FF+ The Curse of La Llorona, Little Woods, Okko’s Inn & The Rise of Skywalker

In this week’s episode of FF+, we have spoiler-free reviews of a new Conjuring Universe entry, a debut feature film starring Tessa Thompson and Lily James, and a new Studio Ghibli-esque anime. We also discuss episode three of the Jordan Peele produced reboot of The Twilight Zone. And lastly, we chime in with our thoughts on the first teaser trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.

 

New For You 

The Curse of La Llorona – 0:01:26

Little Woods – 0:10:56

Okko’s Inn – 0:17:32

The Twilight Zone Episode 3: “Replay” –  0:27:33

 

Trailer Talk

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker – 0:39:04

 

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Music: City Sunshine – Kevin MacLeod

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What We Learned This Week: April 7-13

LESSON #1: MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR NOVEMBER 12TH WITH PIXIE DUST AND MOUSE EARS— Circle the 12th of November on your calendar for the debut of Disney+, the entertainment giant’s new exclusive streaming service we’ve been hearing about for the better part of a year.  And, man oh man, did they announce a menu of old and new content that looks like the binder you get at The Cheesecake Factory.  The list is jaw-dropping. And that’s not even the best part. See Lesson #2.

LESSON #2: PRICE POINT ALWAYS WINS— The best part is the price. It’s a cool $6.99 per month with no ads and the future ability to bundle ESPN+, Hulu, and more.  $7 is a game-changing price. Even better, if you buy the whole year at once, it’s $69.99. That’s $5.83 per month. Excuse my language, but the smell and thundering rumble you hear is Netflix sh-tting bricks and staring down an $8 billion market value drop.  They just announced a price hike a few months back and now will be playing chicken against the company they relied on the most for top content.  Watch their member numbers begin to drop with the financials, but they knew this had to be coming. Their shift to developing their own unique branded content is how they will stand out.  No matter what, folks, I’ve been saying this now for years in this column. The price tag is always the biggest mover of an audience.

LESSON #3: STAR WARS WILL NEVER LET YOU FORGET ABOUT STAR WARS— Maybe this lesson should read: “Disney isn’t done because they’re never really done.”  In the words of Steve Jobs, Disney did their own “one more thing” this week with the head-exploding title reveal and first trailer for Episode IX at the Star Wars Celebration Convention in Chicago on Friday. Now officially called Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the gates are now open and the levees are broken for every theory, reaction piece, and clickbait column imaginable. I get it.  Grab those web traffic pennies where you can, publishers.

LESSON #4: [INSERT OBLIGATORY “TRAILERS ARE MANIPULATIVE” LECTURE FROM THE MOVIE CRITIC]— I’ve been saving this informational video for a while for a choice teachable moment.  The Rise of Skywalker is the perfect time.

Admittedly, much of this video doesn’t apply to Star Wars, but the misdirection and overhype have been proven before in this franchise. You know me. I’ll always say less is more.  Not just for trailers, but be a discerning news-and-trends consumer. Don’t overthink a movie before it gets here, especially one still eight months away.  If you want homework, go backward instead of forwards. Hop on the ambitious canonical rewatch schedule that is already in progress. Let history get you hyped instead of silly theories.

LESSON #5: THE SLOW DEATH OF PHYSICAL MEDIA CONTINUES— Through all this one-upmanship in the streaming world, the marketplace of discs has continued to fade.  We’ve reported in this column in February how companies like Samsung are halting the manufacturing of Blu-ray players, but we’ve never seen hard numbers of the perceived decline. This week, the MPAA hit us with those statistics in a wide-ranging report. Physical media sales are down a steep 50% in the last five years and the new 4K upgrades account for only 5.3% of business. That’s a niche, not a replacement the way DVD was to VHS a generation ago.  The kicker is that home entertainment spending was up 16% last year.  That’s digital sales and subscription services.

LESSON #6: LEARN SOME BETTER SCIENCE FICTION— Don’t let your science fiction taste and acumen stop at Star Wars and other big names. Dive into some headier things (and still plenty of blockbusters) with high critical regard.  Pick away at this Top 100 list from Business Insider and find some new films for your to-do list. Heck, maybe you’ll even watch one on a disc from a library.


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.  (#98)

What We Learned This Week: July 22-28

LESSON #1: YOU ARE THE CURATOR OF YOUR OWN SOCIAL MEDIA— Boy, oh boy, the lessons that spin out of the James Gunn dismissal and Twitter developments could fill this column for hours.  First, I must properly renew my applaud to our highly responsive and active Facebook group for the civil and engaging conversation when this story broke mere hours after WWLTW was already published for last week.  For me, the top lesson moving forward from all that happened is this one rooted in responsibility. Trolling or not and joking or not, celebrity or commoner, your name is assigned to your social media personas and presences. No one controls that content but you. There is no “must be the curator.” You “are” the curator. Act as if you are saying those words to people’s faces. Speak with context and think before you click the send button, because what you post leaves tracks. It doesn’t go away easily. You must control the message, from posted public content on down to privacy settings and who you allow in your circle. Get disciplined and clean up your act.

LESSON #2: HYPOCRISY IS A SHORT STEP AWAY FROM PRUDENCE— Though I may disagree with their firing, I get where Disney is coming from. They have an image to maintain, but they have turned a blind eye for years. Disney bankrolled Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax shingle for years. Robert Downey, Jr.’s legal rap sheet has more convictions than Gunn’s zero, but heaven forbid the fire their cash cow star.  Are we going to see revisionist history apologies or retroactive action on those two examples or that dozens of others? Not likely, which is why a studio like this turning over a new leaf is a good and prudent thing for the future, but it is still very damning when the past isn’t handled or at lest addressed.  This all could have been handled better without the caving to political wackos.

LESSON #3: DIRECTORS HAVE EARNED THE POSITION TO BE IN A FIGHTING MOOD— Even before the James Gunn headlines added butthurt political naysayers to the list of public enemies, the recent pushback against toxic fandom was already firing up talented filmmakers.  Before his own pickle, Gunn himself jabbed that hurtful fans of the bullying internet variety need to “go to therapy.”  Zack Snyder, and even Michael Bay, have never been shy about standing by their work.   Logan and Walk the Line director James Mangold, who recently threw his hat in the Star Wars ring by signing on to helm a Boba Fett standalone film, berated the buzz in a tweet that connecting the calls for blasphemy and emotional overload to the studios hiring “hacks” instead of bolder minds.  The same landscape not-so-jokingly “cured” Mission: Impossible series director Christopher McQuarrie from ever wanting to direct a Star Wars film.  In my eyes, these examples are not being thin-skinned against criticism.  These kinds of statements of strong words against the paying customers are rooted in demanding and respecting artistic integrity, something the selfish sect of moviegoers don’t properly understand.  I, for one, support the hell out of these public displays of spine.  I wish more did the same.

LESSON #4: GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND DO SOMETHING ACTIVE— This lesson is a combination of positive and negative recent examples surrounding the summer movie season.  The core message is to get out and have a physical outlet away from fantasy and escapism.  On one hand, the “get a life” and “go to therapy” clapbacks to the toxic fanboys is an indirect call to them to have something else fulfilling in life other than movies and entertainment.  Excellent counterexamples have appeared this summer at the movies between Tag and Uncle Drew and the idea of “play.” My Chicago colleague and Consequence of Sound film critic Clint Worthington richly outlined this psychology in highly recommended little editorial read published on Crooked Marquee.  I love the underlying messages from Clint’s article and the movie examples.  Put down the screens.  Get off the couch.  Get out of the movie theater air conditioning.  Go outside.  Get together with friends in person instead of virtually and have interpersonal activity and collaborative fun.  Simply put, go play.  It’s summer.  Get some exercise and get better juices flowing than those that come from sitting down and watching some thing you’ve seen a hundred times.

LESSON #5: THE DEAL IS DONE— The two largest official steps of have cleared in the deal of the century.  Shareholders of both 21st Century Fox and the Walt Disney Company approved the $71.3 billion takeover deal on Friday morning.  That follows the approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.  No more red tape exists, only transitional preparations.  Folks, the reality is official real.  It’s officially OK to start all that click-bait fan casting of Fantastic Four, X-Men, and more.  Deeply suspicious campfire rumors are bubbling up that substantial fix-up work may already be necessary on the two upcoming Fox/Marvel films The New Mutants and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Uh oh.  We knew speedbumps were possible.  Hang tight.  It could be worse.  Could you imagine the kind of image and tone cleanup Marvel would have to apply to the DCEU if they bought Warner Bros.?!  Great googa-mooga!

 


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.

What We Learned This Week: June 17-30

LESSON #1: PRODUCER KEVIN FEIGE KNOWS WHAT HE’S DOING AND TALKING ABOUT— Marvel film producer czar Kevin Feige has been a busy man with the soundbites this summer, three of which I’ll feature this week.  Success has put him in a powerful place, but a man doesn’t get to that level without smarts and savvy.  First, I loved his sentiments on whether or not Marvel films should no longer be overlooked as Oscar contenders saying “I would much rather be in a room full of engaged fans.”  He knows that’s the true victory and how awards aren’t everything.  Second, he explained the new three-movies-per-year quota that Marvel is churning out, where he’s not sweating saturation and relishes the chance to expand on the multiple franchise that have been started.  His logic on the matter is solid.  Finally, he’s gained and earned wisdom through his work.  When he was asked about what the DCEU can do to improve their product, he respectfully pointed to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and called that the “paradigm by which we should all still follow.”  I love that use of “we” where he sees everyone striving for the same endearment.  Over and over, Kevin Feige is a guy who flat out “gets it.”  More studio heads should follow his mentality and steady patience.

LESSON #2: UNDER-PERFORMING MIGHT FINALLY HAVE CONSEQUENCES— I know I have long shouted from the soapbox that these blockbusters we see come and go are “too big to fail.”  They may not meet inflated financial expectations that studio execs shoot for on some wish list spreadsheet, but they always, always, always make money.  And because they never lose money, I never think a big studio is really going to dramatically change their ways.  We’ll see little course corrections, but never wholesale change.  As mentioned last time here on WWLTW, we’re teetering on that point with Warner Bros. on their third DCEU head with Walter Hamada bumping Geoff Johns after he replaced Zack Snyder.  That’s the DC mess.  I never fathomed big changes would happen at the juggernaut that is Disney controlling LucasFilm no matter the perception of backlash that makes little click bait headlines and social media rants, but it’s happening.  The spinoff Solo won’t really lose money, but its disappointing haul has slowed plans for more A Star Wars Story anthology films, which presses the pause button on upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett films.  Mistakes were made with that film and its marketing and timing, but the surprising derailment is real.  Add to that the likely “firing” or “stepping down” (pick one) of Kathleen Kennedy at LucasFilm and you have real changes afoot.  What looked untouchable and unstoppable is reeling in its own way.  By the way, Kevin Feige is not going to take over LucasFilm, so calm those heart palpitations.

LESSON #3: MOVIEPASS MAY BE FAILING, BUT THEATER OWNERS STILL WANT YOUR BUSINESS— The caveat to that lesson title is that the theater owners want all of the business.  They don’t want to share the dimes you’re spending with with a middle-man service.  With MoviePass plugging more leaky holes in its business boat than it has dollar bills or hands, other companies want to fill that void.  Here comes AMC Theaters and their launch of their new “A-List” service.  Their pitch is up to three movies per week including any and all premium options including Dolby, IMAX, and 3D for $19.95/month.  No matter the provider or perks, price point is still the ultimate motivator.  $20 for as many as 12 premium movies a month sounds outstanding to me.  We’ll see if AMC can handle the financial gambles.


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 elementary 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, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties on a podcast every now and then  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

 

What We Learned This Week: June 10-16

LESSON #1: STATISTICS DON’T LIE, SO WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT— Riding the wave of examination and expansion for equality in the film industry, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative from USC revealed the results of a very telling data study that examined the demographics of movie critics.  To no surprise to anyone paying attention, 78% of the reviews written on Rotten Tomatoes were done by white males.  The news of that data ignited plenty of torches and hushed excuses. At an awards show, Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson spoke wonderfully on those statistics, how they do not reflect the movie-going population, how critical exposure matters (just ask Colin Trevorrow or the notion further expanded by this strong piece in The Lily by Monica Castillo), and how some films are made for certain audiences beyond white males and that fair and matching reviews are needed.  She wasn’t a bit wrong, and I say that as a white male movie critic myself. There is room for more and room for better. The questions become what steps can be made to create a better balance.  One encouraging example is seeing both the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals designate 20% of their press credential assignments to minorities. We can’t grow film critics on trees, but we can look deeper into the forest and grant more opportunities in that way.  That said, this is still a competitive field and talent still wins. If a minority critic can earn those gets and those publishing spots, more power to them. Competition raises everyone’s game.

LESSON #2: WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT, MOVIES ARE A BUSINESS FIRST AND AN ART EXPOSITION SECOND— First Reformed star and upcoming Blaze director Ethan Hawke appeared and spoke at the Seattle International Film Festival accepting their annual Outstanding Achievement in Cinema award.  The buzziest outcome of that was his quote that movies are “an art form that’s completely eaten by business.”  I know this sparked a lively discussion in the Feelin’ Film Discussion Group on Facebook this week.  This longing for the art to shine over the monetary success comes up often and the wording of my lesson title is my usual reply to that topic or question.  From the day they started charging for tickets to see these things called movies, it was always from then on going to be about the business.  Once people made livings and livelihoods out of participating in this art form, those roots were going nowhere and now they’ve inflated to the millions and billions of dollars pumping through movies.  I know I’ve reached a point as both a mature movie fan and also an experienced consumer (make no mistake, we are all both) where I’ve become more selective with what I’m going to spend my money on and also more appreciative when I encounter something that stands out as the art form underneath the profit potential.  If we, as a collective movie-going public, ever needed to rebel against the business end to demand better from the art standpoint, the only way to do that is hit the industry in the wallet where it counts.  Don’t give garbage your money and every dollar given to a deserving piece of cinematic art supports their cause and future careers.  Indulge in this entertainment with that mindfulness and you’ll be a better viewer.

LESSON #3: DISNEY/STAR WARS WHINERS, BE THANKFUL YOU DIDN’T GET THE FULL GEORGE LUCAS— Likely still rolling in a Scrooge McDuck-level money pit filled with the billions of dollars he made selling off his properties, a George Lucas book quote made news this week because it shared what his post-Return of the Jedi sequels would have been based on.  Take a gander at his premise based on “a microbiotic world” and silly-sounding “Whills.”  Flawed as Episodes VII and VIII may be, if that stuff from Lucas sounds better than the compelling chapters of closure for old favorite characters competing with elevation of new characters from J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, then I’m sorry.  You can’t be helped and your inflexibility ruins it for everyone (see last week’s WWLTW because now you sound like those a-holes that bully on social media).

LESSON #4: GET ONE THING RIGHT BEFORE STARTING ANOTHER— I don’t think anyone at Warner Bros. knows what they are doing or how to properly make up their mind, including new DC Films President Walter Hamada replacing comic-connected favorite Geoff Johns.  They now have two Joker-centered films coming down the assembly line, a Jared Leto standalone extending the current DCEU and a low-budget 1980s-set origin story take coming from The Hangover trilogy director Todd Phillips, producer Martin Scorsese, and starring Joaquin Phoenix.  Combine that with the reports that the upcoming Matt Reeves-directed The Batman will be a younger Batman likely eliminating Ben Affleck and you have to ask the WTF questions.  What’s going on here? Are we pushing forward post-Justice League or are we rebooting and trying again?  Both can’t exist credibly. Which one matters more?  Warner Bros. needs to pick a lane and stick with it.

LESSON #5: COMEDY IS THE MOST SUBJECTIVE FILM GENRE, PERIOD— An esteemed panel of film critics (including Scott Tobias, Bilge Ebiri, Brian Tallerico, and Amy Nicholson) collaborated for a list of the “50 Greatest Comedies of the 21st Century” for Rolling Stone magazine.  The results, topped by Christopher Guest’s Best in Show, could not be more all over the place between eclectic spirit and pretentious pandering.  The opening blurb of the article admits humor is a “seriously subjective topic.” Go right ahead and add the extreme hyperbole of “the most.”  This task was impossible without some criteria or metrics, which the list and article gleefully (and carelessly) neglect. The triggers for horror and even drama are so much more universal than the fickle tastes and randomness of comedy.  We may say laughs come easy sometimes but they don’t. Someone’s #1 film is going to be someone’s reviled trash of eye rolls or hate and everyone has an opinion.


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 elementary 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, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties on a podcast every now and then  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

What We Learned This Week: June 3-9

LESSON #1: TOXIC FANDOM IS ONE OF THIS INDUSTRY’S LARGEST UNCHECKED PROBLEMS— What used to be little nit-picky pissing and moaning no more imposing than the Comic Book Guy character on The Simpsons is turning overly voluminous, hurtful, egregious, and flat-out unnecessary.  The latest ugly example came this week when months of harassing and abusive social media actions led Star Wars: The Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran to delete her Instagram.  Notice in the title of the lesson that I said “industry.”  This fanboy immaturity and hate isn’t exclusive to Star Wars fans.  This kind of abhorrent behavior fueled by internet troll courage lights up with comic book films, gaming culture, TV shows large and small, and many other sources far too often and far too loudly.  Let this school teacher tell you that all this bitching about fiction and entertainment is fruitless and unhealthy.  No piece of entertainment is worth any level of the hate and consequences leveled to Ms. Tran.  The support around her is positive but more must be done.  If you claim these pieces of pop culture are core influences of your formative character, then you don’t have a very good core and need help in the form of interpersonal relationships not rooted in fantasy.  I know its the few ruining it for the behaved majority, but turn off the screens, take off the cosplay, put away the toys, grow up, and go engage in real relationships.  At an industry level, accountability is needed, and I love this NBC News piece from Ani Bundell and this Forbes editorial from Scott Mendelson as highly recommended reads.  No matter how you cut it, this is bullying and it’s time to employ the “see something, say something” practices we tell school kids nowadays.  Help report and block improper behavior.

LESSON #2: EACH FILM STARRING WOMEN OR MADE BY WOMEN IS NOT REQUIRED TO ADVANCE FEMINISM— From one torch-bearing subject to another, I referenced a junket interview from the Ocean’s 8 press tour in my review of the film where the leading ladies are tired of answering questions large and small about gender roles.  They made Ocean’s 8 to have fun.  Let Ocean’s 8 be marvelous for what it is (namely a proper heist film) and not curved by who is in it and which chromosomes they have. When someone adds the marginalizing and labeling descriptors of “all-female,” “women-centered,” or, worse, “chick flick,” their narrow vision becomes part of the problem. That goes both ways. Not every film for or including women has to carry a torch and a battering ram for the #MeToo movement.  Let something fun be fun.  Furthermore, in a second interview piece and connecting to Lesson #1, Ocean’s 8 star Sandra Bullock also drew alarming comparison to the flaq the Ghostbusters reboot cast received two years ago.  The wave of hate for that film was off-the-charts higher than what Ocean‘s 8 is receiving, which shows the fickle hypocrisy of toxic fandom.

LESSON #3: THE RIGHT DOCUMENTARY CAN MAKE A FLASHIER DRAMATIZATION UNNECESSARY AND OBSOLETE— This one is more a prophecy than a lesson.  One of my many reactions and takeaways after watching (my full review) the incredibly detailed, moving, and impactful documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is that I, for one, absolutely do not need an upcoming movie biopic version of Fred Rogers’ life story.  There is tangible spirit and a magic watching the real personality of the late TV personality that comes out in Morgan Neville’s film that speaks rightly true and cannot be translated into a glitzy newfangled narrative using dramatic license.  I don’t care how wholesome and loved Tom Hanks is or how immensely talented his is as one of the finest actors walking the planet.  Even he cannot suspend disbelief to become Fred Rogers.  The genuine article is too singular, too unique, and, to borrow his favorite word, too special.  Fred’s central mission and message is strong enough on its own and demands full reality.  Flattering imitation, in my opinion and even cited in the documentary itself with recaps of impersonations done by Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, SCTV, and In Living Color, would take away shine from the gleaming legitimacy of what Fred Rogers stands for.  There is more value to both nostalgic audiences and neophyte discoverers of Fred Rogers to see his actual self in Won’t You Be My Neighbor? than the diluted Hollywood version to come.  Let a documentary become a summer blockbuster for a change.  Get some truth out there and see this film.

LESSON #4: A VENOM CHARACTER NOT IN THE CURRENT MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IS NOT A REAL VENOM AT ALL— I was right there with you salivating at the idea of Tom Hardy playing a brawny Eddie Brock and his beastly alter-ego of Venom.  Throwing looks and Daily Bugle character history out the window, you couldn’t cast a more imposing threat for an emerging Tom Holland Spider-Man than Hardy.  The problem I’ve always seen has been timing.  Pulling off a Venom film is cart-before-the-horse too soon for a brand-new teenage Spider-Man. Now, the problem has increased to misalignment with the news that the Venom film will not be a recognized part of the MCU.  I know I just talked about toxic fanboy culture earlier in the column, but, I’m sorry, Venom is not Venom without Spider-Man.  What looked to already be an impatient cash grab by Sony to stay relevant with its Marvel character properties now looks to be an expensive and possibly pointless waste of resources entirely.

LESSON #5: YOU CAN’T WASH THE STINK OF MICHAEL BAY OFF THAT EASILY— Much like Venom in a way after its recent trailer surprises, I don’t care how good that Bumblebee trailer looked this past week (and yes, Mr. Ignore-All-Trailers over here did see it).  It’s going to take more than a decent teaser or two and a whole heap of deeper narrative work from Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight on the final product to improve this tainted franchise.  Hope is there with Knight’s reputation, but plenty of films, when manipulated correctly with marketing magic, have duped us before.  I will still preach tempered expectations for Bumblebee.  Michael Bay’s cinematic skunk spray is still all over this.


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.

 

Episode 111: Solo-A Star Wars Story

In appropriately numbered Episode 111, we talk all things Han Solo, and we do mean ALL things. With so many origin stories there is plenty to discuss.  We talk about which ones worked, which ones didn’t, where Star Wars spin-off films go from here, and how sometimes it’s okay to just have a little fun at the movies.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:10
(Aaron – Star Wars marathon)
(Patrick – Monsters)

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review – 0:19:36

The Connecting Point – 1:23:05


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

2 Hours and 15 Minutes (PG-13)

I’ve been on record as worrying quite a bit about Solo: A Star Wars Story (henceforth in this review know as Solo, because a one-word title just makes sense doesn’t it?). The first Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One, significantly underwhelmed me, and here a second prequel was attempting to unnecessarily go back and fill in gaps in the Star Wars timeline. But this time it required the dangerous risk of recasting one of the most iconic characters in movie history. I love Han. We all love Han. And Harrison Ford is Han. So, I’ve been pretty skeptical that Alden Ehrenreich could step into those enormously talented shoes and deliver a compelling enough performance to make us truly believe that he, too, is Han.

But folks… it happened.

It wasn’t right away, though. Solo wastes no time in introducing us to young Han the scoundrel, but despite an exciting chase sequence and Han trying to talk his way out of a pickle, Ehrenreich just wasn’t connecting for me. As the story went on, though, my expectations and presumptions about how young Han should act began to decline and he slowly transformed. When Han meets Lando, I was all in, having witnessed enough smirks, snark, and charm to really believe in this new version of the character. And by the time the credits rolled, I had to repent. Because maybe he’s not perfect, but young Han he is.

The thing to remember first and foremost about Solo is that it’s not a Star Wars saga film and thus doesn’t abide by the same storytelling rules. The question isn’t IF Han will make it out of situations safely, it’s HOW he will make it out. This is an intergalactic heist film and an origin story. Seriously, we learn the origin of EVERYTHING. Han’s lucky dice? Covered. Han’s blaster? That too. The Kessel Run? It’s definitely mentioned. How Han met Lando and Chewie? Of course. And so, so much more. Honestly, it could have been overkill. Maybe for some it will. But for me it struck the perfect balance, giving me depth and insight into a beloved character without ever stopping the plot to draw attention to a reference. All of it was woven seamlessly into the narrative. It made sense, and I loved every single wink and nod to the stories we all know so well.

Another strength of the film is that Solo doesn’t go solo. The film features a host of flat-out wonderful supporting actors and droids. Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is a fantastic addition to the canon and through her we are able to learn about Han the lover and what kind of woman he’s attracted to. Beckett (Woody Harrelson) provides Han with a mentor of sorts, someone who teaches him tricks of the trade and many life lessons. Then there is Lando, played as perfectly by Donald Glover as you’d expect, showing us how the two young smooth-talking smugglers came to their complicated friendship. The chemistry between Ehrenreich and Glover is definitely present and if I had one gripe it would be that I just wanted more of this duo together. Paul Bettany chews up scenes wonderfully as a bigshot gangster and leader of crime syndicate Crimson Dawn, the perfect subtle villain for a smuggler’s origin story. And L3-37 (yes, that spells “leet”), Lando’s droid, is hilariously liberal while also playing a surprisingly touching role in the tale.

The adventure itself is a ton of fun. Han, as you would expect, gets himself into a situation that involves stealing, smuggling, fancy flying, and generally getting shot at along the way. But it isn’t just fun, it’s a well-written story that thoroughly explains how the swashbuckling rogue became the man who may or may not shoot first, doesn’t trust anyone, and primarily looks out only for himself. All of the action pieces are also wonderfully done, from the big set pieces to the brief one-on-one fight sequences, and the cinematography is just as gorgeous as always. The film’s score stands out, too, with John Powell bringing a hint of his How To Train Your Dragon sound to the familiar Star Wars themes, particularly when the Millennium Falcon is speeding through the galaxy.

VERDICT

Solo: A Star Wars Story is one of the best origin stories ever told. It fills in details for so much of a beloved character that you may be shocked they could cover it all. The action and adventurous tone make for one heck of an enjoyable movie experience and Ehrenreich importantly embodies young Han, growing into the character over the course of the film. Though some may find parts to be cheesy or unnecessarily connected to past films, my expectations were thoroughly surpassed and as the final scene played, I found myself wanting to cheer. Solo is a great example of the kind of light-hearted, fun stories that can be told in this universe and further continues Disney’s fantastic year of blockbusters.

Rating:


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.

What We Learned This Week: April 1-7

LESSON #1: BUILDING A CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IS HARD— With the impending arrival of Avengers: Infinity War marking a peak as the seventh film of the planned ten-film third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Patrick Shanley of The Hollywood Reporter asked the question “Can Anyone Besides Marvel Make a Cinematic Universe Work?” and it’s a good one.  We’ve seen Universal Pictures flop with its “Dark Universe” of movie monsters and Warner Bros. unable to find the same success with their DC Comics titles.  Franchises with sequels can be done (Transformers, Star Wars, Fast and Furious, etc.).  It’s the intertwining of standalone films and storylines that can exist on their own outside of the combinations that is key.  That requires developing more than one narrative and character.  Marvel did it right with by having patience with its unified vision.  Nothing was rushed.  The other attempts have not shown that level of patience.

LESSON #2: BELIEVE IN CINEMATIC GUILTY PLEASURES— The arrival of Pacific Rim: Uprising side-by-side with the nostalgic energy of Ready Player One calls to mind the idea of guilty pleasures.  Some movies are never going to win Oscars, but are just flat-out fun and garner repeat viewings for easy entertainment.  A fellow Chicago film critic buddy of mine always tries to assert that there are no such things as guilty pleasures.  If a film is good for someone to a pleasurable level, it must have some objective merit worth a higher rating without shame or the need to defend it.  I see his point, but I disagree.  I think it’s perfectly OK, realistically even-keeled if you will, to recognize the differences found between artistic integrity of a film and the fun value.  Honestly, we do the very same with the vice versa end of the highbrow other stuff.  For example, a film like Schindler’s List or any Terrence Malick film can easily be recognized for its artistic superiority and seriousness, but no one is going to Netlfix-and-Chill to a Holocaust film or an Emmanuel Lubezki slideshow of familial hate and trees.  If we’re going to put qualifiers on one end, why not the other?

LESSON #3: DON’T ALWAYS BELIVE FILM SNOBS— From guilty pleasures, we switch the gears to revered classics and faked bragging rights.  Film snobs exist in this world (I work amongst them constantly), but, let me tell you, the majority of them are full of sugar-honey-iced-tea.  First, they don’t admit to finding fun in those aforementioned guilty pleasures.  They were silly kids and teens once too, and I’ll put money on them geeking out to some adventure or playing princesses in a younger life.  They didn’t always watch French New Wave films on 35mm.  The second point of fakery stems from this Gizmodo article by James O’Malley presenting the top movies film snobs say they’ve seen but never actually have.  Those types of film snobs feel the need to rub our commoner noses with notions like “you’re not a true cinephile if you haven’t seen ____” or “you haven’t lived unless you’ve seen ___.”  If they are faking that, they deserve to be called out.  You have my permission to troll the hell out of these people with every meme of movie commercialism possible.

LESSON #4: AVOID PURVEYORS OF THE WORST CLICHES OF FILM REVIEW— Speaking of film snobs and piggybacking off of last week’s column, film critics are often guilty of hyperbole of their own.  Props to Feelin’ Film Facebook discussion group regular Jacob Neff for providing this Letterboxd list piece by Erik Bazjert on the worst frequently-used cliches in film reviews.  I adore this list and know too many film critics who fall for these and write with a pull-quote/pun methodology of little substance.  Worst of all, more often than not, these cliches are celebrated and even encouraged by every studio’s marketing departments to fill their posters, packaging, and signage with these overused and weak zingers.  Even if I never get to scratch off that bucket list item of having one of my reviews cited on a DVD/Blu-ray cover, I, for one, actively try to avoid every single one of these tired and ultimately meaningless expressions.


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.

Aaron’s Top 100 Movies (2018 Edition)

In 2017, I created my first ever Top 100 Movies list. Many gray hairs formed, I’m sure, as I sat trying to distinguish between beloved films. It’s been almost a year since that list was published and I’ve now seen quite a few more classic films that managed to find their way into my heart and onto this list. As is the case for most folks, my list is ever changing, but this serves as a current reflection of my personal cinematic taste – a snapshot view of the cinephile that I am at this moment in time. My hope is that through this list you might be able to learn a little about who I am as a person by seeing what type of stories I love most.

Note: For the purposes of this list, any film with an asterisk (*) after it represents its series or trilogy. The arrows and number after them specify a film’s movement since the last edition of this list, in this case 2017.

This is my list. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

#1 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring *
#2 It’s a Wonderful Life 1
#3 Casablanca 31
#4 12 Angry Men 1
#5 The Princess Bride 1
#6 Interstellar 3
#7 La La Land 5
#8 Jaws 4
#9 Before Sunrise * 1
#10 Blade Runner * 1
#11 The Prestige 4
#12 Full Metal Jacket NEW NEW
#13 Alien 5
#14 Toy Story * NEW NEW
#15 Top Gun 1
#16 The Last of the Mohicans 1
#17 Jurassic Park 4
#18 Mary Poppins 60
#19 Raiders of the Lost Ark 14
#20 The Wizard of Oz 20
#21 The Dark Knight 1
#22 2001: A Space Odyssey 7
#23 Singin’ in the Rain 8
#24 Vertigo 6
#25 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 6
#26 Citizen Kane 18
#27 Inception
#28 Star Wars 44
#29 Rear Window NEW NEW
#30 Almost Famous 2
#31 The Silence of the Lambs 55
#32 The Nightmare Before Christmas 6
#33 Rashomon 36
#34 Fight Club 36
#35 Gone with the Wind 4
#36 The Sound of Music 25
#37 Lawrence of Arabia NEW NEW
#38 Sleeping Beauty NEW NEW
#39 The Exorcist 27
#40 The Social Network 1
#41 The Shawshank Redemption 18
#42 All About Eve NEW NEW
#43 Scream 19
#44 The Bridge on the River Kwai 9
#45 My Neighbor Totoro 9
#46 The Empire Strikes Back 11
#47 Unforgiven 9
#48 The Godfather 37
#49 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 26
#50 Tombstone 13
#51 Gladiator 14
#52 The Lion King 11
#53 The Thin Red Line NEW NEW
#54 The Iron Giant 9
#55 Seven Samurai 12
#56 McCabe & Mrs. Miller NEW NEW
#57 Die Hard 26
#58 Your Name. 42
#59 Children of Men 38
#60 Aliens 24
#61 Back to the Future 19
#62 Network NEW NEW
#63 Apocalypse Now 19
#64 Beauty and the Beast 23
#65 Monty Python and the Holy Grail 18
#66 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation NEW NEW
#67 Memento 9
#68 The Right Stuff 3
#69 Reality Bites NEW NEW
#70 Black Hawk Down NEW NEW
#71 The Blair Witch Project 25
#72 Ex Machina 16
#73 Dead Poets Society NEW NEW
#74 3:10 to Yuma 3
#75 The NeverEnding Story 20
#76 The Incredibles 25
#77 Les Miserables NEW NEW
#78 Whiplash 28
#79 Groundhog Day 3
#80 Hell or High Water 13
#81 Into the Wild 21
#82 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 34
#83 Warrior NEW NEW
#84 The Cabin in the Woods 59
#85 Moon 1
#86 Drive 59
#87 The Red Shoes NEW NEW
#88 Reservoir Dogs 34
#89 War For the Planet of the Apes NEW NEW
#90 The Shining 10
#91 Se7en NEW NEW
#92 The Wailing 13
#93 The Departed 41
#94 The Exorcism of Emily Rose 2
#95 Fargo 12
#96 Stalker NEW NEW
#97 Pacific Rim 42
#98 Arrival NEW NEW
#99 Silence 1
#100 The Perks of Being a Wallflower NEW NEW

Dropped Out: Armageddon, Batman Begins, Dr. Strangelove, Equilibrium, Finding Nemo, Forrest Gump, Gravity, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Inside Llewyn Davis, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, No Country For Old Men, Pan’s Labyrinth, Platoon, Psycho, Pulp Fiction, Serenity, Short Term 12, The Breakfast Club, The Place Beyond the Pines, True Grit (2010), Young Frankenstein

Link to list on Letterboxd

Like it? Hate it? Think I’m crazy? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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 how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.