Now Playing: Netflix at a Theatre Near You?

After pioneering the streaming service, is Netflix aiming to revolutionize the multiplex experience? Recently, the Twittersphere and blogosphere has been all abuzz regarding Netflix’ possible acquisition of multiplex cinemas. But what does that mean for the customer and for Netflix? Those questions have prompted me to explore the idea of a Netflix-owned chain of movie theatres. Who would’ve ever thought that the DVDs delivered-to-your-home distribution company would go on to essentially invent the streaming service concept, produce wildly popular original programming, would now possibly be in a position to own and operate multiplex cinemas. The irony here is that the company that tore down the brick-and-mortar walls of Blockbuster and whose system of delivering content put a huge dent into the bottom line of movie theatres would now look to build the walls it so effectively razed to the ground. Perhaps in how it completely demolished the legacy way of home video and original television content distribution for a more efficient system, it seeks to build a more cost-effective model of movie theatres to truly create a big screen experience for a Web2.0 universe.

But, is going back to the brick-and-mortar model going to be lucrative for the entertainment giant? After all, Netflix virtually has no conventional overhead, in terms of how it now delivers content; but the addition of brick-and-mortar movie theatres would significantly increase the overhead cost of its business model. Just because there will be an increase does not necessarily mean that’s this may be a bad move for the company. However, it does beg for exploration of the effects of a decision like this. It’s no secret that fewer people attend the cinema now than before streaming became so prevalent. According to the Bloomberg Report citing a statistic from Box Office Mojo, movie theatre ticket sales have hit a 25 year low. After a high in the early 2000s, the number of ticket sales has overall been on a moderately steep decline. Although the the initial drastic drop could be contributed the tremendous growth of home theatre surround sound DVD systems and some recession from the aftermath of 9/11, the remaining downward trend from 2010 to today can be attributed to Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services. Furthermore, many TV channels began allowing subscribed users to watch current and recent content on demand over the last few years.

So, if the empirical data suggests that ticket sales will continue to fall, why would Netflix express a desire to throw its hat into the ring with established leaders AMC, Regal, and Cobb? Not to overly simplify it, but Netflix wants its chance at winning a Best Picture Oscar. In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Steven Spielberg stated in that Netflix should compete for Emmys not Oscars. It wasn’t long after this interview that Netflix stated that it’s considering buying cinema multiplexes. In addition to Netflix making the headlines, Amazon Studios has quietly been making maneuvers that suggest that it may also be interested in buying a movie theatre chain. In order to mitigate the cost of going into the multiplex business, Netflix is not looking to build from scratch, but buy up the Landmark Cinemas that has been on the market for quite sometime now. Landmark is known for catering to arthouse films in much the same way Alamo Drafthouse does.

Ever since the landmark Paramount Decision in 1948, for reasons of violating anti-trust laws, movie studios (extending to distribution companies) are not permitted to own and operate chains of movie theatres. There are rare exceptions to this–Disney’s ownership of the historic El Capitan theatre across from TCL’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (the most famous movie palace in the world) being one of those. Since it’s not a chain and does run other company’s films, it is an exception to the ruling because it is a venue that anyone can rent, for the right price. Prior to the United States vs Paramount, it was customary for the studio to own and operate a chain of movie theatres that exclusively shows its movies. So, to see a Paramount movie, you’d have to go to a Paramount movie palace, for example. It was this gross lack of competition that violated anti-trust laws and led to the decision. With ticket sales slumping, large studios or distribution companies with deep pockets may find the best way to combat this is to own and operate theatres (that will have to be open to competition in order to remain within the confines of the law) that can be integrated into the branding, marketing, and promotion of a particular film.

A relationship between a studio and a movie theatre would allow for the production company or studio to forge a deeper relationship with the movie patron much in the same way Disney and Universal do with their theme parks. Not limited to Disney and Universal, Warner Pros, Paramount, Lionsgate, and DreamWorks have major theme park investments in Europe and Asia. The end result of owning a chain of movie theatres is the creation of an entire experience for the guest. For Netflix, this could mean premiering its successful series like Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and others at a movie theatre before it lands on the streaming service. Just like a homeowner can retrofit, remodel, and customize his or her home to benefit him, her, or the family, a movie studio could best custom design a completely immersive experience for the movie patron that creates an emotional connection that is sure to last and earn repeat business.

Aside from the cost and concept of creating a comprehensive experience for the movie patron, the standardization of start times and run dates should also be considered. Now, you can watch your Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime programming whenever and wherever you so desire. No boundaries. After all, Netflix tore down those movie theatre walls and TV schedules. Is there a great enough interest from the typical consumer to buy tickets on a specific day at a predetermined time to watch Netflix original programming? Further research needs to be conducted in order to assess whether or not there is sufficient interest. Anecdotally, one can easily assess that Netflix’ original TV series are more popular than the original movies. But what does the empirical data show? According to a report at the Exstreamist, “the average rating on a Netflix original movie is markedly lower than what one finds with Hollywood movies.” Using IMDb ratings (note: Amazon owns IMDb), Toledo looked at a number of 2017 movie and TV releases across a variety of genres. Suffice it to say, Netflix consistently hits homers when it comes to original TV programming–their record is rather impressive at 8.1; however, their movies are ranked considerably lower than the TV series at 5.9. It would appear that there is sufficient interest in Netflix’ original series but not strong enough interest in the movies. And movies would be far easier to arrange into a schedule at a theatre than a TV series. Films win Oscars, series win Emmys. So, Netflix would have to rely upon its original movies in the theatre. Therefore, the quality has to increase significantly. Read my article on Best Picture criteria HERE.

Certainly, Netflix has proven that it can revolutionize media consumption and blaze new trails. Therefore, if Netflix makes the decision to acquire a chain of movie theatres, then reason stands that it must have a solid plan for success. While the data may suggest that this could be a risky venture for the entertainment giant, perhaps interested parties like Netflix and Amazon Studios know how to reinvent the multiplex experience to emerge as leaders of content creation and distribution. Who will the new owner of Landmark Cinemas be in the future? Only time will tell. But, it looks as if a Netflix or Amazon owned movie theatre chain may be in the near future.

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“Last Flag Flying” film review

An all-star cast takes audiences on a memory journey of war, loss, friendship, and patriotism as genuine human emotions are dealt with through comedy and grief. Amazon Studios hits a homer again with the release of Last Flag Flying distributed by Lionsgate. Now in select theaters, writer-director Richard Linklater crafts an incredible motion picture that organically deals with the loss of a loved one during a time of war through the stages of grief and irreverent comedy between friends. While this film is currently flying under the radar, don’t allow that to dissuade you from watching this incredible war film. I cannot remember the last time that I saw a film that felt so genuine. Watching this film, I truly felt like a fly on the wall, watching a Vietnam vet deal with the loss of his son and reconnecting with some of the closest friends he ever had in his life. Last Flag Flying is a subgenre of war movies that places the camera at a distance from the characters and allows them to mourn and laugh on screen without interference from censors and other outsiders. While not a conventional war movie, the topic of war is found underlying many diegetic components. Dialogue driven, this film provides social commentary on patriotism, God, and friendship. Bring your listening ear to this movie because the context of the tough subject matter contains subtle yet powerful messages that highlight otherwise unstated emotions. Sometimes the best way to go through the stages of grief is to throw caution to the wind and allow humor to work its powerful remedy.

Three Vietnam war veterans reunite for a different kind of mission that forces them to deal with the present and the past. When Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carrel) arrives at the dive bar that belongs to former comrade Sal Nealson (Bryan Cranston), he asks his Marine brother to go with him without naming where. Sal drives Shepherd to a old country church now pastored by their Marine brother Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne). When Shepherd doesn’t touch his pale cobbler, the group realizes there is something wrong. It’s then the Shepherd reveals that his son was killed outside of Baghdad, and wants his two Marine brothers to go with him to bury his son at Arlington. Along the journey, the three former military comrades are forced to come to terms with their shared past that continues to shape their present lives by discussing tough topics such as grief, God, war, honesty, and addiction.

The sheer storytelling beauty of Last Flag Flying is found in the solid writing made evident through the excellent direction and A-list cast (and one surprising cameo that I won’t mention because it will detract from the brief but powerful screen presence). While it may appear like a somber tragedy on the surface, beneath that surface of sadness beats the heart of dark but respectful comedy that takes audiences on the memory journey right along side the characters. War movies about the loss of loved ones is not something new; but this film allows the characters to go through the stages of grief in organic ways that paints a motion picture of how human these emotions are. Human. Truly human. At times, there are no holds barred when three very different voices all converge on the same topic. You have the grieving father, a reverend, and foul-mouthed barkeep discussing everything, just as friends in real life often do. In many ways, these three former military comrades could not be any different in their present states; but at one time, they were inseparable and very much alike. While the focus of the film could have been on Shepherd’s loss or the politics of war, the focus is clearly on what makes us human and how one genuinely has to deal with loss due to war. Not that discussions of politics and religion are not found in this film–they are–but the discussions and arguments between these friends are used as tools to comment on the human condition. Because we never see combat footage, the expositional dialogue about war and politics adds incredible weight and a little mystery to the events in the film.

Before you begin to think that Linklater uses flashbacks to connect the present to the past, think again. While that would have been the easy, lazy way of accomplishing that task, he chooses to connect the present to the past through exceptional exposition between characters that prompt the audience to engage their own emotions to connect the pieces of the story together. Because we never shift between the past and present, the main story is always the main story. When constructing strong characters as we have this this film, it is the responsibility of the actors (though proper direction) to not allow the actor to get in the way of the character. Honestly, there are times that I see the individual actors eclipse the respective character, but most of the time, the audience will see the characters themselves throughout the dark comedy. The cinematography is simple, but perfect for the story within this motion picture. Linklater uses no gimmicks to tell this thought provoking story. The movie has an intimate feel to it because you can likely identify with one of the lead or supporting characters, especially when they are talking about “Disneyland” in Vietnam (you’ll just have to watch to understand why that’s in quotes). So incredibly genuine. No pretense about any of the characters in the film.

The content of this film truly reflects the tenor of the times in which we live. Topics of war, politics, and religion seem to be inundating us from all angles. It takes a special film to deal with each of those respectfully, candidly, and effectively. The trifecta of voices in this film allows the thought provoking conversations to transcend the screen and enter the minds of the audience. While working through his grief, there were times that Shepherd could have gone on an anti-military or anti-American rant, but he never speaks a negative word against anyone, though he is sometimes in immense pain. Patriotism, God, and the human condition are shown and discussed in quite unconventional and maybe even controversial ways; yet, the manner in which these topics are discussed, as it relates to Shepherd’s loss, are absolutely perfect. In a seemingly binary world where you are either a red-blooded patriot or you’re anti-American, with no room for nuance or discussion, this film provides the platform to begin to realize that we are first human before we take sides.

Although I did not care for Linklater’s Boyhood, I can honestly tell you that this film is one that you don’t want to miss. Whether you are in a military family or not, this film offers a glimpse into a world that many people have to face on a daily basis. The genuine, organic approach to the hard topics in this film allows the humanity to shine through. Not speaking for ALL veterans, but the vets that were in the screening last night had high praise for the film. And the rest of us had many positive remarks and feedback for the screener hosts.

“The Big Sick” movie review

Organic and relatable. From Amazon Studios and Lionsgate comes Judd Apatow’s The Big Sick directed by Michael Showalter. Despite being billed as a romantic comedy (romcom), it is more like a family drama with comedic moments. What makes the plot of The Big Sick so incredibly relatable is its central focus on two star-cross’d lovers caught between two seemingly incompatible worlds. Beyond featuring two people who fall in love quickly, then realize how there is little chance of a future in which they are together, this story has little in common with Romeo & Juliet. No feuding families or riots here, just two 20-somethings who are trying to make it in this world, and by sheer happenstance fall for each other. However, much like the families from which Romeo and Juliet came, there are two opposing forces at work in this love story. It is clear from the screenplay and cast that all the elements are at work to generate a response from the audiences that would make this an endearing classic in the vein of Terms of Endearment. The relatability and organicness of this film comes from the fact that the entire cast–not just the lead characters–are every-day 21st century Americans who are facing the real mountains and pitfalls of romance, acceptance, honesty, and devotion.

The Big Sick tells the true-life story of the courtship between Pakistani-American Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and Chicago native Emily (Zoe Kazan). Kumail is a stand-up comic–or rather–he is desperately trying to be. He’s good enough for a small venue but he dreams of performing at the Montreal Comedy Festival. Emily is a graduate student at the University of Chicago studying psychology. Between family backgrounds and professional interests, the two of them could not be more different. When Kumail and Emily fall in love with each other, everything seems to be going so incredibly well over the next few months; but when Emily learns that Kumail cannot take the next step from dating to engagement because of his Pakistani family’s traditions regarding arranged marriage to a Pakistani girl, their relationship falls apart. As circumstance would have it, Emily must be placed under a medically-induced coma in order to stabilize after her health takes an acute turn downward. With Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) in town, Kumail must deal with his ex-girlfriend’s health condition and the fact that her her parents despise Kumail after he led their daughter on. Realizing that he cannot allow his family to determine his fate, Kumail is determined to win over Emilys parents and show Emily that he can be who she needs him to be.

What sets The Big Sick apart from a typical par-for-the-course romcom is the dimension and depth of the plot and characters. Ordinarily, a romcom contains a lighthearted story that requires little critical thinking and analysis because it is meant to be simply entertaining with a little heart along the way. Great for date nights and girls nights. Often times, in a traditionally structures romcom, the female character is the most interesting with the rest of the cast playing a lesser role. However, in this film, the most interesting character is the male love interest. Furthermore, the character chemistry and plot are greatly helped by Kumail and Emily being interesting respectively. The underdog trope is often applied to romcoms, and it certainly played a role in this film. In addition to the character and plot development on screen, the audience also goes through some soul-searching. Incidentally, the movie opens the door of discussion regarding the predisposition to how Pakistani and Americans view marriage and dating. Just like past films that commentated on marriage or dating between the black and white communities–which is what was needed in the not so distant past–this film raises awareness regarding marriage and dating as it relates to middle-eastern and American relationships. A timeless plot told through a contemporary setting.