MOVIE REVIEW: The Last Full Measure

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 50 minutes

Once upon a time, I served for many years in the United States Navy. One of the heights of my career was being selected for advancement to Chief Petty Officer, a position of unique and particularly valued leadership. Before we could officially be accepted and wear our anchor collar insignia, we spent a summer being schooled in Naval history, toughened through increased physical fitness exercises, and eventually participated in a time-honored tradition that tested our mental, emotional, and physical limits while forcing us to rely on each other in ways that strengthened the bond of brotherhood between us all. As part of our Naval history training, we were required to learn about the many Medal of Honor (MoH) recipients who served in the Navy and Marine Corps. I remember vividly being at PT (physical fitness training), well before the sun had risen, reciting MoH citations verbatim in the push-up position, unable to recover and stand until we’d remembered every detail precisely. Now I know that some of you reading this will probably be thinking how cruel this sounds, but its effect on us was profound. These methods hammered home the importance of remembering and honoring those who came before. It wasn’t about having knowledge for the sake of it, we were being trained to pass down the Naval history from our generation of Sailors to the next, ensuring that the sacrifice and valor of all the man and women awarded the MoH was never, ever forgotten, or taken for granted.

“The Last Full Measure” tells the story of a man who was forgotten, though, at least in terms of being remembered equal to his action. Airman William H. Pitsenbarger was a U.S. Air Force Pararescue Jumper who served as a medic in the Vietnam War. On April 11, 1966, he entered a war zone and tended to injured men until they could be evacuated safely via helicopter. When the last helicopter was forced to leave due to heavy enemy fire, Airman Pitsenbarger waved it off, choosing to stay with the wounded infantrymen still fighting off a Viet Cong assault. Despite being wounded several times himself, he continued to treat others in any way he could and distributed ammo to those who could still resist before ultimately being killed. The battle was one of the most deadly of the war with Americans suffering heavy losses, but due to Pitsenbarger’s courageous actions at least 9 men were able to return home alive.

For his actions, Pitsenbarger was awarded the Air Force Cross. The film follows the efforts of the men he saved, his parents, and an initially reluctant Department of Defense staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) to see him recognized with the Medal of Honor, the United States of America’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration. Over the course of the film, Huffman visits many of those whose lives are owed to or were impacted greatly Pitsenbarger, with him slowly learning about their trauma from the war and the possibly covered up true events of that fateful day. Director Todd Robinson, who has worked on this project for 20 years, utilizes flashbacks to the battle in order to depict Pitsenbarger’s actions in a way we can visually understand. Admittedly, Robinson has not mastered his craft, and the film suffers from clunky transitions between past and present and some overly melodramatic camerawork at times. But Robinson’s passion for sharing Pitsenbarger’s story with the world shines through every frame and the emotional acting of this stacked veteran cast, which includes such heavyweights as Sam Jackson, William Hurt, Peter Fonda, Christopher Plummer, Ed Harris, Dianne Ladd, and Bradley Whitford. Backed by a beautiful, tender, and moving score by composer Philip Klein, I spent the second half of the film in uncontrollable tears, powerfully moved by the brotherhood, fatherhood, valor, and integrity I saw on display. 

Some critics have already faulted the film for not dealing harshly enough with the governmental concealing of information that took place and for not taking a clear enough stance on the war (as well as the mistakes revealed to have been made in Operation Abilene), but that is not the point of Robinson’s film. It is clear from the start that what Robinson wants us to do is akin to what I experienced in my aforementioned Naval training. He wants us to learn. To observe. To feel. And to remember. It would be difficult to come away from this film not wrestling with how we see these survivors struggle to cope or moved by the reverent way in which they push to see the man who gave his life for theirs honorably remembered.  The emotional swells of the film are in service of crafting a memorable experience, and to that end, I must say Robinson has achieved resounding success.

“The Last Full Measure” is certainly more heavy on drama than fighting, setting it apart from the majority of its genre kin. It is a story of perseverance paid off. A tale as much about the psychological and physical wounds of our veterans that lived as much as the heroism of the one who did not. Of healing and finding peace. And a call to stand for what is right in the face of politics that wish to suppress the truth. For everyone but those with the most cynical of hearts, “The Last Full Measure” is a fully moving experience and an admirale tribute to the effect that one man’s sacrifice had on so many. 

You can read William H. Pitsenbarger’s full Medal of Honor citation by clicking here.

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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 Gentlemen

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 53 minutes

Director Guy Ritchie’s career has taken one very strange path. Debuting in 1998, his first two feature films (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”) were foul-mouthed, offensive, comedic British crime flicks that featured boxing, gangsters, drugs, guns, money, and a wealth of quotable dialogue. Then in 2009, Ritchie sort of reinvented himself with the Robert Downey Jr. led “Sherlock Holmes”, employing a slick and ultra-stylistic filmmaking method that left the gritty streets and blood and guts behind for high-speed action photography with a recognizable shine. This style would continue in several other big-budget PG-13 flicks such as “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”, and most recently Disney’s live-action remake of “Aladdin”. But throw all that kid-friendly stuff out the window now because “The Gentlemen” is Ritchie returning to his roots in all of their wonderful, excessive, questionable glory.

There is a plot in “The Gentlemen”, but like many of Ritchie’s films, it is circular and also told through heavy use of flashback. Essentially, you have Micky Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) who is an American turned British drug lord looking to sell off his marijuana empire, and the film tells the story of how that attempt to make a deal goes down. Mickey’s primary two partners are his bodyguard Ray (Charlie Hunnam, who looks staggeringly similar to Conor McGregor in this film) and his strong, sexy, and powerful wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery). Most of the film follows the unreliable narration of a private investigator named Fletcher (Hugh Grant) who is trying to bribe his way into $20 million pounds with information on some of Mickey’s adversaries. I could go deeper into the plot, but the truth is that it just doesn’t really matter that much. I won’t recall the specifics of it in a few days. The joy in watching Ritchie’s latest film isn’t from learning what happens, it’s from seeing the characters play it out. 

Casting in the film was fantastic, as each actor seems to be thoroughly enjoying chewing up Ritchie’s obscene and sometimes shocking gangster dialogue. Grant, in particular, is a standout as a man who thinks he has all of the cards and is wittily revealing them throughout the film. It’s a quirky and downright hilarious performance that reminds me of his role in “Paddington 2”, only this time with some serious homoerotic sizzle. Colin Farrell also stands out as Coach, the mentor of a group of young boys at a local boxing club who unexpectedly gets mixed up in Mickey’s dealings. It’s fun to watch him play a good guy skillfully, and like Grant, hilariously, navigating a world of gray to black. Henry Golding also shows up as a tough guy, a way you’ve never really seen him before that was (mostly) a lot of fun to watch. And last but not least, McConaughey anchors the proceedings, oozing with confidence and charm, while also carrying the ruthless demeanor of a lion just beneath the surface, as you’d imagine one would have to do in order to build a multi-million drug empire and sustain it in a world ripe with double-crosses and in-fighting among competing kingpins. And somehow, McConaughey is probably the least interesting of the bunch. 

“The Gentlemen” is full of racist jokes and vulgar cockney slang. It might just set the record for most times the phrase “fuck off” and the word “cunt” is used in one film, and on nearly every single occasion they got a hearty laugh from the audience. It’s all in the delivery and this cast is on their A-game, supplying quotable and memorable moments at every turn. It’s easy to get lost just enjoying your time with the characters and not worry at all about the plot. There is plenty of violence, too, but aside from a few brief and super dark turns, most of it is depicted in a way that plays up the comedy.

It’s difficult to say much about the story because there are many twists and turns in the movie, perhaps too many in fact, but they do make for some fun surprises. Just know that you’re in for a very coarse bunch of dialogue, delivered from the mouths of sharply dressed men (and one woman), a ton of style, frequent side-splitting humor, and some of the most entertaining performances you will see in a theater this year. “The Gentlemen” definitely is not the film that Ritchie’s PG-13 fans will likely adore, but it is a return to his early form and it’s exciting to see him bringing another original (even if familiar) vision to cinemas once 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: Color Out of Space

Rating: Unrated / Runtime: 1 hour and 51 minutes

The best independent films do more with less. When there isn’t a massive budget to fall back on for special effects, the importance of storytelling and conveyance of mood become amplified. Operating on a $12 million budget (which I’d assume a decent chunk of went to star actor Nicolas Cage), Richard Stanley has crafted a gnarly, yet intoxicatingly beautiful aesthetic in “Color Out of Space”, which fits the bizarre nature of this story perfectly. The tale comes from an H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. We follow the Gardner family, who have not too long ago traded city life for a rural family estate located near Lovecraft’s famous setting of Arkham, Massachusetts. Nathan (Cage), the father, is a wannabe gardener and farmer who raises alpacas and is trying to embrace this new country life, while his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is doing her best to work from home via the home’s bad internet connection while recovering from breast cancer surgery. They have three children, all with their own sort of strange qualities. LaVinia (Madeleine Arthur) we first meet in the middle of some kind of Wiccan ritual that she hopes will heal her mother and eventually lead the family back to the city. Her practice of magic and dabbling in the occult continues throughout the film and leads to some pretty horrifying decision making. Her brother Benny (Brendan Meyer) likes video games, smoking weed, and helps out around the house without too much fuss. And then there is her younger brother Jack (Julian Hilliard), who is a bit of a mama’s boy still and gives the film a vessel for some freaky child-based horror. There’s also an old hippie living out in the woods who seems to notice problems with nature before everyone else and a young biologist named Ward (Elliot Knight) who pops in and out of the story and serves as a sort of documentarian for the events that take place.

The first half or so of the film, before things get really weird, I found myself very engaged. Family drama is explored and when the mysterious meteorite crashes into their yard a good amount of time is spent on slowly revealing various sci-fi anomalies that mess with the characters’ sense of sight and sound. Of course, this is based on the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft, so horror is part of the story’s DNA and once it comes, the situation gets nasty quickly. There is definitely some gore, but it’s far from overwhelming and contained to just a few scenes. For the most part, it’s the psychological nature of horror explored here, a staple of Lovecraftian storytelling, and a general haziness of time and space that overwhelms the family as the alien color begins to permeate the landscape and their lives. Cage is given the opportunity to get nuts in a few scenes, but unfortunately, it felt almost out of left-field, very forced, and not a natural reaction I expected from his character. Perhaps if he had gone all-out crazy and stuck to that versus oscillating back and forth between sanity and insanity it would have played better for me. It’s in the second half of the film, where the color from the meteorite is taking over, where I didn’t find myself enjoying it nearly as much. As mentioned earlier, the look of the film is mesmerizing and the score by Colin Stetson contributes strongly toward setting that important mood. I just didn’t care about the characters much at all, and I didn’t find the film to be saying anything vastly important about humanity and nature. It’s a tale of aliens or elder gods or whatever you want to think of them as showing up without any explanation as to why and ruining life for this family in a horrific way. The story is just lacking a bigger picture view that I think would have given it much-needed weight and stakes.

“Color Out of Space” is Stanley’s first feature film in over two decades, though, and it proves the filmmaker most famous for being fired from “The Island of Doctor Moreau” still has talent worth sharing with the world. The visuals alone are worth seeing this movie for and it never dips into lackluster boring territory, even if it doesn’t reach any memorable heights either. “Color Out of Space” is the kind of unique sci-fi and horror film that we deserve to see more of. Though the vision of their directors may not blow every viewer away, seeing something this different from mass-market blockbusters is always a 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: A Fall from Grace

“A Fall from Grace” could be a descriptor for Tyler Perry’s career at the current moment. This particular film is a drama centered on a young unproven public defender who is trying to defend the innocence of a woman who admits to killing her husband in a fit of rage until she realizes that there is more to this jilted tale than just the actions of a scorned, heartbroken wife. Twists and surprises abound in an insidious manner, coming out of left field leaving the viewer confused and underwhelmed. The storytelling experience is nothing more than constant narration that points out events and moments, giving no room for the viewer to interpret anything for themselves. Perry is reliant on many flashbacks and chooses to use a jailhouse interview between the public defender and her client in order to flesh out the meat of the film, which speaks to the issues that are present in the screenplay. Tyler Perry needs to invest in a team of advisors to review and undo the bad habits he has developed in the writing room. It has become maddening and insanely frustrating to sit through narratives with no interesting characters and cheap soap opera drama. This film and others like it are only considered “drama” based on the genre but have no real dramatic weight that you expect. You could call “A Fall From Grace” a masterclass in inconsistent tonal structure and a lack of redeemable qualities. Perry also suffers from directional ineptitude, evident in his played out stories that do nothing but reuse the same conventional tropes his fans continue to eat up. Passion is lacking, especially in the laughable and cheap production design that had environments reeking of Dollar Tree inspiration. A moment does not exist in this film where the viewer actually believes they are living in a breathing and stimulating environment; it consists of thrown together moments of melodrama complete with a redundant reality television inspired musical score. There is no figment of entertainment value that shows itself to be apparent or earned. “A Fall From Grace” is the equivalent of a life sucking drain that wastes every minute of its existence.


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.

What We Learned This Week: January 1-19

LESSON #1: JANUARY SHOULD BE RENAMED “QUALITY MOVIE HIBERNATION MONTH”— Welcome to the doldrums of winter, folks.  We all know the reality.  This is the dumping ground for movies not good enough for the Oscars and not bankable enough for spring or summer tentpole status.  Annually, expect a cheap horror movie success, a Liam Neeson ass-kicker, and big-stars cashing paychecks on weak projects. Get your enjoyment where you can with Bad Boys For Life, Underwater, Dolittle, and more.  I’m a credentialed film critic with scruples.  I haven’t been to a press screening since before Christmas.  It’s that bad and always is.

LESSON #2: “SNUBBED” IS AN OVERUSED AND UNFAIRLY USED TERM— You know, I’ve been convinced. I’m going to drink the Aaron White Kool-Aid.  When recently talking about film scores I’m listening to in the Feelin’ Film Facebook group, I labeled Matt Morton’s Apollo 11 score as “snubbed,” and Aaron admitted that term is wearing as thin with him as “masterpiece” is for me.  I do need to realize that there’s only room for five nominees each year and that the Oscars are a popularity contest of a still-poorly-comprised voting body.  These aren’t complete snubs.  They have backers and votes, just not enough.  They weren’t intentionally slighted and “snubbed” is too negative.  Better terms are needed.  Challenge accepted, Aaron.

LESSON #3: DIVERSITY AND INDEPENDENT FILM ARE STILL OVERLOOKED AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL— The challenge begins here.  Let’s not use “snub” to still talk about deficiencies in the 92nd Academy Award nominations.  For all of the so-called efforts of weening out inactive members and adding diversity, the results aren’t showing it between Green Book winning last year and this list of extremely plain nominations. Go ahead and get the #OscarSoWhite swag out again. The Academy deserves to be called out for this kind of thing.  Women and people of color (and not just black, just ask the team of The Farewell) are still missing higher recognition.  If you look at what was nominated and from what studio they came from, you will see money and favoritism talking. The movies backed by the distributors with the deepest pockets and most lavish “For Your Consideration” campaigns (especially Netflix and their quartet of The Irishman, Marriage Story, The Two Popes, and I Love My Body) scored the spots. If you were little and independent, like A24’s Uncut Gems, The Farewell, and Booksmart, you were ignored. Those losses are consistent top to bottom and not just in the major categories. It’s a minor miracle little shingle NEON squeezed what it could out of Parasite (6 nominations) and Lionsgate got anything at all for Knives Out and Bombshell. If this were politics, we would be talking about the equivalent of “campaign finance reform” from studios buying unfair favor and nominations. Maybe it’s time to open the ledgers and put some rules and limits on that.

LESSON #4: POLITICS IS GETTING IN THE WAY OF FILM CRITICISM— Speaking of politics, there’s a good chance this lesson and paragraph is the first of a future full “Soapbox” edition of “What We Learned This Week,” but I was highly intrigued recently by a piece from Jessa Crispin in The Guardian that posed the title question “Is Politics Getting in the Way of Assessing Which Films Are Actually Good?”  My instant answer is a resounding yes.  Between overly saturated opinions and the constant ego to share them without tact, there are critics that cannot write without spouting some personal assessment of politics or a movie’s politics.  I could name names for hours. I call it “projecting” and I don’t think a film review is the place for that unless said politics are concretely stated by the filmmakers as intentional and deliberate.  Call that objective over subjective.  If that’s not stated, the critic is projecting and throwing s–t to walls to see what sticks for their own fancy, ego, and thirst for clicks. Don’t get me wrong.  For as much as my website is called Every Movie Has a Lesson, I firmly believe “Every Movie Has Politics” too, but, again, that’s not material for a true film review.  Save that garbage, guess work, or, hopefully, carefully manicured discourse for a hot-button editorial labeled as such.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#121)

MOVIE REVIEW: Bad Boys For Life

Rating: R / Runtime: 2 hours and 3 minutes

An action film shouldn’t be compelled to live up to the heights of a “Die Hard” or the efficiency and marksmanship of a “John Wick” to be considered a blast at the cineplex. If an action film can deliver side-splitting humor, unbreakable chemistry between two characters, and flair that oozes its way into finely staged action set pieces, then you have a winning combination.  “Bad Boys” has been the standard of which buddy cop films have tried to emulate and walk in the same quality footsteps for the last 25 years. The new, and possibly final, entry in the trilogy carries on the same favorable hallmarks that will have longtime fans of the series sitting on cloud nine while also ingratiating newcomers who love stylish and intense blockbusters. Will and Martin remain the best one-two punch working in cinema hands down, and they enjoyed a deserved send off fit for living legends.

Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Marcus Lawrence) are still ripping the beautiful and glossy streets of Miami even with Father Time having paid them a visit. Just when things seem set for these guys to ease their way into a life after law enforcement, Mike ends up on the wrong end of an almost successful assassination attempt that has him rethinking his legendary status within Miami PD as “Bulletproof Mike”; it gives him a sense of mortality that he hasn’t gotten a drastic taste of until now. Mike wants to forge on the scorched earth path of tracking down his shooter while Marcus wants to move on from the chaos of law enforcement and settle into being a newly minted grandpa who loves watching reality television. Eventually, the two best friends realize they will need each other more than ever if they want to take down this new vicious threat who has a bit of history with Mike and is looking for bloodthirsty vengeance.

Screenwriters Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan display ambition in crafting a story that pays homage to the Bad Boys brand while also taking some new avenues in adding deep stakes to the festivities. The humor is at a high level, dividing its time between callbacks that die-hard fans will enjoy and the gold standard of back and forth banter that Will and Martin have down to a delicate science. There are serious moments centered on the passage of time, family, mortality, death, and the old adage of “every sin has a consequence”. One area of the story adds a new layer to the character of Mike Lowery and his hidden past that made him into what he is; no spoilers here, but the added dimension represents an emotional core that audiences will appreciate outside of the usual action film hijinks. We have the old guard of characters that will be familiar and a new set that adds something modern to keep the film from just being a retread of past ideas. Newcomers such as Vanessa Hudgens, Paola Núñez, Alexander Ludwig, and others do a serviceable job being more than just window dressing in the presence of Will and Martin. They aren’t fully developed but don’t become annoying either with their time on the screen. Kate del Castillo and Jacob Scipio carve out a place as brutal and intimidating antagonists who carry a clear purpose, and some might say justifiable reason, to carry out the mayhem and suffering they want to inflict on our main characters.

I will admit in my deepest thoughts of nostalgia that I did miss Michael Bay’s high-octane overindulgent action set pieces and the massive number of explosions out of nowhere this time around, but I have no problem with the restrained efforts from the directing duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. The action jumps off the screen with a certain bounce that is admirable in its use of careful quick edits and some one-take shots that are very well done. If there is any word that can describe the tone of the camera movement, it has flashy written all over it. Direct jump cuts, immediate whip pans, and handheld work will keep the viewer on the edge, creating an intensity akin to a volcano ready to explode. Hand to hand combat is strong and features some striking stunt choreography, although unfortunately, it is very easy to tell when the stuntmen are on screen apart from the actors.

If this is the end for the saga of “Bad Boys”, then it has a glorious and satisfying sendoff. This film is not an Oscar contender or even one that will stand the test of time to be known as a guilty pleasure, but it doesn’t have to be in order to show people a fun time. Will and Martin have the special kind of hard to find chemistry that is enough to compel anyone to buy a ticket, and it upholds the prestige set by its predecessors in the buddy cop genre. “We ride together, we die together, Bad Boys for life.”


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: Dolittle

Rating: PG / Runtime: 1 hour and 41 minutes

If someone had told me beforehand that this movie was essentially a kid-friendly combination of the Uncharted video game series mixed with “Pirates of the Caribbean”, where the human companions were animals and there’s a lot less combat, my teenagers wouldn’t have had to beg me to take them. That is to say, it turns out “Dolittle”, Robert Downey Jr.’s first post-MCU headliner, is actually a lot of fun and right in this adventure lover’s wheelhouse.

As much as “Dolittle” follows the titular doctor (Downey Jr.), who is a sort of super veterinarian that can communicate with animals by speaking their language, it equally is about a young boy named Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) who stumbles upon Dolittle’s overgrown estate in need of emergency animal medical support. Stubbins was out hunting with his uncle and cousin, and we quickly learn that he’s much too soft-hearted toward the cute woodland critters, which eventually makes it easy for he and Dr. Dolittle to relate. Dolittle has been a recluse up until their meeting, avoiding contact with humanity as he endlessly grieves over the loss of his wife. From there a young emissary of the Queen of England arrives, beckoning him to Buckingham Palace. The Queen has fallen ill and needs Dolittle’s help. Up until this point, the story feels pretty generic and uninteresting, but upon learning that the necessary cure lies in a magical fruit on a mythical undiscovered island that Dolittle’s wife died while searching for, the excitement rises considerably. 

The bulk of the film then plays out like a traditional adventure tale, with some highlights being a thrilling chase at-sea, the infiltration of an island of outlaws, and an ever-present over-the-top villainous rival determined to stop Dolittle and steal his praise. Along the way Dolittle must overcome his fear of opening up to others while Stubbins gets many (often amusing) life-changing lessons and discovers a passion for working with the animals. And it’s understandable why, because Dolittle’s animal friends are silly, sweet, and always entertaining.  Voicework by some big Hollywood stars is mostly a delight, with Kumail Nanjiani’s Plimpton the Emu, John Cena’s Yoshi the Polar Bear, and Ralph Fiennes’ Barry the Tiger being particular standouts. 

That’s not to say that everything comes up roses in this newest adaptation of the classic American children’s book. Downey Jr. chooses to use an odd, distracting accent and plays the character with an eccentricity that reminds of Captain Jack Sparrow. The animal banter is mostly great but there are definitely some dud jokes, too. And the CGI leaves a lot to be desired, getting increasingly more noticeably bad the more action that is taking place.

Still, even though it may not be particularly memorable, “Dolittle” ends up being a hilarious and wholesome mythical adventure that is fun for the entire family. Talking animals will always be a hit with kids and the added elements of high seas adventure and pirate-like action combined with the search for a magical item will keep teens and adults interested as well. Throw in some lovely relationship-building and a big dose of hope, and you’ve got a great option for a weekend family theater outing.

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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: Underwater

Underwater, no one can hear you scream!
(unless of course they have a mic in their dive suit helmet and you do too, and then you can definitely hear them scream but I digress)

 

It’s easier to just get the comparisons out of the way right off the bat. The hot take will be that “Underwater” is “Alien” at the bottom of the ocean. And, of course, there’s some truth to that, or people wouldn’t be saying it. Sure, “Underwater” follows a female primary protagonist, who is part of a crew trying to stay alive amidst the presence of mythical deadly creatures, but much of the film plays out a lot more straightforward than you might expect, instead resembling a traditional natural disaster escape movie.

Narratively, “Underwater” isn’t too deep (heh), and that’s perfectly alright. Director William Eubank makes a great choice utilizing the credits sequence to provide background information that normally would be delivered via boring, pace-slowing exposition. Instead, a collection of newspaper articles, scientific papers, and memos flashing behind the credits tell us that our setting is a drill site in the Mariana Trench, where the deepest drilling in history is taking place, and that reports of mysterious shadowy creatures have been made. Once inside Kepler Station, we meet Norah (Kristen Stewart), reflecting on the isolation and timelessness of life in the deep while brushing her teeth. Within minutes, though, a breach of the station hull occurs due to an earthquake and what follows is a 90-minute rush to rescue, survive, and escape. Along the way, Norah, a mechanical engineer, teams up with fellow survivors. They include a wise-cracking, Alice in Wonderland obsessed goof played by T.J. Miller (who surprisingly has a few jokes actually land), their calm and collected Captain (Vincent Cassell) of the station, and a few others. The Captain proposes a dangerous plan where they will don their deep-sea suits, descend, and then traverse the nearly 7-mile deep ocean floor to reach another station that still has working escape pods. They all know it’s insane, but they have no choice. What follows is a suspenseful group effort to stay alive; some do, some don’t. At times it definitely gets ridiculous and some of the more chaotic action is nearly incoherent in the dark watery setting, but mostly it’s a hell of a lot of fun, with the dialogue kept at a minimum and the propulsive intensity dialed up high throughout. Stewart is a capable lead and her considerable talent is on display, even when not really necessary. She carries an emotional weight for the crew that elevated the film for me, and she is also a part of the film’s most memorable monster moment.

The concept of “Underwater” certainly could have been presented in a longer, smarter, and more dramatically heavy film – one that isn’t so predictable, doesn’t play fast and loose with science, and gives a more thorough explanation about the creatures encountered. But that’s not this movie, and as I said in the beginning, that’s okay. What “Underwater” does is deliver a fast-paced, claustrophobic, action-thriller (backed by an excellent Marco Beltrami/Brandon Roberts score) that works perfectly fine without sea monster aliens even introduced, but that takes joy in leaning into its creature feature third act. It’s wild and at times silly, but I had a great time watching it and would gladly sit through it again when it releases on home video. Not every movie needs to have depth (heh again) to be entertaining, even if its title makes you think otherwise.

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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: Like A Boss

Comedy is in need of a defibrillator to bring back the beating heart of creativity in order to get rid of a plague consisting of worn-out trends. Writers seem to be lacking the ability to sit down and really brainstorm new jokes and punchlines that haven’t been heard before. Unfortunately, most general audiences will not bat an eye at being spoon-fed the same crass and raunchy humor because it all feels so familiar and comfortable. Excitement, however, does not come from being content and set in your old ways; there has to come a time where taking a risk is more than just an obscure concept. Humor encompasses greatness only by testing new heights and staying away from the road heavily traveled.

“Like A Boss” struggles to reach even the low bar of generic and redundant humor that fails to activate motion for the funny bone. Every punchline and sequence has been featured in dozens of films before, and it is puzzling to think what the writers were trying to accomplish. The focus is on two best friends (Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne) who run a makeup business that has fallen on hard times; they become the victims of mixing business with friendship, egged on by the greedy and predatory actions of a forthcoming benefactor (Salma Hayek). Haddish continues to spin like a broken record, playing the same loud and obnoxious character that sponsored her breakthrough into Hollywood stardom. It is very hard to understand what leading appeal Haddish continues to have for directors and studios because this act has gotten old and overdone. Byrne and Hayek do what they can to save the proceedings, bringing just enough credibility and talent to slightly overcome the cringe dialogue. I commend their attempt, at least, because they deserve so much better than this. Billy Porter is the only one who can make lemonade out of lemons, providing the only genuine laughs of the film. Everything else feels like a movie that is checking off boxes. Some of the lowlights include an opening monologue describing a wet dream with Barack Obama, weed-related hijinks that seem taken from a film like “Pineapple Express”, sexual humor that seeks to objectify women despite a supposed “female empowerment” vibe, Instagram references, and the quote “You smell so fresh and clean, like a thermometer before it goes in your butt”. None of this is hyperbole, this is the “high mark” comedy that is presented to the viewer.

If a person is not looking to be challenged and has a particular palette for the kind of routine, raunchy humor described, then this might be something worth seeing in theaters. For most, though, this film is Basic Comedy 101, underwhelming and downright bland. “Like A Boss” is, to put it bluntly, a waste of time, and it’s too bad there wasn’t a stronger boss in charge of the creativity department.


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: Just Mercy

The American criminal justice system was envisioned to be built on the ideas of fairness, justice, and due process for its citizens, a system that has a responsibility to give those citizens a fair trial, a court-appointed lawyer, and that operates under the adage “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”. Throughout history, this has been the opposite for those who have the distinction of being African American and of lower than privileged socioeconomic means. The United States has a bad track record of people wrongfully shackled under the thumb of the correctional system based on flimsy evidence and a lack of procedural aptitude; the same shortcomings have lead to innocent individuals losing their lives at the hands of a retributive government practice known as the death penalty. “Just Mercy” tells the story of one man’s fight to escape the clutches of a broken system with the help of a heroic lawyer willing to do the impossible.

Not enough praise can be showered on the plethora of terrific acting performances that can be found throughout this film. Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx play off each other with deep conviction and dedication to their respective roles; Jordan is electric as the headstrong lawyer who is putting everything on the line to help inmates get off death row, while Foxx turns in one of his more compelling performances as a victim of injustice and racism. Character actor extraordinaire Tim Blake Nelson impresses me highly in the few moments he had to share, physically and mentally turning himself into a traumatized empty shell who is a victim of coercion. If there is one actor who carves their own mark away from the rest, it is Rob Morgan. Morgan is phenomenal, the equivalent of a sixth man in the NBA  who comes off the bench and drops 40 points to the surprise of everyone. His personal moments as a man on the brink of execution touch the soul with great heartbreak and tragedy, giving us the most emotionally charged moments that will bring any viewer to an uncontrollable amount of tears. Brie Larson, in my opinion, stands as one of the few actresses in Hollywood who is must-see but sadly does not fit the distinction in this forgettable role. She is not in control of a story that doesn’t give her much activity when it comes to more powerful moments and she lacks presence compared to the other actors, while her attempt at a Southern dialectic o is missing the juice needed to feel convincing.

Destin Daniel Cretton (“Short Term 12″) displays an inherent trait of allowing the characters on screen to show off a strong sense of humanity and imperfection. The whole film is a testament to thematic drama in its purest form. Cretton gathers plenty of kudos for his use of emotionally telling close-ups and Steadicam shots that put you in the center of the environment, rife with equal parts hope and fear. It would have been very easy for this to be another assembly line cliche-filled melodrama complete with a lineup of white saviors but this is filled with genuine attention and care to the topic at hand. The ugliness of African Americans being wrapped up as victims of a system characterized by racism and oppression will not be lost on anyone, and the fact that we still are plagued by these problems is a hard pill to swallow. If “Just Mercy” teaches us anything, the lesson is that we each have an obligation to fight and stand for the ones who cannot, the ones who are voiceless and invisible based on their bank account or their ethnic roots.

A powerful and profoundly deep drama, “Just Mercy” is a film that deserves to be seen by anyone who shares the same passion in doing right by the people who deserve it the most.  This biopic is a true story that should be treated in the glow of the American Hero narrative. It is an indictment on a criminal justice system that needs to be torn down and rebuilt with a sense of fairness for all.


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.