What We Learned This Week: March 11-17

LESSON #1: GIRLS SHOULD PLAY TOO— Setting off a firestorm of action on a Feelin’ Film Facebook group post this week was the announcement of a Rotten Tomatoes alternative specializing in female film critics.  Underserved and underrepresented, I’m all for a platform to celebrate and highlight different voices in film criticism.  The more the merrier.  Gender inequality is a rampant problem and opportunities like Cherry Picks (I hope a better name is coming) can only help the topic and add to the discussion.

LESSON #2: CAN WE BAN THE TERM “MADE IT FOR THE FANS” PLEASE?— Speaking of RT, over these recent ’10s years of Rotten Tomatoes gobbling up more public attention, the perceived backlash against low RT scores has set off soundbites from several stakeholders.  A prominent reaction a few years back was director David Ayers after Suicide Squad (video).  The latest is actor Joel Edgerton pushing back against the negative reviews bestowed upon the Netflix release Bright.  Both gentlemen used the term “made it for the fans” as a shield of righteousness for what they say was the intended purpose of their films.  Breaking news, Joel and David, critics are fans too.  They just have a wider and more published platform to voice their opinion.  Not all fans are going to like crappy films.  Want more fans, and therefore more critical, support? Make better films and earn more fans.

LESSON #3: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT A DANNY BOYLE JAMES BOND FILM?— With director Sam Mendes not slated to return to the James Bond world after Spectre, audiences and news writers have been in a three-year guessing game of who will take over the helm of the spy franchise.  Word is that man could be Slumdog Millionaire Oscar winner and Trainspotting leader Danny Boyle.  Coupled with Trainspotting screenwriter John Hodge, I think the pair is an exciting fit for Bond.  Fun fact: Boyle directed Daniel Craig in a Bond-esque role opposite the Queen in his Opening Ceremony program of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.  Boyle and Hodge can add a pulpy edge and a different speed of kinetic energy to push the action and the character forward in interesting directions.  Whatever they concoct, you know it sure won’t be boring.

LESSON #4: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT A JON FAVREAU STAR WARS SERIES OR EVEN A GAME OF THRONES-ESQUE ONE?— In similar news, news landed that Iron ManThe Jungle Book, and current Lion King director Jon Favreau has been brought on to write and executive produce a live-action Star Wars series in the near future.  Favreau follows the February announcement of Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss being tapped to write and produce a new film series.  Like Boyle, I think the powers that be have found great hires.  Favreau brings of engaging storytelling, humor, and blockbuster know-how while the Benioff/Weiss team brings edginess and world-building strengths. All of the qualities can have an effective place in this universe.  The task now is for Disney not to micro-manage and fire them like the other top-notch talent they’ve brought in before.

LESSON #5: DISNEY IS THE HOLLYWOOD PLAYGROUND BALL HOG— Why are they the selfish superstar that doesn’t pass? Because they can be.  This month, Disney announced the calendar of their intended release dates for the next five years.  Disney has retained Marvel’s traditional reservation of the first weekends in May, the Star Wars pre-Memorial Day tradition, Pixar’s usual third-week-of-June slot, and their own Thanksgiving animation slot.  More and more, they are squeezing for the Fourth of July weekends, that magical Presidents Day/Valentine’s Day weekend in February (thanks, Black Panther), and bigger chunks of Christmas.  Disney is Kobe Bryant, the “seat’s taken” kids from Forrest Gump, the manspreading subway rider, and bank-buying billionaire all rolled into one with zero f–ks given.  When they show up, everyone else runs for cover.

LESSON #6: NETFLIX DOESN’T HAVE ANY QUIT RIGHT NOW— Ambition is one thing.  Resources is another.  The wild thing is when a creative outlet has both.  That’s Netflix right now.  The volume of original content they are putting out is downright insane.  You would think they can only get so much be money to be had from new subscribers.  That number has to level out and slow production, right?  Not anytime soon, according to Netflix.  They’re booming to have around 700 original shows and movies in the 2018 calendar year.  That’s beyond machine-like.  You wonder how much is too much or how much isn’t profitable.

LESSON #7: THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF AUDIENCE RESPONSIBILITY VERSUS STUDIO ACTIONS— Speaking of Netflix, Annihilation, filmmaker Alex Garland’s tepid box office loser and follow-up to Ex Machina, landed on Netflix only a few short weeks after a theatrical bow from big studio Paramount.  Indiewire’s Zach Sharf wrote an interesting take on the matter citing that part of the fault for the film’s failure is on the audience as much as it’s on Paramount.  He talks about “hard sells” and he’s right.  The general moviegoing audience pays for a more simpler fare than Annihilation.  That’s not a bad thing entirely, but that’s what’s making money.  Any diligent corporation should find the best scenario for earning and profit.  With Netflix throwing its money around, Paramount made an appropriate business decision and one, as it turns out, made more money than failing in the theaters.  I hate to say, but get used to these kinds of decisions and deals.  That’s the landscape.  They only people that can change that are the consumers and it’s going to take quite the unified and concerted effort to change trends.  Stop paying for Transformers films and give that money to risks like Annihilation if you want better products.  I’ve said this many times in this column and in the Feelin’ Film discussion group.  Whether we like it or not, this is a business first and an art exhibition second.

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.


Episode 099: Annihilation

In this week’s episode we are talking about what could be the most divisive film of 2018, although it’s still early in the year. Alex Garland’s latest film Annihilation, based on the novel of the same name by Jeff Vandermer, brings with it a lot of questions, both from the story, and the audience. We wrestle with a bit of both in our discussion and give our reactions to the incredible creation that is The Shimmer. We also offer some quick thoughts on Duncan Jones’ new film Mute and the incredible documentary Five Came Back.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:02

(Aaron – Mute, Five Came Back)

Annihilation Review – 0:09:23

The Connecting Point – 0:55:19


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MOVIE REVIEW: Annihilation



Alex Garland writes great stories. He has dabbled in all kinds of science fiction, from the horrific in 28 Days Later… to the dramatic/romantic in Never Let Me Go to adapting a comic book superhero in Dredd and most notably for penning and directing my favorite film of 2015, the stunning Ex Machina. Now Garland is adapting Annihilation, the Nebula Award winning first novel in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy that Stephen King called “creepy and fascinating”. Ever since it was announced this film has been at the top of my most-anticipated list. It features quite a few favorite actors (Natalie Portman, Oscar Issac, Tessa Thompson) and the mysterious premise is ripe for exploration in that speculative sci-fi manner that Garland excels at. I expect to be wowed visually, probably a little bit confused, and I absolutely can’t wait.

1 Hour and 55 Minutes Later.


The plot is simple: A group of soldiers enters an environmental disaster zone and only one soldier, Kane (Oscar Isaac), comes back out alive, though he is grievously injured. In an attempt to save his life, his wife Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist, volunteers for another expedition into the zone to figure out what happened to him.

The story of Annihilation opens with Lena being interviewed by Lomax (Benedict Wong), who he is we never really learn, in a containment room. He is asking questions about what happened inside The Shimmer and the vast majority of her answers are “I don’t know,” though there is some foreshadowing that occurs here that viewers may realize later. This theme of “I don’t know” continues throughout the film’s opening scenes as Kane arrives home unexpectedly and answers most of his wife’s questions with that same phrase. It’s at that point that I should have known not to expect many answers from Garland’s script. “I don’t know” is where it starts, and in many ways where it finishes.

It wasn’t until Lena and her team enter The Shimmer that I started enjoying the film. The opening section was slow to reveal anything of substance and Lena’s scientific background making her a perfect fit for the expedition team felt too convenient. Lena’s team is a group of women. Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the head of the Southern Reach agency in charge of researching The Shimmer and the leader of the team that enters. Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), and Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) also are scientists and create a team that is well-rounded in its knowledge. There is also an element of self-destructiveness to each woman, as Sheppard points out that coming into The Shimmer (where only one person has ever emerged from alive) isn’t something you do if you’re happy with your life. Throughout the course of the film, discovering just what each character’s motivation is and how it is affected by what they experience is an important element of the story.

Unfortunately, it’s this character development that I found so lacking as to derail my enjoyment of the film. This is cerebral science fiction that intends to be esoteric. Garland is not interested in making a lot of sense and scenes don’t always tie together in a meaningful way. While the ladies provide an interesting collection of personalities to explore with, I never had the emotional connection that made me care what happened to them and felt like some very good actresses were mostly wasted. Likewise, I did not find myself caring much for the fate of the world at hand, despite The Shimmer’s consistent expansion being framed as dangerous to all life on planet earth. I did feel that some connection was made with Lena, and that makes sense because she’s the most developed by far, but she just isn’t very likable and thus her fate had little impact.

Now, some will fall head over heels for the kind of ambiguity the film serves up in spades. Its visuals are certainly mesmerizing. The beauty of The Shimmer and the horror of things like a bear-beast are equally staggering. The story also goes in a much darker place than I ever expected – in that Event Horizon or third act of Sunshine kind of way. It is fantastically creepy and had me cringing a few times out of shock. I applaud Paramount for letting Garland make the film he envisioned. At the same time, it’s really no surprise that this film didn’t test well with audiences and was sold to Netflix in order to recover most of its budget. It’s likely not going to be received well by mainstream audiences.


My love of Alex Garland’s writing created expectations that proved to be too high for Annihilation to meet. Though I enjoyed elements of the film and respect its incredible craftsmanship, I simply did not care enough about what happened. This lack of investment in its characters made it not worth the effort required for me to figure out its puzzles. I have no doubt that repeat viewings would help unpack further pieces of the mystery, but despite how well the film is made, I just didn’t enjoy watching it very much and don’t see myself rushing to experience it again anytime soon.


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 how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Minisode 035: 2017 Year in Review

In this special SPOILER FREE “minisode,” we wrap up the year by discussing some of our favorite things about 2017. Instead of just a top ten list of favorite films, we talk about the moments and performances that really resonated with us personally. This is a super-sized bonus episode with a ton of content and we really hope you enjoy.

Favorite First-Time Viewings (non-2017) – 0:01:10

Favorite Performances – 0:27:36

Films that Most Exceeded Expectations – 0:52:19

Films that Were Biggest Disappointments – 0:57:56 

Favorite Episodes of the Year – 1:04:31

Our Feelin’ Five Films – 1:15:03

Most Anticipated Films of 2018 – 1:48:13


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