What We Learned This Week: August 19-25

LESSON #1: NETFLIX DOES SOME GOOD THINGS— For this school teacher, it’s the end of the summer and I’ve been collecting little Netflix stories all summer for a seasonal round-up through this column.  The news pieces and editorials are pretty much split down the middle between positive and negative.  Let’s start with the good.  For one, they put their money where their mouth (and hubris) is as they plan to spend an astounding $13 billion this year on content, which includes contracts with studios and their own created productions.  That sheer volume of content on Netflix has caused many to call into question what gets premium position for promotion and placement.  I like the way director Ava DuVernay put it saying “My concern isn’t being lost, my concern is being somewhere, period.”  Earlier in the year, actress Elizabeth Olson expressed a similar forward-thinking compliment stating that the screening provider gives independent films a better chance at a wider audience than far more expensive limited theatrical release to a shrinking supply of art house movie theaters.  Netflix can be a permanent home instead of a two-week swing-and-a-miss to small crowds.  I don’t know what savvy producer would say no that for a fair price.

LESSON #2: NETFLIX DOES SOME BAD THINGS TOO— The piles of negative dings against the streaming giant is pretty tall too, spanning a range between content choices and business dealings.  Competition is coming in the form of Disney’s own branded streaming service with a rumored price point of $8/month, under Netflix’s current price tag.  The Mouse House has announced that all Disney content will gradually be off Netflix by March of 2019, which might cause a drop in subscribers who want their family content.  Speaking of kid-friendly stuff, the loudest piece came just this week from opinion writer Tim Winter of USA Today.  His bold claim was that Netflix, as proven by its supposedly racy volume of content choices, has turned its back on family programming.  Along the same lines, Netflix is buying fewer documentary titles than it used to after long being a welcome hub for that genre.  Echoing DuVernay’s take from Lesson #1, the home screen is only so big and what sells is going to get the premium space.  That’s good business even if its not pretty.  Discerning consumers need to be discerning and Netflix shouldn’t have to make excuses. 

LESSON #3: MOVIEPASS NEEDS A FORK STUCK IN IT IN THE WORST WAY— Another week bring another clownish fail from MoviePass.  This time its annual memberships being refunded and thrust into month-to-month subscriptions, limited ones at that, eliminating the savings that came from having a longer term.  I don’t what else can go south.  The crazy thing is we’ve been saying that about MoviePass for months and it keeps surprising us with more calamity and circus.  Seriously, they don’t need to adopt the Lenny Kravitz song line of “it ain’t over ’til its over.”  Just quit already.

LESSON #4: ON SOME LEVEL, DIRECTORS ARE IRREPLACEABLE— It was announced by Disney this week that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be delayed from its scheduled winter shooting date indefinitely following the dismissal of director James Gunn, which disbanded the production crew he hired.  The comic sequel isn’t the first or the last (especially at Disney) film to go through a change or delay like this, but this one feels more a shade more problematic and temporary than just changing a tire or replacing a dead battery.  This is replacing the battery and all of the framework, wiring, and bolts because of how each film is a team approach.  If Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ever does make it, we know it won’t be the same.  It will take a hit no matter what not just because of the public sentiment, but because of the reduction in quality from an entirely new team working on the film.  

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.