What We Learned this Week: New Year’s Resolutions for the Movie Industry in 2018

Plenty of regular everyday people make New Year’s Resolutions, but I think bigger entities, namely movie makers and movie moguls, need to make them too.  Annually, including this seventh edition, this is my absolute favorite editorial to write every year.  I have fun taking the movie industry to task for things they need to change.

Since last year, I feel like I’ve been writing a little bit of this every week all year over on the “What We Learned This Week” column contribution here on the Feelin’ Film Podcast website.  Readers and followers of that podcast and column will get my cadence.  I’m sarcastic, but I’m not the guy to take it to the false internet courage level of some Twitter troll.  This will be as forward as I get all year.

Some resolutions come true (a great deal of last year’s list is still relevant), while others get mentioned and reiterated every year. You would hope Hollywood would learn from those lessons going forward.  Alas, here we go again!  Enjoy!

1. Clean out your closets for good.

Without question, the most enormous and egregious issue to cross this industry this past year was the avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations leveled against big names, small names, and studio executives.  I know I’ve preached patience in a recent Feelin’ Film “soapbox” to plead with folks to be in the camp of “innocent until proven guilty” and not the other way around, in terms of letting these claims play out to proven guilt before burning careers to the ground.  That said, let these exposures continue to be moral napalm to clean out a dirty Hollywood.  Purge the skeletons from the closets in a string of ugly years, if that’s what it takes, to advance equality and fairness going forward.  Pass the matches.

2. Continue the “Year of the Woman” into the “Era of Women.”

Last year on this column, I celebrated female protagonists.  Despite the ugly headlines, 2017 was an incredible year for women going ever further to lead the charge in film behind the scenes as well.  If voters were vigilant enough, you could fill the upcoming Best Director Oscar field with 80% women, Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Dee Rees (Mudbound), Sofia Coppola (The Beguiled), and the category wouldn’t lose an ounce of talent or respectability.  Much like #OscarsSoWhite sticking around through Moonlight last year, Hollywood has to do better than a one-year surge or knee-jerk olive branch.  Turn this banner year into a string of them worthy of being called an era.  These ladies and others have earned it.  Reward them as such with opportunity.

3. There is room for objective to go with the subjective.

I might be gunning fairly high-brow with this one where I might be wearing too much of my film critic hat to go with my movie fan t-shirt.  I get the general foundation where loving and enjoying movies will always be greatly subjective.  Too each their own, all day.  I get that.  However, maybe it’s the capacity of the school teacher in me, but if I’ve learned anything doing this film critic thing is that there is room for objective to go with the subjective when it comes to reacting to a film.  I’ve seen movies this year like A Ghost Story, mother!, and Call Me By Your Name that I do not find entertaining, per se, or contain content I don’t condone or agree with from the seat of my personal values.  When that occurs, I’ve learned to take a step back and recognize the goals those films and filmmakers were going for and find ways to respect them, and even commend them, even when I don’t like the finished products.  I think general audiences could try a form of this reflection on for size too.  I think if people took a breath, stepped back, and looked at something other than their own expectations for a film, they might see purposes other than some self-serving ones and we would have a whole bunch fewer rants and raves of negative hyperbole.

4. Make smarter trailers and less of them.

Stop giving away too much in a trailer.  There are films from this past year where the trailer gave away 80% of storylines.  Where’s the mystery?  Less is more.  Take Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  After Star Wars: The Force Awakens made over $900 million domestically two years ago, the sequel didn’t need the help of a lengthy trailer and could have sold itself on principle alone rather than a second trailer that even director Rian Johnson had to give a minor spoiler warning to.  Trailers like that aren’t worth it or necessary.  Between Star Wars: The Last Jedi and all the people who fussed about not getting an Avengers: Infinity War trailer until December, find some patience.  Trailer-makers, leave the audience wanting.  Make them wait.  Imagine the anticipation if there wasn’t a trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Avengers: Infinity War.  Imagine the frenzy and the payoff, not just on the screen, but on the bottom line of box office receipts.

5. Drown out the click bait with creativity.

One of my satisfactions from Star Wars: The Last Jedi was that it shook off two years worth of superfluous noise and the endless conjecture of silly fan theories and think pieces to surprise just about everyone by sticking to its creative guns to blaze its own trail, not one caving to unreasonable expectations.  How I know it worked is watching the butthurt backlash from the two weeks of people trying to disown the movie because it wasn’t what they thought it was going to be.  To the click bait crowd, Rian Johnson and company made THEIR movie, not YOUR movie.  That was the objective goal and it’s a shame people can’t respect that or the differences, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi was just one example of many.  Pushing anything else is entitlement and not anticipation.

6. Don’t let Disney’s head (or portfolio) get too big.

Last year on this annual editorial, one of my items read “Disney/Marvel, please pay Fox and Sony whatever they want to bring your universe under one roof.”  By golly, I didn’t think Disney was going to go even further that that to entirely buy 21st Century Fox.  Disney is playing Monopoly with more money and property than anyone else with a token on the game board.  Be wary and mindful of that power beyond the wish fulfillment of X-Men and Fantastic Four possibilities in the MCU.  Disney hasn’t been a saint this year with the blackout of critics from certain publications, shuffling and firing directors, price hikes for theater dividends, taking their ball to their own convention, pulling their content from Netflix (while buying controlling stake in Hulu Plus), arranging their own streaming service, and more.  Maintain healthy competition and watch out for that bullseye on your back, Sony.

7. While we’re talking about superheroes, scale them down a touch.

Superhero films are the hottest tickets in town.  You don’t have to necessarily have studios slow down the pace of the film releases, just the size of the films and stories.  The best superhero film this past year was Logan, which striped all the spectacle away and told essentially a modern western to become of the best-ever entries to the genre and further proof that R-rated options were viable as well.  Until the big swirling finale of special effects, Wonder Woman was nearly the same for leanness and importance.  The counterexamples are Justice League this year and X-Men: Apocalypse two years ago, where the storylines are becoming overstuffed and piling on in an effort to constantly top themselves.  Logan is proof you don’t need to do that.  Tell a single good story.  Lead up from small to big, instead of from big to bigger.  Build from small for a few films and then get to the massive Infinity War level events.  That rumored Matt Reeves Batman detective story can’t come soon enough instead of the next intergalactic throwdown.

8. Put more depth of heart and less dumb antics in family films.

I’m bringing this resolution back verbatim as a repeat from last year.  I hear people (one of them sounds like me) all the time saying how annoying and unintelligent the movie options are for kids and families, particularly in the live-action department.   In 2016, Pete’s Dragon and Queen of Katwe showed audiences that not everything had to be 90 minutes of animated noise, but neither took off as big hits.  This year, Beauty and the Beast was a ready-made blockbuster and Wonder is doing great this holiday season.  They give me hope.  I just wish more folks could have seen and discovered the heart of Wonderstruck this year like I did.  Keep the efforts coming.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on 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: Wonder Woman

In the opening minutes of Wonder Woman, young Princess Diana (played by the precocious Lilly Aspell), bounds about the island of Themyscira with such a tireless enthusiasm, imitating lady warriors in training, channeling the energy of Wall Street’s Fearless Girl, defiant of rules and stereotypes.  Even as her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson), tries to subdue her daughter’s eagerness to place herself in precarious circumstances, we can tell that Diana is cut from a different cloth. This is an origin story untold on the big screen before now, and in a cinematic society weary of such redundancies, the coming of age of the would be Amazonian princess is welcome, and in so many ways, necessary.

For the past decade, Marvel Studios has coasted along on the coattails of a genuinely decent cinematic universe, wherein rival DC has limped along with luke warm to abysmal attempts post-Nolan at keeping up with the Jonses. Rabid fandom aside, DC has mostly earned the reputation of being the VH1 to Marvel’s MTV.  But credit where credit is due, DC is the first studio to test the theory that a female centered superhero film can stand alongside the glut of “fill in the blank”-man movies that have strong armed the studio’s purse strings for far to long.  Giving the reigns to a passionate, visionary filmmaker like Patty Jenkins was also the right thing to do. There is an undercurrent of authenticity to this film, as if it knows it carries an extra burden.  Fair or not, Wonder Woman needed to be more than entertaining.  

Wonder Woman needs to be examined on multiple fronts. As a superhero film, it’s decent, much in the way most of these genre films are.  There will be things that work and things that will not, but generally you will feel a sense of satisfaction when the credits start rolling.  And yet, Twitter trolls will spew nonsense, and fanboys will gather to defend. If you can block out that noise, you can expect an above average slice of blockbuster pie that isn’t without its flaws.

Comparisons can be made to Captain America: The First Avenger in both style and structure.  The pacing isn’t always a strength, and it does feel the full weight of the 141 minute run time as a result.  The film ultimately falls into familiar genre trappings, where CGI assumes command of a final battle between super-beings in a dark cacophony of sight and sound.  But enough good will has been earned by that point for me to forgive most of that.  It isn’t terrible, just familiar.  

As maligned as Producer Zack Snyder is with a lot of his creative choices, casting Gal Gadot is purely inspired.  She is perfect, and with no disrespect to Linda Carter, she is the Wonder Woman for all going forward.  Gadot brings so many layers of Diana Prince to life, portraying her with a fearless intensity that smacks of both strength and vulnerability. There is a grace and beauty to Diana, and yet her fierce sense of duty never wavers.  Between Gadot’s talent and Jenkins’ direction, Wonder Woman never strays down a path that could have cheapened it.

To that end, props to Chris Pine (as Captain Steve Trevor), who never oversells himself.  He seems to understand there is something bigger going on here, and his portrayal of Trevor never impedes on Gadot.  Pine shows range with the character- sometimes frustrated, confused, or downright angry- but he’s always respectful of Diana’s role within this world.  

All of the plot devices and technicalities of filmmaking aside, the success of Wonder Woman, at least for me, lies squarely on its ability to serve as a beacon for gender equality.  And I’m of the opinion (admittedly the opinion of one white bred, middle aged dude), that this film succeeds on that front.  Every time I started to get concerned the line might get crossed- when the male hero might be called upon to save the day- Jenkins and Gadot sidestep, making sure the focus stays on Diana as hero, keeping the male characters involved but at a respectable distance that never feels unnatural. 

To that end, we male critics can comment on the basics of storytelling, or on technical merit, or character development, but I don’t feel as if we have the right to pass judgement on this film based on our experience outside of those particular contexts. It isn’t our film, guys.  We can love it or hate, but what matters is the way it lands with women who find inspiration from the main character.  What matters are the women who have felt the brunt of misaligned gender politics and look to a simple film as a step in the right direction.  What matters are women who find courage and strength in a world that doesn’t often allow them to express those traits.  What matters are the multitudes of little girls who don the warrior princess’ outfit and walk away empowered, seeing themselves as equals, seeing themselves in the same context as their male peers who sport Iron Man and Captain America gear on Halloween.  It’s really the only thing that matters here, and it’s long overdue.

Episode 061: Wonder Woman

We go for the team-up this week by calling in Andrew Dyce for this special episode on DC’s newest entry into their comic book film universe. Wonder Woman let into theaters shouldering an enormous weight as the first female-directed and led superhero movie. Not only has it garnered incredible financial success in its first weekend, but it has received overwhelming praise as something fresh, new, and necessary. We dig into the film and have a great conversation about its themes and importance to the future.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:52

(Aaron – You’re Next)
(Patrick – The Last of Us)
(Andrew – American Gods/Twin Peaks: The Return)

Wonder Woman Review – 0:21:14

The Connecting Point – 1:40:04

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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