What We Learned This Week: July 1-14

LESSON #1: SCARLETT JOHANSSON IS A THERMOMETER FOR CASTING HEAT— The Avengers star sparked social media fires the last two weeks by initially accepting a role as a transgender male for the film Rub & Tug.  The movie is helmed by her Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders, creating quite an echo to the whitewashing backlash she received there.  Detractors rightfully cited the inequality of opportunities for transgender performers to be cast in transgender roles, or any mainstream role for that matter.  Johannson’s callous comeback to the criticism did not help and the Twitterverse reacted with smite. Luckily, Scarlett thought the wiser, left the role, and offered a statement of contrition. Between this and Ghost in the Shell, this is two strikes for Johansson when most people barely ever get one.  She needs to think before she signs or hire better management. On the bright side, she’ll always have Black Widow to save her Q rating and that long-planned solo film just picked up a director in little-known Aussie filmmaker Cate Shortland.  At least that’s good news for her.

LESSON #2: MOVIE EXECUTIVES ARE AWARE OF OBVIOUS POINTS— Short-sighted armchair movie audiences (and people with their own outlets) like to throw their hands in the air and wonder how studios can honestly produce and release what they see to be terrible movies compounded from a mountain of bad choices.  Guess what, the powers that be aren’t as blind as you think. “Candid” is just a nice way to say “bluntly honest” and solid example (other than the usual awesomeness of Kevin Feige) cropped up recently.  In June, Warner Bros. film chairman Toby Emmerich opened up for a very frank interview with Entertainment Weekly.  When asked about film performance and what types of films are working right now, Emmerich simply stated “I think the good movies work better. Somebody once said the best business strategy in motion pictures in quality.” Countering when Rotten Tomatoes was brought up on DCEU films, he followed that with “I would say no matter what, the better the movie is the more advantage it is.”  See, that’s a guy who gets it and a classic case of “it’s easier said than done.” Even with the bottom line in mind, they know improvement is needed.

LESSON #3: IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START AN OSCAR CAMPAIGN— It’s not arm-twisting “For Your Consideration” swag quite yet, but the PR firm that represents Emily Blunt and John Krasinski recently sent out a small and simple reminder package for A Quiet Place, complete with a letter of superlatives and copy of the film.  Yes, the Oscars are almost eight months away, but if you’ve got a good film, flaunt it and shout it from the mountaintops.  If a February release like Get Out can last over a year to remain in the minds of Oscar voters, so can March’s successful blockbuster surprise.  You don’t have to push hard, but you do have to keep on pushing. Go get you some hardware, John!

LESSON #4: THE UGLY DETAILS ARE COMING— A Harvey Weinstein interview ran this week in The Spectator where he admits “I did offer them acting jobs in exchange for sex, but so did and still does everyone.”  This was just a sitdown for a magazine. Imagine the court transcripts of sworn testimonies when the time comes.  Names have been named all over, but when the ugly details get put into print or words, this deplorable chapter of Hollywood is going to get worse.

LESSON #5: ONLINE JOURNALISM IS BECOMING AN ENDANGERED SPECIES NEXT TO ITS PRINT ANCESTOR AND GOOD CREATORS ARE THE CASUALTIES— Because there are so many to choose from in a saturated internet, film and entertainment websites come and go all the time.  Few notice because they move on to the next bookmark or scrolled headline. What people don’t realize is that closures (like The Dissolve) mean precious paying jobs for so many freelance writers and critics.  I’ve had an outlet suddenly (Examiner.com) close on me before and now it’s happening to colleagues of mine over at The A.V. Club, whose parent company is financially sputtering to the point of putting its shingles up for sale.  Other than deep-pocketed benefactors and advertising revenue, money has always been hard to scratch together on the free internet.  Newspapers at least get your quarters and dollars every time you pick one up. Websites don’t unless you’re clicking away on their borders.  Resources are scarce and when the money disappears, so do the opportunities. It’s a shame.


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: June 17-30

LESSON #1: PRODUCER KEVIN FEIGE KNOWS WHAT HE’S DOING AND TALKING ABOUT— Marvel film producer czar Kevin Feige has been a busy man with the soundbites this summer, three of which I’ll feature this week.  Success has put him in a powerful place, but a man doesn’t get to that level without smarts and savvy.  First, I loved his sentiments on whether or not Marvel films should no longer be overlooked as Oscar contenders saying “I would much rather be in a room full of engaged fans.”  He knows that’s the true victory and how awards aren’t everything.  Second, he explained the new three-movies-per-year quota that Marvel is churning out, where he’s not sweating saturation and relishes the chance to expand on the multiple franchise that have been started.  His logic on the matter is solid.  Finally, he’s gained and earned wisdom through his work.  When he was asked about what the DCEU can do to improve their product, he respectfully pointed to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and called that the “paradigm by which we should all still follow.”  I love that use of “we” where he sees everyone striving for the same endearment.  Over and over, Kevin Feige is a guy who flat out “gets it.”  More studio heads should follow his mentality and steady patience.

LESSON #2: UNDER-PERFORMING MIGHT FINALLY HAVE CONSEQUENCES— I know I have long shouted from the soapbox that these blockbusters we see come and go are “too big to fail.”  They may not meet inflated financial expectations that studio execs shoot for on some wish list spreadsheet, but they always, always, always make money.  And because they never lose money, I never think a big studio is really going to dramatically change their ways.  We’ll see little course corrections, but never wholesale change.  As mentioned last time here on WWLTW, we’re teetering on that point with Warner Bros. on their third DCEU head with Walter Hamada bumping Geoff Johns after he replaced Zack Snyder.  That’s the DC mess.  I never fathomed big changes would happen at the juggernaut that is Disney controlling LucasFilm no matter the perception of backlash that makes little click bait headlines and social media rants, but it’s happening.  The spinoff Solo won’t really lose money, but its disappointing haul has slowed plans for more A Star Wars Story anthology films, which presses the pause button on upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett films.  Mistakes were made with that film and its marketing and timing, but the surprising derailment is real.  Add to that the likely “firing” or “stepping down” (pick one) of Kathleen Kennedy at LucasFilm and you have real changes afoot.  What looked untouchable and unstoppable is reeling in its own way.  By the way, Kevin Feige is not going to take over LucasFilm, so calm those heart palpitations.

LESSON #3: MOVIEPASS MAY BE FAILING, BUT THEATER OWNERS STILL WANT YOUR BUSINESS— The caveat to that lesson title is that the theater owners want all of the business.  They don’t want to share the dimes you’re spending with with a middle-man service.  With MoviePass plugging more leaky holes in its business boat than it has dollar bills or hands, other companies want to fill that void.  Here comes AMC Theaters and their launch of their new “A-List” service.  Their pitch is up to three movies per week including any and all premium options including Dolby, IMAX, and 3D for $19.95/month.  No matter the provider or perks, price point is still the ultimate motivator.  $20 for as many as 12 premium movies a month sounds outstanding to me.  We’ll see if AMC can handle the financial gambles.


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: 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: June 3-9

LESSON #1: TOXIC FANDOM IS ONE OF THIS INDUSTRY’S LARGEST UNCHECKED PROBLEMS— What used to be little nit-picky pissing and moaning no more imposing than the Comic Book Guy character on The Simpsons is turning overly voluminous, hurtful, egregious, and flat-out unnecessary.  The latest ugly example came this week when months of harassing and abusive social media actions led Star Wars: The Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran to delete her Instagram.  Notice in the title of the lesson that I said “industry.”  This fanboy immaturity and hate isn’t exclusive to Star Wars fans.  This kind of abhorrent behavior fueled by internet troll courage lights up with comic book films, gaming culture, TV shows large and small, and many other sources far too often and far too loudly.  Let this school teacher tell you that all this bitching about fiction and entertainment is fruitless and unhealthy.  No piece of entertainment is worth any level of the hate and consequences leveled to Ms. Tran.  The support around her is positive but more must be done.  If you claim these pieces of pop culture are core influences of your formative character, then you don’t have a very good core and need help in the form of interpersonal relationships not rooted in fantasy.  I know its the few ruining it for the behaved majority, but turn off the screens, take off the cosplay, put away the toys, grow up, and go engage in real relationships.  At an industry level, accountability is needed, and I love this NBC News piece from Ani Bundell and this Forbes editorial from Scott Mendelson as highly recommended reads.  No matter how you cut it, this is bullying and it’s time to employ the “see something, say something” practices we tell school kids nowadays.  Help report and block improper behavior.

LESSON #2: EACH FILM STARRING WOMEN OR MADE BY WOMEN IS NOT REQUIRED TO ADVANCE FEMINISM— From one torch-bearing subject to another, I referenced a junket interview from the Ocean’s 8 press tour in my review of the film where the leading ladies are tired of answering questions large and small about gender roles.  They made Ocean’s 8 to have fun.  Let Ocean’s 8 be marvelous for what it is (namely a proper heist film) and not curved by who is in it and which chromosomes they have. When someone adds the marginalizing and labeling descriptors of “all-female,” “women-centered,” or, worse, “chick flick,” their narrow vision becomes part of the problem. That goes both ways. Not every film for or including women has to carry a torch and a battering ram for the #MeToo movement.  Let something fun be fun.  Furthermore, in a second interview piece and connecting to Lesson #1, Ocean’s 8 star Sandra Bullock also drew alarming comparison to the flaq the Ghostbusters reboot cast received two years ago.  The wave of hate for that film was off-the-charts higher than what Ocean‘s 8 is receiving, which shows the fickle hypocrisy of toxic fandom.

LESSON #3: THE RIGHT DOCUMENTARY CAN MAKE A FLASHIER DRAMATIZATION UNNECESSARY AND OBSOLETE— This one is more a prophecy than a lesson.  One of my many reactions and takeaways after watching (my full review) the incredibly detailed, moving, and impactful documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is that I, for one, absolutely do not need an upcoming movie biopic version of Fred Rogers’ life story.  There is tangible spirit and a magic watching the real personality of the late TV personality that comes out in Morgan Neville’s film that speaks rightly true and cannot be translated into a glitzy newfangled narrative using dramatic license.  I don’t care how wholesome and loved Tom Hanks is or how immensely talented his is as one of the finest actors walking the planet.  Even he cannot suspend disbelief to become Fred Rogers.  The genuine article is too singular, too unique, and, to borrow his favorite word, too special.  Fred’s central mission and message is strong enough on its own and demands full reality.  Flattering imitation, in my opinion and even cited in the documentary itself with recaps of impersonations done by Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, SCTV, and In Living Color, would take away shine from the gleaming legitimacy of what Fred Rogers stands for.  There is more value to both nostalgic audiences and neophyte discoverers of Fred Rogers to see his actual self in Won’t You Be My Neighbor? than the diluted Hollywood version to come.  Let a documentary become a summer blockbuster for a change.  Get some truth out there and see this film.

LESSON #4: A VENOM CHARACTER NOT IN THE CURRENT MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IS NOT A REAL VENOM AT ALL— I was right there with you salivating at the idea of Tom Hardy playing a brawny Eddie Brock and his beastly alter-ego of Venom.  Throwing looks and Daily Bugle character history out the window, you couldn’t cast a more imposing threat for an emerging Tom Holland Spider-Man than Hardy.  The problem I’ve always seen has been timing.  Pulling off a Venom film is cart-before-the-horse too soon for a brand-new teenage Spider-Man. Now, the problem has increased to misalignment with the news that the Venom film will not be a recognized part of the MCU.  I know I just talked about toxic fanboy culture earlier in the column, but, I’m sorry, Venom is not Venom without Spider-Man.  What looked to already be an impatient cash grab by Sony to stay relevant with its Marvel character properties now looks to be an expensive and possibly pointless waste of resources entirely.

LESSON #5: YOU CAN’T WASH THE STINK OF MICHAEL BAY OFF THAT EASILY— Much like Venom in a way after its recent trailer surprises, I don’t care how good that Bumblebee trailer looked this past week (and yes, Mr. Ignore-All-Trailers over here did see it).  It’s going to take more than a decent teaser or two and a whole heap of deeper narrative work from Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight on the final product to improve this tainted franchise.  Hope is there with Knight’s reputation, but plenty of films, when manipulated correctly with marketing magic, have duped us before.  I will still preach tempered expectations for Bumblebee.  Michael Bay’s cinematic skunk spray is still all over this.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

What We Learned This Week: May 27-June 2

LESSON #1: MATCHES MADE IN HEAVEN— After rumors had been swirling for months, Slumdog Millionaire Academy Award winner Danny Boyle has been confirmed to direct the 25th James Bond film.  Daniel Craig will star and production will begin before the end of this year.  Word is Boyle’s go-to Trainspotting writer John Hodge pitched a screenplay idea the producers enjoyed, which will bump Neal Purvis and Robert Wade from their six-film and 16-year run as the long-time franchise screenwriters.  Not that Bond was getting stale, but the Boyle/Hodge tonic of energy and wit couldn’t be a better fit for elevating the franchise and Craig’s performances.  Another ideal match this week came with the announced casting of Jamie Foxx to step into the chains and cape of Al Simmons in a new film attempt from at Todd McFarlane’s comic staple Spawn.  The Ray Oscar winner has the right intensity, chops, and stature to elevate this film from the joke it was over 20 years ago with its first film.  Universal Pictures-backed Blumhouse Productions (Get Out, Whiplash, Insidious, The Purge) is perfect nest as well.  The one drawback is McFarlane insisting on directing.  He should really defer to experienced hand.

LESSON #2: MATCHES NOT QUITE MADE IN HEAVEN— Eyebrows were raised and heads were scratched this week when director Zack Snyder answered a social media question of what’s next for him with the answer of adapting Ayn Rand’s 1947 tome The Fountainhead. While nothing has been confirmed, for most armchair film producers and studio executives online (i.e. public fans), the Snyder M.O. of style doesn’t exactly match the visions and fiction of Rand.  I don’t care what their name is, from Martin Scorsese or Todd Haynes filming children’s novels or Patty Jenkins making a comic book film, directors can’t branch out, evolve, grow their talent, or spread their wings without the opportunities to do so.  I’ll be the kind of guy that says “give the guy a chance.”

LESSON #3: JAMES CAMERON IS A HYPOCRITE, BUT A REVOLUTIONARY HYPOCRITE— Another week passing on the calendar in 2018 equals another provocative entry of James Cameron industry commentary.  Speaking at an event in Australia, Cameron railed against the “disservice” that is the studio cash grab of converting films to 3D in post-production instead shooting them in full 3D intentionally like his own Avatar film.  Mind you, this is the same man who post-converted his own Titanic to make more money and pad his stats.  Cameron may be a phony talker, but he’s still a true radical pioneer looking for the next big thing.  He followed his admonishing words with his Avatar sequel goals of creating and capitalizing on glasses-free 3D.  If he pulls that off, he can bluff all he wants because he’ll talk the talk and walk the walk with that magical dazzlement.

LESSON #4: LEAVE SOME THINGS AS TIME CAPSULES AND TRIBUTES TO DIFFERENT ERAS— Ten years of pre-production musical chairs to remake James O’Barr’s graphic novel The Crow lost another song and set of players.  Financial woes have led Sony Pictures to call off the latest remake attempt planned by young director Corin Hardy (The Hallow) and motivated chosen star Jason Momoa.  Sure, today’s cinematic capabilities could make a heck of a film and Momoa is stellar dark hero type, but there’s something about the mystique of all things The Crow that belongs in the past.  The original 1989 mini-series and the ill-fated 1994 film feel like thematic testimonies for then not now.  Even with a Logan-like R-rating, The Crow wouldn’t play popularly or to the same effect today.  I say leave it as a monument to the era and the late Brandon Lee.  Along the same lines, please someone stop Kevin Smith and stick a fork in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot shooting this summer.  Now that’s something that belongs in the past.  That schtick was funny when they were in their twenties and has diminished ever since.  Watching Smith and Jason Mewes now in their forties likely dropping the same dated man-child snark is not going to go well.  Can you imagine if these two ended up as the next Lemmon and Matthau busting each other’s balls 40 years from now in their eighties?  Please no.  Leave Jay and Silent Bob buried.

LESSON #5: SOME TIME CAPSULES DESERVE TO BE OPENED— Going back a decade even earlier than the 1990s, I know I was one of many stoked by Tom Cruise’s tweet on Thursday declaring #Day1 to the long-desired and much-anticipated Top Gun: Maverick sequel, slated for a July 12, 2019 release.  As the years of Mission: Impossible films have shown (including Mission: Impossible – Fallout later this July), Tom Cruise remains an nearly-ageless action hero.  I also trust the top-shelf brand of action capable from director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: LegacyOblivionOnly the Brave).  Nostalgia rules and they can pull this off.  This will be worth the 33 years of unearthed dirt (or at least I hope so).


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: May 13-26

LESSON #1: ARGUE WITH A LEG TO STAND ON— Call it an occupational hazard built by years of fandom, research, and practice, but I tell myself everyday (maybe not to a Stuart Smalley level, but close) that I’ve got a pretty good head on my shoulders and a better-than-decent eye for the good, bad, great, and ugly when it comes to just about anything movie-related.  That passion gets me in plenty of debates online and across social media on any range of topics (masterpieces vs. classics, best vs. favorite, etc).  Wearing the critic badge on top of that knowledge, I get labeled arrogant and full of hubris.  To me, it’s not hubris when the stances are educated and supported with substance.  I’ve done my homework and I’ve come prepared or I wouldn’t be debating in the first place.  I can’t say the same thing for many other people on the other side of debates.  The language of this lesson is a plea that if you’re going to present an argument or stance, be able to back it up.  The substance of your stance has to be stronger than wimpy likes and dislikes.  The trolls and whiners I meet don’t have that integrity.  For example, see an actor or director’s filmography before making any declarations for or against them in any point of comparison.  Even more egregious, see the actual film you’re debating and labeling before laying judgment.  Bring more to the table than thin personal preferences and clickbait hearsay.  Bring a little more objectivity beyond the surface-level subjectivity.

LESSON #2: MAKE CHARACTERIZATIONS THAT FIT STORYLINES— As if irascible and irrational Star Wars fans had to find more things to hate, pockets of new semi-protests started up this week before the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story when Lando Calrissian actor Donald Glover and screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan declared the character to be pansexual.  There are many angles to consider here from this left-field turn.  Increased LGBTQ+ representation is always a welcome thing in these modern and more progressive times and, secondly, writers/actors are allowed their interpretation of characters they play.  However, reflect on making such a label or change purposeful and not a measure of tokenism.  Consider the fit and don’t shoehorn in LGBTQ+ characters for the sake of doing so without actually having the story to do so.  This one feels like tokenism and a hollow attempt at praise.  That said, this, whether for or against, is not a reason to protest a film or abandon a beloved character.

LESSON #3: KNOWN FATES TAKE AWAY FROM THE SUSPENSE— I have to reprint this irrefutable dilemma from my Solo: A Star Wars Story review from Every Movie Has a Lesson.  This goes for every prequel in existence.  Because the audience knows certain characters have documented futures, there is a perceptible, if not even enormous, storytelling loss in the peril department.  The edge of one’s seat becomes a little more relaxed and more than a bit farther away.  In Solo, no matter what happens to Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, and the Millennium Falcon, they’re going to be fine.  In equal measure, since a large majority of the side characters present in Solo are never mentioned in the films later down the timeline, you might as well put a red shirt of Star Trek doom on each of them.  Foregone conclusions like that are not spoiler alerts.  Those are plain facts. Ignoring this conundrum is pure gullibility.  The common rewind counterargument is “well, it’s about the journey… blah, blah, blah.”  Sure, but then the impact of said journey better be damn important or move us to pieces.  As hellaciously fun as it is at times, Solo: A Star Wars Story is missing a certain level of that compelling juice.

LESSON #4: JAMES MANGOLD AND BOUNTY HUNTERS ARE A GOOD POTENTIAL FIT— In surprise news on the night of Solo‘s debut, another anthology/prequel backstory was announced by the Mouse House.  Logan, Cop Land, and Walk the Line director James Mangold has been tapped to helm a Boba Fett origin film.  While that film will have the same predicament as Lesson #3, Boba Fett is at least a character with more intriguing mystery and depth to solve than Han Solo, arguably the most iconic character of the whole franchise.  That’s exactly the kind of cult status character that deserves these kinds of standalone film attempts, and, gosh, what a hire.  Just imagine a talent like Mangold crafting a grizzled, borderline space western of a relentless pursuer stalking his prey and taking down all comers who cross his path.  Grow that legend!  Along the same lines, my fingers are crossed that Donald Glover, who steals every scene he’s in from Solo, gets his own film after the inevitable box office success.

LESSON #5: PRE-SCREENINGS CAN DO THEIR JOB IN CATCHING QUESTIONABLE CONTENT BEFORE IT PLAYS TO ALL AUDIENCES— Kudos to the parents who made a stink about some questionable scenes in the upcoming family-marketed film Show Dogs.  You can read the details here here about some testicular inspection scenes (which true to real dog shows or not) that hit a little too close to predatory sexual grooming allusions if the roles were people instead of dogs voiced by people.  The studio is doing the right thing and editing out the poor choices before the theatrical release.  This goes to show that some studios have the wherewithal to seek the right approvals before releasing something willy-nilly.  Sure, scenes like those shouldn’t have made it past the script editor, but it counts as better late than never to not just make the changes, but listen to the paying customers in the first place.
LESSON #6: SOME PULLED PLUGS ARE WHOLLY DESERVED— Speaking of paying attention and judging the landscape, Paramount Pictures dropped the seventh Transformers film from its release schedule.  The off-shoot Bumblebee film is still coming this December, but maybe this long road of Michael Bay trash is finally done.  You can only beat dead horses so long.  Can Disney borrow the same logic soon with Pirates of the Caribbean.  Just as the cited article suggests, this joy might be short-lived (but it is joy nonetheless).  The word “reboot” is being thrown around because once any studio makes several billion dollars, they’re going to want to try and make it happen again.  There are always more horses to flog on the big studio lots.

LESSON #7: THE MIGHTY FALL THE HARDEST— Lastly, I was as shocked as the next person by the CNN report of extensive and multiple inappropriate harassment allegations against Oscar-winning A-lister and overall beloved figure Morgan Freeman.  He is easily the biggest name to be burned since Kevin Spacey. As with each of these stories that have come to light over the course of the last year (and often stated in this column), no matter who it is, my first reactions are patience and sadness long before anger and judgment.  First and foremost, I, for one, refuse to label a man guilty or otherwise on rumors alone until accusations are proven or disproven.  I choose to wait.  Each person deserves their chance to defend themselves, seek the proper contrition, or both.  Until then, disappointment fills me more than anger.  I respect the works of these people too much to ever “ban” or “boycott” their careers and erase them from the proverbial record books.  I just don’t think that’s right.  They existed, their work remains, and it mattered.  It may lose some level of respect considering the circumstances, but it’s never reduced to zero for me.  My policy has always been to separate the person and the performance.  I still watch Kevin Spacey movies and I will still watch Morgan Freeman ones too, only now the impact is softened to a degree.


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: May 6-12

LESSON #1: BIDDING WARS CAN BE FUN— In huge industry news this week, media conglomerate Comcast stepped in with a new $60 billion all-cash offer full of pot sweeteners to purchase 21st Century Fox from Rupert Murdoch, months after Disney’s $52 billion all-stock deal looked to be imminent.  Welcome to the of billionaire bullfight!  I know some Marvel Cinematic Universe dream fulfillment lies in the balance down here on the fan level, but I’m kind of rooting for all the executive hardball tactics to make Disney squirm a little to cough up more money.  Laugh all the way to the bank, Mr. Murdoch.  Make them pay through the nose.

LESSON #2: DISNEY CONTINUES TO WANT ITS OWN MONEY— In this column’s frequent reports on Disney’s coming exclusive streaming services and pull-out from Netflix, we know they want to keep their own exclusive dollars without sharing.  They have the power, demand, and clout of content to do so and more steps were going to come.  I am happy to humblebrag report that I called this latest news TWICE last summer. In April, Disney officially announced that they will not be presenting any of their hot Marvel properties in the high-demand Hall H parties they have conducted for years at the San Diego ComicCon.  I don’t think this is a year of radio silence to sell the Avengers: Infinity War cliffhanger.  I think they want people to pay only them for the big convention stages.  I expect Disney/Marvel to start building their annual D23 event into their showcase.

LESSON #3: MOVIEPASS IS STILL DOOMED— The floundering MoviePass service continues to be a hot topic, last mentioned here in April where I labeled it “doomed to fail.”  More financial news keeps coming to light about the amount of money going down the drain faster than infant diarrhea (if infant diarrhea ever made it to drains).  Following Aaron White’s post and suggestion, it may be time to consider alternatives like Sinemia, other alternatives, or the available deals already being done by the theater chains themselves (like AMC’s returning $5 Tuesdays). Share your good experiences and recommendations with your FF peers.  In the meantime, gather your eulogy for the upcoming MoviePass funeral.

LESSON #4: KIDS CAN USE A DOSE OF SILENT FILMS— In this cinematic and television market of repetitive and hyperactive animated crap, I just love this LifeHacker Offspring piece shared by our Feelin’ Film contributor Jacob Neff recently entitled “Why You Should Watch Silent Films With Your Kids.”  I back the statements made in the article 100%, from the quality of the buried treasure content to the “with your kids” part of making movie-watching a shared experience and not a babysitting tactic to ignore your kids.  As a parent of a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old myself, I can attest to the awesome draw of a good Charlie Chaplin flick.  Try it sometime.  Use the clips in the LifeHacker article as preparation (and while you’re there click on the embedded recommended article on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and screen time). Sit with them and marvel at the creativity and entertainment together.  I promise a stellar experience.


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 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 22-28

LESSON #1: STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA UNTIL YOU SEE ANY HOTLY ANTICIPATED MOVIE— The internet is not a kind place with secrets. Trust Aaron White and I in our reviews of Avengers: Infinity War that you’re going to want this one untarnished. Total social media darkness is recommended (especially over in the gladiatorial arena of unchecked internet courage known as Twitter).  The full plot is already posted on Wikipedia and the casting and trivia sections of IMDb give notes away as well.  Come back when the coast is clear.  As the teacher-preacher around here, I will testify and extend the advice that all of us should be treading lightly when it comes to social media with any big film, not just Avengers: Infinity War.  All of the noise is worth filtering all the time.

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF SOCIAL MEDIA, THE STARDUST APP IS FUN AND YOU NEED TO GET IN ON THIS— Color this with a shade of shameless self-promotion, but if you do like social media and the quick interactions that are possible out there, give the new Stardust app a look for Apple and Android devices.  Tidier that Periscope and tagged to match movies and TV shows, their user-created personalized video takes are a lot of fun for audience engagement.  Find Aaron White’s username of “FeelinFilmAaron” and mine at “movielessons.”  We promise a good time!

LESSON #3: PUT UP OR SHUT UP OR, FOR THAT MATTER, S–T OR GET OFF THE POT— I’m sure there are classier parables with glass houses, stones, and kettle colors when it comes to James Cameron’s recent silly and incendiary comments rooting for superhero fatigue to help his own Avatar sequels.  I’ll stick with my cruder ones.  Adding more gasoline, the Titanic and Terminator director is calling The Godfather thunder of comparisons to his upcoming epics.  You know, Jim.  Read this lesson.  Your clout looks a lot more legit when you can actually deliver.  Avatar was a long nine years ago.  I get it.  An artist on your level can’t be rushed.  That’s cool, but then focus on your precious work and leave the success you’re not getting to those who worked and earned it.  Call me when the Pandora dinner is ready.  I’ll be the old graying man on the couch snacking and enjoy the heck out of the reruns of MCU films that have passed you by.

LESSON #4: SOME FILMS DO NOT NEED SEQUELS AND A QUIET PLACE IS ONE OF THEM— The news of John Krasinski’s hit thriller getting a greenlit sequel at Paramount stands as troublesome.  This is another item of industry proof that this is a business first and an art convention second.  This is a studio exec who cannot help but try and capitalize on a hit.  The real trigger for any sequel should be the story, not the earnings report.  I know A Quiet Place ends with a door-opener for more and beats Cloverfield (coincidentally from the same studio) when it comes to wider-world potential, but the remarkably successful film will last longer and be better as itself with no imitators.  Leave it be.

LESSON #5: YOU DON’T GET TO SELF-LABEL YOUR OWN WORK AS MASTERPIECES— Last but not least, it’s Avengers: Infinity War weekend and battles are center stage.  I will revisit a common battlefield of mine.  Even after seeing the MCU epic, the best fight I discovered and observed this week was this rapid war of words between two celebrated directors: William Friedkin of The Exorcist and The French Connection and Nicholas Winding-Refn of Drive and Neon Demon.  Take in this very short 90-second video of the extremely pretentious Refn calling his own film a masterpiece and watch the old school Friedkin (who has actual masterpieces on his resume) pricelessly react and retort:

As the Masterpiece Division Cop of the Feelin’ Film Tone Police, William Friedkin just became my spirit animal.  He preaches what I preach, that masterpieces take time to assign because films have linger, live, and hold up.  Audiences and historians decide that, not the filmmaker themselves.


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 8-14

LESSON #1: INFUSE HEART INTO HORROR FILMS FOR ELEVATED IMPACT— John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place is making a killing at the box office for a multitude of reasons.  First, from a business standpoint, it’s a well-marketed horror movie with a PG-13 rating to increase the potential audience compared to R-rating fare.  Second, and more importantly, Krasinski and company made an intelligent and resonating film compared to the usual shock value thrills of the genre.  I believe their secret ingredient was heart.  Strip away the monsters and you have a family survival film comprised of characters you care about and invest in, not a cast of hollow and unmemorable stereotypes occupying a buffet menu for carnage.  For most disposable horror films, you kind of root for the creative kills but once the surprises are gone, so is the repeat value.  In A Quiet Place, you dread any potential for loss and the journey of avoidance becomes more compelling than any swift action.  That’s a powerful draw worth revisiting.  You’ll find three over-the-moon reviews of A Quiet Place between Aaron White’s take, the main episode here on Feelin’ Film, and my own on Every Movie Has a Lesson.

LESSON #2: HOW DO YOU PROPERLY REPLACE DECEASED ACTORS?— The rumor is out there that Meryl Streep could replace Carrie Fisher as Leia in the next Star Wars film.  Naturally, the purists… errr… I mean… hardcore fanboys led the charge of torches and pitchforks against such an idea, forgetting needs and logistics of the story in place.  If you have noticed (as the cited article points out), each returning Original Trilogy great has led the main focus for each film (Han had The Force Awakens, Luke had The Last Jedi), and Leia was the planned centerpiece of the third in J.J. Abrams’s script before Fisher’s death.  If that is true, it’s going to take quite a rewrite.  With shooting due to start this summer, it’s going to be very interesting to see how filmmakers are going to modify the plan.  What would you do?

LESSON #3: HOW DO YOU PROPERLY REPLACE DISGRACED ACTORS?— Comic actor T.J. Miller keeps adding to his sh-tstorm and diminishing reputation.  After reports of sexual misconduct and violence and transphobic bigotry surfaced last winter, he’s added federal fake bomb threat charges this week.  Even before this week, many, including a film critic peer of mine Danielle Solzman and an excellent Scott Mendelson piece in Forbes magazine, have questioned why Miller hasn’t received the Kevin Spacey treatment and been replaced or cut from Ready Player One (a simple ADR replacement you would think) and the upcoming Deadpool 2.  I have to believe the answers aren’t always as simple as a replacement, between the hangups of effort, time, negative impact potential, contracts, or the sliding scale of morality trying to define punishments that fit crimes.  In the end, I’ll sound like a teacher to say “fair is not always equal.”  What worked for Ridley Scott and TriStar Pictures might not work for Steven Spielberg and Warner Bros.  The only part that is up to moviegoers is whether to support films with these questionable cast inclusions with your ticket money.  For a critic like myself, it’s about checking biases at the door and judging the film not the people.

LESSON #4: THE SECRETS OF NETFLIX— I can’t be the only person who wastes time scrolling Netflix menus looking for something the sparks my interest while running into the same promoted and retreading menu preferences.  Word is there are codes to unlock and directly navigate to the narrow subgenres appearing within the evolving algorithms on Netflix that contain thousands of underrepresented movies.  Has anyone tried these?!  Follow this link and let us know!


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.