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 25-March 10

LESSON #1: IN THIS WEEK AFTER THE OSCARS, LET’S COOL OUR JETS ON THE INSTANTANEOUS “MASTERPIECE” LABEL— During the recent awards season, one article stood out for me when it came to talking about “masterpieces,” and those FF Facebook group members out there know how I feel about those.  It preached the kind of temperance I’ve been begging for.  A general editorial discussion by Edward Douglas of The Tracking Board followed the high praise for Black Panther.  Douglas’s article nails it and matches my heart and mind on the topic.  I highly recommend the read.

LESSON #2: NO OSCAR JUGGERNAUT EXISTS GOING ON 14 YEARS— The Shape of Water, despite 13 nominations only won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards.  No film has won double-digit Oscars since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King at the 2004 ceremony.  The most Oscars won by a single film since was eight by Slumdog Millionaire.  If this was a sport, we would call the trend “parity.”  If this was civics or government, we would call it “spreading the wealth” and “depth of variety.”  I don’t know about you, but I think we need a massive awards winner every now and then to remind us how a truly great film (maybe even a future “masterpiece,” there I said it) can dominate and be the peak of artistic achievement in multiple areas at the same time.  Inflated box office number aside, if the last decade of film feels weak in the prestige department compared t the era before it, the lack of big Oscar winners creates that impression.

LESSON #3: CAN WE TRIM THAT LONG SHOW ALREADY?!— Did you notice the annual Honorary Oscar winners were omitted from appearing on the main show this year?  Remember when legends would grace the stage and preside over the ceremony in the high-end sideboxes?  Go back to this perfect moment of torch-passing and acknowledged respect at the 2002 Oscars when Denzel Washington won his Best Actor award for Training Day on the same night Sidney Poitier, one of his heroes, received his Honorary Oscar:

Moments like that beat Gal Gadot handing out treats to unsuspecting folks watching a movie.  Sure, it’s cute, but it’s beneath the importance of these awards.  I would have gladly traded any and all of the comedy bits and mostly purposeless montages the Oscars telecasts crams down our viewing throats each year for more genuine and unscripted moments like the Denzel/Sidney one.  Now watch Donald Sutherland’s acceptance speech for his Honorary Oscar received at a prior banquet this year.

That’s an Oscar moment better than Helen Mirren rubbing any sexy inanimate object.  Want to make the Oscars better?  Put the magic and emotion back into the show.  Make them important again, not a sideshow.

LESSON #4: POSTSCRIPT, HERE’S WHY THE BOSS BABY WAS AN OSCAR NOMINEE— I didn’t learn this until after the Oscars, but there was a rule change in the nominations process for Best Animated Feature.  The category can now be voted on by any Academy member, not just people from that department or discipline.  Previously, the only award that had that universal voting like that was Best Picture.  This Vox article explains how commercial reach watering down of the category could cause a slow death of independent animation, a small enough niche to be ignored or inaccessible to most general voters.  Keep that in mind next year.  That still doesn’t explain why The LEGO Batman Movie didn’t get the spot given to The Boss Baby.  

LESSON #5: THE NEXT AWARDS SEASON STARTS NOW, SO GET TO KNOW YOUR 2019 OSCAR CONTENDERS— Shameless self-promotion, but I love looking into the crystal ball at what movies coming this calendar year will be the ones standing tall with hardware in their hands at the 91st Academy Awards in 2019.  There’s always a Sundance Film Festival darling from January that tours the festival scene all year before a fall Oscar release.  Get Out reminded us that a February release can again make it a year to the next Oscars, just like The Silence of the Lambs years ago.  Will that film be Black Panther this time around?  Well, I’ve got your advance study checklist ready for you.  Here are 19 films to keep an eye on for the 2019 Oscars.  I see you Damien Chazelle and Steve McQueen!  Place your early bets now.


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: Roman J Israel, Esq

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)

Going to see a Denzel Washington movie is as sure of a thing as there is in the film world. Even when the movies he stars in are sub-par, you can count on his performance to always be top notch. I’ve never seen a performance from Washington that feels phoned in. His performance as the titular character in Dan Gilroy’s new film Roman J. Israel, Esq. is no exception. Denzel is fully committed to the role and even though he’s one of the most recognizable faces in cinema, he’s able to create a character that doesn’t simply feel like Denzel Washington playing a lawyer. Roman Israel is a brilliant legal mind who is admittedly no good in the court room. Having spent his entire career doing civil rights litigation work behind the scenes while his partner was the public face of their firm, he’s suddenly thrust out of his comfort zone when that partner is incapacitated. I’m not a doctor, and it’s never mentioned in the film, but Roman is almost certainly somewhere on the Autism spectrum. Washington gives him a cadence and tone along with distinctive ticks and mannerisms that lets us know it’s more than just a distaste with the court system that has kept him from the public eye all these years. What he lacks in social ability he more than makes up for in legal knowledge. He’s labeled both a savant and a freak by those who witness the extent of his knowledge of case histories, legal precedent and the code of law. He’s an engaging and intriguing character that I’d love to watch in a case of the week style lawyer show, brilliant and inadvertently funny.

The film’s main conflict lies within Israel himself. He’s torn between continuing his life’s work, an almost impossible task given his financial situation and the lack of interest in his services by people that matter, and enjoying the perks that come with “selling out,” which to him means life in a large and expensive firm. He’s pulled in both directions by Colin Farrell, a slick and successful lawyer offering a life of luxury, and Carmen Ejogo, the director of a civil rights non-profit and admires Israel for his years of work in the field.  Both are very solid in their roles, but Farrell stands out. As a former student of Roman’s idealistic partner, Ferrell’s George Pierce is too slimy to love, but too human to despise. It is with great regret, though, that I have to inform that these three solid performances are wasted on a film that is unfocused, uninspired and critically unsure of what kind of story it wants to tell.

When a movie comes out that stars Denzel, I know that it’s something I’m going to see, but it’s not always something I see right away. Flight, Fences, The Equalizer, etc. are all films that I had on my list, but waited to see until I could watch at home. Roman J. Israei, Esq. would have also fit into that category if it weren’t for the fact that it was written and directed by Dan Gilroy (well that, and Movie Pass and not having anything to wake up early for during the holiday weekend). Gilroy’s directorial debut, Nightcrawler, was an outstanding film that was as confident as it was creepy with a great story and career best performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. Unfortunately his sophomore effort suffers from a lack of focus, an abundance of contrivances, and a jarring change in tone for the final 20 minutes of the film.

There are 2-3 different movies happening simultaneously in this one, and a focus on any of these threads could have yielded a much better film. As it is, I found myself alternately confused and bored, spending much of the last hour checking my watch and wishing I had remembered to check the runtime. If you’re looking for a great performance and could care less about how it fits into the larger narrative, by all means, give Roman J. Israel, Esq. a watch. It’s a fine but flawed film that has its moments of intrigue. I’d recommend seeing something else on your holiday weekend though, and waiting on this one until it only sets you back $1.50 at the Redbox.

Rating:


 

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.