What We Learned This Week: July 1-14

LESSON #1: SCARLETT JOHANSSON IS A THERMOMETER FOR CASTING HEAT— The Avengers star sparked social media fires the last two weeks by initially accepting a role as a transgender male for the film Rub & Tug.  The movie is helmed by her Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders, creating quite an echo to the whitewashing backlash she received there.  Detractors rightfully cited the inequality of opportunities for transgender performers to be cast in transgender roles, or any mainstream role for that matter.  Johannson’s callous comeback to the criticism did not help and the Twitterverse reacted with smite. Luckily, Scarlett thought the wiser, left the role, and offered a statement of contrition. Between this and Ghost in the Shell, this is two strikes for Johansson when most people barely ever get one.  She needs to think before she signs or hire better management. On the bright side, she’ll always have Black Widow to save her Q rating and that long-planned solo film just picked up a director in little-known Aussie filmmaker Cate Shortland.  At least that’s good news for her.

LESSON #2: MOVIE EXECUTIVES ARE AWARE OF OBVIOUS POINTS— Short-sighted armchair movie audiences (and people with their own outlets) like to throw their hands in the air and wonder how studios can honestly produce and release what they see to be terrible movies compounded from a mountain of bad choices.  Guess what, the powers that be aren’t as blind as you think. “Candid” is just a nice way to say “bluntly honest” and solid example (other than the usual awesomeness of Kevin Feige) cropped up recently.  In June, Warner Bros. film chairman Toby Emmerich opened up for a very frank interview with Entertainment Weekly.  When asked about film performance and what types of films are working right now, Emmerich simply stated “I think the good movies work better. Somebody once said the best business strategy in motion pictures in quality.” Countering when Rotten Tomatoes was brought up on DCEU films, he followed that with “I would say no matter what, the better the movie is the more advantage it is.”  See, that’s a guy who gets it and a classic case of “it’s easier said than done.” Even with the bottom line in mind, they know improvement is needed.

LESSON #3: IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START AN OSCAR CAMPAIGN— It’s not arm-twisting “For Your Consideration” swag quite yet, but the PR firm that represents Emily Blunt and John Krasinski recently sent out a small and simple reminder package for A Quiet Place, complete with a letter of superlatives and copy of the film.  Yes, the Oscars are almost eight months away, but if you’ve got a good film, flaunt it and shout it from the mountaintops.  If a February release like Get Out can last over a year to remain in the minds of Oscar voters, so can March’s successful blockbuster surprise.  You don’t have to push hard, but you do have to keep on pushing. Go get you some hardware, John!

LESSON #4: THE UGLY DETAILS ARE COMING— A Harvey Weinstein interview ran this week in The Spectator where he admits “I did offer them acting jobs in exchange for sex, but so did and still does everyone.”  This was just a sitdown for a magazine. Imagine the court transcripts of sworn testimonies when the time comes.  Names have been named all over, but when the ugly details get put into print or words, this deplorable chapter of Hollywood is going to get worse.

LESSON #5: ONLINE JOURNALISM IS BECOMING AN ENDANGERED SPECIES NEXT TO ITS PRINT ANCESTOR AND GOOD CREATORS ARE THE CASUALTIES— Because there are so many to choose from in a saturated internet, film and entertainment websites come and go all the time.  Few notice because they move on to the next bookmark or scrolled headline. What people don’t realize is that closures (like The Dissolve) mean precious paying jobs for so many freelance writers and critics.  I’ve had an outlet suddenly (Examiner.com) close on me before and now it’s happening to colleagues of mine over at The A.V. Club, whose parent company is financially sputtering to the point of putting its shingles up for sale.  Other than deep-pocketed benefactors and advertising revenue, money has always been hard to scratch together on the free internet.  Newspapers at least get your quarters and dollars every time you pick one up. Websites don’t unless you’re clicking away on their borders.  Resources are scarce and when the money disappears, so do the opportunities. It’s a shame.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

Episode 104: A Quiet Place

This week we’re discussing the new horror thriller A Quiet Place a couple of weeks sooner than we planned after a surprise opening weekend in which it hauled in over $50 million. John Krasinski’s film is an intelligent, family-centered, emotionally-driven creature feature that is as great as it is unique. Joining us for this conversation is special first-time guest Patrick Willems, YouTube Video Creator and host of the We Heart Hartnett Podcast. 

What We’ve Been Up To – 00:01:17

(Aaron – Sleeping Beauty)
(Patch – A Kim Jong Il Production by Paul Fischer)
(Patrick – Unsane)

A Quiet Place Review – 0:20:57

The Connecting Point – 1:34:18


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MOVIE REVIEW: A Quiet Place

A QUIET PLACE (2018)

1 Hour and 30 Minutes (PG-13)

A Quiet Place first came to my attention when its marketing team released one of the best teaser trailers I’ve ever seen. Edited brilliantly and with no dialogue, it created a mysterious tension that left viewers anxious to find out more. So as to not be spoiled, I immediately avoided any further promotional material, and my viewing experience was definitely the better for it.

Directed by John Krasinski (Jim Halpert of The Office fame) this horror thriller follows a family of four who must live life in silence while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound. It is based on an original story idea by childhood friends Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, and though not Krasinski’s first time in the director’s chair, it does mark the first time he’s starred in a film with (and directed) his wife, Emily Blunt. Krasinski lead the film as Lee, the family’s loving and protective patriarch.

It takes no time at all for A Quiet Place to start building its world. In an opening sequence, we meet Lee’s family as they scrounge for food, medicine, and supplies in a deserted town. It’s the kind of post-apocalyptic setting that many viewers will be familiar with having spent a majority of the last decade following survivors around in The Walking Dead or playing video games such as The Last of Us. Lee’s family seem to be on their own and have developed a unique sign language that allows them to communicate without speaking. We also see them tip-toe carefully around and it is immediately apparent just how much these people fear whatever it is that is out there causing them to live in silence. It is a fantastic beginning and one that sets the stage perfectly for the unexpected story that is about to unfold.

A Quiet Place is really three things. It is a monster movie, where an unknown species has arrived on earth, possibly via meteorite crash (but honestly it doesn’t matter how). They are blind, heavily armored, and instinctively attack any sound they hear. Lee’s family lives in isolation and must carefully manage to avoid drawing the attention of these creatures, which have slowly eradicated most life from the area. For them, whatever else may be happening in the world is of no consequence, because A Quiet Place is also a survival story. Lee, his pregnant wife Evelyn (Blunt), and their two children, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Regan (Millicent Simmonds), have developed a system of life that keeps them safe and relatively happy, considering the circumstances. They’ve worked hard to prepare for the arrival of their newborn and Lee is beginning to teach the children some of the tasks he is responsible for. A Quiet Place is also an emotional family drama. Children growing up in an awful monster-filled world still must go through stages of maturation. Lee’s family deals with the feelings of both children, all while coping with some pretty massive grief. It is in these relationships between each of the characters that A Quiet Place becomes something great. The choice to keep this story small with a one-family cast creates more time for character development of the entire group and the incredible acting by all elevates the film significantly. This is a movie where the first line of audible dialogue doesn’t come for 40 minutes, so the heavy lifting is accomplished entirely through facial gestures and body language.

When it comes to the monsters, their design is superb. They are reminiscent of a xenomorph from Alien, and there are a couple of scenes that definitely feel like an homage to that classic. What makes them terrifying, though, is the film’s sound design. For a movie called A Quiet Place (with almost no dialogue) to succeed, sound design had to be phenomenal, and it is. Every creek of the floorboard, breathless scream, and clicking of the monster’s vocal chords can be felt. This is an intense film, and the sound design coupled with incredibly strong cinematography keeps you anxious for nearly its entire runtime. Oh, and there are jump scares, but they are fairly spread out and expertly placed. This isn’t the kind of film that relies on them to carry it. The horror comes from the emotionally draining family situations as much as it does the big scary monster.

VERDICT

What Krasinski has accomplished with A Quite Place is really something special. It’s also staggering to see Michael Bay’s name attached to this (as producer) and have it turn out this good, but here we are. The technical elements of the film are top notch and the performances are marvelous all around. There may be minor plot holes or slightly unrealistic scenarios, but this is a creature feature and none of that detracted from my viewing experience one bit. To sum it up, this is the best Cloverfield Universe film ever made and it’s not even part of that series. A Quiet Place sets a new standard for what a horror thriller can be by providing an experience unlike anything audiences have experienced in a very long time. It is emotionally draining, intelligent, and clever. All while maintaining a constant sense of dread. Krasinski has made a terrifying, must-see film for fans of this genre.

Rating:


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

MOVIE REVIEW: My Little Pony: The Movie

My Little Pony: The Movie (2017)



Going In

Earth ponies and unicorns and pegasi, oh my! My Little Pony: The Movie has arrived and I could not be happier. For most of a year, my pony-obsessed daughter has been looking forward to this film and no matter what I think of it, seeing her excited over a movie brings joy to my soul. This feature-length film is set in the universe of the extremely popular Hasbro-produced television series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. A dark force threatens Ponyville, and the Mane Six must journey beyond Equestria and get help from new friends to save their home. This movie should be a pretty typical fantasy adventure with lots of comedy, cuteness, and horse puns. I’ll admit that I’ve not watched anywhere near all 163 episodes of the cartoon series, nor am I a brony, but I have seen the show a few times and found it sweet and entertaining. I’m going in with an open mind and expecting to savor the experience of seeing my daughter full of glee. And this film has sea ponies. Sea ponies are cool.



COMING OUT

Well, that was unexpected. Come to find out, My Little Pony: The Movie is actually pretty great. And not just for fans, although I can only assume they will be extremely satisfied as well, but for families unfamiliar with the ponies too. I can genuinely say that I had a wonderful time watching this film.

You wants reasons? I’ve got reasons. To start with, this movie feels like a 1990’s Disney classic. This isn’t a film that deals with current cultural issues directly, but rather focuses primarily on one thing – the power of friendship. To be fair, there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to life lessons. Friends can accomplish more as a team, and trusting each other and utilizing individual strengths is key. But the presentation is as enjoyable as ever and the message still hits home.

Another thing that reminded me of old Disney, and elevated this film considerably, is the music. There are some great new songs and the vocal talents of performers like Sia, Emily Blunt, and Kristin Chenoweth are not wasted. Several of the songs have a strong orchestral component and feel like they could be Broadway stage productions. This was a real bright spot and we found ourselves immediately listening to the soundtrack on the car ride home. In a landscape of animated movies that usually feature over-popified tunes much like you’d find on the radio, MLP: The Movie‘s choice of music stands out as a breath of fresh air.

Another strong aspect of the film is character development. When compared with something like The LEGO Ninjago Movie, which only managed to really give its lead character an arc, MLP: The Movie does a great job of giving four of the Mane (main) Six something to do. One slight criticism is that Fluttershy and Applejack are somewhat lost in the shuffle, but there is enough attention spread out over the rest of the characters that it makes up for that. The newly introduced characters don’t have a lot of screen time, but each is well drawn and enhances the story. An additional plus is that we essentially have a multi-racial cast, all with unique qualities and all working together for the greater good. Hollywood (and Washington) take note.

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any eye-roll moments, but luckily just a few (one in particular during a joke about cell service that made me cringe). The horse puns are indeed plentiful and hilarious. I laughed a lot and the movie transitions between its emotional beats very well, with the humor never feeling out of place. Also, I now have a favorite pony. Yes… I do.

Verdict

I’ve jokingly poked fun at my daughter for years due to her love for My Little Pony, but now I get it. This colorful, goofy world has a deeper lore than I gave it credit for. It’s beautifully animated and in a different style than anything else on the big screen this year. Friendship matters and My Little Pony: The Movie manages to succeed in telling a familiar story through the use of incredible music and its great cast of characters. I wasn’t prepared to come out of the theater thinking this was fantastic, but here we are. The highest praise I can give may be that I now am anxious to check out the television series and learn more about the world of Equestria. Consider me a convert. If being a brony is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

Rating:

GUEST OPINION by Ashlyn White (Superfan)

My Little Pony: The Movie was AWESOME in every way. The songs are reminiscent of Broadway musicals, and I’ve been singing and listening to the soundtrack ever since I came out of the theater. I have watched the entire TV series and can say that this movie did a great job keeping consistent with the show. Another strong spot of the movie was the introduction of the characters. When they are all first introduced, even the people who haven’t seen the show (like my dad) were able to understand the different personalities of the Mane Six. All in all, this mane-tastic film is one I will remember for a long time to come.

Rating:


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