What We Learned This Week: November 9-15

LESSON #1: PEER PRESSURE CAN BE EFFECTIVE— With George Lucas long-retired and until James Cameron finally releases that next Avatar epic, the reigning King of Cinematic Hubris remains Christopher Nolan. His ardent activism for physical film will always be commendable, but he is not the “savior” the trades (and himself) tout him to be. Not if he can’t even properly tune his own films and has to hear about it from his peers and contemporaries. More than fans, fellow filmmakers have contacted Nolan about his messy sound mix from Tenet. To me, that’s when you know it’s bad, if you have buddies calling you it. Peer pressure is an effective motivator. Let’s see how it shifts the chip on the king’s shoulder below his self-made crown.

LESSON #2: WISE PEOPLE IN THIS BUSINESS CUT LONG-TERM DEALS— Back in the day, everyone from actors to filmmakers were on studio-exclusive contracts. If Paramount wanted to use a talent controlled by Warner Bros., they had to pay handsomely and vice versa. For the studios, it was winning bidding wars to secure top talent for multiple projects. For the actors, it was securing guaranteed work in an era before they made ungodly money. Somewhere along the way, the movies turned into looser free agency like you see today in baseball where everyone is a mercenary chasing paychecks. 

To see David Fincher sign a four-year deal with Netflix feels old school and a win-win, joining Patty Jenkins on the squad. Netflix nabs a big name for their digital marquees. The Mank filmmaker gets a shingle that pushes for Oscars, far more creative freedom on set, and more guaranteed upfront money than he would chasing box office receipts, especially during a pandemic choking the industry. Don’t believe me or Fincher? Just ask Martin Scorsese. No one else, and I mean no one, in town was going to give him $200+ million to make the geriatric steak buffet that was The Irishman. That epic may not have netted Oscars, but it brought in new subscribers and that’s Netflix’s bottom line.

Netflix is not alone in getting out their checkbook to sign top-shelf creators. Apple TV+ has first-look deals with Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Alfonso Cuaron. Even if most of those are for TV projects, those are names worth marketing and bragging about for the up-and-coming streaming platform. Is this the death of cinema? No. This is job preservation and squeezing for artistic carte blanche that you normally can’t get.

LESSON #3: DON’T BEAT LIVE HORSES ANYMORE THAN DEAD HORSES— Speaking of David Fincher, he has a long-standing reputation of over-filming many scenes in his directorial career. He’ll go after 50 or more takes in some scenes, the polar opposite of Clint Eastwood being good after one or two. It’s a personal philosophy Fincher has gone on record to explain. Word from the set of Mank, by way of Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman, was that the director went for as many as 200 takes on a scene, something that supposedly “cracked” the latter Oscar winner. There is meticulousness and fastidiousness, and then there is exhausting punishment. Dude, I love you, David Fincher. It’s been too long since Gone Girl,but have some workplace efficiency and empathetic professionalism. 

LESSON #4: NOW IS THE TIME TO SEE CITIZEN KANE— Speaking of Mank which is releasing into limited theaters today before debuting on Netflix on December 4th, this week’s final lesson in the usual go-home recommendation slot promotes just a single movie and quite possibly the greatest movie of all-time. To fully absorb and appreciate Fincher’s new movie, you must see Citizen Kane before it, period. If you’ve been putting it off because of its stature or the silly fact it’s old or in black-and-white, swallow hard, pick a day, and get through it. If you call yourself any level of film buff, connossieur, or fan, Orson Welles’ 1941 tour-de-force is required viewing as a cornerstone of visual filmmaking and storytelling techniques that would become the exemplars for decades. Citizen Kane is available now (thank you, JustWatch app) as part of HBO Max or can be rented for $3-4 on most streaming storefronts. If you want to do one better, straight up buy it or borrow any disc version of it from your local library. Seek out the late Roger Ebert’s audio commentary track. That will educate you more on film greatness in two hours than any self-made YouTube ranter or snarky podcast. Rented or bought, the movie is worth every penny and you will thank me for it.


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), Horror Obsessive, 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. (#145)

Episode 249: The Dark Knight Rises

RISE with us as we discuss the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s great trilogy. A lot of movie deserves a lot of conversation and we are up to the task.

The Dark Knight Rises Spoiler Review – 0:14:11

The Connecting Point – 1:26:40

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Episode 248: Batman Begins

The film title says it all. Christopher Nolan’s incredible trilogy about The Dark Knight starts here and is the perfect kick-off to our Batman v Superman event over the next couple of months.

Batman Begins Spoiler Review – 0:07:57

The Connecting Point – 1:03:56

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Minisode 035: 2017 Year in Review

In this special SPOILER FREE “minisode,” we wrap up the year by discussing some of our favorite things about 2017. Instead of just a top ten list of favorite films, we talk about the moments and performances that really resonated with us personally. This is a super-sized bonus episode with a ton of content and we really hope you enjoy.

Favorite First-Time Viewings (non-2017) – 0:01:10

Favorite Performances – 0:27:36

Films that Most Exceeded Expectations – 0:52:19

Films that Were Biggest Disappointments – 0:57:56 

Favorite Episodes of the Year – 1:04:31

Our Feelin’ Five Films – 1:15:03

Most Anticipated Films of 2018 – 1:48:13

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MOVIE REVIEW: Darkest Hour

DARKEST HOUR (2017)



Going In

Before 2017, I had never heard of the Battle of Dunkirk. But thanks to Hollywood, we’ve all had quite the history lesson this year, with two films (Their Finest and Dunkirk) addressing that particular event in some fashion. Now a third film enters the mix, set during the same time period but not dealing with the battle specifically. Instead, Darkest Hour focuses primarily (see what I did there?) on one man – newly appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. As Hitler’s forces close in on England, Churchill must make difficult decisions that would affect the outcome of World War II. Playing Churchill is Gary Oldman, and he is already receiving an incredible amount of critical praise for his portrayal of the famous statesman. It will be interesting to see how his performance compares to that of John Lithgow, who just a few months ago won an Emmy for his own depiction of Churchill in the Netflix drama The Crown.  Also a curiosity is whether director Joe Wright will rebound from his underwhelming 2015 remake of the Peter Pan story. Wright’s experience with period pieces such as Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, and Anna Karenina point toward this type of material as being perfect for him, and that provides me with a lot of hope.


COMING OUT

Darkest Hour is my kind of biopic. Joe Wright’s film is a little less of a period piece than I expected, though. With only a few scenes of deep melodrama, it unfolds more like a fast-paced political thriller. Wright directs with a dazzling electricity that moves the film forward at a tremendous pace. Dario Marianelli, composer of the wonderful music in Kubo and the Two Strings, provides an incredible audible energy that matches the intensity of Churchill’s fiery personality and the wartime tension felt at the time. The result is a film that, despite being almost entirely dialogue driven, has the ability to put you at the edge of your seat. Since this story is about the great orator Winston Churchill, it is extremely fitting.

The story is also mostly true and I’d encourage viewers to read up on exactly what took place during these important months in 1940. Although Darkest Hours adds a few dramatic elements toward the end of the film, it mostly does justice to the primary players: Churchill (Gary Oldman), King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), and Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane). Anthony McCarten’s script covers only the month of May – Churchill’s appointment through his famous “we shall never surrender” speech. As Germany draws closer each day, Churchill must weigh the pushing of peace talks from the likes of Chamberlain and Halifax against the proposition of seeing the entire British Army wiped out while continuing to fight back. The Battle of Dunkirk does feature prominently here and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk will make a perfect complimentary film for a twin bill.

What elevates the film into greatness, however, is Oldman. He is nearly unrecognizable as Churchill, buried under the hefty weight of prosthetics. But where he succeeds most is selling the idea that Churchill truly did use language and words to turn the tide of English thinking toward resistance of Hitler’s regime. Wright and McCarten do a fantastic job of building this up, giving us little moments of Winston’s oratory brilliance, so that when he walks into Parliament for the final speech we fully believe his words will have the power they need. Oldman’s performance feels like a total immersion into the character, his veins seemingly about to pop at any time, and his stutters and pauses perfectly capturing the enormous pressure weighing Churchill down. I’m not sure whether two actors have ever won an Emmy and an Oscar within six months of each other for playing the same character, but Lithgow and Oldman definitely have that chance.

Verdict

Winston Churchill is a fascinating figure. Historian and politician, but also extraordinary leader. His actions within that first month as British Prime Minister changed the course of world history. Had he sued for peace, who knows if Hitler would have been stopped from overtaking Europe (and beyond). Darkest Hour is as thrilling as it is dramatic in telling this very important story of how a leader used words to inspire a nation. A fabulous film in all respects, consider this a must-see and a rival to the title of best film about Dunkirk in 2017.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.