Friday, December 2, 2016

The shrinking window: Studios weigh shorter times
between movies in theaters and movies at home

IT’S BEEN a bane of the moviegoer’s existence for years: the long, long wait between when a popular film can be seen first-run in a neighborhood multiplex and when it’s available for home consumption. A digital-savvy public accustomed to (more or less) instant gratification may be getting closer to being, well, gratified a lot closer to immediately.

Bloomberg and TheWrap separately reported on Monday that some of the major film studios and exhibitor chains are nearing agreement on shortening the window between first-run-only exhibition and viewing in the privacy of the theater you pay for: your own home — possibly to as little as two weeks.

Citing studio executives with knowledge of events, Bloomberg reported Thursday that if the stars align on the various proposals, films will be priced between $25 and $50 for home viewers, a fat increase over the cost of movie tickets or the cost of VOD, or video-on-demand.

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One interesting break with the past is the apparent willingness of at least one studio to go it alone on changing the movie-release orthodoxy, whether the theater chains want to or not. Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara said as much on Tuesday at the Credit Suisse Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“We’re working with them to try and create a new window,” Tsujihara said at the conference, as reported in TheWrap. “But regardless of whether it happens or not – whether we are able to reach that agreement with them, we have to offer consumers more choices earlier.”

A spokesman for Universal Pictures told TheWrap that that studio is “having discussions with exhibitors about shortening the release window.” And Bloomberg reported that early in November, Cinemark “held preliminary talks with various studios about a premium video-on-demand window, without disclosing details.”

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IF THEY build it, will they come? Still to be seen is whether consumers would be willing to shell out a hefty premium for bragging rights to seeing a minty-fresh film just out of first-run status without going to the theater or waiting for that movie to show up on Netflix, Hulu or DirectTV.

$25 — a high enough price for two tickets to see anything once — is at the low end of the estimate range; charging much more than that would make it harder for cash-conscious American consumers to justify. And while it’s perfectly palatable in expensive coastal cities like New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles, that price may not play well in the heartland. Let alone any price above that.

Ironically enough, the talk of shrinking the first-run window comes in a year of record growth for theatrical movie releases. Tsujihara estimated that the domestic box-office revenue would reach $11 billion by the end of the year, thanks partly to successes like “Doctor Strange” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

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Accelerated home-viewing releases wouldn’t be the death knell for theatrical movie releases; the in-theater experience is still a powerful economic draw. FBR & Company estimates that theatrical exhibition still accounts for 44 percent of feature-film revenue. But the handwriting for theatrical movie exhibition has been on the wall for a long time.

First, the release window’s been naturally shrinking for a while anyway. Bloomberg reports: “Chains including Cinemark used to enjoy as much as six months of exclusive rights to new releases. In recent years, that has shrunk to about 90 days, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners. And by the third quarter of 2016, some new movies were available for online purchase two months and 26 days after their cinematic release.”

Second, static home-video sales are forcing a change in the old business model. DVD sales, for example, reportedly dropped by 12 percent last year, according to Digital Entertainment Group, an industry research org.

Third, newer strategies such as day-and-date (with films being released in theaters and via streaming on the same day) has loudly announced the future, even if exhibitors choose to ignore it. In October 2015, the movie industry’s collective hair caught fire over Netflix’s day-and-date release of “Beasts of No Nation.” Some theater chains went so far as to boycott the film altogether.

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DEFENSIVE CROUCHES like that may not do any good for much longer. Netflix, having already shifted the terms of engagement, is doing it again. On Thursday, eMarketer reported on changes Netflix made in its mobile app that let subscribers download videos and watch them offline, when and where it’s convenient for them. This is more than cord-cutting, it’s ’net-cutting; Netflix’s move means you don’t even need the Internet for timely video entertainment. Amazon Prime Video and You Tube Red also offer similar services.

Despite the advancing technology of the movies themselves, the legacy entertainment-industrial complex — the old union of studios and exhibitors — has been relying on a business model that’s more than 100 years old. That’s ending by degrees, and fast.

We’re at a point of détente between that long-established business model and the modern world of consumers, the people the movie business depend on. But that won’t last. Détente is another way of saying “reduction of tension” — a peaceful stalemate. Sooner or later, the tide of battle shifts to a winner and a loser. Sooner or later, with consumers’ money going into the registers that keep that business alive ... guess who wins?

Image credits: Warner Bros., Universal and Netflix logos: Their respective companies or parent companies. Feature-film revenue share: FBR & Co. via Bloomberg. OTT video service users chart: eMarketer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

‘Snowtime!’ creators on getting the elements of winter,
childhood and conflict just right

The premise for “Snowtime!” is simple enough: Children on a two-week winter school break in a small village learn valuable life lessons when they form two teams for a huge (and greatly allegorical) snowball fight. But the Canadian film, which received a 70 percent fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes, has won acclaim for a charming, whimsical look whose wintry persona is come by honestly. “Lord of the Flies” with snowballs, it’s not.

“We know what winter looks like, we know what winter feels like,” director Jean-Francois Pouliot, who lives in Montreal, said at TheWrap Screening Series on Monday in West Hollywood. “I came in with one objective as far as look and style: I want this film to feel like winter much more than ‘Frozen.’ I admire ‘Frozen,’ but I want this film to have the feeling of wet wool.

“Winter has very different colors. It has all the colors you see in our film,” he continued, while speaking to TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman alongside Paul Risacher, one of the film’s screenwriters.

“War is a messy, messy business,” a “Snowtime!” character says, making a statement that’s more than a little true of the film’s own creation. One of 27 films vying for the 2017 animation Oscar, it reflects collaboration; innovative ways of resolving indie and big-budget esthetics, live-action and animation realities — plus a grasp of the power of a familiar story, and the risks of finding a new way to tell it. ...

Read the full story at TheWrap

Image credits: Waxman, Pouliot and Risacher: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trump and Arthur Brooks’ ‘dignity deficit’

FOR ARTHUR Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, writing in The Wall Street Journal, the presumptive victory of Donald Trump in the Nov. 8 presidential election was a victory of the Norman Rockwell middle class over the elitist defilers of Western values. In an essay that barely submerges its deeper triumphalism, Brooks reaches for the ephemeral to explain the rationale of voters behind Trump’s apparent presidential win. For them, Brooks says, it’s all about dignity.

“Over the past half century, the percentage of working-age men outside the workforce doubled. Tuesday’s election results stunned pollsters and pundits. But to observers who have been watching deeper trends across America, the outcome was hardly incomprehensible. ...

“Most economists predicted that policies built on Mr. Trump’s anti-immigration and antitrade rhetoric would hardly help unemployed, working-class people in places like Kentucky and West Virginia. But where these experts heard incoherent specifics, many voters heard a consistent deeper theme: A promise to work hard at restoring left-behind Americans’ dignity by bringing back jobs and striking back at the cultural elites who disdain them.

“This story is not merely crucial for understanding this extraordinary election. It is also the lodestar for cultural renewal and better politics, no matter one’s place on the ideological spectrum. Leaders on both sides will likely take issue with some parts of Mr. Trump’s agenda. But all must contend with the central reality he has unearthed —the hunger for dignity in communities where it is most absent.”

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THERE’S BEEN a “hunger for dignity in communities where it is most absent,” the communities common to white working-class men, a national cohort whose sensibilities Trump tapped into on Election Day like a sugar maple tree in Vermont.

But what’s not clear is how (or whether) Trump’s agenda — as a matter of governance and not of campaigning — will equalize those communities’ aspirational dignity with that of other communities, the ones that the president-elect has spent a year and a half denigrating, denying dignity to vast swathes of the American electorate. Apparently, according to Trump’s agenda, it’s a zero-sum game; the one can’t coexist with the other. It is not enough that he wins; others must lose.

The deeply insensitive, calculatedly divisive rhetoric of the president-elect over the 18 months of his campaign — and the equally divisive Cabinet choices in the 13 days of White House transition — strongly suggest that the “dignity deficit” Brooks speaks of isn’t meant to be eliminated, only moved further onto the shoulders of the people in America for whom the dignity of work and economic empowerment has been a way more precarious proposition.

Brooks says that “all must contend with the central reality [Trump] has unearthed—the hunger for dignity in communities where it is most absent.” If Trump truly believes this, he can start with the communities of Latinos and African Americans, for whom the dignity Brooks talks about has been not absent, but certainly under siege, for years before the Great Recession.

Trump won’t do that because he’s spent so long vilifying those communities on the campaign trail — and apparently to great success — he can’t embrace them now without arousing the ire of the white working class whose support was his primary political objective from the start.

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BROOKS WRITES: “Who falls on the wrong side of this dignity gap? These days it is working-class men. In his new book ‘Men Without Work,’ my colleague Nick Eberstadt shows that between 1965 and 2015 the percentage of working-aged men outside the workforce increased to 22% from 10%. Many millions more are underemployed. The employment-to-population ratio for men aged 25-54 is 6.8% lower today than it was in 1930, in the teeth of the Great Depression. These secular trends were amplified by the nonrecovery that most Americans experienced after the Great Recession. Only about the top fifth of the economy saw positive income growth for most of the Obama presidency, Census Bureau data show, while most others averaged no growth at all.”

Never mind the open question of how much less of the economy would have seen positive income growth if Obama economic reforms hadn’t rescued the economy from eight years of the Bush administration. Let’s cut to the chase:

Brooks doesn’t say so in the previous paragraph, but when he refers to “working-class men,” he means white working-class men. Their overwhelming support of Trump at the polls — the civic manifestation of their frustration and that of their partner in grievance, white working-class women — forms the basis of Brooks’ argument.

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When it comes to explaining why white voters voted the way they did on Nov. 8, Charlie Cook says it more plainly: “The estrangement of these white voters created a backlash — inartfully called a “whitelash” by some commentators—based on the conviction that the country they remembered growing up, made idyllic by the passage of time, had been swept away. They at once deplored the change that took this country away from them, and demanded change to give it back.”

This is the source of what Brooks might call a dignity disconnect. The white voters Cook describes are longing for an America they only marginally remember or don’t remember at all, like the reveries of the hosts on “Westworld” or the implanted memories of the replicants in “Blade Runner.” Take the Supreme Court’s recent evisceration of the Voting Rights Act, for example. That landmark legislation has no resonance, no lived meaning for the vast majority of these voters. Most of them weren’t alive when it was first enacted in August 1965, and many, many others were too young to know or care.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Isabelle Huppert explores the dark side of the psyche
in Paul Verhoeven's 'Elle'

Isabelle Huppert’s role in “Elle,” France’s official entry for the 2017 Academy Awards, let her try on a range of emotional disguises for a woman whose rape at the hands of an unknown assailant is the catalyst for a bold psychological study. But the veteran French actress, who’s made films with directors from Chabrol to Cimino, found working with Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven a welcome extension of her own versatility.

“It’s surreal. I think it’s very, very close to the reality of a human being, in a way,” she told an audience on Monday at TheWrap Screening Series in West Los Angeles. “The whole investigation of her psyche, the whole investigation of any relationships in the film, is so true. I think there’s a great amount of truthfulness. That’s what is so disturbing: the ambiguity of it, the complexity of someone who does what she does.”

In the film, which is Verhoeven’s first feature since “Black Book” (2006), Huppert portrays Michèle, the hard-charging director of a leading video game company based in Paris. After being sexually attacked in her home, she begins the process of tracking down the rapist — a search that yields surprising results and reveals her capacity to be both victim and victimizer in the real world. ...

Read the full story at TheWrap.

Image credit: Huppert: Ted Soqui Photography

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A look back at The Globe’s look forward

THE PREDICTION market has been all over the lot forecasting Donald Trump’s first actions after he moves into the White House on January 20th He’s made a lot of promises about his Day One action items. While the facts are anyone’s guess, and will be for another 68 days or so, we can thank The Boston Globe again for its tongue-in-cheek look at life under a President Trump.

The Globe created a fictional front page reporting the actions of President The Donald on Sunday, April 9, 2017. If the headlines are even close to being right, it should be a very big day: “Markets sink as trade war looms.” “Curfews extended in multiple cities.” “DEPORTATIONS TO BEGIN.” “U.S. soldiers refuse orders to kill ISIS families.”

When the parody page was first published by the Globe on April 10, it was generally received as a principled lark, a spirited piece of journalistic satire in the classic adversarial tradition. But back in April, we had the luxury of time, or we thought we did. At least then, we had a chance to push back what’s pushing against us as a nation, right now.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Election 2016: Polling and we the (untruthful) people

SINCE TUESDAY night, news organizations spanning ideology and readership — from FiveThirtyEight (holy of holies) to the Associated Press, from Moody’s Analytics to PredictWise, from Fox News to The New York Times — have engaged in mea culpas, wringing hands and scratching their heads at how they could get the results of the 2016 presidential election so wrong.

A lot’s been made about the inaccuracy of the myriad polls that preceded the election. But we haven’t heard as much about how they got their results; very little’s been said about a factor that the best, most reliable pollsters are defenseless against.

That factor led to an informational house of cards that was destined to fall, and it did on Election Day, when everyone (including yours truly) got completely sucker-punched by an unexpected outcome.

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It basically went like this: Everyday citizens, no doubt embarrassed by the idea of publicly supporting Trump, gave pollsters the information of apparent social preference, the choice that seemed to be the most palatable, the most acceptable to their friends and families and neighbors and the public at large: "What are you, kidding? Of course I'm voting for Clinton."

Even though they weren't.

The pollsters generally took respondent answers on faith. What those poll respondents said seemed to dovetail experientially with the mood of the country. So, pollsters took that false data and ran with it, building poll after poll after poll around it, reporting the results as a kind of presidential campaign holy writ.

Then the media reported the pollsters’ findings back to the public (or the media conducted its own polling of everyday people, beginning its own version of a process that would lead to exactly the same result).

Thus, the sense of a wave building for Hillary Clinton was utterly, tragically erroneous from the jump, a dream wrapped in statistics as insubstantial as the dream itself.

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FALSE DATA — answers from millions of poll respondents, answers that were exactly the opposite of what those voters intended to do on Election Day, false answers to survey questions in the waning days and weeks of the campaign, when the scales of public opinion seemed to tip for Clinton — was the X factor of the 2016 election.

At the end of the day, it’s the only thing that would account for the outcome of the election, and the realistic expectation of nothing else. There’s no other reason for the best of established polling protocols — regression analyses, demographic weighting, sample sizing, sampling errors — to have so thoroughly whiffed at the plate when it counted.

You don’t have to be Peter Hart to see how this makes sense: A poll can only be as accurate, as truthful, as presumably dispositive as the root information that makes that poll possible in the first place. Garbage in, garbage out.

Image credits: Clinton projection: New York Times. Clinton-Trump electoral vote map: Moody's Analytics.

Fear and Loathing in America 2016 *

God has special Providence for drunks, children 
and the United States of America

Otto von Bismarck

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Leonard Cohen

ON THURSDAY, Donald Trump went to Washington. The next president of the United States, a man thunderously endorsed by white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan, went to the nation’s capital to meet the African American president who occupies the White House for the next 10 weeks.

This happened the day after the night when anti-Trump protesters clogged the 101 Freeway in Los Angeles and thronged the Trump Tower in Manhattan and gathered at Parkman Bandstand in Boston and marched through downtown Chicago to protest at Trump Tower in Chicago and hit the streets of Oakland and San Francisco and Portland and Boulder and Philadelphia and Phoenix. This was the day after the night when Lily, a Latina protesting in Los Angeles, told CNN exactly what the stakes may well have become.

“If we don’t fight, who is going to fight for us? People had to die for your freedom where we’re at today. We can’t just do rallies, we have to fight back. There will be casualties on both sides. There will be, because people have to die to make a change in this world.”

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On Tuesday night, Donald John Trump, the nominally Republican [x]illionaire attention addict and pornographic self-pitchman, finally catapulted himself to victory over Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton and achieved the Oval Office, set to become the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20. It was a victory no one saw coming.

Maybe it was something we should have expected. Earlier in the year, there was a tweet released by the social-media staff at The thing went little noticed in the Twitterverse on May 3, when it first came out. It was one of those innocently snarky items Twitter is famous for: a tweet from Captain Obvious,’s Edwardian-elegant wiseass of a pitchman, asking questions that now seem all too tantalizingly pertinent:

“Is Canada starting to sound like a good option? Why not make a trip North before November? Be a tourist before becoming a resident.” If you had any doubt about the real thrust of the tweet, what it was that provoked it, the tweet offered an inescapable clue: “#ElectingToMove”

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A YOUTUBE live video feed of protesters from Fox10 in Phoenix tapped into the mood of much of the country tonight. A live chat on the same You Tube page as the video revealed the written mood of people watching and reacting in real time. The CAPS LOCK cognoscenti weighs in:









LIKE WITH Lonesome Rhodes, the charismatic protagonist/antagonist of Elia Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd,” Donald Trump blinded much of the country with the candlepower of his own mythology — the way it had already blinded him. In a variety of ways, we’re paying the price for that now. Or we soon will.

We’re paying the cost of having let him get close early on. When the media wasn’t yet fully dazzled by the daring of his bluster. When he wasn’t fully held to account to statements made in the past. When we let him walk on releasing his tax returns.

We’re paying the price for buying into this most malign aspect of our obsession with celebrity and power: our willingness to confuse heat with light; our willingness to imbue celebrity with sagacity; our willingness to make over American society’s more marginalized citizens into America’s most privileged; our willingness to lash out in unthinking rage, to burn down our village in order to save it.

And worse. Irony of ironies: After months on the trail essentially saying nothing, picking fights with demographic others, inciting violence at his own campaign rallies, riding the crest of emotionalism without deep-diving into policy, Donald Trump really didn’t even bother to define himself beyond the bullshit veneer of gilt-edged horndog maverick businessman ... concealing the real Donald Trump: a flamboyant, self-absorbed, hot-headed charlatan whose inexperience with our government somehow recommends him to run our government; a relentless publicity ho whose presidential campaign was, ultimately, nothing more than one man’s monument to himself.

And irony upon irony: Turns out that was enough to win. The country let him get away with it. We’re paying the price for our willingness to let that happen.

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On Thursday night, after an apparently expansive meeting with President Obama, the president-elect took to Twitter to react to the wave of protests that were emerging across the country — protests that continue right now. His first reaction was as tone-deaf, as insensitive as we’ve come to expect over the last 17 months.

“Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”

Then, perhaps realizing (or more likely having been advised by his aides) that a tweet like that did nothing to help close the national wounds that his own campaign had created and worsened, it decided that maybe a new tack was needed. Trump did the pivot at 3:14 Friday morning, nine hours after the first tweet:

“Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country. We will all come together and be proud!”

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TAKE NOTE of his first instinct: to respond with a snide, butthurt innuendo, making an unproven claim — protests “incited by the media”? Really? — in the course of his weak grievance. Then, and only then, hours later, comes the sunnier, more anodyne reaction — one which, on the basis of previous campaign performance, we’re invited to believe may not even be sincere.

In 1968, Robert Kennedy spoke at Vanderbilt University and characterized Richard Nixon, then seeking the presidency, in the heat of RFK’s one and only presidential campaign: “Richard Nixon represents the dark side of the American spirit.”

Today, at long last Nixon has his forthcoming successor, his heir apparent. And for the next four years, we’ll be paying the price for our willingness to let that happen too.

Image credits: Double Trump: Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press. Captain Obvious tweet: Two-image illustration: Lonesome Rhodes: from "A Face in the Crowd." Trump mouth: via The Guardian (UK).     * All due propers to Hunter S. Thompson.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election 2016: Hillary Clinton concedes the 2016 presidential election

MSNBC and CNN have reported that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has called her Republican rival, Donald J. Trump, to concede the 2016 presidential election. CNN reported the final electoral-vote count as 288 Trump, 215 Clinton.

MSNBC reports that Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes, has been won by Donald John Trump, the president-elect of the United States.

Image credit: AP/Matt Rourke.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election 2016: CNN and MSNBC:
Trump wins Alaska and Wisconsin

In the wee small hours of the morning, Republican nominee Donald Trump has won the states of Alaska and Wisconsin, according to CNN and MSNBC. Their electoral votes — Alaska's three electoral votes, Wisconsin's nine electoral votes — lift Trump's total to 257. Two hundred seventy are needed to win.

Election 2016: Clinton wins Maine

MSNBC calls the state of Maine for Hillary Clinton, its three electoral votes boosting her EV total to 218. Donald Trump holds at 245 EV.

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