What We Learned This Week: September 3-9

LESSON #1: HOW MANY COOKS WITH HUBRIS APRONS ARE IN THE DISNEY KITCHEN?— My guess is too many and it’s time to wonder who’s running the show and why they can’t keep talent around.  The dismissal this week of director Colin Trevorrow from Star Wars: Episode IX comes less than three months after a similar parting-of-ways between the Mouse House and the directing team of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord on Han Solo (coupled with acting coach rumors needed for its star Alden Ehrenreich and the swift hire of Ron Howard to finish the film).  Dig back farther and the storied Tony Gilroy-led reshoots of Rogue One now ring a louder alarm.  Across the office, plenty of directors (Edgar Wright, Joss Whedon, Jon Favreau) have also butted heads with the Marvel end of the Disney empire on the grounds of creative differences.  To use an NFL analogy in honor of the opening week of the new season, this reeks of Jerry Jones/Al Davis-style meddling from the front office that prevents the coaches, executives, and players underneath them from doing their job.  Treverrow haters (and there are many after Jurassic World and The Book of Henry) celebrated the axing and formed bandwagons for desirable replacements (#bringbackJJ), but somewhere up the ladder, someone is power-tripping at Disney enough to make dedicated and non-hack people walk, and, unlike the past, it’s not George Lucas’ hubris messing things up.  Keep an eye on all this.

LESSON #2: CASTING FOR DIVERSITY IS MORE THAN JUST LEADS— Opportunity is everything in the moviemaking business and too many of those doors have been locked or lost for too many minorities.  It’s wonderful to see more awareness on the topic, especially self-awareness as was the case with the outcry/applause in Ed Skrein’s recent departure from the Hellboy reboot.  Every step counts as progress.  Prolific reviewer/writer extraordinaire (and a peer of mine) Nick Clement earned a rousing by-line from Variety recently in a dynamite piece talking with casting directors about filling roles with diversity deeper than the only the principal leads, especially if those roles break racial and ethnic stereotypes.  It’s a great read and spot on to truly heavy lifting of those doors.  It starts at the bottom more than only at the top.

LESSON #3: WHAT IS THE PROPER PLACE FOR STORY-EXTENDED SHORT FILMS?— Two Ridley Scott-connected films, Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049, have employed short film vignettes via YouTube as a prequel-like means of catching audiences up on time and providing background information for a coming full feature.  I, for one, don’t know how I feel about them.  I’m all for expanding the medium of short films and adding context, but do these extended scenes (like this one of an upcoming three for Blade Runner 2049) play like spoilers?  Shouldn’t a feature film be edited and tuned enough to stand on its own with the extras?  Should these kinds of scenes be saved for home media special features?  I’m undecided.  What are your thoughts?  Add a comment below.

LESSON #4: LOOK TO TORONTO AS THE OSCAR SEASON TAKES ANOTHER STEP— The prestigious Venice Film Festival will be naming their Golden Lion and other winners on September 9th, but, two days before, the spotlight shifts to the Toronto International Film Festival.  TIFF has arguably usurped Cannes as the most elite film festival in the business.  The must-see list of Oscar contenders coming from TIFF 2017 includes Mother, Molly’s Game, The Florida Project, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, MN, The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, The Current War, Downsizing, Bodied, Surburbicon, Hostiles, Battle of the Sexes, Mary Shelley, Lean on Pete, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Brawl in Cell Block 99, The Death of Stalin, and The Disaster Artist.  Eight of the last ten TIFF People’s Choice Award winners have gone on to Best Picture Academy Award nominations, including two eventual winners (The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave).


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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Alien: Covenant

In 2012, two types of people exited showings of Prometheus; those satisfied with the earnest attempt to weave some different ideas into the Alien franchise, and those pissed off at the lack of bloody, chest bursting goodness. Count me in the former. I quite liked Prometheus. I liked that director Ridley Scott chose to examine deeper themes and do some world building rather than take the easy way out in catering solely to the ADD crowd seeking nothing more than guts and gore.

Flash forward to now, and the release of Prometheus 2.0, also known as Alien: Covenant. I’ll come right out and say that I liked this film quite a bit, even if it feels like a course correction on Prometheus to appease some of those aforementioned pissed off fans.  And that’s the rub. Your thoughts on Prometheus may shape your thoughts on Covenant.  And while I liked both of these films, it is time for Scott to propel this franchise forward.  After essentially the same movie twice, it’s time to find out who the engineers are. It’s time understand some of the science and history of the titular xenomorphs.  And it’s definitely time to get a handle on whatever it is these darn synthetics are up to. If the next installment is nothing more than another ragtag crew du jour made up of scientists that make horrible life choices, we may have a problem.

We definitely get a heavier dose of aliens in Covenant. They’re faster and more vicious than ever. Chests are bursting at a more satisfying pace. It’s fair to say Scott is still able to craft tense scenes that draw audible gasps from his audience, even when the timing of those moments are pretty obvious. It’s all quite impressive to look at, with top notch production value and set design.

This time around, we are aboard the colony ship, Covenant, loaded with a crew and two thousand embryos on course for a new planet to inhabit in a galaxy far, far away. The film starts out Passengers style, with the crew snuggled in cryo-chambers for safe keeping as the years wile away during the lengthy journey. A malfunction leads to tragic events, and the crew must now deal with some new circumstances before they can consider jumping back into the cryo-pods to finish hibernating. As is typical with this franchise, very smart people make some very questionable choices. Years of study and training can somehow be derailed by the soulful stylings of Mr. John Denver.

As the crew detours to seek out strange signals, hoping they may have discovered a much closer, habitable planet than the one they’ve prepared for, because…wheat…. shenanigans soon ensue. This crew is led by Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and Oram (Billy Crudup), both of who are up to the task as the film’s main protagonists. Add Daniels as another in a sequence of strong female characters in the franchise. Much like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and Noomi Rapace’s Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, Waterston portrays Daniels with a combination of intelligence and strength. Also notable is Danny McBride, as the ‘throw caution to the wind’ ship’s pilot, Tennessee. He’s a franchise trope, but a fun one to watch.

But let’s not think for a second this film doesn’t stand on the broad shoulders of Michael Fassbender, here playing two versions of synthetic android- David from Prometheus, and Walter, a new and improved version of synthetic traveling with the Covenant crew. We knew David was up to something in Prometheus, but Scott doubles down on that idea here in Covenant. Fassbender’s movements, chilling demeanor, and ‘cat that ate the canary’ expressions are worth the price of admission. He ably transitions from one personality to another, giving each synthetic an unique voice.

Alien: Covenant fits neatly into the Alien mythology. It ties well with Prometheus, answering enough of the lingering questions from that film to move forward. Yet, whatever comes next needs to do just that. Move forward. We cannot be satisfied with another side quest film that treads water, regardless of how entertaining it is. Regardless of how brilliant Fassbender is. Regardless how much John Denver is used. Covenant does enough to put the series in a position to build upon the mythology, but we’re at the proverbial crossroads. Which way Scott goes next may determine the viability of future installments.

What We Learned This Week: May 14-20

LESSON #1: YOU’RE GOING TO LIKE WHERE THE ALIEN FRANCHISE IS GOING— Five years ago, after Prometheus, audiences were scratching their heads about the beating-around-the-bush purpose of the film and where any Alien  prequels were going.  For a bit there, I didn’t even think Ridley Scott knew.  Alien: Covenant builds on the mythology and world-building of Prometheus in a strong and effective way to add in the horror and suspense elements that Prometheus was missing.  These Scott prequels, with a few more possible installments, are planned to plug into 1979’s Alien.  After Alien: Covenant, I like their trajectory and I think Alien fans like yourself will too.

LESSON #2: CONTINUE KEEPING YOUR COOL AND PATIENCE WITH WONDER WOMAN— Two weeks ago in this column, I argued for people to cool their jets on movie marketing, particularly the example of the lack of it when it comes to Wonder Woman.  The first reactions are in and start inhaling for those sighs of relief.  I’ll repeat my rant: The number one marketing tool that costs zero dollars for any studio is WORD OF MOUTH.  Good movies sell themselves.  Make a good movie and people will come, period.  You’re going to thank me and yourself on June 3rd.

LESSON #3: A24 IS A BIG-TIME PLAYER WITH SMALL-SCALE FILMS— In four short years, A24 Films has gone from an indie shingle pushing Spring Breakers and The Spectacular Now to an industry leader and Oscar winner.  GQ wrote an excellent piece on their history.  2016 was a banner year led by Moonlight‘s Best Picture victory and a portfolio of Swiss Army ManThe Witch20th Century Women, and Green Room.  This year looks equally promising with A Ghost StoryThe Disaster ArtistsGood TimeKilling of a Sacred Deer, and more.  Remember the name and the logo.  You’ll be seeing them often.

LESSON #4: KEEP AN EYE ON THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL THIS WEEK— Speaking of independent studios and film acquisitions that can turn into Oscar contenders, turn your eyes to the French Riviera for the world premieres, reviews, movie buzz, and deals being made at the annual Cannes Film Festival.  Execs and big-timers work hard and play hard while enjoying the finer things and patting their own backs.


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.

Feelin’ It: Alien: Covenant

RUN. PRAY. HIDE. Our spoiler-free review of Alien: Covenant is here and hopefully will help you decide if it’s worth seeing. Don Shanahan joins Aaron to discuss this newest entry into the Alien-verse. Does Scott still have some magic left? Listen now to find out.

Don Shanahan

Twitter: @CasablacaDon
Blog: Every Movie Has a Lesson

Alien: Covenant Review on Every Movie Has a Lesson

Download the Audio Review Here

Minisode 20: Alien Franchise

In celebration of Alien Day, we have assembled a ragtag crew of horror fanatics and podcasters for a roundtable discussion about Alien and the franchise it has spawned. Returning guest hosts Reed Lackey and Blake Collier bring their vast genre knowledge to a robust conversation that starts at the beginning and ends at… the actual beginning? We touch on every film in the franchise, with a focus on Alien. So sit back, listen, and enjoy this awesome episode as we get ourselves ready for Alien: Covenant.

Blake Collier

Twitter: @blakeicollier / @thebodytheblood
Website: blakeicollier.com
Podcast: The Body|The Blood

Reed Lackey

Twitter: @reedlackey / @TheFearofGod
Website: morethanonelesson.com
Podcast: The Fear of God


Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

Minisode 19: Summer Movie Challenge (2017)

It’s that time again to make box office predictions for the Summer Movie Challenge. This yearly competition involves us choosing what we think will be the highest grossing films between May and Labor Day. This year we are joined by our Feelin’ Film contributors – Don and Steve. Who will emerge victorious? Listen to hear our picks and find out how you can play along!

2017 Summer Movie Challenge Rules

The rules for the game come from TimeTravelReview’s Summer Movie Pool:

The object is to pick the films that you think will be the top-ten grossing films of the summer, in order of box-office performance. As I’ve said, that means only films released from May 1st 2017 to the Labor Day weekend, counting only the money those films make domestically (US and Canada) in that period. In other words films from March or April might still be making money after May 1st, but they don’t count; films released from May on could start racking up foreign B.O., but that doesn’t count; films released from May on could still be making money into September, but that doesn’t count either. Box Office numbers are generally available late Monday or Tuesday after the weekend closes. For the last seven or so years, I have been using box office numbers from Yahoo Box Office which gets their numbers in turn from Box Office Mojo. So what you will be doing is figuring out what 10 films will make the most money, and putting them in order of what you think they will gross at the box office. BUT, in addition to your top 10, you get to pick 3 “Dark Horses”- films you think *might* make it, but that you are not confident enough about to put into the top 10 proper.

2017 Summer Movie Challenge Scoring:

To see how we are doing check out the official SMC Scoreboard:

  • Getting number 1 or number 10 dead-on gets you 13 points (each).

The rest of the scoring goes like this:

  • 10 points for numbers 2-9 dead-on
  • 7 points if your pick was only one spot away from where it ended up
  • 5 points if it was two spots away
  • 3 points if your pick is anywhere in the Top 10
  • 1 point for each dark horse that makes it into the Top 10

The scoring is tabulated so that you get the SINGLE HIGHEST point value for each pick- that is, if you get number ten right, you don’t get 13+3, you only get 13.

Aaron

1. Guardians of the Galaxy 2
2. Despicable Me 3
3. Transformers: The Last Knight
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
5. Spider-Man: Homecoming
6. Cars 3
7. Wonder Woman
8. War for the Planet of the Apes
9. Alien: Covenant
10. Baywatch
DH: The Mummy, Dunkirk, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Patrick
1. Guardians of the Galaxy 2
2. Spider-Man: Homecoming
3. Alien: Covenant
4. Despicable Me 3
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
6. War for the Planet of the Apes
7. Wonder Woman
8. Cars 3
9. The Mummy
10. Baywatch
DH: Dunkirk, Transformers: The Last Knight, Baby Driver
Don
1. Guardians of the Galaxy 2
2. Despicable Me 3
3. Spider-Man: Homecoming
4. Wonder Woman
5. Transformers: The Last Knight
6. Cars 3
7. War for the Planet of the Apes
8. Baywatch
9. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
10. Dunkirk

DH: Alien: Covenant, Captain Underpants, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Steve
1. Guardians of the Galaxy 2
2. Spider-Man: Homecoming
3. Despicable Me 3
4. War for the Planet of the Apes
5. Transformers: The Last Knight
6. Cars 3
7. Wonder Woman
8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
9. The Mummy
10. Captain Underpants
DH: Alien: Covenant, The Dark Tower, Baywatch

Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

What We Learned This Week: March 26-April 1

LESSON #1: BRETT RATNER IS FULL OF SUGAR-HONEY-ICED-TEA— Formerly prolific film director Brett Ratner, who’s been cleaning it up as a producer of Ratpac Entertainment, stepped out late last week to pontificate to Entertainment Weekly that “the worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes” and added “I think it’s the destruction of our business.”  You can read his full thoughts, but I don’t buy his logic.  Rotten Tomatoes is too big and combines too many diverse critics for a film to be held down.  If you want better RT scores, make better movies.  It’s that easy.  Brett is full of it and, if you’ve seen his films, as I have, you probably already knew that.

LESSON #2: WARNER BROS. IS GOING ALL-IN WITH POTENTIAL COURSE CORRECTION ON THE DC EXTENDED UNIVERSE— Pack your bags when you’re done with “Justice League,” Zach Snyder.  New talent is coming.  Warner Bros. already poached James Wan of “The Conjuring/Insidious/Saw” fame for “Aquaman” two years ago and last month Chris McKay of “The LEGO Batman Movie” was tabbed to direct a solo “Nightwing” movie, joining “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” helmer Matt Reeves jumping on “The Batman.”  This week, news broke Thursday that “Avengers” and “Firefly” mastermind Joss Whedon has crossed party lines to direct a standalone “Batgirl” movie for Warner Bros.  Now that is the coup of coups and a perfect director to deliver a legitimate female superhero film.  When “Kingsman” and “X-Men: First Class” director Matthew Vaughn puts ink to paper for “Man of Steel 2,” the shift from Total Snyder will be complete and it looks outstanding.

LESSON #3: IF YOU THINK THE “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” RE-IMAGINING IS HUGE, JUST WAIT FOR “THE LION KING” ONE IN A FEW YEARS— Unlike the opinions of many skeptical haters, “Beauty and the Beast” destined to be a smash.  Bill Condon was a different class of director and the casting was incredible before the cameras ever rolled.  Sure enough, it has raked over $750 million worldwide in just two weeks and should cross the $1 billion mark with ease before it’s run is done.  Watch “The Lion King” do even better in a few years.  Jon Favreau nailed “The Jungle Book,” “The Lion King” has an ever larger following than “Beauty and the Beast,” and the rumors of potentially casting Beyonce as Nala to join Donald Glover’s Simba and a returning James Earl Jones  as Mufasa would be colossal.  Place that bet right now that “The Lion King” will make even more money.

LESSON #4: WATCH FEWER TRAILERS THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED— A conga line of trailers for 2017 wannabe blockbusters arrived in the last two weeks and, I, for one, wish I didn’t see a single one of them.  Trailers these days are showing too much.  Between “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Justice League” to “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “Alien: Covenant” and more, I felt like I was inundated with too many clues and potential spoilers.  Frankly, I’m beginning to avoid trailers altogether and have been recommending others to do the same.  Why?  Ask yourself this cardinal question: Do you really need to be convinced from any footage to see some of these slam-dunk-must-see films?  Because I don’t.  These no-doubters are getting my money regardless on resume and presence alone.  Avoid the easy and rote trailers and let yourself be surprised.  Even though I know this isn’t going to happen, I hope Disney doesn’t show a single second of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”  They don’t need to and, in a roundabout way, not releasing a trailer would be such a huge and unprecedented “less is more” statement proving that you can sell a movie on reputation alone.  A boy can dream.

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 President 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.