Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bits Journal #4

The Annies, DC, Marvel and Legos happen to be today's subjects...

So… The Annies…

The first quarter or so of the ceremony was an absolute disaster, and a real embarrassment… No, there was no "wrong envelope" incident or anything of the sort, but the presentation was just cringeworthy. Patrick Warburton, though occasionally funny, went off on Seth MacFarlane-related tangents. Tom Kenny and Cloris Leachman - who was, for some reason, rocking a psychedelic dress, a pink hat and purple go-go boots - made it unbearable, their jokes were painfully unfunny and sometimes they just took forever to open the damn envelope! Also, child actor Max Charles (yeah I know, he's the voice of Sherman in Mr. Peabody & Sherman) presented some of the show… Yep, you gotta have a kid present for an animation awards show. Ugh.

Also, every time the Paul Rudish Mickey Mouse show won something, they played the theme to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. What an absolute insult, because the Rudish show was Mickey's first legitimately good show since the Mickey Mouse Works series in the late 1990s. That preschool show did nothing but soil the image of the iconic Disney character, and they played the theme to that every time this refreshing new show won. I'm sorry, but that's just… Wrong. Even the man who did the show's music, Christopher Willis, commented when accepting the award that they were playing the wrong music!

Animation's Highest Honor? This ceremony was even worse than last year's… That's right, worse.

Luckily, things got better when Tony Bancroft and Bob Bergen took over. Phil Tippett made an ass-kicking speech and even shut the "play off" music up. Talk about being badass. Gertie the Dinosaur was shown, another treat, because Windsor McKay's legendary short turned 100 this year. Katsuhiro Otomo, June Foray, Steven Spielberg, Charles Solomon and Alice Davis' appearances were also highlights.

Now, my thoughts on the winners?

I'm the lone contrarian here, but Monsters University should've won. I haven't seen Ernest & Celestine yet, but I would've been happy with that winning, too. But the Annies went for the safe option and gave it to Frozen. Don't get me wrong, I thought Frozen was a good film, but not great. Certainly not as good as the last few Walt Disney Animation Studios films. Frozen also won for Best Directing, Best Music and Best Production Design. All three of which were deserved, I think.

Josh Gad also got Best Voice Acting for Frozen, though I was more fond of Billy Crystal reprising Mike Wazoswki in Monsters University along with Steve Carrell as Gru. Where the hell was Idina Menzel? She should've been nominated… And she should've won! Also, Helen Mirren should've gotten a nom instead of Crystal, because Crystal was playing a character he voiced over a decade ago. Kind of a weak line-up to begin with…

Monsters University took home the awards for Best Editorial and Best Storyboarding.

The Croods got Best Character Design, Character Animation and Best Animated Effects. They deserved it for character design and effects, as The Croods was a great-looking film. Now if only the writing and story matched the visual brilliance… As for the character animation? I would've given that to Ernest & Celestine or Monsters or Frozen. The Croods' character animation didn't do much for me.

Ernest & Celestine took nothing home. That's just wrong…

The Wind Rises at least won for Best Writing. Frozen's writing, for me, was the film's weakest point. I'm glad it didn't win for that.

In the TV field, Pixar seemed to rock the house with Toy Story of TERROR! The 22-minute special took home the awards for Best Storyboarding, Best Directing and Best Character Animation. And they say Pixar is "on the decline"? Whatever…

The Paul Rudish Mickey Mouse series, which I really like, also got a lot of wins. (Despite the fact that they played that damn theme from that garbage show every time it won.) The show got Best Character Design, Best Music and Best Editorial. All deserved.

The Legend of Korra took home one award: Production Design.

Tom Kenny got Best Voice Acting for the Ice King in Adventure Time. Mark Hamill should've won this. (Skips in Regular Show.)

Futurama got Best Writing and Best General Audience TV show. Adventure Time won for Best Children's Show (Gravity Falls deserved it more.), Sofia the First got the Best Preschooler Show. Gravity Falls took home nothing, but to be fair, they did do well last year.

Get A Horse! won Best Short. Very happy about that, Mickey's return to the silver screen was magnificent and it deserves all the awards.

A Minions CineMark commercial got the Best Commercial award, though the Acme Filmworks' "Sound of the Woods" was much more interesting. I liked that commercial's animation style.

Toy Story of TERROR! didn't get Best Television Special, but Moonbot's Chipotle special Chipotle Scarecrow got it. Good for Moonbot!

Overall a decent ceremony in terms of the wins, but a lot of the presentation was dreadful. Again, the Annies need to get it together. What did you think? Who should've won? Which winners were you happy with?

During the Super Bowl, only two things stood out… And they were trailers… Trailers for Marvel movies, no less!

Of course, we got roughly 30-second spots… The real trailers premiered online the same day! What a treat!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier looks freakin' brilliant… I won't be surprised if this turns out to be the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film to date…

Like Iron Man 3's smart marketing campaign, this trailer - like the one before it - plays up the darker and edgier angle while still making it feel exciting and not, you know, depressing. The Winter Soldier will be one hell of a villain, Falcon should be awesome, the action looks awesome and there's hints that there will be a lot of fun stuff in it. It is a Marvel movie after all. I'm sure the actual film will have a lot of lightheartedness and humor (i.e. Cap adjusting to the modern world), in addition to laugh-out-loud one-liners and moments. That being said, it won't pull its punches.

Plus, it's been said that this will really link The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. From the looks of it, a lot of things will go down. Talk about raising the stakes!

All in all a spectacular trailer, and again, this film may be the MCU's best to date. The directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, are reportedly already pegged to direct the third film. This implies to me that this film is going to be more than great. It should also make up for the disappointing but still entertaining Thor: The Dark World.

The other Marvel hero who ruled the Super Bowl was the web slinger himself…

I'm actually kind of hoping that this ends up being the film's second theatrical trailer. It does a better job at outlining the main story while still cramming in as much action as it can. The first trailer, while good, seemed to be saying: "Spider-Man takes on three villains in his next adventure!" That only reminded fans of Spider-Man 3, in a bad way of course. This trailer essentially says "It's Spidey vs. Electro…"

The following is a theory (PJ also has this theory), and it may spoil the film. I have not seen it, I don't know how it all plays out, but here's my speculation: Rhino is probably only going to be a first act encounter, while Green Goblin will rise at the end of the film setting up the third one. I can see that working, and I think the marketing is intentionally trying to throw people off. Also, note how Goblin is in the way back of the triptych, Electro is front-and-center, Rhino is off to the side.

Anyways… This trailer indicates what Marc Webb wants to do with the series, because the first film really doesn't. But that's okay, because the first one is retelling the same origin story we know. Now that he has gotten the origin story out of the way, he can do whatever now. I loved the trailer: Electro looks cool and a tad creepy, the action set-pieces look like they'll deliver (particularly the power plant one) and if you know what happens to a particular character in the comics, what the Super Bowl spot showed was damn exciting. It looks as if they kept the humor too, and it works.

On the other side of the superhero movie coin, Warner Bros. might be giving DC a much-needed tune-up.

In the press release for the still untitled Batman vs. Superman film, Christopher Nolan's name is nowhere to be seen. Chris Terrio is officially the lead writer of this film now, as he appears to simply be working off of an outline/script skeleton by David S. Goyer. Goyer is now listed as executive producer alongside Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan, Wesley Coller and Geoff Johns. The two main producers are Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder. As Mark Hughes of Forbes pointed out, it seems like Warner Bros. is going to go in a new direction with their DC Cinematic Universe. Nolan and Goyer are being shunted to the side this time, to make way for Chris Terrio. If that's the case, then I'm a bit excited… Shocker!

I've said it many times before, but David S. Goyer's script for Man of Steel was bad and the tone did not fit the film at all. The pacing was bad, the story structure was terribly misguided and the characters are just plain uninteresting. It was basically "Superman: Nolan Batman Style!" but without anything that made Nolan's Batman films soar. It managed to be even more depressing and downbeat than any of those films, but that's because the tone fit those films but yet those films still brought the thrills and action, along with much-needed fun. It was all perfectly balanced, Man of Steel was not fun. If anything, it was unpleasant and just a real chore to sit through. The worst thing of all is, it didn't do anything new for superhero films. It just copied and pasted the Nolan Batman formula: Gritty, dark, brooding…

A darker Superman story could've been great and a fine companion piece to the 1978 Superman and its sequel, but Goyer (and Snyder as well) went about things the wrong way. When Snyder justifies the decisions made in the film's climax, I just can't take him seriously. The fact that he's directing the sequel still has me a bit worried. Having Superman not move the fight out of Metropolis doesn't make the film "dark" or "mature", this is forced darkness. It's what a 14 year old boy considers edgy. Again… Superman kills tons of people! (Because that's dark!) Then he freaks out over killing General Zod?! Give me a break…

Anyways, my theory is that when filming began, Ben Affleck probably pointed out how bad and messy Goyer's script was and suggested that the Argo writer (an Academy Award winner, no less) should come in and fix the script. But now Terrio isn't fixing the script, he's rewriting it completely. The delay ensued. Hughes' article makes a whole lot of sense; WB is probably looking to re-invent this series and do something different. They might be thinking, "Gee, the Nolan formula didn't work this time. It certainly won't fit Wonder Woman, The Flash and Aquaman either."

As Hughes pointed out, Man of Steel is a disappointment when you look at the film's opening weekend and the much-derided Superman Returns' adjusted domestic numbers ($255 million). Man of Steel's marketing was excellent in every sense, it got everyone pumped. The marketing was that good, the film opened with $116 million! That's a huge freaking opening for a non-sequel superhero film! That even tops what Spider-Man took in!

But legs were pretty weak, and the film did not top $300 million domestically as predicted. $668 million is good, but it isn't huge. You'd think with Nolan's name attached and how good that marketing was, it would do better worldwide and rack up some real numbers. Well, it appears that Man of Steel left audiences cold. It sure left me cold, though my audience applauded at the end. But it wasn't a "see it again and again" film, and word of mouth - judging by that 2.5x multiplier - apparently wasn't all that great. Reviews were mixed…

Hughes suggests that Warner Bros. is in the process of carefully evaluating what went wrong...

"Warner looked at what worked and didn’t work with Man of Steel, and decided that some rebranding was in order, including a need to send a message that the future of DC movies wasn’t going to be rooted to the past, and was instead restructuring and moving ahead with a new public image."

I particularly like that comment about "the past". Man of Steel, as a film, looked backwards, hoping to score gold by reheating elements that worked in Nolan's Batman trilogy. A lot of fans weren't happy, a lot of critics dismissed it and the film is a slight disappointment at the box office. Perhaps WB wants to start fresh with the DC Cinematic Universe, and let's face it, Christopher Nolan isn't going to want to be doing superhero films for the latter half of the decade. He's got his own projects - such as Interstellar - brewing, and probably a lot of smaller scale projects, too.

Also, a character like Batman is perfect for Nolan because not all of his stories are fantastical. Batman works well in the "rooted in reality" style of filmmaking, as filmmakers could put him against foes like The Joker, Bane and whatnot and it would be believable. They didn't have to pit him against Killer Croc or The Riddler. Nolan's style just didn't fit Superman's world, and the film more than shows that. If a Nolan Superman can't really work, then there's no way a Nolan-esque Wonder Woman or Aquaman would work, either.

It seems like WB is realizing that this formula is just not fit for a full-blown DC Cinematic Universe, and that it is time to move on and try something new. I hope Terrio's Batman vs. Superman script has a tone that works. It can be gritty, it can be dark, but the film shouldn't overdo it. No drab, depressing color schemes for every damn scene or downbeat score to accompany them. Have some fun once in a while, bring on the thrills and make those thrilling moments, well… Thrilling! Also, forget the pretentiousness. I hate that word, but Man of Steel was one of the rare films I would call pretentious. A movie should be what it wants to be, not something it isn't. I don't consider anything Nolan is associated with to be pretentious (I love Memento, the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception), except the Supes film. Forced seriousness just doesn't work for these kinds of films. This will be a film about an alien fighting a guy in a bat suit, after all! Yes, it can be artistic. But it shouldn't have to take itself way too seriously or give off the vibe that it's embarrassed or ashamed of what it is. Imagine if an Iron Man film or an MCU film was super-serious? Loosen up! I'm all for a film being serious that takes the audience seriously (I feel the Marvel films have done that), but if a film takes itself way too seriously, then it's boring.


I'm a little more interested in the project now, as it seems like a new direction will be taken. I can only hope that the Nolan/Goyer formula is tossed aside and Terrio and crew come up with something cool, something brand new. A new kind of superhero film that is truly different from the kind Marvel is making, and one that's much different from the Nolan style. There are many ways to do superhero films, the superhero movie world is not limited to Marvel-style movies or Nolan-style movies. If anything, it would be cool if Terrio and crew have this DC Cinematic Universe resemble the Batman and Superman animated series from the 90s, while still being its own thing.

Speaking of Superman and Batman…

A sequel to The Lego Movie reportedly has two writers attached: Jared Stern is one of them, who provided additional story material on the likes of BoltThe Princess and the Frog and Wreck-It Ralph. He is also set to pen Zootopia's script, which implies that the sequel to this film should arrive after 2016. He also penned the scripts for The Watch and The Internship, which weren't well-received. Maybe his forte is animated family films, so I'm not worried about how he'll handle this film. The other writer, Michelle Morgan, doesn't have quite the resume. Girl Most Likely, her first and only script, was very poorly received.

The first film currently has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and early reviews are saying it's great. It seems like it'll be a refreshing film, one that blows 2013's mixed bag of animated features out of the water. If it's that good, then animation is off to a great start this year! I've been looking forward to it since the trailer debuted, but now I'm hyped!

It's kind of predictable that Phil Lord and Chris Miller won't return to write the script, since they didn't return to pen and direct the sequel to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs or direct the sequel to 21 Jump Street. Oh well, can't have everything…

The sequel will probably be announced by Sunday. The film is poised to open big, I think. Many are predicting that it'll open with around $40 million, I think it'll open much higher than that. What do you think?

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