What We Learned This Week: The New Future of Movie Theaters “Soapbox Special”

SOAPBOX SPECIAL: The New Future of Movie Theaters

During this last month or so of our collective national and international quarantine, I’ve been holding the topic of re-opening movie theaters from my usual “What We Learned This Week” columns for a “Soapbox Special.” There have been so many articles, so many perspectives, and so many rapidly evolving updates and changes that I couldn’t distill them down into one little lesson or column entry. 

With several regions of America starting to re-open (including my own state of Illinois and city of Chicago), it was time to get on the stump and arm the cannons. I put some of what follows into spoken word recently on an episode of Mike Crowley’s “You’’ll Probably Agree” podcast, but the issue has grown since then. Click into the multitude of links in the lessons for the deeper referenced stories. They are well worth their reads and your attention. The theme of this all can be summarized as cautiously optimistic.

LESSON #1: WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO GO BACK TO THEATERS— I’ll open this rant back in late May with polling from Variety. It featured a survey of consumer comfort. Here are some bulleted results in numerical order:

  • 91% requested hand sanitizer stations
  • 90% say the most important factor is a cure for COVID-19.
  • 86% supported limited screenings for cleaning time
  • 75% support employees temperature checks
  • 70% would rather watch a first-run feature at home
  • 61% would feel better about mandatory face coverings
  • 60% support audience temperature checks
  • 47% were comfortable buying concessions
  • 46% were comfortable using public restrooms at theaters

There’s more there in that article, but those were the highlights. Beyond even that poll, you’ve got more and more segments of the population who won’t feel comfortable with any public event, let alone a movie, without a vaccine in place. Putting any number of these initiatives in place would be costly, especially for theater chain companies reeling on the edge of bankruptcy. 

LESSON #2: WHAT DOES THAT FUTURE LOOK LIKE— Any of those changes from Lesson #1 would make for a very different setting than the “normal” way we’ve been going to the movies for the last century. Many editorials and articles (Seattle Times in May, Vulture in May, and Quartz in June) have tried to talk that out exhaustively with every guess in the clouds. For example, many of us have embraced reserved seating as a way to select our spots, skip crowds, and guarantee seats even if we walk in last minute to avoid 20 minutes of senseless trailers (I know that’s not just me, *wink*). The activity timeline changes upward if we are to stand in a line for temperature checks and even downward if there are no concession lines or needs anymore, which is a tremendous business hit to the theater chains that have been bolstering their kitchen capabilities and choices beyond candy and popcorn for the better part of the last two decades. The other word in there everyone wants to avoid is “crowds.” Can that be accomplished with roped off sections, skipped seats, or an all-reserved seating model (which some older theaters don’t fully have)? In the meantime, you’ve got companies fumbling financial footballs and poking public outcry bears (bravo Michael Phillips) over requiring or not requiring masks (and reversing courses) and other measures before they even open. Do you really trust them to get all of this right on the first try here in July?

LESSON #3: THE OPTION OF AUTOMATION— Piggybacking off of Lesson #2, one potential solution could be artificial intelligence, as crazy at that sounds. According to Variety in May, some theaters in Korea were considering “contact-free” technology.  Theater chain CJ-CGV replaced its human staff with AI robots and automated kiosks for scanning and handling ticket transactions. Concession stands were replaced with app-powered and LED-controlled pick-up/delivery boxes. Leave it to tech-savvy Asia to be the tip of that spear. Could the likes of AMC or Regal pull stuff like that off, again, while teetering on financial failure? How do data-danger-minded consumers feel about that?

LESSON #4: COMPANY SURVIVAL IS PERILOUS— The first three lessons constitute a forecast and some great ideas, but who or what can afford those measures? After months of virtually complete closure, save for some door-front concession hawking, large theater chains, especially AMC (which includes the Carmike brand), are in the financial toilet. Bailouts and loans are hard to come by and “junk” status is hitting stock reports. You even have Amazon interested in gobbling up AMC, which would be quite interesting. It may require a rescue such as that. This peril is international as well with CineEurope reporting a possible $20-31 billion loss for the year. Even reopening isn’t an instant cure. The majority of profits for these companies are dependent on concessions because of the high ticket receipt percentages going back to the studios, a gouge that has been increasing over the years at the high blockbuster level (Thanks, Disney). If the food areas are closed due to viral fears and health code regulations, that destroys earnings. 50% capacities of social-distanced seating doesn’t help theaters either. Even 50% might be optimistic. There are theaters opening at barely 25% capacity

LESSON #5: “TOO BIG TO FAIL” IS LOOKING FAILURE STRAIGHT IN THE FACE— And with that we reach the studios’ level of wallet hit with an inactive theater distribution market. Even with their demanded big bites of the pie, half-filled (or less) theaters do not help them either. This is especially the case at the blockbuster level. No matter the anticipation demand or potential staying power of a really big hit flick with less competition, it is exponentially harder to recoup $200 million-budgeted tentpoles and their $100+ million marketing campaigns if sizable fractions of the screens holding butts are gone or entire chains are shuttered. That’s why the really big stuff like Tenet, Mulan, Fast 9, No Time to Die, and more are not automatically landing on streaming services or VOD outlets. Even at a Trolls: World Tour-equivalent $20 price tag per rental (and its modest success), those giants cannot recoup those huge red balances versus getting a ticket for every head instead of every household. A little thing like The Lovebirds or Irresistible can land in the green with VOD, but not Wonder Woman or Black Widow. A business with a blockbuster class level of movies that once looked too big to fail making its worldwide billions is now failing because they have no place to go and no one able to come to their shows.

LESSON #6: STUDIOS DID SOME THIS TO THEMSELVES— Believe it or not, the studios have slowly damaged their own theatrical success/potential for years with the incremental shortening of the windows between big-screen premieres and home media release dates. Folks my age remember the months of interminable wait back in the VHS and cable TV eras before streaming services were even a glimmer in someone’s eye. For example, Forrest Gump hit theaters over the July 4th weekend of 1994. It didn’t land on VHS until late April 1995 after a long theatrical run and a winter Oscar bump. After that, it wouldn’t hit paid cable for another bunch of months and then years before basic cable made it “free.” By comparison, Joker opened on the first weekend of October last year, hit store shelves the first weekend of January 2020, and no one cares if it comes to HBO or Showtime because Netflix, Hulu, or VOD is cheaper and better. What used to be six months at the minimum (or even an entire year if you were a Disney release) has shrunk to merely 90 days on average. Sure, both Forrest Gump and Joker raked for their times, but it’s an indictment on patience versus money-grabbing. People that are willing to wait can now weather a pretty comfortable amount of time compared to the past for their 4K players and big-screen TVs in their dens. In our current COVID-19 state, we’ve all got nothing but time on our hands to do just that. Why risk health if personal patience versus some “fear of missing out” can pay one $20-30 digital download/disc price to watch a movie repeatedly instead of hauling the entire family plus concessions once, especially for something they don’t deem “big screen worthy?” The studios trying to keep the buzz constant with shorter waits will now see leverage backfire in favor of the consumer. For a current case of that, just look at Disney/Pixar’s Onward and the mere weeks it took to cave from the VOD rental level to dismissively dishing it to everyone in Disney+. With studios building their own streaming shingles, you’re going to see more of that or see more wins for Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.

LESSON #7: THE PRICE POINT OF DIGITAL— Let’s go further with the digital wants of consumers versus the new risks and hassles of theaters. Circling back to that opening Variety polling again, remember that 70% would rather watch a first-run feature at home. And that was back in May. Imagine now knocking on the door of Independence Day, no matter how much antsy-pant anticipation and hope is out there. That same Variety polling screened respondents on online pricing with some keen results. It asked how much a “reasonable” price would be to stream top-quality productions in their home. Here are those results in numerical rank:

  • 47%- $10 
  • 20%- $20
  • 19%- only if it was free
  • 6%- $30
  • 3%- $40
  • 1%- $50, $60, or $80%

That’s 67% holding firm at $20 or under and studios need to do their own projections of math. Regardless, welcome to a more than a little bit of the #firstworldproblems portion of this entire “Soapbox Special.” Movies are wants, not needs, period. They are lovely fulfillment, but non-essential. For every one of those 6% hardcore FilmBros and cinephiles with the disposable income to drop $40 or more to see their precious Christopher Nolan film, over 95% aren’t budging or can’t afford it. Check your privilege. 

LESSON #8: ADAPT OR DIE— One way or another, change is needed at the highest level that trickles down to every screen in America. A popular industry that has weathered the advent of television, cable, and now streaming opponents and competition in its century of existence should be able to survive this. Or can they? With the Paramount Accords lapsed, is it time for studios to buy or build their own sustainable theaters to show off their own wares and keep all the profits they used to share with the chains? If studios instead mine the digital landscape successfully, do we really need multiplexes anymore? That is a question posed recently in The New Yorker by Richard Brody in a good read. They’ll need smaller budgeted films to do that, scaling so many things down. Go back to the roots. You can make a dozen solid indies or five or more star-driven mid-budget programmers like the industry used to do in the 1990s with the cost of a single MCU film. Reverting back to that level of business would require some baths and haircuts, but it would rescue the industry. It’s time to embrace those needs. In another angle, columnist Nick Clement on Back to Movies says the film industry is “f–ked.” In many respects, I highly agree with him and his fantastic stump piece speaking on unemployment and the public state of some of those aforementioned #firstworldproblems. Time and patience are the biggest needs. 

LESSON #9: “ABSENCE AWAY MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER”— I’ve used this lesson before in “What We Learned This Week” and it’s time to end with it again. Shed away all the polling and conjecture. We all know the love for movies is there or we wouldn’t be talking about it. Look at the success of early openings and the lined-around-the-block comeback of drive-in movie theaters. It will be a topsy-turvy year, without question, even with a full return. We’ve had a zero-budget film named Unsubscribe streaking at an empty box office only to be dethroned by revival screenings of Jurassic Park putting it back to #1 in the nation, George Foreman-style, 27 years after it last ruled the multiplexes. If the year ended today, Bad Boys For Life would get the “biggest movie of 2020” championship belt in the record books. Just like Field of Dreams says, “people will come.” They just need to wait. Everyone, for that matter, from the greedy studio execs and sidelined movie stars to the lowly theater ushers and concession stand workers, needs to wait. This has sucked and it will keep on sucking, but the best answer is to wait and get through this better and healthier, personally and financially, than rushing and screwing it all up. The movies will be there. We want all the people to be there too. 


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.  (#135)

What We Learned This Week: May 25-June 14

LESSON #1: THERE IS NO BETTER TIME TO EDUCATE YOURSELF— In this time of racial divide and protest, education is more needed than ever. Just as I tout with my website, movies can be a place to get it. Service after service, studio after studio, and platform after platform from Netflix and the Criterion Channel to Kino Lorber have begun to make films and documentaries by and/or featuring black artists free or readily available. Take this curated list from our own Erynne Hundley and pounce on this excellent recommendations: 

LESSON #2: SPIKE LEE IS ONE OF CINEMA’S BEST TEACHERS— When you watch a Spike Lee movie, you’re getting more than dramatic narrative for entertainment value. With his frequent use of archival footage lately in films like Chi-Raq, BlacKkKlansman, and the new Da 5 Bloods, Lee brings a marvelous ability to echo the lessons of the past into the topical present that still sorely needs education. The man sternly teaches as he preaches. Spike Lee may be a provocative and acquired taste for more than a few, but his contributions are nevertheless bold and vital. History can and should look fondly on what he’s done with his work for four decades and counting.

LESSON #3: OLD MOVIES ARE TIME CAPSULES FOR THEIR ERAS AND DESERVE TO BE SEEN FOR WHAT THEY ARE— Speaking of history, times change. Sensibilities change. The movies of those times and built with dated sensibilities age as well. Watch them, but do not censor them. The Gone With the Winds of history deserve to be seen, examined, and even still enjoyed. Watch them with fair and discerning lenses. Take notes and learn from them. Movies are one way we keep history from repeating itself. More than anything, some movies only get better with age. Take this list of pre-1967 movies fit for an modern audience from IndieWire and be amazed. 

LESSON #4: EVEN SAVIORS BLINK— Back in May in an op-ed in The Washington Post, filmmaker Christopher Nolan lobbied hard for the survival of movie theaters and wanted his Tenet to be the movie that could help revive the multiplex scene. Those “insiders” that believed a mid-July release was overly optimistic turned out to be right. Nolan and Warner Bros. blinked and moved Tenet (and other tentpoles like Wonder Woman 1984) two more weeks to July 31st. Watch the pandemic numbers move it again in another two weeks. Wisdom is winning over hubris. Everyone needs to keep their patience. This could take a while and I think we’ve all come find that out. Maybe someone needs to tell Christopher too.

LESSON #5: SOMETIMES MOVIES ARE BETTER THAN THEIR BOOKS— Early word around the campfire is saying Kenneth Branagh’s Artemis Fowl which debuted on Disney+ instead of theaters is quite the hollow husk compared to its source material. I will always be that critic that will implore anyone and everyone to separate the two mediums of written prose and visual filmmaking. That said, better is an easy measurement to make. It’s rare, but there are times the movie is better than the book. Collider made a nice list last summer of 30 such submissions, I would add a 31st of Field of Dreams. If you want Artemis Fowl this weekend and lament, seek a few of those classics out.


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.  (#134)

What We Learned This Week: May 4-10

LESSON #1: YOU CAN’T BEAT PARKED CARS WHEN IT COMES TO SOCIAL DISTANCING— The late spring calendar turning to May means the best window of pleasant outdoor weather months are coming to North America. With that, the 330 or so surviving drive-in movie theaters in the U.S. are approaching a rather rare season opener where they are quite incredibly the only movie theaters open. What peaked with over 4,000 locations in the 1950s had been dying a slow death of budget issues, technology hurdles, amenity shortfalls, and the constriction of urban/suburban sprawl. Now, instead of a real-life equivalent to the forgotten Radiator Springs from Cars, their spread-out and safe designs are the social-distancing lifeboats bringing cinematic joy to the masses after months of closure. Here in my neck of the woods of Chicagoland, the McHenry Outdoor Theater, part of Golden Age Cinemas, opened this past weekend. Please let this be the beginning of a comeback of a welcome novelty (go ahead and add car-hop drive-in restaurants too)! Come to think of it, I cannot think of a better re-purposing of defunct large urban/suburban spaces (like all of those dead shopping malls and department stores) than if a worthy investor can paint a few parking stalls, put up a big-ass screen, and throw-in a few concession stands.

LESSON #2: IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT’S GOING TO BE PLAYING— What a beautiful sight that video is! The best part is it doesn’t even matter what’s playing. As you saw, the re-opened McHenry Outdoor Theater playing a throwback double-bill of The Flintstones and Jurassic Park. The groundswell of trafficked pilgrimage looked like the final scene in Field of Dreams. People will come and I hope studios see that. They don’t have to swing for the fences with huge release. The anticipation is already there and the floods will come. Whoever and whatever is first is going to rake. Along those lines, Christopher Nolan doesn’t have to expend himself to be the savior of saviors with Tenet.  I’ll always applaud the guy as a huge proponent of traditional film and theaters, but just a wee bit of his semi-greedy ego is showing to the guy that revives cinema. I love you Chris, but let’s see a team effort.

LESSON #3: IF THINGS ARE GETTING A LITTLE WEIRD AT HOME, EMBRACE IT— Until an IMAX spectacle can save us all, we are still stuck at home in our third month of widespread stay-at-home orders. There’s a chance some queues are drying up and the cabin fever is making folks a little weird. I say roll with it. Get eclectic with your home viewing. Even somethings squeaky like Disney+ can help. It was click bait, but I got a charge out of this Collider article of “The Weirdest Movies on Disney Plus.” It’s actually a pretty deep dive into their live-action properties with some kitschy picks. Check them out and refill the watchlist.


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.  (#132)

What We Learned This Week: April 6-19

LESSON #1: TRUST YOUR AUDIENCE TO BE DISCERNING AND MATURE WHEN NECESSARY— As if you haven’t suspected such for a while, the prudish filter at Disney is thicker than cured concrete and more petty than your worst boss. For an odd and slightly depressing example, Disney+ recently felt the need to digitally edit some minor and non-sexual nudity from the classic romantic comedy Splash. Apparently, the sweet cheeks of a mermaid will burn children’s eyes alive. Grant your audience more discerning maturity, Disney. I get that profits and fandom demand that Disney champion and maintain a family-friendly brand image, but not everyone in every family needs the same cuddling and coddling. Between edits like this and quietly vaulting the harder Fox titles it acquired since last fall, Disney looks worse hiding it than they would embracing it. An easy fix is giving all of this content its own warning label shingle or (even better for the stockholders) its own paid gateway. You can’t tell me a restarted Touchstone Pictures wing (where Disney used to bankroll the PG-13 and further stuff) or Fox Studios-branded streaming service with the likes of Alien and Predator wouldn’t have an eager audience. Disney profits from putting that content out there and builds a future empire home for new projects down the road. All they would have is their name in the corner of the ownership deed in fine print. That sounds like a win to me. Instead, they’re too scared of Song of the South Daryl Hannah’s butt.

LESSON #2: THERE IS A POSSIBLE FUTURE WILL MAY HAVE TO EMBRACE— A fascinating editorial by Scott Mendelson in Forbes made the rounds on #FilmTwitter and our own Feelin’ Film Facebook group. It onlines the future of cinema with as many clouds and rays of sunshine. The potential truths are hard to swallow, but extremely possible. The senior contributor backs his conjecture with strong stats. It’s an outstanding read about the big picture that many may not want to hear but will have to admit is possible. 

LESSON #3: CHANGES COMMONLY START AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL— This pandemic industry shutdown is pushing more than just a few toes to be dipped into the streaming marketplace as a front-line option. Whole studio lower torsos are wading in those waters and some are making those waves from the top down. You may not notice change immediately, but keep an eye on Warner Media and the hire of their new CEO Jason Kilar, the 48-year-old former founder of Vessel and board member at Universal and Dreamworks. The IndieWire article link wants to call this the beginning of the death of Old Hollywood. He certainly has different experience and goals. Watch the shifts coming at the WB. 

LESSON #4: SOMEBODY PUSH MARTIN SCORSESE AWAY FROM THE BUDGET BUFFET TABLE— I don’t want to roll the first two lessons as a lead-in to this one, but a harsher version of this one could read “Change or Die.” Quintessential filmmaker Martin Scorsese is out there with his hat in his hand asking Apple and Netflix for money to make his next project Killers of the Flower Moon. Surely, the conglomerates could spare a few million for one of the finest artists of the century to continue his passion. The problem is Martin is holding out a 200-million-gallon hat. That’s the dollar amount he “needs.” Boomer, that’s too much. Trade some filet mignon for some mac-and-cheese. Trim a few excesses. Make a few more economical choices. I don’t blame Paramount one bit for balking at that dollar amount. They wouldn’t see a return on their investment and that’s exactly the same reason the wildly over-budget The Irishman landed on Netflix. Even kudos cost money. It will be very telling if even Netflix and their deep pockets say no.

LESSON #5: CAN WE GET A MORATORIUM ON ROBIN HOOD FILMS?— Look, I know the Robin Hood creation and character have been open to the public domain for five centuries, but that doesn’t mean we need to have some kind of bastardized film attempt every two years. Sure, the old foxy Disney animated folly is a cute one. However, even that movie getting the live-action “reimagining” treatment from Blindspotting filmmaker Carlos Lopez Estrada still counts as one more sloppy thing to stick to a wall to see if it sticks. Can we put some years in between the opportunities to beat this character to death? Go make another King Arthur, Spider-Man, or Batman incarnation… oh wait… 

LESSON #6: IF YOU’RE RUNNING OUT OF QUARANTINE RECOMMENDATIONS, HIT UP JAMES GUNN— The genre-fueled tastes of the Guardians of the Galaxy director would make any fanboy proud. What started as a gargantuan list of 140 films on Twitter was simmered down to 54 on SlashFilm. That’s a pocket full of gems and the article is kind enough to tell your coach potato self where to watch them.


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.  (#129)

What We Learned This Week: March 30-April 5

LESSON #1: ONE MORE TIME, FOR THOSE IN THE BACK, TRY NEW MOVIES— If you heat anyone pouting that there’s nothing new to consume, tell them they’re not looking hard enough. Don’t watch the same comfort food you’ve seen 30 times. Dig deeper. Challenge yourself. Check out Hoopla, Kanopy, and more. On Kanopy alone, there are 107 of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies.” That’s second to the Criterion Channel and f’n free with a library card. If deep isn’t your speed and mainstream is still your drug of choice, check out HBO’s new free streaming offerings for some excellent options, new Netflix additions for April, and Pixar’s Onward just hit Disney+ on April 3rd. Finally, keep the patience coming. Disney’s Artemis Fowl joins Trolls World Tour and The Lovebirds as the first theatrical movies to announce a straight-to-on-demand release instead of postponement (more on that later).

LESSON #2: SHORT FILMS ARE WORTH YOUR TIME TOO— When it comes to broadening your palette beyond vanilla, I’ll also recommend casting a line for some excellent world of short films. Many that were going to screen at the cancelled SXSW Film Festival are being made available on Amazon Prime. There’s also a massive collection of 66 Oscar-nominated and award-winning shorts being made available thanks to the National Board of Canada. Thanks, neighbors!

LESSON #3: HOMESCHOOLING CAN INCLUDE MOVIES— Raise your hand if, not only are you stuck at home right now, you are being called upon to be a school teacher as a parent for whatever e-learning initiative is thrust upon your children. As a school teacher myself, I’m one of those educational bartenders pouring those stiff drinks, and I feel you. Take this column and lesson as permission from a legitimate professional. There’s no reason you can’t include movies in your lessons (after all, look at my website name). Remember when we were kids and this popular meme was true:

Well, it’s your turn to bring that joy to children. Home is the classroom now and you (or at least you better) control the TV. It’s time to shine. Best Movies Right Now has put together a perfect 50-film Netflix homeschooling playlist that encompasses science, social studies, literature, and more. This gets my highest teacher’s stamp of approval:

LESSON #4: LET THE ADVANCE POSTURING BEGIN— Someday hopefully the blockbusters will emerge from forced hibernation.  Disney took out its bundle of flags and, like an Oklahoma Land Rush, laid claim to new release dates for the next two years and change for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and more. Take a peek:

Just as when there isn’t a stoppage such as this, when Disney lands, they land with bullying authority. That’s a whole bunch of superheroes that will test the fatigue some (crazy) people feel. Their presence will either add competition to what was already there or make everyone else move. More often it’s the latter.


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.  (#128)

What We Learned This Week: March 16-22

LESSON #1: THIS IS WHAT CUTTING ONE’S LOSSES LOOKS LIKE— This sweeping social distancing (and so to be full sheltering orders) due to the COVID-19 virus has studios buckling on what to do with their current and upcoming movie releases. Most that were slated for theaters are “delayed” or “postponed” for the time being, but the question becomes how long can they wait or hold. Rumor has it Warner Bros. is considering a streaming release for Wonder Woman 1984. Could Black Widow be far behind from Disney? As for the current movies that have been frozen by closed theaters, studios are dropping them on streaming and VOD platforms early, as is the case with Onward, The Invisible Man, Emma, and The Hunt. Being released already, trying to squeeze some VOD rental money is their best chance. Price point will be the challenge, but you know those families of four would likely be OK spending $20 for a night at home versus the full theater trip for $9+ tickets and concessions. We’ll see how these tests of marketing and head honcho hubris patience turn out.

LESSON #2: LEARN WHAT THE PARAMOUNT DECREES WERE— I’ll put my school teacher hat on since I’m stuck at home without a classroom for the foreseeable future. Here’s a quick dose of movie history that faded in November with implications that could loom large with a shuttered theater system right now. There was something called the Paramount Decrees. Back in 1948 in the case of United States v. Paramount Pictures, a decision was made that “studios couldn’t withhold films from certain theaters while granting exclusive rights to others or outright buy theaters of their own.” That has kept top-to-bottom control away from studios. Far forward to now with the AMCs and Regals of the world closing their doors indefinitely without business. I hinted at this last week in WWLTW. Imagine a scenario where Disney buys/builds their own movie theaters to exclusively release their products. That would create an outlet arms race and likely kill indie cinema getting theater space. With weakened theater chains, this kind of turn is possible. Stay tuned to how we recover or don’t from this time period.

LESSON #3: BRING BACK DRIVE-INS– In an effort to avoid the possible bacteria cesspools that are crowded and sticky movie theater seats (don’t lie, we’ve all had our “ewww” moments at a movie theater), could old school drive-in movie theaters (and the dirtiness of our own cars, again, don’t lie) be a new alternative in the post-social distancing era? I think so and it’s a lovely thought. There was a great optimistic read this week published by The Los Angeles Times on the topic that talks optimism and relief. Build some big screens, bring your own concessions, fill the seats, and pipe the sound through the Bose-powered infotainment systems in some of our modern cars and you’ve got a renewed and joyous movie experience.

LESSON #4: EXPAND YOUR HOME VIEWING TO SHARE WITH OTHERS— I love the news of Netflix’s new Netflix Party extension. Turning shared movies into chat room opportunities with friends you’re separated from sounds like a blast. I think we need a Netflix Party with our Feelers ASAP. Let’s get on that, fellow admins.

LESSON #5: SOME STARS END UP BEING GENUINELY NICE PEOPLE— As a school teacher, I can speak to this new hurdler of at-home “e-learning” and the challenges of not just planning it, but delivering it to my students and also my own children as a parent. Everyone I see in my professional community is doing their part, and I’m loving those outside of it that are coming to help. And it’s as easy as reading a book for others to hear. What started with Frozen star Josh Gad nightly on Twitter has expanded to dozens of celebrities chipping in to connect and entertain. Grab a device, bring the kids together on the couch or at bedtime, and enjoy a hearty tale from a familiar and kind face.


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.  (#126)

What We Learned This Week: February 23-29

LESSON #1: BOB IGER’S LEGACY IS ONE OF ACQUISITION— The biggest news of the young year on the business side of the movie industry dropped this week with the planned retirement date of Disney CEO Bob Iger. Without a doubt and spending with deep pockets, he turned the most popular family brand niche around into a media powerhouse. The purchases of LucasFilm, Marvel, Pixar, and 20th Century Fox were during his leadership tenure, as were numerous additions and expansions like a theme park in Shanghai and everything surging with Disney+.  I know Walt’s name is on the sign, but you could start naming a few streets and board rooms after Iger and the honors would be warranted.

LESSON #2: NO, SERIOUSLY, STOP WATCHING TRAILERS— I feel like little suds from my usual soapbox are going to always be around. That is especially true when I see another story of a meddlesome studio over-selling a film and ruining its potential essence. The case this time is Leigh Whannell’s wishes for Blumhouse not to further advertise the twists and action of The Invisible Man. I’ve heard critics report that too many scares from the movie are tipped off from the trailer. I feel like horror films have it worse with this problem than other genres. Expect it to continue until you be a discerning consumer that avoids trailers. Let’s start rubbing the worry stone right now for Candyman. That’s another teaser that, even with quick editing, shows too much.

LESSON #3: IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT HELP YOU STAND OUT— We’re seemingly getting to a saturation point with the streaming services where they all need to look the same and work the same to get customers comfortable.  I remember hearing about the Netflix-like screen functions that folks clamored to have on Disney+ after its launch in November. While content and price point always win, I do appreciate little nuances that can make something stand out. As a physical media fan and special features nut, I dig what Amazon Prime Video is doing with their Trivia Section. I love the easy information right there at viewers fingertips. Maybe little perks like that can get us off of our devices to watch and learn all in one place. Nice work, Amazon.


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.  (#124)

What We Learned This Week: February 17-22

LESSON #1: THE CURRENT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA DOES NOT HAVE GOOD TASTE WHEN IT COMES TO MOVIES— It’s rare this column space goes political but the reaction of Donald Trump to Parasite deserves admonishment. His jeer-laced and mocking misunderstanding of the South Korean Best Picture winner and his dog whistle call for returning to Gone With the Wind are just another chapter of his deplorable and ignorant public nature.  The man has no taste in movies, let alone much taste in anything else, but that’s for a different website. Meanwhile and by contrast, let’s long for the days where we had a POTUS with actual acumen and a discerning eye for good film. In case you missed it, Barack Obama made cinephiles proud with his eclectic and topical best of 2019 list of movies and television. Someday, intelligence and grace will return to the Oval Office.   

LESSON #2: GET YOUR KOREAN ON— Want to be smarter than the Cheeto-in-Chief, bone up on and absorb some fantastic international cinema. There are riches to be found and, thanks to Parasite, all things South Korea are hot right now. If you don’t know where to start, check out one of the many buzz-worthy and click-bait-sourced “must see” lists (one, two, three) that have been crafted for South Korean selections. The commonalities and picks are solid anywhere you look.

LESSON #3: SOMEWHERE IN THOSE BUTTONED KNICKERS, MICKEY MOUSE AND DISNEY MIGHT ACTUALLY HAVE BALLS— A large section of the entertainment audience has groaned for a long time, and not just with the company’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox and their catalog of darker material including Alien and Deadpool, that Disney does not have the courage to release or even create movies with stiffer ratings. They get called sanitized quite often. We have argued that they don’t realize worthwhile and solid stories fitting of their image can still have PG-13 and even R-rated content. That will change ever so slightly with Mulan at the end of March. It will be the first of Disney’s line of re-imaginings to carry a PG-13 rating. While our female Chinese warrior isn’t lopping off heads anytime soon, this is a step in the right direction and sign that Disney may be beginning to take some of these grander stories seriously.  

LESSON #4: CUT A GUY A BREAK— The interminable roller coaster production history of the DCEU has gotten a great deal of click bait, but not enough shared honest truths. Even when legit news comes out, it gets questioned and twisted like crazy by fan agendas and haters. Look no further than the Zack Synder saga of his departure from Justice League. People and speculation were far from kind. The next guy in that universe that needs to be cut a break is Ben Affleck. Reading him in The New York Times describe his personal struggles with alcohol and other vices while wearing the cap and cowl is eye-opening, sad, and humbling. Too many so-called fans shout and nitpick at every little detail and too often forget the people underneath and the inordinate pressures put on them. Speaking of Batman, let’s not do that next with Robert Pattinson over one snippet of test footage and some set photos.


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.  (#123)

MOVIE REVIEW: Frozen II

“Frozen” grew up.

If there’s one central point to be made about “Frozen 2,” it’s that everything about the film feels more mature in some way. Thematically, it deals with tougher relationship challenges as Queen Elsa and Princess Anna, now happily enjoying life with their friends in Arendelle, risk disruption of their peaceful lives to venture off into the unknown enchanted forest on a quest to discover the origins of Elsa’s powers and potentially learn more about their deceased parents. Change is a constant threat throughout this darker story, and all of the primary characters must wrestle with what that means for them both individually and with regard to the relationships they value. The drama is heavier, the stakes are higher, and Olaf uses self-aware humor to pose some pretty fun questions for viewers to consider. It really seems as if Disney knows their target audience of kids has aged up by 6 years and is now ready to handle a little more emotional weight, while also being sure to allow adults the opportunity to engage a little more this time around. It’s a bold choice, reminiscent of how the House of Mouse handled its “Wreck-it Ralph” sequel “Ralph Breaks the Internet”.

The music also feels slightly more aimed at older kids and adults. The songs are a little more Broadway and a little less pop this time around but are no less singable. One song in particular midway through the film, an 80’s rock ballad solo by Kristoff that is shot like a music video from that era, is sure to leave audience members in stitches and is easily among the film’s most memorable scenes. And then there’s the new “Let it Go”, the anthem-like “Into the Unknown” which your kids will be singing and listening to non-stop for the next few months. While it’s not quite as catchy or memeable as the aforementioned track, it’s still likely to be in heavy radio play rotation just like its predecessor.

Another aspect of the film that has definitely gotten better with age is the animation. As should be expected, everything is more crisp and bright than before, and details on the new costumes really stand out. There are a few different mesmerizing sequences of magic being put to use, as well, that easily rival or improve upon anything in “Frozen”. This is simply a gorgeous film to look at, and even if other faults are found, your eyes can’t help but enjoy themselves.

I’m not quite ready to say “Frozen 2” is better than the original after only one viewing, but the feeling I had while watching it was similar, and I think it comes awfully close. Time will also be needed to tell whether the entire soundtrack becomes as unforgettable as the first film’s. But on the strength of deeper themes, solid character development all-around, some fantastic humor, and a dose of that Disney magic, “Frozen 2” is a triumphant sequel to one of the animation giant’s biggest smash hits.

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 the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: October 14-27

LESSON #1: THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON MAY BECOME THE MOST IMPORTANT FILM OF 2019— Look at me writing a clickbait headline.  I, and many others, think the world of this film (5-star review), but it is now making an impact far bigger in the grand scheme of things than another Scorsese masterpiece entry or Marvel blockbuster. Thanks to its emerging star Zack Gottshagen, The Peanut Butter Falcon has started a groundswell of hiring and representation for performers with intellectual disabilities, as outlined in a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter. That is absolutely huge and a benefit far greater to the industry than hardware and money. This is, without a doubt, the best industry story I’ve seen this month and maybe this year. Folks, see this film for how special it is and not just because of the “special” people in it. 

LESSON #2: GET THE BIG MONEY OUT OF THE OSCARS— I wonder if casual fans notice as much of the “For Your Consideration” stuff as a film critic like myself does.  I’m guessing people see the extra language on marketing materials and maybe the occasional magazine ad. Folks, let me tell you, the studio-powered promotion machines to get their films front-and-center for awards season are unchecked and on the same level as all the wild political campaigning you see in public life.  While I’m happily inundated with screeners and materials during this time of year as a critic in two awards-voting bodies, I can do the math on the sheer volume of money being spent just to get a name or two mentioned and it’s completely too much. Sadly, these full-court press tactics work on the weak groupthink voters at all the levels of this industry.  Voters should be more discerning rather than easily fickle and the pushiness should stop. More people are finally standing up to say something about it and I’ll join them.  

LESSON #3: THERE ALMOST ALWAYS COMES A POINT WHERE A FREE GOOD THING WILL SOMEDAY COST MONEY— I was as surprised and bummed as any other casual box office statistics fan when levels of the Box Office Mojo site where absorbed by the subscription-required IMDb Pro site. Amazon has owned Box Office Mojo since 2008, where I’m surprised it took this long for such a switch.  The basics are there, but the original site was so much tighter and immersive with its data. The new one is very watered down. Let’s see if it can evolve back into an industry leader.

LESSON #4: EASY ON THE INFLATED TROPHIES, HOLLYWOOD BEAN COUNTERS— Speaking of Box Office Mojo, the congratulatory headlines were inescapable this week that Joker will “officially” become the highest grossing R-rated film of all-time.  Child, please.  I do this often, but go to the inflation-adjusted numbers and slow your roll, folks.  Joker has earned over $250 million domestically and triple that overseas and deserves every success, no doubt.  But wake me up when it touches (let alone climbs near the top of) the Top 200 on the all-time inflation-adjusted list before you start handing out those title belts. It’s not catching The Exorcist at #9 or many more of the R-rated films on that list.  Dream on, Warner Bros.

LESSON #5: EVERYONE NEEDS A BREAK AND SHOULD TAKE ONE— I applaud 23-year-old Timothee Chalamat who spoke to Vogue about desperately needing to take a break from acting after a solid few years of constant work. Other actors have done it for years and it’s always a smart play for physical, mental, and emotional recharge and renewal.  As they say, “absence away makes the heart grow fonder.” Expect a committed and improved Chalamat when you see him after. More actors should do this, if even for the fact of not becoming overused and overexposed, let alone to recuperation.

LESSON #6: DON’T BEAT DEAD HORSES— In the latest log on the fire stoked by many of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy, something that was ran into the ground will now be dusted off and run into the ground again.  Disney has tabbed Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin to join franchise writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio to reboot the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.  I know I’ve said it somewhere before in this column, but put some time between death and rebirth.  Sure, when you go all the way back to 2003, it will be nearly 20 years since the first movie, but it’s only been two years since its last one.  Wait twenty years after that instead and then dazzle us with a new take in 2037. Go away and try your own “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” We still freshly remember the s–t show.

LESSON #7: SLOW THE F–K DOWN, YOU BINGER— Speaking of taking a break, the entertainment you consume is supposed to be rich and entertaining experience.  Why would you speed it up just to get more? Word around the campfire is Netflix is experimenting with the possible setting of showing its content at 1.5x speed.  Come on, man.  Have some patience.  Part of the magic of film and TV shows is the editing of pace and timing.  Those are crucial and deliberate creative traits. Don’t ruin that because of your impatience.  

LESSON #8: IF YOU WANT CUSTOMERS, GIVE SOMETHING EXCITED AWAY— Verizon isn’t hurting for business or customers, but you know they’ve dropped the swag of swag in offering full-year Disney+ subscriptions to new and existing unlimited data home and wireless customers.  That sure beats a toaster or set of steak knives. Good luck topping that, Sprint and T-Mobile. Well played, Verizon.  

LESSON #9: TURN UP THE BRIGHTNESS ON THE THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE— I won’t jump to the alarmist “ruining the the theatrical experience” level that Edward Norton in implying in a recent interview in The Daily Beast, but the firebrand actor that never minces his words is right.  Improper brightness and poor sound in cheap and untrained theater chains can make a bad enough viewing experience to turn off ticket-paying moviegoers.  If you’re going to pay today’s full prices on the promises of a superior experience to the 4K and HD stuff capable from your couch, you should get it. The luminosity talk in his interview was fascinating.  I notice it too and he isn’t wrong.


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.  (#119)