MOVIE REVIEW: The Last Full Measure

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 50 minutes

Once upon a time, I served for many years in the United States Navy. One of the heights of my career was being selected for advancement to Chief Petty Officer, a position of unique and particularly valued leadership. Before we could officially be accepted and wear our anchor collar insignia, we spent a summer being schooled in Naval history, toughened through increased physical fitness exercises, and eventually participated in a time-honored tradition that tested our mental, emotional, and physical limits while forcing us to rely on each other in ways that strengthened the bond of brotherhood between us all. As part of our Naval history training, we were required to learn about the many Medal of Honor (MoH) recipients who served in the Navy and Marine Corps. I remember vividly being at PT (physical fitness training), well before the sun had risen, reciting MoH citations verbatim in the push-up position, unable to recover and stand until we’d remembered every detail precisely. Now I know that some of you reading this will probably be thinking how cruel this sounds, but its effect on us was profound. These methods hammered home the importance of remembering and honoring those who came before. It wasn’t about having knowledge for the sake of it, we were being trained to pass down the Naval history from our generation of Sailors to the next, ensuring that the sacrifice and valor of all the man and women awarded the MoH was never, ever forgotten, or taken for granted.

“The Last Full Measure” tells the story of a man who was forgotten, though, at least in terms of being remembered equal to his action. Airman William H. Pitsenbarger was a U.S. Air Force Pararescue Jumper who served as a medic in the Vietnam War. On April 11, 1966, he entered a war zone and tended to injured men until they could be evacuated safely via helicopter. When the last helicopter was forced to leave due to heavy enemy fire, Airman Pitsenbarger waved it off, choosing to stay with the wounded infantrymen still fighting off a Viet Cong assault. Despite being wounded several times himself, he continued to treat others in any way he could and distributed ammo to those who could still resist before ultimately being killed. The battle was one of the most deadly of the war with Americans suffering heavy losses, but due to Pitsenbarger’s courageous actions at least 9 men were able to return home alive.

For his actions, Pitsenbarger was awarded the Air Force Cross. The film follows the efforts of the men he saved, his parents, and an initially reluctant Department of Defense staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) to see him recognized with the Medal of Honor, the United States of America’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration. Over the course of the film, Huffman visits many of those whose lives are owed to or were impacted greatly Pitsenbarger, with him slowly learning about their trauma from the war and the possibly covered up true events of that fateful day. Director Todd Robinson, who has worked on this project for 20 years, utilizes flashbacks to the battle in order to depict Pitsenbarger’s actions in a way we can visually understand. Admittedly, Robinson has not mastered his craft, and the film suffers from clunky transitions between past and present and some overly melodramatic camerawork at times. But Robinson’s passion for sharing Pitsenbarger’s story with the world shines through every frame and the emotional acting of this stacked veteran cast, which includes such heavyweights as Sam Jackson, William Hurt, Peter Fonda, Christopher Plummer, Ed Harris, Dianne Ladd, and Bradley Whitford. Backed by a beautiful, tender, and moving score by composer Philip Klein, I spent the second half of the film in uncontrollable tears, powerfully moved by the brotherhood, fatherhood, valor, and integrity I saw on display. 

Some critics have already faulted the film for not dealing harshly enough with the governmental concealing of information that took place and for not taking a clear enough stance on the war (as well as the mistakes revealed to have been made in Operation Abilene), but that is not the point of Robinson’s film. It is clear from the start that what Robinson wants us to do is akin to what I experienced in my aforementioned Naval training. He wants us to learn. To observe. To feel. And to remember. It would be difficult to come away from this film not wrestling with how we see these survivors struggle to cope or moved by the reverent way in which they push to see the man who gave his life for theirs honorably remembered.  The emotional swells of the film are in service of crafting a memorable experience, and to that end, I must say Robinson has achieved resounding success.

“The Last Full Measure” is certainly more heavy on drama than fighting, setting it apart from the majority of its genre kin. It is a story of perseverance paid off. A tale as much about the psychological and physical wounds of our veterans that lived as much as the heroism of the one who did not. Of healing and finding peace. And a call to stand for what is right in the face of politics that wish to suppress the truth. For everyone but those with the most cynical of hearts, “The Last Full Measure” is a fully moving experience and an admiral tribute to the effect that one man’s sacrifice had on so many. 

You can read William H. Pitsenbarger’s full Medal of Honor citation by clicking here.

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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: The Gentlemen

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 53 minutes

Director Guy Ritchie’s career has taken one very strange path. Debuting in 1998, his first two feature films (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”) were foul-mouthed, offensive, comedic British crime flicks that featured boxing, gangsters, drugs, guns, money, and a wealth of quotable dialogue. Then in 2009, Ritchie sort of reinvented himself with the Robert Downey Jr. led “Sherlock Holmes”, employing a slick and ultra-stylistic filmmaking method that left the gritty streets and blood and guts behind for high-speed action photography with a recognizable shine. This style would continue in several other big-budget PG-13 flicks such as “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”, and most recently Disney’s live-action remake of “Aladdin”. But throw all that kid-friendly stuff out the window now because “The Gentlemen” is Ritchie returning to his roots in all of their wonderful, excessive, questionable glory.

There is a plot in “The Gentlemen”, but like many of Ritchie’s films, it is circular and also told through heavy use of flashback. Essentially, you have Micky Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) who is an American turned British drug lord looking to sell off his marijuana empire, and the film tells the story of how that attempt to make a deal goes down. Mickey’s primary two partners are his bodyguard Ray (Charlie Hunnam, who looks staggeringly similar to Conor McGregor in this film) and his strong, sexy, and powerful wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery). Most of the film follows the unreliable narration of a private investigator named Fletcher (Hugh Grant) who is trying to bribe his way into $20 million pounds with information on some of Mickey’s adversaries. I could go deeper into the plot, but the truth is that it just doesn’t really matter that much. I won’t recall the specifics of it in a few days. The joy in watching Ritchie’s latest film isn’t from learning what happens, it’s from seeing the characters play it out. 

Casting in the film was fantastic, as each actor seems to be thoroughly enjoying chewing up Ritchie’s obscene and sometimes shocking gangster dialogue. Grant, in particular, is a standout as a man who thinks he has all of the cards and is wittily revealing them throughout the film. It’s a quirky and downright hilarious performance that reminds me of his role in “Paddington 2”, only this time with some serious homoerotic sizzle. Colin Farrell also stands out as Coach, the mentor of a group of young boys at a local boxing club who unexpectedly gets mixed up in Mickey’s dealings. It’s fun to watch him play a good guy skillfully, and like Grant, hilariously, navigating a world of gray to black. Henry Golding also shows up as a tough guy, a way you’ve never really seen him before that was (mostly) a lot of fun to watch. And last but not least, McConaughey anchors the proceedings, oozing with confidence and charm, while also carrying the ruthless demeanor of a lion just beneath the surface, as you’d imagine one would have to do in order to build a multi-million drug empire and sustain it in a world ripe with double-crosses and in-fighting among competing kingpins. And somehow, McConaughey is probably the least interesting of the bunch. 

“The Gentlemen” is full of racist jokes and vulgar cockney slang. It might just set the record for most times the phrase “fuck off” and the word “cunt” is used in one film, and on nearly every single occasion they got a hearty laugh from the audience. It’s all in the delivery and this cast is on their A-game, supplying quotable and memorable moments at every turn. It’s easy to get lost just enjoying your time with the characters and not worry at all about the plot. There is plenty of violence, too, but aside from a few brief and super dark turns, most of it is depicted in a way that plays up the comedy.

It’s difficult to say much about the story because there are many twists and turns in the movie, perhaps too many in fact, but they do make for some fun surprises. Just know that you’re in for a very coarse bunch of dialogue, delivered from the mouths of sharply dressed men (and one woman), a ton of style, frequent side-splitting humor, and some of the most entertaining performances you will see in a theater this year. “The Gentlemen” definitely is not the film that Ritchie’s PG-13 fans will likely adore, but it is a return to his early form and it’s exciting to see him bringing another original (even if familiar) vision to cinemas once again.

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: Color Out of Space

Rating: Unrated / Runtime: 1 hour and 51 minutes

The best independent films do more with less. When there isn’t a massive budget to fall back on for special effects, the importance of storytelling and conveyance of mood become amplified. Operating on a $12 million budget (which I’d assume a decent chunk of went to star actor Nicolas Cage), Richard Stanley has crafted a gnarly, yet intoxicatingly beautiful aesthetic in “Color Out of Space”, which fits the bizarre nature of this story perfectly. The tale comes from an H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. We follow the Gardner family, who have not too long ago traded city life for a rural family estate located near Lovecraft’s famous setting of Arkham, Massachusetts. Nathan (Cage), the father, is a wannabe gardener and farmer who raises alpacas and is trying to embrace this new country life, while his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is doing her best to work from home via the home’s bad internet connection while recovering from breast cancer surgery. They have three children, all with their own sort of strange qualities. LaVinia (Madeleine Arthur) we first meet in the middle of some kind of Wiccan ritual that she hopes will heal her mother and eventually lead the family back to the city. Her practice of magic and dabbling in the occult continues throughout the film and leads to some pretty horrifying decision making. Her brother Benny (Brendan Meyer) likes video games, smoking weed, and helps out around the house without too much fuss. And then there is her younger brother Jack (Julian Hilliard), who is a bit of a mama’s boy still and gives the film a vessel for some freaky child-based horror. There’s also an old hippie living out in the woods who seems to notice problems with nature before everyone else and a young biologist named Ward (Elliot Knight) who pops in and out of the story and serves as a sort of documentarian for the events that take place.

The first half or so of the film, before things get really weird, I found myself very engaged. Family drama is explored and when the mysterious meteorite crashes into their yard a good amount of time is spent on slowly revealing various sci-fi anomalies that mess with the characters’ sense of sight and sound. Of course, this is based on the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft, so horror is part of the story’s DNA and once it comes, the situation gets nasty quickly. There is definitely some gore, but it’s far from overwhelming and contained to just a few scenes. For the most part, it’s the psychological nature of horror explored here, a staple of Lovecraftian storytelling, and a general haziness of time and space that overwhelms the family as the alien color begins to permeate the landscape and their lives. Cage is given the opportunity to get nuts in a few scenes, but unfortunately, it felt almost out of left-field, very forced, and not a natural reaction I expected from his character. Perhaps if he had gone all-out crazy and stuck to that versus oscillating back and forth between sanity and insanity it would have played better for me. It’s in the second half of the film, where the color from the meteorite is taking over, where I didn’t find myself enjoying it nearly as much. As mentioned earlier, the look of the film is mesmerizing and the score by Colin Stetson contributes strongly toward setting that important mood. I just didn’t care about the characters much at all, and I didn’t find the film to be saying anything vastly important about humanity and nature. It’s a tale of aliens or elder gods or whatever you want to think of them as showing up without any explanation as to why and ruining life for this family in a horrific way. The story is just lacking a bigger picture view that I think would have given it much-needed weight and stakes.

“Color Out of Space” is Stanley’s first feature film in over two decades, though, and it proves the filmmaker most famous for being fired from “The Island of Doctor Moreau” still has talent worth sharing with the world. The visuals alone are worth seeing this movie for and it never dips into lackluster boring territory, even if it doesn’t reach any memorable heights either. “Color Out of Space” is the kind of unique sci-fi and horror film that we deserve to see more of. Though the vision of their directors may not blow every viewer away, seeing something this different from mass-market blockbusters is always a treat.

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 212: Weathering With You

It’s week two of Makoto Shinkai Director Month and we are stepping forward in the filmography to cover his newest film, which centers around the bond between a teenage runaway and a teenage orphan, set against the backdrop of climate change-induced crazy weather. As always there is a lot to emotionally unpack, and maybe a statement about humanity’s effect on the planet as well.

Weathering With You Review – 0:04:06

The Connecting Point – 1:24:04

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MOVIE REVIEW: A Fall from Grace

“A Fall from Grace” could be a descriptor for Tyler Perry’s career at the current moment. This particular film is a drama centered on a young unproven public defender who is trying to defend the innocence of a woman who admits to killing her husband in a fit of rage until she realizes that there is more to this jilted tale than just the actions of a scorned, heartbroken wife. Twists and surprises abound in an insidious manner, coming out of left field leaving the viewer confused and underwhelmed. The storytelling experience is nothing more than constant narration that points out events and moments, giving no room for the viewer to interpret anything for themselves. Perry is reliant on many flashbacks and chooses to use a jailhouse interview between the public defender and her client in order to flesh out the meat of the film, which speaks to the issues that are present in the screenplay. Tyler Perry needs to invest in a team of advisors to review and undo the bad habits he has developed in the writing room. It has become maddening and insanely frustrating to sit through narratives with no interesting characters and cheap soap opera drama. This film and others like it are only considered “drama” based on the genre but have no real dramatic weight that you expect. You could call “A Fall From Grace” a masterclass in inconsistent tonal structure and a lack of redeemable qualities. Perry also suffers from directional ineptitude, evident in his played out stories that do nothing but reuse the same conventional tropes his fans continue to eat up. Passion is lacking, especially in the laughable and cheap production design that had environments reeking of Dollar Tree inspiration. A moment does not exist in this film where the viewer actually believes they are living in a breathing and stimulating environment; it consists of thrown together moments of melodrama complete with a redundant reality television inspired musical score. There is no figment of entertainment value that shows itself to be apparent or earned. “A Fall From Grace” is the equivalent of a life sucking drain that wastes every minute of its existence.


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.

FF+ SGT Stubby with Jordan Beck

This week, in a special episode of FF+, we bring to you an interview with 2D Sequence Director and Voice Actor for “SGT Stubby: An American Hero” Jordan Beck. Jordan is also the Chief Operations Officer for Fun Academy Media Group. We talk about their excellent latest animated film, its educational and historical value, and the kind of engaging learning through entertainment that the studio seeks to bring to cinemas everywhere.

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Music: City Sunshine – Kevin MacLeod

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MOVIE REVIEW: Bad Boys For Life

Rating: R / Runtime: 2 hours and 3 minutes

An action film shouldn’t be compelled to live up to the heights of a “Die Hard” or the efficiency and marksmanship of a “John Wick” to be considered a blast at the cineplex. If an action film can deliver side-splitting humor, unbreakable chemistry between two characters, and flair that oozes its way into finely staged action set pieces, then you have a winning combination.  “Bad Boys” has been the standard of which buddy cop films have tried to emulate and walk in the same quality footsteps for the last 25 years. The new, and possibly final, entry in the trilogy carries on the same favorable hallmarks that will have longtime fans of the series sitting on cloud nine while also ingratiating newcomers who love stylish and intense blockbusters. Will and Martin remain the best one-two punch working in cinema hands down, and they enjoyed a deserved send off fit for living legends.

Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Marcus Lawrence) are still ripping the beautiful and glossy streets of Miami even with Father Time having paid them a visit. Just when things seem set for these guys to ease their way into a life after law enforcement, Mike ends up on the wrong end of an almost successful assassination attempt that has him rethinking his legendary status within Miami PD as “Bulletproof Mike”; it gives him a sense of mortality that he hasn’t gotten a drastic taste of until now. Mike wants to forge on the scorched earth path of tracking down his shooter while Marcus wants to move on from the chaos of law enforcement and settle into being a newly minted grandpa who loves watching reality television. Eventually, the two best friends realize they will need each other more than ever if they want to take down this new vicious threat who has a bit of history with Mike and is looking for bloodthirsty vengeance.

Screenwriters Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan display ambition in crafting a story that pays homage to the Bad Boys brand while also taking some new avenues in adding deep stakes to the festivities. The humor is at a high level, dividing its time between callbacks that die-hard fans will enjoy and the gold standard of back and forth banter that Will and Martin have down to a delicate science. There are serious moments centered on the passage of time, family, mortality, death, and the old adage of “every sin has a consequence”. One area of the story adds a new layer to the character of Mike Lowery and his hidden past that made him into what he is; no spoilers here, but the added dimension represents an emotional core that audiences will appreciate outside of the usual action film hijinks. We have the old guard of characters that will be familiar and a new set that adds something modern to keep the film from just being a retread of past ideas. Newcomers such as Vanessa Hudgens, Paola Núñez, Alexander Ludwig, and others do a serviceable job being more than just window dressing in the presence of Will and Martin. They aren’t fully developed but don’t become annoying either with their time on the screen. Kate del Castillo and Jacob Scipio carve out a place as brutal and intimidating antagonists who carry a clear purpose, and some might say justifiable reason, to carry out the mayhem and suffering they want to inflict on our main characters.

I will admit in my deepest thoughts of nostalgia that I did miss Michael Bay’s high-octane overindulgent action set pieces and the massive number of explosions out of nowhere this time around, but I have no problem with the restrained efforts from the directing duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. The action jumps off the screen with a certain bounce that is admirable in its use of careful quick edits and some one-take shots that are very well done. If there is any word that can describe the tone of the camera movement, it has flashy written all over it. Direct jump cuts, immediate whip pans, and handheld work will keep the viewer on the edge, creating an intensity akin to a volcano ready to explode. Hand to hand combat is strong and features some striking stunt choreography, although unfortunately, it is very easy to tell when the stuntmen are on screen apart from the actors.

If this is the end for the saga of “Bad Boys”, then it has a glorious and satisfying sendoff. This film is not an Oscar contender or even one that will stand the test of time to be known as a guilty pleasure, but it doesn’t have to be in order to show people a fun time. Will and Martin have the special kind of hard to find chemistry that is enough to compel anyone to buy a ticket, and it upholds the prestige set by its predecessors in the buddy cop genre. “We ride together, we die together, Bad Boys for life.”


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.

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 211: 1917

This week’s episode covers Sam Mendes’ new war film that is famously made with the illusion of taking place as one continuous shot. The technical mastery in filmmaking craft is evident throughout, but does this immersive and intense rush through the battlegrounds of WW I affect us emotionally? That’s always our question, and we have a good conversation expressing why it was successful in that regard.

1917 Review – 0:03:06

The Connecting Point – 0:58:10

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Episode 210: The Place Promised in Our Early Days

We kick-off our fourth annual Director Month with the first feature-length film from one of our favorite animation directors, Makoto Shinkai. Much like Christopher Nolan, Shinkai has a keen sense for modern science fiction, but he also weaves romance, coming of age stories, and history into his films. This one is no different, as it features elements of all those things, and is a fascinating, beautiful place to start our discussion/celebration of his phenomenal filmography.

The Place Promised in Our Early Days Review – 0:02:51

The Connecting Point – 0:53:32

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