Monday, July 10, 2017

The Founder

Year 9, Day 191 - 7/10/17 - Movie #2,685

BEFORE: Back to another Academy screener for this one, and I'm going out to the movies tonight, so I think you can see where this is heading for tomorrow's movie.  Nick Offerman carries over from "Ernest & Celestine" for his fourth appearance in a row, and 5th in the past week if you go back to "Sing".  And then Michael Keaton will carry over to the next film.

It's great that I'm able to work in the new movies that are appearing in theaters now, and it's great that I've gotten access to last year's screeners, and it's great that I've discovered the whole new world of films that are available on Netflix - but this all comes with a cost.  I haven't made any progress on reducing the size of my Watchlist (still hovering at 130 films) for over a month at this point, and even though I haven't officially added all of those extra films I can access to the List, I know they're there.  I made a separate list for all of the films I (eventually) want to see, whether they're available on screener, Netflix, iTunes or Amazon Prime, and that list constitutes another 95 films!  So if I were to add those films to my Watchlist, the list would grow overnight from 130 to 225 films - and that's a giant step backwards for me.

As long as those films are on a separate, searchable list, I can access their credits as needed, in order to keep the chain going - but I feel like I should be getting back to concentrating on the Watchlist films, since there are about 10 or 11 films running on premium cable that I want to add to the Watchlist before they disappear - I've been holding off for the past two weeks while raiding Netflix for animation, but I've got to get to them when I get back from Comic-Con.  And that means crossing films off the Watchlist to make room - the Netflix films will be there for a long while, I think, and the screeners aren't going to disappear, so I've got to sit down and make a plan for what to watch at the end of July and in August that removes some films that have been pending for a long while.

Problem is, I have no concrete direction for late July right now - I only figured out the chain up to July 19.  I could go in a number of different directions, I just need to pick one.  Maybe I need to figure out the next film I want to see in the theaters, and use that as a target point, I don't know - but that's the sort of plan that got me to where I can go see "Spider-Man: Homecoming" tonight, with the review posting tomorrow.  Do I want to see the new "Planet of the Apes" film?  Or catch up with the new "Pirates of the Caribbean"?  "The Dark Tower"?  "It"?  or "Blade Runner 2049"? 

THE PLOT: The story of Ray Kroc, a salesman who turned two brothers' innovative fast-food eatery McDonald's into one of the biggest restaurant businesses in the world through a combination of ambition, persistence and ruthlessness. 

AFTER: Remember last week, when I was writing about "Free State of Jones", and I posited that the American motto should be "If you don't like the game, change the rules."?  Well, I've sort of circled back to that point today, because nobody exemplifies that concept like Ray Kroc, the "founder" of McDonald's.  It's right there on the poster, "Game Changer", right after "Risk Taker" and "Rule Breaker".

Now, they say that there are two sides to every story, but we're also told that history is written by the winners, so combined that means that usually we only hear one side.  Scratch the veneer of history just a bit, and you may realize that whatever you learned of history isn't entirely true.  Christopher Columbus discovered America, right?  Only there were plenty of people who were already there when he arrived, so that's a bunch of B.S. unless you quantify it and say Columbus discovered the riches of the New World for Europeans to exploit - but even that's not right, because the Vikings had been here centuries before.  Henry Ford invented the automobile, right?  Umm, no, but he streamlined its production and used assembly-line techniques to maximize profit and drive the cost down to where anyone could own one. And then so many people have died over the years in car accidents that I wonder whether history should instead regard Henry Ford as one of the biggest mass-murderers of all time.  The Wright Brothers may have accomplished the first airplane flight, but now thanks to them we have airline food, cancelled flights, runways full of dead birds, not to mention airplane crashes and disasters at air shows.  That doctor who got dragged off that United flight might as well have been punched by Orville and Wilbur themselves...

And people will still refer to Kroc as the founder of Mickey D's, but is that true?  As this movie shows us, there was a McDonald's restaurant in San Bernadino, owned by Maurice and Richard McDonald, and they were doing quite well with their business thanks to Dick's plans to optimize food production and minimize wait times - meaning you could walk up to their counter in 1954, order a burger, fries and a milkshake for just 35 cents, and receive your food in about 30 seconds, not 30 minutes.  Now, the food was not technically "made to order", but so what, all the burgers were the same.  Dick's realization that 85% of their business was relegated to just those three menu items meant that they could ditch the other items that were slowing them down, and focus on churning out a constant stream of burgers that apparently still tasted pretty good - and standardizing the fries and the proper cooking time meant that the whole operation could run like clockwork.

Ray Kroc, a milkshake mixer salesman at the time, arrived in town like Henry Hill in "The Music Man", and was so impressed by their operation he convinced them to franchise their operation, with himself in charge of bringing McDonald's restaurants, with their signature "golden arches" to other states in return for a percentage.  And the burgers caught on in Illinois (where Kroc boldly and incorrectly called his first franchise "McDonald's #1", when it was the ninth), Minnesota and then across the Midwest - with Ray struggling to turn a profit on his small percentage, while requiring to get every cost-cutting innovation approved by the McDonald brothers, as per the terms of their contract.

But then came the revelation - "if you don't like the game, change the rules".  A financial advisor reviewed Kroc's books and told him that since his biggest costs were in obtaining the land to put the new franchises on, Kroc wasn't really in the burger business, he was in the real-estate business.  He could make more money faster if he bought the parcels of land and leased them to the franchisees, which would also give him more control (as a landlord) over the actions of the investors.  He could then terminate their contracts if they didn't follow his rules, or keep their restaurants clean - so he set up a separate corporation, not controlled by the brothers, that would end up owning all the land and therefore be the overarching "boss" corporation of his agreement with the brothers.  Franchising was, essentially, a giant legal multi-level marketing scheme with Ray Kroc at the top of the pyramid.

By the time the McDonald brothers knew what was happening, it was too late to do anything except for suing Ray Kroc, and since they had kept their part of the business small, content to run just the original McDonald's restaurant, they didn't have the resources to do so.  But after spending a few years just accumulating land and wealth, Kroc instead brought them a blank check and bought them out of their own business.  They were allowed to keep their restaurant in San Bernadino, although since they had signed away their rights to the corporation, they couldn't even call it "McDonald's" any more - that name on a burger joint was now the intellectual property of McDonald's Corp.  So they each got a big payout, they ran their restaurant for a few more years under the name "The Big M", but Kroc never gave them the royalties he had promised, and then eventually opened a Golden Arches across the street, and drove them out of business.

So the question becomes - was Kroc a persistent capitalist who took someone else's business model and expanded it to its logical conclusion, or a ruthless, vindictive thief who ended up taking credit for someone else's innovations?  On the one hand, it makes sense to franchise, because who wants one restaurant when they can have two?  Who wants two when they can have a hundred, or more?  And now there are over 14,000 McDonald's joints in the U.S. and almost 37,000 worldwide, and the company feeds about 1% of the world's population every day.  You can't argue with success -

But on the other hand, someone who's only interested in the bottom line doesn't really make the best decisions for his customers - and so over the years criticism has been aimed at McDonald's over the use of non-recyclable Styrofoam, the destruction of the rain forests, the low pay earned by its workers, the unhealthiness of its food, and questions over where, exactly, on the chicken the "nuggets" come from.  Not to mention the famous U.K. "McLibel" lawsuits, and the other suits filed by the corporation against other restaurants in Scotland, for example, with "McDonald" or "MacDonald" in their names, even though they'd been around much longer.

And now we have Starbucks, Subway, Burger King and KFC, along with a dozen other franchises that probably followed Ray Kroc's franchising model, and where has that put us?  To a place where the corner mom-and-pop owned diner is nearly a thing of the past, along with book stores and record stores that were crushed by Amazon, right on down to opticians that were taken over or run out of business by LensCrafters and such.  People have often debated when, exactly, the good old days ceased being so good, when our country ran itself off the rails and started going to hell in a handbasket.  Maybe we need to discuss a solid case for that exact moment being the day that Ray Kroc started planting his giant arches all across the country.  Because that's also the day that personal home-town style service went out the window in the name of profits. 

Also starring Michael Keaton (last heard in "Minions"), John Carroll Lynch (last seen in "Jackie"), Linda Cardellini (last seen in "Daddy's Home"), Laura Dern (last seen in "Wild"), B.J. Novak (last heard in "The Smurfs 2"), Patrick Wilson (last heard in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Justin Randell Brooke, Kate Kneeland, Griff Furst (last seen in "I Love You Phillip Morris"), Wilbur Fitzgerald, David de Vries, Andrew Benator, Cara Mantella, Mike Pniewski,

RATING: 6 out of 10 powdered milkshake mixes

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