Howdy, dudes, and welcome back to The 300, a recurring feature on my perilous quest to watch 300 movies in theaters in the year 2018. I’ll be watching new releases, classics, hidden gems, and festival films to experience the wide world of cinema in all its forms. There ought to be something that you can also enjoy and share.
As always, there are three rules for The 300:
- The movie must be at least 40 minutes long, meeting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ definition of a feature film.
- I must watch the movie at a movie theater, screening room, or outdoor screening venue.
- While I can watch movies I’ve seen before 2018, I cannot count repeated viewings of the same film in 2018 multiple times.
Thanks to the Tribeca Film Festival (The 300 Week 16 and The 300 Week 17), I have given myself a nice buffer on hitting 300 movies this year ahead of schedule. That’s a good thing since recent MoviePass news will probably make this whole shebang a lot harder for the rest of the year. We all figured MoviePass was going to end, and now company’s demise seems inevitable.
Before getting into the movies I watched in the last week, let’s talk about what’s happening with MoviePass.
MoviePass App Problems and a Fundamentally Unsustainable Business Model
Until yesterday, I expected to write about a problem with the MoviePass app and their ticket verification system. Select customers have to take a picture of their ticket stub to be verified before they can check into their next movie. I am one of these customers. An update to the app on May 4th led to problems with ticket verification for Android users. Every time I tried to take a picture of my ticket stub to send, the app would crash, meaning I couldn’t use MoviePass at all. Even uninstalling and reinstalling the app was ineffective—that was something I did when I first had ticket verification problems after watching Flash, the Teenage Otter (The 300 Week 15).
MoviePass’ customer service was generally unhelpful. I received automated responses from public tweets, Twitter DM, and the in-app customer support function, but I was mostly ignored despite posting pictures of my ticket stub all over the place. Other customers had a similar issue over the weekend and were similarly ignored. It took almost 48 hours since the issue started for my ticket to be manually verified. I lost two days on The 300. It was frustrating but not so bad since I could always just keep chopping away for the rest of the month.
Then the MoviePass financial news came out.
According to Bloomberg, MoviePass’ parent company Helios & Matheson is hemorrhaging money. The company burns through $21.7 million a month, and only had $15.5 million in cash at the end of April. While the company supposedly has $27.9 million on deposit with merchant processors, it looks like the math has finally caught up with the dream.
MoviePass has always been too good to be true, and I wonder just how long before it finally folds. The company has eliminated the ability to see the same movie multiple times with MoviePass, which will lead to a 35% savings on their end. That may be too little too late given their fundamentally unsustainable business model. Every customer means a loss, and in some cases, a major loss.
A few people on Twitter have publicly complained about their MoviePass cards declining, which may happen more frequently in the coming weeks as the last of the money is eaten up. There was also this sad tweet that, in light of the financial news, seemed to be obliquely begging Elon Musk for a cash infusion:
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, kids. This ship is sinking. Too bad I can’t see a movie today because of some plans tonight. At least there’s tomorrow. Maybe.
So when MoviePass folds (this is no longer an “if”), what does this mean for The 300?
I was discussing this with Flixist EIC Matthew Razak the other week, and it will definitely get more creative and more challenging. Maybe I should save that plan for a future installment, but I can still make it happen thanks to film festivals, free summer outdoor movies, discount tickets and membership plans at select venues, and the diverse film programming in New York City.
The Spartans didn’t surrender at the Battle of Thermopylae, did they? I mean, yeah, they all died, but…
You know what? Bad example.
And now, onward.
131 of 300: Rampage (2018)
Director: Brad Peyton
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Seen at AMC Loews 34th Street 14 (New York, NY)
Wednesday, May 2nd
Rampage is a reminder of how boring and generic a big-budget action movie can be. I didn’t care about any of the characters or their forced emotional arcs. So many action scenes felt like I’d seen them already. The only minutes Rampage was engaging were when Johnson helped his giant albino ape friend fight another giant monster. Yet even that was something out of a Transformers movie. This is a meathead version of Gareth Edward’s 2014 Godzilla film. In Rampage, Marley Shelton is Juliette Binoche and Joe Manganiello is Bryan Cranston.
132 of 300: Blockers (2018)
Director: Kay Cannon
Starring: Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena
Seen at Regal Union Square Stadium 14 (New York, NY)
Thursday, May 3rd
Blockers was a pleasant surprise, and way more warmhearted than the butt-chugging trailer led me to believe. It’s partly a zany-but-mature teen sex comedy about young women having a good time on their own terms, but it’s also an oddly sweet coming-of-middle-age for suburban parents who can’t let go of their children. Cena gets a lot of attention in the ads; he’s fine, but he’s the least of the parent ensemble. Mann is the obsessive yet humane anchor, and Barinholtz (who may just be Mark Wahlberg impersonating Bill Paxton) is a screw-up trying to do right for once.
133 of 300: Angels Wear White (2017)
(aka 嘉年华; Jiā nián huá)
Director: Vivian Qu
Starring: Vicky Chen, Zhou Meijun, Shi Ke, Peng Jing
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Friday, May 4th
Angels Wear White becomes almost Kafkaesque in its depiction of pervasive and systemic misogyny in China. After two 12-year-old girls are sexually assaulted, we witness the various structures and cultural forces that prevent justice from being served. Money and status are more important than the lives of women, and the different ways women can be preyed on or victimized are explored in the film. Angels Wear White is so upsetting and heartbreaking thanks to Qu’s direction, which quietly observes the aftermath of trauma and how the imbalances of power are self-perpetuating. It is a movie from the POV of the powerless.
In a film so devastatingly subdued, the only oversized aspect of Angels Wear White is a gigantic statue of Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itch, white dress flared out wide. We see the statue from different angles, and in different states. I am oddly haunted by the last image of the statue, and how Qu’s use of the visual metaphor emphasizes everything else we’ve watched to that point.
134 of 300: Nashville (1975)
Director: Robert Altman
Starring: Ronee Blakley, Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson, Ned Beatty
Seen at Quad Cinema (New York, NY)
Saturday, May 5th
I have a weird relationship with Robert Altman’s movies. He’s a filmmaker I’m slowly catching up on, and yet as a kid into my early teens, I wound up watching one of his worst movies, O.C. and Stiggs, all the damn time. Which is just a long preface to saying I finally saw Nashville for the first time and I can see its fingerprints all over American cinema.
Nashville needs to be considered as a whole to be appreciated. Nothing much happens until it does, and then suddenly the previous events are imbued with additional weight. There are 25 significant characters in the film; there’s a traffic jam, there’s music, and there’s love and humiliation. Eventually we’re watching a bunch of fragile American souls still recovering from the long shadow of hope, assassination, corruption, and war of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Maybe that’s the alchemy of well-made work that rambles: after a while, when the characters lock together and the final events unfold, we can finally see a thesis statement about the culture that gave rise to the work.
135 of 300: Modern Times (1936)
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Sunday, May 6th
City Lights is my favorite Charlie Chaplin movie, but Modern Times remains a close second. It’s maybe a better directed film just given Chaplin’s craft after so many years, though it felt more episodic than City Lights. The sight gags are wonderfully pulled off, like the demented machine designed to force-feeds assembly line workers, or the modest hovel that the little tramp and his waif companion try to turn into a home.
Watching Modern Times again for the first time in almost a decade, the struggles of the poor and the worker seem more right on. (The Chaplinesque Manifesto?) It made me reflect on my love of City Lights, which is a kind of call to kindness and helpfulness, of being for other people in need. Apart from Modern Times’ call for human dignity against the dehumanizing aspects of technology and capitalism, the film suggests that friendship and love may be the only things that keep us from total despair as the world moves forward. Better to walk with someone you care about than to walk alone. I mean, have you seen the world today?