What We Learned This Week: December 3-9

LESSON #1: IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, BUY THEM— Barring any final hang-ups, big media will be getting bigger.   The entertainment universe is abuzz with the prospect of Walt Disney buying 21st Century Fox (more than just parts or assets of it as initially rumored), a $60 billion deal that could be done as early as next week.  Word is Fox would retain its sports and news properties (dammit), but the film wing is what has folks dreaming.  Fanboys go straight to the fantasies of seeing the X-Men/Fantastic Four worlds merged with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I cannot blame them for those tingles. I have them too, but circle back to some of the little things we’ve seen Disney do over the course of the year (many reported in this column): the blackout of critics from certain publications, the price hikes for theater dividends, taking their ball to their own convention and streaming service, and more.  There is something to be said for healthy competition and not a one-stop shop that is the size of an empire.  For example (and I bet you didn’t know this one), buying 21st Century Fox would give Disney controlling interest in Hulu.   Combine that potential with Disney’s ESPN service and their own streaming platform coming in 2019 and Disney could have the power to squeeze the life out of Netflix like a corporate anaconda.  Plainly put, I hope the deal doesn’t go through.  If Disney wants to use X-Men and the Fantastic Four, broker a sharing deal with Fox the way they did with Sony for Spider-Man until the rights run out and the properties are free agents again.  Share and play nice together instead of bully with a takeover.

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF BIG BUSINESS, LET THE JUSTICE LEAGUE AFTERMATH BEGIN AT DC/WARNER BROS.— I have been one of the vocal minority to tip my hat at Warner Bros. going the bolder and more adult direction with their superhero properties as an antithesis to the sunny and safe market cornered by Disney’s MCU.  They had the balls to be different.  The bottom line, unfortunately, is that even the cajones have to sell.  I wouldn’t say Warner Bros. is losing money from its DC films, but you can tell a boardroom somewhere looks at their receipt and then looks at Marvel’s receipts and sees lost earning potential.  They’re making money, but they think they should be making even more money.  Go figure.  Justice League is being seen as a business failure and a rumored producer and operational shake-up made headlines this week.  Adding salt to the wound for many (even though I saw this coming as soon as the Flash solo film was titled Flashpoint, implying the out clause for a reboot), there is strong desire to recast Ben Affleck as Batman in the future Matt Reeves-directed film.  You had to know they were going to need to go younger at some point and it’s reading this was according to plan for Affleck too.  As much as I admire their attempt to be different, I’m fine with a shake-up and some changes to normalize these characters and their potentials.

LESSON #2: “STANDARDS OF CONDUCT” ARE NOW NECESSARY TERMS TO HAVE ON THE BOOKS— The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the governing and voting body of the Oscars, have enacted a “standards of conduct” requiring members to “behave ethically by upholding the Academy’s values of respect for human dignity, inclusion, and a supportive environment that fosters creativity.”  In this day and age, what should be common sense for personal behavior now has to be spelled out in specifics and put into print because of how flippant and rampant those unwritten rules have been broken.  It’s never pretty to need this measure, but it’s one that should be applauded.

LESSON #3: LOS ANGELEANS ARE DIFFERENT THAN NEW YORKERS— The critics’ groups from the two largest and leading cities have spoken with their year-end award picks.   Both are trendsetters, yet both are different.  As reported here last week, the New York Film Critics Circle stumped for Lady Bird for Best Picture and Best Actress.  This week, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association went in the direction of Call Me By Your Name for Best Picture and Best Actor with equal love shown to The Shape of Water for Best Director and Best Actress.  If those three non-conformist films are your Oscar frontrunners, this is going to be a feather-rustling awards season with bold independent film leading the way.

LESSON #4: RYAN REYNOLDS HAS NOT TURNED THE CORNER FROM MAKING BAD DECISIONS–Before Deadpool resurrected his career, Ryan Reynolds could not have put together a trashier resume if he tried.  Just when you thought being enlivened striking gold with the “Merc with a Mouth,” here he goes signing on to be the lead voice in a Pokemon movie named Detective Pikachu.  Come on, man.   You’re back.  You’re better than that crap now.  Did you not learn your lesson? Stick to the good stuff, Ryan.

LESSON #5: QUENTIN TARANTINO’S INVOLVEMENT WILL EITHER BE FUN OR A HOT MESS— News bounced around this week that J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino are meeting to hash out some ideas for a Star Trek film.  Word around the campfire is Tarantino pitched an idea to Paramount and Abrams they thought was awesome and now the two filmmakers are putting together a team of writers to develop the screenplay.  If all goes well, Tarantino, a self-professed Trekkie since the original TV show, could also direct.  Follow-up word says that an R-rating has been given a green light.  I don’t know what to think about that potential.  I don’t think you need profanity and R-rated violence in a Star Trek film, in any shape or firm.  Would it spice things up?  Sure, but it’s out of character, even for this rebooted universe.  I’ll grant that Tarantino has panache like no other.  He could take an old TV episode premise like “City on the Edge of Forever” and jazz it up well for the big screen.  However, unchecked Tarantino is silly and excessive when not reined in.  I’m glad other screenwriters are involved to keep the chatty Cathy Tarantino grounded.  Hire a crack editor while they’re at it to keep it from being a 170-minute yak-fest.  I don’t see a middle ground between awesome and disaster when it comes to a guy like Quentin.

LESSON #7: THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING FOR STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI SPOILERS— Folks, next week is the week.  It’s finally here!  Star Wars: The Last Jedi!  I humblebragged this week that I have yet to watch the supposedly spoiler-ish final trailer and I’m pleased as punch that I made it this long.  If you’re avoiding stuff like me, be ready for radio silence next week right around Tuesday morning (hint, hint).  Be cool.  Don’t be a troll.  Don’t ruin it for people.  I promise a spoiler-free review, as always.


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.  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: Wonder Woman

In the opening minutes of Wonder Woman, young Princess Diana (played by the precocious Lilly Aspell), bounds about the island of Themyscira with such a tireless enthusiasm, imitating lady warriors in training, channeling the energy of Wall Street’s Fearless Girl, defiant of rules and stereotypes.  Even as her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson), tries to subdue her daughter’s eagerness to place herself in precarious circumstances, we can tell that Diana is cut from a different cloth. This is an origin story untold on the big screen before now, and in a cinematic society weary of such redundancies, the coming of age of the would be Amazonian princess is welcome, and in so many ways, necessary.

For the past decade, Marvel Studios has coasted along on the coattails of a genuinely decent cinematic universe, wherein rival DC has limped along with luke warm to abysmal attempts post-Nolan at keeping up with the Jonses. Rabid fandom aside, DC has mostly earned the reputation of being the VH1 to Marvel’s MTV.  But credit where credit is due, DC is the first studio to test the theory that a female centered superhero film can stand alongside the glut of “fill in the blank”-man movies that have strong armed the studio’s purse strings for far to long.  Giving the reigns to a passionate, visionary filmmaker like Patty Jenkins was also the right thing to do. There is an undercurrent of authenticity to this film, as if it knows it carries an extra burden.  Fair or not, Wonder Woman needed to be more than entertaining.  

Wonder Woman needs to be examined on multiple fronts. As a superhero film, it’s decent, much in the way most of these genre films are.  There will be things that work and things that will not, but generally you will feel a sense of satisfaction when the credits start rolling.  And yet, Twitter trolls will spew nonsense, and fanboys will gather to defend. If you can block out that noise, you can expect an above average slice of blockbuster pie that isn’t without its flaws.

Comparisons can be made to Captain America: The First Avenger in both style and structure.  The pacing isn’t always a strength, and it does feel the full weight of the 141 minute run time as a result.  The film ultimately falls into familiar genre trappings, where CGI assumes command of a final battle between super-beings in a dark cacophony of sight and sound.  But enough good will has been earned by that point for me to forgive most of that.  It isn’t terrible, just familiar.  

As maligned as Producer Zack Snyder is with a lot of his creative choices, casting Gal Gadot is purely inspired.  She is perfect, and with no disrespect to Linda Carter, she is the Wonder Woman for all going forward.  Gadot brings so many layers of Diana Prince to life, portraying her with a fearless intensity that smacks of both strength and vulnerability. There is a grace and beauty to Diana, and yet her fierce sense of duty never wavers.  Between Gadot’s talent and Jenkins’ direction, Wonder Woman never strays down a path that could have cheapened it.

To that end, props to Chris Pine (as Captain Steve Trevor), who never oversells himself.  He seems to understand there is something bigger going on here, and his portrayal of Trevor never impedes on Gadot.  Pine shows range with the character- sometimes frustrated, confused, or downright angry- but he’s always respectful of Diana’s role within this world.  

All of the plot devices and technicalities of filmmaking aside, the success of Wonder Woman, at least for me, lies squarely on its ability to serve as a beacon for gender equality.  And I’m of the opinion (admittedly the opinion of one white bred, middle aged dude), that this film succeeds on that front.  Every time I started to get concerned the line might get crossed- when the male hero might be called upon to save the day- Jenkins and Gadot sidestep, making sure the focus stays on Diana as hero, keeping the male characters involved but at a respectable distance that never feels unnatural. 

To that end, we male critics can comment on the basics of storytelling, or on technical merit, or character development, but I don’t feel as if we have the right to pass judgement on this film based on our experience outside of those particular contexts. It isn’t our film, guys.  We can love it or hate, but what matters is the way it lands with women who find inspiration from the main character.  What matters are the women who have felt the brunt of misaligned gender politics and look to a simple film as a step in the right direction.  What matters are women who find courage and strength in a world that doesn’t often allow them to express those traits.  What matters are the multitudes of little girls who don the warrior princess’ outfit and walk away empowered, seeing themselves as equals, seeing themselves in the same context as their male peers who sport Iron Man and Captain America gear on Halloween.  It’s really the only thing that matters here, and it’s long overdue.