What We Learned This Week: March 11-17

LESSON #1: GIRLS SHOULD PLAY TOO— Setting off a firestorm of action on a Feelin’ Film Facebook group post this week was the announcement of a Rotten Tomatoes alternative specializing in female film critics.  Underserved and underrepresented, I’m all for a platform to celebrate and highlight different voices in film criticism.  The more the merrier.  Gender inequality is a rampant problem and opportunities like Cherry Picks (I hope a better name is coming) can only help the topic and add to the discussion.

LESSON #2: CAN WE BAN THE TERM “MADE IT FOR THE FANS” PLEASE?— Speaking of RT, over these recent ’10s years of Rotten Tomatoes gobbling up more public attention, the perceived backlash against low RT scores has set off soundbites from several stakeholders.  A prominent reaction a few years back was director David Ayers after Suicide Squad (video).  The latest is actor Joel Edgerton pushing back against the negative reviews bestowed upon the Netflix release Bright.  Both gentlemen used the term “made it for the fans” as a shield of righteousness for what they say was the intended purpose of their films.  Breaking news, Joel and David, critics are fans too.  They just have a wider and more published platform to voice their opinion.  Not all fans are going to like crappy films.  Want more fans, and therefore more critical, support? Make better films and earn more fans.

LESSON #3: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT A DANNY BOYLE JAMES BOND FILM?— With director Sam Mendes not slated to return to the James Bond world after Spectre, audiences and news writers have been in a three-year guessing game of who will take over the helm of the spy franchise.  Word is that man could be Slumdog Millionaire Oscar winner and Trainspotting leader Danny Boyle.  Coupled with Trainspotting screenwriter John Hodge, I think the pair is an exciting fit for Bond.  Fun fact: Boyle directed Daniel Craig in a Bond-esque role opposite the Queen in his Opening Ceremony program of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.  Boyle and Hodge can add a pulpy edge and a different speed of kinetic energy to push the action and the character forward in interesting directions.  Whatever they concoct, you know it sure won’t be boring.

LESSON #4: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT A JON FAVREAU STAR WARS SERIES OR EVEN A GAME OF THRONES-ESQUE ONE?— In similar news, news landed that Iron ManThe Jungle Book, and current Lion King director Jon Favreau has been brought on to write and executive produce a live-action Star Wars series in the near future.  Favreau follows the February announcement of Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss being tapped to write and produce a new film series.  Like Boyle, I think the powers that be have found great hires.  Favreau brings of engaging storytelling, humor, and blockbuster know-how while the Benioff/Weiss team brings edginess and world-building strengths. All of the qualities can have an effective place in this universe.  The task now is for Disney not to micro-manage and fire them like the other top-notch talent they’ve brought in before.

LESSON #5: DISNEY IS THE HOLLYWOOD PLAYGROUND BALL HOG— Why are they the selfish superstar that doesn’t pass? Because they can be.  This month, Disney announced the calendar of their intended release dates for the next five years.  Disney has retained Marvel’s traditional reservation of the first weekends in May, the Star Wars pre-Memorial Day tradition, Pixar’s usual third-week-of-June slot, and their own Thanksgiving animation slot.  More and more, they are squeezing for the Fourth of July weekends, that magical Presidents Day/Valentine’s Day weekend in February (thanks, Black Panther), and bigger chunks of Christmas.  Disney is Kobe Bryant, the “seat’s taken” kids from Forrest Gump, the manspreading subway rider, and bank-buying billionaire all rolled into one with zero f–ks given.  When they show up, everyone else runs for cover.

LESSON #6: NETFLIX DOESN’T HAVE ANY QUIT RIGHT NOW— Ambition is one thing.  Resources is another.  The wild thing is when a creative outlet has both.  That’s Netflix right now.  The volume of original content they are putting out is downright insane.  You would think they can only get so much be money to be had from new subscribers.  That number has to level out and slow production, right?  Not anytime soon, according to Netflix.  They’re booming to have around 700 original shows and movies in the 2018 calendar year.  That’s beyond machine-like.  You wonder how much is too much or how much isn’t profitable.

LESSON #7: THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF AUDIENCE RESPONSIBILITY VERSUS STUDIO ACTIONS— Speaking of Netflix, Annihilation, filmmaker Alex Garland’s tepid box office loser and follow-up to Ex Machina, landed on Netflix only a few short weeks after a theatrical bow from big studio Paramount.  Indiewire’s Zach Sharf wrote an interesting take on the matter citing that part of the fault for the film’s failure is on the audience as much as it’s on Paramount.  He talks about “hard sells” and he’s right.  The general moviegoing audience pays for a more simpler fare than Annihilation.  That’s not a bad thing entirely, but that’s what’s making money.  Any diligent corporation should find the best scenario for earning and profit.  With Netflix throwing its money around, Paramount made an appropriate business decision and one, as it turns out, made more money than failing in the theaters.  I hate to say, but get used to these kinds of decisions and deals.  That’s the landscape.  They only people that can change that are the consumers and it’s going to take quite the unified and concerted effort to change trends.  Stop paying for Transformers films and give that money to risks like Annihilation if you want better products.  I’ve said this many times in this column and in the Feelin’ Film discussion group.  Whether we like it or not, this is a business first and an art exhibition second.


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: A Wrinkle in Time

A WRINKLE IN TIME (2018)

GOING IN

I, like so many my age, read this novel in high school English class. The details are fuzzy, and what stands out the most to me is that the story itself was fairly unmemorable (at least to my teenage self). I’ve intentionally stayed away from refreshing myself on the plot because I’d much rather let the film speak for itself and now I can go in without unrealistic expectations. Ava DuVernay looks to have constructed a visually stunning treat and that alone has me excited. A WRINKLE IN TIME also features a young, nerdy girl hero so I think seeing this with my young, nerdy daughter will be a great experience.

1 Hour and 49 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT

Prior to our screening of A WRINKLE IN TIME, we were greeted with a video message from director Ava DuVernay, in which she explained her approach to telling this timeless story. It was heartfelt and her passion was undeniable. She truly wanted to make a film that was empowering and inspirational for young teens, and in particular young girls, but hoped that by finding the child in ourselves we adults could enjoy it too. In hindsight, this message was telling, and perhaps a bit manipulative, but also important, because if there’s one thing you need to do to enjoy A WRINKLE IN TIME, it is to remember that this is a story FOR a younger audience.

In adapting Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel (that has often been called “unfilmable”), DuVernay’s vision is clearly noticeable. With a focus on swelling of emotion and incredible visuals throughout, A WRINKLE IN TIME is consistently breath-taking. The colors and CGI transformations of The Misses are stunning to look at. Early in the film the children arrive on an unknown world after “tessering” there and this one scene perfectly captures the awesome wonder of discovery and exploration. These CGI-heavy sections are book-ended by the film’s opening and closing sections set on Earth. In those times DuVernay shows her talents in force, using close-ups and wonderfully cinematic camerawork (backed by a pretty wonderful score, by the way) to provoke an emotional response.

It helps that the acting is quite good. Lead actress Storm Reid (Meg) is adorable and conveys the uncertain, intelligent, and emotionally closed-off aspects of her character perfectly. She truly is fantastic and she carries the film just fine. Levi Miller (Calvin), who you may know from his turn as Peter in Joe Wright’s Pan, is also wonderful. Some may criticize him as providing an emotionless, stoic performance but it felt true to his character in every way. Of The Misses, Reese Witherspoon (Mrs. Whatsit) stands out the most. She does have the most speaking lines and the most screen time, but her eccentric silly personality comes through incredibly in her performance and she shines in every scene. Lastly of note is Deric McCabe (Charles Wallace), who is a star in the making. The character of Charles Wallace, Meg’s much younger adopted brother who is a genius and largely the catalyst for the entire plot, is integral and he owns every moment that includes him (up to the finale). If nothing else is, Reid and McCabe definitely establish themselves as ones to watch. This is also a very diverse cast. It features a realistically natural racial mix of characters and inter-racial relationships and never once felt forced.

But aside from enjoying the spectacle of A WRINKLE IN TIME, the story itself has many issues. For one thing, L’Engle’s Christianity was an important part of her writing, but Jennifer Lee’s adaptation definitely skews the story more into New Age philosophy than anything of the spiritual sort. It’s all about finding the power inside of yourself and being the light that fights the darkness, which is a good thing, but there is a lack of acknowledgment of any higher power. Everyone in this universe seems to be equal, if only they can tap into the right emotions and stay focused. As a fantasy film, you expect to not understand everything about the way the world works, as well. That is true here because how time “wrinkles” and allows travel across the universe is explained very vaguely. It’s confusing and the science speak feels tacked on as a plot mover rather than a fascinating concept to learn about. The film’s structure also is messy. There’s an opening with character backstory and such, then a brief journey across worlds (of which there are only two and one is entirely bland), and then a big CGI ending that makes very little sense and is reminiscent of the Guardians fighting inside of Ego the Planet in Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2. In that last act, major characters come and go with little explanation, and everything wraps up in a very boring way. But when your hero’s powers are simply to think positively and concentrate, it’s difficult to make that compelling in a visual way.

These faults, however, don’t make the film unwatchable. With many strong messages like, “It’s okay to fear the answers, but you can’t avoid them,” DuVernay’s film does have some inspirational moments. The relationships are strong, too, and perhaps where the film shines the most: Meg and Calvin sharing an innocent, blossoming romance, Mr. and Mrs. Murray as a couple who are loving, adoptive parents and brilliant scientists, and even Meg and Charles Wallace as brother and sister who lean on each other more than anyone else. As an adult, you must really try to recognize the view from a teenage perspective. My own daughter loved the film and was moved emotionally by it. She found it inspiring, funny, and gorgeous. Watch it through younger eyes as DuVernay suggests, and you’ll probably enjoy it much more.

VERDICT

Ava DuVernay’s A WRINKLE IN TIME is an often beautiful, but messy, love letter that inspires young minds to believe in themselves and be warriors for the light. It is a bit overly preachy in its messaging, yet it does offer up some good advice, and its focus on New Age philosophy over the more faith-based aspects of the novel may upset some viewers. Acting is strong, visuals are incredible, and with a moving score the film is emotionally evocative throughout. It’s worth seeing, but don’t expect it to leave much of a lasting impression. Watching with childlike eyes and imagination will make for a much better viewing experience, though, and is highly recommended.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: January 1-13

LESSON #1: EITHER BUSINESS IS BAD OR PEOPLE ARE FINDING THEIR ENTERTAINMENT ELSEWHERE— I have found that in the box office business, trends rarely lie.  Looking past inflation and price changes, the reported actual ticket sale counts are alarming according to the year-end news reported in several places.  A six percent drop is telling but not drastic.  “Lowest in 25 years” is a whole other thing.  To me, as I’ve stated in this column frequently, it’s all about the price point for family dollars.  The wave of unlimited TV and streaming options available at high quality and far lower costs than it takes to bring the average family of four to the multiplex with refreshments is becoming a no-brainer for those cost-minded folks.

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF BUSINESS, APPLE MIGHT HAVE A COUNTERPUNCH TO DISNEY— Once Disney bought 21st Century Fox, they gained controlling percentage of Hulu Plus at the same time as they’ve been positioning to launch their own dedicated streaming platforms.  The target was placed on Netflixes back, especially after the Mouse House pulled all of their content off the platform to bring under their own roof.  Netflix might have found a benefactor and powerful one.  According to reports sourced by Citi, Apple is angling to buy Netflix with a billion dollar price tag.  Throw Amazon’s power in there, and this WWE triple threat match in a streaming ring just got big

LESSON #3: SPEAKING OF BUSINESS, KEEPING ADVOCATING FOR EQUAL PAY ACROSS GENDERS— You can try to slice it, refocus the points, or pretend to justify the reasons however you want, but the Mark Wahlberg/Michelle Williams All the Money in the World compensation disparity story that broke this week is kind of sh-tty no matter which way you play it.  It just flat-out looks bad.  I’m glad it’s getting investigated by the union (Screen Actors Guild).  I keep the benefit of the doubt going that good faith is out there or that contracts are this and other contracts are that.  For that to remain, a positive outcome (with a rolled head or two) must arrive or this will only incite more from an already fractured female demographic, and rightfully so.

LESSON #4: WE HAVE TO CONSIDER THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI A FULL-FLEGED OSCAR CONTENDER NOW— To me, the Golden Globes have been a joke, are a joke, and will remain a joke with some of their category distinctions, silly nominees, and oddball choices.  That said, the Golden Globes aren’t the only awards Sam Rockwell, Frances McDormand, and Martin McDonagh’s film are sweeping up.  The two actors have been surging and now stand as legitimate co-frontrunners with Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) who have dominated the Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress categories.  These dark horses aren’t so pitch black anymore.  By the way, you know which Golden Globe winner is not a real contender?  James Franco.  Via con dios, dude.

LESSON #5: THE STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI HATERS ARE GOING TO BE BUTTHURT FOR A LONG TIME— …and it’s going to be agonizing to deal with them.  Most of the haters are just harmless snobs and sub-trolls.  Their rants and forgettable and carry weak traction, like silly petitions to remove the latest film from canon.  However, some of them take it too far.  This recent story of Kelly Marie Tran dealing with racist and sexist comments is a prime example.  That’s the kind of crap that goes too far and isn’t “fansmanship” nitpicking over water cooler talk anymore.  That’s the hurtful garbage that needs to go and get a life.

LESSON #6: CIRCLE BACK TO THE BEST OF 2017— Rotten Tomatoes closed the 2017 calendar with their list of 100% Tomatometer films.  Seven titles never received a bad review.  Use JustWatch to seek them out in this boring and empty annual moviegoing wasteland known as January.  Liam Neeson flicks can only keep your attention so long.  If you want more films after those seven, you’ve got five top-ten lists right here on Feelin’ Film from your hosts and contributors.


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.

 

Episode 089: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has arrived, and it is proving to be extremely divisive, as critics laud Rian Johnson’s film despite many fans coming away disappointed. We enjoy this opportunity to talk about trilogy world-building and whether we like the directions Star Wars is heading. We also discuss the recently announced 2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards, of which Aaron is a voting member.

What We’ve Been Up To 0:01:05

(2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review – 0:39:29

The Connecting Point – 1:46:30

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MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)


GOING IN

In the two years since Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, it’s been a bumpy ride for my fandom of this once beloved franchise. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of this new trilogy, but also found its use of nostalgia to be a bit off-putting. And then came Rogue One, which I did not enjoy much and resulted in me becoming very down on Star Wars and its cinematic future. Thankfully, a recent re-watch of The Force Awakens and the release of the first trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi snapped me back to attention and I am now properly excited once more.

So many questions exist that must be answered. How will Rian Johnson fare in the director’s chair and how will the treatment of recently deceased Carrie Fisher be handled? Where is Kylo Ren’s character arc heading and will he evolve into a villain on par with Darth Vader? And who, for the love of all that is holy, are Rey’s parents? The Last Jedi looks amazing, and expectations are sky high. Hopefully not so high that they’re bound to be let down.

2 Hours and 32 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

A few weeks prior to the release of The Last Jedi, Disney announced that director Rian Johnson would be expanding Star Wars further with a new trilogy. This news sort of tipped Disney’s hand as to how they felt about The Last Jedi because they certainly weren’t going to give Johnson more work if they didn’t like what he’d done in Episode VIII. Well, it all makes sense now, and Johnson has proven that the franchise is in good hands.

The Last Jedi follows a similar path to The Empire Strikes Back, with dual storylines following Rey (who we last saw tracking down Luke Skywalker at his secret hiding place) and the rest of the Resistance separately. But if you’re worried about the film being a beat-for-beat remake of the hallowed Episode V, you can rest easy knowing that it does not do so and instead offers many surprises. It is telling that Luke says, “This not going to go the way you think,” because for (mostly) better and (a few times) worse Johnson twists and turns this tale all over the place, which creates the exhilaration that comes with having no idea what is coming next. After its typical over-the-top opening sequence, Johnson’s film does lag a bit, though, and I felt the overall length more-so than I have in other epics. It’s not that the character development and plotting aren’t important, but it is noticeable compared to the high octane pacing of the film in its second half. And in that second half is where things really shine the brightest as everything and anything can and does happen. The final third of The Last Jedi is as emotionally affecting, gorgeous to behold, and fun to experience as any Star Wars film has ever been.

One thing that really stuck out the most in The Last Jedi was Johnson’s ability to challenge the moral choices of characters both “good” and “bad.” Poe Dameron has to actually deal with the repercussions of his Maverick-esque personality and Finn struggles with being considered a hero. Even Chewie deals with moving on after the loss of his best friend, albeit with a pretty adorable outcome. Many characters are faced with dilemmas that seem easy to solve on the surface but prove to be so much more. I’m not even going to address Rey and Kylo Ren’s arcs because those need to be seen firsthand with no prior knowledge, but I will say that I appreciated where the former ended up more than the latter. One of my disappointments with the film was being left with the feeling that Ren still isn’t a villain worth fearing like Darth Vader. That being said, this is a different story with different relationships in play, and there is much I do like about the complex Kylo Ren.

Acting is solid across the board with Hamill standing out the most. His grizzled, regretful Luke feels very real and sincere. We do finally get to see Supreme Leader Snoke up close and Andy Serkis does his typical great motion-capture work, however the voicing of Snoke sounds a little too reminiscent of Gollum at times and that can be distracting. Also, thankfully, Carrie Fisher’s appearance is handled with the utmost care and respect. She’s not just a side character either, but a very integral part of the the entire film’s plot. One final small criticism would be that the characters are sometimes forced to use very modern dialogue, specifically when the film is being humorous. Many laughed, but I found some lines to just be more eye-roll worthy instead. Luckily these moments are few and far between, nothing that derails the cerebral and intriguing plot.

VERDICT

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a wonderful next step in this new trilogy and one of most epic cinematic space operas since The Empire Strikes Back. Its unexpected plot choices will have fans gasping in surprise, and many emotional moments will cause a lump in the throat or tears in the eye. As Star Wars has always told us, the Resistance (and Rebellion) operate on HOPE. The story here is no different, but our HOPE in Rian Johnson has also been pleasantly rewarded. Whether you like every choice or not, it’s impossible not to respect the filmmaker’s talent, ambition, and passion, especially as the film’s momentum builds and races home to its incredible conclusion. The Last Jedi is a must-see for fans and should be taken in at the biggest theater possible for full effect. See it soon to avoid spoilers, and may the force be with you always.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

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.

 

Episode 087: Coco

Pixar’s newest film Coco puts the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in the spotlight and explores fascinating cultural traditions with its vibrant animation and music. We discuss how Coco makes us feel and also talk about Kedi, a wonderful documentary about the cats roaming the streets of Istanbul and the people who love them. This episode is a happy one, and we hope our conversation captures the joy that these two films brought us.

Kedi Review – 0:01:34

Coco Review – 0:16:22

The Connecting Point – 1:06:30

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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MOVIE REVIEW: Coco

Coco (2017)

Going In

Pixar is back at it with another original film, and their track record for such is pretty amazing. Not to be confused with 2014’s Book of Life, despite a very similar look and story, Coco tells the tale of aspiring musician Miguel  as he teams up with charming trickster Hector on an extraordinary journey through the Land of the Dead. With Coco, Disney/Pixar are delving deep into the culture and traditions behind Día de los Muertos. This is particularly exciting because this Mexican holiday is not often explored in cinema. At the very least, I expect Coco to be fun, colorful, and heartfelt. Pixar has set its bar for excellence high when producing original works and I’m excited to see what visual treats they have in store.


COMING OUT

“Remember me.”

These two words resonate throughout the beautiful, vibrant adventure that is Disney Pixar’s Coco.  In Mexican culture, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a multi-day holiday that focuses on gatherings to pray for and remember friends and family who have died, and to help support their spiritual journey. One of the traditions around this is the creation of an ofrenda in each home (a special altar composed of pictures or tokens that commemorate one’s deceased loved one). According to the story of Coco, if the dead are represented on the ofrenda then their spirits may pass over once a year and visit their loved ones that remain in the living world. So while remembrance is especially important for the living, to the dead, being remembered is what they “live” for.

At the center of Coco is twelve-year old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young boy with music in his bones. Unfortunately for him, his great-great-grandfather left his wife and child to pursue musical dreams, and the family abandonment has never been forgiven by Miguel’s relatives. Miguel’s family blames music and will not allow it to be a part of their lives. The only family member that is not strongly opposed is Miguel’s very old great-grandmother Coco, and he feels a connection to her unlike the rest. Eventually, Miguel’s pursuit of his musical dreams results in antics that lead to him ending up in the Land of the Dead where he teams up with Hector (Gael García Bernal) and goes on a journey to find musical legend Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), who he believes to be his great-great-grandfather.

Throughout Miguel’s journey, much is learned about Día de los Muertos. Coco serves as something of a love letter to this unique cultural holiday and is an important history lesson for those not familiar with it. I knew very little about it myself aside from the parades I’d seen represented in movies and the typically seen calavera (known to most by the term “sugar skulls”). This aspect of the film was by far the best part of it for me, as coming out of I felt a new appreciation for something I’d never understood. Directly after my screening of Coco, a Hispanic father tapped me on my shoulder and asked what I thought of the film. I explained how intriguing the cultural history lesson was and he told me that he was so pleased by the representation of his life on the big screen and that he was very glad I now had more respect for traditions that are so widely misunderstood. This interaction confirmed that Pixar’s film has extreme value for the people it depicts, which is further evident in its setting of Mexican box office records.

As an adventure story, though, Coco never becomes great. There are themes here about pursuing your dreams, not being too controlling, listening to your elders, the power of music, and also heavier spiritual topics surrounding life after death. But despite some cute animal sidekicks, a fun banter-filled relationship between Miguel and Hector, and beautiful animation, there is just nothing very memorable about this Pixar tale. Yes, our protagonist and others learn lessons that better them, and its entertaining to watch the journey unfold, but a few days after seeing it you will likely have forgotten character names and specifics. There are also no memorable songs aside from “Remember Me,” which to be fair isn’t something Pixar typically focuses on, but with this being a film all about music would have enhanced it quite a bit. Authenticity is important, however, and the songs we do have feel very much like they belong. At times the lyrics and dialogue in the film alternate between English and Spanish. With no subtitles, I didn’t always understand fully what was being said, but the meaning was conveyed and I appreciated this little attention to detail and lack of catering to only an American audience.

Verdict

Coco is not Pixar’s best film, so don’t expect to be blown away emotionally. It is, however, a perfectly fun, fantastical adventure wrapped in an incredibly important history lesson of a culture most are not familiar with. Coco will likely resonate more with those it represents and that is a wonderful thing. It’s also the kind of film that will give you something to discuss with your children and help expand their knowledge of the world and people in a meaningful way. Not every movie is going to be “play the Blu-ray on repeat” good. Coco certainly isn’t, but it’s worth seeing once.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: October 29-November 4

LESSON #1: SCOUTING THE RIGHT TALENT IS KEY TO MARVEL’S SUCCESS— How does this low-risk MCU blueprint keep coming up with winners? One way is by scouting comedic talent in front of and behind the camera. Look first at the casting of Marvel’s core leads: Robert Downey, Jr.Chris EvansChris PrattPaul RuddBenedict Cumberbatch, and, in Thor: Ragnarok‘s case, Chris Hemsworth. Each of them (follow the links) bring an easily-activated range of humor to not take themselves so seriously. If you’re shooting for overall levity, you call on the nimble and agile.  The same search for farce can be said for many of Marvel’s directorial choices: Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Anthony and Joe Russo, James Gunn, and Peyton Reed. All have witty and wisecracking credits on their resumes. Add director Taika Waititi’s name to that list. The peppy New Zealander behind Hunt for the Wilder People and What We Do in the Shadows merges his wholesome storytelling sensibilities with a frisky and playful side of sarcasm to sharpen the camp of the comic book content of Thor: Ragnarok.

LESSON #2: NETFLIX CAN STILL BE A BIT OF A BALLHOG— Jeff Huston of “I Can’t Unsee That Movie” has an excellent editorial piece recently talking about the day-and-date release strategy of Netflix.  Thanks to their deep pockets to win some distribution bids on prominent international film festival performers like The Meyerowitz Stories, First They Killed My Father, and Our Souls at Night, high caliber independent films are available on their streaming service at the same time as a soft and limited theatrical release.  The article calls into question how this practice actually does a disservice to the theater end of things and I happen to agree, though I celebrate Netflix plenty (see next lesson) for getting the “gets.” While it’s nice that the arthouse theater scene is being filled with something, the Netflix availability dramatically shortens any helpful effect of attendance the arthouse could really use.  There’s got to be a middle stagger of compromise in there.  Give the arthouse 4-8 weeks of exclusivity and then Netflix gets it forever, something to that effect where both benefit.

LESSON #3: NETFLIX IS ALL-IN ON ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING— We’ve been seeing Netflix’s not-so-quiet surge all year with their self-financed original feature film offerings and have been amazed.  They keep getting bigger, especially with Will Smith’s Bright around the corner.  Now the ambition and push have a target number and it’s bigger than we thought.  Recently, the streaming giant said their 2018 goal is 80 original films.  That is an astounding number that runs circles around Hollywood studios that maybe put out a quarter of that into the multiplexes.  Love them or hate them, Netflix is quadrupling down on being a big-time player.

LESSON #4: DEMAND-BASED PRICING IS GOING TO BE AN INTERESTING EXPERIMENT— We filmgoers don’t often see the business dealings happening behind the curtain and multiplex doors.  For a taste of it, read the strict details Disney is placing on theater chains for the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi and you’ll get an idea of the bitter competition for the almighty dollar.  All we see is ticket prices going up and wondering why while we shake our heads and still open up our wallets.  In an effort to earn a little extra, the Regal Cinemas chain recently announced a trial of demand-based/surge pricing where the hits will cost more than the flops on your receipt.  Seeing the business end of that Last Jedi example, I get theaters trying to squeeze, but one has to wonder if such practice will work.  I don’t like its chances.  All I see are movie studios then asking for a bigger cut on top.


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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

What We Learned This Week: September 3-9

LESSON #1: HOW MANY COOKS WITH HUBRIS APRONS ARE IN THE DISNEY KITCHEN?— My guess is too many and it’s time to wonder who’s running the show and why they can’t keep talent around.  The dismissal this week of director Colin Trevorrow from Star Wars: Episode IX comes less than three months after a similar parting-of-ways between the Mouse House and the directing team of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord on Han Solo (coupled with acting coach rumors needed for its star Alden Ehrenreich and the swift hire of Ron Howard to finish the film).  Dig back farther and the storied Tony Gilroy-led reshoots of Rogue One now ring a louder alarm.  Across the office, plenty of directors (Edgar Wright, Joss Whedon, Jon Favreau) have also butted heads with the Marvel end of the Disney empire on the grounds of creative differences.  To use an NFL analogy in honor of the opening week of the new season, this reeks of Jerry Jones/Al Davis-style meddling from the front office that prevents the coaches, executives, and players underneath them from doing their job.  Treverrow haters (and there are many after Jurassic World and The Book of Henry) celebrated the axing and formed bandwagons for desirable replacements (#bringbackJJ), but somewhere up the ladder, someone is power-tripping at Disney enough to make dedicated and non-hack people walk, and, unlike the past, it’s not George Lucas’ hubris messing things up.  Keep an eye on all this.

LESSON #2: CASTING FOR DIVERSITY IS MORE THAN JUST LEADS— Opportunity is everything in the moviemaking business and too many of those doors have been locked or lost for too many minorities.  It’s wonderful to see more awareness on the topic, especially self-awareness as was the case with the outcry/applause in Ed Skrein’s recent departure from the Hellboy reboot.  Every step counts as progress.  Prolific reviewer/writer extraordinaire (and a peer of mine) Nick Clement earned a rousing by-line from Variety recently in a dynamite piece talking with casting directors about filling roles with diversity deeper than the only the principal leads, especially if those roles break racial and ethnic stereotypes.  It’s a great read and spot on to truly heavy lifting of those doors.  It starts at the bottom more than only at the top.

LESSON #3: WHAT IS THE PROPER PLACE FOR STORY-EXTENDED SHORT FILMS?— Two Ridley Scott-connected films, Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049, have employed short film vignettes via YouTube as a prequel-like means of catching audiences up on time and providing background information for a coming full feature.  I, for one, don’t know how I feel about them.  I’m all for expanding the medium of short films and adding context, but do these extended scenes (like this one of an upcoming three for Blade Runner 2049) play like spoilers?  Shouldn’t a feature film be edited and tuned enough to stand on its own with the extras?  Should these kinds of scenes be saved for home media special features?  I’m undecided.  What are your thoughts?  Add a comment below.

LESSON #4: LOOK TO TORONTO AS THE OSCAR SEASON TAKES ANOTHER STEP— The prestigious Venice Film Festival will be naming their Golden Lion and other winners on September 9th, but, two days before, the spotlight shifts to the Toronto International Film Festival.  TIFF has arguably usurped Cannes as the most elite film festival in the business.  The must-see list of Oscar contenders coming from TIFF 2017 includes Mother, Molly’s Game, The Florida Project, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, MN, The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, The Current War, Downsizing, Bodied, Surburbicon, Hostiles, Battle of the Sexes, Mary Shelley, Lean on Pete, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Brawl in Cell Block 99, The Death of Stalin, and The Disaster Artist.  Eight of the last ten TIFF People’s Choice Award winners have gone on to Best Picture Academy Award nominations, including two eventual winners (The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave).


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.