What We Learned this Week: New Year’s Resolutions for the Movie Industry in 2018

Plenty of regular everyday people make New Year’s Resolutions, but I think bigger entities, namely movie makers and movie moguls, need to make them too.  Annually, including this seventh edition, this is my absolute favorite editorial to write every year.  I have fun taking the movie industry to task for things they need to change.

Since last year, I feel like I’ve been writing a little bit of this every week all year over on the “What We Learned This Week” column contribution here on the Feelin’ Film Podcast website.  Readers and followers of that podcast and column will get my cadence.  I’m sarcastic, but I’m not the guy to take it to the false internet courage level of some Twitter troll.  This will be as forward as I get all year.

Some resolutions come true (a great deal of last year’s list is still relevant), while others get mentioned and reiterated every year. You would hope Hollywood would learn from those lessons going forward.  Alas, here we go again!  Enjoy!

1. Clean out your closets for good.

Without question, the most enormous and egregious issue to cross this industry this past year was the avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations leveled against big names, small names, and studio executives.  I know I’ve preached patience in a recent Feelin’ Film “soapbox” to plead with folks to be in the camp of “innocent until proven guilty” and not the other way around, in terms of letting these claims play out to proven guilt before burning careers to the ground.  That said, let these exposures continue to be moral napalm to clean out a dirty Hollywood.  Purge the skeletons from the closets in a string of ugly years, if that’s what it takes, to advance equality and fairness going forward.  Pass the matches.

2. Continue the “Year of the Woman” into the “Era of Women.”

Last year on this column, I celebrated female protagonists.  Despite the ugly headlines, 2017 was an incredible year for women going ever further to lead the charge in film behind the scenes as well.  If voters were vigilant enough, you could fill the upcoming Best Director Oscar field with 80% women, Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Dee Rees (Mudbound), Sofia Coppola (The Beguiled), and the category wouldn’t lose an ounce of talent or respectability.  Much like #OscarsSoWhite sticking around through Moonlight last year, Hollywood has to do better than a one-year surge or knee-jerk olive branch.  Turn this banner year into a string of them worthy of being called an era.  These ladies and others have earned it.  Reward them as such with opportunity.

3. There is room for objective to go with the subjective.

I might be gunning fairly high-brow with this one where I might be wearing too much of my film critic hat to go with my movie fan t-shirt.  I get the general foundation where loving and enjoying movies will always be greatly subjective.  Too each their own, all day.  I get that.  However, maybe it’s the capacity of the school teacher in me, but if I’ve learned anything doing this film critic thing is that there is room for objective to go with the subjective when it comes to reacting to a film.  I’ve seen movies this year like A Ghost Story, mother!, and Call Me By Your Name that I do not find entertaining, per se, or contain content I don’t condone or agree with from the seat of my personal values.  When that occurs, I’ve learned to take a step back and recognize the goals those films and filmmakers were going for and find ways to respect them, and even commend them, even when I don’t like the finished products.  I think general audiences could try a form of this reflection on for size too.  I think if people took a breath, stepped back, and looked at something other than their own expectations for a film, they might see purposes other than some self-serving ones and we would have a whole bunch fewer rants and raves of negative hyperbole.

4. Make smarter trailers and less of them.

Stop giving away too much in a trailer.  There are films from this past year where the trailer gave away 80% of storylines.  Where’s the mystery?  Less is more.  Take Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  After Star Wars: The Force Awakens made over $900 million domestically two years ago, the sequel didn’t need the help of a lengthy trailer and could have sold itself on principle alone rather than a second trailer that even director Rian Johnson had to give a minor spoiler warning to.  Trailers like that aren’t worth it or necessary.  Between Star Wars: The Last Jedi and all the people who fussed about not getting an Avengers: Infinity War trailer until December, find some patience.  Trailer-makers, leave the audience wanting.  Make them wait.  Imagine the anticipation if there wasn’t a trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Avengers: Infinity War.  Imagine the frenzy and the payoff, not just on the screen, but on the bottom line of box office receipts.

5. Drown out the click bait with creativity.

One of my satisfactions from Star Wars: The Last Jedi was that it shook off two years worth of superfluous noise and the endless conjecture of silly fan theories and think pieces to surprise just about everyone by sticking to its creative guns to blaze its own trail, not one caving to unreasonable expectations.  How I know it worked is watching the butthurt backlash from the two weeks of people trying to disown the movie because it wasn’t what they thought it was going to be.  To the click bait crowd, Rian Johnson and company made THEIR movie, not YOUR movie.  That was the objective goal and it’s a shame people can’t respect that or the differences, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi was just one example of many.  Pushing anything else is entitlement and not anticipation.

6. Don’t let Disney’s head (or portfolio) get too big.

Last year on this annual editorial, one of my items read “Disney/Marvel, please pay Fox and Sony whatever they want to bring your universe under one roof.”  By golly, I didn’t think Disney was going to go even further that that to entirely buy 21st Century Fox.  Disney is playing Monopoly with more money and property than anyone else with a token on the game board.  Be wary and mindful of that power beyond the wish fulfillment of X-Men and Fantastic Four possibilities in the MCU.  Disney hasn’t been a saint this year with the blackout of critics from certain publications, shuffling and firing directors, price hikes for theater dividends, taking their ball to their own convention, pulling their content from Netflix (while buying controlling stake in Hulu Plus), arranging their own streaming service, and more.  Maintain healthy competition and watch out for that bullseye on your back, Sony.

7. While we’re talking about superheroes, scale them down a touch.

Superhero films are the hottest tickets in town.  You don’t have to necessarily have studios slow down the pace of the film releases, just the size of the films and stories.  The best superhero film this past year was Logan, which striped all the spectacle away and told essentially a modern western to become of the best-ever entries to the genre and further proof that R-rated options were viable as well.  Until the big swirling finale of special effects, Wonder Woman was nearly the same for leanness and importance.  The counterexamples are Justice League this year and X-Men: Apocalypse two years ago, where the storylines are becoming overstuffed and piling on in an effort to constantly top themselves.  Logan is proof you don’t need to do that.  Tell a single good story.  Lead up from small to big, instead of from big to bigger.  Build from small for a few films and then get to the massive Infinity War level events.  That rumored Matt Reeves Batman detective story can’t come soon enough instead of the next intergalactic throwdown.

8. Put more depth of heart and less dumb antics in family films.

I’m bringing this resolution back verbatim as a repeat from last year.  I hear people (one of them sounds like me) all the time saying how annoying and unintelligent the movie options are for kids and families, particularly in the live-action department.   In 2016, Pete’s Dragon and Queen of Katwe showed audiences that not everything had to be 90 minutes of animated noise, but neither took off as big hits.  This year, Beauty and the Beast was a ready-made blockbuster and Wonder is doing great this holiday season.  They give me hope.  I just wish more folks could have seen and discovered the heart of Wonderstruck this year like I did.  Keep the efforts coming.


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 25-December 2

LESSON #1: NEW YORK WILL HELP STUMP FOR LADY BIRD FOR ME— The New York Film Critics Circle yesterday named Lady Bird their Best Picture and Saoirse Ronan their Best Actress.   I don’t normally trust New Yorkers, but you can take this recommendation salt-free.  There is a multitude of reasons Greta Gerwig’s indie gem is finding itself a winner against larger pedigreed titans.  Go see for yourself why.

LESSON #2: 2018 CAN AND SHOULD BE THE “YEAR OF THE WOMAN” AT THE OSCARS— Patty Jenkins, Sofia Coppola, Gerwig, and Dee Rees could dominate the Best Director category if voters allowed it and, in many ways, rightfully so.  Chaz Ebert wrote an excellent column recently on RogerEbert.com examining the possibilities.  Gerwig has already broken through as the Best Director winner from the National Board of Review this week.  Let’s see the boy’s club pushed to the sidelines for a year.

LESSON #3: THE POST IS GOING TO BE THE OSCAR FRONTRUNNER WITH THE “TIMELY” LABEL ATTACHED TO IT— Each year, there is always one or two Best Picture Academy Award contenders that feels like fateful films echoing the current societal landscape.  With a headliner cast expressing topical parallel challenges in journalism between the past and the present, Steven Spielberg’s The Post is going to create and carry quite the favor with critics and public alike.   Look at its Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress sweep from the National Board of Review.

LESSON #4: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME WILL EARN ANOTHER “TIMELY” LABEL FOR THE WRONG REASONS AND WILL PAY FOR IT ON OSCAR BALLOTS— Paul Bois for The Daily Wire posted a sharp editorial titled “TONE DEAF: Oscar Buzz for Movie About a Romance Between 25-Year-Old Man and 17-Year-Old Boy.”  As well-acted and well-intended as it may be, the verbiage of that headline is what may doom Call Me By Your Name.  Reverborating in an industry crushed by one sex scandal after another each week, I agree with the article and wonder where the widespread support for such a questionable premise of wrongful romance is going to gain favor.


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.

 

What We Learned This Week: November 19-27- Thanksgiving Hangover Edition

Folks, holidays off of work will derail any routines you have, be it parenting or writing and publishing film reviews and online content.  I had a week and my world went lazy in a happy and welcome hurry.  Super-sized to match our post-Thanksgiving “muffintop” bellies, here’s a late edition of “What We Learned This Week!”


LESSON #1: YOU REALLY NEED TO SEE LADY BIRD— There is a five-star and potential best-of-2017 film sitting right under your noses with Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird.  My review glows like the California sun and you will find much more like it from my peers on Feelin’ Film and the pros on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, take a look at this distinction, one even greater than the RT buzz given to Get Out‘s high score earlier this year:

LESSON #2: WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, GO SEE WONDER TOO— So often, we ask where are the quality family films in this current Hollywood marketplace.  I can’t be the only parent out there who asks for something better than made-for-TV ABC Family and Hallmark channel movies and the endless string of mindless noise coming out of blockbusters like MinionsSing, and etc.  Disney scaling things down with Pete’s Dragon and The Queen of Katwe last year gave me hope that a legitimate live-action family film could still be made and be mildly successful.  Wonder is that exceeding hope this year.  Its messages are virtuous and heartwarming.  Add Stephen Chbosky’s film to your shortlist for holiday viewing.  It’s a keeper.

LESSON #3: SPEND EXTRA TIME IN THE LOBBY, BATHROOM, TRAFFIC, OR AT DINNER BEFORE SEEING COCO (BUT DON’T FORGET TO STILL SEE COCO)— Disney/Pixar’s Coco is another family-friendly keeper right there with Wonder, but the animated “short” before it the opposite.  I don’t know about you, but I was done with Frozen when it came out.  Subjecting a (hopefully) diverse family audience to 21 minutes of repetitive Olaf silliness on top of previews and other advertisements before a hearty and heavy 109-minute film is too much.  Dear Disney, save that crap for your own TV channel and future streaming service.  Dear Pixar, we come to a Pixar film for your brand of superior original shorts, not Disney’s extra product placement.  Future Coco audiences, use article guide from Slate to calculate how much time to stall and cut right to the feature.

LESSON #4: BE MINDFUL OF WHO IS IN BED WITH WHO WHEN IT COMES TO THE BUSINESS OF HOLLYWOOD— Rotten Tomatoes was applauded before the release of Justice League for its stance to hold its first official rating designation until the opening day of Friday, four days after publication embargoes for critics ended that Tuesday.  It was seen as a move of patience and a step in the right direction away from the immediacy of rash judgment.  When you learn Warner Bros. owns Flixster, the parent company of Rotten Tomatoes, you might realize it was a selfish move of shielding flack instead of championing temperance.  Let me continue to join many other voices, including this great piece from Hype, begging for the general public to loosen their obsession with the broken math of Rotten Tomatoes.  Find critics you trust and appreciate and separate from the pack mentality of pitchforks and/or circle jerks.

LESSON #5: YOU GET WHAT YOU GET WITH JUSTICE LEAGUE— I’d love a Zach Snyder or Joss Whedon “director’s cut” (hell, even both) of Justice League, but conflicting reports make it sound like it can’t or won’t happen.  No matter what, too many folks play amateur armchair film editors.  If we get a bonus, that’s great.  If we don’t, take what the film gives you.

LESSON #6: SPEAKING OF SUPERHEROES, IT’S TIME FOR EVEN MORE DIVERSITY REPRESENTATION— Seeing the strength of the Amazons in Wonder Woman and Justice League as well as the badassery of Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, it’s time additional diversity in comic book films.  This Collider column and list lay out six places inclusion of LGBTQ characters could have been made and it’s a good blueprint for more.  Heck, just start with women in general, let alone the other special demographics of the acronym.  The Guardian recently outlined a primer for a full “women’s canon” foundation.  It’s impressive.    Let’s see Hollywood continue to get progressive and build on the good starts and new energy.


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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Lady Bird

In an understated though pivotal moment in the film, Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith) posits to Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) that perhaps love and attention are one in the same. It’s a subtle theme that lives within Lady Bird, the feature directorial debut of writer/actress Greta Gerwig.

Culling bits and pieces from her own early aughts upbringing in Sacramento, California, Gerwig skillfully maneuvers her characters throughout the film in a way that feels uniquely honest and realistic. Every time you think the story is headed toward obvious conclusions, she pivots, landing in a place completely unexpected. Each character, even those with the slightest of screen time, feels fleshed out and genuine. Setting her main family dynamic against a struggling middle class existence, eschewing traditional white bread tropes and first world problems for an intimate look at familial relationships not backdropped by unrealistic lavishness, gives Lady Bird a refreshing tone. It’s not that Gerwig doesn’t explore social and economic class as a foil for her protagonists, but she doesn’t dwell there. Gerwig is far too accomplished a writer to waste time on exploitation of the haves versus the have-nots, instead allowing her characters to live and breathe within a realistic world, facing and conquering (or not) realistic problems, and landing in a place her audience can believe in and relate to.

The catalyst for all of this is of course Ronan as the titular “Lady Bird”, a moniker she gave to herself, presumably as part of her rebellion against her hyper-critical mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Lady Bird dreams of the day she can be free of “soul-sucking” Sacramento- the “midwest” of California as she labels it- and go live where the culture is. She is equal parts inconsiderate and selfish, but is impossible to dislike.  Attribute that to the talent of Ronan, who embodies Lady Bird with an inquisitive charm, albeit with an irascible discontent for her mom’s inability to rationally communicate with her.

Gerwig gives a masterclass on adolescent relationships. Whether Lady Bird is navigating the waters of first love- the boyish good looks and sweet naiveté of Danny (Lucas Hedges) and the rebellious, rock-n-roll charm of Kyle (Timothee Chalamet) each providing unique challenges- or best friendships, both real- a scene stealing Beanie Feldstein as the perky, insecure Julie… or fake- the high on social stature, “cool girl”, Jenna (Odeya Rush)- there is an innocent honesty to each. It would have been easy for Gerwig to assign a villainous arc to numerous characters, but she instead decides to keep these kids as authentic as possible. We will like or dislike certain characters, but there are no cruel intentions behind any of them, even when they make poor decisions.

But it’s the family dynamic that exists within the center of the film. Tracey Letts, as Lady Bird’s father Larry, gives such an emotionally understated performance. He is the anti-Marion, choosing to internalize his struggles. While Marion is outwardly critical, Larry hides his emotions behind computer solitaire and a bottle of anti-depressants. He would rather see his daughter happy than express his hurt at having to drop her off a block from school to hide her embarrassment over his uncool car. Lady Bird’s adopted brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his live in girlfriend, Shelly (Marielle Scott) don’t get a lot to do, but both serve the story at appropriate moments.

Of course none of this works without the tour de force performance by Metcalf. Marion is hopelessly passive aggressive toward Lady Bird, and their interactions more often than not devolve into an argumentative tit for tat ending in regretful insults and shattered feelings. These women are outright mean and spiteful to each other, but when Ronan and Metcalf are locked in, both performers are firing on all cylinders and will be hard for Academy voters to ignore when Oscar voting commences. Also credit Gerwig’s ultra tight script, which never incites false emotions with overly dramatic beats. The tensions between Lady Bird and Marion feel completely organic, and their frustrations with each other are a natural conclusion given their strong personalities.

At one point, Lady Bird asks of her mother, “Do you like me?” The exasperated Marion replies, “Of course I love you.” Lady Bird asks again…”But do you LIKE me?” Marion can only stare back at her daughter, unable to find the right words, just as she has throughout the film. Through all of the hurtful, contentious interactions between Lady Bird and her mom, there is clearly an underlying love of each other, even if neither of them can convey it properly. It exists within each concerned glare from Marion’s tired eyes. It exists when Lady Bird is quick to jump to her mother’s defense whenever an outsider speaks down on her. And it exists profoundly in the film’s final sequences, in moments of regret and self realization. It’s nice that Gerwig doesn’t completely wrap her ending up in a bow, instead opting for something ambiguously hopeful. Lady Bird is finding the best version of herself through trial and error; an opportunity in which her mother has worked many double shifts trying to provide her. And there is that final moment, when Lady Bird commits her confession ironically outside the church she has just exited, not contentiously and not spiteful.

This is as close to flawless as a coming of age film gets. It proves that love can hurt. Sometimes the very things we try so desperately to get away from are the very things we seek when we feel lost without them. Sometimes all that matters is what’s scribbled on some crumpled up note paper, or a pretty dress found on a thrift store clothes rack, in a dance with a true best friend, or a well timed Dave Matthews song.

Love exists if you are paying attention.

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