MOVIE REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time



I, like so many my age, read this novel in high school English class. The details are fuzzy, and what stands out the most to me is that the story itself was fairly unmemorable (at least to my teenage self). I’ve intentionally stayed away from refreshing myself on the plot because I’d much rather let the film speak for itself and now I can go in without unrealistic expectations. Ava DuVernay looks to have constructed a visually stunning treat and that alone has me excited. A WRINKLE IN TIME also features a young, nerdy girl hero so I think seeing this with my young, nerdy daughter will be a great experience.

1 Hour and 49 Minutes Later.


Prior to our screening of A WRINKLE IN TIME, we were greeted with a video message from director Ava DuVernay, in which she explained her approach to telling this timeless story. It was heartfelt and her passion was undeniable. She truly wanted to make a film that was empowering and inspirational for young teens, and in particular young girls, but hoped that by finding the child in ourselves we adults could enjoy it too. In hindsight, this message was telling, and perhaps a bit manipulative, but also important, because if there’s one thing you need to do to enjoy A WRINKLE IN TIME, it is to remember that this is a story FOR a younger audience.

In adapting Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel (that has often been called “unfilmable”), DuVernay’s vision is clearly noticeable. With a focus on swelling of emotion and incredible visuals throughout, A WRINKLE IN TIME is consistently breath-taking. The colors and CGI transformations of The Misses are stunning to look at. Early in the film the children arrive on an unknown world after “tessering” there and this one scene perfectly captures the awesome wonder of discovery and exploration. These CGI-heavy sections are book-ended by the film’s opening and closing sections set on Earth. In those times DuVernay shows her talents in force, using close-ups and wonderfully cinematic camerawork (backed by a pretty wonderful score, by the way) to provoke an emotional response.

It helps that the acting is quite good. Lead actress Storm Reid (Meg) is adorable and conveys the uncertain, intelligent, and emotionally closed-off aspects of her character perfectly. She truly is fantastic and she carries the film just fine. Levi Miller (Calvin), who you may know from his turn as Peter in Joe Wright’s Pan, is also wonderful. Some may criticize him as providing an emotionless, stoic performance but it felt true to his character in every way. Of The Misses, Reese Witherspoon (Mrs. Whatsit) stands out the most. She does have the most speaking lines and the most screen time, but her eccentric silly personality comes through incredibly in her performance and she shines in every scene. Lastly of note is Deric McCabe (Charles Wallace), who is a star in the making. The character of Charles Wallace, Meg’s much younger adopted brother who is a genius and largely the catalyst for the entire plot, is integral and he owns every moment that includes him (up to the finale). If nothing else is, Reid and McCabe definitely establish themselves as ones to watch. This is also a very diverse cast. It features a realistically natural racial mix of characters and inter-racial relationships and never once felt forced.

But aside from enjoying the spectacle of A WRINKLE IN TIME, the story itself has many issues. For one thing, L’Engle’s Christianity was an important part of her writing, but Jennifer Lee’s adaptation definitely skews the story more into New Age philosophy than anything of the spiritual sort. It’s all about finding the power inside of yourself and being the light that fights the darkness, which is a good thing, but there is a lack of acknowledgment of any higher power. Everyone in this universe seems to be equal, if only they can tap into the right emotions and stay focused. As a fantasy film, you expect to not understand everything about the way the world works, as well. That is true here because how time “wrinkles” and allows travel across the universe is explained very vaguely. It’s confusing and the science speak feels tacked on as a plot mover rather than a fascinating concept to learn about. The film’s structure also is messy. There’s an opening with character backstory and such, then a brief journey across worlds (of which there are only two and one is entirely bland), and then a big CGI ending that makes very little sense and is reminiscent of the Guardians fighting inside of Ego the Planet in Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2. In that last act, major characters come and go with little explanation, and everything wraps up in a very boring way. But when your hero’s powers are simply to think positively and concentrate, it’s difficult to make that compelling in a visual way.

These faults, however, don’t make the film unwatchable. With many strong messages like, “It’s okay to fear the answers, but you can’t avoid them,” DuVernay’s film does have some inspirational moments. The relationships are strong, too, and perhaps where the film shines the most: Meg and Calvin sharing an innocent, blossoming romance, Mr. and Mrs. Murray as a couple who are loving, adoptive parents and brilliant scientists, and even Meg and Charles Wallace as brother and sister who lean on each other more than anyone else. As an adult, you must really try to recognize the view from a teenage perspective. My own daughter loved the film and was moved emotionally by it. She found it inspiring, funny, and gorgeous. Watch it through younger eyes as DuVernay suggests, and you’ll probably enjoy it much more.


Ava DuVernay’s A WRINKLE IN TIME is an often beautiful, but messy, love letter that inspires young minds to believe in themselves and be warriors for the light. It is a bit overly preachy in its messaging, yet it does offer up some good advice, and its focus on New Age philosophy over the more faith-based aspects of the novel may upset some viewers. Acting is strong, visuals are incredible, and with a moving score the film is emotionally evocative throughout. It’s worth seeing, but don’t expect it to leave much of a lasting impression. Watching with childlike eyes and imagination will make for a much better viewing experience, though, and is highly recommended.


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

Episode 099: Annihilation

In this week’s episode we are talking about what could be the most divisive film of 2018, although it’s still early in the year. Alex Garland’s latest film Annihilation, based on the novel of the same name by Jeff Vandermer, brings with it a lot of questions, both from the story, and the audience. We wrestle with a bit of both in our discussion and give our reactions to the incredible creation that is The Shimmer. We also offer some quick thoughts on Duncan Jones’ new film Mute and the incredible documentary Five Came Back.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:02

(Aaron – Mute, Five Came Back)

Annihilation Review – 0:09:23

The Connecting Point – 0:55:19


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MOVIE REVIEW: Annihilation



Alex Garland writes great stories. He has dabbled in all kinds of science fiction, from the horrific in 28 Days Later… to the dramatic/romantic in Never Let Me Go to adapting a comic book superhero in Dredd and most notably for penning and directing my favorite film of 2015, the stunning Ex Machina. Now Garland is adapting Annihilation, the Nebula Award winning first novel in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy that Stephen King called “creepy and fascinating”. Ever since it was announced this film has been at the top of my most-anticipated list. It features quite a few favorite actors (Natalie Portman, Oscar Issac, Tessa Thompson) and the mysterious premise is ripe for exploration in that speculative sci-fi manner that Garland excels at. I expect to be wowed visually, probably a little bit confused, and I absolutely can’t wait.

1 Hour and 55 Minutes Later.


The plot is simple: A group of soldiers enters an environmental disaster zone and only one soldier, Kane (Oscar Isaac), comes back out alive, though he is grievously injured. In an attempt to save his life, his wife Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist, volunteers for another expedition into the zone to figure out what happened to him.

The story of Annihilation opens with Lena being interviewed by Lomax (Benedict Wong), who he is we never really learn, in a containment room. He is asking questions about what happened inside The Shimmer and the vast majority of her answers are “I don’t know,” though there is some foreshadowing that occurs here that viewers may realize later. This theme of “I don’t know” continues throughout the film’s opening scenes as Kane arrives home unexpectedly and answers most of his wife’s questions with that same phrase. It’s at that point that I should have known not to expect many answers from Garland’s script. “I don’t know” is where it starts, and in many ways where it finishes.

It wasn’t until Lena and her team enter The Shimmer that I started enjoying the film. The opening section was slow to reveal anything of substance and Lena’s scientific background making her a perfect fit for the expedition team felt too convenient. Lena’s team is a group of women. Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the head of the Southern Reach agency in charge of researching The Shimmer and the leader of the team that enters. Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), and Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) also are scientists and create a team that is well-rounded in its knowledge. There is also an element of self-destructiveness to each woman, as Sheppard points out that coming into The Shimmer (where only one person has ever emerged from alive) isn’t something you do if you’re happy with your life. Throughout the course of the film, discovering just what each character’s motivation is and how it is affected by what they experience is an important element of the story.

Unfortunately, it’s this character development that I found so lacking as to derail my enjoyment of the film. This is cerebral science fiction that intends to be esoteric. Garland is not interested in making a lot of sense and scenes don’t always tie together in a meaningful way. While the ladies provide an interesting collection of personalities to explore with, I never had the emotional connection that made me care what happened to them and felt like some very good actresses were mostly wasted. Likewise, I did not find myself caring much for the fate of the world at hand, despite The Shimmer’s consistent expansion being framed as dangerous to all life on planet earth. I did feel that some connection was made with Lena, and that makes sense because she’s the most developed by far, but she just isn’t very likable and thus her fate had little impact.

Now, some will fall head over heels for the kind of ambiguity the film serves up in spades. Its visuals are certainly mesmerizing. The beauty of The Shimmer and the horror of things like a bear-beast are equally staggering. The story also goes in a much darker place than I ever expected – in that Event Horizon or third act of Sunshine kind of way. It is fantastically creepy and had me cringing a few times out of shock. I applaud Paramount for letting Garland make the film he envisioned. At the same time, it’s really no surprise that this film didn’t test well with audiences and was sold to Netflix in order to recover most of its budget. It’s likely not going to be received well by mainstream audiences.


My love of Alex Garland’s writing created expectations that proved to be too high for Annihilation to meet. Though I enjoyed elements of the film and respect its incredible craftsmanship, I simply did not care enough about what happened. This lack of investment in its characters made it not worth the effort required for me to figure out its puzzles. I have no doubt that repeat viewings would help unpack further pieces of the mystery, but despite how well the film is made, I just didn’t enjoy watching it very much and don’t see myself rushing to experience it again anytime soon.


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

MOVIE REVIEW: Fifty Shades Freed



In my review of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, I wrote this: “Here’s the thing, not every movie I watch presents a worldview that I agree with or that I would ever consider acceptable for my life. This story fits squarely in that box. But the beauty of cinema is that it gives us an opportunity to peek into different lifestyles and perhaps even learn from them.” Now, with the culmination of this steamy series coming to theaters, I must say that my feelings remain the same. Throughout FIFTY SHADES GREY (and to a lesser extent in FIFTY SHADES DARKER), we see Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) exhibit agency. Unlike what some (who likely have not taken the time to actually see the films) will tell you, the submissive/dominant relationship at the heart of this series is consensual. It’s seeing this unusual power dynamic play out that makes for an interesting story, at least on some level. That being said, past films have plenty of problems, too. They aren’t great by any means, but they are entertaining enough. The trailers for FIFTY SHADES FREED point toward this final installment being more of an action thriller and I’m really hoping that excitement elevates this entry slightly above the rest.

1 Hour and 45 Minutes Later.


FIFTY SHADES FREED gave me exactly what I expected, and enough of what I wanted. Anastasia and Christian (Jamie Dornan) are now married, but along with the challenges of joint decision making they also are being dangerously stalked by someone who clearly has bad intentions. The stalking results in several action sequences and scenes of tension, but none of that works really well. If we’re being honest, though, this series isn’t trying to be a serious thriller with sex thrown in… it’s trying to be romantic soft-core porn with a better story. Frankly, despite the poorly filmed action in the film, it does in fact make the movie more interesting. Ultimately, the plot makes sense and I was pleased with the quick and realistic resolution to its climactic showdown.

The thriller aspect of this film, though, is really just there to carry us forward from sex scene to sex scene. There are lots of them in FIFTY SHADES FREED. There are good ones in FIFTY SHADES FREED. And there are a couple of real duds, too. I’d be perfectly happy if no movie ever used food in a sex scene again, that’s for sure. Regardless, thank goodness for buffer seats because I definitely got a little hot and bothered a few times. If that’s what you’re coming for, you should come away feeling relatively satisfied.

What I like most about the first film, and now this last entry, is the relationship dynamic between Anastasia and Christian. Ana is at her most dominant in this film and we see Christian having to come to terms with that. Never once has this series depicted abuse, and though its lifestyle is not one most are familiar with, for these two people it truly is how the show each other love. I was pleased with the ending and thought many may roll their eyes at it, the final act in this film is one of the most loving in the series.

This film could easily be called unintentionally funny, as well, but I’m not sure that’s true. Yes, it’s got some silly moments and plenty of groan-worthy dialogue, but this all results in a pretty hilarious experience and the funniest moments in the series. I think that’s the point. This is a romance novel on screen that embraces what it is and never apologizes. And isn’t that how it should be judged?


The FIFTY SHADES series is not for everyone, but those who enjoy the story from the books and/or the previous two film entries will probably like this too. The balance in relationship power elevates this film and though it doesn’t have the best action or most surprising thriller twists, it is engaging throughout and not overlong. With some laughs, steamy action, and a bit of heart, FIFTY SHADES FREED ends this series (just slightly) on its highest note.


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

MOVIE REVIEW: Peter Rabbit



Oh, January. According to Box Office Mojo, there is exactly one animated film among the Top 100 grossing of all-time to release in what is widely considered the dumping ground month for film studios. Extend that to the Top 200 and you find only three films released in January. Let’s just say this doesn’t provide a huge amount of confidence in Peter Rabbit‘s breakout potential. That being said, despite my little to no interest in this live-action/CGI animated adventure, Columbia Pictures does have a history of putting out some solid animated films (Arthur Christmas, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Open Season, and the Hotel Transylvania series). I also had little to no interest in another live-action/CGI film this January. That movie, Paddington 2shocked me by being utterly fantastic. And so, Peter Rabbit. Here’s hoping for a hopping good time, but expecting nothing close.

1 Hour and 33 Minutes Later.


New rule: stop underestimating British comedies.

Early in the film, a narrator voice-over tells us that Peter Rabbit is “the tale of a rabbit in a blue coat with no pants.” That simple description may be true, but much like the film’s trailers, it says nothing about the emotional depth to be found within. Sure, the movie about talking animals battling with a human over control of a garden is funny as it should be, but it’s also got a lot of heart, and that is what elevates this one from good to to great.

Will Gluck’s writing in the film is wonderful. At first, the reckless and prideful Peter (James Corden) appears to just want supremacy of the garden from Mr. McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson). After all, despite it being a great source of food, couldn’t the rabbits move to somewhere less populated and with more accessible sustenance that wasn’t littered with traps? But as the story progresses, Peter’s underlying motivations are slowly revealed to be more emotionally driven, and his relationships with his family and local animal loving neighbor Bea (Rose Byrne) grow into ones that have some genuine depth. The film also uses its entertaining battles between rabbit and man to make a great point about bullying and the escalating violence it can cause. It’s not all feels, though. The humor Gluck weaves throughout the narrative comes in many different forms. There is social commentary (brief jabs are taken at electronic device addiction and the growing trend of everyone being allergic to something), fourth-wall breaking, and some great meta moments. All of the jokes feel smart and current in a way that’s different from typical American animation. Maybe I’m just a sucker for British wit, but if you are too then you’ll love what Gluck has done with this script.

The music in the film also is a major positive. It’s musical choices work great and a running gag with some singing birds definitely is a highlight. Visually, the film looks great. Colors are crisp and bright. The rabbits look appear appropriately cuddly. The interaction between live-action and CGI is fantastic, too, with Gleeson and Byrne both doing a great job of selling that they’re really communicating with talking animals. Gleeson in particular is a joy to watch and I’ve decided this type of role is where he shines most. He’s easy to hate while at the same time giving you enough charm that you feel like there’s something there to love, which is exactly what was needed for Mr. McGregor. Both he and Byrne seem to really be enjoying their roles an having a ball.

This all isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have issues. Structurally it hops around at times and is a little bit of a mess. And even though there is an attempt to round out Peter’s family with unique personalities, there’s just not enough time to develop them in a deeply meaningful way. Peter Rabbit also isn’t particularly memorable. While the emotional beats work while watching they aren’t something you’ll be considering for hours and days afterward. Still, these and other minor quibbles aside, the film is just so much fun that it overcomes them and results in a very entertaining experience.


Peter Rabbit isn’t by any means a perfect film. But like Paddington 2, when compared to non-Pixar/Disney American animation it really shows that there is an amazing alternative in animated comedy for audiences to focus on and celebrate. This is a film that is short, sweet and smart with some great messages about family and friendship all while being one of the most laugh out loud hilarious experiences I’ve had in a theater in ages. Its choice to go deeper than the surface by touching on themes of owning up to mistakes and forgiveness turn it into more than just a funny action adventure, and instead make it one of the better animated films to ever be released in January. Grab your blue jackets and take the family to this fun romp through the garden!


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

MOVIE REVIEW: Maze Runner: The Death Cure



Better late than never, right? A year after its original release date, Wes Ball’s final installment of his Maze Runner trilogy is here. Thankfully, star Dylan O’Brien has fully recovered from the serious injuries sustained while filming and is ready to bring this high octane franchise to its riveting conclusion. James Dashner’s series has always been one of my favorite Young Adult dystopian trilogies. I read each one as they came out, and vividly remember waiting in line at midnight to pick up my copy of The Death Cure. I read it in one sitting that day and mostly enjoyed the way in which the story wraps up for Thomas, Teresa, and the Gladers. Maze Runner: The Death Cure will follow the remaining escapees as they try to save their friends from the legendary Last City, which of course is under WCKD control. Thus far Wes Ball has done a solid job, with the previous entries being his only feature length films to date. I’m excited to see how the film story plays out differently than the books and optimistic that this will be an exciting adventure right up to the last minute.

2 Hours and 20 Minutes Later.


Last year (2017), movie fans were treated to the final film of a rare trilogy that got better with each successive installment. Granted, the Planet of the Apes series was not based on young adult books as is The Maze Runner Trilogy, but it provided an example of just how good progressive storytelling can be. After Wes Ball’s hot start with the claustrophobic and mysterious thriller The Maze Runner, book two’s adaptation of The Scorch Trials was just another race and chase action film adding very little complexity and character depth. And unfortunately, taking the opposite trajectory of that incredible aforementioned series, The Death Cure does not in fact bring this series back to life but instead sends it off in an explosive, fiery, forgettable mess.

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front. Book fans – this is not the adaptation you probably expect. A good 75% of the story has been changed and the parts that do remain are out of order and have a much different feel to them. One of the most important facets of James Dashner’s novels is that Thomas and Teresa (and Aris later) can communicate telepathically. This was understandably removed from the adaptations because it would have been a nightmare to try and show cinematically. However, in doing so the story is stripped of an enormous amount of emotional depth and relationship building between the two leads that is never adequately replaced. In fact, there is so little movie reason given for Thomas to be relentlessly in love with Teresa that it makes the events of this final film fall very, very flat. And speaking of Aris? After an important introduction in film two, he all but disappears completely in The Death Cure. Other book character changes abound, with new ones being inserted or old ones altered completely to fulfill the different story requirements of the film series. Wherever you stand on how accurate book-to-movie adaptations should be, just know that the changes made in The Scorch Trials have been double-downed on. This is no longer The Death Cure story you know, complete with a different ending, which makes one wonder why a book series is adapted at all if the changes are going to be this glaring.

Unfortunately, even removing a desire to see the story as it was written originally, Ball’s third film still isn’t very good. The story as told is extremely generic with almost nothing unexpected taking place. The film begins with an incredible train action scene and then quickly plunges into over an hour of drama. It’s this section that hurts the film immensely and turns it into a bit of a bore. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) has never been more moody, brooding, and pouty. Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), likewise, goes through the entire film with almost the same facial expression. The two form one of the most emotionless pairs I’ve ever seen. There are a few scenes in the film that did evoke some feelings, but none of them coming from the main characters is a problem. Instead it’s Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar) who are genuinely intriguing characters and stand out as the best performances of the film, as well as worthy of the most feels. Sadly, their strength just further shows the weaknesses of the leads so enjoyment is offset by disappointment. And when it comes to villains, Janson (Aidan Gillen) is about as cookie-cutter as they come. Gillen’s role in this series was clearly increased due to his rising fame from Game of Thrones, and I’m not a fan of his performance at all.

Eventually the film shifts back into pure adrenaline-fueled action, which Wes Ball has shown he can do well. The finale is chaotic in that everything-must-blow-up-because-bigger-is-better way. There are definitely some great (and dangerous looking) practical effects, but also plenty of moments that push the boundaries of realism so far into ridiculousness that it’s hard to take seriously. Where in the past Ball seems to have shown some restraint, there is none to be found here, and the movie is worse for it.


The Maze Runner is a series that offered so much potential, but Wes Ball’s final installment does not earn the emotional stakes its conclusion hinges on. Though I still believe Dylan O’Brien can be a star, his lack of range in this performance does leave me a little worried. I can’t help but compare this adaptation to its source material, where it uses the same characters to tell a much more interesting story, but even when taken on its own merit The Death Cure just isn’t that interesting. It’s too long, with a weak melodramatic center, and overly frantic seizure-inducing action that is the worst of the series. Fans of the series should probably still check it out, and may come away with a slightly better experience, but don’t hope for much more lest you be as disappointed as I am.


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




Someone decided that it was a good idea to take a 1936 short story about a pacifist bull and turn it into a film starring the voice talent of wrestling superstar John Cena. While I know the actor, I didn’t know of the book that Ferdinand is based on. The original story by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson was initially met with a mixture of opinions before becoming so much of a hit in the 1930’s that it was featured on several commercial products. And now here we are in 2017 to see if it can make a comeback and win over family audiences this Christmas. My expectations for this film are extremely low, but I have at least enjoyed the prior films of director Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age, Rio) and Cena’s casting does make me curious. Just another needless kid’s film, or heartfelt and moving animated story with an important message or meaningful life lesson? Time to step into the arena and find out.

1 Hour and 46 Minutes Later.


Well, hey, it’s another anti-bullying movie. And that’s not a bad thing. Because people shouldn’t bully others, ya know? Poor Ferdinand grows up with plenty of this from his fellow calves, who have trouble accepting a bull who just wants to smell the flowers instead of fight. Tragedy strikes while Ferdinand is still young and he escapes to the country where he takes up residence at a flower farm. Convenient since he loves flowers so much, right? And also convenient that the little girl who befriends him actually knows his name is Ferdinand, too! Yes… if there is one word that I would use to describe Ferdinand it would be “convenient.” Every plot choice works perfectly because it has to, not because it makes any kind of logical sense. By the time the animals are driving a truck during the film’s climax, I was completely checked out.

Along with its message against bullying, the film promotes accepting who you are and loving others for the same. I actually never got the sense that the movie was strictly anti-violence. It (shockingly) shows what the alternative is for bulls who don’t succeed in the arena and could be emotional for young children who pick up on the subtlety. Don’t worry, though, no animated bulls were killed in the making of this movie so they won’t be scarred for life. The irony of John Cena playing a pacifist is somewhat amusing considering his fame comes from a career spent acting out violence for the entertainment of a large ground. Not all that unlike bull fighting, hm?

Characters in the film are hit and miss. Ferdinand himself is well played by Cena. A goofy “calming” goat voiced by Kate McKinnon that plays a large role in the final third of the film has importance as a character but is so annoying that I wanted to plug my ears. The rest of the bulls are unique, have their own strengths and weaknesses, and all play a part at precisely the right time to the surprise of no one. They’re… fine. Oh, and there are also German fancy horses. Who dab.


There are so many better animated films to recommend over Ferdinand. The bar has been raised, and every film has a positive message so that doesn’t set this one apart. It does have some charm and Cena’s voicework is good, but an overly convenient plot that tries to balance heartfelt concern with ridiculous unbelievable antics fails to connect and barely entertains. Possibly worth a rental eventually, but with Coco still in theaters there is no reason to spend money and time on Ferdinand.


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

MOVIE REVIEW: The Glass Castle

How does the old saying go? You can’t choose your family? If you could, it’s hard to fathom why anyone would willingly pick the Walls family. The Glass Castle, based off the memoir of journalist Jeannette Walls, tells the story of a dysfunctional family living way below the poverty line, desperate to find a balance between survival and hope. Held afloat by powerful performances by Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) and co-writer  Andrew Lanham (The Shack) do a decent job in spotlighting  the shocking day to day experience of being a child of Rex (Harrelson) and Rose Mary Walls (Naomi Watts.) But this membership holds no privileges.

The Walls structure their parenting (use that term in the loosest possible way) philosophy around indifference and empty promises. The result is an environment suited to reckless endangerment, emotional and physical abuse, and a disinterest in pursuing any exploit that might better their lot in life. A lot of this neglect is shadowed by a delusion that everything will work out, which only serves to justify their lack of effort and responsibility.  Added to that is the drunken state Rex usually resides in, and the blissful ignorant haze that gets Rose through life. It’s a frustrating and often uncomfortable watch- one that is all too easy to judge from the sidelines- yet one that is peppered with just enough sentimental moments to play with our emotions and rage against our instincts as rational human beings.

Where The Glass Castle falls short is in its inability to push the boundaries outside the Walls’ family bubble.  Something the book does very well is focus on the societal impact of living in this level of squalor, especially on the children. They are bullied at school. There is a constant fear of social workers intervening. The images the book conjures in your mind are infinitely more graphic than what is depicted onscreen. The film brushes over a lot of that in favor of keeping within the confines of interpersonal family relationships.

Told primarily through the lens of young Jeanette, played with a wide-eyed precociousness by Ella Anderson (The Boss), all of our emotional chips are wagered on the fallout from Rex’s indiscretions and how they impact his family. Promises of one day striking it rich and building a fantastical “glass castle”, Rex manipulates Jeanette with false hope. As his children get older and more wiser to his bullshit, Rex flees deeper into his alcoholism, leading to much darker situations that are likely to leave audience members sickened with disgust. But, throughout all of the hurt and anger justifiably levied against their parents by the children, there is always an air of unconditional love lingering. That’s where a lot of people are struggling to hang their hat.

Because of the focus on Jeanette and Rex, Harrelson and Larson get the lion’s share of dramatics to handle. Harrelson is doing some of his best work here. It’s a role that seems built for his irascible style. Larson continues to prove she’s worthy of acclaim.  Even though she really only gets one “awards worthy” scene, it’s a powerful moment in which she’s able to express Jeanette’s long festering frustration with her parents, and it’s quite satisfying as a viewer that has had to watch these kids go through Hell for ninety minutes. I’d like to say the remaining characters leave an impression, but their moments simply aren’t as impactful. Watts is never given much to do other than hang around in a lot of scenes as the compliant waif to Rex’s aggressions. The other kids are there more or less because they have to be.

So the difficult question to answer is, do the filmmakers sprinkle a bit too much sugar on the film to make it more palatable? Do the arguably criminal actions of the Wall’s level of neglect warrant a mostly happy ending? Most of the critics serving negative reviews I’ve seen seem to want to die on this particular hill. The consensus is that transgressions such as these couldn’t possibly align with themes of redemption and forgiveness.  Admittedly, I’m not sure I would be able to find that level within myself, but it’s easy to say that as an outsider looking in. The book and the film seem to indicate that the power of love is strong within this hot mess of a family. Only Jeanette Walls and her three siblings get to decide whether that’s a worthy ending.