MOVIE REVIEW: Isle of Dogs



Wes Anderson is known for his colorful, whimsical style of filmmaking, which has earned him legions of devoted fans. His films are almost always beautiful and can be seen as period pieces, since none of them have ever taken place in the present. Thus far, I’ve only found one of his films to be spectacular, and that is Fantastic Mr. Fox. I do feel that should I revisit his films, I might discover myself enjoying them more because my tastes have changed quite a bit in the past few years and I now highly value the kind of technical precision Anderson employs. What I know about Isle of Dogs: it has unique, gorgeous stop-motion animation, is set in a dystopian sci-fi future, has talking dogs, and revolves around a boy trying to find his lost pet. Consider me highly intrigued.

1 Hour and 41 Minutes Later.


“Who are we? And who do we want to be?”

These questions, posed by a dog, to other dogs, are the kind of existential nuggets slid into most Anderson films. Here, there is something particularly powerful about them coming from an animated talking pet, as it really drives home the awareness these dogs exhibit throughout the film. Never does Anderson allow us to lose perspective – a dog is an animal and they act accordingly – but this additional layer of thoughtfulness gives them profound human depth, making it all the easier to emotionally resonate with how they feel. It also encourages us to ask the same of ourselves…

At its heart, Isle of Dogs in an adventure story. The film opens with historical background on the Japanese Kobayashi Dynasty (cat lovers) and tells of how dogs once were nearly wiped from the earth, overtaken by cats, but saved by a young samurai boy. Time passes and dogs become the loving pets we know of today, but then mysterious illnesses such as the Dog Flu and Snout Fever begin to appear and spread rapidly amongst the canine population in Megasaki City. Mayor Kobayashi (Kunchi Nomura) decrees that all dogs will be banished to Trash Island in an effort to supposedly keep the city healthy, but of course the feline-loving empire has other reasons as well.

The first dog to be banished is the guard dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), who was assigned to protect Mayor Kobayashi’s young nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin). This sets in motion the primary story events, which revolve around Atari venturing to Trash Island to find his beloved dog, and instead coming across a pack led by Chief (Bryan Cranston), that also includes Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and King (Bob Balaban). As this adventure progresses, Atari and the pack begin to bond, and much is explored about the relationship between man and man’s best friend. Atari never speaks English (and there are no subtitles), but it’s always perfectly clear what he is trying to say. Meanwhile the dogs speak in typical Wes Anderson style, with a dry wit about them, providing most of the movie’s adorable humor. Anderson’s minimalist screenplay really allows the incredible animation and fantastic score to be equally provocative, too. Characters eyes fill with tears on multiple occasions and the sight of it alone is enough to send most viewers reaching for the Kleenex. It’s unsurprising, of course, seeing as how Anderson is known for such detailed work, but at the same time the animation is so mesmerizing that it almost becomes entrancing. There is a style and uniqueness here that not only shows great skill, but really elevates the emotion of the story.

This coming-of-age tale for both boy and dog is also chock full of subtle political and social issues. In a sense the Mayor is deporting an entire race that he seems to hate for no real reason at all, other than he prefers another one. Most of these issues are brought up by Duke in the form of him telling the gang about rumors he’s heard, so while they are effective and can get adults thinking, they’re also woven seamlessly into the narrative in a humorous way. There’s also Tracy (Greta Gerwig), a foreign exchange student who believes a major conspiracy is afoot and is determined to find the truth about Mayor Kobayashi’s actions. Her dedicated efforts may be played for laughs, but she serves as a great character example of what it’s like when someone tries to fight the establishment and challenge what they consider to be poor (or downright evil) leadership.

Isle of Dogs may look and sound like a fun adventure story for kids, but there is some death and there are more complex themes covered. The issues of identity touched on earlier, and how to handle changing responsibilities, are key parts of this story and may go over the head of younger viewers, but they likely will be so enamored with the sweetness of the relationship between the dogs and Atari that they’ll still enjoy it just fine. There are also broken family issues (sometimes between species), as is almost always the case with Wes Anderson films. So, for those who look deeper, Anderson has given plenty to chew on while watching and long afterward.

It’s also important to note the amazing score by Alexandre Desplat. Fresh off winning an Academy Award for his won in The Shape of Water, he once again proves to be a force. Anchored by a traditional Japanese drum-baseline, the music will have you tapping your fingers and whistling all the way home. When Anderson decided to set this story in Japan he smartly brought on writer Kunichi Nomura to help ensure he referenced the culture appropriately, and Desplat’s score seems to fall right in line.


Isle of Dogs is a richly imaginative film, highlighted by playfulness and emotional depth that anyone who owns a dog will easily connect with. It’s drenched in Anderson’s typical style, that is to say technically marvelous, and its brilliant marriage of sly humor, sincerity, and beautiful animation make this an adventure well worth embarking on. It also made this lifelong cat owner want a dog. Well played, Mr. Anderson.


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 100.3: Toy Story 3

We conclude our 100th episode celebration of TOY STORY with the final (for now) film. Once again, we are moved by many of the deeper themes that Pixar so brilliantly weaves into this tale, and we consider whether there has been a better animated villain than Lots-O’ Huggin’ Bear. We also give recall two last memorable episodes and discuss both this series’ place in history and whether or not we want TOY STORY 4.

Toy Story 3 Review – 0:11:04

The Connecting Point – 0:57:33


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Episode 100.2: Toy Story 2

Part two of our TOY STORY Trilogy conversation was the most surprising, as we were reminded of the deep themes at work in this film. Our discussion centers around two big ideas: mortality and community. We also remember more of our favorite past episodes.

Toy Story 2 Review – 0:08:18

The Connecting Point – 0:47:50


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Episode 100.1: Toy Story

Episode 100! Woooooooohoooooo! We had a bit of a hard time deciding what single movie would be memorable enough to cover on such a special episode, and so we’re cheating. Instead of one, we’re doing three, our first ever coverage of a trilogy in fact. In part one we reminisce about the two years of Feelin’ Film, talk about some of our favorite episodes, and (of course) discuss TOY STORY in depth. To Infinity and Beyond.

Toy Story Review – 0:18:38

The Connecting Point – 1:10:02


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The Evolution of Eastwood: KELLY’S HEROES


“Sergeant, this bank’s not gonna fall into the hands of the American army. It’s gonna fall into our hands.” – Kelly

When Eastwood originally signed on to lead Kelly’s Heroes, he did so because it was supposed to be helmed by Don Siegel who, following Two Mules for Sister Sara, Eastwood considered his personal friend and favorite director. However, Siegel was bogged down with post-production on that film and unable to fit the production schedule. Meanwhile, Eastwood was unable to back out of his contractual obligation.

Directorial duties then fell to Brian G. Hutton, who had previously helmed Where Eagles Dare. In a few ways, Kelly’s Heroes is quite similar to that film. it features a troop of soldiers on a mission behind enemy lines, but unlike the weighty and twist-filled Where Eagles Dare, this mission is of a more personal nature and the tone is much more light-hearted and direct.

The 34th Infantry Division are disgruntled, frustrated, and overwrought. Their captain is glaringly selfish and whenever he decides to lead his men at all, he frequently positions them either in the way of harm or of boredom. When Private Kelly (Clint Eastwood) learns from a captured German officer about a bank filled with millions of dollars in gold bars, he resolves to travel behind enemy lines to break in and steal the loot. Enlisting the aid of his fellow disgruntled officers, along with a ragtag group of misfits from other divisions, the group cross into enemy territory and begin a series of adventures in misdirection in an effort to obtain the gold.

Eastwood carries top-billing this time, but he’s a bit dwarfed by the rest of the impressive cast. The cast includes the brutish and intimidating Telly Savalas, the apoplectic and hilariously obnoxious Don Rickles, and – in one of his most delightfully eccentric performances – the hippie-zen-warrior “Oddball” played by Donald Sutherland. The cast also includes Carol O’Connor as a naïve commander and Gavin Macleod as a perpetually furious army mechanic. Eastwood anchors the chaos with a steady and assured performance that is by no means a step backwards, but is hard to find impressive amidst such a colorful and entertaining collection of co-stars.

The film deftly balances some genuinely exciting action sequences with a constant thread of sardonic humor. But it is the most cynical film in Eastwood’s filmography thus far, often criticizing without any subtlety the hazards and pointlessness of wartime conditions. Not only is the mission at the plot’s base a mission of profit and desertion, but along the way, the “heroes” of the title enlist the help of nearly every disillusioned soldier, including at least one Nazi. The cynicism becomes perhaps most apparent when the soldiers – essentially on a bandit’s mission – are mistaken for bold and devoted patriots who are making an advance against the enemy (prompting the joke of the film’s title).

There is an utterly chilling moment when, following a particularly significant victory, a Nazi solider who has joined their treasure hunt instinctively gives the Nazi salute, momentarily stunning Private Kelly into remembering who they were before this mission. Once this shocking instinct is realized, the same Nazi alters his posture into a military salute, letting his mouth drift into a self-righteous smirk. It’s a provocative moment of glaring indictment against the whole enterprise that is unsettling and unforgettable.

But despite these alarmingly biting elements, this film manages to be highly entertaining and paced like a bullet, displaying once again Hutton’s talent for handling wartime mission narratives. It is often laugh-out-loud funny and occasionally poignant. It also contains possibly intentional echoes of Eastwood’s collaborations with Sergio Leone, most noticeable in a climactic scene where he, Savalas, and Sutherland face off against a Tiger Tank in a fashion unmistakably reminiscent of a western showdown. With strong characters, a simple and direct narrative, a steady pace, and a sharp tone, Kelly’s Heroes is an easily recommendable war film, whether you enter it with or without affection for that type of film.

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



Game Night

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that I was ever adequately prepared to be a grown up. And at the risk of sounding like a whiner, I’ll just come out and say it, adulting is hard. And when 5 days of work, children’s activities and other responsibilities get followed up by a Saturday full of work around the house, there’s really only one thing that can get me to put my pants back on after my Sunday afternoon nap. That thing is game night. Who doesn’t love game night? Whether it’s a group of old friends from college getting together to play Pitch and swap stories deep into the night, a cup of coffee and a game of Ticket to Ride or driving 90 miles an hour headed straight for downtown to beat a friend to the next clue in a scavenger hunt that would consume my every waking thought for weeks, I love to hear those five little words, “Game night at our place.” Game night is one of life’s little pleasures. It’s like a 2-4 hour oasis where you get to forget about what’s going on in your world and try to beat your friends into submission.

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s film Game Night, in theaters this weekend, shows its audience a game night that is quite different than any you have likely experienced. Largely about an evening gone awry, the film is two hours of unbridled, crazy fun that left me feeling like I do during an actual game night. All of the ingredients are there: the super competitive couple that always wins (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams), the couple being a little too open and honest about a marital spat (Lamorne Harris and Kylie Bunbury), the idiot who is terrible at games but a lot of fun to have around (Billy Magnusson), the guy who is only invited because he heard about game night from someone else (Jesse Plemmons), the moments of tension broken up by intense laughter and the three bags of Tostito’s Scoops.

The plot is fairly straight forward. Max and Annie (Bateman and McAdams) are the weekly hosts of game night. But Max’s spotlight stealing older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town and promises to up the ante on game night at his place. Within an hour, he says, someone will be kidnapped. The team that finds that person first wins. The winner gets his cherry red Corvette Stingray. This is serious. When the kidnappers show up and take Brooks in a manner that’s a little too convincing, our three couples have to figure out what is real and at is just part of the game.

To say more would be a disservice to the film. It’s a movie that starts fast and keeps moving at a break-neck pace for its entire runtime. The twists and turns and special appearances along the way are surprising and fun. Daley and Goldstein, who also wrote the script, seem to revel in creating a narrative that defies audience (and the film’s characters’) expectations at every turn. At one point, about halfway through, when it seemed that the movie was turning more into an action thriller than a comedy, the film instead steers right into the absurdity in its premise and delivers another load of belly laughs.

The cast is obviously having a great time. Jason Bateman plays Jason Bateman. I’m not saying that to complain. I love every minute of it. He has great chemistry with Rachel McAdams, who has great timing and delivery in the rare straight comedic role. Kyle Chandler is another guy who you don’t get to see be funny very often. He doesn’t get a lot of time in this one, but he takes advantage of every scene he gets. He’s good enough in his comic situations that you almost forget that he possesses that Coach Taylor paternal charm when he turns it on during the more sentimental moments of the film. The comic MVP of the film is Billy Magnusson. On the surface, his character is that of the stereotypical idiot friend (think of him as a blonde Joey from Friends) but man, does he sell the hell out of it. Jesse Plemmons is freaking creepy as the next door neighbor policeman who hasn’t gotten invited to game night since his wife left him, who was the person in the couple that people liked.

Game Night is not a perfect film by any means. I’m sure if you spent some time trying to figure out exactly how everything works out the way it did, you could probably make your head hurt. So don’t do that. It’s already been a stressful week. You need a break. Put some pants on, even if it’s just your sweats, and go have a couple of hours of fun. It’s Game Night.


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.


Split Screen is a new series of articles focusing on two films that pair well together as a double feature. The connection could be anything – themes, style, cast, or maybe a combination of many things. The films I select will be those I generally consider to be very good. I’m in no way suggesting you should feel the same. The subjective nature of cinema, or any art, is what makes conversations about it so provocative.

The objective is to spur conversation. Tear apart my kooky analysis, or shower me with praise for opening your eyes to new ideas.

At the very least, maybe I’ll add some good flicks to your cinematic radar.

Ah February, when aisles at big box retailers turn decidedly pinkish/red and humans pretend Conversation Hearts candies are edible. (They aren’t. Just because you can stencil words onto sidewalk chalk, doesn’t mean you should eat it.)

Valentine’s Day.

It’s the time of the year where relationships are put to the test, success or failure teetering on the purchase of just the right gift to say, “I love you.” (Helpful Hint: Anything displayed at the register of a Cumberland Farms is likely to be frowned upon)

Cineplexes fill up with fans eager to engage in the latest Fifty Shades of Penthouse Forum film, and streaming services load up the greatest hits from Ryan Reynold’s early ‘aughts iMDB page.

But, for our purposes here, I’m going to focus on the antithesis of Valentine’s Day… the relationship gone bad. Call me the anti-cupid.

The two films that came to mind when I conceived this particular theme were 2010’s Blue Valentine (written and directed by Derek Cianfrance), and 2011’s Take This Waltz (written and directed by Sarah Polley.)

Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine cross-examines the relationship between married couple Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams). Bouncing timelines back and forth between the early stages of exciting, youthful romance, and the tumultuous road to dissolution, the film pulls no punches in exposing the harsh realities of broken love.

Staying focused strictly on the relationship, and how each action shapes its direction, allows the film to breathe naturally. As Dean and Cindy’s marriage becomes increasingly combustive, we feel the rawness of the emotional strain tugging at them. We are given just the right amount of exposition to acquaint us with both characters, helping us understand the impact each of their actions has on the overall relationship.

In the end, there’s no way for the audience to dodge the inevitable heartbreak, even though we can see it forming throughout the film.

Take This Waltz

Take This Waltz centers on another doomed marriage, but takes a different approach to getting there. Here, Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogan), gradually become distant partners. Lou, oblivious to Margot’s feelings of boredom and loneliness, is focused mainly on creating a chicken cook book. Margot just wants to find the fire that once burned in her relationship.

Enter the good looking, single neighbor Daniel (Luke Kirby); a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, capable of turning on an innocent charm just effective enough to lure the vulnerable Margot. Daniel is a master of manipulation, constantly planting seeds to entice, but always leaving Margot to make decisions for herself.

The film takes the infidelity trope and bends it by focusing on the female as instigator. Doing so feels refreshing compared to the usual patriarchal charlatan character that often accompanies stories in this genre.

By the end of the film we are left with deeply flawed characters with honest feelings of regret and remorse. It’s an expose of human nature and the need for acceptance and intimacy, turning a lens on the consequences of acting on those needs outside of the marital union. It’s sad to see two people who clearly have feelings for each other fail because of their inability to provide the emotional support an effective relationship needs to succeed.

The Connecting Point

The prevailing theme in these films is relationships, and the tenuous line between succeeding and failing in them.

Even though we get to essentially the same place by the end of Blue Valentine and Take This Waltz, our couples take very different paths to get there.

It’s hard to determine which film feels more authentic to our preconceived ideas on modern relationships, because both manage to feel like plausible scenarios. I’m guessing we all know people who have separated due to irreconcilable differences (Blue Valentine), or due to infidelity (Take This Waltz). And I’ll wager that we’ve taken sides in each of those instances. What’s unique about these two films is the way in which the characters are fleshed out, making it difficult to choose who to feel most empathetic towards. Even actions we cannot condone at least can be understood from a perspective of what instigated those actions.

By the end of Blue Valentine we’re leaning more toward #TeamCindy, due to Dean’s progression into booze and aggression. But Dean is also very clearly in love with Cindy- wanting to do the right things to earn her affection and trust- yet can’t quite get out of his own way long enough to succeed at it. Instead of trying to win back Cindy, Dean focuses his attention on trying not to lose her, which proves futile.

In Take This Waltz, we can hate more easily on Margot since she is the one that strays into another man’s bed, but Lou is so ignorant of his lack of attention to her that we can at the very least understand the frustration that led her down that road. Just like many real life relationships, the lack of communication is what ultimately dooms Margot and Lou. Her passive aggressive hints at needing more from Lou just fly over his head.

Both films feel like a gut punch in the end. We generally want to see both relationships succeed, but each fall into familiar couples traps that prevent a happy ending, just as they often do in real life.

This makes each film relatable.

Common Thread

Michelle Williams.

On the surface, Cindy and Margot might have a lot of similarities, but Williams adds subtle personality quirks to each character, making them unique to each other.

Cindy has spent her life trying to overcome her father’s demanding aggression. She has a history a poor relationships, or at least one that we know of. It stands to reason she’s going to keep falling into similar circumstances because it’s what she knows.

But Williams plays Cindy with a self awareness that at least keeps her trying to make the right choices. Dean has a lot of moments signaling he is a good and decent man. But every so often, he presents himself in ways that align a bit too close with what Cindy is trying so desperately to avoid.

Every frustration and regret has etched itself on Williams’ face, and the look of defeat in her eyes is haunting and sad.

Margot’s backstory isn’t as neatly fleshed out as Cindy’s, but based on her current arrangement, it could be reasonable to think she comes from a much more stable upbringing.

Here, Williams still manages to convey frustration and sadness, but with much more of a mischievous tone. Her sad, lonely eyes are at once defeated and contemplating. Margot has a secret, and Williams gives just enough to be both confident and nervous as she exists in her double life.

The Moment

What is “the moment?” It’s the scene in the film that most resonates, at least for me. It could be revealing subtext or providing the “aha” moment in which we connect some of the narrative dots. Or, it just might be a cool scene that stands out regardless of specific motives behind it.

In Blue Valentine, it was a point of no return for Dean and Cindy. Frustrations had been bubbling up throughout the film, tensions were at a peak, and Dean’s self destruction crosses some lines from which he cannot return.

Dean, angry and drunk, shows up at the hospital where Cindy works and causes a scene.

It signifies a final nail in the coffin of this doomed marriage, and both Gosling and Williams are at their best.

In Take This Waltz, the moment signifies everything that presumably crosses the minds of two people engaged in forbidden love, without one word being spoken.

Margot and Daniel are on an amusement park ride called The Scrambler. As they whirl around, so many different expressions come across their faces; joy, sadness, melancholy, and even regret. In the end, it’s hard to tell which of these moods wins out.

Plus, The Buggles.

Consider This

Here’s a topic for discussion…

How do you feel the dissolution of relationships in these films is shaped by the perspectives of the writer/director, one of whom is male (Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine), and the other female (Sarah Polley, Take This Waltz)?

Closing Thoughts

Blue Valentine and Take This Waltz share a lot of similarities but are uniquely different experiences. Each offers a different perspective on how a relationship might struggle and ultimately fail, but neither is afraid to explore the harsh truths that come with it.

Each film is helped by great writing and directing, and a top notch cast willing and able to express deep emotions and vulnerability in order to bring their stories to life.

This isn’t meant to be a deep dive analysis at hidden subtext in these films, just some insights to ponder and discuss.

Let me know if you have seen either of these films, and if you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said.

phpxnctheamSTEVE CLIFTON has been writing moderately well on the Internet at this blog, Popcorn Confessional, for the better part of the last decade.  His love for movies can be traced back to the North Park Cinema in Buffalo, NY circa 1972, when his aunt took him to see Dumbo.  Now living in Maine, Steve routinely consumes as much film, television, and books as time will allow.  He also finds time to complain about winter and Buffalo sports teams.  He is a big fan of bad horror films and guacamole, and is mildly amused by pandas.

Episode 096: I, Tonya

This week we start our two-week long celebration of the 2018 Winter Olympics by chatting about I, Tonya, the new mockumentary style film from director Craig Gillespie. The film seeks to evoke a sense of empathy for Tonya Harding (we think) and establish some background about her upbringing and life both before and after the memorable attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan that she is forever tied to. We talk through our feelings about the film’s tone and whether or not its constant depiction of abuse was effective or just exploitative, as well as much more.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:11

(Both – Favorite Winter Olympic Sports)
(Aaron – Peter Rabbit)
(Patrick – Under the Sun)
(Both – Super Bowl LII Movie Trailers)

I, Tonya Review – 0:37:56

The Connecting Point – 1:27:04


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The Evolution of Eastwood: PAINT YOUR WAGON


Take this in: Clint Eastwood. Lee Marvin. Western… Musical.

If that general concept strikes you as somewhat odd, you’re in the precise mindset to encounter 1969’s Paint Your Wagon. Directed by Joshua Logan based on the Broadway play by Alan Jay Lerner, Paint Your Wagon is an odd and apparently misguided venture from conception all the way to execution.

Adapted by the legendary screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, the production became troubled even from earliest developments. The location was remote, forcing the cast and crew to be helicoptered in every day. The original playwright micro-managed Logan’s direction, forcing frustrations and production delays. Lee Marvin, while regarded by everyone as a consummate southern gentleman, was also unfortunately drunk for nearly every scene of the film. Locals were used as extras who eventually became a coercive union, forcing the budget to bloat even further with unreasonable demands that had to be met rather than further delay production.

These complications don’t automatically shine through in the finished film, but something beneath the surface certainly feels strained. The result is a film that’s overlong, unfocused, and largely thematically confused. There are a couple of memorable songs, but even they feel somewhat forced amidst an ambling and disjointed narrative.

The story, in brief, centers around Ben Rumson (Marvin) who, after finding the wreckage of a wagon that left one man dead and the man’s brother (Eastwood) severely wounded, discovers gold dust and stakes a claim there. Eventually a town builds up around that claim, and into that town drifts a Mormon man with two wives (one of whom he rather casually sells off to the highest bidder – which, of course, winds up being Rumson). As the town continues to boom, a love triangle forms between Rumson, his “Pardner” (Eastwood), and the bride (Jean Seberg) which is set against the backdrop of the wild and fickle gold rush in California. Eventually the triangle (and the town) collapses, leaving our characters to decide for themselves how to tackle whatever comes next.

Eastwood again takes a supporting role here, following his strong presence in Where Eagles Dare. His acting is a bit less steady, and it is disarming on a fundamental level to hear him sing (he and Marvin both perform all of their own songs), but his character in this is far too aimless and reactionary to really anchor any of his performance choices. Where he had previously seemed to bring the full power of his expertise to the strong, silent type role of Lieutenant Schaffer, he now seems to feel out of sorts and confused, wondering both on and off screen (apparently) just where the hell everything is going.

Fans of large-scale movie musicals may find a handful of diamonds in the rough to cherish, but not being in that company myself, I found little to admire and even less to enjoy. The narrative is tedious, the comedy is too ham-fisted, the drama is too self-important. And the theme of the piece seems to confuse whether it wants us to be on board with our protagonists’ philosophies or not (it spends 2 hours bringing us on board with their frontier ways of thinking and living only to monumentally dismantle all of them in the last 30 minutes and ultimately justify the stark-raving preacher who condemned it all).

If I haven’t made it clear enough, I did not enjoy Paint Your Wagon. However, it is a vital entry in Eastwood’s catalogue for one gigantic reason: this is the film that made Eastwood want to become a director.

He would later reference Paint Your Wagon specifically as an impetus for him to move more firmly behind the camera. He said that being a part of this production taught him “how not to make a movie.” And it would only be a couple short years later before he would indeed step behind the camera for the first time, beginning a lifelong legacy that expanded beyond performance into the realm of Hollywood storyteller. If only for the push in that impressive direction, perhaps Paint Your Wagon should be thanked after all.

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

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.