Episode 203: Marriage Story

It’s time to get real and raw, as this week we chat about Noah Baumbach’s impressive, devastating new feature film. We are strong believers in the emotional impact films can have and this one hits as hard as any in a long time. 

Marriage Story Review – 0:01:09

The Connecting Point – 1:27:37

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MOVIE REVIEW: Marriage Story

When you are with someone in a romantic partnership, it never really comes as a thought about how it will be to lose all of your love and happiness through a painful separation. It would be unorthodox to enter a relationship and not hope for the best, living out those vows to be together through the good and bad. Everybody wants to find that person that they feel completes them and is willing to call them their man/woman through the good and the noticeable flaws that rise to the surface here and there. Sometimes, these promises don’t end up with a fairy tale ending; instead, you feel the agony and suffering of a dream unfulfilled and the symptoms of a broken heart. Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” delves into a marriage breaking apart. It is based on his real experience with actress Jennifer Jason Leigh but also can be a mirror into any point in our lives when we had a failed experience of love lost.

Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) are a married couple who live in the bustling metropolis of New York City. Charlie is the owner of a celebrated theater company that gives Nicole a chance to follow her passion for acting, which has been a part of her life since her upbringing in Los Angeles. She had a chance to have a promising career in the City of Angels as a potential leading lady, but she ditched that dream to help Charlie build up his theater company and they ended up having a young son together. Over time Nicole feels that Charlie is not being open to her ideas, happiness, and wishes to go back to LA so she can be close with her family and friends. Charlie feels that with all the time he has dedicated to putting on works that can potentially go to Broadway, and dealing with all of the pressure and prestige that comes with it, he is giving everything he has for his family. Eventually, Nicole feels that the relationship has no more value with her having no autonomy and feeling a low sense of self-worth. She wants to jumpstart the process of a divorce. Charlie is shocked and painfully thinking over a world in which he loses the one person who he thought understood him for who he was, as well as losing the chance to be an able father to his child, due to a custody battle looming that will determine if he has to uproot his life in NY and move to the West Coast away from the home.

Baumbach brings his real-life pain to the screen with an intricate focus on the different dilemmas that arise during the process of divorce. Getting an attorney, custody battles, having to pay out of pocket (which can become expensive and potentially place you in debt or financial ruin), who keeps the apartment or houses, relationships between in-laws becoming fractured, a trial which can be taxing mentally, getting rid of special mementos that remind you of said person, and the feeling of your heart breaking into pieces are all captured here. There is nowhere to hide from seeing the pain on both Charlie and Nicole’s face in most scenes while they try to remain amicable and cordial during a time of emotional heartache. Even with trying to remain friends, Charlie and Nicole are swept into the system of divorce court which only rewards “bad behavior,” pushing them to look for any secrets or dirty ammo that can be used to help secure a resolution that each one wants. It’s a dirty game that spares no expense in leaving you embittered and broken down to the core.

The performances of Driver and Johansson are nothing more than extraordinary. Driver has etched his name right onto the Best Actor statue with a portrayal full that makes audiences feel the pain and anger over his life-changing dilemma. At times, Driver brought me near tears because of how involved his performance was; nothing felt put on for melodrama as you’d expect of a stereotypical scorned ex-husband. He played this role with feelings, sensitivity, masculinity, and fear. This is what a star turn looks like. Johansson gives the best performance of her storied career and it’s not even close, leaving it all on the floor with every line reading, every display of strong drama, and even the humorous yet compassionate little moments that populate this film. The amount of dedication she exudes is a wonder to watch and it’s inevitable that her name will be called on Oscar night along with Driver. They both share natural chemistry that shines during scenes of argumentative chaos; the tears are flowing, insults flying, and they both exhibit goosebumps-inducing body language that is extremely realistic and is amazing to watch. Laura Dern as Nicole’s lawyer has the confidence and charisma to stand out amongst the drama and carve out her own place for award nominations. She gives a strong and snarky supporting performance that may be dwarfed by the efforts of Driver and Johannson but nevertheless makes a mark long after the credits pop up.

Randy Newman’s score is pleasant with its echoes of somber reflection, expressing itself with beautiful piano notes and violins that speak their own language. It supports the dramatic arc of the story without overstaying its welcome or becoming forceful in its magnitude, and is one of the few cases where a score feels like a compliment to the scenes and moods expressed by the characters.

The production design is a treat. Interiors are simply constructed yet feel down-home with their minimalism. Both New York and Los Angeles are treated with idealized versions of the hustle and bustle of city life. You have the cold and wintery streets of New York compared with the sunny and outgoing showmanship of Los Angeles, which also presents a parallel of the divide between Charlie and Nicole. Sublime editing is on display with the array of wonderful quick edits that show themselves during conversations. It gives the film a certain kind of rhythm that makes this story easier to tolerate and deal with the sadness of its message. Costume design is a big plus, too, with honorable mentions going to Driver’s Invisible Man costume and Johansson’s David Bowie, as well as Beatles-influenced wardrobe in some moments toward the end.

“Marriage Story” is a high mark of storytelling that will affect and impact many viewers with its realistic depiction of a marriage turning into a divorce. Intense and compassionate with its own sense of feel-good and hilarious moments to break up the heartache, Baumbach and Netflix have an Oscar darling on their hands.

Rating:


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

What We Learned This Week: July 14-20

LESSON #1: WE NEED TO REMEMBER TO THANK THE SPACE AGE FOR THE SCIENCE FICTION WE ENJOY TODAY— I’ll lead with the recommendations instead of end with them this week.  July 20th marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, causing many of us to nostalgically appreciate the wonder of that monumental history.  It was actualized science fiction that has only gone on the inspire even more since. We owe those pioneers a little thank you every time we watch a space movie made after 1969.  First, educate yourself with the sharp documentary chronicle Apollo 11 from earlier this year.  After that, go dreamy with more movies made before and after 1969 that gaze upon or point towards our celestial neighbor.  These lists from Vox and DVD.com are perfect.  

LESSON #2: YOUR BUZZ REFILL COMES THIS WEEKEND— Speaking of this third weekend of July, San Diego hosts its annual Comic-Con.  Expect some outstanding trailers like the ones that have already dropped for Top Gun: Maverick, Cats, and It: Chapter 2Disney/Marvel returns to Hall H after a year of radio silence to sell the post-Infinity War dire straits.  Be ready for a windfall of announcements in many directions between Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the quickly-approaching trilogy caper Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, new previews and details on the Disney+ service, and likely a whole bunch more.  Expect ballsy surprises and the other studios (WB and more) trying to resume their own chase of Mouse House.

LESSON #3: THE MOVIE OF THE SUMMER THAT WILL MAINTAIN A 100% ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE ISN’T RUN BY DISNEY— You all know I’ve seen the vitriol possible when something big and popular gets criticized.  Folks, you can keep all the supposed and righteous universal love due for Avengers: Endgame, Toy Story 4, and The Lion King.  The most endearing and impenetrable movie this summer is going to be The Farewell.  Whoever writes that excellent movie a negative review (and it wasn’t me this time) is going to have more explaining to do than some “douche nozzle” from Chicago who gave a low grade to Buzz and Woody.  Lulu Wang’s bracing dramedy of love and loss within family circles is the movie that deserves a three-digit crown of vine-ripened internet fruit.

LESSON #4: HAVING THE RIGHT DOESN’T MAKE YOU RIGHT— Somebody needs to offer their superior publicist and image consultant services to Scarlett Johansson.  A year ago, she wisely backed out of playing a transgender character after pushback and course correction from the studio.  It didn’t sink in. Scarlett doubled-down recently in an interview saying “As an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job.” Yes and no, Ms. Johansson and it might be as easy as swapping “should” with “could” instead.  A hard maybe is all she, or any star, should get. We have reached a societal marketplace in entertainment where the strives for fair representation matter and a big star isn’t getting it. It’s ugly when this news has to follow and sour good news like Lashana Lynch gaining a callsign title for Bond 25.

LESSON #5: ONE MORE TIME, WITH FEELING, IT’S TIME FOR CONSUMERS TO BE REFLECTIVE AND FAIR— This final lesson of the week is a callback to a January “Soapbox Special” edition of “What We Learned This Week” and it goes back even deeper. The person of interest (or elephant in the room) that brings this one back is Kevin Spacey.  News broke this week that the felony sexual assault charges against the Academy Award-winning actor were dropped this week after some nefarious measures with evidence came to light from the accuser’s side.  We all know “not guilty” in the court of public opinion is different than the same label in the court of law.  More wrongs or truths may still hover, but Kevin Spacey has a clearer name than he did last week.  That said, I bring back the bullet points of that Soapbox lesson and ask that those be applied to Spacey:

1) What’s the proper waiting period between allegations and actual guilt?  MY ANSWER REMAINS: When it gets its day in court and no less that that.  The gavel has sounded the man is free to go.  That’s the judgment that matters.

2) What amount of contrition or correction is necessary in order for people to continue their careers?  MY ANSWER REMAINS: That’s up to each case and each consumer, but the amount can’t be zero.  Spacey has made statements of contrition and, other than an odd YouTube video which probably went a little overboard, he has stayed respectfully away from spotlights.

3) What are these people allowed to do with their rest of their careers? MY ANSWER REMAINS: Anything they want or anything a boss wants to hire to run their business.  Simply put, Kevin Spacey, for the moment, is clear and deserves a chance to be a professional again.  He comes with risk, certainly, but I’ve never been a boycott list-maker (that’s a whole other “Soapbox” from days past) and I will welcome seeing him work again.  Kevin will be an interesting reclamation case to follow in the coming years.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#108)

Episode 163: Avengers: Endgame

This week we are of course talking about the final chapter in a story 10 years and 22 films in the making. We break down our reaction to this once-in-generation event, while also taking a look back at the past and contemplating the future. This is a wonderful conversation that we both thoroughly enjoyed and think you will, too.

Avengers: Endgame Review – 0:02:55

The Connecting Point – 1:31:05


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MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Endgame

100% spoiler-free with no plot points even hinted at! AVENGERS: ENDGAME closes the book on one of the greatest film franchise achievements in history on a very high note. It is every bit the emotional experience you expect & a gratifying finale. Also, for the first time in 10+ years there is no post-credit scene so feel free to rush to the bathroom as required.

 


 

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.

What We Learned This Week: July 1-14

LESSON #1: SCARLETT JOHANSSON IS A THERMOMETER FOR CASTING HEAT— The Avengers star sparked social media fires the last two weeks by initially accepting a role as a transgender male for the film Rub & Tug.  The movie is helmed by her Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders, creating quite an echo to the whitewashing backlash she received there.  Detractors rightfully cited the inequality of opportunities for transgender performers to be cast in transgender roles, or any mainstream role for that matter.  Johannson’s callous comeback to the criticism did not help and the Twitterverse reacted with smite. Luckily, Scarlett thought the wiser, left the role, and offered a statement of contrition. Between this and Ghost in the Shell, this is two strikes for Johansson when most people barely ever get one.  She needs to think before she signs or hire better management. On the bright side, she’ll always have Black Widow to save her Q rating and that long-planned solo film just picked up a director in little-known Aussie filmmaker Cate Shortland.  At least that’s good news for her.

LESSON #2: MOVIE EXECUTIVES ARE AWARE OF OBVIOUS POINTS— Short-sighted armchair movie audiences (and people with their own outlets) like to throw their hands in the air and wonder how studios can honestly produce and release what they see to be terrible movies compounded from a mountain of bad choices.  Guess what, the powers that be aren’t as blind as you think. “Candid” is just a nice way to say “bluntly honest” and solid example (other than the usual awesomeness of Kevin Feige) cropped up recently.  In June, Warner Bros. film chairman Toby Emmerich opened up for a very frank interview with Entertainment Weekly.  When asked about film performance and what types of films are working right now, Emmerich simply stated “I think the good movies work better. Somebody once said the best business strategy in motion pictures in quality.” Countering when Rotten Tomatoes was brought up on DCEU films, he followed that with “I would say no matter what, the better the movie is the more advantage it is.”  See, that’s a guy who gets it and a classic case of “it’s easier said than done.” Even with the bottom line in mind, they know improvement is needed.

LESSON #3: IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START AN OSCAR CAMPAIGN— It’s not arm-twisting “For Your Consideration” swag quite yet, but the PR firm that represents Emily Blunt and John Krasinski recently sent out a small and simple reminder package for A Quiet Place, complete with a letter of superlatives and copy of the film.  Yes, the Oscars are almost eight months away, but if you’ve got a good film, flaunt it and shout it from the mountaintops.  If a February release like Get Out can last over a year to remain in the minds of Oscar voters, so can March’s successful blockbuster surprise.  You don’t have to push hard, but you do have to keep on pushing. Go get you some hardware, John!

LESSON #4: THE UGLY DETAILS ARE COMING— A Harvey Weinstein interview ran this week in The Spectator where he admits “I did offer them acting jobs in exchange for sex, but so did and still does everyone.”  This was just a sitdown for a magazine. Imagine the court transcripts of sworn testimonies when the time comes.  Names have been named all over, but when the ugly details get put into print or words, this deplorable chapter of Hollywood is going to get worse.

LESSON #5: ONLINE JOURNALISM IS BECOMING AN ENDANGERED SPECIES NEXT TO ITS PRINT ANCESTOR AND GOOD CREATORS ARE THE CASUALTIES— Because there are so many to choose from in a saturated internet, film and entertainment websites come and go all the time.  Few notice because they move on to the next bookmark or scrolled headline. What people don’t realize is that closures (like The Dissolve) mean precious paying jobs for so many freelance writers and critics.  I’ve had an outlet suddenly (Examiner.com) close on me before and now it’s happening to colleagues of mine over at The A.V. Club, whose parent company is financially sputtering to the point of putting its shingles up for sale.  Other than deep-pocketed benefactors and advertising revenue, money has always been hard to scratch together on the free internet.  Newspapers at least get your quarters and dollars every time you pick one up. Websites don’t unless you’re clicking away on their borders.  Resources are scarce and when the money disappears, so do the opportunities. It’s a shame.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

Episode 113: The Jungle Book (2016)

This episode marks the first of a two-part crossover event celebrating the classic Rudyard Kipling tale, The Jungle Book. We’ve brought in the guys from the Retro Rewind Podcast, Francisco Ruiz and Paul Powers, to talk about Jon Favreau’s 2016 live-action/CGI update of the 1967 animated Disney feature, and we’ll be covering the latter on Retro Rewind Podcast together as well. 

The Jungle Book Review – 0:04:40

The Connecting Point – 0:51:13


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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Episode 107: Avengers Infinity War

After 10 years and 18 films, Marvel’s ambitious, unique interconnected world of superhero films comes to this, a team-up movie the likes of which we have never seen before. Historic in its scope and in its box office success, Avengers: Infinity War is a special blockbuster and one that provides plenty to discuss. We’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about this one, its place in the MCU, and where Marvel goes from here.

Avengers: Infinity War Review – 0:02:33

The Connecting Point – 01:27:30


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

2 Hours and 29 Minutes (PG-13)

Marvel and The Russo Brothers had a very daunting task before them. Paying off the culmination of a decade of build-up and backstory, stretching over 18 films, is a challenge unlike any studio or director in Hollywood had ever faced. And to accomplish this feat, they worked with what has to be the largest cast of known stars ever assembled for a movie. The ambition of Marvel and its commitment to the cinematic universe it pioneered is worthy of praise and respect.

If there’s one thing I was looking for in Avengers: Infinity War, it was raised stakes. Much like the comic books these films are based on (in which characters rarely die and cities are destroyed without much afterthought), Marvel films have not fully dealt with loss in a way that seems realistic. Right from the start of Infinity War, though, Marvel makes it very clear that has changed. The potential consequences of a Thanos (Josh Brolin) victory are evident and the film progresses with an emotional weight and sense of urgency that it could not have attained if the studio followed its same old formula. This also creates much more investment in characters and the worlds they inhabit, and thus pays off quite a few very moving scenes in a much bigger way. If you haven’t cried in a Marvel movie before, you’re not alone, but this may be your first. I had genuine chills a few different times. But don’t worry, that trademark Marvel humor and witty one-liners are still there and won’t have you depressed for too long at a time.

Another area that Marvel outdoes previous films in their own franchise is with Thanos himself. Make no mistake, this is his film and his story. He is a fully developed villain with more screen time than any before him, and it helps to create a character with whom the audience can both despise and yet struggle with feelings of empathy for. Brolin’s talent is very obvious in this performance despite the incredible looking CGI that encompasses him. His Thanos is not just some loud, angry, destructive villain. He is intelligent and calculating. He is nuanced. He is cold, yes, but when he gives his reasons for what he wants to do with the Infinity Stones and why, in a very warped way it makes some sense. His presence as the foil to the Avengers and Guardians gives this film something unique and memorable.

With a cast this large it is inevitable that not everyone’s favorite will have the responsibility or amount of action they hope for. The Russo’s do an admirable job of balancing these heroes, however, and somehow left me feeling satisfied. Sure, a little more backstory or deeper character moments for them all would be nice, but it’s also unrealistic to expect in a single film of this length. By managing to give everyone at least one small moment in the sun, the Russo’s succeed where I believe many would have failed. Another result of keeping most character development small is that the film moves fast, pausing a few times for majorly impactful storyline beats, but mostly cutting between different groups of heroes working to accomplish different tasks. By keeping the heroes in smaller groups, we get to feel more focused when we’re with them, and enjoy the new forms of dialogue that emerge between characters who previously had not interacted.

The action in Avengers: Infinity War is, as expected, fantastic. Seeing heroes fight together with new gear and weapons, or teaming up in ways never experienced by movie goers before, was a huge treat. In one major battle that involves a host of heroes and countless alien attackers, the Silvestri score and rising stakes create a feeling similar to that in the Battle of the Pelennor Field from The Return of the King. While Avengers: Infinity War never quite reaches that level of epic, it comes much closer than many (myself included) ever thought possible.

VERDICT

If you’re thinking that this review is a but vague, please know that is by design. Fans have waited 10 years for this and going in with as little information possible is going to result in the best viewing experience. Avengers: Infinity War isn’t entirely unpredictable, but it’s got some surprises too. The historic puzzle that the Russo Brothers have put together is nothing short of amazing and will lend itself to multiple viewings. Perhaps that’s the highest praise possible for a film of this kind, that after it finished I immediately would have sat through those 2.5+ hours again. To sum it all up, Avengers: Infinity War lived up to the hype by being both entertaining and emotional. Well done, Marvel. Well done.

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.

Minisode 039: Lost in Translation

March was Women’s History Month and to honor that we asked our Patrons to choose from a list of female-directed films for the Donor Pick Episode. Sofia Coppola’s incredible LOST IN TRANSLATION came out on top and we were happy to discuss a film that gives us plenty to feel. 

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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com and Just Like Honey – The Jesus and Mary Chain

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