The Lego Movie: February Blockbuster

The Lego Movie is a bit of an anomaly.  It is a children’s film and is doing incredibly well.  It is critically acclaimed and making millions upon millions of dollars in February, months before blockbuster season.  ALL while the country has been experiencing terrible snow attacks and the Winter Olympics are going on in Russia.  It has been years since Pixar released a movie that was so well received. The good ole days where everything they released was a pleasure died with the release of Cars and hasn’t quite recovered.  The Lego Movie is also an eye opener in many cases to what the future of Hollywood may or may not hold… and it’s a fine line between scary and exhilarating.

The movie contains a plethora of characters in the Warner Brothers catalogue, including DC Comics and takes advantage by putting them out there to interact with each other and be toyed with, no pun intended.  But it makes one think: what does this mean for the studios?  They have tried to base movies (notably blockbusters) on toy franchises before, and while plenty of them made tons and TONS of money, very few have been critically well-recieved until now.  Battleship, Transformers, GI Joe, etc.  The movie has already well surpassed it’s $60 million budget, and since that is much smaller than most of these films are made for, the profit margin is going to be massive in returns.  And that’s before taking into account it’s about LEGOs!  It sells itself!  They’re probably producing Legos about the Legos in the movie as we speak!  So there is a lot of money being made and possibly more to be made… What do studios notice?

It’s a two-edged sword: the last time a movie made this much money and was this well received was The Avengers.  Maybe by letting people who care about the material take control of the movie, there can be money and critical success?  The answer is yes, but I am not convinced that the studios have quite learned this yet:  There have been a few more Avengers movies out since then, and none of them have attempted to break away from set formula or have been as well received.  Yet, the money poured in, so I remain unconvinced that the studios are ready to take some groundbreaking bold steps.

Still, The Lego Movie stands out because it is so successful and doesn’t go for the traditional seen it before tropes.  The question is if the movie will encourage studios to make bold moves and movies, or does it enable them to keep re-trending what we’ve seen with immediate remakes, sequels, reboots, familiar material, etc.  Do we need a movie about Sharpies to come out?  What about an Etch-A-Sketch?  I’d ask them to take some of this money, as there will be a lot to go around, and pay some writers to really go for something new.  This movie did it’s job well, but depending on what it teaches the studios, maybe too well.

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Anthology is Television Gold

Netflix changed the game for television.

It is rather apparent that Netflix isn’t really about the movies anymore: yes, there are many great films on there, especially obscure ones, but nowadays people use it for TV shows.  It provides them with a convenience that previously only existed with home movies: I can watch it when I want on my time.  And the recent phenomenon of binge-watching (probably popularized by Breaking Bad) allows for a more cinematic experience.  Instead of waiting week to week for small segments, larger chunks of a show can be knocked out with ease.  And now they are creating original material: with shows such as House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black and ressurecting Arrested Development, television’s days looked more and more limited with numbers substantially lower than anything playing in the early 90’s.

Netflix changed the game.  Television finally has somewhat of an answer: Anthology seasons.

Every season of a particular show is something else.  American Horror Story tells a frightening tell in a season of 10 or so episodes, and it’s done.  Over.  Season 2 brings about a completely new frightening tale for the viewer.  Same with HBO’s True Detective and the upcoming Fargo for example.  Much like The Twilight Zone (featuring standalone episodes) this gives the audience an experience television hasn’t touched in years.  Every season is something new to look forward to, and if one doesn’t work, the next one will be different.  Hopefully better.

Anthologies have shorter stories to tell and complete, which makes it perfect for those looking to binge-watch (10 episode commitment vs 170?) As major film stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson have pointed out, it gives them a chance to delve into television and not worry about a year after year commitment to fulfill, as they are both stars of the first anthology of True Detective.

Television may not be able to beat what Netflix has to offer, but for the first time it really seems to have come up with something that can be used along with it, because throwing hashtags on top of my Breaking Bad episodes wasn’t working for me.

Future of (Crowd)Funding

In recent years, crowd-funding on sites such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo has become a somewhat unexpected success.  I myself learned of it when a band I care for was asking for help with production costs: I gave. Later, I received.  The product was great and I was satisfied with my contribution.  Lately, there have been more and more films turning to such campaigns to raise funding of a sort.  Controversy aside, Zach Braff raised a few million dollars for his most recent film, Wish I Was Here and it debuted at Sundance on time.  Additionally, Steven James turned to Indiegogo for production support on the Ebert documentary Life Itself, also shown at Sundance, and being there personally, a lot of talk regarding crowd-funding was mentioned over the two week period.

Now, producer Michelle Manning has turned to Indiegogo to raise funds for Katherine Heigl’s next film, Jenny’s Wedding.  Here’s the kick: the movie is already made.  Production has finished and it was done for about $3 million.  However, Manning states that while the movie is finished, the potential still remains to continue making something even better, and they are asking for $150,000 for the sound, music, coloring and titles in post-production.  Like all these campaigns, they offer the perks such as behind the scenes looks and tickets to premieres, etc.  But this time, with the movie’s production being wrapped, there is a lot of material to be shown to try and gather support.

What does this say about the future of budgeting, crowd-funding and independent film?  A lot of talk (mostly negative) arose when Spike Lee and Zach Braff turned to such sources, raising questions like “Is it right for people who have higher connections and more wealth to use such options?”  Does it take away from the people who don’t have other connections/options? Does it matter? Should it?  I don’t know, but the resource has been gaining more and more publicity each year and like Manning’s team, more are starting to take advantage of what it could potentially provide.  Independent films still require money, and often have the hardest of times acquiring it.  If one could turn to these resources, great, but they have to make sure they have something to show to gather interest if they don’t have a name to capitalize on.

Who Wins the Award?

A lot has come out regarding Woody Allen and the allegations that he molested Dylan Farrow when she was a child.  Recently, Blue Jasmine actress Cate Blanchette was asked to comment on the situation and recently said she hopes the family can “find some sort of resolution and peace” in this “long and painful situation.”  It is said that these allegations were timed quite well to hurt Woody Allen’s chances come award season, as the Oscars are now a month away, and since Cate refused to take sides in her statement and doesn’t incriminate him, maybe she doesn’t think he is guilty and there is talk about how this choice could hurt her chances in the Oscar race as well. Maybe.

Maybe. Maybe, maybe.  It’s all bullshit.

None of this should matter.  None of it.  Awards (Oscars in particular, being the most “prestigious” in Hollywood) should only take into account the works in which the nominees are being judged.  Their personal lives?  Nope.  Their past accomplishments?  Not at all.  Everything else should mean nothing.

In the category of Best Actor, for example, there are five actors in competition.  Each of those actors should be judged based on their performance in the one movie they are nominated for and that is all.  If one of them dies, it shouldn’t matter, watch the movie.  If one of them is pronounced with a terminal illness, it still shouldn’t matter.  Weep, but watch the movies.  It may sound very harsh, but the credibility of the award and all awards are at stake if the body of work is not the criteria used to be judged.  Because if it is anything other than the films themselves, there doesn’t need to be any Oscars or film awards for that matter.

Scorsese: The Auteur In Control?

Martin Scorsese’s career and filmography speak for themselves.  His films are easily recognized by their style and content and demonstrate control of the craft.  Within the past year or so, Cecchi Gori filed a lawsuit against the director for not making the film Silence.  Produced by Gori, there was reportedly a deal made as far back as 1990 that Scorsese would direct it as his next picture, which obviously did not happen as he went on to make a lot of Oscar nominated films, non of which were Silence.  

Tired of waiting, Gori filed a lawsuit claiming intentional and negligent misrepresentation and demanded over 1.5 million dollars.  Just recently, Scorsese announced that it has been settled and even went on further to say Liam Neeson has been cast in the film.  Production is (most likely) on the way!

I find this intriguing because the obligation makes me wonder how much of a commitment to the art there can/will be?  When someone has to do something, there is always the potential that it may not be treated like they want/must do something.  I do not question Scorsese’s ability or credibility, I actually think he is America’s best and my favorite because of it, but he obviously chose other projects for a reason, and kept doing so.  Yes, he should either honor the supposed contract or buy his way out of it, yes.  But is he finally ready to make that film?  Being an active filmmaker since the late 60’s and knowing how long it takes to make a movie, there will not be many more opportunities left.