What We Learned This Week: February 10-16

LESSON #1: THE ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURE ARTS AND SCIENCES WAS (AND STILL KIND OF IS) CARELESS, UNINTELLIGIBLE, AND DISRESPECTFUL TOWARDS THEIR OWN INDUSTRY— On Monday, Academy president John Bailey revealed that rumors were true.  In an effort to shorten a bloated show and improve ratings, four categories were announced to become relegated to commercial breaks.  At the last minute before the publishing of this post, they relented. The four that were getting the cold shoulder were Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Makeup and Hair-Styling, and Best Live Action Short.  The damage is done and they still deserve the lecture.  Let’s start a train of “to say it simply” sentences.  Begin with careful use of time.  You can’t tell me there weren’t smarter cuts of time possible in a hostless telecast.  Trim the gags, bits, montages, and other weak joke fluff.  Cut the half-hour red carpet show and just leave that to E! where it belongs.  How hard would that have been? Maybe they needed to consult an editor… oh wait… Second, look at optics. I was astonished that in the room of AMPAS decision-makers, a team of artists and industry professional peers, there was a lack of perception of what this kind of move looked like.  Did they not just get slammed this past year for the silly Popular Film category suggestion?  Does no one internally pay attention?  This became a double defeat in the court of public opinion before the awards even arrive and they stood down Friday.  The AMPAA looked like they can’t handle or put on their own show after 90 years and the subtraction immediately looked like disrespect.  Doing this wasn’t appeasing casual fans who are impatient with award shows more than it alienated the base of true fans.  It’s the cinephiles and movie lovers that bring in the casual fans, not the other way around.  Alienate them because you dumbfoundedly admonish your own people and you ruin the whole thing with bad press and social media outrage. 

LESSON #2: PUBLIC PRESSURE WINS BECAUSE IT CAME FROM THE RIGHT LEVEL OF PEOPLE— The pressure it took on the Academy to properly honor the people below the title was to rally people above the title.  I’m not the type to boycott anything, but I get why people weren’t going to watch the Oscars (and they still might not).  The group fixed it are the precious people the TV cameras beg to see: ACTORS.  They are the largest voting body in the Academy. If the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, they had clout and these were fitting politics to flex.  They look great and unselfish today to honor their fellow artists. The preening performers rallied get behind the craftspeople that make them look good and insisted on their proper inclusion. The Academy rightfully blinked.

LESSON #3: BAD CGI CAN KILL A MOVIE BEFORE IT STARTS— The latest new teaser of Disney’s Aladdin re-imagining gave viewers our highly anticipated first look of the special effects being used to morph the jovial Will Smith into the famed blue genie.  And holy cow did the internet react.  Memes for days!  The fallout calls to mind so many frequent and intersecting WWLTW lessons.  I could bring back my frequent plea for Disney corporate patience where the studio can avoid rushing these projects, but this one’s been in development with director Guy Ritchie for three years.  That’s more than enough time to spend money, go back to however many drawing boards, and get something to look right, especially with Disney’s deep pockets.  I could spout off about excessive and unnecessary marketing, but this trailer is actually the smallest amount of peek compared to other teasers.  It just looks like crap at this point and is going to need tricks under its sleeves.  I could try to preach to let Will Smith and this Aladdin incarnation be its own thing without comparisons to Robin Williams and etc, but that’s not possible when one its objectives and reasons for being is to blend and update the animated original.  I could try to stump for patience to see the full film before judgment, but the damage is done, echoing similar a unfinished-effects-buzzkill 2003 gave us for Ang Lee’s Hulk.  I’m calling it now.  This will be your Solo-level box office “underperformer” (I won’t say “bomb” because all of these movies are too big to fail) for the Mouse House in 2019.  This will set off a momentary pause button that makes the studio question how and why they do these re-imaginings in the same way they gave Star Wars some reorganization last year.  I say temporary because that feeling will only last 56 days, the amount of time between Aladdin‘s box office debut and the arrival of The Lion King on July 19, which has played its cards far better to make an absolute killing.

LESSON #4: SEE SOMETHING PRETTY— In honor of Valentine’s Day and as a celebration of the art of cinematography before Oscar bounces them like a football timeout, treat yourself to some of the finest artistic visual beauty that exists in cinema.  The American Society of Cinematographers recently published this list of the 100 best shot films of all-time.  Topping the list are Lawrence of Arabia, Blade Runner, and Apocalypse Now!, three damn worthy champions of cinematography.  Spanning vistas and shadows to color and monochrome, this films on this ASC list are sterling examples of why this art is important.  Create a new checklist for yourself with this one.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: February 3-9

LESSON #1: LIAM NEESON IS IN BIG TROUBLE NO MATTER HOW YOU LOOK AT IT— And here I thought a few weeks ago in this column space, that John Lasseter was going to a big test for post-outrage career paths.  Matching the pulling of the actor’s PR appearances for Cold Pursuit this week, his situation, stemming from his poorly-placed personal admissions and steps towards change in the years since, has two impacts: personal and professional.  The forgiveness, recovery, and damage control are different for both worlds.  He may be able to show his face and make appearances to continue the soul-baring conversation he started, but he may be radioactive on the business side for a while.  I still say if Hugh Grant can be arrested for soliciting a prostitute two decades ago and be the Oscar-worthy villain of Paddington 2 years later, the zero laws broken by Liam Neeson can make redemption possible.  It definitely going to take more than good kissing.

LESSON #2: INTERMISSIONS ARE A WORTHWHILE IDEA— Word around the internet campfire is that the latest edit of Avengers: Endgame is still a mammoth three hours and Disney is considering building in an intermission into film.  I’m all for it. Trim no more. Pick a dynamite editing point for some exhaling and reflection. Give us a bathroom break and a rousing Alan Silvestri overture while we refocus.  Nail that tone. If any film could pull it off, it’s this future juggernaut. Intermissions would extend running time and prevent as many turnstile turns and showings compared to some 90-minute hopscotch movie, but plenty of long films have scored at the box office.  Avatar was 162 minutes.  Titanic was 195.  They made billions.  Bottom lines will be fine.

LESSON #3: FINDING THE RIGHT TONE— Speaking of tone, one of the reasons Universal Pictures’ Dark Universe failed was that it wasn’t dark enough.  The Mummy was a Tom Cruise vehicle, not a thriller.  Even though the old Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi classics aren’t anywhere near hardcore horror by today’s tastes, these characters (and others) are still monsters.  Give them some teeth and some edge, not sugary action fluff. Universal’s hiring of producer Jason Blum and Upgrade director Leigh Whannell for their Invisible Man remake is the right direction to go with smaller aims and horror expertise.  That’s the tone you need here.

LESSON #4: STEVEN SODERBERGH IS THE SMARTEST GUY IN THE ROOM AND GETS NO CREDIT FOR IT— The Oceans series director recently did an interview with Deadline talking about his career path.  One tangent delved into the underwhelming results of his last two films Logan Lucky and Unsane.  Both were well-reviewed films that were lost to audiences.  The grassroots and cost-minded Soderbergh saw marketing costs skyrocketing in the industry and considered it a threat to the success of true independent film working on small budgets.  Fascinatingly, Soderbergh wanted to try spending less (no junkets, talk shows, and more) on those two recent films, going more the viral routes. He found that the silly and preening attention that comes from late-night couches and more gets more attention than social media.  I wish he wasn’t wrong because the fluff is too much and too frivolously expensive. Fascinating interview from a guy with a heck of career arc.

LESSON #5: KNOW WHEN TO SAY WHEN— It looks like Vice Oscar nominee Christian Bale got The Matt Damon Diagnosis recently.  Here at 45 years old, the toll of the “yo-yo dieting” going back and forth between dramatic weight losses for The Machinist and The Fighter and unhealthy weight gains to play American Hustle, Batman, and Dick Cheney has caught up to the actor.  Citing his mortality, Bale says he won’t go through those swings again and let the makeup do the magic.  Wise decision, Christian. We want you to hang around for as long as possible.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: Post-Super Bowl Challenge- YEAR 2

Primo movie teasers have become an annual tradition connected to the Super Bowl.  The championship game is typically the most-watched global television event of the calendar year and movie studios, just like other brands and companies, target maximum eyes on their valuable offerings.  Back in the days before YouTube replays numbering the tens of millions in less than 24 hours, those coveted 30-second Super Bowl ads were shown ONCE.  That was it.  If you didn’t see it, POOF, it was gone.  You missed out.  Back then, the hype generated was real and the trailer-making marketers knew all it took to grab an audience was the right juicy single morsel.  Less was more and we were hooked on a mere 30 seconds.

Today, three trends have whittled away the effect of a good Super Bowl teaser.  First, in this marketing culture of scooping the competition, too many of these ads are available before the Big Game, sapping much of the surprise factor.  Second, we’ve reached a day and age where trailers regularly give away far too much of film.  Third and finally, there isn’t the dazzle of the one-time viewing anymore.  Any hype is beaten to death by repeat views and the buzzy over-saturation of click bait editorials that overanalyze every second of the teasers of teasers let along the real teasers or full trailers themselves.

This all adds to unrealistic, messy, or improperly-fueled expectations that hang on a film all year.  I long for a day when the repetitive spoiler blathering goes away, allowing patience to create real hype, not the over-marketed variety we have now, to create a higher form of anticipation.  For the second year in a row on Feelin’ Film, I throw down the gauntlet!

THE SECOND YEAR CHALLENGE

Pick TWO films on your “most anticipated list” for 2019 and avoid the marketing for it from now until their releases.  Last year, it was one movie.  This year, pick two.

Don’t say Captain Marvel with only a month to go.  Don’t say Avengers: Endgame because that’s an easy automatic.  Dig deep.  Pick a real long-term challenge for 2019.  Turn off the noise.  Don’t watch the trailers.  Don’t read the click bait and certainly don’t read reviews before finally seeing the film.  Go to the hallway and refill your napkins and popcorn butter at the multiplex.  Such willpower can be done.  I promise you it’s worth it.  Every twist and development becomes a surprise and the connections are made richer than ones pre-built by marketing hype.

My rationale is that if the film you pick is on your official or unofficial “most anticipated list” you already know enough about it and want to see it where you don’t need any more marketing.  You’re already hooked.  Knowing anymore about it only chips away at the final result.

The challenge is to let the film speak for itself and not speak for the marketing.  Feel a different buildup.  Feel the patience of old school hype.  Leave something to the imagination.  Let the Super Bowl be the last peek.

Try it for two films and help out your peers.  Share your pick in the comments or in the Facebook discussion.  We’re a support group as much as we are a discussion spot.  Afterwards, evaluate that experience.  Was the anticipation better or worse?  Was the culminating film experience better or worse?  Call me confident, but I know this is going to work for you!

What We Learned This Week: January 19-February 2

LESSON #1: YOUNGER IS BETTER AND LONGER LASTING— Before you say “that’s what she said,” let me explain that I’m are talking about Batman.  Word hit hard that Ben Affleck is retiring (i.e. passed over and forced out) from the role of the Caped Crusader, one he already entered while in his 40s (granted, they sought a veteran intentionally).  Warner Bros. moves forward with the Matt Reeves-helmed The Batman for 2021 and I’m begging they go younger.  Don’t do another guy over 40 and don’t even do another actor in their mid-to-late 30s.  Lock in a steady Batman in his prime and past his overly-told origin story in the starting age range of 25-29.  Let that guy own the role for a decade instead of being interchangeable like bad underwear.

LESSON #2: THE INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS ARE LOOKING BETTER THAN THE OSCARS RIGHT NOW— Between the many harebrained decisions and non-decisions being made by the Academy and their show producers (awards during commercial breaks, go/no-go on song nominees) and their semi-questionable nominees, the Oscars are looking like a, pardon my French, a s–tshow right now.  I look the day before the Oscars at the slate and schedule for the Independent Spirit Awards and I’m duly impressed.  Those are true nominees of the best of film.  That’s a red carpet and party I’d rather be at.  

LESSON #3: NETFLIX KNOWS WHAT’S GOOD FOR THEM— Speaking of the Oscars, there has been an anti-Netflix sentiment for the last few years.  This simmering industry stench of haters surrounds how Netflix’s streaming service does not commonly include theatrical distribution.  One of the Academy’s rules for awards qualification is to have at least a soft theatrical release somewhere. Netflix has bent to that in small ways (Mudbound) and big ways (Roma).  Well, their biggest bend of all dropped soon after Netflix snagged 15 total nominations when they agreed to join the MPAA.  It’s an olive branch of commitment to make nice and do good by the industry that they are steadily part of reforming every year.

LESSON #4: NETFLIX KEEPS REMINDING US HOW AMBITIOUS THEY ARE— At the same time the streaming giant shows industry savvy, Netflix continues to stoke its hubris fires with the burning of subscription dollars (thanks, price increases!).  Back at the end of December, Netflix announced its intentions of pacing to churn out 90 films a year with budgets as high as $200 million.  That’s beyond huge.  That’s bigger than Disney’s output.  With every high profile acquisition, every word-of-mouth hit, and, more importantly, every influx of subscribers, Netflix becomes a bigger player.  A critic like me or Aaron and Patch on Feelin’ Film could cover only Netflix films and fill a year’s worth of review quota.

YOU CAN’T BEAT FREE— Marvel is partnering with AMC Theatres to re-release Black Panther for FREE at several locations during Black History Month.  Folks, you won’t find a better price to see an Oscar nominee short of some library screening or summer kids club event at a daycare center.  You get Ryan Coogler’s gem with all the bells and whistles of a real big screen. Go catch it again or for the first time.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: January 1-18

LESSON #1: THE OSCARS CAN SURVIVE WITH NO HOST— I couldn’t be more content with the fact that ABC and MPAAS cannot pin down a proper host for the 91st Academy Awards.  Maybe this will mean fewer dumb monologues and bits.  Maybe the whole dang thing will get done in under three hours.  I can’t wait to see how this goes as a test case for no host and tighter schedule of things. Besides, how many Alfonso Cuaron acceptance speeches are we really going to hear (present answer: 3).  Be ready for those Oscar nominations on Tuesday after the MLK holiday.

LESSON #2: JAMES WAN IS KILLING IT— Thanks the swimmingly sweet returns of Aquaman, director James Wan has become the second filmmaker after James Cameron to lead a pair of films to surpass $1 billion in global earnings.  Cameron, of course, had Avatar and Titanic (two films north of $2 billion, mind you) and Aquaman adds with Wan’s Furious 7.  There’s a good chance that young man (42 is a baby in this business) gets to sign his own blank checks moving forward.  Studios would be lucky to acquire his services.  He is currently without a new directorial effort on the horizon.  

LESSON #3: AMERICANS DON’T TRANSLATE FRENCH VERY WELL— More than the year-long-plus delay caused by the fallout of The Weinstein Company, The Upside had been doomed for a while.  Dumping it in January was but one more sign.  The domestic filmmakers took what was a huge international hit of big time empathy (The Intouchables) and scrambled it with American gags and personalities.  Sure enough, it butchers the original and has tanked audiences and critics.  The Ringer recently did solid article looking back at Hollywood’s shoddy track record with French comedies.  Improvement is needed where filmmakers need to do better or audience just need to find and enjoy the original things, subtitles and all.

LESSON #4: EDDIE MURPHY NEEDS A COMEBACK— At 57, Eddie Murphy is too good and still too young of a celebrated entertainer to be forgotten and relegated to the sidelines.  I have long said he needs to put away the family films and go back to his hard-R roots.  The announced long-distance sequel for Coming to America could be the springboard for a resurgence.  Hustle and Flow director Craig Brewer is an ideal fit to squeeze a little more pulp from the low-hanging fruit.  While we’re here, go ahead and get Arsenio Hall back to work next to him.  With the pair, it’s only half of a good idea.  

LESSON #5: TREAT YOURSELF TO A GOOD SOUNDTRACK— Finally, we’re in Oscar season, so I advise you to soak in the good stuff available this time of year and not the defrosted junk that are called “January wide releases.”  Both The Film Stage and First Showing featured articles listing the best scores and soundtracks from 2018 films.  Of the year’s releases, I highly recommend If Beale Street Could Talk, Hearts Beat Loud, Mandy, Eighth Grade, Aquaman, A Star is Born, and Creed II.  The Film Stage article even imbeds some full Spotify playlists for easy sampling.  Make a few clicks and put the earbuds in at work or on the move.  Enjoy the Mozart effect!


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: January “Soapbox Special”

The edition is an extended look at how one new industry move sets off some big questions for the business landscape.

LESSON #1: JOHN LASSETER IS A TEST FOR CAREERS MOVING BEYOND THE #METOO MOVEMENT— I came on this column space a little over a year ago with my first “Soapbox Special” to address the uneven career assassinations that have occurred both before and after our present #MeToo landscape.  I shared my stances where I separate the person (their personal life) from the persona (their careers) and never boycott anyone.  Likewise, my consistent emotional response to cases like Kevin Spacey or Bill Cosby is one of patience and sadness.  I refuse to jump the gun with outrage and boycott on mere “allegations” and “claims”  These folks are innocent until proven guilty in my eyes, which seems to fly against the court of public opinion that immediately sinks people on the first click bait headline before we even know if they deserve it.  A year later, with former Pixar czar John Lasseter being hired by Skydance to lead their animation division, we have reached the decision points of who and what “gets to,” more or less, move on from #MeToo.  Lasseter comes to Skydance after a self-imposed leave of absence from Pixar amid claims of sexual harassment he deemed as “missteps.”  His resurrection hiring has been met with a great deal of adamant outrage from some sectors. 

LESSON #2: IT’S TIME FOR CONSUMERS TO BE REFLECTIVE AND FAIR— From John Lasseter all the way to Kevin Spacey and anyone else in between, people need to table the court of public opinion and get a better look at the whole situations beyond the outrage and headlines.  Here are the reflection questions that I think folks need to consider at this point:

1) What’s the proper waiting period between allegations and actual guilt?  MY ANSWER: When it gets its day in court and no less that that. Go ahead and hate the convicted Bill Cosby.  The evidence came and the ruling has come down.  Cool your jets on all the unproven stuff elsewhere.  Save your crucifixion nails until the gavel hits the block.  Until then, call it quarantine or something and be the discerning consumer you want to be with that right.  Reserve judgment because it’s not even your place to judge.  

2) What amount of contrition or correction is necessary in order for people to continue their careers?  MY ANSWER: That’s up to each case and each consumer, but the amount can’t be zero.  I’m a proponent of giving people chances to correct their wrongs.  Some stars have handled that better than others (Louis CK, Kevin Spacey).  This is just me, but I will gladly acknowledge and appreciate those who legitimately try to seek forgiveness and personal improvement.  I wish more viewers and fans could do the same.  

3) What are these people allowed to do with their rest of their careers?  MY ANSWER: Anything they want or anything a boss wants to hire to run their business.  This might have to circle back to old adage of the punishment fitting the crime.  If the person(s) in question come out of Question #1 with unfounded innocence and have completed the mea culpas of Question #2, they should be able to return to their field of profession.  Similarly, if the person(s) doesn’t get through Question #1 clearly yet have served their time or sentence of meted and legal punishment (think Michael Vick from the NFL), then they should be able to return to their field of profession.  That’s not to say all people are going to support either of those wishes.  Once again, folks can be whatever discerning consumer they want, but those returning people should be allowed the chances to try and correct their mistakes.  

I know if it were any one of us instead of them, we would want those same minimums and grace.  That’s how you find any possible empathy in these situations.  Try some of this reflection before pissing and moaning all over social media.  You’ll be a calmer and better person for it.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: New Year’s Resolutions for the Film Industry for 2019

Image by Muharrem Aner for Getty via The Daily Beast

Plenty of regular everyday people make New Year’s Resolutions, but I think bigger entities, namely movie makers and movie moguls, need to make them too.  Annually, including this eighth edition, have fun taking the movie industry to task for things they need to change, even if I get to do it every week in a different ranting way on “What We Learned This Week.” My cadence hasn’t changed.  I have no false internet courage to be a Twitter troll. As always, some resolutions come true while others get mentioned and reiterated every year. A great deal of last year’s list is still relevant.  Enjoy this year’s hopes and dreams.

#1: Don’t stop supporting minority voices.

2018 has been a banner year for indie film featuring themes, stars, and filmmakers of gender and racial diversity.  This list is impressive: Searching, If Beale Street Could Talk, Blindspotting, The Hate U Give, Sorry to Bother You, Roma, The Rider, Revenge, Crazy Rich Asians, Madeline’s Madeline, BlacKkKlansman, Burning, Roxanne Roxanne, Nappily Ever After, We the Animals, Private Life, Widows, You Were Never Really Here, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Border, Support the Girls, Minding the Gap, Shoplifters, Destroyer, RBG, Hearts Beat Loud, Boy Erased, The Favourite, Bohemian Rhapsody, Collette, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Love Simon, Disobedience, Blockers, and many many more.  Upvote your favorite films directed by women in 2018 on this Ranker.  Hollywood, keep these doors opening.  Don’t just do this for tokenism. The audiences will come.

#2: Disney, take your time with Fox properties you bought from Marvel.

A recent Kevin Feige interview became click bait when he said that Fox’s Marvel properties, mostly the Fantastic Four and X-Men universes, could be in their control within six months.  Everyone (well, expect me) got out their abacuses and calendars to calculate how fast those new incarnations would arrive. My advice and resolution preached patience. Don’t just make these films because you can.  Take your time and get them right. Fantastic Four has had two failed attempts. X-Men has had its soft reboot too and is already slipping. I have no doubt those characters are in the right place, but Marvel needs to hold off.

#3: Speaking of Disney, slow down with your own releases.

Have you seen the Disney release calendar for 2019?  It’s insane. Their dominance, as if we already didn’t know, is unquestioned and it shows.  I think it’s too much. When big releases are on top of each other like this, they feel more run-of-the-mill instead of special.  I remember a time when there was only animated Disney film a year. It was huge, important, and it mattered. It’s hard to multiply care when there are a half-dozen or more between Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and their own house brand choices.  Space them out. Build them up. Make them matter because they don’t come around all that often.

#4: Don’t show us another second of Avengers: Endgame

Those of you who follow my weekly column and the “soapbox specials” know that I’ve sworn off of trailers and have been encouraging people like a cinematic cult leader to do the same. I’ve simply seen too many and oversell their products and create unreasonable expectations which create the butthurt fans we have come to hate. Avengers: Endgame would be the perfect trailblazer. That movie doesn’t need a second of marketing to get our money. How awesome would it be if they stopped cold right now after the first trailer? Our frenzy of anticipation off of the small sample would create more buzz than any new footage. At the same time, the studio could pad their bottom with the reduced need to throw money into marketing, as well as merchandise too. Don’t even release an action figure until after the screaming and parent-tugging kids see the movie in April. Don’t hope for a frenzy. Create one.

#5: Vet your hosts and spokespeople

In the Twitter meltdown wake of James Gunn, Louis CK, Kevin Hart and more this past year, studio heads and showrunners need to do a better job background checking their hires. It shouldn’t matter as much as it turns out, but we’re seeing it does. Big outfits and corporations have too many PR employees and interns at their disposal to miss the large problems they have this year. When those flags come up, talk it out and have a plan before making final decisions and public comments.

#6: If you’re a celebrity, it’s time to get off Twitter

I think we’ve reached a point where we have to ask what the gain is from Twitter. Sure, it’s fun to see trends and maybe catch breaking news, but that’s for us anonymous people of the general public. If you’re a big star, do you really need the scrutiny just for a small PR and promotional bump that comes from social media accessibility? I don’t see the value if you’re an established celebrity or brand.

#7: Repackage the Oscars a better way

Speaking if Kevin Hart, the embarrassing panhandling for a new host and poor attempts to shoehorn new and silly categories creates the need for this resolution.  I say don’t do even have a host at this point. Reduce the bits and focus on the awards. Here’s some perfect and generous math even with a host. Give the 24 categories 5 minutes each (3 to introduce it gracefully with deeper montages than mere quick mentions and 2 full minutes for each winner’s speeches) and that’s 120 minutes. Tack on 5 minutes to open with a welcoming monologue, 5 minutes to close with a thankful prologue, 3 minutes for the annual dead people roll call, and 30 minutes for required commercials to pay the bills.  Easy peasy! You’re well under three hours, the awards are given rich room to operate, and nothing is forgotten except another hare-brained skit. As far as categories go, Best Casting and Best Stunt Work deserve inclusion. If you want to trade those for some technical awards being moved to the separate Science awards night, so be it, but don’t even try to devalue the whole show with a dumb and patronizing Popular Film award. Leave those awards for MTV.

#8: Respect Netflix

Speaking of the Oscars, much is being talked about on a perceived bias and beef the Academy has with Netflix films. They need to put it aside with tolerance for a new and viable distribution outlet that isn’t going away, especially if they keep landing high pedigree films like Roma and The Irishman. Movie moguls need to arrive at the learning curve television and their Emmy Awards have already put behind them where cable and streaming shows have equal footing and respect as network shows. Welcome the new guy better than you are.

#9: Netflix, please choose quality over quantity

Speaking of Netflix, you might need the same resolution as the one Disney got earlier. We get it. You have money and are spending it. You can freely drop films and splash any and every pot with them. The trouble is you have more bombs than winners. For every Roma and Bird Box, you have a dozen that never get attention because there are too many choices. I know, right? Who would have ever thought too many choices was a bad thing. Netflix, I see your strengths. You are revitalizing the midrange budget film market studios haven’t been making since the 1990s. You give indie films wider and better chances for visibility than they would at the shrinking number of arthouse screens. You have long championed documentaries. Do all that with a discerning eye and refined taste.

#10: Keep repackaging Adam Sandler

Speaking of quality over quantity, if you don’t count his voice work in Hotel Transylvania 3, 2018 was the first year in a long time without a theatrical release from Adam Sandler.  That alone made 2018 a glorious year answering one of this column’s longest repeating annual resolutions to stop that man’s redundantly bad career.  I say that while still being happy Adam Sandler’s recent unbound and R-rated Netflix comedy special has done so well. Give us that grown-up Adam Sandler.  Bury the man child. Since Netflix is writing him checks, it’s up to them to remake Adam Sandler. Someday, we’ll be glad he’s back in the spotlight as a new man.  The fear will always be him slipping back to the boorish slacker type that made him rich.

#11: Price point will always be the greatest trigger and hurdle simultaneously

This goes for all of the current streaming services out there and all of the ones still coming, especially Disney+.  Each streaming service’s standalone price makes it highly affordable compared to the price of theater tickets for the whole family year-round or a bloated cable TV subscription.  The devices like AppleTV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire, and more are all wonderfully affordable too. The hard part is if/when you feel like you need to have 4-5 streaming services in addition to the steadily increasing costs of high speed internet to make it all work.  Then that number balloons. At some point, the overabundance of services and higher prices will break a common person’s budget. The services have to make sure they don’t reach that point.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: December 7-29

My apologies for the December sabbatical.  Work, holidays, and the awards season are spare time killers…

LESSON #1: WE’VE LOST KEVIN SPACEY— Wow. Just wow. How weird was that “Let Me Be Frank” video this past week? How miscalculated was it, especially on top of the newest charges against him? Contrition instead of glamor would have went a long way. I don’t see how he comes back from this any time soon. Man, I’m going to miss Kevin Spacey.  He was one if the best. Now if we could just lose Johnny Depp next, that would be super. He’s already off the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  I’d call that a start.

LESSON #2: STOP MANUFACTURING CONFLICT WHERE IT DOESN’T EXIST— Dramatic license is necessary to make a marketable and entertaining film, but it should be used carefully and even as a last resort. Every time that card is cashed, it chips away at the story’s core and truths. Do that too much and it’s either manipulation or disservice. What was nearly done in On the Basis of Sex is a disconcerting example of forcing strife just to have strife. It’s unnecessary and could have turned things negative.  I’ll never understand how “good for goodness sake” can’t sell on its own.

LESSON #3: EVEN BIG STARS DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE IMDB— To read this recent story of actor Seth Rogen’s (and his famous peers) monumental “discovery” that that gangster film, Angels with Filthy Souls, in Home Alone was a fake movie and not a real one makes me miss Jay Leno’s “Jay-Walking” segments on his old late night talk shows where this kind of lack of reasonable intelligence lives and breathes.  It’s title is likely a homage to the Michael Curtiz’s James Cagney vehicle Angels with Dirty Faces.  Sure, I get how small and inconsequential of a detail it is, but it’s a straight facepalm for me when tools of knowledge are readily available.  It doesn’t take a genius to go on IMDb and see Ralph Foody and Michael Guido’s name in the cast playing Johnny and Snakes.  Home Alone came out in 1990, the same year IMDb began though the noted database didn’t hit the web until 1993.  That’s only really three years of head-scratching, but I guess it’s 28 years of haze and missed problem-solving synapses for Rogen and company.  Alas, this counts as hot topic clickbait in 2018. Any time a celebrity farts with sprinkles, it gets a column and 400 words.

LESSON #4: ROMA IS GOING TO KEEP WINNING— Shine up the “Critical Darling” plaque and start printing the t-shirts.  Alfonso Cuaron’s 1970s domestic drama from his home country of Mexico is winning all of the shiny things that say Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography on them.  My website’s Awards Tracker shows it running away and hiding in this categories during this main stretch of regional critics groups handing out their annual awards. Sometimes, especially for a foreign film, it is hard to project all of this critical love into audience success and Oscar glory.  It’s not too often the regular, ordinary domestic viewing audience will drop an audible “Huh?” at Best Picture winners. This may be one of those years. The test will be the Golden Globes. Let’s see if Netflix can do its job and give Roma a wider audience, which is its own testy saga to read about.

LESSON #5: YOU KNOW YOUR FILM IS CRAP WHEN EVEN NETFLIX SAYS NO— The newest Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly teamup Holmes & Watson had bomb written all over it from the start.  First, the marketing didn’t help the effort, looking like one of those struggling comedies where all of the good jokes are in the trailer and not in the two-hour movie.  Once Sony decided not to screen the film for critics, that should have been the real warning. In a damning second warning, Netflix, which prides itself as the service that will take anything and spend frivolously, actually turned down buying Holmes & Watson from Sony.  Gosh, that’s when you know it’s bad.  That’s like a baseball team trying to trade a pair of pitchers for a bag of balls and getting turned down for even balls.  Good Lord, that’s a bad movie.

LESSON #6: LOOK AHEAD TO SUNDANCE TO THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL— Robert Redford’s baby turns Park City, Utah into Mecca. We may be looking at the 2019 Oscars, but, without fail, at least one or more future contenders for 2020 will debut there. Here’s the full lineup. From the competition films, keep an eye on Native Son and The Farewell.  Of the bigger-named gala premieres watch for Jake Gyllenhaal’s Velvet Buzzsaw (a new collaboration with his Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy)Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams in After the Wedding from Moore’s husband Bart Freundlichand The Report with Adam Driver and Jon Hamm from Soderbergh writing partner-turned-director Scott Z. Burns.  You’ll sound cool if you can say you’ve heard of these films next year.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: November 18-December 1

LESSON #1: ROMA IS A DUAL-LEVEL CATEGORY OSCAR CONTENDER— Every so often during the annual awards seasons a foreign language film surges ahead with praise to become a legitimate Best Picture Academy Award contender and not just a shoe-in for its own Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.  Think of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Michael Haneke’s Amour, and Michel Hazanavicius’ 2011 Best Picture winner The Artist.  Those films are rare and special.  You’re going to see another one this year and that film is Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma.  Stunning, dramatic, and heartbreaking, Cuaron’s love letter to his upbringing just won the Best Picture award from the New York Film Critics Circle as well as director and cinematography, all for Cuaron.  With confidence, expect it to be one of the final five to eight films competing on February 24th next year.

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF OSCARS, PADDINGTON 2 DESERVES TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY— You’ve been hearing Aaron White and I shout the praises of this charming sequel all year.  Both Aaron and me have grand slam 5-star reviews.  If a dramatic foreign film like Roma with few flaws and endless superlatives can be taken seriously as one of the best of the year, so can a spotless family film that has even more built-up appreciation.  Two separate articles this week, one from David Ehrlich in IndieWire and one from Gregg Killday in The Hollywood Reporter, called for due respect in the form of Oscar nominations for Paddington 2.  Killday celebrated the novelty of a Best Picture than can be flat-out enjoyable.  You have to go back to The Artist, The King’s Speech, or Slumdog Millionaire to find partially light-hearted Best Picture winners.  Even they still had their notes of heavy drama.  Ehrlich laid out seven categories where Paddington 2 should have Oscar consideration.  He’s not wrong on a single one of them.  Let’s hope voters have a heart this year.  

LESSON #3: A LITTLE LADY NAMED “OLIVIA” MIGHT DESERVE AN OSCAR TOO— The Academy was busy the year trying to bomb developing a “popular film” category (one more time, with feeling, just let Paddington 2 win straight up, end of discussion and need) when they could be making special awards elsewhere.  As stated in our Facebook discussion group, casting and stunts come to mind.  I think a little lady named “Olivia” makes quite a compelling case and she has four legs.  IndieWire blew my mind this week to educate me that the same dog, a female 15-pound West Highland White Terrier, starred prominently in three films: Game NightWidows, and Insatiable.  Her name is Olivia and she was excellent in the arms of Viola Davis hatching or scheme or getting drenched on blood from the hands of Jason Bateman.  Hand that pooch an honorary Oscar!

LESSON #4: LET THE LADIES CLOSE OUT YOUR “NOIR-VEMBER”— Speaking of Widows, while Steve McQueen’s film makes its theatrical run as a polished modern noir potboiler, turn back the hands of time to a few hidden gems to close our your November noir push.  Chicago-based film critic Angelica Jade Bastien of The Vulture published a dynamite little list of ten female-led noir films for fans of McQueen’s film.  Make it a weekend project to celebrate the end of November.  Let the JustWatch search engine tell you where the titles are available for streaming or rental.  


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: 2018 Thanksgiving Soapbox Special

(Image: Tekla Design)

For quite some time, I’ve noticed something off to me scanning through hot takes, sifting through click bait, and participating in many film discussion threads across social media, including right here in the Feelin’ Film circle.  It’s a lack of clear contrast between a pair of opposite hot button terms which manifest themselves as figurative hills people seem to go to die on. No, it’s not “masterpiece” this time.

I’m talking about “subjective” and “objective” when it comes to film criticism or evaluation.  Too often lately, I hear or read people, both professional and amateur in background mind you, put the -ly ending on either of those two terms to create what they think is an adverb of defense to strengthen some silly descriptive point of “good” or “bad” they are trying to make about a movie.  When I see it happen, I first think about that great Inigo Montoya quote-turned-meme from The Princess Bride of “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”  I second think about, because I can’t help myself as a schoolteacher that grades things, circling where the communicated flaws of logic or sense are with my invisible internet red pen.

The duel between objective and subjective is a gray area of thinking that doesn’t have a black-and-white answer of right or wrong.  It is more of a sliding scale between prudent and careless presentation of facts and opinions. I think this young podcaster and YouTuber named Houston Coley of Blockbusted really talked the surface of this debate out well.  Take a look:

I think the kid is spot on about a few things.  I agree with him that factual elements, particularly technical qualities, can be cited in film criticism, quality can be factual in nature, and, most of all, that a critic should define their terms.  Let’s do that. I love pulling from the dictionary to highlight a term in my film reviews, so let’s go there first as if I’m Inigo Montoya’s next step of offering correction.

SUBJECTIVE Dependent on or taking place in a person’s mind rather than the external world, based on a given person’s experience, understanding, and feelings; personal or individual (source)

OBJECTIVE— Existing independent of or external to the mind; actual or real, based on observable phenomena; empirical, uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices (source)

I lay all of that out for this soapbox because, maybe more definitively than Houston’s talk, I am one critic that wholeheartedly thinks there is room for both terms in film criticism.  With discretion, one can judge separately with one’s head as well as with one’s heart. It is a discipline I seek and I wish more people attempted to better clarify their thoughts.

Those of you frequent Feelin’ Film Discussion Group participants know I’m the “favorite” versus “best” guy.  That’s subjective (favorite) versus objective (best) at its simplest and I strive to delineate that often wherever I represent my work.  For example, I adore Anaconda knowing full well it’s a ridiculously cheesy movie.  At the same time, I can respect the hell out of Schindler’s List without ever wanting to watch it again as if it’s some cherished holiday tale.  One is a favorite. One is among the respected best of the art form. Rare movies for me are ever both and when that happens it’s beautiful, welcome, and earned.

Once I ever share this mentality or stir this debate in a discussion, I get the same pushbacks.  Even the mere introduction of the idea of “objective” criticism and its possibilities bring out the stalwart “all art (everything) is subjective” ranters.  They are often the kind of people that don’t listen to, care, or respect any opinion but their own. They lack an open mind of compromise or a listening ear or empathy.  Their frustration point, where they show the inability to explain their stance or the existence of opposing stances, normally rears its ugly head when a combative line like “don’t tell me what I can and cannot like” comes out.  If you hear or read that, they’re done trying, if they ever really attempted in the first place.

If you live and die on that subjective hill, so be it.  “To each their own,” as us pragmatic people say against your pushy dos and don’ts.  If you have made it this far in the editorial and are open and willing to listen, all I’m saying is step back and try some objectivity on for size, or at least the candor of it with your communication in discussions and debates.  Be balanced. Be even-handed. Be fair. Separate personal from impersonal. Step back for a second to see the other sides of things. Find common understanding and that goes back to defining terms.

What does the objective end look like when talking about a film?  Well, the easiest way to say it is: Look for the purpose. Circle back to the cited definition of “objective.”  One of its biggest distinctions is the clause about “based on observable phenomena.” Do some homework to learn the qualities of a great film.  If you’re a beginner there, start with this easy piece from Penny Flores of MS Films that highlights five basic elements.  Another nice and approachable take comes from the Now You See It channel on YouTube:

Here’s a quick sidebar of “buyer beware.” Even that term “great” is a loaded landmine in its own right, a word that is thrown around too flippantly and too easily in weak hyperbole.  Everything or too many things just have to be “great” for some reason. Have more nuance. Show more descriptive degrees. Get a thesaurus and use a more interesting and less ambiguous word.  I digress yet still plead for better while we’re here.

My teacher brain translates “based on observable phenomena” as having specific criteria in mind.  To me, that’s the quantifiable separator between “subjective” and “objective.” That’s also the thing most people who carelessly snipe the “objectively great” or “objectively bad” labels can’t present to backup their supposed take.  Those that can back up their words are the ones that walk the walk after talking the talk. I don’t see much of that and it’s a shame folks aren’t willing to put the minor amount of work in.

Criteria sounds like a grading scale to me, and a good teacher never uses the same grading scale for all assignments.  They specialize those rubrics for each assignment. I know I would grade a task in P.E. different than an essay in Language Arts.  We film lovers and armchair critics can bring those tailored approaches to different genres and disciplines in the very same way. Start with the technical side.  Use some of those elements Flores article or the qualifiers from the Now You See It video as the list of what to grade. Lay that out and cite those measures when you critique a film.  That becomes your intelligent and discerning spine which allows for purpose to be examined and craft to be respected.

After that, balance that with the subjective.  Shout from your stump all the feels, emotions, likes, and dislikes you encountered.  Those are the personal tingles and will always be the lasting good stuff. No one can take those away from you and they have their sprawling place.  But I’ll say it again. There’s room for both. Applying a little objectivity doesn’t take away from subjectivity, not in the least. If anything, their intelligent and mindful combination make for a more well-rounded overall opinion complete with a greater appreciation of multiple perspectives and, in the end, the film itself.  Try it sometime. Welcome a little head into your heart.

(Image: aecsoftware.com)

 


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.