MOVIE REVIEW: The Secret Life of Pets 2

I laughed harder during THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 than at any other film this year and emerged from the theater with tears in my eyes because of it. The film doesn’t break new ground, but I’ll own it and watch a dozen more times for sure. Take the family! 😻


 

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.

What We Learned This Week: May 19-June 1

LESSON #1: GEORGIA DOESN’T REALIZE THE BUSINESS INFLUENCE OF HOLLYWOOD— The fine Peach State has been near the top or at the top of the list of most popular movie filming locations annually for over a decade.  A ton of business comes to them and it has been a boom of tax credits and employment all the way down the list of credits you see at the end of a movie.  The golden gravy train is being threatened by unpopular politics due in part to Georgia’s recent anti-abortion “heartbeat bill” legislation. The same is happening on a smaller level in Alabama and Missouri where similar laws are in place.  Disney, Netflix, several production shingles, and many performers are rethinking, threatening, or have already ceased production or engagement plans in those states.  Gripe about celebrity agendas mixing with political agendas all you want, but this is business and people are prepared to punch wallets where it hurts.  Georgia and those other states can stand on their principles all they want, but the prospective customers are equally allowed to take their business elsewhere.  The true business victims here are the under-the-title workers from craftsman to craft services who could see a precipitous drop of employment opportunities. They are citizens and they need to let their voices heard at the ballot box during the next election.  Both sides will be voting their interests, but let’s see how far money talks.

LESSON #2: ROTTEN TOMATOES WILL IMPROVE ITS CREDIBILITY— Last year, Rotten Tomatoes widened its collective of film critics for its vaunted Tomatometer with new standards that welcomed product and personal diversity (myself included) beyond the field solely print journalism.  The bigger pool has helped make its ratings more aligned to the masses, and now its the mass’s turn for accountability.  In a story released this week, RT is seeking to change its method for the Audience Score part of its ratings to focus on verified ticket buyers and not just “reviewing bombing” internet trolls and haters.  I highly applaud this effort for more actionable accountability and credibility, the latter of which stands to improve greatly. We can clap all we want, but the smartest among us still know that MetaCritic is statistically better (thanks Quartzy).

LESSON #3: PORTRAYAL AND PERFORMANCE NEED TO GO FARTHER THAN REPRESENTATION— From my Aladdin review on Every Movie Has a Lesson: Yes, it is wonderful Disney sought people of color for this ethnic fairy tale, but the clout of their portrayals and the substance of their actions are not improvements. If you’re going to do the right thing by diversity, go all the way, not just halfway or selectively. Dare to combat stereotypes completely. For extensive look into the troublesome history of Arab representation in film, check out Omar Mouallem’s piece in The Ringer.

LESSON #4: EVERYTHING CAN BE RECAST— Less urgent or important than the stakes of Lesson #3 but in the same ballpark of casting is Harrison Ford’s recent assertion that Indiana Jones will die with him claiming no one will fill the role after him.  Hollywood is a place where remake and reinvention are ever-moving cogs of evolution.  Someday, even if no one wants it, someone is going to remake the Indiana Jones films or tell new stories of the character.  Disney didn’t buy LucasFilm just for Star Wars and they see another cash cow of name recognition. Within our lifetimes, we will see another fedora-clad archaeologist cracking a whip.

LESSON #5: CLEARLY, OLD PEOPLE ARE SLOW AND TAKE MORE TIME TO DO THINGS— Boy, this lesson is mean and vague, even when following the 76-year-old Harrison Ford.  Well, we have another delay on Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, the filmmaker’s hotly anticipated Netflix crime epic.  Apparently, the VFX to de-age the senior actors needs more time to refine its look without losing the facial expressions of performance underneath.  No date has been given, but let’s hope nobody dies before this film sees the light of a streaming device day.  

LESSON #6: INDULGE YOUR AUDITORY SENSES AT THE MOVIES— In the final lesson suggestion spot, allow me to share with you this top-notch research list from IndieWire’s Chris O’Falt.  He gathered the 23 films cited by the new documentary Making Waves that chronicled the art of sound design.  Nothing but choice content here. Impress your ears with some of these winners if you need a casual viewing experience this week.  Every one of these movie choices would be better than the cluttered noise of Godzilla: King of the Monsters this weekend.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#103)

Connecting With Classics 005: American Graffiti

The stars align here at the end of May. Ron Howard’s new film Solo: A Star Wars Story hits the big screen featuring a backstory of the iconic character made famous by Harrison Ford. The happenstance of Ron Howard treading into Harrison Ford’s territory led us to an American classic that turns 45 years old this year.  Hop in your car of choice, roll the windows down, turn your music up, and drive it slow as we talk American Graffiti.

One of the goals for “Connecting With Classics” is listener participation. We will be hosting prize drawings for a poster of the Connecting With Classics movie of their choice plus podcast swag and more at the end of each calendar year. Entries into the drawing can be earned for every episode by watching the film and posting your own review or thoughts about the podcast episode in the comments section of the episode announcement post in our Feelin’ Film Facebook Discussion Group. For listeners who do not wish to be a part of the discussion group, emailing reviews to feelinfilm@gmail.com will also be accepted.

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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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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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Episode 079: Blade Runner 2049

For the second week in a row we’ve got replicant fever and are trying to answer that nagging question, “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” Blade Runner 2049 inspires us to honor its epic length with some extended conversation of our own. There is plenty to discuss in the incredible new film from Denis Villeneuve so join us for an in-depth journey as we explore the film’s emotional and philosophical impact on us.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:14

(Aaron – My Little Pony: The Movie)
(Patrick – Clue)

Blade Runner 2049 Review – 0:19:05

The Connecting Point – 1:34:45

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

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MOVIE REVIEW: Blade Runner 2049

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)



GOING IN

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner holds a special place in my heart. Over countless viewings the film has continued to evoke emotional and intellectual responses from me, often times new and unexpected. It is the film that ushered in my love of a good artificial intelligence story, a sub-genre that today I consider my favorite. The ideas it brings forth and leads us to consider are hefty ones. It is brilliant in most every way and is firmly placed in my Top 5 favorite films of all-time. And now we have a sequel…

To be honest, I wasn’t excited when this film was announced. Part of what makes Blade Runner so fascinating is the ambiguity. Will a sequel ruin all of that, and could it even lower my enjoyment of the original? These are very real fears for me. Over time, though, I’ve grown more excited about this project. Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins have the vision and style to make them a perfect artistic fit.  The casting of Ryan Gosling and Jared Leto entice me, as does the return of Harrison Ford. This film couldn’t be in better hands. But the skeptic in me remains, and Blade Runner 2049 meeting my expectations may prove a difficult task.



COMING OUT

For once, Hollywood got it right. The studios worked very hard to encourage no spoilers be released from early Blade Runner 2049 screenings and that decision will result in a much better experience for filmgoers. The story being told is intriguing and provocative, a believable next step in the evolution of replicants that continues the original film’s exploration of what it means to be alive. As it should be expected, the question of who is and isn’t human lingers and gives rise to doubt. The concept of love and what role it plays in having a soul is also examined. A particular relationship between characters, one of whom is a holographic A.I., was among my favorite parts of the film and provided an emotional center that resonated with me.

That same A.I. is one of several new technological advancements that the world has seen in its 30 years since the original Blade Runner took place. Police Department cruisers are considerably cooler and now have enhancements like a detachable drone and weaponry. Synthetic farming is briefly shown and looks fascinating. Other new tech includes things like a portable replicant scanner and what serves as an upgraded Voight-Kampff machine that helps humans keep replicants operating between the lines.

When it comes to visuals, Roger Deakins’ cinematography is incredible. This is not the hard-boiled Blade Runner of the past that was filmed almost entirely in darkness. Everything here is shiny and futuristic. It is a gorgeous film to behold and I’ll be extremely surprised if Deakins isn’t raising a golden Oscar statue at the 2018 Academy Awards. It’s clear that he and Villeueve have a passion for the material and their artistic genius is without question.

But…

Thought-provoking as it may be, I had an incredibly hard time connecting emotionally with the primary plot. The themes were not deepened in a way that moved me and the entire world felt very cold. Numerous recreations of moments from the original film seemed cheap and were distracting. This is a long film and it feels long. Many will likely be bored, and though I wouldn’t count myself among them, I definitely felt many scenes could have been shorter without losing any of their impact. When I saw Blade Runner 2049‘s running time I expected much more in-depth world-building than actually exists.

VERDICT

Admittedly, I had high expectations for Blade Runner 2049 and in some ways those were met. This is a visually stunning film and for a while it was nice exploring new, but familiar, themes in this universe. Harrison Ford’s return was wonderful and most of the performances were perfectly fine. But what I didn’t find Blade Runner 2049 to be is particularly inspired. Villeneuve shockingly plays it safe and doesn’t expand on the world in any meaningful ways. Sure, there may be some meaning for a few characters, but larger implications are left completely unexplored and some plot lines just dropped as suddenly as if the film had run out of reel and nothing could be added. While I find the original Blade Runner to be infinitely re-watchable, as of this writing I don’t see myself desiring to revisit the long slog of Blade Runner 2049 again. When graded against science fiction films in general, Blade Runner 2049 is an above average entry. But this feels now more than ever like a sequel that we didn’t need, and when graded against its compelling and great source material, it sadly falls very short.

Rating:


UPDATE

Having now seen the film a second time, I feel it is important to update this review. Upon repeat viewing, divorced from expectations of what I thought the sequel should be, I was able to enjoy the film completely for what it actually is. Instead of finding the film cold and emotionless, I experienced quite a few moments of deep connection to different characters. The unique thing about Blade Runner 2049 is that it will not draw your attention to these moments through the use of manipulative music or exposition. You have to be paying attention, and if you are, the payoff is a powerful and moving one. I also had far less problems with the thematic content of the film. The new direction that Villeneuve has chosen to take this series is a logical step forward and though questions are once again left unanswered, they made me crave and yearn for more details, not less. Yes, the runtime is exceptionally long and it’s understandable that some viewers were yawning in my theater, but I was entranced and could have easily lived inside this world for another hour plus.

Sometimes expectations can thoroughly derail a filmgoing experience and I believe that is what happened to me. Discussing both that topic and the many emotional/philosophical story beats of Blade Runner 2049 on our podcast helped me to realize just how much I appreciate and adore this film. I love it. I cannot wait to see it again, and again, and again. I want more from Villeneuve. I want resolutions and new characters and new mysteries. Blade Runner 2049 is an exceptional work of art and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

New 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 078: Blade Runner

Few movies have had as profound an impact on our thoughts of what it means to be human as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. We welcome first time guest James Harleman, Blade Runner superfan, to the podcast and spend some time unpacking the film’s numerous themes and questions about identity.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:31

(Aaron – Battle of the Sexes)
(James – Jeepers Creepers 3)

Blade Runner Review – 0:18:00

The Connecting Point – 01:11:36

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

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Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!