What We Learned This Week: January 1-18

LESSON #1: THE OSCARS CAN SURVIVE WITH NO HOST— I couldn’t be more content with the fact that ABC and MPAAS cannot pin down a proper host for the 91st Academy Awards.  Maybe this will mean fewer dumb monologues and bits.  Maybe the whole dang thing will get done in under three hours.  I can’t wait to see how this goes as a test case for no host and tighter schedule of things. Besides, how many Alfonso Cuaron acceptance speeches are we really going to hear (present answer: 3).  Be ready for those Oscar nominations on Tuesday after the MLK holiday.

LESSON #2: JAMES WAN IS KILLING IT— Thanks the swimmingly sweet returns of Aquaman, director James Wan has become the second filmmaker after James Cameron to lead a pair of films to surpass $1 billion in global earnings.  Cameron, of course, had Avatar and Titanic (two films north of $2 billion, mind you) and Aquaman adds with Wan’s Furious 7.  There’s a good chance that young man (42 is a baby in this business) gets to sign his own blank checks moving forward.  Studios would be lucky to acquire his services.  He is currently without a new directorial effort on the horizon.  

LESSON #3: AMERICANS DON’T TRANSLATE FRENCH VERY WELL— More than the year-long-plus delay caused by the fallout of The Weinstein Company, The Upside had been doomed for a while.  Dumping it in January was but one more sign.  The domestic filmmakers took what was a huge international hit of big time empathy (The Intouchables) and scrambled it with American gags and personalities.  Sure enough, it butchers the original and has tanked audiences and critics.  The Ringer recently did solid article looking back at Hollywood’s shoddy track record with French comedies.  Improvement is needed where filmmakers need to do better or audience just need to find and enjoy the original things, subtitles and all.

LESSON #4: EDDIE MURPHY NEEDS A COMEBACK— At 57, Eddie Murphy is too good and still too young of a celebrated entertainer to be forgotten and relegated to the sidelines.  I have long said he needs to put away the family films and go back to his hard-R roots.  The announced long-distance sequel for Coming to America could be the springboard for a resurgence.  Hustle and Flow director Craig Brewer is an ideal fit to squeeze a little more pulp from the low-hanging fruit.  While we’re here, go ahead and get Arsenio Hall back to work next to him.  With the pair, it’s only half of a good idea.  

LESSON #5: TREAT YOURSELF TO A GOOD SOUNDTRACK— Finally, we’re in Oscar season, so I advise you to soak in the good stuff available this time of year and not the defrosted junk that are called “January wide releases.”  Both The Film Stage and First Showing featured articles listing the best scores and soundtracks from 2018 films.  Of the year’s releases, I highly recommend If Beale Street Could Talk, Hearts Beat Loud, Mandy, Eighth Grade, Aquaman, A Star is Born, and Creed II.  The Film Stage article even imbeds some full Spotify playlists for easy sampling.  Make a few clicks and put the earbuds in at work or on the move.  Enjoy the Mozart effect!


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: January “Soapbox Special”

The edition is an extended look at how one new industry move sets off some big questions for the business landscape.

LESSON #1: JOHN LASSETER IS A TEST FOR CAREERS MOVING BEYOND THE #METOO MOVEMENT— I came on this column space a little over a year ago with my first “Soapbox Special” to address the uneven career assassinations that have occurred both before and after our present #MeToo landscape.  I shared my stances where I separate the person (their personal life) from the persona (their careers) and never boycott anyone.  Likewise, my consistent emotional response to cases like Kevin Spacey or Bill Cosby is one of patience and sadness.  I refuse to jump the gun with outrage and boycott on mere “allegations” and “claims”  These folks are innocent until proven guilty in my eyes, which seems to fly against the court of public opinion that immediately sinks people on the first click bait headline before we even know if they deserve it.  A year later, with former Pixar czar John Lasseter being hired by Skydance to lead their animation division, we have reached the decision points of who and what “gets to,” more or less, move on from #MeToo.  Lasseter comes to Skydance after a self-imposed leave of absence from Pixar amid claims of sexual harassment he deemed as “missteps.”  His resurrection hiring has been met with a great deal of adamant outrage from some sectors. 

LESSON #2: IT’S TIME FOR CONSUMERS TO BE REFLECTIVE AND FAIR— From John Lasseter all the way to Kevin Spacey and anyone else in between, people need to table the court of public opinion and get a better look at the whole situations beyond the outrage and headlines.  Here are the reflection questions that I think folks need to consider at this point:

1) What’s the proper waiting period between allegations and actual guilt?  MY ANSWER: When it gets its day in court and no less that that. Go ahead and hate the convicted Bill Cosby.  The evidence came and the ruling has come down.  Cool your jets on all the unproven stuff elsewhere.  Save your crucifixion nails until the gavel hits the block.  Until then, call it quarantine or something and be the discerning consumer you want to be with that right.  Reserve judgment because it’s not even your place to judge.  

2) What amount of contrition or correction is necessary in order for people to continue their careers?  MY ANSWER: That’s up to each case and each consumer, but the amount can’t be zero.  I’m a proponent of giving people chances to correct their wrongs.  Some stars have handled that better than others (Louis CK, Kevin Spacey).  This is just me, but I will gladly acknowledge and appreciate those who legitimately try to seek forgiveness and personal improvement.  I wish more viewers and fans could do the same.  

3) What are these people allowed to do with their rest of their careers?  MY ANSWER: Anything they want or anything a boss wants to hire to run their business.  This might have to circle back to old adage of the punishment fitting the crime.  If the person(s) in question come out of Question #1 with unfounded innocence and have completed the mea culpas of Question #2, they should be able to return to their field of profession.  Similarly, if the person(s) doesn’t get through Question #1 clearly yet have served their time or sentence of meted and legal punishment (think Michael Vick from the NFL), then they should be able to return to their field of profession.  That’s not to say all people are going to support either of those wishes.  Once again, folks can be whatever discerning consumer they want, but those returning people should be allowed the chances to try and correct their mistakes.  

I know if it were any one of us instead of them, we would want those same minimums and grace.  That’s how you find any possible empathy in these situations.  Try some of this reflection before pissing and moaning all over social media.  You’ll be a calmer and better person for it.


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: New Year’s Resolutions for the Film Industry for 2019

Image by Muharrem Aner for Getty via The Daily Beast

Plenty of regular everyday people make New Year’s Resolutions, but I think bigger entities, namely movie makers and movie moguls, need to make them too.  Annually, including this eighth edition, have fun taking the movie industry to task for things they need to change, even if I get to do it every week in a different ranting way on “What We Learned This Week.” My cadence hasn’t changed.  I have no false internet courage to be a Twitter troll. As always, some resolutions come true while others get mentioned and reiterated every year. A great deal of last year’s list is still relevant.  Enjoy this year’s hopes and dreams.

#1: Don’t stop supporting minority voices.

2018 has been a banner year for indie film featuring themes, stars, and filmmakers of gender and racial diversity.  This list is impressive: Searching, If Beale Street Could Talk, Blindspotting, The Hate U Give, Sorry to Bother You, Roma, The Rider, Revenge, Crazy Rich Asians, Madeline’s Madeline, BlacKkKlansman, Burning, Roxanne Roxanne, Nappily Ever After, We the Animals, Private Life, Widows, You Were Never Really Here, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Border, Support the Girls, Minding the Gap, Shoplifters, Destroyer, RBG, Hearts Beat Loud, Boy Erased, The Favourite, Bohemian Rhapsody, Collette, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Love Simon, Disobedience, Blockers, and many many more.  Upvote your favorite films directed by women in 2018 on this Ranker.  Hollywood, keep these doors opening.  Don’t just do this for tokenism. The audiences will come.

#2: Disney, take your time with Fox properties you bought from Marvel.

A recent Kevin Feige interview became click bait when he said that Fox’s Marvel properties, mostly the Fantastic Four and X-Men universes, could be in their control within six months.  Everyone (well, expect me) got out their abacuses and calendars to calculate how fast those new incarnations would arrive. My advice and resolution preached patience. Don’t just make these films because you can.  Take your time and get them right. Fantastic Four has had two failed attempts. X-Men has had its soft reboot too and is already slipping. I have no doubt those characters are in the right place, but Marvel needs to hold off.

#3: Speaking of Disney, slow down with your own releases.

Have you seen the Disney release calendar for 2019?  It’s insane. Their dominance, as if we already didn’t know, is unquestioned and it shows.  I think it’s too much. When big releases are on top of each other like this, they feel more run-of-the-mill instead of special.  I remember a time when there was only animated Disney film a year. It was huge, important, and it mattered. It’s hard to multiply care when there are a half-dozen or more between Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and their own house brand choices.  Space them out. Build them up. Make them matter because they don’t come around all that often.

#4: Don’t show us another second of Avengers: Endgame

Those of you who follow my weekly column and the “soapbox specials” know that I’ve sworn off of trailers and have been encouraging people like a cinematic cult leader to do the same. I’ve simply seen too many and oversell their products and create unreasonable expectations which create the butthurt fans we have come to hate. Avengers: Endgame would be the perfect trailblazer. That movie doesn’t need a second of marketing to get our money. How awesome would it be if they stopped cold right now after the first trailer? Our frenzy of anticipation off of the small sample would create more buzz than any new footage. At the same time, the studio could pad their bottom with the reduced need to throw money into marketing, as well as merchandise too. Don’t even release an action figure until after the screaming and parent-tugging kids see the movie in April. Don’t hope for a frenzy. Create one.

#5: Vet your hosts and spokespeople

In the Twitter meltdown wake of James Gunn, Louis CK, Kevin Hart and more this past year, studio heads and showrunners need to do a better job background checking their hires. It shouldn’t matter as much as it turns out, but we’re seeing it does. Big outfits and corporations have too many PR employees and interns at their disposal to miss the large problems they have this year. When those flags come up, talk it out and have a plan before making final decisions and public comments.

#6: If you’re a celebrity, it’s time to get off Twitter

I think we’ve reached a point where we have to ask what the gain is from Twitter. Sure, it’s fun to see trends and maybe catch breaking news, but that’s for us anonymous people of the general public. If you’re a big star, do you really need the scrutiny just for a small PR and promotional bump that comes from social media accessibility? I don’t see the value if you’re an established celebrity or brand.

#7: Repackage the Oscars a better way

Speaking if Kevin Hart, the embarrassing panhandling for a new host and poor attempts to shoehorn new and silly categories creates the need for this resolution.  I say don’t do even have a host at this point. Reduce the bits and focus on the awards. Here’s some perfect and generous math even with a host. Give the 24 categories 5 minutes each (3 to introduce it gracefully with deeper montages than mere quick mentions and 2 full minutes for each winner’s speeches) and that’s 120 minutes. Tack on 5 minutes to open with a welcoming monologue, 5 minutes to close with a thankful prologue, 3 minutes for the annual dead people roll call, and 30 minutes for required commercials to pay the bills.  Easy peasy! You’re well under three hours, the awards are given rich room to operate, and nothing is forgotten except another hare-brained skit. As far as categories go, Best Casting and Best Stunt Work deserve inclusion. If you want to trade those for some technical awards being moved to the separate Science awards night, so be it, but don’t even try to devalue the whole show with a dumb and patronizing Popular Film award. Leave those awards for MTV.

#8: Respect Netflix

Speaking of the Oscars, much is being talked about on a perceived bias and beef the Academy has with Netflix films. They need to put it aside with tolerance for a new and viable distribution outlet that isn’t going away, especially if they keep landing high pedigree films like Roma and The Irishman. Movie moguls need to arrive at the learning curve television and their Emmy Awards have already put behind them where cable and streaming shows have equal footing and respect as network shows. Welcome the new guy better than you are.

#9: Netflix, please choose quality over quantity

Speaking of Netflix, you might need the same resolution as the one Disney got earlier. We get it. You have money and are spending it. You can freely drop films and splash any and every pot with them. The trouble is you have more bombs than winners. For every Roma and Bird Box, you have a dozen that never get attention because there are too many choices. I know, right? Who would have ever thought too many choices was a bad thing. Netflix, I see your strengths. You are revitalizing the midrange budget film market studios haven’t been making since the 1990s. You give indie films wider and better chances for visibility than they would at the shrinking number of arthouse screens. You have long championed documentaries. Do all that with a discerning eye and refined taste.

#10: Keep repackaging Adam Sandler

Speaking of quality over quantity, if you don’t count his voice work in Hotel Transylvania 3, 2018 was the first year in a long time without a theatrical release from Adam Sandler.  That alone made 2018 a glorious year answering one of this column’s longest repeating annual resolutions to stop that man’s redundantly bad career.  I say that while still being happy Adam Sandler’s recent unbound and R-rated Netflix comedy special has done so well. Give us that grown-up Adam Sandler.  Bury the man child. Since Netflix is writing him checks, it’s up to them to remake Adam Sandler. Someday, we’ll be glad he’s back in the spotlight as a new man.  The fear will always be him slipping back to the boorish slacker type that made him rich.

#11: Price point will always be the greatest trigger and hurdle simultaneously

This goes for all of the current streaming services out there and all of the ones still coming, especially Disney+.  Each streaming service’s standalone price makes it highly affordable compared to the price of theater tickets for the whole family year-round or a bloated cable TV subscription.  The devices like AppleTV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire, and more are all wonderfully affordable too. The hard part is if/when you feel like you need to have 4-5 streaming services in addition to the steadily increasing costs of high speed internet to make it all work.  Then that number balloons. At some point, the overabundance of services and higher prices will break a common person’s budget. The services have to make sure they don’t reach that point.


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: December 7-29

My apologies for the December sabbatical.  Work, holidays, and the awards season are spare time killers…

LESSON #1: WE’VE LOST KEVIN SPACEY— Wow. Just wow. How weird was that “Let Me Be Frank” video this past week? How miscalculated was it, especially on top of the newest charges against him? Contrition instead of glamor would have went a long way. I don’t see how he comes back from this any time soon. Man, I’m going to miss Kevin Spacey.  He was one if the best. Now if we could just lose Johnny Depp next, that would be super. He’s already off the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  I’d call that a start.

LESSON #2: STOP MANUFACTURING CONFLICT WHERE IT DOESN’T EXIST— Dramatic license is necessary to make a marketable and entertaining film, but it should be used carefully and even as a last resort. Every time that card is cashed, it chips away at the story’s core and truths. Do that too much and it’s either manipulation or disservice. What was nearly done in On the Basis of Sex is a disconcerting example of forcing strife just to have strife. It’s unnecessary and could have turned things negative.  I’ll never understand how “good for goodness sake” can’t sell on its own.

LESSON #3: EVEN BIG STARS DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE IMDB— To read this recent story of actor Seth Rogen’s (and his famous peers) monumental “discovery” that that gangster film, Angels with Filthy Souls, in Home Alone was a fake movie and not a real one makes me miss Jay Leno’s “Jay-Walking” segments on his old late night talk shows where this kind of lack of reasonable intelligence lives and breathes.  It’s title is likely a homage to the Michael Curtiz’s James Cagney vehicle Angels with Dirty Faces.  Sure, I get how small and inconsequential of a detail it is, but it’s a straight facepalm for me when tools of knowledge are readily available.  It doesn’t take a genius to go on IMDb and see Ralph Foody and Michael Guido’s name in the cast playing Johnny and Snakes.  Home Alone came out in 1990, the same year IMDb began though the noted database didn’t hit the web until 1993.  That’s only really three years of head-scratching, but I guess it’s 28 years of haze and missed problem-solving synapses for Rogen and company.  Alas, this counts as hot topic clickbait in 2018. Any time a celebrity farts with sprinkles, it gets a column and 400 words.

LESSON #4: ROMA IS GOING TO KEEP WINNING— Shine up the “Critical Darling” plaque and start printing the t-shirts.  Alfonso Cuaron’s 1970s domestic drama from his home country of Mexico is winning all of the shiny things that say Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography on them.  My website’s Awards Tracker shows it running away and hiding in this categories during this main stretch of regional critics groups handing out their annual awards. Sometimes, especially for a foreign film, it is hard to project all of this critical love into audience success and Oscar glory.  It’s not too often the regular, ordinary domestic viewing audience will drop an audible “Huh?” at Best Picture winners. This may be one of those years. The test will be the Golden Globes. Let’s see if Netflix can do its job and give Roma a wider audience, which is its own testy saga to read about.

LESSON #5: YOU KNOW YOUR FILM IS CRAP WHEN EVEN NETFLIX SAYS NO— The newest Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly teamup Holmes & Watson had bomb written all over it from the start.  First, the marketing didn’t help the effort, looking like one of those struggling comedies where all of the good jokes are in the trailer and not in the two-hour movie.  Once Sony decided not to screen the film for critics, that should have been the real warning. In a damning second warning, Netflix, which prides itself as the service that will take anything and spend frivolously, actually turned down buying Holmes & Watson from Sony.  Gosh, that’s when you know it’s bad.  That’s like a baseball team trying to trade a pair of pitchers for a bag of balls and getting turned down for even balls.  Good Lord, that’s a bad movie.

LESSON #6: LOOK AHEAD TO SUNDANCE TO THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL— Robert Redford’s baby turns Park City, Utah into Mecca. We may be looking at the 2019 Oscars, but, without fail, at least one or more future contenders for 2020 will debut there. Here’s the full lineup. From the competition films, keep an eye on Native Son and The Farewell.  Of the bigger-named gala premieres watch for Jake Gyllenhaal’s Velvet Buzzsaw (a new collaboration with his Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy)Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams in After the Wedding from Moore’s husband Bart Freundlichand The Report with Adam Driver and Jon Hamm from Soderbergh writing partner-turned-director Scott Z. Burns.  You’ll sound cool if you can say you’ve heard of these films next year.


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: 2019 Golden Globes Nominations Special

2019 GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS REACTION SPECIAL

LESSON #1: DON’T TAKE THESE AWARDS AND NOMINATIONS TOO SERIOUSLY— This has to be said every year.  The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is a very divergent organization of random different tastes.  The headscratchers you will read about from the full list of nominees is one-part limited scope and two parts popularity contest.  They have money and throw a heck of a party.  That’s it.  Honestly, this awards group and show has no business being the second most-touted and most-promoted awards show of the annual season.  It’s not a good bellwether anymore for prognostication either.  The Screen Actors Guild or Independent Spirit Awards deserve this level of primetime TV stage and attention.  

LESSON #2: A STAR IS BORN WANTS TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY— Much annual buzz is made about the Golden Globes’ loose split of drama and comedy/musical categories that doubles the names of a Best Picture field.  That division does tend to elevate things that probably shouldn’t be there in the first place just because it checks a comedy or musical box.  One clear frontrunner is A Star is Born and it is slotted right where it belongs as a drama.  The easy and lazy thing to do would have been for it to compete (and rake) in the comedy/musical half, but Warner Bros. wanted its prize possession in the drama field.  It’s nominations in the top categories for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress show its strength and respect.

LESSON #3: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY CAN’T BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY— This is the absolute counterexample from Lesson #2.  Bohemian Rhapsody, a higher audience hit than critical favorite, is going to get crushed in the drama side of the categories.  It is completely outclassed by the other four nominees.  That is the exact kind of movie that should have taken the easier road in the comedy/musical category.  Rami Malek deserves the Best Actor nod he received, not matter which place he got it.  Admittedly, the competition for Malek against Bradley Cooper and Willem Dafoe in drama is probably a tad easier than Christian Bale, Robert Redford, and Viggo Mortensen in comedy, but he’s going to need quite the sentiment to win that popularity contest.

LESSON #4: AMERICAN INDEPENDENT FILMS DON’T PLAY WELL OVERSEAS— In order to be an American indie film that gets Golden Globe nominations, the film needs to play more of the festival circuits overseas.  Cannes Grand Prix winner BlacKkKlansman and Toronto darling If Beale Street Could Talk each Best Picture- Drama nominations and had connected acting nominations (John David Washington, Adam Driver, Regina King).  First Reformed with Best Actor frontrunner Ethan Hawke was shut out entirely.  Even though I look at Lesson #1 and say it’s OK, a film like that still needed a little bit of this TV stage to garner a few more voters for the future Oscar stage.

LESSON #5: VICE AND ROMA ARE POSITIONING THEMSELVES AS SLEEPING GIANTS— A Star is Born has reigned as a big public hit since October, but Adam McKay’s Vice is going to hit us like a ton of bricks come later this month.  Most people haven’t seen it yet, but it’s coming. Annapurna is slow-playing its ace-in-the-hole and the political dramedy leads all film nominees with six total Golden Globe nominations.  Watch out.  It will be interesting to see how this humor plays in red state USA.  On the softer end, Netflix’s Roma crossed over from Best Foreign Language Film to score strong mainstream nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay.  The film is legitimately a dual-category threat for the future Oscars.  Let’s see how well general audiences embrace its heavy drama once it debuts on its streaming service.

LESSON #6: BEFORE OR AFTER THE OSCARS, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT TOKENISM— I’m as happy as the next movie fan to see Black Panther getting its due respect as a Best Picture- Drama nominee at the Golden Globes.  It represents genre film and diversity on many levels.  We should celebrate that it has transcended stigmas to earn that seat at the table.  Unfortunately, the cliche is coming that the “nomination is its reward.”  It’s there, but it’s not going to win.  Casual fans need to come to terms with that in a few ways.  One, the film has its flaws that objectively keep it from being the outright Best Picture of the year.  Some folks can’t see that.  Second, until a genre film not named The Lord of the Rings can break the glass ceiling to win, these inclusions are going to pile up and feel like thrown bones to fans just for ratings.  They are going to feel like tokenism to appease people and, unfortunately, specific demographics.  Someday, the right film is going to surge, fantasy elements be damned, to a level of quality and critical praise that can’t be denied.  Black Panther isn’t that film, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.  That said, until a true victory comes, these can feel like steps on an unnecessarily endless ladder.


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: November 18-December 1

LESSON #1: ROMA IS A DUAL-LEVEL CATEGORY OSCAR CONTENDER— Every so often during the annual awards seasons a foreign language film surges ahead with praise to become a legitimate Best Picture Academy Award contender and not just a shoe-in for its own Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.  Think of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Michael Haneke’s Amour, and Michel Hazanavicius’ 2011 Best Picture winner The Artist.  Those films are rare and special.  You’re going to see another one this year and that film is Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma.  Stunning, dramatic, and heartbreaking, Cuaron’s love letter to his upbringing just won the Best Picture award from the New York Film Critics Circle as well as director and cinematography, all for Cuaron.  With confidence, expect it to be one of the final five to eight films competing on February 24th next year.

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF OSCARS, PADDINGTON 2 DESERVES TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY— You’ve been hearing Aaron White and I shout the praises of this charming sequel all year.  Both Aaron and me have grand slam 5-star reviews.  If a dramatic foreign film like Roma with few flaws and endless superlatives can be taken seriously as one of the best of the year, so can a spotless family film that has even more built-up appreciation.  Two separate articles this week, one from David Ehrlich in IndieWire and one from Gregg Killday in The Hollywood Reporter, called for due respect in the form of Oscar nominations for Paddington 2.  Killday celebrated the novelty of a Best Picture than can be flat-out enjoyable.  You have to go back to The Artist, The King’s Speech, or Slumdog Millionaire to find partially light-hearted Best Picture winners.  Even they still had their notes of heavy drama.  Ehrlich laid out seven categories where Paddington 2 should have Oscar consideration.  He’s not wrong on a single one of them.  Let’s hope voters have a heart this year.  

LESSON #3: A LITTLE LADY NAMED “OLIVIA” MIGHT DESERVE AN OSCAR TOO— The Academy was busy the year trying to bomb developing a “popular film” category (one more time, with feeling, just let Paddington 2 win straight up, end of discussion and need) when they could be making special awards elsewhere.  As stated in our Facebook discussion group, casting and stunts come to mind.  I think a little lady named “Olivia” makes quite a compelling case and she has four legs.  IndieWire blew my mind this week to educate me that the same dog, a female 15-pound West Highland White Terrier, starred prominently in three films: Game NightWidows, and Insatiable.  Her name is Olivia and she was excellent in the arms of Viola Davis hatching or scheme or getting drenched on blood from the hands of Jason Bateman.  Hand that pooch an honorary Oscar!

LESSON #4: LET THE LADIES CLOSE OUT YOUR “NOIR-VEMBER”— Speaking of Widows, while Steve McQueen’s film makes its theatrical run as a polished modern noir potboiler, turn back the hands of time to a few hidden gems to close our your November noir push.  Chicago-based film critic Angelica Jade Bastien of The Vulture published a dynamite little list of ten female-led noir films for fans of McQueen’s film.  Make it a weekend project to celebrate the end of November.  Let the JustWatch search engine tell you where the titles are available for streaming or rental.  


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: 2018 Thanksgiving Soapbox Special

(Image: Tekla Design)

For quite some time, I’ve noticed something off to me scanning through hot takes, sifting through click bait, and participating in many film discussion threads across social media, including right here in the Feelin’ Film circle.  It’s a lack of clear contrast between a pair of opposite hot button terms which manifest themselves as figurative hills people seem to go to die on. No, it’s not “masterpiece” this time.

I’m talking about “subjective” and “objective” when it comes to film criticism or evaluation.  Too often lately, I hear or read people, both professional and amateur in background mind you, put the -ly ending on either of those two terms to create what they think is an adverb of defense to strengthen some silly descriptive point of “good” or “bad” they are trying to make about a movie.  When I see it happen, I first think about that great Inigo Montoya quote-turned-meme from The Princess Bride of “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”  I second think about, because I can’t help myself as a schoolteacher that grades things, circling where the communicated flaws of logic or sense are with my invisible internet red pen.

The duel between objective and subjective is a gray area of thinking that doesn’t have a black-and-white answer of right or wrong.  It is more of a sliding scale between prudent and careless presentation of facts and opinions. I think this young podcaster and YouTuber named Houston Coley of Blockbusted really talked the surface of this debate out well.  Take a look:

I think the kid is spot on about a few things.  I agree with him that factual elements, particularly technical qualities, can be cited in film criticism, quality can be factual in nature, and, most of all, that a critic should define their terms.  Let’s do that. I love pulling from the dictionary to highlight a term in my film reviews, so let’s go there first as if I’m Inigo Montoya’s next step of offering correction.

SUBJECTIVE Dependent on or taking place in a person’s mind rather than the external world, based on a given person’s experience, understanding, and feelings; personal or individual (source)

OBJECTIVE— Existing independent of or external to the mind; actual or real, based on observable phenomena; empirical, uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices (source)

I lay all of that out for this soapbox because, maybe more definitively than Houston’s talk, I am one critic that wholeheartedly thinks there is room for both terms in film criticism.  With discretion, one can judge separately with one’s head as well as with one’s heart. It is a discipline I seek and I wish more people attempted to better clarify their thoughts.

Those of you frequent Feelin’ Film Discussion Group participants know I’m the “favorite” versus “best” guy.  That’s subjective (favorite) versus objective (best) at its simplest and I strive to delineate that often wherever I represent my work.  For example, I adore Anaconda knowing full well it’s a ridiculously cheesy movie.  At the same time, I can respect the hell out of Schindler’s List without ever wanting to watch it again as if it’s some cherished holiday tale.  One is a favorite. One is among the respected best of the art form. Rare movies for me are ever both and when that happens it’s beautiful, welcome, and earned.

Once I ever share this mentality or stir this debate in a discussion, I get the same pushbacks.  Even the mere introduction of the idea of “objective” criticism and its possibilities bring out the stalwart “all art (everything) is subjective” ranters.  They are often the kind of people that don’t listen to, care, or respect any opinion but their own. They lack an open mind of compromise or a listening ear or empathy.  Their frustration point, where they show the inability to explain their stance or the existence of opposing stances, normally rears its ugly head when a combative line like “don’t tell me what I can and cannot like” comes out.  If you hear or read that, they’re done trying, if they ever really attempted in the first place.

If you live and die on that subjective hill, so be it.  “To each their own,” as us pragmatic people say against your pushy dos and don’ts.  If you have made it this far in the editorial and are open and willing to listen, all I’m saying is step back and try some objectivity on for size, or at least the candor of it with your communication in discussions and debates.  Be balanced. Be even-handed. Be fair. Separate personal from impersonal. Step back for a second to see the other sides of things. Find common understanding and that goes back to defining terms.

What does the objective end look like when talking about a film?  Well, the easiest way to say it is: Look for the purpose. Circle back to the cited definition of “objective.”  One of its biggest distinctions is the clause about “based on observable phenomena.” Do some homework to learn the qualities of a great film.  If you’re a beginner there, start with this easy piece from Penny Flores of MS Films that highlights five basic elements.  Another nice and approachable take comes from the Now You See It channel on YouTube:

Here’s a quick sidebar of “buyer beware.” Even that term “great” is a loaded landmine in its own right, a word that is thrown around too flippantly and too easily in weak hyperbole.  Everything or too many things just have to be “great” for some reason. Have more nuance. Show more descriptive degrees. Get a thesaurus and use a more interesting and less ambiguous word.  I digress yet still plead for better while we’re here.

My teacher brain translates “based on observable phenomena” as having specific criteria in mind.  To me, that’s the quantifiable separator between “subjective” and “objective.” That’s also the thing most people who carelessly snipe the “objectively great” or “objectively bad” labels can’t present to backup their supposed take.  Those that can back up their words are the ones that walk the walk after talking the talk. I don’t see much of that and it’s a shame folks aren’t willing to put the minor amount of work in.

Criteria sounds like a grading scale to me, and a good teacher never uses the same grading scale for all assignments.  They specialize those rubrics for each assignment. I know I would grade a task in P.E. different than an essay in Language Arts.  We film lovers and armchair critics can bring those tailored approaches to different genres and disciplines in the very same way. Start with the technical side.  Use some of those elements Flores article or the qualifiers from the Now You See It video as the list of what to grade. Lay that out and cite those measures when you critique a film.  That becomes your intelligent and discerning spine which allows for purpose to be examined and craft to be respected.

After that, balance that with the subjective.  Shout from your stump all the feels, emotions, likes, and dislikes you encountered.  Those are the personal tingles and will always be the lasting good stuff. No one can take those away from you and they have their sprawling place.  But I’ll say it again. There’s room for both. Applying a little objectivity doesn’t take away from subjectivity, not in the least. If anything, their intelligent and mindful combination make for a more well-rounded overall opinion complete with a greater appreciation of multiple perspectives and, in the end, the film itself.  Try it sometime. Welcome a little head into your heart.

(Image: aecsoftware.com)

 


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: November 11-17

LESSON #1: BE RESPECTFUL OF THOSE WHO HAVE PASSED— Actor Armie Hammer stepped onto a Twitter turd of poor context and optical backlash when he somewhat sounded off on the tone of people’s tributes tributes to the last Marvel legend Stan Lee.  I get what he was trying to say in terms of making sure any tribute is about the departed and not the poster (similar to comedian Anthony Jeselnik’s legendary rant against “thoughts and prayers”).  That counts as fair and good advice, but there’s a gentler way and time to say that then Hammer did, and he caught a good bit of peer flack for it, lead by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Armie has since deleted the tweets and apologized, but the lesson here remains.  Be respectful even when you’re asking for people to be respectful in return, especially during periods of mourning, reflection, and celebration.  Things have calmed down, but it could have been worse.  Someone could have brought up these unsettled stories.  It’s just a reminder that no one is perfect.  We take the bad with the good.  We do that with Stan Lee and we can do that with Armie Hammer.  Enjoy the genuine article before two actors, one younger and one older, will probably duel over the eventual Stan Lee biopic:

LESSON #2: WHEN IT COMES TO ACTING, POINTS SHOULD BE AWARDED FOR ACCURACY— Bohemian Rhapsody is looking to be this year’s The Greatest Showman, a movie with public popularity and a perception of prestige despite fair to middling critical response.  After the Bryan Singer firing fallout, the studio will gladly take the money, but even they know an Oscar campaign would have boosted that Bohemian Rhapsody bottom line even more.  Outside of costume design or hair/makeup, it’s best chance to make noise is Rami Malek’s outstanding lead performance.  It’s too early know how if they young man has the favor and clout to win, but I he should earn a ton of praise for the exactness of his emulation.  Accuracy impresses me, so you’ve got to see this side-by-side video of Rami matching Freddie Mercury’s moves from the climactic Live Aid concert performance.  I’m sure we’re going to be equally wowed by Christian Bale’s chameleon match of mannerisms in Vice next month, but give Rami some love until then.

LESSON #3: BEAUTIFUL BOY IS NOT ONLY ONE OF THE BEST FILMS EVER ABOUT ADDICTION, IT ALSO IMPRESSES FOR FATHERHOOD— I saw Beautiful Boy last month as the opening night film of the the Chicago International Film Festival and it blew me away.  It was one of the easiest 5-star reviews I’ve ever given, standing out as an outlier on Rotten Tomatoes where my rating is above the consensus.  Finally releasing wide, Beautiful Boy deserves a bigger audience and I will toot its horn all awards season.  If you need a corroborating source after me, this editorial piece from Thrive Global nails the second-level impact spoken by this lesson.  Steve Carell’s remarkable performance and the daddy feels might be better than all the exposure given to the ills of addiction.  I know it’s a rough watch, but seek out this film.

LESSON #4: CRITERION-LEVEL FILMS ARE GOING TO STAY IMMORTAL— I know there was a great deal of artistic trepidation by the shuttering of the FilmStruck service this month happening at the same time as constant decline of physical media.  I referenced that in this very column recently, but let me add this strengthening lesson to it.  Great films will never go extinct and, in a way, we have digital to thank for that after an era of decayed negatives.  There will always be an audience and forum for them because quality is remembered and celebrated.  It might not be FilmStruck, but Criterion will get its own cable channel soon as a potential/temporary replacement conduit to experiencing and discovering classic film.  The company is still churning out new discs.  Combine their brand with the catalog and Kanopy services possible through your local library and you have more classic film at your fingertips than you ever realized.  Put your money into the Criterion channel if you want, but you can do more good supporting public services like the library.  Make sure your tax dollars keep working in the right places.

 


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: November 4-10

LESSON #1: SOME FILMS DO NOT REQUIRE A REBOOT— Last week, the lesson was “Some films don’t require a sequel.”  This time, we have to clap that lesson back and trade the word “sequel” for “reboot.”  News spun across Variety this week that DreamWorks is planning to restart its Shrek and Puss in Boots franchises.  First, you need a true generational gap and eight years since its last chapter, Shrek Forever After, isn’t long enough, even for the rapid aging of its core audience demographic.  More importantly, I have to ask what I consider to be a necessary qualifying question when it comes to remakes and reboots.  Have the originals aged to the degree where they are obsolete?  Sure, Shrek was corny and dated as soon as the SmashMouth song comes on, but have the narrative fairy tale angles changed or the artistic technology that made the movie?  I say they haven’t and a new one will just retread over familiar ground and not be unique or worthwhile artistically.  I say let some films stay what they are as benchmarks and time capsules for their eras.  The ’00s have their Shrek the way the ’10s have their Despicable Me/Minions.  Let them stay there.  I’m at looking at you too, The Grinch.

LESSON #2: SAY HELLO TO DISNEY+ AND GET YOUR CREDIT CARD READY— After months of little here-and-there clues and rumored plans, Disney finally and formally announced the details for its vaunted new streaming service, Disney+, coming late next year.  Housing its entire artistic arsenal from Pixar to National Geographic with all of the heroic adventure in between, the lineup depth, including original films, is undeniably impressive.  The thing I’ve been waiting to hear this entire time is price point.  While that number isn’t defined exactly yet, the linked article references a $8-14 monthly price tag.  The closer that is to $8, the more successful it’s going to be.  Disney+ will be the test to see if a la carte single-studio entity services can work because the selling point of its Netflix and Hulu competitors is the ease of variety under one service roof.  If Disney+ succeeds, it will be like dedicated cable networks for single teams or schools like the New York Yankees.  Watch everything splinter because each studio will want to create and keep their own money.

LESSON #3: PARENTS NEED TO RESPECT AND FOLLOW FILM RATINGS— For fifty years now, the MPAA has championed the film rating system to warn, screen, and catalog film content for consumers.  They are proper and they have evolved to do their job better.  Whenever there is a breakdown of outrage over a film’s rating, like this recent story of content from A Star is Born triggering troubling reactions in New Zealand, it’s not the rating’s fault.  R is R for a reason and it was labeled correctly so.  The perceived outrage is the consumer’s fault.  They either didn’t listen to the rating or didn’t commit to the due diligence to properly screen or research a film before subjecting it to younger viewers. The loopholes of the MPAA are few and far between, whereas careless parenting is rampant.  This critic and school teacher implores all parents to see any questionable film for themselves before sharing it with their impressionable children.  That’s the bare minimum.  If you don’t do it, let some solid website like Common Sense and ScreenIt do it for you.

LESSON #4: TREAT YOURSELF TO “NOIR-VEMBER”— If you want to expand your film palette to one of the most interesting and entertaining film genres under the sun, scroll your way into some film noir.  Often imitated and rarely duplicated since its hey-day, experiencing film noir is essential understanding the full scope of the cinematic art form.  That and its comprised of simple damn good movies that can still put modern thrillers to shame.  Start with this list of ten essential noirs from the journal spot Oh Not They Didn’t.  They’re all gold bathed in stark black-and-white.


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: October 28-November 3

LESSON #1: NOVEMBER IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE MONTH OF THE MOVIEGOING YEAR— Three consumer stars align during this month that trigger the Futurama “take my money” GIF.  The first is the quality slate of films trying to peak for awards season and the holidays.  October started things early and more excellent films are on the way.  The second is Black Friday, where this lover of physical media adores the DVD/Blu-ray deals that stream across Best Buy, Amazon, Target, and more.  Yes, Best Buy, I will dive into your $2 bin covered in double-sided tape and buy everything that sticks to me.  Scope out the ads in advance as they leak.  Finally, for the refined cinephiles in the room, November is the month for the half-priced Criterion sale at Barnes & Noble.  Folks, it’s time to rack up that credit card debt before the actual holidays.

LESSON #2: SOME FILMS DO NOT REQUIRE A SEQUEL— Way back in 2012, I wrote an editorial on Every Movie Has a Lesson about the “most desired and long-awaited” sequels, a few of which have actually become reality in the six years since.  One movie that wasn’t on the list was Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.  It would have made the sub-list of “unnecessary” sequels, right there with The Shawshank Redemption and other movies that ended on perfect notes.  Lo and behold, Ridley Scott and his Paramount producers can’t seem to help themselves, because details have been updated on a future story being drafted by Top Gun: Maverick and The Town screenwriter Peter Craig.  I trust and enjoy Ridley’s talent work as much as the next fan, but has no serious chance of matching or topping the Oscar-winning original.  It’s only going to tarnish a legacy or two.  Add Bad Boys 3 to that same list.  

LESSON #3: CAN PARALLEL EDITIONS OF FILMS BECOME A NEW TREND?–Notice I didn’t say “will” in that lesson.  That’s assuming success that is already present.  Sure, the DVD era opened the storefront door for director’s cuts, unrated editions, and more of varying rating adjustments.  However, outside of something like Blade Runner (and maybe, to a milder degree, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice), it’s hard to say many new post-theatrical cuts of films have go on to become definitive new standards.  They feel more like novelties for the sake of selling special features.  That’s what I see when I hear about the PG-13 cut coming for Deadpool 2.  It can brag about being a different experience with newly created scenes to be more “parallel” than “alternate,” but how many hardcore Deadpool fans or true completists are going to pay for a tamer second take?  

LESSON #4: TREAT YOURSELF TO A FOREIGN FILM— Feelin’ Film contributor Jacob Neff dropped the confessional challenge in our Facebook discussion group to ask how many of the BBC’s “100 Greatest Foreign Language Films” we have seen.  We had to fess up and some of us (myself including) got an Animal House-level GPA score from our lack of exposure, experience, or completion.  I recommend following Jacob’s “You Should Be Watching” column to see what titles from the list are available, especially with one month left of Filmstruck.  I recommend the huge depth of foreign films available on the Kanopy service connected to your everyday local library card.  In any case, don’t let Reverend Neff chastise you again.  If you need a shorter list, here are Martin Scorsese’s top 39 foreign language films.  Start there.  Get cracking, update the prescription of your glasses for the subtitles, and indulge in some of the classic and good stuff that world cinema has to offer.


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.