What We Learned This Week: September 2-22

LESSON #1: IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, BUY THEM— We read a great deal about how Netflix, for example, will dabble with theatrical debuts of their original movies and how it’s a bit of a struggle to get screens and self-distribute to the theatrical level.  Amazon, who is no slouch in the original film department, might be finding their own power move around that. They’re angling for suitors to buy the Landmark Theatres chain. When you own the theater, you set the terms and get the screens.  I think that’s ballsy and kind of genius, if you have the money, which Amazon sure does. Disney is making their own exclusive streaming service. Could you see them building their own exclusive theaters and keeping those dollars for themselves and not splitting with the AMCs and Regals of the world?  I sure could. Let’s see how it works for Amazon if it comes to pass. This could be the start of a tectonic shift in distribution and rest of the film biz.

LESSON #2: MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, IT’S THE FILMS THAT ARE BROKEN, NOT THE CRITICISM— Leave it to warm-hearted and successful This Is Us showrunner Dan Fogelman to show what boiling over looks like when it comes to starting another Artists vs. Critics vs. Audiences throwdown.  His film foray Life Itself is getting panned to the tune of 14% and still moving on Rotten Tomatoes) and his quoted reaction begins “something is inherently a little bit broken in our film criticism right now.”  If all he said was that, he’d be making a fair statement for discussion since the landscape has flaws, ones it is doing a decent job of working through for inclusion and representation in my opinion.  However, Dan aimed a little more sharply with “There’s a disconnect between something that is happening between our primarily white male critics who don’t like anything that has any emotion.”  Ain’t that a broad brush from a broad brush of the same color!  Watch him become the next Colin Trevorrow with that kind of flippant opinion.   If he looked deeper he would see that plenty of other critics that aren’t male or white don’t like his movie either.  If he looked deeper than the headliners, he would also find many white male critics who absolutely love emotion in movies.  Am I right, Aaron, Patrick, Jacob, Steve, and Jeremy?

LESSON #3: THE PREDATOR WAS AND IS A MESS— As fun as it was at times, I’m one of many critics who shook his head at the silliness brought forth by Shane Black’s The Predator, one of the most uneven films I’ve seen in a long time.  I couldn’t believe the mess (and then add the sex offender hiring snafu as well).  When I read the story of its reshoots (spoilers inside), all was explained to me and it sounds ridiculous.  The movie was dead on arrival. No wonder why it wasn’t good enough for a summer opening or scary enough for a Halloween weekend.

LESSON #4: NO MATTER WHAT, HENRY CAVILL’S DAYS AS SUPERMAN ARE NUMBERED— A great deal of fuss and backlash was made to the published rumors of Warner Bros. cutting ties with Henry Cavill in their DCEU.  The outrage and disbelief was off the charts, but when it’s being reported in The Hollywood Reporter, that’s not click bait anymore.  That is sourced news for this industry.  Beans may have been spilled early for all we know, leading to all of the walkback apologies since.  Still, I don’t see a good ending to this. For how maligned the DCEU films are and how strained fan interest/disinterest has become where the studio is quietly blowing up and disassembling its current course, too many signs are pointing to a necessary change.  My money is on Cavill being replaced by someone or something else within five years. There’s too much smoke here, rumors be damned.  Besides, there are greener pastures.

LESSON #5: AN AMERICAN IS GOING TO FROLIC IN A SACRED BRITISH GARDEN AGAIN— Word just broke this week that American director Cary Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation) is now the new director of the 25th James Bond film after Trainspotting series director Danny Boyle exited the franchise last month.  Fukunaga, a Netflix admirer, has swam in this foreign pond before directing Jane Eyre in 2010.  I think he continues the more serious tone Sam Mendes has brought to the MI-6 spy.  The next shoe to drop will be Daniel Craig staying or going especially if some Man of Steel is all of a sudden available and rumored to take his place.

LESSON #6: KEVIN FEIGE IS THE RIGHT MAN FOR HIS NEXT JOB— With Fox deal now done, the Marvel dream fulfillment of mergers and combinations begins.  The largest acquisition is the X-Men franchise and Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed that head Marvel Films producer Kevin Feige will oversee all future X-Men films.  That’s great news and the perfect landing place.  Some X-Men films have been very good and even great, but they have always had room for more fulfilled potential.  If Kevin Feige can sprinkle the dust he’s given to the likes of Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and more, the X-Men go back to the A-list.

LESSON #7: BOB IGER FINALLY FOUND THE BRAKE PEDAL ON THE BLOCKBUSTER ROLLER COASTER— Speaking of Mr. Iger, news broke Thursday that “some slowdown” is happening at Disney when it comes to saturating the market with the cash cow Star Wars films.  That’s fantastic news because there is such as thing as overdoing it (Marvel’s three-films-a-year is already quite a test).  Like many have said, there is more mystique and anticipation when there is more special rarity to their infrequency.  Force the patience and people will still come. 

LESSON #8: THE ACADEMY FINALLY LISTENED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION— Finally, all is back to being right in the world with the news that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is postponing their plans to have a “Popular Film” category on the grounds of being too late in the year to start a new initiative and how more study is necessary to understand its purpose or implication.  Forbes columnist Scott Mendelson adds more logs to that fire of reasoning.  Bring out the Madea “hallejuler” Tyler Perry memes.  I can put my previous soapbox column away, but I sure won’t delete it.  “Postpone” only means temporary. They’re bound to pull this nonsense again.  


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

What We Learned This Week: June 3-9

LESSON #1: TOXIC FANDOM IS ONE OF THIS INDUSTRY’S LARGEST UNCHECKED PROBLEMS— What used to be little nit-picky pissing and moaning no more imposing than the Comic Book Guy character on The Simpsons is turning overly voluminous, hurtful, egregious, and flat-out unnecessary.  The latest ugly example came this week when months of harassing and abusive social media actions led Star Wars: The Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran to delete her Instagram.  Notice in the title of the lesson that I said “industry.”  This fanboy immaturity and hate isn’t exclusive to Star Wars fans.  This kind of abhorrent behavior fueled by internet troll courage lights up with comic book films, gaming culture, TV shows large and small, and many other sources far too often and far too loudly.  Let this school teacher tell you that all this bitching about fiction and entertainment is fruitless and unhealthy.  No piece of entertainment is worth any level of the hate and consequences leveled to Ms. Tran.  The support around her is positive but more must be done.  If you claim these pieces of pop culture are core influences of your formative character, then you don’t have a very good core and need help in the form of interpersonal relationships not rooted in fantasy.  I know its the few ruining it for the behaved majority, but turn off the screens, take off the cosplay, put away the toys, grow up, and go engage in real relationships.  At an industry level, accountability is needed, and I love this NBC News piece from Ani Bundell and this Forbes editorial from Scott Mendelson as highly recommended reads.  No matter how you cut it, this is bullying and it’s time to employ the “see something, say something” practices we tell school kids nowadays.  Help report and block improper behavior.

LESSON #2: EACH FILM STARRING WOMEN OR MADE BY WOMEN IS NOT REQUIRED TO ADVANCE FEMINISM— From one torch-bearing subject to another, I referenced a junket interview from the Ocean’s 8 press tour in my review of the film where the leading ladies are tired of answering questions large and small about gender roles.  They made Ocean’s 8 to have fun.  Let Ocean’s 8 be marvelous for what it is (namely a proper heist film) and not curved by who is in it and which chromosomes they have. When someone adds the marginalizing and labeling descriptors of “all-female,” “women-centered,” or, worse, “chick flick,” their narrow vision becomes part of the problem. That goes both ways. Not every film for or including women has to carry a torch and a battering ram for the #MeToo movement.  Let something fun be fun.  Furthermore, in a second interview piece and connecting to Lesson #1, Ocean’s 8 star Sandra Bullock also drew alarming comparison to the flaq the Ghostbusters reboot cast received two years ago.  The wave of hate for that film was off-the-charts higher than what Ocean‘s 8 is receiving, which shows the fickle hypocrisy of toxic fandom.

LESSON #3: THE RIGHT DOCUMENTARY CAN MAKE A FLASHIER DRAMATIZATION UNNECESSARY AND OBSOLETE— This one is more a prophecy than a lesson.  One of my many reactions and takeaways after watching (my full review) the incredibly detailed, moving, and impactful documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is that I, for one, absolutely do not need an upcoming movie biopic version of Fred Rogers’ life story.  There is tangible spirit and a magic watching the real personality of the late TV personality that comes out in Morgan Neville’s film that speaks rightly true and cannot be translated into a glitzy newfangled narrative using dramatic license.  I don’t care how wholesome and loved Tom Hanks is or how immensely talented his is as one of the finest actors walking the planet.  Even he cannot suspend disbelief to become Fred Rogers.  The genuine article is too singular, too unique, and, to borrow his favorite word, too special.  Fred’s central mission and message is strong enough on its own and demands full reality.  Flattering imitation, in my opinion and even cited in the documentary itself with recaps of impersonations done by Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, SCTV, and In Living Color, would take away shine from the gleaming legitimacy of what Fred Rogers stands for.  There is more value to both nostalgic audiences and neophyte discoverers of Fred Rogers to see his actual self in Won’t You Be My Neighbor? than the diluted Hollywood version to come.  Let a documentary become a summer blockbuster for a change.  Get some truth out there and see this film.

LESSON #4: A VENOM CHARACTER NOT IN THE CURRENT MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IS NOT A REAL VENOM AT ALL— I was right there with you salivating at the idea of Tom Hardy playing a brawny Eddie Brock and his beastly alter-ego of Venom.  Throwing looks and Daily Bugle character history out the window, you couldn’t cast a more imposing threat for an emerging Tom Holland Spider-Man than Hardy.  The problem I’ve always seen has been timing.  Pulling off a Venom film is cart-before-the-horse too soon for a brand-new teenage Spider-Man. Now, the problem has increased to misalignment with the news that the Venom film will not be a recognized part of the MCU.  I know I just talked about toxic fanboy culture earlier in the column, but, I’m sorry, Venom is not Venom without Spider-Man.  What looked to already be an impatient cash grab by Sony to stay relevant with its Marvel character properties now looks to be an expensive and possibly pointless waste of resources entirely.

LESSON #5: YOU CAN’T WASH THE STINK OF MICHAEL BAY OFF THAT EASILY— Much like Venom in a way after its recent trailer surprises, I don’t care how good that Bumblebee trailer looked this past week (and yes, Mr. Ignore-All-Trailers over here did see it).  It’s going to take more than a decent teaser or two and a whole heap of deeper narrative work from Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight on the final product to improve this tainted franchise.  Hope is there with Knight’s reputation, but plenty of films, when manipulated correctly with marketing magic, have duped us before.  I will still preach tempered expectations for Bumblebee.  Michael Bay’s cinematic skunk spray is still all over this.


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 FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

What We Learned This Week: June 25-July 1

LESSON #1: DON’T BUY THE DOOM AND GLOOM PRETENTIOUS PEOPLE ARE PUTTING ON ROTTEN TOMATOES AND NETFLIX— It feels like every week someone wants to pit the fans versus the critics and forget that critics are fans too.  This week it was a piece in Forbes.  Let me put this as simple as I can.  Reviews don’t make people pull money out of their wallet.  Products of interest do.  The content always sells itself first.  The frosting of random measured approval is second.  I will continue to be in the “want a better RT score, make a better movie” camp.  As for Netflix, people are forgetting about the huge access it grants independent films and documentary films.  Films like Okja this week wouldn’t get a puncher’s chance at the crowded multiplexes in this country.  A platform like Netflix lets it be everywhere.  In addition to being that kind of pedestal, the ability for audience buzz through binge and repeat viewing is something a theater cannot improve for a film.

LESSON #2: IF YOU REALLY NEED A NEW PLACE TO READILY AND AFFORDABLY ACCESS FILMS, HEAD OVER TO YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY— I’m not an avid reader, but I still frequent my local library through my children.   Especially if your library is part of a larger county or state system of shared material, the completely free access to both popular and hard-to-find movies is outstanding.  Before you pay that Redbox price with a time limit, a 24-hour Video On Demand rental, or even a full subscription to something like Netflix, Hulu, or Filmstruck, consider what you can mine and discover for free.

LESSON #3: SOUNDTRACKS CAN MAKE A MOVIE— There are films with cool soundtracks and then there are cool films with cool soundtracks.  The trick is not just having a cool soundtrack but using it to its fullest extent as a supporting layer of a film.  No movie in recent memory does that better than Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver.  That film isn’t throwing obscure tracks and deep cuts in there for indie cred.  Each song is purposely piece of the storytelling and the effect is genius.  See and hear Baby Driver at your earliest convenience on the loudest movie screen you can find.

LESSON #4: LET DIRECTORS DIRECT— I encountered a great deal of double talk this week on many fronts that all talked about directors and led me to this lesson’s title.  First, The Beguiled‘s Sofia Coppola is getting flack for not including a slave character or addressing the politics of the Civil War in her auspicious remake landing in theaters this weekend.  Right off the bat, she’s the writer and director and deserves to make those calls for the vision she wants to create, period.  I’ve seen the film.  The slavery angle or more men are not what the film is missing.  Look at the material.  The “whiteness” is the part of the point.  Next, I don’t know what to make of the coming new direction of Warner Bros. under Toby Emmerich when it wants to avoid hiring “auteur directors who want final cut.”  Do they realize they just hired and leaned on Joss Whedon, who had that final cut trouble with Marvel, to save one of their films?  Do they not look back at their biggest critical successes this century and not see names like Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, and Christopher Nolan attached the end of the credits?  I get trimming budgets, but don’t clip the wings of the incredible people you’ve hired.  Tinker as a studio too far and people like Eastwood and Nolan are going to stop working with you and then you’ll get the “bad for business” label, Toby.


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.