What We Learned This Week: September 1-14

LESSON #1: MY FELLOW FILM CRITICS, CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE— As a press credentialed and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic myself, I’m sorry in advance, but I need to partially call out a one of my own. The first is Alex Billington of First Showing for being too much about being F1RST.  His work is solid and his site is one of the more dependable websites for actual movie news and less click bait, but, simply put, he broke the rules he agreed upon when he put on the Venice Film Festival press badge.  He was upset when one of his reviews broke embargo rules.

Here’s the link to the “open letter” editorial that followed. For those of you playing at home, we critics are bound to something like reverse deadlines, namely firm times requested by the studios that are the earliest reactions and reviews are allowed to run.  I don’t like them anymore than Alex does, but they are the rules and the studios or festivals have the right to control thier message and product.  Abiding by embargoes are part of the deal of being so damn lucky enough to be in Venice, Telluride, Cannes, or Toronto seeing a huge movie for free before everyone else.  Access is the reward before your page clicks.  Be happy you have it in the first place.  We are spoiled every week by an embarassment of riches for shiny pieces of entertainment.  Besides, we critics get to cheat with social media before full reviews:

This is where I can agree with Alex.  However, that small shout-out should be enough to keep business and attention going.  Harmony and health take patience.  I don’t like it, but I respect the rules.  People that break them can ruin things for the rest of us lower down the ladder.

LESSON #2: THE ASSIGNED DESCRIPTORS OF “GARBAGE” OR “TRASH” IS NOT PROFESSIONAL FILM CRITICISM— I’ll take another shot at my own kind, but I’ll leave the name out this time.  Call this a general warning for anyone who sounds even close to this, even at at the Letterboxd level.  If, as a supposedly professional film critic, all of your learned expertise, curated reflection, and skillfull high-mindedness within the medium of film, lead you to the molehill peak of calling a film “trash” or “garbage,” then, I’m sorry, you’re not a professional film critic.  You are BS artist of hyperbole and click bait.  You haven’t learned tact.  You haven’t met a thesaurus.  You haven’t learned creativity in putting substance into opinions.  Using that poorly formed wording in what is supposed to be a professional piece is a careless and irresponsible trigger.  And when you don’t back it up, you’re just asking for folks to call into question the quality of your writing, if not the quality of your personal character as well.  Aim higher.  Write better.

LESSON #3: STREAMING SERVICES DESERVE BETTER— Just when I thought the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put a positive public gavel down for the inclusion of films from streaming services in year-end awards for the whole industry to follow, we digress to a story like what came out of the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival this week.  Certain theater vendors would not welcome Netflix or Amazon-backed films to screen for competition during the festival.  This has been silly and elitist for too long.  Have the likes of Roma taught us nothing? Let the art compete.  Source shouldn’t matter.

LESSON #4: YOU NEED TO BE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF IMDB TV— In the recommendation slot of this week’s column, I, a new Amazon Fire Stick owner, have discovered the IMDb TV app.  Their selection of streamable films and shows, which includes award winners like La La Land and Silver Linings Playbook and classics like Dune, High Noon, and The Karate Kid, is outstanding for the free price of sitting through some occasional ads.  Seek it out on your devices and players at home.


 

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.  (#115)

What We Learned This Week: August 25-31

LESSON #1: THERE’S PRICE POINT AND THEN THERE’S STEAL OF A DEAL THAT YOU SIMPLY CANNOT PASS UP— You regular readers know my usual stance on price point.  It is the ultimate decision-maker and motivator of consumerism and it always wins.  Just when you couldn’t think Disney could sweeten the pot more for its Disney+ streaming service, they drop another bombshell.  It’s price by itself AND with the ESPN+ add-in already beat Netflix.  Now, they hit us with the special rate for D23 fan club members that drops the price to under $4 per month when you commit to three years.  If this was a cell phone contract, we would all be wary of being locked into something for that amount of time.  That’s not the case here.  That’s a locked-in price for three years in a streaming business era that just loves to get you signed up early and then jack up the rates.  For less than the price of one expensive cup of exotic coffee a month, you get all of Disney+.  Folks, that’s a regret-free and zero excuse steal.

LESSON #2: ROTTEN TOMATOES DESERVES TO WIN A “MOST IMPROVED” AWARD— For all the Rex Reeds and David Ehrlichs that sink hopes and skew audiences with imagined power, the critical community of Rotten Tomatoes needed an infusion of new voices.  Last August, the Flixster-controlled site drastically updated their Tomatometer Critic Criteria and opened its ranks to a new breed of critics (myself included) that go beyond print journalism and stress inclusion of diversity.  One year later, they have reported their resulting data.  Adding 600 critics was huge. To have 55% of them be women, 60% of them be freelancers, and 10% come from video and podcast sources is even more huge.  Thank you, Rotten Tomatoes, for the impactful initiative and impressive follow-through.  What a facelift!

LESSON #3: THOSE WHO CANNOT DO, TEACH— Quite likely for just about every movie fan who has ever seen Matthew McConaughey work or talk about his craft, “scholarly,” I’m betting, was not the first or even the 100th word to come to mind.  Alas, after four years as a “visiting instructor,” the coolest of cool Academy Award winner has become a full-time film “professor of practice” at the Moody College of Communication within the University of Texas-Austin.  This looks like a true commitment and not a gloryhounding publicity stunt in any shape or form.  From one teacher to another, good for you!  The classroom can use your inspiring energy and voice of experience.  Now, all I picture are the hot-for-teacher students from Raiders of the Lost Ark that faun over and derail Professor Henry Jones with their eyelid mesages.

 

If that starts happening to you, Matt, that’s how you know you’ve made it.  I can hear it now: “I just love these college girls.  I get older and they stay the same age.”

LESSON #4: GERARD BUTLER IS A POOR MAN’S LIAM NEESON— The weekend box office victory of Angel Has Fallen has reminded us that Gerard Butler has a certain successful niche that people pay money to see.  Like the matinee idols of the 90s that came before him and kicked and punched (Van Damme, Seagal) their way victoriously through raucous R-rated action flicks, the 300 star and an arsenal of fireams can do the same thing.  He’s beginning the Liam Neeson route early, right before turning 50 this November.  Make a few more winners like the Fallen series and Butler can hope to equal and maybe supplant Neeson.  He’s found a fan romance in Vulture writer and critic extraordinaire Bilge Ebiri after his “I Think I Love Gerard Butler” editorial this past week.  Great read!

 


 

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.  (#114)

What We Learned This Week: “Toy Story 4” Special

THE LESSONS I LEARNED WRITING ONE OF THE FIRST AND FEW NEGATIVE REVIEWS OF “TOY STORY 4”

A week and a half ago, I watched Toy Story 4 during an advance screening for press and I really wrestled with what I watched. I slept on it, researched it, and went back and forth with my paragraphs. In the end, I gave it a two-star review which quantifies to a “Rotten” green splatter on Rotten Tomatoes. I knew vitriol and many questions would come. I sure didn’t know how much, even with the saying of any press being good press (Thanks, ComicBook.com). Let me tell you, I had quite the learning experience that is fitting for a special and personal “What We Learned This Week” editorial. 

LESSON #1: IT WASN’T ABOUT THE ATTENTION— Those of you who know me and follow my work know my snark level is not very high. I’m not a purposeful contrarian and I don’t go about this with a mean spirit. I’m not out to burn anything to the ground, even if it’s Terrence Malick. Sure, I may write about lofty and nice film often, but I am far from a film snob too. Higher cinephiles than me have said worse things about more universally acclaimed movies than Toy Story 4. I gave Toy Story 3 the highest of acclaim possible in a review nine years ago and included the franchise in the top five of the best trilogies ever (for which it has now departed). I’m a regular guy, father of two, and a school teacher. Those are my informed anchors and lenses. 4500+ review views later, I will still assert that didn’t do this to get page clicks or to get noticed. I don’t get paid to write reviews. The ad revenue is pennies in a piggy bank and does not constitute a making a living on this stuff. 

LESSON #2: BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF— Again without contrarian snark, I wrote what I did with honesty in mind. Believe me, it would have been way easier to give the movie a pass or follow the pack mentality. I couldn’t with honesty and personal integrity do that, no matter the movie. I don’t give passes to anyone. Because of that, I knew to be careful next. 

LESSON #3: BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR WORDS— I go into each review, positive for negative, mindful of the words I use, especially the hyperbole. I have loved and championed this list of movie critic cliches from Letterboxd user Erik Bajzert and I actively avoid them at all costs. They have become my rules and style guide. 

LESSON #4: IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE TO SEE A MOVIE’S FAULTS AND STILL RECOMMEND IT AND ENCOURAGE AN AUDIENCE— At no point was I shouting from any mountaintop that people shouldn’t see Toy Story 4. With Lesson #3 in mind, my review was not about “love” or “hate” or “like” or “dislike.” I didn’t and wouldn’t use those words and I dare you to find one in my piece. Kyle Smith of the National Review was far less kind than me.  Reviewing a movie for me is more than the emotional takeaways. I go deeper. I don’t hate Toy Story 4. I even don’t dislike Toy Story 4. I’ll recommend people see it and form their own opinion until the cows come home. I’ll use Lesson #5 to explain my review points. 

LESSON #5: IT’S ABOUT EFFECTIVE VERSUS INEFFECTIVE— For all the people who ask about a part or point of my review, my answer has been talking about effectiveness instead of hate or dislike. That’s me trying to apply objectives to the subjective and maintaining the mindfulness from Lesson #3. There are more narrative choices, plot points, character moments, repetitive tropes and more than I flatly found ineffective rather than effective for several reasons. I spell them out in detail in one of the longest reviews I’ve written this year because I knew the need to explain carefully. I’d write even longer if I stepped further into spoilers. Again, see Lesson #3. 

LESSON #6: I’M NOT WRONG AND NEITHER ARE YOU— I’ll partially throw one of our Feelin’ Film hosts under the bus with the use of the word “wrong.”

It’s not about right or wrong. I didn’t write anything wrong. I just wrote something different and carried an opposing opinion. We’re all allowed that and I know I’ve come a long way around here (Dunkirk and “masterpiece,” anyone?) to be better myself about labels and being receptive. I knew what Aaron White meant (though a few others gave him a slice of shade). and he’s always going to be respected and cool in my book. I thank him for supporting my work, including the space to rant like this every week. 

LESSON #7: INTERNET COMMENTS ARE THE WORST— Boy, oh boy, is the troll side of the internet alive and well. OK. Fine. You disagree with an opinion. Like we all say, it’s just a movie.  What does writing hate do? What does wishing bodily harm to a person and his family do? Does it make your feel better or tough? Does Disney thank you for needlessly defending its honor? Some comments are truly sickening. I’m willing to bet 80% or more of the people who wrote one of the 50+ comments on my review didn’t even watch Toy Story 4. See the movie first then come and really talk. It was quite telling to me how the comments virtually stopped after its Friday debut, where maybe the realization of what I wrote wasn’t all that contrarian and spiteful. Luckily, I’m the type of person that doesn’t absorb that kind of garbage. I know all of it is fake internet courage. 

LESSON #8: NO REGRETS— Cue Scottie. P. from We’re the Millers.  I guested on Ian Simmons’s “Kicking the Seat” podcast talking about Toy Story 4 that week and fellow dais participant (and friend of the Feelin’ Film page) Emmanuel Noisette of E-Man’s Movie Reviews and The Movie Blog offered an on-air intervention session. He pleaded a little to reconsider my rating and review and to watch the movie again. I’ll certainly be seeing the sequel again with my wife and kids at some point. Maybe I do come around to more like and love, but I remain confident about my review speaking on worthwhile effectiveness. I don’t regret a word I wrote because I did it with honesty, clarity, and integrity. Toy Story 4 loses zero its standing and reputation from me and the other “Rotten” reviews.  The film will do just fine and not a real thing in the world is burnt.  The comments are horrible, but I don’t regret leaving the comment section open. I take all comers and customers. The many rational discussions with critic peers and general friends alike since in real spaces have been wonderful across the board. Shout out to Mike Crowley of “You’ll Probably Agree” for another solid and civil podcast discussion like Ian’s.  If anything, the challenge going forward is to maintain my consistency as a critic, especially on the Rotten Tomatoes platform.  There is a responsibility to that, which I completely understood even before this experience. This review, in a way, can count as a baseline or cornerstone. I must be wary of that and the comparisons possible going forward. This all only makes me want to work harder. Thanks for reading and your support!


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.  (#105)

What We Learned This Week: May 19-June 1

LESSON #1: GEORGIA DOESN’T REALIZE THE BUSINESS INFLUENCE OF HOLLYWOOD— The fine Peach State has been near the top or at the top of the list of most popular movie filming locations annually for over a decade.  A ton of business comes to them and it has been a boom of tax credits and employment all the way down the list of credits you see at the end of a movie.  The golden gravy train is being threatened by unpopular politics due in part to Georgia’s recent anti-abortion “heartbeat bill” legislation. The same is happening on a smaller level in Alabama and Missouri where similar laws are in place.  Disney, Netflix, several production shingles, and many performers are rethinking, threatening, or have already ceased production or engagement plans in those states.  Gripe about celebrity agendas mixing with political agendas all you want, but this is business and people are prepared to punch wallets where it hurts.  Georgia and those other states can stand on their principles all they want, but the prospective customers are equally allowed to take their business elsewhere.  The true business victims here are the under-the-title workers from craftsman to craft services who could see a precipitous drop of employment opportunities. They are citizens and they need to let their voices heard at the ballot box during the next election.  Both sides will be voting their interests, but let’s see how far money talks.

LESSON #2: ROTTEN TOMATOES WILL IMPROVE ITS CREDIBILITY— Last year, Rotten Tomatoes widened its collective of film critics for its vaunted Tomatometer with new standards that welcomed product and personal diversity (myself included) beyond the field solely print journalism.  The bigger pool has helped make its ratings more aligned to the masses, and now its the mass’s turn for accountability.  In a story released this week, RT is seeking to change its method for the Audience Score part of its ratings to focus on verified ticket buyers and not just “reviewing bombing” internet trolls and haters.  I highly applaud this effort for more actionable accountability and credibility, the latter of which stands to improve greatly. We can clap all we want, but the smartest among us still know that MetaCritic is statistically better (thanks Quartzy).

LESSON #3: PORTRAYAL AND PERFORMANCE NEED TO GO FARTHER THAN REPRESENTATION— From my Aladdin review on Every Movie Has a Lesson: Yes, it is wonderful Disney sought people of color for this ethnic fairy tale, but the clout of their portrayals and the substance of their actions are not improvements. If you’re going to do the right thing by diversity, go all the way, not just halfway or selectively. Dare to combat stereotypes completely. For extensive look into the troublesome history of Arab representation in film, check out Omar Mouallem’s piece in The Ringer.

LESSON #4: EVERYTHING CAN BE RECAST— Less urgent or important than the stakes of Lesson #3 but in the same ballpark of casting is Harrison Ford’s recent assertion that Indiana Jones will die with him claiming no one will fill the role after him.  Hollywood is a place where remake and reinvention are ever-moving cogs of evolution.  Someday, even if no one wants it, someone is going to remake the Indiana Jones films or tell new stories of the character.  Disney didn’t buy LucasFilm just for Star Wars and they see another cash cow of name recognition. Within our lifetimes, we will see another fedora-clad archaeologist cracking a whip.

LESSON #5: CLEARLY, OLD PEOPLE ARE SLOW AND TAKE MORE TIME TO DO THINGS— Boy, this lesson is mean and vague, even when following the 76-year-old Harrison Ford.  Well, we have another delay on Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, the filmmaker’s hotly anticipated Netflix crime epic.  Apparently, the VFX to de-age the senior actors needs more time to refine its look without losing the facial expressions of performance underneath.  No date has been given, but let’s hope nobody dies before this film sees the light of a streaming device day.  

LESSON #6: INDULGE YOUR AUDITORY SENSES AT THE MOVIES— In the final lesson suggestion spot, allow me to share with you this top-notch research list from IndieWire’s Chris O’Falt.  He gathered the 23 films cited by the new documentary Making Waves that chronicled the art of sound design.  Nothing but choice content here. Impress your ears with some of these winners if you need a casual viewing experience this week.  Every one of these movie choices would be better than the cluttered noise of Godzilla: King of the Monsters this weekend.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson 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 new 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.  (#103)

What We Learned This Week: April 29-May 5

LESSON #1: YOU NEED TO START FOLLOWING OUR GUY JACOB NEFF— This week, Feelin’ Film debuted its newest contributor Jacob Neff and his weekly “You Should Be Watching” column. Pulling from Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Filmstruck, Jacob presents a curated list of winners that I highly recommend.  The calendar portion of his column alone creates the perfect priority list.  Let his discerning taste, curious spirit, and stellar research help you get the most from your free entertainment time.  Follow him on Letterboxd as well!

LESSON #2: MARTIN SCORSESE IS WISE— Legendary director Martin Scorsese recently made some comments about the state of film criticism being marginalized by the aggregation and shallow examinations from sites like Rotten Tomatoes becoming the norm.  He called it the “devaluation of cinema,” and he’s not wrong.  This isn’t old-and-out-of-touch-man syndrome.  This is a true expert and historian for the medium.  I shared this story link in the FF Facebook discussion group and set off an excellent discussion any and all interested should check out.

LESSON #3: TRAILERS ARE FULL OF SUGAR-HONEY-ICED-TEA— Shocker!  A two-minute sizzle reel designed to market a film and sell tickets edited by different people than the original filmmakers turns out often to be a manufactured and even inaccurate portrait of the finished product.  You don’t say?!  The Ringer recently put out a dynamite PSA editorial on this topic of lying trailers. Welcome to another of many reasons why I, for one, do not much stock into trailers anymore.  I don’t feel sorry anymore for folks that build unrealistic expectations off of these marketing ploys.  The so-called think pieces called “trailer breakdowns” might just be even worse because they double or even triple the wasted energy to dissect something that is misdirection.  As always, I preach patience.  Let the movie stand for itself and come to you.  In the meantime, I hope the folks at Disney/Marvel take the advice of this Forbes article and don’t give us a shred or second of marketing between now and the untitled Avengers 4.

LESSON #4: JAMES CAMERON NOW CAN’T HELP HIMSELF— Last week, it was pining for superhero movie fatigue to help his own Avatar films down the road.  Now that the spotlight came over, more tape recorders and cameras are running in front of James Cameron.  This week, he’s dropping the hot take that 2001: A Space Odyssey lacks “emotional balls.”  Well, on some level (like Scorsese), he’s not wrong to a degree.  It’s all in a matter of how you say it and present it.  Louis Plamondon, a burgeoning film editor friend of mine, said it best:

“A tell-tale sign that artists have reached the end of their product life cycle in terms of pop culture relevance is whenever they desperately feel the need to drop attention-seeking controversies whose timing is meant to coincide with something they have to sell.” 

Cameron is clinging to relevance with a new AMC series to sell, biding time on Avatar sequels, and it shows.

LESSON #5: THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL HAS BECOME A HOTBED FOR MORE THAN JUST PRESTIGIOUS FILM AND FANCY FASHION— The hoitiest and toitiest of the cinema world descend on the French Riviera beginning on May 8 for the Festival de Cannes.  The slate of high-profile films being screened both in-competition and out-of-competition is impressive (including Solo: A Star Wars Story).  What’s making more headlines than the lineup is what is NOT being allowed to join the competition.  Festival leaders have stated they will not accept Netflix films at the fest, which feels hypocritical when other TV platforms like HBO (Fahrenheit 451) have films there.  In a roller coaster of posturing and power plays, Netflix ended up going from threatening to withhold to flat-out skipping the Cannes Film Festival for consideration.  It’s good to see snobbery is still in full swing.  At least Netflix is self-aware, stating that they want to get in less fights this week with festivals, Oscar voters, and theater companies.  Someone or something needs to broker a compromise.

LESSON #6: WE WILL SEE IF “FIRST TO THE MARKET IS ALWAYS IMPORTANT” REALLY MATTERS— Mixing with the world of television and eager to beat Disney to the punch, Warner Bros. and DC Comics publicly finalized their plans to launch their own exclusive streaming service, named DC Universe, later this year, winning the #f1rst troll award.  Offerings will include exclusive new TitansSwamp Thing, and Harley Quinn series.  DC, in my opinion, has been superior to Marvel in the animated department (both film and television), but I will be curious to see how much film content makes the channel, since that’s where the big bucks are.  This is either going to be a benefit of being first or the set-up to being one-upped by the next guy who can now scout and ahead see what they have to beat.

LESSON #7: THE ACADEMY IS CONTINUING ITS PERSONAL IMPROVEMENT TO TAKE THINGS SERIOUSLY— First it was #OscarsSoWhite and now it’s been the #MeToo movement.  The old standards and blind eyes over at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needed every bit of the criticism and urgency to modernize and change that it’s received the last few years.  The news this week that the Academy has expelled Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski from their membership is an encouraging sign that intolerance is becoming an expectation and new standard.  Coupled with saddness and disappointment at the errors of these men (and Polanski’s call for due process), this effort to re-vet the books is still overdue cleanup and I hope it lasts longer than spring and two men.


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 FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

What We Learned This Week: March 11-17

LESSON #1: GIRLS SHOULD PLAY TOO— Setting off a firestorm of action on a Feelin’ Film Facebook group post this week was the announcement of a Rotten Tomatoes alternative specializing in female film critics.  Underserved and underrepresented, I’m all for a platform to celebrate and highlight different voices in film criticism.  The more the merrier.  Gender inequality is a rampant problem and opportunities like Cherry Picks (I hope a better name is coming) can only help the topic and add to the discussion.

LESSON #2: CAN WE BAN THE TERM “MADE IT FOR THE FANS” PLEASE?— Speaking of RT, over these recent ’10s years of Rotten Tomatoes gobbling up more public attention, the perceived backlash against low RT scores has set off soundbites from several stakeholders.  A prominent reaction a few years back was director David Ayers after Suicide Squad (video).  The latest is actor Joel Edgerton pushing back against the negative reviews bestowed upon the Netflix release Bright.  Both gentlemen used the term “made it for the fans” as a shield of righteousness for what they say was the intended purpose of their films.  Breaking news, Joel and David, critics are fans too.  They just have a wider and more published platform to voice their opinion.  Not all fans are going to like crappy films.  Want more fans, and therefore more critical, support? Make better films and earn more fans.

LESSON #3: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT A DANNY BOYLE JAMES BOND FILM?— With director Sam Mendes not slated to return to the James Bond world after Spectre, audiences and news writers have been in a three-year guessing game of who will take over the helm of the spy franchise.  Word is that man could be Slumdog Millionaire Oscar winner and Trainspotting leader Danny Boyle.  Coupled with Trainspotting screenwriter John Hodge, I think the pair is an exciting fit for Bond.  Fun fact: Boyle directed Daniel Craig in a Bond-esque role opposite the Queen in his Opening Ceremony program of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.  Boyle and Hodge can add a pulpy edge and a different speed of kinetic energy to push the action and the character forward in interesting directions.  Whatever they concoct, you know it sure won’t be boring.

LESSON #4: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT A JON FAVREAU STAR WARS SERIES OR EVEN A GAME OF THRONES-ESQUE ONE?— In similar news, news landed that Iron ManThe Jungle Book, and current Lion King director Jon Favreau has been brought on to write and executive produce a live-action Star Wars series in the near future.  Favreau follows the February announcement of Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss being tapped to write and produce a new film series.  Like Boyle, I think the powers that be have found great hires.  Favreau brings of engaging storytelling, humor, and blockbuster know-how while the Benioff/Weiss team brings edginess and world-building strengths. All of the qualities can have an effective place in this universe.  The task now is for Disney not to micro-manage and fire them like the other top-notch talent they’ve brought in before.

LESSON #5: DISNEY IS THE HOLLYWOOD PLAYGROUND BALL HOG— Why are they the selfish superstar that doesn’t pass? Because they can be.  This month, Disney announced the calendar of their intended release dates for the next five years.  Disney has retained Marvel’s traditional reservation of the first weekends in May, the Star Wars pre-Memorial Day tradition, Pixar’s usual third-week-of-June slot, and their own Thanksgiving animation slot.  More and more, they are squeezing for the Fourth of July weekends, that magical Presidents Day/Valentine’s Day weekend in February (thanks, Black Panther), and bigger chunks of Christmas.  Disney is Kobe Bryant, the “seat’s taken” kids from Forrest Gump, the manspreading subway rider, and bank-buying billionaire all rolled into one with zero f–ks given.  When they show up, everyone else runs for cover.

LESSON #6: NETFLIX DOESN’T HAVE ANY QUIT RIGHT NOW— Ambition is one thing.  Resources is another.  The wild thing is when a creative outlet has both.  That’s Netflix right now.  The volume of original content they are putting out is downright insane.  You would think they can only get so much be money to be had from new subscribers.  That number has to level out and slow production, right?  Not anytime soon, according to Netflix.  They’re booming to have around 700 original shows and movies in the 2018 calendar year.  That’s beyond machine-like.  You wonder how much is too much or how much isn’t profitable.

LESSON #7: THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF AUDIENCE RESPONSIBILITY VERSUS STUDIO ACTIONS— Speaking of Netflix, Annihilation, filmmaker Alex Garland’s tepid box office loser and follow-up to Ex Machina, landed on Netflix only a few short weeks after a theatrical bow from big studio Paramount.  Indiewire’s Zach Sharf wrote an interesting take on the matter citing that part of the fault for the film’s failure is on the audience as much as it’s on Paramount.  He talks about “hard sells” and he’s right.  The general moviegoing audience pays for a more simpler fare than Annihilation.  That’s not a bad thing entirely, but that’s what’s making money.  Any diligent corporation should find the best scenario for earning and profit.  With Netflix throwing its money around, Paramount made an appropriate business decision and one, as it turns out, made more money than failing in the theaters.  I hate to say, but get used to these kinds of decisions and deals.  That’s the landscape.  They only people that can change that are the consumers and it’s going to take quite the unified and concerted effort to change trends.  Stop paying for Transformers films and give that money to risks like Annihilation if you want better products.  I’ve said this many times in this column and in the Feelin’ Film discussion group.  Whether we like it or not, this is a business first and an art exhibition second.


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: January 1-13

LESSON #1: EITHER BUSINESS IS BAD OR PEOPLE ARE FINDING THEIR ENTERTAINMENT ELSEWHERE— I have found that in the box office business, trends rarely lie.  Looking past inflation and price changes, the reported actual ticket sale counts are alarming according to the year-end news reported in several places.  A six percent drop is telling but not drastic.  “Lowest in 25 years” is a whole other thing.  To me, as I’ve stated in this column frequently, it’s all about the price point for family dollars.  The wave of unlimited TV and streaming options available at high quality and far lower costs than it takes to bring the average family of four to the multiplex with refreshments is becoming a no-brainer for those cost-minded folks.

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF BUSINESS, APPLE MIGHT HAVE A COUNTERPUNCH TO DISNEY— Once Disney bought 21st Century Fox, they gained controlling percentage of Hulu Plus at the same time as they’ve been positioning to launch their own dedicated streaming platforms.  The target was placed on Netflixes back, especially after the Mouse House pulled all of their content off the platform to bring under their own roof.  Netflix might have found a benefactor and powerful one.  According to reports sourced by Citi, Apple is angling to buy Netflix with a billion dollar price tag.  Throw Amazon’s power in there, and this WWE triple threat match in a streaming ring just got big

LESSON #3: SPEAKING OF BUSINESS, KEEPING ADVOCATING FOR EQUAL PAY ACROSS GENDERS— You can try to slice it, refocus the points, or pretend to justify the reasons however you want, but the Mark Wahlberg/Michelle Williams All the Money in the World compensation disparity story that broke this week is kind of sh-tty no matter which way you play it.  It just flat-out looks bad.  I’m glad it’s getting investigated by the union (Screen Actors Guild).  I keep the benefit of the doubt going that good faith is out there or that contracts are this and other contracts are that.  For that to remain, a positive outcome (with a rolled head or two) must arrive or this will only incite more from an already fractured female demographic, and rightfully so.

LESSON #4: WE HAVE TO CONSIDER THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI A FULL-FLEGED OSCAR CONTENDER NOW— To me, the Golden Globes have been a joke, are a joke, and will remain a joke with some of their category distinctions, silly nominees, and oddball choices.  That said, the Golden Globes aren’t the only awards Sam Rockwell, Frances McDormand, and Martin McDonagh’s film are sweeping up.  The two actors have been surging and now stand as legitimate co-frontrunners with Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) who have dominated the Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress categories.  These dark horses aren’t so pitch black anymore.  By the way, you know which Golden Globe winner is not a real contender?  James Franco.  Via con dios, dude.

LESSON #5: THE STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI HATERS ARE GOING TO BE BUTTHURT FOR A LONG TIME— …and it’s going to be agonizing to deal with them.  Most of the haters are just harmless snobs and sub-trolls.  Their rants and forgettable and carry weak traction, like silly petitions to remove the latest film from canon.  However, some of them take it too far.  This recent story of Kelly Marie Tran dealing with racist and sexist comments is a prime example.  That’s the kind of crap that goes too far and isn’t “fansmanship” nitpicking over water cooler talk anymore.  That’s the hurtful garbage that needs to go and get a life.

LESSON #6: CIRCLE BACK TO THE BEST OF 2017— Rotten Tomatoes closed the 2017 calendar with their list of 100% Tomatometer films.  Seven titles never received a bad review.  Use JustWatch to seek them out in this boring and empty annual moviegoing wasteland known as January.  Liam Neeson flicks can only keep your attention so long.  If you want more films after those seven, you’ve got five top-ten lists right here on Feelin’ Film from your hosts and contributors.


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: November 19-27- Thanksgiving Hangover Edition

Folks, holidays off of work will derail any routines you have, be it parenting or writing and publishing film reviews and online content.  I had a week and my world went lazy in a happy and welcome hurry.  Super-sized to match our post-Thanksgiving “muffintop” bellies, here’s a late edition of “What We Learned This Week!”


LESSON #1: YOU REALLY NEED TO SEE LADY BIRD— There is a five-star and potential best-of-2017 film sitting right under your noses with Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird.  My review glows like the California sun and you will find much more like it from my peers on Feelin’ Film and the pros on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, take a look at this distinction, one even greater than the RT buzz given to Get Out‘s high score earlier this year:

LESSON #2: WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, GO SEE WONDER TOO— So often, we ask where are the quality family films in this current Hollywood marketplace.  I can’t be the only parent out there who asks for something better than made-for-TV ABC Family and Hallmark channel movies and the endless string of mindless noise coming out of blockbusters like MinionsSing, and etc.  Disney scaling things down with Pete’s Dragon and The Queen of Katwe last year gave me hope that a legitimate live-action family film could still be made and be mildly successful.  Wonder is that exceeding hope this year.  Its messages are virtuous and heartwarming.  Add Stephen Chbosky’s film to your shortlist for holiday viewing.  It’s a keeper.

LESSON #3: SPEND EXTRA TIME IN THE LOBBY, BATHROOM, TRAFFIC, OR AT DINNER BEFORE SEEING COCO (BUT DON’T FORGET TO STILL SEE COCO)— Disney/Pixar’s Coco is another family-friendly keeper right there with Wonder, but the animated “short” before it the opposite.  I don’t know about you, but I was done with Frozen when it came out.  Subjecting a (hopefully) diverse family audience to 21 minutes of repetitive Olaf silliness on top of previews and other advertisements before a hearty and heavy 109-minute film is too much.  Dear Disney, save that crap for your own TV channel and future streaming service.  Dear Pixar, we come to a Pixar film for your brand of superior original shorts, not Disney’s extra product placement.  Future Coco audiences, use article guide from Slate to calculate how much time to stall and cut right to the feature.

LESSON #4: BE MINDFUL OF WHO IS IN BED WITH WHO WHEN IT COMES TO THE BUSINESS OF HOLLYWOOD— Rotten Tomatoes was applauded before the release of Justice League for its stance to hold its first official rating designation until the opening day of Friday, four days after publication embargoes for critics ended that Tuesday.  It was seen as a move of patience and a step in the right direction away from the immediacy of rash judgment.  When you learn Warner Bros. owns Flixster, the parent company of Rotten Tomatoes, you might realize it was a selfish move of shielding flack instead of championing temperance.  Let me continue to join many other voices, including this great piece from Hype, begging for the general public to loosen their obsession with the broken math of Rotten Tomatoes.  Find critics you trust and appreciate and separate from the pack mentality of pitchforks and/or circle jerks.

LESSON #5: YOU GET WHAT YOU GET WITH JUSTICE LEAGUE— I’d love a Zach Snyder or Joss Whedon “director’s cut” (hell, even both) of Justice League, but conflicting reports make it sound like it can’t or won’t happen.  No matter what, too many folks play amateur armchair film editors.  If we get a bonus, that’s great.  If we don’t, take what the film gives you.

LESSON #6: SPEAKING OF SUPERHEROES, IT’S TIME FOR EVEN MORE DIVERSITY REPRESENTATION— Seeing the strength of the Amazons in Wonder Woman and Justice League as well as the badassery of Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, it’s time additional diversity in comic book films.  This Collider column and list lay out six places inclusion of LGBTQ characters could have been made and it’s a good blueprint for more.  Heck, just start with women in general, let alone the other special demographics of the acronym.  The Guardian recently outlined a primer for a full “women’s canon” foundation.  It’s impressive.    Let’s see Hollywood continue to get progressive and build on the good starts and new energy.


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.

What We Learned This Week: June 25-July 1

LESSON #1: DON’T BUY THE DOOM AND GLOOM PRETENTIOUS PEOPLE ARE PUTTING ON ROTTEN TOMATOES AND NETFLIX— It feels like every week someone wants to pit the fans versus the critics and forget that critics are fans too.  This week it was a piece in Forbes.  Let me put this as simple as I can.  Reviews don’t make people pull money out of their wallet.  Products of interest do.  The content always sells itself first.  The frosting of random measured approval is second.  I will continue to be in the “want a better RT score, make a better movie” camp.  As for Netflix, people are forgetting about the huge access it grants independent films and documentary films.  Films like Okja this week wouldn’t get a puncher’s chance at the crowded multiplexes in this country.  A platform like Netflix lets it be everywhere.  In addition to being that kind of pedestal, the ability for audience buzz through binge and repeat viewing is something a theater cannot improve for a film.

LESSON #2: IF YOU REALLY NEED A NEW PLACE TO READILY AND AFFORDABLY ACCESS FILMS, HEAD OVER TO YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY— I’m not an avid reader, but I still frequent my local library through my children.   Especially if your library is part of a larger county or state system of shared material, the completely free access to both popular and hard-to-find movies is outstanding.  Before you pay that Redbox price with a time limit, a 24-hour Video On Demand rental, or even a full subscription to something like Netflix, Hulu, or Filmstruck, consider what you can mine and discover for free.

LESSON #3: SOUNDTRACKS CAN MAKE A MOVIE— There are films with cool soundtracks and then there are cool films with cool soundtracks.  The trick is not just having a cool soundtrack but using it to its fullest extent as a supporting layer of a film.  No movie in recent memory does that better than Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver.  That film isn’t throwing obscure tracks and deep cuts in there for indie cred.  Each song is purposely piece of the storytelling and the effect is genius.  See and hear Baby Driver at your earliest convenience on the loudest movie screen you can find.

LESSON #4: LET DIRECTORS DIRECT— I encountered a great deal of double talk this week on many fronts that all talked about directors and led me to this lesson’s title.  First, The Beguiled‘s Sofia Coppola is getting flack for not including a slave character or addressing the politics of the Civil War in her auspicious remake landing in theaters this weekend.  Right off the bat, she’s the writer and director and deserves to make those calls for the vision she wants to create, period.  I’ve seen the film.  The slavery angle or more men are not what the film is missing.  Look at the material.  The “whiteness” is the part of the point.  Next, I don’t know what to make of the coming new direction of Warner Bros. under Toby Emmerich when it wants to avoid hiring “auteur directors who want final cut.”  Do they realize they just hired and leaned on Joss Whedon, who had that final cut trouble with Marvel, to save one of their films?  Do they not look back at their biggest critical successes this century and not see names like Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, and Christopher Nolan attached the end of the credits?  I get trimming budgets, but don’t clip the wings of the incredible people you’ve hired.  Tinker as a studio too far and people like Eastwood and Nolan are going to stop working with you and then you’ll get the “bad for business” label, Toby.


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.

 

What We Learned This Week: March 26-April 1

LESSON #1: BRETT RATNER IS FULL OF SUGAR-HONEY-ICED-TEA— Formerly prolific film director Brett Ratner, who’s been cleaning it up as a producer of Ratpac Entertainment, stepped out late last week to pontificate to Entertainment Weekly that “the worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes” and added “I think it’s the destruction of our business.”  You can read his full thoughts, but I don’t buy his logic.  Rotten Tomatoes is too big and combines too many diverse critics for a film to be held down.  If you want better RT scores, make better movies.  It’s that easy.  Brett is full of it and, if you’ve seen his films, as I have, you probably already knew that.

LESSON #2: WARNER BROS. IS GOING ALL-IN WITH POTENTIAL COURSE CORRECTION ON THE DC EXTENDED UNIVERSE— Pack your bags when you’re done with “Justice League,” Zach Snyder.  New talent is coming.  Warner Bros. already poached James Wan of “The Conjuring/Insidious/Saw” fame for “Aquaman” two years ago and last month Chris McKay of “The LEGO Batman Movie” was tabbed to direct a solo “Nightwing” movie, joining “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” helmer Matt Reeves jumping on “The Batman.”  This week, news broke Thursday that “Avengers” and “Firefly” mastermind Joss Whedon has crossed party lines to direct a standalone “Batgirl” movie for Warner Bros.  Now that is the coup of coups and a perfect director to deliver a legitimate female superhero film.  When “Kingsman” and “X-Men: First Class” director Matthew Vaughn puts ink to paper for “Man of Steel 2,” the shift from Total Snyder will be complete and it looks outstanding.

LESSON #3: IF YOU THINK THE “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” RE-IMAGINING IS HUGE, JUST WAIT FOR “THE LION KING” ONE IN A FEW YEARS— Unlike the opinions of many skeptical haters, “Beauty and the Beast” destined to be a smash.  Bill Condon was a different class of director and the casting was incredible before the cameras ever rolled.  Sure enough, it has raked over $750 million worldwide in just two weeks and should cross the $1 billion mark with ease before it’s run is done.  Watch “The Lion King” do even better in a few years.  Jon Favreau nailed “The Jungle Book,” “The Lion King” has an ever larger following than “Beauty and the Beast,” and the rumors of potentially casting Beyonce as Nala to join Donald Glover’s Simba and a returning James Earl Jones  as Mufasa would be colossal.  Place that bet right now that “The Lion King” will make even more money.

LESSON #4: WATCH FEWER TRAILERS THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED— A conga line of trailers for 2017 wannabe blockbusters arrived in the last two weeks and, I, for one, wish I didn’t see a single one of them.  Trailers these days are showing too much.  Between “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Justice League” to “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “Alien: Covenant” and more, I felt like I was inundated with too many clues and potential spoilers.  Frankly, I’m beginning to avoid trailers altogether and have been recommending others to do the same.  Why?  Ask yourself this cardinal question: Do you really need to be convinced from any footage to see some of these slam-dunk-must-see films?  Because I don’t.  These no-doubters are getting my money regardless on resume and presence alone.  Avoid the easy and rote trailers and let yourself be surprised.  Even though I know this isn’t going to happen, I hope Disney doesn’t show a single second of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”  They don’t need to and, in a roundabout way, not releasing a trailer would be such a huge and unprecedented “less is more” statement proving that you can sell a movie on reputation alone.  A boy can dream.

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.