What We Learned This Week: September 30-October 6

LESSON #1: NOT WATCHING TRAILERS HAS BEEN WORTH IT— When I presented my no-more-trailers challenge to the Feelin’ Film group after the Super Bowl in February, I took it upon myself to lead that charge.  Even as a busy critic consuming an insane volume of films, I have my personal anticipation list too just like any fan.  Damien Chazelle’s First Man topped that list for 2018, and I avoided every piece of footage before seeing it early this past week.  I have to say seeing it fresh as possible made for an incredibly rich experience, a fulfilling sensation I’ve grown to enjoy with all films since quitting the trailer habit.  I’ll echo the challenge again to say pick one film and try it. You won’t be sorry.

LESSON #2: YOU CAN’T HAVE VENOM WITHOUT SPIDER-MAN— I’m going to sound like the Comic Guy on The Simpsons wearing his flag of toxic fandom, but if you’re going to make a Venom movie to introduce the Eddie Brock villain starring a beefy Tom Hardy that looks and moves like the monstrous Spider-Man opposition he should be, you have to start with Spider-Man as well, period. Thanks to blind studio and creative hubris, an incredible character is being pushed down audience throats too soon and with zero connection.  The new film fails is a disservice to a minor icon, a missed corrective opportunity, and a damn shame for the present and future of Sony’s Spider-Man franchise potential.

LESSON #3: BRADLEY COOPER CAN DO ANYTHING— The stories behind the many talents and performances of Bradley Cooper are going to fill books one day.  The four-time Oscar nominee and Master of Arts graduate from the Actors Studio Drama School has abstained from alcohol for 14 years and counting speaks fluent French.  Those are mere footnote nuggets compared to role preparation stories of workouts and training for The A-Team and American Sniper, dance lessons for Silver Linings Playbook, and character embodiment for The Elephant Man on stage.  His latest career chapter of A Star is Born might be his most impressive effort yet, directing for the first time and diving into 18 months of vocal training and guitar lessons.  The guy’s commitment and craft are becoming off the charts.  Someday soon with some successful arm-twisting and endearment, I have a feeling we’re going to call him the best active American actor working.

LESSON #4: FAKE REVIEWS DO NOT WORK TO DETER AUDIENCES— Two oddball stories about fake film reviews floated across the wire this week.  The first goes with A Star is Born where there are reports of Lady Gaga fans pushing fake negative reviews of Venom to chop down its box office competition.  The second is even stranger with the findings of an academic study suggesting that 50% of the online hate traffic for Star Wars: The Last Jedi originated from Russian trolls and non-human bots.  I know I probably shouldn’t, but I find both of these stories to be absolutely hilarious for two reasons.  First, the lengths people will go for their fandom is staggeringly silly.  Second, it’s funny that those participants actually think these schemes will work.  If anything, the opposing diehard fans against them will only work harder to clear their good names and prove the hate wrong.  In the end, all you get is a whole bunch of digital squawking and dumb hashtags.  


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.

What We Learned This Week: July 29-August 4

LESSON #1: THIS PRESENT CULTURE OF HEADLINE NEWS NEEDS TO SLOW DOWNFeelin’ Film Facebook Discussion Group member Joseph Hamrick penned an outstanding editorial recently on his website Article Asylum entitled “We Need to Talk about the ‘We Need to Talk About’ Headline Culture.”  Joseph discusses the wayward directions and lack of due diligence taken in entertainment news nowadays where too many so-called discussion pieces are reactive rather than reflective, defeating the purpose and wearing out that headline trope.  James Gunn and even Chris Hardwick are recent examples where patience could have gone a long way before vilification and over-inflation.  I know I see this all the time researching for this weekly column and Joseph nailed it.  Kudos and my compliments on a great piece!

LESSON #2: TROPES ARE SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN IN THEIR EFFECTIVENESS— The concepts that we all call tropes become tropes because they are successful to a nearly automatic level more than not.  I greatly enjoyed an article in The Guardian this week that reported on findings compiled by a behavioral economics and data science team at the University of Birmingham.  They combed through over 6,000 scripts to show which story arcs made the most money at the box office.  The winner was the “man in the hole” arc, which might as well be your classic underdog story.  Enriching stuff!  Give it a read.

LESSON #3: TRAILERS TOO HAVE BECOME AN EFFECTIVE SCIENCE— Speaking of effectiveness, trailers know exactly what they are doing to get audiences to desire the product they are advertising.  The top trailer-makers have studied and refined the craft of provoking emotions and evoking the senses right down to the algorithms and triggers.  As you know I’ve ranted in this soapbox space before, they have still become formulaic with their own troublesome tropes in my opinion and should be avoided, or at least tempered.  Still, the entire addictive draw and the creativity behind the craft is fascinating.  Enjoy this interview and examination video from Vice News:

LESSON #4: EVEN MONUMENTAL BLOCKBUSTERS BECOME “LITTLE ENGINES THAT COULD”— It has taken six months after its huge February debut and spring box office dominance, but Marvel’s Black Panther, thanks to one final tickle of $15,000 becomes only the third film to earn $700 million or more domestically.  It joins Avatar ($760 million) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($936 million).  To be the highest grossing MCU film was already achievement, but to hit that benchmark is both impressive and special.  Congratulations to Ryan Coogler and company!

LESSON #5: NEED A LAST MINUTE HOT SUMMER BEACH READ? CONSIDER A SCREENPLAY— Are you a movie fan that wants to dive in and relive some classic stories?  Then get to read between the lines with their scripts.  Sure, they might have zero pictures and whole bunch of extra framing words, but I bet they’re better than another trashy hit-or-miss novel off the rack.  Last year, Script Reader Pro collected 50 of the greatest film screenplays of all-time and released them for free available downloads.  In July, Shore Scripts added 45 more, also completely for free.  The combined selections are extraordinary.  Search by genre in either stack and revisit some cinematic gold in its purest creative form.


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.

What We Learned This Week: July 15-21

LESSON #1: EVERY AMERICAN TEENAGER AND THEIR PARENTS NEED TO SEE BO BURNHAM’S EIGHTH GRADE— Dropped jaws, bashfulness, winces, worries, and all, this dynamite film needs to be required viewing for the teens out there, especially girls, of these complicated and confusing present times. And the people that should be joining them in the next closest seats are their parents who need their eyes and hearts opened as well. Adults, you can engage and empathize easily with its challenges. It goes both ways to mend a “we don’t know them/they don’t get us” valley of separated understanding between parent and child.  A wise and willing audience for Eighth Grade knows and accepts two truths. First, that social challenges in real life could be, and often are, worse than a movie shows, and, second, those same apprehensions absolutely have the ability to get better for all involved with maturity and, again, efforts towards engagement and empathy. That’s where the conversations about this movie need to go.  There are life lessons for days out of this movie.  

LESSON #2: DENZEL WASHINGTON IS THE BEST TEACHER OF MANNERS – When Denzel Washington is involved, you know one powerhouse speech is coming every movie. Unlearned critics of the actor say he plays the same altruistic anti-hero in every film lately. If they say that, those amateur tone police officers only hear Washington’s volume and aren’t listening to his words or read his actions in between the speeches across the many different shades of characters he plays, from football coaches and disgraced cops to failed fathers and this vicious vigilante. In The Equalizer 2, Washington reels off a topical and poignantly corrective rant for the ages about manhood, gangs, and guns. If the aggressive theatrical combat didn’t already amp you up, soul-rattling and truth-telling moments like that one will rouse you in the best possible way.

LESSON #3: ALL EYES THIS WEEKEND ARE ON SAN DIEGO— Newswires buzz with headlines as long as the lines to get into Hall H on a Saturday at the annual Comic-Con in San Diego.  Disney/Marvel might be playing it low-key this year with its post-Infinity War radio silence and deep-down desire to do their own convention for their own earnings, but that doesn’t mean there will be a shortage of breaking news, new trailer drops, and the building of buzz.  As the resident “No Trailer Guy” of the site, this is a blessing and a curse of great news and tantalizing temptation. We should have a great deal more to talk about this time next week.

LESSON #4: THE COMPETITION HAS BLINKED AND VICTORY IS A MATTER OF TIMEWord came through Thursday that Comcast retracted its counteroffer to buy 21st Century Fox, leaving Disney’s bid competition-free for approval.  Comcast’s exit puts all those fanboy dreams (combined Marvel properties), tears (the death of a major brand and its history), and fears (streaming takeovers and squashes) one step closer to reality.  This has been quite the story to watch and it’s going to get bigger as things progress.

LESSON #5: REPRESENTATION IS GOING TO KEEP MATTERING— Last week, it was the Scarlett Johannson vs. the Transgender Community throwdown s–tstorm.  On a smaller and less noisy level, IndieWire had an interesting counterpoint piece written by Jenna Marotta recently about actors with disabilities being able to play their own parts instead of putting the likes of Joaquin Phoenix in a wheelchair for Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot or removing one of Dwayne Johnson’s legs with CGI for Skyscraper.  The slippery slope gets more slippery.  On one hand, the article presents its point solidly in that greater and truer representation through casting is absolutely beneficial.  In the other, artistic vision, freedom, and integrity for filmmakers to make the movies they want with the people they want, especially for the business and marketing ends, will be challenged.  Compromise must be sought because this push for representation isn’t going away.

LESSON #6: YOU KNOW, MY BIRTHDAY IS RIGHT AROUND THE DATE OF THE 75TH VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL— If anyone wanted to know a little something to get their favorite Feelin’ Film columnist (and like fourth favorite film critic) for his upcoming 39th birthday, I know just the thing.  That would be a plane ticket to Venice and pass to see the newly announced world premiere of Damien Chazelle’s First Man.  The director’s La La Land follow-up should fire up the Oscar season and, by going to the prestigious Venice International Film Festival, it will get the jump on the vaunted Toronto International Film Festival by a few months.  Smooth move, Damien, and a please, please, pretty please to those with deep pockets and a giving heart to hook your guy up.


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.

What We Learned This Week: April 29-May 5

LESSON #1: YOU NEED TO START FOLLOWING OUR GUY JACOB NEFF— This week, Feelin’ Film debuted its newest contributor Jacob Neff and his weekly “You Should Be Watching” column. Pulling from Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Filmstruck, Jacob presents a curated list of winners that I highly recommend.  The calendar portion of his column alone creates the perfect priority list.  Let his discerning taste, curious spirit, and stellar research help you get the most from your free entertainment time.  Follow him on Letterboxd as well!

LESSON #2: MARTIN SCORSESE IS WISE— Legendary director Martin Scorsese recently made some comments about the state of film criticism being marginalized by the aggregation and shallow examinations from sites like Rotten Tomatoes becoming the norm.  He called it the “devaluation of cinema,” and he’s not wrong.  This isn’t old-and-out-of-touch-man syndrome.  This is a true expert and historian for the medium.  I shared this story link in the FF Facebook discussion group and set off an excellent discussion any and all interested should check out.

LESSON #3: TRAILERS ARE FULL OF SUGAR-HONEY-ICED-TEA— Shocker!  A two-minute sizzle reel designed to market a film and sell tickets edited by different people than the original filmmakers turns out often to be a manufactured and even inaccurate portrait of the finished product.  You don’t say?!  The Ringer recently put out a dynamite PSA editorial on this topic of lying trailers. Welcome to another of many reasons why I, for one, do not much stock into trailers anymore.  I don’t feel sorry anymore for folks that build unrealistic expectations off of these marketing ploys.  The so-called think pieces called “trailer breakdowns” might just be even worse because they double or even triple the wasted energy to dissect something that is misdirection.  As always, I preach patience.  Let the movie stand for itself and come to you.  In the meantime, I hope the folks at Disney/Marvel take the advice of this Forbes article and don’t give us a shred or second of marketing between now and the untitled Avengers 4.

LESSON #4: JAMES CAMERON NOW CAN’T HELP HIMSELF— Last week, it was pining for superhero movie fatigue to help his own Avatar films down the road.  Now that the spotlight came over, more tape recorders and cameras are running in front of James Cameron.  This week, he’s dropping the hot take that 2001: A Space Odyssey lacks “emotional balls.”  Well, on some level (like Scorsese), he’s not wrong to a degree.  It’s all in a matter of how you say it and present it.  Louis Plamondon, a burgeoning film editor friend of mine, said it best:

“A tell-tale sign that artists have reached the end of their product life cycle in terms of pop culture relevance is whenever they desperately feel the need to drop attention-seeking controversies whose timing is meant to coincide with something they have to sell.” 

Cameron is clinging to relevance with a new AMC series to sell, biding time on Avatar sequels, and it shows.

LESSON #5: THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL HAS BECOME A HOTBED FOR MORE THAN JUST PRESTIGIOUS FILM AND FANCY FASHION— The hoitiest and toitiest of the cinema world descend on the French Riviera beginning on May 8 for the Festival de Cannes.  The slate of high-profile films being screened both in-competition and out-of-competition is impressive (including Solo: A Star Wars Story).  What’s making more headlines than the lineup is what is NOT being allowed to join the competition.  Festival leaders have stated they will not accept Netflix films at the fest, which feels hypocritical when other TV platforms like HBO (Fahrenheit 451) have films there.  In a roller coaster of posturing and power plays, Netflix ended up going from threatening to withhold to flat-out skipping the Cannes Film Festival for consideration.  It’s good to see snobbery is still in full swing.  At least Netflix is self-aware, stating that they want to get in less fights this week with festivals, Oscar voters, and theater companies.  Someone or something needs to broker a compromise.

LESSON #6: WE WILL SEE IF “FIRST TO THE MARKET IS ALWAYS IMPORTANT” REALLY MATTERS— Mixing with the world of television and eager to beat Disney to the punch, Warner Bros. and DC Comics publicly finalized their plans to launch their own exclusive streaming service, named DC Universe, later this year, winning the #f1rst troll award.  Offerings will include exclusive new TitansSwamp Thing, and Harley Quinn series.  DC, in my opinion, has been superior to Marvel in the animated department (both film and television), but I will be curious to see how much film content makes the channel, since that’s where the big bucks are.  This is either going to be a benefit of being first or the set-up to being one-upped by the next guy who can now scout and ahead see what they have to beat.

LESSON #7: THE ACADEMY IS CONTINUING ITS PERSONAL IMPROVEMENT TO TAKE THINGS SERIOUSLY— First it was #OscarsSoWhite and now it’s been the #MeToo movement.  The old standards and blind eyes over at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needed every bit of the criticism and urgency to modernize and change that it’s received the last few years.  The news this week that the Academy has expelled Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski from their membership is an encouraging sign that intolerance is becoming an expectation and new standard.  Coupled with saddness and disappointment at the errors of these men (and Polanski’s call for due process), this effort to re-vet the books is still overdue cleanup and I hope it lasts longer than spring and two men.


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 FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

What We Learned This Week: April 16-22

LESSON #1: THE “FAST AND FURIOUS” FRANCHISE HAS BEEN FOR REAL FOR A LONG TIME— I was amazed this week how many casual movie fans (and uppity critics) were surprised by the record-breaking international success of “The Fate of the Furious.”  I wonder what rock they’ve been under because “Furious 7” was a $1.5 billion worldwide smash two years ago and each film of the four films since 2009 has surpassed the gross of the previous one.  The franchise has cross-gender and cross-racial appeal on multiple levels.   This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

LESSON #2: OVER-ANALYZATION TAKES AWAY FROM ENJOYMENT— After a month of incredible trailer debuts for blockbuster after blockbuster, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” came in this past week and dropped its own microphone.  In my opinion, Episode 8 didn’t need to share a single second of footage to be hotly anticipated and successful.  The problem has been the endless mountain of clickbait websites and posts filled that have tried to analyze every second of the trailer since.  I get that pageviews and visits move the needle and anything “Star Wars” sells, but diving into every little theory and poorly educated guess is destined to take away the enjoyment of the future finished product.  Pump the brakes and just enjoy the hype.  Don’t buy into the rumor mill.

LESSON #3: THIS YEAR’S CANNES LINE-UP WILL BE SPECIAL— The hoity-toity-est of international film festivals celebrates 70 years this May with a killer lineup of potential future Oscar contenders.  New films premiere from Sofia Coppola, Noah Baumbach, Bong Joo-Hoo, Michael Haneke, Todd Haynes, Yorgos Lanthimos, Francois Ozon, Mathieu Almaric, Taylor Sheridan, Arnaud Desplechin, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.  That’s some pedigree.  Take a trip to Europe.  I’m bet the plane tickets to the French Riviera and hotel prices are more than affordable.  Hit up United.  I’m sure they’ll have room.

LESSON #4: FILMS CAN ADD AS MANY POST-CREDITS SCENES AS THEY WANT— 50/50 cheers and jeers of “that’s so awesome” and “good Lord, WTF” rained down from social media keyboards when Marvel Films and director James Gunn announced that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” would have no less than FIVE post-credits scenes.  These stingers have been a signature staple for Marvel Cinematic Universe films.  They are both entertaining and functional to solidify the continuity of their film franchises.  You know you were staying anyway.  What’s a few more?  Enjoy the film’s kicking soundtrack, power back on your phone, and have a little patience.  If you don’t like it, go to the lobby, pee, and leave.  No one is stopping you or forcing you to stay.

 

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.