You Should Be Watching: May 3-9

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Filmstruck, and anywhere else streams are found. I highlight films that come with my personal recommendation as well as provide a list of notable titles that are coming and going so you’re sure not to miss out on the good stuff. Alright? Let’s get started.

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


Chaplin

      

Year: 1992

Director: Richard Attenborough

Genre:  Biography, Comedy, Drama

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Geraldine Chaplin, Paul Rhys, John Thaw, Moira Kelly, Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, Marisa Tomei, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Kline, Matthew Cottle, Maria Pitillo, Milla Jovovich, Kevin Dunn, Deborah Moore, Diane Lane, Nancy Travis, James Woods, David Duchovny, Michael Cade, P.H. Moriarty, Howard Lew Lewis, John Standing 

 

Long before Robert Downey Jr. put on the mantle of the iconic Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), he wowed audiences with his Oscar-nominated, BAFTA-winning performance as the king of silent film comedy–Charlie Chaplin. It’s fascinating to watch him become the character synonymous with Chaplin, that is The Tramp. But many people don’t even realize that mustachioed fellow with the cane and the funny gait did not represent Chaplin’s normal self. Charles Chaplin was a real person behind the mustache and wig. He was a complicated man who led a complicated life, and he was far from perfect. But like any man, he had hopes and dreams, and he wanted to make the world laugh, and laugh they did. It’s a special experience to see Downey Jr. bring this man to life, giving us viewers a window into the life of such an important figure in the history of film. Hopefully, afterwards, you’ll have the push needed to go explore the real Charlie Chaplin’s work.


 

The Negotiator

Year: 1998

Director: F. Gary Gray

Genre: Action, Crime, Adventure, Mystery, Drama, Thriller

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, David Morse, Ron Rifkin, John Spencer, J.T. Walsh, Siobhan Fallon, Paul Giamatti, Regina Taylor, Bruce Beatty, Michael Cudlitz, Carlos Gómez, Tim Kelleher, Dean Norris, Nestor Serrano, Doug Spinuzza, Leonard L. Thomas, Stephen Lee, Lily Nicksay, Lauri Johnson, Sabi Dorr, Gene Wolande, Rhonda Dotson, John Lordan, Jack Shearer, Donna Ponterotto, Michael Shamus Wiles, Mik Scriba, Joey Perillo

 

While we’re on the subject of earlier work by actors who are part of the MCU, let’s move on to this tense but highly entertaining 90s crime thriller starring Samuel L. Jackson playing classic Samuel L. Jackson. His character is Danny Roman, a hostage negotiator turned desperate hostage taker after he’s accused of murder and corruption. Yep, Kevin Spacey stars too. If that’s a problem for you, I’m sorry, but I’m recommending art here. Performances not people. Spacey is brilliant as fellow negotiator Chris Sabian, as he so often is in roles that give him the opportunity to play out a mental chess match with the other guy. It’s an edge-of-your-seat guessing game throughout as to what’s actually going on and who’s going to get the upper hand. If you like fast-paced 90s thrillers, you can’t go wrong seeing these two go head to head. The Negotiator is a blast.


 

In The Mood For Love

  

 

Year: 2000

Director: Wong Kar-Wai

Genre: Romance, Drama

Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung, Rebecca Pan, Kelly Lai Chen, Siu Ping-Lam, Mama Hung, Joe Cheung, Koo Kam-Wah, Chan Man-Lei, Pauline Suen, Roy Cheung

 

Now let’s take a hard right and head into foreign film territory. There are so many ways that a story about adultery can go badly. Adultery is often trivialized or overly sexualized. Wong Kar-Wai avoids every single potential pitfall by emphasizing emotion and longing rather than lust. With artistic values that are quite simply off-the-charts and while avoiding salaciousness, he presents an all too real story about the pain of isolation from those we love and the subtle seeds from which affairs grow, the temporary happiness they promise, and how they affect the unseen future. The emotion of the story is enhanced even more by the backdrop of incredible shots full of creative camera angles, straight lines, bold color, so much elegance and an amazing musical landscape that accompanies the visuals highlighted by the oh so beautiful recurring Yumeji’s Theme, a dark violin-led waltz.


 

Lawrence of Arabia

Year: 1962

Director: David Lean

Genre:  Adventure, Biography, Drama

Cast: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, Claude Rains, Anthony Quayle, José Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolfit, Zia Mohyeddin, I.S. Johar, Gamil Ratib, Michel Ray, John Dimech, Howard Marion-Crawford, Jack Gwillim, Hugh Miller, Robert Rietty, John Barry, Bruce Beeby, John Bennett, Steve Birtles, David Lean, Robert Bolt, Daniel Moynihan, Peter Burton, James Hayter, Barry Warren

 

Finally, we come to David Lean’s time-tested historical epic, our second biopic and winner of seven Academy Awards, this one based on the life and writings of British officer T. E. Lawrence, who came to care for a country not his own. As a result, he sought to assist the Arabs in World War I in their battle against the Turks, using the skills, strategy, and leadership qualities he’d gained through his military experience. This is a film filled with fascinating characters and detail and exciting large-scale action. David Lean’s filmmaking in conjunction with Freddie Young’s cinematography is exquisite, always enchanting. Never has a desert landscape looked more gorgeous and combined with Peter O’Toole’s arresting performance as the titular and ever-present Lawrence, the nearly four-hour runtime is not only earned, it breezes by, so don’t let it keep you from experiencing this masterpiece.

 

 


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

May 4
Bernie (2011)

May 8
Sing Street (2016)

May 11
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

May 29
The Jungle Book (2016)

 

AMAZON PRIME

None announced

 

FILMSTRUCK

May 11
Forbidden Planet (1956)

Werner Herzog:

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

May 16
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

May 18
Luchino Visconti:

La Terra Trema (1948)
The Leopard (1963)
Rocco and His Brothers (1960)

May 25
Carol Reed:

The Fallen Idol (1948)
The Third Man (1949)

May 31
High Noon (1952)

June 1
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
A Night At The Opera (1935)


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Amélie (2001)
Beautiful Girls (1996)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Red Dragon (2002)
Scream 2 (1997)
Shrek (2001)

 

AMAZON PRIME

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Bull Durham (1988)
The Crow (1994)
Eight Men Out (1988)
The Elephant Man (1980)
Frailty (2001)
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Insomnia (2002)
Manhunter (1986)
Thief (1981)
Wonder Boys (2000)

From the James Bond Collection:

Dr. No (1962)
From Russia With Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)

From the Rocky Collection:

Rocky (1976)
Rocky II (1979)

 

FILMSTRUCK

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
High Noon (1952)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

May 4
Anon — Netflix Original (2018)

May 5
Faces Places (2017)

 

AMAZON PRIME

May 4
Last Flag Flying — Amazon Original (2017)

May 5
Warrior (2011)

 


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

The Evolution of Eastwood: BREEZY

BREEZY (1973)

“Breezy, there’s no us. There never could be. Did you really think we could happen into something?” – Frank Harmon
“I thought we already had happened.” – Breezy

Eastwood’s third directorial effort is one of the most atypical for anything in his filmography yet. It was so utterly unlike anything his fans had ever seen from him as to be almost alienating. And while it isn’t perfect, it’s a sensitive and often lovely romance.

Frank Harmon (played by William Holden) is a lonely man staring down the autumn of his life following a bitter divorce. He isolates himself in his work and in the occasional one-night stand. But when a 19-year-old free spirit named “Breezy” (played by Kay Lenz) stumbles into his world, he finds himself opening up to possibilities he’d believed were long behind him. The transitions are not wholly smooth, and his own internal barriers are firmly entrenched, but the pair of them begin a romance flavored with spontaneity, laughter, and the melancholy that can only come with love’s inevitable uncertainty.

Eastwood was approached with the script for Breezy (written by Jo Heims, who wrote Play Misty for Me) with an idea that he might portray Frank Harmon. While he considered himself too young for the role, he felt that he understood and related enough to the story to be able to do justice by it as director. At first glance, the story and tone of the film appears completely unusual given Eastwood’s collection of action thrillers and westerns on which his fame had been built. But when considering the types of characters that he had portrayed already, things begin to appear much more synchronous.

The characters that most frequently populate Eastwood’s filmography (at least through the 60s and early 70s) are primarily lonely and isolated men. The “man with no name”, “Dirty” Harry Callahan, and even the wanderers of High Plains Drifter and Two Mules for Sister Sara are all men who prefer solitude and play by a set of rules which naturally alienate them to the larger community of the world in which they reside. While occasionally these characters have found love or even peace (in Paint Your Wagon or Play Misty for Me) they’re never truly free of the melancholic loneliness which hangs over them like a storm cloud (and indeed Breezy’s nickname for Harmon in the film is “Black Cloud”).

It isn’t difficult to recognize a pattern between those individuals and the character of Frank Harmon. William Holden, synonymous with romances stretching back to the 40s, delivers a nuanced and complex performance. Eastwood’s instincts were likely on point to recognize that he was not yet in a position to portray Harmon because even in his strongest performances, he has yet to tap into the deep and abiding sadness that Holden brings to the role, which is an essential element to making the romance in Breezy believable. Kay Lenz is appropriately naïve and sweet, not to mention lovely, to convincingly enchant both the audience and Frank Harmon. She balances fragility and strength almost effortlessly, showing the early sparks of what would fuel an Emmy-winning career.

While the age difference between the two of them (Harmon is in his 50s while romancing a 19-year-old) is alarming and at times slightly uncomfortable, it is never unbelievable, thanks in large part to the sensitive tone and the strong performances. The film skirts right up to the edge of wearing out its welcome, but always redirects and reconnects the audience just in time with a well-written or powerfully performed scene.

Without the deeply rooted melancholy Holden brings to his performance, the stakes for the romance between he and Lenz might have felt innocuous, even boring. But the romance, as it is instead, is achingly sad and ultimately rather touching. We can feel the longing lying dormant in Harmon to rekindle what he feels he’s left behind him. You can see that he’s tried before with others and has never had the courage to pursue it to fruition, nor has he met someone as tenacious as the free-spirited Breezy. The film even ends on a note indicating that maybe he’s still not quite ready, but perhaps he’s willing to try.

This was Eastwood’s first attempt to helm a straight-forward story in which there are no gimmicks or surprises, just pure character and drama. The film has little to offer the casual Eastwood fan, as there is literally no suspense or action, but to the fan of bittersweet, melancholic romance, Breezy is well worth a look.


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.

August 2018 – “Choose Your Director Month”

In January 2017, Feelin’ Film had its inaugural Director Month, covering the films of our favorite director – Christopher Nolan. Going through a single director’s films over the course of several weeks in a row provided a unique perspective on how his work had evolved, and was one of the most enjoyable things we’d done. So, in January 2018, we chose to make Director Month an annual occurrence and covered the films of Stanley Kubrick. This, too, was a wonderful experience for us and left us anxious to do it again.

Looking forward at the new release schedule, we have identified August 2018 as a great time to slip in another Director Month. But this time, we want YOU, our listeners, to choose whose filmography we dive into. Below you will find a list of directors and the corresponding films we would discuss. This is your chance to tell us what you want to hear us talk about on the podcast, and you can vote by clicking on the link below to join our Facebook Discussion Group and selecting your preferred choices in the poll.

Vote Here

Tony Scott

THE LAST BOY SCOUT
MAN ON FIRE
CRIMSON TIDE
DAYS OF THUNDER


Michael Mann

HEAT
COLLATERAL
THIEF
MIAMI VICE


Michael Bay

PAIN AND GAIN
TRANSFORMERS
PEARL HARBOR
THE ROCK


Jeff Nichols

MUD
SHOTGUN STORIES
TAKE SHELTER
LOVING


David Fincher

SE7EN
ZODIAC
FIGHT CLUB
GONE GIRL


Coen Brothers

FARGO
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
THE BIG LEBOWSKI


Clint Eastwood

UNFORGIVEN
MYSTIC RIVER
AMERICAN SNIPER
MILLION DOLLAR BABY


James Cameron

THE ABYSS
TITANIC
ALIENS
TRUE LIES


Martin Scorsese

GOODFELLAS
HUGO
THE DEPARTED
TAXI DRIVER


Wes Anderson

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
MOONRISE KINGDOM
ISLE OF DOGS
FANTASTIC MR. FOX


Kathryn Bigelow

ZERO DARK THIRTY
THE HURT LOCKER
POINT BREAK
NEAR DARK

Minisode 038: Crazy, Stupid, Love.

In February we tasked our Patrons with choosing a romantic comedy for us to talk about in honor of Valentine’s Day and by a runaway vote, Crazy, Stupid, Love came out on top. We weren’t surprised, but we are thrilled because this resulted in one of our best conversations yet. We hope you enjoy the discussion!

Contact


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Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

Download this Episode 


Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

Split Screen: BLUE VALENTINE and TAKE THIS WALTZ

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.

The Evolution of Eastwood: TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA

TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA (1970)

“Everybody’s got a right to be a sucker once.” – Hogan

The script for Two Mules for Sister Sara was shown to and discussed with Eastwood by Elizabeth Taylor while he was filming Where Eagles Dare with her husband Richard Burton. The original plan was for her to star in it, but when the time came, she was busy on another project. The role went to Shirley MacLaine (a more established star than Eastwood at the time), and it was the last time in Eastwood’s career that he would get second billing for a major role in a feature film.

Partnering up once again with director Don Siegel, who had helmed Coogan’s Bluff previously, and bringing on composer Ennio Morricone to score the film provides some familiar touchpoints for Eastwood in this film while still allowing him to flex a bit of range in his characterizations. He plays a drifting bounty hunter named Hogan (who strongly resembles his “man with no name” with the hat and cigarillo but minus the poncho) who rescues a nun (Sister Sara of the title) from a group of lecherous bandits and finds that his current mission to capture a French-occupied fort coincides with hers to rescue a group of prostitutes from the same place.

Despite much grumbling and numerous frustrations (not to mention her nunnery vows), Hogan finds himself drawn into romance with Sister Sara which deepens even further after he is badly wounded by a group of Indians along their quest and nursed back to health by her. Her impetuous boldness and his stubborn attitude provide much of the flavor and enjoyable drama in the film, and the broader setting of their mission raises the stakes to a very effective and engrossing level.

Eastwood is more talkative and expressive in this film than in any of his previous works thus far, frequently casting out sarcastic arguments and displaying exaggerated reactions to the absurdity of his character’s predicament. It is no small degree of fun to see him flex his characterization this way, and MacLaine’s fiery, assured portrayal as Sister Sara is an excellent counter to him. The story itself isn’t the strongest, but its functionality as a vehicle for its stars is well-suited and Siegel handles the pacing and tone extremely well. There is even a soft third-act twist that makes for a fitting resolution to both the narrative and the characters (I call it a “soft” twist because it is a twist of character rather than of plot).

I enjoyed Two Mules for Sister Sara quite a bit. It finds Eastwood playing to some of his strengths without feeling too familiar and finds him stretching his talents without drifting too far upstream from his core appeal (like what happened with the poorly crafted Paint Your Wagon). There are rumors that things on set were tense with MacLaine, not necessarily between her and Eastwood but between her and Siegel, and the film certainly feels as if her character is the more crucial one driving the overall production forward. This is not to say that she overshadows Eastwood, but it is telling that not only did Eastwood never take secondary billing again, he also wouldn’t work with a female co-star of his same celebrity status again until Bridges of Madison County.

But for fans of Eastwood westerns, this is a must-see. I’d even say it’s a must-see for fans of westerns in general. And even for the broader general audience, it’s an enjoyable comedy-action-western that’s likely to bring several smiles to your face and an ultimately satisfied feeling when the credits roll.


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.

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 feelinfilm@gmail.com will also be accepted.

Contact

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Download this Episode 


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MOVIE REVIEW: Fifty Shades Freed

FIFTY SHADES FREED (2018)

GOING IN

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.


COMING OUT

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?

VERDICT

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.

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: Phantom Thread

PHANTOM THREAD (2017)

GOING IN

Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis together again. In 2007, this pair of genius artists gifted the world with There Will Be Blood, one of the finest films of the 21st century, which resulted in Day-Lewis’ second Academy Award for Best Actor. Now, after a career of unrivaled success, Day-Lewis gives his final performance as a renowned dressmaker in 1950’s London who finds his muse, bringing love, creativity, and disruption to his methodical life. Paul Thomas Anderson serves as the film’s writer, director, and cinematographer – a rare feat that is no doubt within his ability. The film will almost certainly look and sound incredible, and in an Anderson script there are sure to be surprises along the way. With Anderson and Day-Lewis’ track record of excellence, it is impossible not to be giddy with excitement to discover the secrets Phantom Thread hides.

2 Hours and 10 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

Reynolds Woodcock. The name of Daniel Day-Lewis’ distinguished dressmaker should have tipped us off. It is a fine, strong name that sounds prestigious enough, but also one that provokes a little private chuckle on the side. And that is exactly what Phantom Thread turns out to be – part period romance melodrama, and part dark personal comedy. At times it felt almost wrong to be letting out an audible laugh when the characters are taking things oh so seriously. Come to find out, though, that is precisely what makes these wonderful moments so funny.

Phantom Thread turns out to be quite unpredictable. In addition to the humor, there is a psychosexual nature to the story that is both fascinating and uncomfortable. Alma (Vicky Krieps) and Reynolds’ relationship quickly becomes something unexpected. Woodcock puts dressmaking first, and Alma soon realizes that her existence is only noticed and appreciated within the routine he allows it to be. What he isn’t prepared for, though, is her push back and willingness to engage and challenge his status quo. Also vying for Reynolds’ attention (though in a much different manner) is Cyril (Lesley Manville), Reynolds’ sister, manager, and closest confidante. This triangle of relationships is always a little uneasy and how they ultimately resolve is the crux of the film.

Anderson’s work as the film’s uncredited cinematographer is incredible. His camera often focuses close-in on the actors’ faces, and much is said in a lingering stare or the slight turn of an upper lip. Though the dialogue is brilliant, so much is conveyed via body language. It speaks to the acting prowess of the entire cast, but also to PTA’s eye for knowing how to capture it perfectly in the frame. The atmosphere and set design of the film is mesmerizing, as well, combining with a beautiful violin and piano based score from Jonny Greenwood to cast a spell on viewers and immerse them in another time and place.

Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the obsessive, controlling Woodcock is pitch perfect. As expected, the method actor whose preparation is the stuff of legend, put in plenty of work to become the sought after dressmaker. For Phantom Thread, Day-Lewis actually learned how to sew, going so far as to hand-stitch a Balenciaga dress from scratch, while his wife (director Rebecca Miller) served as a model. Oh, and he also apprenticed for a year under costume director Marc Happel of the New York City Ballet, sewing 100 buttonholes as he learned the intricacies of the craft. All of this incredible effort leads to a performance that feels perfectly natural. Day-Lewis’ history is so fantastic that it might be easy to compare and call his work in Phantom Thread merely “very good”, but when measured against the rest of the acting field it really is one of the finest performances of the year.

However, it’s not even Day-Lewis that gives the best performance of the film. That honor must go to newcomer Vicky Krieps who is not just his equal, but is able to even outshine him at times. Her patient demeanor is both delicate and fiery, always giving the impression that at any moment she might crumble under Reynolds’ force or powerfully take control of a moment herself. Her acting is exquisite and the ability to emote so much without words makes her performance such a force. Not to be outdone is Lesley Manville, who also holds her own in every scene opposite Day-Lewis as the ever-steady rock of their strange sibling union. Combined these three stars are as good as any other ensemble cast you will see all year. They make every line sing and create characters you won’t easily forget.

VERDICT

Though PTA’s films had never commanded much of my attention before, Phantom Thread captivated me from the opening scene to the end credits and bewitched me unlike any other film experience in 2017. Thematically, it’s exploration of an unconventional romance between the obsessive man and his delicate muse goes in directions you never expect, and never ceases to hold your attention throughout. Cinematically, it is one of the most well-crafted, stunningly beautiful, perfectly scored, impeccably acted dramas I’ve seen in years. PTA’s meticulous attention to detail marries so well with Daniel Day-Lewis’ devotion to character immersion, and newcomer Vicky Krieps owns the screen in every scene. Like the notes left by Reynolds inside the seam of his dresses, Phantom Thread will embed itself in your memory and linger in your thoughts for long after your initial date is over.

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: Call Me By Your Name

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017)


Going In

The truth is, I’m just not that interested in seeing Call Me By Your Name. Might as well get that out of the way right up front. But the thing about film criticism is that a responsible critic doesn’t just watch the movies that they might like. Appreciation for cinematic excellence must exist outside of one’s preferences, and so here I sit, about to take in a story about a sensual romance between a 24-year old man and 17-year old boy. The age gap in this story is a big concern, as is Hollywood’s tendency to label sexual lust and desire as “love,” but I refuse to judge this book (adaptation) by its cover. Many critics have raved and gone so far as to label  Luca Guadagnino’s film “a masterpiece,” and that alone makes it essential viewing, regardless of my resulting opinion.

2 Hours and 12 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

In many ways, Call Me By Your Name earns its place among the best films of the year. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography is gorgeous.  Whether it’s the landscapes of the Italian countryside or perfectly angled interiors, every shot captures a feeling of authenticity to the era. Under Guadagnino’s direction, the details are captured everywhere, in a glance here or brush of the hand there, and the beginnings of Oliver (Armie Hammer) and Elio’s (Timothée Chalamet) romance can be noticed ever so subtly if one just pays enough attention. The acting in the film is also to be commended. Chalamet rightfully deserves all praise and award consideration coming his way after turning in one of the best performances of the year. His boyish charm comes through brightly on the screen, and when he hurts it is impossible not to feel that in your soul. Hammer, who never disappoints, plays the older American visitor pitch perfect. The nuance in his hints of romantic interest are delicately balanced against his boisterous personality until the moment he lets go to release a torrent of built up passion.  The chemistry between the two leads is palpable and the growing desire between them practically drips off of the screen like the beads of sweat on their shirtless chests. And then there’s Michael Stuhlbarg, playing Elio’s father, who is quietly effective for most of the film leading up to one incredibly powerful Oscar-worthy scene in which he must do a thing every parent wishes would never be necessary – comfort a hurting child. 

Call Me By Your Name could have been a moving, romantic coming-of-age tale about first love, if not for its two glaring problems. Why the majority of critics have seemed to overlook these issues is worrisome. Legally, there is nothing wrong with the relationship as it is portrayed. A 17-year old boy in early 1980’s Italy was past the age of consent and could make decisions as an adult. But just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right. Hammer is a large man and he physically towers over Chalamet, presenting the appearance of an age gap closer to the actual 10-years between the actors than the 7 between the characters. Elio is shown to be young, still living with his parents, following their rules, and laying his head in their laps for nightly book readings. Oliver, in contrast, is in control of every emotion and hides his carnal urges toward Elio for quite some time before ultimately giving in to the younger boy’s increasing persuasions. The relationship feels much more like a dominating one than one of equally experienced adults giving consent. Oliver is a sexually mature world-traveler. Elio is the opposite, inexperienced and unsure of himself and his sexuality. It increasingly feels like Oliver is controlling the situation and feeding his own passion and desire in the moment without any long-term concern for its effect on Elio. Does he care about Elio? Probably, but that’s another fault of the film. Love is shown in action and sacrifice, not just physical interaction, and we see neither of these in the choices made in Call Me By Your Name.

Also concerning is the way in which both Oliver and Elio treat women. Elio is in a relationship with the sweet, same-aged Marzia (played by the stunning Esther Garrel), but as he struggles with his sexuality the result is that she becomes used for his pleasure and nothing more . While the film focuses extensively on the emotional toll his feelings to toward Oliver have on Elio, it merely skims over how horribly treated Marzia is and what the repercussions could be on her own psyche. Oliver, meanwhile, has his own skeletons in the closet that speak to his in appropriate treatment of women. It’s all washed away, seemingly, because the film promotes the boys’ relationship and sexual exploration as positive. Even Elio’s parents support and encourage the relationship between their visiting research assistant and teenage son. It’s as if Guadagnino believes that the feelings of passion Oliver and Elio shared were worth it no matter who got hurt in the process.

I can’t help but wonder just how this movie might play with a 24-year old man and 17-year old girl, instead of two men. Would as many people be overlooking this troublesome relationship? In contrast to the caring, loving actions shown in the relationship between Kevin and Chiron in Moonlight, Oliver and Elio’s summer romance feels like nothing more than a brief sexual fling, and I’m going to need a lot more depth than that if you want me to care for these characters.

Verdict

Despite being a beautifully made film that features fantastic performances, Call Me By Your Name‘s inappropriate romance and resulting treatment of those affected by it make this film impossible to recommend. Sex and lust are not the same thing as love, and though the film captures the feeling of desire, its all made dirty due to the age difference and unequal stature of the two men at its center. The film’s craftsmanship is simply undeniable, but its offenses are equally unforgivable.

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.