Yesterday, Indiewire film critic David Ehrlich ran an illuminating essay on Netflix’s testy relationship with the original films it releases, explaining how their model of bypassing theatrical release and going straight to streaming ultimately degrades the viewing experience and makes the movies harder to find and appreciate. (This comes hot on the heels of an official denunciation from the Federation of French Cinemas against the Cannes Film Festival for allowing TV into their lineup for the first time ever.) Clearly, his words went straight to the top of Netflix’s corporate office, as the online video giant has issued a letter to their shareholders assuring them that everything’s going to be fine and movies aren’t dead, probably.
There’s prolific, and then there’s Alex Gibney. The nonfiction filmmaker works at a rate bordering on inhuman, cranking out 14 documentaries over the past five years alone. He assembled three releases in 2016, mapping the breadth of his subjects: the alarming (and, to some, alarmist) Zero Days traced potentially ruinous lines between computer viruses and nuclear capabilities, The Agent cast a skeptical eye at the C.I.A.’s preparation and response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, and Cooked offered Gibney the chance to tackle some lighter material with a food documentary. He’ll return to weightier fare with the murder investigation doc No Stone Unturned, but a new report today indicates that he won’t do so at the Tribeca Film Festival.
It’s pretty unilaterally agreed that Charles Manson was a bad egg. As the leader of the hippie cult known as The Family, he terrorized Southern California with a killing spree that claimed seven lives, including that of actress and Roman Polanski spouse Sharon Tate. He was sentenced to nine consecutive lifetime sentences in prison, where he continues to hang out today. Pop culture has made no bones about its continuing fascination with this charismatic, repulsive figure and a new project will soon provide a fresh perspective on the real-life villain — with another villain along for the ride.
A few years ago, I wrote up a brief item about an incident taking place at Los Angeles’ AFI Film Festival wherein an irate woman maced a man in the face for having the gall to ask her to turn off her cell phone during a screening of Mike Leigh’s J.M.W. Turner biopic Mr. Turner. “Wow, being at the movies sure makes people do crazy things!” I thought to myself. “I wonder how long it’ll be until the next time I get to write about a violent movie theater conflict over petty nonsense.” That day has come at last, and this time [beat to let the moment breathe] the stakes are even higher.
One of last year’s finest films, and certainly the most challenging documentary, was Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine. The concept was ingenious: the film tracks actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to portray the late newswoman Christine Chubbuck and tease out what factors could have compelled a woman to shoot herself in the head on live television. It was a beguiling interrogation of authenticity and artifice, tracing the limits of performance as a means to locate truth, and now the world of documentary film has begun to follow Greene’s groundbreaking example. The new trailer for Casting JonBenet offers a glimpse at a film using Greene’s methods, and applying them to an equally disturbing footnote in history.
Almost exactly a year ago, tech entrepreneur Sean Parker (better known as the guy who correctly identified a billion dollars as cooler than a million dollars in The Social Network) fronted a proposed business venture called The Screening Room, a potentially game-changing set-top box through which Hollywood studios would offer their biggest new releases to stream at home the same day they premiered in brick-and-mortar theaters. (With an astronomical price tag, naturally.) Though it gained some traction and support from significant voices in the film community, it ultimately sputtered and spun out. But with the rebirth of spring, so comes a rebirth for this impractical, frightening, cineplex-annihilating idea. (Kinda.)
To quote our illustrious new Commander-in-Chief: “China. China China China. CHIIIIINA. China. China. China China China China. CHINA. China!” Our friends to the East have been gobbling up real estate in Hollywood at a rate that would be alarming if it didn’t bring us The Great Wall, which ruled, so things are cool for now. But the influence of China’s entertainment economy has become unavoidable among studio films, with Asian entertainment conglomerate Wanda recently purchasing Legendary and Paramount selling a 25% stake in their next three years of projects to Shanghai Film Group and Huahua Media. Today brings news of another Hollywood takeover spearheaded by a Chinese company, with nothing less than American icon John Rambo caught in the middle.
I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of Get Out earlier this week, and hoo boy, that right there is one fine motion picture. Our beloved Editor-in-Chief Matt Singer made as much clear in his ringing endorsement from Sundance, but take it from me: very spooky, very funny, has something to say, insanely well-cast and even more well-acted. It’s an easy movie to love, and while the box-office receipts from this upcoming weekend will rule on whether audiences agree, the critics of America have already made their voices heard. And those voices are ringing out in perfect unison, a harmony sounding out as if from an angelic choir: “THIS MOVIE RULES.”
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