Friday, March 26, 2021

Marvel: The Biggest Risk in Hollywood Part 1 of 2

Marvel: The Biggest Risk in Hollywood Part 1

It’s been stated that Marvel Studios does not take risks and they only makes a series of safe generic popcorn films.  This idea is wrong.  While the Marvel films are on the fun side of storytelling, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is far from safe.  Marvel tapped into a market that comic fans have been clamoring for since Richard Donner’s Superman (1978). 

If a Batman/Superman film was released mid 90s it would have been the biggest blockbuster of the decade....well after Titanic.
These connected universes existed in comics since their rise to popularity in the early 20th century.  The comic universes became more defined in the 1980s by the more popular publishers DC and Marvel.  In the 70s/80s Superman gave us 3 films and also made a guest appearance in a Richard Prior film.  By 1989 it was time for Tim Burton’s Batman which resulted in another 4 films until the franchise became holy-bat-nippley stagnant. 

We still like him better than Michael Bay

Like clockwork 11 years later we got Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) which kicked off the superhero film pandemic.  From there we got a slew of Marvel properties being produced by multiple film studios.  The main reason stated for this slew of comic movies was special effects became more accessible and affordable with the use of digital effects.  In reality, Marvel was selling the film rights for almost all their properties to anyone with sacks of money to help recover from a bankruptcy in 1996. 

What we got were mediocre films like Daredevil (2003), Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (some people love it, I think it’s just a remake of Superman with webs), Ghost Rider (2007), and Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003).  After the initial appeal of comic movies started to die down in Hollywood due to mixed reviews and poorly made films, Marvel with some help from producer and hero to all nerds Kevin Feige convinced them they controlled film rights to enough of their superheroes to produce their own films.  Marvel also decided to keep the rights to the any properties that reverted back to their possession. 

Kevin Feige is the secretary treasurer of all nerds in the world.
Thus they laid out their very simple plan.  Make five blockbuster hits!  It couldn't be more simple. They would produce Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and then combine them all into one huge movie called The Avengers (2012).  What the @#$%^&*!? Does that sound simple to you?  Are there any studios out there that can make 5 blockbuster films in a row?  Most film franchises of any nature teeter-out after the third installment.  Marvel did something no studio ever attempted. 

No one believed American could be the Russians in Hockey, no one believed Marvel could pull off an Avengers film.
Sure, there are currently 6-8 James Bond films, 10+ Star Trek films, and 8 or more Star Wars films.  But none of these movies ever set out to be more than one film.  George Lucas said he had a trilogy planned all along but was never sure if he’d get to make it.  It was unheard of for franchises to have such a vast interconnecting story.  The billions of dollars Marvel agreed to invest in this endeavor had never been done in cinema before.  So perhaps it’s important to make certain when that type of investment is on the line that you delve into simpler story themes. 

Somehow the simple stories resonate the loudest and leave the greatest impression.
Look at how Universal Studios handled Ang Lee’s Hulk.  They went for a more experimental and artsy story and ended up with a 2 hour action snooze. There is no denying Lee’s talent or faulting Universal for letting him take a chance at a different way to tell the superhero tale but it was an experiment that proved to fail.  Lee’s Hulk in conjunction with Elektra (2005), Ghost Rider (2007), and Raimi’s third installment of Spider-Man (2007) risked burying the superhero genre.  Marvel’s approach saved superhero movies and created a fun interconnecting world that fans could follow and rewatch time and time again to see how this film universe intersects. When this plan was first announced with Iron Man, fans were skeptical it would come to fruition. 

If any of those Phase 1 Marvel movies tanked it would have spelled defeat for the possibility of an Avengers film.  The ultimate dream of any comic fan was seeing all of their heroes and villains united together in one ultimate movie.  Marvel delivered that in spades when the first Avengers was released.  It was such an ultimate megahit that now all the film studios are trying to jump on the bandwagon without understanding how Marvel did it. 

Some films fail because a studio hires a Director that doesn't understand the core meaning of the film.

Written by
Joseph Ammendolea
“I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®

Friday, March 19, 2021

Looking Back At All Who Die in 2016 part 1

A lot of famous people died in 2016 and since 2021 isn't looking much better than 2020 it seems fitting to highlight the world's struggle from 5 years ago.  We’re going to analyze the 2016 genuine losses to the pop-culture stage.   While yes all death is tragic, it is a part of life.  What better way to start get through 2021 then remembering it sometimes it just sucks.

10 – David Bowie, Musician – (2) time Grammy winner – age 69
A lot of people were bummed out by this and the dude was a megastar is music.  “Was” is the keyworld. The dude hadn’t made a decent album since maybe the 1990s. 
Actual effect on the world? Minimal.

11 – David Margulies, Actor – the Mayor in Ghost Busters I and II (1984 & 1989)- age – 78
Most notable contribution to the world was written for him and performed so beautifully “Being miserable and treating other people like dirt is every New Yorker's god-given right. Your 2 minutes are up, good night gentlemen.”
Actual effect on the world? He acted here and there throughout the years.  No one saw a film because he was in it, they mostly remembered he was mayor in Ghostbusters.  He was never a leading man so his death might have opened up jobs for other character actors. 

14 – Alan Rickman, Actor – Hans Gruber in ‘Die Hard’ and Severus Snape in ‘Harry Potter’ – age 69
A wonderful actor who always stole the show.  His performance as the Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves made everyone forgive Kevin Costner’s terrible accent. 
Actual effect on the world? Depending on the size of the film he could be the leading man, side character, or villain. Cinema lost out on some potentially wonderful performances he had yet to show us. 

14 – René Angélil, Singer / Manager – husband and manager of Celine Dion – age 73
Rumor has it that Celine had to take the Vegas job to cover his gambling debts. 
Actual effect on the world? Canadians might be upset.  Celine might be able to follow her true calling, as lead singer of AC/DC now that she isn’t tied down to Vegas gambling debt and Brian Johnson had to step down. 

26 – Abe Vigoda, Actor – Detective Fish on Barney Miller (1975-’77) – age 94
He was in the Godfather, some TV shows, and is his later years he was famous for being old.
Actual effect on the world? The world has to pick a new old guy to think is dead.

13 – Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court Justice – appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986 – age 79
He was on the dude on the Supreme Court with the coolest name.
Actual effect on the world? Huge, so damn huge the repercussions won’t be known of felt for many years.

15 – George Gaynes, Actor – Commandant Eric Lassard on the Police Academy series – age 98
Actual effect on the world? Police Academy 8,061,053,205 will not be the same without him.

15 – Vanity, Actress/Singer – lead for girl group Vanity 6; girlfriend and muse of Prince – age 57
I was once forced to listen to her solo work during a very long car ride.  It was torture.
Actual effect on the world? Prince probably died of a broken heart.

19 – Harper Lee, Novelist – Pulitzer Prize for fiction (1961) for novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” – age 89
She wrote two books, only one was anything worth reading.
Actual effect on the world? Not much unless a huge library of hidden books will be released after her death.

25 – Tony Burton, Actor – boxing trainer to Apollo Creed and later Rocky in six “Rocky” movies – age 78
He coined the phrase “No Pain.”
Actual effect on the world? Not much since Creed was made and Rocky became the trainer.  Though a film where Rocky died and he became Creed’s trainer might have been interesting.

28 – George Kennedy, Actor – Academy Award for “Cool Hand Luke” also in all the “Airport” movies – age 91
He did the clueless straight man in The Naked Gun movies perfectly.
Actual effect on the world? Significant, we will never be able to buy breath assure again. 

06 – Nancy Reagan, First Lady of the U.S.(1981-1989) Husband, 40th President Ronald Reagan – age 94

08 – Sir George Martin, Producer for the “Beatles” albums, known as “The Fifth Beatle” – age 90
It seems anyone who looked at The Beatles in the 1960s is known as the 5th Beatle. Brian Epstein, Pete Best, Stuart Sutcliffe, Jimmie Nicol, and Margaret Dumont. 
Actual effect on the world? I thought this dude was Brian Epstein and that he died decades ago.  Thus it’s minimal impact. 

16 – Frank Sinatra Jr., Singer – son of Frank Sinatra and a talented singer – age 72
Imagine being famous just for being related to someone really famous?
Actual effect on the world? The last great Sinatra impersonator has died.

22 – Rob Ford, Politician – crack smoking Mayor of Toronto, Canada – age 46
The best politician to ever exist.
Actual effect on the world? Canada will never be the same.

24 – Garry Shandling, Comedian – “Garry Shandling Show” and “The Larry Sanders” Show – age 66
If that dude’s face was sucked back anymore his skull would rip through his skin.
Actual effect on the world? Not much, he was already arrested in the Marvel movies. 

29 – Patty Duke, Actress – played identical cousins in “The Patty Duke Show” (1963-1966) – age 69
Why identical cousins?  Why not just make them twins?
Actual effect on the world? Unknown.

Written by
Steve Rogers
“I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®

Friday, March 12, 2021

Rock N’ Roll Super Group

Rock N’ Roll Super Group

It’s so obvious it should have happened 10 years ago. The remaining members of The Beatles and The Who should unite to form the best Rock N’ Roll Super Group ever made. How would this work you ask?  Simple, Paul McCartney on bass, Ringo on drums, Pete Townsend on guitar and Roger Daltry on guitar (I think he can play the guitar).  McCartney and Ringo fill in for the late John Entwhistle and Keith Moon.  Daltry and Townsend fill in for the late John Lennon and George Harrison. 

They are each missing their key performers for their respective bands that they were met to unite and tour as The Whootles.  Imagine Daltry belting out Twist n Shout or McCartney singing The Song is Over.  The only reason it will never happen is McCartney doesn’t need the money and he sells out stadiums just fine as a solo act.  

Having seen both McCartney and The Who live, their performances differed quite a bit.  A McCartney concert might be borderline creepy to some.  He runs out in these bright colored suits and does a bunch of gimmicky old man rock moves that are older than he is but that’s his schtick.  It’s all tongue and cheek and rather fun.  It would be contrived as creepy if he was serious about this hems, haws, and hip thrusts.  The Who is the same now as they are in the 70s.  It’s the same microphone tosses and guitar circle whammy things but in an old man mellow way.  Sadly they don’t wreck the stage anymore because they’d likely break a hip. 

So separate they are a bunch of old dudes that are recycling timeless old practices we still love.  Together they are a rock power house sewing the best must talent of the 60s and 70s into gold.

Written by
Joseph Ammendolea
“I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®

Friday, March 5, 2021

A Game Changer: A Defense of the Star Wars Prequels

A Game Changer: A Defense of the Star Wars Prequels

A lot of hate is spewed out about Star Wars Episodes 1, 2, 3.  Story wise Episodes 4, 5, 6 are certainly more endearing and relatable.  When looking at the impact of the first 6 Star Wars films, they perfected the blockbuster film genre.  The entire film industry’s business model is crafted around the success of the Star Wars franchise. 
Since you’re on of this website we’re going to assume you understand the difference between the production order and chronological order of the Star Wars films.  If you don’t then your Google search has misdirected you, so hit the back button on your browser because you will find no cat pictures here.

The blockbuster was defined by Jaws (1975) but was perfected by Star Wars (1977).  After the release of Star Wars all studios started releasing their huge films at the start of the summer season.  It’s been a Hollywood tradition ever since. The artsy Oscar contender films come out toward the fall, the horror, flicks around Halloween, the clunkers and contractually obligated theatrical releases are done in the winter.  The films with the biggest hype are the popcorn flicks, the ones released from May – August.  
This was an unintended result of Star Wars, George Lucas originally set out to create an awesome sci-fi film with believable special effects.  This idea was inspired by 1930s serials he watched as a kid.  Those effects he wanted resulted in the creation of Industrial Light & Magic, the go to special effects studio for any film with a budget.  Lucas took the original Star Wars trilogy and crafted the best special effects studio in the film industry. He changed how special effects were applied to films and the industry embraced it.  Films like ET (1982), Back to the Future (1985), Indiana Jones, and Terminator would be far less spectacular without ILM.  ILM wouldn’t exist without the success of Star Wars.

The original Star Wars trilogy concluded in 1983 but lingered around in cartoons and some Ewok TV movies a few years after.  After which Star Wars grew stagnant without new media there wasn’t much the fans could hope for except rumors about prequels that no one believed would ever get made.  
But then something happened that seldom remember as affecting cinema, Steven Spielberg made the blockbuster Jurassic Park (1993).  The original idea was to use go-motion (kind of like stop motion) dinosaurs.  That was until Spielberg discovered he could make realistic looking dinosaurs using computer generated imagery (CGI).  CGI was utilized in films of the past but were clunky and noticeably.  Films like Tron which took place in a computer could certainly suspend disbelief but films like The Last Starfighter are clunky and unrealistic with their CGI effects. 

With the monumental success of Jurassic Park, Lucas was inspired to tell his prequel story, stating he was waiting for technology to catch up to the vision he had.  First he had to test his market to see if there was still an audience interested in Star Wars.  It had been over ten years since any relevant Star Wars material had been released.  Had the fans outgrown the films or moved onto other more active franchises?  In 1997 Lucas rereleased the original trilogy on VHS remastered via THX as a test market to see how fans would react.  The sales reception to these new VHS resulted in his creation of the Star Wars: Special Edition. 
The Special Edition trilogy was the original films recut with extra scenes and enhanced effects capitalizing on the new CGI technology showcased in Jurassic Park.  The Special Editions were rereleased in theaters, the box office response was phenomenal.  Lucas discovered the Star Wars fans never wained, in fact they grew as the home video market allowed the trilogy to be reshared and rewatched countless times.  The initial reception to the Special Editions was positive. 

In later years they would come to be reviled, not as much for the changes, more so for the fact that the subsequent updates in technology refused to craft formats of the original trilogy.  Thus people are being forced to watch a version that was fun once or twice but not the version they were accustomed to.  It also made some controversial editing choices which changed key characters bad assery,

Regardless of hindsight, the hype generated interest in perusing his long rumored prequels.  Spielberg had preceded Lucas again, and again Lucas would take that precedent and reshape how films were made.  While many decry the prequels as inferior to the originals, their storytelling wasn’t the goal.  It was the format in which to tell an sci-fi action story that was at the forefront of George Lucas’ brain.  Lucas could have churned out these prequels at any point post Return of the Jedi but waited for the right technology.  He wanted to prove to himself and the film industry that there was a more cost effective way to make quality sci-fi films.
While the rest of the studios were making films using his techniques from the 70s, He was crafting a new method for the digital age.  The Phantom Menace utilized over 2000 CGI shots, the most of any film that year or ever up to that point.  He included the first fully CGI main character in a film.  While many justifiably hate the character Jar Jar Binx, let’s be thankful that his creation resulted in us having a perfect representation of Golem in The Lord of the Rings. 

Despite fan hate, the prequels pulled in oodles of cash and resulted in a complete recreation of how action films were made.  The superhero genre that’s dominating the film industry right now is a direct result of George Lucas’ newest filmmaking techniques.
All the major sci-fi/action films of the post prequel era use heavy amounts of CGI technology to tell their stories.  Lucas changed the game, he crafted a new format for storytelling.  While many may hate the content of prequel films, they are truly an afterthought when looking at what was inspired afterwards.  An entire film industry that took one directors techniques and have relentlessly copied them and the result of all his hard work is a measly $4 billion dollars after the sale of ILM and all the film rights to Star Wars to Disney. 

Written by
Joseph Ammendolea
“I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®