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


“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.


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Fifty Shades Freed



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

1 Hour and 45 Minutes Later.


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

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

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

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


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


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

MOVIE REVIEW: Phantom Thread



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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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: 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.


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.


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.


Columbus (2017)

“I was going for something subtle,” Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) says to her mother while discussing a dinner recipe. This line, spoken early in the film, informs us of what video essayist turned first-time director Kogonada has planned, and is one of the films many moments of self-awareness. The film hardly even has a plot. Two people meet (as strangers sharing a cigarette) and talk (mostly about architecture and sometimes about themselves). Kogonada’s focus isn’t on what happens to the characters weeks or months down the line, but rather on capturing everyday moments between them. During a conversation between Casey and co-worker/semi-romantic interest Gabriel (Rory Culkin) about how individual interests affect attention spans, the latter even says “Are we losing interest in everyday life?” Columbus is a quiet introspective, made for viewers who wish to observe, think, and feel. For those who want to stop and smells the roses.

While Casey and Jin (John Cho) are the two primary characters of the film, at its heart is architecture. Columbus, Indiana is known for its stunning modern designs and Kogonada ensures that we are given a wonderful tour with many highlights which results in some of the most beautiful imagery in a film this year. Every building, from the public library where Casey works to a tall-spired church to bridges and archways and walls made of glass, inspire the conversation. They are as much a part of the narrative as they are a backdrop. The detailed nature of discussions is at times informative and points to a filmmaker who understands the artistry of these unique designs.

Cho is fantastic as a resentful son who doesn’t wish to be present for his father’s potential death. He holds a strong grudge against the man, an architecture expert, who prioritized his work over his children. It is ironic then that Jin should meet Casey, a young woman fresh out of college who is obsessed with the very thing that his father’s love of caused so much hurt. Jin also is tired of his native Korean traditions and would give anything to be rid of them, while Casey won’t stop taking care of her recovering addict mother despite dreaming of leaving the city for college. This is a lonely pair of souls looking for a spark, but their bonding occurs slowly and naturally. They are drawn to each other through conversations and intelligence. In a world where romance is overshadowed by “hook-up culture,” the innocence of their relationship is refreshing.

Richardson, I must say, is a revelation. Her previous roles in The Edge of Seventeen and Split both showed talent, but she was overshadowed by incredible lead performances by other women. Here she trades charisma and screen presence for a world-weary look as a young woman smarter than her circumstances allow her to show. She can really act and her star is definitely bright.


Columbus, as much as any film in 2017, made me feel. The passion of its director is evident in every frame. Cinematographer Elisha Christian drew me in through gorgeous cinematography underscored by a soothing ambient electronic score by Hammock, and the subtle yet brilliant performances by Cho and Richardson anchored me in this world of theirs that I did not want to leave. Its visuals may get the lion’s share of attention, but this is a complete package, a unique and moving experience that will linger in your thoughts if only you pause and give it your full attention.


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.

Minisode 25: Safety Not Guaranteed

July’s Donor Pick Episode is here and FF contributor Steve Clifton joins us to talk about a movie he loves. This quirky romantic time travel film offers us a chance to talk about how nostalgia affects our lives and much more. Our listeners picked a good one and we have a great conversation about it.


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Might as well get this out of the way. A Ghost Story is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine any middle ground here. You’re gonna love it, or hate it. Personally, count me as a “love it.” The film worked for me on every happy, sad, frustrating, mournful, tedious, emotional level. Writer/Director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon) has crafted one of the most atmospheric, surreal cinematic experiences to hit theaters in a long time.

So what happens when we die? In this universe, Lowery posits that we have a choice to make. We can move on, wherever that leads us, or hang on, searching for ways to reconnect with what and who we’ve left behind. In A Ghost Story, our leading man is known only as C (Casey Affleck), and he’s chosen door #2 after a sudden death leaves him caught between this world and whatever comes next. He has left behind M (Rooney Mara), broken by the grief she feels over C’s loss. What transpires over the course of the next hour plus is a deeply affecting emotional journey designed to make the viewer feel….something. Your milage may vary on what that something truly is.

The film is shot with the intention of making things awkward and frustrating. You are expected to react, positively OR negatively, but at the very least, honestly. There are a couple of ways Lowery succeeds here…

First off, with death typically comes grief; perhaps the most personal of emotional responses. How we manage grief as individuals is a variable, not a singular experience shared by the greater whole. We spend a lot of time with M immediately following C’s death, and the camera of cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo lingers on her, sometimes for an uncomfortable amount of time. M’s emptiness- her broken soul- is palpable, and it’s sometimes difficult to fixate on her, feeling guilty for intruding in such a personal experience. There is a standout scene in which we watch M eat a pie, left for her by a neighbor. And when I say we watch her eat a pie, I mean the WHOLE pie. And I mean a solid five minutes of a singular shot as M devours this pie, and though she never looks up, we can sense her sorrow…her anger…her incessant need to do something to regain a sense of control, even if that involves something as simple as engaging in a gluttonous display of stress eating. I got more emotional resonance from this scene than I did in some full movies I’ve seen this year.  It’s important to point out how affecting this scene is and how wonderful Mara is in pulling it off. For us as viewers, it serves as the point of no return regarding whether or not we’ll decide to see it all through.

Secondly, there is a concept of time which serves as the central theme in A Ghost Story. More specifically, the passage of time, and the infinite loneliness saddled within it. How, pardon the pun, haunting must it be to be caught in a no man’s land, unable to communicate with the people right in front of you, unable to do anything other than watch them move on from you. You are literally watching yourself being erased and there is nothing to be done about it. Eventually, you have forgotten what it is you were even looking for. This is how C spends his endless moments. Standing, staring, existing. Affleck doesn’t have much heavy lifting to do here.  He spends the bulk of the film under a sheet with black eye holes, but somehow this never feels like a cheap parlor trick. It could’ve easily been a cheesy gimmick, like some sort of link to a Charlie Brown Halloween, but it ends up working well.

Eventually, Lowery explores some interesting ideas around time continuum, adding elements to his narrative which expand on the concept of existing with the burden of infinite purposelessness. The atmosphere, one of quiet stillness, where at times you could easily hear a pin drop, is aided by the soft, funeral score of Daniel  Hart.  On occasion, Lowery provides a jolt as the living world intersects with the lingering spirits on screen, and yes, I said spirits. I won’t give anything away, but yes, C might have to carry the burden of loneliness, but he isn’t always alone.

Movies like this are why the art house was invented. I’ll say this… if you can’t get yourself past the pie scene without rolling your eyes in frustration, just cut the chord and go for tacos. If you can hang on though, be prepared for an unique experience; one which may occupy your thoughts for quite a while. I’d be curious to hear from someone who has recently lost someone close, and to see how the film resonates with them. There is sadness in abundance, but also glimpses of hope, and perhaps even catharsis.