What We Learned This Week: October 6-13

LESSON #1: PEOPLE ARE NOT GETTING ALL OF JOKER, INCLUDING TOP CRITICS— There is a whole bunch more going on in the Todd Phllips hit than people are understanding.  Anyone who is calling that movie empty, meandering, or plotless doesn’t know what they are watching.  Watching is one thing and absorption is another. Some viewers are good at processing movies quickly or fully and others are not.  You can see that at every level, from a Letterboxd fanboy to a headlining critic.  I’ll be one that says those folks are definitely missing out.  Our guy Emmanuel Noisette lays it all out, so get your Kool-Aid glass ready! 

 

LESSON #2: WILL SMITH NEEDS A NEW AGENT— Dammit, Big Willy.  Even north of 50 years old, you still have charisma for days.  You are a joy in just about every movie you grace with your presence, including Aladdin and Gemini Man this year, but you are picking lackluster and even terrible projects to waste your glowing talent on.  Feelin’ Film host Aaron White recently posted the last decade of Will’s resume via the Silver Screen Riot podcast:

Yikes! That is one heck of a losing streak.  Will, you are rarely the problem, but you need to make some better business and professional decisions.

LESSON #3: MARVEL ARE NOT DIMINISHING ACTING OPPORTUNITIES— Former Friends icon Jennifer Aniston ranted a little this week in Variety and poked the anti-Marvel bear when she cited available roles diminishing in this era of blockbusters.  While she’s plenty right that the “midbudget original movie” market has shrunk and shifted to the streaming platforms (she should know, she makes those movies on Netflix all the time), Marvel is not the problem.  If anything, look at the sizes of the ensembles they bring together. Look how much cache those actors and actresses earn, even for being a bit player. The raised Q-rating they get for being in a fan-friendly movie does wonders for their career.  The wave isn’t missing you, Ms. Aniston. You’re missing the wave. Maybe you need a new agent like Will Smith.

LESSON #4: LEARN A LITTLE MORE ABOUT CINEMA AND SEEK OUT SOME GREATS OF PRODUCTION DESIGNS— All the green screens in the world cannot beat a legit practical set or location that has been artfully created into something fabulous and unique.  Enjoy this stellar video on some of the best production designs ever and seek out where to see some of these movies on the JustWatch app, which has now merged with Letterboxd!  My vote is The Grand Budapest Hotel.  


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.  (#118)

What We Learned This Week: September 22-October 5

LESSON #1: BE CAREFUL WITH OPEN INTERPRETATION— Had I written this column last week, this first lesson would have be titled “We’re Not Ready for Joker.” I saw all the lead-up buzz, all the fearful theories, and all the wild labels and had to turn it off. I wanted to stop and see the movie before adding more guesswork. After seeing it, I hunkered down in my review to stick to the film as much as possible and I’m glad I did. Too many reviews I’m seeing are diving straight to commentary interpretation and not to the critique of what’s on screen. That’s feeding the buzz monster in my opinion. That’s making a review about theory and not evidence. World of Reel nailed this by saying the hoopla can become the media’s fault and not the movie. Worse, those writers lock that opinion in my-opinion-is-the-only-opinion-that-matters cement and throw the openness of interpretation out the window. Including personal takes in a review is fine, but it can’t be the whole thing and it has to be flexible for discussion or be able to acknowledge other opinions are possible. Be careful, critics (and all fans for that matter). Know that you’re stepping out there for judgment when you go about it with a closed mind to accepting other opinions.

P.S.– Since we’re talking about Joker, here’s my extra plea to #FilmTwitter:

LESSON #2: MARTIN SCORSESE IS OUT OF TOUCH— Storied director and historical film connoisseur Martin Scorese isn’t a fan of comic book movies. Normally, that’s a “to each their own” place, but he went further to say they are are not cinema. More specifically, his damning line in an Empire interview was “It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” Dammit, Marty. I love you and I’m not supposed to use this word, but you’re “wrong.” See Lesson #1 about open interpretation. Try telling that to all of us blubbering in our popcorn during the MCU’s most dramatic moments or being inspired to be better people watching Christopher Reeve or Gal Gadot. Sorry, Mr. Scorsese, but you’re out of touch. If you don’t believe all of us fans, Marty, take the word of peers.  I think Joss Whedon and James Gunn said it best on Twitter:

LESSON #3: WE DESERVE MORE G-RATED MOVIES— I love this article from The Sydney Morning Herald shared in the Feelin’ Film Facebook group (shout out to Caless Davis) on Friday. Family-friendly films on this entry rating level are an endangered species. It’s fair that modern progressive times have created more thematic infusion of heavier themes, but we cannot abandon the base and entry level. We need to demand more all-ages offerings and use our attendance to see that they become successful enough for more to be made. 

LESSON #4: HAND-DRAWN ANIMATION AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL HAS A CHANCE— Speaking of G-rated movies, Walt Disney Animation’s newly installed president (and film director) Jennifer Lee was asked what changes could be coming during her regime.  One of the possibilities was a return to hand-drawn animation.  “Being open” is good enough where we can put the Lloyd Christmas GIFs to good use.  The hope is music to my ears and what a treat a traditional animated film would be!


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.  (#117)

What We Learned This Week: September 15-21

LESSON #1: JUST BECAUSE A FILM PRESENTS A MAN WITH STRONG FEELINGS DOESN’T MEAN IT’S AUTOMATICALLY A SLICE OF TOXIC MASCULINITY— I’ll share a little inside chatter as a film critic who watched a closed screening of Ad Astra with just critics, no public audience.  Even though we all will go home and hope to write our slice of brilliant and engaging criticism, we all still talk shop.  Color me crazy as, admittedly, a white middle-aged male, but I was surprised and even a little rubbed the wrong way when I heard a few peers vehemently drop the toxic masculinity card on Ad Astra.  Sure, parental issues can be overplayed in movies.  When that happens, I look to the approach it took before I label and curse.  For me, I saw a movie that showed the stresses saddled on men. I don’t go too deep on that tangent in my own review, but I highly recommend my Chicago peer Leo Brady’s review of Ad Astra on AMovieGuy.com.  He hits the topic hard and pushes back.  When you see the movie, I’d love to read or hear your take and vibe.

LESSON #2: NO AUDIENCE MEMBER WANTS MORE ADVERTISEMENTS— After a recent Hollywood Reporter poll revealed the majority of moviegoers want fewer trailers before a movie, a nearly universal declaration, a story arrived this week of two theater companies adding even more pre-movie advertisements.  The Regal and Cinemark chains are proposing to add business advertising before the already excessive trailers.  AMC, the nation’s top chain, is staunchly against it.  I get that advertising pays the bills for these studio-squeezed theater chains that lose more and more of the windfall cut each year, but the top loser here is still the consumer.  No one needs more of this stuff.  This only creates more incentive to come into movies late and not spend your concession dollars on site.

LESSON #3: DIGITAL PERFORMERS HAVE RIGHTS— I love, love, love what Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes performance capture star (and future Venom 2 director) Andy Serkis is stumping for.  Serkis is rallying for compensation and renumeration for reusing digital performances, especially those that are no longer with us.  His core questions were: ““When your performance becomes data it can be manipulated, reworked or sampled, much like the music industry samples vocals and beats. If we can do that, where does the intellectual property lie? Who owns authorship of the performance? Where are the boundaries?”  He went further to talk about actors being unethically used against cultural sensitivities since they can be replaced and manipulated with other imagery.  Top to bottom, Andy brings up an outstanding issue that deserves attention.  I look forward to seeing where this story goes and who steps up to listen.

LESSON #4: YOUR OPENING DAY MENU OF DISNEY+ IS IMMENSE AND AMAZING— The full list of content starting on Day 1 of Disney+ is obscene.  Click on this link for the whole list and put on a football helmet with a chin-strap.  The buttoned up strap will hold your jaw and the helmet itself could stave of a concussion when you fall from wherever you’re standing or sitting reading that list.


 

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.  (#116)

What We Learned This Week: September 1-14

LESSON #1: MY FELLOW FILM CRITICS, CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE— As a press credentialed and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic myself, I’m sorry in advance, but I need to partially call out a one of my own. The first is Alex Billington of First Showing for being too much about being F1RST.  His work is solid and his site is one of the more dependable websites for actual movie news and less click bait, but, simply put, he broke the rules he agreed upon when he put on the Venice Film Festival press badge.  He was upset when one of his reviews broke embargo rules.

Here’s the link to the “open letter” editorial that followed. For those of you playing at home, we critics are bound to something like reverse deadlines, namely firm times requested by the studios that are the earliest reactions and reviews are allowed to run.  I don’t like them anymore than Alex does, but they are the rules and the studios or festivals have the right to control thier message and product.  Abiding by embargoes are part of the deal of being so damn lucky enough to be in Venice, Telluride, Cannes, or Toronto seeing a huge movie for free before everyone else.  Access is the reward before your page clicks.  Be happy you have it in the first place.  We are spoiled every week by an embarassment of riches for shiny pieces of entertainment.  Besides, we critics get to cheat with social media before full reviews:

This is where I can agree with Alex.  However, that small shout-out should be enough to keep business and attention going.  Harmony and health take patience.  I don’t like it, but I respect the rules.  People that break them can ruin things for the rest of us lower down the ladder.

LESSON #2: THE ASSIGNED DESCRIPTORS OF “GARBAGE” OR “TRASH” IS NOT PROFESSIONAL FILM CRITICISM— I’ll take another shot at my own kind, but I’ll leave the name out this time.  Call this a general warning for anyone who sounds even close to this, even at at the Letterboxd level.  If, as a supposedly professional film critic, all of your learned expertise, curated reflection, and skillfull high-mindedness within the medium of film, lead you to the molehill peak of calling a film “trash” or “garbage,” then, I’m sorry, you’re not a professional film critic.  You are BS artist of hyperbole and click bait.  You haven’t learned tact.  You haven’t met a thesaurus.  You haven’t learned creativity in putting substance into opinions.  Using that poorly formed wording in what is supposed to be a professional piece is a careless and irresponsible trigger.  And when you don’t back it up, you’re just asking for folks to call into question the quality of your writing, if not the quality of your personal character as well.  Aim higher.  Write better.

LESSON #3: STREAMING SERVICES DESERVE BETTER— Just when I thought the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put a positive public gavel down for the inclusion of films from streaming services in year-end awards for the whole industry to follow, we digress to a story like what came out of the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival this week.  Certain theater vendors would not welcome Netflix or Amazon-backed films to screen for competition during the festival.  This has been silly and elitist for too long.  Have the likes of Roma taught us nothing? Let the art compete.  Source shouldn’t matter.

LESSON #4: YOU NEED TO BE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF IMDB TV— In the recommendation slot of this week’s column, I, a new Amazon Fire Stick owner, have discovered the IMDb TV app.  Their selection of streamable films and shows, which includes award winners like La La Land and Silver Linings Playbook and classics like Dune, High Noon, and The Karate Kid, is outstanding for the free price of sitting through some occasional ads.  Seek it out on your devices and players at home.


 

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.  (#115)

What We Learned This Week: August 25-31

LESSON #1: THERE’S PRICE POINT AND THEN THERE’S STEAL OF A DEAL THAT YOU SIMPLY CANNOT PASS UP— You regular readers know my usual stance on price point.  It is the ultimate decision-maker and motivator of consumerism and it always wins.  Just when you couldn’t think Disney could sweeten the pot more for its Disney+ streaming service, they drop another bombshell.  It’s price by itself AND with the ESPN+ add-in already beat Netflix.  Now, they hit us with the special rate for D23 fan club members that drops the price to under $4 per month when you commit to three years.  If this was a cell phone contract, we would all be wary of being locked into something for that amount of time.  That’s not the case here.  That’s a locked-in price for three years in a streaming business era that just loves to get you signed up early and then jack up the rates.  For less than the price of one expensive cup of exotic coffee a month, you get all of Disney+.  Folks, that’s a regret-free and zero excuse steal.

LESSON #2: ROTTEN TOMATOES DESERVES TO WIN A “MOST IMPROVED” AWARD— For all the Rex Reeds and David Ehrlichs that sink hopes and skew audiences with imagined power, the critical community of Rotten Tomatoes needed an infusion of new voices.  Last August, the Flixster-controlled site drastically updated their Tomatometer Critic Criteria and opened its ranks to a new breed of critics (myself included) that go beyond print journalism and stress inclusion of diversity.  One year later, they have reported their resulting data.  Adding 600 critics was huge. To have 55% of them be women, 60% of them be freelancers, and 10% come from video and podcast sources is even more huge.  Thank you, Rotten Tomatoes, for the impactful initiative and impressive follow-through.  What a facelift!

LESSON #3: THOSE WHO CANNOT DO, TEACH— Quite likely for just about every movie fan who has ever seen Matthew McConaughey work or talk about his craft, “scholarly,” I’m betting, was not the first or even the 100th word to come to mind.  Alas, after four years as a “visiting instructor,” the coolest of cool Academy Award winner has become a full-time film “professor of practice” at the Moody College of Communication within the University of Texas-Austin.  This looks like a true commitment and not a gloryhounding publicity stunt in any shape or form.  From one teacher to another, good for you!  The classroom can use your inspiring energy and voice of experience.  Now, all I picture are the hot-for-teacher students from Raiders of the Lost Ark that faun over and derail Professor Henry Jones with their eyelid mesages.

 

If that starts happening to you, Matt, that’s how you know you’ve made it.  I can hear it now: “I just love these college girls.  I get older and they stay the same age.”

LESSON #4: GERARD BUTLER IS A POOR MAN’S LIAM NEESON— The weekend box office victory of Angel Has Fallen has reminded us that Gerard Butler has a certain successful niche that people pay money to see.  Like the matinee idols of the 90s that came before him and kicked and punched (Van Damme, Seagal) their way victoriously through raucous R-rated action flicks, the 300 star and an arsenal of fireams can do the same thing.  He’s beginning the Liam Neeson route early, right before turning 50 this November.  Make a few more winners like the Fallen series and Butler can hope to equal and maybe supplant Neeson.  He’s found a fan romance in Vulture writer and critic extraordinaire Bilge Ebiri after his “I Think I Love Gerard Butler” editorial this past week.  Great read!

 


 

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.  (#114)

What We Learned This Week: August 18-24

LESSON #1: FIND COMPROMISE WHEN IT CLEARLY BENEFITS BOTH PARTIES— The thunderstorm combination of shock and disappointment rained down this week in the form of tirades (and endless memes) and laments towards Sony Pictures and Disney this week when negotiations between the two studio giants couldn’t settle on an extension of production credit and involvement for the Marvel character of Spider-Man.  Circling back to the original landmark deal from 2015, Marvel was set to only receive 5% of any box office revenue earned by their shared partnership.  Now that we have all seen the surging success built by Spidey’s rub of inclusion with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I can’t say I blame Marvel czar Kevin Feige asking for a bigger cut of the pie.  Still, this is Sony’s property to control and if they think they can make a profitable Spider-Man movie without MCU ties, they can sure try.  All in all, what’s missing is compromise and the fans as the losers. I know Feige asked for that 5% to go up to 50%.  Is that a shade greedy coming from the all-powerful Disney? Maybe. Is pulling the character away from the greater universe he belongs in a little bit of selfish hubris from the same Sony studio that ruined this precious character twice already?  Probably. What I’m calling for is compromise because this deal could be done and the billions can still be made if egos and dollar signs got a little more reasonable.

LESSON #2: “THE LASAGNA RULE”— Let me repeat a great Feelin Film Discussion Group thread over her in WWLTW.  Our follower Joseph Hamrick posted an excellent editorial piece from Steven Volynets on Quillette talking about joy being replaced by negativity in the field of film criticism.  As a credentialed critic myself, I’ve been seeing this among my peers and I liken some of them now to those huffy judges from food judging TV shows like Chopped.  The judges, or critics in this case, always seem to be looking for these impossibly superficial and hyper-personal standards when some dishes (or movies) are not built for excellence and still turn out delicious (or entertaining).  I have deemed this the “The Lasagna Rule.” There are very few ways to dress up lasagna. There’s no color variety or crunch quotient required. It’s a gooey and ugly stack of traditional cheesy, meaty, and pasta-y layers that are going to look like shit on any plate. But, damn, it’s tasty just the way it is. Plenty of movies are that way too and don’t need refinement to be good or successful.  Critics need to change their palette or lens to fit the cinematic dish or restaurant. Dare I say, be more objective…

LESSON #3: GO GET IMPRESSED WITH DIRECTOR’S CUTS OF MOVIES— Be it because of studio tinkering, failed budgets, second thoughts, or artistic purity, I am always fascinated by the origin, existence, and content of notable “director’s cuts” of films.  On the heels of the so-called “Final Cut” of Apocalypse Now hitting IMAX locations this week, the closing WWLTW recommendation slot goes to seeking out these extended visions. World of Reel has a list of six they call better than their originals and IndieWire has a list they consider best and essential.  While you could use my favorite streaming search engine JustWatch to find these titles, I’m betting most are only available on physical media.  Hunt down those libraries!


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.  (#112)

What We Learned This Week: August 11-17

LESSON #1: “YOU KEEP USING THAT WORD. I DO NOT THINK IT MEANS WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS”— No, I’m not calling on Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride to talk about “masterpiece” again.  The word this week that is coming out all wrong from too many people is “monopoly,” as in “Disney is/has a monopoly and needs to be broken up.”  Let me boldface pieces of three variations of the word’s definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:exclusive ownership through legal privilege, command of supply, or concerted action,” “exclusive possession or control,” and “a commodity controlled by one party.”  Look, I’m not a fan of Disney’s dominance any more than the next discerning consumer, but what’s happening isn’t a monopoly.  No matter how many brands they own or manage, Disney not the exclusive or singular entity dictating any possession or control beyond their own property.  There are plenty of other entertainment providers, movie studios, merchandise makers, and whatnot. What’s really going on is sustained success. Monopolies of success aren’t illegal.  The competitors are just aren’t doing as good of business as Disney. If you want to beat Disney, make better products and do better business, plain and simple. So, until Disney buys Sony, Comcast (Universal), Warner Bros., Viacom (Paramount), Netflix, Amazon, and about a dozen smaller shingles where they are the only store on the block, stop calling what them a monopoly.  

 

LESSON #2: JUST MAKE A NEW OR REPACKAGED SPECIALTY BRAND ALREADY— Speaking of Disney and their monstrous image, their larger flaw of vanity is thinking everything with their logo on it has to be family-friendly.  Word around the campfire is that Disney investers are “worried” about the farcical and crude Nazi content of Taika Waititi’s awards season contender Jojo Rabbit and the negative optics it would bring to the brand.  Combine that with the Fox cuts listed in this column space last week and we’re seeing more buyer’s remorse than creative courage. Come on, Disney. You’ve reached a point where your brand is nearly untouchable.  And, if you’re so worried, take a page out of your own playbook from decades ago and revive/create a new brand or branch to launch the non-kiddie stuff that has potential. Disney used to start and own distributor hubs like Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Dimension Films, and, for a time, Miramax.  Bring one of those back or, hell, call it 20th Century Fox. Problem solved and the creators and audiences don’t lose out to the prudes.

LESSON #3: SMOKING SHOULD NOT BE PUT ON THE SAME LEVEL AS SEX AND VIOLENCE— Here’s a taller soapbox then Lesson #1.  Forty-three attorney generals from our nation of fifty recently composed a letter addressed to the major entertainment companies (including Disney, Amazon, and Netflix) urging a so-called “open dialogue” about the steps to “eliminate or exclude tobacco imagery in all future original streamed content for young viewers” and demanding “content with tobacco imagery should be rated R or TV-MA and be recommended only to adult viewers.”  Yes, tobacco is a national health problem, but not to this degree. Doing so would penalize many classic movies rather than make those films teachable moments with smoking’s inclusion.   The editorial staff from the Chicago area’s Daily Herald outlined several examples of movies, from Casablanca to Ghostbusters, whose value and messages supercede the superficially visible tobacco use.  I feel like the mistake in this, isn’t the movies. It’s the parenting that throws any movie on and doesn’t take interest or talk out what is being shown for entertainment or enlightenment.  Parents, this should be on us and not new ratings.

LESSON #4: BOX OFFICE DATA IS ANOTHER PIECE OF EVIDENCE THAT 2019 HAS BEEN A DOWN YEAR FOR BLOCKBUSTERS— Back in the day, a movie hitting $100 million domestically was considered a splashy hit.  Today, with inflation and bigger budgets being thrown around, that magic number feels more like $300 million.  According to data posted in The Hollywood Reporter for a story entitled “The Vanishing $200 Million Blockbuster” by Stephen Galloway, six movies so far in 2019 have topped $300 million stateside (some have of those have doubled it).  Oddly though, no movie has finished between $200-$300 million in their final tally after eight movies did a year ago.  Now you see where the story title comes from and the feast-or-flop vibe feels spot-on when you look beyond the top dogs to the rest of the 2019 spring and summer earning performances.   The duds outnumber the studs by a large margin. These are just the big totals, though. This has nothing to do with profit. There’s still a whole cottage industry of horror and genre films that triple their shoestring budgets in their opening weekends, let alone their entire run.  Still take this as a temperature check of box office health for this down year.

LESSON #5: SPIKE LEE HAS DAMN GOOD TASTE— In the recommendation slot, we go from Christopher Nolan last week to Spike Lee this week.  On his Kickstarter page, the BlacKKKlansman Oscar winner has a famed list of 100 essential films for every aspiring director.  It’s a doozy of a roster with wide representation and solid tastes. Make it your own college course at home like you’re online undergrad enrolled at NYU and let streaming services and library rentals take care of the rest.


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.  (#111)

What We Learned This Week: July 28-August 10

LESSON #1: PRICE POINT ALWAYS WINS— I’ve brought out this lesson often over the years here on WWLTW because it’s continuously true.  The latest case is the ocean of drool and the shipwrecks of dropped jaws this week when Disney revealed the initial bundled price to add ESPN+ and Hulu to their upcoming Disney+ streaming service.  As if the bulk year price of $69.99 or $5.83 per month wasn’t already amazing (and with this opening lineup menu), the triple-service package will only cost $12.99.  That’s the wealth of Disney, the range of Hulu, and the top network for all-things sports for LESS than the price of just Netflix.  Sure, Disney might (and certainly will) raise that price within the first year or two, but, by golly, they are playing hardball with price point and competition.  $13 for all that will make digital lines around the download block come November 12th.  Your move, Amazon (who re-upped with Bleecker Street’s content) and Netflix, especially for the latter which just had its first drop of subscribers in company history and a recent $26 billion fall in market value.  Yikes!

LESSON #2: WHEN ONE DOOR OPENS, ANOTHER ONE CLOSES, AND THEN ANOTHER ONE GETS REPAIRED— Before Disney becomes even more flush with steady cash this November, the Mouse House did announce what they consider a business loss this week.  According to reports, the Fox movies they acquired from their buyout under-performed to a $170 million quarterly loss.  Even for a profitable place like Disney, that’s haircut that still stings.  The Disney brass announced they will scale back film development under the Fox label while rebooting/remaking key properties and franchises like Home AloneNight at the MuseumDiary of a Wimpy KidCheaper by the Dozen, Planet of the Apes, and giving the Marvel titles to Kevin Feige.  I can’t say I’m surprised by Disney’s lack of effort to support their Fox wing.  I think we all knew an eventual and full dissolution was possible.  Some of that starts here.

LESSON #3: INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS REQUIRES INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR— Speaking of streaming services, I discovered this little story that may cause potential hazards for the likes of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple, and Disney.  Last year, the European Union passed a ruling requiring that VOD services have 30% of their content sourced in Europe, with Australian interested in a similar measure.  That’s a bold “buy local”-ish mandate that may have those streaming companies scrambling to stay within new requirements.  I think that counts as a powerful effort to retain and promote homegrown products next to the shiny imports.  This is a fascinating and fortunate victory for foreign filmmakers and entertainment entities.

LESSON #4: BELIEVE THAT SHIA LEBEOUF IS A NEW MAN— How many of us wrote off Shia LeBeouf in the last five to ten years?  Between social media rants, odd acting choices, and a tail-spinning personal life, the Transformers star hit rock bottom.  I am pleased to announce that he is back and has come through wise beyond his 33-years.  Variety has an excellent interview where the LeBeouf calls himself “softer.”  If you need evidence, seek out The Peanut Butter Falcon debuting this coming week in limited release.

It might be the best I’ve ever seen Shia LeBeouf act.  Yet, he looks like he’ll top himself in the semi-autobiographical film Honey Boy coming this fall that outlines a child actors tragic ups-and-downs with Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges ostensibly playing Shia while LeBeouf plays the hard father.

The guy is showing his talent and laying his soul bare.  Come and witness this because we don’t see resurrections like this often and I couldn’t be happier for him.

LESSON #5: CHRISTOPHER NOLAN HAS DAMN GOOD TASTE— In the closing recommendation slot, the verbiage of this lesson shouldn’t be a surprise among those here in the Feelin’ Film circle of Christopher Nolan worshipers.  While you all wait and over-analyze every shred of possibility for his upcoming Tenet before it arrives next year, build a playlist of thirty Nolan-recommended favorites and improve your palette and nose for damn good movies.  Compiled by Indiewire from interview quotes over the years, this list could fill a one-a-week education between now and Tenet.  Enjoy!

 


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.  (#110)

What We Learned This Week: “Toy Story 4” Special

THE LESSONS I LEARNED WRITING ONE OF THE FIRST AND FEW NEGATIVE REVIEWS OF “TOY STORY 4”

A week and a half ago, I watched Toy Story 4 during an advance screening for press and I really wrestled with what I watched. I slept on it, researched it, and went back and forth with my paragraphs. In the end, I gave it a two-star review which quantifies to a “Rotten” green splatter on Rotten Tomatoes. I knew vitriol and many questions would come. I sure didn’t know how much, even with the saying of any press being good press (Thanks, ComicBook.com). Let me tell you, I had quite the learning experience that is fitting for a special and personal “What We Learned This Week” editorial. 

LESSON #1: IT WASN’T ABOUT THE ATTENTION— Those of you who know me and follow my work know my snark level is not very high. I’m not a purposeful contrarian and I don’t go about this with a mean spirit. I’m not out to burn anything to the ground, even if it’s Terrence Malick. Sure, I may write about lofty and nice film often, but I am far from a film snob too. Higher cinephiles than me have said worse things about more universally acclaimed movies than Toy Story 4. I gave Toy Story 3 the highest of acclaim possible in a review nine years ago and included the franchise in the top five of the best trilogies ever (for which it has now departed). I’m a regular guy, father of two, and a school teacher. Those are my informed anchors and lenses. 4500+ review views later, I will still assert that didn’t do this to get page clicks or to get noticed. I don’t get paid to write reviews. The ad revenue is pennies in a piggy bank and does not constitute a making a living on this stuff. 

LESSON #2: BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF— Again without contrarian snark, I wrote what I did with honesty in mind. Believe me, it would have been way easier to give the movie a pass or follow the pack mentality. I couldn’t with honesty and personal integrity do that, no matter the movie. I don’t give passes to anyone. Because of that, I knew to be careful next. 

LESSON #3: BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR WORDS— I go into each review, positive for negative, mindful of the words I use, especially the hyperbole. I have loved and championed this list of movie critic cliches from Letterboxd user Erik Bajzert and I actively avoid them at all costs. They have become my rules and style guide. 

LESSON #4: IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE TO SEE A MOVIE’S FAULTS AND STILL RECOMMEND IT AND ENCOURAGE AN AUDIENCE— At no point was I shouting from any mountaintop that people shouldn’t see Toy Story 4. With Lesson #3 in mind, my review was not about “love” or “hate” or “like” or “dislike.” I didn’t and wouldn’t use those words and I dare you to find one in my piece. Kyle Smith of the National Review was far less kind than me.  Reviewing a movie for me is more than the emotional takeaways. I go deeper. I don’t hate Toy Story 4. I even don’t dislike Toy Story 4. I’ll recommend people see it and form their own opinion until the cows come home. I’ll use Lesson #5 to explain my review points. 

LESSON #5: IT’S ABOUT EFFECTIVE VERSUS INEFFECTIVE— For all the people who ask about a part or point of my review, my answer has been talking about effectiveness instead of hate or dislike. That’s me trying to apply objectives to the subjective and maintaining the mindfulness from Lesson #3. There are more narrative choices, plot points, character moments, repetitive tropes and more than I flatly found ineffective rather than effective for several reasons. I spell them out in detail in one of the longest reviews I’ve written this year because I knew the need to explain carefully. I’d write even longer if I stepped further into spoilers. Again, see Lesson #3. 

LESSON #6: I’M NOT WRONG AND NEITHER ARE YOU— I’ll partially throw one of our Feelin’ Film hosts under the bus with the use of the word “wrong.”

It’s not about right or wrong. I didn’t write anything wrong. I just wrote something different and carried an opposing opinion. We’re all allowed that and I know I’ve come a long way around here (Dunkirk and “masterpiece,” anyone?) to be better myself about labels and being receptive. I knew what Aaron White meant (though a few others gave him a slice of shade). and he’s always going to be respected and cool in my book. I thank him for supporting my work, including the space to rant like this every week. 

LESSON #7: INTERNET COMMENTS ARE THE WORST— Boy, oh boy, is the troll side of the internet alive and well. OK. Fine. You disagree with an opinion. Like we all say, it’s just a movie.  What does writing hate do? What does wishing bodily harm to a person and his family do? Does it make your feel better or tough? Does Disney thank you for needlessly defending its honor? Some comments are truly sickening. I’m willing to bet 80% or more of the people who wrote one of the 50+ comments on my review didn’t even watch Toy Story 4. See the movie first then come and really talk. It was quite telling to me how the comments virtually stopped after its Friday debut, where maybe the realization of what I wrote wasn’t all that contrarian and spiteful. Luckily, I’m the type of person that doesn’t absorb that kind of garbage. I know all of it is fake internet courage. 

LESSON #8: NO REGRETS— Cue Scottie. P. from We’re the Millers.  I guested on Ian Simmons’s “Kicking the Seat” podcast talking about Toy Story 4 that week and fellow dais participant (and friend of the Feelin’ Film page) Emmanuel Noisette of E-Man’s Movie Reviews and The Movie Blog offered an on-air intervention session. He pleaded a little to reconsider my rating and review and to watch the movie again. I’ll certainly be seeing the sequel again with my wife and kids at some point. Maybe I do come around to more like and love, but I remain confident about my review speaking on worthwhile effectiveness. I don’t regret a word I wrote because I did it with honesty, clarity, and integrity. Toy Story 4 loses zero its standing and reputation from me and the other “Rotten” reviews.  The film will do just fine and not a real thing in the world is burnt.  The comments are horrible, but I don’t regret leaving the comment section open. I take all comers and customers. The many rational discussions with critic peers and general friends alike since in real spaces have been wonderful across the board. Shout out to Mike Crowley of “You’ll Probably Agree” for another solid and civil podcast discussion like Ian’s.  If anything, the challenge going forward is to maintain my consistency as a critic, especially on the Rotten Tomatoes platform.  There is a responsibility to that, which I completely understood even before this experience. This review, in a way, can count as a baseline or cornerstone. I must be wary of that and the comparisons possible going forward. This all only makes me want to work harder. Thanks for reading and your support!


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.  (#105)

What We Learned This Week: June 2-22

LESSON #1: PERCEIVED RECORDS AND DISTINCTIONS MAKE PEOPLE GREEDY— The corporate greed monster of Disney strikes again with a blatant turnaround re-release of Avengers: Endgame. The goal of tacking on “new footage,” a tribute reel, and an end credits scene is to get the blockbuster over the final $50 million hump between its gross and the Avatar’s cumulative worldwide record of $2.788 billion. Apparently, there’s shame for being in second place so bad they have to employ cheap double-dip tactics. It will work, but it will also take screens away from other smaller movies that deserve more attention and chances. In my eyes, and I’ve taken this stump in this column before, this remains a hollow and fake victory fueled by inflation and high ticket prices. Avengers: Endgame remains outside of the Top 15 in both inflation-adjusted gross and, the best and most universal indicator of all, total ticket sales. Wake me up when it catches anything in that Top 5 or even the Top 10.

LESSON #2: DON’T TAKE A MOVIE AWAY FROM A CAPABLE DIRECTOR— A week after its disappointing debut at the box office, word on creative strife behind the scenes of Men in Black: International is coming to light. Clashes of story direction and final cut between veteran producer Walter Parkes and hired and extremely capable director F. Gary Gray nearly caused Gray to leave the project. Gray touted something edgier and Parkes’ sillier affair won final cut. This is explains a great deal as to why this movie looks way off and feels discombobulated, even by MiB standards. Sony, you’ve made these screwups before (and it sounds like you’re doing them again with Bond 25).  Trust the talent you hire and let them do their thing.

LESSON #3: DON’T PAY THE SAME GUY TO SCREW UP TWICE— There are many things wrong with Fox’s X-Men “culmination” movie Dark Phoenix, and just about every one of them can leveled to the writer/director Simon Kinburg, who was respectful enough to take responsibility. Once the powers-that-be announced that the X-Men: Apocalypse sequel was going to tackle the “Phoenix/Dark Phoenix” for a second time after Brett Ratner’s reviled X-Men: The Last Stand, they had to know the scrutiny was coming.  If you’re actually trying for renewed success, you don’t hire the same writer who made the first dumpster fire and then also give him the power to direct.  I get familiarity and I get that Bryan Singer is radioactive to employ, but go find an actual upgrade for your $200 million tentpole and franchise swan song.

LESSON #4: THE FEELINGS OF FATIGUE AND BLANDNESS FOR BLOCKBUSTERS ARE REAL— I know Toy Story 4 is fail-proof this weekend from this lesson, but, other than April’s Avengers: Endgame, this has been a rough spring and summer for blockbusters. I read two articles this week that tackled this issue in different ways. Medium.com writer Samuel Lenz poses the question of franchise fatigue of bland blockbusters. IndieWire’s Tom Brueggemann went deeper into the collapse to cite size, frequency, the loss of MoviePass, streaming preferences, and higher quality TV options. I think both together encapsulate the majority of the factors we’re seeing. The top reason to me is quality. These have been bland movie offerings. Better movies get better audiences and returns. Better movies with verified must-see buzz climb over other entertainment options an open wallets. It will always start with quality.

LESSON #5: IT WILL ALWAYS BE ABOUT PRICE POINT— The posturing of the streaming wars continue with WarnerMedia announcing the proposed price of its upcoming streaming service. The sticker of $16-17 monthly would include HBO (which is $15 by itself currently), Cinemax, and the sizable WB library of content. That may be a fair price on paper, but in the eyes of customers, that’s more than double Disney Plus and higher than Netflix, Hulu, and even Apple. Other than hardcore HBO fans and folks that miss the WB bulk that used to be backbone of the closing Turner Classic Movies, people aren’t going to bite for this. Now, if that $16 included Warner’s current standalone DC Entertainment as a match to all the Marvel stuff under the Disney Plus umbrella, the temptation and value would be closer.

LESSON #6: APPLE WANTS TO BE AN OSCAR PLAYER—Many in the industry watched with impressiveness at Netflix’s Oscar campaigns for Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. They have broken the glass ceiling and Apple is looking to follow. News broke this week of their strategy to produce and back six modestly-budgeted films a year as sponsored Oscar hopefuls. This plan is independent from a recent multi-year agreement between Apple and indie darling A24 to make multiple features together, but you have to think that collaboration is a perfect source for this goal.  Watch out, folks. Fine apple wine is coming.


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.  (#104)