What We Learned This Week: February 3-9

LESSON #1: LIAM NEESON IS IN BIG TROUBLE NO MATTER HOW YOU LOOK AT IT— And here I thought a few weeks ago in this column space, that John Lasseter was going to a big test for post-outrage career paths.  Matching the pulling of the actor’s PR appearances for Cold Pursuit this week, his situation, stemming from his poorly-placed personal admissions and steps towards change in the years since, has two impacts: personal and professional.  The forgiveness, recovery, and damage control are different for both worlds.  He may be able to show his face and make appearances to continue the soul-baring conversation he started, but he may be radioactive on the business side for a while.  I still say if Hugh Grant can be arrested for soliciting a prostitute two decades ago and be the Oscar-worthy villain of Paddington 2 years later, the zero laws broken by Liam Neeson can make redemption possible.  It definitely going to take more than good kissing.

LESSON #2: INTERMISSIONS ARE A WORTHWHILE IDEA— Word around the internet campfire is that the latest edit of Avengers: Endgame is still a mammoth three hours and Disney is considering building in an intermission into film.  I’m all for it. Trim no more. Pick a dynamite editing point for some exhaling and reflection. Give us a bathroom break and a rousing Alan Silvestri overture while we refocus.  Nail that tone. If any film could pull it off, it’s this future juggernaut. Intermissions would extend running time and prevent as many turnstile turns and showings compared to some 90-minute hopscotch movie, but plenty of long films have scored at the box office.  Avatar was 162 minutes.  Titanic was 195.  They made billions.  Bottom lines will be fine.

LESSON #3: FINDING THE RIGHT TONE— Speaking of tone, one of the reasons Universal Pictures’ Dark Universe failed was that it wasn’t dark enough.  The Mummy was a Tom Cruise vehicle, not a thriller.  Even though the old Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi classics aren’t anywhere near hardcore horror by today’s tastes, these characters (and others) are still monsters.  Give them some teeth and some edge, not sugary action fluff. Universal’s hiring of producer Jason Blum and Upgrade director Leigh Whannell for their Invisible Man remake is the right direction to go with smaller aims and horror expertise.  That’s the tone you need here.

LESSON #4: STEVEN SODERBERGH IS THE SMARTEST GUY IN THE ROOM AND GETS NO CREDIT FOR IT— The Oceans series director recently did an interview with Deadline talking about his career path.  One tangent delved into the underwhelming results of his last two films Logan Lucky and Unsane.  Both were well-reviewed films that were lost to audiences.  The grassroots and cost-minded Soderbergh saw marketing costs skyrocketing in the industry and considered it a threat to the success of true independent film working on small budgets.  Fascinatingly, Soderbergh wanted to try spending less (no junkets, talk shows, and more) on those two recent films, going more the viral routes. He found that the silly and preening attention that comes from late-night couches and more gets more attention than social media.  I wish he wasn’t wrong because the fluff is too much and too frivolously expensive. Fascinating interview from a guy with a heck of career arc.

LESSON #5: KNOW WHEN TO SAY WHEN— It looks like Vice Oscar nominee Christian Bale got The Matt Damon Diagnosis recently.  Here at 45 years old, the toll of the “yo-yo dieting” going back and forth between dramatic weight losses for The Machinist and The Fighter and unhealthy weight gains to play American Hustle, Batman, and Dick Cheney has caught up to the actor.  Citing his mortality, Bale says he won’t go through those swings again and let the makeup do the magic.  Wise decision, Christian. We want you to hang around for as long as possible.


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.

Episode 145: Titanic

So, it’s week 3 of our James Cameron Director Month series, and with it comes a film of unsinkable size. Coming in at 3 hours and 15 minutes, and with a $200 million dollar budget, Titanic  set out to tell the story of one of the biggest tragic events in history. We welcome Seattle-based blogger, writer, and film critic, Erynne Hundley to the show for this discussion where we find out if this epic historical romance really does make our hearts go on, or if our opinion of the film sunk over the years.

Titanic Review – 0:01:50

The Connecting Point – 1:17:31

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What We Learned This Week: August 26-September 1

LESSON #1: SEARCHING SHOULD BE REQUIRED VIEWING FOR TEENS AND THEIR PARENTS EQUAL TO EIGHTH GRADE EARLIER THIS SUMMER— Standing as another dramatic dose of the perils of being a teenager and raising a teenager in this current times, Aneesh Chaganty’s electric Searching would make a heck of a twin-bill with Bo Burnham’s startling slice of truths from July.  If you have a son or daughter with a connected device and a digital footprint of apps and engagement, you need to be floored by this film’s stance as one-part cautionary tale and one-part family feels.  You’ll be diving to Protect Young Eyes and similar sites in a hurry afterwards.  Hear Aaron and I gush over this film in a recent Feelin’ Film minisode.  It’s my #1 film so far this year.  You NEED to see this one!

LESSON #2: WAIT AND SEE A FILM BEFORE PASSING JUDGMENT— Advance reviews, hot takes, and click bait web articles that stir up angles, tangents, and nonsensical conversations before a movie makes it to the general public are the wrong place to form an opinion on a film.  This lesson rears its ugly head today on the heels of the world premiere reviews for Damien Chazelle’s First Man and a Business Insider piece about whether or not the planting of the American flag during the Apollo 11 mission is shown or not.  People are already circling their wagons to either defend the assumed choice as an artistic or narrative decision or start lighting up the puff-chested patriotism-fueled “how dare you” revisionist opposition pitchforks.  First Man is not the first film to be bitten by this stuff and it won’t be the last.  Simply put, wait and see the film for yourself before falling for rumors and rants. 

LESSON #3: AWARDS SEASON STARTS RIGHT NOW— Speaking of all that early buzz, First Man is sounding pretty darn legit.  I’m remain on my “No Trailers Diet” to remain unspoiled and untarnished which includes reading advance reviews, especially for First Man which has been my #1 anticipated film all year.  It sounds like I’m going to like what I see in October.

LESSON #4: PUSHING BACK A RELEASE DATE TO MAKE A FILM BETTER SHOULD ALWAYS BE A WELCOME DECISION— Much like Lesson #2, other decisions shouldn’t always be met with gasps, groans, and uninformed opinions.  Release dates are one of them.  Too often, when a film has to blink from a planned release date to a later one, the first flags flying are the “lemon on their hands,” “it’s going to be a bomb,” and “obvious production troubles” ones from all the haters and doubters.  You know what, if a studio is actually stable enough and smart enough to not rush brilliance, they might just get rewarded with brilliance.  It was announced this week that the hotly-anticipated Top Gun sequel, which is still in pre-production before shooting, is going to delay a year from July 2019 to July 2020 to improve planned action sequences.  Like our own founder Aaron White said on this news in the Facebook group, it’s better to get it right than anything else.  I remember the boo-birds making all kinds of noise 20+ years ago when Titanic moved from a July 4th release to a holiday one.  I’d say that turned out pretty well.  I’ll take patience over hubris every time.

LESSON #5: LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY SHOULD BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT WHEN RANKING AND VOTING ON THE BEST FILMS OF ANY GIVEN YEAR— I’ve ranted on the “popular film” Oscar at length once already, but the reactions from within the industry are starting to develop in really strong and rightfully righteous directions.  This new category feels like a shorter hurdler being put on the race course for fluff films to clear.  Because of the comic film landscape and the Disney puppet strings behind-the-scenes, Black Panther is being labeled as a beneficiary of such a new award.  Don’t tell that to Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman.  Relayed by friend-of-the-podcast Emmanuel Noisette of The Movie Blog through LA Times and Hollywood Reporter sources, Marvel czar Kevin Feige and Boseman support the studio’s efforts to aim for the top prize and not the popular one.  Bozeman outlines a challenge for voters expressing: 

What is the difficulty of the thing that you did? And do people appreciate what you did; the quality of it, the difficulty of it. What we did was very difficult. Because we created a world. We created a culture. It doesn’t exist in a world that you already know. It’s a world that we had to completely…we had to create a religion, a spirituality, a politics.  We had to create an accent. We had to pull from different cultures to create clothing styles and hair styles. It’s very much like a period piece[…] So you can’t honor any period piece that you ever did, technically, more than you can this one. So as far as that’s concerned, I dare any movie to try to compare to the difficulty of this one.

I absolutely love that statement. You’ll hear Emmanuel and I talk about this within the Feelin’ Film Discussion Group on Facebook, but, more and more, we see room for the objective to be valued equal, if not higher, to the subjective when it comes to rating, ranking, and scoring films for review or awards contention.  I support that notion 100%.

LESSON #6: SPEAKING OF RECOGNIZING DIFFICULTY, MAYBE IT’S TIME WE CALL GENRES “DISCIPLINES” INSTEAD OF THE ORIGINAL TERM THAT HAS BECOME ATTACHED TO STIGMAS— Despite matching the definition of being of a different story type, the adjective of “genre” and term “genre film” have acquired negative connotations over these decades of blockbuster filmmaking.  It’s become a scarlet letter of supposedly fantasy and childish things that get looked down upon as lesser than some gilded ideal of theatrical drama and thespian brilliance.  This is where a guy like Ethan Hawke can be seen as the opposite of Chadwick Boseman from Lesson #5.  Instead of seeing what most of the masses see as the genre label pigeonholing superhero films, the First Reformed actor came out to call them “overpraised.”  I’m a firm believer that there is indeed true art to be found in ANY film genre, even the comfort food and dream fulfillment of comic book films.  Like Boseman alluded to, genre films like superhero films have their own unique degree of difficulty, one worthy of respect and admiration.  For me, I beginning to think of different “genres” of films to be more like martial arts disciplines.  Think of defensive karate versus the whirl of kung-fu or submissions of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.  Each are unique for their movement, execution, and overall purpose.  Each take a different degree of difficulty, skill sets, and work effort.  I think it’s time to put different film genres on that kind of plane.  I’m going to add “genre” to my personal list of “banned” words in film reviews, joining words like “great” and “masterpiece.”  I want to value what I’m talking about higher.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  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.  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.