What We Learned This Week: February 11-24

LESSON #1: BLACK PANTHER IS THE REAL DEAL AND A GAME-CHANGING JUGGERNAUT— Black Panther is winning every battle it fights right now.  The critics are hailing it and shooting down the Alt-Right protests.  Audiences are flocking to it to the tune of a record-breaking opening holiday weekend gross of $242 million domestically and over $213 million in foreign countries.  Any remaining doubts and glass ceilings for C-level superheroes, Ryan Coogler’s talent, and the market for minority-led films are all shattered, and rightfully so.  What Disney/Marvel has to do is maintain this momentum and capitalize on the success properly.  It’s not milking it.  It’s gilding it.

LESSON #2: VOTER BIAS STILL EXISTS AND WILL ALWAYS EXIST— I could just about add any “in ______” ending to that lesson title from “Hall of Fame voting” to “Oscar voting” and the trueness of the lesson wouldn’t change.  We all hope for it but impartiality is impossible in large voting bodies, especially with the extensive rackets of voter manipulation sweetly labeled as “Oscar campaigning.”  People are bringing their biases and grudges.  A recent Deadline editorial from Peter Bart and Mike Fleming Jr. shared a debate on the reluctance to vote for a Netflix film on an Oscar ballot and who is on the wrong side of the argument.  I get all of the arguments of Netflix’s arthouse-killing claims, but I have long sees it as the new marketplace ahead of the curve.  In the end, a film’s merit should be the only thing folks vote on.

LESSON #3: I TOLD YOU TO KEEP AN EYE ON APPLE FOR A COUNTERPUNCH— We have a stiff jab right now. With Netflix trying to maintain its streaming dominance, Disney power-playing to gain controlling interest of Hulu and also start their own menu of streaming services, tech giant Apple wasn’t going to remain idle.  I reported back in January that Apple was angling to maybe acquire Netflix.  That mega-deal is not here… yet, but they are diving in creating original programming and found a perfect headliner to start with a series created and directed by La La Land‘s Oscar winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle.  Word is Apple is willing to spend $1 billion on scripted original works.  Heads up, we have a third player.  The war is just beginning.

LESSON #4: JOSS WHEDON CAN’T GET A BREAK— After creatively feuding with Marvel after the successful but maligned Avengers: Age of Ultrondirector Joss Whedon took the minor fall.  Swooping in to rescue Justice League after what we now learn was a Zack Snyder firing more than a family leave, Whedon looked like he was back in the saddle.  When Justice League went on to disappoint, Whedon took that fanboy blame too as fans clamored for a Snyder director’s cut.  Now, the guy can’t even accomplish what he always did best: write heroic stories for heroines.  Whedon exited the planned Batgirl film after not being able to crack the proper story, a project one would figure he would be perfect for.  Man, this guy’s on a monumental losing streak.  Somebody rescue Joss Whedon and his confidence.

LESSON #5: CAN THE TRAINSPOTTING VIBE TRANSLATE OVER TO JAMES BOND?— Much like imagining what a Quentin Tarantino Star Trek film would look like, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Slumdog Millionaire Oscar winner Danny Boyle is rumored to be working on a James Bond script with his Trainspotting writing partner John Hodge.  Gosh, how trippy could that be?  I think Boyle has an ideal skill set to make a kinetic and compelling film that could play in the spy game landscape with a new pep and flair from Hodge’s devil-may-care style.  It could work.  What do you think?


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.

MOVIE REVIEW: La La Land

From the street, a baby grand in the middle of a supper club beckons her; the crescendo of a smooth jazz arrangement filling the night air like a clarion call.  She stands and looks at him, mesmerized.  I sit in a dark theater and look at her looking at him, mesmerized.   What happens in the next two hours can only be described as a dizzying spectacle of genuine magic.  A cinematic mish-mash of wondrous set pieces, decorated with a vibrant color palette, lit with appropriate mood lighting, and accompanied by musical numbers ranging from soulful to toe-tapping.  It’s the perfect backdrop in which to watch America’s newest sweethearts pursue their dreams and each other.  This is the City of Stars.  This is La La Land.

I need to be upfront with something.  La La Land was like Hollywood lobbing me a softball the size of a beach ball and giving me a telephone pole to hit it with.  Let’s suffice it to say this film was square in my wheelhouse, so my excitement level was dialed to eleven before I even started the car to head to the theater.  It’s rare to have such high expectations for something and have them met, but as I went into La La Land with five star expectations, I walked out having had a six star experience.

What writer/director Damien Chazelle has crafted here is a pure spectacle in all of the best possible ways.  Culling from the golden age of Hollywood musicals, when Fred twirled Ginger around the soundstage, Chazelle captures the glamour of a bygone era and places it neatly into a modern world. Thankfully, he doesn’t burden it with overproduced glitz (ala Baz Luhrman).  Instead, there is a beauty to these production numbers.  There is a dreamlike quality to most of them; perfect asides that enhance the burgeoning love story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).  When the film does veer into more rambunctious musical territory, as it does with the side bar narrative of Sebastian’s rising career with modern jazz band The Messengers (led by a guitar playing John Legend as lead vocalist Keith), it never feels forced or unnecessary.  It all feels appropriate; keeping us grounded in the now. Just when you allow the magic of old Hollywood to take you away, a well timed cell phone ring or smoke alarm reels you back in.  Getting antsy with all of the jazz?  Here’s an 80’s cover band performance to enjoy. It’s all part of the larger experience. There is a purpose to everything Chazelle does.  

There isn’t really a deep narrative that drives La La Land.  This is a story about dreamers, and the courtship of Mia and Sebastian is purely a means to an end.  The chemistry between Stone and Gosling only serves to enhance the experience of getting there.  Their relationship checks off all of the right boxes as the movie forges on, but everything they experience together as a couple feels natural and never melodramatic.  Chazelle isn’t interested in cliches.  Time is better spent with walks through a deserted studio backlot, or inside a dimly lit nightclub listening to jazz music.  We are invested in this couple.  We want to see them succeed.  So when the time comes where conflict is necessary, it rings true.  And it hurts.

What we ultimately learn from La La Land is that dreams always come with a price.  Perseverance is required, but it comes with a healthy dose of self doubt.  The world will chew you up and spit you out, because it couldn’t care less about your dreams.  Hollywood is the perfect setting for just such a story.  It is a land of dreamers who rarely get the opportunity to do.  And what about sacrifice?  You can’t have it all.  You may one day beat the odds and achieve the success you seek, but it might be at the cost of the fantastic partner who has been by your side the whole time.  The one that believed in you unconditionally might be the one who gets pushed aside; a tragic consequence to the realities of life.  If the dream is the goal, you have to be willing to look back across a crowded nightclub, with a wry smile and a knowing nod, and be okay with what you had to give up to get here.  Here’s to the fools who dream.

 

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STEVE CLIFTON has been writing moderately well on the Internet at this blog, Popcorn Confessional, for the better part of the last decade.  His love for movies can be traced back to the North Park Cinema in Buffalo, NY circa 1972, when his aunt took him to see Dumbo.  Now living in Maine, Steve routinely consumes as much film, television, and books as time will allow.  He also finds time to complain about winter and Buffalo sports teams.  He is a big fan of bad horror films and guacamole, and mildly amused by pandas.