The most interesting film news of the weekend was the surprise release of the third “Cloverfield” movie on Netflix, timed to match the end of the Superbowl on TV. Only a week or so ago I noticed folks online worrying about the upcoming Han Solo origin story in the “Star Wars” and the fact that, only three months before its expected release date, no previews had yet been seen with such a late preview schedule perceived as a harbinger of doom. Now, along with a teaser for “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (presumably to the relief of many),the big game became the venue for this latest development in the film distribution game, with the trailer for “The Cloverfield Paradox” debuting on television the same day as the film itself was released to the streaming service and its subscribers. To put it in perspective, the three Cloverfield films have had lead times between their first trailer and their release of, respectively, approximately six months, one or two months, and three or four hours.
In related Netflix news, last week, it was also announced that Netflix would distribute (i.e., stream) the upcoming science fiction film “Annihilation,” starring Natalie Portman, everywhere other than the US and China, the only two countries in which the film will have a theatrical release. The international Netflix streaming release will allow two clear weeks for American and Chinese audiences to see it on the big screen, with Netflix reportedly helping to offset production costs for a film that was approaching its release date with some infighting within the production team over the final version of the film.
The Netflix business model is built around subscribers, not eyeballs on individual projects, and it has been growing its base at a higher than predicted rate and needs to maintain a supply of the kinds of titles that will continue to draw new members. To that end, the recent and (understandably) critically eviscerated “Bright” starring Will Smith appears to have helped and being the only venue for the third Cloverfield will likely do the same, at least in the short term.
Netflix doesn’t need to spend enormous sums on advertising each title in an attempt to draw an audience out to the theatre, to buy tickets, it has an audience that taps into its (not always helpful) menus on a regular basis who just need to be convinced to watch another title at no marginal cost, who then attract other members as well as new users via social media. And today’s social media reaction to the surprise release of “The Cloverfield Paradox” demonstrated that as the trailer created a flurry of online activity, then more as the Superbowl ended and people announced their intention to watch the film, and again as those first viewers all finished watching at approximately the same time. One short commercial produced several hours of viral marketing campaign, albeit including many negative reactions before, during, and after the film.
It’s a mixed bag of a project, with an interesting story idea and good acting, mixed with several silly and seemingly out of place details without which the film might have maintained a more serious air. Not that films need to be serious, but this one is all over the place with certain developments that wouldn’t be out of place in a broad comedy, as well as other apparent narrative inconsistencies. The plot revolves around a space station attempting to fire up a massive particle accelerator, designed to provide power to a planet rapidly running out of all other sources. Previously titled “God Particle,” the film considers the outcome of such a machine damaging the fabric of space and bridging dimensions.
As with “10 Cloverfield Lane,” this film fits into the Cloverfield universe with events that occur in that same timeline, without simply being a prequel or sequel. These are films that co-exist laterally in time rather than sequentially, connected enough to share common thematic elements and a seemingly more necessary common brand equity. But this time around, success will be measured in buzz and new subscriptions, whether or not they are attributable to it or any other new titles, rather than simple, old-fashioned box office results.
Also opening this weekend was “Winchester,” a jump-scare horror/thriller based around one interpretation of the construction of what is now referred to as the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Helen Mirren stars as Sarah Winchester, part owner and heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune, who as told in the film continually built the enormous, seven floor, maze-like house to trap and pacify the spirits of those killed by the company’s guns. It’s a better ad for the house than it is a film, and will likely be forgotten more quickly than all of the Cloverfield fallout.
Which leaves the best films playing locally as those that are still lingering from official 2017 release dates, including local favorite “Lady Bird” and the even later released “Call Me By Your Name” which Sacramento Press referenced in our best of 2017 coverage and which finally opened last week in Sacramento theatres. Set in Northern Italy in the 1980’s, it recounts through the eyes and memories of the protagonist Elio (Timothée Chalamet – also featured in “Lady Bird”), a sun-drenched summer in which he fell in love with his father’s graduate student and research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer).
Chalamet is extraordinary in the lead role, for which he’s been nominated for numerous major awards (including Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG ) and would likely be winning more of them if he wasn’t so relatively unknown, having just broken out from a string of smaller roles (check out 2016’s “Miss Stevens” on Netflix or Amazon Prime) into these darlings of the awards season. He can also be seen currently in the bleak and somber Western “Hostiles,” starring Christian Bale, in which a small team of tired cavalry soldiers reluctantly escort a captive tribal chief and his family to their homelands. But “Call Me By Your Name” is his best and most significant work so far and is likely to remain a career high – which isn’t to suggest a limit on his future performances, it’s simply a recognition of the quality of this one.