Episode 220: Onward

This week we have a great conversation about Pixar’s latest film, one that takes place in a modernized Dungeons & Dragons like world. We discuss its epic adventure, brotherhood, the importance of parental support, and more.

Onward – 0:03:08

The Connecting Point – 0:44:33

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MOVIE REVIEW: Onward

Rating: PG / Runtime: 1 hour and 54 minutes

Coming hot on the heels of Pixar’s Best Animated Picture Oscar victory for 2019’s unwanted yet somehow still exceptional “Toy Story 4″, “Onward” is the first of two original stories by the revered studio to hit the big screen in 2020. With fairly light marketing going in, many will find themselves entering a theater in the same position that I was – unexpectedly unexcited. But fear ye not, good peoples of Earth, because that Pixar magic is alive and well (literally in fact, because ya know this story is about wizards and stuff).

“Onward” is a beautifully colorful film set in the fictional city of New Mushroomton, part of a world full of fantasy creatures like centaurs and sprites, that despite once being filled with magic and champions on heroic quests is now taken over by scientific and technological advancement. Mastering magic was “too hard” and innovation for convenience won the day. The story centers around two elf brothers, Barley (Chris Pratt) and Ian (Tom Holland) Lightfoot, who on Ian’s 16th birthday are given a present from their deceased father. This gift is a magical item that if used correctly will allow the boys to spend one last day with their Dad, which both of them desperately desire. Because he passed away from illness while they were young, Barley barely remembers their time together and Ian has no memories of his own at all. It’s something that both haunts and drives him, as he continually makes lists of things to accomplish in life hoping to make his father proud. In the old days, an epic quest was a staple of someone’s 16th birthday and after Ian’s attempt to use the item goes terribly wrong, the brothers set off to retrieve a mythical stone so that they can try again. Before the sun sets, of course. Every good quest needs a time limit.

To reveal any twists and surprises of the story would be completely unfair because the emotional journey Pixar takes viewers on is a truly wonderful one. Pratt and Holland have perfect chemistry as the brothers, who in lieu of a true antagonist for the film have a relationship that is both loving and also filled with many differences of opinion that lead to some exciting situations. Barley is a walking mishap who drives a van named Gwynevere, spends his time in role-playing games or protesting the destruction of historical sites, and generally reminds everyone he comes in contact with about how magic used to rule the land and they’ve gotten away from their true nature. Ian, by contrast, is smart but timid, socially awkward, and thinks his brother’s obsession is mostly lunacy. It makes for a ton of great banter throughout the film as the two embark on a daring quest that features all of the elements you might expect, including but not limited to finding a quest giver to get a map, solving tricky puzzles, and overcoming dangerous beasts with legendary weapons of power.

Yes, “Onward” is basically Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft with a heartfelt and deeply poignant story of brotherhood and parental loss layered into that world, and it’s incredible just how powerful the emotions it evokes are! Make no mistake, at multiple points during the fun adventurous quest full of monsters, spells, and swords, the tears will flow and the heart will pound. This dramatic quest for family grieving is non-stop clever and charming along the way, and with “Onward” Pixar has a truly magical start to 2020 with a film that families (and especially fantasy fans who will enjoy the film’s many references) are going to find themselves enchanted by.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Dolittle

Rating: PG / Runtime: 1 hour and 41 minutes

If someone had told me beforehand that this movie was essentially a kid-friendly combination of the Uncharted video game series mixed with “Pirates of the Caribbean”, where the human companions were animals and there’s a lot less combat, my teenagers wouldn’t have had to beg me to take them. That is to say, it turns out “Dolittle”, Robert Downey Jr.’s first post-MCU headliner, is actually a lot of fun and right in this adventure lover’s wheelhouse.

As much as “Dolittle” follows the titular doctor (Downey Jr.), who is a sort of super veterinarian that can communicate with animals by speaking their language, it equally is about a young boy named Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) who stumbles upon Dolittle’s overgrown estate in need of emergency animal medical support. Stubbins was out hunting with his uncle and cousin, and we quickly learn that he’s much too soft-hearted toward the cute woodland critters, which eventually makes it easy for he and Dr. Dolittle to relate. Dolittle has been a recluse up until their meeting, avoiding contact with humanity as he endlessly grieves over the loss of his wife. From there a young emissary of the Queen of England arrives, beckoning him to Buckingham Palace. The Queen has fallen ill and needs Dolittle’s help. Up until this point, the story feels pretty generic and uninteresting, but upon learning that the necessary cure lies in a magical fruit on a mythical undiscovered island that Dolittle’s wife died while searching for, the excitement rises considerably. 

The bulk of the film then plays out like a traditional adventure tale, with some highlights being a thrilling chase at-sea, the infiltration of an island of outlaws, and an ever-present over-the-top villainous rival determined to stop Dolittle and steal his praise. Along the way Dolittle must overcome his fear of opening up to others while Stubbins gets many (often amusing) life-changing lessons and discovers a passion for working with the animals. And it’s understandable why, because Dolittle’s animal friends are silly, sweet, and always entertaining.  Voicework by some big Hollywood stars is mostly a delight, with Kumail Nanjiani’s Plimpton the Emu, John Cena’s Yoshi the Polar Bear, and Ralph Fiennes’ Barry the Tiger being particular standouts. 

That’s not to say that everything comes up roses in this newest adaptation of the classic American children’s book. Downey Jr. chooses to use an odd, distracting accent and plays the character with an eccentricity that reminds of Captain Jack Sparrow. The animal banter is mostly great but there are definitely some dud jokes, too. And the CGI leaves a lot to be desired, getting increasingly more noticeably bad the more action that is taking place.

Still, even though it may not be particularly memorable, “Dolittle” ends up being a hilarious and wholesome mythical adventure that is fun for the entire family. Talking animals will always be a hit with kids and the added elements of high seas adventure and pirate-like action combined with the search for a magical item will keep teens and adults interested as well. Throw in some lovely relationship-building and a big dose of hope, and you’ve got a great option for a weekend family theater outing.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Spies in Disguise

Based on Lucas Martell’s 2009 short film “Pigeon: Impossible”, in which a pigeon briefly becomes a spy and almost sets off nuclear war, “Spies in Disguise” remixes the story by having a spy become a pigeon instead. The premise is nonsensical and silly, of course, but that’s not a criticism. Early on we meet Walter Beckett (Tom Holland), a young inventor with a passion for creating non-violent gadgets and a dream of helping to save the world, who is written off by most who meet him as “too weird”. Walter eventually grows up to work for a super-spy organization of which its star operative is none other than the smooth-talking, ultra-fly Sterling… Lance Sterling (Will Smith). After Sterling is framed by a mysterious villain for stealing a dangerous piece of tech, he is forced to go on the run from Internal Affairs agent Marcy (Rashida Jones) and her sense-focused investigative team of Eyes (Karen Gillan) and Ears (DJ Khaled). This leads to a team-up with Walter and an accidental transformation into a pigeon. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But also, it absolutely works! 

“Spies in Disguise” makes no apologies for referencing the spy films we all know and love. In fact, its narrative emphasizes Walter’s journey as much as Sterling’s, giving it a balance that most live-action star-driven franchises don’t have. Imagine a movie that focuses on the career goals of Bond’s research specialist Q, and allows him to be present in James’ adventure and necessary to the plot instead of just a behind-the-scenes supplier of cool toys, and you’ll have an idea of the dynamic “Spies in Disguise” operates with. Walter believes in teamwork and has an emotional backstory that is easy to empathize with, but his pacifist views are in direct conflict with Sterling’s more aggressive, pro-violence, fight fire with fire and always fly solo methodology. It’s a wonderful theme to explore within this animated world and the relationship between the two isn’t just fun and exciting, it’s quite touching as well. 

The evil cyborg villain, Killian (Ben Mendelsohn), doesn’t have a lot of screen time but is perfectly voiced. Mendelsohn has a way of sounding cleverly sinister like few actors can. His motives are not revealed early on and one thing that sets “Spies in Disguise” apart from typical kid-friendly animation is just how evil Killian can be. The tech he steals is an assassin drone and several murders are very clearly committed on screen. His menacing nature makes him feel like a legit threat and not the bumbling idiot or goofy bad guy that you might expect. 

Another area where “Spies in Disguise” separates itself from other PG films is in its writing, which is very funny but definitely skews more toward teenage sensibility than that of younger children. There is even a “50 Shades of Grey” joke that is just as hilarious as it is surprising. The film is still great for all ages, however, with slick animated action set pieces set to a hot soundtrack, an abundance of cool spy tech, and plenty of bird-related shenanigans while Sterling is a pigeon. 

It might sound shocking, but “Spies in Disguise” takes advantage of the charisma and swagger that Will Smith brings in a way that few films this decade have. Holland is the perfect sweet, geeky companion and going on this adventure with them is a purely joyful experience. It’s hard to imagine a better blend of silly children’s animation with the genre-defining elements of spy films that fans love. The story sets up perfectly for sequels and I, for one, am absolutely here for it. Bring on more avian hijinks. #TeamWeird all the way!

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 174: Spider-Man: Far From Home

Emmanuel Noisette from Eman’s Movie Reviews joins us for a conversation about the webslinger’s newest adventure. We chat about Peter Parker’s conflicting desires, villainous plot twists, fake news, high school drama, and even get into some theorizing about the future, too.

Spider-Man: Far From Home Review – 0:02:44

The Connecting Point – 1:48:55

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

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MOVIE REVIEW: Spider-Man: Far From Home

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME is everything I could have wanted from a SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING sequel & follow-up to AVENGERS: ENDGAME. See it on opening night or ASAP to avoid spoilers and be sure to stay for two incredible (and game-changing) post-credit scenes.


 

Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 163: Avengers: Endgame

This week we are of course talking about the final chapter in a story 10 years and 22 films in the making. We break down our reaction to this once-in-generation event, while also taking a look back at the past and contemplating the future. This is a wonderful conversation that we both thoroughly enjoyed and think you will, too.

Avengers: Endgame Review – 0:02:55

The Connecting Point – 1:31:05


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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: Avengers: Endgame

100% spoiler-free with no plot points even hinted at! AVENGERS: ENDGAME closes the book on one of the greatest film franchise achievements in history on a very high note. It is every bit the emotional experience you expect & a gratifying finale. Also, for the first time in 10+ years there is no post-credit scene so feel free to rush to the bathroom as required.

 


 

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.

FF+ Glass, Superman Double Feature, and Spider-Man

In this week’s episode of FF+ Aaron reviews M. Night Shyamalan’s trilogy ending film Glass and then we discuss our theater experience seeing a Fathom Events double feature of the DC Animated films The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen. We also chat some about newly announced projects for Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Trachtenberg, then share our thoughts on the first trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home.

New For You

(Glass) – 0:01:19

(The Death of Superman/Reign of the Supermen) – 0:08:03

In the News – 0:29:04

Trailer Talk (Spider-Man: Far From Home) – 0:38:18


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Music: City Sunshine – Kevin MacLeod

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!

You Should Be Watching: October 25 – November 1

Back after a brief hiatus, 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.


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


The Florida Project

Year: 2017

Director: Sean Baker

Genre: Drama

Cast: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Mela Murder, Caleb Landry Jones, Aiden Malik, Macon Blair, Sabina Friedman-Seitz, Karren Karagulian, Sandy Kane, Carl Bradfield, Gary B. Gross, Sonya McCarter, Josie Olivo, Rosa Medina, Perez Jasineia, Ramos Kit 

Sean Baker’s spotlight on the world of the hidden homeless, filled with shockingly authentic performances and focused specifically on the children, is conflicting to experience. It’s the joy and wonder of kids being happy-go-lucky and saying the darndest things despite being surrounded by poverty, but they’re kids who are also often heavily influenced by crass and insensitive parents who are not necessarily the best of role models, so you’ll also hear them spouting obscenities towards others that show extreme disrespect. Of course, they’re just mimicking, they rarely have ill will toward anyone.

It’s easy to be angry at the parents in this film, specifically Halley (Bria Vinaite), for her unethical behavior and horrible influence on her daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). But you also can’t help but feel sad for her desperate condition and whatever history she’s had that led to her being in it. Willem Dafoe’s tremendously understated performance as the compassionate, good guy hotel manager is the emotional bridge we need to connect with these people. He’s a responsible manager, but he also cares about these people under his care.

That’s the power of this film. It’s a window into a fragile, vulnerable people who have fallen through the cracks of society. It’s an appreciation that children are resilient and can find and bring joy to hopeless circumstances. And despite law and order needing to be kept, it’s a plea for compassion over condemnation.


The Impossible


FREE WITH ADS

Year: 2012

Director: J. A. Bayona

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Marta Etura, Sönke Möhring, Geraldine Chaplin, Ploy Jindachote, Jomjaoi Sae-Limh, Johan Sundberg, Jan Roland Sundberg, La-Orng Thongruang, Tor Klathaley, Douglas Johansson, John Albasiny, Gitte Witt

This is ostensibly a typhoon disaster movie, but unlike the majority of films in that genre, this is based on a true story. And as such, director J. A. Bayona’s intention seems to be to strip away any element of fun from the watching and replace it with overwhelming shock and horror and ultimately compassion as the family we’ve just started to get to know with Ewan McGregor playing the father and Naomi Watts the mother are brutally battered and separated from one another by the rushing waters and debris.

Watching this film, you feel every bit of misery the characters carry. There’s the physical misery as in the case of the wife and mother Maria, who is constantly in danger of losing her leg or worse. There’s also the emotional anguish of her son Lucas. Played by a supremely talented young Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming), he carries the film and is its emotional center. As far as Lucas knows, his father and brother died in the typhoon, so he’s out of his mind desperate not to lose his mother too. In the midst of horror, it’s beautiful to watch him learn to take that compassion and desire and turn it outwards to try to help all the other people desperate to find their loved ones.


Certified Copy

  

Year: 2010

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Genre: Drama, Romance

Cast: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Jean-Claude Carrière, Agathe Natanson, Gianna Giachetti, Adrian Moore, Angelo Barbagallo, Andrea Laurenzi, Filippo Trojano, Manuela Balsinelli

Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami has an uncanny ability to weave of reality and fiction together and to challenge the viewer’s understanding of both. Watching this film feels like cinematic sleight of hand. On the surface, Certified Copy feels like an alternative version of Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, but while the latter is content to present an imitation of reality, the former thrives on manipulating our very perception of it.

English author James Miller (William Shimell) is in Tuscany touring his new book, also titled Certified Copy. While there, he encounters French antiques dealer Elle (Juliette Binoche) and they end up spending an afternoon together driving through the surrounding countryside and walking through the villages, finding themselves having deep philosophical conversations that force them to come face to face with the emotional baggage they’ve long been carrying. The deeper they go, the more they connect, the more they argue, the more intimate they become with their thoughts and feelings and emotions, the more reality becomes blurred as to what their relationship actually is to one another.

Kiarostami’s direction is brilliant, making full use of his environment, angles, props, and amazing production design to enhance the emotional beats and themes. Shimell gives a strong performance, but he is mostly stoic throughout. Binoche, on the other hand, covers a wide range of emotions, and she doesn’t hesitate to act flustered, hopeful, angry, coy, or passionate as her character is at a particularly volatile and vulnerable time in her life.


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

October 27
Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)

October 31
The African Queen (1951)
Amélie (2001)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Jurassic Park I-III (1993, 1997, 2001)
The Land Before Time (1988)
Oculus (2013)
The Reader (2008)

November 4
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)

AMAZON PRIME

October 30
The Green Butchers (2003)
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Mad Max (1979)
Thief (1981)

October 31
Barfly (1987)
Bull Durham (1988)
Children of Men (2006)
Eight Men Out (1988)
The Elephant Man (1980)
Fearless (2006)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Ghostbusters I & II (1984, 1989)
High Noon (1952)
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Jaws (1975)
The Monster Squad (1987)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Sneakers (1992)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
United 93 (2006)
The Usual Suspects (1995)

FILMSTRUCK

October 26
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Ace in the Hole (1951)
Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
Footlight Parade (1933)
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
Guys and Dolls (1955)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Stalag 17 (1953)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Tabu (2012)
What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

October 31
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

November 2
Alphaville (1965)
Army of Shadows (1969)
Bob le Flambeur (1956)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Le Trou (1960)
Libeled Lady (1936)

November 9
The Big Sleep (1946)
Dark Passage (1947)
Dogville (2003)
Petulia (1968)
To Have and Have Not (1944)

November 16
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Let There Be Light (1946)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

HULU

October 31
13 Going on 30 (2004)
28 Weeks Later (2007)
Babe (1995)
Barfly (1987)
Bull Durham (1988)
Eight Men Out (1988)
The Elephant Man (1980)
High Noon (1952)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Point Break (1991)
Rabbit Hole (2010)
Rescue Dawn (2006)
The Rock (1996)
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Sleepers (1996)
Spaceballs (1987)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Unbreakable (2000)
Witness (1985)


JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

God Knows Where I Am (2016)
The Night Comes for Us (2018)

AMAZON PRIME

12 Angry Men (1957)
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
The Big Country (1958)
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Devil (2010)
Donnie Darko (2001)
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Man from Reno (2015)
The Proposition (2005)
A Street Cat Named Bob (2016)

FILMSTRUCK

The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Billy Budd (1962)
The Candidate (1972)
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Dial M for Murder (1954)
Dracula (1958)
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

HULU

Burn (2012)
Ever After (1998)
Ghost Stories (2017)
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)


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.