What We Learned This Week: August 11-17

LESSON #1: “YOU KEEP USING THAT WORD. I DO NOT THINK IT MEANS WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS”— No, I’m not calling on Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride to talk about “masterpiece” again.  The word this week that is coming out all wrong from too many people is “monopoly,” as in “Disney is/has a monopoly and needs to be broken up.”  Let me boldface pieces of three variations of the word’s definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:exclusive ownership through legal privilege, command of supply, or concerted action,” “exclusive possession or control,” and “a commodity controlled by one party.”  Look, I’m not a fan of Disney’s dominance any more than the next discerning consumer, but what’s happening isn’t a monopoly.  No matter how many brands they own or manage, Disney not the exclusive or singular entity dictating any possession or control beyond their own property.  There are plenty of other entertainment providers, movie studios, merchandise makers, and whatnot. What’s really going on is sustained success. Monopolies of success aren’t illegal.  The competitors are just aren’t doing as good of business as Disney. If you want to beat Disney, make better products and do better business, plain and simple. So, until Disney buys Sony, Comcast (Universal), Warner Bros., Viacom (Paramount), Netflix, Amazon, and about a dozen smaller shingles where they are the only store on the block, stop calling what them a monopoly.  


LESSON #2: JUST MAKE A NEW OR REPACKAGED SPECIALTY BRAND ALREADY— Speaking of Disney and their monstrous image, their larger flaw of vanity is thinking everything with their logo on it has to be family-friendly.  Word around the campfire is that Disney investers are “worried” about the farcical and crude Nazi content of Taika Waititi’s awards season contender Jojo Rabbit and the negative optics it would bring to the brand.  Combine that with the Fox cuts listed in this column space last week and we’re seeing more buyer’s remorse than creative courage. Come on, Disney. You’ve reached a point where your brand is nearly untouchable.  And, if you’re so worried, take a page out of your own playbook from decades ago and revive/create a new brand or branch to launch the non-kiddie stuff that has potential. Disney used to start and own distributor hubs like Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Dimension Films, and, for a time, Miramax.  Bring one of those back or, hell, call it 20th Century Fox. Problem solved and the creators and audiences don’t lose out to the prudes.

LESSON #3: SMOKING SHOULD NOT BE PUT ON THE SAME LEVEL AS SEX AND VIOLENCE— Here’s a taller soapbox then Lesson #1.  Forty-three attorney generals from our nation of fifty recently composed a letter addressed to the major entertainment companies (including Disney, Amazon, and Netflix) urging a so-called “open dialogue” about the steps to “eliminate or exclude tobacco imagery in all future original streamed content for young viewers” and demanding “content with tobacco imagery should be rated R or TV-MA and be recommended only to adult viewers.”  Yes, tobacco is a national health problem, but not to this degree. Doing so would penalize many classic movies rather than make those films teachable moments with smoking’s inclusion.   The editorial staff from the Chicago area’s Daily Herald outlined several examples of movies, from Casablanca to Ghostbusters, whose value and messages supercede the superficially visible tobacco use.  I feel like the mistake in this, isn’t the movies. It’s the parenting that throws any movie on and doesn’t take interest or talk out what is being shown for entertainment or enlightenment.  Parents, this should be on us and not new ratings.

LESSON #4: BOX OFFICE DATA IS ANOTHER PIECE OF EVIDENCE THAT 2019 HAS BEEN A DOWN YEAR FOR BLOCKBUSTERS— Back in the day, a movie hitting $100 million domestically was considered a splashy hit.  Today, with inflation and bigger budgets being thrown around, that magic number feels more like $300 million.  According to data posted in The Hollywood Reporter for a story entitled “The Vanishing $200 Million Blockbuster” by Stephen Galloway, six movies so far in 2019 have topped $300 million stateside (some have of those have doubled it).  Oddly though, no movie has finished between $200-$300 million in their final tally after eight movies did a year ago.  Now you see where the story title comes from and the feast-or-flop vibe feels spot-on when you look beyond the top dogs to the rest of the 2019 spring and summer earning performances.   The duds outnumber the studs by a large margin. These are just the big totals, though. This has nothing to do with profit. There’s still a whole cottage industry of horror and genre films that triple their shoestring budgets in their opening weekends, let alone their entire run.  Still take this as a temperature check of box office health for this down year.

LESSON #5: SPIKE LEE HAS DAMN GOOD TASTE— In the recommendation slot, we go from Christopher Nolan last week to Spike Lee this week.  On his Kickstarter page, the BlacKKKlansman Oscar winner has a famed list of 100 essential films for every aspiring director.  It’s a doozy of a roster with wide representation and solid tastes. Make it your own college course at home like you’re online undergrad enrolled at NYU and let streaming services and library rentals take care of the rest.

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) 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.  (#111)

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.