What We Learned This Week: New Year’s Resolutions for the Film Industry for 2019

Image by Muharrem Aner for Getty via The Daily Beast

Plenty of regular everyday people make New Year’s Resolutions, but I think bigger entities, namely movie makers and movie moguls, need to make them too.  Annually, including this eighth edition, have fun taking the movie industry to task for things they need to change, even if I get to do it every week in a different ranting way on “What We Learned This Week.” My cadence hasn’t changed.  I have no false internet courage to be a Twitter troll. As always, some resolutions come true while others get mentioned and reiterated every year. A great deal of last year’s list is still relevant.  Enjoy this year’s hopes and dreams.

#1: Don’t stop supporting minority voices.

2018 has been a banner year for indie film featuring themes, stars, and filmmakers of gender and racial diversity.  This list is impressive: Searching, If Beale Street Could Talk, Blindspotting, The Hate U Give, Sorry to Bother You, Roma, The Rider, Revenge, Crazy Rich Asians, Madeline’s Madeline, BlacKkKlansman, Burning, Roxanne Roxanne, Nappily Ever After, We the Animals, Private Life, Widows, You Were Never Really Here, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Border, Support the Girls, Minding the Gap, Shoplifters, Destroyer, RBG, Hearts Beat Loud, Boy Erased, The Favourite, Bohemian Rhapsody, Collette, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Love Simon, Disobedience, Blockers, and many many more.  Upvote your favorite films directed by women in 2018 on this Ranker.  Hollywood, keep these doors opening.  Don’t just do this for tokenism. The audiences will come.

#2: Disney, take your time with Fox properties you bought from Marvel.

A recent Kevin Feige interview became click bait when he said that Fox’s Marvel properties, mostly the Fantastic Four and X-Men universes, could be in their control within six months.  Everyone (well, expect me) got out their abacuses and calendars to calculate how fast those new incarnations would arrive. My advice and resolution preached patience. Don’t just make these films because you can.  Take your time and get them right. Fantastic Four has had two failed attempts. X-Men has had its soft reboot too and is already slipping. I have no doubt those characters are in the right place, but Marvel needs to hold off.

#3: Speaking of Disney, slow down with your own releases.

Have you seen the Disney release calendar for 2019?  It’s insane. Their dominance, as if we already didn’t know, is unquestioned and it shows.  I think it’s too much. When big releases are on top of each other like this, they feel more run-of-the-mill instead of special.  I remember a time when there was only animated Disney film a year. It was huge, important, and it mattered. It’s hard to multiply care when there are a half-dozen or more between Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and their own house brand choices.  Space them out. Build them up. Make them matter because they don’t come around all that often.

#4: Don’t show us another second of Avengers: Endgame

Those of you who follow my weekly column and the “soapbox specials” know that I’ve sworn off of trailers and have been encouraging people like a cinematic cult leader to do the same. I’ve simply seen too many and oversell their products and create unreasonable expectations which create the butthurt fans we have come to hate. Avengers: Endgame would be the perfect trailblazer. That movie doesn’t need a second of marketing to get our money. How awesome would it be if they stopped cold right now after the first trailer? Our frenzy of anticipation off of the small sample would create more buzz than any new footage. At the same time, the studio could pad their bottom with the reduced need to throw money into marketing, as well as merchandise too. Don’t even release an action figure until after the screaming and parent-tugging kids see the movie in April. Don’t hope for a frenzy. Create one.

#5: Vet your hosts and spokespeople

In the Twitter meltdown wake of James Gunn, Louis CK, Kevin Hart and more this past year, studio heads and showrunners need to do a better job background checking their hires. It shouldn’t matter as much as it turns out, but we’re seeing it does. Big outfits and corporations have too many PR employees and interns at their disposal to miss the large problems they have this year. When those flags come up, talk it out and have a plan before making final decisions and public comments.

#6: If you’re a celebrity, it’s time to get off Twitter

I think we’ve reached a point where we have to ask what the gain is from Twitter. Sure, it’s fun to see trends and maybe catch breaking news, but that’s for us anonymous people of the general public. If you’re a big star, do you really need the scrutiny just for a small PR and promotional bump that comes from social media accessibility? I don’t see the value if you’re an established celebrity or brand.

#7: Repackage the Oscars a better way

Speaking if Kevin Hart, the embarrassing panhandling for a new host and poor attempts to shoehorn new and silly categories creates the need for this resolution.  I say don’t do even have a host at this point. Reduce the bits and focus on the awards. Here’s some perfect and generous math even with a host. Give the 24 categories 5 minutes each (3 to introduce it gracefully with deeper montages than mere quick mentions and 2 full minutes for each winner’s speeches) and that’s 120 minutes. Tack on 5 minutes to open with a welcoming monologue, 5 minutes to close with a thankful prologue, 3 minutes for the annual dead people roll call, and 30 minutes for required commercials to pay the bills.  Easy peasy! You’re well under three hours, the awards are given rich room to operate, and nothing is forgotten except another hare-brained skit. As far as categories go, Best Casting and Best Stunt Work deserve inclusion. If you want to trade those for some technical awards being moved to the separate Science awards night, so be it, but don’t even try to devalue the whole show with a dumb and patronizing Popular Film award. Leave those awards for MTV.

#8: Respect Netflix

Speaking of the Oscars, much is being talked about on a perceived bias and beef the Academy has with Netflix films. They need to put it aside with tolerance for a new and viable distribution outlet that isn’t going away, especially if they keep landing high pedigree films like Roma and The Irishman. Movie moguls need to arrive at the learning curve television and their Emmy Awards have already put behind them where cable and streaming shows have equal footing and respect as network shows. Welcome the new guy better than you are.

#9: Netflix, please choose quality over quantity

Speaking of Netflix, you might need the same resolution as the one Disney got earlier. We get it. You have money and are spending it. You can freely drop films and splash any and every pot with them. The trouble is you have more bombs than winners. For every Roma and Bird Box, you have a dozen that never get attention because there are too many choices. I know, right? Who would have ever thought too many choices was a bad thing. Netflix, I see your strengths. You are revitalizing the midrange budget film market studios haven’t been making since the 1990s. You give indie films wider and better chances for visibility than they would at the shrinking number of arthouse screens. You have long championed documentaries. Do all that with a discerning eye and refined taste.

#10: Keep repackaging Adam Sandler

Speaking of quality over quantity, if you don’t count his voice work in Hotel Transylvania 3, 2018 was the first year in a long time without a theatrical release from Adam Sandler.  That alone made 2018 a glorious year answering one of this column’s longest repeating annual resolutions to stop that man’s redundantly bad career.  I say that while still being happy Adam Sandler’s recent unbound and R-rated Netflix comedy special has done so well. Give us that grown-up Adam Sandler.  Bury the man child. Since Netflix is writing him checks, it’s up to them to remake Adam Sandler. Someday, we’ll be glad he’s back in the spotlight as a new man.  The fear will always be him slipping back to the boorish slacker type that made him rich.

#11: Price point will always be the greatest trigger and hurdle simultaneously

This goes for all of the current streaming services out there and all of the ones still coming, especially Disney+.  Each streaming service’s standalone price makes it highly affordable compared to the price of theater tickets for the whole family year-round or a bloated cable TV subscription.  The devices like AppleTV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire, and more are all wonderfully affordable too. The hard part is if/when you feel like you need to have 4-5 streaming services in addition to the steadily increasing costs of high speed internet to make it all work.  Then that number balloons. At some point, the overabundance of services and higher prices will break a common person’s budget. The services have to make sure they don’t reach that point.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson 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 new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  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.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Bringing the members of an estranged family together for a series of dysfunctional hijinx is nothing new in film, and writer/director Noah Baumbach (Mistress America, Frances Ha) has built himself quite a filmography while dealing from this particular creative deck. He feels like a throwback to early Woody Allen, creating characters with quick wit and sharp tongues; riffing off each other’s eccentricities in ways both comical and sincere. Also akin to Allen, the majority of Baumbach’s stories utilize understated New York City locales as backdrop, eschewing grandiose settings for simple brownstones and corner eateries that lend authenticity to his ensemble.

In his latest work, The Meyerowitz Stories, Baumbach explores similar themes to his exceptional 2005 film, The Squid and the Whale. Family dynamics as related to divorce, bitterness, and regret swirl throughout Baumbach’s tight script; his characters learning and growing as each suppressed resentment is gradually exposed.

The patriarch of the Meyerowitz family is Harold (Dustin Hoffman), a man who leads life with equal parts cynicism and narcissism, both traits having an adverse effect on his relationships with his three grown children. From behind a grizzled old man beard, Hoffman plays Harold with a wry sense of entitlement. A once semi-successful artist, he is continuously drawn to the allure of unearned accolades and notoriety. Hoffman is doing his best work in years, and this role is tailor made for his matter of fact style.

Harold’s three children, Danny (Adam Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and Matthew (Ben Stiller), have journeyed to New York to celebrate Harold’s upcoming show at a local college. Clearly the first time the siblings have been together in some time, and exacerbated by Harold’s quirky sensibilities, it’s only a matter of time before the animosities each child carries from their upbringing bubble up like a spring loaded, therapist’s couch confessional.  Sibling rivalry and a strong sense of being unfairly judged for their decisions in life by their father has led all three kids to a place of resentment, in varying parts towards Harold and each other.

Elizabeth Marvel is given the least to do amongst the three kids, but her sour, frumpy Jean manages to steal every scene she’s in. It’s unfortunate Baumbach doesn’t do a lot with Jean, and her point of view suffers as a result. She comes off as someone who just accepts her lot in life, with little control over her destiny nor motivation to challenge it. Ben Stiller is also up to task, but his Matthew doesn’t feel like a stretch for him as an actor. There are stark similarities between this role and his turn as Chas Tenenbaum in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Matthew is driven by unreasonable expectations for success, but his insecurities dictate that he will alienate those around him with an incessant need to prove his worth.

The true standout here is Adam Sandler. Every once in a while, Sandler will dabble in a dramatic turn and remind us that there is some talent to be found there. I really wish he would stick with roles such as this and stop with the lazy “vacation with my bros” comedy crap that has devalued his stock as an actor over the years. Sandler’s Danny is a nuanced, three dimensional character filled with hurt and resentment, and Sandler digs deep in a lot of scenes to bring forth those emotions. He even gets to champion the daddy/daughter dynamic missing between Harold/Jean, in scenes with his daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten), who is starting her freshman year in college. There is a particular scene between the two which involves a piano riff and a made up song about how they need each other and how they will always be there. It’s a moving moment, and a testament to how Danny is determined not to become his own father.

Baumbach adds a few bit characters as window dressing, most notably Maureen (Emma Thompson) as Harold’s current wife; a frazzled, inebriated eccentric with colored glasses and frumpy smocks who looks like she spent a lot of time getting into the 60’s.

One of the best things about Baumbach is how he manages to infuse drama with hilarious, natural comedy. Whenever the story takes a serious tone, there is always a sharp line such as, “Maureen, get your granddaughter more shark.” It reminds us that real life is going on around these people, and their struggles in life are balanced by moments that are meant to be laughed at. Even though we know there are no people in this world that hold conversations quite as naturally as those in the film, it’s that balance that gives Baumbach’s work authenticity.

One gripe I have with Baumbach is that his film’s aren’t very diverse. I’m not that guy that gets caught up in checking boxes, but if New York City is your muse, it would be nice to occasionally see a person of color do something more than serve your food at a cafe. A lot of his films feel culled from the world of HBO’s Girls (a show I adored, for the record); a show that was also criticized for its lack of diversity.

If you find yourself drawn to Baumbach’s other work, specifically The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, and Mistress America, I think you’ll find a lot to like in The Meyerowitz Stories.  This is a film that aligns neatly within the filmmaker’s wheelhouse, with the same biting wit and interpersonal drama that drives most of his narratives. The calculated risk of allowing Adam Sandler to carry the torch pays off in a big way. Baumbach typically won’t leave his characters in a bad place at the end of his films, and nothing changes here. If you tend to like satisfying resolutions, not to insinuate that all of the past damage is undone, but each character finding themselves no worse for the wear, you can rest assured the Meyerowitz’s will find themselves in a similar spot in the end. – By Steve Clifton

Rating:

 

 

 

What We Learned This Week: April 23-29

LESSON #1: YOU NEED TO BE WATCHING THE ORIGINAL FILMS DISTRIBUTED BY NETFLIX— This column has thrown bouquets at Netflix for having the resources and courage to become a real player in the film industry.   Indiewire has a nice article trying to look at why Netflix’s great film acquisitions are still getting buried.  The website followed that with a checklist of seven films worthy your time.  Before summer officially splashes down, save some travel and concession bucks and seek a few Netflix films out.

LESSON #2: THAT SAID, STOP GIVING ADAM SANDLER A CAREER, EVEN ON NETFLIX— In some kind of bragging effort of PR, Netflix recently reported that their subscribers have watched 500 million hours of Adam Sandler films.  Good lord, that’s a lot of trash.  I know it’s subjective, but Adam Sandler is dead to me and I refuse to watch his repetitive and idiotic films.  With “Sandy Wexler,” he’s one film into a five-film deal on Netflix.  I have no idea how this man is still topical or relevant bringing out the same man-child comedy for twenty years now.  He needs to go away.  Stop giving him your money and your hours.

LESSON #3: THE “WORLD WAR Z” SEQUEL IS BENEATH DAVID FINCHER— The director of “Se7en,” “The Game,” “Fight Club,” “Panic Room,” “Zodiac,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and “Gone Girl” is better than a clunky and questionable blockbuster sequel.  Kudos to Paramount Pictures for signing him (once the ink dries).  That’s a hell of a get and upgrade, but somebody send Fincher (or his agent) better scripts and opportunities than bad zombies.

LESSON #4: HERE COMES THE REAL BEST CHANCE OF REDEMPTION FOR M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN— Personally, like Sandler, I’ve been on a boycott of Shyamalan’s films since “The Last Airbender.”  I threw my hands up and was done.  In my opinion, he’s like a mediocre basketball player.  He’s got one great move to the basket: the twist ending.  He’s amazing at that, but it’s all he has.  The rest of his craft is repetitive and hack, if you ask me, even if people are calling the modest gains of “The Visit” and “Split” a comeback for the filmmaker.  The true test will be “Glass,” the newly announced sequel merging “Split” with “Unbreakable.”  If he can pull that off, then, and only then, can you call him redeemed and truly “back.”

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.