What We Learned This Week: The New Future of Movie Theaters “Soapbox Special”

SOAPBOX SPECIAL: The New Future of Movie Theaters

During this last month or so of our collective national and international quarantine, I’ve been holding the topic of re-opening movie theaters from my usual “What We Learned This Week” columns for a “Soapbox Special.” There have been so many articles, so many perspectives, and so many rapidly evolving updates and changes that I couldn’t distill them down into one little lesson or column entry. 

With several regions of America starting to re-open (including my own state of Illinois and city of Chicago), it was time to get on the stump and arm the cannons. I put some of what follows into spoken word recently on an episode of Mike Crowley’s “You’’ll Probably Agree” podcast, but the issue has grown since then. Click into the multitude of links in the lessons for the deeper referenced stories. They are well worth their reads and your attention. The theme of this all can be summarized as cautiously optimistic.

LESSON #1: WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO GO BACK TO THEATERS— I’ll open this rant back in late May with polling from Variety. It featured a survey of consumer comfort. Here are some bulleted results in numerical order:

  • 91% requested hand sanitizer stations
  • 90% say the most important factor is a cure for COVID-19.
  • 86% supported limited screenings for cleaning time
  • 75% support employees temperature checks
  • 70% would rather watch a first-run feature at home
  • 61% would feel better about mandatory face coverings
  • 60% support audience temperature checks
  • 47% were comfortable buying concessions
  • 46% were comfortable using public restrooms at theaters

There’s more there in that article, but those were the highlights. Beyond even that poll, you’ve got more and more segments of the population who won’t feel comfortable with any public event, let alone a movie, without a vaccine in place. Putting any number of these initiatives in place would be costly, especially for theater chain companies reeling on the edge of bankruptcy. 

LESSON #2: WHAT DOES THAT FUTURE LOOK LIKE— Any of those changes from Lesson #1 would make for a very different setting than the “normal” way we’ve been going to the movies for the last century. Many editorials and articles (Seattle Times in May, Vulture in May, and Quartz in June) have tried to talk that out exhaustively with every guess in the clouds. For example, many of us have embraced reserved seating as a way to select our spots, skip crowds, and guarantee seats even if we walk in last minute to avoid 20 minutes of senseless trailers (I know that’s not just me, *wink*). The activity timeline changes upward if we are to stand in a line for temperature checks and even downward if there are no concession lines or needs anymore, which is a tremendous business hit to the theater chains that have been bolstering their kitchen capabilities and choices beyond candy and popcorn for the better part of the last two decades. The other word in there everyone wants to avoid is “crowds.” Can that be accomplished with roped off sections, skipped seats, or an all-reserved seating model (which some older theaters don’t fully have)? In the meantime, you’ve got companies fumbling financial footballs and poking public outcry bears (bravo Michael Phillips) over requiring or not requiring masks (and reversing courses) and other measures before they even open. Do you really trust them to get all of this right on the first try here in July?

LESSON #3: THE OPTION OF AUTOMATION— Piggybacking off of Lesson #2, one potential solution could be artificial intelligence, as crazy at that sounds. According to Variety in May, some theaters in Korea were considering “contact-free” technology.  Theater chain CJ-CGV replaced its human staff with AI robots and automated kiosks for scanning and handling ticket transactions. Concession stands were replaced with app-powered and LED-controlled pick-up/delivery boxes. Leave it to tech-savvy Asia to be the tip of that spear. Could the likes of AMC or Regal pull stuff like that off, again, while teetering on financial failure? How do data-danger-minded consumers feel about that?

LESSON #4: COMPANY SURVIVAL IS PERILOUS— The first three lessons constitute a forecast and some great ideas, but who or what can afford those measures? After months of virtually complete closure, save for some door-front concession hawking, large theater chains, especially AMC (which includes the Carmike brand), are in the financial toilet. Bailouts and loans are hard to come by and “junk” status is hitting stock reports. You even have Amazon interested in gobbling up AMC, which would be quite interesting. It may require a rescue such as that. This peril is international as well with CineEurope reporting a possible $20-31 billion loss for the year. Even reopening isn’t an instant cure. The majority of profits for these companies are dependent on concessions because of the high ticket receipt percentages going back to the studios, a gouge that has been increasing over the years at the high blockbuster level (Thanks, Disney). If the food areas are closed due to viral fears and health code regulations, that destroys earnings. 50% capacities of social-distanced seating doesn’t help theaters either. Even 50% might be optimistic. There are theaters opening at barely 25% capacity

LESSON #5: “TOO BIG TO FAIL” IS LOOKING FAILURE STRAIGHT IN THE FACE— And with that we reach the studios’ level of wallet hit with an inactive theater distribution market. Even with their demanded big bites of the pie, half-filled (or less) theaters do not help them either. This is especially the case at the blockbuster level. No matter the anticipation demand or potential staying power of a really big hit flick with less competition, it is exponentially harder to recoup $200 million-budgeted tentpoles and their $100+ million marketing campaigns if sizable fractions of the screens holding butts are gone or entire chains are shuttered. That’s why the really big stuff like Tenet, Mulan, Fast 9, No Time to Die, and more are not automatically landing on streaming services or VOD outlets. Even at a Trolls: World Tour-equivalent $20 price tag per rental (and its modest success), those giants cannot recoup those huge red balances versus getting a ticket for every head instead of every household. A little thing like The Lovebirds or Irresistible can land in the green with VOD, but not Wonder Woman or Black Widow. A business with a blockbuster class level of movies that once looked too big to fail making its worldwide billions is now failing because they have no place to go and no one able to come to their shows.

LESSON #6: STUDIOS DID SOME THIS TO THEMSELVES— Believe it or not, the studios have slowly damaged their own theatrical success/potential for years with the incremental shortening of the windows between big-screen premieres and home media release dates. Folks my age remember the months of interminable wait back in the VHS and cable TV eras before streaming services were even a glimmer in someone’s eye. For example, Forrest Gump hit theaters over the July 4th weekend of 1994. It didn’t land on VHS until late April 1995 after a long theatrical run and a winter Oscar bump. After that, it wouldn’t hit paid cable for another bunch of months and then years before basic cable made it “free.” By comparison, Joker opened on the first weekend of October last year, hit store shelves the first weekend of January 2020, and no one cares if it comes to HBO or Showtime because Netflix, Hulu, or VOD is cheaper and better. What used to be six months at the minimum (or even an entire year if you were a Disney release) has shrunk to merely 90 days on average. Sure, both Forrest Gump and Joker raked for their times, but it’s an indictment on patience versus money-grabbing. People that are willing to wait can now weather a pretty comfortable amount of time compared to the past for their 4K players and big-screen TVs in their dens. In our current COVID-19 state, we’ve all got nothing but time on our hands to do just that. Why risk health if personal patience versus some “fear of missing out” can pay one $20-30 digital download/disc price to watch a movie repeatedly instead of hauling the entire family plus concessions once, especially for something they don’t deem “big screen worthy?” The studios trying to keep the buzz constant with shorter waits will now see leverage backfire in favor of the consumer. For a current case of that, just look at Disney/Pixar’s Onward and the mere weeks it took to cave from the VOD rental level to dismissively dishing it to everyone in Disney+. With studios building their own streaming shingles, you’re going to see more of that or see more wins for Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.

LESSON #7: THE PRICE POINT OF DIGITAL— Let’s go further with the digital wants of consumers versus the new risks and hassles of theaters. Circling back to that opening Variety polling again, remember that 70% would rather watch a first-run feature at home. And that was back in May. Imagine now knocking on the door of Independence Day, no matter how much antsy-pant anticipation and hope is out there. That same Variety polling screened respondents on online pricing with some keen results. It asked how much a “reasonable” price would be to stream top-quality productions in their home. Here are those results in numerical rank:

  • 47%- $10 
  • 20%- $20
  • 19%- only if it was free
  • 6%- $30
  • 3%- $40
  • 1%- $50, $60, or $80%

That’s 67% holding firm at $20 or under and studios need to do their own projections of math. Regardless, welcome to a more than a little bit of the #firstworldproblems portion of this entire “Soapbox Special.” Movies are wants, not needs, period. They are lovely fulfillment, but non-essential. For every one of those 6% hardcore FilmBros and cinephiles with the disposable income to drop $40 or more to see their precious Christopher Nolan film, over 95% aren’t budging or can’t afford it. Check your privilege. 

LESSON #8: ADAPT OR DIE— One way or another, change is needed at the highest level that trickles down to every screen in America. A popular industry that has weathered the advent of television, cable, and now streaming opponents and competition in its century of existence should be able to survive this. Or can they? With the Paramount Accords lapsed, is it time for studios to buy or build their own sustainable theaters to show off their own wares and keep all the profits they used to share with the chains? If studios instead mine the digital landscape successfully, do we really need multiplexes anymore? That is a question posed recently in The New Yorker by Richard Brody in a good read. They’ll need smaller budgeted films to do that, scaling so many things down. Go back to the roots. You can make a dozen solid indies or five or more star-driven mid-budget programmers like the industry used to do in the 1990s with the cost of a single MCU film. Reverting back to that level of business would require some baths and haircuts, but it would rescue the industry. It’s time to embrace those needs. In another angle, columnist Nick Clement on Back to Movies says the film industry is “f–ked.” In many respects, I highly agree with him and his fantastic stump piece speaking on unemployment and the public state of some of those aforementioned #firstworldproblems. Time and patience are the biggest needs. 

LESSON #9: “ABSENCE AWAY MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER”— I’ve used this lesson before in “What We Learned This Week” and it’s time to end with it again. Shed away all the polling and conjecture. We all know the love for movies is there or we wouldn’t be talking about it. Look at the success of early openings and the lined-around-the-block comeback of drive-in movie theaters. It will be a topsy-turvy year, without question, even with a full return. We’ve had a zero-budget film named Unsubscribe streaking at an empty box office only to be dethroned by revival screenings of Jurassic Park putting it back to #1 in the nation, George Foreman-style, 27 years after it last ruled the multiplexes. If the year ended today, Bad Boys For Life would get the “biggest movie of 2020” championship belt in the record books. Just like Field of Dreams says, “people will come.” They just need to wait. Everyone, for that matter, from the greedy studio execs and sidelined movie stars to the lowly theater ushers and concession stand workers, needs to wait. This has sucked and it will keep on sucking, but the best answer is to wait and get through this better and healthier, personally and financially, than rushing and screwing it all up. The movies will be there. We want all the people to be there too. 


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.  (#135)

What We Learned This Week: May 25-June 14

LESSON #1: THERE IS NO BETTER TIME TO EDUCATE YOURSELF— In this time of racial divide and protest, education is more needed than ever. Just as I tout with my website, movies can be a place to get it. Service after service, studio after studio, and platform after platform from Netflix and the Criterion Channel to Kino Lorber have begun to make films and documentaries by and/or featuring black artists free or readily available. Take this curated list from our own Erynne Hundley and pounce on this excellent recommendations: 

LESSON #2: SPIKE LEE IS ONE OF CINEMA’S BEST TEACHERS— When you watch a Spike Lee movie, you’re getting more than dramatic narrative for entertainment value. With his frequent use of archival footage lately in films like Chi-Raq, BlacKkKlansman, and the new Da 5 Bloods, Lee brings a marvelous ability to echo the lessons of the past into the topical present that still sorely needs education. The man sternly teaches as he preaches. Spike Lee may be a provocative and acquired taste for more than a few, but his contributions are nevertheless bold and vital. History can and should look fondly on what he’s done with his work for four decades and counting.

LESSON #3: OLD MOVIES ARE TIME CAPSULES FOR THEIR ERAS AND DESERVE TO BE SEEN FOR WHAT THEY ARE— Speaking of history, times change. Sensibilities change. The movies of those times and built with dated sensibilities age as well. Watch them, but do not censor them. The Gone With the Winds of history deserve to be seen, examined, and even still enjoyed. Watch them with fair and discerning lenses. Take notes and learn from them. Movies are one way we keep history from repeating itself. More than anything, some movies only get better with age. Take this list of pre-1967 movies fit for an modern audience from IndieWire and be amazed. 

LESSON #4: EVEN SAVIORS BLINK— Back in May in an op-ed in The Washington Post, filmmaker Christopher Nolan lobbied hard for the survival of movie theaters and wanted his Tenet to be the movie that could help revive the multiplex scene. Those “insiders” that believed a mid-July release was overly optimistic turned out to be right. Nolan and Warner Bros. blinked and moved Tenet (and other tentpoles like Wonder Woman 1984) two more weeks to July 31st. Watch the pandemic numbers move it again in another two weeks. Wisdom is winning over hubris. Everyone needs to keep their patience. This could take a while and I think we’ve all come find that out. Maybe someone needs to tell Christopher too.

LESSON #5: SOMETIMES MOVIES ARE BETTER THAN THEIR BOOKS— Early word around the campfire is saying Kenneth Branagh’s Artemis Fowl which debuted on Disney+ instead of theaters is quite the hollow husk compared to its source material. I will always be that critic that will implore anyone and everyone to separate the two mediums of written prose and visual filmmaking. That said, better is an easy measurement to make. It’s rare, but there are times the movie is better than the book. Collider made a nice list last summer of 30 such submissions, I would add a 31st of Field of Dreams. If you want Artemis Fowl this weekend and lament, seek a few of those classics out.


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.  (#134)

What We Learned This Week: May 11-24

LESSON #1: IF ENOUGH PEOPLE YELL LONG ENOUGH THEY OCCASIONALLY GET THEIR WAY— By far the biggest industry news this week was the rumor-destroying announcement that the long-rumored “Snyder Cut” of Justice League will see the light of TV screens on HBO Max next year. It’s rare to see urban legends come true, and it’s even rarer to see collective efforts move a needle in the entertainment industry. This whole campaign has brought out the best and worst of the internet, from fan support for creators and charitable goals on one side to every matter of entitled vilification possible known to Twitter and man. Besides the possible success or failure of the re-cut film, just the precedent of this can go many directions. As always, I think the goal becomes pausing and looking at you are arguing about or for. Ask if it’s worth it and to what degree, because if some new version of a maligned movie is all you have to sustain your life for hills to die on, you’re the epitome of dwelling in inconsequential first world problems. 

LESSON #2: CHOICES HAVE TO BE MADE— The longer these quarantines and sheltering orders go, the more release choices need to be made. It’s a split between the big stuff and the little guys. We’ve seen a massive amount of rescheduling at the blockbuster level because the studios know their best chance at making the most money (or even their gaudy budgets back) is with theater dollars. VOD rentals at $20 a pop is not enough. What once looked “too big to fail” now cannot survive, no matter how hard Christopher Nolan’s Tenet wants to be the savior. We citizens might not be able to go out and get a haircut, but a proverbial one might be forced in the coming months. The smaller fare of lesser spectacle can find life and some money going to streaming options. They are looking at their prospects and settling smartly. The Lovebirds just did this week following Trolls: World Tour and Onward. Unless Keanu Reeves is shooting people, the third Bill & Ted movie wasn’t going to break any banks and likely neither was Tom Hanks with Greyhound. What looks like disappointing endings for larger efforts still counts as coups for the outlets that get these titles. Apple+ has to be doing backflips to win the bidding war for a Tom Hanks vehicle. 

LESSON #3: MEASURES OF SUCCESS CHANGE OVER TIME— I was one of those keenly interested movie fans that enjoyed hitting up Box Office Mojo on Saturday afternoons and Monday mornings to see the box office estimates and actuals (and, of course, loving on inflation-adjusted records). Without steady business and streaming becoming the cinematic exercise model of necessity at the moment, success is getting measured a little differently with “digital records.” Netflix reports 90 million households grabbing onto Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction. Imagine if each household paid $20 or even just $10 to see it. There’s money to be made with the right move and the right price point, even if that price point is slice of subscription fees. Going back to that idea of haircuts from Lesson #2, Trolls: World Tour made nearly $100 million in its first month of rental availability. While it’s not an incredible windfall, it’s proof there still is a paying audience. If $100 million becomes the new high watermark, watch budgets get scaled down where profit margins get closer and more palatable for the accounting departments.

LESSON #4: LAZY PEOPLE GONNA LAZY— How lazy do you have to be during this current stretch of social life to NOT use your Netflix subscription? Who has that kind of disposable income nowadays? Apparently, there are enough inactive Netflix subscribers from their 183 million total that the streaming giant is going to start closing those silent accounts. What I find almost even more surprising is that a bottomline-chasing company such as Netflix hellbent on user statistics is publicly willing to voluntarily reduce their membership numbers and stop taking their blind money. That’s astonishing. That’s like asking a Twitter account puffed up on paid bots to poke its own influencer balloon. Somewhere Richard Roeper is throwing his arms in the air.

LESSON #5: AWARDS CAN WAIT— As a “Meme Monday” pusher on my own Every Movie Has a Lesson Facebook page, I’ve enjoyed the jokes that have hit social media over the last two months that if the 2020 movie calendar ended today the parade of semi-crappy film releases from January to March would all stand high as frontrunners for the 93rd Academy Awards. If that’s the only way someone like Elisabeth Moss is going to win an Oscar, let’s start the campaign now (see Lesson #1, maybe we can start #VisibibleforInvisible). Like this lesson title, the pageantry can wait for a full competition. I’m glad to hear the 2021 Oscars are considering postponement. Like everything else right now, it’s the right thing to do. I’ve said it this whole time and will keep saying it: “Absence away makes the heart grow fonder.” That will be the case with red carpet spectacles too.

LESSON #6: BILL HADER HAS VERY GOOD TASTE— If all you know of actor Bill Hader are the silly voice, impressions, skits, and his dorky Everyman TV/movie roles, you will be impressed by his taste in movies. In the recommendation slot of “What We Learned This Week,” I stumbled across Bill’s September 2019 list from a Collider interview of over 200 must-see films. The man has a great eye and I love his picks. Luckily, a few Letterboxd users have made this list convenient for your next checklist.


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.  (#133)

Episode 230: The Lovebirds

This week’s early episode drop features discussion on the newest comedy from “The Big Sick” director Michael Showalter and star Kumail Nanjiani, a film in which the latter is half of a couple on the outs who stumble into a crime caper and hilariously try and salvage their relationship over the course of one crazy night. We chat about what makes a movie funny, the importance of cast chemistry, and whether or not trauma is actually good for mending relationship troubles in our conversation.

The Lovebirds Spoiler Review – 0:04:18

The Connecting Point – 0:36:54

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What We Learned This Week: April 6-19

LESSON #1: TRUST YOUR AUDIENCE TO BE DISCERNING AND MATURE WHEN NECESSARY— As if you haven’t suspected such for a while, the prudish filter at Disney is thicker than cured concrete and more petty than your worst boss. For an odd and slightly depressing example, Disney+ recently felt the need to digitally edit some minor and non-sexual nudity from the classic romantic comedy Splash. Apparently, the sweet cheeks of a mermaid will burn children’s eyes alive. Grant your audience more discerning maturity, Disney. I get that profits and fandom demand that Disney champion and maintain a family-friendly brand image, but not everyone in every family needs the same cuddling and coddling. Between edits like this and quietly vaulting the harder Fox titles it acquired since last fall, Disney looks worse hiding it than they would embracing it. An easy fix is giving all of this content its own warning label shingle or (even better for the stockholders) its own paid gateway. You can’t tell me a restarted Touchstone Pictures wing (where Disney used to bankroll the PG-13 and further stuff) or Fox Studios-branded streaming service with the likes of Alien and Predator wouldn’t have an eager audience. Disney profits from putting that content out there and builds a future empire home for new projects down the road. All they would have is their name in the corner of the ownership deed in fine print. That sounds like a win to me. Instead, they’re too scared of Song of the South Daryl Hannah’s butt.

LESSON #2: THERE IS A POSSIBLE FUTURE WILL MAY HAVE TO EMBRACE— A fascinating editorial by Scott Mendelson in Forbes made the rounds on #FilmTwitter and our own Feelin’ Film Facebook group. It onlines the future of cinema with as many clouds and rays of sunshine. The potential truths are hard to swallow, but extremely possible. The senior contributor backs his conjecture with strong stats. It’s an outstanding read about the big picture that many may not want to hear but will have to admit is possible. 

LESSON #3: CHANGES COMMONLY START AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL— This pandemic industry shutdown is pushing more than just a few toes to be dipped into the streaming marketplace as a front-line option. Whole studio lower torsos are wading in those waters and some are making those waves from the top down. You may not notice change immediately, but keep an eye on Warner Media and the hire of their new CEO Jason Kilar, the 48-year-old former founder of Vessel and board member at Universal and Dreamworks. The IndieWire article link wants to call this the beginning of the death of Old Hollywood. He certainly has different experience and goals. Watch the shifts coming at the WB. 

LESSON #4: SOMEBODY PUSH MARTIN SCORSESE AWAY FROM THE BUDGET BUFFET TABLE— I don’t want to roll the first two lessons as a lead-in to this one, but a harsher version of this one could read “Change or Die.” Quintessential filmmaker Martin Scorsese is out there with his hat in his hand asking Apple and Netflix for money to make his next project Killers of the Flower Moon. Surely, the conglomerates could spare a few million for one of the finest artists of the century to continue his passion. The problem is Martin is holding out a 200-million-gallon hat. That’s the dollar amount he “needs.” Boomer, that’s too much. Trade some filet mignon for some mac-and-cheese. Trim a few excesses. Make a few more economical choices. I don’t blame Paramount one bit for balking at that dollar amount. They wouldn’t see a return on their investment and that’s exactly the same reason the wildly over-budget The Irishman landed on Netflix. Even kudos cost money. It will be very telling if even Netflix and their deep pockets say no.

LESSON #5: CAN WE GET A MORATORIUM ON ROBIN HOOD FILMS?— Look, I know the Robin Hood creation and character have been open to the public domain for five centuries, but that doesn’t mean we need to have some kind of bastardized film attempt every two years. Sure, the old foxy Disney animated folly is a cute one. However, even that movie getting the live-action “reimagining” treatment from Blindspotting filmmaker Carlos Lopez Estrada still counts as one more sloppy thing to stick to a wall to see if it sticks. Can we put some years in between the opportunities to beat this character to death? Go make another King Arthur, Spider-Man, or Batman incarnation… oh wait… 

LESSON #6: IF YOU’RE RUNNING OUT OF QUARANTINE RECOMMENDATIONS, HIT UP JAMES GUNN— The genre-fueled tastes of the Guardians of the Galaxy director would make any fanboy proud. What started as a gargantuan list of 140 films on Twitter was simmered down to 54 on SlashFilm. That’s a pocket full of gems and the article is kind enough to tell your coach potato self where to watch them.


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.  (#129)

What We Learned This Week: March 30-April 5

LESSON #1: ONE MORE TIME, FOR THOSE IN THE BACK, TRY NEW MOVIES— If you heat anyone pouting that there’s nothing new to consume, tell them they’re not looking hard enough. Don’t watch the same comfort food you’ve seen 30 times. Dig deeper. Challenge yourself. Check out Hoopla, Kanopy, and more. On Kanopy alone, there are 107 of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies.” That’s second to the Criterion Channel and f’n free with a library card. If deep isn’t your speed and mainstream is still your drug of choice, check out HBO’s new free streaming offerings for some excellent options, new Netflix additions for April, and Pixar’s Onward just hit Disney+ on April 3rd. Finally, keep the patience coming. Disney’s Artemis Fowl joins Trolls World Tour and The Lovebirds as the first theatrical movies to announce a straight-to-on-demand release instead of postponement (more on that later).

LESSON #2: SHORT FILMS ARE WORTH YOUR TIME TOO— When it comes to broadening your palette beyond vanilla, I’ll also recommend casting a line for some excellent world of short films. Many that were going to screen at the cancelled SXSW Film Festival are being made available on Amazon Prime. There’s also a massive collection of 66 Oscar-nominated and award-winning shorts being made available thanks to the National Board of Canada. Thanks, neighbors!

LESSON #3: HOMESCHOOLING CAN INCLUDE MOVIES— Raise your hand if, not only are you stuck at home right now, you are being called upon to be a school teacher as a parent for whatever e-learning initiative is thrust upon your children. As a school teacher myself, I’m one of those educational bartenders pouring those stiff drinks, and I feel you. Take this column and lesson as permission from a legitimate professional. There’s no reason you can’t include movies in your lessons (after all, look at my website name). Remember when we were kids and this popular meme was true:

Well, it’s your turn to bring that joy to children. Home is the classroom now and you (or at least you better) control the TV. It’s time to shine. Best Movies Right Now has put together a perfect 50-film Netflix homeschooling playlist that encompasses science, social studies, literature, and more. This gets my highest teacher’s stamp of approval:

LESSON #4: LET THE ADVANCE POSTURING BEGIN— Someday hopefully the blockbusters will emerge from forced hibernation.  Disney took out its bundle of flags and, like an Oklahoma Land Rush, laid claim to new release dates for the next two years and change for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and more. Take a peek:

Just as when there isn’t a stoppage such as this, when Disney lands, they land with bullying authority. That’s a whole bunch of superheroes that will test the fatigue some (crazy) people feel. Their presence will either add competition to what was already there or make everyone else move. More often it’s the latter.


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.  (#128)

What We Learned This Week: March 23-29

LESSON #1: IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT A BLOODBATH MADE OUT OF INVISIBLE MONEY LOOKS LIKE…–… go look at the box office numbers for the month of March. If you thought the unfortunate and gobsmacked drop it made during the weekend March 13-19 was something to behold, it’s downright eerie to this weekend and the complete goose egg due to a nearly total industry shutdown. Take a look. This is becoming quite the asterisk in a ongoing record book.

LESSON #2: WHEN WILL THE MONEY RUN OUT?— This lesson names the big question that has to be looming around boardrooms top to bottom in the industry. Most successful companies on the level of studios and theater chains can weather a temporary stoppage, especially when a couple of businesses are offering to open for free to get people back in. One has to wonder when “furlough” (as it is called at AMC) turns into “failure.” There’s already a bankruptcy bill on the table specifically for movie theaters. This big question may turn into an ugly one.

LESSON #3: WE WILL BE LIVING VICARIOUSLY THROUGH THE MOVIES— This week was supposed to be the Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. No matter if your local team had high or low hopes (or something in between like my Chicago Cubs), it feels like something pure and pleasant is missing. I’m glad to see A League of Their Own win the monthly Donor’s Choice vote here on Feelin’ Film. We have to live vicariously through the movies. That’s what we have to do with the loss of something like baseball and the homestretches of the NBA and NHL seasons. I’ll gladly curl up on my quarantine couch, crack a beer or two, and watch the likes of Bull Durham, The Sandlot, He Got Game, Love & Basketball, and Slap Shot. Call all of that cinematic comfort food.

LESSON #4: GET USED TO THE NEW TRAFFIC JAM— Speaking of the lag of life in the struggle to leave the sofa, it certainly appears the strain is hitting the data and network systems that are chiefly providing our new main avenue of home entertainment. The increase in Netflix outages in the U.S. and Europe is alarming and never fun. We’re going to have to learn some patience or lean on physical media. Heaven forbid we have to open an actual book or play a board game. 

 


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.  (#127)

What We Learned This Week: March 16-22

LESSON #1: THIS IS WHAT CUTTING ONE’S LOSSES LOOKS LIKE— This sweeping social distancing (and so to be full sheltering orders) due to the COVID-19 virus has studios buckling on what to do with their current and upcoming movie releases. Most that were slated for theaters are “delayed” or “postponed” for the time being, but the question becomes how long can they wait or hold. Rumor has it Warner Bros. is considering a streaming release for Wonder Woman 1984. Could Black Widow be far behind from Disney? As for the current movies that have been frozen by closed theaters, studios are dropping them on streaming and VOD platforms early, as is the case with Onward, The Invisible Man, Emma, and The Hunt. Being released already, trying to squeeze some VOD rental money is their best chance. Price point will be the challenge, but you know those families of four would likely be OK spending $20 for a night at home versus the full theater trip for $9+ tickets and concessions. We’ll see how these tests of marketing and head honcho hubris patience turn out.

LESSON #2: LEARN WHAT THE PARAMOUNT DECREES WERE— I’ll put my school teacher hat on since I’m stuck at home without a classroom for the foreseeable future. Here’s a quick dose of movie history that faded in November with implications that could loom large with a shuttered theater system right now. There was something called the Paramount Decrees. Back in 1948 in the case of United States v. Paramount Pictures, a decision was made that “studios couldn’t withhold films from certain theaters while granting exclusive rights to others or outright buy theaters of their own.” That has kept top-to-bottom control away from studios. Far forward to now with the AMCs and Regals of the world closing their doors indefinitely without business. I hinted at this last week in WWLTW. Imagine a scenario where Disney buys/builds their own movie theaters to exclusively release their products. That would create an outlet arms race and likely kill indie cinema getting theater space. With weakened theater chains, this kind of turn is possible. Stay tuned to how we recover or don’t from this time period.

LESSON #3: BRING BACK DRIVE-INS– In an effort to avoid the possible bacteria cesspools that are crowded and sticky movie theater seats (don’t lie, we’ve all had our “ewww” moments at a movie theater), could old school drive-in movie theaters (and the dirtiness of our own cars, again, don’t lie) be a new alternative in the post-social distancing era? I think so and it’s a lovely thought. There was a great optimistic read this week published by The Los Angeles Times on the topic that talks optimism and relief. Build some big screens, bring your own concessions, fill the seats, and pipe the sound through the Bose-powered infotainment systems in some of our modern cars and you’ve got a renewed and joyous movie experience.

LESSON #4: EXPAND YOUR HOME VIEWING TO SHARE WITH OTHERS— I love the news of Netflix’s new Netflix Party extension. Turning shared movies into chat room opportunities with friends you’re separated from sounds like a blast. I think we need a Netflix Party with our Feelers ASAP. Let’s get on that, fellow admins.

LESSON #5: SOME STARS END UP BEING GENUINELY NICE PEOPLE— As a school teacher, I can speak to this new hurdler of at-home “e-learning” and the challenges of not just planning it, but delivering it to my students and also my own children as a parent. Everyone I see in my professional community is doing their part, and I’m loving those outside of it that are coming to help. And it’s as easy as reading a book for others to hear. What started with Frozen star Josh Gad nightly on Twitter has expanded to dozens of celebrities chipping in to connect and entertain. Grab a device, bring the kids together on the couch or at bedtime, and enjoy a hearty tale from a familiar and kind face.


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.  (#126)

MOVIE REVIEW: A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Rating: G / Runtime: 1 hour and 26 minutes

There is something I find sincerely appealing about stop-motion animation, be it in the style of Laika or Aardman, who utilizes a beautiful and detailed claymation technique. Both styles of animating take significantly longer than CGI or even hand-drawn technique and is a big reason why these studios can’t pump out new films at the rate Disney and Pixar do. The first “Shaun the Sheep” film came out over four years ago and grossed over $100 million at the box office. This sequel was inevitable, but crafting it took time. 

“Farmageddon” is, in a nutshell, a remake of Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”, with a much cuter alien and an overwhelming amount of references to other famous science fiction films and television sprinkled throughout. The extra-terrestrial, in this case, is Lu-la, a small light blue and pink alien with telekinesis and a powerfully loud/forceful belch. Her space ship lands in a forest and while she’s out exploring, it’s not long before the government sends Agent Red and a team to examine the landing and seek out answers.

Back on the farm, Shaun and his sheep family are living their normal everyday lives, being trouble-makers and fighting with Bitzer the farmer’s sheepdog. When Lu-la stumbles across Shaun and the group, they embark on an adventure of discovery with the goal of ultimately hoping to find Lu-la’s ship so that she can return home. There’s not a lot more to be said about the plot, although Agent Red does have some backstory that provides a reason for why she is so driven. It culminates in one of the sweeter moments of the film and is a welcome character development choice to take her beyond just the typical cookie-cutter governmental baddie. 

Those concerned about the silent nature of Shaun the Sheep films should honestly not be worried at all. I remember being incredibly surprised at how much I loved “Shaun the Sheep” back in 2015 despite the lack of dialogue and in “Farmageddon” I didn’t even miss it. The soundtrack and score show up perfectly, and sound effects are used to greatly enhance the already incredibly expressiveness of the claymation. Because this film is playing so heavily off of sci-fi films of the past, there are frequent musical cues that callback to famous themes, and it was a joy hearing one each and every time. Additionally, the aforementioned soundtrack does a wonderful job of occasionally letting the lyrics being sung help tell the story of what is happening on-screen at that moment. This tactic is used sparingly, but with great success.

References to favorite sci-fi properties are plentiful, and though the story of “Farmageddon” is tender, easy to follow, and full of hilarious goofy action, picking out these moments will be great for major fans of the genre. For one thing, there is the required mention of Area 51. Then the “Alien” tie-is done in a brilliant way that makes it kid-friendly. There are also “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Signs”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Dr. Who” references and more. Agent Red even has a sidekick robot named Muggins that looks like a combination of Wall*E and Johnny 5 and serves as equal parts investigative partner and filing cabinet. This robot will quickly win kids over and is easily one of the film’s highlights. 

“Farmageddon” may not possess the deepest of storylines but that makes it accessible for everyone. With plenty for older geeks to enjoy along the way, this is a rare G film that parents and kids can sit through and enjoy equally together. It moves at a breezy pace and the cute factor is off the charts. This cosmic adventure is all-ages entertainment at its best. Pull up Netflix, hit play, and enjoy.

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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.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Two Popes

Following the journey of Jorge Bergoglio’s ascendancy to the title of “Pope Francis”, “The Two Popes” plays out more like a documentary than a typical drama. Based on true events, this story is mostly told via continuing dialogue between Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) and Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins), who differ in what the future path should be for the Catholic Church. Will the religion stay stuck to outdated cultural and ideological truths or is it time for new progressive ideas that fit in with the changing times? Pryce and Hopkins both deliver the goods in acting quality; their dichotomy represented by scenes of verbal conflict and immense respect for one another. Flashbacks do well in fleshing out Bergoglio’s disposition prior to his current way of living, bringing levity to his unconditional dedication to the common people valued by Catholicism and events that shaped his new-age ideals for views centered on topics such as homosexuality, economic inequality, and religious practices.

Appreciation can be showered on the professionalism echoing from Fernando Meirelles’s direction and the steady writing Anthony McCarten puts together working with an expansive story such as this. The film’s issue lies in nothing truly standing out on its own. Its method of storytelling is not always compelling and can cause some viewers to lose focus. Most scenes centered on two men exchanging long anecdotes concerning religion and political ramifications will not be what most would call “entertaining”. The humor in this film feels very tough to latch onto, especially when the actors conveyed these scenes in a manner that feels far from enthusiastic.

Fernando Meirelles’s “The Two Popes” will find an audience with people who have deep knowledge of the long history of the Catholic Church and who have pledged their support for Pope Francis. Outside of that, it’s difficult to recommend a 2-hour film that uses long-running discussion between two men as its manner of narrative technique. Pryce and Hopkins are both prominent in dual leading roles and the topics they discuss do lend themselves to current societal issues around the world that are experienced by many. For me, this is an experience that can be praised for its polish but is not something worth a second viewing.


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.