What We Learned This Week: January 1-13

LESSON #1: EITHER BUSINESS IS BAD OR PEOPLE ARE FINDING THEIR ENTERTAINMENT ELSEWHERE— I have found that in the box office business, trends rarely lie.  Looking past inflation and price changes, the reported actual ticket sale counts are alarming according to the year-end news reported in several places.  A six percent drop is telling but not drastic.  “Lowest in 25 years” is a whole other thing.  To me, as I’ve stated in this column frequently, it’s all about the price point for family dollars.  The wave of unlimited TV and streaming options available at high quality and far lower costs than it takes to bring the average family of four to the multiplex with refreshments is becoming a no-brainer for those cost-minded folks.

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF BUSINESS, APPLE MIGHT HAVE A COUNTERPUNCH TO DISNEY— Once Disney bought 21st Century Fox, they gained controlling percentage of Hulu Plus at the same time as they’ve been positioning to launch their own dedicated streaming platforms.  The target was placed on Netflixes back, especially after the Mouse House pulled all of their content off the platform to bring under their own roof.  Netflix might have found a benefactor and powerful one.  According to reports sourced by Citi, Apple is angling to buy Netflix with a billion dollar price tag.  Throw Amazon’s power in there, and this WWE triple threat match in a streaming ring just got big

LESSON #3: SPEAKING OF BUSINESS, KEEPING ADVOCATING FOR EQUAL PAY ACROSS GENDERS— You can try to slice it, refocus the points, or pretend to justify the reasons however you want, but the Mark Wahlberg/Michelle Williams All the Money in the World compensation disparity story that broke this week is kind of sh-tty no matter which way you play it.  It just flat-out looks bad.  I’m glad it’s getting investigated by the union (Screen Actors Guild).  I keep the benefit of the doubt going that good faith is out there or that contracts are this and other contracts are that.  For that to remain, a positive outcome (with a rolled head or two) must arrive or this will only incite more from an already fractured female demographic, and rightfully so.

LESSON #4: WE HAVE TO CONSIDER THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI A FULL-FLEGED OSCAR CONTENDER NOW— To me, the Golden Globes have been a joke, are a joke, and will remain a joke with some of their category distinctions, silly nominees, and oddball choices.  That said, the Golden Globes aren’t the only awards Sam Rockwell, Frances McDormand, and Martin McDonagh’s film are sweeping up.  The two actors have been surging and now stand as legitimate co-frontrunners with Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) who have dominated the Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress categories.  These dark horses aren’t so pitch black anymore.  By the way, you know which Golden Globe winner is not a real contender?  James Franco.  Via con dios, dude.

LESSON #5: THE STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI HATERS ARE GOING TO BE BUTTHURT FOR A LONG TIME— …and it’s going to be agonizing to deal with them.  Most of the haters are just harmless snobs and sub-trolls.  Their rants and forgettable and carry weak traction, like silly petitions to remove the latest film from canon.  However, some of them take it too far.  This recent story of Kelly Marie Tran dealing with racist and sexist comments is a prime example.  That’s the kind of crap that goes too far and isn’t “fansmanship” nitpicking over water cooler talk anymore.  That’s the hurtful garbage that needs to go and get a life.

LESSON #6: CIRCLE BACK TO THE BEST OF 2017— Rotten Tomatoes closed the 2017 calendar with their list of 100% Tomatometer films.  Seven titles never received a bad review.  Use JustWatch to seek them out in this boring and empty annual moviegoing wasteland known as January.  Liam Neeson flicks can only keep your attention so long.  If you want more films after those seven, you’ve got five top-ten lists right here on Feelin’ Film from your hosts and contributors.


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 FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

 

Minisode 035: 2017 Year in Review

In this special SPOILER FREE “minisode,” we wrap up the year by discussing some of our favorite things about 2017. Instead of just a top ten list of favorite films, we talk about the moments and performances that really resonated with us personally. This is a super-sized bonus episode with a ton of content and we really hope you enjoy.

Favorite First-Time Viewings (non-2017) – 0:01:10

Favorite Performances – 0:27:36

Films that Most Exceeded Expectations – 0:52:19

Films that Were Biggest Disappointments – 0:57:56 

Favorite Episodes of the Year – 1:04:31

Our Feelin’ Five Films – 1:15:03

Most Anticipated Films of 2018 – 1:48:13

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Minisode 31: Murder on the Orient Express

In this minisode we discuss Agatha Christie’s often adapted book to film, Murder on the Orient Express, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, along with Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Leslie Odom Jr., Willem Dafoe, and a handful of other people potentially accused of murder. This story is special for a reason and we enjoy talking about the ethics and morality at play, while also gushing over a beautiful visual aesthetic in the film.

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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MOVIE REVIEW: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

GOING IN

In all my years of devouring classic literature, I never read a single Agatha Christie novel. A travesty, I know. Arguably her most famous work, Murder on the Orient Express features the famous reoccurring detective Hercule Poirot. The story tells of thirteen stranded strangers on a luxurious train ride, one of them a murderer who Poirot must discover and stop before they kill again. As intriguing as the story is, I’ve intentionally avoided reading the novel or seeing the 1974 film that came before, and therefore will be able to go into this mystery spoiler-free. Branagh’s work is never short on panache and the all-star cast assembled points to an exciting cinematic game of whodunit, reminiscent of the board game Clue.


COMING OUT

For me, the success of movie mysteries is largely measured by the answer to two questions: “was it entertaining” and “did it keep me guessing until the end? ” Unexpectedly, the film is very much not a thriller. The style is theatrical in nature, which should be no surprise with Branagh directing, combined with some modern stylish cinematography. It felt very much like Branagh’s tone in Cinderella and made for a weird experience, which to be honest, did not always work for me. At many times I expected the energy of the film to increase as suspects were considered and the investigation grew nearer to resolution, but aside from one or two scenes this felt more like a stage play minus the heightened drama. And that leads into question number two, because despite not knowing the story and end result, I was certainly not guessing until the end. I’ll admit that I did not know every detail until Poirot’s classic reveal speech, but the clues were easy enough to read that it felt more like I was watching to discover how the detective would deal with the outcome versus whether he would learn the truth or not. The “whodunit” simply wasn’t filmed in such a way that lived up to my expectations for an exciting mystery and at times was downright boring.

So far, by my standards, Murder on the Orient Express does not succeed. What saved the experience for me, however, was the story itself. Though I don’t feel like this is a great adaptation, I was definitely intrigued by the moral implications that arose once the killer’s identity was revealed. The questions about justice, and what is right versus wrong, were compelling and it is easy to see why this is one of Agatha Christie’s most beloved stories. Talking through the implications of the ending on the drive home with my 14-year old made for great conversation.

With regards to the stellar cast, I feel a bit cheated. We simply don’t get enough time with each of the many characters to establish much of a connection. The acting is fine, although I’m quite tired of Johnny Depp as a gangster at this point, but no one really stands out because all of the characters are equal and overshadowed by the hero detective. Branagh really just can’t help himself here and his camera keeps Poirot in focus in almost nearly every scene. Those he isn’t in are filmed from his perspective.  There are so many closeups and monologues that the film starts to feel much more about him and less about the mystery. Branagh is no doubt a stellar actor and his presence serves the character well,  but his direction creates an unevenness to the style in Murder on the Orient Express that makes it feel awkward.

Verdict

I’m glad that I now know the story of Murder on the Orient Express. Christie’s tale is fantastic and is a unique scenario in murder mysteries. It brings up questions about justice, judgment, and forgiveness. Branagh’s adaptation is good, and I don’t regret seeing it, but instead of wanting to re-watch it, I am more compelled to seek out the source material and previous adaptations. Murder on the Orient Express is just an okay film. You can see better, but you could also see a whole lot worse.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Florida Project

The Florida Project (2017)


Going In

Sean Baker first came onto my radar with 2015’s Tangerine, the unique and moving story of a transgender girl searching on Christmas Eve for the pimp who broke her heart. Oh, and it was also shot almost entirely on an iPhone 5s. This made Baker a must-watch director for me. His newest film, The Florida Project follows the life of a 6-year girl and her single mother over the course of one summer. Not much more detail than that is known other than the film also stars Willem Dafoe in what critics are calling one of his best performances. The simplicity of its plot and incredible amount of positive critical buzz make this one of the movies I am most excited for this fall.



COMING OUT

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference. To use a common metaphor, it is the ability to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” If there is one thing that The Florida Project evokes it is empathy, something our world could do with a hefty dose of right about now.

Sean Baker’s latest is a phenomenal film. Willem Dafoe anchors a cast of unknowns, including leads Brooklynn Prince (Moonee) and first-time actress Bria Vinaite (Halley). Both Prince and Vinaite are a revelation, turning in stunningly powerful performances as a homeless/jobless single parent and her mischievous 6-year old daughter. Set entirely over the course of one summer, this family lives in a run-down motel on the outskirts of the nearby Disney World. Moonee is not just a rebellious child, though, and that is what makes The Florida Project effective. Both she and her mother are both good and bad, living in that gray area that most of us do. Moonee could very well be seen as gifted, as well. She is incredibly creative and self-sufficient for her age, and a natural leader, but those rebellious tendencies that she has learned from her mother are ever-present. Hally, her mother, is also not a one note character. We don’t know exactly how she got into the situation she is in, but how she deals with it is the interesting thing. Her desire to provide for her daughter is never in question, but her methods of doing so definitely are. Watching her progressively poor choices was painful – she is a parent who thinks that she is showing love but doesn’t understand fully what that means. She is in many ways as much a child as Moonee when it comes to raising her daughter.

Willem Dafoe does indeed turn in one of his career best performance as the hotel manager and the only male influence in Moonee’s life. Like most characters in the film, he has the best of intentions but leads us to question whether the choices he makes truly what’s best for Moonee and her mom. Dafoe’s character could even be seen as a surrogate for the viewer, a man who is not in the same situation but on the fringe, trying to figure out how to interact and support without overstepping his bounds.  This is a movie about adventure, friendship, and innocence lost. The story is powerful from start to finish and it all leads up to an intense ending sequence that I haven’t been able to shake for weeks.

Verdict

The Florida Project wowed me in a way that few films have in 2017. I resonated deeply with its primary theme of empathy. As a parent myself, watching it was sometimes difficult but always worthwhile. With any luck, many will see this poignant film and begin to look a little more closely (and with more compassion) at those outside the margins as they go about their everyday lives. The Florida Project is unforgettable – a definite must see.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.