What We Learned This Week: March 25-31

SPRING BREAK AND EASTER EDITION!

LESSON #1: DEAR CHRISTIAN FILM COMPANIES AND DISTRIBUTORS, SPREAD YOUR RELEASE SCHEDULE OUT— Don’t get me wrong.  I get it.  Easter might as well be Christmas: Part II, the Super Bowl, and WrestleMania when it comes to public awareness on all things Christianity.  Just because all eyes are on the “reason for the season” (if they can put down the eggs, bunnies, and candy) doesn’t mean that Easter should be the most stacked weekend of the calendar year for Christian-themed films.  The presence of I Can Only ImaginePaul Apostle of Christ, and God is Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness makes for three films competing for your Easter weekend dollars against the inviting mainstream fare like Ready Player One.  Spielberg’s film is going to get its money, but your films have a hard enough time making money (as well as other problems) as it is to have to now compete with each other.  Share the wealth, space your calendar out, and that means more than the two-week head start I Can Only Imagine gave itself to great success.  The calendar is full of holidays.  Pick another couple go-to weekends and fallbacks other than Easter.

LESSON #2: STEVEN SPIELBERG STILL HAS THE MAGIC— As heard on this week’s main Feelin’ Film podcast and read in my own review on Every Movie Has a Lesson (among many others) as well, Ready Player One feels like a tremendous return to form for the 71-year-old director who has spent the better part of the last decade making safe and tidy historical Social Studies lectures on film.  Cinema has sorely lacked the full power of his signature sense of wonder after mere glimpses in films like War HorseLincoln, and others.  Cue the WWE chant!

LESSON #3: STEVEN SPIELBERG NEVER LOST THE MAGIC— No matter the moral history preaching that went on, Steven Spielberg never lost his technical prowess within the medium.  If anything his more reserved and refined projects sharpened it and modernized it to be ready for something like Ready Player One.  The craftsman-level maturity he and his frequent collaborators (editor Michael Kahn, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, ILM guru Dennis Muren, and others) bring to a project like Ready Player One elevate the material and prevent what would be over-amplified noise and lazy fluff in lesser hands (yeah, I mean you Michael Bay and Tim Burton).  Rediscovered mojo or not, he never lost the talent.

LESSON #4: STEVEN SPIELBERG STILL LOST OTHER THINGS— Where Steven Spielberg might be slipping is with his rhetoric.  While doing press this week for his blockbuster’s big release, he commented that Netflix films shouldn’t qualify for Oscars, equating the streaming platform to a television outlet, making the filmmaker appear to be a little out of touch with the evolved marketplace film viewers operate within nowadays.  If you go to the official rulebook from the Academy, here’s the basics of what it takes for Best Picture eligibility:

I’ll grant the kicker of the Part D listed above as deal-breaker in my book to match Spielberg’s opinion.  Here’s the thing, Netflix has previously and does currently release some of its films in theaters for limited runs.  The trouble is, for the most part, their theatrical drops are a blip on the radar and the bare minimum similar to the “one-and-done” trend happening in NCAA Men’s Basketball with holding players in college for a year before making the leap straight to the NBA.  Neither practice really does much good and just delays the inevitable profitability (NBA money or Netflix reach) but, if the rule is followed eligibility is met, plain and simple.  This year’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival is already displaying an anti-Netflix power move by banning Netflix Original films from competing without a theatrical release.  I’ve said this before on other topics.  It’s all about price point, earning potential, and this being a business first now.  If a studio can make more money selling to Netflix (just ask Paramount with Annihilation) than it would the cost of printing it, marketing it, and putting it in limited theaters, I sure couldn’t tell them not to.

LESSON #5: “META” CAN’T GET WEIRDER THAN SHIA LEBOUF— In WTF news that could only come out of Hollywood, word hit the wire that Shia LeBeouf, at the young age of 31, has written (under a pseudonym) his own film autobiography and the casting has raised an eyebrow.  Signing Manchester by the Sea Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges to play the young Shia is a nice get, but what gets really weird is that LeBeouf himself will play his own father.  Yowzers!  Even if Shia is a dead ringer for his own father, I don’t know how big the grain of salt has to be to suspend the disbelief that the Shia you’re watching acting next to the other dude playing Shia isn’t the real Shia you see and recognize but his dad instead?!  That’s not going to be a good look for the continually growing deep end you’ve been leaping from, Mr. LeBeouf.  Dude, either play yourself (because you can) for the vanity or get another actor to separate the work behind-the-camera from the one on-camera.

LESSON #6: MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, NUDITY IS AN UNNECESSARY DISTRACTION IN MOVIES— As the former horndog pre-teen/teen who had no problem sneaking through his local video store to rent some Shannon Tweed Skin-a-max films back in the day, this lesson might be the most mature realization I’ve ever grown up to admit the truth on.  Get out the #adulting hashtag.  Jessica Chastain got herself a headline this week talking about nudity in film.  No stranger herself to nudity, the acclaimed actress made excellent points on discomfort, victimization, and whether the nudity in question matches what the characters themselves would really do.  The word “gratuitous” was never used by Chastain, but most of us adults can quickly label nudity in a movie (female and male, mind you) with that word pretty quickly.  She brings up valid points and I tip my hat with respect that someone wants to talk about it, especially during this #MeToo era.


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.

 

Episode 103: Ready Player One

It’s time to enter the OASIS! This week we were so excited to drop our new episode that we bumped up the release date because we’ve been anxiously awaiting this film ever since it was announced.We’re talking Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel, Ready Player One. We have a joyful conversation and also discuss some of the criticisms we’ve heard. Enjoy, gunters! 

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:57

(Aaron – The Hunger Games Quadrilogy & “Making Of” Documentaries)
(Patrick – Krypton)

Ready Player One Review – 0:17:22

The Connecting Point – 1:28:58


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Ready Player One

READY PLAYER ONE (2018)

GOING IN

When you’ve read a book five times, purchased copies of it to give away, and sung its praises from the rooftops for almost 7 years, there are two major feelings you get when a movie adaptation is announced. First, you get incredibly excited (especially when it’s going to be directed by Steven freaking Spielberg), and second, you get incredibly nervous. Author Ernest Cline’s involvement in writing the script offers hope that any changes will be consistent in tone with the original work, but any time a piece of art/entertainment is so close to your heart it results in a battle to keep expectations in check.

2 Hours and 20 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT
Remember back to the time you saw an epic blockbuster film for the first time. Maybe it was Star Wars. Maybe it was Jurassic Park. Maybe it was The Avengers. Whatever the film was, it left you in awe of what movies could be. It transported you to some new world that you wanted to inhabit. It was an experience unlike any you’d had. Most likely, you would have gladly sat right in that same seat and started watching it again the moment it ended.

For the generations of people who grew up as gamers, movie, music, and TV lovers, and general pop culture addicts… Ready Player One is next in line. This is that film for you.

It was probably foolish to distrust Steven Spielberg in the first place, but we all make mistakes. Instead of disappointment, he delivered something wholly unique and special. The screenplay by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline is incredible. At the risk of using hyperbole, this might be the second best adaptation of a book that I’ve ever seen, and it’s not because the story is portrayed exactly as it is on the page. In fact, it’s the opposite. The film still follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan)/Parzival as he searches for James Halliday’s Easter egg inside of the OASIS. Parzival’s best friend Aech (Lena Waithe) and rival/love interest Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) are also looking for the egg, and the three try desperately to stay ahead of the evil Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and IOI Corporation, who wants control of the OASIS and seeks to monetize it through advertisements and subscription plans. So, the general flow of the book’s narrative remains the same, yet getting from point A to point B happens in much different ways. The brilliance of it all is that the story has been modernized. It is updated with current gen gaming and pop culture references galore, while retaining many of the 80’s story beats and nostalgia that made it so beloved in the first place. There are even references to older films such It’s A Wonderful Life and Citizen Kane. The updated way in which this script remembers classics is truly something special and it results in two different versions of the same story – which fans of all ages can now love.

Visually, Ready Player One is a staggering achievement. Transitioning from the CGI world to the one on film is nearly flawless, and the visual effects of the OASIS itself and what takes place inside of it is mind blowingly good. This is a film that truly does demand an IMAX viewing (or five). It is wonderful to look at but it is also accompanied by an incredible score from Alan Silvestri. Utilizing many classic films scores (plenty of which are his own), he creates themes that are at once both familiar and fresh. The nostalgic rush that comes from seeing a DeLorean on screen and a subtle alteration of the Back to the Future theme playing in the background creates such a feeling of joy. This experience is even better when shared with friends, who you’ll no doubt be poking constantly as you draw each other’s attention to some awesome reference made in the film.

And this communal nature of enjoying nostalgia together is also something that the script takes very seriously. In some ways, this film’s message is better than the book. Despite it taking place almost entirely in a virtual world, Ready Player One ultimately urges us to remember reality and take a break every now and again. It also puts a premium focus on teamwork, friendship, and avoiding regret.

VERDICT

Ready Player One is a special film. Spielberg and Cline have crafted a new version of a beloved story that stands on its own, and is equally (if not more) impressive than its source material. It is the kind of blockbuster that doesn’t come along very often and that fans will embrace with adoration – endlessly watching, quoting, and discussing. If you aren’t a gamer or don’t love pop culture references, then you’re not the droid this film is looking for and you should probably just move along. Otherwise, you’re in for a treat. Enjoy your visit to the OASIS. I hope to see you there.

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.

Minisode 036: The Post

We’ve gotten together to talk about Steven Spielberg’s newest film, The Post, a dramatization of the Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which exposed government secrets and lies about the Vietnam War. With a cast led by superstars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, this story of unbiased journalism is extremely relevant and sure to land numerous Oscar nominations.


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Minisode 034: Gremlins

This month’s donor pick choice was kind of a surprise to both of us, but our listeners spoke and we listened, so here we are, ready to talk Joe Dante’s 1984 sci-fi/horror/comedy/camp film… GREMLINS.

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Post

THE POST (2017)

GOING IN

True story – my dream career for two decades was newspaper editor. Not an astronaut or a doctor or Major League Baseball player. I grew up with a very strong interest in journalism and political science. Had my life taken a different path, perhaps those two subjects would have resulted in college degrees that eventually led me to that desk job at a major paper.

The Post dramatizes the Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed government secrets and lies about the Vietnam War. With a cast led by superstars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, and directed by Steven Spielberg, this story of unbiased journalism is extremely relevant and sure to land numerous Oscar nominations. The question is, will it be more All President’s Men or Spotlight? And will it rekindle my dreams or put me at ease about missing out?


COMING OUT

Standing ovation. That’s my initial reaction when the credits start to roll. I simply don’t clap for movies. It feels odd to do so when there is no one present to actually receive the praise being given from said action, but this film was the rare exception that made me want to.

The Post story, I’m ashamed to say, is not one that I was familiar with, but is a piece of history that is vitally important for all Americans to know well. Essentially the Nixon administration and government before him had a pretty bad habit of making decisions based on public perception instead of what might actually be best for the country. There was also a culture of “friendship” between the press and the White House that called into question the bias of reporting. All that was brought into focus, though, when the New York Times first published excerpts of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. After Nixon fails to persuade the NYT to cease publishing, a federal court does so claiming the papers violate the Espionage Act of 1917 due to their classified nature.

This is where The Washington Post, published by Katharine Graham (Streep) and edited by Ben Bradlee (Hanks) comes in. Hanks portrays Bradlee with a staunch patriotism and determination to do what he feels is right, which is always give the public the truth. “The only way to protect the right to publish, is to publish,” he says more than once, as he pushes his team to locate the Pentagon Papers and convince Graham to publish despite the potential consequences. Graham not only must face the risk of her career and freedom, but must do so in a world that where women were not frequently in positions of power. Streep’s performance is inspiring in the way it captures both the spirited strength of Graham as well as her nervous fears. Hanks is also fantastic and the chemistry between these two star-studded actors in a joy to behold.

Spielberg has also assembled an incredible supporting cast around Hanks and Streep. Bob Odenkirk stands out the most as reporter Ben Bagdikian, the man in charge of locating the Pentagon Papers for The Post. His resolve never waivers once and he is the perfect extension of Bradlee’s mantra that freedom of the press must survive because as he says about the government “If we don’t hold them accountable, who will?” John Williams’ score is much more minimalist than usual, but equally effective. It accentuates perfectly those heightened moments of drama with Oscar-worthy speeches, breaths collectively being held as decisions are awaited, and once scene where Spielberg shoots the printing press like it was in an action movie.

VERDICT

The Post features Spielberg’s best work in ages and the timeless greatness of Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep is on full display. This all-star team-up provides the goods in telling an important story about the place of journalism in society and the necessity of checks and balances for public servants. Emotionally speaking, everything works here and comes together into a rousing picture that champions a right which Americans must cling to more than ever today. See it in a theater. See it with your children. As much a vital history lesson as outstanding entertainment, The Post is one of this year’s best films and should not be missed.

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: November 25-December 2

LESSON #1: NEW YORK WILL HELP STUMP FOR LADY BIRD FOR ME— The New York Film Critics Circle yesterday named Lady Bird their Best Picture and Saoirse Ronan their Best Actress.   I don’t normally trust New Yorkers, but you can take this recommendation salt-free.  There is a multitude of reasons Greta Gerwig’s indie gem is finding itself a winner against larger pedigreed titans.  Go see for yourself why.

LESSON #2: 2018 CAN AND SHOULD BE THE “YEAR OF THE WOMAN” AT THE OSCARS— Patty Jenkins, Sofia Coppola, Gerwig, and Dee Rees could dominate the Best Director category if voters allowed it and, in many ways, rightfully so.  Chaz Ebert wrote an excellent column recently on RogerEbert.com examining the possibilities.  Gerwig has already broken through as the Best Director winner from the National Board of Review this week.  Let’s see the boy’s club pushed to the sidelines for a year.

LESSON #3: THE POST IS GOING TO BE THE OSCAR FRONTRUNNER WITH THE “TIMELY” LABEL ATTACHED TO IT— Each year, there is always one or two Best Picture Academy Award contenders that feels like fateful films echoing the current societal landscape.  With a headliner cast expressing topical parallel challenges in journalism between the past and the present, Steven Spielberg’s The Post is going to create and carry quite the favor with critics and public alike.   Look at its Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress sweep from the National Board of Review.

LESSON #4: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME WILL EARN ANOTHER “TIMELY” LABEL FOR THE WRONG REASONS AND WILL PAY FOR IT ON OSCAR BALLOTS— Paul Bois for The Daily Wire posted a sharp editorial titled “TONE DEAF: Oscar Buzz for Movie About a Romance Between 25-Year-Old Man and 17-Year-Old Boy.”  As well-acted and well-intended as it may be, the verbiage of that headline is what may doom Call Me By Your Name.  Reverborating in an industry crushed by one sex scandal after another each week, I agree with the article and wonder where the widespread support for such a questionable premise of wrongful romance is going to gain favor.


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.

 

Episode 074: Jurassic Park

We kick off book-to-movie month with arguably the best summer blockbuster ever made. Jurassic Park is one of those special films that evokes such a sense of awe and wonder that it captures the imaginations of adults and children alike. We talk through some of the present themes and reminisce about our own experiences with this Steven Spielberg masterpiece.

What We’ve Been Up To 0:04:47

Jurassic Park Review – 0:20:32

The Connecting Point – 1:14:11

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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What We Learned This Week: June 11-17

LESSON #1: WHEN IMPORTANT DIVERSITY IS IN PLAY, EXTRA HYPE IS WARRANTED— Not understanding the important opportunities for diversity is equivalent to being tone deaf.  Recently some people tried to bash the female empowerment frenzy over the very existence of Wonder Woman, no matter if the film itself was any good.  After its trailer debut, pockets of ostriches with heads in the sand are doing the same with the new trailer for Black Panther and the fervid immediate and early hype from the black audiences.  Let me put it like this when it comes to Wonder Woman and Black Panther: “If you don’t understand why these films are important on principle alone, then you are part of the problem.”  The marketplace doesn’t just need these films, they deserve them.  Their importance assigned by their demographics and fanbases grants them warranted extra hype.

LESSON #2: NEW SOURCES WILL INVADE AWARDS RACES THIS WINTERIndiewire had a nice story recently talking about the Oscar chances of Get Out and Emmy chances of Netflix offerings.  I, for one, am all for it, but early-year films like Jordan Peele’s hit are going to need help coming November and December thanks to good old “out of sight/out of mind” syndrome.  More critics and voters need to keep these films in the conscientiousness of viewers and watchers.

LESSON #3: WHEN STEVEN SPIELBERG CALLS, YOU SAY YES— Speaking of the Oscars, just about everything the legendary Steven Spielberg touches becomes some kind of Oscar nominee or winner.  For his upcoming and fast-tracked December film The Papers (and no, it’s not about supplies from your weed guy), he is multiplying that Midas Touch with having fellow Academy darlings Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep headlining.  If that wasn’t colossal enough, take a gander at the supporting ensemble cast assembled by Spielberg behind Hanks and Streep.  If that’s not an eclectic “Murderer’s Row” of character actors, I don’t know what is.  The Spielberg clout is real.  Get Out and Netflix be damned, but say an early hello to your new Oscar frontrunner.

LESSON #4: STEVEN SPIELBERG APPARENTLY NEEDS TO CALL MORE WOMEN— Well-liked actress and emerging filmmaker Elizabeth Banks attempted to put Steven Spielberg on blast for not ever having directed a film with a female lead.  Her rant, which lead to a public apology, was quickly dispelled when she learned of The Color Purple.  That’s the only film it takes from Spielberg to negate the “never” in Banks’ words, but I think the crux of her argument remains fair.  Even when you add Sugarland Express and the little girl from The BFG, Steven is  more than a shade low in his percentages of female leading roles.  It wouldn’t kill him to rethink that.  Watch him follow in the footsteps of Banks and direct a Pitch Perfect sequel to shut everyone up.

LESSON #5: ARTSY-FARTSY PEOPLE APPARENTLY HATE JARED LETO— Academy Award winner and Suicide Squad actor Jared Leto was recently named the Chief Creative Officer of the film streaming service Fandor, pissing off film snobs everywhere.  Fandor fashions itself as a database for indie films, documentaries, international features and shorts.  Apparently to the high-end cinephiles, Leto has sold out and is not qualified.  People forget before he was Joker, the man won an Oscar and worked with off the beaten path with the likes of Fincher, Aronofsky, Malick, Toback, Mangold, Schumacher, Stone, Niccol, and Villeneuve.  Beyond his work resume, Leto has championed his own broadcast and social platform business VyRt for five years.  Dude, he’s quite qualified.  He’s not going to ruin the place.  In fact, watch it multiple with a driven guy at the helm.


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.

Episode 023: The Goonies

Hey, you guys! This week’s film was determined via listener vote, and you chose a beloved 80’s adventure movie with plenty to talk about. For one of us it’s full of nostalgia and for the other it’s a totally new experience. But ultimately we both land on common ground in thinking that this is one of the most fun and well done adventure films we’ve seen. It’s a great conversation about how when we view a movie affects our experience, and we hope you enjoy.

What We’ve Been Up To – 00:01:49

Aaron (The Fits)

Patrick (Eight Men Out, Halt and Catch Fire)

The Goonies Review – 00:12:17

The Connecting Point – 00:56:07

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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