What We Learned This Week: December 2019

END OF THE YEAR AND END OF THE DECADE EDITION

Forgive the awards season hiatus! I missed you all and I couldn’t let you go without a quick toast to the end of 2019 and the end of the 2010s!

LESSON #1: IT’S ALL CINEMA— Boy, did I miss one dismissive and hand-wringing soapbox after another with Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest directors of film history.  Rant after rant, click after click, retweet after retweet, boy did ole Marty start a fight.  I don’t mean to sound regressive like #AllLivesMatter versus the true need of something like #BlackLivesMatterbut someone needs to tell Mr. Scorsese that it’s all cinema, from every cheesy and trashy film to every astute and austere film.  That’s from Cats to The Irishman and everything in between. They are made by creators aiming for storytelling, entertainment, and expression.  They just do so to different degrees and for different audiences.  So, respectfully, Marty, STFU.  Because you do great work, I won’t sentence you to Lesson #2 like one of your peers.

LESSON #2: CLINT EASTWOOD CAN RETIRE NOW— Look, I adore Clint Eastwood’s work.  He is essential American cinema (there I go…) and has the legacy and hardware to prove forever.  But, gosh, is he slipping.  With each can he kicks down the road since American Sniper, he’s loosing a grip on the truthful side of his filmmaking to match the purposeful part. Honoring little notes of history is one thing with dramatic license.  Revising and degrading is another.  You crossed a line with Richard Jewell and the treatment of the late Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde.  Go back to that sunset and porch rocker, Clint.

LESSON #3: PLEASE LET ADAM SANDLER TURN A NEW LEAF— Before Uncut Gems, I legitimately and truthfully had not watched an Adam Sandler movie in nine years.  I didn’t need Jack and Jill to give up on him and the repetitive manchild garbage he was making.  I had no regrets abstaining from his career.  Hot damn, though, did he supernova with Uncut Gems.  Please let this career resurgence be a true new trajectory and not a one time thing.  Don’t let him dangle a role of two like Eddie Murphy and go back to the low-hanging fruit garden.  He’s back and I want more.

LESSON #4: IT’S EARLY, BUT GRETA GERWIG REMAINS UNDEFEATED— That women knows how to make good films, period. After blazing bright with Lady Bird and all its crassness, she comes back with a PG-rated and spirited adaptation of Little Women that is an absolute delight.  It’s better than just a nod at girl power.  It’s rich and multi-layered art.  She has earned automatic watch status for whatever comes next for her.  And while we’re talking about Greta Gerwig, Dear Academy, don’t make the mistake the Golden Globes did and nominate more women like her for the excellence in their fields.

LESSON #5: ADAM DRIVER AND FLORENCE PUGH WILL BE THE STARS OF THE 2020s— Even with a big second half and huge 2019, I won’t call Adam Driver the star of this decade, but I have a good feeling he will be the star of the next one.  I’ll give this past decade to Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale before Driver, but few actors have his crossover appeal and towering potential right now.  Need proof?  Pick anything from this year, but especially Marriage Story.  Watch him win the Oscar to kick off his 2020.  As they say, the sky (and for him, the galaxy), is the limit.  His white-hot female equivalent is Florence Pugh who carried a tremendous 2019 with Fighting With My Family, Midsommar, and Little Women. She is a dual Oscar contender for those latter two roles and has Black Widow to start 2020.  We see many ingenues come and go, but, like Driver, her range across genres is formidable and will keep her around and successful for a very long time.

LESSON #6: THIS NEXT DECADE HAS UNKNOWN CHALLENGES AHEAD— The 2010s brought a swell of nostalgia regurgitation like we’ve never seen with peaks and valleys across James Bond, Star Wars, Star TrekMission: Impossible, Jason Bourne, the MCU, the DCEU, TransformersPiratesGhostbustersPlanet of the Apes, Rocky, Rambo, Despicable Me, Men in Black, The Terminator, Toy Story, Ocean’s 8, and every possible Disney re-imagining.  Try as the greedy studios may, surely the noise of all that cannot continue another decade.  Creative bankruptcy has a limit and it’s going to run out and crash hard.  The 2020s have the challenge of creating new properties and experiences because the old stuff won’t last forever.  With the close of a Star Wars saga and a massive MCU phase to finish 2019, we stand at the edge wondering what’s next and what can top what’s been done.  It can’t all be new Avatar movies.  Your decade, your move, Hollywood.  Give us something good.  In the meantime, we’ll be on the couching binging your streaming services.

 


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#120)

Episode 206: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

We chat about the final film in the epic Skywalker Saga. Does it satisfy? Does it entertain? Do we want more? Just like this film, there is a lot stuffed into our conversation as we work through our conflicted feelings for Episode IX.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review – 0:02:50

The Connecting Point – 1:38:14

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MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” faced a nearly impossible task: end one of the grandest, most-beloved ongoing stories of all-time in a way that would universally appeal to what has become a largely fractured, and always passionate, generation-spanning fan base. It was never going to succeed at this, and what happens within this final film will most certainly have fans divided once more. Much of the reason for mixed opinions will, naturally, come down to story decisions such as the answer to Rey’s parentage, the conclusion of Kylo Ren’s character arc, and the reasoning behind why Emperor Palpatine has reappeared to be woven into this final trilogy. In order to ensure the mystery remains for readers, all that I can really say on this front is that I emerged from my viewing of the film conflicted – appreciating some of the directions director JJ Abrams went while being both baffled and extremely frustrated by others. If you were hoping for a wrap-up that would be loved and praised by all, well, I can simply say that you’re not going to get your wish.

“The Rise of Skywalker” is a lot of movie. A lot, a lot. It’s nearly two and a half hours of non-stop, action-packed, exposition-filled, video game quests. I happen to enjoy the style of adventure video game progression that we see emulated and so I had quite a bit of fun with the planet-hopping escapades of Rey, Poe, and Finn. But I also can acknowledge that this will absolutely not be everyone’s cup of tea. Hard and fast editing cuts, the quick pace of new information being revealed, and frequent tying up of plot points made it hard to remember details upon exiting the theater. Even now, less than 24-hours since seeing the film, I couldn’t recount the plot trajectory to you without going back to look at my notes. Exciting and not without spectacle, but also very, very messy.

Things that worked the best for me were some emotional moments between main characters, a healthy dose of smartly included fan service (much of which makes sense for story reasons), and the way in which General/Princess Leia is sent off. One major thing that did not work for me was the details surrounding the reappearance of Emperor Palpatine, his motives, his level of power, and ultimately his place in this saga. Other elements that bothered me were the lack of defining set pieces to rival the greatest ones the series has offered and a story that feels like it was written specifically to cater to those who’ve expressed disappointment with “The Last Jedi”. It is very clear that this was not a three-part story arc planned out from the beginning, and the way in which this film treats its direct predecessor is pretty rude. The film also frequently creates high stakes only to undo them moments later, draining a much stronger potential emotional investment away. With regards to Palpatine, his inclusion has the unfortunate effect of altering the impact of certain events from Anakin’s past in ways I did not appreciate. And also he yells… often and loudly. The action, while quite nice to look at, never provided me the kind of unforgettable single scene that I was hoping for, like the Holdo Maneuver, taking down an AT-AT with tow cables, or the Millennium Falcon navigating an asteroid field against overwhelming odds. Just as with superhero films, the more frequently we see amazing action sequences in this universe, the harder it becomes to stand out from the crowd. 

“The Rise of Skywalker” is epic, though, without a doubt, and resembles a condensed mixture of all three original trilogy films, for better and worse. It features immersive, loud sound effects and another incredible score by John Williams, is beautiful to look at, provides opportunities for our heroes to shine, and lets us once again have a blast experiencing stories in a galaxy far, far away. There’s slightly more good than bad, but this is yet again a Star Wars film that will be debated for years (if not more) to come. Like many of the Millennium Falcon’s landings, JJ Abrams brings this nine-film saga to an end in a gloriously cinematic but messy crash. Not ideal, but also not fatal. It gets the job 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 the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 203: Marriage Story

It’s time to get real and raw, as this week we chat about Noah Baumbach’s impressive, devastating new feature film. We are strong believers in the emotional impact films can have and this one hits as hard as any in a long time. 

Marriage Story Review – 0:01:09

The Connecting Point – 1:27:37

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MOVIE REVIEW: Marriage Story

When you are with someone in a romantic partnership, it never really comes as a thought about how it will be to lose all of your love and happiness through a painful separation. It would be unorthodox to enter a relationship and not hope for the best, living out those vows to be together through the good and bad. Everybody wants to find that person that they feel completes them and is willing to call them their man/woman through the good and the noticeable flaws that rise to the surface here and there. Sometimes, these promises don’t end up with a fairy tale ending; instead, you feel the agony and suffering of a dream unfulfilled and the symptoms of a broken heart. Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” delves into a marriage breaking apart. It is based on his real experience with actress Jennifer Jason Leigh but also can be a mirror into any point in our lives when we had a failed experience of love lost.

Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) are a married couple who live in the bustling metropolis of New York City. Charlie is the owner of a celebrated theater company that gives Nicole a chance to follow her passion for acting, which has been a part of her life since her upbringing in Los Angeles. She had a chance to have a promising career in the City of Angels as a potential leading lady, but she ditched that dream to help Charlie build up his theater company and they ended up having a young son together. Over time Nicole feels that Charlie is not being open to her ideas, happiness, and wishes to go back to LA so she can be close with her family and friends. Charlie feels that with all the time he has dedicated to putting on works that can potentially go to Broadway, and dealing with all of the pressure and prestige that comes with it, he is giving everything he has for his family. Eventually, Nicole feels that the relationship has no more value with her having no autonomy and feeling a low sense of self-worth. She wants to jumpstart the process of a divorce. Charlie is shocked and painfully thinking over a world in which he loses the one person who he thought understood him for who he was, as well as losing the chance to be an able father to his child, due to a custody battle looming that will determine if he has to uproot his life in NY and move to the West Coast away from the home.

Baumbach brings his real-life pain to the screen with an intricate focus on the different dilemmas that arise during the process of divorce. Getting an attorney, custody battles, having to pay out of pocket (which can become expensive and potentially place you in debt or financial ruin), who keeps the apartment or houses, relationships between in-laws becoming fractured, a trial which can be taxing mentally, getting rid of special mementos that remind you of said person, and the feeling of your heart breaking into pieces are all captured here. There is nowhere to hide from seeing the pain on both Charlie and Nicole’s face in most scenes while they try to remain amicable and cordial during a time of emotional heartache. Even with trying to remain friends, Charlie and Nicole are swept into the system of divorce court which only rewards “bad behavior,” pushing them to look for any secrets or dirty ammo that can be used to help secure a resolution that each one wants. It’s a dirty game that spares no expense in leaving you embittered and broken down to the core.

The performances of Driver and Johansson are nothing more than extraordinary. Driver has etched his name right onto the Best Actor statue with a portrayal full that makes audiences feel the pain and anger over his life-changing dilemma. At times, Driver brought me near tears because of how involved his performance was; nothing felt put on for melodrama as you’d expect of a stereotypical scorned ex-husband. He played this role with feelings, sensitivity, masculinity, and fear. This is what a star turn looks like. Johansson gives the best performance of her storied career and it’s not even close, leaving it all on the floor with every line reading, every display of strong drama, and even the humorous yet compassionate little moments that populate this film. The amount of dedication she exudes is a wonder to watch and it’s inevitable that her name will be called on Oscar night along with Driver. They both share natural chemistry that shines during scenes of argumentative chaos; the tears are flowing, insults flying, and they both exhibit goosebumps-inducing body language that is extremely realistic and is amazing to watch. Laura Dern as Nicole’s lawyer has the confidence and charisma to stand out amongst the drama and carve out her own place for award nominations. She gives a strong and snarky supporting performance that may be dwarfed by the efforts of Driver and Johannson but nevertheless makes a mark long after the credits pop up.

Randy Newman’s score is pleasant with its echoes of somber reflection, expressing itself with beautiful piano notes and violins that speak their own language. It supports the dramatic arc of the story without overstaying its welcome or becoming forceful in its magnitude, and is one of the few cases where a score feels like a compliment to the scenes and moods expressed by the characters.

The production design is a treat. Interiors are simply constructed yet feel down-home with their minimalism. Both New York and Los Angeles are treated with idealized versions of the hustle and bustle of city life. You have the cold and wintery streets of New York compared with the sunny and outgoing showmanship of Los Angeles, which also presents a parallel of the divide between Charlie and Nicole. Sublime editing is on display with the array of wonderful quick edits that show themselves during conversations. It gives the film a certain kind of rhythm that makes this story easier to tolerate and deal with the sadness of its message. Costume design is a big plus, too, with honorable mentions going to Driver’s Invisible Man costume and Johansson’s David Bowie, as well as Beatles-influenced wardrobe in some moments toward the end.

“Marriage Story” is a high mark of storytelling that will affect and impact many viewers with its realistic depiction of a marriage turning into a divorce. Intense and compassionate with its own sense of feel-good and hilarious moments to break up the heartache, Baumbach and Netflix have an Oscar darling on their hands.

Rating:


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Report

“The Report” is a mandatory and sobering look into the numerous unlawful violations and devaluing of humanity that occurred in the CIA’s Detention and Intelligence Program during the United States’ post-9/11 “War on Terror.” Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), a Senate staffer, is tasked with the job of investigating the CIA and uncovering their countless injustices, which tests his own emotional fortitude and belief in the hierarchy he occupies. The film offers an inside look into the dirty game of politics and how distrustful our own government has been about being forthcoming with their own citizens.

Scott Z. Burns, who served as both writer and director, holds nothing back in exposing the truth, while also pacing this story in a fluid manner that will command your attention. “The Report” plays out more like a documentary than a feature film thanks to an engrossing sense of realism and the rock-solid acting performances all-around. Adam Driver is having a tour de force of 2019, and this film just adds to his immense hot streak by way of a commanding performance steeped in determined heroism. Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, and Maura Tierney round out an excellent supporting cast and each adds nuance and credibility to the story being expressed on screen.

“The Report” will likely make your blood boil over how the federal government has operated in the name of “protecting our country”, but films like this should be championed for telling the stories that many would rather be kept in the closet.

Rating:


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Episode 153: BlacKkKlansman

We circle back to an Oscar-nominated film that we missed in 2018 and take a look at the Spike Lee joint many are calling his best since Do the Right Thing.

BlacKkKlansman Review – 0:00:48

The Connecting Point – 0:58:30

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Oscar Locks

It’s an annual tradition in my house. I spend 9 months of the year trying to convince myself that I don’t care at all about movie awards. I don’t need fancy, self-important awards shows to tell me what’s good. Sure, I’m not a critic, but I’m a dude who watches a whole lot of movies. I can decide for myself what’s good. Then, once December rolls around, I’m a triggered, angry mess for 3 long months as the awards roll in for all of the movies that I didn’t end up seeing. Well, not this year. This year, I’ve seen more movies than ever before and I’m ready to not be disappointed come time for Oscar’s big night. So for your reading pleasure, here’s a list of a few of the awards I’m looking forward to with a film/actor or two that should’ve been nominated but wasn’t, the nominee I want to win, and the nominee that I believe will win.


Animated Feature

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Incredibles 2, Mirai

Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet, Isle of Dogs

Should’ve been nominated: I’m going to start off here with a pretty boring opinion, but I think the nominations here were pretty good. I haven’t seen Ralph Breaks the Internet or Mirai, but all of the other three were great movies that I really enjoyed.

I want to win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This movie is a game changer in the world of animation. It’s funny, smart and gorgeous to look at. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to visit the Spider-Verse.

Will win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Supporting Actor

Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born; Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Sam Rockwell, Vice; Mahershala Ali, Green Book; Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman

Should’ve been nominated: Hugh Grant, Paddington 2. The Paddington sequel was one of the first 2018 films I saw and Grant’s performance as aging villainous stage actor Phoenix Buchanan has remained my favorite throughout the entire year.

I want to win: Sam Elliott and his glorious mustache or Adam Driver. Sam Elliott because I love Sam Elliot and the small amount of time he gets in A Star Is Born is very, very good. Adam Driver is just dynamite in BlacKkKlansman. I’m always impressed when someone plays a role of someone who is playing a role and Driver does it about as well as anyone I’ve seen.

Will win: Richard E. Grant. I haven’t seen Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but he seems to be winning everything else.

Supporting Actress

Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk; Amy Adams, Vice; Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Emma Stone, The Favourite; Marina de Tavira, Roma

Should’ve been nominated:Rachel McAdams, Game Night. She’s a total delight and boasts a comedic timing that is absolutely on point in the funniest movie of the year. “But she’s a lead, Jeremy,” you might say. And you’d be right, but so are Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.

I want to win: Regina King. I haven’t seen the movie, but I hear she’s great and I think the Academy finally makes up for snubbing her work in Jerry Maguire in 1996.

Will win: Regina King

Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale, Vice; Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born; Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Viggo Mortensen, Green Book; Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate

Should’ve been nominated: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed. Paul Schrader’s film is criminally underrepresented in this year’s nominations. Sure it got a screenplay nod, but it very easily could have gotten a director and picture selection as well. Being left off of those lists is understandable. It was a strong year in film. What isn’t understandable is Ethan Hawke not being recognized for what is arguably the best work he’s done in a very long and storied career.

I want to win: Bradley Cooper

Will win: Christian Bale. Rami Malek does have momentum in this race, but for some reason, Hollywood is really keen on Vice. And Bale’s transformation just to get in character is easily the best part of Vice.

Actress in a Leading Role 

Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born; Glenn Close, The Wife; Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Yalitza Aparicio, Roma

Should’ve been nominated: The list here is really long. Regina Hall (Support The Girls) and Amandla Stenberg (The Hate U Give) both have strong arguments. But if you would’ve told me that Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade was simply video of an awkward teenage girl being filmed without her knowledge, first I would’ve thought that was super creepy, but second I totally would’ve believed you. That’s how amazing Elsie Fisher is in that film.

I want to win: Lady Gaga

Will win: Glenn Close. Because no one has seen The Wife and the Academy hates me.

Director 

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman; Alfonso Cuarón, Roma; Adam McKay, Vice

Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite; Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War

Should’ve been nominated: Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born. I don’t understand how Adam McKay got a nomination over Cooper in this race. Vice is fiercely adequate as a film, but from Adam McKay it’s hardly a stand-out. It’s an angrier The Big Short with the smugness turned up to 11. I don’t think it should’ve been shut out, there are some legitimately great performances that deserve to be recognized, but it doesn’t belong anywhere in the vicinity of this category or Best Picture.

I want to win: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman. Some people might call a win for Lee a career achievement award. I think those people would be wrong. BlacKkKlansman is one of the most important films of the year and Lee presents it in a package that is funny, intriguing, intense, and uncompromising.

Probably will win: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma. I’m not sure if it’s the dog crap or the naked martial arts, but people are super into Roma. In all seriousness, it is a beautiful film and every moment feels crafted with love. I wouldn’t at all be upset to see Cuarón go home with the statue.

 

Best Picture

Black Panther, Green Book, BlacKkKlansman, Roma, A Star Is Born

Vice, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite

Should’ve been nominated: Blindspotting. It’s better than anything else on this list. Full stop. No snark, no quips, it’s better than anything else on this list.

I want to win: A Star Is Born is my favorite movie nominated, but as an unashamed lover of superhero movies, I’d love to see Black Panther go home a winner.

Probably will win: Roma. If I’m being honest, picture is the only category where I really don’t have any idea what’s going to win. I’d love to think that A Star Is Born would have a good chance because of how well it’s performed at the box office since it’s release in October, however that’s hardly an indicator of awards success. Roma is currently the odds on favorite, most likely due to it nearly sweeping the critic awards so far this year. But I think this is looking like a pretty tight race, so I’d keep checking in over there until you have to turn in your picks for the office Oscar pool.

 

There you have it. Those are my picks. Get your bets in on time. I’ll take 60% of your winnings and you can cover any losses (there won’t be any). And as a bonus for making it this far, I’ll give you one more quickie: I don’t want to be over-dramatic, but if “Shallow” doesn’t win Best Original Song, I’ll light myself on fire. Your move, Academy.


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: BlacKkKlansman

 

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 089: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has arrived, and it is proving to be extremely divisive, as critics laud Rian Johnson’s film despite many fans coming away disappointed. We enjoy this opportunity to talk about trilogy world-building and whether we like the directions Star Wars is heading. We also discuss the recently announced 2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards, of which Aaron is a voting member.

What We’ve Been Up To 0:01:05

(2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review – 0:39:29

The Connecting Point – 1:46:30

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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