MOVIE REVIEW: Frozen II

“Frozen” grew up.

If there’s one central point to be made about “Frozen 2,” it’s that everything about the film feels more mature in some way. Thematically, it deals with tougher relationship challenges as Queen Elsa and Princess Anna, now happily enjoying life with their friends in Arendelle, risk disruption of their peaceful lives to venture off into the unknown enchanted forest on a quest to discover the origins of Elsa’s powers and potentially learn more about their deceased parents. Change is a constant threat throughout this darker story, and all of the primary characters must wrestle with what that means for them both individually and with regard to the relationships they value. The drama is heavier, the stakes are higher, and Olaf uses self-aware humor to pose some pretty fun questions for viewers to consider. It really seems as if Disney knows their target audience of kids has aged up by 6 years and is now ready to handle a little more emotional weight, while also being sure to allow adults the opportunity to engage a little more this time around. It’s a bold choice, reminiscent of how the House of Mouse handled its “Wreck-it Ralph” sequel “Ralph Breaks the Internet”.

The music also feels slightly more aimed at older kids and adults. The songs are a little more Broadway and a little less pop this time around but are no less singable. One song in particular midway through the film, an 80’s rock ballad solo by Kristoff that is shot like a music video from that era, is sure to leave audience members in stitches and is easily among the film’s most memorable scenes. And then there’s the new “Let it Go”, the anthem-like “Into the Unknown” which your kids will be singing and listening to non-stop for the next few months. While it’s not quite as catchy or memeable as the aforementioned track, it’s still likely to be in heavy radio play rotation just like its predecessor.

Another aspect of the film that has definitely gotten better with age is the animation. As should be expected, everything is more crisp and bright than before, and details on the new costumes really stand out. There are a few different mesmerizing sequences of magic being put to use, as well, that easily rival or improve upon anything in “Frozen”. This is simply a gorgeous film to look at, and even if other faults are found, your eyes can’t help but enjoy themselves.

I’m not quite ready to say “Frozen 2” is better than the original after only one viewing, but the feeling I had while watching it was similar, and I think it comes awfully close. Time will also be needed to tell whether the entire soundtrack becomes as unforgettable as the first film’s. But on the strength of deeper themes, solid character development all-around, some fantastic humor, and a dose of that Disney magic, “Frozen 2” is a triumphant sequel to one of the animation giant’s biggest smash hits.

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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 the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Ford v Ferrari

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious endurance races in autosports. Conducted on an 8.5-mile circuit in the sleepy French town of Le Mans, the race travels over countryside roads throughout the course of an entire day, requiring teams to swap between three drivers regularly, relay-runner style. Drivers and cars must be prepared for the elements as it rains frequently, and within each lap lie both a challenging 90-degree turn and 200+ mph straightaways. Even beginning the race is dangerous, as drivers uniquely line up on the track opposite their cars and at the drop of the starting flag sprint to their vehicles, rushing to take off in a flurry of chaotic action that is as exciting as it is insane. Winning the race isn’t easy, but accomplishing the feat against fellow manufacturing giants of the industry brings the victorious automotive team great glory and often heavy sales. In 1963, Henry Ford II decided that he wanted a piece of this action, and after a failed bid to purchase Ferrari (including its racing team that won the Le Mans in 1958 and every year from 1960-1965), he decided that if he couldn’t own the Italian sports car manufacturer, he would do everything in his power to beat them where it would hurt most – on the track at Le Mans. And in doing so, a rivalry was born.

“Ford v Ferrari” is a biographical action-packed drama from Director James Mangold (“Logan”, “3:10 to Yuma”, “Walk the Line”)  that tells the story of Ford Motor Company’s journey to beat its Italian rivals. The key to this project was automotive designer and former Le Mans driving champion Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who is brought on by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to build a car that could compete with the racing titans of the world. Shelby knows that a car is only as good as the man steering its wheel, though, and despite consistent pushback from Ford marketing man Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), he eventually brings on his close friend, the sometimes difficult but brilliant English engineer and driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), to hopefully pilot this new machine to victory lane.

Surprisingly, “Ford v Ferrari” has less racing action than you might expect in its 2.5-hour runtime. Mangold really leans into the drama of Ford’s capitalistic motivations and how it complicated the achievement of its own goals due to control issues and typical business-driven decision-making. There are two standout racing sequences, however, that are exactly the edge-of-your-seat, heart-pumping, adrenaline-boosting, high-speed affairs that audiences desire. Expertly crafted and shot, then combined with the delightful roar of racecar sounds and backed with a propulsive score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, these scenes are intense as can be and evoke a rousing response. Character investment plays a big role in this, as audiences are easily drawn to rooting for the Shelby and Miles racing team due to their depiction as wholesome, driven men of integrity who are navigating a challenging business landscape to chase their dreams.

The cast is full of wonderful supporting performances, but lead actors Damon and Bale play brilliantly off of each other as both longtime friends and similarly-obsessed colleagues, with the latter being especially noteworthy for his portrayal of a devoted and loving family man who treads the line between egotistical and confident when it comes to his skill with a car. Both bring a great deal of humor to their roles, as well, and deliver a script full of wit and technical terminology with talent worthy of awards recognition. Letts is also a highlight as “Deuce”, the Ford Motor Company President determined to live up to his grandfather’s legacy and keep Ford at the top of the automotive world.

Mangold is in top-form, directing with a confidant, fine-tuned precision, and though long, “Ford v Ferrari” is so full of energy and so expertly edited that you never feel its length. Its legendary, wholesome central characters are full of charm and watching their journey is an exciting and joyful treat. “Ford v Ferrari” is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2019, a gripping biopic with thrilling action and smashing performances that is sure to satisfy both fans of human drama and autosports alike, and it will go down as one of the definitive race-car movies ever made.

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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 the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Last Christmas

Kate (Emilia Clarke) is in a bad place. Stuck in a rut of bad decision-making, she is quickly losing the patience of her friends, family, and boss Santa (Michelle Yeoh) with every new selfish choice. But this film is a romantic comedy, set at Christmastime no less, and a change of heart is precisely what the doctor ordered. Right in the midst of some of her darkest days, Kate meets Tom (Henry Golding), a charming and adventurous wanderer who has thrown off the shackles of cell phone addiction and thus begins a new relationship that will challenge her and force her to confront the person she has become.

It shouldn’t be surprising that “Last Christmas” follows a pretty formulaic trajectory. What really sets apart films in this genre isn’t the plot, but rather the writing and cast chemistry, and it just so happens that those are two things “Last Christmas” does very well. Director Paul Feig is known for his comedies, and this may be the best of the bunch. Writers Emma Thompson, Bryony Kimmings, and Greg Wise infuse the film with some wonderfully hilarious dialogue throughout, while also touching on modern-day issues in London such as the effects of Brexit on immigrants and homelessness. Words are only as good as the actors delivering them, of course, and the entire cast of “Last Christmas” is up to the task. Clarke and Golding share a touching, slow-building romantic relationship that feels natural and is easy to root for, but the comedic chemistry between Clarke and Yeoh is definitely a highlight as well. Nearly every interaction between the two led to audience laughter, as did much of Emma Thompson’s work as Petra, Kate’s Yugoslavian mother. 

Another strength of the film is its use of music. Kate is a singer and superfan of George Michael, whose songs appear frequently, mixed in among various recognizable Christmas tunes. It makes for an incredibly enjoyable soundtrack that had audience members quietly singing along throughout. And while not as often-used as the songs, Theodore Shapiro’s score is aptly moving in the film’s most tender moments.

Despite its endearing story, there is one major event that occurs in “Last Christmas” which will be extremely divisive and could single-handedly break the film entirely for some moviegoers. If you’re able to roll with it, though, the film offers a charming and inspirational tale of learning to love others above self, and how that can change lives for the better.

“Last Christmas” is the kind of movie that will put a smile on your face, and it rings in the holiday season early this fall providing one of the sweetest rom-coms in years. Its brisk pacing, balance of emotionally touching moments with gut-busting comedy, fantastic cast chemistry, and sing-along worthy soundtrack make for a fun Christmas film that will be in many a family’s holiday movie rotation for years to come.

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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 the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Midway (2019)

Fueled by a strong ensemble cast but told largely through the perspective of two Naval officers, SBD Dauntless dive bomber pilot Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Best (Ed Skrein) and the leader of the code-breaking efforts, key intelligence officer Lieutenant Commander Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson), Director Roland Emmerich’s “Midway” serves as a cinematic documentary, recounting with great historical accuracy the bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent United States military action leading up to the titular Battle of Midway in June 1942. Emmerich is best known for his disaster films, big-budget blockbusters that often feature effects-heavy destruction on a massive scale, and “Midway” presents ample opportunities for that. The attack on Pearl Harbor, Doolittle Raid, and the Battle of Midway itself portray air warfare and naval combat in World War II like no other film has. While the CGI can at times feel a bit overwhelming with burning ships and a sky full of heavy artillery tracer fire, the numerous sequences of dive-bombing runs are among the most exhilarating, jaw-dropping, and enlightening aerial combat ever put on screen.

The extremely well-executed battle sequences of the film are engaging and memorable, but what makes “Midway” special is Emmerich’s dedication to getting history right. Written by Navy veteran Wes Tooke and with advisement from historians of the Naval History and Heritage Command, “Midway” includes very little Hollywood embellishment. Many of the heroic events depicted may seem unlikely or even impossible, but the courageous actions and sacrifice on display are very real (go and read the actual award citations if you have doubts) and indicative of the extreme efforts required for the United States to emerge victoriously and prevent the Japanese invasion of Midway despite a fleet that was vastly outnumbered and expected to lose. Also, part of the focus on historical accuracy was the choice to look at what motivated Admiral Yamamoto and Japan’s entry into the war and remind audiences that the horrors of battle are not only inflicted on the side they support but those of the opposing one as well.

The film’s focus on the human stories of those who lived on both sides of this conflict is at times rousing and at others heartbreaking. There is some bumpy dialogue from its first-time screenwriter, but the character development provides enough depth to inspire, and thankfully “Midway” never gets distracted by romantic or inconsequential subplots. If there is one major fault it may be that Emmerich moves too quickly, resulting in frequently abrupt scene transitions. Another 30-40 minutes of time spent with these brave souls, further expounding on the brilliant strategy battles between the two superpowers, and allowing for a smoother progression of time between major events would have been a welcome addition.

It’s great news, though, that my biggest complaint about the film is that I wish there was more of it. “Midway” was everything I wanted it to be – a thorough and satisfying look at the events of this World War II conflict, a chance to get to know the heroic people involved, and an amazing cinematic depiction of naval and aerial combat of the time period. “Midway” is truly a war epic updated for a modern audience and sets a new standard for the marriage of U.S. Navy history and spectacle on the big screen.

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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 the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Terminator: Dark Fate

In an effort to wipe out Judgment Day completely, thus erasing the events of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and the extremely mediocre two sequels that came after it, “Terminator: Dark Fate” presents a different future for the inhabitants of Earth to avoid – one in which a cyberwarfare program called Legion has become self-aware, waged war on the world, and is close to wiping out all of humanity. Oh, you’ve heard this one before? Therein lies the primary problem with “Dark Fate.” Instead of using this fresh slate opportunity to tell a new and exciting story, the film’s six collaborating writers instead chose to tell the same one as we’ve been seeing in this series since it began, with some slight variations in which characters play what roles in the fight, of course. I’ll concede that there is commentary to be made here, and it’s even ever so briefly touched on by the film in a few scenes about fate vs. free will; but from an entertainment standpoint, seeing the same old cycle of flashy new Terminator model comes back to kill would-be-savior of the world and is resisted by strong-willed humans is more tired than wired.

This new sequel isn’t without its strengths, though. The choice to have Linda Hamilton reprise her role as the famous Sarah Connor turned out so much better than I’d expected. The super cool 63-year old fits perfectly back into character and gives a phenomenal performance full of pathos, badassery, and snarky comedy. She is a weathered soul who takes no shit from anyone and serves as a great contrast to the equally headstrong but inexperienced augmented human Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who was sent back to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes) for reasons that are entirely predictable. Davis and Reyes certainly seem committed, but the writing does them no favors, leaving the vast majority of the zingers to Hamilton and an eventual appearance by the franchise-making star himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reprising his role as the famous T-800, Schwarzenegger briefly provides a chance for the film to touch on the idea of Terminators gaining a conscience. It’s not too deep, but Arnold makes you care. Like Hamilton, the character still fits like a glove and his chemistry with her is off the charts, delivering some of the film’s very best dialogue.

It would probably be forgivable that this entry’s story is nothing unique if the action kicked ass on par with the franchise’s best. But alas, though certainly fine to watch at the moment, there is nothing memorable here. The new Terminator’s design is creative, and it’s fun to see the exoskeleton separate itself from the body to become two independently acting wholes, but no logical explanation is given on how this is accomplished and considering the writing that may be for the better. Director Tim Miller also over-uses slow motion, bringing it into nearly every action sequence at some point, and outside of the new Rev 9 Terminator splitting in two the film’s CGI is only serviceable at best while noticeably laughable at its worst.

Fans hoping that James Cameron’s involvement as Producer would lead to “Terminator: Dark Fate” returning the franchise to the greatness of its first two entries are unfortunately bound to be disappointed. Perhaps if he’d directed, this same old song and dance might have been elevated, but Miller is no Cameron, and “Dark Fate” is no “Judgment Day”. It is, however, entertaining. Full of explosively average action, with a predictable spin on a familiar narrative and a genuinely great return to an iconic character by Linda Hamilton, “Terminator: Dark Fate” may not offer anything remotely as emotionally powerful and memorable as the finale of “Rise of the Machines”, but it is easily the second-best Terminator 3 movie in the franchise.

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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 the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Zombieland: Double Tap

It’s a sequel too late in the making, but ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP squeezes out enough comedic chemistry from its excellent reunited cast to keep the audience laughing even when the lethargic plot fails to hold our attention. The original foursome of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have been living together for 10 years in The United States of Zombieland and are making a home out of the abandoned White House when the sisters once again feel the need to strike out on their own – this time because Wichita fears commitment and the all-grown-up Little Rock wants to experience adulthood on her own. From there the story is mostly a road trip, with the group meeting new survivors, facing off against more dangerously evolved zombies, and contending with a colony of pacifists along the way to restoring their little family.

The film’s primary faults lie in an extreme reuse of/reliance on material from its predecessor, Columbus’ “rules” and old jokes are recycled frequently instead of introducing fresh new ones, and a lack of emotional weight. It’s not that we don’t care whether Wichita and Columbus end up happily ever after or if Little Rock will find love, but the film never reaches the heights of the original’s climactic Pacific Playland sequence when it comes to us caring about the fates of our characters.

The original cast is definitely giving their all even with less than stellar dialogue to deliver, and Zoey Deutch’s inclusion alone will be worth the price of admission for many; her extremely “extra” survivor Madison brings about the best banter in the film and elicited theater-wide laughter numerous times. I couldn’t decide whether I found her character more maddeningly annoying, hilarious, or attractive, and I mean that as praise. Deutch’s performance is definitely the one thing I won’t forget about the film and is worthy of all the memes it is sure to inspire.

Other additions to the cast include a short but hilarious appearance by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as Albuquerque and Flagstaff, a pair of eerily similar personalities to Tallahassee and Columbus, and an appropriately badass role for Rosario Dawson. However, though not without their charm, these felt more like cameos than significant additions to the plot.

One place the film definitely shines is in the action department, where the high-octane zombie kills are more creative and realistically bloody than ever before. The easily squeamish might want to sit this one since there is vomit and gore galore, but those who can stomach it will be rewarded with some of the most exciting action of the series during the film’s standout climax.

Sadly, the lack of moving, character deepening moments holds this back from being more than just an occasionally energetic, mostly funny nostalgic trip. ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP will likely satisfy fans of the first film, but the magic isn’t quite there and it feels like a big time missed opportunity to improve upon the original’s formula. The definition of a mixed bag: see it with tempered expectations and just enjoy the ride. Oh, and be sure to stay through the credits for a special treat.

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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 the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Lighthouse


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: Gemini Man

 


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: Joker

What’s better than one opinion? Two! Aaron and Caless offer a double dose of thoughts on what is sure to be the most polarizing film of 2019.



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.

 

Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: Ad Astra



 

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.