LESSON #1: DON’T BUY THE DOOM AND GLOOM PRETENTIOUS PEOPLE ARE PUTTING ON ROTTEN TOMATOES AND NETFLIX— It feels like every week someone wants to pit the fans versus the critics and forget that critics are fans too. This week it was a piece in Forbes. Let me put this as simple as I can. Reviews don’t make people pull money out of their wallet. Products of interest do. The content always sells itself first. The frosting of random measured approval is second. I will continue to be in the “want a better RT score, make a better movie” camp. As for Netflix, people are forgetting about the huge access it grants independent films and documentary films. Films like Okja this week wouldn’t get a puncher’s chance at the crowded multiplexes in this country. A platform like Netflix lets it be everywhere. In addition to being that kind of pedestal, the ability for audience buzz through binge and repeat viewing is something a theater cannot improve for a film.
LESSON #2: IF YOU REALLY NEED A NEW PLACE TO READILY AND AFFORDABLY ACCESS FILMS, HEAD OVER TO YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY— I’m not an avid reader, but I still frequent my local library through my children. Especially if your library is part of a larger county or state system of shared material, the completely free access to both popular and hard-to-find movies is outstanding. Before you pay that Redbox price with a time limit, a 24-hour Video On Demand rental, or even a full subscription to something like Netflix, Hulu, or Filmstruck, consider what you can mine and discover for free.
LESSON #3: SOUNDTRACKS CAN MAKE A MOVIE— There are films with cool soundtracks and then there are cool films with cool soundtracks. The trick is not just having a cool soundtrack but using it to its fullest extent as a supporting layer of a film. No movie in recent memory does that better than Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. That film isn’t throwing obscure tracks and deep cuts in there for indie cred. Each song is purposely piece of the storytelling and the effect is genius. See and hear Baby Driver at your earliest convenience on the loudest movie screen you can find.
LESSON #4: LET DIRECTORS DIRECT— I encountered a great deal of double talk this week on many fronts that all talked about directors and led me to this lesson’s title. First, The Beguiled‘s Sofia Coppola is getting flack for not including a slave character or addressing the politics of the Civil War in her auspicious remake landing in theaters this weekend. Right off the bat, she’s the writer and director and deserves to make those calls for the vision she wants to create, period. I’ve seen the film. The slavery angle or more men are not what the film is missing. Look at the material. The “whiteness” is the part of the point. Next, I don’t know what to make of the coming new direction of Warner Bros. under Toby Emmerich when it wants to avoid hiring “auteur directors who want final cut.” Do they realize they just hired and leaned on Joss Whedon, who had that final cut trouble with Marvel, to save one of their films? Do they not look back at their biggest critical successes this century and not see names like Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, and Christopher Nolan attached the end of the credits? I get trimming budgets, but don’t clip the wings of the incredible people you’ve hired. Tinker as a studio too far and people like Eastwood and Nolan are going to stop working with you and then you’ll get the “bad for business” label, Toby.
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends. Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.