What We Learned This Week: September 14-20

LESSON #1: THE LANDSCAPE IS NOT READY FOR BLOCKBUSTERS— This first lesson isn’t about desire. With all of the #firstworldproblem wishes, we all miss big event movies. It’s the setting and the earning potential that are not ready. Not enough states and locations are safely open to distribute something wide. Socially-distanced theaters don’t have enough takers or enough seats to make money. Studios either foresee that (and keep delaying) or don’t (and get their harsh baths and haircuts). Look no further than Warner Bros. and Tenet. Watch it fall tremendously short of its budget and maybe cause more harm than good. Watch the PR department spin their own numbers to save face.

LESSON #2: THE DIGITAL OPTION CONTINUES TO IMPROVE AND GRAB PEOPLE— As it stands now, Mulan has made more money than Tenet. Nine months ago, would you have ever thought that was possible? I sure didn’t. Conservative estimates have the Disney re-imagining earning north of $250 million and counting while Tenet just passed $200 million and is struggling to gain repeat business. That echoes Lesson #1. The cherry on top for Mulan is its Velcro to grab and keep new customers. So far in September, Disney+ is experiencing a 68% bump in app downloads coupled with a 193% surge in spending on the app. That follows a previous 79% boost in July attached to Hamilton’s debut on the steaming platform. Something is becoming better than nothing and more is more. Could digital be the new savior until this pandemic lifts. At Disney, let’s see what happens with Black Widow and Soul delays. At WB, we see them sharpening their HBO Max ax.

LESSON #3: HIGH-LEVEL SOCIAL MEDIA HARDBALL HELPS NO ONE— Speaking of Warner Bros., I don’t even know where to begin with the Ray Fisher vs. Warner Bros. fight. With the bold claims being laid and the hills-to-die-on being molded in both directions, this has gone past the stages of “spat” or “disagreement.” The trouble is this is one lower-level actor against a media giant. The success rate is low and the ostracization rate is high, but Ray Fisher strikes me as the kind of guy with that kind of conviction. He’s going to go down swinging. Who do you believe in this feud?

LESSON #4: PEOPLE OF GOOD TASTE OFTEN COME FROM GOOD TASTE— If I were to poll you folks and ask who makes the best American family films right now, I bet the #1 Family Feud survey answer would be Pixar. They make the consistent best storytelling and lesson-rich content. If you’ve ever wondered what people of good taste like Pixar found their taste, check out a pair of excellent Letterboxd lists of age-based recommendations collected from a team of their directors. Their 7-12 list and their 12-and-up list feature some of the absolute best family-friendly films. Indisputable perfection right there.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#140)

What We Learned This Week: August 30-September 13

Welcome back to a renewed start for “What We Learned This Week.” I wanted to say a quick thank you for your patience with this school teacher and the month-long hiatus to get the day job in order during this time of tumultuous landscape change in my profession. It appears the hand basket of hell holding the world is still woven strong, even in the movie business. Let’s hit the chalkboard and vent.

LESSON #1: EVERYONE IS ALLOWED TO BOYCOTT— Let’s say this as simple as possible for a few lessons to hammer a few nails in nice a slow. First, you are allowed to boycott whatever the f–k you want, be that a movie, a politician, stance, or general topic, like say Mulan or the Netflix film Cuties. It’s classic “you do you.” You pick your spots and choose your hills to die on. Choose wisely because Lesson #2 is also in effect. 

LESSON #2: EVERYONE IS ALLOWED TO DISAGREE WITH YOUR BOYCOTT— When you go your “you do you” route, other people are bound to go another direction. If you don’t want them to berate your chosen boycott pillar, don’t shame them when they disagree to match said boycott. That’s the challenge of taking the stances you take. You open yourself as a person up to judgment as much as, if not more, than the chosen topic. That’s where your moral consistency matters more than the topic. Hopefully, those people who have chosen their hills to die on have completed the due diligence of research and reflection to fully inform and understand their decision. If you can’t answer “why” with any substance for the stance you’ve taken, then you’re not ready for your boycott and are doing it wrong. Maybe you need Lesson #3.

LESSON #3: SEE OR LEARN THE THING YOU’RE PISSING AND MOANING ABOUT WITH YOUR BOYCOTT BEFORE YOU “CANCEL” IT— Here’s a full, blunt, and honest first-person admission from me as a person AND as a film critic. If there is one thing I cannot stand, it’s someone who takes on stump speeches, boycotts, and cancel culture movement protests without seeing, experiencing, or learning about the thing you are hating or defending. If you cannot answer that “why” from Lesson #2 with substance, I lose a measure of respect for you, especially if you are pissing and moaning sight unseen for what you are complaining about. Have you seen Netflix’s Cuties? No? Then STFU. Go see the damn thing. Ruffle your feathers. Grit your teeth and get through the thing you supposedly will hate or disagree with. Then you can pass your judgment, light your torches, and take up your pitchforks. You sound infinitely stronger with your boycott if you actually know what the f–k you are talking about with tangible experience. What you need to maybe do (not the case in all things) is Lesson #4.

LESSON #4: PRACTICE SEPARATING THE PRODUCT FROM THE PARTICIPANTS— This is where Mulan rises to be a perfect example of many that apply to this lesson. Disney’s newest re-imagining has been engulfed to a large degree by off-camera controversies of politics and business practices. They have to and will weather that flak. The finished project and its intent is an entirely different thing to judge than the aims and efforts to make it. It may not always work, but you have to try and separate the person from the performance, the product from the producers, and etc. Film critics should review the film as the film in a review. Save the editorial comments that aren’t on screen for a different section of the paper. Mulan is a fine film with excellent entertainment value with likely questionable origins, no doubt. However, you know what, the same can be said about every Tom Cruise, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, or (*insert canceled person*) work. Enjoying the finished product of someone on your chosen cancel list does not condone said person. If we cancelled every piece with any tie to a questionable sidebar issue, you and I wouldn’t have very much to watch. Call it the price of poker. Choose your boycotts accordingly and, again, be ready for Lesson #2 and Lesson #3.

LESSON #5: THIS IS ALL A BUSINESS FIRST AND AN ART EXPOSITION SECOND— I get to this lesson and the biggest nail to drive home that too many people still just don’t get. As soon as the very first movie charged a dime for a ticket, this became a business first and an art exposition second. Art is wonderful, but if it doesn’t make money, you’re not going to get more art that you want, plain and simple. The goal of the studios and the A-list artists is to make money. We would all love if the entertainment and art end of it all mattered more, but it doesn’t. Paychecks win. Disney does what they do, stomping with hubris, washing what they wash, and cutting corners, to make money. Adam Sandler can make his empty threats about an Uncut Gems Oscar nomination for finally going for the art instead of dollar signs, but he was always, always, always going to return to what butter his bread with Hubie Halloween. They can’t cry and neither can you about such #firstworldproblems. If you don’t like it, good, don’t spend your money on said thing, turn the channel, or scroll on by, but be ready for Lesson #2 and Lesson #3 once you open your mouth to piss and moan again.

LESSON #6: IT’S PERFECTLY OK, IN FACT RECOMMENDED OF YOU, TO GROW, EVOLVE, AND CHANGE— Now, I rant all of that to say this. Grow with your art and entertainment. Open your mind to new things and other ways of thinking different from your norms because the world doesn’t revolve around you. Other people have different situations that yours and the judgment you put on it. Likewise, open your heart to empathy that you are missing or haven’t discovered. Have the personal integrity to be willing to change if necessary. You’re not weak to do that. You are wise instead. If you watch Mulan and loved it for what it was, still learn about the bad practices behind it and understand that side of debate. If you abhor the topic of Cuties, good, you can and you should, but learn and understand that the film doesn’t glorify the ugliness you hear about. It’s quite the opposite in fact.

Heed these lessons well and welcome back to “What We Learned This Week.” We’ll go softer next week, I promise, because apparently, it wouldn’t be a WWLTW in 2020 if didn’t talk about Christopher Nolan.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#139)

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In this episode of FF+, we take a look at Disney’s re-imagining of their classic animated film “Mulan”.

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What We Learned This Week: February 17-22

LESSON #1: THE CURRENT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA DOES NOT HAVE GOOD TASTE WHEN IT COMES TO MOVIES— It’s rare this column space goes political but the reaction of Donald Trump to Parasite deserves admonishment. His jeer-laced and mocking misunderstanding of the South Korean Best Picture winner and his dog whistle call for returning to Gone With the Wind are just another chapter of his deplorable and ignorant public nature.  The man has no taste in movies, let alone much taste in anything else, but that’s for a different website. Meanwhile and by contrast, let’s long for the days where we had a POTUS with actual acumen and a discerning eye for good film. In case you missed it, Barack Obama made cinephiles proud with his eclectic and topical best of 2019 list of movies and television. Someday, intelligence and grace will return to the Oval Office.   

LESSON #2: GET YOUR KOREAN ON— Want to be smarter than the Cheeto-in-Chief, bone up on and absorb some fantastic international cinema. There are riches to be found and, thanks to Parasite, all things South Korea are hot right now. If you don’t know where to start, check out one of the many buzz-worthy and click-bait-sourced “must see” lists (one, two, three) that have been crafted for South Korean selections. The commonalities and picks are solid anywhere you look.

LESSON #3: SOMEWHERE IN THOSE BUTTONED KNICKERS, MICKEY MOUSE AND DISNEY MIGHT ACTUALLY HAVE BALLS— A large section of the entertainment audience has groaned for a long time, and not just with the company’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox and their catalog of darker material including Alien and Deadpool, that Disney does not have the courage to release or even create movies with stiffer ratings. They get called sanitized quite often. We have argued that they don’t realize worthwhile and solid stories fitting of their image can still have PG-13 and even R-rated content. That will change ever so slightly with Mulan at the end of March. It will be the first of Disney’s line of re-imaginings to carry a PG-13 rating. While our female Chinese warrior isn’t lopping off heads anytime soon, this is a step in the right direction and sign that Disney may be beginning to take some of these grander stories seriously.  

LESSON #4: CUT A GUY A BREAK— The interminable roller coaster production history of the DCEU has gotten a great deal of click bait, but not enough shared honest truths. Even when legit news comes out, it gets questioned and twisted like crazy by fan agendas and haters. Look no further than the Zack Synder saga of his departure from Justice League. People and speculation were far from kind. The next guy in that universe that needs to be cut a break is Ben Affleck. Reading him in The New York Times describe his personal struggles with alcohol and other vices while wearing the cap and cowl is eye-opening, sad, and humbling. Too many so-called fans shout and nitpick at every little detail and too often forget the people underneath and the inordinate pressures put on them. Speaking of Batman, let’s not do that next with Robert Pattinson over one snippet of test footage and some set photos.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#123)

What We Learned This Week: March 5-11

LESSON #1: THE SUCCESS RATE OF INDIE DIRECTORS STEPPING TO BLOCKBUSTERS IS IMPROVING— Other than Marc Webb stepping up from “(500) Days of Summer” to the ill-fated “Amazing Spider-Man” double bill and “Moon” director Duncan Jones bombing on “Warcraft,” the recent push of larger studios’ farming of indie directors to helm blockbusters have gone pretty successfully.   All of the greats started small (take Christopher Nolan going from “Memento” to Batman), but the trend is swelling lately.   Colin Treverrow turned “Safety Not Guaranteed” into “Jurassic World” and J.A. Bayona will be moving from “The Impossible” and “A Monster Calls” into the dinotastic sequel.  “The Kings of Summer” director Jordan Vogt-Roberts cashed up to “Kong: Skull Island.”  This list goes on and on, and 2017 is full of more.  Rian Johnson flips “Looper” for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Taika Waititi goes from “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” for “Thor: Ragnarok.”  Jon Watts of “Cop Car” hopes to not pull a Marc Webb with “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

LESSON #2: BIGGER IS BETTER— Speaking of “Kong: Skull Island,” the head honchos at Legendary Entertainment found the easiest and most irresistible route to selling a new Kong film: Make him bigger.   The powers that be have smacked an invisible label on the cinematic Cheez Whiz jar that reads “now bigger than ever,” jacking up the normally and plenty-imposing 25-foot gorilla into a gigantic 100-foot bipedal behemoth.  That changes everything when it comes to the monster’s capacity for destruction and man’s impossible chances of opposition.  Go see the film.  It’s a blast.

LESSON #3: KEEP AN EYE ON THE SXSW FILM FESTIVAL— For nine days and 125 features this month, Austin, Texas becomes the center of the independent film scene with the annual South by Southwest Film Festival that is starting to rival January’s Sundance Film Festival for exclusive films and a Hollywood-level red carpet.  This year, you’ll get the premieres of the latest films from Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”), Terrance Malick (“Song to Song”), and Ben Wheatley (“Free Fire”).   SXSW’s merger of the arts is becoming a hot ticket with good gets.

LESSON #4: THE WHITEWASHED CASTING OUTRAGE IS STARTING TO SMARTEN STUDIOS UP— I think the combination of warranted complaints,  butthurt rants, and internet courage-fueled protests are starting to work.   Movie news reported this week that director Guy Ritchie will seek Middle Eastern lead performers for Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” re-imagining and Niki Caro looks to be doing the same for “Mulan.”   If you look past the animated curtain and beyond all of its inherent entertainment value, “Aladdin” is one of the worst perpetrators in film history for white-washing.  I’m intrigued to see something different and call these active attempts an initial victory towards improved diversity.

LESSON #5: LET’S MAKE UP A NEW WORD: “BRITWASHING”— Piggybacking from Lesson #4, race relations also have a national vs. international bend to them from time to time.  Samuel L. Jackson just stepped out in an interview to criticize the casting of black British actor Daniel Kaluuya to play an American African-American guy in “Get Out” and wonders about missed opportunities.  Honestly, the man isn’t wrong and, as I coin the term, “Britwashing” has been a quietly unsettling trend when you see the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis, Christian Bale, Henry Cavill, Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, and David Oyelow playing real and fictional American heroes.  One has to wonder if there is a talent gap between the Brits and the Americans.  What do you think?  How do you feel about foreigners playing American figures and heroes?

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 President 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.