What We Learned This Week: October 7-13

LESSON #1: DAMIEN CHAZELLE IS A PRODIGY— We have seen young and fresh directors start out white hot and flame out.  For example, Orson Welles made Citizen Kane when he was 25 and never matched high creative mark with the rest of his career.  With First Man asserting itself as an entirely different scale, scope, and class of film compared to Whiplash and La La Land, no one can call Chazelle a one-hit wonder or a flash in the pan.  He is a mere 33 years old and is primed to possibly have his third consecutive film be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  Wes Anderson can’t say that and neither can Christopher Nolan.  What Chazelle is doing with his craft and talent is quickly sprinting ahead of his peers and contemporaries.  It’s boggling to imagine what he can accomplish before he’s 43 or 53.  Projecting this guy’s career requires something stronger than the Hubble Telescope.

LESSON #2: IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, JOIN THEM— Following the lead of Disney, AT&T and Warner Bros. have announced their intention to launch WarnerMedia streaming service to compete with Disney’s new platform and the existing giants of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.  The strong business reason is there: skip paying a competitor licensing fees to host your content when you can do it yourself.  WB has the library depth to fill a service between their own brand and their HBO and Turner holdings.  As always, the success will depend on price point.  Make it competitive and attractive and people will come.  People like paying for one-stop-shop convenience and, by the time they pay up for access to Disney, will people want to add one more service and one more hassle?  I predict in a few years this column will have a future lesson that reads “The old adage of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ doesn’t always work” because either Disney or Warner Bros. (or both) will pull back because they are not making their desired subscription numbers.  Time will tell.

LESSON #3: MARVEL STILL KNOWS WHAT’S GOOD FOR THEM— Word just came through that Ryan Coogler officially put ink to paper to return to the director’s chair and writer’s desk for Black Panther 2.  It’s only fitting because anyone less than Coogler returning to what he championed and built would be a backwards step for the billion-dollar smash.  So far, as long as Marvel continues to allow Coogler to work with reasonable freedom, he will not be the next Joss Whedon to start strong and be burnt out by the micro-managing Marvel machine.

LESSON #4: JAMES GUNN WAS ALWAYS GOING TO BE FINE— Speaking of micro-managing, it didn’t matter to Disney, but James Gunn showed enough professionalism, contrition, and support from his peers to not have his career ruined for his old Twitter behavior that was revealed in bombshell headlines this past July.  Warner Bros. has tabbed him to write a Suicide Squad sequel with the possible opportunity to direct.  This counts as a positive rebound for Gunn and a coup of a hire for the DCEU.  If you remember last year, Gunn was a elevated to become an inner circle member of the MCU creative core under Kevin Feige.  He now brings that acumen and prowess to a place that could sure use more of both.

LESSON #5: TOM CRUISE DESERVES AN OSCAR SOMEDAY— IndieWire’s David Ehrlich put out quite a pitch this week say Tom Cruise deserves an Oscar nomination for Mission: Impossible – Fallout.  I enjoyed the grounds of Ehrlich’s argument and I do think there’s something special about the level of star power and superhuman accomplishment Tom Cruise has done.  Recognizing him for something that subverts his huge persona counts as honoring a departure from the norm, but when his “norm” is untouchably greater than anyone else’s, that greatness is the special achievement.  I’m with the others on the Feelin’ Film Discussion Group who chimed in on this story.  Maybe Tom doesn’t deserve an Oscar for this specific film or role, but, someday, his body of work and impact screams lifetime achievement.

LESSON #6: MOST CLASSICS DON’T NEED MODERN IMPROVEMENT— This week, Richard Dreyfus went on the record with Deadline’s Geoff Boucher to say that re-releasing a CGI-enhanced Jaws would rake in a ton of money and bring the classic to new audiences.  The production troubles of Steven Spielberg’s mechanical shark are well-documented.  I’m sure if he had the means then he has today, we would certainly see a different summer blockbuster.  Call me old-fashioned, but Jaws like all other films are products of their eras and should stay themselves.  It stands as a treasured time capsule for when practical effects, POV camerawork, and the stellar use of John Williams’s score could replace what couldn’t be done explicitly and still create a chilling effect.  Jaws still works, even if some parts could be pretty cool with a little more teeth, texture, and speed.  All I hear when Dreyfus talks though is a “cash grab.”  The royalty checks must be coming in a little slow this year.

LESSON #7: KEEP AN EYE ON THE BOYS FROM SEARCHING— You hear Aaron White and me raving every chance we get about the August family thriller Searching.  Both of us declared writer/Director Aneesh Chaganty and his writing partner Sev Ohanian as names to watch after their stunning debut.  We now know what’s next for them, namely the Sarah Paulson vehicle Run from Lionsgate that starts production this month.  Put me in the “can’t wait” line already.  I know I’ll have some friends join me soon.

LESSON #8: IT’S OCTOBER, SO TREAT YOURSELF TO A HORROR MOVIE— In a quick finish, take a gander at this list of the best horror films on Netflix right now.  The second one listed is an absolute must.  


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 a year, 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 special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: August 26-September 1

LESSON #1: SEARCHING SHOULD BE REQUIRED VIEWING FOR TEENS AND THEIR PARENTS EQUAL TO EIGHTH GRADE EARLIER THIS SUMMER— Standing as another dramatic dose of the perils of being a teenager and raising a teenager in this current times, Aneesh Chaganty’s electric Searching would make a heck of a twin-bill with Bo Burnham’s startling slice of truths from July.  If you have a son or daughter with a connected device and a digital footprint of apps and engagement, you need to be floored by this film’s stance as one-part cautionary tale and one-part family feels.  You’ll be diving to Protect Young Eyes and similar sites in a hurry afterwards.  Hear Aaron and I gush over this film in a recent Feelin’ Film minisode.  It’s my #1 film so far this year.  You NEED to see this one!

LESSON #2: WAIT AND SEE A FILM BEFORE PASSING JUDGMENT— Advance reviews, hot takes, and click bait web articles that stir up angles, tangents, and nonsensical conversations before a movie makes it to the general public are the wrong place to form an opinion on a film.  This lesson rears its ugly head today on the heels of the world premiere reviews for Damien Chazelle’s First Man and a Business Insider piece about whether or not the planting of the American flag during the Apollo 11 mission is shown or not.  People are already circling their wagons to either defend the assumed choice as an artistic or narrative decision or start lighting up the puff-chested patriotism-fueled “how dare you” revisionist opposition pitchforks.  First Man is not the first film to be bitten by this stuff and it won’t be the last.  Simply put, wait and see the film for yourself before falling for rumors and rants. 

LESSON #3: AWARDS SEASON STARTS RIGHT NOW— Speaking of all that early buzz, First Man is sounding pretty darn legit.  I’m remain on my “No Trailers Diet” to remain unspoiled and untarnished which includes reading advance reviews, especially for First Man which has been my #1 anticipated film all year.  It sounds like I’m going to like what I see in October.

LESSON #4: PUSHING BACK A RELEASE DATE TO MAKE A FILM BETTER SHOULD ALWAYS BE A WELCOME DECISION— Much like Lesson #2, other decisions shouldn’t always be met with gasps, groans, and uninformed opinions.  Release dates are one of them.  Too often, when a film has to blink from a planned release date to a later one, the first flags flying are the “lemon on their hands,” “it’s going to be a bomb,” and “obvious production troubles” ones from all the haters and doubters.  You know what, if a studio is actually stable enough and smart enough to not rush brilliance, they might just get rewarded with brilliance.  It was announced this week that the hotly-anticipated Top Gun sequel, which is still in pre-production before shooting, is going to delay a year from July 2019 to July 2020 to improve planned action sequences.  Like our own founder Aaron White said on this news in the Facebook group, it’s better to get it right than anything else.  I remember the boo-birds making all kinds of noise 20+ years ago when Titanic moved from a July 4th release to a holiday one.  I’d say that turned out pretty well.  I’ll take patience over hubris every time.

LESSON #5: LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY SHOULD BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT WHEN RANKING AND VOTING ON THE BEST FILMS OF ANY GIVEN YEAR— I’ve ranted on the “popular film” Oscar at length once already, but the reactions from within the industry are starting to develop in really strong and rightfully righteous directions.  This new category feels like a shorter hurdler being put on the race course for fluff films to clear.  Because of the comic film landscape and the Disney puppet strings behind-the-scenes, Black Panther is being labeled as a beneficiary of such a new award.  Don’t tell that to Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman.  Relayed by friend-of-the-podcast Emmanuel Noisette of The Movie Blog through LA Times and Hollywood Reporter sources, Marvel czar Kevin Feige and Boseman support the studio’s efforts to aim for the top prize and not the popular one.  Bozeman outlines a challenge for voters expressing: 

What is the difficulty of the thing that you did? And do people appreciate what you did; the quality of it, the difficulty of it. What we did was very difficult. Because we created a world. We created a culture. It doesn’t exist in a world that you already know. It’s a world that we had to completely…we had to create a religion, a spirituality, a politics.  We had to create an accent. We had to pull from different cultures to create clothing styles and hair styles. It’s very much like a period piece[…] So you can’t honor any period piece that you ever did, technically, more than you can this one. So as far as that’s concerned, I dare any movie to try to compare to the difficulty of this one.

I absolutely love that statement. You’ll hear Emmanuel and I talk about this within the Feelin’ Film Discussion Group on Facebook, but, more and more, we see room for the objective to be valued equal, if not higher, to the subjective when it comes to rating, ranking, and scoring films for review or awards contention.  I support that notion 100%.

LESSON #6: SPEAKING OF RECOGNIZING DIFFICULTY, MAYBE IT’S TIME WE CALL GENRES “DISCIPLINES” INSTEAD OF THE ORIGINAL TERM THAT HAS BECOME ATTACHED TO STIGMAS— Despite matching the definition of being of a different story type, the adjective of “genre” and term “genre film” have acquired negative connotations over these decades of blockbuster filmmaking.  It’s become a scarlet letter of supposedly fantasy and childish things that get looked down upon as lesser than some gilded ideal of theatrical drama and thespian brilliance.  This is where a guy like Ethan Hawke can be seen as the opposite of Chadwick Boseman from Lesson #5.  Instead of seeing what most of the masses see as the genre label pigeonholing superhero films, the First Reformed actor came out to call them “overpraised.”  I’m a firm believer that there is indeed true art to be found in ANY film genre, even the comfort food and dream fulfillment of comic book films.  Like Boseman alluded to, genre films like superhero films have their own unique degree of difficulty, one worthy of respect and admiration.  For me, I beginning to think of different “genres” of films to be more like martial arts disciplines.  Think of defensive karate versus the whirl of kung-fu or submissions of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.  Each are unique for their movement, execution, and overall purpose.  Each take a different degree of difficulty, skill sets, and work effort.  I think it’s time to put different film genres on that kind of plane.  I’m going to add “genre” to my personal list of “banned” words in film reviews, joining words like “great” and “masterpiece.”  I want to value what I’m talking about higher.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  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.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, 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 special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

Minisode 051: Searching

Searching is an incredible combination of innovative filmmaking, anxiety-inducing thrills, emotionally complex characters, and relevant commentary on the internet as both a danger and potential tool for good. Aaron and Don were both floored by writer/director Aneesh Chaganty’s debut feature film and John Cho’s performance in it, so they sat down for a conversation about what makes the film so special.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Searching

 

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.