MOVIE REVIEW: Bad Times at the El Royale


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: THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT


“You know somethin’? I don’t think of us as criminals, you know? I feel we accomplished something. A good job. I feel proud of myself, man. I feel like a hero.” — Lightfoot

Until this point, Eastwood’s films are easily identifiable by style and tone as being within a particular family: westerns, cop dramas, romances, etc. The only exception thus far would perhaps be The Beguiled, but there’s a case to be made for its place in the psychological horror club. But you’d be excused, should the conversation arise, for not quite knowing how to categorize Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

It begins with elements of screwball comedy and buddy-road movies before shifting to the realms of introspective drama and heist films. It isn’t until the final few moments of the film that you realize you’ve actually been witnessing the life cycle of a friendship: the rare drama which centers around a relationship between two men which is intimate without being sexualized and affecting without being manipulative.

When we first meet the titular characters of Thunderbolt (Eastwood) and Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges), Thunderbolt is posing as a small town preacher trying to lay low while being pursued by three of his former heist partners. A coincidental encounter forces Thunderbolt on the run again, directly crossing paths with the affable and carefree young Lightfoot. The two of them embark on a road adventure attempting to flee Thunderbolt’s old partners, eventually being overtaken by them and coerced into one last payday heist.

There is an episodic quality to the narrative, which was scripted and directed by Michael Cimino (who had previously impressed Eastwood with a written draft of Magnum Force and would go on to win an Academy Award for The Deer Hunter). Each new plot wrinkle has a distinct flavor, ranging from comedy to thriller and back down to drama, culminating in a climactic heist with irrevocable complications. At first viewing, these shifts in tone almost seem disjointed and unfocused, and I’ll admit I walked away from that initial viewing somewhat unimpressed.

But a bit of reflection, particularly on the film’s surprisingly emotional conclusion, produces a kind of retroactive appreciation for all that you’ve seen before it. You thought you’d been watching a disconnected menagerie of moments and sequences with little to no discernable relationship. But it is precisely the relationship between Thunderbolt and Lightfoot that has been the focus of the story: two friends from different walks of life colliding and irrevocably changing each other in ways they couldn’t possibly have predicted. What we’ve seen – the humor, the adventure, the suspense, and the melancholy – have been the rhythms and seasons of all the best friendships in their time.

Eastwood himself delivers a strong performance, balancing toughness and tenderness with ease as the narrative calls for it. Jeff Bridges, however, — in an Oscar nominated performance – is the heart and soul of the story. Lightfoot relates to Thunderbolt as father-figure, older-brother, and best bud all at once as the two of them explore, escape, and enterprise together. Likewise, Thunderbolt takes Lightfoot under his wing and you can easily track a steadily growing affection between them that the two actors capture with effortless verisimilitude. There was apparently some disappointment on Eastwood’s part when the Academy recognized Bridges but not him. However, despite Eastwood’s sensitive and appropriately anchored performance, Bridges is the unquestionable scene-stealer, especially as the film draws towards its inevitably heart-tugging finale.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a strong film, but very of its time. It’s saturated with the sensibilities and thematic concerns of the seventies, and is likely to distance some viewers with its episodic nature. But for those who appreciate films which take their time developing their disparate ideas and trust their audience to go there with them, there are some genuine rewards to be had in the journey. I saw this film in a marathon with three other Eastwood features and after a week’s reflection, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was the one to which my heart and mind kept returning.

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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Only the Brave

Only the Brave (2017)

Going In

You had me at… Taylor Kitsch. The All-American boy is back. Having already starred in roles as a high school football star, a Navy SEAL, and a Civil War veteran, Kitsch excels at portraying the everyman. In Only the Brave, Kitsch is Chris “Mac” MacKenzie, one of the elite wildfire specialists who made up the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The film tells the story of the Hotshots and how they risked their lives to fight off the Yarnell Hill Fire that threatened to overtake the city of Yarnell, Arizona in 2013. Directed by Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion, Tron: Legacy), and also starring Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, and Andie MacDowell, this biopic is one of my top five most anticipated movies of Fall 2017. With this collection of talent and a director whose visual style is often spectacular, I’m expecting to be awed and entertained. But this is a true and tragic story, so I’m also hoping to be moved.


Only the Brave is not a perfect film. It has somewhat of a clunky beginning, jumping time periods without much notice as to how long has passed, and the opening quarter of the film is largely spent introducing characters through a series of quick moments. As we flash from one to another it’s not entirely certain how they’ll be connected, or when, but when the film does make that clear it improves significantly. I state these minor annoyances up front because, frankly, Only the Brave is a tremendous film and I’d rather tell you why than nitpick its small faults.

At the center of Only the Brave is its beating heart, Supervisor Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin). Marsh is the leader of the fire crew and embodies the personality traits of the men who put their lives on the line to fight these immensely devastating wildfires. When he is with his men, he is almost always 100% on point, but it’s when he is at home with his wife that his vulnerabilities come through the most. Through this relationship we see the effects that a career spent away from your spouse can have, its emotional toll bubbling beneath the surface of routine pleasantries. Brolin captures this balance of emotions perfectly and commands every single scene he is in. His performance is captivating and the biggest compliment I can give is that for two hours I simply saw Supervisor Eric Marsh and forgot that Josh Brolin was acting the part.

The other primary character in the Hotshot crew is Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), the newest member of the team and a recovering drug user trying to better his life so that he can care for his newly born (and completely unexpected) child. It is mostly through Brendan’s eyes that we see the other Hotshots and learn about how they live. What Kosinski does that I really appreciate is showing us imperfect heroes. These men make inappropriate jokes, struggle in their relationship, and bully one another. But they are also a close brotherhood who stays in incredible physical shape, are ready at any moment to rush into danger, and have each other’s backs. The firefighters reminded me of my time in the Navy, when for 6-12 months at a time I had no one to rely on but my fellow Sailors. It is a hard life and one that is presented very honestly here, in all its messiness. The Granite Mountain Hotshots accomplished many things and saved many lives during their years of service, but exploring the grounded nature of what their daily routines might have been like was refreshing to see.

As for Kosinski and the visuals of the film, he delivered as expected, but I was also impressed with his restraint. Sure, there are scenes of powerful flames sweeping across mountains and devouring everything in their path, equally majestic and terrifying. There are also great aerial shots as helicopters transport the Hotshots and planes dump payloads full of water onto the burning masses. But unlike Kosinski’s previous films, Only the Brave focuses first and foremost on the men themselves, and in that lies its great impact. By the end of the film, we care about the Hotshots. We care about their futures. We care about their families. And when we care, we become able to respect their sacrifice on an entirely different level.


Only the Brave begins with a few flickers, but like a wildfire it catches hold and swells into something so emotionally powerful that it overtakes you in a rush. The determination and sacrifice of the Granite Mountain Hotshots are handled with reverence for what these men put on the line to protect their families and town. This ensemble cast does a fantastic job with Brolin and Teller doing some of their best ever work, and Kitsch and Connelly being memorable as well. To answer the most burning question… Yes, this is the best firefighting film since Backdraft. Be prepared to ugly cry, but definitely see it, because Only the Brave is one of the year’s best films.


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: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Rated: R


Going In

In 2015, a new project from director Matthew Vaughn and comic book writer extraordinaire Mark Millar became a surprise theatrical hit, grossing $128 million domestically. As legend has it, Vaughn and Millar were at a bar one day discussing spy movies and decided that the genre had become overly serious. The two decided to make “a fun one”, which ended up being based on one of Millar’s comics, and Kingsman: The Secret Service was born.

In my opinion, Vaughn and Millar succeeded in their attempt to liven up the secret agent movie. I enjoyed Kingsman: The Secret Service (K:TSS) immensely and now have high expectations for its sequel. I’m particularly interested in learning how Colin Firth’s character (code name Galahad) returns and whether or not Julianne Moore’s new villain can reach the eccentric excellence that Samuel L. Jackson provided in the first film. The sequel is also pulling in some big names for what seem to be smaller roles. Will Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, and Channing Tatum enhance the film or be a distraction? The action will be grand, I have no doubt, and I’m crossing my fingers that the humor will work as well as it did before (vice following the raunchier trend of modern-day Hollywood comedies). Regardless of whether Kingsman: The Golden Circle wows me, I do expect to have a good time at the theater. If it turns out to be special, even better, but that would be enough.



I went, I saw, and… I was let down. Kingsman: The Golden Circle (K:TGS) did not, in fact, turn out to be special. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much of a good time either.

In K:TGS, the Kingsman headquarters has been destroyed and Eggsy must unite with new American allies (The Statesman) in order to once again save the world, this time from a ruthless villain. One of my burning questions for this sequel was whether or not Moore could live up to Jackson and the answer is a resounding “NO.” Despite her fantastic performance as a bubbly psychopath drug lord, the character motivations are selfish and far less interesting than the thought-provoking topic of overpopulation that is explored in K:TSS. There is also an increase in the violent/gory content of the sequel (stemming from her ruthless nature) that I found off-putting and unnecessary. Another of my primary concerns was how the return of Colin Firth’s character of Galahad would be handled. To put it bluntly, it’s a complete joke. I was not the only one to sigh and roll my eyes at the explanation of how he survived the events of the first film, and his reappearance here retroactively lessens the impact of K:TSS.

With regards to those new American spies, it was disappointing how little screen time Channing Tatum was given. He was one of the few bright spots, stole every scene he was in, and yes, he dances. Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry are… fine. All of the American agents other than Pedro Pascal’s Whiskey feel like they’re window dressing or present only to set up bigger roles in a sequel. Oh, and can we talk about those code names? It’s quite obvious that the film is meant to be satire and poke fun at Americans, but whereas the Kingsman mythology is modeled after old knights and tales of honor, the American agency is modeled after liquor tycoons and its agents named after different brands of alcohol. This serves as a perfect example of how K:TGC takes a big step back by being overly silly in its stereotypes. Its numerous attempts at cultural commentary were a big miss for me.

Lastly, I have to address one specific scene that really ruined the movie for me. As mentioned above, my hopes were that the film would not be too crude. In one entirely avoidable moment, Vaughn instead pushed far enough that I will now choose not to let my young teenagers see the movie. And the question I kept asking myself is “why?” There are so many inventive technologies in this series, but when it comes to getting information from a gorgeous blonde that creativity manifests itself in teenage boy fantasy instead. Luckily, this overtly and uncomfortable sexual scene only occurred once, and Vaughn deserves some credit for attempting to fix his mistake with a certain Princess at the end of K:TSS. But even that still falls short and the film lacks any semblance of a strong female character.

To end on a high note, the film does feature one of my favorite scenes of the year. Mark Strong’s Merlin was a highlight in K:TSS and here he provides an emotional center to the film that I was easily able to connect with. This scene will forever change my thoughts when I hear John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Strong’s performance in this scene (and this series) is exceptional and has inspired me to seek out more of his work.


Kingsman: The Golden Circle takes everything about its predecessor and cranks it up to 11. If you didn’t enjoy that film, you definitely won’t like this one either. My expectations were not met, I didn’t enjoy the film, and I’ve lost the desire to see future installments in this series. When Vaughn keeps the focus in Britain and on the Kingsman, it’s great stuff. Too much of this film is an on the nose joke or critique about modern day America, though, and the results are underwhelming.


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 071: TRON: Legacy

We welcome back the boys from Retro Rewind Podcast this week to have a conversation about a movie that we all have great affection for. TRON: Legacy is undeniably one of the most visually incredible films ever made and has a score by Daft Punk that is universally loved. But is that all, or is there more to this unique story of AI and a humanized digital landscape? Join us as we talk about how this film made us feel and more.

TRON: Legacy Review – 0:02:43

The Connecting Point – 1:16:04


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