla Nublar’s dormant volcano has awakened. The Dinosaur Protection Group (DPG), led by former park manager and Indominus rex attack survivor Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), is lobbying for the government to step in and protect the once again endangered species, but much of the world does not agree and believes letting the dinosaurs die from natural causes is the right choice. In swoops the wealthy Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) and his young accounts manager Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) with a plan, offering to provide the resources and a private island for dinosaur evacuation if Claire can recruit dinosaur trainer and maybe sorta former boyfriend Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to assist in the capture of Blue (the somewhat domesticated velociraptor now loose on the island) and other targeted species. Because the film needs to check some boxes, Claire brings along two of her DPG team members – Zia (Daniella Pineda) the fierce feminist veterinarian and Franklin (Justice Smith) the scaredy-cat, nerdy, socially awkward systems analyst (BECAUSE WE HAVE TO HAVE ONE OF THOSE, RIGHT?)

The plot from there continues to progress in increasingly unrealistic, dumbfounded ways, leading us through laughably bad (and repetitive) villains while eventually arriving at killer dinosaurs in a haunted house because they escaped the secret underground lab beneath a mansion. Other absolutely ridiculous moments include a tranquilized person trying to roll out of the way of lava, a lengthy underwater escape scene where the rules of holding your breath don’t apply, an animal trainer having hand-to-hand combat skills that can compete with hired mercenaries, and multiple characters making decisions that are clearly the worst option just to advance the plot. There’s also one major surprise that brings up an enormous ethical dilemma but is completely breezed over. I suppose that’s something that will be addressed more heavily in the next installment as this entry is definitely focused on being a bridge between what we’ve known in the series thus far and something they hope can be much more heady and thought-provoking (which, I’ll admit, would be a very cool concept if it was in a focused story told with appropriate weight, seriousness, and emotional resonance).

Tonally, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is all over the place. It is at its best in a few very tense moments of terror. If the entire film had been built around this dark, scary aspect of the dinosaurs it could have worked much better. I thoroughly enjoyed some of the kills and predatory actions involving dinos. But the first half plays out similar to a video game with huge set pieces of big action and comedy. In fact, one aspect of the film involving an auction reminds me heavily of a section in Uncharted 4, and then other parts of the adventure feel very much like director J.A. Bayona is trying to turn Owen into Indiana Jones. If the action was good, this would be okay, but it’s mostly not. The CGI from the volcano is awful and another scene where Blue is making a quick escape late in the film looks so terrible that the audience laughed out loud. Bayona frequently frames characters in relation to the background just to get an epic looking shot and seemingly ignores any actual reason for them to be in these positions. He also is absolutely obsessed with character close-ups. It felt like these were meant to evoke emotional responses, but not once in the film did I ever care about the human relationships. I did find some sweetness to the little bit of backstory we get about Owen and Blue, but the emotional depth that I’m used to seeing from Bayona just isn’t there. If it was, I could be forgiving; instead by the end everyone had constantly acted so stupidly that I just found myself rooting for the dinosaurs and hoping all of the humans went extinct.

VERDICT

I typically enjoy blockbusters and am used to being a defender of “big, dumb fun” but Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, for all its non-stop action, nearly lulled me to sleep and left me with one of the biggest feelings of disappointment I’ve had in a long time. To waste Chris Pratt and dinosaurs in a boring film that has exactly zero memorable moments is an egregious sin. This could very well be my least favorite entry in the series and I can’t see myself ever watching it again.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Tag

TAG (2018)

1 Hour and 40 Minutes (R)

Chris and Beef, two of the ten real life Tag Brothers (as they affectionately refer to themselves), opened my screening of the film by informing the audience of two things. First, much of what we were about to see really happened. In their 30 years of playing Tag the group frequently ran over innocent bystanders in hallways, used deception, wore costumes, and even had spouses sell them out to each other. And second, but most importantly, playing Tag wasn’t about the competition. It was about human connection and friendship.

That’s very sweet and all, but this is a comedy, and competition is funnier than brotherly love. The film spends its opening getting us right into the action. We’re introduced to the characters through, what else, efforts by one or more of them to tag another. Throughout the film these sequences are awesomely done. Often with a perfectly fitting rock or hip-hop song in the background, the action is fast, comical, and most of the time very believable. When the guys go after their nemesis Jerry (Jeremy Renner), however, the camera goes into slow motion and becomes ultra-stylized with Jerry narrating the attack is it progresses in the manner of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes putting clues together to solve a case. This heightening of senses does a great job of highlighting the fact that Jerry, who has never ever ever EVER been tagged, is truly a god among men when it comes to their game.

The cast as a whole does a great job of capturing who the guys grew up to be as adults, while also allowing for cinematic liberty to spice things up a bit. Randy (Jake Johnson) is the typical grungy stoner who can’t hold down a job or relationship and is too blunt (pun intended) for his own good. Callahan (Jon Hamm) is a successful CEO that hasn’t lost that childish aloofness and has a fake confidence behind his gorgeous face. Sable (Hannibal Buress) is the least defined as a character, but perhaps the most hilarious, dropping random philosophical thoughts and laugh-inducing observations on the regular. And the leader of the pack, the relentless and super competitive Hoagie (Ed Helms), perfectly shows us that part of our nature that refuses to lose to our friends and is driven to hold the group together at the same time. He’s the glue of the Tag Brothers clan and fittingly receives the most emotionally complete arc. The women in the film also bring some added flavor, primary among them Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher). She is super intense and as close to being part of the group as she can be, since an amendment to the game made it illegal for girls to join. She’s honestly the most memorable character of all and if she was to lead the rest of the ladies of the film in an estrogen-fueled sequel, I’d be all in for that.

If the film has a weakness, it is, for me at least, an over reliance on the potty and sexual humor commonly found in R-rated comedies these days. For sure, much of the dialogue here is probably how the guys talked, but it felt like the script pushed it overboard a few times, especially one recurring joke that involves the mother of one of the boys. Toning that back so that Tag could have been a more family-friendly affair wouldn’t have hurt the film at all. It also starts to feel a little bit long right as it begins to wrap things up. This was expected, though, as the film shines best in its tag sequences and that can only fill up so much of the space. Being able to relate to the characters was a huge plus. Scenes of them reuniting, rediscovering their childhood hangouts, making up new rules to their game on the fly, and generally expressing affection for each other silently through their competition felt very personal. Something about how these men stayed close into adulthood really connects, and I won’t be surprised at all if this film sparks games of Tag among friends all over the world, probably leading to plenty of injuries.

VERDICT

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see Tag with the tight-nit group of childhood friends I grew up with, the many brothers that I made while spending a career in the U.S. Navy, or even my closest adult friends, all of whom I could imagine playing this game with me. But I did see it while seated next to the person I’ve been most competitive with in my life, and the one overpowering thought in my mind as the credits rolled was to slap her on the shoulder, leap over a row of theater seats, and sprint out of the theater as fast as I could. Honestly, I wish that I had. After all, as Benjamin Franklin said, “We don’t stop playing when we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Connecting With Classics 006: Bringing Up Baby

For this month’s pick, we took the opportunity to discuss a film about a paleontologist during the same week that another dinosaur-centric series is getting its newest entry and celebrating its original film’s 25th anniversary. We’re going back a little further and a little sillier than that series, though, with the loosest movie interpretation of a paleontologist possible. 1938’s Bringing Up Baby, directed by Howard Hawks and starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, may not be scary but it is a classic screwball comedy with plenty to enjoy.

One of the goals for “Connecting With Classics” is listener participation. We will be hosting prize drawings for a poster of the Connecting With Classics movie of their choice plus podcast swag and more at the end of each calendar year. Entries into the drawing can be earned for every episode by watching the film and posting your own review or thoughts about the podcast episode in the comments section of the episode announcement post in our Feelin’ Film Facebook Discussion Group. For listeners who do not wish to be a part of the discussion group, emailing reviews to feelinfilm@gmail.com will also be accepted.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Incredibles 2

INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

1 Hour and 58 Minutes (PG)

Four years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off with Iron Man, and one year before Christopher Nolan began his beloved Dark Knight Trilogy with Batman Begins, Pixar entered the genre with a bang, pow, and pop in 2004 by releasing an animated superhero team-up the likes of which audiences had never really seen before. Brad Bird’s family superhero film, The Incredibles, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and remains to this day the best cinematic version of Marvel’s Fantastic Four (despite not actually being a direct representation of those characters).

Now, fourteen years later, Bird is returning to the world of animation for the first time since 2007 with Incredibles 2, an animated sequel that fans have long desired. Unlike the movie landscape when Bird released his original, though, superhero films have become a powerful box office presence, with many years seeing the release of five or more. The challenge for Incredibles 2 is even bigger as it comes right on the heels of the two highest grossing superhero films of all-time: Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther. The question of whether audiences will embrace yet another superhero film so quickly is a fair one, but I’m ecstatic to say that odds are good because Bird and Pixar have provided us with a sequel that lives up to its title and was worth the 14-year wait.

Incredibles 2 doesn’t skip a beat, picking up immediately after the ending of The Incredibles, with a brand new villain having just emerged from beneath the city and our newly bonded family of heroes poised to take on the threat. But a desire to help sometimes manifests itself in bad decisions, and the Parr’s leave the city in quite a mess while constantly trying to pass off babysitting of Jack-Jack to each other during the ensuing fight. The destruction reminds the world just how dangerous superpowers can be. Aiming to reverse this perception, Winston and Evelyn Deaver (Bod Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) approach the family and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) with a proposal, to make Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) the face of superhero crime fighting and use a combination of their technology and media coverage to help show the world the benefit Supers can bring. As the story goes on (at an incredibly frantic pace), it explores Mr. Incredible’s (Craig T. Nelson) jealousy of Elastigirl’s new role, introduces a new villain who enslaves through the use of video screens, and excites with flurries of extremely well-animated action.

A major side plot of the film revolves around Mr. Incredible’s attempt to become a stay-at-home father for the first time and deal with the challenges of parenthood. Two of his more difficult tasks are trying to connect with his teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and discovering the various superhero abilities of his infant son. It’s a big change for Mr. Incredible and many viewers will relate to his experiences. As the film goes on, the familial struggles continue to be front and center, but Bird also has a lot to say about the world around us. His hilarious script is also smart and not only uses our culture’s addiction to video screens as a plot point but makes strong statements about the importance of equality and representation. Some viewers may find it a bit on the nose, but mostly these topics are all handled very subtly and never feel out of place in the narrative.

VERDICT

Reuniting with the Parr family in Incredibles 2 is a technically dazzling, joyful experience for kids and adults alike. Brad Bird’s story is culturally relevant and a lot of fun, but shines brightest when it stays grounded in the ongoing struggle of the Parr’s to find their place in the world and within their family. The Incredibles provide us with a family of heroes who we don’t just root for, but relate to, and even with the wealth of comic books films gracing movie screens in 2018, that is something special. Though it doesn’t quite reach the sharp perfection and emotional depth of its original, Incredibles 2 is the must-see animated film of the year.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Ocean’s 8

OCEAN’S 8 (2018)

1 Hour and 50 Minutes (PG-13)

There is something magnetic about this film series. The crew up of unique and attractive personalities , the detailed planning, the intricate heist, and (almost always) the twist are all elements we love to see come together in a new way. But even when they don’t have anything drastically special to offer the genre, as long as the story is good and the cast sells it, we’re willing to be entertained. For this go-around, Steven Soderbergh exits the director’s chair and passes the torch Gary Ross (The Hunger Games, Seabiscuit). Missing is the former’s saturating color palette, replaced by a brighter and crisper one that serves the New York City setting well. Remaining is the recognizable mosaic filming style that Soderbergh utilized in Ocean’s 11-13, replicated by Ross to great effect.

Story-wise, Ocean’s 8 is fairly simple. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), estranged sister of series protagonist Danny Ocean, is being released from prison and seeking to assemble a crew for a major heist. Having spent her entire sentence planning the detailed job, she wants no part of her brother’s advice to move on from the criminal life and wastes no time in reuniting with longtime friend and partner in crime Lou (Cate Blanchett). From there the film follows a familiar structure as Debbie finds the players necessary to pull off stealing a $150 million necklace during the annual star-studded Met Gala. For this job, Debbie wants an all-girl squad, because in her opinion “A him gets noticed, a her gets ignored.” The crew includes the usual roles required: Nine Ball (Rhianna) the hacker, Amita (Mindy Kaling) the jewelry expert, Tammy (Sarah Paulson) the suburban mom and fence, Constance (Awkwafina) the quick-handed thief, and Rose (Helena Bonham-Carter) the fashion designer, whose job is to ensure that superstar actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) is wearing the diamonds the crew intends to steal. There is quite a bit of the film spent on the planning phase of the heist and it is quite enjoyable learning about the various members of the team and their unique talents and personalities. Understandably, they cannot all have top billing and those actresses not named Sandra, Cate, or Anne are truly supporting characters. They are given just enough development, but don’t expect deeply personal backstories and character arcs. All of the cast members fill their roles fantastically, though, with Awkwafina’s humor and Rhianna’s snarky intelligence standing out.

Debbie, however, is definitely in this for more than just the money. In a sense, the film touches on the very real problem many criminals face. When it’s time to come back to society the only thing they know is what put them behind bars in the first place. If that’s what your good at, and your entire family history involves said criminal activity, why would you do anything else? And she is good at this. Very good. The plan is very cool and includes some modern tech like 3D printing. Many things that happen (including a late third act surprise) require a sense of disbelief because if one thing goes wrong, it all falls apart. But in a way these heist films are like superhero stories – doing the impossible is part of the appeal.

One of the best parts of the Ocean’s series has always been seeing bonafide movie stars come together and exist in this somewhat meta universe where celebrity cameos are a common thing. Sandra Bullock is great as Debbie and Blanchett is her usual perfect self. The chemistry between these two is especially good and their relationship is probably one of the things I would have enjoyed spending more time developing. The real stunner of the cast, though, is Anne Hathaway. Her silly charm is just adorable to behold and she provides plenty of laughs as she steals every scene she is in. The guys that feature in the film are fine and serve their purpose, too, but neither Richard Armitage or James Corden do anything memorable. This is about the ladies, of course, and it’s presented in a way that is both respectful of the films that came before and freshly empowering as a thing all its own.

VERDICT

For me, Ocean’s 8 is likely to be the film in the series that I revisit the most. It’s fast fun from start to finish with great humor, strong cast chemistry, amazing costume design, and an exciting heist. It doesn’t offer the depth of relationships present in some of the other films or the most difficult heist, but it never stops being entertaining and does not try to force becoming something that isn’t a natural fit. If this is the start of a new trilogy, I’m absolutely in favor of it, and can’t wait to see what Debbie Ocean and her crazy crew cook up next.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.