MOVIE REVIEW: Tag

TAG (2018)

1 Hour and 40 Minutes (R)

Chris and Beef, two of the ten real life Tag Brothers (as they affectionately refer to themselves), opened my screening of the film by informing the audience of two things. First, much of what we were about to see really happened. In their 30 years of playing Tag the group frequently ran over innocent bystanders in hallways, used deception, wore costumes, and even had spouses sell them out to each other. And second, but most importantly, playing Tag wasn’t about the competition. It was about human connection and friendship.

That’s very sweet and all, but this is a comedy, and competition is funnier than brotherly love. The film spends its opening getting us right into the action. We’re introduced to the characters through, what else, efforts by one or more of them to tag another. Throughout the film these sequences are awesomely done. Often with a perfectly fitting rock or hip-hop song in the background, the action is fast, comical, and most of the time very believable. When the guys go after their nemesis Jerry (Jeremy Renner), however, the camera goes into slow motion and becomes ultra-stylized with Jerry narrating the attack is it progresses in the manner of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes putting clues together to solve a case. This heightening of senses does a great job of highlighting the fact that Jerry, who has never ever ever EVER been tagged, is truly a god among men when it comes to their game.

The cast as a whole does a great job of capturing who the guys grew up to be as adults, while also allowing for cinematic liberty to spice things up a bit. Randy (Jake Johnson) is the typical grungy stoner who can’t hold down a job or relationship and is too blunt (pun intended) for his own good. Callahan (Jon Hamm) is a successful CEO that hasn’t lost that childish aloofness and has a fake confidence behind his gorgeous face. Sable (Hannibal Buress) is the least defined as a character, but perhaps the most hilarious, dropping random philosophical thoughts and laugh-inducing observations on the regular. And the leader of the pack, the relentless and super competitive Hoagie (Ed Helms), perfectly shows us that part of our nature that refuses to lose to our friends and is driven to hold the group together at the same time. He’s the glue of the Tag Brothers clan and fittingly receives the most emotionally complete arc. The women in the film also bring some added flavor, primary among them Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher). She is super intense and as close to being part of the group as she can be, since an amendment to the game made it illegal for girls to join. She’s honestly the most memorable character of all and if she was to lead the rest of the ladies of the film in an estrogen-fueled sequel, I’d be all in for that.

If the film has a weakness, it is, for me at least, an over reliance on the potty and sexual humor commonly found in R-rated comedies these days. For sure, much of the dialogue here is probably how the guys talked, but it felt like the script pushed it overboard a few times, especially one recurring joke that involves the mother of one of the boys. Toning that back so that Tag could have been a more family-friendly affair wouldn’t have hurt the film at all. It also starts to feel a little bit long right as it begins to wrap things up. This was expected, though, as the film shines best in its tag sequences and that can only fill up so much of the space. Being able to relate to the characters was a huge plus. Scenes of them reuniting, rediscovering their childhood hangouts, making up new rules to their game on the fly, and generally expressing affection for each other silently through their competition felt very personal. Something about how these men stayed close into adulthood really connects, and I won’t be surprised at all if this film sparks games of Tag among friends all over the world, probably leading to plenty of injuries.

VERDICT

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see Tag with the tight-nit group of childhood friends I grew up with, the many brothers that I made while spending a career in the U.S. Navy, or even my closest adult friends, all of whom I could imagine playing this game with me. But I did see it while seated next to the person I’ve been most competitive with in my life, and the one overpowering thought in my mind as the credits rolled was to slap her on the shoulder, leap over a row of theater seats, and sprint out of the theater as fast as I could. Honestly, I wish that I had. After all, as Benjamin Franklin said, “We don’t stop playing when we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

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: Incredibles 2

INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

1 Hour and 58 Minutes (PG)

Four years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off with Iron Man, and one year before Christopher Nolan began his beloved Dark Knight Trilogy with Batman Begins, Pixar entered the genre with a bang, pow, and pop in 2004 by releasing an animated superhero team-up the likes of which audiences had never really seen before. Brad Bird’s family superhero film, The Incredibles, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and remains to this day the best cinematic version of Marvel’s Fantastic Four (despite not actually being a direct representation of those characters).

Now, fourteen years later, Bird is returning to the world of animation for the first time since 2007 with Incredibles 2, an animated sequel that fans have long desired. Unlike the movie landscape when Bird released his original, though, superhero films have become a powerful box office presence, with many years seeing the release of five or more. The challenge for Incredibles 2 is even bigger as it comes right on the heels of the two highest grossing superhero films of all-time: Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther. The question of whether audiences will embrace yet another superhero film so quickly is a fair one, but I’m ecstatic to say that odds are good because Bird and Pixar have provided us with a sequel that lives up to its title and was worth the 14-year wait.

Incredibles 2 doesn’t skip a beat, picking up immediately after the ending of The Incredibles, with a brand new villain having just emerged from beneath the city and our newly bonded family of heroes poised to take on the threat. But a desire to help sometimes manifests itself in bad decisions, and the Parr’s leave the city in quite a mess while constantly trying to pass off babysitting of Jack-Jack to each other during the ensuing fight. The destruction reminds the world just how dangerous superpowers can be. Aiming to reverse this perception, Winston and Evelyn Deaver (Bod Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) approach the family and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) with a proposal, to make Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) the face of superhero crime fighting and use a combination of their technology and media coverage to help show the world the benefit Supers can bring. As the story goes on (at an incredibly frantic pace), it explores Mr. Incredible’s (Craig T. Nelson) jealousy of Elastigirl’s new role, introduces a new villain who enslaves through the use of video screens, and excites with flurries of extremely well-animated action.

A major side plot of the film revolves around Mr. Incredible’s attempt to become a stay-at-home father for the first time and deal with the challenges of parenthood. Two of his more difficult tasks are trying to connect with his teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and discovering the various superhero abilities of his infant son. It’s a big change for Mr. Incredible and many viewers will relate to his experiences. As the film goes on, the familial struggles continue to be front and center, but Bird also has a lot to say about the world around us. His hilarious script is also smart and not only uses our culture’s addiction to video screens as a plot point but makes strong statements about the importance of equality and representation. Some viewers may find it a bit on the nose, but mostly these topics are all handled very subtly and never feel out of place in the narrative.

VERDICT

Reuniting with the Parr family in Incredibles 2 is a technically dazzling, joyful experience for kids and adults alike. Brad Bird’s story is culturally relevant and a lot of fun, but shines brightest when it stays grounded in the ongoing struggle of the Parr’s to find their place in the world and within their family. The Incredibles provide us with a family of heroes who we don’t just root for, but relate to, and even with the wealth of comic books films gracing movie screens in 2018, that is something special. Though it doesn’t quite reach the sharp perfection and emotional depth of its original, Incredibles 2 is the must-see animated film of the year.

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 113: The Jungle Book (2016)

This episode marks the first of a two-part crossover event celebrating the classic Rudyard Kipling tale, The Jungle Book. We’ve brought in the guys from the Retro Rewind Podcast, Francisco Ruiz and Paul Powers, to talk about Jon Favreau’s 2016 live-action/CGI update of the 1967 animated Disney feature, and we’ll be covering the latter on Retro Rewind Podcast together as well. 

The Jungle Book Review – 0:04:40

The Connecting Point – 0:51:13


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Summer of Anime

Prologue: What’s This All About

Anime has always been one of those genres that I usually avoid. Until a couple of years ago, it was seen as this obscure foreign animation where the characters had exaggerated facial expressions and actions, and the stories were generally seen as bordering on the quirky and fantastical. To get me acclimated, I was introduced to Hayao Miyazaki, as he is typically seen as the standard for what really great Anime is. Since then, I’ve not stepped out of that comfort zone, with the exception of specific recommendations by friends or the occasional subject of an episode of Feelin’ Film. Which brings me here.

This summer I’ve decided to take a look at about a dozen highly regarded anime films from a breadth of directors and time periods. My goal, less about seeing as many as I can, is more about finding out what appeals to me, what surprises me, and what kind of connection I can have to each film.

Be sure to check back for the latest review. Enjoy!


Chapter 1: Grave of the Fireflies

Director: Isao Takahata
Year: 1988
Synopsis:The story of Seita and Satsuko, two young Japanese siblings, living in the declining days of World War II. When an American firebombing separates the two children from their parents, the two siblings must rely completely on one another while they struggle to fight for their survival.

One Word Takeaway: Abrupt

The story of Seita and Satsuko is one that needs to be heard. So often I find myself exposed to stories of war and all I hear are numbers and statistics. It’s difficult to think about mass casualties because there aren’t faces with those numbers. This film gives me context into the lives of people who are affected by war while not being directly connected to it. It challenges me to connect emotionally to these two characters who, while not real, represent a group of people that were exposed to the harshness of World War II on the other side of the world. It disrupts my life for an hour or two, making me uncomfortable, and that’s a good thing.

It’s a tragic story for sure, but that’s one of the things that separates it from most other anime. As Roger Ebert said, “Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation…..[it] is a powerful dramatic film that happens to be animated.”


Chapter 2: Whisper of the Heart

Director: Yoshifumi Kondō
Year: 1995
Synopsis: Based on the manga with the same title, this animated film follows Shizuku, an inquisitive young girl and a voracious reader, who longs to be a writer when she grows up. One day she notices that all of her library books have previously been taken out by one Seiji Amasawa. Amid chasing after a large cat, befriending an eccentric antiques dealer and writing her first novel, Shizuku aims to find this mysterious boy who may well be her soul mate.

One Word Takeaway: Risk

WHISPER OF THE HEART feels like a story in two parts. In one way, it’s a story of a young girl growing up, like many kids, trying to figure out who she wants to be and what she wants to do with her life. At the same time, it also has an almost forced romantic feel to it, in her unintentional pursuit of finding this mystery person whose name has been in all of the library books she checks out. What I connected with the most was the seeing how Shizuku, through a variety of experiences, learns that she has two choices when it comes to her writing. She can continue to dream and be a lover of this “idea” that one day she will be a great writer, but never actually realize that out of fear or discomfort. Or she can take a risk, knowing she will probably fail, only to continue to get better.

Actively making a choice, and risking failure, exists in anyone who has a big idea. This film is a good reminder that we should take risks, and have permission to fail. It’s because of this resonating theme that I feel like the other half of the film, her relationship with Seiji, feels forced, at least in parts. There are some wonderful moments between them and in different instances he acts as a sort of inspiration for her to think about what could be. The romantic slant that exists feels out of place and doesn’t really serve what I consider the more important aspects of the story.

Overall though, it’s a really enjoyable film.


Chapter 3: Perfect Blue

Director: Satoshi Kon
Year: 1997
Synopsis: A retired pop singer turned actress’ sense of reality is shaken when she is stalked by an obsessed fan and seemingly a ghost of her past.

One Word Takeaway: Blur

I wrestled with my one-word takeaway for this film, because it was difficult to sum up exactly how I felt after watching it. There are a handful of movies that get the “watch this once and move on” stamp from me, not because they are bad, but because the subject matter is so intense and moving that if watched multiple times, could lessen the impact it has. It is also incredibly hard to watch. PERFECT BLUE will live in the same category of other films such as AMERICAN HISTORY X, MISSISSIPPI BURNING, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, and CRASH. It’s a solid  film because of its depiction of what happens when a person, so bent on changing her image, will do whatever it takes to do so, and the gritty animation with it’s muted color palette helps accent the tone of the overall story. At the same time, there are moments in the movie that are hard to stomach. Rape is depicted and there are two to three lingering moments of violent murders, all of which contribute to the intentional discomfort the movie is trying to articulate.

What I think the movie does really well is use the storytelling device of the unreliable narrator. The lines of reality and fantasy are blurred through the eyes of the main character, and it’s difficult (sometimes to a fault) to know what’s real and what isn’t. As an audience I need to have some kind of assurance by the end of the story that I know what’s real and what isn’t. While I feel like there is some closure here, I’m mostly left wondering.

Overall, it’s hard to say if I would recommend this movie. On one hand, it’s a solid piece of storytelling, and one that uses the style of anime in a way that rivals cerebral procedural crime dramas. At the same time, the elements of rape and violence that are depicted aren’t for the faint of heart, and it’s not one that will be on my radar in the near future.


Chapter 4: Millennium Actress

Director: Satoshi Kon
Year: 2001
Synopsis: The story of two documentary filmmakers investigating the life of a retired acting legend. As she tells them the story of her life, the difference between reality and cinema becomes blurred.

One Word Takeaway: Motivation

If there is one thing I can say after two installments of Satoshi Kon’s work, it’s that he had one of the most creative ways of crafting his narrative. In some ways this was a serious departure from his previous film PERFECT BLUE, but in others it feels completely consistent in MILLENIUM ACTRESS. It is  incredibly purposeful, in that he doesn’t want to just tell you a story. He wants you to feel like you are part of the story. And in this film, he takes that to a literal level. What starts out as TV interviewer Genya Tachibana and his camera man Kyoji Ida talking to seasoned actress Chiyoko Fujiwara about her career, soon becomes an emotional and imaginative participation in that career.

We start with a simple camera and light pointed at her on a couch as she begins her story, then we move into flashbacks with Tachibana and Kyoji watching and filming documentary style, and soon after we see Tachibana fully participating in these memories as a character in these films she is recounting. It’s a wonderful way to show us the history of Chiyoko’s career, but also how much it meant to Tachibana, as we find out later why that is.

But the most interesting thing about this movie for me is the answer to a question it asks early on through Tachibana. How did Fujiwara begin such a long and successful career? It is through a chance encounter with a mysterious man, seemingly on the run from authorities, whom she befriends and hides. After his escape, she finds out that he is heading to Manchuria, and she uses an acting opportunity (discouraged earlier in the film by her mother) to find him. This moment begins what I believe is the overall motivation for her successful career, that pursuit of love over the course of 30 plus years. It is such a beautiful way to capture. The whole movie wraps up in a way that feels incredibly complete, and in some ways brutally satisfying (if that’s even possible).

After watching this film, I’m excited to see if the Satoshi Kon narrative creativity continues.


Patrick “Patch” Hicks calls Little Rock, Arkansas home with his family of four (his wife, son and two pets). When he’s not podcasting, he works as a multimedia designer and is also dabbling in the art of writing and directing. You can find him floating around the web on Twitter, Facebook, and his home on the web, ThisIsPatch.com.

MOVIE REVIEW: Ocean’s 8

OCEAN’S 8 (2018)

1 Hour and 50 Minutes (PG-13)

There is something magnetic about this film series. The crew up of unique and attractive personalities , the detailed planning, the intricate heist, and (almost always) the twist are all elements we love to see come together in a new way. But even when they don’t have anything drastically special to offer the genre, as long as the story is good and the cast sells it, we’re willing to be entertained. For this go-around, Steven Soderbergh exits the director’s chair and passes the torch Gary Ross (The Hunger Games, Seabiscuit). Missing is the former’s saturating color palette, replaced by a brighter and crisper one that serves the New York City setting well. Remaining is the recognizable mosaic filming style that Soderbergh utilized in Ocean’s 11-13, replicated by Ross to great effect.

Story-wise, Ocean’s 8 is fairly simple. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), estranged sister of series protagonist Danny Ocean, is being released from prison and seeking to assemble a crew for a major heist. Having spent her entire sentence planning the detailed job, she wants no part of her brother’s advice to move on from the criminal life and wastes no time in reuniting with longtime friend and partner in crime Lou (Cate Blanchett). From there the film follows a familiar structure as Debbie finds the players necessary to pull off stealing a $150 million necklace during the annual star-studded Met Gala. For this job, Debbie wants an all-girl squad, because in her opinion “A him gets noticed, a her gets ignored.” The crew includes the usual roles required: Nine Ball (Rhianna) the hacker, Amita (Mindy Kaling) the jewelry expert, Tammy (Sarah Paulson) the suburban mom and fence, Constance (Awkwafina) the quick-handed thief, and Rose (Helena Bonham-Carter) the fashion designer, whose job is to ensure that superstar actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) is wearing the diamonds the crew intends to steal. There is quite a bit of the film spent on the planning phase of the heist and it is quite enjoyable learning about the various members of the team and their unique talents and personalities. Understandably, they cannot all have top billing and those actresses not named Sandra, Cate, or Anne are truly supporting characters. They are given just enough development, but don’t expect deeply personal backstories and character arcs. All of the cast members fill their roles fantastically, though, with Awkwafina’s humor and Rhianna’s snarky intelligence standing out.

Debbie, however, is definitely in this for more than just the money. In a sense, the film touches on the very real problem many criminals face. When it’s time to come back to society the only thing they know is what put them behind bars in the first place. If that’s what your good at, and your entire family history involves said criminal activity, why would you do anything else? And she is good at this. Very good. The plan is very cool and includes some modern tech like 3D printing. Many things that happen (including a late third act surprise) require a sense of disbelief because if one thing goes wrong, it all falls apart. But in a way these heist films are like superhero stories – doing the impossible is part of the appeal.

One of the best parts of the Ocean’s series has always been seeing bonafide movie stars come together and exist in this somewhat meta universe where celebrity cameos are a common thing. Sandra Bullock is great as Debbie and Blanchett is her usual perfect self. The chemistry between these two is especially good and their relationship is probably one of the things I would have enjoyed spending more time developing. The real stunner of the cast, though, is Anne Hathaway. Her silly charm is just adorable to behold and she provides plenty of laughs as she steals every scene she is in. The guys that feature in the film are fine and serve their purpose, too, but neither Richard Armitage or James Corden do anything memorable. This is about the ladies, of course, and it’s presented in a way that is both respectful of the films that came before and freshly empowering as a thing all its own.

VERDICT

For me, Ocean’s 8 is likely to be the film in the series that I revisit the most. It’s fast fun from start to finish with great humor, strong cast chemistry, amazing costume design, and an exciting heist. It doesn’t offer the depth of relationships present in some of the other films or the most difficult heist, but it never stops being entertaining and does not try to force becoming something that isn’t a natural fit. If this is the start of a new trilogy, I’m absolutely in favor of it, and can’t wait to see what Debbie Ocean and her crazy crew cook up next.

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: Hotel Artemis

HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018)

1 Hour and 34 Minutes (R)

“It’s a busy night in the Artemis.”

The setting is Los Angeles 2028, on a Wednesday (that’s important, or at least it’s repeated enough times to make you think it is). The city’s water supply has been privatized and a primary provider is cutting off access which results in the most violent riots in the city’s history. This is the backdrop for Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) and his brother’s attempt to rob a vault. But when things go south, the pair of criminals must seek medical attention in Hotel Artemis, a special membership-only resort for unsavory types. While at Artemis, Sherman runs into other various underworld characters including the dangerous and mysterious assassin Nice (Sofia Boutella), cocky and mouthy arms-dealer Acalpuco (Charlie Day), and the two caretakers of the hospital – Nurse (Jodie Foster) and Everest (Dave Bautista). Much brutal and violence in a stylized aesthetic ensues, while backed by an awesome pounding electronic Cliff Martinez score.

The best parts of Hotel Artemis sadly come only in pieces. Foster’s performance is wonderful, but like the rest of the cast her efforts are hampered by a sub-par script. Sure, there is humor that works and one-liners that result in hearty laughter, but with few exceptions the rushed character development isn’t deep enough to create the kind of emotional response the film is clearly hoping for. Likewise, the socioeconomic issue outside the hotel and the fun little futuristic tech (like freaking 3D printed organs) are never given much more than a nod either. And Jeff Goldbum’s excellent turn as the Hotel’s owner, The Wolf King of L.A., is unfortunately only a juicy cameo that also fails to pay off a major emotional turn.

The action, though, is one thing that this film has going for it throughout. It does take a bit of time to build up to, but it’s worth the wait seeing Dave Bautista and Sofia Boutella getting their fight on. Things get quite brutal and bloody, just as the tone of the film has implied they should, making for a rather exciting and enjoyable third act.

VERDICT

Fans of John Wick who go into Hotel Artemis expecting more of the same are sure to be at least somewhat disappointed. Though the film does provide some fun action and ideas, its hurried world-building and character development only hint at the potential this story has. Ultimately, Hotel Artemis offers very little that is unique or memorable, wasting a solid cast in a merely passable film that most won’t see and few who do will ever revisit.

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.

2018 Seattle International Film Festival Capsule Reviews

Each year the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) screens hundreds of feature films, documentaries, short films, and more from all around the world over a 25-day period in May and June. This year the largest and most highly attended festival in the United States will run from May 25 – June 10 and show 433 films representing 90 countries, a lineup which includes 35 World premieres, 46 North American premieres, and 25 U.S. premieres. The festival will screen several highly anticipated films such as First Reformed starring Ethan Hawke, Sorry To Bother You starring Lakeith Stanfield, and a documentary about Fred Rogers that is sure to make you cry, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. Suffice it to say, all 433 films won’t be covered here, but in addition to our podcast coverage of the festival you will find capsule reviews of a wide variety of films across many genres. Check back often for new capsule reviews as we cover the 44th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. (Newest reviews on top.)

Must See: HEARTS BEAT LOUD, REVENGE, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, FIRST REFORMED, BODIED

Recommended: MOUNTAIN, CHAMPIONS, THE RUSSIAN FIVE, CATWALK: TALES FROM THE CAT SHOW CIRCUIT, AMERICAN ANIMALS

Worth Watching: DON’T WORRY HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, BEAST, MICHELIN STARS: TALES FROM THE KITCHEN

Skip: LITTLE TITO AND THE ALIENS


DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT (120 minutes)

Joaquin Phoenix transforms into the wheelchair-bound recovering alcoholic John Callahan in Gus Van Sant’s biopic about the famous Portland cartoonist. Phoenix’s powerful and wide-ranging emotional performance is matched by the most vulnerable work of Jonah Hill’s career as he portrays Callahan’s AA group leader and friend. Don’t Worry is an often humorous, thoughtful look at the challenge of dealing with addiction and affliction, but it also features an odd use of non-linear storytelling and wastes the talented Rooney Mara in a forgettable role as Callahan’s trophy girlfriend. See it for the stand-out acting and ultimate message of hope.

Rating:


THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (98 minutes)

In this stunningly true story, triplets separated at birth discover one another and fall into brotherly love before deeper, darker secrets are revealed regarding the circumstances of their detachment. Compelling right from the start, high energy and an intriguing structure keep this documentary fresh as it considers the age old question of nature vs. nurture. At its best when telling of the boys’ experiences while both together and growing up apart, the film isn’t quite as strong after its shocking reveal and during its subsequent exploration of why this all happened. The tragedy of the tale is incredibly emotional and thought-provoking, though, making us consider the line between humanity and science through the lens of very real people whose lives were dictated for them in ways they never expected.

Rating:

[All SIFF showings have passed; wide release on June 29, 2018]


HEARTS BEAT LOUD (98 minutes)

Hearts Beat Loud is not just the witty title of this third feature film from Brett Haley, but also a prophetic description of the physiological response it evokes. Frank (Nick Offerman) is stellar as a hip, but childish, widowed father whose last vestige of connection with his soon-to-be med student daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is a shared love of music. The catchy tunes they create bring out the feels but this thoughtful, realistic story about coping with the challenges that life brings keeps us emotionally invested through its charming, heartwarming exploration of parenthood, love, and facing the future.

Rating:

[All SIFF showings have passed; wide release on June 8, 2018]


MOUNTAIN (74 minutes)

Like a poetic love letter to the mystical draw of the mountaintop, Willem Dafoe’s smooth voice (backed by the symphonic tones of the Australian Chamber Orchestra) narrates this awe-inspiring journey through the history of man’s relationship with some of the most imposing natural structures on the planet. Cinematographer Renan Ozturk’s stunning high-altitude imagery of mountains all across the world is a visual delight and worthy of the biggest theater screen possible, though viewers with a fear of heights are in for a terrifying experience.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 21 – 7:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian), May 22 – 7:00 pm (Majestic Bay)

[Get Tickets]


LITTLE TITO AND THE ALIENS (92 minutes)

In this playful science fiction dramedy, Tito and Anita travel to America to live with their widowed scientist uncle after their father passes away in Italy. The Professor, living as a recluse in the Nevada desert near Area 51, has stalled in his work on a top secret government project, but the arrival of his niece and nephew force him to confront not only his own grief but theirs as well. Featuring elements that echo Spielberg’s work (down to a very similar score), Little Tito and the Aliens has some heartfelt moments but is too scattered and derivative to be very highly recommended.

Rating:

Showtimes: June 7 – 7:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), June 8 – 4:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian)

June 10 – 4:30 pm (AMC Pacific Place)

[Get Tickets]


CHAMPIONS (CAMPEONES) (120 minutes)

Champions is another feel-good, family-friendly story about a judgmental and egotistical person who learns to accept others through spending time with them. But despite following a typical trajectory right up to a completely telegraphed ending, Director/Writer Javier Fesser’s film is so charming and funny that it simply doesn’t matter if you could write the plot yourself. Anchored by an incredible cast of performers as basketball players with intellectual disabilities and a genuinely emotional turn by star Javier Gutierrez as their new coach, Champions is an enjoyable, inspiring story that will warm the heart.

Rating:

Showtimes: June 1 – 9:00 pm (Kirkland Performance Center), June 8 – 6:15 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown) w/ Director Q&A

June 9 – 3:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown) w/ Director Q&A

[Get Tickets]


THE RUSSIAN FIVE (99 minutes)

Joshua Riehl’s documentary comes at the perfect time for a Seattle community starving for a hockey team of their own. The best sports documentaries take a topic many know and unpack hidden history. The Russian Five tells of how the Detroit Red Wings forever changed the NHL by bringing in talented Russian players, sometimes at risk of their lives and well-being of their families. Filled with awesome archival game footage and interviews, Riehl’s film echoes the rock star quality of its subjects and is a shocking, heartbreaking, and ultimately triumphant story about family and determination in sports.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 19 – 5:30 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown) w/ Director Q&A, May 20 – 6:00 pm (Majestic Bay) w/ Director Q&A

May 29 – 9:00 pm (Shoreline)

[Get Tickets]


BODIED (121 minutes, R)

Director Joseph Kahn is most known for high-profile music videos, but alongside producer Eminem he takes on the rap battle scene in this high intensity, satirical, lyrical exploration of PC culture as we know it today. Bodied follows white progressive grad student Adam on his journey from researching battle rap to competing himself. It’s smart script constantly spits fire and offends every race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and more while inviting viewers to consider how much words matter. Added visual flourish reminds of Scott Pilgrim and the rap battles themselves are sure to become the stuff of legend.

Rating:

Showtimes: June 9 – 9:30 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian), June 10 – 9:15 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian)

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AMERICAN ANIMALS (116 minutes, R)

Director Bart Layton leverages his history with documentaries in this bold feature debut about four privileged real-life college friends who rely on their knowledge of movies to plan and execute a rare book heist. With a unique style that overlays interviews of the actual subjects into the narrative, this exhilarating crime drama is notable in how it depicts differing perspectives of how the events unfolded. Slick, stylish, and often hilarious, the film does suffer from pacing issues in its purely dramatic sections, but this fresh take on the sub-genre is a fascinating experience.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 19 – 9:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), May 20 – 1:30 pm (AMC Pacific Place) w/ Director Q&A

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FIRST REFORMED (113 minutes, R)

Known for his transcendental style and self-destructive characters, legendary writer/director Paul Schrader’s latest film stars Ethan Hawke in an arguably career-best performance as a former military chaplain turned small church pastor wrestling with despair, physical ailments, and an increasingly critical view of how the modern church operates. An intellectually profound script regarding matters of faith and environmentalism is coupled with careful artistic direction that creates a simmering emotional experience. This is a dark, unsettling character drama interested more in asking questions than providing answers – but for those who engage, it can be a powerful conversation-starter and trigger for self-reflection.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 18 – 4:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Egyptian), May 22 – 7:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown)

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WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (93 minutes)

Bring the tissues for this story about Fred Rogers, the iconic and innovative television personality with a heart for children and unwavering hope to see every person loved and respected for who they are. Fred’s sense of ministry and passion for child development helped him make Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood a safe place for learning that was radical in its time and unreplicated to this day. Through the use of interviews and historical context, Oscar-winning Director Morgan Neville thoroughly explores who Rogers was and shows his lessons are still needed today more than ever.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 26 – 6:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), May 27 – 1:30 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown)

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CATWALK: TALES FROM THE CAT SHOW CIRCUIT (75 minutes)

People love cats. Some people love cats so much that they travel the country attending what amounts to a beauty contest for their feline companion, and Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit tells some of these amusing stories while detailing the surprisingly complex and competitive world of cat shows as seen through the nail-biting race for #1 between puffy red Persian Ooh La La and playful Turkish Angora Bobby. Thoroughly entertaining and full of gorgeous kitty cinematography, this sweet, fun and informative documentary is a joy for the whole family (pets included).

Rating:

Showtimes: May 19 – 3:30 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), May 20 – 1:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown), June 2 – 3:30 pm (Shoreline)

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MICHELIN STARS: TALES FROM THE KITCHEN (82 minutes)

Early in this documentary from Danish director Rasmus Dinesen, one renowned chef calls the famous restaurant grading Michelin Guide, “the most important guide in the world,” and for those chasing the ultra-elusive Michelin Star it is. Dinesen travels around the world learning about both the trials and glory that come from seeking the culinary world’s highest rating. The film is less concerned with specific dishes, but still features plenty of mouth-watering cinematography while providing a fair and balanced conversation about the Guide’s history and place in the restaurant world today.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 21 – 6:30 pm (Lincoln Square), May 23 – 6:00 pm (SIFF Cinema Uptown) [Get Tickets]


BEAST (107 minutes, R)

Haunting and suspenseful, director Michael Pearce’s feature film debut Beast is a slow-burn thriller that takes its time alternating between moments of high intensity and quiet psychological depth. It is anchored by an incredible, star-making first performance by Jessie Buckley, as a troubled young girl in an isolated island community who engages in a relationship with a mysterious stranger being investigated for multiple murders. The film is heavy in metaphor and takes a little too long to resolve, but its crescendo to the finale is powerful and quite memorable.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 20 – 8:00 pm (Ark Lodge Cinemas), May 21 – 9:30 pm (AMC Pacific Place) [Get Tickets]


REVENGE (108 minutes, R)

With the heart-pounding, blood-pumping Revenge, French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat bursts onto the scene in a ferocious manner. This heavily stylized rape-revenge has a considerably unique feel due to its female director turning the tables on the male gaze at every corner and offering a female protagonist with plenty of agency. Bloody, remarkably intense, and backed by a fantastic soundtrack, it’s a gorgeously shot violent payback session that is so slick and entertaining that it overcomes its slightly long runtime and is accessible enough that even non-fans of exploitation films can enjoy.

Rating:

Showtimes: May 18 – Midnight (SIFF Cinema Egyptian) [Get Tickets]


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.

Minisode 044: Interview with American Animals Director, Bart Layton

Director Bart Layton leverages his history with documentaries in American Animals, a bold feature debut about four privileged real-life college friends who rely on their knowledge of movies to plan and execute a rare book heist. With a unique style that overlays interviews of the actual subjects into the narrative, this exhilarating crime drama is notable in how it depicts differing perspectives of how the events unfolded. Aaron sat down with Bart to discuss why he is fascinated with stranger-than-fiction tales, what it was like using the real life heist participants in this film, and what one film that impacted him emotionally was.

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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Hereditary

HEREDITARY (2018)

2 Hours and 7 Minutes (R)

It’s the morning after I saw Hereditary and I’m still alive. I didn’t have a nightmare, and I slept just fine. I guess it’s not quite the scariest movie ever made? That being said, there is plenty of frightening imagery and a very chilly atmosphere throughout that do contribute to one heck of a tense viewing experience. This directorial debut by Ari Aster may not be a perfectly tuned gem, but it offers something fresh and terrifying in ways audiences are not used to seeing.

Hereditary is the story of a family’s struggle to overcome the tragic fate which seems destined to befall them. Annie (Toni Collette), a miniature design artist, has recently lost her mother, a woman whom with she had a fractured and contentious relationship with. She is torn between feelings of sadness over the death, and also guilt over a lack of it. In the aftermath of her mother’s absence she begins to discover spiritual secrets that hint at a very dark past, one that has greatly impacted Annie’s two children, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro).

There honestly isn’t much more that can be said about the narrative without diminishing the surprises to come. What transpires is a horror tale heavily influenced by Greek tragedy. For the first two acts, it is the definition of slow-burn. The aforementioned atmosphere is cold and dark with an air of dread hanging over the family constantly. The scares come infrequently and often Aster misdirects by lingering in a scene long enough to get audience expectations up before moving on without giving the jump scare we are conditioned to receive. What is most frightening in this section is the depth and pain of the family drama at the film’s heart. It shouldn’t be shocking that a family with evil secrets in their DNA have relationship issues, and these play out deliciously with Collette leading the way. Her performance is probably the best one I’ve ever seen in a horror film by a leading lady, and that includes The Exorcist. Her ability to emote crippling grief, fear, rage, and pain is unbelievable. Luckily we spend most of our time with her because she is absolutely the film’s greatest strength. Unfortunately, this also serves as an accidental detriment, because her children simply can’t live up to the powerful work she puts in. Wolff, in particular, is asked to carry a heavy load, but simply isn’t on Collette’s level. This draws attention to the fact that there is acting happening and pulled me out of the film at times. Gabriel Byrne, playing Annie’s husband Steve, is up to task in a much smaller role, though. His quiet patience and strength as he consistently tries to hold his dysfunctional family together despite the unraveling happening before him is inspiring and resulted in a great amount of empathy for his character.

The cinematography in Hereditary is also awfully good. Annie’s miniature workshop provides the basis for quite a few interesting scenes and the camera’s focus on characters having a breakdown (which happens a lot) really creates a sense of closeness that heightens their emotional release. Likewise the score contributes greatly to the overall perilous mood, and even more so the sound editing is fantastic and a major factor in keeping the audience on the edge at all times. For movies to become classic they need something iconic that can be referenced in future generations, and much like the singing of “Time Is On My Side” in Fallen, the use of tongue clicking in Hereditary will be implanted in your memory forever.

Despite many strengths, the film does disappoint in ways. The third act is a major tonal shift that some may feel is warranted due to the build-up before, but it was jarring and unenjoyable for me. Throughout the story it also felt to me like horror tropes were being checked off of a list and when the supernatural was shown it took away from my enjoyment of the subtle horror displayed within the pulse-pounding mysterious and emotional family drama. This final act took all of that supernatural stuff and cranked it up to 11, providing the shock factor missing previously and ending with a punch that may have been unexpected but left me with the lingering question of, “Do I even care”?

VERDICT

Hereditary is no doubt an audacious debut from a new filmmaker that will likely be talked about all year long and potentially feature heavily in the end-of-year awards conversation. Toni Collette’s performance is stunning and will by itself terrify many viewers. The horror story at the heart of Hereditary, though, is not something tremendously unique. Though the method of revealing its dark secrets is fresh, the evil here is forgettable. If you’re looking for jump scares, this probably isn’t the film for you. But if you enjoyed A24’s previous release The VVitch, you’ll most likely fall in love with the first two acts of this as well. That final act is truly the separating point. Where some see instant classic and walk away shaken and unable to sleep, I was simply annoyed and left feeling that an opportunity for true greatness was just missed.

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 112: Paddington 2

Grab a marmalade sandwich and get ready to smile as we discuss the surprise hit of 2018, a beary special, family-friendly film called Paddington 2. We also chat some about the adorable bear’s first adventure before getting into all of the reasons this sequel has charmed viewers old and young, critical and casual alike.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:21
(Aaron – Paddington, Adrift, Upgrade)
(Patrick – Paddington)

Paddington 2 Review – 0:16:39

The Connecting Point – 0:57:29


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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