What We Learned This Week: October 1-7

LESSON #1: THERE ARE LIKELY MORE SKELETONS IN MORE CLOSETS THAN WE WILL EVER KNOW— Last year, it was the allegations surrounding Casey Affleck.  Last week was the culmination of old indiscretions from Ain’t It Cool News and Alamo Drafthouse.  This week, it’s the unearthed disgusting behavior from mega-producer Harvey Weinstein.  I wish this story would be the last on the topic of unchecked sexual harassment, but I think any law of averages from any statistical measure will tell us this is the tip of an iceberg and not the finale.  I’ll repeat my plea from last week to remove the silence and dish out the overdue consequences.

LESSON #2: HARRY DEAN STANTON DESERVES TO WIN THE THIRD POSTHUMOUS ACTING OSCAR EVER AWARDED— You can call Lucky a capstone, a eulogy, or whatever you want, but the late Harry Dean Stanton deserved serious Oscar consideration for Best Actor even before his death.  His legend will only grow with the public seeing the film. Starkly present in both the character and the actor himself, every wrinkle hides a layer, a story to be told, or a touchstone to an unseen memory. You cannot stare deep enough into his sullen eyes without being captivated by his plight.

LESSON #3: THE MONEY PEOPLE EARN MAKING A MOVIE— Mark me down as a guy who never knew how much the folks you see listed in the end credits of a film got paid.  We hear about the big paychecks of actors and directors, but rarely the “little people.”  Check out this article from TIME magazine. File this under the “You Learn Something Every Day” department.

LESSON #4: IS THE THEATRICAL PRODUCT GETTING SLOPPY?— I recently enjoyed the perspective written up by Sonny Bunch in The Washington Post.  I found the technical details behind projection, sound, and lights to be fascinating.  The more I think about my theatrical experiences every week, the more I see what Bunch is referring to.  Calling it a “scapegoat” to attendance I think is a little too strong, but discerning fans are right to expect and want better from their premium ticket prices.

LESSON #5: GEORGE CLOONEY IS TOO YOUNG TO BE GETTING LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS— The American Film Institute announced that George Clooney will be receiving their 46th Lifetime Achievement Award next June.  Mr. Clooney is only 56-years-old.  I don’t want to turn into Don “TMasterpiece” Shanahan, but George’s career is far from full or even complete.  Let’s put the “lifetime” in lifetime achievement awards.  The guy could work at the top of his game for another quarter-century.  Come back when the guy is 76 instead of 56.  Next thing you know, Jennifer Lawrence is going to win the thing before she turns 30.  Jeez!


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

What We Learned This Week: September 24-30

LESSON #1: HARASSMENT SHOULD NOT BE TOLERATED AT ANY LEVEL IN THIS INDUSTRY— This lesson could also read “PERPETRATORS GET THEY DESERVE.”  The recent allegations surrounding the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse and Ain’t It Cool News website are disturbing and troublesome.  I couldn’t be more pleased to see workplaces all around several industries clean up their acts and seek greater integrity.  These inequalities shouldn’t be silenced anymore.

LESSON #2: AMBIGUITY IS A POWERFUL DISCUSSION STARTER— I’ve seen Blade Runner 2049 and I can say that it hits with the same mystery and rich uncertainty that surrounds the 1982 original. When it’s silent, Blade Runner 2049 can infer volumes of connotations. When it speaks in its guarded circles of exposition, it conversely shields and misdirects its real secrets.  Diving into all of the possible interpretations is brilliance and fun.  In many ways, mother! did the same a few weeks ago.  While I’m here, Denis Villeneuve has become the modern artistic authority on cinematic intensity.  There’s nothing flat or flimsy about his work.

LESSON #3: TOM CRUISE IS STILL TOM CRUISE— I know plenty of people that won’t watch the man anymore because they disagree with who he is and what he values off-screen, but, at his workplace, Tom Cruise still has gung-ho charisma.  He’s 100% committed to his roles from pre-production to selling the hell out of them with exhausting international press coverage and public appearances.  American Made has a candor and sizzle that fits him perfectly without turning him into an indestructible superstar.  Bonus points go to Cruise being credited as a stunt pilot in the film.  Often, that’s him on the stick and that POV authenticity adds to the film.

LESSON #4: IS THE HONEYMOON PERIOD OVER FOR THE LEGO MOVIE FRANCHISE?— Plenty of films would kill for a $20 million dollar opening weekend frame, but when you’re sailing for the Warner Bros. flagship and bearing The LEGO Movie name, you have to do better than $20 million and a distant third place finish.  Is The LEGO Ninjago Movie an outlier or the first sign of ho-hum market over-saturation.  Is all forgotten if Chris Pratt’s Emmet or Will Arnett’s Batman come back with monster sequels to their blockbusters?  Probably, but the lesson is worth asking.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

What We Learned This Week: September 17-23

LESSON #1: FOR AT LEAST ONE FILM, DEFENDING OF INTEGRITY STILL EXISTS— I absolutely love Paramount Pictures’ statement of support for Darren Aronofsky’s mother! after its low box office debut and an “F” CinemaScore.  Here it is:

This movie is very audacious and brave. You are talking about a director at the top of his game, and an actress at the top her game. They made a movie that was intended to be bold. Everyone wants original filmmaking, and everyone celebrates Netflix when they tell a story no one else wants to tell. This is our version. We don’t want all movies to be safe. And it’s okay if some people don’t like it.

Other studios in other situations could have gotten in the bus driver’s seat, made up excuses, or assigned blame to everyone but themselves.  Love or hate the film (and plenty feel both), mother! deserves its chance for success and an audience no matter how large or small those results add up to be.  Bravo to the balls on Paramount brass!  That’s as forward an example of integrity as you’re going to see in a profit-driven business where art is secondary.

LESSON #2: BARRING HUGE UPHEAVAL, YOU CAN LOCK IN THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI AS ONE OF THE NOMINEES FOR BEST PICTURE AT THE UPCOMING 90TH ACADEMY AWARDS— Every year since 2008, the winner of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival has gone on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.  Three eventual Best Picture winners since 2006 were TIFF champs.  Go ahead and write in permanent marker the title of Martin McDonagh’s newest film to the field.  I think you’ll also see star Francis McDormand’s name on the Best Actress short list as well.  Any and all Oscar buzz will float through this column all season.

LESSON #3: STRONGER IS THE BOSTON MOVIE WE DESERVED MORE THAN PATRIOTS DAY A YEAR AGO— The resonance surrounding the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing has always been more about the people than the bravura.  We deserved the real thing, not an overly convenient composite character in a Mark Wahlberg glamour project.  The most and maybe only genuine portion of Peter Berg’s film came in its extended epilogue of testimonials given by the actual citizens and participants.  Real respect and passion showed up after two hours of exploitative action.  David Gordon Green’s Stronger flips that ratio to deliver and demonstrate true dignity and tribute.  His film is outstanding.

LESSON #4: RESPECT WOMEN, PERIOD— On the heels of the metaphorical misogyny found in mother! arrives a debate-filled dramedy of a real-life climate of misogyny in Battle of the Sexes.  The Emma Stone/Steve Carell duel is an unabashed crowd-pleaser and stand-up message film that inspires and challenges gender equality then and now.  Someday, a time will come when the blazed trails of women like Billie Jean King will lead to a true level field.  Until then, every measure of respect paid to women is a step toward an acceptance and understanding that should be commonplace.  Make a greater effort, period.  If you’re part of the problem, change your ways.  Teach not only our daughters better, but our sons as well.  The old Lauren Barnholdt axiom says “you have to give respect to get respect.”  Women have been giving of themselves for far too long.  It’s time to pay the respect back.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

What We Learned This Week: September 10-16

LESSON #1: DARREN ARONOFSKY IS AS AUDACIOUS AS THEY COME— Love or hate his films (and there is a lot there for both emotions), but Darren Aronofsky has cajones, talent, and personal integrity to make bold films his way and for his own artistic expression.  mother! is the latest chapter of a brazen filmography of NoahBlack SwanThe Wrestler, Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, and Pi.  The guy is operating at another level and uses a different elevator of crazy.  Recognize the skill through any love or hate you harbor to his films.

LESSON #2: GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S THE SHAPE OF WATER IS YOUR FIRST OSCAR CONTENDER— The master of creature creation’s romantic fantasy film won the prestigious Golden Lion award as the top film of the Venice Film Festival.  Put it at the top of the standings while it also competes at the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival.  If The Shape of Water were to win at TIFF, hot damn, you can switch the word from “contender” to “frontrunner.”  In other categories, Venice awarded its acting prizes to Kamel El Basha for The Insult and Charlotte Rampling for Hannah, its screenplay award to Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, and the best director prize to Xavier Legrand for Custody.  Within the next week or two, I will report the TIFF winners in this very column.

LESSON #3: “WHITE PRIVILEGE” WILL BE THE MOST POLARIZING SUBJECT MATTER AND NARRATIVE THIS AWARDS SEASON— I screened and reviewed the Ben Stiller vehicle Brad’s Status this week and if I had to retitle the film, it would be White Privilege: The Wake-Up Call.  The movie has a strong introspective quality about it, but its message is going to fall on so many deaf ears to any demographic that’s not a middle-aged white male.  Consider that a crutch and a hindrance, even if the film was good.  I fear the same thing will happen to an even higher profile film this awards season, namely George Clooney’s Coen brothers collaboration Suburbicon.  Clooney was stumping for the film and Venice and found himself answering the sticky white privilege labels and questions.  To his great credit, he’s sticking to his guns about the purposeful satire and commentary of this film.  The film may work, but does that mean it will play that way to general or even voting audiences?  I’m betting the white privilege labels aren’t far behind for Alexander Payne’s Downsizing and even mother! too.

LESSON #4: PATTY JENKINS DESERVES THE SUCCESS COMING HER WAY— Warner Bros. made it official this week signing Patty Jenkins to return as the director of the Wonder Woman sequel.  The first film’s runaway success netted her a $7-9 million payday, the highest ever for a woman director, and a little percentage of the back-end profits for good measure.   Slowly but surely, the pay gap can and should close.  Patty Jenkins deserves this reward and I’m glad she’s one of the leaders for equal professional standards.  Kudos!

LESSON #5: THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO GET A FILM DONE RIGHT— I’ve talked in this column over the summer about the many news items of production ups-and-downs.  Instances include when Justice League called on Joss Whedon to step in for extensive reshoots or the dismissals of two different Star Wars directors.  This week, all signs point to J.J. Abrams returning to the director’s chair for Episode IX and delaying the film an additional seven months to reshuffle the deck.  On the smaller side, ace composer Johann Johannsson is leaving Blade Runner 2049 less than a month before its release.  We take those breaking stories as signs of trouble and possible evidence of a lemon to come.  We’ve been doing it in the internet age since Titanic was delayed from a July 4th weekend opening to Christmas in 1997.  Sometimes those fears become justified.  Maybe, just maybe though, the delays are the right moves to ensure a proper finished product.  Maybe a little more patience and extra time used to fine tune a film can finally win in the age of instant gratification, manic buzz, and “what have you done for me lately.”  We are a voracious audience sometimes, myself included, but maybe we can soften our Chicken Little-level overreactions.  Call this an early New Year’s resolution for this writer.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

What We Learned This Week: September 3-9

LESSON #1: HOW MANY COOKS WITH HUBRIS APRONS ARE IN THE DISNEY KITCHEN?— My guess is too many and it’s time to wonder who’s running the show and why they can’t keep talent around.  The dismissal this week of director Colin Trevorrow from Star Wars: Episode IX comes less than three months after a similar parting-of-ways between the Mouse House and the directing team of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord on Han Solo (coupled with acting coach rumors needed for its star Alden Ehrenreich and the swift hire of Ron Howard to finish the film).  Dig back farther and the storied Tony Gilroy-led reshoots of Rogue One now ring a louder alarm.  Across the office, plenty of directors (Edgar Wright, Joss Whedon, Jon Favreau) have also butted heads with the Marvel end of the Disney empire on the grounds of creative differences.  To use an NFL analogy in honor of the opening week of the new season, this reeks of Jerry Jones/Al Davis-style meddling from the front office that prevents the coaches, executives, and players underneath them from doing their job.  Treverrow haters (and there are many after Jurassic World and The Book of Henry) celebrated the axing and formed bandwagons for desirable replacements (#bringbackJJ), but somewhere up the ladder, someone is power-tripping at Disney enough to make dedicated and non-hack people walk, and, unlike the past, it’s not George Lucas’ hubris messing things up.  Keep an eye on all this.

LESSON #2: CASTING FOR DIVERSITY IS MORE THAN JUST LEADS— Opportunity is everything in the moviemaking business and too many of those doors have been locked or lost for too many minorities.  It’s wonderful to see more awareness on the topic, especially self-awareness as was the case with the outcry/applause in Ed Skrein’s recent departure from the Hellboy reboot.  Every step counts as progress.  Prolific reviewer/writer extraordinaire (and a peer of mine) Nick Clement earned a rousing by-line from Variety recently in a dynamite piece talking with casting directors about filling roles with diversity deeper than the only the principal leads, especially if those roles break racial and ethnic stereotypes.  It’s a great read and spot on to truly heavy lifting of those doors.  It starts at the bottom more than only at the top.

LESSON #3: WHAT IS THE PROPER PLACE FOR STORY-EXTENDED SHORT FILMS?— Two Ridley Scott-connected films, Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049, have employed short film vignettes via YouTube as a prequel-like means of catching audiences up on time and providing background information for a coming full feature.  I, for one, don’t know how I feel about them.  I’m all for expanding the medium of short films and adding context, but do these extended scenes (like this one of an upcoming three for Blade Runner 2049) play like spoilers?  Shouldn’t a feature film be edited and tuned enough to stand on its own with the extras?  Should these kinds of scenes be saved for home media special features?  I’m undecided.  What are your thoughts?  Add a comment below.

LESSON #4: LOOK TO TORONTO AS THE OSCAR SEASON TAKES ANOTHER STEP— The prestigious Venice Film Festival will be naming their Golden Lion and other winners on September 9th, but, two days before, the spotlight shifts to the Toronto International Film Festival.  TIFF has arguably usurped Cannes as the most elite film festival in the business.  The must-see list of Oscar contenders coming from TIFF 2017 includes Mother, Molly’s Game, The Florida Project, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, MN, The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, The Current War, Downsizing, Bodied, Surburbicon, Hostiles, Battle of the Sexes, Mary Shelley, Lean on Pete, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Brawl in Cell Block 99, The Death of Stalin, and The Disaster Artist.  Eight of the last ten TIFF People’s Choice Award winners have gone on to Best Picture Academy Award nominations, including two eventual winners (The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave).


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

What We Learned This Week: August 27-September 2

LESSON #1: THERE’S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “FAVORITE” AND “GREATEST”— I’ve used this very lesson’s line quite often in the Feelin’ Film discussion group over the year.  As a credentialed film critic who is still a starving fan of cinema, I cannot help but wear two hats and grade with two scales, and I’m completely at peace with that.  However, thanks to sites like Letterboxd, we rank things to death and I, for one, get hung up on the labeling because there is a stark difference between “favorite” and “greatest.”  “Favorite” is personal taste while “greatest” is more objective and reflective in measurement.  It’s beautiful when they are the same film, but there are many cases when that doesn’t happen.  The most recent topic that reminded me of the necessity for separate distinctions was the recent BBC poll ranking the 100 greatest comedies of all time.  Comedy is the most subjective of all film genres, where the divide between “favorite” and “greatest” is both distant and touchy from one person to the next.  Comedy also has the proclivity to not age well.  Combine those reactions together and the dissection comments of “what about ____,” “why isn’t ____ higher,” and “I can’t believe ___ isn’t on there ” reminded me that comedy is personal and even the trolls have room for a say.  Then, I looked at the years and it led me to the next lesson.

LESSON #2: MILLENNIALS DON’T REALLY CARE ABOUT CLASSIC FILMS— For the multitude of younger audiences circulating the web today, the BBC’s top 10 was entirely comprised of films older than 1993’s Groundhog Day, topped by 1959’s Some Like it Hot (a completely deserving top film IMO).  I wonder how many of the butthurt Millennials who were dropping those comments from Lesson #1 have even seen a Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton film.  This lesson title is lifted from a recent New York Post article that hit the truth of wonderment with a ton of bricks.  The piece reported polling data from FYE.com of 1,000 Millennials and 1,000 Americans over 50 on seeing top IMDb-rated films.  The results were eye-opening.  I get that differences in quality and tone from classic films to modern films and how audiences and tastes have changed.  Still, I will stand up as a guy calling for young people to respect history and educate themselves before they rant.  Learn the roots that inspired the films we’re watching today.  Go discover the endless buried treasure that comprises lists like the BBC’s Top 100 Comedies and the IMDb Top 250.  Even if they don’t like what they find, they’ll at least be an educated voice instead of an ignorant one.

LESSON #3: LET’S VISIT JESSE AND CELINE EVERY NINE YEARS UNTIL THEY DIE— If note-worthy director Michael Apted can revisit the same group of British citizens every seven years in his beloved Up documentary series that started at 7 Up in 1964 and turned 56 Up in 2012, then let’s have a narrative feature do the same.  Word fluttered recently that there is hope for a fourth Before film from director Richard Linklater and stars/co-writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  To whatever studio gets that pitch, move heaven and earth to make it happen in time for 2022.  Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have built a trilogy of perfection since 1995.  How beautiful would it be to follow the star-crossed couple of Jesse and Celine from the twentysomethings to their silvery senior years? Gosh, that’s a good dream!

LESSON #4: L.A. CONFIDENTIAL IS CURTIS HANSON’S MASTERPIECE— During the recent Noir City Festival in Chicago, the famed Music Box Theatre in Chicago hosted a 20th-anniversary screening of Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential, complete with author James Ellroy in the house for a rousing introduction and post-film talk back.  Here fellow Chicago critic Jeff York and I talk about the experience on the Page 2 Screen podcast on the International Screenwriters’ Association Network.  Twenty years ago, when I was just getting into movies as a high school grad approaching his freshman year of undergrad, I was lucky enough to discover L.A. Confidential on the big screen and it was a gateway drug to learning about the noir genre and smart procedural films after a decade-long buffet of 90s action films built as trashy and excessive glamour projects (go look at the 90s filmographies of Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger).  The film should have beat Titanic for the Best Picture Oscar that year and it still stands as a watershed today.  Curtis Hanson died a year ago this month, leaving behind a resume of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Wonder Boys, White Dog, The River Wild, and 8 Mile.  L.A. Confidential is his unquestioned masterpiece and one of my Top 5 all-time films.  If you’ve never seen it, treat yourself.

LESSON #5: THE WORLD IGNORED THE RETURN OF STEVEN SODERBERGH AND IT’S A DAMN SHAME— Speaking of masterful directors, Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky deserved better at the August box office.  The whole month has been a hot mess and dumping grounds for trash left and right for the last three weeks, but Soderbergh’s heist film is a gem.  The guy came out of retirement and delivered a crowd-pleasing winner.  I’m surprised in the summer of Baby Driver that Logan Lucky couldn’t find a similar niche audience.  Here’s to hoping it finds a sweet spot on the next level of VOD, Netflix, and home viewing.  Consider that film a current treat to wash down the Curtis Hanson one with a smile.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

 

What We Learned This Week: August 20-26

 RETURNING FROM SUMMER VACATION: I take two weeks off and all hell breaks loose!

LESSON #1: “MANSPLAINING” IS NEVER ENDEARING OR RESPECTFUL— For a guy who has fostered one “Strong Female Character” after another, including two of the greatest in Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley, James Cameron sure missed the big picture of Wonder Woman.  In an interview with The Guardian (full context), the Titanic filmmaker stated “All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided” and adds “She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards.”  Well now, Mr. Pott.  What color is the kettle?  Mr. Cameron is entitled to his opinion and slant (the film is far from perfect), but the fun thing is we all get one too.  Don’t worry Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins dropped the mic on him with this commandingly brilliant tweet:

LESSON #2: MOVIEPASS MAY HAVE FINALLY FOUND AN ATTRACTIVE PRICE POINT— Mitch Lowe, the co-founder of Netflix, made tsunami waves recently with a ballsy new business model for the mildly-received MoviePass program.  Reducing the $15-50 per-month rate with plenty of fine print and red tape for a tidy $9.95 fee with new fine print and red tape looks like a steal.  However, will customers buy-in and, more importantly, will theaters play ball at taking a possible haircut?  The AMC Theatres chain (more on them later) immediately pushed back threatening legal action and downright banning MoviePass customers.  You have to love that $10 price point, but how useful is it if the theater companies in your area don’t take it?  Compromise is needed.

LESSON #3: ALONG THE SAME LINES, THE VIDEO ON-DEMAND MARKET IS STILL TRYING TO FIND THEIR PRICE POINT— Some of you might remember that six years ago Universal Studios initially planned to release their tentpole Tower Heist on premium VOD for $59.99 three weeks after its theatrical release with the goal of putting more money in their pockets instead of splitting it with movie theaters.  The notion was met with instant boycott and dismissal (much like the film itself) and the studio backed off.  Here in 2017, media giants Comcast (parent company of Universal), Amazon, and Apple are all developing a new VOD delivery system that will put top-shelf movies out for rental 30-45 days after their theatrical debuts at a $30 price level.  Even with $30 being substantial savings compared to hauling an average family of four to the cinema, that price point still doesn’t work if the digital download and Blu-ray/DVD release windows of $20 permanent ownership (not a temporary rental) keep dramatically shrinking like they have been for a few years.  What used to be an industry-standard of six months or more between silver screen and small screen has been cut in half.  May theatrical releases like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 have arrived on August store shelves.  Why wait a month for a single high-priced rental when you can wait three and buy it for keeps for a lesser price?  I don’t see the viable premium VOD marketplace for average tight-budgeted blue collar consumers out there (and that’s not even taking into account the piracy market looming over anything VOD related).

LESSON #4: SURPRISE, SURPRISE!  DISNEY IS OUT TO MAKE ITS OWN MONEY WITHOUT PARTNERS— When you make billions hand over fist, you get to call the shots or, better yet, go out make your own game.  The Walt Disney Company will pull its lucrative movies off Netflix and launch its own branded streaming subscription platform in 2019.  They don’t need Netflix when they have the clout and fanbase to create their own exclusivity and keep all the money.  I can’t say I blame them and I stand by my prognostication from earlier in the summer for the day Disney/Marvel pulls out of San Diego’s Comic-Con and lets their own D23 be the one-way fan access point to that frenzy.

LESSON #5: NETFLIX IS NOT INVINCIBLE— From the outside looking in, casual observers (and this very column) have been exceedingly impressed by Netflix’s huge push in creating their own original television and film content.  They have thrown tremendous resources with the aim of attracting more customers and now have the $20 billion of debt to prove it.  Subscriptions are up an astounding 25% since last year, so the gamble is working, but how long can a company like that sustain those spending habits on top of Disney pulling out?  Expect an investment bubble to burst in some area (licensing fees with the studios) and, naturally, a raise in subscription rates passed onto us very soon to recoup that debt.

LESSON #6: HAS THE SLOW DEATH OF THE MULTIPLEX BEGUN?— Options like MoviePass, VOD, and Netflix have not come close to creating a new entertainment access monopoly large enough to overtake the big screen marketplace.  That said, even with price point challenges and debt issues, have the little dents and pin pricks started to add up to true damage?  I, for one, am beginning to at least wonder.   Blockbuster fatigue, thanks to poor performing duds like The Mummy, have taken their toll on consumer spending and confidence.  Multiple business outlets broke the news that AMC Theatres took a dramatic second quarter loss (and is staring at a third quarter one coming) that caused shares to fall 40% since the beginning of August.  The overall American box office is down a scant 4.4% from last year.  If that’s all it takes to financially wound one theatre chain, how are the other ones doing?  How are they sustaining 20+ screen multiplexes hawking bargain attempts and hokey incentives only to still sit empty on weeknights against growing operating costs?  I bet they’re not doing much better than AMC.  I have to think some form of internal, yet dramatic, contraction is coming.  Movies survived the invention of television.  They will survive digital and device shifts, but not without a shift or two of their own.

LESSON #7: I DON’T KNOW WHAT WARNER BROS. IS DOING WITH THE DC CHARACTER FILMS AND I DON’T THINK THEY KNOW EITHER— Spinning off of Wonder Woman‘s success as the #1 earner of the summer, Warner Bros. has the ambitious DC Extended Universe schedule of Justice LeagueAquaman, ShazamWonder Woman 2Cyborg, and Green Lantern Corps locked on the calendar through 2020.  It’s the slate after that has created a flurry of questions this week.  Matt Reeves made it known that his The Batman will be a standalone film outside of the DCEU and spread gasoline-dipped rumors of Ben Affleck being out at the Caped Crusader.  The WB brass then added the dreamy Martin Scorsese/Todd Phillips team-up announcement of a spin-off Joker solo origin story film without Jared Leto and on its own.  Confounding us even more a day later, the studio reveals they are concurrently planning a Joker/Harley Quinn film starring Leto and Margot Robbie that will be within the DCEU.  What is all this?!  Is Warner Bros. admitting defeat at building a Marvel-like universe and course-correcting to make focused films or are we watching greedy, hubris, and befuddlement? If so, why carry both? This DCEU timeline is going to start looking a clue board spider-webbed with red yarn from a police procedural or a Charlie Day meme.

LESSON #8: EWAN MCGREGOR OR NO ONE— I’ll bring the first fanboy torch and pitchfork to Disney’s announcement of an Obi-wan Kenobi solo anthology film coming in the near future.  Cast Ewan McGregor or no one at all.  After the flop of Alden Ehrenreich requiring an acting coach for Han Solo, cast some damn proven talent.  Call it stability as much as you call it justified fan service.

LESSON #9: LOOK TO ITALY AS THE OSCAR SEASON STARTS NOW— The prime third quarter film festival season kicks off with the prestigious Venice Film Festival beginning on August 30th and the top-shelf Toronto International Film Festival starting on September 7th.  The lineup in Venice includes first looks at Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, George Clooney’s Suburbicon, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of WaterJudi Dench’s crown in Victoria and Abdul, and the Redford/Fonda reunion Our Souls at Night.  I’ll share the killer TIFF lineup next week.  Get your coffee mugs ready to receive a pouring of Oscar buzz!


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

What We Learned This Week: July 30-August 5

LESSON #1: THE LITERARY WORKS OF STEPHEN KING ARE NOT ALWAYS FIT FOR FILM— As of the It remake next month, 66 film adaptations, sequels and all, have been created based on novels, novellas, and shorts stories of the legendary Stephen King.  The film list boasts classics like The ShiningThe Shawshank Redemption, and Carrie.  It will not include The Dark Tower.  Sapped of its multi-volume depth of mythology and whittled down into a 90-minute loose spiritual sequel, a grand work like The Dark Tower should have been made into a mini-series for television, as 25 other King works have been before.  Let’s see if Netflix can decant the mess that is The Dark Tower with some quality programming and attention to detail.  

LESSON #2: DETROIT HAS BEEN A TIMELY STORY FOR 50 YEARS, ONLY NO ONE CARED TO REMEMBER–The historical incidents chronicled in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is but one of ten national uprisings from across the country in what became known as the “Long Hot Summer of 1967,” has been timely, ignorance and all, for 50 years.    Bottom line, it was timely next to any one of the over 40 ethnic riots that have occurred on American soil in the last half-century.  This counts as better late than never. If it takes a piece of film entertainment telling serious stories to instigate hard reflection and improved new public dialogue, Detroit is poised to accomplish such a mission.  Hard to watch as it is, consider the film essential viewing.

LESSON #3: STEVEN SODERBERGH IS ON TO SOMETHING— Promoting his first film in four years after flirting with retirement, the Out of Sight, Traffic, Magic Mike, and Ocean’s 11 series filmmaker outlined just how different the business model is for Logan Lucky.  In a heady and fascinating interview with GQ (appropriately click bait titled “Steven Soderbergh is Back to Destroy Hollywood”), Soderbergh described how he went around the studio system to sell the foreign rights to Logan Lucky ahead of time to finance the production.  He then brokered the streaming, home media, television, and airline deals ahead of time to pay for the advertising and marketing.  By doing so, every theatrical dollar for Logan Lucky goes directly to the people who made the film without any studio taking a cut.  That’s ballsy and genius and I hope it pays off and starts a trend of less studio tinkering.

LESSON #4: JEFFREY KATZENBERG IS ON TO SOMETHING EVEN BIGGER— The volume of and dependency towards personal mobile devices, especially handy smartphones, is creating an emerging go-to conduit for digesting entertainment content for a growing section of media audiences.   The former Disney and Dreamworks exec wants to tap into that in an ambitious way.  Outlined in a Variety feature, Katzenberg wants to foster a whole new line of short-form entertainment options targeting 18-to 34-year-olds backed by top-shelf talent and budgets equaling the production quality of primetime television.  Examples include 10-minute series episodes, 5-minute talk shows, and 2-minute newscasts.  This $2 billion pitch, dubbed New TV by Katzenberg, would be revolutionary.  I will still say what I said last week in this department.  It all comes down to price point.  If it’s affordable, people will come.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

 

What We Learned This Week: July 23-29

LESSON #1: ARE CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S FILMS EMOTIONLESS?— The prolific and cerebral director of Dunkirk recently answered critics who have called his films “emotionless.”  They must have missed the sharp revenge of Memento, the stirring heroic feels of his Batman trilogy, the seething jealousy of The Prestige, the suspenseful mental weight of Inception, and the familial anguish of Interstellar.  Emotionless, my ass.  I’m afraid Dunkirk will be the challenge.  I don’t think it has the necessary emotional anchors, but my Feelin’ Film peers will say otherwise.  See it for yourself (on the biggest and loudest screen possible) and let us know what you think.

LESSON #2: NETFLIX IS AN EVOLVING ENIGMA FOR THE MOVIE BUSINESS— Speaking of Christopher Nolan, he recently made negative comments on Netflix’s strategy of simultaneous streaming and release windows that take away from theatrical films.  GQ recently collected a roundtable of directors (included Ava DuVernay, Edgar Wright, Jeff Nichols, and James Gunn) who “blew up Hollywood.”  That led many, especially the Nolan disciplines, to raise those anti-Netflix pitchforks we’ve been back and forth on all year in this column.  A voice of contrast came out at much the same time from A Ghost Story director David Lowery calling the behemoth hub a “service to the industry,” especially for mid-range independent film who don’t have a chance in the theatrical marketplace (especially against the likes of Nolan’s films and their backing).  I side with Lowery, and what’s good enough for Martin Scorsese is good enough for me.  I see more help than harm, and it’s still too soon to see the growing effects, positive or negative.

LESSON #3: PRICE POINT IS THE NUMBER ONE ISSUE OF FILM VIEWERSHIP— Echoing the first two lessons this week and a great thread on the Feelin’ Film Facebook group, this whole audience problem comes down to money, plain and simple.  A family of four can get more content out of the recurring price of a Netflix subscription or more repeat viewing from the one-time-price DVD/Blu-ray disc purchase at Walmart than they would hauling everyone to the theater for tickets and concessions multiple times a year.  Add to that the substantially reduced prices for HD and Smart TVs compared to 10 or even 5 years ago.  While I fully endorse to the magic of the communal big screen experience, one would crazy not to see the price point logic and respect a smart household’s budgeting decisions.  It’s all about bang-for-your-buck and Netflix is winning that right now with content volume and ease of access.

LESSON #4: SOME FILMS DON’T BELONG IN SPACE— Bigger isn’t necessarily better, and how big is too big?  Space is too big.  I recently learned that answer when Fast and Furious series director F. Gary Gray said that a future sequel of the franchise that started with lowly car thieves in L.A. could be set in space.  WTF?!  Straining believability is fun and all, but that’s too much.  Has no one this century seen the Moonraker James Bond film?  Stop already.  Go back to Paul Walker’s sunset and be done.

LESSON #5: SOMEBODY TAKE JAMES CAMERON’S CRAZINESS AWAY— Apparently, James Cameron thinks he’s got another Terminator trilogy for the masses.  Come on, man.  While I respect the visual envelope-pushing and industry revolutionizing Cameron can perform, the man can be a quack as a writer.  That and, by the time he gets to this project for how slow he works, Arnold will be 100-years-old or we’ll all be dead.  Somebody shake this bad idea out of him and tell him to go finish Avatar 2 already.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

 

 

What We Learned This Week: July 16-22

LESSON #1:  WALT DISNEY DISNEY STUDIOS IS GOING TO MAKE A LOT OF MONEY— I’ve mentioned in this column in the past about how Disney’s multibillion dollar purchases of Marvel Comics and LucasFilm look like bargains.  Throw in their cushy partnership of Pixar and Disney is stocked like Tom Brady’s mansion.  Their 2017-2019 release calendar (see image below) is absolutely loaded with popular content and a wealth of merchandising tie-ins.  Just move Fort Knox to Orlando or Anaheim already.

LESSON #2: DISNEY IS MISSING OUT ON ORIGINAL CONTENT— Looking at that slate of future cash cows, there is one “BUT” or one orange flag.  Where is the original content that used to make Disney great?  Where are the live-action works like Queen of Katwe?  Seventeen of the 21 films on that list are sequels, reboots, or parts of existing franchises.  That number goes up to 18-of-22 you include Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin.   I get that they sell, but sequels can bomb and even the perfection that is Pixar has been burned by them.  Other than Coco and A Wrinkle in Time, I don’t see Disney learning that lesson.

LESSON #3: DISNEY’S D23 FAN CLUB CONVENTION WILL REPLACE THEIR SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON PARTICIPATION— Speaking of making waves and making money, this lesson is more a prediction of something I think will come to pass very soon.  With their annual D23 convention, Disney has their own stage to showcase their own products without the competition or sharing that comes from Hall H in San Diego.  They also have full control and get every dime that comes from that event.  To quote Field of Dreams, “if you build it, he will come.”  Disney has the products people want to see and, thanks to their theme parks, they know people will pay to travel across the country to interact with them.  They have their own thing with 100% profit.  They don’t need San Diego anymore.

LESSON #4: REMOVE THE RACE LABELS FROM MOVIES— A film with predominantly black performers isn’t a “black film.”  It’s “a film” the same way you, I, or we would say for a film with white performers.  The caveat is when the film is in another language than English.  Then you can use the adjective “foreign” or “foreign language” film.  To use a race label in 2017 is embarrassing and more than borderline cultural segregation.  For a side-by-side comparison on this point, look at this summer’s earlier Rough Night and the new Girls Trip opening this weekend and how they are perceived and ultimately marketed.  My favorite line from the linked article from The Outline is “if it feels unfairly reductive to categorize movies as ‘white’ or ‘black,’ that’s because it is.”  Start removing these labels from your vernacular.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  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 Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.