MOVIE REVIEW: Paddington 2

PADDINGTON 2 (2018)


GOING IN

In 2014, a movie based on a children’s book about a talking bear who is discovered in Peru and moves to modern-day London, became an overwhelmingly positive critical success. I’d never have bet on this happening. But it did, and so much so that the British live-action/CGI hit has spawned a sequel. Paddington was recognized for being a warm-hearted family-friendly adventure full of charm, wit, and with a playful sense of humor. It was also filled with gags that made it just plain fun, and my family is excited to see where the immigrant bear’s story goes from here.

1 Hour and 43 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

Rarely does a film so exceed my expectations that I’m left with a feeling of awe, but my face literally almost broke into pieces from the immensity of my smile as I sat watching one of the most perfect post-credit scenes I’ve ever witnessed follow-up a film so adorable that I wanted to hug it, then see it again immediately. The word awesome may be overused and have a wide range of application, but when expanded to its full definition of something that is “extremely impressive; inspiring great admiration”, it applies perfectly to Paddington 2.

Now with the origin story out of the way, director Paul King is able to show us what Paddington’s every day life in London is like with the Brown family. It still requires some suspension of disbelief to see humans interacting with a talking bear as if it’s routine, but it doesn’t take long to start feeling the joy that Paddington is bringing into the lives of everyone he interacts with and accept him for who he is, and not how he looks. Watching the Brown’s operate as a family is particularly sweet, and each member has their own personal issue of identity that they are dealing with in some manner. Each of these is introduced briefly and King’s ability to pay off each individual family member’s struggle while maintaining a balance of character focus throughout the film is a triumph. As for Paddington, he simply wants to find the best present possible for Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, and due to a bad case of wrong place/wrong time he ends up in the most unlikely of places… prison. The rest of the plot takes everyone on whimsical adventures, complete with treasure hunting, plenty of detective work, and hijinks on a train. The film has plenty to say about being yourself, having manners, and looking for the good in others, but it is never distracting and rather genuinely uplifting.

Along Paddington’s journey, one of the characters he meets is former star actor turned dog food salesman Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant). Phoenix wants what Paddington wants and serves as the villain of the film, and boy oh boy is Grant having the time of his life in this role. It’s impossible not to smile and laugh constantly because Grant’s performance evokes these involuntary reactions at every turn. While he doesn’t have the kind of Oscar-worthy moment that is thought of when awards are handed out for best acting work, his consistent greatness in playing this character perfectly should not be overlooked. Also hitting a home run with his performance as Knuckles McGinty, a prison cook, is Brendan Gleeson. McGinty and Paddington enter into a unique sort of friendship that is as much gut-busting fun as it is soft and caring. Paddington is the kind of bear who always looks on the bright side, after all, bringing people together and making the best of whatever situation he is in, and McGinty and the other prisoners find it as hard to resist his unrelenting kindness as audiences do his charm.

All of this is well and good, but what truly raises Paddington 2 to greatness is that it’s not just a wonderful family-friendly story full of laughter and smiles, but also a technical marvel. The blending of live-action and CGI work is really special, never once being noticeable or feeling out of place. The cinematography is always fantastic and often striking with vivid color. Many times I was reminded of Wes Anderson’s work, particularly in The Grand Budapest Hotel, by the way in which a variation of angles were used to frame characters and scenes in interesting ways (usually centered). That color, though, bursting off the screen as if it was alive, added so much to the overall joy of the experience and was a treat for the eyes.

VERDICT

Shocking as it may be to read this early in the year, Paddington 2 is a truly wonderful film that will stand as one of 2018’s best. As the sequel to a great film, this one is even better. More heart-warming, more hilarious, and with outstanding performances by Grant and Gleeson that set it apart from other animated and similar genre pictures. In a world that often gives plenty of reason to frown, Paddington will replace that with pure delight. Take the whole family to see it once, twice, or more. Spending time with this marmalade-loving bear will start your year at the movies off right.

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 how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2017)

We live in a world of remakes, reboots, reimaginings and rebrandings. Sequels and franchises dominate the box office. If a studio sees any opportunity to squeeze a dime out of something you loved as a child, chances are it’s already in production. While they’re not all terrible, even the best of them are merely well-produced retreads that lack innovation and imagination. But every once in a while, a sequel or a reboot comes along that surpasses its source material with a fresh take that injects life into the property. This Christmas, we’re lucky enough to have one of those rare diamonds in the rough in Jake Kasdan’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a standalone sequel to the 1995 hit Jumanji, directed by Joe Johnston and starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt and a young Kirsten Dunst that spawned an animated television series and multiple video games. Boasting cutting edge CGI for its time, the film told the story of four players stuck in the middle of a mystical interactive board game where you win or you die. I’ve been excited for this film for a while due to my fond memories of the original and the casting of Dwayne Johnson in the lead role. Anyone who knows me knows that the easiest way to get me into a theater is to cast The Rock.

The film picks up almost exactly where the original left off in 1996 with the board game being discovered on a beach where it washed up after Robin Williams’ Allan Parrish attempted to bury it in the bottom of a river in 1969. The man who discovered the game gives it to his son Alex who has no interest in board games but is an avid video gamer. The game transforms itself into a video game and after we see some green flashing lights from outside Alex’s window, the film fast forwards to the present day where four high schoolers discover the video game while cleaning out an old storage room and they one by one get sucked into the world of Jumanji. Having been transformed into the bodies of their avatars (Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black), the four students must find a jewel that’s been stolen and return it to its sacred resting place before the perils of the jungle take their lives.

If the plot sounds simple, that’s because it absolutely is. There are a couple of mostly predictable twists and turns along the way, but this film works because of the solid chemistry of its cast. Continuing the on-screen chemistry that was forged in 2016’s surprising comedy Central Intelligence, Johnson and Hart play off of each other well and are the source of a lot of the film’s biggest laughs. Jack Black is as funny as he’s been in years as a self-obsessed teenage girl trapped in the body of a middle-aged man. Karen Gillan is perfectly awkward as an awkward teen suddenly trapped in the body of a stereotypical female video game heroine. The four of them clearly seem to be having a lot of fun together and each character is given their chance to shine.

There are a lot of films out there to see this time of year that will be mentioned come awards season. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is absolutely not one of those films. It’s ridiculous and over the top, but if I were making a list of the most enjoyable movies of the year, it would definitely be in the top five. I enjoyed the action, it made me laugh and there was a surprising emotional punch at the end that I didn’t see coming. If you’re wanting to go out with the family* to have a good time at the movies this holiday season, I have a hard time believing that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle would leave you disappointed.

Rating:

*This is a film with PG-13 humor unlike the original that catered to wider audiences. There is some content that might be objectionable to some with younger children. I’m glad I saw it on my own before taking my children who are all under the age of 12.


 

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 090: Arthur Christmas

It’s all about Santa’s extended family and a modern Christmas for our holiday episode this year and we hope this episode finds you smiling as much as we did during the 2011 British adventure comedy, ARTHUR CHRISTMAS. 

Arthur Christmas Review – 0:00:50

The Connecting Point – 0:40:48

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Minisode 034: Gremlins

This month’s donor pick choice was kind of a surprise to both of us, but our listeners spoke and we listened, so here we are, ready to talk Joe Dante’s 1984 sci-fi/horror/comedy/camp film… GREMLINS.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Ferdinand

FERDINAND (2017)


GOING IN

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.


COMING OUT

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.

VERDICT

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.

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 how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 087: Coco

Pixar’s newest film Coco puts the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in the spotlight and explores fascinating cultural traditions with its vibrant animation and music. We discuss how Coco makes us feel and also talk about Kedi, a wonderful documentary about the cats roaming the streets of Istanbul and the people who love them. This episode is a happy one, and we hope our conversation captures the joy that these two films brought us.

Kedi Review – 0:01:34

Coco Review – 0:16:22

The Connecting Point – 1:06:30

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Minisode 32: Three Kings

Dark-comedy, scathing political satire, drama about human nature, or all of the above? David O. Russell’s Three Kings is a mixture of tones with a lot to say about the Persian Gulf War wrapped in an often funny, sometimes brutal adventure story. We dig in to this November Donor Pick and see if we can find the gold within.

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Dark-comedy, scathing political satire, drama about human nature, or all of the above? David O. Russell’s Three Kings is a mixture of tones with a lot to say about the Persian Gulf War wrapped in an often funny, sometimes brutal adventure story. We dig in to this November Donor Pick and see if we can find the gold within.

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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Episode 086: The Edge of Seventeen

Feelin’ Film writer Jeremy Calcara joins us for a discussion about one of our favorite coming-of-age films. The Edge of Seventeen is unique in its rejection of typical genre tropes in order to tell a more realistic and innocent story. With memorable characters and relationships, this is a film we expect to find ourselves revisiting often, and talking about it brings us great joy.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:42

Aaron (Brigsby Bear)
Patrick (Love & Mercy)
Andrew (Brigsby Bear, The Punisher on Netflix)

The Edge of Seventeen Review – 0:17:38

The Connecting Point – 1:19:16

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MOVIE REVIEW: Lady Bird

In an understated though pivotal moment in the film, Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith) posits to Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) that perhaps love and attention are one in the same. It’s a subtle theme that lives within Lady Bird, the feature directorial debut of writer/actress Greta Gerwig.

Culling bits and pieces from her own early aughts upbringing in Sacramento, California, Gerwig skillfully maneuvers her characters throughout the film in a way that feels uniquely honest and realistic. Every time you think the story is headed toward obvious conclusions, she pivots, landing in a place completely unexpected. Each character, even those with the slightest of screen time, feels fleshed out and genuine. Setting her main family dynamic against a struggling middle class existence, eschewing traditional white bread tropes and first world problems for an intimate look at familial relationships not backdropped by unrealistic lavishness, gives Lady Bird a refreshing tone. It’s not that Gerwig doesn’t explore social and economic class as a foil for her protagonists, but she doesn’t dwell there. Gerwig is far too accomplished a writer to waste time on exploitation of the haves versus the have-nots, instead allowing her characters to live and breathe within a realistic world, facing and conquering (or not) realistic problems, and landing in a place her audience can believe in and relate to.

The catalyst for all of this is of course Ronan as the titular “Lady Bird”, a moniker she gave to herself, presumably as part of her rebellion against her hyper-critical mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Lady Bird dreams of the day she can be free of “soul-sucking” Sacramento- the “midwest” of California as she labels it- and go live where the culture is. She is equal parts inconsiderate and selfish, but is impossible to dislike.  Attribute that to the talent of Ronan, who embodies Lady Bird with an inquisitive charm, albeit with an irascible discontent for her mom’s inability to rationally communicate with her.

Gerwig gives a masterclass on adolescent relationships. Whether Lady Bird is navigating the waters of first love- the boyish good looks and sweet naiveté of Danny (Lucas Hedges) and the rebellious, rock-n-roll charm of Kyle (Timothee Chalamet) each providing unique challenges- or best friendships, both real- a scene stealing Beanie Feldstein as the perky, insecure Julie… or fake- the high on social stature, “cool girl”, Jenna (Odeya Rush)- there is an innocent honesty to each. It would have been easy for Gerwig to assign a villainous arc to numerous characters, but she instead decides to keep these kids as authentic as possible. We will like or dislike certain characters, but there are no cruel intentions behind any of them, even when they make poor decisions.

But it’s the family dynamic that exists within the center of the film. Tracey Letts, as Lady Bird’s father Larry, gives such an emotionally understated performance. He is the anti-Marion, choosing to internalize his struggles. While Marion is outwardly critical, Larry hides his emotions behind computer solitaire and a bottle of anti-depressants. He would rather see his daughter happy than express his hurt at having to drop her off a block from school to hide her embarrassment over his uncool car. Lady Bird’s adopted brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his live in girlfriend, Shelly (Marielle Scott) don’t get a lot to do, but both serve the story at appropriate moments.

Of course none of this works without the tour de force performance by Metcalf. Marion is hopelessly passive aggressive toward Lady Bird, and their interactions more often than not devolve into an argumentative tit for tat ending in regretful insults and shattered feelings. These women are outright mean and spiteful to each other, but when Ronan and Metcalf are locked in, both performers are firing on all cylinders and will be hard for Academy voters to ignore when Oscar voting commences. Also credit Gerwig’s ultra tight script, which never incites false emotions with overly dramatic beats. The tensions between Lady Bird and Marion feel completely organic, and their frustrations with each other are a natural conclusion given their strong personalities.

At one point, Lady Bird asks of her mother, “Do you like me?” The exasperated Marion replies, “Of course I love you.” Lady Bird asks again…”But do you LIKE me?” Marion can only stare back at her daughter, unable to find the right words, just as she has throughout the film. Through all of the hurtful, contentious interactions between Lady Bird and her mom, there is clearly an underlying love of each other, even if neither of them can convey it properly. It exists within each concerned glare from Marion’s tired eyes. It exists when Lady Bird is quick to jump to her mother’s defense whenever an outsider speaks down on her. And it exists profoundly in the film’s final sequences, in moments of regret and self realization. It’s nice that Gerwig doesn’t completely wrap her ending up in a bow, instead opting for something ambiguously hopeful. Lady Bird is finding the best version of herself through trial and error; an opportunity in which her mother has worked many double shifts trying to provide her. And there is that final moment, when Lady Bird commits her confession ironically outside the church she has just exited, not contentiously and not spiteful.

This is as close to flawless as a coming of age film gets. It proves that love can hurt. Sometimes the very things we try so desperately to get away from are the very things we seek when we feel lost without them. Sometimes all that matters is what’s scribbled on some crumpled up note paper, or a pretty dress found on a thrift store clothes rack, in a dance with a true best friend, or a well timed Dave Matthews song.

Love exists if you are paying attention.

Rating:

 

MOVIE REVIEW: Coco

Coco (2017)

Going In

Pixar is back at it with another original film, and their track record for such is pretty amazing. Not to be confused with 2014’s Book of Life, despite a very similar look and story, Coco tells the tale of aspiring musician Miguel  as he teams up with charming trickster Hector on an extraordinary journey through the Land of the Dead. With Coco, Disney/Pixar are delving deep into the culture and traditions behind Día de los Muertos. This is particularly exciting because this Mexican holiday is not often explored in cinema. At the very least, I expect Coco to be fun, colorful, and heartfelt. Pixar has set its bar for excellence high when producing original works and I’m excited to see what visual treats they have in store.


COMING OUT

“Remember me.”

These two words resonate throughout the beautiful, vibrant adventure that is Disney Pixar’s Coco.  In Mexican culture, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a multi-day holiday that focuses on gatherings to pray for and remember friends and family who have died, and to help support their spiritual journey. One of the traditions around this is the creation of an ofrenda in each home (a special altar composed of pictures or tokens that commemorate one’s deceased loved one). According to the story of Coco, if the dead are represented on the ofrenda then their spirits may pass over once a year and visit their loved ones that remain in the living world. So while remembrance is especially important for the living, to the dead, being remembered is what they “live” for.

At the center of Coco is twelve-year old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young boy with music in his bones. Unfortunately for him, his great-great-grandfather left his wife and child to pursue musical dreams, and the family abandonment has never been forgiven by Miguel’s relatives. Miguel’s family blames music and will not allow it to be a part of their lives. The only family member that is not strongly opposed is Miguel’s very old great-grandmother Coco, and he feels a connection to her unlike the rest. Eventually, Miguel’s pursuit of his musical dreams results in antics that lead to him ending up in the Land of the Dead where he teams up with Hector (Gael García Bernal) and goes on a journey to find musical legend Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), who he believes to be his great-great-grandfather.

Throughout Miguel’s journey, much is learned about Día de los Muertos. Coco serves as something of a love letter to this unique cultural holiday and is an important history lesson for those not familiar with it. I knew very little about it myself aside from the parades I’d seen represented in movies and the typically seen calavera (known to most by the term “sugar skulls”). This aspect of the film was by far the best part of it for me, as coming out of I felt a new appreciation for something I’d never understood. Directly after my screening of Coco, a Hispanic father tapped me on my shoulder and asked what I thought of the film. I explained how intriguing the cultural history lesson was and he told me that he was so pleased by the representation of his life on the big screen and that he was very glad I now had more respect for traditions that are so widely misunderstood. This interaction confirmed that Pixar’s film has extreme value for the people it depicts, which is further evident in its setting of Mexican box office records.

As an adventure story, though, Coco never becomes great. There are themes here about pursuing your dreams, not being too controlling, listening to your elders, the power of music, and also heavier spiritual topics surrounding life after death. But despite some cute animal sidekicks, a fun banter-filled relationship between Miguel and Hector, and beautiful animation, there is just nothing very memorable about this Pixar tale. Yes, our protagonist and others learn lessons that better them, and its entertaining to watch the journey unfold, but a few days after seeing it you will likely have forgotten character names and specifics. There are also no memorable songs aside from “Remember Me,” which to be fair isn’t something Pixar typically focuses on, but with this being a film all about music would have enhanced it quite a bit. Authenticity is important, however, and the songs we do have feel very much like they belong. At times the lyrics and dialogue in the film alternate between English and Spanish. With no subtitles, I didn’t always understand fully what was being said, but the meaning was conveyed and I appreciated this little attention to detail and lack of catering to only an American audience.

Verdict

Coco is not Pixar’s best film, so don’t expect to be blown away emotionally. It is, however, a perfectly fun, fantastical adventure wrapped in an incredibly important history lesson of a culture most are not familiar with. Coco will likely resonate more with those it represents and that is a wonderful thing. It’s also the kind of film that will give you something to discuss with your children and help expand their knowledge of the world and people in a meaningful way. Not every movie is going to be “play the Blu-ray on repeat” good. Coco certainly isn’t, but it’s worth seeing once.

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 how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.