MOVIE REVIEW: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO (2018)

When the man behind a suicide bombing at a Kansas City supermarket is revealed to have entered the country through the border between Texas and Mexico, the President of the United States is in a position to officially deem human trafficking a terrorist activity, giving them more latitude to deal with the controversial issue. With the intention of waging a battle on this new front in the war on terror, Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver and his team are given the task of firing the first shot.

“It might get dirty.”

“Dirty is why you’re here.”

Stefano Sollima’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado is the follow up to Denis Villeneuve’s outstanding Sicario that no one really knew we needed but were all, nevertheless, curious to see. Gone is Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer, the young FBI agent who served as the conscience and the audience stand in in the first film. Returning are Graver and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), as well as their unorthodox, but unarguably effective, ways of dealing with troubles at the border. Their plan is simple. They are going to kidnap the 16 year old daughter of the cartel kingpin who killed Alejandro’s family and make it look like it was another cartel. The intention is to start a turf war between cartels so that the war on trafficking will be fought against distracted opponents. But of course, nothing is simple at the border.

To tell more would be to give too much away. Sollima has managed to craft a follow-up that perfectly inhabits the world created in Sicario. Villeneuve had a way of putting his camera in places that made the audience feel like they were in the vehicle crossing the border or in the hidden tunnels used to traffic drugs. Sollima, especially in action sequences, gives us that same perspective, heightening the tension with every note of Hildur Guonadottir’s haunting score. One of the biggest obstacles to a sequel in my mind was going to be that the protagonist (I use that term loosely) of this film was going to be a guy who we saw murder women and children in the first film. Taylor Sheridan is able to more fully round out the character of Alejandro in a way that doesn’t ask the audience to root for him but also doesn’t allow him to be despised. Once again, Del Toro is electric in the role, but at this point in his career, saying that Benicio Del Toro is great is pretty redundant because he’s just fantastic in everything. Most of the tales that Hollywood tells of hitmen either glamorize or bring a sense of humor to the profession. S:DotS shows us the blunt reality of the job, but Del Toro never lets Alejandro become a monster. Speaking of redundant, Josh Brolin is also fantastic as Graver. His character isn’t fleshed out too much more (other than apparently he’s left his flip-flops behind for a comfy pair of Crocs), but being in the dark about his past is what makes his character work so well. Isabela Moner shows a deep inner strength as Isabel Reyes, the kidnapped teen, even as she’s completely terrified and in the dark as to what’s happening to her.

This film is tight, this film is tense, and this film is timely. Child separation, human trafficking, terrorism…those are all things that you can read about on the front page of your newspaper tomorrow morning. And Sicario: Day of the Soldado doesn’t presume to have any answers to these issues. While the original gave us Kate Mercer and her earnestness and her moral compass to see this world through, this film kind of just makes us sit in the filth and be disgusted (hopefully) by the machinations on both sides of this volatile scenario. There aren’t winners. There aren’t losers. It’s all just dirty.

So don’t go see Sicario: Day of the Soldado if you need a couple of hour diversion from your problems. But if you want a thoughtful, well-executed thriller, you’re not afraid to sit with a bit of ambiguity, and you enjoyed (or at least saw) the first installment, I think it’s worth your time.

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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: Ant-Man and the Wasp

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

2 Hours and 5 Minutes (PG-13)

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOVIE REVIEW: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

2 Hours and 8 Minutes (PG-13)

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

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

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

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

VERDICT

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

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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: Tag

TAG (2018)

1 Hour and 40 Minutes (R)

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

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

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

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

VERDICT

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

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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: Incredibles 2

INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

1 Hour and 58 Minutes (PG)

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

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

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

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

VERDICT

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

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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: Ocean’s 8

OCEAN’S 8 (2018)

1 Hour and 50 Minutes (PG-13)

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

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

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

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

VERDICT

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

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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: Hotel Artemis

HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018)

1 Hour and 34 Minutes (R)

“It’s a busy night in the Artemis.”

The setting is Los Angeles 2028, on a Wednesday (that’s important, or at least it’s repeated enough times to make you think it is). The city’s water supply has been privatized and a primary provider is cutting off access which results in the most violent riots in the city’s history. This is the backdrop for Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) and his brother’s attempt to rob a vault. But when things go south, the pair of criminals must seek medical attention in Hotel Artemis, a special membership-only resort for unsavory types. While at Artemis, Sherman runs into other various underworld characters including the dangerous and mysterious assassin Nice (Sofia Boutella), cocky and mouthy arms-dealer Acalpuco (Charlie Day), and the two caretakers of the hospital – Nurse (Jodie Foster) and Everest (Dave Bautista). Much brutal and violence in a stylized aesthetic ensues, while backed by an awesome pounding electronic Cliff Martinez score.

The best parts of Hotel Artemis sadly come only in pieces. Foster’s performance is wonderful, but like the rest of the cast her efforts are hampered by a sub-par script. Sure, there is humor that works and one-liners that result in hearty laughter, but with few exceptions the rushed character development isn’t deep enough to create the kind of emotional response the film is clearly hoping for. Likewise, the socioeconomic issue outside the hotel and the fun little futuristic tech (like freaking 3D printed organs) are never given much more than a nod either. And Jeff Goldbum’s excellent turn as the Hotel’s owner, The Wolf King of L.A., is unfortunately only a juicy cameo that also fails to pay off a major emotional turn.

The action, though, is one thing that this film has going for it throughout. It does take a bit of time to build up to, but it’s worth the wait seeing Dave Bautista and Sofia Boutella getting their fight on. Things get quite brutal and bloody, just as the tone of the film has implied they should, making for a rather exciting and enjoyable third act.

VERDICT

Fans of John Wick who go into Hotel Artemis expecting more of the same are sure to be at least somewhat disappointed. Though the film does provide some fun action and ideas, its hurried world-building and character development only hint at the potential this story has. Ultimately, Hotel Artemis offers very little that is unique or memorable, wasting a solid cast in a merely passable film that most won’t see and few who do will ever revisit.

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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.

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: HEARTS BEAT LOUD, 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: DON’T WORRY HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, BEAST, MICHELIN STARS: TALES FROM THE KITCHEN

Skip: LITTLE TITO AND THE ALIENS


DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT (120 minutes)

Joaquin Phoenix transforms into the wheelchair-bound recovering alcoholic John Callahan in Gus Van Sant’s biopic about the famous Portland cartoonist. Phoenix’s powerful and wide-ranging emotional performance is matched by the most vulnerable work of Jonah Hill’s career as he portrays Callahan’s AA group leader and friend. Don’t Worry is an often humorous, thoughtful look at the challenge of dealing with addiction and affliction, but it also features an odd use of non-linear storytelling and wastes the talented Rooney Mara in a forgettable role as Callahan’s trophy girlfriend. See it for the stand-out acting and ultimate message of hope.

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THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (98 minutes)

In this stunningly true story, triplets separated at birth discover one another and fall into brotherly love before deeper, darker secrets are revealed regarding the circumstances of their detachment. Compelling right from the start, high energy and an intriguing structure keep this documentary fresh as it considers the age old question of nature vs. nurture. At its best when telling of the boys’ experiences while both together and growing up apart, the film isn’t quite as strong after its shocking reveal and during its subsequent exploration of why this all happened. The tragedy of the tale is incredibly emotional and thought-provoking, though, making us consider the line between humanity and science through the lens of very real people whose lives were dictated for them in ways they never expected.

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[All SIFF showings have passed; wide release on June 29, 2018]


HEARTS BEAT LOUD (98 minutes)

Hearts Beat Loud is not just the witty title of this third feature film from Brett Haley, but also a prophetic description of the physiological response it evokes. Frank (Nick Offerman) is stellar as a hip, but childish, widowed father whose last vestige of connection with his soon-to-be med student daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is a shared love of music. The catchy tunes they create bring out the feels but this thoughtful, realistic story about coping with the challenges that life brings keeps us emotionally invested through its charming, heartwarming exploration of parenthood, love, and facing the future.

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[All SIFF showings have passed; wide release on June 8, 2018]


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.

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

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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

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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.

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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)

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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)

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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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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: Hereditary

HEREDITARY (2018)

2 Hours and 7 Minutes (R)

It’s the morning after I saw Hereditary and I’m still alive. I didn’t have a nightmare, and I slept just fine. I guess it’s not quite the scariest movie ever made? That being said, there is plenty of frightening imagery and a very chilly atmosphere throughout that do contribute to one heck of a tense viewing experience. This directorial debut by Ari Aster may not be a perfectly tuned gem, but it offers something fresh and terrifying in ways audiences are not used to seeing.

Hereditary is the story of a family’s struggle to overcome the tragic fate which seems destined to befall them. Annie (Toni Collette), a miniature design artist, has recently lost her mother, a woman whom with she had a fractured and contentious relationship with. She is torn between feelings of sadness over the death, and also guilt over a lack of it. In the aftermath of her mother’s absence she begins to discover spiritual secrets that hint at a very dark past, one that has greatly impacted Annie’s two children, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro).

There honestly isn’t much more that can be said about the narrative without diminishing the surprises to come. What transpires is a horror tale heavily influenced by Greek tragedy. For the first two acts, it is the definition of slow-burn. The aforementioned atmosphere is cold and dark with an air of dread hanging over the family constantly. The scares come infrequently and often Aster misdirects by lingering in a scene long enough to get audience expectations up before moving on without giving the jump scare we are conditioned to receive. What is most frightening in this section is the depth and pain of the family drama at the film’s heart. It shouldn’t be shocking that a family with evil secrets in their DNA have relationship issues, and these play out deliciously with Collette leading the way. Her performance is probably the best one I’ve ever seen in a horror film by a leading lady, and that includes The Exorcist. Her ability to emote crippling grief, fear, rage, and pain is unbelievable. Luckily we spend most of our time with her because she is absolutely the film’s greatest strength. Unfortunately, this also serves as an accidental detriment, because her children simply can’t live up to the powerful work she puts in. Wolff, in particular, is asked to carry a heavy load, but simply isn’t on Collette’s level. This draws attention to the fact that there is acting happening and pulled me out of the film at times. Gabriel Byrne, playing Annie’s husband Steve, is up to task in a much smaller role, though. His quiet patience and strength as he consistently tries to hold his dysfunctional family together despite the unraveling happening before him is inspiring and resulted in a great amount of empathy for his character.

The cinematography in Hereditary is also awfully good. Annie’s miniature workshop provides the basis for quite a few interesting scenes and the camera’s focus on characters having a breakdown (which happens a lot) really creates a sense of closeness that heightens their emotional release. Likewise the score contributes greatly to the overall perilous mood, and even more so the sound editing is fantastic and a major factor in keeping the audience on the edge at all times. For movies to become classic they need something iconic that can be referenced in future generations, and much like the singing of “Time Is On My Side” in Fallen, the use of tongue clicking in Hereditary will be implanted in your memory forever.

Despite many strengths, the film does disappoint in ways. The third act is a major tonal shift that some may feel is warranted due to the build-up before, but it was jarring and unenjoyable for me. Throughout the story it also felt to me like horror tropes were being checked off of a list and when the supernatural was shown it took away from my enjoyment of the subtle horror displayed within the pulse-pounding mysterious and emotional family drama. This final act took all of that supernatural stuff and cranked it up to 11, providing the shock factor missing previously and ending with a punch that may have been unexpected but left me with the lingering question of, “Do I even care”?

VERDICT

Hereditary is no doubt an audacious debut from a new filmmaker that will likely be talked about all year long and potentially feature heavily in the end-of-year awards conversation. Toni Collette’s performance is stunning and will by itself terrify many viewers. The horror story at the heart of Hereditary, though, is not something tremendously unique. Though the method of revealing its dark secrets is fresh, the evil here is forgettable. If you’re looking for jump scares, this probably isn’t the film for you. But if you enjoyed A24’s previous release The VVitch, you’ll most likely fall in love with the first two acts of this as well. That final act is truly the separating point. Where some see instant classic and walk away shaken and unable to sleep, I was simply annoyed and left feeling that an opportunity for true greatness was just missed.

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: Upgrade

UPGRADE (2018)

I’m really going to miss Movie Pass. I’ll understand when it goes away. It makes sense that it would fail. But I’m going to really miss going to see a movie I’d never even heard of on the spur of the moment because it’s already paid for. Without Movie Pass, I never would have seen Upgrade.

Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade takes place in the near future and tells the story of Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green in a performance that will help me finally stop confusing him for Tom Hardy), a man who has just witnessed his wife’s murder and been paralyzed and left for dead by his attackers. When he’s given the opportunity to regain the use of his arms and legs thanks to an experimental new technology called STEM, he uses his new lease on life to hunt the people responsible for his wife’s death while attempting to stay one step ahead of the cop assigned to the case (Betty Gabriel). But it’s starting to look like there’s more to this STEM technology than meets the eye.

Upgrade is a tense, violent thriller with solid action and a dark sense of humor. While it’s not scary, it’s not difficult to see that Leigh Whannell cut his teeth in the horror genre as the film slowly builds to it’s frenzied third act. It creates a fascinating future world that feels real and lived in thanks to some cinematography by Stefan Duscio. You don’t have to suspend disbelief to buy into this being the way the world looks in just a few years. When you put those two together with a solid performance from Marshall-Green, it adds up to my favorite movie of the summer thus far.

If you’re suffering from franchise fatigue and craving an original, self-contained story outside of any cinematic universes this summer, you could do a lot worse than Upgrade. Did I mention it’s only 95 minutes long? It’s great! Thanks Movie Pass!

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.