What We Learned This Week: November 19-27- Thanksgiving Hangover Edition

Folks, holidays off of work will derail any routines you have, be it parenting or writing and publishing film reviews and online content.  I had a week and my world went lazy in a happy and welcome hurry.  Super-sized to match our post-Thanksgiving “muffintop” bellies, here’s a late edition of “What We Learned This Week!”


LESSON #1: YOU REALLY NEED TO SEE LADY BIRD— There is a five-star and potential best-of-2017 film sitting right under your noses with Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird.  My review glows like the California sun and you will find much more like it from my peers on Feelin’ Film and the pros on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, take a look at this distinction, one even greater than the RT buzz given to Get Out‘s high score earlier this year:

LESSON #2: WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, GO SEE WONDER TOO— So often, we ask where are the quality family films in this current Hollywood marketplace.  I can’t be the only parent out there who asks for something better than made-for-TV ABC Family and Hallmark channel movies and the endless string of mindless noise coming out of blockbusters like MinionsSing, and etc.  Disney scaling things down with Pete’s Dragon and The Queen of Katwe last year gave me hope that a legitimate live-action family film could still be made and be mildly successful.  Wonder is that exceeding hope this year.  Its messages are virtuous and heartwarming.  Add Stephen Chbosky’s film to your shortlist for holiday viewing.  It’s a keeper.

LESSON #3: SPEND EXTRA TIME IN THE LOBBY, BATHROOM, TRAFFIC, OR AT DINNER BEFORE SEEING COCO (BUT DON’T FORGET TO STILL SEE COCO)— Disney/Pixar’s Coco is another family-friendly keeper right there with Wonder, but the animated “short” before it the opposite.  I don’t know about you, but I was done with Frozen when it came out.  Subjecting a (hopefully) diverse family audience to 21 minutes of repetitive Olaf silliness on top of previews and other advertisements before a hearty and heavy 109-minute film is too much.  Dear Disney, save that crap for your own TV channel and future streaming service.  Dear Pixar, we come to a Pixar film for your brand of superior original shorts, not Disney’s extra product placement.  Future Coco audiences, use article guide from Slate to calculate how much time to stall and cut right to the feature.

LESSON #4: BE MINDFUL OF WHO IS IN BED WITH WHO WHEN IT COMES TO THE BUSINESS OF HOLLYWOOD— Rotten Tomatoes was applauded before the release of Justice League for its stance to hold its first official rating designation until the opening day of Friday, four days after publication embargoes for critics ended that Tuesday.  It was seen as a move of patience and a step in the right direction away from the immediacy of rash judgment.  When you learn Warner Bros. owns Flixster, the parent company of Rotten Tomatoes, you might realize it was a selfish move of shielding flack instead of championing temperance.  Let me continue to join many other voices, including this great piece from Hype, begging for the general public to loosen their obsession with the broken math of Rotten Tomatoes.  Find critics you trust and appreciate and separate from the pack mentality of pitchforks and/or circle jerks.

LESSON #5: YOU GET WHAT YOU GET WITH JUSTICE LEAGUE— I’d love a Zach Snyder or Joss Whedon “director’s cut” (hell, even both) of Justice League, but conflicting reports make it sound like it can’t or won’t happen.  No matter what, too many folks play amateur armchair film editors.  If we get a bonus, that’s great.  If we don’t, take what the film gives you.

LESSON #6: SPEAKING OF SUPERHEROES, IT’S TIME FOR EVEN MORE DIVERSITY REPRESENTATION— Seeing the strength of the Amazons in Wonder Woman and Justice League as well as the badassery of Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, it’s time additional diversity in comic book films.  This Collider column and list lay out six places inclusion of LGBTQ characters could have been made and it’s a good blueprint for more.  Heck, just start with women in general, let alone the other special demographics of the acronym.  The Guardian recently outlined a primer for a full “women’s canon” foundation.  It’s impressive.    Let’s see Hollywood continue to get progressive and build on the good starts and new energy.


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 084: Thor: Ragnarok

For this week’s episode we find ourselves leaving travelling with the mighty Thor on his third solo adventure. Indie filmmaker Taika Waititi takes the reigns of the MCU and molds Thor: Ragnarok with his signature comedic style. The result is an aesthetically unique, visually striking, and hilarious new superhero film. But is that enough? We both enjoyed the film, but its absence of emotional weight provides us with an opportunity for a big conversation about how important stakes are in the comic book film genre.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:04

Aaron (The Room)
Patrick (Burnt)

THOR: RAGNAROK Review – 0:20:21

The Connecting Point – 1:11:49

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

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What We Learned This Week: October 29-November 4

LESSON #1: SCOUTING THE RIGHT TALENT IS KEY TO MARVEL’S SUCCESS— How does this low-risk MCU blueprint keep coming up with winners? One way is by scouting comedic talent in front of and behind the camera. Look first at the casting of Marvel’s core leads: Robert Downey, Jr.Chris EvansChris PrattPaul RuddBenedict Cumberbatch, and, in Thor: Ragnarok‘s case, Chris Hemsworth. Each of them (follow the links) bring an easily-activated range of humor to not take themselves so seriously. If you’re shooting for overall levity, you call on the nimble and agile.  The same search for farce can be said for many of Marvel’s directorial choices: Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Anthony and Joe Russo, James Gunn, and Peyton Reed. All have witty and wisecracking credits on their resumes. Add director Taika Waititi’s name to that list. The peppy New Zealander behind Hunt for the Wilder People and What We Do in the Shadows merges his wholesome storytelling sensibilities with a frisky and playful side of sarcasm to sharpen the camp of the comic book content of Thor: Ragnarok.

LESSON #2: NETFLIX CAN STILL BE A BIT OF A BALLHOG— Jeff Huston of “I Can’t Unsee That Movie” has an excellent editorial piece recently talking about the day-and-date release strategy of Netflix.  Thanks to their deep pockets to win some distribution bids on prominent international film festival performers like The Meyerowitz Stories, First They Killed My Father, and Our Souls at Night, high caliber independent films are available on their streaming service at the same time as a soft and limited theatrical release.  The article calls into question how this practice actually does a disservice to the theater end of things and I happen to agree, though I celebrate Netflix plenty (see next lesson) for getting the “gets.” While it’s nice that the arthouse theater scene is being filled with something, the Netflix availability dramatically shortens any helpful effect of attendance the arthouse could really use.  There’s got to be a middle stagger of compromise in there.  Give the arthouse 4-8 weeks of exclusivity and then Netflix gets it forever, something to that effect where both benefit.

LESSON #3: NETFLIX IS ALL-IN ON ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING— We’ve been seeing Netflix’s not-so-quiet surge all year with their self-financed original feature film offerings and have been amazed.  They keep getting bigger, especially with Will Smith’s Bright around the corner.  Now the ambition and push have a target number and it’s bigger than we thought.  Recently, the streaming giant said their 2018 goal is 80 original films.  That is an astounding number that runs circles around Hollywood studios that maybe put out a quarter of that into the multiplexes.  Love them or hate them, Netflix is quadrupling down on being a big-time player.

LESSON #4: DEMAND-BASED PRICING IS GOING TO BE AN INTERESTING EXPERIMENT— We filmgoers don’t often see the business dealings happening behind the curtain and multiplex doors.  For a taste of it, read the strict details Disney is placing on theater chains for the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi and you’ll get an idea of the bitter competition for the almighty dollar.  All we see is ticket prices going up and wondering why while we shake our heads and still open up our wallets.  In an effort to earn a little extra, the Regal Cinemas chain recently announced a trial of demand-based/surge pricing where the hits will cost more than the flops on your receipt.  Seeing the business end of that Last Jedi example, I get theaters trying to squeeze, but one has to wonder if such practice will work.  I don’t like its chances.  All I see are movie studios then asking for a bigger cut on top.


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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)




Going In

More like Thor: Ragnarock ‘n Roll, amirite? From what we’ve seen in trailers, Taika Waititi’s film looks to be a wild ride bursting with color, sound, and laughs. I am admittedly burned out on the superhero genre, but Thor: Ragnarok could be something fresh instead of the standard Marvel fare, and that gives me hope. Embracing the Asgardian mythology and combining Thor’s world with one of my favorite comic book stories (Planet Hulk) provides opportunities galore for rich storytelling. I have faith in Waititi and expect that at the very least he and this impressively assembled cast will provide viewers with a fun time at the movies.


COMING OUT

If Thor: Ragnarok is one thing, it’s funny.  No, that’s not a strong enough word. It’s hilarious. Laugh out loud funny. Multiple times. For those who are familiar with Taika Waititi’s filmography this should come as no surprise. The man’s comedic timing is truly great, and his role (you didn’t even know he was acting in the film did you?) steals the show. As a director, Waititi sets the film firmly in its comedic tone right from the start, and it never lets up. Almost everyone gets in the action, from Jeff Goldblum’s eccentric and entertaining Grandmaster to Tessa Thompson’s alcoholic but strong Valkyrie, and of course Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) have plenty of fantastic banter between them. Thor: Ragnarok‘s humor really is its strongest feature and it’s some of the best the MCU has to offer.

But what about the story? If you’re looking for this to be the Marvel film that bucks the routine style of previous films, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The incredible electronic, neon, fantasy aesthetic is a very cool coat of paint on the same old formula. Heroic actions and sacrifice just don’t have much weight to them because everything is a joke in this world. There were numerous conversations where I thought that meaningful character development was coming, but there is never a dramatic payoff. The humor is a constant undercurrent and while it makes the film a lot of fun to watch, it has no depth or staying power because we never connect with the characters or events on anything more than a surface level.

That’s not to say that characters don’t have arcs – they do. This is a hero’s journey for Thor, but other characters must also find out who they truly are if Asgard is going to be saved from the Goddess of Death. That goddess, played by the incredible Cate Blanchett, had potential to be one of the best Marvel villains. Her backstory is intriguing and the film does a great job with the Norse mythology as a whole. Unfortunately, she has little to do other than sling knives around and recite history. She does definitely bring it in the action department, though, and is a worthy foe for Thor and his team. When she’s at her strongest and Thor goes full God of Thunder, it is a sight to see.

Verdict

Thor: Ragnarok plays in an exciting new genre for Marvel. Its overall aesthetic and tone commit fully to the comedic nature of the MCU and results in one of the funniest Marvel films to date. If a fun, entertaining, visually striking, and hilarious experience is what you’re after, this is a must see. It’s too bad that Waititi couldn’t give it a little more depth and heart, though, because that’s what would have truly been something new. As it stands, Thor: Ragnarok will wow you for a few hours, but you’re likely to forget all about it in a few days.

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.