MOVIE REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

2 Hours and 15 Minutes (PG-13)

I’ve been on record as worrying quite a bit about Solo: A Star Wars Story (henceforth in this review know as Solo, because a one-word title just makes sense doesn’t it?). The first Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One, significantly underwhelmed me, and here a second prequel was attempting to unnecessarily go back and fill in gaps in the Star Wars timeline. But this time it required the dangerous risk of recasting one of the most iconic characters in movie history. I love Han. We all love Han. And Harrison Ford is Han. So, I’ve been pretty skeptical that Alden Ehrenreich could step into those enormously talented shoes and deliver a compelling enough performance to make us truly believe that he, too, is Han.

But folks… it happened.

It wasn’t right away, though. Solo wastes no time in introducing us to young Han the scoundrel, but despite an exciting chase sequence and Han trying to talk his way out of a pickle, Ehrenreich just wasn’t connecting for me. As the story went on, though, my expectations and presumptions about how young Han should act began to decline and he slowly transformed. When Han meets Lando, I was all in, having witnessed enough smirks, snark, and charm to really believe in this new version of the character. And by the time the credits rolled, I had to repent. Because maybe he’s not perfect, but young Han he is.

The thing to remember first and foremost about Solo is that it’s not a Star Wars saga film and thus doesn’t abide by the same storytelling rules. The question isn’t IF Han will make it out of situations safely, it’s HOW he will make it out. This is an intergalactic heist film and an origin story. Seriously, we learn the origin of EVERYTHING. Han’s lucky dice? Covered. Han’s blaster? That too. The Kessel Run? It’s definitely mentioned. How Han met Lando and Chewie? Of course. And so, so much more. Honestly, it could have been overkill. Maybe for some it will. But for me it struck the perfect balance, giving me depth and insight into a beloved character without ever stopping the plot to draw attention to a reference. All of it was woven seamlessly into the narrative. It made sense, and I loved every single wink and nod to the stories we all know so well.

Another strength of the film is that Solo doesn’t go solo. The film features a host of flat-out wonderful supporting actors and droids. Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is a fantastic addition to the canon and through her we are able to learn about Han the lover and what kind of woman he’s attracted to. Beckett (Woody Harrelson) provides Han with a mentor of sorts, someone who teaches him tricks of the trade and many life lessons. Then there is Lando, played as perfectly by Donald Glover as you’d expect, showing us how the two young smooth-talking smugglers came to their complicated friendship. The chemistry between Ehrenreich and Glover is definitely present and if I had one gripe it would be that I just wanted more of this duo together. Paul Bettany chews up scenes wonderfully as a bigshot gangster and leader of crime syndicate Crimson Dawn, the perfect subtle villain for a smuggler’s origin story. And L3-37 (yes, that spells “leet”), Lando’s droid, is hilariously liberal while also playing a surprisingly touching role in the tale.

The adventure itself is a ton of fun. Han, as you would expect, gets himself into a situation that involves stealing, smuggling, fancy flying, and generally getting shot at along the way. But it isn’t just fun, it’s a well-written story that thoroughly explains how the swashbuckling rogue became the man who may or may not shoot first, doesn’t trust anyone, and primarily looks out only for himself. All of the action pieces are also wonderfully done, from the big set pieces to the brief one-on-one fight sequences, and the cinematography is just as gorgeous as always. The film’s score stands out, too, with John Powell bringing a hint of his How To Train Your Dragon sound to the familiar Star Wars themes, particularly when the Millennium Falcon is speeding through the galaxy.

VERDICT

Solo: A Star Wars Story is one of the best origin stories ever told. It fills in details for so much of a beloved character that you may be shocked they could cover it all. The action and adventurous tone make for one heck of an enjoyable movie experience and Ehrenreich importantly embodies young Han, growing into the character over the course of the film. Though some may find parts to be cheesy or unnecessarily connected to past films, my expectations were thoroughly surpassed and as the final scene played, I found myself wanting to cheer. Solo is a great example of the kind of light-hearted, fun stories that can be told in this universe and further continues Disney’s fantastic year of blockbusters.

Rating:


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

MOVIE REVIEW: Deadpool 2

DEADPOOL 2 (2018)

I think it’s time to change our perspective. In the world of comic book movies, there are no new stories. We’ve told them all. I don’t want to read another criticism that a film in the genre failed to tread new ground because there isn’t new ground to cover. We don’t need new stories, we need fresh ones. The original Deadpool was a fresh story. There weren’t any beats that were new, but Ryan Reynolds and company were able to inject enough fresh life into the old superhero origin story to make it the surprise hit of 2016 and guaranteed that we’d see the Merc with a Mouth on the silver screen again soon. The only question that needed to be answered was whether or not a sequel could stay fresh or if it would be nothing but a retread of its successful predecessor.

David Leitch’s Deadpool 2 puts us back in the world of Wade Wilson (Reynolds) at a time in his life where he has it all. He’s quite successful at his job and his home life couldn’t be better. But as is wont to happen in films like these, this bliss is short lived as one day, while Wilson and his wife Vanessa (Morea Baccarin) cuddle up on the couch in their Old Navy khakis and pastel sweaters discussing the expansion of their little family, some unfinished business changes his world dramatically and sends our beloved Pool on another journey of self-discovery. And all of this happens before the opening credits. From there the film embarks on what is essentially a “Would you kill baby Hitler if you could go back in time” kind of plot as DP assembles a team of mutants, the X-Force, to protect a child (and apparently future monster) caught in the crosshairs of the mysterious time-traveling Cable (Josh Brolin). That’s a pretty bare bones description, but I don’t want to give anything else away because what follows is 2 hours of violence, surprise cameos and laughs with a surprising amount of heart sprinkled in.

Unsurprisingly, Reynolds is the star of this show. Wade Wilson is the part he was born to play and he slips into Deadpool’s red pants with ease once again. Josh Brolin is very good as Cable, a man who has some very compelling reasons to do a really bad thing. Zazie Beetz was the highlight of the supporting cast as Domino, a mutant whose super power is simply good luck. While that doesn’t seem like the most cinematic of powers (at one point Deadpool criticizes the power for just that reason), Leitch and his team find a way to really make it work. My only complaint about the cast is that TJ Miller’s part wasn’t re-cast in the light of the numerous allegations about his behavior towards women. In a self-aware film of this nature, one that outright references the #MeToo movement with a joke or two, his presence sticks out like a sore thumb.

But does it stay fresh? In this reviewer’s opinion, it absolutely does. By leaning into the self-referential humor made the first film so successful, upping the ante on the action and violence and making effective pauses in the action and comedy to give itself real emotional depth, Deadpool 2 continues the trend set by the original of making the old feel new. Is it perfect? No. Some of the tonal shifts are jarring, there are some lulls in the action that last a bit longer than they ought to and a few of the jokes don’t land (but with as many of them as there are flying at the screen, the amount that do is quite impressive). Everything else adds up to a worthy continuation of the franchise that might even compete with the original. In short, if you enjoyed your first ride with Deadpool, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t love this one as well.

PS. This film has the best mid-credits stinger(s) in cinematic history. Enjoy!

Rating:


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.

2018 Seattle International Film Festival Capsule Reviews

Each year the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) screens hundreds of feature films, documentaries, short films, and more from all around the world over a 25-day period in May and June. This year the largest and most highly attended festival in the United States will run from May 25 – June 10 and show 433 films representing 90 countries, a lineup which includes 35 World premieres, 46 North American premieres, and 25 U.S. premieres. The festival will screen several highly anticipated films such as First Reformed starring Ethan Hawke, Sorry To Bother You starring Lakeith Stanfield, and a documentary about Fred Rogers that is sure to make you cry, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. Suffice it to say, all 433 films won’t be covered here, but in addition to our podcast coverage of the festival you will find capsule reviews of a wide variety of films across many genres. Check back often for new capsule reviews as we cover the 44th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. (Newest reviews on top.)

Must See: REVENGE, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, FIRST REFORMED, BODIED

Recommended: MOUNTAIN, CHAMPIONS, THE RUSSIAN FIVE, CATWALK: TALES FROM THE CAT SHOW CIRCUIT, AMERICAN ANIMALS

Worth Watching: BEAST, MICHELIN STARS: TALES FROM THE KITCHEN

Skip: LITTLE TITO AND THE ALIENS


MOUNTAIN (74 minutes)

Like a poetic love letter to the mystical draw of the mountaintop, Willem Dafoe’s smooth voice (backed by the symphonic tones of the Australian Chamber Orchestra) narrates this awe-inspiring journey through the history of man’s relationship with some of the most imposing natural structures on the planet. Cinematographer Renan Ozturk’s stunning high-altitude imagery of mountains all across the world is a visual delight and worthy of the biggest theater screen possible, though viewers with a fear of heights are in for a terrifying experience.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 21 – 7:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian), May 22 – 7:00 pm (Majestic Bay)

[Get Tickets]


LITTLE TITO AND THE ALIENS (92 minutes)

In this playful science fiction dramedy, Tito and Anita travel to America to live with their widowed scientist uncle after their father passes away in Italy. The Professor, living as a recluse in the Nevada desert near Area 51, has stalled in his work on a top secret government project, but the arrival of his niece and nephew force him to confront not only his own grief but theirs as well. Featuring elements that echo Spielberg’s work (down to a very similar score), Little Tito and the Aliens has some heartfelt moments but is too scattered and derivative to be very highly recommended.

Rating:

Showtimes: June 7 – 7:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), June 8 – 4:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian)

June 10 – 4:30 pm (AMC Pacific Place)

[Get Tickets]


CHAMPIONS (CAMPEONES) (120 minutes)

Champions is another feel-good, family-friendly story about a judgmental and egotistical person who learns to accept others through spending time with them. But despite following a typical trajectory right up to a completely telegraphed ending, Director/Writer Javier Fesser’s film is so charming and funny that it simply doesn’t matter if you could write the plot yourself. Anchored by an incredible cast of performers as basketball players with intellectual disabilities and a genuinely emotional turn by star Javier Gutierrez as their new coach, Champions is an enjoyable, inspiring story that will warm the heart.

Rating:

Showtimes: June 1 – 9:00 pm (Kirkland Performance Center), June 8 – 6:15 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown) w/ Director Q&A

June 9 – 3:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown) w/ Director Q&A

[Get Tickets]


THE RUSSIAN FIVE (99 minutes)

Joshua Riehl’s documentary comes at the perfect time for a Seattle community starving for a hockey team of their own. The best sports documentaries take a topic many know and unpack hidden history. The Russian Five tells of how the Detroit Red Wings forever changed the NHL by bringing in talented Russian players, sometimes at risk of their lives and well-being of their families. Filled with awesome archival game footage and interviews, Riehl’s film echoes the rock star quality of its subjects and is a shocking, heartbreaking, and ultimately triumphant story about family and determination in sports.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 19 – 5:30 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown) w/ Director Q&A, May 20 – 6:00 pm (Majestic Bay) w/ Director Q&A

May 29 – 9:00 pm (Shoreline)

[Get Tickets]


BODIED (121 minutes, R)

Director Joseph Kahn is most known for high-profile music videos, but alongside producer Eminem he takes on the rap battle scene in this high intensity, satirical, lyrical exploration of PC culture as we know it today. Bodied follows white progressive grad student Adam on his journey from researching battle rap to competing himself. It’s smart script constantly spits fire and offends every race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and more while inviting viewers to consider how much words matter. Added visual flourish reminds of Scott Pilgrim and the rap battles themselves are sure to become the stuff of legend.

Rating:

Showtimes: June 9 – 9:30 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian), June 10 – 9:15 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian)

[Get Tickets]


AMERICAN ANIMALS (116 minutes, R)

Director Bart Layton leverages his history with documentaries in this bold feature debut about four privileged real-life college friends who rely on their knowledge of movies to plan and execute a rare book heist. With a unique style that overlays interviews of the actual subjects into the narrative, this exhilarating crime drama is notable in how it depicts differing perspectives of how the events unfolded. Slick, stylish, and often hilarious, the film does suffer from pacing issues in its purely dramatic sections, but this fresh take on the sub-genre is a fascinating experience.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 19 – 9:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), May 20 – 1:30 pm (AMC Pacific Place) w/ Director Q&A

[Get Tickets]


FIRST REFORMED (113 minutes, R)

Known for his transcendental style and self-destructive characters, legendary writer/director Paul Schrader’s latest film stars Ethan Hawke in an arguably career-best performance as a former military chaplain turned small church pastor wrestling with despair, physical ailments, and an increasingly critical view of how the modern church operates. An intellectually profound script regarding matters of faith and environmentalism is coupled with careful artistic direction that creates a simmering emotional experience. This is a dark, unsettling character drama interested more in asking questions than providing answers – but for those who engage, it can be a powerful conversation-starter and trigger for self-reflection.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 18 – 4:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian), May 22 – 7:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown)

[Get Tickets]


WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (93 minutes)

Bring the tissues for this story about Fred Rogers, the iconic and innovative television personality with a heart for children and unwavering hope to see every person loved and respected for who they are. Fred’s sense of ministry and passion for child development helped him make Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood a safe place for learning that was radical in its time and unreplicated to this day. Through the use of interviews and historical context, Oscar-winning Director Morgan Neville thoroughly explores who Rogers was and shows his lessons are still needed today more than ever.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 26 – 6:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), May 27 – 1:30 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown)

[Get Tickets]


CATWALK: TALES FROM THE CAT SHOW CIRCUIT (75 minutes)

People love cats. Some people love cats so much that they travel the country attending what amounts to a beauty contest for their feline companion, and Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit tells some of these amusing stories while detailing the surprisingly complex and competitive world of cat shows as seen through the nail-biting race for #1 between puffy red Persian Ooh La La and playful Turkish Angora Bobby. Thoroughly entertaining and full of gorgeous kitty cinematography, this sweet, fun and informative documentary is a joy for the whole family (pets included).

Rating:

Showtimes: May 19 – 3:30 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), May 20 – 1:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), June 2 – 3:30 pm (Shoreline)

[Get Tickets]


MICHELIN STARS: TALES FROM THE KITCHEN (82 minutes)

Early in this documentary from Danish director Rasmus Dinesen, one renowned chef calls the famous restaurant grading Michelin Guide, “the most important guide in the world,” and for those chasing the ultra-elusive Michelin Star it is. Dinesen travels around the world learning about both the trials and glory that come from seeking the culinary world’s highest rating. The film is less concerned with specific dishes, but still features plenty of mouth-watering cinematography while providing a fair and balanced conversation about the Guide’s history and place in the restaurant world today.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 21 – 6:30 pm (Lincoln Square), May 23 – 6:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown) [Get Tickets]


BEAST (107 minutes, R)

Haunting and suspenseful, director Michael Pearce’s feature film debut Beast is a slow-burn thriller that takes its time alternating between moments of high intensity and quiet psychological depth. It is anchored by an incredible, star-making first performance by Jessie Buckley, as a troubled young girl in an isolated island community who engages in a relationship with a mysterious stranger being investigated for multiple murders. The film is heavy in metaphor and takes a little too long to resolve, but its crescendo to the finale is powerful and quite memorable.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 20 – 8:00 pm (Ark Lodge Cinemas), May 21 – 9:30 pm (AMC Pacific Place) [Get Tickets]


REVENGE (108 minutes, R)

With the heart-pounding, blood-pumping Revenge, French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat bursts onto the scene in a ferocious manner. This heavily stylized rape-revenge has a considerably unique feel due to its female director turning the tables on the male gaze at every corner and offering a female protagonist with plenty of agency. Bloody, remarkably intense, and backed by a fantastic soundtrack, it’s a gorgeously shot violent payback session that is so slick and entertaining that it overcomes its slightly long runtime and is accessible enough that even non-fans of exploitation films can enjoy.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 18 – Midnight (SIFF Cinema Egyptian) [Get Tickets]


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

MOVIE REVIEW: Breaking In

BREAKING IN (2018)

With Breaking In, director James McTiegue makes an effort to give a fresh take on the well-worn home invasion sub-genre. It attempts to be fresh by flipping the script and having the protagonist infiltrating her own home where the antagonists have her children held hostage. Well, God bless him for trying, I suppose because this is an undeniably terrible movie. It’s poorly edited (I counted at least 3 instances where the dialogue was visibly dubbed over, presumably to attain a PG-13 rating), contains multiple instances of odd and out of place slow-motion, and has some of the blandest villains you’ll see in any film this year.

It’s quite a shame, because I’ll be damned if Gabrielle Union didn’t just absolutely bring it (yeah I did) in her role as Shaun, the aforementioned mother. She gives the character a measure of believability both as a loving mother and a woman who isn’t to be messed with. Another bright spot was Aijona Alexus, who plays Shaun’s daughter Jasmine. Believably making the transition from frightened to fierce, she has the talent to be a bright spot in more films for years to come.

Also of note is Richard Cabral’s role as the bad guy crew’s resident “badass.” You know the type. He’s the one in the group who takes matters into his own hands first, escalating the situation beyond peaceful resolution. He’s not noteworthy for anything good, but rather for his performance being laughably bad and his presence sucking the tension out of every one of his scenes. His character is not at all comedic in nature, but there were snickers in the crowd whenever he appeared on screen. Every facial expression, every gesture and every word that came out of his mouth was so unbelievably awful that it threatened to steal the show. While the other bad guys were completely forgettable (lead by Billy Burke, who probably ought to stick to TV), Cabral’s Duncan was just flat out bad.

Although Breaking In arrived just in time to give you and your mom a different type of movie to go see for Mother’s Day, I’d suggest looking elsewhere if you’re looking to take her to the theater this weekend.

Rating:


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: Lu Over the Wall

LU OVER THE WALL (2018)

1 Hour and 52 Minutes (PG)

Lu Over the Wall is the newest animated feature from visionary anime director Masaaki Yuasa, and tells the story of a small fishing village that is impacted by the appearance of a mermaid who comes ashore to join a middle-school band. It’s a twist on the classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid and features elements that will remind viewers of other films, too – specifically Miyazaki’s Ponyo, Best Picture winner The Shape of Water, and the under-seen musical hit Sing Street. Yes, it’s a little bit insane. But while these references seem similar on the surface, Yuasa’s film forges its own path and becomes some entirely unique.

The biggest thing that sets Yuasa apart from other anime giants like Miyazaki, Shinkai, and Takahata is the animation style. Visually striking and lavishly colorful in the present, it melts into an older style of animation when characters recall the past. The animation is also very busy and moves fast. At times it can be so frantic that it’s hard to follow and feels like you’re staring into a rapidly spinning kaleidoscope. Always, though, it provokes a sense of joy and wonder. Full of character designs like you’ve never seen before (mer-dogs!), if it doesn’t give you a headache the art style will most certainly captivate you and hold your attention.

As for the story, Lu’s friendship with Kai and his middle-school rock band Siren is at the center of the narrative. In this world, mermaids are attracted to music. Naturally, not everyone in the village likes mermaids. While some want to use their existence for profit in the tourist industry, others want to kill them all, and a select religious few wish to live in harmony alongside them. The conflict arises out of these differing opinions, but relational issues exists between Lu and her bandmates as well. This is where the heart of the film lies and the way it tackles feelings of depression, friendship, love, and chasing dreams is beautifully woven into this fantastical tale. That being said, for the most part it keeps things light, but there are elements of the plot that deal with some tougher emotions. In trying to juggle quite a few sideplots the film does seem to get away from Yuasa and perhaps go on a bit long.

VERDICT

Lu Over the Wall is a great reminder of why we watch movies. Yuasa is a director willing to take chances and it is exciting to participate in a cinematic experience like that. This is a beautiful film, overflowing with cuteness, and filled with solid positive messages. It is also a musical that will have you humming along and tapping your feet whether you fully follow the plot or not. Unforgettable animation is rare, but Lu Over the Wall is just that and therefore is a must-see experience.

Rating:


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

MOVIE REVIEW: RBG

RBG (2018)

1 Hour and 37 Minutes (PG)

“I dissent.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

RBG begins with a camera tour of Washington landmarks, backed by classical music and hateful comments about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is a somewhat electrifying beginning and one that implies a fast-paced, exciting documentary, setting up what is sure to be a rebuttal of those opening comments. This scene, however, is a bit of an outlier as the filmmaking style generally used is much more bland, with the exception of one section that focuses on Ginsburg’s rise to pop culture icon. That isn’t to say it’s bad, but it certainly doesn’t break any new ground in terms of how the story is being told.

Despite not being the most compelling documentary with regards to style, RBG’s story about the life of the tiny 85-year old Supreme Court Justice is fascinating. Before becoming the second-ever female justice on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg worked tirelessly as an attorney, making a name for herself in sex discrimination cases, famously saying “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren, is that they take their feet off our necks.” It’s only in her older age that Ginsburg reached a certain legendary status among the public, though, and it is incredibly interesting to learn how and why she became determined to fight for women’s rights as an attorney. Ultimately, Ginsburg reaches the Supreme Court and becomes known as “The Great Dissenter”. The documentary does an excellent job of showing how she maintained close friendships with conservative judges like Antonin Scalia despite vastly differing opinions and covers several of her higher profile cases, though sadly not with the level of detail most would like.

Outside of the courtroom, RBG introduces us to Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a daughter, parent, grandmother, and wife. These more intimate sections of the film are extremely straightforward and exist to establish her character, as well as tell a touching love story between she and husband Marty. One granddaughter’s insight is extremely telling and defines the Justice Ginsburg we have come to know, telling us “She taught me that the way to win an argument is not to yell because that will more often turn people away rather than bring them to your table.” In being this calm, relentless source of dissent to those who would marginalize the rights of the minority for any reason, Ginsburg became an icon to a younger generation, even garnering the nickname “Notorious R.B.G.”, a play on the name famous rapper, Biggie Smalls, The Notorious B.I.G. The most entertaining part of this portion of the film is perhaps seeing Justice Ginsburg’s reaction to her fame, giggling in delight as humbled by the support as she was fierce behind a bench.

VERDICT

RBG provides biographical insight into both the personal life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her lasting impact on the laws of this nation. Though nothing artistically interesting, the history lesson for those who know nothing (or little) of this great woman’s work is nonetheless a powerful and important one.

Rating:


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

MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

2 Hours and 29 Minutes (PG-13)

Marvel and The Russo Brothers had a very daunting task before them. Paying off the culmination of a decade of build-up and backstory, stretching over 18 films, is a challenge unlike any studio or director in Hollywood had ever faced. And to accomplish this feat, they worked with what has to be the largest cast of known stars ever assembled for a movie. The ambition of Marvel and its commitment to the cinematic universe it pioneered is worthy of praise and respect.

If there’s one thing I was looking for in Avengers: Infinity War, it was raised stakes. Much like the comic books these films are based on (in which characters rarely die and cities are destroyed without much afterthought), Marvel films have not fully dealt with loss in a way that seems realistic. Right from the start of Infinity War, though, Marvel makes it very clear that has changed. The potential consequences of a Thanos (Josh Brolin) victory are evident and the film progresses with an emotional weight and sense of urgency that it could not have attained if the studio followed its same old formula. This also creates much more investment in characters and the worlds they inhabit, and thus pays off quite a few very moving scenes in a much bigger way. If you haven’t cried in a Marvel movie before, you’re not alone, but this may be your first. I had genuine chills a few different times. But don’t worry, that trademark Marvel humor and witty one-liners are still there and won’t have you depressed for too long at a time.

Another area that Marvel outdoes previous films in their own franchise is with Thanos himself. Make no mistake, this is his film and his story. He is a fully developed villain with more screen time than any before him, and it helps to create a character with whom the audience can both despise and yet struggle with feelings of empathy for. Brolin’s talent is very obvious in this performance despite the incredible looking CGI that encompasses him. His Thanos is not just some loud, angry, destructive villain. He is intelligent and calculating. He is nuanced. He is cold, yes, but when he gives his reasons for what he wants to do with the Infinity Stones and why, in a very warped way it makes some sense. His presence as the foil to the Avengers and Guardians gives this film something unique and memorable.

With a cast this large it is inevitable that not everyone’s favorite will have the responsibility or amount of action they hope for. The Russo’s do an admirable job of balancing these heroes, however, and somehow left me feeling satisfied. Sure, a little more backstory or deeper character moments for them all would be nice, but it’s also unrealistic to expect in a single film of this length. By managing to give everyone at least one small moment in the sun, the Russo’s succeed where I believe many would have failed. Another result of keeping most character development small is that the film moves fast, pausing a few times for majorly impactful storyline beats, but mostly cutting between different groups of heroes working to accomplish different tasks. By keeping the heroes in smaller groups, we get to feel more focused when we’re with them, and enjoy the new forms of dialogue that emerge between characters who previously had not interacted.

The action in Avengers: Infinity War is, as expected, fantastic. Seeing heroes fight together with new gear and weapons, or teaming up in ways never experienced by movie goers before, was a huge treat. In one major battle that involves a host of heroes and countless alien attackers, the Silvestri score and rising stakes create a feeling similar to that in the Battle of the Pelennor Field from The Return of the King. While Avengers: Infinity War never quite reaches that level of epic, it comes much closer than many (myself included) ever thought possible.

VERDICT

If you’re thinking that this review is a but vague, please know that is by design. Fans have waited 10 years for this and going in with as little information possible is going to result in the best viewing experience. Avengers: Infinity War isn’t entirely unpredictable, but it’s got some surprises too. The historic puzzle that the Russo Brothers have put together is nothing short of amazing and will lend itself to multiple viewings. Perhaps that’s the highest praise possible for a film of this kind, that after it finished I immediately would have sat through those 2.5+ hours again. To sum it all up, Avengers: Infinity War lived up to the hype by being both entertaining and emotional. Well done, Marvel. Well done.

Rating:


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

MOVIE REVIEW: You Were Never Really Here

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (2018)

1 Hour and 29 Minutes (R)

Lately it seems that Amazon Studios can be counted on for at least one dynamite film each year, and sometimes they give us more. In 2016 it was The Handmaiden, Manchester By The Sea and Academy Award winner The Salesman, and last year the studio gave us two stellar entries in The Lost City of Z and The Big Sick.

Amazon’s latest is this thriller film written and directed by Lynne Ramsay, and based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Ames, which has already won Best Screenplay and Best Actor during its premier at the 70th Cannes Film Festival. The story centers on Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a military veteran and former FBI agent suffering from some massive post-traumatic stress disorder, who now spends his days caring for his elderly and rescuing young girls from the sex trafficking industry. Unsurprisingly, his life is devoid of much joy, and much of his time is spent lost in thoughts, flashing back to distressing moments from his past that have left him borderline suicidal. The plot of You Were Never Really Here is relatively straight-forward. Joe is hired to find Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), the missing daughter of Senator Albert Votto (Alex Manatte). During this task he uncovers a conspiracy and as vigilantes are want to do, seeks out to render justice for all of the wrongs committed.

The film is very much an art house picture. It’s stylized in a way that can be both mesmerizingly beautiful and also hard to follow. Some of Joe’s flashbacks happen in ways that present a possible surrealistic nature, leaving the viewer unsure of exactly what this man’s past is. There are hints and clues, of course, and this quality is intriguing enough to encourage multiple viewings. Jonny Greenwood’s score is mostly incredible, though at times it is a bit distracting, and overall merges well with the sound mixing to create a rising tension throughout the film. The action is built up to slowly, and then occurs in visceral bursts of brutality that highlight the likely reasons for Joe’s distress and the awfulness of the world he tries to free people from. For a film that won Best Screenplay, You Were Never Really Here is incredibly spare narratively and its dialogue is extremely limited. Editing is also very tight, which provides a means to propel the film forward quickly but also leaves some question marks and lack of detail.

Phoenix’s performance as Joe is incredible. His ability to emote the traumatic state of this man is nothing short of masterful. He is a teddy bear at times, and at others a grizzly. Though it is brief, the relationship he develops with Nina is a powerful one and presents the two characters with a chance to consider whether they could play a missing role in each other’s lives.

VERDICT

You Were Never Really Here examines suffering in a moody, grungy, and violent manner. It is an undeniably beautiful artistic endeavor and shows Lynne Ramsay’s technical mastery of her craft. This isn’t a fun film to watch, by any means, but it is one that will burrow its way deep inside your conscience and have you wrestling with its images long after viewing them. You may come away thinking the film is nihilistic to a fault, and because of the nature of the filmmaking this isn’t a movie for everyone. But if you’re open to cinema as an art form and not just looking to be entertained, You Were Never Really Here is definitely one to see.

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

MOVIE REVIEW: The Endless

THE ENDLESS (2018)

1 Hour and 51 Minutes (Not Rated)

Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson – who serve as directors, writer, cinematographer, and stars –  of The Endless, seem like the kind of guys you would see sitting at a bar debating deep science fiction concepts over a beer. Much like Shane Carruth, these guys are incredibly smart and talented, but dedicated to telling their stories in a particular way (one that would definitely not go over well in the big studio world). Their last effort, Spring, was a romance horror mash-up that was thoroughly thought-provoking and at all times beautiful. In that film they employed great restraint in keeping the horror elements just on the periphery of the sci-fi rom-com, and in The Endless they have once again used that skill to great effect.

The Endless is the story of two brothers, Justin and Aaron Smith (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead) who grew up in a “UFO Death Cult” but escaped in what seems to be their late teen years. Ten years later, Aaron receives a taped goodbye message from their cultist family and it triggers his already strong PTSD and conflicted feelings about Justin leading them to escape. After much debate, Justin reluctantly agrees to return to the cult for a visit, and that’s when things start getting really weird.

It’s impossible to say much about The Endless‘ story without spoiling a wonderful experience. When the brothers do arrive at Camp Arcadia (clearly deriving its name from the utopian symbol of pastoral simplicity), they find cult leader Hal (Tate Ellington) and the rest of the members to look almost exactly as they had when the brothers left 10 years prior. This strange phenomena is the least of the odd occurrences that begin to take place, but begins to shape the brothers’ diverging reactions to what is going on. Aaron is open to hearing what Hal has to say and approaches the visit from a place of faith and trust. Justin, on the contrary, is extremely cynical and full of doubt, constantly trying to rationalize the unexplained things they see and hear. The film progresses in a way that is increasingly trippy and reminiscent of Lost. The horror elements callback to the Cthulu mythos and cultists worshiping the Elder Gods. Where Benson and Moorhead succeed in creating something unique, though, is that aforementioned restraint. The camera tricks, the cinematography, and the score do all the heavy lifting. Instead of seeing monsters, it’s what we don’t see that has us on edge. And the general likability of the cult presents a scenario where we’re not even always sure what out come to root for.

Despite the high concept sci-fi horror of the story, at its heart is a tale of brotherhood. Two men struggling to cope with what life has dealt them, learning to forgive and trust, and ultimately having to choose a reality that is best for them. Justin and Aaron not only do a fantastic work with the direction, script, and technical elements, but their acting is engaging and fully believable. Their a quiet vulnerability in their interactions that likely is the result of years of close friendship and they carry the film’s emotional weight well.

As is often the case with high concept films, explanations can tend to derail some of the more mysterious portions of a story. There is definitely a period in the middle of the film where some exposition feels a little bit too long and convoluted, making for a slightly longer than necessary runtime and an unfortunate dip in the suspense. Still, that doesn’t derail the enjoyment and fascination of watching The Endless play out at all, and it’s evident that Benson and Moorhead have a masterpiece lurking within them just waiting to come out.

VERDICT

The Endless opens with this quote from author H.P. Lovecraft: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the Unknown.” Benson and Moorhead capture this sense of fear generated from the unknown perfectly. The creepy cult and strange happening around Camp Arcadia are a unique backdrop to explore both their big sci-fi ideas and more grounded story of brotherhood. The Endless is unlike other movies being made, and though it’s not quite the masterpiece Benson and Moorhead clearly have in themthe passion that went into this unique and intriguing film shows. It absolutely should not be missed and with so much to unpack it will no doubt be even richer with subsequent viewings.

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

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.