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: THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, BEAST, MICHELIN STARS: TALES FROM THE KITCHEN

Skip: LITTLE TITO AND THE ALIENS


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)

[Get Tickets]


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

[Get Tickets]


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)

[Get Tickets]


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)

[Get Tickets]


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)

[Get Tickets]


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 042: Terminator 2

It’s Judgment Day at Feelin’ Film. Our Patrons voted for us to cover Terminator 2 for May, because nothing celebrates Mother’s Day like talking about Sarah Connor. We honor the genius of this classic and dive into some of the bigger themes it presents like fatherhood and sacrifice. Come with us, if you want to live.


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You Should Be Watching: May 24-30

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found. This week, I’m recommending one of the most classic of Westerns, a film about the love of cinema, and Don Bluth’s magical animated directorial debut about mice and rats. Also, among the films coming and going Coco arrives on Netflix this week and I, Tonya on Hulu.

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


High Noon

Year: 1952

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Genre: Western

Cast: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr., Harry Morgan, Ian MacDonald, Eve McVeagh, Morgan Farley, Harry Shannon, Lee Van Cleef, Robert J. Wilke, Sheb Wooley, Jack Elam, John Doucette, Ted Stanhope, Lee Aaker, Guy Beach, Larry J. Blake, John Breen, Tex Driscoll, Herschel Graham, Paul Kruger, William H. O’Brien, Roy Bucko, Russell Custer, Nora Bush

 

<i>High Noon</i> is the epitome of the classic Western, featuring a small Old West town with a virtuous good guy lawman named Will Kane (Gary Cooper) and a formidable bad guy outlaw (and his gang) named Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), who is headed for town to get revenge against Kane for sending him to prison. To complicate matters even more, our hero, Marshal Kane, has just turned in his badge so he could marry his love, a pacifist Quaker named Amy (Grace Kelly), and with the news of Miller’s gang having arrived with Miller soon to follow, the newly married couple are rushed out of town in hopes of avoiding bloodshed. But Kane is torn between the love he has for his new bride and his duty to the unprotected town he was to leave behind, even though he struggles to find anyone willing to help him defend it.

This film is tightly scripted and tension-filled with the ever-present clock serving as a ongoing countdown towards the likely demise of both Kane’s life and his young marriage. And Amy’s discovery of “another woman” only makes matter worse. With each minute that passes, and with each request for help that’s refused, the desperation grows. Gary Cooper is a perfect fit for the Marshal role, stoic but heartfelt. Grace Kelly, in only her second film, delivers a wonderfully complex performance as the bride who loves her husband dearly but also has her own values to which she is fiercely loyal and refuses to sit around waiting for him to get killed.

EXPIRING: Last day to watch is 5/31


 

Cinema Paradiso

Year: 1988

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Genre: Romance, Drama

Cast: Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Marco Leonardi, Salvatore Cascio, Agnese Nano, Antonella Attili, Enzo Cannavale, Isa Danieli, Leo Gullotta, Pupella Maggio, Leopoldo Trieste, Tano Cimarosa, Nicola Di Pinto, Roberta Lena, Nino Terzo, Brigitte Fossey, Mariella Lo Giudice, Beatrice Palme, Franco Catalano, Giuseppe Tornatore, Giorgio Libassi, Mimmo Mignemi

 

If you love movies, if you love the cinema, if seeing the magical images flicker through the darkness on the screen in front of you fills you with the greatest of joys, <i>Cinema Paradiso</i> is for you. The film opens by introducing us to famous fictional film director Salvatore Di Vita receiving the news that Alfredo has died. Who is Alfredo, and what was his relationship with Salvatore? Flashing back to Salvatore at age 6, shortly after World War II, that story begins. Even at that young age, Salvatore, played with the utmost of precociousness by Salvatore Cascio, develops an intense love for the movies by practically living at his village’s local theater, the Cinema Paradiso, where we first meet Alfredo. But as the seasons of Salvatore’s young life go on, we learn he is no stranger to tragedy and must learn how to overcome. All the while, he continues to explore the world of film and develop the skills and experience that would turn him into the the master filmmaker he ultimately becomes. Over the course of the story, we experience various seasons of his young life and ultimately discover the positive and lasting impact one can have on a child’s life simply by taking the time to invest in him.


 

The Secret of N.I.M.H.

  

Year: 1982

Director: Don Bluth

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Cast: Derek Jacobi, Elizabeth Hartman, Arthur Malet, Dom DeLuise, Hermione Baddeley, Shannen Doherty, Wil Wheaton, Jodi Hicks, Ian Fried, John Carradine, Peter Strauss, Paul Shenar

 

Don Bluth, the animation director perhaps most famous for the prehistoric classic <i>The Land Before Time</i> came out of the gate swinging with his directorial debut <i>The Secret of N.I.M.H.</i>, a brisk adaptation of the novel <i>Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H.</i>. Creatively combining science and dark fantasy with surprisingly mature themes such as the imminence of death and the ethics of animal experimentation, Bluth created a magical, vibrant, world rich in mythology and full of stunning hand-drawn animation that rivals most Disney features and will appeal to young and old alike. It’s inspiring to see the lone mother and widow Mrs. Brisby, voiced by Elizabeth Hartman, doing everything within her power to care for her children and save her sick son. While there is a tone of mystery and wonder throughout, unlike in many animated films, the audience is not spoon-fed information. Viewers are expected to pay attention, and they will be rewarded for doing so. Just for fun, listen for a very young Shannen Doherty and Wil Wheaton as Mrs. Brisby’s firstborn daughter Teresa and son Martin.

EXPIRING: Last day to watch is 5/31


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

May 27
Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)
Middle of Nowhere (2012)

May 29
The Jungle Book (2016)

May 31
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)
Men In Black (1997)
My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989)
Oldboy (2003)
Scarface (1983)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Resurrection of Jake the Snake (2015)
Training Day (2001)

 

AMAZON PRIME

May 30
1984 (1984)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Breakdown (1997)
Chaplin (1992)
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Manhattan (1979)
Regarding Henry (1991)
The Secret of N.I.M.H. (1982)

May 31
From the Rocky Collection:

Rocky (1976)
Rocky II (1979)

From the James Bond Collection:

Dr. No (1962)
From Russia with Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

 

FILMSTRUCK

May 25
Brighton Rock (1948)
Carol Reed:

The Fallen Idol (1948)
The Third Man (1949)

May 31
High Noon (1952)

June 1
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
A Night At The Opera (1935)

June 8
Christopher Guest:

Best in Show (2000)
Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Elia Kazan:

On the Waterfront (1954)
A Face in the Crowd (1957)

 

HULU

May 31
1984 (1984)
Breakdown (1997)
Manhattan (1979)
The Secret of N.I.M.H. (1982)


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Cargo — NETFLIX FILM (2017)
Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
Small Town Crime (2017)
The Survivor’s Guide to Prison (2018)

 

AMAZON PRIME

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)
The Black Stallion (1979)
Death at a Funeral (2007)

 

FILMSTRUCK

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

 

HULU

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

May 29
Coco (2017)

May 31
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017)

 

HULU

May 31
I, Tonya (2017)
Rain Man (1988)

 


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

MOVIE REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

2 Hours and 15 Minutes (PG-13)

I’ve been on record as worrying quite a bit about Solo: A Star Wars Story (henceforth in this review know as Solo, because a one-word title just makes sense doesn’t it?). The first Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One, significantly underwhelmed me, and here a second prequel was attempting to unnecessarily go back and fill in gaps in the Star Wars timeline. But this time it required the dangerous risk of recasting one of the most iconic characters in movie history. I love Han. We all love Han. And Harrison Ford is Han. So, I’ve been pretty skeptical that Alden Ehrenreich could step into those enormously talented shoes and deliver a compelling enough performance to make us truly believe that he, too, is Han.

But folks… it happened.

It wasn’t right away, though. Solo wastes no time in introducing us to young Han the scoundrel, but despite an exciting chase sequence and Han trying to talk his way out of a pickle, Ehrenreich just wasn’t connecting for me. As the story went on, though, my expectations and presumptions about how young Han should act began to decline and he slowly transformed. When Han meets Lando, I was all in, having witnessed enough smirks, snark, and charm to really believe in this new version of the character. And by the time the credits rolled, I had to repent. Because maybe he’s not perfect, but young Han he is.

The thing to remember first and foremost about Solo is that it’s not a Star Wars saga film and thus doesn’t abide by the same storytelling rules. The question isn’t IF Han will make it out of situations safely, it’s HOW he will make it out. This is an intergalactic heist film and an origin story. Seriously, we learn the origin of EVERYTHING. Han’s lucky dice? Covered. Han’s blaster? That too. The Kessel Run? It’s definitely mentioned. How Han met Lando and Chewie? Of course. And so, so much more. Honestly, it could have been overkill. Maybe for some it will. But for me it struck the perfect balance, giving me depth and insight into a beloved character without ever stopping the plot to draw attention to a reference. All of it was woven seamlessly into the narrative. It made sense, and I loved every single wink and nod to the stories we all know so well.

Another strength of the film is that Solo doesn’t go solo. The film features a host of flat-out wonderful supporting actors and droids. Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is a fantastic addition to the canon and through her we are able to learn about Han the lover and what kind of woman he’s attracted to. Beckett (Woody Harrelson) provides Han with a mentor of sorts, someone who teaches him tricks of the trade and many life lessons. Then there is Lando, played as perfectly by Donald Glover as you’d expect, showing us how the two young smooth-talking smugglers came to their complicated friendship. The chemistry between Ehrenreich and Glover is definitely present and if I had one gripe it would be that I just wanted more of this duo together. Paul Bettany chews up scenes wonderfully as a bigshot gangster and leader of crime syndicate Crimson Dawn, the perfect subtle villain for a smuggler’s origin story. And L3-37 (yes, that spells “leet”), Lando’s droid, is hilariously liberal while also playing a surprisingly touching role in the tale.

The adventure itself is a ton of fun. Han, as you would expect, gets himself into a situation that involves stealing, smuggling, fancy flying, and generally getting shot at along the way. But it isn’t just fun, it’s a well-written story that thoroughly explains how the swashbuckling rogue became the man who may or may not shoot first, doesn’t trust anyone, and primarily looks out only for himself. All of the action pieces are also wonderfully done, from the big set pieces to the brief one-on-one fight sequences, and the cinematography is just as gorgeous as always. The film’s score stands out, too, with John Powell bringing a hint of his How To Train Your Dragon sound to the familiar Star Wars themes, particularly when the Millennium Falcon is speeding through the galaxy.

VERDICT

Solo: A Star Wars Story is one of the best origin stories ever told. It fills in details for so much of a beloved character that you may be shocked they could cover it all. The action and adventurous tone make for one heck of an enjoyable movie experience and Ehrenreich importantly embodies young Han, growing into the character over the course of the film. Though some may find parts to be cheesy or unnecessarily connected to past films, my expectations were thoroughly surpassed and as the final scene played, I found myself wanting to cheer. Solo is a great example of the kind of light-hearted, fun stories that can be told in this universe and further continues Disney’s fantastic year of blockbusters.

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.

The Evolution of Eastwood: ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN

ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980)

“Why me, Lord? You made other men out of clay. Mine, you made out of s$%#.” – Cholla, Black Widow Leader

At this point in his career, only two of Clint Eastwood’s films had received direct sequels: A Fistful of Dollars and Dirty Harry. Both had come to help define his persona and cinematic footprint. But given the rabid financial success of Every Which Way But Loose, a sequel was not only understandable – it was inevitable.

Any Which Way You Can follows a very similar formula to its earlier predecessor. Philo Beddoe (Eastwood) is still bare-knuckle brawling alongside his corner bookie, Orville (Geoffrey Lewis, reprising his role) and they’re both still side-stepping the bumbling and cantankerous Black Widow Gang. Along for the ride too is the faithful orangutan, Clyde and Orville’s ornery Ma (Ruth Gordon). Not to be left out, the pair also cross paths once again with Lynn Halsey-Taylor (Sondra Locke), who had left Philo broken-hearted and wounded-ego’d in the last film.

What’s different this time around is that Philo is genuinely wanting out of his brawling habits. He’s starting to become addicted to the pain and does not want to spend the rest of his days in a brawl with himself. He’s coaxed out of a self-imposed retirement by the representatives of the undefeated Jack Wilson (played by William Smith) who believe the underground fighting arena would pay huge sums to see the pair do battle. When Philo refuses, they kidnap Halsey-Taylor as leverage, which sparks a madcap series of chases in the film’s latter half as Orville and Philo pursue a rescue, the Black Widow Gang pursue revenge, and the bare-knuckle brawling bookies pursue a major payday.

Directed by long-time Eastwood stunt double, Buddy Van Horn (whose most prominent on-screen appearance had been in High Plains Drifter), Any Which Way You Can is, pound for pound, a funnier, faster, and generally more entertaining film than Every Which Way But Loose. Its elements are more absurd and less credible, but the laughs are sharper and the final fist-fight has more interesting stakes (not to mention a genuinely better matched opponent in Wilson). In purely objective terms, it’s a lesser film for all of its outrageousness; but it’s also a difficult film not to enjoy.

There isn’t much to credit in terms of performance that wasn’t there in the first film except that the leader of the Black Widow Gang (a buffoon named Cholla played by John Quade) is given a surprising glut of comedic opportunities. Quade was in the first film playing the same character, but that earlier film tried not to push the absurdity boundaries very much whereas this film embraces the looney tunes nature of the gang of knuckleheads. Cholla’s lines (as well as the overall narrative arc of the gang) are better in this film and the film is better for their continued presence.

Eastwood, Lewis, Gordon, and Locke are each as watchable and engaging as they were the first time around (if not more so). One element of this entry that I enjoyed tremendously was that the final fight sequence between Philo and Wilson is evenly matched and genuinely tense. Eastwood has had a multitude of fist-fights in nearly all of his films, and in almost every one of them he single-handedly mops the floor with his opponents. However, in the fight in this film, he’s not only evenly matched, there is a genuine question through out the whole fight as to whether or not he will win. I won’t spoil the outcome for you here, but there are some anxious surprises in the midst of it that I frankly found refreshing.

There is an element to the film which is worth noting, although it is sad and disturbing. There is an on-screen fight between a ferret (called a mongoose in the film) and a rattlesnake. The American Human Society gave a pass to the fight sequence (even though it looks uncomfortably realistic) because the rattler had been milked and defanged and therefore posed no real threat to the ferret. In my opinion, the fight looks too realistic to have been anything but traumatic for the animals whether or not they survived. However, the real tragedy of the film is that the orangutan who portrayed Clyde was beaten to death by his trainer shortly after filming wrapped (reportedly for stealing donuts from the set). It is tragic to think of the basic care and respect that was denied these animals on set and regardless of the justifications of a different sociological climate, it is upsetting to hear of such horrific behavior in an otherwise delightfully joyful and silly movie.

With the sincere asterisk pinging the treatment of the animals on set (which may understandably upset certain viewers beyond excuse), Any Which Way You Can is an otherwise fun, delightful and charming entry for Eastwood. If viewers were remotely a fan of Every Which Way But Loose, viewing this sequel is a no-brainer, but it’s even easy to recommend for the casual viewer looking to see a bit of Eastwood’s lighter side.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: BRONCO BILLY

BRONCO BILLY (1980)

I’ve got a special message for you little pardners out there. I want you to finish your oatmeal at breakfast and do as your mom and pa tell you because they know best. Don’t ever tell a lie and say your prayers at night before you go to bed. And as our friends south of the border say, ‘Adios, amigos.’” – Bronco Billy McCoy

Eastwood’s filmography had begun to take a surprising turn towards lighter and more optimistic material. His gritty revisionist westerns and ultra-violent cop thrillers had yielded to the comically whimsical Every Which Way but Loose and the understated suspense of Escape from Alcatraz. While these films are by no means family-oriented, they’re unquestionably lighter than Eastwood’s typical fare.

But then he directed Bronco Billy – a modern day fable steeped in idealism and sentiment thicker than frozen maple syrup. The script was written by the team of Dennis Hackin and Neal Dobrofsky (with only Hackin receiving eventual film credit) and Eastwood was immediately drawn to the material.

Bronco Billy chronicles the struggling days of a traveling Wild West Show, featuring an assortment of ex-convicts and deadbeats who pose as cowboys and Indians to entertain local communities. Led by “Bronco” Billy McCoy (Eastwood) the troupe frequently scrape by on little to no money, driven by their familial comradery and the joy that they bring to children or the less fortunate who enjoy their show. Billy can be ornery and stubborn, but he has an open heart and a loyal spirit. When the troupe encounters the feisty Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke) – a woman who had been abandoned and left penniless by her new husband (Geoffrey Lewis) – she is initially skeptical of their benevolence and idealism, but eventually comes to genuinely admire Billy and his team. However, her disappearance has left her husband a suspected murderer and an inheritance in question. While the troupe debates about whether her presence is bad or good luck, Billy is determined to keep his Wild West Show alive and smiling for as long as humanly possible.

It is immediately evident, even without any meta-knowledge of the production, that this became a very personal work for Eastwood. He strikes a tone with Bronco Billy that we’ve yet to see from him. Even the tenderness he displayed in Breezy was offset by a heavy and mature narrative. But with Bronco Billy, Eastwood forays into outright sentiment, and delivers a surprisingly charming and good-natured film (something which does feel truly rare in his catalogue). The wackiness of Every Which Way but Loose may have set the stage for the lighter material, but that film carried a sarcastic bite with its fun. Bronco Billy, by contrast, isn’t remotely cynical. Both in the character of Billy McCoy and in the good-natured dynamic of his acting troupe, the film dares to explore something truly anomalous in Eastwood’s filmography thus far: that not only does your past not have to define you, but you can actively be whoever you set out to be.

Eastwood’s films are often mired in consequence and detriment, burdened by the weight of moral ambiguity and a painfully haunted landscape (whether the bullet-riddled west or the streets of San Francisco). But Bronco Billy never pulls the rug out from under its optimism. There are complications along the way – sometimes dire ones – but there is a firm undercurrent of hope that feels genuinely refreshing for someone like Eastwood to express. Billy’s troupe of characters are all losers according to common standards, but Billy has given them a place and a chance to move beyond those distinctions. True, he isn’t perfect (just check out the tongue-lashing he gives to his whole gang when they dare to ask about payment after six months), but he’s genuine, and that’s the real irony and charm of his character. Billy McCoy is an ex-con and a louse, but by pretending to be “Bronco Billy” his more authentic self emerges and produces something impressive and joyful (even when the bits they perform go comically wrong).

Eastwood surrounded himself with dependable performers who could authenticate the material: Geoffrey Lewis who had previously co-starred in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and – more recently – Every Which Way but Loose; the charismatic and boisterous character actor, Scatman Crothers; and in her fourth collaboration with real-life partner Eastwood – Sondra Locke. All of them deliver earnest and entertaining performances, making Bronco Billy a disarmingly enjoyable – if somewhat slower paced – piece. Eastwood himself delivers a surprisingly sensitive performance, juggling comic timing and tenderness in equal measure to his trademark tough squint.

Bronco Billy wasn’t a huge success at the box office (although it was profitable), but was praised among most critics. Eastwood often spoke of that film in personal and affectionate terms. He is quoted as saying, “It was an old-fashioned theme, probably too old fashioned since the film didn’t do as well as we hoped. But if, as a film director, I ever wanted to say something, you’ll find it in Bronco Billy.” Speaking for myself, I found the film to be a refreshingly heartfelt piece of work. Not only was it not diluted by its overt sentiment, that sentiment made it all the more endearing and worth seeking out.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979)

“I may have found a way out of here.” – Frank Morris

Aspiring writer Richard Tuggle had painstakingly researched and adapted a script about the only potentially successful escape attempt from the world’s most notorious prison. He submitted it to multiple agencies and was consistently rejected. Finally, he sought out the agent of Don Siegel and cleverly deceived a way to get his script to him. Siegel read the script and enjoyed it, passing it on to Eastwood as their next potential partnership.

Siegel and Eastwood, once close friends and frequent collaborators, had not made a film together since the original Dirty Harry (in which Eastwood had even directed a few scenes). Eastwood agreed to let his old friend direct if the film could be made through Malpaso Productions (Eastwood’s film company which had produced nearly every film in which he’d been involved since Hang ‘Em High). Siegel wanted production credit, however, and went around Eastwood to acquire the script directly. This choice created tension between the longstanding friends and would seal Escape from Alcatraz – their fifth collaboration – as their final one.

The film tells the true story of Frank Morris (Eastwood), who partnered with the Anglin brothers to mount an escape from the legendary Alcatraz prison in 1962. The film presents the prison warden (Patrick McGoohan) as a cold and cruel figure, choosing not to have him represent a real warden from the prison but rather a fictional archetype. The prisoners suffer various injustices at the hands of the guards and the warden, pushing Morris to develop a risky plan of escape.

Escape from Alcatraz is a different breed of thriller for Eastwood, allowing a deliberate pace to develop tension over an extended time rather than in a series of action bursts. The first half of the film is almost entirely dramatic in nature, establishing a variety of characters within the prison community and the various troubles the inmates suffer while there. Eventually the casualties and restrictions become too oppressive and the second half of the film becomes an escalating puzzle of tension as our characters struggle to enact their plan without being caught by the rigorous routines of the guards.

The performances are unanimously solid, featuring particularly strong turns from Robert Blossoms and Paul Benjamin (and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance by Danny Glover in his feature film debut). Patrick McGoohan is expectedly dastardly in a role perfectly suited for his special brand of passive malevolence. The film’s script is also remarkable in its focus, despite having little in the way of spectacle or shock and nothing in the way of romance. Whether or not the facts presented are authentic, the film’s tone makes you think that this all went down precisely how you’re seeing it, including the unstated but heavily implied outcome of the escape itself.

The pairing of Eastwood and Siegel has typically yielded strong work from each of them (Coogan’s Bluff was a real dud to me, but Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, and especially Dirty Harry are all standouts in Eastwood’s filmography). Escape from Alcatraz represents strong work yet again, albeit of a more restrained variety. It would be easy to sympathize with viewers who are put off by the bridled pace, but chances are strong that most viewers will find the steadily ratcheting tension rewarding and compelling.

It is unfortunate that this marked their last partnership, but it is not wholly unexpected. Eastwood had reached a point in his career where he’d had too many established hits (particularly as a director) and it’s easy to imagine that they’d both outgrown the mentor/performer dynamic that had flavored their earlier collaborations. Presumably, they patched up their differences prior to Siegel’s death in 1991, but there would never be another film from the pairing that was most directly responsible (apart from Sergio Leone’s western trilogy) for Eastwood’s rise and development as a star. As finales go, Escape from Alcatraz may not be the biggest possible hit, but it’s an impressive work nonetheless.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE

EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978)

“I’m not afraid of any man, but when it comes to sharing my feelings with a woman, my stomach turns to royal gelatin.” – Philo Beddoe

Every Which Way but Loose is often cited as one of the oddest entries in Eastwood’s catalogue. It’s also the highest-grossing hit of his career, even when adjusted for inflation. The film reunites Eastwood with his former costars Geoffrey Lewis (from Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) and Sondra Locke (who was quickly becoming a staple of Eastwood’s material). It also pairs him up with Academy Award Winner Ruth Gordon and an infectiously entertaining orangutan named “Clyde”. Clyde is most definitely a scene-stealer (although rumors of mistreatment by his trainer sour the fun of the film more than a little bit).

The story involves a blue-collar trucker named Philo Beddoe (Eastwood) who makes extra money on the side bare-knuckle brawling in underground fighting rings. He’s frequently compared to the legend of that arena, Tank Murdock, who he dreams of someday getting the chance to defeat. After Beddoe meets the lovely and mysterious country singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor (Locke), he sets aside nearly all priorities to pursue her and woo her. The somewhat zany antics that he and his buddy Orville (Lewis), not to mention the ever-present Clyde, encounter along the way make up the bulk of the narrative of the film (and nearly all of the fun). Both the romance and the fighting plotlines take some surprising turns adding up to a genuinely entertaining (if still vitally flawed) film.

Every Which Way but Loose is constantly referred to as a “change of pace” or “uncharacteristic” for Eastwood. But I found that designation puzzling after viewing his first 20+ films. True, it isn’t as dark or violent as the Dirty Harry films or any of Eastwood’s westerns, and it doesn’t feature ambitious action sequences like The Eiger Sanction or The Gauntlet. But apart from the overtly comedic elements (of which there are a multitude), this feels almost like textbook Eastwood material. Eastwood is once again playing a no-nonsense tough guy, who frequently scores with the ladies and embodies an almost western-style machismo.

The comedy is certainly uncharacteristic for Eastwood (the closest he’d come to it before was the disastrous Paint Your Wagon), but Eastwood spends most of the narrative as the straight man, allowing the eccentric Ruth Gordon, Clyde, and Geoffrey Lewis to handle most of the comedy. Eastwood is so firmly a man’s-man in this film that it almost becomes absurd how skilled he is as a brawler. Even the resolution to the final fight – which attempts to add some unexpected flavor to the character – feels so unearned and predictable as to be laughable rather than admirable.

As for the supporting cast, everyone is delivering solid work. Gordon had won an Oscar for Rosemary’s Baby and she brings the full force of her absurd-but-believable comedic powers to this role. Lewis is given a greater chance to play with different character beats – all of which he deftly handles – and the endearing orangutan Clyde is as charming as you’d expect him to be. Locke, who delivered a remarkable performance in The Gauntlet, stretches herself performance-wise by showing off her singing chops, but otherwise brings a similar catalogue of character choices to the role. It’s not a step down from The Gauntlet for her, but amidst a collection of stronger fellow supporting players, she doesn’t stand out quite as much as she did in Gauntlet.

Eastwood was advised against making this film and – as he usually did – he trusted his instincts more than the voices of his advisors. He didn’t direct the film, though. Those duties fell once again to James Fargo, who had directed Eastwood – if that’s what you can call it – in The Enforcer. There are no apparent rumors of on-set drama this time around and the resulting film was wholeheartedly embraced by audiences despite only being met with lackluster reviews from critics.

It also launched a series of more family-friendly and accessible films which would represent one of the most surprising and interesting periods in Eastwood’s filmography. The film remains the biggest money-maker of Eastwood’s career (and in the top 200 biggest box offices in cinema history). Having now seen the film, I’m uncertain it deserves that particular pedigree, but it is undeniably charming in its own way… or, every which way… something like that. You know what I mean.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

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 each week (usually Tuesdays) 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.


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.

The Evolution of Eastwood: THE GAUNTLET

THE GAUNTLET (1977)

I’m warning ya, you mess around and I’ll put the cuffs on you. You talk dirty, I gag ya, if you run, I’ll shoot you. My name is Shockley, and we’ve got a plane to catch. Let’s go.” – Ben Shockley

The script for The Gauntlet had been bouncing around development for a while before it landed with Eastwood. Previously attached stars included Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, and even Barbara Streisand. When Eastwood eventually signed on to direct, he cast himself alongside his then real-life romantic partner Sondra Locke (who had first appeared with Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales).

The narrative is, in many ways, reminiscent of Eastwood’s much earlier film Coogan’s Bluff. In fact, several comparative narrative beats made me wonder if there wasn’t a subconscious desire on Eastwood’s part to try that basic story again, this time helming the directorial duties himself. The premise is that drunk and disillusioned officer Ben Shockley (Eastwood) is sent on assignment to extradite a witness named “Gus” Malley for a “nothing trial”. Upon arrival, Shockley quickly realizes that someone powerful would do anything to make sure that neither he nor Malley makes it back to Phoenix alive, and the pair of them must navigate a treacherous series of ambushes, traps, and unfortunate encounters before eventually facing down a multi-block, heavily armed barricade.

The two films are similar in their basic extradition plotline and in the narrative elements of the protagonist stepping into trouble beyond his original understanding. But there are some major differences between The Gauntlet and Coogan’s Bluff that make The Gauntlet the unquestionably stronger film.

First and foremost is the presence of Locke as the feisty and resourceful Malley. Locke wasn’t given much to do acting-wise in The Outlaw Josey Wales except for pine, swoon, and worry (all of which she still managed to make believable). With the character of Malley, she is given a much richer character and she attacks the role with commitment and complexity. She steals nearly every scene she’s in (which is most of the movie) and the real-life chemistry between her and Eastwood make their dynamic on screen frequently crackle.

The script is also tighter and more direct, with a more logical and focused direction to its narrative. There are some obvious contrivances and conveniences, a handful of which may very well elicit eye rolls, but the general structure is noticeably stronger than Coogan’s Bluff. However, the script could have done more with its character development and presented a less outlandish resolution to the central conflict. When viewed in reference to the similarly-premised earlier film, the script shines. But taken as an isolated piece, it’s pretty pedestrian.

Eastwood himself is as reliable as always, boosted substantially by getting to work with Locke. As an actor, there isn’t much surprise here, but as a director it’s both a step forward and backward. It lacks nearly all of the rich thematic exploration of The Outlaw Josey Wales, which makes it feel somewhat regressive – I forgot several times in the viewing of it that Eastwood directed it. However, as an action thriller, Eastwood deftly navigates some authentically thrilling sequences. His experiences on The Eiger Sanction were more ambitious (and dangerous), but his instincts for pacing the thrills take a big step forward here. Nearly a fifth of the film’s budget was spent solely on the action effects and that investment shows on-screen.

All of this adds up to something of a mixed bag. The script is mostly innocuous (not to mention frequently trite and unbelievable), but the action sequences are genuinely exciting (particularly the bombardment of its outrageous climactic journey through the gun-saturated city streets) and Sondra Locke delivers a compelling and interesting performance. Fans of Eastwood’s more rough-and-tumble thrillers will find a lot to enjoy, but those looking for something with more depth or substance might be left shrugging it off.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.