What We Learned This Week: October 14-27

LESSON #1: SUPPORT PHYSICAL MEDIA AND FILM PRESERVATION— The Friday announcement that the Filmstruck streaming service will close at the end of November is a blow to classic, international, and documentary films.  The vast Criterion Collection was previously occupying a shingle of Hulu Plus before Filmstruck can do be, and I’m sure that winning content will find a new home, likely something from its Warner Bros. parent looking to compete with Disney and Netflix.  Still, this is the equivalent of a museum loosing its walls boarding up its treasures.  Let this be a reminder call to support physical media, even if those Criterion discs are pricey.  I get that streaming is portable and convenient, but a top-shelf disc is worth every penny sometimes.  If discerning cinephiles should also look to local libraries for access to hard-to-find films.  I’ll echo fellow FF contributor Jacob Neff to promote the absolutely free Kanopy app that is connected to most library cards.  You can’t pass up free and make sure to follow Jacob’s “You Should Be Watching” column for recommended buried treasures.  If you need a checklist bigger than that, borrow Martin Scorsese’s.  

LESSON #2: FILMS MAY AGE, BUT THE MEMORIES AND IMPACT THEY CREATE WILL NOT— RogerEbert.com and New York magazine film critic extraordinaire Matt Zoller Seitz had a recent interview with The Last Picture Show filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and the topic of superhero movies came up.  The respected armchair historian asserted that superhero movies (with few exceptions) are going to “date very badly.”  I think the guy enjoying the way-back machine can’t drive the way-forward machine with the same level of understanding.  It is almost a certainty, like every genre hey-day that has come before now, that comic book films cannot maintain their current market saturation level forever, but not before adding to the game-changing level of impact and entertainment that they have earned and enjoyed.  We’re going on 40 years since Superman: The Movie and nearly 20 years since their early-00s renaissance.  In that time, superhero movies have the fan following numbers that have already created multi-generational reach. That’s bigger than a phase or a fad. They have become too big to fade into forgotten nothingness.  Like western or noir, they will simply evolve with their times because even with tastes changing, we’re still making westerns and noirs too.

LESSON #3: THE FILM MEDIUM’S MIDDLE CLASS CONTINUES TO FADE— Speaking of blockbusters, tentpole films never used to be so big.  There was a time that a $100 million budget was seen as an excessive risk that could sink a studio.  Now, we’re talking about $200+ million films being too big to fail or overinflated comedies (like Adam Sandler flicks from a decade ago) that cost $80 million to make when they used to cost a tenth of that.  Many of the popular hits of the 1980s and 1990s that came before the gigantic budget price tags of today were these middle-budgeted studio programmers that cost between $25-$75 million.  They represented an entire economy of smart money staple.  They always had one or two big stars attached that ensured a loyal and steady audience across most any genre, from cop thrillers to romantic comedies.  Today, especially after the announced shuttering of Annapurna Pictures (excellent editorial piece from Next Best Picture), the “middle class” film nearly doesn’t exist.  Things are either huge or relegated or dismissed to indie fare.  For some parallel examples, Die Hard had a $28 million budget and Pretty Woman‘s was $14 million.  Today, one would be a Dwayne Johnson film with quadruple the sticker price and the other would be a low-level indie like The Big Sick with a scant budget of $5 million that has to beg for funding and distribution.  Like our own national economy, if you want a healthier marketplace and industry, boost the middle class.  Bring back the middle-budgeted programmers.

LESSON #4: TAYLOR SHERIDAN HAS EARNED THE CRED TO MAKE ANYTHING HE WANTS— Taylor Sheridan is one hell of a writer and emerging as a one hell of a filmmaker too.  He had me at Sicario‘s script.  If he didn’t impress you by the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, you’re dead to me.  Wind River spread his wings to director’s chair and now he’s preparing his follow-up under the Warner Bros. big top.  His thriller Fast, with franchise potential, is coming and it’s attracting the attention of Chris Pratt.  Make it happen, WB.  Make it happen.

LESSON #5: NO ONE IS GOING TO MISS A BOBA FETT MOVIE— LucasFilm producer Kathleen Kennedy declared Friday that James Mangold’s Boba Fett was dead in favor of Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian TV series that will help open Disney’s exclusive streaming service.  I’ll be the guy that says it.  I never understood the fascination with the admittedly good-looking character after about four lines and faint presence in the original trilogy.  Fan fiction has made Boba Fett into a cult figure, but Solo shows that even legends can’t guaranteed a successful or profitable film.  The bounty hunter didn’t stand a chance on the biggest stage and James Mangold dodged a bullet.

LESSON #6: TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT THE FILMS THEY WATCH— Notable semi-“granola” parent and actress Kristen Bell shared in an interview with Parent magazine that she’s not fully comfortable with some Disney animated classics.  She called out Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as one poor example, citing the failing to avoid taking food from strangers and, more astutely, the notion of consent when it comes to princes and their kisses to sleeping maidens.  Shrug all you want and dismiss Snow White and others as a harmless kids movies, but Bell is handling it right.  Bell shared in the interview how she makes sure to have discussions with her children after the movies they watch.  This school teacher over here writing this column highly approves of that parenting measure. Engaging in those talks elevates the experience from being time-killing entertainment into rich “teachable moments,” and they help correct misconceptions we might not even know kids had or picked up along the way.  The children will see your interpersonal example of the beginnings of critical thinking.  Make movies shared episodes of such enrichment and quality time.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson 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 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: 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 13-26

LESSON #1: ARGUE WITH A LEG TO STAND ON— Call it an occupational hazard built by years of fandom, research, and practice, but I tell myself everyday (maybe not to a Stuart Smalley level, but close) that I’ve got a pretty good head on my shoulders and a better-than-decent eye for the good, bad, great, and ugly when it comes to just about anything movie-related.  That passion gets me in plenty of debates online and across social media on any range of topics (masterpieces vs. classics, best vs. favorite, etc).  Wearing the critic badge on top of that knowledge, I get labeled arrogant and full of hubris.  To me, it’s not hubris when the stances are educated and supported with substance.  I’ve done my homework and I’ve come prepared or I wouldn’t be debating in the first place.  I can’t say the same thing for many other people on the other side of debates.  The language of this lesson is a plea that if you’re going to present an argument or stance, be able to back it up.  The substance of your stance has to be stronger than wimpy likes and dislikes.  The trolls and whiners I meet don’t have that integrity.  For example, see an actor or director’s filmography before making any declarations for or against them in any point of comparison.  Even more egregious, see the actual film you’re debating and labeling before laying judgment.  Bring more to the table than thin personal preferences and clickbait hearsay.  Bring a little more objectivity beyond the surface-level subjectivity.

LESSON #2: MAKE CHARACTERIZATIONS THAT FIT STORYLINES— As if irascible and irrational Star Wars fans had to find more things to hate, pockets of new semi-protests started up this week before the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story when Lando Calrissian actor Donald Glover and screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan declared the character to be pansexual.  There are many angles to consider here from this left-field turn.  Increased LGBTQ+ representation is always a welcome thing in these modern and more progressive times and, secondly, writers/actors are allowed their interpretation of characters they play.  However, reflect on making such a label or change purposeful and not a measure of tokenism.  Consider the fit and don’t shoehorn in LGBTQ+ characters for the sake of doing so without actually having the story to do so.  This one feels like tokenism and a hollow attempt at praise.  That said, this, whether for or against, is not a reason to protest a film or abandon a beloved character.

LESSON #3: KNOWN FATES TAKE AWAY FROM THE SUSPENSE— I have to reprint this irrefutable dilemma from my Solo: A Star Wars Story review from Every Movie Has a Lesson.  This goes for every prequel in existence.  Because the audience knows certain characters have documented futures, there is a perceptible, if not even enormous, storytelling loss in the peril department.  The edge of one’s seat becomes a little more relaxed and more than a bit farther away.  In Solo, no matter what happens to Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, and the Millennium Falcon, they’re going to be fine.  In equal measure, since a large majority of the side characters present in Solo are never mentioned in the films later down the timeline, you might as well put a red shirt of Star Trek doom on each of them.  Foregone conclusions like that are not spoiler alerts.  Those are plain facts. Ignoring this conundrum is pure gullibility.  The common rewind counterargument is “well, it’s about the journey… blah, blah, blah.”  Sure, but then the impact of said journey better be damn important or move us to pieces.  As hellaciously fun as it is at times, Solo: A Star Wars Story is missing a certain level of that compelling juice.

LESSON #4: JAMES MANGOLD AND BOUNTY HUNTERS ARE A GOOD POTENTIAL FIT— In surprise news on the night of Solo‘s debut, another anthology/prequel backstory was announced by the Mouse House.  Logan, Cop Land, and Walk the Line director James Mangold has been tapped to helm a Boba Fett origin film.  While that film will have the same predicament as Lesson #3, Boba Fett is at least a character with more intriguing mystery and depth to solve than Han Solo, arguably the most iconic character of the whole franchise.  That’s exactly the kind of cult status character that deserves these kinds of standalone film attempts, and, gosh, what a hire.  Just imagine a talent like Mangold crafting a grizzled, borderline space western of a relentless pursuer stalking his prey and taking down all comers who cross his path.  Grow that legend!  Along the same lines, my fingers are crossed that Donald Glover, who steals every scene he’s in from Solo, gets his own film after the inevitable box office success.

LESSON #5: PRE-SCREENINGS CAN DO THEIR JOB IN CATCHING QUESTIONABLE CONTENT BEFORE IT PLAYS TO ALL AUDIENCES— Kudos to the parents who made a stink about some questionable scenes in the upcoming family-marketed film Show Dogs.  You can read the details here here about some testicular inspection scenes (which true to real dog shows or not) that hit a little too close to predatory sexual grooming allusions if the roles were people instead of dogs voiced by people.  The studio is doing the right thing and editing out the poor choices before the theatrical release.  This goes to show that some studios have the wherewithal to seek the right approvals before releasing something willy-nilly.  Sure, scenes like those shouldn’t have made it past the script editor, but it counts as better late than never to not just make the changes, but listen to the paying customers in the first place.
LESSON #6: SOME PULLED PLUGS ARE WHOLLY DESERVED— Speaking of paying attention and judging the landscape, Paramount Pictures dropped the seventh Transformers film from its release schedule.  The off-shoot Bumblebee film is still coming this December, but maybe this long road of Michael Bay trash is finally done.  You can only beat dead horses so long.  Can Disney borrow the same logic soon with Pirates of the Caribbean.  Just as the cited article suggests, this joy might be short-lived (but it is joy nonetheless).  The word “reboot” is being thrown around because once any studio makes several billion dollars, they’re going to want to try and make it happen again.  There are always more horses to flog on the big studio lots.

LESSON #7: THE MIGHTY FALL THE HARDEST— Lastly, I was as shocked as the next person by the CNN report of extensive and multiple inappropriate harassment allegations against Oscar-winning A-lister and overall beloved figure Morgan Freeman.  He is easily the biggest name to be burned since Kevin Spacey. As with each of these stories that have come to light over the course of the last year (and often stated in this column), no matter who it is, my first reactions are patience and sadness long before anger and judgment.  First and foremost, I, for one, refuse to label a man guilty or otherwise on rumors alone until accusations are proven or disproven.  I choose to wait.  Each person deserves their chance to defend themselves, seek the proper contrition, or both.  Until then, disappointment fills me more than anger.  I respect the works of these people too much to ever “ban” or “boycott” their careers and erase them from the proverbial record books.  I just don’t think that’s right.  They existed, their work remains, and it mattered.  It may lose some level of respect considering the circumstances, but it’s never reduced to zero for me.  My policy has always been to separate the person and the performance.  I still watch Kevin Spacey movies and I will still watch Morgan Freeman ones too, only now the impact is softened to a degree.


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.