What We Learned This Week: November 18-December 1

LESSON #1: ROMA IS A DUAL-LEVEL CATEGORY OSCAR CONTENDER— Every so often during the annual awards seasons a foreign language film surges ahead with praise to become a legitimate Best Picture Academy Award contender and not just a shoe-in for its own Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.  Think of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Michael Haneke’s Amour, and Michel Hazanavicius’ 2011 Best Picture winner The Artist.  Those films are rare and special.  You’re going to see another one this year and that film is Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma.  Stunning, dramatic, and heartbreaking, Cuaron’s love letter to his upbringing just won the Best Picture award from the New York Film Critics Circle as well as director and cinematography, all for Cuaron.  With confidence, expect it to be one of the final five to eight films competing on February 24th next year.

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF OSCARS, PADDINGTON 2 DESERVES TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY— You’ve been hearing Aaron White and I shout the praises of this charming sequel all year.  Both Aaron and me have grand slam 5-star reviews.  If a dramatic foreign film like Roma with few flaws and endless superlatives can be taken seriously as one of the best of the year, so can a spotless family film that has even more built-up appreciation.  Two separate articles this week, one from David Ehrlich in IndieWire and one from Gregg Killday in The Hollywood Reporter, called for due respect in the form of Oscar nominations for Paddington 2.  Killday celebrated the novelty of a Best Picture than can be flat-out enjoyable.  You have to go back to The Artist, The King’s Speech, or Slumdog Millionaire to find partially light-hearted Best Picture winners.  Even they still had their notes of heavy drama.  Ehrlich laid out seven categories where Paddington 2 should have Oscar consideration.  He’s not wrong on a single one of them.  Let’s hope voters have a heart this year.  

LESSON #3: A LITTLE LADY NAMED “OLIVIA” MIGHT DESERVE AN OSCAR TOO— The Academy was busy the year trying to bomb developing a “popular film” category (one more time, with feeling, just let Paddington 2 win straight up, end of discussion and need) when they could be making special awards elsewhere.  As stated in our Facebook discussion group, casting and stunts come to mind.  I think a little lady named “Olivia” makes quite a compelling case and she has four legs.  IndieWire blew my mind this week to educate me that the same dog, a female 15-pound West Highland White Terrier, starred prominently in three films: Game NightWidows, and Insatiable.  Her name is Olivia and she was excellent in the arms of Viola Davis hatching or scheme or getting drenched on blood from the hands of Jason Bateman.  Hand that pooch an honorary Oscar!

LESSON #4: LET THE LADIES CLOSE OUT YOUR “NOIR-VEMBER”— Speaking of Widows, while Steve McQueen’s film makes its theatrical run as a polished modern noir potboiler, turn back the hands of time to a few hidden gems to close our your November noir push.  Chicago-based film critic Angelica Jade Bastien of The Vulture published a dynamite little list of ten female-led noir films for fans of McQueen’s film.  Make it a weekend project to celebrate the end of November.  Let the JustWatch search engine tell you where the titles are available for streaming or rental.  


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: November 11-17

LESSON #1: BE RESPECTFUL OF THOSE WHO HAVE PASSED— Actor Armie Hammer stepped onto a Twitter turd of poor context and optical backlash when he somewhat sounded off on the tone of people’s tributes tributes to the last Marvel legend Stan Lee.  I get what he was trying to say in terms of making sure any tribute is about the departed and not the poster (similar to comedian Anthony Jeselnik’s legendary rant against “thoughts and prayers”).  That counts as fair and good advice, but there’s a gentler way and time to say that then Hammer did, and he caught a good bit of peer flack for it, lead by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Armie has since deleted the tweets and apologized, but the lesson here remains.  Be respectful even when you’re asking for people to be respectful in return, especially during periods of mourning, reflection, and celebration.  Things have calmed down, but it could have been worse.  Someone could have brought up these unsettled stories.  It’s just a reminder that no one is perfect.  We take the bad with the good.  We do that with Stan Lee and we can do that with Armie Hammer.  Enjoy the genuine article before two actors, one younger and one older, will probably duel over the eventual Stan Lee biopic:

LESSON #2: WHEN IT COMES TO ACTING, POINTS SHOULD BE AWARDED FOR ACCURACY— Bohemian Rhapsody is looking to be this year’s The Greatest Showman, a movie with public popularity and a perception of prestige despite fair to middling critical response.  After the Bryan Singer firing fallout, the studio will gladly take the money, but even they know an Oscar campaign would have boosted that Bohemian Rhapsody bottom line even more.  Outside of costume design or hair/makeup, it’s best chance to make noise is Rami Malek’s outstanding lead performance.  It’s too early know how if they young man has the favor and clout to win, but I he should earn a ton of praise for the exactness of his emulation.  Accuracy impresses me, so you’ve got to see this side-by-side video of Rami matching Freddie Mercury’s moves from the climactic Live Aid concert performance.  I’m sure we’re going to be equally wowed by Christian Bale’s chameleon match of mannerisms in Vice next month, but give Rami some love until then.

LESSON #3: BEAUTIFUL BOY IS NOT ONLY ONE OF THE BEST FILMS EVER ABOUT ADDICTION, IT ALSO IMPRESSES FOR FATHERHOOD— I saw Beautiful Boy last month as the opening night film of the the Chicago International Film Festival and it blew me away.  It was one of the easiest 5-star reviews I’ve ever given, standing out as an outlier on Rotten Tomatoes where my rating is above the consensus.  Finally releasing wide, Beautiful Boy deserves a bigger audience and I will toot its horn all awards season.  If you need a corroborating source after me, this editorial piece from Thrive Global nails the second-level impact spoken by this lesson.  Steve Carell’s remarkable performance and the daddy feels might be better than all the exposure given to the ills of addiction.  I know it’s a rough watch, but seek out this film.

LESSON #4: CRITERION-LEVEL FILMS ARE GOING TO STAY IMMORTAL— I know there was a great deal of artistic trepidation by the shuttering of the FilmStruck service this month happening at the same time as constant decline of physical media.  I referenced that in this very column recently, but let me add this strengthening lesson to it.  Great films will never go extinct and, in a way, we have digital to thank for that after an era of decayed negatives.  There will always be an audience and forum for them because quality is remembered and celebrated.  It might not be FilmStruck, but Criterion will get its own cable channel soon as a potential/temporary replacement conduit to experiencing and discovering classic film.  The company is still churning out new discs.  Combine their brand with the catalog and Kanopy services possible through your local library and you have more classic film at your fingertips than you ever realized.  Put your money into the Criterion channel if you want, but you can do more good supporting public services like the library.  Make sure your tax dollars keep working in the right places.

 


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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Beautiful Boy


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.

Minisode 038: Crazy, Stupid, Love.

In February we tasked our Patrons with choosing a romantic comedy for us to talk about in honor of Valentine’s Day and by a runaway vote, Crazy, Stupid, Love came out on top. We weren’t surprised, but we are thrilled because this resulted in one of our best conversations yet. We hope you enjoy the discussion!

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MOVIE REVIEW: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes (2017)


Going In

In 1973, a tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs became the most watched televised sporting event of all time. Riggs was past his prime and in an effort to regain the lost spotlight, he claimed that even at the age of 55 he would be able to easily beat the best female tennis player. Billie Jean King (one of the women he challenged), was both extremely successful and an outspoken advocate for gender equality. This biopic starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell covers the famous match as well as the effect it had on their personal lives. I truly believe that Emma Stone can do no wrong, and in recent dramatic performances Carrell has proven to me that he is more than just a comedian. It feels like a movie year where Hollywood has embraced empowered female characters and this film should join that list. I love biopics. I love sports. And I expect that I will love Battle of the Sexes.



COMING OUT

Can we just take a moment to recognize the incredible talent of Emma Stone? Every year she seems to wow me more.  Her career has skyrocketed recently beginning with her wonderful supporting role in Birdman , then her Oscar-winning leading performance in La La Land, and now she has equaled that with her portrayal of Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes. From her fiery, outspoken strength on gender equality to her passionate, awkward confusion over her feelings for a same-sex lover to her determination and physical dominance on the tennis court, Stone captures every quality of BJK perfectly. Though the eventual famous tennis match between 29-year old BJK and 55-year old Bobby Riggs may give the film its central plot, make no mistake that this is truly King’s story.

The film’s retelling of Billie Jean King’s fight for equal pay and equal rights was very insightful. In getting back to the core of what feminism truly is about, we repeatedly hear BJK expressing the strengths that women can bring to the tennis association (and in other aspects of life) without ever speaking ill of men. She fights with facts, and the comedic way in which the film displays a widespread chauvinistic response to her logical claims is uncomfortably realistic for the time. Riggs, played wonderfully by Steve Carrell, is an excellent contrast. Generally known as a hustler with major gambling problems, even BJK acknowledges at one point that his extreme chauvinism is more likely for show to help sell the spectacle of their match than truly how he feels about women. We get to explore some aspects of his home life like a broken relationship with his son, a reliance on drugs to keep his body in top shape, and a failing marriage as they lead him down the path to the main event.

But again, Battle of the Sexes is really all about King, and very little about tennis. Despite the titular match being incredibly well shot and riveting, there wasn’t much other tennis. The film focuses greatly on BJK’s exploration of a same-sex relationship resulting in a love affair that would affect her deeply.  This wistful romance, however, occurs while King is still married to her husband Larry, and this is where the film lost me. I watched closely, waiting for the moment when consequences would come, but ultimately the movie has nothing good to say about commitment in relationships, and instead promotes a message of “love who you love” without being ashamed. That’s all well and good, if you’re single, but BJK wasn’t.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017)
Emma Stone
Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Twentieth Century Fox

Verdict

Battle of the Sexes is a compelling and hilarious biopic that will keep viewers engaged and interested for its entire runtime. It is also a welcome history lesson and reminder that though we’ve come far in women’s rights, there are still more bridges to cross. The film’s romanticizing of King’s affair, coupled with showing no attempts at marriage reconciliation, was a real downer for me despite the beautiful way in which the relationship with her lover was depicted. Its cinematography and stellar score by Nicholas Britell  are also major positives and create a solid all-around picture. BJK was a pioneer of her time and everyone should know her story.

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

What We Learned This Week: September 17-23

LESSON #1: FOR AT LEAST ONE FILM, DEFENDING OF INTEGRITY STILL EXISTS— I absolutely love Paramount Pictures’ statement of support for Darren Aronofsky’s mother! after its low box office debut and an “F” CinemaScore.  Here it is:

This movie is very audacious and brave. You are talking about a director at the top of his game, and an actress at the top her game. They made a movie that was intended to be bold. Everyone wants original filmmaking, and everyone celebrates Netflix when they tell a story no one else wants to tell. This is our version. We don’t want all movies to be safe. And it’s okay if some people don’t like it.

Other studios in other situations could have gotten in the bus driver’s seat, made up excuses, or assigned blame to everyone but themselves.  Love or hate the film (and plenty feel both), mother! deserves its chance for success and an audience no matter how large or small those results add up to be.  Bravo to the balls on Paramount brass!  That’s as forward an example of integrity as you’re going to see in a profit-driven business where art is secondary.

LESSON #2: BARRING HUGE UPHEAVAL, YOU CAN LOCK IN THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI AS ONE OF THE NOMINEES FOR BEST PICTURE AT THE UPCOMING 90TH ACADEMY AWARDS— Every year since 2008, the winner of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival has gone on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.  Three eventual Best Picture winners since 2006 were TIFF champs.  Go ahead and write in permanent marker the title of Martin McDonagh’s newest film to the field.  I think you’ll also see star Francis McDormand’s name on the Best Actress short list as well.  Any and all Oscar buzz will float through this column all season.

LESSON #3: STRONGER IS THE BOSTON MOVIE WE DESERVED MORE THAN PATRIOTS DAY A YEAR AGO— The resonance surrounding the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing has always been more about the people than the bravura.  We deserved the real thing, not an overly convenient composite character in a Mark Wahlberg glamour project.  The most and maybe only genuine portion of Peter Berg’s film came in its extended epilogue of testimonials given by the actual citizens and participants.  Real respect and passion showed up after two hours of exploitative action.  David Gordon Green’s Stronger flips that ratio to deliver and demonstrate true dignity and tribute.  His film is outstanding.

LESSON #4: RESPECT WOMEN, PERIOD— On the heels of the metaphorical misogyny found in mother! arrives a debate-filled dramedy of a real-life climate of misogyny in Battle of the Sexes.  The Emma Stone/Steve Carell duel is an unabashed crowd-pleaser and stand-up message film that inspires and challenges gender equality then and now.  Someday, a time will come when the blazed trails of women like Billie Jean King will lead to a true level field.  Until then, every measure of respect paid to women is a step toward an acceptance and understanding that should be commonplace.  Make a greater effort, period.  If you’re part of the problem, change your ways.  Teach not only our daughters better, but our sons as well.  The old Lauren Barnholdt axiom says “you have to give respect to get respect.”  Women have been giving of themselves for far too long.  It’s time to pay the respect back.


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.