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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Terminator: Dark Fate

In an effort to wipe out Judgment Day completely, thus erasing the events of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and the extremely mediocre two sequels that came after it, “Terminator: Dark Fate” presents a different future for the inhabitants of Earth to avoid – one in which a cyberwarfare program called Legion has become self-aware, waged war on the world, and is close to wiping out all of humanity. Oh, you’ve heard this one before? Therein lies the primary problem with “Dark Fate.” Instead of using this fresh slate opportunity to tell a new and exciting story, the film’s six collaborating writers instead chose to tell the same one as we’ve been seeing in this series since it began, with some slight variations in which characters play what roles in the fight, of course. I’ll concede that there is commentary to be made here, and it’s even ever so briefly touched on by the film in a few scenes about fate vs. free will; but from an entertainment standpoint, seeing the same old cycle of flashy new Terminator model comes back to kill would-be-savior of the world and is resisted by strong-willed humans is more tired than wired.

This new sequel isn’t without its strengths, though. The choice to have Linda Hamilton reprise her role as the famous Sarah Connor turned out so much better than I’d expected. The super cool 63-year old fits perfectly back into character and gives a phenomenal performance full of pathos, badassery, and snarky comedy. She is a weathered soul who takes no shit from anyone and serves as a great contrast to the equally headstrong but inexperienced augmented human Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who was sent back to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes) for reasons that are entirely predictable. Davis and Reyes certainly seem committed, but the writing does them no favors, leaving the vast majority of the zingers to Hamilton and an eventual appearance by the franchise-making star himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reprising his role as the famous T-800, Schwarzenegger briefly provides a chance for the film to touch on the idea of Terminators gaining a conscience. It’s not too deep, but Arnold makes you care. Like Hamilton, the character still fits like a glove and his chemistry with her is off the charts, delivering some of the film’s very best dialogue.

It would probably be forgivable that this entry’s story is nothing unique if the action kicked ass on par with the franchise’s best. But alas, though certainly fine to watch at the moment, there is nothing memorable here. The new Terminator’s design is creative, and it’s fun to see the exoskeleton separate itself from the body to become two independently acting wholes, but no logical explanation is given on how this is accomplished and considering the writing that may be for the better. Director Tim Miller also over-uses slow motion, bringing it into nearly every action sequence at some point, and outside of the new Rev 9 Terminator splitting in two the film’s CGI is only serviceable at best while noticeably laughable at its worst.

Fans hoping that James Cameron’s involvement as Producer would lead to “Terminator: Dark Fate” returning the franchise to the greatness of its first two entries are unfortunately bound to be disappointed. Perhaps if he’d directed, this same old song and dance might have been elevated, but Miller is no Cameron, and “Dark Fate” is no “Judgment Day”. It is, however, entertaining. Full of explosively average action, with a predictable spin on a familiar narrative and a genuinely great return to an iconic character by Linda Hamilton, “Terminator: Dark Fate” may not offer anything remotely as emotionally powerful and memorable as the finale of “Rise of the Machines”, but it is easily the second-best Terminator 3 movie in the franchise.

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

MOVIE REVIEW: Zombieland: Double Tap

It’s a sequel too late in the making, but ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP squeezes out enough comedic chemistry from its excellent reunited cast to keep the audience laughing even when the lethargic plot fails to hold our attention. The original foursome of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have been living together for 10 years in The United States of Zombieland and are making a home out of the abandoned White House when the sisters once again feel the need to strike out on their own – this time because Wichita fears commitment and the all-grown-up Little Rock wants to experience adulthood on her own. From there the story is mostly a road trip, with the group meeting new survivors, facing off against more dangerously evolved zombies, and contending with a colony of pacifists along the way to restoring their little family.

The film’s primary faults lie in an extreme reuse of/reliance on material from its predecessor, Columbus’ “rules” and old jokes are recycled frequently instead of introducing fresh new ones, and a lack of emotional weight. It’s not that we don’t care whether Wichita and Columbus end up happily ever after or if Little Rock will find love, but the film never reaches the heights of the original’s climactic Pacific Playland sequence when it comes to us caring about the fates of our characters.

The original cast is definitely giving their all even with less than stellar dialogue to deliver, and Zoey Deutch’s inclusion alone will be worth the price of admission for many; her extremely “extra” survivor Madison brings about the best banter in the film and elicited theater-wide laughter numerous times. I couldn’t decide whether I found her character more maddeningly annoying, hilarious, or attractive, and I mean that as praise. Deutch’s performance is definitely the one thing I won’t forget about the film and is worthy of all the memes it is sure to inspire.

Other additions to the cast include a short but hilarious appearance by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as Albuquerque and Flagstaff, a pair of eerily similar personalities to Tallahassee and Columbus, and an appropriately badass role for Rosario Dawson. However, though not without their charm, these felt more like cameos than significant additions to the plot.

One place the film definitely shines is in the action department, where the high-octane zombie kills are more creative and realistically bloody than ever before. The easily squeamish might want to sit this one since there is vomit and gore galore, but those who can stomach it will be rewarded with some of the most exciting action of the series during the film’s standout climax.

Sadly, the lack of moving, character deepening moments holds this back from being more than just an occasionally energetic, mostly funny nostalgic trip. ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP will likely satisfy fans of the first film, but the magic isn’t quite there and it feels like a big time missed opportunity to improve upon the original’s formula. The definition of a mixed bag: see it with tempered expectations and just enjoy the ride. Oh, and be sure to stay through the credits for a special treat.

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

MOVIE REVIEW: The Lighthouse


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: Gemini Man

 


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.