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 League, Aquaman, Shazam, Wonder Woman 2, Cyborg, 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 Water, Judi 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.