What We Learned This Week: July 15-21

LESSON #1: EVERY AMERICAN TEENAGER AND THEIR PARENTS NEED TO SEE BO BURNHAM’S EIGHTH GRADE— Dropped jaws, bashfulness, winces, worries, and all, this dynamite film needs to be required viewing for the teens out there, especially girls, of these complicated and confusing present times. And the people that should be joining them in the next closest seats are their parents who need their eyes and hearts opened as well. Adults, you can engage and empathize easily with its challenges. It goes both ways to mend a “we don’t know them/they don’t get us” valley of separated understanding between parent and child.  A wise and willing audience for Eighth Grade knows and accepts two truths. First, that social challenges in real life could be, and often are, worse than a movie shows, and, second, those same apprehensions absolutely have the ability to get better for all involved with maturity and, again, efforts towards engagement and empathy. That’s where the conversations about this movie need to go.  There are life lessons for days out of this movie.  

LESSON #2: DENZEL WASHINGTON IS THE BEST TEACHER OF MANNERS – When Denzel Washington is involved, you know one powerhouse speech is coming every movie. Unlearned critics of the actor say he plays the same altruistic anti-hero in every film lately. If they say that, those amateur tone police officers only hear Washington’s volume and aren’t listening to his words or read his actions in between the speeches across the many different shades of characters he plays, from football coaches and disgraced cops to failed fathers and this vicious vigilante. In The Equalizer 2, Washington reels off a topical and poignantly corrective rant for the ages about manhood, gangs, and guns. If the aggressive theatrical combat didn’t already amp you up, soul-rattling and truth-telling moments like that one will rouse you in the best possible way.

LESSON #3: ALL EYES THIS WEEKEND ARE ON SAN DIEGO— Newswires buzz with headlines as long as the lines to get into Hall H on a Saturday at the annual Comic-Con in San Diego.  Disney/Marvel might be playing it low-key this year with its post-Infinity War radio silence and deep-down desire to do their own convention for their own earnings, but that doesn’t mean there will be a shortage of breaking news, new trailer drops, and the building of buzz.  As the resident “No Trailer Guy” of the site, this is a blessing and a curse of great news and tantalizing temptation. We should have a great deal more to talk about this time next week.

LESSON #4: THE COMPETITION HAS BLINKED AND VICTORY IS A MATTER OF TIMEWord came through Thursday that Comcast retracted its counteroffer to buy 21st Century Fox, leaving Disney’s bid competition-free for approval.  Comcast’s exit puts all those fanboy dreams (combined Marvel properties), tears (the death of a major brand and its history), and fears (streaming takeovers and squashes) one step closer to reality.  This has been quite the story to watch and it’s going to get bigger as things progress.

LESSON #5: REPRESENTATION IS GOING TO KEEP MATTERING— Last week, it was the Scarlett Johannson vs. the Transgender Community throwdown s–tstorm.  On a smaller and less noisy level, IndieWire had an interesting counterpoint piece written by Jenna Marotta recently about actors with disabilities being able to play their own parts instead of putting the likes of Joaquin Phoenix in a wheelchair for Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot or removing one of Dwayne Johnson’s legs with CGI for Skyscraper.  The slippery slope gets more slippery.  On one hand, the article presents its point solidly in that greater and truer representation through casting is absolutely beneficial.  In the other, artistic vision, freedom, and integrity for filmmakers to make the movies they want with the people they want, especially for the business and marketing ends, will be challenged.  Compromise must be sought because this push for representation isn’t going away.

LESSON #6: YOU KNOW, MY BIRTHDAY IS RIGHT AROUND THE DATE OF THE 75TH VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL— If anyone wanted to know a little something to get their favorite Feelin’ Film columnist (and like fourth favorite film critic) for his upcoming 39th birthday, I know just the thing.  That would be a plane ticket to Venice and pass to see the newly announced world premiere of Damien Chazelle’s First Man.  The director’s La La Land follow-up should fire up the Oscar season and, by going to the prestigious Venice International Film Festival, it will get the jump on the vaunted Toronto International Film Festival by a few months.  Smooth move, Damien, and a please, please, pretty please to those with deep pockets and a giving heart to hook your guy up.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  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.  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.

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.