Wednesday, March 22, 2017

March 22, 2017 - WB's Death March, or 'Twas Warner Killed the Beast?

There's an old saying about alcoholics:  It's never about the drink already in your glass, it's always about the NEXT one.

With last weekend's current headline raving over the record-setting opening for Disney's live-action "Beauty & the Beast", think we can say that Warner's big record-setting opening from the weekend before has been duly upstaged.  I'm not proud of it, as Disney's current attempt to cash in on every single fan-iconic title, sensical or non, seems to have been done for the exact same motivation as Warner's--But for good or bad, the damage seems to have been done, and it's all over but for the post-mortems:
"Kong: Skull Island", which Warner hoped would be the flagship for their new "Monster-verse" in connection with upcoming "Godzilla" and "Pacific Rim" sequels, took a hefty 53% dip in second-week audience.  March Geek-Week, with only a precious two weeks at best to stoke the fires, is the traditional time to excite teen audiences into a big front-loaded opening, and those who went in search of that opening the first weekend found their urges satisfied.  Now the burden is on the movie itself the second weekend, to see whether or not the reviews held, and the reviews for Kong were mediocre at best.

Warner had fanboy-armies-on-the-March very much in mind when it scheduled Kong for a potential Spring Break weekend, much in the same way they had strategically hoped to front-load comics fans to create the new DC Comics Universe with "Batman v. Superman", last March 2016 at this time.  In fairness to the big ape, Kong's fate wasn't quite the disaster that that previous attempt creating New Warner Universes became, or at least it's not likely to be remembered as longer in audience legend.

But factoring in Warner's hopes to build a new "American Wizardry" universe out of a front-loaded opening for "Fantastic Beasts" last November, and now rumors that Warner wants to explore "side stories and spinoffs" for their next remaining marketing icon, "The Matrix", it raises a real question:  When was the last time you saw Warner make just one movie?  
And it stops becoming a joke when you literally wonder whether they've finally forgotten how.

Warner's new Kong wasn't exactly following in the "Hollywood legacy" of the 30's, 70's and 00's versions before it:
In 1933, director Merian C. Cooper, with producer Ernest Schoedsack, had the one image in mind when they created the movie--Pitting the Eighth Wonder of the World against the current newly-built Seventh one, NYC's Empire State Building.  Cooper himself had already been famous as the globe-trotting documentarian who brought the world to silent audiences with depictions of faraway Asian life in 1925's "Grass" and 1927's "Chang"--and later sent audiences down a widescreen rollercoaster in 1952's "This is Cinerama"--and when Cooper's story created Robert Armstrong's character of globe-trotting cinematic showman Carl Denham, no points for guessing who he had in mind.  When Edgar Wallace's treatment brought Fay Wray's character into the story, all of a sudden, the big ape was now in love, and destroying Manhattan to protect the love of a girl...Cooper even had to invent the "Arabic proverb" about beauty and a beast for the opening of the story, since it bore little resemblance to the more familiar French tale.  (The contemporary irony is noted.)

The romance of the big ape and his handheld cutie is probably what we remember most about the story.  It was (rather clumsily) the focus of Dino DeLaurentiis's 1976 version, that didn't know whether it wanted to be a 70's disaster movie, and Peter Jackson's 2005 version went all out to keep a 30's-stylized NYC at the "tragic" spiritual heart of the story.
When Warner gave us their version, they certainly played up the aspect of strange prehistoric creatures on the island, in gloriously realistic CGI, and the idea that Kong was big.  They did, however, leave out a few important elements.  Like the romance.  Or New York, for that matter.
The new movie, meant to be a chronological "prequel" to the events in Legendary Pictures's 2014 "Godzilla" remake, is set during the Vietnam 70's.  Robert Armstrong and Jack Black aren't going to the fog-shrouded island to make a movie, and Charles Grodin isn't going there to look for oil--The plot involves Samuel L. Jackson looking to rescue downed fliers in the Pacific, and discovering old survivor John C. Reilly, who proceeds to give them all the backstory necessary to get the sequels going.  He even offers an explanation for why Kong is now ten times bigger than he was in the previous movie versions, which Warner had hoped to establish, otherwise he might not be able to fight Godzilla in future sequels.
(The "Vietnam movie" ambition was so thick, the IMAX-release poster literally parodied 1979's "Apocalypse Now" poster, just to rub the movie's artistic hero-worship in the audience's face..."Yeah, smartypants, we MEANT to do that!--'Oh, the gorilla, the gorilla!"")
Brie Larson does play a female character in the more contemporary spirit of Fay Wray, but with the new size ratios, the romance element is reduced to a few scenes at best before we're back to battling more reptilian "Skull Crawlers" in glorious CGI-effects again.  Oh, and suffice to say the ape doesn't tragically fall off of anything at the end, otherwise it might be difficult to establish the new Film Universe.

In short, "Kong: Skull Island" was not a movie that was meant to be seen by itself--Like the Batman movie the year before, it was a movie created for no other purpose than to create other movies.  If it leaves viewers unsatisfied, it's supposed to be the potato chip of which you are not intended to eat only one.
It was not a movie made to pay tribute to classics from 1933.  It was a movie made to pay tribute to Toho monster battles from 1962, as that was all that Warner could associate with Kong's name once someone at the studio mentioned Godzilla.  That, and the fact that Toho could mix and match them at will.

Every studio has been seeking the Philosopher's touchstone in trying to find "The next crossover universe", where you can make films without having to write them, or even to end them before making another.  Warner was particularly spoiled in that their biggest hit sequel franchises for the past sixteen years since 2001--Harry Potter, and his seven bestselling novels, and Lord of the Rings, with its epic trilogy--left the studio temporarily set-for-life throughout the 00's, with a total of eleven whole movies that you could make without worrying about whether or not the audience would go see...And most importantly, whose plots were each open-ended enough to string out their audience like Flash Gordon in a 30's afternoon serial and say "Well, we've GOT to make the next one, don't we folks?" with a greedy wink to their knowing fans.
But Harry fought Voldemort and graduated Hogwarts, and Sam returned home to the Shire without Mr. Frodo.  The literary franchises came to a story-completed end as their books did, and after an entire generation on the rush of their own addiction, Warner was now forced to make new franchises out of thin air, and make it look as if we, the audience, were now clamoring for the next.  So they did what every other studio did, Sony, Paramount, Universal and Fox included:  Copy what Marvel's comic-book movies were doing, and hope another "universe" came out of it.

The problem with hoping to emulate Marvel Studios in everything they do is that, well, they already had a backlog of stories, building up like a dam in print for fifty years, and the only finger in the Movie/TV crack throughout the entire 70's and 80's had been our cultural jokes at the expense of Bill Bixby and Howard the Duck.  And then, after Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi, Jon Favreau, and finally Marvel's print company deciding to take the initiative and rescue their Studios back from the ruinations of Ang Lee, the dam burst, and the floods began.
Marvel wants to tell those stories that they hadn't been able to since the mid-60's, but the problem of all that water-pressure starting to build up was that those fan-legendary stories started to interconnect:   It's not that they wanted to leap into the franchise-production game and tell six stories at once, it's that you COULDN'T properly tell the character complexity of of one of the major pop-cultural stories without telling five other historic stories to explain it, or telling those other five stories first so that the one story would (finally) make sense.  It's something they, well, couldn't help.
If they wanted to homage the historically pivotal "Civil War" print-comic storyline, and throw in "We see a deeper romantic relationship developing for the Vision", a non-reader would say, who's the Vision?  Well, you remember when Ultron tried to take over...Who's Ultron?  Well, that was when Dr. Henry Pym tried to invent...Who's Dr. Pym, and why's he so angry?  Well, back when he was on the team as Ant-Man...Who's Ant-Man?  Well, he was already on the team when they found Captain America in the ice, and.....ohh, let's start over:  Y'see, first there was WWII...

The reason Warner--or Fox, or Sony, or Universal--can't be like their role-models is because they're missing the key ingredient:  The stories were already THERE.  That's what made it so "easy" for Warner with Harry and Frodo on their side, and gave them that rush of overconfidence in the first place.
Maybe Marvel's adventures had the "licensed property" advantage of being about characters we already knew, and the entertainment advantage that nobody on the street knew what happened in those stories and was eager to find out, but the point is, they already existed as a cultural reference, with other stories to refer to.  Nobody had to Make Up Crap.
And for Warner, whose deep personal insecurities are like the ocean trenches, that's exactly the problem:  Everyone knows their stories, probably because they were already done better in generations past...And also, occasionally, done worse.  So now they must do them differently.  And the most unique way to do that, and stage pre-emptive strikes on the audience's expectations while satisfying them, is do a new, contemporary twist on the material!  Which is often usually accomplished by Making Up Crap.

The "alcoholic" metaphor at the beginning seems to be there for a reason:  Warner doesn't seem to know how to satisfy itself, or how to satisfy the audience with ONE film anymore...It began to rely too much on the next, and the next, and now it needs the next, and the next.  And in chasing the next and the next, it has lost interest in finding any other purpose to its existence.
Maybe an addict can live for the unsatisfied thrill of knowing that the next feed to his rush is coming, but very few of us can live in a perpetually strung-out state--It's often a good feeling to for us moviegoers see a story told to its satisfying end, and walk out knowing that we've been somewhere adventurous, come back safe, and not know where the next story will take us.  
Warner, in their deep terror of a movie we might, gasp, not pay to see, wants exactly the opposite:  They want us to line up to see exactly the movie we expected to see, because we know it will be exactly as good as the last one, and to have exactly the next movie in mind when they tease it to us in the post-credits scene, for that big front-loaded super-opening weekend in March, November or May...We expect it from the brand name, after all.

But then, there's another old saying about the alcoholic:  They always want everyone ELSE in the room to have a drink, too.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

March 5, 2017 - The March Madness of Geek-Week

Ask studios what are the most greedily sought-after release dates of the year, and you get several answers:
The first week in May, of course, for the first big summer-blockbuster.  July 4 weekend, going back to those old 90's days of the Transformers and ID4.  The first week in November is the coveted spot to seek the Christmas family films, and Avatar, Tolkien and Star Wars have since turned the week before Christmas into a billion-dollar sci-fi fan convention.  
And last but not least, of course...the second and third weeks in March.

Cue the audience saying "Huh?  Sure you're not talking about the basketball thing?"  No, I'm not talking about the basketball thing.
For the past ten years--celebrating the anniversary this year--middle-March has become a strategic and necessary staked tentpole for studios to court specific high-school and college-aged fanboy and fangirl audiences with the week off for Easter vacation or Spring Break, to provide them with their own fan-niche targeted blockbusters that might not otherwise have universal appeal during May or June.  They're only out of their cages for a week or two, so grab your nets and catch them, before they go back in again!
And thus the tradition of "March Geek-Week" was born.  So what is Geek-Week?  Well, right now, as the detergent-selling manicurist used to say, you're soaking in it.

Up to about ten years ago, March, like February, was not particularly in high demand.
January, with snowbound audiences, and theaters looking for any excuse to clean out their empty December-movie screens, was the time for studios to clean out their wastebaskets and unload their trash--Usually either minor horror movies, or misfired studio projects that had already had their release dates delayed twice already out of panic, and that the studios hoped would disappear under the radar and under the rug.
February was considered an extension of the winter-cleaning, with the exception of a few movies that tried playing the "Valentine's Day" programming (which explains why nobody went to see the Fifty Shades movies on the second week)--Until Disney discovered that February also had Presidents'-holiday school vacations, and was a good excuse to float a family-movie that wasn't meant to last very long.  Which it usually didn't, once vacations were over, and the key audience was back in school again.

March and April were considered a time to grab some audiences out on Easter vacation, and maybe give them a big-budget movie that was meant to be disposable (if Disney delayed "The Alamo" till April, you could write your reviews from there), and maybe tide desperate two-months-starved audiences over with a little quick snack until the "real" summer movies hit on Memorial Day.
But that release ethic was suddenly changed in 2007...BY SPARTA!!

Nothing creates an instant overnight phenomenon than a movie that nobody can figure out why it becomes a hit, and creates fear, awe and superstition--That, in a nutshell, is the founding idea that all the "core" Geek-Week classics share.  
Warner, in particular, didn't have much faith in "300", a bizarrely over-stylized tribute to a pretentious Frank Miller comic graphic-novel story, by a young promising comic-fanboy director named Zack Snyder.  (Who had previously shown such promise with an "unwanted" Dawn of the Dead remake with core-fan audiences in March '04, and was therefore a "lucky charm")--Particularly after "Sin City" hadn't exactly brought out the core Frank Miller fans in droves.  But the fans had heard of it, and those who hadn't were curious to look at it anyway, and came out quoting all the cool cult lines.  With little or no competition in theaters to stop them, except for studios' spring disposal bins of cheap horror and Will Ferrell comedies, the 300 Spartans of Thermopylae became...unstoppable.  
And in Hollywood, the rule is, "If you can't beat 'em, pledge eternal loyalty and obedience."

Now, to understand Geek Week, here's where we need to get back to the fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant:
Like the six blind men feeling the ear and saying "It's a fan!", or feeling the trunk and saying "It's a snake!", studios tried to feel around 300's success without standing back and looking at the whole beast.  One blind studio exec felt the plot and said "This 300-phant is a new generation sword-and-sandals epic!" and proceeded to remake "Clash of the Titans" for spring.  Another blind studio exec (ahemwarner) felt the comic-core audience, said, "It's clear to anyone, this 300-phant is the success of Zack Snyder graphic-novel movies!", and immediately gave Snyder the keys to fanboy-faithful adaptations of "Watchmen" and "Sucker Punch".
But then, in 2010, an even bigger, more titanic elephant stampeded trumpeting into the room:  Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland".  Here was an elephant with a dozen different parts to feel, and months to spend feeling them:  A Tim Burton core-fan targeted movie (back before Alice, Burton fans were still devoted zombies hoping his next "weird" movie would bring back "The Nightmare Before Christmas"), with fangirl fave Johnny Depp front and center on the poster (no, he wasn't playing Alice), and the glorious lure-promise of Dark Burton-esque Weirdness with the fairytale.  Any one of the reasons would have made it a fan-cult juggernaut for HS/college vacation week, and here we had three, to start with.  If you needed a clue, you could have spent some time at the Disneyland parks, watching fangirls Instagramming themselves in the mock-Depp Mad Hatter cosplay hats they'd simply had to pick up.
And the more money it made, on into April, the more the blind men started feeling until their hands were sore:  This Alice-phant is clearly a big-budget, candy-colored CGI epic, with all the money Disney can pour into it!  It's a "re-examination" of classic stories, with CGI coming out of its ears!  Nonsense!--It's a DARK version of fairytales, and just look at all those girls swoon dreamy sighs...Quick, get those Snow White adaptations ready, and polish up those glass coffins!

And The Hunger Games?  Well, let's not get into that.  We'll assume everyone knows by now there's a reason why Lionsgate or Summit tries forcing YA-novel franchises on us every March, even after 2014's "The Fault in Our Stars" turned out to be the bigger summer YA-cult reader hit gone to the screen.  (Self-martyring YA-reader teens now dream about terminal illness; crossbows, tournaments and government dystopias have Had It.)

Okay, so the name's cheating a bit--It's not really a week.  It actually lasts the whole month long, and sometimes into the first weekend of April, since studios have the two problems of:
A) Seven studios each trying to cram ONE lovingly groomed niche-targeted blockbuster into the same two or three-week period, and 
B) Nobody really knows for certain which week high-schools and colleges have off for break, as it can often vary from one state or school to another.  At least, y'know, it's sometime in that general ballpark.
And, of course, competing with the non-Disney family studios, like Dreamworks, that want to grab elementary and middle-school Easter-weekend audiences with their big animated/family tentpoles that staked out their release territory.  Which starts to get a little crowded in the room.
Together or separately, the studios feel that to crack the Mystery of Geek Week, superstition dictates that they must provide:
  1. A CGI-heavy action blockbuster
  2. A CGI-heavy period-fantasy blockbuster,
  3. A long-awaited cult-comic or videogame adaptation that mainstream audiences haven't heard of
  4. A dark fangirl fairytale, heavy on the romance, and
  5. The latest core chapter in a YA cult-novel series.  (Which, after Allegiant, the studios have since wisely decided to cut back on, and move to streaming-miniseries to cut their losses instead.)
That's five movies, minimum, each year, in the space of one month, that studios believe they're obligated to release, regardless of audience demand.  The competition is fierce, the budgets are high stakes, and the dogs that lose the fights lose a lot more than their tails.

A brief lineup of the targeted March Geek-Week movies, their release dates, and final domestic US box-office grosses, from 2007-2016:
  • 300 - 3/9/07 - $210M
  • 10,000 BC - 3/7/08 - $94M
  • Watchmen - 3/6/09 - $107M
  • Alice in Wonderland 3/5/10 - $334M
  • Battle: Los Angeles- 3/11/11 - $83M
  • Red Riding Hood - 3/11/11 - $37M
  • Sucker Punch - 3/25/11 - $36M
  • John Carter - 3/9/12 -  $73M*
  • The Hunger Games 3/23/12 - $408M
  • Wrath of the Titans - 3/30/12 - $83M
  • Mirror, Mirror - 3/30/12 - $64M
  • Jack the Giant Slayer - 3/1/13 - $65M
  • Oz the Great & Powerful - 3/10/13 $234M
  • Olympus Has Fallen - 3/24/13 - $98M
  • GI Joe: Retaliation - 3/29/13 - $122M
  • The Host - 3/29/13 - $26M
  • 300: Rise of an Empire - 3/7/14 - $106M
  • Need For Speed - 3/14/14 - $43M
  • Noah - 3/28/14 - $101M
  • Cinderella (live-action) - 3/13/15 - $201M
  • Divergent: Insurgent - 3/20/15 - $130M
  • London Has Fallen - 3/4/16 - $62M
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane - 3/11/16 - $72M
  • Divergent - Allegiant - 3/18/16 - $66M
  • Batman v. Superman - 3/25/16 - $330M*
As you can see, it's not exactly the Yellow Brick Road to riches, even for Oz, the Great & Powerful.  
(Although it was necessary to put a baseball-asterisk on two of the statistics, as  "John Carter" was considered to have been sabotaged by a marketing campaign so disastrous it helped cost the chief Disney studio exec his job, and "Batman v. Superman" was idealistically and artificially boosted by a small, angry Trump-like core of downtrodden DC Comics fans that wanted to prove their numbers and identity to the world, in the hopes they'd get that cool Wonder Woman movie next year.)
It's a myth that studios continue to bet the farm pursuing, and often losing, possibly for the simple reason why studios DO put such blind faith in an over-marketed movie:  They were so caught up in "properties" and release dates, they simply didn't know their audiences.

Leaving aside the quality, or lack of, the movies (and in "Noah"'s case, that's saying a lot), there are more problems with releasing a movie in March than there are rewards to it:
1) It's not summer.  Theaters don't have as many afternoon screenings when the kids aren't out of school for long terms, and less chances to do business in a day.  And if you're recouping a movie with almost three times the gross of its $150M budget, you're going to want as MANY screenings available as you can get.
2) It's not forever, and it's not on the calendar.  Since nobody's quite sure which week schools have off, as it's not a national holiday, it becomes like Spring Break tourism in Ft. Lauderdale and Cancun in that weeks can differ from one college to the next.  You'll get some movie business the entire month, but not the all of May orJuly.  And if the majority of common vacation time is one week, that ain't much.
3) You're targeting a movie to only a select front-loaded group of people who care and will be in line the first week only, fully knowing few normal mainstream civilians will be there on the second.  Again, a big-budget movie can't afford to be choosy, even when that was pretty much the purpose of the movie going in.
It's going All-In on a high-stakes poker match with two pairs, and you'd better be able to afford to lose.  Because someone's going to.

Which brings us to March Geek-Week Madness, 2017:  
In this bracket, Fox's critically well-received but prohibitively R-rated "Logan" for the comic readers, Disney's much hyped "Beauty & the Beast" for the dreamy fairytale-fangirls, "Kong:Skull Island", for Warner to blitz us with CGI Action 'N Stuff, and launch their new "Monster-verse" (their name, not mine), Lionsgate's "Power Rangers" reboot, for the cult-fan love, and Paramount's American live-action remake of "Ghost in the Shell", which every cult Japanese-anime fan will be demanding that civilians go see, and if not, well, Hollywood always ruins 'em anyway.
Five films courting for those TWO slots of #1 and 2 at the running box office, with the #3 and 4 films out of the running overnight, never mind what happens to #5.

Who's got game?  Place your bets, folks, we're still in the quarter-finals.  
And as you can see from the list, don't feel sorry for the losers.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

February 26, 2017 - Who Killed The Oscars?

Growing up in the 70's, I don't know why I was so determined to stay up and watch (some wretchedly small part of) the Oscars on a Monday school night:  
I was in 3rd or 4th grade, and had no idea what a Cabaret, Godfather, Towering Inferno or Clockwork Orange was supposed to be, nor would I probably be allowed to see them if I had.  Maybe that was the reason, so that I could watch the few mysterious out-of-context clips of the movies that had been nominated.

Later, in the late 70's, after Star Wars hit, and into the glorious Big 80's, we all became more interested in movies, and we'd be rooting for movies that we'd all actually seen.  (Gandhi, you did NOT deserve to take it from E.T., and you know it!)  It was probably the last decade that spoiled us for good, thrilling, nail-biting competition among Best Picture and Actors that you wanted to see win, because it was just a matter of instinct that they would when you walked out of the movie.
I remember the bragging-rights "in-your-face" thrill in the betting pools of sticking up for "Amadeus" in '85 when every important person was so emotionally moved by "The Killing Fields"...And listening to every pundit and fellow pool-snob in '04 say "The Academy will never give it to 'Return of the King' because they hate fantasy, smart money's on Sean Penn and Mystic River!"  (Oh, friend, you are so going to lose your money to me, and you are going to beg forgiveness on Tuesday morning...)

And then...something happened.  Right after that thrilling "Return of the King" in-your-face win, as a matter of fact.  All of a sudden, the Oscar Best Picture races turned really, really boring, with a lot of movies nobody had really gone out of their way to see, and while you still tuned in if you were a movie fan, it was for more of the "Oh, so that's what that was" experience.
It wasn't just the movies' fault.  (Well, not really.)  The show producers kept going to crazier and crazier hosts trying to find, as Anne Hathaway and James Franco said, "the Young, Hip Oscars!" to figure out why the show's TV ratings and audience interest was going down.  In the old days, there was no such thing as a "too long" show. 
It never occurred to the producers to suspect foul play, and to search for who had cruelly taken away our one uniting reason to be American movie fans every year.

There are three suspects for us to apply, as the Belgian detective said, the little gray cells, in our search for a most cruel and cold-blooded murderer of the little naked gold man:

The Prime Suspect:  Harvey Weinstein  

Some of us remember 1996--The year that consisted of THREE arthouse nominees (with the mainstream "Fargo" and "Jerry Maguire" pushed to the back), and "The English Patient" winning Best Picture for Miramax more or less by default, since it was the one that "looked" the most like an Oscar Best Picture.  (All those deserts and period British army uniforms just sort of reminded us of Lawrence of Arabia.)  
Probably more of us remember tearing up our Oscar-pool bets when Miramax's "Shakespeare in Love" surprise-upset the had-to-win favorite of Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" to take 1998's Picture, even beating out Miramax's own "Life is Beautiful".

By that point, Miramax's ego, like Harvey's legendary own, determined that they had a place in EVERY Oscar ceremony, and turned "Oscar-bait" into the cynical and calculated art-form it now is.
Harvey put the studio's money behind full blitzes of For Your Consideration campaigns from the very beginning of the seasons, and usually for the exact same movie every year:  For most of the 90's, if Miramax let Lasse Hallstrom direct a heartwarming film that year, you knew why.  Kevin Spacey in '01's dreary "The Shipping News" became the symbol of Miramax's attempt to rush the bouncer at the velvet rope every year--If not that "In the Bedroom" had had an actual critical reception behind it after its Sundance showing that year, without the studio's "help".  
It became a little more noticeable when Hugh Jackman, in his '09 hosting gig, got laughs for singing what every other voter said with his screener:  "'The Reader', 'The Reader', I haven't seen 'The Reader'..."

The Academy now had a common enemy and a common goal:  SHUT HARVEY UP.  
A rule change in 2005 shortened the voting period by one month to announce the nominees in January instead of February, and give the awards at the end of February instead of March, and give FYC campaigns one less month to drown voters' desks in paper.  It didn't work.
Overworked movie technicians and actors, who already had little enough time to keep up with their screeners, and focus attention on the buzz-favorites, now had one less month to either pick their screenings carefully, or just guess at the rest.  And who got the most buzz-rumor exposure?
Well, given by the fact that the Weinstein Company's "The King's Speech" still won in 2010, beating out their own competition for "The Fighter", the rule change didn't exactly keep the Weinsteins out the door, even after Miramax and TWC had already gone under as release companies.  You just can't kill a cockroach, because ten more come out of the woodwork.

The Accused Suspect:  Batman, aka the Dark Knight  

If there was one movie that quickly became "Not Our Best Picture!" for a lack of wide public enthusiasm in 2008, it was "Slumdog Millionaire".  The feel-good attempt at do-it-yourself Bollywood had its supporters among the early voting, but seeing Pixar take Best Animated Feature for four of the last seven years running began to feel not so much unfair to the other Best Animated nominees as unfair to Pixar--Specifically, many viewers felt that Pixar's "Wall-E" could have beaten the pants off the dancing Indian game-show contestant in a fair bare-knuckles Best Picture fight.
And then there was the other faction objecting to it:  The DC Comics fans, still in love with Christopher Nolan's "deconstruction" of superhero movies in '08's "The Dark Knight", angrily wondered why it hadn't been given every award in existence, and a wreath of unspoiled laurels anointed on Heath Ledger's posthumous head.  (Well, at least they got that one.)  
More to the point in either case, it started bringing up the question among audiences, why were the "real" mainstream studio films starting to disappear from the Best Picture nominations?  Where was the fun of betting on Amadeus, Chicago or Return of the King, when we were more obsessed with making sure "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" didn't win?

The Academy started to notice, as well.  In 2008, they revised the rules in the hopes of giving voters more "freedom" in making more personal selections--
The Best Picture nominations were now expanded to eight to ten nominees (hoping to capture some of the more diverse Hollywood populism of the Golden Globes having five Best Dramas and five Best Comedy/Musicals), and voting was now assembled on a "points" basis of multiple-ranked movie selections--As Oscar-watcher site Vox explains in detail:

This did have one benefit:  The new voting made deliberate allowances for voters to sponsor one vote for an animated Best Picture nominee, and the Pixar supporters immediately made for lost time making sure that '09's "Up" and '10's "Toy Story 3" made the lists over the next two years.
But what happened was the reverse:  Voters now had one less month to choose twice as many selections.  The selection started becoming a bit less selective, and more guessing on reputation to fill out the lists.  If rumor said that "District 9 has a social theme!" or "Tarantino is back with Inglorious Basterds", hey, might as well, got a few spaces left.
The nominations soon became reflecting desperation and rumor rather than achievement, and well...WE civilians were already handling the desperate rumor-guessing, thank you, we didn't need the professionals to do it for us, too.

The Accidental Suspect:  The Hollywood Foreign Press Association  

Y'know, I can remember not so long ago--let's say twenty to twenty-five years ago, back in the mid-90's--when the very words "the Golden Globes" would make people snigger their milk in sudden laughingstock giggles.  The awards were NOT taken very seriously.
One major reason was that audiences in the 80's and 90's didn't much see the point of them and networks were starting to move away from extraneous awards shows.  Ted Turner at Superstation TBS was famous in the 80's for wanting to show everything on his network, and never getting it.  When Cap'n Ted couldn't get the Olympics for his channel's very own, and had to air Russia's cheap face-saving 80's imitation-Olympics instead, it became a national punchline among frustrated cable fans of Turner's sad delusional hubris--And when he tried to get the Oscars and ended up with airing the "pointless" but well-sorta-Oscar-like Golden Globes instead, we felt the poetic justice was off the charts and the two deserved each other:  "The Goodwill Games of Movie Awards".
It even became a humorous frustration to ask:  WHO IS the HFPA?  Have they ever been seen in public?  The Globes had been around since the 30's, when studios hired their own publicists and worked with the press, and the Foreign Press returned their sycophantic love accordingly.  Nowadays, without the studio system, it's hard to say where these shadowy people are, but members have been sighted on various press-interview junkets.  And yes, according to some critics, they're still crawling kissups.

Strange part is, nowadays, we take them SERIOUSLY.  We used to spend November predicting the Oscars, now we're wrapped up in the fierce competition to predict the Globes, in the hopes that they will tell us who to predict for the Oscars.   And why?  Because they're first, that's why.  We wouldn't know, without them.  
Usually by the end of November, the National Board of Review and regional Critic's Circle awards also surface, naming most of the critically received arthouse and independent films (a tradition that dates back to when critics feared that only Hollywood movies would win the Oscars, and wanted to thumb their snooty noses at them), and we clueless folk have two sources to guess from:
We choose our nominee guesses from A) sycophantic studio kissups who believe every buzz rumor that studio publicists tell them, and B) critics who want to nominate everything but mainstream studio movies.  

The Globes and NBOR poisoned the Oscars by poisoning US:  We no longer know how to choose nominees on our own (there's usually not as much to choose from as there was in the 70's and 80's).  We no longer root for movies because they moved us, because only a very secondhand few of us ever saw them, or they haven't even opened yet.
Oscar prediction has now become a game of Fantasy Baseball, where the Globes are Draft Day, and we spend three months assembling statistics from the SAG Awards, Screenwriter Guild Awards, Director Guild Awards, etc., and see whose pick had the best "season".

And so we gather the suspects in the drawing room, we must assemble the evidence, but what we do not as yet have is a solution.
The detective says, the horrible and most tragic murder of the Oscars is a most puzzling problem.  Each one of them could have done it.  
Very possibly, all of them DID.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January 24, 2017 - 80's Throwback (Now with real cane Sugar!)

Normally, the opening of "Monster Trucks" these past weeks would not particularly seem like the stuff of blog fodder.  (And as it turns out, it wasn't.)
But piggybacking onto one of the other current fan-crazes--the Netflix binge-following for Season 1 of "Stranger Things"--it's brought a certain phenomenon to the front of the stage.
It's been around for years; it was the reason fans became artificially excited for JJ Abrams'  2011 "Super 8", and became a rallying cry against last summer's "Ghostbusters" remake, but now it officially has a name:  A lost public is searching for "80's Throwback!"  
(Or, occasionally, "90's Throwback" if you find childhood-sentimental fans of Jumanji, Jurassic Park, or the Goosebumps books, and even that decade didn't last long...But that's another post.)

It's become the centerpiece of Stranger Things' marketing, to conjure up a genre of kids up against unworldly forces, evil psychic tots and sinister plots "reminiscent of Stephen King".  (Who was also a cottage-industry of mid-80's movies, as ten bestsellers were dumped on the decade between "Cujo" and "Pet Semetary" alone.)
Fan sites now use Stranger Things as a "gateway" for leading on new-generation fans, offering reading-list syllabi of other core 80's escapist scifi/horror classics, like a library's children's-book section recommending other books to their readers besides Harry Potter:
"10 Films You Need to Watch If You Love Stranger Things", Daily Dot, 7/25/16

"Monster Trucks", and its kid-friendly Nickelodeon Pictures story of lovable CGI octopi and the teens racing them to safety, seemed a little TOO familiar for its audience, and was dumped into January by Paramount with the understandable hopes of being ignored.  But trying to rescue their dignity for an empty early-'17 weekend, the producers thought their CGI critters had tapped into an 80's/90's "retro" ethic--the kind that conjured up the cheaper Amblin' productions of the late 80's like "Batteries Not Included" and "Harry and the Hendersons", and the post-Jurassic CGI fests of the Jumanji 90's--and that the movie was actually a labor of Retro love.  

Trucks even tried an alternate movie poster deliberately homaging the style of Richard Amsel, the iconic 80's movie-poster artist who gave us Indiana Jones, Willow, and every big-budget Lucasfilm of the decade.  A generation knew, if Amsel painted the poster, you knew what to expect.
And just like our Stranger Things kids on the run from evil firestarters, some loyal diehard Monster Trucks defenders also tried to rally around the Retro Childhood flag, for a generation that was never there and needed to learn the Old Days...Or at least other overlooked 80's movies besides Princess Bride quotes:
"Ten Awesome Movies to Show Your Kids If They Dig Monster Trucks", CinemaBlend, 1/13/17
(Yes, "Batteries" is on the list, as is '99's "The Iron Giant".)

The craze even attracted B-video company Mill Creek, which had the licenses to a number of discarded Columbia catalog titles, to sell many of their 80's fantasy/scifi Columbia classics in a bulk box under a Stranger-knockoff banner.
And while it's a stretch to think that 1983's gorgeous old-school fantasy "Krull" or cheesy low-rent space-opera "Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone" would be the first things to watch after a grim 10's-streaming series of nasty genetic experiments, it's clearly tapping into the audience's reawakened search for the same question:  "Where did they GO?"

If you today hear anyone talking about "Great movies of the 80's", it's a safe bet they're NOT talking about "Amadeus", "Out of Africa" or "Terms of Endearment".  
What they're most likely talking about is summer movies of the mid-80's, usually involving neighborhood kids taking their bicycles and flashlights out to investigate the monster or friendly alien in the woods nearby their whitebread California suburban neighborhood...And in general, going on an adventure, as the MST3K-ism has it, "just like The Goonies".  (Which, btw, we hated in 1985--There's a difference between a movie for 10-yo.'s, and one that reads like it was written by 10-yo's.)
In other words, they're talking about Elliott and E.T., or any of his many imitators, back in the days When Steven Spielberg Roamed The Earth.

So, what footprints are we tracking when we go in search of the rare and elusive 80's Movie?  What historical factors caused the generational break to stick out in our mind when we turned "80's" from a box-office-statistic year-date or childhood memory into an artistic Film Genre?  Whadda they got back then that WE ain't got?  
Appropriately enough, part of the answer would seem to be "...Courage."   (Buh-huh, you said it.)

1. It was easier to go to movies - In fact, we had to:  VCR saturation in the home didn't really catch on at popular prices until the mid-80's, and even then not all of your favorite movies came out for retail sale.  More theaters were locally mom-and-pop owned, and might be charging upwards of $3.50 by the mid-80's, although the big chains had already ballooned up to $5 for an adult ticket.  (Assuming you were over twelve, the year WarGames or Superman III came out.)  If you couldn't wait to see it again, hey, you had an afternoon or a weekday night, and three or five bucks in your pocket, why not?
Today, we have what you might call a trade-off:  Now you can see EVERY movie in your own hometown area the week it opens...but you can probably only afford to see it once, before waiting for the disk.  And heaven help you if you want popcorn with it.

2.  Theaters weren't so big - Chain cineplexes, huge 7-8 screen ones, were beginning to appear, but most towns still had a 1-3 screen left over on Main Street from the old days.  If you had an older town, you probably had two or three of them scattered about the downtown back streets, or some new ones built into an unused office building.  You found where your movie was playing, that was part of the fun of going to see it, and if it wasn't in town, you ventured forth to the town where you could get your experience...Otherwise, you might never get it at all!
And if your theater was playing in town, you didn't need Mom to take you, or at the very worst, all you needed was for her to drop you off with your friends, and pick you up after her 2-hour vacation from you.  On a Friday night, the local theater was the gathering place for your school friends; if there wasn't anything you wanted to see, you saw it anyway, and if you did want to, so much the better.

3.  TV still mattered - It doesn't now, you know, we pride ourselves on being able to stuff our face with an entire season on Hulu over a weekend, and flip a bird to the cable companies with our mouths full.  But while watching TV was looked down on in the 70's, and movies gave you spectacle and bestsellers, TV became popular again in the 80's; you counted your weekdays by show title, and when you went out of your house on the weekend, you went out for fun.
Movies weren't designed to be more than one, they were movies because they only had one wild story to tell you, and if you liked it, then they might reward your love with a sequel, if they could figure out one to tell.  That's why they'd decided not to be TV, because they'd put everything into whatever little isolated bit of imagination they had.

4. Movies were made for YOU, not anybody else - There was one good thing about having little cheap-priced theaters nearby in your local area, within walking or bus distance, and not five miles out of town by the highway strip malls:  You could go to your own movies.
And because tickets didn't have to be sold to parents, they could be sold to the people who DID want to see the neat stuff--Kids' movies could be sold to kids, escapist tween-boy adventures could be sold to 9-12 yo. boys, and teens could get rock musicals, rebel dramas and--you know it--teen-babysitter horror films pitched all to themselves on Friday night and nobody else had to care.  But then, everyone knew grownups didn't understand anyway.
We don't see that nowadays:  Studios have too much at stake pitching a megadeal, they can't put themselves in the position of letting just some people buy a ticket at the risk that other people might not.  As a result, most mainstream movies calculate themselves to be all things to all audiences, male, female, ethnic and overseas alike, and are carefully assembled not to leave anything out..."Your" movie just isn't YOUR movie anymore, unless you happen to have $200M to pay a studio personally to make back their net.
Some niche movies, like female-audience or frat/weed-pack comedies, might still target "their" audiences without a hope of finding any other, but they tend to be the product of producers who don't know how to make any other kind of movie.  It's harder to make one that's supposed to be what the audience wants.

But there's a deeper answer here, and just why it DID end with the mid-90's may have to be the stuff of another column:
5.  Studios still bought SCRIPTS - Yes, we've all heard the whine:  "It's all comic books, sequels, remakes and teen novels nowadays...There's nothing original in Hollywood anymore!"  And the minute you say that, everyone immediately rolls their eyes and groans, because by "original", they think you're being a pretentious jackass talking about La La Land, or whatever just came out of the indie Sundance fests.  But back in the 80's, studios did EXACTLY what Hollywood studios had been doing for the past fifty years, since the days of Louis B. Mayer:  They let a poor, struggling screenwriter pitch his neat original idea, to see if it sounded like a surefire winner.  And it might be an idea he made up all by himself!--Which meant the audience would be taken by surprise, and seeing it for the first time!
Like the old songwriter musicals of the 40's, call it the "Tin Pan Alley" days--"Chief, got a boffo idea for ya:  An 80's kid goes back to the 50's and meets his parents!  A romance-novel heroine finds herself on a real adventure, straight out of one of her books!  Or, wait, I got it--Bill Murray, Paranormal Exterminator!"
Of course, you know the risk of that:  For every Back to the Future or Ghostbusters, there could be a My Stepmother Is an Alien.  And studios don't want that.  ("But it had Dan Aykroyd in it!")  
Studios can't do that anymore.  After a bad experience with getting big-name writers to write original action blockbusters in the 90's [more on that later], and negotiation salaries ballooned after actors stopped asking for profits and became smart enough to ask for cash up front, studios decided that a $150-200M movie just wasn't worth the risk of an audience seeing a movie they didn't know.  If you could audition an "accepted" property ahead of time, like a TV show, long-awaited live-action form of a cartoon or comic, or a "franchise" sequel that one need only show the logo symbol to promote, well, that was half the battle won right there.

The answer's not a complicated idea:  We don't miss aliens, and kids with bicycles and flashlights.  It's not that we miss old-school mechanical creature effects, soundstage-sets or 80's fashions.  (Although we do.)  We miss IMAGINATION.
We look for a "throwback" to someone telling us a story we've never heard before, and letting our neato tapped-into emotions go along for the ride.
Are Disney, Pixar and Marvel becoming the new dominant forces at the box office?--Think what they give us:  Dory and Cars 3 aside, Pixar and WDFA gave us new stories of island girls, spunky rabbit cops and personified emotions, while Marvel Studios, for their group initiative, were forced to bring us a few solo heroes who were once forgotten B-stringers in print--Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther.  Did you ever read their print books growing up?...Er, didn't think so.  Well, guess you're hearing their stories for the first time, then.  Not so bad, aren't they?

With a few exceptions--who are in the accidental good luck of being exceptions--studios in the 10's are ruled by fear, and like most people who let their lives be ruled by fear, don't like to take chances.
Not like the characters in really good movies, who have to take chances all the time, and sometimes discover that really neat things happen to them in the end if they do.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

January 11, 2017 - The Longest W-Day

With the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) just wrapping up in Las Vegas this past week, it brings up that sacred January anniversary tied to the show every year, that all Blu-ray disk home-theater fans of the right generation hold dear--The one that summarized all the industry's suffering and troubles under the '06-'08 "Format War II" of Blu-ray vs. HDDVD:
Last Wednesday, January 4, we pause for the observance of the day that united all us home-theater disk fans in an appreciation of how the fans, not the companies, drive the market in deciding the best format...A date which became known in fame and infamy as "W-Day".

To save space, a brief historical rundown on the technical "Red vs. Blue" specs and backstory of the great '06-'08 war:
RoughlyDrafted, "Origins of the Blu-ray vs. HDDVD War", 8/29/07
Hi-Def was already becoming the "new frontier" of home theater in theoretical vaporware at industry shows long before the FCC's new standard for digital HDTV sets made it a necessity.  Even as far back as '04, when companies were only presenting their prototypes for new high-definition compression or extended-capability disks, the battle lines were already being drawn between hardware companies and studios for loyalty, in the battle for the successor to DVD's crown.
Blu-ray was Sony's hardware baby, so Sony naturally committed their studio titles, along with their recently acquired MGM titles.  Universal was tied to Dreamworks, Dreamworks was tied to Microsoft in deals for animation software, and both had to be solidly behind HD, if they knew what MS thought was good for them--While Toshiba's Japanese execs addressed the issues with Japanese reserve, it was Universal Marketing VP Ken Graffeo who soon became Blu-ray's most hated rah-rah cheerleader for HDDVD.  Fox cited software-security concerns as reasons not to support HDDVD, but took its time before going Blu.  Disney, having just merged with Pixar and gotten Steve Jobs as a board member into the bargain, now had a very, very vested interest in not seeing Microsoft and VC-1 win the home theater battle, and in seeing Blu-ray win to keep hi-def movie coding out of Bill Gates' hands.  

And that left Warner and Paramount as the swing votes.  The uncommitted studios were caught in No Man's Land between the battle, with no clear winner to support, neither side gaining decisive ground, and forced to release two sets of titles, one for each format--
Warner released titles in both formats, but while Sony was wooing the action and comedy demographic to Blu-ray, Warner believed HDDVD would ultimately become the "film fan's" discerning format for watching Casablanca and The Searchers.   Paramount released both formats, but infamously took a "contribution" from Toshiba to move their support to HDDVD, in return for needed funds for their Star Trek TV restoration--A move that had the industry crying "Traitors!", and blackened HDDVD's image overnight as the product of a weasel company that would pull any stunt to win the War.

The war was most definitely NOT being won by the marketplace:  Mainstream buyers were apathetic about dueling near-identical formats at high prestige price points, and--with frequent complaints about the Beta-vs.-VHS battle years before--put off their buying either until a winner pulled ahead, or until the price came down on one or the other.  Toshiba, facing dropping sales for their HDDVD hardware, was quick to exploit this angle, finally dropped the price on their players to $199 in time for Christmas, back when Sony was still selling their players and compatible Playstation consoles were going for $450 and up, and cleaned up with a new growing HDDVD customer base of People Who Couldn't Care Less, So Long As It Was Cheap.  
With Paramount, Universal and the promise of Warner's big (and still uncommitted) mega-franchises on their side, HDDVD tried to sell its few "killer apps" against Blu--New Toshiba player buyers would not only get a hi-def future, but a Star Trek Phaser remote-control as well!  But what wasn't selling the format with the public was that Sony and Microsoft had taken the battle to the game-console market, and the tone of the battle became increasingly gamer-adolescent with gamer fans declaring their diehard support on home-theater discussions--When the loudest praise of HDDVD was coming from X-Box Doods raving loyalty over Peter Jackson's "King Kong", or the two formats tried dueling Will Ferrell comedies (with Sony offering "Talladega Nights" with new PS3's, and Paramount promising "Blades of Glory" on HDDVD), it didn't do much for the Format War's image among adult mainstream buyers.  And even then, the X-Box Doods' chief complaint was that their console required a separately-priced module to play the format...If only the X-Box came with the format installed, they dreamed, everyone would finally see the light, but rumors of a new console never came true.

From late '06 to early '07, the chief goal for a weary industry was not to find the decisive "format killer" for the other, but some universal dual-format player or disk to say "A plague on both your houses" and let buyers buy whatever danged movies they wanted to.
Warner thought they had the angle on this--While hardware company LG promoted their new dual-format "Multiplayer", Warner pursued R&D on the idea of a "Total Hi-Def hybrid disk", with dual layers of HDDVD and Blu-ray.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be an impossible idea (as HDDVD was a matter of coding, but Blu had finer-etched disk grooves), and long searches for such a disk never panned out.  But until they got one--and could corner the market with their own profitable patent on the Peace Treaty that would end the war--Toshiba's increasing defections and losses in the industry was still a necessary evil to hold onto.

The Hybrid disk never came, and no Hybrid disk meant that HDDVD had literally outlived its usefulness to Warner:  The Las Vegas CES shows for the past '06 and '07 had become highly anticipated battlegrounds for who would drop the Big Bombshell news about one format or the other throwing in the towel.  Warner knew if they dropped their big news at the presentation on Jan. 8, '08, the shock headlines would unfairly overshadow all the other technical presentations at the show, so they decided to do the more reasonable thing--On Jan. 4, 2008, four days before the CES, the studio announced it was abandoning its HDDVD support and going Blu-ray.
Toshiba, who had been hoping that Batman and Lord of the Rings would sell HDDVD, was understandably a bit upset--HDDVD supporters' first suspicious reaction was that, since everyone knew studios changing loyalties always happened because of bribes (and how did we get that idea?), Warner must have clearly taken Paramount-like blood-money from those Sony weasels, but given HDDVD's steady decline by the end of '07, it was a weak alibi at best, and looked even more like the rages of a sore loser.
Analysts went into CES '08 knowing for established fact that HDDVD was a dead format walking, and for Media VP Jodi Sally, that unplanned '08 Toshiba presentation was not a happy one, but certainly a brave and stubborn one:

For Toshiba, Warner's defection was more than just seeing the shift in the balance of studio content, it was being jilted at the altar:  The company's last sole defense against an industry increasingly demanding they get off the stage was telling the industry that they were still in the game for so long as Warner was their faithful, powerful friend to the end.  
And when Warner dropped Toshiba for their own convenience--raising some real speculation of just how "loyal" they had been all along--it delivered the very clear, unmistakable message of "This IS the end."  By the end of the day, the national press was actively speculating on a date for HDDVD's demise, and on February 28, Toshiba finally announced they were folding the format, outside of a few conciliatory cleanups like refunds and hardware conversion.  
The War was over, and the obvious Times Square VE-Day nurse-smooch metaphors were all over most home theater news sites.

Which leads us to one of the other funniest, truest, and most (ahem) infamously best-known contributions that W-Day 2008 gave to our culture:
The VE-Day jokes also extended to smartypants movie fans who had just seen Oliver Hirschbiegel's Oscar-nominated 2004 WWII German drama Downfall.
In the climax, Hitler's staff of German army officers in the central Berlin HQ bunker are not only dealing with the advancing Russian front, but with fears that their militarily inexperienced leader is sinking into further unstable bipolar fantasies of "glorious victories" and paranoid "traitor" suspicions--Cut off from the realities of the battle, he reassures his generals that his one strategically-placed general will singlehandedly hold off the Russian advance, and when told that the general was unable to carry it out, and that there is now nothing to stop Russia from taking Berlin within days, and the entire War with it, the news is...not taken very well:

The joke that hit the YouTube home-theater fanbase (including the nastier gamer Playstation vs. X-Box factions) after the Warner news was a movie-referencing joke for movie-quoting fans.  We were imagining a long-hated, reality-retreated, Napoleonic-complexed company that had lost their last faithful imaginary "general" to hold off an advancing enemy, and were now flailing about to look for scapegoats to keep them from admitting the inevitable.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in case you might've ever wondered where they came from:  The very, very FIRST Angry Hitler YouTube Video ever created, within hours after the headlines first hit.
Hitler Reacts to HDDVD.  It was W-Day that first created them, because W-Day was what it was first about...Nowwww d'you get it?
(Clip on separate link, as some dialogue NSFW--As, we suspect, Toshiba's wasn't either when they got their news.)

Y'see, we got the joke.  Mostly because we'd just rented the movie on disk and knew the scene, but mostly because we HAD watched the bad news about Gen. Steiner, that we could relish Toshiba's imaginary reaction that their "glorious conquest" had just hit hard reality...We knew what the scene was really saying, and we knew what the clip was really, really saying.  Every line was truth about Toshiba's delusions that Paramount titles and Will Ferrell comedies alone would hold off a growing studio majority, or that no one was really buying the standalone players with any degree of technical loyalty, and after we poor fans had held back with saying so for so long with no one to believe us, hearing them out loud was victoriously nasty enough to savor.
Kids nowadays don't get the joke.  They might remember a format war, but they don't remember why Hitler was shouting about it. (The second video, an intentional parody of the parody a few months later, ingeniously had Hillary Clinton, another reality-busted Napoleon, ranting about losing her '08 superdelegates to Obama, and was just as funny and true-to-life.)  They seem to be under the adolescent idea is that the joke is that a shock-value symbol is turning red-faced and cursing, huh-huh, huh-huh, and that that itself is comedy enough.  A quick YouTube search will turn up plagues and plagues of Angry Hitlers shouting about everything from a late pizza, to the latest Halo incarnation, to the last episode of Westworld.  
Even German actor Bruno Ganz has commented on the plague of seeing "himself" rant about so many fanboy issues, and takes it in stride, but is disappointed they don't appreciate the tragically sympathetic performance he put into the original context.

But if there must be only one AHYTV, there is one rule, and that's that Comedy is Specific.  There should be a Joke to Get, and, as Mystery Science Theater 3000 famously observed, The Right People To Get It.
And that's why we old FWII vets raise a glass every January 4, and put a Blu disk in our players.  (Well, mine's a Playstation 3, because they were the only ones back then that worked.  And yes, the X-Box kids annoyed us.)