Posts Tagged ‘Netflix’

On Going to the Movies, or Not

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

By Bob Gaydos

Poster for Martin Scorsese’s latest gangster epic.

Poster for Martin Scorsese’s latest gangster epic.

I’m about a half hour into “The Irishman” — the part where Robert DeNiro throws a gun off a bridge in Philly. I don’t consider this a spoiler alert because, after all, it’s DeNiro in a Martin Scorsese film and you have to figure it’s gotta happen sooner or later. Anyway, I decided to take a break to write, because you can do that while watching movies these days.

So, obviously, I’m watching at home on Netflix and not at a movie theater because apparently nobody does that anymore. Well, maybe not as much. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know there are fewer movie theaters than there used to be and people are not going out to the movies as often as they used to.

White Hutchison, a company that tracks attendance at out-of-home entertainment venues, says the average person went out to the movies 3.5 times in 2018, spending a little over $30 for tickets. That’s a 28 percent decrease from the industry’s high of 5.2 trips by your average moviegoer to the cinema in 2002, the company says.

White Hutchison also says the downward trend is the result of all the other new entertainment venues competing to try to lure people off the convenience and comfort of their couches. The competition has convinced many moviemakers that only blockbuster-type “event” movies can do this and, again, the figures bear this out. The 10 biggest grossing movies of 2018 accounted for a third of all ticket sales and eight of those movies were offered in 3D and all 10 at IMAX theaters. And no, as opposed to the word I used referring to “The Irishman,” there’s not a “film” among them. They’re stories jazzed up with lots of special effects, action and/or cartoon characters.

I started wondering about the state of cinema-going when I read that Netflix was making a blockbuster movie with Scorsese, DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, but was forgoing the usual 90-day window given to let theaters show the movie before offering it to Netflix subscribers, mostly streaming rather than DVD’s now. Instead, the movie would get limited release in select theaters and be available on your phone or tablet or smart TV in 30 days.

Wouldn’t theater owners be ticked off? I wondered. Yes, they would and are. Then again, Scorsese made the film 3½ hours long, which is tough to sit through without intermission, popcorn refill and bathroom breaks. Also, most theaters can only show it twice a day because of the length, cutting into potential profits.

Nonetheless, Netflix went through with this plan and “the Irishman” opened initially on eight screens in New York and Los Angeles. More were added a week later. It had good ticket sales and mixed reviews in select theaters. But it drew about 17 million smaller-screen viewers in its first week of release on Netflix.

What’s the point? I’m not sure, but this was certainly an “event” film because of the cast of characters in front of and behind the camera. Maybe that’s the point. What exactly do we mean by an “event” movie today? Forgive me here as I wander into a now-distant past to my introduction to movie-going. (It’s a long film. Let’s call this an early intermission.)

***

My mother loved to go to the movies. In Bayonne, N.J., where I grew up, there were six movie theaters in the 1940s and ‘50s. Not bad for a city of some 65,000. There was also lots of public transportation and the streets were safe to walk. If you wanted to see whatever movie was the latest hit, there was no problem. It was also cheap.

When I was old enough, my mom would sometimes take me along. She would also often buy whatever dish was for sale to continue to put together the full set. Gold leaf trim. I still have some pieces. For me — and my mom, I’m sure — going to the movies was an event, something to look forward to and enjoy a lot more than 3.5 times a year.

And star power? Here’s a sampling, in no particular order, of actors you could see on the big screen in the 1940s and 1950s: James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Fonda, Orson Welles, Gary Cooper, James Dean, Jack Lemmon, Audrey Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Tyrone Power, Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, James Cagney, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck. Grace Kelly, Yul Brynner, William Holden, Tony Curtis, Ingrid Bergman, Fred Astaire, Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Debbie Reynolds, Danny Kaye, Laurence Olivier, Robert Mitchum, Errol Flynn, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Bud Abbot and Lou Costello. (Don’t bother checking. I didn’t repeat anyone.)

When I reached my early teens and could go on my own or with friends (remember, the streets were safe to walk then), I looked forward to Saturday matinees. It usually included two westerns (Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Randolph Scott, John Wayne), at least six cartoons and a serial (“Flash Gordon” or “Don Winslow of the Navy”). For a quarter. Popcorn was extra. Now, that was an almost weekly event.

Times have changed. Television ended Hollywood’s Golden Age. Smart phones, etc. are killing television. The streets aren’t safe. Popcorn at the movies is a budget-buster.

But also, while you can watch football on a phone today, you cannot see someone “act.” There is an added dimension when you share an emotional moment in a movie with a theater full of strangers that is missing on your couch. While they have connected us as never before, in some ways smart phones have also made us more isolated. As for the movies themselves, rewriting comic books for the big screen can only go as far as the characters (Batman, for example) allow. And, though spectacular visual effects may be big box office, they can’t replace the feeling of watching a grownup story portrayed by talented actors.

Which kind of brings me back to “The Irishman.” I’m hoping Netflix and Scorsese are right, in the sense that you can still make story and actor-driven (male and female) movies and make money today. (I can enjoy, but have a limited quota for whiz-bang and fantasy.) The head of Netflix’s movie division says to relax. “If everyone would just be calm and talk through it, over the next few years we’ll be able to find the right answer for everyone,” Scott Stuber said recently.

OK, so I’m going back to the movie. Still waiting for Pacino to arrive on the scene. If you’ve seen it, don’t text me.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Playing Solitaire in the White House

Friday, March 10th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The trigger card

            The trigger card

You’ll have to pardon me here as I try to catch up on the news. Last I knew, the narcissist-in-chief (NIC) had just shown himself to be presidential by reading a speech (which he did not write) from a teleprompter for about an hour straight without veering off message, insulting any minority group or mentioning the size of his, uh, inauguration crowd.

A lot of people who call themselves journalists apparently thought this was evidence of a heretofore well-hidden capability to do presidential things.

With that reassurance that all was well with the republic, I busied myself with other, more pressing personal stuff: Reading; having dinner with my sons; wading through a mountain of unopened mail that had been gathering since I was involved in an accident; deciding whether my partner and I should have Chinese or Mexican takeout for dinner; looking for something to add to my Netflix queue while waiting for Denzel’s 2004 version of “The Manchurian Candidate” to become available; being impressed at how well the Sinatra version from 1962 has held up.

Then it got a little spooky. I heard that after his “presidential” reading, the NIC apparently went off message a few days later. Correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I’ve been able to piece together from all those alternative “news” sites on Facebook, some time late Saturday night, the NIC was wandering around the White House in his bathrobe when the phone rang. His cell phone, not THE phone. A voice on the other end that sounded remarkably like Steve Bannon channeling the NIC’s deceased mother suggested that to occupy his time, since Melania preferred to stay in New York, he should play his favorite game — Solitaire.

“Yes, mother,” the NIC obeyed and hung up.

Having stacked the deck with red queens, the trigger card, the voice called back a minute later and said, “Blame Obama.”

Again, “Yes, mother.”

And that’s apparently how we ended up with one president accusing his predecessor (on Twitter) of wiretapping his home phone. At least that’s the best I can piece together from news reports since no one has offered a scintilla of evidence of such a wiretap and the FBI director (the guy who clinched the election for the NIC) says it never happened. The White House ignored that response and a cadre of lawyers reportedly set out to find  proof of what their master had tweeted.

Now, apparently, all those “journalists” who swooned over the State of the Union reading are what one might call non-plussed for having been suckered again by a performance. “Sir, what  proof do you have of  this dastardly deed by Mr. Obama?” they asked the NIC, who had none, of course. Never does.

No one apparently thought to ask, “Sir, since you’re the president and have the power, why don’t you just declassify the documents that prove you were wiretapped?’’

Well, because: (1.) If there really was an illegal wiretap (the president can’t order one), the guilty parties would have left no records.

(2.) If such records did exist, they would prove that a judge thought there was sufficient reason for the FBI to wiretap the NIC even before he took office and how embarrassing would that be?

But probably mostly (3.), because he didn’t know that the president couldn’t order a wiretap or that a president could declassify any document he chooses. Details are not the NIC’s strong point.

As I take it, you-know-who was so angry that no one — even Sean Spicer struggled to keep a straight face — believed him when he said Obama had his Trump Tower phones tapped — he kicked Bannon and Reince Priebus, his two top aides, off Air Force One when he flew to Florida for his regular weekend of presidential golfing.

Bannon, however, was smart enough, I gather, to pack a few stacked Solitaire decks in the NIC’s bags. Some time over the weekend, as he wandered the halls of Mar-a-Lago in his bathrobe, the phone rang again.

This time, THE phone, not his cell phone.

“How about a game of Solitaire, son?”

“Yes, mother.” Hang up.

Short pause. Red queen.

Ring!

“Hello, mother.”

“Okay, now listen carefully, son. Last time I called you the damn cell phone dropped the call after I said, ‘Blame Obama’ and you made up some cockamamie story about him tapping your phone. What were you thinking? (Bannon’s voice getting a bit hoarse.) Blame Obama for that botched SEALS raid in Yemen, you ninny.”

“Yes, mother.”

And as far as I can tell, that’s how the NIC came to exploit the widow of a Navy SEAL who died in that raid during his State of the Union address, while at the same time blaming his predecessor and his generals for the failure of the mission. How’s that for presidential?

I can’t wait for Denzel’s “Manchurian Candidate” to arrive in the mail. Hope it’s as good as Sinatra’s.

rjgaydos@gmail.com