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: 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: June 18-24

LESSON #1: THE HAN SOLO MOVIE IS IN BIG TROUBLE— Any film where the director leaves the project six months into shooting (and triple that time in pre-production) is more than a shade problematic.  When that film is a nine-figure budgeted potential blockbuster under the Star Wars banner of the Disney label, that shockwave of s–t hitting the fan is even greater.  The firing of the 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller from the upcoming solo prequel Han Solo film starring Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover draws ire and head-scratching.  The more that we hear about it, the worse it sounds.  This far from the first time this has happened in Hollywood and several classics rose out of some of these situations, but the news this week is not a good sign in the slightest.  If this was 1997 after Apollo 13 and Ransom or 2007 after The Da Vinci Code and Cinderella Man, I’d feel a more excited about Ron Howard, but this is 2017 and his last decade (outside of Rush and Frost/Nixon has been rough. Go ahead and say it: “It’s a movie no one asked or anyway  #teamharrisonford.”  Maybe this becomes a lesson to Disney to keep the anthology films away from recasted prequels.

LESSON #2: FIND A WAY TO RETIRE AT THE TOP OF YOUR GAME— Reclusive-yet-renowned king of all cinematic thespians, Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting this week.  Take the man at his word.  He is notoriously selective and has never chased a paycheck.  Can he be talked out of it with the right pitch in a few years?  Maybe, but if it sticks, the man retires at his peak as a living legend.  Lewis is the only man is history with three Oscars for Best Actor and is gunning for his fourth as a swan song with Paul Thomas Anderson’s as-yet-untitled new film coming this December.  It won’t take much for the deep industry respect for Lewis to start etching his name on that future statuette.

LESSON #3: THE EXCUSE OF “WE DIDN’T MAKE THIS FILM FOR CRITICS” AND ITS MANY ITERATIONS CARRY ZERO WEIGHT— Yes, as press credentialed film critic in Chicago, I find myself from time to time lumped into the hate volleyed at critics who have differing opinions than the box office results might show.  The Mummy director Alex Kurtzman is the latest film director to push back against poor reviews to cite more positive audience response.  I don’t know if foreign box office and a B- from Cinemascore audience ratings is anything to brag about.  News flash, Alex and all other directors and studio heads: Critics are fans too and an extremely small sample size.  We’re munching on the same popcorn and putting on the same pants.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again.  Want better results?  Make better movies.

LESSON #4: DIRECTOR COLIN TREVORROW DOESN’T GET IT AND WE DON’T GET HIM EITHER— I’m as big of supporter of the breakout indie film Safety Not Guaranteed as much as the next cinephile of discerning taste who has discovered it, but I don’t know if what has come to Colin Trevorrow and is coming to him in the future, i.e. Star Wars, are good things for audiences.  The reactions to his newest film, The Book of Henry, are polarizing, to say the least (I was fine with it, but I’m in the minority).  Veering uglier, Pajiba put together a nice and telling piece titled “The Upwards Falling of Colin Trevorrow and Why It Matters” recently examining his treatment of female characters and quotes on the state of female directors.  I buy what that column is selling.  This man is beginning to reek of tone-deafness and I don’t know if the critical main trilogy of Star Wars is the place for him.


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.