What We Learned This Week: December 3-9

LESSON #1: IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, BUY THEM— Barring any final hang-ups, big media will be getting bigger.   The entertainment universe is abuzz with the prospect of Walt Disney buying 21st Century Fox (more than just parts or assets of it as initially rumored), a $60 billion deal that could be done as early as next week.  Word is Fox would retain its sports and news properties (dammit), but the film wing is what has folks dreaming.  Fanboys go straight to the fantasies of seeing the X-Men/Fantastic Four worlds merged with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I cannot blame them for those tingles. I have them too, but circle back to some of the little things we’ve seen Disney do over the course of the year (many reported in this column): the blackout of critics from certain publications, the price hikes for theater dividends, taking their ball to their own convention and streaming service, and more.  There is something to be said for healthy competition and not a one-stop shop that is the size of an empire.  For example (and I bet you didn’t know this one), buying 21st Century Fox would give Disney controlling interest in Hulu.   Combine that potential with Disney’s ESPN service and their own streaming platform coming in 2019 and Disney could have the power to squeeze the life out of Netflix like a corporate anaconda.  Plainly put, I hope the deal doesn’t go through.  If Disney wants to use X-Men and the Fantastic Four, broker a sharing deal with Fox the way they did with Sony for Spider-Man until the rights run out and the properties are free agents again.  Share and play nice together instead of bully with a takeover.

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF BIG BUSINESS, LET THE JUSTICE LEAGUE AFTERMATH BEGIN AT DC/WARNER BROS.— I have been one of the vocal minority to tip my hat at Warner Bros. going the bolder and more adult direction with their superhero properties as an antithesis to the sunny and safe market cornered by Disney’s MCU.  They had the balls to be different.  The bottom line, unfortunately, is that even the cajones have to sell.  I wouldn’t say Warner Bros. is losing money from its DC films, but you can tell a boardroom somewhere looks at their receipt and then looks at Marvel’s receipts and sees lost earning potential.  They’re making money, but they think they should be making even more money.  Go figure.  Justice League is being seen as a business failure and a rumored producer and operational shake-up made headlines this week.  Adding salt to the wound for many (even though I saw this coming as soon as the Flash solo film was titled Flashpoint, implying the out clause for a reboot), there is strong desire to recast Ben Affleck as Batman in the future Matt Reeves-directed film.  You had to know they were going to need to go younger at some point and it’s reading this was according to plan for Affleck too.  As much as I admire their attempt to be different, I’m fine with a shake-up and some changes to normalize these characters and their potentials.

LESSON #2: “STANDARDS OF CONDUCT” ARE NOW NECESSARY TERMS TO HAVE ON THE BOOKS— The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the governing and voting body of the Oscars, have enacted a “standards of conduct” requiring members to “behave ethically by upholding the Academy’s values of respect for human dignity, inclusion, and a supportive environment that fosters creativity.”  In this day and age, what should be common sense for personal behavior now has to be spelled out in specifics and put into print because of how flippant and rampant those unwritten rules have been broken.  It’s never pretty to need this measure, but it’s one that should be applauded.

LESSON #3: LOS ANGELEANS ARE DIFFERENT THAN NEW YORKERS— The critics’ groups from the two largest and leading cities have spoken with their year-end award picks.   Both are trendsetters, yet both are different.  As reported here last week, the New York Film Critics Circle stumped for Lady Bird for Best Picture and Best Actress.  This week, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association went in the direction of Call Me By Your Name for Best Picture and Best Actor with equal love shown to The Shape of Water for Best Director and Best Actress.  If those three non-conformist films are your Oscar frontrunners, this is going to be a feather-rustling awards season with bold independent film leading the way.

LESSON #4: RYAN REYNOLDS HAS NOT TURNED THE CORNER FROM MAKING BAD DECISIONS–Before Deadpool resurrected his career, Ryan Reynolds could not have put together a trashier resume if he tried.  Just when you thought being enlivened striking gold with the “Merc with a Mouth,” here he goes signing on to be the lead voice in a Pokemon movie named Detective Pikachu.  Come on, man.   You’re back.  You’re better than that crap now.  Did you not learn your lesson? Stick to the good stuff, Ryan.

LESSON #5: QUENTIN TARANTINO’S INVOLVEMENT WILL EITHER BE FUN OR A HOT MESS— News bounced around this week that J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino are meeting to hash out some ideas for a Star Trek film.  Word around the campfire is Tarantino pitched an idea to Paramount and Abrams they thought was awesome and now the two filmmakers are putting together a team of writers to develop the screenplay.  If all goes well, Tarantino, a self-professed Trekkie since the original TV show, could also direct.  Follow-up word says that an R-rating has been given a green light.  I don’t know what to think about that potential.  I don’t think you need profanity and R-rated violence in a Star Trek film, in any shape or firm.  Would it spice things up?  Sure, but it’s out of character, even for this rebooted universe.  I’ll grant that Tarantino has panache like no other.  He could take an old TV episode premise like “City on the Edge of Forever” and jazz it up well for the big screen.  However, unchecked Tarantino is silly and excessive when not reined in.  I’m glad other screenwriters are involved to keep the chatty Cathy Tarantino grounded.  Hire a crack editor while they’re at it to keep it from being a 170-minute yak-fest.  I don’t see a middle ground between awesome and disaster when it comes to a guy like Quentin.

LESSON #7: THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING FOR STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI SPOILERS— Folks, next week is the week.  It’s finally here!  Star Wars: The Last Jedi!  I humblebragged this week that I have yet to watch the supposedly spoiler-ish final trailer and I’m pleased as punch that I made it this long.  If you’re avoiding stuff like me, be ready for radio silence next week right around Tuesday morning (hint, hint).  Be cool.  Don’t be a troll.  Don’t ruin it for people.  I promise a spoiler-free review, as always.


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 FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

 

What We Learned This Week: August 20-26

 RETURNING FROM SUMMER VACATION: I take two weeks off and all hell breaks loose!

LESSON #1: “MANSPLAINING” IS NEVER ENDEARING OR RESPECTFUL— For a guy who has fostered one “Strong Female Character” after another, including two of the greatest in Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley, James Cameron sure missed the big picture of Wonder Woman.  In an interview with The Guardian (full context), the Titanic filmmaker stated “All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided” and adds “She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards.”  Well now, Mr. Pott.  What color is the kettle?  Mr. Cameron is entitled to his opinion and slant (the film is far from perfect), but the fun thing is we all get one too.  Don’t worry Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins dropped the mic on him with this commandingly brilliant tweet:

LESSON #2: MOVIEPASS MAY HAVE FINALLY FOUND AN ATTRACTIVE PRICE POINT— Mitch Lowe, the co-founder of Netflix, made tsunami waves recently with a ballsy new business model for the mildly-received MoviePass program.  Reducing the $15-50 per-month rate with plenty of fine print and red tape for a tidy $9.95 fee with new fine print and red tape looks like a steal.  However, will customers buy-in and, more importantly, will theaters play ball at taking a possible haircut?  The AMC Theatres chain (more on them later) immediately pushed back threatening legal action and downright banning MoviePass customers.  You have to love that $10 price point, but how useful is it if the theater companies in your area don’t take it?  Compromise is needed.

LESSON #3: ALONG THE SAME LINES, THE VIDEO ON-DEMAND MARKET IS STILL TRYING TO FIND THEIR PRICE POINT— Some of you might remember that six years ago Universal Studios initially planned to release their tentpole Tower Heist on premium VOD for $59.99 three weeks after its theatrical release with the goal of putting more money in their pockets instead of splitting it with movie theaters.  The notion was met with instant boycott and dismissal (much like the film itself) and the studio backed off.  Here in 2017, media giants Comcast (parent company of Universal), Amazon, and Apple are all developing a new VOD delivery system that will put top-shelf movies out for rental 30-45 days after their theatrical debuts at a $30 price level.  Even with $30 being substantial savings compared to hauling an average family of four to the cinema, that price point still doesn’t work if the digital download and Blu-ray/DVD release windows of $20 permanent ownership (not a temporary rental) keep dramatically shrinking like they have been for a few years.  What used to be an industry-standard of six months or more between silver screen and small screen has been cut in half.  May theatrical releases like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 have arrived on August store shelves.  Why wait a month for a single high-priced rental when you can wait three and buy it for keeps for a lesser price?  I don’t see the viable premium VOD marketplace for average tight-budgeted blue collar consumers out there (and that’s not even taking into account the piracy market looming over anything VOD related).

LESSON #4: SURPRISE, SURPRISE!  DISNEY IS OUT TO MAKE ITS OWN MONEY WITHOUT PARTNERS— When you make billions hand over fist, you get to call the shots or, better yet, go out make your own game.  The Walt Disney Company will pull its lucrative movies off Netflix and launch its own branded streaming subscription platform in 2019.  They don’t need Netflix when they have the clout and fanbase to create their own exclusivity and keep all the money.  I can’t say I blame them and I stand by my prognostication from earlier in the summer for the day Disney/Marvel pulls out of San Diego’s Comic-Con and lets their own D23 be the one-way fan access point to that frenzy.

LESSON #5: NETFLIX IS NOT INVINCIBLE— From the outside looking in, casual observers (and this very column) have been exceedingly impressed by Netflix’s huge push in creating their own original television and film content.  They have thrown tremendous resources with the aim of attracting more customers and now have the $20 billion of debt to prove it.  Subscriptions are up an astounding 25% since last year, so the gamble is working, but how long can a company like that sustain those spending habits on top of Disney pulling out?  Expect an investment bubble to burst in some area (licensing fees with the studios) and, naturally, a raise in subscription rates passed onto us very soon to recoup that debt.

LESSON #6: HAS THE SLOW DEATH OF THE MULTIPLEX BEGUN?— Options like MoviePass, VOD, and Netflix have not come close to creating a new entertainment access monopoly large enough to overtake the big screen marketplace.  That said, even with price point challenges and debt issues, have the little dents and pin pricks started to add up to true damage?  I, for one, am beginning to at least wonder.   Blockbuster fatigue, thanks to poor performing duds like The Mummy, have taken their toll on consumer spending and confidence.  Multiple business outlets broke the news that AMC Theatres took a dramatic second quarter loss (and is staring at a third quarter one coming) that caused shares to fall 40% since the beginning of August.  The overall American box office is down a scant 4.4% from last year.  If that’s all it takes to financially wound one theatre chain, how are the other ones doing?  How are they sustaining 20+ screen multiplexes hawking bargain attempts and hokey incentives only to still sit empty on weeknights against growing operating costs?  I bet they’re not doing much better than AMC.  I have to think some form of internal, yet dramatic, contraction is coming.  Movies survived the invention of television.  They will survive digital and device shifts, but not without a shift or two of their own.

LESSON #7: I DON’T KNOW WHAT WARNER BROS. IS DOING WITH THE DC CHARACTER FILMS AND I DON’T THINK THEY KNOW EITHER— Spinning off of Wonder Woman‘s success as the #1 earner of the summer, Warner Bros. has the ambitious DC Extended Universe schedule of Justice LeagueAquaman, ShazamWonder Woman 2Cyborg, and Green Lantern Corps locked on the calendar through 2020.  It’s the slate after that has created a flurry of questions this week.  Matt Reeves made it known that his The Batman will be a standalone film outside of the DCEU and spread gasoline-dipped rumors of Ben Affleck being out at the Caped Crusader.  The WB brass then added the dreamy Martin Scorsese/Todd Phillips team-up announcement of a spin-off Joker solo origin story film without Jared Leto and on its own.  Confounding us even more a day later, the studio reveals they are concurrently planning a Joker/Harley Quinn film starring Leto and Margot Robbie that will be within the DCEU.  What is all this?!  Is Warner Bros. admitting defeat at building a Marvel-like universe and course-correcting to make focused films or are we watching greedy, hubris, and befuddlement? If so, why carry both? This DCEU timeline is going to start looking a clue board spider-webbed with red yarn from a police procedural or a Charlie Day meme.

LESSON #8: EWAN MCGREGOR OR NO ONE— I’ll bring the first fanboy torch and pitchfork to Disney’s announcement of an Obi-wan Kenobi solo anthology film coming in the near future.  Cast Ewan McGregor or no one at all.  After the flop of Alden Ehrenreich requiring an acting coach for Han Solo, cast some damn proven talent.  Call it stability as much as you call it justified fan service.

LESSON #9: LOOK TO ITALY AS THE OSCAR SEASON STARTS NOW— The prime third quarter film festival season kicks off with the prestigious Venice Film Festival beginning on August 30th and the top-shelf Toronto International Film Festival starting on September 7th.  The lineup in Venice includes first looks at Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, George Clooney’s Suburbicon, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of WaterJudi Dench’s crown in Victoria and Abdul, and the Redford/Fonda reunion Our Souls at Night.  I’ll share the killer TIFF lineup next week.  Get your coffee mugs ready to receive a pouring of Oscar buzz!


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.

MOVIE REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes

I keep wondering what we did to deserve this. In this era of blockbuster fatigue and sequel after sequel of middling franchises grasping for every last drop of blood from the turnip (I’m looking at you Pirates and Transformers), how do we rate a trilogy of films, about talking monkeys of all things, that has been handled with such care- with such dedication to story- as to be considered in the discussion of the greatest trilogies of all time?

The first two films in the series, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, are both above average films that work well in unison as part of a collective whole. The conclusion, War for the Planet of the Apes, piggybacking off the climax of it’s predecessor, is masterful, in more ways than one.

A couple of things elevate this final chapter to its lofty height…

First, Michael Giacchino‘s score is on a different level. Music exists in film to accentuate the experience, ramping up or slowing down as needed.   A lot of time, the music just exists as white noise in the background, unnoticed. But when that music works its way into your core being, ebbing and flowing with the tempo of the visual experience, forcing you to feel every crescendo of action or tender emotional beat, music has done more than accompany.  The music here transcends conventional usefulness and forces the viewer to swallow the film whole.

That’s what a film’s score should do. It looks for the viewer who isn’t engaged (how that could be in this instance I don’t know), grabs them by the ear-hole, and makes them be engaged. In War, the dramatic beats of the timpani as a call to arms, or in the quietest of moments when the distant ding of a triangle accompanies a fallen teardrop, Giacchino provides emotional guidance, almost cathartic in its precise execution.

Secondly, Andy Serkis. I’ve been that guy over the past decade claiming what Serkis does is not true acting, and all of the hubbub over championing him for Academy honors as such should be beaten down. Well, color me converted. Serkis IS Caesar.  Every twitch- every nuance- every look into the depths of Caesar’s tired, battle weary eyes is like looking into the inner core of someone we should feel guilty for having bothered.  Serkis has taken motion capture to a masterful level. Not only should he be in the discussion of best actor, there should probably be an award adorned with his name given out for the best in the motion capture arts each year.

That said, Weta Digital, the New Zealand based visual effects company spearheaded by Peter Jackson, should hold exclusive rights to do all VFX work in all films from this point forward. In all three films, the way in which the apes move on screen is seamless.  It’s near impossible to tell that the humans and the apes aren’t truly coexisting within this world. When we aren’t distracted by sketchy CGI, we can concentrate on the important things, like getting caught up in the story and the characters. Isn’t that novel.

As for the story, is it any good? In my opinion, absolutely. There is a Shakespearean quality to this overall story, coming forward in earnest midway through the second film with the relationship between Caesar and his nemesis, Koba (Toby Kebbel).  In his third film, Caesar is forced to come to terms with the fallout of his actions leading up to this point, as a new dramatic turn of events muddies the waters of his already fragile psyche. Caesar’s will to lead is tested as new priorities consume him.

Themes of morality have hovered over this series from the onset. The Apes are intentionally constructed as sympathetic characters.  Beasts yes, but never in a way that suggests they seek anything other than a means to coexist with humans.  The humans, well, they just can’t help themselves from doing what humans do.  It’s the human’s God complex exhibited in the first film, along with a nasty little flu bug,  that brought us to this point, and the humans still can’t find a way to settle differences without succumbing to destructive tactics. Eradicate enemies. Destroy. Kill. It’s never, hey, these monkeys are freaking talking to us in English! Because, human.

The main human villain here is Woody Harrelson, known only in the film as The Colonel.  This is undoubtedly a role designed for the type of actor Harrelson is. No nonsense, ruthless, and devoid of any semblance of ethical fortitude. He isn’t constructed with a ton of depth, and he doesn’t need to be. His lengthy diatribe of why he is how he is warrants perhaps just a touch of sympathy from the viewer- at least we understand where he’s coming from- but Harrelson urges just enough dickishness from the character to keep any good will he might have earned at arms length.

Also notable is young actress Amiah Miller, as the orphaned girl, Nova, who is forced to tag along with Caesar and his posse on their journey. Miller’s scenes, especially during times of emotional strife, are next level. Stricken with a side effect of the Simian Flu in which she loses her ability to speak, Miller must carry the full weight of her character with her eyes and expressions. The more subdued the scene, the more brilliant is Miller’s performance. One scene in particular, as one of the apes is wounded, will stick with you long after the film, and the credit goes to Miller’s unspoken emotional gravitas.

Adding a touch of levity to the film is newcomer, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). His presence is welcome as the story does travel down some weighty, emotional paths.  Nothing that Zahn does with the character pushes the film into corniness, but he does provide a couple of laugh-out-loud moments.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. There is an emotional yet oddly cathartic final scene which sums up Caesar’s journey to protect and serve the Apes. It works as both a catalyst for future installments of the franchise or as a final exclamation point if that’s what the studio prefers to do. Director Matt Reeves has created such an immersive, thoughtful experience with endless re-watchability.  These damn, dirty apes are the gold standard from which the summer blockbuster should be based upon from here on out.

Rating:

 

Episode 067: War for the Planet of the Apes

DAWN has come and we RISE to the occasion of discussing one of 2017’s best films. War For the Planet of the Apes completes one of the greatest trilogies of the 21st century. It’s not just a story of humanity’s struggle to survive, but a character drama that harkens back to the Biblical and historical epics of old. We dig deep into this completion of Caesar’s tale and hope you’ll join us for a great conversation.

What We’ve Been Up To – 001:30

(Aaron –  Greater)
(Patrick – Brainstorm)

War For the Planet of the Apes Review – 0:16:16

The Connecting Point – 1:16:37

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What We Learned This Week: July 9-15

LESSON #1: CAESAR FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES PREQUEL TRILOGY WILL GO DOWN AS ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE CHARACTERS IN MOVIE HISTORY— It’s really something when the course of three post-apocalyptic films about one version of mankind’s demise can make us root for the apes over the humans.  War for the Planet of the Apes elevates an already incredible series to soaring new gravitas and it’s all thanks to Caesar.  I really enjoyed this Movie Pilot article spelling out the character’s evolution with revolutionary, tragic, and even biblical tones.  Give it a read.  Speaking of Caesar…

LESSON #2: ANDY SERKIS DESERVES AN ACADEMY AWARD— It’s time to recognize the imperative greatness happening before our eyes and under performance capture special effects.  Andy Serkis has taken the potential of performance capture technology and turned it into precision of unparalleled heights.  What he does on the set, through voice, posture, body language, and stunt work supersede how good the finished topical effects turn out.  If he doesn’t qualify as a Best Actor Academy Award contender then it’s time to go a step further with a Special Achievement Oscar.  This is true performance taken to another level.

LESSON #3: SO DOES KUMAIL NANJIANI…— Comedy has long gotten the short straw at the Academy Awards.  In my opinion, having separate comedy and drama categories is one thing the abysmal Golden Globe Awards gets right.  Kumail Nanjiani’s  commitment to bare his soul in The Big Sick and reconstruct a difficult time in his life for unlimited and unflinching humor is downright extraordinary.  The comedian strikes upon a level of mammoth heart and monumental charm that isn’t matched in the efforts of mainstream comedy actors of today, men with names like Ferrell, Sandler, Rogen, and Hart.  His juggling of comedy and drama with equal levels of confidence is Oscar-worthy.

LESSON #4: DIRECTOR MATT REEVES IS GOING TO MAKE A HELL OF A BATMAN MOVIE— If Reeves’ sense of epic scope combined with weighty dramatic importance in the second two Planet of the Apes prequels are any indication, Ben Affleck is going to have to buckle up and raise his game.  Word around the campfire is Matt Reeves wants a detective-centered The Batman, an under-emphasized core trait of the Caped Crusader’s previous film incarnations, and has shelved Affleck’s script to start anew.  I’m all for it.  Give that man carte blanche to make it great his way.

LESSON #5: WONDER WOMAN IS DOING SPECIAL THINGS AT THE BOX OFFICE— The Hollywood Reporter recently discussed the box office earnings data for Wonder Woman now that it has crossed into its second month of steam.  As it turns out, the DCEU winner is boasting the best hold of any superhero film in more than 15 years.  At its current pace, it will pass Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 this week as the top-grossing film of the 2017 summer.  If the blockbuster keeps on chugging, it will flirt with $400 million at the domestic North American box office.   That’s rarefied air and it couldn’t go to a more deserving film.


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.