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Why Martin Scorsese’s ‘Irishman’ will barely play Las Vegas

It’s a sprawling gangster epic that reunites Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, throws Al Pacino into the mix as Jimmy Hoffa and is primed to be a major force this awards season.

Despite a budget that’s reportedly north of $150 million, though, “The Irishman” won’t be playing in your neighborhood movie theater — unless you happen to live in the vicinity of 814 S. Third St. or 2195 Las Vegas Blvd. North.

Eclipse Theaters and Maya Cinemas are the only local multiplexes willing to defy the theatrical blockade against the Netflix movie when it opens here Friday.

“For us, being independent, it’s important to have all types of programming coming through the building,” says Nic Steele, Eclipse managing partner. “From our standpoint, we’re extremely excited about partnering with Netflix.”

‘Theatrical window’

At the heart of the dispute is the major bone of contention that plays out inside Caesars Palace every spring during CinemaCon, the annual gathering of the National Association of Theatre Owners.

Essentially, cinemas rely on the established “theatrical window,” the period of time between a movie’s opening in their theaters and its availability in consumers’ homes. That window has evolved into roughly 72 days for digital releases and 90 days for hard copies. It’s a system that seems arbitrary while also supposing that DVDs are still a thing that people buy outside of Black Friday when they’re desperate for gifts and said DVDs can be had for pennies on the dollar.

Any erosion in those norms, the thinking goes, and movie theaters will be rendered obsolete, everything will stream immediately, people will stop leaving their homes and humanity will shrivel up and die. (Or something to that effect.)

Representatives of Regal, which owns 11 theaters in the valley, and Cinemark, which operates six through its Century brand, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Galaxy Theatres, the valley’s third-largest chain with three theaters, issued a statement saying it doesn’t discuss its internal film decisions.

Thinking big (screen)

Before founding Maya Cinemas, Moctesuma Esparza produced movies including the Robert Redford-directed “Milagro Beanfield War,” the historical epic “Gettysburg” and the biopic “Selena.” He did so with movie theaters in mind, says Larry Porricelli, Maya’s vice president.

“As a producer and director, that was his philosophy: He felt that if you have the energy to make a movie, and it’s good enough, it should be seen on the big screen. And that’s the main reason we do it.”

Good content is good content, Porricelli says, and Maya will play it, whether it hails from Netflix, Mexico, the Philippines or India.

Netflix wants its movies — at least the high-end, Oscar bait ones such as “The Irishman,” which enlists the services of one of the world’s greatest living directors and rekindles those “Goodfellas,” “Casino” and “Raging Bull” vibes with De Niro and Pesci — to play in theaters.

Netflix just doesn’t want that to happen badly enough to stop being Netflix. According to industry reports, the streaming giant refused to wait longer than 45 days to stream it, so “The Irishman” will debut on the service Nov. 27.

The whole thing is so contentious, major theater chains not only wouldn’t program Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma,” another Netflix original, during its initial run in 2018, they refused to include it in their showcases of nominees for the Oscars’ top prize. And that, folks, is how we end up with a best picture winner like “Green Book.”

Maya was the only Las Vegas theater to book “Roma,” which went on to win Oscars for director, cinematography and foreign-language film. The theater didn’t open until four weeks after “Roma” was available for free to Netflix subscribers, but it played the black-and-white ode to Cuaron’s youth in Mexico City for months.

“It did really phenomenal. We were quite happy with that,” Porricelli says. “We had so many people from communities around Las Vegas coming with family members. It was just touching.”

‘Times have to evolve’

There’s a general thinking among cinema traditionalists that booking Netflix movies is akin to chasing money in the short term while forsaking long-term viability.

“Even from a long-term standpoint, I think, it offers a unique product to guests,” Eclipse’s Steele says, “and that’s what people are looking for. They’re looking for different experiences that they can’t get other places.”

His theater has been receiving calls from moviegoers about “The Irishman” for weeks, Steele says, suggesting there’s a pent-up demand to see the movie in a theater, where it belongs. He’s committed to providing that opportunity,

“We just want to be as successful and nimble as possible, knowing that what you do today is not necessarily what you’re going to be doing tomorrow,” Steele says. “Times have to evolve, and we’re looking to evolve along with those times.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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