Friday, September 30, 2011

Disney's money machine and Lion King 3-D reigning at the box office

Update: With the success of Lion King 3-D, Disney now plans on releasing more 3-D versions of classics. This further proves that Disney will do anything for money.

When children think of Disney they picture a magical land where their favorite movies are born and, if they are lucky, one day they can travel to Florida and share in the wonderful world of Disney. As we get older and more cynical, Disney is no longer a magical kingdom. Though the cursive in The Walt Disney Company's logo is cute, the company itself is one of the most ruthless around. After all, while it wasn't Disney's idea to kill Bambi's mom, they did decide to whore out the story further with a direct-to-video sequel.

With Patrick Stewart voicing Bambi's father.

The thing of it is, Disney will do anything for money. The very idea of the Disney Vault is just used to create a false sense of urgency for their movies. Not only do they try to make money with their "limited time" DVD releases, they also butcher those classics with direct-to-video sequels (much like the aforementioned Bambi sequel). Again you can't fault a business for making money but the cognitive dissonance between the fluffy Mickey Mouse doll you have and the sweatshops used to make it cheap is astounding.

Note: I do not actually know if Disney uses sweatshops. It was only mentioned for dramatic effect.

I still enjoy Disney movies though. They are charming and enjoyable and we all grew up with them. And there is no movie that represents our generation of Disney movies than The Lion King. Out of all the movies during the Disney Renaissance (lasting from 1989-1999), Lion King was the most appealing to everyone and had the most to say. As a dude, I didn't want to watch singing princesses. But lions are badass. And not just any lions but lions that sound like Jeremy Irons and Darth Vader.

And Matthew Broderick, in his only good role other than Ferris Bueller.

Even with two direct-to-video sequels, a television show based on Timon and Pumbaa's adventures, an award-winning Broadway play, a ridiculously hard Sega Genesis game and countless Lion King scented hand soaps, the film still had class. Lion King is untouchable. Even with 3-D being the soulless, shallow cash grab that it is, Lion King 3-D still sounded amazing. So amazing that I am legitimately disappointed in myself I missed seeing it in theaters.

The Circle of Life alone would of been mind blowing in 3-D (and it would make an excellent alarm clock ring).

Everybody else must of thought so too. In the two weeks that Lion King 3-D was in theaters, it made over $100 million dollars (meaning it made twice as much as Conan the Barbarian). Lion King owned the two weeks it was in theaters and denied Moneyball a number one opening spot. While the inflated price of 3-D tickets could be taken in to factor most 3-D movies' success, the numbers don't reflect that in this instance. The box office was such a slaughter that it proves the release wasn't just a marketing ploy but an event.

See the word sex in glorious 3-D.

Disney is a company fueled by timelessness. It's the only reason they have survived for so long on the same intellectual property. Even Tomorrowland, their amusement park view of the future has a certain timelessness. Lion King, even though it was only released in 1994, is imbued with that very same trait. It was an instant classic that spoke to everyone that watched it. And hopefully, with this much needed success of Lion King's re-release, Disney finds that timelessness again.

Timelessness is sometimes confused with racism.

Aside from Princess and the Frog (which seems to of been made more for selling African-American princess dolls), Disney's animation showing has been incredibly weak. Every movie released since the new millennium has been incredibly forgettable and devoid of the Disney charm. They have depended on Pixar for making new classics ever since but with the release of Cars 2, Pixar has lost some of its luster.

Technically a success, but at what cost?

Hopefully Lion King's success spurs Disney to go back to what they do best, repackage previously existing material and making it appealing to kids. I say this with all the love I can but if The Brothers Grimm could sue Disney they would be rich. Disney's success is built off already existing properties. Even Mickey Mouse is based of Oswald the Rabbit. And they still defend their properties with such ruthlessness they they sued a daycare for a mural they painted of some characters.

South Park may have had a point after all.

Even Lion King isn't bulletproof. Story influences for Lion King range from tribal epics, the Bible and even Shakespeare. One influence that you might not hear is Kimba the White Lion, a Japanese anime series from the 60s. Shots from both movies and some names have been compared and, while some points may be nit-picky, the Kimba people definitely have a point. But all the same, I don't let that give Lion King a black eye. Because Lion King is one of my favorite Disney movies.

Still pretty fishy though.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Nouveau Facebook, aka the new Facebook

For my blog, I rely entirely too much on Facebook. It has become a normal occurrence to see me link a new blog on Facebook, in a desperate plea for page views and attention. But my spamming ways are endangered. Though I have always had a healthy stream of Google hits, my friends reading from Facebook links has always been my viewership backbone. Facebook's new newsfeed setup makes it harder for me to force my prose upon you, dear reader. And it is because of that I take up arms against it.

I really do love this "Deer Reader" picture. I hope the person whose Flicker I stole it from doesn't mind.

Facebook is the ethereal device with which all our social lives become entangled. Unless you're paranoid about your privacy or a stuck-up contrarian, you have a Facebook (most likely, as we speak, it is constantly open in some far-flung browser tab). With our social lives so dictated by the iconoclastic social network, every little cosmetic change sends a giant ripple in a very small social-pond. We all feel it and we all have an opinion on it, however minute that opinion may be.

This is me adding more fuel to a pointless fire.

As I stated once before, Facebook became popular for its simplicity. It was no frills. It was intuitive. It was addicting. We all signed up for Facebook because it was the bare essentials for the social-interactive experience. With each update, Facebook began to lose its soul. For each innovation, a part of the simple experience of liking the status of a girl you met at a party became flashier. All of our overstimulated senses were further battered with more newsfeeds and options. In short, Facebook sold its soul and lost its way.

Mark learned nothing from Tom.

Facebook doesn't see it that way. They see themselves as evolving to fit a more interactive market. What they don't realize is that the vertical integration of social media is self-destructive, like a drunk scorpion stinging itself. People come to Facebook for Facebook. And while they had plenty of room to experiment before, Google+ has changed that. Google+ is the first real competitor that Facebook has had and while the website deflated under its own hype, the new Facebook might just be the boost that Google needs. When your users are the product you are selling, such as with social media, the organization cannot afford to lose anyone to the competition. Especially a competitor as fierce and evil as Google.

On second thought, maybe I shouldn't bemoan the owners of my blogger service.

The truth is, all this whining means nothing. That may seem like a cheap point to make towards the tail end of an opinion piece but bear with me. We make our statuses complaining about the new Facebook, but the irony is we still use Facebook to complain about it. We are so helplessly addicted that we can't even admit we have a problem. Blinded by our own dependence and self-interest, we stick with the beast for fear of never actually being heard. Each update of Facebook has been met with backlashes yet eventually we all get use to it. That's the beauty of humanity, we get use to anything. And if anybody looked at any screenshots of the beginnings of Facebook, it would look as alien as the changes do today.

Facebook circa 2007.

Does this mean I will no longer use Facebook? Not in the slightest. I still appreciate the product. And, as stated earlier, I depend on it for you to read this very blog. And all the chain letters in the world will not mean anything to the people who control the bandwidth. As long as it is free it will be used. Make no mistake. Despite what the chain letters may say (I read all chain letters like they are being read through a blow horn by an eight-year-old girl), it will always be free. Facebook is making too much money off us already. They don't need any more from us.

"Yo, check and see if she has any beach pictures in her photo album."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Charlie Sheen: Wild and crazy guy Part Deux

I generally try and avoid retreading on old topics. Old news is old news and I would hate to alienate what few readers I have by repeating myself. But with the premiere of CBS' revamped Two and a Half Men and the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen occurring a few nights ago, I thought it was time to once again open up the Sheen file.

Gotta love sequels.

The backstage antics of television is always ripe with controversy. From the Quiz Show scandals to Suzanne Somers being kicked off Three's Company to the various battles over the Tonight Show, we forget that television is an industry and industry has always been about money. We forget that the cast of Friends are just five people being paid an exorbitant amount of money to act like they've known each other all their lives. The people on television are real people. Except, of course, for Sheen. If it's one thing he's tried to prove this past year, it's that he is more than human.


Sheen did something that no other actor does when in the middle of a dispute or followed by cameras, he embraced them. He not only created a hype machine around himself, he sold tickets to it. Conan O'Brien also used the media to his advantage during his debacle, but he didn't go nearly as far as Sheen did. For O'Brien, his career was on the line. For Sheen, his career and personal reputation was in danger. And instead of trying to brush it all under the rug he turned himself into a martyr for his winning way of life. His Comedy Central Roast was just an extension of that martyrdom.

In case you missed it, it'll be rerun 20 times this week.

Now, I hate Comedy Central Roasts. I find them to be the ultimate in lazy television. They are relatively cheap to make and hyped enough to fill up a huge chunk of the scheduling for the next two months. Comedy Central Roasts are a stable for bad comics who find it easier to be mean than it is to be funny. As an audience we have suffered through eight years of Jeffrey Ross' struggle towards comedy and jokes about Lisa Lampanelli's taste in men. It all gets old after awhile. With Sheen, however, they finally had a subject that was literally begging to be roasted. Roasts normally reserved for stars that have gone past their prime. Easy targets with nothing to lose because they have nothing left for them. Sheen is different. For Sheen it wasn't so much an easy ratings grab but a statement.

As opposed to Larry the Cable Guy or Flavor Flav's roast.

Sheen's roast was brilliantly scheduled the same night as Two and a Half Men's season premiere. CBS has hyped the new season heavily. Billboards and popups all over show Ashton Kutcher's grin where Sheen once stood. It remains to be seen whether Kutcher's charm can save the show (he was pretty awesome on That '70s Show), considering the fact that there has only been one Sheen-less episode. Who knows, maybe he can be replaceable on a show built around his own personality. But thanks to the Comedy Central Roast, Sheen at least had the last say.

I'll say it: Kutcher is probably the best replacement they could have found.

By sacrificing himself, Sheen is just offering himself to rebirth. The only question is, what will he do now that he's a punchline. He really is no longer a person, he is just a walking caricature of himself. So where does that leave him now? What can he possibly do now that his tiger-blood act has reached critical mass? During his roast, he claimed that he is no longer winning. He claims that he has already won. But with the dust just now settling on a year-long publicity battle, I think it's too early to declare a victor.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bad marketing and the Straw Dogs remake

Dustin Hoffman owned the '70s. Before Ishtar and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium he starred in films like The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Little Big Man, Lenny, All the President's Men, Marathon Man and Kramer vs. Kramer. Any actor would be proud to have their name attached to any of these flicks, yet in 12 years Hoffman made some of the best movies during the New Hollywood Era. A huge accomplishment for somebody once voted "least likely to succeed" in acting school. Really makes you rethink those high school superlatives, eh?

His school obviously didn't have a "most likely to play a badass Captain Hook" superlative.

Released in 1971, Straw Dogs was one such classic. A violent, challenging film, Straw Dogs was released during a time where realistic violence was just hitting the screen. Gangsters and cowboys were always getting shot, but it never went past any emotion than "point the gun at the bad-guy-wearing-black." Hoffman, defending himself and his wife against a group of sociopath, British rednecks made the perfect forum for questions about human nature, gender roles and barbaric instinct. Though a cult film, it even managed to remain remembered after being released the same year as Clockwork Orange, The French Connection and Dirty Harry.

Does he have a unibrow in this poster?

The movie remains just as shocking and impacting as it did in 1971. So, since there is no reason to remake such a film, Hollywood has went along and decided to release a Straw Dogs remake set to premiere this Friday. And since I haven't seen it yet (until I go to sleep, today is still technically Thursday) I can't judge how the remake holds up. Going by the trailer however, this remake seems to of lost all the class and esteem of the original.

Even the poster loses a bit of subtlety.

I have no problem with them moving the setting to the South. I have no problem with Cyclops starring in Hoffman's role (I've always kind of liked James Marsden). It's the general tone that the trailers seem to convey that throws me off. The original is a psychological thriller that explodes in violence towards the end. The remake, though I have not seen it yet, seems to take its tone from more contemporary horror films. Instead of a slow, simmering boil we instead have The Strangers without masks.

The masks being the best part of The Strangers.

Maybe the marketing team are hoping to capitalize on the first fall thriller, but even though the original was violent it was far from today's torture porn. The original had something to say. The remake just seems hollow and if it does try and attempt to say anything it will most likely be obvious and heavy-handed. A message placed on a silver platter instead of one that challenges us. Plus, while Alexander Skarsgard will most likely put in a wonderful performance, the trailer obviously uses him to entice True Blood fans into living out their fantasies of Eric Northman and his impetuousness.

Even when successful, stunt-casting is still stunt casting.

The remake will most likely prove to be nothing but what the title suggests, a form without substance.If it does suprise anyone with its depth, it's only because the marketing failed so completely. Instead of the controversial, raw and engaging original, it will most likely be another movie lost in the fall shuffle. Another bland thriller that, despite its attempt, has nothing new to say or show. That is, of course, the nature of remakes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The 9/11 Post

I originally wanted to avoid writing this post. While yes, I was as affected by 9/11 just as much as everyone else, I didn't feel worthy enough to really comment on it. Being in South Jersey, I'm just insulated enough from New York to be spared a lot of the heartache. I am lucky enough to not really know anyone that died in the attack and my horizon line was not inundated with smoke and ash. But being a member of the generation that grew up watching the towers fall down, I can't help but still feel like a member of the grieving nation.

None of us have to be reminded.

I already told my 9/11 story in my Osama post. I was only 11 years old when it happened but I remember being at soccer practice that evening and we couldn't even bring our 6th grade selves to do warm up sprints. With the 24/7 news machine working, we as a population were reminded of the tragedy repeatedly. From that blood lust came war that we are still in today. I'm not here to debate the war, I'm only commenting on the fact that lives are still being affected by one morning ten years ago.

One respectable reflection on 9/11 has been Rescue Me. Although the show lost some focus during its seven seasons, Denis Leary showed real respect and admiration to the fire fighters and other people affected by 9/11. It's not like Remember Me, a 2010 Robert Pattinson vehicle that aspired to be like every other Nicolas Sparks story made for teenage girls. Instead, using the World Trade Center attacks as a plot device, it ended up reeking of explotation just to remind 16-year-old girls to fall in love with Pattinson.

Pattinson should stick with the Twilight movies.

For the most part, Hollywood has yet to touch on 9/11. The only two theatrical films dealing with attack are World Trade Center and Flight 93. This is for good reason. None of us need to be reminded. It's too early for dramatizations because the effects are still being felt by a whole population. We don't need Oliver Stone telling us how to feel because it is still fresh in our minds. No reminders needed, television documentaries and memories are enough. To make a movie about it now only screams of propaganda or excessive patriotism.

Sadly, an unnecessary film.

It's ironic that Stone was the one to make an unnecessary World Trade Center movie, because he was the one to really kick off movies made about Vietnam. One of the first real Vietnam movies was The Green Berets starring John Wayne. Released in 1968, the same year that both the Tet offensive happened and Walter Cronkite himself bemoaned Vietnam, The Green Berets tried its best to rally support for the already exhausting war. But even The Duke couldn't help rally a nation and, aside from Apocalypse Now in 1979 (a very noteworthy film), Vietnam wouldn't be touched again until 1986 with Platoon. Eleven years after the fall of Saigon, Stone told the story of his own experience during the conflict. Unflinching and dramatic, Platoon won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The following year saw the release of Full Metal Jacket and Hamburger Hill and in 1989, Stone returned to Vietnam with Born on the Fourth of July.

I'd mention 1989's Casualties of War but I hate Sean Penn too much to go in depth.

Just like with Vietnam, it will take a while to properly reflect on 9/11. It's too soon to really see what the effect is because we are still seeing the effect everyday. There is no proper epilogue yet to the story. While Bin Laden's death did help closure, it's not enough. Ten years from now we'll see real movies about a post-9/11 world that's not just about paranoia or patriotism. Because by then the dust from the towers will finally settle and the ones that grew up with the disaster will finally get their say on the matter. I am of course talking about my generation.

Just don't call us Millenials, I hate that phrase.

People my age may seem jaded by the 2001 attacks, but we've all reacted to it in different ways. Some have become conspiracy theorists or socialists. Others have followed Fox News and Sarah Palin. There is one factor I've noticed with everyone though. We've all acquired this kind of post-modern patriotism. It's not simply about humming Yankee Doodle Dandy anymore. For people my age, America Fuck Yeah (excuse the profanity) has become the rally call. From the creators of South Park, America Fuck Yeah was written for the puppet comedy Team America: World Police. And even if that movie falls into obscurity, the song will live on as a new anthem for current college-aged kids. Although a satire of jingoistic tunes, it is earnest enough to speak to us. And it has a sense of humor that cannot be found in Tobey Keith songs.

Profane but effective.

So, even though it is the tenth year anniversary of 9/11, it is still just one more day in a constant state of mourning that many feel. But we continue on and, floor by floor, we defiantly build in ground zero. One day we will all finally be able to look back at this period instead of feeling trapped within it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Kismet and on demand

Defining the divine. I do not consider myself a religious man. When asked, I define my faith as lapsed Catholic at best. My opinion on faith and destiny relies purely on how much sleep I've had that day or if I'm having any luck with women (currently the answer to both of those questions is no). But sometimes the universe surprises me. Sometimes little hints pop through my day that relieves my existential burden. Being a movie fan, it's only characteristic of my existence that these hints mostly involve movies.

The words universe, fate and God are all interchangeable in this post.

It doesn't always happen, but sometimes the universe provides me with exactly what I want and need. It's never any unimportant things like world peace or a bag full of non-sequential hundred dollar bills, but the smaller things that have so much for resonance than the bigger things. Much like, for me, the miracle of what's on television. We've all noticed it before in some respect. When we have just the exact amount of change for our food order or when we get a text message just when we need one. The world is full of coincidence, and no coincidence is ever too small to go unnoticed.

Serendipity: not just a John Cusack flick.

A month ago I was struck with the desire to watch About a Boy. Technically in chick-flick territory, About a Boy is a guilty pleasure propelled by Hugh Grant's rakish charm and a soundtrack by Badly Drawn Boy. Yes, I do own the DVD but I was too lazy to dig it out of my movie pile. Flipping through channels on my only day off that week, there it was, inexplicably on Showtime. It was just what I wanted, hand delivered to me. Even though it's just a romantic comedy, About a Boy makes you happy despite all the saccharine and cliches. A few days later I found another movie I not just wanted to see but also needed to see.

I like this movie, don't judge me.

I've always wanted to see the movie Marty. Written by the irreplaceable Paddy Chayefsky, Marty is about a butcher played by Ernest Borgnine that's unlucky in love and who has lost control of his life. Over the course of 94 minutes and a date with a mousey girl, Marty decides to take initiative and make himself happy. It's a simple yet very effective film that I've been wanted to watch for awhile and just when I needed it the most, I found it on demand under Turner Classic Movies.

TCM has always been there for me.

Marty is the kind of movie that motivates you to get out of your rut, and that's just the kind of sentiment I needed to hear at the time. More cynical people would call my outlook superstitious or immature. It takes somebody very self centered to think the stars align for them. While I can be described as self-centered a bit (one needs to be to write a blog), I can't help but smile whenever something small goes my way. Because sometimes those small things mean more than the big ones. And even something as simple as what's on television can mean a lot to somebody. That or, it saves me from having to look for the DVD.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Start of a new year and a return to the blogosphere

In today's day and age, media analyzers try awfully hard to create new words. With technology permeating our everyday lives, it's a race to come up with all of these new phrases and a race to take credit for them. Which brings me to my excuse for not updating for a month. For the month of August, I decided to go on blogcation.

There it is, my addition to the English language. Samuel Johnson has got nothing on me.

Blogcation has probably already been used as a word before now, but with no listing in the two biggest vocabulary reference tools around (Webster's and Urban Dictionary), I will now take credit for the word. You see, after spending a year posting twice a week, I figured I was due for some relaxation. A nice little blogcation to regain my concentration and come up with future ideas. I feel I earned some relaxation time, even if that relaxation time consisted of having two jobs and taking up jogging.

This is how I picture myself as I jog.

I didn't want to cheat you, dear reader, by making you read the work of a burnt out misanthrope. So I took some time off. Now that I'm back at school, I have no excuse for not writing again. And after spending a month brainstorming ideas, I hope for a nice return to form in my blog writing. Having people read my work is its own reward.

That and the accumulation of page views.

So be on the lookout for new posts by me throughout the week. For any prospective guest bloggers, the invitation to write a post is still open to anyone interested. It's time to pick up right where we left off in our blogger/reader relationship. And I can't wait to continue that relationship. In case you feel I am missing a topic you would like to discuss, you can also suggest anything that you feel is worthy of comment. Remember, I'm not just here to rant, I'm here to be your guide to pop culture.

I'm like a cultural Sherpa.

So welcome back to me. Here's to what should be an awesome year.