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.

What We Learned This Week: September 10-16

LESSON #1: DARREN ARONOFSKY IS AS AUDACIOUS AS THEY COME— Love or hate his films (and there is a lot there for both emotions), but Darren Aronofsky has cajones, talent, and personal integrity to make bold films his way and for his own artistic expression.  mother! is the latest chapter of a brazen filmography of NoahBlack SwanThe Wrestler, Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, and Pi.  The guy is operating at another level and uses a different elevator of crazy.  Recognize the skill through any love or hate you harbor to his films.

LESSON #2: GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S THE SHAPE OF WATER IS YOUR FIRST OSCAR CONTENDER— The master of creature creation’s romantic fantasy film won the prestigious Golden Lion award as the top film of the Venice Film Festival.  Put it at the top of the standings while it also competes at the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival.  If The Shape of Water were to win at TIFF, hot damn, you can switch the word from “contender” to “frontrunner.”  In other categories, Venice awarded its acting prizes to Kamel El Basha for The Insult and Charlotte Rampling for Hannah, its screenplay award to Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, and the best director prize to Xavier Legrand for Custody.  Within the next week or two, I will report the TIFF winners in this very column.

LESSON #3: “WHITE PRIVILEGE” WILL BE THE MOST POLARIZING SUBJECT MATTER AND NARRATIVE THIS AWARDS SEASON— I screened and reviewed the Ben Stiller vehicle Brad’s Status this week and if I had to retitle the film, it would be White Privilege: The Wake-Up Call.  The movie has a strong introspective quality about it, but its message is going to fall on so many deaf ears to any demographic that’s not a middle-aged white male.  Consider that a crutch and a hindrance, even if the film was good.  I fear the same thing will happen to an even higher profile film this awards season, namely George Clooney’s Coen brothers collaboration Suburbicon.  Clooney was stumping for the film and Venice and found himself answering the sticky white privilege labels and questions.  To his great credit, he’s sticking to his guns about the purposeful satire and commentary of this film.  The film may work, but does that mean it will play that way to general or even voting audiences?  I’m betting the white privilege labels aren’t far behind for Alexander Payne’s Downsizing and even mother! too.

LESSON #4: PATTY JENKINS DESERVES THE SUCCESS COMING HER WAY— Warner Bros. made it official this week signing Patty Jenkins to return as the director of the Wonder Woman sequel.  The first film’s runaway success netted her a $7-9 million payday, the highest ever for a woman director, and a little percentage of the back-end profits for good measure.   Slowly but surely, the pay gap can and should close.  Patty Jenkins deserves this reward and I’m glad she’s one of the leaders for equal professional standards.  Kudos!

LESSON #5: THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO GET A FILM DONE RIGHT— I’ve talked in this column over the summer about the many news items of production ups-and-downs.  Instances include when Justice League called on Joss Whedon to step in for extensive reshoots or the dismissals of two different Star Wars directors.  This week, all signs point to J.J. Abrams returning to the director’s chair for Episode IX and delaying the film an additional seven months to reshuffle the deck.  On the smaller side, ace composer Johann Johannsson is leaving Blade Runner 2049 less than a month before its release.  We take those breaking stories as signs of trouble and possible evidence of a lemon to come.  We’ve been doing it in the internet age since Titanic was delayed from a July 4th weekend opening to Christmas in 1997.  Sometimes those fears become justified.  Maybe, just maybe though, the delays are the right moves to ensure a proper finished product.  Maybe a little more patience and extra time used to fine tune a film can finally win in the age of instant gratification, manic buzz, and “what have you done for me lately.”  We are a voracious audience sometimes, myself included, but maybe we can soften our Chicken Little-level overreactions.  Call this an early New Year’s resolution for this writer.


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.

What We Learned This Week: September 3-9

LESSON #1: HOW MANY COOKS WITH HUBRIS APRONS ARE IN THE DISNEY KITCHEN?— My guess is too many and it’s time to wonder who’s running the show and why they can’t keep talent around.  The dismissal this week of director Colin Trevorrow from Star Wars: Episode IX comes less than three months after a similar parting-of-ways between the Mouse House and the directing team of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord on Han Solo (coupled with acting coach rumors needed for its star Alden Ehrenreich and the swift hire of Ron Howard to finish the film).  Dig back farther and the storied Tony Gilroy-led reshoots of Rogue One now ring a louder alarm.  Across the office, plenty of directors (Edgar Wright, Joss Whedon, Jon Favreau) have also butted heads with the Marvel end of the Disney empire on the grounds of creative differences.  To use an NFL analogy in honor of the opening week of the new season, this reeks of Jerry Jones/Al Davis-style meddling from the front office that prevents the coaches, executives, and players underneath them from doing their job.  Treverrow haters (and there are many after Jurassic World and The Book of Henry) celebrated the axing and formed bandwagons for desirable replacements (#bringbackJJ), but somewhere up the ladder, someone is power-tripping at Disney enough to make dedicated and non-hack people walk, and, unlike the past, it’s not George Lucas’ hubris messing things up.  Keep an eye on all this.

LESSON #2: CASTING FOR DIVERSITY IS MORE THAN JUST LEADS— Opportunity is everything in the moviemaking business and too many of those doors have been locked or lost for too many minorities.  It’s wonderful to see more awareness on the topic, especially self-awareness as was the case with the outcry/applause in Ed Skrein’s recent departure from the Hellboy reboot.  Every step counts as progress.  Prolific reviewer/writer extraordinaire (and a peer of mine) Nick Clement earned a rousing by-line from Variety recently in a dynamite piece talking with casting directors about filling roles with diversity deeper than the only the principal leads, especially if those roles break racial and ethnic stereotypes.  It’s a great read and spot on to truly heavy lifting of those doors.  It starts at the bottom more than only at the top.

LESSON #3: WHAT IS THE PROPER PLACE FOR STORY-EXTENDED SHORT FILMS?— Two Ridley Scott-connected films, Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049, have employed short film vignettes via YouTube as a prequel-like means of catching audiences up on time and providing background information for a coming full feature.  I, for one, don’t know how I feel about them.  I’m all for expanding the medium of short films and adding context, but do these extended scenes (like this one of an upcoming three for Blade Runner 2049) play like spoilers?  Shouldn’t a feature film be edited and tuned enough to stand on its own with the extras?  Should these kinds of scenes be saved for home media special features?  I’m undecided.  What are your thoughts?  Add a comment below.

LESSON #4: LOOK TO TORONTO AS THE OSCAR SEASON TAKES ANOTHER STEP— The prestigious Venice Film Festival will be naming their Golden Lion and other winners on September 9th, but, two days before, the spotlight shifts to the Toronto International Film Festival.  TIFF has arguably usurped Cannes as the most elite film festival in the business.  The must-see list of Oscar contenders coming from TIFF 2017 includes Mother, Molly’s Game, The Florida Project, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, MN, The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, The Current War, Downsizing, Bodied, Surburbicon, Hostiles, Battle of the Sexes, Mary Shelley, Lean on Pete, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Brawl in Cell Block 99, The Death of Stalin, and The Disaster Artist.  Eight of the last ten TIFF People’s Choice Award winners have gone on to Best Picture Academy Award nominations, including two eventual winners (The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave).


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.