What We Learned This Week: April 1-7

LESSON #1: BUILDING A CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IS HARD— With the impending arrival of Avengers: Infinity War marking a peak as the seventh film of the planned ten-film third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Patrick Shanley of The Hollywood Reporter asked the question “Can Anyone Besides Marvel Make a Cinematic Universe Work?” and it’s a good one.  We’ve seen Universal Pictures flop with its “Dark Universe” of movie monsters and Warner Bros. unable to find the same success with their DC Comics titles.  Franchises with sequels can be done (Transformers, Star Wars, Fast and Furious, etc.).  It’s the intertwining of standalone films and storylines that can exist on their own outside of the combinations that is key.  That requires developing more than one narrative and character.  Marvel did it right with by having patience with its unified vision.  Nothing was rushed.  The other attempts have not shown that level of patience.

LESSON #2: BELIEVE IN CINEMATIC GUILTY PLEASURES— The arrival of Pacific Rim: Uprising side-by-side with the nostalgic energy of Ready Player One calls to mind the idea of guilty pleasures.  Some movies are never going to win Oscars, but are just flat-out fun and garner repeat viewings for easy entertainment.  A fellow Chicago film critic buddy of mine always tries to assert that there are no such things as guilty pleasures.  If a film is good for someone to a pleasurable level, it must have some objective merit worth a higher rating without shame or the need to defend it.  I see his point, but I disagree.  I think it’s perfectly OK, realistically even-keeled if you will, to recognize the differences found between artistic integrity of a film and the fun value.  Honestly, we do the very same with the vice versa end of the highbrow other stuff.  For example, a film like Schindler’s List or any Terrence Malick film can easily be recognized for its artistic superiority and seriousness, but no one is going to Netlfix-and-Chill to a Holocaust film or an Emmanuel Lubezki slideshow of familial hate and trees.  If we’re going to put qualifiers on one end, why not the other?

LESSON #3: DON’T ALWAYS BELIVE FILM SNOBS— From guilty pleasures, we switch the gears to revered classics and faked bragging rights.  Film snobs exist in this world (I work amongst them constantly), but, let me tell you, the majority of them are full of sugar-honey-iced-tea.  First, they don’t admit to finding fun in those aforementioned guilty pleasures.  They were silly kids and teens once too, and I’ll put money on them geeking out to some adventure or playing princesses in a younger life.  They didn’t always watch French New Wave films on 35mm.  The second point of fakery stems from this Gizmodo article by James O’Malley presenting the top movies film snobs say they’ve seen but never actually have.  Those types of film snobs feel the need to rub our commoner noses with notions like “you’re not a true cinephile if you haven’t seen ____” or “you haven’t lived unless you’ve seen ___.”  If they are faking that, they deserve to be called out.  You have my permission to troll the hell out of these people with every meme of movie commercialism possible.

LESSON #4: AVOID PURVEYORS OF THE WORST CLICHES OF FILM REVIEW— Speaking of film snobs and piggybacking off of last week’s column, film critics are often guilty of hyperbole of their own.  Props to Feelin’ Film Facebook discussion group regular Jacob Neff for providing this Letterboxd list piece by Erik Bazjert on the worst frequently-used cliches in film reviews.  I adore this list and know too many film critics who fall for these and write with a pull-quote/pun methodology of little substance.  Worst of all, more often than not, these cliches are celebrated and even encouraged by every studio’s marketing departments to fill their posters, packaging, and signage with these overused and weak zingers.  Even if I never get to scratch off that bucket list item of having one of my reviews cited on a DVD/Blu-ray cover, I, for one, actively try to avoid every single one of these tired and ultimately meaningless expressions.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  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 member 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.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

What We Learned This Week: March 11-17

LESSON #1: GIRLS SHOULD PLAY TOO— Setting off a firestorm of action on a Feelin’ Film Facebook group post this week was the announcement of a Rotten Tomatoes alternative specializing in female film critics.  Underserved and underrepresented, I’m all for a platform to celebrate and highlight different voices in film criticism.  The more the merrier.  Gender inequality is a rampant problem and opportunities like Cherry Picks (I hope a better name is coming) can only help the topic and add to the discussion.

LESSON #2: CAN WE BAN THE TERM “MADE IT FOR THE FANS” PLEASE?— Speaking of RT, over these recent ’10s years of Rotten Tomatoes gobbling up more public attention, the perceived backlash against low RT scores has set off soundbites from several stakeholders.  A prominent reaction a few years back was director David Ayers after Suicide Squad (video).  The latest is actor Joel Edgerton pushing back against the negative reviews bestowed upon the Netflix release Bright.  Both gentlemen used the term “made it for the fans” as a shield of righteousness for what they say was the intended purpose of their films.  Breaking news, Joel and David, critics are fans too.  They just have a wider and more published platform to voice their opinion.  Not all fans are going to like crappy films.  Want more fans, and therefore more critical, support? Make better films and earn more fans.

LESSON #3: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT A DANNY BOYLE JAMES BOND FILM?— With director Sam Mendes not slated to return to the James Bond world after Spectre, audiences and news writers have been in a three-year guessing game of who will take over the helm of the spy franchise.  Word is that man could be Slumdog Millionaire Oscar winner and Trainspotting leader Danny Boyle.  Coupled with Trainspotting screenwriter John Hodge, I think the pair is an exciting fit for Bond.  Fun fact: Boyle directed Daniel Craig in a Bond-esque role opposite the Queen in his Opening Ceremony program of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.  Boyle and Hodge can add a pulpy edge and a different speed of kinetic energy to push the action and the character forward in interesting directions.  Whatever they concoct, you know it sure won’t be boring.

LESSON #4: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT A JON FAVREAU STAR WARS SERIES OR EVEN A GAME OF THRONES-ESQUE ONE?— In similar news, news landed that Iron ManThe Jungle Book, and current Lion King director Jon Favreau has been brought on to write and executive produce a live-action Star Wars series in the near future.  Favreau follows the February announcement of Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss being tapped to write and produce a new film series.  Like Boyle, I think the powers that be have found great hires.  Favreau brings of engaging storytelling, humor, and blockbuster know-how while the Benioff/Weiss team brings edginess and world-building strengths. All of the qualities can have an effective place in this universe.  The task now is for Disney not to micro-manage and fire them like the other top-notch talent they’ve brought in before.

LESSON #5: DISNEY IS THE HOLLYWOOD PLAYGROUND BALL HOG— Why are they the selfish superstar that doesn’t pass? Because they can be.  This month, Disney announced the calendar of their intended release dates for the next five years.  Disney has retained Marvel’s traditional reservation of the first weekends in May, the Star Wars pre-Memorial Day tradition, Pixar’s usual third-week-of-June slot, and their own Thanksgiving animation slot.  More and more, they are squeezing for the Fourth of July weekends, that magical Presidents Day/Valentine’s Day weekend in February (thanks, Black Panther), and bigger chunks of Christmas.  Disney is Kobe Bryant, the “seat’s taken” kids from Forrest Gump, the manspreading subway rider, and bank-buying billionaire all rolled into one with zero f–ks given.  When they show up, everyone else runs for cover.

LESSON #6: NETFLIX DOESN’T HAVE ANY QUIT RIGHT NOW— Ambition is one thing.  Resources is another.  The wild thing is when a creative outlet has both.  That’s Netflix right now.  The volume of original content they are putting out is downright insane.  You would think they can only get so much be money to be had from new subscribers.  That number has to level out and slow production, right?  Not anytime soon, according to Netflix.  They’re booming to have around 700 original shows and movies in the 2018 calendar year.  That’s beyond machine-like.  You wonder how much is too much or how much isn’t profitable.

LESSON #7: THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF AUDIENCE RESPONSIBILITY VERSUS STUDIO ACTIONS— Speaking of Netflix, Annihilation, filmmaker Alex Garland’s tepid box office loser and follow-up to Ex Machina, landed on Netflix only a few short weeks after a theatrical bow from big studio Paramount.  Indiewire’s Zach Sharf wrote an interesting take on the matter citing that part of the fault for the film’s failure is on the audience as much as it’s on Paramount.  He talks about “hard sells” and he’s right.  The general moviegoing audience pays for a more simpler fare than Annihilation.  That’s not a bad thing entirely, but that’s what’s making money.  Any diligent corporation should find the best scenario for earning and profit.  With Netflix throwing its money around, Paramount made an appropriate business decision and one, as it turns out, made more money than failing in the theaters.  I hate to say, but get used to these kinds of decisions and deals.  That’s the landscape.  They only people that can change that are the consumers and it’s going to take quite the unified and concerted effort to change trends.  Stop paying for Transformers films and give that money to risks like Annihilation if you want better products.  I’ve said this many times in this column and in the Feelin’ Film discussion group.  Whether we like it or not, this is a business first and an art exhibition second.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  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 member 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.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

 

What We Learned This Week: November 5-11

LESSON #1: SADNESS AND DISAPPOINTMENT SHOULD BE AMONG THE FIRST EMOTIONS EMERGING FROM UNEARTHED SECRETS— Let me just start this whirlwind week to state what will be my universal stance.   I choose to stand on a shorter and calmer soapbox than others on the topic of revealed allegations of sexual misconduct that are popping up all over.   I choose to speak to something different than the immediate damning outrage and knee-jerk reactions that are becoming the norm with these headlines.  When these headlines arrive, from Kevin Spacey to George Takei, my first emotions are not anger.  They are sadness and disappointment.  I am sad that a person whose talent I recognize and work I admire and respect is now being torn down by their potential mistakes.  Even larger than the sadness is my disappointment in common people and their uninformed hot-takes that pile on top of allegations and not facts.  More on that comes in Lesson #2.

LESSON #2: WHERE ARE THE LIMITS?— A great deal of Lesson #1 echoes a fantastic Facebook discussion thread started by Feelin’ Film co-founder Aaron White this week.  It asked the essential question: “…at what point do we require more than just an allegation to ruin someone’s life forever?”  I will always be an “innocent until proven guilty” believer.  I don’t condone the content of the claims, but I refuse to label people until the label is proven to be proper.  However, I fear we have a majority society that reverses it to “guilty until proven innocent” with no basis, conscience, or respect.  I’m beginning to hate that lack of empathy and patience in people, from the clickbait press on down to trolls on Twitter.  When someone is found to be innocent, how willing will a public be to move on and let that previous hate and disdain go?

LESSON #3: THERE MAY NOT BE A BOTTOM TO THIS PIT— This might sound overly obtuse, but sexual harassment and misconduct is nothing new.  Expect more names and confessions for years.  That’s how alarmingly pervasive the behaviors have been.  For example (forgive the Fox News link) actress Maureen O’Hara was brave enough 70 years ago to try and get her story and voice heard on potential crimes committed and it created career consequences.  If you talked, even in truth, you lost your standing.  What is new is the ability of the public to listen and the landscape becoming more progressive to seek the proper justice, and that remains a very good global change.  The guilty deserve the consequences coming to them, but, again, let’s establish that guilt first.

LESSON #4: RESPECT AND SEEK CONTRITION—  Circle back to Lesson #2 for a seed in this next lesson.  Is there ever a good way to admit or reveal these mistakes?  What would happen if an actor or actress came forward on their own and admitted past mistakes before a story of allegations broke?  How much of a career suicide would that be?  More importantly, would you respect such honesty?  That’s where my sadness and disappointment and patience for innocence becomes a heart that respects those that seek contrition.  I think that’s huge and a step to a level of forgiveness that other folks aren’t willing to seek while they tweet and judge. Of all people, Louis C.K.’s admissions this week were really something.  Again, I can’t condone the behavior he admits, but I can respect his honesty and attempt at contrition.  I call that more positive than most of the ways these stories are spiraling out of control and temperament.

LESSON #5: THE BOTTOM LINE STILL MATTERS MORE THAN IT SHOULD— Social media can have their flag-waving moments of championing this entire cause of stomping out the atmosphere where harassment and misconduct are no longer accepted.  But make no mistake, the studios and corporations care about that flag-waving unity a distant second to the almighty bottom line.  They can say replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World is for the right reasons, but what they are really trying to do is save a costly project from getting a bloodbath haircut from box office protests.  They’re willing to spend millions in order to renew attention, save face, and, more selfishly important, save more millions.

LESSON #6: DISNEY IS NOT AFRAID TO THROW MONEY AND CLOUT AROUND— Disney has spent billions in the past to buy the worlds of Marvel and LucasFilm and has banked even more billions because of those properties.  With an air of “if you can’t beat them, buy them,” Disney has engaged business talks to flat out buy the majority of 21st Century Fox.  Fanboys go straight the dream of seeing the worlds of X-Men and The Fantastic Four welcomed into the MCU.  They miss what could lead to the erasure of 80+ years of proud studio history.  Put caution with the coolness of this.

LESSON #7: IN ADDITION, DISNEY IS GREEDY— As mentioned in this column earlier this year, theater companies are reeling.  AMC is losing a fortune and Regal is desperate to raise prices to cover box office bombs.  Yet, here comes Disney with an unprecedented profit grab focused on securing their take of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  Read the details here.  Sure, Disney has the product everyone wants, but it’s the theaters that bring them in and sell the tickets.  This should be a partnership, not a dictatorship.

LESSON #8: DON’T F–K WITH JOURNALISTS— Speaking of studio bullying and big-wig hubris, even the supposedly unstoppable and untouchable Walt Disney Company can lose a staring contest with the First Amendment and public pressure.  After blacking out L.A. Weekly from screenings in retaliation to some previous bad press, several critics groups united to disqualify Disney properties from their upcoming year-end awards to back their fellow journalists.  The display of justified critical brotherhood drummed up the right public support.  Disney blinked and lifted its sanctions.  I guess like Midas, they can’t resist the urge for gold. Let that be a lesson to the big-wigs.  You can’t silence the newsmakers.

LESSON #9: DON’T COUNT YOUR CHICKENS BEFORE THEY ARE HATCHED— Universal Studios threw a whole of bunch of money and hullabaloo at their “Dark Universe.”  They secured high-end talent and made big plans, but forgot one thing we mentioned earlier: the almighty bottom line.  These plans and projects have to sell.  Tom Cruise’s The Mummy vehicle bombed at the box office and was ravaged with bad reviews.  Now, mutiple levels of sunk costs are lost and Universal has pulled the plug.  Studios, take your time and let connections grow organically.  Start small and pace yourself.

LESSON #10: LUCKILY, RIAN JOHNSON MADE OUR WEEK— This week has seen plenty of hate sent in Disney’s direction and endless scandal.  One really nice story of good news to come out of Disney, especially considering their recent string of disposable directors, was to hear that they are empowering Star War: The Last Jedi and Looper director Rian Johnson to create a new Star Wars series trilogy with original stories and characters away from the Skywalker/Solo universe.  In a day and age where many of us call out all of the sequels and remakes, something fresh applied to a big property is an exciting step.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  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.