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.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Irishman

By the end of director Martin Scorsese’s newest crime epic, we are not treated to the eventual comedown of an underworld criminal’s flashy lifestyle; instead we see an old man beaten by Father Time, knocking at the door of impending death, remembering his life while facing past sins and regret of how he let his illicit lifestyle destroy the connection he could have had with his children. “The Irishman” is more than the usual gangster treatment we have gotten in films such as “Goodfellas” or “Casino”. This experience feels more grounded in morality and marks the end of an era for Scorcese, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci.

The film’s narrative spreads across many eras, featuring important figures and the evolution of politics throughout the twentieth century. The transitions between the present day and flashbacks are handled seamlessly, making this three-hour journey a breeze to take in. Editor Thelma Schoonmaker has never been better at her occupation and she should be expecting another golden Oscar trophy to place on her storied mantle. Don’t be afraid by the long runtime, and take an intermission if you must, but “The Irishman” is one of the most compelling times you can have watching a film for 219 minutes.

DeNiro, Pesci, and Pacino are all at the pinnacle of their acting brilliance. It’s so hard to pick a standout among the trio, but my choice goes to Pacino who grabs this film in the palm of his hand and doesn’t let up with his penchant for delivering strong emotional bits of dialogue. DeNiro is an old soul with the heart of a lion, hitting all the right marks to bring home how much this one character has seen and done in a lifetime. Pesci plays against type from his usual fire cracking supporting performance, blending into the heart of the film as a quiet but powerful figure. This film should be seen by all the promising actors who want an example of how to be consistent with your profession over a span of decades, as this trio of men have achieved in their legendary careers.

The trademark masterclass direction from Scorsese is also on display. The older he has gotten, the more mature, refined, and improved his approach behind the lens has become.  His consistency is special, and he is one of the only directors I could see continuing to make projects at his age without suffering a quality drop.

The production design prides itself on careful attention to detail; the costumes, music, sets, and depictions of real life figures all feel perfectly lifelike and true to the time period and source material that inspired this story. Everything about this film speaks to the true language of cinema. It is one of 2019’s best and will go down as one of Scorcese’s most accomplished works of his career.

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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 202: Knives Out

This week we’re joined by film critic Kolby Mac to discuss Rian Johnson’s crowd-pleasing whodunit murder mystery. We compare its signature detective to iconic ones of the past, talk about the use of immigration as a theme, recount our incredibly fun theatrical viewing experiences, and much more.

Knives Out Review – 0:00:58

The Connecting Point – 1:00:48

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Episode 201: The Shawshank Redemption

Our donor pick episode for November, the month we chose to discuss movie friendships, was a perfect choice. We talk rehabilitation, institutionalization, bravery, freedom, and above all, hope. 

The Shawshank Redemption Review – 0:01:53

The Connecting Point – 1:08:59

 

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Episode 200.3: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Wrapping up our 200th episode celebration, we discuss how this film is an origin story for Indiana Jones, and then generally gush while giving all of the reasons why this is our favorite entry in the series.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Review – 0:01:08

The Connecting Point – 1:07:40

 

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Episode 200.2: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Continuing our journey through the greatest adventurer’s film trilogy, we compare the structure of this prequel to the film that came before it, admire a special relationship Indiana forms, and discuss whether or not this is a racially insensitive story.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Review – 0:01:16

The Connecting Point – 0:58:22

 

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MOVIE REVIEW: 1917

Practically every conversation about Sam Mendes’ new WWI epic “1917” is going to include the word gimmick, as it relates to the film’s unique structure. This is because Mendes and all-time great cinematographer Roger Deakins have taken great care to craft a cinematic experience that feels as if the audience is following characters on a journey in one long single shot. Much like “Rope” and “Birdman”, two films that employed a similar trick to great effect, this single-take is merely an illusion. With the exception of one intentional break that makes perfect plot sense, Mendes relies on Deakins and the unreal editing skills of Lee Smith (who is also responsible for the same work on most of Christopher Nolan’s filmography, including “Dunkirk”, which this film is bound to be compared to) in order to bind together a collection of very long takes with brilliant transitions and provide the audience with an immersive experience unlike anything witnessed before. The result of this choice is that viewers may feel almost like they’re in a virtual reality video game, as a silent traveling companion to the film’s main characters. This heightens the viewer’s awareness to the point of always observing surroundings just as the soldiers do. We check the horizon for the enemy, hold our breath during daring escapes, and feel our bodies tighten with anxiety as the intensity picks up and the clock ticks down. So despite the negative connotation that typically is applied to using the word gimmick, this is not the ill-advised attempt at Smell-O-Vision from the 1960’s or the failed D-box technology launched with “Fast and Furious” in 2009. Like the viral marketing of “The Blair Witch Project” or the twelve-year filming cycle of “Boyhood”, this film’s single-take design elevates it to become one of the most captivating films ever made in its genre.

There isn’t a lot to be said about the film’s plot, inspired by stories Mendes’ grandfather shared with him about his time in World War I, as it’s fairly simple and straight-forward. The movie begins with two soldiers, Blake (Richard Madden) and Schofield (George MacKay) being sent on an urgent mission through enemy territory, to deliver a message to the front lines which will stop 1,600 of their fellow soldiers from walking into a German trap. Among these 1,600 men is Blake’s older brother, giving him a very personal drive to succeed. Suffice to say – the stakes are high. Their journey plays out much like that of Sam and Frodo in “The Lord of the Rings”, though at a much-heightened pace. Along the way, they face obstacles that must be overcome (both from enemies and the environment), strangers they must rely on for help, and difficult moral choices that must be made while traversing the flawless sets of production designer Dennis Gassner. Both Madden and MacKay offer emotionally compelling and difficult physical performances that are not over-dramatic but capture the internalized pain and fear of their situation in a very moving way. Not to be forgotten is also a tremendous supporting cast featuring brief, never distracting, and impactful interactions for the main pairing with acting giants such as Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

At a tight 110 minutes long, Mendes keeps the tension high throughout despite only a couple of big war scenes the likes of which you’d usually expect to see. The epic nature of “1917” is not in the scale of its recreated battles, but in the enormity of the task at hand and the way in which the film looks at World War I (and by proxy all war-fighting, really) from the ground-level view of those who fight, cry, and die in the trenches. That being said, due to the incredible sound editing, when there are bullets flying on screen it feels like they’re buzzing through the air right in your theater – to the point that some viewers will slink in their seats or even jump unexpectedly. Another element that contributes so greatly to this immersion is Thomas Newman’s magnificent score. In lieu of constant dialogue and grand speeches, his work provides the emotional context we need and aids our characters’ body language in ensuring we are astutely aware of their mindset at any given moment. In a career of tremendous work, this could be his best, and like Deakins, he could easily be hearing his name called on Oscars Sunday.

“1917” is an astonishing exercise in immersion that will leave you utterly shaken. It is a true technical marvel, with emotional power that creeps up slowly, and then forces the viewer to reconcile with the futility of war in a manner that lingers long after the credits roll. The film is stunning on every level, a tour-de-force in the genre, and an absolute must-see theatrical experience.

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 200.1: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Happy 200th episode to us! In celebration, we are once again covering a favorite trilogy, beginning with this conversation about an adventure movie that would go on to define an entire genre and one that gave us an iconic hero for all-time.

Raiders of the Lost Ark Review – 0:12:50

The Connecting Point – 1:35:20

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MOVIE REVIEW: Queen and Slim

Imagine having to live every day with fear and paranoia just for existing in the environment, taking a walk down the street, driving in your car, or playing in a park with your kids. But this isn’t just something faced by people in a third world country or a location ruled by a government running on the fumes of dictatorship; the sad reality is that I’m talking about the United States of America which inhabits a group of people who are gripped in this nightmare: African Americans. We have seen over the last decade countless videos of African Americans gunned down, beaten, handled aggressively, and having their mere presence treated as a crime by not all (but a substantial amount of) police officers. This unjust treatment has sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and a large group of non-African Americans finally coming to understand just how much police brutality has been an ongoing disease in our communities. Melina Matsoukas’s “Queen and Slim” is not the first film to tackle this issue head-on cinematically, but instead of making it a central focus, the film emphasizes the humanity and pride that is in abundance among the black population.

Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (played by newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith) are enjoying themselves in a restaurant on a first date made possible by Tinder. You can see the spark being born and the normal awkwardness present on first encounters is slowly replaced by conversations on black-owned businesses and film, like “Love Jones”. The good times are abruptly ended by a traffic stop based on the pretense of a missing turn signal and a minor swerve. The cop comes out aggressive and is not willing to answer the questions that Slim poses as to why he was pulled over; eventually, tensions between Queen and the police officer reach a terrifying climax. Queen is shot, and as Slim wrestles with the police officer, another bullet takes the cop’s life – leaving the newly acquainted couple likely sentenced to death, never to see their once-peaceful existence again. Labeled as fugitives, their story is one of running from the law while seeking elusive asylum and unlikely freedom.

Matsoukas has been a prominent figure in the last few years, working on music videos with artists such as Beyonce, Rihanna, and Jennifer Lopez. She has also directed episodes of award-winning shows such as “Master of None” and “Insecure”. For this film, she brings over the high-energy aesthetic of her music videos and combines it with a seasoned approach to create spellbinding cinema of riveting relevance. Plenty of wide shots display the gorgeous down-home vibe of the American South; cities such as New Orleans and Savannah are treated with the respect they deserve, highlighting their historical architecture, lush trees, winding roads, and summertime flavor. Vignettes of everyday black people fill up this world in a respectful manner, far from harmful and limiting stereotypes. The film flows with the speed of the Nile River. Sequences don’t overstay their welcome nor drag to the next flashing plot diversion. Everything moves smoothly, keeping the viewing experience a pleasant one. Tat Radcliffe’s cinematography supports the direction like a dedicated best friend with the use of beautiful color contrast that is reminiscent of a stylish late 70’s film. The lighting complements the skin of black characters phenomenally and daytime scenes shine bright as though we are in the same environment as these characters.

Daniel Kaluuya is officially a bonafide superstar. Some thought that “Get Out” would be the pinnacle of his acting prowess, but this performance blows it out of the water. He displays the fearful and scared demeanor that comes with making a mistake that ruins your life, as well as sensitive but very manly energy that compels you to walk in his traumatic shoes and feel the pain radiating from his soul. He shines in comedic and dramatic moments alike, with a spark of brilliance. Jodie Turner-Smith is electric in a breakout performance that will have many in the industry talking. She plays Slim as strong and fierce, a woman who doesn’t panic, and who is intelligent, ambitious, and dedicated. These two leads share a firecracker chemistry that feels unique and is a beautiful representation of natural black love. It truly felt like a couple that was willing to risk it all for one another unconditionally.

Lena Waithe is going to have a long and illustrious career if she continues to write at the amazing pace she is exhibiting. Already in the history books for being the first black woman to win an Outstanding Writing Emmy Award in 2017 for her work onMaster of None”, she has gone to be the creator of a television series (“The Chi”) and starred in Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One”. Her screenplay is one of the best of the year in the way it handles the beauty and darkness that surround the lives of black Americans. There are times where she creates moments for these characters to get away from being in constant stressful escape mode and let their hair down, which allows viewers to connect with them. Character development is a strong component of what made me fall in love with this film. The film also features great supporting characters that have a place and purpose to the ongoing narrative and are part of setpieces that show immense humanity. “Queen and Slim” is rife with tension and central parallels that callback to the injustices African Americans face in everyday society. It is told in an engaging manner full of showmanship, not as a Dateline NBC special. It would have been easy for this film to fall into preachy territory, but it’s much smarter and more creative than that; all shades of the best qualities of storytelling are present and alive. It would also be very unfair to try and subject this film to a “cop-killing fantasy’ piece when it does not glorify or celebrate violence of any kind. There is a horror that lies underneath the surface of every scene showing how divided the relationship is between African Americans and members of the police community. There is a disconnect that has not been mended and painfully looks to not be getting any better. Waithe knows that and wants the audience to be confronted with police brutality, systemic racism, and how the divide between police and African Americans will continue to fester without intentional action to make change by both sides coming together.

Tragic, beautiful, compelling, and exhilarating, “Queen and Slim” is one of the finest films of 2019, and a masterclass of a cinematic narrative told entirely from the African American perspective.

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.

FF+ Frozen 2, Honey Boy, Waves, and Little Women

For this week’s FF+, Seattle film critic Paul Carlson of Escape Into Film joins the show to discuss four wildly different new and upcoming film releases.

New For You 

Frozen 2 – 0:01:52

Honey Boy – 0:15:13

Waves – 0:23:36

Little Women – 0:33:51

 

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Music: City Sunshine – Kevin MacLeod

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