Episode 220: Onward

This week we have a great conversation about Pixar’s latest film, one that takes place in a modernized Dungeons & Dragons like world. We discuss its epic adventure, brotherhood, the importance of parental support, and more.

Onward – 0:03:08

The Connecting Point – 0:44:33

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MOVIE REVIEW: Onward

Rating: PG / Runtime: 1 hour and 54 minutes

Coming hot on the heels of Pixar’s Best Animated Picture Oscar victory for 2019’s unwanted yet somehow still exceptional “Toy Story 4″, “Onward” is the first of two original stories by the revered studio to hit the big screen in 2020. With fairly light marketing going in, many will find themselves entering a theater in the same position that I was – unexpectedly unexcited. But fear ye not, good peoples of Earth, because that Pixar magic is alive and well (literally in fact, because ya know this story is about wizards and stuff).

“Onward” is a beautifully colorful film set in the fictional city of New Mushroomton, part of a world full of fantasy creatures like centaurs and sprites, that despite once being filled with magic and champions on heroic quests is now taken over by scientific and technological advancement. Mastering magic was “too hard” and innovation for convenience won the day. The story centers around two elf brothers, Barley (Chris Pratt) and Ian (Tom Holland) Lightfoot, who on Ian’s 16th birthday are given a present from their deceased father. This gift is a magical item that if used correctly will allow the boys to spend one last day with their Dad, which both of them desperately desire. Because he passed away from illness while they were young, Barley barely remembers their time together and Ian has no memories of his own at all. It’s something that both haunts and drives him, as he continually makes lists of things to accomplish in life hoping to make his father proud. In the old days, an epic quest was a staple of someone’s 16th birthday and after Ian’s attempt to use the item goes terribly wrong, the brothers set off to retrieve a mythical stone so that they can try again. Before the sun sets, of course. Every good quest needs a time limit.

To reveal any twists and surprises of the story would be completely unfair because the emotional journey Pixar takes viewers on is a truly wonderful one. Pratt and Holland have perfect chemistry as the brothers, who in lieu of a true antagonist for the film have a relationship that is both loving and also filled with many differences of opinion that lead to some exciting situations. Barley is a walking mishap who drives a van named Gwynevere, spends his time in role-playing games or protesting the destruction of historical sites, and generally reminds everyone he comes in contact with about how magic used to rule the land and they’ve gotten away from their true nature. Ian, by contrast, is smart but timid, socially awkward, and thinks his brother’s obsession is mostly lunacy. It makes for a ton of great banter throughout the film as the two embark on a daring quest that features all of the elements you might expect, including but not limited to finding a quest giver to get a map, solving tricky puzzles, and overcoming dangerous beasts with legendary weapons of power.

Yes, “Onward” is basically Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft with a heartfelt and deeply poignant story of brotherhood and parental loss layered into that world, and it’s incredible just how powerful the emotions it evokes are! Make no mistake, at multiple points during the fun adventurous quest full of monsters, spells, and swords, the tears will flow and the heart will pound. This dramatic quest for family grieving is non-stop clever and charming along the way, and with “Onward” Pixar has a truly magical start to 2020 with a film that families (and especially fantasy fans who will enjoy the film’s many references) are going to find themselves enchanted by.

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 163: Avengers: Endgame

This week we are of course talking about the final chapter in a story 10 years and 22 films in the making. We break down our reaction to this once-in-generation event, while also taking a look back at the past and contemplating the future. This is a wonderful conversation that we both thoroughly enjoyed and think you will, too.

Avengers: Endgame Review – 0:02:55

The Connecting Point – 1:31:05


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MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Endgame

100% spoiler-free with no plot points even hinted at! AVENGERS: ENDGAME closes the book on one of the greatest film franchise achievements in history on a very high note. It is every bit the emotional experience you expect & a gratifying finale. Also, for the first time in 10+ years there is no post-credit scene so feel free to rush to the bathroom as required.

 


 

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 149: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Who would have thought that an animated movie based on Lego minifigs would ever become must-see cinema? But here we are. THE LEGO MOVIE 2 goes bigger than ever before and we’re a bit split on just how well that worked. We talk through the pop culture reference-heavy thematically rich sequel with so much going on that it couldn’t help but give us plenty to discuss. Our hope is that this podcast is gonna stuck inside your heeeeeeaaaad.

The Lego Movie 2 Review – 0:3:52

The Connecting Point – 0:56:06

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part


 

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.

What We Learned This Week: October 14-27

LESSON #1: SUPPORT PHYSICAL MEDIA AND FILM PRESERVATION— The Friday announcement that the Filmstruck streaming service will close at the end of November is a blow to classic, international, and documentary films.  The vast Criterion Collection was previously occupying a shingle of Hulu Plus before Filmstruck can do be, and I’m sure that winning content will find a new home, likely something from its Warner Bros. parent looking to compete with Disney and Netflix.  Still, this is the equivalent of a museum loosing its walls boarding up its treasures.  Let this be a reminder call to support physical media, even if those Criterion discs are pricey.  I get that streaming is portable and convenient, but a top-shelf disc is worth every penny sometimes.  If discerning cinephiles should also look to local libraries for access to hard-to-find films.  I’ll echo fellow FF contributor Jacob Neff to promote the absolutely free Kanopy app that is connected to most library cards.  You can’t pass up free and make sure to follow Jacob’s “You Should Be Watching” column for recommended buried treasures.  If you need a checklist bigger than that, borrow Martin Scorsese’s.  

LESSON #2: FILMS MAY AGE, BUT THE MEMORIES AND IMPACT THEY CREATE WILL NOT— RogerEbert.com and New York magazine film critic extraordinaire Matt Zoller Seitz had a recent interview with The Last Picture Show filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and the topic of superhero movies came up.  The respected armchair historian asserted that superhero movies (with few exceptions) are going to “date very badly.”  I think the guy enjoying the way-back machine can’t drive the way-forward machine with the same level of understanding.  It is almost a certainty, like every genre hey-day that has come before now, that comic book films cannot maintain their current market saturation level forever, but not before adding to the game-changing level of impact and entertainment that they have earned and enjoyed.  We’re going on 40 years since Superman: The Movie and nearly 20 years since their early-00s renaissance.  In that time, superhero movies have the fan following numbers that have already created multi-generational reach. That’s bigger than a phase or a fad. They have become too big to fade into forgotten nothingness.  Like western or noir, they will simply evolve with their times because even with tastes changing, we’re still making westerns and noirs too.

LESSON #3: THE FILM MEDIUM’S MIDDLE CLASS CONTINUES TO FADE— Speaking of blockbusters, tentpole films never used to be so big.  There was a time that a $100 million budget was seen as an excessive risk that could sink a studio.  Now, we’re talking about $200+ million films being too big to fail or overinflated comedies (like Adam Sandler flicks from a decade ago) that cost $80 million to make when they used to cost a tenth of that.  Many of the popular hits of the 1980s and 1990s that came before the gigantic budget price tags of today were these middle-budgeted studio programmers that cost between $25-$75 million.  They represented an entire economy of smart money staple.  They always had one or two big stars attached that ensured a loyal and steady audience across most any genre, from cop thrillers to romantic comedies.  Today, especially after the announced shuttering of Annapurna Pictures (excellent editorial piece from Next Best Picture), the “middle class” film nearly doesn’t exist.  Things are either huge or relegated or dismissed to indie fare.  For some parallel examples, Die Hard had a $28 million budget and Pretty Woman‘s was $14 million.  Today, one would be a Dwayne Johnson film with quadruple the sticker price and the other would be a low-level indie like The Big Sick with a scant budget of $5 million that has to beg for funding and distribution.  Like our own national economy, if you want a healthier marketplace and industry, boost the middle class.  Bring back the middle-budgeted programmers.

LESSON #4: TAYLOR SHERIDAN HAS EARNED THE CRED TO MAKE ANYTHING HE WANTS— Taylor Sheridan is one hell of a writer and emerging as a one hell of a filmmaker too.  He had me at Sicario‘s script.  If he didn’t impress you by the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, you’re dead to me.  Wind River spread his wings to director’s chair and now he’s preparing his follow-up under the Warner Bros. big top.  His thriller Fast, with franchise potential, is coming and it’s attracting the attention of Chris Pratt.  Make it happen, WB.  Make it happen.

LESSON #5: NO ONE IS GOING TO MISS A BOBA FETT MOVIE— LucasFilm producer Kathleen Kennedy declared Friday that James Mangold’s Boba Fett was dead in favor of Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian TV series that will help open Disney’s exclusive streaming service.  I’ll be the guy that says it.  I never understood the fascination with the admittedly good-looking character after about four lines and faint presence in the original trilogy.  Fan fiction has made Boba Fett into a cult figure, but Solo shows that even legends can’t guaranteed a successful or profitable film.  The bounty hunter didn’t stand a chance on the biggest stage and James Mangold dodged a bullet.

LESSON #6: TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT THE FILMS THEY WATCH— Notable semi-“granola” parent and actress Kristen Bell shared in an interview with Parent magazine that she’s not fully comfortable with some Disney animated classics.  She called out Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as one poor example, citing the failing to avoid taking food from strangers and, more astutely, the notion of consent when it comes to princes and their kisses to sleeping maidens.  Shrug all you want and dismiss Snow White and others as a harmless kids movies, but Bell is handling it right.  Bell shared in the interview how she makes sure to have discussions with her children after the movies they watch.  This school teacher over here writing this column highly approves of that parenting measure. Engaging in those talks elevates the experience from being time-killing entertainment into rich “teachable moments,” and they help correct misconceptions we might not even know kids had or picked up along the way.  The children will see your interpersonal example of the beginnings of critical thinking.  Make movies shared episodes of such enrichment and quality time.


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

Episode 115: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Episode 115 may prove to be the least positive in our show’s history, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t feeling this film. We try and go beyond what doesn’t work by having a discussion about why this kind of storytelling is still financially successful. We also chat about the series as a whole and compare this newest entry to its predecessors. Joining us for this episode is first-time guest and contributor, the author of our weekly #YouShouldBeWatching article, Jacob Neff.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:08

(Aaron – Making Fun: The Story of Funko)
(Patrick – Hearts Beat Loud)
(Jacob – Jurassic Park series & J.A. Bayona filmography)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review – 0:18:45

The Connecting Point – 1:07:08


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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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.

Episode 107: Avengers Infinity War

After 10 years and 18 films, Marvel’s ambitious, unique interconnected world of superhero films comes to this, a team-up movie the likes of which we have never seen before. Historic in its scope and in its box office success, Avengers: Infinity War is a special blockbuster and one that provides plenty to discuss. We’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about this one, its place in the MCU, and where Marvel goes from here.

Avengers: Infinity War Review – 0:02:33

The Connecting Point – 01:27:30


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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