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

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Episode 089: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has arrived, and it is proving to be extremely divisive, as critics laud Rian Johnson’s film despite many fans coming away disappointed. We enjoy this opportunity to talk about trilogy world-building and whether we like the directions Star Wars is heading. We also discuss the recently announced 2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards, of which Aaron is a voting member.

What We’ve Been Up To 0:01:05

(2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review – 0:39:29

The Connecting Point – 1:46:30

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Minisode 033: Your Name (Kimi no Na wa)

For this special minisode we are covering a film that blew us away on our first viewings, but we’ve patiently waited for it to be released on Blu-ray so that more would have the chance to see it before we had this discussion. Your Name, directed by Makoto Shinkai, is the story of a star-crossed boy and girl, perhaps destined to forever yearn for a meeting that will never come, connected across space and time by an unexplainable magic and framed against the backdrop of an but is also technically marvelous in both visuals and sound. We hope you enjoy this conversation on one of our anime favorites.

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Intro/Outro Music – “School Road” and “Date” by RADWIMPS

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MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)


GOING IN

In the two years since Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, it’s been a bumpy ride for my fandom of this once beloved franchise. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of this new trilogy, but also found its use of nostalgia to be a bit off-putting. And then came Rogue One, which I did not enjoy much and resulted in me becoming very down on Star Wars and its cinematic future. Thankfully, a recent re-watch of The Force Awakens and the release of the first trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi snapped me back to attention and I am now properly excited once more.

So many questions exist that must be answered. How will Rian Johnson fare in the director’s chair and how will the treatment of recently deceased Carrie Fisher be handled? Where is Kylo Ren’s character arc heading and will he evolve into a villain on par with Darth Vader? And who, for the love of all that is holy, are Rey’s parents? The Last Jedi looks amazing, and expectations are sky high. Hopefully not so high that they’re bound to be let down.

2 Hours and 32 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

A few weeks prior to the release of The Last Jedi, Disney announced that director Rian Johnson would be expanding Star Wars further with a new trilogy. This news sort of tipped Disney’s hand as to how they felt about The Last Jedi because they certainly weren’t going to give Johnson more work if they didn’t like what he’d done in Episode VIII. Well, it all makes sense now, and Johnson has proven that the franchise is in good hands.

The Last Jedi follows a similar path to The Empire Strikes Back, with dual storylines following Rey (who we last saw tracking down Luke Skywalker at his secret hiding place) and the rest of the Resistance separately. But if you’re worried about the film being a beat-for-beat remake of the hallowed Episode V, you can rest easy knowing that it does not do so and instead offers many surprises. It is telling that Luke says, “This not going to go the way you think,” because for (mostly) better and (a few times) worse Johnson twists and turns this tale all over the place, which creates the exhilaration that comes with having no idea what is coming next. After its typical over-the-top opening sequence, Johnson’s film does lag a bit, though, and I felt the overall length more-so than I have in other epics. It’s not that the character development and plotting aren’t important, but it is noticeable compared to the high octane pacing of the film in its second half. And in that second half is where things really shine the brightest as everything and anything can and does happen. The final third of The Last Jedi is as emotionally affecting, gorgeous to behold, and fun to experience as any Star Wars film has ever been.

One thing that really stuck out the most in The Last Jedi was Johnson’s ability to challenge the moral choices of characters both “good” and “bad.” Poe Dameron has to actually deal with the repercussions of his Maverick-esque personality and Finn struggles with being considered a hero. Even Chewie deals with moving on after the loss of his best friend, albeit with a pretty adorable outcome. Many characters are faced with dilemmas that seem easy to solve on the surface but prove to be so much more. I’m not even going to address Rey and Kylo Ren’s arcs because those need to be seen firsthand with no prior knowledge, but I will say that I appreciated where the former ended up more than the latter. One of my disappointments with the film was being left with the feeling that Ren still isn’t a villain worth fearing like Darth Vader. That being said, this is a different story with different relationships in play, and there is much I do like about the complex Kylo Ren.

Acting is solid across the board with Hamill standing out the most. His grizzled, regretful Luke feels very real and sincere. We do finally get to see Supreme Leader Snoke up close and Andy Serkis does his typical great motion-capture work, however the voicing of Snoke sounds a little too reminiscent of Gollum at times and that can be distracting. Also, thankfully, Carrie Fisher’s appearance is handled with the utmost care and respect. She’s not just a side character either, but a very integral part of the the entire film’s plot. One final small criticism would be that the characters are sometimes forced to use very modern dialogue, specifically when the film is being humorous. Many laughed, but I found some lines to just be more eye-roll worthy instead. Luckily these moments are few and far between, nothing that derails the cerebral and intriguing plot.

VERDICT

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a wonderful next step in this new trilogy and one of most epic cinematic space operas since The Empire Strikes Back. Its unexpected plot choices will have fans gasping in surprise, and many emotional moments will cause a lump in the throat or tears in the eye. As Star Wars has always told us, the Resistance (and Rebellion) operate on HOPE. The story here is no different, but our HOPE in Rian Johnson has also been pleasantly rewarded. Whether you like every choice or not, it’s impossible not to respect the filmmaker’s talent, ambition, and passion, especially as the film’s momentum builds and races home to its incredible conclusion. The Last Jedi is a must-see for fans and should be taken in at the biggest theater possible for full effect. See it soon to avoid spoilers, and may the force be with you always.

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 088: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

With the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi right around the corner, we take a look back at the first film in this newest trilogy. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was met with great critical acclaim and yet a number of fans also loudly complained that it might just be too nostalgic. We discuss our first experience with the film and how it’s aged for us, now two years later, and get ourselves (and hopefully you) ready for Episode VIII.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – 0:00:01

The Connecting Point – 0:55:40

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

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Shape of Water

THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)


GOING IN

Guillermo del Toro makes gorgeous films. Whether it’s horror, comic book characters, live-action cartoon, or fantasy, the visual aspect of his movies is always a treat. Now he returns with his first straight fantasy since the much beloved Pan’s Labyrinth. Expectations are (understandably) very high for this story of a mute worker in a secret government lab who discovers what appears to be a merman, or the creature from the black lagoon. Set during the Cold War era, it won’t be surprising at all if someone tries to use this creature as a weapon. The film’s story is the kind of fantastical adventure that del Toro could do wonders with, and I expect a twist or two as well.


COMING OUT

Honestly, there is much to like about del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Sally Hawkins turns in an incredible, emotionally-driven silent performance as the mute protagonist Elisa Esposito. Her acting is noteworthy because so much of it requires facial expression and body language to convey nuanced changes in feeling. She is often acting opposite a creature that cannot communicate with her verbally and this results in an intriguing relationship as she sorts out ways to connect with him. It is the wide range of emotions she conveys that actually makes her stand out the most, though. At times tender and caring, other times sad and longing, and ultimately strong  and determined. Also turning in a great performance is Michael Shannon as the film’s antagonist, a cruel and abusive Colonel that discovered the creature (which he coldly refers to as an “asset”) and along with his superiors wants to dissect and study it for possible scientific advancement in space travel technology. Shannon owns this role of a villain and becomes easy to hate. It’s a top-notch portrayal of evil and there isn’t much complexity to his character – whether that’s for better or worse will depend on your taste.

Dan Lausten’s cinematography accents its mostly shadowy colors with moments of vivid color to highlight emotion. The whole film has a noir feel to it without ever being traditionally black and white. Since the majority of the story takes places inside of a bunker or apartment, there isn’t much sunlight in the picture, but it fits this dark fairy tale’s tone perfectly and at least gives the viewer something pretty to look at despite the film’s surprisingly violent content throughout. The creature design is unsurprisingly fantastic. He, of course, has some secrets to reveal and discovering what those were was interesting and eventually vital to the plot.

Where The Shape of Water doesn’t work is in the direction it takes with the relationship between Elisa and the creature. One of the first scenes we see is a fully exposed Hawkins pleasuring herself in the bathtub and that sets the tone for what is to come. Elisa is a woman who has sexual desires and conveying that is not a bad thing. However, del Toro’s method feels unnecessary and sets the tone for a disturbingly sexualized human/creature relationship. If you weren’t certain before, this is a very adult fairy tale, and this one underlying plot point can really derail the entire film for those who are turned off by it. Imagine for a moment if Beauty and the Beast’s love story included him remaining a Beast and the viewer was shown the two having a sexual relationship. What takes place in The Shape of Water is akin to that, minus a believable romance. Ultimately, the film does give the relationship some meaningful touches, with sacrifice and trust coming into play, but the overall path of it can be so off-putting that enjoying the film becomes impossible.

VERDICT

It’s too bad when a film is ruined by one particular choice. There was so much potential here for this to be an intriguing new dark fairy tale, but del Toro’s choice to sexualize a relationship that didn’t need it makes this a hard film to recommend to all viewers. The violence is more frequent than expected and also quite brutal at times, and there is no real hope of redemption for the villains. Despite a gorgeous aesthetic and score, these story elements made it difficult for me to enjoy and I’ll be a lot less likely to get excited about another del Toro adult fairy tale in the future because of it.

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 085: Justice League

Andrew B. Dyce of Screenrant joins the fellas for some discussion on the newest entry into the DC Extended Universe.  This conversation covers the positives and negatives of our Justice League experiences, and we also give our take on the DECU’s progress thus far. Having Andrew on the show always results in insightful chat so give it a listen and let us know what you think!

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:51

Aaron (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Wonder)
Patrick (The Death of Superman / A World Without Superman)
Andrew (#MarthaWatch2017, The Punisher on Netflix)

Justice League Review – 0:23:25

The Connecting Point – 1:48:16

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

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MOVIE REVIEW: Justice League

Justice League (2017)

GOING IN

The lead up to Justice League has been at times joyful to witness, and at others incredibly frustrating. Zack Synder’s DCEU has plenty of loyal fans defending its dark tone, but legions more who seem to prefer the more comedic and light-hearted nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a big fan of all previous DC comic book films not named Suicide Squad, I can’t help but find myself in the former category. I have thoroughly enjoyed Snyder’s willingness to go deeper into the psyches of his characters and despite not loving every casting choice or action sequence, my overall response to the DCEU has been highly positive. While I mostly prefer solo superhero films, this initial team-up of the Justice League does have me very excited. The fanboy in me is really hoping for a Green Lantern appearance. I’ll also admit that I am a bit concerned about the Whedon script doctoring that occurred after Snyder took a hiatus due to the terrible tragic loss of his daughter. My hope is that Synder’s tone is not completely replaced by a focus on humor and lack of stakes.


COMING OUT

Well, consider me surprised. All of that Joss Whedon rewriting that I was concerned about? Totally worked. In fact, the film holds together well with two distinctly different tones flowing throughout, even if the difference is always noticeable and occasionally distracting. Whedon’s dialogue is mostly a hit, and especially so when it comes out of the mouth of The Flash (Ezra Miller). Flash provides us with the quippy nature the MCU has embraced, but it works because only one character is a goofball and not all five. The team dynamic is great and consists entirely of unique personalities. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is a strong and powerful, independent bad-ass living the life of a loner but with a heart of gold. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is brooding and angry, certain his new form is a curse. Batman (Ben Affleck) has renewed hope in humanity, regret over Superman’s death, and wants to save the world, while Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) follows-up her strong solo debut with a nice little arc of her own about what it means to be a leader. Truly, what Justice League really has going for it most is the cast chemistry. The relationship between Cyborg and Flash really stands out. These two “accidents” have a lot in common and are both discovering and coming to grips with their powers together, along with slowly developing trust and a friendship.

Its rather miraculous that Whedon’s humor and light-heartedness intertwine with Snyder’s serious storyline so easily. This is still a superhero universe with a lot at stake, where humans die and superheroes are vulnerable. But the dialogue works by delivering moments of levity instead of turning the film into a comedy. Justice League does bring up philosophical questions and ideas that carry over from previous films, too. In doing so, it balances those heavier topics with the epic sense of fun that we should get from reading or watching superheroes in action.

When it comes to the action, it’s vintage Snyder all the way. Fast cuts with explosive visuals and some well-timed slow motion feature prominently. I was worried that the movie might have a serious fake CGI look to it, but surprisingly it didn’t bother me at all. The majority of the action sequences are moving so fast that it’s hard to get a good handle on what’s going on, however, there are a few stand-out scenes – most of them involving Wonder Woman in some capacity, and that’s never a bad thing.

The film isn’t perfect, though. The opening scene and early setup feels rushed and incohesive. Once the team is together everything feels great, but getting there is just a little clunky. The villain is also not particularly memorable, although I did enjoy him more than previous DC baddies. His personality was lacking but the action involving him was a lot of fun, and he conveys a sense of otherworldly strength that was necessary for us to believe in the threat he poses.

One last thing to mention is that the film has two very good GREAT post-credit scenes. One right after the film ends and another all the way at the very end of the credits. They are both worth waiting for. Do not miss these. The final one, especially, is textbook for how a post-credit scene should be done.

Verdict

Justice League endured a lot of changes during its production and the result is a film that has glimpses of greatness but never quite reaches that plateau. Still, the film balances its dual tones just fine and manages to provide well-rounded character development  for the whole team. Ezra Miller steals the show as The Flash and team chemistry, in general, is a big highlight. A movie doesn’t have to be perfect to entertain, and Justice League does plenty of the latter. It is a joy to see these heroes together on the big screen and many emotions were felt. My prevailing thought when walking out of the theater with a huge smile on my face was simply,  “I want more,” and that happiness is a big relief.

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 080: The Princess Bride

It is inconceivable to us that The Princess Bride turns 30 years old this year. This classic is cemented into pop culture, known for its memorable dialogue. Surprisingly, we manage not to turn this episode into a quote-a-long (although it was pretty tempting). We do, however, find plenty of themes to discuss – like friendship, revenge, and (of course) true love. It is an extra special treat to talk through one of our favorite films of all-time and we think you’ll enjoy this one.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:07

(Aaron – Star Wars)
(Patrick – Monument Valley)

The Princess Bride Review – 0:19:35

The Connecting Point – 1:11:53

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

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MOVIE REVIEW: My Little Pony: The Movie

My Little Pony: The Movie (2017)



Going In

Earth ponies and unicorns and pegasi, oh my! My Little Pony: The Movie has arrived and I could not be happier. For most of a year, my pony-obsessed daughter has been looking forward to this film and no matter what I think of it, seeing her excited over a movie brings joy to my soul. This feature-length film is set in the universe of the extremely popular Hasbro-produced television series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. A dark force threatens Ponyville, and the Mane Six must journey beyond Equestria and get help from new friends to save their home. This movie should be a pretty typical fantasy adventure with lots of comedy, cuteness, and horse puns. I’ll admit that I’ve not watched anywhere near all 163 episodes of the cartoon series, nor am I a brony, but I have seen the show a few times and found it sweet and entertaining. I’m going in with an open mind and expecting to savor the experience of seeing my daughter full of glee. And this film has sea ponies. Sea ponies are cool.



COMING OUT

Well, that was unexpected. Come to find out, My Little Pony: The Movie is actually pretty great. And not just for fans, although I can only assume they will be extremely satisfied as well, but for families unfamiliar with the ponies too. I can genuinely say that I had a wonderful time watching this film.

You wants reasons? I’ve got reasons. To start with, this movie feels like a 1990’s Disney classic. This isn’t a film that deals with current cultural issues directly, but rather focuses primarily on one thing – the power of friendship. To be fair, there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to life lessons. Friends can accomplish more as a team, and trusting each other and utilizing individual strengths is key. But the presentation is as enjoyable as ever and the message still hits home.

Another thing that reminded me of old Disney, and elevated this film considerably, is the music. There are some great new songs and the vocal talents of performers like Sia, Emily Blunt, and Kristin Chenoweth are not wasted. Several of the songs have a strong orchestral component and feel like they could be Broadway stage productions. This was a real bright spot and we found ourselves immediately listening to the soundtrack on the car ride home. In a landscape of animated movies that usually feature over-popified tunes much like you’d find on the radio, MLP: The Movie‘s choice of music stands out as a breath of fresh air.

Another strong aspect of the film is character development. When compared with something like The LEGO Ninjago Movie, which only managed to really give its lead character an arc, MLP: The Movie does a great job of giving four of the Mane (main) Six something to do. One slight criticism is that Fluttershy and Applejack are somewhat lost in the shuffle, but there is enough attention spread out over the rest of the characters that it makes up for that. The newly introduced characters don’t have a lot of screen time, but each is well drawn and enhances the story. An additional plus is that we essentially have a multi-racial cast, all with unique qualities and all working together for the greater good. Hollywood (and Washington) take note.

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any eye-roll moments, but luckily just a few (one in particular during a joke about cell service that made me cringe). The horse puns are indeed plentiful and hilarious. I laughed a lot and the movie transitions between its emotional beats very well, with the humor never feeling out of place. Also, I now have a favorite pony. Yes… I do.

Verdict

I’ve jokingly poked fun at my daughter for years due to her love for My Little Pony, but now I get it. This colorful, goofy world has a deeper lore than I gave it credit for. It’s beautifully animated and in a different style than anything else on the big screen this year. Friendship matters and My Little Pony: The Movie manages to succeed in telling a familiar story through the use of incredible music and its great cast of characters. I wasn’t prepared to come out of the theater thinking this was fantastic, but here we are. The highest praise I can give may be that I now am anxious to check out the television series and learn more about the world of Equestria. Consider me a convert. If being a brony is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

Rating:

GUEST OPINION by Ashlyn White (Superfan)

My Little Pony: The Movie was AWESOME in every way. The songs are reminiscent of Broadway musicals, and I’ve been singing and listening to the soundtrack ever since I came out of the theater. I have watched the entire TV series and can say that this movie did a great job keeping consistent with the show. Another strong spot of the movie was the introduction of the characters. When they are all first introduced, even the people who haven’t seen the show (like my dad) were able to understand the different personalities of the Mane Six. All in all, this mane-tastic film is one I will remember for a long time to come.

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.