Friday, July 24, 2015

Tomorrowland: A Good Movie Overshadowed by Bad Business

            Movies in Fargo-Moorhead theatres have a weird cycle.  Usually the two first run theatres share around 8-10 movies.  If one of those movies does not do big numbers it will be gone before you know it.  Then there is a small chance film print might come to our discount theatre a month or two later.  This run down theatre will keep around five movies of its seven movies for three to five months.  Meaning that discount theatre has a very slow rotation.  So if you miss a movie at the main theatre, which gets rid of them too fast, you are going to have to wait a while in the hopes that the cheap seats get it for a little while.  I was excited to see that the cheap theatre just got Tomorrowland, because I have really wanted to see it again.
            Tomorrowland was not a success.  It ranks among the biggest box-office bombs of all time, only making a little over $200 million worldwide on a $190 million budget.  Reviews have also been lukewarm.  People don’t hate it, but not many are excited about it.
I am in the minority that loved Brad Bird’s sci-fi throwback.  I am a lifelong Disney die-hard and I found this movie to be one that Walt would be proud of.  The values of Tomorrowland are so in line with the enthusiasm and ambition behind the Disneyland TV series and the original concept for EPCOT.  All of the ties to the 1964 World’s Fair made me so happy.
I honestly loved the movie.  Clooney paid a grizzled inventor perfectly, never once coming across as a suave movie star.  Raffey Cassidy also created one of the most memorable characters of the year and is the best child actor The Walt Disney Company has introduced in a very long time.  But above all the movie had a big, hopeful feel to it.  It got me thinking, feeling and dreaming.  Which is the exact experience I personally want from a movie, especially on the big screen.
That is not to say that the movie is not without its flaws.  I think that the structure of the movie is a little sloppy.  The narration and banter between Clooney and Britt Robertson slowed the start of the movie down.  It would have had a tighter opening had the World’s Fair was just followed by Casey’s journey.  But the failure of Tomorrowland really has less to do with the movie itself and more to do with the marketing, budget and role as a tentpole.
Marketing really should not factor into experiencing the film itself.  However with the Internet providing more access to marketing and a venue to analyze it, many audiences have their minds made up before they see the movie.  I have a hunch that a lot of reviews are written after the trailer is released.  Which is not necessarily fair, but this is the modern movie going experience and studios need to do a better job selling the movie because that can affect everything.
Tomorrowland took a mystery box approach in its trailers.  It alluded to some sort of twist that you could only find out by seeing the movie.  This misled critics into expecting a different experience.  While Tomorrowland has surprises it is a very straightforward family movie.  Which is not the easiest sell for a big budget tentpole, but then again why did this have to be an event movie?
It is admirable that Disney put so much of a push and money behind an original movie that was helmed by a creator they believe in.  However Hollywood keeps making the same mistake of throwing loads of money at a hopeful franchise and burdening it with the expectations of a tentpole.  I hope to do another post on this trend, but the bottom line is that these movies almost always underperform if not bomb.
Back to the internet affecting the movie-going experience, we are receiving more and more access to the business of movie making.  Take Ant-Man for example, a movie that shares Tomorrowland’s point of view.  There are people who will never be able to enjoy that movie because the internet wrote its own narrative about what happened with Edgar Wright over a year before the movie’s release.  Budgets in particular place a big target on a movie for the internet.  We now seem to be less open to take a movie on its own merits, once we hear about a movie with a big price tag under performing that is all the news focuses on.  The negative press dealing with the money overshadows the movie itself.
And Tomorrowland honestly did not need to cost $190 million.  This was an old fashioned Disney adventure based in Cold War sci-fi.  The visuals were terrific, but they would have been just as credible at $100 million or even less (keep in mind I have no idea how money really works).
The real big thing working against Tomorrowland in theatres was its position as a tentpole on Memorial Weekend.  It probably still would have failed at another release date, but expectations of huge success are not good for original movies.  They need time to be discovered and grow an audience.  I think that Tomorrowland was a great summer move and has a lot of potential to be a blockbuster.  But you can’t count your eggs before they hatch.  This movie was counted before it hatched.

Again, Tomorrowland is not a perfect.  I love family movies and am big on Disney lore, it was right up my alley.  But this is a movie that does not deserve the different reputation of a failure.  I hope you will catch this at your discount theatre, it is ambitious and has its heart in the right place.  Which is as good of a reason to make and attend a movie as any.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How the Fox Box Should Have Started

This is an odd concept, but lately I have been thinking about the Fox Box.  I was never a huge viewer, although I watched a lot of their Ninja Turtles.  But the Fox Box (later 4Kids TV) began at a shift in Saturday mornings.  2002 was when Fox Kids closed, One Saturday morning became ABC Kids, ABC Family created a great action block, among other changes across the networks.  I was a kid at the time and paid a lot of attention to changes in Saturday morning.  Back then, to me anyways, Saturdays were a time when networks would put effort into children's programming and you would see things you wouldn't during the rest of the week.  I am nostalgic towards a lot of it, even if I was never big on the programs themselves.

But anyways, the odd concept I have been working on lately has been a fantasy rescheduling of the first few years of The Fox Box.  I feel that, while 4Kids made many mistakes (many legal mistakes), their cartoon block could have gotten a much better start.  So here is my fantasy line-up for the first three seasons of the Fox Box.

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Season 1 (2002-2003)
The biggest mistake 4Kids made was that they kept their familiar properties on a rival network.  While I am sure that Kids' WB held their PokeRights pretty closely back then, 4Kids really should have tried to use Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Cubix to launch their network.  4Kids could have also reran the Indigo League episodes under the title PokeClassics instead of letting Cartoon Network do the same a year later.  This would all be similar to how Kids' WB brought over Animaniacs, Batman and Tiny Toons from Fox Kids.  4Kids should have also premiered the block with Ninja Turtles as their big new show instead of waiting until midseason.  Ultimate Muscle and Kirby would have been the same as those two shows worked.  I would also keep Ultraman Tiga, but with a better dub.  This is was a chance at a new Power Rangers with a marketable character, but the jokes were unbearable and out of place.  4Kids was also syndicating Tama and Friends around this time, they could have used that as a replacement for either Cubix or PokeClassics later in the season.  I would just leave off Stargate Infinity and Fighting Foodons altogether.

The Initial Schedule (in central time)
7:00 PokeClassics (favorite episodes!)
7:30 Cubix: Robots for Everyone (new to Fox!)
8:00 Kirby, Right Back at Ya! (new series!)
8:30 Ultraman Tiga (new series!)
9:00 Pokemon Master Quest (new season!)
9:30 Ultimate Muscle (new series!)
10:00 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (new series!)
10:30 Yu-Gi-Oh! (new season!)

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Season 2 (2003-2004)
Ultraman Tiga, PokeClassics and Cubix would all leave the schedule.  Kirby, Ultimate Muscle, Ninja Turtles and Yu-Gi-Oh! would stay.  This season would see the premiere of Pokemon Advanced.  I would not include Funky Cops or The Cramp Twins, but Shaman King and Sonic X would be the new series.  I would also add the TV premiere of Homestar Runner.  By 2003 there were enough shorts of the popular webtoon to create a TV anthology.  I am really surprised that there was never a successful attempt at bringing H*R to television.  4Kids would not play any role in the creation, the Brothers Chaps would create their own package and format for the network that needed a solid comedy, broader audience and something topical.

The Initial Schedule (in central time)
7:00 Kirby, Right Back at Ya! (new season!)
7:30 Ultimate Muscle (new season!)
8:00 Pokemon Advanced (new season!)
8:30 Homestar Runner (new to TV!)
9:00 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (new season!)
9:30 Sonic X (new season!)
10:00 Yu-Gi-Oh! (new season!)
10:30 Shaman King (new series!)

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Season 3 (2004-2005)
The Adrenaline Project would never air on the network and the Fox Box name would remain.  Ultimate Muscle and Shaman King would leave the schedule (but still come back for midseason replacements).  Leaving Kirby, Ninja Turtles, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Sonic X and Homestar as the returning hits while the PokeFranchise would enter Advanced Challenge.  Winx Club would still be the big new show for the season.  4Kids would also pick up Spider-Man: The New Animated Series after MTV failed it.  This may be an odd fit as the series was a little more mature, but look at what the censors let TMNT get away with, Sony already marketed Spidey DVDs to kids anyways.  This would start a relationship with Sony that could lead to Astro Boy and others.  Spidey would bring a familiar character, a better chance for a good show and a challenge the idea of what 4Kids is.

The Initial Schedule (in central time)
7:00 Kirby, Right Back at Ya! (new season!)
7:30 Winx Club (new series!)
8:00 Pokemon Advanced Challenge (new season!)
8:30 Yu-Gi-Oh! (new season!)
9:00 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (new season!)
9:30 Sonic X (new season!)
10:00 Homestar Runner (new to TV episodes!)
10:30 Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (new to Fox!)

Which would bring us to the point where Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!'s popularity was dying down anyway.  So what do you think?  It is of course easy to look back and say, "this is what you should have done!"  But it is always fun to look back and think about what if.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ways the Oscars Can Save Time

The Oscars can are well-known for being too long.  Part of that is intentional, ABC certainly wants the ratings that ideally come from an annual event as well as all of the commercials.  I think that the Oscars made some good strides to create a tighter show this year (which I will detail below).  Part of the reason that the show was so good was that a lot of the acceptance speeches were really heartfelt and appropriately acknowledged serious issues with the gravity they deserved.  The five nominees for best songs were also a diverse bunch that lead to five well produced jolts of energy throughout the show.  But those two factors can vary.  There are several things within the producers control that they work towards in terms of improving the flow of the show.  I am a pretty big stickler with the timing of live shows.  I stand by the belief that comedy cannot work over an hour and a half.  Tighter shows have higher energy, less lulls and leave on a high note.  The Oscars would be tough to get down to an hour an a half, but they should easily be able to whittle down by a half hour to a full hour.

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1. A Host That Moves Things Along
As with most Oscar hosts NPH already seems a bit polarizing.  Which always astounds me, what does the internet want in an Oscar host?  Every year seems to be "the worst."  But bottom line for me is that Neil Patrick Harris got the show off to a great start and he kept it moving.  He was efficient in announcing presenters, kept the energy up and his jokes did not were quick and to the point.  He brought some class and a good sense of humor.  I know some wanted more jokes and gags, but a good emcee doesn't make the show about himself.  The Oscars needs to look for more hosts like him or even have him back.

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2. Best Supporting Actor Right Off the Bat
There was no monologue after the opening number, which I am sure that some missed.  But transitioning right from the musical number into a major category set a good precedent for the night.  Immediately we were seeing the results of an important category, it was a great hook.  It also kept the energy of the song moving into the ceremony.  They should stick with this format.

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3. No Montages
This is another thing that the Oscars did well this year.  There were no montages (aside from In Memoriam, which is different).  This was one of my main complaints about the SNL 40th Reunion, it is a YouTube generation and we have access to any clips they might shows.  Montages have taken up a lot of time in previous ceremonies and they chose wisely to exclude them.

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4. Cut the Running Gags
This was one of the missteps in the hosting of the Awards (although more likely the writing and producing).  NPH took a lot of time to set up and legitimize his predictions and continued to remind audiences about the bit throughout the show.  Then, while the Oscars were running over four hours and we were finally getting to the four main categories he completed a lengthy punchline for a gag the audience had lost interest in.  Not to mention the punchline (which honestly included some funny jokes)  was inconsequential just recapped what we all saw (and Live Tweeted on top of that).

Running gags are tough in a format like this.  It isn't a through line and there is no way to maintain the momentum that those types of jokes require.  More bits like the Birdman/Whiplash gag would be preferable, that was so much more effective.

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5. No Tributes
I have already had disagreements with people about the Sound of Music tribute.  First off I thought that Lady Gaga did an amazing job and of course it is always great to see Julie Andrews.  But in the context of a show that was getting close to 10:30 (central time) I was getting frustrated.  There were eight categories remaining and the tribute included a montage (see Number 3).  I think that the idea of giving a tribute to a classic is better in theory than in execution.  This was one of the bigger time wasters that did not fit the rest of the night.  The Academy should just produce another event where they can just focus solely on that movie.

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6. Sing the In Memoriam Song During the In Memoriam Montage
This is something I have wondered for years.  Why do they play the In Memoriam montage and then follow it with a song?  Why not sing the song during the montage?  It is possible that the producers don't want people clapping and interrupting the song and the singer wouldn't want to be upstaged during their performance.  However the song would probably last longer than the montage, so the performer would still be highlighted.  But this is one of those little changes that would make a big impact in the overall flow of things.

Also do better research.  The internet catches omissions every year and it looks forward to doing it.

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7. No Bits for Presenters/No Presenters That Waste Time
The presenters were really good this year.  Mainly because they followed NPH's lead of performing in the service of the show.  They kept things moving and for the most part did not make it about themselves.  For the most part the presenters that bantered did it effectively (Kendrick & Hart, Saldana & Johnson).  But then there was Travolta and Idina Menzel.

The bit made sense, Adele Dazeem was a popular meme.  But NPH had just made a good joke about it and the presenter bit really dragged.  When presenters joke excessively it can often seem self-serving and causes the show to lose momentum.  In the past presenters like Kirk Douglas have really been guilty of this.  The Oscars need to continue choosing presenters that are as efficient as most of this years.

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8. Brief Recaps of the Honorary Oscars and Science Awards
One of the things last night's show did better than most was that the recaps of the Honorary and Science Awards were brief.  I would not cut these segments because they do bring some perspective to the ceremony.  This industry is not just about the flashy celebrity awards, but it relies on legacies and under acknowledged technical developments.  The length and editing of the recaps were quick and properly acknowledged the people who deserved it.  They need to continue this format.

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9. Don't Recap the Nominees
This was not as bad as it has been in previous years.  Grouping Best Picture nominees together rather than individually taking the time to acknowledge them saved time.  But again, the audience has phones and can look up any movie they did not see.  And anyone with an Oscar invitation knows the competition and the nominees essentially recap the Best Pictures anyways.  Again, little thing that would make a large difference in the long run.

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10. No Reaction Shots of Nominees
I realized that there were no shots of the contenders after their clips were shown while the nominees were being read.  This helped out with the flow of each category and saved time overall.  They need to keep this up.

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11. Fewer Commercials or Get a Few Sponsors for the Night
Commercials are an albatross that television needs to figure out a way to get off of its neck (just as I need to figure out a better analogy).  They are especially difficult in a long broadcast like this.  Working out a deal with a few sponsors to limit the commercials for the night would be a revolutionary precedent that would be great publicity for the awards, network and advertisers.  Network TV needs to change its game plan eventually, this is one of those areas they need to look into.

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12. Start Earlier
So if the Oscars only run for two and a half hours, why not move them back an hour and a half?  Start the red carpet coverage around 4:30 central and begin the Oscars at the start of primetime.  People would be more likely to tune in since the awards would finish at a decent hour.  Since the show would be tighter the Oscars could function as a lead-in for other programming.  I love Jimmy Kimmel's post-Oscar shows, but never watch them because they start close to midnight.  Improve the scheduling along with the timing.