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!

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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: 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.

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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: 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.

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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 Rider

THE RIDER (2018)

1 Hour and 44 Minutes (R)

When you ask someone to define the Western genre, it’s likely that the first thing they mention will be Cowboys and Indians or Cowboys and Outlaws, and it’s true that most films follow this formula. Even more modern Westerns like Hell or High Water and Wind River have high stakes shootouts that eventually come to bear. That’s not the case with writer-director Chloé Zhao’s film, though, and this cowboy drama is likely more Western than any of them.

The Rider follows the life of rodeo star Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) as he tries to come to terms with the ramifications of a recently suffered near fatal injury. Blackburn’s challenge lies in having no other skill set. As a Lakota cowboy on the Pine Ridge Reservation and lacking any advanced education, all he knows is breaking horses and riding bulls. He’s good at it, and feels like it’s his calling, telling his sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau), “I believe God gives each of us a purpose. For a horse it’s to run across the prairie. For a cowboy, it’s to ride.” But as the story progresses it becomes very clear that Brady’s injuries could result in permanent harm, or worse death. He’s left struggling with a question many can relate to – what do you do when you can’t do the only thing you know how to do well?

Key in Brady’s life (along with his younger sister who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome) are his father Wayne (Tim Jandreau) and closest friend Lane (Lane Scott). Lane also is recovering from life-threatening injuries, but unfortunately is paralyzed and unable to speak while being confined to a wheelchair in a hospital room. This relationship is central to Brady’s conflict. When out with local friends and family, he leans much more toward wanting to quite literally “get back on the horse”. But he also spends much of his time visiting and assisting with Lane’s rehabilitation, in one late scene holding the man’s hands in his own as if they were reigns and pretending to help him ride an imaginary horse. It’s in Lane’s pain that we see Brady wrestle with the obvious potential consequences if he continues to ride against the doctor’s advice.

The truth behind the story is almost more intriguing than what is on screen, though. Brady, his father, sister, and Lane are all played by the actual people who experienced this. That is to say, they are dramatically reenacting the events of their own lives. Even the locals are played by non-trained actors, and what’s incredible is that you can hardly tell. Zhao’s bold choice to do this seemingly pays off in the performance given by Brady. In a film with little dialogue, she relies on images and an understated soundtrack to do much of the emotional heavy lifting. The film is gorgeously shot too, capturing the landscape in its natural beauty, unmarred by modernized buildings and technology. Everything comes together and although it certainly moves at a slow pace, sitting with Brady as he drifts through this new version of his life trying to find his way is a powerful experience for every moment.

VERDICT

In The Rider, Chloé Zhao presents a much softer view of the rodeo cowboy life than audiences are used to seeing. Brady’s intelligence shows, and his internal dilemma between what he wants and what is best plays out in ways that are both painful and touching. The real-life portrayal of the Jandreau family adds another layer of realism, as well, creating a level of personal connection to the characters that may not have been reachable otherwise. As both a moving piece of storytelling and cinematic achievement, The Rider excels, and is definitely a slice-of-life Western ride worth taking.

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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: 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.

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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: 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.

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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: 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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Rampage

RAMPAGE (2018)

1 Hour and 47 Minutes (PG-13)

When you think of video games that would be prime material for a film adaptation, it is usually ones with strong story that come to mind. Rampage is based on no such game, but rather a series which began as a 1986 arcade game by Midway whose primary gameplay mechanic is simply giant monsters smashing buildings. To call this video game narratively sparse would be an understatement. Its world-building is simple: three humans are transformed by various means into monstrous creatures – George (an ape), Lizzie (a lizard), and Ralph (a wolf) – who must raze city after city to the ground before taking too much damage and reverting to human form. Not exactly a lot there to go on when writing a screenplay.

The story of Rampage the film expands on this sparse source material by setting up a world in which power corporation Energyne has developed a weaponized sort of DNA using a genetic editing drug called CRISPR. The film begins in space, where Energyne has its own gigantic private space station on which to conduct experiments, and the opening sequence sets the stage for what will come in more than one way. First, it’s extremely clear right away that Rampage will be a violent film. There is almost a horror-like quality throughout and though it’s full of humor, there is always a dark tone hanging overhead. The second thing this opening sequence tells us is that we can throw any expectations for realistic scenarios out the window as this is going to be a film that doesn’t take its story seriously. Much like the video game it is based on, the narrative here only exists to drive the monsters toward smashing and bashing as much and as often as possible.

The first animal to be accidentally infected by the mysterious drug from Project Rampage is George, an albino ape living in the San Diego Wildlife Preserve. George is a very smart gorilla and has a unique bond with primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), who has raised him from birth and communicates with him through sign language. When George transforms into a violent genetically-edited rage beast and the government tries to step in and take control, Davis sets off to save his friend in the hopes of returning him to normal. It just so happens that Davis is ex-special forces military, of course, a convenience that certainly helps the plot along. Assisting Davis in his drive to return George to normal is Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a scientist responsible for helping to create CRISPR who claims to have a cure. The two don’t only have to worry about George’s temper tantrums, though. Also in the mix is Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), representing the government and generally making the situation more complicated. Morgan’s portrayal of the mysterious agent is cowboy-like and quite similar to his role as Neegan in The Walking Dead. It is one of many eccentric performances in Rampage and how you respond to these caricatures will greatly inform your overall experience with the film.

The true villains (outside of the uncontrollable mutated wolf and lizard) are the Wyden siblings (Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy) who run Energyne. Their performances are wildly over-the-top as Ackerman is chillingly cold, calculated, and intelligent while Lacy plays a buffoon scared to death of being caught and incapable of making tough decisions. Like most evil corporations in blockbuster movies, their goals seem financial in nature and they are willing to do anything to protect their assets.

When it comes to adaptation, Rampage is just about exactly what should be expected. The action is big, brutally violent, loud, frequent, and surprisingly bloody. Several callbacks to the original games exist and fans will enjoy seeing and hearing those. The story is filled with nonsensical decision-making, an absurdly inaccurate portrayal of the military, and plenty of “they shouldn’t have survived that” moments. It also has some heart, though, and viewers will be more emotionally impacted by George and Davis’ relationship than they anticipated. The key in all of this is the consistent undertone of humor throughout, because never does the film take itself too seriously. It knows exactly what kind of big-budget B-movie schlock it is and embraces it with open arms. And for those wondering, yes, there are sexual innuendo jokes because this is 2018 and Hollywood just can’t help themselves.

VERDICT

Despite it’s close to two-hour runtime, Rampage feels shorter due to a tight pacing that propels the story forward with frequent intense action. There is absolutely nothing of real depth here, but much like the video game it is based on, the fun is in watching giant monsters destroy stuff. The film is quite horrific with its violence and really pushes against that PG-13 rating, so younger children may be too terrified to enjoy it properly. Teens and adults, however, should have a LOT of fun with the mayhem these giant creatures cause, making Rampage worthy of at least one theater viewing.

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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.