cinema

The Death of MoviePass?

A few months ago, I tried to work out what the business model of MoviePass (and putative UK equivalent cPass) might be.

I concluded that the operators were going to need very deep pockets, and there was absolutely no certainty that the model works.

And that seems to have been an accurate prediction. The service recently nearly ran out of money, and had an emergency $5m injection last week. As Techcrunch reports, that wasn’t enough for the operators to block MoviePass subscribers from buying tickets to the weekend’s big new release – Mission Impossible: Fallout. And according to reports from a company meeting, the same restrictions will apply to some forthcoming big releases.

With the share price of MoviePass’ owner falling like a stone to below $1, the outlook is not good. I would imagine that at this point, the owners will be looking at some kind of fire sale. But even that doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

In the meantime AMC has launched its own subscription sevice – AMC Stubs A-List – which might be a mouthful, but offers three films a week for $19.95 a month. That puts it on a par with long standing subscription schemes in the UK like Cineworld’s Unlimited or Odeon’s Limitless offerings.

It’s unclear where that leaves cPass. They continue to offer a “waiting list” system to invite new subscribers. But I suspect that their investors will be carefully monitoring the losses of MoviePass, and may well decide to abandon ship rather than launch a loss-making product of their own.

It was hard to understand the business model of MoviePass in the first place, and that turns out to be because there really wasn’t a workable one. At least there wasn’t a workable one that accurately reflected movie-goers habits at a price point that made sense. All the more so, when MoviePass had deals with neither cinema chains, nor movie distributors.

The film industry does need disruption, but it’s already happening. It’s happening in how we watch films, and the type of films that get made. Most importantly its happening in where we watch films. As was highlighted in the book, The Big Picture it’s happening with Netflix and Amazon. Those mid-budget films are more and more skipping theatres, and showing up on their services. Cinemas are left with blockbusters at one end and art-house films at the other.

Will cinemas as we know them now survive another 10-20 years? I hope so, but I’m not certain. But MoviePass certainly won’t be the game changer it thought it’d be.

This is a fun read from The New York Times back in May.

Thor: Ragnarok

I confess that I feel left behind by Marvel’s Cinematic Universe these days. The films come thick and fast, and I’ve not seen them all by any means. That has begun to instill in me a fear that I won’t actually fully understand a new film because I’ve missed things that happened in the last film.

I’ve not seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or Spiderman Homecoming. It’s like stopping watching Lost on TV after three seasons, suddenly realising they’re up to season seven, and not really wanting to watch 60 episodes to get caught up.

But I’d heard enough good things about Thor: Ragnarok to mean that I was happy to give it a watch. In any event, I’d seen Doctor Strange on TV, and that didn’t seem to require much previous knowledge.

Of course, a Marvel film is likely to be very popular. And that means lots of “code violations.” People just can’t keep off their phones (probably not helped by every superhero film being more than two hours meaning in places they can drag).

I had to go and tell one person sitting near the front, and therefore in full view of the entire auditorium, to turn off their phone which they’d been on a full five minutes into the film, on full brightness. Others felt they could WhatsApp with impunity throughout just because they’d turned their brightness down.

And then there were the younger kids. Now I get it. It’s a Marvel film, and lots of 7 and 8 year olds will want to see it. But the certificate is 12A. The BBFC says: “Frequent scenes of fantasy violence include fistfights, aerial dogfights, and use of lasers and bladed weapons. There are brief impalings, but with minimal blood and injury detail. In one comic sequence an alien is melted into liquid, but the scene does not dwell on detail.

“There are occasional mild sex references and innuendo, and occasional use of mild bad language.”

But the point is that it’s a 12A.

The BBFC says of 12A films: “Films classified 12A and video works classified 12 contain material that is not generally suitable for children aged under 12. No one younger than 12 may see a 12A film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult. Adults planning to take a child under 12 to view a 12A film should consider whether the film is suitable for that child. To help them decide, we recommend that they check the BBFCinsight for that film in advance.” (My emphasis)

Some adults had definitely brought kids who found the film slightly too perilous. The clues are in things like trips to the loo, or shifting in seats.

But one mother and father had brought a toddler so young that the child still had a dummy in its mouth. I’d have said it was a maximum of three. The opening scene of Thor takes place with Thor captured by a hellish fire demon. The child instantly found this scary. It only got worse after that. At first the mother took the child to a seat well away from others at the front – I assume to minimise the disruption. But eventually she left the cinema.

I do think the BBFC needs to legislate that 12A films should not be seen by children under the age of, say 8, in any circumstances.

As for the film? Well it’s pretty decent. The film is directed by Taika Waititi, and it’s probably the funniest Marvel film I’ve seen (Waititi keeping many of the best gags for himself as Korg, a creature made of stones). Cate Blanchett is suitably villainous as Hela, Thor and Loki’s sister (although the costume designers seem a little too “inspired” by Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent). And Tessa Thompson is great as Valkyrie who manages to make a spectacular and very funny entrance. I’m unsure how much of The Hulk is actually motion capture of Mark Ruffalo and how much is simply animation, but Ruffalo’s few scenes are fine.

There’s just enough (but not too much) of Jeff Goldblum, while Tom Hiddlestone hams it up once more as Loki against Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. They too manage to play the comic moments very well.

You don’t really have to think too hard about the plot, but the film keeps up the pace despite its 130 minute runtime.

Obviously it’s full of CGI, and while there’s vast quantities of destruction at the end as is requisite in all superhero films, it’s less overt, and does somehow push the story forward a bit.

Overall, this is easily one of the better superhero films I’ve seen in a long time, and certainly the funniest. It also reminds me that I need to catch up with Hunt for the Wilderpeople (it’s on Netflix in the UK), Waititi’s last film as director. His sensibility really does carry through here.