What We Learned This Week: October 14-27

LESSON #1: SUPPORT PHYSICAL MEDIA AND FILM PRESERVATION— The Friday announcement that the Filmstruck streaming service will close at the end of November is a blow to classic, international, and documentary films.  The vast Criterion Collection was previously occupying a shingle of Hulu Plus before Filmstruck can do be, and I’m sure that winning content will find a new home, likely something from its Warner Bros. parent looking to compete with Disney and Netflix.  Still, this is the equivalent of a museum loosing its walls boarding up its treasures.  Let this be a reminder call to support physical media, even if those Criterion discs are pricey.  I get that streaming is portable and convenient, but a top-shelf disc is worth every penny sometimes.  If discerning cinephiles should also look to local libraries for access to hard-to-find films.  I’ll echo fellow FF contributor Jacob Neff to promote the absolutely free Kanopy app that is connected to most library cards.  You can’t pass up free and make sure to follow Jacob’s “You Should Be Watching” column for recommended buried treasures.  If you need a checklist bigger than that, borrow Martin Scorsese’s.  

LESSON #2: FILMS MAY AGE, BUT THE MEMORIES AND IMPACT THEY CREATE WILL NOT— RogerEbert.com and New York magazine film critic extraordinaire Matt Zoller Seitz had a recent interview with The Last Picture Show filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and the topic of superhero movies came up.  The respected armchair historian asserted that superhero movies (with few exceptions) are going to “date very badly.”  I think the guy enjoying the way-back machine can’t drive the way-forward machine with the same level of understanding.  It is almost a certainty, like every genre hey-day that has come before now, that comic book films cannot maintain their current market saturation level forever, but not before adding to the game-changing level of impact and entertainment that they have earned and enjoyed.  We’re going on 40 years since Superman: The Movie and nearly 20 years since their early-00s renaissance.  In that time, superhero movies have the fan following numbers that have already created multi-generational reach. That’s bigger than a phase or a fad. They have become too big to fade into forgotten nothingness.  Like western or noir, they will simply evolve with their times because even with tastes changing, we’re still making westerns and noirs too.

LESSON #3: THE FILM MEDIUM’S MIDDLE CLASS CONTINUES TO FADE— Speaking of blockbusters, tentpole films never used to be so big.  There was a time that a $100 million budget was seen as an excessive risk that could sink a studio.  Now, we’re talking about $200+ million films being too big to fail or overinflated comedies (like Adam Sandler flicks from a decade ago) that cost $80 million to make when they used to cost a tenth of that.  Many of the popular hits of the 1980s and 1990s that came before the gigantic budget price tags of today were these middle-budgeted studio programmers that cost between $25-$75 million.  They represented an entire economy of smart money staple.  They always had one or two big stars attached that ensured a loyal and steady audience across most any genre, from cop thrillers to romantic comedies.  Today, especially after the announced shuttering of Annapurna Pictures (excellent editorial piece from Next Best Picture), the “middle class” film nearly doesn’t exist.  Things are either huge or relegated or dismissed to indie fare.  For some parallel examples, Die Hard had a $28 million budget and Pretty Woman‘s was $14 million.  Today, one would be a Dwayne Johnson film with quadruple the sticker price and the other would be a low-level indie like The Big Sick with a scant budget of $5 million that has to beg for funding and distribution.  Like our own national economy, if you want a healthier marketplace and industry, boost the middle class.  Bring back the middle-budgeted programmers.

LESSON #4: TAYLOR SHERIDAN HAS EARNED THE CRED TO MAKE ANYTHING HE WANTS— Taylor Sheridan is one hell of a writer and emerging as a one hell of a filmmaker too.  He had me at Sicario‘s script.  If he didn’t impress you by the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, you’re dead to me.  Wind River spread his wings to director’s chair and now he’s preparing his follow-up under the Warner Bros. big top.  His thriller Fast, with franchise potential, is coming and it’s attracting the attention of Chris Pratt.  Make it happen, WB.  Make it happen.

LESSON #5: NO ONE IS GOING TO MISS A BOBA FETT MOVIE— LucasFilm producer Kathleen Kennedy declared Friday that James Mangold’s Boba Fett was dead in favor of Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian TV series that will help open Disney’s exclusive streaming service.  I’ll be the guy that says it.  I never understood the fascination with the admittedly good-looking character after about four lines and faint presence in the original trilogy.  Fan fiction has made Boba Fett into a cult figure, but Solo shows that even legends can’t guaranteed a successful or profitable film.  The bounty hunter didn’t stand a chance on the biggest stage and James Mangold dodged a bullet.

LESSON #6: TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT THE FILMS THEY WATCH— Notable semi-“granola” parent and actress Kristen Bell shared in an interview with Parent magazine that she’s not fully comfortable with some Disney animated classics.  She called out Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as one poor example, citing the failing to avoid taking food from strangers and, more astutely, the notion of consent when it comes to princes and their kisses to sleeping maidens.  Shrug all you want and dismiss Snow White and others as a harmless kids movies, but Bell is handling it right.  Bell shared in the interview how she makes sure to have discussions with her children after the movies they watch.  This school teacher over here writing this column highly approves of that parenting measure. Engaging in those talks elevates the experience from being time-killing entertainment into rich “teachable moments,” and they help correct misconceptions we might not even know kids had or picked up along the way.  The children will see your interpersonal example of the beginnings of critical thinking.  Make movies shared episodes of such enrichment and quality time.


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.

Episode 115: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Episode 115 may prove to be the least positive in our show’s history, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t feeling this film. We try and go beyond what doesn’t work by having a discussion about why this kind of storytelling is still financially successful. We also chat about the series as a whole and compare this newest entry to its predecessors. Joining us for this episode is first-time guest and contributor, the author of our weekly #YouShouldBeWatching article, Jacob Neff.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:08

(Aaron – Making Fun: The Story of Funko)
(Patrick – Hearts Beat Loud)
(Jacob – Jurassic Park series & J.A. Bayona filmography)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review – 0:18:45

The Connecting Point – 1:07:08


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

2 Hours and 8 Minutes (PG-13)

Jurassic World, though never coming close to the brilliance of Steven Spielberg’s classic original, managed to be quite a bit of fun due to two things: Chris Pratt and dinosaurs. It’s really hard to screw up Chris Pratt and dinosaurs, after all. Even a guy who got fired from a Star Wars movie managed. So give Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom credit because it accomplished something I didn’t think was possible by doing that very thing. This film is a lot of things, and I sure wish that “fun” had been one of them.

The plot takes the normal ridiculousness and suspension of belief that this series employs and takes it to a whole other level. So much so that it’s almost embarrassing to recap it. It’s 3 years after the events of Jurassic World and Isla Nublar’s dormant volcano has awakened. The Dinosaur Protection Group (DPG), led by former park manager and Indominus rex attack survivor Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), is lobbying for the government to step in and protect the once again endangered species, but much of the world does not agree and believes letting the dinosaurs die from natural causes is the right choice. In swoops the wealthy Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) and his young accounts manager Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) with a plan, offering to provide the resources and a private island for dinosaur evacuation if Claire can recruit dinosaur trainer and maybe sorta former boyfriend Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to assist in the capture of Blue (the somewhat domesticated velociraptor now loose on the island) and other targeted species. Because the film needs to check some boxes, Claire brings along two of her DPG team members – Zia (Daniella Pineda) the fierce feminist veterinarian and Franklin (Justice Smith) the scaredy-cat, nerdy, socially awkward systems analyst (BECAUSE WE HAVE TO HAVE ONE OF THOSE, RIGHT?)

The plot from there continues to progress in increasingly unrealistic, dumbfounded ways, leading us through laughably bad (and repetitive) villains while eventually arriving at killer dinosaurs in a haunted house because they escaped the secret underground lab beneath a mansion. Other absolutely ridiculous moments include a tranquilized person trying to roll out of the way of lava, a lengthy underwater escape scene where the rules of holding your breath don’t apply, an animal trainer having hand-to-hand combat skills that can compete with hired mercenaries, and multiple characters making decisions that are clearly the worst option just to advance the plot. There’s also one major surprise that brings up an enormous ethical dilemma but is completely breezed over. I suppose that’s something that will be addressed more heavily in the next installment as this entry is definitely focused on being a bridge between what we’ve known in the series thus far and something they hope can be much more heady and thought-provoking (which, I’ll admit, would be a very cool concept if it was in a focused story told with appropriate weight, seriousness, and emotional resonance).

Tonally, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is all over the place. It is at its best in a few very tense moments of terror. If the entire film had been built around this dark, scary aspect of the dinosaurs it could have worked much better. I thoroughly enjoyed some of the kills and predatory actions involving dinos. But the first half plays out similar to a video game with huge set pieces of big action and comedy. In fact, one aspect of the film involving an auction reminds me heavily of a section in Uncharted 4, and then other parts of the adventure feel very much like director J.A. Bayona is trying to turn Owen into Indiana Jones. If the action was good, this would be okay, but it’s mostly not. The CGI from the volcano is awful and another scene where Blue is making a quick escape late in the film looks so terrible that the audience laughed out loud. Bayona frequently frames characters in relation to the background just to get an epic looking shot and seemingly ignores any actual reason for them to be in these positions. He also is absolutely obsessed with character close-ups. It felt like these were meant to evoke emotional responses, but not once in the film did I ever care about the human relationships. I did find some sweetness to the little bit of backstory we get about Owen and Blue, but the emotional depth that I’m used to seeing from Bayona just isn’t there. If it was, I could be forgiving; instead by the end everyone had constantly acted so stupidly that I just found myself rooting for the dinosaurs and hoping all of the humans went extinct.

VERDICT

I typically enjoy blockbusters and am used to being a defender of “big, dumb fun” but Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, for all its non-stop action, nearly lulled me to sleep and left me with one of the biggest feelings of disappointment I’ve had in a long time. To waste Chris Pratt and dinosaurs in a boring film that has exactly zero memorable moments is an egregious sin. This could very well be my least favorite entry in the series and I can’t see myself ever watching it again.

Rating:


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.

Episode 107: Avengers Infinity War

After 10 years and 18 films, Marvel’s ambitious, unique interconnected world of superhero films comes to this, a team-up movie the likes of which we have never seen before. Historic in its scope and in its box office success, Avengers: Infinity War is a special blockbuster and one that provides plenty to discuss. We’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about this one, its place in the MCU, and where Marvel goes from here.

Avengers: Infinity War Review – 0:02:33

The Connecting Point – 01:27:30


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

2 Hours and 29 Minutes (PG-13)

Marvel and The Russo Brothers had a very daunting task before them. Paying off the culmination of a decade of build-up and backstory, stretching over 18 films, is a challenge unlike any studio or director in Hollywood had ever faced. And to accomplish this feat, they worked with what has to be the largest cast of known stars ever assembled for a movie. The ambition of Marvel and its commitment to the cinematic universe it pioneered is worthy of praise and respect.

If there’s one thing I was looking for in Avengers: Infinity War, it was raised stakes. Much like the comic books these films are based on (in which characters rarely die and cities are destroyed without much afterthought), Marvel films have not fully dealt with loss in a way that seems realistic. Right from the start of Infinity War, though, Marvel makes it very clear that has changed. The potential consequences of a Thanos (Josh Brolin) victory are evident and the film progresses with an emotional weight and sense of urgency that it could not have attained if the studio followed its same old formula. This also creates much more investment in characters and the worlds they inhabit, and thus pays off quite a few very moving scenes in a much bigger way. If you haven’t cried in a Marvel movie before, you’re not alone, but this may be your first. I had genuine chills a few different times. But don’t worry, that trademark Marvel humor and witty one-liners are still there and won’t have you depressed for too long at a time.

Another area that Marvel outdoes previous films in their own franchise is with Thanos himself. Make no mistake, this is his film and his story. He is a fully developed villain with more screen time than any before him, and it helps to create a character with whom the audience can both despise and yet struggle with feelings of empathy for. Brolin’s talent is very obvious in this performance despite the incredible looking CGI that encompasses him. His Thanos is not just some loud, angry, destructive villain. He is intelligent and calculating. He is nuanced. He is cold, yes, but when he gives his reasons for what he wants to do with the Infinity Stones and why, in a very warped way it makes some sense. His presence as the foil to the Avengers and Guardians gives this film something unique and memorable.

With a cast this large it is inevitable that not everyone’s favorite will have the responsibility or amount of action they hope for. The Russo’s do an admirable job of balancing these heroes, however, and somehow left me feeling satisfied. Sure, a little more backstory or deeper character moments for them all would be nice, but it’s also unrealistic to expect in a single film of this length. By managing to give everyone at least one small moment in the sun, the Russo’s succeed where I believe many would have failed. Another result of keeping most character development small is that the film moves fast, pausing a few times for majorly impactful storyline beats, but mostly cutting between different groups of heroes working to accomplish different tasks. By keeping the heroes in smaller groups, we get to feel more focused when we’re with them, and enjoy the new forms of dialogue that emerge between characters who previously had not interacted.

The action in Avengers: Infinity War is, as expected, fantastic. Seeing heroes fight together with new gear and weapons, or teaming up in ways never experienced by movie goers before, was a huge treat. In one major battle that involves a host of heroes and countless alien attackers, the Silvestri score and rising stakes create a feeling similar to that in the Battle of the Pelennor Field from The Return of the King. While Avengers: Infinity War never quite reaches that level of epic, it comes much closer than many (myself included) ever thought possible.

VERDICT

If you’re thinking that this review is a but vague, please know that is by design. Fans have waited 10 years for this and going in with as little information possible is going to result in the best viewing experience. Avengers: Infinity War isn’t entirely unpredictable, but it’s got some surprises too. The historic puzzle that the Russo Brothers have put together is nothing short of amazing and will lend itself to multiple viewings. Perhaps that’s the highest praise possible for a film of this kind, that after it finished I immediately would have sat through those 2.5+ hours again. To sum it all up, Avengers: Infinity War lived up to the hype by being both entertaining and emotional. Well done, Marvel. Well done.

Rating:


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.

Episode 106: Moneyball

Baseball season is back so we’re celebrating the start of America’s favorite pastime by discussing Moneyball with Chad Hopkins from The Cinescope Podcast. It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball and we hope to capture that in this conversation about a wonderful film based on Michael Lewis’ book of the same name.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:50

(Aaron – La La Land Film & Theology, The Cat Returns )
(Patrick – Teaching Podcasting to 6th Graders)
(Chad – Fan Expo Dallas )

Moneyball Review – 0:13:43

The Connecting Point – 1:07:29


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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Guardians of the MOVIE REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

For weeks, the Disney/Marvel marketing machine has been dropping 30-second nuggets of hype on our television screens, promising copious amounts of adorable Baby Groot shenanigans and Drax the Destroyer punch lines. And while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes good on those promises, this is a decidedly different experience from Volume 1, mostly in that there is a lot less galaxy guarding and a lot more reconciling with daddy issues. It’s a cinematic equivalent of spending two hours on a therapist’s couch, with a few action sequences thrown in to appease any of the natives who might be getting restless.

Spending time addressing personal relationships between characters shouldn’t surprise anyone up to date with Marvel’s film library. Marvel historically uses sequels as association points for their future cinematic plans. In order for the Guardians to move forward, it was necessary to take a step back to fine tune some character arcs and throw a few lingering contrivances to the curb. Despite somewhat fidgety pacing and Director James Gunn’s compulsion to wring many of his gags of every last drop of usefulness, Guardians Vol. 2 mostly succeeds as a fun, humorous addition to the Marvel pantheon, and a workable catalyst for the summer 2017 onslaught of blockbuster entertainment.

When Guardians Vol. 1 premiered in 2014, only ardent Marvel comic book fans were in the loop on this collection of characters, none of whom looked like any of the Avengers we had become accustomed to seeing on screen. It was considered a big risk for Marvel Studios- stepping out of their cinematic comfort zone- playing with toys from the back of the closet- hoping audiences would embrace these second tier creations. And it worked. But whenever something works, it undoubtably comes with an added burden to carry forward…. expectations.

So what is Gunn & Co. to do, now faced with the unenviable task of taking this ragtag cast of B-list characters to the next level? Fanboys are a brutal lot. Just look at the backlash lobbied against nerd demigod Joss Whedon when his vision for Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t meet with the ridiculous standard set forth from within grandma’s basements across the globe. Gunn could have taken the easy route. He had his golden ticket to fall back on- Chris Pratt, who’s boyish charm and charisma elevate even the most outlandish of flawed premises. He could have served up another helping of intergalactic cheese, ending with a typical, “and I’d have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids,” mustache twirling villain meets a predicable and mildly anticlimactic demise. Make no mistake, all of this exists here, but Gunn also layers in some emotional character beats that add a depth and complexity to these characters both as individuals and as a team.

Guardians Vol. 2 lays a lot of its chips down on dealing with family conflict, the need for acceptance, and the power of redemption. In Peter Quill (Pratt), questions about his past are answered, not necessarily to his liking, but in a way that allows him to determine the type of person he ultimately chooses to become. His curiosity about his father has always consumed him, yet what keeps him whole is the memory of his mother and the Walkman she gifted him. She was the one that was always there for him, until she wasn’t. Not even an all powerful, scene chewing Kurt Russell wielding promises of immortality is going to stand between that.

For Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), sibling rivalry- a construct of a father with ulterior motives- comes to a violent head, where festering animosities collide in a burst of emotion and enlightenment. Gillan’s tortured, angry Nebula is a stand out, and the catharsis she and her sister work toward is earned in every respect.

For Rocket (Bradley Cooper), the facade of being a wise talking douche-bag is challenged. What he discovers about himself is a true need for others- a compulsion to be a part of a family- and his propensity to distance himself from others is a wall of his own construct to shield himself from having to admit as such.

Refreshingly, much of the emotional weight of the film falls on the dark blue shoulders of Yondu (Michael Rooker). He is the Severus Snape of the series, altogether loathed and loved within the course of an hour. His is the redemptive spirit that holds court over the film, ultimately rebinding the family unit that has been tested.

Don’t be concerned with all of the Freudian psychoanalysis however, for when these themes start to weigh the film down, you can count on another influx of Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) antics or a bout of infectious Drax (Dave Bautista) belly laughing to lighten the mood. Gunn is fully aware that a need to see spaceship battles and explosions are requisites he cannot ignore completely, even if his dual commitment to developing his characters and his need to sate his audience’s desire for action sometimes struggle to play nicely together.

Visually, Guardians Vol. 2 sticks with the same motif that worked in the first film, using a color palate and set designs that feel like a space opera created by Dr. Seuss. The battle scenes are ambitious, but sometimes feel a bit too busy and suffer as a result from a cacophony of sight and sound that is impossible to decipher. The soundtrack is becoming an important “character” in the series as well, and again regales us with an eclectic mix of 80’s nostalgia, eagerly ripped from the stereo of our parent’s sedan or from the “middle-aged white persons” list in karaoke bars. Seriously, you know you’re cranking “Brandy” when the opportunity presents itself.

I suppose it’s apropos that Guardians Vol. 2 would be the film that topples The Fate of the Furious from the domestic box office perch. A series that roots itself in family, supplanted by another. Guardians and Furious seem to be kindred spirits, both harboring in over the top action yet allowing for room to breathe and grow. Guardians has positioned itself to move nicely forward, having rid itself of much of the personal baggage leftover from Vol. 1.

Yet, there will be a bit of backlash against Guardians. It’s standard for these types of films. I don’t like to throw around the term critic proof, as films like this are usually categorized. Everything should be considered for subjective analysis, even if it will rake in a mountain of cash regardless. Don’t tell me I need to lighten up, or that it’s a “popcorn movie.” Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking any blockbuster film shouldn’t be held to the highest standard. The minute we stop caring about characters and how they fit into ongoing stories is the minute we start enabling studios to churn out cinematic chum that blind masses of filmgoers will swarm towards in any regard. Do you really think the majority of people flocking to the theaters for Marvel movies are looking for something with depth? Ask yourself…how many people got up after the screen went blank, oblivious to the five post credit sequences still to come? How is this still a thing with Marvel movie audiences? Marvel doesn’t have to try anymore. They could easily cater to the lowest denominator, and yet, they don’t. They still care about the fans, unlike that Michael Bay franchise that somehow continues to gorge itself on the shekels of middle class Americans. They still see a need for character development and conflict. I’m not saying don’t criticize, just be careful what you’re criticizing. Be upset about the way that Guardians handled Quill’s daddy issues if you need to, but don’t be upset that they brought them up and fleshed them out. Know the difference between criticizing and whining. We should always want the best effort, and I think for the most part Marvel has delivered. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 being no exception. We are Groot.

Episode 056: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

It’s The Fast & Furious, in spaaaaaaaace. Well, maybe not quite, but it’s close. With a strong theme of family resonating throughout, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gives us much more to discuss than just really cool space battles (but there are plenty of those, too). The character depth here is a real strength and it’s clear that director James Gunn knows exactly the tone he’s going for. In our opinion, he mostly nails it. We have a fun conversation about this one. WE ARE GROOT.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:54

(Patrick – The Way, Way Back)
(Aaron – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Psycho-Pass, La La Land)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review – 0:20:26

The Connecting Point – 1:08:45

Download this Episode


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

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