MOVIE REVIEW: Isle of Dogs



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.


“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.


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.


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.

The Evolution of Eastwood: THE BEGUILED


“You must understand that it was the wine that turned loose the devils in me.” – Corporal John “McBee” McBurney

For nine films (and years of network television) Clint Eastwood had been “a man with a gun”, whether that was in a war film, a western, or a police drama. At this point in his career, he was genuinely concerned about being overly typecast and he made two calculated choices to try to perform against type. The first choice was this Civil War drama, The Beguiled, and his second choice was to finally direct his first feature film.

The Beguiled is a unique entry in both the catalogue of Clint Eastwood and of Don Siegel, its director. At this point, the pair of them had collaborated twice already and had become good friends as well as a veritable mutual admiration society. The opportunity to try their collaborative magic at something quite different appealed to them both. Eastwood himself was a major force behind the project’s inception, having read and become captivate by the original source novel, A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan. The script went through a few different iterations (including one with a straight-forward “happily-ever-after” ending) before ultimately landing with the results for the final film.

The premise revolves around a badly wounded union soldier (Eastwood) during the Civil War who is discovered and taken in by a group of young ladies at a boarding school. The headmistress is rigid and occasionally oppressive, but the soldier’s presence sends the entire group of young women into distrustful disarray, inciting desirous intentions and deceit, eventually erupting in violence and disturbing behavior as the soldier rejects and accepts certain advances (while making one or two of his own at the same time). The tension and threats escalate to an irreversible degree and the soldier soon realizes that he must find a way to escape or he will be trapped there forever, if not dead.

One of the earliest shots in the film, immediately following the soldier’s being taken into the school, is of a raven tied by a sequence of thread to an upstairs bannister. We discover that this bird had a wounded leg and is being held there while it heals, but we occasionally witness the bird’s frantic attempts to break free of the restraints and fly away. This steadily increasing dread and ever-deepening threat extend throughout the film, and the result is both disturbing and compelling.

It is often a very uncomfortable film in its extremist depictions of relational desire. There are moments involving sensual advances by teenagers and even an incestuous thread (albeit by flash-back). The soldier, too, presents an unsettling attitude towards desire and entitlement, although his perspective is frequently portrayed within a survivalist context (i.e. he’s doing what he ordinarily might not do because of the pressure of his circumstances). This all makes it challenging to openly endorse or recommend the film, but the performances (particularly by Eastwood and Geraldine Page – who plays the school’s headmistress) are exceptionally complex and often captivating.

But the most prominent element of the film is its exploration of the discomfort of gender roles in positions of power. Siegel is quoted as having stated that the film contained in its central theme “the desire of all women to castrate men.” This makes for several outright emasculating qualities to the narrative, which is about as drastic of a departure for Eastwood as you could imagine, even more so than when he sang in Paint Your Wagon. The film disturbingly treats women within certain stereotypes and does no favors for any conversation about equity of value within relationships or society. But the film-craft at work through the production and performances are enough to maintain a highly compelling viewing experience.

The film is also frequently frightening. The narrative plot may be a period drama, but stylistically and tonally, this is a horror film, and nearly everyone is – at one time or another – a monster. It is a strong opportunity for Eastwood as a performer to play a variety of emotions, including ranges of terror and vulnerability that he had literally never shown before. And without tipping too heavily into spoiler-territory, I’ll vaguely mention that there are at least a couple of devastating predicaments in this film that his character doesn’t escape without irreversible consequences.

But the film was not terribly well-received by audiences (although critics praised it rather highly). Eastwood would eventually blame mishandled marketing on the part of Universal Studios and a sensibility from his fans that did not like to see him so vulnerable. Time has been much kinder to it in general (and renewed interest was sparked when Sofia Coppola remade it in 2017). But The Beguiled is a bleak, unsettling, southern-gothic thriller and it is very, very effective. With the disclaimer that there are some highly uncomfortable thematic elements and a few disturbing moments, it still comes with a pretty strong recommendation.

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.

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


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Episode 95.1: Full Metal Jacket Diary with Matthew Modine & Adam Rackoff

After recording Episode 95: Full Metal Jacket, we found ourselves eagerly seeking out even more information about the film. This led to the discovery of Full Metal Jacket Diary, a collection of star Matthew Modine’s journal entries and pictures that had been not only printed in book form and recorded as an audiobook, but developed into a one-of-a-kind immersive iPad app experience. We found Modine’s stories of his time on the set and insight into the mind of Stanley Kubrick to be fascinating.

In this special episode, we sit down with both Matthew Modine and short film producer/iPad app developer Adam Rackoff for conversations about the book, the app, and Matthew’s experiences filming Full Metal Jacket.

** Get Full Metal Jacket Diary Here **


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MOVIE REVIEW: Annihilation



Alex Garland writes great stories. He has dabbled in all kinds of science fiction, from the horrific in 28 Days Later… to the dramatic/romantic in Never Let Me Go to adapting a comic book superhero in Dredd and most notably for penning and directing my favorite film of 2015, the stunning Ex Machina. Now Garland is adapting Annihilation, the Nebula Award winning first novel in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy that Stephen King called “creepy and fascinating”. Ever since it was announced this film has been at the top of my most-anticipated list. It features quite a few favorite actors (Natalie Portman, Oscar Issac, Tessa Thompson) and the mysterious premise is ripe for exploration in that speculative sci-fi manner that Garland excels at. I expect to be wowed visually, probably a little bit confused, and I absolutely can’t wait.

1 Hour and 55 Minutes Later.


The plot is simple: A group of soldiers enters an environmental disaster zone and only one soldier, Kane (Oscar Isaac), comes back out alive, though he is grievously injured. In an attempt to save his life, his wife Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist, volunteers for another expedition into the zone to figure out what happened to him.

The story of Annihilation opens with Lena being interviewed by Lomax (Benedict Wong), who he is we never really learn, in a containment room. He is asking questions about what happened inside The Shimmer and the vast majority of her answers are “I don’t know,” though there is some foreshadowing that occurs here that viewers may realize later. This theme of “I don’t know” continues throughout the film’s opening scenes as Kane arrives home unexpectedly and answers most of his wife’s questions with that same phrase. It’s at that point that I should have known not to expect many answers from Garland’s script. “I don’t know” is where it starts, and in many ways where it finishes.

It wasn’t until Lena and her team enter The Shimmer that I started enjoying the film. The opening section was slow to reveal anything of substance and Lena’s scientific background making her a perfect fit for the expedition team felt too convenient. Lena’s team is a group of women. Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the head of the Southern Reach agency in charge of researching The Shimmer and the leader of the team that enters. Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), and Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) also are scientists and create a team that is well-rounded in its knowledge. There is also an element of self-destructiveness to each woman, as Sheppard points out that coming into The Shimmer (where only one person has ever emerged from alive) isn’t something you do if you’re happy with your life. Throughout the course of the film, discovering just what each character’s motivation is and how it is affected by what they experience is an important element of the story.

Unfortunately, it’s this character development that I found so lacking as to derail my enjoyment of the film. This is cerebral science fiction that intends to be esoteric. Garland is not interested in making a lot of sense and scenes don’t always tie together in a meaningful way. While the ladies provide an interesting collection of personalities to explore with, I never had the emotional connection that made me care what happened to them and felt like some very good actresses were mostly wasted. Likewise, I did not find myself caring much for the fate of the world at hand, despite The Shimmer’s consistent expansion being framed as dangerous to all life on planet earth. I did feel that some connection was made with Lena, and that makes sense because she’s the most developed by far, but she just isn’t very likable and thus her fate had little impact.

Now, some will fall head over heels for the kind of ambiguity the film serves up in spades. Its visuals are certainly mesmerizing. The beauty of The Shimmer and the horror of things like a bear-beast are equally staggering. The story also goes in a much darker place than I ever expected – in that Event Horizon or third act of Sunshine kind of way. It is fantastically creepy and had me cringing a few times out of shock. I applaud Paramount for letting Garland make the film he envisioned. At the same time, it’s really no surprise that this film didn’t test well with audiences and was sold to Netflix in order to recover most of its budget. It’s likely not going to be received well by mainstream audiences.


My love of Alex Garland’s writing created expectations that proved to be too high for Annihilation to meet. Though I enjoyed elements of the film and respect its incredible craftsmanship, I simply did not care enough about what happened. This lack of investment in its characters made it not worth the effort required for me to figure out its puzzles. I have no doubt that repeat viewings would help unpack further pieces of the mystery, but despite how well the film is made, I just didn’t enjoy watching it very much and don’t see myself rushing to experience it again anytime soon.


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.


Split Screen is a new series of articles focusing on two films that pair well together as a double feature. The connection could be anything – themes, style, cast, or maybe a combination of many things. The films I select will be those I generally consider to be very good. I’m in no way suggesting you should feel the same. The subjective nature of cinema, or any art, is what makes conversations about it so provocative.

The objective is to spur conversation. Tear apart my kooky analysis, or shower me with praise for opening your eyes to new ideas.

At the very least, maybe I’ll add some good flicks to your cinematic radar.

Ah February, when aisles at big box retailers turn decidedly pinkish/red and humans pretend Conversation Hearts candies are edible. (They aren’t. Just because you can stencil words onto sidewalk chalk, doesn’t mean you should eat it.)

Valentine’s Day.

It’s the time of the year where relationships are put to the test, success or failure teetering on the purchase of just the right gift to say, “I love you.” (Helpful Hint: Anything displayed at the register of a Cumberland Farms is likely to be frowned upon)

Cineplexes fill up with fans eager to engage in the latest Fifty Shades of Penthouse Forum film, and streaming services load up the greatest hits from Ryan Reynold’s early ‘aughts iMDB page.

But, for our purposes here, I’m going to focus on the antithesis of Valentine’s Day… the relationship gone bad. Call me the anti-cupid.

The two films that came to mind when I conceived this particular theme were 2010’s Blue Valentine (written and directed by Derek Cianfrance), and 2011’s Take This Waltz (written and directed by Sarah Polley.)

Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine cross-examines the relationship between married couple Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams). Bouncing timelines back and forth between the early stages of exciting, youthful romance, and the tumultuous road to dissolution, the film pulls no punches in exposing the harsh realities of broken love.

Staying focused strictly on the relationship, and how each action shapes its direction, allows the film to breathe naturally. As Dean and Cindy’s marriage becomes increasingly combustive, we feel the rawness of the emotional strain tugging at them. We are given just the right amount of exposition to acquaint us with both characters, helping us understand the impact each of their actions has on the overall relationship.

In the end, there’s no way for the audience to dodge the inevitable heartbreak, even though we can see it forming throughout the film.

Take This Waltz

Take This Waltz centers on another doomed marriage, but takes a different approach to getting there. Here, Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogan), gradually become distant partners. Lou, oblivious to Margot’s feelings of boredom and loneliness, is focused mainly on creating a chicken cook book. Margot just wants to find the fire that once burned in her relationship.

Enter the good looking, single neighbor Daniel (Luke Kirby); a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, capable of turning on an innocent charm just effective enough to lure the vulnerable Margot. Daniel is a master of manipulation, constantly planting seeds to entice, but always leaving Margot to make decisions for herself.

The film takes the infidelity trope and bends it by focusing on the female as instigator. Doing so feels refreshing compared to the usual patriarchal charlatan character that often accompanies stories in this genre.

By the end of the film we are left with deeply flawed characters with honest feelings of regret and remorse. It’s an expose of human nature and the need for acceptance and intimacy, turning a lens on the consequences of acting on those needs outside of the marital union. It’s sad to see two people who clearly have feelings for each other fail because of their inability to provide the emotional support an effective relationship needs to succeed.

The Connecting Point

The prevailing theme in these films is relationships, and the tenuous line between succeeding and failing in them.

Even though we get to essentially the same place by the end of Blue Valentine and Take This Waltz, our couples take very different paths to get there.

It’s hard to determine which film feels more authentic to our preconceived ideas on modern relationships, because both manage to feel like plausible scenarios. I’m guessing we all know people who have separated due to irreconcilable differences (Blue Valentine), or due to infidelity (Take This Waltz). And I’ll wager that we’ve taken sides in each of those instances. What’s unique about these two films is the way in which the characters are fleshed out, making it difficult to choose who to feel most empathetic towards. Even actions we cannot condone at least can be understood from a perspective of what instigated those actions.

By the end of Blue Valentine we’re leaning more toward #TeamCindy, due to Dean’s progression into booze and aggression. But Dean is also very clearly in love with Cindy- wanting to do the right things to earn her affection and trust- yet can’t quite get out of his own way long enough to succeed at it. Instead of trying to win back Cindy, Dean focuses his attention on trying not to lose her, which proves futile.

In Take This Waltz, we can hate more easily on Margot since she is the one that strays into another man’s bed, but Lou is so ignorant of his lack of attention to her that we can at the very least understand the frustration that led her down that road. Just like many real life relationships, the lack of communication is what ultimately dooms Margot and Lou. Her passive aggressive hints at needing more from Lou just fly over his head.

Both films feel like a gut punch in the end. We generally want to see both relationships succeed, but each fall into familiar couples traps that prevent a happy ending, just as they often do in real life.

This makes each film relatable.

Common Thread

Michelle Williams.

On the surface, Cindy and Margot might have a lot of similarities, but Williams adds subtle personality quirks to each character, making them unique to each other.

Cindy has spent her life trying to overcome her father’s demanding aggression. She has a history a poor relationships, or at least one that we know of. It stands to reason she’s going to keep falling into similar circumstances because it’s what she knows.

But Williams plays Cindy with a self awareness that at least keeps her trying to make the right choices. Dean has a lot of moments signaling he is a good and decent man. But every so often, he presents himself in ways that align a bit too close with what Cindy is trying so desperately to avoid.

Every frustration and regret has etched itself on Williams’ face, and the look of defeat in her eyes is haunting and sad.

Margot’s backstory isn’t as neatly fleshed out as Cindy’s, but based on her current arrangement, it could be reasonable to think she comes from a much more stable upbringing.

Here, Williams still manages to convey frustration and sadness, but with much more of a mischievous tone. Her sad, lonely eyes are at once defeated and contemplating. Margot has a secret, and Williams gives just enough to be both confident and nervous as she exists in her double life.

The Moment

What is “the moment?” It’s the scene in the film that most resonates, at least for me. It could be revealing subtext or providing the “aha” moment in which we connect some of the narrative dots. Or, it just might be a cool scene that stands out regardless of specific motives behind it.

In Blue Valentine, it was a point of no return for Dean and Cindy. Frustrations had been bubbling up throughout the film, tensions were at a peak, and Dean’s self destruction crosses some lines from which he cannot return.

Dean, angry and drunk, shows up at the hospital where Cindy works and causes a scene.

It signifies a final nail in the coffin of this doomed marriage, and both Gosling and Williams are at their best.

In Take This Waltz, the moment signifies everything that presumably crosses the minds of two people engaged in forbidden love, without one word being spoken.

Margot and Daniel are on an amusement park ride called The Scrambler. As they whirl around, so many different expressions come across their faces; joy, sadness, melancholy, and even regret. In the end, it’s hard to tell which of these moods wins out.

Plus, The Buggles.

Consider This

Here’s a topic for discussion…

How do you feel the dissolution of relationships in these films is shaped by the perspectives of the writer/director, one of whom is male (Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine), and the other female (Sarah Polley, Take This Waltz)?

Closing Thoughts

Blue Valentine and Take This Waltz share a lot of similarities but are uniquely different experiences. Each offers a different perspective on how a relationship might struggle and ultimately fail, but neither is afraid to explore the harsh truths that come with it.

Each film is helped by great writing and directing, and a top notch cast willing and able to express deep emotions and vulnerability in order to bring their stories to life.

This isn’t meant to be a deep dive analysis at hidden subtext in these films, just some insights to ponder and discuss.

Let me know if you have seen either of these films, and if you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said.

phpxnctheamSTEVE CLIFTON has been writing moderately well on the Internet at this blog, Popcorn Confessional, for the better part of the last decade.  His love for movies can be traced back to the North Park Cinema in Buffalo, NY circa 1972, when his aunt took him to see Dumbo.  Now living in Maine, Steve routinely consumes as much film, television, and books as time will allow.  He also finds time to complain about winter and Buffalo sports teams.  He is a big fan of bad horror films and guacamole, and is mildly amused by pandas.

Connecting With Classics 002: Casablanca

Here in Episode 2 of “Connecting With Classics”, Aaron, Don, and guest host Josh from LSG Media’s Science Fiction Film Podcast celebrate Valentine’s Day by discussing a film that is considered one of the greatest love stories ever told. Casablanca checks in at #3, NUMBER THREE!, on the AFI Top 100 10th Anniversary list. This is definitely a beloved classic we have a great conversation about its quality as a film and all of the ways it has resonated with us emotionally.

One of the goals for “Connecting With Classics” is listener participation. We will be hosting prize drawings for podcast swag and more at the end of each calendar year. Entries into the drawing can be earned for every episode by watching the film and posting your own review or thoughts about the podcast episode in the comments section of the episode announcement post in our Feelin’ Film Facebook Discussion Group. For listeners who do not wish to be a part of the discussion group, emailing reviews to will also be accepted.


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Episode 097: Miracle

The 2018 Winter Olympics are in full swing as we get together to discuss a film about one of the greatest upsets in sports history, the United States victory over Russia in the 1980 Winter Olympics – the “Miracle on Ice.” MIRACLE is one of the most accurate biopics ever made and a highly rousing, emotional true story that inspires. We were filled with emotion during this depiction of the dream run by the USA Hockey team, and we hope you enjoy our conversation.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:21

(Aaron – Fifty Shades Freed)
(Patrick – Bernie)

Miracle Review – 0:14:56

The Connecting Point – 1:13:39



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MOVIE REVIEW: Fifty Shades Freed



In my review of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, I wrote this: “Here’s the thing, not every movie I watch presents a worldview that I agree with or that I would ever consider acceptable for my life. This story fits squarely in that box. But the beauty of cinema is that it gives us an opportunity to peek into different lifestyles and perhaps even learn from them.” Now, with the culmination of this steamy series coming to theaters, I must say that my feelings remain the same. Throughout FIFTY SHADES GREY (and to a lesser extent in FIFTY SHADES DARKER), we see Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) exhibit agency. Unlike what some (who likely have not taken the time to actually see the films) will tell you, the submissive/dominant relationship at the heart of this series is consensual. It’s seeing this unusual power dynamic play out that makes for an interesting story, at least on some level. That being said, past films have plenty of problems, too. They aren’t great by any means, but they are entertaining enough. The trailers for FIFTY SHADES FREED point toward this final installment being more of an action thriller and I’m really hoping that excitement elevates this entry slightly above the rest.

1 Hour and 45 Minutes Later.


FIFTY SHADES FREED gave me exactly what I expected, and enough of what I wanted. Anastasia and Christian (Jamie Dornan) are now married, but along with the challenges of joint decision making they also are being dangerously stalked by someone who clearly has bad intentions. The stalking results in several action sequences and scenes of tension, but none of that works really well. If we’re being honest, though, this series isn’t trying to be a serious thriller with sex thrown in… it’s trying to be romantic soft-core porn with a better story. Frankly, despite the poorly filmed action in the film, it does in fact make the movie more interesting. Ultimately, the plot makes sense and I was pleased with the quick and realistic resolution to its climactic showdown.

The thriller aspect of this film, though, is really just there to carry us forward from sex scene to sex scene. There are lots of them in FIFTY SHADES FREED. There are good ones in FIFTY SHADES FREED. And there are a couple of real duds, too. I’d be perfectly happy if no movie ever used food in a sex scene again, that’s for sure. Regardless, thank goodness for buffer seats because I definitely got a little hot and bothered a few times. If that’s what you’re coming for, you should come away feeling relatively satisfied.

What I like most about the first film, and now this last entry, is the relationship dynamic between Anastasia and Christian. Ana is at her most dominant in this film and we see Christian having to come to terms with that. Never once has this series depicted abuse, and though its lifestyle is not one most are familiar with, for these two people it truly is how the show each other love. I was pleased with the ending and thought many may roll their eyes at it, the final act in this film is one of the most loving in the series.

This film could easily be called unintentionally funny, as well, but I’m not sure that’s true. Yes, it’s got some silly moments and plenty of groan-worthy dialogue, but this all results in a pretty hilarious experience and the funniest moments in the series. I think that’s the point. This is a romance novel on screen that embraces what it is and never apologizes. And isn’t that how it should be judged?


The FIFTY SHADES series is not for everyone, but those who enjoy the story from the books and/or the previous two film entries will probably like this too. The balance in relationship power elevates this film and though it doesn’t have the best action or most surprising thriller twists, it is engaging throughout and not overlong. With some laughs, steamy action, and a bit of heart, FIFTY SHADES FREED ends this series (just slightly) on its highest note.


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 096: I, Tonya

This week we start our two-week long celebration of the 2018 Winter Olympics by chatting about I, Tonya, the new mockumentary style film from director Craig Gillespie. The film seeks to evoke a sense of empathy for Tonya Harding (we think) and establish some background about her upbringing and life both before and after the memorable attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan that she is forever tied to. We talk through our feelings about the film’s tone and whether or not its constant depiction of abuse was effective or just exploitative, as well as much more.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:11

(Both – Favorite Winter Olympic Sports)
(Aaron – Peter Rabbit)
(Patrick – Under the Sun)
(Both – Super Bowl LII Movie Trailers)

I, Tonya Review – 0:37:56

The Connecting Point – 1:27:04


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Music: Going Higher –

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