What We Learned this Week: March 18-24

LESSON #1: BE SMARTER AND SEEK SMARTER FILM CRITICISM— This video from Patrick Willems is amazing.  He nails the topic like an industrial nail gun with the safety off installing a roof of shingles in a 11 minutes.  As a self-made critic, the ideals discussed here are where I strive towards.  Always seek improvement.

LESSON #2: THE FLOODGATES ARE NOW OPEN. BE PREPARED— In the extended wake of all things Harvey Weinstein, the bankruptcy announcement of his studio company, The Weinstein Company, did more than just sink production.  All legal contacts connected to the company are now voided and that includes non-disclosure agreements.  Yes, THOSE non-disclosure agreements.  If you think you’ve heard an unimaginable amount of names and victims, get ready.  A tabloid tsunami is coming.

LESSON #3: LET’S PROMOTE TENDER MASCULINITY— From a seedy history of emasculation from Lesson #1, let’s bring in optimism.  I cross-publish my Every Movie Has a Lesson film reviews on the social publication platform Medium.com where I have discovered a multitude of very good writers operating their own worthy stumps of commentary on any number of subjects.  I really appreciated this recent piece from Terra Liore of Electric Lit entitled “In Praise of Tender Masculinity, the New Non-Toxic Way to Be a Man.”  Liore examined some of our favorite movie and literary characters who exemplify a healthier and more nuanced manliness away from machismo.  She cites films like Moonlight and Magic Mike XXL and characters like Samwise Ganges from The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Remus Lupin from the Harry Potter series.  It’s a great piece that I encourage you to check out.  We need more of this.

LESSON #4: SEATS ARE FOR BUTTS— When this ScreenCrush story (oh, the puns!) of a man dying after having his head trapped in an electric theater seat crossed the Feelin’ Film Facebook group, I thought it had to be from The Onion.  There was no way it was true.  Alas, condolences are needed and a few lessons needs to be learned.  The culprit was a dropped phone and a malfunctioning seat.  Go ahead and fire up the PSA printing press for one more reason to put your damn cell phones away at the movies.  Those massively connected and dense seats are indeed a labyrinth.  If you have trouble, get some help from the theater staff before trying to take matters in your own hands.  Finally, society may have a reason for employing those senior citizen drug store staple products of the grabbing extender thingamabob.  I think it’s time to arm every theater usher in America! Think of the lives (and phones) we can save!

LESSON #5: THE NUMBERS ARE IN AND JUSTICE LEAGUE IS IN LAST PLACE FOR THE DCEU— In the latest chapter of the eternal lesson of “too big to fail,” the final box office numbers came in for Justice League with a total worldwide gross of $647,924,295.  Man of Steel is next with around $660 million.  While that is more than double its reported $300 million budget where no one is loosing any fortunes or stock options, the cloud of disappoint still looms.  The knee-jerk time period has cooled and we can better ask and advise where Warner Bros. will go from here.  Right now, it’s up to Aquaman and Shazam.  “The Rock” makes everything better, right?

LESSON #6: PHYSICAL MEDIA STILL HAS A PLACE— Today, the favorite film of 2017 for many Feelin’ Film followers (and hosts), The Greatest Showman, becomes available for digital download.  This is the first chance to own the successful and celebrated film for home viewing.  The Greatest Showman will still be available on Blu-ray and DVD on April 10th.  We’re coming to a time where that is not always the case.  I know I was bummed to hear that one of my favorite 2017 films, Wonderstruck from Amazon Studios, was not going to receive a physical disc release and only be available on streaming platforms for the immediate future. Has manufacturing discs really become that low in profitability?  Maybe so, that linked Flavorwire article researched that numbers for digital sales (subscriptions, rentals, VOD, downloads) totaled $13 billion in 2017 compared to $4.7 billion for packaged products.  Businesses are going to jump at that earning potential even if they can have both.  To me, that’s one sign of many to a slow extinction for physical media.  I think discs are going to be a Criterion-level niche like vinyl records soon.  How many folks out there have gone more digital?  How many people are still steadily buying physical media of current films (don’t count those Criterion keepsakes)?  I know my number has dropped precipitously in the last five years.  Both that cited Wonderstruck link and this recent story from Collider implore consumers to stave off the coming extinction.  If you’re like me and enjoy the feel of possessing something special, give them a read.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  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 FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

 

 

Feelin’ TV: August 21-27

Game of Thrones has often been a bleak affair. Westeros has proven to be a place where good is trampled under the foot of evil and virtue is the mark of the naïve. This idea was hammered home in the first season with the death of Ned Stark. People like myself, someone who had never read George R.R. Martin’s five volume (and counting?) epic Song of Ice and Fire, watched the first season assuming that the story of Game of Thrones was the story of Ned Stark. It’s what made the most sense to those of us who are experienced sci-fi/fantasy viewers. When things are the bleakest, the hero, a man with strong character and conviction, throws himself into the melee to expel the forces of darkness with their unyielding light. It’s the story that Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and others have been telling, with varying degrees of nuance, for decades. When he was arrested and sentenced to die, my money was still on Ned Stark making it through. I watched him be dragged to the executioner’s block wondering how it was that he was going to get out of this pickle. It never occurred to me that Ned Stark might die until the blade had done its work, separating his head from his body. And Ned was just the beginning. If there’s one thing that has been consistently true in the struggle for the Iron Throne, it’s that you can count on the plans of good men being thwarted.

Over the course of season seven, though, I’ve seen a change in that tone. As winter moves south, hope has started to bloom, and it’s because of the seeds planted by Ned Stark. To the world around him, Ned’s character may have been the weakness that cost him his life. While his time in Kings Landing was marked on the outside by its futility, it solidified something so much more important than political power, his legacy. In many ways, Ned was one of the main players in the season finale. His name was on the lips of Cersei, who knew that she could trust the word of Jon Snow because she knew his father. He was on the minds of Sansa and Arya as they brought the man who tore their family apart to justice (finally!). And his words were in the heart of Jon as he stood to tell the truth in spite of everyone else wanting him to keep it to himself. “When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything, there’s no answers, only better and better lies,” said Jon, echoing Stark. Furthermore, Jon’s moral compass, instilled in him by the man he knew to be his father, gave him the inclination to forgive the duplicitous Theon Greyjoy, inspiring him to grow a pair (sorry) and go save his sister. That’s the power of legacy. For all we know, it’s entirely possible that season 8 ends with Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen being buried in a shallow grave while Cersei Lannister ascends the stairs to the Iron Throne. But for now, hope grows as the cold moves in, and it appears that Ned Stark will still have a say on the world that emerges when the winter is over. Game of Thrones is available to stream on the HBO GO and HBO NOW apps. 

 

Sometimes Netflix recommends some dumb things that I wouldn’t ever think about watching. Sometimes I watch one anyway because I’m bored and Netflix blows my mind. The latter happened to me this week when for no good reason at all, I decided to take Netflix’s advice and watch CW’s Riverdale. Riverdale is a reimagining of the classic Archie comic. It feels like Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica thrown in to the world of Veronica Mars. That’s not an insult. Veronica Mars is one of my favorite shows of all time. The show subverts its source material’s wholesome vibe by digging into the underbelly of a town run by powerful families hiding terrible secrets. It’s funny, sexy, intense and intriguing. It makes the most of its 13-episode first season order by telling a well-paced story that ends with enough threads dangling to keep viewers on the hook for its second season. If you’re looking for a short little series to hold you over until the fall season launches in late September, you could do a lot worse than Riverdale. Riverdale is currently streaming on Netflix. Season 2 airs on The CW beginning October 11. 

Another quick series that I’d highly recommend is Amazon’s The Tick that dropped on Friday. It’s an easy watch, 6 twenty-minute episodes, and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been a fan of The Tick since I started watching the cartoon when I was in high school. Peter Serafinowcz plays the titular character, a large, naïve, seemingly indestructible bloviating blue man who may or may not be wearing a costume. He’s great. He’s long been a reliable comedic character actor in films like Guardians of the Galaxy, The Spy and Shawn of the Dead, and he slides into the lead role very easily. Griffin Newman plays Arthur, Tick’s reluctant sidekick, who has done tireless work trying to prove the continued presence of the presumed dead villain, The Terror, played with a knowing wink and nod by an unrecognizable Jackie Earle Haley. It’s a delightfully funny send up of all things super hero with a lot of room to grow. The first season sets a great foundation for more. The only disappointment was the absence of classic Tick characters like American Maid and Batmanuel. Hopefully we’ll get to see them when the second season comes around. The Tick is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

That’s all for this week! Fall TV is just around the corner. What new shows do you want us to cover? Leave your comments below!

What We Learned This Week: August 20-26

 RETURNING FROM SUMMER VACATION: I take two weeks off and all hell breaks loose!

LESSON #1: “MANSPLAINING” IS NEVER ENDEARING OR RESPECTFUL— For a guy who has fostered one “Strong Female Character” after another, including two of the greatest in Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley, James Cameron sure missed the big picture of Wonder Woman.  In an interview with The Guardian (full context), the Titanic filmmaker stated “All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided” and adds “She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards.”  Well now, Mr. Pott.  What color is the kettle?  Mr. Cameron is entitled to his opinion and slant (the film is far from perfect), but the fun thing is we all get one too.  Don’t worry Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins dropped the mic on him with this commandingly brilliant tweet:

LESSON #2: MOVIEPASS MAY HAVE FINALLY FOUND AN ATTRACTIVE PRICE POINT— Mitch Lowe, the co-founder of Netflix, made tsunami waves recently with a ballsy new business model for the mildly-received MoviePass program.  Reducing the $15-50 per-month rate with plenty of fine print and red tape for a tidy $9.95 fee with new fine print and red tape looks like a steal.  However, will customers buy-in and, more importantly, will theaters play ball at taking a possible haircut?  The AMC Theatres chain (more on them later) immediately pushed back threatening legal action and downright banning MoviePass customers.  You have to love that $10 price point, but how useful is it if the theater companies in your area don’t take it?  Compromise is needed.

LESSON #3: ALONG THE SAME LINES, THE VIDEO ON-DEMAND MARKET IS STILL TRYING TO FIND THEIR PRICE POINT— Some of you might remember that six years ago Universal Studios initially planned to release their tentpole Tower Heist on premium VOD for $59.99 three weeks after its theatrical release with the goal of putting more money in their pockets instead of splitting it with movie theaters.  The notion was met with instant boycott and dismissal (much like the film itself) and the studio backed off.  Here in 2017, media giants Comcast (parent company of Universal), Amazon, and Apple are all developing a new VOD delivery system that will put top-shelf movies out for rental 30-45 days after their theatrical debuts at a $30 price level.  Even with $30 being substantial savings compared to hauling an average family of four to the cinema, that price point still doesn’t work if the digital download and Blu-ray/DVD release windows of $20 permanent ownership (not a temporary rental) keep dramatically shrinking like they have been for a few years.  What used to be an industry-standard of six months or more between silver screen and small screen has been cut in half.  May theatrical releases like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 have arrived on August store shelves.  Why wait a month for a single high-priced rental when you can wait three and buy it for keeps for a lesser price?  I don’t see the viable premium VOD marketplace for average tight-budgeted blue collar consumers out there (and that’s not even taking into account the piracy market looming over anything VOD related).

LESSON #4: SURPRISE, SURPRISE!  DISNEY IS OUT TO MAKE ITS OWN MONEY WITHOUT PARTNERS— When you make billions hand over fist, you get to call the shots or, better yet, go out make your own game.  The Walt Disney Company will pull its lucrative movies off Netflix and launch its own branded streaming subscription platform in 2019.  They don’t need Netflix when they have the clout and fanbase to create their own exclusivity and keep all the money.  I can’t say I blame them and I stand by my prognostication from earlier in the summer for the day Disney/Marvel pulls out of San Diego’s Comic-Con and lets their own D23 be the one-way fan access point to that frenzy.

LESSON #5: NETFLIX IS NOT INVINCIBLE— From the outside looking in, casual observers (and this very column) have been exceedingly impressed by Netflix’s huge push in creating their own original television and film content.  They have thrown tremendous resources with the aim of attracting more customers and now have the $20 billion of debt to prove it.  Subscriptions are up an astounding 25% since last year, so the gamble is working, but how long can a company like that sustain those spending habits on top of Disney pulling out?  Expect an investment bubble to burst in some area (licensing fees with the studios) and, naturally, a raise in subscription rates passed onto us very soon to recoup that debt.

LESSON #6: HAS THE SLOW DEATH OF THE MULTIPLEX BEGUN?— Options like MoviePass, VOD, and Netflix have not come close to creating a new entertainment access monopoly large enough to overtake the big screen marketplace.  That said, even with price point challenges and debt issues, have the little dents and pin pricks started to add up to true damage?  I, for one, am beginning to at least wonder.   Blockbuster fatigue, thanks to poor performing duds like The Mummy, have taken their toll on consumer spending and confidence.  Multiple business outlets broke the news that AMC Theatres took a dramatic second quarter loss (and is staring at a third quarter one coming) that caused shares to fall 40% since the beginning of August.  The overall American box office is down a scant 4.4% from last year.  If that’s all it takes to financially wound one theatre chain, how are the other ones doing?  How are they sustaining 20+ screen multiplexes hawking bargain attempts and hokey incentives only to still sit empty on weeknights against growing operating costs?  I bet they’re not doing much better than AMC.  I have to think some form of internal, yet dramatic, contraction is coming.  Movies survived the invention of television.  They will survive digital and device shifts, but not without a shift or two of their own.

LESSON #7: I DON’T KNOW WHAT WARNER BROS. IS DOING WITH THE DC CHARACTER FILMS AND I DON’T THINK THEY KNOW EITHER— Spinning off of Wonder Woman‘s success as the #1 earner of the summer, Warner Bros. has the ambitious DC Extended Universe schedule of Justice LeagueAquaman, ShazamWonder Woman 2Cyborg, and Green Lantern Corps locked on the calendar through 2020.  It’s the slate after that has created a flurry of questions this week.  Matt Reeves made it known that his The Batman will be a standalone film outside of the DCEU and spread gasoline-dipped rumors of Ben Affleck being out at the Caped Crusader.  The WB brass then added the dreamy Martin Scorsese/Todd Phillips team-up announcement of a spin-off Joker solo origin story film without Jared Leto and on its own.  Confounding us even more a day later, the studio reveals they are concurrently planning a Joker/Harley Quinn film starring Leto and Margot Robbie that will be within the DCEU.  What is all this?!  Is Warner Bros. admitting defeat at building a Marvel-like universe and course-correcting to make focused films or are we watching greedy, hubris, and befuddlement? If so, why carry both? This DCEU timeline is going to start looking a clue board spider-webbed with red yarn from a police procedural or a Charlie Day meme.

LESSON #8: EWAN MCGREGOR OR NO ONE— I’ll bring the first fanboy torch and pitchfork to Disney’s announcement of an Obi-wan Kenobi solo anthology film coming in the near future.  Cast Ewan McGregor or no one at all.  After the flop of Alden Ehrenreich requiring an acting coach for Han Solo, cast some damn proven talent.  Call it stability as much as you call it justified fan service.

LESSON #9: LOOK TO ITALY AS THE OSCAR SEASON STARTS NOW— The prime third quarter film festival season kicks off with the prestigious Venice Film Festival beginning on August 30th and the top-shelf Toronto International Film Festival starting on September 7th.  The lineup in Venice includes first looks at Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, George Clooney’s Suburbicon, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of WaterJudi Dench’s crown in Victoria and Abdul, and the Redford/Fonda reunion Our Souls at Night.  I’ll share the killer TIFF lineup next week.  Get your coffee mugs ready to receive a pouring of Oscar buzz!


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.