MOVIE REVIEW: A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Rating: G / Runtime: 1 hour and 26 minutes

There is something I find sincerely appealing about stop-motion animation, be it in the style of Laika or Aardman, who utilizes a beautiful and detailed claymation technique. Both styles of animating take significantly longer than CGI or even hand-drawn technique and is a big reason why these studios can’t pump out new films at the rate Disney and Pixar do. The first “Shaun the Sheep” film came out over four years ago and grossed over $100 million at the box office. This sequel was inevitable, but crafting it took time. 

“Farmageddon” is, in a nutshell, a remake of Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”, with a much cuter alien and an overwhelming amount of references to other famous science fiction films and television sprinkled throughout. The extra-terrestrial, in this case, is Lu-la, a small light blue and pink alien with telekinesis and a powerfully loud/forceful belch. Her space ship lands in a forest and while she’s out exploring, it’s not long before the government sends Agent Red and a team to examine the landing and seek out answers.

Back on the farm, Shaun and his sheep family are living their normal everyday lives, being trouble-makers and fighting with Bitzer the farmer’s sheepdog. When Lu-la stumbles across Shaun and the group, they embark on an adventure of discovery with the goal of ultimately hoping to find Lu-la’s ship so that she can return home. There’s not a lot more to be said about the plot, although Agent Red does have some backstory that provides a reason for why she is so driven. It culminates in one of the sweeter moments of the film and is a welcome character development choice to take her beyond just the typical cookie-cutter governmental baddie. 

Those concerned about the silent nature of Shaun the Sheep films should honestly not be worried at all. I remember being incredibly surprised at how much I loved “Shaun the Sheep” back in 2015 despite the lack of dialogue and in “Farmageddon” I didn’t even miss it. The soundtrack and score show up perfectly, and sound effects are used to greatly enhance the already incredibly expressiveness of the claymation. Because this film is playing so heavily off of sci-fi films of the past, there are frequent musical cues that callback to famous themes, and it was a joy hearing one each and every time. Additionally, the aforementioned soundtrack does a wonderful job of occasionally letting the lyrics being sung help tell the story of what is happening on-screen at that moment. This tactic is used sparingly, but with great success.

References to favorite sci-fi properties are plentiful, and though the story of “Farmageddon” is tender, easy to follow, and full of hilarious goofy action, picking out these moments will be great for major fans of the genre. For one thing, there is the required mention of Area 51. Then the “Alien” tie-is done in a brilliant way that makes it kid-friendly. There are also “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Signs”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Dr. Who” references and more. Agent Red even has a sidekick robot named Muggins that looks like a combination of Wall*E and Johnny 5 and serves as equal parts investigative partner and filing cabinet. This robot will quickly win kids over and is easily one of the film’s highlights. 

“Farmageddon” may not possess the deepest of storylines but that makes it accessible for everyone. With plenty for older geeks to enjoy along the way, this is a rare G film that parents and kids can sit through and enjoy equally together. It moves at a breezy pace and the cute factor is off the charts. This cosmic adventure is all-ages entertainment at its best. Pull up Netflix, hit play, and enjoy.

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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: Sonic the Hedgehog

Rating: PG / Runtime: 1 hour and 39 minutes

Let me just get this out of the way up front. I can confirm that Sonic does indeed go fast! Very fast, in fact. Almost as fast as the studio lept into action and changed the CGI animation of their titular character after extreme internet backlash following the original trailer’s release. That choice was a wise one, removing the creepily human similarities that made the character look very different than its video game origins. The newer design of Sonic is much more approachable, relatable, and adorable, and it likely salvaged Paramount’s chance at having the Sega game adaptation become a success. 

It’s no secret that films based on video games have been more miss than hit, and there are a number of understandable reasons why this is the case. Low budgets at times, a lack of talent or star power, or misunderstanding the market desire for a film version of a game to name a few. The list goes on. But one very real challenge that many adaptations face was something that “Sonic the Hedgehog” can actually count as a strength. The video game style of Sonic, you see, is not extremely narrative-driven, and thus the character is much more of an open slate with which to explore a new storytelling medium. Most casual audience members will simply go into the film knowing that Sonic is a cute furry blue hedgehog-like creature that runs super-fast and collects rings. The film smartly wastes no time in quickly getting most of its lore dump out of the way, showing us see where Sonic came from, explaining to us the power of these iconic collectible rings, and introducing Sonic’s nemesis. 

With the background in our rearview, “Sonic the Hedgehog” can get down to the business of crafting an adventure for the blue devil in the modern world. Sonic (Ben Schwartz) lives a lonely existence. He inhabits a small cave in the forest outside of small-town Green Hills, MT and enjoys watching Tom and Maddie Wachowski (James Marsden and Tika Sumpter) from afar, but he constantly dreams of a world in which he is not alone and can interact with the local humans. Eventually, that happens. After an emotional outburst sets off a special power Sonic was unaware that he has, the government comes calling, sending in their egotistical genius scientist Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) and his legion of drones to capture and study what they believe in an alien specimen of great value. The majority of the movie is made up of Sonic and Tom on a quest to keep him safe, having hilarious and exciting encounters while developing a growing friendship that neither quite knows how to handle. All the while they are chased by the evil, mustache-twirling Robotnik. It’s a performance by Carrey that calls back to his comedic brilliance of the past with him commanding the screen and delivering deliciously ridiculous dialogue in the perfect tone of a video game villain. While Marsden definitely does solid work, even with some slight emotional nuance, and Sonic is competent though unspectacularly voiced by Schwartz, this is Carrey’s movie through and through. True to his name, he carries the film and keeps it enjoyable throughout.

Action pieces in the film are a mixed bag. Some are exciting and others exist only to generate hearty laughs and play with Sonic’s speed in interesting ways, like a slow-motion bar fight that is reminiscent of Quicksilver’s memorable moment in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” or comparable sequences in any number of iterations of The Flash. You probably won’t remember the specifics of any action a day or two later, but it’s never boring and the kids are going to love it. What is more surprising is how emotionally resonant the heart of the film is. Despite some really on-the-nose references to family, Sonic clearly desires one and we want that for him. By the end, you may even find yourself tearing up a bit at some of the sweet character interactions that occur. 

Film adaptations of video games have been so bad for so long that the low bar has reached a point that isn’t honestly that hard to clear. “Sonic the Hedgehog” is certainly nothing special, but it’s a perfectly fun new version of the character to spend an hour and a half with that both scratches the nostalgia itch with its frequent references to the source material and is modern enough to keep younger audience members engaged at the same time. The end of the film teases a sequel and maybe the biggest endorsement of this film I can give is that I truly hope it happens.

** There are two scenes at the end of the film, one of which is mid-credits that you don’t want to miss! **

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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 (Blu-Ray): First Love

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 48 minutes

Japanese director Takashi Miike is nothing if not prolific. “First Love” marks his sixtieth film in the past twenty-four years and tells the story of Leo (Masataka Kubota), a terminally ill young boxer, who by accident or fate bumps into Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a young drug-addicted prostitute, and is unwittingly caught up in a crazy night of chaos on the streets of Tokyo between warring Japanese and Chinese gangs. All of this is brought on by a young Japanese gangster named Kase (Shōta Sometani) scheming with Otomo (Nao Ōmori), a corrupt cop, to steal and sell yakuza-owned drugs in order to ignite a mafia war between the Japanese and Chinese factions. Stories like this, of course, would be quite boring if everything went according to plan, and so as you’d expect the night goes to hell quickly, and in true Miike form – violently. 

American viewers coming to Miike’s films for the first time may see a resemblance to Quentin Tarantino in the way that the director uses violence. For large parts of the film’s running time, it maintains a dramatic noir-like tone, with small doses of comedy, but in a few specific scenes, he unleashes an explosion of bloody violence. The yakuza are known for wielding swords as well as machine guns and heads quite literally roll at one point. The action includes gunfights, sword fights, martial arts, and body parts flying, and though prevalent, is not non-stop, but scattered throughout in a way that makes the film’s pacing work well. Miike is always building to something, and the climax is full of the stylistic action choreography fans of series like “John Wick” will enjoy. The film’s score and sound design are also noteworthy. Both are exceptional at mood-setting and suspense-building, and contribute much to the film’s action pieces in terms of amping up the excitement, as well.

Emotionally speaking, “First Love” does have at its core a romance brewing, but it’s subtle and not in your face or overly unrealistic in the way that many love stories are. The relationship is one of two people finding redemption, overcoming despair and addiction, and finding something worth fighting and living for together. When the sun rises after this deadly night, lives will have been changed forever, and the ways in which Miike connects us to his characters throughout the film leaves viewers very invested in both their individual and collective future. 

“First Love” is a thoroughly engaging modern-day Asian gangster film. Its blend of action, drama, comedy, style, and violence make it an entertaining watch and a fantastic introduction to Miike’s filmography. 

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Blu-Ray Bonus Features: 

The only two bonus features on the Blu-Ray disc are three film trailers (“Ip Man 4: The Finale”, “The Divine Fury”, “Freaks”) and an English language audio track. English dubs of foreign language films are notoriously terrible, but while I wouldn’t recommend watching the film with this track on, I can also say that it is one of the better ones I’ve ever heard. Again, I say “better” only relative to the fact that most are completely unbearable to listen to. It is, however, solid enough that I was able to get through the entire film and not lose enjoyment because of the voices. You definitely will lose a lot of context and expression, but the track is there for those who prefer it.

“First Love” was provided by Well Go USA Entertainment for this review. You can buy the film on VOD, Blu-Ray, and DVD on February 11, 2020.


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: Birds of Prey

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 49 minutes

As sold by its marketing, “Birds of Prey” is a total blast of glittery, violent, girl power from start to finish. Picking up soon’ish after the events of “Suicide Squad” (though you have no need to see that film in order to follow this one), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has had it with her Puddin’, a.k.a. The Joker, and is ready to end their relationship for good because she’s tired of being taken for granted. This presents a major problem for Harley, though, because without the fear that Joker strikes in her enemies as protection, a whole host of people she has wronged are about to come calling. Among these are crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) a.k.a. Black Mask and Gotham City PD detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez). Montoya is a cop who has been passed over despite her accomplishments in police work while her male co-workers take the credit and advance ahead of her. To her, bringing in Harley is part of a bigger case she’s been chasing, and this woman takes law and order seriously. Sionis is just another rich, eccentric, nasty, evil underlord, flanked by his loyal servant/muscle Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), who wants to own everything and everyone in town, Harley included.

The overall script is honestly pretty silly and all over the place. In less than two hours it tries to focus on Harley’s life of independence, Renee’s frustration with lack of support from the police chief, and Sionis chasing down a diamond that has been inadvertently stolen by a young orphan street thief named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), as well as introducing us to the superheroines Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) a.k.a. Black Canary and Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a.k.a. The Huntress. It’s in these backstories where the film falters most, as its structure takes the approach of using flashbacks frequently to tell us who these people are once we’ve already been introduced to them. The same thing happens a couple of times with Harley and in every single instance, it robs the film of precious momentum. It also should be noted that while this film is called “Birds of Prey”, this is really the Harley Quinn show, and there is much, much less attention given to the other characters for most of its running time. That’s okay, though, because Robbie’s performance as Harley is as nuanced as ever, really outpacing the rest of the cast, and she does a great job of taking the character through new emotional ranges while never ceasing to provide the clever, hilarious dialogue and unpredictable decisionmaking we expect. If there is an MVP among the supporting cast, it’s definitely McGregor. The veteran actor is clearly enjoying himself and having a blast going full comic book with his performance. It works great in the context of the film, although if he’s supposed to be more powerful or scary as his alter ego Black Mask, that was not conveyed well at all and rendered any time his supervillain identity was used a pretty big letdown.

Director Cathy Yan reached out to Chad Stahelski, director of the “John Wick” series and founder of the renowned stunt work studio 87Eleven, to help with vision for the film’s action scenes, and it definitely shows. The action choreography is awesome and shot beautifully by acclaimed cinematographer Matthew Libatique. The color palette being mostly muted with the exception of big, bold splashes makes the film visually striking. It always looks great, and seeing it in IMAX was a treat. The soundtrack kicks major ass and like the frequent kinetic action, it is almost always on. This is a rock and roll concert of a comic book film that is unlike any you’ve ever seen, but that does remind in many ways of movies that came before like “Tank Girl”.

“Birds of Prey” is not shy about its empowerment message and all of the characters here have suffered abuse of some kind by men. These women are all about taking their lives into their own hands and making their own way, a strong and positive thought. It’s fun to see a film get to go wild with his idea and serve as a catharsis for many women in audiences who will likely relate to what those on-screen have gone through. I did, however, find the film’s lack of balance to bring it down just a notch. There is not one single male character in the film who isn’t in opposition or causing harm to the ladies in some way (be it physical, emotional, or even just a small act of betrayal). Not one. It paints an unrealistically cruel world in which every male is a villain and that is going to be tough for some viewers to watch. For those willing to reflect on how that makes them feel and why, I think there can be value, but on the surface, it was a choice that somewhat lessens the ability for the movie’s message to translate into real life.

Despite some nitpicks and its big structural flaw, “Birds of Prey” is an incredibly funny and exciting film to watch in the vein of Marvel’s fourth-wall-breaking “Deadpool” series. It serves as yet another unique entry into the DC comic book universe that provides a stylistic experience and delivers its story from a perspective that we haven’t seen before. There may not be a ton of depth worth mining in this ultra-violent (yet somehow not super gory) comedic affair, but “Birds of Prey” is one helluva badass female-led blockbuster that is a great addition to superhero cinema.

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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 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: 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.

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: 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.

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.

Aaron’s Top 10 Films of 2019

2019 is coming to a close and what a wonderful year of movies we’ve had to wrap up the decade. This year I saw 175 new films, 26 of which were documentaries. Finding room in my Top 20 (much less my Top 10) for every film that I want to sing the praises of is always incredibly difficult and this year is no different. The process of narrowing down my favorites to the top ten films of the year was a painful experience that required a lot of reflection and time. The ranking you see here changed constantly right up until I hit “post”, but now what’s done is done and I have to live with it. Since it’s impossible for me to just settle on ten, you will see some of my favorites of the year in the #11-20 special mention spots.

With regards to my criteria, when it comes to ranking films critically, I do that as part of my membership in the Seattle Film Critics Society (see my nominations here and our award winners here). But on Feelin’ Film we focus more on matters of the heart, so my Top 10 films are often ones that I found the most affecting in 2019 – those movies that provided me an incredibly emotional or memorable experience of some sort. Another thing that factors strongly into my ranking is rewatchability, so think of this list as my favorites of the best.

In order to make this a tad easier on myself, and also because they truly are a unique medium unto themselves, I have listed my Top 5 Documentaries separately. It feels like every year is a great one for non-fiction filmmaking and 2019 was no different. At least two of these below would be featured in my Top 10 of the year if these lists were combined; I had to make some very hard cuts in limiting this list to just a Top 5. But as they say… “it’s what it is.”


THE DOCUMENTARIES

5. UNTOUCHABLE (not the 2019 documentary about Harvey Weinstein) The first documentary I saw in 2019 was this film by David Feige that started making festival rounds in 2016 and finally got its release this year. The film follows Ron Book, a Florida lobbyist and father to a daughter who has been sexually abused, on his campaign that leads to some of the toughest sex offender laws in the nation. The film is special because of the way it gives equal space to the stories of both victims and offenders, as well as their respective loved ones. It is an incredible example of what documentaries at their best can be – not just informative, but balanced and thought-provoking despite covering very difficult to watch & complicated subject matter. While never losing sight of the pain these crimes can cause, it challenges our long-held perception of sex offenders, forces us to see the effects of our strict justice system on them and their families, and offers statistics that question whether our laws are even making a dent in rehabilitation or prevention. (Hear our discussion about “Untouchable” in FF+ here.)

4. LOVE, ANTOSHA – Get ready to cry your eyes out and then embark on a (surprisingly long) quest to watch all of the late actor Anton Yelchin’s films. This film is so well-constructed as a documentary that tells the story of Anton’s life, but its power is in sharing the stories of what he meant to so many people, who could see in him what he maybe never could. It is a beautiful, beautiful tribute to a brilliant artist and wonderful human being gone far too soon.

3. SEA OF SHADOWS – I was blown away by the incredible access to both the bad guys and Mexican governmental agencies that this filmmaking team was able to have. “Sea of Shadows” is a documentary (which feels like an intense geopolitical thriller about cartels and other international criminal groups) that follows journalists teaming with activists and military to expose and take down powerful black-market fish bladder traffickers. The film is engaging and riveting in the way it brings this story of gross human exploitation and the destruction of our planet’s environment/animal kingdom to the forefront of public minds.

2. FOR SAMA – Many films have been made about the Battle of Aleppo, a 4.5 year conflict during the Syrian Civil War, but none like this. Told entirely from a young woman’s perspective, Waad al-Kateab becomes a journalist and documents her life in a sort of video log time capsule dedicated to her daughter Sama. It is an intimate, ground-level perspective otherwise unseen that captures the struggles of Waad’s life as she transitions through falling in love, becoming part of the resistance alongside her doctor husband, and eventually motherhood. It is visceral and painful in a way that caused me to have tears welled inside my eyes for almost its entire runtime. But though it is a horror film, it is also a love story, one that shows the cost yes, but also the deep devotion to justice and freedom that drives the resistance to protect one another and strive to reclaim their homeland from tyranny. It was unforgettable, and I hope that for the sake of retaining our humanity in this world as many people as possible will see it. Tough to get through? Absolutely. But worth it in every way for the beautiful relationships that exist within the chaos, and the inspiring hope these parents bring to not just their own child but the next generation as a whole.

1. APOLLO 11 – For the second year in a row, a documentary provided my most incredible IMAX theater viewing of the year. Composed entirely of newly discovered raw archival footage from the actual launch, mission, and landing, “Apollo 11” is an editing marvel that shares with the world an immersive experience from the past. Presented entirely free of any commentary and backed by one of the best musical scores of the year, this is technical filmmaking mastery at its finest. I held my breath, cried tears of pride and awe, and felt my bones rattle and my seat shake – all part of a spectacular experience that was one of my most memorable ones this decade. (Hear our discussion about “Apollo 11” in FF+ here.)


THE FEATURE FILMS

20. THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART(Hear our discussion about “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part in Episode 149 here.)

19. SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (Hear our discussion about “Spider-Man: Far From Home” in Episode 174 here.)

18. BATMAN: HUSH(Hear our discussion about “Batman: Hush” in FF+ here.)

17. THE FAREWELL(Hear our discussion about “The Farewell” in FF+ here.)

16. A HIDDEN LIFE

15. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

14. FORD V FERRARI(Hear our discussion about “Ford v Ferrari” in Episode 198 here.)

13. TOLKIEN(Hear our discussion about “Tolkien” in FF+ here.)

12. MISSING LINK(Hear our discussion about “Missing Link” in Episode 160 here.)


  • I broke this into a Top 11 because I couldn’t bear to cut (heh) “Uncut Gems” from my Top 10. It’s that great. #SorryNotSorry

11. UNCUT GEMS – Remember. To. Breathe. “Uncut Gems” is an E-X-P-E-R-I-E-N-C-E. This is a one-of-a-kind stylish anxiety attack that captures the highs and lows of compulsive gambling like I’ve never seen before. It often feels like complete chaos and manic screaming of dialogue throughout, but that is actually the Safdie Brothers in complete control of a career-best performance from Adam Sandler. It’s terrifying to watch unfold – like a horror movie without the slashing or supernatural – and the gigantic breath I finally took at the end is like the greatest gasp of air I’d ever had. Bonus points for a huge sub-plot involving Kevin Garnett and one of the year’s best scenes where said NBA superstar caresses a rock lovingly.

 

10. BOMBSHELL – There’s always room for a stellar biopic with Oscar-worthy performances and a biting script in my Top 10, and this year it was director Jay Roach’s riveting story of how brave women at Fox News took down its infamous sexually abusive CEO and a culture of toxic sexism. It is a slick, entertaining, and highly uncomfortable film that is so much more than just a history lesson, though. It tells this very important story from a perspective that audience members may never experience otherwise, opening my eyes via dramatization in a way that mundane and cheesy workplace sexual harassment videos never have. I feel empowered to look for, notice, and stand up against sexual harassment of any form anywhere it exists. (Hear our discussion of “Bombshell” in Episode 205 here.)

 

9. TOY STORY 4 –  Shame on me for doubting Pixar and one of the most perfect trilogies of all-time. It took me two viewings, but once I took in the film detached from my expectations of what a Toy Story film “should” be, I fell in love. Not only is it heady and thoughtful in ways the series has never quite tried, it still packs the emotional punch I expect and crave. I laughed my ass off. I cried hard. I became obsessed with Forky. New characters won me over and this fourth entry manages to somehow create a new conclusion that makes perfect sense. (Hear our discussion about “Toy Story 4” in Episode 172 here.)

 

8. JOKER – Todd Phillips’ “Joker” is exceptional, elevating the type of stories we are accustomed to from our comic book characters into previously uncharted artistic territory. As Phillips’ muse, Joaquin Phoenix carries the film with a phenomenal physical performance that imbues the titular villain’s tormented soul with both a growing madness and a painfully affecting pathos. It took a lot of nerve for Phillips to depict a “beloved” villain in this way and style,  knowing that many fans would not approve, but his approach allows for a powerful conversation to be had about mental illness and violence. I was completely enthralled throughout the film, both with its narrative and its artistic elements. I left the theater floored and impressed beyond belief. (Hear our discussion about “Joker” in Episode 191 here.)

 

7. PARASITE – What hasn’t already been said about director Bong Joon-Ho’s delightfully dark social satire? It’s a commentary on class warfare and capitalism that plays out in a funny yet thrilling story that crosses several different genres and surprises at every turn. Worthy of every bit of praise and all of the awards that it is winning this year, “Parasite” is one of the best live-action foreign films of the decade and should be seen knowing as little as possible.

 

6. 1917 – “1917” is an astonishing exercise in immersion that left me utterly shaken. It is a true technical marvel, with emotional power that creeps up slowly, and then forces the viewer to reconcile with the futility of war in a manner that lingers long after the credits roll. Featuring my favorite score of the year and the best cinematography, as well, the film is stunning on every level, a tour-de-force in the genre, and an absolute must-see theatrical experience. (Episode coming in January 2020)

5. THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON – A simple, moving adventure story of friendship and family. Never condescending. My eyes were hardly dry throughout. I love this movie. Every single moment. The cinematography, the score, the acting, but of course the story most of all. And for me, the depiction of people on the fringes – a care center runaway with Down Syndrome and a troubled thief –  who come together and become a non-traditional family is one of the sweetest I’ve ever seen. (Hear our discussion about “The Peanut Butter Falcon” in Episode 199 here.)

 

4. WEATHERING WITH YOU – It’s no secret how much I adore Makoto Shinkai’s “Your Name.” This film also features a central teenage romance with fantastical elements and natural disasters on the horizon but is a much more serious and dramatic work that takes its time moving the story along and has Shinkai exploring the very real issue of climate change (and humanity’s conflicting response to it) through the decisions that its romantically inclined protagonists face. In what has become the norm, Shinkai delivers breathtaking visuals yet again and they perfectly synchronize with another beautiful RADWIMP’s score. There is just something about how Shinkai consistently tells stories that move me deeply and affect my soul in ways that very few filmmakers do. “Weathering With You” is an incredibly layered animated dream and I can’t stop thinking about its characters, their relationships, and the challenging situations they must deal with, but also what my own feelings about those things ultimately say about me.

 

3. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD –  Where Quentin Tarantino’s storytelling shines the most in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is in the relationship between movie star Rick Dalton & his stuntman/best friend Cliff Booth. Their friendship is touching and hilarious, and their stories are compelling enough on their own to carry a nearly 3-hour long movie. In addition, the satisfying and respectful retelling of Sharon Tate’s tragic murder within this alternate history grounds this film in the time period that QT is clearly making a love letter to. I could watch these characters in this world for hours upon end and never tire of it. Exceptional production value and acting all around plus great messages about friendship and how we remember people make this a slamdunk top film of the year for me. (Hear our discussion about “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” in Episode 178 here.)

 

2. MARRIAGE STORY “Getting divorced with a kid can be one of the hardest things you can ever do – it’s like a death without a body.” I relate very deeply with much of what’s depicted in this story, and from personal experience, I agree that divorce *is* like death without a body. What makes “Marriage Story” brilliant to me, is that Baumbach captures the waves of changing emotions and challenges that many, many couples face perfectly, despite the setting being that of two celebrities parting ways. “Marriage Story” is a reflection of this beautifully flawed couple that gives insight into the awful process of divorce, and it hurts like hell to experience but can also serve as a cautionary tale for those in relationships now. It is the rare film that comes along that has impeccable filmmaking artistry, is entertaining, and has a huge personal relevance, making it an easy choice for this spot on my list. (Hear our discussion about “Marriage Story” in Episode 203 here.)

 

1. LITTLE WOMEN – When was the last time a pure drama, period piece, with Hollywood star power, contending for awards had a PG rating? Greta Gerwig’s masterful retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic is a love letter to the source material that is as delightful as it is artistically terrific. Updated with a fun new meta twist that could have gone terribly awry, instead, Gerwig’s storytelling device highlights the theme of owning your own story and hammers home Jo’s arc in an impactful new way, while also portraying Amy’s important story quite powerfully, like we haven’t seen before. The acting is just as brilliant as you’d expect from this supremely talented group of young actors, and supporting roles by such veterans as Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, and Chris Cooper are every bit as perfectly cast. Each and every element of the film adds to its delight – from the production design to the score – and it’s likely Gerwig’s film will go down as the best telling of this famous story for many a viewer, and may just inspire a whole new generation of little women too. (Hear our discussion about “Little Women” in Episode 207 here.)


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.