What We Learned This Week: November 9-15

LESSON #1: PEER PRESSURE CAN BE EFFECTIVE— With George Lucas long-retired and until James Cameron finally releases that next Avatar epic, the reigning King of Cinematic Hubris remains Christopher Nolan. His ardent activism for physical film will always be commendable, but he is not the “savior” the trades (and himself) tout him to be. Not if he can’t even properly tune his own films and has to hear about it from his peers and contemporaries. More than fans, fellow filmmakers have contacted Nolan about his messy sound mix from Tenet. To me, that’s when you know it’s bad, if you have buddies calling you it. Peer pressure is an effective motivator. Let’s see how it shifts the chip on the king’s shoulder below his self-made crown.

LESSON #2: WISE PEOPLE IN THIS BUSINESS CUT LONG-TERM DEALS— Back in the day, everyone from actors to filmmakers were on studio-exclusive contracts. If Paramount wanted to use a talent controlled by Warner Bros., they had to pay handsomely and vice versa. For the studios, it was winning bidding wars to secure top talent for multiple projects. For the actors, it was securing guaranteed work in an era before they made ungodly money. Somewhere along the way, the movies turned into looser free agency like you see today in baseball where everyone is a mercenary chasing paychecks. 

To see David Fincher sign a four-year deal with Netflix feels old school and a win-win, joining Patty Jenkins on the squad. Netflix nabs a big name for their digital marquees. The Mank filmmaker gets a shingle that pushes for Oscars, far more creative freedom on set, and more guaranteed upfront money than he would chasing box office receipts, especially during a pandemic choking the industry. Don’t believe me or Fincher? Just ask Martin Scorsese. No one else, and I mean no one, in town was going to give him $200+ million to make the geriatric steak buffet that was The Irishman. That epic may not have netted Oscars, but it brought in new subscribers and that’s Netflix’s bottom line.

Netflix is not alone in getting out their checkbook to sign top-shelf creators. Apple TV+ has first-look deals with Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Alfonso Cuaron. Even if most of those are for TV projects, those are names worth marketing and bragging about for the up-and-coming streaming platform. Is this the death of cinema? No. This is job preservation and squeezing for artistic carte blanche that you normally can’t get.

LESSON #3: DON’T BEAT LIVE HORSES ANYMORE THAN DEAD HORSES— Speaking of David Fincher, he has a long-standing reputation of over-filming many scenes in his directorial career. He’ll go after 50 or more takes in some scenes, the polar opposite of Clint Eastwood being good after one or two. It’s a personal philosophy Fincher has gone on record to explain. Word from the set of Mank, by way of Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman, was that the director went for as many as 200 takes on a scene, something that supposedly “cracked” the latter Oscar winner. There is meticulousness and fastidiousness, and then there is exhausting punishment. Dude, I love you, David Fincher. It’s been too long since Gone Girl,but have some workplace efficiency and empathetic professionalism. 

LESSON #4: NOW IS THE TIME TO SEE CITIZEN KANE— Speaking of Mank which is releasing into limited theaters today before debuting on Netflix on December 4th, this week’s final lesson in the usual go-home recommendation slot promotes just a single movie and quite possibly the greatest movie of all-time. To fully absorb and appreciate Fincher’s new movie, you must see Citizen Kane before it, period. If you’ve been putting it off because of its stature or the silly fact it’s old or in black-and-white, swallow hard, pick a day, and get through it. If you call yourself any level of film buff, connossieur, or fan, Orson Welles’ 1941 tour-de-force is required viewing as a cornerstone of visual filmmaking and storytelling techniques that would become the exemplars for decades. Citizen Kane is available now (thank you, JustWatch app) as part of HBO Max or can be rented for $3-4 on most streaming storefronts. If you want to do one better, straight up buy it or borrow any disc version of it from your local library. Seek out the late Roger Ebert’s audio commentary track. That will educate you more on film greatness in two hours than any self-made YouTube ranter or snarky podcast. Rented or bought, the movie is worth every penny and you will thank me for it.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later), Horror Obsessive, and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#145)

Episode 245: Catch Me If You Can

We’re sticking with the theme of impersonators cashing fraudulent checks this week as we shift our attention from Matt Damon to the fist of two films starring the great Leonardo DiCaprio. This wild and nearly unbelievable true story of Frank Abagnale Jr. and his eventual capture by the FBI is one of the most joyful crime capers you’ll ever see.

Catch Me If You Can Spoiler Review – 0:09:32

The Connecting Point – 1:06:49

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Episode 226: Minority Report

For the month of April, our Patrons chose Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story for us to discuss and this philosophically-focused conversation is the result. Fatalism vs. free will, privacy rights, and super cool not-so-far-fetched technology are among our topics.

Minority Report Review – 0:03:52

The Connecting Point – 1:03:35

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Episode 222: The Adventures of Tintin

This week’s episode takes us trotting around the globe, from the stormy seas to the sky to the desert, with a young journalist and his dog. It’s an animated treasure hunting adventure for the whole family and we discuss whether a teenage protagonist makes for as compelling of a story as an adult explorer, why characters chasing their legacies is so interesting, and more.

The Adventures of Tintin – 0:01:56

The Connecting Point – 0:54:58

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Episode 200.3: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Wrapping up our 200th episode celebration, we discuss how this film is an origin story for Indiana Jones, and then generally gush while giving all of the reasons why this is our favorite entry in the series.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Review – 0:01:08

The Connecting Point – 1:07:40

 

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Episode 200.2: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Continuing our journey through the greatest adventurer’s film trilogy, we compare the structure of this prequel to the film that came before it, admire a special relationship Indiana forms, and discuss whether or not this is a racially insensitive story.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Review – 0:01:16

The Connecting Point – 0:58:22

 

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Episode 200.1: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Happy 200th episode to us! In celebration, we are once again covering a favorite trilogy, beginning with this conversation about an adventure movie that would go on to define an entire genre and one that gave us an iconic hero for all-time.

Raiders of the Lost Ark Review – 0:12:50

The Connecting Point – 1:35:20

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FF+ Pet Sematary, Unicorn Store, The Twilight Zone & Joker

In this week’s episode of FF+, we have spoiler-free reviews of Pet Sematary and Unicorn Store. We also discuss the first two episodes of the Jordan Peele produced reboot of The Twilight Zone. And lastly, we chime in with our thoughts on the first teaser trailer for Todd Phillips’ upcoming DC villain film, Joker.

 

New For You 

Pet Sematary – 0:01:36

Unicorn Store – 0:08:49

The Twilight Zone –  0:18:38
(“The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”)

 

Trailer Talk

Joker – 0:45:09

 

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Music: City Sunshine – Kevin MacLeod

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FF+ Screwball, The Hummingbird Project, Disney +, and Netflix vs. Spielberg

In this week’s episode of FF+, we have spoiler-free reviews of The Hummingbird Project and Screwball, then discuss recent news surrounding Disney + and the Netflix vs. Steven Spielberg debate about awards legitimacy of films on a streaming service.

 

New For You 

The Hummingbird Project – 0:01:08

Screwball – 0:11:40

 

In the News

Disney + – 0:25:11

Netflix vs. Steven Spielberg – 0:48:38


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Music: City Sunshine – Kevin MacLeod

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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.