What We Learned This Week: July 7-13

LESSON #1: DECORUM AND CIVILITY HAVE SLIPPED AT THE COMMUNAL THEATRE EXPERIENCE— I think every single one of us has more than one story of a crappy theater patron that we’ve had to share a movie with.  I bet, combined, we’re seen it all across any and all possible loud, messy, and disrespectful behavior. I ran into a sharp column from Rebel Without a Pause Button blogger Robert Salusbury on this topic entitled “Cinema Slobs.”  Reading it (nice media inserts, by the way) makes me wonder not just the extent, which we all know is too much, but the causes of how there is more of this that what many of us remember from past generations.  It can’t all be cell phones. A spoiled culture of entitlement, born from increased costs and a negative shift of personal discipline and accountability, has to be in there somewhere. Am I right? Don’t be one of the people we all hate when you go to the movie.  Be cool and a good neighbor.

LESSON #2: SONY ISN’T STUPID AND DISNEY IS OVERCONFIDENT— With the same fervor as rooting for the chaos of NBA free agency, I got a kick out of hearing that Marvel could love its MCU rights to the Sony-controlled Spider-Man character if Spider-Man: Far From Home does not crack $1 billion of global box office.  I mean, go figure that this is even a risk, but it’s going to be closer than you think.  Spider-Man: Homecoming fell far short of a billion at about $880 million, so Disney is gambling on big growth.  This makes me laugh for two reasons. The first is the shared horror we all have knowing Sony would f–k up this character for a third time without Marvel’s champion support.  The second is how Disney might be shooting its own foot with this necessary milestone by putting The Lion King in theaters right in Spider-Man’s wake in third week.  That’s careless hubris right there.

LESSON #3: THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A REMAKE AND A REIMAGINING— Speaking of The Lion King, folks, I know I wrote about 1100 words on the movie, but I honestly don’t know what to truly tell you about The Lion King.  Disney calls these reimaginings, but, to me, that term means updates, modifications, and new infusions.  Jon Favreau’s has that on the outside with the stunning photo-real animation, but that’s it. There is an awful lot of shot-for-shot replication after that, which feels more remake than reimagining.  Granted, if that’s the goal, then mission accomplished because the music is there and the nostalgia is there to make a zillion dollars. Creatively, I still think it’s a shame and a missed opportunity to evolve more than the exterior.

LESSON #4: IT PAYS TO BE AN AVENGER— Here’s one more thing on Disney money.  We’ve seen Robert Downey, Jr. score fat paydays for being Tony Stark, but, goddamn, was Avenger: Endgame a golden parachute.  The top dog got $20 million up front, which is lucrative and more than the $15 million given to Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, and Chris Hemsworth.  For RDJ, it’s the 8% back-end deal that fills his vault with another $55 million.  That’s a handsome jump from the $500K paycheck from the first Iron Man movie.  Studs and studettes, back-end deals are where it’s at (“that’s what she said”) and they’ve been a part of the business for a long time.  Jack Nicholson’s Batman deal from 30 years ago scored like RDJ did.  Even Bradley Cooper doing just a voice took a 1% deal and walks away from Avengers: Endgame with $7 million.

LESSON #5: NETFLIX MIGHT BE GETTING SMARTER— Frequent WWLTW readers and followers have seen in this column the many instances where Netflix really throws money around (click on the tag and you’ll see).  Well, I think the teenager finally maxed out mommy and daddy’s credit card and have learned to live and spend a little leaner. Reports say the streaming giant will be more “cautious” with budgets after dropping nine figures on projects like Ben Affleck’s Triple Frontier and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.  Welcome to big studio problems, Netflix.  It’s the paychecks they’re writing to talent, not the production costs.  Unlike an MCU film, they aren’t getting ticket sales. As renewable and reliable as the monthly subscription rake can provide, Netflix will always have a growth cap.  Heaven forbid, they lose customers.

LESSON #6: REEVALUATING THE POLITICS OF A MOVIE IS ALMOST ALWAYS PROBLEMATIC— In my short 39 years in this world, I am fully educated and aware that some movies are not going to age well and that, matching my own website of Every Movie Has a Lesson, I believe every movie has a bias or political root of some size.  Zero is impossible. To me, each movie becomes a time capsule for the era in which is was made (double if it’s a period piece), slant and all. I get the feeling IndieWire’s Eric Kohn doesn’t see things the same way. For Forrest Gump’s 25th anniversary, the journalist wrote a takedown article heaping a whole lot of conjecture and reaching political blame.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t go there. Forrest Gump was always neutral to me because it’s steep realistic fiction.  Aging is aging. I get that some movies will fit and fall with the times, but it’s not worth burning things to the ground.

LESSON #7: GUILLERMO DEL TORO HAS GOOD TASTE— For the finishing recommendation slot, enjoy this list of The Shape of Water Oscar winner’s 25 favorite films.  It’s an outstanding balance of cinema history and modern cornerstones.  Build that Letterboxd checklist from this and begin a little journey of appreciation and education.


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.  (#106)

MOVIE REVIEW: The Lion King (2019)

This remake of my favorite animated film of all-time was coming up against some very high expectations, and despite being only my third favorite version (behind the original and theater musical), it is nonetheless an outstanding telling of this story in its own spectacular way.


 

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: June 23-July 6

LESSON #1: WE ARE LIVING IN A GOLDEN AGE OF SPIDER-MAN— What was broken beyond repair a few years ago couldn’t be in a better place today.  Spider-Man: Far From Home is Tom Holland’s second solo film and fifth total movie appearance as Peter Parker and he is maturing and progressing the character just about perfectly.  The movie was given the responsibility of closing out the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe phase and it did not disappoint. Combine the live-action take with the stellar animated off-shoot of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and the character finds himself as popular as it has ever been.  If Marvel was looking for the next flagship character to lead the MCU after the departure of Robert Downey, Jr., look no further.

LESSON #2: GET FREE STUFF WHILE IT LASTS— Amid the streaming wars sits two wonderful services available for free with many public library cards.  Folks on this site and group have long sung the praises of Hoopla and Kanopy. The price of free is amazing and, possibly soon, too good to be true.  The usage tab on the library’s end of things might start putting limitations on Kanopy, which would be a damn shame.  Between its Paramount and A24 offerings, Kanopy is invaluable for open discovery.  It would be a shame to see it dropped at some libraries.  

LESSON #3: 30 YEARS LATER, BATMAN STILL HOLDS UPs— We’re all living today at the MCU buffet, but the older among us reminder the sensational time of frenzy and hype that came with 1989’s Batman from Tim Burton and Warner Bros. Pictures.  As a movie, it redefined superhero films and showed that dark could sell and camp could be corrected (albeit until Joel Schumacher digressed the franchise).  The lore of Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson have diminished little, even after Christopher Nolan’s reimagining nearly two decades after. As an event, it was a blockbuster that broke marketing models and changed the way Hollywood did business.  The MovieFilm Commentary team recorded a track you can play alongside the film and Gena Radcliffe of The Spool had a nice column piece.  I too hopped on Mike Crowley’s “You’ll Probably Agree” podcast recently to reminisce.  Like Seth Rogen in Neighbors talking to Zac Efron, Michael Keaton is still my Batman.  

LESSON #4: LOOK AT A CANDIDATE’S MOST CRUCIAL QUALIFICATIONS— Speaking of Warner Bros., the media giant hired its first-ever woman CEO recently.  Ann Sarnoff was a proven winner at the BBC, raising subscriptions, and she will work to do the same at WB.  It doesn’t matter that Ann is a woman. She’s good at what she does. The same can be said for Halle Bailey being cast as Ariel in the upcoming Little Mermaid re-imagining.  Just listen to that woman sing.  That’s the important trait for that role, not hair or skin color.  Disney made a fantastic hire and so did the WB.

LESSON #5: IF THINGS ARE TOO BRIGHT AND COLORFUL FOR YOU DURING THE SUMMER, LOOK TO THE SHADOWS— In the recommendation slot, I am surely aware summer is not everyone’s thing.  Some folks want nothing to do with the hot rainbow loudness of this season. If that’s you, might I suggest something colder and hard-boiled.  Look into this list of the top 100 noir films from Slant Magazine or 33 neo-noir selections from Vulture.  Use this summer heat for some home viewing that hard boils your plots and characters.  I call that perfect palette-cleansing counter-programming for this time of year.

 


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.  (#106)

What We Learned This Week: “Toy Story 4” Special

THE LESSONS I LEARNED WRITING ONE OF THE FIRST AND FEW NEGATIVE REVIEWS OF “TOY STORY 4”

A week and a half ago, I watched Toy Story 4 during an advance screening for press and I really wrestled with what I watched. I slept on it, researched it, and went back and forth with my paragraphs. In the end, I gave it a two-star review which quantifies to a “Rotten” green splatter on Rotten Tomatoes. I knew vitriol and many questions would come. I sure didn’t know how much, even with the saying of any press being good press (Thanks, ComicBook.com). Let me tell you, I had quite the learning experience that is fitting for a special and personal “What We Learned This Week” editorial. 

LESSON #1: IT WASN’T ABOUT THE ATTENTION— Those of you who know me and follow my work know my snark level is not very high. I’m not a purposeful contrarian and I don’t go about this with a mean spirit. I’m not out to burn anything to the ground, even if it’s Terrence Malick. Sure, I may write about lofty and nice film often, but I am far from a film snob too. Higher cinephiles than me have said worse things about more universally acclaimed movies than Toy Story 4. I gave Toy Story 3 the highest of acclaim possible in a review nine years ago and included the franchise in the top five of the best trilogies ever (for which it has now departed). I’m a regular guy, father of two, and a school teacher. Those are my informed anchors and lenses. 4500+ review views later, I will still assert that didn’t do this to get page clicks or to get noticed. I don’t get paid to write reviews. The ad revenue is pennies in a piggy bank and does not constitute a making a living on this stuff. 

LESSON #2: BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF— Again without contrarian snark, I wrote what I did with honesty in mind. Believe me, it would have been way easier to give the movie a pass or follow the pack mentality. I couldn’t with honesty and personal integrity do that, no matter the movie. I don’t give passes to anyone. Because of that, I knew to be careful next. 

LESSON #3: BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR WORDS— I go into each review, positive for negative, mindful of the words I use, especially the hyperbole. I have loved and championed this list of movie critic cliches from Letterboxd user Erik Bajzert and I actively avoid them at all costs. They have become my rules and style guide. 

LESSON #4: IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE TO SEE A MOVIE’S FAULTS AND STILL RECOMMEND IT AND ENCOURAGE AN AUDIENCE— At no point was I shouting from any mountaintop that people shouldn’t see Toy Story 4. With Lesson #3 in mind, my review was not about “love” or “hate” or “like” or “dislike.” I didn’t and wouldn’t use those words and I dare you to find one in my piece. Kyle Smith of the National Review was far less kind than me.  Reviewing a movie for me is more than the emotional takeaways. I go deeper. I don’t hate Toy Story 4. I even don’t dislike Toy Story 4. I’ll recommend people see it and form their own opinion until the cows come home. I’ll use Lesson #5 to explain my review points. 

LESSON #5: IT’S ABOUT EFFECTIVE VERSUS INEFFECTIVE— For all the people who ask about a part or point of my review, my answer has been talking about effectiveness instead of hate or dislike. That’s me trying to apply objectives to the subjective and maintaining the mindfulness from Lesson #3. There are more narrative choices, plot points, character moments, repetitive tropes and more than I flatly found ineffective rather than effective for several reasons. I spell them out in detail in one of the longest reviews I’ve written this year because I knew the need to explain carefully. I’d write even longer if I stepped further into spoilers. Again, see Lesson #3. 

LESSON #6: I’M NOT WRONG AND NEITHER ARE YOU— I’ll partially throw one of our Feelin’ Film hosts under the bus with the use of the word “wrong.”

It’s not about right or wrong. I didn’t write anything wrong. I just wrote something different and carried an opposing opinion. We’re all allowed that and I know I’ve come a long way around here (Dunkirk and “masterpiece,” anyone?) to be better myself about labels and being receptive. I knew what Aaron White meant (though a few others gave him a slice of shade). and he’s always going to be respected and cool in my book. I thank him for supporting my work, including the space to rant like this every week. 

LESSON #7: INTERNET COMMENTS ARE THE WORST— Boy, oh boy, is the troll side of the internet alive and well. OK. Fine. You disagree with an opinion. Like we all say, it’s just a movie.  What does writing hate do? What does wishing bodily harm to a person and his family do? Does it make your feel better or tough? Does Disney thank you for needlessly defending its honor? Some comments are truly sickening. I’m willing to bet 80% or more of the people who wrote one of the 50+ comments on my review didn’t even watch Toy Story 4. See the movie first then come and really talk. It was quite telling to me how the comments virtually stopped after its Friday debut, where maybe the realization of what I wrote wasn’t all that contrarian and spiteful. Luckily, I’m the type of person that doesn’t absorb that kind of garbage. I know all of it is fake internet courage. 

LESSON #8: NO REGRETS— Cue Scottie. P. from We’re the Millers.  I guested on Ian Simmons’s “Kicking the Seat” podcast talking about Toy Story 4 that week and fellow dais participant (and friend of the Feelin’ Film page) Emmanuel Noisette of E-Man’s Movie Reviews and The Movie Blog offered an on-air intervention session. He pleaded a little to reconsider my rating and review and to watch the movie again. I’ll certainly be seeing the sequel again with my wife and kids at some point. Maybe I do come around to more like and love, but I remain confident about my review speaking on worthwhile effectiveness. I don’t regret a word I wrote because I did it with honesty, clarity, and integrity. Toy Story 4 loses zero its standing and reputation from me and the other “Rotten” reviews.  The film will do just fine and not a real thing in the world is burnt.  The comments are horrible, but I don’t regret leaving the comment section open. I take all comers and customers. The many rational discussions with critic peers and general friends alike since in real spaces have been wonderful across the board. Shout out to Mike Crowley of “You’ll Probably Agree” for another solid and civil podcast discussion like Ian’s.  If anything, the challenge going forward is to maintain my consistency as a critic, especially on the Rotten Tomatoes platform.  There is a responsibility to that, which I completely understood even before this experience. This review, in a way, can count as a baseline or cornerstone. I must be wary of that and the comparisons possible going forward. This all only makes me want to work harder. Thanks for reading and your support!


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.  (#105)

MOVIE REVIEW: Spider-Man: Far From Home

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME is everything I could have wanted from a SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING sequel & follow-up to AVENGERS: ENDGAME. See it on opening night or ASAP to avoid spoilers and be sure to stay for two incredible (and game-changing) post-credit scenes.


 

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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Yesterday


Erynne Hundley is Seattle-based writer and film critic, currently writing and editing articles for Essentially Erynne and Feelin’ Film. She prides herself on crafting spoiler-free film reviews that balance franchise history, stylistic approach, script interpretation, and the emotional turmoil the final piece creates. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram for article updates.

MOVIE REVIEW: Midsommar


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: June 2-22

LESSON #1: PERCEIVED RECORDS AND DISTINCTIONS MAKE PEOPLE GREEDY— The corporate greed monster of Disney strikes again with a blatant turnaround re-release of Avengers: Endgame. The goal of tacking on “new footage,” a tribute reel, and an end credits scene is to get the blockbuster over the final $50 million hump between its gross and the Avatar’s cumulative worldwide record of $2.788 billion. Apparently, there’s shame for being in second place so bad they have to employ cheap double-dip tactics. It will work, but it will also take screens away from other smaller movies that deserve more attention and chances. In my eyes, and I’ve taken this stump in this column before, this remains a hollow and fake victory fueled by inflation and high ticket prices. Avengers: Endgame remains outside of the Top 15 in both inflation-adjusted gross and, the best and most universal indicator of all, total ticket sales. Wake me up when it catches anything in that Top 5 or even the Top 10.

LESSON #2: DON’T TAKE A MOVIE AWAY FROM A CAPABLE DIRECTOR— A week after its disappointing debut at the box office, word on creative strife behind the scenes of Men in Black: International is coming to light. Clashes of story direction and final cut between veteran producer Walter Parkes and hired and extremely capable director F. Gary Gray nearly caused Gray to leave the project. Gray touted something edgier and Parkes’ sillier affair won final cut. This is explains a great deal as to why this movie looks way off and feels discombobulated, even by MiB standards. Sony, you’ve made these screwups before (and it sounds like you’re doing them again with Bond 25).  Trust the talent you hire and let them do their thing.

LESSON #3: DON’T PAY THE SAME GUY TO SCREW UP TWICE— There are many things wrong with Fox’s X-Men “culmination” movie Dark Phoenix, and just about every one of them can leveled to the writer/director Simon Kinburg, who was respectful enough to take responsibility. Once the powers-that-be announced that the X-Men: Apocalypse sequel was going to tackle the “Phoenix/Dark Phoenix” for a second time after Brett Ratner’s reviled X-Men: The Last Stand, they had to know the scrutiny was coming.  If you’re actually trying for renewed success, you don’t hire the same writer who made the first dumpster fire and then also give him the power to direct.  I get familiarity and I get that Bryan Singer is radioactive to employ, but go find an actual upgrade for your $200 million tentpole and franchise swan song.

LESSON #4: THE FEELINGS OF FATIGUE AND BLANDNESS FOR BLOCKBUSTERS ARE REAL— I know Toy Story 4 is fail-proof this weekend from this lesson, but, other than April’s Avengers: Endgame, this has been a rough spring and summer for blockbusters. I read two articles this week that tackled this issue in different ways. Medium.com writer Samuel Lenz poses the question of franchise fatigue of bland blockbusters. IndieWire’s Tom Brueggemann went deeper into the collapse to cite size, frequency, the loss of MoviePass, streaming preferences, and higher quality TV options. I think both together encapsulate the majority of the factors we’re seeing. The top reason to me is quality. These have been bland movie offerings. Better movies get better audiences and returns. Better movies with verified must-see buzz climb over other entertainment options an open wallets. It will always start with quality.

LESSON #5: IT WILL ALWAYS BE ABOUT PRICE POINT— The posturing of the streaming wars continue with WarnerMedia announcing the proposed price of its upcoming streaming service. The sticker of $16-17 monthly would include HBO (which is $15 by itself currently), Cinemax, and the sizable WB library of content. That may be a fair price on paper, but in the eyes of customers, that’s more than double Disney Plus and higher than Netflix, Hulu, and even Apple. Other than hardcore HBO fans and folks that miss the WB bulk that used to be backbone of the closing Turner Classic Movies, people aren’t going to bite for this. Now, if that $16 included Warner’s current standalone DC Entertainment as a match to all the Marvel stuff under the Disney Plus umbrella, the temptation and value would be closer.

LESSON #6: APPLE WANTS TO BE AN OSCAR PLAYER—Many in the industry watched with impressiveness at Netflix’s Oscar campaigns for Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. They have broken the glass ceiling and Apple is looking to follow. News broke this week of their strategy to produce and back six modestly-budgeted films a year as sponsored Oscar hopefuls. This plan is independent from a recent multi-year agreement between Apple and indie darling A24 to make multiple features together, but you have to think that collaboration is a perfect source for this goal.  Watch out, folks. Fine apple wine is coming.


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.  (#104)

MOVIE REVIEW: Wild Rose


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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Toy Story 4


 

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.