What We Learned This Week: June 10-16

LESSON #1: STATISTICS DON’T LIE, SO WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT— Riding the wave of examination and expansion for equality in the film industry, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative from USC revealed the results of a very telling data study that examined the demographics of movie critics.  To no surprise to anyone paying attention, 78% of the reviews written on Rotten Tomatoes were done by white males.  The news of that data ignited plenty of torches and hushed excuses. At an awards show, Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson spoke wonderfully on those statistics, how they do not reflect the movie-going population, how critical exposure matters (just ask Colin Trevorrow or the notion further expanded by this strong piece in The Lily by Monica Castillo), and how some films are made for certain audiences beyond white males and that fair and matching reviews are needed.  She wasn’t a bit wrong, and I say that as a white male movie critic myself. There is room for more and room for better. The questions become what steps can be made to create a better balance.  One encouraging example is seeing both the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals designate 20% of their press credential assignments to minorities. We can’t grow film critics on trees, but we can look deeper into the forest and grant more opportunities in that way.  That said, this is still a competitive field and talent still wins. If a minority critic can earn those gets and those publishing spots, more power to them. Competition raises everyone’s game.

LESSON #2: WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT, MOVIES ARE A BUSINESS FIRST AND AN ART EXPOSITION SECOND— First Reformed star and upcoming Blaze director Ethan Hawke appeared and spoke at the Seattle International Film Festival accepting their annual Outstanding Achievement in Cinema award.  The buzziest outcome of that was his quote that movies are “an art form that’s completely eaten by business.”  I know this sparked a lively discussion in the Feelin’ Film Discussion Group on Facebook this week.  This longing for the art to shine over the monetary success comes up often and the wording of my lesson title is my usual reply to that topic or question.  From the day they started charging for tickets to see these things called movies, it was always from then on going to be about the business.  Once people made livings and livelihoods out of participating in this art form, those roots were going nowhere and now they’ve inflated to the millions and billions of dollars pumping through movies.  I know I’ve reached a point as both a mature movie fan and also an experienced consumer (make no mistake, we are all both) where I’ve become more selective with what I’m going to spend my money on and also more appreciative when I encounter something that stands out as the art form underneath the profit potential.  If we, as a collective movie-going public, ever needed to rebel against the business end to demand better from the art standpoint, the only way to do that is hit the industry in the wallet where it counts.  Don’t give garbage your money and every dollar given to a deserving piece of cinematic art supports their cause and future careers.  Indulge in this entertainment with that mindfulness and you’ll be a better viewer.

LESSON #3: DISNEY/STAR WARS WHINERS, BE THANKFUL YOU DIDN’T GET THE FULL GEORGE LUCAS— Likely still rolling in a Scrooge McDuck-level money pit filled with the billions of dollars he made selling off his properties, a George Lucas book quote made news this week because it shared what his post-Return of the Jedi sequels would have been based on.  Take a gander at his premise based on “a microbiotic world” and silly-sounding “Whills.”  Flawed as Episodes VII and VIII may be, if that stuff from Lucas sounds better than the compelling chapters of closure for old favorite characters competing with elevation of new characters from J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, then I’m sorry.  You can’t be helped and your inflexibility ruins it for everyone (see last week’s WWLTW because now you sound like those a-holes that bully on social media).

LESSON #4: GET ONE THING RIGHT BEFORE STARTING ANOTHER— I don’t think anyone at Warner Bros. knows what they are doing or how to properly make up their mind, including new DC Films President Walter Hamada replacing comic-connected favorite Geoff Johns.  They now have two Joker-centered films coming down the assembly line, a Jared Leto standalone extending the current DCEU and a low-budget 1980s-set origin story take coming from The Hangover trilogy director Todd Phillips, producer Martin Scorsese, and starring Joaquin Phoenix.  Combine that with the reports that the upcoming Matt Reeves-directed The Batman will be a younger Batman likely eliminating Ben Affleck and you have to ask the WTF questions.  What’s going on here? Are we pushing forward post-Justice League or are we rebooting and trying again?  Both can’t exist credibly. Which one matters more?  Warner Bros. needs to pick a lane and stick with it.

LESSON #5: COMEDY IS THE MOST SUBJECTIVE FILM GENRE, PERIOD— An esteemed panel of film critics (including Scott Tobias, Bilge Ebiri, Brian Tallerico, and Amy Nicholson) collaborated for a list of the “50 Greatest Comedies of the 21st Century” for Rolling Stone magazine.  The results, topped by Christopher Guest’s Best in Show, could not be more all over the place between eclectic spirit and pretentious pandering.  The opening blurb of the article admits humor is a “seriously subjective topic.” Go right ahead and add the extreme hyperbole of “the most.”  This task was impossible without some criteria or metrics, which the list and article gleefully (and carelessly) neglect. The triggers for horror and even drama are so much more universal than the fickle tastes and randomness of comedy.  We may say laughs come easy sometimes but they don’t. Someone’s #1 film is going to be someone’s reviled trash of eye rolls or hate and everyone has an opinion.


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 elementary 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, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties on a podcast every now and then  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

Minisode 043: First Reformed

Fresh out of our screenings of First Reformed, we jump on the mic to talk through what we just saw. Paul Schrader’s latest film hit us hard with its intellectually profound script regarding matters of faith and environmentalism, providing plenty of questions and few answers. One of the strengths of the film is its ability to be a powerful conversation-starter, and this episode is proof of that.

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What We Learned This Week: August 27-September 2

LESSON #1: THERE’S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “FAVORITE” AND “GREATEST”— I’ve used this very lesson’s line quite often in the Feelin’ Film discussion group over the year.  As a credentialed film critic who is still a starving fan of cinema, I cannot help but wear two hats and grade with two scales, and I’m completely at peace with that.  However, thanks to sites like Letterboxd, we rank things to death and I, for one, get hung up on the labeling because there is a stark difference between “favorite” and “greatest.”  “Favorite” is personal taste while “greatest” is more objective and reflective in measurement.  It’s beautiful when they are the same film, but there are many cases when that doesn’t happen.  The most recent topic that reminded me of the necessity for separate distinctions was the recent BBC poll ranking the 100 greatest comedies of all time.  Comedy is the most subjective of all film genres, where the divide between “favorite” and “greatest” is both distant and touchy from one person to the next.  Comedy also has the proclivity to not age well.  Combine those reactions together and the dissection comments of “what about ____,” “why isn’t ____ higher,” and “I can’t believe ___ isn’t on there ” reminded me that comedy is personal and even the trolls have room for a say.  Then, I looked at the years and it led me to the next lesson.

LESSON #2: MILLENNIALS DON’T REALLY CARE ABOUT CLASSIC FILMS— For the multitude of younger audiences circulating the web today, the BBC’s top 10 was entirely comprised of films older than 1993’s Groundhog Day, topped by 1959’s Some Like it Hot (a completely deserving top film IMO).  I wonder how many of the butthurt Millennials who were dropping those comments from Lesson #1 have even seen a Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton film.  This lesson title is lifted from a recent New York Post article that hit the truth of wonderment with a ton of bricks.  The piece reported polling data from FYE.com of 1,000 Millennials and 1,000 Americans over 50 on seeing top IMDb-rated films.  The results were eye-opening.  I get that differences in quality and tone from classic films to modern films and how audiences and tastes have changed.  Still, I will stand up as a guy calling for young people to respect history and educate themselves before they rant.  Learn the roots that inspired the films we’re watching today.  Go discover the endless buried treasure that comprises lists like the BBC’s Top 100 Comedies and the IMDb Top 250.  Even if they don’t like what they find, they’ll at least be an educated voice instead of an ignorant one.

LESSON #3: LET’S VISIT JESSE AND CELINE EVERY NINE YEARS UNTIL THEY DIE— If note-worthy director Michael Apted can revisit the same group of British citizens every seven years in his beloved Up documentary series that started at 7 Up in 1964 and turned 56 Up in 2012, then let’s have a narrative feature do the same.  Word fluttered recently that there is hope for a fourth Before film from director Richard Linklater and stars/co-writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  To whatever studio gets that pitch, move heaven and earth to make it happen in time for 2022.  Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have built a trilogy of perfection since 1995.  How beautiful would it be to follow the star-crossed couple of Jesse and Celine from the twentysomethings to their silvery senior years? Gosh, that’s a good dream!

LESSON #4: L.A. CONFIDENTIAL IS CURTIS HANSON’S MASTERPIECE— During the recent Noir City Festival in Chicago, the famed Music Box Theatre in Chicago hosted a 20th-anniversary screening of Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential, complete with author James Ellroy in the house for a rousing introduction and post-film talk back.  Here fellow Chicago critic Jeff York and I talk about the experience on the Page 2 Screen podcast on the International Screenwriters’ Association Network.  Twenty years ago, when I was just getting into movies as a high school grad approaching his freshman year of undergrad, I was lucky enough to discover L.A. Confidential on the big screen and it was a gateway drug to learning about the noir genre and smart procedural films after a decade-long buffet of 90s action films built as trashy and excessive glamour projects (go look at the 90s filmographies of Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger).  The film should have beat Titanic for the Best Picture Oscar that year and it still stands as a watershed today.  Curtis Hanson died a year ago this month, leaving behind a resume of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Wonder Boys, White Dog, The River Wild, and 8 Mile.  L.A. Confidential is his unquestioned masterpiece and one of my Top 5 all-time films.  If you’ve never seen it, treat yourself.

LESSON #5: THE WORLD IGNORED THE RETURN OF STEVEN SODERBERGH AND IT’S A DAMN SHAME— Speaking of masterful directors, Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky deserved better at the August box office.  The whole month has been a hot mess and dumping grounds for trash left and right for the last three weeks, but Soderbergh’s heist film is a gem.  The guy came out of retirement and delivered a crowd-pleasing winner.  I’m surprised in the summer of Baby Driver that Logan Lucky couldn’t find a similar niche audience.  Here’s to hoping it finds a sweet spot on the next level of VOD, Netflix, and home viewing.  Consider that film a current treat to wash down the Curtis Hanson one with a smile.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.