What We Learned This Week: September 21-October 4

LESSON #1: THE WORLD CAN USE A DOSE OF BORAT RIGHT NOW— The rumors were always present that a Borat sequel was in the works from Sacha Baron Cohen. After a few months of secret shooting during the pandemic, Borat: Gift of Pornographic Monkey to Vice Premiere Mikhael Pence to Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan will be unleashed to the world via Amazon Prime just in time for Election Day. Yes, you read that right. Expect the Vice President to be made an easy mark. In this election year, the world is ready for this kind of scathing laughter and cringe comedy. Bring it on.

LESSON #2: WE LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE EVEN THE BEST ARTISTS NEED PAYCHECKS— Barry Jenkins has quickly gained legendary auteur status with his Oscar-winning Moonlight and equally vibrant follow-up If Beale Street Could Talk. Word broke Tuesday with a headline that looked out of We Got This Covered or The Onion if it didn’t say Deadline above it. Jenkins has been tabbed by Disney to helm a follow-up to the CGI-reimagining of The Lion King. Before you dust off your The Lion King 1½ and The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride DVD collectors items, word is this will be a new direction and even a prequel highlighting a young Mufasa. Begrudge him or shake your head all you want, but I say this all the time in this column space: This is a business first and art exposition second. That happens the second you put a price tag on anything. Dozens of indie-level directors have done this in our recent history (David Lowery, Ava DuVernay, Colin Trevorrow, Gareth Edwards) and even more have done it for decades (Nolan, Spielberg, Scorsese). It’s “one for them and two for you.” It becomes about, 1) the effort you put in the big one, and 2) what that paycheck allows you to do next. Take DuVernay. She flipped that A Wrinkle in Time money into When They See Us, an upcoming Colin Kaepernick bio series on Netflix, infused money into her ARRAY distribution company for black artists, and helped launch the Evolve Entertainment Fund to promote inclusion. That’s not the worst aftermath and use of taking the big money. Let’s see what Jenkins can do both with the project and the cache. 

LESSON #3: AWARDS SEASON STARTS NOW– Film lovers, it’s October and, even during a reduced year of overall releases, the season of golden harvest is upon us. Oscar season! The virtual and drive-in versions of the usual top-notch film festivals are highlighting some early contenders to watch for. The early buzz leader is Nomadland from celebrated director Chloe Zhao (another indie darling like Jenkins who took the Disney/MCU money with The Eternals). The Frances McDormand starrer won the People’s Choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival, the top prize of the Venice Film Festival, and is slotted as the centerpiece of the New York International Film Festival. Close on its tail are the rave reviews for Regina King’s One Night in Miami. Keep an eye on the upcoming Netflix debut of Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 for another potential frontrunner. Folks, after months of random cast offs and C-level films landing on VOD and streaming sites, the top shelf stuff is coming. Now, the new diversity measures for the Oscars are a whole other (and wonderful) thing. We’ll save that for another WWLTW.

 


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#141)

What We Learned This Week: September 14-20

LESSON #1: THE LANDSCAPE IS NOT READY FOR BLOCKBUSTERS— This first lesson isn’t about desire. With all of the #firstworldproblem wishes, we all miss big event movies. It’s the setting and the earning potential that are not ready. Not enough states and locations are safely open to distribute something wide. Socially-distanced theaters don’t have enough takers or enough seats to make money. Studios either foresee that (and keep delaying) or don’t (and get their harsh baths and haircuts). Look no further than Warner Bros. and Tenet. Watch it fall tremendously short of its budget and maybe cause more harm than good. Watch the PR department spin their own numbers to save face.

LESSON #2: THE DIGITAL OPTION CONTINUES TO IMPROVE AND GRAB PEOPLE— As it stands now, Mulan has made more money than Tenet. Nine months ago, would you have ever thought that was possible? I sure didn’t. Conservative estimates have the Disney re-imagining earning north of $250 million and counting while Tenet just passed $200 million and is struggling to gain repeat business. That echoes Lesson #1. The cherry on top for Mulan is its Velcro to grab and keep new customers. So far in September, Disney+ is experiencing a 68% bump in app downloads coupled with a 193% surge in spending on the app. That follows a previous 79% boost in July attached to Hamilton’s debut on the steaming platform. Something is becoming better than nothing and more is more. Could digital be the new savior until this pandemic lifts. At Disney, let’s see what happens with Black Widow and Soul delays. At WB, we see them sharpening their HBO Max ax.

LESSON #3: HIGH-LEVEL SOCIAL MEDIA HARDBALL HELPS NO ONE— Speaking of Warner Bros., I don’t even know where to begin with the Ray Fisher vs. Warner Bros. fight. With the bold claims being laid and the hills-to-die-on being molded in both directions, this has gone past the stages of “spat” or “disagreement.” The trouble is this is one lower-level actor against a media giant. The success rate is low and the ostracization rate is high, but Ray Fisher strikes me as the kind of guy with that kind of conviction. He’s going to go down swinging. Who do you believe in this feud?

LESSON #4: PEOPLE OF GOOD TASTE OFTEN COME FROM GOOD TASTE— If I were to poll you folks and ask who makes the best American family films right now, I bet the #1 Family Feud survey answer would be Pixar. They make the consistent best storytelling and lesson-rich content. If you’ve ever wondered what people of good taste like Pixar found their taste, check out a pair of excellent Letterboxd lists of age-based recommendations collected from a team of their directors. Their 7-12 list and their 12-and-up list feature some of the absolute best family-friendly films. Indisputable perfection right there.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#140)

What We Learned This Week: August 30-September 13

Welcome back to a renewed start for “What We Learned This Week.” I wanted to say a quick thank you for your patience with this school teacher and the month-long hiatus to get the day job in order during this time of tumultuous landscape change in my profession. It appears the hand basket of hell holding the world is still woven strong, even in the movie business. Let’s hit the chalkboard and vent.

LESSON #1: EVERYONE IS ALLOWED TO BOYCOTT— Let’s say this as simple as possible for a few lessons to hammer a few nails in nice a slow. First, you are allowed to boycott whatever the f–k you want, be that a movie, a politician, stance, or general topic, like say Mulan or the Netflix film Cuties. It’s classic “you do you.” You pick your spots and choose your hills to die on. Choose wisely because Lesson #2 is also in effect. 

LESSON #2: EVERYONE IS ALLOWED TO DISAGREE WITH YOUR BOYCOTT— When you go your “you do you” route, other people are bound to go another direction. If you don’t want them to berate your chosen boycott pillar, don’t shame them when they disagree to match said boycott. That’s the challenge of taking the stances you take. You open yourself as a person up to judgment as much as, if not more, than the chosen topic. That’s where your moral consistency matters more than the topic. Hopefully, those people who have chosen their hills to die on have completed the due diligence of research and reflection to fully inform and understand their decision. If you can’t answer “why” with any substance for the stance you’ve taken, then you’re not ready for your boycott and are doing it wrong. Maybe you need Lesson #3.

LESSON #3: SEE OR LEARN THE THING YOU’RE PISSING AND MOANING ABOUT WITH YOUR BOYCOTT BEFORE YOU “CANCEL” IT— Here’s a full, blunt, and honest first-person admission from me as a person AND as a film critic. If there is one thing I cannot stand, it’s someone who takes on stump speeches, boycotts, and cancel culture movement protests without seeing, experiencing, or learning about the thing you are hating or defending. If you cannot answer that “why” from Lesson #2 with substance, I lose a measure of respect for you, especially if you are pissing and moaning sight unseen for what you are complaining about. Have you seen Netflix’s Cuties? No? Then STFU. Go see the damn thing. Ruffle your feathers. Grit your teeth and get through the thing you supposedly will hate or disagree with. Then you can pass your judgment, light your torches, and take up your pitchforks. You sound infinitely stronger with your boycott if you actually know what the f–k you are talking about with tangible experience. What you need to maybe do (not the case in all things) is Lesson #4.

LESSON #4: PRACTICE SEPARATING THE PRODUCT FROM THE PARTICIPANTS— This is where Mulan rises to be a perfect example of many that apply to this lesson. Disney’s newest re-imagining has been engulfed to a large degree by off-camera controversies of politics and business practices. They have to and will weather that flak. The finished project and its intent is an entirely different thing to judge than the aims and efforts to make it. It may not always work, but you have to try and separate the person from the performance, the product from the producers, and etc. Film critics should review the film as the film in a review. Save the editorial comments that aren’t on screen for a different section of the paper. Mulan is a fine film with excellent entertainment value with likely questionable origins, no doubt. However, you know what, the same can be said about every Tom Cruise, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, or (*insert canceled person*) work. Enjoying the finished product of someone on your chosen cancel list does not condone said person. If we cancelled every piece with any tie to a questionable sidebar issue, you and I wouldn’t have very much to watch. Call it the price of poker. Choose your boycotts accordingly and, again, be ready for Lesson #2 and Lesson #3.

LESSON #5: THIS IS ALL A BUSINESS FIRST AND AN ART EXPOSITION SECOND— I get to this lesson and the biggest nail to drive home that too many people still just don’t get. As soon as the very first movie charged a dime for a ticket, this became a business first and an art exposition second. Art is wonderful, but if it doesn’t make money, you’re not going to get more art that you want, plain and simple. The goal of the studios and the A-list artists is to make money. We would all love if the entertainment and art end of it all mattered more, but it doesn’t. Paychecks win. Disney does what they do, stomping with hubris, washing what they wash, and cutting corners, to make money. Adam Sandler can make his empty threats about an Uncut Gems Oscar nomination for finally going for the art instead of dollar signs, but he was always, always, always going to return to what butter his bread with Hubie Halloween. They can’t cry and neither can you about such #firstworldproblems. If you don’t like it, good, don’t spend your money on said thing, turn the channel, or scroll on by, but be ready for Lesson #2 and Lesson #3 once you open your mouth to piss and moan again.

LESSON #6: IT’S PERFECTLY OK, IN FACT RECOMMENDED OF YOU, TO GROW, EVOLVE, AND CHANGE— Now, I rant all of that to say this. Grow with your art and entertainment. Open your mind to new things and other ways of thinking different from your norms because the world doesn’t revolve around you. Other people have different situations that yours and the judgment you put on it. Likewise, open your heart to empathy that you are missing or haven’t discovered. Have the personal integrity to be willing to change if necessary. You’re not weak to do that. You are wise instead. If you watch Mulan and loved it for what it was, still learn about the bad practices behind it and understand that side of debate. If you abhor the topic of Cuties, good, you can and you should, but learn and understand that the film doesn’t glorify the ugliness you hear about. It’s quite the opposite in fact.

Heed these lessons well and welcome back to “What We Learned This Week.” We’ll go softer next week, I promise, because apparently, it wouldn’t be a WWLTW in 2020 if didn’t talk about Christopher Nolan.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#139)

What We Learned This Week: July 20-26

LESSON #1: WE ALL KNOW AND REMEMBER THE COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE— I don’t want to get all Mufasa of The Lion King with a “Remember, who you are” or, worse, an Alan Jackson post-9/11 country song of “Remember When” because, in honesty, this whole “I haven’t seen a movie in forever” rant that gets tossed around has only been a few months. That’s a mere drop in our life’s bucket in the grand scheme of things. Look, I get it. Sitting at home on a TV or computer screen isn’t the same. We miss going to the movies, and the movies miss us too (or rather our money, more on that next). Nothing beats the collective and communal experience. Former Roger Ebert wingman Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times made it to very spaced-out Music Box Theatre in Chicago for a 70mm screening of Interstellar after 126 days since being in a theater. The joy and comfort came back to him and he poured that out in a lovely column. What happened for Richard, can and will happen for us. It will be wonderful when it does. It will just take time, namely the right time.

LESSON #2: NO STUDIO IS GOING TO LEAVE NINE FIGURES OF MONEY ON THE TABLE— Sigh. I feel like every week this summer here in WWLTW I have to keep talking about Tenet. Finally this week, it received the full “indefinite” delay that it should have gotten months ago. Was that enough to finally get Nolanites to chill and accept reality? Just like his mind-bending films, the answer was no. The hubris continued with speculation it would at least play in China or Europe or some newfangled staggered rollout. Let’s keep banging the table. Folks, it ain’t gonna happen because Warner Bros. is not going to release a movie, especially one that needs $800 million to make it to the black, without its biggest market. They won’t accept less. They would be asking for torrent piracy to swoop in and spoil their golden goose. You can wish all you want, but it’s time to move on. This is where our #firstworldproblems are at: 

LESSON #3: ANY DYING BUSINESS IS GOING TO DEMAND THEIR SURVIVAL EVEN IF IT IS BAD FOR BUSINESS—It’s ugly, yet understandable. The whole industry is swirling an ugly and uncertain drain to against an invincible threat that cannot be wished away or bought. Similar to the predicament schools are in (and, boy, as a teacher, let me tell you about this rocking boat) about what’s best for re-opening, movie theaters are weighing options and recommendations with desperation. For theaters, as evident by the sentiments of the National Association Theater Owners, their answer is anger and frustration with every studio delay like Tenet. “Urge” is becoming “should.” And “should” is starting to sound like “demand.” Things are looking like mid-2021 at best. Unlike schools, their direct survival at the industry level is on the line. They have a bankruptcy gun barrel either pushed to their temple or inserted in their own mouth. Schools, on the other hand, have viable alternatives. I’d hate to be in those budget meetings right now in Hollywood. 

LESSON #4: EMBRACE THE PARANOIA— Earlier during this COVID quarantine, the hot social distance water cooler movies to see where the virus-based thrillers like Outbreak and Contagion. Months later, more and more of the craziness is setting in and more tin foil hats are going on. Let some or your movie consumption dive into that. Blake Collier of Film Inquiry posted a recent piece on what paranoid cinema says about ourselves and society. It’s an excellent read and filled with stellar films to sample. Dip your toe in the loony waters and have fun.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#138)

What We Learned This Week: June 27-July 12

LESSON #1: HUBRIS, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, COSTS MONEY— No studio executive in their right mind is going to intentionally lose money versus a genius’s hubris. Filmbro golden calf Christopher Nolan can say he’s not worried about his future Tenet box office performance (now bumped to August 12th), but I guarantee you the pearly bean counters are. They’re not leaving earning potential on the table just to appease a filmmaker, no matter how virtuoso he is. They’ll let him walk, and he can’t take his movie with him. Patience, Christopher, patience. Just wait and let your biggest nation of audience get healthy.

LESSON #2: PREMIUM VOD WILL EMERGE AS A VIABLE OPTION— Family fare like Trolls: World Tour and Scoob! have tested the VOD waters for family attention. The King of Staten Island and Irresistible have tempted adult crowds. The question becomes what happens when a popular title for the masses becomes available for a premium rental. Who bites? If enough do, just as this recent Hollywood Reporter column suggests, expect this premium option (PVOD) to become a new go-to or must for craving audiences. The key is price point and the opponent is piracy.

It’s a matter of time when the right big title and the right price gets the customers to come running for a rental.

LESSON #3: IT’S WALLET DESTRUCTION WEEK— Speaking of money, this week is going to destroy the mattress money, nest eggs, swear jars, and piggybanks of physical media fans and cinephiles with low will power. It’s Barnes & Noble’s semi-annual 50% off Criterion sale. At the same time, the Warner Archives has opened its 4 for $44 sale. If you are someone survived the recent Arrow, Kino Lorber, and Target sales this summer without subsidizing your home or pawning your car, you’re so screwed now.

LESSON #4: THE OSCARS CANNOT GET AHEAD— There’s good news outnumbered by bad news. The good news is diversity keeps notching wins and the Academy recently added 819 new members with 36% of them being POC. That’s an ongoing shift they have long needed and each year will continue to bring new blood. As soon as they do that, they take two steps back when the MPA announced they are allowing agents the right to vote for Oscars. That’s beyond stupid and out of touch. That immediately inserts favoritism and more selfish and showy campaigning and placating that the Oscar cycle already has too much of. Agents are not artists, period.. They are not on the same level of industry professionals who make the movies. They should be removed from this arena.

LESSON #5: ONCE AGAIN, THERE IS NO BETTER TIME TO EDUCATE YOURSELF— In a callback to my last regular WWTW, the educational opportunity for our time at a social-distancing home with a buffet of media choice at our fingertips continues. While parents and schools mull what it’s going to take to go back to school buildings, you parents can be a homeschooler of film. If you need a “curriculum,” let PBS, Martin Scorsese, and Film School Rejects curate your content starting here. For more, PBS has a “Crash Course Film History” series on YouTube and Film School Rejects has a new “Cinephile Summer Camp” column. Get you some education!


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#136)

What We Learned This Week: The New Future of Movie Theaters “Soapbox Special”

SOAPBOX SPECIAL: The New Future of Movie Theaters

During this last month or so of our collective national and international quarantine, I’ve been holding the topic of re-opening movie theaters from my usual “What We Learned This Week” columns for a “Soapbox Special.” There have been so many articles, so many perspectives, and so many rapidly evolving updates and changes that I couldn’t distill them down into one little lesson or column entry. 

With several regions of America starting to re-open (including my own state of Illinois and city of Chicago), it was time to get on the stump and arm the cannons. I put some of what follows into spoken word recently on an episode of Mike Crowley’s “You’’ll Probably Agree” podcast, but the issue has grown since then. Click into the multitude of links in the lessons for the deeper referenced stories. They are well worth their reads and your attention. The theme of this all can be summarized as cautiously optimistic.

LESSON #1: WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO GO BACK TO THEATERS— I’ll open this rant back in late May with polling from Variety. It featured a survey of consumer comfort. Here are some bulleted results in numerical order:

  • 91% requested hand sanitizer stations
  • 90% say the most important factor is a cure for COVID-19.
  • 86% supported limited screenings for cleaning time
  • 75% support employees temperature checks
  • 70% would rather watch a first-run feature at home
  • 61% would feel better about mandatory face coverings
  • 60% support audience temperature checks
  • 47% were comfortable buying concessions
  • 46% were comfortable using public restrooms at theaters

There’s more there in that article, but those were the highlights. Beyond even that poll, you’ve got more and more segments of the population who won’t feel comfortable with any public event, let alone a movie, without a vaccine in place. Putting any number of these initiatives in place would be costly, especially for theater chain companies reeling on the edge of bankruptcy. 

LESSON #2: WHAT DOES THAT FUTURE LOOK LIKE— Any of those changes from Lesson #1 would make for a very different setting than the “normal” way we’ve been going to the movies for the last century. Many editorials and articles (Seattle Times in May, Vulture in May, and Quartz in June) have tried to talk that out exhaustively with every guess in the clouds. For example, many of us have embraced reserved seating as a way to select our spots, skip crowds, and guarantee seats even if we walk in last minute to avoid 20 minutes of senseless trailers (I know that’s not just me, *wink*). The activity timeline changes upward if we are to stand in a line for temperature checks and even downward if there are no concession lines or needs anymore, which is a tremendous business hit to the theater chains that have been bolstering their kitchen capabilities and choices beyond candy and popcorn for the better part of the last two decades. The other word in there everyone wants to avoid is “crowds.” Can that be accomplished with roped off sections, skipped seats, or an all-reserved seating model (which some older theaters don’t fully have)? In the meantime, you’ve got companies fumbling financial footballs and poking public outcry bears (bravo Michael Phillips) over requiring or not requiring masks (and reversing courses) and other measures before they even open. Do you really trust them to get all of this right on the first try here in July?

LESSON #3: THE OPTION OF AUTOMATION— Piggybacking off of Lesson #2, one potential solution could be artificial intelligence, as crazy at that sounds. According to Variety in May, some theaters in Korea were considering “contact-free” technology.  Theater chain CJ-CGV replaced its human staff with AI robots and automated kiosks for scanning and handling ticket transactions. Concession stands were replaced with app-powered and LED-controlled pick-up/delivery boxes. Leave it to tech-savvy Asia to be the tip of that spear. Could the likes of AMC or Regal pull stuff like that off, again, while teetering on financial failure? How do data-danger-minded consumers feel about that?

LESSON #4: COMPANY SURVIVAL IS PERILOUS— The first three lessons constitute a forecast and some great ideas, but who or what can afford those measures? After months of virtually complete closure, save for some door-front concession hawking, large theater chains, especially AMC (which includes the Carmike brand), are in the financial toilet. Bailouts and loans are hard to come by and “junk” status is hitting stock reports. You even have Amazon interested in gobbling up AMC, which would be quite interesting. It may require a rescue such as that. This peril is international as well with CineEurope reporting a possible $20-31 billion loss for the year. Even reopening isn’t an instant cure. The majority of profits for these companies are dependent on concessions because of the high ticket receipt percentages going back to the studios, a gouge that has been increasing over the years at the high blockbuster level (Thanks, Disney). If the food areas are closed due to viral fears and health code regulations, that destroys earnings. 50% capacities of social-distanced seating doesn’t help theaters either. Even 50% might be optimistic. There are theaters opening at barely 25% capacity

LESSON #5: “TOO BIG TO FAIL” IS LOOKING FAILURE STRAIGHT IN THE FACE— And with that we reach the studios’ level of wallet hit with an inactive theater distribution market. Even with their demanded big bites of the pie, half-filled (or less) theaters do not help them either. This is especially the case at the blockbuster level. No matter the anticipation demand or potential staying power of a really big hit flick with less competition, it is exponentially harder to recoup $200 million-budgeted tentpoles and their $100+ million marketing campaigns if sizable fractions of the screens holding butts are gone or entire chains are shuttered. That’s why the really big stuff like Tenet, Mulan, Fast 9, No Time to Die, and more are not automatically landing on streaming services or VOD outlets. Even at a Trolls: World Tour-equivalent $20 price tag per rental (and its modest success), those giants cannot recoup those huge red balances versus getting a ticket for every head instead of every household. A little thing like The Lovebirds or Irresistible can land in the green with VOD, but not Wonder Woman or Black Widow. A business with a blockbuster class level of movies that once looked too big to fail making its worldwide billions is now failing because they have no place to go and no one able to come to their shows.

LESSON #6: STUDIOS DID SOME THIS TO THEMSELVES— Believe it or not, the studios have slowly damaged their own theatrical success/potential for years with the incremental shortening of the windows between big-screen premieres and home media release dates. Folks my age remember the months of interminable wait back in the VHS and cable TV eras before streaming services were even a glimmer in someone’s eye. For example, Forrest Gump hit theaters over the July 4th weekend of 1994. It didn’t land on VHS until late April 1995 after a long theatrical run and a winter Oscar bump. After that, it wouldn’t hit paid cable for another bunch of months and then years before basic cable made it “free.” By comparison, Joker opened on the first weekend of October last year, hit store shelves the first weekend of January 2020, and no one cares if it comes to HBO or Showtime because Netflix, Hulu, or VOD is cheaper and better. What used to be six months at the minimum (or even an entire year if you were a Disney release) has shrunk to merely 90 days on average. Sure, both Forrest Gump and Joker raked for their times, but it’s an indictment on patience versus money-grabbing. People that are willing to wait can now weather a pretty comfortable amount of time compared to the past for their 4K players and big-screen TVs in their dens. In our current COVID-19 state, we’ve all got nothing but time on our hands to do just that. Why risk health if personal patience versus some “fear of missing out” can pay one $20-30 digital download/disc price to watch a movie repeatedly instead of hauling the entire family plus concessions once, especially for something they don’t deem “big screen worthy?” The studios trying to keep the buzz constant with shorter waits will now see leverage backfire in favor of the consumer. For a current case of that, just look at Disney/Pixar’s Onward and the mere weeks it took to cave from the VOD rental level to dismissively dishing it to everyone in Disney+. With studios building their own streaming shingles, you’re going to see more of that or see more wins for Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.

LESSON #7: THE PRICE POINT OF DIGITAL— Let’s go further with the digital wants of consumers versus the new risks and hassles of theaters. Circling back to that opening Variety polling again, remember that 70% would rather watch a first-run feature at home. And that was back in May. Imagine now knocking on the door of Independence Day, no matter how much antsy-pant anticipation and hope is out there. That same Variety polling screened respondents on online pricing with some keen results. It asked how much a “reasonable” price would be to stream top-quality productions in their home. Here are those results in numerical rank:

  • 47%- $10 
  • 20%- $20
  • 19%- only if it was free
  • 6%- $30
  • 3%- $40
  • 1%- $50, $60, or $80%

That’s 67% holding firm at $20 or under and studios need to do their own projections of math. Regardless, welcome to a more than a little bit of the #firstworldproblems portion of this entire “Soapbox Special.” Movies are wants, not needs, period. They are lovely fulfillment, but non-essential. For every one of those 6% hardcore FilmBros and cinephiles with the disposable income to drop $40 or more to see their precious Christopher Nolan film, over 95% aren’t budging or can’t afford it. Check your privilege. 

LESSON #8: ADAPT OR DIE— One way or another, change is needed at the highest level that trickles down to every screen in America. A popular industry that has weathered the advent of television, cable, and now streaming opponents and competition in its century of existence should be able to survive this. Or can they? With the Paramount Accords lapsed, is it time for studios to buy or build their own sustainable theaters to show off their own wares and keep all the profits they used to share with the chains? If studios instead mine the digital landscape successfully, do we really need multiplexes anymore? That is a question posed recently in The New Yorker by Richard Brody in a good read. They’ll need smaller budgeted films to do that, scaling so many things down. Go back to the roots. You can make a dozen solid indies or five or more star-driven mid-budget programmers like the industry used to do in the 1990s with the cost of a single MCU film. Reverting back to that level of business would require some baths and haircuts, but it would rescue the industry. It’s time to embrace those needs. In another angle, columnist Nick Clement on Back to Movies says the film industry is “f–ked.” In many respects, I highly agree with him and his fantastic stump piece speaking on unemployment and the public state of some of those aforementioned #firstworldproblems. Time and patience are the biggest needs. 

LESSON #9: “ABSENCE AWAY MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER”— I’ve used this lesson before in “What We Learned This Week” and it’s time to end with it again. Shed away all the polling and conjecture. We all know the love for movies is there or we wouldn’t be talking about it. Look at the success of early openings and the lined-around-the-block comeback of drive-in movie theaters. It will be a topsy-turvy year, without question, even with a full return. We’ve had a zero-budget film named Unsubscribe streaking at an empty box office only to be dethroned by revival screenings of Jurassic Park putting it back to #1 in the nation, George Foreman-style, 27 years after it last ruled the multiplexes. If the year ended today, Bad Boys For Life would get the “biggest movie of 2020” championship belt in the record books. Just like Field of Dreams says, “people will come.” They just need to wait. Everyone, for that matter, from the greedy studio execs and sidelined movie stars to the lowly theater ushers and concession stand workers, needs to wait. This has sucked and it will keep on sucking, but the best answer is to wait and get through this better and healthier, personally and financially, than rushing and screwing it all up. The movies will be there. We want all the people to be there too. 


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#135)

What We Learned This Week: May 25-June 14

LESSON #1: THERE IS NO BETTER TIME TO EDUCATE YOURSELF— In this time of racial divide and protest, education is more needed than ever. Just as I tout with my website, movies can be a place to get it. Service after service, studio after studio, and platform after platform from Netflix and the Criterion Channel to Kino Lorber have begun to make films and documentaries by and/or featuring black artists free or readily available. Take this curated list from our own Erynne Hundley and pounce on this excellent recommendations: 

LESSON #2: SPIKE LEE IS ONE OF CINEMA’S BEST TEACHERS— When you watch a Spike Lee movie, you’re getting more than dramatic narrative for entertainment value. With his frequent use of archival footage lately in films like Chi-Raq, BlacKkKlansman, and the new Da 5 Bloods, Lee brings a marvelous ability to echo the lessons of the past into the topical present that still sorely needs education. The man sternly teaches as he preaches. Spike Lee may be a provocative and acquired taste for more than a few, but his contributions are nevertheless bold and vital. History can and should look fondly on what he’s done with his work for four decades and counting.

LESSON #3: OLD MOVIES ARE TIME CAPSULES FOR THEIR ERAS AND DESERVE TO BE SEEN FOR WHAT THEY ARE— Speaking of history, times change. Sensibilities change. The movies of those times and built with dated sensibilities age as well. Watch them, but do not censor them. The Gone With the Winds of history deserve to be seen, examined, and even still enjoyed. Watch them with fair and discerning lenses. Take notes and learn from them. Movies are one way we keep history from repeating itself. More than anything, some movies only get better with age. Take this list of pre-1967 movies fit for an modern audience from IndieWire and be amazed. 

LESSON #4: EVEN SAVIORS BLINK— Back in May in an op-ed in The Washington Post, filmmaker Christopher Nolan lobbied hard for the survival of movie theaters and wanted his Tenet to be the movie that could help revive the multiplex scene. Those “insiders” that believed a mid-July release was overly optimistic turned out to be right. Nolan and Warner Bros. blinked and moved Tenet (and other tentpoles like Wonder Woman 1984) two more weeks to July 31st. Watch the pandemic numbers move it again in another two weeks. Wisdom is winning over hubris. Everyone needs to keep their patience. This could take a while and I think we’ve all come find that out. Maybe someone needs to tell Christopher too.

LESSON #5: SOMETIMES MOVIES ARE BETTER THAN THEIR BOOKS— Early word around the campfire is saying Kenneth Branagh’s Artemis Fowl which debuted on Disney+ instead of theaters is quite the hollow husk compared to its source material. I will always be that critic that will implore anyone and everyone to separate the two mediums of written prose and visual filmmaking. That said, better is an easy measurement to make. It’s rare, but there are times the movie is better than the book. Collider made a nice list last summer of 30 such submissions, I would add a 31st of Field of Dreams. If you want Artemis Fowl this weekend and lament, seek a few of those classics out.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) 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 member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, 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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#134)