What We Learned This Week: September 15-21

LESSON #1: JUST BECAUSE A FILM PRESENTS A MAN WITH STRONG FEELINGS DOESN’T MEAN IT’S AUTOMATICALLY A SLICE OF TOXIC MASCULINITY— I’ll share a little inside chatter as a film critic who watched a closed screening of Ad Astra with just critics, no public audience.  Even though we all will go home and hope to write our slice of brilliant and engaging criticism, we all still talk shop.  Color me crazy as, admittedly, a white middle-aged male, but I was surprised and even a little rubbed the wrong way when I heard a few peers vehemently drop the toxic masculinity card on Ad Astra.  Sure, parental issues can be overplayed in movies.  When that happens, I look to the approach it took before I label and curse.  For me, I saw a movie that showed the stresses saddled on men. I don’t go too deep on that tangent in my own review, but I highly recommend my Chicago peer Leo Brady’s review of Ad Astra on AMovieGuy.com.  He hits the topic hard and pushes back.  When you see the movie, I’d love to read or hear your take and vibe.

LESSON #2: NO AUDIENCE MEMBER WANTS MORE ADVERTISEMENTS— After a recent Hollywood Reporter poll revealed the majority of moviegoers want fewer trailers before a movie, a nearly universal declaration, a story arrived this week of two theater companies adding even more pre-movie advertisements.  The Regal and Cinemark chains are proposing to add business advertising before the already excessive trailers.  AMC, the nation’s top chain, is staunchly against it.  I get that advertising pays the bills for these studio-squeezed theater chains that lose more and more of the windfall cut each year, but the top loser here is still the consumer.  No one needs more of this stuff.  This only creates more incentive to come into movies late and not spend your concession dollars on site.

LESSON #3: DIGITAL PERFORMERS HAVE RIGHTS— I love, love, love what Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes performance capture star (and future Venom 2 director) Andy Serkis is stumping for.  Serkis is rallying for compensation and renumeration for reusing digital performances, especially those that are no longer with us.  His core questions were: ““When your performance becomes data it can be manipulated, reworked or sampled, much like the music industry samples vocals and beats. If we can do that, where does the intellectual property lie? Who owns authorship of the performance? Where are the boundaries?”  He went further to talk about actors being unethically used against cultural sensitivities since they can be replaced and manipulated with other imagery.  Top to bottom, Andy brings up an outstanding issue that deserves attention.  I look forward to seeing where this story goes and who steps up to listen.

LESSON #4: YOUR OPENING DAY MENU OF DISNEY+ IS IMMENSE AND AMAZING— The full list of content starting on Day 1 of Disney+ is obscene.  Click on this link for the whole list and put on a football helmet with a chin-strap.  The buttoned up strap will hold your jaw and the helmet itself could stave of a concussion when you fall from wherever you’re standing or sitting reading that list.


 

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#116)

What We Learned This Week: August 25-31

LESSON #1: THERE’S PRICE POINT AND THEN THERE’S STEAL OF A DEAL THAT YOU SIMPLY CANNOT PASS UP— You regular readers know my usual stance on price point.  It is the ultimate decision-maker and motivator of consumerism and it always wins.  Just when you couldn’t think Disney could sweeten the pot more for its Disney+ streaming service, they drop another bombshell.  It’s price by itself AND with the ESPN+ add-in already beat Netflix.  Now, they hit us with the special rate for D23 fan club members that drops the price to under $4 per month when you commit to three years.  If this was a cell phone contract, we would all be wary of being locked into something for that amount of time.  That’s not the case here.  That’s a locked-in price for three years in a streaming business era that just loves to get you signed up early and then jack up the rates.  For less than the price of one expensive cup of exotic coffee a month, you get all of Disney+.  Folks, that’s a regret-free and zero excuse steal.

LESSON #2: ROTTEN TOMATOES DESERVES TO WIN A “MOST IMPROVED” AWARD— For all the Rex Reeds and David Ehrlichs that sink hopes and skew audiences with imagined power, the critical community of Rotten Tomatoes needed an infusion of new voices.  Last August, the Flixster-controlled site drastically updated their Tomatometer Critic Criteria and opened its ranks to a new breed of critics (myself included) that go beyond print journalism and stress inclusion of diversity.  One year later, they have reported their resulting data.  Adding 600 critics was huge. To have 55% of them be women, 60% of them be freelancers, and 10% come from video and podcast sources is even more huge.  Thank you, Rotten Tomatoes, for the impactful initiative and impressive follow-through.  What a facelift!

LESSON #3: THOSE WHO CANNOT DO, TEACH— Quite likely for just about every movie fan who has ever seen Matthew McConaughey work or talk about his craft, “scholarly,” I’m betting, was not the first or even the 100th word to come to mind.  Alas, after four years as a “visiting instructor,” the coolest of cool Academy Award winner has become a full-time film “professor of practice” at the Moody College of Communication within the University of Texas-Austin.  This looks like a true commitment and not a gloryhounding publicity stunt in any shape or form.  From one teacher to another, good for you!  The classroom can use your inspiring energy and voice of experience.  Now, all I picture are the hot-for-teacher students from Raiders of the Lost Ark that faun over and derail Professor Henry Jones with their eyelid mesages.

 

If that starts happening to you, Matt, that’s how you know you’ve made it.  I can hear it now: “I just love these college girls.  I get older and they stay the same age.”

LESSON #4: GERARD BUTLER IS A POOR MAN’S LIAM NEESON— The weekend box office victory of Angel Has Fallen has reminded us that Gerard Butler has a certain successful niche that people pay money to see.  Like the matinee idols of the 90s that came before him and kicked and punched (Van Damme, Seagal) their way victoriously through raucous R-rated action flicks, the 300 star and an arsenal of fireams can do the same thing.  He’s beginning the Liam Neeson route early, right before turning 50 this November.  Make a few more winners like the Fallen series and Butler can hope to equal and maybe supplant Neeson.  He’s found a fan romance in Vulture writer and critic extraordinaire Bilge Ebiri after his “I Think I Love Gerard Butler” editorial this past week.  Great read!

 


 

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#114)

What We Learned This Week: June 2-22

LESSON #1: PERCEIVED RECORDS AND DISTINCTIONS MAKE PEOPLE GREEDY— The corporate greed monster of Disney strikes again with a blatant turnaround re-release of Avengers: Endgame. The goal of tacking on “new footage,” a tribute reel, and an end credits scene is to get the blockbuster over the final $50 million hump between its gross and the Avatar’s cumulative worldwide record of $2.788 billion. Apparently, there’s shame for being in second place so bad they have to employ cheap double-dip tactics. It will work, but it will also take screens away from other smaller movies that deserve more attention and chances. In my eyes, and I’ve taken this stump in this column before, this remains a hollow and fake victory fueled by inflation and high ticket prices. Avengers: Endgame remains outside of the Top 15 in both inflation-adjusted gross and, the best and most universal indicator of all, total ticket sales. Wake me up when it catches anything in that Top 5 or even the Top 10.

LESSON #2: DON’T TAKE A MOVIE AWAY FROM A CAPABLE DIRECTOR— A week after its disappointing debut at the box office, word on creative strife behind the scenes of Men in Black: International is coming to light. Clashes of story direction and final cut between veteran producer Walter Parkes and hired and extremely capable director F. Gary Gray nearly caused Gray to leave the project. Gray touted something edgier and Parkes’ sillier affair won final cut. This is explains a great deal as to why this movie looks way off and feels discombobulated, even by MiB standards. Sony, you’ve made these screwups before (and it sounds like you’re doing them again with Bond 25).  Trust the talent you hire and let them do their thing.

LESSON #3: DON’T PAY THE SAME GUY TO SCREW UP TWICE— There are many things wrong with Fox’s X-Men “culmination” movie Dark Phoenix, and just about every one of them can leveled to the writer/director Simon Kinburg, who was respectful enough to take responsibility. Once the powers-that-be announced that the X-Men: Apocalypse sequel was going to tackle the “Phoenix/Dark Phoenix” for a second time after Brett Ratner’s reviled X-Men: The Last Stand, they had to know the scrutiny was coming.  If you’re actually trying for renewed success, you don’t hire the same writer who made the first dumpster fire and then also give him the power to direct.  I get familiarity and I get that Bryan Singer is radioactive to employ, but go find an actual upgrade for your $200 million tentpole and franchise swan song.

LESSON #4: THE FEELINGS OF FATIGUE AND BLANDNESS FOR BLOCKBUSTERS ARE REAL— I know Toy Story 4 is fail-proof this weekend from this lesson, but, other than April’s Avengers: Endgame, this has been a rough spring and summer for blockbusters. I read two articles this week that tackled this issue in different ways. Medium.com writer Samuel Lenz poses the question of franchise fatigue of bland blockbusters. IndieWire’s Tom Brueggemann went deeper into the collapse to cite size, frequency, the loss of MoviePass, streaming preferences, and higher quality TV options. I think both together encapsulate the majority of the factors we’re seeing. The top reason to me is quality. These have been bland movie offerings. Better movies get better audiences and returns. Better movies with verified must-see buzz climb over other entertainment options an open wallets. It will always start with quality.

LESSON #5: IT WILL ALWAYS BE ABOUT PRICE POINT— The posturing of the streaming wars continue with WarnerMedia announcing the proposed price of its upcoming streaming service. The sticker of $16-17 monthly would include HBO (which is $15 by itself currently), Cinemax, and the sizable WB library of content. That may be a fair price on paper, but in the eyes of customers, that’s more than double Disney Plus and higher than Netflix, Hulu, and even Apple. Other than hardcore HBO fans and folks that miss the WB bulk that used to be backbone of the closing Turner Classic Movies, people aren’t going to bite for this. Now, if that $16 included Warner’s current standalone DC Entertainment as a match to all the Marvel stuff under the Disney Plus umbrella, the temptation and value would be closer.

LESSON #6: APPLE WANTS TO BE AN OSCAR PLAYER—Many in the industry watched with impressiveness at Netflix’s Oscar campaigns for Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. They have broken the glass ceiling and Apple is looking to follow. News broke this week of their strategy to produce and back six modestly-budgeted films a year as sponsored Oscar hopefuls. This plan is independent from a recent multi-year agreement between Apple and indie darling A24 to make multiple features together, but you have to think that collaboration is a perfect source for this goal.  Watch out, folks. Fine apple wine is coming.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#104)

What We Learned This Week: April 14-27

LESSON #1: THERE ARE CASES WHERE FAN SERVICE IS NECESSARY— Folks, with a universe and property as big as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have reached a saturation point and commitment level where fan service is warranted. That’s right and here’s a paraphrase from my Avengers: Endgame review.  What some have called pandering should actually be seen as one of the many objectives in an invested and vetted blockbuster like this one. It is to a point where the course of things is thematically and tonally misaligned without those inclusions. Avengers: Endgame is unabashedly a three-hour festival of celebrating all the dream fulfillment of past and present for this deep roster of beloved characters. The wow moments come often and hit both the jaw-drop and stand-up-and-cheer levels.  Not every piece of fandom has earned that. Star Wars has and this one has too.

LESSON #2: PREPARATION IS KEY— Thanks need to go out to Feelin’ Film host Aaron White for spurring the one-movie-a-week #RoadtoEndgame.  Those rewatches since the first week of December have been outstanding for adding to the build-up and, more importantly, refreshing us to all the ins-and-outs of the MCU at it reaches its pinnacle.  If it’s too late for you to watch all 22 films before Avengers: Endgame, let our man and friend-of-the-podcast Emmanuel Noisette of E-Man’s Movie Reviews shortcut you to five must-see movies:

The movies are how you enrich your mind.  Now, you need to prepare your body. Eat a good meal before Avengers: Endgame to avoid expensive concessions and the distraction to snack.  Be mindful of your bladder power and your body will remember how it survived Titanic and six Tolkien films at the theater.  Honestly, when your mind is engaged in the movie, you won’t need a potty break.

LESSON #3: A GOOD FRANCHISE NEEDS TO CREATE A CODA— The final spoiler-free celebration note I can post about Avengers: Endgame in this column comes from the last life lesson of five from my review and it speaks to the purpose beyond the fun of fan service.  The range of the definition of “coda” can be merged into “a concluding part of a dramatic work that is formally distinct from the main structure” and “serves to round out, conclude, or summarize.” Avengers: Endgame is not a pivot point, but a grand finale eleven years in the making. True to the blueprint, it is hard to imagine a more gratifying and rewarding summit.  I wish every franchise could craft something this fitting or even have the chance to crescendo with all the energy they can muster.

LESSON #4: WHAT’S NEXT FOR MARVEL REMAINS A PLEASANT MYSTERY— Normally, thanks to the constant Disney push and bragging, we normally know every little forthcoming detail possible about their dominating calendar of coming attractions.  At this moment, a year of somewhat “radio silence” after Infinity War, you have to tip your hat to Kevin Feige and company for holds their cards close to the vest.  Sony can’t help but admit to and tout Spider-Man: Far From Home, which is regrettable, but understandable.  They have a rare blockbuster to sell. Meanwhile, Feige recently hinted at a 5-year Phase 4 MCU plan that didn’t name names, but shared the usual ambition and confidence.  Naturally, the big question remains the character acquisitions from Fox. To that question, Feige has used the vague measurement of “a very long time” as to when we’ll see the likes of the X-Men or the Fantastic Four saving the day next to the established Avengers.  Feige’s absolutely supreme planning and patience should not be questioned. He’s earned our trust that the slow play is the right play. They’ll be worth the wait.

LESSON #5: LITTLE FILMS NEED HELP— As much as we are here this weekend to celebrate the big stuff, smaller films need audience too.  When they don’t get them, a part of the industry weakens and even dies. A spotlight example of that came through the news wires this week of the cuts happening behind the scenes after Disney’s acquisition of Fox.  The Mouse House is killing off or jettisoning several unreleased Fox projects with earning potential and the bottom line in mind. It’s a creative bummer but an unfortunate reality of business. I’ve said this often in this column space: Once you start charging for tickets, this becomes a business first and an art exposition second.  Like any owner targeting profit and returns on investment, Disney is making those tough decisions. Honestly, it’s likely bad business deals that made Fox vulnerable for sale. Do better and the predicament doesn’t come.

LESSON #6: HULU’S DAYS ARE NUMBERED— As you may know, one of the components of Disney’s purchase of Fox was controlling interest in Hulu.  The remaining 30% of that stake is owned by Comcast who, according to reports this week, is in talks with Disney to broker a lucrative deal.  No matter where that bidding ends up, a dissolution in the near-future feels inevitable.  Disney, should it gain that final portion, is pushing its own brand of Disney+ as its streaming flagship.  You would think they wouldn’t push or carry two. Comcast, if they stand pat, was planning on starting their own streaming shingle to add to the marketplace since they don’t own enough of Hulu to compete.  Either way, it doesn’t look promising.

LESSON #7: THE ACADEMY IS STARTING TO WISE UP— In other distant news away from Infinity Stones and Corporate Greed Monsters, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences actually announced a few minor changes and rulings this week that didn’t immediately make them Public Enemy #1 with the social media torches and pitchforks they were met with the last two press releases between the hosting screw-ups and the Popular Film category in 2018.  First, they affirmed their eligibility rules that didn’t take an anticipated shot at streaming services like Netflix, keeping the playing field fair.  Secondly, they showed modern wisdom with a redefined International Feature Film category and expanding their last three-nominee category (Best Makeup and Hair-Styling) to a proper and full five.  It’s refreshing to see them get a few things right. Keep it up, AMPAS!

LESSON #8: FINALLY, IF BIG, DUMB SUPERHERO MOVIES AREN’T YOUR THING, WE STILL HAVE STUFF FOR YOU— For my parting viewing recommendations this week with all things super raining down on us, I think I have just the thing for those abstaining from heroics.  Here’s a list on Ranker of the “Most Pretentious Movies Ever Made,” topped by, what else, a Stanley Kubrick film.  If those are too blunt or obvious, try this nice little selection from Taste of Cinema of ten great movies meant to challenge your intelligence, topping by Richard Linklater’s Waking Life.  Finally, here are the May additions to the Criterion Channel with choices galore!  Call these three lists counter-programming.  Enjoy!


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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#99)