Don Shanahan is the creator/founder/blogger of Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is former elementary school teacher who is now an instructional coach and a regular credentialed member of the Chicago press pool of film critics. With that background in education, Don stands by the mantra that has become the title of his website. He writes his reviews with the goal of teaching life lessons, from the serious to the farcical, found within every film. The primary goal of “Every Movie Has a Lesson” has been to offer in-depth, professional quality film reviews with the hook of education in mind for as many current mainstream and independent releases as possible each year.
His movie reviews are also published in the Southland Voice, a free community newspaper based in Crete, Illinois that serves southern Cook and eastern Will County communities, and on the social platforms Creators Media, Medium and BAG Movies. He also writes a weekly movie trend editorial column contribution for the Feelin’ Film podcast website. From 2010 to 2016, Don was published as a Chicago Film Examiner for Examiner.com before its closure. Outside of reviews, he also presents his own voice and unique take on movie trends, film commentary, and more through website and social media features, columns, and editorials ranging from film discussions, awards talk, “best of” lists, and seasonal previews. He happily resides in Forest Park, Illinois with his tremendous wife Thanh and their two children, Molly and Sam.
WHERE MY STORY BEGAN
Former Peotone Blue Devils, former SJC Pumas, and friends:
I'm very new to anything like this, but welcome! First time blogger! Hello, my name is Don Shanahan and I used to love to write movie reviews for my friends and classmates, but this Peter Pan had to grow up and life got in the way. That guy that had to grow up hasn't sat down to write a movie review in 9 years. This blog is here to change all that.
Every person who loves movies has a story of how they got into it, just like how they fell in love. They can tell you the movie they saw, the place they were, or who they were with when the spark ignited, just like a love-at-first-sight story. I don't have one of those moments.
In reflecting, nostalgically, mine was entrenched in sorry teen solitude. Sure, I was a kid of the 80's and 90's who loved movies and could quote Top Gun in the same breath that he could recite lame songs from The Little Mermaid, but I didn't start hitting up movie theaters with vigor and real interest until the summer of 1996 for two very unrelated reasons:
1) to beat the summer heat of being a YMCA lifeguard at Manteno Lake (because movie theaters are air-conditioned) and,
2) like any good teen movie plot, to get over a girl, because for two hours at a movie I was taken to a place that I didn't think about her.
Going once a week, turned into twice a week and more, and even sometimes to a streak of a week straight catching matinees after a day at the lake and beach. I couldn't get enough and had to know more about each movie I was seeing. I researched online, rented movies from the same actors, writers, and directors of movies that caught my eye. Pretty soon, I was recognizing faces without needing to read the back of the VHS tape box and recognizing names in the credits from other movies.
Then, college hit me, and the country boy that never had cable television before discovered a Gallagher Hall dorm room with Turner Classic Movies, AMC, TBS, and numerous other channels of endless entertainment. Being able to watch The Shawshank Redemption on TNT for the 47th time only fueled the fire. Working for a year at a local video store in town just added to the untapped volume of knowledge at my fingertips.
All that craving, energy, and love turned into writing movie reviews for the Peotone High School Devil's Advocate and The Observer at Saint Joseph's College, all from 1996-2001. Doing those got me out there and kind of made me a go-to guy to ask about movies all over the place.
I was the guy selling movies in Public Speaking class. I was the guy making a year-end "Top 10" list that professors challenged me on. I was the guy popping on campus radio to give a review or a calendar of upcoming movies to the shows. I was the guy fired for giving out free rentals to friends at the video store. I was the guy with the biggest collection of movies to borrow from, whether it was stack for football bus road trips or a friend needing a date movie to win over the girl he was meaning to impress. I was the guy who couldn't be stumped in "Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon." I was the friend of the group who was either banned from playing "Scene It" at parties or the first pick for the team (but mostly banned).
Well, that guy had to grow up...
College ended and that guy had to get a job. SJC didn't have a Journalism major program and the coming of the internet at the time was making print media a dying profession. While I loved writing, I knew I couldn't make it a career. I knew that no college graduate was going to go straight to "Siskel and Ebert" and the red carpet. I knew it was a ladder profession where I would be writing obituaries for years to climb the rungs at some country paper without an entertainment section . Besides, I was an Elementary Education major and it was time to enter the classroom. That was 2001.
It's 2010 now. Internet, social networks, and blogs have replaced columns, and newspaper companies across the country have folded up by the dozens in the past decade. Adobe PageMaker and PhotoShop have replaced dark rooms and wax brayers to hand-lay newspaper pages. I traded in writing movie reviews for writing lesson plans. The red-headed, freckly dork sitting in the front row of a movie grew up.
I'm 30-going-on-31 now, bald without my strawberry blond locks, and a fourth grade teacher for Chicago International Charter Schools. While the chances to write have disappeared, I have never stopped watching and following movies. I'm still that guy who can tell you anything you want to know. I'm that guy who will go to midnight movies on Thursday nights and still go to work perky and fresh of Friday morning. The two under-bed drawers of VHS movies in Seifert Hall has turned into an overflowing, over-1100 DVD wall that is starting to hold a few Blu-Ray discs, all without a VHS in sight.
Recently, after settling in from being a young, beginning teacher, I've had the itch to write again and have been encouraged a lot by old high school and college classmates on Facebook to bring back "Don at the Movies" or "At the Movies with Don." With this blog, I'm taking the first steps to doing that, but with a teacher's slant to it.
As a school teacher, predominantly of urban and low socioeconomic students, I run into students every day who are missing life lessons and have very little attention span to what I teach, not matter how intriguing I canmake it. They care about very little. I constantly try to find ways for them to gravitate to the material I teach. Being a movie guy, I've taken some opportunities to bring movies to the classroom. Since I teach fourth graders, I can't get all Rafe Esquith or Skip Kanosky and show adult-themed movies, but I try my best with some old school E.T. or To Kill a Mockingbird.
Because I cannot separate the movie guy from the teacher I've become, lessons are going to be the hook to my new movie reviews on this blog. I think every movie in the world, from the cheesiest horror movie to the biggest comic book special-effects spectacle, teaches a lesson. I'm going to put those in my movie reviews, not because my parents or students are going to read them, but because that's the way I've grown to think and feel about movies now, as a 30-year-old teacher who, long ago, found emotional and intellectual solace in the great stories that movies share with us.
Stay tuned and I hope you subscribe and come back often for, what I hope is the start of something fulfilling, creative, and special!