LESSON #1: TOXIC FANDOM IS ONE OF THIS INDUSTRY’S LARGEST UNCHECKED PROBLEMS— What used to be little nit-picky pissing and moaning no more imposing than the Comic Book Guy character on The Simpsons is turning overly voluminous, hurtful, egregious, and flat-out unnecessary. The latest ugly example came this week when months of harassing and abusive social media actions led Star Wars: The Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran to delete her Instagram. Notice in the title of the lesson that I said “industry.” This fanboy immaturity and hate isn’t exclusive to Star Wars fans. This kind of abhorrent behavior fueled by internet troll courage lights up with comic book films, gaming culture, TV shows large and small, and many other sources far too often and far too loudly. Let this school teacher tell you that all this bitching about fiction and entertainment is fruitless and unhealthy. No piece of entertainment is worth any level of the hate and consequences leveled to Ms. Tran. The support around her is positive but more must be done. If you claim these pieces of pop culture are core influences of your formative character, then you don’t have a very good core and need help in the form of interpersonal relationships not rooted in fantasy. I know its the few ruining it for the behaved majority, but turn off the screens, take off the cosplay, put away the toys, grow up, and go engage in real relationships. At an industry level, accountability is needed, and I love this NBC News piece from Ani Bundell and this Forbes editorial from Scott Mendelson as highly recommended reads. No matter how you cut it, this is bullying and it’s time to employ the “see something, say something” practices we tell school kids nowadays. Help report and block improper behavior.
LESSON #2: EACH FILM STARRING WOMEN OR MADE BY WOMEN IS NOT REQUIRED TO ADVANCE FEMINISM— From one torch-bearing subject to another, I referenced a junket interview from the Ocean’s 8 press tour in my review of the film where the leading ladies are tired of answering questions large and small about gender roles. They made Ocean’s 8 to have fun. Let Ocean’s 8 be marvelous for what it is (namely a proper heist film) and not curved by who is in it and which chromosomes they have. When someone adds the marginalizing and labeling descriptors of “all-female,” “women-centered,” or, worse, “chick flick,” their narrow vision becomes part of the problem. That goes both ways. Not every film for or including women has to carry a torch and a battering ram for the #MeToo movement. Let something fun be fun. Furthermore, in a second interview piece and connecting to Lesson #1, Ocean’s 8 star Sandra Bullock also drew alarming comparison to the flaq the Ghostbusters reboot cast received two years ago. The wave of hate for that film was off-the-charts higher than what Ocean‘s 8 is receiving, which shows the fickle hypocrisy of toxic fandom.
LESSON #3: THE RIGHT DOCUMENTARY CAN MAKE A FLASHIER DRAMATIZATION UNNECESSARY AND OBSOLETE— This one is more a prophecy than a lesson. One of my many reactions and takeaways after watching (my full review) the incredibly detailed, moving, and impactful documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is that I, for one, absolutely do not need an upcoming movie biopic version of Fred Rogers’ life story. There is tangible spirit and a magic watching the real personality of the late TV personality that comes out in Morgan Neville’s film that speaks rightly true and cannot be translated into a glitzy newfangled narrative using dramatic license. I don’t care how wholesome and loved Tom Hanks is or how immensely talented his is as one of the finest actors walking the planet. Even he cannot suspend disbelief to become Fred Rogers. The genuine article is too singular, too unique, and, to borrow his favorite word, too special. Fred’s central mission and message is strong enough on its own and demands full reality. Flattering imitation, in my opinion and even cited in the documentary itself with recaps of impersonations done by Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, SCTV, and In Living Color, would take away shine from the gleaming legitimacy of what Fred Rogers stands for. There is more value to both nostalgic audiences and neophyte discoverers of Fred Rogers to see his actual self in Won’t You Be My Neighbor? than the diluted Hollywood version to come. Let a documentary become a summer blockbuster for a change. Get some truth out there and see this film.
LESSON #4: A VENOM CHARACTER NOT IN THE CURRENT MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IS NOT A REAL VENOM AT ALL— I was right there with you salivating at the idea of Tom Hardy playing a brawny Eddie Brock and his beastly alter-ego of Venom. Throwing looks and Daily Bugle character history out the window, you couldn’t cast a more imposing threat for an emerging Tom Holland Spider-Man than Hardy. The problem I’ve always seen has been timing. Pulling off a Venom film is cart-before-the-horse too soon for a brand-new teenage Spider-Man. Now, the problem has increased to misalignment with the news that the Venom film will not be a recognized part of the MCU. I know I just talked about toxic fanboy culture earlier in the column, but, I’m sorry, Venom is not Venom without Spider-Man. What looked to already be an impatient cash grab by Sony to stay relevant with its Marvel character properties now looks to be an expensive and possibly pointless waste of resources entirely.
LESSON #5: YOU CAN’T WASH THE STINK OF MICHAEL BAY OFF THAT EASILY— Much like Venom in a way after its recent trailer surprises, I don’t care how good that Bumblebee trailer looked this past week (and yes, Mr. Ignore-All-Trailers over here did see it). It’s going to take more than a decent teaser or two and a whole heap of deeper narrative work from Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight on the final product to improve this tainted franchise. Hope is there with Knight’s reputation, but plenty of films, when manipulated correctly with marketing magic, have duped us before. I will still preach tempered expectations for Bumblebee. Michael Bay’s cinematic skunk spray is still all over this.
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 Facebook, Twitter, and Medium.