What We Learned This Week: November 18-December 1

LESSON #1: ROMA IS A DUAL-LEVEL CATEGORY OSCAR CONTENDER— Every so often during the annual awards seasons a foreign language film surges ahead with praise to become a legitimate Best Picture Academy Award contender and not just a shoe-in for its own Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.  Think of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Michael Haneke’s Amour, and Michel Hazanavicius’ 2011 Best Picture winner The Artist.  Those films are rare and special.  You’re going to see another one this year and that film is Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma.  Stunning, dramatic, and heartbreaking, Cuaron’s love letter to his upbringing just won the Best Picture award from the New York Film Critics Circle as well as director and cinematography, all for Cuaron.  With confidence, expect it to be one of the final five to eight films competing on February 24th next year.

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF OSCARS, PADDINGTON 2 DESERVES TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY— You’ve been hearing Aaron White and I shout the praises of this charming sequel all year.  Both Aaron and me have grand slam 5-star reviews.  If a dramatic foreign film like Roma with few flaws and endless superlatives can be taken seriously as one of the best of the year, so can a spotless family film that has even more built-up appreciation.  Two separate articles this week, one from David Ehrlich in IndieWire and one from Gregg Killday in The Hollywood Reporter, called for due respect in the form of Oscar nominations for Paddington 2.  Killday celebrated the novelty of a Best Picture than can be flat-out enjoyable.  You have to go back to The Artist, The King’s Speech, or Slumdog Millionaire to find partially light-hearted Best Picture winners.  Even they still had their notes of heavy drama.  Ehrlich laid out seven categories where Paddington 2 should have Oscar consideration.  He’s not wrong on a single one of them.  Let’s hope voters have a heart this year.  

LESSON #3: A LITTLE LADY NAMED “OLIVIA” MIGHT DESERVE AN OSCAR TOO— The Academy was busy the year trying to bomb developing a “popular film” category (one more time, with feeling, just let Paddington 2 win straight up, end of discussion and need) when they could be making special awards elsewhere.  As stated in our Facebook discussion group, casting and stunts come to mind.  I think a little lady named “Olivia” makes quite a compelling case and she has four legs.  IndieWire blew my mind this week to educate me that the same dog, a female 15-pound West Highland White Terrier, starred prominently in three films: Game NightWidows, and Insatiable.  Her name is Olivia and she was excellent in the arms of Viola Davis hatching or scheme or getting drenched on blood from the hands of Jason Bateman.  Hand that pooch an honorary Oscar!

LESSON #4: LET THE LADIES CLOSE OUT YOUR “NOIR-VEMBER”— Speaking of Widows, while Steve McQueen’s film makes its theatrical run as a polished modern noir potboiler, turn back the hands of time to a few hidden gems to close our your November noir push.  Chicago-based film critic Angelica Jade Bastien of The Vulture published a dynamite little list of ten female-led noir films for fans of McQueen’s film.  Make it a weekend project to celebrate the end of November.  Let the JustWatch search engine tell you where the titles are available for streaming or rental.  


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

What We Learned This Week: November 11-17

LESSON #1: BE RESPECTFUL OF THOSE WHO HAVE PASSED— Actor Armie Hammer stepped onto a Twitter turd of poor context and optical backlash when he somewhat sounded off on the tone of people’s tributes tributes to the last Marvel legend Stan Lee.  I get what he was trying to say in terms of making sure any tribute is about the departed and not the poster (similar to comedian Anthony Jeselnik’s legendary rant against “thoughts and prayers”).  That counts as fair and good advice, but there’s a gentler way and time to say that then Hammer did, and he caught a good bit of peer flack for it, lead by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Armie has since deleted the tweets and apologized, but the lesson here remains.  Be respectful even when you’re asking for people to be respectful in return, especially during periods of mourning, reflection, and celebration.  Things have calmed down, but it could have been worse.  Someone could have brought up these unsettled stories.  It’s just a reminder that no one is perfect.  We take the bad with the good.  We do that with Stan Lee and we can do that with Armie Hammer.  Enjoy the genuine article before two actors, one younger and one older, will probably duel over the eventual Stan Lee biopic:

LESSON #2: WHEN IT COMES TO ACTING, POINTS SHOULD BE AWARDED FOR ACCURACY— Bohemian Rhapsody is looking to be this year’s The Greatest Showman, a movie with public popularity and a perception of prestige despite fair to middling critical response.  After the Bryan Singer firing fallout, the studio will gladly take the money, but even they know an Oscar campaign would have boosted that Bohemian Rhapsody bottom line even more.  Outside of costume design or hair/makeup, it’s best chance to make noise is Rami Malek’s outstanding lead performance.  It’s too early know how if they young man has the favor and clout to win, but I he should earn a ton of praise for the exactness of his emulation.  Accuracy impresses me, so you’ve got to see this side-by-side video of Rami matching Freddie Mercury’s moves from the climactic Live Aid concert performance.  I’m sure we’re going to be equally wowed by Christian Bale’s chameleon match of mannerisms in Vice next month, but give Rami some love until then.

LESSON #3: BEAUTIFUL BOY IS NOT ONLY ONE OF THE BEST FILMS EVER ABOUT ADDICTION, IT ALSO IMPRESSES FOR FATHERHOOD— I saw Beautiful Boy last month as the opening night film of the the Chicago International Film Festival and it blew me away.  It was one of the easiest 5-star reviews I’ve ever given, standing out as an outlier on Rotten Tomatoes where my rating is above the consensus.  Finally releasing wide, Beautiful Boy deserves a bigger audience and I will toot its horn all awards season.  If you need a corroborating source after me, this editorial piece from Thrive Global nails the second-level impact spoken by this lesson.  Steve Carell’s remarkable performance and the daddy feels might be better than all the exposure given to the ills of addiction.  I know it’s a rough watch, but seek out this film.

LESSON #4: CRITERION-LEVEL FILMS ARE GOING TO STAY IMMORTAL— I know there was a great deal of artistic trepidation by the shuttering of the FilmStruck service this month happening at the same time as constant decline of physical media.  I referenced that in this very column recently, but let me add this strengthening lesson to it.  Great films will never go extinct and, in a way, we have digital to thank for that after an era of decayed negatives.  There will always be an audience and forum for them because quality is remembered and celebrated.  It might not be FilmStruck, but Criterion will get its own cable channel soon as a potential/temporary replacement conduit to experiencing and discovering classic film.  The company is still churning out new discs.  Combine their brand with the catalog and Kanopy services possible through your local library and you have more classic film at your fingertips than you ever realized.  Put your money into the Criterion channel if you want, but you can do more good supporting public services like the library.  Make sure your tax dollars keep working in the right places.

 


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

Episode 117: Ant-Man and the Wasp

This week we are covering the sequel to the 2015 hit, and one of Aaron’s favorite Marvel characters, Ant-Man. It’s got jokes, it’s got heart, and it’s got the word QUANTUM being used more than a few times. We also have a great conversation about the recently released documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:00:56

(Aaron & Patrick – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?)

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review – 0:18:50

The Connecting Point – 1:09:03


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

2 Hours and 5 Minutes (PG-13)

Riding the summer movie coattails of Avengers: Infinity War, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Ant-Man And The Wasp. Our lovable insect-sized hero is back in the clutches of the law, struggling to learn how to balance being a father, a business owner and a superhero.

Paul Rudd is back as Scott Lang, the Robin Hood-esque burglar, 2 years after his Civil War appearance in Germany. Having stolen his suit to take part in the battle, Scott landed himself on house arrest; his actions also alienated both Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), unintentionally making them criminal conspirators. Having been the only person to go “sub-atomic” and survive, emotions are put aside when Dr. Pym and Hope insert themselves back into Scott’s life to extract any subconscious memories he has of his time in the Quantum Realm. Hope and Hank need Scott’s connection to the Quantum Realm in the hopes of saving Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp, who disappeared there decades ago. Hope suits up as “The Wasp” and this duo is back together just in time to face an enemy more powerful than they’ve ever faced. Ghost (Hannah John-Kaman) is an accidental science experiment who molecular instability allows her to phase through objects, coming in handy when she steals Pym technology for her own means.

Peyton Reed returns to the director’s chair for this sequel, bringing with him the same comedic wit and pure joy that was present in the first film. My favorite thing about the Ant-Man films is that the stakes are relatively high, but they’re not nearly as dire as they are in most MCU movies, where it seems like the fate of the entire universe is always at stake. Scott’s adorably dense yet somehow qualified ex-con friends are back,  played by Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian, providing off-beat humor without drawing too much attention from the plot. Character growth was present in Hope and Scott, while we got a small glimpse into the past mistakes Dr. Pym made. At times the script felt like it was lacking in some stylistic ways, which could easily be explained by Edgar Wright not joining the team for this film; some of Rudd’s jokes seemed forced and unnatural, a few scenes seemed rushed without being able to fully play out their potential, etc. However, the fight/stunt scenes were well choreographed, the visual effects were blended seamlessly, and I’m still eager to see what Ant-Man and the Wasp get into next.

Once again, Reed has managed to somehow create a comic heist film but on a much larger scale, blending in elements of science fiction and physics, all while still adhering to the rules within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

PS: There are 2 post-credit scenes: the first, I was definitely not ready for but the second is completely useless and there’s no point in waiting for it.

Rating:


Erynne Hundley is Seattle-based writer and freelance film critic, currently writing and editing articles for Essentially Erynne. She prides herself on crafting spoiler-free film reviews that balance franchise history, stylistic approach, script interpretation, and the emotional turmoil the final piece creates. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram for article updates.

Episode 107: Avengers Infinity War

After 10 years and 18 films, Marvel’s ambitious, unique interconnected world of superhero films comes to this, a team-up movie the likes of which we have never seen before. Historic in its scope and in its box office success, Avengers: Infinity War is a special blockbuster and one that provides plenty to discuss. We’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about this one, its place in the MCU, and where Marvel goes from here.

Avengers: Infinity War Review – 0:02:33

The Connecting Point – 01:27:30


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MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

2 Hours and 29 Minutes (PG-13)

Marvel and The Russo Brothers had a very daunting task before them. Paying off the culmination of a decade of build-up and backstory, stretching over 18 films, is a challenge unlike any studio or director in Hollywood had ever faced. And to accomplish this feat, they worked with what has to be the largest cast of known stars ever assembled for a movie. The ambition of Marvel and its commitment to the cinematic universe it pioneered is worthy of praise and respect.

If there’s one thing I was looking for in Avengers: Infinity War, it was raised stakes. Much like the comic books these films are based on (in which characters rarely die and cities are destroyed without much afterthought), Marvel films have not fully dealt with loss in a way that seems realistic. Right from the start of Infinity War, though, Marvel makes it very clear that has changed. The potential consequences of a Thanos (Josh Brolin) victory are evident and the film progresses with an emotional weight and sense of urgency that it could not have attained if the studio followed its same old formula. This also creates much more investment in characters and the worlds they inhabit, and thus pays off quite a few very moving scenes in a much bigger way. If you haven’t cried in a Marvel movie before, you’re not alone, but this may be your first. I had genuine chills a few different times. But don’t worry, that trademark Marvel humor and witty one-liners are still there and won’t have you depressed for too long at a time.

Another area that Marvel outdoes previous films in their own franchise is with Thanos himself. Make no mistake, this is his film and his story. He is a fully developed villain with more screen time than any before him, and it helps to create a character with whom the audience can both despise and yet struggle with feelings of empathy for. Brolin’s talent is very obvious in this performance despite the incredible looking CGI that encompasses him. His Thanos is not just some loud, angry, destructive villain. He is intelligent and calculating. He is nuanced. He is cold, yes, but when he gives his reasons for what he wants to do with the Infinity Stones and why, in a very warped way it makes some sense. His presence as the foil to the Avengers and Guardians gives this film something unique and memorable.

With a cast this large it is inevitable that not everyone’s favorite will have the responsibility or amount of action they hope for. The Russo’s do an admirable job of balancing these heroes, however, and somehow left me feeling satisfied. Sure, a little more backstory or deeper character moments for them all would be nice, but it’s also unrealistic to expect in a single film of this length. By managing to give everyone at least one small moment in the sun, the Russo’s succeed where I believe many would have failed. Another result of keeping most character development small is that the film moves fast, pausing a few times for majorly impactful storyline beats, but mostly cutting between different groups of heroes working to accomplish different tasks. By keeping the heroes in smaller groups, we get to feel more focused when we’re with them, and enjoy the new forms of dialogue that emerge between characters who previously had not interacted.

The action in Avengers: Infinity War is, as expected, fantastic. Seeing heroes fight together with new gear and weapons, or teaming up in ways never experienced by movie goers before, was a huge treat. In one major battle that involves a host of heroes and countless alien attackers, the Silvestri score and rising stakes create a feeling similar to that in the Battle of the Pelennor Field from The Return of the King. While Avengers: Infinity War never quite reaches that level of epic, it comes much closer than many (myself included) ever thought possible.

VERDICT

If you’re thinking that this review is a but vague, please know that is by design. Fans have waited 10 years for this and going in with as little information possible is going to result in the best viewing experience. Avengers: Infinity War isn’t entirely unpredictable, but it’s got some surprises too. The historic puzzle that the Russo Brothers have put together is nothing short of amazing and will lend itself to multiple viewings. Perhaps that’s the highest praise possible for a film of this kind, that after it finished I immediately would have sat through those 2.5+ hours again. To sum it all up, Avengers: Infinity War lived up to the hype by being both entertaining and emotional. Well done, Marvel. Well done.

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.