What We Learned This Week: September 2-22

LESSON #1: IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, BUY THEM— We read a great deal about how Netflix, for example, will dabble with theatrical debuts of their original movies and how it’s a bit of a struggle to get screens and self-distribute to the theatrical level.  Amazon, who is no slouch in the original film department, might be finding their own power move around that. They’re angling for suitors to buy the Landmark Theatres chain. When you own the theater, you set the terms and get the screens.  I think that’s ballsy and kind of genius, if you have the money, which Amazon sure does. Disney is making their own exclusive streaming service. Could you see them building their own exclusive theaters and keeping those dollars for themselves and not splitting with the AMCs and Regals of the world?  I sure could. Let’s see how it works for Amazon if it comes to pass. This could be the start of a tectonic shift in distribution and rest of the film biz.

LESSON #2: MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, IT’S THE FILMS THAT ARE BROKEN, NOT THE CRITICISM— Leave it to warm-hearted and successful This Is Us showrunner Dan Fogelman to show what boiling over looks like when it comes to starting another Artists vs. Critics vs. Audiences throwdown.  His film foray Life Itself is getting panned to the tune of 14% and still moving on Rotten Tomatoes) and his quoted reaction begins “something is inherently a little bit broken in our film criticism right now.”  If all he said was that, he’d be making a fair statement for discussion since the landscape has flaws, ones it is doing a decent job of working through for inclusion and representation in my opinion.  However, Dan aimed a little more sharply with “There’s a disconnect between something that is happening between our primarily white male critics who don’t like anything that has any emotion.”  Ain’t that a broad brush from a broad brush of the same color!  Watch him become the next Colin Trevorrow with that kind of flippant opinion.   If he looked deeper he would see that plenty of other critics that aren’t male or white don’t like his movie either.  If he looked deeper than the headliners, he would also find many white male critics who absolutely love emotion in movies.  Am I right, Aaron, Patrick, Jacob, Steve, and Jeremy?

LESSON #3: THE PREDATOR WAS AND IS A MESS— As fun as it was at times, I’m one of many critics who shook his head at the silliness brought forth by Shane Black’s The Predator, one of the most uneven films I’ve seen in a long time.  I couldn’t believe the mess (and then add the sex offender hiring snafu as well).  When I read the story of its reshoots (spoilers inside), all was explained to me and it sounds ridiculous.  The movie was dead on arrival. No wonder why it wasn’t good enough for a summer opening or scary enough for a Halloween weekend.

LESSON #4: NO MATTER WHAT, HENRY CAVILL’S DAYS AS SUPERMAN ARE NUMBERED— A great deal of fuss and backlash was made to the published rumors of Warner Bros. cutting ties with Henry Cavill in their DCEU.  The outrage and disbelief was off the charts, but when it’s being reported in The Hollywood Reporter, that’s not click bait anymore.  That is sourced news for this industry.  Beans may have been spilled early for all we know, leading to all of the walkback apologies since.  Still, I don’t see a good ending to this. For how maligned the DCEU films are and how strained fan interest/disinterest has become where the studio is quietly blowing up and disassembling its current course, too many signs are pointing to a necessary change.  My money is on Cavill being replaced by someone or something else within five years. There’s too much smoke here, rumors be damned.  Besides, there are greener pastures.

LESSON #5: AN AMERICAN IS GOING TO FROLIC IN A SACRED BRITISH GARDEN AGAIN— Word just broke this week that American director Cary Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation) is now the new director of the 25th James Bond film after Trainspotting series director Danny Boyle exited the franchise last month.  Fukunaga, a Netflix admirer, has swam in this foreign pond before directing Jane Eyre in 2010.  I think he continues the more serious tone Sam Mendes has brought to the MI-6 spy.  The next shoe to drop will be Daniel Craig staying or going especially if some Man of Steel is all of a sudden available and rumored to take his place.

LESSON #6: KEVIN FEIGE IS THE RIGHT MAN FOR HIS NEXT JOB— With Fox deal now done, the Marvel dream fulfillment of mergers and combinations begins.  The largest acquisition is the X-Men franchise and Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed that head Marvel Films producer Kevin Feige will oversee all future X-Men films.  That’s great news and the perfect landing place.  Some X-Men films have been very good and even great, but they have always had room for more fulfilled potential.  If Kevin Feige can sprinkle the dust he’s given to the likes of Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and more, the X-Men go back to the A-list.

LESSON #7: BOB IGER FINALLY FOUND THE BRAKE PEDAL ON THE BLOCKBUSTER ROLLER COASTER— Speaking of Mr. Iger, news broke Thursday that “some slowdown” is happening at Disney when it comes to saturating the market with the cash cow Star Wars films.  That’s fantastic news because there is such as thing as overdoing it (Marvel’s three-films-a-year is already quite a test).  Like many have said, there is more mystique and anticipation when there is more special rarity to their infrequency.  Force the patience and people will still come. 

LESSON #8: THE ACADEMY FINALLY LISTENED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION— Finally, all is back to being right in the world with the news that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is postponing their plans to have a “Popular Film” category on the grounds of being too late in the year to start a new initiative and how more study is necessary to understand its purpose or implication.  Forbes columnist Scott Mendelson adds more logs to that fire of reasoning.  Bring out the Madea “hallejuler” Tyler Perry memes.  I can put my previous soapbox column away, but I sure won’t delete it.  “Postpone” only means temporary. They’re bound to pull this nonsense again.  


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 and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: August 26-September 1

LESSON #1: SEARCHING SHOULD BE REQUIRED VIEWING FOR TEENS AND THEIR PARENTS EQUAL TO EIGHTH GRADE EARLIER THIS SUMMER— Standing as another dramatic dose of the perils of being a teenager and raising a teenager in this current times, Aneesh Chaganty’s electric Searching would make a heck of a twin-bill with Bo Burnham’s startling slice of truths from July.  If you have a son or daughter with a connected device and a digital footprint of apps and engagement, you need to be floored by this film’s stance as one-part cautionary tale and one-part family feels.  You’ll be diving to Protect Young Eyes and similar sites in a hurry afterwards.  Hear Aaron and I gush over this film in a recent Feelin’ Film minisode.  It’s my #1 film so far this year.  You NEED to see this one!

LESSON #2: WAIT AND SEE A FILM BEFORE PASSING JUDGMENT— Advance reviews, hot takes, and click bait web articles that stir up angles, tangents, and nonsensical conversations before a movie makes it to the general public are the wrong place to form an opinion on a film.  This lesson rears its ugly head today on the heels of the world premiere reviews for Damien Chazelle’s First Man and a Business Insider piece about whether or not the planting of the American flag during the Apollo 11 mission is shown or not.  People are already circling their wagons to either defend the assumed choice as an artistic or narrative decision or start lighting up the puff-chested patriotism-fueled “how dare you” revisionist opposition pitchforks.  First Man is not the first film to be bitten by this stuff and it won’t be the last.  Simply put, wait and see the film for yourself before falling for rumors and rants. 

LESSON #3: AWARDS SEASON STARTS RIGHT NOW— Speaking of all that early buzz, First Man is sounding pretty darn legit.  I’m remain on my “No Trailers Diet” to remain unspoiled and untarnished which includes reading advance reviews, especially for First Man which has been my #1 anticipated film all year.  It sounds like I’m going to like what I see in October.

LESSON #4: PUSHING BACK A RELEASE DATE TO MAKE A FILM BETTER SHOULD ALWAYS BE A WELCOME DECISION— Much like Lesson #2, other decisions shouldn’t always be met with gasps, groans, and uninformed opinions.  Release dates are one of them.  Too often, when a film has to blink from a planned release date to a later one, the first flags flying are the “lemon on their hands,” “it’s going to be a bomb,” and “obvious production troubles” ones from all the haters and doubters.  You know what, if a studio is actually stable enough and smart enough to not rush brilliance, they might just get rewarded with brilliance.  It was announced this week that the hotly-anticipated Top Gun sequel, which is still in pre-production before shooting, is going to delay a year from July 2019 to July 2020 to improve planned action sequences.  Like our own founder Aaron White said on this news in the Facebook group, it’s better to get it right than anything else.  I remember the boo-birds making all kinds of noise 20+ years ago when Titanic moved from a July 4th release to a holiday one.  I’d say that turned out pretty well.  I’ll take patience over hubris every time.

LESSON #5: LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY SHOULD BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT WHEN RANKING AND VOTING ON THE BEST FILMS OF ANY GIVEN YEAR— I’ve ranted on the “popular film” Oscar at length once already, but the reactions from within the industry are starting to develop in really strong and rightfully righteous directions.  This new category feels like a shorter hurdler being put on the race course for fluff films to clear.  Because of the comic film landscape and the Disney puppet strings behind-the-scenes, Black Panther is being labeled as a beneficiary of such a new award.  Don’t tell that to Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman.  Relayed by friend-of-the-podcast Emmanuel Noisette of The Movie Blog through LA Times and Hollywood Reporter sources, Marvel czar Kevin Feige and Boseman support the studio’s efforts to aim for the top prize and not the popular one.  Bozeman outlines a challenge for voters expressing: 

What is the difficulty of the thing that you did? And do people appreciate what you did; the quality of it, the difficulty of it. What we did was very difficult. Because we created a world. We created a culture. It doesn’t exist in a world that you already know. It’s a world that we had to completely…we had to create a religion, a spirituality, a politics.  We had to create an accent. We had to pull from different cultures to create clothing styles and hair styles. It’s very much like a period piece[…] So you can’t honor any period piece that you ever did, technically, more than you can this one. So as far as that’s concerned, I dare any movie to try to compare to the difficulty of this one.

I absolutely love that statement. You’ll hear Emmanuel and I talk about this within the Feelin’ Film Discussion Group on Facebook, but, more and more, we see room for the objective to be valued equal, if not higher, to the subjective when it comes to rating, ranking, and scoring films for review or awards contention.  I support that notion 100%.

LESSON #6: SPEAKING OF RECOGNIZING DIFFICULTY, MAYBE IT’S TIME WE CALL GENRES “DISCIPLINES” INSTEAD OF THE ORIGINAL TERM THAT HAS BECOME ATTACHED TO STIGMAS— Despite matching the definition of being of a different story type, the adjective of “genre” and term “genre film” have acquired negative connotations over these decades of blockbuster filmmaking.  It’s become a scarlet letter of supposedly fantasy and childish things that get looked down upon as lesser than some gilded ideal of theatrical drama and thespian brilliance.  This is where a guy like Ethan Hawke can be seen as the opposite of Chadwick Boseman from Lesson #5.  Instead of seeing what most of the masses see as the genre label pigeonholing superhero films, the First Reformed actor came out to call them “overpraised.”  I’m a firm believer that there is indeed true art to be found in ANY film genre, even the comfort food and dream fulfillment of comic book films.  Like Boseman alluded to, genre films like superhero films have their own unique degree of difficulty, one worthy of respect and admiration.  For me, I beginning to think of different “genres” of films to be more like martial arts disciplines.  Think of defensive karate versus the whirl of kung-fu or submissions of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.  Each are unique for their movement, execution, and overall purpose.  Each take a different degree of difficulty, skill sets, and work effort.  I think it’s time to put different film genres on that kind of plane.  I’m going to add “genre” to my personal list of “banned” words in film reviews, joining words like “great” and “masterpiece.”  I want to value what I’m talking about higher.


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: August 19-25

LESSON #1: NETFLIX DOES SOME GOOD THINGS— For this school teacher, it’s the end of the summer and I’ve been collecting little Netflix stories all summer for a seasonal round-up through this column.  The news pieces and editorials are pretty much split down the middle between positive and negative.  Let’s start with the good.  For one, they put their money where their mouth (and hubris) is as they plan to spend an astounding $13 billion this year on content, which includes contracts with studios and their own created productions.  That sheer volume of content on Netflix has caused many to call into question what gets premium position for promotion and placement.  I like the way director Ava DuVernay put it saying “My concern isn’t being lost, my concern is being somewhere, period.”  Earlier in the year, actress Elizabeth Olson expressed a similar forward-thinking compliment stating that the screening provider gives independent films a better chance at a wider audience than far more expensive limited theatrical release to a shrinking supply of art house movie theaters.  Netflix can be a permanent home instead of a two-week swing-and-a-miss to small crowds.  I don’t know what savvy producer would say no that for a fair price.

LESSON #2: NETFLIX DOES SOME BAD THINGS TOO— The piles of negative dings against the streaming giant is pretty tall too, spanning a range between content choices and business dealings.  Competition is coming in the form of Disney’s own branded streaming service with a rumored price point of $8/month, under Netflix’s current price tag.  The Mouse House has announced that all Disney content will gradually be off Netflix by March of 2019, which might cause a drop in subscribers who want their family content.  Speaking of kid-friendly stuff, the loudest piece came just this week from opinion writer Tim Winter of USA Today.  His bold claim was that Netflix, as proven by its supposedly racy volume of content choices, has turned its back on family programming.  Along the same lines, Netflix is buying fewer documentary titles than it used to after long being a welcome hub for that genre.  Echoing DuVernay’s take from Lesson #1, the home screen is only so big and what sells is going to get the premium space.  That’s good business even if its not pretty.  Discerning consumers need to be discerning and Netflix shouldn’t have to make excuses. 

LESSON #3: MOVIEPASS NEEDS A FORK STUCK IN IT IN THE WORST WAY— Another week bring another clownish fail from MoviePass.  This time its annual memberships being refunded and thrust into month-to-month subscriptions, limited ones at that, eliminating the savings that came from having a longer term.  I don’t what else can go south.  The crazy thing is we’ve been saying that about MoviePass for months and it keeps surprising us with more calamity and circus.  Seriously, they don’t need to adopt the Lenny Kravitz song line of “it ain’t over ’til its over.”  Just quit already.

LESSON #4: ON SOME LEVEL, DIRECTORS ARE IRREPLACEABLE— It was announced by Disney this week that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be delayed from its scheduled winter shooting date indefinitely following the dismissal of director James Gunn, which disbanded the production crew he hired.  The comic sequel isn’t the first or the last (especially at Disney) film to go through a change or delay like this, but this one feels more a shade more problematic and temporary than just changing a tire or replacing a dead battery.  This is replacing the battery and all of the framework, wiring, and bolts because of how each film is a team approach.  If Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ever does make it, we know it won’t be the same.  It will take a hit no matter what not just because of the public sentiment, but because of the reduction in quality from an entirely new team working on the film.  


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: August 12-18

LESSON #1: MOVIEPASS IS A CARNIVAL OF BAD IDEAS— It was been wildly unpredictable and maddeningly entertaining to watch the swirling toilet that is MoviePass.  First, the company began limiting subscribers film choices.  Next, it was re-enrolling folks and forbidding cancellations. and then it was reporting a new $126 million dollar loss, prompting shareholders to sue.  Are we out of forks to stick in this beast?  That said, I enjoyed IndieWire’s David Ehrlich’s truthful parable this week defining the MoviePass clamor we feel as proof of loving the medium of film.  He’s dead on.  

LESSON #2: SPEAKING OF LOSSES, HULU ISN’T DOING MUCH BETTER— If you think $126 million is a ton of money, how worse does $1.5 billion sound?  Put on your Dr. Evil voice and say it to yourself.  The dollar amount is the annual loss staring Hulu in the face, one that follows $920 million loss last year.  That’s quite a haircut that stings like a beheading.  Even with that new Disney money and ownership stake arriving, are Hulu’s months numbered next?

LESSON #3: EVERYONE IS A LITTLE PRETENTIOUS OR A LITTLE MAINSTREAM. IT’S JUST TO WHAT DEGREE— I got a kick out of this score-generating quiz of sorts that made the rounds on social media. Enter a movie title on the Pretentious-O-Meter and see where it lands between pretentious and mass market.  The creators list their calculation and logic behind their metrics and it’s pretty brilliant.  Have fun on this little game for a few minutes (or hours)!

LESSON #4: WE’RE GOING TO MISS ROBERT REDFORD— The dashing 81-year-old redheaded founder of the Sundance Film Institute and icon of yesteryear announced recently his retirement from acting.  This September’s The Old Man & the Gun, his second collaboration with director David Lowery after Pete’s Dragon, will be his last.  To call it a “good” run is a gross understatement.  Redford had a GREAT run, a career of reverence and one with very few blemishes.  He’s always been high on my list of favorites and bests.  

LESSON #5: I BELIEVE AND TRUST MICHAEL CAINE— Even in ambiguity after eight years, I never really doubted my own drawn conclusion in theorizing the end of Christopher Nolan’s 2010 opus Inception.  Beloved actor Michael Caine went on record recently and cleared up the guessing game with a pretty trustworthy explanation, one of definitive fashion that might be as close to “once and for all” as we’re going to get.  

LESSON #6: IS JAMES BOND FUNNY ENOUGH ANYMORE?— Former James Bond franchise actor Pierce Brosnan remembers a time when 007 was as cheeky in tone as he was in smiles.  He commented recently about the brooding, solemn, and muscular current take on the classic character being portrayed by Daniel Craig.  Brosnan mildly bemoans the sharp decline in light humor that was a benchmark trait of his films as well as those that came before him.  Without naming names, he blames the straight-faced action hero types (think Jason Bourne and the tough guys played by Jason Statham, Liam Neeson, and Mark Wahlberg) competing with the Bond character in the action film marketplace.  I think Brosnan has a valid point.  As stellar and bold as Craig’s run has been, there is a noticeable measure of charm missing.

LESSON #7: DISNEY KNOWS HOW TO BEAT DEAD HORSES— Dwindling box office returns be damned! Walt Disney Pictures announced that the green light is still on for a sixth Pirates of the Caribbean film directed by Dead Men Tell No Tales helmer Joachim Rønning.  The sequel would like star the Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario characters recently introduced, but there’s no word yet on Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow or Bill Nighy’s return as the teaser-dropped Davey Jones.  I get these films play well overseas, but the series has run its mainstream course here domestically.  I’m telling you, unless your name is James Gunn, Disney doesn’t often know when or how to quit.


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: August 5-11 – Oscar Rant Special

LESSON #1: WAIT FOR THE FULL DETAILS BEFORE JUDGMENT— This week’s column will be heavily centered on exploding all over the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science board of governor’s announcement of major changes to the Oscar categories, telecast, and format.  I had a whole batch of Netflix-related news, but they can wait and MoviePass will keep on dying to.  Let’s stay on the main event. To be nice, I might as well put my penance up front and say the positive lesson of patience and get it over with.  Without knowing the as-yet-unannounced or in-progress criteria for the controversial “Best Popular Film” category, it’s probably best to take as seat at the “wait and see” picnic table instead of joining the think piece parade of pitchforks and torches.  So, we can try to do that, but a better situation could have been created.

LESSON #2: DON’T ANNOUNCE A MAJOR CHANGE WITHOUT FULLY CALCULATING, ORGANIZING, OR SETTLING ON THE DETAILS OF SAID MAJOR CHANGE— Come on, AMPAS.  Did the entire room of out-of-touch decision makers elbow each other in the ribs in unison with a “guys, they’re going to love this idea, just you wait” cluelessness?!  Did no one there have the fart-in-the-wind thought in their mind that maybe dropping this undefined idea wrapped in undetermined ambiguity would be seen as problematic for potential public backlash?  Did no one ask how condescending this looks?  No wonder why your show has declined in prestige (predictable winners), viewership (slipping ratings), and respect (#OscarsSoWhite). You’re asleep at the wheel of hubris.

LESSON #3: LET’S BE CLEAR.  DISNEY IS THE BAD GUY HERE— Peachy products be damned, Disney continues to do thrust shady business moves left and right with a big billionaire smile across its face because it can, from shoving out publications, undercutting partners, and squeezing everything it can for more money and dominance.  This is another one of those questionable self-serving moves because they own ABC, the network the Oscars on, and it’s their declining bottom line (see the numbers), not the film industry’s or the artistic medium’s bottom lines.  And, which films do think have the best and most financially-armed chances to campaign heavily for that new “popular film” Oscar?  Their own, just like the last tailor-made category fell into their lap: Best Animated Feature. If that’s not gloryhounding and forcing the AMPAS to play ball, I don’t know what is.

LESSON #4: IF THE GOAL IS A SHORTER SHOW, CUT OUT THE SUPERFLUOUS FLUFF— Let me let Disney and ABC in on a not-so-little secret.  It’s not the obscure films that make the Oscars boring, it’s the unnecessary variety show bits and comedic crap the producers pack into the show that take away from the importance that should marvel with majesty.  For me, the Oscars should play like opening or closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games. The pageantry and the excellence of the moment is given the gravity it deserves and the results captivate us every time. Instead, we get late night talk show leftover monologues and dumb gags that inflate the running time more than any impassioned deadline-stretching speech.  Let’s do some generous math. Give 24 categories 5 minutes each (3 to introduce it gracefully with deeper montages than mere quick mentions and 2 full minutes for each winner’s speeches) and that’s 120 minutes. Tack on 5 minutes to open with a welcoming monologue, 5 minutes to close with a thankful prologue, 3 minutes for the annual dead people roll call, and 30 minutes for required commercials to pay the bills.  Bingo-bongo! You’re well under three hours, the awards are given rich room to operate, and nothing is forgotten except another hare-brained skit. For other outstanding suggestions, I must strongly recommend this editorial from my Chicago critic friend and colleague Jeff York on The Establishing Shot.  His list of smarter changes is outstanding.

LESSON #5: THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER WORTHY AREAS FOR NEW OSCAR CATEGORIES THAN THIS SILLY IDEA OF A POPULAR FILM ONE— Of all the new and unsung categories, it had to be blockbuster level cheese?  You can do better, Academy, to celebrate the real people that make any of these movies, large or small, special.  Jeff York’s column got the ball rolling with suggesting a Best Stunt Work award and excising the antiquated and watered-down Best Song category.  That’s a great place to start. IndieWire’s Zack Sharf listed seven possible category additions in a column on Thursday, all of them with more solid merit than the popular film one.  Praise is overdue, but not for the moneymakers. Give it to the hard workers behind the scenes.

LESSON #6: IF YOU WANT MORE POPULAR FILMS TO WIN AWARDS, MAKE BETTER POPULAR FILMS.  IT’S THAT SIMPLE— Again, without criteria, this new category reeks to be like the equivalent of a participation ribbon in some crappy youth sports league.  There have been more than enough times in the 90 years of Oscar history where the popular films are also thought of as among the best of the given year as well.  That distinction of quality and the integrity to maintain that are the whole point of the awards. They have to be earned. Want one? Make a better movie. Sure, any of these awards are given in the moment and years before we’ll ever know if the films fully deserved them or had the staying power to stand as the best they were deemed to be.  But that doesn’t mean you have to lower that level of quality just to endear some demographic you want to watch your silly, broken comedy variety awards show. That’s what the MTV Movie Awards are for.

LESSON #7: FINALLY, “FAVORITES” WILL ALWAYS BE MORE LOVED THAN THE SO-CALLED “BEST” ANYWAY— I say it all the time on the FF airwaves and social media walls.  There is sometimes a difference between “favorite” and “best.” When they are the same, that’s wonderful and special.  It earned that universal acclaim and deserves all the praise, be that awards or otherwise. However, if a “favorite” doesn’t win, that’s perfectly OK because the loyal love they generate cannot be taken away and will outlast any golden hardware it didn’t win.  The box office profits and, more importantly, the endearment and continuous place among the celebrated classics of the masses will always be a stronger justification than any trophy. Just ask every parent which films they pass on to their kids. I bet it’s more non-Oscar winning personal favorites than academic winners.  Just ask all of those filmmakers and actors who become permanent legends from non-Oscar-winning films and cult classics. They didn’t need an award to be loved. Their adored films and performances spoke for themselves. All of that is better than enough.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: July 29-August 4

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

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

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

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

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


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: July 22-28

LESSON #1: YOU ARE THE CURATOR OF YOUR OWN SOCIAL MEDIA— Boy, oh boy, the lessons that spin out of the James Gunn dismissal and Twitter developments could fill this column for hours.  First, I must properly renew my applaud to our highly responsive and active Facebook group for the civil and engaging conversation when this story broke mere hours after WWLTW was already published for last week.  For me, the top lesson moving forward from all that happened is this one rooted in responsibility. Trolling or not and joking or not, celebrity or commoner, your name is assigned to your social media personas and presences. No one controls that content but you. There is no “must be the curator.” You “are” the curator. Act as if you are saying those words to people’s faces. Speak with context and think before you click the send button, because what you post leaves tracks. It doesn’t go away easily. You must control the message, from posted public content on down to privacy settings and who you allow in your circle. Get disciplined and clean up your act.

LESSON #2: HYPOCRISY IS A SHORT STEP AWAY FROM PRUDENCE— Though I may disagree with their firing, I get where Disney is coming from. They have an image to maintain, but they have turned a blind eye for years. Disney bankrolled Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax shingle for years. Robert Downey, Jr.’s legal rap sheet has more convictions than Gunn’s zero, but heaven forbid the fire their cash cow star.  Are we going to see revisionist history apologies or retroactive action on those two examples or that dozens of others? Not likely, which is why a studio like this turning over a new leaf is a good and prudent thing for the future, but it is still very damning when the past isn’t handled or at lest addressed.  This all could have been handled better without the caving to political wackos.

LESSON #3: DIRECTORS HAVE EARNED THE POSITION TO BE IN A FIGHTING MOOD— Even before the James Gunn headlines added butthurt political naysayers to the list of public enemies, the recent pushback against toxic fandom was already firing up talented filmmakers.  Before his own pickle, Gunn himself jabbed that hurtful fans of the bullying internet variety need to “go to therapy.”  Zack Snyder, and even Michael Bay, have never been shy about standing by their work.   Logan and Walk the Line director James Mangold, who recently threw his hat in the Star Wars ring by signing on to helm a Boba Fett standalone film, berated the buzz in a tweet that connecting the calls for blasphemy and emotional overload to the studios hiring “hacks” instead of bolder minds.  The same landscape not-so-jokingly “cured” Mission: Impossible series director Christopher McQuarrie from ever wanting to direct a Star Wars film.  In my eyes, these examples are not being thin-skinned against criticism.  These kinds of statements of strong words against the paying customers are rooted in demanding and respecting artistic integrity, something the selfish sect of moviegoers don’t properly understand.  I, for one, support the hell out of these public displays of spine.  I wish more did the same.

LESSON #4: GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND DO SOMETHING ACTIVE— This lesson is a combination of positive and negative recent examples surrounding the summer movie season.  The core message is to get out and have a physical outlet away from fantasy and escapism.  On one hand, the “get a life” and “go to therapy” clapbacks to the toxic fanboys is an indirect call to them to have something else fulfilling in life other than movies and entertainment.  Excellent counterexamples have appeared this summer at the movies between Tag and Uncle Drew and the idea of “play.” My Chicago colleague and Consequence of Sound film critic Clint Worthington richly outlined this psychology in highly recommended little editorial read published on Crooked Marquee.  I love the underlying messages from Clint’s article and the movie examples.  Put down the screens.  Get off the couch.  Get out of the movie theater air conditioning.  Go outside.  Get together with friends in person instead of virtually and have interpersonal activity and collaborative fun.  Simply put, go play.  It’s summer.  Get some exercise and get better juices flowing than those that come from sitting down and watching some thing you’ve seen a hundred times.

LESSON #5: THE DEAL IS DONE— The two largest official steps of have cleared in the deal of the century.  Shareholders of both 21st Century Fox and the Walt Disney Company approved the $71.3 billion takeover deal on Friday morning.  That follows the approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.  No more red tape exists, only transitional preparations.  Folks, the reality is official real.  It’s officially OK to start all that click-bait fan casting of Fantastic Four, X-Men, and more.  Deeply suspicious campfire rumors are bubbling up that substantial fix-up work may already be necessary on the two upcoming Fox/Marvel films The New Mutants and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Uh oh.  We knew speedbumps were possible.  Hang tight.  It could be worse.  Could you imagine the kind of image and tone cleanup Marvel would have to apply to the DCEU if they bought Warner Bros.?!  Great googa-mooga!

 


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: July 15-21

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

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

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

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

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

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


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: 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.