MOVIE REVIEW: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

2 Hours and 8 Minutes (PG-13)

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

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

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

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

VERDICT

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

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: Incredibles 2

INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

1 Hour and 58 Minutes (PG)

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

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

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

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

VERDICT

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

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: Ocean’s 8

OCEAN’S 8 (2018)

1 Hour and 50 Minutes (PG-13)

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

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

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

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

VERDICT

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

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: Hotel Artemis

HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018)

1 Hour and 34 Minutes (R)

“It’s a busy night in the Artemis.”

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

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

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

VERDICT

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

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: Adrift

ADRIFT (2018)

1 Hour and 30 Minutes (PG-13)

The sea is both majestic and mysterious. As Richard (Sam Claflin) tells Tami (Shailene Woodley) on their first meeting, for him it offers beauty, peace, and the draw of “the infinite horizon”. But the sea is also dangerous, and for sailors braving its vast emptiness alone or in small groups, tragedy is but one mistake or unexpected storm away. Adrift tells the true story of this couple’s experiences as they encountered the category four storm Hurricane Raymond in September 1983 while delivering a 44-foot yacht from Tahiti to San Diego.

Director Baltasar Kormákur (Everest), open the film in the middle. Tami wakes up in the cabin of their capsized, now flooding vessel and frantically makes her way above deck to search for Richard. The chaos of this opening sequence is intriguing as it immediately puts the viewer on edge not knowing what to expect. It also frames Tami as a character so that we see her from a different perspective when meeting her pre-storm. After this opening moment, the film shifts to the past and begins to introduce us to the traveling young American dreamer, but this vision of her bloodied, trembling, and terrified lost at sea always lingers.

This unique structure continues throughout the film. Kormákur parallels the meeting of Richard, a 33-year old English sailor, and Tami with their attempt to survive after the storm renders their yacht immobile. It’s a refreshing way to tell a familiar story. We’ve seen this before, but instead of a straight narrative where boy meets girl, they sail off, encounter danger, and try to get home, we instead slowly have pieces of their relationship history (and personalities) revealed as we see alternate seeing them in various difficult situations while lost at sea. It also keeps us from having to sit through long stretches of Richard and Tami floating on the open water confined to their small boat, which is a big plus. What’s odd is that despite the film’s very tight 90-minute running time, it does feel longer than that.

The trials that Tami endures during her 41 days adrift are quite harrowing. Richard suffers major injuries during the storm and she must singlehandedly find a way to point the ship toward land, keep it afloat, stay fed and hydrated, and retain her sanity while he lays helpless at her side. Shailene Woodley definitely gives one of the better performances of her career, both capturing the adventurous spirit and joy in Tami when she meets Richard and falls in love and then later the immense battle with fear, panic, sickness, and despair she faces for over a month. Sam Claflin is wonderful, as well, and his chemistry with Woodley is fantastic, but for large portions of the film he doesn’t have much to do but groan, unfortunately.

The film features some beautiful cinematography, particularly when Robert Richardson utilizes aerial shots of islands being explored or to show the enormity of the ocean. There is also good use of close-up on the characters’ faces at key emotional moments that creates a sense of closeness for the audience and heightens our connection to what they are feeling. The score is okay. Serviceable but ordinary and forgettable. And the action of the storm itself is brief but definitely powerful. There is quite a bit of shakiness that ensues, so if you’re prone to sea sickness be aware and look away for a few seconds.

VERDICT

In the end, Adrift doesn’t leave a major mark on the survival film sub-genre. Its non-linear structure and the amazing fact that this really happened do keep it interesting, though, and Woodley shows incredible range in her performance as she navigates the intense emotional swings that the real Tami Oldham Ashcraft most certainly experienced. Due to a major third act development, I’m not sure the film would work as well a second time (or if you knew the outcome going into it), so my advice is to watch the film first and then read up on the even more amazing true story details afterward.

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.

Episode 111: Solo-A Star Wars Story

In appropriately numbered Episode 111, we talk all things Han Solo, and we do mean ALL things. With so many origin stories there is plenty to discuss.  We talk about which ones worked, which ones didn’t, where Star Wars spin-off films go from here, and how sometimes it’s okay to just have a little fun at the movies.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:10
(Aaron – Star Wars marathon)
(Patrick – Monsters)

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review – 0:19:36

The Connecting Point – 1:23:05


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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Minisode 042: Terminator 2

It’s Judgment Day at Feelin’ Film. Our Patrons voted for us to cover Terminator 2 for May, because nothing celebrates Mother’s Day like talking about Sarah Connor. We honor the genius of this classic and dive into some of the bigger themes it presents like fatherhood and sacrifice. Come with us, if you want to live.


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Join the Facebook Discussion Group

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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

MOVIE REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

2 Hours and 15 Minutes (PG-13)

I’ve been on record as worrying quite a bit about Solo: A Star Wars Story (henceforth in this review know as Solo, because a one-word title just makes sense doesn’t it?). The first Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One, significantly underwhelmed me, and here a second prequel was attempting to unnecessarily go back and fill in gaps in the Star Wars timeline. But this time it required the dangerous risk of recasting one of the most iconic characters in movie history. I love Han. We all love Han. And Harrison Ford is Han. So, I’ve been pretty skeptical that Alden Ehrenreich could step into those enormously talented shoes and deliver a compelling enough performance to make us truly believe that he, too, is Han.

But folks… it happened.

It wasn’t right away, though. Solo wastes no time in introducing us to young Han the scoundrel, but despite an exciting chase sequence and Han trying to talk his way out of a pickle, Ehrenreich just wasn’t connecting for me. As the story went on, though, my expectations and presumptions about how young Han should act began to decline and he slowly transformed. When Han meets Lando, I was all in, having witnessed enough smirks, snark, and charm to really believe in this new version of the character. And by the time the credits rolled, I had to repent. Because maybe he’s not perfect, but young Han he is.

The thing to remember first and foremost about Solo is that it’s not a Star Wars saga film and thus doesn’t abide by the same storytelling rules. The question isn’t IF Han will make it out of situations safely, it’s HOW he will make it out. This is an intergalactic heist film and an origin story. Seriously, we learn the origin of EVERYTHING. Han’s lucky dice? Covered. Han’s blaster? That too. The Kessel Run? It’s definitely mentioned. How Han met Lando and Chewie? Of course. And so, so much more. Honestly, it could have been overkill. Maybe for some it will. But for me it struck the perfect balance, giving me depth and insight into a beloved character without ever stopping the plot to draw attention to a reference. All of it was woven seamlessly into the narrative. It made sense, and I loved every single wink and nod to the stories we all know so well.

Another strength of the film is that Solo doesn’t go solo. The film features a host of flat-out wonderful supporting actors and droids. Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is a fantastic addition to the canon and through her we are able to learn about Han the lover and what kind of woman he’s attracted to. Beckett (Woody Harrelson) provides Han with a mentor of sorts, someone who teaches him tricks of the trade and many life lessons. Then there is Lando, played as perfectly by Donald Glover as you’d expect, showing us how the two young smooth-talking smugglers came to their complicated friendship. The chemistry between Ehrenreich and Glover is definitely present and if I had one gripe it would be that I just wanted more of this duo together. Paul Bettany chews up scenes wonderfully as a bigshot gangster and leader of crime syndicate Crimson Dawn, the perfect subtle villain for a smuggler’s origin story. And L3-37 (yes, that spells “leet”), Lando’s droid, is hilariously liberal while also playing a surprisingly touching role in the tale.

The adventure itself is a ton of fun. Han, as you would expect, gets himself into a situation that involves stealing, smuggling, fancy flying, and generally getting shot at along the way. But it isn’t just fun, it’s a well-written story that thoroughly explains how the swashbuckling rogue became the man who may or may not shoot first, doesn’t trust anyone, and primarily looks out only for himself. All of the action pieces are also wonderfully done, from the big set pieces to the brief one-on-one fight sequences, and the cinematography is just as gorgeous as always. The film’s score stands out, too, with John Powell bringing a hint of his How To Train Your Dragon sound to the familiar Star Wars themes, particularly when the Millennium Falcon is speeding through the galaxy.

VERDICT

Solo: A Star Wars Story is one of the best origin stories ever told. It fills in details for so much of a beloved character that you may be shocked they could cover it all. The action and adventurous tone make for one heck of an enjoyable movie experience and Ehrenreich importantly embodies young Han, growing into the character over the course of the film. Though some may find parts to be cheesy or unnecessarily connected to past films, my expectations were thoroughly surpassed and as the final scene played, I found myself wanting to cheer. Solo is a great example of the kind of light-hearted, fun stories that can be told in this universe and further continues Disney’s fantastic year of blockbusters.

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.

The Evolution of Eastwood: ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN

ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980)

“Why me, Lord? You made other men out of clay. Mine, you made out of s$%#.” – Cholla, Black Widow Leader

At this point in his career, only two of Clint Eastwood’s films had received direct sequels: A Fistful of Dollars and Dirty Harry. Both had come to help define his persona and cinematic footprint. But given the rabid financial success of Every Which Way But Loose, a sequel was not only understandable – it was inevitable.

Any Which Way You Can follows a very similar formula to its earlier predecessor. Philo Beddoe (Eastwood) is still bare-knuckle brawling alongside his corner bookie, Orville (Geoffrey Lewis, reprising his role) and they’re both still side-stepping the bumbling and cantankerous Black Widow Gang. Along for the ride too is the faithful orangutan, Clyde and Orville’s ornery Ma (Ruth Gordon). Not to be left out, the pair also cross paths once again with Lynn Halsey-Taylor (Sondra Locke), who had left Philo broken-hearted and wounded-ego’d in the last film.

What’s different this time around is that Philo is genuinely wanting out of his brawling habits. He’s starting to become addicted to the pain and does not want to spend the rest of his days in a brawl with himself. He’s coaxed out of a self-imposed retirement by the representatives of the undefeated Jack Wilson (played by William Smith) who believe the underground fighting arena would pay huge sums to see the pair do battle. When Philo refuses, they kidnap Halsey-Taylor as leverage, which sparks a madcap series of chases in the film’s latter half as Orville and Philo pursue a rescue, the Black Widow Gang pursue revenge, and the bare-knuckle brawling bookies pursue a major payday.

Directed by long-time Eastwood stunt double, Buddy Van Horn (whose most prominent on-screen appearance had been in High Plains Drifter), Any Which Way You Can is, pound for pound, a funnier, faster, and generally more entertaining film than Every Which Way But Loose. Its elements are more absurd and less credible, but the laughs are sharper and the final fist-fight has more interesting stakes (not to mention a genuinely better matched opponent in Wilson). In purely objective terms, it’s a lesser film for all of its outrageousness; but it’s also a difficult film not to enjoy.

There isn’t much to credit in terms of performance that wasn’t there in the first film except that the leader of the Black Widow Gang (a buffoon named Cholla played by John Quade) is given a surprising glut of comedic opportunities. Quade was in the first film playing the same character, but that earlier film tried not to push the absurdity boundaries very much whereas this film embraces the looney tunes nature of the gang of knuckleheads. Cholla’s lines (as well as the overall narrative arc of the gang) are better in this film and the film is better for their continued presence.

Eastwood, Lewis, Gordon, and Locke are each as watchable and engaging as they were the first time around (if not more so). One element of this entry that I enjoyed tremendously was that the final fight sequence between Philo and Wilson is evenly matched and genuinely tense. Eastwood has had a multitude of fist-fights in nearly all of his films, and in almost every one of them he single-handedly mops the floor with his opponents. However, in the fight in this film, he’s not only evenly matched, there is a genuine question through out the whole fight as to whether or not he will win. I won’t spoil the outcome for you here, but there are some anxious surprises in the midst of it that I frankly found refreshing.

There is an element to the film which is worth noting, although it is sad and disturbing. There is an on-screen fight between a ferret (called a mongoose in the film) and a rattlesnake. The American Human Society gave a pass to the fight sequence (even though it looks uncomfortably realistic) because the rattler had been milked and defanged and therefore posed no real threat to the ferret. In my opinion, the fight looks too realistic to have been anything but traumatic for the animals whether or not they survived. However, the real tragedy of the film is that the orangutan who portrayed Clyde was beaten to death by his trainer shortly after filming wrapped (reportedly for stealing donuts from the set). It is tragic to think of the basic care and respect that was denied these animals on set and regardless of the justifications of a different sociological climate, it is upsetting to hear of such horrific behavior in an otherwise delightfully joyful and silly movie.

With the sincere asterisk pinging the treatment of the animals on set (which may understandably upset certain viewers beyond excuse), Any Which Way You Can is an otherwise fun, delightful and charming entry for Eastwood. If viewers were remotely a fan of Every Which Way But Loose, viewing this sequel is a no-brainer, but it’s even easy to recommend for the casual viewer looking to see a bit of Eastwood’s lighter side.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: BRONCO BILLY

BRONCO BILLY (1980)

I’ve got a special message for you little pardners out there. I want you to finish your oatmeal at breakfast and do as your mom and pa tell you because they know best. Don’t ever tell a lie and say your prayers at night before you go to bed. And as our friends south of the border say, ‘Adios, amigos.’” – Bronco Billy McCoy

Eastwood’s filmography had begun to take a surprising turn towards lighter and more optimistic material. His gritty revisionist westerns and ultra-violent cop thrillers had yielded to the comically whimsical Every Which Way but Loose and the understated suspense of Escape from Alcatraz. While these films are by no means family-oriented, they’re unquestionably lighter than Eastwood’s typical fare.

But then he directed Bronco Billy – a modern day fable steeped in idealism and sentiment thicker than frozen maple syrup. The script was written by the team of Dennis Hackin and Neal Dobrofsky (with only Hackin receiving eventual film credit) and Eastwood was immediately drawn to the material.

Bronco Billy chronicles the struggling days of a traveling Wild West Show, featuring an assortment of ex-convicts and deadbeats who pose as cowboys and Indians to entertain local communities. Led by “Bronco” Billy McCoy (Eastwood) the troupe frequently scrape by on little to no money, driven by their familial comradery and the joy that they bring to children or the less fortunate who enjoy their show. Billy can be ornery and stubborn, but he has an open heart and a loyal spirit. When the troupe encounters the feisty Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke) – a woman who had been abandoned and left penniless by her new husband (Geoffrey Lewis) – she is initially skeptical of their benevolence and idealism, but eventually comes to genuinely admire Billy and his team. However, her disappearance has left her husband a suspected murderer and an inheritance in question. While the troupe debates about whether her presence is bad or good luck, Billy is determined to keep his Wild West Show alive and smiling for as long as humanly possible.

It is immediately evident, even without any meta-knowledge of the production, that this became a very personal work for Eastwood. He strikes a tone with Bronco Billy that we’ve yet to see from him. Even the tenderness he displayed in Breezy was offset by a heavy and mature narrative. But with Bronco Billy, Eastwood forays into outright sentiment, and delivers a surprisingly charming and good-natured film (something which does feel truly rare in his catalogue). The wackiness of Every Which Way but Loose may have set the stage for the lighter material, but that film carried a sarcastic bite with its fun. Bronco Billy, by contrast, isn’t remotely cynical. Both in the character of Billy McCoy and in the good-natured dynamic of his acting troupe, the film dares to explore something truly anomalous in Eastwood’s filmography thus far: that not only does your past not have to define you, but you can actively be whoever you set out to be.

Eastwood’s films are often mired in consequence and detriment, burdened by the weight of moral ambiguity and a painfully haunted landscape (whether the bullet-riddled west or the streets of San Francisco). But Bronco Billy never pulls the rug out from under its optimism. There are complications along the way – sometimes dire ones – but there is a firm undercurrent of hope that feels genuinely refreshing for someone like Eastwood to express. Billy’s troupe of characters are all losers according to common standards, but Billy has given them a place and a chance to move beyond those distinctions. True, he isn’t perfect (just check out the tongue-lashing he gives to his whole gang when they dare to ask about payment after six months), but he’s genuine, and that’s the real irony and charm of his character. Billy McCoy is an ex-con and a louse, but by pretending to be “Bronco Billy” his more authentic self emerges and produces something impressive and joyful (even when the bits they perform go comically wrong).

Eastwood surrounded himself with dependable performers who could authenticate the material: Geoffrey Lewis who had previously co-starred in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and – more recently – Every Which Way but Loose; the charismatic and boisterous character actor, Scatman Crothers; and in her fourth collaboration with real-life partner Eastwood – Sondra Locke. All of them deliver earnest and entertaining performances, making Bronco Billy a disarmingly enjoyable – if somewhat slower paced – piece. Eastwood himself delivers a surprisingly sensitive performance, juggling comic timing and tenderness in equal measure to his trademark tough squint.

Bronco Billy wasn’t a huge success at the box office (although it was profitable), but was praised among most critics. Eastwood often spoke of that film in personal and affectionate terms. He is quoted as saying, “It was an old-fashioned theme, probably too old fashioned since the film didn’t do as well as we hoped. But if, as a film director, I ever wanted to say something, you’ll find it in Bronco Billy.” Speaking for myself, I found the film to be a refreshingly heartfelt piece of work. Not only was it not diluted by its overt sentiment, that sentiment made it all the more endearing and worth seeking out.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.