Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
It’s almost unfathomable to me that the same characters in one of the best superhero films ever (DAYS OF FUTURE PAST) are so criminally uninteresting in this finale for the 20th Century Fox X-Men. Fassbender, McAvoy, Hoult, and Lawrence all deserved better. Sophie Turner and DARK PHOENIX are just a bore.
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 the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.
LESSON #1: DEAR CHRISTIAN FILM COMPANIES AND DISTRIBUTORS, SPREAD YOUR RELEASE SCHEDULE OUT— Don’t get me wrong. I get it. Easter might as well be Christmas: Part II, the Super Bowl, and WrestleMania when it comes to public awareness on all things Christianity. Just because all eyes are on the “reason for the season” (if they can put down the eggs, bunnies, and candy) doesn’t mean that Easter should be the most stacked weekend of the calendar year for Christian-themed films. The presence of I Can Only Imagine, Paul Apostle of Christ, and God is Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness makes for three films competing for your Easter weekend dollars against the inviting mainstream fare like Ready Player One. Spielberg’s film is going to get its money, but your films have a hard enough time making money (as well as other problems) as it is to have to now compete with each other. Share the wealth, space your calendar out, and that means more than the two-week head start I Can Only Imagine gave itself to great success. The calendar is full of holidays. Pick another couple go-to weekends and fallbacks other than Easter.
LESSON #2: STEVEN SPIELBERG STILL HAS THE MAGIC— As heard on this week’s main Feelin’ Film podcast and read in my own review on Every Movie Has a Lesson (among many others) as well, Ready Player One feels like a tremendous return to form for the 71-year-old director who has spent the better part of the last decade making safe and tidy historical Social Studies lectures on film. Cinema has sorely lacked the full power of his signature sense of wonder after mere glimpses in films like War Horse, Lincoln, and others. Cue the WWE chant!
LESSON #3: STEVEN SPIELBERG NEVER LOST THE MAGIC— No matter the moral history preaching that went on, Steven Spielberg never lost his technical prowess within the medium. If anything his more reserved and refined projects sharpened it and modernized it to be ready for something like Ready Player One. The craftsman-level maturity he and his frequent collaborators (editor Michael Kahn, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, ILM guru Dennis Muren, and others) bring to a project like Ready Player One elevate the material and prevent what would be over-amplified noise and lazy fluff in lesser hands (yeah, I mean you Michael Bay and Tim Burton). Rediscovered mojo or not, he never lost the talent.
LESSON #4: STEVEN SPIELBERG STILL LOST OTHER THINGS— Where Steven Spielberg might be slipping is with his rhetoric. While doing press this week for his blockbuster’s big release, he commented that Netflix films shouldn’t qualify for Oscars, equating the streaming platform to a television outlet, making the filmmaker appear to be a little out of touch with the evolved marketplace film viewers operate within nowadays. If you go to the official rulebook from the Academy, here’s the basics of what it takes for Best Picture eligibility:
I’ll grant the kicker of the Part D listed above as deal-breaker in my book to match Spielberg’s opinion. Here’s the thing, Netflix has previously and does currently release some of its films in theaters for limited runs. The trouble is, for the most part, their theatrical drops are a blip on the radar and the bare minimum similar to the “one-and-done” trend happening in NCAA Men’s Basketball with holding players in college for a year before making the leap straight to the NBA. Neither practice really does much good and just delays the inevitable profitability (NBA money or Netflix reach) but, if the rule is followed eligibility is met, plain and simple. This year’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival is already displaying an anti-Netflix power move by banning Netflix Original films from competing without a theatrical release. I’ve said this before on other topics. It’s all about price point, earning potential, and this being a business first now. If a studio can make more money selling to Netflix (just ask Paramount with Annihilation) than it would the cost of printing it, marketing it, and putting it in limited theaters, I sure couldn’t tell them not to.
LESSON #5: “META” CAN’T GET WEIRDER THAN SHIA LEBOUF— In WTF news that could only come out of Hollywood, word hit the wire that Shia LeBeouf, at the young age of 31, has written (under a pseudonym) his own film autobiography and the casting has raised an eyebrow. Signing Manchester by the Sea Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges to play the young Shia is a nice get, but what gets really weird is that LeBeouf himself will play his own father. Yowzers! Even if Shia is a dead ringer for his own father, I don’t know how big the grain of salt has to be to suspend the disbelief that the Shia you’re watching acting next to the other dude playing Shia isn’t the real Shia you see and recognize but his dad instead?! That’s not going to be a good look for the continually growing deep end you’ve been leaping from, Mr. LeBeouf. Dude, either play yourself (because you can) for the vanity or get another actor to separate the work behind-the-camera from the one on-camera.
LESSON #6: MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, NUDITY IS AN UNNECESSARY DISTRACTION IN MOVIES— As the former horndog pre-teen/teen who had no problem sneaking through his local video store to rent some Shannon Tweed Skin-a-max films back in the day, this lesson might be the most mature realization I’ve ever grown up to admit the truth on. Get out the #adulting hashtag. Jessica Chastain got herself a headline this week talking about nudity in film. No stranger herself to nudity, the acclaimed actress made excellent points on discomfort, victimization, and whether the nudity in question matches what the characters themselves would really do. The word “gratuitous” was never used by Chastain, but most of us adults can quickly label nudity in a movie (female and male, mind you) with that word pretty quickly. She brings up valid points and I tip my hat with respect that someone wants to talk about it, especially during this #MeToo era.
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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.
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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LESSON #1: WONDER WOMAN IS THE HEROINE AND FILM WE ALL DESERVE THIS SUMMER— It doesn’t matter how you feel about the DC Extended Universe or the stylings of Zack Snyder, you owe it to yourself to see Wonder Woman this weekend or soon. Sure, it’s another origin story, but I guarantee this is one you haven’t seen before. This isn’t the fourth time we’ve seen Bruce Wayne’s parents killed. This is a hero that the movie writers got right and absolutely nailed. Gal Gadot (and that smile of hers) is an absolute treasure. She’s deserves the importance and pedestal people are assigning to her. Wonder Woman matters to more than just women and feminism. Anyone still ranting about any all-female favoritism needs to shut up. Go see the movie. It will earn your praise.
LESSON #2: JESSICA CHASTAIN IS A REAL HERO IN THE MAKING— Speaking of Wonder Woman, women deserve improved treatment across the board and I’ll all for those for who stand up and call out the needs and problems. Bravo to Jessica Chastain! The A-list actress called the onscreen representation of women in this year’s lineup of Cannes Film Festival films “quite disturbing” during a press conference. That is a woman of principles. She’s right and more needs to be done.
LESSON #3: BLACK GIRL MAGIC EXISTS AND IS COMING SOON— Speaking of empowerment of women, the stars of awesomeness are aligning to turn the buddy movie template on its ear. Recording artist Rihanna, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, and Selma director Ava DuVernay are teaming up with Netflix for a new film that screens the title of this lesson. It the words of former New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, “can’t wait.”
LESSON #4: WAY TO GO, GEORGIA!— I am no southerner, but raise a glass of moonshine to the Peach State. Recent film industry studies have tallied Georgia as the number one location in the whole world for film production. The United Kingdom was #2. Not New York. Not California. Be watching for their logo in film credits. Chances are you’ve been seeing it more than you realize.
LESSON #5: DO YOU BUY MAINSTREAM VR AS A THING FOR MOVIES?— I don’t know about you, but I laugh when I see someone with their cell phone strapped to their face doing some kind of VR display or experience. Talk about sitting too close to the screen like our mothers told us as kids. I turn into Nelson from “The Simpsons” and secretly hope they walk into a wall or fall from small heights. Apparently, VR might just be a new medium for film experiences. Oscar winning Birdman and The Revenant director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is bringing VR to the forefront and demonstrated the technology and its film-viewing capabilities at the Cannes Film Festival in France this past month with his Carne Y Arena project. So, what do you think of this? Revolutionary tech or decadent fad?
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.
The Zookeeper’s Wife, baed on the novel by Diane Ackerman, recounts the true story of Antonina and Jan Żabiński, and how they secretly used the Warsaw Zoo to save over 300 Jews who had been imprisoned during the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Tackling the Holocaust is no new thing for Hollywood, as dozens (if not hundreds) of films and documentaries exist, telling the stories of those who suffered in the world’s greatest genocide. It might be easy, in fact, to brush aside The Zookeeper’s Wife, and assume it cannot reach the greatness of films like Sophie’s Choice, Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful, or The Pianist. But that would be a mistake.
The first thing you’ll (hopefully) notice, during the credits, is that this film is written/adapted and directed by women. Niki Caro helms the co-written project by original author Diane Ackerman and Angela Workman. Considering the story is based on the discovered journals of Antonina Żabiński and told mostly from her perspective, these are fantastic choices. If you haven’t heard, Hollywood has a real problem when it comes to opportunities for women, and The Zookeeper’s Wife is a perfect example of the great movies we can get when talented female artists are provided the chance to shine.
What makes The Zookeeper’s Wife stand out in a crowd of Holocaust-themed films is its blend of genre and style. A large portion of the movie’s opening is spent getting to know Antonina and Jan Żabiński. We are given the chance to connect with why this zoo is so important to them and really get a feel for their character – the same traits that will eventually lead them to caring for needy Jews instead of animals. The movie’s focus on the zoo early on will make animal lovers very happy. As the film progresses it has sections that feel very biopic in nature, while others are dramatic, and yet other scenes capture a real sense of war (with some stunning cinematography by Andrij Parekh). One gorgeously shot scene of note has a family being surprised by the snow they notice on a hot summer’s day, only to realize as it falls around them that it isn’t snow at all, but ash, something indicative of a nearby tragedy. This powerful, emotional moment is one of several in the film where its iconic imagery will become burned into your mind as you recall the feelings you experienced when seeing it on screen. The film also does not shy away from the horror of what Nazi Germany did to the many Jews of European nations. There are a few gasp-worthy moments but nothing too bloody. Be warned – animals do perish, and sometimes in heartbreaking manner, so young viewers who may be affected by seeing this should probably avoid this film.
Jessica Chastain leads a slew of great performances and exhibits an elegant strength that is perfect for this period setting. Her male co-stars are all up to the task, Daniel Brühl displaying a selfish disregard for both animal and human life while trying to outwardly proclaim that he has a soul, and Johan Heldenbergh tortured by his need to help others and fear of what this strain may do to his marriage.
The Zookeeper’s Wife is an incredible story. It’s portrait of empathy for the marginalized and oppressed comes at a time when the world really needs to see it. The Żabińskis were not Jews themselves, but sacrificed greatly to fight against injustice simply because it showed up on their doorstep one day. Their efforts saved many lives and the film captures the emotional swings of this so well. This is an inspirational film well worth seeing and learning from, just don’t expect a dry eye while doing so.
Emotional Takeaway: RADICAL COMPASSION
Khen Lampert identifies compassion as a special case of empathy, directed towards the “other’s” distress. Radical compassion is a specific type of general compassion, which includes the inner imperative to change reality in order to alleviate the pain of others. This state of mind, according to Lampert’s theory, is universal, and stands at the root of the historical cry for social change. This is exactly what we see from Antonina and Jan Żabiński in The Zookeeper’s Wife. It is tragic and rage-inducing to see the what Nazi Germany did to Poland, but the takeaway here is that when people step up and forego their own safety and comfort to put others first, lives can be saved and history can be changed. See this film because it is a very well-made movie that tells a compelling story through great performances and technical mastery, but walk out of it with a renewed purpose and outlook on life outside of your personal bubble.