MOVIE REVIEW: Blockers

BLOCKERS (2018)

Teen sex-comedies used to totally be my jam. When I first saw American Pie, I was brought to tears with laughter. But as I’ve gotten older and become a parent, I can’t help but spend most of my time irrationally concerned with the consequences that these teens will experience the morning after their “best night ever.” Apparently, I’m not alone as this feeling drives the plot of Kay Cannon’s Blockers.

Blockers follows Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz as three estranged old friends who stumble onto their soon-to-graduate daughters’ pact to lose their virginity on prom night. It’s a fun twist on the genre that takes the focus off of the perspective of the teenagers and points it towards their parents and their mission to stop the girls before it’s too late. As you might expect, hijinks ensue.

The film is at its best when it’s following the parents. Leslie Mann is one of the most underappreciated comedic actors of her generation. She makes every movie she’s in better, and Blockers is absolutely improved by her performance and comedic timing as Lisa, a single mom worried about what her life is going to look like when her little girl leaves for college. Cena is someone I look forward to seeing in films like this. While his acting ability is limited and usually restricted to one note, I appreciate how he’s always game to play against type if the role calls for it. He plays Mitchell, a dorky dad who would be intimidating if it wasn’t for his inability to keep from crying. In my opinion, Ike Barinholtz steals almost every scene he’s in as the screw-up Hunter, who ruined his family and his relationship with his daughter several years earlier when he had an affair with the babysitter. He’s very funny and his storyline with his daughter provided the most emotional depth in the film. With the three of them together, the movie really sings. When the focus shifts to their daughters and their prom dates, it’s just mediocre to poor teen-comedy fare that bogs down the story.

It’s a pretty funny concept that’s pulled off pretty well, but like a lot of films in this vein, it runs to the well of gross-out humor a bit too often to really stand-out. It’s a shame too, because when the actors are allowed to play off of one another in their race against time, it’s quite funny. I’m not opposed to that type of humor if it’s serving the story, but that’s not what is happening here.

Despite its faults, Blockers is worth seeing simply because it’s a fun new take on a pretty tired old genre with good performances and a surprising amount of heart. But there’s no need to get out to the theater for this one, wait until you can watch it at home where the popcorn is a lot cheaper.

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Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Game Night

GAME NIGHT (2018)

Game Night

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that I was ever adequately prepared to be a grown up. And at the risk of sounding like a whiner, I’ll just come out and say it, adulting is hard. And when 5 days of work, children’s activities and other responsibilities get followed up by a Saturday full of work around the house, there’s really only one thing that can get me to put my pants back on after my Sunday afternoon nap. That thing is game night. Who doesn’t love game night? Whether it’s a group of old friends from college getting together to play Pitch and swap stories deep into the night, a cup of coffee and a game of Ticket to Ride or driving 90 miles an hour headed straight for downtown to beat a friend to the next clue in a scavenger hunt that would consume my every waking thought for weeks, I love to hear those five little words, “Game night at our place.” Game night is one of life’s little pleasures. It’s like a 2-4 hour oasis where you get to forget about what’s going on in your world and try to beat your friends into submission.

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s film Game Night, in theaters this weekend, shows its audience a game night that is quite different than any you have likely experienced. Largely about an evening gone awry, the film is two hours of unbridled, crazy fun that left me feeling like I do during an actual game night. All of the ingredients are there: the super competitive couple that always wins (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams), the couple being a little too open and honest about a marital spat (Lamorne Harris and Kylie Bunbury), the idiot who is terrible at games but a lot of fun to have around (Billy Magnusson), the guy who is only invited because he heard about game night from someone else (Jesse Plemmons), the moments of tension broken up by intense laughter and the three bags of Tostito’s Scoops.

The plot is fairly straight forward. Max and Annie (Bateman and McAdams) are the weekly hosts of game night. But Max’s spotlight stealing older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town and promises to up the ante on game night at his place. Within an hour, he says, someone will be kidnapped. The team that finds that person first wins. The winner gets his cherry red Corvette Stingray. This is serious. When the kidnappers show up and take Brooks in a manner that’s a little too convincing, our three couples have to figure out what is real and at is just part of the game.

To say more would be a disservice to the film. It’s a movie that starts fast and keeps moving at a break-neck pace for its entire runtime. The twists and turns and special appearances along the way are surprising and fun. Daley and Goldstein, who also wrote the script, seem to revel in creating a narrative that defies audience (and the film’s characters’) expectations at every turn. At one point, about halfway through, when it seemed that the movie was turning more into an action thriller than a comedy, the film instead steers right into the absurdity in its premise and delivers another load of belly laughs.

The cast is obviously having a great time. Jason Bateman plays Jason Bateman. I’m not saying that to complain. I love every minute of it. He has great chemistry with Rachel McAdams, who has great timing and delivery in the rare straight comedic role. Kyle Chandler is another guy who you don’t get to see be funny very often. He doesn’t get a lot of time in this one, but he takes advantage of every scene he gets. He’s good enough in his comic situations that you almost forget that he possesses that Coach Taylor paternal charm when he turns it on during the more sentimental moments of the film. The comic MVP of the film is Billy Magnusson. On the surface, his character is that of the stereotypical idiot friend (think of him as a blonde Joey from Friends) but man, does he sell the hell out of it. Jesse Plemmons is freaking creepy as the next door neighbor policeman who hasn’t gotten invited to game night since his wife left him, who was the person in the couple that people liked.

Game Night is not a perfect film by any means. I’m sure if you spent some time trying to figure out exactly how everything works out the way it did, you could probably make your head hurt. So don’t do that. It’s already been a stressful week. You need a break. Put some pants on, even if it’s just your sweats, and go have a couple of hours of fun. It’s Game Night.

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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: February 6, 2018

Of the 5 largest comebacks in NFL playoff history, the Kansas City Chiefs have been on the losing end of two. In 2014, Andrew Luck, the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, recovered a fumble by running back Donald Brown and ran it for a touchdown en route to a 28 point second half comeback. Just last month the Chiefs were defeated by the Tennessee Titans, overcoming a 21-3 deficit. At one point, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariotta threw a pass that he then caught when it was batted back in his direction and proceeded to run it into the end zone for an unlikely (and unprecedented) playoff touchdown. The last time the Chiefs won more than one playoff game in the same season, I was 12. They’re 5-14 in the post season in my lifetime. It’s hard to dispute this fact: the Kansas City Chiefs are cursed. I root for a cursed football franchise. Because there’s very little chance that I’ll ever be able to experience championship joy, I find my enjoyment of Super Bowl Sunday in tasty food and in the commercials.

Something that I find interesting is that if you look at all of the Super Bowl ads in a year, you’ll often find that a theme emerges. The 2017 Super Bowl found America at the tail end of the 2016 vicious election cycle that divided the nation in ways that we had never seen before. In response, last year’s ads were quite a bit more subdued than normal and advocated things like unity, tolerance and service. It was fine. Honestly, I don’t remember one of them. This year though, the theme that I saw emerge was one of self-referential parody that aimed to just have a little fun. From Mountain Dew’s decision to give us Morgan Freeman without actually giving us his voice (besides the little stinger at the end) to the weeks long set up of a Crocodile Dundee reboot that was actually just a tourism spot, most of these ads just wanted to cut loose and have some fun. My two favorite commercials/sets of commercials that played around with its format are the Chris Pratt Michelob ads and most everyone’s pick for best commercial(s), the Tide ads.

The Michelob ad campaign is one that I haven’t heard mentioned much in the reading I’ve done about the best commercials since the game. While the first commercial isn’t anything special on its own (unless, like me, you have a large man-crush on Chris Pratt), the payoff is pretty funny as Pratt’s beer commercial training ends up with him being cast as an extra in a beer commercial. What makes the campaign stand out though, is the second ad where we see the actual commercial referenced in the first ad, complete with Pratt in the background of every scene. I like a campaign that rewards you for paying attention the whole game, and this one definitely did that in spades.

 

The easy winner of the night was Tide, which is good because they need a PR win with all of this Tide Pod Challenge nonsense going on. 33 years ago, Apple aired it’s famous 1984 ad during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII and it’s a commercial that is still talked about in marketing classes to this day (well, at least it was in 2016, the last year I was in a marketing class). I have a feeling that this Tide campaign could be one that is talked for years to come as well. What started out as a funny-ish send up of stock Super Bowl commercials then became an unpredictable series of shorts that made you think that any other commercial could possibly be a Tide ad. It’s completely brilliant. I watched every commercial for the rest of the night, regardless of the product, thinking about Tide.

 

And as a bonus, here’s a commercial that I’ll probably forget by next week, but I found it to be really, really funny when it first aired. Kudos to Sprint for breaking out of the mundane tendency of cell phone ads to simply try and up the ante of situations in which it can put a spokesman.

 

What were your favorite Super Bowl commercials? Sound off in the comments or in the Facebook group.

 

Channel Surfing:

  • Did you keep watching after the Super Bowl to see This Is Us? I waited until Monday because I was too busy enjoying the thought of Tom Brady having a good cry to have one of my own. Once I got around to it, the tears started flowing early and often as we finally saw the heroic way in which Jack Pearson died. It was a great episode and the final scene gave us a glimpse into where the show might go from here. This season has been great, but there has also been a long shadow cast by the inevitability of Jack’s death. With that particular plot point having been revealed, I’m excited to see what’s next.
  • I watch a lot of TV, so I can be a hard viewer to surprise. That’s why I’m such a big fan of The Good Place. After a first season finale that caught me completely off guard, the show disrupted the status quo time after time in season two in ways that I didn’t see coming at all. The season two finale was one of my favorites so far (Ted Danson behind a bar? Yes, please!) and set itself up for a hell of a season 3.

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. 


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: January 30, 2018

“I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal…People know me…I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.” – Anchorman

Sometimes a show or a movie comes along that transcends its own entertainment value and achieves a level of importance based on its subject matter and the time in which it is made. A lot of films (or TV, music, etc.) fall short of the so called “important” label either by abandoning all subtlety and beating you over the head with its message or, like the great Ron Burgundy (quoted above), by coming off a bit too proud of itself for being so damned important. A recent example of the latter is Steven Spielberg’s The Post. The Post is a really good movie with some really good performances by a really, really good cast. It’s also a really important movie in a time when the reliability of the press is constantly under fire. I very much enjoyed it. If you listen closely, though, there’s this little voice, not a loud voice but it’s a persistent voice, whispering “I’m very important” into your ear in every frame. The fact that The Post is a film starring two of a generation’s greatest acting talents and made by one of our greatest living directors serves to illustrate my point that making entertainment that is “important” is not at all simple.

Onto this razor’s edge between relevance and afterthought comes The CW’s Black Lightning. Packed with conflict taken straight from the front pages, Black Lightning tells the story of Jefferson Pierce, an inner city high school principal and retired superhero forced back into the world of vigilantism when the crime and corruption in his city of Freeland knocks on his front door. Through two episodes, the show adeptly straddles that line between preachy and self-aggrandizement to tell a story that is both entertaining and, I’ll go ahead and say it, important.

Black Lightning achieves this balancing act with a combination of solid performances and real-world complex drama. Cress Williams is perfect as Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning. His physicality commands every scene he’s in. He’s an imposing character who is absolutely believable as both a tough-as-nails inner city principal and as a masked crime fighter to be feared. Aside from Williams, the bulk of the drama has been adeptly handled by China Anne McClain, Nafessa Williams and Christine Adams who play Pierce’s two daughters and his ex-wife, respectively. Adams has been particularly good as the concerned spouse for whom Pierce gave up the Black Lightning mantle in the first place. If she’s the anti-vigilante angel on his left shoulder, James Remar’s Peter Gambi is the superhero enabling devil on his right. Remar hasn’t had much to do through the first couple of episodes, but he’s the kind of actor who you can count on making the most of what he gets and his turn in Black Lightning is no exception. The tug of war on the soul of Jefferson Pierce’s soul between those two perspectives has carried more heft than most anything else being put out there by comic book shows now days (and this is coming from a guy who watches/loves them all).

Bottom line: The heroes are virtuous, the threat of evil is tangible, and the answers to what the city of Freeland needs are not easy solutions. It’s only January, but Black Lightning is already setting itself up to be one of the best new shows of the year. Give it a shot for yourself to see what you think. I’m sure this won’t be the last that we talk about it this season. Old episodes of Black Lightning can be viewed on The CW app and new episodes air on Tuesday nights on the network.

 

Channel Surfing:

  • Great News ended it’s second season on a high note this week with an episode that may end up being not only the season-capper, but also the series finale. It has not yet been renewed by NBC and it’s looking more and more like it will not be back. Thursday’s show provided a satisfying end to the major arc of the second half of the season while getting off a few biting jabs at the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world. A series that started out as a poor-man’s 30 Rock really stepped out of that shadow to become it’s own thing this season and it would be a shame if it doesn’t return. So go watch it! I’ve never steered you wrong before. Season two of Great News can be streamed on Hulu. 
  • It’s been a good couple of months for Psych fans. First, we get Psych: The Movie in December and January saw the series become available to watch in its entirety on Amazon Prime. It’s not a great show, but it’s a whole lot of dumb fun. Sometimes that’s just what you need at the end of a long day.
  • The Paramount Channel (formerly known as Spike TV) launched their six part miniseries Waco this week about the infamous 1993 standoff between the FBI and the Branch Davidians. Starring Taylor Kitsch as the cult leader David Koresh and Michael Shannon as Gary Noesner (the real life FBI hostage negotiator on whose book the series is based), the series looks to be one that will attempt to tell the whole story without merely playing the blame game. There will be more coverage here of this one in the coming weeks.

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. 


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: Top Shows of 2017

Feelin’ TV is back for 2018! Before we get too far in to the television of the new year, I wanted to take my first week to look back at my favorite five shows from 2017.

5) The Crown

If there is one thing that I hate more than British costume drama, it’s the obsession that a large portion of American society has with the comings and goings in the British Royal Family. The fact that The Crown manages to be both while also being one of my favorite shows that I watched last year is absolutely astounding to me. It succeeds because of its performances (John Lithgow as Winston Churchill is astounding) and the way the writers include significant historical intrigue into their telling of the story of the longest serving British monarch. My favorite episodes thus far have been “Assasins” (S1E9) in which Churchill befriends an artist painting his portrait and “Vergangenheit” (S2E6) that sees the Queen consult a young Billy Graham as she weighs her personal desire to forgive against her positional responsibility to the appearance of justice. The first two seasons of The Crown can be streamed on Netflix.

 4) Better Call Saul

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Better Call Saul could have easily and lazily coasted to several seasons of solid ratings based solely on the success of Breaking Bad and it’s built in fan base. That Vince Gilligan and his crew have instead created a show with rich, fully realized characters, intricate stories and a lived-in setting is a remarkable achievement. Bob Odenkirk anchors the show as the sad sack Jimmy McGill who really did just want to go straight. Michael McKean steals every scene as his arrogant and cold older brother Chuck. My favorite episode from season three was “Chicanery” (S3E5) which managed to be satisfying and heartbreaking at the exact same time. The first two seasons of Better Call Saul can be streamed on Netflix

3) The Leftovers

One gets the impression that with The Leftovers, Damon Lindelof explores all of the things he wanted to with LOST without the restrictions put on storytelling in a network show. The Leftovers, much like LOST, provided many more questions than it did answers. Unlike LOST though, viewers of The Leftovers were never led to believe the answers were there to be had. The Leftovers is a show about moving on when there are no easy answers. It’s about coping with grief when the answers are unknowable. The Leftovers ended its run with one of the greatest series finales ever as characters resolved to love each other even in the mess. The Leftovers can be streamed with your HBO subscription.

2) Big Little Lies

There’s not much I can say about Big Little Lies that hasn’t been said elsewhere. It is deservedly one of the most awarded and critically acclaimed shows of 2017. The cast is fantastic. Reese Witherspoon is as good as she’s ever been. More than any show I’ve ever watched, the relational conflicts feel real because they’re rooted in actual, real-world issues. The central murder mystery, which not only leaves the viewer guessing about the perpetrator but also the victim, is never less than edge-of-your-seat tense. In a year that saw so many strong women stand up to inequality, harassment and abuse, Big Little Lies was the perfect show of 2017. Big Little Lies can be streamed with your HBO subscription. 

1) The Good Place

If I had been writing about TV in 2016, this would’ve been my #1 show back then as well. Here’s the thing, I’m an unashamed Michael Schur fanboy. Parks and Recreation and The Office are my two favorite sit-coms of all time. I’ve watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine from day one. I listen to his podcast about baseball every week. Shur’s work just speaks to me. I was predestined to love The Good Place no matter what. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that The Good Place is the best sit-com on TV whether you’re a Michael Schur fan or you’ve never heard of the guy (I’ll bet you have, in addition to being a writer and one time show runner on The Office, he also played the role of Dwight Schrute’s cousin/roommate Mose). The Good Place arrived with a completely realized setting in a way that you don’t see often. Most shows take a bit of time to figure out what they are or what they want to be, but you get the feeling that the writers of The Good Place knew everything about the world they built from the word “go” and anything we don’t yet know is because they don’t want us to know it, not because they haven’t figured it out yet.  On top of the setting The Good Place boasts two solid main characters in Kristen Bell and Ted Danson who are every bit as great as you’d expect them to be. And then you get to add the four other members of the main cast (William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden and Manny Jacinto), each of whom have emerged from relative obscurity to breakout character status, as the cherry on top. Season one ended with a twist that I thought the show could never top. Season two has shaken up the status quo every week to the point that I have no idea what is going to come next. It’s my favorite show of the year, and it’s number one on my list of shows you should be watching if you’re not already. Season one of The Good Place is currently streaming on Netflix and season two episodes can be found on Hulu.

 

Channel Surfing:

  • Runaways has been renewed by Hulu for a second season after a solid freshman debut. In my opinion, it fizzled a bit at the end, but there’s still quite a bit of promise for some good stories to be told in the future. I think later episodes showed some of the limitations of the young cast members, but the older members of the cast and the intriguing source material make it a show to continue to keep an eye on while the younger actors find their footing. Season one of Runaways can be viewed on Hulu.
  • Black Lightning premiered on The CW this week and it was a hell of a debut. The major theme of this superhero drama is racial injustice and it doesn’t appear to be interested in easy answers and mustache twirling villains. With plot lines ripped straight from the front pages of 2017 news, it’s a show that’s always going to be in danger of being soapbox-y, but the premiere managed to sidestep that pitfall. And even if it does slide to the preachy side of the pendulum from time to time, Black Lightning‘s point of view is one that we can always use more of. Give it a shot. Black Lightning airs on Tuesday nights on The CW

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. 


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.

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.