MOVIE REVIEW: The Hunt

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 29 minutes

Political satire, when done correctly, can be very effective in showing the volatile and idiotic manner of government, serving as a form of humor that calls attention to itself but does the duty of sparking compelling thoughts in your mind about the state of democracy. Humor is a subjective phenomenon just as the opinions floating in your brain are; the same joke can cause different reactions based on how it vibes with the person’s idea of what’s funny and what’s not. If “The Hunt” is an exercise of satire, then it’s better off labeling itself a spoof film because it plays down its impact with self-referential humor akin to the “Scary Movie” series of the 2000s. Adding nothing to the current political discord between Democrats and Republicans, the blood and guts raining down from the mayhem-infused violence do nothing to cover up the woeful writing and flimsy cheapness of its execution. The fierce performance of Betty Gilpin doesn’t carry the imposing muscles needed to carry this feature out of the dungeons of disappointment,

Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, the two men who lit up last year with the greatness of HBO’s “Watchmen”, stand as the architects of this new thriller. A group of Republican loyalists find themselves fighting for their lives in a location filled with secluded woods and Democrats with an itch for hunting down so-called “Deplorables”. This sadistic game takes a sudden turn when a woman named Crystal (Betty Gilpin) becomes the predator instead of the prey. Laying down a can of you know what, Crystal fights back against the dire onslaught of progressives while uncovering the blueprint for this event labeled as “Manorgate” which has been widely circulated as a theory on online forums and social media accounts. The twisted discourse of favoritism politics wears its mask loud and proud but yet doesn’t do anything noteworthy to warrant all of its controversy.

From the onset, this story immediately comes off as anything other than the butt of its own joke. Some moments engage with dialogue that feels lifted from a comment section underneath the tweet of any political figure or pundit. Terms such as “snowflakes”, “rednecks”, “crisis actors” and disposable monologues are used and represent a lack of cleverness and reek of a style reminiscent of a tone-deaf social media user that wants to sound smart but comes off painfully lacking in awareness. Was the research of this film done by siphoning from the wide and jumbled world of social media apps? The narrative doesn’t know what direction it wants to go, opting for a misshaped “equal opportunity” offender angle that aims to disarm any harsh labels this film may receive from either side of the political arena. Does the film want to make fun of the vast conspiracy theories and stereotypes the parties lob at each other or the right’s fear of a scenario involving the left attacking them draped in some legitimacy? Maybe “The Hunt ” wants to make fun of both sides trying to be the high and mighty winner of an unwinnable dispute, but the film makes it very hard to figure out what the purpose entails. For a misguided and clunky screenplay to come from Lindelof is the most shocking piece to take away from this trainwreck.

Violence is as vicious and full-frontal as the MPAA allows it to be with limbs, guts, heads, and eyeballs being taken down or disintegrated with bullets, blunt objects, and any weapon that can be found usable. On par with a Jason Vorhees gorefest, this is the primal center of human conflict with a slapstick comic book aesthetic. Some of the CGI can be iffy but these passages of mainstream action aspirations do add some jolt and curiosity. Director Craig Zobel’s manner of using so many quick cuts and erroneous angles that leave the audience missing out on the impact of hits and final fatalities is a bummer to watch on the big screen. If there was one thing that could conjure me to give this film a watch recommendation, it would have been the selling point of action sequences. Sadly, that is far from the final results.

Shock and disbelief serve as my final words for this fail of a satire. All of the anticipation and excitement has been for naught because the resulting film is a frustrating disappointment that is baffling by the fact of having writers and actors with trustworthy track records behind the helm. “The Hunt ” will be forgettable once the uproar about its subject matter cools down and what will stand in my memory is how much of a farce it makes of itself trying to lend an opinion to the American political climate.

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Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: 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: 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 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: Bad Boys For Life

Rating: R / Runtime: 2 hours and 3 minutes

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

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

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

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

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


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: Underwater

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

 

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

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

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

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 208: Die Hard

For December’s Donor Pick episode we tackle a Christmas classic and discuss what makes this action spectacular tower above the competition.

Die Hard Review – 0:00:57

The Connecting Point – 0:57:19

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Episode 206: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

We chat about the final film in the epic Skywalker Saga. Does it satisfy? Does it entertain? Do we want more? Just like this film, there is a lot stuffed into our conversation as we work through our conflicted feelings for Episode IX.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review – 0:02:50

The Connecting Point – 1:38:14

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MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” faced a nearly impossible task: end one of the grandest, most-beloved ongoing stories of all-time in a way that would universally appeal to what has become a largely fractured, and always passionate, generation-spanning fan base. It was never going to succeed at this, and what happens within this final film will most certainly have fans divided once more. Much of the reason for mixed opinions will, naturally, come down to story decisions such as the answer to Rey’s parentage, the conclusion of Kylo Ren’s character arc, and the reasoning behind why Emperor Palpatine has reappeared to be woven into this final trilogy. In order to ensure the mystery remains for readers, all that I can really say on this front is that I emerged from my viewing of the film conflicted – appreciating some of the directions director JJ Abrams went while being both baffled and extremely frustrated by others. If you were hoping for a wrap-up that would be loved and praised by all, well, I can simply say that you’re not going to get your wish.

“The Rise of Skywalker” is a lot of movie. A lot, a lot. It’s nearly two and a half hours of non-stop, action-packed, exposition-filled, video game quests. I happen to enjoy the style of adventure video game progression that we see emulated and so I had quite a bit of fun with the planet-hopping escapades of Rey, Poe, and Finn. But I also can acknowledge that this will absolutely not be everyone’s cup of tea. Hard and fast editing cuts, the quick pace of new information being revealed, and frequent tying up of plot points made it hard to remember details upon exiting the theater. Even now, less than 24-hours since seeing the film, I couldn’t recount the plot trajectory to you without going back to look at my notes. Exciting and not without spectacle, but also very, very messy.

Things that worked the best for me were some emotional moments between main characters, a healthy dose of smartly included fan service (much of which makes sense for story reasons), and the way in which General/Princess Leia is sent off. One major thing that did not work for me was the details surrounding the reappearance of Emperor Palpatine, his motives, his level of power, and ultimately his place in this saga. Other elements that bothered me were the lack of defining set pieces to rival the greatest ones the series has offered and a story that feels like it was written specifically to cater to those who’ve expressed disappointment with “The Last Jedi”. It is very clear that this was not a three-part story arc planned out from the beginning, and the way in which this film treats its direct predecessor is pretty rude. The film also frequently creates high stakes only to undo them moments later, draining a much stronger potential emotional investment away. With regards to Palpatine, his inclusion has the unfortunate effect of altering the impact of certain events from Anakin’s past in ways I did not appreciate. And also he yells… often and loudly. The action, while quite nice to look at, never provided me the kind of unforgettable single scene that I was hoping for, like the Holdo Maneuver, taking down an AT-AT with tow cables, or the Millennium Falcon navigating an asteroid field against overwhelming odds. Just as with superhero films, the more frequently we see amazing action sequences in this universe, the harder it becomes to stand out from the crowd. 

“The Rise of Skywalker” is epic, though, without a doubt, and resembles a condensed mixture of all three original trilogy films, for better and worse. It features immersive, loud sound effects and another incredible score by John Williams, is beautiful to look at, provides opportunities for our heroes to shine, and lets us once again have a blast experiencing stories in a galaxy far, far away. There’s slightly more good than bad, but this is yet again a Star Wars film that will be debated for years (if not more) to come. Like many of the Millennium Falcon’s landings, JJ Abrams brings this nine-film saga to an end in a gloriously cinematic but messy crash. Not ideal, but also not fatal. It gets the job done.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Spies in Disguise

Based on Lucas Martell’s 2009 short film “Pigeon: Impossible”, in which a pigeon briefly becomes a spy and almost sets off nuclear war, “Spies in Disguise” remixes the story by having a spy become a pigeon instead. The premise is nonsensical and silly, of course, but that’s not a criticism. Early on we meet Walter Beckett (Tom Holland), a young inventor with a passion for creating non-violent gadgets and a dream of helping to save the world, who is written off by most who meet him as “too weird”. Walter eventually grows up to work for a super-spy organization of which its star operative is none other than the smooth-talking, ultra-fly Sterling… Lance Sterling (Will Smith). After Sterling is framed by a mysterious villain for stealing a dangerous piece of tech, he is forced to go on the run from Internal Affairs agent Marcy (Rashida Jones) and her sense-focused investigative team of Eyes (Karen Gillan) and Ears (DJ Khaled). This leads to a team-up with Walter and an accidental transformation into a pigeon. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But also, it absolutely works! 

“Spies in Disguise” makes no apologies for referencing the spy films we all know and love. In fact, its narrative emphasizes Walter’s journey as much as Sterling’s, giving it a balance that most live-action star-driven franchises don’t have. Imagine a movie that focuses on the career goals of Bond’s research specialist Q, and allows him to be present in James’ adventure and necessary to the plot instead of just a behind-the-scenes supplier of cool toys, and you’ll have an idea of the dynamic “Spies in Disguise” operates with. Walter believes in teamwork and has an emotional backstory that is easy to empathize with, but his pacifist views are in direct conflict with Sterling’s more aggressive, pro-violence, fight fire with fire and always fly solo methodology. It’s a wonderful theme to explore within this animated world and the relationship between the two isn’t just fun and exciting, it’s quite touching as well. 

The evil cyborg villain, Killian (Ben Mendelsohn), doesn’t have a lot of screen time but is perfectly voiced. Mendelsohn has a way of sounding cleverly sinister like few actors can. His motives are not revealed early on and one thing that sets “Spies in Disguise” apart from typical kid-friendly animation is just how evil Killian can be. The tech he steals is an assassin drone and several murders are very clearly committed on screen. His menacing nature makes him feel like a legit threat and not the bumbling idiot or goofy bad guy that you might expect. 

Another area where “Spies in Disguise” separates itself from other PG films is in its writing, which is very funny but definitely skews more toward teenage sensibility than that of younger children. There is even a “50 Shades of Grey” joke that is just as hilarious as it is surprising. The film is still great for all ages, however, with slick animated action set pieces set to a hot soundtrack, an abundance of cool spy tech, and plenty of bird-related shenanigans while Sterling is a pigeon. 

It might sound shocking, but “Spies in Disguise” takes advantage of the charisma and swagger that Will Smith brings in a way that few films this decade have. Holland is the perfect sweet, geeky companion and going on this adventure with them is a purely joyful experience. It’s hard to imagine a better blend of silly children’s animation with the genre-defining elements of spy films that fans love. The story sets up perfectly for sequels and I, for one, am absolutely here for it. Bring on more avian hijinks. #TeamWeird all the way!

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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.