TDS 52 Becoming Wiser One Movie At A Time, Interview Don Shanahan


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The world seemed difficult enough back in late April when I interviewed Don Shanahan of Every Movie Has a Lesson for #thedeliciousstory. But now in June things have gotten hotter still, so I offer you a reprieve from the news with this episode. Sit back and enjoy.
Don believes that every film—epic or contained, big-budget or small—has lessons to impart about life. And once you meet Don, you’ll discover how he came to this belief. Teacher, spouse, and dad by day, Don has worked more than a decade at the craft as a movie reviewer and become a respected resource for those who want to know which films are worth their time.
Admittedly, even as a movie fan myself, the idea that every film has life wisdom to extoll tickled my cynical tendencies. But in the end, Don had me convinced, and I bet you will be, too. He’ll also have you thinking about how movies are an essential tool, as they’re the most consumed art form on the planet.
It was good fortune discovering Don by way of an article that ranked influential movie reviewers (where he registered high on the list). Don’s work is what earned him that respect because he knows his stuff.
To say that Don’s writing is stellar is not enough. His descriptions of movies deftly delve in with robust insights of the craft and those who make the magic happen. I’ll point to one example in his review of the The Two Popes, which aired on Netflix in late 2019.
Don certainly covers the plot, the quality of the direction, and cinematography impressively. Then he focuses in and speaks almost poetically of some of the lessons one can consider by watching the film. I love Don’s description at one point when he details the drama manifested in the process, which culminates in the selection of a new pope.
“Something like the tedious election of the conclave to select a new Pope becomes a staccato milieu of amplified pen clicks, creased paper, dropped bingo balls, and clanging furnace doors. Built as a play of hopscotching through decades, McCarten’s narrative builds big decision suspense nearly on par with a sports movie’s swell to get a victory.”
I’ll just say here that his talent calls me to strive in my use of words in a piece! And if you’ve ever held a dream to build something outside your day job (like Don did), then you’ll appreciate his story of turning this part-time gig into a substantial space where thousands turn to him for his opinions about movies.
Since we talk memorable meals here on #thedeliciousstory, I asked Don to discuss a film he finds notable for both its lessons and the use of food. I was initially surprised by his choice of Simply Irresistible starring Sarah Michele Gellar and Sean Patrick Flannery. However, in short order, Don made his case for the film, and now I want to see it again soon. See if you don’t agree with Don.
By the time Don chatted about the eclairs, which are featured prominently in the movie, I was craving for one myself. If you want to try your hand at making a version similar to those served up by Sarah Michele’s character, this recipe over at Tasty Kitchen claims to be much the same (except filed with caramel rather than chocolate).
I never tire of talking with people who reach for something and create. Don’s story of consistently building his chops in writing and reviewing to later become a noteworthy critic of films is inspiring. In recent years, Don has worked with others to help bring diversity to the voices of movie reviewers in the industry, and talks about the work of Chicago Indie Critics in particular.
I was also surprised to learn how Rotten Tomatoes movie ranking system works, of which Don’s reviews are factored into the ranking. He is also a contributor for, where films that have hit their 25-year anniversary are discussed.
As an aside, I’m shocked by how much time has passed when I consider that two of my favorite films—Forrest Gump and Shawshank Redemption —have just reached their 25-year milestone. Since each was released, I’ve made it a point to watch both at least once a year.
At the time of this interview, going out to the theater wasn’t an option, and we delved into how things might change for a time—or permanently—as far as the movie theater experience. But most of us do love movies and have access to them through so many portals now that we’re still able to watch and enjoy.
In fact, in the face of the temporarily-closed theaters, I even talked about my frustration with too many options. I spend more time looking for a film rather than watching them. They call this “choice paralysis.” Don offered up the helpful resource of Check out what he has to say about how it works during the show.
We discussed some of the iconic films which feature food as a primary character, too. You can listen to the podcast to see if you recognize the movies. What ones would you add to the list? Please share your comments with us!
Films take us to places outside of our personal experience and allow us to view the world from a different perspective. We escape, we transcend, we laugh and cry. And in between all the vicarious living, we pick up nuggets of wisdom, too. It’s not a bad way to spend about 90 minutes of time when you consider all that is returned. Here is the link to Don’s latest reviews so you can ponder what you might watch next.

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