“That’s not How the Story Goes” Ironic Foreshadowing

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Their mother makes Olaf an orphan

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DTV Wonders: Arthur’s Perfect Christmas

I am a huge fan of Arthur.  I have seen every episode in the first nineteen seasons, and in my old blog (which got deleted due to my address being deleted) I reviewed every season.  Despite this I never saw this special until then due to bad times it aired.  The special was around 15 years old when I saw it and to my surprise, I did not like it.  It was too ambitious for what the writers were ready for at the time, and it was made when the show was on a rebuilding season.  It is a typical episode stretched into an hour five times longer than it should be.

“Arthur’s Perfect Christmas” is the finale to season 5, which had many issues.  In seasons 1-4 Ken Scarborough and Joe “Crazy Joe” Fallon were the head writers.  They both left after season 4 leaving Kevin Hirsch (a veteran from all 4 seasons) as the new head writer, and he wrote “Arthur’s Perfect Christmas.”  Season 5 had some notably good episodes, but the rest were heavily lacking in heart and concept.  They still had good comedy thanks to Binky.

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In the typical season 5 episode the plot is rather dull, but Binky does something funny that saves the episode, and this is no different.  His plot is rather small, as he has a few brief snippets of him trying to make a good dessert to give in a soup line.  First he made pecan pie with shells in them.  He then made brownies without sugar and banana bread with peals.  The reactions are good physical comedy for comic relief.  It is not very connected to the main plot, but that is true to the entire special.

At the time every episode was 11 minutes, starting two years later the show made occasional 22 minute episodes. At 54 minutes this is way longer than usual. The typical Christmas special would have around a forty minute plot and around 14 minutes of subplots like Binky.  This has three main plots only connected by Christmas time. 2 are Typical episodes and the other is heavily padded.  The plot goes back and forth between the three, but I will focus on one at a time.

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In one plot Muffy declares herself “the princess of Christmas” and invites everyone to a party.  Her best friend, Francine, is Jewish and instead goes to a Hanukkah celebration.  As anyone could probably guess this plot is about accepting that your friends will have some major differences and keeping friendships.  It is okay.

Buster has the best plot.  His mom is always worried about her son being miserable on Christmas since his dad will not be there.  Buster is worried about her, as she is visibly miserable during the time, and he asks her to not make Christmas a big deal and instead they make a new holiday, “Baxter Day.”

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The final plot is with the Read family, Arthur, D.W., their parents, Grandpa Dave (he almost never shows up), and Uncle Fred.  Who is Uncle Fred? It is also the last time Arthur’s original actor, Michael Yarmush, voiced him, and this is a bad farewell appearance.  His voice was way too deep this season due to him aging, and the show has an immediate problem.  It is a musical and the lead does a bad job at singing.  In previous episodes they occasionally did musicals and Yarmush always did well, but this is different.  It begins with a song that Yarmush does not sing in character.  Until I read the credits I assumed it was a different actor singing, but it is Yarmush.  His singing voice is so different that the song is terribly distracting.  Muffy and Buster had songs that were fine because they were in character and it sounded like they were actually sung by the characters.  This sounds like Arthur is lip syncing to someone else.  To make it worse Arthur is constantly complaining that it may not snow on Christmas, and he keeps saying it is not Christmas without snow.  This really bugs me.  I am in my twenties, and I have never seen snow within a week of Christmas.  Quit telling the Southern audience that we are not celebrating Christmas since it is only forty degrees here.  It becomes apparent right away that the Arthur plot line is the worst one.

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Another reason this is the worst of the three plots is all the padding.  The other two had everything advance the plot, but this could have easily been half as long.  A D.W. plot line is also introduced about wanting Tine the talking Tabby, a toy.  This leads to another problem, the A plot is full of subplots. A plot is Arthur giving mom a great gift, a glass bird, as he broke one just like it.  Other plots are waiting for snow, D.W.’s toy that is sold out, mom trying to explain that you cannot get everything you want for Christmas, introducing Uncle Fred, Uncle Fred’s car breaking and crashing with them, and a few others that are really short.  The special explores all these with lots of padding.  Arthur has a long scene shopping at the mall  with lots of padding.  The bird almost breaks several times before it does in long scenes, and it finally breaks in a very short one.  Arthur has lots of daydreams which focus more on his sibling rivalry with D.W.  It is occasionally interrupted by Binky but his filler is short and funny, and the rest is not.  To add to filler the plot ends with Arthur badly singing the same song from the beginning.

I love Arthur, and I regret that I have few good things to say about this.  Most of the jokes work, but it perfectly shows what is wrong with season 5 and the additional problem of being too long.  At the time the longest Arthur story was 11 minutes, and this is five times that amount.  The story is unconnected and full of padding.  When I reviewed all The Land Before Time movies I realized how good they were at connecting seemingly unrelated plots at the end both thematically and in the climax for a great scene.  That is what this needs.  The only scene that connects all three plots is a party scene early in the special.  On a positive note it has a uniqueness among Christmas specials due to its to one thing.  Most of them dominantly take place on Christmas Eve, but this takes place dominantly on Christmas day.  That is not enough to save it, but it is at least not generic.  Sadly, this is a very bad representation of Arthur.

Sometime in the future I will review an hour long Arthur special that is good.

Best Thanksgiving Specials

My mom is an elementary  teacher, and she often brings Christmas videos in December.  In November she often asks me about Thanksgiving specials.  As a holiday it is not very commercial, as it focuses on the simple pleasures of life.  These are the best Thanksgiving specials.

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Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving includes a groundhog day special leading up to a Thanksgiving special leading to forcing a winter episode into a Christmas episode.  The Thanksgiving special got most of the advertising, and it is very good and memorable.  As shown in the picture they eat whatever they normally eat on Thanksgiving, as it is about being thankful over sticking with tradition.  The episode is funny and wacky (the norm for the series), but what I really need to praise is how memorable it is.  A few years back I saw it in mom’s classroom for only the third time, and I realized I vividly remembered every detail.

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Friends is probably the only TV show where the Thanksgiving specials are the most famous.  Season five’s episode is the best of the ten.  Four of the six characters discuss their worst Thanksgiving days, and Chandler tells Monica he loves her.  The best part is Chandler’s changing Thanksgiving history. He hates Thanksgiving due to how many bad events happened on it to him.  His parents divorced on it, and he lost his toe around ten years later on Thanksgiving (he has normal feet and toes in other episodes). On this episode he becomes considerably closer to Monica, and he is no longer hating Thanksgiving on future seasons (just Thanksgiving dinner).

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A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is the most famous.  The best part is Woodstock and Snoopy goofing around.  They steal the show and make the entire special entertaining.

How to Determine if a Film Made Money

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It has to be done by rule of thumb, as the studios do not release full lists of expenses and profits, nor will they.  They try to get employees to sign on for a percentage of the profits, and they always say the film lost money.  Reportedly The Return of the King only broke even despite being the second highest grossing film of all time.  Despite this they made sequels.

It is a common misconception that all a film has to do is make back its budget, but that is false.  There are hidden fees that are not in the budget like re-shots and most importantly advertising.  The general rule of thumb is that a film has an advertising budget of half the filming budget.  This leads to the doomsayers constantly saying all films are losing money, but they are wrong.

Some people use the highest estimated costs to say every film is losing money, but if that were true high budget films would not be made.  They are ignoring hidden profits such as merchandise, music sales, streaming services, home media, video game adaptations, book adaptations, and tv deals.  Between all this the general rule of thumb is a film has to make twice its budget worldwide to be profitable, but with the rise of international markets (more on that later) and increasing costs of re-shots it is probably 2.5 times the budget now and it can change based on where it is successful.

The theaters take cuts of the film’s box office which differ based on time and the nation.  The general rule of thumb is a movie keeps half what it makes at the domestic box office (US and Canada) a fourth from China and forty percent in the rest of the world.

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Skyscraper is a failure despite making just over $300,000,000 on a $125,000,000 budget.  However by the rules of thumb it only keeps 24.6 million from China where it made 98 million.  It keeps 54.2 million from the rest of the international market leaving its small 68 million US dollars where it keeps 32 million.  From theaters Skyscraper kept around 111 million dollars.  That leaves it in the red by 14 million plus its budget of probably around 70 million.  It still make money, but only after around ten years.

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

In contrast Universal had a huge hit in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  Huge hits help pay for some bombs.  It made over 260 million in China and keeps around 65.3 million.  In the rest of the world it keeps 250.35 million.  As a 170 million budget that is now paid of by 145 million, which should cover the advertising costs easily.  From there on it keeps an additional 208 million from the domestic market.  This is profitable right away and will help Universal pay for future films and deal with bombs until the profits come in.

To make money a film needs to keep the budget under control, keep hidden costs like re-shots under control, and not just appeal to the Chinese market.

 

 

DTV Wonders: Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghosts

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It is well accepted that the first four Scooby-Doo DTV films are mostly the best, and I agree with that.  The Scooby-Doo format works best as a twenty minute episode, and many of the films feel too long, but these four feel like movies and are entertaining all the way through.   The viewers near universally call Zombie Island the best, this one the second best, and Alien Invaders and Cyber Chase are debated as third and fourth best.  Sadly I found this underwhelming.  It is still a good film that I recommend to Scooby fans, but not as much as the other three.  The main reason it is underwhelming is it uses the same basic subversions Zombie Island used making it feel like the inferior version.  Still it is entertaining and I am happy to review it positively.

I am sure part of my problems are that I have incredibly little nostalgia for it.  I saw it at school supply stores where I saw the last twenty minutes, and another time I saw the first twenty minutes (it is sixty-six minutes long), and not until I was in college did I see it all the way through.

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It starts like Zombie Island with Mystery Inc. trying to catch a villain.  This time it is in a prehistoric museum, and that makes for some good atmosphere.  The two villains are tripped by a writer, Ben Ravencroft, who then captures them.  Velma is a big fan of his horror novels and seems to have a crush on him.   Ben offers to take them to his home in New England, Oak Haven.  They arrive to discover that it is now tourist based and supposedly haunted by the ghost of Ben’s ancestor, Sarah Ravencroft.

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Ben shows everyone a picture of Sarah and says she was a wonderful healer, which made the Puritans think she was a witch, and they executed her.  If she was executed that probably means she actually was in the middle of a family feud.  He insists she was actually a Wiccan, a good spell user…  What are the writers talking about?  The term “Wiccan” was not sued until the 1900s.  Also it is a form of paganism, not a magic user who uses good magic.

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They fit the term Wiccan.

It is also constantly said to be a bloodline, but that is false.  It is a religion.  I have seen many episodes and movies where the writers clearly know about the supernatural creatures used like the episode of Mystery Incorporated episode, “Aliens Among Us”,  which makes this mistake worse.  This is just bad.  Thankfully it is some really bad writing, but it is surrounded by some good scenes.  There is some filler where Scooby and Shaggy eat at a restaurant.  It does not go anywhere, but it is really funny.

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The plot that actually emerges is not important.  Oak Haven makes a Scooby-Doo hoax to bring in tourists by making a ghost of Sarah Ravencroft.  Ben is angry, Velma makes a plan after solving the mystery, and the mayor is the mastermind.  The only part of real significance is they meet the Hex Girls, a Goth rock band.

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They were big ensemble dark horses and reappeared in other media like two episodes of Mystery Incorporated and The Legend of the Vampire.  They are a red herring, and their leader, Thorn, wishes the others “bad dreams.”  That one line had my brother one hundred percent convinced they were the villains.  Also, Thorn is “1/16 Wiccan on my mother’s side.”  Again, Wiccan is a religion, not a bloodline.  If you are 1/16 Wiccan, then I am 1/2 Catholic and 1/2 Baptist.  Also by this movie’s logic having the tiniest amount of magic blood means you are able to do magic as well as anyone else, which I would think would mean most people could do it.

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The plot everyone actually remembers starts in the last twenty minutes when Velma finds the book that Ben said would prove Sarah was innocent.  Instead it is a spell book, which Ben takes and reveals he is a “warlock” due to being the descendant of a witch and plans to bring Sarah back to conqueror the world.  He reveals Sarah was trapped in the book by the Wiccans… Wiccans did not exist then!  If you use the current definition on that time then a witch is a Wiccan.  This word usage is really bad.  He uses the book to give himself magical powers and gives himself a mild make over.

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The whole opening 3/4 of the film are really not important except setting up the ending and introducing the audience to Ben.   He has been called a Stephen King expy, but I think he is more of an antithesis to Nathaniel Hawthorne.  They were both from a Puritan New England village and had an evil ancestor, Sarah Ravencroft and John Hathorne.  While Ben wants to be evil and powerful like his ancestor, wants her evilness, and always said she was good, Hawthorne heavily criticized his ancestor and was worried he would end up like him due to their shared genetics.

Back to the best parts of the film, and these are good.  I know I have been harsh on it so far, but the climax makes the film worth it.  It has a lot of stupid stuff in it, but it is awesomely stupid.  Ben spends a horde of time explaining his very detailed plan with hordes of things that could go wrong; for example, Mystery Inc. could just snatch the book away while he is monologueing.  Instead he uses the book’s magic to give himself super strength, fix his eyes, imprison a few townsmen (not important), tie up the Hex Girls (one is important), and give himself the ability to shoot lasers.  The magic also resembles the life force entering the zombies in Zombie Island.  This mages sense as the cat god and Sarah probably use the same source.

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The gang take the book back, and make a big mistake.  They do not use that time to start ripping pages up, and Ben takes it back summoning Sarah.  He then gets to the problem of summoning a greater evil.  Ben wants to rule the world and thinks Sarah will have the virtue to obey her descendant who saved her.  Instead she is psychopathic, has no gratitude, wants no accomplice, and she wants to destroy everything.  Worse, only a pure heart can lock her back up meaning Ben is powerless, and Sarah imprisons him.  Stupidly she just leaves the book sitting there.  Her powers include summoning magical attacks and turning objects into monsters.  This includes trees, roots, pumpkins (picture above), and a turkey.

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Best character in the film.  The turkey makes an awesome climax even better.  Unfortunately the solving of the climax is lacking.  Velma deduces they just need Thorn to read the book to banish Sarah since she is 1/16 good magic or something, meaning she can cast the spell.  They then keep passing the book in a scene that Mystery Incorporated ripped off (and did better), and Thorn banishes Sarah, but in the meantime Sarah grabs Ben and imprisons him with her, and the book is destroyed.  Why did the good witches who imprisoned her four hundred years ago not destroy the book then?  It removes the chances she comes back and removes evil spells.  Then Thorn ruins the moment by calling herself a “Wiccan.”  After that there is some mop-up action with the only significance being that the Turkey is still around and huge.  Give him some spin-off shorts already.

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This movie has plenty of bad.  The early Scooby movies all gave the audiences real monsters.  Zombie Island put Mystery Inc. in the middle of a supernatural battle between opposing monsters with incredibly complex villains.  Alien Invaders had a twist on real monsters by having the real creatures be the heroes and battle the fake monsters with the fakes actually beating them.  Cyber-Chase had a simple Mystery Inc. vs real monsters, but there were so many and many were nostalgic threats, but here it is the most simple case of just using real monsters with many of the same elements from Zombie Island right down to the “friend” who brought them there betraying them.  It is a pale version.  Also it has two plots splitting time with different witches.

A common problem with DTV films is they have too many plots working making it feel like multiple episodes edited together, but this one has a major upside, the episodic stories are food and fun to watch.  I like watching them catch the fake witch and the real one.  I like watching Scooby and Shaggy eat a resteraunt dry and the cook being so exhausted.

There is still a lot to like in this film.  Ben is a poor man’s Lena, but he is very entertaining and quite complex.  Does he legitimately like the gang or is he just using them.  I think he really does like being around them.  The last twenty minutes are incredibly fun to watch, and the turkey is incredible.

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Do not eat him!  Thankfully he lived.

It is the least good of the four, but I still like it.  It may be a poor man’s Zombie Island, but Zombie Island is a great film and a worse version would still be good.  The film is an entertaining 66 minutes that lacks its predecessor’s drama and uniqueness, but it still has its humor and fun.

DTV Wonders: Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders

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This is the third Scooby-Doo Direct-to-video film, and like the early ones I watched it many times thanks to blockbuster.  The first four do stand out for a few reasons.  They normally make call backs to each other and have a darker tone with real monsters.

It opens with a reprise of the Star Trek theme, and it is surprisingly dull (the only one of the four with a dull opening).  The opening feels way longer than it is.  The most interesting thing about the beginning is Shaggy is driving The Mystery Machine.

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A spaceship thing chases them off the road, and The Mystery Machine is in need of repair.  Velma, Fred, and Daphne go to a town, while Shaggy and Scooby guard The Mystery Machine.  The two cowards are considerably braver here than usual being willing to be alone and do things later.  Apparently ghosts, cat creatures, and zombies have hardened them and eventually Shaggy will be beating up biker gangs (yes, that happens in a later movie).  They find a jackalope, and  it steals their only Scooby snack.  They acknowledge they are myths, and it is probably a fake made by a real estate scammer based on this franchise.  They chase it through a government fence and meet some aliens.

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The alien designs are very generic, but their brash demeaning attitude and the musical score makes up for that.  The chase scene is played with the original theme song, and it is a very good chase scene with plenty of Scooby-do humor, and they are back with the rest of Mystery Inc. in a diner.

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At the diner there are two employees who are red herrings with no real development and hardly any character.  They and red herring mechanic are not important.  They also meet Lester, who was supposedly abducted and is constantly saying the aliens are coming back to take over the world.  I like him.  He yells too much, as most conspiracy theorists are portrayed as doing, but he is also very kind, apologetic, and helpful, and his past warrants some shouting as he tries to save the planet.  Also it becomes clear that plenty of what he says is true and the false information comes from failing to deduce a Scooby-Doo hoax.  He talks about being in an alien lab, and then in a great piece the camera moves outside and nothing can be heard as Lester talks about being experimented on with everyone else looking terrified.  Everything is left open to the imagination.  In truth the villains (disguised as aliens) are experimenting on locals to scare them. They also smartly steal the cattle.  This forces businesses and people away.  Mystery Inc. sleeps in Lester’s house where they see his paintings are of the same ship they saw making them realize his words have some truth.  Lester tells them about the local scientists looking for alien life with signals and are funded by the government.  The town blames them for recent alien sightings.  Surprisingly Scooby and Shaggy happily sleep on the roof where everything is more dangerous and vulnerable to alien abductions.  In the past they would have slept under the table just where it is safe.  Then again the monsters always got inside, so they might as well enjoy it under the stars.S5.png

Predictably Shaggy and Scooby are abducted and being interrogated, and it is one of the best scenes of the film.  The music gives a dark and dangerous tone, despite their comedic whines of tasting bad.  Fortunately they are too kooky to torture and Scooby’s tale is not bound (the restraints were made for humans, and his tail frees them.  Unfortunately they are captured again and the scene just ends.  Apparently the fake aliens (a third was introduced) then put them in the desert to help scare away other people.

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They are awakened by love interests Crystal (Human) and Amber (dog).  They are wildlife photographers, and when Shaggy mentions the jackalope and aliens they want pictures.  They are actually aliens trying to find out what these other “aliens” are doing as revealed later.

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Shaggy even sings (in his head) about his love for her in “Oh Groovy.”  It fits him so well, and its images are funny like the ghost wondering why Shaggy just left Mystery Inc.  Shaggy and Scooby even try self improvement by combing hair and tucking in shirts.  They meet one of the villains and scientists looking for aliens, Max.  They are the only group with at least three members.  Besides Max they are Steve (Mark Hamill voices him and it is uncecognizable from most of his character voices) and Laura.  They need a suspiciously high amount of oil that does even work with their equipment and have mud all over their shoes despite working in a clean room.  With them Velma, Fred, and Daphne tour the facility.  They also say the government sent an investigative team (actually sent by them to keep people out).  After leaving Fred tries to get some suspicion on Lester for having Green paint, despite him being a painter.

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Show some gratitude Fred.

Figuring the mud came from the gorge they go there.  They find a cave and the same oil cans Max bought earlier.  Apparently the villains really need to invest in trash cans or something to make the place less obvious. Put some alien technology around so visitors think aliens are mining.  Surprisingly they also find a gold mine.

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In the meantime the lovebirds look for the aliens and are chased away by two fake government agents telling them to leave.  Shaggy and Scooby also notice that Crystal’s camera is extremely high tech. Crystal insists on going back claiming she is a government agent along with Amber. They find a cave and Scooby impersonates a rattle snake to chase away the guards.  They also find the gold.  This leads to the three aliens chasing all seven of the eight main heroes (minus Lester) and the guards join in revealing they work for them  (should have given them alien costumes too to help the charade).  For the chase scene “The Aliens are Here” is played.  The chase songs are normally loud and exciting, but this one is different. It is low, soft, and dark.  This is really good.  It ends with Velma, Daphne, and Fred caught in a net and the guards chasing the couples off a cliff. The guards chase and Velma calls one alien “Steve.”

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Not much a mystery, and thankfully it is not the real ending twist.  They are doing it for the gold and they need to smuggle it out of government property.  Immediately after explaining Steve says they are about to kill them.  Then it cuts to the guards being ready to throw Shaggy, Scooby, Crystal, and Amber off a huge ravine.  These villains are really murderous.  Supposedly this is more light than the other three early DTV Scooby movies, but with murderous villains like this, a good man losing his mind, a basic plot that has likely been done successfully (without fake monsters), and all the plot twists later I think this is besides Zombie Island the darkest one.

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Finally, I got to the most memorable scene.  When Scooby and Shaggy try to scare off the guards by using air punches Amber and Crystal reveal themselves to the guards as aliens and chase them away.  I remembered almost everything from over a decade ago, the slow walk of the guards, Amber, and Crystal looking at each other with concern, and the big drop behind them.  Granted I remembered it happening with thirty, not seventeen, minutes left, and I was one hundred percent sure it took place in daylight outside the cave, so I misremembered some details.  There is some foreshadowing like how all the alien videos of Earth are from the 1960s, so Crystal looks like she is from them and her high tech camera.  What really makes it work is how it changes the tropes of the darker Scooby films.  Instead of a real monster fighting Mystery Inc. like in the last two and Cyber Chase, a real monster is saving them.  It is no where near the twist of Zombie Island, but it is quite the scene.

They change back and the guards’ claims of aliens distract the other three letting Fred sneak out of the net.  The guards decide it must be a trick and quickly grab Shaggy and Scooby this time.  Crystal and Amber change back and not knowing who they are Scooby and Shaggy hide from the aliens.  The aliens also have great strength and take out all three muscular enemies leaving only Steve and Laura, but Steve realizes something,  Captured aliens are more valuable than the gold.  They use a mining vehicle to subdue them both since Crystal it turns out is very clumsy and trip prone, and they brought no high tech easily concealable weaponry.

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Still more threatening than the aliens from Signs.  I think this is further commentary on darker Scooby-Doo.  Humans with machines good enough to fake being monsters can defeat real monsters arguably making them more dangerous and better villains.  Crystal begs Shaggy for help making them realize who they are and using another vehicle they save them and all five villains are captured.  I think the only way for Steve to get the aliens out was to kill them since I doubt he could rely on ropes since Amber bent steel.  crystal and Amber reveal they have to go back to space and were sent to investigate alien sightings.

Of the four early installments I kept hearing this is the worst, and I had low hopes watching for the first time since I was around seven, but I had a great time watching it.  As obvious and simple as they are I think the villains are real good.  It can be so predictable at times (who the villains are), but also shocking and surprising.  The biggest problem is the quality is not consistent.  The chases, alien reveal, and Lester’s scenes are great, yet plenty of the movie is too slow giving it the opposite problems of cyber Chase.  It is very memorable and Scooby fans should give it a watch.

The Myth of Disney Competing with Itself

Scott Mendelson of Forbes recently wrote that The biggest competition Disney will face is itself.  His cited example is Christopher Robin competing with Ant-Man 2.  His post is terrible. The Disney films have been spread out and rarely in the top five at the same time.

His cited example of Robin and Ant is completely false. By the time they are both out Ant-Man will have been out for five weeks, and it will be nearly dead. Three weeks in, and it has grossed over 172 million statewide giving it plenty of time to make money, and by the time Robin comes out it should only be grossing a few million that weekend. His statement also completely ignores that Disney has hardly anything at the box office right now besides holdovers. Sony and Universal have the top three spots. Disney does have spots 4 and 5, but they also have nothing this next weekend, and Mission Impossible 6 and Teen Titans go to the Movies should become 1 and 2 this weekend meaning Disney will be stuck at 6 and 7 this weekend. Disney has little competition from themselves at this time and needs something.

He also has been claiming this has been the case all year, yet this is completely false. For the first month and a half this year Disney was solely represented by The Last Jedi, while Jumanji ruled the box office. Black Panther then became their big hit. Not until its 4th weekend did Panther have competition from Disney, and then many films came and went as number 1. When Infinity War came out Black Panther was only doing well due to its great box office legs, and it was 5 at the box office.

Solo is his best claim, but that is faulty. When Solo came out only Deadpool 2 was fresh at the box office. It won two very weak weekends and then fizzled. Incredibles II did come out quickly, but by then Solo had 3 weeks. That is enough time in the Summer months for money. It was dead by the time its Disney competition emerged. Ant-Man 2 had competition from Incredibles II, but that was needed to combat Jurassic Park 5.

Disney has done a good job at scattering their releases this year, and they have hardly competed with each other. Only A Wrinkle in Time suffered from this, and that was due to black Panther‘s great performance as the third highest grossing domestic film ever. Their film distribution schedule is doing great and the other major studios are picking up after they make good money.

DTV Wonders: The Hobbit (1977)

It is not actually Direct-to-video, but Direct-to-TV.  I decided that is close enough for the best Hobbit movie.  This is a traditional animated film by Rankin and Bass using the resources that would become Studio Ghibli.

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It opens with the book being opened and Gandalf narrating about Hobbits.  Gandalf is awesome as expected.  He is powerful, yet wise.

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Bilbo is much fatter than he is in Peter Jackson’s version, and he is more aggravated to realize a wizard came to him.  The Dwarves immediately show up and sing “That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates.”  They eat all his food quickly.  Like in Jackson’s version Bilbo is scared of dying, but unlike Jackson’s films he is immediately interested in seeing the rest of Middle Earth.

 

The Song “Greatest Adventure plays when he sleeps. He early on wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes he wants to go when he stares at the full moon like nature is calling for him to go.  He then dream about being a king with everyone loving him at the lyrics “a man who’s a dreamer…” The song describes what he will not find if he stays like passion and fun.  This is a great credit song and it only comes in about nine minutes into the movie.

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Once they actually start leaving Bilbo quickly misses his home and tries to comfort himself by thinking of it.  It gets worse when Thorin, the Dwarf leader, pressures him into robbing trolls.  In Jackson’s version the trolls had already robbed them, but here they were not bothering them at all, as Rankin and Bass used a more negative portrayal of the dwarves.  I think that is more accurate to the book.  Bilbo is caught and then the rest of the dwarves, but Bilbo escapes to a cave since the trolls are okay with losing the teeny snack.  So far so good, useful wizard and everyone else is useless like in Tolkien’s book.  Gandalf saves them, and while Thorin is mad at Bilbo, he did find the cave of the trolls’ treasure which includes swords.  Here another distinction occurs between the animated and live-action dwarves.  The animated ones seem to have no weapons before now or plan at all.  They really are helpless without Bilbo and Gandalf.  Even worse Thorin has no map reading abilities.  When Gandalf leaves Thorin gets them to sleep in a cave which is “the perfect place.”

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They are all captured, but Bilbo again escapes.  The dwarves are saved by Gandalf, while Bilbo is lost and confronted by Gollum.  Gollum’s voice cannot compare to Andy Serkis’s performance or his great performance is Bakshi’s film, but his design is notably different in a good way. He looks like a frog-human hybrid, and he looks like a physical threat.  The riddle game goes like it does in the books, and Bilbo uses his new magic ring to escape.

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In one scene a dwarf saves Bilbo from Wargs, and I think this is the only time a dwarf is helpful.  At Mirkwood forest Gandalf leaves and appoints Bilbo as his surrogate and group scribe.

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Bilbo is forced to climb a tree.  “I couldn’t argue.  My contract is vague on several points.”  A funny attack on loopholes there, and when he sees how pretty Mirkwood looks he realizes he wants to be there adventuring, not back in his home, a huge change from the beginning of the film.  Unfortunately the rest of Mirkwood is not well made by the film.  He saves the dwarves from spiders, but the stabbing animation is bad making the scene pale compared to its book counterpart.  Also “the wood elves have returned.”  That appearance was deleted making a plot hole.

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Also they look nothing like Elrond, and this design is not good.  Fortunately getting them out is a great scene demonstrating Bilbo’s intelligence, the rivalry between dwarves and elves, and it is ironically way less cartoony than the live-action version.  One notable thing is the movie is only seventy-seven minutes long.  The dwarves are mostly extras (which is better than they were in Jackson’s version).  At Laketown the people also get demoted to extra.  Only their future king seems to have lines, as they are just a brief stop.

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Bilbo on the mountain befriends a bird, the Thrush.  He finds the entrance to the mountain in a much better scene than what Jackson used due to the better pacing.  Then Thorin says Bilbo needs to go earn his 1/14th of the treasure.  That is how it happened in the book where Thorin ignores all Bilbo has done for them, and Bilbo points out his contract never said he had to save them from spiders and elves.  to his disappointment nobody comes to help except Thrush.

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Smaug here is magnificent.  Instead of a generic dragon design he looks like a mammal.  His actor Richard Boone, makes him sound like he is from a Western, and it works for something so powerful.  Some find his design too fat, but I did notice until a few watches.  He does decide the burglar is from Laketown.  To save them Bilbo sends the Thrush to warn them about his one weak spot, which results in their future king slaying the dragon. Back with the company only Bilbo shows any interest in the men’s safety, and Bilbo begins to act like the leader.  When the dragon attacks he guides them to safety and gets everyone else in first.  He then leads them to he gate out against Thorin’s will.  It ends with the Battle of the Five Armies.  No dragon sickness it is just the dwarves are greedy, the elf king wants his old treasure despite having been a pain, and the men feel entitled to something after killing the dragon. Bilbo wants to give up fractions of the treasure since there is plenty, but Thorin says he does not understand war.  These few minutes have more weight than the last Hobbit film.  Bilbo hopes to be captured resulting in Thorin calling him a coward.  Bilbo responds that he has been heroic while Thorin has hid. Gandalf then warns them about the attacking goblins.  Humorously the three kings then call each other their closest friends and brothers, as they join against a common enemy.  In the book only three dwarves die.  Here seven die.  Thorin thanks Bilbo for his work, as Bilbo arrives back at the Shire with some gold and the film ends with the ring shining indicating a sequel made by different people.

The animation is the weakness.  I like the designs, but movement and fighting are lackluster, and it sticks out at times that they were squeezing their dimes.

I hate to keep putting down Jackson’s work (especially with all the good he has done for the books), but this is better than his trilogy.  Bilbo does not become a side character, the plot is faster paced, elves do not take over, it has better humor, very good songs, interesting designs mostly, and it always felt faithful to the children’s story it was based off.

 

 

 

Why Solo Failed at the Box Office

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Solo: A Star Wars Story is likely going to be the first Star wars film to lose money at the box office.  It was projected to make plenty of money right away and have great legs. but it has been failing at both.  All Stars Wars movies had opened huge, and the other studios did not put major films to compete with it.  Instead it opened to hugely disappointing numbers.  Many theories have came out about its failure, and most are nonsense.

It did not bomb

This is false.  some defenders have praised it for having the fourth highest opening weekend of the year (it will almost certainly not be in the top 10 when the year ends). Others are saying it is only underperforming as a Star Wars movie.  Even they have to admit it is failing badly by Star Wars standards, but it is failing by more than that.  It went over budget and conservative estimates say it cost $250 million dollars.  By movie economics and hidden expenses it needs to make around $500 million worldwide to make money. Two weekends in and it has made $260 million.  Its legs are getting weaker and it is finally getting competition.  Domestically for a film that expensive it is doing poorly.  a film with a $150 million budget would be good with it, but not a film this expensive.  Its worldwide numbers have been abysmal.  The same $150 million dollar film would be unhappy with its worldwide numbers.

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Too much competition

This is also a common myth. some are saying it is Avengers: Infinity war and Deadpool 2 that killed it.  These claims are ignoring the basics of the summer season with movies.  Normally a major film comes out the weekend before (like Deadpool 2), and another major film opens the next week. No major films opened this weekend, as studios are still shying away from putting big films in competition with Star Wars.  These past two weekends Avengers made less than $30 million being on its 5th and 6th weekend.  The Newer Deadpool film made over $60 million, but that is not that much for top competition in the Summer over half a month.  At this time when the top film makes less than $30 million over a weekend it is a very light three day period.

Boycotters

The last Star Wars film alienated many fans.  Disney called them insignificant, but they now seem very significant.  This is definitely part of its failure, but I doubt they are eighty percent of the fanbase.  They may have been the group most likely to watch Solo.  Most of the boycotters love Han and the original trilogy, and they like their films more lighthearted than the fans of The Last Jedi.

Star Wars Fatigue

This is probably part of the reason.  See how bad it is affecting Marvel.  Black Panther and Avengers 3 are in theaters at the same time way closer together, and they are… Actually they are two of the highest grossing films ever now.

What I think the Reason is

Selling a film depends on having a base, and the base for Solo is Han Solo fans.  They love Han, but they also love a certain thing about him that the movie has none of, Harrison Ford.  This is the first time a live-action character has been recast with lines in Star Wars, and it is the Star Wars actor who had the best career.  the fans did not want to see someone else be Han, and they were mad at Disney for killing him.

 

DTV Wonders: Lilo and Stitch 2

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In my review of Stitch the Movie I praised the Lilo and Stitch franchise, but sadly that is in spite of this film.  It has the major flaws direct-to-video films are notorious for, new actors who are distractingly different and a mess of plots that do not go together.

The creators’ records are mixed.  The cast from the first film is back, except for Lilo’s actress.  Theo Leondis is the writer and his directorial debut is here.  He previously was an assistant writer on other DTV sequels. He wrote Kronk’s New Groove and directed and co-wrote …The Emoji Movie.  Writing and directing is expected to be a weakness.

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It starts with a dream Stitch is having where he is flying and shooting the island.  Then Lilo tells… him to stop, and that is the first problem.  Lilo’s actress was too busy with the show to reprise her role, and Dakota Fanning took over. She sounds very much like an eighteen year old and nothing like Lilo.  It is just jarring hearing her voice from Lilo’s body.

Lilo convinces him that he is just worried about turning bad, and he is really good. She uses his chart to show it.

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The chart is a plot device for showing how good or bad the characters view Stitch. When no one else is around Stitch’s eyes glow green and he breaks things to show the main plot. Then “Hawaiian Roller Coaster” plays. Some viewers prefer sequels reusing old songs, but I prefer new ones. It is a matter of preference.

Two new plots are then introduced. Lilo is in a hula competition involving making an original dance around a them showing “ohana.” She wants to win partly to beat Myrtle, and partly because her mom won it years ago. Another plot is Lilo is fighting and the hula teacher threatens to ban her from the competition if she does not control her violent behavior. Three plots is not too much, as two can easily mirror each other, but sadly the film keeps adding them.

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Pleakley tells David that his romantic spark with Nani is gone. He plays Cyrano to try and get it back, and besides some bad whispering it is very bad comic relief. It is usually unfunny and it just interrupts the plot.   Another plot is added when Jumba realizes what is wrong with Stitch. He tells Pleakley, as they work on building the machine that will fix them. The logical choice is to tell the family. Stitch would volunteer to be locked up to not hurt anyone, as everyone helps them make it until the glitch kills Stitch (I think just turning him evil would be better). Instead they tell no one and hide from Nani why they are taking appliances to build the machine slowing them down. This happens as Pleakley spends more time working with David, whose life is not at risk, than saving Stitch’s life. They have some failures and then build the machine.

Lilo’s plot on not fighting is the worst done. At one point Stitch’s glitching gets her in trouble, and she is banned from the contest. Then she is in it. The actual contest plot has its own big issue. they already did it in the show, where it was done better, not good but better. Lilo being very mean is just not entertaining, and it ends with her leaving the contest to help the main plot anyway.

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Stitch’s glitching is the only plot with any interest, and it has a problem in concept. He is evil by design, not free will. Jumba specially states “it is not his fault.” It should have been about old habits or something he had control over, meaning his problems are a result of his failures. I think the writer might be a hardcore determinist.

There are two good parts. One is a montage of Stitch doing good deeds to bring his goodness back up like feeding a bird worms from his mouth. The other is when he fights with Lilo. It is just good seeing him making mistakes by his own free will like he should have been all movie. Those small insults have more weight than all the glitching, because he has the ability to stop it.

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At the end Jumba builts the magic device, but Stitch then tries to leave the planet in the ship, which has the device. The family just drops the other plots (why were they around in the first place then!) to save him. Stitch does not know the machine will save him, and he starts dying and the ship crashes. Lilo puts him in it, and the film expects us to believe he is dead (he looks asleep to me. He is alive of course, and the film ends.

This film is really, really bad. It is worse than Dragonheart II, and one of the worst films I have reviewed. Only one plot has any danger, and that makes the other four seem so insignificant. Some films like The Land Before Time VII have insignificant plots, but they work, because they are all the same level of importance making the whole film seem important. This films only has one plot that seems like anything important.

Worse off, this is only 68 minutes long, yet it is so padded. With a good TV series going on, these should have been episodes instead. It hardly feels like a movie.