Jeremy’s Top 10 Films of 2017

2017 was a great year for me as far as movies go. I was able to see more new movies than ever before, and thanks to Aaron and Patrick, I was also given the opportunity to write about them from time to time. I’m not a critic. I’m never going to talk about how the director’s use of color helped to invoke a sense of whimsy or anything like that, because I don’t know what that even means. I’m glad there are people out there who do know, because I like to listen to them talk about movies and hopefully get a little smarter while doing so. But I’m just a guy who likes movies and watches way too many of them. All in all, I was able to watch 107 movies that had release dates in the United States in 2017. The following are my ten favorite, not necessarily the ones that I thought were the best films. Enjoy!

10- Logan

This is the first of two films on this list that were released last winter but managed to hang out in my top ten all year. I’ve long been a fan of Hugh Jackman and his portrayal of Wolverine in the X-Men films, but like many others, I had hated the individual Wolverine films up until Logan. So my expectations for this film were quite low. I was completely blown away when James Mangold managed to create the perfect send-off for not one, but two characters in the X-Men universe, all the while making an emotionally satisfying film about legacy and family.

9- The Greatest Showman

If you would’ve told me 10 years ago that I’d be getting super into musicals in my late 30’s, I never would have believed you. But here we are. I really like this movie, but I completely LOVE the soundtrack. I recently got a Google Home Mini for Christmas and thus far it’s basically been a Greatest Showman soundtrack playing machine. I could be nitpicky and talk about its faults, but I kind of just want to dance in my living room to This Is Me instead.

8- Dunkirk

I’m a pretty big Christopher Nolan fan (it’s one of the requirements to be a Feelin’ Film contributor) so I was pretty excited to see this one from the moment I heard about it. Its tension really puts you in the headspace of its characters and while some saw the timing differences in the three different story threads distracting, I thought it was brilliant and served to heighten the imminent danger in the film. It’s not my favorite Nolan, but it’s still really good.

7- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This one hit me in all of the right places. I thought the story and dialogue were both funny and heartbreaking with excellent performances by the all-star cast, with Sam Rockwell standing out. This film is a lot darker than what I am usually into. but I really enjoyed the realistic way in which it portrayed positive change in its characters, even characters as unlikable as the ones that McDonough gives us.

6- Wonder Woman

I don’t have a whole bunch of words to say about Wonder Woman, I just really loved this movie. The scene where Diana emerges from the trench at No Man’s Land is one of my two or three favorite scenes of the year. Gal Godot perfectly brings the Amazon goddess to the screen, giving her a perfect amount of naivety, beauty and compassion without sacrificing her fierceness as a warrior. It immediately became my favorite entry into the DCEU even though I’m a guy who really likes all of the films in that universe (besides Suicide Squad, but that goes without saying).

5- The Big Sick

I went to see this one afternoon this summer after hearing Feelin’ Film contributor Don Shanahan gush about it for a few days. He wasn’t using hyperbole. I loved this film. It’s funny and sweet and heartbreaking and thought-provoking, often achieving all of those things in the same moment. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano give my two favorite supporting performances of the year in this stand-out film.

4- Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

So my wife went and had a baby on the day I was to go to the 10:00 opening night show of SW, meaning we’d still be in the hospital when the second showing I had tickets to came around. The timing of the birth of my son (whom I love and with whom I hold no grudges about the time and date of his arrival) meant that I wouldn’t be able to see the film until almost a full week after its release. But I really think that this ended up being a good thing. I was somewhat careful to avoid spoilers, but I saw enough to know that the critics were loving it but that a lot of the fans were pretty upset. I think this helped my mindset going in as I started to expect the unexpected. Because of that, I came out of the theater completely in love. I think the story went places where it needed to go to move the universe beyond the family tree of the Skywalkers while also adding a satisfying chapter to Luke’s legend. The new characters continue to impress and the old ones have absolutely brought their A game to the new trilogy as well. This movie has already moved to number three in my Star Wars rankings and by this time next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it at the top. I can’t wait to see what Rian Johnson has in store for his new SW trilogy.

3- Lady Bird

Lady Bird is another movie that I wouldn’t have seen (at this point, anyway) if it weren’t for the relationships I’ve been able to build at Feelin’ Film. After spending a couple of hours chatting with Aaron and Patrick about Edge of Seventeen (episode 86 of the podcast), Aaron suggested to me that I’d like Lady Bird. He wasn’t wrong. Beautifully acted and casted and directed and performed, Lady Bird is one of the best coming of age stories I’ve seen on screen. What’s the opposite of a back-handed compliment? Like when you’re playfully bashing on something that you actually love? Is there a word? If there isn’t we need to invent one to accurately capture Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s funny and heartfelt love letter to her home.

2- Get Out

This movie was the number one film on my list for more time than any other movie this year. I saw it because I’m a fan of Jordan Peele from Key and Peele and I thought that if he wrote a film, it would probably be pretty fun. As an experience, it was one of the most enjoyable times I had at the theater all year. As a film, I found its themes to be something that has challenged my thinking even more on repeat viewings. It’s one hell of a directorial debut and I’m looking forward to what he’s got up his sleeve next.

1- Brigsby Bear

Sometimes a movie comes along that just hits you in the right place at the right time. Brigsby Bear did that for me. It’s a quirky comedy (described by Filmspotting’s Adam Kempenaar as Be Kind, Rewind meets Room) that can be enjoyed on its surface, but that also has a lot to say about friendship, family, moving on from tragedy, the joy of creating art and what makes us love the things we love if you want to engage with it on a deeper level. I’ve seen it three times now and each time something new stands out for me to think on for a while. Kyle Mooney is perfect as our main character man-child James and Mark Hamill gives my favorite performance of his in 2017 in a supporting role. This will be a movie that I watch often and might just end up being one of my favorites of all-time.

The films that almost made this list but just didn’t quite make the cut are:

  1. War for the Planet of the Apes
  2. Baby Driver
  3. Justice League
  4. Spiderman: Homecoming
  5. Wonder

And if you want to see my ranking of all 107 movies that I’ve seen that were released this year, check out my Letterboxd list. Notable movies I haven’t had a chance to catch up with yet are Darkest Hour, I, Tonya, The Disaster Artist, Phantom Thread, and The Post. I look forward to many more movie conversations here in the new year. I appreciate you reading and hope that 2018 holds great things in store for you and yours.


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2017)

We live in a world of remakes, reboots, reimaginings and rebrandings. Sequels and franchises dominate the box office. If a studio sees any opportunity to squeeze a dime out of something you loved as a child, chances are it’s already in production. While they’re not all terrible, even the best of them are merely well-produced retreads that lack innovation and imagination. But every once in a while, a sequel or a reboot comes along that surpasses its source material with a fresh take that injects life into the property. This Christmas, we’re lucky enough to have one of those rare diamonds in the rough in Jake Kasdan’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a standalone sequel to the 1995 hit Jumanji, directed by Joe Johnston and starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt and a young Kirsten Dunst that spawned an animated television series and multiple video games. Boasting cutting edge CGI for its time, the film told the story of four players stuck in the middle of a mystical interactive board game where you win or you die. I’ve been excited for this film for a while due to my fond memories of the original and the casting of Dwayne Johnson in the lead role. Anyone who knows me knows that the easiest way to get me into a theater is to cast The Rock.

The film picks up almost exactly where the original left off in 1996 with the board game being discovered on a beach where it washed up after Robin Williams’ Allan Parrish attempted to bury it in the bottom of a river in 1969. The man who discovered the game gives it to his son Alex who has no interest in board games but is an avid video gamer. The game transforms itself into a video game and after we see some green flashing lights from outside Alex’s window, the film fast forwards to the present day where four high schoolers discover the video game while cleaning out an old storage room and they one by one get sucked into the world of Jumanji. Having been transformed into the bodies of their avatars (Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black), the four students must find a jewel that’s been stolen and return it to its sacred resting place before the perils of the jungle take their lives.

If the plot sounds simple, that’s because it absolutely is. There are a couple of mostly predictable twists and turns along the way, but this film works because of the solid chemistry of its cast. Continuing the on-screen chemistry that was forged in 2016’s surprising comedy Central Intelligence, Johnson and Hart play off of each other well and are the source of a lot of the film’s biggest laughs. Jack Black is as funny as he’s been in years as a self-obsessed teenage girl trapped in the body of a middle-aged man. Karen Gillan is perfectly awkward as an awkward teen suddenly trapped in the body of a stereotypical female video game heroine. The four of them clearly seem to be having a lot of fun together and each character is given their chance to shine.

There are a lot of films out there to see this time of year that will be mentioned come awards season. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is absolutely not one of those films. It’s ridiculous and over the top, but if I were making a list of the most enjoyable movies of the year, it would definitely be in the top five. I enjoyed the action, it made me laugh and there was a surprising emotional punch at the end that I didn’t see coming. If you’re wanting to go out with the family* to have a good time at the movies this holiday season, I have a hard time believing that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle would leave you disappointed.

Rating:

*This is a film with PG-13 humor unlike the original that catered to wider audiences. There is some content that might be objectionable to some with younger children. I’m glad I saw it on my own before taking my children who are all under the age of 12.


 

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

Feelin’ TV: November 27-December 3, 2017

Don’t be sad that it’s over, be thankful that it happened. The week of the Arrowverse’s annual crossover event is now over. And although my heart is a little sad that we won’t see these heroes all working together for another year, what we got in Crisis on Earth X was a wildly entertaining four hour block of television.

In the past, the crossover has been much like similar comic book scenarios where a three or four hour story is broken down to three or four different portions that take place from the lens of the show they’re on, for example, during Supergirl, Supergirl takes center stage, and so on and so forth. It worked pretty well last year, my only real squabble was that while we were promised a four-part crossover, Supergirl’s (the show, not the character) connection was only tangential as the connection to the rest of the universe came in the closing moments of what had been a standard episode of the show. This year, though, they went all in, even going so far to eschew the normal opening credits of each program for the crossover specific Crisis on Earth X name.  The result was a more unified story with a singular vision where every character was given the opportunity to shine. Even non-super characters like Felicity and Iris, normally regulated to speaking into the ears of Green Arrow and the Flash, respectively, had much of the resolution of the plot on their shoulders as the story went on. After doing this for the past couple of years, you can also sense there’s a comfortability with the casts of all four shows, which only added to the enjoy-ability of the event.

The plot of the crossover is simple. Oliver Queen crosses dimensions to steal the heart of Supergirl. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about romance here. In this scenario, the Oliver in question is a Nazi führer from Earth X who actually needs to steal the beating heart of Supergirl to save his wife, also Kara, known on their earth as Overgirl. It’s a fairly straight forward plan, which works in the crossover’s favor as it gives us a chance to get to the action. And the action is a real treat. By the time everyone in the Arrowverse is suited up in battle, I’ll admit to having goosebumps and a tear in my eye. It was a feeling similar to the ones I had when I first watched Avengers or a few weeks ago when I saw Justice League. The event built to its climax perfectly and the payoff was spectacular. Sure, it was cheesy and some of the CGI was poor, but I honestly can’t imagine it being pulled off any better.

I believe what put the event over the top, and I’ve talked about this before, was that the crossover had real stakes. That’s something I wasn’t expecting. When I began watching Supergirl on Tuesday, I had the thought, “This is going to be fun but ultimately the TV equivalent of empty calories because they surely won’t do anything to throw off the status quo of any of these four shows.” I’m happy to report that I was completely wrong. Before Crisis on Earth X was over we had not one, but two couples get married and one main character was dead. On that latter point, I was completely stunned. I expected someone good to die, but I expected it to be someone on the periphery to give the event the appearance of stakes without actually giving it any. Besides adding emotional depth to the entire undertaking, it also made the danger that our heroes were facing feel real. It was a brave choice, and while I’m sad to see the character go, it raised Crisis on Earth X from good to great. I totally can’t wait until next year! The Crisis on Earth X four-part event can be streamed on The CW app.

Channel Surfing:

  • Agents of SHIELD is BACK! And it was great! The two part season premiere of AoS aired this Friday with an opening act straight out of the Twilight Zone and a mystery that has the potential to really carry the season. The thing that impressed me the most about Agents of SHIELD this week was its production value. As I watched the cold open, I couldn’t help but think that it felt like I was watching a movie, not a network TV show. AoS gets a bad rap from a lot of people who never watched past the first season. Over the past few years it has matured into a pretty darn great show that deserves your attention if you’re into the drama. The new season of Agents of SHIELD can be viewed on Hulu.

That’s all for this week. As always, if there’s anything you’d like me to check out that we haven’t covered, let me know in the comments or in the Facebook group. Programming note: I’m going to be taking a break from Feelin’ TV for the next 4-6 weeks while most shows are on break for the holidays and my wife and I prepare for the birth of our child. I appreciate you reading and look forward to returning in a few weeks. Happy Holidays, and I’ll see you next year!


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

Feelin’ TV: November 20-26, 2017

Whenever a new movie/TV show is released based on a comic book property, the conversation about super hero fatigue begins. It gets louder every time, especially in months like this where the discussion around Thor: Ragnarok had barely died down before Justice League arrived in theaters. It’s completely understandable. A lot of people are burned out on the genre.
I do not suffer from that affliction. Give me more. I love the oversaturation. There is enough room in my heart for all of it. When I hear of something new, I’m all over it like white on rice in a glass of milk on a paper plate in a snow storm. I may not keep watching (Inhumans), I may quit watching and go back later because I have nothing else to do (Gotham), I may even hate watch (The Walking Dead) but more often than not, I watch and enjoy and put it securely in my regular rotation. It should be no surprise then, that I took the opportunity this week to check out (and fall in love with) Hulu’s new comic book series, Runaways.
Runaways is based on the Marvel comic of the same name. It’s set in the MCU along with the popular films and shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Inhumans, Daredevil, etc. It’s about six teenagers who find out that their parents are super villains who make up a team called Pride and begin to work together to thwart their plans. Along this journey of discovery, they also begin to develop powers of their own. I haven’t read the comic, so if you have, you probably have a better handle on what’s going on than I do at this point. From what I’ve read, fans of the print version have been pleased with the way the show has remained faithful to the source material. In the three episodes that have been released, creators Joshua Schwartz and Stephanie Savage have succeeded in crafting solid characters, both in the teens and their parents, not sacrificing the development of the villains in favor of the heroes. They’ve done so by taking their time to introduce characters and the world that they live in.
Hulu has been putting out some solid programming over the last few years. They seem to be a bit more concerned with quality over quantity in contrast to fellow streaming service Netflix. Thus far, Runaways continues that trend. It feels like more than an attempt to capitalize on the superhero craze. They’re laying the groundwork for a pretty intriguing story that I’m excited to add to the queue moving forward. Runaways is available on Hulu.

Channel Surfing:

  • The Arrowverse has a pretty big week coming up with their annual week of crossover episodes, so I had assumed that this week would mostly be table setting for that event. I was wrong. Supergirl saw the bittersweet return of Mon-El, The Flash came face to face with this season’s big bad The Thinker, Legends of Tomorrow had maybe the best Mick centered episode of the series and Oliver got arrested and vigilantes were made illegal in Star City on Arrow. But all of that will be on hold this week when all of the gang gets together for Barry and Iris’ wedding. Will everything run smoothly? Given that the whole ordeal is called Crisis on Earth-X, I’m guessing it won’t. It’s a tough thing to balance 4 shows into one storyline, but last season it was the best week of the year. Hopefully they can keep it up. Arrowverse shows can be seen on The CW.
  • This Is Us made me cry again this week. Chrissy Metz and Mandy Moore (Kate and Rebecca, respectively) play the two characters that get under my skin the most on that show (in a good way, like how members of your own family get under your skin). This week though, the story gave them both a chance to absolutely shine and they knocked it out of the park. I’ve heard people say that maybe the show leans a bit too heavy into sadness territory, and I think that’s a valid criticism, but I think the way it was portrayed this week was sensitive, thoughtful and accurate. Also, I’m going to start a petition to get NBC to give Toby his own show. I don’t care what it’s about. I just want more Toby. This Is Us airs weekly on NBC and past episodes can be seen on Hulu.

That’s all for this week. As always, if there’s anything you’d like me to check out that we haven’t covered, let me know in the comments or in the Facebook group. Next week, we’re going to spend the bulk of our time talking about the Arrowverse crossover event and I’ll probably have a thing or two to say about the season premiere of the new season of Agents of SHIELD as well.


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Roman J Israel, Esq

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)

Going to see a Denzel Washington movie is as sure of a thing as there is in the film world. Even when the movies he stars in are sub-par, you can count on his performance to always be top notch. I’ve never seen a performance from Washington that feels phoned in. His performance as the titular character in Dan Gilroy’s new film Roman J. Israel, Esq. is no exception. Denzel is fully committed to the role and even though he’s one of the most recognizable faces in cinema, he’s able to create a character that doesn’t simply feel like Denzel Washington playing a lawyer. Roman Israel is a brilliant legal mind who is admittedly no good in the court room. Having spent his entire career doing civil rights litigation work behind the scenes while his partner was the public face of their firm, he’s suddenly thrust out of his comfort zone when that partner is incapacitated. I’m not a doctor, and it’s never mentioned in the film, but Roman is almost certainly somewhere on the Autism spectrum. Washington gives him a cadence and tone along with distinctive ticks and mannerisms that lets us know it’s more than just a distaste with the court system that has kept him from the public eye all these years. What he lacks in social ability he more than makes up for in legal knowledge. He’s labeled both a savant and a freak by those who witness the extent of his knowledge of case histories, legal precedent and the code of law. He’s an engaging and intriguing character that I’d love to watch in a case of the week style lawyer show, brilliant and inadvertently funny.

The film’s main conflict lies within Israel himself. He’s torn between continuing his life’s work, an almost impossible task given his financial situation and the lack of interest in his services by people that matter, and enjoying the perks that come with “selling out,” which to him means life in a large and expensive firm. He’s pulled in both directions by Colin Farrell, a slick and successful lawyer offering a life of luxury, and Carmen Ejogo, the director of a civil rights non-profit and admires Israel for his years of work in the field.  Both are very solid in their roles, but Farrell stands out. As a former student of Roman’s idealistic partner, Ferrell’s George Pierce is too slimy to love, but too human to despise. It is with great regret, though, that I have to inform that these three solid performances are wasted on a film that is unfocused, uninspired and critically unsure of what kind of story it wants to tell.

When a movie comes out that stars Denzel, I know that it’s something I’m going to see, but it’s not always something I see right away. Flight, Fences, The Equalizer, etc. are all films that I had on my list, but waited to see until I could watch at home. Roman J. Israei, Esq. would have also fit into that category if it weren’t for the fact that it was written and directed by Dan Gilroy (well that, and Movie Pass and not having anything to wake up early for during the holiday weekend). Gilroy’s directorial debut, Nightcrawler, was an outstanding film that was as confident as it was creepy with a great story and career best performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. Unfortunately his sophomore effort suffers from a lack of focus, an abundance of contrivances, and a jarring change in tone for the final 20 minutes of the film.

There are 2-3 different movies happening simultaneously in this one, and a focus on any of these threads could have yielded a much better film. As it is, I found myself alternately confused and bored, spending much of the last hour checking my watch and wishing I had remembered to check the runtime. If you’re looking for a great performance and could care less about how it fits into the larger narrative, by all means, give Roman J. Israel, Esq. a watch. It’s a fine but flawed film that has its moments of intrigue. I’d recommend seeing something else on your holiday weekend though, and waiting on this one until it only sets you back $1.50 at the Redbox.

Rating:


 

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

Feelin’ TV: November 13-19, 2017

Just when things were starting to look pretty bleak for Netflix’s Marvel shows (Marvel Streaming Universe? Daredevilverse? Defendersverse?), Frank Castle arrived on the scene to single handedly put things back on track. After an unfortunate spring and summer that saw both Iron Fist and Defenders widely panned (I thought both were merely fine), there were legitimate questions about whether or not the universe had lost its magic. But The Punisher, released this past Friday on the streaming service, returned to not only prove that there were good stories yet to be told in this world, but that the best might still be yet to come. After Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of the brutal vigilante became the breakout character of Daredevil’s sophomore season, fans were pleased to hear that Netflix granted the anti-hero his own show. Recent deficiencies in storytelling had me apprehensive about the quick turnaround from breakout character to main player. Those fears proved to be unfounded. Not only did creator Steve Lightfoot create an intense and compelling season of television, they managed to find a cure to some of the ills that have plagued all of the other Netflix Marvel series.

The story is pretty straight forward. Just when Frank Castle believes his quest to avenge the death of his wife and children has ended, as he’s settled in to live a life of anonymity, he discovers that the plot that ended with the destruction of his world goes deeper than he imagined. Along with a few allies that he picks up along the way, Frank sets out on a mission to finish the job. There are two things that really set this simple revenge story apart, the themes and the performances.

The Punisher is brutal. The combat is up close and personal. But the story doesn’t revel in the violence (mostly). It uses the violence to speak to issues like gun control, PTSD and the difficulties our veterans face when they return home from war. It doesn’t simply pay these issues lip service nor does it provide easy answers. No punches are pulled in the series’ attempts to show the miserable care that our soldiers receive when they return home from our country’s perpetual overseas conflicts. The effects of PTSD are seen in the lives of Frank and others in heartbreaking detail. It refuses to provide simple solutions to the issues of gun violence and gun control, but weighs both sides without being didactic.

Jon Bernthal leads a stellar cast that slide into their roles with ease. Castle is the role that Bernthal was born to play. He’s believable in his intensity in focus but also in his portrayal of Frank’s special brand of compassion. Ben Barnes is an actor I’ve never been very impressed with, but he’s outstanding as Castle’s old military buddy Billy Russo. Barnes plays Russo in such a way that you’re never quite sure if he’s friend or foe. He’s charming and slimy all in one. Ebon Moss-Bachrach portrays Castle’s ally Micro (the comic’s Microchip) with an exasperated desperation as he helps Frank to settle a score of his own. Amber Rose Revah mirrors Castle’s driven and obsessed personality as Department of Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani. Deborah Ann Woll returns to the universe as Karen Page and is probably as good as she’s ever been. The breakout performance in my opinion belonged to Daniel Webber, a young vet struggling to readjust to life after war. His story exists outside of the main conflict, but it helps the show avoid the midseason lull that fans of this world are used to at this point. Almost every other season could have afforded to have 2-3 fewer episodes to cut the fat and make their stories tighter, but I never felt that way with The Punisher and a lot of that is due to Webber’s solid performance. He was one of the brightest spots of Hulu’s 2016 series 11.22.63 as Lee Harvey Oswald, and I’m hoping that this role will give him bigger opportunities in the future because he’s really great.

To reiterate, The Punisher is not for the faint of heart. It’s absolutely brutal. But if you can stomach it, you’ll find a surprisingly thoughtful and poignant show that entertains while also having some thoughtful reflection on issues ripped straight from current headlines. If you’re a fan of the character or the universe he exists in, I can’t imagine you won’t enjoy The Punisher. The Punisher is currently streaming on Netflix.

Channel Surfing:

  • I’d like to take some space and talk about the Arrowverse, but I really can’t even remember what happened this week. Slade Wilson came back to Arrow, but it was a pretty bland story that didn’t really go anywhere. The door is open for his return, so maybe there’s more to come with Deathstroke. And Diggle finally came clean with Team Arrow about his shoulder issues. I’m guessing Curtis will have a microchip that fixes the issue installed in his armpit by the end of the next episode.
  • I don’t normally give up on TV shows. Sometimes if I do, I end up catching up anyway (looking at you Gotham) but I’ve got two shows that are on life support. I’ve never hidden my disdain for The Walking Dead in this space, and I’ve decided to give it until the mid-season finale to do something interesting before I quit altogether. I’m not holding my breath. The other show I’m about done with is Riverdale. The first season was outstanding but season 2 has been a total slog. I’m struggling to care about any of the characters and the story is an absolute bore. It’s saving grace at this point is that it’s on Wednesday nights and I have very little to watch on Wednesdays.
  • The Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg penned Future Man starring Josh Hutcherson dropped this week on Hulu and I thought it was pretty good. It’s really funny and has a lot of fun easter eggs for the lover of sci-fi movies. It’s not a show for kids. But you should’ve guessed that when I told you who the creators are.
  • I’m hearing good things about Netflix’s Alias Grace. If you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ll try to catch up with it over the holidays.

That’s all for this week. As always, if there’s anything you’d like me to check out that we haven’t covered, let me know in the comments or in the Facebook group. Next week we’ll get a chance to talk about Marvel’s The Runaways! Happy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful for all of you who read this every week!


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Star

The Star (2017)

Just in time for the Christmas season, this week sees the release of The Star, the new animated film from director Timothy Reckart that tells the well-known story of the Nativity of Jesus from the point of view of the animals in the stable. We see the events through the eyes of Bo, a small donkey working in a wheat mill who dreams of better things. He’s injured in his escape from the mill and stumbles into the courtyard of the recently married Mary and Joseph where a pregnant Mary tends to his wounds. When the time comes for Mary and Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Bo and his bird friend Dave join the young couple on the journey. Along the way they meet Ruth, an enthusiastic little lamb, and the trio takes it upon themselves to protect the couple from a plot that threatens to end the life of the Christ child before he’s even delivered. And of course, as you would expect in a film about the nativity, everything wraps up around a manger.

While it isn’t great or an instant classic, there’s a lot to like about The Star. The animation is merely fine. It isn’t noticeably bad but it has the look of a film that could have been made ten years ago. The soundtrack is full of remixed Christmas classics that are entertaining to listen to, but are often oddly placed throughout the film. Even though The Star is a movie for children, unlike your average Pixar films that aim to entertain the whole family, my wife and I were never bored. All of the credit for that goes to the impressive and talented voice cast including Keegan Michael Key, Oprah Winfrey, Zachary Levi, Tyler Perry, Aidy Bryant and Tracy Morgan. They elevate the script so that humor that would be rote and laughless still manages to entertain. And as for how it works to children? My kids had a blast.

You can file my main complaint under the banner of pet peeves. I’m not a huge fan of sanitizing stories to appeal to the sensibilities of children. For example, you won’t find any Noah’s ark toys or coloring books among my kids’ possessions. That’s because the story of Noah isn’t a sweet story about a cute old man who goes on a boat trip with a bunch of friendly animals. It’s a story about the entire population of the planet, save eight people, drowning in a massive flood. In the same way, I wasn’t a fan of the way this film portrays the events found in the book of Matthew commonly known as the Massacre of the Innocents. In The Star, this event is represented in the character of a soldier and his dogs, who have been sent by King Herod to find Mary and Joseph to kill her soon to be born child. My problem is that the efforts of this soldier are often thwarted in ways that are played off for comedy. I’m not advocating that a children’s movie be used to teach kids about an event involving the murder of all children under the age of two. That’s not my point. As a parent, I find the dumbing down and prettying up of horrific event like this to be offensive. The story of the birth of Christ has enough drama and conflict to sustain a 90 minute movie. Given that the record that we have of this event shows that it happened after the rest of the events in the film, I feel this particular aspect of the narrative could have been avoided altogether.

Placing my personal pet peeves aside, overall, I’m impressed by The Star. I did not expect to enjoy a faith-based animated film as much as I did. It has humor and heart and made for a fun evening out with my family. It also briefly used the vocal talents of one Kelly Clarkson, which is a quick way to ingratiate yourself to me. The challenge of telling the tale of the birth of Christ in a memorable way is daunting, but The Star manages to be a somewhat fresh take on one of the most well-known stories on the planet. If you’re looking for a film that you can view with children of all ages this holiday season, The Star will be an early gift I think you’ll enjoy.

Rating:


 

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Wonder

Wonder (2017)

Last night at about 6:15 they showed up. There were two firetrucks, an ambulance and half a dozen police cars. They parked in front of my house and rushed in to the house across the street. Roughly two hours later, the stretcher came out of the house. It was empty. After packing up their gear, the firemen and paramedics left the scene. A large number of police officers remained for another hour or two, taking pictures and talking out on the porch. Once a County Sheriff arrived, the policemen also packed their gear and slowly filed out of the neighborhood. My wife and I watched for a while longer as the Sheriff walked around the living room, wondering what was going on. Finally, roughly five hours after it had all begun, a car from the mortuary arrived, and I watched as my neighbor’s body was put in the back of a van and driven away. Because of poor timing, I, myself, was hopping into my vehicle as the Sheriff locked the door to the vacant house and walked to the car. It was a weird time for me to think, “Hey, I’m going to go to the movies,” but I knew I wouldn’t be falling asleep anytime soon anyway, and movies tend to be the way I cope with or escape from difficult life situations. As it turns out, I don’t think there could have been a better time for me to see Wonder.

Wonder, the Stephen Chbosky film based on the popular R.J. Palacio novel, is 100 minutes of being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold winter day. It’s the story of August (Augie) Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a 10-year-old boy with a disfigured face due to mandibulofacial dysostosis, and his experiences attending school for the first time as a 5th grader at Beecher Prep. Because of his illness, he’s had more than 30 corrective surgeries to help him hear, see, and to attempt to fix the deformities in his face during his short life. These experiences have knit the Pullmans close together as a family that includes Augie, his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts), his father Nate (Owen Wilson) and his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic). Isabel is an illustrator who put her life on hold to care for Augie and homeschool him for his first ten years. Via is in high school and is facing challenges of her own as her best friend Miranda suddenly has no interest in her. She loves her brother, but is also jealous of the attention that he gets from her parents. While the plot mostly revolves around Augie, a significant amount of time is also spent with Via at her school as she navigates her relationship with Miranda, meets a boy, joins the drama club and works on the school production of Our Town. Nate is the most thinly drawn character in the family, but he’s shown to be a caring and engaged father whose quick wit cuts through otherwise tense situations between his wife and children.

The film begins 24 hours before the first day of school, follows Augie through 5th grade, and culminates at 5th grade graduation. Through the year, Augie meets friends, is betrayed by friends, gets bullied, makes new friends and through it all, excels at school. Wonder is funny, heartwarming and manages not to feel manipulative in its attempts to elicit emotion from the audience. Performances are great all around. Tremblay is an 11-year-old powerhouse. The chemistry between Roberts and Wilson makes their relationship and their home feel lived in and real. Vidovic shows a vulnerability behind Via’s outer façade of resolve. Mandy Patinkin makes the most of limited screen-time as the unfortunately named middle school principal Mr. Tushman.

My favorite character is Augie’s homeroom teacher Mr. Browne played by Daveed Diggs. He’s given little screen time, but the time he has on screen provides the film with most of its thematic weight. Mr. Browne preaches the virtue of kindness through a series of “precepts” that he introduces to his class. I’ve been unable to get his precept from the first day of school out of my mind. “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” It’s a beautiful insight that I rarely follow. When we insist on being right, even if you’re able to do so without succumbing to the level of discourse that’s typically reserved for YouTube comment sections, we lose the ability to be kind. Hate is not dispelled when we simply choose to refrain from being hateful. Kindness dispels hate and changes hearts. Kindness builds bridges. It does in a beautiful way for Augie in Wonder. While Augie was born looking different than everyone else, it’s ultimately his kind-heartedness that makes him stand out from his peers.

And as I drove home from the film early this morning I couldn’t help but think about my neighbor. Death has a way of making us think about missed opportunities. I thought about how we’ve lived 50 yards away from each other for over ten years, but our relationship never grew further than superficial chats about the weather at the mailbox. I thought about how I chose to avoid him for the first few years because his house happens to look like a setting for a Wes Craven film. I thought about the weeks he was away with health issues and how I never took the time to offer him a meal. I thought of the times I was annoyed at the overgrowth of weeds in his yard, but never offered a helping hand. And it broke my heart that I had run out of time to show him kindness.

Wonder is not a perfect film. It goes off on weird tangents where it follows neither Augie nor Via, but rather their friends Jack and Miranda. It feels like an effort to be faithful to the novel, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. Unfortunately, there’s also a time or two when the movie revels in bullies getting their comeuppance in a way that runs contrary to the overall theme. That feels like picking nits. What I’m going to remember about Wonder is that it was a well-acted and heartwarming story that served as a good reminder about the importance of showing kindness to others. I’m looking forward to watching this in the future with my wife and kids. If you’re looking for the perfect film to see as your food digests this Thanksgiving, look no further than Wonder. You could even invite your neighbor to come along.

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

Rating:


 

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Daddy’s Home 2

Daddy’s Home 2 (2017)

Daddy’s Home was a surprisingly funny and mildly heartwarming 2015 comedy that reunited (2010’s The Other Guys, still the best comedy of the 2000’s, don’t @ me.) Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell and their proven comic chemistry in a comedy about a stepdad, Barry (Ferrell), attempting to gain the respect of his stepchildren and their father Dusty (Wahlberg). While the film itself is extremely formulaic, Wahlberg and Ferrell kept it from feeling like a bland rehash of something you’ve seen before. It’s a fun little movie to watch when you just want to shut your brain off and laugh. When I heard about the sequel, I was mildly intrigued, figuring that I’d at least enjoy seeing the pairing of Wahlberg and Ferrell again. Unfortunately, Daddy’s Home 2 is nothing more than an ill-conceived cash grab, taking advantage of the reputation of its predecessor, the star power of the cast and the holiday movie season.

I always like to start with the good first, and DH2 isn’t all bad. Ferrell and Wahlberg are still a lot of fun together. John Lithgow’s turn as Ferrell’s overly affectionate and endlessly supportive father Don is fantastic as well. Brad and Don are two enthusiastic peas in a pod and their relationship provides what little spark the film has to offer. There are two scenes that are really very funny, but unfortunately those two scenes book end the film, leaving the middle to feel bloated, bland and boring. Linda Cardellini does fine with what she’s given, and the kids are cute and amusing, but like the original, they aren’t given much to work with. This franchise isn’t about the women or the children, it’s all about the dads.

Unfortunately, that’s about all of the positives that I can muster. Other than a few minutes at the very beginning, Mel Gibson, who plays Wahlberg’s father Kurt, just doesn’t fit in this movie at all. The plot, if you can call it that, involves Kurt intentionally trying to ruin Christmas for…reasons? With motivations that go mostly unexplained, he believes it would be a gas to pit Brad and Dusty against each other to destroy their holiday. Dumb. Confusingly, the film goes out of its way to make Kurt the crotchety old guy, disgusted by today’s new parenting method, but every time someone takes his advice, he’s proven to be correct. Dusty has a wife, who exists only to be hot and to shoplift (yeah, I don’t know). John Cena shows up when the movie is about 3/4 over as the father to Dusty’s stepdaughter. I was excited to see him in the credits as he’s proven to be a pretty enjoyable comedic actor, but he’s completely wasted and doesn’t really need to exist at all. Most of the third act of the film takes place in a movie theater and that’s where it completely falls apart, abandoning anything that resembles narrative structure in favor of easy jokes about the film industry and an eye-roll inducing musical number.

Daddy’s Home 2 isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen this year. If you’re wanting to watch a Christmas movie, it’s better than anything ever produced by the Hallmark Channel. But it’s not good. Save your hard earned money and your precious time and stream this one later if you must. But you’re not missing anything if you skip it altogether.

Rating:


 

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

Feelin’ TV: October 30-November 5, 2017

I think that a mark of a good show is its re-watchability. Sometimes I’ll love something the first time, but when I have a chance to watch it over again, I have little to no interest. Some shows, like The Office, Parks and Recreation or 30 Rock for example, are shows that I can watch and enjoy, start to finish, over and over again. Then, there’s the rarest of rare shows that get better every time you watch. I’m talking about Arrested Development.

I watched AD for at least the 5th or 6th time this week and I’m still blown away by it. There are set ups in season one that aren’t paid off until season three. There are gags that run further than any other gags in television history. There are things that make me laugh that I can’t even tell if its intentional or not (is it weird to anyone else that they refer to jelly beans as “candy beans”?) In previous viewings, I’ve been blown away by the intricacy of the story, enamored with the ability of Will Arnett and Jessica Walter to take over every scene they’re in as Gob and Lucile, the awkward existence of Michael Cera as George Michael and the creepy energy of David Cross as Tobias. This time though, I couldn’t stop admiring the straight man, Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth.

The Bluth’s are wildly un-relatable. They’re rich, oblivious, and as characters, they’re ridiculously broad. I love each and every one of them, but I don’t think I would have been able to put up with them for more than an episode or two without Michael Bluth there to keep the show grounded…sort of. Through 3 seasons and 53 episodes (the Netflix season doesn’t count), whenever the rest of the Bluths threatened to take the show too far over the line into Crazy Town, Michael was there with a look or a perfectly timed quip to bring us right back down to earth. One of the biggest failings in Netflix’s attempt to bring the show back for a season four in my opinion is that Michael was as nuts as the rest of his family, losing its tether to normal people altogether. In a show full of perfectly cast characters, there may have been no one more perfectly suited to the show than Jason Bateman. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to give it a shot. If you have seen it, watch it again to rediscover its brilliance. Season five is coming in 2015 with a promise of episodes in the vein of seasons 1-3 and less season 4. Here’s hoping that’s the case. Arrested Development is available to stream on Netflix.

Channel Surfing:

  • The Arrowverse had a great week with a crazy fun episode of Supergirl involving Kara and Jonn flying a convertible to Mars, a Legends of Tomorrow that wrapped a tale about Ray Palmer’s childhood into an homage to ET and The Flash introduced Elongated Man into its universe. The best news this week though? MICHAEL EMERSON IS A BAD GUY ON ARROW! His character at this point seems to be the master of manipulation that we saw in Lost’s Ben Linus combined with the tech savy expertise of Person of Interest’s Mr. Finch. There may have been an audible squeal of glee in my living room when he showed up. This has been a stellar season all-around for the Arrowverse, and with Emerson around, it looks like it will continue trending up. The current season of Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow can be viewed on The CW app.
  • Thursday night NFL football is the worst. The games are always subpar because of the quick turnaround and the matchups are typically pretty lame. The worst part though, is that because of NBC’s commitment to Thursday Night Football, we don’t get to see any new episodes of The Good Place or Great News until the new year. Maybe it’s just sour grapes, but I hate TNF. Well, unless the Chiefs are playing. If you’re like me and you can see The Good Place withdrawals in your future, check out this video taken by Kristen Bell of the rest of the cast finding out about season one’s epic twist (spoilers, obvs).
  • I was remarking to a friend this week that out of all of my friends with kids, I don’t know anyone who has ever had a baby without making it to the hospital first (not counting my slightly crazy friends who have had their kids at home on purpose). But if my calculations are correct, roughly 90% of TV children are born that way. A This Is Us flashback added Randall’s oldest child to that statistic this week. It’s a pretty worn out trope, but overall, it was a strong episode that made me cry so I’ll forgive them for going to that well.
  • Oh, and The Walking Dead was awful. I’m going to need someone to spend some time in the Facebook group telling me why I should still be interested in this show.

That’s all for this week. As always, if there’s anything you’d like me to check out that we haven’t covered, let me know in the comments or in the Facebook group. Happy viewing!


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.