What We Learned This Week: June 10-16

LESSON #1: STATISTICS DON’T LIE, SO WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT— Riding the wave of examination and expansion for equality in the film industry, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative from USC revealed the results of a very telling data study that examined the demographics of movie critics.  To no surprise to anyone paying attention, 78% of the reviews written on Rotten Tomatoes were done by white males.  The news of that data ignited plenty of torches and hushed excuses. At an awards show, Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson spoke wonderfully on those statistics, how they do not reflect the movie-going population, how critical exposure matters (just ask Colin Trevorrow or the notion further expanded by this strong piece in The Lily by Monica Castillo), and how some films are made for certain audiences beyond white males and that fair and matching reviews are needed.  She wasn’t a bit wrong, and I say that as a white male movie critic myself. There is room for more and room for better. The questions become what steps can be made to create a better balance.  One encouraging example is seeing both the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals designate 20% of their press credential assignments to minorities. We can’t grow film critics on trees, but we can look deeper into the forest and grant more opportunities in that way.  That said, this is still a competitive field and talent still wins. If a minority critic can earn those gets and those publishing spots, more power to them. Competition raises everyone’s game.

LESSON #2: WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT, MOVIES ARE A BUSINESS FIRST AND AN ART EXPOSITION SECOND— First Reformed star and upcoming Blaze director Ethan Hawke appeared and spoke at the Seattle International Film Festival accepting their annual Outstanding Achievement in Cinema award.  The buzziest outcome of that was his quote that movies are “an art form that’s completely eaten by business.”  I know this sparked a lively discussion in the Feelin’ Film Discussion Group on Facebook this week.  This longing for the art to shine over the monetary success comes up often and the wording of my lesson title is my usual reply to that topic or question.  From the day they started charging for tickets to see these things called movies, it was always from then on going to be about the business.  Once people made livings and livelihoods out of participating in this art form, those roots were going nowhere and now they’ve inflated to the millions and billions of dollars pumping through movies.  I know I’ve reached a point as both a mature movie fan and also an experienced consumer (make no mistake, we are all both) where I’ve become more selective with what I’m going to spend my money on and also more appreciative when I encounter something that stands out as the art form underneath the profit potential.  If we, as a collective movie-going public, ever needed to rebel against the business end to demand better from the art standpoint, the only way to do that is hit the industry in the wallet where it counts.  Don’t give garbage your money and every dollar given to a deserving piece of cinematic art supports their cause and future careers.  Indulge in this entertainment with that mindfulness and you’ll be a better viewer.

LESSON #3: DISNEY/STAR WARS WHINERS, BE THANKFUL YOU DIDN’T GET THE FULL GEORGE LUCAS— Likely still rolling in a Scrooge McDuck-level money pit filled with the billions of dollars he made selling off his properties, a George Lucas book quote made news this week because it shared what his post-Return of the Jedi sequels would have been based on.  Take a gander at his premise based on “a microbiotic world” and silly-sounding “Whills.”  Flawed as Episodes VII and VIII may be, if that stuff from Lucas sounds better than the compelling chapters of closure for old favorite characters competing with elevation of new characters from J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, then I’m sorry.  You can’t be helped and your inflexibility ruins it for everyone (see last week’s WWLTW because now you sound like those a-holes that bully on social media).

LESSON #4: GET ONE THING RIGHT BEFORE STARTING ANOTHER— I don’t think anyone at Warner Bros. knows what they are doing or how to properly make up their mind, including new DC Films President Walter Hamada replacing comic-connected favorite Geoff Johns.  They now have two Joker-centered films coming down the assembly line, a Jared Leto standalone extending the current DCEU and a low-budget 1980s-set origin story take coming from The Hangover trilogy director Todd Phillips, producer Martin Scorsese, and starring Joaquin Phoenix.  Combine that with the reports that the upcoming Matt Reeves-directed The Batman will be a younger Batman likely eliminating Ben Affleck and you have to ask the WTF questions.  What’s going on here? Are we pushing forward post-Justice League or are we rebooting and trying again?  Both can’t exist credibly. Which one matters more?  Warner Bros. needs to pick a lane and stick with it.

LESSON #5: COMEDY IS THE MOST SUBJECTIVE FILM GENRE, PERIOD— An esteemed panel of film critics (including Scott Tobias, Bilge Ebiri, Brian Tallerico, and Amy Nicholson) collaborated for a list of the “50 Greatest Comedies of the 21st Century” for Rolling Stone magazine.  The results, topped by Christopher Guest’s Best in Show, could not be more all over the place between eclectic spirit and pretentious pandering.  The opening blurb of the article admits humor is a “seriously subjective topic.” Go right ahead and add the extreme hyperbole of “the most.”  This task was impossible without some criteria or metrics, which the list and article gleefully (and carelessly) neglect. The triggers for horror and even drama are so much more universal than the fickle tastes and randomness of comedy.  We may say laughs come easy sometimes but they don’t. Someone’s #1 film is going to be someone’s reviled trash of eye rolls or hate and everyone has an opinion.


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 elementary 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, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties on a podcast every now and then  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

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 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.