MOVIE REVIEW: Dolittle

Rating: PG / Runtime: 1 hour and 41 minutes

If someone had told me beforehand that this movie was essentially a kid-friendly combination of the Uncharted video game series mixed with “Pirates of the Caribbean”, where the human companions were animals and there’s a lot less combat, my teenagers wouldn’t have had to beg me to take them. That is to say, it turns out “Dolittle”, Robert Downey Jr.’s first post-MCU headliner, is actually a lot of fun and right in this adventure lover’s wheelhouse.

As much as “Dolittle” follows the titular doctor (Downey Jr.), who is a sort of super veterinarian that can communicate with animals by speaking their language, it equally is about a young boy named Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) who stumbles upon Dolittle’s overgrown estate in need of emergency animal medical support. Stubbins was out hunting with his uncle and cousin, and we quickly learn that he’s much too soft-hearted toward the cute woodland critters, which eventually makes it easy for he and Dr. Dolittle to relate. Dolittle has been a recluse up until their meeting, avoiding contact with humanity as he endlessly grieves over the loss of his wife. From there a young emissary of the Queen of England arrives, beckoning him to Buckingham Palace. The Queen has fallen ill and needs Dolittle’s help. Up until this point, the story feels pretty generic and uninteresting, but upon learning that the necessary cure lies in a magical fruit on a mythical undiscovered island that Dolittle’s wife died while searching for, the excitement rises considerably. 

The bulk of the film then plays out like a traditional adventure tale, with some highlights being a thrilling chase at-sea, the infiltration of an island of outlaws, and an ever-present over-the-top villainous rival determined to stop Dolittle and steal his praise. Along the way Dolittle must overcome his fear of opening up to others while Stubbins gets many (often amusing) life-changing lessons and discovers a passion for working with the animals. And it’s understandable why, because Dolittle’s animal friends are silly, sweet, and always entertaining.  Voicework by some big Hollywood stars is mostly a delight, with Kumail Nanjiani’s Plimpton the Emu, John Cena’s Yoshi the Polar Bear, and Ralph Fiennes’ Barry the Tiger being particular standouts. 

That’s not to say that everything comes up roses in this newest adaptation of the classic American children’s book. Downey Jr. chooses to use an odd, distracting accent and plays the character with an eccentricity that reminds of Captain Jack Sparrow. The animal banter is mostly great but there are definitely some dud jokes, too. And the CGI leaves a lot to be desired, getting increasingly more noticeably bad the more action that is taking place.

Still, even though it may not be particularly memorable, “Dolittle” ends up being a hilarious and wholesome mythical adventure that is fun for the entire family. Talking animals will always be a hit with kids and the added elements of high seas adventure and pirate-like action combined with the search for a magical item will keep teens and adults interested as well. Throw in some lovely relationship-building and a big dose of hope, and you’ve got a great option for a weekend family theater outing.

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 206: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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

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

The Connecting Point – 1:38:14

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MOVIE REVIEW: Cats

Debuting in 1982, CATS is the fourth longest-running musical on Broadway and has amassed millions of devoted fans worldwide. It was only a matter of time until someone decided to tackle the challenge of bringing the innovative fourth-wall-breaking stage musical to film, and that crazy person is Tom Hooper, directing his second musical adaptation after 2012’s “Les Misérables”. Based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T. S. Eliot, the story of “Cats” is a selection of poems put into song and it is notoriously hard to follow. Eliot was known for his fanciful made-up words and names, so keeping everything about this unique world and the characters living in it straight is certainly difficult the first time through. 

The plot is fairly simple, yet at the same time utterly confusing. Over the course of a single night, a tribe of cats called the Jellicles make what is known as “the Jellicle choice” and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life. So basically, all of the cats are anxious to die, go to Heaven, and be reborn again… dark. The Jellicles consist of an ensemble cast portraying cats of various personalities, all of whom are likely to break into song and dance, of course. The audience is first introduced to Victoria (Francesca Hayward), a new arrival, and through her POV the first half of the film revolves around introducing members of the tribe who explain how competition to be “the Jellicle choice” goes. There is a villain, Macavity (Idris Elba), who wishes to ascend to the Heavyside Layer at any cost, and he’ll gladly play dirty to get there. Elba’s role is expanded from that of the musical and he mostly satisfies despite going way over the top in a few scenes, but the animation used for his “magic” is laughably bad. In the second half of the film, several cats audition to be “the Jellicle choice” in front of the cats and Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), the elder and decision-maker of the tribe. This half also provides much more time with Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), the outcast cat, who is the emotional center of the story and sings the musical’s most well-known and powerful ballad, “Memory”. Dench’s performance as Old Deuteronomy is great and a nice connection to the stage version, where she once played Grizabella on Broadway. Hudson meanwhile steals the show, belting out “Memory” as powerfully and beautifully as it’s ever been sung before.

The majority of the film flows like most musicals do, from one extravagantly choreographed number to the next. Much ado has been made about the CGI fur and bodysuits the actors wear, and visually the film definitely leans on the creepy side. Even the mice and cockroaches have tiny human faces, truly the stuff of nightmares. But for all its wackiness, visual absurdity, and strange movement, most of the film was still a joyful experience and certainly one that you can’t take your eyes off. The songs turned out great, with rock stars like Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift providing memorable numbers, and veteran actors like James Corden, Sir Ian McKellen, Ray Winstone, and Rebel Wilson all infusing their cat with loads of personality.

“Cats” may be full of weird, but its heart is shown in numbers like “Memory”, “Beautiful Ghosts”, and “Mr. Mistoffelees”, and the finale of “The Ad-Dressing of Cats” is always a fan favorite that will have feline lovers heading home to hug their kitty companions. Hooper’s version of the story may be an ambitious mess with spurts of visual horror, but “Cats” is still a crowd-pleasing treat that evokes laughter, joy, heartache, and a rousing desire to sing at the top of your lungs.

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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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

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

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

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

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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Jumanji: The Next Level

Finally… The Rock, has come back… to Jumanji!

Two years ago, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” released around Christmastime with relatively little hype and plenty of critical reluctance. It proceeded to shock the world with a nearly $1 billion box office haul. Audiences everywhere fell hard for contemporary changes that the sequel to Robin Williams’ 1995 film made – primarily the fact that its characters were stuck inside of a video game and not a board game, as in the original. The film also surprised by having its four primary characters – Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Martha (Morgan Turner) inhabit the bodies of four avatars instead of playing the games as themselves. This gender-bending, personality-conflicting experience provided for hilarious comedy and the sequel does the same.

After saving Jumanji and returning to their lives with a new bond between them, the primary foursome has now graduated high school and are dealing with new challenges. Spencer and Martha are no longer dating and he, apart from the group due to attending college away from them in New York City, is experiencing a lack of confidence. In an effort to regain what he once felt while playing as Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Spencer pieces together the old broken console he’d kept hidden from his friends and makes the dangerous and reckless decision to go back inside of the game alone. Eventually, his crew follows him to Jumanji in an attempt to ensure he survives and bring him home, but Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his former restaurant co-owner Milo (Danny Glover) are accidentally sucked in as well.

Unfortunately for the returning players, not all goes as expected and they end up inhabiting different avatars than before. This fresh take allows for new interplay to exist between the foursome of Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, and Alex Wolff. I don’t want to spoil who ends up playing who, but both the chemistry between this group and their comedic talents shine as they portray different personalities than what you’ve seen before. It is simply a joy to watch them interact with one another, making this the kind of film you smile and laugh out loud throughout. 

The dynamic between Eddie and Milo is one of two old friends reconnecting after 15 years apart, trying to reconcile heated emotions around their different view of how their business venture ended, and it was my teenage son’s favorite part of the movie.  Whether it was the veteran comedy duo of DeVito and Glover or the hilarious way in which other actors portrayed their avatars as if they were those two, the age and physicality differences provided for fresh new comic material that was incredibly funny. Also making her first appearance in the series is Awkwafina, who continues to prove that she can do no wrong. Every scene she’s in is a treat, and the multiple characters she acts out are incredibly entertaining and hilarious.

“Jumanji: The Next Level” succeeds by once again reinventing its formula for a modern-day audience to great effect. The twist on who inhabits which avatar not only provides a wealth of humorous possibilities but some quality heartfelt moments of relationship building as well. Again the group is on an exciting adventure that takes them to interesting new locations and throughout the film, it is obvious the writers have looked to incorporate as many elements of current era action-adventure games as possible. In one sequence midway through, characters must retrieve a special item and to do so requires wall-running, jumping, and platforming that is heavily inspired by the Tomb Raider games. Later, during the film’s climax, a brilliant sequence includes characters activating unique player abilities, a full-on cinematic set-piece akin to what you’d see in the Uncharted video game series, and an awesome boss fight complete with multiple stages. There is even one moment toward the end of the film where a major action scene had me expecting giant buttons to pop up on the big screen, indicating a quick-time-event was taking place. Non-gamers may not recognize these elements being in the story, yet the film stands on its own just fine without that knowledge because it’s so much damn fun. And for those who do understand game design and can see the clever ways it is implemented in this sequel, it truly elevates “Jumanji” to “The Next Level”. 

If you go into this sequel expecting more of the same, you won’t be disappointed. This is a family-friendly adventure franchise that understands how to innovate while keeping the same creative tone that made it such a hit in the first place. Light on drama, heavy on action, with boatloads of fun and just enough emotional character development to make us care, “Jumanji: The Next Level” continues to break the Hollywood mold of disappointing reboots, remakes, and delayed sequels by providing an experience perfect for holiday enjoyment!

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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Frozen II

“Frozen” grew up.

If there’s one central point to be made about “Frozen 2,” it’s that everything about the film feels more mature in some way. Thematically, it deals with tougher relationship challenges as Queen Elsa and Princess Anna, now happily enjoying life with their friends in Arendelle, risk disruption of their peaceful lives to venture off into the unknown enchanted forest on a quest to discover the origins of Elsa’s powers and potentially learn more about their deceased parents. Change is a constant threat throughout this darker story, and all of the primary characters must wrestle with what that means for them both individually and with regard to the relationships they value. The drama is heavier, the stakes are higher, and Olaf uses self-aware humor to pose some pretty fun questions for viewers to consider. It really seems as if Disney knows their target audience of kids has aged up by 6 years and is now ready to handle a little more emotional weight, while also being sure to allow adults the opportunity to engage a little more this time around. It’s a bold choice, reminiscent of how the House of Mouse handled its “Wreck-it Ralph” sequel “Ralph Breaks the Internet”.

The music also feels slightly more aimed at older kids and adults. The songs are a little more Broadway and a little less pop this time around but are no less singable. One song in particular midway through the film, an 80’s rock ballad solo by Kristoff that is shot like a music video from that era, is sure to leave audience members in stitches and is easily among the film’s most memorable scenes. And then there’s the new “Let it Go”, the anthem-like “Into the Unknown” which your kids will be singing and listening to non-stop for the next few months. While it’s not quite as catchy or memeable as the aforementioned track, it’s still likely to be in heavy radio play rotation just like its predecessor.

Another aspect of the film that has definitely gotten better with age is the animation. As should be expected, everything is more crisp and bright than before, and details on the new costumes really stand out. There are a few different mesmerizing sequences of magic being put to use, as well, that easily rival or improve upon anything in “Frozen”. This is simply a gorgeous film to look at, and even if other faults are found, your eyes can’t help but enjoy themselves.

I’m not quite ready to say “Frozen 2” is better than the original after only one viewing, but the feeling I had while watching it was similar, and I think it comes awfully close. Time will also be needed to tell whether the entire soundtrack becomes as unforgettable as the first film’s. But on the strength of deeper themes, solid character development all-around, some fantastic humor, and a dose of that Disney magic, “Frozen 2” is a triumphant sequel to one of the animation giant’s biggest smash hits.

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 195: Ghostbusters (1984)

For our annual Halloween-inspired spooky episode, we discuss a fantasy comedy classic responsible for iconic imagery and dialogue and with a unique premise that makes it something truly special.

Ghostbusters Review – 0:01:25

The Connecting Point – 0:43:11

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Lighthouse


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

Episode 189: About Time

For September’s Donor Pick, our Patrons chose this sweet Richard Curtis film about time travel. We enjoy discussing what makes this particular romcom unique and why we felt as deeply about the relationships around the central characters as we did the primary romance.

 

About Time Review – 0:01:19

The Connecting Point – 1:01:07

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Episode 186: My Neighbor Totoro

This week’s episode is all joy and smiles as we discuss a Studio Ghibli animated classic. It’s a film with innocence and purity that rarely exists, and is worth celebrating for the unique emotional response it creates in us.

 

My Neighbor Totoro Review – 0:00:55

Connecting Point – 1:13:41

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