What We Learned This Week: January 1-19

LESSON #1: JANUARY SHOULD BE RENAMED “QUALITY MOVIE HIBERNATION MONTH”— Welcome to the doldrums of winter, folks.  We all know the reality.  This is the dumping ground for movies not good enough for the Oscars and not bankable enough for spring or summer tentpole status.  Annually, expect a cheap horror movie success, a Liam Neeson ass-kicker, and big-stars cashing paychecks on weak projects. Get your enjoyment where you can with Bad Boys For Life, Underwater, Dolittle, and more.  I’m a credentialed film critic with scruples.  I haven’t been to a press screening since before Christmas.  It’s that bad and always is.

LESSON #2: “SNUBBED” IS AN OVERUSED AND UNFAIRLY USED TERM— You know, I’ve been convinced. I’m going to drink the Aaron White Kool-Aid.  When recently talking about film scores I’m listening to in the Feelin’ Film Facebook group, I labeled Matt Morton’s Apollo 11 score as “snubbed,” and Aaron admitted that term is wearing as thin with him as “masterpiece” is for me.  I do need to realize that there’s only room for five nominees each year and that the Oscars are a popularity contest of a still-poorly-comprised voting body.  These aren’t complete snubs.  They have backers and votes, just not enough.  They weren’t intentionally slighted and “snubbed” is too negative.  Better terms are needed.  Challenge accepted, Aaron.

LESSON #3: DIVERSITY AND INDEPENDENT FILM ARE STILL OVERLOOKED AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL— The challenge begins here.  Let’s not use “snub” to still talk about deficiencies in the 92nd Academy Award nominations.  For all of the so-called efforts of weening out inactive members and adding diversity, the results aren’t showing it between Green Book winning last year and this list of extremely plain nominations. Go ahead and get the #OscarSoWhite swag out again. The Academy deserves to be called out for this kind of thing.  Women and people of color (and not just black, just ask the team of The Farewell) are still missing higher recognition.  If you look at what was nominated and from what studio they came from, you will see money and favoritism talking. The movies backed by the distributors with the deepest pockets and most lavish “For Your Consideration” campaigns (especially Netflix and their quartet of The Irishman, Marriage Story, The Two Popes, and I Love My Body) scored the spots. If you were little and independent, like A24’s Uncut Gems, The Farewell, and Booksmart, you were ignored. Those losses are consistent top to bottom and not just in the major categories. It’s a minor miracle little shingle NEON squeezed what it could out of Parasite (6 nominations) and Lionsgate got anything at all for Knives Out and Bombshell. If this were politics, we would be talking about the equivalent of “campaign finance reform” from studios buying unfair favor and nominations. Maybe it’s time to open the ledgers and put some rules and limits on that.

LESSON #4: POLITICS IS GETTING IN THE WAY OF FILM CRITICISM— Speaking of politics, there’s a good chance this lesson and paragraph is the first of a future full “Soapbox” edition of “What We Learned This Week,” but I was highly intrigued recently by a piece from Jessa Crispin in The Guardian that posed the title question “Is Politics Getting in the Way of Assessing Which Films Are Actually Good?”  My instant answer is a resounding yes.  Between overly saturated opinions and the constant ego to share them without tact, there are critics that cannot write without spouting some personal assessment of politics or a movie’s politics.  I could name names for hours. I call it “projecting” and I don’t think a film review is the place for that unless said politics are concretely stated by the filmmakers as intentional and deliberate.  Call that objective over subjective.  If that’s not stated, the critic is projecting and throwing s–t to walls to see what sticks for their own fancy, ego, and thirst for clicks. Don’t get me wrong.  For as much as my website is called Every Movie Has a Lesson, I firmly believe “Every Movie Has Politics” too, but, again, that’s not material for a true film review.  Save that garbage, guess work, or, hopefully, carefully manicured discourse for a hot-button editorial labeled as such.


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.  (#121)

What We Learned This Week: December 2019

END OF THE YEAR AND END OF THE DECADE EDITION

Forgive the awards season hiatus! I missed you all and I couldn’t let you go without a quick toast to the end of 2019 and the end of the 2010s!

LESSON #1: IT’S ALL CINEMA— Boy, did I miss one dismissive and hand-wringing soapbox after another with Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest directors of film history.  Rant after rant, click after click, retweet after retweet, boy did ole Marty start a fight.  I don’t mean to sound regressive like #AllLivesMatter versus the true need of something like #BlackLivesMatterbut someone needs to tell Mr. Scorsese that it’s all cinema, from every cheesy and trashy film to every astute and austere film.  That’s from Cats to The Irishman and everything in between. They are made by creators aiming for storytelling, entertainment, and expression.  They just do so to different degrees and for different audiences.  So, respectfully, Marty, STFU.  Because you do great work, I won’t sentence you to Lesson #2 like one of your peers.

LESSON #2: CLINT EASTWOOD CAN RETIRE NOW— Look, I adore Clint Eastwood’s work.  He is essential American cinema (there I go…) and has the legacy and hardware to prove forever.  But, gosh, is he slipping.  With each can he kicks down the road since American Sniper, he’s loosing a grip on the truthful side of his filmmaking to match the purposeful part. Honoring little notes of history is one thing with dramatic license.  Revising and degrading is another.  You crossed a line with Richard Jewell and the treatment of the late Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde.  Go back to that sunset and porch rocker, Clint.

LESSON #3: PLEASE LET ADAM SANDLER TURN A NEW LEAF— Before Uncut Gems, I legitimately and truthfully had not watched an Adam Sandler movie in nine years.  I didn’t need Jack and Jill to give up on him and the repetitive manchild garbage he was making.  I had no regrets abstaining from his career.  Hot damn, though, did he supernova with Uncut Gems.  Please let this career resurgence be a true new trajectory and not a one time thing.  Don’t let him dangle a role of two like Eddie Murphy and go back to the low-hanging fruit garden.  He’s back and I want more.

LESSON #4: IT’S EARLY, BUT GRETA GERWIG REMAINS UNDEFEATED— That women knows how to make good films, period. After blazing bright with Lady Bird and all its crassness, she comes back with a PG-rated and spirited adaptation of Little Women that is an absolute delight.  It’s better than just a nod at girl power.  It’s rich and multi-layered art.  She has earned automatic watch status for whatever comes next for her.  And while we’re talking about Greta Gerwig, Dear Academy, don’t make the mistake the Golden Globes did and nominate more women like her for the excellence in their fields.

LESSON #5: ADAM DRIVER AND FLORENCE PUGH WILL BE THE STARS OF THE 2020s— Even with a big second half and huge 2019, I won’t call Adam Driver the star of this decade, but I have a good feeling he will be the star of the next one.  I’ll give this past decade to Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale before Driver, but few actors have his crossover appeal and towering potential right now.  Need proof?  Pick anything from this year, but especially Marriage Story.  Watch him win the Oscar to kick off his 2020.  As they say, the sky (and for him, the galaxy), is the limit.  His white-hot female equivalent is Florence Pugh who carried a tremendous 2019 with Fighting With My Family, Midsommar, and Little Women. She is a dual Oscar contender for those latter two roles and has Black Widow to start 2020.  We see many ingenues come and go, but, like Driver, her range across genres is formidable and will keep her around and successful for a very long time.

LESSON #6: THIS NEXT DECADE HAS UNKNOWN CHALLENGES AHEAD— The 2010s brought a swell of nostalgia regurgitation like we’ve never seen with peaks and valleys across James Bond, Star Wars, Star TrekMission: Impossible, Jason Bourne, the MCU, the DCEU, TransformersPiratesGhostbustersPlanet of the Apes, Rocky, Rambo, Despicable Me, Men in Black, The Terminator, Toy Story, Ocean’s 8, and every possible Disney re-imagining.  Try as the greedy studios may, surely the noise of all that cannot continue another decade.  Creative bankruptcy has a limit and it’s going to run out and crash hard.  The 2020s have the challenge of creating new properties and experiences because the old stuff won’t last forever.  With the close of a Star Wars saga and a massive MCU phase to finish 2019, we stand at the edge wondering what’s next and what can top what’s been done.  It can’t all be new Avatar movies.  Your decade, your move, Hollywood.  Give us something good.  In the meantime, we’ll be on the couching binging your streaming services.

 


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.  (#120)

What We Learned This Week: October 14-27

LESSON #1: THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON MAY BECOME THE MOST IMPORTANT FILM OF 2019— Look at me writing a clickbait headline.  I, and many others, think the world of this film (5-star review), but it is now making an impact far bigger in the grand scheme of things than another Scorsese masterpiece entry or Marvel blockbuster. Thanks to its emerging star Zack Gottshagen, The Peanut Butter Falcon has started a groundswell of hiring and representation for performers with intellectual disabilities, as outlined in a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter. That is absolutely huge and a benefit far greater to the industry than hardware and money. This is, without a doubt, the best industry story I’ve seen this month and maybe this year. Folks, see this film for how special it is and not just because of the “special” people in it. 

LESSON #2: GET THE BIG MONEY OUT OF THE OSCARS— I wonder if casual fans notice as much of the “For Your Consideration” stuff as a film critic like myself does.  I’m guessing people see the extra language on marketing materials and maybe the occasional magazine ad. Folks, let me tell you, the studio-powered promotion machines to get their films front-and-center for awards season are unchecked and on the same level as all the wild political campaigning you see in public life.  While I’m happily inundated with screeners and materials during this time of year as a critic in two awards-voting bodies, I can do the math on the sheer volume of money being spent just to get a name or two mentioned and it’s completely too much. Sadly, these full-court press tactics work on the weak groupthink voters at all the levels of this industry.  Voters should be more discerning rather than easily fickle and the pushiness should stop. More people are finally standing up to say something about it and I’ll join them.  

LESSON #3: THERE ALMOST ALWAYS COMES A POINT WHERE A FREE GOOD THING WILL SOMEDAY COST MONEY— I was as surprised and bummed as any other casual box office statistics fan when levels of the Box Office Mojo site where absorbed by the subscription-required IMDb Pro site. Amazon has owned Box Office Mojo since 2008, where I’m surprised it took this long for such a switch.  The basics are there, but the original site was so much tighter and immersive with its data. The new one is very watered down. Let’s see if it can evolve back into an industry leader.

LESSON #4: EASY ON THE INFLATED TROPHIES, HOLLYWOOD BEAN COUNTERS— Speaking of Box Office Mojo, the congratulatory headlines were inescapable this week that Joker will “officially” become the highest grossing R-rated film of all-time.  Child, please.  I do this often, but go to the inflation-adjusted numbers and slow your roll, folks.  Joker has earned over $250 million domestically and triple that overseas and deserves every success, no doubt.  But wake me up when it touches (let alone climbs near the top of) the Top 200 on the all-time inflation-adjusted list before you start handing out those title belts. It’s not catching The Exorcist at #9 or many more of the R-rated films on that list.  Dream on, Warner Bros.

LESSON #5: EVERYONE NEEDS A BREAK AND SHOULD TAKE ONE— I applaud 23-year-old Timothee Chalamat who spoke to Vogue about desperately needing to take a break from acting after a solid few years of constant work. Other actors have done it for years and it’s always a smart play for physical, mental, and emotional recharge and renewal.  As they say, “absence away makes the heart grow fonder.” Expect a committed and improved Chalamat when you see him after. More actors should do this, if even for the fact of not becoming overused and overexposed, let alone to recuperation.

LESSON #6: DON’T BEAT DEAD HORSES— In the latest log on the fire stoked by many of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy, something that was ran into the ground will now be dusted off and run into the ground again.  Disney has tabbed Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin to join franchise writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio to reboot the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.  I know I’ve said it somewhere before in this column, but put some time between death and rebirth.  Sure, when you go all the way back to 2003, it will be nearly 20 years since the first movie, but it’s only been two years since its last one.  Wait twenty years after that instead and then dazzle us with a new take in 2037. Go away and try your own “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” We still freshly remember the s–t show.

LESSON #7: SLOW THE F–K DOWN, YOU BINGER— Speaking of taking a break, the entertainment you consume is supposed to be rich and entertaining experience.  Why would you speed it up just to get more? Word around the campfire is Netflix is experimenting with the possible setting of showing its content at 1.5x speed.  Come on, man.  Have some patience.  Part of the magic of film and TV shows is the editing of pace and timing.  Those are crucial and deliberate creative traits. Don’t ruin that because of your impatience.  

LESSON #8: IF YOU WANT CUSTOMERS, GIVE SOMETHING EXCITED AWAY— Verizon isn’t hurting for business or customers, but you know they’ve dropped the swag of swag in offering full-year Disney+ subscriptions to new and existing unlimited data home and wireless customers.  That sure beats a toaster or set of steak knives. Good luck topping that, Sprint and T-Mobile. Well played, Verizon.  

LESSON #9: TURN UP THE BRIGHTNESS ON THE THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE— I won’t jump to the alarmist “ruining the the theatrical experience” level that Edward Norton in implying in a recent interview in The Daily Beast, but the firebrand actor that never minces his words is right.  Improper brightness and poor sound in cheap and untrained theater chains can make a bad enough viewing experience to turn off ticket-paying moviegoers.  If you’re going to pay today’s full prices on the promises of a superior experience to the 4K and HD stuff capable from your couch, you should get it. The luminosity talk in his interview was fascinating.  I notice it too and he isn’t wrong.


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.  (#119)

What We Learned This Week: October 6-13

LESSON #1: PEOPLE ARE NOT GETTING ALL OF JOKER, INCLUDING TOP CRITICS— There is a whole bunch more going on in the Todd Phllips hit than people are understanding.  Anyone who is calling that movie empty, meandering, or plotless doesn’t know what they are watching.  Watching is one thing and absorption is another. Some viewers are good at processing movies quickly or fully and others are not.  You can see that at every level, from a Letterboxd fanboy to a headlining critic.  I’ll be one that says those folks are definitely missing out.  Our guy Emmanuel Noisette lays it all out, so get your Kool-Aid glass ready! 

 

LESSON #2: WILL SMITH NEEDS A NEW AGENT— Dammit, Big Willy.  Even north of 50 years old, you still have charisma for days.  You are a joy in just about every movie you grace with your presence, including Aladdin and Gemini Man this year, but you are picking lackluster and even terrible projects to waste your glowing talent on.  Feelin’ Film host Aaron White recently posted the last decade of Will’s resume via the Silver Screen Riot podcast:

Yikes! That is one heck of a losing streak.  Will, you are rarely the problem, but you need to make some better business and professional decisions.

LESSON #3: MARVEL ARE NOT DIMINISHING ACTING OPPORTUNITIES— Former Friends icon Jennifer Aniston ranted a little this week in Variety and poked the anti-Marvel bear when she cited available roles diminishing in this era of blockbusters.  While she’s plenty right that the “midbudget original movie” market has shrunk and shifted to the streaming platforms (she should know, she makes those movies on Netflix all the time), Marvel is not the problem.  If anything, look at the sizes of the ensembles they bring together. Look how much cache those actors and actresses earn, even for being a bit player. The raised Q-rating they get for being in a fan-friendly movie does wonders for their career.  The wave isn’t missing you, Ms. Aniston. You’re missing the wave. Maybe you need a new agent like Will Smith.

LESSON #4: LEARN A LITTLE MORE ABOUT CINEMA AND SEEK OUT SOME GREATS OF PRODUCTION DESIGNS— All the green screens in the world cannot beat a legit practical set or location that has been artfully created into something fabulous and unique.  Enjoy this stellar video on some of the best production designs ever and seek out where to see some of these movies on the JustWatch app, which has now merged with Letterboxd!  My vote is The Grand Budapest Hotel.  


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.  (#118)

What We Learned This Week: September 22-October 5

LESSON #1: BE CAREFUL WITH OPEN INTERPRETATION— Had I written this column last week, this first lesson would have be titled “We’re Not Ready for Joker.” I saw all the lead-up buzz, all the fearful theories, and all the wild labels and had to turn it off. I wanted to stop and see the movie before adding more guesswork. After seeing it, I hunkered down in my review to stick to the film as much as possible and I’m glad I did. Too many reviews I’m seeing are diving straight to commentary interpretation and not to the critique of what’s on screen. That’s feeding the buzz monster in my opinion. That’s making a review about theory and not evidence. World of Reel nailed this by saying the hoopla can become the media’s fault and not the movie. Worse, those writers lock that opinion in my-opinion-is-the-only-opinion-that-matters cement and throw the openness of interpretation out the window. Including personal takes in a review is fine, but it can’t be the whole thing and it has to be flexible for discussion or be able to acknowledge other opinions are possible. Be careful, critics (and all fans for that matter). Know that you’re stepping out there for judgment when you go about it with a closed mind to accepting other opinions.

P.S.– Since we’re talking about Joker, here’s my extra plea to #FilmTwitter:

LESSON #2: MARTIN SCORSESE IS OUT OF TOUCH— Storied director and historical film connoisseur Martin Scorese isn’t a fan of comic book movies. Normally, that’s a “to each their own” place, but he went further to say they are are not cinema. More specifically, his damning line in an Empire interview was “It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” Dammit, Marty. I love you and I’m not supposed to use this word, but you’re “wrong.” See Lesson #1 about open interpretation. Try telling that to all of us blubbering in our popcorn during the MCU’s most dramatic moments or being inspired to be better people watching Christopher Reeve or Gal Gadot. Sorry, Mr. Scorsese, but you’re out of touch. If you don’t believe all of us fans, Marty, take the word of peers.  I think Joss Whedon and James Gunn said it best on Twitter:

LESSON #3: WE DESERVE MORE G-RATED MOVIES— I love this article from The Sydney Morning Herald shared in the Feelin’ Film Facebook group (shout out to Caless Davis) on Friday. Family-friendly films on this entry rating level are an endangered species. It’s fair that modern progressive times have created more thematic infusion of heavier themes, but we cannot abandon the base and entry level. We need to demand more all-ages offerings and use our attendance to see that they become successful enough for more to be made. 

LESSON #4: HAND-DRAWN ANIMATION AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL HAS A CHANCE— Speaking of G-rated movies, Walt Disney Animation’s newly installed president (and film director) Jennifer Lee was asked what changes could be coming during her regime.  One of the possibilities was a return to hand-drawn animation.  “Being open” is good enough where we can put the Lloyd Christmas GIFs to good use.  The hope is music to my ears and what a treat a traditional animated film would be!


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.  (#117)

What We Learned This Week: September 15-21

LESSON #1: JUST BECAUSE A FILM PRESENTS A MAN WITH STRONG FEELINGS DOESN’T MEAN IT’S AUTOMATICALLY A SLICE OF TOXIC MASCULINITY— I’ll share a little inside chatter as a film critic who watched a closed screening of Ad Astra with just critics, no public audience.  Even though we all will go home and hope to write our slice of brilliant and engaging criticism, we all still talk shop.  Color me crazy as, admittedly, a white middle-aged male, but I was surprised and even a little rubbed the wrong way when I heard a few peers vehemently drop the toxic masculinity card on Ad Astra.  Sure, parental issues can be overplayed in movies.  When that happens, I look to the approach it took before I label and curse.  For me, I saw a movie that showed the stresses saddled on men. I don’t go too deep on that tangent in my own review, but I highly recommend my Chicago peer Leo Brady’s review of Ad Astra on AMovieGuy.com.  He hits the topic hard and pushes back.  When you see the movie, I’d love to read or hear your take and vibe.

LESSON #2: NO AUDIENCE MEMBER WANTS MORE ADVERTISEMENTS— After a recent Hollywood Reporter poll revealed the majority of moviegoers want fewer trailers before a movie, a nearly universal declaration, a story arrived this week of two theater companies adding even more pre-movie advertisements.  The Regal and Cinemark chains are proposing to add business advertising before the already excessive trailers.  AMC, the nation’s top chain, is staunchly against it.  I get that advertising pays the bills for these studio-squeezed theater chains that lose more and more of the windfall cut each year, but the top loser here is still the consumer.  No one needs more of this stuff.  This only creates more incentive to come into movies late and not spend your concession dollars on site.

LESSON #3: DIGITAL PERFORMERS HAVE RIGHTS— I love, love, love what Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes performance capture star (and future Venom 2 director) Andy Serkis is stumping for.  Serkis is rallying for compensation and renumeration for reusing digital performances, especially those that are no longer with us.  His core questions were: ““When your performance becomes data it can be manipulated, reworked or sampled, much like the music industry samples vocals and beats. If we can do that, where does the intellectual property lie? Who owns authorship of the performance? Where are the boundaries?”  He went further to talk about actors being unethically used against cultural sensitivities since they can be replaced and manipulated with other imagery.  Top to bottom, Andy brings up an outstanding issue that deserves attention.  I look forward to seeing where this story goes and who steps up to listen.

LESSON #4: YOUR OPENING DAY MENU OF DISNEY+ IS IMMENSE AND AMAZING— The full list of content starting on Day 1 of Disney+ is obscene.  Click on this link for the whole list and put on a football helmet with a chin-strap.  The buttoned up strap will hold your jaw and the helmet itself could stave of a concussion when you fall from wherever you’re standing or sitting reading that list.


 

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.  (#116)

What We Learned This Week: September 1-14

LESSON #1: MY FELLOW FILM CRITICS, CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE— As a press credentialed and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic myself, I’m sorry in advance, but I need to partially call out a one of my own. The first is Alex Billington of First Showing for being too much about being F1RST.  His work is solid and his site is one of the more dependable websites for actual movie news and less click bait, but, simply put, he broke the rules he agreed upon when he put on the Venice Film Festival press badge.  He was upset when one of his reviews broke embargo rules.

Here’s the link to the “open letter” editorial that followed. For those of you playing at home, we critics are bound to something like reverse deadlines, namely firm times requested by the studios that are the earliest reactions and reviews are allowed to run.  I don’t like them anymore than Alex does, but they are the rules and the studios or festivals have the right to control thier message and product.  Abiding by embargoes are part of the deal of being so damn lucky enough to be in Venice, Telluride, Cannes, or Toronto seeing a huge movie for free before everyone else.  Access is the reward before your page clicks.  Be happy you have it in the first place.  We are spoiled every week by an embarassment of riches for shiny pieces of entertainment.  Besides, we critics get to cheat with social media before full reviews:

This is where I can agree with Alex.  However, that small shout-out should be enough to keep business and attention going.  Harmony and health take patience.  I don’t like it, but I respect the rules.  People that break them can ruin things for the rest of us lower down the ladder.

LESSON #2: THE ASSIGNED DESCRIPTORS OF “GARBAGE” OR “TRASH” IS NOT PROFESSIONAL FILM CRITICISM— I’ll take another shot at my own kind, but I’ll leave the name out this time.  Call this a general warning for anyone who sounds even close to this, even at at the Letterboxd level.  If, as a supposedly professional film critic, all of your learned expertise, curated reflection, and skillfull high-mindedness within the medium of film, lead you to the molehill peak of calling a film “trash” or “garbage,” then, I’m sorry, you’re not a professional film critic.  You are BS artist of hyperbole and click bait.  You haven’t learned tact.  You haven’t met a thesaurus.  You haven’t learned creativity in putting substance into opinions.  Using that poorly formed wording in what is supposed to be a professional piece is a careless and irresponsible trigger.  And when you don’t back it up, you’re just asking for folks to call into question the quality of your writing, if not the quality of your personal character as well.  Aim higher.  Write better.

LESSON #3: STREAMING SERVICES DESERVE BETTER— Just when I thought the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put a positive public gavel down for the inclusion of films from streaming services in year-end awards for the whole industry to follow, we digress to a story like what came out of the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival this week.  Certain theater vendors would not welcome Netflix or Amazon-backed films to screen for competition during the festival.  This has been silly and elitist for too long.  Have the likes of Roma taught us nothing? Let the art compete.  Source shouldn’t matter.

LESSON #4: YOU NEED TO BE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF IMDB TV— In the recommendation slot of this week’s column, I, a new Amazon Fire Stick owner, have discovered the IMDb TV app.  Their selection of streamable films and shows, which includes award winners like La La Land and Silver Linings Playbook and classics like Dune, High Noon, and The Karate Kid, is outstanding for the free price of sitting through some occasional ads.  Seek it out on your devices and players at home.


 

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.  (#115)

What We Learned This Week: August 25-31

LESSON #1: THERE’S PRICE POINT AND THEN THERE’S STEAL OF A DEAL THAT YOU SIMPLY CANNOT PASS UP— You regular readers know my usual stance on price point.  It is the ultimate decision-maker and motivator of consumerism and it always wins.  Just when you couldn’t think Disney could sweeten the pot more for its Disney+ streaming service, they drop another bombshell.  It’s price by itself AND with the ESPN+ add-in already beat Netflix.  Now, they hit us with the special rate for D23 fan club members that drops the price to under $4 per month when you commit to three years.  If this was a cell phone contract, we would all be wary of being locked into something for that amount of time.  That’s not the case here.  That’s a locked-in price for three years in a streaming business era that just loves to get you signed up early and then jack up the rates.  For less than the price of one expensive cup of exotic coffee a month, you get all of Disney+.  Folks, that’s a regret-free and zero excuse steal.

LESSON #2: ROTTEN TOMATOES DESERVES TO WIN A “MOST IMPROVED” AWARD— For all the Rex Reeds and David Ehrlichs that sink hopes and skew audiences with imagined power, the critical community of Rotten Tomatoes needed an infusion of new voices.  Last August, the Flixster-controlled site drastically updated their Tomatometer Critic Criteria and opened its ranks to a new breed of critics (myself included) that go beyond print journalism and stress inclusion of diversity.  One year later, they have reported their resulting data.  Adding 600 critics was huge. To have 55% of them be women, 60% of them be freelancers, and 10% come from video and podcast sources is even more huge.  Thank you, Rotten Tomatoes, for the impactful initiative and impressive follow-through.  What a facelift!

LESSON #3: THOSE WHO CANNOT DO, TEACH— Quite likely for just about every movie fan who has ever seen Matthew McConaughey work or talk about his craft, “scholarly,” I’m betting, was not the first or even the 100th word to come to mind.  Alas, after four years as a “visiting instructor,” the coolest of cool Academy Award winner has become a full-time film “professor of practice” at the Moody College of Communication within the University of Texas-Austin.  This looks like a true commitment and not a gloryhounding publicity stunt in any shape or form.  From one teacher to another, good for you!  The classroom can use your inspiring energy and voice of experience.  Now, all I picture are the hot-for-teacher students from Raiders of the Lost Ark that faun over and derail Professor Henry Jones with their eyelid mesages.

 

If that starts happening to you, Matt, that’s how you know you’ve made it.  I can hear it now: “I just love these college girls.  I get older and they stay the same age.”

LESSON #4: GERARD BUTLER IS A POOR MAN’S LIAM NEESON— The weekend box office victory of Angel Has Fallen has reminded us that Gerard Butler has a certain successful niche that people pay money to see.  Like the matinee idols of the 90s that came before him and kicked and punched (Van Damme, Seagal) their way victoriously through raucous R-rated action flicks, the 300 star and an arsenal of fireams can do the same thing.  He’s beginning the Liam Neeson route early, right before turning 50 this November.  Make a few more winners like the Fallen series and Butler can hope to equal and maybe supplant Neeson.  He’s found a fan romance in Vulture writer and critic extraordinaire Bilge Ebiri after his “I Think I Love Gerard Butler” editorial this past week.  Great read!

 


 

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.  (#114)

What We Learned This Week: 40th Birthday Soapbox Special

Today, August 26th, I turn 40 years old and I can tell you this. I am quite susceptible to the “mid-life crisis” I know is coming or already happening.  Weirdly though, while fully feeling every measure of mortality and all the uncertainty that comes with that, I can happily say that I’m rarely alone.  When I’m not a school teacher on the job or a devoted husband and father, I have the movies and the urge to flex the creative muscle to write about them.  I can never see “everything” and never will, but I value what I get and pull every intellectual and emotional strength I can from the art and entertainment that I’m lucky enough to see and enjoy.

So, in true “Every Movie Has a Lesson” and “What We Learned This Week” fashion, this week’s lessons will be 40 birthday candle movie favorites of formative and favorite films for me made me who I am today.  I’d watch every single one of them right now instead of heading into my first day of school at a new job as we speak and read this column on August 26, 2019.

1. CASABLANCA taught me how a great movie is the sum of many parts coming together in all the right ways and the value of classic films.

2. THE WIZARD OF OZ taught me to love whimsical fantasy in a way that few films have ever equaled or topped since.

3. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE taught me wholesome Midwestern values and true-blue heroism.

4. GHOST taught me how much I will always love melodrama and pine for fantasy fulfillment in many shapes and forms.

5. E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL taught me how to have an empathetic heart at a young age.

6. TOP GUN taught me way too much about adult things at an impressionable young age and how to watch a movie over and over to celebrate that.

7. REAR WINDOW taught me the focus and value of suspenseful storytelling and the ramifications of voyeurism.  

8. THE MASK OF ZORRO taught me that swashbuckling and practical stuntwork should always have a place in the movies.

9. RUDY taught me that even as a little guy I can have the same or greater heart as those bigger, stronger, and faster than me.

10. BACKDRAFT taught me how me about hero worship and how to be a good big brother at a young age.  

11. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK taught me about value of a damn good cliffhanger and the character investment that comes with one.

12. L.A. CONFIDENTIAL taught me about the intoxicating genre of film noir that I never discovered up to that point.

13. SHANE taught me about father-figures and how I longed for them to come along in my life like Little Joe did.

14. BACK TO THE FUTURE taught me how to love just about any time travel movie you’ll ever put in front of me.

15. DESPERADO taught me Robert Rodriguez and how no one makes a good sexy shoot ’em up anymore.

16. INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE taught me how to ride off into the sunset.

17. BATMAN taught me that the comic book heroes of my youth could go dark and become endlessly interesting and still entertaining at the same time.

18. TWISTER taught me how to turn my brain off and have a blast in a loud, dark, and air-conditioned movie theater

19. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION taught me the most about human dignity than just about any other movie to date.

20. FIELD OF DREAMS taught me how to a better dad than my own.

21. SLEEPING BEAUTY taught me how to love old Walt Disney movies.

22. INDEPENDENCE DAY taught me how to cheer at the movies.

23. GHOSTBUSTERS taught me how to have fun while been spooked at the movies.

24. JAWS taught me how to good suspense is built with patience and tone.

25. WHIPLASH taught me how to never be a mean teacher again.

26. CONTACT taught me to ponder and blend spirituality and science.

27. LEGENDS OF THE FALL taught me natural cinematography, James Horner, and more of that melodramatic brother strife from Backdraft.

28. MEMENTO taught me Christopher Nolan and the value of nonlinear stories better than Pulp Fiction did.

29. JURASSIC PARK taught me the merger of scientific wonder and silver screen entertainment.

30. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY taught me how dialogue and romantic comedy from that era absolutely eclipses the stuff that came after it to this day.

31. TOMBSTONE taught me how cool westerns are why their movies get the best tough-talking lines.

32. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE taught me how to never consider suicide as a husband and father.

33. PULP FICTION taught me that all things retro can be cool in the right measures.

34. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD taught me that not all heroes where capes or uniforms.

35. OFFICE SPACE taught me how to deal with authority and leave work at work.

36. CHRISTMAS VACATION taught me what it would be like to be the hapless and overachieving father I will probably turn out to be in the next decade.

37. NORTH BY NORTHWEST taught me that Hitchcock can be breezy fun and not always odd and twisted.

38. UP taught me how much I look forward to loving my wife for the rest of my life.

39. THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY taught me the true meaning of “epic” that isn’t going to be topped any time soon.

40. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF taught me to love the city I call home.


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.  (#113)

What We Learned This Week: August 18-24

LESSON #1: FIND COMPROMISE WHEN IT CLEARLY BENEFITS BOTH PARTIES— The thunderstorm combination of shock and disappointment rained down this week in the form of tirades (and endless memes) and laments towards Sony Pictures and Disney this week when negotiations between the two studio giants couldn’t settle on an extension of production credit and involvement for the Marvel character of Spider-Man.  Circling back to the original landmark deal from 2015, Marvel was set to only receive 5% of any box office revenue earned by their shared partnership.  Now that we have all seen the surging success built by Spidey’s rub of inclusion with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I can’t say I blame Marvel czar Kevin Feige asking for a bigger cut of the pie.  Still, this is Sony’s property to control and if they think they can make a profitable Spider-Man movie without MCU ties, they can sure try.  All in all, what’s missing is compromise and the fans as the losers. I know Feige asked for that 5% to go up to 50%.  Is that a shade greedy coming from the all-powerful Disney? Maybe. Is pulling the character away from the greater universe he belongs in a little bit of selfish hubris from the same Sony studio that ruined this precious character twice already?  Probably. What I’m calling for is compromise because this deal could be done and the billions can still be made if egos and dollar signs got a little more reasonable.

LESSON #2: “THE LASAGNA RULE”— Let me repeat a great Feelin Film Discussion Group thread over her in WWLTW.  Our follower Joseph Hamrick posted an excellent editorial piece from Steven Volynets on Quillette talking about joy being replaced by negativity in the field of film criticism.  As a credentialed critic myself, I’ve been seeing this among my peers and I liken some of them now to those huffy judges from food judging TV shows like Chopped.  The judges, or critics in this case, always seem to be looking for these impossibly superficial and hyper-personal standards when some dishes (or movies) are not built for excellence and still turn out delicious (or entertaining).  I have deemed this the “The Lasagna Rule.” There are very few ways to dress up lasagna. There’s no color variety or crunch quotient required. It’s a gooey and ugly stack of traditional cheesy, meaty, and pasta-y layers that are going to look like shit on any plate. But, damn, it’s tasty just the way it is. Plenty of movies are that way too and don’t need refinement to be good or successful.  Critics need to change their palette or lens to fit the cinematic dish or restaurant. Dare I say, be more objective…

LESSON #3: GO GET IMPRESSED WITH DIRECTOR’S CUTS OF MOVIES— Be it because of studio tinkering, failed budgets, second thoughts, or artistic purity, I am always fascinated by the origin, existence, and content of notable “director’s cuts” of films.  On the heels of the so-called “Final Cut” of Apocalypse Now hitting IMAX locations this week, the closing WWLTW recommendation slot goes to seeking out these extended visions. World of Reel has a list of six they call better than their originals and IndieWire has a list they consider best and essential.  While you could use my favorite streaming search engine JustWatch to find these titles, I’m betting most are only available on physical media.  Hunt down those libraries!


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.  (#112)