MOVIE REVIEW: The Endless

THE ENDLESS (2018)

1 Hour and 51 Minutes (Not Rated)

Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson – who serve as directors, writer, cinematographer, and stars –  of The Endless, seem like the kind of guys you would see sitting at a bar debating deep science fiction concepts over a beer. Much like Shane Carruth, these guys are incredibly smart and talented, but dedicated to telling their stories in a particular way (one that would definitely not go over well in the big studio world). Their last effort, Spring, was a romance horror mash-up that was thoroughly thought-provoking and at all times beautiful. In that film they employed great restraint in keeping the horror elements just on the periphery of the sci-fi rom-com, and in The Endless they have once again used that skill to great effect.

The Endless is the story of two brothers, Justin and Aaron Smith (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead) who grew up in a “UFO Death Cult” but escaped in what seems to be their late teen years. Ten years later, Aaron receives a taped goodbye message from their cultist family and it triggers his already strong PTSD and conflicted feelings about Justin leading them to escape. After much debate, Justin reluctantly agrees to return to the cult for a visit, and that’s when things start getting really weird.

It’s impossible to say much about The Endless‘ story without spoiling a wonderful experience. When the brothers do arrive at Camp Arcadia (clearly deriving its name from the utopian symbol of pastoral simplicity), they find cult leader Hal (Tate Ellington) and the rest of the members to look almost exactly as they had when the brothers left 10 years prior. This strange phenomena is the least of the odd occurrences that begin to take place, but begins to shape the brothers’ diverging reactions to what is going on. Aaron is open to hearing what Hal has to say and approaches the visit from a place of faith and trust. Justin, on the contrary, is extremely cynical and full of doubt, constantly trying to rationalize the unexplained things they see and hear. The film progresses in a way that is increasingly trippy and reminiscent of Lost. The horror elements callback to the Cthulu mythos and cultists worshiping the Elder Gods. Where Benson and Moorhead succeed in creating something unique, though, is that aforementioned restraint. The camera tricks, the cinematography, and the score do all the heavy lifting. Instead of seeing monsters, it’s what we don’t see that has us on edge. And the general likability of the cult presents a scenario where we’re not even always sure what out come to root for.

Despite the high concept sci-fi horror of the story, at its heart is a tale of brotherhood. Two men struggling to cope with what life has dealt them, learning to forgive and trust, and ultimately having to choose a reality that is best for them. Justin and Aaron not only do a fantastic work with the direction, script, and technical elements, but their acting is engaging and fully believable. Their a quiet vulnerability in their interactions that likely is the result of years of close friendship and they carry the film’s emotional weight well.

As is often the case with high concept films, explanations can tend to derail some of the more mysterious portions of a story. There is definitely a period in the middle of the film where some exposition feels a little bit too long and convoluted, making for a slightly longer than necessary runtime and an unfortunate dip in the suspense. Still, that doesn’t derail the enjoyment and fascination of watching The Endless play out at all, and it’s evident that Benson and Moorhead have a masterpiece lurking within them just waiting to come out.

VERDICT

The Endless opens with this quote from author H.P. Lovecraft: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the Unknown.” Benson and Moorhead capture this sense of fear generated from the unknown perfectly. The creepy cult and strange happening around Camp Arcadia are a unique backdrop to explore both their big sci-fi ideas and more grounded story of brotherhood. The Endless is unlike other movies being made, and though it’s not quite the masterpiece Benson and Moorhead clearly have in themthe passion that went into this unique and intriguing film shows. It absolutely should not be missed and with so much to unpack it will no doubt be even richer with subsequent viewings.

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.

August 2018 – “Choose Your Director Month”

In January 2017, Feelin’ Film had its inaugural Director Month, covering the films of our favorite director – Christopher Nolan. Going through a single director’s films over the course of several weeks in a row provided a unique perspective on how his work had evolved, and was one of the most enjoyable things we’d done. So, in January 2018, we chose to make Director Month an annual occurrence and covered the films of Stanley Kubrick. This, too, was a wonderful experience for us and left us anxious to do it again.

Looking forward at the new release schedule, we have identified August 2018 as a great time to slip in another Director Month. But this time, we want YOU, our listeners, to choose whose filmography we dive into. Below you will find a list of directors and the corresponding films we would discuss. This is your chance to tell us what you want to hear us talk about on the podcast, and you can vote by clicking on the link below to join our Facebook Discussion Group and selecting your preferred choices in the poll.

Vote Here

Tony Scott

THE LAST BOY SCOUT
MAN ON FIRE
CRIMSON TIDE
DAYS OF THUNDER


Michael Mann

HEAT
COLLATERAL
THIEF
MIAMI VICE


Michael Bay

PAIN AND GAIN
TRANSFORMERS
PEARL HARBOR
THE ROCK


Jeff Nichols

MUD
SHOTGUN STORIES
TAKE SHELTER
LOVING


David Fincher

SE7EN
ZODIAC
FIGHT CLUB
GONE GIRL


Coen Brothers

FARGO
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
THE BIG LEBOWSKI


Clint Eastwood

UNFORGIVEN
MYSTIC RIVER
AMERICAN SNIPER
MILLION DOLLAR BABY


James Cameron

THE ABYSS
TITANIC
ALIENS
TRUE LIES


Martin Scorsese

GOODFELLAS
HUGO
THE DEPARTED
TAXI DRIVER


Wes Anderson

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
MOONRISE KINGDOM
ISLE OF DOGS
FANTASTIC MR. FOX


Kathryn Bigelow

ZERO DARK THIRTY
THE HURT LOCKER
POINT BREAK
NEAR DARK

MOVIE REVIEW: Rampage

RAMPAGE (2018)

1 Hour and 47 Minutes (PG-13)

When you think of video games that would be prime material for a film adaptation, it is usually ones with strong story that come to mind. Rampage is based on no such game, but rather a series which began as a 1986 arcade game by Midway whose primary gameplay mechanic is simply giant monsters smashing buildings. To call this video game narratively sparse would be an understatement. Its world-building is simple: three humans are transformed by various means into monstrous creatures – George (an ape), Lizzie (a lizard), and Ralph (a wolf) – who must raze city after city to the ground before taking too much damage and reverting to human form. Not exactly a lot there to go on when writing a screenplay.

The story of Rampage the film expands on this sparse source material by setting up a world in which power corporation Energyne has developed a weaponized sort of DNA using a genetic editing drug called CRISPR. The film begins in space, where Energyne has its own gigantic private space station on which to conduct experiments, and the opening sequence sets the stage for what will come in more than one way. First, it’s extremely clear right away that Rampage will be a violent film. There is almost a horror-like quality throughout and though it’s full of humor, there is always a dark tone hanging overhead. The second thing this opening sequence tells us is that we can throw any expectations for realistic scenarios out the window as this is going to be a film that doesn’t take its story seriously. Much like the video game it is based on, the narrative here only exists to drive the monsters toward smashing and bashing as much and as often as possible.

The first animal to be accidentally infected by the mysterious drug from Project Rampage is George, an albino ape living in the San Diego Wildlife Preserve. George is a very smart gorilla and has a unique bond with primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), who has raised him from birth and communicates with him through sign language. When George transforms into a violent genetically-edited rage beast and the government tries to step in and take control, Davis sets off to save his friend in the hopes of returning him to normal. It just so happens that Davis is ex-special forces military, of course, a convenience that certainly helps the plot along. Assisting Davis in his drive to return George to normal is Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a scientist responsible for helping to create CRISPR who claims to have a cure. The two don’t only have to worry about George’s temper tantrums, though. Also in the mix is Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), representing the government and generally making the situation more complicated. Morgan’s portrayal of the mysterious agent is cowboy-like and quite similar to his role as Neegan in The Walking Dead. It is one of many eccentric performances in Rampage and how you respond to these caricatures will greatly inform your overall experience with the film.

The true villains (outside of the uncontrollable mutated wolf and lizard) are the Wyden siblings (Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy) who run Energyne. Their performances are wildly over-the-top as Ackerman is chillingly cold, calculated, and intelligent while Lacy plays a buffoon scared to death of being caught and incapable of making tough decisions. Like most evil corporations in blockbuster movies, their goals seem financial in nature and they are willing to do anything to protect their assets.

When it comes to adaptation, Rampage is just about exactly what should be expected. The action is big, brutally violent, loud, frequent, and surprisingly bloody. Several callbacks to the original games exist and fans will enjoy seeing and hearing those. The story is filled with nonsensical decision-making, an absurdly inaccurate portrayal of the military, and plenty of “they shouldn’t have survived that” moments. It also has some heart, though, and viewers will be more emotionally impacted by George and Davis’ relationship than they anticipated. The key in all of this is the consistent undertone of humor throughout, because never does the film take itself too seriously. It knows exactly what kind of big-budget B-movie schlock it is and embraces it with open arms. And for those wondering, yes, there are sexual innuendo jokes because this is 2018 and Hollywood just can’t help themselves.

VERDICT

Despite it’s close to two-hour runtime, Rampage feels shorter due to a tight pacing that propels the story forward with frequent intense action. There is absolutely nothing of real depth here, but much like the video game it is based on, the fun is in watching giant monsters destroy stuff. The film is quite horrific with its violence and really pushes against that PG-13 rating, so younger children may be too terrified to enjoy it properly. Teens and adults, however, should have a LOT of fun with the mayhem these giant creatures cause, making Rampage worthy of at least one theater viewing.

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 103: Ready Player One

It’s time to enter the OASIS! This week we were so excited to drop our new episode that we bumped up the release date because we’ve been anxiously awaiting this film ever since it was announced.We’re talking Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel, Ready Player One. We have a joyful conversation and also discuss some of the criticisms we’ve heard. Enjoy, gunters! 

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:57

(Aaron – The Hunger Games Quadrilogy & “Making Of” Documentaries)
(Patrick – Krypton)

Ready Player One Review – 0:17:22

The Connecting Point – 1:28:58


Contact


Join the Facebook Discussion Group

Download this Episode 


Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

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!

MOVIE REVIEW: Ready Player One

READY PLAYER ONE (2018)

GOING IN

When you’ve read a book five times, purchased copies of it to give away, and sung its praises from the rooftops for almost 7 years, there are two major feelings you get when a movie adaptation is announced. First, you get incredibly excited (especially when it’s going to be directed by Steven freaking Spielberg), and second, you get incredibly nervous. Author Ernest Cline’s involvement in writing the script offers hope that any changes will be consistent in tone with the original work, but any time a piece of art/entertainment is so close to your heart it results in a battle to keep expectations in check.

2 Hours and 20 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT
Remember back to the time you saw an epic blockbuster film for the first time. Maybe it was Star Wars. Maybe it was Jurassic Park. Maybe it was The Avengers. Whatever the film was, it left you in awe of what movies could be. It transported you to some new world that you wanted to inhabit. It was an experience unlike any you’d had. Most likely, you would have gladly sat right in that same seat and started watching it again the moment it ended.

For the generations of people who grew up as gamers, movie, music, and TV lovers, and general pop culture addicts… Ready Player One is next in line. This is that film for you.

It was probably foolish to distrust Steven Spielberg in the first place, but we all make mistakes. Instead of disappointment, he delivered something wholly unique and special. The screenplay by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline is incredible. At the risk of using hyperbole, this might be the second best adaptation of a book that I’ve ever seen, and it’s not because the story is portrayed exactly as it is on the page. In fact, it’s the opposite. The film still follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan)/Parzival as he searches for James Halliday’s Easter egg inside of the OASIS. Parzival’s best friend Aech (Lena Waithe) and rival/love interest Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) are also looking for the egg, and the three try desperately to stay ahead of the evil Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and IOI Corporation, who wants control of the OASIS and seeks to monetize it through advertisements and subscription plans. So, the general flow of the book’s narrative remains the same, yet getting from point A to point B happens in much different ways. The brilliance of it all is that the story has been modernized. It is updated with current gen gaming and pop culture references galore, while retaining many of the 80’s story beats and nostalgia that made it so beloved in the first place. There are even references to older films such It’s A Wonderful Life and Citizen Kane. The updated way in which this script remembers classics is truly something special and it results in two different versions of the same story – which fans of all ages can now love.

Visually, Ready Player One is a staggering achievement. Transitioning from the CGI world to the one on film is nearly flawless, and the visual effects of the OASIS itself and what takes place inside of it is mind blowingly good. This is a film that truly does demand an IMAX viewing (or five). It is wonderful to look at but it is also accompanied by an incredible score from Alan Silvestri. Utilizing many classic films scores (plenty of which are his own), he creates themes that are at once both familiar and fresh. The nostalgic rush that comes from seeing a DeLorean on screen and a subtle alteration of the Back to the Future theme playing in the background creates such a feeling of joy. This experience is even better when shared with friends, who you’ll no doubt be poking constantly as you draw each other’s attention to some awesome reference made in the film.

And this communal nature of enjoying nostalgia together is also something that the script takes very seriously. In some ways, this film’s message is better than the book. Despite it taking place almost entirely in a virtual world, Ready Player One ultimately urges us to remember reality and take a break every now and again. It also puts a premium focus on teamwork, friendship, and avoiding regret.

VERDICT

Ready Player One is a special film. Spielberg and Cline have crafted a new version of a beloved story that stands on its own, and is equally (if not more) impressive than its source material. It is the kind of blockbuster that doesn’t come along very often and that fans will embrace with adoration – endlessly watching, quoting, and discussing. If you aren’t a gamer or don’t love pop culture references, then you’re not the droid this film is looking for and you should probably just move along. Otherwise, you’re in for a treat. Enjoy your visit to the OASIS. I hope to see you there.

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 102: Pacific Rim Uprising

For the second week in a row, we tackle a new blockbuster action film, this one featuring heavy CGI work. We both love Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, and a sequel with more giant robots punching giant monsters can’t possibly be messed up, right? We discuss our reactions to and (lack of) feelings for the fun but forgettable Pacific Rim Uprising. Also included are reviews of Wes Anderson’s new stop motion film, Isle of Dogs, and the 1971 Steven Spielberg thriller, Duel.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:10

(Aaron – Isle of Dogs, The Films of Wes Anderson)
(Patrick – Duel)

Pacific Rim Uprising Review – 0:15:59

The Connecting Point – 0:53:43


Contact


Join the Facebook Discussion Group

Download this Episode 


Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

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!

MOVIE REVIEW: Pacific Rim Uprising

PACIFIC RIM UPRISING (2018)

GOING IN

Giant robots. Giant monsters. The original Pacific Rim is an amazing example of what an incredibly talented (and now Oscar-winning) director can do when he wants to make a movie about playing with childhood toys. The film is so much fun, so I’m all in for more of it. Expectations are set appropriately lower due to this not being directed by Guillermo Del Toro, nor having Idris Elba, but if it can provide half as much entertainment as the first film did then it will be a success. Again… giant robots… giant monsters. Win.

1 Hour and 51 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT

Pacific Rim Uprising wastes no time in setting its tone, opening with a serious sounding recollection of events from the first film and leading into an incredibly comedic introduction to Jake Pentecost (John Boyega). Jake is the son of Marshall Pentecost, the famous leader and hero who led the Jaeger team that closed The Breach, sealing off access to our world by the Precursors. Now that the war is over, and his father gone, Jake is having trouble finding his place, and Pacific Rim Uprising’s emotional focus is primarily on his journey to discover his identity and embrace it. It’s a soft focus, though, as Pacific Rim Uprising is largely a comedy first and action film second, with light dramatic moments sprinkled in for character development.

The story revolves around Jake meeting a young orphan named Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) and the two troublemakers finding themselves forced to relocate to The Shatterdome (a.k.a. Jaegar base headquarters, I think). Jake has beef with his former drift partner Nate (Scott Eastwood) to sort out, including some underlying competition for the attention of Jules (Adria Arjona), and Amara must try and integrate with a group of other cadets who see her as an outside who didn’t earn her way into their squad. Big picture wise, the Shao Corporation led by Liwen Shao (Tian Jing) is preparing to pitch a new drone system to the world. This new tech, developed in large part by Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), will in theory provide hundreds of drone Jaegers for defense that can be operated remotely from anywhere in the world. Sounds like a good plan, right? Right. Which, of course, means things must go terribly wrong. And so they do.

The important thing to keep in mind about the plot and general comedy-driven nature of Pacific Rim Uprising is that this is 110% stylistically a live-action anime. The characters are over-the-top. Dialogue is cheesy. Acting is pronounced and silly. Reality is often thrown out the window in favor of whatever looks the coolest. Extreme close-ups of single characters talking is frequent. And the action is big, big, big. This is not a typical American action film where drama is the driver and most of the comedy is in quick quips while the action is kept center stage, and so expecting that is going to result in a major letdown. Even those who are fans of the original Pacific Rim may have to adjust to this sequel because it has much more humor and less of a “weight of the world on our shoulders” feel to it.

When it comes to action, Pacific Rim Uprising does mostly deliver what fans want. Four Jaegers with unique abilities and some surprises make for fresh action. Those wanting start-to-finish fighting do get what feels like more action than in the predecessor, and Jaeger pilots don’t hold back until the final moment to deploy their weapons this time around. Unfortunately, most all of those weapons and many of the best action shots were revealed in trailers during the film’s marketing campaign, leaving precious few “OMG WOW THAT JUST HAPPENED” reactions during the film. There is also perhaps a drop in quality of the action scenes. One character in the film suggests that “bigger is always better”, but ironically this may prove otherwise. Nothing comes close to being as powerfully emotional and stunning as the chain sword usage in Pacific Rim. In short, Pacific Rim Uprising seems to have gone with quantity over quality in the action department.

Though there is a lack of strong emotion, the film does have its moments. Jake and Nate’s relationship is a bit like Maverick and Iceman. Jake also develops a relationship with Amara throughout the film and together they provide some of the most affecting scenes. Newt and Hermann (Burn Gorman) reunite, much to the joy of many fans, and their hilariously awkward and sweet relationship offers plenty of laughs this time around, along with a few new twists. The actor’s performances are precisely what the tone and style of the film ask for. Boyega seems to be having a lot of fun playing the snappy, funny, would-be-hero and Scott Eastwood is… well, he’s Scott Eastwood, playing the same character he does in films like The Fate of the Furious and Suicide Squad. And though she isn’t featured heavily, the lovely Tian Jing is fantastic as the smart, strong Shao.

 VERDICT

Regrettably, yet not unexpectedly, Pacific Rim Uprising does not reach the mind-blowing heights of its predecessor. In cranking the anime styling up to 11, it loses the balance between epic and cartoon that makes Pacific Rim so great, and a portion of its fan-base that needs things a bit more serious will likely be less than impressed. For those who enjoy this kind of craziness, though, watching the film (especially with a crowd of like-minded fans) is an absolute blast. It may be ultimately forgettable, but its laugh-out-loud humor and robot vs. monster battles still make Pacific Rim Uprising worthy of seeing on the biggest screen possible at least once.

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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Isle of Dogs

ISLE OF DOGS (2018)

GOING IN

Wes Anderson is known for his colorful, whimsical style of filmmaking, which has earned him legions of devoted fans. His films are almost always beautiful and can be seen as period pieces, since none of them have ever taken place in the present. Thus far, I’ve only found one of his films to be spectacular, and that is Fantastic Mr. Fox. I do feel that should I revisit his films, I might discover myself enjoying them more because my tastes have changed quite a bit in the past few years and I now highly value the kind of technical precision Anderson employs. What I know about Isle of Dogs: it has unique, gorgeous stop-motion animation, is set in a dystopian sci-fi future, has talking dogs, and revolves around a boy trying to find his lost pet. Consider me highly intrigued.

1 Hour and 41 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT

“Who are we? And who do we want to be?”

These questions, posed by a dog, to other dogs, are the kind of existential nuggets slid into most Anderson films. Here, there is something particularly powerful about them coming from an animated talking pet, as it really drives home the awareness these dogs exhibit throughout the film. Never does Anderson allow us to lose perspective – a dog is an animal and they act accordingly – but this additional layer of thoughtfulness gives them profound human depth, making it all the easier to emotionally resonate with how they feel. It also encourages us to ask the same of ourselves…

At its heart, Isle of Dogs in an adventure story. The film opens with historical background on the Japanese Kobayashi Dynasty (cat lovers) and tells of how dogs once were nearly wiped from the earth, overtaken by cats, but saved by a young samurai boy. Time passes and dogs become the loving pets we know of today, but then mysterious illnesses such as the Dog Flu and Snout Fever begin to appear and spread rapidly amongst the canine population in Megasaki City. Mayor Kobayashi (Kunchi Nomura) decrees that all dogs will be banished to Trash Island in an effort to supposedly keep the city healthy, but of course the feline-loving empire has other reasons as well.

The first dog to be banished is the guard dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), who was assigned to protect Mayor Kobayashi’s young nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin). This sets in motion the primary story events, which revolve around Atari venturing to Trash Island to find his beloved dog, and instead coming across a pack led by Chief (Bryan Cranston), that also includes Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and King (Bob Balaban). As this adventure progresses, Atari and the pack begin to bond, and much is explored about the relationship between man and man’s best friend. Atari never speaks English (and there are no subtitles), but it’s always perfectly clear what he is trying to say. Meanwhile the dogs speak in typical Wes Anderson style, with a dry wit about them, providing most of the movie’s adorable humor. Anderson’s minimalist screenplay really allows the incredible animation and fantastic score to be equally provocative, too. Characters eyes fill with tears on multiple occasions and the sight of it alone is enough to send most viewers reaching for the Kleenex. It’s unsurprising, of course, seeing as how Anderson is known for such detailed work, but at the same time the animation is so mesmerizing that it almost becomes entrancing. There is a style and uniqueness here that not only shows great skill, but really elevates the emotion of the story.

This coming-of-age tale for both boy and dog is also chock full of subtle political and social issues. In a sense the Mayor is deporting an entire race that he seems to hate for no real reason at all, other than he prefers another one. Most of these issues are brought up by Duke in the form of him telling the gang about rumors he’s heard, so while they are effective and can get adults thinking, they’re also woven seamlessly into the narrative in a humorous way. There’s also Tracy (Greta Gerwig), a foreign exchange student who believes a major conspiracy is afoot and is determined to find the truth about Mayor Kobayashi’s actions. Her dedicated efforts may be played for laughs, but she serves as a great character example of what it’s like when someone tries to fight the establishment and challenge what they consider to be poor (or downright evil) leadership.

Isle of Dogs may look and sound like a fun adventure story for kids, but there is some death and there are more complex themes covered. The issues of identity touched on earlier, and how to handle changing responsibilities, are key parts of this story and may go over the head of younger viewers, but they likely will be so enamored with the sweetness of the relationship between the dogs and Atari that they’ll still enjoy it just fine. There are also broken family issues (sometimes between species), as is almost always the case with Wes Anderson films. So, for those who look deeper, Anderson has given plenty to chew on while watching and long afterward.

It’s also important to note the amazing score by Alexandre Desplat. Fresh off winning an Academy Award for his won in The Shape of Water, he once again proves to be a force. Anchored by a traditional Japanese drum-baseline, the music will have you tapping your fingers and whistling all the way home. When Anderson decided to set this story in Japan he smartly brought on writer Kunichi Nomura to help ensure he referenced the culture appropriately, and Desplat’s score seems to fall right in line.

VERDICT

Isle of Dogs is a richly imaginative film, highlighted by playfulness and emotional depth that anyone who owns a dog will easily connect with. It’s drenched in Anderson’s typical style, that is to say technically marvelous, and its brilliant marriage of sly humor, sincerity, and beautiful animation make this an adventure well worth embarking on. It also made this lifelong cat owner want a dog. Well played, Mr. Anderson.

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.

MOVIE REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time

A WRINKLE IN TIME (2018)

GOING IN

I, like so many my age, read this novel in high school English class. The details are fuzzy, and what stands out the most to me is that the story itself was fairly unmemorable (at least to my teenage self). I’ve intentionally stayed away from refreshing myself on the plot because I’d much rather let the film speak for itself and now I can go in without unrealistic expectations. Ava DuVernay looks to have constructed a visually stunning treat and that alone has me excited. A WRINKLE IN TIME also features a young, nerdy girl hero so I think seeing this with my young, nerdy daughter will be a great experience.

1 Hour and 49 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT

Prior to our screening of A WRINKLE IN TIME, we were greeted with a video message from director Ava DuVernay, in which she explained her approach to telling this timeless story. It was heartfelt and her passion was undeniable. She truly wanted to make a film that was empowering and inspirational for young teens, and in particular young girls, but hoped that by finding the child in ourselves we adults could enjoy it too. In hindsight, this message was telling, and perhaps a bit manipulative, but also important, because if there’s one thing you need to do to enjoy A WRINKLE IN TIME, it is to remember that this is a story FOR a younger audience.

In adapting Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel (that has often been called “unfilmable”), DuVernay’s vision is clearly noticeable. With a focus on swelling of emotion and incredible visuals throughout, A WRINKLE IN TIME is consistently breath-taking. The colors and CGI transformations of The Misses are stunning to look at. Early in the film the children arrive on an unknown world after “tessering” there and this one scene perfectly captures the awesome wonder of discovery and exploration. These CGI-heavy sections are book-ended by the film’s opening and closing sections set on Earth. In those times DuVernay shows her talents in force, using close-ups and wonderfully cinematic camerawork (backed by a pretty wonderful score, by the way) to provoke an emotional response.

It helps that the acting is quite good. Lead actress Storm Reid (Meg) is adorable and conveys the uncertain, intelligent, and emotionally closed-off aspects of her character perfectly. She truly is fantastic and she carries the film just fine. Levi Miller (Calvin), who you may know from his turn as Peter in Joe Wright’s Pan, is also wonderful. Some may criticize him as providing an emotionless, stoic performance but it felt true to his character in every way. Of The Misses, Reese Witherspoon (Mrs. Whatsit) stands out the most. She does have the most speaking lines and the most screen time, but her eccentric silly personality comes through incredibly in her performance and she shines in every scene. Lastly of note is Deric McCabe (Charles Wallace), who is a star in the making. The character of Charles Wallace, Meg’s much younger adopted brother who is a genius and largely the catalyst for the entire plot, is integral and he owns every moment that includes him (up to the finale). If nothing else is, Reid and McCabe definitely establish themselves as ones to watch. This is also a very diverse cast. It features a realistically natural racial mix of characters and inter-racial relationships and never once felt forced.

But aside from enjoying the spectacle of A WRINKLE IN TIME, the story itself has many issues. For one thing, L’Engle’s Christianity was an important part of her writing, but Jennifer Lee’s adaptation definitely skews the story more into New Age philosophy than anything of the spiritual sort. It’s all about finding the power inside of yourself and being the light that fights the darkness, which is a good thing, but there is a lack of acknowledgment of any higher power. Everyone in this universe seems to be equal, if only they can tap into the right emotions and stay focused. As a fantasy film, you expect to not understand everything about the way the world works, as well. That is true here because how time “wrinkles” and allows travel across the universe is explained very vaguely. It’s confusing and the science speak feels tacked on as a plot mover rather than a fascinating concept to learn about. The film’s structure also is messy. There’s an opening with character backstory and such, then a brief journey across worlds (of which there are only two and one is entirely bland), and then a big CGI ending that makes very little sense and is reminiscent of the Guardians fighting inside of Ego the Planet in Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2. In that last act, major characters come and go with little explanation, and everything wraps up in a very boring way. But when your hero’s powers are simply to think positively and concentrate, it’s difficult to make that compelling in a visual way.

These faults, however, don’t make the film unwatchable. With many strong messages like, “It’s okay to fear the answers, but you can’t avoid them,” DuVernay’s film does have some inspirational moments. The relationships are strong, too, and perhaps where the film shines the most: Meg and Calvin sharing an innocent, blossoming romance, Mr. and Mrs. Murray as a couple who are loving, adoptive parents and brilliant scientists, and even Meg and Charles Wallace as brother and sister who lean on each other more than anyone else. As an adult, you must really try to recognize the view from a teenage perspective. My own daughter loved the film and was moved emotionally by it. She found it inspiring, funny, and gorgeous. Watch it through younger eyes as DuVernay suggests, and you’ll probably enjoy it much more.

VERDICT

Ava DuVernay’s A WRINKLE IN TIME is an often beautiful, but messy, love letter that inspires young minds to believe in themselves and be warriors for the light. It is a bit overly preachy in its messaging, yet it does offer up some good advice, and its focus on New Age philosophy over the more faith-based aspects of the novel may upset some viewers. Acting is strong, visuals are incredible, and with a moving score the film is emotionally evocative throughout. It’s worth seeing, but don’t expect it to leave much of a lasting impression. Watching with childlike eyes and imagination will make for a much better viewing experience, though, and is highly recommended.

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 099: Annihilation

In this week’s episode we are talking about what could be the most divisive film of 2018, although it’s still early in the year. Alex Garland’s latest film Annihilation, based on the novel of the same name by Jeff Vandermer, brings with it a lot of questions, both from the story, and the audience. We wrestle with a bit of both in our discussion and give our reactions to the incredible creation that is The Shimmer. We also offer some quick thoughts on Duncan Jones’ new film Mute and the incredible documentary Five Came Back.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:02

(Aaron – Mute, Five Came Back)

Annihilation Review – 0:09:23

The Connecting Point – 0:55:19


Contact


Join the Facebook Discussion Group

Download this Episode 


Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

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!