What We Learned This Week: August 19-25

LESSON #1: NETFLIX DOES SOME GOOD THINGS— For this school teacher, it’s the end of the summer and I’ve been collecting little Netflix stories all summer for a seasonal round-up through this column.  The news pieces and editorials are pretty much split down the middle between positive and negative.  Let’s start with the good.  For one, they put their money where their mouth (and hubris) is as they plan to spend an astounding $13 billion this year on content, which includes contracts with studios and their own created productions.  That sheer volume of content on Netflix has caused many to call into question what gets premium position for promotion and placement.  I like the way director Ava DuVernay put it saying “My concern isn’t being lost, my concern is being somewhere, period.”  Earlier in the year, actress Elizabeth Olson expressed a similar forward-thinking compliment stating that the screening provider gives independent films a better chance at a wider audience than far more expensive limited theatrical release to a shrinking supply of art house movie theaters.  Netflix can be a permanent home instead of a two-week swing-and-a-miss to small crowds.  I don’t know what savvy producer would say no that for a fair price.

LESSON #2: NETFLIX DOES SOME BAD THINGS TOO— The piles of negative dings against the streaming giant is pretty tall too, spanning a range between content choices and business dealings.  Competition is coming in the form of Disney’s own branded streaming service with a rumored price point of $8/month, under Netflix’s current price tag.  The Mouse House has announced that all Disney content will gradually be off Netflix by March of 2019, which might cause a drop in subscribers who want their family content.  Speaking of kid-friendly stuff, the loudest piece came just this week from opinion writer Tim Winter of USA Today.  His bold claim was that Netflix, as proven by its supposedly racy volume of content choices, has turned its back on family programming.  Along the same lines, Netflix is buying fewer documentary titles than it used to after long being a welcome hub for that genre.  Echoing DuVernay’s take from Lesson #1, the home screen is only so big and what sells is going to get the premium space.  That’s good business even if its not pretty.  Discerning consumers need to be discerning and Netflix shouldn’t have to make excuses. 

LESSON #3: MOVIEPASS NEEDS A FORK STUCK IN IT IN THE WORST WAY— Another week bring another clownish fail from MoviePass.  This time its annual memberships being refunded and thrust into month-to-month subscriptions, limited ones at that, eliminating the savings that came from having a longer term.  I don’t what else can go south.  The crazy thing is we’ve been saying that about MoviePass for months and it keeps surprising us with more calamity and circus.  Seriously, they don’t need to adopt the Lenny Kravitz song line of “it ain’t over ’til its over.”  Just quit already.

LESSON #4: ON SOME LEVEL, DIRECTORS ARE IRREPLACEABLE— It was announced by Disney this week that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be delayed from its scheduled winter shooting date indefinitely following the dismissal of director James Gunn, which disbanded the production crew he hired.  The comic sequel isn’t the first or the last (especially at Disney) film to go through a change or delay like this, but this one feels more a shade more problematic and temporary than just changing a tire or replacing a dead battery.  This is replacing the battery and all of the framework, wiring, and bolts because of how each film is a team approach.  If Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ever does make it, we know it won’t be the same.  It will take a hit no matter what not just because of the public sentiment, but because of the reduction in quality from an entirely new team working on the film.  


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.  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: July 22-28

LESSON #1: YOU ARE THE CURATOR OF YOUR OWN SOCIAL MEDIA— Boy, oh boy, the lessons that spin out of the James Gunn dismissal and Twitter developments could fill this column for hours.  First, I must properly renew my applaud to our highly responsive and active Facebook group for the civil and engaging conversation when this story broke mere hours after WWLTW was already published for last week.  For me, the top lesson moving forward from all that happened is this one rooted in responsibility. Trolling or not and joking or not, celebrity or commoner, your name is assigned to your social media personas and presences. No one controls that content but you. There is no “must be the curator.” You “are” the curator. Act as if you are saying those words to people’s faces. Speak with context and think before you click the send button, because what you post leaves tracks. It doesn’t go away easily. You must control the message, from posted public content on down to privacy settings and who you allow in your circle. Get disciplined and clean up your act.

LESSON #2: HYPOCRISY IS A SHORT STEP AWAY FROM PRUDENCE— Though I may disagree with their firing, I get where Disney is coming from. They have an image to maintain, but they have turned a blind eye for years. Disney bankrolled Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax shingle for years. Robert Downey, Jr.’s legal rap sheet has more convictions than Gunn’s zero, but heaven forbid the fire their cash cow star.  Are we going to see revisionist history apologies or retroactive action on those two examples or that dozens of others? Not likely, which is why a studio like this turning over a new leaf is a good and prudent thing for the future, but it is still very damning when the past isn’t handled or at lest addressed.  This all could have been handled better without the caving to political wackos.

LESSON #3: DIRECTORS HAVE EARNED THE POSITION TO BE IN A FIGHTING MOOD— Even before the James Gunn headlines added butthurt political naysayers to the list of public enemies, the recent pushback against toxic fandom was already firing up talented filmmakers.  Before his own pickle, Gunn himself jabbed that hurtful fans of the bullying internet variety need to “go to therapy.”  Zack Snyder, and even Michael Bay, have never been shy about standing by their work.   Logan and Walk the Line director James Mangold, who recently threw his hat in the Star Wars ring by signing on to helm a Boba Fett standalone film, berated the buzz in a tweet that connecting the calls for blasphemy and emotional overload to the studios hiring “hacks” instead of bolder minds.  The same landscape not-so-jokingly “cured” Mission: Impossible series director Christopher McQuarrie from ever wanting to direct a Star Wars film.  In my eyes, these examples are not being thin-skinned against criticism.  These kinds of statements of strong words against the paying customers are rooted in demanding and respecting artistic integrity, something the selfish sect of moviegoers don’t properly understand.  I, for one, support the hell out of these public displays of spine.  I wish more did the same.

LESSON #4: GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND DO SOMETHING ACTIVE— This lesson is a combination of positive and negative recent examples surrounding the summer movie season.  The core message is to get out and have a physical outlet away from fantasy and escapism.  On one hand, the “get a life” and “go to therapy” clapbacks to the toxic fanboys is an indirect call to them to have something else fulfilling in life other than movies and entertainment.  Excellent counterexamples have appeared this summer at the movies between Tag and Uncle Drew and the idea of “play.” My Chicago colleague and Consequence of Sound film critic Clint Worthington richly outlined this psychology in highly recommended little editorial read published on Crooked Marquee.  I love the underlying messages from Clint’s article and the movie examples.  Put down the screens.  Get off the couch.  Get out of the movie theater air conditioning.  Go outside.  Get together with friends in person instead of virtually and have interpersonal activity and collaborative fun.  Simply put, go play.  It’s summer.  Get some exercise and get better juices flowing than those that come from sitting down and watching some thing you’ve seen a hundred times.

LESSON #5: THE DEAL IS DONE— The two largest official steps of have cleared in the deal of the century.  Shareholders of both 21st Century Fox and the Walt Disney Company approved the $71.3 billion takeover deal on Friday morning.  That follows the approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.  No more red tape exists, only transitional preparations.  Folks, the reality is official real.  It’s officially OK to start all that click-bait fan casting of Fantastic Four, X-Men, and more.  Deeply suspicious campfire rumors are bubbling up that substantial fix-up work may already be necessary on the two upcoming Fox/Marvel films The New Mutants and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Uh oh.  We knew speedbumps were possible.  Hang tight.  It could be worse.  Could you imagine the kind of image and tone cleanup Marvel would have to apply to the DCEU if they bought Warner Bros.?!  Great googa-mooga!

 


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.  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: May 7-13

LESSON #1: DISNEY UNDERPAID WHEN THEY BOUGHT MARVEL— In 2009, The Walt Disney Company bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion dollars.  I’m sure that seems like an astronomical sum, but the Disney/Marvel films have been printing money, with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” bringing home $425 million worldwide this weekend on its way to almost certainly $1 billion-plus before it’s done in theaters.  In eight short years starting with “Iron Man 2,” Disney/Marvel films have earned approximately $9.8 billion at the theater box office alone (that will cross $10 billion this week).  That’s a total without all of the regular comics, home media, toys, and other merchandise sold on top of that.  Four billion dollars is looking like a pittance.  We’ll be doing this same math for Disney again in December when “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” drops and makes another killing at the box office.

LESSON #2: JAMES GUNN HAS EARNED CREATIVE CREDIBILITY— When the official word came down that last month that James Gunn will return to helm “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” it was also revealed that writer/director would be joining the inner circle of the MCU’s braintrust.  Gunn stated “I will be working side-by-side with Kevin Feige and the gang to help design where these stories go, and make sure the future of the Marvel Cosmic Universe is as special and authentic and magical as what we have created so far.”  Retaining a mind and a talent like James Gunn should call for backflips.  He has earned artistic respect and is the right man to join that team.

LESSON #3: THE 1970s WERE THE BEST DECADE OF THE CENTURY OF AMERICAN POP CULTURE— This lesson statement is designed to inspire debate.  Maybe I’m loving too hard on the stellar soundtracks of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, but I’m ready to call this prize fight.  No great decade of pop culture since silent film and recorded music began around 100 years ago can top the 1970s.  The music was eclectic and transformative, no matter the genre from rock and disco to soul and jazz.  In film, the 1970s were the peak of the New Hollywood era, a stratosphere of seminal films, emerging filmmakers, and dynamic performers that changed the entire industry and still inspire it to this day.  While there have been strong singular years or small stretches elsewhere, it’s not even close to volume of the 1970s.


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.

Guardians of the MOVIE REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

For weeks, the Disney/Marvel marketing machine has been dropping 30-second nuggets of hype on our television screens, promising copious amounts of adorable Baby Groot shenanigans and Drax the Destroyer punch lines. And while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes good on those promises, this is a decidedly different experience from Volume 1, mostly in that there is a lot less galaxy guarding and a lot more reconciling with daddy issues. It’s a cinematic equivalent of spending two hours on a therapist’s couch, with a few action sequences thrown in to appease any of the natives who might be getting restless.

Spending time addressing personal relationships between characters shouldn’t surprise anyone up to date with Marvel’s film library. Marvel historically uses sequels as association points for their future cinematic plans. In order for the Guardians to move forward, it was necessary to take a step back to fine tune some character arcs and throw a few lingering contrivances to the curb. Despite somewhat fidgety pacing and Director James Gunn’s compulsion to wring many of his gags of every last drop of usefulness, Guardians Vol. 2 mostly succeeds as a fun, humorous addition to the Marvel pantheon, and a workable catalyst for the summer 2017 onslaught of blockbuster entertainment.

When Guardians Vol. 1 premiered in 2014, only ardent Marvel comic book fans were in the loop on this collection of characters, none of whom looked like any of the Avengers we had become accustomed to seeing on screen. It was considered a big risk for Marvel Studios- stepping out of their cinematic comfort zone- playing with toys from the back of the closet- hoping audiences would embrace these second tier creations. And it worked. But whenever something works, it undoubtably comes with an added burden to carry forward…. expectations.

So what is Gunn & Co. to do, now faced with the unenviable task of taking this ragtag cast of B-list characters to the next level? Fanboys are a brutal lot. Just look at the backlash lobbied against nerd demigod Joss Whedon when his vision for Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t meet with the ridiculous standard set forth from within grandma’s basements across the globe. Gunn could have taken the easy route. He had his golden ticket to fall back on- Chris Pratt, who’s boyish charm and charisma elevate even the most outlandish of flawed premises. He could have served up another helping of intergalactic cheese, ending with a typical, “and I’d have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids,” mustache twirling villain meets a predicable and mildly anticlimactic demise. Make no mistake, all of this exists here, but Gunn also layers in some emotional character beats that add a depth and complexity to these characters both as individuals and as a team.

Guardians Vol. 2 lays a lot of its chips down on dealing with family conflict, the need for acceptance, and the power of redemption. In Peter Quill (Pratt), questions about his past are answered, not necessarily to his liking, but in a way that allows him to determine the type of person he ultimately chooses to become. His curiosity about his father has always consumed him, yet what keeps him whole is the memory of his mother and the Walkman she gifted him. She was the one that was always there for him, until she wasn’t. Not even an all powerful, scene chewing Kurt Russell wielding promises of immortality is going to stand between that.

For Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), sibling rivalry- a construct of a father with ulterior motives- comes to a violent head, where festering animosities collide in a burst of emotion and enlightenment. Gillan’s tortured, angry Nebula is a stand out, and the catharsis she and her sister work toward is earned in every respect.

For Rocket (Bradley Cooper), the facade of being a wise talking douche-bag is challenged. What he discovers about himself is a true need for others- a compulsion to be a part of a family- and his propensity to distance himself from others is a wall of his own construct to shield himself from having to admit as such.

Refreshingly, much of the emotional weight of the film falls on the dark blue shoulders of Yondu (Michael Rooker). He is the Severus Snape of the series, altogether loathed and loved within the course of an hour. His is the redemptive spirit that holds court over the film, ultimately rebinding the family unit that has been tested.

Don’t be concerned with all of the Freudian psychoanalysis however, for when these themes start to weigh the film down, you can count on another influx of Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) antics or a bout of infectious Drax (Dave Bautista) belly laughing to lighten the mood. Gunn is fully aware that a need to see spaceship battles and explosions are requisites he cannot ignore completely, even if his dual commitment to developing his characters and his need to sate his audience’s desire for action sometimes struggle to play nicely together.

Visually, Guardians Vol. 2 sticks with the same motif that worked in the first film, using a color palate and set designs that feel like a space opera created by Dr. Seuss. The battle scenes are ambitious, but sometimes feel a bit too busy and suffer as a result from a cacophony of sight and sound that is impossible to decipher. The soundtrack is becoming an important “character” in the series as well, and again regales us with an eclectic mix of 80’s nostalgia, eagerly ripped from the stereo of our parent’s sedan or from the “middle-aged white persons” list in karaoke bars. Seriously, you know you’re cranking “Brandy” when the opportunity presents itself.

I suppose it’s apropos that Guardians Vol. 2 would be the film that topples The Fate of the Furious from the domestic box office perch. A series that roots itself in family, supplanted by another. Guardians and Furious seem to be kindred spirits, both harboring in over the top action yet allowing for room to breathe and grow. Guardians has positioned itself to move nicely forward, having rid itself of much of the personal baggage leftover from Vol. 1.

Yet, there will be a bit of backlash against Guardians. It’s standard for these types of films. I don’t like to throw around the term critic proof, as films like this are usually categorized. Everything should be considered for subjective analysis, even if it will rake in a mountain of cash regardless. Don’t tell me I need to lighten up, or that it’s a “popcorn movie.” Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking any blockbuster film shouldn’t be held to the highest standard. The minute we stop caring about characters and how they fit into ongoing stories is the minute we start enabling studios to churn out cinematic chum that blind masses of filmgoers will swarm towards in any regard. Do you really think the majority of people flocking to the theaters for Marvel movies are looking for something with depth? Ask yourself…how many people got up after the screen went blank, oblivious to the five post credit sequences still to come? How is this still a thing with Marvel movie audiences? Marvel doesn’t have to try anymore. They could easily cater to the lowest denominator, and yet, they don’t. They still care about the fans, unlike that Michael Bay franchise that somehow continues to gorge itself on the shekels of middle class Americans. They still see a need for character development and conflict. I’m not saying don’t criticize, just be careful what you’re criticizing. Be upset about the way that Guardians handled Quill’s daddy issues if you need to, but don’t be upset that they brought them up and fleshed them out. Know the difference between criticizing and whining. We should always want the best effort, and I think for the most part Marvel has delivered. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 being no exception. We are Groot.

Episode 056: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

It’s The Fast & Furious, in spaaaaaaaace. Well, maybe not quite, but it’s close. With a strong theme of family resonating throughout, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gives us much more to discuss than just really cool space battles (but there are plenty of those, too). The character depth here is a real strength and it’s clear that director James Gunn knows exactly the tone he’s going for. In our opinion, he mostly nails it. We have a fun conversation about this one. WE ARE GROOT.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:54

(Patrick – The Way, Way Back)
(Aaron – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Psycho-Pass, La La Land)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review – 0:20:26

The Connecting Point – 1:08:45

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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What We Learned This Week: April 16-22

LESSON #1: THE “FAST AND FURIOUS” FRANCHISE HAS BEEN FOR REAL FOR A LONG TIME— I was amazed this week how many casual movie fans (and uppity critics) were surprised by the record-breaking international success of “The Fate of the Furious.”  I wonder what rock they’ve been under because “Furious 7” was a $1.5 billion worldwide smash two years ago and each film of the four films since 2009 has surpassed the gross of the previous one.  The franchise has cross-gender and cross-racial appeal on multiple levels.   This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

LESSON #2: OVER-ANALYZATION TAKES AWAY FROM ENJOYMENT— After a month of incredible trailer debuts for blockbuster after blockbuster, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” came in this past week and dropped its own microphone.  In my opinion, Episode 8 didn’t need to share a single second of footage to be hotly anticipated and successful.  The problem has been the endless mountain of clickbait websites and posts filled that have tried to analyze every second of the trailer since.  I get that pageviews and visits move the needle and anything “Star Wars” sells, but diving into every little theory and poorly educated guess is destined to take away the enjoyment of the future finished product.  Pump the brakes and just enjoy the hype.  Don’t buy into the rumor mill.

LESSON #3: THIS YEAR’S CANNES LINE-UP WILL BE SPECIAL— The hoity-toity-est of international film festivals celebrates 70 years this May with a killer lineup of potential future Oscar contenders.  New films premiere from Sofia Coppola, Noah Baumbach, Bong Joo-Hoo, Michael Haneke, Todd Haynes, Yorgos Lanthimos, Francois Ozon, Mathieu Almaric, Taylor Sheridan, Arnaud Desplechin, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.  That’s some pedigree.  Take a trip to Europe.  I’m bet the plane tickets to the French Riviera and hotel prices are more than affordable.  Hit up United.  I’m sure they’ll have room.

LESSON #4: FILMS CAN ADD AS MANY POST-CREDITS SCENES AS THEY WANT— 50/50 cheers and jeers of “that’s so awesome” and “good Lord, WTF” rained down from social media keyboards when Marvel Films and director James Gunn announced that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” would have no less than FIVE post-credits scenes.  These stingers have been a signature staple for Marvel Cinematic Universe films.  They are both entertaining and functional to solidify the continuity of their film franchises.  You know you were staying anyway.  What’s a few more?  Enjoy the film’s kicking soundtrack, power back on your phone, and have a little patience.  If you don’t like it, go to the lobby, pee, and leave.  No one is stopping you or forcing you to stay.

 

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.