There’s a solid point in this THR piece by Richard Newby about the different messages being sent by three categories of “giant monster attacks humanity” films: 1) Humans caused the problems, 2) Nature unleashed its fury and 3) Aliens invade. Rampage, it seems, falls into the first group and apparently actually spends at least some time holding people responsible – or at least accountable – for their actions.

That’s cool, but it’s at least the second film this year to explore that concept to some extent. The first one was a movie most critics either slept on or casually dismissed: The Cloverfield Paradox.

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kodachrome posterI have a love for physical film that’s likely rooted in how my childhood best friend, as well as his father, was a photographer. It was always interesting watching them work but I really got a taste for it when, in high school, both of us were on the yearbook staff and I spent a good amount of time hanging out in the darkroom of the office watching him develop pictures. It’s a lot more than just splashing a piece of film in some chemicals and he showed me the art that informs the science. That all has gone by the wayside as photography has transitioned to digital.

The new Netflix original film Kodachrome uses the sunset of the physical photo age as its setting and premise. Ed Harris plays Ben, a famous photographer who discovers a few rolls of film that have been hidden away. Unsure of what’s on them he and his home health assistant Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) set out to travel to the last shop in the country that develops Kodachrome film. To help, they enlist the aid of Ben’s estranged son Matt (Jason Sudeikis), still nursing resentment toward his absentee father who he hasn’t spoken to in a decade. With Ben’s health failing, it’s one last chance for the two to connect.

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Right now everyone is focusing on sound design as a result of A Quiet Place. In a story where the slightest sound can alert alien predators to your presence and cause them to pounce, it’s understandable that considerable weight would be given to every snap, crackle and pop.

There’s another example of sound designers having a bit of fun and using audio techniques to enhance the storytelling: The trailers and TV spots for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

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super troopers 2 poster 22001’s Super Troopers is a legitimate comedy classic. It has a ton of quotable lines, the Broken Lizard troupe that wrote, acted in and directed it are all 100% committed to the insanity going on and, like Caddyshack, contains enough gags-per-minute to make you overlook the threadbare and utterly ridiculous and implausible story. The $18m in box-office revenue it brought in was respectable and sufficient to keep the team working on other films but not high enough to make a sequel a sure thing.

Thanks to a fundraising campaign, though, Super Troopers 2 is about to hit theaters. All the original troopers are back in a story about how a border dispute between the U.S. and Canada puts a small Canadian town under U.S. control, with the members of the Vermont Highway Patrol taking over law enforcement there. Of course since they’re more concerned with getting high and pulling pranks, hijinks ensue. So the question is, is there anything new the Broken Lizard team has to say. Also, will this movie in any way address how the first one is, in retrospect, filled with sexual harassment and police abuse “comedy?”

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Last week’s news that MoviePass, the subscription model movie ticketing service, gave me flashbacks to the 2000 acquisition of Time Warner by AOL. While AOL was by no means a young company at that point, not nearly as young as MoviePass anyway, it was still a case of the upstart buying the legacy company. Moviefone has been around for decades, dating back to when it was a phone service that was so ubiquitous as to be incorporated into a bit on “Seinfeld.”

One quote from MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe in an interview explaining and justifying the acquisition jumped out at me:

Today, many people go to Rotten Tomatoes. And we find our subscribers have a slightly different and, in fact, a more positive rating of movies. We want to be able to do our own presentation for our subscribers from fellow MoviePass subscribers that gives them more reflection of people like them, who love movies.

MoviePass seems to have found common cause with studios, who for years have been waging war against Rotten Tomatoes even as the site itself is partially owned by Warner Bros. Hollywood has complained that negative ratings on the site have tanked their blockbusters, not seeming to realize (or care) that aggregating the reviews of outside critics isn’t the same as actively working against a movie. That aggregation may not be perfect, but it serves as an effective shorthand for people who don’t have the time to spend researching two dozen individual reviews.

The positioning of this goal is what’s most interesting to me. It indicates MoviePass has two goals in mind.

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pass over posterAuthor Antoinette Nwandu debuted her latest play at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater last year. Now, via director Spike Lee, Pass Over is coming to Amazon Prime this week in a feature adaptation that retains the theatrical conceit.

The story follows two young black men in Chicago who are just hanging out on a street corner talking about their dreams for the future and not causing a single bit of trouble. Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker) are long-time friends and residents of the neighborhood. The story follows how, staying on that one corner, their routine of talking about “passing over” from one phase of their lives to the next is interrupted by a series of events involving a stranger who’s not from the area, the intrusion of an aggressively bullying cop and other events.

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While everyone has been focused on one international trade war – the one that seems specifically designed to do maximum harm to U.S. farmers and manufacturers – another spat has finally reached a conclusion. After a week or so of threats and public declarations Netflix has officially announced it will sit out of this year’s Cannes International Film Festival.

To be fair, this is a bit of a “You can’t break up with me because I’m breaking up with you!” situation, in that the Cannes governing board announced days prior that movies not receiving theatrical distribution in France would not be welcome at the festival. While it didn’t name Netflix explicitly, it was clear who they were talking about.

Still, it’s a remarkably short-sighted move. Not by Netflix, but by Cannes. Seeming to act at the behest of exhibitors upset that anything not projected onto a screen for a mass audience would be qualified as a “film,” Cannes has put itself firmly outside the innovation that’s happening in the media industry as a whole and the film industry specifically.

That movies shown exclusively on Netflix or other streaming services aren’t “movies” is an opinion that’s oddly widespread in the film community. The MPAA seems to be debating exactly this point as it continues to mull whether distribution should determine awards eligibility. Even Steven Spielberg shared his point of view along those lines. Others have commented that Netflix movies should be eligible for Emmys, not Oscars, apparently due to television sets being one of the primary ways they’re viewed.

Indeed the “protecting the sanctity of film” argument is exactly the one used by Cannes director Thierry Frémaux in rationalizing the decision, which enforces French law mandating a 36-month waiting period between theatrical release and streaming availability. Interestingly, he’s also trying to paint himself as the victim here, claiming in a recent interview that he was almost fired for letting Netflix near Cannes last year. His invitation that Netflix is “always welcome” at the festival is disingenuous given the company’s business model would never allow for a three year theatrical window on original productions or acquired titles.

Alissa Wilkinson at Vox is right when she says this is about two different mindsets, one that says watching movies at home is alright and one that says movie watching must primarily happen in a theater. Sam Adams has a point that films are preserved through discussion and revisiting, but that’s tucked inside an otherwise hand-waving dismissal of Netflix’s approach to original films. You can hate on The Cloverfield Paradox all you want but even if you accept Nielsen’s estimates that roughly 785,000 people watched it the night it debuted (I don’t because of obvious sampling issues) it’s likely more than saw the Cannes winner The Square. That’s not a judgement of quality, but access beats quality every time.

Taking the long view, it would seem Cannes has more to lose by shunning Netflix than netflix does by withholding films from the festival.

What Cannes Loses

Most of the ways Cannes comes out on the losing end of this struggle are listed here by Scott Roxborough and Alex Ritman at The Hollywood Reporter. That list is very festival-specific, though, and overlooks some broader industry and societal trends.

First, that Netflix is gaining while theaters are losing. Like it or hate it, more and more people are choosing streaming over the theatrical experience. Netflix viewership alone (which admittedly also includes TV programming) is predicted to grow by 3.6% this year in the U.S. OTT (over the top) is growing more and more each year, with Netflix the dominant player, while movie ticket sales hit a 25 year low in 2017. The trend is not going to change anytime soon and rules like those being enforced by Cannes as well as exhibition industry blockage of premium VOD experiments aren’t going to change it.

Second, it shows a blind eye being turned toward movies being made by and for more diverse talent and audiences. While we praise Disney for Black Panther and A Wrinkle In Time and talk about Love, Simon making gay coming of age stories “normal,” the reality is most studio films are still made by, star and are meant for white educated males. The industry has known for years that inclusivity equals higher box office but just can’t pull the trigger on making that a regular thing. Director Dee Rees talked frequently about how most studios passed on Mudbound because it was “difficult,” meaning it would be hard to sell to white suburbanites. Netflix isn’t perfect in this category but it’s committed to creating more diverse TV shows and counts movies like First Match, Roxanne, Roxanne and others starring women, people of color and other groups as both creators and leads.

Third, it’s forgotten it’s not the only game in town. As Adams points out, Sundance and other festivals seem to give not a whit where the movies shown there end up, they want to celebrate filmmaking apart from distribution. The promotional support Netflix gives its originals may be lacking, something I’ve pointed out repeatedly, but when you keep in mind it has different goals for its marketing campaigns that makes a little more sense.

What Netflix Loses

All of that is not to say that Netflix is a big winner here. But the ways it which it comes out on the short end aren’t as serious or numerous as those for Cannes.

First, it does lose a major venue for building relationships with filmmakers. Read any interview with the director of a Netflix original film and it’s virtually guaranteed they’ll mention the creative freedom afforded to them by the company. It needs to keep presenting itself as an outlet for creator-driven stories even while it shifts a bit to focus more on the kind of popcorn entertainment franchises (cough Bright cough) that have traditionally been the bread and butter of the studios. It seems to be doing just fine on that front, though, with new films coming soon from Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuarón,, Paul Greengrass and others.

Second, Cannes does allow for a major publicity beat with all the entertainment and other press there to cover the festival. But how much was that really a concern when you consider the attention given to something like Ojka was probably half of that afforded a big flashy colorful stunt promoting The Emoji Movie? The disparity would have been greater if there hadn’t been the strong negative reaction to Okja simply by virtue of it coming from Netflix.

The Future of Movies *Is* At Stake

Those claiming that this represents an important battle in deciding the future of movies aren’t wrong, but they’re also not right in the way they think they are. Arguing that movies *must* be seen on a big screen with a group of strangers around you are making the same case you would if you claimed television *must* be transmitted via airwaves and received through rabbit ear antennas.

I’m as big a proponent of the theatrical moviegoing experience as anyone, though circumstances have dictated I don’t do that as much as I like. So most of the movies I watch are on DVDs borrowed from the library or via Netflix or Amazon Prime. And I live in an area where there’s one theater just 10 minutes away and two more within 20 minutes of my house.

Others aren’t so lucky. The conversion to digital exhibition five years ago, before Netflix started seriously getting into original films, caused many theaters to close because they couldn’t afford the necessary renovations. Those closures hit small towns and poor neighborhoods hardest because there simply wasn’t the revenue. In those areas it may not only be inconvenient but not financially viable to regularly go to the movies, making options like the library and streaming services the best available. Indeed, a comScore study last year showed cord-cutting OTT subscribers tended to make under $75,000 annually, though there’s some indication Netflix subscribers are increasingly well-educated and well-off.

So you have to ask yourself, who’s actually doing more to protect the future of film? Netflix, which sometimes shows questionable taste as to the quality of the movies it produces or acquires, or the theatrical industry, which continues flirting with the idea of surge pricing in addition to its regularly hiking standard ticket prices? One is trying to put movies within reach of everyone while the other is trying to make it into a leisure activity for the wealthy.

Let’s be clear that this is not a “feud” between the two companies, despite much of the media coverage framing it as such. Cannes is asking Netflix to accept conditions that run directly counter to the core of its business model and Netflix is refusing to do so. That’s not a feud, it’s simply a sound business decision. Both parties have understandable rationales for the positions they’ve taken, though it’s the filmmakers caught in the crossfire.

While I respect the positions of Spielberg, Christopher Nolan and others who have come down firmly on the side of the theatrical experience being the preferred one, there’s no disputing how almost every self-preservation based move made by the distribution industry has resulted in putting that experience further out of reach of more people. If going to the movies were a viable alternative and made the better case than something like Netflix, more people would be choosing it. That’s simply not the case, and no amount of grandstanding by exhibitors in France or elsewhere will change that, not now.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

i feel pretty posterRenee Bennett (Amy Schumer) is a woman who struggles with serious low self-esteem in the new movie I Feel Pretty. She’s got a few friends but is always comparing herself against society’s picturesque ideal of what female beauty should be and feeling she falls short of that is seen less than welcome on the dating scene and elsewhere.

One day Renee has an accident at spin class and suffers a rather severe brain injury. She remembers who she is but thinks that all of a sudden she looks like a high fashion model. Suddenly she’s more confident at work, with the guys she’s interested in dating and more. How long with this delusion last? And what happens when Renee’s perceptions go back to normal?

More importantly, is this a story that says women have to be delusional to think that anyone who’s not a 5’10”” 102 pound blonde can be considered pretty? Or is it a commentary on how society and media set unrealistic standards for women to attain? Let’s see if the campaign answers any of that.

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6 Balloons

There have been a few profiles of Abbi Jacobson in the wake of the movie’s release, most of which focus on how different this is from “Broad City,” which she’s most widely known for and her first real dramatic role.


Similarly, director Kay Cannon has received lots of additional press, including lots of takes like this and this that focus on how it’s the latest in an emerging trend of movies that include a gay romance that’s treated as if it’s no big deal and just as normal and traumatizing as a hetero love interest storyline.

There’s also this profile of Kathryn Newton, who plays one of the girls in the movie who’s part of the sex pact and who has been in a number of high-profile films and series in the last year or so.

Lean on Pete

Star Charlie Plummer was interviewed here about all aspects of the movie, from being cast in the role to the kind of story he and the others were trying to tell to working with the horse he stars alongside.

A Quiet Place

In addition to a few more features about how married costars John Krasinksi and Emily Blunt worked together for the first time there was also Krasinski in his role as director talking about how he pushed to cast a deaf actress, specifically Millicent Simmonds.


More interviews popped as the movie neared release, including chats with Rosamund Pike and director Tony Gilroy.

I’ve also begun seeing a lot more online ads for the movie, most of which use the key art of Hamm in sunglasses with Pike behind him. There’s likely a lot of retargeting going on as a result of my visiting the movie’s website.

Come Sunday

Lakeith Stanfield talks here about prepping for the role of a church musician in the movie.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

rampage poster 2Dwayne Johnson continues his efforts to appear in a full half of Hollywood’s yearly output by starring in this week’s big special-effects action film Rampage, based on the classic video game of the same name. Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a primatologist at a zoo who shares a special bond with a gorilla named George, who he rescued at a young age.

One night George gets out of his enclosure and is exposed to a chemical being released from a strange object that had fallen from the sky. The next day the gorilla is twice his normal size and just keeps getting bigger. That draws the attention of the feds, who want to know what’s happening, as does Okoye. Soon everyone realizes George wasn’t the only animal feeling the effects of the chemical, leading to a climactic showdown in the streets of Chicago between a massive gorilla, wolf and alligator.

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