What We Learned This Week: September 15-21

LESSON #1: JUST BECAUSE A FILM PRESENTS A MAN WITH STRONG FEELINGS DOESN’T MEAN IT’S AUTOMATICALLY A SLICE OF TOXIC MASCULINITY— I’ll share a little inside chatter as a film critic who watched a closed screening of Ad Astra with just critics, no public audience.  Even though we all will go home and hope to write our slice of brilliant and engaging criticism, we all still talk shop.  Color me crazy as, admittedly, a white middle-aged male, but I was surprised and even a little rubbed the wrong way when I heard a few peers vehemently drop the toxic masculinity card on Ad Astra.  Sure, parental issues can be overplayed in movies.  When that happens, I look to the approach it took before I label and curse.  For me, I saw a movie that showed the stresses saddled on men. I don’t go too deep on that tangent in my own review, but I highly recommend my Chicago peer Leo Brady’s review of Ad Astra on AMovieGuy.com.  He hits the topic hard and pushes back.  When you see the movie, I’d love to read or hear your take and vibe.

LESSON #2: NO AUDIENCE MEMBER WANTS MORE ADVERTISEMENTS— After a recent Hollywood Reporter poll revealed the majority of moviegoers want fewer trailers before a movie, a nearly universal declaration, a story arrived this week of two theater companies adding even more pre-movie advertisements.  The Regal and Cinemark chains are proposing to add business advertising before the already excessive trailers.  AMC, the nation’s top chain, is staunchly against it.  I get that advertising pays the bills for these studio-squeezed theater chains that lose more and more of the windfall cut each year, but the top loser here is still the consumer.  No one needs more of this stuff.  This only creates more incentive to come into movies late and not spend your concession dollars on site.

LESSON #3: DIGITAL PERFORMERS HAVE RIGHTS— I love, love, love what Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes performance capture star (and future Venom 2 director) Andy Serkis is stumping for.  Serkis is rallying for compensation and renumeration for reusing digital performances, especially those that are no longer with us.  His core questions were: ““When your performance becomes data it can be manipulated, reworked or sampled, much like the music industry samples vocals and beats. If we can do that, where does the intellectual property lie? Who owns authorship of the performance? Where are the boundaries?”  He went further to talk about actors being unethically used against cultural sensitivities since they can be replaced and manipulated with other imagery.  Top to bottom, Andy brings up an outstanding issue that deserves attention.  I look forward to seeing where this story goes and who steps up to listen.

LESSON #4: YOUR OPENING DAY MENU OF DISNEY+ IS IMMENSE AND AMAZING— The full list of content starting on Day 1 of Disney+ is obscene.  Click on this link for the whole list and put on a football helmet with a chin-strap.  The buttoned up strap will hold your jaw and the helmet itself could stave of a concussion when you fall from wherever you’re standing or sitting reading that list.


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.  (#116)

What We Learned This Week: October 29-November 4

LESSON #1: SCOUTING THE RIGHT TALENT IS KEY TO MARVEL’S SUCCESS— How does this low-risk MCU blueprint keep coming up with winners? One way is by scouting comedic talent in front of and behind the camera. Look first at the casting of Marvel’s core leads: Robert Downey, Jr.Chris EvansChris PrattPaul RuddBenedict Cumberbatch, and, in Thor: Ragnarok‘s case, Chris Hemsworth. Each of them (follow the links) bring an easily-activated range of humor to not take themselves so seriously. If you’re shooting for overall levity, you call on the nimble and agile.  The same search for farce can be said for many of Marvel’s directorial choices: Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Anthony and Joe Russo, James Gunn, and Peyton Reed. All have witty and wisecracking credits on their resumes. Add director Taika Waititi’s name to that list. The peppy New Zealander behind Hunt for the Wilder People and What We Do in the Shadows merges his wholesome storytelling sensibilities with a frisky and playful side of sarcasm to sharpen the camp of the comic book content of Thor: Ragnarok.

LESSON #2: NETFLIX CAN STILL BE A BIT OF A BALLHOG— Jeff Huston of “I Can’t Unsee That Movie” has an excellent editorial piece recently talking about the day-and-date release strategy of Netflix.  Thanks to their deep pockets to win some distribution bids on prominent international film festival performers like The Meyerowitz Stories, First They Killed My Father, and Our Souls at Night, high caliber independent films are available on their streaming service at the same time as a soft and limited theatrical release.  The article calls into question how this practice actually does a disservice to the theater end of things and I happen to agree, though I celebrate Netflix plenty (see next lesson) for getting the “gets.” While it’s nice that the arthouse theater scene is being filled with something, the Netflix availability dramatically shortens any helpful effect of attendance the arthouse could really use.  There’s got to be a middle stagger of compromise in there.  Give the arthouse 4-8 weeks of exclusivity and then Netflix gets it forever, something to that effect where both benefit.

LESSON #3: NETFLIX IS ALL-IN ON ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING— We’ve been seeing Netflix’s not-so-quiet surge all year with their self-financed original feature film offerings and have been amazed.  They keep getting bigger, especially with Will Smith’s Bright around the corner.  Now the ambition and push have a target number and it’s bigger than we thought.  Recently, the streaming giant said their 2018 goal is 80 original films.  That is an astounding number that runs circles around Hollywood studios that maybe put out a quarter of that into the multiplexes.  Love them or hate them, Netflix is quadrupling down on being a big-time player.

LESSON #4: DEMAND-BASED PRICING IS GOING TO BE AN INTERESTING EXPERIMENT— We filmgoers don’t often see the business dealings happening behind the curtain and multiplex doors.  For a taste of it, read the strict details Disney is placing on theater chains for the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi and you’ll get an idea of the bitter competition for the almighty dollar.  All we see is ticket prices going up and wondering why while we shake our heads and still open up our wallets.  In an effort to earn a little extra, the Regal Cinemas chain recently announced a trial of demand-based/surge pricing where the hits will cost more than the flops on your receipt.  Seeing the business end of that Last Jedi example, I get theaters trying to squeeze, but one has to wonder if such practice will work.  I don’t like its chances.  All I see are movie studios then asking for a bigger cut on top.

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.