What We Learned This Week: May 6-12

LESSON #1: BIDDING WARS CAN BE FUN— In huge industry news this week, media conglomerate Comcast stepped in with a new $60 billion all-cash offer full of pot sweeteners to purchase 21st Century Fox from Rupert Murdoch, months after Disney’s $52 billion all-stock deal looked to be imminent.  Welcome to the of billionaire bullfight!  I know some Marvel Cinematic Universe dream fulfillment lies in the balance down here on the fan level, but I’m kind of rooting for all the executive hardball tactics to make Disney squirm a little to cough up more money.  Laugh all the way to the bank, Mr. Murdoch.  Make them pay through the nose.

LESSON #2: DISNEY CONTINUES TO WANT ITS OWN MONEY— In this column’s frequent reports on Disney’s coming exclusive streaming services and pull-out from Netflix, we know they want to keep their own exclusive dollars without sharing.  They have the power, demand, and clout of content to do so and more steps were going to come.  I am happy to humblebrag report that I called this latest news TWICE last summer. In April, Disney officially announced that they will not be presenting any of their hot Marvel properties in the high-demand Hall H parties they have conducted for years at the San Diego ComicCon.  I don’t think this is a year of radio silence to sell the Avengers: Infinity War cliffhanger.  I think they want people to pay only them for the big convention stages.  I expect Disney/Marvel to start building their annual D23 event into their showcase.

LESSON #3: MOVIEPASS IS STILL DOOMED— The floundering MoviePass service continues to be a hot topic, last mentioned here in April where I labeled it “doomed to fail.”  More financial news keeps coming to light about the amount of money going down the drain faster than infant diarrhea (if infant diarrhea ever made it to drains).  Following Aaron White’s post and suggestion, it may be time to consider alternatives like Sinemia, other alternatives, or the available deals already being done by the theater chains themselves (like AMC’s returning $5 Tuesdays). Share your good experiences and recommendations with your FF peers.  In the meantime, gather your eulogy for the upcoming MoviePass funeral.

LESSON #4: KIDS CAN USE A DOSE OF SILENT FILMS— In this cinematic and television market of repetitive and hyperactive animated crap, I just love this LifeHacker Offspring piece shared by our Feelin’ Film contributor Jacob Neff recently entitled “Why You Should Watch Silent Films With Your Kids.”  I back the statements made in the article 100%, from the quality of the buried treasure content to the “with your kids” part of making movie-watching a shared experience and not a babysitting tactic to ignore your kids.  As a parent of a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old myself, I can attest to the awesome draw of a good Charlie Chaplin flick.  Try it sometime.  Use the clips in the LifeHacker article as preparation (and while you’re there click on the embedded recommended article on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and screen time). Sit with them and marvel at the creativity and entertainment together.  I promise a stellar experience.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  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 member 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.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

What We Learned This Week: April 15-21

LESSON #1: LEAVE SOME THINGS TO MYSTERY— We’ve reached the final week of hype before Avengers: Infinity War.  The anticipation is peaking, but so are the dumb think pieces and click bait articles trying to capitalize on the upcoming premiere.  If I see another article asking where the Soul Stone is or a poll prognosticating which characters are most likely to die, it will be the umpteenth one and already too soon.  They reach badly, kind of like this one talking about world domination.  As I’ve preached before, let the film come to you.  Pull off the tin-foil hats.  Take a breath and soak it in.  Have some patience.  You’ve come this far.  Don’t ruin your good feelings with swimming too far into guessing games.  Start avoiding reviews after Sunday’s night’s Hollywood premiere and Tuesday evening’s press embargo.  I promise you will enjoy the big opening more with more mystery and less overstimulation.

LESSON #2: COMIC BOOK ACTORS ARE NOT SELLOUTS— Speaking of Avengers: Infinity WarGuardians of the Galaxy star Zoe Saldana had the soapbox opportunity to clap back against the “elitists” out there that look down upon comic book films as comfort food trash and soulless acting.  Her full statements are absolutely outstanding and must-read.  She’s not the first to have this stance in the nearly two decades of this peak comic book film era.  More established and classical actors from comic book films, from Robert Redford and Kenneth Branagh to Patrick Stewart and Anthony Hopkins, have done this work for wonderful reasons like family connection, fan support, and as a door opener to more wider visibility and more opportunities.  Why would anyone frown upon someone who wants to have fun while making money or have something their children and grandchildren can see them in?  Those critical aren’t elite people anymore.  They are inflexible haters with lesser hearts.

LESSON #3: DUMB MOVIES DESERVE ROASTING AS LONG AS EVERYONE CAN KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOR ABOUT IT— I got a kick out of the story this week that Netflix finally got to return a little troll favor against popular scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson.  On more than one occasion, NDT has enjoyed tweeting and pinpointing the scientific inaccuracies of films. Armageddon was one of his favorite targets and it is now on Netflix.  For overly-committed fans of cheesy movies, Tyson’s commentary has been labeled as “ruining” by whiny uneducated fanboys.  I side with Tyson, though I enjoyed (see the article) the return rub of gamesmanship from Netflix.  Movies like Armageddon are stupefying when taken seriously, so I, for one, appreciate the extra level of shared smarts.  Good science fiction movies can make solid entertainment and still keep their science cred intact.  That said, if the enjoyment level is present (and it is most of the time for the Armageddon crowd), it’s OK to close the textbooks and kick back.  It’s good to see both sides laughing.  Halle Berry did it years ago when she accepted her Razzie in person.  Others can and should too.

LESSON #4: MOVIEPASS WAS DOOMED TO FAIL— Chalk this up in the “things that are too good to be true often are” column.  Business reports are auditors revealed that MoviePass has lost money for its parent company in the nine-figure department.  The original prediction was $7.4 million only to have that number balloon to over $150 million.  Good golly, that’s quite a haircut!  The company claims it can become profitable by 2019, but it will require seeking other forms of revenue, especially with another price drop shrinking the profit margin.  Good luck with that.  Current members, skip past wait-and-see and enjoy the service while you can.  You’re getting a heck of a deal.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  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 member 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.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

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.