WHAT DID WE LEARN THIS WEEK?
LESSON #1: BLACK GIRLS RULE— Want to get a slice of minority history to reach a general audience and make a few bucks? Cast it, package it, write it, and market it smartly as a PG-rated family film capable of netting the widest audience possible. “Hidden Figures” isn’t breaking any new ground with filmmaking, but it’s playing all its cards right. It debuted in time for Oscar consideration, then waited for the dead of January after the Christmas releases and “Rogue One” were fading, borrowed the MLK holiday and the departing President Obama for a boost of social parallels, and let the story do the talking.
LESSON #2: MERYL STREEP IS AS FAR FROM OVERRATED AS POSSIBLE— While Scott Baio might be sort of right-wing-rootin-tootin’-correct to cite celebrity status as “the best life of everybody,” he and the President Elect have no room to compare resumes and ratings. She has won more awards (157 by Wikipedia’s count) than Scott had episodes of “Charles in Charge” (126).
LESSON #3: THE WINNING STREAK OF BEN AFFLECK AS A DIRECTOR IS OVER— Every hot streak has to end some time. “Live by Night” is Affleck’s first miss as a director in four tries, including climbing the top of the Oscar mountain with “Argo.” One can argue that there was nowhere to go but down after “Argo,” but “Live by Night,” a sleepy and exhausting gangster film, goes lower than step down.
LESSON #4: MARK WAHLBERG IS A RICH MAN’S JASON STATHAM— I am one of those critics who has stopped going to Jason Statham movies because they are all the same. Other than when he was aping himself in “Spy,” there is no variety to his tough guy, man-of-action act. Like a bad drink at the bar, the quality just gets thinner the more it’s refilled and watered down from the same ice. It’s been gestating for a long time but, after “Patriots Day,” I’m prepared to close the same book on Mark Wahlberg. It’s been a long time since “The Fighter” and even longer since “Boogie Nights.” He plays the same cussing and invincible Bostonian good guy every time. Sure, he’s wildly successful playing that type, and I won’t fault a guy for making money, but he’s becoming a ball hog doing it. A stellar ensemble was wasted in “Patriots Day” for “The Mark Wahlberg Show.” What should have been a poignant observation of history (See: Lesson #1) turned into a vanity project.
LESSON #5: “SILENCE” WAS THE POLARIZING FILM OF 2016. ALL OTHERS NEED NOT APPLY— The critics might tell you this label belongs to growing gap between the soaring high praise for “La La Land” and its growing contrarian backlash. Damien Chazelle’s film is going to keep wowing audiences and raking awards all the way to the Oscars. The film that won’t is “Silence.” Martin Scorsese’s passion project should be justifiably inspiring the Christian crowd with the power of a 1,000 “God is Not Dead” sequels. Instead, it’s dying a death of apathy at the box office and no one loud enough to matter is stumping for it. Could audiences be just as guilt-ridden as the characters in the film?
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based, press-credentialed film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. He is also one of the founders and 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.