Episode 109: Score: A Film Music Documentary

Joining us for Episode 109 is a special first time guest – soundtrack superfan, and film music reporter and media reporter, Benson Farris. We discuss first-time director Matt Schrader’s Score: A Film Music Documentary, which was shot over a 2 1/2-year period after raising more than $160,000 through two crowd-funding campaigns. Matt has said, “I’ve always been a big fan of movie music, and as I realized a lot of people love film scores, I knew there would be an audience for this film,” and you can consider us and this episode proof that he’s correct. If you love film music already, this is an episode for you. And if you don’t, listen to this one and you might just change your mind.

Score: A Film Music Documentary Review – 0:02:17

The Connecting Point – 0:40:37


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Lu Over the Wall

LU OVER THE WALL (2018)

1 Hour and 52 Minutes (PG)

Lu Over the Wall is the newest animated feature from visionary anime director Masaaki Yuasa, and tells the story of a small fishing village that is impacted by the appearance of a mermaid who comes ashore to join a middle-school band. It’s a twist on the classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid and features elements that will remind viewers of other films, too – specifically Miyazaki’s Ponyo, Best Picture winner The Shape of Water, and the under-seen musical hit Sing Street. Yes, it’s a little bit insane. But while these references seem similar on the surface, Yuasa’s film forges its own path and becomes some entirely unique.

The biggest thing that sets Yuasa apart from other anime giants like Miyazaki, Shinkai, and Takahata is the animation style. Visually striking and lavishly colorful in the present, it melts into an older style of animation when characters recall the past. The animation is also very busy and moves fast. At times it can be so frantic that it’s hard to follow and feels like you’re staring into a rapidly spinning kaleidoscope. Always, though, it provokes a sense of joy and wonder. Full of character designs like you’ve never seen before (mer-dogs!), if it doesn’t give you a headache the art style will most certainly captivate you and hold your attention.

As for the story, Lu’s friendship with Kai and his middle-school rock band Siren is at the center of the narrative. In this world, mermaids are attracted to music. Naturally, not everyone in the village likes mermaids. While some want to use their existence for profit in the tourist industry, others want to kill them all, and a select religious few wish to live in harmony alongside them. The conflict arises out of these differing opinions, but relational issues exists between Lu and her bandmates as well. This is where the heart of the film lies and the way it tackles feelings of depression, friendship, love, and chasing dreams is beautifully woven into this fantastical tale. That being said, for the most part it keeps things light, but there are elements of the plot that deal with some tougher emotions. In trying to juggle quite a few sideplots the film does seem to get away from Yuasa and perhaps go on a bit long.

VERDICT

Lu Over the Wall is a great reminder of why we watch movies. Yuasa is a director willing to take chances and it is exciting to participate in a cinematic experience like that. This is a beautiful film, overflowing with cuteness, and filled with solid positive messages. It is also a musical that will have you humming along and tapping your feet whether you fully follow the plot or not. Unforgettable animation is rare, but Lu Over the Wall is just that and therefore is a must-see 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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Song to Song

Song to Song (2017)

Song to Song is the latest film from auteur Terrence Malick, one of Hollywood’s most reclusive and polarizing directors. It’s story follows a young guitarist named Faye (Rooney Mara) who begins an affair with hotshot record producer Cook (Michael Fassbender), secretly hoping that his name and influence will result in a boon to her career. Soon after, she meets BV (Ryan Gosling), a singer-songwriter working with Cook, and begins a relationship with him that blossoms into something more real than anything Cook could ever provide. Over the course of the film these three interact to varying degrees. We see romance, love gained, love lost, fear, jealousy, lies, depression, and a wealth of poor choices. It is a powerful look at the pitfalls which can come with power and fame, and the dangers of building your life around those who have it. In the end, though, the film offers a sense of hope and understanding that is profoundly moving.

It has been written that Song to Song is narratively sparse, but I must wholeheartedly disagree. In fact, I consider the film to have one of the best scripts of the year. Malick’s style can be jarring at times, certainly, as he aggressively cuts between perspective and time with no explanation whatsoever, but I never found the film difficult to follow.  Whereas most films feature lengthy scenes to progress plot, what Malick does is utilize brief moments with perfectly spoken dialogue to convey where on the emotional journey a character is at a given time. These emotional changes from scene to scene serve as markers that move the story forward. When combined with the incredible, masterful cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, this creates a film that viewers can connect with and relate to, recalling fleeting memories from their own past. You won’t have to have walked the exact path of the characters in Song to Song to resonate with their experiences.

The title of Song to Song couldn’t be more appropriate. Malick’s film flows like a record as it takes you on this realistic life journey. It begins with the powerful electronic beats of South African hip hop group Die Antwood and ends with an orchestral composition from classical composer Claude Debussy. It is incredible just how well the soundtrack transitions between musical styles, all of which seem to perfectly compliment the particular scene in which they appear. And like a soundtrack, the visual cuts and editing style of Song to Song are reminiscent of listening to a soundtrack, sometimes skipping ahead… from song to song.

Where the film truly develops into something special, though, is in its final 10-20 minutes. Here the film comes together and pays off the journey by offering hope. Forgiveness and mercy are learned, and love is finally understood. The language used even evokes the well-known Biblical parable of the prodigal son. It could as much reference the return to a commitment of faith as that of a realized devotion to true love. It is in this redemption that we see the state of happiness we endlessly search for can be achieved, it just may not look like we thought it would.

Verdict

For those willing to meet Malick halfway and open themselves to engaging with the film, Song to Song offers an emotionally visceral experience. Its dialogue is lyrical poetry that works perfectly in concert with Lubezki’s stunning cinematography, an expertly balanced soundtrack, and fine acting performances all around. This may be some of the least abstract and aimless work Malick has ever produced, while also being among his best. Song to Song is a film that needs to be more than just seen, it demands to be felt.

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 how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Saturday Night Fever

Growing up on Buffalo’s west side in the 70’s was an unique experience. Mine was a predominantly Italian neighborhood, and many nights the aroma of home cooked pasta sauce permeated the air as we sucked the last flickers of daylight out of a pickup game of baseball in the telephone company parking lot. December 1977 was my eleventh year of existence, and my affinity for the flicks was still in its infancy. My attention was beginning to turn toward the fairer sex, and many evenings were spent torn between organizing my baseball cards and staring longingly at a copy of 16 Magazine with Kristy McNichol on the cover. December 1977 is also significant for me in that it gave us one of the seminal 70’s films, Saturday Night Fever.

Being eleven, I wasn’t able to see Saturday Night Fever on the big screen, and quite frankly, I can’t truly recall when I did first catch it. Perhaps on HBO at a friends house, or on VHS at some point, but regardless, I remember the film attaching itself to my developing cinephilia like a tick on the underside of a neighborhood stray. I was enamored with the coolness of Tony Manero (John Travolta), strutting down the street in his polyester finest, tearing up dance floors with a confidence of someone who knew exactly where he was supposed to be. I became infatuated with the alluring Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), with her seductive dance moves and affinity to know just about every celebrity, even Paul Anka! And I couldn’t get enough of the music. The disco era gets a lot of hate, but for us that were kids caught smack dab in that awkward transition between the 70’s and 80’s, it remains a part of who we are. The falsetto pipes of Barry Gibb and his brothers transcend time, along with the film that launched them into orbit. The Bee Gees defined the sound of the era, and remain the gold standard for anyone lucky enough to have waltzed across a lighted dance floor under a revolving, sparkling orb.

Another drawback of being so young was my inability to partake in the forbidden rituals that took place within the confines of the local discotheques. My impression of what happened behind those glowing doors of debauchery were formed from films like Saturday Night Fever, or from that older kid in school who told tall tales of how he knows someone who gets him in and gets him free drinks. In hindsight, he was full of bullshit, but back then, he was a god. But not all was lost. Us kids had our own escape- the roller rink- a carpet walled palace where all of our favorite tunes blared forth from behind a little booth inhabited by the one guy who could make or break your night with the timing of the infamous “couples only” skate. Get caught in line for pizza or in the bathroom at an inopportune time, and the chance to roll-sway awkwardly with your school crush could go up in a blaze of regret. Damn you, roller rink pizza and your alluring cheesy goodness! But one time- a time I remember like yesterday- when I was standing just off the rink as that sudden announcement was made, Beth Lorenz grabbed my hand and led me out onto the floor. For the next three minutes, which felt dreamlike, I was consumed in a haze of dreamlike wonder that would sustain itself for days. For that brief moment in time, it was me, Beth, and the brothers Gibb, rolling in unison to “More Than a Woman”. And. Nothing. Else. Mattered.

Why do I bring this up? This December marks the fortieth anniversary of this transcendent film, and a local theater here in my hometown (South Portland, ME.) just showed it on the big screen for one night only. To be able to revisit a film I hold so dearly (it’s a top ten of all time) in a format I never got to enjoy all those years ago, well, it was a moment I couldn’t pass up. It was a Wednesday night, not a typically boisterous evening in southern Maine, so the twelve people in the theater wasn’t a big surprise. Aside from a couple of old cougar ladies whose loins still clearly burned for 70’s era John Travolta, the mood was mostly subdued. But even if the theater had been sold out, once the screen lit up with that Brooklyn backdrop and The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” pulsing in my ear holes, I had left this mortal plane- seduced by the magic of the 70’s era style and the music that defined the time.

Most people saw Saturday Night Fever for the dancing, but there was a lot more to this film when the story took a breather from the dance floor. There is an authenticity to these characters. Tony’s lower-middle class family, arguing over the amount of pork chops on the dinner table, or moping around upon learning that Father Frank Jr. is leaving the church, are sincere moments, both funny and tragic with a squeeze of melodrama. Tony’s friends- the womanizing, hot headed Brooklyn punks who spend their nights riding the coattails of Tony’s popularity, or scuffling with the crosstown rival gang, the Barracudas, lend themselves as societal foils to Tony’s growth as a person. And the tragedy of Annette (Donna Pescow), the girl infatuated with Tony who can’t get out of the way of her own insecurities. She could have been used as nothing more than a slutty female cliche, but her story is handled in a way that makes us feel sorry for her.

And then there is Stephanie, the outwardly confident career woman who likes to remind Tony of all the positive things going on her life, all of the people she’s met, and how he has no direction in life. What we find in her is a vulnerability- a need to convince herself and those around her that she’s got everything under control, which is the furthest thing from the truth. Her relationship with Tony eventually leads to those walls coming down, while at the same time, Tony strives for improvement. They are different people by the end of the film.

It’s important to remember the era when the film was made. I never fault any work of art taken in context with the social norms from which is was born. Racial slurs and misogyny are on full display, and watching it on screen today can be uncomfortable, as it should. Some difficult sexual scenes, pushing the envelope just far enough to cause unease, also resonate in a way that makes you feel like they shouldn’t have gone there. But I can see the impact of these scenes as necessities in the growth of the character arcs. None of it feels cheap or gratuitous.

But what of my experience? Well, finally getting to enjoy Saturday Night Fever with all of the bells and whistles that the theater experience provides was everything I could have hoped for. It was transportive. As Tony and Stephanie locked hands in the dance studio, spinning, laughing, one with the world as Barry and the boys crooned from the turntable speakers, I found myself forty years in the past, in the same roller rink that I called home most Saturday nights, skating in unison with Beth Lorenz one more time.

Episode 049: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

This week we are covering the second of our two listener chosen episodes based on voting compiled from films recommended using the #FeelThisFilm hashtag. The winning movie was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and we couldn’t be more excited to discuss this awesome and unique film experience. There is nothing quite like this creative graphic novel adaptation by Edgar Wright. We just might be in lesbians with this one.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:43

(Patrick – The Graduate)

(Aaron – Kong: Skull Island, Pacific Rim, NieR: Automata)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Review – 0:17:25 

The Connecting Point – 1:04:11

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

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