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How Reddit May Have Saved AMC
Plus: 'The Little Things' and 'Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer' Reviewed
(The above meme is a joke, I do not think Christopher Nolan orchestrated a Bane-style stock heist to save AMC. Unless he did, of course. Who can say?)
I do not understand stocks or money or the market and I will not pretend to do so here. Like many of you, I’ve watched with a weird mix of horror and fascination and trollish glee as redditors turned GameStop—a genuinely useless establishment in an age of digital downloads for video games that is, by and large, hated by its customers for ripping people off on sales of used games—into a Fortune 500 company, burning hedge funds to the ground in their wake.
But it was genuinely pleasing to see one of the side effects of this whole kerfuffle: the unexpected salvation of movie theater company AMC.
You see, AMC was one of the stocks pumped up by the Reddit crowd looking for heavily shorted businesses to save. AMC saw its stock skyrocket, from about $3 to as high as $25 or so in after-hours trading. And someone at AMC used this to . . . possibly save the company? Here’s how Bloomberg’s Matt Levine put it in his newsletter:
On Monday [AMC] announced that it had raised $506 million of equity (and another $411 million of debt) in various transactions that “should allow the company to make it through this dark coronavirus-impacted winter.” Good work. Even better, that same day AMC launched an at-the-market offering to sell up to 50 million shares into the market at prevailing prices, allowing it to sell opportunistically to any redditors who wanted to buy. Yesterday it announced that it had finished the offering and raised another $304.8 million. That’s an average price of about $6.10 a share; AMC’s stock hadn’t gotten that high since September. Of course yesterday the stock closed at $19.90, so AMC would have done better to wait a day, but nobody’s perfect. When redditors are clamoring to buy your stock you should sell it to them before it’s too late; there’s no reason for the company to try to time the endgame perfectly.
Also yesterday holders of $600 million of AMC convertible bonds converted them into stock at a conversion price of $13.51 per share. Six hundred million dollars of debt, vaporized by Reddit enthusiasm. “In the absence of significant increases in attendance from current levels, there is substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern for a reasonable period of time,” AMC warned investors on Monday; four days and a billion dollars later, there is somewhat less doubt. A week ago it was not crazy to think this company was doomed; now it is entirely possible that it will survive and thrive and show movies in movie theaters for decades to come because everyone went nuts and bought meme stocks this week. Capital formation!
Again, I don’t really know what any of that means. But if you told me that Christopher Nolan had manipulated Reddit into saving the theatrical exhibition business? I might believe you. Crazier things have happened.
Speaking of capital formation: signing up for Bulwark+ from this newsletter helps ensure that it keeps showing up in your inbox every Friday. But don’t do it just because you enjoy reading this free newsletter and feel guilty about not chipping in to keep it sustainable. Do it because you also unlock access to special members-only episodes of Across the Movie Aisle, the “Left, Right, and Center”-meets-“Siskel and Ebert” show I do with Peter Suderman and Alyssa Rosenberg. This week’s episode on Joe Biden’s fancy watch and the aesthetics of politics is pretty great! Even better was last week’s on the defining films of the Trump era. It’s only $10 a month, and you get so much great stuff.
Reviews: The Little Things (HBO Max/Theaters)and Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer (Netflix)
The Little Things is a thriller that doesn’t bother with much in the way of thrills and a murder mystery that’s not too terribly interested in solving the mystery. Despite an absolute gangbusters cast—three Oscar winners in the three primary roles!—The Little Things is weirdly dramatically inert, and its intentionally obfuscatory ending will likely frustrate audiences. Still, I think this is a movie that’s going to grow on people over the years as they grapple with its meaning.
The film’s best, most propulsive sequence is the opening one, in which a terrified woman is chased down a highway, and then on foot, by an unseen man in a blue car. As she runs for her life, the man slowly, methodically pulls his tools out of the trunk of his car: black gloves so as to mask his fingerprints; a black duffel bag with duct tape inside. Director John Lee Hancock shoots this sequence in a way that both obscures the attacker’s identity—we never see his face—and, by keeping the camera low and focusing on the way the madman walks, gives us everything we need to know.
It’s a tricky scene. I don’t mean technically; it’s a pretty straightforward set piece, one you’ve seen before in a hundred thrillers. Tricky in the sense of storytelling. In a typical genre piece, Hancock’s work here would seem to be setting the stage for the forthcoming mystery: we have a mysterious, unseen killer; a woman in peril’s tears amp up the tension; as more bodies appear, we know their terror in their final moments. In The Little Things, however, this sequence actually unlocks the last half hour or so of the feature.
From the harrowing opening we move to something a bit slower: boots. Specifically, a pair of boots that small-town cop Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) is sent to retrieve in order to make sure a bad guy doesn’t get out of prison ahead of his court date. When he’s in Los Angeles recovering the footwear he gets wrapped up in a homicide case led by young hotshot Detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), one involving murders that bear a marked similarity to a case that ended Deacon’s career in Los Angeles some years before.
Deacon and Baxter join forces, Baxter drawing from Deacon’s well of knowledge while Deacon tries to exorcise the ghosts that have been haunting him these last few years. While investigating another grisly killing in the style of their serial, the pair settle on Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), a local repairman who seems to know too much about the killings, as their suspect. The policemen’s pursuit of the truth curdles into something uglier than justice.
Washington is ideal as the haunted, obsessed cop, turning in a tight performance in a role that could’ve easily swung toward melodrama. Similarly, Leto does fantastic work as Sparma here, his wide-eyed stare demonstrating an unsettling intensity that could easily be confused for murderousness. But with a paunch and a limp, could he really be the killer? Malek has always been hit or miss for me—he’s the best, most unsettling part of The Pacific; his winning an Oscar for his Freddie Mercury impression is a bit of a travesty—and his Baxter is a huge miss for me here. He’s just miscast. He’s too twitchy, his angled jaw jutting out in all the wrong directions while he tries to look tough in the early going. Mostly, though, Baxter’s breakdown by film’s end isn’t particularly jarring or convincing as a natural evolution of the character because Malek always looks like he’s on the verge of a breakdown.
What audiences will likely find most frustrating about The Little Things—or, at least, what I found most frustrating about The Little Things after first viewing—is the lack of interest it seems to have in solving the murders nominally at the heart of the picture. But after sitting on it for a day (always sit on a movie for a day if you have a chance!) and rewatching the opening five minutes (which you’ll easily be able to do if you’re watching it on HBO Max), I’ve come around on it a bit. Yes, it’s frustrating. But once you realize which crimes we’re actually watching being solved and the real criminals involved, you might come to appreciate The Little Things a little bit more. I know I did.
Whereas The Little Things is a rather dyspeptic look at the world of law enforcement, Netflix’s Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is a bit more credulous, a little more willing to take the cops at their word and revel in their world.
The docuseries mostly follows the efforts of Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno to track down the killer who would come to be known as the Night Stalker. We get Carrillo and Salerno’s backgrounds; we watch as Carrillo pulls himself off the streets, into the Army, and then into the homicide division; we gasp in horror as they’re presented with a series of dead bodies, beaten women, and raped children. And we cheer as they put together the pieces that lead to the eventual capture of Richard Ramirez.
I thought of this show as I was watching The Little Things, in part because one of the police captains mentions that their current case is the hottest since the Night Stalker terrorized Los Angeles. But also because there are some intentional similarities between Leto’s Sparma and the actual Night Stalker. For instance, as we learn in the docuseries, when he was finally caught, Ramirez said to Salerno “I know who you are”; he was a crime buff, had followed Salerno’s efforts to catch the so-called Hillside Strangler. Sparma says something similar when confronted by media golden boy Baxter (Rami Malek).
Focusing on the police and the victims denies Ramirez a measure of fame and keeps the show from glorifying or humanizing his exploits, a move that could, potentially, spark copycat killings. It also makes clear the heroes of this story: the cops, the folks who stopped Ramirez’s reign of terror. And this leads to certain elements that seem peculiar in our day and age of social media outrage, as when a San Francisco detective boasts about beating Ramirez’s name out of one of Ramirez’s friends.
When this scene occurred, I thought “hoo boy, Twitter’s not going to like this.” Sure enough, Vox had already published a denunciation of the program. “In its determination to avoid glorifying Ramirez, it instead glorifies the police who caught him,” Vox’s Aja Romano tut-tutted. “I’m not sure that version of the story is any less troubling.”
Look, I’m going to go out on a really long limb here and say that it is much less troubling to glorify the cops who caught a guy who killed more than a dozen people and sexually assaulted numerous children than it is to glorify the guy who killed more than a dozen people and sexually assaulted numerous children. Call me a reactionary, but it’s okay to say the guy who punched a friend of the Night Stalker to get the Night Stalker’s name is better than the Night Stalker himself.
I’m old-fashioned that way, I guess.
Assigned Viewing: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice: Ultimate Edition (HBO Max)
GOOD NEWS FOLKS. Zack Snyder (pbuh) announced a streaming date for the Snyder Cut of Justice League: March 18! Let’s get ready by watching the Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman on HBO Max.
Take it from someone who trashed the theatrical cut of BvS: The Ultimate Edition is really good! The theatrical cut excised most of Lois Lane’s subplot, which, in hindsight, was an enormous mistake, as that subplot was what made the main plot make sense. If you’ve only seen Batman v Superman in theaters, you owe it to yourself, and your nation, to watch the Ultimate Edition on HBO Max.